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 Maybe she’s withdrawn, quiet, short-tempered or tearful and they may not understand, or perhaps they fear the unknown.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.

 

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The London Marathon Route Through Memory Lane

In 2013 it was advised to me that doing some exercise could help me with my mental health, the associated weight gain with my medications, and in general. Never did I imagine on that first run in 2013 did I think that 5 years later I would be walking up the same streets to the start line of The London Marathon. South East London has been my patch for almost a decade and in my lack of preparation for the marathon I didn’t know the route. I only saw it fully on some handouts at the expo, and my response was to think “oh wow, hmmm…” and proceed to not look at it again. I felt that having naivety on my side in regards to how long 26.2 miles really was was helpful. Sometimes, not knowing w hat you’re about to get yourself into can help diminish the pre-race anxieties of “shit, what have I just dove headfirst into”. This won’t work for everyone, but in this instance it worked well for me.

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Fully clueless to what I was about to do. Naivety was my friend at this point!

 

It was when I got off the bus with my Dad to walk up as it turned left onto Lee Terrace that the trip down memory lane began. Running up from the bottom towards Blackheath for the open space to run in was the initial plan when I started running. I got half way up before finding myself sitting, a flurried hot mess on the pathway up to blackheath and fervently googled “Why can I taste blood from running?” and “Why do my lungs burn so much from starting running?”. I sat there for a good while longer than I had been moving for and decided that I needed to take another route to exercise. I walked up to the grass on blackheath and decided to just move for 20 minutes with my music on. Cue, waving arms, and some jumping around, some dancing and just getting some movement into me. It was on the 3rd session of this that near marker 1. on the picture below that I tripped over a branch and found myself hobbling to A&E with a gash in my knee and needing stitches. When I say I NEVER thought 5 years ago in my clumsy attempts to get some exercise into my life that I would be walking those same routes and roads to The London Marathon start line. The moral of this story is, just move. Just get going in any way that feels right to you at the time. By starting, you never know where the journey will take you. Maybe it’ll take you to A&E in a wonder woman top needing stitches, or maybe it will take you to start lines, views and adventures you’ll never have guessed you would. Maybe, as in my case, it will lead to both. Don’t give up.

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For the first 8 miles, the absolute privilege of running The London Marathon and it being on my patch really served as a distraction from the momentous task that was ahead of me. It was very cathartic to be running quite literally through memory lane, acknowledging the good and the bad memories.

I spent the majority of my head space during the first 8 miles reminiscing on my journey over the last 9 years in London. How this journey has shaped me, open my eyes, taught me brutal lessons, and saved my life. To the people of Lewisham, thank you. To the places that have brought me a lot of joy, purpose and good life lessons, like that people aren’t always mean or operating with ulterior motives, Thank You. Even the memory of my first mental health crisis that landed me in hospital, and the first time I got sectioned, without these experiences I would not be who I am today. From the bad good can come. This trip down memory lane felt like closure on some of those experiences and chapters in my life.

Mental illness can be brutal. Without these memories though, I wouldn’t be studying something I am so passionate about from these experiences. I wouldn’t be volunteering in community projects to help others on their journeys. I wouldn’t have had my eyes open to the importance of practicing non-judgmentalness. Some of these memories are difficult ones but sometimes it is exactly those difficult memories that are the most important for growing as a person.

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The heat was brutal at this point. My most tired photo from the race -a mile just past half way.

The result? The first 8 miles were the most important for me. I really think this 8 miles of reflection time gave me the drive to bloody well enjoy the journey I was on to the finish line, be grateful for everything I have endured and survived and really just enjoy the pure act of being very alive that running is.

The rest of the markers and their associated milestones and memories are listed below: Continue reading “The London Marathon Route Through Memory Lane”

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!

Running Naked Into The Unknown

Learning to run free and be free.

By naked Running I don’t mean with all my bits on show for the world, or suburban streets to see. I seem to have dropped off the edge of the running world somewhat lately.  I went to my last race and have not run so much since. You could say that I have become somewhat out of the habit. Anxiety has helped this happen and hasn’t been particularly supportive in getting my back on the road lately, or in getting out and doing things that need to be done either. I guess that’s how anxiety rolls. A self destructive little shit bag that gives no fucks to the nuisance and frustration that breeds in it’s wake.

So I haven’t been going out so much for a run, and have instead been mastering the skills of procrastination, avoidance and how to be unfairly self-punitive very well lately. On Saturday morning my friend kicked me out the door. I had watched my block tick tock past tiem to leave for ParkRun. I was gong to go for a run anyway despite having missed ParkRun because she hadn’t got any sleep due to my incessant snoring therefore getting out would give her some space to actually catch some Z’s. She woke up as I was getting ready because being a Saturday morning it took over an hour to get my kit together – side note, I need to tidy up! She said just go for a run anyway, you’re even dressed already, even a short run around the block and you’ll feel better.

A good pep talk is something she’s extremely good at. So without more hesitation, and seeing as I was dressed in my kit I went. I didn’t take my phone, or music and I didn’t set my watch to track distance or pace or time. Ergo the term free running that I’m using. There may be a name for this hat I’m unaware of, if so feel free to enlighten me.

I Just ran. Just me, the sun and fresh air. My legs carrying me around an unplanned route to “just do it”. Honestly, this is the sense that Just Do It helps because I wasn’t pushing my body too far physically. I wasn’t exhausted, I was just doing it to get out and just do something over nothing. This philosophy is something I want to bring back to my relationship with exercising.

Fuck stop exercising, start training. At the moment I’m in a such a place that just doing some exercise regularly is going to benefit me more than a training plan that will likely feel overwhelming with 1-2 weeks.

This is whole experience goes against every grain of my person. I am a massive planner and even though the unknown scares us all, I think some of us are particularly fearful of the unknown. Even if that unknown is going out the door for a run without a particular route in mind. I am better at this than I used to be and think that for an obscure and bizarre as this goal may be, this is something that working on could turn out to be very valuable for me because lessons and insights that we learn about ourselves in running often transcend into the bigger picture of our lives.

Maybe I can learn to let go a little bit – and the scary yet exciting aspect of that idea is that I’ve got no bloody idea where it’s going to take me, how it’s going to take me or when the end is. I’m going to guess there’s no end destination and that the process of going, being mindful and enjoying is probably going to be the more rewarding part of developing this new mentality. Here goes. A new goal of the most unstructured type I have probably every embarked on. In a calculated fashion maybe aiming to do this twice a fortnight is a good goal. The rest is unknown, and that gives me a butterfly sensation – not the exciting type- as I write that.

Maybe I can be as enthusiastic about naked Running as I was when I saw this photographer

Here’s to letting go. Here’s to exercising out of self compassion. Here’s to the unknown and whatever that may bring. *bites nails and looks around nervously*.

Medal Monday: CRUK Winter Run, London 2018

Sunday 4th February was World Cancer Day. To mark the event Cancer Research UK held their London event of their Winter Run 10k series. I ran this race for the first time last year, and it is a really great race. This year, my friend donated her place to me as she had signed up, forgotten so and couldn’t make it anymore, so that was really kind of her.

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I set off quite well in one of the final waves and remembered what I loved about this race so much. It’s not the size of the event, or the route – although it is a lovely route. It’s the inclusivity of the challenge. 10k is a significant distance to run. It isn’t a quick flash and it’s done for a lot of people. You have to mentally engage and push yourself to keep going. At this race there are runners of all shapes, sizes and levels of fitness, the brilliance of the event being that people are running not for times, but for a cause close to their hearts.

As I trundled behind some other trundlers (repping BackPackers!!) I couldn’t help read the signs adorning people’s backs remembering loved ones who had lost their fight to cancer, and celebrating those who survived because of research developments. More people currently survive cancer than ever. We still have a way to go but we’re progressing and that’s what feels so positive about this event. Developments have been made. There’s more work to do and fund to be raised by breakthroughs are happening and people are surviving.

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It was much colder this year than the last, but I’m not sure if that was because I layered more appropriately this year. Last year I was just getting back into running. I hadn’t managed to train much so it was a real achievement to even get to the start line because y’know, anxiety. I also wore way too many thick layers, like a running onion with them all tied around my waist by the finish line. So maybe experience made it feel colder because I was not a running onion this year.

Last year this race kick started my more frequent running. I do enjoy running, but when it’s cold, dark and wet it’s so hard to force yourself outside to run for the good of your mood, especially when you’re already in a ripe old funk. We all know this battle well, and it’s something that only sheer grit and determination is going to overcome until the nights get lighter and warmer: Yo! Spring, hurry up yeah?!?

7518843888_img_1553Hopefully this was the kick starter i needed, i hope *fingers crossed* to get back into running and exercising regularly as a way to stay well, mentally and physically. In fact it is a core pat of my current Wellness Action Plans, and I’m sick of letting myself sit in my bed for days at a time so let’s go! Everyone is saying that January was a trial month and that it doesn’t count right? I’m going to join that tribe. January isn’t a real.

 

 

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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Marathon Training Journal: Week Three

Week 3:
Monday.
Run 1, type: Just getting out the door!! 2km Run/walk with M.

I got home late this evening. I stayed late at uni doing work then got on the wrong train on my way home. I relaxed for a bit after getting in. I had to give myself a bit of a talking to about running this evening. I’ve been slacking off a bit, if I’m honest. I know I’ve been a bit unstable but if I’m going to get close to stable again, running and exercise is a big piece of that puzzle within what that picture looks like for me.

I can give myself excuses as much as I like. I’m only cheating myself. I can take in my lies of not having time and feeling weak and I’ll go later/tomorrow/on Monday. The thing is though, if I’m going to progress to a level of fitness that the marathon requires then I’m going to have to stop letting myself accept my excuses. I need to be real and honest with myself – and sometimes that means looking in the mirror and giving myself a reality talk.

So despite it being past midnight I went. I also delivered some keys that I needed to drop off that I wouldn’t have managed that day either had I not gone. The enjoyment of running with a friend helped with my motivation, which means that I need to prioritize running crew in my weekly schedule. I miss those guys and the only reason I’ve not been for a while is myself.

Wednesday:
Run 2, Race: Run in the Dark 5K

Again I was struggling with mojo. I had a race and the idea of it was starting to build up in my mind and make me anxious. I got to the start line because someone was coming to support and cheer me. We were going to hang out after and the next day, and by the time I left it to potentially pull out I knew they’d be on their way – and their journey was longer than mine. Also, my house was nowhere near Battersea Park unfortunately – Hai millionaires land.

The race took a while to start. Once we began though I got a bit excited and started off quite fast. I did achieve my fastest km to date on Strava – yay mini PB! After a while I had to settle in and go slower because ya know, just because I’m looking at longer races that doesn’t mean 5km can be sprinted 🙈

I settled in although had a few hang ups. I had crampy calves and I had been feeling permanently slightly dehydrated for a few days. I hadn’t run for a few days. I hadn’t been eating particularly nutritious food. I felt it. I felt the consequences of having not eaten particularly well for a couple of weeks. I felt the consequences of not addressing my hydration early on. I think if you’re having signs of dehydration there is no waste in using a re-hydration tab, even if you just use half of one to make sure everything is on track. I will bare this in mind in the future.

The beauty of this being a journey is that you win some and you learn some. You don’t lose, you learn. I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going to do dumb stuff when I’m training and in each dumb act there is a lesson to learn to be a little less dumb in the future.

There’s a quote image I saw that sais “fall in love with the process and the results will come”. I think this is actually very true – and I am slowly learning more than I knew before yet I know that I have SO MUCH yet to learn. There are so many mistakes out there waiting for me to make them, and for me to learn from them. This race was one of those – if not this whole week.

Friday:
Gym session

I packed for the gym today last night. I got everything ready to get up, eat porridge and go. Getting out the door wasn’t quite as seamless as that. I did however make it to the gym – which is am improvement on only going for yoga classes. I’m enjoying the yoga classes but they’re not going to do the trick alone. I need to graft on strengthening and conditioning if I’m going to see myself strong enough to complete 26.2 miles in april.

And shit, April!? That’s very soon in the grand scheme of things.

I am feeling a new wave of motivation at the moment which is very welcome. There are some things I need to learn and master within myself. I need to harbour the power of people in my training. I think training with other people who I can eventually call friends will be a  very important lesson for me. Not only in terms of my fitness goals because I think running and climbing provide a perfect opportunity for me to work on many aspects of my life that I feel I need to work on – such as discipline, sticking to plans, talking to nw people without internally losing my mind whilst my stomachs convulses in a violent version of the butterflies from anxiety that feels more like fireworks erupting in my torso.

Fitness gives me a lot – it teaches me a lot about myself and other people. It’s something I need to prioritize because when I am active I always feel better for it.

Saturday:
Box Hill Tough 10 race. I wrote a whole post about this yesterday.

Sunday:
My first time going to a trendy class in London. I haven’t been to an up market gym like this before – I also wrote a lot about this in yesterday’s post. I was surprised by just HOW HARD this class was. Wow! Just wow!