Part 2: This might be a guide for some of you who have been recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder; who are now taking up running with this new/longstanding diagnosis; who are looking for guidance to get back into running again whilst also managing bipolar disorder.
Disclaimer: I don’t have all of the answers. Answers don’t come neatly packaged with a bow, they are messy droppings scattered on your life’s path, and if the stars align you will see them as pearls of wisdom, getting you through the tough times.
Go your own way.
It’s been one thousand, two hundred and thirty days (1230), or three years, four months and twelve days* since my diagnosis of bipolar disorder and the subsequent introduction to a life of Lithium.
I recall with bleak horror the side effects of those first few weeks of imposing Lithium on my brain and body. A metallic taste on my lips. Muscle twitches all day, all night. A sense of spinning, paranoia, and falling whilst laying still. And the parched mouth. Oh boy. The waking up, night after night, as if all the moisture had been sucked from my body and each waking was reviving the ghost of long-dried-out kindling.
They didn’t tell me about the thirst.
I was equally crestfallen when I googled lithium + training and discovered that sweating would cause the lithium to pass through my body quicker, that my already sensitive salt levels would be impeded with sweating, having an additional effect on the lithium within my body, and my thirst would never be quenched as a result. The question burning through my thoughts for months after diagnosis, now years later, is simple: what on earth can I do about it?
Finding the right ingredients
In Running with Bipolar Part 1, I offered up just a handful of ways for figuring out that first step to recovery with running:
- getting out the door, the inspiration to just go and run can be pretty exciting and excruciatingly nerve-wracking, both are wonderfully human reactions
- timing, it’s the time when you’re ready that matters, not when someone else is
- keep it simple, go easy on yourself and your options, building in plans, routes, different terrains will all happen along the journey, running is a long-game
And yet, there are so many options still on the table. Depending where you are in the country, in the world, your terrain and route choices are what you have. Just remember that in the beginning all routes have the potential to stir up the wonderful running relationship between yourself and your body, that is the magic of running. But listen if you will, I’ll also add that some routes, some terrains, are exceedingly better for your heart, mind and soul, and of course your body, than others.
Yes, the world of running is alive with options, consequences, choices, alternatives. Let’s try to narrow these options down a little. I can’t guarantee the full repertoire of route options to explore, but here’s what I know. What are my route choices?
Road as a genre is a catchall, it implies tarmac to many of us at first glance. It doesn’t necessarily mean just the road, though, it also includes pavements, cobbled streets, stone steps and bridges. Roads are useful, they connect us together, mostly, and are currently the only option for many of us. In cities, running on the streets gives us extra angles, corners and bridges to discover what’s beneath our nose (or above our heads) that we might simply not explore whilst walking, on a bike or in a vehicle.
Road running has its place in getting us going, building up our running confidence. It’s likely to be the first route option. When depression begins to release its grip, accessing the tarmac could be a lifeline back to being well, or at least coping, with our mental health.
Starting from where we are, and just making it to where we need to get to.
To begin with, do we need anything more than that?
The distance doesn’t matter, not really, because the hurdle we’re wanting to clear here is getting out, getting moving and getting there. Keeping to easy goals such as to the end of the road, one loop around the block, one hundred meters. Something that we can complete, so we can build on that completion, that success, with something more.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for that additional release from your running even from the get-go, then nature’s landscape should be in your sights.
There may or may not be a park near you that has a trail path (some do, some have tarmac paths, some have some weird rubbery stuff which flies in the face of environmental responsibility, and which seems a bit counter-intuitive to being in a park). Other than parks, there are national trail routes, public footpaths (some great, some not so well-trimmed), mountains with endless lines of sheep tracks to follow, forests and woodlands, the farm fresh countryside, coastal routes and canal towpaths.
Trail is my number one preference, because with trail comes trees, leaves, plants, birds, flowers, less noise but more birdsong, wildlife, fewer people, fewer eyesores, cleaner air (notwithstanding muck-spreading), and a more profound opportunity to reconnect with our planet. But if we want to keep this post running-related, trail brings with it the perfect training for your legs to function less like a repetitive piston on a train, and more like an amateur parcour guru with a healthy dose of pixie power. Trail dancing. Trails mean more hills. Hills mean strength. Improved physical strength means, well, whatever it is you’re looking for. An abundance of energy and exhilaration springs to mind.
Trail routes can be part of mountain tracks, also known as fell routes (as in the fells, not falling over, as was my first understanding) and appropriate footwear would be a consideration—technical terrain will generally imply the need for a shoe that has enough grip to handle the moving bits and pieces underfoot, but also enough cushion to prevent the sharp pointy jabs from the raggedy route.
If you’re wondering about footwear (this is an upcoming post) I’ll briefly share my favourite trail shoes for specific trail terrain: Saucony for Snowdon, Salomon for Offa’s Dyke Path and Keen or Under Armour for local trail paths when walking the kids and the dog. Oh yes, choices, choices.
The best trail routes for me are a drive away from my home, so I use tarmac paths and pavementless roads in order to get to some trails rather than drive. In my dream world there would be a trail route leading from just down the road and going for miles. Perhaps there is but I’ve not actually found it yet…trail routes are like magic, they often appear at the other end of the rainbow, or after getting lost and discovering them serendipitously. Also in my dream world I would have access to a local parkrun so that I could run there as part of the deal. Having a local parkrun is a gift to be treasured.
Dream world aside, I promise you I will keep on visualising those commutable trail routes linking our villages, towns and cities together—as successfuly linked as our tarmac’ed roads are—so that walking/running one day becomes the number one travelling option for our only world.
We could call this the runcommute revolution. (Or something better.)
Large sprawling, rolling, or maybe flat fields, perhaps a park, school fields (depending on how your locality provides playing areas)—grass is grass is grass.
It gets muddy when turfed up and rained on, it is usually a bit drier and sturdier under foot in the summer. It crunches under your feet in the frost, and is usually wet at first light. Grass is our friend, it’s padding for our weary bones.
However, if the mere thought of grass hikes your memory back to those freezing, school cross-country days, and this makes you feel a little discouraged, you’re not alone. This is where bending your thoughts a little to focus on your now, and your purpose, to improve your wellbeing, shows enormous courage and strength. Moving from dry tarmac to the potential sogginess of grass must be recognised for the leap of faith that it is.
Getting to the athletics track is a bit of a trip out for me, but being on the track is certainly a session of ‘proper’ training, where I get to learn, go faster, and push myself because it’s a genuine running environment and not a ‘dodging people or cars’ sort of route. I’m on the track to run. And my lane is for me to improve on my speed, perhaps receive some coaching and maybe even encourage that competitive edge to come out and play.
I haven’t worn any track shoes since I was about fourteen years old (little good they did me back then as I only wore them once. Without spikes. Forgot to put the spikes in). Shoes aside, I’ve always found the training sessions to be invaluable to improving my speed.
I didn’t go near a track until I actually had several miles of training under my belt. Not having a friend on the inside, or knowing someone who could ease my anxiety by walking me through what track training is like, who runs on it and what to expect from a session, meant keeping the athletics track in that darkened closet called fear. I was afraid of the track because I didn’t feel worthy of taking up space in a lane.
Today’s me would scoff at such a thought, but on some other days when the darkness takes over I remember that feeling and recognise it for what it was, and still is: a lack of confidence, a lack of self-worth, a lack of presence. The track is a tool for running improvement, but it can also be an indicator of how we’re coping.
No recipe, no problem
I’ve covered what are probably the main route options available to most of us in the sections above. Once I’d started running again a question began to surface that I didn’t know I had until I found myself dealing with the consequences:
How will running affect me, particularly when I take medicine?
With the diagnosis of bipolar disorder there may be medication, for myself it’s Lithium Carbonate and Sertraline. There may be psychotherapy, there may be peer support groups, or simply none of the above. How running will affect us is most definitely an individual situation which we fit in and around our support system, our medication, how life now looks on the other side of a diagnosis. There isn’t a recipe book directing us how to manage all of this, we just have to learn from others what we can and figure the rest out along the way.
What I can do is share what I have learnt through running and managing this medication, and where my experiences took me…
For Part 3 of this Running with Bipolar series, check out my post on how I managed my medicine and training, while battling with identity, on Running with Bipolar: the parched chronicles.
(Part 3 will be available soon!)
Equally useful and informative, here are a list of other bloggers, writers, runners who share tips on running, depression, recovery, mental health and keeping your shizzle together somehow:
If you’d like to understand more about this condition, please visit the charities dedicated to increasing awareness. Some examples are:
*just a note on numbers: I first wrote this post in 2017 and at the time it was 1023 days since my diagnosis. Completely by synchronicity, today is day 1230 since the 23-4-2015. Otherwise written, it’s 3 years, 4 months and 12 days. Or 3, 4, 12. The numbers 1234 keep appearing in my life. I’ve been told they are Angel Numbers. Do you experience synchronicities like this?