#SorryNotSorry

It’s become a popular hashtag for social media users of late but it’s also an apt hashtag for someone suffering from depression, in my experience anyway…

The purpose of this post was to initially apologise for the lack of blogging in recent weeks. When I started blogging, I aimed to post at least every time I went for a run or cross-trained. Seeming as I’ve reflected 9 times in the past 4 months when I’ve actually trained 33 times suggests I’m some way off my target. And for me, that feels disastrous. Extreme to say I know but, as I’ve come to discover in my therapy sessions (more on that to come), setting goals and meeting my own expectations – and failing to do so – is something that’s been causing my depression to hangover from the initial trigger 3 years ago. I’ve been beating myself up for not following my plan which means I’m not developing my writing and I’m not raising enough awareness about a cause close to my heart which then means that I’m letting other people down, not to mention damaging my chances to maximise the opportunity in raising as much money as I can for Mental Health Foundation. And so this storm of thoughts and worries continues to spiral, gaining more momentum, becoming harder to tame and control. The rational part of me knows that the above isn’t true but unfortunately I’m not 100% rational. I mean, who is, right?! But with depression – for me – a lot of time is spent trying to recognise, listen to and believe the what can be tiny rational part of my brain.

So because of those feelings, I wanted to say sorry. Sorry to you. Sorry to me. Sorry to those I’m raising money and awareness for. Yet after some reflecting, I know I’m not sorry, or at least I needn’t be. Using the rational part of my mind and the tools I’ve learnt through CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), I know that I’m doing my best. It might be frustrating when I know I can do better but given the literal context of the past few months and seeing the bigger picture, what I’ve done and continue to do is fine. It’s more than fine. It might not be perfect and it might not be meeting my expectations, but that’s ok (well, I’m trying to be ok with it!). Trying to reconcile this confusion and conflict is one challenge I don’t relish, but one I know I must conquer.

So I won’t say sorry. Just be patient with me while I try to be patient with myself. Be patient with anyone suffering from a mental health illness. They’ll want to say sorry for numerous things they experience, feel and do but they needn’t say sorry, either.

Run #13-19 Reflections: Cross-training in a Caribbean climate 🌴🍍🍌

 

“You’re going home a different person”

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The words whispered in my ear as I’m hugging my sister-from-another-mister goodbye after 10 incredible days in the Caribbean. And she was right. I was going home a different person. I had arrived on the other side of the Atlantic drained, dishevelled and depressed. I was leaving the tropical island refreshed, rejuvenated and regained in confidence.

How?

I was true to myself.

Taking time to do the things that not just give me pleasure but a sense of purpose and identity was critical: dancing; swimming in the sea; spending time with old friends; making new friends; experiencing a different way of life; yoga; reading; podcasts; trying new activities; hiking; writing; trying new food; eating healthily; getting enough sleep.

I was also honest with myself.

I knew I was off balance, out of kilter, off point. I had to put that right before I was completely gone in the wrong direction.

And so I did. My time in St Lucia helped me press the re-set button. Probably seems rather obvious – that’s what most people experience on holiday, right? But this wasn’t simply a holiday. This was one of the best ways for me to recover. I guess a rather elaborate and extreme time out, something I’m only too aware that I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to experience.

And 2 months on, the positive remnants of my time on this beautiful island with beautiful people who helped me make some truly beautiful memories remains.

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MY MINI UPDATES FROM ST LUCIA:

  • Not really a run but after a 30 min strength and conditioning session followed by 3 hours of kayaking, this was all I could manage! My ‘run’ included 25c, a witch’s house, and a stray dog chasing me because it wanted to play!!

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  • 40 minute run in 27c heat plus some strange looks on the way; afternoon spent reading Harry Potter and listening to podcasts on the balcony; a few chores to earn my keep; drinks at the marina; my first St Lucian street party, at Gros Islet, where I learnt to wine to Soca and Dancehall; more sore feet!!

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  • First Soca-cise class (think zumba but Caribbean style!) plus an impromptu dance off at the end of the class; a drive down south; pick Shauna up from the airport; reunite with Seeliy as we hike to the waterfall; drink cinnamon tea; eat cinnamon cake; try banana ketchup and some local spiced rum; drive back up north; stumble across street food where country music’s blaring out at the side of the road; dance (badly) at a Salsa party where I had a go at Salsa, Kizomba and Bachata; meet up with American Med students from Friday night at a local bar; learn to swing dance; teach Irish dancing; have my first PB&J (peanut butter and jelly) sandwich; play Irish poker; go to bed just before the sun comes up; ruin my feet some more – lost a toe nail at Salsa And that was supposed to be a quiet day!

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  • ROAD TRIP to the south; trip to local village with our new BFF Seeliy (whose daughter happens to live in my home county, Wiltshire!!); Atlantic Way walk with Seeliy’s son Kiandi; my first St Lucian cocktail at The Reef; a relaxing read in a hammock; first taste of bake and soya with some local juice; a walk up to a lighthouse; kettle bell swings with a coconut; watched Ciara and Shauna ride the waves; drive to our Airbnb place for the night; a challenge to find any food; after eventually finding food, we cooked way too much of it; an early night which turned in to a sleepless night thanks to the karaoke bar blasting out the tunes (and screeches!) until 3am

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  • Road trip continues in the south; tour with St Lucia Eco Adventures started with a hike up to an incredible spot with a view of Gros Piton and Petit Piton, 2 mountainous volcanic plus which are a UNESCO world heritage site; learnt about indigenous plants to St Lucia; tried a few fruits (tamarind, gooseberry); got battered by some plants!

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  • My final day… a chilled morning around the house, taking time to soak up the amazing  view of Rodney Bay; afternoon on the beach reading, dozing and swimming; another amazing (and exhausting) Soca-cise class; dinner at the marina and drinks with friends; my first proper Caribbean rum (with ginger – so good!); salsa social which included a new dance I really want to do more of, Tarraxinha – a form of Kizomba. A perfect end to a perfect wee tropical adventure!

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Run #13-19 Ratings & Reflections

Achievement = 5

Enjoyment = 5

I think all the above says it all for both!

The Cotswold Way Reflection: I did it my way😊

After a bit of an emotional and tiring day on day 4 I actually took the decision to come home instead of going to the B&B for what was supposed to be my last overnight stop on the route. The 4 days ultimately served their purpose: I got fresh air, peace and quiet and time to reflect on things and because of that I returned much calmer. I also feel good for challenging myself, doing some exercise and spending time in the outdoors. Slightly annoyed I didn’t complete the whole thing but I gave it a go and considering how the reality of it all panned out, I think I did myself proud.

I know it must be scary reading some of my posts; I really don’t mean to upset anyone but I want to be honest because it’s helping me recover and I hope it’s helping in a wider sense in contributing to an honest, no-bullshit conversation about dealing with a mental health illness. Showing the ups and downs all at once shows how not so black and white depression is. You can feel elated yet down at the same time; motivated and disinterested all at once; brave and scared in the same instance. It really is bloody confusing! And I know it must be like that for people on the outside looking in, not knowing how I (or others with depression) are feeling. But I can tell you one thing: support, no matter how big or small, makes the world of difference. I don’t expect anyone to understand this illness – especially when I don’t myself – but knowing there are people who care about you along the way despite not understanding is what really matters.

Run #12 Reflection aka Day 4 of The Cotswold Way

3.17m walked, and probably cried the equivalent distance in tears.  This was a tough day.

The pain in my feet was bearable but not the pain in my head. I had a panic attack in the middle of some really pretty woodlands and then I broke down in tears. I realised it was all to do with the break-up I’d been trying to deal with rather than my depression but I also realise that these things are interrelated. So I took the decision to walk to the nearest village, pop in to a pub to warm up by a fire, have a cider and then check in to the B&B as soon as I could to relax, recuperate and re-centre. The whole point of this walk was to give me space, peace and time to think which it really did. It was also supposed to be part of a healing process. While a challenge is good (God knows I love a good challenge), knowing my limits in any given time is good, too. It was on this day that I realised I’d reached my pain threshold physically, mentally and emotionally. And the fact I realised that is a MASSIVE improvement on where I’ve been with managing my emotions and feelings in the past few years. Every cloud…

While updating my journey on Instagram, I shared the above photo of me crying after my panic attack. I felt so alone, so scared, so lost. But I wanted to share that feeling because I know I’m not the only to have felt that way. And I wanted to show that I’m not ashamed of feeling like that, either. I’m not ashamed of my tears. I’m not ashamed of my heart breaking. I’m not ashamed of pushing myself to the edge and feeling like that’s about as much as I can take. I’m not ashamed of having anxiety and depression. I’m not ashamed of being open about my true feelings. And I’m simply not ashamed of being me, like I may have been in the past.

I am not ashamed.

Run #12 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 2

I just could not go on today. I didn’t give up, but I barely persevered, either.

Enjoyment = 0.5

Today was one of the lowest points I’d had for a while. My entire body and soul ached. How I longed for it all just to stop.

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Run #11 Reflection aka Day 3 of The Cotswold Way

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I very VERY nearly took this day as a rest day – I even checked the bus times from Painswick to Dursley so I could just get to my B&B and chill. But something in my head just said ‘give it a go, see what happens then make the decision’. My blisters and right ankle were painful and uncomfortable, but bearable – just. I decided to take a slightly different route to help ease the pain – no fields today but a mix of the Cotswold Way, A roads, B roads, a common and some woodlands. With Jack Garratt’s phenomenal debut album buzzing in my ears, I plodded on. The weather was changeable, so too was my mood. I stopped off at a Sainsbury’s cafe to warm up and fuel up. Unfortunately my phone had conked out again and so for the latter half of the day it was just me and my thoughts. As the day got on, my feet got worse. The blisters were half the size of my palms and I had three of them – one on each heel and one on the inside of the ball of my right foot. I was wearing my trusty walking boots and proper walking socks so I’m not sure how they happened, but happen they did. When I finally saw the bright lights (yes, it got dark again) of Dursley, I slumped off to a pub to warm up and treat myself to a well-deserved G&T. And again, I got help from a 4 wheeled friend to get me over to Stinchcombe, my stop for the night. I was just so exhausted, in so much pain and I frankly, just fed up by the end of the day. I had had enough. At least getting sandwiched between my backpack and a gate – twice – had brought a smile to my face that day!

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Run #11 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 3

Well, full marks for me for getting on with things initially. But I have to knock down the score for getting a taxi again. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself – something I’m trying to work on!

Enjoyment = 3

The pain certainly tarnished the day. And the weather turning didn’t help. Some moments were really enjoyable but a lot of the day felt like a slog. I would’ve scored it a 2 but a visit from a good friend at my B&B in Stinchcombe massively lifted my mood… thanks Heather 🙂 x

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Run #10 Reflection aka Day 2 of The Cotswold Way

Screenshot_20170421-091415Not as many animals today nor as many people. A little bit lonely at times but still peaceful. There was another near-spectacular fall as this time I decided to imitate Bambi on ice! Fortunately I just about kept my balance. With my phone having enough battery, I finished an audio book along the walk (“Grit: The Power of Passion and Persistence” by Angela Duckworth – it’s really interesting!). I also did A LOT of map reading as I decided to take a mix of different routes since many of the locations on the route were ones I’ve visited numerous times back when I lived in Gloucestershire. It was lovely having the sun and lovely to get to my B&B in sunlight. Although I did have help from a 4-wheeled friend… For about an hour I was deliberating over whether to carry on today or not, as I was supposed to have walked twice today’s distance.Screenshot_20170421-091458 But it got to the point where I was slowing down so much from painful ankles that I knew I’d end up walking in the dark again – something I really didn’t want to do. So I took the decision to cut the walk short, get to my B&B to rest up and start afresh tomorrow. Part of me feels like I’ve let myself down but then I’m trying to see the bigger picture and why I’m doing this walk. It’s not to do with racing the clock or walking the furthest for the sake of it. It’s about taking time to be in the present, focus on me for a bit and look after my health – plus to enjoy the beautiful countryside. So when I think of things like that, actually I don’t feel like I’ve let myself down after all.

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Run #10 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 2

While I can put it all in to context and try to be kinder to myself and not beat myself up, I can’t move away from the fact that I didn’t walk as far as planned and also got a lift – one thing I really didn’t want to have to do.

Enjoyment = 3

Was much quieter on today’s walk although I appreciated the time to listen to an interesting book and just be.

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£1000 milestone achieved 😊 A much needed boost this week – THANK YOU 🌟🌟🌟

After the shambles that was Monday’s run (see Run #26 post) I was feeling rather disappointed, dejected and, without using the word lightly, pretty depressed. While I didn’t achieve the goal set for my training at the start of the week, I did achieve another milestone this week. Or rather, you did.

Everything I see this in my inbox, my heart jumps:

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It genuinely doesn’t matter what the amount donated is, it’s the thought that someone either cares about me or cares about the cause I’m fundraising for – or both – that makes my heart jump. I’m starting to enjoy *some* running but I’m not doing this challenge for me. I’m doing it because I care about raising money and awareness for mental health illnesses, particularly depression and anxiety, because of my own experience and the experience of so many others I know, whether they may be direct or indirect. So when I’m having a bad day with my head or a bad day with my legs, having a little email drop in my inbox displaying a message of support for me and a figure of support for the Mental Health Foundation, then I know the pain I’m feeling is worth it.

Thank you to all those have sponsored me over the past few months – every single donation, every single word, every single penny makes a massive difference.

Now to continue to rack up those miles and hopefully the pounds, too…

Run #28 Reflection: well that didn’t quite go to plan…

20 miles. That was the aim for what would be my longest run in my London Marathon training. But I fell short of my target. At least I didn’t literally fall over, though – every silver cloud and all that…

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Well, things started off pretty positively. I was motivated for the run but that feeling soon evaporated. I decided to take a different route which I thought would be a good idea just to shake things up a bit but it actually meant I became quite distracted on the run, and not in a helpful way; while the weather conditions were perfect and I love running in the countryside, I was too aware I was running an unfamiliar route and with the roads being a bit busier than what I’m used to, I spent half my time jumping up on to the grass verge with stinging nettles and all to make sure I didn’t get squashed on the country lanes. Then, my thighs started to seize up around mile 7, something that’s not happened before. Another thing that’s not happened before is me getting a stitch. I had no idea what to do except to squeeze away the pain. So with my stinging ankles, my tight, heavy thighs and my pained stomach, my body really wasn’t in the best shape.

Neither was my head.

Barely an ounce of sleep the night before mixed with a stressful and unexpected start to the day had left me in a bit of a fog. With the help of my therapy sessions in recent months and just simple good old practice, I’ve learnt how to clear foggy days. Often when I’m running I’ll either put negative thoughts on hold and deal with them later or I use my running time as a sort of therapy session to sort some things in my head out. I was unable to do either on this run. I couldn’t silence the unhelpful thoughts and I couldn’t concentrate enough to manage them, either. So much so I turned off my music just so I could have a bit of peace and quiet. At least it was a beautiful day, with the sun shining aided by a breeze to keep me cool. And the Wiltshire countryside really is something; trees, green fields, daffodils, pretty little villages – perfection. Just a shame my run didn’t reflect the scenery.

As my legs and head became heavier and heavier, my running became slower and slower. I needed to be back by 7.45pm as I was going to the cinema with my sister. Another unhelpful pressure playing on my mind I realised after. Ahhhhhh, the power of hindsight. So I kept on checking the time, more so than I usually would on a run. And then suddenly I was about to lose the ability to tell the time. My phone battery had plummeted to 2%. Bugger. I was 10.43 miles in to my run (thanks Runkeeper). Half way. It was 6pm. There was no way I was going to make it back in time for the cinema. Panic set in. I haven’t had a panic attack for a couple of months now but the warning signs were all too familiar. But despite all the above, I managed to take a deep breath (well, many deep breaths as I was pretty knackered from running 10.43 miles non-stop!) and work out what to do which turned out to be something I really didn’t want to do and something that I’m still kicking myself for for even considering.

It had already started to play on my mind to calling it a day on the run. I was trying to battle that thought but the thing with having negative thoughts and being in a low mood is that everything becomes a vicious cycle. I was beating myself up for even contemplating giving up. Then I was getting stressed with myself for being so hard on myself – something I’ve actively been trying to do less of through my therapy sessions. My thoughts soon escalated to questioning why I had even bothered entering the marathon and thinking I could do a challenge like this. I was telling myself that I won’t be able to do it, that I haven’t done enough preparation, that if I’m having a breakdown now at 10.43 miles then what will the rest of the race be like?! What was the point?

As I walked to the nearest town – Brinkworth – to pick up a cab from the nearest pub or shop, I realised what the point was.

This.

I’ve had a string of good runs recently. Even better, I’ve had a string of good days mental health wise. It feels great to make progress and take on challenges when you’re feeling positive, encouraged, motivated and energised. When you feel the opposite it can be difficult to see any progress made and everything feels like a challenge. But that’s one of the reasons why I decided to do this. I wanted to be able to achieve something despite my mental health condition. I wanted to challenge the stigma attached to depression and anxiety, showing the different sides, challenges and consequences of the illnesses. I wanted to raise awareness and raise money by being open and honest about my training as I knew it wasn’t going to be easy in and of itself, let alone adding the dark stormy days.

So this training session was just part of the whole experience. It wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t enjoyable and it wasn’t reassuring. But when I placed it in the context of remembering why I was out in the middle of the countryside in my shorts and t-shirt, running belt around my waist stocked up with gels and water, I felt *marginally* better about things. And it was at this moment that I saw assign for my home town stating it was *just* 4.5 miles away. 4.5 miles. I could briskly walk that in an hour at worst. I could manage that. That would be better than getting a cab. I’d still be falling short of my target, but not by as much.

And so with the calming reflection and realisation along with the encouraging sign – literally – I continued to put one foot in front of the other through Brinkworth, on towards my destination. I may not have achieved my initial goal, but I achieved something else along the way which, in hindsight, is far more important. And it turns out not all was lost anyway; my heavy legs were able to manage a bit more than a brisk walk. It’s funny what you can achieve when you think you can’t.

Run #28 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 3

This is tricky because technically I should be scoring this ‘0’ having not accomplished 20 miles. On the other hand, maybe I should be scoring it 5 for not giving up, managing the situation and seeing the bigger picture? So with both of those in mind, I’m going bang slap in the middle.

Enjoyment = 0.5

The sun was shining and the countryside was beautiful; the only saving grace.

Run #9 Reflection aka Day 1 of The Cotswold Way: 100 miles in 5 days (well, that was the plan!)…

“Where you going to love?”, said the taxi driver as I wriggled across the back of his car with my heaving rucksack. “Chipping Campden please. I need to go to the start of the Cotswold Way”, I reply as my cold breath fills the warm, cosy car with condensation.

The quintessential English countryside looked glorious as we rolled on by in the sunshine, talking about the work I do in BBC local radio. That would be the last time I would talk – even think – about work for the next few days. That part is true. But to say that the absence of thinking about work was bliss, as I expected, would not be true. Little did I know that the rest of the walk would be more blister-full than blissful, literally and figuratively speaking.

As mentioned in a previous blog, I’ve recently gone through a break up. I’ve been here before, just like many millions of others have. My situation isn’t unique nor is it special. But it’s my situation. It’s my experience. And I’ve been before. Many times, actually. But the last time I was here, the dark, grey days turned in to a storm full of raging gales strong enough to knock me over and relentless rain, turning everything miserable; my last breakup was the proverbial straw which essentially triggered 3 long years of living with depression.

So I spotted the warning signs. I mean, at least this time I could prepare for what might come and attempt to circumnavigate the inevitable rocky patch. And this was one of the ways I decided to do that. Fresh air. Alone time. Exercise. The countryside. And of course, a challenge. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew some parts wouldn’t be all that enjoyable. I knew I’d cry, I knew I’d hurt – inside and out – but I also knew that this is what I needed to do. I needed to start the healing process and I needed to prevent any further damage. So off I set: 100 miles in 5 days. “Let’s do this”, I thought…

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The first day was energising, liberating, tiring, painful, and, as the sun went down and I realised I was still hours from my B&B in the pitch black dark but for my little head torch, bloody terrifying. Energising because it felt so good to feel the crisp wind fill my lungs and the result of my body producing and pumping around happy hormones. Liberating because my phone had died and so it was just me, the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside. Tiring because I walked 20.35 miles miles with 2o kilograms on my back, which wasn’t helped by me forgetting just how hilly Gloucestershire is. Painful because on day one I gained 3 little friends in the form of expanding skin filled with liquid on the inner side of each foot – typical. And bloody terrifying because my over imaginative mind convinced the part of me that’s a scaredy-cat that I was being followed through the woods every time I head owls – ok, more likely pigeons – sound and flutter away as I walked by (sorry to the people whose garden I trespassed through with all of 5 metres – I just had to get out of the woods and on to the road and when I saw my chance I took it… I promise I was careful and just nipped around the edge once I jumped the barbed wire fence – not an easy thing to do when carrying a third of your body weight on your back!).

What I noticed the most from the first day’s walking was just how often I would stop and be in the moment. I know very little about plants and wildlife but what I did come across I’d stop, look, study and take in what was in front of me in that very instance. I’d notice the tiny leaves on flowers, the eyelashes on a horse that followed me through a field or the shapes of the clouds in the sky as they merged in to the mist in the distance, making the landscape looking something more reminiscent of Lord of the Rings than Gloucestershire. In fact, I was so in the moment throughout the day that I really did take in everything, and for once I managed to remember it all, too:

11 villages. 8.5 hours of walking. 3 blisters. 2 pheasants. 1 pony. 1 breed of cow I’d never seen before (turns out it was Belted Galloway). 1 squirrel. 1 man and his dog (that got lost and I helped to find… the dog by the way, not the man!). 1 dead phone. 1 castle-esque tower. 1 near spectacular fall (I was trying to skid down some mud!). 1 incredibly stunning sunset that distracted me, resulting in 1 missed turn. Numerous ‘diversions’ in the dark, resulting in 1 slightly scared and paranoid walker (I watch too many psycho-thrillers). 1 lost hat. 1 found hat. Tonnes of clumpy, sticky mud. Tonnes of Deep Heat. Too many hills. Too many scary looking sheep. And 1 lovely B&B (once I could get in!).

So with day 1 under my layers of warm clothing and waterproof jackets done, I turned to think about day 2 as my head hit the pillow of my luxurious bed. The sun had been shining all day and, despite the inevitable ups and downs, the sun was still shining inside of me.

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Run #9 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 5

I survived!

Enjoyment = 3

A mixed bag of emotions for the day.

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