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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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! 😀

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.

Stopping. 

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 should be doing, reasons to beat myself up for the mess I am, to class myself as a failureBut I’m not going to do that. I need to stop. 

Completely 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. 

Sleepy dog keeping me company.

Too much chocolate.

I’ve had a bad day. One where everything went wrong and I just felt I shouldn’t exist at all. 

I managed no unhealthy snacks at work, but once I got in I ate chocolate. And more chocolate. 

I put the chocolate away, then got it out again and ate more chocolate. 

I went to make tea, and before I started I ate more chocolate. 


There’s something to be said for not keeping anything that will tempt you in the house when you’re trying to be healthy. But if there hadn’t been chocolate I don’t know what I’d have done. 

I don’t even know why I was eating the chocolate. I wasn’t hungry. Was it a distraction? A craving? Self harm? 

I’ve been trying to break the link between stress and food, but it’s strong. It keeps snapping back into place. 

I’d like to stay I took hold of myself and stopped myself eating the chocolate. But in reality I ate it until I felt sick, until I couldn’t eat any more. 

And then I cooked tea. I made fried rice. I concentrated on finely chopping the vegetables. I tried to forget everything.


The bad day continued. I forgot the garlic and only remembered the prawns at the very last moment. It didn’t matter though, it still tasted good. 

It showed me I can turn a bad day around. I can find a little victory. I stopped eating the chocolate, I didn’t order a takeaway, I made a healthy meal for my family.  


I still feel sad, hopeless, overwhelmed. But it’s when I feel like this that I most need to cling to the little victories. 

Have a banana. #NewcastleCAN

I’ve signed up to NewcastleCan and am counting myself lucky that the city I live in is the one that’s been chosen for this project. Its a city wide campaign to get healthier and lose weight, supporting each other to do all the things I for one have been intending to do for years. Finding sustainable small changes that will make a positive difference and building on them. I know what it will take to get healthier, but I get frustrated and backslide. I hope this campaign will make it easier to keep on track, or to get back on track when I wobble. 

One of my main problems is my relationship with food. When I’m stressed, depressed or anxious – I eat. When I’m happy or celebrating – I eat. That covers most occasions. I’m the member of staff with the multipack of Crunchies in my desk drawer, who knows the two for offers on all the biscuit brands and calls the pizza delivery guy more often than family. 

Stress eating is an easy habit to get into, but really hard to break. I’ve made various attempts over the years, but its never really lasted. Having to give up alcohol a few years ago due to medication just made it worse – the level of unwinding that used to be achieved with one glass of wine began to take a whole tub of Ben and Jerry’s. And while I’ve managed to keep 10,000 steps a day or thereabouts going for over two years now my eating was getting worse and worse. 

My latest attempt to deal with it started last November. An over 40s health check at work showed up much that was troubling, and the nurse called me in to my local GPs to give me a warning. I have til March to show improvement, or there’ll be a whole new lot of medicines I have to add to my daily routine.

I realised most of my failed attempts had failed because I tried to change too much at a time. So I thought this time I’d start small. First change – No unhealthy snacks at work.

The first day was agony. My workplace always has several packets of biscuits on the go, chocolates too in the run up to Christmas, and cake at least once a week. My first healthy snack only day there was an open packet of After Eights on the desk next to mine that I was acutley aware of all day. It sounds daft, but it was hard to concentrate on my work knowing they were there.

But I made it through the first day, and the first week. By the second week I was less painfully councious of the sweets around the office. It helps that my workplace also has a healthy eating scheme, so there is usually fruit around. An apple just isn’t the same as a chocolate bar when you’re having a bad day, but it stops me using being hungry as the excuse for indulging.

I made it three weeks without unhealthy snacks at work before I broke up for Christmas. And I’m keeping it up so far this year too, despite a lot of stressful situations that would usually have me reaching for the Dairy Milk. I’m not perfect. I allowed myself a special dispensation for cake on a colleagues birthday, although I did have a smaller piece than I would have last year. I sometimes allow myself something sweet with my lunch, because that’s a meal not a snack. Or so I tell myself! But its not everyday like before. 

Today I felt grotty, with early migraine symptoms, and needed to eat something to take my tablets with. The staffroom had four different sorts of biscuits, no fruit. Did I have a biscuit? No. I went out to the greengrocer and bought some bananas. That sounds matter of fact, an everyday occurance, but it would have been unheard of for me to refuse a biscuit a few months ago. But its now a fixed habit that I don’t snack unhealthily at work. 

The next step of course will be to stop having unhealthy snacks at home too. I’m aware of the hypocrisy of no healthy snacks at work, then coming home and eating half a pack of chocolate hobnobs because I’ve had a bad day. And ringing for another pizza! 

But I think I’m heading in the right direction!