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: 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.

 

Punishment

Two people (real people, but I can’t give details) were talking about the mental health system.  One mentioned that hospital had felt like a punishment, and the other took that literally.  “Oh,” she said, turning to me.  “I get it.  So hospital is like a punishment for the ones who don’t get it.”  I explained that hospital is for people who need more support than can be given in the community.  After several explanations she “got” it and I felt relieved.

And then I remembered.

I remembered how much, at the time, hospitalisation felt like a punishment to me.  That purgatorial state.  The way the nurses and doctors could be unkind, dismissive.  The way that I often felt I was there because “nothing else could be done” with me, that I was there because there was no chance of me getting better.  The loneliness, the restrictions on when I could see the people I loved, the constant pumping of medication I didn’t want (and didn’t think I needed) into a system undernourished by depression.  I could see why she thought it was a place for the hopeless ones, the last-ditch-attempt ones, the ones who were effectively being punished for being unwell.  Because at the time, that was exactly how I felt.

I saw through my own arguments, how weak they seemed in the face of the facts.  Even though hospital is a place for “getting better”, it definitely doesn’t always feel like that.  I understand why she took that comment literally, and I wish I didn’t, and I wish she didn’t have to.

Predestination

In an alcohol support group once, I heard a woman say that her daughter seemed like she would be “one of us” when she got older.  Her daughter was six.  She had, said the woman, “all the tell-tale signs.”  None of these included interest in alcohol, or any signs of addiction to anything else, from video games to jam sandwiches.  No; it was obstinate behaviour, wanting to have her own way a lot, being selfish and thoughtless.  Things I would have thought fairly normal in a six year old, and better dealt with by telling her off/ encouraging better behaviour, than by labelling her a premature alcoholic.  Yet this woman genuinely believed that her daughter held the seed of addiction within her, and would grow up to be like her mother.

I’m well-versed in the fact that addiction can repeat through generations (whether through biological leanings or learned-behaviour) so I’m not saying that it was wrong or stupid for this woman to have concerns about her daughter’s future well-being.  I am saying that, in structuring the idea of The Alcoholic as this person with specific and immutable characteristics (which could actually be possessed by anyone, and to varying degrees), she was attributing to her daughter a serious problem that the girl could have no way of knowing whether or not she had.  All because she was stubborn about the kinds of toys she wanted to play with. I can’t help but wonder if, by reinforcing (explicitly or implicitly) this kind of negative perception of her daughter, the woman might end up producing self-doubt in the girl before any signs of a problem are present.  Prevention is better than cure, sure, but there are better ways to prevent than to scare-monger and to stereotype.

This was not a solitary concern- others nodded, agreed, and shared similar thoughts.

This is one of the reasons I stopped going to such groups.

Echoes

I’m going to talk about something.  Something I haven’t spoken about on this blog (or in many other spaces), and something I won’t go into detail about, for many reasons.

In my past, I have suffered trauma.

This is the case for many people who experience mental illness, and for many people who self-harm, and for most people who are female.  Between the lines on this blog it probably won’t have been a stretch to imagine.  I haven’t spoken about it for the same reasons I haven’t spoken about my recent bout of mental ill-health much: the desire for privacy; the worry about who might read it; and yes, the (undeserved) sense of shame.

One reason I have so rarely (if ever) spoken about it with mental health professionals, is that I am scared.  I have noted again and again the stigma and unhelpful treatment that comes with certain diagnoses and the fact is, the diagnosis I am talking about (BPD/ EUPD) is very often associated with trauma.  Like the self-harm, it feels like another box to be ticked to label me with something I genuinely don’t think I have.  It is sad and unfortunate that this fear would render me silent, but it is a fact.  Like everyone, I don’t want to be misunderstood, and the sad truth is that asking for someone to understand would be likely to trigger the opposite reaction.

Another reason is that in the past, trying to discuss it has flooded me with long-lasting distress, destroying my ability to cope and to keep myself safe.  At the moment I am actually working through it, and I am trying to do so slowly to avoid such a back-slide.  I wrote a little about the feeling of doing so:

Breath catches in throat
over sharp bones
of baby birds, no,
the sharp bones of the words
I don’t flesh out.

Supposing they grew into fledglings.
What then?
Little fledglings of stories.
I’d be choked on the fluttering wings
of the things I don’t say.

These little fledglings of stories, though, are what I need- one day- to let fly.  At least, this is the narrative we are told. That talking helps.  That it’s Time to Talk.  So this is what I am doing now- talking, trying to be brave.  (By the way I don’t think talking always= bravery.  There are reasons for speaking or not speaking that have nothing to do with courage.  There is often bravery in silence, too.  But this is my attempt).

I feel exposed now, having written this, and I can’t be sure of the wisdom of posting it, or whether I will leave it up.  But like my other recent post- about feeling unwell there is something in me that wants others to know that they are not alone.

We are taught to minimise pain, because things are always worse for someone else.  We are taught to feel weak when we express it.  We are told that we can move past it, get on with it, forget it, sometimes even by those who have been through it.  But we are not selfish, we are strong, we are not wrong if we can’t bulldoze our way from past into future paying no regard to the events that shape them.

I tell myself this and will keep doing so until I feel it.