Category Archives: Chat

You’d feel a lot better if you’d just…

I wonder if this phrase is familiar to anyone else? It’s usually followed by things like:

“…do some exercise.”

“…eat more fruit and vegetables.”

“…get outside more.”

“…think more positively.”

“…try to be grateful for what you’ve got, rather than what you haven’t.”

“…learn not to dwell on things so much.”

I find these kinds of comments incredibly frustrating, because they are, in a way, difficult to refute. It’s no secret that a healthy diet and positive attitude have an impact on your mental health, and I’m not about to argue against exercise being a powerful tool in the battle with anxiety and/or depression! But then again…

What a lot of people don’t realise is that when I hear these things I hear “If you don’t help yourself in this, this and this way, then you’ve not earned the right to sympathy, help, or even acknowledgement that you have an actual illness with actual symptoms that won’t magically go away if you learn to appreciate the beauty of the natural world.”

These (usually well-intentioned) bits of advice can sound pretty accusatory. Almost like the advice-giver is excusing themselves from providing any sympathy or assistance until you, the sufferer, can prove that you are actively trying to combat your symptoms yourself.

But someone with depression might sometimes find themselves utterly unable to get out of their bed, even going hungry for hours because the prospect of going to the kitchen to fetch food is just too much. Someone in the throes of an anxiety attack cannot stop “dwelling” on the source of their anxiety because their nervous system is telling them that they are in danger RIGHT NOW. Sometimes the depressed person watches dirty laundry pile up before their eyes, and wants with every fibre of their being to do something about it, but they just… can’t. Sometimes a beautiful gift sends an anxious person into a tearful spiral of shame and guilt because they know, when they look into the very core of themselves, that they do not deserve it.

(Yes, those last two examples are all me, and believe me they are not isolated incidents.)

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t give advice to someone suffering from mental health issues. But, please don’t make their following that advice a requirement for the continuation of your support. If they are anything like me, they already think they are stretching your patience to its last thread, and if they find themselves unable to do whatever it is you suggest, well… it won’t have the desired effect!

 

 

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Running Anecdotes

So the festive season is over for another year, and I’ll be heading back to work tomorrow. For me the turning of the year is a double-whammy of celebrations because my birthday is on January 1st, and right now I’m feeling extremely loved, relaxed, well-fed, and overwhelmed with the generosity of my family and friends who have spoiled me with so many lovely gifts!

I’m feeling a bit anxious about returning to work, and some of the familiar weasel-y (read: unhelpfully negative) thoughts about my abilities and the length of my to-do list are fluttering in the background. But what is most astonishing to me is the vast change in how I feel compared with this time last year, which was a dark time, even with my 30th birthday party to look forward to. I am determined to keep tight hold of the positive energy and momentum I’m feeling right now!

I have two little running-related anecdotes (runecdotes?) to share today.

wp-1483464613535.jpgThe first is actually from Christmas Eve, when Matt and I went out for an early (ish) jog around the park, wearing matching Santa hats and with a plan to wish everyone we met a merry Christmas! I was incredibly excited by the number of people we saw, even having a couple of beeps from passing cars, and it was a great way to start the day. As we were about to leave the park we passed the play area and noticed that it was empty. Now this play area is only a few months old and it is absolutely awesome. We (and many of our adult friends, too) have been wanting an opportunity to have a play since the summer, so obviously we jumped at the chance! We rode the slides, I bounced on the trampoline while giggling madly, and we raced each other on the zipwires. If there is a better way to end a run, or indeed to start Christmas, I don’t know what it is!

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The second is from this afternoon. I went out for my first run of 2017, just a short easy jog around the block. I was struck (for the umpteenth time) by how getting out and running provides me with the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the world around me.

Today’s run was actually the first official training run for something rather exciting, which I will talk more about in a couple of days!

Pressing the reset button

Last Sunday morning started, as more than I’d like do, with tears and anxiety and a strong desire to hide under the duvet and refuse to face the world.

But. Matt and I had planned to go for a run, and he’s still riding the “I can’t believe I can do this” high of a brand new runner, so together we made it happen. At one point the duvet may have had to be forcibly removed from the bed, but I won’t go any further into that!

We headed out into what turned out to be the only bit of sunshine we saw all weekend and set off at a relaxed pace. We ran non-stop for 5km (a first for Matt), and after a quick walk break to check on sore knees and cross a busy road we managed another mile and a half round the park before calling it a day.

After the run, the earlier anxiety was gone and even the memory seemed distant, like it must have been part of a different day. And that’s what running can do, if I can make it happen, it has the power to hit the reset button on even the most rubbish of mornings, and give me a new perspective with which to face the day.

Do you use running or other exercise to turn around a bad day? And how do you get motivated when you feel awful and don’t have a partner to kick you into gear? I’d love to hear from you!

Welcome

Well hello there! This is one of those slightly awkward “hello world” posts. I’ve made a few in my time, having been an on-again off-again blogger for many years. My longest-lived blog was Reality is Awesome, where I wrote about science and skepticism. I’m pretty happy with what I produced then, and I’ve been halfheartedly meaning to return to it for ages. After all, I love writing, and the idea of having even a few people reading what I write is quite exciting.

By way of introduction, my name is Helen, I have a PhD in chemistry and work as a research scientist at a big facility in Oxfordshire. When not at work I can be found either at my flat in Didcot, or in Cheltenham where my other half, Matt, lives.

I’ve been a (very) casual runner for a long time – going back to the last year of my undergraduate degree when two of my housemates and I entered the Race for Life. For me it was meant to be cathartic – a way to finally put the memory of painful high school cross country runs to rest. Race day was hot and sunny, and I remember how awesome it felt to run with the support of a crowd of people. As long as I don’t concentrate too hard I can almost forget the intensity of the sunburn that resulted from forgetting the sun cream…

I started running regularly two years ago, when a colleague persuaded me to sign up for the 2015 Reading Half Marathon. That winter I learned about GPS watches, running tights, what running for more than an hour felt like, and the very strange sensation of the coldness of my body cooling my hot shower water to tepid as it ran down my back! The Reading course finishes magnificently with a lap of the Madejski Stadium and I felt absolutely unstoppable when I ran into the cacophany of cheers and across the line. I was hooked.

In 2016 I have completed 3 more half marathons (Bath, Reading again, and Cheltenham) and crossing the finish line is still a giddy thrill. I’m excited to see where running takes me next.

The story of my struggles with mental illness is an even longer one. Anxiety has been a constant companion ever since I can remember, although for a long time I was unaware that it was, in fact, an illness. My first real experience of depression came while I was at university, but again it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I can recognise it for what it was. I’ve had ups and downs since then, but in the last 18 months or so things worsened to the point that I struggled to function at work and in life in general. About a year ago, the concern of my friends and family got me to the GP surgery, and these days with the right combination of medication, an awesome therapist and a healthy dose of self-awareness, I feel pretty stable.

Running has been hugely helpful in managing my symptoms. It gets me outside, keeps me moving and helps me to feel like I am accomplishing something. It gives me time to think or to simply exist in the world around me. It helps to silence the nagging voices of depression and distract the noisy chatter of anxiety. Although I’m still shy about donning the badge that says “runner”, it’s part of who I am. That’s why I want to write this blog. To talk about running, to share my story. To be another tiny voice in the growing chorus that is saying “mental illness is here, it’s not going anywhere, and we need to talk about it”.