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Since the start of Covid back in 2020, when the world turned on its head, and gave us all a blank sheet to work from, I have been trying new things, and seeing what works best for me.  As some will know, WFH has been a game changer for me, and really gave me the opportunity for a fresh start on so many fronts. I have done a lot of thinking about these changes, and also taken some time to give some appreciation for the things that really have kept me going, not only through Covid, but over time with my life in general.

Having time to reflect on the important things in life has been a bit of an eye opener for me. While I like lots of nice shiny things, there are a handful of basics I really can't do without. So with that in mind I thought I would write a few entries about them, and take a deep dive into my own mind while writing, to see why exactly these things have been so instrumental in my wellbeing over the past couple of years. 

So, first up.... The mobile phone. 

It is a funny. In the early years of mobile phones they were game changers, being able to text instead of speaking, never missing a call. Being able to stay in touch wherever you were. It was great. But then slowly but surely it became intrusive, distracting, time consuming and an obsession. With the growth of social media, the obsession has rapidly grown out of control. Checking the phone all the time for notifications, impatiently waiting for replies to email and messages, and praying for the next pic on The Gram, to be your most popular, and liked picture ever. 

Hoping for exposure, wanting publicity, but dreading negativity, its the circle many go around in. 

Years ago I used Blackberry, each device had a little multicoloured notification LED on it, and with a clever app, you could get it to flash a different colour for different notifications. There was no need to constantly wake the phone up, if the light wasn't flashing the colour of the notification you were waiting on, it wasn't there, simple. But complexity replaces conventional simplicity, and now its a pop up bubble that appears as the screen wakes up. Showing ALL your notifications, and tempting you back in. 

For me, my relationship with my phone(s) is a complex one, but one I am slowly getting to grips with. At the start of 2020, when Covid was becoming a thing, and seeing less people was starting to be the norm, my brain slipped into a happy place, and craved even less distractions. One evening I put my phone on silent for the night, and it has pretty much stayed on silent for over 2 years no. No tones, no vibrate, nothing. On the odd occasion when I am waiting on an important call I will put notifications back on for a while. But immediately on doing so, I realise how irritating and time consuming it all becomes. LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME... is all it screams when it's not on silent. I must confess, I have notifications on my watch, so when they arrive silently on my phone, I get a quick glimpse on my watch still. All the same my interactions with the phone, and desire to check it all the time has fallen dramatically since going silent.

For me however there is a very different side to a mobile phone, and that was one I only truly appreciated my "need" for during a walk and talk with a friend recently, photography. I was just in the midst of an upgrade, and quite an expensive one at that, and we were talking about our very different requirements from a mobile phone. While he uses his mainly to communicate, while taking occasional photos here and there, I use mine to take a lot of photos with, and at times it is the primary role of the phone. So for me a good camera is one of the most important things when choosing a phone, and is why I usually end up with flagship phones, and expensive contracts.

As we talked about our uses, and I started to realise the importance of taking photos to me, it all started to make sense. Sometimes I am so closed off to my surroundings I take pictures to look at them later and appreciate the landscape or location, without the noise and distraction of the people around me. Other times it is a great way to shut everything else out, and focus on one thing for a moment. Over all, taking pictures to me is an important part of my every day life, be it at an event I want to remember, or simply on a morning bike ride, taking in some sights, and somehow making a photo trail of what I did that day. Looking back sometimes is a nice escape, and way to decompress when I am having a bad day. 

Of course I could just carry a camera, and cut out the distraction of a phone all together, and maybe get even better photos, but that just isn't for me. I recently got an iPhone, and thought I could take that on rides, runs and walks with me instead of my larger Samsung S22 Ultra, but it has flaws that just make it impractical. For me, pictures are taken on the fly, a moment, one I want to capture. Rarely do I take planned, carefully curated photos. So the most important thing for me is the speed I can open the camera app and take a picture. When riding a bike on a road or trail, that can be easier said than done. Thankfully the Samsung has a quick camera launch from a double press of the power button, then a quick press of the volume rocker (below the power button) and the shot is taken. Video or photo bursts are equally easy to do. On the iPhone this is not so easy, and on a simple point and shoot camera, even less so. So the Samsung works perfectly for me. 

Being able to edit on the phone, straighten the frame, delete any obstructions from the shot, and then post to my Instagram or Facebook is the icing on the cake. One device does it all.  Now going back to the desire to please others with photos etc, this was once the case for me. Trying to get imaginative shots for others to enjoy and comment on. However recently I stopped using Facebook for a few weeks, then came back to it in a lite version. I add photos and videos of my trips out, but don't really look at the comments. Putting them there simply creates a timeline for me, and I can look back at my own leisure and see what I have been up to. At low times, look at the better times, and motivate myself to seek better times again. As each trip out is completed, so it populates the timeline a little more. 

The same is the case for my Instagram, especially my Snazy365 account, which is one photo to represent that day in my life. It is amazing how memories can flood back when looking at a single well chosen image of a day. 

So in summary, for me mobile phones are both my saviour, and my worst enemy. Helping me escape from the noise of life when it matters most, but at times being the cause of the noise in the first place. One thing I do know for sure is one noise I can control and will continue to, is the notifications on my phone. At least I can control its level of demand for my attention. 

Quick side note, the Netflix documentary "The Social Dilemma" is an amazing insight into how responsible the toxic development of social media is responsible for the obsession we sometimes feel.  Faux notifications, fauxtifications maybe? Facebook sending you a notification that 2 of your friends liked something, and that you might like to look at it too. A way to draw you back in to the environment. I mean, I get it, Facebook is largely free to users, so they have to have a revenue stream, and need to expose you to adverts etc. However, when I recently logged out of Facebook on my Samsung, I would still occasionally receive notifications about things others liked, trying to get me to log back in again, and resume the cycle.

I am not anti social media, it has been amazing for me at times, but we all need to know our limits, and when to turn off or move away for a while. Being bombarded with not only adverts, but negative content, a barrage of opinions from people we follow (and some that we don't thanks to suggested content). Once the brain gets thinking in certain cycles, it becomes trapped, and escaping back to what is actually important in life can become difficult. Now days I generally log in, upload, and log out. From time to time a min or two of scrolling, but then am mindful not to dive down rabbit holes of stories.

Right, that will do, I think that covers my love hate with mobile phones, hopefully highlighting they are one of the few things I NEED in my life as a coping mechanism in stressful times, but can also be harmful if too much time is spent on other aspects of the phone.

Does a phone control your life, do you even turn it to silent for long periods of time, or are you happy to be without one with no issue?
Thanks for reading part 1 of my little "Things that keep me sane" series. 

Ironically now, I am off to share this blog on social media! 🙂

Right now my head is about to explode, and I have no idea why. Around 9pm I felt tired and thought, "I know, I will be sensible and have an early night". And that's about where it started to go wrong. 

Breaking the habit of leaving it til I am ready to crash, I decided it would be better to go to bed relaxed rather than exhausted. Apparently that is NOT what my brain wanted. After almost 2 hours of trying to get to sleep, I have taken the advice of the experts and decided not to try and force it, and instead be active for a bit and wait to feel tired again. 

Speaking of being active, that is probably part of the problem, having NOT been my usual active self this week, I am left with an excess of energy daily. Driving me mad right now, but until I can shake these throat sores, I am trying to save energy and give myself a chance to heal. 

Again that leads on to the next reason I am struggling to sleep recently, and that is my throat. With an infection going on, swallowing is proving pretty hard and painful, so I am a bit dehydrated. Add to that the fact that each time I fall asleep my throat dries out and I wake in severe discomfort, and it all starts to become self explanatory. 

So as I lay there trying to sleep, every thought in the world races through my mind, some I can shake off, others dwell. Eating away at me, spiralling down down down into the depths of my mind. Will I be able to run the LLHM on Sunday? What if my fitness starts to suffer ruining my plans for the summer. Are things going to be worse before they get better. How much more discomfort can I take before I scream and go mad.... Is that a tooth ache I can feel coming on? 

So for the sake of trying to go to bed an hour or so early tonight, I am left sitting here gone 11pm, watching Dr Who, hoping the thoughts subside, the tiredness returns and I can get to sleep at some point, even if it is in the wee small hours. 

Sometimes you are your own worst enemy... This is one of those times. The only blessing is that this is discomfort driven, and not the downward spirals I am more familiar with, where these spells would become more and more frequent. 

A month or so ago I wrote a blog saying how I was struggling to get to grips with making a decision regarding my sessions with the RCGP. The plan was to have a week away in Svalbard, then come home with a clearer head. 

Unfortunately, even the best laid plans don't always go the way you expect, and this was no exception. Lots happened in a short space of time throwing my whole brain into a huge wobble. Withdrawing from social media, getting some space for myself, and taking a time out was needed. 

As things start to level out, I have returned to the topic of the sessions, and for a few weeks now have wound myself up trying to decide. Should I just carry on with the RCGP, and not do the KCL. Should I give KCL a go, and see how I feel after a few sessions?

Well, the next RCGP session is next month (April) so I thought I only fair to put some proper thought into it. Having done these sessions for about 5 years now, it has given me a lot to think about. In total during the sessions I have probably had more consultations and diagnose given on my mental health than most others, and with that comes a little clarity. 

Playing the sessions over and over in your mind, things start to make sense. 

So yesterday afternoon, I took 10 mins out to pen a couple of emails, one to KCL thanking them for the opportunity, but declining it. And one to RCGP, looking back over the years, explaining what it all meant to me, and saying I just can't keep putting myself through the scenarios. The more I have thought about it all, the more I realised how draining and detrimental to my wellbeing it all was. 

The helping and engaging part is fine. But the repetition of role play in a consultation, and subsequent discussions just chips away at me too much. To some that might sound silly, it's only pretend. But it's pretending to feel a way you have spent months at a time trying to escape feeling at all. Let alone pretending 8-10 times in a day. 

I would dearly love to carry on being able to do something for the RCGP, it genuinely felt heartbreaking to write the emails and know that that was that, and there will be no more. But it's for the best. 

 

Sometimes it takes a long time, a lot of space and a serious reduction in pace of life to be able to fully take stock of what's going on around you. I am happy with myself for finally giving myself that time. It has given me a much better appreciate of what I have, and what matters to me the most. The topic for another blog soon. 

 

So anyway, that's that. I will no longer be doing sessions for the Royal College of General Practitioners ?

Before anyone points out the obvious, yes, I know I have been here before, but it's been a long time, and sometimes we let things slip over time. 

Last week, my brain caught fire, I lost myself in the world of social media, and my thoughts were drowned out by the voices of other. Time to hit the kill switch for a bit, and get back to my senses. Deactivating my Facebook was refreshing and gave me a little space to think things through, and find my footing again. I was simply spending too much time on social media, and not spending enough time with myself.

Obviously I have had a week to myself to re-evaluate things, and here I am sharing this blog entry on the very same platforms I hid from, but hopefully with a little bit of a change. Having swapped phones today, my plan is NOT to have Facebook on my main daily phone, but instead just on the iPhone. Given how little I use it, it should control things a little better than before. So if anyone posts something and thinks I am ignoring them, I am not (well I kinda am), I will get around to seeing it in the end, but only once I pick up the other phone. 

Not quite sure why this is even a blog entry to be honest, I guess if anything it is to remind me what the masterplan is, and what I am trying to achieve here. 

So, back on Facebook, but only as a part timer lol. As for Twitter, I am keeping that at arms length, but still using it for information, traffic etc. 

Most posts will probably be on Instagram, and auto shared to Facebook via account linking. 

 

Right, enough rambling, and explaining... Have a good weekend all. 

It is amazing how fragile the status quo of the mind can be. One minute you are whistling along, all is fine and dandy, and the next... Well, in a flash you are where I am right now.  Overwhelmed, irritated, stressed, over-thinking etc. You name it, that is what's going on in my head right now. 

I have no idea what is going on, just know that since this morning I have felt incredibly low and stressed, and as the day has drawn on it has just spiraled. To the point, the smallest of things are weighing heavy on me. I am obsessing over trivial things, and having doom filled conversations with myself.

Fresh back from a week away in Svalbard, it is only natural to hit the ground with a bump. That said, Monday and Tuesday felt OK with being back at work. The break was nice, but getting home and back to normality has always been a nice thing too. 

As the years have gone by I have gotten better and better at picking up on the little signs that things are starting to wobble a bit, and right now I think that is where I am at. It's not rock bottom, in fact it is far from it, in general things are good. It is just the amount of anxiety I am feeling over nothings. Out running earlier, and walking just now, the people around me felt like they were getting close for no reason other than to wind me up. The familiar "what are people thinking about me" is back too, although not too badly at the moment.

So many external things out of my control, so many little things that are getting to me for no good reason, and of course my old favourite, the self loathing, and doubting.  All signs that things are not right, and time is of the essence. So it is time to jump off social media for a bit. At least the parts which I engage with others, at least for now. Maybe hang on to Insta to share a few bits for a while. But for now, this is me time. 

Not a cry for help, not a pity me, just a me me me. If I need to talk to anyone, rest assured I will as ever reach out to those I know and trust. In the meantime, enjoy the peace and quiet from me. 

 

2

Since around Xmas time, the same question has been on my mind, and as the weeks go by it is frustrating me more and more. 

Without beating around the bush, it's a simple one. Do I continue to do the RCGP sessions? If you don't know, I work with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) a few times a year, doing sessions with med students who are learning to work in the GP environment. Doing staged consultations, as an expert patient, presenting with symptoms I am familiar with, i.e Depression and Anxiety. I have done this for a few years now, and while I find it pretty bloody stressful, I also take some comfort from the fact that I am helping others to understand the conditions, and maybe help them be in a better position in the future to help future patients. 

I have said time and again, I find the sessions exhausting, more mentally than physically, and sometimes it can trigger a bit of a wobble for me. However, I really love the engagement with the students, being able to talk about bouts of depression, and dealing with day to day life with severe bouts of anxiety. So you can see where I am going with this. There are genuine pros and cons. 

Each session I do requires me to take a day off work, for the physical sessions which are now returning, I also need to travel to Central London for the day, and pay for transport or parking. In return I get to stretch myself outside comfort zone a little, engage with the next generation of GP's (some of them anyway), and explain from a first person POV what it is like trying to live when things are bad. I don't for one second think this is an unfair balance. I also get an Amazon voucher for my time, so I am very grateful for that.

A couple of months back, I was approached by one of the teams at Kings College London (KCL) about the possibility of doing some sessions for them too. At the time I was in one of my more positive frames of mind, and really keen to get back to doing what I could for the cause, and was happy to talk to more people about living with depression and anxiety. I have to say the first couple of experiences were a little daunting. New people, new procedures, and the likelihood of becoming a lead in a session of my own at some point. For someone with anxiety, that's a big change and ask. But looking back, I went through the same when I started working with the RCGP too. 

Over Xmas and the New Year, I had a bit of a wobble, and my head went a bit funny, and I started doubting myself. Not only taking on work with KCL, but also questioning my continued work with the RCGP too. A technical error on the last KCL session left me unable to participate, and in that moment I panicked a little about what the hell I was doing. I was out of my depth, completely out of my comfort zone, and floundering. I made my apologies and bowed out quickly, then spent the next few weeks contemplating. So, here I am!

To compound things more, I contracted Covid a couple of weeks back, which coincided with the first RCGP session of 2022, so I missed that too. The longer I have been away, the more I have doubted myself. I have always said as soon as you start to have doubts and questions about something, it is time to get out. But it just doesn't sit right with me. 

I am not irreplaceable, I am sure there are plenty more people who could and would do the sessions in my place. I don't think it is about ego and having some sort of bragging rights either. To me, when feeling positive about things, I love the idea that I am able to help people understand what others are going through. Be it blogging to let others struggling know they are not alone, or explaining to someone, whilst in a rational state of mind, what it is like to be in that situation, and how doctors and the medical world can best help those struggling.  

It is ironic that something that I do to help with mental health has caused me sleepless nights, hours and hours of painful contemplation, and yet still it isn't a simple "I'm done" in my head. I need to be sure of what I do next.

  • Pros     Rewarding, enlightening, educational for others
  • Cons   Tiring, uses annual leave, travel stress

I know I have made an impression on some of the students in the time I have been doing this. I know deep down inside I want to continue to help anyone in any way I can. Teaching, counselling, sharing. But I would be lying if I said it doesn't come at a cost. So I am stuck!

I am away in Svalbard for a week mid Feb, so think I will take that time in the arctic to weigh it all up, without any other pressures, and go from there. But am always interested to know what others would do in a similar situation. I'm not a martyr, not a hero or a saint, but I know I make a tiny bit of a difference, and like a dirt devil in the desert, I know from small things, big changes can come. 

So.... WHAT DO I DO ???

I guess it's just the time of year more than anything, but my head is getting into a funk, more and more each day. Looking back I can see a pattern, winter, darker, gloomier days, and the mood to suit. Perfectly normal really, many of us are in the same predicament I am sure. Difference for me is, it is the catalyst for spiraling down into the doom and gloom of my mind. 

For years now this time of year has been horrible for me, going right back to losing contact with my daughter, and completely losing the Xmas spirit that goes with parenthood. So I am not sure if it stems from that, or just part of my normal mood swings these days. It was around Xmas of '98 I lost touch, so it seems obvious to me that Xmas would bring feelings of bitterness in general. But as the years have gone by, and I have enjoyed it less and less, there also seem to be parallels to the fakeness of the whole season. 

Commercialised rubbish, people feeling duty bound to say festive things, and be even more fake than usual. Having family, friends and relatives that you spend the whole year avoiding, thrust into your face. I struggle with people at the best of times, but at least when I do engage, it is with genuine people for good wholesome conversation and company. 

So here I am, the 2021 slump is here. The past few weeks, I have slowly lost a lot of my usual drive and motivations. Exercise is still alive and well, but I noticed last week I was pushing maybe a little too hard, so made an effort to back off a bit this week. Distraction is fine, destruction less so. I am at the point at the moment of stalling with the motivation to get going. This morning for example, I was meant to be observing a session with KCL, but the slightest opportunity to back out of it was enough of a temptation to cancel that. Instead opting for a run.

I haven't run as frequently as I have been of late, partially down to aches and pains, a little exhaustion, and mainly the change in the weather and mood. The idea of being out there puts me off. Although as I write this I realise it's not the weather at all. I have been running at about 7.30-8am recently, and that is school run and commute time. This means lots of people, which in my head equates to over thinking and over reacting, much as my last blog said.  So maybe, just maybe I need to get out earlier?

This time last year my sleep was terrible and I was out running at midnight, so I went into winter conscious of this, and keen to avoid disrupted sleep again, which is why I aimed for later. Hmmph, maybe 6am is a better idea? I think I need to experiment a little with timings. 

So that is one part of the issue I guess, the other is my head in general. Little patience, short tempered, easily distracted, lack of focus, the list goes on. Recently I have looked into what other than anxiety and depression could be contributing towards my state of mind. It's not a temporary thing, it is very much all year around, but sometimes exacerbated by external influences, such as time of year. The findings have been interesting to say the least, and the outcome of some of the tests equally interesting. I am not looking for a label, to belong, to fit in, nor an excuse for being the short tempered introvert I sometimes am. Just some understanding of it all, and to see if there are things I can do to try and make life a little easier for myself at times like this. 

Today for example, after avoiding the meeting, and going for a run, I thought I would come home, have a lay down and relax for a bit. So I hopped back in bed for half an hour. However, 5 mins into this half hour of rest, I decided I needed to wash my running gear, so got up and put a wash on. Then went to slump in front of the TV for a bit. But was distracted by dust on the cabinet, so got up and cleaned it. Returning to the sofa I decided the floor needed cleaning too so grabbed the hoover. While I have the hoover I might as well do the rest of the house, so I did. Returning to the sofa, now the dog hair on the throw was bothering me, so I took it to the garden to shake it off a bit. On the way back to the front room I thought, "sod it I might as well give it a wash". So stopped off in the kitchen, put my running gear on to dry, and the throw in for a wash... An hour later, and I managed to finish watching what I was watching, and have now put the 3rd load of washing on for the day.

Can you see the pattern I can? Obsessive behaviour created by the inability to focus and relax for 5 mins, in the fear of being left alone with my thoughts. Finally, I get to sit down, because it is time to work. Paid to be distracted for the afternoon, it almost feels like respite! 

It is this cycle (not the wash cycle) I am trying to learn to avoid, and train myself to spot early on. My anxiety is not always about being around people, but sometimes it's about being alone with my thoughts. My own mind is probably the most damaging thing to my mental state, and its own creations are usually my downfall. Whether it be spiraling out of control with premature anxiety about something that has not even happened yet, or dwelling and over thinking something that has already happened, and no amount of thought can change the outcome, my mind can do it all, and it is crippling.

I still to this day get caught up over thinking a situation that happened in 2016. Something I still to this day do not understand the reasoning for. No idea what I did wrong, but know the outcome and exclusion upset me to such an extent I can't let it go. Worse still is the thought of confronting the situation, and the subsequent discussion being even more damaging, and adding to the distress it already causes. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. There are many more things like this that I can't get my head around, but can't let go of either. 

In a rather cold way, I guess that is one of the reasons I have always been so "at ease" with death. It happens, it's final, you can't change it. Sure you never get to speak to that person again, but you know why, and you know you can't change it, end of. It seems such a crass thing to say I know, and realise it affects people so deeply at times, but maybe it is a blessing in disguise that I process it that way?

Every year I write blog entries like this, desperate to find an escape from myself, and every year I realise it is not going to happen. Am I depressed? By my definition, no. Certainly not to the extent and depths I know I can fall to anyway. So I try to see it from the normal perspective that it is cold out, not a lot of daylight, and normal activities are harder to do. So find other things to do, new things to focus on, and other more productive and healthy things to keep my mind occupied.

I guess what is present is anxiety. Anxious about my inability to cope with the simplest of things. Becoming overwhelmed at the drop of a hat, and at such insignificant things. Routine to me is everything. It is what keeps me functioning day to day. Breaks from that routine, even the slightest change can cause my day to crash and burn in a flash. Positive one moment, then dwelling the next about why I was not able to do what I wanted and had planned. My day off the other day a great example of this. I had planned to do a ride, but the weather said otherwise, therefore I had nothing to do, but sit at home with my thoughts, and from there it cascades like an avalanche. 

What I need to do is plan ahead, know what I am going to do when the seasons change in advance. Have a back up plan for my plans for days off, just in case. With that said, I have been thinking about getting a rowing machine for a while now, to mix up my training plan a bit, and work on the core a bit more. But as usual the world conspires against me (I joke, although it feels that way some times), and the prices have gone up, and availability gone away, so that has upset the balance for me too. My thinking is a rower is something to distract me, lower impact so I won't destroy myself on it, and will be a perfect option for breaking up the fitness routine, especially when the weather isn't playing ball.

Meh, this is dragging on isn't it? But as usual writing and thinking about what to write has answered some of my own questions to myself. Still I am left with many more. One day I will understand myself a little better, and hopefully a few days break over the Xmas period I hate so much will do me a little bit of good. Relax the mind, get some fresh air, and hit the reset button. Here's hoping anyway. 

Thanks for reading as ever, I am going off to think deeply again now, and hopefully get myself out of this funk a little bit. 

Not a great start to the day. Got up with every intention of going for a run, thought about routes last night, and decided on something medium distance and not too taxing. When I woke I felt OK, but as I got ready I could feel my mind starting to play tricks. 

By the time I got to the door to run, I could hear light rain, and was ready to call it. I'm fine getting caught I the rain, but starting a run in the rain has always been hard for me to do. None the less, off I went for my warm up. A few mins in, I can see the rain drops on my clothes and am already starting to put a downer on it... "I'm gonna get soaked", "I will get ill", "what if I slip and hurt myself".... Bollox! 

Time to run. As soon as I got going, the thoughts changed to how short a route I could do, maybe just a few km's, regular 5k loop at best, being flat and simple. A mile in, having taken a different turn to force myself away from escape, and I am wondering am I going too fast, the audio prompt comes and its OK, I'm a little hit faster than planned but ok for this stage. But still I can't get doubt out of my head. 

At this point I decided to give myself no choice, the answer was simple, go a way I am not familiar with, then I have to focus on other things rather than being on a route I know and having time with my thoughts. Next route split time, I need to go somewhere new, I choose left, and its straight towards a busy bus stop. Damnit, I just need to get past.

As I reach the bus stop, people are being phone zombies or plain selfish and standing all across the pavement, don't worry I will run in the road. As I pass I am over thinking and over reacting, I just need to get to the next corner and it's done with. I start thinking further up the route, a distraction from the negative thoughts I am having. Where do I go next, visualise the route, the next mile or two, where will they be? 

OK, mile 3 clicks around, the pace is good, HR is steady and more importantly, my brain is calming down. My thoughts are sensible again now, not hanging on to doubts, I am a few miles in, I'm feeling good, and now I know I'm good for a bit longer. Out towards Beckenham, up what is quite a steep hill for me, pace is good, taking it easy, and into the park for some clean air and a moment of serenity. 

On the back straight, heading back towards home, starting to feel accomplished, and feeling a more familiar sense of achievement now. But a little premature maybe, I'm still 2.5 miles from home, and now the temp is starting to drop and the wind is picking up too, brrrr. Under dressed a little today maybe. 

As I reached Catford, I carried on visualising the rest of the route I was going to take, and looked forward to getting home, back to the warmth. 

The last mile now, and I'm in a nice rhythm, not worrying about the pace, in fact from the last audio prompt I'm pretty happy with the pace all things considered. Reaching the finish point, as usual my picky mind perked up and insisted that I finish the run where I started, so that's another half mile to tag on the end of the run. Starting to feel it by this point, having done a 34 mile ride yesterday with hills and efforts, today's run was meant to be short and sweet. But the mind needs taming at times, so let's play along. 

Finally the end, 7.4 miles done, feeling mentally relaxed and physically exhausted. Not to a point of discomfort, but I had definitely burnt off any excess energy I had.

 I have often referred to how beneficial exercise is, especially for some people. Being able to turn off the mind for a bit, or at least distract it enough to calm down and get back to normal. Almost like a small child having a tantrum, distracted for a moment by a toy, et voilà, all is well again. In simple terms, that's how my mind can be at times. It's far from that simple, and some of the time it takes far more than a run or ride to make things well again. 

But days like today remind me how delicate the balance is. And that sometimes I am not even aware of the drama going on inside the grey matter, not unti I feel better again. It was a little way into the run I realised I wasn't in a great place. And I kid you not, I spent about 15 mins thinking what I would name today's run on Strava. Over thinking at its finest.  Eventually I went with "Over thinking, over whelming - overcome", as those were the 3 stages of state of mind during the hour and 15 mins of the run. 

So there, that's my head cleared out of today's fun, hopefully I can sleep tonight now, and not dwell for too long on what has been a mentally tiring day. 

Night all, thanks for reading. 

 

One of the worst parts about being a chronic over-thinker is the inability to let things go. There is no such thing as a fleeting moment, more a lingering chapter. A simple bad encounter, with an unwanted conclusion can start a long long process of over-thinking, re-enacting, and dwelling on something absolutely pointless.

Point and case, a dream. Last night I had a dream, a very short one that I shall run through below. Pretty meaningless, far from dramatic, but I could NOT let it go. So much so that I am writing this entry now, as it was such a good example of how petty my mind can be at times. 

The dream..... I was driving down a narrow road, a van stopped in front of me, and the driver got out to make a delivery. After trying to get his attention, I approached him and indicated either he move or I would break glass all over his interior (dreams are weird huh!). For some reason, I offered to deliver the package for him if he just moved the van. On attempting to deliver the package, I could not hear what the person at the door was saying, when I eventually could, he said it was not for him, he was sick of telling people that, and if I knocked again he would beat me up. This lead to a verbal altercation. I left, then that was the end of the dream.

Pretty random right, and a bit of a WTF moment if I am honest. However, I woke on its conclusion, then for some reason lay there for 30 mins replaying it in my head. Heart beating faster, unable to let it go, playing out different endings to the scenario. What I could have said or done differently, should I have had a fight and so on. 

The truth of the matter is, if I had just waited another minute, without getting into the situation, the moment would have passed without escalating. And I think (now I write this) that this was the lesson from the dream. Sometimes some things are just not worth getting involved in, as they cause more drama than it is worth, for absolutely no benefit whatsoever. There are certainly some things in life right now that this relates to, so brain I hear you loud and clear.

But brain.... let it go, it was a frickin dream.

So there you go, if a dream about a made up scenario can elevate the heart rate, create stress, and start a spiral of over-thinking, imagine what a real situation, with potential consequences does! I can tell you, it's not pretty, and a struggle to get out of the spiral once it starts. That said, I have gotten better at breaking the cycle these days. Refocusing, a little mindfulness exercise, focus on breathing, feel my heart slowing and I can ease the stress. Does it get rid of the bad thought, nope. But does it give my mind some respite, and allow me to get on with life normally for a while, yes indeed. 

Right, time to get the day started, and forget about that stupid van driver.

Wow, what a wild week or so it has been. A lot of anxiety with the build up and preparation for returning to the RCGP in person. Booking parking, workout out travel plans, preparing myself mentally to be around so many people again, and running through scenarios. All so much, after a long period of being fully in control of my surroundings and situations. 

After some careful planning, I was lucky enough to find a parking spot, right on Euston Rd, just a few mins walk away from the RCGP, for a very reasonable £19 for the full day. I KNOW !! Bargain or what? Double the price of the train journey, but 1/10th the stress of the journey, and also enabled me to take things with me. In this case, running gear. Deciding to beat the traffic I aimed to arrive for 7am, get parked then head off to Regents Park for a morning run. Then head back to the car, grab a change of clothes, and get changed and freshened up at the RCGP. All went to plan thankfully, a nice 10k run helped me clear my mind of the usual pre session jitters.

Arriving at the RCGP and getting changed with minutes to spare was perfect for my mind. No time to wind myself up, just get my schedule, get my brain into gear, and away we go. Five morning sessions, five afternoon sessions, so quite taxing on the brain, but very little down time in between just keeps things flowing.

The first session or two went OK, the groups interacted well, some nice discussion after the scenario's were finished. A couple after that felt a little less enthusiastic, little engagement after the scenario, so felt a little bit clinical. With the last session of the morning done, I headed off to lunch, refuel, recharge and get my head back in the game. That said, exiting the RCGP onto Euston Rd, at lunch time is hardly the right setting to refocus. So I headed off to Coal Drops Yard. 

What a little sanctuary that place is. In the middle of town, but a couple of streets back from the madness of Euston Rd. Sitting by the canal, taking in the sights, and chowing down on some unhealthy Burger King for lunch, I was at last at one with my thoughts again. Reflecting on the session for a moment, taking time to digest how each group had made me feel, (and writing this now) made me realise how important to me coming out of role at the end of each consult is. If I have sufficient conversation after the scenario, discussing my own mental health, I seem to disengage with the situation a bit better, and it feels a little less "real". 

By that I mean, if you repeatedly go through a scenario, one which is a reflection of a real experience for you, eventually it begins to actually feel real, and current. For example, towards the end of the afternoon session I started to actually feel like I was having a proper consultation, and the answers to the question felt like I was speaking as if I was in a proper consultation regarding my concerns for my mental health. Coming away feeling as if I was about to take the first step of recovery all over again. Not a great place to be I have to say, especially when self induced. 

Obviously, dealing with these things is par for the course, and like any other issue, you first have to identify it. So at least that part is done. Now I guess is how to deal with it. On speaking to a couple of the tutors on Friday, they are open to how the session runs, and I have some input on it. My thinking here is for me to somehow find a way to create an air gap between expert patient me, and roll play me. Just to give my mind a little time to balance itself, and help be keep a clear line of what is real, and what I am role playing. Something to think about for sure. 

As ever, speaking to some of the students, it was nice to see how interested some are in psychology, and mental health in general, and also how naturally some of them dealt with the awkwardness and obstacles of a mental health consultation. I always find it interesting how the level of engagement can differ group to group, and indeed how this seems to be connected to their tutor for the day. Doing two circuits a day, I generally see 10 groups of students, with 5 tutors, so see each tutor twice per day. Within these sessions, I will tend to get similar levels of engagement from each of the groups with the same tutor. I shall explain, tutor 1 through to 5. If the groups with tutors 1, 3 and 4 are positive and engaging in the morning, the next groups with those tutors in the afternoon will be too. While 2 and 5 will be less so, both times. Does that make sense?? I feel like I am trying to explain my symptoms to a student now! 

Hearing how the tutors explain things to their groups is also interesting, and gives an insight into how interactions with GP's in general can differ. Some deeply compassionate, speaking of engagement, and empowering the patient. Others keen to make sure all the safeguarding issues are checked off ASAP, but feeling less involved somehow. None feel terrible, but some certainly feel more empathetic than others, and obviously that in turn rubs off and shapes the up and coming students in a small way. I have grown far more confident these days is disagreeing "as a patient" with things that are said, and making sure I explain how my experiences don't always gel with what is taught as standard. 

Time and time again we cover the stigma of certain topics, and I share my take on them, which of course is not the same for everyone. Mental health in itself has the biggest stigma attached to it, or at least it did have. Now it has another issue, but I will come back to that in a moment. The other stigma seems to be around asking patients certain questions, and how they are tip toed around. The main two being "do you use any recreational drugs" and "have you considered harming yourself or others". In the given situation, neither question should really be an issue these days. 

Recreational drugs are more prevalent in todays society than ever before. People openly use certain drugs, talk about them and ever seem to promote them in certain situations. Cannabis for example being popular to help with depression as well as other things. So being asked in a confidential environment if you have used anything like that really doesn't cause much embarrassment for many these days I would not have thought.

As for self harm, well.... Suicide is no longer something people are not aware of, or believe only affects a few people. It is common knowledge now that certain groups of vulnerable people in society are at much greater risk from thoughts of suicide. The word is used on TV, billboards, magazine and online advertising etc. It is not a forbidden word anymore, and should not be treated as one. I asked a number of the groups in post scenario conversation, could they ask their friends in general conversation if they had ever considered self harm. Most said they didn't see why not... To which I replied, "what's the difference then". Sure, you have a mentally vulnerable person in front of you, and you are trying to help them, but mentioning suicide is not going to encourage them to consider it, put ideas in their mind, or make it any more likely. If the thought is there, they may or may not tell you. I would think some would be relieved to tell someone that they are thinking that way. Someone who is finally listening and asking those questions.

Coming back around full circle, mental health has another issue these days, and it's not stigma anymore, it's "popularity". Once upon a time people didn't like to talk about anxiety and depression. Mothers coped with it in silence, fathers drank themselves under the table, and any other stereotypical coping mechanism story you can think of. Then of course there were the Prozac mums, around the 90's (guessing here) it seemed that it was the done thing to pop some pills, forget about your worries, and life in some cases. But now we have moved on a bit, and people actually identify having mental struggles, and seek help over it. In more recent times A-list celebs have also started to talk about their battles, and I think that is almost where the problem starts. 

At times, I really do believe that certain conditions, especially mental health and brain related, can be fashionable. Of course a rise in awareness will help some identify with certain conditions, however I get the feeling that some identify with the sense of belonging, more than the actual condition. Now I am in no position to tell anyone they are not struggling in any way. I have only my own experiences to guide me on my understanding of anxiety and depression. A couple of weeks ago I was privy to a session hearing about other conditions, and have to say I was somewhat humbled at hearing what others go through. So I am no expert on mental health at all. 

That said, sometimes when speaking to people, you get the "I know how you feel" line, or the "oh me too", followed by a story of a very basic negative experience, which somehow left them feeling a little bit let down. Nothing much more, and the conclusion of the story will probably confirm that later that evening, all was well again. A far cry from a simple experience triggering a few weeks of isolation, self loathing, and feeling of complete and utter rejection and failure. 

Of course, we are all individuals, and experience things differently, so one persons bump in the road is a catastrophic car crash of the mind for others. So I try not to judge. But sometimes, you just can't help but feel that there is SO much of a certain condition, just a short while after it became popular. Which in turn puts a massive load on the system, and drains resources away from those who need it the most. 

Every time I speak to a friend who has experienced the true lows of life and the mind first hand, I have a little more of a feeling of normality, and it is always nice to reflect with someone in the know, and compare experiences, to learn a little more, and gain a greater understanding of the whole situation. Being able to understand, and then take that back to groups such as the RCGP, and help others understand, just feels like some sort of validation for me. 

So.... as you can see, a quick 8 hour session at the RCGP gave me a lot to think about, and truly mentally exhausted me. Thankfully I had the foresight to book Monday off work also, so I would have a little more time and space to reset. Heading to the coast on Saturday, to let the wind howl in the hollow between my ears, and a long bike ride on Sunday just to get back into the rhythm of things. For my day off on Monday I decided to go for a nice half marathon distance run along the Thames Path. Switch off for a bit, and exhaust myself physically. It certainly seems to have done the trick. 

After a short bike ride with a friend yesterday I was all but spent, and decided today was a good day to do nothing. No training, no running, no cycling, just popped to the shops, and then did some work.  The rest of the week is a bit full on, but that is probably a good thing. Days like today remind me that I need to keep my mind occupied, as time alone with my thoughts is not always a good thing. In fact, writing this reminds me that regular blogging is also great exercise for me too. Something I need to do more of for sure.

 

Right, I will leave it there, I have already started rambling! 

Thanks for reading, and as ever, look after yourself, and look out for others.