Monday, 5 September 2016

I don't do things by halves...

Unless I’m running a half marathon.

In which case, I do.

And I am.

I am running a half marathon. 

“But Louise, haven’t you only just run your first 10k?”

Why yes, yes I have. I did my first 5k in April, my first 10k in July, and I will be doing my first 21k (aka HALF MARATHON LOL) in October. That’s… oh… next month.

Look, that's me after aforementioned 10k

I never understood the concept of being ‘addicted’ to running. I mean, before I started running I never understood the concept of running at all. But being addicted to it? How? No. Surely you have to drag yourself out for a run kicking and screaming, sob as you lug your body around the park, then mumble angrily to yourself all the way home and eat a packet of crisps before going back to bed. Running is a chore and not a hobby, right? 

*flicks a flipbook of all my running selfies over the past year in your face* 

Apparently you can get addicted to running. Don’t get me wrong, I repeatedly think, “Fuck this” when I’m in the middle of a run, but the excited feeling of preparing for a run and then the euphoria afterwards is now overwhelming - so much so that as soon as I crossed the finish line of the Vitality British 10k in London, I signed up to run the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon for Alzheimer’s Society.

On recommendation I’m following the 21k Runner app for my training. It’s hardcore (I ran for 93 minutes this morning. That's three episodes of EastEnders) but it’s encouraging, trustworthy, easy to follow and fit in with your day, and well laid out. There are awful, cheesy inspirational quotes over beautiful landscapes for each week too, which I bloody love, I cannot lie. YES, YES I DID JUST DO THAT RUN ALL BY MYSELF. LOOK AT ME GO. I’M GOOD.

                                                     GOD IT'S SO CHEESY I CAN SMELL BRIE

I can’t get enough of it, and running races for charities is awesome. I know I’m biased - I work in charity - but still. Fundraising is an extra challenge, and it’s really tough and stressful, but it’s an extra boost too, both before and after running.

September 2016 marks a year since I started running for my mental health. I started Couch to 5k, HATED IT, loved it, finished it, started parkrun, ran a 10k, and now here I am, sitting in bed after a 11.42k training run with sore feet and a bad back. I LOVE RUNNING. HOORAY. RUNNING.

My mental health now is a million times better than last September, and a large part of that I owe to reluctantly/curiously (delete as appropriate) downloading the Couch to 5k app and beginning to run at least three times a week. I don’t run now to improve my mental health, I run to sustain it. We’ve all got a mental health, and we should all acknowledge and work on it whether we struggle with a mental illness or not. We all have our routines to keep our physical bodies in check - showering, brushing our teeth, skin routines, drinking water, eating well, check ups with the optician, dentist, and doctor, so we should be doing that with our mental health too. Check in with your head every now and then. Take time for yourself…

GO FOR A RUN. 

I’m slightly worried I’m turning into a ‘my way or no way’ vegan with running. I don’t mean to. Sorry. You do you with your self care and hobbies… but seriously running is awesome, so…

This is how fit you can look...

I need to raise a mighty £500 for Alzheimer’s Society, so if you’d like to donate to my fundraising then please click here! Any and every donation is appreciated by me, Alzheimer’s Society, and my poor feet. 

Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Parkrun Effect

When I first started running back in September, my friend, a running pro, began sitting on my shoulder and whispering sweet nothings in my ear. By that, I mean she messaged me incessantly about how I was getting on.

“Fine?” I guess.

“You should aim as a goal to do a parkrun by the end of the course.”

“Jess, a goal for me is stepping outside the door in the first place, I’m hardly thinking of running a full 5k surrounded by Other People as a goal right now.”

“Just think about it…”

I didn’t. Throughout the Couch to 5k course all I thought about was putting one foot in front of the other and trying to breathe without my lungs panicking and leaking out through my nose.

Fast-forward four months and I’d finished the course… and signed myself up for the Vitality British 10k in London. Sure, a 5k parkrun with a few hundred people sounds like hell, but a 10k through central London with thousands of others? Why not. Sounds great.

This was like when I signed up to the Anthony Nolan register (giving blood for four hours if you’re a match) when I kick up a fuss at a one-vial blood test.

I was still running three times a week, I had to actually train for an actual proper actual run now after all, but parkrun still wasn’t my thing.

Parkrun still not being my thing.

“Louise, I have an idea…”

Most of my misendeavours come from messages from my friends ending in ellipses. There is a theme, don’t think I haven’t spotted it.

“Katie, consider your next thought…”

“It’s a good one this time, I promise…”

It was, to give her credit. She’d spotted that mental health charity Mind were running a campaign on using sport to support your mental health and wanted case studies. Ding ding ding, I had found my calling.

I emailed the guy in charge, saying something like, “Hey I nearly killed myself but then I bought some trainers and now I’m fine,” and got a reply saying something like, “Cool story bro, fancy doing a parkrun and letting us film it?”

And thus, the planets aligned. I was actually going to do a parkrun.



Parkrun is a simple concept. You sign up to the community as a whole, print off your barcode, find a course you want to do, and turn up. You don’t have to sign up week by week, you don’t have to pay, you’re not obligated to do anything, not even run. You can walk it. Crawl it for all they care.

There are some other bits to note such as parkrun using some sort of digital technology to track your time, that’s where your barcode comes in that gets scanned as you cross the finish line, but I literally have no clue how that shit works, and don’t intend to find out. It’s hard enough working out how to run without dying, let alone how that run is tracked. I leave that to the professionals.

My first parkrun was… notable. I had a guy on rollerblades following me around the course and filming me with a super fancy camera. I was full of anxiety that the other regular parkrunners thought I was an idiot, or getting in their way, or *enter any other bad thought here*, and I can assure you that the irony was not lost on me. But soon I got into it, and I fell into the piggyback atmosphere. I was carried the whole way by the parkrun effect…

Filming with Mind was awesome. Not just because I was taking part in a brilliant campaign with the country’s leading mental health charity, but because I had my first parkrun documented. And my God, it was THRILLING. For real. I’ve now done seven, at four different courses, and I’m already compiling a birthday list (September 9th – can never be too prepared) comprised solely of parkrun merch. Although I have just bought a homerun running top for a bit of parkrun patriotism.

The Parkrun Effect

          It’s easy. It’s so easy. You sign up, you print off your barcode, you turn up. You can just go to one, you can go to one every Saturday. You’re in control.

- You can be a ‘parkrun tourist’. Some people go to a different parkrun every Saturday. As in, all over the country. Even the world! They have parkruns in France, South Africa, and America. Apparently parkrun is super popular in Poland. Who knew?

- The volunteers are invaluable. There are parkrun volunteers dotted around the parkrun course who cheer and clap you to the finish line. Although it may seem like a yeah-and-what-we-know-what-support-is comment, when you’re a novice runner, those people carry you around that course. I can’t help but beam at them every time I run past.

- You love people lapping you. Seriously. There are parkrunners who can do 5k in 15 minutes. Bastards. And they will lap you twice over, but they give you a thumbs up as they pass you. They’re not the cool kids, and you are not the peasants eating your lunch in the toilet. You’re all in this together. (And when you notice that your boyfriend hasn’t lapped you this time, you will be so bloody smug. Just saying…)

- Oh, apart from the kids. When the kids lap you, you want to kick ‘em over, naturally.
     
      - You will sprint the last straight. No matter how knackered you are, no matter how loudly your lungs are screaming, no matter how much you’re squelching in sweat, the cheers and beautiful, sparkling, golden finish line will give you a serious last minute kick up the arse. You’ll feel like Mo fucking Farah.

- You’ll be a part of a community. It’s cliché, I know. The community feel, the community spirit. But whether you’re 11 or 81, guy or girl, stick thin or carrying some weight, you’re a valid part of parkrun. People are there for all sorts of reasons; to beat personal bests, to train for marathons, to get fit, to lose weight, to meet up with friends, to hope that puppies on walks will follow them, to fix up their mental health…

Parkrun is my AA group. My name is Louise and I am a parkrunner.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Anxiety attacks vs Panic attacks

** Trigger warning: panic attacks and detailed descriptions **

Early last year, someone asked me why I use two different terms when talking about my anxiety: panic attacks and anxiety attacks, and how do they differ. It was a good question, and my answer would be really personal. So personal that it's taken months for me to answer.

Anxiety can come in a multitude of different forms for everyone, and in very Classic Lou style, I’ve split mine into different boxes. It helps me categorise my anxiety so I know how to deal with it. Therefore, do remember that everything in this post is far from scientific. I’m not a medical professional, I’m a writer, and talking through how I categorise my anxiety is likely to be more wishy washy than scientifically accurate. But, like all discussion on mental health, maybe, just maybe, it could relate to someone else’s experiences…

My anxiety umbrella

Anxiety is my umbrella term. I use it for my general state, including my BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) tendencies which often stem from anxiety. I was diagnosed with GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) in my second year at university, so I really do see it as my 'general' state. I say I live with anxiety, not BPD. I say anxiety clings my ankle, I don’t say I suffer with panic attacks. Anxiety will do. 


Anxiety attacks

My anxiety attacks are subtle. I know why they’re triggered, most of the time, and they very quietly bubble in the pit of my stomach. 

I used to get them every single morning when I woke up. As soon as I was conscious, The Fear would punch me. ‘HEY LOUISE, WELCOME TO ANOTHER DAY, SOMETHING’S HAPPENING AND MORE THINGS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN AND YOU’VE FORGOTTEN SOMETHING AND AS SOON AS YOU MOVE SHIT’S GONNA GO DOWN AND ARE YOU LOVING ALL THESE FEELINGS THAT DON’T MAKE SENSE ISN’T IT WONDERFUL’. 

From the tips of my toes, my body would slowly go numb. It’d work its way up my body. If I let that feeling affect me enough, I’d get pins and needles in my hands and feet. It’d feel like they were eroding. I’d be disappearing. Mornings were the worst. 

Socialising was a main trigger of an anxiety attack. It’d mostly ravage me beforehand, but sometimes during too. No one would know. I’d be deathly quiet and the only tell would be the awful sight of me scratching my hands to death. It wasn’t self-harm, but it was a coping mechanism. My skin reacts horribly to anxiety and I would scratch my hands until they bled. Inside, I couldn’t hear properly. My ears would feel like they were bubbling, that’s the only way I can describe it, and my tongue felt numb. I couldn’t talk properly. I probably just sounded drunk. My legs would go numb again and my hands would go clammy. I couldn’t keep up with conversation, I couldn’t concentrate. I’d feel like time was speeding and that I was running a million miles an hour. Everyone was staring at me and whispering about me. No one wanted me there and everyone was plotting against me. That’s what I’d think, anyway. 

If I had an anxiety attack away from the social environment, I’d totally space out. I think this is because my thoughts were my own and I wasn’t distracted. It was me and my anxiety and that’s it. This was the climax of an anxiety attack. If I was completely still, not blinking, and breathing either incredibly slowly OR incredibly quickly, I needed to be dragged out of it. I needed to be held incredibly tightly until I cried. Until the emotion was quite literally squeezed out of me. Then I’d feel exhausted, weak, and fragile for the rest of the day. 

In summary, I knew my anxiety attacks incredibly well. I knew my triggers. But that didn’t stop them doing their work. I’d let them take over and do what they had to do. What they wanted to do. I had no power over them. They were slow-building and had a very specific process, and in a way, that made them all the more terrifying. I knew what was coming.


Panic attacks

I’ve only ever had one explosive panic attack. By ‘explosive’ I mean one that I couldn’t hide people from. I had no time to run away before it happened. It appeared in front of everyone. That's the one I want to talk about - that's the one I want to shame rather than it shame me.

There was no conscious trigger. I was sitting watching telly with my boyfriend at my parents’ house. My heart suddenly started racing, I could hear it, and the pulse in my neck felt like it was pounding its way out of my body. My whole body went numb in one hit, all the blood felt like it drained from my head, and I started shaking uncontrollably. This was all silent. I turned to my boyfriend and tried to say something. I couldn’t. I physically couldn’t speak. But the look on his face when he saw mine told me that he knew. He looked as terrified as I felt. He asked if I wanted to go upstairs, he tried to lift me out of the chair, but I was just a lump of flesh. I couldn’t move, and there was no time. 

The wail that came out of me next wasn’t human. My mum came running in with the same look on her face as my boyfriend’s and just scooped me up. All I remember is crying ‘Ow, ow, ow!’ over and over again. This hurt. My body was a shaking numb mess, but my hands and feet stung, they were contorted in weird shapes, and my neck burned. 

It didn’t last long. My painful cries turned to exhausted ones. I was bright red and dripping with sweat. My dad brought down a fan, my boyfriend fetched me water, and my mum just carried on holding me. I hadn’t cried in front of my family since I was tiny. 

I never, ever want to experience that again.


But I know I might have to. I know what a panic attack is now, I know what it feels like. I know it can just kick you out of nowhere. It has no morals. It doesn’t care. Anxiety attacks are sick in how they like watching you react slowly. Panic attacks have no interest in you. They smack you down then fuck off. Ruthless. 

So. There you go. My experience of anxiety attacks and panic attacks in 1,000 words. It's written down now. It's external, I've ripped it apart from me. I control it. Fuck you. 

If you need any help with your mental health, please seek support from your GP, family, friends, or charities such as Mind. There's always someone there to help. Always.

Drawings featured by the wonderful rubyetc
 
Images by Freepik