Disability, anxiety & Gannin’ along the Scotswood Road…

The last couple of weeks have been, to say the least, stressful. It started with me dashing home from work after a hysterical call from my 16 year old son. He’d been the target of a local gang of young louts who don’t like disability or difference, and think an adult sized person who’s as easily frightened as a small child is hilarious. Luckily a neighbour had seen this, called the police, and stayed with my son til family arrived.

The fact that this had happened on the day that most of my Facebook feed was applauding the country’s recognition that disabled people have talent rankled. I think Lost Voice Guy is great, he’s a local comedian who I’d seen before he entered Britain’s Got Talent. But his win is not a show of how well respected disabled people are in this country.

Sadly my son’s experience is more typical of what people with disabilities face on a daily basis than Lee Ridley’s acceptance by the nation. And it didn’t stop on Monday. I don’t want to go into details, but it’s ongoing, immensely stressful, the last thing my family needed during both kids’ exams, and utterly heartbreaking. I will say that the police recognise hate crime when they see it and are taking it really seriously, and everyone I speak to is sympathetic and supportive, but the damage one gang of stupid kids can do is immense. Even when they inevitably get bored and move to a new target it will take a long time to restore my son’s confidence and rebuild the small measure of independence we’d worked so hard to build for him.

It’s got me rattled too, since defending my son the same gang is yelling abuse at me when I see them around the estate. It’s had me questioning including photos on this blog, recording my activities on strava, even walking to the local shops on my own. I feel constantly on the verge either of tears, or of losing my temper so badly I’m afraid of what I might do.

It’s amazing how quickly long held values disintegrate when your own family comes under attack. I didn’t like the level of surveillance we all face day to day, now I want cameras everywhere. I’m firmly opposed to violence against children, but I want to retaliate to these kids violence against my son. I didn’t believe locking kids away was a solution, but I want these kids off the streets.

But mostly I want my son to feel safe and happy, and I hate that I can’t make him safe or happy at the moment.

The Saturday before all this started my son did his first parkrun. For a young man with his additional needs just getting around 5k is a massive achievement. Doing it in the crowded environment of Newcastle parkrun, on an incredibly hot day, was fantastic. I’m trying to help him hold onto the pride he felt that day during the challenges he’s facing at the moment.

The Saturday after all this started was the Blaydon Race. This was a run I desperately wanted to take part in, and was overjoyed when I got a place…

As a small child on a visit to London my dad and grandad convinced me they’d told the palace we were coming, and that was why the guards played the Blaydon Races during the changing of the guard that day.

As a small child witnessing my brother getting stung by a bee I insisted to my mother that the bee had flown off “laughing, and humming the Blaydon Races.”

When he was younger the Blaydon Races was one of my son’s obsessive interests, leading to many visits to local museums and my mum’s puppy getting the name Geordie Ridley.

Image from Pinterest

The Blaydon Race is an athletic race, not a fun run, and despite the celebratory atmosphere it felt like a more serious event than any of the others I’ve done to date. This in itself made me feel closer to my grandfather, who won medals and trophies for running races in the 1930s, one of the many things I wish I’d talked to him about before he died when I was 13.

But I’d had a rubbish week and the stress was pushing me closer to an anxiety attack. I’d arranged to meet friends from running group to go to the starting point together, which got me through the initial “everyone here looks more like an athlete than me” worry.

My aim was to do the 5.7 miles in under an hour. The race started well for me, the first three miles went brilliantly. Then the sun came out, unexpectedly, and I started to struggle. I had to slow to a walk, and that was when the anxiety kicked in. “If you can’t run the whole way you shouldn’t be here, how are you going to cope with 13 and a bit miles if you can’t manage 5, you should just pull out now, you’re a fool to call yourself a runner…” And on, and on.

At one point at about 3.5 miles I was walking, struggling to breath, trying not to cry, unable to hear anything except anxiety lying to me.

“SALLY, YAY, COME ON!”

A shout from a friend on the other side of the road, with a grin and a wave, broke through, and I smiled back, took a few deep breaths and started running again.

Anxiety lies.

I am a runner because I lace up my trainers and run, even when it’s difficult.

I am an athlete because I know my body, and I recognise when I’m pushing too hard and know when to take a break. That’s not failure, that’s strength.

I will do 13 and a bit miles, bits of it will be tough, but I absolutely will do it.

Crossing the finish line I felt like it had been a bad run, I’d had to walk too often, I really struggled with the heat and the few uphill sections.

But I’d achieved my target of under an hour.

When I looked at my heart rate I could see I’d needed to slow down, and looking at my pace I certainly hadn’t walked for longer I’d run.

Anxiety lies. It was a good run and I adapted as needed to the changing conditions. There was great support both from other runners and from spectators. Next year I’d like to do it again, in a more positive frame of mind, and with a more consistent pace, but for a first attempt this was a good run.

Since then I’ve run over 9 miles for the first time, completed my 30th parkrun, and kept running despite the stress. It helps.

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I’m trying to raise funds for two great charities that support my family, SWAN UK and Newcastle Carers. Any donations to help me reach my fundraising target would be greatly appreciated and put to good use. Sponsor me here.

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No offence, but…

Well I’m doing rubbish at keeping the blog up to date! Let’s just acknowledge it and move on rather than me launch into the reasons/excuses, shall we?

Since I last wrote I’ve run much more, managed to buy clothes from the ‘regular sized’ section of the store rather than the fat-shaming section, and even worn clothes that don’t have an X in the size!

And the TV series Britain’s Fat Fight featuring the Newcastle Can project has aired – for a few Wednesday nights my phone was buzzing as people spotted me in my blink and you’ll miss me screen appearances. I’m not sure how well it was received outside of Newcastle, but it’s really got people talking about their health and weight again here.

And that’s brilliant, mostly.

But I have had a handful of comments which, as I’m in a positive frame of mind at the moment, I’m choosing to file under “Not quite as supportive as they’d intended to be”, although next time the depression and anxiety kicks in they’ll probably be upgraded to “Things to worry about incessantly when I can’t sleep.” I imagine other new and/or obese runners will have heard similar, those comments where you wonder whether to take offence or not.

For example:

  • “10k. Will you be running it? Really? All the way?”
  • “Well it’s nice you got a place, but I think it’s a shame for the proper runners who miss out on places.”
  • “You’ve dropped another dress size? I suppose it goes to show that you can eat whatever you want and lose weight so long as you exercise.”
  • “The Great North Run’s a brilliant experience, even though you’ll have to walk, and don’t worry about being near the back.”
  • And so on…

My partner and I forgetting parkrun isn’t a race!

Recurring themes in these comments are:

Surprise. Starting with surprise that I can run at all, followed by surprise at how far I can run, then surprise at the speed I do it in. I’m not offended by that – I know I don’t look how most people image a runner – although I’m definitely far leaner than I was. The surprised people are usually then impressed and interested.

Failure to take me seriously. Comments implying I’m “not a proper runner”. Which of course begs the question “What am I doing that’s improper?” πŸ˜‚

I’m not offended by these comments either – it’s taken me a long time to get my head around the idea that I am a runner, even after several months running regularly and knowing the running community is made up of people of all shapes, sizes and speeds. If I struggle to believe it myself why would I be offended that other people think the same?

Ringing the PB bell the only time to date that I got sub 30.

Implying I’m not trying hard enough. The “eating whatever you like” comments. I’m not offended by this, in fact I think it’s mostly my own fault. I have made dramatic changes to what I eat, but I haven’t banged on about as it half as much as I have about the running. And there are photos of me running all over the place, no photos of me refusing snacks or chopping vegetables! But for the record I’m not eating whatever I want…

I didn’t want to go on “a diet”, because to me that implies prohibiting things and is a temporary change. If I prohibit things I’ll just crave them more. If I just revert to my old eating habits when I reach a healthy weight I’ll just pile the weight back on.

So I aimed to make small, incremental changes to how I eat that mounted up to a big positive difference – and I’ve succeeded, or just about. Stress eating is still a problem.

Food changes I’ve made and (mostly) kept to:

  • No unhealthy snacks at work (except for a couple of really stressful weeks)
  • Healthy snacks ready and available – fruit in the bowl, chopped veg in the fridge, etc.
  • Have a drink rather than eating when first feeling like I need a snack.
  • Smaller portions
  • Fewer treats – e.g. one piece of cake a week, usually after parkrun (except for special occasions!)
  • No treats in the house – if I really want ice cream I have to go out and get it, if I really fancy a biscuit I have to bake them.
  • More cooking from scratch/less processed foods
  • More fruit and veg/less meat and dairy
  • More awareness of what’s in food – labels, protein/carbs/fats etc.
  • More awareness of when I need food – am I running later, will I be stuck at my desk for hours, etc.

All that mounts up to significant changes. Yes, I could restrict my calorie intake more, but I’m doing OK as I am, and the results show.

Im now far enough into my fitness journey not to wobble when someone says something thoughtless, so at the moment I’m not offended by any of those comments. And if I do start worrying about them in future I’m going to shift my focus, because the comments above are a tiny minority. Instead I’ll remind myself of the multitude of positive comments like…

  • “You’re doing so well.”
  • “Guess what I did? You inspired me. I’ve signed up to couch 25K.”
  • “You’re definitely getting faster.”
  • “Will you be doing *insert name of difficult race*?”
  • “See you at parkrun…”

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This year I’m dedicating all my running to two charities that have made a massive difference in my life. If you can spare a Β£ or two please sponsor me.

Going Further and Faster #iblamejulie

I’ve been quiet here for a while, caught in that loop of too much happening to write and the longer I leave it before writing the more there is to write about. I’m stepping out of that loop here and now.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve:

  1. Run further than I’d ever run before – 8.2 miles at a cracking pace.
  2. Run my fastest parkrun without meaning to – the plan was to go steady and gentle, but my steady and gentle is now faster than it was.
  3. Run my first 10k race – thrilled to bits with my finish time of 1.01.53.
  4. Discovered why people have rest days – PB parkrun Saturday, 10k Sunday and running group Monday was not a good plan!

My target this week is to get under 30 minutes at parkrun, and I think I can do it.

The #iblamejulie is in recognition of the difference the online Scream If You Want to go Faster course by Julie Creffield has made to me. I’m now 8 months into my running journey, so not sure I can still call myself a newbie, but I had been mystified by the maze of different advice out there on getting faster / stronger / fitter / lighter. By breaking it down into manageable chunks with a different theme each week, and making me record my progress Scream has guided me through the maze. The online community of participants have compared experiences and supported each other throughout. And definitely I’m running faster and stronger for being part of it.

I’m still struggling with stress eating and seeing my weight wobble around the same amount, so Julie’s focus on accepting what my body can do now, rather than always looking ahead to reaching a goal weight really appeals to me. My body is still obese, but it can do more than I ever believed possible, and I plan on celebrating that rather than beating myself up about not losing weight faster.

Julie isn’t the only one to blame for my improvement. I have lots of other amazing people supporting and encouraging me to push myself and improve and I’m grateful to each and every one of them. There’s my running group TeamCCRG, the women of the This Girl Parkruns North East Group, everyone in the parkrun for people affected by obesity group, not to mention all the individual runners, marshals, volunteers, and even passers by who spur me on with smiles and cheers. It’s amazing the difference a smile can make when you’re struggling! And of course there’s also my family, who are not only trained to put the kettle on as soon as I start stretching but are also joining in as well as encouraging me.

The impact all of this has had on my mental health is massive. My confidence has increased beyond measure. I’m no longer worried about people seeing me run (although as discussed here the jacket stays), I’m more likely to talk to people, to try things I haven’t done before, to keep going when it’s tough. Which isn’t to say the stress, anxiety and depression have gone completely. at the moment stress levels are high and I’m aware of keeping a tight lid on the anxiety to prevent it shooting up too, but I have a whole new set of coping mechanisms to draw on when they do appear.

In July last year when I started running I couldn’t make it to the first lamppost and thought 5k was an impossible goal. Now I’ve done 10k and more. 5k is the shortest distance I run in a week. I will run a half marathon in September. And honestly, if I can do it anyone can. Just start with tiny changes and who knows where you’ll end up.

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I’m running this year to raise funds for two great charities, it would be great if you could sponsor me.

Will run for chocolate…

It’s been one of those weeks of extremes. Racing between appointments and commitments, eating too much to deal with the stress, bad running, checking myself every time I notice my thinking is verging on the over-anxious… But also good news, eating too much to celebrate, good running, congratulating myself when I stop myself over-thinking…

Tuesday saw a long meeting to review my sons EHCP, the document that gets him the additional support he needs. It was a positive meeting, the college he hopes to go seem able to provide what he needs to succeed, but emotionally exhausting. In early years he struggled as myself and his primary school fought to get him help, hearing school praise this confident young man who leads class discussions made me incredibly proud and shows that the right support makes a massive difference to kids with significant additional needs.

That evening I went for a short run, using this weeks Scream if you want to go faster techniques. I enjoyed it but recognised the need to pace myself better.

Wednesday was hectic, but most of note was my daughter getting an offer for her preferred university. Another moment of incredible pride. I decided to celebrate with her instead of going to the gym.

Thursday was supposed to be my long run, a stretched run commute, but I ended up limping to the bus stop with bad pain in my shin. Due to the stress I’m under at the moment my mood plummeted, but I noticed I was catastrophising and was able to turn it around.

I’d planned to run 7-8 miles 😦

Saturday was the Prudhoe Easter Egg 5k, with my partner and son. This is the race my son agreed to take part in when he heard there was chocolate!

It was a lovely sunny morning, fantastic to catch up with friends in a beautiful setting. We got there earlier than planned and were able to see the Junior Run start and finish. Those kids are amazing!

For the race itself I initially tried to stay with my son, who was run walking. As well as his learning disability he has severe dyspraxia, which makes a run of any length really difficult for him. He wanted to walk far more than I did, and shortly before the half way point we’d lost patience with each other and he sent me on ahead.

This is where my anxiety kicks in. I know 999 times out of 1000 he will be OK on his own, but the worry of that other time can paralyse me. Not just what might happen to him, but what will people say about the mother who left a disabled child alone? He wants to be more independent, he’s capable of more independence, but I’m terrified of what could go wrong.

So I’m constantly risk assessing, determining if it’s safe to let him do this himself. This time, I thought, he’s on a marked course with a lot of other people, there are friendly marshals, even the Easter Bunny who he can ask for help if he needs it. Although he forgot his phone the organisers have my mobile as his emergency contact. He’s safe.

We liked that the Easter Bunny was slightly more Monty Python and the Holy Grail than twee commercialism, and his chocolate treats were very welcome after those stairs! πŸ˜€

So I ran, and I deliberately pushed myself to try and make up time lost walking. Not a twinge from my leg, although I took it easier up the stairs and the uphill section just in case. When I was flagging I kept remembering this article I’d read on The Run Experience and concentrated on keeping my legs moving rhythmically with longer strides. It worked.

Not a bad pace considering…

It was a beautiful course, even the unpleasantly steep stairs were in a gorgeous setting, and a great mix of abilities joining in. The sun shone, marshals and spectators cheered, and even passing dog walkers and cyclists wished us well. I finished in a reasonable time considering the walking at the start, eight minutes ahead of my son, who’d done absolutely fine on his own – although those eight minutes felt very long to me. It was definitely a race I’d do again – and not just for the chocolate!

Photo by Janine Calkin for Prudhoe Easter Egg Run.

It was also my first outing for my deliberately not black or grey leggings, a sale bargain from Sturdy by Design. I’ve written recently about how I wanted to be invisible when I started running. As my health and strength increases so does my confidence, these days I’m happy to be seen.

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I’m fundraising this year for SWAN UK which supports families with children like my son who have undiagnosed genetic conditions, and for Newcastle Carers which helps me cope. To donate click here.

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Disclaimer – this is a personal blog, I make no money from it, and any brands I mention are purely because of my experience of them.

Addressing the elephant in the room.

My running has gone well this week despite hiccups. I didn’t get to do my run commute because my son was sick. Parkrun was cancelled because of ice (again!) Strava kept losing me so I’m not sure how far I ran. But I ran a total of at least 17 miles over 3 runs, plus a gym session. I’m enjoying running more, I feel like my speed’s increasing and gradually building my distance is working too.

Gibside parkrun as my regular one was cancelled.

But running isn’t what I want to write about today. Today I want to address the elephant in the room. And I’m fairly sure the elephant in the room is me.

I’m now over a year since I signed up to Newcastle Can and started exercising and eating healthily. My weight loss was dramatic at first but stalled fairly quickly and is now very slow. It will fall by a couple of pounds, go up by more, drop again and tends to average around the same point.

It’s hard not to feel disheartened. I’m making an effort to cook more from scratch and eat healthier. I’m definitely exercising a lot more. But my weight doesn’t shift.

I try to think positively. I know my body now is in much better shape than it was. I’m stronger, I’m fitter, I can do things I never thought I could. But one of my targets is to lose weight, to at least get down to overweight rather than obese. Although I’ve reduced my risk of weight related ill health it’s still pretty high.

The problem is stress and emotional eating. I’ve managed to change my eating habits massively, but the second I’m stressed it all goes out the window. And life is stressful.

Coming in the next few months are my daughters A-levels, my son’s EHCP review, a DWP assessment of my son’s disabilities before he turns 16, son’s GCSEs, daughter’s choice of post school destination, son’s transition to college… That’s just parenting stress, there’s also money worries, health concerns, work… So many stressful things I can’t avoid.

I have to be careful that stress doesn’t turn into paranoia, anxiety and /or depression. My mental health has been ok lately, but I know how fragile it is.

image from healthyplace.com via Pinterest

Throughout my life food has been consolation and celebration. It’s an embedded habit that I’m really struggling to shift. The guilt and sense of failure when I binge is getting harder to cope with, and sometimes I cope with it by eating more.

I’m trying to be kinder to myself. Not to beat myself up for every failure. Not to give in to every craving. It’s hard going but I’m sticking with it. Hopefully chipping away at the problem one hour at a time will lead to positive change. I’m staring down that elephant. I’ll get there.

image from Pinterest.

Elephant cover image from Pinterest.

What a difference a year makes #thisgirlcan #iwd2018

A year ago I battled my anxiety to walk the Active Newcastle This Girl Can International Women’s Day 5k. It was the first organised exercise I’d taken part in for years, and my mental health nearly stopped me. At the time I wrote:

It challenged me physically and soothed me mentally. By half way round I was smiling, and by the end I felt great. Sweaty, muddy and tired, but great.

How far I’ve come since then!

At this year’s event I ran the full 5k, and it wasn’t a problem because I regularly run that far. This year I was looking forward to it rather than dreading it. This year I saw lots of faces I knew, and was joined by women I’d cajoled/inspired into coming along for the first time.

This year I’m more relaxed about the name This Girl Can, which I’d initially misunderstood (I’d still rather be called a woman than a girl though!)

This year my whole family were with me, daughter running again, son and partner cheering us on. My son coped well with the challenge of of noise and crowds, and I coped with running off leaving him in a place I knew was challenging for him. I’m not sure I could have done that a year ago.

Last year I had no idea where my fitness journey would take me, this year I have goals: first 10k, Blaydon Race, a sub 30 minute parkrun, the Great North Run…

I can’t wait to see where I am next year 😁

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I’m dedicating my running this year to two charities that have helped me a lot. I’ll be writing more about this in a future post. If you would like to sponsor me that would be lovely.

The difference the dark makes…

Apart from running group, which I only started earlier this month, I pretty much exclusively run in the daylight. I work part time so my run commute is generally finishing as darkness falls, even in winter, and my evenings are generally too full of family to fit in running.

Tonight I decided to run home from work even though I wasn’t finishing until much later in the evening than usual. I had to miss running group and felt I should make up the miles. I could have got up early and done it, but, you know … mornings!

So it was dark by I left work in my reflective gear, and I was instantly struck by how different everything seemed. Shops were shuttered and the streets were quiet, but the pubs were noisy. Back alleys I think nothing of running down in daylight seemed sinister and uninviting.

Image from Pinterest, quote by Terry Pratchett.

My first half mile was the fastest I’ve ever run, just because I wanted to put some distance between me and the drunken rowdiness of the pubs. I knew full well it wasn’t a pace I could sustain, and forced myself to slow to a more manageable rate.

I had areas where I usually weave through pedestrians and cyclists all to myself in the dark. Rather than appreciating the space I felt stressed, anxiety creeping in as the familiar became unfamiliar. I started at every unexpected noise, jumped at shadows.

After a couple of miles, on a stretch I have covered with running group in the dark, I felt less anxious and was able to settle into a steady pace punctuated only by pauses for traffic lights and iPod problems. I kept to the main roads though, telling myself this was an attempt to increase my distance and not me being scared of being alone in the dark!

Not creepy at all!

It was a good run, I felt I could see an improvement just since last week. My stamina is definitely getting back to where it was before the chest infection. By mile 3 I felt like I could keep going for ages, and I didn’t slow to a walk all the way home. However it was a lesson that I need to mix things up, get out of my familiar routine to challenge myself. It’s perfectly possible to run safely in the dark, especially as I live in a well lit city. I will be doing it again.