What I wish my illness could do in my absence

Pushing the Zone

A time warp moment.

Just six weeks ago I could barely contemplate going for a run, and now I’m planning the challenge of my lifetime. How come I’ve gained so much ground in such a relatively short time? Where is the research that can follow this and report back so that it can be handed out to others when they’re also on the brink of collapse? Surely someone should be bottling this up for distribution.

Here’s what happened. I got inspired. Plain and simple! Why couldn’t I have been inspired back in March when I went into freefall? Who knows. Timing is obviously key, but also the right kind of inspiration. You see, I wasn’t inspired by a world champion, a polar explorer or even Bradley Wiggins. I was inspired by my next door neighbour. I was inspired by the fact that she (my neighbour) had finally taken up sport and exercise because she’d realised that she was not getting any younger or fitter, and felt unhealthy, with a busy family, work and social life, and ultimately needed to feel better about herself. And she went and did it! No major races, no crowning glory. Just for self-satisfaction and to feel better, the result being that she looked healthier for it too. That simple recognisance that my neighbour had done something that I’ve been living and preaching for many years had helped to turn the active lights back on inside my head.

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So I started running. But me being me, I needed a goal to aim towards to motivate me. I couldn’t think of one off the top of my head, but the Bipolar UK newsletter came into my inbox just when I needed an aim – to fundraise for them and take on the Cardiff Half Marathon. My previous post When Irony Strikes Hot covers some of this – I decided to take on two events, the Eirias Triathlon (for which my partner and I won the relay prize) and a week later the Cardiff Half on 4th October. Both running parts would be wearing a polar bear outfit and I would be recognised as BiPolarBear. It was a good call, the race was not only fun but I laughed, danced and nearly cried throughout it. Supporters called out my name – be it Polar Bear, Super Bear, Super Teddy, Teddy Bear, or even Bipolar Bear – and I felt like a celebrity, bringing smiles and joy to the crowds. I momentarily considered applying to Disney World for a spot in their park.

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Photo courtesy of Lee Slocombe

Crossing the finish line, I certainly was spent, wearing a full head-to-toe costume on a body that already sweats profusely once the heating goes up was tough. One thing that will stay with me is the support from other runners, giving me water on the route and at the end, congratulating me for my efforts as they overtook me, and generally recognising that I was doing something with an additional challenge.

Getting home, jubilant that the fundraising support had raised over £450, and having done my first 13.1 miles in a year, I noticed that this buzz was still ongoing. I was riding on some emotion that I didn’t want to lose. It was the challenge, the adrenaline, the realisation that I had done something I never thought I would and achieved it, and why couldn’t I do more?

So I am now here, in my studio, preparing a challenge that will take about six weeks to complete, will stretch my body to its ultimate limits, and push me so far out of my physical comfort zone, it’s positively astronomical (for me). The funny thing is, mentally, I’ve already completed it.

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Which possibly speaks volumes: there is no correlation between mental illness and mental weakness.

If you’d like to donate to the Bipolar UK cause you can visit my fundraising page for ongoing efforts here. Thank you!

When Irony Strikes Hot

It’s now early Autumn and the year is inching towards its final days. It appears to have disappeared in a blink of an eye. The past six months have been spent in near solitary confinement, the anxiety of being near people and having to talk left me feeling frightened and exposed. Over the years I’ve spent many days in post-recovery scenarios, eating, drinking, sleeping, stretching, or not using certain limbs at all in order to get back up on my feet and go again as soon as possible. Sometimes recovery runs were required, sometimes a good night’s sleep, plenty of protein and water just fit the bill nicely. I always knew what to do and reassured myself that my recoveries were a requisite part of training.

This half year, I came to realise that recovery was not just an opportunity to come back fitter and stronger, it was an opportunity to re-evaluate life from all angles. This recovery though is of another form – I have been recovering from a case of major depression which followed a manic episode of absolute joy and creativity. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in April and spent much of the time following that in a probable state of shock, grief, anger and disbelief as well as realisation, recognisance, and doh! moments upon reflection. This time, my recovery was all in my mind. I had to let my brain recover. Most frustratingly, there wasn’t anything anyone outside the parameters of my skull could do to help. I couldn’t get my sports therapist Gerwyn to massage my brain. My partner Tom couldn’t give my brain a hug. As much as I knew I needed to recover, recover in to what state and as who was more frightening. As a result anxiety reached out and gripped me around the throat, paranoia too, and food, company, exercise and compliments became my enemies. In order to be well, I had to face a heck of a lot of issues about what happens next.

The first port of call for the psychiatrist was to prescribe Lithium. At that time, I really wasn’t in a position to request anything, challenge anything, and being told what to do was all I could handle. Being depressed really does make you a puppet to those who hold the keys. Ruby Wax recently noted on a daytime show that those who are ill need someone else to sort out the small stuff and to fight your corner, because you can’t. Only, the government and the NHS expect you to. After months of many horrendous side effects to the Lithium, it starts to work, but only at the point where I made a decision in my own mind to get well, frustrated with the lack of support out there and the pressures of society to keep up or be churned up. That was the point where I started to take back control of my life, in as much as I possibly could. My program for my recovery, which began only three weeks ago, has become about my passions. What drives me? Sport. Health. Nutrition. Spirituality. Love.
IMG_5926IMG_5700Sport isn’t a cure-all. I’m still very sensitive to what people say and do, but I’m at least at the point of taking care of me, which means I can help take care of my family. This reminds me of one of Jim Rohn’s sayings: “I’ll take care of me for you, if you’ll take care of you, for me”.

Challenging myself to recover by taking on sporting events gives me a focus other than my insecurities, and nurtures that altruism that appears to me to be what this whole drama is about. That this happened to me so that I can help others. How, exactly, remains to be seen, but I’m beginning with two events dressed as a Polar Bear in support of the charity Bipolar UK: Eirias Standard Triathlon which took place last weekend on 26th September, and Cardiff Half Marathon, which is happening in just four days’ time, on 4th October. The reason I choose to take on a costume is symbolic for three reasons:

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  1. Polar Bear is easy to remember for its similarity to BiPolar.
  2. Bipolar Disorder will never go away. It is my burden to carry, and I will run to show others that I carry this with me, and it’s heavy.
  3. Tuesday 6th October is Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day. There is still plenty of stigma attached to mental health, and the more it is spoken about, the more it is recognised that we all have mental health and everyday life should be about taking care of that as well as our physical health.

I am competing to raise money for the only dedicated charity to Bipolar Disorder in this country, Bipolar UK. The charity is small but has given my family support that could not be given by the NHS. Coming to terms with a condition is required through empathy, not pills. If you’d like to get involved in support, please click here.

Staying well, for now, means staying on Lithium – even though I would rather not be taking Lithium due to the side effects on my kidneys – I do recognise that my family would probably prefer that I stay on this program so that I am able to function. It seems a fair request. However, it has highlighted to me that for many years now I have been trying to get rid of the toxicity of products and food:

  • Eating organic food where possible so that my body isn’t contaminated with pesticides
  • Practically tea-total, mostly I don’t like the taste of alcohol, which helps
  • Using vegan make up, skin care and hair care products that do not contain petrochemicals
  • Not drinking or eating fizzy pop or processed food – although my vice has always been chocolate and ginger beer
  • Using a deodorant, not an anti-perspirant, that is aluminium-free
  • Keeping my sports recovery fuel to coconut water and vegan protein recovery shakes

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It seems that my efforts to keep my body clean and to train clean is now being hampered by my own condition, by the very construct of my brain. It hardly seems fair, but then again, fair is not the issue, it’s how I respond and deal with this. Sometimes I do get angry thinking that I am someone who harps on about cutting out all the rubbish that so many companies pump into their food, toiletries and products, and yet I have to pump in chemicals that are having a direct impact on my day-to-day life. The irony of it all is not lost on me. Do I let it become such an issue that I am angry my whole life? Do I give up and become the recluse that I crave to be? The rational part that is currently working tells me that each day, if I do something with this knowledge that I now have, I could make a difference. Sometimes that concept is too much to bear, I don’t want the responsibility. But knowing that running, as an example, being something that I have been doing for years, could help raise funds to employ extra service providers who could be the ones to talk someone out of jumping from a bridge, or giving up on their family, then yes, I can run. And I’ll gladly wear a furry white suit to do it.

The Beast nears

Nine days to go till this beast of a race! I’d be lying if I didn’t say I get scared as well as excited when thinking about taking part. This is an arduous course, the weather is never favourable, and the tarmac relentlessly either uphill or down.

http://www.snowdoniamarathon.co.uk

Llanberis to Pen y Pass climb. 5km of pure uphill.
Llanberis to Pen y Pass climb. 5km of pure uphill.

49 miles put in this month so far…believe me that’s a lot of time to find and squeeze in around a life of work, university, family, eating and sleeping. As well as hockey, core work and events.

Recently I’ve been reviewing my running journey, the spiritual path that I’ve discovered, the therapy, the pain, the growth. Whilst I was out running yesterday – 20 miles over Welsh rugged mud-sucking farmers’ fields, rivers of rain flowing down the roads carrying the fallen autumn leaves, ever-growing puddles at each kissing-gate – my thoughts were bright, positive, determined, and completely focused on the task of being the very best runner I can be. I contemplated on the realisation that all of my running gear was at least three years old. My Saucony Jazz TR 14 trail shoes full of holes with the sole pulling away. My Skins leggings losing their grip on my legs with only the faded memory of their diamond pattern. My Montane jacket torn around the arms from too many rucksack adjustments and close-encounters with brambles.

After many hundreds of mountain miles and races, my Saucony Jazz TR 14s are on their last legs.
After many hundreds of mountain miles and races, my Saucony Jazz TR 14s are on their last legs.

But such is the nature of the beast. I am taking on this challenge and everything that comes with it, with the additional task of raising funds for a very worthy cause, and in contrast to the nature of the charity’s aim, I am a very lucky person indeed.

Help me to help Awyr Las, the North Wales NHS Charity for Cancer patients which is 100% reliant on donations to provide patients with comfort, transport, and all the other small things that we can all take for granted until we need someone else to provide them.
It’s a small charity so it doesn’t benefit from the massive campaigns that the country gets involved in, please remember the smaller ones who are in your community too!

https://www.justgiving.com/YvieRunsSnowdonia/

In exchange for one day’s brew, you can now donate towards the North Wales Cancer charity by text! Simply text EVRN79 £1 to 70070. And it will add Gift Aid too.

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To just put it out there, into the Universe, a new pair of trail Sauconys size 40 would be genuinely appreciated. And if you can donate them for my race, I will auction them off after the event to raise more money for the cause. I want to give back, and give BIG!

Thank you so much! ❤

The Healing Mountains

In less than 8 weeks I will be pounding the tarmac around Snowdonia in order to raise money for Awyr Las Gogledd Cymru – Blue Sky North Wales.

Yes, I have run the Snowdonia Marathon before, three and four years ago, and I expect some of you will see this as no big deal for me.

The last time was incredibly difficult; a lot was happening in my life that needed sorting, in work, health, and relationships, and inevitably this messed with my race head. I also finished with a broken tooth.

A failed mission, I decided not to race long-distance after that. Too many demons had found their way into the system.

I took almost two years out of running, with the odd run training over the past year in between injuries, and once I’d found happiness and my bounce again, I knew it was time to do more. 

I’m now in a position to get back on the horse, and get my marathon+ legs back into action. After much ummming and ahhhing, passing the race entry deadline, I knew that if I was to go through this again I would need to support a charity to do so, and take on that challenge as well as training.

So I am very pleased to be able to support the Alaw Cancer Unit at Ysbyty Gwynedd!

Cancer affects everyone, and for me it has been prevalent in relation to my family, my friends, my teachers, and my colleagues.

I am running in the Snowdonia Marathon and raising money for the Alaw Cancer Unit in North Wales at the same time.

Over 4,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in North Wales every year and by 2020 nearly one in every two people will be expected to have cancer during their lifetime. 

The nursing, medical and support staff at the Centre are incredible, but extraordinary care needs extraordinary support.

The Alaw Cancer Unit relies on donations to fund basic but important extras, which help brighten patients’ days. Many people don’t realise that things like: magazines; transport for patients; counselling for patients and relatives; bespoke wigs; specialist equipment and complementary therapies are funded by donations through Awyr Las, the NHS charity in North Wales.

I know your support will make a huge difference to patients with cancer and their families.

I will have various events to encourage you to help raise money for this race, and my goal is the minimum of £200…but I know that we can raise so much more.

Over the next two months I will be hosting Arbonne Healthy Living Workshops and selling some of my artwork, with all commission from the events and artwork as your donation in lieu towards Awyr Las, as well as putting in the mileage to get a sub-4hrs. I know I can do it, and every encouragement will push me to do the unit and the supporters proud.

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Please help me to support the amazing work they do. 

Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

Thank you!

Yours in healthy sport.

Yvie ★

https://www.justgiving.com/YvieRunsSnowdonia/