A wobbly week.

It’s been a wobbly week. I should be grateful for that. Wobbling between OK and desperately depressed and anxious is better than being constantly depressed and anxious I suppose. 

Except sometimes it feels like the lows are lower when there are, if not actual highs, then at least ups to compare them to. I don’t know if that makes sense. 

Monday was mostly good, although I was very aware of my anxious thought patterns trying to establish themselves. I did my walk/run home from work again and managed to shave 4 minutes off my time. But my training plan says I should be able to do 15 minutes at “an easy run” by now. “An easy run” is a running speed at which you could carry on a conversation. I worried that I don’t have an easy running speed, I’d struggle to carry on a conversation after three minutes let alone fifteen. So I worried that I was doing something wrong, and ignored my anxious brain trying to tell me it was because I’m a useless idiot. 

Tuesday was a comparatively good day. I caught myself wobbling, and took myself out for a half hour walk to give myself time to stop wobbling, rather than try to force myself on through it. 

Wednesday was just wrong. My lowest recent dip and a day when everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Ignoring the success of he previous day I tried to carry on and force my way through despite feeling thoroughly depressed. I ended up in the changing room at the gym in floods of tears, having realised I’d forgotten both my water bottle and one of my trainers. All positive self image that’s built up while I’ve been exercising and losing weight fell away, and I was just a fat, sweaty old woman too stupid to even bring shoes, deluding myself that I could ever be anything other than fat and hideous. I made it home and hid in my bedroom, until my partner persuaded me that skipping meals was not the solution. I got it together to collect my son from youth club, but felt bad about missing my regular gym session. 

Thursday was OK. Not particularly bad, not particularly good. Average. But average is fantastic when there’s been a day like Wednesday. 

It’s currently early evening on Friday and I’m hoping I’m not jinxing anything if I say today has been a good day. I’ve been struggling to sleep all week, but instead of dwelling on anxious thoughts have used he extra waking hours to try and fathom why I don’t have an easy running pace. I can do it on the treadmill at the gym, but not in real life. So I’ve been browsing articles like The Overweight Beginners Guide to Running5 Beginner Running Tips if you are Overweight, and 6 Tips That Will Actually Help You Start Running. All useful stuff, but I feel like I have been doing what’s suggested, start slow, walk and run and gradually decrease the walking while increasing the running, invest in decent footwear etc etc. But it isn’t getting any easier. Then I happened upon this pin on Pinterest:

Image from Pinterest

It led me to The 4 Keys to Proper Running Breathing and reading it felt like a lightbulb moment. When I was first shown round the gym the instructor demonstrated the best breathing pattern for each machine as well as how to use them and what muscles they’d target. I’m always aware of my breathing at the gym. But when I’m running elsewhere I’ve never considered my breathing, I mean, its just breathing right? You’re either breathing or you’re not. And if you’re not, well, being unable to run is the least of your worries. 

This morning I went for a run and deliberately concentrated on my breathing. The difference from Monday was phenomenal. I did a simple 4 steps in 4 steps out pattern and I kept running far more than I’ve been able to previously. I shaved almost 2 minutes off my average speed per mile! 

I felt fine! Not desperately counting down until I could walk again, but like I could do more. Apart from walking for a warm up and cool down I only slowed to a walk three times on an almost 4 mile run. I even jogged on the spot when waiting to cross the road, rather than being blessedly grateful to have the opportunity to stop running. 

I’m struggling to believe how big a difference such a small change made. I’m feeling far more confident about the 5K in September now. I can do this 🙂

This afternoon was less healthy, but just as positive. Apparently this week is afternoon tea week, so I took my kids to Langley Castle hotel to take advantage of their 3 for 2 offer. Definitely a good afternoon. 

All things in moderation… Including moderation!
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Stopping a wobble turning into a nose dive…

I’m having a blip. My mental health is wobbling, between the equilibrium I’d reach and a lower, more self destructive mood. I know this happens. It’s part of my recovery. But knowing that doesn’t make the blips any easier. 

I’m trying to identify what causes these blips. But it’s rarely as simple as one thing. Potential triggers this week:

  • First week back at work after two weeks annual leave.
  • IBS flare up leaving me feel bloated and uncomfortable.
  • Worry about elderly dog who spent Friday at the vets for blood tests.
She’s feeling a bit better on her new meds.
  • Out of my routine with one child away with friends and the other at Granny’s. 
  • Long drive to collect daughter from Yorkshire leaving me very tired.
  • Variois triggering conversations I couldn’t avoid.

And those are just the ones I noticed!

I’m trying to deal with it differently. Keep the wobble from turning into a downward spiral. So yesterday evening instead of hiding myself away when I felt dreadful I let myself cry in front of my partner. Usually I insist “I’m fine” even when I’m clearly not. I cry alone, hiding in another room or after everyone else is asleep. This time I let my partner know how I was feeling, we talked about it. It didn’t stop the negative feelings completely but it muted them a bit. 

This morning I felt lethargic and numb, that washed out emptiness that hits after a real low and leaves me not wanting to do anything. I could happily have moved no further than the sofa all day, and very recently I wouldn’t have. Again I spoke with my partner. 

My plan for today had been to go for a run, but with my mood low being seen in public in running gear just seemed impossible. My paranoia was in overdrive, my anxiety telling me how awful an obese middle aged woman in leggings would look, how I’d be unable to run, how people would laugh.

My alternative was the gym. Leggings aren’t so bad when everyone’s wearing them! But getting up seemed impossible. My partner reminded me how positive having the 5k goal had made me, that I’d feel worse about myself if I skipped a training session, that I could do this. 

And I did. I headed to town, did a couple of messages (including buying cupcakes for tea) and then I went to the gym.

I started slowly, and felt leaden for the first few minutes, but I managed my first ever 5k on the treadmill, running the first 2.5k and then combining running and walking for the rest. It took me 43 minutes, and hopefully I will improve on that in the 4 weeks before the race. I know it will take longer off the treadmill. Mo Farrah could run 3 x 5k in the time it takes me to run one, but he’s a world class professional athlete and I’m a middle aged obese woman who has never run before, so I’m still proud of 43 minutes! 

Proof 🙂
Three short spells of walking is not bad for just over 5k.

This evening I cooked our tea from scratch, so I’ve not yet succumbed to the sofa, but my anxiety tried to turn every tiny error into a crisis. A dropped knife, a missing ingredient, a pan boiling over – all led to panic. Getting out helped, but it’s not a magic fix. I feel better than I did, but still wobbly. I know I need to keep on top of it, I know how easily a blip can become a nose dive. But I also know I have support, and if I take advantage of that support I can start heading back upwards. 

One of those days…

Yesterday I had one of those days. You know the ones. Every door I went through I bashed into the door frame. Every cuppa I made I spilt part of. Every task I undertook seemed to take twice as long as it should due to piffling little errors. One of those days. 

It started with an argument with my son, who was upset I wouldn’t let him microwave an aluminium foil food container.

I couldn’t get a parking space, so parked a ten minute walk from work. So of course a large and heavy parcel I needed to bring home arrived.

Mid morning I discovered my insurance company had mistakenly taken my annual car insurance payment twice. From an account with no overdraft set up. It got sorted out quickly, but felt like a lot of stress and hassle. Particularly when I should have been working. 

And so it carried on. A day of frustrations, bruises and bother.

These days can leave me feeling very negative, as if I’ve achieved nothing all day. It’s easy to remember the things that didn’t go according to plan, rather than the things that did. I’ve been trying to challenge this way of thinking, and over the past couple of months have been keeping a kind of minimalist journal. 

Image from https://theprimalyogi.com/2015/11/04/just-write/

To be honest it’s barely even a journal, just a notebook in which I jot down a list of things I’ve achieved each day. The achievements might be small and routine (washed dishes) or big and challenging (went back to work after sick leave) but they all add up to challenge my feelings of uselessness. I write it at bedtime, and I’ve found the focus at the end of the day on what’s gone right has helped my mood. And I have a physical record of achievements that I can look back on when my mood does dip. 

I’ve often struggled to keep going with journalling. And although writing things down can feel therapeutic it can also lead me to dwell on things best let go of, and to decend into spiralling negative thought. But I’m finding this quick listing of achievements is easy to keep up with. If you’re naturally disposed to negativity I’d recommend giving it a go.

– – – – –

A brief public service announcement for parents of small children.

Don’t be tempted to buy the character elastoplasts/Band-Aids. Unless you have exceptionally accident prone children they will grow into sullen teenagers before the packet is finished. Rather than waste them you, like me, will become a grown adult who ends up walking about with Barbie/Peppa Pig/Mr Men plasters on when you’ve had one of those days! 

I’m a grown up, honest!

Returning to work

This week I returned to work after six weeks off sick due to mental health issues. I’ve been here before, but previously it didn’t go well. 

I have a tendency to get myself back to work as soon as I’m well enough to force myself through a day, which leads to me burning out again quite quickly, and needing more sick leave in the long term. It had become a pattern, and was having a negative impact on my health, my work and my employers.
This time feels better (so far.) So what’s changed?

I’ve been more honest this time. Not just with my boss, but also with my colleagues. I know I’m lucky to work somewhere that recognises the impact of mental ill health, where it won’t be held against me or used to guilt trip me. I’ve worked places in the past where any sick leave, physical or mental, was treated as dereliction of duty. So it’s taken me a long time to be able to open up to other people about my mental healh. The first time I was on long term sick I asked my boss not to let other staff members know the reason. I was ashamed of it and wanted to keep it quiet, but that caused speculation among my colleagues and an occasional feeling of treading on egg-shells in their interactions with me which made me anxious. 

So this time my colleagues know I’ve had mental health problems. Everyone welcomed me back, and knowing they know has meant I’ve felt able to acknowledge being up and down. There was an incident this week with a missed deadline which would have had me in tears and panicking a few weeks ago. I was able to say “I can feel myself getting wound up, so I’m going to stop, make a cuppa and come back to it in a few minutes.” My colleagues were really supportive of that, and we got it completely sorted without my anxiety getting the better of me. 

I’ve also been more honest with myself this time. I’ve accepted that returning too soon compounds the problem, tried to limit my worry about how my colleagues are coping without me, and instead looked honestly at how I’m feeling and whether I am fit for work. I’ve allowed myself to do nothing some days, just gradually let myself see what I can manage.

Then there’s been the planning. I like to plan. To quote one of the TV icons of my youth…

… although unlike the A Team I don’t cope well with the unexpected. Unfamiliar places, unknown people and sudden changes of plans unnerve me at the best of times and floor me completely when my mental health is bad. So I plan.
But I have to stop myself over-planning. While having a plan in place eases my anxiety, trying to plan every scenario in minute detail can set me into a spiral of worrying that is incredibly difficult to get out of. Again this trait is worse when my mental health is bad. It’s a balancing act. 

While I was off my boss has been working with me on temporary changes to my role which acknowledge my mental health may take a long time to return to “normal” and limit the pressure on me while that happens. My hours have been reduced and my role changed slightly. I’d rather continue with a job I enjoy in a limited capacity than end up jobless because of my fluctuating mental health. And my employer benefits from my experience and commitment, rather than having to find and train a new worker. Win win.

In addition to these changes we’d agreed a phased return, with a detailed plan for catching up over the first month back. This meant I went into work on Monday knowing exactly what was going to happen, rather than feeling panicked about everything I had to catch up with. That really helped reduce my anxiety.

Of course I work in the real world, so already my plan has notes and edits, things that need slotting in. When I’m not too anxious, as now, this feels like necessary flexibility, rather than impossible demands. 

So I had a good first week. There were a couple of wobbles but I was able to identify and address them before they grew, with the support of my colleagues. Certainly I coped with things this week which would have had me in bits a few weeks ago. That success has increased my confidence, I feel like I was a useful part of the team, and I’m looking forward to doing more next week. I can see how my mental health has improved over the last few weeks, and I can acknowledge that I did that! I recognised the self care I needed, I let myself rest, I knew I was unwell and gave myself permission to get better. 

I still feel partly broken, but now I feel like I’m holding the glue and carrying out the repairs rather than just crying in the shards. 

Image – sculpture repair in progress from 
www.lakesidepottery.com

Book Review: Unprocessed by Megan Kimble

Megan Kimble was a twenty-six-year-old living in a small apartment without even a garden plot to her name. But she knew that she cared about where her food came from, how it was made, and what it did to her body — so she decided to go an entire year without eating processed foods

Unprocessed: My city-dwelling year of reclaiming real food by Megan Kimble (from back cover blurb)

It has taken me too long to read this book. That’s not down to the book at all, it’s well written, and informative without being dry or excessively technical. I started reading it a few months ago before my current bout of anxiety and depression. 

One of the first indications I’m getting ill is when I struggle to read. In general I’m a real bookworm, flying through book after book. But when I’m ill I struggle to concentrate for a paragraph let alone a chapter. Reading just becomes impossible.  

Contrawise it’s a good sign I’m on the road to recovery when I feel like reading again. Last week I read two pages. Over the weekend I read six pages. Yesterday I sat down and read the two and a half remaining chapters and finished the book. The return of my concentration is hopefully a good indicator that I’m on the mend. 

I spotted this book in the wonderful Quaker Centre Bookshop last time I was in London. It leapt out at me. I’ve been worrying about the amount of processed food my family eats for some time, both in terms of its impact on our bodies and in terms of the environmental impact of its production. Yet it seems impossible to avoid. Then here was someone who had avoided it, for a full twelve months, I could read about her experience, and possibly pick up some tips. I had to buy it. 

I enjoyed it from the start. It’s clearly well researched and referenced, without the level of excruciatingly complicated scientific detail which puts casual readers like me off. The style is chatty and cheerful. While I try and avoid processed food by avidly studying labels Megan Kimble actually visits food producers, from massive industrial dairies to small breweries and distilleries. She finds out more about how labels can mislead us than I’d ever have known without her. 

I hadn’t started the book with the intention to dramatically change the way I eat. One of the things Megan demonstrates is how much work an unprocessed diet is. I knew that for me completely cutting out processed food wouldnt be practical. But it did get me thinking differently. 

Some of Megan’s conclusions shocked me. Considering dairy for example:

I try to consume less, but better. By better, I mean whole — I eat eggs with all their yolks, milk with all its fat, cheese with all its curd. Not only do fat molecules help your body to absorb the nutrients in mill, but also fat is delicious. Fat fills you up, so its easier to eat less of it. 

Unprocessed: My city-dwelling year of reclaiming real food by Megan Kimble

 This is so counter to everything I’ve been told about low fat that it seems positively revolutionary. And I don’t know if I could do it. I’ve never had whole milk, unless they gave me whole milk at school in the 1970s (until it was notoriously snatched by Thatcher.) Its been semi-skimmed or skimmed all my life. Maybe I should give it a try?

In other areas her experiments in processing he food herself led her to realise why communities and eventually big corporations developed, as the time and effort taken to produce food was better spent when sharing roles. But the soullessness of these massive corporations is evident, churning out bland additive-filled food, caring for their own profits over their customers health, causing damage to the environment and seeing animals as commodities rather than living creatures. There are lots of good reasons to avoid processed food.

One of the compelling reasons for Megan, which she quotes more than once in the book, is the realisation that we as consumers have power, and can make changes. In the UK free-range eggs and various Fair Trade products are now generally available, all due to customer pressure. 

For me, living in the north east, one of the most deprived areas of the country, the argument about investment in the local economy also resonated. If I spend £100 on food at one of the big supermarkets most of that money will leave the region, going instead to shareholders and parent corporations. If I buy locally produced food with that £100 much more of it stays in the region, supporting the local economy. 

Unprocessed food is more expensive though, and we all have to decide where we spend our money. Whether its £5 or £50 it will make a difference. I try to buy organic and unprocessed, but its a fine balancing act between what I want and what I can afford. I often have to compromise.

If I had to have a negative, and its a very unimportant negative, the book was very much embedded in the American systems of agriculture and processing. This is only natural, it’s where it was written and the audience it was initially written for. But it let me wondering whether things are the same here, and how I would find out. And she just did food, a mammoth task in itself, but what about the chemicals we have around us all the time? Toiletries, cleaning products, plastic. I had unanswered questions. However I think inspiring me to look further into something is the mark of a good book, not of the author missing something out. 
All in all a good read, and one I’d recommend. 

You can visit Megan Kimble’s website to find out more about her year unprocessed. 

The magical garden

Its still magic, even if you know how its done.

Terry Prachett.

I am not a natural gardener, in much the same way that a brick doesn’t naturally float. My postage stamp garden is largely overgrown, and any attempt at house plants, no matter how easy to care for, leads to death. 

But I so want to be a good gardener. I have wonderful memories of my grandparents gardens. The front garden was flowers, beautiful roses and cheerful marigolds. I remember helping my grandad collect marigold seeds, labelling envelopes in my skittery childish handwriting. The back garden was fruit and veg, an abundance which was shared with friends, family and neighbours at harvest time. My gran made jam and chutney. We had home grown veg with all meals.

I don’t have green fingers, I don’t understand soil or know when you should prune things.  I struggle to find time to put in the work needed to turn my garden into something beautiful and productive. And then I feel bad about myself, its such a visible sign of not managing. 

Yesterday I sat in the garden for an hour with my book. Although I’ve been off work a few weeks now I’ve spent almost all my time in the house, shut in and safe while I recover. And I’d forgotten how relaxing the sunshine can be. 

I didn’t get much of my book read. There were some sort of fledgling birds playing in the garden, landing on the tall dock plants I’d been beating myself up for not removing, and diving down to squabble over bugs and slugs in the grass below. I watched in fascination. I realised I was smiling.

There is a thin strip of the garden, alongside the fence to next door, which I have forced some order into. As I was sitting in the garden I spotted something there that made my heart leap.

Peas! I want to grow more things we can eat than just the herbs. This year I bought some pea plants (still feels like cheating not to grow from seed – sorry grandad!) I’ve had problems with previous attempts, usually slug or snail related! I was so happy to see these ones are working. 

There is something magical about plants turning into food. I know it’s science, not magic, but I’m still amazed and overjoyed when it works. So I checked a few other of my long suffering plants. 

Tiny pepper, my first ever.

Hidden straw berries.

First ever gooseberries.

I had forgotten, in this long period of anxiety and depression, how good it felt to sit in the garden, to feel the sunshine, watch the bids who prefer my messy garden to all the neighbouring lawns and patios, and connect with nature. I’m determined not to shut myself up in the house any more. And making me feel that positive really is miraculous.

Zigzagging

I’ve been quiet here lately, and that’s reflective of my life in general at the moment. I’m closing in and shutting down. It started as a way to recover, avoiding the things that trigger my anxiety in the hope of getting to a settled state.

It doesn’t seem to be working. 

I’m zigzagging between hyper-anxious, depressed and numb, with a very occasional happy few hours. And throughout it all I’m overanalyzing, trying desperately to work out how I can improve. 

There are so many chicken and egg moments that I just can’t unravel. I feel like if I could I could fix myself. And that adds to the feeling of uselessness and worthlessness – I can’t do anything, not even look after myself. 

Am I avoiding social situations because they make me anxious, or am I getting more anxious in social situations because I’m avoiding most of them? Am I isolated because I’m depressed or depressed because I’m isolated? Am I better off at home until I’m partially recovered, or would work distract me from my anxious mind? And so on.

Because of the impact of my mental health on my work, and vice versa, I’ve agreed with my employer to reduce my hours when I go back. This is necessary, it will be good for me, and I’m incredibly grateful to have a supportive employer. But it has financial implications which I feel horrendously guilty about. I feel like I’m inflicting problems on my whole family because I can’t cope with everyday life. It reinforces that sense of uselessness, of being a burden, incapable. 

It’s been hard to find positives this last week. 

Something happened on Tuesday that sent me right back to a traumatic event that happened nine years ago. I don’t want to write the details, that would set me off all over again. Suffice to say it’s one if those horrendously shitty things that real life can throw at people, it had a massive effect on me at the time, and took a long time to get over. And sometimes things put me right back in that moment, as if it was happening now. I never know it’s coming, and it always sets me a long way back. Although I tell myself I just need a quiet day to get over it I think it lingers, and explains why the remainder of the week was so difficult. 

I need to hold on to the few happy hours. They’re fleeting, but they’re happening. That’s an improvement. It feels like a failure because they can end so suddenly, with me hurtling into an anxiety attack, but in fact feeling positive for any time at all is an improvement. 

I had a dream this week, a nightmare, in which I was wearing a mask. I dreamt I was attacked by a dog which went for the mask, and that feels like where I am – the mask is slipping. I’ve worked hard to keep my smile on in public, I always say “I’m fine”, I don’t want people to worry, or feel sorry for me. Even to my GP I sometimes say ” I’m struggling a bit” when I actually feel like I’m hanging on by my fingertips, brittle and broken. My GP, to her credit, sees through this. I don’t feel like I deserve help, I should be able to fix this myself. But the mask is slipping, I can’t keep the smile on, even in front of my family who I always try to shield from the worst of me. 

Perhaps this is a sign that I should be more honest? Admit I can’t fix it myself. Ask for help. But I don’t know what would help. 

I do know people care. Knowing that helps. 

A surprise delivery made me smile.