Book Review: Sane by Emma Young

Emma Young embarked on a well being journey for her book Sane. She explored what we can do to be less stressed and more mentally strong, whatever that means. Throughout the book many different stances are proposed as to what it means to be mentally strong. Throughout her journey, Young interviews ex-military personnel, professors of various disciplines in medicine, psychiatry and psychology as well as yogi’s, friends, and anyone who may have an inkling to the answer of how to achieve elusive holy grail of a clear mind, patience of a saint and an even temper in the most outraging of situations.

In the introductory chapter, Young outlines very clearly that she doesn’t suffer from any diagnosed mental illness, and that this journey has been embarked upon by someone more worn down by every day stresses, rather than someone facing a mental health condition. The list is very long about what Young is not, and what she is: an every day woman, mother and wife trying to feel less frayed, less snappy, less stressed and  more able to juggle all of life’s challenges more efficiently is a powerful place from which to start. From the offset Young is very relatable, and her daily difficulties very common amongst the average British household.

Many of the tools explored are also used and advised to those with mental illness too, although in less of a magical cure sort of fashion and more in a helpful maintenance or coping tool. The areas covered and explored throughout the book include: mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, sleep, stoicism, spirituality and faith, mental toughness methods addressing self-talk, and mindset in the face of adversity, using your senses and essentially, how to utilise each skill.

Many of these areas have been researched on healthy individuals as well as individuals with mental illness, so reading the book was a bit of an information digging sort of read on my behalf. There seemed to be some areas in here that I hadn’t addressed or come across in my journey to constantly  get better from my mental illness difficulties. Stoicism for example, is a stance I hadn’t heard of. To be copletely honest I wasn’t even sure what was meant by stoicism. I thought it was a blast to the past of the keep calm and carry on mantra, which in an essence it is, but it is slightly different.

One method that I thought I could really take home for myself was dosage exposure to the outside of my comfort zone. In doing so,, it is explained, that you learnt to adapt and therefore wind up expanding your comfort zone and tools for dealing with challenges that may arise. Thinking back to the progress I’ve made in the last 5-6 years and looking over what made me get a bit better than I was before, a key feature is the consistent and gradual pushing of the edges of my comfort zone.

Initially this occurred with eating whilst recovering from my ED, then with dealing with everything the ED numbed me to, then going out and interacting with people then, well, the list just goes on. On particular area of interest that is highly relatable is learning how to manage your relationship with food and diet.

Although there was no clinical eating disorder in Young, however, a constant and chaotic relationship with food and yo-yo dieting was hinted at throughout the book as a constant factor of anguish in Young’s life. It is very true when Young suggests that with practice, utilising techniques in order to avoid sugary treats and all the temptations we are bombarded with to gorge our faces on unhealthy foods in every direction does get easier with time. From my experience as well, at first dietary changes are very difficult, because you are breaking a habit that occurs multiple times on a daily basis but with practice and repetitive behaviour of new habits, it does get easier- Young reports a similar experience.

I think this is true for any habit you are trying to develop, change or stop. However, with eating the ease of change can be seen quicker because it is a habit with which we must engage with multiple times a day. This makes it both harder and easier in different ways.

There are many valuable insights revealed throughout Young’s journey on her quest to be less frazzled, less stressed and more able to deal with life head on, whilst being switched on and if possible, attain some level of zen in the process. At the end of the book Young summarises the areas of exploration in a rank of importance measured by perceived positive effect.

I won’t spoil the last chapter, but I found it a very valuable read for pointing out and suggesting new areas to think about in regards to building psychological strength and resistance within myself. My one criticism would be the amount of side tracked waffle of unnecessary information throughout the book. I found that quite irritating throughout the book because it generally disrupted the flow of information throughout the book. However, for the quality of the content over that of style, I would reccomend this is a worthwhile read if you fancy exploring developing your mental strength.

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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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