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

Brain Training Part 2

Following on from Brain Training Part 1, I’ve put together some techniques that I personally use to a greater or lesser degree (depending on variables such as intensity of project and current mental episode).

Some people naturally focus while others need a little nudge to know where to begin. I admit that when I first came across things such as mind-mapping and positive self-talk, I shunned the advice given and just assumed I had to grin and bear it, as I had to figure it out for myself to truly understand…and eventually I would come full circle to the original advice. But that’s life, and that’s how some of us learn best.


imagePreparation is key, but my head can become quite a quagmire of ideas, so I use mind-mapping to spread out my project ideas and inspirations, and work through things with a little more attention and focus. With this I sometimes use a technique learned via my Illustration tutor known as stream of consciousness writing. Writing out words continuously without checking to make sure that they fit into coherent texts. Can be fun (or mildly frustrating).

Repeat – Review – Revise

IMG_4589Edison says it takes 10,000 hours of repeated practice for something to become second nature,so I keep repeating what I am training for – running, with/without water, with/without food, before/after yoga – and I build a repertoire of understanding and knowledge of how I perform in different circumstances. If something doesn’t work, I review, it, and revise it. Then I repeat that process again. This starts to create an imprint on my brain that will eventually become my second nature.

Drowning out the negative chatter

imageDealing with negative chatter – not just from my own mind but from other people’s mouths or written words – can suck the energy right out of you. I’ve had days where I have been dressed for a run, ready to go, and then something has been said or written and I’ve just crawled fully-dressed back under my duvet and not moved for two days. I have to fight hard when that happens, because there’s no one to pass the baton to who can do the training miles for me, and so I have to be able to remind myself of WHY I am training, and what I am training for. Some days that WHY clarity is strong, and I can remain steady on my feet and still make it out the door. It may be that I argue in my head the entire time, especially if the weather is miserable, but the mileage has still been banked which is better for my confidence than not going at all.

Surrounding myself with the positive chatter

IMG_9423Honing in on the people, the ideas, and the situations that will boost your positive mind-set is good for your soul, your plans, and most likely the planet. I do this by turning my training runs into micro-adventures. I go with the intention of capturing photos of nature, beautiful clouds, lights, hills, snow, frost, puddles, flowers, birds. I never run with music. I listen to the different calls of nature – be they sheep, cows, donkeys or birds, or the best is pheasant!

If each of us were able to focus in such a way, there would be better collaboration and cohesion. Being around positivity will always inspire me to re-sharpen my training tools, work harder, dig deeper, and strive further because the human being is ultimately capable of so much more than we think is possible.

Just get out of the tent, she said.

Memories and minds are turbulent and terribly torturous things, or they’re terrifically tantalising and tenacious.

Just a spoonful of alliteration for breakfast, now let’s talk tents.

Hardcover Journal designed by Yvie Johnson

One of my previous posts (Mindful Adventures) introduced some new characters to this adventure story, all of whom are significantly inspirational women who do things because they can, and/or because they feel they must. Whichever your style, or story, it’s what comes out of the experience that needs sharing, because these stories put the fire in the minds of others — young, old, middle-aged, and neither young nor old (depending on which way you’re looking at it).

The phrase that everything happens for a reason may be overused sometimes but it really does encapsulate how extraordinary things can occur as a result of seemingly innocuous situations.

We’re (the royal we) about three months into this current adventure of deciding to train for a run from one end of Britain to the other, and back again. That’s really not very long, and yet it feels like this has been my existence for many years! So much has happened in such a short space of time, whereas the previous six months were a drugged, sleepy, blurry fuzziness with only a few brightly coloured spots that I fortunately captured on camera to remind myself of. It’s been said that if you want a true memory, you need to look with your eyes, and not with your camera lens. I wholeheartedly agree, but on this occasion, I’m so glad that I dismissed that idea and made a point-and-shoot song-and-dance of the good days.

What I mean is, that my memory is not so good now. My Tom will probably argue the toss on this one, but actually the disrupted sleep, the fatigued brain, the emotional stress, the chronic fatigue, the paranoia and the anxiety probably all contribute to a memory bank that hasn’t worked particularly well for a while. I used to have a fantastic memory for numbers, licence plates, birthdays, faces, names. I think I scared quite a few former police colleagues when I could reel off case numbers from memory at 2am whilst travelling in a car because I’d overheard on the police radio the name of someone who’d been stopped on the street, in a different town. How that was possible (on reflection) isn’t obvious; I was still particularly stressed from a broken marriage, single-parenthood and full-time policing career whilst studying for a Modern Languages degree and training for triathlons. Perhaps my age? Has my mind-mapping capability diminished due to pharmacorps? Who knows!

(probably a neurosurgeon)

Our memories are wonderful when they remind us of wonderful things. The feeling you get from a wonderful memory can inspire you to go on and achieve; though they have been perhaps a speck on your life’s chartered course, that speck was there for a reason, and made all the difference. Always be grateful for the specks! Cue Dr Seuss…

“You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Brains in your headBut our memories can also help us to remember that we have prevailed in turbulent times. And whilst the images invoked may not appear cosy and warm, we are still able to feel grateful for the strife because through it we triumphed by focusing on some form of affirmation, routine or exercise that got us through the torture. For Felicity Aston, it was a simple phrase of “just get out of the tent” that helped her to focus on the one thing that would get her going in order to complete her solo mission across the Antarctic ice sheet. Being in situations that call for the mind to respond, adapt, learn, review, and leap, whether we put ourselves there or we find ourselves there as a result of external forces beyond our immediate control, it is still down to us to take the next step. As Dr Seuss puts it, “You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

We can set our course. Invictus (the movie if you prefer) by William Ernest Henley tells us…

I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

On life’s high seas we can’t set the waves, the wind, the rain, the storms, the temperatures or the rocks and icebergs in our path, but we can steer towards and through, around or over.

My current memory is lacking in quality, I admit. I’m still sure I’ve misplaced some emails from people who wrote to me (sorry if that includes you!).

My current mind is still doing the loop-da-loop as I settle with medication, or accept it. I’ve been reflecting as to why this past month was pretty much awful compared to the first two, where motivation, training, mileage and energy were much higher. I expect that a fuzzy mind mixed with the swooping cycles of hypomania and depression is hampering my motivation to be able to run, and the confusion is feeding my body with funny signals, perhaps resulting in my stomach aches. Rather than fight that, I have to let it pass, like a rocky outcrop on my mind’s map. But in my mind…somewhere deep down…there isn’t a shred of doubt that this isn’t the right course for me, because…

I still ran
Hardcover Journal designed by Yvie Johnson promoting the #itaffectsme and #imnotashamed campaigns
  • I have completed this challenge in my head and my heart many times
  • Supporters are purchasing and sharing my inspired product designs on RedBubble and my ethical Vegan personal care on Arbonne so that they can walk with pride knowing that 100% profits have been donated to the fundraising effort
  • Runners young and old (and the rest in between) are being inspired to get out of their tent to make a difference to someone else’s lives, and their own
  • I’m visualising the celebrations of joy and hope from delivering five cheques worth £10,000 each to five incredible mental health charities, and the outcome of that fundraising will be undeniably magnificent for the service users who reap the benefit

Today, my just get out of the tent, is to simply get out of bed! I’ve never been a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m struggling to start in order to keep going. Focusing on getting out of my bed today started a chain reaction, which led me to writing this…


Cartwheeling off the Cliff

A post of two parts, feel free to jump to the end where it’s definitely more positive, but if you love gloom, guts and gore, read on, my friend.

As luck would have it, my little friend smashed the same day as my iMac crashed during a bulk design download, and the boiler has been broken for over a week already. After a particularly emotional few weeks, I had to call it quits and sleep it out.

Doing my BestNaturally, I anguished that I was giving up, that I was weak for not being able to get up and run, that I could allow such frivolities to rain on my recovery parade. I’m guessing that by the sounds of it, the word recovery doesn’t appear to ever end, it’s more a management of the situation and remembering to throw my coping strategies into the blender and make a wellbeing smoothie. Doing that for myself is harder than I thought.

Since my last post, I think the ride has been more Pepsi Max than the Big Dipper (Blackpool speech). A depression hitting me over New Year following a family reassessment of the housework roster. My running has been painful, each run seemingly more so after developing that cursed runner’s knee. Of course, it means it’s no more than a misalignment of tight quads and hammies as a result of tight calves and lots of niggles around the pelvis and TLF area of the hip. How do I know? Because when I finally took myself to see my sport’s therapist the strength results pre- and post-session were blindingly different. Now I have to keep myself well rolled and rotated, flexed and stretched. My legs aren’t going to ever get easier with all of this mileage that I intend to subject them to, but they will work for me if I look after them. I have to keep the faith.

This is all part of the process, I am sure — starting to doubt myself whilst I keep a smile going, altering my plans to plough through admin, designs, marketing, and operational planning whilst my body and mind are at adds with each other, and even both at odds with me (yes, that’s possible). This past week my stomach has become a delicate quagmire that doesn’t seem to like food much. That also plays on my motivation, my day’s planning, and my mood. I have been extremely irritable — in part due to lack of running but I’d say the frustration of being stuck in my own body sometimes leaves me wishing for an alternative.

This weekend, I finally found the ounce of strength I needed to flip the switch. A Sunday spent half sleeping to catch up on two missed nights (not, not good, I put myself in the corner and had a word), and half spent cleaning the house from top to bottom. Purging. De-cluttering. Just getting rid of so much stuff that was crowding my brain waves! The result is exhilarating, and now the boiler seems to have picked itself back up off the floor and decided to function, so I can get a shower. The little things.

Run ShoesThe Plan update? I fully intend to make this event a running experience à la Yvie. That sort of event requires a course of design-injected humorous and quirky products that link directly to the campaign, and which will be available for purchase as an alternative to sponsoring, because all profits and costs of the products will be donated directly to the Fierce Mind sponsorship page. Why? Because by getting involved in my own goal, I am starting to draw again, to design, to experiment, to do photography, and I absolutely love all of it like a friendly thrill on a hazy summer’s morning! Never mind the running, I am loving turning each run into a meaningful adventure to share with purpose and pride. Sponsorship can be a two-way thing, and I get that. So I’m putting all of my design and creative resources into the products for free, so that you can support me on the run, and support the charities by wearing them on a t-shirt. Give me a few days to finalise the links and I’ll post for all and sundry.

Without sounding too much like a film title, there are just over 9 and a half weeks to go, and I’ve quite a lot to get on with. I have to pace out my designing so that I can get my accommodation sorted, keep track of who is volunteering to run, cycle or drive, make contact with many schools and centres for talks en route, figure out where my food is going to come from, prepare my legs by running, stretching, yoga-ing, rolling and icing, and prepare my heart and my mind for the adventurous explosion of emotions, and remember at some point to get enough sleep. That said, time to sign off and hit the sack.


(p.s. sorry, there wasn’t really any gore.)