Rules To Live By In Numbers 

I am on holiday. Some people they may ask, ‘from what?’; I don’t work but I do study, part-time. I have been off from university for 2 months now, surely that counts as a holiday? I’m going to say no, not really. Firstly, I spent  ~a month of that time being unwell with the dysphoric hurricane of hypomania. I went in hospital and had my meds increased. I have since spent time trying to find my feet.

Although I’m not having a holiday from working, I am having a holiday, but what from?  I am having a holiday from being surrounded by mental illness. I live in a specialist supported accommodation which means there is no escaping mental illness at home because someone is always unwell, everyone is on meds and we talk about it amongst ourselves. There are no awkward questions about mental health because we all live there for a similar category of reasons. Also you’re constantly having to answer questions and attend assessments for how well, or not you are doing. Whilst here I have to keep taking my meds twice a day, and I need to use DBT skills to keep my emotional expressions proportional, and I have to take care in the heat because of my meds – there is no holiday from yourself after all – I am kind of taking a holiday from mental illness.

I am taking a holiday from appointments, seeing my social worker, psychiatrist and support workers. Whilst they provide me with a lot of support and access to specialist mental health care, it’s nice to not be talking about symptoms, side effects and how am I really so much of the time. I am taking a holiday away from the bubble I live my life in at home. I am exposing myself to new and unfamiliar territory. At the same time I’m staring anxiety in the face as I gain confidence with new experiences.


I’m taking a holiday from living well within the borderlands of self-imposed restrictions. I am taking a holiday from documenting habit trackers and mood charts. I could stop forever at any time but they are an important tool for my overall well-being, awareness and insight. Taking a week out to just be, live and experience is quite the luxury and a welcome break. This can only be done when I am relatively well and stable: which I am at the moment. This is as much of a break from myself I think it is possible to fathom.

Finally, I am taking a holiday from numbers. Numbers have played a significant role in my life for over a decade: calories in and out, body weight, body fat %, muscle mass, weighing food portions and the numerical data from my FitBit that I try to make perfect: steps, calories burned, hours slept, minutes of restlessness and wakefulness during sleep, heart rate, minutes of activity and exercise. My FitBit data doesn’t just quantify my existence, it quantifies the goals of my existence: calorie goals, BMI goals, body fat % goals, sleep hygiene goals, number of days active goals, heart rate goals, step goals – literally any way of quantifying my life via a watch that you could possibly want for under £200, it does. If I had blood sugar and blood pressure monitors, I would record that too. I shit not, I have previously looked into buying them – all in an effort to feel in control and achieve a way to be perfect.

 

I realise now that I treat myself more like a machine, rejecting how anything feels in order to try to obtain numerical perfection. It’s a great watch and that is what I bought it for but it can be tiring and distracting from the bigger picture. It seems this focus on numbers has become a replacement for my eating disorder behaviour. It is healthier and less destructive but that doesn’t mean it is healthy and not destructive. More numbers can be obtained to quantify my existence further with a premium subscription to FitBit. I have so far managed to resist.

When I left for the airport I saw my analogue watch, ticking away in it’s box from having been rooting for something else in the same drawer. I spontaneously, (get me being spontaneous) decided to switch it up. My analogue watch, get this, doesn’t even have any numbers on it. Not a single one. I need to have access to the time, I don’t like not knowing and can become disoriented with myself without a watch. I don’t think this is mental health related, I’ve been like this since I first got a watch and learned the time as a nipper. With this analogue watch I don’t know the time to the exact minute – which is why I haven’t worn it for the last 3 years it’s been sat in it’s box for. How could I possibly tell the time without knowing the exact minute of the hour? In answer, based on this week, just fine. Vaguely knowing the time of day and hour it turns out is enough.

My holiday from numbers includes not stressing about getting enough steps, enough sleep and enough activity to hit goals that equate to perfection. I have been able to let go a little this week. In my world, this small freedom equivelates letting my hair down, wild child I know.  On the way back from the hiking day to the Gorropu Canyon I wondered how many steps I had done that day, as if I needed to know the number as it would validate my experience and tiredness. Then I answered myself in my mind, it doesn’t matter; that day wasn’t about steps or minutes of activity. The day was about the experience, the memories and the nature I saw in numerous various forms. The number of steps wasn’t important to the experience in any way – and I recited this in a forced way in my mind, as if repeating fake it til you make it to myself.  The amount of calories burned was not important. The amount of time spent at fat burn, resting and cardio heart rates was not important. What was important was that my heart is strong enough to adapt to demand and by doing so allowing me to have days such as that one hiking through the mountains.

I feel quite liberated since cutting back on the permanent numbers game I’ve ben playing. I do find numbers calming, it is a form of coping mechanism for me which crops up more, naturally, during times of stress. Having said that, I feel like I do not need so many numbers in my life. They have evolved from a calming coping mechanism that allures a sense of control, to a controlling cage that traps me in trying to achieve the perfect set of figures across all platforms of my life: diet, weight, sleeping habits, heart rate, blood pressure…the lists goes on. Sounds familiar huh?

It is in this way that I have been giving numbers too much power over my life, letting them govern how I feel I ought to live my life and what I think is the right amount of everything. It initially manifested in an eating disorder, morphed into another eating disorder and now this. I’m a walking project of equations and sums. My experience is invalid without numbers in my opinion. I also know this to not be true.

 

I have had a desire to be clockwork and machine like for a long time, again, this was initially achieved by having an eating disorder. More recently it has been achieved by wearing my FitBit. The purpose is to not feel and to function impeccably. I want to do and power through life and for the whole while that my digits remain imperfect i have work to do. It hasn’t always been a helpful approach and has held me back in many ways in addition to always having work to do because I am human. I am an animal not a computer. Ironically, for want of a lack of feeling and human nature, this makes me upset sometimes. Most of us are familiar with not being what we want to be: a marathon runner, a CEO, rich, living in paradise but I have turned one impossible goal for another: being weightless for being numerically perfect in other ways. By doing so I have been choosing numbers over intuition and listening to my body or mind for what it really is.

Using numbers to control and restrict my life is not healthy. I don’t feel like I can preach balance when I am living my life so purposefully out of balance. Balance is not achieving perfection in any way be it weight, hours slept or heart rate. Perfection is not possible and life needn’t be constantly quantified in order to be living well – I am human. I am not a machine of equally spaced cogs designed to work like clockwork. Balance is less balance in the numbers of life and more adapting to the essence of change found in living. Evidently I have some way to go.

Advertisements

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.

large-2.jpg

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.

large-8.jpg

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

large-1

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 

large-5

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

large-9

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.

large-7

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

large-6

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!

Food Rule #10: Work Within Guidelines of Variation and Inclusion, Rather Than Exclusion

There is a difference in the mentality around ‘rules’ and ‘guidelines’ that differentiate the mindset involved with abiding by one to the mindset of incorporating the other. Rules are rigid. By eating in accordance with rules we limit our scope to enjoy life or live with a relative flexibility that is required in order to not be at constant battle with your will and that of the universe.

However, does this mean that we should eat what we want and consume at wild abandon? I wouldn’t say so. By being mindless of our relationship with food, and what we are eating we lose insight into whether we are full or hungry, whether we REALLY want that piece of cake or if we’re eating it out of an unintended routine, or boredom.

Guidelines however, are much more flexible. Guidelines are more about doing something than not doing something. Adding behaviour or replacing behaviour is much easier than not doing a behaviour. Therefore it makes sense that ‘drink more water’ is likely to be more successful than ‘stop drinking fizzy drinks’.  The stop goal doesn’t replace the behaviour with an alternative to help create a behaviour change. Guidelines can have hairier edges of accomplishment than rules. With rules you either follow it or break it. With guidelines, you may hit eating 5+ portions of fruit and veg in the day, but there is no such thing as failure: only achieved or try again tomorrow. Rules tend to be very specific.

large

For example, a diet plan may include g targets of protein, carbohydrate, fat and maybe even a further breakdown of the macro-nutrients. This is so difficult to meet or even be aware of without a micro-focus on food, which for some may be necessary – athletes for example – but for those of us just living average active lives, this may not be necessary or even conducive to feeling better or achieving an overall healthier life.

 

 

Food Rule #8: Can’t Pronounce It? It’s Not The End Of The World.

This is a well cited rule. If when you read the ingredients list of a food product and you can’t pronounce it, put it back on the shelf and don’t eat it. There are many, many faults with this rule as what someone can read and pronounce from the ingredients lists is really going to vary from person to person.

We live in a global economy now, which allows for a much wider variety of foods from around the world to be available in our local super markets, markets and specialist food shops. Many foods may be mispronounced in a dialect here said food has become popular – but does that mean all those mispronouncing people should not eat that food? No.

I get that this isn’t the “point” of this rule, but I am just highlighting how ridiculous this rule is as a generic guideline. The pronunciation of some foods can take on a whole life of their own that there are debates about what the correct pronunciation is. Quinoa for example is now widely accepted as ‘keen-wa’ however, I and swarms of people are guilty of calling it ‘kwin-o-a’ for a good allotment of time.

So according to this pronunciation rule, I shouldn’t have been eating quinoa in my diet because silly old me couldn’t pronounce it.

This rule is generally aimed at additives and chemicals such as monosodium glutamate, which is frequently shortened to MSG. I don’t know about you but for me pronouncing that correctly first time was much easier than pronouncing quinoa, or figuring out the pronunciation of quinoa. Often there are a lot of preservatives and chemicals used within our food that we might not want to be putting into our body. However, without the knowledge of which chemical-sounding ingredients we want or don’t want in our body can be difficult. For example, ascorbic acid is frequently added to food for its preservative properties. Does this sound like a nasty chemical? I suppose it does to some degree. You might think, ‘I don’t want acid in my food” – ascorbic acid however is Vitamin C. Vitamin C is often added to food for its preservative properties.

Therefore, if you’re unsure on an ingredient and you feel so passionately about knowing what is in your food some reading might be more productive. If you don’t have the time or energy for this though, then generally speaking, if there are more ingredients in your food item that you know of that is likely to be a good sign – but don’t limit yourself. Usually we can gather from the packaging and the food product whether or not it is heavily processed or not. This, I think, is a better indicator as to whether the food contains ingredients you’re not so sure on. E numbers, sweets, unnaturally coloured foods kind of speak for themselves when compared against naturally forming foods.

On the flip side, we all know about sugar. We can all pronounce and talk about that white granulated substance that we add to our hot drinks, pastries, deserts, and that food manufacturers pump into our products – does that mean it is good for us?

As for quinoa at least we finally know the answer to that old debate. It is ‘keen-wa’ and whether you’ve been pronouncing it wrong or not, it is still a healthy food worth your while.

Food Rule #6: Tasting Good is Important

Often there is an association that because a food is unhealthy it tastes really good, and if a food is healthy it tastes really bad. This really needn’t be the case. Sometimes eating healthier foods can mean exploring new foods, textures and tastes: this can be really fun, and sometimes you’ll find a food that you really don’t enjoy. That’s fine. There are a ton of unhealthy foods I don’t enjoy as well as healthy foods I don’t enjoy. On the other side of the coin however, there are a ton of healthy foods that I do enjoy.

Taste is important because this is one of the ways in which we get pleasure from eating. So just because something is on ‘health trend’ or, deemed as ‘super’ healthy for you, doesn’t mean you have to eat it in order to be getting a well-balanced and nutritious diet. You can live well for example without a kale smoothie ever touching your lips.

The fun thing about changing up your diet is discovering new foods again and breaking our of the routine rut of eating the same food combinations again, and again, and again. Play with food. Food is supposed to be fun – try everything and if you genuinely don’t like it, try something else. Eventually, you will discover the foods you enjoy that also happen to be healthy for you.

Food Rule #5: Meal Plans Aren’t Concrete

When I really have my life together I plan my meals for the next 2-3 days so that I know what to buy. I try to include a variety of foods whilst also maximising what I buy to minimise my food waste. I also tend to save £ when I manage to do this. It’s great, like I said though, it happens only when I really have my life together – like I’m wearing matching socks most days kind of together.

However, just because I have written my meal plans out on my beautiful Kikki.K meal planner doesn’t mean it is set in stone. Sometimes life happens. Sometimes plans change, or we feel too run down to bother cooking. That’s OK.

Flexibility is good, and despite my lack of flexibility in many areas of my life, flexibility around food really reduces any stress resulting from food. Food isn’t supposed to be stressful.

Admittedly, I am not a flexible person by any stretch of the imagination – so learning that it is OK to change my meal plans can sometimes be a challenge, and initially? I wouldn’t even go there. I have since however, had a reality shake up that shit happens, and sometimes plans change – in fact, this will happen at some point and we have to deal with hiccups along the road. We all do.

So just because you planned to have tuna pasta cooked for your packed lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday by Monday night, but you’re too tired to make it – so what?

large