Following on from my previous post about honesty, the truth is that it is most definitely not peaches and roses living with an eating disorder sufferer; there were tantrums, floods of tears and moods leveling out at ‘a through the floor kind of down and out’. My partner didn’t always know the right things to say. Sometimes she didn’t even have to talk. We didn’t say anything. She would come up to me as I’m sat to the table sobbing my eyes out because “I just can’t” and just hold me before taking my hand, leading me to the other room and holding me some more.
At other times, in a rage of frustration at food, someone or myself she’d listen, let me vent then help comfort me. Hugs, watching TV, and going for a walk all helped to calm me down, soothe the situation and move on. It was an incident but it needn’t define the whole day. Sometimes, we wouldn’t even talk. I wouldn’t talk and she wouldn’t talk, but the acts of going for a walk in silence, the acts of wrapping her arms around me, and the acts of stroking my head whilst I sobbed helped and became invaluable support. Quite literally, she held my hand. She couldn’t recover for me, she couldn’t change anything for me, but she could be there, next to me, holding my hand – and that is exactly what she did.
Why do we climb? Why is there a whole sport dedicated to scaling difficult to scale walls, only to be lowered down again as if you never got to the top at all? I think climbing is one of those sports that is pure in its challenge, in it’s trying to be better than you were yesterday and in feeling a pure sense of accomplishment over an outwardly and seemingly pointless activity. There is so much more to climbing than just scaling walls, there’s the self-mastery of your fear, the people you meet and enjoy the company of, there are the adventures and trips that make you feel so glad to be alive. What could be a better way to spend your time than connecting with others, connecting with yourself and connecting with nature: and here is perhaps a core feature that makes climbing such a gripping sport.
At the weekend I experienced outdoor lead climbing for the first time. This means clipping in your quickdraws as you go to bolts attached to the wall. Between carabiners, the last point of protection can sometimes be below you, which makes falling so SO much scarier. On top rope, falling is no bother. On lead, it really ought to be no bother but it’s pretty terrifying when you’re last anchored to the wall below yourself because you have twice as far to fall, even if you’re only 4 inches above the last quickdraw – it can take a lot of deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth to let yourself fall. You know you will be caught. You know you won’t get hurt. You trust your belayer, otherwise you wouldn’t have started the climb, and still, you shit it.
This kind of climbing is known as sport climbing, and I think it’s probably the most popular type of outdoor climbing. There’s something very different about sport climbing outside compared to the climbing gym. As with all outdoor climbing, the route can be less obvious, the heights are a bit more, and the scenery is second to none. We went to Portland in Dorset, which is an area of some of the best coastal climbing in the UK. On one side you are faced with dramatic wall faces that command a beauty of their own, and on the other, the vastness of the sea: so vast and so beautiful yet in the same breath, so dangerous with no fucks given about swallowing you up in its gentle gargantuan currents, just like that. Mother nature never ceases to fascinate me. Below is a list of observations from popping my outdoor sport climbing virginity:
Limestone is sharp and hurts your fingertips.
Being above the last quickdraw makes me very nervy. I need to fall more and get OK with falling!
That falling on the rope is still fine, even though it’s scary – I did fall unexpectedly and funnily enough, the system worked. I live to tell the very uneventful tale.
Climbing on the sun-trap side of rockface is confusing for my sense of time; it really felt like a beautiful spring day!
Grades outside are much harder than their numerical counterparts in gyms – hello vanity grading! (I don’t even know if this is a thing, but I imagine so!)
Deep breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth is your friend when you’re internally screwing and freaking.
The frustration of not making a route you thought you’d flash is incredibly humbling as it is frustrating.
Good company is an essential component of a great trip – this is something that Black Lizard Climbing and Mountaineering Club nail! Link if you want to come and join or try us out.
I need to climb more – goals, goals, goals!
Climbing is an emotional sport, much more than I ever gave it credit for when I started. I remember saying to a climbing friend years ago, that climbing was great because there no emotion involved, it was just methodical and logical. She disagreed and thought it was an incredibly emotional sport. I’m more inclined to agree with her… 4 years later!
January is well and truly underway halfway point of peak wintriness (definitely!). With lengthier stints of creepy darkness consuming our hours, it’s a very natural feeling to want to hibernate a bit. I think the bears have the right idea with this one. Unfortunately, we are not bears and the world does not stop for 6 months a year for us to hibernate; the show must push on.
Winter would not be complete without a mention of our aptly named friend, SAD. SAD is actually an acronym for ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’, which is characterised by depression that occurs recurrently and seasonally, most often during winter months. A small number of people do experience symptoms during summer months, however. There are a few contributors to the development of SAD, including affected circadian rhythms (a pattern of rhythms and motions that control and affect our sleep/wake cycles), reduced sunlight exposure meaning a reduced exposure to Vitamin D, and therefore absorption. Vitamin D, particularly D3 is very important for mood maintenance and overall happiness. It is now recommended that everyone takes a supplement during the winter months because as the winter progresses in the northern hemisphere most people become deficient of this vital and unique micronutrient and hormone precursor.
Even for those of us who aren’t experiencing SAD right now, January is still a bit of a funny month. The festive shenanigans are over, which can be a relief. For others, this means there’s nothing to look forward to for a while (debatable). Perhaps something terrible happened at Christmas because usually in someone’s life something terrible happens at Christmas (not an official statistical fact). To top it off, January hosts Blue Monday – an idea that the third Monday in January is the bluest of them all, and although I very much disagree with the sentiment that you can feel depressed for a day or a week only, the fact that the idea of Blue Monday took off indicates that January is just a bit of a shit time of year – which is kind of funny considering we start it off with the biggest bang of all the months; while being the number one most hated month (a very quick and brief google search confirms this if that’s the level of evidence we’re accepting now).
With all of this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to think of some ways to cope this January if you are feeling a bit off keel. Maybe you’re skint and want a holiday – Oh HI THERE!?! Maybe you’re feeling a bit crappy because Christmas happened and that can be a bit shit for a lot of people. Maybe you’re feeling fat but that crazy restrictive diet you started and swore would change your life hasn’t lived up to your hopes, or you didn’t stick to it (I don’t blame ya!) and the thought that having a specific quantification of your gravitational force on Earth is maybe, just maybe, not the answer to all your problems (spoiler alert, this is almost guaranteed!!) And maybe you can’t put your finger on a reason, and that’s OK too! So without further ado, I present to you the catchiest list title ever…
Things Maybe, perhaps, Worth a try This January if and when You Feel a Bit Shit
(also recommended for when it’s not January and these are not January specific suggestions – you can do them any time of year, any place, where ever and whenever you want) Exercise
Even just getting out for a walk in the park, preferably during daylight hours if you can, will help; fresh air, trees, and a punch of nature. If you’re in the countryside, then go submerge yourself in real nature for a stroll instead of the man-made catastrophes we love in London so much. Eat your fruit and veg
This isn’t the same as dieting, but eating a varied and colourful diet can really make sure you’re getting all those vitamins and minerals that play a vital role in maintaining your well-being. Also, the fibre and whatnot will help your gut microbiome be healthy – which is super important for maintaining your mood and mental wellbeing. Speaking of gut health.
Take a probiotic if you can
Look for one that is general all-rounder, or perhaps more specific to what you might need. I’m currently taking one for my immune system because *cough cough splutter* need I say more?
Connect with people
See your friends. Have a real conversation and turn off the box a little bit. Netflix does not count as hanging out with a friend or partner. If real-life people contact is a bit difficult, go to the park and pet people’s dogs. Dogs love it, usually. You love it, don’t you?
Let yourself rest
I get it, January is prime life overhauling time. You want to train for a spring marathon, you want to lose weight, you want to work towards that promotion – and go for it if you really want to – but don’t forget to rest. There’s no use pushing for goals and burning yourself out in the process because you are more likely to either fail or achieve your goals injured, battered and unable to really enjoy the glory of your hard work and suffering. Chill with a cup of tea, have a bath, read a book, watch some TV.And remember, if you’re marathon training – you really really do need more sleep in order for your body to recover from training and lay down the training gains in muscle reparation. Thisall happens mostly when you’re asleep. Early bedtime calling your name? Yeah same, I love an early bedtime!
Be Balanced in your approach
Even if you are wanting to lose weight or change your diet completely, a piece of cake won’t ruin everything. Whatever your goals, we need to move away from the all-or-nothing mentality. Have a piece of cake if you really want it, a cake can be a perfectly fine and healthy complement to our lives. Believe it or not, there are situations where eating a piece of cake is a sign of healthier behaviour – moderation is your mentor!
If you’re feeling really radical, maybe try a new sport: Rugby England are currently doing their Inner Warrior Campaign for womens rugby, or maybe there’s a sport club near you offering try-out sessions to have a go and have some fun? Rugby is great fun (I may be slightly biased but, if you’re feeling brave enough give it a try! YOLO and faces can be restructured by plastic surgeons really well now so that’s not an excuse!)
I hope these are some helpful ideas. If you’re really struggling and think you might actually be depressed or suffering way more than what you think you should be, then book an appointment with your GP and talk to them about how you’re feeling. They can assess you a little bit and figure out what the right steps might be for you.
If I asked you to walk home in the rain, how would you respond? Would you tell me to open my eyes; it’s raining, duh? Or maybe you might feed us both an excuse that you don’t have your umbrella and it’ll ruin your hair? What if I told you that sometimes taking the uncomfortable option can help you grow? Now I know you’re not a thirsty plant, but hear me out! Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is essential for developing resilience, a “Fuck It” attitude and for finding out what you are really made of. Most of the time, these uncomfortable situations that we frantically avoid aren’t all that bad, such as walking home in the rain. Sometimes they may even be a source of joy, imagine that! Walking home in the piss wet rain could be a highlight of your day? Maybe you think I’m full of shit. Maybe I am, but let’s ignore that for a moment because there is one person who we owe it to to do the things that make us feel uncomfortable – and that is ourselves.
Every day I see people that inspire me to push myself, whether it’s that they have something that I want *ahem a Marathon Majors 6-Star Medal cough* or they’re holding the first copies of their newly published book – I’m jealous, so shoot me! I just want to smell crisp new pages covered in my words! What lies between where I am now, and where I want to be is very simple and very painful: a whole lotta growth.
Make yourself do unpleasant things so as to gain the upper hand of your soul – W.E.B. Du Bois
This is where owing it to yourself to get comfortable being uncomfortable comes into its own. Do you remember any of your teenaged growth spurts? Those HURT! Growth is uncomfortable, and of course, it takes effort to grow, relentlessly unforgiving and continuous effort. You owe it to yourself to challenge yourself and get comfortable being uncomfortable. By becoming comfortable with discomfort we learn how much we can push ourselves, we realize and learn our limits, and that our resilience reaches beyond our own imaginations.
The option to stay exactly where we are is always there. When we have had enough we can always stop and decide if we like it just as it is. Maybe you do, or maybe it’s just easier to stop, for a long time self-harming was more comfortable than facing the rawness of my psychology and mind, learning to eat was more uncomfortable than starving myself and there came a point when being unwell becomes more comfortable than undertaking the journey to becoming well because being unwell was all I knew- I soon learned that growth happens in the most treacherous and uncomfortable of waters, as the adage and many a meme go. It’s true. That shit is scary and itchy ants-in-your-pants uncomfortable. The best teacher and arena I have found in persevering through discomfort has been exercising, without it, I doubt I would have recovered as much as I have.
Sometimes when you’re covering a large distance in one go, hi there marathon, or hiking and climbing up a mountainside (Tryffan, we have unfinished business), it is uncomfortable. It is hard. In each task, by putting one foot in front of another, a very simple yet vastly symbolic act, the finish goal will eventually appear. In continuing to show up for yourself through the challenge and continuing to push on through the burning quads, aching knees, jarring concrete and absolute monotony that can be associated with covering distance, you get there and all of a sudden the intense and immense gratitude, pride, sense of accomplishment that you feel makes it all completely 100% worth it. You don’t forget the pain, this isn’t childbirth, it just all becomes worth it.
So taking this ideology into a bigger playing field is the next step, and they don’t always have to be huge strides of progress that are acquired during an activity for it to be worth it, next time it’s raining, which if you’re in London is probably tomorrow lets be honest, walk for a bit in the rain even though you don’t want to go out in it. Go for that walk in the cold. Take your shoes off, feel the ground and the cold iciness of a wintery puddle submerge your toes. Practice different types of discomfort, physical, emotional, mental: turn the heating down to below comfortable for a day, have a cold shower, go for a run up a hill. This is the reality. Life isn’t always sweet, it’s mostly pretty grim. In practise, you empower yourself to manage situations when you lack control over a situation. Sit in the overwhelm and when exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations, go ahead and nurture yourself as well. Self-soothe yourself through the discomfort, learn how to do this for yourself. Figure out whether it’s a mantra that you repeat in your head, a texture that you feel, a particular way of fidgeting your fingers that is soothing. This is great practice for self-soothing in situations that are uncomfortable where you have no control over being able to escape them, i.e. depression, anxiety, that presentation in front of your colleagues, public speaking, a race, a challenge, commuting on an overpacked tube at rush hour. It doesn’t mean you always succeed, just that you will succeed more than when you couldn’t tolerate any discomfort.
I love my freezer. We have had them available for our homes for just over 100 years and believe me when I tell you, they. are. a. game. changer. It stores ice cream perfectly for when you can’t eat your Ben and Jerrys in one go, it turns water into ice so iced coffee at home can be a thing and it stores many meals in conveniently for when I really cannot be fucked to cook. Let me hear a Hell Yeah! from anyone else who is also feeling the freezer love right now!
There are many misconceptions about eating healthily that permeates our culture and attitude towards “healthy eating” and eating well, some of which are based upon a smidge of reality, such as eating a varied and balanced diet costs more money than a less varied and balanced diet. Then there’s the downright ludicrous like detoxing, and that you must pay for the privilege of powders and packets to do said detoxing of those treacherous toxins, and that gluten free is a healthier option for non-coeliacs, and that convenience food is always super unhealthy. Well that’s bullshit.
The thing is, eating well doesn’t have to mean getting overpriced foods from Whole Foods; you don’t even have to step foot into the wonderful world of wankers that most Whole Foods¹ stores are, and don’t even get me started on Waitrose. In fact, a lot of foods marketed as “healthy” or “good for you” that are trendy aren’t much more nourishing than the normal foods we are used to that form our staple stock shops from your local Sainsbury’s, Aldi and Lidl; a matcha² donut is still a donut and vegan ice cream is still full of additives, preservatives and similarly “unwhole” ingredients chastised for being in non-vegan “junk foods” and a pastry is a still a pastry even if it’s dusted with the finest powder of super food extract and cost £6.50. Gregg’s do a banging donut for £1 by the way.
It’s perfectly fine to sometimes rely on ready meals and frozen foods, such as fish fingers, frozen veg and something of a potatoey goodness. Convenience cooking is OK and nothing to be shunned at via food snobbery; sometimes you’re tired, sometimes you just want something easy and quick³. Sometimes convenience is the only option because work is annoying, winter is winning and you’re experiencing a dwindling will to live that only a TV binge can fix. I’m being dramatic, we’re not all depressed (or are we?) but some evenings really feel that way after a long day. That’s where the freezer comes in, as if by some miracle of the modern day the freezer and the world of freezer foods, ready meals and pop in the microwave *ding* technology really comes into it’s own because despite your melancholy mojo a slice of toast, or ten just won’t do.
There is now a great variety of healthy ranges in the freezer and ready meal sections of the supermarket. If you’re uncertain look out for the traffic light system available on most ready meals and supermarket products. The more green labels the better, some orange is dandy and a little red is fine, it doesn’t connote devil food after all! Personally I love fish fingers and sweet potato oven chips for dinner.
N.B. 1. Although admittedly, Whole Foods is the Hamleys of supermarkets and I do love it! 2. I’m so glad the matcha trend has fizzled out 🤮🤮🤮 3. I’m talking about food, not a shag.
For anyone who knows me well, they know that September/October is a hard time of year and has been throughout the past decade. For a long time the underlying cause was assumed to be situational stress, with something always assumed to have been bothering me: an argument with my other half; studying was difficult; work was stressful; my routine had been disrupted; this had happened and that had happened, historically speaking, like an anniversary of shite; it rained too much or it was too sunny. To be frank there’s always someone in your life that is doing your head in a bit, and in the UK there’s always always the weather, regardless of how good or bad said weather patterns are being, no matter the time of day, week or year, there is always an angle to take from which you can blame the weather for life’s woes.
This ‘something must be going on’ approach is understandable; when things go awry with your mood and mental state it seems that the most logical first step is to try and pinpoint a cause, and from there you can theoretically hatch a plan. The thing is, there is always something external to blame whether or not there is validity or truth in the reason. For ten years we’ve been fine-comb picking my life apart to figure what it is that has set me off this time. After about a decade, a pattern has emerged. I am always looking for an explanation in september and october. The chicken or the egg, the mood or the thoughts, the cognitive or the behavoural?
Now we have pinned it on the changing seasons: autumn saddens, and spring quite literally springs. I have tried to go on as if to not expect the wobble. I have tried to distract myself out of the habitual mood change with hoildays, festivals and exciting events to look forward to, just in case it was a subconscious pattern. I have tried ignoring it just in case I was placebo affecting it into effect, and I have tried to go on as if everything is just as fine and stable as it was mid-August. None of this has worked.
A breakdown in Berlin, a meltdown in Morocco, a face like a slapped arse, and difficulties in not to lashing out ensued from getting into confrontations with mates and strangers alike, particularly on public transport, inextricably blaming everyone but me for being so goddamn unreasonable. I mean sometimes they are but my patience is tissue paper thin right now, so instead of not rising to the occasion or ignoring something annoying, I snap, crackle and pop.
The difference between now and a decade ago is that I have a decades’ worth of experience up my sleeve at managing these episodes, it that CV worthy? I feel like managing this is a transferable skill? At least these episodes are no longer scary for me because they are in fact incredibly familar. I recognise and feel familiar with the feelings and the irrational thoughts of “I should just kill myself” – spoiler alert, I shouldn’t. The intrusive thoughts of just pushing, shoving or tripping people up for having the audacity to be near me in the street street are just that, intrusive thoughts. I can choose to act on them with varying degrees of self control – and if I’m really struggling to control them then I just stay close to home. I take it easy. I grab coffee and reply ever more inconsistently to my phone. I watch shit TV and let myself be. Sometimes I’ll fall into mentally beating myself up for being so useless and lazy, and then I remember that this is in fact why I am studying part-time, this is in fact why I get the financial aid that I do and this is in fact a much better option than pushing on even more so, only to absolutely lose my fucking shit completely. Top tip: prevention is always better than cure, or picking up the pieces.
This is all familiar now. When it happens I have the confidence to manage it and that it will pass. It always passes. It is never like this forever. All I need to do is call my CPN and tell her. She is arranging zopiclone for me at tomorrows meeting from a single phone call today. It’s predictable and routine. I reflect to figure out the root cause and I’m not particularly confused. I’ve got through it for my entire life, and I know that with time it will settle and pass, if I do the right things to help myself. I know what helps and what really realy does not help. So if you’re struggling with the mood shifts that are so frequently triggered at this time of year for anyone with a mood disorder, hear me out. It passes. IT ALWAYS PASSES. Sometimes it takes a really long time, and sometimes it doesn’t. Look after yourself, take your meds, and get them looked at if you can if you’re struggling an unreasonable amount.
Give alcohol a miss and sleep is a priority. Solitude in times of feeling short fused is OK and seeing people when you’re feeling alright is a necessity for our sanity. It’s OK to watch shit TV. Doing small things helps, and not having major comitments also helps. Balance. Balance. Balance and perseverence. You’ve got this, I’ve got this, we’ve got this.
N.B. Fuck that ending was cheesy!!!!! Grab a cracker.
As I sit here in my favourite alcove on campus, watching over the trees as the squirrels dance over the grass at the edge of campus, I realise that I have just two years left at uni. This seems like most of the course to a lot of people but I’ve been studying part time which means my degree will take a total of five years to complete. I’m in no rush.
Going into my first lesson of the year ahead, I walk in without worry and sit in the middle of the lecture theatre. I know what is going on just intermittently as we delve into the complexities of metabolic pathways and that’s ok. I’m more chill about no understanding everything the first time you’re introduced to it. I’m not panicked by not having the end seat on a row. I’m not concerned that people are saying about me, if they’re even saying anything at all. I’m not wishing the world woud swallow me up whole and make everything disappear or that I could immediately teleport home.
The anxiety I used to face at the start of the year, when all the freshers turn up in their hundreds and cram along the corridors to queue for lectures is no longer the major challenge that it was when I started uni in 2016. I’m pretty much at ease with myself and the situation at hand. I’m at ease sitting in a lecture theatre, I’m at ease walking around the corridors and I’m at ease finally with being in the uni environment. My anxiety has downgraded from high octane fright night levels of panic to meh!
No longer do I find myself dodging and flirting my way around campus crevices, hiding in empty rooms because the study room full of students is overwhelming. No longer do I longingly stare at the train tracks as each train that isn’t mine passes me by, wondering if I should just get it over and done with. Still, I experience The September Issues but I’m sure as hell not suicidal in any way nor do I feel paranoid, fearful or desperate to feel nothing instead of the everything that overwhelms me.
I’m a loner on campus but not a loner in life, and this gives me an extra confidence within myself. My confidence has grown so much over the last couple of years that I am very much a different person to when I started here and I still have two years to go. I no longer need weekly welfare meetings, or fitness to study meetings with the Head of College. I’m quite excited to see what I will grow into by the time graduation comes around for me.
Overall, I’ve only had one or two admissions since starting my course and I’ve got stronger and stronger with each successive year. I’ve learned the course content, alongside learning to manage more demanding workloads and how to function despite a shitty ass mood episode. I’ve managed to get myself into my lesson despite how much I’ve hated being awake or going out that day. My resilience has improved and now my life is no longer dictated entirely by my emotional state alone. I imagine that I probably still have a relatively severe case of resting bitch face, and you know what, who cares?! I’m functioning at a higher level than I ever have since the summer of 2011.
Attending uni part time has been absolutely paramount in my getting better at managing life, alongside my therapeutic input and medication alterations. It has taught me to push through when I can, to open up and be honest about needing to rest when I need, and that I can do something with my life outside of the mental health system. I have learned to play a team sport, which has an impact beyond my university life. When my anxiety makes a comeback, instead of isolating and hiding, I’m like a legendary slayer from Final Fantasy, slaying that beast, gain some XP and continue on my way. I’m surpassing levels I never thought I’d get the opportunity to entertain, and as I sit here in my favourite alcove on campus, I am proud, excited for the future and so absolutely fucking grateful for the health care and education system we have here in the UK for helping me get to this place.