#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.

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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.

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.

P is for Perseverance

Today has been about perseverance.

I woke up feeling exhausted – a feeling I’ve come to know rather well and one that hasn’t left my body for about 3 years now. Some days are better than others, but when it comes down to it it’s just different levels of exhaustion. And when the levels are really low, I feel really low. Despite feeling like this today, I (eventually) got up and ready for work. I never thought that at the age of 30 I’d count getting up and out of bed as an achievement, but that’s where my life is at at the moment. That’s not to say I’m not achieving other things (as this blog and hopefully running the marathon demonstrates) but I have certainly had to alter some of my goals and expectations. I’m slowly coming to accept that but it is hard to do on days like today, when all I want to do is feel like my ‘old self’. Deep down I know I’ve got to accept that that person is gone, just as it would be if I didn’t have depression or if I was a different person. We all change in some way or another over time. But for me, when the change feels markedly different, it’s easy to forget that. Sometimes I feel so different I don’t feel like me anymore. That’s a scary and confusing feeling.

Anyway, I got up and ready for work – yay me. But before work, therapy.

Again, another feeling of having to push on through and persevere. I’m keeping a diary of the things I’m doing at the moment and how they make me feel to see if there’s a pattern in my behaviour that links to my thoughts and feelings, and vice versa. It’s a bit frustrating as I’ve been doing this for the past 2 years. Since being diagnosed with depression, I have taken a proactive approach by reading about the illness (which in a perverse way I find fascinating!) and researching various ways of coping with it and I’ve already done this exercise. However, I do think it’s good to re-visit, especially with my counsellor being able to objectively look at things and give another perspective. Plus, I obviously haven’t cracked exactly what brings me right down on some days so that still needs figuring out. Although I do know that since being diagnosed, I have persevered and made great improvements… if I was writing this 2 years ago, well I wouldn’t have been able to. This time 2 years ago I was in what would become my 4th out of 6 weeks off work after being diagnosed with depression and the doctor writing me a sick note. I was broken. I was beyond exhausted. I was completely lost. I had many, many ‘down days’ and didn’t know how to manage them. 2 years on, and my mood has generally lifted through various CBT techniques, medication and that good old healer, time. But I do still have some ‘down days’ and when they’re particularly bad, I struggle in getting up and out of them. So that’s where I’m at at the moment, trying to find out if there are particular triggers for ‘down days’ and working out a way(s) to cope with them so I don’t let the depression overcome me. I guess I’ve been persevering for a while now – just got to persevere for a little longer.

After therapy, work. A number of my friends/colleagues noticed I was a bit more quiet than usual and asked if I was ok. I said I was fine but they knew that wasn’t true. They know what’s up and I know they’re there if I need them, which makes persevering a little easier. That’s one of the things that has made the past 2 years bearable: understanding, patient and considerate colleagues. Many of them have not only helped me but been the reason I’ve persevered at times. When working in an industry that relies a lot on personality and creativity, suffering from something that can change who you are as a person and how you respond to different things is scary, lonely and bloody frustrating! Having colleagues supporting me has meant I’ve been able to continue working in my dream job, even when I haven’t been firing on all cylinders. At times they’ve carried me, propped me up so I can just about function. So I’ve got to persevere, right? If they believe in me and the fact that things will get better then surely I have to do the same? It’s the very least I can do. And you know what? As today’s gone on, I’ve found that I’ve had to persevere less. The day got a little easier, a little less painful. I got stuck in to some editing and script writing – two of my favourite things to do – and I found that the up hill struggle started to plateau. As one of my colleagues who’s become a very good friend says, momentum is momentum – as long as it’s moving in the right direction, that’s all good.

Now for the final push…

I’ve got to run. I didn’t go yesterday because I’d been to the dentist for a root canal and really wasn’t feeling great. So today, despite not feeling great for other reasons, I’ve got to go. Today’s training is 30 minutes non-stop. Yay *hint of sarcasm*. I’m going to listen to Jack Garratt’s album ‘Phase’ to keep me company and spur me on. I saw him at Glastonbury earlier this year and more recently on Saturday night in Cardiff. His music is energising and his work ethic and talent is inspiring. Let’s hope it carries me for the next 30 minutes so I don’t have to persevere too much more today…

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Progress is progress.

Run #1 Reflection

I’m back and didn’t need a search party (see last blog post for reference!). Although I do need some thicker running tops for the winter – it was a bit chilly. And I may need something that’s not so bright – wearing essentially a builder’s florescent bib may be a bit too distracting to others! But I went out there, ran (and walked twice for about 30 seconds each time to catch my breath) and, most importantly, I got going. As you can see from the photo above, my training has had a ‘delayed’ start for a couple of reasons (one legitimate but the other, not so much). So getting up, going and completing it feels great even it the run really didn’t.

run-1-montage
Before pic (and in my florescent bib!), half way at Ashton Court, end of run photo in Clifton, and me having a rest at home

One of the things I’m going to do each time I reflect on my runs is ‘monitor’ them in the way that I reflect and monitor on my mental health each day. Over the past 2 years I’ve taken part in group CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) sessions, one-to-one counselling and one-to-one CBT, which is what I’m currently doing on a weekly basis. From those experiences, as well as some of my own research and reading about coping and managing with depression, I’ve created my own ‘toolbox’ if you like. As with running, I find it difficult to regularly do the things that I know are good for me but I am really trying hard to get in to a rhythm with recording my thoughts, emotions and (in)actions to help build a picture up of what may trigger what I call my ‘down days’ and what helps to lift my mood, as well as the things that help to stabilise me and keep me balanced.

This is my toolbox with some of the tools I use regularly:

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My mental health toolbox

And then the other thing I’m doing at the moment is rating my actions in relation to achievement and enjoyment. So I’m going to use that now for today’s running reflection along with using some of the words to describe me because I went out for a run. Go me and here’s to resting until Tuesday’s run…

FYI rating goes from 1 – 5 – 5 being the highest, 3 being average, and 1 being the lowest

Run #1 Rating & Reflection

Achievement = 4

I’m still annoyed with myself that I didn’t start running when I originally planned and so I don’t feel like I achieve what I set out to. However, when I break it down and place it all in context, I did get going today when on other days I haven’t and that’s an achievement. I also pushed myself when the run was getting tough to try to keep on going as much as I could. And I’ve written 2 blogs today on my running which really is an achievement.

Enjoyment = 2

I really didn’t like the run today at all. It was cold which made my chest feel tight and the first 10 minutes felt like FOREVER. Probably not helped by the fact that my running app didn’t start when I set it to and 5 minutes in I was wondering why I hadn’t heard a little voice in my ear buds telling me how far I’d ran so far. In some ways I should feel prouder because I ran further than I needed to but really I was out on the cold for longer than I bloody well needed to be. Oh well, at least I wasn’t raining or blowing a hoolie!

Today’s run shows that I am:

AMBITIOUS – while today was 3 miles, come April I’ll be running nearly 9x the distance

ACTIVE – got my heart rate up and my muscles working

DETERMINED – kept going to reach today’s goal

DEDICATED – I stuck to my training plan despite having not in the past 2 weeks

GRATEFUL – I’m grateful for being able to run, and live, in a beautiful and safe place

HARD-WORKING – blogging and running’s taken up time but I’ve worked to do my best

HOPEFUL – I’m trying to have some self-belief in my ability to do the marathon

KIND – I have been kind to myself – I’ve exercised and now I’m going to watch Strictly Come Dancing as a reward, followed by Plant Earth 2

MOTIVATED – thinking about why I’m doing this spurred me on

PROACTIVE – I’ve organised and planned my training and got going

REALISTIC – it was my first run in a while and so I didn’t over-do it