Lexie Runs

We'll run like we're awesome, totally genius

By the way, I told you we were in this

I have not been writing here of late; you may have noticed. In part, I’ve been Very Injured and so have run just a handful of miles since April thanks to the Hip of Doom. But also, I’m just less sure about being Someone Who Talks About Mental Health.

Last year, I filmed with Mind, talking about parkrun and anxiety. In May, I contributed to a piece for the Runner’s World’s website about how running has helped my mental health. I became a Time to Talk Champion. I wrote this blog. I spoke at length, over the course of many many months on social media. I had been so public about my own experiences that I was starting to forget that I was a person beyond them. By putting everything out there, I gave recognition to the fact that practically every aspect of my life was aligned with my tiny broken brain.

More than that, I was bitter, I suppose. Angry with myself for letting everyone into my brain because I thought it was already spilling out of my head, but as it turned out, most people hadn’t realised what a state I was in. Annoyed that after my first panic attack at work, everything spiralled out of control for months on end until I eventually left my job. Hurt that people were praising me for being “brave”, commending me for speaking up and yet I was still getting worse. I wanted this blog and talking more widely to release me but it seemed to be keeping me captive. The more I tried to make things normal by talking about anxiety, the more I felt that there was a label attached to me, marking me as Anxious.

I began to stigmatise myself. The past year has seen a huge push on mental health campaigns and that it’s okay to talk. Things will be better if we talk about it. We need to talk about it. Here I was talking about it and I didn’t feel better. Once again, there was something wrong with me. I had to be the problem, not a world still full of stigma.

And then I met a man. Of course I did, there’s always a man involved at the big turning points in my life. A northern man who on our first date sat on the ground outside a pub with me, and indulged every nonsensical conversation I threw at him. I was excited for the first time in ages and I didn’t want him to know me as Anxious. I wanted some respite, not to talk about mental health, not to be known for it. He was new, he was unconnected to my life, he was a fresh start. There was this glorious idea that I could be charming and funny forever. I could be the version of myself who turns up for first dates, forever.

Nonsense, of course. I couldn’t lock away a portion of my brain forever. If I could I would have done that years ago and solved this whole sorry mess. After a while I started making allusions to it. Casual references here and there. Nothing extreme, but making him aware.

Then two months in we went to the zoo on a Friday night. I was tired, fractious, worrying about work, too quiet. He knew something was wrong. I knew something was wrong. In my usual way, I wasn’t really sure what it was, too many thoughts fighting for dominance. On the Northern Line, I burst into tears. We got off the train. I hyperventilated on the platform. I stalked the streets around Warren Street in a teary blur, him five paces behind me, me begging him to just leave me there. I will never be able to explain how humiliating it is, the first time someone sees you in that state. The moment you realise their vision of you has changed, irreversibly. We got back on the train, got off the train. We loitered at Waterloo for my connection out of London. I cried some more. We got back on the train and he took me home. Three separate trains down the one short stretch of the Northern Line.

I wrote about my problems at work earlier this year. I finally left in late July. I’m going back to London in September, back to law, back to a life I left behind. I was okay, I was excited. Then I started filling in forms for my new job and had to complete a health declaration. And there it was: “Have you had any problems with mental illness such as stress anxiety, depression or an eating disorder?” Where do I start? How can I fit all of this into one tiny box? Eventually I checked yes, and wrote “history of anxiety” in the box for further details. A day later, an Occupational Health Adviser called me and we talked about my history. I put too positive a spin on it. Under pressure I either crack, or I develop the persona of a 1950s tv housewife. Too chirpy. Too bright. Yes, I had experienced a severe generalised anxiety disorder in the past. No, I’m not currently medicated. Yes, I really do think I have a handle on it these days. Too wide eyed and too broad smiled. Always edging towards the manic.

It’s a big international organisation and I’m sure it’s all to provide me with the best support they can. Still, a lot of me thinks that I’ve labelled myself before I’ve even begun. Shown my hand and made them doubt I’m up to the job. Would it have been better not to say anything? History suggests they would have found out eventually but maybe this time…

I can control the manner in which people find out about my mental health but I can’t control their reaction. And I’m a control freak; every facet of this issue links back to my inability to cope when I’m not in control. So maybe that’s my unease about continuing this, that there are too many reactions out there and that by not writing, most of them will never happen. If I shut down, my mental health goes back in its box and it rattles in the corner but it’s not casting a film over everything I do. Once I thought I needed to talk about it to take back control. Perhaps that’s changed. Now talking about it feels like I’m becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more I say, the more ill I become.

The problem is, it’s not just me. I know there are people that have shared my experiences. I know because friends who I would never have suspected of having any problems at all, have come to me, relieved to talk about anxiety, depression, eating disorders, OCD. They couldn’t have done that (with me) if I’d never started talking. I’ve seen people I barely know struggling and been able to offer some semblance of (often flippant) support. Would I have done that if I hadn’t started writing this? I don’t know if I would. I still fully believe that people need to talk about mental health but after two years of being very open about my own, I think I have to stop.

I don’t know what I’m doing right now. 28 years old and I am very lost. I’m not running, certainly. Attempting to stay calm for the impending changes of a life I thought I would never go back to. But this? I’m not sure I can be a mental health advocate whilst staying mentally healthy myself. Maybe that’s done.

Bad things coming, we are safe

Having recently been signed off work due to my anxiety, I thought I should probably start writing again. I remain overly-open about being quite mad on social media, but 140 characters sometimes just isn’t enough. I had purposefully let this blog go quiet for a long time. This was ostensibly because I’m not really running much and am rather less mad these days. And that, dear friends, is what we call hubris.

Towards the end of January, I had a serious panic attack at work. It’s the first I’ve had in this role, triggered by a specific event rather than my general state of mind. Panic attacks aren’t new. Unfortunately, this one happened in front of my manager; to her, it was new. Before I knew it, there was a whole paragraph in my appraisal concerning my mental health. Notes made that I had been medicated, that I had received therapy, that perhaps I felt too muddled for the role. (Nobody, but nobody who has ever met would say I come across as “muddled”.)

A selection of our trustees read our appraisals. I was, understandably, I think, rather unhappy (read: really fucking angry) that people were going to be told that I have been dealing with this since my teens. Since I was legally a child. Telling them this, without my consent. Cue phone calls to Mind’s Legal Line,  to ACAS, to the ICO, anybody who might be able to confirm I should put a stop to this. Having a law degree really helps with knowing what not to stand for. The advice was yes, it was unreasonable but there was little I could do except ask for it to be removed from the report. When that request failed, repeatedly, I gave up.

I phoned my mother in tears who immediately drove to Surrey, to have lunch with her finally beaten daughter. Poor woman, I think she’d hoped to be free of me by almost 28. Hurrah for being signed off work and back on drugs!Over lunch, I phoned my GP.  When he asked what I wanted, I begged he declare me unfit for work for a fortnight. He wrote the certificate immediately, without even seeing me (quote: “well, we can close our eyes and pretend we’re in the same room if you like…”). It was that easy, from that moment I was signed off work. I went back to the office, packed my bag and went home for the next two weeks. Before those two weeks were up, I resignedly phoned my GP again and asked for a prescription for any drugs to get me through my return.

Being signed off work sounds serious…

It does, but the severity of it is somewhat negated by the fact that I chose it. My problem for a long time was that I didn’t recognise how ill I was until it was too late. Now I can recognise that bursting into tears at work isn’t normal. That having a meltdown because I can’t bear to answer my phone or open a letter is no way to live a life. Anxiety is going to be a part of my life forever. There isn’t going to be a day where I wake up and finally, I’m over it. What I can do is mitigate the damage and removing myself from damaging situations is part of that.

My day to day mental health is probably the best it has been for years but that doesn’t render me immune. I still struggle to find enough resilience in difficult situations. True crisis and I’m fine, something deep in my brain kicks in when I know that I simply have to cope. The rest of the time, I’ve worked out a finely tuned balance of various triggers to keep me level. I need to account elsewhere in my lifestyle for each little slip.

The 5 Pillars of Mental Health
  • Exercise: The first pillar to crumble when I’m starting to struggle but it probably has the most pronounced effect. It doesn’t need to be running, a walk will do. But at least twice a week, preferably three times, ideally four. More than four and a different sort of burnout takes hold which in turn affects…
  • Sleep: Seven hours. Functional on six. Five and under and we’re really struggling. Don’t try to make up any deficit at weekends, too much sleep is no better. Nap if needed, but don’t use sleep to escape the way you’re feeling. Try not to need…
  • Caffeine: Minimised. The occasional cup of Earl Grey. I can’t have coffee despite adoring it.
  • Diet: Low carb, high fat.Lots of oily fish, lots of avocado. Running friends are currently gasping at the idea of not eating all the pasta the night before a race. My body can’t handle the blood sugar/insulin changes. It converts me to a toddler on a sugar crash.  Similar to…
  • Alcohol: Despite being famed amongst my friends for my love of a drink (and a correlating talent for spilling them), my boozing days are now largely over. Partly because I’ve always been a lousy drunk. The classic drunk crying girl, a lot of parties have ended with me wailing on the kitchen floor. These days, it’s that my resilience suffers for days afterwards like a lingering after effect to my hangover.

I think this is how everyone’s mind works. Plenty of runners start to feel antsy when injured. Caffeine leaves many of us too wired. We’ve all spent mornings hungover and fragile. Mental health is a spectrum and I’m further along it than others. Life requires balance and mine has always been notoriously bad. Seriously, I fall over a lot. Can’t be surprising that my mind falls over too.

Race Report: Romsey 5 Mile Run (2017 edition)

The Romsey 5 Mile Run seems to be my traditional first race of the year. Organised by Offbeat Events, the race consists of three short laps (plus an additional straight out and back section halfway through the third lap) on the Broadlands estate in Romsey, Hampshire. It’s where the Queen spent her honeymoon (Broadlands, not the race) and it is a very pleasant, if somewhat uninspiring race. Whilst I’m not a fan of laps, it does at least breed familiarity.

I haven’t really “run” since the Valencia 10k in November when a hip injury meant I limped around the course and then took several weeks out after. Since then, I’ve turned up for a few tracks sessions with Guildford & Godalming AC and have steadily subjected myself to a mix of swimming, strength and conditioning work, and a number of treadmill runs. I haven’t been out and run, though.

Romsey 5 Mile Run pace

Can you spot: a) dashing around people, b) giving up for water and c) a sprint finish?

My plan was to bimble along and see what I could do.  A field of 672 made for a slow start and the first two miles were spent trapped in small crowds and dashing around people. It did mean that I couldn’t misjudge my starting pace which allowed a steady increase as I progressed. The second half of each lap has a more uneven surface and a noticeable camber, possibly only because the course feels so perfectly flat for the most part that you notice very slight changes! This made for trying to overtake slightly more annoying during this part of the course.

By the time I was completing the second lap, the frontrunners were speeding past us, the winner finishing in 25:42. Despite repeated shouts, a lot of runners didn’t really seem to comprehend instructions to “keep left” and hampered faster runners. Shortly after the 3-mile marker, I attempted to have some water at the first water station and promptly poured most of it down myself (cannot wait to see my race photos…).  As I wasn’t concerned about time, I took the opportunity to pause at the second water station. Cups, they somehow baffle and outwit me every time. With only the second half of the final lap to go, I tried to keep my pace fairly measured until the finish line was in sight. Looking at watch data, it seems I really reigned myself in before a steady acceleration with a few hundred metres to go.

My chip time was 51:13, so somewhere between 3:30 and 4 minutes slower than last year. Despite that, I think I ran better today than last year. Romsey 5 Mile Finishers textI’m currently about 14lbs heavier than I was for this race in 2016 and I am uncomfortably aware of the excess. Last year I was midway through a dedicated regimen of Sunday long slow runs in the approach to Bath Half; a practice that has been dropped while I desperately try to rehabilitate my hip. In 2016 I raced, struggled to hold a steady pace and found it difficult. This year I held back, purposefully keeping my breath steady and controlled throughout. I tried to stay aware of my hip and my form.

Could I have run faster today; almost certainly, but gains made in running aren’t just about speed. All in all, I’m happy with today’s performance. I think I mitigated a surprising amount of damage to my result given how different my circumstances are from last year.

Romsey 5 Mile medals, 2016 v 2017

Medals: 2016 v. 2017

Romsey 5 Mile Run – Is it worth it?

Offbeat Events must be given huge credit; they have only improved a race I already thought of fondly. A greatly improved medal, a new finisher’s t-shirt, a near automatic text with my chip time, live web results. It all made the event feel bigger than it is. At the same time, it hasn’t lost anything that makes it feel such a local, homely event.  Local clubs still play a prominent part. A man with a microphone still shouts your number as you finish and enthuses about how well you’ve done. The goodie bag is reassuringly standard and devoid of rubbish: water, banana, Haribo, medal, t-shirt; a flyer to the Romsey 5 Mile Beer race handed to you separately. Should that appeal, there are still places in their Winchester 10km Road Race in February.

I have every intention to keep up my tradition of making Romsey 5 Mile my first race of the year and will drag more people with me each year.

Romsey 5 Mile Run

My little ginger face and my medal

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