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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The Importance of Talking About Mental Health

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Heavy with lead through every morsel of torso and limb she tries to carry herself tall. Heaving an impossible weight and pushing on she gets by, dragging what may fall behind along the way. A fog has descended and thickened, clouding her vision, judgement and perception. A thick rain cloud of anger hangs over her head, a relentless thrashing of her senses persists. Hearing anything clearly becomes impossible and coping with daily life is an overwhelming task. Her thoughts are foreign to her previous self, morbid, dark and terrifying. Through her diminishing abilities she becomes frustrated and deflated, hopeless and surrendering. She is vulnerable, but not weak. This is no personal flaw and through no personal fault of her own; she is experiencing an invisible illness, a mental illness.

“Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor, not personal weaknesses” – The Mental Health Foundation.

Those around her, loved ones, colleagues and friends may notice a change. Maybe she’s withdrawn, quiet, short-tempered or tearful and they may not understand, or perhaps they fear the unknown. Frustrations can rise, “she’s just not making an effort”, “she’s no fun anymore” and “you just have to get on with it” are all too easy a response, but ask yourself, is it the right response?

As tempers turn into turmoil, frustrations grate and ties wear thin she may start erupting into sky-high emotions, hearing voices or facing difficulties with food. What do you say then? Is she a psycho? Does she need to go to the loony bin and get out of your hair? Or is it just all in her fucked up head and she just needs to sort it the fuck out and stop it, this instant, right now? Believe it or not, these are the nature of responses I have received throughout my own journey and experiences with mental health difficulties. Dare I ask it, would this have happened had my illness’ been physical? I doubt it.

It is an abhorrent suggestion of absurdity to march into a cancer ward and demand that this has to stop, they have to stop their tumours and bodies from being affected by the illness, they must stop making a fuss of it, and they must stop dying from it – and that if they really must continue with this being ill from cancer thing they’ve got going on, could they please do it quietly, out of sight and act as if nothing is happening?

It is a despicable suggestion; cancer and mental illness alike need care, support and treatment yet mental health remains subject to negative attitudes of stigma, discrimination and invalidation yet the remarkable fact is that we all have mental health just like we all have physical health. Every year 1 in 4 of us will be affected, that’s 25% of the population, a whole quarter. Yet the experience of a mental health illness is often one of isolation and shame. The effects of which can be worse than the illness itself.

The invisibility of the illness does not equate to a lack of debilitating effects such illnesses can have on a person’s life: mental illness costs lives, it can diminish lives to a mere state of existence and make every day functioning a seemingly impossible feat. It can be overcome for many, and many people do recover or learn to manage their conditions whilst living fulfilling lives that are worth living again. There is hope, but in order to achieve that people need support, to be listened to, and acceptance.

This is why it is important that we talk about mental health; it affects every aspect of our lives: in how we function, enjoy and cope from day-to-day, and that instead of meeting these conditions with hatred and hostility, they are met with the care, compassion and support that these individuals need.

 

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!

A Place for Processed Foods

There’s a lot of hype, or should I say anti-hype around the idea of ‘processed foods’. Frequently the term “processed foods” appear on lists of “bad foods” and “foods to cut out” in a number of “diet programmes”. I realise I’m using a lot of quotation marks here but it’s necessary.

A lot of these “diet programmes” requiring participants to cut out “processed foods” are often vague about what is classified as a processed food and what isn’t. This leaves the restrictions of the diet wide open for interpretation. I’m not a fan of these programmes, Whole 30 for example, is a whole load of bullshit neatly packaged to sell people more rules around eating that are unnecessary, restrictive and let be straight here, based on complete bullshit science – if you can even associate the Whole 30 with any sort of science at all.

In general though, there’s a trend towards whole food in general. Whole meaning, better, organic preferably, plant based, raw maybe, and likely to be found at hiked up prices in places like WholeFoods. (Sorry WholeFoods, I kind of like you and kind of detest you all at once). The problem is with this trend is that it perpetuates food snobbery and food elitism. It not only labels all other foods as lesser, to the extreme of basically calling anything else devil like poison. It’s an easy ploy to buy into with the current health status of the western world keeling over with lifestyle associated diseases more so than has ever really faced human history.

It’s scaremongering and food propaganda, harnessing fears of foods, to sell products and programmes that will cure all consequences of eating from the devil’s path. I wish I was exaggerating. The thing is, a lot of processed foods have a very good place in our food industries. I’m not talking about money here, I’m talking about widening the availability of a wide variety of food choices to more and more people worldwide. The food industry, although it has a lot to answer for, has made having a decent meal in the evening not require someone cooking all afternoon for the family. The food industry has made it possible to preserve foods at higher nutritional qualities with less nutrient and quality degradation in various forms from frozen to dehydrated powders.

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These products don’t exist because people are lazy. They don’t exist to tempt us into a life of crippling illness. They serve a lot of people, some who may not have the skills to cook from scratch, those who have a stringent budget where buying processed might offer more affordable options, or those with few cooking facilities in their homes. Not everyone has a freezer, or even an oven. Many are now living with hob plates, maybe a microwave and a kettle. Sadly, this isn’t a vast minority anymore – Yo! London landlords, this isn’t OK for £600+ a month!.

Then there are people who have the skills to cook, have the knowledge of what a meal consists of, has a fridge freezer and an oven but for some reason or other are not able to cook as they’d ideally like to all the time. I fall into this category. Living with a chronic mental illness means that sometimes I’m fine prepping veg, buying fresh and cooking up a few meals in preparation for the days ahead. It also means that sometimes, this is an insurmountable task so I will either rely on convenient options, or not eat then make up for it in an all out ice cream and chocolate frenzy.

Many may disagree that convenience “processed food” is a healthy option. It isn’t always but there is a lot available now in the form of ready meals. These get pricey though. To keep eating a relatively balanced diet in a pretty regular pattern is as important as a regular sleeping schedule for management of my illness. If that slides I’m basically putting my foot a bit more to the metal towards a breakdown, a crisis or an extended period of really not functioning.

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Why is this relevant? Tonight for dinner I had some frozen veggie sausages, cheap smash and some frozen peas and sweetcorn. The smash is from the days when we had no money. The best before dated to April 2015. I figured a sealed pack of powder that will smash up into a kind of mash couldn’t do too much harm. I seem fine so far. This meal meant that I ate something filling and more wholesome than ignoring eating all together. However, without such processed foods – everything was processed from the gravy granules, the mash powder, the frozen veg and factory made sausages, this meal wouldn’t have existed. I would have likely just done without until I couldn’t do without any more. You see, for many people in many situations throughout society, processed foods are a lifesaver. They can often be a better option. So demonising “processed foods”, getting on the nutrition high horse and engaging with food elitism isn’t necessary – and often the arguments for such a stance are inaccurate, based on cherry picked science, sometimes written by people claiming to have credentials that upon digging deeper actually mean very little, and scaremongering us into paying £3 for an avocado and £4 for a 100g bar of chocolate.

It makes you wonder who the real devils are in all of this?

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.