Postcards from an absentee blogger: part one

27 Jan

Dear Friends,

I apologise for the delay in writing to you. But never fear, I am still here and, equally important, I am still exercising.

I am sending this from my new location, a few miles outside of my home town. More specifically, I am sat on my sofa looking outside at the back garden, which, as an aside, is a great thing to have but takes a bit more looking after than I anticipated!

The best thing about this move has to be the new opportunities for exercise that it has opened up. I am very fortunate to have plenty of trails for running – or shuffling depending on the mud levels. – nearby. I even went for a run on Christmas Day

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and Boxing Day

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And, I’ve kept up this new found enthusiasm for skidding across mud and wading through puddles into the New Year. I’m particularly proud of the fact that I went for a 10k cross-country jaunt all by myself and on a new route that I hadn’t done before. Check me out!

I hope all is well with you and I’ll try to write again soon.

Strawberryjamntoast x

How’s your running been going? Do you like going off road too? 

London 2012

6 Dec

As you may have heard, a little thing called ‘London 2012′ took place over the summer. I was lucky enough to attend not one, not two but three events – rehearsals for the Olympic openning ceremony, Olympic weightlifting and Paralympic powerlifting. In an attempt to fill you in on the life of an absentee blogger during the last six months, here are some of my pics from those wonderful, awe-inspiring days.

In the Olympic Park

As these were top-secret rehearsals, we were told to Save The Surprise. It was worth the wait!

The excitement builds!

The moment that everyone was waiting for – the Olympic rings!

The venue for the Olympic weightlifting and Paralympic powerlifting and sitting volleyball

Olympic women’s weightlifting!

Getting ready for the competition!

The medalists

We saw some world records – Olympic and Paralympic!

The Paralympics!

The British and Dutch sitting volleyball teams

The Paralympic medalists

All in all, I loved London 2012! And this was despite my initial cynicism that it would be too full of jingoism and the sheer amazingness of the individual atheletes from all over the world would get lost in the resulting coverage. Personally, I found the ‘summer of sport’ really inspiring and inclusive – even for a wheezing weakling such as myself! It was great to see the positive power of sport on a local, national and international scale reflected in my own life through a re-invigorated interest in all things atheletic!

Have you ever been to the Olympics or Paralympics? Did you enjoy London 2012?  

Remember me?

4 Dec

If so, then long-time-no-speak, my blog-sphere buddies!

And if not, then it’s nice to meet you.

I’m strawberryjamntoast and I’ve been absent from this little corner of the world wide web for, let’s see, just under six months. Wow, that sounds rather confessional, doesn’t it? But, I suppose, I have several confessions to make.

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Number one: I have been perfectly capable of blogging during the past few months. I just didn’t feel like doing so. Bad blogger, I know.

Number two: I have fallen victim to the pressures of life and have let the stress of that become nearly all consuming. I have failed to make time for ‘me’ activities for weeks at a time.

Number three: That being said, I have still managed to squeeze in several (ok, sometimes only two) workouts a week during the past few months.

Number four: I have learnt that my mental health will suffer if I disregard my physical and mental wellbeing.

In order to make penance for all too often discounting the needs of my body and soul, I hereby pledge to take (hopefully daily) steps towards creating a healthy body for a healthy mind. I’ll keep you updated on my progress, but first of all I need to fill you in over the next week or so on where this blog last left off…

Have you ever found it difficult to maintain a healthy body and healthy mind whilst dealing with the stresses of everyday life? 

Juneathon: another 30×30 update!

18 Jun

You may be forgiven for thinking that I had abandoned Juneathon given the lack of posting. But, rest assured, I haven’t.

I won’t lie: I have, at times, found the exercising every day part of the challenge almost as hard as the blogging every day part of it. And, like the blogging side of things, there have been times when I’ve failed. This has been largely for the same – reinforcing, circular – reasons. I’ve been feeling grumpy and thus haven’t always felt like exercising. This lack of physical activity, in turn, makes me more grumpy and less inclined to share (or inflict) my thoughts with (upon) the world. Which makes me more grumpy and less able to motivate myself to exercise. And. So. It. Continues.

That is until I get up off the sofa, go outside and feel the fresh air in my lungs.

And, attempting to chime a more positive note, grabbing my trainers and getting outside has meant that I have managed to exercise every day in June so far bar six.

Two of these days were spent travelling so I had no opportunity to get out and one of them was spent shedding quite a few tears over the loss of my beloved family pet so I think Juneathon can allow me that time off. Which, bad travel planning and personal disasters aside, meant that there are only three days in June so far that I have allowed the grump to triumph – not bad going, I think!

What’s even better is that this Juneathon now includes not one but two 30 x 30 achievements. Any ideas which is the latest goal that I’ve achieved? It’s obviously an exercise related one or it wouldn’t be part of Juneathon but if you’re still unsure what I’m talking about then I’ll give you a whooper clue: it’s do with running – and beating the clock.

Yep, that’s right, I – little miss wheezy, red face – ran a sub 30 minute 5k! Yay!

It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t easy but I did it! Considering that I couldn’t even run a minute when I first started a year and a half ago, I don’t think that is something to grumble about!

I had tried a few months back to run a sub 30 minute 5k but, rather frustratingly, I came in at 30.06. Argh! This time, though, I had company for my run. My lovely (and speedy) boyfriend paced me so all I had to do was keep up with him – there was no way that I was going to let him finish before me! Stubbornness mixed with pride and determination is a wonderful thing.

However, there is an even better aspect to Juneathon – the fact that there is nearly two more whole weeks to go, which means I’ve time to increase my daily exercising average and make up for those ‘lost’ days!

Are you doing Juneathon? Which to you find harder – blogging consistently or exercising regularly? 

Exercise and mental health: the big debate

14 Jun

I must warn you now that the following post is long and, at times, rambling. However, it is an extremely topical, and dear to my heart, subject so please bear with me. And the focus of this literary shambles? The relationship between exercise and mental health. Or more specifically, a recently published report which declared that the effect of exercise upon those suffering from depression was so minimal as to be statistically insignificant – a conclusion which made my heart drop a beat and my frequently depressed brain seethe with anger. ‘How dare some little know it all in an ivory tower contradict, and thus invalidate my own, at times struggling, experience?’, I raged.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who felt or thought this way. The Guardian ran a series of comment pieces and articles arguing against the findings of said research. These articles, which can be found here, here and here, went a long way to restoring my sense of balance within the world. Part of my anger towards the report derived from the feeling that it was not only (probably unintentionally) invalidating my own experience of exercise and depression but that it was also doing the same to countless others out there, some of whom may have been in a less than brilliant position with regards to mental health provision to begin with. There is a certain fear experienced time and time again when you are depressed that someone – whether that be a friend, family member, doctor, boss, teacher etc – will tell you ‘to pull yourself together’. Sometimes this piece of advice is delivered carelessly unintentionally, other times it is born out of  well-meaning ignorance, always though the effect upon recipient is the same; the sense of isolation and despondency felt by many who are depressed increases – often with negative results. It was the subsequent production of these negative results that I feared would grow following the publication of the report’s findings.

Now, I must admit that some (or most) of this was derived from my own neuroses. But, as a human being I share qualities with the rest of the species and thus, it could be reasoned, I must also possess similarities in my thinking, to a lesser or greater degree. I was therefore worried not only for myself but also for anyone who has ever felt isolated and depressed. Nobody likes feeling that way but with the right guidance a path out of the deepest darkness can be found. For me, this path was built upon the twin foundations of medication and DBT. In that sense my experience supports the findings of the report. The medication allowed me to become well enough to be receptive to the DBT whilst that in turn enabled me to ‘build a life worth living’ which very much relied upon exercise to keep me well, along with continued medication of course. However, if the current thinking on the subject is that exercise does not help depression then why should anyone bother trying to make themselves feel better? More importantly, is a depressed person to just be handed some medication and a diagnosis and be told that is all there is in the world to make them feel better? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against medication. However, I do understand the disempowering effect upon a person’s already depleted mental health of being handed a pack of pills and being told that is all the world has to offer you right now. When you’re depressed, you are looking for some shred of humanity and compassion in a world where you might already believe that none exists. An almost robotic production of a prescription and an impersonal diagnosis does nothing to contradict such a view.

It is, however, something which I believe that exercise can do. Exercise builds self-worth. Exercise encourages self belief. Exercise facilitates the setting and achieving of goals – it thus encourages a longer term perspective. Exercise taken outside opens your eyes to the (however minuet) beauty of the world, whether this be achieved through noticing the leaves on the trees or exchanging nods of camaraderie with fellow enthusiasts. Exercise signals a determination to change, to not settle for the present whilst also accepting (and even loving) your physical and mental being for all its wheezy, self-defeating inner and outer shell.

I’m not saying that exercise is the cure-all magic potion; although, neither is medication alone. But,  I honestly believe that no-one ever regrets a workout – and it is for this reason and all those listed above, plus many more, that I believe the publication of such a report is not only irresponsible but down right dangerous.

Have you read the report or the subsequent news articles? What is your view on the relationship between exercise and mental health? 

Juneathon day six: a recovery run

7 Jun

Yesterday I surprised myself. Despite struggling to walk up stairs (and sit down on the toilet!) after the previous few days mountain exploits, I went for a nice, slow recovery run. The run itself was 5 gentle miles around Ladybower in the Peak District.

It was slow and laboured and nothing to shout about. But, what was remarkable was the fact that I hauled my lazy arse round the said 5 miles. It was most definitely not what I felt like doing when I woke up earlier that morning!

However, I knew I was in a big grump and that being stuck inside was not going to help. So, preventative and corrective action was needed to take care of my mental health whilst recovery was the name of the physical game. I huffed and I puffed and I eventually got through the first couple of miles, after which it became decidedly easier – either that or I just stopped noticing the whining of my poor body and concentrated on the lovely view instead, which improved as the weather did so.

Although, it hasn’t ‘cured’ my grump, I did feel a lot better afterwards, which, after all, is all that really matters. And it meant that I completed another day of Juneathon so yay!

On today’s agenda is mainly rest followed by some yoga and possibly a belated start to the #plankaday challenge suggested to me by the lovely Dashinista. I’ll let you know how I get on!

Does your body ever surprise you with what it’s capable of? Are you doing the #plankaday challenge? 

Juneathon – days three, four and five: a 30×30 update

6 Jun

Now, I know that one of the ‘rules’ of Juneathon is that you blog about your exercise exploits within 24 hours of completion, but that has been a little difficult over the past few days due to literally being up a mountain.

Yep, that’s right – I climbed a mountain. Another 30×30 goal ticked off the list!

It was a very nice mountain and one that was very kind to us in terms of weather and general hiking conditions. It was also quite a high mountain, the highest peak in England in fact. And its’ name? Well, that would be Scafell Pike.

Scafell Pike is 978 metres above sea level and is situated in the Lake District. I must admit that I had never heard of it before. However, it would appear that I was in the minority, as it seemed as if half the population of the UK were also attempting to reach the summit on the very same day as me. It was busy! However, although I was a little startled to see so many other people there, I do think that this also worked in my favour as I was damned if they were going to reach the top and I wasn’t!

The ascent itself was, in places, as steep as you would expect and, to my surprise, also contained a fairly substantial descent before the final push onwards and upwards. Likewise, the descent in the circular route that we took also involved some very vertical sections. At one point the path completely stopped and I thus found myself confronted with a steep wall of rock. After exclaiming ‘how the hell am I supposed to get up that?’ I braced myself and started scrabbling upwards. I was so proud of myself when I reached the top – possibly even more so than when I had earlier reached the mountain summit!

The whole little expedition took nearly 8 hours and covered just shy of 10 miles.

That night was spent under canvas in the valley at the bottom of the mountain. I awoke tired but happy the next morning; however, this feeling of elation was not to last.

The plan for day five was to keep the momentum going by climbing yet another mountain. However, the reality was that dismal, temperamental weather coupled with my fatigue from the day before resulted in the hike being called to a halt a few hundred but very vertical metres from what would have been two summits in two days.

I was extremely disappointed with this but such caution was proved right when I could hardly walk up the stairs just a few hours later – and, well, sitting down on the toilet proved to be a whole new and very awkward experience!

At this point in the post, I must rewind a little and validate its full title.  Day three of Juneathon also involved a walk, though not quite such a strenuous or impressive one. However, it was undertaken in some nasty wind and rain in an area known as The Roaches so I am equally proud of it as of the mountain trip!

How is your June going? Are you also making an effort to fit more exercise into your life?

Egg on my face – or, the first two days of Juneathon.

2 Jun

Along with its chosen title, this post could also be called ‘Blood on my hands’ or, more precisely, ‘Blood under my fingernails’.

But, don’t worry, I haven’t been involved in any kind of grisly, murderous activity – although, the truth could be considered equally disturbing.

A few days after writing my last, rather celebratory, blog post karma came and bit me in the arse. I’ve been struggling, on and off, with feeling low for the last few months, but this has been nothing compared to how I felt come Tuesday last week.  By Wednesday, I was feeling even worse, enough so that I self-harmed for the first time in absolutely ages. I was so annoyed at myself!

So, I made the decision that I really needed a good night’s sleep and thus took a recently prescribed sleeping tablet. Bad decision. Half an hour later and I was experiencing full blown hallucinations, with not a wink of sleep anywhere to be found. After a frantic phone call by the long-suffering boyfriend to NHS Direct and some eventual sleep, I woke up fully recovered to a new day.

Now, I need to add here that even though I’d been feeling very grumpy, I’d still continued to make the effort to exercise. So, that meant yoga class on Wednesday evening and a lovely 10k run on Thursday. The run was especially rewarding as I pushed myself quite hard and ran it faster than I ever had before, coming in at just under 66 minutes.

But, my slightly lifted mood was not to last long. I returned home to the news that my beloved, and only remaining, family pet had to be put down the following day.

Needless to say, yesterday was not a good day. There were a few tears and no exercise to be found, despite it being the first day of Juneathon.

But, I can be a determined bugger when I want to be and so, in the inclusive spirit of Juneathon, I have decided to belatedly start the challenge today. And what a nice way to start it, I must say! I am now on holiday ‘oop north’ and enjoyed the change of scene with a lovely and invigorating 5 mile run in the Dales.

It was just what I needed and a great start to Juneathon.

How has your week been – good, bad or average? Are you doing Juneathon? 

Rewind/fast forward

27 May

*Warning: this post may contain upsetting material*

This weekend it was the joy that is Eurovision, an annual evening full of dodgy harmonies and thinly veiled xenophobia. Oh the delight of it all. My partner and I expertly dodged not one but two Eurovision ‘parties’ last night.

But our cynicism of anything casting itself as remotely patriotic is not the only reason we didn’t go out. Nope, this weekend has a far bigger significance in my life than the annual advent of a Europe wide singing competition. It is, in fact, the very weekend when, three years ago, I very seriously attempted to commit suicide.

Whilst everyone else was caught up in the Eurovision mania, I washed down a whole load of pills with a very large quantity of alcohol and my favourite songs playing in the background. Then it started to hurt and I became a little scared. I decided that I would like someone to hold me as I took my final few breaths so I summoned my unwitting boyfriend of the time. The poor guy arrived and knew immediately that something was seriously wrong. After a lot of arguing, I ended up in the local A and E department on a Saturday night. Fun. I then spent the next few days in hospital on drips and under very close supervision.

After eventually being let out, I returned to my life as it was, the very same life that had contributed to the situation in the first place. So, unfortunately, things continued to be as bad as they had ever been. This whole period of my life culminated in another, much more terrifying and thankfully short, hospital stay in the local psychiatric ward.

I was so glad to be out of there once I was released that I decided to start making small changes in my life to see if they would help lead to bigger ones. I moved home. I started eating three square meals a day. I got into a regular sleep pattern. I vowed to take all my medication properly and thus even gave up alcohol for a few months. I started being kinder to myself. I listened to and acted upon everything my new community mental health team (CMHT) advised. Things weren’t easy and I was still in an extremely dark place but slowly, very slowly,  faint glimmers of light started to appear.

Fast forward on three years and I’m healthier and happier than I’ve ever been. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle but I have a network of strategies in place to help me when I feel the onset of dark days. The strawberryjamntoast of three years ago wouldn’t recognise the new me. I’m in a healthy relationship with a boy….who I live with! I completed my MA and am now studying for a PhD. I don’t drink anymore. I have a much healthier relationship with food. I run. I cycle. I’m learning yoga. I do weights.

Basically, my life now couldn’t be more different to that of three years ago and for that I’ll be especially grateful each and every Eurovision!

Is your life a very different one to one you were living in the past? Can you recognize a point where everything changed for you? 

Sydney Street Art

17 May

After reading this story on the Guardian about a hapless workman destroying an original Banksy, I started to wonder whether the cool street work that I’d dubbed ‘imitation Banksy’ on my recent trip to Oz was, in fact, the real thing…?

Oh, and here’s a pretty derelict factory that I liked the look of:  

If there are any budding graffiti art historians out there who know anything about any of these images then feel free to leave me a comment!

Do you like street art? Have you ever found yourself taking pictures out of the realm of the normal ‘tourist’ shot?

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