#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 #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.

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.

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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