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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Identifying Healthy Media Outlets

How to identify healthy media messages that can help harbour self acceptance and compassion.

Having written about identifying unhelpful media for helping on your journey to ditch diet culture, and protect yourself from a shit storm of dieting onslaught I think it would also be helpful to identify some pointers for identifying health positive media. It’s not all doom and gloom; there is a growing amount of people championing self acceptance, a holistic attitude to health and body positivity.

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If you’re considering swapping your magazine subscription, or clearing up your social media feeds then here’s a list of how to identify health positive media that will help and encourage you to be healthy and well without a one size fits all model.

  • They encourage self acceptance:

    Media that helps and encourages us to love ourselves can only be good. When we say “they love themselves” about someone it can be an insult for arrogance, but loving yourself doesn’t need to equate to arrogance. In order to love ourselves we need to first accept ourselves – so if your magazine or social media feed is encouraging you on a journey of self acceptance then it’s a winner. Keep that live.
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  • Encourages a healthy balanced lifestyle 

    By encouraging balance in our lives, for as unsensational as that is to sell, a harmony can be reached with ourselves, our bodies and our health. Some things you may do in your life may be technically unhealthy, however, often there are worse thing you could d be doing so, is the odd cigarette really the worst thing in the world? Or is a bit of cake really going to make you unhealthy?Balance isn’t about eating high sugar high fat food all the time. It also isn’t eating a restrictive diet of just mange-tout on Mondays, or carb free Fridays. I just made that up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it existed somewhere. It’s about eating healthy food and having some balance in your life so that cake isn’t stressful, you’re not panicking at a buffet and you’re not eating the whole pack of biscuits with the TV each night because you’re swearing you’ll never eat them again. By allowing all foods, regardless of nutrition content allows for a more balanced and healthy outlook and relationship with food.
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  • Advises being inclusive of all food groups

    A lot of diets cut out food groups. No grains, no carbs, no sugars… the list keeps on going. Some diets include only eating one food group, fruit for example on a restrictive fruitarian diet. Unfortunately, yes that exists.Nutritionally, excluding any food group can lead to being malnourished, physically and emotionally. Sometimes we need a piece of chocolate for comfort, or a hot drink can be soothing. Discarding any food group only furthers a disharmony in your relationship between yourself, your body and your food.

    So yes, if you like cake then cake has a place in your diet just as all the other stuff like grains, carbs, veg, protein.
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  • Gives the power to you over your priorities

    With our health, it is largely in our hands when it comes to eating. However, a lot of media will try to tell you what you ought to be eating or not eating. They’ll try to encourage that your priority should be weight loss, or abs, or building muscle. That isn’t for everyone and in fact, a media outlet that gives the power to you to define your own goals and your own priorities is empowering – and you wanna keep that live too.Why let some editor in an office living a completely different life to you define what your values and priorities with you health ought to be? We’re all different and we all have different lives – what is important for one person may be the bottom of the list for another. Therefore, media that helps you identify what you want by asking questions to prompt considering it can be helpful, but if they’re guiding you in the direction of their own priorities then shut that shit up!
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  • Comes from a place of non-judgmentalness

    When we’re learning to be self-compassionate the last thing we need is judgements from others infiltrating the good vibes. It can be extremely difficult to develop self-compassion and shut the nagging self-deprecating voice in our heads up. Therefore, it is important to surround ourselves with media and messages that come from a place of non-judgementalness. This stance in approaching not only ourselves, but others as well, can really harbour compassion not only for ourselves but for others.It’s a great lesson to learn to not be judgmental but being surrounded by judgmental media can only lengthen and challenge our journey towards being non-judgemental. It can be hard to identify judgement words, but basically emotionally loaded ways of describing can help sum them up. Lazy or stupid for example are quite harsh judgement words, and when they’re used to describe someone or ourselves can be quite damaging.
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Staying Happy and Well Over Christmas

The festive season can be really fun but in that statement it can sometimes feel like we “should” be having SO MUCH FUN, OH MY GOD I CAN’T CONTAIN MYSELF I’VE NEVER HAD THIS MUCH FUN IN MY LIFE. Chances are you have. There’s a lot of pressures at this time of year: to eat certain foods, to buy presents, to see people you may not want to see and schmooze around people you don’t want to be schmoozing with. There’s plenty of stimulus to lose your shit over, the turkey, the roast potatoes or even irritating family members who you can’t eliminate from the annual socialising – and we all know a little tipple can sometimes be the fire starter to set things off.

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I’ve just made christmas sound particularly awful. I’m hoping very much that all of this doesn’t happen to anyone this year and that the inevitable stress happens to each person in a small dosage. Even though we can’t necessarily control the things around us there are things we can do to help maintain our mental health and wellbeing throughout the festive season.

Here I’m going to list the methods I try to use to reduce the stress of the festivities and increase the enjoyment, and it seems to work for me so far, so here goes:

  1. Fit in some form of physical activity to get some headspace, reduce stress and help ease the stodgy feeling that some festive foods can leave you with, even if that means just a walk around the park. It’s good to get outside from stuffy overcrowded rooms. A warm house or pub is great and so is some fresh air to make the warmth feel so much more appreciated.
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  2. Eat with some balance in mind. Indulging has become intrinsically linked with the festive season but just because of that cultural norm it doesn’t mean you need to eat until your stuffed all the time, on repeat and until you feel unwell from overdoing it.
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  3. You don’t need to restrict or diet throughout the festive season either. Diets aren’t cool anyway, and they’re especially not cool at christmas. Ignore diet culture. You do not need to gorge for a few weeks and starve for the following few months to “undo the damage”. Stop that. Stop that right now.
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  4. There isn’t a law insisting that festive foods are only eaten in the month of December – there is no urgency to eat them all until the brim because guess what, you can eat them at any time of year if you really want to. They don’t vanish from existence on the 1st of January.
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  5. Take some me time. It’s OK and quite normal to want to take a break from the relentless social calendar that exists at this time of year. Have a nap. Go for a walk. Watch a film on your own or sneak off to read your book. You’re not weird for wanting some down time. Especially if you’re more introverted than extroverted, like myself, this down time is super important so as not to become exhausted and overwhelmed.
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  6. Reduce the pressure and value of presents. I remember family members getting extremely stressed that I didn’t know which book exactly that I wanted to the point of a near melt down. There’s no point. It’s not THAT important. I would’ve like any book on the topic I asked for.
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  7. If you don’t know what to get for someone then guessing is fine. It’s OK if it’s not a perfect present. For as cliché as it is, it really is the thought that counts – so if you’re strapped for cash then baking some sugar cookies is definitely a win.Present giving is fun. I’m a fan of people pretending to like a present I got them even if I didn’t quite get it right – I think gratitude that they tried is important and not losing sight of that.
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  8. Take a step away from social media. Christmas is a time when a lot of people use social media as an opportunity to show off the ‘insane amount of presents under the tree’, and how much they got for their kids, and how they can barely move in the house for presents. It’s bullshit – don’t succumb to it; you’re better than social comparisons and competitions about stuff. You don’t need to worry about what Susan from school got because from Boxing Day you probably won’t care anyway. They got something very expensive and lust worthy, well good for them. It doesn’t mean you need to compete beyond  your means.
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  9. If you’ve had enough to eat it’s fine to leave some on your plate. There can be a pressure to eat more than you physically can because your mum cooked every trimming in Sainsbury’s. If you’re full and you can’t then it’s ok to be firm about that. It’s your body and you’ll be the one experiencing the discomfort of a distended stomach and acid reflux if you push it too far.
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  10. Time and attention are probably some of the best gifts you can give to your nearest and dearest. Put the phone down, shut the laptop off and spend some quality time together. Play a silly game. Help the kids with their lego. Dance around the house to Just Dance on the Wii. Chances are these will be the moments you remember fondly.giphy-1.gif

The most important thing is getting through the festive season in one piece, healthily and as happily as you can.

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Merry Christmas Y’all!

 

Festive Gratitude Moment

During the festive season there’s a lot of asking of what people want and sometimes that can feel pressured to want something more than what you have. I do it myself to other people. The main thing that I think could be rephrased at this time of year though would be to also to take a moment and be grateful for what we do have.

Often times we find ourselves so awed by advertisements and the sparkly marketing that makes you think you need that new great big shiny TV, or a new dress for each time you want to go out out, or that my life would be more fulfilling if I have this, then that then something else because the last thing didn’t live up to the promise of transforming my life into the perfect fulfilled smiley one that I had hoped for from buying that product.

Realistically I know this isn’t the case at all however, I think there is a lot of power and well-being to be had from taking a moment to be grateful and reframing how we think about what we have. So I thought that for day 2 of the Blogmas challenge I would focus on a list of festive themed gratitude.

1. I have a decent shelter over the cold months and beyond.

2. I can afford to buy enough food.

3. I can cook food in a real oven.

4. I have family to catch up with.

5. I have friends to share some festivities with.

6. I will get some down time from uni deadlines over the holidays.

7. I really enjoy a hot gingerbread latte in a warm coffee shop when it’s cold outside.

8. I’m not going to have to deal with the “it’s-too-hot-and-I-need-to-take-off-more-layers-and-I’m-already-naked” situation that comes with summer.

9. I really love all the festive puddings: bring me all the spiced raisin filled sweets!

10. Mulled wine on a long evening is delicious, and even more delicious shared with friends.

11. The festive seasons theme of good cheer always give me a kick in the right direction of catching up with old friends: and I always really enjoy that part of Christmas season.

12. I love a good sing and dance along to Christmas songs.

13. There’s nothing better than having a big nest of bedding, alone or with your closest, and hot water bottles and watching TV.

14. The sparkles of the Christmas lights really cheer up a dark and dreary night.

15. I have enough funds to give the odd donated present to charity organisations, and some food and blankets to homeless people.

16. Cheese boards and wine!

17. It’s far easier to stay inside and study when it’s cold and dark outside.

18. That I no longer have an eating disorder so I can take part and enjoy the festive foods I like.

19. I have had a good year this year and feel content with myself for the end of the year. This hasn’t happened for a long time.

20. The future is looking positive and bright for me, and I’m really excited for what is to come rather than dreading and fearing the future.

Om The Bus with Michael Townsend Williams for Lululemon, Regent Street

img_2034.jpgOne buzz word amongst health and wellness circles that I can really get on board with is “mindfulness” and “meditation”. I think there is a lot to be harboured from the power of breath, stillness and taking time to really observe how you feel. I often use apps, however sometimes it is nice to go somewhere and immerse yourself in an environment designed for calm – that is what happened on the Meditation Bus by Lululemon in Regent Street, London this evening.

Tonight the christmas lights got switched on along Regent street and Oxford street. Lululemon had their meditation bus set up outside their Regent street store with guided meditations from one of their ambassadors Michael Townsend Williams. Michael is the founder of Breathe Sync – an app for connecting you breath and heart beat together in a meditation.

When we went on the bus we sat down and received some headphones. Michael guided a meditation in belly breathing, nasal breathing and becoming aware of how we were feeling in that moment. I noticed a lot about my current state – and that I struggled to belly breathe. This is unusual for me as I have practiced and practiced over the years of practicing mindfulness that it is unusual for me to find myself struggling to not engage my chest in my breath. I also felt consistently short of breath which is also unusual for me, and I thin this was connected to my difficulty with breathing with my belly rather than my chest. I didn’t realise how tight I was until I settled into the meditation and noticed the discomfort that I felt in my body.

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If you can attend a class by Michael Townsend Williams at all I would recommend it. I have had yoga with him before at the Lululemon Regent street store before. Both times I have come across his classes he has been very good – he has mastered the calming and relaxing vocal tone. He has mastered the pace at which to speak and intonate. He has a very calming energy about him that is very inspiring and makes you want more peace in your life and realise the power you hold in achieving this for yourself.

Here is a video by Lululemon if you feel like finding a little bit of calm right now: 

We’re Not In Control of Anything, Other Than How We Choose To Respond to Everything.

I’m working on a group project at uni at the moment. If you’ve been to uni I’m very sure you understand the pain of trying to pull people together to work on one thing who have different ideas about studying, about how to study, how close to the deadline we leave our work, if we do the work at all or try to coast through and learn from failure. We are 9 different people.

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Another group member and I were talking about the woes of our group. They expressed their frustration at people not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, about how we shouldn’t be having to nag so much and how they couldn’t bear not being able to make people do what they’re supposed to do. Donald Trump shouldn’t be president and we shouldn’t be entering an age of global nuclear threat – and we are.

However, this situation got me thinking about control. Personally, I have a very complicated relationship with control that I have had to work on over the years. I have had to take the journey from a very unhealthy relationship with control to a more balanced one. That relationship has ultimately wound up with me where I am today, in this place right here and now. I have struggled to accept that I am not 100% in control of my life. I have more autonomy now than I once did – and that boils down to having control over the only thing I have control over: myself.

I don’t even have full control over that. I can’t decide what I want to weigh and make sure that happens because my body will metabolise and respond to my diet, exercise and medications however it will. I can control my diet, but control and diet is somewhat of a complex relationship; I don’t think diet is something to “be controlled” per se so I don’t try to control it anymore. There is liberation in letting go of unnecessary grasps at control because ultimately you can’t programme your reactions or metabolism or biological processes. You can influence them, but control? Nope. Not happening. Of the things we have control of in our lives it is not entirely of ourselves and it is certainly not of others, and even more unfortunately and definitely, not of what happens to us either. What, if anything, are we in control of then?

We are in control of how we choose to respond, behave and frame our perceptions when we think and act. I say this loosely, by thinking I mean choosing acceptance, non judgmental ness and being mindful. We can choose how to respond to what happens to us and what we are confronted with in our lifetimes. Let me highlight a recent example.

At the start of this group project I was getting stressed about people not pulling their weight – I spoke to a few of my homies and they all said “take a step back, it’s not worth it”. So I did and you know what I realised? I had the power to control how much I responded to that situation, which in turn affected how much I let it affect me. I could choose to get het up and make it of high importance or I could choose to frame the situation in relation to the bigger picture – it is a first year module that only requires a pass and I am working with some people who may not even return in January. There is great power in choosing my battles when it comes to not losing my shit. Although I did need the help of my homies to help me figure this out, I still figured it out.

We do have the choice in how we respond to whatever may come our way and for as frustrating as life can be, for as frustrating as other people can be, as we can all be, we can control very little in our lives except how we choose to relate and respond to what happens to us and around us. It’s important to take ownership of that small piece of control we all have over ourselves and our lives.

So if you see someone with a pram struggling with stairs you can take the choice to walk on or stop for a moment to help. If someone is mean to you, you can take the choice to be mean back or to ignore them. If someone smiles at you in the street, you can ignore them or just smile back and let the world be working with you instead of against you. It really is a very simple idea, but admittedly sometimes very hard to implement into our mindset. It is a journey that we are all on – and we make the decision about how we respond to the lumps and bumps in the road of our journeys that defines us to the world.

If You’re Only Hitting the Gym for a Hot Body – You’ve Got The Living Thing All Wrong

I”ve been trying to get involved in helping people become more active through various projects and tasks set as part of my Nutrition BSc degree. These past 2 weeks I’ve been quite the hypocrite in terms of being as active as I would like – oh Hai again Depression. From uni projects that I’m involved with in trying to get people more active there is a heavy ideology, from numerous people, who I’m going to say have the best intentions at heart. That is that the reason we exercise is to look a certain way. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is a very big problem. This is a very big problem indeed.

They genuinely believed exercise is a means we go through in order to sculpt, change and gain a body that looks a certain way in order to find the elusive happiness and ease of life that comes with a “perfect” body. Internally I’m screaming. Internally I’m banging my head on the table top harder and harder with each time this underlying notion comes to the surface.

Looking a certain way and achieving what is “perfect” for that generation or time is not the answer to all of your questions. Trust me. I wasted 10 years believing the same thing, when I was the same age as the people I’m talking about and I look back with full eyes, shaking my head and thinking, “Shit! Something needs to change.” because it seems the pressures have gained momentum since I was that gullible girl too. Instead of just not eating, which is relatively easy when you’ve got a complicated conundrum of emotional and mental health needs underlying that behaviour. However, now, you have to eat right, ergo, eat what’s trendy and most expensive and over priced at the moment. You also have to do a million squats to get a good ‘booty’ – for who? I don’t know about you, but as I go about my day to day business I rarely even see my arse.

One notion to get people being more active – which isn’t a new one goes along the lines of this, “lets hold a competition of who can do the most activity throughout the week or month – we can use FitBits or pedometers.” We could if we want to send out the message that more is always better in terms of being active. This isn’t something I can support. I can’t get behind this.

At school when I was in Year 8 we did a similar competition, minus the technology, and do you know what it taught me? It taught me how to count calories. It taught me that in order to burn those calories I had to move more. It taught me how many calories were in a chocolate bare vs an apple. It taught me the difference between regular Coca Cola and Diet Coke. It had me reading the nutritional info label on my water bottle – don’t worry, there’s no calories there, just minerals. This was all before I knew about eating disorders. It was before I was even aware of my body shape compared to others because I was 12 – I was still a child.

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2011-12 : During Anorexia

So skipping back to modern-day when I am no longer living in the innocence of the end of childhood, do I work out because I want a Kardashian booty? No. I don’t give a shit if my arse warrants a peach emoji? Do I want a 6 pack? If I do, then shredding at the gym every day is definitely the way to go about it. What happens though once I have that 6 pack? Do I stop? Or do I keep going to maintain my 6 pack that, let’s be frank, very few people are going to give a fuck about unless they’re some shallow person who wants to shag someone with a 6 pack and be done with me. By falling into that mentality and culture you objectify yourself. You give yourself no value more than your appearance and I’m going to tell you exactly what I think about that:

I THINK IT’S BULLSHIT
BOLLOX
COMPLETE AND UTTER CRAP

You know what the peach emoji can do? It can kiss my derriére.

To put this into perspective even more, when you’re in your coffin at our funeral I very much doubt someone will utter the words, “what a shame? And she had such a good 6 pack as well?” and you know what? They won’t even see you arse because they lie you face up. I guess you could probably put a request to go in face down so everyone can see your beautiful perfectly shaped bottom in rigour mortis. That would be something to talk about to lighten the mood I suppose.

I’m not saying that body image isn’t important. It is important to not hate your body. It is also important to learn to love your body – but guess what? Your body does so much more than look a certain way. It fights injury. It fights infection. It allows you to run 5K if you so wish. It allows you to have sex. It allows you to taste and smell and experience and it lets you do the monkey bars – I mean, what’s better than being able to use your body to play and being able to. Stop wasting your health on vanity.