Category Archives: Health

How did colouring save my life?

This year, 4th-10th October is Occupational Therapy week!

If you’ve heard of Occupational Therapy, you may think about physical health aids such as a commode or guide rails, or maybe basketweaving, but they’re so much more!

The Royal College of Occupational Therapists says:

“Occupational therapists provide practical support to help you do the activities that matter to you. They will consider all of your needs – physical, psychological, social and environmental. Their support can make a real difference giving a renewed sense of purpose, opening up new horizons, and changing the way you feel about the future.”

When mentally ill, you may think you’ll see a psychiatrist or psychologist but the nature of mental illness means a multidisciplinary approach is the best and most successful.

The way that you occupy your time can profoundly impact your mental health. I’ve had contact with occupational therapy during prolonged hospital admissions.

One of the most helpful psychological techniques I’ve used is mindfulness but it can be incredibly difficult, when you mind is sick, to try mindfulness for 10 seconds, let alone a couple of minutes. When most unwell I needed something easier to engage with…

When an occupational therapist first introduced me to colouring, I feared it was a little childish and thought I‘d find it hard to concentrate. But I reserved judgment and gave it a go. I’ve been hooked ever since. Colouring was a simple enough activity, I could engage with it and it enabled me to switch off from my spiralling thoughts. It has a calming effect and therefore reduces symptoms of anxiety without much effort! It can also improve motor skills and vision and also boasts to improve sleep!

Ultimately, mindfulness guides you to be able to focus on your breath but mindful activity can be just as beneficial. Mindful colouring meant I focused my mind; continued practice of mindfulness enables us to remain in the here and now rather than dwelling in the past or worrying about the future.

I was seriously unwell so I had to take medication, work hard in psychotherapy and use a lot of other techniques but colouring was the thing I turned to when I couldn’t muster the strength to do anything else. If I’d used every ounce of energy to get out of bed, showered and dressed, I didn’t have any energy left but I didn’t want to just sit in front of the TV; colouring didn’t require me to use any energy, but it helped keep my mind occupied. It played an important part in me beginning to rebuild my life, 1 tiny step at a time.

Plus, I started to feel quite proud of the results, boosting my self esteem along the way!

Running through Bath tunnel

An introvert’s dream come true!

Being an extreme introvert, preferring long periods of time in my own company or with very few people, it can be difficult to conform to societal expectation to be sociable. Living with depression for a large portion of my life, I was often told that getting out and seeing people would be “best” for me…! When most ill and lacking energy, seeing people would sap more energy, I would put my mask on to “act normal” (without which, I wouldn’t be able to interact with anyone) but the resulting exhausted spiral would lead to me feeling even more of a failure.

Then I discovered running! It was something I could do that has a multitude of benefits!

Any form of exercise, if done regularly, can:

  • Improve mood
  • Improve bone density
  • Increase muscle strength
  • Increase energy levels
  • Reduce risk of chronic disease
  • Help with weight management
  • Improve skin health
  • Aid relaxation and sleep

I was “getting out” as I was told would benefit me, but I didn’t have the down sides of being exhausted by people!

But, even the most extreme introverts, require some contact with humans (occasionally)! This is where entering events comes in handy!

Over the years, I’ve done a few 5km, 10km and half marathons but for various reason I’ve not been able to put in the hours to train for the ultimate goal to run a marathon. But I was finally able to put in the hard work, see this blog, I wrote a few days before I was due to attempt my dream.

And that’s what I did, on Sunday 18th August 2019, in Bath, I actually did it, I ran 26.2 miles, all in one go, on the same day, without stopping, I ran a whole marathon!! I cannot tell you how overwhelmed I feel to say I finally achieved my dream! I did not set myself a time target, all I wanted to do as a) run the whole thing and b) enjoy it – I well and truly did both!

I’m still an extreme introvert but, funnily enough, I don’t think I could have achieved the enjoyment aspect without entering an event that involved other people. Lots of people enter with a running club, but I was not alone entering on my own; many individuals gather on the start line but we all set off together with a unified goal in mind – to finish!

Obviously you get the ones that race off, that’s fine, whatever works for them! But the rest of us settled into a steady rhythm with people shuffling up and down the pack gently. For a while I had the pleasure of settling in behind an incredibly tall girl who made each stride look so easy.

The Bath marathon is famous for its “Two Tunnels”, totalling 4kms of renovated railway tunnels, this made for a unique running environment, very cool but a little eerie. As we entered the first there was a little excitement from the runners, we called to each other, enjoying the echo!

As the race continued the runners became more strung out. I slotted in behind a couple of men, one of which was running in barefoot running sandals and having read Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, I couldn’t help but admire his beautifully elegant running style and appreciated the lack of stress he was putting through his body. Again, an absolutely pleasure to run with someone who made running look so natural and easy! The other man was running clutching a massive bag of nuts and raisins – at one point, they discussed their fuelling plans – the barefoot runner produced the tinniest energy bar from his rucksack and said he’d have it about half way around. I loved the simplicity of their plans.

So, here I was, an extreme introvert with multiple reasons why this marathon should not be possible, living out my dream! I was with people, gaining all the benefits of being “out and about” but I didn’t have to interact with any of them if I didn’t want to!

My experience is that at big events, the marshals are incredible, this event was no exception! Some of them had the starting list so they could look up your number as you ran towards them, they’d then cheer you on using your name – a massive motivator when things were feeling tough!

At mile 13 (half way) I was feeling strong, perhaps my concentration dipped a bit, I tripped down a slope, a couple of marshals jumped forward but I managed to catch myself before I hit the deck. It was quite shocking and I jarred my knee but it didn’t feel too serious.

The second half was tough, I knew I was slowing down but as the runners became more and more strung out it occurred to me that I was doing something not everyone can do! I’d trained hard for this and as mile 18 then 19 and 20 passed, I spent short periods of time running on my own; I was used to this in training but then I’d spot a fellow runner or a marshal up ahead and I’d feel spurred on again. I passed the odd person who’d resorted to walking – they were still going which I commend, but I was determined to run it all, it was just what I wanted to do!

Having loved running along the river, reentering the town signalled the end was near. Despite my legs feeling heavy, my hips and my back aching, my heart was singing, I knew I was going to finish!

The finishing straight was surrounded by people, spectators and fellow runners, all there for the purpose of celebrating everyone achievements, the atmosphere was a buzz of positivity.

Even as an extreme introvert, I do see the benefits of spending time with people, the community spirit of running events is fantastic. Looking around at the end, I could tell, people were hurting a lot but it didn’t matter, individually and collectively we’d all achieved something great that day!

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!