Fierce Bright Star

What I understood about my journey to diagnosis and beyond, after running 1800 miles across the UK, came out (unexpectedly, I must add) in the form of a poem.

What I wish my illness could do in my absence

Just breathe

Some words need life breathing into them, others just drip off the tongue like honey.

img_0800It’s a peculiar time right now. Nothing appears to follow any order, routine, sequence or plan. Each day, in fact each hour, is a different story to tell, a different emotion heralding a seemingly different outcome. It’s confusing.

Keeping a focus on running now is harder than it was five months ago. Back then I was running to free myself from the shackles of a shame, a stigma—self-created no doubt—and a sense of loss. Loss of who I thought I was and what I would end up doing if only I just kept on…keeping on?

img_0834It all seems so much more complex than I wanted it to be. I’m still getting to grips with being social on all sorts of social media. It’s unnerving. I’m still petrified of using a phone and yet for every tweet one part of me says – get involved, make it sassy, make it witty, be casual, be bright & bubbly – then before I know it the other half is whimpering with fear that someone will take offence, that someone will not understand and confront me and I’ll be forced to retire from social media altogether. It’s a situation that isn’t making my task to campaign loud and proud easy by any stretch of the imagination. Some days the social bit is so overwhelming that I take naps to climb down from the ceiling.

This whole sense of mirky-jiggly-ness is part of my condition. I understand that now and I need it to run its course. But it’s flipping hard. I rested yesterday, but for the rest of the week I have mileage to gain. I’m also going to shoot a little video of what I’m doing to help my running. Some of them I am honing in on to build my resilience, such as yoga and meditation.

Focusing on the running alone would be very welcome right now.

img_0829My head is at war, it’s a little like a part of me has discovered mutiny, things just aren’t adding up, I’m not sure why I ever thought this was a good idea, I’m rubbish with numbers anyway. Organising lodgings, getting my kit across the country, having some support on the road, it’s all starting to weigh on my mind. I haven’t figured out food yet. I’m resigning myself to flannel baths. And so far my current Hoka One Ones have about two weeks running left in them before they need to be retired. My mind is screaming to jack it in. Why bother?! Why do this when no one cares! Everyone has their own issues, everyone is raising money for something, why on earth would what I do make a difference to anybody when I can’t even manage to make a living.

I am honestly asking myself, “why don’t I just close up shop, say I can’t, and head back under the duvet until the episode has passed? Or even stay there?” Is that unreasonable?

img_0801I don’t know what it is exactly that is keeping me going on this tightrope of a course, but whatever it is it’s pushing me. It’s reminding me of the primary school in Enfield where small children needed help. It’s making me think of my friend Gavin Zibe who took his own life just when he needed help the most. It’s a feeling that is stronger than me.

It’s telling me, like a quiet whisper, that this can make a difference, even for just one person.

And so the fight goes on.

The Greatest Rant of All

So here’s the thing; sometimes I am irritated by just about everything that is going on around me, a distraction so wanton and even ridiculous, that I can talk myself into a destructive stupor.

This is an insight into what happens when a Mixed State begins to take hold, whilst I still have the presence of mind to recognise it’s happening. For the Wiki fans amongst you, here’s their initial description:

“In the context of mental disorder, a mixed affective state, also known as a ‘mixed’ or ‘mixed-manic’ episode, is a condition during which features of mania and depression—such as agitation, anxiety, fatigue, guilt, impulsiveness, irritability, morbid or suicidal ideation, panic, paranoia, pressured speech and rage—occur simultaneously or in very short succession.

In current psychiatric nomenclature, they are a defining feature of bipolar I disorder, a type of bipolar disorder wherein mania or, less commonly, mixed-mania alternate with euthymia and, in the vast majority of cases, depression.”

What does this mean?

For myself, and perhaps for others with Bipolar Disorder Type I, this is hell in its simplest form. The depressions are not hell for me, the mixed states are. They are hell because I feel depressed, so I feel suicidal, low, demotivated, fatigued in spirit, but I have a mind that is speeding up and needing to process information faster than the world is turning around me, which is dizzying in itself, and feeling suicidal in that state is likely to be the time when the act is carried out because it is simply mental torture. It’s also hell because it’s not actually a depression, so rather than not being bothered about anything, I am quite simply bothered by everything! I become sensitive to sounds, smells, sudden movement, intakes of breath, movements of the body, movements of the eyes, I become super-paranoid, everyone is talking about me and none of it is pretty. It’s hell because I want to carry on with my day but it seems that everyone is turning against me; every car, every dog, every pencil, every raindrop. It’s hell because suddenly I am angry at everyone and I am afraid that I will say something that can’t be unsaid, damage a relationship that can’t be undone. The rants that go on inside my head are more potent and poisonous and feverish than a US political debate from within a MMA wrestling cage. It’s hell because this is the danger zone for me, where I am likely to stop out of spite, disappear, run away, give up, rant, rant rant, and rant some more because it’s spilling through my ears and into my nose and down my throat straight to my exploding heart to encompass every fibre of my being. I am a walking rant because my mind has decided it’s time to flip the switch to ‘shake it up’-mode.

What does this mean?

For my family, it means I am more than annoying. I am irritable, uncomfortable to be around, likely to snap at the slightest misdirection. I only demand, I don’t ask politely. I consistently blame, unless chocolate is delivered. Why chocolate, I’m not sure, but it appears to be my only true comfort food. Galaxy or Milka if you’re asking. I use blackmail to get what I need to try and dampen the fires in my mind. It’s not because I want to, it’s because I am trying to stop the noise, the demons, the deluge of rage that is flooding my bloodstream and infecting my soul. But don’t be asking me to calm down, don’t try to help me, because this will stoke the fire and cause me to feel guilty and guilt is only translated into even more rage. It just needs to pass. Unfortunately, it’s not a constant, these emotions swell and dip like the waves on the ocean, and there is little self-control to assist. This is the unpredictable nature of a mental illness.

What does this mean?

For society it’s a situation that lends itself to disaster. Acting out in a mixed state could be misinterpreted as something antisocial, even criminal, and likely to bring about the detention of ill people. Ill people who are then arrested. Ill people who are sectioned. Ill people who are misunderstood because they are acting outside of the accepted boundaries of social norms – norms that don’t take into account that not all minds are created equally, which does not mean that any are less normal than the other.

So what happens next?

Today, I can sense this dark storm cloud approaching, its lightning bolts scare me, the thunder is deep and threatening. I want this to pass swiftly, painlessly. Medications have limits. Unless I am drugged into numbness they could never outsmart the mind. Running now will be uncomfortable, and the inside of my head will resemble a car crash, but I can only hope that running will assist the transition and bring about some peace of mind. Literally. I have to believe in the running.

Don’t be afraid of this situation.

Believe me, I am more scared than you are because I don’t know how it will end (and nothing is more fearful than loss of self-control), but that said, when the mind is in sleep mode (not asleep but dormant of rage), it is possible to learn from, reflect on, and become aware of a deeper essence of life in a way that is immeasurable and perhaps inaccesible to those who are not struck with a mental illness. It is a glimpse of a spiritual awakening, because the flurry of ideas, topics, emotions, iotas of light that twinkle in the mind, are all part of the link between what humans think they know, and what they’ve yet to understand if only they could disassociate themselves from materialism. This is the interesting part of the Mixed State. It is a gateway, yes, through hell, but it certainly leads to something incredibly beautiful.

If only I could keep hold of that aspect for longer.

When the Wizard came to Wales

It’s like a dream come true.

I’m training at the gym, working to strengthen up my core, my glutes, my knees, my arms and my back because weak buttocks can ruin a runner (I read that in a book), and I don’t want a weak butt. And while I’m set with my morning and mid-run caffeine cuddle (TrueStart Coffee), my 100% amino acid vegan protein greens balance recovery fuel (a mouthful to say but ultra-delicious) (Arbonne) and my nutrition plan for a happy tummy (loadsa veg & 9Bars), along comes a magical little sachet that has just topped up my How to Run with Awesome plan to veritable Fierce mode!

Meet the newest member of the Fierce Mind endurance running family – Tailwind!

IMG_7331

I asked another endurance runner who is starting out on a John O’Groat’s to Land’s End run (incidentally the same day that I start at the LE end) what his nutrition was for the run. He said tail wind. I laughed. My mind conjured up someone running with the wind behind him, relying on wind energy to power his trajectory. “What if the wind changed direction?” I mumbled to myself. Obviously, the more I raised an awkward eyebrow, the more he realised that I didn’t know have a scooby what ‘tail wind’ was. So he briefed me, and after I got home and googled and pondered and calculated the nutritional maths calculations with my calculator and realised that the calories and carbs were significantly increased compared to how I had intended to run (just add food), plus that it was (to my utter content) gluten free, I bought some.

First thing I noted was that they asked me what I was training for and when my next event was at the checkout – it’s worth mentioning that Tailwind are a US company that was brought to UK shores by a believer and an ultra runner who realised that we needed the goods. Thank goodness he did! With that in mind, this is the reason that you, like I, may not yet have heard of them. But the secret is getting out because of the results…the reviews page makes for exciting reading (if you get excited about reviews that tell you positive things).

IMG_7333So the wonderful thing is, the day after my order was put through, my little box of goodies arrived with a personalised postcard inside! They have a neat little tray of sachets with all the different colours that they send you so that you can try out the flavours before diving into a big tub. You can cut a sachet in half by pinching the line across the middle (directions on the packet) so that each sachet can be tried twice. It dissolves instantly in water. It doesn’t give me stomach cramps – n.b. I have never been able to use energy drinks for this very reason, and now have an option of endurance (tailwind) or short session (Arbonne) energy drinks as well as a hot hug (TrueStart Coffee) to boost my physical exertions. The taste is a hint and not a sugary explosion. Did I mention they are gluten free?

So taste-wise, customer service-wise, packaging-wise (lots of lovely bright colours that just make me go silly), I’m a happy bunny. But did they work for me?

The short answer is abso-blinking-lutely!

I wasn’t really sure what to expect. At the gym I put 20 minutes into a high intensity interval session on the bike, then went through my arms & core session, before moving on to glutes, single-leg balancing acts, arms again and yoga. I throw in planks (single, high and low), press ups, leg lifts, Swiss Ball control and burpees for my arms and core element, and by the third set (note, I’ve never made it to a third set before) I put my ten press ups to the floor in the fastest, swiftest moves I’d ever done them, not even fresh had I ever completed that third set so fast! I felt, note felt, physically stronger and lighter. The fuel has nutrition and hydration (not just the water), it contains electrolytes so my body was effectively recovering from the first two rounds whilst I was sipping away. Tailwind suggest sipping regularly rather than gulping, this is a good call as any gulping is likely to mean more frequent toilet trips.

IMG_7334Happy with my first round, my second gym visit with the fuel went even better. I was able to push myself further, no doubt as a result of delayed fatigue, which in turn is helping me to grow stronger. The big test will come with the running. I’ve delayed running, except a 1.5 mile the other day, in order to allow my muscles to strengthen and straighten where necessary, not because of an injury, but because I don’t want to be injured! I now have all the right ingredients in place for fuel and recovery, it’s time to shape up with the mental agility and get some mileage under my belt for February. March will taper after the first week so in effect I have 5 weeks left of solid training before reigning in the LSRs. Taking some sturdy ultra advice from many I’ve read, watched, spoken to, and befriended over the years, it’s Anna Frost‘s advice to run LSRs back-to-back to get the maximum out of the run without breaking the bank that is now firmly etched in my mind. With that plan, I can go far.

Here I just wanted to mention that I’m going through a fairly hypomanic episode and am falling in and out of consciously being aware of that (honestly, sometimes I completely forget that I’m not always so active, upbeat, productive, proactive, and funny). There are two campaigns running online at the moment that have empowered me to keep writing, keep talking, to remain open about why this run is happening in the first place. #imnotashamed and #itaffectsme are simple tags yet they are letting people articulate outside of their heads in a common language – compassion.

When I run I let nature be my sounds, in part because in doing so I am acting out of mindfulness to take me to places that we forget about so easily in this hectic world: the stillness of life sprinkled with the colourful melodies of other animals. Partly because it’s safer when running on roads without traffic. Partly because I don’t have a decent set of headphones/earphones and the pulsing thrum of cars as they pass is almost nauseating under the music.

But, a huge part is because music, to me, is intensely emotional. A single song can alter my mood before it’s half way through the first verse, sometimes for the good, getting me to bop along and even cycle or run in time to the beat. Sometimes it can cause me to stop and crumble. Or even to get angry and expend energy I didn’t really wish to use up so quickly, because I’m so intent on getting myself to be as strong as I can be, to power through the pain, the wobbly arms, the breathless lifts, so that I can complete the run and do what I set out to do. But two songs almost took me out of the game yesterday. It’s a good job the gym was pretty empty on a Sunday afternoon, and sweat looks like tears, because I had to stop and sit with my back to the wall like I was exhausted, hold my towel to my eyes and just cry. I was already breathing heavily because of the burpees I’d just jumped through, but I was very consicous of being seen weeping in my lycra.

The first song that hit me, rather mildly but was still a memory recall precursor for the one that followed, was Lukas Graham’s “7 Years”. A beautiful piece of writing, a beautiful melody, which just invoked memories of my childhood, my father and our broken relationship. And my path into parenthood. It got me thinking about my daughters and how creative and talented they are, that sometimes they literally take my breath away. My eldest has the voice of an angel, she is singing, dancing, and acting outside of school where she just excels at everything she does. My heart bursts with pride that she puts her heart into everything, just as I did (and still do). My second daughter has a writing talent for poetry and stories that astounds me, her emotional intelligence has always been far beyond her years, a wise little head on her shoulders. Teaching herself to dance freestyle street aged just 8, a runner, and a little lady who has already decided she wants to save the world and get into politics, everyone who meets her sees how she shines. How is it that I came to be their mum? I’ve gone through my years feeling a failure at everything, a failure for all of the relationships that failed, a failure for all of the careers that failed, and a failure for being here without a penny in my pocket and only a hope that I can make a difference to this world. Perhaps the real reason I am here is not about me, it is about my children.

The second song that caused the cookie to crumble was Naughty Boy ft. Beyoncé & Arrow Benjamin with “Runnin'”. No doubt an incredible song with a video that is mesmerising! But those words hit me like an arrow through the heart. Because I am running. I am running because I feel broken, because I’m afraid of losing everything that I hold dear, because I’m putting myself into a situation where it pretty much scares the crap out of me most days – oddly enough not the running part, but the interaction with other humans part. I’m scared of failing again, that’s probably what it comes down to, and in these two songs those fears managed to rise up to the surface and make me wobble.

IMG_7332Once the song was over I got on with my training. And I came away, not feeling shaken, nor stirred. But feeling alive, feeling vulnerable, feeling as though I’ve been touched by fire. This is my condition, and it’s an endurance run in itself, as it will last for the rest of my life. If I can endure that, then I can endure anything else because so far nothing has burnt my nerve endings like Bipolar Disorder.

It’s not just being up and down, it’s being so far up that I feel like I am helium, and feeling so far down that I feel like I am lead. It’s not being emotional. It’s feeling emotions so intense that they can knock the wind right out of your guts when you least expect it. It’s feeling emotions so intense that something that may appear to one as being banal, innocuous, or plain silly, could affect me so badly that I suddenly feel like the tiniest speck of viral dirt on the planet, and ashamed to even exist. A song doesn’t just make me feel emotional, a song has the ability to strum at my emotions and snap at my heart strings to the point of breaking them. Sometimes, they do break. And when they do they hurt so much that I am unable to breathe. When that happens, I am so far gone into my emotional existence that I cannot feel or think, I cannot imagine taking another breath, taking another step, or living another day.

This journey has come with so many incredible twists, that five months ago I never could have them dreamt up!

  • I’ve revived my creative endeavours via photography and illustration, graphic design and blogging.
  • I’ve started up a shop page so that I can sell designer products (my daughters especially love this) based on my running inspirations – be they people, places, words, or things, with 100% profits going directly to the fundraising effort (OK, so it’s 20% of the product price but every single penny counts!) and I’ve already made a sale! Whoop!
  • I’ve asked, and I have received (sounds so simple but getting to the point of directly asking someone for help is my Everest).
  • My return route has been created (I was face-planting my desk most nights just to get from LE to JOG!) by the superb team at Endomondo who are now supporting me on the challenge in a variety of roles, I cannot wait to share these with you!
  • I’m receiving messages of support which fill my heart with glee.
  • The donations are trickling in.
  • My anxiety about where to sleep is beginning to diminish (a teeny tiny bit) now that I have scoured the country for hotels and B&Bs at my stopover points and have a list to contact (this is probably going to make me tremble in fear – having to use the phone!)
  • I have my running fuel plan and the recovery fuel plan is starting to materialise.

IMG_1064I still have 9 weeks to go, and yet I feel like I’ve already completed the challenge and am celebrating with the wonderful people who supported me and helped me to survive and fight another day. I know that the meditation is making magical things happen, so I focus on those positives when the going gets tough. My battle here isn’t physical; the physical strife can be endured and repaired. My true battle is in my mind. I’m arming myself with the support, the team, the volunteers, the believers, the ones who show me love and compassion. I am making memories and storing them for the days when I need to dig deep and recall what the heck I’m doing this for.

All of those who have touched my life with support and love may not realise it, but they are slowly changing the world! The effect that they have on me helps me into a place where I am able to effect change to help someone else. Isn’t that empowering? We are all truly connected.