I’m back, ish

I’m back, ish. After a debilitating fortnight of anxiety inducing incident one after the other I thought I was in danger of spontaneously combusting. Like a planet going supernova, I emotionally exploded outwards before turning in on myself and sucking everything and everyone in close proximity into a black abyss. That may sound dramatic but when anxiety peaks and you feel like you’ve reached the limit of what you can endure that’s what crisis feels like.

My depression is like a black hole in the ground. A deep dark pit with me standing at the bottom of the hole looking up at a circle of light that is normality. All the people I know and love are at the top but as depression worsens the pit gets deeper and the circle of light gets further away and smaller and smaller.

I sometimes feel like I’m a slave to my mental health and I am at its mercy. Other times I’m the Master and the whip is in my hand. I went to the GP and I told her how I was feeling. I was honest. We chatted about what I wanted to do and she gave me a ladder. The ladder was dropped down into my pit and I’ve been able to climb up and back towards normality and the people I love.

I’m not steady, not yet but I’m getting there. I feel better. I feel the whip is in my hand and I’m ready to crack it again.

Labour pains

If I had to describe Bristol Half Marathon in three words they would be; wet, miserable and lonely. It’s no secret that I have been having a particularly shit time of late. An increasing amount of shitty and stressful situations have accumulated to the point where I have felt unable to bear the emotional load. A recent run in with a GP when my youngest son was ill was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was not in the mood for a run let alone a half marathon.

Recently I have felt like a shit wife and a shit mum. The weight of the mounting stress and the pressure has been crushing, suffocating almost but we can always bear more than we think.

During childbirth women experience increasingly painful and frequent contractions as the birth of the baby approaches. The pain becomes greater and greater and just as we think we cannot bear any more it subsides and we get a brief respite. We know though, throughout labour that this pain is temporary and will result in the overwhelming joy of a new child. Contractions are a working pain. They have a purpose and an end point.

Life pain is similar. Stress, hard times, emotional labour is all a working pain. There is an end point and we have to hang in there long enough to be able to enjoy the fruits of the our “labour”. I know that ultimately everything I am going through at the moment will come to and end. Hard times do not last forever. Even if things do not go my way or we do not acheive the desired outcomes in our endeavours we cannot help but be better for the struggles, stronger, wiser people for the effort. Hard work is not wasted even if we fail. Failures are more valuable lessons than successes even if they taste bitter.

At 9.50 on Sunday morning in a soaking wet and cold Bristol city centre I briefly considered not running the half marathon at all and waiting for my friend’s in a coffee shop with a hot drink. 13.1 miles is a long way. It’s even further on your own and excruciating when you don’t even want to do it. At 9.55 I took my miserable self to the start line with thousands of other people and when the gun went off I ran.

I spent the first 4 miles feeling miserable. I spent the next 3 thinking how lucky I was to be able to run at all when I passed a guy in a wheelchair. The last 6.1 miles I just wanted to get to the end. I didn’t enjoy the run but I did feel physically strong. The race was a three hour battle not with my feet, or tiredness or my legs but with my mind. I told myself I was rubbish, slow, tired, worthless, you name it I told myself that was what I was. I completed the race.

Bristol Half Marathon was like labour. It was slow and it was painful but it was also useful. I’m stronger than I think I am in my weakest moments. I can always bear more than I think and mentally I’m tough. I have resilience.

Running and life, it’s not about being the fastest or finishing first or pretending it doesn’t hurt and its not hard. It’s about keeping going. It’s about accepting that it’s hard but that it’s worth it. Most of all it’s about having faith in yourself to get to the end.

“Help, I need somebody”

I told someone close to me that I was struggling with my mental health to the point that I had contemplated suicide. I had thought about asking someone to collect the kids so they wouldn’t be in the house or left alone and I had thought about how was I going to end it. I told that person how I was feeling because I know that when you feel this way you HAVE to tell someone. You MUST reach out.

I also know that suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems. It may feel like the answer but it is not and that all it does is pass the pain on to someone else.

The reaction I had anticipated from my loved one was empathy, sympathy and understanding. I was reaching out looking for a solid surface to stead myself on so I didn’t slip into the abyss.

The reaction I received was one of fear, confusion and rejection “you represent yourself as strong and as a feminist, one thing happens and everything falls apart”. This led to further feelings of hurt, shame and embarrassment.

Admitting I am struggling is not something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. It is not a sign of weakness. My mental health at its worst does not invalidate all the good things about me. If I tell someone I am feeling suicidal it does not mean I am not a strong person or a good person or that I’m not feminist. It means I am in pain and I’am struggling and I have had the good sense to speak out and seek help.

I know it can’t have been easy to hear what I was saying and naturally humans are fixers. We like solving problems and finding solutions. But we are all living extremely stressful lives and there is no easy fix or quick solution.

Listening to a loved one tell you they feel suicidal is extremely hard. You don’t want to hear it, I know my loved one found it difficult to accept I was feeling that way and didn’t intentionally minimise my experience or mean to trivialise the situation. I didnt expect my person to solve my problems or fix the situation. I just wanted to be heard. I wanted to be comforted. I wanted to know I had solid rock to hang onto in stormy sea. I wanted to know I was not alone in my dark place.

When people commit suicide we always wish they had told someone how they were feeling. We wish they had spoken out.

If someone tells you they feel suicidal it may come as a huge shock. It may break your heart. Don’t take it personally. You can’t solve their problems or fix them. That’s not your job. Just listen and let them be heard.

Run, fatty, run

In 2006 I had just come out of a really crappy relationship and I was 18 stone. Not only was I overweight, by a lot, I was on medication for my blood pressure and to control my cholesterol and if all that wasn’t bad enough I was smoking 20 fags a day.

I had been to the Doctor who said that if I didn’t drastically change something about my lifestyle I was heading for a Stroke. I thought he was being melodramatic. I was in denial. I was overweight and ill. I felt and looked like warmed up shit.

My friend’s told me that because I was tall I carried my weight well and that you would never be able to guess I was 18 stone. That carried me along in my denial for a while. The blood pressure medication was awful, I sweated like a racehorse constantly which, as a fat person, made me ten times more uncomfortable. I couldn’t wear less layers because I had to cover up the fat. So I was hot, sweaty fat and miserable. Until one day a friend told me I looked ill. She was brutally honest and said I looked heavy, uncomfortable and unwell. I was unwell. This was in March 2006. She suggested we sign up for the Cardiff Half Marathon in the October and although we wouldn’t be able to train together because she lived in London, we would run it together in October.

So, I quit the fags and I downloaded a beginner’s walk to run half marathon plan. This, I decided, was IT.

The first run was horrendous. It was daytime. I was huge and I was out of breath. I had to run for ten seconds and then walk for 90 and I had to do that 6 times. I ran around the lake in the local park in front of actual people. I thought I was going to die, either through lack of oxygen or of shame. I didn’t die though, I became obsessed. Obsessed with ticking the boxes off my training plan and obsessed with weighing my food and calculating every single calorie that passed my lips.

I signed up for a Race 4 Life. It was my first ever 5k but I knew there was no pressure as I knew some people would walk it. I was ecstatic at the end. My first ever medal. It was a huge moment. My next race was Swansea 10k. This race was a big deal, it was a proper race. There were people at this race wearing running club vests. Oh my god, would they find out I wasn’t a real runner, I was sure I was going to make a huge tit of myself. I ran that first 10K in 1:10 and in twelve years of running that remains my 10K PB. I didn’t die and no-one found out I was an amateur. There was no flashing sign above my head that said “newbie” and that’s when I found out that the running community is one of the most welcoming you will ever find.

By the time October came around I was 11 and a half stone. The Doctor had stopped my blood pressure medication as I no longer needed it and my cholesterol was normal. In 7 months I had lost 6 and a half stone and sorted my health out. My mental health was still not great but I had found a way to manage it, by running. My friend ran the half with me like she promised and we ran it in 2:24. That also remains by PB for that distance. 2006 was a year of transformation for me, the transformation was physical. I was still a fat person in my head and that’s still how I saw myself. Even though I’d gone from a size 20 to a size 12 I was still the same fat girl with low self esteem.

It was great losing all the weight and my health definitely benefitted from it. I kept the weight off for three years but now twelve years later I’m a size 20 again. But I still love running and I still love what running gives me. I’ve learnt loads about myself and about running over the last 12 years. I’ve done over 30 half marathons, countless 10 and 5ks, 4 full marathons and one Ultra Marathon. Out of those 50 odd races I only did 3 of them when I was skinny. You don’t have to be skinny to be a runner. You just have to put your trainers on and run.

For me, running is 5% physical ability and 95% what my brain believes I can do. I’m back to my heaviest and I will run the hardest marathon of my life in 6 weeks time. I’m not advocating being overweight and I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to be skinny again one day. What I am saying is that I won’t let my weight stand between me and running. Hopefully I can and will lose the weight and carrying all the weight definitely makes running harder. But, running is always teaching me new lessons and what running taught me this weekend is that running doesn’t care whether you are fat or thin or fast or slow. My trainers still fit whatever my weight. Running loves you if you love running.

Anxiety and Custard Creams

I sometimes wonder if I’m actually a sociopath. If I am the bad person I was told I was. I question my recollection of the past. Have I exaggerated those things that happened. Were things really as bad as I have made them out to be. I scrutinise my memories and try to see things from my parents point of view to see if it was me or if it was really them. Am I broken but I can’t see it because I’m on the inside? Am I psychopath who has managed to convince myself that my lies are real.

I become sweaty and anxious. I’ve confused myself now. Were my parents really the villains they are in my memories or have I fantasised the whole thing because of some weird munchausens type condition that I don’t realise I have.

It’s not fun being me when my anxiety is this bad. I feel like a terrible person and that everyone is going to find out. I know what’s triggered this and it’s another hole in my mind that I need to plug before all the good stuff leaks out.

My breathing slows. I am not a sociopath. I am not a psychopath. I’ve had loads of counselling, if I had some weird munchausens drama whore type complex, someone would have spotted it and diagnosed me by now. I am not a bad person. Oh god someone pass me a biscuit before my brain explodes. And…….sugar. Ahh that’s better.

And that’s how I eat my feelings.

Emotional baggage, bags of fun

Paddington Bear carries a suitcase with him everywhere he goes and so do I, but you can’t see mine because mine is in my head. What did Paddington carry around in his suitcase I hear you ask, “Paddington is famous for his love of marmalade and he is particularly fond of it in marmalade sandwiches. He always carries a jar of it in his suitcase” I don’t have a jar of marmalade in my head. If I had a jar of anything in my head, it would most likely be Nutella.

My suitcase is jammed full of emotional baggage, experiences, ingrained beliefs and unhelpful thought patterns. I carry it with me everywhere I go and some days its more cumbersome than others. I imagine my head as an old-fashioned Stage Coach, like the ones in the old Wild West and my suitcase is sitting on top of it. Some days are bumpy, and all the shit falls out for everyone to see and other days it stays neatly packed and folded away.

In terms of my mental health, on good days the stagecoach bumps along nicely, during stressful times or when I’m struggling the wheels look like they’re about to come off the coach, the suitcase bursts open and all my shit falls out for everyone to see, including my embarrassing smalls and other unsightly bits and pieces.

At the moment, the stagecoach that is my brain, is going over some really bumpy ground, the suitcase is wide open, and stuff is starting to fall out. People can see it.

Loss, bereavement, betrayal and abuse, all these adverse experiences add up. Each devastating or profound event leaves a crack or a scar that is carried around. Every bad relationship, hurtful experience or wounding words, bounce around inside my head until they find a permanent place to rest inside the suitcase.

When the suitcase is closed, and all the ugly beasties are locked inside, life is safe and flows along gently. When the case is open and on display, it cannot be ignored. Everything comes under close inspection. Am I a terrible wife, friend, mother? Are people distancing themselves from me? Why didn’t she answer my text message straight away? Is he ignoring me? Doesn’t he love me anymore? Am I a selfish person? Why is my head always stuck so firmly up my arse? I become hyper sensitive and take things personally. This becomes a cycle of unhelpful thought patterns as I then berate myself for being so self-absorbed and assuming that everything is about me and so on and so forth until implosion is imminent.

On the really bad days this can change by the hour. A single text message can mean the difference between feeling in control and being crippled by anxiety. On the good days the suitcase is celebrated like a badge of honour. I hold the suitcase up and declare “Behold this suitcase, the spoils of the many battles I have survived! I am a warrior!”.

Today I am not the warrior, today I am the worrier. A middle ground would be nice, but I can’t seem to find it. Yet.

Why my weight does matter, but only to me

This morning I stumbled across a blog post which has been ringing in my ears all day. I think everything happens for a reason and I was meant to read this post (my views on the universe in another blog post coming soon, not really).

The writer was discussing the connection between Adverse Childhood Experiences and health issues, such as obesity. I could see so much of myself in the writers post. So much of what she said was a description of my health and my experiences.

A few years ago a friend asked me why I am overweight. I’m overweight because I eat too much that’s obvious, you can’t be overweight without eating too much, but that wasn’t the question he was asking. I answered the question without thinking so my response was honest and unfiltered. I told him I was overweight because the excess weight was protection. It protected me from having to put myself out there romantically. I reasoned that I couldn’t date at that weight and I believed (at that time) that no one would want me. At my heaviest I was not at risk of meeting someone, getting close to that person and, my biggest fear, they potentially hurting me, ultimately rejecting and abandoning me. My weight was the thing that kept me safe. I wasn’t overweight because I was greedy or lazy, we had this conversation on the top of Pen Y fan during the Three Peaks Challenge. I was overweight because it was comforting.

It took me a few years after this but I realised that I had the inner strength and resilience to deal with disappointment and rejection which made it safe to venture back out into the world of dating and the possibility of a romantic relationship.

So why now as a happily married woman am I still overweight. My weight has the potential now to stand between me and my goals so why aren’t I glued to a nutrition regime with the weight falling off me. I can stick to a marathon training plan for 6 months why not a diet? I know that my weight will be a barrier to me achieving the things I want to achieve. This raises even more questions. Am I still overweight because I’m afraid of failing? Am I afraid of having nothing to blame for poor performance. What if I lose all the weight and I still can’t achieve my dream of a 6:10 marathon. What do I blame then? Can I cope with that failure? Is that the reason I can’t let go of the weight?

I’m unhappy with my weight not because I think being overweight it makes me a bad person or it’s something I should be ashamed of or that it makes me lazy or unattractive person. I’m unhappy because of the things my size prevents me from doing. My weight isn’t the sum of who I am. I am in a happy loving relationship with someone who values me for more than the size of the dress that I’m wearing. So why, apart from not being able to run faster, does my weight bother me so much. I think it’s because the number on the scales is not a measurement of my worth but a reflection of the state of my emotional health.

I’m unhappy with my weight because my abilities are severely hampered because of it but I’m also afraid of not being able to keep it off once it’s come off. I lost a lot of weight about 10 years ago and I was able to keep it off for 3 years but as soon as I hit a crisis it all came crashing back on. I eat every bump in the road, every stressful situation and every argument. What if I lose all the weight and then hit another crisis and it all comes piling back on. Currently, crisis after crisis has seen my weight soar and it is reaching a critical point.

I must find the courage to face down the reasons that have previously stopped me from being successful in losing the weight and overcome them. I’ve got to find the reasons and deal with them. I won’t lose weight because I think I need to look beautiful or because I know it will reduce my chances of developing cancer and diabetes. I don’t want cancer or diabetes but personally those things won’t motivate me or help me find the trigger or flick my switch.

I have lots of great qualities and I’ve achieved lots of wonderful things. My body size and shape does not reduce or erase these but my weight does matter, to me. But not because of the reasons you might assume. It matters to me because it demonstrates I have a problem. A problem I need to root out and resolve.

Staying Afloat

I’m like Tetris. I am constantly adapting and dealing with what life throws at me. It sometimes seems that, just like the game, life is an endless stream of challenges. The blocks keep coming and I keep trying to assimilate them all without becoming overloaded and it being game over.

I can’t stop and think about how emotionally overwhelmed or physically tired I am. I have to ignore it and keep plowing on.

Some people wonder why, with everything I have going on and everything I’m trying to juggle, that I sign up to do so many races and voluntarily put myself under so much extra pressure. Part of it is strategy. A tried and tested coping mechanism. If I’m anxious about a 16 mile mountain race then I’m not thinking about how my son moving out has made me feel. While I’m worried about being so slow I get pulled out of the race by the marshall’s and am totally humiliated in the process then I’m not worrying about how we are going to afford uniform for two kids and pay for a Barrister for the day at £800 per hour plus VAT.

Training for half marathons, 10ks, races against horses, ridiculous mountain races and full marathons isn’t only time consuming, it’s mentally consuming. You have to completely invest yourself in the physical and mental preparation. Not only does it have an enormous affect on your muscles, joints, fitness and overall health it trains your mind to endure discomfort, stress and fatigue.

About ten years ago, after a lifetime of feeling worthless I found my self esteem and my value in running. Running makes me feel good enough. When I sign up to run a marathon 9 months after having a C Section that’s because I’m finding and proving my value as a person. It is through these physical challenges I feel able to say “look at me, I am good enough”. Without running, without the trying to do something incredibly challenging and achieving it, I feel not good enough.

The long training runs, the early mornings, the aching muscles, the sore feet, the insecurity and the stress of it all, its habit forming. The pre race nerves, the lonely physical struggle when no-one can do it for you and you must do it for yourself and the feeling of crossing the finishing line is addictive.

Some of the time running is a healthy habit for me. It brings me closer to the people in my life who are supportive and inspiring and encouraging. Other times it’s almost a form of self harm. Having to push myself harder and further to achieve the same high. The same feelings of self worth.

At the moment running is my life jacket. It’s keeping me afloat. It’s the thing holding my hand so I don’t slip under the surface and drown.

My Black Dog

I’m struggling. Things have not been going our way for couple of months now and the black dog of depression has snuck up on me. I knew I was struggling but it wasn’t until this morning that I noticed him, sat there on the floor next to where I was standing, wagging his black doggy tail.

I knew he was there because someone asked me if I was okay and no-one has asked me if I’m okay in that way for a while and I couldn’t give the answer I wanted. I wanted to cry. That’s when I saw him.

My closest friends know I’m not okay at the moment but it took someone who is lovely, and a friend but not on the inside of the mess that is our life at the moment to ask me “are you okay” for me to realise it. I’m not okay.

I’m used to things not going my way all the time. Hardship is not a stranger to me and it’s not like I haven’t gone through shitty stuff before. This time though it feels worse because it’s not fair. And not, shit happens type unfair, more like properly child in the playground wronged “that’s not fair”. This type of not fair hits me harder because I know we didn’t deserve it. We did everything right. Everything that we were meant, no, told to do, by people who are paid to know.

Anyway, here I am today. Knowing I’m not okay. What am I going to do about it? Not sure. Keep on keeping on like I always do but I can’t ignore it. I’ve ignored it before and that leads down a dangerous road that’s no good to anyone, me, my family or my friends.

Some shitty stuff has been said about me this week but you know what, I think those people must be in a pretty shitty place themselves to say it so I’m not going to take it on board. I’m going to keep doing me. I’m going to talk nicely to myself because I deserve that.

I’m not going to pet my black dog, give him treats or let him sleep on my bed. But, I will acknowledge his presence and I suppose if he wants to come with me he’ll just have to try and keep up cos I’m not stopping this week.

A travel review, just call me Alan Wicker

The Dorset Hideaway

The website for Dorset Hideaway has an extensive list of rules and the first one we broke on the first day. The website states that your pitch will be available from 2pm. We didn’t think it would be a problem to arrive early, if we couldn’t pitch up, we’d just check in and look around. We arrived at Dorset Hideaway, twenty minutes to 2, and the reception was closed but the door was open. My husband went in to speak to the person on the desk and was greeted with “can you go out a minute we’re not ready”. Not “hi” or “hello” or “can you bear with us please”. Some customer service training needed.

Rules

I had booked and paid for an electric grass pitch for a 4m trailer tent and a gazebo (which I had to pay extra for) and the pitch we were allocated was not big enough to put up the trailer tent let alone the extra gazebo. It also had a huge crater in the middle which meant it was even smaller. My husband went back to reception to ask if we could have a pitch that was big enough for the trailer tent we booked (in July) and was told there were no other pitches available. So the campsite didn’t have the room to accommodate us but had taken our money and now weren’t too concerned that we weren’t able to put our tent up. “Luckily” for us another camper had booked as part of a group, a tent pitch, but had been given an all weather pitch as they’d put her down as a caravan. The management were also uninterested in this ladies dilemma, who had also paid. My husband suggested to the lady that we swap pitches as this would mean that she would be near her group, as she originally requested, and it meant we would have enough room to actually put our tent up and not have to sleep in the car.

If you book a grass electric pitch and happen to be in their large field be prepared to trip over the long electric cables that are strewn across the entire field. There seems to be a bit of a free for all “system” going on here. The field reminded me of the underside of my teenage sons computer desk or behind the back of our TV cabinet.

The fishing lake. A pond. I’ve fallen in bigger puddles. I saw some of the fish caught from the lake and I reckon if you caught 6 you’d have enough for a sandwhich. Although I do appreciate that you are meant to throw the fish back on this lake I do fear that one normal size fishing hook would be mean the end of the majority of the fish who dwell here.

The campsite promises relaxation in their on site spa and a hot tub which you can hire by the house. The website promises a hot tub experience with child free relaxation. Hot tub yes. Privacy no. If a hot tub with an audience is your thing this is the place for you.

Rules. If you love rules and signs with rules and CCTV and being told “there’s CCTV all around the camo so if you or the kids break anything it comes back to you” this place is your nirvana. The fence has signs every meter or so “don’t climb on this fence”. The park is padlocked at night (is this really necessary?) So any hardcore slide riders are out of luck post 10pm. Wtf?? No children in the toilets unaccompanied at any time. So everytime my 10 year old wanted a piss I had to go with her. When my daughter went to the toilet on her own at 9pm one evening we felt like the plucky British Servicemen in Escape to Victory trying to dodge the searchlights.

The owners enforce adherence to their rules by taking it in turns to patrol the site in their cars sometimes 3 times a day and to check people were off at the kicking off time of 11am. It did make me wonder what would happen if you weren’t off site by 11am sharp. Would you just have to abandon what you hadnt managed to get in the car “Just leave it!!! GO, GO, GO!!”

The highlight of our trip was when our awning turned into a swimming pool or our “all weather” pitch and the twenty five minute wait for chips and baked beans cos apparently she was there for chatting not for cooking and he could only cook one order at a time. Bain Marie anyone??

The site has some lovely features. The shower and toilet block is clean and well kept. Two toilets for a 95 pitch site seems insufficient but there is a wooden overflow toilet block with two ladies toilets in, although only one of these had toilet paper when we needed to use them. The water in the washing up area is actually hot which is great and overall the site the well kept. In conclusion we won’t be back and the owners clearly aren’t that interested in year on year return custom given the way that we were spoken to.