What I Learnt In September

This is almost as late as it could possibly be but September was pretty darn busy for me and I finally have the time to really sit and go through the stuff that happened this September.

  1. You cannot do something that is wrong for you
    • Deciding to change degrees and suspend studies for a year has to have been simultaneously one of the hardest and easiest decisions I have ever made. It was easy because I knew it was wrong but hard because I felt like a disappointment (and that’s a story for a different post)
    • But I learnt that it is okay to put yourself and your needs first. There is nothing to be gained from enduring something that is not right for you, and that makes you hate your life.
  2. Mental illness is like a whack-a-mole
    • It can feel as if you have everything under control and then suddenly the floor is pulled from under your feet and everything is upside down again. When that happens it is so hard to find solid ground again.
    • Things sort themselves out in the end, and going to the doctors and asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of.
  3. Jealousy is a natural part of the human existence
    • I learnt that people are so ashamed of feeling jealous of other people. And I understand why, but I don’t understand why we need to attach shame to this feeling that is so natural.
    • It’s okay to be jealous of people. What’s not okay is to act differently, or negatively towards other people because of your own feelings.
  4. Joy can always be found
    • I am trying to be so much more present in my life and to find the joy in what I do. Because you can find it in so many things that are simple and ordinary.
    • One of my runs was the best run in such a long time purely because I found so much joy in what I was doing. I was grateful that I was able to be outside, and in the cold and feeling everything. I was grateful for my legs that were able to carry me four miles up and down muddy hills and I was grateful that I was able to feel these things.

September was a combination of stress, tears, and a major change in what I thought my life was going to be like. The ship was tilting in the seas, and yes, it did almost run aground but we have it upright and whilst everything isn’t plain sailing October has already been a month of learning.

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Being Lonely Vs Being Alone

Since I moved back home after graduation I have been dealing with feeling lonely, and being alone. I have moved from a city where 99% of my friends lived, and no one was ever more than a 15 minute walk away to a town where 1% of my people live and I don’t know how to connect to them again properly. I have become more used to being alone, but have also felt so very very lonely. These are vastly different feelings for me. The first definition of lonely I found was this – ‘affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone’. However, the first definition I found for alone was this – ‘having no one else present; on one’s own’. Being alone and being lonely are two very different things.

Being alone is something that I used to revel in. For a long time I preferred to be alone to being with other people. Being alone is not bad in and of itself. Being alone can be calming, and rejuvenating. I run to be alone a lot of the time, and to spend time working things through, making decisions and running through arguments in my head. For me, it is so important to spend the time and recharge my batteries. My introvert shows when I don’t have the time to be alone and be able to recharge my ‘social battery’.

Being lonely on the other hand can be really damaging. You can feel lonely surrounded by people at a party, and you can feel lonely when you are on your own in your house. Being lonely is not the absence of other people. It is something that affects you regardless of who you are physically with and where you are. Loneliness is a sense of not belonging, of rejection and of emptiness. Whether real or imagined, loneliness is a sense that the people around you aren’t there, a sense that you are on your own. Loneliness is an emptiness in the pit of your stomach, a heavy sinking feeling of isolation. Being lonely is something that is increasing in prevalence, particularly among older people. 30% of Americans say that they experience loneliness at a given time. Being lonely impacts on your health, and studies have shown that people who are lonely heal less well and slower than those who aren’t lonely.

When you think about it, humans aren’t really built to be lonely. We are social creatures. We survived through our social bonds and the ability to have social ties allowed us to build and create. There is a theory that our brains are physically hardwired to be social. The neocortex is larger in humans when compared to primates of a similar size. This is the part of the brain that is thought to be involved in higher social cognition, so emotional regulation, empathy, language, and the ability to understand the feelings of others. If we have a larger part of the brain that deals with the mechanisms of being social it suggests that we are kind of designed to be social.

Loneliness is a difficult emotion to work through. I’m having trouble recognising that it is okay to feel this way, and that it is okay to reach out and ask a friend for a chat. I listen to music that makes me feel like I’m connecting to the feelings that we all experience as humans. I connect to other people in some way. There is nothing shameful in feeling lonely, it’s a natural part of life. Every person is an island but it is in the bridges that we use to connect us to other people that we become less alone.

Loneliness is not inevitable. Check in with your friends and family. Tell them you love them. Give them a hug, send them a text. Be there for them whether using technology or physically. Be there for your people.

 

 

World Mental Health Day 2017

10th October 2017 is World Mental Health Day. I started writing this article about 3 hours ago, and it turned into a rant about how awareness isn’t solving the mental ill-health of the population and we need to change the way we treat mental health, stop under funding it and actually give people the help they need and deserve. But just writing about how angry I am about the way mental health provisioning has been chronically underfunded and is insufficient for people’s needs isn’t going to help anyone so I deleted all the anger (apart from that bit there) and wrote about the things that help me with my mental health in the hope that they might help someone else.

 

1. Talk it out 

Mental health and mental wellbeing is something that is almost constantly on my mind considering I have dealt with my own mental ill-health for the past several years. I have very very recently become much more comfortable with talking about my mental health and where I’m at and where I am struggling and what I feel. I have always appreciated the importance of talking to people, sharing your concerns and just getting it off your chest but I have finally really valued and found importance and help in the simple act of just telling someone “I’m struggling with my anxiety today” or “I’m feeling really down today”. Talking has saved me so many times and I am infinitely grateful for the people who take the time to listen to me when I’m struggling, they have helped me more then they know.

Awareness of mental health and the importance of mental wellbeing has skyrocketed with recent campaigns by Time to Change, the Heads Together campaign and their presence at the London Marathon 2017, and the fact that barely a day goes by that mental health is mentioned in the news in some way or another. And this helps. As much as it might feel like it doesn’t, the fact that we are all more able to talk to each other about how we’re feeling and our mental wellbeing helps us all. Being able to just share how you’re feeling helps so so much and it is really underappreciated sometimes as to how helpful it really can be.

 

2. Exercise

I dread to think about the person I would be and where I would be if I didn’t run. Running is the time I get to be quiet, and alone, and to sort out all my thoughts to try and make some sense of them however tangled they might be. Then when you add the sense of achievement and the endorphins you get after you exercise, you realise how much exercise really can positively change your mood. There are days when I wake up and it’s difficult to breathe because everything feels so close and heavy and it’s like I’m wading through deep water up to my chest and I can’t get out. And then I pull on my trainers and go outside. Whether I run or whether I walk to the end of my road and sit on a bench for half an hour it helps. Being outside and moving your body helps. Being inside at the gym, and moving your body helps. Do something. It gives you a moment to step away from your thoughts and to focus on something else and gives you something to be proud of afterwards.

 

3. Go Outside

This is kind of related to the last point but if I’m having a really hard time going outside whether it is for 5 minutes or an hour really can give me a little bit of a boost. Feeling the air on your face, hearing your feet hit the ground, crunch some leaves, squelch in some mud can make the world of a difference. I think it’s a sense of realisation that there is more then what lives in your head. Being outside reduces stress, helps us to relax, improves cognition, including memory and attention span, and reduces symptoms of depression. Even if you can’t get out for long, if you’re having a bad time try and spend sometime outdoors, it is likely to lift your mood and make things feel a little more manageable.

 

4. Write it down 

I have kept a journal for a long long time, since I was about 11 or 12 maybe? So I have become used to turning to writing out my thoughts when something goes well, or when something goes badly, or when I just want to express how I feel and work it all out. But honestly, just getting out what you feel, even if you don’t know why or how to change it really helps. This might help if you’re not comfortable with talking to other people about your mental health or how you’re feeling, because this is for you, it’s to try to untangle those thoughts that just seem to curl and twist around themselves in your head. Try it, honestly, it does work.

 

5. Set Goals

These don’t have to be big goals. Set achievable goals. Try setting goals for today and tomorrow if things seem insurmountable. Some days that might be getting out of bed and remembering to clean your teeth. It might be going to all of your lectures at uni, or spending an hour at the new society meeting that you’re feeling too anxious to go to. It might be going for a walk or a run and being outside. Don’t make a list 50 points long and overwhelm yourself, make it realistic and achievable and break it all down. Finishing those goals, and getting to tick them off the list means that the day wasn’t a failure. Something was achieved and sometimes that’s all you need to make the day better.

 

6. Accept that there are things that you might not be able to do

Now this one does suck a little bit. But if you’re struggling with your mental health there will be things that you can’t do, or if you try it will be detrimental to you. And that’s more than okay. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not doing something. There is nothing wrong with putting yourself and your health before social engagements or extra responsibilities at work or extra responsibilities at school. Health comes first.

 

7. Wear something that makes you feel good 

Yes this means wearing your pyjamas if being comfortable is what you need. And yes this means putting on your sharpest outfit if you have to leave the house. Put on whatever armour you need. If that is a suit and tie do it, if it’s your comfiest tracksuit bottoms and well-washed t-shirt do it. Just being in what you’re okay in just makes everything else a little bit easier.

 

8. Listen to music

This, almost above anything is potentially the one thing that I jump to when I am not doing okay. Music helps me to feel something, especially when I am not feeling anything at all. Music can also help interrupt the constant stream of negative words running through your head. Make a playlist of all the songs that get you fighting, the ones that make you want to pull on a pair of boots and a leather jacket. Make a playlist of all the songs that make you cry, the quiet ones and the sad ones. Listen to them when you need to. If that’s playing in the car on the way to school or work to give yourself the courage to know that you can do it. Or whether that’s playing them late at night when your thoughts are too loud and you can’t sleep. Whatever helps you do it. Music is one things that really can help.

 

9. Ask for help

I know the other points on this list have been things you can do but if things aren’t changing and your mental ill-health is affecting your relationships, work or school then you might benefit from seeing your doctor and asking for some help. There is no shame in asking for help and there are multiple avenues that you can explore with the doctor, whether that is medication or talking therapies or online therapy. It is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. It might take several tries before something works and that’s okay. You always deserve to get the help you need.

 

10. Add it to your bank of bad days

This is something I have unashamedly stolen from ‘Reasons to Stay Alive‘ by Matt Haig which is a great book that everyone should read, go read it. Here is an excerpt from the chapter ‘The Bank of Bad Days‘ –

“Bad days come in degrees. They are not equally bad. And the really bad ones, though horrible to live through, are useful for later. You store them up. A bank of bad days… … So if you are having another bad day you can say, Well this feels bad, but there have been worse.”

This has helped me immeasurably and it’s something that my best friend says to me each time I cry-text her when I’m having a bad day. Each day you get through you have survived and you learned something. Every bad day teaches you how to get through the next one. There’s the day you had a panic attack after seeing one of your now favourite films at the cinema. There’s the day that you went into college and came home after one lesson. There’s the day you couldn’t bear to leave your room and the day you wanted it all to end and the day you sat and cried. Each and every one of the bad days teaches you that you can do this. 

I hope that anyone who has had the endurance to read all the way to the end has found something here that helps. Having a mental illness, or mental ill-health is and has never been anything to be ashamed of, no matter what anyone, including yourself, might say. I believe in you. You got this.

 

Life is scary 

I’m having a bit of a crisis of faith in myself. I am terrified that I am making all the wrong decisions and not doing everything that I should be. I feel like everybody I know has already done something since graduation: they’ve been travelling all over Asia, or Europe, they have done amazingly well for themselves and got a grad job, they’ve got married or moved into a their own house. I have spent this summer slowly doubting everything I’ve done. I haven’t left the country, I haven’t done anything spectacular, I haven’t volunteered or found a placement. I’m living at home for the foreseeable future with no real idea of what career I want to go into. I went on a two week holiday with my family and spent the rest of the time at home, reading, running and generally just spending the days doing not much at all.

I am jealous. Of everyone that is doing all the things that I would want to do if I could be less terrified of making the wrong decision to just make a decision. I am jealous of the people who have learned how to be friends with others and can go on adventures with them. I’m jealous of the people who live in areas that are perfect for exploring. I am jealous of the people who are having a gap year. I am jealous of the people who have a new job. I am jealous of the people who have gone on holiday to anywhere that isn’t in the UK. And it’s painful. I’m  painfully aware that I am a jealous and insecure human being who is dealing with these feelings in probably the worst possible way. I’m just stewing on them, making my anxieties over making the wrong decisions worse. I’m living with the tight uncomfortable feeling that sits in the bottom of your throat, right where it hits your chest. That one that tightens every time you breathe and makes you feel like you’re going to burst into tears if you think about things for too long. Fun times.

I’m trying, or have been at least, in the last week to learn to let go of the jealousy and learn to be okay with my own decisions. Everyone’s journey is different. Not everyone is going to learn the same lessons. I probably need this lesson because it sure as hell sucks and if it was easy I wouldn’t need to be going through it. Being okay with a decision can be the hardest thing in the world. There’s the constant, ‘what if’. What if I made a better choice? What if this choice is the wrong one? What if I didn’t make a decision then and later on a better one came along?

I’m trying to remind myself of something I read once – there are too many variables in life to know, for sure, whether the decision you have made is the right one. The right one at the time may turn out to be wrong later on. Or what may have seemed like the wrong decision at the time may turn out to be just what you needed. There aren’t really any right decisions. They just are. Soren Kierkegaard put it like this – ‘life can only be understand backwards; but must be lived forwards‘. You can’t live life without making decisions. That’s clear. And every decision you make leads to a hundred different possible others and a hundred thousand different possible futures. It’s going to lead you somewhere. And when you look back you can see how you got there and it’ll be clear, and it might even have seemed easy. When you’re at the start, looking forwards, it’s a leap of faith into the void. You have no idea where you might end up. Making decisions and doing is the only way to move in life. Whether it’s to a place you wanted to be or not, it’s a side effect of life. You gotta make decisions and roll with the consequences.

The other problem I’m currently trying to untangle is my insecurities with my own ability. I’m terrified that I’m just not quite good enough. I’m scared that everyone else will know so much when I start again at uni. I’m scared that I won’t be able to keep up with the work. I’m scared because I have never really had to deal with these feelings before. In school it was like I was on a ferry, everything was pretty easy, nothing was particularly difficult, the storm never really came close to affecting me. Uni was maybe a sailing boat, a little one-man Topper – it could get difficult at times, the wind could get up and you’d be at risk of capsizing but most of the time you could get by pretty okay. Now, I feel like everyone else is has a ship and I’ve been chucked into the Atlantic without a wetsuit and been asked to swim to America. It’s terrifying. It’s not even just the academic side. I spent the first 13 years of my life in a school with the same 50 kids in my year group. So I never really had to make friends. Being a friend to someone is really hard work. I only really feel like I got it in the last year of uni. I spent 3 years surrounded by the same people and only really felt like I was beginning to be able to know what a friend is and does and acts at the very end. And now I’m going to have to do it all over again, with new people, in a time limited scenario, because instead of three years to learn how to be friends with people I’ve got one. And if I don’t speed-learn this process I’m going to have no friends while at uni.

It’s okay to be scared. Being scared of something means that its important to you, it matters. Fear is important. At its basic level it’s a full on survival mechanism but in other ways it’s the way in which your brain tells you what is important to you and how important it is. I’m not really going to be scared that I’m going to miss the ice cream man because getting ice cream isn’t really that important to me. I’m really scared of failing at uni because I want to learn, and I want to do well. Fear has its place, it’s just the learning to not let it control you that’s the difficult bit.

Being okay with the situation I am in and not comparing myself to what everyone else is doing is really hard. I’m trying everyday for it not to become what I obsess over. I’m not living my life if I’m watching and obsessing over everyone else’s life. That’s not life. It’s watching a really bad version of TV while your life stagnates. It’s remembering that everyone is at different points in their life. We are all at different stages, needing different things and learning different things. And that’s okay. No one is further ahead or being left behind. Life doesn’t have a set path. There’s no set steps to do to get ahead, no one finishes first. Life isn’t a competition. 

I’m doing my best everyday to let things be. Things are. Life is. A decision is made and you live with the consequences. There are no right decisions. Life is scary. Growing up sucks. Having to make choices is hard and it would be so much easier to hide away. But I also know that if I run from absolutely everything then I’m never going to get anywhere.

I’m going to leave you with a final word from Kierkegaard ‘Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.’

What I Learnt in August

August definitely just came and went and I can’t quite believe that it’s September, the schools are back in and Halloween is basically just around the corner.

  1. Not running anything further than 3 miles for 2 weeks doesn’t mean you lose the ability to run for longer distances. Don’t panic April. All will be well.
  2. Despite the fact that I am still afraid of being stung by a jellyfish I can go in the sea when I can actually see jellyfish and not die. Plus jellyfish are pretty cool and if I had to have a career involving the environment I would quite like to be a jellyfish expert.
  3. Sweet potato and chickpeas do not belong in a pasty.
  4. The Titanic was the first ship in distress to use SOS (they also used CQD which was the more common distress signal at the time). Also, CQD does not mean ‘Come. Quickly: Distress’ or anything similar, it is thought to mean, ‘All stations: distress’. P.S. everyone who I know personally has been told this fact (and the next one soz).
  5. People have been getting tattoos for a very long time (in England definitely since the 1900s) and people have been hating on people getting tattoos for almost as long. Tattoos aren’t a new thing, and people hating on them isn’t a new thing. You do you.
  6. Being friends with people is difficult because sometimes you don’t quite know where you stand. Is it okay if you like them more then they like you? When you’re 5 years old you can straight up ask, “Can I be your (best)friend?” and that’s okay but it doesn’t really work past the age of 7. How do you work out how much your friend actually likes you, like, are they just irritated at the multiple snapchats they periodically get from me? Are they just pretending to be interested in my life? Who knows the answers to friendship past the age of 12?
  7. Being a tourist in your local area is the best thing and everyone should try it once every so often.

Running Pt 1 (Being Heckled)

I go running somewhat a lot of the time. But I’m not a ‘good’ runner. I don’t look like a runner. I don’t go out in short shorts and a sports bra and I don’t run particularly fast and not particularly far. And I wanted to potentially write more than one post about running when you’re not fast, or super fit, or can run super far, about how rubbish running can be when you’re not a professional, and how good it can actually be too.

So to start with, I’m gonna talk about being heckled. Cause this is such an annoyance. I like to run in the mornings. Like, I’ll get up, breathe, take the half hour or so it takes to get out of bed, then chuck some clothes on and get out the door. Ideally, this would mean I would be out of the door by 8 but let’s be real that never happens, so it’s heading towards half 8, quarter to 9 by the time I’m outside. Which is fine, great, it’s the morning and I’m ready to exercise. However, a lot of the routes I run go past schools. Primary schools tend to be okay since kids under the age of 11 tend not to start yelling at you as you run past. It’s the high school that is an issue. I have had boys (and it is always boys) that look like they’re 12 or 13 yell stuff at me as I’m running past. I mean, I’m 21 guys, I’ve done the horrors that was year 8 and year 9 so I don’t need you to be shouting at me please and thankyou. I don’t run with music because the earphones jump out of my ears and I’m paranoid about being run over so I can’t even pretend not to have heard them.

I have been heckled by grown men too (what a surprise right?). Recently, it was at the end of a 10 mile run so I wasn’t looking particularly impressive (think red face, grimaces, sweat dripping down my forehead type glamourous) and they yelled something, I think about there being something in another 2 miles? Honestly, I don’t even know but why do they have to do it in the first place? Like what do you get out of this? HOW DOES THIS ENTERTAIN YOU? Is there nothing better for you to be doing? Am I that entertaining? It’s not like I shout back. I like to imagine I flick my hair over my shoulder and run on like an Amazon but realistically I probably look like someone has eaten the last of my food and I’m super pissed.

Or, you get the old guys who are just killing time walking around the streets like 60+ year old men do, and they’ll stop and say something. I had two men do this today. And no, it wasn’t particularly offensive (but my ears stop working when I’m running so in all honesty they could be saying anything and I’d smile as I ran past) but I don’t understand why they feel the need to comment at all. I have never in my life had a woman say anything to me when I was running alone apart from once, when I was doing a fartlek and another runner swept past me and encouraged me on (which also was a tad annoying but that’s just because it was early).

What is it that makes blokes feel like they need to say something to you as you run past? I have no problem with the customary ‘morning’ or smile and nod as I’m running past people, I’m a notherner, I’m friendly, I can do that no problemo, but why on earth do you feel the need to comment on someone that is running? Sometimes I really feel like stopping, turning around and saying ‘please go run 7 miles and then come and tell me how you feel buddy’ cause let me tell you, anything over 5 miles and I’m gonna look like death on legs if it’s warm and almost death on legs if it’s cold.

So, here are my few and far between tips on how to deal with people that are yelling at you while you’re running –

  1. Ignore them. You’re the one who is hitting the pavement, tearing your muscles in order for them to repair and become stronger, making your respiratory system work hard and clear those airways. You do you and ignore the people that are clearly not worth your time because I don’t see them running anywhere.
  2. Run with music. This way you can actually not hear them, or at least pretend that you haven’t heard them. If you do this please make sure you can hear traffic though, crossing roads can be dangerous, there’s heavy machinery about (being driven by people who aren’t running).
  3. That’s all I got pretty much. I am a scared child inside so as much as I would say I would like to turn round and shout back I am never in a million years going to do it (and I mean, it’s like encouragement so I probably wouldn’t recommend it either).

Here are my tips to help stop yourself heckling and shouting at runners you see on the street –

  1. Don’t. It’s that simple.

Travel Anxiety

I feel like travelling is an ‘in thing’ right now. If you haven’t done it, then someone else you know will have done, and most likely will have posted numerous photos on social media about it. I think it’s incredible that we are able to travel hundreds of miles away in machines that we have made and get to experience new cultures and see sights that generations ago, no one in the family or town would have ever imagined seeing.

However, it does also make me feel incredibly incredibly jealous, and that’s because I have travel anxiety, or at least get so nervous and anxious around travelling and the thought of being somewhere new that I just can’t do it.

There are caveats – I am more than willing to go somewhere with people that I trust (aka my family), I am more comfortable visiting places that are closer to home (aka the UK) and I am more comfortable if I have planned the trip to an inch of its life. I mean, I still get incredibly anxious about going on holiday in the UK with people that I am less comfortable with (aka my friends soz guys) and on going abroad with my family.

I think a lot of what happens in my head is that I don’t like not being in control of things and I don’t like the unknown. I hate the unknown, hence why I’m not a fan of the dark and I’m not a fan of starting new things because I don’t know what will happen or how to be in control. But yeah, being anywhere new or just merely not being in my normal routine gets me all angsty and uncomfortable. And I get to the point where I just won’t do something because of how it makes me feel.

I hate this. There are so many places that I want to do, and that I want to be able to do but right now I just can’t. I want to go to Japan, and NYC, and to Rome and Florence and Venice. I want to go to Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye and London. I find it incredibly difficult to give excuses as to why I haven’t gone to the places that I keep saying I want to go to – the old ‘I’m a student and don’t have much money’ doesn’t really work after using a few dozen times. And just saying that ‘booking this trip is going to make me feel so uncomfortable I’m going to cry multiple times a day even before we go’ isn’t really a good enough excuse (or at least it seems it).

So I kinda just wanted to put it out there that not everyone can travel, and (also) not everyone wants to and not everyone wants to go to the typical student travelling places. It’s all okay, no matter what. However, if you get really bad anxiety over a trip, whether that’s the unknown of the new environment, the method of transport, the lack of control over the new environment and routine, it might be worth your while talking about it. I mean, I can’t really say for sure but I’m hoping that if I come to terms with it all a little bit then I might get more okay with doing new things.