Realising What It Is To Feel Truly Alive

Today I was thankful to myself for having picked up and persisted with exercising regularly. Why? I was thankful for being relatively fit and to my body for allowing me a beautiful experience hiking to and through the Gorropu Canyon in Sardinia. I had the strength and stamina to hike and ramble over rocky and hilly terrain. If there is any gift the body can give you it is being capable, not of achieving but capable of experiencing.

In life the final destination is death. We all get there one way or another some day. Death doesn’t seem to be the highlight of living, the highlight of living is found in the journey and the experience of living. We all go about this in different ways, no way more right or wrong than another. Each way is entirely valid – and the way me meander the choices that cross our paths is one defining factor of our existence.

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Lets be more specific and less grandiose with this idea: today my previous choices to be healthy, mentally and physically have allowed my journey to include this trip to Sardinia, and today my trekking to the Gorrpu Canyon. As an able-bodied person I know all too well the feeling of being less able due to my mental illnesses. I know the feeling of can’t for the small tasks, the disappointment of  ‘I can’t go, I’m unwell’ for the planned events and, ‘I have mental illness’ for the explanations of all the things I can’t do but ought to be; working, driving and not self harming.

This inability in so many areas of  my life fuel great levels of gratitude for everything I can do. Furthermore when past choices have made me more able than I would have previously been also exemplifies my gratitude for the very basics of human life; the feeling of being alive, very alive, not too alive because that can become illness too, but very alive all the same.

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Another wonder of being alive is mindfulness practice. Generally mindfulness practice opens yourself up for space, observation and tuning into your body and mind. Mindfulness isn’t just for sitting silently and practising. Being mindful of moments in time and space opens up for really experiencing what is around you. Tuning in to how the mind feels gains understanding of what makes us feel good, or otherwise.

The little things make up our experience. Trekking in the Canyon of Gorropu was not a little thing but an accumulation of many little things to tune in with in one day make the Gorropu Canyon a big thing. The rock formations, the river, the wildlife and drinking water fresh from the spring. The stunning heights and great vastness of what nature created in this unforgiving climate and environment created by mother nature.

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My body again, thank you nature, was able to climb, scramble and hike in the heat of a 34 degrees celsius humid day. This was not due to nature alone though, my own input into myself contributed too. Earlier this year I chose to be more active. Years ago I originally made the choice. Getting to today has been a journey of multiple successes and failures. It has been a learning curve at times. I am not at my final destination, yet knowing what makes me feel alive, knowing what ignites a fire in my soul and knowing what really makes me happy about living can help form the decisions I make today and tomorrow for my future.

It turns out that exercising and nature are two of the most impacting aspects of life that make me feel alive. Even when it is hard and not so enjoyable the challenge is part of it that works for me. Feeling alive encompasses both positive and negative experiences. I don’t think this is a wildly new revelation but more a forgotten basic foundation for experience. Since the beginning of time people have led active lives and a lot of people like nature. We have only become so sedentary in the last century or so. To me it makes sense that we need activity and exercise to feel alive.

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Being alive is exactly that: your heart beating as you reach the peak of a climb, the profuse sweating that pours from your face, the motion of moving our muscle and the burn of lactic acid that means your muscles are working. The swell of your fingers as your blood vessels dilate in order for you to continue being and feeling alive whilst you enjoy the challenge and observe your surroundings.

Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes our body won’t allow you to do what you desire and that doesn’t mean you give up and resign, it means you do it more. You practise, you keep moving in order to fulfil your desires to do what you want to do, to experience what you want to and to ultimately feel fully alive in a way that lights you up and keeps you yearning with a passion for life itself.

Today I walked to and through the Gorropu Canyon. I saw nature in many forms from rock formations to dragonflies tinkling in the wind. I felt the coolness of the river water as I tipped it over my head with my hat whilst my heart beat pulsated through my entire body. I must have sweated litres, and I experienced the burn of the sun – the engine of all life forms – whilst hiking through the mountain followed by the relief of shade. I saw a cruel beauty at the canyon in an unforgiving climate and terrain that also has the ability to destroy you as much as it does amaze you.

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I am grateful for today, for being well enough and strong enough for today to have happened. I am now lusting after another trip for climbing and more hiking. I have had a snippet taste of this island and I want more. I want more experiences from the island that I can’t do now, rock climbing and harder hike for example. I also want more from myself, more strength, more experiences, more from the core of life. I want to experience life in a way that makes me feel alive and leaves me wanting more that money can’t buy. Today a spark became a flame and I want it to be a bonfire.

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Moving On From Hypomania

As with every episode, as it comes to an end and I regain the ability to think I start making plans to try to stay well. I reflect on what has been helpful for me in the past or in general. I look at the advice given by others with similar difficulties. I try to do what my CMHT tell me is helpful and not helpful.

It’s a lot. It’s a lot of studying yourself and others. It’s a lot of analysing what perhaps didn’t work so well, and what did.

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I’ve made a plan, which focuses mainly around reinstating a form of routine to my days. Prior to this episode I had routine due to uni and studying for my exams. I’ve lost that and feel it needs to be established in some form over the summer months until September.

My Stay Well List:

  1. Keep engaging with the Headspace app for daily mindfulness practice as well as practicing mindfulness in general such as whilst brushing my teeth, whilst travelling and checking in throughout the day with myself.
  2. Eat well. Whole nourishing food. Start with eliminating added sugar to my hot drinks. Aim for an 80/20 distribution of micronutrient rich food and food just for fun.
  3. Sleep. Try to keep to a routine of waking up at a decent time. Currently aiming for 7:30am – with the view to push it to 6:30am.
  4. Make a routine out of nothing. Busy myself enough so that there is no abundance of unfilled time.
  5. Talk to and work with my care coordinator: even if I don’t particularly want to.
  6. Exercise – follow an outline training plan, which gives routine and predictability to each week.
  7. Create purpose by signing up to volunteering roles to help with routine as well.
  8. Take vitamin supplement with particular focus on magnesium and zinc in chosen supplement. Take it every other day. Also keep taking meds.
  9. Don’t get drunk. Just the occasional 1-2 drinks.
  10. Read for pleasure to keep the mind occupied. Recognise when to reduce stimulus and do it, even as caution if unsure.

That’s a lot! Unfortunately it all feels necessary. Mood swings seem to be accompanied by a lapse in my self-care regime and routine of activities. It can be hard to get the balance of busy enough but not too busy. Engaged enough but not in excess.

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Balance is something that I’ve been working on trying to achieve more of since the beginning of the year. I’m still working on it. I suppose this is going to be quite the journey.

 

The Puzzle of Movement: Becoming the Kinetic Energetic

In the final stage of starting to get active the focus is on actually starting to move. Feel free to move in any way which suits you and here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way when turning getting active into part of my permanent lifestyle.

This stage is called, Becoming the Kinetic Energetic.

Balance Ambition and Attainability

With running, it is tempting to go for straight for the big distances. A training plan says you can run a half marathon in 8 weeks, so why shouldn’t you? If you train hard you’ll get results quickly right?

Unfortunately, fitness isn’t always a direct correlative relationship of input vs results. We are human beings not machines: we can’t force out bodies to stick to a constant progressive plan as figured by an algorithm. Injuries happen. Overuse injuries and obtaining injuries from increasing your exercise load too quickly are very real – and are not something be ploughed on through in the name of ‘mind over matter’.

Our bodies do things that may not fall in line with our plans and ambitions. Being realistic with self expectations and self compassionate throughout your journey will harbour much greater results than literally beating your body up physically in order to run too far a distance in too short a time, or dead lift too many Kgs too quickly – and that’s OK.

I can however, make slow progress in line with how my body adapts. I can gain more than climbing higher grades and running faster miles from my journey. This way I maintain a level of ambition and sense of progress that becomes very enticing from exercising, whilst also respecting my body and capabilities. You can too.

Engage with Online Communities for your Activity

I don’t mean follow a bunch of Insta models with chiseled muscle definition and a body shape that requires an unhealthy level of obsession to achieve. What I mean is, if you don’t know anyone who wants to get into your activity with you, go find your people.

One way of doing this is the web – Meet Up, and local clubs and Facebook groups are a great place to start. Engaging in an ongoing conversation with others like you about your journeys, encouraging one another is a great source or virtual community. Some members may be inspiring to you, and you never know, you may yourself inspire others.  You may meet up at an event and do it together – there are hundreds of people just like you who have done just that, and for as scary as that may initially seem – you’ll meet some bloody brilliant people.

Together we’re stronger.

Make it social

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Working out alone can be a good time to clear your mind, focus on yourself and take time out from your day. For years, I ran solo, I went to the gym on my own, and I only climbed in a group because you kind of need someone to belay you – until I discovered bouldering could become a solitary activity also. I enjoy being alone, and know that not everyone likes being alone as much as I do.

For years I totally underestimated the value of working out with others, undervaluing the greater benefit of running with friends, and enjoying the company of other people in a positive space. Since this bomb has dropped, I regularly go to running crew each week.

It has become a place to forge friendships who share my passions. It has become a place to shake out the cobwebs of stagnation from a low mood in the company of others, a place to celebrate achievements of one another and a safe place of acceptance.

The benefit of human contact on a regular basis is something I never valued, until now. And as an awkward introvert who is usually immersed in swathes of social awkwardness I have found the fitness people, and the running crew to be a very non-judgmental and friendly bunch. It may not feel right with the first group you run, yogi or climb with, but keep trying – eventually a you’ll find yourself a you-shaped space to be the missing piece to a jigsaw of a crew you never even knew about before.

Embrace the Power of Post Exercise Mindfulness 

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After a work out take time to sit, breathe and be mindful about how your body and mind are feeling. Just taking a moment to do so gives you time to reflect on where you’re at, how you’re feeling physically and emotionally. Is something bothering you? Is there something you want to work on? Is there a niggle in your knee that needs attention? Or are you just feeling totally zen and absorbing as much of that as possible for a moment? Stop to smell the flowers.

Don’t Focus on Weight or Size

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Weight loss is a viable goal for many but I would definitely never advocate obtaining a certain clothes size or goal weight to be the main or only reason for incorporating physical activity into your life. It is claimed that weighing yourself regularly can help with weight loss in numerous research papers.

However, focusing on weight alone can become very disheartening and a very damaging relationship with yourself. There is no self compassion or love in weighing yourself every day. This gives the scales too much power.

Use the scales if you need to but don’t enslave yourself to them. They’re a tool and deserve no power in your life beyond that. Be real with the scales and let them be real with you – and leave it at that.

Pushing your physical boundaries can be an emotional journey. Let it.

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Pushing yourself, breaking yourself down in order to build yourself up is so much more than a physical journey. ‘Your body is capable, it’s your mind you have to convince’ and this can be a very complicated and windy path of self realisation and discovery.

Sometimes it will be a struggle, other times you’ll smash your own expectations and it’ll feel emotional. You may want to shout or cheer, or even cry – this is entirely OK. Emotions are OK, and pushing yourself in order to break self-inflicted boundaries and  achieving your fitness goals can be an emotional journey. Let yourself own it.

Stop believing in tomorrow. Start today

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Tomorrow I’ll start running. Ok, It’s Wednesday and I didn’t go – I’ll start over on Monday. Next week is definitely the day I’m going to start going to the gym. I’ve signed up now, there’s no excuse, other than the excuse you’ll give to yourself when Monday comes.

Sound familiar?

Stop giving tomorrow so much power. The day is today. What can you do today to prepare yourself and take a step in the right direction? It might not be lacing up right now, but maybe it’s thinking of how you could start. Something may be in the way at the moment: work, study or commitments, so tomorrow may be necessary sometimes but put a deadline on it.

After a month of tomorrow’s start switching to today thinking. Tomorrow will be better from the actions you make today. Get yourself out there. Show yourself what you’re made of – and have a bloody good time doing it!

The Puzzle of Movement: Find Your Mind

Work On Your Mind

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It is your biggest barrier and your biggest tool to self realisation and achieving fitness goals is your mind. I’ve said it a few times and I’ll say it again, physical activity and incorporating it into your life can be just as much an emotional and mental challenge as it is physical. Sometimes, you may find yourself stopping mid activity because you think you can’t push any further.

Practice pushing your own self limitations and step a little out of your comfort zone. I challenge you, and see what happens. You may shock yourself. I have certainly shocked myself a number of times.

Find Something You Enjoy

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Don’t vow to run 4 times a week if the magic of running hasn’t struck you. I would encourage persevering for a month or two with any activity to see if it grows on  you, but if you’re really not feeling it, try something else. Try getting on your bike, or swimming a few lengths, or an exercise class – of which the variety just keeps on expanding.

Who knows what classes we’ll be attending in 5 years time like we’ve been needing it all our life. I don’t particularly like group exercise classes, so don’t really go or seek to go to them – but for others, they’re a staple to their weekly schedule. Dip your toes in many ponds before diving in completely, getting all the kit and making a plan that you won’t stick with because you’re not enjoying it.

Enjoy Yourself

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I’ll tell you a secret – you’re allowed to have a bloody good time whilst working out. You’re allowed to laugh, smile and make friends. All of which help in keeping activity as part of your routine and daily life. Have fun – some of the best times I’ve had, and the best people I have met has been via exercising, and not getting wasted in a club or pub a few times a week: conversely to popular belief.

Do It For a Reason You Believe In

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Sometimes we need a bit of external motivation. Getting up in the morning to run can be a challenge. Dragging your arse to your 6am gym class before a full work day can seem like the last thing you want to do when the alarm goes off at 5.30am, but people do it. Hundreds and thousands of people do it, and they do it regularly.

Maybe they have something that we snooze button pushers don’t have – and I think it is a purpose and belief in what they’re doing. It becomes a passion and something you couldn’t imagine not doing. Passing up a few more drinks past tipsy to get up in the morning and feel alive whilst doing sun salutations may seem a bit alien to you right now, but after a few months of reaping the benefit you may not be able to imagine starting your Monday mornings any other way.

Know Your Goals

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Know what you want from you activity, and reflect on whether you’re getting it – and how to adapt your schedule and habits until you’re getting exactly what you want out of it. When you do this, you’re more likely to stick with it because it becomes important to you, as important as eating every day and sleeping every night.

In my journey I found focusing my why and purpose of exercising beyond achieving a certain body aesthetic, or fitting into a certain clothes size. With these goals, if you achieve them it can feel a bit like “what next?” or you stop once your goal has been achieved and it’s not really become a part of your lifestyle and if you don’t achieve these set goals within a time frame, it can be very disheartening.

Instead, or as well, have a goal that is immeasurable. Are you seeing your friends through your activity? Are you de-stressing from the day and your worries? Are you trying to replace less healthy coping mechanisms? Are you training for an event to raise money for a cause you care for? Take time to notice the benefit you’re gaining. This seems to cement the “I will feel much better after a run” as a solid memory to recall during times of stress or moments of lacking motivation when running feels like that last thing you want to do – or tennis, or gymnastics, or swimming: whatever your activity of choice is.

London Winter Run 10k 2017

Last weekend something rather big happened. I ran the Cancer Research Winter Run 10k. A lot of people run 10k on the regular and a lot of people ran the 10k for Cancer Research last weekend. Approximately 17,000 in fact. Needless to say, it was a pretty epic way to spend a Sunday.

The course was based in central London, starting and finishing in the Trafalgar Square area. The route toured around parts of London I never even knew existed – they were streets of another world. The grand London I suppose you could say, of scenery and landmarks where splendour and grand will only do. It was great to see these parts of London on a Sunday, when they sleep and everything seems so peaceful and quiet. This feeling was likely aided by the road closures for the race, which makes signing up for it next year definitely all the more worthwhile.

Many people were running the race to raise money for Cancer Research UK. Seeing the “I’m running for…” bibs on people’s’ backs around the course really brought home the enormity of the impact of cancer. It’s easy to think in numbers and figures when reading the news or watching TV campaigns – seeing names and ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ really hit home why Cancer Research run this event and the many others that they do each year. For the first time though, I saw signs of people running for people who survived – they were raising money so more people could survive their cancer battle too. Let’s hope that year on year we see an increase in these signs amongst the crowds.

When I went to the event the only ambition I had was to cross the finish line in one piece. In my mind, I was prepared to walk the vast majority of the race having not been able to train in the run up, thanks to my Flu of January 2017 (I’m dramatic I know). I first signed up for this race in 2016, however I was unable to run it due to being stuck in psych hospital. I swore in 2016 I would do it in 2017. In October of 2016 my friend tried convincing me to sign up for it as we have run races together before. I was hesitant and nervous having not been able to get myself running consistently for any length of time for a wee while. Eventually, in early January I secretly signed up anyway. I didn’t tell anyone until the week before – incase I didn’t go again. Nowadays my race dates are relatively guarded secrets for this reason.

Getting to the start line was half the battle. I had taken the decision to not wear a watch, or my Fitbit because the whole goal was to cross the finish line. I bumbled along at a very slow pace and after 1 hour 27 of running, I crossed the finish line curling over in an emotional mass of snot and tears of overwhelming emotion.

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The first aid volunteers at the finish line came over asking if I was not feeling well – I was feeling a crazy concoction of pride, relief, and disbelief: physically? I was fine. Emotionally? I was fucked. I had actually achieved something for the first time in ages. I had managed to outdo my own expectations of myself with the encouragement and support of my friend and Wifey, and I’d had essentially an hour and a half to really reflect  on how lucky I am, how much stronger I am than I often think, and how actually I really enjoy plodding along on a run.

For now, I am going to start running more regularly again – and hopefully another flu doesn’t stop me in my tracks again – because I just know how much it helps me mentally, emotionally and physically. In the future? Half Marathon by the time 2017 is out, here I come!!

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5 General Signs: Wellness Vs Relapse

When I attended a workshop at a recovery college, which a number of NHS trusts are doing in London, we focused on moving forward with our mental health problems. Moving forward doesn’t mean failing to acknowledge that you have, or ever had a mental health problem. Moving forward means learning to manage, and be in tune with your difficulties.

This also means being aware of signs that you are doing well, and signs that things are slipping away beneath you. By noticing and having an awareness it is possible to put in preventative or safety measures in order to stay safe with your mental health difficulties. I have chosen 5 general signs of wellness and relapse for my overall mental health, regardless of specific difficulties.

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Signs of Wellness:

1. Self care.
When I am well I am able to effectively look after myself day-to-day. I wash multiple times within the week. I wear clean clothes, and do household chores such as: washing my clothes, cleaning the house, and maintaining a decent level of hygiene throughout my life as a whole. This includes the smallest things too, such as, brushing my teeth, brushing my hair, and general grooming.

2. I want to be around, and engage with others.
When I am well I am able to be sociable and enjoy social situations. Not only am I able to be sociable and make conversations but I want to participate socially with those around me. If a stranger asks me a question I can give them an answer without going into a fumbling panic. In class I am able to talk to my classmates and have a laugh. I am able to meet up with my friends, and the effort doesn’t drain me of any energy reserves I had. Not only am I able to socialise but I want to. I have the desire to connect socially with people around me.

3. I prioritise eating, and eat well.
I eat. I’m not talking about non-eating disordered behaviours but also having the want to eat overall. Depression and anxiety can wreak havoc with eating habits. Despite being hungry it is easy to not bother with eating because the drive isn’t there. Previously when I was unwell I relied entirely on my partner by eating her left-overs, or she would just cook for me, otherwise I wouldn’t eat. If I did eat independently it would be whatever I could get hold of easily to fill a hole. There was no enjoyment.

4. Exercise is important.
Exercise is an important aspect of my life. I like to maintain regular exercise within my weekly routine in order to help my mental and physical health. I like to be healthy. I have a huge interest in health, hence I am now studying science with the view of studying a health related degree. When I am well I look forward to my trip to the gym, and I come back revitalised from my swim. I love the goal making, the focus and the drive that exercise gives to me. When I am well exercise gives me a real zest for living and healthfulness.

5. Having the drive to participate in life.
The overriding sign of wellness for myself is that I want to participate in life around me. I want to see exhibitions. I want to go for walks and marvel at nature. I want to engage in life, and have more of a thirst for knowledge to quench. I extend my reading list by 10 books in one go. I make lists of everything I want to do and I become a rather productive person. Not only do I look into doing such activities, but I have the energy and motivation to actually do said activities.


 

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Signs of illness:

1. Apathy and going through the expected motions.
When I am unwell I tend to not feel very much. I do what would be expected of me as a response from someone who cares, enjoys or is connected with people. I can become rather cold and will respond as I know is expected from someone who genuinely cares – the truth is though, that a lot of the time when I am becoming unwell I don’t care about anything, or anyone. I feel no connection, no emotion…just nothing. I am a shell of a human and living life like a robot.

Sometimes I even get confused and start to think that I and others around me are genuinely robots. I feel unreal in addition to disconnected. My limbs feel plastic like a mannequin. I can make movements but it doesn’t feel like me making those moves. I often feel like a puppet when I am very unwell.

2. Not keeping on top of chores and self-care.
Instead of the dishes piling up because I’ve been so busy living my life I don’t keep on top of hygiene because I’m not managing. In these times I’m not coping, and washing once a week feels like a challenge. Before, when I was unwell I would have a bath every 10-14 days, because doing it more often was too much to manage. I become so consumed within my illness, and trying to get through each day that daily life becomes so much of a struggle I manage to do nothing. Often in these times I find that days have passed whilst I’ve been staring at walls and ceilings, or out of windows without realising until afterwards

3. Not eating and chain-smoking instead.
I don’t prioritise eating. Instead, I find myself drinking cups of tea and coffee one after the other, after the other, after the other…for days on end. I can easily realise I’ve not eaten a meal for weeks when I am very unwell. However, in terms of when I am relapsing, it is usually when I realise I’ve not eaten a meal for days, and I’ve not done that shop at the supermarket I said I would that I realise. There is usually nothing in the house, and I have no motivation to change that. Instead I will shrug it off with a “oh well” and light another cigarette. I have no motivation to feed myself, and if I am very hungry I will eat convenient crap to just fill a hole until next time.

4. Feeling like a deadweight robot.
When I am unwell I would rather sit on the side lines of life. I do not want to participate, and am more content not participating than I am otherwise. Participating becomes too stressful, overwhelming and not OK. I feel heavy like a deadweight. I feel numb, like a dead puppet, a waking zombie, a robot. When I am in this place, it seems that doing nothing is stimulating enough, because anything more is overwhelming.

5. Wanting to be alone, entirely alone, forever alone.
When I am becoming unwell I cannot stand people. I do not want to be near to anyone. I don’t want to hear anyone. Least of all do I want to interact with anyone. I want to be alone. I feel convinced that I want to live alone for the rest of my life and never see another human being. Anyone who is around becomes immensely irritating and demanding which furthers the spiral of my mood. I become very irritable, and snappy.