Thursday, 2 July 2020

Running is cool.

Plot twist: I really, really enjoy running. For anyone who knows me even remotely this is something I don't think anyone saw coming. For my entire life before now I have declared myself an anti-runner. I could not think of anything I would like to do less. I despised cross country PE lessons and walked in rebellion at the back every time. I thought that the 100m on sport's day was okay but only because it was over very quickly. I thought that people who ran for fun were crazy and scoffed when they suggested that I tried it out. I thought that it was painful and boring and exhausting and I could get my exercise elsewhere. Except for the fact that after I gave up rock climbing and dancing the only exercise I got was the enforced 2.5 mile cycle from my college into town, and after that there was nothing. For my entire adult life I have done little to no exercise. I thought that I was fine with that, I thought it was just my personality type. Now I am beginning to realise that I was missing out on something.

I am not going to write about how everyone should run (although, coming from someone who hated it and now loves it maybe everyone genuinely should give it a go) I just wanted to express the newfound pleasure that it brings me.

I started with the Couch to 5k app, and I am now on week 9 and I can run for 30 minutes without feeling like I might drop dead. Jo Wiley has been the encouraging voice in my ear, interrupting whichever podcast I am listening to tell me I've run for "5 minutes", "15 minutes", "you've got only 60 seconds left!" I started running at the beginning of lockdown because I felt unfit and at a slightly uncomfortable weight and I felt that I should do something about it. Then I stopped the app because I had to deal with feeling incredibly sad. Then I started the app and started running again because I felt incredibly sad and I wanted to give myself something to focus on. Turns out that was one of the best decisions I made in a bad situation.

I built up my runs week by week. At the beginning I was impressed when I could run for 3 minutes without stopping. I couldn't really imagine what running for 30 minutes would be like so I just took each run as it came, never looking into the future to worry about it. Each time the minutes spent running increased I surprised myself. Running became easier, then harder, then easier again. I don't think I have ever experienced physical training in the same way before, the way each improvement makes you feel proud and positive.

Now that I might in some small way be able to call myself a runner I can truly say that the most satisfying, most enjoyable part of running is the mental bit. I know that everyone told me endorphins would make me feel really good, even on really sad days, but I didn't realise they would feel that good. It is addictive. The rush after completing a run lasts for the rest of the day and I know that in retrospect that pleasurable, relaxing feeling was building up during the run too. I know this because when I imagine myself running now, or when I think back through my run, it makes me excited about going out to do it again. I forget when it was hard, or when I wanted to stop, I just remember that I kept going and how good that felt.

The meditative and mindful quality of running is something I was surprised by. I can notice my body in ways that I usually don't. I can notice and enjoy the rhythm of my steps and become so entranced by it that I forget I am running. The simple 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2 fading in and out of my awareness. I am always so amazed by how at first my breathing is ragged and almost panicky, but I push my way through it until the breath is calm and rhythmic and it carries me through. I always think, right at the beginning, that I can't do it, that I'm going to give up and then only a few minutes later I am rounding the corner of that country lane and the yellow house comes into view and oh... I have been running for five minutes and I forgot how hard it was to start.

Running, in so many ways, has been an extremely effective form of therapy over the last few weeks. I have taught myself the value of focussing solely on the task at hand and not worrying about what happens next. I have watched myself improve and grow and learn to love something new. I have put in a lot of physical and mental effort and been able to reap the benefits. And when I feel like complete and utter crap I have a way of getting out, giving myself an endorphin rush and a reason to feel proud and coming back feeling calmer and more positive.

I am not a good runner and I have a lot of improvements to make but that makes me love it even more. I have more to look forward to, more to work on, more things to discover about myself and my body. I don't care that right now I must be pretty slow, because it is such an enjoyable thing to do, such a wonderful and loving thing to do for myself, that I am not self-conscious or competitive about it in the slightest. It is a personal journey that allows me to see the joy in solitude.

I am most likely preaching to the choir here. So many friends and advice columns and health nuts have told me how great running is in the past and I have just dutifully ignored them. I thought I hated running so much that it would never make me feel anything other than miserable. I guess that is another lesson I have learned: the older I get, I realise the less I know about myself and that countless, unpredictable joys and adventures lie ahead. Even when I am moping about thinking that nothing good or exciting will ever happen again, I can counteract that with the absolute fact that they most definitely will and they will be bigger and better and more surprising than I could have ever imagined.

Friday, 29 May 2020

Like clouds across the sky.

I am so fickle when it comes to my emotions. I have had moments of such plain sailing that I wish for something, anything, to make a splash whether it be happy or sad. In these moments I forget how exhausting it is to be either. I forget quite how dark dark moments can be. I think, "have my emotions gone now? Will I be flat-lining forever? Did I use everything up?". The answer is, of course, no. And as soon as I stop "flat-lining" on feelings and dip below into something unpleasant, I wish once more for the sense of being just 'okay'.

It is hard to accept any status of being. When I am happy I fear for the end of the happiness, when I am excited I wonder about possible disappointment, when I am sad I wish desperately for it to be over, when I am neutral I forget all of that. I wonder what would happen if I just was. If I just listened and observed, or simply allowed any feeling that I might have, would I enjoy and appreciate it more? Or, with feelings that are uncomfortable, if I stopped trying to fight them would they dissipate quicker?

I have been trying to forgive myself recently, and trying to be kind, and trying to let myself be. If I sink low I try and say "Yes, that's okay. That's normal. Just let it be".  And most of the time it works. It comes and goes. I let it in, and then it leaves me more peacefully that if I had tried to put up a fight.

The same goes for moments of lightness, if I let it come in, if I don't question or analyse it,  I find it stays for longer, it is more enjoyable. I ignore my thoughts when they say, "why are you happy? Let me find all the sad things. Remember the turmoil? Should that come back? Remember why you were sad? When will this end? Happiness doesn't last!"

I think it is working. I feel softer, more at peace. Even the moments of turmoil feel less sharp when they come and go. Even the moments of plain sailing, the flat-lining, the neutrality of feeling, they feel calm and gentle. If I just stop and observe, or if I just let it be, I feel the tension drain away and I watch as all these different colours and feelings wave in and out like clouds across the sky.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Sitting with the pain.

Some days there is no other choice but to sit with whatever discomfort has settled in your chest. Some days the emotion you are experiencing feels like actual physical pain and there is nothing to do but let it wave through you. It might feel like you are drowning, but eventually the wave is going to spit you back out onto the shore. You just have to relax, close your eyes, and wait for the moment to pass. Even if that moment lasts for days, it will end.

I say this like it is easy. I say this like the feeling of helplessness does not emphasise the pain with additional rising panic. I say this like my instinct is not to fight, even when there is nothing to fight, even when the only option is to let time heal.

Time takes so long to heal, but when I look back it will be no time at all.

Today I have sat with such pain. It is still there. I needed to write this down just to say that I have sat with pain all day. I needed to call into the void (that is not the void but instead filled with so many lovely people) and say hello? is anyone there? i have felt so much pain today. 

And as soon as I write that down, as soon as I hit 'publish', I know the pain will go away a little bit. Just a little bit. At least there is one way to take away some of its power.

Monday, 11 May 2020

My brain is a bad friend.

I think it was Deborah Frances-White who did a skit on 'The Guilty Feminist' podcast in which she imagined that the negative voice inside her head was her psychopathic room-mate. It sounded like a thriller. No person would ever speak to another human like that, let alone someone they loved and cared about.

I remembered this the other day when I was imagining what it would be like if I said the horrible things I can say to myself to my friends. The result would be that I would have approximately zero friends afterwards and it would be completely understandable. Imagine, for example, if a friend came to me straight after a breakup and I said "Well, of course this means that you will never, ever find love again and you will suffer with this heartache for the rest of your life. Also, you must have done something to deserve it because you are probably not worthy of being loved." Rightly so that friend would likely back away slowly and never return.

The thing is, not only would I never, ever say that to a friend, or even a stranger, I wouldn't actually believe it. I have complete and utter faith that every single person in my life is not only worthy of love, happiness and success in whatever form that might take but also that they will inevitably find those things throughout their lives. I believe so wholeheartedly in my friends being deserving of love that I will personally be the sole provider if things should ever come to that.

Why, then, is it so easy to believe and say the complete opposite to myself?

As I was writing this my dad sent me a blog post by Mary O'Malley about the concept of things being "unfair". This line seemed particularly apt: "But then I remembered that our minds have been trained to struggle and, instead of contracting, I began to laugh." And then, "There is absolutely nothing that your mind does that you need to judge." My dad didn't know that I was sat in my room writing this blog post, so perhaps he is secretly telepathic.

Of course the voice in my head is a harsher critic of and a worse friend than I would ever be to another person but the key is probably in recognising this. I have set a challenge for myself that the next bad thought I think about myself I will ask, "would you say that to or believe that of your sister? your friend? a girl you met drunk in the pub toilets?" and when the answer is inevitably "no" I will, like Mary O'Malley, simply laugh. And those kindly, gentle, beautiful things I would say to the people I love I will repeat to myself because, like everyone else, my feisty little head deserves that too.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

My virtual support group.

I often find myself plunging into books and podcasts as soon as anything goes wrong, or not how I'd planned it, or when I am overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the future. The books are almost primarily autobiographies or memoirs written by women and the podcasts follow the same sort of theme. I want desperately to find similarities between my life and the lives of women that I admire. I am mostly drawn to women because I feel I can more readily relate to their experiences. I need to know that they failed, that they felt heartbreak, that they had bleak thoughts about the days that lay ahead of them. I try to fill myself with as many examples as possible of the light at the end of the tunnel. I seek constant reminders that, no, it will not feel like this forever.

Comparing my own life with the lives of others has its benefits and downfalls. It allows me to remind myself that I am not alone, that there will always be 'downs' but also many 'ups', and that if I work hard my life will eventually ebb and flow in the direction that was meant to be. However, the comparisons can often become arbitrary and futile. If I find out, for example, that at twenty two the author had a string of successful relationships, a job that was leading her to her dream career, and she wasn't still sleeping in her childhood bedroom I instantly think of my own life and assume that I have already failed. What I forget in these moments is that, actually, I am not living anyone's life but my own. To compare something as completely personal as relationships and aspirations is to ignore the nuances and even the beauty of my own experience.

At the same time I find reading and hearing the witty, clever words of women who are wiser and more experienced than I am incredibly soothing. I escape into the actual lives of others to quieten my own mind when it whirs on and on about the future, or about the state of the present. I think particularly at this moment in time when surrounding myself with other people is impossible, instead I surround myself with a sort of virtual support group, finding voices that can soothe a troubled heart.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Oversharing therapy.

I have no qualms with airing my dirty laundry on the Internet and in my writing. Of course, it depends on what the laundry is but if it is something I would talk about openly in person then I will write about it and share it online too. I know that I have said this before, but right now I am finding myself airing my dirty laundry all over the shop.

I have no qualms because in every single sense sharing my pain, my worries, my thoughts with almost everyone available is intensely therapeutic. It allows me to connect with others when I feel lonely or afraid, it allows me to process how I am feeling, it allows me to ground myself in hope and move forward when staying in my own head makes me feel like I am drowning. Occasionally, it allows me to comfort others as well as being comforted myself. That is usually the sweet spot - to feel less alone, to have helped another person, to know that we will both get through whatever it is.

I have made friends through "oversharing", it has made way for life-changing opportunities, and I have connected on a deep, emotional level with fellow human beings.

So, in order to not drown in my own head, I will continue to write and share my way out of this pain, these worries, these thoughts.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Keep going, keep going, keep going.

Being twenty-two feels like the worst thing in the world even though I know that it might be one of the best.

The problem with being twenty-two is that I am not old enough to truly know that life is long and sprawling, and not young enough to see it all hopefully before me. Even though I know that it is all before me, and I know that it is long.

I know that life will keep being thrown up in the air and I may or may not get better at dealing with it but I will always get through it.

I know that right now my heart is hurting and it feels like it might never stop hurting, but I know that it will because it did before. At least I am old enough now to know that.

Being twenty-two feels like the worst thing in the world because I just want to know that I will be okay when I do not feel okay and I can't see into the future. I want my older self to come and cradle me. I want her to show me all the things I do, all the people I meet, all the love I have. I want her to come and tell me that the fear that spreads out through my chest right now is futile. There is nothing to fear.

There is nothing to fear but I am scared of wanting things in case I never get them. I am scared of disappointment because I know what it feels like and I want it to end.

But at the same time I am not scared of failure because I know that I never will fail. Not truly, not finally, not permanently. I know that I am strong enough and brave enough and wilful enough to keep going, keep going, keep going.

Being twenty-two feels weird because I know that there is a future self that is telling me all these things right now. She is there, and I am here, and we co-exist. I move towards her but she is never still. She whispers back to the self that I am now and says that my big, beating, bleeding heart only ever gets bigger, only ever keeps healing.

Being twenty-two is the best thing in the world because I am here, I am living, and my heart is beating so fast and so hard and I can look forwards and backwards and know that life is good and pain is good and love is always, always there.

And, being twenty-two, I will get up off the floor (get up, Mollie!) and keep going, keep going, keep going.