Try a Little Tenderness

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Over the years, I’ve written extensively about my mental health issues: if you’re bored, go look up on the gaming blog the dates in previous years when Mental health days have corresponded with posts. Having spent time talking to professional media people over the last few months I realise a lot of those stories would not be considered as acceptable for general consumption, and not just because of their subjectivity.

It is easy to slip into stereotypical behaviour when you’re the one who’s struggling to cope, and the whole point of weeks like this is to try to alter everybody’s mindsets, including your own. Telling a story matters, of course it does, but doing so in a fashion that alters outlooks and challenges stigma means thinking long and hard about language, and how other people will react to your words on a page.

Language is the key to so many things.

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I’m still caught up using insults that will undoubtedly resonate with those of my generation, but which are woefully cringeworthy in the modern world. It helps a lot in this regard to have a 15-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son who constantly remind both me and my husband just how jaded and dated our language can be. Having a decent digital friends list is also an advantage.

This isn’t just about listening either, learning is vital. I possess the world’s most pathetic learning curve, so there are still insults that slip out, especially when stressed. Unlearning historic behaviour is a tough ask: however, if I can be taught to run from scratch, can find the means to beat personal bests posted when I was considerably more physically able? It’s doable. People can change.

The bigger issue, of course, is if they want to.

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This week I’ve produced quite a lot of content in relation to the MHAW Theme of Kindness: there is a lot of history for me, online, where my own anger has superseded the rational. Many people have decided I was the villain too, and sometimes, they were right. Admitting your faults, especially in writing, is a tough ask for many, but an important part of the process to grant both redemption and healing.

Being kind to yourself, ultimately, is the hardest task of all.

Round and Round

Regulars will have heard me talking a lot about Zwift in the last month, since training at the Gym became impossible and I got a bit nervous about going out on my own. My husband is an avid cyclist: he completed the inaugural Ride London (and every one since, though we are predicting this years will yet be cancelled in August and are looking forward to be proven wrong.)

That means, in the shed at the bottom of our garden where the ironing happens and music is played, there are two static trainers, and over the last month I’ve been doing my best to get back to the form I possessed a few years ago that helped me complete the shorter form of Ride London (the 46) for charity. It’s not a ‘pain cave’ as the Zwift people like to call it. It’s therapy. This is what is helping me keep positive.

It is a new, and quite different experience from what has come before.

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I am very much aware I am a VERY long way away from the ‘pro’ training users that Zwift is targeting in that video above. This is not about massive gainz or training for races. It is trying to find the way I can stay fit, and remain mentally comfortable whilst doing so. Being socially isolated because of my health, I’ll be honest, is beginning to get to me, as I suspect is the case for many others.

I would really like to be running on a treadmill and lifting weights. I miss the rubbish dance music soundtrack someone else clearly thinks is motivational. I miss my friends terribly. Writing those three sentences has been enough to reduce me to tears, so it is fair to say that any reasonable substitute for all of these would be great. Zwift gives me the illusion of lots of people, and the certainty that behind each avatar is someone who may well feel the same way I do.

Even if they don’t, I can imagine they are frightened and uncertain too.

My husband keeps encouraging me to chat whilst riding, but it currently takes all the brain power possessed just to ride. I’m not even sure there’d be that much to talk about  with all the serious and clearly far fitter people anyway: as I literally crawl around the courses at 1.2w, one assumes such endeavours are paid scant attention. All the courses and special events do, in all honesty, make me a bit nervous.

I didn’t come here to win things. That’s not what this is about: there needed to be a place where exercise could happen, to a soundtrack of my choosing, where effort could be monitored, recorded and then improved. Last night, discovering the Free Ride function meant I got to choose the effort, and Zwift simply provided a backdrop. For an hour I felt more free and relaxed than has been the case since this real life nightmare began.

That alone is worth more than than could be currently quantified.

Right now, I am (pitifully) slowly grinding my avatar to max level. You are awarded XP for finishing rides, custom workouts and group events. I also discovered that all the different courses grant extra XP if you complete them, and last night began a journey that will take months to complete at the speed I ride. That’s absolutely fine. It is a notional goal that grants motivation for attainment, and is exactly what is required right now.

This has never been a sprint, and at 53 maybe I can aim for the occasional best time going forward, but that’s never why this is happening. Mental wellness, right now, matters more than the level of fitness, that’s just a bonus. In what can be quite a dark and lonely place on some days, Zwift grants me a purpose, and is the constant reminder that there has to be something other than just leg days.

Eventually, I will climb high enough for the Tron Bike too.

Eventually.

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I did not want to get out of bed this morning. Yesterday was a tough one for eating discipline, plus exercise. For the first time I can remember, there was a scrabble to find a snack before my scheduled class: I was light-headed. It would have been a struggle to do 55 minutes without it. As it transpired, by the end of the class, there was not a part of me that did not hurt.

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The killer, undoubtedly, was being pushed out of comfort zones: having to pick different weights for the strength portions of the workout, being asked to run on a 10% incline (I didn’t, walking was enough to kill both hips) and to spend approximately half the time lying on my back, exercising chest and core… there’s enough of an understanding now about these graphs to grasp that 75% effort from that is a massive bonus.

This however is not an exercise post. Today is about happiness, and how it feels to be out in the fields, watching the rest of the world around you throwing their toys out of ridiculously decorated prams, arguing about petty insignificances in their lives that somehow end up being so much more important than they need to be. There’s a lot of that going on in my corner of existence too. People forget what really matters.

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I thought it would get harder as age advanced to separate what’s worthwhile and isn’t… except, it is getting easier. It’s really easy to be stupid, to act on your own desires ahead of common sense and considered reason. That’s what has caused so much trouble for me over the years, allowing obsessions to overtake reality. That’s what’s happening around me now, on Social media… people who should know better, losing their grip on reality.

Having dragged myself out of bed, to do the day despite feeling like body was broadsided by a truck, all of this boils down to choice. Nobody is making me eat this cleanly except… well, me, and it would have been easy to not attend last night’s exercise class. 18 people were booked, only 12 showed. All these decisions are based on the realisation that even on shitty days when everything hurts, this path is worth walking regardless.

Back it comes to principles and ethics, every time, that innate sense that whatever happens, more than at any point before humanity requires a moral compass that is unshakeable. It’s why attacks on free speech matter just as much as those using fake news to try and sway the unsuspecting. This isn’t just innocence or ignorance that needs to be addressed either: smart people are being stupid. We should not facilitate this.

That means, on any given day, making sure I don’t retweet the people being stupid but simply comment on them. It demands I look for voices of reason and objectivity, because from them comes the means by which we can be set free of our own restrictive and often damaging thinking. To reinvent ourselves in the modern world is an absolute requirement: it needs to take place, often on a daily basis.

True happiness does not manifest without considerable personal effort.

Lies

When I first joined Twitter, nearly eight years ago, people encouraged me to talk about my mental health issues in an environment that felt instantly welcoming. The truth, however, was not nearly as open as was first apparent. There was that DM by one particular person which still lives bright in my brain: just want to make sure you’re not lying about these issues to gain attention. Their ‘brand’ now commands a five figure follower count.

The best thing I ever did was to block them.

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In the intervening seven years and eleven and a bit months, I’ve learnt an awful lot about how certain types of people can be massively detrimental for mental health. There’s the type that do anything to get attention, including actions that are only executed in an attempt to incite anger or fear. Then there are those who obsessively retweet or like everything you do in the vain hope you’ll notice them… and the list goes on.

As a woman, it is especially galling when, after having had what you think was a decent conversation with someone, they immediately decide this must be an overture to trying to start a relationship. Forget that you’re happily married with two children, because that would shatter the illusion of ‘that perfect internet connection’ and then, with a heavy heart, you’re blocking and ignoring another attempt at inappropriate behaviour.

Don’t get me started about telling certain people that they’re wrong about their opinions.

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Today is about making people aware that there is help in the world for their mental health issues, a drum I’m happy to keep pounding for the rest of my adult life. The problem with such days, inevitably, is ignoring negatives and only accentuating positives. There is no one thing to fix everybody. Finding individual peace can often be a long and complicated journey. Take it from someone who’s still working that out.

To assume everybody who says they are suffering really is… that’s a tricky issue. I’ve come into contact with a couple of people for whom Munchhausen via Internet could be applied, but realistically one must never take the chance people are lying for attention. Eventually, if you are being deceived, the truth becomes apparent. That’s been true in every single situation I’ve encountered over nearly a decade.

We have to believe everybody is telling the truth, regardless of our own feelings.

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My gut’s pretty sound after 50 plus years. The ability to spot a wrong’un amongst the genuine sufferers comes from taking time to listen to issues, even when others think nobody is listening. Shouting into the void is what began my path to enlightenment, and if there’s the means to continue that expansion of mind and body with other people, absolutely it is worth doing the work. It’s basic common decency.

Everybody has the potential to develop a mental health problem. It is our obligation to help anyone who does, regardless of how we might feel about their motives. However, as help is offered, be mindful of your own mental health needs. The world is as much about understanding yourself as it is helping others: for every action, inevitably, there is a consequence.

It is a delicate balancing act, but so utterly worthwhile when it works.

Talk Talk

It’s been over a decade since blogging started as therapy. Yesterday came the realisation it has become something else entirely. That revelation seems a good way to mark Time to Talk day in the UK:

DAY 4:
Sometimes, it is up to you to make the difference, FOR NO REWARD.

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I get grief in my family, from time to time, due to the enthusiasm in reminding them, and indeed anybody else who sticks around long enough, that mental health issues don’t go away just because you’re having a good day. There is sometimes an assumption that, like that niggly back injury or the persistent nuisance caller on your mobile, that just ignoring the problem means eventually you’ll forget about it or it will just vanish on its own. That’s not how this works. 

If someone gleefully informs you they’ve ‘cured’ themselves of the mental issue that was preventing them being happy, there’s a better than average chance they don’t have the first clue what they’re talking about. In time, sure, just as there will be a means by which Altzheimers and Asthma can be eliminated thanks to the exploration of human DNA, there could be a moment when scientists isolate the genes that cause depression or anxiety and choose to switch them off… but even that wouldn’t work for everybody.

Mental illnesses are incredibly difficult things to universally treat.

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There is more to this whole situation than hoping bad stuff just goes away or finding the means to eliminate your problem completely. There is CHOICE, and that’s where listening comes in. When you ask someone to talk about their issues, they don’t just sit there and say all this stuff whilst you’re on your phone or pretending to listen. YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO LISTEN. By doing so, there’s the chance you’ll care more, begin to understand or find yourself wanting to make sense of what you’re being told, and that’s as important as helping the other person feel better.

You’re not just providing a service by listening. You’re becoming part of both treatment and solution.

I’ve been using a number of hashtags and Twitter accounts to try and get my message out this week, and if you’re reading these blogs it should be fairly obvious that it’s not part of a drive to get my follower numbers up or ‘promote’ my brand. However, one of the people whose blog I’ve tried to rope in to distribute the message messaged me this morning with a reminder: if you don’t follow us, we won’t retweet your message. Effectively, give us your support in return for listening.

That’s absolutely not how ANY of this is supposed to work.

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Promoting other people’s attempts to improve their lives is not about what YOU get from it. This is not about suggesting that it’s a service either, and those who use this as means to further their careers are, at least in my opinion, playing with fire. I’ve learnt that to my cost in the last year, and the lesson is simple: don’t be the talker. Learn to listen. The most important thing you can ever do for someone you care about is be that person. Let them trust you enough to feel an ability to be honest. If that happens?

The entire world can change for the better, in a heartbeat.

So, as this day is all about encouraging people to share their issues, understand that as the person on the other side of the equation, you are granted a great responsibility, and with that (as the wise people say) comes great power. Don’t squander or belittle this task you are given. Make it your task to ask the right questions in response. Learn about what your friend is going through (I hear the Internet’s a great place for learning about stuff like this) and, most importantly, be understanding. 

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10 years ago I started talking about myself to random strangers. Now, these words are beginning to create a legacy of my journey, this trip and arrival as a person who is happier and healthier because of the truths such conversations revealed. It is now a new journey, to discover exactly what I am, to fill in the holes that exist in my life. Without talking, none of this would have happened. However, without listening to both myself and others, far greater truths might never have been accepted.

Every day is a school day. Whatever happens, be ready to learn.

You’re So Vain

Starting tomorrow, for a whole week, I’m going to bore you shitless about what happens in my head. My problem with all the times this happens with other people (normally sponsored by the charities who all need to promote that message or newspapers trying to cash in on Time to Talk Day) is the inevitably sanitised version of events that is presented, because you don’t want to scare normal people into being too frightened to help.

Throughout my entire life I have experienced first hand what happens when ‘normal’ gets involved in the equation, and honestly it’s like living the same day, over and again, before everybody else forgets how horrible everything was except you. You are trapped in your own Groundhog Day, except there’s no cute large ground squirrel for company or the opportunity to fall in love with Andie MacDowell.

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The choices presented therefore are often difficult, painful and ultimately hurtful. If I had to sum up the overriding emotion felt right now, undoubtedly is is sadness. Trying to get other people to understand when the world generally right now does not have a fucking clue what’s going on, mired in uncertainty and often anger. With so many other things taking up the precious free time others possess, why bother helping other people?

Mindfulness has, at least for me, opened a door to better mental places, spaces that only I inhabit away from the noise and fuss of the rest of reality’s demands, which allows the opportunity to deal with sadness, anger and resentment quite effectively. It gives the means by which obstacles can be circumnavigated, and wisdom slowly distilled from the journey thus far. What have I learnt, in all of this? Fear is what underpins everything.

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We’re not talking being afraid of spiders, or not succeeding in my new career path, because both of those are now happily rationalised. We need to treat all the world’s creatures far better than is currently the case, and I have already succeeded, and will continue to do so going forward, because these paths are not hampered by my own inability. Sure, there are days when mentally below par that they become problematic, because nobody is perfect every day. You do what you can to survive.

Fear stops my brain from pushing my body, or at least it used to. Yesterday, in the gym, all those people who can just run without the nagging fear they’ll run out of breath, that their legs will stop working, that the treadmill will dump them face first on the floor in a comedy moment. Each one of those fears has been removed, rationalised and dismissed. Yesterday, I just ran. The most difficult thing ever became the most normal thing. That’s my brain at work, and why everything makes me so fucking tired.

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In the end, of course, those people who stop listening to other people’s issues are often those with their own demons to face, with no desire or ability to start that process. Reaching into computers to tell them this is, I realised quite early on, a mug’s game. Many are here to play the martyr because it suits their agenda. If you have spent a lifetime without the means to deal with the world around you, the Internet’s a perfect platform to find like minded souls who do the same and HEY then you’re not alone any more.

Except it’s all a big, fat lie. Dealing with your issues will vastly improve quality of life not just for you, but those around you. That’s the key: this isn’t just about taking care of yourself. It is the benefits your new outlook will grant in the wider world of work, social interaction and all places in between. Most crucially, at least for me, it grants you the means to communicate to others like yourself that yes, this is worth the pain.

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Trying to work out who is listening can be a fairly hit or miss affair, of course, and wading into people’s lives as some kind of white knight bringing salvation is not the kind of thing to be recommended, especially in the current political climate. So, start small. Cake .GIFs, the occasional hug. Ask a question in your timeline that might promote some discussion, but don’t think that because nobody answers, this doesn’t work. Helping people is not a means by which you gain followers or increase reach.

Genuinely helping others is not a clever Tweet with an inspirational photo sent at 5pm because that’s when the most people will see it. That’s opportunism, appealing to the widest audience and although it might work for some, its now unlikely to be even noticed by the people who need it most. True support is learning to listen, understanding the land and then presenting people with the tools they need to grow, encouraging whilst they do so. The true heroes are the ones who never get the accolades.

You have to ask for help and mean it to move forward, staring past the rhetoric of others and the belief that nobody understands except you.

Amazingly, you really are not alone.

I’m Your Man

After due consideration, Chocolate-Free January is cancelled. This is due to an unexpected change in mental fortunes, an obdurate receptionist and Elon Musk [*]. What it does mean is that the second cuppa has a far more enjoyable accompaniment, and it is high time to break down what’s changed inside me over the last three months.

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Once I was told Autism was part of my problem, I’ve regretted not pushing for a more specific diagnosis: the spectrum is wide, plus it is entirely possible that some of my mental issues are not tied to the disorder. Having encouraged a number of other people to go seek diagnosis in the last year, it was time to do the same for myself. My initial attempts to find any help through the NHS were woeful: bypassing that system has already provided a measure of relief. But where does that leave me in relation to everything else?

Yesterday’s issue, trying to deal with my daughter’s ongoing allergy problems, came as a real surprise. This will be (probably) the first time in about a decade that kind of panic has resulted from a random confrontation with people. With care and thought, all the issues are easily rationalised and avoided, but undoubtedly come moments where you can’t plan everything. Was that what played out yesterday morning? I don’t think so. It is actually becoming easier to deal with conflict at home, in places where previously that ability did not exist.

I think this is me, putting down markers for other people’s behaviour.

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My PT suggested yesterday that perhaps her absence was part of the problem, but that’s certainly not the case. Yes, I’ll admit there is often annoyance and frustration when other people change plans last minute or (as was the case on Friday with the Doctors) one receptionist’s suggestion was fairly robustly contradicted by another. Right now, sitting here, none of my normal rules or reactions appear to adequately cover the hole in my head that absolutely exists. I have no idea what it is, only that it needs to be uncovered.

Is it my inner child frustrated with her lot? Nope, that’s reconciled. Is it an impending Empty Nest where there’s no kids to lavish unconditional love on me? Nope. Is it personal relationships generally? Despite knowing I need more real people in my life, this isn’t causing as much issue as it did before the fact registered. In fact, looking at all of the potential stones in my road, nothing is a genuine surprise. I got emotional at the Doctors because someone who should have been understanding, wasn’t.

Yesterday I got upset at someone being mean.

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The automatic assumption when you are the unreliable narrator in every story is simple: that has to be your fault, not someone else’s. When it turns out that actually, that’s not the case, it can be quite a shock to the system. I’m not to blame for everything: some stuff sure, absolutely my problem, 100% me. Not this time, and that is why I lost the plot. That’s the first genuinely emotional reaction I’ve had to anything negative in quite some time. I still feel, am able to enjoy so much: the other side has been so well bottled up over the years…

The consequences of this are still percolating through my brain today. Maybe it is time to stop taking the blame for everything that appears to go wrong, and instead work out what is truth within the emotion. By doing so, I’ve been granted a clarity of vision that simply did not exist before.

This is something that needs far more thought.


[*] I crushed a dream this morning, expressed my opinion, and was met with stony silence in the car. Yeah, he makes great memes, but I don’t think he’s a particularly nice person.