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 ❤

21/05/07: probably the most significant day of my life.  Reflections a decade on…

Today is ten years since I discharged from an inpatient ED unit for the last time.  I genuinely can’t describe the feelings I’m experiencing atm :/ so weird, scary and really surreal.  Really doesn’t feel like ten years ago, and I’m not sure if I’ve moved forward, backwards or even anywhere at all in that time.  Things are definitely DIFFERENT, and mostly in a good way, but so much has changed in both positive and not-so-positive ways that I’m finding it hard to get my head round.  Will start off with the last diary entries from that time, including a scarily relevant horoscope!


They’re very short diary entries and I can’t remember writing them at all, and I think it’s probably because I was so overwhelmed and confused still at that point.  I knew I was going to leave that Monday, but because it wasn’t a ‘planned’ discharge and I was discharging “against medical advice”, I couldn’t really prepare for it properly or even psych up to leaving because it didn’t feel real, possible and something might still happen to stop it.  I’d never have admitted this at the time (even in my diary) but there was a pretty big part of me that actually wanted someone to stop me from leaving.  I was so so scared, didn’t want to go ‘home’ and really didn’t feel prepared for coping on my own but I knew I couldn’t stay in and gain more weight, my periods might come back and that would mean more obsessions and intense emotions, and I wasn’t ready for that either.  

I really wanted someone to give me a massive hug and reassure me that everything would be OK, I could slow things down and take a break from intense ‘recovery’ for a while but I’m pretty good at saying everything’s fine, I don’t need anyone and I’m better on my own so that wouldn’t even have been a possibility.  It’s still something I need to work on I think- there’s a very few people I can be honest with about how I’m feeling but even with them, I’d never even think about asking for a hug even though sometimes I really feel like I need one.  Most of the time I hate physical contact but there are times when I could really, really use a proper hug.  But I never know when it’s OK to ask for a hug from someone or how you do it, if it’s appropriate or they might not want to :/ I’m lucky, there are two kids I’ve known forever who I can hug whenever I see them which is amazing and I get genuine oxytocin from hugging them but they’re teenagers now and I know it’s not feasible to expect them to want to hug me or even spend time with me anywhere near as much as they did when they were little.

Monday came, I’d reached a weight where I could discharge without it being any surprise since I’d been saying for weeks I didn’t want to go over that weight (it was linked to when my periods stopped and really didn’t want them back) and I had to actually go through the process of leaving.  It was HARD, so much scarier and difficult than I’d thought (being totally honest, I hadn’t really thought about the actual leaving part; I just wanted out).  I had to sign forms accepting that I was discharging “against medical advice” and it also had to be signed by ward staff and the consultant psychiatrist before I could actually leave which would be after lunch.  It was horrible signing the form and I felt like I was doing something massively wrong, against the rules and borderline illegal which went against everything I try to do.  I also felt like I was letting people down, especially some of the ward staff who had had a really positive impact and who I really respected (even though sometimes I hated them).  But I knew it was the only way to escape and I was so angry, confused and overwhelmed that I just needed to leave.

I can’t remember anything at all about what happened after that, but I’m guessing it went relatively OK because I’d probably remember anything major.  I can’t even remember how my parents reacted or what it was like going back home, or even what it was like to see my cat again.  The next thing I remember is a couple of days later going to a local primary school and asking if I could do ‘work experience’ there, which the teacher agreed to and that became a massive part of my life for the next few years.

The weird thing now is trying to reflect on what’s changed since then and if I’ve actually moved on in the last ten years.  It’s hard because it’s really difficult to know what ED recovery actually *is*, and so many things I still find hard aren’t actually directly related to ED issues anyway so it’s hard to try to work it out.  And even within ED, there are so many aspects to recovery that it’s hard to define even that!

From a physical perspective, I’d be classed as ‘recovered’- my weight is in the normal range, I have periods, my bone density hasn’t changed in the over 5 years and I have enough energy to do as many physical activities as I want to.  But even with that, I still have a very slow metabolism, low blood pressure and pulse rate, dizziness when I get up too quickly, chronic oesophagitus and a recurring stomach ulcer, lots of dental issues and low bone density.  I know some of that (bone density and dental issues) isn’t reversible but still trying to improve the others especially metabolism.  But overall, I would definitely be classed as physically recovered from an inpatient definition anyway.

Food intake is a tricky one.  When I first discharged, my diet was a lot more varied (and more calories) than I currently eat now because I was trying to match an inpatient eating plan as much as I could although the portions were nowhere near the same size.  That lasted about seven months then started to become more restricted again, and gradually got worse ironically as my weight increased.  The really ironic thing is that in the seven months that I was eating ‘normally’ (three different meals, three snacks a day totalling nearly twice what I currently eat calorie-wise) I was losing weight at a pretty significant rate and actually got to readmission weight by the end of my first year at uni (just over a year after discharge) although that was when bingeing/purging started up again and my weight skyrocketed.  Now, I’m trying to reintroduce a more varied diet but it’s bloody hard and I don’t really know how to do it.  I’ve managed to cut down on bingeing but it still happens at least a couple of times a week and I have no idea how to manage that either.  So I’m really not sure if I’ve got anywhere with food intake and I think I’ve actually regressed a lot rather than progressed.  Big one to still work on!

Mood is another tricky one.  Although I still feel rubbish a lot of the time, I don’t have the constant underlying ‘nothingness’ that I had in 2007 and my anxiety is definitely more under control now which is a positive although it could be linked to the fact that I’m actually taking medication now whereas ten years ago I wouldn’t even have considered it.  In 2007, I still didn’t have periods and my weight was low so I had the surreal ‘detachment’ which was safe and comfortable whereas now I have intense mood swings and emotional reactions which can be really difficult to deal with but it goes both ways- I get intensely excited as well as intensely sad or angry, and much as I find it hard to manage the positive parts kind of compensate for the negative, especially if I manage to apply DBT emotional regulation or distress tolerance skills in a way that actually makes sense.  So I’m seeing that as a positive change even though most of the time it feels negative.

Work and social life is bloody complicated! Technically I haven’t actually progressed at all work-wise :/ I’m still working in a school as a teaching assistant and I haven’t managed to get anywhere career-wise, and if anything I’ve gone backwards since I failed teacher training and have no idea where I’m going.  It really does feel like I’ve wasted the last ten years and I feel so guilty about that.  But I’ve got lots of work experience in different job roles and learned a lot from it (both in terms of skills and how to survive in a work environment), I can eat lunch in front of colleagues now which is a massive thing compared to when I used to hide in the toilets to eat and I’ve been in my current job for more than six months which is the longest I’ve ever had a job.  So positives and negatives; probably overall mostly negative but again I’m working on it and I think it’s moving v slowly in a positive direction…

From a social perspective, I have no idea.  I’m still too intense/clingy with close friends which I HATE and am trying to change, but I think part of the problem is that I don’t have many actual ‘friends’ so it becomes concentrated on the few I have rather than having a range of people to contact or spend time with.  I really can’t see that changing though :/ I’m not great at making friends in the first place and the idea of having to manage lots of relationships terrifies me.  I’m really lucky that I do have a few close relationships with people who *touch wood* can tolerate annoying or anxious behaviour and who don’t seem to hate me even though they know me pretty well.  Two of my closest friends are from when I was inpatient which is amazing because I was sure everyone there hated me and they’re awesome, so accepting and understanding which is really nice.  My other close ‘friends’ are people I’ve met since I discharged- one of them literally right after discharge since he was at the school I started working at the week I left!  It’s weird to think that all my closest relationships happened either as an inpatient or afterwards, and all when I was a higher weight which is really strange because I always thought people would think I’m lazy and selfish for being a high weight.  I have no idea if I’ve moved forward socially or not, but I do seem to have a few stable friendships although I know that friendships are fluid and you can’t rely on keeping them forever and I’m OK with that too.  It’s taken a really long time and I’m still not there yet, but I can accept now that people aren’t static and change over time which can sometimes mean that friendships have to come to an end but that’s OK because forcing it would be an artificial friendship which isn’t healthy for anyone.  Still got so much to work on with friendships but learned so so much over the last year especially.

The other major change over the last ten years is the intensity of obsessive thoughts. Although I still get them several times a day, they’re much less intense now and don’t take over my whole brain the way they used to- like I can actually write this blog without being totally distracted by obsessions!  I still get vertigo and ‘zoned out’ but nowhere near as much, and it’s a lot easier to deal with.  The same goes for paranoid thoughts which again I still experience regularly but definitely not to the same degree.  I don’t really know why this has changed (especially since I’m at a much higher weight- in 2007, I didn’t experience them at all because of detachment but they came back mega strong in 2010); it could be linked to medication or the amount of exercise I do now, but it could also be because of the amount my perspective on relationships in general has changed, and that I actually have ‘real’ close relationships with people who don’t seem to judge or reject me (*TOUCH WOOD*!!!  Still can’t actually believe that) which means I don’t ‘need’ to intensely attach to a specific person?  I have no idea but I’m really not complaining about it!  I’m seeing that as the biggest positive change in the last couple of years and probably over my whole lifetime.  Sounds like an exaggeration but it’s not- obsessions took over my brain for 17 years and it’s AMAZING to have some sort of freedom from it.

The last one is the ED ‘voice’ itself, which again is pretty difficult to figure out.  I’ve only recently started to see it as something separate from my actual thoughts, and I’ve been calling it (her) the ‘bitch in my head’ because for me it’s not just food or exercise- she comments on EVERYTHING, constantly criticises and judges me for what I do or think and makes me really paranoid and anxious.  She’s still there just as strong as she was 17 years ago when I first became aware of something ‘different’ in how I thought or what drove my behaviours (it was the same time the obsessions started so they get mixed up in my memory) but thanks to DBT skills, I’m starting manage her voice a lot better now and to begin to understand her point of view.  It’s really weird- ten years ago, I would never have accepted even that it was a ‘voice’ separate to my own thoughts; I was convinced it was just part of who I was and what I ‘had’ to do to stop the obsessions and intense emotions and so I would be less selfish.  But DBT teaches that two opposite things can be true at the same time and you can accept something without having to believe or act on it, and I’ve been trying to apply this to the bitch in my head- she has her opinions which are valid for her but I can just accept that and don’t need to believe or act on them.  It’s taken a LOT of work and still can’t always manage it but getting better at it v v slowly.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to to get rid of her completely but I can learn to manage how I react or even listen to her comments, commands or judgements.  The other really useful DBT skill for this is thought diffusion- have mentioned this in a lot of previous blog posts (look for ones under the DBT category) so won’t go into too much detail now but it really does help. Along with the obsessions, this is probably the most significant change over the last few years and has literally changed the way I think and react to critical or ED-related thoughts which I think really is the main reason I’ve managed to stay out for ten years so far and hopefully forever.

I still don’t know what recovery is but I think I’m a lot closer to it than I was back in 2007, even if from a ‘clinical’ ED perspective it wouldn’t seem like it because my food intake is still restricted and I still binge/purge.  I don’t think behaviours are necessarily reflective of progress though (although obviously they can be indicative of an acute or emerging mental health issue and there are degrees of risk which MH services really need to take into account more) and I think with chronic or longer term MH issues, it’s much more about overall progress in a range of perspectives rather than what behaviours you’re exhibiting.  If I took the ED screening test now, I’d score very high because of behaviours I still use compared to 2007 when I didn’t but psychologically I’m much, much more in control now than I was back then.  A lot of it has come from things I’ve learned from friendships, both in terms of losing/gaining friends and in terms of genuine support I’ve had from close friends over the last few years, and I’m so so lucky and grateful for that.  I’ve started to identify less and less with the concept of ‘recovery’ and more with the idea of acceptance and positive management of MH issues, and I’m finding that so much more manageable and ‘concrete’ instead of an abstract ideal that I don’t understand and which may or may not exist.  Also realising that any movement in the right direction is progress even if it’s just a tiny bit because tiny amounts add up and suddenly you realise you’re doing something you’d never even have thought possible but it happened so gradually you didn’t notice.  Thank you so so much to everyone who’s tolerated and supported me over the last ten years ❤

Survived the weekend!

First weekend of Lent down and it actually wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be!  I always find weekends difficult- too much time, no structure, loneliness and no distractions, and I was really nervous about trying to stick to my Lent resolutions without the structure and distraction of school to help.  It was bloody hard, especially yesterday, but nowhere near as difficult as I thought and *touch wood* have managed to stick (mostly) to the plan, no major ‘behaviours’ and even had a soya latte in Coffee Nero which was a massive personal challenge!

Saturdays are the hardest day of the week- start of the seemingly endless mass of too much time also known as the weekend, no structure, the pressing feeling that I ‘should’ be doing something productive and absolute exhaustion from the school week.  I met a friend yesterday morning which was really nice, and since it was ‘snack time’ I’d decided to have a soya latte instead of black coffee which I’d usually have.  I was really nervous about it, partly in case my friend commented (even though I know she wouldn’t) and partly because the bitch in my head kept telling me that I ‘shouldn’t drink calories’, it was an extra that I didn’t need, it was way more expensive than americano and that I was just being greedy.  I repeated in my head over and over some ‘facts’ that I’d already memorised to challenge her- that it wasn’t any worse than the banana I’d had that I’d had every breaktime at school, it was calcium and protein which are both necessary for runners, nearly everyone in Caffe Nero drinks a ‘calorie drink’ and none of them have immediately gained half a stone because of it, and that one of my closest friends who I really look up to drinks lattes at least once a day with sugar and is one of the slimmest people I know.

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Then I opened my purse and realised I’d got a fully stamped Nero card which meant a free drink, and that seemed like a good omen to get a more expensive drink so I asked for a soya latte with sugar free caramel syrup.  WOW, it tasted amazing!!  Drinking it was hard though- part of me wanted to drink it all straight away because it tasted incredible and was like liquid candy but the other part of me wanted to throw it surreptitiously out the window because it was dangerous and greedy and I wanted more.  So I drank it probably quicker than I’d meant to to get it out the way, and kind of regretted it when I realised I hadn’t really tasted it as much as I’d have liked to.  That’s the horrible part of ‘liking’ foods/drinks- it feels scary and dangerous and you want to get rid of it as fast as you can but there’s also a part of you that you don’t want to admit that wants it (I’m not sure what the best word to use to describe it- it’s not ‘enjoyment’ because of the anxiety and guilt that’s there too but there’s a definite sense of something potentially positive as well).

The rest of the day went OK- didn’t experiment too much but stuck to the plan, and tried to keep some sort of structure with school work and cross trainer.  Today was pretty uneventful- again, stuck mostly to the Lent plan and didn’t really experiment outside of what I’ve been already trying.  I haven’t been feeling great today mood-wise and found it hard to motivate to doing anything; I just want to curl up on my bed with my cat, a hot water bottle and a fleecy blanket, but I did force myself to go for a slow run in between rain showers which helped a bit.  Still feeling drained and a bit zoned but not as bad as I did this morning and without the run, I don’t think I’d have been able to stick to the meal plan.  But on the positive side, still no bingeing!!!  FIVE DAYS ❤ longest I’ve managed in nearly eight years…

Lent Day Three- tough day :/

Day three of Lent and starting to really struggle with feeling full ALL THE TIME.  Found it really hard to motivate to getting out of bed this morning :/ felt totally drained and disgusting, like someone had sapped all my energy and replaced it with heaviness and sludge.  Not nice!!  I literally had to force my body into moving through the motions this morning- coffee first, shower, putting on one item of clothing at a time and really had to concentrate to make sure I actually remembered everything.

Was running late so didn’t really have time to think about porridge which was probably a good thing- made instant porridge and ate it quickly because I hate being late for work.  Didn’t even have time to think about eating when I wasn’t hungry and it was only halfway to work it suddenly hit me!  But by then I was stressed about being late, feeling anxious and trying to manage lots of ‘rule-type’ thoughts which always seem worse when I’m late (radio volume on an even number, swallowing even number of times, making sure I could see exactly half my left eye in the rear view mirror, not looking at the clock at 8.13 and when I did accidentally, having to look at the clock even more times on 8.14 etc) and didn’t have enough brain space to worry about the porridge too.

When I got to school, I had a pretty full-on morning with some of my favourite but challenging classes and I was so exhausted by breaktime that I actually really needed the banana energy boost.  Was really busy again right up to lunchtime, and didn’t have time to worry about how I was going to manage the baked beans and bread.  I was so, so nervous about it- partly the logistics of making and eating it (is it OK to eat food with a knife and fork at lunchtime? and is it OK to do that in the staffroom?) and partly in case someone commented on it and that would make me feel even more anxious and self-conscious, but luckily it’s Friday today and not many people around (lots of staff are part-time) so there were only two other people in the staffroom anyway.  I decided not to risk toasting the break because getting the toaster out and plugged in would draw attention to it and I was nervous enough anyway, so I had bread with cold baked beans.

I felt really sick when I started to eat it and felt full almost immediately, and I really wanted to just eat the beans and leave the bread but I know that would be cheating and would defeat the point of following the meal plan, so I forced myself to eat a few beans at a time then cut the bread into small pieces and ate them too.  Felt like I was going to explode by the time I’d finished and my stomach was bloated and uncomfortable, which was really horrible.  I had a horrible, intense urge to throw up and was very close to going to the toilet but the bell rang and the child I work with in the afternoon was waiting at the staffroom door so I couldn’t.  I felt really trapped and jittery but Friday afternoons are one-to-one work with a child I mentor so couldn’t do anything about it which was really, really horrible.

Then the bitch in my head started up, saying I shouldn’t have eaten it and didn’t need it, beans are OK on their own and bread is another meal in itself so I’d basically had two meals in one which was really, really greedy especially after the banana at break, feeling full is my body’s way of telling me I’ve eaten too much and I was really selfish for ignoring that and eating anyway, I’m a disgusting bitch and that’s why people don’t like me…  I couldn’t challenge her with a child in front of me and ignoring her isn’t really an option because she just gets louder, so I dug the staffroom key hard into my hand (inside my fist so the child couldn’t see) and bit my tongue, and the pain helped to distract enough that she started to quieten down a bit.

It’s a pretty intense afternoon doing one-to-one work which really helped to distract from how I was feeling.  The lesson went OK but way too quickly (I love working intensively with kids because takes so much energy and when I’m jittery-hyped, it’s a great way to channel it positively and the kids really seem to respond well to that), and I stayed late after school to write up notes to try to calm down a bit before going home.  I still felt really bloated when I got home and it’s the first time I’ve seriously considered missing food from the meal plan.  I felt SO FULL and horrible, and I’d got pretty bad heartburn as well which really didn’t help.  I couldn’t face a yogurt so ate some dates instead (needed an energy boost) and played Minecraft for a while to try to distract from feeling sick.

I hate evenings- my mood and energy levels seem to crash and it’s hard to focus on anything properly.  Friday evenings are the worst because I don’t even have school the next day and my anxiety’s really high without structure, and because I don’t ‘have’ to do anything which is really difficult to deal with.  Had to force myself to eat tea again and felt even worse afterwards, and I just wanted to binge then purge it all out, stop feeling so disgusting and bloated and escape form my body for a while.  But I’ve decided to follow the contract for the next 37 days and that means NO BINGEING, and I can’t break the main rule.  My brain’s been spinning all evening :/ trying to manage intense binge urges while the bitch in my head is screaming at me for messing everything up, being a disgusting lazy bitch, making myself even more fat so people will think I’m even more selfish than they already do etc is bloody hard and I am EXHAUSTED.

Still feel like my stomach’s forcing my clothes to stretch and I’m so scared none of my clothes will fit by Monday.  What if I genuinely have nothing to wear?  What if I get so fat people don’t recognise me?  What if the kids say something?  Feeling disgusting and so horrible, and it’s really hard trying to rationalise it and stick to the plan.  Only three days in and it’s BLOODY HARD.  But I managed two years as an inpatient on a much more difficult diet than this one (WAY more food and variety) and didn’t die, so I know rationally that it IS possible.  Just need to keep trying…

Lent Day One…

First day of Lent and survived!!  Totally exhausted already though and it’s been a very weird up and down day, but made it till nearly bedtime with (mostly) sticking to the plan and no bingeing or any other massively destructive behaviours *touch wood* so went better than I thought it would…  It’s weird, I’m feeling a bit spun out and overwhelmed so it’s hard to try to put into words how the first day of ‘simulated inpatient’ has gone, and I’m kind of feeling the same as I have done at the start of every admission which is WEIRD.

It also really doesn’t help that yesterday we had a geography field trip which consisted of doing site surveys in different locations around town, one of which happened to be right outside the ED inpatient treatment centre (which is an area I’ve avoided ever since) and that felt really weird and surreal, and I was so scared I’d see someone I know.  Luckily I didn’t but it still felt really strange.  I can’t really describe the feeling- it was like underlying anxiety but mixed with a sort of guilt and intense pain too, no idea why and really didn’t like it.  And then when we went up into town to do another site, I bumped into the psychologist I used to see at the ED service which was even more weird and surreal, and REALLY not the best timing.  She recognised me and started talking to me which was nice of her but so weird and I wasn’t sure what to say, especially in the middle of a school trip!  Still feeling weird and surreal about it today, and starting Lent has sort of added to that.

I’ve basically approached Lent like an inpatient contract- I’ve got the plan and I’ve got to stick to it because that’s the rules.  It’s a lot harder on your own though even though I’ve gone over the rules so many times in my head.  The morning was OK because it was porridge like I usually would, and the first ‘challenge’ was break time at school when I’d planned to have a cereal bar (would usually be biscuits but I forgot to go to the supermarket yesterday).  It was SO BLOODY HARD to make myself eat it and I was shaking so much but luckily it was Wednesday which happens to be the day that my department at school eat cakes at break time (it’s a weekly tradition) so that really helped to justify eating it, and no one commented on it which was a massive relief.  I felt sick afterwards though and so guilty for eating when I wasn’t hungry and it wasn’t a meal time, but one of the plus sides to working in a school is that you’re straight into lessons and don’t really have time to dwell on it.  THANK GOD.  It’s like distraction and supervision merged into one.

Amazingly, I didn’t explode or spontaneously combust after the cereal bar at break and managed not to think about it too much until lesson four (right before lunch) when usually I’m getting tired and a bit lightheaded thanks to long lessons and lunch being relatively late at school.  Today was different though- I had way more energy than usual and still jittery after breaktime which translated into mild hypomania through the whole lesson which I really hadn’t expected.  I was literally twitching with hypedness the whole hour, couldn’t stand still so flicked from one child to another pretty much constantly and talking way more than I usually would.  Everything seemed to have sped up and I kept going ‘out of sync’ with what was going on, and I was aware that a few of the kids were looking at me a bit strangely.  I kept taking deep, abdominal breaths (subtly) to try to slow down, but my thoughts were going a million miles an hour and I was seriously jittery.  At first, I thought I must have forgotten to take quetiapine last night but I wouldn’t have slept if I hadn’t so I very rarely forget it and if I do, I realise pretty quickly.  Then I realised it was energy from the cereal bar- I’m not used to having a sugar boost mid-morning and I think I must have been on an anxiety-mixed sugar rush which was why I was so hyped and jittery.  When I realised that, I found it really hard not to giggle hysterically (no idea why- it was a weird mix of guilt and excitement) and had to make a massive effort to ‘slow down’ for the rest of the lesson.

After that, I felt a bit too anxious and jittery to try anything new at lunch so I had porridge as usual (not great I know but definitely going to try beans on toast tomorrow), then calmed down a bit before the afternoon.  After school, I went to the supermarket which was another massive challenge (I HATE supermarket shopping and am usually in and out in less than three minutes), and I managed to go round most of the shop and get DIFFERENT FOODS to try.  I got soya yogurts to have after school, bananas and biscuits for breaktimes (alternating), white fish and vegetables for tea.  I kind of cheated and bought a mixed bag of ready prepared vegetables which also had potato in so I didn’t have to work out a portion of carbs, but I think that’s safest for the first attempt and even thinking about preparing it was giving me mega anxiety.

When I got home, I put the oven on straightaway so I wouldn’t chicken out and put the veg and potatoes in, and fish wrapped in tin foil.  Was feeling seriously nervous and sick by then but I managed a yogurt and took a coffee upstairs to distract with school work.  I’d completely forgotten how much of an amazing distraction doing school-related work is (now I can see totally why I loved homework so much) and definitely going to make that a daily distraction in the evenings even though *technically* it isn’t part of my job.  When I went downstairs to get the food, I felt really, really sick and nearly put in back in the fridge for another day but the guilt and anxiety about ‘breaking the rules’ overrode the feeling sick horribleness of eating the meal, and I started to eat it.

It was really, really hard, way harder than the cereal bar this morning because I started to feel full and bloated really quickly and felt like I was forcing myself to pick up the fork over and over, and actually swallow the food.  I realised that the mixed veg was a bad idea- I couldn’t figure out which order to eat it in (is onion more or less carb-y than courgette?  how can you tell the difference between squash and sweet potato?  is sweet potato a vegetable or a carbohydrate and should you eat it before or after fish?) and my brain was going even faster than it had done earlier in the day, thoughts merging and not making sense and I couldn’t work out what parts of the meal were what even though logically I know it probably doesn’t matter.  It also brought back horrible memories of being an inpatient and being told off at the table for eating things in a certain order (veg then protein then carbs) and only one thing at a time, but I have to eat it that way and if I don’t get it right, my anxiety skyrockets and I feel even more spun out and sick.  Maybe something I need to challenge later on, once I’ve got my head around the food…

But managed to finish the meal!!  Felt SO BLOATED afterwards (and still do), I can feel my stomach pressing against my trousers and feel disgusting but I know that’s part of it and I’ve had that every time I’ve tried to change my diet before, and I know you need to just ride through it until it subsides.  So hard though and it really doesn’t feel like it’s going to ease off :/ I’ve been looking through old ED stuff and keep reminding myself that I’ve eaten A LOT more than this in a day before in the past and survived it, but all I can see in my brain at the moment is a pile of all the foods I’ve eaten today and I feel sick.  But it’s definitely a bigger step than I’ve taken in the last eight years, and the logical part of my brain knows that’s a massive positive.  Really, really hoping it’ll get easier..

Quick apology post!

Hi, just a quick post to apologise for the fact that I haven’t posted in months!  had a bit of a rubbish summer, decided to try to come off medication because I was fed up with the side effects and feeling rubbish for relying on drugs which really wasn’t a good idea and my mood started swinging from totally jittery-hyped to wanting to not exist on a nearly daily basis which was exhausting and nearly lost any friendships or close relationships I actually have.  So I’m taking them again and have just about settled back into ‘normal’ or whatever that means when you’re on high doses of psychiatric meds!  But I feel ‘real’ again, my mood’s more stable and I’m nowhere near as paranoid as I was over the summer so definitely a good thing.  And am hoping to get back on track with blogging!  Sorry again for disappearing off the face of the blogosphere 😉

Counselling

Recently, I started to see a new counsellor which has got me thinking a lot about different approaches to counselling and therapy, and how it’s so different for every person.  I’ve seen various types of therapists over the last fifteen-ish years and I’d never really thought much about different approaches but the person I’m seeing at the moment has a very specific way of working- person-centred counselling which I’d heard of but I’d never really come across before.  As anyone who’s read my blog posts before will know, I’m a massive advocate for DBT and approaches that have a direct, structured way to manage intense thoughts or emotions and the person-centred approach is about as far from that as you can get, so I’m not overly surprised I’ve found it difficult but it’s taken a few sessions to realise what it is about the approach I don’t really get on with.

In theory, person-centred counselling is a really good idea.  It works on the idea that a person’s experience is individual and that they should be in control of the sessions and what is brought up- the counsellor/therapist is a facilitator who encourages the person to talk about how they feel and their experiences while being empathetic, non-judgmental and accepting of what the person is saying.  There’s no ‘set’ format for the sessions and the idea is that the person talks about whatever they are feeling and want to discuss, and the counsellor/therapist listens to and empathises with the person so that they feel validated and can explore their feelings more openly in order to facilitate changes in themselves.  I can see how, for a lot of people, this could be a really useful approach and could effect real change in how a person is feeling in a supportive and non-threatening way, but I’ve found it really difficult to get used to and I don’t think it’s the right approach for me which is a bit frustrating because I really do want to change the way I’m thinking and feeling and learn better ways to manage it.

I found the first session particularly difficult and uncomfortable.  It was partly due to seeing someone new which is always scary and awkward, but also because of the unstructuredness of the session and the whole concept that it was up to me to decide what to talk about and I genuinely had no idea.  There were a few things that made me uncomfortable and I think the counsellor was feeling similar, and I started to feel really, really anxious which didn’t help because I’d started to fidget a lot and dig my nails into my arm without realising it which is my automatic way to manage anxiety in social situations but I don’t think the counsellor realised that.  She kept saying that I was in control of the sessions and that I should talk about how I’m feeling but part of the problem is that I don’t know how I’m feeling or what the feelings are and they’re too intense anyway, and I just want to get rid of them not talk about them!  And I really need structure, which was making me really anxious.

At first, I thought that it was the lack of structure and focus on ‘feelings’ which was making me uncomfortable and in the second session, I was totally honest with her and said that I didn’t like the approach, I needed structure to the sessions, I didn’t know how I was feeling or if I even had ‘real’ emotions and that I didn’t like the idea of life as a ‘journey’ because it doesn’t feel like that, it’s just like existing at any given moment, and to be fair to her she did try to adjust to that and wrote a list of things to talk about.  It didn’t really help though, it just felt artificial and she was still asking me to come up with the things on the list, but I know she was trying so I didn’t say anything.  I realised pretty quickly though that the lack of structure wasn’t the main thing that was making me really anxious and uncomfortable- it was the ‘connection’ between the person and the counsellor that I really didn’t like and I’m not sure if I can keep going to the sessions if that’s an intrinsic part of the approach.

A big emphasis in person-centred counselling is the relationship between the person and the counsellor, and it’s meant to be a genuine, empathetic and unconditional sort of relationship.  I really, really don’t feel comfortable with that at all- I’m not an emotional-type person, I very rarely get ‘close’ to people (even people I trust) and the whole idea makes me really anxious.  She keeps talking about ‘walking with me’ which I don’t like or want- I’m really not comfortable with anything like that and she hardly knows me, and I’d much rather have a professional-type relationship where there’s no emotional connection at all.  I can count on one hand the people I currently feel ‘close’ to and the fact that there’s more than one person terrifies me anyway, and I don’t like it.

The relationship idea makes me really anxious and I can feel my defences going up when I’m talking to her- I’m minimising everything, shutting down any emotional reaction, being very matter-of-fact about anything that makes me even remotely upset or emotional, and I don’t think it’s helpful in any way at all.  A few years ago, I saw a psychologist who used an integrative approach and sometimes veered into psychodynamic which has a similar feeling of unstructuredness and focus on ‘you’ and your experiences, and she used to comment that I “intellectualised” everything which I didn’t understand at the time but I’m more aware of now- it’s the way that I can actually feel my defences going up and I’m shutting her out without before I’ve even realised it.  She doesn’t see that (thankfully) and I think she thinks that because I’m on the autism spectrum, I don’t get upset or anything like that in the same ’emotional’ way as a lot of people do, and I’m OK with her thinking that and I’ve even found myself encouraging it by agreeing that I don’t have ‘feelings’ (whereas actually, I do have the intensely but I don’t know what they are).

The other thing I’ve realised that I really don’t like about the approach is the ‘unconditional positive regard’ aspect of it, which is one of the foundations of person-centred counselling.  The reason I think that I’m not comfortable with it is because I need boundaries and to know that the other person will tell me if I get something wrong or if I’m annoying them or anything like that.  The problem with unconditional acceptance is that it kind of takes boundaries away because there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and that doesn’t feel safe.  I know that a lot of my thoughts aren’t OK and I don’t want them to be ‘accepted’, and I need to know that she’s going to be direct about that except that I know she won’t because of the approach.  She’s said a few times that nothing’s ‘wrong’ and everything you say is ‘OK’ but some thoughts aren’t OK, and that makes me feel really uncomfortable because I need to know that she’d say that, otherwise I can’t trust anything she says because I know she’ll just say everything’s OK and acceptable even if it really obviously isn’t.  It’s like friendships- I feel much, much safer in a friendship if I know the other person will be direct and honest with me if I’m annoying or being too intense, and I need the same boundaries in counselling.

I could go on about this for ages but I think the main thing I’ve realised is that person-centred counselling really isn’t the right approach for me, which is frustrating but at least I’ve tried it.  The counsellor said that I need to get a psychiatrist appointment to try to access more structured support so that’s the next step, I think…  Would be really interested to hear from anyone else who’s had experience of person-centred counselling and hear your thoughts!  Or any tips for being able to engage with it??

Opposite Action in action- more DBT!

Had a bit of a rubbish day today :/ not for any particular reason, just been feeling rubbish and vertigo-y again and I’ve had a weird feeling in my chest that I can’t seem to shift at the moment- it’s like a stinging mass in my chest and towards the back of my throat, and it feels almost like it’s choking me or making me want to cry all the time but I can’t actually cry.  No idea what it is!  Some days it’s stronger than others and today it’s been particularly bad.

I think it’s partly because I wrote a blog post about relationships over the last few days and even though I deliberately avoided talking about the recent loss of a very close friendship, I’ve been thinking about it more again and the horrible, punched-in-the-stomach feelings from that have re-emerged which really hasn’t helped.  I’ve had a really busy and emotionally draining week anyway- I went to stay with my best friend for a few days which was amazing but my energy and motivation levels are a bit non-existent at the moment and it completely wiped me out, then I had a job interview which didn’t go great and I felt completely zoned and exhausted afterwards.  I was meant to go a running festival this weekend but I couldn’t get the energy to actually go and the thought of driving there and camping without knowing anyone made me feel really, really anxious and I somehow managed to convince myself that I would die of hypothermia if I went which is obviously completely irrational but that’s what I thought at the time.  I feel really guilty and stupid for not going, and I think that’s partly why I’m feeling so rubbish today.  HATE being such a wimp sometimes!

Anyway, I decided to consciously use DBT skills today to try to cope with feeling vertigo-y and like my insides were being pulled out, which didn’t completely help but I’ve made it to almost bedtime without any major crises or obsessive messaging either my ex-best friend or current best friend which is definitely a positive!  I’m realising that, at the moment, avoiding unhelpful behaviours is an achievement in itself even if I’m still feeling rubbish or having obsessive thoughts by the end of the day and DBT says that changing behaviours should ultimately affect how you think and feel so I’m trying to keep reminding myself of that at the moment…

FullSizeRender 2.jpgThe first DBT skill I tried was distraction techniques.  I’ve got a ‘coping card’ which has ideas for things to do to manage intense emotions and although I didn’t know exactly what the horrible vertigo-y feeling was, I went with ‘low or zoned out’ and tried some of the ideas…  Cuddling my cat did actually help a bit especially as I haven’t seen her in nearly a week and I think we both had a sudden overload of oxytocin which was really, really nice but unfortunately my cat is really timid and doesn’t like too much attention so she ran off and wouldn’t let me near her after about ten minutes.  Then I had a bit of an energy crash and fell asleep on the sofa which again was good because it switched off from horrible, starting to get paranoid thoughts but when I woke up, I felt really vertigo-y and guilty again and ended up bingeing which made me feel temporarily better (throwing up does actually help with the physical vertigo-y feeling in my stomach) but then I felt even worse afterwards.  So I went on the cross trainer but it was a bit of a compulsive ‘need’ to rather than actually being useful and I felt slightly dissociated and horrible again after that.

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I’d realised by then that the distraction techniques weren’t really enough so I went back home (I’d been at my parents’ house which is one of my binge triggers) and got my DBT book out again.  I’ve found opposite action really useful before so I tried to work through what I was thinking and urges to see if I could make any sense of it.  It was hard because I was still feeling zoned out and out of sync with my body, but I was getting stronger urges to contact my ex-best friend again which I can’t do because she’s specifically asked me not to, and a lot of the feeling rubbish was connected to that.  I realised I hadn’t watched the first few seasons of Bad Girls since we’d ‘broken up’ (friendship-wise) because we used to watch it together and it was a really big part of my teenage years, and there’s a Bad Girls convention this year which I really want to go to but I don’t know if I’ll be able to manage the emotional intensity of it, so I decided to watch season three of Bad Girls which was/is my favourite season to see if it would help.

It was WEIRD.  Mega, mega intense emotions, still vertigo and feeling guilty but the intense feelings I used to get watching Bad Girls (excitement, borderline euphoria, connection) also kicked it and I was literally shaking, heart racing and actually crying while I was watching it.  I started colouring as well to try to calm down a bit but the BG-related emotions were helping to displace the vertigo and watching it really did seem to have been a good thing to do.  I only let myself watch four episodes (I could easily watch the whole season) then forced myself to go for a run to continue with the ‘opposite action’ techniques.  I really, really didn’t feel like running and was forcing my feet to move but I managed six miles and started to feel a bit more ‘real’ which was definitely a good thing.

After the run, I felt OK for about half an hour and talked to my housemate about completely mundane things which was nice and definitely helped to feel more ‘real’.  But the vertigo started to kick in again and I really, really wanted to look at my ex-friend’s FB page and maybe message her, and the thoughts were getting really persistent.  I did half-consider acting on it but I know rationally that that’s probably the worst thing I could do, and I started to feel really shaky and anxious about it.  I did go on her FB page which I know I shouldn’t have done and I felt really guilty.  DBT skills had kind of gone out the window by then and I put Bad Girls back on in an attempt to completely distract.

Acting opposite really didn’t feel possible any more and my brain had turned to obsessive fuzz, and I went back to a coping strategy I’ve used since I was a teenager- playing Sims.  It’s weird but it really does work and I made my Sim hang out with the Sim of my old best friend which I know isn’t the best way to deal with it and move on but it did really help to manage the obsessive urges to contact her because it really does feel like you’re spending time with the other person.  After a while, the urges had calmed down a bit and I felt a lot like when I was a weird, obsessive 14 year old again.  Using the Sims like that is definitely a last resort but it really does work when I’m in an intense, obsessive state and I think it’s more important to manage that it a not-destructive way even if it isn’t massively constructive.  After I came off the Sims, I was still feeling very vertigo-y and like I’d been punched in the stomach, and still had some urges to contact my friend but I wrote a letter to my old university tutor (who I got on really well with) instead and that actually really helped because I miss seeing her and it helped to channel some of the ‘need to contact’ urges.

So, amazingly, I’ve actually managed to make it to bedtime without contacting my friend!  I did message another friend maybe a bit too much as a way of distracting but I don’t think she minded and although I know it’s still something I need to work on, it’s a LOT better than it has been and considering how horrible I’ve felt for most of the day, one binge really isn’t too bad and I’ve eaten at least one ‘real’ meal which is again better than I’ve done before after bingeing.  And I went for a run (even if I didn’t enjoy it), and I haven’t fallen asleep since the relatively short nap this morning so I’m counting it as a positive day even if I’ve been feeling rubbish.  I think it really was triggered by writing about relationships yesterday and need to be more aware of that for next time, especially if I’m already emotionally knackered.  Learning curve!

Moments that make you feel alive

Last week, a friend was describing a moment that had just happened that she’ll remember for the rest of her life- one of those magic moments where it’s intense and amazing for any particular reason.  We were talking about that type of moment afterwards and at the time, I couldn’t remember any time I’d felt like that but I know I must have done.  I’m still in a bit of a negative, feeling rubbish phase at the moment (although I’m trying REALLY hard to change that) and it’s hard to think of anything positive at all most of the time but I had an amazing weekend last week where, for the first time in ages, I actually felt ‘real’ and connected, and it was FUN which is something I haven’t felt in months.  So I’ve tried to harness that positive energy and spent the week trying to think of ten moments that made me feel good, alive or connected.  It was really hard and I literally had to go through my life systematically to find them but I think I’ve got a pretty good list and surprisingly it was a really positive experience to think of them and try to recall the feelings from the time.  It’s definitely an exercise I’d recommend to anyone who’s feeling a bit rubbish- really helps to put things into perspective.  SO, in an attempt at counting down…

10) Last weekend.  This should probably be higher in the list because of the context (it was such as massive shift in feeling from the slightly detached rubbishness I’ve felt since last December) but I’m putting it here since it was the first one I remembered.  I spent the weekend with my absolute favourite people in the world and we made a blanket fort, watched my two 0f my favourite Disney films (Treasure Planet and Tarzan), went to the park and took selfies on the swings, played on the trampoline, played board games and just generally hung out which was amazing in so many ways- I felt ‘real’ and like I was actually ‘there’ instead of just existing, and the amount of love I have for those people is incredible.  Had a bit of a ‘comedown’ crash near the start of the week but have tried to focus on the positives and channel that which has been really, really useful in response to the bitch in my head- I think I’m finally managing to make a Patronus!!  Which I’ll talk about in another, Harry Potter-focussed post 🙂

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9) Running through Hampstead Heath.  Last year, I lived in London and was lucky enough to live near Hampstead Heath, which is a massive park on the top of a hill in north London.  The views there are incredible- there are spots where you can see the City and a lot of it is woodland paths.  I used to run there early mornings to see the sunrise over London which was incredible in itself but my favourite part was getting lost in the trees and following random paths which would occasionally lead to something like a magical fairy dell.  The particular moment I’m thinking of was a morning last February when I was running just as the sun was coming up and the trees had that magic stillness of not-quite-daytime when there’s no-one about.  It was really cold and there was frost on the ground, and I was pretending I was in Narnia when suddenly snowflakes started to fall all around.  It was genuinely magical- I felt like Lucy entering Narnia for the first time and there was no-one else on the planet, and I was dancing and jumping through the snowflakes feeling like I could connect with God and I was part of the world around me.  It was an incredible, magic feeling and I don’t think I’ll ever be able reconnect with the world around me in the same way again.  Just amazing.

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8) Seeing Roger Waters perform The Wall live.  This was just…WOW!  I am a massive Pink Floyd fan and so is my dad, and since I was a teenager I’ve really connected to their lyrics and the atmosphere of their songs.  I was constantly jealous that my dad saw them in concert in the 70s and that he met Nick Mason randomly at a car event (my dad’s obsessed with cars and asked Nick Mason for a ride in his Ferrari 250 GTO!!  And it broke down so he was stuck in the car with him for half an hour- so jealous!!) and I really wished that Pink Floyd would reform and do more gigs.  So when Roger Waters announced that he was doing The Wall tour aged 69-70, I was mega, mega excited!!

I went to see him in Wembley stadium with a close friend from uni.  I was genuinely terrified about going- I get panicky in crowds and have mild paranoia about terrorism, and 120 000 people in a massive London stadium REALLY isn’t part of my comfort zone- but I really, really couldn’t miss the chance to see Roger Waters so I took some diazepam and went.  WOW.  I am so glad I did!!  The atmosphere was INCREDIBLE- imagine the most intense concert you’ve ever been to times ten, mixed with immersive pyrotechnics and special effects.  It’s so hard to put into words but it was INTENSE, incredible and genuinely life changing.  There was everything from planes on zip wires over your head, red pyrotechnics and smoke, strobe lights, a giant wall which was knocked down…

The whole thing was like a religious experience with over 100 thousand people singing along to the lyrics with more passion than Scotland fans in Euro 2000, Roger’s message was passionate and scary, it was unpredictable and terrifying.  Near the end, he took out a machine gun and simulated firing it over the crowd- at that point, I was convinced he was going to kill everyone and was close to panic attack stage because it really was that intense.  Roger Waters’ presence is scary enough in itself: an intense, commanding figure in a full length black leather coat and shades, dominating the stage.  Seriously amazing.  I came out the stadium feeling dissociated and zoned out, not because of the crowd but because of the intensity of the concert and how deeply it had affected me.  INCREDIBLE.

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Roger Waters The Wall Live at the Time Warner Cable Arena on July 10, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina – © 2012 David Oppenheimer – Performance Impressions (photo taken from http://www.performanceimpressions.com)

7) The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I know this might sound superficial and trivial to include in this list but it’s one of the moments in my life that I can remember so vividly that I have to include it.  I’m a mega Harry Potter fan and have been since 1997 when the first book was released.  I genuinely grew up with Harry and was the same age as him when all the books came out- I did my GCSEs when he did his OWLs, was emotionally on a level with the characters throughout the series and learned more from Dumbledore and McGonagall than I did from most of my real life teachers.  I used to use Hogwarts (pre-GoF) as an escapist world growing up and I’ve read all the books (apart from the first one) on the day they were released.

The build up to DH was massively intense for so many reasons.  Firstly the obvious- waiting two years to find out whose side Snape was really on and if Dumbledore was really gone which was hard in itself.  Then there was a more personal reason- right after the sixth book was released in 2005, I was admitted to a psych hospital as an inpatient and was there pretty much up until the release of DH in 2007.  This was pre-smart phones and Facebook etc and you weren’t allowed any internet access anyway or mobile phones so there wasn’t really much to do apart from reading or arty stuff.  I read the fifth and sixth books over and over during that time, partly because they were so long and intense that I could get completely absorbed in them and forget where I was and partly because of Luna Lovegood and how much I could relate to her character.  There’s so much in both of those books that I could relate to, and still do.

So when the seventh book was released, I was so excited and nervous and it was such a weird experience.  I’d had ten years where HP had been such a massive part of my life and now it was almost over, and I didn’t want it to end.  Thankfully J.K. Rowling seemed to have pre-empted that in the King’s Cross scene near the end and I am so, so grateful to her for that.  I don’t want to go into too much detail for anyone who hasn’t read it but it’s perfect in every possible way.  If anyone’s interested and doesn’t mind spoilers, here’s a link to the FB post I wrote right before I saw the last film: Thoughts on Harry Potter.  But, to end with my favourite ever Dumbledore quote, “Of course this is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”  For me, Harry Potter will continue to grow and influence me throughout my life and I love that.

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6) New Year’s Eve 2011.  I went to York to stay with my best friend and we watched Disney films, did crafty stuff and made an incredible collage which is still on my bedroom wall.  Not a massive amount to say except that I absolutely love any time I get to spend with my best friend who is one of the most amazing, incredible, talented and accepting people I have ever met.  Best New Year’s Eve ever!!

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5) The most amazing card I’ve ever been given.  From when I was a teenager, I volunteered in primary schools and in one school in particular for nearly ten years.  There were two classes especially that I worked with a lot, and I also worked in the after school club so I got to know some of the children really well.  Obviously working with kids you’re not meant to have favourites but you end up getting particularly close to certain children, usually ones who attach themselves to you for no particular reason.  There was a child in one of the classes I worked in who also went to the after school club every day and he ‘latched on’ to me a bit, wanting me to play with him every day, sitting on my lap, holding my hand and doing all the sweet things kids do.  He was very shy but one of the nicest children I’ve ever met, and when I stopped working in that school, he got quite upset.  He used to make me things and I’ve still got a ‘flower’ he made me out of paper to wear in my ponytail- I laminated it and wore it every day for luck, and now I carry it around in my purse.  The year after I stopped working at that school, his class had a lesson making cards for people they look up to and he made one for me, saying I was his best friend and listing why.  It’s genuinely the nicest thing anyone has ever given me and it’s still on my bedroom wall four years later ❤

4) The only time I have ever skipped school.  This is a weird memory- the type that you’re not quite sure if you’ve made it up or not, but it’s so vivid and detailed that I’m pretty certain it actually happened.  It must have been when I was about 17 and doing A levels (it involved driving), and I’d had a really rubbish day for some reason which I can’t remember now.  It was a Friday lunchtime and I was feeling really horrible, and my then best friend came up with the awesome idea of going to the cinema to see the (then) new film with Audrey Tautou called A Very Long Engagement.  We justified it by the fact that it was in French and it was French speaking we’d be missing (or I would anyway, I don’t think she had any lessons that afternoon) and it was AUDREY TAUTOU who we both had a bit of a crush on.  So we went to see it and I’m sure it must have been a good film, but I genuinely can’t remember anything about it!

What I do remember is that we went to get a pizza afterwards and this is the part that sticks most in my head.  I had a barbecued chicken pizza without chicken or cheese but with added pineapple and mushrooms (I’m vegetarian and dairy intolerant), and it was the first time I’d actually eaten pizza in years.  It was AMAZING and the magic part was that, sitting with my then best friend who I still couldn’t quite believe wanted to be friends with me and eating pizza during school time, NOTHING MATTERED and I could eat the pizza without mega anxiety, panic or urges to get rid of it.  Then I felt like I was flying and I could do ANYTHING so we shared a dessert which was waffles and maple syrup (she had ice cream on her bit) and it was the most amazing thing I had ever eaten.  It was a really big deal at the time because I’d had an eating disorder for about four years by then but wasn’t really aware of it (it wasn’t diagnosed till I was 18 and an inpatient and even then it took another four years to actually accept or believe it) and most of my teenage years were fixated on avoiding food or throwing it up without anyone noticing, so being able to sit in a restaurant and eat ‘normal’ food without running to the toilets to throw it up straight afterwards was a mega big deal!  The only time I’ve felt even close to that since then is when I’m running an ultramarathon but one of my mega aims is to feel like that again someday without having to run for ten hours first…

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3) Sleeping in a tent last summer.  Last year, I camped in the garden with some kids I babysit and it was the most awesome, amazing night I’ve had in a long time.  It was FREEZING and their mum had made the sleeping compartments (it was a massive tent!) into mini nests with mats, blankets, sleeping bags and more blankets, and it was the most cosy and comfortable place I think I’ve ever slept!  I had three hot water bottles and two sleeping bags as well as the blankets because I’m a lightweight who gets cold really easily, and the kids had lots of blankets around their sleeping bags.  We played Fluxx (an awesome card game) and messed around with teddies, and it was such an amazing experience- their mum had hung lights up in the centre part of the tent and it was like a magical den!  The kids loved it, I loved it and I love hanging out with the kids anyway so it was like a magical surreal experience and so much fun.  Definitely worth spending most of the night feeling like I’d got hypothermia because even though I had a ridiculous amount of warm-making stuff, I still managed to feel freezing!!  Woke up with purple hands and white feet but was one of the most awesome experiences ever 😀

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2) An amazing moment babysitting.  To be honest, I am lucky enough to have LOTS of amazing moments babysitting and I genuinely love some of the kids, but one moment in particular sticks in my head.  It was from last year and I was sitting on the sofa with a boy I babysit (and have known since he was tiny) cuddling into me and we were watching Brother Bear.  I’d had a really rubbish day because earlier that morning, my then best friend of 20 years had just told me she didn’t want to keep in touch any more and that really, really hurt more than almost anything else I’d ever experienced and I was feeling zoned out and horrible so one of the kids I babysit suggested watching Disney.  Brother Bear happens to be one of my absolute favourite films but there’s one part of it (the song near the end- No Way Out) that I find really, really hard to watch and it makes me cry every time I see it, even when I’m not already upset.  It reminds me a lot of how I was feeling when the film first came out in 2003 and I was trapped in ED thoughts and behaviours that I didn’t understand, and the lyrics could actually have been written to describe how I felt.  So I ended up crying while we were watching it, partly from the song and partly because of losing my friend, and weirdly it kind of helped to let some of the emotion out.

When the film finished, we were watching the credits and the boy I was babysitting said that he loved me.  I know kids say stuff like that all the time and it’s not a big deal but it was to me- I can count on one hand the people I’ve said ‘I love you’ to (not including pets) and I genuinely love the kids more than anyone else in my life- I’ve known them forever and they accept me without judging me, and their mum is incredible.  They’re like my ‘pseudo-family’ (that’s how I think of them anyway) and I love them, and I am so lucky to have them in my life and that they let me be a part of theirs.  At that moment, my heart was literally stinging with emotion which is REALLY not like me and I realised again how lucky I am.  Much as it still hurts really intensely that my then best friend doesn’t want to be friends with me any more, I need to keep reminding myself that there are other people in my life who are genuinely amazing and accepting, and I need to appreciate that…

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1) Running my first marathon.  This was amazing for so many different reasons!  Partly because I genuinely didn’t think I’d ever be able to run a marathon and I’d only been running properly about a year and a half by that point, and even then I was averaging six miles per run.  I got into distance running really randomly in 2011- I was doing an MA in Creative Writing and found it hard to write poems.  My poetry tutor, who is also a distance runner although I didn’t know that then, lent me Haruki Murakami’s ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ because it linked running and writing, and I started to run a bit more to match what Murakami was doing in the hope that it would help write poetry.  Weirdly, it did and even after the poetry module was over, I carried on running every day and until a few months ago, I still was and am trying to get back into it after a bit of an unmotivated phase.  I think it helped that I really, really look up to my tutor- she’s an amazing poet, runs marathons and is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and she was so encouraging about my running that I actually felt like a ‘real’ runner instead of someone just pretending or messing about.

After a few months of daily running, I signed up for my first half marathon and amazingly managed to complete it.  Then my tutor (who I’m still in touch with) suggested running a marathon which I really didn’t think would be possible but signed up and tried to start increasing my runs.  Even right up until the day of the marathon, I didn’t think I could do it but my tutor was so encouraging and positive about it that I decided to give it a go.  She even offered to come and watch which was so, so nice of her and made the whole thing a million times less scary.  Right before the marathon, she lent me a rubber foot (marathon foot) to run the marathon with who’s been in her pocket during her marathons and is charged with good karma, and that seriously helped probably more than anything else during the race which was an AMAZING experience but really hard because it was so bloody hot!!  Then after the race, she said I could keep marathon foot as long as I kept him safe and he’s been my good luck charm ever since.  That was genuinely the best day of my life and not just because of the endorphins- ten years ago, I would NEVER have believed I’d run a marathon or even 5K and now I run ultras!  Distance running has changed and improved my life in so many ways, and I am so, so glad I ran that first marathon.  Having run nine more since then as well as at least nine ultras (losing count!!), I can genuinely say that starting distance running was the best decision of my life and I learn so much from every running event.  And marathon foot is still karma-charged and awesome!! 😀

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SO, having written those, I’m now feeling weirdly positive and grateful for all the amazing moments and especially people in my life.  THANK YOU to everyone who’s been a part of any of the moments on this list and to all the other awesome people in my life- I didn’t mention any family events but all of my cousins are amazing people who deserve a whole post to themselves, and I have some incredible and accepting friends who it would be too hard to choose just one moment with.  One thing I have realised and am going to try to internalise is that the people involved in moments on this list (apart from my ex-best friend) are all people I’ve met as an adult and now they’re probably the most important and influential people in my life.  I need to keep reminding myself of this because when I turned 18, I felt like my life was over and I’d never survive as an adult but actually most of the most significant and amazing things that have happened to me have been as an adult, and I think that’s really, really important to remember.

Friendships and mindfulness

I really, really wish I could believe this!  This quote came up on my Facebook feed recently and it got me thinking again about how DBT skills (particularly mindfulness) can relate to and be helpful for managing friendships and social relationships.  I find friendships particularly difficult, both the practical aspects like actually meeting people and making friends as well as the confusingness of boundaries, knowing what is a friendship and what isn’t, managing paranoia or intense feelings of guilt about social interactions, and keeping a friendship in a healthy way.  Some of the interpersonal skills from DBT have been really, really useful for this (particularly DEARMAN which I’m going to talk about in more detail in another post) but also, surprisingly, some of the mindfulness skills.  To be completely honest, mindfulness is the aspect of DBT which I find hardest and often miss out, partly because it’s more abstract and not as ‘practical’ or logical as the other components (distress tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal skills) and partly because it’s genuinely HARD and takes a lot of practice to actually have any effect at all.  But recently I started to fill in a DBT diary every day which has a checklist of skills from every component of DBT so I’ve been reading more about the mindfulness skills, and one in particular really got to me and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  I would never have thought to look at friendships in this way but it really makes sense- here’s the extract from the book (‘The Dialectical Behavior Diary’, Matthew McKay and Jeffrey C. Wood):

I can really, really relate to this!  Even though I’ve done a lot of work on black-and-white thinking over the last fifteen years, in therapy and trying to apply it to life situations, I still find it really difficult not to think of everything in extremes.  This is especially true in friendships and I know I tend to either over-idolise people and think they’re amazing in every possible way or think that they hate me, aren’t talking to me or don’t trust me, and there’s very rarely anything in the middle.  I’m not as bad with it as when I was a teenager (when nearly everyone I knew fell into one of the two categories and I was in a state of constant paranoia about upsetting people) but it’s still something I find hard to balance.

There are so many useful points in this extract and I’m going to look at them one at a time.  The first one is the main point of the section- the idea of beginner’s mind.  Beginner’s mind is where you try to look at a situation or interaction as though you’ve never experienced it before and that counts both for the actual situation and for the people involved.  So there are no judgements, preconceptions or anxieties about it at all- it just IS.  This is really hard to get your head around (at least for me!) but it basically means that you don’t have any expectations at all about how the situation might go (I did another post on this recently- see Celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare with DBT skills…) and in theory this should reduce any anxiety around it, stop you from acting according to emotions or judgements, and minimise negative interactions that could come from anxiety or paranoia.  I really like this concept but it’s so hard to do in practice!

The next part which I find particularly useful is how this concept links to black-and-white thinking.  The part about best friends really, really got to me and I can relate to it so much, and hadn’t thought about it in that way at all but it makes so much sense.  I recently lost a very close friendship and I’ve found it really, really hard to deal with.  It happened in December and it’s now May but the intense feelings of guilt and hurt, the inner ‘vacuum’ as though someone’s punched me in the stomach and sucked out my insides, obsessive thoughts about wanting to contact her or get back in touch, and the bitch in my head telling me constantly that it’s completely my fault, I’m horrible and obsessive, and that I don’t deserve any friends haven’t eased off at all and sometimes even seem to be getting stronger.  I’ve tried distress tolerance skills to manage them which work temporarily but after a few months, it’s starting to feel like I’m just ‘existing’ and that there’s not really any point because my default state is paranoia and I don’t have the energy or motivation to keep fighting it, so I really need to try a different approach.

I think that one of the reasons the loss of the friendship hit me so hard was because I genuinely thought that the friendship could never break and that we’d be best friends forever.  We’d been friends for 19 years which is a really, really long time and although we didn’t see each other much in person (she lived a long way away from me), we texted and emailed regularly and she’d always be the person I’d message in a crisis or if I had any particularly exciting news that I wanted to share.  I think that’s the part I miss most- being able to message ANY TIME about basically anything without it seeing weird or inappropriate and I still get urges to text her about something on an almost daily basis then have to cope with the fact that I can’t, and the hurt hits all over again just as intensely (if not more) than it did the first time.

This is where I think the mindfulness idea is really, really useful- one of the reasons it hurt so much was because of the ‘expectations’ from how I saw the friendship.  She was my ‘best friend’ and I thought we’d ‘always’ be friends, and we would ‘never’ fall out or lose touch.  It really was a black-and-white perspective and I think that’s something that made the friendship break up really hard to deal with.  In the Shakespeare post, I talked about putting people on a pedestal and how that means it hurts more if something happens to knock them off the pedestal and the same idea applies here.  It’s really important to realise that people are people and no one’s perfect, and that sometimes friends change and move on and that’s OK, and part of life.  It’s not realistic to see any relationship as ‘perfect’ or faultless, and disagreeing is part of any social relationship.  It’s important because it shows you that you can disagree on something and still be friends, which helps to reduce unrealistic expectations about the friendship.  It’s hard because, for me anyway, there’s a big part of me that thinks that I’m lucky that person wants to spend time with me in the first place but that’s not a healthy relationship.

I like the concept of beginner’s mind in relation to friendships because it takes away anxiety/paranoia about how a friendship ‘is’ or what the other person’s thinking.  It’s impossible to be paranoid about upsetting someone or what they think of you when you’re taking the friendship as it comes, treating every interaction like a new encounter and trying not to fixate on the friendship when you’re not actually interacting with that friend.  It’s really, really hard and you can’t ‘stop’ yourself from thinking about it, but another DBT skill which can be helpful with this is the ‘leaves on a stream’ thought defusion exercise (also a mindfulness skill) where you acknowledge thoughts but don’t fixate on them, and visualise them like leaves floating down a stream- you’re aware of them but not focussing on them.  By trying to get rid of thoughts, especially obsessive thoughts, you actually reinforce them so this is a really useful skills to practise although, like nearly all the mindfulness skills, it takes a lot of practice to actually have an effect.

This whole idea reminds me of a Harry Potter quote from Prisoner of Azkaban where Sirius says to Harry, “Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.  We’ve all got both light and dark inside us.  What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”  Even though I’ve read the book over and over since it was released in 1998, this quote still really gets to me and can still make me cry.  And it’s so true- no one’s perfect and it’s important not to expect people to be.  People have different perspectives and grow and change, and sometimes that means that a friendship can break down not because of anyone’s fault, just because of natural growth and change.  In the book, Sirius was betrayed by Peter Pettigrew who he had considered a friend but who had chosen to act on his ‘dark side’.  I think talking about Snape would need several posts to itself but the whole concept of friendship, love and change is prevalent throughout the Harry Potter books and it’s really helpful to look at it sometimes.  I love Luna’s quote “I liked the DA meetings.  It was like having friends” and for Luna, people accepting her and spending time with her is enough to count as friendship.  She doesn’t fixate on the relationships and genuinely does have a ‘beginner’s mind’ approach to friendships, and that really seems to work for her and she ends up with several ‘real’ friends which means more to her than it does to any other character (the linked pictures in her bedroom still make me feel emotional).

I’m going to finish by reposting the list of things I’ve realised recently about friendships from the Shakespeare post.  Hopefully some of this has made sense!

  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.