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.

She’s alive!

When I was 25 I owned my own home but lost it in a fire. It literally burnt down to the ground. It happened in the evening and quite a crowd formed in the street to watch. Clearly it was the most exciting thing happening that night in Ferndale.

My neighbour asked me if I had called the fire brigade. I said that I hadn’t, but that I had sent my brother up the road to the shops for a bag of marshmallows and some sticks.

I stood on the pavement watching my home and all my belongings burn to a crisp. Someone offered me a chip. I wasn’t in the mood for chips. Somebody else from the throng approached me and said “Want a can luv?”. I declined. I didn’t think it would look good to be swigging a can of lager when the firemen arrived. Also I don’t like lager.

The firemen arrived and set to work as they do, pumping gallons of water into my house to put out the flames. The Chief Fireman said “please tell me you have insurance” so I said “I have insurance”. I didn’t have insurance.

Then the windows blew out.

Once the fire was under control the firemen, who were upstairs, started throwing stuff out of the window and onto the road below to prevent the smouldering remains from restarting the fire.

As I stood on the road, knowing that all I had left in the world was the clothes I was standing in and with my personal belongings being thrown onto the pavement in front of the gathered crowd , all I could think was “please don’t throw my dildo into the street”. They didn’t.

I couldn’t face the house for a fortnight afterwards. I was still in shock. I needed to digest what had happened and come to terms with the loss, the loss of everything. But I had to go back eventually to clear up the mess. I hired a skip and I had to shovel all the rubble and the rubbish into bags and start cleaning up the mess. My friend Matthew came with me and we spent hours sorting and cleaning and shovelling.

I was devastated. I felt empty and numb. I was clearing up the remnants of my life, my black, ruined fire ravaged life. As we sorted through the rubble which was formerly the roof Matthew found something and held it up. It was long, thick and pink. With a flick of the switch the object vibrated to life. Matthew held up the object, just like Adam when he holds aloft his magic sword and transforms into He-Man, proclaiming “IT’S ALIVE”. My dildo had survived the fire.

We laughed until we cried. And as it does life went on.

It’s good to talk

I know some people wonder why I’m so open and why I “over-share”. This is why; I do it for myself. If I’ve done something awful, something I feel terrible about, I tell as many people as I can. When I have a cut or a bruise or a sore spot I push it or press it and keep pressing it until it doesn’t hurt anymore. It’s the same thing.

This is a very personal to me and I appreciate and respect that this approach isn’t right for everybody. I know some people are very private and the thought of hanging it all out to dry in public makes some people go cold. For me when people know the awful things and you’re the one who told them, it can’t hurt you. They know the worst, it’s out there. It has no power over you. Blackmailers lose their power if you out yourself. Abusers lose their power and hold over you if you tell the secret. For years I’ve found comfort in telling everyone everything whether they wanted to hear it or not. If I’ve had a problem I’ve talked it over with as many people as possible. If something awful has happened I tell everyone I know. For me, it really is a problem shared. The big awful thing loses its power as it is spread about. Like a reverse snowball it gets smaller and smaller as it’s divvied up and shared around.

I wrote a post the other day about how I’d behaved badly on my birthday. I knew I didn’t come over very well in it. It’s not about coming over well though. It’s about owning the behaviour. I did something bad and I accepted the behaviour. I did that and I’m not proud of it. I will learn from it hopefully. But by being open and honest about it, it loses its negative power over me and I can move on.

What if people use it against me? What if people throw it back in my face? Who would do that and why? If you’ve already owned it it can’t hurt you again anyway and you have nothing to fear from it. You don’t lose your power by being open and honest, it actually makes you stronger. My foundation doesn’t lose its strength just because people can see each brick. I’ve yet to meet someone who has lived a completely blameless life or has made no mistakes. I’ve certainly never met anyone who hasn’t done something they are ashamed of or that makes them cringe when they think back on it.

I used to drag a big bag of shame shit around with me everywhere and it was hard living my life when I had to take that bag everywhere. It got in the way. I decided to unpack the bag. I took a good look at everything inside it and worked hard to leave it where it was, in the past. I’m getting better at this and talking about stuff and being open is one of the ways that helps me cope.

I still have the bag but its much smaller these days and it’s not bursting at the seams. I’m much kinder to myself.

Position of Fear

The day my first son was born I remember waking up and looking into his cot and thinking ” shouldn’t someone come and take this baby soon?” After a while it dawned on me that he was mine and I was the one who had to do the looking after. When I looked at my newborn son I felt as though all the birthday and Christmas presents I’d ever had and was ever going to get had been given to me all at once in this one tiny bundle. The love I felt was overwhelming. That morning I spent hours just looking at him. In this new world it was just the two of us, I looked up at the television screen, an 8 year old girl had disappeared. They found Sarah Payne’s little broken body 17 days later. I had just given birth to my first child, I watched the news with new mother eyes and felt the overwhelming fear.

I parent from a position of fear. I always have. My son says I’m controlling and I can’t deny it. I always said that I would rather live with him being angry with me for not letting him do what he wanted than live with the pain of something happening to him. My parenting at times was irrational. I saw paedophiles around every corner, in every classroom and playgroup. I assumed any man who wanted to get close to me was trying to groom me to get to my kids. Single parent, easy target. I was hyper vigilant all the time.

I know that this is because of my background and when I sit down and think about it I can rationalise it but for a long time my life was dominated by intrusive thoughts. Disgusting, hard to get rid of intrusive thoughts. I suspected everyone. I trusted hardly anyone.

When my daughter was born I was crippled with fear. I couldn’t protect myself as a child from my own father how was I going to protect this new little girl from the world. A world I was convinced couldn’t wait to get it’s dirty hands on her and break and bruise her little body. The fear was too much. Having my daughter was a trigger and all the nasty dirty shameful things in my past that I had managed to stuff down and cover up came up and reared its ugly head.

I could feel myself sinking and I spoke to my Health Visitor who referred me to the CPN. The CPN recommended counselling to go with the medication for post-natal depression and I was lucky that the counsellor she wanted me to see was available immediately and willing to see me.

I didn’t have a great deal of faith in talking therapies at this point. My mother had been speaking to counsellors, psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists and psychologists my entire life and it had no benefit at all. I was so low by this point that I had nothing to lose. I drove to Newport once a week every week for nearly a year to meet the counsellor and ultimately, the woman who saved my life.