Body Image, Weight Gain and COVID

Oh hello, it’s been a while.

Apologies for the radio silence on here! I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t posted in over seven months.

Why not, I hear you ask?!

Self-doubt, angst, social anxiety, the usual. Fear has been holding me back, and we all know that the biggest obstacle to success is fear. Luckily, I am now fearless like a lion (I’m not, but I have missed blogging, so here we are). Without further ado…

Weight gain has been a focal point of the COVID lockdown; you’ve probably heard jokes about the “quarantine 15” or terminology such as “lockdown bod”. Unsurprisingly, I don’t find jokes with underlying messages of fatphobia particularly amusing.

I have previously written about why you shouldn’t comment on someone’s weight (whether that be weight loss or weight gain), and this is relevant now more than ever.

Not only have the jokes about weight gain (i.e. fatphobia) increased considerably over recent months, the COVID lockdown has seen a sharp rise in eating disorders. Humour that relies on weight stigma masks diet culture’s connection to body shame, misogyny, and classism. “I need to socially distance myself from the kitchen LOLZZZZZ” might seem like a light-hearted, throwaway comment, but it further stigmatises weight gain and is highly triggering for many.

I’ve experienced varying levels of negative thoughts about my body for as long as I can remember, and like many, this has been amplified over lockdown. Every anxiety has been intensified, and comparison is at an all-time high.

It takes time, patience, and conscious effort to undo the body shaming that has been picked up over the years. Having previously been diagnosed with potential hypothalamic amenorrhea (potential as my contraception at the time may or may not have been masking an underlying abnormality), consistently working on my relationship with food, exercise and my body is a priority.

I know that I’m happier and healthier at my current size vs. four years ago, but the constant influx of “quarantine 15” posts have brought up old insecurities and shame.

As always, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this (unless your thoughts are steeped in fatphobia, in which case I would kindly ask you to bugger off).

Has lockdown had an impact on your body image? How have you dealt with this?

Mell x

Oversensitive

‘I don’t want other people to decide who I am. I want to decide that for myself.’ *

“You’re oversensitive, and other people (men) feel the same way about you”; I recently received this feedback from a colleague, and I have been mulling over it for a few days. This was delivered under the guise of ‘constructive feedback’, and my first reaction was to take this criticism on board and change my behaviours accordingly.  

After some contemplation and conversations with others, I’ve come to the realisation that this was not constrictive feedback – it was an accusation.

Women are soooOOOOOooooOOOOOO

Oversensitive

Crazy

Hysterical

Irrational

Dramatic

Etc. Etc. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before – I certainly have.

There are many confusing contradictions when it comes to women’s behaviour and emotions, and sometimes bringing up issues of oppression can feel overwhelming and exhausting. What we really mean by oversensitive or crazy is “she displayed some form of emotion, and this made me feel uncomfortable”.

Accusing someone of being too sensitive is not only patronising and dismissive, it’s downright manipulative.

The comment that my colleague made sparked feelings of uncertainty. It made me question myself, and the validity of my emotions. Essentially, I was letting somebody dictate how I was supposed to feel.

Your feelings are your feelings and being sensitive is not a character flaw. Your emotional state won’t magically disappear because a man has advised you to modify your reactions – in a way that suits him and his disposition, of course.

So, the next time someone accuses me of being oversensitive, I will take this as a compliment.

“I’m too sensitive”

I am empathetic.

I am compassionate.

I feel things deeply.

I am assertive.

I have strong and healthy boundaries.

*Emma Watson

A Time to Reflect

I wrote this blog over a month ago, but I was too scared to post it! I wondered whether it was too ‘deep’ or perhaps too personal. However, a wonderful friend convinced me that it could be a useful read for others – I hope you enjoy it, and apologies for the delay!

2019 was the most challenging year of my life with regards to my mental health (I won’t go into detail as I have written a couple of blogs about this). I feel incredibly grateful to be at a stage where I am now managing my PTSD and anxiety a lot more effectively, using a combination of therapy, medication, exercise, and having open, honest conversations.

I’m oddly grateful for my mental health struggles. I have gained strength and resilience, and a fierce determination for the year, and decade, ahead.

I have also seen the dark side of our mental health system, subject to brutal cuts, huge demand and dangerously long waiting times. This has pushed me into becoming a mental health advocate, sharing my story and fighting against an underfunded system.

I’m writing this from a pretty good place (mentally, not physically, as I’m currently writing this sitting on a bench just round the corner from Sam’s 99p store). I still experience some intense periods of poor mental health, but they are far less frequent and significantly easier to deal with.

So, my key learnings and general thoughts from the past year are as follows…

1. You can take time for yourself. You SHOULD take time for yourself and stop feeling guilty about it.

2. Saying that… self-care, as a concept, is becoming increasingly problematic.

Self-care has become commercialised, and this commercialised self-care tells us to spend £50 on a face cream or buy a vanilla latte with soymilk.

We need to take a step back and think about what self-care is and what self-care is not. For me, self-care is any activity that has a strong focus on my mental and/or physical health. It isn’t a complex morning routine or a 2-hour meditation session. It’s the simple things; trying to get at least 8 hours sleep, taking my medication, running, swimming, cycling, eating ridiculous amounts of peanut butter.

3. ‘Toxic’ friendships can be avoided/terminated/managed.

Side note – Toxic was Oxford’s word of the year in 2018, and it’s still a massive buzzword. The phrase ‘toxic friendship’ is overused, cliché and quite frankly irritating – but I can’t think of a better way to capture what I’m trying to convey!

These types of friendships can be detrimental to our mental health, and it’s important to remember that not all friendships are obligatory. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ve had any ‘toxic’ friendships, but I’ve certainly had (and still do have) troubled friendships.

I think this ultimately boils down to respect; if you do not have mutual respect for one another, you may not have a healthy friendship. Some friendships require physical and emotional boundaries, but when you realise that a friend doesn’t respect you it may be time to walk away.

4. On a more light-hearted note, over the past year I’ve discovered that I’m pretty good at baking! I make a banging lemon drizzle cake. And a banging madeira cake. AND a banging raspberry bakewell cake. (Thank you, Delia, for all of the above).

I’m not going to sugar-coat it – 2019 was challenging and beautiful and rewarding and terrifying. I’m proud of my achievements, particularly buying my lovely little flat and running a sub 4-hour marathon – but most importantly, I’m just grateful to be surrounded by so many wonderful, inspirational people.

Alllllll the gratitude going into 2020!

My Top Three Podcasts of 2019

Back by popular demand (not really), this was one of my favourite posts to write last January, and 2019 turned out to be an even more nuanced year of podcasts.

I thought I’d share some of the podcasts that I have consistently enjoyed over the past year – let me know if you give any of them a listen!

1. The High Low

Launched in 2016, I was a little late to the game with this one. Piers Morgan described The High Low as “a couple of braying posh girls talking gibberish”, which obviously made me want to listen to it even more!

The High Low explores and combines ‘high-brow’ and ‘low-brow’ culture; Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes discuss current affairs and pop-culture in a way that really resonates with me.

Some highlights include:

  • Instagram’s Proposed Removal of The ‘Like’ Counter
  • We’ve Only Gone And Done It: A Deep-Dive Into Wagatha Christie
  • Why Mental Health Is Nothing To Do With Wellness, with Author Bella Mackie

2. Football, Feminism & Everything in-between

In this podcast, Grace Campbell (comedian and feminist activist) and her father, Alistair Campbell, (yes, that one) discuss…well, football, feminism and everything else in-between.

Part of the magic of this podcast is how varied each of the guests are, from Ed Miliband to Joey Barton; thus, their views of football and feminism are rarely the same.

I am, of course, a feminist, but I wouldn’t put myself into the football fan category (sorry Dad), therefore initially I was unsure whether I would be able to appreciate or relate to the conversations surrounding football. However, some of these discussions have been so thought provoking, and I’m beginning to understand how football can open up broader discussions around important topics – human connection, race and mental health to name a few.

Some highlights include:

  • The Scarlett and Richard Curtis One
  • The Julia Gillard One
  • The Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce One

3. Happy Place

Fearne Cotton’s podcast now plays a significant role in my morning routine; it’s so relaxing and easy to listen to.

Fearne interviews an eclectic line up of guests, sharing how they find joy and how they deal with some of life’s challenging moments. A lot of the conversations are around mental health and spiritual strength; ultimately, each episode explores what happiness means – which of course is highly subjective.

I won’t pretend that I’ve loved every episode, as some of the guest speakers have been a litttttttle (extremely) irritating. However, overall, this podcast is a true celebration of life; it feels very authentic, and unsurprisingly Fearne is an excellent podcast host.

Some highlights include:

  • Mary Berry
  • Matt Haig
  • Dawn French

And so the rise of the podcast continues, as does my podcast obsession… please do let me know if you have any recommendations!

End of Summer Anxiety

I’ve recently heard a lot of people use the term ‘August Anxiety’; this describes the panic/dread associated with the thought of summer coming to an end. I can relate to this, having experienced similar anxiety around this time last year.

Before delving into this, I want to touch on the difference between feeling anxious and having anxiety.

I have a real issue with people using the term anxiety lightly. Feeling anxious or worried about something versus suffering from anxiety are two VERY different things. I could write a whole post on this, but to summarise, feeling anxious occasionally is natural and healthy. Anxiety becomes more problematic when it is not just an occasional occurrence, but a mental health condition that needs to be treated as such.

I’ve read an abundance of articles comparing end of summer anxiety to ‘back-to-school blues’, which once again I think undermines what anxiety actually is. ‘Back-to-school blues’ and anxiety are NOT the same thing! However, I thought it would be helpful to share a few of my tips on dealing with end of summer anxiety – whatever your definition/concept of this may be!

  1. Embrace new challenges

I will be taking part in my first triathlon at the end of September which is a completely new challenge for me. I’m dreading it a little due to the swim (and the cycle. And the cold water. And the transitions. And everything but the run), but I know that the sense of accomplishment will be incredible.

Try something new that keeps you active/something that energises you!

2. Enjoy the sun

I try to spend as much time as I can outside; I swear by a lunchtime walk every weekday, no matter what the weather. The extent to which daylight exposure impacts mood is something that I’m not going to delve into, but I have experienced some of the short-term benefits.

Plus, my anxiety will often become worse when I don’t exercise (to clarify, the only reason I wouldn’t exercise is due to injury/illness); walking is a fantastic form of exercise, and there is an abundance of Scientific research to back up the effectiveness of adding walking to your daily routine.

3. Take a technology break

Whilst I cringe at the (ever so) millennial term ‘social media detox’, taking a break from technology has been key.

Apart from sending the odd message, I put my phone in airplane mode an hour before I go to bed. I muted all group notifications manyyyy years ago, and as of this weekend I’m going to turn my phone off either every Saturday or Sunday from 9am – 6pm.

This has been beneficial for my mental health in a variety of ways, a key one being SLEEP.

4. TALK

I’m aware that I’ve mentioned this on multiple blog posts, and I will continue to highlight it in future posts. Talking about your thoughts and feelings is a fantastic coping mechanism; your feelings are important, your feelings are never insignificant, and opening up about your struggles will (hopefully!) make you feel a bit better or at least remind you that you are not alone.

Talking about your feelings allows you to take control of them, which determines how you feel, think and act.

5. Journaling

I have previously written a post on the health benefits of journaling. Check it outtttt.

I hope that this was helpful – I know that end of summer anxiety or any form of anxiety is a lot more complex than this, and there are a wide array of treatments and coping mechanisms that I haven’t touched upon. These are just a few things that have helped me.

How do you deal with end of summer anxiety? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Is Carbon Offsetting Worthwhile?

Firstly, I wanted to apologise for no longer blogging on a weekly basis – SO many of my fans have been asking why this is the case (two people have asked me). I only want to blog about topics that I feel passionately about, and by committing to blog on a weekly basis, it was reaching the stage where some posts just didn’t feel quite right – thus I may be blogging less frequently, or perhaps more frequently, who knows!

Blogging aside, I have been wanting to write this post for a while…

We’re all aware that flying is terrible for the environment; flights account for 2.5% of the world’s carbon emissions, and the industry is growing. As carbon offsetting becomes increasingly popular, I wanted to share my honest thoughts on whether paying a company to offset your emissions is a beneficial way to approach the issue (spoiler alert – it’s not. It’s really not).

What is carbon offsetting?

There are two types of carbon offsetting schemes, corporate (directly through the airline) and personal, which allow people to ‘balance’ out their carbon footprints by making a voluntary financial contribution towards projects that help to reduce CO2 emissions. It is based on calculating how much CO2 is emitted by an activity (predominantly flying), and then funding a project designed to reduce carbon emissions such as tree planting or clean-energy projects.

It’s great that carbon offsetting is raising awareness of the environmental impact caused by our lifestyle choices – when I say lifestyle choices, I don’t mean this in a condescending way – of course some flights are unavoidable due to a variety of reasons. It’s also great to support credible initiatives that increase energy efficiency and contribute positively towards aiding the climate crisis.

Other than the importance of raising awareness, I am sceptical about carbon offsetting.

It seems like carbon offsetting is being used by many, particularly irresponsible influencers, as an easy way out of taking real responsibility. You’re not ‘neutralising’ the damage that you have caused by going on multiple press trips to Bali and Thailand in order to promote poor quality teeth whitening toothpaste. You’re simply appeasing your guilty conscience with little interest in improving your carbon footprint.

The ethics of carbon offsetting are complex, and this post is not about shaming anyone for flying (tomorrow I will be flying with a budget airline, so who am I to judge?!) It’s unreasonable to ask people to stop flying, but it’s perfectly reasonable to ask people to think about a major reduction. The simple and most effective solution is to reduce your own emissions.

If you do choose to offset, please do so responsibly; the programmes that I have been recommended are Gold Standard, Climate Care and My Climate. However, this is not a route that I wish to go down – I fly a lot less than I used to due to the nature of my job, and the fact that I often choose UK based holidays over travelling abroad.

I believe that ‘carbon neutrality’ does not exist when it comes to flying. Carbon offsetting is obtusely class blind, and in my opinion, not something that you can buy your way out of. Please take some responsibility, please look after our planet, and please excuse all my clichés.

Steps Towards A More Sustainable Lifestyle (I Failed Plastic Free July)

For the second year running, I am attempting plastic free July.

Plastic Free July is a global yearly campaign which promotes the refusal of single-use plastic during the month of July. Last year, I think I did a pretty good job. This year, I failed miserably. I’ve chewed gum daily, I’ve purchased food wrapped in plastic, I’ve forgotten my reusable coffee cup, I’ve smothered glitter on my face and 80% of my tea consumption has not come from loose leaf tea. These are just a few obvious examples; undoubtedly, I have also consumed single-use plastic unknowingly.

Rather than making excuses or stating that there’s ‘no such thing as failure’ (there is – I’ve failed plastic free July due to my own lack of planning), I thought this would be a good opportunity to focus on the positive changes I have made in reducing my carbon footprint since completing plastic free July last year.

  1. Eating more sustainably

I have drastically cut back on my meat consumption over the past year, and I reduced my dairy consumption about five years ago. We all know that eating a more plant-based diet is one of the best ways of supporting the planet; if we all made some minor adjustments to our diet (and they really are minor!), we could make a huge difference.

I also buy staple foods in bulk (e.g. pasta and oats) which wastes less packaging and requires less transportation.  

Whilst ideally I would purchase local food and support local businesses (I most definitely do not want to be supporting huge companies that already make millions of £££), the truth of the matter is that I don’t currently have the budget to consistently shop at my local farm shop, or to always buy organic and sustainable foods.

2. Consuming less

I simply buy a lot less STUFF. I rarely buy new clothes, and when I do, it is with the intention that it will last me at least a decade. This is not an exaggeration – my favourite coat is one which I purchased when I was seven years old.

Without trying to come across as a pretentious moron, I generally purchase from mid-tier brands (i.e. I buy fewer things of higher quality), charity or vintage shops.

Being an ethical consumer simply comes down to wants vs. needs. It’s about making informed decisions every time we purchase something. It’s about treasuring and valuing our possessions. Marie Kondo sums this up perfectly; “I believe that owning only what we love and what we need is the most natural condition”.

3. Washing less

I know this sounds a little gross. However, there is simply no need to wash multiple times per day. In fact, if I didn’t run so frequently, I would probably view daily showering as being unnecessary.

Unless it’s hair wash day (which takes approximately 86 hours), I spend no longer than two minutes in the shower, usually less. An average shower uses about five gallons of water per minute; therefore, two minutes is more than enough!

4. Creating a sustainable home

As a first-time buyer, I still have a lot to learn about sustainability in the home. There are some elements that I have very little control over with it being a new build – for example, I may have opted for better quality doors, and I most definitely would have installed underfloor heating.

A few simple things that I have implemented are:

  • Limiting water waste and using cold water in the washing machine
  • Having the curtains open until the moment I go to bed. Sunlight is free!
  • Monitoring my electricity consumption (I am the Queen of this)
  • Using microfibre clothes instead of paper towels

5. Educating myself

This one is self-explanatory.

A couple of ethical and sustainable living podcasts that I would recommend are The Minimalists Podcast and Sustainababble. I would also recommend reading ‘On Eating Meat’ by Matthew Evans (although I wouldn’t bother with this one if you follow a vegan diet!)

Any other recommendations do let me know!

So, whilst I am fully aware that this year’s attempt at plastic free July was poor, overall, I’m happy with the positive changes that I have implemented over the past year. It is impossible not to end this post with a cliché, so I might as well just go for it; if we all make small changes, it will make a big difference. Don’t be lazy, don’t be complacent!

Is Cancer Research UK’s Obesity Campaign harmful or necessary?

I have had many interesting discussions about Cancer Research UK’s latest campaign with friends, family, mental health professionals, psychologists, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals.*

If you have not yet seen CRUK’s new campaign, it features a cigarette packet stating, “obesity is a cause of cancer…like smoking, obesity puts millions of adults at greater risk of cancer”.

CRUK’s 2018 campaign (which was very similar to the current campaign) was criticised by many academics, healthcare professionals and obesity organisations. It’s clear that CRUK have not taken this advice on board.

It’s very important to highlight that obesity is not necessarily a cause of cancer; we know that there is a link between being overweight and the risk of cancer but stating that obesity causes cancer is misleading and irresponsible. The links between obesity and an increased risk of cancer are not yet fully understood.

The campaign reinforces the ridiculous ‘fat is a choice caused by laziness and lack of willpower’ notion, which is something that we have been conditioned to believe. Weight gain can be caused by a huge variety of factors – genetic predisposition, poor mental health, hormones… I could go on.

There is an epidemic of obesity, and of course something needs to be done about it. This does not have to be done using language that fuels our society’s perception of obese people being lazy, unmotivated, ‘out of control’, amongst numerous other negative connotations. Culturally, this should be approached very differently – ideally in a way that does not cause as much potential psychological harm.

Multiple studies have been carried out to establish whether this form of campaign is effective i.e. does this type of advert encourage people to lose weight? The overwhelming response is no; feeling ashamed of our bodies encourages disordered eating and further encourages weight stigma.

To reiterate, I am not denying the potential negative health impacts of being overweight. However, I will never agree with any form of advertising that shames people.

A petition has been created to hold CRUK accountable for their weight stigmatising campaign. If you would like to sign the petition, click here. I would ask you to read the petition, alongside the open letter written by a variety of healthcare professionals, academics and activists, with an open mind and a little bit of compassion.

*I don’t feel that I should have to give a disclaimer each time I write a new blog, but I’m a worrier, therefore: I am not a healthcare professional, nutritionist or dietician. This is simply my opinion. However, I have received the guidance and opinions of a variety of healthcare professionals.

The Health Benefits of Journaling: A Mell Telka Guide

I was asked to write this post by a friend who struggles with anxiety. I hope they find it helpful, and I hope that others do too.

Earlier this year, I was encouraged to start journaling*. I made a half-hearted attempt at this a few months ago but, to put it bluntly, I didn’t really see the point. However, a few weeks ago I started journaling daily, and I must admit that I am a bit of a convert.

There is increasing evidence to support the idea that journaling has a positive impact on mental and physical well-being. 

I don’t want to provide too much information on how to begin journaling, as I’m still working this out myself. However, here are a few tips that I have discovered in my journaling journey (journaling journey?!) thus far:

1. Write quickly and freely; do not worry about spelling and grammar. I found this hard at first, given the fact that typos give me mild palpitations. Don’t strive for perfection; your journal is for your eyes only (unless you feel that sharing it with others might be of use).  

2. Pick a daily/weekly/monthly theme. Some of my initial attempts at journaling left me feeling negative, hence why I gave up. I now realise that this is because my writing had no structure, which led to me writing a variety of jumbled up, confused thoughts.

I now have dedicated days to write about specific topics, although I will deviate from this if there is something more pressing that I feel the urge to write about.

I also conclude each post by listing three things that I am grateful for. Daily gratitude is something that I have been practicing for years, and although it may sound a bit wishy-washy, the simple act of writing down the things/people/opportunities for which I’m grateful forces me to pay attention to the things that I sometimes take for granted.

3. There’s no wrong or right way to journal. I have been told by numerous people to use paper only; journaling on one’s laptop or phone is supposedly ineffective. This is complete and utter rubbish; do what works for you, not what works for a 42-year-old man from Preston (just a fictional example. Obviously).

How does journaling help me? It helps me to understand and manage my emotions. It helps me to feel empowered and in control. It helps me to identify my problems. It helps me to put things into perspective.

Journaling is something you need to get used to and comfortable with, and I’m not quite there yet. It’s a powerful tool, and one that I am keen to explore further.

If you journal, I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Why do you journal? How frequently do you journal? How do you structure your writing to ensure that you don’t go off on a tangent?

*Journaling, in my opinion, is whatever you want it to be. For me, it’s about exploring my emotions; both the uncomfortable emotions and incidents, and the overwhelmingly positive emotions and experiences.

My Mental Health Journey (Chapter One)

Inspired by mental health awareness week, I wanted to share an insight into my mental health journey. The reason I have titled this post (Chapter One) is because this is very much a journey that I am still on; it’s not something that has an end date, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

I have spoken about my anxiety, panic attacks and other mental health struggles in a previous post, and after many years (almost a decade) of being too ashamed to talk about this, I am finally at a stage where I feel comfortable having open and honest conversations about my mental health. In fact, I actively try and talk about it as much as I possibly can, because I find this so helpful. As mentioned in my post about anxiety and running – shame has no place in your life!

However, I understand how difficult it can be to reach out for help, or to even acknowledge that you might need help, because I’ve been there. I thought it might be useful to explain the steps that I took, and the steps that I am currently taking. (Disclaimer – of course, this is relevant to my mental health journey and I am by no means suggesting that these are the steps that anyone else should follow).

Just over a year ago, I reached a point where quite simply I could no longer ignore the fact that I needed help. I can pinpoint the exact moment – it was Thursday 31st May at 6:15pm and I was at East Croydon station. I was on my way to a 10k race, organised by my running club, and for some reason I decided to get off the train two stops too early. I stood there on the platform feeling completely lost, full of dread; a kind of foggy, overpowering, out of control feeling which was both horrendous and liberating all at once. It was liberating because it was the poignant sign that I needed to seek help.

That evening I emailed the Samaritans, and I can’t thank them enough for their support. They convinced me to book an appointment with my GP, and for me, this felt like a big step because up until that moment I had simply refused to acknowledge that there was an issue. I needed somebody to TELL me to visit my GP, even though I already knew that it was an appropriate first step.

Over the past year I have tried CBT, talking therapy, mindfulness classes and most recently medication. Of course, there are plenty of other ways that I look after my mental health. This includes leading an active lifestyle, eating well, moderating my alcohol intake, and all the other things that 21-year-old me would have mocked, but 28-year-old me wouldn’t have it any other way #adulting

At this stage, I don’t want to go into detail about what’s worked for me and what hasn’t as of course this is different for everyone, plus I’m still working this out for myself. One piece of advice I would give is to try and be open minded. For example, up until recently, I was SO against medication; the thought of it terrified me. I know others who assume that mindfulness is a load of rubbish, or that CBT is a pointless exercise – assumptions that cannot be made prior to trying out said method. There are many ways to take care of your mental health and being open minded has definitely helped me. 

Another piece of advice I would give (this is advice that I have given previously, and advice that I will continue to repeat until I’m blue in the face) – talk about your feelings. Talk, talk, talk and keep the lines of communication open. Ensure that talking about your feelings is something that you prioritise. Having honest conversations with friends and family is probably the thing that has helped me the most; the little reminder that you are going to be okay and that the panic (or whatever it is that you are experiencing) is only temporary.   

REMEMBER: Mental health is so important, and you are never alone.

Thoughts on turning 28

Originally, this post was titled 28 thoughts on turning 28. Just before posting it, I realised that my list of 28 insights on turning 28 was cliché, dull, and probably not 100% honest. Therefore, here are my honest thoughts on turning the big 2-8 in a few days…

When I was a young and foolish whippersnapper, I thought that as I approached my late twenties I’d be:

  • Rich
  • Married
  • An extremely successful author (I spent ridiculous amounts of time writing novels as a child)
  • Able to cook more extravagant dishes than pasta & cheese
  • A homeowner þ

How times have changed! All of the above, bar the one point that I have ticked off, are now of little importance to me.

What is important to me now?

  • Taking good care of myself. Taking good care of my brain. Not drinking 86 glasses of wine every Friday night. Running, running, running. My Babcia (Grandmother) always told me that there is nothing more important than your health, and I think this has finally clicked. This is now my priority over everything.  
  • Spending my £ on experiences, not things. When I think back to some of the things I purchased in my early 20s, I feel slightly nauseous! My original 30 before 30 list, created around 10 years ago, consisted of things such as ‘own a Chanel 2.55 handbag’, because I thought this was the ultimate symbol of having a successful, fulfilling career. I’m not saying that one shouldn’t aspire towards material possessions – but it just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I have no interest in spending my limited funds on an overpriced handbag. I would rather visit new places, learn new perspectives and consume experiences.
  • Stability and security; two things that make the teenage me want to cry with boredom. Being sensible with my £ and saving up for the important things…sorry to be so dull, but it’s true!
  • Spending my time with people who truly make me happy. It’s not about the number of people around you; having a strong support network of people you can rely on in difficult times is so important. Be kind to these people. Be kind to everyone, unless they’re a moron, in which case you don’t need to be kind to them all the time.

Reading back on this post, it still sounds a little cliché. I also feel weird about the fact that I’m not writing in complete sentences; this post has no structure (THE HORROR). However, these are my honest thoughts at this present moment in time. Perhaps this time next year I will have some sort of epiphany and be able to come up with some mind-blowing life lessons…but until then, I shall embrace my late 20’s in all its gloriousness and boringness and sensibleness.

Anxiety and Running

I am writing this post for two reasons: 

  1. To put it very simply – I find it beneficial. Writing about mental health is a method of expressing feelings that are sometimes too difficult to put into words. 
  2. I hope that by sharing my own experiences, it might help people who are feeling a similar way. Personally, I prefer reading incredibly open and honest blogs, particularly when it comes to mental health. It’s always comforting to know that of course you’re not alone. 

So, here is a recap of the past week…

Last Thursday, with 4 weeks to go until London Marathon, I was feeling strong, prepared and motivated. I had just recovered from a chest infection and was so excited to continue with my training. 

However, the following day I woke up feeling quite the opposite. I felt breathless, clammy and restless; all familiar symptoms of an oncoming unpleasant period of anxiety. The following three days consisted of multiple panic attacks, one of which took place during an organised 20-mile training run with hundreds of other runners. This REALLY bothered me; running has always been my safe, happy place, and this is the first time that my anxiety has interfered with that.

I spent the next couple of days pondering whether I should even be running a marathon; am I mentally strong enough at this current point in time? What if I have another mid-race panic attack, but this time in front of tens of thousands of people? 

After many wasted hours of unnecessary panic, I came to the following conclusion… so what?! What’s the worst that can happen? If for some reason I do have a panic attack during the marathon, I can walk for a bit. Yes, I’d be disappointed – but I haven’t dedicated over three months of hard, consistent training to give up at this late stage. 

Thanks to a variety of coping mechanisms and a fantastic support network which I am so grateful for, I’ve been feeling a lot calmer over the past few days. I’ve been able to shift my mindset and manage the panic attacks in a more effective way. 

I’m not saying for a second that my anxiety has magically been ‘cured’ – this is something that I’ve been working on managing for years, and I still have a long way to go. My point is that amongst the sheeny shiny perfectly curated Instagram squares, and the overly enthusiastic ‘NO DAYS OFF’ Strava beasts (I say ‘beasts’ in a kind and loving way of course), there are hundreds and thousands and millions of people who are struggling with their mental health.

There is nobody on this planet who is in a constant state of joy and happiness, and we should talk about that more openly. I am an expert at hiding my feelings, because quite frankly sometimes it’s easier to pretend that nothing is happening – however, I’ve finally realised that ignoring my emotions has a negative impact on my mental health.  

I could write a novel on this topic, so I’m going to end this post here before it turns into War and Peace. Some final thoughts – talk to people, overshare, talk to people some more. Shame has no place in your life.