Run To the Hills

Those of you who have followed me for some time will know that whenever a Time to Talk Day comes up, I’m all over the concept. That’s going to be particularly apposite this coming February, when the next event is scheduled: by then I hope to have begun my training as a Champion. The first meeting to begin that journey happened last Saturday, in my county’s main town. Needless to say, it’s changed quite a bit since I was there last.

I almost didn’t make it there at all.

Driving was fine, parking no problem. At the venue, there was an unexpected attack of nerves: walking into the meeting room, where one other person was already, made me feel unwell… and then I was in the bathroom, managing a potential panic attack. The reason for this, of course, was easily rationalised. Unfamiliar surroundings, people I didn’t know. I should have visited the venue earlier in the week to calm my fears.

Having come all that way, in the rain and wind… it would be foolish to just turn around and go home again. So, I walked back into the room… and now I’m so very glad I did. This is the first step of a journey that should have been started a long time ago: finally there’s confidence to stand with a group of people whose commitment and care is abundantly apparent. I can’t wait for formal training to start in January.

It also gives me an opportunity to consider what it is I’ll do for Time to Talk day 2020. I’ll want to do it online, of course, because that’s the place where I feel I can do the most good in terms of supporting people whilst assisting the process of obtaining the help and advice they’re looking for. I feel both poetry and imagery have a part to play in this… so I wonder, what can I do to pull myself out of comfort zones in the process?

There are some ideas in my planner. Watch this space for more details.

The Luxury Gap

This post should have happened on Friday, but it didn’t. My personal blog has recorded the sordid details, should you be interested as to why: with time and space to deal with the fallout, it’s a salutatory reminder that dealing with anxiety and inability doesn’t ever go away, it simply becomes easier to rationalise. You’d think after the week I’d had that everything would be fantastic as a result. That’s not how this works.

Being mindful of self is the reminder needed to move forward.

There’s a lot that can be done to understand why self is as problematic as it undoubtedly is: some of you may stress at the amount of self-help flotsam that undoubtedly ends up online, but an awful lot of it is incredibly useful. The idea, of course, is to take everything initially under consideration: some advice may simply not be what is needed. It’s the equivalent of my exercise class trainer stating “this move may not work for you, here are the alternatives.” It’s your job to know what’s best at that moment and then give it a try.

This is one of the reasons why it’s important for me to follow as wide a range of followers via Social media as possible. It’s not about believing that somehow my experience represents a typical one for everybody else either. There’s so much difference in the world, such a wealth of individual experiences. I cannot possibly expect to be able to understand them all, but they demand both respect and empathy regardless. The only way that changes is if someone is actively hostile; then there are other paths to tread.

Fortunately for me, there’s an awful lot of love in my life right now.

I’ve spent an awfully long time not granting myself permission to be fallible. It’s okay not to write when you say you will, or to take time to do other stuff. It’s not sensible to compare yourself to anybody else either, especially if you’re trying to be realistic about objectives and goals. The path that you tread is very much individual to you. Don’t let others define you, and certainly don’t allow negativity to drag your dreams down to the gutter. You are enough. It is okay to get stuff wrong. Rejection as a writer is part of a path you need to tread.

Learning what you are is all part of the experience.

Look Out Any Window

One of the most important things learnt in over twenty years online involves other people’s perception of what’s right. Not everybody has the same opinion as yours: those opinions aren’t facts either, often they are a view of reality that’s distorted through a series of deeply personal, subjective lenses. Challenging your view of right should be everybody’s default stance: learning, growing, and most importantly accepting that multiple ‘right’ opinions can exist alongside each other harmoniously.

On the third day of Mslexicon, it became apparent just how many good things can co-exist happily alongside each other without any conflict occurring. When you are prepared to be vulnerable, truly willing to allow other people into your personal space,  astounding things can and do happen. More importantly, allowing yourself to be kind, not judging yourself on other’s benchmarks, can offer significant transformation to mindsets that previously were unwilling to shift.

My life has undoubtedly changed after three days away in Leeds.

These ladies deserve all the love: hardworking, enthusiastic and genuinely interested they also make a cracking cuppa when required. Events don’t work properly without solid, well-organised management at it’s core, and this whole event owes a significant debt to the people who created it. More of us who come to enlighten ourselves should remember how lucky we are to have such opportunities available in the first place. This weekend really was something utterly special.

On Sunday I’ll freely admit I hit maximum brain capacity, thanks to two stonking talks by Rosie Garland and Margaret Wilkinson. Quite honestly, I think more’s been taken from this couple of hours than I’d managed to glean from several years doing English and Drama at degree level: sometimes, you need somebody with whom you just totally click and then understand without months of thrashing about feeling perplexed. I’d have killed to have met both these ladies as an awkward twenty-summat, that’s for damn sure.

I’m also aware that there wasn’t enough sleep over three days to do everything that was presented to me justice. Assuming I can afford to do this again next year, lessons will be learnt. An extra day for travelling, for starters, so it’s easier to get comfortable quicker. I need to ask more people’s names, spend more time just talking and decompressing between sessions. Adrenaline’s a great drug, but it really does make switching off quite difficult when required.

I now have an idea for a novel that two total strangers have encouraged me to write. There’s confidence in my social skills that simply did not exist previously to last weekend. I know I’ve done a lot of that work, that accepting I had mental health issues and going to get them identified is half the battle; having people who support without thought and encourage unconditionally is an amazing way you can grow and develop as a person. So much of that is still happening too, seven days on.

The Mslexia people knew this concept was a winner when it was created. I don’t need to tell you that sometimes, all that is really needed is the means by which great ideas can become brilliant experiences. This is the gift to myself that will continue to keep on giving many, many months after Leeds itself becomes a happy memory. The fact remains however, this isn’t somebody else providing you with all the answers. If you came expecting to become a better writer, you have a lot of work to do.

I have a lot of other feedback too, and over the weekend intend to throw an e-mail off to the organisers to cover what were, in the main, minor quibbles. Nothing at all made this event anything other than hugely satisfying: that’s really important to state. This isn’t shameless fangirling, but the honest truth. I was given a space in which I could exist with utter safety, with only myself as the restriction. Moments like this need to be grasped, embraced, and then loved for the joy they produce.

This is just one of the many stops on a journey to true enlightenment.

Communication Breakdown

It is incredibly easy, in the midst of a thousand different crisis both mind and body are bouncing between, to believe you’re coping. There is often no time to sit and consider what is taking place around you: simply no right time to do so. Only in the moments of quiet and reflection, often early mornings or late nights, does reality of situations become apparent. Sharing your troubles, undoubtedly, has its advantages.

Talking to someone else can make a world of difference.

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I’ve been in counselling for six weeks. The overriding takeaway from all the sessions is simple: talking really matters. Not being afraid to share everything with someone who is not there to judge or attack, whose task is primarily to listen and make appropriate observations, is probably the most transformative thing that’s ever happened to me. So much of my life before was judgement from others, how their words affected view of self.

Now, it’s about learning how to make informed, sensible decisions without that judgement. How I look at what happens and understand the personal consequences of the actions, and then how these decisions in turn are a measure of my ability to learn and grow. It is apparent that a lot of my issues come from places that are obvious in hindsight. Now they’re exposed, it becomes quite simple to deconstruct and move on.

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The other key point that’s been grasped in this journey revolves around being ‘fixed’ or ‘cured’: it is abundantly apparent that this was never someone else’s task to complete. I’m the one who has to do the work. This is not a case of taking a course of drugs and suddenly problems vanish: for many, however, with the right medication, lives can be radically transformed. This is a discussion that’s been had, and there is no need for me to go down this route.

What happens at the end of twelve weeks is as yet not clear. Right now, the consequences of conversation are having a radical, life enhancing effect on how I conduct absolutely everything. Writing that was previously painful and inaccessible is being returned to, with cautious optimism. Confidence is at its highest point for many, many months. There’s also no fear of taking a step back and relaxing, when the mood takes.

Talking to a counsellor is actively improving my entire existence.

The Shape I’m In

For #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, let me tell you a story about my perception of self.

It began with a man, at my front door, just after we moved into this house, making the moment over 20 years ago. He was collecting data for the Office of National Statistics, and I was in a delicate place, recovering from a miscarriage. Having weighed and measured both me and my husband, I was presented with a green card that stated I was 10 stone 6 pounds and absolutely the right weight for my height and waist size.

I’d felt unhappy and tired that day but this made everything better. When I finally did get pregnant, this would be a benchmark to return to. I knew what was ideal; that would be my aim. For the next 17 years however there’d be a battle with weight that, when combined with Postnatal Depression after the birth of my daughter almost destroyed me for good.

I could not reconcile person before with irreversible changes pregnancy brought to my body.

Keeping weight off became impossible, simply not enough motivation or energy to work hard enough to do so. Dieting, specifically Keto, was responsible for my gallbladder finally failing two years ago and me requiring an operation to remove it. After a decade of trying literally everything to lose weight, it was the introduction of a bio-metric scale to my life that altered perception.

It was Science that freed mind from misguided preconceptions of what ‘looked’ healthy.

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The concept of bioelectric impedance was staggering: it was possible to see how my body was composed, what took place inside it. As it transpires, I was (and still am) incredibly efficient at building muscle to replace what was fat, a process that was taking place as I embarked on a serious, focused exercise routine with a Personal Trainer. In fact the harder things got, the fitter I became. Body shape has radically altered, and instead of being obsessed with thin, what matters more is strong.

This is officially the heaviest I’ve been since the weight loss journey was begun, with the least amount of fat. I am happier than was ever the case when the man gave me his card, on reflection: this form may not be my final one, but it’s a brilliant template that doesn’t expect ‘thin’ to be an answer. Weight loss is not essential to be healthy in my case. If all the remaining fat gets converted to muscle, I’ll be beyond happy, especially on my legs.

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Going back to ‘thin’ was an unrealistic idea considering the physical changes pregnancy wrought on me: I could go try and return to being the woman I was in 1998, but she couldn’t bench press 40kg, or complete a 46 mile bike ride. I like being this person, with true stamina for the first time in my life, who won’t get get tired walking for longer than 30 minutes at a time.

This is what I really am, not what societal norms suggest I need to be.

To find that true body continues to be a tough ask, which makes it even more amazing. It asks a lot from physical and mental toughness, and so far I’m managing to meet most of my challenges head-on. There will be days when it does get too much, but they are fewer and further in-between each time. This is undoubtedly the best my body has ever been, and it will only get better as more effort’s placed into improvement.

Sometimes, it is important to really understand what you see when looking in the mirror. Do you perceive what it is you really are, or are there other things clouding your judgement? For a long time I couldn’t really see what I was, but all that has changed.

I understand now what it is I am.

Somebody To Love

Starting on the 13th, the Mental Health Foundation is launching a week’s worth of posts around the topic of Body Image, and why it remains a serious mental health issue. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, social media pressures and online abuse are rarely out of the news of late, and with increasing numbers of people refusing to be shamed or ashamed by the way they look, it seems the right time to be talking about these issues on a wider stage.

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I’ll be contributing two special blogs next week: one on my own issues with body image and the fight to stop being obsessed with my weight, and some reflections on how age has altered how I feel not only about my looks, but how I present myself to the world. There will also be a special set of poems this week at 9am and 5pm, both under the #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek umbrella.

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You can also join me in wearing a Green Ribbon during the next week as a means of showing your support for the initiative and those who require the vital help and support the Mental Health Foundation provide.

Purchase your Green Ribbon here.

The Shape I’m In

I’ve spent the last couple of years raising money and awareness for various mental health charities, and promoting the events that happen (Time To Talk amongst others.) I also cycled for Mind last year and raised £500 whilst completing the RideLondon 46: thank you again to everybody who supported and helped cheer me on during what was an extremely transformative experience.

This year, I’m making a conscious decision to spend an entire week using words and pictures as an explanation as to how we are often incredibly hard on ourselves as people when it comes to self-image. This is a subject that I don’t often talk about publicly, but my obsession with weight and appearance has been a significant stumbling point to mental well-being across the years, especially after my daughter was born.

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Beauty is an incredibly subjective concept: perception of self massively dictates the ability and confidence of us all to be what it is we wish to become. If you are one of those people lucky enough to block out jibes and taunts of others, confident enough to stand as you are, looking happy and relaxed, those are skills you should be proud of. It has taken me a lifetime to feel a measure of that, and it’s far from a given.

I have some good words standing by for the third week in May (which is not long off now, hence why we’re talking about this now) and I hope you’ll consider reading (and sharing) them for a wider audience, to help the Mental health Foundation spread the word. If it wasn’t for their Mindfulness course, a lot of my progress forward would not have been possible, and it is high time I thanked them publicly for that assistance.

The first poem and article will appear on May 13th. I’ll see you then.