Exercising for a better mental health

Time to slow down, lay of the hot chocolate and Chinese!

Monday 28th May 2018 (12.43pm)

Holiday is over as I sit here in Starbucks garden having just completed a 3.4k swim. I have a bike session and S&C to do later 🤮. First swim back after over a week and not surprisingly I wanted to chuck up at some point. Perhaps stuffing a Chinese last night is not good pre match swim prep but my excuse was that I was still in holiday mode. I am also going to cut back on my daily hot chocolate at a coffee shop and find some other healthier option. Me being a fuss arse (apparently) will mean that no doubt I will be reaching for the water (bore off like).

I totally tuned out whilst I was away to enable myself to refresh mentally as well as physically. It was what I needed with a few things going on around me at the moment. I learnt that I can actually slow my brain down, but carrying on with that now back in the UK will be a challenge. I have already broken rule 1 and that is turned back on my social media notifications. I felt unloved when my phone didn’t beep every 4 seconds (must apologise to someone who will tell me off for this).

A friend is trying to slow my pace of everyday life down. Things such as sitting still for 5 minutes (get bored), driving slower (not like I have stolen the car – but obvs within limit and safely 🙄) and walking without feeling that I have to get to A to B as quickly as I can (if I could run I would). I am sure there are more things but I probably switched off to them. Joking aside, I know what I need to work on but there are just too many things that I need (want) to do at once.

Whilst away I considered dropping out of some of my events and focusing my energy and effort elsewhere. This quickly changed last night when I saw my next months training plan and felt the buzz again for exercise. I exercise for a number of reasons and I know to stop this now would be detrimental. My ‘all of nothing’ attitude will be reassessed in October (maybe).

For now I am going to publish this, maybe not look at my phone for 9 seconds (I have to start somewhere) then head off for a walk (slow) with friend (who will tell me off if too fast).

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Day 4 in Greece – still no update from work

Wednesday 23rd May 2018 (7.37pm Greek time)

I am having the most fantastic time away, lazing by the pool all day followed by an evening walk. Coming away was exactly what I needed to refresh my head. Mentally this evening I am not ‘feeling it’. Nothing is wrong, it is just one of those moods which is hard to shift. The mood that if not booted can land me up in a rut. I know it will not come to this, I am in too nice a place to dwell on any shit.

I have not heard anything about my SMP appointment which I had on Friday. I was told that I would have heard either yesterday or Monday. I appreciate people are busy and these things take time but I would like to know now. I will see if anything dumps into my inbox tomorrow. Until then I will continue to try and not care of what the outcome will be. I am starting to think that the information is being held in case it is thought I will take a long swim into the Aegean Sea.

Don’t worry I won’t 🙄

Coming away has allowed me to slow down and switch off. At home I feel that I am always busy rushing around, doing what I don’t know. At home, my head always runs around at a million miles per hour and my body feels that it is in a race to catch up. Here in a different time zone I am moving at a different pace. I wonder if I can bring this pace home with me? Things which I have not done for a while such as read books, listen to music (unless on the Wattbike or rushing around in the car) and just taking some time for me have reinforced that I should unconsume (is this a word?) or declutter myself with my own demands.

The other solution is simple – take more holidays.

Welcome to Greece – Day 1

Sunday 20th May 2018 (5.58pm Greek time)

Here begins my week in Kos. I have taken time away on my own to recharge and refresh after the last few weeks of limbo, stress and uncertainty. Either tomorrow or Tuesday I will find out if I still have a future at South Wales Police. I was asked if I wanted to know whilst I am away and I have decided to. I would not be able to ignore the email in my in box. Curiosity would get the better of me. I did think of having a WiFi / social media break but I like to check in now and again.

I saw my GP on Wednesday, my medication has been increased by half. I told her that I was going on holiday. She asked if I was going to come back. Depends on the outcome was my reply (laughing). I don’t know which way things will go after seeing the SMP (work Dr) on Friday. I answered what was asked of me, but I have no idea. Once again, I thank a couple of people for keeping me together recently. 

I have picked the perfect place to unwind and get on with the chapters of my book. Today has been a complete lazy ass day of sitting around the pool reading. It is pleasantly quiet, I appear to be the youngest around (apart from 1 child) and that is how I like it. People are friendly and I could not have asked for anything more for day 1.

I arrived just after 4am and after walking into my room I knew I would like it here. I don’t mind travelling alone, I have done it a few times and I am happy in my own company and space. I am 2 hours ahead of the UK, I sit here in the bar / restaurant area over looking the pool. The water is still, 2 people laze on the sun beds, and a couple of people mingle behind me taking pictures. The sun is going down but it is still very warm.

I am not sure what I will do this evening, probably nothing. I have been for a walk to the local town, sussed out the restaurants, found the beach and decided on a run route for the morning (finding my bearings mother). I will probably just stay here, have some food and watch whatever I have downloaded on iPlayer or find something on Netflix. 

I like have no plans. I like having nothing to do. After all, it is me time.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Tuesday 15th May 2018 (12.48pm)

It has been a while since my last blog post so I thought I would check in and let you know how things are going.

It is Mental Health Awareness week and ironically it is the week that I have my final medical meeting with work regarding my future to see if I will be medically retired on ill health. Friends are asking how I feel about it and my answer generally is that I do not know, as whilst I have thought about it, I haven’t in any detail or depth. Maybe I have parked it in that part of my brain which I only access if I have to. Maybe I am thinking that the process is about someone else and not me. Maybe I have accepted things, maybe I haven’t.

The reality is that I know that I cannot go back to a job which I once loved and lived for. If the decision is made for me to be retired then I will be gone within 28 days. I will be turning my back on someone I thought I was, but this last two years has taught me otherwise. This last two years has changed me and made me realise what is important. I have always chased a successful career, the next rank or promotion. Why? Partly that is what society tells us to do but more so because of my own determination and drive.

It has taken two years of contemplation and reflection for me to find me and realise who I really am. There were things along the way which I tried to hide, fight and box away, but I soon realised that they quickly resurfaced so it was better to smash them in the chops from the outset.

If I am not medically retired then I will cross that bridge as and when. If this is the case, there are things going on in my head which scare me but there is no point talking about that here and now.

As always I am grateful for family and friends who know when things are shit and just pick me up and pull me along.

Last night I was given the opportunity to talk about my journey at an event in Cardiff. People say that I inspire them, but I was truly inspired by people who I met last night, each with their own story of pain and success. Each with their own path in front of them, amazing business women who continue to develop and shape what they do.

Maybe one day I will be sharing potential business ideas, for now, its about having no pressure or stress around me, continuing with my blog and the chapters of my book, oh and the small matter of Ironman training.

Next up, GP tomorrow and my medical appointment with work on Friday x

The Highs and the Lows

Sunday 29th April 2018 (11.12am)

I will never understand depression, once I thought I did but now I am not so sure. It is like the devil, when things are going seemingly well there is an attack telling me I am not supposed to be happy. Not supposed to move on, stuck in a situation which is hard to deal with. I am going through change and a period of instability. In less than 3 weeks I will know what is going on with my job within the police. There is a distinct possibility that I will be medically retired. Whilst I have accepted this, I still feel vulnerable at the moment. Friday night is evidence of this.

I am still in therapy and still on my medication. This week I have my regular session with Mind and my 3rd counselling session through the NHS. I thought I was done with counselling but it transpires that I am not. Looking at things with a fresher head and new perspective has helped and it is good that I have the extra support over the next few weeks. My GP is always on hand but I do not have to go as regularly as I did. My head is busy, it will not switch off. The headaches are back but I know the reasons for this.

Please don’t think I am that low, I am not. I have a lot going on at the moment compounded by the fact that I am also going through a divorce. ‘They’ say as one door closes another door opens and I am confident of this both personally and professionally. It’s time to move on. It’s time for a fresh start and new beginnings. It has taken over 2 years but I finally feel ready. Ready to have that real smile back on my face, ready to see what my future is all about.

I have plans, plans which excite me, plans which involve me being me and doing what I want to do and when. Plans which may not make me the big bucks but I am not about that anymore. 

My training is still a big part of my recovery as I reflect on last week’s London Marathon and prepare for the next event. I feel physically and mentally drained and my coach is allowing for time out and easier sessions over the next few weeks. I am grateful for this. Soon I will also be taking time away to concentrate on my book away from day to day distractions. 

Time for me.

Tough night

Friday 27th April (8.51pm)

**picture taken from car**

Sat at my ‘go to place’ with chips. I am not ready to go home yet. I can’t, I need just to sit here in my car with headspace. I am watching the sea which tonight is relatively calm, despite there being a wind. The tide is in, there are people around, not many, enough. I will not be getting out of my car, there is no need to and neither do I want to.

What has brought me here? This evening I went to a colleague’s retirement do. A colleague who has become a very good friend. A friend who has helped me over the last few years. A friend who has been there for me, even though I have some times ignored   her and pushed her away. A friend who gets me, who understands me. A friend who this week has said goodbye to a 30 year police career. A friend for life. 

I wanted to be there tonight, I have missed many nights out over the last few years but tonight was different.

I walked into a busy pub, spotted my group and felt panic. I felt lost, I felt like I no longer knew these people. People who I worked with before going off. I felt like an alien. People made me welcome, gave me hugs, asked how I was. I politely replied. So much change over the last 2 years. 

The skittles alley had been hired so off we went to play. I offered to be the person who replaced the skittles and chuck the balls back down. This was an easy ‘out’ for me as I was at the opposite end to everyone else. Still involved in the game but on the outside of conversation. This is what I wanted. As time went by I found it harder to be there. It seemed to get louder, I felt overwhelmed. I felt anxious and knew I had to escape. I felt no longer part of that group, no longer part of something that was once my life. I struggled to be around ‘work people’.  I could not cope with it. Too many memories. My head became busy. Run George Run. This has nothing to do with any of the people there, in fact they are all lovely. I just couldn’t do it. 

I grabbed my best friend and my retirement buddy and said I had to leave. They knew. They saw it in my face. They understand. My mate walked me to my car. I am ok as I sit here. I am out of the situation. It has reaffirmed my deep overriding anxiety and panic of anything related to work. 

Now I will head home, home to my gorgeous dog who will bring me back to earth, who will tonight sleep on my head and give me unconditional love.

That was tough xx 

London 2018

**Photo from Heads Together**

Wednesday 25th April 2018 (10.21am)

So that is it, the 26.2 miles of London done and dusted for another year. After finishing I said never again, but as I reflect on the experience, there is no way that I will miss the opportunity if it comes up again next year.

The last 6 days have been another surreal, yet crazy experience. It started last Thursday as I made my way to London for the Mind over Marathon ‘one year on’ event with Heads Together, held at the Curzon in Victoria. It was amazing to be reunited with Chevy, Mel, SeSe, Rhian, Jake, Claudia and Nick Knowles. Unfortunately, Poppy, Paul, Sam and Steve could not join us, but they were all there with us in spirit as we chatted to an audience. This can be viewed via the Heads Together Facebook page.

I cannot believe that we are one year on and I have my second London Marathon finishers medal. Sunday was tough, as I along with 41000 others battled the heat bumping off the streets of the capital. For me Sunday was a mind game, I knew that I was physically in shape to take on the challenge, mentally I was in a better place than last year but the conditions were going to be the ultimate test.

I woke up Sunday morning thinking that I was just going on a long run (with lots of others). I was not nervous, in fact I don’t get nervous, I knew where I had to go to start and I adjusted my game plan in my head to slow my pace down and aim for 10 min miles. I knew I could beat last years time, but that was not really on the agenda. It was more about finishing comfortably and without injury or illness.

I was in the blue start, pen number 6 and whilst waiting I chatted with others, some who were on their first journey of London.

From the start, the heat was a factor, I saw a runner receiving medical attention in the first two miles. I felt the heat pounding down which made me even more determined to stick to my pace plan, stay hydrated and well fuelled. I could have chased it early on, but I was not there for that. The crowds were amazing, people handing out sweets, slices of oranges and I have never been so grateful for an ice pop lolly! That cold, orange flavoured hit came at exactly the right time. I will never forget the sheer amount of people and the reception on Tower Bridge. It is something that as a runner has to be experienced. Words cannot describe the lift it gives you at the half way mark. I felt good at this point, again thoughts of ‘pushing it’ went through my mind. I was on for a 4hr 15 finish. I remained sensible as I ran through to 20 miles. This is when it began to get tough. It seemed to got hotter, the crowds appeared to get bigger, louder and enclose. Lots of people were walking, many were on the side of the road, beaten by the conditions. I carried on slowly, not stopping and never walking as I knew I would not get going again.

At mile 23, things became even harder, I wanted to stop. My body was hurting. I started to feel sick. It was time to play the head game ‘its just a park run to go’. This felt like hell. I had seen many people who I knew along the way but I was prepared to go the last few miles on my own. Zoned out from the world and noise around me. My legs somehow kept going as I turned onto the Mall and saw the count down signs, 800m (‘only twice around an athletics track’). Just keep going. Then I saw a friend who I had met through Twitter. Jules who works for the London Ambulance Service, you were my angel as I heard you shout my name, the hug as I literally fell onto you was exactly what I needed at this time. You spurred me on to the end. You and your colleagues were amazing that day. Thank you for that. We will meet up in different circumstances soon.

Then I saw it, the finish line, it was getting closer, or was it. Was I going backwards? I was overtaking people, or were they overtaking me? I have no idea, but there it was the end, the red finish line. I had done it. I had crossed the line in 4 hrs 31.17. 

I will take that.

An invite to SMP

Tuesday 10th April 2018 (2.17pm)

This morning I received a letter from work. My SMP (Selected Medical Practitioner) appointment has been arranged for Friday 18th May. This is now real. For ages I have been able to park it at the back of my head thinking that this appointment would not be until later in the year. So many emotions have surfaced since opening this letter and at the moment I am finding them too much and difficult to handle.

The thought that the direction of my future will be determined shortly does not yet seem comprehendible. It has been two years since I first walked out of my job. At that point only a few people had an idea of what I was going through as I sat behind my desk as a Temporary Detective Inspector with South Wales Police. Yet, here I am now wondering if I will ever return to a job which I once loved and gave everything to. In the end it became a job which has contributed to my ill health and I cannot see a way back. I have Psychiatrists who say that a return would be detrimental to my health and would likely lead to self harm or worse. To me, this sounds conclusive but I have to see another Doctor who will determine the outcome.

I am still trying to digest all of this and so far I have done what I do best. Five minutes after reading the letter I was out of the door on a run trying to forget everything. My one hour run, banking 7 miles was what I needed as I tried to focus on my plans for next week as I make my way to London for marathon number 1 of 2018.

I am grateful for mates who have rung me today and listened to me moan (they are used to it by now) and put my back on the right path of sensible thinking.

Olly who appears to want to act like a naughty teenager when we are out at the moment still keeps me grounded. Despite him trying to steal hot dogs from cafes, rolling in fox poo, eating horse poo, chasing after bikes, eating chicken bones and generally going bat shit crazy I still cannot imagine life without him.

Time to sign off now as I have a therapy session with ‘Mind’ where we are working on my perfectionist traits (more of this will follow in another blog).

Need to turn today around

Thursday 5th April 2018 (10.48am)

I am sat in Starbucks having just done a tired effort 1600m swim (half of what I had planned). I woke up and just knew today was going to be one of those days where I could easily just hide away at home and do nothing. Physically perhaps this is what I need after my 19.7 mile run on Tuesday. Staying home watching the Commonwealth games would only have messed up my head so I knew I had to get out and do something. I feel that I have to push myself to the limits in order to succeed. I am currently writing a blog on ‘perfectionism’ and what I have learnt through therapy, it is scary how the traits resonate with my behaviour. What I have to do is reign this back in and learn to deal with things which may not go to plan. Is it such a big deal if I miss a swim session to chill out? No it is not, but try telling my messed up head that.

I had plans for today, but at the moment I cannot see me fulfilling them. Nothing big, just continuing with my book chapters and heading down to work to meet up with friends and sort out my expenses. Today is a can’t be bothered day. My mood is too shit. I hate this feeling, it is like I fall back into a dark place where negativity rushes through my brain space. ‘You will not finish the marathon, you will bomb out of Ironman Wales, in fact why are you bothering, you are writing a book – what?’ These are just some of the things which I deal with, not just today.

Physically and mentally, I feel off track, off course, heading for the bunker on the 18th hole when I had one hand on the trophy. I dig for the ball like I dig into my head for the strategies and coping mechanisms which I have l learnt.

It has been exactly two years since I first walked out of work. How did 2 weeks sick leave become 2 years? Time which has been eaten up in GP appointments, therapy, courses and medication.

I am ok, today is just one of those days. It will pass. I will ride it out. Olly will make sure of that.

Addiction (written by Anna)

BLOG TAKE OVER

I am so glad that I have opened up my blog for you to contribute. Writing has helped me massively with my mental health and this gives others the opportunity to write and share their journey from a different perspective. I am truly inspired and encouraged by what I have read. I have no doubt you will too.

**Please remember local and national support services are available if help is required**
Thank you Anna for your openness in ‘take over 12’

My drinking was problematic from the day it began. I had an alcohol withdrawal seizure when I was 17 years old after drinking to excess one summer. I remember a close friend telling me that she thought I was an alcoholic when I was in my early twenties. Addiction is sometimes described as the “disease of more” and I can certainly relate to that. When I started drinking I had no off switch.

I believe that I would be an alcoholic regardless of the direction my life took, but it became a very useful tool for coping with an increasingly dark void inside of me which I couldn’t identify or cure.

When I was 18 I innocently mentioned in passing to my parents that I had started a relationship with a woman. I was naive and didn’t think for one moment that this news would have the devastating effect that followed. Out of respect for my parents’ privacy I won’t go into detail but the result of a very traumatic few months was that I ended the relationship. And then I pursued relationships with men for the next 15 years. Being gay was no longer an option.

My drinking went through ups and downs. Occasionally I could get it under control for a while, usually until the latest self-inflicted disaster had passed. At one stage I managed to stay sober for 18 months. When I wasn’t drinking I was binge eating, stuffing my face with food until I felt sick, dirty and full of shame.

But my reliance on alcohol always came back and it progressively got worse in my early thirties. I was suffering with depression and going through periods of being unable to attend work, regularly signed off by my GP. When I wasn’t in work I’d start drinking as early as possible in the morning and think about how much I didn’t want to be alive. I was in a relationship at this point and often went missing, leaving my partner to worry about me and undertake sad searches of local pubs and park benches, looking for me. I’d wander around drunk, wondering if I could perhaps freeze to death if I stayed outside long enough in the cold rain. I couldn’t walk over a bridge without thinking about flinging myself off into the dark water below.

When that relationship inevitably ended, I started living on my own. This was a disaster to begin with but it ended up being my salvation. I drank for a further year, in which my my attendance at work was so bad I almost lost my job. Any day I wasn’t in work I’d drink, smoke and binge eat all day from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep. I’d go from my bed to the sofa and back again, occasionally scurrying to the shop for supplies and hoping no-one would look me in the eye.

But being single and living alone meant I didn’t have to pretend anymore. I was only answerable to myself and in the end that helped me to get sober. I had to ask myself whether I really wanted to die, because if I carried on drinking death was becoming an inevitability, either through suicide, an accident whilst drunk or a drinking-related illness.

It’s often said that you should tackle your addictions in the order in which they’re most likely to kill you. I stopped drinking on 24 November 2014. I wish I could share some magical wisdom about how I did it with yoga and meditation, but it really came down to avoiding social situations, eating a lot of food, drinking coffee and smoking. Whatever works. I stopped smoking six months later and kicked caffeine another six months after that. My eating disorder got worse for a while and binge eating is the final hurdle but is slowly getting better.

I try to walk every day, eat a plant-based diet, and have meaningful interactions with people who are important to me and whose company lifts me up. I read, listen to music, watch films, take photographs and try to spend time outdoors. I talk regularly with other sober women.

I’ve also been in therapy for over two years and, through that process, have realised that the void inside of me was not resentment at my parents or my circumstances. It was shame and guilt for turning my back on my true identify. I lived a shadow life for almost twenty years, doing what I thought I should be doing, based on things I’d seen on TV and in films. I couldn’t feel my way through life instinctively because I’d lost touch with who I really was and what I truly wanted.

I still feel very much an outsider. I’m sober, which in itself sometimes seems a pretty radical stance in a society which venerates alcohol so highly. I’m gay but don’t feel like I have a place in the LGBTQ+ community as I’ve been in heterosexual relationships most of my life and didn’t stand up for my identity when I had the opportunity. I feel like a fraud even using the label.

But I’m a lot better. After a particularly bad depressive episode which started last November, I began taking antidepressants in February. My mood has lifted and I’m feeling more optimistic about the future. Most importantly, I know that in sobriety I am a nicer person. I care more and am happier to help. I’m a better friend. I’m more honest. I’m confident that I could act appropriately in an emergency instead of being the one causing it.

I know that to keep hold of anything worthwhile, I have to stay sober. It has to be the first thing. The most important thing. Sometimes, the only thing.

If anyone is struggling with addiction, please know that it can get better. There is support available and more people than you may think are fighting the same fight. Please reach out.