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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Running on empty, stopping to refuel

1 film (Ab Fab – I love Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley), 2 (mini) bottles of red wine, the usual (rather plain) assortments found with an in-flight meal all done and dusted yet I still have 6 hours to go. I’m typing this from 30F, my aisle seat on a flight crossing the Atlantic Ocean as I make my way south-west to a part of the world I’ve never been before: the Caribbean.

Idyllic. Paradisiacal. Heavenly.

That’s how I’ve always imagined the Caribbean to be and if I were to ever visit one of the many islands making up the archipelago, I’d be doing it in style. Why? Well, because I never imagined I’d be able to afford to go the Caribbean. Growing up it was always the destination for the rich and famous; not the likes of a small-town girl from England who considered her holidays at Eurocamp in France to be a luxury growing up. No. If I were to ever go to the Caribbean, it would be when I’ve ‘made it’.

Well, I can tell you something. I haven’t ‘made it’. But here I am on my way to much warmer climates (not that that’s hard when living in the UK) in a situation I never thought I’d find myself in. How? Why? It all began with the warning signs…

You may have read this post from a few weeks ago. If you haven’t, I’ll save you the awkwardness and anguish as it’s not a happy read; essentially I felt like I was falling apart, for a number of reasons to do with my recovery from depression as well as dealing with the aftermath of a breakup. After writing that post, things didn’t really get any better. At the same time, though, they didn’t get any worse. They just, well, stayed. I felt stuck. It was as if each day I was trying to wade through treacle and yet I was getting no where; I was waking up and going to sleep in exactly the same spot. In a sense that was ok. I actually felt relatively stable. But at the same time, I could see that this wasn’t a long term viable situation to be in. If I stayed too long in this spot, I’d sink.

So, to get unstuck and to get some sort of forward momentum going. In order to do this, I had to expend energy. Energy. That elusive property that we know exists, but often feels absent from our lives for a multitude of reasons. I know I have the energy to do things, as me doing things is evident of that, but I can’t remember the last time I actually felt like I had the energy to, well, do anything – even sleep. So any little energy that might exist in some sort of form in my life, I knew, wasn’t enough t0 power me to fight the sticky, gloopy mess I was stuck in. I needed help. I would need wrenching out of the treacle, hosing down from its grips, and being allowed a little time to take stock, re-build and get going again, as that sticky, gloopy mess won’t be gone forever, I know.

After some serious thinking time, self-reflection and a lot of honest chats with friends, family and colleagues I came to the decision that I needed a chunk of time off work. Now, for those of you who don’t know me, while I love holidays and taking breaks, I hate taking time off work otherwise. I do my dream job and I love it. But with recent events, working has become hard. Very hard. We all have our off days but I started to have more off days than on. I was working on my own original story idea, being left to my own devices to set up things for radio, TV and social media, taking the lead on editorial and creative decisions; I should’ve been in my element but, instead, I felt like all the elements were drowning me, burying me, burning me, leading me in to a whirlwind of a storm where there was no escape. I’ve been in the eye of that storm before. I don’t want to go there again.

At first, part of me felt like I was being a wimp and running away from things. Other people are going through a shite time too and seem to be handling their own shit, so why can’t I? Well, I came to realise that I’m not other people, I don’t really know the extent to what others are going through, and the only thing I can really do is focus on me. So, here I am, on a plane to the Caribbean to spend some time with one of my best friends, Ciara aka Cheera / Cipidi / Ci, who’s working and living over here for a wee while (she’s Northern Irish – had to put the ‘wee’ in there for effect!).

*****

UPDATE: It’s now day 3 of my trip to St. Lucia. It’s 11am and I’m typing this as I’m sat in my forest green bikini that perfectly camouflages with the scene in front of me (which is ironic as I’ve learned camouflage is illegal here in St Lucia!!). I’m on the balcony of Ciara’s house. Directly in front of me is a bay leaf tree, a mango tree and an orange tree. Further ahead is a large, rocky, mountainous outcrop covered in green vegetation that goes on to meet the Caribbean Sea. To my right down the steep hill littered with an assortment of colourful houses is the Rodney Bay marina; white masts of yachts poke up out in the distance as if they were pins pricking up from a blue, silky pin cushion. Some sort of saw or sander is working away a few houses below this one and the hum of traffic can be heard in the distance, along with the occasional plane jetting overhead. I’ve taken a break from the local ‘Soca’ music to enjoy some chilled neo-soul; a weird juxtaposition of sounds surround me but I feel truly mellow.

*****

So back to the point of this post. I’ve been running on empty and I worked out I needed to refuel. Some might call me a bit of an idealist / hedonist / day-dreamer or simply a fool who gets carried away with the fairies from time to time. All would be correct to a degree but I do often manage to mould my free-flowing ideas into something a little more realistic and concrete. At first, I thought about buggering off to somewhere like Thailand and doing a 4 week yoga/detox retreat kind of thing. I knew I didn’t want to spend my time off just sitting around at home. While I needed some time to recuperate, this was not the way to go about it. But neither was sodding off to be on my own for so long and spending a fair whack in the process. Ok, plan B. I’m good at coming up with plan Bs. I made a list. I’m good at making these, too. One list checked off the reasons why I wanted to take time off with what I hoped to achieve. Another list checked off the things that are truly good for my soul, carefully balancing the fun with the healthy, purposeful things (something I’ve tried to practice since reading Paul Dolan’s ‘Happiness by Design’ – an interesting perspective / approach to achieving happiness, one that I don’t entirely agree with but useful and insightful nonetheless). This is what I came up with:

And so this is my plan B:

WEEK 1: 

– Weekend with friend to take the sting out of having to take on the necessary but unpleasant task of picking up some things from my flat with my ex

– A night spent with my family playing cards (we love a games night) and celebrating my dad’s 60th birthday

– Long run for marathon training

– 5 days walking the Cotswold Way in Gloucestershire, staying at 4 B&B’s on route from Chipping Camden to Bath – this would involve time to listen to music, podcasts, audiobooks and simply be in the beautiful countryside as well as the warm and cosy accommodation

– A night spent with my twin (not really my twin – we’re both called Rhiannon and have been best friends for 24 years – but we might as well be twins)

– Time spent updating my blog

– Getting my nails done – hands and feet as a treat for doing the Cotswold Way and a pre-holiday prep to get me in the mood (plus, I STILL have the terrible habit of biting my nails and the skin around them which I don’t do when I have my nails done so in some ways, a healthy preventative measure and not simply a frivolous and vain activity 😉)

WEEK 2 & 3:

– Go to St Lucia to stay with one of my best friends who I know from uni (we were both Cardiff University Snakecharmers, the uni’s competitive and national winning cheerleader team… Go Venom Big Pop!)

– Get some (but not too much!) much- needed vitamin D

– Eat fresh, local produce including my favourite fruit, pineapple

– Go for runs around the Caribbean island to continue my marathon training

– Not set an alarm clock for 10 days, enjoy the fresh sea air and get some good sleep and rest

– Swim in the warm waters of a sea I’ve yet to have experienced before

– Go to Soca and Salsa nights and dance the night away

– Yoga on the beach

– Drink some rum

– Meet Ciara’s Lucian friends, learn about another culture and experience another way of life

– Explore the island with Ciara and one of her good friends who’s also coming to visit

– Spend time reading and writing

– On return from St Lucia, celebrate me turning another year older with friends I’ve spent the last 20 or so years making crazy memories with

– Spend a day hungover after drinking too much prosecco no doubt, with that being the last time I drink until I complete the London Marathon

WEEK 4:

– Go for a walk with my dad

– Go back to therapy

– Get my hair cut

– Go to a spa

– Visit both my nans

– Practice video editing on Final Cut Pro (I may have invested in myself with a certain new lap top…)

– Run some more

– Blog some more

– Get prepared for going back to work

Of course, plans are likely to change, and in fact I’ll be writing a separate post about week 1 since that’s been and gone and, as you’ve guessed, didn’t quite go to plan…

So as I sit in the shade accompanied by a warm breeze, typing away, listening to some of my favourite music, being surrounded by green lushness and a place I’ve only just started to explore, I know I’ve made the right decision. And I don’t just know it, I feel it. In my aching muscles that have been painful for months and months from stress; in my tight chest that’s been hard to control at times with threats of panic attacks; in my mind that’s been full of emotions that were becoming tricky to handle; in my aurora which was becoming subdued and dull. As the clouds lift and the mist evaporates from the horizon, I can see the next Caribbean island of Martinique which reflects exactly how I feel right now: things are becoming clearer but some things are still far off in the distance. But that’s ok, as I already feel as if I have more direction and with a little more time, I’ll have the energy to go in the right direction, too. No longer will I be running on empty; I’ll be re-fuelled, ready to face the sticky times if/when they come again.