Category Archives: Health

Why am I running a marathon?

Some of you will know I’ve spent the last little while training for a marathon and it’s coming up fast so I thought I’d share a few things I’ve been reflecting on! Firstly, why the heck am I doing it?!

Because I want to!

Group of mixed sex marathon running

Ever since I can remember being aware of what a marathon is, I have wanted to do one! I can’t quite put my finger on why, I just remember seeing it on television and I thought it was amazing to be able to run that far; it seemed as though finishing it led to a huge sense of achievement and so much positivity surrounded the whole event. Whether people run for charity, in fancy dress or for personal goals, everyone has one target, the finish line! While it’s a solitary pursuit, there’s a fantastic sense of comradery! Having done a couple of half marathons the buzz produced by the spectators is great, complete strangers come to cheer you on. Everyone wants everyone to achieve whatever goal they’ve set themselves! That goal may simply be to finish while others chase records.

It’s now or never!

Over the years my health has let me down. Chronic mental and physical illnesses have taken their toll on my body. After a failed operation on my ankle a couple of years ago, my surgeon has said the next option is to fuse my ankle joint. While it will be possible to run on a fused ankle, I know the rehab process will be long. To put off the operation as long as possible I’ve been fitted with an orthotic that keeps my ankle joint rigid; currently this keeps my pain to a minimum and allows me to run.

I have fibromyalgia, currently an incurable condition that tends to get worse rather than better. I also have degeneration and various arthritic changes in my cervical and thoracic spine, which, again, are getting worse, not better! I’m on a waiting list to have injections into my spine to help with the pain, I’m currently managing with multiple painkillers and frequent chiropractic sessions.

I’m using this window, before another ankle op is absolutely necessary, to achieve my dream. My body is crumbling (some people don’t believe me because I’m really good at covering up how much pain I’m in but it really is!), the longer I leave it, the less likelihood there is of me achieving this! If I tried waiting for optimal health, it’s never going to happen so it’s now or never!

Things I’ve learnt

  • Fuelling while I’m running – having run a couple of half marathons without eating, this came as a bit of a shock but it turns out the body can only store enough glycogen to keep you going for about 1.5 hours. I’m going to take a lot longer than that so it’s been an interesting part of training to work out what to eat, when and how! I well and truly hit the proverbial wall about 2.5 hours into my first long run… I don’t want to experience that again! (Good to experience it in training rather than the real thing though!). Fuelling correctly before running is to ensure the glycogen stores a jam-packed. I’ve been having fun cooking more varied meals!
  • It’s a good idea to smell soya milk before using it to make pre-run porridge – turns out, soya milk goes off. I had no idea and it tasted fine in my porridge… until mid 18-mile-training-run my tummy was very very unhappy, ‘nuff said… again, good job I experienced this mid-training run and not in the real thing!
  • My mind is incredibly strong – even when achy and exhausted, I’ve proved again and again, I can keep going. I may not be fast but I can keep going. That unforgettable 18 miles I mentioned above? I finished that run! Just shows what you can force your body to do when you want to/have to! I keep going when it’s tough using a few mantras in time with my footsteps: “you can do this” or “just keep go-ing” – the 4 syllables helps keep my rhythm going. My body may not be great, it’s going to hurt but it’s going to be the power of self belief that carries me over the line.
  • Rest is just as much a part of training as running is – I’m finding as I taper down my miles (a important part of any training schedule) when I do run I’m feeling stronger. In my younger years when I’ve not followed any training plan, I’ve pounded the streets day-after-day-after-day, not achieving anything but exhaustion. Unfortunately my sleep will never be the best quality (due to fibro) but resting for long enough is required for muscles to recover.
  • Podcasts are fantastic – lots of people like running to music but I find it difficult as I tend to run to the beat even if it too fast or slow for me. However, I’ve been entertained during the long hours on my own by some great podcasts. The subject matter of some of these may surprise you but I think I’ve learnt the atmosphere created by the banter matters more to me than the theme (in no particular order): You, me and the Big C: Putting the can in cancer – fantastically funny and serious but above all honest conversations around the subject of cancer, Wellfar – podcast tracking marathon training with Amy Hopkinson, Sh**ged Married Annoyed – Rosie and Chris Ramsey taking an honest look at their married and answer listen questions, Something Rhymes with Purple – a fun discussion about our bright and colourful English language with etymologist Susie Dent and Giles Brandreth, Scummy Mummies – an hilarious look at parenthood, Deliciously Ella – a down to earth conversation about mental and physical health, David Tenant Does a Podcast – revealing but relaxed conversations with the gorgeous David Tenant at the helm. One thing I would say is I’ve found running is compatible with neither laughing nor crying…!
  • There’s a lot to remember before setting out on a long run – while you’re remembering to put on suncream and sunglasses to position blister plasters, carry water and food, you’ve got to decide on a garment to carry everything, you’ve also got to do the right warm up, I have to remember to warm up my ankle before putting on my ankle brace as my ankle muscle still try to work (despite being braced) and they get tight. It took me a long time to decide on a comfortable hair-do for running – to low plait has it – not too tight but not too loose! Remembering to charge my headphones is essential too!
  • A new brace solves the blister issues – I was told each orthotic would last 9-12 months of normal use. But, I’m, erm… thwacking it through marathon training! My 6 month old brace was causing awful blisters, fortunately, my orthotist ordered a new one, no questions asked and my new one is doing a grand job!
  • It’s possible to stick to a plan and be flexible at the same time – I mapped out my training programme in front of a computer. I’m usually someone who sets a plan and sticks rigidly to it but that would have been a recipe for self destruction so as the weeks went by I found small adjustments and made it more suitable for my weekly commitments and how I felt my body was recovering from long runs etc.

Never have the following sayings been more true:

If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right” and

If you want to you’ll find a way, if you don’t want to you’ll find an excuse”!

If you’re thinking you might want to run a marathon…keep both of these in mind!

Female running down a track between a line of trees

Training for a marathon is no small feat, it takes time and discipline. My husband has been a saint, giving me the time and space I need, he’s even been water-boy on occasion, tracking me around the beautiful Hampshire countryside providing water and sustenance. I’m being selfish, this dream is all about me, feeling good about myself and nothing else. I know there will be many people there raising money for charity or doing other honourable things but I spend the large majority of my life doing stuff for other people so this is just for me. It’s really hard to admit this because I don’t think I deserve it, but that’s exactly why I’m doing it, to prove to myself, I am worth it!

Image of my tattoo

What does my tattoo mean?

I’ve finally done it! It may surprise some people but I’ve finally been inked and I have some permanent body art I absolutely love! For me, it’s been a long time coming. I thought long and hard and whether I wanted one at all and I considered very carefully the content and placement of said tattoo.

The cat

My pencil sketch

I’ve had cats as pets all my life. I don’t just love cats, they’ve been an integral part of my mental health recovery. When in a dark place, a cat does not judge you or treat you differently, they do not worry about what to say or how to treat you; if they want food or fuss, they pester you, they lead a simple life but I love their individual characters. At times when getting on with humans has been too difficult, I’ve always found comfort in the companionship of a cat.

Milly has taught me to be more laid back. Rosa taught me to be content with the small things. Figgy teaches me everyday that being an idiot is ok!

The cat in my tattoo represents the comfort and relief I find when in the presence of a cat. But from my position of comfort I can reach for…

The butterfly

A symbol of freedom. As a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis and dries out its wings, it’s undergone and incredible transformation and now has the freedom to fly. Mental health recovery is a fragile entity, not to be taken for granted. As a butterfly has the freedom to fly, it’s also vulnerable to the slightest insult.

Butterfly is also a symbol of hope, bravery and commitment.

The semi colon

The body of the butterfly is a semi colon and represents the idea that my story is not over. It was coined by the semi colon project to be shared by people who’ve been touched by suicide. I have attempted to take my life on a number of occasions but I live and my story goes on.

I’ve joined a community of people who believe we have a collective responsibility to prevent suicide by sharing information and resources. If I can have just one more conversation about suicide prevention, it;’s worth it. Hopefully, it’ll start many conversations!

Designed by me

Lots of my sketches

After looking at numerous pages of Google images and trawling Pinterest, I knew what I wanted, I hadn’t found the exact image, the best way to explain it was to draw it myself so that’s what I did! It took a lot of drafting, I’m no artist! But I got there eventually. The final design s a combination of the cat drawn by me, refined by the tattoo artist and the butterfly designed and drawn by the artist.

I think there’s beauty in the simplicity of the lines. I didn’t want it to be any specific cat or species of butterfly – what they represent is more important.

Placed on my back

To represent my perseverance to put my mental illness behind me.

While I’m glad to have serious episodes of mental illness behind me, I can’t say that about physical illness. I continue to have serious neck and back pain caused by arthritis in my spine and fibromyalgia. I feel like, by putting something pretty on the area that’s causing me grief, I’m doing something to counteract my feelings of annoyance and frustration.

Hidden by my clothes

Because I know there are people out there who judge: People with tattoos, people with scars, people with mental illness.

I did wonder about having it visible and laughing the face of judgment but I’d rather people get to know me and then they find out I don’t fit the stereotypes they’d expect. They way I can challenge their judgments they hold. I do, also, need to consider my professional life. It’s a shame that people make judgments and assume stereotypes but in my professional life, I’m in a position of trust and I need to put my clients first and consider how they feel – I don’t want them to be distracted by my tattoos.

Visible on occasion

While my tattoo is for me, I didn’t get it for anyone else, I not averse to positive feedback! I’ve chosen a position that I can choose whether or not I have it on show. I think it’s quite pretty and while there are people who’re against tattoos in general, I think if people see mine, on the whole, people will not be offended by mine, so I going to enjoy choosing clothing based on how low the back is!

My tattoo

Represents how I live my life – in an incredibly careful and considered way! Maybe I overthink things sometimes but then I’m able to step outside the box into the unexpected too!

Self compassion takes self discipline

I say self compassion and many will think, at best it’s airy fairy, at worst it’s self indulgent or even hedonistic. But I just want to spend a few minutes putting this in perspective.

So, what is compassion?

People holding hands with caring and compassion

Firstly, you need to notice some suffering, you then need to feel moved, in some way, by this pain and thirdly, you need to feel some warmth or desire to change the situation. For most people it is fairly easy to feel compassion for someone else. For example, if you hear the plight of families in your local area who cannot afford food (step 1), if you’re moved by this (step 2) you may wish to help the situation, while doing your weekly shop, by donating some canned goods (step 3). Easy, isn’t it?!

Feeling compassion for ourselves can be a lot harder.

Most of us are incredibly quick to judge and criticise ourselves for falling short, for making mistakes and for our various inadequacies. But if we can be compassionate to fellow human beings, why do we raise the bar so high when it comes to judging ourselves? Self esteem is a fragile enough entity, why do we insist on making it so hard for ourselves?

It’s a common technique, when recovering from mental illness, to imagine how you would treat a friend in a similar situation. Some people struggle with this, if your self esteem is low enough, you’ll think you’re not good enough to be treated as a friend; but consider this, is what you’re doing, the way you speak to yourself, the way you treat yourself, at the moment, work? If not, you need to try something different.

To feel compassion and to care for ourselves may be at odds with our inner beliefs but it can have such wide ranging benefits it’s worth taking time to think about this.

Self compassion can be put as simply as feeling compassion for others: step 1 – be aware of your pain, step 2 – feel moved by the pain, step 3 – have a desire to change it. But it’s not that simple is it?!

Instead of judging ourselves we need to practice self-kindness. If you’re constantly beating yourself up for making mistakes, this only leads to a negative spiral of stress. If you’re doing your best and you fall short, it’s ok, being kind to ourselves take practice and discipline to replace habitual thought patterns.

We are all human, mortal, vulnerable and imperfect – we can find solace in sharing our humanness rather than feeling isolated in our suffering. Instead of believing we are failing and experiencing suffering as an individual, consider these experiences part of a shared human experience.

2 people looking at a figure on the ground. One person sees a 6, the other person sees a 9.

Remember, sometimes perspective is everything – if you’re a new mum or dad waist deep up nappies, you’ve not had a adult conversation for days, your baby’s got colic and you’re exhausted, it’s likely, you will feel you’re doing something wrong and you’re totally alone. If you pick up the phone and speak to a friend, how will they view the situation? They will think you’re doing an amazing job, your baby is alive aren’t they?!

In all seriousness, sharing experience puts it in perspective and helps us realise we’re all human, stumbling through life, what we perceive as our failings and imperfections are all part of the human condition.

Being mindful of our emotions allows us to experience our emotions in their fullness without suppression or exaggeration. We are able to do this when we’re able to view our emotions within our situation as a larger picture. Mindfulness allows us to view all emotions, (whether perceived as “positive” or “negative”) simply as they are, without judging them or trying to change them.

I do not believe there are negative emotions – all emotions simply serve the purpose of telling us more about a given situation (the negativity is only the judgment we place on the existence of the given emotion).

While identifying and being aware of our emotions, we will enable ourselves to avoid over-identifying and getting caught up in our emotions, thus avoiding negative reactivity.

Element of self compassion by Kristin Neff. Self kindness, recognising our common humanity, mindfulness.

This self-compassion sounds quite complicated, doesn’t it?! It’s certainly not some passive pleasure seeking, it’s an active choice that takes discipline, you decide if the benefits are worth it:

  • Improved self esteem
  • Increased sense of self worth
  • Reduce stress
  • Improved resilience

To start trying self kindness, catch your thoughts and turn them around, you don’t have to become your own cheerleader (unless you want to!) but be more gentle than harsh with yourself:

  • Replace “I’m useless” with “I’m doing my best”
  • Replace “I always mess up” with “it’s ok to make mistakes”
  • Replace “I can’t” with “I’ll try”
  • Instead of always saying “yes” to requests, consider what’s best for you and say “no” or “I’ll think about it” or “I could find time next week”

It’s going to take practice. Some people will find it helpful to write down their common harsh thoughts so that they can think of concrete replacement thoughts and seeing them in black and white can be eye opening.

“You got this” written in flouncy text

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with a situation and feeling isolated. Remember you are human, stumbling and being vulnerable is part of the human condition – talk to a friend, a problem shared really is a problem halved! But this, again, takes discipline, it’s so much easier to dwell in our self pity or not want to both anyone else but you deserve to feel better and you never know, the friend you phone may need you just as much as you need them!

Are you someone who tends to ignore your emotions or do you get carried away with them? Being mindful of emotions as they happen will aid a more balanced approach and will help prevent maladaptive coping mechanisms from kicking in. Emotions do not come with a health warning so being mindful of them, to catch them as your feeling them, to notice them, non-judgementally and allow them to just be, will take discipline and practice!

Self compassion isn’t airy-fairy-self-indulgence. You’re probably someone who finds it easier to feel compassion and care for other people. There are no simple answers but practice makes perfect and as you start to have compassion for yourself, you’ll have even more to give others!