Hope 24 2021

I’m so sorry I haven’t blogged in ages! Been having a lot of sleep and energy issues recently and sleeping more than I’m awake, and haven’t had the motivation to do much writing. I’ve started a few posts and not finished them, and I really am going to try to keep up with blogging more…

Last weekend was Hope24, which is my favourite running event of the year. It takes place in Newnham Park near Plymouth and it’s all trail running, across a field and through woods and it’s so scenic. Every lap is five miles and you can set a tent up near the start/finish line to keep food etc, or to have a sleep. The atmosphere is amazing and the organisers are incredible. Such an awesome event!

I was a bit nervous going into the run because I haven’t been running much recently as I’ve been sleeping so much and had no energy. I’d also run London to Brighton a few weeks ago which was horrible- so, so hard both mentally and physically and I wasn’t sure another ultramarathon was a good idea. But I love Hope and didn’t want to miss my favourite race so I went ahead with it. I made sure I had lots of sleep the night before and stocked up on electrolyte tablets with caffeine to try to stay awake during the run!

The first lap wasn’t too eventful but was HARD. I genuinely think my body has forgotten how to run- even when I try to make running movements, it’s like forcing my body through sludge and I’m slower than if I were walking. At the end of the first lap, a guy I know asked why I wasn’t running and my reply was “I am!”; my running speed was so, so slow and I couldn’t go any faster. London to Brighton was the same and it’s so frustrating to consistently get overtaken by walkers. But I was determined to run as much as I could however slowly I was going.

Mentally, the race was really, really tough. I’m having a lot of issues with obsessive and distressing thoughts at the moment and it was really hard to distract from them. I tried everything I could think of- DBT skills like observing and describing my surroundings, turning the mind, radical acceptance (which I still can’t get my head around and which I’m planning a blog post about), half smiling, thought blocking, imagining thoughts on a conveyor belt, thinking of thoughts as firings of the brain… I even tried listening to Blackadder in the hope that laughing would help! But nothing seemed to make any difference, and it got worse as the race went on.

The scenery was amazing though and describing it (out loud) did help to distract a bit even though the thoughts came back as soon as I stopped. The route was so nice- up a hill and through some trees, over a field and up another hill, a long downhill through the woods then up the other side. No bluebells this time of year but there were foxgloves and thistles.

After 20 miles, I stopped for a coffee break as well as the caffeine tablets because I was starting to get really tired by that point. Had a cereal bar and a ten minute rest, then back to the running. I had a ‘photography lap’ where I took some more photos then it started to rain so I had to put my phone away.

By the evening, I was completely exhausted and finding the obsessive thoughts really, really hard to manage. I was also feeling upset and angry which didn’t help, and having a lot of negative urges. It had also started to rain which got heavier as the night went on, and by midnight the trail had turned to rivers of mud and it was really hard to run without falling over, especially when you’re already totally distracted and feeling horrible. At about 1am, I stopped to get more coffee and some food, and waited for the rain to ease off which ended up being two hours later by which time I’d tried to quit then asked for my timing chip back!

At 3am, the rain was more drizzly than deluge so I headed back out again. To be honest, I can’t remember much of the night apart from feeling really upset, crying a lot and lots of obsessive thoughts. When it got light, the rain was on and off which, along with the light, helped a bit but by 7am I couldn’t deal with the thoughts any more and decided to stop. It was the right decision, I think- I was so tired I couldn’t see straight and things were moving that shouldn’t be, and I felt horrible. So I handed my timing chip in and got my medal.

Once I got back to the B+B, I slept all day until 6.30pm, briefly tried to watch the F1 but fell asleep partway through and slept till 6am the next morning. Drove home and had DBT, then fell asleep again for the rest of the day! So I think it really was the right decision to stop. I feel rubbish about it though :/ it’s the first time I haven’t finished a 24 hour race and I feel like I should have been able to complete it. But I’ve realised that the people who keep telling me that I’m not well enough for ultrarunning are right- physically I don’t have the energy and mentally I can’t deal with the extended thinking time. But it’s yet another reason to fully commit to DBT and trying to recover!

(More) thoughts about ED recovery

A couple of weeks ago, a friend recommended a documentary about anorexia by Louis Theroux and tonight I finally got round to watching it, which got me thinking a lot more about eating disorders in general and particularly about recovery and what it actually means.  I realised that apart from a few specific posts (21/05/07: probably the most significant day of my life.  Reflections a decade on…, the diary entry posts I wrote around that time and ED stereotypes), I haven’t really written many posts directly about eating disorders although they’ve come into a lot of my other posts.  I’m not really sure why; I think it’s partly because I’ve had it so long that it kind of seems like a part of me instead of an actual ‘illness’ but also partly because I’m still not comfortable talking openly about it to many people and it makes me feel really guilty and uncomfortable.  It’s not exactly a secret- more the opposite really and most people who know me just accept it as part of who I am so it’s not really an outside issue a lot of the time especially since my weight’s high.  I think most people would be more shocked if I actually ate ‘real’ food or in front of them rather than it being a problem that I don’t!  But I can’t see that happening anytime soon (or ever) so I have no idea what would actually happen if I did.

The documentary was interesting but I found it hard to watch and cried through a lot of it (although to be honest, I’m crying at pretty much anything atm so that’s not necessarily a reflection on the programme).  The first (and v superficial) part was that it made me realise that I am SO FUCKING FAT which obviously I knew already since I see my body every day and I know what the scales say but seeing that amount of really thin people made it even more obvious and (horribly) I was really, really jealous.  Since I’ve been on medication (particularly antipsychotics), I’ve gained A LOT of weight and even more since I started running longer distances because ironically you train your body to store fat as fuel which combined with the medications means that I’m over my target weight and have been for years apart from a few months last year when I came off the medication and lost most of the weight again, which went straight back on when I restarted the meds.  HATE it so, so much and especially hate feeling selfish, greedy and disgusting all the time and that it shows in my body.  But I can run further and for longer without getting black in front of my eyes or passing out so there are some positives. And much as I hate the medication, it does help to keep my moods more stable so can’t really complain too much.

The other really weird bit of the documentary was that it was based in Phoenix Wing at St Ann’s in London which was where I was outpatient for a year when I lived in London. So that was a bit surreal and weird to watch!  I could relate to a lot of it which felt very weird because I haven’t been inpatient since 2007 but it didn’t seem like much had changed except that they were allowed to go into their ward rounds (we had to submit requests then wait for the outcome), they were allowed home leave before getting to target weight (one year, I wasn’t even allowed home on Christmas even though I’d been there for months by that point) and their supervision was half an hour after meals instead of an hour.  Apart from that, the structure and lack of freedom seemed pretty much the same although he said that the average admission was four months which seemed a bit short to me but maybe the programme was different?

The documentary was based alternately on four different women who had had eating disorders for various amounts of time.  One girl had only had it for a year and her story seemed the most positive- by the end, she said she was determined not to go back in and she seemed to see herself as ‘recovering’ although I’m still not sure what that actually means.  The story I identified with most was with a girl who was on her eighth admission because I could see how frustrated she was with the whole process and going round in circles.  Even though I haven’t been inpatient in 12 years, I’m still on and off under ED services and I genuinely don’t know what recovery actually is or how you get there.  One girl was under a section and the ED service weren’t even aiming for ‘full recovery’ with her although they still didn’t say what that actually is!

The last story was about a woman who’d had anorexia for 40 years and was still an outpatient, and I could relate to a lot of what she said too.  She cut through the psychological stuff and said that it was basically about not wanting to grow up, and there’s a lot of me that can relate to that too.  I’m not really into the deep psychological reasons or any of that, but I know my ED started the year after my periods did and a lot of it as a teenager was related to trying to stop my periods and especially the intense mood swings and obsessions that came with them.  I’ve never experienced sexual attraction but I’m not sure how much of that is related to not wanting to if that makes sense and actively trying to stop sexual development through losing weight and stopping periods- I’ve never had proper regular periods because I’ve always tried to stop them and now I take the combined pill every day without the ‘break’ so I don’t have them at all.  But then it’s more complicated because of autism which is a developmental delay and makes you feel younger than you are anyway and because of BPD which also makes you feel like a child and emotionally immature so I have no idea what comes from what.  The psychiatrist I saw at the ED service recently said that he thought my ED came from having BPD but the other psychiatrist I’m seeing at the community mental health team doesn’t agree so I have no bloody clue and to be honest, I don’t really care what comes from what, I just want rid of it all or at least to be able to manage better!

The thing I found really frustrating about the documentary is that it only focussed on ‘classic’ restrictive anorexia and not other forms such as binge/purge subtype or atypical anorexia which are equally common and dangerous although more complicated and probably make less interesting TV.  I’ve had all of those types of anorexia at various points since I was 13 and ironically the restrictive type was the easiest to manage by far- it’s a lot easier to ‘just not eat’ than it is to balance starving, bingeing, throwing up, exercise and try to seem relatively ‘normal’.  I was actually healthiest when I had restrictive anorexia because I wasn’t doing ridiculous things to my body and metabolism, my weight was low but I didn’t have the energy to over-exercise, I wasn’t throwing up so my electrolytes were relatively OK and the worst physical symptom I had was passing out when I got up too fast.  Annoyingly after a few years, just restricting wasn’t enough to manage the intense emotions and obsessions which kept coming back so other symptoms started and that’s a LOT harder to manage and genuinely does make you feel like a total freak and a failure for not being able to manage it properly.

My current diagnosis is ‘atypical anorexia’ because my weight is high and it’s a lot more about the food and eating/not eating than it is about particular weights.  For me, it’s never been about body image- I hate how I look and I look fat even at my lowest weight, and I don’t use mirrors anyway (even when I was inpatient and had to have one in my room for ‘body image’ work, I hid it in the wardrobe and gave it to another patient who actually wanted one).  I want to be a lower weight because I know that under a certain weight, the intensity of my obsessions gets less and because it’s easier to rationalise being selfish, greedy and lazy when you know you’re at a low weight because you logically CAN’T be even though your brain still tries to tell you that you are.  Plus being a higher weight and still having ED issues makes you feel like a massive failure in so many different ways!

I still find it hard to eat anything that isn’t ‘safe’ (ie porridge, low fat soup or salad) and can’t eat in front of people but I really, really want to change that.  I hate that every Christmas, I can’t eat Christmas dinner at the same time as the rest of my family even if it is different food or that I have to make excuses at school for never eating anything.  Even if I was interested in anyone, I’d never be able to go on a date with them because I wouldn’t be able to eat in front of them.  I also still have the constant ED ‘voice’ all the time and I can’t imagine ever not having it- it’s scary to think of because even though I hate feeling rubbish and guilty all the time, it does help to keep me ‘safe’ and less selfish than I would be without it. The other problem is that I have a lot of guilt and anxiety all the time anyway (physically- it’s in my chest and stomach all the time) and that gets a lot worse when I eat pretty much anything which makes it really hard to even think about changing or varying what I eat. But there’s a part of me that really, really does want to :/ one of the things the documentary mentioned that is absolutely true is how much of a paradox anorexia is- there really is two parts of your brain that are constantly arguing and it’s EXHAUSTING.

I still don’t really know what recovery from an eating disorder ‘is’, and the documentary didn’t really help with that.  When I was an inpatient, the focus was on getting to target weight and learning to stabilise there but that isn’t the answer for everyone or even for most people I think.  I’m at target weight and have been mostly for years, but the ED part of me is stronger now than it was when I was a lower weight (because then you feel safer and ironically can eat a bit more), and it seems to be getting worse as I get older.  It’s also hard because in a lot of ways, I don’t really feel like an adult and one of the doctors in the documentary talked about that- she said that if you’ve had an ED for a long time, you’re following its rules all the time and you miss out on ‘normal’ development in the ‘real world’ and I can really relate to that.  I’ve never done the ‘normal’ teenage or young adult stuff like going out and drinking (I always say I just didn’t want to drink- the real reason is that alcohol has too many empty calories), eating with friends or even socialising much because so much of my life is structured around mealtimes.  Even now, I can only meet people at specific times because if I miss a mealtime, I can’t eat for the rest of the day.  Plus when you’re with people, at least 75% of your brain is taken up already with ED thoughts or obsessions and that’s hard for other people to deal with I think even though obviously they can’t see into your brain.

I think for me, recovery would be feeling ‘safer’ and more comfortable both with my body and around eating food in general.  I really do want to have a more varied diet but it would have to come from someone other than me- I’ve tried so many times before but the guilt and anxiety are way too intense, and I kind of need someone to just tell me what to eat so it’s not my choice and to have consequences if I don’t stick to it.  But ED services don’t work like that any more :/ I did ask when I had the assessment the other week but he said that they want to promote choice and independence which is fine when you haven’t had an ED that long but if you’ve had it 19 years, choice is bloody terrifying!!  I really do want to ‘recover’ (whatever that means) but it’s so bloody hard and I’ve been trying on my own for years.  Feel like I’m just going in circles and that makes you feel more trapped which then makes the ED voice stronger and safer :/ really want to break the cycle somehow but I have no idea how.

It really was an interesting documentary and worth watching if you’re interested but be aware if you have or have had an ED- it does focus on low weight anorexia and can be a bit triggering, so please be careful!!  I’m glad I watched it though; it really did make me feel even more determined never to be an inpatient again and it was kind of a relief to realise that there are other people who also have long term EDs so I’m not *too* much of a failure.  Am also even more determined now to find out what recovery from chronic ED actually ‘is’ and how to get there…

Another weirdly positive psychiatrist appointment!

Sorry if this blog post doesn’t make a lot of sense- am currently feeling overwhelmed and totally exhausted but wanted to try to get some thoughts down before it all turns to mush!  I had an assessment today at the eating disorder service where I was inpatient from 2005-2007 and outpatient until 2010 which I was really, really nervous about beforehand but actually went surprisingly well.  Trying to get my brain into some sort of sense atm so if it seems a bit jumbled, I’m really sorry!  Haven’t been feeling great over the last few weeks and have had a lot of negatives thoughts/urges which have been really hard not to act on and my brain is pretty much total fuzz most of the time.

Was so, so nervous before the assessment- apart from visiting a friend a few months ago (which was also really weird and I found hard to deal with), I haven’t been back to the unit for nearly 10 years and it felt really strange going there this morning.  I was also extra-nervous because I’ve had a lot of contact with doctors over the last couple of weeks  because of feeling rubbish and spent a night in A+E last week which the doctor said he would pass on to the psychiatrist so I was a bit worried about what sort of impression I was going to make.

I decided to walk into town (about an hour and a half) in the hope that I’d calm down a bit before getting there but was still really shaky and feeling sick by the time I got there.  It took three loops of the road to actually get to the door and my brain was completely fuzzy by then- when I was filling in the forms in the waiting room, I kept getting spellings wrong including my own name!  Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long and the psychiatrist took me to a room which I’d thankfully not been in before because I think that would have been way too weird.

It was a new psychiatrist who I hadn’t seen before but I’d heard about him from a friend who also sees him, and he was really nice.  He had my notes from last time which was a big relief because I didn’t have to start totally from scratch, and he actually seemed to listen when I was answering the questions.  The initial assessment took nearly two hours then had to go for ECG and blood tests, then back for physical obs and a chat about the outcome of the assessment- LONG day and was absolutely exhausted afterwards but hopefully worth it.

The assessment was really, really thorough and so different to ED assessments I’ve had before.  He didn’t give me any screening questionnaires or quizzes to fill it (which was a definite relief because I HATE them and usually end up annotating them so I don’t come across as completely hopeless) and just asked lots of questions.  It wasn’t all about ED thoughts/behaviours either which was another big relief because most of what I’ve been struggling with recently is more mood-related and negative urges, and he kind of linked everything together which again was really positive compared to the really frustrating ‘boxes’ approach that I’ve experienced a million times before where ED doctors only talk about ED symptoms and other psychiatrists won’t talk about ED-related issues and usually I’d just get told that it’s all autism-related anyway.  But it wasn’t like that at all and he even seemed to ‘get’ what I was trying to say when I couldn’t find the right words to describe it!

ECG and blood tests went OK- my veins are rubbish so as usual, it took several tries, butterfly needles and dizziness before actually getting any blood but for once I didn’t faint which was a big relief!  Then back over the the unit for physical obs.  The results of the ECG were slightly abnormal so I have to go back for a ‘heart echo’ and have 24 hours wearing a heart strap which I’m a bit nervous about but my ECGs are often a bit weird so wasn’t too worried about it.  Physical obs were fine; I get a bit nervous about people being that close to my body and it must have showed because the doctor started talking about random stuff to distract me and it turns out he used to watch Bad Girls which is the TV show I’ve been obsessed with since I was 13 and is currently the only thing that seems to work to distract from negative urges!

After the physical checks, I had to see the psychiatrist who assessed me along with the consultant to discuss the outcomes.  Looking at it at first, it wasn’t anything earth-shatteringly different from what I’ve had before but the wording IS different which completely changes my treatment plan which is kind of a big deal.  He gave me a formal diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and atypical anorexia, and said that he is going to refer me to a dietician and for dialectical behaviour therapy.  The main difference is that he thinks the ED is part of the “bigger picture” of BPD whereas before, ED and autism have always been the ‘main issues’.  I’ve had BPD mentioned several times before (most recently at another relatively positive psychiatrist assessment: Positive psychiatrist appointments actually exist!!) but always as ‘traits’ instead of a formal diagnosis.  Having an diagnosis of it as the primary issue means that I can actually get specialised treatment for it which is a MASSIVE relief because for me, it’s the extreme moods, fixations on people, paranoia and suicidal thoughts/urges which are the hardest to deal with and I really do want help to learn to manage them.

I’m still trying to process it properly and am feeling v overwhelmed at the moment- overall, it took nearly 5 hours and was completely exhausted afterwards, but feeling strangely positive about it and especially about being able to access dietician support and DBT.  Even though my weight’s ‘normal’ thanks to medication side effects, I still find it hard to vary my diet outside of porridge and soup, binge on fruit most nights and can’t eat in front of people or outside of ‘set’ times which I really, really want to work on.  I’ve been teaching myself DBT skills for years now but it’s really hard to put in into practice on your own and I’m really hoping that being able to access it properly will help.

I fell asleep as soon as I got in from the assessment because I was so exhausted after it but this evening has been the first time in weeks that I’ve actually felt motivated enough to do something other than watch Bad Girls (again) or just lie on my bed feeling rubbish which has been most of my summer holidays so far.  So I’ve actually written a whole blog post (!), semi-cleaned my kitchen and going to try to stay up till at least 10pm instead of taking sleeping tablets so I can go to bed at 8pm which is what I’ve been doing over the last few weeks because evenings have been horrible and so hard to deal with.  Trying to keep hold of the positive feelings and really hoping it’ll last…!

Positive psychiatrist appointments actually exist!!

This is a bit of a random post because it’s not based around any particular ‘theme’ or event (although to be honest, not many of my recent posts have been!) but thought it was worth a blog post anyway because for me, it’s pretty massively significant. On Monday, I had an assessment appointment with a new psychiatrist which I was really nervous about and not expecting much from it (usually I just get told that because of autism, they can’t help). Amazingly, it was a weirdly positive appointment!! She was very direct and honest which I need, and ridiculously thorough to the point that the appointment took nearly two hours and she’s making another one to finish it off.

The most amazing thing was that she actually didn’t just write everything off as autism- she thinks that personality traits (specifically ’emotionally unstable personality disorder’ AKA borderline personality disorder) are more of an issue at the moment and wants me to read up about it more before the next appointment. AND she’s willing to actually work with me on it!! WOW. Have been reading about it and literally it’s like someone read my brain. So weird and amazing to read about other people experiencing the same sort of thing and to have an actual, real ‘reason’ for feeling the way I do.

This book in particular is amazing:

It’s a really detailed and well-written ‘guide’ to BPD and writes in detail about all the different symptoms, thought processes and behaviours without judging or sounding overly negative or stigmatised about it which a lot of the articles I’ve read have been. It actually made me cry to read it because it made so much bloody sense. Even obsessions, being too ‘intense’ and issues with keeping friendships! I could literally quote half the book in this post but am going to focus on a few pages that I found really, really useful.

This page is incredible. It sort of links to something a friend said to me a while ago that you can’t ‘get rid’ of obsessions or extreme emotions, you just need to learn to manage them and this book explains it in such an amazingly positive way. And it even says that learning to manage the intense feelings will eventually mean that they are less intense which would be an absolute miracle!! Having had 19 years of feeling like I’m never going to be able to deal with it, it really seems like an unreachable goal but definitely one I’m willing to work bloody hard to achieve. Honestly, if I ever manage to be able to deal with intense feelings and obsessions, I think my life would be relatively good and I’d be ‘normal'(ish). New life goal!!

There’s even an actual link to eating disorders in the book! And the really amazing thing about it is that I can totally relate to how it links BPD and ED, much more than I can relate to most ED-specific books or articles. For me, it’s always been about managing extreme emotions and obsessions- low enough weights actually stop them completely which was why I was desperate as a teenager to lose weight. The main reason I binge isn’t for the actual ‘binge’ part; it’s because throwing up helps to shift the intense vertigo-y vacuum inside my stomach. Apart from exercise, that’s the only thing that actually helps with it and gives me a sense of relative calm.

Similar to above, restricting your diet can make you feel calmer and more in control. I can relate absolutely to this page and although i know it’s stereotypical ‘ED’ to be about control, mine has always been more about not eating certain foods or food groups than the weight itself. That came later and only because I realised it stopped intense feelings and obsessions.

The hardest part of the whole autism/BPD mix for me is making, keeping and managing social relationships. I lose A LOT of friends from being too ‘intense’ and I’m constantly scared that people are annoyed or upset with me, find me too annoying, boring or clingy, or don’t want to be friends with me any more. It’s bloody hard not to keep texting friends to check and I used to do that a lot, which would lead to friends asking me not to contact them any more. Now, I’m a lot more aware of it and it really is a relief to read that other people experience the exact same thing and I’m not just a paranoid, intense, horrible person. I can also relate to wanting to just give up on friendships completely but the intense loneliness is too hard to deal with. Makes you feel like you’re trapped in a cycle of paranoia and loneliness that you can’t escape from. But this book says that this is one of the symptoms which you can learn to manage through DBT and awareness which seems too good to be true but am DEFINITELY willing to try…

The last page I’m going to talk about is about self harm. When I read this, I had to re-read it because it described exactly the thoughts and urges I experience on a regular basis. It honestly is an intense self-directed anger and hatred that makes you want to literally scrape your skin off and rip out your flesh which gets channelled into cutting or hitting depending on the situation. When it’s overly intense, it can get to the point where you want to disappear or not exist which can lead to (for me anyway) overdose of medication but I always end up throwing it up ten minutes later because I don’t actually want to ‘die’, just not exist or more specifically, for the intense feelings to not exist. It’s like wanting to kill a very specific part of you (I’ve been calling her ‘borderline bitch’) which I hate and would do anything to get rid of.

The other really positive aspect of the appointment is that I’m changing medication!! Coming of quetiapine which has caused horrible side effects and increasing aripiprazole to make up for it. Really, really hoping it helps!! Anyway, would DEFINITELY recommend this book to anyone who has, knows anyone who has or is interested in BPD/EUPD- it’s an incredible book 🙂

Comfortableness and Chaos

This is a bit of a weird post but it’s something that a few people have mentioned to me recently and I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  It’s not a particularly easy topic to write about so sorry in advance if this post makes even less sense than my recent blog posts have done but I think it’s important to address and try to process properly.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend brought up the idea of ‘enjoying’ having mental health issues.  My first thought was ‘no fucking way!’- it’s bloody horrible having part of your brain that constantly criticises you and tells you what you should/shouldn’t be thinking or doing to the point where it’s so confusing and exhausting that you have no idea what ‘you’ think or feel any more, and I really hate feeling ‘too much’, intense and obsessive all the time.  But there is a (really guilty) part of me that does feel sort of ‘comfortable’ with rules and criticisms which are often easier to follow than trying to work out what’s expected in ‘real life’ and it definitely feels safer with something keeping you in line, limiting greed or selfishness and (to an extent) you know where you stand with it even if the parameters and rules keep shifting.

Around the same time, another friend asked me if I ‘liked’ the chaos of intense emotions and relationships which is something I really struggle with but is ironically something I seem to be drawn to as well- I do become obsessive about pretty much anything I’m interested in and I know I have to regulate myself a lot with any sort of social relationship because I can become too clingy or intense without realising it, and often it’s with similar types of people which can lead to very intense and volatile friendships which usually don’t last very long.  But I think the two things kind of link- to an extent (and I hate admitting this), the ‘chaos’ is also kind of comfortable because once it’s at that point, you know it won’t get any more intense and you know what you’re dealing with whereas ‘normal’ friendships are a lot more confusing and hard to manage because you’re constantly scared of becoming too intense or annoying without realising it and the other person not wanting to be friends any more.  This is something I’ve been working on A LOT over the last few years and *touch wood* I seem to be a lot more able to make actual friendships (rather than one-way annoyingness) than I used to be although it’s still pretty new and I’m still really nervous about messing it up.

I think I can say for certain that I definitely don’t ‘enjoy’ having mental health issues- yes, there are aspects that are ‘safer’ or feel more comfortable but overall there are way more negative aspects that I’d do basically anything to change or get rid of. I don’t like diagnoses because I think they’re limited and limiting but if I could wake up tomorrow and not have autism or personality disorder traits, I’d be willing to change anything to achieve it and I really am trying even if it doesn’t seem like it. I know everyone has aspects of life that are difficult and that life is never perfect but it’s the intensity of it that I hate and how it impacts on other people as well as just me.

Of Mice and Men- thoughts and reflections

Sorry for not keeping up with massively regular blog posts 😦 been feeling v negative and rubbish over the last couple of weeks and haven’t had anything particularly positive to write about, and since this is meant to be a constructive (and honest) recovery blog there didn’t seem much point in writing about feeling horrible and down.  It’s nothing major, just end of term rubbishness and a build up of feeling lonely and negative which I’m definitely working on but taking more time than I’d hoped.

I know this is going to seem like a bit of a random blog post but we’ve been reading Of Mice and Men with Year 9 at school over the last couple of months and I’ve found it really hard to read and talk about with the kids, and it’s got to the point where I feel rubbish for the rest of the day every time I’m in Year 9 English so I wanted to try to think more about it and process it so that next time we do it in class (this time next year), it hopefully won’t be as much of an issue.  Plus I think it’s been adding to the general feeling rubbish recently which I really don’t like so want to try to work out why and how I can manage that better given that it really is just a fictional book!  Quick disclaimer: I am going to talk about the whole book so spoiler alert if you haven’t read it and MASSIVE trigger alert for anyone affected by learning difficulties, autism or emotion regulation issues.

I read it for the first time last year when we studied it in class with the kids.  It’s an easyish story to follow- set in 1930s America, there are two main characters called George and Lennie who work on a ranch to try to save enough money to get their own farm.  George is a sharp, smart man whose ultimate goal is to own his own farm and live off the land and his friend/travelling companion Lennie who has a type of learning disability (it’s never really explained) and who is absolutely, 100% loyal and devoted to George.  George protects Lennie; Lennie would do anything for George.  But Lennie also finds it hard to recognise, manage and control his own emotions which is ultimately what gets him into trouble even though he doesn’t recognise it at the time.  At the end of the book, Lennie gets into so much trouble that he is going to be lynched by the men on the ranch so George shoots him in the back of the head (without him realising) as an act of kindness and to save him from a much more painful death.

When we read it last year, there were lots of bits of the book that got to me- Lennie accidentally killing small animals by petting them too hard (made me feel really guilty), Candy’s dog getting shot because he was old, Lennie being left out because he didn’t have the same ‘urges’ as the other men (they go into town to play cards, drink and pick up women leaving Lennie behind), Lennie hurting Curley without meaning to because Curley provoked him and building up to the end of the book which is genuinely traumatic to read and makes me feel like someone’s physically punched me in the stomach and is twisting my insides into vertigo.  Even though I know what’s coming, it’s still a visceral feeling and makes me shake and my eyes sting, and it’s hard not to cry even though I know I can’t in front of a class of 14 year olds.

In the last couple of scenes, Lennie is approached by Curley’s wife who is a seductive, lonely woman and who invites Lennie to stroke her hair.  Lennie likes soft things and strokes it.  I can’t remember all the details because I avoid reading this part of the book as much as possible (one teacher I work with is amazing and always warns me when we’re reading this part of the book so I can do work somewhere else for that lesson) but basically she shouts at him to stop, Lennie panics and holds tighter, he tries to stop her shouting but she’s trying to get away and he accidentally breaks her neck.  Then he runs and hides in the brush (near the river) because that’s where George told him to hide and wait if he got into trouble.  George hears about what has happened and goes to find Lennie.  He knows that if the men on the ranch find him first, they will rip him to pieces so he makes the decision to shoot Lennie himself in a humane way so that Lennie won’t suffer or even know anything about it.

Last year, the bit that got to me the most was Lennie accidentally killing Curley’s wife- he genuinely didn’t mean to and he was actually trying to AVOID trouble at the time.  He told her repeatedly to leave him alone and that he wasn’t meant to be talking to her but she kept on talking to him, and finally he lost control completely which really, really wasn’t his fault.  It’s hard when you know that a situation isn’t safe and you need to escape but you can’t- it’s a horrible feeling and the more trapped you feel, the worse it gets and something builds up inside you until eventually you ‘snap’ and can’t control it any more, and it really is like an ‘animal’ urge takes over.  I used to get like that a lot when I had more regular meltdowns and it really is horrible- you don’t really remember much about the actual experience but it’s horrible and exhausting.  All I know is that I’m suddenly screaming, sweating massively, crying, pulling my hair out, banging my head against the door/cupboard/floor, biting or scratching myself or ANYTHING to try to get rid of the crazy intense emotion that seems to have taken over completely.

The only way to get rid of it is for the other person to leave you alone completely but that hardly ever happens and it’s genuinely horrible because you can’t speak or express anything coherently, and you know you’re acting totally irrationally but nothing seems to make sense.  Thankfully I don’t experience it much any more but it still happens occasionally and I really, really hate it.  That’s how I’m guessing Lennie felt at the time when he accidentally killed Curley’s wife, and the really horrible thing is that I can imagine how easily it could happen- I’m a 5 foot 4 relatively small woman who’s not that strong but Lennie in the book is described as massive and very strong, so I can see completely how easy it would have been for that to happen if he felt trapped and panicky.  And I also know how horrible and guilty I feel after having a meltdown and that must have been multiplied a million times for Lennie, especially as he’s worried he’s going to lose his only friend who means more to him than absolutely anything else.  So it’s a really, really horrible part of the book to read.

Weirdly when we read it this time, it was actually the next scene that got to me the most. When Lennie’s waiting in the brush, he starts to hallucinate and the visions he sees and hears are horrible, negative and critical.  It’s like his version of the ‘bitch in my head’ and some of the things they say are almost word for word what the bitch in my head says (and is saying on a pretty much hourly basis atm), and that was really surreal and hard to read.  The line that gets to me the most and that I can’t get out of my head atm is when the giant rabbit that Lennie hallucinates keeps telling him that George is going to leave him.  This is the quote from the book:

“Well, he’s sick of you,” said the rabbit. “He’s gonna beat hell outa you an’ then go away an’ leave you.”

“He won’t,” Lennie cried frantically. “He won’t do nothing like that. I know George. Me an’ him travels together.”

But the rabbit repeated softly over and over, “He gonna leave you, ya crazy bastard. He gonna leave ya all alone. He gonna leave ya, crazy bastard.”

Just typing it makes me cry and I’ve got mega vertigo even thinking about it.  Because it’s so bloody true, and I know it’s not just people with learning disabilities who can relate to that.  I know I’m not the easiest person in the world to be friends with- I’m too intense, clingy, overly sensitive and even though I try not to act on it, people always get fed up with me and I hardly ever manage to keep close friends because of being too ‘much’.  I lost my closest friend a couple of years ago (wrote a few blog posts about it last year- see Friendships and mindfulness and TOO MUCH EMOTION especially) and since then I’ve realised that it’s pretty much impossible to form and keep close friendships because I’m always going to lose them, which is horrible and hard to accept but it’s definitely safer to recognise and try to accept it than keep losing friendships that I’ve accidentally got too attached to.  But even though I can recognise that, it doesn’t stop it hurting and definitely doesn’t stop the paranoia about it which is particularly intense atm because of losing another close relationship a few months ago, and reading Lennie’s hallucinations which basically mirror my own ‘voices’ and paranoia was a bit too intense and surreal, especially as I’m already feeling more vertigo-y and rubbish than I was this time last year.

The other part of the ending of the novel that really got to my both last year and this year is George shooting Lennie.  Last year, it got to me because of the more obvious reason- however ‘kind’ the action is, Lennie is being killed because he is ‘too much’ and can’t manage his own emotions, and I could identify with that way too much.  When I read it for the first time last year, it made me feel rubbish and horrible because of feeling like I wasn’t good enough, people were fed up with me and it would be better for everyone if I didn’t exist and I still had those feelings this year but it was lot more intensified and with the added complexity that reading it a year on, I actually felt almost envious of Lennie and then felt massively guilty and horrible for feeling that.  It’s really hard to explain and I feel really weird and guilty for trying to put it into words, but I do feel very, very jealous that Lennie has a friend as close as George is and who is willing to put his (Lennie’s) needs above his own feelings.  I hadn’t really thought about George’s perspective on it before but we had to discuss it in class and he must have felt massively conflicted and guilty for effectively having to kill his best friend and probably the only genuine human connection he has.  In class, the kids had to come up with what they thought would happen next (George gets his own ranch, George meets a girl and settles with a family, George continues to work at the ranch etc) but my main thought was that George would now be totally alone and probably wouldn’t be able to deal with the guilt and loneliness, and I honestly think he’d probably use the gun on himself.  Which makes the ending of the book doubly sad and horrible to process.

The hardest thoughts I have about the end of the book though are definitely the horrible jealousy about Lennie and George’s relationship, and particularly Lennie’s death.  Because at the moment, I’m totally aware that I’m constantly ‘too much’ for people and the only way that seems to work to manage that (the over-emotion, mood swings and obsessiveness) is through food and weight which annoyingly also seems to end up affecting other people and there genuinely doesn’t seem to be a ‘safe’ solution.  I’m not saying I’d ‘do’ anything about it because that would also be ‘too much’ and affect other people (especially given that I work with kids) but Lennie is lucky in that he has a friend who is able to see the bigger picture and act in a way that is probably the safest and most humane way for him in the long term, and saves him future suffering.  Obviously I know that that isn’t a practical solution but I really hate how it feeds into negative thought spirals that are so hard to manage.

I can rationalise the thoughts and I know it’s not a practical or helpful way to think but it’s been HORRIBLE recently trying to manage this amount and this intensity of negative thoughts about it while we’ve been reading the novel and especially having to watch the film (the ending twice).  There was one lesson where I was feeling particularly rubbish already and genuinely couldn’t hold in crying which was really horrible and embarrassing, but luckily only one student noticed and he didn’t make a big deal out of it.  It’s still really getting to me though and I can’t get the ‘rabbit voice’ out of my head.  It’s pretty much how I feel about relationships in general- I know they’re fluid and not permanent but it’s so hard to actually accept that, and sometimes it seems easier not to get close to people at all because you know they’re going to get fed up with you, but at the same time it’s horrible and lonely when you don’t have any ‘real’ people contact outside of working with kids.  But also better than losing close friendships which is the worst feeling in the world so a bit of a no-win situation!  Which is maybe the point of the book?

Trying to end on a positive: even though I know that friendships often don’t last, it’s something I’m trying really, really hard to work on and awareness definitely a big step towards that. DBT skills are also really, really helpful in managing interpersonal relationships and wrote about that last year in a blog post called Celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare with DBT skills– please read for more info! And will include a list of things I learned from that here because it’s definitely something I need to revisit:

1 Take every friendship at face value.  Don’t overthink it, make assumptions, have unrealistic or idealistic expectations, or make any judgements at all.  Try to take the friendship as it comes and use mindfulness or grounding techniques to manage anxiety.

2 Friendships are fluid and changing.  There is no such thing as a ‘best friend’ or ‘forever friendship’, however amazing that would be.  Enjoy the relationship when you can but don’t have any expectations that it will last forever.  Practise ‘beginner’s mind’ (seeing every experience as the first time you’ve experienced it, without any preconceptions or judgements) and don’t overthink it.

3 People change and that’s part of life.  If a friendship ends, it might not have anything to do with you whatsoever- the other person might have changed or moved on and THAT’S OK.  Growth is part of life and people move on at different rates.  That doesn’t make it any painful, but taking away the guilt or self-criticism will help you move on from it a lot more easily.

4 Be open with people.  Honesty and openness in relationships is the most important part of a healthy relationship and will reduce anxiety more than almost anything else.  Anxiety and particularly paranoia come from uncertainty and thrive in self-doubt or assumptions.  If you’ve got a gut reaction to something- check it out.  Don’t let it spiral into full-on paranoia or depression because then everything’s skewed through a fog of thoughts and judgements and you’re likely to damage the relationship without realising it.  Sounds cliched but if the other person’s worth being friends with, they’ll be honest with you.

5 TRUST.  This is one of the hardest ones for me and there’s different ways it’s relevant to friendships but the some of the key points are to trust that the friendship will still exist even if you’re not constantly contacting the other person, trust that the other person will be honest with you, and trust that the other person really does want to stay friends with you.  I find all of these really hard, especially the last one, but they’re so important and I think they get easier the more you do them…  It really relates back to the mindfulness idea and I’m trying really, really hard to use that in my current friendships.

Either way, I’m really, really glad we’ve finished reading it for this year and I don’t need to think about it for another ten months!  Definitely not my favourite book but need to keep reminding myself that it was written in the 1930s and things have changed and improved A LOT since then thankfully…

Trying to make sense of my brain…again!

This is a sort of follow up post to yesterday’s Back to more regular blogging! and I’m going to focus more on food/weight-related issues because that’s basically what I’m trying to work on properly at the moment.  Or at least that’s the aim; the whole idea is absolutely terrifying me and I’m not totally sure how or what exactly I’m trying to change or achieve, so I’m sort of trying to make sense of that too!  I’ve been re-reading older blog posts about similar things (especially 21/05/07: probably the most significant day of my life.  Reflections a decade on… which I wrote ten years to the day after I was last inpatient and I’m still feeling very similar to how I did then) which is definitely helpful to try to formulate some idea of how I’m feeling but my brain is pretty much constant fuzz and confusion all the time at the moment so it’s hard to make any sort of real sense of it.  But blogging is a good way to start!

Another previous post which was useful to re-read is ED relapse warning signs.  I wrote it about a year and a half ago based on a list of yellow/amber/red warning signs of possible ED relapse that I’d written with a psychologist I used to see as an inpatient way back in 2006, and it scared me a bit because I’m starting to show a lot of the signs again which is a definite motivator to try to address it now before it gets too intense.  It’s always hard trying to figure out what ‘relapse’ actually is because I never really fully recovered in the first place but I REALLY don’t want to get back to inpatient point again and even though it would still be a long way off, I also don’t want to lose my job or even risk getting properly ‘ill’ again so I’m trying to use that as a reason to do something about it before it gets to that point.  It’s hard though because although I’m aware things must have changed recently (people have commented on it and I’m definitely more food/weight fixated than I have been in a while), my weight isn’t particularly low compared to how it has been and even though I’m feeling tired and zoned out a lot of the time, I’m not physically ‘ill’ or passing out so it kind of feels like I’m making a big deal out of nothing and just being selfish.  So hard to work it out!

I know I’ve already said it but have got total fuzz brain at the moment and I really need to try to sort it out enough to know what I’m trying to actually do.  I’ve got the bitch in my head pretty much constantly reminding me that I’m just being selfish, I’m a lazy greedy bitch and I just need to get on with it and try not to let people notice but that’s bloody exhausting because the rules keep changing and I’m having to be active and walking ALL THE TIME especially if I’ve binged the night before or not managed to get the right amount of exercise in earlier on in the day.  But it’s doubly hard to think about doing anything else because she starts up more aggressively and it’s really, really hard to ignore or think of anything else.  But I REALLY don’t want to end up inpatient again and I know rationally that that is a possibility however far off, and I also know that the closer you get to that point, the harder it is to change anything so I really do want to do something now to stop that from happening.

It’s really hard when it genuinely doesn’t seem like a big problem at the moment though and even small changes seem really, really scary.  I know my eating patterns aren’t ideal but they never really have been (except briefly just after I was inpatient) and it’s only really since coming off medication that it’s been a more obvious issue because my weight went down a bit.  But it feels so much safer the way it is- obsessions are less intense, it’s easier to rationalise feeling fat/lazy/selfish, I’m constantly a bit zoned out so things don’t get to me as much (although having said that, I had three meltdowns over the weekend including one where I was crying, pulling my hair out and banging my head off the floor so maybe that’s not *totally* accurate), and things seem more manageable than the intense obsessions and mood swings I’d been experiencing.  But at the same time, I’m also not sleeping properly, tired all the time, finding it hard to run properly (and hating it), not really enjoying anything and feeling like I should be exercising all the time even if I’m exhausted which also isn’t great.

A friend who I really trust brought it up last week and said that I really need to make some changes before someone at work says something and so I don’t get to inpatient point again, and she’s not the sort of person who would say things she doesn’t mean.  She’s been really direct and honest about it which really helps to put things into perspective but as soon as I’m on my own and my brain starts up, it gets confusing and overwhelming again and I still have no idea how I feel about it except that it’s bloody scary and I feel stuck and overwhelmed.  The directness really does help though and she’s set me a challenge of swapping low calorie soup for regular soup one night this week which I know doesn’t sound like much but every time I’ve tried so far, it’s sent my brain into overload- didn’t realise how confusing soup could be but after spending nearly 40 minutes in the supermarket trying to work out which one to get.

It was really hard because I ‘need’ the right amount of protein per 100g as well as trying to work out what an equivalent to the soup I’d usually get would be without ‘cheating’ and getting the lowest calorie regular soup which I couldn’t get anyway because it didn’t have enough protein; regular soup cans say they serve two which would mean one serving is less than the low calorie soup I usually get which would defeat the point and be cheating (that caused a ridiculous amount of brain arguing!) and also need it to be an easyish number of calories in the can to work out in a daily amount.  I did finally manage to get a can of soup though which had the ‘right’ amount of protein, counted towards 5 a day, also had a good amount of fibre and was (scarily) almost twice the amount of calories of the soup I usually have without being too much volume which would make me feel too full and risk bingeing straight after, which was a definite achievement!  Haven’t managed to have it yet though :/ I meant to try it over the weekend but had a really stressful few days where nothing really went to plan so going to have it for tea tomorrow night after work.  Really, really nervous but it helps that it’s not *my* choice if that makes sense- it was my friend’s idea and I said I’d try it, and I’m trying really hard to think of it as a ‘rule’ I’ve got to stick to instead of a choice.  Which I know sounds ridiculous but it’s worth a try- every time I’ve tried to make the decisions on my own, I’ve never managed to stick to it and I really do want to make it work this time.

Another ‘rule’ I’ve set for myself is that I need to be doing something creative from 9pm every night- either blogging, drawing, colouring or writing, and I’m really going to try to stick to that too.  Lots of reasons but mainly because it puts a ‘limit’ on the amount of exercise I can do in the evenings- longer evenings has meant a ridiculous amount of walking (or sometimes running) which really isn’t helping and is exhausting, and also because I’ve totally got out of the habit of doing anything creative which isn’t great because creative stuff is a really good way to ‘escape’ my brain for a while and to try to channel it more constructively.  So hoping to stick to that too!  Will see how it goes anyway…

Back to more regular blogging!

I have been ridiculously bad at blogging regularly recently (and yes, I’m aware that recently is pretty much over the last year or so!) and I’m really sorry about that.  It’s been a combination of feeling rubbish, not motivated or focussed and not really having anything interesting other than running to write about, but I’m also aware that all of that is just excuses and the real reason is that I’ve been avoiding actually thinking about anything other than any given day (or usually hour) at a time and haven’t wanted to acknowledge properly what’s been going on in my head which doesn’t even make proper sense anyway.  But I’ve got a million things I should really be trying to focus on and blogging is a good way of trying to make sense of it and having some sort of accountability so I’m going to make a massive effort to stick to blogging more regularly again…

Don’t want to go into too much detail about the last few months and it’s basically an extension of topics I’ve blogged about a lot before anyway.  Short version: obsessions and moods got a lot more intense last summer and into autumn (see previous post Obsessions for more about that) and it started to spiral, and I had no idea how to manage it.  At the same time, I was being assessed by the community mental health team in the area I’d moved to but was told (again) that I couldn’t access services because of autism.  I got really frustrated and asked why I was taking high doses of psychotropic medications if it was a neurological issue and the psychiatrist said that she could see my point.  So I stopped taking medication completely which I *think* was the right decision (horrible side effects and not worth any minor benefits mood-wise) but since then, the bitch in my head has got worse and more aggressive and the obsessions were so intense that I needed to find another way to manage it.

One of the side effects to antipsychotics had been weight gain and I lost a bit of weight when I stopped taking them which definitely helped to feel more in control, and since then my periods have stopped which has meant that the obsessions are much, much less intense and more manageable.  Just as a disclaimer because I know I don’t usually go into detail about specific thoughts or behaviours in case it triggers anyone- I am not at a massively low weight and I don’t plan to be; the weight loss was genuinely a way to manage obsessions which had got to a completely unmanageable level of intensity and I really didn’t know how else to manage it.  I don’t want a full-on ED relapse which is the main reason I’m back to blogging again and will go into more detail about that in another blog post once I’ve got my head around what I’m actually trying to say!

Last week, a friend made me aware that I really need to learn to manage the ED side of things before it gets out of control which is making me feel really, really scared because I’ve never actually addressed it properly before apart from trying to get out of being inpatient and have found functional ways of basically maintaining it without actually trying to change too much and any attempts I have made haven’t lasted longer than a few weeks but the real difference this time is that she seems to think I can actually change and she does genuinely seem to believe that.  Which maybe doesn’t sound like much but after years of people saying I’m “not ready”, have a “chronic” eating disorder, it would be “too difficult to make changes” because of autism, I’m too “entrenched” or whatever other ways medical professionals put it, it’s very, very weird to hear someone say that they genuinely think I can do it.  Especially since it’s someone I trust absolutely- she’s very direct and honest, and I don’t think she’d just say it.  Feels really weird but it’s also made me feel more positive and interested to try to actually change properly than I think I’ve ever really felt, and that’s weird and scary in itself!  Still trying to process it but will write another, more focussed blog post soon.

Detachment

Still with the diary entries from 2007, and 19th May 2007 was a really interesting one because the sensation it describes of numbness and detachment is probably the most significant aspect of ED for me, and it’s the part I really genuinely still miss.


It’s weird reading the way I’ve described it though- the “floating above my body in a parallel universe” is EXACTLY how I remember it, and it felt ‘safe’ and ‘slowed down’ somehow.  It’s different to ‘zoning out’-type dissociation (where you go slightly out of your body and out of sync with time, usually because of anxiety or being overwhelmed) because it’s more subtle and pretty much constant.  The part I liked most was that your emotions ‘switch off’, even obsessive feelings and urges which at that time felt like magic and it really was the only way to escape and to survive.

The part that really surprises me is that I’ve linked controlling food intake with “feelings of power and separateness”, almost like it’s the control of food that gives the detachment rather than the low weight which is what I’ve always (consciously) thought.  I don’t remember writing that and I can’t think why I did.  I hate the idea of ‘ED’ as something separate to you (feels like a scapegoat which makes me feel even more guilty) but it really does read like that came from something ‘other’ than my thoughts.  So weird to read.

The other part that I can remember really vividly is not wanting to affect or be affected by people, and that was the main reason I wanted to discharge.  I’d linked it to the feelings of detachment (because if you’re detached, you can’t be affected) but I was also aware that since detachment was linked to low weight and eating less, that would automatically affect other people so there wasn’t really a way out.  I was feeling so so trapped by then, but also calmer because I knew I’d be leaving in a couple of days once my weight was enough to discharge without risking a section.

Hope24 2017

WOW!!  Ran the incredible Hope24 race last weekend and it was AMAZING ❤ just as awesome as last year (see Hope24: a 24 hour run in Newnham Park, Devon).  It’s a 24 hour race held in Devon and is my absolute favourite running event of all time- it’s got everything: day and night running, awesome scenery, woodland trails, bluebells, friendly and inclusive atmosphere, really well organised, technically challenging running but also suitable for beginner trail runners…basically everything you could want in a running event!  MASSIVE thanks to Danny Slay for organising it 😀

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Started off a bit of an eventful weekend and wasn’t sure I was even going to get to Plymouth!  Had had a bit of a rubbish week last week moodwise- several meltdowns, a pretty major paranoia attack and two panic attacks meaning that I hadn’t slept much at all during the week, and was really looking forward to 24 hours of just running.  I left the house Friday evening to get the train to Birmingham and then to Plymouth, but just as I got to Birmingham Moor Street I realised I’d forgotten to bring medication with me.  Sometimes that’s not a massive problem and I can manage a couple of days without it but given how unpredictable my moods and thoughts had been last week, I was a bit nervous about risking three days without quetiapine in particular.  Luckily I was a bit early into Birmingham and went to a pharmacy to ask for advice; maybe not the best idea because the pharmacist basically told me not to go to Plymouth until I’d gone to a walk in centre to try to get a prescription or A+E to see a mental health liaison if they wouldn’t prescribe antipsychotics without a psychiatric report, but I really didn’t have time to find a walk in centre before the train and I didn’t want to waste A+E time.  So I bought some herbal sedative tablets and some Nytol, and hoped that would do as a temporary measure until Sunday.  Running’s a pretty good mood stabiliser anyway and I was going to be doing A LOT of that in the meantime!

So I finally got to the station and tried to get my tickets via the mobile app but it wouldn’t open.  Don’t have the energy to go into it now and the whole thing seems a bit blurred and surreal because of panic, so am going to copy and paste my FB status from Friday night: “NEVER try to book tickets with Cross Country online!!!  Bought them in advance online because it was so much cheaper than the crazy expensive train fare, and it said I had to download the app to get the ticket in the ‘My tickets’ section.  So I did but the app wouldn’t let me sign in even though I reset the password, deleted and redownloaded it several times and tried two different email addresses.

Then I thought I could use the website to get the ticket texted to my phone but after nine attempts of ‘Sorry, your request cannot be processed. Please try again later’ I decided to go to the ticket office at New Street and ask them.  The first woman I spoke to and showed my phone looked at me like I was stupid (although to be fair, I probably looked ridiculous since I was shaking and trying not to hyperventilate or cry by that point) and said it wasn’t anything to do with her, she worked for Virgin not Cross Country and I had to phone the Cross Country helpline.

By this time it was 40 mins before the train and was starting to panic a bit, and I called the helpline.  The first person I spoke to couldn’t understand anything I said (I couldn’t breathe properly and was stammering) and I felt horrible, and he kept repeating ‘I need to know the best way to help you’ over and over which made me feel worse, and I said sorry and hung up.  Did some ‘breathe box’ exercises and tried again, but the next person couldn’t understand me either and put me on hold before I could try to explain properly.

Was really panicking by then and tried for a third time, but the guy on the phone said he couldn’t do anything and that I just needed to redownload the app.  I tried to explain that I’d done that several times and that it wasn’t working, but he kept saying that he couldn’t help and I had to keep trying with the app, then he put me on hold without warning, and the phone cut out.

Was so so panicky by that point, 15 mins before the train was due and went back to the ticket office.  The woman said she couldn’t help and that I needed to keep calling the helpline, and I was so shaky, hot and dangerously close to crying by then that I just said thanks and went out again.  Then I really did start crying and hyperventilating, and started doing the breathing again and pinging a hair tie on my wrist to try to calm down.
There was a woman standing with a Virgin uniform near the ticket machines and I went over to her, and tried to explain the whole situation which was pretty difficult since I was trying really hard not to cry too much, shaking and couldn’t speak properly.  Luckily she’d seen me going in to the ticket office a few times and on the phone, and she was so so nice and calm which REALLY helped and was so amazing of her.

She looked at my phone and said she would talk to the train manager and explain that the app wasn’t working, and took me down to the platform.  She was genuinely amazing and talked about her own experiences with trains/buses and how frustrating it can be, and made me feel like I wasn’t a totally weird freak for panicking like that which was so so nice of her. S he spoke to the manager who said it was fine just to use the confirmation on my phone, and I got the train OK. SERIOUSLY relieved and so so grateful to her!!

If anyone knows a woman called Sarah who works for Virgin trains at New Street station, PLEASE tell her how amazing she is and that she deserves a pay rise!!  Seriously don’t know what I’d have done if she hadn’t helped, and she was so amazing, calm and kind even though I probably seemed like a more of a weird, panicky freak than I usually do!  Am so so grateful and going to drop a box of chocolates into the station next time I’m there.”

So I finally got to Plymouth (!) and found the B+B I’d booked.  It was late so the woman had left a key in a plant pot for me which was a relief because I didn’t have to speak to anyone (still jittery), took some Nytol and went to bed.  Found it hard to sleep and I’m not sure if it was because of nerves, anxiety, excitement or lack of quetiapine (or a combination of all of them!) and semi-dozed until it was time to get up.  Then I started to get seriously excited about the run, ate porridge and packed my CRAZY amount of food for the tent:

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Had the usual ironic giggle at the fact that I always have peanut butter during ultras (MONDAY MORNING PEANUTS!!  This won’t mean much to anyone who didn’t happen to be inpatient at WB in the mid-00s, but the apparent normality of a bag of salted peanuts at 10am on a Monday morning before going to the gym is something I don’t think any of us can forget!), and waited outside for a running friend to pick me up and give me a lift to the event (THANK YOU again!).  One of the things I absolutely love about ultras is how incredible the people are- even people you’ve only met one at an event a couple of years previously are like family, and everyone’s so amazing and accepting.  Then I set up the tent with food stores and lots of extra layers (turned out to be essential!!) and wandered round to the start line.  There were a few people I recognised from last year and from other events which was really nice, and started to get really excited about the start.  The atmosphere was incredible 🙂 it’s the most inclusive race ever and people are so lovely, and the supporters are amazing without being overwhelming which is also incredible.

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The first mile was pretty much the same as last year’s course: a ‘gentle’ uphill to the top of a field, although it looped round and up this year instead of straight up which was a nice change and gave your legs more time to adjust.  There were sheep and lambs like last year, and the views from the top of the hill were incredible.  I was lucky to meet up with a woman I got to know during the run last year and who is incredible, and we ran the first couple of laps together which was really nice (thank you!!).  It was so nice to catch up and really didn’t feel like I’d only met her once a year ago, felt like we’d known each other forever!  Made the first couple of laps go past really quickly, and I decided to use the third lap as a ‘photography’ lap because the scenery was so amazing.

After the hill, the course went through a woodland trail with lots of bluebells which was so pretty and my favourite part of the course.  There was a short section where you run through tall trees and it feels surreal and magical, like running through an enchanted wood of some sort.  The path was easy to run on (at that point) and there was a heavy woodland air that you could feel as well as breathe, and the smell of bluebells was incredible.  Could run that part forever!  Then the path opened onto a short stretch across a field and back into the woods, although the second woodland stretch was more ‘busy’ and less magical stillness than the first one.  The trees were smaller and leafier with branches bending down towards to path or overhanging, and it felt like the kind of wood you’d make treehouses or go for long walks in.  It was a bit trickier to run because of roots and rocks but there were bluebells everywhere and it felt like you were really in spring.  So, so pretty!!

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After a mostly downhill wooded trail, the course looped back around a relatively flat pathway before back up onto wooded trail again and spilling down the hill towards the campsite.  I loved the last mile: undulating wooded path along the side of a hill with glimpses of the tents through the trees then running down an open hillside towards the campsite.  Really did feel like coming back home at the end!  After that lap, I made a quick pitstop at my tent (which felt like a sauna and my peanut butter had melted!), ate  few spoonfuls of PB and grabbed a few cereal bars for my water pack.  Refilled water then back out for another lap of awesomeness.

I was feeling pretty amazing by this point: getting into the rhythm of running, loving the scenery, connecting with God and my Granda Sam through bluebells and trees, and best of all the bitch in my head seemed to have taken a nap and was nearly totally silent throughout the whole run!!  The last few races I’ve done, she’s been a bit quieter but still annoyingly there, but for the first time in probably about six months she seemed to have shut up completely and my brain was relatively quiet for the first time in AGES.  It felt AMAZING; I could think more clearly, everything seemed slowed down and manageable, and I felt calm and connected with everything instead of jittery-hyped or detached.  It really was an incredible feeling.  I decided to put Bowie’s Lazarus soundtrack on my iPod (I saw the musical last year and it was the most amazing stage show I’ve ever seen, even if it didn’t make a lot of sense at the time) and ran continuously until the album had finished.  And then amazingly, the meaning of the music started to make sense and it felt like Bowie was actually talking to me through the lyrics and the way the actors sang the words.  Won’t bore readers with too much pseudo-significant Bowie, but some things seemed really important:

  • Your only reality is your own.  You just need to come to peace with your own thoughts and learn to accept them without having to react or act on them.
  • Sometimes the most helpful and influential people in your life only exist in your own head.
  • Judging yourself is so much worse than other people’s judgments.  People are selfish and inevitably caught up in their own lives- any judgment on you is a passing comment whereas self-judgment is a poisonous seed that can control your mind from within.
  • The only true way to escape the reality of life is to fully accept it.  Any attempts to escape or numb it only lead to more suffering.
  • “We can be heroes.  Just for one day.”  The second part of that quote is the most important part: anyone can be a hero in any given moment if you only focus fully on that particular moment and don’t have the pressure of trying to be a ‘hero’ for a lifetime.  The ‘we’ is also important: ANYONE can be a ‘hero’ if they learn to make peace with their own mind in order to escape its control.  And that’s pretty much my mantra for running: accept the run for what it is, try as hard as you can but don’t put pressure on yourself to achieve any particular time/distance, relax into it.  Metaphor for running and for life!

Anyway, Bowie aside…!!  It started to rain towards the end of that lap so I put on my first layer of waterproof, ate a cereal bar and carried on.  Unfortunately the rain got gradually heavier until by the time it was dark enough to need head torches, it was pretty much impossible to see properly and I was on my fourth layer of waterproofs.  That lap was genuinely terrifying :/ I could hardly see at all (my headtorch isn’t brilliantly strong to start off with but my glasses were covered with rain so really hard to see through, and it was very, very muddy).  The first part of the lap wasn’t too bad going across the field, but going into the woods was very, very muddy and hard to navigate.  I was slipping all over the place and trying not to fall by grabbing onto tree branches, and tiptoe/climbing rather than even walking!  It was so, so scary on my own, and started to panic which really didn’t help because I was genuinely convinced I was going to die of saturation, hypothermia or falling in mud.

Then halfway through the lap (and thankfully before the main downhill part of the route), I met a running friend who had walking poles and a VERY strong headtorch, and asked if I could stick with him for the rest of the route.  He was amazing and basically let me walk right behind him so I could see where he’d put his feet, and pointed out any roots or rocks with his poles.  Made such a massive difference and felt so much safer with someone else there.  I was starting to have a bit of an ethical dilemma about what to do: I REALLY didn’t feel safe carrying on with that amount of mud and poor visibility but I felt too guilty to stop until it got light, and I knew that if I took a break, I’d never get going again.  I was feeling really trapped and stuck, and still wasn’t sure what to do by the end of the lap but thankfully when we got back to the campsite, the race had been postponed because of the conditions.  I had genuinely never been so relieved in my life and felt like crying with relief!

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They said they were going to reassess in an hour, so I went back to my tent which was SOAKED- the inside was about as wet as outside with rain and condensation and I was FREEZING.  I couldn’t stay inside the tent any longer so I took my blanket and hot water bottle to where the friend who’d given me a lift had a gazebo and a FIRE with other runners from his running club.  I sat as close to the fire as I physically could in an attempt to warm up, and made some porridge which tasted amazing.  Then we found out that the race organiser had made the very difficult decision to postpone the race until it was light (5am) and would be safer for running.  It must have been a very, very difficult decision to make but absolutely the right one.  Most people went back to tents (or home if they were local) to get some sleep, but my tent was so wet and cold that even being in it felt like I was going to die of hypothermia and I couldn’t stop shivering so I went back to the main marquee.

Got chatting to some amazing people in the marquee including the race organiser’s partner who was INCREDIBLE.  She was lovely and so friendly, and we work in similar jobs so had a really nice chat about that (and I ranted a bit about fidget spinners which had been driving me up the wall all week at school!).  I was so so cold and she let me sit in front of the heater, then gave me a buff and said I could curl up on a mat in the marquee which was so so nice of her and amazing; I had my blanket so curled up like a hamster with the hot water bottle and the buff made such a massive difference to the amount of heat I must have been losing from my head.  Thank you so much!!!  Stayed there till the race restarted, then went back to my tent to drop off the blanket.

It was so, so hard to motivate to start up again because it was still freezing and wet, but I put on my hoodie (which was still damp but had been in front of the heater so not too bad), got a coffee and decided to walk a lap to see how I felt.  After a mile or so, I felt a lot better and started to get back into the running again.  Early morning is my absolute favourite time of day and the sky was so clear that you’d hardly believe the weather from the night before.  It was still very muddy and slippery (although I only fell over once!), but a lot better now you could see properly.  Running through the tall tree woods with early morning mist felt like a newborn Narnia, and the stillness was incredible.  The damp in the greener woods made it feel like the world was coming back to life, and you could hear birds tweeting and lambs bleating.  Seriously amazing feeling!  Felt so ‘real’ and connected.

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The hardest part about the enforced break was that the cold and damp had made my muscles seize up a bit, and one of my knees was a bit ‘creaky’.  It got better as the morning went on though, and soon it felt almost summer-like hot as the sun came out properly.  My body doesn’t deal particularly well with temperature extremes and coming up to midday, I was starting to feel a bit ill with hands and feel still freezing numb but my body starting to overheat, but I’m not sure how much of that was linked to two days off quetiapine (I’d had similar symptoms when I stopped taking it last year) so I took some paracetamol and Nytol, and that helped a bit.  The buff was amazing and really helped to stop my head from overheating!  Definitely going to use it again next ultra…

The last couple of laps were hard because by then, I was totally exhausted and feeling the effects of no sleep and the damp cold.  But I was also feeling amazing; my brain was still quiet, I hadn’t had any obsessive or paranoid thoughts for nearly 24 hours and I was feeling calm and connected.  I even managed to finish on 13 laps which would usually be an absolute NO for me (12 or 14; odd numbers are unlucky and 13 is about as bad as it can get) which meant that ironically I came 13th place out of 148 female solo runners which I was MASSIVELY happy with.  Feeling a bit edgy about the 13 laps now though and thinking it as 65 miles doesn’t help either because it’s still an odd number and it’s 13 x 5, but at the time I had the horrible thought that I shouldn’t finish on 13 and needed to push for 14 but amazingly it wasn’t a big deal and didn’t bother me that much, which was amazing in itself.  Although if I lose a friend or really upset someone this week without realising it, that will be why…  Need to be super careful and I am being; have taken my usual anti-paranoia precautions on social media so I *touch wood* shouldn’t do anything stupid or impulsive.  Still can’t believe I ran 13 laps!!  Also really cool because last year I ran 16 in 24 hours and we lost 6 1/2 hours this year because the race was postponed, so actually ran ‘more’ in the time than I did last year!  MEGA achievement for so many reasons 🙂

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MASSIVE thanks to all the organisers and marshals for such an incredible event, and to all the awesome people I met over the weekend and who were so amazing and supportive.  THANK YOU ALL and can’t wait till next year!!! 😀