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.

Yet another apology post!

Hi guys, just another apology post for not writing much recently! Not been feeling great and been a bit dissociated a lot of the time which hasn’t helped 😦 back to work next week though which I’m REALLY hoping will help…

Got a few blog posts which I’m halfway through writing though so will hopefully post properly again soon. I attempted a run across Scotland which was really tough and had to withdraw partway through so trying to write about that, and been doing a lot of thinking about ED, recovery and what it actually is (kind of following from the post I wrote last year Thoughts about ED recovery but probably more confused by now!) so also trying to make enough sense of it to write about that too.  Fingers crossed I’ll have a proper post written soon and thanks so much to anyone still reading this blog!

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…

Why I really need to make changes :/

Sorry I haven’t blogged in over a week, haven’t been feeling great and not really had anything useful to blog about.  I did manage the soup last week though which was a massive positive!  Took a LOT of psyching up to; there were several attempts where I’d planned to have it but talked myself out of it (I’m too tired, not done enough exercise, got too much going on, don’t need it etc) but I’d promised I’d do it once in a seven day period and last Wednesday was the seventh day so I had to.  The pressure really helped- it meant that it wasn’t a ‘choice’ and I had to do it which took away a lot of the guilt and anxiety about it although I still felt really nervous and ‘wrong’ because it wasn’t what I’d usually have and I didn’t really need it.  But I did it though and went straight out for a walk afterwards listening to Harry Potter to distract, and it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d thought it would be.  I was really anxious afterwards that I’d suddenly gain lots of weight but weirdly I didn’t which was a massive relief!  Tomorrow will be another week so will try it again tomorrow night, *touch wood* it will go OK again…

Things have been a bit rubbish since then though and haven’t managed to do anything else particularly positive which is a bit frustrating.  Had a bit of a mood crash towards the end of last week which lasted into the weekend so spent most of Saturday and Sunday on the cross trainer or bingeing which wasn’t ideal (although I went to an amazing Roger Waters concert on Saturday night so wasn’t all bad) and still feeling overly emotional and rubbish, really hoping it’ll lift soon.  I think it’s a build up of lots of different things- I work in a school and it’s end of the school year which is always hard because of changing timetables and not knowing exactly what’s going on, and kids have left after exams which is also tough because I get attached to kids I work closely with and takes a while to get used to new ones.

We’ve also been studying Of Mice And Men in one of the English classes I work in which is my least favourite book and I find really difficult to read, and it’s been affecting my moods a lot recently.  It makes me feel really guilty, upset and horrible because of Lennie and how he accidentally hurts things without meaning to and it’s NOT HIS FAULT, and he’s actually trying to do what he thinks is the right thing all the time.  The ending is HORRIBLE and so, so hard to read (we had to watch the ending of the film today which I hadn’t seen because the teacher last year let me go and work in another room when the kids were watching it, and it make me so shaky and I couldn’t help crying although I managed to mostly keep in in and thankfully only one boy I was working with noticed and didn’t make fun of me).  It was actually harder to read this year than last year because I was already feeling a bit emotionally overloaded, and it triggered a lot of not-very-helpful thoughts about how hard it is not being able to manage your own emotions and how sometimes it really feels like it would be a good thing to have a friend like George in the last scene of the book (then I feel really guilty for thinking that and the whole cycle starts again).  Not nice!!  But thank God it’s a whole year till I need to read or study it again…

I think one of the massive downsides to trying to challenge your thoughts is that you’re suddenly more aware of everything your brain is telling you and that you’d usually just accept, and it makes the brain arguments so much more intense.  This morning was a really good example of that and it was EXHAUSTING because I was trying to rationalise too many irrational thoughts at the same time but I did actually manage to successfully challenge one of them in the end!  It went basically like this (‘B’ stands for brain/bitch in my head- bold is where I actually managed to challenge it):

*4am, waking up*

B: Get up, time for coffee and go for a run.

Me: I’m tired, I only slept an hour and a half last night and I’ve got a full day of school.

B: Stop being so bloody lazy and get up, you need to run to use up the extra energy from last night because you didn’t go for a walk after tea.

*gets up, immediately feels dizzy and goes back to bed*

*5.30am, waking up again*

B: YOU FAT LAZY BITCH, GET OUT OF BED.

Me: But I’m still tired, I really need to sleep.

B: STOP BEING SO BLOODY LAZY AND GET UP.

*gets up, goes downstairs feeling like a zombie, steps on scales.  Have put on a pound overnight which definitely wakes me up*

B: See how fat and disgusting you are?  Have coffee and get out running NOW.

Me: *feeling like shit, makes coffee and drinks it.  By this point it’s 6am*

B: Stop being so fucking lazy and get ready to run.

Me: I’m still tired, I just want to hide on the beanbag and sleep.

B: Stop putting it off and just fucking RUN.

Me: It’s nearly quarter past six, I won’t have time to run properly anyway.

B: A short run is better than no run you lazy bitch.  Just bloody go.

Me: But I won’t have run enough to earn soya milk and I’ll feel dizzy if I go to school without it.

B: That’s your body playing tricks on you to make you eat- override it, you’re in control.  Just fucking run.

Me: I was planning to go on the cross trainer later…

B: And you’ll come up with a million excuses- it’s too hot, I’m too tired, I’ve been at after school club running after kids…  Stop being so fucking fat and lazy.

Me: But even if I do run, I won’t have time to shower afterwards and I need to get to work.

B: Who cares?  It’s not like you sweat anyway you lazy bitch- you’re not even working hard enough for that.  Just RUN.

*puts on trainers, goes for a run.  Runs further than I thought thanks to constant ‘motivation’ from bitch in my head*

B: See, that wasn’t so hard was it?

Me: But now I feel really weird and dizzy, and I’ve got ten hours of work to get through.

B: But you ran which is the main thing and you can go on the cross trainer later.  That should be enough to balance it out.

Me: I’m dizzy and shaky, I need food.

B: No you don’t you stupid bitch.  It’s your body messing with you, ignore it.

Me: No, I need to eat something, I need the energy for work.

B: No you don’t- stop being so fucking greedy.  Just go to work.

Me: No, I didn’t eat enough on Friday and people at work noticed that I was dizzy and disorientated, and I can feel it happening again.  I’m going to have some soya milk.

B: YOU DON’T NEED IT YOU FAT BITCH.  You only ran four miles, that’s nothing and you haven’t even been on the cross trainer yet.

Me: But the soya milk will keep my blood sugars more stable then I’ll have more energy for the cross trainer.

B: JUST GO TO BLOODY WORK.  You don’t need anything.

*ignores it and has soya milk, then goes to work*

That was bloody HARD!!  Normally, I’d run further than I did this morning and wouldn’t even consider having the soya milk but last week, I felt really ill a couple of days at work and a few people I work with noticed which I REALLY don’t want, and I know it was low blood sugar levels (I was shaky and zoned out, parts of my body felt disjointed and not real, and I was really itchy all over).  I did go on the cross trainer after work and felt ill again afterwards but luckily I had tea pretty much straight away and although I’m still a bit shaky and zoned out now, it’s a lot better than it was.  But it’s things like that that are making me realise that I really do need to learn to manage it properly and I really, really want to be able to.  I hate the constant tiredness and feeling rubbish, and it’s exhausting having to constantly argue with your brain.

I’m REALLY hoping that the more I challenge it, the easier it’ll be but it really doesn’t feel like it at the moment.  It’s hard as well because of feeling generally rubbish and not very motivated, and it feels a lot like ‘I’m never going to be able to change or get rid of it so what’s the point in trying?’ but I also really, really don’t want to lose my job or have to go inpatient again so I know I need to do something.  Feeling so trapped and horrible atm!  But also determined to start feeling more positive about it…

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.

Viking 100

Sorry again for how sporadic my blog posts are recently, really need to get back into the habit of actually writing posts instead of half-planning them then never getting round to actually writing any!  But took part in the amazing Viking 100 SVN event over the weekend which was awesome, intense and mega tough in probably equal amounts, and definitely think it deserves a blog post.  It feels a bit weird trying to write about it because the whole event seems to be stuck in ultrarunning brain scramble and there are parts of it that I can’t really remember or that seem totally confused in my head so this might be a bit of a disjointed account but I’ll try to remember as much as I can.  I’m also still totally exhausted and physically and emotionally drained so sorry in advance if it doesn’t make a lot of sense!

First and most important thing is a massive THANK YOU to all the amazing race organisers and volunteers at Saxons, Vikings and Normans.  If anyone hasn’t come across them before, they are among the friendliest, most inclusive and generally awesome running events I’ve ever taken part in.  The race organisers and volunteers are amazing and the whole atmosphere is so friendly and supportive, and I wouldn’t have even got halfway through the 100 miles without the amazing encouragement and support.  All the runners are equally amazing and supportive, and I’ve met so many incredible and inspirational people through running SVN events- you are all awesome!!

The run started at 8am which meant there was lots of time in daylight to get used to the route and get into the run which was definitely a good thing!  Weather at the start of the run was pretty much perfect for running- not too cold or windy, no rain (yet!!) and even occasional breaks in the clouds to see some blue sky.  It was a massive contrast to the absolutely FREEZING Moonlight Challenge on the same course three weeks earlier which had temperatures well below freezing and was so cold that I lost all feeling in my arms from the elbows down even with multiple pairs of gloves and it literally took fifteen minutes just to open some hand warmers to try to warm up!  Three of my fingers were white and it was the most painful cold I’ve experienced in years, and it took over seven hours just to complete a marathon so I was a bit worried about the weather being the same for the 100 miles but luckily it wasn’t and temperatures stayed several degrees above freezing even overnight which was a mega relief.

Partway into the first lap, I was lucky enough to end up running with the awesome Nick Nicholson who is one of the most crazily inspirational people I’ve ever met running.  For people who haven’t come across Nick, he’s the current Guinness World Record holder for the most marathons in a year and most 50ks in a year and is currently improving on these, so he’s a pretty awesome guy to run with!  Definitely helped to keep me sane on the first few laps when I hadn’t totally processed the fact that I was actually attempting 100 miles and considering the crazy amount of running Nick does, 100 miles in one weekend really shouldn’t be that scary…

The first part of the race was pretty uneventful; bit of rain but nothing major and the course was awesome.  The first part was muddy which became more of a challenge as the run/rain went on (more about that later!) then it was uphill to the windmill farm, back down to run down a path between fields and a main road, up to jellybean junction then down to a hilly two mile loop around the farm and back past jellybean junction to the barn which was the base aid station.  Really nice course- lots of scenery, mix of paths and fields, up and down to break up the longish flat stretch from jellybean junction to the windmill farm and nothing majorly technical apart from the mud.  Also impossible to get lost even for me which was a big bonus!  Having an extra aid station in the 10k route was also really, really helpful especially towards the end of the race when you’re absolutely exhausted and need as many positive boosts as possible.

The first major milestone in the run was passing marathon distance and was still feeling pretty good by then.  I’d got Harry Potter on my ipod and was enjoying the relative brain quiet that you only really get several hours into an ultra, and was it nice to get totally immersed in Harry’s attempt to find the diadem of Ravenclaw while the rest of the school were preparing for the Battle of Hogwarts.  I’d forgotten how many genuinely hilarious moments there are even in the most intense parts of the whole Harry Potter saga and was laughing a bit hysterically at some of the lines which *might* have looked a bit odd to anyone who saw me!  Looking back now, I think this might have been the start of when I was beginning to get a bit too hyped which didn’t kick in properly till early evening but at that point, it was just awesome to relax into the running and enjoy it.

The hardest part of long ultras for me is the fuelling bit- I can never seem to get it right and I hate how ridiculously stressful it is.  I have no idea how people can just seem to ‘get it’ without even thinking and I’ve never managed to get it properly sorted.  It’s also the first ultra I’ve done since I came off medication which seems to have had a big impact on that side of running too- usually my brain has ‘shut up’ enough by then so that I can eat things that I’d never normally eat without feeling sick or horrible but it hadn’t happened this time and I had no idea what or how much I should be eating.  From talking to other runners, I know that you should eat little and often but that didn’t seem to have any meaning whatsoever and by about six hours in, I was feeling a bit nauseous and couldn’t work out if it was from not eating enough (I’d only been fuelling at the base aid station and that was causing so much anxiety that I wasn’t even sure if I’d eaten anything at all) or from eating too much because again I wasn’t sure what I’d actually eaten!  By about 50k though, I knew I had to eat something other than salted peanuts and had two rice krispie bites which caused brain overload but did help to stop the nausea.

The sun was starting to set by then and it was nearly headtorch time which always makes me a bit nervous but luckily the timing was pretty much perfect and the next lap coincided with Nick coming out for his second 50k of the day (!) to start the pacer event.  The first lap (or two maybe?) went pretty well and was nice to chat to Nick, and he is a pretty amazing person to have as a pacer because he’s bloody brutal and kept telling me to ‘get off my fucking phone and fucking run’!  It really did help though- I have a habit of checking/rechecking my phone during the night part of ultras because usually I’m on my own and it freaks me out, and I find nightrunning really hard because everything seems a million times worse and harder but an awesome part of this sort of run is that there are usually people around or not too far away so if something did happen, someone would probably find you.  Doesn’t stop you getting paranoid though!

When we got back to the base aid station, they’d ordered Domino’s pizza.  For some totally unknown reason, I decided to have half a slice of the vegetable one (although I didn’t go as far as the cheese) and weirdly it tasted amazing.  Won’t go into too much detail but that caused complete mental overload and confusion, no idea why I even thought that pizza would be a good idea but it did give me an energy boost…to the point of going full-on hyped by halfway through the next lap.  God knows what was going on in my brain- I genuinely can’t remember it properly but I know I was talking way too much and too fast at Nick (sorry!!) and kept running too fast so I left him behind several times when he’d offered to pace me which was a bit rude and probably defeats the point of having a pacer!  I realised pretty quickly that I needed to do something about it though (possibly the only benefit of having been in A+E after going hypomanic after ultras in the past is being hyper aware of it) so I stopped at the next aid station to take Nytol and a small amount of quetiapine which I came off a couple of months ago but had some with me just in case since it was because of getting too hyped after an ultra that I was prescribed it in the first place so I always have some with my emergency first aid stuff.

I was still a bit hyped for the next lap or two but thanks to Nick’s awesome pacing, I managed to keep a relatively consistent pace over the next few hours and felt pretty good going into the night section.  Thankfully the medication worked and the hypedness didn’t go into full on over-hyped chaos but I had a bit of a weird experience where I was still a bit hyped and definitely talking way more than I usually would or should do (especially to people I hardly know 16 hours into a pretty gruelling ultra) but was also starting to ‘crash’ at the same time which is hard to describe but it’s like being simultaneously hyperactive and wanting to crawl in a bush and disappear, kind of like when you’re laughing and crying at the same time.  I think a lot of it was mid-ultra exhaustion and was definitely more emotional than I usually would be which is unusual for me during a run but not particularly unusual for a lot of people during ultras so hopefully no-one thought I was too weird or annoying!  Apart from maybe Nick who definitely had to put up with more annoyingness than anyone should have to especially at midnight in the middle of an ultra.

Just realised I’ve forgotten to mention the mud issue!  At the start and end of the route, there was a particularly muddy stretch of grass which gradually got worse as the run (and rain) went on with standing water and people running through it making it more like mud sliding than even walking.  So about halfway through the event, the route was changed to avoid the really muddy stretch which was a massive relief- I’m not coordinated even running on normal terrain and it was definitely not my favourite part of the course.  Good experience to practise on it though, and was kind of fun even though it sapped a ridiculous amount of energy.  But by most of the night laps, it had was mostly road or paths which was a lot less risky.

Nick finished his second 50k around 1am and left to get seem sleep before driving to another one in the morning (!) which is crazy and amazing in equal amounts.  Definitely owe him massively for the pacing and for putting up with me over the previous few laps- without the relatively even times I’d managed to make over the laps I’d run with him, I don’t think I’d have even passed 50 miles given how erratic and inconsistent my running was by that point and it definitely helped that I had that as a ‘buffer’ when my knee started to play up later on in the race and I had to walk almost an entire lap.  Thanks so much Nick!  The next couple of hours went OK; I was still listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and it was getting to the real intense battle part which was an intense enough distraction from the dark, and chatted to a couple of other people at various points during the laps which was also really nice.  I was still having fuelling issues though and didn’t want to risk another pizza issue so was back to salted peanuts and jelly babies for energy which I was really starting to hate!  But coffee really, really helped and needed the heat and caffeine boost.

By 3am though, my mood had started to drop and the on/off rain in the dark probably didn’t help.  I can’t remember a lot about 3am-6am apart from really struggling, finding it really difficult to keep moving and being very cold and wet.  I know I definitely cried over someone at least once but can’t remember who it was or what I said to them but I’m really sorry- I’m not usually like that!!  Was having a lot of horrible negative thoughts which didn’t help and I’m not sure if it was exhaustion, cold, quetiapine (having not taken it in two months), residual pizza anxiety, sleep deprivation or a combination but it was seriously horrible.  I did at least one lap in my dryrobe to try to stay warm and switched from Harry Potter to Alanis Morissette in an attempt to boost mood a bit but weirdly the thing that really did help was when I got to the aid station after a particularly horrible lap and had a bit of a meltdown about what to eat- my brain was total fuzz and I couldn’t even speak properly, and someone suggested eating toast.  I didn’t even have the brain power to think about it at the time so I had toast and jam which must have done something magical because half a lap later, I felt relatively human again and started to get back into the running.  I can’t remember who it was that gave me the toast but thank you so much!!

The last 20 miles were HELL.  I was so so tired, my left knee was starting to get really painful and every part of my body hurt.  I walked/jogged a lap to try to get back into it which helped a bit to loosen up now it was starting to get light again, and it always helps when it starts to get light.  My brain was still a bit scrambled and I was totally convinced I wouldn’t finish in the time but one of the organisers pointed out that even if I was moving at 2 miles an hour, I could still finish before the cut off and I was determined to keep moving even though by then I wanted to hide under a dryrobe and never come out.  I was relying on coffee and sweets to function by then and I’d worked out how many I needed to get round a lap so fuelling for once wasn’t really an issue, I think maybe because I’d already fried my brain with pizza and toast!

The last two laps seemed to take forever but I had a knee support and was taking it really slowly, and it was weirdly starting to seem like I might actually finish which hadn’t seemed like a real possibility before then.  I was absolutely exhausted and felt like I was forcing my body to keep moving every step but was back on Harry Potter and compared to fighting Voldemort, getting through less than a half marathon in six hours should be totally achievable!  It was so, so painful though and seemed to take ten times as long as it should have, and the rain really didn’t help- for a while, it was horrible steady drizzle which soaks you even though it’s not that heavy but thankfully it didn’t last too long and once it stopped, it was pretty much ideal running conditions again which also really helped.

By the last few miles, I actually felt like a normal human being again which was a massive relief!  I kind of enjoyed the last bit- partly relief that it was nearly over and that I could actually finish it, and also nice to enjoy the scenery without the stress of ‘OMG I’ve still got XXX miles to go’.  I finished in under 29 hours which was 2 hours 40 minutes faster than Samphire 100 two years ago so I was massively happy with that!  The race organisers and volunteers are genuinely amazing- I could not have done it without the support and encouragement, and thank you all so so so much.  Also massive thank you to the amazing people taking part in the run- you all did amazingly and huge WELL DONE to everyone!!  Thanks so much for the encouragement, chats and hugs from everyone during and after the race- anyone who knows me will know that I’m not a hug-type person in any way at all but I really needed it during what was a seriously tough run and thank you all so much.  You are all incredible!!

I’m still completely overwhelmed and can’t fully process it, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention lots of awesome parts of the run so might end up editing this blog post at some point or adding to it but it really was an amazing event and such an incredible challenge.  100 miles is a bloody long way and it’s a really up and down experience for anyone, even people who have done it several times before.  MASSIVE congratulations to anyone who took part and to everyone doing the challenge runs- it wasn’t the easiest course and conditions, and everyone did so so well.  THANK YOU to Traviss and Rachel for organising it and to all the amazing volunteers who made it possible and made it such an amazing experience.  The atmosphere at SVN events is always awesome and I loved every minute of it however painful the run was at times.  Thank you all so much ❤

More SVN Challenge runs!

Hi guys, I’m really sorry I haven’t written a blog post in so long; haven’t been feeling great recently and getting really frustrated with (lack of) mental health support, and I don’t like posting non-positive writing so thought it would be best to give blogging a break for a while.  Also haven’t been running much recently since I cracked a rib a couple of months ago but FINALLY getting back into it and ran two awesome Saxons Vikings and Normans events last weekend which were, as usual, amazing, well organised and massively supportive.  Thanks Traviss, Rachel, Karen and everyone else who helped to organise and run the events!

I was really nervous about running the events because I hadn’t run properly in over two months and I tried to run an ultra event a couple of weeks ago but only managed 16 miles due to rib pain and cold weather, and I drove down to Kent half-expecting this weekend to be similar.  I’d had a busy week at work and was exhausted before I even got there but when I arrived in Deal and went to the B+B (which I’d booked because it was the cheapest), I was mega excited to find out that it was on the seafront!  The sunrise walk before the runs and moonlight afterwards made the trip to Kent worth it even if the running didn’t work out at all, and I was looking forward to seeing friends from other runs who were also taking part so I started to feel a bit more optimistic although still very, very nervous.

Saturday was the Betteshanger Challenge and I kept reminding myself that some (crazy) people were doing 10 marathons in 10 days and this would be their 9th so I didn’t really have anything to complain about!  I still wasn’t sure if I should aim for a marathon or ultra so I channelled my inner teen and asked the collective wisdom that is Instagram via an insta poll and the results came back as 70% ultra.  So that pretty much decided that!

One of the things I love most about SVN events is how friendly, accepting and welcoming the people are.  It’s amazing when people not only recognise you but also seem happy to see you, and it’s like you only ran with them last week instead of months ago.  And everyone is so inclusive that even though I’d one of the slowest runners on the planet, it really doesn’t feel like it and everyone is equal even though there are people there with crazy records!

When the run started it was FREEZING and I ran the first lap wearing pretty much the amount of layers you’d wear on a ski slope.  It warmed up *slightly* by the second and third laps though so I swapped my ski jacket for a lighter windproof running one and took off one of the pairs of gloves, still cold but definitely better than running like I was doing some sort of polar marathon.

The course wasn’t the most exciting in the world; it started up a hill past the visitor centre then followed a two mile cycle track and back to the start which was a bit monotonous after a while but at least you couldn’t get lost and the views weren’t terrible.  It was also really, really cold (although I was told it was much colder during the week) and my temperature regulation is a bit rubbish so I was really feeling it as the race went on.  I couldn’t seem to get into the usual rhythm but managed to settle into a relatively OK state of half-jogging and brain slowedness if not totally quiet, which seemed about as much as I could hope for.  So I carried on longer than I thought I’d be able to and started to connect more with the run as the time went on.

Part of the reason I didn’t quit at half marathon (which I seriously considered) was that I was fortunate enough to run into the awesome and inspiring Nick Nicholson who I’ve run with before on previous races and who never fails to amaze me with his pretty much constant running and amazing world records.  I’d been feeling a bit demoralised and exhausted but Nick put up with several laps of me talking pretty much random crap at him (until once again, I ditched him for coffee- I promise it’s not personal, Nick!) and decided to go for the ultra after all.  Then the sky decided to showcase its awesomeness and there was one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever seen which, coupled with David Bowie, made the last couple of laps feel like a sort of religious experience.  Amazing!!

As anyone who’s ever seen my Instagram page (@ultrarunning.geek) will know, I’m a bit obsessed with taking pictures of the sky and nature but this was seriously incredible.  It made the freezing start and icy wind absolutely worth it and I almost didn’t want to stop by the end even though I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained.  There’s something magical about running when the light’s an intense gold and the world seems strangely magnified and detailed, and that’s the point when I start feeling fully connected with the world around me and with God.  Took way too many photos so here are a few more!

I was absolutely exhausted by the time I got back to the B+B and after porridge, coffee and a hot shower (because my body felt like I’d spent the day in a walk-in freezer!), I was ready to go to bed at about 7pm!  I forced myself to stay awake for a few hours though, did some drawing and wrote in my diary (because I really am a throwback 90s kid!) and went to bed finally about 11pm in the hope that I might actually get some sleep.  As usual for the moment, I couldn’t get to sleep and had several fights with the duvet in an attempt to get warm (even with hot water bottles and blankets!) and it seemed like ages of listening to Harry Potter to actually fall asleep but I must have done because next thing I remember it was 3am and I was awake again.

The second day was much harder than the first.  I was physically tired even after three cups of coffee and achy from the day before, and I’d started to get a cold which didn’t help (apart from the amusement of being IDd for Lemsip!).  My mood was also pretty rubbish for no particular reason and I kind of wanted to crash and hide in Homeland DVDs for the whole day but obviously that wasn’t an option.  So I used my usual strategy of using Instagram for accountability and asked via a second insta poll if I should aim for marathon or ultra.  THANKFULLY the vote was ‘marathon’ at 57% to 43% so I set that as my target and it gave me a legitimate reason not to push for an ultra.

Sunday wasn’t quite as cold as Saturday and I didn’t have to start in a ski jacket and two pairs of gloves which was a relief!  The course was also nicer- it was a 4.3 mile loop with undulating footpath and trail which was really good to run on and again, you couldn’t really get lost.  So on one level I was enjoying the run much more than I had the previous day but I was also physically exhausted, still cold and irrationally anxious which made it really hard to settle into the running.

Then the weather decided to make things even harder with icy rain and wind.  I had a waterproof with a hood and several layers but it was that horrible smeary rain which seems to penetrate through every layer you have so it was pretty much cold and wet whatever you did.  I was literally shivering as I was running which wasn’t fun and I’d also started to feel a bit dizzy and nauseous with tiredness which I tried unsuccessfully to combat with chocolate and Haribo- you know the run’s not going great when Haribo doesn’t work!!

One of the things that really does help when you’re feeling rubbish when running is supportive texts because it makes you feel more connected and like you’re not totally on your own running in the middle of nowhere, and thank you so so much to everyone who sent messages.  I was ready to quit at halfway again but I’d got some lovely messages from close friends and really wanted to get to at least marathon so carried on with the help of lovely friends and family.  Thank you!!

I didn’t take many photos on the second day, partly because I was exhausted and partly because it was so cold and wet that I didn’t want to take my gloves off to take a photo.  But I did get a few good ones in between rain showers and it really was a typical, damp autumn run in beautiful scenery.

By the end, I was so tired that I could hardly run straight and shivery cold, and I just wanted to finish.  The last part of the lap was a bit hilly and I could really feel it in my knees as I tried to complete in under the time limit, and the last stretch seemed to last forever.  But finally it was over and, being a Lucky Dip Challenge, there was a choice of random medals.  I didn’t really have much of a preference and couldn’t decide, and then one of the race organisers asked me if I wanted a Formula One medal!!  I’m a MASSIVE F1 fan and said yes if there was one, and she said that she’d saved me one because she knew I liked F1!  It was so so nice of her and I got a bit over-excited, acting like a ten year old on Christmas Day, jumping up and down and showing random people (ridiculous post-run emotions even for me!) then I suddenly wanted to cry.  I was still absolutely freezing which might also have contributed to the over-emotion so I went into the visitor centre and got out my blanket, hot water bottle and hand warmers which were an absolute godsend!

Once I’d warmed up a bit, I could drive home and after nearly 5 hours of driving (M25 traffic then accident on M40), I was ready to crash out.  I had a quick shower and some porridge (with blueberries, thanks to a friend’s suggestion) then went straight to bed.  Amazingly I actually fell asleep relatively quickly but that meant that I woke up ridiculously early so you can’t really win…  So worth it though!!  Was awesome to see so many people I knew and to catch up with people, and can’t wait to see you all at another SVN event soon!

Insomnia 24

Sorry this blog post is so late!  I ran Insomnia 24 back in August but have been so busy with going back to work, sorting out stuff for Open University and trying to deal with a pretty persistent mood crash that I haven’t had the energy or motivation to write a post after the race.  But it was such an amazing, magical run that I can’t not write one so going to attempt to use photos to try to channel the amazing feelings and moments over an amazing 24 hours…

The run started at midday and was in Leicestershire so for once, I didn’t have to travel too far.  I drove there on the Saturday morning and set up my tent with two hours to spare, so got chatting to some other people doing the run who were lovely as always and started to get excited.  It was hot already so I decided to leave my backpack by the start line instead of in my tent (because everything would melt) and put on sunscreen- REALLY didn’t want a repeat of last year’s ridiculous sunburn from a summer 100 miler! I wasn’t too nervous about the run because it was my fourth ultra over the summer holidays, I didn’t have any specific goals or targets and just wanted to enjoy the weekend of running.  So as midday got closer, the pre-run nerves never really got past the jittery stage and I was definitely more excited than terrified.  The course looked awesome, it was a six mile loop and the weather was amazing which is pretty miraculous for an August bank holiday weekend!

The course genuinely was amazing!  It started with a gentle downhill run across a field with a windmill then looped back behind some woods, through the trees, up the other side of the field, through more trees, over a pumpkin field, past farmland with strawberries, blackberries and probably more crops that I didn’t recognise then down through some more woods and back up to loop round yet another field.  It was undulating but not massively hilly although it was one of the most technically challenging courses I have ever run- very uneven ground in a lot of places, overgrown nettles and (obviously, since it was an ultra) mud.  But the scenery made it worth it a million times over and it was so well organised that even I couldn’t get lost!

It was HOT!!  It took a while to get used to running in the heat and was drinking a lot more than I usually would even during an ultra, but it was close to 30 degrees and hardly any clouds in the sky so definitely needed.  I’d thought ahead enough to bring a cap and sunglasses (super organised for me!) and had electrolyte tablets so was about as prepared as I could be but was still tough running across exposed fields in the heat.  But considering the last 24 hour ultra I ran was postponed overnight because of torrential rain (see Hope24 2017), this was definitely preferable and once my body had adjusted, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as previous hot races I’ve run.  Possibly because I’m not taking risperidone or quetiapine any more but it’s amazing the difference it makes!

The first few hours passed pretty quickly and it was awesome to listen to Harry Potter with no interruptions or distractions apart from amazing scenery which made it feel like I was actually running through the story.  I started to feel more relaxed than I had done in weeks (it was the last week of the summer holidays and my stress/mood levels were pretty much at breaking point by then), my brain was finally starting to slow down, the bitch in my head’s voice was less intense and I was actually beginning to feel ‘real’ and connected again.  After a couple of hours of magical running, I met a guy I’d run with on previous races and ran a lap with him which was awesome as always (thanks Nick!) and crazily inspiring given that he’s currently holding the Guinness World Records for most marathons and most ultras in a year.  By then, I was getting seriously caffeine-deprived so ditched Nick for coffee after the lap and took a quick caffeine break to fuel up for the nighttime part of the race.

After an energy boost of coffee and peanut butter, the sun was starting to set so I set off on a ‘photography lap’ which is my version of a recovery lap- slow running and lots of walking to take photos, and basically just enjoying the incredibleness of nature, God and calmness.  It was a seriously amazing sunset- genuinely one of the best I have ever seen and that’s including Aberystwyth!  The only word to describe it is MAGICAL ❤ clear skies with horizon clouds meant that the whole sky turned orange and pink, and you could connect with everything around you in a way that I’ve only ever felt mid-ultra when nature’s doing something incredible.  Can’t find the right words to describe it so I’ll stick to sharing photos instead (photos still don’t do it justice!).

After that, it got properly dark so headtorch and layers time.  Given how hot it had been during the day, it was a bit of a shock how quickly the temperature dropped thanks to the clear skies and pretty soon I was running with a growing amount of layers culminating with two long sleeved tops, a fleece, an anorak and a fleecy blanket towards dawn!  Nightrunning is my least favourite part of ultrarunning :/ not because I don’t like running at night (I actually love some aspects of it) but because I get scared and a bit paranoid on my own in the dark, especially on a course like this which was all trail and a lot of wooded areas.

I’m really lucky though that I have some seriously awesome ‘text buddies’ who are AMAZING people who don’t mind random (usually over-excited or panicky) texts during ultras and who always reply with encouraging or inspiring words, and which sometimes have been the only reason I’ve completed some of the runs I’ve taken part in.  It’s weird, even though I know that they’re nowhere near me and that even if something did happen it’s seriously unlikely that they’d be able to do anything, it feels infinitely safer to know that they’re ‘there’ even if just through a Nokia 3210 (or running in spirit if you happen to be an awesome inspiring running guru!) and it makes such a massive difference to running on your own at night.  Can’t express enough how much it helps and how amazing it is to get those texts especially when I’m physically and mentally exhausted- you know who you are and thank you so so much!!

One close friend texted some quotes about darkness which really resonated with me and helped so much with running on my own in the dark: “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must also be present”- Francis Bacon, and “I used to be afraid of the dark until I learned that I am a light and the darkness is afraid of me”- Ephesians 5:8.  Can’t put into words how much that meant when I feeling nervous running on my own through trees at night and it really, really helped.  Another amazing friend texted to say that she had run two hours and so I wasn’t running alone, and that also really, really helped because it really is scary and lonely on your own at night!  Even though there are other people doing the run, you spread out so that you don’t really see people especially on the nighttime part so feeling connected to people in any way makes a massive difference.

I can’t remember a massive amount about running overnight apart from a few, very vivid moments which made the run probably the most magical run I have ever taken part in.  The clear skies meant that the temperature dropped quickly and it was like running through Narnia with more stars than I’ve ever seen outside of a dark sky park, cold, clear air and absolute quiet.  The stars were incredible.  I saw Orion for the first time this year which was pretty special (Orion is my all-time favourite constellation and I always use him as a ‘grounding point’ because whenever you are, you’re always looking at the same stars and he’s always roughly south-west which makes me feel safe because it helps you locate where you are, and west leads to Aberystwyth), the usual constellations like the Plough and Cassiopeia and could even see the Pleiades.

The most magical moment was when a shooting star shot across the sky so fast that I thought I’d imagined it.  It was seriously amazing- I was listening to David Bowie’s Blackstar album while running across the open field and it was totally unexpected.  Then not long after, there was another one and I could feel the amazing, infinite oneness that I can’t describe fully in words- it’s like you’re connected with God and the world around you with an intense energy that makes you feel real and safe and connected all at once.  It’s the most amazing feeling I’ve ever experienced.  The rest of the night passed in a bit of a blur and pretty soon, the sun was starting to rise and it was time for another coffee/porridge break!

If I’d thought the sunset was amazing, the sunrise was even more incredible.  It happened as quickly as the evening- quiet pre-dawn seemed to morph straight into flaming sun and morning mist.  It was equally magical as running across the stars but in a totally different way- this was surreal and unnerving, and it was a relief when the sun cut through the fog like a flaming dagger.  My absolute favourite part of a 24 hour run is the sunrise especially on a midday to midday race because the start of a new day seems to ‘reset’ any tiredness or negativity, and I could feel the underlying nighttime fear and tiredness start to ease off.

Physically though, I was starting to feel the impact of running for God knows how many hours (my brain was mush by then) and was feeling exhausted, dizzy and nauseous.  I was 10 laps in and needed to decide if I was going to stop at 12 laps or try to aim for 14 by the end of the 24 hours (I can’t stop on 13 laps because it’s bad luck).  It was pushing it a bit tight to aim for the 14 laps and I was feeling physically horrible but mentally I was feeling better than I had done in months and I really, really didn’t want to lose that feeling.  So I decided to go for the 14 laps and see how far I could go.  The dizziness was a pretty big problem though and I walked the remainder of that lap to see if it would help.  I tried to eat a cereal bar but immediately felt more nauseous, and ate some Haribo in mild desperation and amazingly, I felt better almost straight away!  It was incredible so I ate some more Haribo then started to run slowly again, and pretty soon I was feeling like I’d just started the run instead of being nearly 20 hours in!

The temperature rose almost as quickly as it had dropped the night before and pretty soon I was running in just a T-shirt and shorts again.  It was so hot that the Haribo had melted which made it taste like food from Heaven (seriously- melted Haribo is actually the most amazing food ever and even beats peanut butter!) and that fuelled me of the rest of the race.  I didn’t want to stop running ever- the light was like golden syrup, the mist was like running through somewhere Gothic and magical, and the whole world was amazing.  I was seriously hyped by that point (probably Haribo-related!) and having the most amazing run of my life.  It passed way too quickly though, and suddenly it was midday and I was finishing my final lap.  Really, really didn’t want the race to end!

Then the weirdest thing of the whole race happened: I was first female!!  That was so, so strange and felt totally wrong- I had to get it checked several times over before I could believe it.  I have never won a race in my life, and definitely not running!  The closest I’ve ever got was 3rd in hoop skipping on sports day in Year 2- every running race I ever took part in at school, I was last or close to last and I am really not a natural athlete.  But I actually did come first female in this one (still can’t believe it!) and got a £50 voucher for a running shop which is amazing given that nearly all my money goes on running stuff!  Such an incredible feeling, and really does show how positive and inclusive ultrarunning is.

THANK YOU so so much to everyone from Go Ultra events for organising such an amazing race and can’t wait to take part again next year!!  INCREDIBLE running event, so well organised, so friendly and amazing people ❤

Frustration about mental health and how it impacts life choices

Sorry I haven’t posted much in ages :/ not been massively busy or anything (school holidays atm) but brain has been a bit of a sieve recently and finding it hard to keep up with basically anything that isn’t running so been half-planning blog posts then never getting round to finishing them so if this is a bit disjointed, that’s why!  Thanks for still reading though if you are 🙂

The main thing I wanted to write about in this blog post is frustration about ‘recovery’ (or not being clinically ‘recovered’) and how that impacts over and over on what you want to do with your life but in order to write about that, it would be important to understand exactly what recovery ‘is’ and I realised I still don’t really know.  On one level, it’s simple- the OED defines it as “A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength” but that requires an implicit understanding of what ‘normal’ means and anyone with any experience at all of mental health issues in any context will know that that’s impossible to apply universally and doesn’t even exist as a yardstick to measure from.

Another definition would be the absence of symptoms or ‘illness’ but again that’s really difficult with mental health because everyone experiences symptoms of anxiety, depression, paranoia etc at some point and there’s no real way to decide what’s ‘normal’ and what’s ‘illness’.  I heard someone say recently that recovery isn’t the absence of symptoms but it’s when your symptoms don’t bother you any more, which I like as a concept and in everyday life that’s probably the most useful definition I’ve come across but it still doesn’t help when you’re got a clinical diagnosis (or diagnoses) of specific mental health issues that you still show enough symptoms of to meet the criteria so can’t be classified as ‘recovered’ even if you have managed to build up enough coping strategies or techniques that it doesn’t significantly impact your day-to-day life.  I wrote a blog post about similar ideas a few months ago- see 21/05/07: probably the most significant day of my life.  Reflections a decade on… if you’re interested.  So complicated and frustrating!!

The reason I’m thinking about this so much at the moment (and this week in particular) is because I applied to foster a couple of months ago and found out yesterday that the application was unsuccessful because of my medical reference which wasn’t that surprising as I’ve had issues with occupational health before when I’ve applied for certain jobs and had the job offer withdrawn due to medical references, but it’s still really frustrating and disappointing.  It’s partly the frustration of medical (mental health) issues continually getting in the way of things I’m really, genuinely passionate about and want to do with my life but also anger because I know I’m mentally more stable over the last few years than I have ever been and I really don’t know what more I can do to prove that to people.  Anger at myself for not having managed to ‘recover’ from a clinical perspective but also (horribly, because I hate feeling angry at other people) anger at the whole system and how restrictive it is.  I know I could be a good foster carer and I genuinely would put the child’s needs above anything else.  It’s what I try to do in every job I’ve ever had- child/young person/service user’s needs are absolute priority and that’s the main ‘rule’ in my life and being totally honest, it’s the main reason I’m still trying to get rid of the horrible parts of my brain because it would be so much easier just to accept it and go along with everything the bitch in my head tells me but I try so hard not to and to be ‘normal’ as much as I can because of the impact that could have on kids I work with or who I’m close to.  Which makes it doubly frustrating when as far as health professionals are concerned, it’s like I’ve not managed anything at all.

The other side to the situation is the fact that I really, really, REALLY want to have kids.  I know it’s something most people want at some point in their lives and sometimes it doesn’t work out for various reasons, but since I was really little I’ve wanted lots of kids and I’d give up anything else to be able to have them.  To me, it’s the point of being an adult and probably the only benefit to it.  There’s already the complication of being asexual and never being in a relationship which is something I can’t see ever changing because I’ve genuinely never experienced sexual or romantic attraction to anyone, and the idea of having sex with anyone makes me feel physically sick.  Then there’s the other problem of having had an eating disorder for 17 years; I still have very irregular periods, I’m not sure how fertile I would be even if I was sexually active and I also know that with my current food intake, it could be potentially dangerous for an unborn baby so would have to make some drastic changes although I think that pregnancy would be a massive motivator for this because the baby would have to come first.

Adoption or fostering seemed the only option which is why it’s so upsetting that it’s not a possibility.  The woman who assessed me was lovely and suggested voluntary organisations which support young people in care and I have applied to volunteer for, but it’s not the same as actually having the parent-style responsibility and relationship with the young person which is what I really, really want.  It’s hard to describe because I don’t really know what the feeling is :/ it’s like an intense need to ‘give’ to and care for another person in a way that’s more than childcare or friendship- I want to be able to fully support someone and for their needs to be my absolute priority, which I know sounds weird and it’s not exactly what I’m trying to say but I have no idea how to phrase it.

I work with kids and have done for years which I absolutely love and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to develop very close bonds with kids and young people, but it’s not the same as being the main caregiver for someone and having that sort of bond with them even though I know that parenting in any form is hard and isn’t always a positive experience.  But even if it’s not, I still want to give it a try- I get really upset when people say things like ‘it’s hard being a parent, you’re lucky you can give the kids back, you wouldn’t feel like that if you had your own’ etc because actually I WANT the challenges of parenthood, I hate having to ‘give kids back’ and (I know this is horrible) I get really, really jealous of parents’ relationships with their kids even when they’re arguing because I really want that sort of bond and to know that even if someone is angry at you at that particular moment, you’re still their parent and there’s still an unconditional bond there which won’t go away just because they’re upset.  I’m not being naive or thinking that parenting is easy or anything like that; I just really, really want to be a parent.  I’m 30 now and have wanted kids for years, and I’m starting to realise I probably won’t ever have them which hurts so much just to think about and I really, really don’t want it to be true.

I also know though that it would be selfish to go through with the fostering application knowing that it could be potentially damaging for a child or young person who’s already vulnerable to have a foster carer with (apparently) clinically significant mental health issues so I have to respect and accept the decision of fostering services even though I am really upset about it.  I’m not angry with them at all- they need to prioritise the needs of young people and I completely understand that, but I am frustrated about the system and how I’m seen as not “mentally stable” enough to be a foster carer.  The main issues brought up in the medical report and in discussion with fostering services were emotion regulation issues relating to ASD (the GP said that he wasn’t confident I’d be able to have enough emotional empathy or understanding to fully support a child with emotional issues) and having a “long-standing eating disorder” which is a factor that has impacted on occupational health in the past and I have no idea what I’m meant to be about it.  Yes, I have had an eating disorder for the last 17 years but I haven’t been an inpatient in ten years, I eat regularly even if it is only certain foods and I am a ‘healthy’ weight.

I know I still have some issues around food and eating but it’s definitely not obvious and it’s mostly the bitch in my head shouting at me 24/7 which is the problem and not the actual behavioural/physical side which I’ve learnt to manage pretty well over the last few years and I’m not exactly going to vocalise the bitch’s words to a young person I’m caring for.  And to me, it’s not as potentially risky as someone who drinks alcohol regularly or smokes (for example) which is totally socially acceptable.  It’s also frustrating because ED services won’t work with me anymore because it’s ‘chronic’ and my weight’s stable so I don’t meet the criteria for ED services but it’s still seen as a medical issue that stops me from being able to do things that I’m most passionate about like having/looking after children, working with young people in mental health services or being a teacher?  I have no idea what the solution is and if anyone has any experience of this, please feel free to email me on rainbowsandrecovery@gmail.com!

Really sorry that this seems to have been a mostly ranting post and haven’t even got round to trying to define ‘recovery’ properly yet.  Will shut up now and save that for another post…  Thanks for reading 🙂