Thursday 27th June 2019 (3.18pm)
On my run today I asked myself many times why on earth do I decide to do these stupid things? The answer is always there and it is simple. I need to do it mentally, I need a challenge, a focus and an event to look forward to.
I knew as I left the house this morning and started running into a manic headwind it was going to be a tough run. I can usually get a sense on how things will go in the first 5 minutes, and today it was no different. Feeling tired with heavy legs did not stand me in good stead for the 3ish hours or 16-18 miles which I wanted to do.
There were many times where I could have just turned around and called it a day but I would not allow myself to give in to those thoughts that would have been detrimental for me. My next event, The Wales marathon is only 9 days away and I did not want to leave my final long run any longer.
My head was away with the fairies as I spun things around in my mind. I have a lot going on at the moment. I have a meeting next week with work to discuss where we go from here, though the same conclusions apply that I am medically unfit for work as documented by GP and psychiatrists. Returning to the police would be detrimental to my health, and life. I have had all the treatment available to me and for any chance of some sort of recovery of this phobic anxiety towards the work place, there is only really one solution.
There was other stuff whizzing around my head and not even my iTunes playlist could distract me today. I also found that I was watch watching as if every time I looked down at my Garmin 3 miles would have miraculously appeared. No such luck.
I had an idea of the route I wanted to take but I would change this along the way depending on how I felt. I took some of the trails which were part of the Vale ultra marathon which I did in April. It was good to be back on the coastal path and for maybe a few minutes I enjoyed myself.
I ran out of my Tailwind drink at 14 miles, just as I was approaching home but I knew that I could not stop. My head and my legs argued and as always the head came out on top. I chucked another 2.5 miles to finish quite conveniently outside a coffee shop on Barry Island. Here I slugged down a tin of diet coke and walked the rest of the way home (thankfully not far).
It was Shakira who said that the hips don’t lie and I couldn’t agree more as mine are feeling a tad angry with me at the moment. Knees held up ok thankfully but I must have looked a bit strange on my walk with Olly earlier as I waddled along.
I am experienced enough to know that not every run will go my way. It won’t always be easy but the runs where I really have to dig deep to find that extra energy and motivation from somewhere are the ones that make me stronger. They are the runs which I know I could have easily bottled for an extra hour or two in bed. They are the runs which you remember when you collect that medal at the end of an event.
When I look back on the 12 months of training which I did for Ironman, it is the sessions which I did not want to do that have stayed with me. The sessions in the freezing cold winter where I had to do hill sprints, swim 2800m in a cold pool, or spend 90 minutes on the Wattbike, it is those sessions that got me over the finish line. I cannot remember the ‘so called easy ones’.
I could easily say that today was a rubbish run, but it wasn’t. I did it and I am proud of that.
No matter how rubbish you think your training session was, you always feel better afterwards.
On a happy note, I have now booked my hotel in New York and I am looking forward to reading this book.
Monday 24th June 2019 (1143am)
It is the day after doing one of those things where you run 13.1 miles with lots of other random people for a t-shirt and a medal. Yep, yesterday, I completed Swansea half marathon for the second time after doing it back in 2017
It was not on my list of events to do at the beginning of the year, and I ended up entering it quite late on knowing many people who had entered. The flat, scenic route of the Mumbles and Swansea seafront is always an attraction (providing no head wind or rain) so I stuck it on the calendar as a training run in preparation for the Wales Marathon as part of Tenby Long course weekend in 2 weeks time.
Taking it seriously, and not changing my diet, my Saturday night food consisted of burgers and sausages done on the BBQ followed by ice cream, chocolate and half a tube of pringles. I pinned my number (3372) on my shirt, got the rest of my clothes ready, put my daps by the back door and cola power shots in my pouch and that was me ready to get up and go in the morning.
Olly was excited by the 6.20 am alarm, looking at me somewhat surprised or bemused as to why (a) I had an alarm and (b) what the hell was I doing up that early. Anyhow, he scoffed down his breakfast in one lump as I shovelled in my pre match breakfast (1 x chocolate brioche). I have never been a breakfast eater and I find it hard to poke down lumpy porridge early in the morning so I am able to run for a few hours on very little. I have trained this and so I am used to it.
I hate any sort of rushing and have to be early to places, especially when there is any sort of faff with parking. The race started at 10am, the pens opened at 0930 so as planned, myself, partner and Olly arrived at 8am. I had not looked at the route but knew that there was a different finish area than 2 years ago. I didn’t realise that the start had also changed but by following other runners and supporters we managed to get to the start in plenty of time. Olly’s excitement continued as he had to sniff and wee on every bit of grass, tree, or wall along the way so by the time I was in the pen my feet had already covered 2 miles.
Pre run fun
I do not get nervous, I do not have 19 pre match toilet stops (just in case), I just turn up and run. My Pen, C, was for runners who would finish within two hours, so I parked myself next to two friends from run club. We chatted, took selfies, listened to the Welsh National anthem and laughed about random sh*t.
Crossing the start line and the first mile or two is always difficult as you get swept up in the atmosphere and the fast pace of the run. I had to reign my pace in, be sensible and just get the job done with no injury. It took me until about mile 3 to settle as the runners spread out and I got into the rhythm I wanted to be in. It was a cloudy day but it was extremely warm and humid. Not ideal, but again it was about being sensible and taking in the right amount of fluid.
My support crew were at mile 3 (Olly missed me as he was too busy sniffing) but it was good to get a wave and some encouragement.
A wave to my support at mile 3
The route took us West of Swansea to the Mumbles along the main road before turning around at 7 miles to head back along the coast path. As it got hotter, I resorted to chucking water over my head, as well as drinking what I could. The cola power shots gave me an extra burst as I went into the last third of the run. I started to struggle around mile 8 with a headache, more than likely down to dehydration and I felt sick. I was grateful of the water station not long after to get me back on track. I knew that I just had to dig in. A few times I looked down at my Ironman tattoo to give myself a reminder of what I could do and to just get on with it. This gave me the proverbial telling off when my head started to wander.
Feeling the heat between mile 6-7
There was no point thinking how many miles I had to go, my plan was to tick off each mile one by one. It is funny how your brain thinks and how you play with time and miles. At mile 10, I told myself that it was only a parkrun left (but if anything like my local park run then that would be hell). I was happy to reach mile 11, as I formulated how far that would be to and how long it would take on one of my local training runs. By the time I had played stupid mind games I had reached mile 11. A good distraction technique maybe, and what else was there to think about anyway?
Relieved to see mile 12 and ecstatic to see mile 13 (and my support crew. Olly saw me this time as he barked at me) I headed down the finish line. Time 1:58:00. In 2016 my time was 2:03:13. An improvement is an improvement. I then followed all of the other runners to pick up water, a t-shirt (rhubarb and custard sweet colour) and my medal.
Finish line in sight An excited Olly with flappy ears
Meeting back up with my partner and still a very excited Olly it was time to head home, but firstly it was a stop at McDonalds for a well deserved hot chocolate.
Reflecting on yesterday I was happy with how things went under the warm conditions. My knees held up with no significant pain. I am not quite in the form or shape I want to be but that is work in progress. There are certain things which I need to change and work on but I will get there with discipline and determination.
One tired half marathon pup
Today, I have done a mile swim as a recovery to rid of any stiffness and aches. I do not have time to do nothing, with a marathon coming up in 13 days. It is time to gather thoughts and concentrate on a long run later in the week prior to the all important taper.
To all of you runners who took on Swansea yesterday, well done and congratulations.
Human v Pup
Thursday 20th June 2019 (11am)
This maybe somewhat ironic that I have decided to start to document my journey to the New York marathon whilst sitting in a coffee shop drinking a hot chocolate with extra chocolate and sprinkles. Why have I decided to start writing about it now? Because I have booked my flights so that makes it real. On November 3rd 2019 I shall be running the largest marathon in the world along with over 50000 people.
Not surprisingly I have decided to make this my ‘A’ race this year. In 2018, it was Ironman Wales and in 2017 it was the London marathon. There have been some big ‘B’ and ‘C’ races each year but I have to pick one which will be the main focus for training, whilst all of the other events slot around it.
My plan is to blog about my progress, physically and mentally and to show that if you put your mind to something then anything is possible. I have nothing to prove, I will have no goal or time in mind, the sole purpose of my training is to keep me to a structure on a daily basis and to ensure I cross that finish line in one piece in November.
You will see that my training is not only run focused. Due to dodgy knees I build my tank, energy systems and core strength through swimming and cycling.
This week I am on a taper week for a half marathon on Sunday. I don’t necessarily have to taper for a half but I am being kind to myself. I have just done a 1600m pool swim in 30 minutes. My second 1 mile of the week. Today I felt good and could have easily gone for longer but I am trying to implement the sensible me. Swimming is great for building core muscles, strength and stability. It is where I get my upper body strength from, so even though I have not got any swim events in the calendar for this year it is a big part of my exercise week.
Swim Monday Swim Thursday
My week runs from Monday to Sunday and my Garmin records my exercise to Garmin Connect, Strava and Training Peaks. I am by no means data driven, I just like to see what I do. The good thing about Training peaks is that it takes into account fatigue score so I know if I am over or under training. You could spend ages analysing data but I have not got time for that and I really can’t be bothered. I find the best activity sets are when you just go and run, bike or swim without a plan or a care in the world. I do this more so with running as I make up a route long the way based on how I am feeling and how long I have to do. For someone who is usually so planned and organised about things this is alien but it gives perfect freedom. I urge everyone to dump the data, and not look at a watch whilst out and you will feel so much better.
I used to be consumed by PBs, times, miles etc but now I simply do not care. This was something which I learnt from taking part in mind over marathon and has been a massive part of my recovery from using exercise as a self harm.\
I am a lone exerciser, I feel more comfortable with this but I have started to go out more with a local run group who I met through park run. So many inspirational people, working hard to achieve their goals, many of who put me to shame with what they do and how they manage. It will not surprise me if I write a lot more about group runs as I continue this journey.
SMR crew run Tuesday
I also have a good bunch of friends who I sea swim with and coming into the warmer months this will be something that I will report on. I have done a few already this year and will look to continue with this as part of my training.
The same goes for cycling. I need to keep that going as in August I have ‘Ride London’. 100 miles of cycling. I have only done a few rides this year but after the Wales marathon in Tenby in July, I will have a few weeks to get my bike legs going (nervously laughs). I will then get the run daps back out for the last couple of months of running.
Wish me luck x
Wednesday 5th June 2019 (1.48pm)
To those who saw me acting as normal on the weekend at running and swimming I hid what was going on inside my head well (I think). To those who saw me in the middle of what I would describe as a psychotic (not medically diagnosed) episode then I sincerely apologise for such irrational and out of control behaviour that I just wanted to be hated. After all I deserved to be (or so I thought).
Sitting here now and reflecting on the last few days is hard. It has taken an appointment with my GP, an ever understanding partner, and a massive frightening look back on my behalf to try and understand what went on. Whilst outside of these four walls all appeared fine as I continued with my exercise and smiling over my social media accounts, inside was definitely not the picture portrayed as I looked at ways to hurt myself.
Yes I feel a fake or a phoney for this but that is the nature of mental illness and many of you will understand the face we put on. However, all along its make belief, as secretly inside the brain everything is rapidly firing off in different directions.
To keep some sort of rational thinking and behaviour in public was hard but I knew I had to face the world rather than hide away. This would have been detrimental allowing for more thinking time, which inevitably would have been negative.
On Saturday evening I felt such hatred towards myself I just wanted to die. If there was an impulsive way (as to where I was at the time) of me quickly ending things then I really don’t think I would be sitting here now. I was scared and frightened about what was going on with me. Shaking with fear, shouting for help but not wanting it, needing to be locked up for my own safety, but not wanting it.
Behaviour is the outcome of an emotion, and whatever I was dealing with at the time reflected in my behaviour. I will not say what went on and what I did, but I can assure you that I am now all good, safe, and that no criminal offences took place.
Everything I did was directed at the hate, low self worth and self esteem that I have towards myself. The byproduct of this was to self destruct and hurt myself in whatever way I could, unfortunately causing collateral damage along the way.
This is where I am at now. My days roll into one another. I cannot work. I cannot earn money. I cannot do voluntary work. I cannot proceed with my sports massage for free. My hands are tied, not contributing anything to society, feeling a waste of time, feeling fed up in my own bubble. Frustrated as I wait for another psychiatrist appointment (19th June) to see where this leads and how this will effect things with my current employers or any decisions I may make. I am receiving no pay, I am receiving no benefits (as I can lift my arms above my head, feed myself and walk 100m).
I exercise and write to give me something to do, something which I know that I can do to increase my self confidence and give me structure. Of course I have Olly who makes me smile everyday.
My GP is of the opinion that what I experienced on the weekend was not psychosis or mania but an outpouring of everything that had been bubbling up inside me over the last few weeks. It all comes back to my future and not knowing where I am going and what I am doing. The pot exploded so to speak and it did so pretty spectacular. I cannot recall ever being so scared and out of control with my own head. It felt like I had been possessed and some horrific monster had invaded my body and taken over. I could not stop what was happening at the time and if I had I been a bystander I would have seriously been thinking WTF. I never want to experience that again.
As for now, the ‘calm, in control, rational’ George sits here trying to express what went on. It is hard to comprehend.
Why am I making this public and admitting how bad things were? I don’t know really. I suppose to reach out to those who have been there, are there, may go there. To say that for me it was an ‘episode’ of such heightened anxiety and stress that triggered such intense emotions which altered my behaviour that much it caused me want to die.
What got me out of it? Time, having faith that it would pass and in my ability to regain control of what was controlling me. Also knowing that I didn’t really want to harm myself or die, it was just the emotion or the behaviour taking over. The following day I was able to rationalise and verbalise what had happened and talking it through with my partner when I was ready helped immensely.
Some may think that this is crazy but sea swimming in cold water at 8.30 on Sunday morning also helped to remove the fuzz from my head (laughs). I took the featured picture whilst swimming.
*** Always seek professional help and guidance if you are experiencing emotions, thoughts, feelings or behaviour which may put yourself or others at risk ***
Monday 20th May (1256 pm CET)
I write this on an aeroplane to Cardiff from Alicante about 1hr 40 into the flight so not long until I arrive home.
I have had a week away, a week to do nothing apart from take in the sun and see parts of Spain never visited before.
Why am I writing this now? To get some stuff out of my brain. Going home is always inevitable after a holiday and with that returns the whirlwind of a busy brain. It didn’t completely shut up whilst I was away as decisions which I need to make occupy my mind. At the moment I would describe my thoughts as contradictory, but with that, surprisingly comes some sensible thinking.
I feel I have a decision to make and to choose between a hypothetical ‘A’ and ‘B’ is not easy, especially when I am currently stuck in plan ‘C’.
I know plan ‘C’ cannot continue, it may not be sustainable even though I have made recent changes in my life. There is no hurry regarding ‘A’ and ‘B’ but this is what is plaguing my mind. In a recent blog I wrote about finding peace. I still have that but I have shaken it up a bit with an idea which I had thought had long passed me by.
This all may sound a bit cryptic and that is because I am unable to publicly write about it. Stick with me on this until I can and will. Oh and welcome to my confusion.
I am not one for lists of pros and cons but maybe I need to think about scribbling this down in my journal. This may make things clearer, as will time no doubt.
Going forward from here I need to pick up again on writing my book. I had to park it for a while as I did not know which way I was going to go with it. I also felt confused by my life, lost in a world where decisions were being made around me and for me. This is no longer the case and it is time for me to open the pages back up and get it all out.
Mentally I am not doing too bad. There are certain thoughts that I feel I can control better but I am far from ‘there’ yet. The ‘wobbles’ still happen. Once I have sorted out ‘A’ ‘B’ ‘C’ or even maybe ‘D’ then who knows? My plan over the next day or two is to put some lists together and see what they throw up.
Monday 13th May 2019 (10.29am)
Today marks the start of mental health awareness week, something which I never even knew existed up until a few years ago. Now I am keen to see what is going on nationally and how inspiring people look to make a difference by helping others. The national picture this year is focused around body image; however my message this year is about ‘change’, change to make a difference in your life, whatever that may be:
- Positively change an attitude towards something or someone
- Change your thoughts by not allowing negativity to dwell and eat away at you
- Change a routine that you are stuck in and cannot see a way out of (you can – trust me)
- Change the way you think about yourself. Look at the positives. You all have so many
These are just a few suggestions (and all could be linked into body image) but you will have your own ideas. One small element of change a day could bring you so much more and open up avenues that you may never have even thought of.
Make change positive, embrace it and see it as a mini project to keep you focused.
I am currently going through change (not the change as someone keeps saying 🙄😂) and I am seeing many benefits to my mental health. Of course, not all is perfect here, I am not saying that, but by making a couple decisions I have finally seen a glimmer of light in that dark tunnel which I have been in for so long. More about these decisions again.
Your challenge for this week is therefore to do one positive thing for yourself each day which you do not usually do. This could be getting up 10 minutes earlier to have ‘you’ or ‘quiet’ time’, going for a walk, only allowing a set time of social media a day, reading a book about something different to usual.
Put the ball firmly back in your court, take back control of your life and whatever you do, have a good week and stay safe xx
*image taken at my local parkrun (Barry Island)
Thursday 9th May 2018 (11.28am)
It has been so long since I last wrote but here I am, back with an update.
On Saturday April 6th I ran my first ultra marathon, 33.5 miles over rugged terrain taking in the beautiful welsh coastal path. A day that I will never forget for many reasons. Friendships made, mental toughness and battles tested to the max as I once again put my body through physical pain to achieve a goal which I put my mind to earlier on in the year.
My plan was to write about the ultra in detail but a day after running I became physically unwell which accounts for my absence from here. I was hit by a virus which rendered me unfit to fly away on holiday. My body feels like it is still recovering as I managed my first run in four weeks on Saturday, followed by one on Monday and a swim today. All were hard and I kick myself in frustration when I think of where I was in terms of my fitness. Unfortunately other negatives then kick in, about my diet and food intake as I feel disgusting with myself as I continue to eat the same volume of food as if I were still in Ironman training.
I do not have a weight problem, I do not having an eating disorder, it is just my natural reaction about myself if I am not training. We all know that exercise is therapy for myself and for lots of you, and no doubt many of you would have been where I am today; out of sport or exercise through injury or illness. Yes its frustrating but at the moment there is nothing that I can do about it, just wait it out and be patient. I will get back to where I was soon enough, my drive and determination will make sure of that.
I have missed my running, cycling and swimming. My routine is up the spout and I have lost my plan and daily direction. I have lost the freedom which I get from being out in the open air, doing what I enjoy. One of the biggest decisions I had to make was to pull out of Newport Marathon last Sunday. I have never had to do this before, but I knew that I had no hope of ever making it to mile 5. Hey, it is not the end of the world having a DNS next to my name, I would rather that than a DNF.
The work situation continues, I am still off on the sick. After being diagnosed with phobic anxiety to the work environment in March by the Police Medical Appeal Board, I am just awaiting treatment for what they have recommended to begin. I am waiting to see a Psychiatrist who will determine if this is practicable.
My life is going through massive change at the moment. I have made two life changing decisions which have given me peace, certainly noticed by myself and those around me. When you put the ball back in your own court, things happen. Things move for the better, you become in control of your life and the outcome.
It feels somewhat ironic that since I changed over my blog name, twitter and instagram to Mind over Marathon Runner that my running has gone downhill 🙄. It is now Saturday 11th May and I clocked up another 5 mile run, including a Parkrun. I am happy to say that I felt better, but far from where I want to be. I have a cycle planned for tomorrow with others so lets see what thats brings.
Ultra buddies – without these two amazing people it would have been a very long day xx
**please refer to blog ‘Supporting others’**
So far we have looked at connecting with the outdoors, connecting with movement and connecting with self. The last in this series looks at the importance of connecting with others. Something which I am totally rubbish at, but I am getting better at.
The value of having a good support network around you cannot be underestimated. That one person who you know you can turn to day or night, who will be there to listen to your ramblings, pick you up from the floor, give some words of advice or even just say nothing could one day save your life. I am so grateful to have a few special people who I can put into this category. People who understand me, people who I have connected with over the years, but then at times pushed away and not spoken to. True friends who were there before I got ill and still stand by my side today. These are the same friends who I would avoid texts and phone calls from. The same friends who I would let down after arranging to meet for me to then say I didn’t want to. These friends certainly deserve a medal.
I am also supported by the new friends I have made over the last three years. Friends who I have met through running, dog walking or social media. Friends who didn’t know me as the police officer in uniform, or the Detective Sergeant in plain clothes. These friends know me as me and not the identity and the badge which I used to hide behind. That was a different me, that was a me who was so obsessed about having a successful career with an ambition to climb the ranks of a job I loved. That was a me, who 3 years ago (4th April 2016) went sick, exhausted from life and work, who could no longer carry on.
What I have found since being off is that my circle of friends has changed. Some who I thought would be there were not, some who I had not spoken to for years or hardly ever were right there, offering up their support and opening up to me. I will remember everyone who has connected with me with their kind words pushing me in the right direction. Thank you x.
The same goes for family, admittedly, it took me a long time to tell mine what exactly was going on. This was because I did not want to worry anyone, and I tended to deal with things in my own way and in my own time. It was when I started to talk to the TV cameras for Mind over Marathon about how bad things were that encouraged me to finally be honest. I knew that my life would go out on prime time TV, so this gave me the push to tell my parents what had been going on.
I understand that some of you may not have the support network of the family and friends which I have, but support for me has also come from different directions. I have met people through therapy groups such as Mindfulness and Emotional Regulation Therapy. People who get what it is like to live with such struggles. I have met some amazing people through this blog, twitter and instagram. So many of which have taken the time to connect with me to send me messages of support. I still cannot believe that people take the time to do this, to actually write to me. You lot truly are amazing.
I have also connected with the majority of health professionals who I have come into contact with and I cannot thank my GP enough for what she has had to put up with over the last few years. My GP has literally seen every side of me, from the petulant child or stroppy teenager, to the professional, rational, articulate me. Being able to connect and engage with your health team is so important as you get to understand what is and what is not achievable against your expectations. It also gives you the confidence to say things exactly how it is. There is no point saying all is fine if it isn’t. If your life is shit, then say, that is what they are there for. I am sure my GP has wanted to knock me out on more than one occasion for the way I have been though 🙂
The more you connect with people, the more you will feel able to talk. Talking about your thoughts and feelings is not a sign of weakness, it is more than that. Talking is a powerful tool which enables you to take charge of what is going on in your life. Own how you feel and don’t be afraid to let others know. I never wanted to tell people as I did not want to burden them or bore them with my life. Why should they be interested in me and how I feel? Trust me, people do care, they are interested and by talking you certainly are not burdening anyone. It took me a while to understand this.
Sometimes I cannot describe how I am feeling as it is just a jumbled mess. More often than not my head is so busy it is difficult to get it out in any sort of order for it to make sense. This does not matter, just get it out. This is where the writing really helps me. Words on a page, in bubbles, lists or spider diagrams help many of you to connect with your own thoughts and feelings. Seeing it on paper gives you ownership of it. It gives you the power to do something about it. If you find it hard to verbalise, then show this to friends, family or health professionals.
What you have said
‘I went 6 months without wanting to see a single friend, I did my best to avoid phone calls text messages, and meeting up. I could not plan, I didn’t want to be around anyone. I did not want to talk. I felt that I had to message now and again to say that I was still alive, but I only did this when they threatened to bosh my door in. I can see now how bad I was at maintaining contact. These days I am much better at meeting for a catch up hot chocolate, and now understand how important it is to keep connected to friends’ (Me).
‘Me and my friend meet for lunch on a weekly basis. She knows I have been going through a tough time, she does not judge me, instead she takes time to listen. Though I may not want to meet, afterwards, I am always glad that I did’.
‘I found that by being open and talking, people opened up to me. This has extended my support network’.
‘I joined a cycling group, meeting other people who enjoy what I do helps me. I am building my confidence to speak out’.
My closing words of (non) wisdom are look out for one another, if you are struggling, connect with those around you. If you are not, then look out for your friends, check out any behaviour changes and don’t be afraid to ask if they are ok and don’t be afraid to dig that bit deeper if need be.
I hope you enjoyed this series and I am grateful to those who reached out and connected with me with their own experiences. The offer is always there is anyone wants their story on my blog. This is a community and not just about me.
Please reach out if you are suffering. The telephone numbers and people are out there xx
**please refer to blog ‘Supporting others’**
Time to self doing what you want for you is vitally important for recharging the batteries, chilling out and having ‘you time’ without any outside influences or distractions. It was a point made by many of you with some great ideas and suggestions as to what you like to do for your own wellbeing.
I appreciate that for many of you this may be difficult with busy lives, juggling work, children, family and everything else that goes along with day to day life. Yet, for you it is just as important if not more.
Time to self or connecting with yourself does not mean that you have to spend a week away at a luxury location; however nice that may be. It can be as simple as having a bath, lighting a candle, putting a film on or reading a book. You can also connect with the outdoors and with exercise as in previous blogs. Whatever you like to do, do it and where you can, build it into your routine.
At work, take that lunch break, escape from the office, go for a walk and clear your head. I was guilty of sitting at my desk eating my food; yet when I made the effort to go out and clear my brain I was more focused and less stressed with what was thrown at me in the afternoon.
I was guilty of rushing here there and everywhere as I would try and fit in the gym before or after work, then rushing home to do chores and cook dinner before often jumping back onto my work laptop or work phone to clear some emails which had built up in the time from leaving.
Was I connecting with self? No, I felt that I was in the rat race of Monday to Friday (in latest role). My heart felt that it was always beating fast, along with my breathing. I felt like an internal pressure bubble which I could not switch off. My training helped, but at times I even found that difficult to connect with as my head was ahead of itself thinking about the following day.
Yet now, looking at where I am in terms of my mental health, I wish I had taken more time out when I needed it and not jumped from one task to another without a break. Simple, obvious stuff to do but often difficult to execute.
So what can YOU do?
Studies looking at people suffering from depression have shown that mindfulness exercises such as yoga and tai chi are associated with better mental health (bustle.com 2018).
Change your scenery. It could be a 5 minute walk away from a chore or task that you are doing to simply get some air and refresh your brain. All too often it is easy to carry on saying to yourself, that it will get done quicker without a break. This often does not lead to productivity. Studying is a good example of this. If you have exams, take regular breaks rather than just reading without taking anything in. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you.
Taking a break may mean being active or may mean doing nothing at all. Concentrate on mindfulness, breathing, meditation, put your feet up. For that time, move yourself away from the task that you were doing.
If you are really tired, listen to your body and give yourself sometime to sleep. Without good sleep our mental health suffers and concentration goes downhill (Mental Health Foundation).
Why not learn something new? Learning new skills can help boost your confidence and give you a sense of achievement. The options are endless and can include learning a new language, signing up for a course or evening class, trying out a new recipe or a new exercise class. It does not have to be anything big but challenge yourself, keeping it achievable.
Make sure you enjoy your ‘me time’ and that it makes you feel good. It could be going for a walk, playing an instrument, listening to music, going to the cinema, colouring in, grabbing a coffee out locally, reading a book, gardening, or having a bath. Whatever works for you then use it as a stress reliever.
Write down what works and does not work for you and document why? Are there barriers or hurdles which you need to jump but don’t feel that you can at the moment. Some of you may find it too difficult to face the world and go to a coffee shop. If this is the case, what else can you do? Some of you may feel the need to get out of a certain environment; ie the house or workplace and would find a coffee shop beneficial. We are all different, with differing levels of fear, anxiety and stress.
For me, I isolate myself and avoid certain social situations so I am not around people. I like my own company. I like to do what I want to do. If I don’t want to do something or go somewhere then I wont and I am happy with that. This is not to say I never go, I do and someone talking to me there would never know what it has taken for me to get there. So what I am staying is that, though I have given a number of suggestions of things for you to do or consider, they may not work for everyone. Find what works for you, but don’t completely poo poo the idea of dipping your toe into a different ocean.
What YOU have told me
‘My me time involves sitting in a coffee shop away from the crowds reading or writing. I can easily block out what is going on around me, yet when I look up I am reminded that life and the world goes on. I enjoy holidays, and quite often go on my own. I love to walk my dog, finding new places to explore. Watching him run and play with other dogs is just perfect. Being out in the fresh air with him on the beach or park makes everything seem so simple and right; it is as if nothing else matters (Me, 2019).’
‘Breathe. Centre. Don’t worry about the next moment. Stay in safety’.
‘Taking in some fresh air, I love to sit in the garden and watch the birds eat the food I leave out for them. Simple, but it puts me into a different mental space’.
‘I have recently taken up photography. I am learning a new skill and getting out and about at the same time’.
‘I like to go to a coffee shop or the cinema by myself’.
‘Sometimes I forget who I am so I do something I love like helping other or going to a meditation class or somewhere where things feel more real I suppose. A good movie that pulls the heart strings helps me connect again’.
‘A hot bath, with candles whilst the kids are being entertained by their father’.
‘For me, the perfect me time is immersing myself in a good book. I find the time can just go but that does not bother me’.
‘My allotment provides me with the prefect retreat, peace and quiet. I am making the effort to get there more often as I know how it assists with stress relief and mental wellbeing’.
I hope you have got something from this blog which you can use to help you. Even if it just taking time out from everything and everyone make sure you do it for the right reasons and for you. You may think that you are being selfish, but I don’t see it that way. If you look after yourself then you are better able to look after, and support those around you.
Resetting and filling yourself back up in a positive manner will no doubt lead to a better mental health and wellbeing.
Sometimes the world can wait.
Thank you to everyone who has helped contribute to this blog. Forever grateful. xx
Sorry for the delay of part 2 in this series but I have had some stuff going on so my head has been elsewhere. Hopefully I am back on it now 🙂
**please refer to blog ‘Supporting others’**
Exercise, movement, activity, sport, call it what you want, this is the most popular response I had to my shout out ‘how do you manage your mental health?’.
To those who have followed my journey over the last few years you will know that exercise has been key to my health and recovery. What it gives me is more than the physical benefits. I use it for structure and routine. I use it to give me a sense of purpose in life, to get me out of bed each day. I use it to connect with others. I use it because it puts my head in a clear space. I use it as it gives me a sense of pride and satisfaction that I am achieving something positive.
For many years studies have shouted out about the physical benefits of getting our bodies moving but now more and more research is being done about how it can also help and improve our mental wellbeing.
What we are being told
Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD and other mental illnesses. Exercise relieves stress, improves memory, helps you to sleep better and boosts mood. You don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can use exercise to make you feel better (HelpGuide.org).
Rates of depression and anxiety are at their highest recorded levels in countries such as India, China, the US and the UK. Many aspects of modern life, social isolation, poor diets, a focus on money, image and inactivity contribute to this state. Most people find that a walk or trip to the gym improves mood. The simple act of focusing on exercise can give us a break from damaging self talk. It can also encourage interaction with others and being outdoors which are known to improve mood and general health (psychologytoday.com 2018).
Studies consistently confirm the link between even small amounts of physical activity and better mental health. A study published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry has found that literally just walking can improve your mental health.
The same study (as above) found that people who saw the greatest mental health benefits from exercise worked out for around 45 minutes a time, three to five days a week. Interestingly more exercise wasn’t necessarily better, with the benefits dropping off after five workout sessions per week (bustle.com 2018).
What YOU have said
‘I love running out in the cold or the rain, it is liberating and makes me feel alive and in the moment. No music, I just like to be at one with whatever the weather throws at me’
‘Dance, get lost in the music and dance, particularly Latin and ballroom’
‘Run, run and then run some more’
‘I will go for a run or play tennis. Fresh air and exercise makes me feel better’
‘Running is the best therapy for me’
‘Dance got me out of some of the darkest times. It helps me feel more in control of my feelings and understand them better so I could communicate with others. I love being able to express myself through movement and a piece of music’
‘Going for a run makes me feel better’
‘The freedom and head space I get with cycling is awesome. You cant beat it on a crisp cold winters day’
‘I love to walk my two dogs. It certainly gets my step count up and makes me feel so much better mentally. It makes me so happy watching them play.
‘I love swimming, especially open water. It helps after a stressful day at work’
‘Is there any better way than to smash a squash ball around a court to relieve stress. For me it is perfect therapy’
The culture shift towards the benefits of using exercise as a therapy
In 2017, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry spearheaded the first Mental Health Marathon. Welcome ‘Heads Together’ and thousands of runners pounding the streets of London for 26.2 miles wearing blue headbands. Hundreds or runners proudly raising the profile of mental health and inspiring others to talk. As TV cameras and press focused on the Royals and their campaign, many people stood up and listened. It was suddenly acceptable to talk about your experiences watching an emotional Prince Harry opening up about the death of his mother and his struggles.
It was this campaign that encouraged me to open up about my own journey and struggles along with nine other incredible people on Mind over Marathon. Our stories inspired a nation as our lives were made public on National TV. A documentary commissioned through the BBC which is still talked about and respected to this day. Ten ordinary people suffering from a mental illness showing how exercise helps and benefits them. Ten people who had their lives followed for seven months. Ten people who would run the London Marathon on April 23rd 2017. Ten people who achieved so much more than could ever be imagined. Ten people congratulated in person by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry for spearheading their campaign. Ten people who would receive a special recognition award off Prince Harry for ‘speaking out’. Ten people (and Nick Knowles and coaches) who have become the greatest of friends and an important support network.
For me Mind over Marathon changed the way I exercise. Previously using it as a self harm to batter broken knees and to keep weight down, I was taught techniques and other ways of exercising. This saved me in so many ways, putting me on track to healthy exercise. It gave me back the enjoyment of exercise and enforced the importance of running with others and community. It gave me some self worth knowing that I could achieve.
I continued running after London 2017 and was fortunate again in 2018 to run it again. The mental benefits I got from this helped in so many ways. It gave me confidence and courage to enter more events. It gave me access to people where for so long I stood isolated. It gave me back my smile which was so often there but hidden in the depths of my eyes.
Today, I still get the same buzz and satisfaction whilst out running, biking or swimming. The people who I have met along my exercise journey have been incredibly inspiring. Many with their own struggles opening up to me, finding comfort in their release. People sharing common interests helping and supporting each other. People say that I inspire them, thank you that is so very kind. The ones who inspire me are the ones I see at Parkrun, not the fastest, but that doesn’t matter, they are there every week, running and encouraging each other. Laughing, grimacing. Turning up to events as competitors or supports. These are the people who I respect and admire. These are also the same people who have given me so much support, they understand me and I feel privileged to now call each and everyone a friend. They have helped me more than they will ever know. Thank you SMR run community xx
Age is no barrier. Time is only a perceived barrier. Not having a local leisure centre is no barrier.
All you need is an area to move, inside or out. Your living room or a park. You do not need money.
You don’t have put on the lycra or fast daps. You don’t have to sweat buckets to feel the benefits.
Even just a few minutes of physical activity are better than none at all. Start off slow. Start off with just a few minutes, you will soon see the time increasing and it getting easier.
Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a planned class or activity. This was a massive problem for me until I began working with a coach who would say ‘don’t worry about it, put it aside, do not try and catch up, move on to the next session’. Such advice removes guilt and was what I needed to hear when training for the biggest event of my life, Ironman Wales.
I never thought I would enjoy swimming as much as I do now (after giving it up as a child). Take the plunge try something new, walking, hiking, mountain biking, dancing, yoga, tennis, spin class, the list in endless.
My challenge is to try some classes at the gym.
You never know what you have been missing out on for all these years.
Good luck and welcome to my movement community 🙂
Remember I am no medic or health professional so please take advice off GP before participating in any physical activity.