The black dog at my heels in 2015

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So I haven’t blogged for about a month. I think this is partly conscious of the fact that the Christmas and new year period is usually my time for a yearly review and I haven’t really wanted to review 2015.

There have definitely been highlights. I have been to some great weddings, caught up with old friends, made some wonderful new friends, work has been challenging in a good way and resulted in my publishing a couple of reports and some great travel experiences. I achieved my resolutions for 2015, in completing my first half marathon (even if it wasn’t quite the triumphant experience I was expecting) and starting writing a novel. The fiancé created and established his own little business that has eased, if not completed alleviated, financial pressures that were stacked against us at the start of the year.

There has been a lot to be grateful for, and I am grateful for the love and opportunities and experiences I have in my life. However this year has also been pretty challenging.

Money issues were a problem for much of the year and although there has always been enough to pay the bills and put food on the table there hasn’t always been a lot to spare beyond that. Having to carefully plan and spread budgets with no flexibility to respond to last minute lunch or drinks invitations, etc. making me probably seem a little unsociable at times has been tough.

Work has been great, and I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to undertake more challenging projects but this additional work came at a cost. For a period of several months I found myself working every evening and most weekends. I was probably averaging an additional two working days of unpaid work on top of my normal working hours every week. Whilst I am happy to roll up my sleeves and put in the extra miles every now and again for intense working periods, trying to maintain these kind of working hours over a prolonged period definitely took its toll. I also used extended work hours as an excuse for eating constant amounts of junk food and energy drinks, whilst these may have helped in the immediacy of what I was doing they also made me feel sluggish, when not under the influence of sugar, and gain a lot of weight.

The results were exhaustion, weight gain and an unsociableness and irritability which I tried, although not always successfully, to keep hidden from my friends and family but there was no hiding from the poor fiancé who had to live with super enjoyable me during this time.

I lacked enthusiasm for previously enjoyable pursuits, including blogging, and used excuses for not indulging in the kinds of activities that would probably have helped, such as exercise and healthy eating. There might not have been so much time for the running before or after work but I could have gone on walks or skated at lunchtimes. I may not have had the funds to buy and time to prepare healthy and tasty food options, not when instant sugar and salt hits are so much more satisfying in the short term, but I probably didn’t have to resort to quick cook pizzas and packs of gummy bears with such enthusiasm.

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For the first time I thought that depression might not just be something that happens to others but something that also happens to me. I remember one distinct thought that led me to this conclusion. For whatever reason I was thinking about the fact I used to want to live by the sea in one of the remoter parts of the UK in Cornwall or Devon and then I dismissed this idea thinking that living in a remote location wouldn’t be practical when we are too old to manage easily by ourselves. I had just dismissed an old dream by imagining away the next 30/40 years of my life in a meaningless flash.

Despite all the love and support I have available to me, when the going gets tough, I don’t so much get going as go into retreat mode. When I can’t see a solution to my problems, on the whole, I don’t like to bring them up with others. If I express a worry and people share that worry then I automatically go into resolution mode and do my best to make sure that person feels reassured and that everything is actually okay despite any appearances to the contrary. This in itself is exhausting, it was easier to just communicate with people less and just vent occasionally to those in the know.

I did eventually mention the way I’d been feeling to a doctor and jokingly asked if there was a magic pill to just make everything better. When actually they spoke of medication options I was pretty tempted, if a little alarmed at how easily available the option seemed to be. I had always assumed medication was a final resort for those who can no longer function, I could function but I felt like I was often acting, pretending to be a happier version of myself so as not to burden others. As I could point to the cause of my stress I didn’t see how medication would be able to help me, it wasn’t going to buy me more time or help me win the lottery, and as the doctor told me it would take a couple of months before it made a difference anyway and I thought there was a good chance that some of those stressors would be relieved in a couple of months I declined the offer.

Even now I am wary about posting this blog and potentially worrying others, I am doing so now because 1) I’m in a better place and don’t need to pretend any more, 2) it is cathartic to do so and 3) it occurs to me that I cannot be the only one who occasionally suffers and that it might be helpful to talk about this openly so that those of us inclined to suffer in silence can perhaps take some solace in thinking that we aren’t alone in this.

To reassure anyone who might be worried – this year is off to a good start! I took a cheaper health insurance option and have used the money saved to join a gym, I’ve cut back on the alcohol and chocolate, work is significantly less intense, and money worries will be a non-issue in a few months when I’ll have paid off a couple of loans. Here’s to a Happy 2016 (and some more lighthearted blog posts in the coming weeks!

From running with butterflies to hobbling with bluebottles

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I signed up for a half marathon this September and I’m keen to complete the distance within the allocated, and quite limited for a beginner, running time. I know half a marathon is a long way and this isn’t something that I can optimistically train for a week or two in advance, so I found a training schedule online and have been determinedly sticking to this.

I’ve been in and around the UK of late, back for a wedding and sticking around for some parental performances (one play and one choral production). However, being away for a prolonged period presented me with two options, either I temporarily suspend training activities or I adapt to my UK environment, bring my running gear with me and find some new running locations.

I chose the latter option and have been experimenting with where to go for my runs. Each week my schedule has me undertake two shorter and one longer run, that gradually increases my distance on a weekly basis. The idea being that by the time I get to half marathon day the idea of 20+km doesn’t induce a heart attack before I even cross the starting line.

Two weeks ago, in the midst of the UK heatwave I started out on my long run of the week. The first few km, were pretty challenging, more so than usual but I think this is partly a psychological thing as I fear that running a further distance each week will be beyond my capabilities. Anyway, after 20 minutes or so I settled into a happy pace.

Past the half way mark, emerging from shaded woodlands in the early morning sunshine, I found myself running along the edge of a field, trying to navigate a way back into the less heat-oppressive woods, when I became conscious of a number of butterflies. At first there were just one or two that seemed to be fluttering along in my direction and then there must have been twenty, flitttering about my head and engulfing me in my own personal cloud of winged supporters. This happened as the wonderfully catchy Andrews Sisters rendition of ‘I don’t want him, you can have him, he’s too fat for me’ came on through the headphones.

I am not sure if it was too much sun to the brain, the ridiculous song, or some sort of butterfly induced hallucination but I started to laugh out loud in what I can only explain as a moment of pure euphoria. It felt as though everything in my life at that very moment, had come together in one wonderful joyous union.

It was just as well I wasn’t running along the main roads and wasn’t currently in sight of any dog walkers as I must have looked like an absolute maniac, padding along with a swarm of butterflies, a huge grin on my face and some very loud outburst of laughter. Had I seen me, I think I’d have nervously hid in the undergrowth until the guffawing lunatic passed on their way, and then quietly called the relevant authorities to resolve the situation.

Last week I prepared for my long run again and as I was staying in a different part of the UK, chose a different route. Even at 9am it was roasting and regretablly the route I had chosen offered almost nothing in the way of relief from the sun and, although it was a designated walking path through the countryside, mostly it was running in a straight surrounded by similar looking hedges so the route was pretty dull.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 14.42.39After my first 2km the running app suddenly got confused and decided to add an extra 12 minutes to the next km and promptly threw my average running time off kilter so I no longer had any idea if I was maintaining pace, speeding up or slowing down. The blisters that had gradually been getting worse since I started longer distance runs (with some fairly old trainers) held their designated plasters in place for the first 6k before promptly giving up, wandering down my socks and agonisingly exposing already damaged skin to the hard impact of running. I hobbled on for a bit longer, suddenly found a lot of flies chasing me and some bastard insect bit me. I decided enough was enough and cut my losses for the day.

As I had been running a straight route, planning to double back and run the remainder of the course at half way point, when I decided to give up was a good 6km from where I started. I limped back for a couple of kilometers until I reached a point where I could get my mum to rescue me in the car. This was my worst run since I started training.

But running is like that, sometime it is wonderful and you can fill full of ecstatic joy as your legs pump along the countryside swirling up endorphins and beautiful swathes of butterflies and then other days it just seems that everything, yourself included, works against you and you cannot emerge from the funk of a depressing and painful run.

The good thing about having committed to the half marathon though is that although I have leave to allow myself a week to recover and heal those blisters I cannot indulge in the temptation of giving up completely and will have to relace my new (and therefore obvioulsy blister resistant) trainers and hit the trails again soon. Hopefully the next run will be an endorphin blasting confidence booster that convinces me there’s nothing I want to do more than just keep going and if not I’ll have to just glue myself to my run schedule until I can convince myself I enjoy this exercise malarky again!

Ten reasons to be a secret exercise fanatic

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1. If you exercise in the morning, even if you only spend 30 seconds attempting to do five push-ups, you get to feel really smug that not only did you manage to get out of bed 30 seconds earlier than you absolutely had to, but you can assume most other people around you haven’t done this. Don’t talk to anyone about it though or it might turn out they are secret exercise junkies too and will pop your endorphin fuelled ego as effectively as scissors taken to a balloon.

2. Getting sweaty and being gross is sort of pleasurable in instances where you can legitimately acknowledge and enjoy the feeling. Going outside with greasy hair that hasn’t been washed for a week is frowned upon, whereas untying a post-jog sweat-soaked ponytail to find the hairstyle stays up all of it’s own accord is a badge of honour!

3. Wearing comfortable clothes. If I were to go to the shops in a scrotty t-shirt covered in paint from three house moves ago and in muddy sweatpants with a hole in the knee I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the face, but going out in this super comfortable, if wholly unattractive, gear is positively encouraged if you are exercising.

4. You can surprise people. You can be sat in the bar after book club, tucking into your third pint, and casually come out with ‘I’m a runner’ and then sit back and enjoy watching people try to disguise their slightly offensive surprise face (only works if you don’t have the average physique of an athlete).

5. Being a secret exercise fanatic is a bit like being a member of an exclusive cult (you know, not the kind where they let anyone with a fetish for duck themed hat wear in but the fancy kind you’re not really sure if it actually exists or not). When you come across another closet workout enthusiast and discover each other’s secret you will share a bond for life, which will only be ruined if you actually discuss mutual physical activity and discover one of you is far superior to the other. Better to just find out you both like exercise and occasionally throw out a quick ‘go for a run today?’ and give each other a sly nod in passing.

secret exercise nod - bp image6. Running isn’t easy, there are times when I huff and puff and wish the world would end after less than 30 seconds of actual movement, but it does get a bit better over time. It is satisfying to know that the me of today could run rings round the me of six months ago. Although actually that might still make today me pretty dizzy, but I could beat six-months ago me in a race. Probably.

7. No pain no gain. I wouldn’t advocate properly overdoing it and crippling yourself for the next week or so but there is something rather pleasant about being able to feel a gentle ache across muscles irregularly used the day after exercising.

8. Some people will try to tell you exercise is good for your health, will make you lose weight, live longer blah-de-blah, but this is all irrelevant nonsense to the simple truth that exercise only exists to remove junk-food fuelled guilt! I like to think of exercise as balancing out those terrible unhealthy life choices I stubbornly plan to give up (I’m sorry but chocolate just tastes too good!). Think of half an hour’s run as carte blanche to eat an entire family sized bag of crisps and/or a tub of ben and jerry’s ice cream and ignore anyone who tries to tell you otherwise

9. Novel ways to hurt yourself. If you are a bit of a clutz like me, you will often find yourself covered in bruises or with twisted limbs for no particular reason, this is both painful and quite frustrating. But if, whilst running, you twist an ankle tripping over a tree root, fall over trying to dodge a dog or scalp your knees careering into the tarmac of a busy  carriageway you will most likely remember the cause of your injury much more vividly. It will also be a lot easier to simply explain ‘I hurt myself exercising’ than bringing up any of the more embarrassing details.

10. If you are good at one particular exercise you can feel superior to anyone else that isn’t as good as you at that particular thing. I joined the rowing club at university and was taught how to use rowing machines properly. Every single time I go to the gym I check out other people’s rowing form and if they don’t know how to do it properly I feel infinitely superior. This feeling of superiority remains undaunted even if said individual is simultaneously half the size of me and yet capable of lifting weights twice the size of me. Whatever. I can still row better than they can.