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.

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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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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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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.