Hot Stuff

I need a weights-themed header. I’ll get on that.

The last time, up until this time last week, that I’d done an organised exercise class was shortly after the birth of the eldest. That was eighteen years ago. My local health emporium has recently trashed the two squash courts adjacent to their Gym facilities and built a room in which, I now discover, a peculiar form of torture takes place. Blaze, as the lovely promotional video indicates, is a particularly viscous combination of running, weights and hitting stuff. All this is done with an element of theatre and some quite loud dance music accompaniment.

To support my current PT (whose job going forward will be to run a weekly class) there was a promise to at least try a session. It was, without a doubt, one of the most frightening things I’ve ever done. After thirty three minutes came the first total sensory overload experienced since the ASD diagnosis in June, and I almost ran out of the room. Only then did I realise that you’re locked in, presumably as a means of protecting the rather expensive range of equipment enclosed within.

So, why am I now booked in for my second class tomorrow, you may ask?

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Part of that decision was to do with the support I was given by the secondary trainer who’ll be taking tomorrow’s class (as my PT’s on annual leave) after my unscheduled exit from the room. Not only was she receptive to my issues when told, she suggested breaking the sequences down into stages. Each ’round’ in a full class of 24 includes a section running, lifting and punching (with a TRX Suspension kit presumably used in tandem.) Learning the sequence of exercises is tough when you have so little time, especially for the woman with deficiency in learning abilities who struggles when presented with an excess of sensory input.

My PT has also reinforced this commitment to making the process work by helping introduce me to basic skills required in future weeks, especially in the field of mixed martial arts. Without both of these ladies’ care and commitment, I’d not be going back. To make sure they get the correct amount of thanks at the right level, after this blog is done (and it’s taken almost a week to pull thoughts together) I’ll be e-mailing the Club to extend my gratitude personally. I’ve bought my own gloves, pulled out my ANT-compatible Heart Rate monitor, and tomorrow we aim to complete one round of the process well.

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It is very easy to place obstacles in your path when trying to change long-term habits. For some time now finding the means to push mind out of comfort zones has been a challenge: Blaze presents me with two unique problems to overcome. Firstly, there is the physical intensity of a class that demands a great deal in terms of effort to ensure long-term benefit. More importantly, there is the mental challenges of taking instructions, acting on them, and doing what needs to be done well. Only by being able to combine both of these successfully will there be any meaningful progress.

It was also quite amusing, the morning after my first class, to be sent an e-mail by the club congratulating me on ‘smashing’ the session. I appreciate the elements of theatre and self-congratulation that marketing clearly thinks will make me feel better about myself, but it’s completely pointless. You don’t know how awful I felt not finishing. You don’t understand how hard this is to rationalise. A generic e-mail is not the way to make me feel good about my progress. That revelation came from real people. Perhaps there could be more focus on the people training and less bells and whistles going forward.

I don’t need exercise as distraction: to embrace it as a lifestyle choice there will always need to be a personal connection.

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I’ve changed beyond recognition in the last three years, thanks in part to the people who have offered advice and training along the way. However, in the end, I know it is my effort and hard work which keeps the goals shifting. When asked yesterday what kind of weight I’d dream of lifting going forward, I was honest with my PT. I just want to keep lifting. I want to keep pushing boundaries and overcoming fears and move forwards. This isn’t about maintenance and complacency. Every day should be a school day. Each session should give a sense of progress.

Fitness has to become a part of individual evolution.

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You know I mentioned my e-mail address stopped working a while back? Well, yesterday I discovered a quite important e-mail that had gone astray.

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I made it into the Ride London 46 Ballot. Fortunately I’ve not missed anything vital and the participation’s confirmed, though not gonna lie, I’m terrified. It’s exactly seven weeks on Sunday, which is also the day before we go on holiday, and suddenly everything’s become a panicked, anxiety filled mess. This is not how it was hoped such a thing would initially be prepared for and so, as a result, it’s time to take a fucking huge step back at the weekend and quietly consider what is needed.

However, before anything else, it is time to start selling the reason why I initially signed up to do this.

I grow tired of the pontificating on Social media by people who talk a good ‘let’s all change the World’ speech but don’t ever push their own boundaries to do just that. So, I’ve set myself a £500 target, and have already contacted Mind, who will provide me with a jersey and encouragement along the way. This seems to me a far better means of making sure that the people who really need help are getting it, because I’m giving money to an organisation who’s sole task is to do just that. Rather than just sitting on my arse saying I care, this is a constructive means of making things better.

If the anxiety ridden depressive can do this, then maybe that will act as an incentive to others.

The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul

Bear with me on this one, it will be worth it.


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Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SKYFALL.

This week, a video went viral of how badly James Bond has treated his women in five decades. It is, I suppose, like that moment in The Emperor’s New Clothes when the young boy says what he sees, and only then does everybody else grasp that they’ve been had. Bond has NEVER been above conventional outrage, even during the 1960’s. For a woman like me, who fell in love with Roger Moore and then came to understand that these movies were a fiction, the allure of Bond isn’t the casual means by which he deals with the emotional. It is the fact that he so beautifully typifies how I feel about the World. It always needs saving, the pleasure gained by doing so is ultimately short-lived and nobody really cares about your commitment as long as they’re happy in the end. It is escapism, pure and simple… except now, you can’t even do that in reality.

All that matters right now is truth and honesty, which is great… but to a point.

Bond doesn’t do emotional, or at least he didn’t until Daniel Craig came along and made 007 something more than the misogynist, sexist Dinosaur that Judi Dench accuses Piers Brosnan of being in Goldeneye. Bond since Casino Royale isn’t the same fellow as his predecessors, but that’s not what the evangelising liberators will see. All men are evil when they dominate and subjugate women, and although I agree 100% with this statement, there comes a point where you don’t need to be told. Please continue to hang spurious toerags who do this in reality out to dry, but be careful when you start impinging on other people’s fantasies because this is a dangerous game to even contemplate playing.

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Today is Time to Talk Day and instead of talking about my own mental health, I want to talk about Bond’s. Yup, if you can attack a fictional character in mainstream media for being too brutish, I’m going to ask how many people will have considered the long-term psychological effects of being a 00 agent. In my own fictional version of this world, I decided that Bond is probably encouraged to be bad boyfriend material for a reason: emotional attachments in his job, let’s face it, are hardly conducive, and the one time he did fall in love, the woman ends up dead in a canal in Venice. It is a simple and damning reminder that emotions have consequences, but more significantly it isn’t just the woman’s feelings that can be destroyed. Bond is damaged for a reason. If the plan now is to cast him aside as an outdated trope, what the hell will that do long term to stop this kind of behaviour from taking place?

How will we change this kind of thinking without treating the root causes of the problem?

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Learning to end discrimination also involves the understanding that people with mental health issues can often be violent and unpredictable. They can also be highly intelligent, controlling and flat out lie in order to maintain their notions of safety. In case you think I’m generalising here, I’m not, this is me speaking from extremely personal experience. In my life, I have been all of these things, and have had others do the same to me in order to deal with what they saw were my ‘issues.’ If you’ve never had a mental health problem, it can be impossible to understand the motivations behind actions. Talking to each other isn’t just about making your illness the discussion: it is only part of a complex equation that involves emotional support and understanding.

Many people are violent because of mental health issues that have gone undiagnosed for decades. It is not ‘brutish’ behaviour, and most certainly not unconsciously meted. The world we live in now seems happy to condemn everyone without nearly enough thought and consideration, and media right now is in danger of causing more harm than good with ill-conceived pronouncements. The real trick, ultimately, is to teach people how to deal with their version of reality (that which they experience and that which surrounds them) when it comes into contact with everybody else’s. If others are not capable of accurately understanding their behaviour, it must be up to us to not only be able to objectively do that for them, and ourselves.

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The key here is objectivity: being able not to tar everybody with the same brush, to step back from stereotyping, being able to accurately separate fiction from fact. Please don’t start condemning my entire life history, modern feminists. If you reacted badly to Friends and you think Bond’s had his day, most of my childhood’s now on time and you’ll be petitioning soon to pretend that most of the 1970’s never happened. History is there to teach us, not to condemn everything as bad, wrong, and worth ignoring. On this #TimeToTalk day, why not stop making posts as you somehow feel as if that’s the right thing to do. Why not start looking for answers: not other people’s, but your own.

Stop sitting and waiting for the answers to come to you, or be dictated by the latest media outrage. Go and find solutions for yourself.

Believe

Last night, something happened mentally that I am still processing, but which shed light on a whole bunch of stuff I’ve previously left well alone. The past does indeed remain where it lives, but occasionally what happened back then will give significant pause for thought. In this case, it was the action of trying to make a point and not listening to the response that caused a massive cleft in self-confidence. It doesn’t help that I didn’t sleep well last night, the exercise regime finally caught up with me and that it is time to make some sensible choices about what is doable.

I’m going to do as much as I’m able on the bike tonight and skip the Gym. The weights session I would have done today will happen tomorrow. This afternoon I need to sit, relax and process what has been unearthed, and in the manner of a World War Two unexploded bomb in the Estuary, safely defuse explosives at distance. Once that’s done I can tow my psyche down to Shoebury Garrison and they can blow me up there. This way nobody else gets hurt, and all the messy shrapnel lands in deep water.

I still plan to relaunch myself on Monday. On reflection, detonating a part of my old life and then scrapping it somewhere on the Essex coastline seems a wholly appropriate means of moving forward.

Let’s hope I don’t end up as a hazard to shipping in the process.

Panic

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Yesterday was a hard one for me. I woke up ready to do a lot of important stuff with my son, who completely forgot we’d organised it. This makes me cross,  but I’m trying not to get angry about it, so there was lots of deep breathing and patience. Then my daughter insisted on rearranging my afternoon. I was about 82% cool about this. After all, until both of them are 18, I am still responsible for actions and that means… well, being flexible. There were days I’d really struggle with this when I (and more importantly they) were younger.

By teatime, I was mentally exhausted, and still hadn’t done a weights day at the Gym, so managed to get myself out of the house. Arriving at said establishment, it became apparent that they were holding a ‘Power Hour’: DJ, lots of free instruction, and no way I’d be able to do what I’d planned. If I’d been in private I’d have just gone and locked myself in my bedroom and cried over the change… however I was stuck in the lobby, waiting to get in.

I panicked.

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Except, this time I didn’t just turn and go home, which was normally how I’d deal with these situations in the past. I focussed on breathing and trying to make the feelings of anxiety and fear into something positive. After all, I’ve been practising all this mindfulness for exactly these occasions. This is the moment where I’m supposed to use the shit to good effect… and I was reasonably successful. There were no (major) tears and a surprisingly dispassionate response to all of it. However, my higher brain functions largely shut down, I forgot how to talk and so just ran and Octane-d. However, I did force myself to do the Negatives in front of about double the normal number of Friday night Gym goers.

I still feel sick this morning: however, once I’ve eaten and had a cuppa I’ll go and walk back there and do the weights I couldn’t do yesterday, so I have done at least two sessions this week. I can return to three next week as everyone is back at school. On reflection, I know now all the reasons why yesterday ended up as it did. I can work out how to make things better based on a whole day’s worth of data. I can also be reassured that the Mindfulness training has 100% improved my entire existence. Yesterday could have ended up as the first day when I truly went backwards on exercise, but instead, it will now be remembered as the first day I fought, beat and won against a panic attack.

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I ache a lot this morning, and very little of it is to do with last night’s exercise, I suspect: stress has begun to physically manifest in my body as I have gotten older. My sleep wasn’t stellar last night either as a result but I got a full 8 hours in total, so that’s enough. I wanted to write this down this morning after a night to reflect because I’m only just beginning to grasp how important yesterday was in making sure I’m mentally prepared for what is to come. Doing stuff on my own used to be a fraught experience, but not so much now.

I look forward to the day when I can breeze through everything and wonder what the fuss was about, to begin with.

Saturday

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I know, instinctively, that the days of not pushing myself are over. The moments when I’d rather just curl up with a duvet and a good book, especially after a poor night’s sleep, are over (at least for now.) Lying awake at 3am this morning, in the midst of a hot flush that was so fierce my skin felt as if it were melting, I remembered the mindfulness practices I am learning and reduced panic to an inhale, exhale, focus on the breath. Amazingly, it worked. There is always this rueful disbelief when something I’ve been taught turns out to not only be helpful, but a revelation.

This week has been a lot of that.

Journeys are not simply getting to your destination: more often than not is the stops along the way that define the final trip. Today, that means sitting in a clubhouse built as Legacy content for the 2012 Olympic Games: a place that is buzzing with life and enthusiasm, where a continuing commitment to sport has become the true significance of events from five years ago. Watching women warm up outside the window, a really decent men’s hockey game on Pitch One below, is the reminder that life happens in ways I forget.

The TV above me is the reminder of a constant backdrop of concerning and often disturbing World news: Brexit, Iran’s missile testing, an escalation of world tensions that then put my existence against an even larger backdrop. Once upon a time all I would have cared about was the stuff that directly affected me. Now I realise that, with 50 years on the clock, the time for such selfishness must be over. The moment has come to try and find ways to give back beyond my personal bubble. How I do that is still very much in flux.

There are starting points, however: the Patreon this week, when I focused on personal development, got more interest than at any point in three months, and I’ve learnt an important lesson in combining academic and individual experience. I’m writing something this weekend to help a friend hopefully resolve a personal issue successfully, grateful I can utilize a skill for good. Then, I am giving back to my husband, which to my shame I should have done a long time ago. He is the kindest and most forgiving of men in that regard, and I am very grateful that there is still the opportunity to do so.

Once upon a time, a Saturday alone would have been my desire, but I’ve spent far too much time alone already. Destiny remains mine to dictate only to a point, and the understanding now that I willfully, for so many years, wouldn’t push myself out of that bubble… it is like looking at someone I no longer know or understand. Most importantly, at 3am this morning, came the final understanding that introspection makes for great poetry, wonderful fuel for fiction, but crap content when I write a blog. The days of blaming myself for things out of my control may finally be coming to an end.

Sometimes I am told I care too much about things that do not matter, in the wider scheme of the planet. When this happened before, my reaction would always be the same: well, it matters to ME and that is all that is really important. Only now do I grasp the truth, that only by stepping back from emotion and truly thinking about WHY things happen can you ever expect to improve as a person. Only after having children has there been the ability to put self aside and truly learn how basic emotional reactions matter, and that you have a direct control over consequence.

Only by being able to accept what is wrong with me have I been able to change.

I’ve officially had enough of introspection. The best work I do however is with that quality at my core and not the periphery. The trick now is to put aside the stuff that doesn’t matter to focus on the people and things who do. Next week is the most important week of my new ‘career,’ where my own actions will effectively make or break a potential stream of revenue. If I’m going to succeed in this venture, I cannot afford to allow myself to lose belief I am able to do so. Sometimes, you instinctively know when you’ve fucked up, and then there are moments when you simply have to trust your gut that this is the right path.

I am on the right path. This is the way forward.

Blue Skies

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Not every day is brilliant. What bothers you might not be the same as other people. It is really easy to get hung up on details. Every day you are lucky enough to wake up, have food on your table and a roof over your head should be sufficient to keep you happy, but that’s inevitably not the case when all that can be seen are your own failings. Trying to understand why happy is not possible for other people is, like it or not, like trying to catch smoke. All of these could start a blog post today, but I choose to use them all.

When you live with depression on a daily basis, watching other people having to deal with it can be rather uncomfortable. There is no instant fix: each person’s reaction to the demons is different. You can try and find a solution to their peculiar situation and that’s great if you do, but this relies on the person wanting to be helped. Communication therefore can be fraught, or even impossible: if someone refuses to listen, there’s nothing that can be done. You have to hope that a gesture or an assertion might make a difference, but that is all it is: hope.

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I know that, for a long time, I did not want to hear a lot of what was said. The impetus was not just on other people to accommodate the shortcomings and understand what was needed. There had to come a point where, like it or not, I had to get off my arse and contribute. I can tell you exactly when those moments occurred, and what the consequences were when this happened. Some sent me backwards, but most were enough in combination to help force an escape from crippling internal fear. Now, the concerns are wrapped around staying put, and not letting circumstance snap back.

That person that I was is frightening, looking backwards on history. Selfish, inward facing, supremely arrogant. Nothing was my fault. Everybody else was the problem. Me now, in this space, is nowhere near perfect but I have shit under control. Knowing what causes the issues really helps, controlling situations in terms that allow things not to be stressful or confrontational. The problem will come, undoubtedly, when something major hits. Illness, death, trauma… all have the potential to throw everything skywards,  destroying sanctity.

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Depression is a deeply personal experience, and impossible to accurately quantify. I’m incredibly lucky to have people around that care and understand, that will listen and sympathise, but some of them still don’t get how to deal with me. I’m keeping busy because it stops me from thinking about the bad shit: please don’t guilt me into feeling bad because of that. It isn’t you that’s the problem, it is ALWAYS me so please give some extra space to allow problem solving to happen. Trying to explain this to people is hard. Some days, this is the best way: at a distance, so there’s less emotion involved.

I’m learning as much as everybody else how living with depression works.