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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Sport 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:
- Polar Bear is easy to remember for its similarity to BiPolar.
- 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.
- 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
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.