Man Vs Coast – The First Run

If you’ve ever visited the Rat Race website you’ll know what I mean when I tell you that we signed up to Man Vs Coast following a brief episode of excitement from watching the promo film. It’s the music, I’m telling you, it gets you riled up and wishing you could teleport to the start line right now. Man Vs Coast was sold as 20+ miles and closer to 20 than 30, from my understanding. My understanding could have been off, who knows? In my mind I thought “what’s 20 miles of adventure after 26.2 at the London marathon? I could definitely knock out 20 after the marathon, easy!” as I would be, here’s the cinch, trained for it as a by-product of my London Marathon training. Ah, well, things haven’t quite panned out this year as I had planned although they certainly haven’t panned out bad either. I can’t complain but I definitely do not have a season of marathon training behind me, or in my legs.

The only training I have managed for either event is a general improvement in my fitness from working on exercising more consistently. I’ve not exactly done nothing, I’ve just done nothing specific to either event. I’ll say this now, I don’t and would never recommend this approach to either event. I also wouldn’t intentionally do each event without training again.

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We registered the night before and you can either camp or stay locally. We camped. I love camping and it really is much easier to wake up at the crack of dawn because you get all the natural light induced wakefulness. There was quite an extensive kit list that was checked at registration, however having done the race the only thing I would skimp on next time if the weather was similar would be the optional extra layer I carried; I didn’t need it and there was no way I was going to get cold sitting still if my leg fell off at all, except perhaps from a shock reaction, maybe?

We got a shuttle bus to the start at Marazion Beach by St Michael’s Mount where we waited for a good while. My only complaint would be that the shuttle buses were far too early for the start time.

First things first we dumped our bags on the beach after 100m and swam out to a Rat Race float which was definitely at not-standing-depth, except for the incredibly tall, into the Channel Sea. It was good fun and great to be jumping into the sea at 9am. I found that the peer pressure of being surrounded by people just getting on with it gave me the encouragement and guts to do exactly that and suck it up: a really refreshing and great way to start a race. If it was pissing it down and blowing a gale I’m pretty sure I’d feel very differently.

We ran along the beach for a few miles. Then another swim before leaving the awkward underfoot of trying to run on sand. By trying I mean really trying! This time the swim was much further but the reward? Climbing on a rigged float and jumping off like a kid at the swimming pool. At the lido I still jump in anyway but in general swimming it’s frowned upon for a nearly 30-year-old woman on her own to bomb into the water repeatedly. It’s a shame really because it’s still fun no matter your age – so I really appreciated the chance to do exactly that before the slog back to land against the undercurrent. It was a brilliant way to get us smiling for the first few miles and really not thinking about the momentous task ahead of us. Trust me when I say this, the task ahead was mammoth.

This was the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever done, thanks to my trail shoes being too small for me on race day for some unknown reason, this was fucking hard. We cut up from the beach along a river bed. I didn’t knock my head on the bridge over the river because I was fiddling with my GoPro at all. Nope, that wasn’t me. After a while we were cutting through villages and cul de sacs until we hit the country lanes winding up to the moorland and over to the north coast.

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I honestly thought that once we hit the north coast trail we’d be grand. I thought it would be relatively undulating but not brutal all the way to Land’s End. If you ran it or know the Southwest coast trail on the north coast of Cornwall, you’ll know what a ridiculous idea this is: laughingly ridiculous. It turns out that we had severely underestimated this race, the distance, relentlessness and difficulty.

It has to be said, the scenery was absolutely phenomenal. I mean ‘are we even in the UK right now?’ phenomenal. We followed the coast up and down, up and down, for what felt like eternity. Eventually we snaked down to a boat slope leading into the sea at the end of the most enticing and beautiful beach there could have been at that moment. For miles, we were gawping at the stunning beauty of that beach and desperately pining to jump in the water. Luckily Rat Race had this figured out and that’s exactly how that leg of the race ended; with the most refreshing and welcome dip in the Atlantic Sea you’ve ever witnessed. It was bliss. I didn’t want to get out, I wanted to stay and float and bob around like an overheated seal, alas we had 14 more miles to cover and thought we were a mile out from half way. Nope. Not at all. We didn’t have a clue.

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For added excitement, because running 25 miles on coastal paths just isn’t exciting enough for Rat Race, there were scrambling activities on the rocks way off the beaten track, there was a cliff jump, more scrambling, endless brutal hills that made the genuine ‘Vertical Kilometer’ look like satire; I swear we climbed much tougher and longer hills than the one assigned official ‘Vertical Kilometer’ status. Navigating through bracken and overgrowth taller than ourselves, dipping my hat in rivers and eating my snacks definitely made for much more adventure than any road race could ever dare to imagine. Early on I had joked that I was going to eat my way around the course. That turned out to not be that much of a joke; I really did eat my way around the course.

Finally we hit the final beach, Sennen Cove, which went on for what felt like forever. After a clumsy and painful scramble across some rocks we were on our final ascent to Land’s End. The finish was in touching distance. Despite being told a number of times about how close we really were to the finish line that last mile was the slowest most painful mile of my life. I really wish I was being a drama queen here but I’m not. We trudged and we trudged. People overtook us and one woman said “that looks painful” when I was walking. It was indeed very fucking painful.

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My feet had swollen as you would expect on a 25 mile route and my shoes had felt tight as soon as I put them on in the morning. Eventually we came around the corner then finally, and it really was a finally, the finish line was in sight. We could see it, someone announced our arrival on the microphone and we were cheered in by our fellow rat racers who looked much less broken than I felt at that moment. My Dad and I hugged a long drawn out hug before getting our medals, our finishers photo and some hot soup. Finally I could allow myself to sit down because it didn’t matter now if I didn’t want to get up for ages, and I didn’t.

Finishing Man Vs Coast brought such a smile of relief, pride and absolute joy that we had conquered the coast.

“It was Man VS Coast, so she came from London and Mon Vs Coast commenced….and she wonnnnnnnnn” *crowd cheers and I hold up an imaginary huge trophy belt*

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The end wasn’t as glamorous as my imagination paints it to be but it was the most welcome finish line I’ve ever crossed in my life just above Hackney Half 2017. Despite all the pain and just plodding on I would also definitely do it again. I will wear Size 8s next time and do some training so I don’t have to pull an awkward face when the medic asks me how I was with fluid retention during my training after I’ve asked for a paracetamol for my headache.

“Did you do any training?” *shrugs with an awkward face* It’s apparently impressive that we even finished without training and I think he might be right considering there was a 30% DNF rate from the starting and finishing stats. I’m proud of myself for finishing and pleased that I didn’t give up. I will also have all the views and memories and joy from skipping through bracken on the moorland to the north coast thinking we were so much closer to the finish than we were, and the joy of swimming in the Atlantic after a scorching trek along the trail, and the shower afterwards feeling like a miracle healer on my broken self.

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It truly was an adventure. Man Vs Coast definitely didn’t fall short on delivering a real adventure exactly like I’d been hoping for. If you’ve got the guts and the grit go for it. It’s bloody brilliant and I hope to see you at the start line next year.

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The London Marathon Route Through Memory Lane

In 2013 it was advised to me that doing some exercise could help me with my mental health, the associated weight gain with my medications, and in general. Never did I imagine on that first run in 2013 did I think that 5 years later I would be walking up the same streets to the start line of The London Marathon. South East London has been my patch for almost a decade and in my lack of preparation for the marathon I didn’t know the route. I only saw it fully on some handouts at the expo, and my response was to think “oh wow, hmmm…” and proceed to not look at it again. I felt that having naivety on my side in regards to how long 26.2 miles really was was helpful. Sometimes, not knowing w hat you’re about to get yourself into can help diminish the pre-race anxieties of “shit, what have I just dove headfirst into”. This won’t work for everyone, but in this instance it worked well for me.

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Fully clueless to what I was about to do. Naivety was my friend at this point!

 

It was when I got off the bus with my Dad to walk up as it turned left onto Lee Terrace that the trip down memory lane began. Running up from the bottom towards Blackheath for the open space to run in was the initial plan when I started running. I got half way up before finding myself sitting, a flurried hot mess on the pathway up to blackheath and fervently googled “Why can I taste blood from running?” and “Why do my lungs burn so much from starting running?”. I sat there for a good while longer than I had been moving for and decided that I needed to take another route to exercise. I walked up to the grass on blackheath and decided to just move for 20 minutes with my music on. Cue, waving arms, and some jumping around, some dancing and just getting some movement into me. It was on the 3rd session of this that near marker 1. on the picture below that I tripped over a branch and found myself hobbling to A&E with a gash in my knee and needing stitches. When I say I NEVER thought 5 years ago in my clumsy attempts to get some exercise into my life that I would be walking those same routes and roads to The London Marathon start line. The moral of this story is, just move. Just get going in any way that feels right to you at the time. By starting, you never know where the journey will take you. Maybe it’ll take you to A&E in a wonder woman top needing stitches, or maybe it will take you to start lines, views and adventures you’ll never have guessed you would. Maybe, as in my case, it will lead to both. Don’t give up.

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For the first 8 miles, the absolute privilege of running The London Marathon and it being on my patch really served as a distraction from the momentous task that was ahead of me. It was very cathartic to be running quite literally through memory lane, acknowledging the good and the bad memories.

I spent the majority of my head space during the first 8 miles reminiscing on my journey over the last 9 years in London. How this journey has shaped me, open my eyes, taught me brutal lessons, and saved my life. To the people of Lewisham, thank you. To the places that have brought me a lot of joy, purpose and good life lessons, like that people aren’t always mean or operating with ulterior motives, Thank You. Even the memory of my first mental health crisis that landed me in hospital, and the first time I got sectioned, without these experiences I would not be who I am today. From the bad good can come. This trip down memory lane felt like closure on some of those experiences and chapters in my life.

Mental illness can be brutal. Without these memories though, I wouldn’t be studying something I am so passionate about from these experiences. I wouldn’t be volunteering in community projects to help others on their journeys. I wouldn’t have had my eyes open to the importance of practicing non-judgmentalness. Some of these memories are difficult ones but sometimes it is exactly those difficult memories that are the most important for growing as a person.

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The heat was brutal at this point. My most tired photo from the race -a mile just past half way.

The result? The first 8 miles were the most important for me. I really think this 8 miles of reflection time gave me the drive to bloody well enjoy the journey I was on to the finish line, be grateful for everything I have endured and survived and really just enjoy the pure act of being very alive that running is.

The rest of the markers and their associated milestones and memories are listed below: Continue reading “The London Marathon Route Through Memory Lane”

Life’s Funny Lessons Found In My Pre-Marathon Journey: You. Fucking. Got. This!

Sunday 22nd April 2018 – the day I ran my first marathon. Wow. It still sounds pretty surreal. I hadn’t trained for it properly and consequently, the goal was to cross the finish line in one piece, uninjured, and within the 8 hour cut off time. Regardless of training, I think these are pretty decent goals for a first marathon.

I’ve lived in London for nearly 9 years now. I first got the “It would be amazing to do that one day” was in 2010. I was in town for a photoshoot for a site I was writing for at the time and the marathon happened to be on. We caught a glimpse of it by chance at the north embankment, which is in the final stretches of the marathon route. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to do it within the decade; at the time, I didn’t run. I toyed with it but never kept it up. I didn’t do any formal exercise anymore and when I did it wasn’t for good reason. I wanted to lose weight; exercise was another form of self punishment.

I only really delved into the possibility that I could do it, actually for real, once I started running with Backpackers where I’d hear stories of other people running marathons, and see them with their medals. They survived and often had a smile on their face at their achievement and you know what? They were normal people. They had normal lives, weren’t necassarily highlighted as a running ‘talent’ from a young age but they ran marathons. Not only did they run marathons, they enjoyed them. It was at that point I thought that maybe one day I could possibly do that too.

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As an adult in my twenties I also thought that for a long time my mental health would prevent me from doing anything like this for a long time to come. Then Mind Over Marathon on the BBC happened. I heard of the project via Backpackers (original founder being Chevy Rough) and I heard him talk at the Backpackers launch. I watched the documentary and saw other people with mental health difficulties managing to take the challenge on, and amazingly, it helped them with their mental health. My focus shifted from I can’t do that until I have mastered my mental health issues sometime, in the distant future or maybe never.

I stopped viewing my mental health as an obstacle to what I wanted to achieve and do. I learned that actually running could become another tool in the big box of tricks for managing and living with, not fighting, my menta health difficulties. It was shown to be, very blatantly, that actually you can live alongside your mental health. You can work with it. Sometimes it may dominate your life, every waking moment for periods of time even but I had a new fire in my belly to make sure that I was going to learn to live with my issues and not in constant headlock with them. In the wake of 2017’s race I sined up to run for a chairty place. Shit. Wow.

In the wake of this enthused decision I was questioned. Are you still hypomanic? That’s crazy, that’s what people do after years of running consistently! Well wow, it’s good you’re doing things and aiming high but you don’t have to run a marathon, that’s…that’s…what? Crazy? Maybe it is but sometimes in life we gotta be a bit “crazy”. Life isn’t all that sane. Life isn’t calculated or linear or predictable. So I chose to embrace this and signed up. By winter I was doubting myself. I was depressed. I was barely coping. I wasn’t ready to train for a marathon like everyone else was. I wasn’t going to manage to raise the money. I couldn’t handle a big race because of my start line anxiety, as proven by my opting out of The Big Half for the virtual option.

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Then the hype for 2018 began. The countdown began. I stopped fighting myself and coming down on myself. I listened to the language of the universe and the ultimate summary was to go for it. I had come to the conclusion that I needed to listen to my body, listen to the universe, and ultimately trust in my body that it could manage to complete 26.2 miles. Together, my body and my mind crossed the finish line of The London Marathon 2018. I finished in 6:42:44 without a cut off time panic dash.

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The take home message? If you have a desire to do something and you believe that your life circumstances, or your mental health, or anxiety is a reason to not do it then stop that shit. right. now! I know it’s not easy and I wont say “if i can, anyone can” because we are all different. Our journeys are all different and maybe you have no desire to run a marathon. Maybe you want to paint, or go to art school, or play tennis. Whatever it is, as cheesy as this is about to get, if you don’t try you 100% won’t do it. Maybe it will take a long time to get there, but as long as you’re trying to live with your illness or whatever  it is you face in your life, and you know deep down that you really are trying then you won’t remain stagnated where you are for eternity. I promise you that.

Finally, if you on an impulse whim want to do something – stop doubting and just go. Just do it even if other people think you’re crazy or weird or being unstable. Sometimes, these decisions will retrieve terrible consequences, and other times they will be a major lesson that shows you just how much more you are capable of than you or anyone else ever previously thought. You’re in charge of you. You find you, and you do you – even if it is sometimes clinically diagnosable, trust me, the majority of people are in some way and you may find some doors you didn’t even know existed in life for you – you never know unless you try.

You fucking got this!

Medal Monday: CRUK Winter Run, London 2018

Sunday 4th February was World Cancer Day. To mark the event Cancer Research UK held their London event of their Winter Run 10k series. I ran this race for the first time last year, and it is a really great race. This year, my friend donated her place to me as she had signed up, forgotten so and couldn’t make it anymore, so that was really kind of her.

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I set off quite well in one of the final waves and remembered what I loved about this race so much. It’s not the size of the event, or the route – although it is a lovely route. It’s the inclusivity of the challenge. 10k is a significant distance to run. It isn’t a quick flash and it’s done for a lot of people. You have to mentally engage and push yourself to keep going. At this race there are runners of all shapes, sizes and levels of fitness, the brilliance of the event being that people are running not for times, but for a cause close to their hearts.

As I trundled behind some other trundlers (repping BackPackers!!) I couldn’t help read the signs adorning people’s backs remembering loved ones who had lost their fight to cancer, and celebrating those who survived because of research developments. More people currently survive cancer than ever. We still have a way to go but we’re progressing and that’s what feels so positive about this event. Developments have been made. There’s more work to do and fund to be raised by breakthroughs are happening and people are surviving.

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It was much colder this year than the last, but I’m not sure if that was because I layered more appropriately this year. Last year I was just getting back into running. I hadn’t managed to train much so it was a real achievement to even get to the start line because y’know, anxiety. I also wore way too many thick layers, like a running onion with them all tied around my waist by the finish line. So maybe experience made it feel colder because I was not a running onion this year.

Last year this race kick started my more frequent running. I do enjoy running, but when it’s cold, dark and wet it’s so hard to force yourself outside to run for the good of your mood, especially when you’re already in a ripe old funk. We all know this battle well, and it’s something that only sheer grit and determination is going to overcome until the nights get lighter and warmer: Yo! Spring, hurry up yeah?!?

7518843888_img_1553Hopefully this was the kick starter i needed, i hope *fingers crossed* to get back into running and exercising regularly as a way to stay well, mentally and physically. In fact it is a core pat of my current Wellness Action Plans, and I’m sick of letting myself sit in my bed for days at a time so let’s go! Everyone is saying that January was a trial month and that it doesn’t count right? I’m going to join that tribe. January isn’t a real.

 

 

Good Bye January, Hello Time to Talk Day 2018

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January is over. I never considered January to be too bad of a month but everyone constantly goes on about how it’s a bit of a shit month. This year it was a shit month for me. The weather probably didn’t help but I can’t blame the weather for everything because even in summer, if the mood strikes I can spend days in bed on the most beautiful of days. With this in mind as January became another month of lost days, it is somewhat timely that Time to Talk day is today.

Time to Talk, for anyone who isn’t aware, is a day where talking about mental health is actively campaigned for by Time to Change. Time to Change is a charity that campaigns to try to end mental health discrimination by encouraging conversation to harness positivity in the evolving attitudes towards mental health that we are seeing at the moment. In doing so, the hope I suppose is to move towards one of more balance, openness and create a culture in which everyone can develop a better understanding of mental illness and that one can’t just pull their hypothetical socks up.

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The campaign says there is no wrong place to talk about mental health, at the gym, over coffee, or even on a run. I think sometimes just being accepted and given the space to crack on in any way you know how without judgement can be a very welcome break. Most people in my life know I have mental health difficulties. It’s been somewhat of a long-standing issue for me, and one that I have a somewhat fraught relationship with.

When I’m doing well I can reflect and be grateful for everything my challenges have taught me, and how my path has shaped who I am today. I would almost certainly not be as non-judgmental and open-minded had I not had some of the experiences that I have. When I’m not feeling so chipper and dandy however, I cuss every moment of my life wasted on feeling shit, every lost opportunity because I let anxiety win, and every bad decision I’ve made due to my illness. I generally cuss the fact that mental health even exists a lot of the time, and how so debilitating your mind can become.

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I think being open about our mental health can only be positive. I try to be as honest as possible with those around me when I’m not feeling so great, so they know and can know not to take me being an arsehole personally. Let’s face it, mental health can get very gritty. It gets dark, it gets scary and it gets pretty fucked up at times. I don’t think shying away from this is helpful, however, maybe at the gym isn’t the best place to talk about the darkest parts of our psyche. I do think there are times and places that are more suited to certain conversations because even if you’ve finally accepted that you have or have had a mental health condition, there is still judgement.

I think closer, and more intimate conversations are best for challenging any stigma, prejudice or discrimination that may or may not be happening around us. People judge strangers very quickly, and sometimes you might not want everyone to know about your mental health struggles at first because hey, it’s nice to be known for your personality and not an illness that you have to manage. Kind of just like you might not want everyone to know about your bowel movements or sexual health. That’s ok.

Having said that, I’ll probably end up talking about mental health at some point because of my living and general situation, and that fact that a lot of my life still, unfortunately, remains largely oriented around managing my mental health. It’s not all roses and shortbread and that’s ok, for me, for you and for everyone. We all struggle at some point and I don’t think anyone can get through life without being tried, tested or even tortured by our minds albeit to differing degrees.

So let’s talk. This evening I will be heading to Crystal Palace park for a Time to Talk fun run. There’s some useful lists on their sites:
Events nationwide can be found here
Resources that can be found and used here
Tips on starting a conversation here

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Mental Health: Keeping Going During a Med Change

Where I’m at and how I plan to keep moving forward.

At the start of December I started a transition from one medication to another. I’m still adjusting but am finally on the prospective dose we hope will help me out. It’s not been easy at all. I have had all sorts of side effects to contend with, during which I have to keep repeating to myself that it will pass, and this right now is just a transition phase. It helps keep up the perseverance it takes to not sack it in or give up on the medication.

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My exercising habits have taken a hit during this time, along with some other parts of my life. I am finding myself really quite apathetic and unmotivated to really move. Currently I could definitely spend a string of days staring at the wall with nothing going on and doing nothing, and actually not even feel bored, or frustrated or anything much at all.

Getting myself going is quite challenging and I’m not really enjoying things as much as I would normally. I feel very much like I’m just trying to force myself to keep up with going through some of the motions each day. I’ve been writing a lot because staying on my computer all day every day is very appealing right now. I can concentrate so reading is a very helpful distraction for passing the time that feels less wasteful than just watching TV or magnolia walls do nothing.

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I’m not sad. I’m not particularly happy or enthused either. I suppose it’s that awkward in-between, so balanced there’s almost nothing. I think, quite understandably, this has impacted my ability to get out and run as much as I would like. Even climbing feels like going through the motions. I’m holding onto the hope that this too will pass and trying very hard to use opposite action to keep moving and doing despite my urges to become a breathing statue.

I feel quite cumbersome within myself. When I move it doesn’t feel easy or natural. When I did last go running it took a long time to get used to the motion of it again. I feel graceless, clumsy and jarred. It’s an odd one.

Therefore I’ve reduced the pressure on myself to do as much as I would ideally like to be doing. I’m trying to make sure I do something each day, and I’m trying to get some form of exercise 5 days a week, as long as it is something. Even if I continue to feel nothing, I think it is important to maintain some form of momentum because in these situations I know that it can be incredibly easy to stagnate in an endless nothingness.

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Getting out can be hard, and nature is a really great carrot of motivation!

So for now, the plan is:

  • Some form of exercise 5 days per week
  • Be sure to eat with balance in mind and get my fruit and veg
  • Get dressed each day
  • Make my bed each day to help dissuade myself from getting back into it
  • Focus on what I have done over what I have not done
  • Keep going to relevant support groups

When Running, Motivation and Mental Illness Collide

When motivation and mental illness become intertwined and this makes it difficult to stick to any form of plan. Getting dressed can be difficult to organise in my head when I’m like this, so balancing study, running, fitness, friends, groups I like to go to and volunteering is just a dream again. I know I can, and that I will again but right now this can’t be my currently reality. I need to learn to navigate these times as best as I can, and I think that’s a long journey ahead of me.

The past few weeks have been quite scatty. I’m not sure quite what is going on, or why things have gone so awry again. They have, and that’s something I need to take in my stride as best as I can. That doesn’t mean I will always keep my strides even and steady during these times – in fact, far from it. I may jolt forward and fast in my moments of being able to organise in my head and utilise my motivation to meet my goals, then trudge slowly in an aching manner as everything I intended to do to make me feel better slips away. Time doesn’t stop for anyone and right now I could do with time stopping for me to, I don’t know, figure out what’s sending me stray and to get myself back on track.


I’m swaying quite quickly right now between able and unable, motivated and unmotivated, being able to hear my thoughts and it being just a chaos of mish-mashed noises, being able to organise myself and feeling at a loose end, thinking ahead and being stuck in trying to think at all. I’ll be honest, I fucking hate this.

It does add more fuel to my fire in that when I am able to get myself out running and climbing, or going to the gym – it propels my need to do this stuff to feel good and maintain feeling well about myself.

I don’t even know what else to say; my head is mush.