I Have a Big Mind, So I Can Keep Dreaming

I have a very big mind. I don’t know if you can quantify the size of a mind seeing as it is abstract. What I mean when I say I have a big mind is that it wanders. I have high ambitions for myself, and sometimes believe in them. I think I’m going to become an award-winning author, a Nobel prize receiving nutritionist (has that ever even happened?). I’m going to run marathons and go on to running ultra’s. I want to play instruments and dance like Darcey Bussell

I don’t just want to do all of this stuff. I strive to do it all. However, one obstacle keeps getting in my way. My mental health. I can be very disabling for me. Sometimes, when I am unwell, I can’t even cook or eat properly. I can’t wash. Going to the toilet feels like a chore. Understanding and depicting between reality and fantasy can be a challenge.

I think a lot. I use mindfulness to tame my thinking – and often my mind may be empty, and still I think a lot. I can switch off, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t want all of these things for myself, along with a fantastic relationship, and friends, and above all – learning to manage my mental health.

One thing I still struggle with a lot is knowing how much I can do. I often feel like I want every waking moment of my days to be achieving something – be that studying, learning, writing, reading, running, climbing, art. Perhaps I expect too much of myself. I’m not sure.

When I’m depressed though, something I always struggle with is my inability to do very much at all – and learning to reign in my ideals of how I want to live my life. Accepting the limitations placed on me by my illnesses is something I have not fully accepted. I have accepted it more than I could a few years ago: it is a process. At the same time, I don’t want to not live my life because of my illnesses. I don’t want to sell myself short. I think most people can relate to wanting to be the best version of themselves, and to wanting to live their life as the best version of themselves.

So accepting that I can only read a paragraph at a time, accepting that I can’t go out or leave the house, accepting that I can’t run 4 times a week because quite simply, I am too unwell is difficult to adapt to each time I get unwell. Unfortunately, for me, getting unwell is still a frequent part of my life and I wonder if ever I will be as well as I hope to be. I expected to be a fully functioning member of society with a brilliant job after being off work for 6 months. That was 6 years ago. Evidently, these hopes and desires didn’t quite pan out.

There are times when I wish I was someone else. There are more than numerous times when I wish I didn’t have my illnesses. In fact, I wish this most days that I’m affected negatively by them. I think that is natural, right? So here, on that point right there I need to do some more acceptance work. By that I don’t mean stop fighting and give in. By that I mean learn when to pull the reigns in and accept that for a period of time I probably can’t do everything I want to do or wish for.

The difficulty of this acceptance I think is compounded by the highs I experience. During these times, life is bloody wonderful and I’m functioning at 200%. I’m productive beyond measure, goal orientated like a world champion athlete chasing after an Olympic Gold. I’m talented. I’m brilliant. I’m capable of anything and everything I set myself to. This is called hypomania – and the part that gets me the most is the comparison.

When I am hypomanic, experiencing myself at 200% and loving it, producing grand plans and ideas of how I’m going to become successful in every sense of the word makes the contrast between this state and being so low I cannot leave my bed a more bitter pill to swallow – and in swallowing my meds, I am to an extent, forfeiting these periods of my best self.

Overall, I know it is worth it because I get severely depressed much more than I get hypomanic – yet the contrast of the, “but I’m so brilliant” during those times is a difficult price to pay for stability. Over the years I have refused medications and not taken my medication. Slowly I have learned that this is in fact the worst thing I can do because 90% I will go down, down, down. I have learned the importance of taking my meds, and the importance of self-care in terms of sleep hygiene, and keeping calm in my overall performance, because what is the use of functioning and being my best self at 200% for a few weeks once a year or so, compared to a functioning level between 60-70% for the majority of the time? It is an equation of better odds in longevity.

But I have a big mind and I despise not being capable. I despise not being independent 100% of the time. I resent the fact that I am resigned to not working full-time, perhaps ever. At times it eats me up inside that I may never reach my full best self due to my illness – and actively accepting that going to the shop for some milk and watching Netflix is as good as it’s going to get for a few weeks is a painful realisation to find yourself in when you have such a big mind.

I know that I need to tame my mind. I may not be able to be brilliant all the time, much to my disappointment – but I can be above good for most of the time when I’m well? Is that a fair price to pay for being 5% of myself, and totally disabled by my mental illness? No. I don’t think so. Is it reality though? Is that just how mental illness goes? Yes. I suppose it is. Do I want to accept that? Not at all. Do I need to accept that? Most definitely.

Many brilliant minds in the public eye are tortured by mental illness, yet they manage to be really quite remarkable. Stephen Fry. Ruby Wax. Catherine Zeta Jones. Demi Lovato. When I see how successful they are, I find myself thinking, why not me? There is an element of self belief required, but the truth is, these people are exceptions. Exceptional minds and personalities with mental illness. They do not represent the majority of people with mental illness. I think society forgets that and that help me to also forget that.

I see a lot of people where I live, and amongst the services and hospitals I’ve been to who experience severe mental illness, and for them, just living in supported accommodation or volunteering 4 hours a week is as good as it’s going to get. Yet I don’t see myself amongst that population. I don’t see myself as higher or better, but I see my mind as bigger. I don’t identify with the people in my living complex who spend all day every day staring into space smoking and drinking – I see myself in the Stephen Fry’s and the Demi Lovato’s: but I just can’t sustain my abilities at a high enough level – and that is something I suppose I need to learn to accept. That is something I need to learn to live with, without thinking I may as well kill myself at the same time. That is something I am sure many of us struggle with, mental illness or not.

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I just wish I could be my 200% for 100% of the time. I can dream. We all can. If I keep dreaming, and keep trying, it might become reality – until then, I need to reign in my expectations of myself again – and the heart wrenching reality of my illness hits me hard in the gut, in my soul, at my very core of what I consider to be my being. This is why I don’t work. This is why many people with mental illness don’t work and that’s OK – I just wish every person understood that without judgement. Maybe one day I too will work full-time, maybe I won’t.  Like I said though, I can dream right?

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That Tough Mudder for MIND

In the pub one December evening in 2014 a friend and I decided it would be a really good idea to sign up for Tough Mudder. We decided it would be fun, it would be a real laugh and a challenge that was totally do-able. We 100% had it in the bag already, after a pint or two I was convinced I could run it right now and with nine months to train. We were gonna smash it. We teamed up and began to raise money for Mind in the process.

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I was originally signed up for Tough Mudder in September 2015. However, in early September I found myself stuck in hospital in the middle of nowhere. On section, I wasn’t allowed to leave and there was no leeway for negotiation. I deferred my entry until May 2016 with the assumption that I would be better and have had enough recovery time to focus on training again.

Some new meds, some disruptions and some turbulence later I was admitted on section in April 2015. This meant that again, I couldn’t go. This time, ashamed and disappointed I retreated into the distance. I went quiet. Overcoming that admission took a very long time; it had a profound effect on me and when I came home I struggled to even go to the shop on my own. My social worker described what I went through with that admission as a trauma, and no wonder I was overwhelmed. I guess it’s hard to know when everything is so confusing and you don’t understand why you’re stuck on the inside, and everything is a whirlwind of screaming, fighting, restraints and tears.

As a result, I went quiet about all the races I missed during that admission and the money I raised was donated over to Mind regardless. I was upset and felt guilty for having accepted donations and money and having not actually done the challenge I was sponsored for. I also felt guilty asking for a Mind charity place for a third time. So I didn’t. I let it go.

I accepted that I had been too unwell to be able to go to Tough Mudder twice in a row, and for as unfortunate as that was I accepted that it wasn’t my fault. I had to accept that these circumstances had been beyond my control and even though it didn’t feel ok, it was ok. That’s the nature of mental illness right? I put it behind me and focused on getting better, yet it still felt like unfinished business. In my mind, I was going to revisit it and tie the loose end for myself when I was more stable and more well, whenever that may be.

Then December 2016 happened. I had a rocky time with starting uni but during a particularly ambitious patch of behaviour I signed up. I had a touch of realism about me still, thank goodness, and I opted for the half distance. I kept it quiet and only told a close few incase I didn’t do it again.

The date crept up on me and fortunately I had managed to start running regularly again. It became harder to keep it quiet; a tad of excitement, a touch of self realisation that I could do it, and a growing sense of self belief spread the secret out a bit more than I had initially intended.

On the day, Wifey and I travelled to the venue together. She wasn’t running however, said she may consider running one next year? *nudge nudge – that would be a really great idea – hint*. She sat with me during the pre-race nerves and put up with my excessive neediness for affection and reassurance. in the run up to the race. Like the boss of a Wifey that she is, she stood by me right until it was time to go into the warm up pen. At the start line, she waved me off.

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This was it. This was the moment that had taken be 1 1/2 years to get to. This was the event that had hung over me for the past 2 1/2 years and I had finally crossed the start line. It seems to be a theme that getting to the start line is the hardest part for me. I was on my own. The tough Mudder mantra is that no one is on their own. The challenge is about comradery and teaming up with people you don’t know. You’re all in this together, you start together and you finish together. However, running a race that most people sign up with for in a group can make running it feel a little bit lonely at times.

I’m no stranger of doing things on my own. I am an only child after all. I’ve been wanting to start running trails lately, so running the off-road terrain was something I really enjoyed, even without music. The constant challenge and excitement of the terrain was enough to keep my mind occupied: the scenery and the challenge of the hills, of which there were plenty was enough. Sometimes the course led us up a hill just for the fun of it to come back down. It’s like a reminder of a lot of what we do in life. Why do we run in big circuits, and climb walls to just come back down again? For the fun of it of course, and the feeling of accomplishment that you can’t get from not climbing the wall or running in a big circuit just for the fun of it.

The obstacles around the course were a good challenge and totally do-able. My favourite was block ness monster; I love water obstacles. It always takes some nerves to dive into a cold pool of muddy stinking water, but afterwards, despite stinking of sewage, you feel great. The other obstacles on the half course included: mud mile, the pyramid scheme, inverted walls, high walls, and the grand finale, Everest 2.0.

Everest 2.0 is one of those obstacles wherein which you have to break down barriers and put your trust in a stranger to haul you over the ledge all after you’ve run up a quarter pipe upon which it is highly likely to end in a royal motherfucker of a face plant. It took a number of attempts and to my surprise, I didn’t land on my face.

Also surprisingly, hanging from someone’s hands whilst straggling legs in all directions in an attempt to get over the ledge is really exhausting. Eventually when I was hauled over I had no strength left in me to help drag anyone over. In fact, i felt positively nauseous. Slowly I climbed down the ladder on the other side to be greeted by Wifey taking my photo and an upheaval of vomit into my mouth.

She ran to the hydration station and got me some water to drink to one of her infamous pep-talks. I could do it. It wasn’t far until the finish line now. I had already covered most of it. I recollected myself.  Picked my sorry arse up off the floor and using her words of encouragement began to run again. I wasn’t far now. I was nearly done. I soon saw the finish line, with Wifey running up beside me to take my picture crossing the line.

There’s nothing quite like crossing the finish line of a race or challenge and seeing Wifey’s face beaming at me. I collected my treasured headband that certified I had indeed done a Tough Mudder challenge. I had done it. Two and a half years after I was originally signed up to line up at the start I made it. I crossed it.

Crossing that finish line was more than just a Tough Mudder challenge. It wasn’t just for fun anymore. It was unfinished business as a result of my mental health difficulties. Crossing that finish line signified finishing something I signed up to for myself years ago, and making it to the event and crossing that start line signified a new era of mental health better than I was for a long time. That’s very wordy, I don’t know how to say that in a less wordy or awkward way – I’m not great or at my best, but I am better, and that’s a big fucking deal.

 

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Running Tough Mudder Half, for this reason, was a massive moment for me. It’s a year since I last signed up, and also a year since I was last roaming the corridors of a hospital ward. I’m not always well and I’m not unwell like I was back then. I’m bigger than I was due to medication. I’m slower than I was when I signed up and felt like I had the running world at my feet. I’m not as confident about my strength and abilities, yet I’m more confident than I was a month ago. Finally, thank you to everyone who sponsored me and yes, I finally ran it. I did it. I crossed the line. Loose end tied. I think this story is less about Tough Mudder and more about keeping on keeping on. When life throws you a royal shit storm, grab the hand of your right hand (wo)man and damn well dance, because together you’ve got this. We’ve got this.

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She said ‘strike a pose’ – This is what comes to mind whenever anyone says strike a pose, right?

Conquering Our Own Mountains

  
Sometimes we need a kick up the arse. Sometimes we just need someone, or something to come up behind us and give us a push in the right direction towards our goals and dreams because get this, just because you have a mental health illness DOES NOT mean you can’t have hopes, dreams and ambition. That’s what ‘Star’ is about. A new poem I have written. It’s about not holding ourselves back and not accepting what others may say are within our capabilities.

It is quite vague in being about conquering our own mountains, but I had myself, my fellow patents and you guys in mind when I wrote this. Enjoy 🙂

Lion – Monica Scripture

I wrote this in hospital whilst I was on a 5(2). I didn’t know if I was going to be sectioned again, but the sentiment remains the same.

I am home now. Under HTT, but this is my poem about being in hospital and kept there against your will.

The Story of My MIND Fundraiser – and the importance of MIND in the UK.

The other day I took my body measurements. Once upon a time this was an almost daily ritual over which the loss of a quarter-inch would be rejoiced for a moment before becoming again, ‘not small enough’. To catch me tape measure in hand would have been an invasion into the depth’s of anorexia’s secrecy that encroached my life. For me, this time though I wasn’t smaller than last time. In fact, I don’t even remember when last time was. DSC08961

This time my measurements were bigger than they’d ever been. This time I’m not trying to lose weight no matter which organ degrades to fulfil that need. I am instead focused on a whole new agenda, health and fitness – and this is no anorexia disguise, I mean really, it’s for health and fitness to improve my badass performance in OCRs, running, climbing and it’d be nice to shave commuting time from my cycling trips.

Yes, I’m the biggest I’ve ever been and I’m healthy. My thighs aren’t equally perfect – my right is 1 – 1 1/2 inches bigger that the left but that’s cool. In fact they’re both equal to or larger than my waist in inches was during my anorexic days. I didn’t cry at this realisation, nor did I vow to eat a drastically low amount of calories. I was however in a state of shock which seeped into the stark realisation at how sick I was, and how far from fat I truly was at a time when I felt like my weight was ‘just’ acceptable. There was 1/3 less of me than what I am now and I found myself wondering, how the fuck did my organs fit in such a tiny space?

As you can see, I am health conscious and most definitely as recovered as I think it gets – which is amazing considering I spent 9 years smothered by eating disorders affecting me and dictating far too much of my life. In addition to eating disorders I have bipolar and dissociative episodes – the latter of which is better than it used to be due to extensive and intensive therapy.

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Now that I manage better and am not living in a constant crisis state, nor am I being admitted to A&E or psych units regularly. I attend groups run in the community in a variety of topics such as: mindfulness, arts and crafts and gardening. All of these groups help reduce some of the worst effects of mentally ill-health; social isolation, stigma and loneliness. All of which, added on top of difficulties can make a depressive episode go from shit to actively suicidal. One charity that runs a lot of these groups well is MIND.

This is the work that many probably don’t see done by MIND, but it is in addition to their exceptionally informative website, their help line, their online forum Elefriends, their info leaflets found in most psychiatric units, their advocacy service and their anti-stigma awareness raising media projects. Without MIND I would not have had information to read on my first admission that helped explain the unexplainable. I would not have had leaving services care which directed me instead to the right services when my previous care provider had failed. I would have fewer places to go and be with fewer people in an environment where I don’t have to hide my unemployment or mental health struggles.
I am one person in a country of millions. These are just some of the ways in which MIND have helped me –  now think of how many people in the UK struggle with mental health problems, and how many of those have sought for information and support – and how many people MIND as a charity reach, help, and sometimes probably give hope to in the most hopeless of situations, and therefore keep alive for at least a while longer.

Now isn’t that a charity worth fighting for? Isn’t that a charity worth donating to, or perhaps running Tough Mudder for? This is exactly what I’m doing, but running Tough Mudder this year isn’t just about raising money for MIND. It shows to myself and others how far I’ve come in my journey, and it slaps my ED in the face whilst saying “see how much stronger I am now bitch!” It’s part of a personal journey of proving to myself how badass amazing I am whilst giving me the chance to give something back to a charity that helped save my life and that of at least a thousand others.

My Just Giving Page has a link to the right of my blog, and can be found following this link.

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Switching Psychiatric Labels: And All The Resulting Qualms.

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For years I had been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I dissociated, and at one time in my life, I engaged with many of the unhelpful coping mechanisms that accompany the disorder: binge eating, anorexia, bulimia, drinking, cutting, and overdoses. I was constantly trying to understand, and ease the immense pain that I felt from living, breathing, existing on this earth.

I had therapy.

I had years and years of various therapies with various therapists of varying intensities and specialisms. CBT, talking, EFT, schema, metallisation, all of which geared towards healing my inner turmoils in order to build a more stable future. Of course, that’s what all therapies are about right?

But it wasn’t working. I was frustrated. I’d cry in frustration – seriously, why am I so fucked up?

“you’re at the start of a long journey?”

“WHAT! The START. I’ve been in therapy for 8 years, how is this the start!?!?”

Because nothing, nothing I did was working on easing my depression – if you believed I was depressed that is. My psychiatrist didn’t. From their responses I gather they considered me to have a hidden agenda within my suicidal obsessions and deep rooted depression. I didn’t. I was quite literally depressed, nothing more, nothing less. Yet still, I had to get on with it even though it felt very real to me, it wasn’t – and so on and so forth.

And I wasn’t sure if it was just me, but for some reason I just didn’t ‘get it’. I did everything that was advised, and everything recommended from various self help resources. I used my therapy, went to as many sessions as possible – and I engaged. I tried, really. fucking. hard. REALLY. FUCKING. HARD. Yet still, I lived in a descended fog of despair and hopelessness. Fuck this. Seriously. Fuck. This. Shit.

Until I started walking on sunshine. Holy shit. I’d been missing the point for so many years, yet now, now all of a sudden, I had all the answers I’d ever been pining for. Of course life was wonderful. No. It wasn’t. Life was fucking magical, and so was I. It’s the highs and lows of the borderline disorder they said: until I lost my shit.

I lost my shit thoroughly for a whole week, or maybe longer, and finally, some bitch social worker named Penny sectioned me. I was re-assessed, and upon release my GP stirred up a fuss pulling my current diagnosis into question.

“You’re not the first, and you wont be the last to be lumbered with this diagnosis because they just don’t know quite where you fit and can’t put any other label neatly on you”

And she pissed a lot of people of, but she didn’t care. She wanted me to have the correct treatment, and could from her own expertise say that she’d seen me on both ends of the mood spectrum. Finally, my diagnosis was officially changed, I don’t have a personality disorder… I in fact had bipolar disorder, and so many jarred edges clicked into place like a the cogs made for my machine.

At first, this news came with a relief. Finally, they were listening and understanding the mood difficulties that I face. Finally, they were taking me seriously when I was down, and when I was walking on magical unicorn sunshine. Finally, I was given medications at a dose that would actually help a person, rather than eager sprinkles of psychiatric drugs that do nothing, to anyone, in the guise of “trying to help’. I’m quite sure they were trying to induce the placebo effect- but it never worked.

However, from this relief spawned a new vulnerability, and a new set of realisations. Shit, this isn’t something I can “get over, move on from and forget”. Shit, this isn’t going to go away as I’d been told it would for years. Shit, bipolar is life long, and I’m going to have to stay on my meds, and shit, I’m losing hope that those depressive episodes will never reappear in my life.

Within my sigh of relief, at the same time, I had a whole new set of circumstances within which to adapt to, to accept, to manage, and to acknowledge. It is not only a new label under my name, on my file somewhere that is likely a meter thick with truths woven between chapters and chapters of bullshit: but also, I have a new treatment plan to accept and use. I have to accept that these problems are probably going to be challenges for a lifetime, and that these challenges are going to have to be managed, but never recovered from: and that believing in my own invincibility last time i was sectioned, might not be the last time that I thoroughly lose my mind altogether for a while. And that uncomfortable thoughts like, “I want to shoot myself in the face” may continue to haunt me for lengthy periods of time again in the future. And that, it is now important for me to adhere to my keep well strategies and routines even more so, for longer than I had initially planned for, in order to prevent a relapse. And all of this I started to take in one evening, on my own, after the sigh of relief had passed and gone into the wind, leaving me bare, vulnerable and having to re-evaluate my understanding, acceptance and management of my mental health conditions.

I now have answers, more answers than what i have previously had: however, I also have more learning to do, more understanding to gain, and more insight to develop. It is rather daunting, but with the support of those around me, I am rather confident that such skills will eventually be acquired, and such resulting challenges managed, I hope.

My Itch to Exercise

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It’s like being locked between four walls. Each with subdivisions, and a double locked for between you and the world. The windows open by a crack, through which you reach your arm, cigarette in hand, and squeeze your face out as much as possible to get each cheeky puff. They say you’re not crazy, but detain you in a psychiatric ward against your will. If I’m not crazy, why am I here?

In the distance people are screaming, or laughing and the alarms go off regularly, indicating a crisis somewhere within the building. As long as the attention isn’t on me I can finish this cigarette, make another cup of lukewarm tea in my plastic cup, and have another to pass away the time. To begin with, bouncing between the walls isn’t an issue. On admission, there was always something to pass the time, and in fact, there weren’t enough hours in the day. Hypomania made life a brilliant world, tinting my view with rose spectacles. Even in a ward, I was having the time of my life.

As I get better though, the boredom, frustration and irritation of being locked on a ward against my will begins to come alive. I’m stressed yes, but I just want a very basic thing – to go outside. To go in the sun, and go for a run. I want to choose what I have to eat, and I want to be able to go to the shops without having to ask permission and agreeing a time to be back by, like when you go out to play as a child. But I can’t, because I’m detained for a reason I don’t quite understand. So I pace. I pace up and down the corridors, and around and around in circles in the living area. I piss people off, but I can’t help it. I need to move. I need to burn this nervous energy. I need to be productive for my sense of purpose.

“You seem agitated, would you like some lorazepam?”
‘I’m not agitated. I’m walking.”
“It looks like pacing to me. Just come and ask if you want some lorazepam”

Walking has been pathologized to pacing. If I were on the outside, and I walked for a few miles it would be deemed a healthy behaviour, as getting some exercise, but here, here it is ‘pacing’. I move to dancing in the TV room, and doing exercises in the dining room when no-one is around. I have so much energy to be burnt, and so much frustration to be let out. Originally they said I was hypomanic – but now, now I’m just irritated.

After coerced medication increases, and PRN negotiations I calm down over the period of a week or so. And now I am pacing, not because I have so much energy, but because I am itching to get out from these walls. I am itching to not have to listen to the injection being forced on another helpless person. I am itching to go out and about, and slot into society as if I’m a normal person, to utilise my coping strategies that I have at home – running, swimming, raising my heartbeat to my 80% and pushing, pushing myself to go further, better, faster. Itching to feel the burn and to feel the pure satisfaction as soon as I make it to the top of the hill. I just want to exercise.

For me, exercise has proven to be one of the most useful tools I have acquired during my recovery. Whether I’m over excited with extra energy, or feeling knots and tangles of stress within my abdomen, exercising has given to me what no medication or therapy could. A constant outlet wherein I rely on no-one and nothing else but my own mind and body. An outlet wherein which I can push myself through pain to make goals, and become a stronger person for it. An outlet wherein I have structure and purpose within my own inner world. A focus wherein which I can take my mind away, and process my emotions and experiences whilst I’m cooling down with an endorphin rush to release the pain and stress of it all.

Which is why, regardless of my down days I will continue to lace up and hit the road. It’s something, that on the outside of those four walls enclosing the psychiatric unit is a healthy, balanced and positive way to manage stresses.

Immediate Benefits from Exercise:
1. Better mood upon arriving home
2. Immediate sense of achievement
3. I can process my thoughts and feelings on the cool down walk afterwards
4. I get to see some lush sights on my runs – think sunsets and beautiful skies
5. It gives me a greater appreciation of where I live, and how my life really is.

Longer Benefits from Exercise:
1. I can manage daily stress much for effectively.
2. I am a happier person overall.
3. I eat healthier because I’m aware of my body’s health and needs.
4. I have a better body image and self esteem.
5. I have a healthy focus in my life outside of work.