After several months of the scales stubbornly staying still they’re finally moving in the right direction again, and today I was able to contribute my first additional pounds to the Newcastle Can target since June! It’s a relief.
I’d been trying hard not to be too bothered by the scales lack of movement. I knew my body was still changing shape, and I could feel that I was healthier, but it was becoming frustrating. The period of static scales included both a period of ill health and my summer holiday, so the fact my weight hadn’t gone up is a very good thing. But still, it was beginning to worry me.
So why did the scales stick, and what got them moving again? After reading Why You’re Burning Fewer Calories Than You Think I suspect that what happened was by new, healthier body wasn’t having to work as hard. I’d got used to my weekly gym and cardio session, and no longer burned off as many calories as when both were a massive effort. So, the fix should be upping my exercise.
Luckily this happened just as I decided to sign up for the Great North 5K with NewcastleCan. I added walk/running home from work once a week – this week it was for the first time predominantly a run, with a little bit of walking. Instead of a cardio session on a Saturday morning I ran my first parkrun. I went out and walked the dogs, even after running, rather than ask my partner to do it when I’m tired and have already exercised. I switched from a fast walk to a slow run on the treadmill and upped the weights at the gym. You can see the difference in my stats from the treadmill:
In short I stopped being complacent and started pushing myself.
I hadn’t noticed the gradual slide into complacency. I was, very gradually, upping the amount I did at the gym, and thought that was enough. I hadn’t realised my body was getting fitter faster than I was increasing my exercise intensity.
Luckily the challenge of the 5k and the regular contact from NewcastleCan kept me on track, by reminding me why I’m doing this. I think if I’d been trying to lose weight on my own a static spell of three months would have seen me giving up.
Fitness isn’t either there or not, it’s a continuous process. So I’m going to keep pushing myself. I’ll be trying to beat my personal best, trying to lift heavier weights, bend further and cover more distance. I’m not stopping now!
I’ve shared some of the things that happen to me while I’m running on Facebook. Highs like the old man waving his walking stick in the air as he cheered me on. Lows like being stopped by preteens who wanted to scrounge a tab (how unhealthy do I look when jogging that they assume I’m a smoker?) Several Facebook friends suggested I should try Parkrun as I’m running.
I’ve known about Parkrun for a long time, but never thought it was something I’d take part in. I’d read the news stories when a council tried to charge runners, and agreed that people should be free to run in local parks without paying for it, but that’s as much as I’d ever thought about it. Parkrun clearly must be for runners, and I’m not a runner. It’s a similar situation to how I’d discounted This Girl Can because I’d misunderstood the age range it was targeting. Had I made it to the Parkrun website I’d have seen how welcoming it is to all ages and abilities, but I’d never got that far because I was so convinced it wasn’t for the likes of me, just based on that one word “run”.
Luckily word of mouth, or comments of Facebook, got me reconsidering. And as soon as I’d seen the Parkrun website I realised I could give this a go. I signed up last weekend , determined to go along this week.
I think going to something new, alone, feels intimidating to a lot of people, even if their mental health’s good. When you have anxiety like mine it can become impossible to face new situations. Throughout the week I worried intermittently. I knew I could do 5K, even if I had to walk bits of it. My main concern was that I would be last. It takes me just under 40 minutes to run 5k on a treadmill at the gym, and I was sure I would be slower out in the real world. The previous week the slowest runner at my local Parkrun had taken just under 44 minutes. I worried that if I was last I would never feel confident enough to go back.
And then I got a news email from Parkrun with a link to this fantastic blog. As well as being impressed with Helen’s determination I realised I couldn’t come last. Until then I hadn’t heard of Tail Walkers, volunteers who bring up the rear at each run, providing support and encouragement and taking that worrisome last place.
Saturday arrived, annoyingly warm and sunny (I’d hoped for drizzle or at least clouds and a cool breeze, to mimic the air conditioned gym I’m more used to running in.) I drove to the park, and got almost to the start line when I realised I’d left my water in the car. I decided to count the run back to the car as warm up!
My initial impression walking from the car park was that it was mostly men. Once I was nearer the start line there was more of a gender mix, perhaps women just are less likely to drive there, or to leave it as close to the start time to get there? There were lots of incredibly healthy looking young people, but there were also children, older people, people of all shapes and sizes. Most people seemed to be in groups, or at least to know others. I felt conspicuously alone and large, but kept telling myself that was my paranoia talking, and that I could do this.
I couldn’t hear the briefing, I was near the back of over 500 people, but it was obvious when people started running. So I started running too. I still struggle with my pace and breathing when running outside, I had to slow to a walk a few times over the 5k to get my breathing back under control. There were other people slowing to a walk every now and then, so I didn’t feel like it was a sign of failure. Generally though I kept running. I even speeded up towards the end!
I was particularly impressed by how supportive everyone was. Not just the volunteer marshals, who were whooping and cheering me on at every stage. Also the other runners. There were a couple of places on the route where runners were going in both directions, and those further on were saying “well done” and “keep going” to those of us near the back. I couldn’t manage supportive words while concentrating on my breathing, but sent lots of smiles to fellow runners.
At the end of the run I was handed a token and had to queue up to get it and my barcode scanned (my barcode I’d printed off the internet in advance). People in the queue were friendly and chatty. I can see why people had recommended it to me, its a real community atmosphere.
When my time came through I was really pleased with it. My fitbit had said 37 minutes but I wasn’t sure I’d started it at the right point. My official time of 37min23 is more than 2 minutes quicker than I’d run 5k on a treadmill. Clearly being surrounded by other runners helped me pick up my pace. Now I’ve done it once I’ll definitely be back.
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.
I went for a jog this morning. I’m determined to complete the Great North 5K at a jog next month, so am pushing myself to get fitter. (More on that here).
Up until now my running had been done on a treadmill at the gym. I’m doing quite well there, up to 2.5k at a run, or 3k if you include the cool down. But as my free training plan has me running 3 times a week I decided it was time to venture out into the real world to run too.
It turns out the real world is much harder than a treadmill. There’s the obvious hazards: hills, puddles, dogs, pedestrians, traffic, uneven surfaces etc. all of which I was prepared for. What I hadn’t realised was how hard I’d find it to control my pace. My body just kept speeding up to a pace I couldn’t maintain, and I ended up having to slow to a walk to get my breath back several times.
I managed 1.3 miles in 17 and a bit minutes, which is distressingly close to my fast walking pace, and a fraction of the time I can manage on the treadmill at the gym. But the race is in the real world, so I need to get used to running in the real world.
I wish I enjoyed it more. My body doesn’t naturally move in a running stride, and I’m more looking forward to it being over than enjoying the moment. I’ve been watching some of the athletics from London and marvelling at what the human body can do. I saw Usain Bolt’s final race last night and wished I had just a smidgeon of his effortless grace when running. I saw Jessica Judd interviewed after her race saying how much fun she’d had and wished I had a tiny part of her attitude to and enjoyment of running.
All the advice on getting fitter and more active says to find something you love doing, but I love curling up with a good book and a cup of tea rather than anything energetic. As well as training my body to move more I’m having to train my mind to enjoy it. So far my body is responding better than my mind, but I’m determined!
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.
I’ve been physically quite unwell for a few days, but I’m getting better. That’s the short version.
I’ll understand if you leave it with the short version and move on to other things. The long version that follows is my gradually recovering brain pondering on what my feverish brain invented while I was sick, and I make no claims that it’s a work of stunning insight or perception!
Somewhere between Friday night and Saturday morning I stated being sick. My doctor says it was definitely “a bug” which I feel doesn’t really describe the full horror of the experience. Physically it was like a full body migraine. Everything hurt, everything from scalp and skull right down to toenails. The slightest movement set off another bout of retching, even after I’d brought up everything possible. I felt very cold, although I’m told I was anything but. My senses were ridiculously heightened, the smallest noise was torture and our older, smellier dog had to be banished to the other room because she made me feel so sick!
Somewhere in the blur that is Saturday/Sunday/Monday some unknown combination of fever, dehydration, lack of food and the sudden stopping of medication you absolutely must wean yourself off or face dire consequences caused me to start hallucinating.
I’ve never gone in for hallucinogens. Zammo told me “Just Say No” to drugs at an impressionable age, and I took it to heart (and possibly also bought the single. Or at least recorded it off the radio onto cassette, clipped to cut off the DJ, which was the nearest I got back then to buying singles).
It’s not that I had a completely unadventurous youth, but by the time I had discovered sex and rock ‘n’ roll I found I didn’t have time to bother much about drugs too. And the loss of control thing terrifies me.
I remember a trusted friend once offering me Es at a nightclub in my dim and distant past. “It’s great” he said. “You’ll want to hug everyone here.” I looked at the sweaty masses of early 90s grungers and thoughtfully replied “Over my dead body.” The idea of voluntarily taking something to make me act so out of character was unfathomable to me.
So my rare experiences of hallucinations have all been fever based. I think they’re hallucinations. I’m not entirely sure where you draw the line between incredibly vivid fever dreams and actual hallucinations. Perhaps a medical person could explain, but I’m never really in a fit state to discuss the finer points of definitions when it happens.
Anyway, while my body was in agony my brain was creating incredible feats of imagination, all nonsensical in retrospect, but seeming very real at the time:
There were the moon moths, whose breeding habits and feeding patterns I’d apparently studied for years (and should I ever write a sci-fi novel they’re going in).
There was balancing over a cavern system that housed three of the rarest bee species in the world, although only two of them actually made prize winning honey, so we don’t speak about the third.
There was the silver cup on a delicate silver chain that I used to get the honey and I swear was on my bedside table for hours afterwards until the dog knocked it down (I own no silverware and by this point the dog was banished – see above).
There was a really compelling reason why I had to lie with one foot on the other knee, and something terrible would happen if I didn’t.
There was a new social order with four strands based on selecting a random tile, but it kept going wrong and society had to be rebooted, which meant a party being chosen to make the long, dangerous trek to the on/off switch on the other side of the gnarly lands.
When my partner told me the doctor was on the phone I was genuinely confused, having just spoken to a doctor, although at the time I did feel it was unprofessional for him to be calling from the squash court (the fact I could see him while on the phone didn’t arouse my suspicion at all).
These are just glimmers of the ones I remember. There were unrelenting hours of this stuff, punctuated only by dashes to the bathroom to be sick.
By Monday evening the medicine my real, non-squash court doctor had prescribed was kicking in and I was able to keep some fluids down and have snatches of sensible conversation. Tuesday I managed to eat a little, and sleep without dreaming.
I’m still achey and wobbly, with a slightly elevated temperature, but I’m sure I’m on the mend. I’m appreciative of my brain for providing a distraction from my body when my body was feeling crap, and I’m accepting that I’m not going to find some complex hidden meaning in the weird journeys it took me on. I wish I could harness even a tenth of that creative capacity when I’m not ill though.
Until comparatively recently I rarely looked at the ingredients of the food I was buying. I was more interested in how easy it was to cook than what was in it. I had what now seems a naïve amount of trust in the food industry, who I was sure wouldn’t feed me anything unnecessary.
My drive to get healthier has seen me paying a lot more attention to the labels, and doing a lot more of my own cooking rather than relying on convenience foods. I hadn’t realised how much I’d bought into the convenience food culture, believing cooking certain things myself was far too much trouble, without ever having tried it.
Until very recently having chips in our house meant either a visit to a chip shop or oven chips…
I mean they’re just chips, right? But quicker. Bung them on a tray, bung it in the oven and chips are ready in 20 minutes. No need for all that faffing about peeling potatoes, no worrying that the potatoes will go off before you use the whole bag, no dealing with roots or mud. And it’s just potatoes.
Call me fussy, but I expect chips to be more than 92% potato! Why do chips need two different types of flour? Why do they need colouring? And 4% oil seems a lot.
So I decided I’d give making chips a go. Believe it or not I’d never made chips. As a child my mum made them, in a chip pan full of boiling oil that terrified me! As an adult I’d believed oven chips were healthier and more convenient.
It turns out it’s not that hard to chop up a potato…
After chopping them I put the chips in a large bowl, with a tablespoon of oil and some seasoning, cover it up with a plate and give it a good shake…
Then pop them onto a baking tray and into the oven at 220°…
Depending how chunky I’ve cut them they can take up to 20 minutes to cook. They’re best turned half way through cooking.
This is the way I make chips most often now. I can vary the size of them, vary the seasoning, and they’re very popular with the family. Apart from a couple of extra dishes to wash they’re not really an inconvenience.
No flour, no starch, no colouring, no fuss! And a bag of potatoes is a lot cheaper than a bag of oven chips.
I’m not saying I never get chips from the chip shop any more, and we still have oven chips in the freezer for emergencies. But in general I make chips from scratch these days, and I’m surprised how easy a switch it was.
Newcastle Can is a project to get my home town working together to get healthier and lose weight. You can find out more about the project here, and my other blogs on the subject are listed here.