Breathe

Last night, I switched my brain off for two hours and watched Enola Holmes. For a very long time, Sherlock has been the annoying fuckwit in the Holmes family, it was always Mycroft who seemed more relatable. Of course, that’s changed over various adaptations and this time around having the elder brother who shouted at his teenage sister was, amazingly, exactly what the plot required.

Stories are great ways of teaching. Although that movie was clearly not didactic, it unintentionally becomes a metaphor for modern feminism that it is abundantly apparent most of the male reviewers totally failed to grasp, even when very obviously telegraphed by certain characters. It is perfect evidence, if it were needed, that two people can see the exact same thing and devolve totally different experiences.

It is partly why the World is undoubtedly in the fucking mess it is now.

There are a lot of people who think they know how stuff works. There are those who are so confident in their wrongness that they don’t care what they say or do. There are far too many people who’s first assumption when stuff goes wrong is to blame someone else, and not to look to themselves. Most importantly, sometimes it really is the tech that fucks up.

Having said all of that however, none of that is relevant to how you feel right now. That’s how this works, up close and personal. If you cannot function, and do what you’re doing correctly, that’s the quality of life issue that requires intervention. It’s how certain doctors judge whether you require treatment. It’s what a private psychologist said to me after they pronounced if I wanted to pursue an autism diagnosis, I was looking in the wrong place.

The only way to find the answers you need is to start listening.

I can see the people who are learning right now, and can also point out those for whom this will always be about them, before anything else.

I know who I associate with more.

Go Up

I’m quite excited this morning. A Kickstarter which I backed nearly two years ago will arrive (according to UPS) on Friday. This piece of equipment delivers the end to a story which began on my birthday in 2018. No, really, the date on the video below is October 23rd, 2018. It is a story about meditation, from a woman I greatly admire.

Pull up a chair.

As a result of this video, Simone started a Kickstarter to purchase your own Every Day Calendar. As you can see by the progress page it has been a really, REALLY long road to get here which has included along the way the reoccurrence of health issues for Ms Giertz which initially bought her YouTube Channel to my attention. To say she’s an inspiration would be a MASSIVE understatement.

Waiting has never been a problem for me. Patience is part of the long game plan everyone needs to play, and when this item finally arrives we’ll unbox it, check it works but won’t stick it on the wall just yet. That will happen when I get my new office space, which has now gone from just a dream to actual planning. The biggest irony in all of this remains I now grasp I didn’t need Simone to make me a calendar at all.

I just needed her to share the idea.

At the end of August 2017 I’d completed the Ride London 46, with a fifty mile ride from London to Southend the week before as a warm-up. It was the most exercise ever done, and it gave me a new sense of optimism and enthusiasm for what might be achievable going forward. So, in September that year, I decided to push hard for my real goal.

I was going to try and pursue the dream of being published, to become a ‘proper’ writer and stop mucking about on the Internet. However, for the next year, the same issue would play out, time and again: I’d get so far, before anxiety would let me down. We’d be back to square one. It was almost impossible to make any kind of coherent progress.

Then, on my 52nd Birthday, Simone appeared.

Over the next two months, I realised what it was that was stopping me doing something every day: me. I was the problem, and to fix it would take more bravery than had existed for probably my entire life. As the sun set on the calendar Kickstarter, I make a breakthrough and went from ‘just a poet’ to ‘published poet’ and the World got an awful lot brighter as a result.

In the time it’s taken to make Simone’s idea a mass-produced reality I’ve undergone counselling, made exercise a daily habit as well as using meditation and exercise to alter my physical well-being. I’ve become a Time to Change Mental health Champion, have two poems being published before Christmas, and completed Red January as a successful fundraiser.

Crucially, I have tried to be consistent every day.

The journey to here has been anything but easy. However, two years on the path forward is a lot easier to grasp. Why things happen in my head used to be a mystery: not any more. If I use yesterday as an example, I know exactly what triggered my anxiety, and how it was then summarily dealt with. Understanding those reactions is an ongoing process. It never gets better, just easier. That’s perfectly fine.

My life now is a series of red dots on a calendar that mark the days when no only did I do something, but something better happened as a result. Once upon a time there’d be long periods when I never really participated as myself at all, but an echo of myself, a sliver of representation. Not any more. If I can’t cope, I ask for help. If I struggle, I tell people why.

Asking for help is still the hardest thing of all.

I’m really quite excited for this parcel. However, it’s just a thing, an item. The benefits above and beyond that purchase are only now being properly weighted and appreciated. It’s true, sometimes you’ll have to have a bike or some shoes or maybe a club or a gym to go to in order to make some dreams a reality. Other times, all you really need is to believe in an idea enough to make it real without those things.

Sometimes, you need someone else to tell you it’s a GOOD idea.

Turns out daily progress really was mine to dictate in the end.

Just Like Christmas

The sun is coming up and I’m in the kitchen, making my first cuppa of the day. On the radio Low’s ‘Just Like Christmas’ begins to play. There’s a moment of irrefutable resignation: this song has altered in resonance from the last time it was heard. It will now be forever associated with someone who, this year, was sued over something that was said on the Internet.

Let me tell you the story.

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I’m not even sure where we first met: was it Usenet? Possibly, it could also have been LiveJournal, but that would have been during its very early days. At that point he was living in the South West; we regularly emailed each other. They were funny, interesting and enjoyable communications, yet the truth was very apparent. His interest was, it transpired, only relevant until I was married. Then, silence.

In the midst of what I thought was a friendship, he sent me a Christmas CD. It was, it must be said, a work of utter genius: songs I’d never heard before, impressive pieces including Low’s song, which immediately became synonymous with him. It was only years afterwards that the truth became apparent: it was not a hand-picked, curated selection. He’d copied it from someone else. Melody Maker.

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When his name turned up in my Twitter feed this year I won’t lie, it was a surprise. Looking to see what had caused this, then it wasn’t. He was always unspoken, edgy, set in his ways, even back then. We were friends because he let me, I realise now. If there were any genuine care and sentiment that existed, I’m not sure I’d be able to judge it as such. Suddenly, knowing this past made an immediate connection with the moment.

What this makes me grasp is that having fulfilling friendships with anyone online is dependant on two way honesty. If you’re not regularly communicating with someone, like every day, yes you can be friends, but… it only works if you’re giving as much as the other person. If all that happens is taking, if that relationship is largely passive? No, they don’t care about you unless you see them do it.

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Sure, you can meet IRL once a year and it will be as if nothing changed, but to do this there is a fundamental part of yourself which needs to be given away, willingly. You can’t do it in letters, or emails, or blog posts. It doesn’t happen on Facebook or in Tweets. I’d need Skype and just you, tea and cake, actual physical interaction to move friendship past words on a screen.

I never met him IRL, and know why. If it had mattered, we would have kept in touch, and if that had happened there’s a better than average change I’d have distanced myself from him a while ago. In the end, his intractability was attractive as a discussion point but impractical as a basis for friendship. I’ve met people across all sexes who are like this. Sometimes, like it or not, you have to yield, or nothing is possible.

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I hope, by writing this down, Low’s song will stop giving me a burst of melancholy every time it’s heard from now on… but maybe that’s a good thing. It can be the warning that occasionally, stuff just isn’t meant to happen, however much you’d like that not to be the case. You won’t be friends with everyone, and it’s a waste of effort to try.

You accept the loss, and move on.

Wherever You Will Go

Today, we’re going to talk about learning.

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Learning is not just a grasp of information, it is a combination of many, disparate factors. Experience counts for a significant amount of the process too: how things work, so that over time you can better understand the best means to optimise and streamline processes. By far the best way to learn, is to do.ย This, for me, means a fundamental change in approach to… well, just about everything.

Firstly, it is dealing with issues as they occur. Take this morning: on the way back from the School Run, for the first time ever, my petrol warning light came on. Normally I’ve programmed myself to always ensure there’s no less than a quarter of a tank at all times. This week, I’m fatigued and other issues have deflected this base level preparedness. Looking at the dial on the car, two thoughts presented:

Go home, you’re hungry and thirsty, you can get petrol when you go out again

OR

Go find the nearest petrol station and DO IT NOW.

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This might seem odd, using summat so trivial to explain the basic trouble I have with life, but it’s a metaphor.ย Doing the right thing was, for so very long, summat that would be ignored over keeping myself safe, and by that I mean happy and unstressed. It’s always easier not to tidy up the big pile of mess and just find summat easier to deal with… which is all well and good until the sum of your mess piles overwhelms you and everything else. It’s the deadline you’ll never make, or the scary thing that never gets finished.

Failure really is no longer an option.

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You see, I’ve only just learnt that failure is less about other people and you, but more about you and other people.ย It meant I went and got petrol, then came home and did the stuff that I didn’t want to do ahead of the things I do. Learning is prioritising the importance of other people’s desires on a par with yours, and then working out how the whole thing can be harmonised. My daughter can be critical of my housekeeping skills with absolute certainty she’s right, but if she’s not practising self care and eating the lunch I give her, that’s not accepting my efforts at support.

Arguing with a 14 year old is absolutely the best way to learn and grasp your own shortcomings.

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I don’t care who you are and how much experience you claim to possess: EVERYBODY can do better right now. Whether it’s recycling, food choices, personal habits, online etiquette or just living each day in a reasonably worthwhile fashion, somewhere in your personal existence there will be room for improvement. I accept the esoteric need to learn fancy stuff like a second language, but as I’m still unable to adequately communicate in the single language known, sometimes going back to basics has merit.

What ought to happen most, it occurs to me, is the process of gentle exploration of self before anything else of significance takes place. Three people, in separate situations this week, all have suggested that mental health is the key to true learning comprehension. Maybe, if we all possessed some rudimentary mental health support during childhood or even on a regular basis in adulthood, it would become far easier to recognise the warning signs when stuff begins to go wrong.

Maybe that would make it easier for more people to recognise truth when it is presented.

Make it Shine

AM Run has become PM run, otherwise, we’re still on target.

Science has always been cool, and is as a result pretty tough to fool.ย Numbers can be depressing and stressful when they don’t say what you want. However, when used as tools for motivation in the right way, they are beyond useful. The key number up there isn’t the heart rate or the calories burnt, it’s percentage effort.ย Look, here’s how hard you’re working in real, uncompromising terms. I know you felt flat out in that workout, but it was lower than what you’re actually capable of.

You can ignore the science if you want, but it never goes away.

Psychology isย ‘the scientific study of the mind and how it dictates and influences our behaviour, from communication and memory to thought and emotion.’ย Thanks to twelve weeks of sitting in a small room, there is now an understanding of how my brain has affected every single decision made in my life, and that an issue at the very start of existence effectively warped an awful lot of subsequent thought processes.

Once you can see a mistake, it becomes quite hard to unsee.ย 

My issues with dieting and body image could fill a completely separate blog, several novels and probably an entire YouTube Channel. Understanding why that was the case has taken a little longer to fathom, but now I’m comfortable with truth. I eat when I’m hungry, work out hard and slowly, brilliantly, body is changing.ย I can see the difference, feel it with each workout. Strength comes from belief and dedication to my task.

Going forward therefore, everything else changes too.

Many people find it hard to accept difference. It’s abundantly apparent in the modern world: if you don’t look like me and think like me, you are frightening.ย If I don’t understand you, that makes you an enemy.ย Watching people grapple with differences over gender, ability, mindsets and attitude more and more become the things that define us as human beings. Being able to embrace diversity should always be the norm.

Except, of course, that’s simply not true. Everybody has their own horror stories. I am, I realise, responsible for perpetrating a few of my own. Going forward therefore, wiping the slate clean seems like a really sensible idea… except, of course, it never really does become totally clean. There are always the impressions of previous words there, especially if you pressed too hard when writing. Beginning afresh remains a hard ask.

Life is a process of learning and understanding. Sometimes, in order to make progress forward, it is important to take steps back and reconsider how things are done.

If you want me, I’ll be over here reconsidering how a lot of my life now works.

Reality Bites

Yesterday was one of those moments on Social media where it became apparent that my version of Reality quite seriously deviates from a lot of others. It was also a salient reminder that what gets published is never the full picture.

You need to constantly be reminded of this, especially with those who quite obviously use the platform as an advertising tool, or as means to show their friends how invested they are in their joint interests. Part of the problem for me, over time, is that my depth of obsession with a number of subjects has either drifted or ceased to exist. However, for others those feelings still remain, and it would be both churlish and unfair to prevent the enjoyment that they bring.

It’s also quite difficult to discuss the consequences of a difference in outlook without someone taking this as criticism, and that’s the bigger issue.ย Depending on what your piece of art (whatever it maybe) set out to do, should largely dictate the response it receives. Critical thinking asks of a reader, or viewer, or anyone participating in a group event not to just get lost in what they are given, but appoint personal relevance to the experience. That does not have to mean enjoyment.

This is where the whole fabric of Social media begins to show some basic flaws.

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280 characters is a pretty tough platform to get right first try. I ended up yesterday telling a story, getting the threading wrong (each Tweet in the right order, attached to the same header) and ended up copy/pasting the whole thing off into a work processing document before getting it right second time around. If you’re reacting instantly and don’t think your process through, the consequences should by now be quite well understood.

However, that’s not all there is to worry about. If you’re the person who is happy their mates are having fun and isn’t fussed when they flood your timeline, there is nothing to worry about. However, when you’ve had a shit day, and it’s time to not just allow people to be happy because that point needs to be made…ย we all know where this is going.ย I unfollow those who complain about Eurovision, for instance, because a) it’s a part of my timeline and b) if you don’t get it, you won’t get me.

Occasionally, these differences allow you an important insight into people’s outlooks.

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For me, all of these moments where my feelings split are carefully recalled for future reference. Occasionally however something happens (as was the case yesterday) where it’s more than simply a difference of opinion, and I think I see something that might not be there. What needs to happen then is the independent verification from others that a) I’m not insane and b) this can be interpreted in several ways. I’d like to thank therefore everybody on my timeline who made me feel that I’m not alone, and that this Reality isn’t just mine.

That matters far more than I initially realised.

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Everybody needs to recognise the reality checks when they happen. Being alone, having a difference of opinion that sets you aside from others is not a bad thing. It’s not reason to panic. It shows that, crucially, your reality is not just yours alone.ย Understanding why these differences occur is nearly as important as being able to accept that they have, and the whole process has potential to radically transform the way you think.

Just be careful how you react when they happen.

Tour de France

If you zoom in on that snap above, you’ll see the date on my acknowledgement is 2017. The organisers were giving out last year’s certificates at the finish.ย I think that’s a pretty decent metaphor for my entire experience, on reflection: slightly behind the times, and not really relevant as a result. I’d like to petition to take the word ‘fun’ out of that picture, as that was officially the only time a smile happened all day.

Let’s examine what we learnt.


I have a LONG Way to Go

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My stamina is not nearly what it ought to be. I completely failed at hydrating properly. I can’t feel the last two fingers and side of my left hand and if that’s still the case tomorrow, I will pop in and grab a Physio. There wasn’t enough work beforehand at mentally preparing myself and, as a result, I suffered. REALLY suffered. Miles 35-45 were what Hell would look and feel like for me, where I was forced to go up a series of small, innocuous hills over and again, with no chance to rest. There was also, crucially, absolutely no point at which I was enjoying myself.

A LOT has got Better

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No, REALLY, before you start telling me this is all negativity, the positives were there. The only time I stopped was to drink and eat, which with practice will happen on the bike. No hills had to be walked through, which is a quantum leap forward. My lungs are undoubtedly better, the ability to change gear and push through pain is there, and overall, considering how I feel this morning, this is undoubtedly the fittest I have ever been. Lessons have been learnt too over fuelling and sugar intake, which will go forward to Ride London on Sunday.

Essex is a Fucking Grumpy County Guv’nor AND NO MISTAKE

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BOY I’d not want to ride a bike on an Essex road at ANY time in the future. If there is one thing that has totally and utterly put me off ever doing this ride again it will be the motorists, who at no point seemed to care or be considerate of cyclists. If we aim to get the planet greener, I doubt Essex is going to take part in that, especially if yesterday’s ‘one twat per convertible’ headcount was any indicator. Special snacks have to be given to those who shouted at the organised bike riders to fuck off home, you da real MVP’s ^^

Cycling Elitism is Alive and Well

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There was a distinct gulf yesterday between the ‘turned up in casual clothes and a BMX’ crew and the hardcore, carbon fibre teams. The latter were either groups riding under an organisation’s banner (British Heart Foundation were strongly represented) or doing it for a family member. Needless to say, I didn’t see a single other Mind shirt.ย It was also abundantly obvious who was doing it for a decent overall time and who was there to do some good. I appreciate the fact there were people prepared to chat, but they were few and far between.


Sitting here this morning, it all feels like it was a bad dream. However, when I look at the stats, it definitely happened:

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I was going to train today, but the sensible thing for everybody is to take a day, do 36 press-ups at some point and go back to the treadmill tomorrow. I won’t massively improve my situation for Sunday in a week, but I can better plan hydration and food to cope with the distance. Having conclusively proved that carb-packing has no appreciable benefit to my system? Time to eat well and remove the sugar again until I’m actually on a bike.

Also, once the Holidays are over, it is time to see a doctor.

Find Time

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Occasionally, the Universe likes to remind you of the obvious
. If you’re not paying attention, these revelations can be ignored for decades… but occasionally, the stars align, and you are able to understand the fundamental truths of existence. This morning was one of those moments for me, but because the story that prompted it is not mine to tell but somebody else’s, I won’t go into details.ย I can, however, summarise the basic gist.

There will be points in other people’s lives where how you react matters far more to someone else than it does to you.ย It might be as simple as encouragement where none appears to be needed, or understanding of an issue that is trivial to you but means the World to the person you are communicating with. In those moments, don’t listen to yourself as the arbiter of truth.ย Just because something works for you, does not mean it is applicable to everybody else.

Sometimes, this is not about keeping you happy.

There’s been a lot of stress about Dentistry this week, wrapped around an experience had as a child after an adverse reaction to gas and air after tooth extractions. An eleventh-hour about-face over the wisdom of pulling certain teeth from my daughter’s mouth resulted in a long conversation yesterday with our dentist, the result of which is a complete rethink of what was planned. In the end, when I accepted without argument the wisdom of what I was being told by an expert, her surprise was both vociferous and gratefully received. There’s a sense that not many people accept what my dentist says as truth. I wonder if she was male if that would be different.

In the end, gender or authority shouldn’t sway people as to how they react to particular situations, but they inevitably do. What ought to matter more is empathy and experience. Looking past what we see someone as being, to what they really are, is tough. As I’m easily swayed by certain combinations of visual stimulus, so are others. This is not what should dictate our experiences. It’s the same mentality that told me to ‘toughen up’ as a child, that still gets thrown at me now for not being hard enough sometimes. I realised this morning that sometimes, that’s the last thing I ought to be doing.

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The only way to truly learn about yourself is to accept that sometimes, you are wrong.ย Today, I was and after taking the time to listen, I hope that maybe it will make a real difference to two lives going forward. This acceptance can often make it difficult to understand when you’re right, but yesterday’s events prove to me that my gut is becoming increasingly adept at understanding truth and acting upon it.

Nobody said living your life would be easy or fair, you know.

Try

As with all things, practice brings progress. That means I’m now using gears to cycle with instead of a ‘static’ bike for Zwift, and I’ve started imagining characters in my head and translating them to my sketch book. I get where everything needs to go on faces, and now need to begin to working out how I translate hairstyles, beards and accessories. How does a male face differ from a female one? How can I define androgyny?

How do I remember which gear when cycling makes it harder and then easier?

Why is my learning curve so fucking dreadful?

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Numbers are becoming very useful in helping me understand where in fitness I need to concentrate. That weighted power average would normally be up in the 120’s because up until yesterday I’ve been using a static bike setup that imagines every virtual road I ride on is flat, and adds difficulty via fixed resistance. Mr Alt and I swapped bikes last night: he picked up a Gumtree bargain before Christmas of a turbo trainer (which becomes the back wheel of the bike) which is able to simulate the ups and downs of the virtual course for you, forcing gear changes to compensate. That’s why I was at 73% intensity last night, half the time I did not have the first idea of what gear to be in. As I’ll need to learn this when I get on the road for real? There is no time like the present.

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Learning new stuff for me has always been difficult, and I am mindful at present of not being intractable. I can thrash and complain all I like but the only sure-fire way of making change is to do it. That means this morning I’ll sit and draw something other than faces for a bit, and think about how I make a diagram to stick on my handlebars to show what gear does what, so tonight’s trip up the hill is far more professional. If I give myself visual cues, things do get easier.

I suspect I have Warcraft to thank for that improvement in learning skills.

New Life

There’s been an standing joke running between myself and Mr Alt since I started using Zwift for exercise: I don’t do more than an hour at a time. As soon as the clock ticks over to 01:00:00 I stop and that’s me done. I knew the reasons behind this were sound, and last night science decided to show him with FACTS. My body is nowhere near as strong or capable as his is, and I genuinely struggle with endurance. On what I know about myself I’d expected to last about ninety minutes before legs stopped working. In the end, I made it to one hour and forty minutes before the bottom half of my body gave the finger and simply ceased to function.

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The first hour included pacing, not pushing 100% (as I normally do.) It did not matter one iota that I went up hills, because I’ve been training in fixed gear pretty much 90% of the time and the trainer I used down not automatically adjust when there’s a gradient. Resistance is my concern as a result and was only really used as way to give arse a rest from over an hour sitting down. The problem, on reflection, was that I never had anywhere to recover.ย Active recovery is a concept my trainer has taught me, the means by which you don’t stop after a burst of intense exercise. Having Mr Alt next to me who just pedalled through everything made me push, far more than was normally the case.

It is probably time I stopped training alone, and (more importantly) I don’t automatically assume that because I had to stop it was a failure.

These stats were a revelation, especially when Mr Alt showed me his for the same ride. He spent the entire ride in Zone 1 and 2, not really breaking a sweat, based on his own FTP (which is clearly considerably higher than mine due to his time cycling.) For me, there was no recovery time at all, hence why I finally had to stop dead. The next step in my journey is to work out how I can take the pain out of longer rides, and increase endurance/stamina. My goal of 110 miles a week is now complete: I’ll consider whether today is a rest day or not a bit later on, once I’ve got my prep work for the next seven days organised.

Once upon a time I would have gotten very nervous about using stats like this to rate my performance. Now I realise that there’s a mental disparity between ability and performance that needs to be both considered and addressed.