Having accepted that my recent running hiatus has affected my stamina, a conclusion I drew partly due to my failure to run one of my regular routes on Wednesday and partly due to how much my legs ached after the attempt, I’m going for a slower return to running over the next few weeks. Initially I’d planned to be straight back to 3 runs a week plus gym, but it’s clear I need to take it a bit easier and be more realistic about what my body can do.
So instead of a run today I took my teenage son and dogs out for a long walk. We did 5.6 miles in 1 hour 37 minutes, punctuated with a break for lunch. And that was with the dogs stopping to investigate every new smell and my son slowing dramatically towards the end!
It was a lovely walk, despite the cold. We sailed my son’s boat on the lake in the park, had lunch at Cafe in the Park, who gave the dogs sausages and helped me work out how to pay with my phone when I realised I’d forgotten my purse. It was cold, but not too cold while we were moving, and I definitely felt I could have gone faster.
Old dog standing guard while young dog relaxes in the Cafe.
Tomorrow I’ll be doing parkrun, possibly as a parkrun tourist elsewhere if I’m up early enough. I think two runs is plenty for my first week back at it.
I’m still keen to build my stamina and distance though. I’ve put my name into the ballot for Great North Run places, and am intending trying to get a charity place if my ballot’s unsuccessful, so I have a definite goal to aim for.
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.
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!
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.
Is 3 separate cats doing the same thing a coincidence or a conspiracy?
It’s a question I asked on Facebook this evening having noticed a new pattern amongst the neighborhood felines over the past few days. Rather than running or freezing when they spot us on our dog walks they’ve started following us. Perhaps they’ve realised that this befuddles DaisyDog. (HoudiniDog isn’t bothered.)
As I explained in Walking – With and Without Dogs DaisyDog is our first non-mongrel. As a greyhound she’s the product of years of breeding designing her to chase small fluffy creatures. It’s pure instinct, and I never really witnessed the power instinct could exert until we had her. Our other dogs have been trainable, more or less. But there is nothing that will distract DaisyDog when she sees a small fluffy creature running away. All I can hope is that I see it first and have a tight hold of her before her launch attempt.
A small furry creature chasing her completely confounds her. She knows she’s supposed to chase it. She twists and turns to keep it in sight. She does not want to move away from it. She doesn’t understand why it isn’t behaving naturally. I have to wrestle her until we’re out of sight of it, only these last few days the cats have then been following us around the corner, watching contemptuously as I drag a protesting dog away.
I imagine them laughing maniacally as we fade from view, dazzled by their power over the giant dog. (Who doesn’t anthropomorphize animals?)
As someone prone to over thinking I’m amazed by DaisyDog’s connection to her instincts. She eats when she’s hungry, drinks when she’s thirsty, sleeps when she’s tired, and tries desperately to chase small fluffy creatures. I don’t recognise my needs that well. I eat when I’m stressed, drink when I remember, sleep when my anxious brain succumbs to medication and flounder around wondering what my purpose is. I wish I could stop my churning brain and recognise what my body is telling me. I wish I knew instinctively when things weren’t right. I wish I could sleep when I’m tired.
I’ve always been a picker, a worrier. No scab left to heal, no blemish unprobed. Sitting in a pub I’ll be shredding the beermats, my restless fingers can’t keep still. My thoughts are like that too. I can’t switch off, I go over and over everything, into minute detail about scenarios which aren’t remotely likely because I just can’t stop.
Sometimes it’s unconscious. I’d wondered for years about the unexplainable callouses on my hands. They never go away, they don’t correspond with how I hold a pen or anything else. I mentioned it to my GP a while ago, and she looked at me and said “Really?” And I noticed for the first time that I was gnawing on my fingers, an outward sign of my anxiety that I must have done for years without ever being aware of it. Now sometimes I do notice I’m doing it, but it’s not that easy to stop.
It’s the same with my thoughts. These days I do often recognise when I’m being irrational, when I’m getting overwhelmed and upset by things that aren’t directed at me at all, when the last strands of control are slipping through my fingers. I notice it, but I can’t stop it.
I am curled up in bed, with a dog who senses that my need for company outweighs the ‘no dogs on the bed’ rule. I should be at work, but the negative blips that have been happening over the past couple of weeks combined into a flood I couldn’t cope with. So I am at home, where I’m trying to switch off and be kind to myself.
I’m trying to stop the incessant barrage of my thoughts.
Everywhere I look there are things I shouldbe doing, reasons to beat myself up for the mess I am, to class myself as a failure. But I’m not going to do that. I need to stop.
I’ll give myself today to stop, and tomorrow I’ll look at starting again. I’ll try not to pick up where I left off, with stress and anxiety preventing me making the most basic of decision. I’ll try to restart by building on the break, with a rested empty brain ready to deal with the tasks that need doing, rather than too full of worries to even know where to begin.
I recognise the irony that as my physical health improves my mental health is wobbling. I’m trying not to probe that, just to notice it and move on. I hope to keep this as a wobble, not a breakdown. I could speculate for hours on why now, what’s triggered it, what can I change to prevent it happening again, but that would just make me more anxious.
So I empty my brain, concentrate on just being here without worrying about anything, ignore everything that needs doing. There’s nothing that can’t wait.
There’s much out there about the benefits of having a dog for increasing your health and fitness. Having a dog means you will walk more, and pet ownership has proven mental health benefits. Seeing all this sets me off a-pondering though.
I am a dog person. I’ve always had pet dogs, both in the family home growing up and in my own home as soon as I had one. Currently we have two dogs.
HoudiniDog is getting elderly and slow now and no longer makes her trademark escape attempts. She’s your typical Heinz 57 mongrel.
DaisyDog is much younger, and is the first dog I’ve ever had that is clearly a specific breed. As my vet commented “She’s pretty much 100% typical greyhound. Except for those ears!”
My dogs are great for my physical and mental health. They get me out of the house in all weathers and they make me laugh frequently. I know, having owned several dogs before these two, that they will also make me cry in time, but I think the years before then will make it worth it.
Here’s the thing though – in terms of exercise, physical health, I get more benefits when I walk without my dogs. Not to say I don’t have wonderful walks with my dogs, and I’m sure I’d do a lot less steps overall without them. But…
Walking alone I don’t have to stop every so often to allow the dogs to investigate smells/do their business/meet other dogs/get their leads untangled.
Walking alone I can get up to a good speed without the risk of a dog stopping suddenly at my feet and tripping me up.
Walking alone I can add stairs to my walks. Non dog owners might wonder why I can’t do that with dogs, anyone who’s tried to get one slow elderly dog and one young leaping dog up the same flight of stairs while on leads will understand!
My Fitbit shows that I burn more calories and work at a higher level when I’m walking alone compared to when I’m walking with my dogs.
There are places I can’t go with my dogs. Both were adopted as adults from local rescues, and we suspect HoudiniDog was not socialised as a puppy. She’s fine with dogs and humans, but any other animal from pigeons on up she hates. She barks and growls and tries to leap at them. This time of year especially we need to avoid any fields with sheep. And we can’t go over the Town Moor when there are cows.
I’m used to dogs. I don’t mind picking up after them, even when they’ve eaten something particularly stinky. I know how much they cost, and prefer their company to the foreign holidays we could probably afford if we didn’t have them. I do my homework before rehoming them.
What worries me is that people who aren’t used to dogs may be tempted to get one as a fitness aid. I know many people who’ve got and then had to give up dogs. They weren’t bad people, they had good intentions, but in the main they were people who got the dog not because they wanted a dog, but because they wanted the dog to be something. Company, a reason to get out of the house, a treat for the kids, a fitness aid…
Having a dog is a bit like having a toddler. They’re dependent on you for food and cleaning, they’re enthusiastic about everything and they don’t mind doing the same things over and over. Having a cat, on the other hand, is a bit like having a teenager. They’ll turn up when there’s food, treat you with distain and just occasionally they’ll let their guard down and show you affection.
But that’s only partially true. In fact a dog is exactly like a dog, and a cat is exactly like a cat.
I’m not going to stop walking my dogs, but I no longer think of it as my main exercise. I wouldn’t have got to the level of fitness I’m at without them. And I love having them. But it’s not for everyone. So please don’t get a dog unless you want a dog, for the glorious creature that it is, smells, hair and mud included.
Be prepared for all the costs it entails – it may be insured for veterinary treatment but you still need the cash to cover an unexpected vets fee until the insurance pays out. Include food, kennels while you’re away, poop bags, everything in working out of you can afford it.
Know that it will take time for it to get to know you, and for you to get to know it. Non-dog owners express horror when I’ve told them that in the first three months DaisyDog was with us I ended up at minor injuries twice with damage to my neck and shoulder!
“Why did you keep her after she’d injured you?”
Well, because it wasn’t her fault. She’s a greyhound. Bred for centuries to chase anything small, fluffy and running away. Both times she saw a cat, she lunged, and as I was holding her lead when she lunged I took the full force of it. Now I know her body language. I can spot the second she sees something she might lunge at, and I’m ready for her. We needed to get to know each other.
Try before you buy. There are many wonderful animal charities who would love you to volunteer as a dog walker, check out what’s local to you. Plus there are websites like borrow my doggy. If you’ve never owned a dog this is a great way to get to know what’s involved before you make the commitment.
Do your homework. Different breeds have different traits, you need a dog that suits you. Also consider rescuing. There are loads of dogs who’d really benefit from a second chance and a loving home. Check your local rescue centres, and talk to them about your circumstances. They’ll have a good understanding of what their dogs need. If you do want a puppy be careful where you get it from. The RSPCA are warning about puppy farmers selling poorly treated unhealthy pups.
Consider whether you’ll stop at one. It’s true what they say about dogs keeping each other entertained. At the moment my two are keeping each other entertained with a challenge to see who can make me scoop poop from the most dangerous/precarious place. HoudiniDog specialises in the middle of the road or Metro line, whereas DaisyDog has perfected the very top edge of a steep slope technique!
Seriously though, DaisyDog was very nervous when we first got her, and having an existing, confident dog here helped her relax. She’d look to see how HoudiniDog reacted to loud noises, other dogs, people etc. and if Houdini was OK Daisy would be less worried.
I love dogs, and mine are definitely part of the family. I hope everyone who takes on a dog does so well prepared and gets much joy from it.