Whether you think you can or cannot, you’re right

Snowdon Marathon. That’s a fucking hard one.

The biggest battle for me wasn’t the training, it wasn’t the actual race in the end, it was being brave enough to turn up at the start line.

I’d entered Marathon Eryri twice previously and chickened out both times.

The first time I shit out because the fear got me. The size and the reputation of the race overwhelmed me. I struggle regularly with self esteem and feelings of worthlessness and not being good enough and it got in the way of my training. I sold my place and instead went up for the weekend with friends to support the runners. Inspired by their heroic efforts and bravery I told myself I would enter again and actually do it this time.

Again, I believed I would fail before I even got half way through my training plan. I told myself I wasn’t running far enough or fast enough. I contacted the race organisers and enquired about setting off early and the response though kind was vague. I reached out to my running club but no-one was prepared to blow smoke up my arse and rightly so. I hadn’t put the miles in and I’d already decided I couldn’t do it and it was obvious. I sold the spot on again but this time stayed home with my tail between my legs.

I put my name down for a third time for 2018.

When I entered my details I knew there and then that there was no backing out. No not turning up and no not putting in the hard work. The last twelve months I’ve trained hard to prepare my legs but most of the hard work was on done on my mind set. Failure was not an option. I was doing it. I told myself this over and over again for the 9 months beforehand until I properly believed it.

Two weeks before the race I woke up with a stiff back. I thought I’d just slept awkwardly but standing to do the washing up was painful and my sleeping was disturbed by it. Two days before the race I pranged the car and my back was further jarred. That’s fine. That’s what they make painkillers for I told myself.

Race Day

I was calm on race day. Considering this day was 3 years in the making I was not nervous. I wasn’t worried. It helped having a running partner who is the actual queen of chill and runs marathons weekly. I felt safe. I knew I’d done the training. I knew I could do the distance and I knew that my running buddy would make the tough bits easier.

People often burst into tears when they cross the finish line on a marathon. They experience elation and relief. Completing a marathon, well any distance, gives you a huge sense of achievement. But for me that’s what it was like standing on the start line of Marathon Eryri. I was here. I’d made it. After two years of feeling utterly useless and worthless and not good enough to be at an event like this, I was here. Me, Clair Stevenson, standing on the start line of the Snowdonia Marathon, wearing a number, being in a the race. Being a part of it.

The elation and the sense of achievement was immense. The sun was shining on my face and I felt lifted into the air. I had done it. Now all I had to do was go for a lovely run with my lovely friend.

Three ups and three downs

The first 14 miles passed in a blur of aggressive scenery, prescription painkillers and chatting away. At mile 14 I was on for 6:30 and feeling positive. By mile 15 the pain in my lower back felt like I was running wearing the worlds tightest belt which was getting tighter and tighter with every step.

At 17 we chatted to a safety marshall who explained that if we wanted to continue and complete the race we would do so unsupported. That was fine. Running buddy knew the way and we were still moving forwards.

Mile 19 brought us a visit from another safety marshall who explained that he had been sent to speak to the back of the pack. The day was getting on and the organisers were concerned about us completing the last part of the marathon in the dark as it was off road and over the top of a mountain. I politely explained to the marshall that withdrawing at this stage of the race was not an option and that to try and force me to pull out would be to endanger his physical being. In response he articulated that he was going to speak to the runners behind us and that if we hadn’t made sufficient progress by the time he’d returned we would be having a different conversation. I reassured him they would find his cold dead body by the side of the road before anyone stopped me finishing this fucking marathon.

At mile 21, the bottom of the final ascent, my heels, with perfect timing both split sending a burning pain up the back of my feet and legs. I stopped still and thought about laying down and dying on the spot. I remembered my friend telling me “your feet will do what you tell them to do”.

I told my feet to shut the fuck up and started moving forwards again.

At mile 22 I told my running buddy I couldn’t finish and she threatened me with physical punishment if I didn’t shift my arse.

The last 5 miles were easily the hardest of the whole race as they always are for me. Physically I was completely broken. My back was screaming with every step, my heels were stinging like a bitch and I was freezing cold. Then a miracle happened. A DOWNHILL.

Suddenly I was transformed. I was like a new born gazelle gracefully bouncing down the steep mountain. As I ran towards the marshall at mile 25 I shouted “look up determination in the dictionary, there’s a picture of meeeeee!” He hugged me. I’d passed him at mile 15 “See, I told you you’d finish” he was genuinely thrilled for me. a bit further on I passed a runner and asked her “is it still Saturday?”

I ran down towards town and the finish line. My part -human part- cyborg running machine friend had run on, finished and come back for me.

I felt like a warrior when I crossed that finish line. I slayed all my demons. Every single fucking one. My marathon time was 7:50. I fancy I could do it a bit quicker than that and registration opens on the 1st of December…………..

I have a cunning plan

I have worked since I was eleven years old.  I had a paper-round delivering the local free newspaper and got paid 2p per paper.  Then I worked in my local Spar, five nights a week from 5pm until 11pm.  At seventeen I got a job behind the bar in my local pub and at University I worked for my Dad in the off licence during the holidays or behind the bar in the Student Union during term time.  In the thirty years since my first job I have only been out of employment for eighteen months and this was when I had my first son.

In all those years I have juggled and struggled.  I’ve had to juggle working to pay the bills to keep a roof over mine and the kids heads, childcare and studying.  At one point I was studying, working and training for a marathon.  I’m forty years old now and I don’t want to juggle anymore.  I’ve had my third (and final) baby and I want to do less.  I don’t want to work less, and I certainly don’t want to earn less, but I want to do less for more.  I want to commute less, and I want more time.  I want to enjoy my work more and dread going to work less.  I want to achieve more but I want to feel less tired.  I’m trapped in a commute-work-domestic duties-sleep cycle and in the words of Freddie Mercury “I want to break free!”.

Last week I wrote a blog.  Not for me but for someone else and about a subject I actually knew very little about.  I researched and wrote it and they liked it! Then they asked me to write another one and they even paid me for it!  I enjoyed it!  I loved it!  I was creative, and I produced something in my own home, wearing my pyjamas, that generated an income for me and my family. It’s made me want more.  What if I didn’t have to juggle?  What if I could wear my pyjamas and be creative all day? What if I could work from home crafting words and ideas into something that I could sell to people who needed it, people who couldn’t create those words for themselves.  People who have a message or a service or product but don’t have the time, the words of the confidence to put that message out there.

Pyjamas aren’t an essential part of this plan that’s forming in my head but they are definitely in the vision board. Watch this space…..

An Ode To My Childhood

Shocked, confused
You ripped out my heart
Once tied together
Now torn apart

Shocked, confused
Angry and rejected
I tried to tell them
They just objected

Shocked, confused
Now out in the cold
I told the truth
They wouldn’t be told

Shocked, confused
Learning to cope
Living without love
Learning to hope

Shocked, confused
Now much wiser
Scars are healing
Eyes are wider

Accepting but angry
Life must go on
Learning to love
Teaching the son

Accepting, forgiving
Life can be tough
We must be tougher
Grab life by the scruff

Forgiving, forgetting
Not living in pain
Surrounded by love
Not repeating the cycle again

Is there an app for that?

Hello, my name is Clair and I am an addict. I’m addicted to my phone. I have an app for everything and I am connected to everyone I know through one or more of these apps. Recently I’ve started to notice its negative effect on my life. My kids have to wait for me to finish typing out a message before I look up or answer them. I miss things. I’m not listening when people speak to me. I don’t have as much time for the things I love doing. It sometimes feels like I’m as addicted to my phone as I used to be to cigarettes and its having as negative affect on my mental health as cigarettes did on my physical health. I want to quit or reduce, at the very least, the amount of time my phone spends in my hands and my eyeballs on its screen.

I’m on my phone constantly. I know where it is at all times. I take it with me everywhere, it sits on my desk at work, and I take it to the toilet and even in the bath. I never watch TV without my phone in my hand. When I realise, occasionally, that I haven’t looked at it for twenty minutes because I’ve been doing something that required both hands I get excited about what’s happened that I’ve missed in that short space of time. I eagerly look for the phone to relieve my FOMO (fear of missing out).

Speaking of FOMO, I’ve heard people say they’ve come off Facebook or uninstalled it because it was taking over their lives. The thought of doing that fills me with dread. Much of my social life is organised through Facebook. With most social events arranged through Facebook how would I know what was happening and where if I didn’t have my notifications? No. That’s not an option for me.

The biggest drain on my time though has to be app hopping. I can spend hours going from Facebook, to Twitter, to Instagram and back and this makes no sense to me because I’m friends with all the same people in all of these places. I’m not getting any new information but I can waste hours doing this.

Group chats. I’m in a million. Not literally a million but it sometimes feels that way. Group chats are a huge time sucker. Instead of communicating with each person directly you are forced to read every person’s message whether relevant to you or not. Instead of having one conversation with someone you are having a conversation in two different places. It’s double the effort.

I love social media and I love communicating with people but like any addict there comes a time when you have to admit to yourself you have a problem. I knew I had a problem. I couldn’t concentrate on my work. I wasn’t being productive and I wasn’t achieving any of the things I wanted to achieve. Ironically I installed an app that told me how many times I opened my phone and how much time I was spending on it. The app gave me targets for reducing my time and congratulated me when I successfully did this (this only ever happened once). I eventually uninstalled the app as it was pissing me off with its judgemental message every time I opened up my phone “you were just here. Do you really need to be here again?” I had to get past this to get into my phone. No thanks.

I realised I didn’t need an app to tell me to put my phone down. I’m an adult. If I can quit cigarettes I can quit my phone. I often moaned that I didn’t have time to read a book. If I’ve got hours to spend reading all the mindless junk on Facebook and the Mail Online (I know, I know, guilty pleasure. I delete this app once a month because it annoys me) then I’ve got time to read a book. Now I go to bed at 9.30pm. I make a conscious effort to put my phone down and I use that time to read a book. I’ve read more books in the last month than I have in the last two years. When something interferes with your day to day life it’s a problem. I’m not clean yet, but admitting you have a problem is the first step right?

Is this what love smells like?

My husband has left me. Only for the weekend but I’m really going to miss him.

Someone asked me the other day how I knew I was ready for him to move in and my answer was “I wasn’t”. I actually told him he was staying over at my house too much. Then I noticed post was arriving at my house addressed to him. Then his payslip arrived and I realised he had told work he lived at my house. I should have been annoyed. I wasn’t. We fit. We always have and I hope we always will.

I picked up a pair of his pants off the bedroom floor and sniffed them to see if they were clean. That’s a mistake I’ll only make once. I immediately text him to tell him what I’d done and heard him laugh from the living room. We tell each other about our poos, from the smell, to the length, to how much we enjoyed doing them.

The other day in bed I farted. It was rotten. My husband took a deep breath. I asked him why he always breathes in when I fart and purposely tries to smell my anal announcements when I go to every effort to protect myself from his emissions. He told me its because he likes them. My husband likes the smell of my farts. WTAF.

In all seriousness though he’s my best friend. I’d hate to think of a day when I couldn’t just text him and tell him I’d had the most amazing poo and get a reply that says “I’m about to have one”.

Mumurwhat

On my morning commute sat at lights, this morning I saw a murmuration. For anyone who doesn’t know what a murmuration is it’s when a flock of birds fly together and form aerial shapes and it can be really amazing to watch. Usually when I see things I just see them and enjoy them for what they are without thinking anymore about it.

This morning was different. I watched a murmuration and I suddenly wondered how they do it. How do they all know when to change direction? How do the birds know which direction to go in next? It all happens so quickly and then I wondered “why have I never thought about this before?” The amount of times I’ve watched a murmuration and thought how beautiful it is, why have I never wondered before about how and why it happens and I realised it’s because my brain is too full of day-to-day stress of rubbish of Facebook, of Instagram, of work and just really trivial stuff. Days pass and my head is full of unimportant rubbish and I’ve stopped asking questions and being curious because I’m in a constant state of brain fog. There was a time I was interested in the why and the how and asked questions. I used to be really curious.

I googled murmurations and why they happen and although I didn’t completely understand the science and the physics of it the bit I did grasp is that each bird in the flock affects the birds closest to it and those birds affect the birds around them. That’s what we do as humans, we have the power to affect those closest to us and if we use that power positively we can create beautiful shapes.

I’m going to go back to being curious because these are the things that are important. Being aware of what’s happening around us, taking a minute, asking questions and noticing things. Noticing the things that are happening around us and the people around us and not living our lives in a meaningless blur.

This too shall pass

After a spectacularly shite month or so things are looking up. I feel like I can breathe again. The clouds have lifted and I can see the good stuff again. Mental health is shit in that in September I felt totally worthless. I felt like a really crappy person and a rubbish mother, the worst thing was feeling like I had absolutely nothing to offer anyone. Now it’s October and I don’t feel like that anymore. If I had acted on those feelings life would have ended in September. Thank god it didn’t.

My daughter and I started reading Chicken Soup for the Soul last night and the story she chose to read first was about a young man who committed suicide and she asked me what the word meant. I explained what it meant and that suicide was a permanent solution to temporary problems. I know that I have spent a lot of time recently talking about suicide but I honestly don’t think we can talk about it enough. If I hadn’t let people know how I was feeling I wouldn’t have had all those hands reach down and pull me out of my pit. I didn’t get to October on my own I got here with the help of every single person who reached out to me when they read my words.

So I’m feeling better and I know that October will be better than September but what I also know is that if November takes a bad turn I have a way of dealing with it.

Having said all that, sometimes I don’t think I’m cut out for living above ground with other human beings. I keep seeing adverts for ways to earn £300-£400 a month from your own home and then it turns out to be some multi level selling scheme like Juice Plus or Herbalife and some other shit like that. I don’t want to talk to people. I don’t want to try and get them to buy stuff. I want to earn money in my own home, in my pyjamas and not have to talk to people thank you very much.

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.