Brilliant Mind

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I am noticing a disturbing trend on Social media. I hope this is just isolated incidents, and the people involved realise that there’s a very fine line to be skirted here that maybe, possibly, is being overstepped by the zealous.

There is an increasing feeling that some people are using mental health as a way to sell themselves.

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First off, let’s be clear: having mental issues being discussed openly is NEVER something I want to stop. It’s an important, nay essential part of removing the stigma and increasing awareness. However, as has been the case in the last few weeks, I’m seeing people using mental health issues to promote websites (that aren’t anything other than personal portals) and to sell items, where I’m told the money goes to help mental health charities, but the implication remains that they’re also allowing individuals to profit from the exposure. I appreciate the sentiments behind sites like this, but honestly? That’s not the way this works.

Twitter wins with charities like Time to Change whose presence is 100% not about selling me something or offering suspicious advice that may only work for a minority of people. The sometimes broad-brush nature may annoy those who feel there are better ways to deal with these illnesses, but the fact remains the generic nature of their campaigns reaches the widest possible audience. Accepting you have a problem will be the hardest thing most people ever do. After that? Then you get the chance to work out the details.

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Watching other people using mental illness as the means by which to further themselves has always been a prickly subject to address, especially on Social media where it is almost impossible to tell who’s being honest (or not.) I know where I stand on this, that my mental issues are very much real and historic, but can’t speak for anybody else. What I would absolutely never do is use that as a means to market myself. I make headers for posts to alert people to the discussion, but you won’t see it used in the Patreon as a selling point at any time. My personal life is something I talk about, but which doesn’t get sold. If I help somebody by sharing, then great, but there’s no way that becomes my stock in trade.

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Without the Mindfulness Course, my life would be a lot more stressful right now. I’m very grateful for the lessons learnt and an ability to step out of myself objectively. I just hope those people jumping on the coattails of the mental health ‘revolution’ currently taking place are well aware of the depth of responsibility everyone shoulders when they talk about their illness. Using it to sell your product is wrong. Using it to sell yourself may be even more insidious.

Think

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I am returning to something I never finished before the start of the Summer.

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I began this course before being diagnosed with the gallbladder issues. Without it, I doubt I’d have coped nearly as well with surgery. It seems like the right time to return to it, especially with the peculiar background of World News. Mindfulness, as I have discovered, is not for everybody. In fact, challenging demons is a tough ask for a great many people. I’ve always avoided drugs, mostly because I am well aware of the addictive nature of my personality. Writing has granted a clarity to vision that I have no desire to either diminish or lose. Mindfulness grants an opportunity to listen to yourself, and cope with what is heard.

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In my case, this was eminently apparent an hour ago, as I sat in a dentist’s chair for a check up. As a kid there was a horrible incident with gas and air, which I still dream about (and not in a good way.) That makes even sitting in the chair an unpleasant and uncomfortable experience, but today I went with the ability to detach myself from what was happening. As tools whirled and sharp metal things poked my gums, I concentrated on the shape of the chair itself, how it felt under my body and ignored the other sensory inputs. It was, if truth be told, a pretty effective exercise.

This was how I’d rationalised moments that could be dealt with back in May whilst ignoring those things that couldn’t be changed. It is how I’ve quietly and systematically taken out of the equation a number of negative factors affecting my daily output, and pretty much just focussed on good. Of course, nothing is 100% foolproof, and I’ve still had some massive fails along the way (Car getting hit again being a case in point) but, in the main, I can thank mindfulness for quite a bit.

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The next stage is to complete the course. The one I’m taking asks for a fee (£30, $38) and then allows you access to all relevant materials online. You can see what that entails by clicking here. It absolutely won’t be for everybody, and if you’d like to do some more general reading about the concept, try starting here. Like most things in life, treatment depends on knowing what the problems are to begin with. For me, there’s a fairly specific list of issues, and each one is being ticked off in a slow and methodical fashion. Patience has never been my strong point, but as I know how long it takes to learn new skills, there’s no point in getting stressed. Things will happen in their own time, but often that’s not good enough.

In this case, slow and sure is absolutely, totally fine.

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Exercise is bloody hard work. Believing that simply taking protein supplements is going to give you a body like The Rock’s is, like it or not, living a massive delusion. I have to admit, the implication that under 30’s would believe this feels pretty insulting, and without any kind of hard facts that prove the point, the bigger issue is teaching better nutritional awareness. Protein shakes have their benefits: my husband’s using them to very good effect currently as a way to maintain weight, in tandem with what is a stupidly healthy diet prior to another bike race on Sunday. They can be incredibly useful to kick-start weight loss too. The article that started all this talks about what an average body requires to stay healthy in terms of protein: no two bodies are alike, and if you don’t sit behind a desk every day the number of calories needed will vary.

Mostly, the press can only ever talk about health issues in general terms. Studies and reports increasingly are taken out of context to highlight particular issues, headlines created as clickbait. It is quite rare to be presented a whole truth in reporting: like it or not, that doesn’t make for very engaging content. History reminds us however that promising people better bodies using advertising is hardly anything new. This kind of ‘persuasion’ has been going on as long as newspapers have needed advertising: this isn’t about buying anyone into the idea of supplements or aids either, it is convincing the gullible that their physique is flawed. In the modern world, obsessed now with body image in all its various forms, that is probably more concerning that handing over money to companies for anything that could be considered largely pointless if you just amend your diet and exercise more.

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I was asked at the weekend why I’d started weight training by a total stranger. The answer is twofold: it has always been something I wanted to do, because I equate strength with physical fitness. Body image is largely irrelevant, but keeping asthma in check is far more important: I can have a direct and positive effect on managing an illness which, as a child, meant exercise was off the cards… except, now I find myself wondering what might have been different if my parents had encouraged that urge and not suppressed it. I’ll never know, of course, but now I’m in a position where breathing difficulties are the exception due to my own hard work. The sense of satisfaction and achievement that gives is beyond significant.

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The irony for me is that my stomach refuses to process either protein shakes or gels: I can swallow them but they’ll be straight back up in short order. If I want to lose weight and build muscle, it’s good old fashioned food groups: chicken, lean meat and white fish, flapjacks and nuts, or protein bars at a stretch. On days like this when the sugar craving is strong, that can be a hard ask, but my brain’s spent over a year grasping the undeniable truth that you really are what you eat. If protein shakes help people be healthy, honestly, what’s wrong with them? In 40 years, if Global Warming has its way, we could all be eating proteins in powder form anyway. There’s an assumption only one real way exists to be healthy, and that’s simply not true. Sure, you can eat cake and drink coffee but if that’s your life without exercise, it’s as bad in its own way as never eating a ‘healthy’ meal. The key here is not one thing or the other in excess, but balance.

The truth about health is never hard and fast. Reality, as always, depends on the individual deciding to make a change, and then sticking with it. There are many success stories, but for every miracle weight loss or transformation there are the many who can never make it past the scales or the next meal. Like so much else in life, change must be yours to instigate. If you want something enough, it will happen. For myself, I can attest that a healthier lifestyle has transformed my life at 50, but that is only part of a far larger and more complex set of circumstances. Knowing that, I’ll never discourage anyone wanting to start the journey, but it has to be on your own terms.

Decide what you want, and then make a plan to get there in the healthiest manner for you.

Iconography

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I’ve been stealth writing stuff all weekend, since Thursday night, mostly because I don’t want to bore people with braindumps that means a great deal to me but not much to them. A friend told me I am perfectly within my rights to own my trauma, but there comes a point where the weight between exposition and boredom becomes very real indeed. I only need to look at my lovely and long-suffering family to understand that, like it or not, some days you just shut up and get on with life. The problem for me, right now, is that history is being rewritten. This is not revisionism, anything but. I am remembering the past as means to survive the present, and that is making for a lot of sudden and sometimes painful revelation.

This morning, we have returned to at least a semblance of normality.

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I went out after dropping the youngest off at School and did about ten days worth of overdue external running around: paying in cheques, posting mail, organising various things ‘outside’ including trying (and failing) to get a doctors appointment for my son. The earliest I’ll now manage outside of school hours is Wednesday, I’m glad he’s not horrendously unwell, or I’d be camping outside the Surgery tomorrow. I am also, inescapably, suffering what I now know is referred pain. Tonight cannot come quickly enough and yet, it is taking forever to arrive. However, I am making the most of the perception disparity by shoving as much work as possible into the space provided.

This may be only a semblance of normality, but it will do.

There There

This week has been tough. Mentally I’ve coped pretty well but physically, my digestive system is a mess. Having to lose what I’ve become reliant on in terms of high fat foods was a wrench my body initially wasn’t at all happy about. However, a week in and I’m beginning to cope. The other major loss is what counted as rewards on Treat Days are effectively out of the window too until I can get the all clear on my scans. I’ve been living on coated nuts in small portions, the occasional flapjack and luck, mostly. I wondered if I was doing this right until I got on the scales: my weight’s dropped consistently this last week, and I’m almost two pounds down. The key here is that there’s been only light exercise, because again I’m on orders not to strain my trunk area too vigorously.

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It is more than a year now since my last period. The night sweats remain, but are slowly tapering off, and I don’t seem to get hot in the daytime nearly as much as was the case before: *gasp* I’ve felt genuinely cold on a few occasions this last week, which is a distinct change. The biggest difference is my skin, which used to be really greasy: now I’m almost permanently dry, but the skincare routine is taking care of that. Oh, and body hair’s stopped growing, which means that I’m brushing my hair less and it is undoubtedly thinning. If genetics isn’t lying I won’t go bald, but even if I did I think that’s a hurdle I could tackle. I love my long hair now and I’ll be making the most of it for as long as I can.

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It seems odd at this stage to be undergoing so much change, but I’m quite sanguine about everything that is happening at once. I’ll be doing a session at the Gym later with weights but only light Cardio, just so I can keep momentum going. I don’t have a PT on Monday as my trainer is away so I think going forward I’ll plan to do *something* daily in order to keep the weight loss moving but not get too stressed if I don’t break goals. I’m certainly not in a mental state of panic or unhappiness over anything related to weight or exercise right now, and long may that continue.

In fact, everything’s looking just fine.

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Before I sat down to write, I took a rubbish sack and a food recycling bag and removed everything bad with an excessive carbohydrate count from what is known in this house as the ‘treat’ cupboard. No, it won’t cure me or anybody else in this house of their sugar addiction, but it draws a line in the sand for my tolerance. If I was living with a bunch of virtuous, healthy and happy people then I’d argue the approach would be different. It is time to move forward.

I’m not doing this to make me happy. What ails me is nothing to do with comfort eating. I am well aware of where the shortcomings are in my life and, like it or not, many of them will never be mine to fix. I can simplify gaming to make it more relaxing and act as a substitute for sugar, but again this doesn’t deal with the addiction. I can continue to lose weight and move forward but until I deal with the causes of anxiety, I’ll always be on the back foot. That means today, I’ll make a phone call.

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However, I anticipate a significant wait (as has always been the case) and so, whilst that happens, here are other things that can be done. One of them is to try and stop stressing about the stuff I cannot change, and to focus on the positives I already have. It’s all very #FirstWorldProblems stuff right now, which is why it feels a bit bad and wrong to discuss it as if there’s more relevance… but it matters to me. Decluttering will help, as will tidying generally. Getting out with the camera is another way to help alleviate stress that I’m not taking full advantage of, and with better weather on the way, I should be out more.

In the end, becoming the arbiter of my own destiny was always going to come with a catch. Nothing is ever smooth or perfect in its execution, and anyone saying otherwise is an all out fraud. This is a new journey, only just beginning, becoming one with all the other places I am moving towards, and I will find the means to fit it into the fabric of my existence eventually, but until I do? I promise not to complain, or indeed to mention it again. Needless to say, stuff doesn’t get fixed unless you work to do so. Bodies are no different to brains.

I’ve got this too.

 

Size of a Cow

This is the story of how I FINALLY lost 10 pounds and moved my exercise journey forwards.

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This week, the scales shifted down for the first time in quite some weeks. Fitbit has only recently started registering and tracking weight loss, it never existed when I first signed up. However now, I can see how much has vanished since the new software kicked in. There’s a sad truth behind this 10 pounds that made me stop in my tracks. I didn’t grasp just how many times it has taken to get this far. The problem with apps is that they rarely lie, and that means that, at least for me, five pounds has been a millstone for quite a while.

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I was shocked at this statistic, and went to look at my weight measurements for confirmation. I’ve been trying to lose the same five pounds for close to a year.

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This belittles the work I’ve done to get this far as well, because it doesn’t show the level of effort or that muscle and fat have been swapped with a quite definite regularity. If all you see are the numbers and not physical change, the potential to go backwards is, I know, a fair deal stronger than it would be if all I had was weight loss as my objective. This journey’s become therefore a lot more about self-education: yes, I can read all the gumph in the world about eating to lose weight and what exercises work the best, but none of that is necessarily going to work for me. That’s the problem with the Internet: everybody is out there trying to sell you the best way to do things like they’re a) the only person doing so and b) their way is the optimal path for you, and that’s a bunch of wobbly dumdums. What is best for ME is when I understand WHY things are happening, and I can grasp the relationship between what I eat, how I exercise and how that affects my progress.

This is the new world I now find myself in, and it is amazing.

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I can tell you the key changes that have been made to improve my ability to lose weight: they include stopping with the Special Fried Rice on takeaway night, removing myself from temptation when hungry and not lying to my PT when she asks me if I did all my exercise promised from the week before. However, I hate to break it to you guys, but the #1 overriding reason why I’ve succeeded in losing weight is that I’ve worked myself into the fucking ground. That meant that yesterday, on the back of five hours sleep, I dragged myself out the door, walked to the Gym, ran for nearly an hour and did 30 minutes of weights, before walking home and promptly falling asleep. Yes, exercise is meant to give you energy and vitality, but in a menopausal 50-summat it was enough to destroy me yesterday almost completely.

That’s normally when you want to give up.

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When I look back at myself in pictures, from when I started the serious part of this journey, there’s now an inescapable difference between then and now. Once upon a time I couldn’t see it, and had I allowed myself to be swayed by the fact that nothing (apparently) was changing in my mind at the time, I’d be no further forward. All those years of trying and failing to lose weight had nothing whatsoever to do with how I did it or with whom. The biggest single issue, ultimately, was myself. That’s easier to write now than it has been at any other point in the past too, that there’s come the final grasping of a truth that underpins everything else that I do. When jokingly I’ll mention that ‘people are stupid’ to someone in conversation, I’m talking about myself. This inability to want to grasp the failings and shortcomings that have hindered progress for decades makes the current revelations all the more bittersweet.

This could easily have happened a long time ago, but never did, because until fear was addressed and faced, everything was impossible. Shame and embarrassment are potent shackles in a mind that believes that what matters more than being free and happy is conforming to norms that were never placed on you to begin with, but end up being applied by everybody else. Once there’s the ability to look beyond the constraints of what the rest of humanity tells you is possible or acceptable? The only thing stopping progress, ultimately, is death. I write this sentence for a friend of mine who, right now, is going through the most difficult of circumstances as a reminder: every day is special, each moment to be appreciated and treasured as if it were the last, because that might well be the case. A life not lived well is not really a life at all.

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Now I’ve lost 10 pounds, the next goal is 15. These are hardly real world issues for you or anyone else but for me, this is a journey I am determined to complete. It has become a metaphor for an ability to do what is needed, to allow honestly to underpin everything, and to not be a lie. It is in effect, not clean living but honest living. I don’t need funky foods and stupid fads to be better, just myself and common sense. This then becomes a measure of how the two combine with current circumstances.

I believe I am capable of anything I now want to do.