Growth: The Uncomfortable Comfortable

If I asked you to walk home in the rain, how would you respond? Would you tell me to open my eyes; it’s raining, duh? Or maybe you might feed us both an excuse that you don’t have your umbrella and it’ll ruin your hair? What if I told you that sometimes taking the uncomfortable option can help you grow? Now I know you’re not a thirsty plant, but hear me out! Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is essential for developing resilience, a “Fuck It” attitude and for finding out what you are really made of. Most of the time, these uncomfortable situations that we frantically avoid aren’t all that bad, such as walking home in the rain. Sometimes they may even be a source of joy, imagine that! Walking home in the piss wet rain could be a highlight of your day? Maybe you think I’m full of shit. Maybe I am, but let’s ignore that for a moment because there is one person who we owe it to to do the things that make us feel uncomfortable – and that is ourselves.

Every day I see people that inspire me to push myself, whether it’s that they have something that I want *ahem a Marathon Majors 6-Star Medal cough* or they’re holding the first copies of their newly published book – I’m jealous, so shoot me! I just want to smell crisp new pages covered in my words! What lies between where I am now, and where I want to be is very simple and very painful: a whole lotta growth.

Make yourself do unpleasant things so as to gain the upper hand of your soul – W.E.B. Du Bois

This is where owing it to yourself to get comfortable being uncomfortable comes into its own. Do you remember any of your teenaged growth spurts? Those HURT! Growth is uncomfortable, and of course, it takes effort to grow, relentlessly unforgiving and continuous effort. You owe it to yourself to challenge yourself and get comfortable being uncomfortable. By becoming comfortable with discomfort we learn how much we can push ourselves, we realize and learn our limits, and that our resilience reaches beyond our own imaginations.

The option to stay exactly where we are is always there. When we have had enough we can always stop and decide if we like it just as it is. Maybe you do, or maybe it’s just easier to stop, for a long time self-harming was more comfortable than facing the rawness of my psychology and mind, learning to eat was more uncomfortable than starving myself and there came a point when being unwell becomes more comfortable than undertaking the journey to becoming well because being unwell was all I knew- I soon learned that growth happens in the most treacherous and uncomfortable of waters, as the adage and many a meme go. It’s true. That shit is scary and itchy ants-in-your-pants uncomfortable. The best teacher and arena I have found in persevering through discomfort has been exercising, without it, I doubt I would have recovered as much as I have.

Sometimes when you’re covering a large distance in one go, hi there marathon, or hiking and climbing up a mountainside (Tryffan, we have unfinished business), it is uncomfortable. It is hard. In each task, by putting one foot in front of another, a very simple yet vastly symbolic act, the finish goal will eventually appear. In continuing to show up for yourself through the challenge and continuing to push on through the burning quads, aching knees, jarring concrete and absolute monotony that can be associated with covering distance, you get there and all of a sudden the intense and immense gratitude, pride, sense of accomplishment that you feel makes it all completely 100% worth it. You don’t forget the pain, this isn’t childbirth, it just all becomes worth it.

original11

So taking this ideology into a bigger playing field is the next step, and they don’t always have to be huge strides of progress that are acquired during an activity for it to be worth it, next time it’s raining, which if you’re in London is probably tomorrow lets be honest, walk for a bit in the rain even though you don’t want to go out in it. Go for that walk in the cold. Take your shoes off, feel the ground and the cold iciness of a wintery puddle submerge your toes. Practice different types of discomfort, physical, emotional, mental: turn the heating down to below comfortable for a day, have a cold shower, go for a run up a hill. This is the reality. Life isn’t always sweet, it’s mostly pretty grim. In practise, you empower yourself to manage situations when you lack control over a situation. Sit in the overwhelm and when exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations, go ahead and nurture yourself as well. Self-soothe yourself through the discomfort, learn how to do this for yourself. Figure out whether it’s a mantra that you repeat in your head, a texture that you feel, a particular way of fidgeting your fingers that is soothing. This is great practice for self-soothing in situations that are uncomfortable where you have no control over being able to escape them, i.e. depression, anxiety, that presentation in front of your colleagues, public speaking, a race, a challenge, commuting on an overpacked tube at rush hour. It doesn’t mean you always succeed, just that you will succeed more than when you couldn’t tolerate any discomfort.

original

 

Wake Me When September Ends

For anyone who knows me well, they know that September/October is a hard time of year and has been throughout the past decade. For a long time the underlying cause was assumed to be situational stress, with something always assumed to have been bothering me: an argument with my other half; studying was difficult; work was stressful; my routine had been disrupted; this had happened and that had happened, historically speaking, like an anniversary of shite; it rained too much or it was too sunny. To be frank there’s always someone in your life that is doing your head in a bit, and in the UK there’s always always the weather, regardless of how good or bad said weather patterns are being, no matter the time of day, week or year, there is always an angle to take from which you can blame the weather for life’s woes.

This ‘something must be going on’ approach is understandable; when things go awry with your mood and mental state it seems that the most logical first step is to try and pinpoint a cause, and from there you can theoretically hatch a plan. The thing is, there is always something external to blame whether or not there is validity or truth in the reason. For ten years we’ve been fine-comb picking my life apart to figure what it is that has set me off this time. After about a decade, a pattern has emerged. I am always looking for an explanation in september and october. The chicken or the egg, the mood or the thoughts, the cognitive or the behavoural?

Now we have pinned it on the changing seasons: autumn saddens, and spring quite literally springs. I have tried to go on as if to not expect the wobble. I have tried to distract myself out of the habitual mood change with hoildays, festivals and exciting events to look forward to, just in case it was a subconscious pattern. I have tried ignoring it just in case I was placebo affecting it into effect, and I have tried to go on as if everything is just as fine and stable as it was mid-August. None of this has worked.

A breakdown in Berlin, a meltdown in Morocco, a face like a slapped arse, and difficulties in not to lashing out ensued from getting into confrontations with mates and strangers alike, particularly on public transport, inextricably blaming everyone but me for being so goddamn unreasonable. I mean sometimes they are but my patience is tissue paper thin right now, so instead of not rising to the occasion or ignoring something annoying, I snap, crackle and pop.

The difference between now and a decade ago is that I have a decades’ worth of experience up my sleeve at managing these episodes, it that CV worthy? I feel like managing this is a transferable skill? At least these episodes are no longer scary for me because they are in fact incredibly familar. I recognise and feel familiar with the feelings and the irrational thoughts of “I should just kill myself” – spoiler alert, I shouldn’t. The intrusive thoughts of just pushing, shoving or tripping people up for having the audacity to be near me in the street street are just that, intrusive thoughts. I can choose to act on them with varying degrees of self control – and if I’m really struggling to control them then I just stay close to home. I take it easy. I grab coffee and reply ever more inconsistently to my phone. I watch shit TV and let myself be. Sometimes I’ll fall into mentally beating myself up for being so useless and lazy, and then I remember that this is in fact why I am studying part-time, this is in fact why I get the financial aid that I do and this is in fact a much better option than pushing on even more so, only to absolutely lose my fucking shit completely. Top tip: prevention is always better than cure, or picking up the pieces.

This is all familiar now. When it happens I have the confidence to manage it and that it will pass. It always passes. It is never like this forever. All I need to do is call my CPN and tell her. She is arranging zopiclone for me at tomorrows meeting from a single phone call today. It’s predictable and routine. I reflect to figure out the root cause and I’m not particularly confused. I’ve got through it for my entire life, and I know that with time it will settle and pass, if I do the right things to help myself. I know what helps and what really realy does not help. So if you’re struggling with the mood shifts that are so frequently triggered at this time of year for anyone with a mood disorder, hear me out. It passes. IT ALWAYS PASSES. Sometimes it takes a really long time, and sometimes it doesn’t. Look after yourself, take your meds, and get them looked at if you can if you’re struggling an unreasonable amount.

Give alcohol a miss and sleep is a priority. Solitude in times of feeling short fused is OK and seeing people when you’re feeling alright is a necessity for our sanity. It’s OK to watch shit TV. Doing small things helps, and not having major comitments also helps. Balance. Balance. Balance and perseverence. You’ve got this, I’ve got this, we’ve got this.

N.B. Fuck that ending was cheesy!!!!! Grab a cracker.

RED January: Active Everyday To Beat The Blues Away

49565630_2010716405684957_3233601510457737216_n

If you’re on Instagram it’s quite likely you will have seen some people going on about RED January. Maybe you think it sounds like another new year resolution fad like: Veganuary (please don’t shoot me, I’m an animal too) or Dry January, for those pretending that quitting alcohol is hard for them after an indulgent Christmas. Dietary cleanses and detoxes are once again circulating although I’m not in on the scoop of which one is most trendy this year. Are we still on the Whole 30, alkaline and keto “lifestyle change” tips? Either way it seems that whatever direction we turn you can’t help but be faced with lifestyle challenges promising to transform you into a new you and make you feel miraculously better about your shitty life. RED January could fall into this trap if you frame it in such a way, but it needn’t do.

Run Every Day January is a campaign to encourage people to be active on a daily basis throughout January in an attempt to buffer against the blues. Unlike the title suggests, you don’t have to run every day, I think RED January is just easier to market and brand than MED (Move Every Day) January. A lot of people do interpret RED January as another punitive challenge and as such, that you have to run every single day. It isn’t and this defeats the purpose of the campaign. Instead you just move, whether that’s a kick about in the park with your kids, walking to the shops instead of driving, running a Park Run or doing some yoga. You’re not supposed to break yourself over it, it is quite the opposite; it is about prioritising and taking the head space to move your body, connect with your body and in the meantime reap the benefits of moving for your mood.

red-banner2-1

There are heaps and heaps of evidence for the positive effects of exercise on our mental and emotional well-being. It is now common knowledge that we can’t avoid to the point of GPs prescribing Park Run for mild depression in patients. Don’t be fooled, it isn’t a cure-all but it is a good place to start in terms of looking after yourself. Despite the accessibility of moving, 1 in 3 adults and children in the UK do not get enough physical activity. Let me repeat this. 1 in 3 adults and children in the UK do not get enough physical activity. This is quite shocking and with the benefits of exercising being so vast and varied, it really is an under tapped resource that most of us have.

I don’t mean that in a “no excuses” kind of way. It’s not easy starting to get active from being inactive for a period of time. It’s daunting, it’s hard work and sometimes it hurts but bear with me. Bear with yourself because in the long run you’ll be glad you got up and did it (pun entirely intended).

survey

There are numerous ideas and theories as to why achieving adequate physical activity is so difficult. Sometimes how we frame the idea of physical activity in our minds can really affect our perception of movement (Mental Health Foundation, 2013). Is it an extra and particularly painful chore to fit into our already busy schedules? Or is it a part of your self-care regime? Admittedly, with January being one of the coldest and darkest months of the year often curling up somewhere cosy with a book or a film feels immediately much more appealing. The greater benefits of movement may not be such an immediate gratification, but doing a steady amount will usually provide some hard-earned gratification immediately after exercise. So perhaps, the delay of immediate gratification by 30 minutes isn’t the worst after all.

The health benefits of movement are numerous, particularly for our mental well-being: from providing a protective factor to developing depression and anxiety (Fox, 1999) to increasing our work productivity and performance (Wiese, Kuykendall and Tay, 2017). The best news? You don’t have to go hard or go home; no matter how small or unimpressive you may perceive the achievement and effort to have been, any activity is better than doing none at all: what have you got to lose other than 30 minutes to try and see? (Mental Health Foundation, 2013).

The results from last year’s RED January participants speak for themselves. Last year in a survey of 3000, 87% of REDers felt significantly better physically and mentally after January 2018 from partaking in the challenge. Aside from the RED January challenge and their partnership with the mental health charity, Mind there’s oodles and oodles of evidence, scientific and anecdotal, about the benefits of moving your body.

This isn’t a weight loss message, but a 100% emotional wellness message. Regardless of your size, you DO NOT NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT before you can get active. There is no prescribed aesthetic or requirement in order to move. If you are concerned about your health impacting your ability to exercise I have added a link to a PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire) here.

The important focus is just to get moving, preferably in a way that’s enjoyable to you. Exercise does not have to be punitive, and in fact, to get the most from working out a healthy push of your limits is encouraged but don’t put yourself off forever. Start small and keep it real. Punishing yourself for eating something, or to look a certain way is not going to harvest the positive results that make you feel good, empowered and emotionally sound. It will only serve to do the opposite.

In this respect, the virgin active ad recently is a good message: Enough.


Sources:

Fox, K.R. (1999) The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public Health Nutrition. 2(3a) pp.411-418.

Mental Health Foundation (2013) Lets Get Physical. London: Mental Health Foundation.

Wiese, C.W., Kuykendall, L. & Tay, L. (2017) Get active? A meta-analysis of leisure-time physical activity and subjective well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 13(1) pp.57-66.