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mental health

Post-marathon comedown has been doing all sorts of crazy things to my mind. My body has felt fine since the 26.2 miles – not an ache or a pain to be had – but my head has “gone west”. I’m still processing, and trying to get over, the sensory intensity of London Marathon. Fortunately, I know the perfect antidote to all that noise and all those people – a trail run in the sunshine with my friends.

The Hot Cross Run is a 6.2mile trail run in North Yorkshire. Starting at a village pub you get a set of instructions and off you go into the fields. I went with my Kirkstall Harrier friends Laura and Kimberley and we had a very enjoyable day out, complete with bunny ears!

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I left the other two to navigate while I bimbled along behind, taking in the sights and stopping for a few pictures. The sun was shining and the views were absolutely stunning. It was the most joyful run I have had for a while. We weren’t concerned about trying to run fast – our only plan was to enjoy ourselves.

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The end came around far too quickly, and we took a slight wrong turn and cut the final corner – genuine mistake! Back at the pub there were hot cross buns and lots of chats in the sun.

If Yorkshire is God’s own county then God is definitely a runner. We were blessed with perfect weather, not to mention the stunning countryside and, of course, great company. I can safely say it did me the world of good – the solar power recharged my batteries and the peace and quiet reset my head.

It was a really fun race and the organisers are also doing a series of evening self-navigate trail runs so I will be signing up for those without a doubt!

 

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As this is Eating Disorders Awareness Week I thought I would take a minute to reflect on and share my own experience. I have done this before in a difficult, but necessary, post on eating and food, so today is just a brief note on where I’m at now and how I feel about it.

The number on the bathroom scales does not trouble me like it used to. It has become a bigger number in recent months, but that’s OK, because that’s just how my body needs to be to do the things I ask of it.

I know my body is stronger, fitter, healthier and sexier than ever before, because I feel it.

I make informed, rational, and sometimes poor, decisions about what I eat and don’t eat. Disordered habits do not control me, although they are still there at times.

 

So there you go. As with all the mental health issues I have encountered during my lifetime I don’t expect I will ever be able to say I am fully recovered with no chance of relapse, but I am doing well. Very bloody well.

For information, advice and support on eating disorders, please do get in touch with beat.

 

 

 

 

 

Today is Time to Talk day, an initiative launched by Time to Change to encourage and support people to talk about their mental health. Up and down the country there are all sorts of things going on today and through the weekend, from roadshows in shopping centres to groups of friends getting together for a brew and a natter.

I had hoped to join in one of the organised events in Leeds, but time and other commitments have conspired against me. So instead I am playing my small part by writing this brief blog and calling on anyone who reads it to get in touch.

From the Time to Talk site: “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, neither is talking about it. Sometimes it’s the little things we do that make a big difference – like having a chat over a cuppa, sending a text or inviting someone out. And on Time to Talk Day we’re encouraging people to do just that. In fact, we’re hoping to spark a million conversations, and we want your help to do that.”

 

And that’s about it really – come talk to me. About anything. I will listen. Because I know this is a hugely important part of life – talking, and knowing that you are being listened to.

In my own mental health experiences there have been occasions where I have not felt that I was being taken seriously or even that what I was saying was being heard. One example that sticks in my mind is a doctor who told me to ‘get on with it’ because he wanted to go home. The rest of that story is very long, but needless to say his attitude did nothing to help, encourage or support me to get better. It was simply awful. I was at my lowest ever point and there I was feeling like a paid professional who was supposed to be there to help me did not even have the time, the compassion or the basic good nature to listen.

I have lived through my experiences of all sorts of mental health issues and, so far, I keep coming out the other side. The days when I talk to people about things are the days when I feel most positive.

Let’s talk. It’s time we both stopped running away.

Get in touch by email: gemmaruns@gmail.com

Or find me on Twitter: @gemmarathbone

 

 

I have been completely bowled over by the response to my post on running as a coping mechanism for depression yesterday. It received around 250 views and my social media accounts were going haywire with all the notifications.

When I started this blog I never really thought it would be read by anyone other than my closest friends and family, and even they, I thought, would get bored of me wittering on sooner rather than later. And although I had the vague intention of talking about mental health issues as well as running I was never quite sure how that would pan out.

So to everyone who read, shared my post and got in touch about it – thank you.

A lot of new thoughts and ideas were generated yesterday in the conversations I had with others, many complete strangers, so I wanted to do a blog today to write about them. It’s a bit haphazard and doesn’t really have a proper structure or flow, so please bear with me.

Running has all sorts of mental and emotional benefits. It can do a lot without you even realising it. How many times have you gone for a run and got home feeling so much better, yet you didn’t even realise you were feeling off to begin with? It’s happened to me. It is amazing how much you can let go when you run, whether you are doing that willingly and consciously or without noticing. This can come out in a huge burst of emotional energy. I have been known to break down in tears during races (Silverstone Half Marathon is a prime example – the sheer awesomeness of the achievement was overwhelming, but I was also a bit sad because I had no-one there to share it with). I fully expect to be blubbing the whole way round the London Marathon this April. As someone said – around mile 20/22 there is such a lot of emotion from all those thousands of runners in one place and it is a great opportunity to share. When else would you get to experience that?

I think all this comes from the release that running can give us from the expectations of “normal, everyday life”. I believe it is the one time that we can feel as free as the humans we were born to be. That sounds soppy, but what I mean is, it’s the one chance we have in our hectic, stressful and consumption-focused lives to let go, to escape and to just be. At least one run a week I try to focus not on working through problems, writing blogs or stories in my head or thinking about food, but on simply feeling my body. I notice my breath, the sound of my feet, the ache in my shoulders from being hunched over at the computer. I just am, and I just run.

So, running is a hugely important way for me and many others to cope with mental health issues – depression, stress, anxiety et al. Yet in my experience it is not promoted and encouraged enough. Over the years, of all the doctors, therapists and counsellors I met with, not one suggested exercise or physical activity. I know all too well that there are times when depression leaves you unable to even get out of bed, let alone run a few miles, but that doesn’t mean the seed of the idea should not be planted. With the right encouragement and support it could become an option for many. Physical activity could be an incredibly useful and positive element of treatment  and the really great thing is it is there as soon as you need it. Some organisations/doctors are promoting exercise to support those with medical conditions (eg HEAL in York), but I believe this needs to become the norm, not the exception.

My personal opinion is that, although I am in a much better place now than ever before, I will always be at risk of becoming ill again in one form or another. I don’t think that will go away. But the fact that I am now far more open to support and change goes a long way towards giving me the confidence to go on, to take risks and to do all I can to enjoy my life. Running makes me feel less helpless. It has given me confidence in my ability and self-esteem in my body.

And as well as the direct effects there are so many associated benefits – I have made a lot of wonderful friends, seen new places, explored different opportunities and gained a rather hectic social life!

Phew!

And to finish, I’d just like to say again thank you to all for the kind words yesterday. So many people responded to say how brave, honest and open I was. People said my blog was heartfelt, thought-provoking and encouraging. And the word inspirational was used. That, to me, is the absolute best thing of all. To be considered someone who could have a positive effect on another is surely the best, and only thing, any of us should hope for in life.

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This past week has made me realise just how much I rely on running to keep myself (relatively) sane and stable.

I have two key coping mechanisms for dealing with my mental health issues – crafting and running. Along with the marvellous family and friends I have and the unquestioning support they give me, these two activities are an important part of my life.

Crafting began a few years ago following a severe spell of depression that essentially removed me from the “normal world”. I kept myself calm and occupied with a variety of cross stitch projects over the weeks, and discovered that something simple and productive could go a long way towards distracting me from harmful thoughts. When I returned to everyday life I continued to craft and took brave steps to seek out other people with the same interests and explore opportunities to learn more. This resulted in me joining the WI and making many new friends.

In more recent times running has come to help me in a similar, but more active way. I began in the middle of 2012 not with the intention of finding a natural medicine for depression, but with the aim of losing weight and perhaps giving myself some true self-esteem and confidence in my abilities for the first time in my life. The more I ran, the more I loved it, and the better I started to feel. And, happily, this positive circle continues to this day.

Except for when I can’t run.

I have never been a very good patient. Being ill is a waste of time as far as I’m concerned. Even though you get to do one of my favourite things – sleeping – you don’t get to enjoy it.

When I can’t run I get irritable (even more so than usual!), feel sorry for myself and am generally not a very pleasant person. This comes as quite a surprise to those who know me as a smiley, enthusiastic and bouncy individual who never seems to shut up or run out of energy or optimism. It can be a shock to me as well.

So at the end of last week I found myself getting annoyed and upset at things that really weren’t that big a deal, and I was seemingly unable to deal with the difficulties of life rationally and sensibly. I did cope – I mostly slept and ate pretzels, Nutella and peanut butter – but it wasn’t pretty.

Running is my main coping mechanism. Generally speaking, whenever I need it I can have it. It doesn’t rely on anyone else, it doesn’t really matter what the weather is doing, and it can last 30 minutes or two hours.

Running is whatever I need it to be at any particular time. It is what I want, what I make it, and what I need.

A lot can happen when you’re running:

  • When I am depressed it is an escape and a simple mood booster.
  • When I have a problem it creates a new thinking space.
  • When I am happy it is an opportunity to sing and rejoice and love life.
  • When I am lonely I can do it with friends.
  • When I want to be alone I can get some quality thinking time.
  • When I need to switch off I can do so completely and just listen to my body.
  • When I am worried or stressed about something it allows me to let go.

I run now because I got addicted without realising it. Much better than relying on anti-depressants or having to go through endless rounds of counselling and therapy.

Running is all sorts of great and is doing a lot of good things for my body and my mind.

Most of all, it has taught me to stop running away.

I am me. I am a runner. I live with mental health issues.

The things that we love tell us what we are.” St Thomas Aquinas

 

It dawned on me this week that I should probably attempt to come up with some useful content for my blog. So far I have mostly wittered on about how much I love running and posted photos of myself smiling manically while wearing various neon garb. I’ve not even talked much about mental health, which was part of the reason for starting this.

In an attempt to rectify this situation, here are some thoughts on how to deal with winter, both in terms of running and depression.

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I surprised myself a lot last winter with how well I coped with the rubbish weather. I’m solar powered and really feel that I need the sun’s warmth and light, so when the days get shorter, darker and colder I often find it difficult to get up for my day and stay awake, let alone get out and be active.

As winter set in last year I was already enjoying running a lot, so that gave me motivation to get up and out there. The approach of this winter hasn’t been anywhere near as daunting, because I know I have coped before. Plus my running holiday to Portugal gave me a chance to fully recharge my batteries. And I also find that being aware of when and why I find it difficult to get up and knowing what I can do to restore some energy is half the battle won. Sometimes I do slip back into hibernation mode, but I manage the tendency to nap so that it doesn’t become a problem.

Below are some of the things I have learned about winter, running and depression that help to get me through.

  • Embrace the season

It’s cold. It gets lighter later and darker earlier.There will be wind, rain, snow, ice, hail and more. But none of that has to automatically be bad. Winter days can be incredibly beautiful. Those mornings that dawn crisp and clear are the very best for a head-clearing run. It feels like the air is pure oxygen and that you are discovering the things around you for the first time. If it’s wet then get out and splash around in the puddles. Yes, you are allowed! Go find some mud and make a mess. Kick some leaves. Fall over on the crispy grass. Build a snowman with no nose because you forgot a carrot, and create a make-shift sledge out of the bottom of a tent (it works quite well if you wrap yourself up in it and have someone pull you down a hill!).

  • Know that you will get through it

You will come out the other side of winter stronger and raring to go. Remember that. Do whatever you need to do to get through it. Keep friends and family close. Make sure you get out to see the sun/sky every single day. Speak to a doctor/counsellor/therapist/anyone about how you can best deal with things. Make the most of lazy days and early nights with plenty of “me” sessions for watching favourite movies, sewing, colouring in, reading, meditating, drinking tea. Make a list of things that help you cope and stick it somewhere you can see it every morning.

  • Wrap up warm, but not too warm

Dressing sensibly when you go out can give you the confidence to keep going out. That one day when you wear daft shoes and your toes nearly fall off, or you don’t take a brolly and get soaked, can be really off-putting. If you’re warm when you start out then you’ll be too hot after a mile. Wear several light layers that you can easily whip off. This applies not only to running, but also to walking. It’s amazing how quickly you can warm up once your legs get moving.

  • Test your shoes

Make sure you know which of your shoes will cope best in different conditions. One of my trail pairs is simply rubbish on slippery cobbles,but great for thicker mud. Although I don’t like to get them muddy, my neon shoes are great for splashing in puddles as they drain water quickly. Same for everyday shoes. I wear barefoot trainers for walking around in, but they are lethal on wet manhole covers! My snow boots are the ultimate choice in winter footwear.

  • Plan how to best use the hours

Winter days have the same number of hours as summer days, just that more of them are darker. Anything that can be done indoors can be done anytime, so prioritise your outdoor activities. Don’t leave it too late to get out and run/walk/whatever – you need your boost of solar power more than ever.

  • Be prepared for when you get home

Know what you will eat and drink when you get back before you leave the house. If you’re a coffee fiend like me, check there is milk in the fridge! On Sundays I plan a roast dinner or something equally hearty and wholesome for after my long run. It also helps if your housemate bakes or cooks while you’re out!

  • Make friends

Even though I coped well last winter as a lone runner, this year I am doing even better because I have friends to run with. Being part of a running club means I can go out in the evening, and arranging sessions with friends means I am less likely to wimp out. Also, you need friends for a decent snowball fight.

  • Wear neon

This is the most important. And I don’t just mean hi-vis so you can be seen, I mean crazily bright neon colours that clash and look daft but make you smile. It works for me! Just because the weather is dull doesn’t mean your clothes have to be!

  • Check in with yourself regularly

Only you can know how you are coping, so ask yourself regularly how you are doing and be aware of how things change. Be honest, and do your best to reach out and ask for help, or just a hug, if you need it. I know how impossible this can be at times, and the first step is always the worst, but don’t give up on yourself and stop trying.

Tuesday morning I scheduled an early run somewhere different. I’ve been enjoying get up and out early and going into Leeds to see the people in suits looking miserable on their way to work, but I fancied a change of scenery and a chance to see the sunrise properly.

I eventually settled on Eccup reservoir. I’ve run around it a couple of times in races and it is very pretty. I did have to persuade myself several times – early start, on my own, cold, dark, driving somewhere new on my own weren’t particularly appealing – but I knew the end result would be worthwhile.

It was about 7.30am when I began my run. The sun was nowhere to be seen, there plenty of stars in the sky and, by a happy coincidence, the moon was full and shining brightly.

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Whatever birds they are that live on the reservoir make a right racket at that hour! They did calm down a bit and many flew away eventually, leaving just the ducks floating around. I saw a lot of little birds in the forest too, but don’t ask me what they were!

I was glad of my head torch as I ran round through the trees, but by the time I came out by the treatment plant there was enough light coming through. I stopped to snap the moon as she set and then nipped up to the top of the forest bank to watch the sunrise.

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The forest floor was absolutely delightful to run on. So soft and springy and crunchy. It was great fun jumping over logs, sploshing in boggy bits and snapping twigs. I found a fab little den and sat on guard for a minute to have a drink. Then I stood at the edge of a field to watch the sun. FYI – it takes bloody ages for the sun to come up! Eventually I got too cold so headed back.

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I only ran 4 miles but I was out for over an hour with all the stopping for photos and taking in the sights and the silence.