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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*Trigger Warning* Birthdays, Triggers and “Family”

It was my birthday last week. A number of years ago this time of year became incredibly difficult for me. I’d had a lot of pretty shit things happen at this time of year many times, always involving my parents. You could call it a repetitive pattern of really shit things happening.

Birthday Breakfast of Champions

A few years ago I was so convinced I wouldn’t make my birthday. Many times the reason I held off initially was because of my then girlfriend. She always went way out of town with her celebrations for me, and each birthday we spent together was really special. The formative birthdays however, as with anything in these years of your life, weighed in heavy and hard on me. I remember my not so sweet 16. I was home alone, my parents away with the business. I had been grounded for something I didn’t do over the phone. Some other shit went down and my main memory is right before going to bed the night before, I really wanted to self harm right across my stomach, for some reason on the right side. I didn’t do it but that is the main memory I have of turning 16. I have never told anyone that before. Regardless of the effort made by some of my friends, the main memory is that one of wanting to self harm and really trying hard not to.

The cumulative of these experiences around my birthday, and with the “family business from hell” is that the summer, and in particular my birthday has been really scary for me. The depth of entrenched that feeling hated, unwanted and unloved by your parents goes really far. There was also a particular fall out in 2011 that started in the June of 2011 and didn’t quite finish peaking around September 2011, which led to almost zero contact with either parents for 3-4 years. Triggering isn’t quite the word I’m looking for.

28th Self Portrait

Even last year I went to my Dad’s I had a good 12 hours of breaking down, contemplating killing myself because it basically became trigger central fore the majority of the day. This year felt different though.

On my 19th I remember sacking off my plans in Devon in favour of catching a train to Cheshire to see my then girlfriend ands how she surprised me with the first birthday cake I’d had for years that hadn’t been thrown by one family member at another in a crazy ass fight. I think I cried, or very obviously nearly cried (I’m hard like that). At this point she had no idea… so this is a huge Thank You. Even up until last year for the selfies you sent me telling me to smile and how they broke my tears into a laugh, and this year for not wanting to break tradition and ordering a helium balloon to be delivered in a box because you couldn’t be here in person this year.

Around my 21st

The act of feeling cared about at an otherwise scary time of year, over all the years I’ve known you have really helped finally re-shape how my I view my birthday emotionally. These feelings and associations annoyingly are not voluntary. I often just get really unsettled and wanting to self harm a lot around this time of year. This year I haven’t and even though you’re my ‘then girlfriend’ I just want you to know, and for others who have partners or friends with similar issues, just how much these acts including the small ones such as silly selfies, really do make a difference.

This year I haven’t had the same dread of the past yet. I think gaining distance between the present and those moments of the past has helped. Additionally, the huge effort my then girlfriend put into trying to change this memory and association with my birthday has started to pay off as I put less focus of worth in my life on feeling valued by my parents and more on the people who actually enjoy having me in their life. People always raved about how blood is thicker than water, but when blood is making you cry tears that only your friends and partner help mop up, then blood don’t mean shit. I do love my parents in some weird way that means proceeding with absolute caution and cynicism at the best of times but relying on them in any way to emotionally support and validate me is something I’ve learned to leave in the past in my hopefulness of youth.

21st

I don’t wish to change them anymore simply because I have accepted that I cannot. What I have learned though, is that the people who value you and appreciate you in their life, they are the ones worth putting in the effort and emphasis for.

How Gratitude Can Help Improve Body Dissatisfaction

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The power of practicing gratitude has the potential to be something quite incredible. Culturally in the West we are conditioned almost to always want for more, or with our bodies ironically we want for less. Less waist, less weight, less is more when it comes to beauty and looking good, or so we are told. We are primed to be perpetually discontented, dissatisfied and looking to others who always seem to have more of whatever it is we want: friends, tech, clothing or, ticking more beauty standard ideals with their appearance.

Like any other skill in our tool box of tricks to get us through our days reasonably content and in one piece, it takes a bit of practice in order to change our thinking patterns. The good news is that it can be done and that it can be an effective tool to develop a healthier relationship with your body and body image.

In a study conducted by Armstrong State University, USA, gratitude and cognitive restructuring were compared for effectiveness in reducing body disatisfaction amongst college age females. The group studied had not sought clinical help for body disatisfaction and eating disordered related issues. The importance of body image and dissatisfaction is that the feelings we have towards ourselves often permeate other areas of our lives: body disatisfaction has been associated with depression (Jurasico, Perone & Timnko, 2011) and social anxiety (Cash, 2011) for example.

Cognitive restructuring is a CBT technique. CBT is an established treatment for many mental health and well-being complaints including: bulimia, anxiety, depression. SOURCE THIS. By comparing a gratitude based intervention to an established intervention such as cognitive restructuring, the effectiveness of each intervention on body dissatisfaction can be compared.

The strength of using gratitude based interventions for body dissatisfaction is that it increases appreciation for non-appearence based aspects of one’s self and life: gratitude interventions have been found to be causally related to improvements in intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of well-being including: increased happiness, decreased depression, improved pro-social behaviour, decreased aggression, improved sleep and concentration (Watkins, 2014).

There does need to be more studies in order to confirm or dispute similar findings. However, with this in mind gratitude is a promising intervention for people experiencing body dissatisfaction without a clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder.

Gratitude works is by changing perspective on what is important in life and how and what we judge ourselves and ourl ives to be worthwile. This study illustrates the potential effectiveness that can be had from introducing and working on gratitude in order to improve well being and happiness.

With this. Line of thought fresh in my mind, and my own practicing of gratitude lately I will be exploring some personal experiences of gratitude and how practicing gratitude has helped me alter my automatic thought patterns over time. As a disclaimer I am not suggesting gratitude is a cure-all, but more of a handy tool to help contribute to a changing way of relating to the world around us.


References:

Cash, T. F. (2011). Cognitive behavioural perspectives on body image. In T. F. Cash, & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body Image, A Handbook of science, practice and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 39-47). New York, NY: Guilford Press

Juarasico, A. S., Perone, J., & Timko, C. A. (2011) Moderators of the relationship between body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Eating Disorders, 19, 346-354. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2011.584811

Watkins, P. C. (2014). Gratitude and the good life: Toward a psychology of appreciation. New York, NY: Springer Science

Wendy, L. Wolfe & Kaitlyn Patterson (2017) Cpmparison of a gratitude-based and cognitive restructuring intervention for body disatissfaction and dysfunctional eating behaviour in college women, Eating Disorders, 25:4, 330-334, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080.10640266.2017.1279908

Behaviour Change and The Monday Mentality

I first encountered what I call the Monday Mentality when I was engaging in dieting behaviour. I would design a diet plan that would always start on a Monday. If I designed the plan on a Thursday for example that gave me until Monday to eat, indulge and gorge on everything I wouldn’t be allowed from Monday onwards.  During the Bulimia days this would equate to days upon days of bingeing and purging. Monday would come, and this was a new start. Every Monday was a new me like the 1st of January, except Monday just kept on coming around every single week. This is 52 chances a year to start a new diet, exercise regime, habit, project, study, checking off the errands on that list as long as your arm and as old as your eldest son.

There is a fresh feeling about Monday. We start a new study week or work week or just a new week in general. Everything starts up again and it feels like a perpetual chance of new starts and the beginnings of new habits and lives. I used to delude myself into thinking that from next Monday everything would change. I would stop bingeing and finally exist on a minute amount of calories. I would finally lose weight. I finally stop purging.

The Monday Mentality creep into every avenue where we start goal setting. It usually trumps the ‘why not start today?’ and the ‘There no time like the present’ thinking because it is more enticing to continue with shitty habits for a few more days in favour of trading them in tomorrow, always tomorrow and of course, for every single day that we exist in this universe, no matter what happens, there will always be a tomorrow until our final day. Thank you universe. There is a great gift in tomorrow.

Today is shit? You’ve had a crap day from start to finish, have a sleep and there is always tomorrow where you get to start over on making a good day. Wait a few more days and give yourself time to sulk it out and start again on, you guessed it, Monday. There’s always a Monday just on the horizon. Even on a Tuesday or Wednesday there is always a Monday on the horizon so it is easy to get stuck in the Monday Mentality of, I’ll start on Monday.

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I got caught up in this thinking pattern during my first year studies at university earlier this year. I had a depressive episode which meant that most days were going not according to plan off the mark every week for a number of weeks. I would push myself really hard to change my behaviour and get to university on Monday. Tuesday would come and more often than not during my first year I wouldn’t make it. This for a good few weeks wrote off the rest of the week until the following Monday when I would get a ‘fresh start’ to try to improve my attendance, get off the ‘fitness to study’ radar, and ultimately get my shit together. Whilst working with the welfare officer at university she said, ‘why wait until Monday?’. I didn’t really have an answer other than, it felt more like a goal to start changing.

The truth is, goals never get met whilst engaging with the Monday mentality. Thursday is as good a day as any Monday to start. Together we decided that starting now would be a good idea and if today didn’t work, I can always sleep and there’s a brand new day to start now on in the morning. This meant that every morning I gave it a good go in terms of getting to places, leaving the house, showering, and managing to catch up and complete some study.  This means that even if I wasn’t making massive gains each day, or I wasn’t achieving loads all of a sudden overnight I had started to practice the Now Mentality, which ultimately leads to smaller achievement that build up to create great differences and, fingers crossed it all works out, eventually building mastery over myself, and my illness.

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This isn’t to say that I cured my depressive episode this way. That took a medication change and some more tweaks further down the line. What it did mean however, was that every morning was a chance to improve. Every morning was a chance to seize the day the best I could for that day. So each day I would make a plan that felt achievable and not overwhelming. It would include something like, shower, mindfulness, dishes, study. Sometimes I would only manage to eat, and have a shower and that was fine. The key difference was that Tuesday or Wednesday wasn’t pissing me off and I wasn’t then vowing to stay in bed until next Monday before I tried again. This method over time built a bit of resilience and a fresh view of each day being as good as any Monday to try. That’s all I was asking of myself, to try. That’s all anyone can ask of themselves, but if you decide to wait until next week each week before initiating change then every time you wait a few days to indulge in the habits you’re trying to break you are entrenching those habits deeper. If you are trying each day to change a habit, even if you slip up and indulge in the habit in question, you are trying again as soon as it’s done to change it again. That way you are entrenching the habit less, and enforcing the habit change more frequently, which is more likely to lead to a successful habit or behaviour change.

It seems like common sense. It really does feel obvious however, the temptation to be comfortable, which bad habits often are if they’re our usual way of functioning then the amount of self-discipline to say no to yourself and within yourself when no one is around to motivate or encourage you otherwise is great. Self discipline I think though is another habit that can become the new norm in this way. Being accountable to others can help but it isn’t healthy to rely on others to change your own behaviour. No one can change your behaviour or habits but yourself.

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This area gets more murky when mental illness is involved, but it rings just as true for mental illness. Although often a health professional is required to guide behaviour change in this instance. I’m not saying someone with OCD can change their rituals alone in this way, or that someone can stop engaging in eating disorder behaviours like this alone. Not at all. For small habits though, the trying every day brings a clean slate and a new opportunity to do better than before, every 24 hours. This can be quite helpful and can help with making the most of each day even during depression because some days you won’t be able to get out of bed, but on the days when you can you will likely achieve more on the good days which could help with the progression of the episode. It may buffer the loss of self-esteem during an episode as well when coupled with self compassion.

So scrap Mondays. Monday just means the world starts a new week. Next Monday will be no different to last Monday if you vow to make huge changes overnight on Monday. It won’t happen. We slip and we slide when breaking old habits and forming new ones. Accepting this and living in the present will likely mean in 20 Mondays time, you will be able to look back and see more successful changes because you’ve had 140 new starts, and 140 clean slates rather than 20.

Each Monday holds no more value in its 24 hours than any other day of the week. How about we stop putting Monday 1st on the podium above all the other days? Each day is a new day. There’s no time like the present. Every new morning is a new day, and the opportunity for a new start.

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*.

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.

Cancer Research UK Tough 10, Box Hill

I was looking for some trail races a while ago. I like running. I love natural environments so it feels like a natural progression for me to take my running from the city to the trails.

For me personally there’s only so much city running you can do and feel inspired. There’s also the niggles you have to take into account like traffic lights, pedestrians that are waking, cars, bin bags, lamp posts… it’s a concrete jungle that leaves me feeling lack lustre at times.

To me my relationship with running feels like I would like it to progress as a way to get in nature, a method by which to explore the world and an experience that makes me feel very alive. Sometimes pollution fumes and sirens don’t quite do that for me. So I looked for some trail races and found the Tough 10 series by CRUK.

They rate the difficulty of their races by the number of trainers, 1-3. This race took part on Box Hill And was rated three trainers tough. Box Hill is known by cyclists and was one of the steepest ascents in the 2012 Olympic cycling events. The steepness of the ascent is quite brutal.

On the first ascent we climbed the steps by the stepping-stones. 270 stairs but not equal stairs, these are slippy woodland stairs which tend to be much more of a step than your average stairwell. I walked up and felt every breath and tiny oxygen atom mattered. Once at the top there were some flatter stretches, some down hill and a few more uphill.

I really enjoyed the variation of the terrain. I loved the views even though I’ve been and seen them before – there’s nothing more rewarding for climbing something than taking a breather to look around and admire the views you earned from the climb. The ground was quite slippy and I didn’t lose my footing.

I rolled my ankle once and didn’t go over or injure myself thanks, I think, to the ankle wiggling exercises I do before a run. Running on the slope down hill felt amazing when it was a gentle gradient. I felt like I could relax and my legs just carried me along. I felt so free and alive just running through the woodland. My legs just carried me and I breathed easy.

I honestly feel like I’m starting to get the going for a run to relax and unwind thing. It’s not always super hard work anymore – and it now is very enjoyable. I’m definitely going to be hitting up some more trails – it wasn’t as hard for me mentally as I expected it to be.

This race was 10k and I feel like I’m finally comfortable with than distance so now it feels like the right time to started increasing my distance up to 15/20km. Bring it!

I went to Kobox yesterday and although that was a 50 minute class it felt much harder mentally to stay in the class and push through despite being less time – I think this was because we did exercises by the wall as well as punching the bag and the exercises were weighted so I struggled quite a lot with them. Whereas I’ve been running more consistently for a few months now so my body is quite used to t by comparison to weighted squats, trunk twists and mountain climbers.

I mean I already established last week that my core isn’t strong enough and that I’ve lost some of the core strength I did have – and this class confirmed my thoughts further.

So here’s to getting my mojo back. Here’s to trail running being bloody fabulous. Here’s to increasing the distance and getting stronger in order to do this.