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!

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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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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.

 

Let’s Talk: World Mental Health Day

Yesterday, the 10th October, was World Mental Health Day. Oh how that snuck up on me this year? I dare say I am guilty of being so self-absorbed that I totally forgot. For someone with their head very much in the mental health bubble, online and offline, I totally missed its presence on the horizon.

I suppose this could be seen as a good sign. A good sign that for once my life isn’t revolved around mental health activities and mental health events and mental health awareness and mental health appointments and mental health illness and mental health woes and mental health anything, everything, and submersion until myself and my life are drowning in mental health this and that. It means that my life is moving on and becoming more than my mental health difficulties: which is brilliant. That hasn’t really happened for me perhaps ever. It’s nice. I’m enjoying myself.

However, that doesn’t mean that I ignore World Mental Health Day. Nope. It is important because for every single person who is in a position like I find myself this year, getting on with life with little thought towards their illness other than remembering to take their meds each day, is someone else who is like I was 1 year ago, 2 years ago, 6 years ago.

There are people stuck trying to navigate building a life beyond hospitals and appointments and meds. There are people who have been winded by the blow of mental ill-health who have absolutely no idea how to do anything anymore. There are people for whom making it to the toilet is an achievement, for whom showering is an insurmountable task, who may be stuck on the carousel of going in and out hospital wards. There are working people who are feeling unable to speak up whilst they stuff it all back inside themselves, far far away from the surface of their existence. There are people sat in class who can’t even speak up when their name is called in the register.

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There are hundreds and thousands of people motioning forwards in silence of the pain they face each day from their mental health. There are the ones who need to stay strong for others and in doing so neglect their own needs, those who are ashamed to be feeling how they are because of ought to’s and should’s that can quite frankly, go and fuck themselves. No one has the right to tell you how you should be feeling or thinking or living your life.

I could go on all day about all the millions of people who need help that don’t get it, who are receiving help and still struggling, and who stuff it all into the depth of their distant psyche to try to crack on with each day.

It is for those people that we need World Mental Health Day. You are not alone. I think the online world shows that more than ever. Talking about mental health doesn’t need to be a negative experience; you could offload or share the good stuff that you’ve found that helps you. You don’t need a diagnosis to talk about mental health because, and i’m going to go down that old cliché track, we all have mental health just as we all have physical health. We talk about how much it sucks to have a cough or common cold, lets talk just as much about how much it sucks to be anxious, or feeling a bit off emotionally too.

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Go on. Pop the kettle on. Have a brew. Have a chat, have a cigarette if you fancy it, have some herbal tea if you fancy that and let’s just be available for each other so that we can all feel supported no matter how difficult it feels, or how difficult our mental health difficulties make us. Let’s be open and embrace that yes it happens, yes it’s OK for it to happen and no, it’s not taboo.

I promise, if you tell me you’re feeling pretty shit maybe depressed, maybe not depressed I’m not going to start fidgeting with my jumper cuffs in an awkward way as if you just told me you’re sleeping with my brother and here, check out my tits whilst I’m at it. I won’t look at you, or into the distance between us as if you just did that because mental health isn’t shocking, whereas talking to me as if you just did the aforementioned would be a bit, well, uncomfortable.