The September Issues in Marrakech

[When I wrote this] I was supposed to be relaxing in a gite in the Atlas Mountains of Morrocco. The people who I met the previous Sunday and shared an evening meal with will have been doing exactly that after summiting the highest peak in Northern Africa, Mt Toubkal. Instead I am at home in London, having slept for the majority of the last few days.

There are a few times of year that are particularly difficult for me with my mental health: March/April and September in particular. I have a feeling that it is related to the changing seasons, and others have theories that it is a result of my daily stresses and goings on each time. It could even be related to historical events playing with my memory and emotions on a subconscious level. There really is no knowing of the exacts except for that they happen, and they happen at these times of year. After a number of years I have named them the Spring Bounce and the September Issue. I am not the only one to have such a pattern to their moods and well-being, it turns out that a lot of people, particularly those with mood disorders like Bipolar, struggle immensely at the onset of spring and autumn.

It could be a vast number of things but the experience feels familiar: moodiness, snappy encounters and a general grey scaling of everything: colours, smells and tastes. I need a lot of sleep: this means a long night and 1-3 naps during the day. I need a lot of cups of tea for soothing the soul, because is there anything that a cuppa can’t help with? I have a weird relationship with my appetite. I want sugar and comfort foods, yet at the same time everything tastes muted and I desire much less of it. I am slow. Speaking in sentences can at times be difficult because my words get muddled and I certainly don’t seem very capable of speaking and thinking at the same time. I feel like anyone who laughs within earshot of me is laughing at me after saying mean things. This has resulted in some stern stares to try and figure out the truth and if I need to confront them. Sometimes when this happens I turn around and no-one is there. The sun in the day may as well be night time all the time right now because that is exactly how it feels.

So instead of being up a mountain, hanging out and exploring I have been sat in my flat in London trying to minimise the effects of my mood on others as much as possible.

I was unsure about whether I should go to Morrocco or not and I went anyway with the theory being that I would never know unless I tried. Additionally, it could have gone very well or very badly. When I booked it in september, with the prior knowledge that i struggle at this time of year, I naively thought that having something to focus on and look forward to, and essentially distract myself would end a potentially self fulfilling prophecy of The September Issue’s reoccurrence. Of course, just as with the september issue of our favourite fashion magazines, nothing is going to stop the september issue from launching and being ever so extravagently big and jam packed with chaos, whether its mental health chaos or fashion chaos. I have had a brilliant summer, it’s in the top 5.

Even though I got to Morocco I had a break down on the sunday evening and walked home, having excused myself early from the group meal, crying. I decided to sleep and see how I felt in the morning however, after packing and prepping for the day ahead I just broke down crying. It would not stop. I knew at this point that pushing myself further would not reap any good results. When I cry like this, it is usually only going to get worse until I sleep extensively. It happened in Berlin last year, also in september, and at home. Even this morning, although apparently over nothing I cried and cried and cried until I eventually went to bed to sleep it off. No trigger. No cause. No reason. It just is.

Sometimes the right decision is not the one you want to make. There are many lessons yet to be learned. Even with potentially over doing it on the insight and reflection stance I will probably still make mistakes and much to my dismay, may never be fully in control of all of my mental health shenanigans. Sometimes when you live with chronic mental illness you have to make difficult decisions because ultimately, no matter how much I try, my illness will most likely always hinder me in some way. I won’t let it defeat me. I can’t. Instead all is can do is all that I will do, to keep working on getting what I want from life by working with my illness.

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Behaviour Change and The Monday Mentality

I first encountered what I call the Monday Mentality when I was engaging in dieting behaviour. I would design a diet plan that would always start on a Monday. If I designed the plan on a Thursday for example that gave me until Monday to eat, indulge and gorge on everything I wouldn’t be allowed from Monday onwards.  During the Bulimia days this would equate to days upon days of bingeing and purging. Monday would come, and this was a new start. Every Monday was a new me like the 1st of January, except Monday just kept on coming around every single week. This is 52 chances a year to start a new diet, exercise regime, habit, project, study, checking off the errands on that list as long as your arm and as old as your eldest son.

There is a fresh feeling about Monday. We start a new study week or work week or just a new week in general. Everything starts up again and it feels like a perpetual chance of new starts and the beginnings of new habits and lives. I used to delude myself into thinking that from next Monday everything would change. I would stop bingeing and finally exist on a minute amount of calories. I would finally lose weight. I finally stop purging.

The Monday Mentality creep into every avenue where we start goal setting. It usually trumps the ‘why not start today?’ and the ‘There no time like the present’ thinking because it is more enticing to continue with shitty habits for a few more days in favour of trading them in tomorrow, always tomorrow and of course, for every single day that we exist in this universe, no matter what happens, there will always be a tomorrow until our final day. Thank you universe. There is a great gift in tomorrow.

Today is shit? You’ve had a crap day from start to finish, have a sleep and there is always tomorrow where you get to start over on making a good day. Wait a few more days and give yourself time to sulk it out and start again on, you guessed it, Monday. There’s always a Monday just on the horizon. Even on a Tuesday or Wednesday there is always a Monday on the horizon so it is easy to get stuck in the Monday Mentality of, I’ll start on Monday.

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I got caught up in this thinking pattern during my first year studies at university earlier this year. I had a depressive episode which meant that most days were going not according to plan off the mark every week for a number of weeks. I would push myself really hard to change my behaviour and get to university on Monday. Tuesday would come and more often than not during my first year I wouldn’t make it. This for a good few weeks wrote off the rest of the week until the following Monday when I would get a ‘fresh start’ to try to improve my attendance, get off the ‘fitness to study’ radar, and ultimately get my shit together. Whilst working with the welfare officer at university she said, ‘why wait until Monday?’. I didn’t really have an answer other than, it felt more like a goal to start changing.

The truth is, goals never get met whilst engaging with the Monday mentality. Thursday is as good a day as any Monday to start. Together we decided that starting now would be a good idea and if today didn’t work, I can always sleep and there’s a brand new day to start now on in the morning. This meant that every morning I gave it a good go in terms of getting to places, leaving the house, showering, and managing to catch up and complete some study.  This means that even if I wasn’t making massive gains each day, or I wasn’t achieving loads all of a sudden overnight I had started to practice the Now Mentality, which ultimately leads to smaller achievement that build up to create great differences and, fingers crossed it all works out, eventually building mastery over myself, and my illness.

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This isn’t to say that I cured my depressive episode this way. That took a medication change and some more tweaks further down the line. What it did mean however, was that every morning was a chance to improve. Every morning was a chance to seize the day the best I could for that day. So each day I would make a plan that felt achievable and not overwhelming. It would include something like, shower, mindfulness, dishes, study. Sometimes I would only manage to eat, and have a shower and that was fine. The key difference was that Tuesday or Wednesday wasn’t pissing me off and I wasn’t then vowing to stay in bed until next Monday before I tried again. This method over time built a bit of resilience and a fresh view of each day being as good as any Monday to try. That’s all I was asking of myself, to try. That’s all anyone can ask of themselves, but if you decide to wait until next week each week before initiating change then every time you wait a few days to indulge in the habits you’re trying to break you are entrenching those habits deeper. If you are trying each day to change a habit, even if you slip up and indulge in the habit in question, you are trying again as soon as it’s done to change it again. That way you are entrenching the habit less, and enforcing the habit change more frequently, which is more likely to lead to a successful habit or behaviour change.

It seems like common sense. It really does feel obvious however, the temptation to be comfortable, which bad habits often are if they’re our usual way of functioning then the amount of self-discipline to say no to yourself and within yourself when no one is around to motivate or encourage you otherwise is great. Self discipline I think though is another habit that can become the new norm in this way. Being accountable to others can help but it isn’t healthy to rely on others to change your own behaviour. No one can change your behaviour or habits but yourself.

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This area gets more murky when mental illness is involved, but it rings just as true for mental illness. Although often a health professional is required to guide behaviour change in this instance. I’m not saying someone with OCD can change their rituals alone in this way, or that someone can stop engaging in eating disorder behaviours like this alone. Not at all. For small habits though, the trying every day brings a clean slate and a new opportunity to do better than before, every 24 hours. This can be quite helpful and can help with making the most of each day even during depression because some days you won’t be able to get out of bed, but on the days when you can you will likely achieve more on the good days which could help with the progression of the episode. It may buffer the loss of self-esteem during an episode as well when coupled with self compassion.

So scrap Mondays. Monday just means the world starts a new week. Next Monday will be no different to last Monday if you vow to make huge changes overnight on Monday. It won’t happen. We slip and we slide when breaking old habits and forming new ones. Accepting this and living in the present will likely mean in 20 Mondays time, you will be able to look back and see more successful changes because you’ve had 140 new starts, and 140 clean slates rather than 20.

Each Monday holds no more value in its 24 hours than any other day of the week. How about we stop putting Monday 1st on the podium above all the other days? Each day is a new day. There’s no time like the present. Every new morning is a new day, and the opportunity for a new start.

The (Virtual) Big Half

The Big Half was on the 4th March. It was a while ago now. So far ago that a virtual option was initiated because many people couldn’t travel to the start line because of The Beast From The East, and yesterday we had a great day of sun and warmth. In order to count, the half effort had to be completed and up loaded by Sunday 11th March.

The same weekend as The Big Half, Bath Half was cancelled. My Dad had signed up for that so we would have been running a half at the same time at different races, somewhat of a cool coincidence. After a few weeks of excited and nervous talk neither of us wound up running that Sunday. We agreed though, to complete our half efforts virtually together – him in Devon and me in London. So the following Saturday that was our plan. We set off around 1 with a drop in phone call at the start, somewhere around half way and after we finished. Our pace and fitness levels are in a similar region so when we did touch base at the halfway point and the end, we had both completed a similar distance, and finished in close time to each other.

I didn’t plan my route for this. I was volunteering on Saturday morning in Archway, so that was my start line. I glanced at the map and chose a direction. I had a rough route planned, with the destination of direction being home. At Camden I changed my game plan as I stumbled along the canal pathway. In Camden it was busy but as I pushed along the canal path it became more spacious, less crowded and quite pleasant.

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I’ve rarely been on the canal path in London. I’ve dipped on it here and there but I’ve never run along it. It was good, something I’d recommend and a lot of other people probably would considering the amount of people you see running them online and in real life. It’s ideal ground for distance or a quick jog because it’s flatter than a pancake. The scenery is a contrast to London’s usual smoggy buildings and over-packed roads. Then when I checked the map to see if I was still going to be in London if I kept going, read: the flyover motorway gave me in the inclination I was running pretty west, I realised it was time to leave the canal path. After some snaking through Ladbroke Grove, I hit the parks that touch edges with each other from Hyde Park to Green Park with some laps, then St. James’ Park before heading towards London Bridge along the South Bank.

“Running 13.1 miles on Saturday after volunteering turned out ot be the most relaxing day of the week.”

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Totally pooped on the train home!

It was a perfectly (un)planned distance route for a half, starting at Archway and finishing right outside London Bridge station – my fast track homeward bound. I had a lot of uni work on around this time, and trying to juggle studying with doing other img_4221things to relax is a balance I’ve not yet mastered. I’d spent a lot of time watching TV because that seemed like what people do to relax. I was wrong. I don’t run as frequently as I would ideally like myself to (a goal in the making), but running 13.1 miles on Saturday after volunteering turned out to be the most relaxing day of the week – and t

his is what I need to keep reminding myself when I decide to sit in my chair and watch TV.

Now my first half marathon medal of 2018 is hanging on my rack, exactly where it should be.

Cancer Research UK Tough 10, Box Hill

I was looking for some trail races a while ago. I like running. I love natural environments so it feels like a natural progression for me to take my running from the city to the trails.

For me personally there’s only so much city running you can do and feel inspired. There’s also the niggles you have to take into account like traffic lights, pedestrians that are waking, cars, bin bags, lamp posts… it’s a concrete jungle that leaves me feeling lack lustre at times.

To me my relationship with running feels like I would like it to progress as a way to get in nature, a method by which to explore the world and an experience that makes me feel very alive. Sometimes pollution fumes and sirens don’t quite do that for me. So I looked for some trail races and found the Tough 10 series by CRUK.

They rate the difficulty of their races by the number of trainers, 1-3. This race took part on Box Hill And was rated three trainers tough. Box Hill is known by cyclists and was one of the steepest ascents in the 2012 Olympic cycling events. The steepness of the ascent is quite brutal.

On the first ascent we climbed the steps by the stepping-stones. 270 stairs but not equal stairs, these are slippy woodland stairs which tend to be much more of a step than your average stairwell. I walked up and felt every breath and tiny oxygen atom mattered. Once at the top there were some flatter stretches, some down hill and a few more uphill.

I really enjoyed the variation of the terrain. I loved the views even though I’ve been and seen them before – there’s nothing more rewarding for climbing something than taking a breather to look around and admire the views you earned from the climb. The ground was quite slippy and I didn’t lose my footing.

I rolled my ankle once and didn’t go over or injure myself thanks, I think, to the ankle wiggling exercises I do before a run. Running on the slope down hill felt amazing when it was a gentle gradient. I felt like I could relax and my legs just carried me along. I felt so free and alive just running through the woodland. My legs just carried me and I breathed easy.

I honestly feel like I’m starting to get the going for a run to relax and unwind thing. It’s not always super hard work anymore – and it now is very enjoyable. I’m definitely going to be hitting up some more trails – it wasn’t as hard for me mentally as I expected it to be.

This race was 10k and I feel like I’m finally comfortable with than distance so now it feels like the right time to started increasing my distance up to 15/20km. Bring it!

I went to Kobox yesterday and although that was a 50 minute class it felt much harder mentally to stay in the class and push through despite being less time – I think this was because we did exercises by the wall as well as punching the bag and the exercises were weighted so I struggled quite a lot with them. Whereas I’ve been running more consistently for a few months now so my body is quite used to t by comparison to weighted squats, trunk twists and mountain climbers.

I mean I already established last week that my core isn’t strong enough and that I’ve lost some of the core strength I did have – and this class confirmed my thoughts further.

So here’s to getting my mojo back. Here’s to trail running being bloody fabulous. Here’s to increasing the distance and getting stronger in order to do this.

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.

 

Marathon Training Journal: Week One

23/10/17 , Monday
Run: 30 min easy run
Weather: fresh. Not cold and not hot. Ideal running weather.


Before I went I wasn’t feeling it. I’ve been not running as much lately because of bad mood and anxiety. Which is counterproductive because running will help with those things.

I stayed up til 2am last night watching tv. I’ve been watching a lot of tv lately. This is a bit of a highlighter that things aren’t quite right. I stayed moping around the house and sleeping until 4pm at which point I said to myself I neeeded to kick myself out the door and that despite my sluggishness, headache, sloth feelings and complete lack of motivatuon to do anything but nope that I would feel better.

I was quite anxious bc I’ve not been running lately as much. Once I was out the door however it helped. I felt relaxed whilst I was running as it was an easy pace for 30 minutes. I went up to one tree hill although after some incline I started to fast walk it because it was very steep. Once up there I enjoyed the view and stood on the benches to look out over London. The feeling of insignificance really helps me to calm down sometimes. I get this when I think about the universe and sometimes when I look over London and think of how I’m one person in this massive city. It’s quite soothing in an odd way.

Then I ran down and picked up some food for dinner at Sainsbury’s. I feel more awake and more relaxed since going out – and this is something I need to keep reminding myself of!


29/10/17
Run: 30 min easy
Weather: a bit chilly and dry

I did this run in the morning, although remembered why the ‘lay your k it out the night before’ trick is so often repeated. I must have spent 30 minutes rummaging around for the right kit for this and that – especially as I was taking my bag for an extra layer. I ran to the house where I am currently cat sitting. I have grossly underestimated how much distance I can cover in a few minutes now. This shows I have gotten stronger rand better even if I am in a bit of the training plateau that I am currently in.

I didn’t write straight away after running this time so I don’t remember how I felt before and after. Second lesson in a second paragraph: write our running diary entry straight away.