A-Z Challenge: D is for Dedication

It’s taken a while for me to get around to this post, because I wanted to be sure that it would stay true. I realised today that there is no way of knowing whether it will stay true and maybe this is all the more reason to write it now, while it is.

I know I’ve written a lot about what running means to me, but let’s recap. I moved home from Edinburgh, extremely thin, in 2012. I started running in an effort to lose even more weight, and in doing so became quite good at running. Because I wanted to continue to be good at running, I allowed myself to eat again. I became extremely fast. I ran some races. I did some Parkruns. I started to feel good about myself. My body, a longstanding enemy of mine, was becoming my friend.

I broke my ankle in 2014. To be truthful, I was already falling out of love with running at that point, thanks to other stressors and symptoms of what I was going through. But the knowledge that I potentially wouldn’t be able to run was upsetting, and as I went through my physio I did the occasional jog when I was allowed.

Forward again to 2015. Maureen bought me my first running watch, and I completed my third and fourth half marathons. The times I got for these were not super speedy and to be fair, I didn’t train enough to earn super speed. But I completed them. I was proud but I was also disappointed in myself, because I knew that choices I had made had had a huge impact on my running speed and I felt I had let myself down. In some ways I found myself disheartened. Slowly, I more or less stopped running again.

Until now. I joined Run Dem Crew earlier this year. We run once a week to various points of interest within London, and the point of each run is the atmosphere and community, as much as the running. It has a good energy. Since I started, despite no longer being the fastest, despite negative thoughts I have about my body, my love for running has been sparked up again.

I never thought running in a group would work for me… I was very much a one woman operation. Now I realise that the nights I go out with a group- Tuesdays and Thursdays- are nights I do not miss, because even if only one person notices, that’s one person more than just myself.

There are much faster people than me but when they tell me how fast they are, although I can certainly be happy for them and impressed, I am trying not to compare myself so much to them. And more importantly for me- I am trying not to compare myself to myself anymore. That’s where all the self doubt comes in. Now is not the time for that.

I’ve set myself a target. I am reluctant to put it out there , but maybe I procrastinate because I am giving myself the option of backing out. So before I can do so, here it is:

I want to run the Hackney Half AND I want to be happy just for finishing it. To do both of those things will be equally difficult.

I am dedicated to this target.

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A-Z Challenge: C is for Commitment

This time last year I was in one of my darkest ever places, and I didn’t think I would carry on. I tried to not carry on.

Thinking of that time now, guilt and sadness settle on me like a blanket it’s hard to creep out from under.

But I also realise this: in surviving, in getting through it, I made a commitment to being alive.

Over the summer, I suffered a pretty serious episode and it made me question that commitment (I wasn’t actually certain that the things in my life were real to begin with). Even so, I clung on and I’m still here.

In some ways, I’ve been coasting the last few months, doing nothing especially exciting, nothing especially interesting, in terms of what I actually plan to “do” with my life. This month I’ve been looking at PhDs, and other possibilities for my future. It isn’t a “new year” kick. It’s more of a year-that-might-not-have-been kick. I am renewing the commitment I made last year to being alive, and not just to being alive but to living, to thriving.

A-Z Challenge 2018- B is for Birthdays

This is a simple gratitude post.

Today is my 31st birthday, and it’s been special.  This time last year I also had a wonderful birthday.  Around that time, I wasn’t in as good or as stable a place as I am in now, and I am hopeful today that my new year will be a calmer one.  I have beautiful people around me and everything to live for through this new decade.  The simplest things can be wonderful, and I am happy.

Thanks.

A-Z Challenge 2018: Acceptance

Thanks to Arcticblizz for suggesting the first topic.

***

2017 was a mixed bag, like most years.  Like every year spent with M, it brought love and peace.  In terms of my mental health it was a nightmare, the kind of which I feared I would never wake from.  But here I am.  I’m borrowing a prayer for this post; although I’m not much of a one for “proper” praying, I do like this one.

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change

I have learned, and keep learning, that there are things about myself I cannot change.  There are symptoms that are likely to return to me time and again, although medication helps me manage them.  I have learned the hardest way that I have to accept medication as a part of my life.  This is incredibly hard to accept, despite repeated experiences to back it up.  Without accepting it, I run the constant risk of a return to unwellness, something that terrifies me after a summer that reminded me ruthlessly of how it feels to be paranoid and depressed in the wake of elation.  I have to accept that elation for depression is not a reasonable exchange.

There are also experiences I have had that I need to remember I cannot change.  I have been going over certain things in therapy that I find it difficult to think about, let alone talk about, but it is only by thinking and talking about them that I will be able to accept them.  This is not about accepting that “these things happen”, or trying to “think positively” and pretend the experiences can be magicked away by this.  For me, it is about accepting that some things shouldn’t happen, to anyone, and using my personal experiences as a starting point for effecting change.  But before I can do this, I need to accept that these were my experiences at all.

Finally, there are things I must accept are intrinsic to who I am, and accept that they are not “problems” or things I should obsess over changing.  For example: I am and have always been quite sensitive to how other people are feeling.  I have often thought I am “too sensitive” and seen this as a weakness in myself (or had it treated as such by others).  But it isn’t a weakness and I cannot change it, though I can learn to deal with its impact better/ differently.  Accepting this is hard, but necessary.

The courage to change the things I can

Both of the things I have talked about above: mental health and negative experiences, are things that I cannot change.  This absolutely does not mean that I should remain inactive.  People often conflate acceptance with inaction (i.e. I have accepted I am a certain way, so I should do zero to try and change it, because it’s inevitable).  This isn’t the case.  I  think acceptance is an action in itself.

It takes courage to accept that my mental health problems are not going away, and then use that acceptance to take action.  These actions can be simple-sounding: take medication, for example.  Without these actions I am unable to bring about change for myself and, by extension, for the people around me.  This means there are things I need to change.  I need to be able to talk about how I’m really feeling.  I need to be able to step back when things are too much.  I need to be able to maintain my stability by making an effort to do the things I know are right for me.  These are actions, and they are things I can change, or continue to do.

Some of the things I want to do: sharing experiences, maybe volunteering to help others who have been in similar boats to me (no two boats are the same), are going to take courage.  They are also long-term goals- I have to weigh the importance of achieving them, with the impact they will have on my own wellbeing.  These are outward changes I want to make- it’s not about changing myself, but about changing the world around me in some small way, for the better.

There are so many things I want to change.  Change can be tiny.  It doesn’t have to be world-changing, but it can change a little pocket of the world- even one person, or one environment- and this is what I want to do.  So I have to be brave, and also cautious.

The wisdom to know the difference

As I said above, I don’t necessarily think that “things I cannot change” are things I need to blindly accept and never challenge.  They are things I can work with, and live with, and manage.  However, they are different to the things I can change, even if they act as a starting point, something that spurs me on.  This is something I need to hold in my mind, to keep them separate even as they feed each other.

These are my hopes for this year, and for my life in general.

(Other things I hope to achieve include: speaking Swahili at basic conversational level; completing a piece of writing I am hoping will help people; reading at least 4 books in Dutch).

 

“No Filter”

It’s almost 12 months since the last time I smoked.  As the days draw closer to the 7th of January, I start to feel excited.  I think I’m going to make it.

I started smoking in 2013, on a psychiatric ward in Kent, in the rain and freezing cold.  The other patients offered me their cigarettes and I would say yes: to be polite, to be sociable, and for something to do.  Fresh air was looked upon with vague suspicion but smoking?  Smoking was something that could be understood.  And so I smoked.

When I left the ward, went back to my ordinary life and my MA, I decided to quit.  Who knew this nicotine thing was so addictive?

It snowed all that January, and I would smoke in  the back garden, listening to sad music and pondering life.  I felt like a cliche, a retrospective of stereotypical teenage angst, but it soothed me.  Given that I had been hospitalised for being suicidal, the health issues caused by smoking seemed the least of my worries.  Granted, I felt guilty for my new habit.  I felt worried about the state of my teeth.  But I also felt a relief I didn’t get from anything else at that time.

Someone told me smoking uses similar techniques to the breathing techniques they teach you for managing panic attacks, and that makes perfect sense to me.

Who knew I would live to do it for four more years?  Two hospitalisations later, I was still breathing in the smoke, exhaling slowly, like it was sacred.

This year, four days after my 30th birthday, I decided it was time to give up for good.  One day at a time.  It’s been a lot of days now and although the cravings do hit me, I don’t regret the decision.  And I don’t regret having smoked in the first place, either.  There’s no point.  People in desperate places make desperate choices, and I did.  And now I know I have the strength to do this, I have more faith in myself.

 

At 14

Lime green crop top,

UV handprint

stitched across the breast-

something I stole from Camden market

because I was the best

at theft

(and running).

All that summer,
I never bought a single thing.

I thought that I was grown

and knew it all and more,

and that I’d always known.
Thought I was not a little girl

while throwing toys

against the world, to see what stuck.

Said I don’t give a fuck
and felt brave, and tall.
But for all the make-up, I was young

and the grown up pose I struck

was always wrong.

(I see that in the photos, now

of clothes that I was not allowed,

me, drinking on the spinning ground,

with friends around me.)
I was the best at running,

the best at theft.

But that long, bold summer,

I wasn’t old enough

for saying yes.

PIP: However

Today I had my assessment for PIP (Personal Independence Payments- a benefit you can get in the UK for a physical or mental health condition, regardless of whether or not you are working).  The man who carried out the assessment was kind and polite; at no point did he make me feel bad about my application.  However, there is always a however, am I right?

However.  The questions he was given to ask me were inadequately phrased for the nature of my condition.  Bipolar is episodic: that is to say, I experience symptoms of depression and hypomania in episodes. That means that tasks I can carry out in the “euthymic” (“normal”) phase, I struggle with for blocks of time when I am unwell with either a high or a low.  The questions are often phrased in ways like this: “how many times a week do you need encouragement to cook/ eat?”  This then becomes difficult to answer unless dividing episodes by 52 (to account for every week of the year) and then coming up with a weekly average, thereby effectively lying because it is not every week that I experience those particular difficulties.  The questions do not take into account that illnesses can fluctuate- not just within a week or a few days, but for blocks of time throughout the year, interspersed between periods of being “just OK.”  So I don’t know if I will get PIP or not based on my honest answers and attempts to explain the nature of bipolar. Should I get PIP?  If it is for people with long term conditions impacting upon their everyday lives, the answer has to be yes.  If it is based on how many times a week I am impacted by my condition, it has to be no. I think they need to rephrase and rethink, not because they are trying to outwit people or catch them out, but because they are not taking into account the fact that myriad illnesses manifest in ways that do not meet the criteria if they are assessing on the basis of impact throughout any given week.