Yesterday I watched a video about viral video start, and how it changed their lives. One of those stars was Tay Zonday. This was on a Yes Theory video on YouTube, a channel I have really fallen in love with over recent months. Whilst talking about his experience since going viral, he reflected on how he is expected to behave by the public. A certain persona is required, expectations of how he should conduct himself etc. He went on to explain that he is autistic, and in the circles of autism, this behaviour is known as "masking".
Bells rang out loud in my head, this is an expression I have used for a long time now when discussing how I feel I should conduct myself around strangers, or people who have preconceived perceptions of who I am.
Before I go on, quick disclaimer. If you have met me, and we have spent a bit of time somewhere, at an event, or in a large gathering, you probably don't know ME. If I have spent a larger amount of time with you, engaging in relaxed conversation, openly expressing myself, and being relaxed, then you probably know me better than most. There are just a small handful of people who know ME.
Tay makes reference to his two personas, his government named, and his public identity known as Tay. The side he chooses to share on his YouTube channel. This is something I am very familiar with, and can probably best explain it by going back in time a little.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was part of a team that ran a popular internet forum (of its day). On the forum, and website I was known as "Snazy", yup, the same name as this blog. Obvious play on my surname, doesn't take much explaining really. As part of this community I would say I was well known, and would be recognised at meet ups, and other social events. When events were arranged, the "popular" people were regularly encouraged to attend, just to help boost the attendance. This is not an attempt at a humble brag that I was any kind of minor celeb, or better than anyone else. I was just a name at the forefront of an online community.
Regularly before going to any sort of gathering, I would get anxious, talk myself out of going, and find excuses not to go. Only to be talked around, and end up going. Always happy and chipper to people I engaged with, regardless of if I knew them personally, or it was an introduction to someone who used the site that I had never met before. So it slowly became my "Snazy persona". The appearance and behaviour of the person people thought they knew. I never really questioned it, or put much thought into the whole situation. Just sucked it up, and put my game face on when the time came.
Towards the end of the forums popularity, I started to realise I was actually miserable, and quite unhappy with the whole situation. Sinking deeper and deeper into depression at the time, I started to question why I even behaved this way. Just to meet the expectations of people I had never met before, and probably would not ever again? Just to be popular, although this was not something I thrived in either way. One night, while chatting to a friend, I said I didn't feel anyone knew ME. Sure Snazy was popular, but what about me, who even knew me. Told I was being silly, I threw down the gauntlet, and said "ask 10 people we both know, what my real name is".
Back then MSN Messenger was the IM platform of choice (told you I was going back!!), so the only thing people could see was your screen name, and your email address. At the time my screen name was always "Snazy The Daddy" with a series of emojis after it, determined by how I felt at the time. My email address was also Snazy related. Off she went, and started asking, and time after time, no one could tell her my actual name. I think out of the 10, one got it, and that was only my first name. She was shocked, I was unsurprised but at the same time mortified.
So that is my first realisation of "masking". Becoming a person people expect you to be, or displaying a persona which seems comfortable, and fit in with the surroundings of a social environment. Whilst just under the skin feeling terrified, exhausted and completely overwhelmed.
As life has gone on, I am able to look back and identify event after event in which I have put on a mask, just to get through whatever the situation was. This is not to be confused with putting on a brave face to deal with a sudden and unexpected situation. This is something I am sure we are all accustomed to, a devastating family event, a serious accident, or anything else that requires us to remain composed to get through it. We have all been there, and it is something we as humans generally excel at.
But masking is different. Putting on a mask just to be in a certain everyday setting, be it a busy commute, a work place, or a social gathering. Projecting confidence is the best way to get through situations which make you uncomfortable. Less questions, less stress, on the surface at least. The problem with wearing a mask, is it is exhausting, mentally! In a short space of time, I can go from being fully charged and ready for a day, to exhausted and ready to sleep for the rest of the day. The amount of energy anxiety, and masking it takes out of you is impossible to comprehend unless you have felt it first hand.
There have been times when I have agreed to engage in some sort of event, and it has taken literally days to get my energy back. Not only does the draining of the energy knock you for six physically, it also has a deep and profound mental cost too. Causing you to want to withdraw from society for a bit, to get yourself back together. Leaving you questioning your decisions, and reluctant to do something like that again. Personally for me, just being in an unfamiliar place, and not needing to really engage with anyone, can really tire me out fast. A plane journey for example. Lots of eye contact, checkpoints, and reasons to speak to people briefly. The requirement to be polite and approachable really takes its toll.
In conversations over the past 10 or more years, I have referred to wearing a mask, to be a person people think I am, or just as a game face to get through a situation. It is a concept I am familiar with, but hearing Tay speak of it just validated everything I have ever said about it before. It is a relief to know that it is something others identify with, and also sadly battle too.
Most recently, with the pandemic, and working remotely. Being able to isolate myself from unnecessary, and unwanted interactions, I have been MUCH better. Feeling more in control of my mind, bouncing back with plenty of mental energy, and feeling more positive about the engagements I choose to participate in. This is just one small area of my life obviously, and there have of course been other times when I have been less able to control things. And at those points, it is even more obvious to me how detrimental avoidable encounters are to my mental and physical state.
I am sure for those who know me, there are those who are now nodding, as it all makes perfect sense to them. Then there are some who are confused and a little bewildered to have not realised all this was going on behind the scenes for all this time. And of course there will be those crying "attention seeker", or other blinkered and selfish comments. There are a few I can guarantee for sure will be saying that!
Either way, I will wrap this up by asking you to take five mins out of your day, and asking yourself, how many of your friends and social circles know YOU? I don't mean every little thing about you, just have an understanding of you as a person, and know what makes you tick. How many of the closest people around you could for example plan a multi event and location day out with you, and get it right? I bet it is less than you think.
Fact is, within the groups of people who surround us, we have things in common that bind us as a group. Outside of that common ground, people very rarely take the time to find out anything else about you, but instead create a social construct they think you fit into. In reality, one thing in common, could be countered by a whole host of different beliefs, morals, and life preferences. I am not saying this is a terrible thing, it's just human nature, to pretend to feel we know someone, without taking the time to actually try to.
But, and this is the big bit... Give a little consideration to how much energy goes into being the person you think they are. For some of us, it is simply unsustainable.
Thanks to Yes Theory, Tay Zonday, and everyone in my life who has taken the time to try to get to know Michael Snasdell, and not just Snazy, the guy they think they know. If you know Snazy, you DON'T know me!
PS, Tay, I know this is not exactly the road you were going down with "masking", but it energised me enough to offer my take on it.
Hurrah for summer, it has finally arrived, after a long wait. Unlike last year, when summer sprung itself upon us early in the year. The wait this year has been torture. But now it is here, it brings with it a few things.
The temperature went from 6c daily average to mid 20's in what seemed like a day. Hot, sweaty, and irritable, summer me is here too! Unfortunately, the weather and date also brings with is uncertainty, anxiety and stress. More people back out and about, restless nights, and decision time. Like my head needs much more to get in a knot about right now. Morning runs are hectic, with lots of people out and about, so today I decided on a much earlier run. Quieter roads, but less sleep. Moan, moan, moan, I know!
But front and centre of all of this is June21st. The date the UK Government has set for step 4 of the roadmap out of lockdown. In turn, it is the final stage of the process before finding out what the masterplan is regarding Work From Home. Up until now, with things moving so slowly, it has been pretty bearable. However with the final step just weeks away, the dread and fear that work might say "back to the office" completely consumes my every waking moment. Or at least that is how it feels.
There has been a lot of positive talk about a new approach to how our roles are carried out. If we need to be at a certain location to carry out our jobs effectively. If the new work/life balance that so many, including myself, have found, plays a part in the road ahead. Talk of flexible working, spending time between home and office, sounds delightful for the main part, and 18 months ago I would have ripped the hand off that offered that to me. However, now, well now is different.
After 15-16 months or so of working from home, so many answers are clear. Can we operate effectively, yup, through a pandemic, through peak service, and through so many other challenges. Working from home has not caused a single stumble. In fact, when the brown stuff has hit the fan, being close to my work PC, has actually benefited the company. With almost instant access to systems, to get stuck straight in. Communication between the workgroup has improved, with time now allocated on team catch ups, where as before things were less structured. And so many other positives to be found.
I realise that is all well and good, however work are paying the wages, so get to make the decisions to best suit the business, I can't argue with that for a moment. Seeing how chalk and cheese the plans of many large companies are make me feel it could swing one of two ways, or of course just hang dead centre, and there be no change required. I say no change required, as I appreciate there are two sides to every story, and we all have our own stories of the pandemic to tell. Some have dearly missed the contact and face to face communication of their workgroups. Feeling isolated and trapped at home, with no outlet for their thoughts. For others, working from home has posed huge challenges to the requirements of their role, making life so much more difficult. For those groups of people, I hope that the road ahead offers contact and respite from the pressures faced over the pandemic.
But let's be real for a minute, this is my blog, and about my feelings and thoughts, so back to the nitty gritty. I simply don't want to go back to working in an office. This time of year, and the rise in temperatures just reminds me of the years gone by, squabbles over use of the aircon, too hot, too cold, windows open or closed.... Til the AC system just breaks (multiple times annually) and we are left wishing we had just agreed and left it be. Last summer and this summer so far, I open my window when I want, heating on when I want, AC on.... you get the picture.
Although we have had lots of work done on the house in the past year, I have not had to take any time off for it, nor deliveries, and rarely for any medical appointments, as its all close to home, and can be worked into the working day.
Anyway, enough procrastination, I think I have made my point. I am terrified that we will be told to return to the office. I have grown very comfortable with my own space, and environment, and the thought of sharing that with others again is dreadful. I am bad enough being around people I choose to be in the company of, let alone those I am squashed in with in the name of work.
The next two weeks are going to be horrible. I am already sinking myself into a destructive cycle of running and cycling. Doing my best to enjoy myself, rather than damage myself. Sleep is getting worse, quiet moments of the day starting to be consumed by spiraling negative thoughts. The smallest thing now spins up the whirlpool of the mind, and turns it into something dreadful and scary, without even giving it a chance.
Hopefully, in a couple of weeks time, we will at least have a solid idea of what happens next. Does the rumoured ultra flexible new system come into play? How much flexibility will there actually be? I guess time will tell now, and in the meantime all I can do is hold tight, and wait and see.
It is good to know that some around me understand my fears, and that in general, line management are happy with work from home as it is, or at least that is how it seems. Keep your fingers crossed please, and lets hope that as much as possible, the road ahead offers everyone what they need to keep them sane, and able to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
It has been a long time since I last wrote an entry here, and for the most part I would put that down to the vastly improved state of mind I have had over the past year to 15 months. There have of course been lows, but nothing in comparison to what I would usually go through in my yearly rollercoaster ride of mental state.
So much has happened in the past year, I really don't know where to start, so in no particular chronological order, I will break it down into pieces, and have a ramble.
RCGP. I have been working with them again this year, helping medical students better understand the presentation, diagnosis, and treatment of anxiety and depression. It never ceases to amaze me how natural some are with the situation, and show genuine compassion. While others struggle a little, almost suffering from reverse stigma, and feeling uncomfortable about discussing someone elses mental health. It is those I hope to make an impression on the most. This years sessions have been very different, moving to online Teams consultations. Which in itself has taught me a lot about myself, whilst making life a whole lot more comfortable. Mainly because it avoids the commute into town to the RCGP, which in itself is hugely stressful for someone with social anxiety.
Working from home has been a complete game changer for me, I should have started with this really, as it could drag on, but here goes anyway.
Being quite and introvert and socially anxious person, personal interactions with others can be quite draining. Over the past year or so, I have felt much more alert, and fresh throughout the working day. Not spending mental energy on social things that actually have no impact on my working day, and rather spending the extra energy I find myself with, getting stuck into projects at work. The physical aspect of getting to the office has never been an issue for me, in fact I enjoyed my daily 10 mile each way commute by bike, as it gave me time and space to prepare myself for the shift ahead. The more exhausting part was being in an office, and that was purely mental exhaustion.
That is just the tip of the iceberg for working from home for me. There are SO many pros, and at best a sprinkling of cons. Being able to work whatever hours the day demands is no longer a stress. Getting a call to say there is a sickness, or something is up and I am needed in ASAP, once meant rushing my routine (which is very important to me) and driving into work. This was always the start of a bad day. Now, the same call means walking into my home office and logging in. Be it for 5 mins, or the rest of the day, I am in effect "on call" whenever needed.
As far as mental wellbeing goes, I can honestly say, in 15-16 months now, I have had one dip. It lasted about a week, I had a lot going on at home too at the time, and at worst it meant a slight lack of focus for me, nothing more. Even through the winter months, which we have effectively had 2 cycles of during WFH now, I have been much better than I can ever recall being in many years gone by. The much expected low simply hasn't arrived. I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever, that working from home has been the key to this massive shift for me.
Although as I write this, I am more than aware that the end of June is just over a month away. This is the date for the next "checkpoint" for the UK Government, and indeed my employer to consider, and detail the next stages of what is to come for the "new normal". This in itself has probably wobbled me more than anything in the past year or more. The uncertainty of what comes next. Will it be all back to the office, will there be a choice? Flexible working from home and office throughout the week has been mentioned. As has the "choice" of home or office. Personally, for me, home is the best way, and the only way I can stay on this level.
I know it is expecting way too much, and it is far from a demand. Having worked for the company for over 20 years now, I know how important oversight is for management, and appreciate the trust put in us to work from home, and be trusted to go the best possible job we can. But you cannot ignore the fact that during the pandemic, while it has suited, it has been OK. The idea for certain departments to work from home in the past was simply out of the question, and not a discussion even worth starting. However I think, if the recent events have shown us anything, it is that it IS possible, and the outcome is probably more a more productive, coercive workgroup.
I think it is clear from the paragraphs above, what my feelings are on returning to an office environment. I simply don't want to. I am happy to be checked up on, visited at home, or whatever other measures are required to keep me safe and alone in my home office. Which I have to say is a lot better equipped than my office based desk was. Mainly through buying things at my own expense, but something I am quite happy to do in the longterm. Heck I would even consider a pay freeze for a while, How's that for an offer?
Anyway, enough about working from home, for now at least.
In other areas of life, the fresher state of mind for me has allowed me to look after myself physically too. Cutting out a lot of the junk food, which was mainly whilst in the office at work. Taking the time I would have spent commuting to take better care of myself. Getting back into running has been huge for me. Since Xmas I have gone from doing Couch to 5K, to running a half marathon distance. A distance I have never achieved before, so to day I am feeling good is an understatement. That on top of working out, and still getting as much cycling done as I can, and that all rounds up to another huge tick in the box for this new normal.
I think one of the strangest parts of the whole thing has been the social isolation. Something I crave most of the time, suddenly became something everyone was doing. No longer was it a fight to get personal space, in fact it was insisted upon. It has been quite incredible, and I know that there have been other friends of mine who have found it equally as much of a relief. That is not to say the isolation for many has not been crippling.
I am not going to sit here, and selfishly say how great things have been. The pandemic has been horrific on so many levels. Losing loved ones to a cruel virus, being kept apart from those we crave to be with, for long durations, business collapses and so many other horrible effects from it all. The pandemic is not one of those things this generation will ever forget. But on the flip side, some people learned what it is like to feel detached from society, unable to engage, as much as you would love to. A greater understanding has been found of what social anxiety feels like. In this case, afraid to go out in case of catching the virus, but to many like me, the same anxiety is found simply by going out and interacting with others, even when they are perfectly healthy, and of no threat.
OK, my brain is a little fried from this sudden outburst of expression, so I am going to leave it there for now. But will come back to this soon, and carry on my catch up on how things are.
Over the past few months, with everything going on in the world, and so much change afoot, I was sure I could make a change myself. Get myself back on track, and get weight and fitness under control.
Since the start of the pandemic I have really become a recluse. Even before it all started, I had only ridden outside on a bike ONCE by March. Obviously this is the polar opposite of what I would usually be doing. However nothing seems to have managed to get me motivated to change that.
When lockdown started it was a great excuse not to go out, so early days I got stuck into lots of Zwifting (indoor cycling). Decided to move over to do some running, but determined not to over do it, I stopped cycling, started running and mixed in some other training too. After a month or so a few aches and pains had me stop for a week.... Since then, I have done very little. Other than eating that is.
Right now I am desperately trying to find the motivation I need to get me back to my happy place. Not the levels of fitness I have seen 5-6 years go, but just a little less timber, and a little more get up and go. But alas, it's nowhere to be found.
The reason this entry is on this blog and not my other one is simple, this is all in my head. I am lost without a routine, and right now I am in the middle of nowhere. I know I am battling myself here, there is no other reason for it. I'm not "lazy" as such. I have been doing plenty of other things to keep myself moving and upbeat. I'm not depressed and not really anxious. I dodged that bullet a few weeks ago I think.
But as with most things about me, my greatest enemy, my most fierce opponent is myself. The ability to give myself all the drive I need to do something. Talk a great talk, make a great plan.... Then talk myself straight out of it with some bizarre excuse. This is no exception, and right now I have plans in my head on how I am going to "snap out of it" as some would suggest. How that actually materialises of course is another matter.
As I have said before, I need a gentle approach, to get back to a routine. Back on the bike and start getting some miles in. Then of course there is the social distancing thing. How to deal with that when you are out in the wild on a bike. A biff should do the trick I reckon, so that is my plan. A few local miles on the bike, every day next week, before work, almost like a commute.
Then there is food, something I am doing very badly with at the moment, but again , determined that I need to change that too. Too much junk z not enough goodness, that has to change, and indeed when the last shop was ordered, I cut right back on the junk. Limit portions, choose wisely, and exercise... What could possibly go wrong.... Well, place your bets!
Here's to a few miles on the bike tomorrow, in the wild!
Thinking back 24 hours, my head was in a totally different place. With the past couple of weeks taking their toll, and having no outlet, things were starting to boil over. Since writing that blog entry and clearing my head a little of all the issues that were weighing me down, things have been much nicer.
Just getting into bed now, I feel lighter (if only I felt that way physically too!) with less weight in my shoulders, less pressure on my mind. I feel I am more able to relax. Work today was much easier, able to focus on things and, and multi-task where I needed to. It is truly amazing how much difference a little pressure makes our lives.
I am already preparing my mind to unwind and let go of all the stresses of the day, so here's to a good night's sleep.
On a side note, my hayfever has been a lot better today too, which also has tremendous bearing on my state of body and mind. Just going back through some data, and over the past week, my resting heart rate has increased by 1bpm per day. Today it went back down a couple. So again, a small contributing factor to the whole well being situation.
I have chatted with some great people today, a bit of banter, a little in depth conversation, just the right balance to help see things from a valid perspective, rather than one of a heightened and stressed view.
I know for sure I want to get out on a bike again soon. Maybe just a little solo spin to get my mono back. My anxiety is doing a great job of making me want to avoid the majority of the human race right now, so won't push that one too hard any time soon.
So here goes, lights out, relaxing sounds turned on, and maybe the fan for some background notice and cool air.
Oh, PS.. I haven't forgotten about weight. Work in progress.
Good morning all. First I would like to say thank you. Thank you for reading the last entry, and thank you to all those who reached out with offers, advice or just meaningful words. It all counts.
As most know, my intentions on writing these posts are multi pronged. Vent, think out loud, sharing my feelings with all, to allow others fighting similar to see its OK, and of course I would be lying if I didn't say, to engage with others. But only those who have the time and inclination to do so. I don't expect everyone to have something to say, nor know what to do. So I always appreciate when people reach out.
The venting part is the key for me, and no matter how many times I go through this cycle, I falter every single time. Forgetting lessons I have learnt, ignoring the early signs, and letting myself down by not keeping up the routine of self help I have spent so long figuring out. So to return to it, and get a load off my chest is both refreshing, and a stark reminder of how I could have avoided being back here again. But hey ho, we're here now, let's deal with it.
Having had a rant last night, I went to bed re-reading it all to myself in my head, wondering if I could have expressed something clearer. Do people think this is attention seeking, trying to figure out how it would be received, and listening for notifications on my phone. Yes, I know, phones are the work of the devil and should he turned off or to silence at night. I usually do!
The hardest part at times like this is silencing my mind. Going to bed and having someone in your head who won't just shut up is a real battle. Having learned many ways of dealing with them, from putting relaxing music on, to mind clearing routines. Visualisation works well for me, and seems I drop off quite quickly once I get a fix. Last night was no exception. Once I found peace from my mind, I was off.
Waking this morning feeling much fresher than usual, so off to a positive start. Added to that, seeing messages from a number of people reaching out, was very humbling and at the same time empowering too. Its not about the "are you OK" from as many people as possible, it's more about the communication with people who get it, and have something constructive to say or suggest. The "chin up" messages are well intended, but fall a little short of what is needed. Appreciated all the same, but just lack inspiration to engage.
As always I am humbled by realising people do care, and that in itself is a boost. But I know that the key to this is me, as always. And while I have grand plans, I have to be realistic and see that these things don't happen over night, and getting the time right is the key to succeeding in my endeavours.
The action plan really is stop eating quite so much crap, find a routine to work to, and all steps to be moderate and sensible. Sure I can commit to a ball busting grueling program, but as I have come to realise, I am quite fragile in some ways, and aggravating an old injury just sets me back months. So I need to build up gently.
Start small. A simple routine, and slowly add to it each time I am sure I am not breaking myself physically. Dig shallower is my motto right now. Dig too deep and you end in a hole. Or is that a whole.....heap of pain? So that is where I am gonna start. Not putting a date on it, but starting with a morning routine, get back out with the dogs maybe. Start walking, build back up to running. A faux commute to work is much needed too, I can easily do my faux return commute in the evening on the trainer.
So, I have ideas, I have a plan, I have support from those around me. What else do I need? Oh yeah, to get my head in the game. That's the bit I can't rush. Can't buy motivation, and can't force your head in the game.
Speaking of work, and the whole Work From Home thing, this has probably been my only negative on the whole matter. Loss of routine. But I know that is something many of you are also suffering with in one way or another. We hate routine til we lose it, then and only then do we realise the importance of a routine. The dream of having all the money in the world seems quite dire once you realise you would still need a routine, a schedule, some structure in your life. Life without structure is like a body with no bones. No matter how big the muscles, they are useless without structure. Gross I know!
Anyway, back to the thank yous. Its been inspiring to say the least, and my very first step, the most important thing I am going to do.... Is write more. Sorry and all that, I won't force you to read it, but will be sharing more and more on social media.
So, on with the day for now, and try and keep my chins up.
With so much going on in the world recently, and a somewhat intense 2020 so far, it is easy to lose track of oneself. Usually self help checks keep me on my game, but with time taken on other more pressing matters than my own well-being, it has been a time where I have let things slip. And now I am left wondering just how much has slipped by un-noticed.
At the start of the year, after getting my head back out of the sand from Xmas and all that comes with that, we moved straight on to the first event of the year being the trip to Svalbard. As I am sure most are aware, Ann (my better half) suffered a somewhat catastrophic accident in the first few days there, resulting in an airlift, a trip to the hospital, emergency flights home, and being operated on and hospitalised within days of arrival back in the UK. The road to recovery is long, and the first month or so of that was very intense. So naturally, and completely unbegrudgingly, I got stuck in, and focused on her recovery.
At the same time, my chest had been bad prior to the trip to Svalbard, so I had not been cycling to work as usual, but instead driving. So on my return to work, and keen to spend as much time at home caring for Ann, I chose to continue to drive to and from work. I have to say by this point I was getting a bit lazy anyway, so it was a great excuse.
Now cycling for me has always been a good escape, a chance to think, burn calories, and breaaaathe!! So three months in to the year and no cycling, well that's not good!
Mid to late March, and Covid-19 became a reality, so in a last minute rush, a work from home scheme was set up, so commuting on the bike became unnecessary, so even less opportunity or inclination to ride a bike. It's not going well at all. Needless to say, we all know how things went from there. UK lockdown, restrictions on activity and being outdoors, as well as an extra nudge from my wonderful introvert mind, and that was me done with going out.
A few attempts have been made along the way. In March just before lockdown I managed one single ride on the new bike in Richmond with Jason, then that was me done with outdoors. So, onto the trainer, and for a few weeks I got stuck in with Zwift, then a few things happened and interest started to fade again. Next up, running. By this point I am more than aware I am gaining weight, eating crap and not doing enough activity to balance not only my mind, but also my body. More weight piling on, and less and less inclination to do anything about it.
Now here we are in early June. More weight gained, all efforts and activities have completely ceased now, my interest is near rock bottom, but my frustration is through the roof. Once again fat, a noticeable change in my resting heart rate, I feel heavy and slow, and a huge part of me is struggling to get back on my feet. But that tiny powerful little part of my mind won't let me. Am I making excuses, and I getting too old for this "get fit" shit?
I will go with the former for the majority of it, it's just in my head, and I am just making excuses. Sure, I was going to give P90X another go, but by week 4 I was struggling with recovery, starting to skip sessions or part of, and really fighting to find the willpower to push through the discomfort. Partially because I know previously discomfort has led to long term pain, not something I want to repeat right now, especially with restrictions on physical treatments.
Sleep is suffering, falling asleep in pain and discomfort, and waking the same way, day after day. It's not how I like living my life, and I am desperate for a change. But without the motivation, and willpower to drive me, I am at a total loss on how to do this. In the past it has been a challenge to myself, prove something great, and achieve something greater. Right now it just seems like too much effort for not enough reward, and my mind just shuts me down as soon as I start thinking about it.
I don't want greatness, I don't want the bulk of the past, I just want to be healthier, and feel it both mentally and physically.
Deep inside, I know my lack of cycling is not helping at all, in fact it is one of the huge contributors towards how I am feeling right now. But with a "bottom of the pile" feeling, similar to how I felt on the first couple of days of London to Amsterdam, there is bugger all motivating me to get on a bike right now. Sure I have the trainer, but in this case it's just not the same. I need physical exhaustion to help settle me, but I need air and freedom too. But outside, isn't where I want to be right now, and people are my kryptonite. So I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. All that bulk I have put on probably isn't helping me struggle my fat arse free!
So as I sit here late at night, after an evening of watching Titan Games, making me want to try harder, and overcome my negativity, and watching dream bike builds, hoping to inspire my love and desire to get back on my bike, I am left feeling a little lost.
Am I spiralling here, am I off back down the rabbit hole? Or am I simply just over thinking everything, living in fear of depression, dragged down by all the negativity around at the moment, and just fighting to find my footing. I have the mental power to break free of this, I have done it before, I can do it again. But before I can push, I need to know what I am fighting, who is my enemy here exactly?
I want to believe, that it is just a serious bout of self doubt, and that I just need to sort my shit out. Overcoming self doubt just needs one good hard push in the right direction, however I have no plan, so no direction at the moment. I have a home gym, I have road bikes, a gravel bike, running shoes. I am literally out of excuses, yet somehow keep finding them.
What I need is a plan, and a good one. Structure, direction, a vague goal, and motivation to keep me going so I can achieve what I want and need to. So now what? What do I do? How do I do this?
I am totally at a loss, and struggling.....Something needs to change!
Just like feet, fingerprint and many aspects of our physiology, we are all different. It is important to remember this goes for the inside as well as the outside of everyone.
As I continue to speak to people about their own mental health issues, one thing is obvious, we are NOT the same. To believe that the same processes for the same issue will have the same outcome is flawed, seriously. Much to the detriment of those struggling with day to day life.
Almost as bad as that friend who thinks they are helping by saying "chin up" etc, for the medical world to assume the position of "feeling like this, take two of these" is damaging, and gives some with the sense of doom and being alone, a worsened sense of those feelings. When a treatment or medication doesn't work, some will feel that they are beyond help. Believe me, I am speaking from experience here.
The same applies to everyone in fact, in all walks of life, which is a long way round for me to get to where I am going with this entry. Complimentary therapies, they are not for everyone.
Having been lucky enough to have been asked to participate in a few studies and training programs now, I have been able to start piecing together a clearer picture of what I myself can expect from treatments such as Reflexology, and more recently Reiki.
Both practises have their critics, but both (along with many other such treatments) have a strong following, and a strengthening belief that they have a role to play in treatment of all sorts of conditions. I will try and keep this as objective and fair as possible.
Expectations. A big part of any treatment starts with the hopes and expectations of what you want from the treatment. Like anything in life, if you overstretch, you are likely to end up disappointed and underwhelmed. Keep it within reason, and you are far more likely to come away with a positive result. Sadly some of these expectations are driven by over selling something. Take spot cream for an example, or the latest toothbrush. If you believe the advertising, you will have baby like skin, and glistening white teeth in a matter of days. In reality this is rarely the case, but many are driven towards these products by the advertising which sells them to us with such great hope. Keep it realistic, and you are off to a good start.
Timescale. As I have said, the most successful advertising promises great results in a matter of days, however with anything medical, be it physical or mental, the changes are rarely instantaneous. Which when you are desperate for change can be devastating.
For me, I have always tried to go into these things with an open mind, keeping my expectations low, but my pre-formed opinions on the back burner to try and give it every chance of success. Doing my research before hand, to try and understand what to expect. Of course my research consists of some of the best research material known to man, the internet. The #1 authority on everything, and always 100% correct.
Naturally, if you Google any complimentary treatment out there, you are bound to get a wide spectrum of opinions, from the ultra positive, to the completely negative. As humans, we are always more vocal about dissatisfaction, so the majority of most things you look up on the internet will be negative or neutral at best. Like with anything, people are more than happy to contribute towards negativity with no actual experience or knowledge of something.
Those treatments which are not primary treatments such as physiotherapy, osteopathy, etc frequently come under fire and are accused of being frauds, fake, or having no effects. One of the reasons for this I tend to find is, complimentary therapies tend not to be funded by the NHS, therefore it is peoples own money being spent on them. Mix high expectations with spending your own money, and you have a risky recipe. Should you not get the desired outcome from the treatments, or the results are not happening quick enough, and it is easy to see why some would claim they are no good.
But the perception of the results usually lays perfectly in line with the expected outcome of the treatment. Speak to one of the extreme practitioners of such treatments, and you are at risk of having massively high expectations from the treatment. Putting all your eggs in one basket, and expecting a great recovery or improvement based completely on the treatment. On the other hand, speak to someone who is realistic about the expectations and timescale, and you are off to a better start.
Results for any treatment vary, and are affected by the actions and state of mind of the patient. Like hypnosis, if you fight against the process, you will more than likely remain largely unaffected by it.
Taking a look at each of the treatments I have experienced, I want to break down what I expected from them, and what the physical and mental outcomes were. Starting first with the chiropractor.
Following a bike accident, I was left with pain and reduced range of motion in my right hip and lower back. As time went on with no real answers from the GP, other than pain killers, I decided to look into alternatives. The lack of movement was starting to affect my shoulders and upper back now, things were not good. Initially going to my sports physio in Catford, the results were OK, but I was not getting enough of an improvement to continue the treatment. Something else was needed.
Originally looking at an Osteopath, I was told of the Chiropractor by a friend who had used the practice. Ignorant to the difference between the two, and having the thought of having my back cracked (technical term obviously) being the solution to it all, I booked in. Time for some research. Oh... I wasn't expecting that! So much negativity about Chiropractors. That said, when you look deeper at it, it is the more elaborate claims which seemed to attract the most negativity. The basic stuff, back pain and other related physical ailments seemed to be OK.
Going along for the first time, I had an initial assessment in which my movement, and general physical condition was assessed, and any issues I may have been having discussed. Focusing on the back and shoulder pain a course of treatment was agreed. The main treatments were correction and manipulation of the back, a little massage, and some self help exercises. It seemed to be doing the trick, so who was I to argue with its effectiveness.
The most notable session was mid way through the course of treatment. On arrival at the office, I was having trouble fully extending my right leg. The pre session exam was done, during which the chiropractor asked if I was having trouble with my right leg. YES! I exclaimed! She told me that it was a simple correction and we would take care of that. Laying down I again tried to extend my leg, nope, no joy. A couple of minutes later, and one glorious CRACK, I was asked to try again. Et voila, full range restored!
What I learned from my time seeing the Chiro was quite simple. The claims of some in a sense discredit the whole practice. Setting the bar of expectation and hope far too high. Extending the scope of the treatment far beyond the provable limits damages the integrity of those who practice the basic fundamentals. The same is true for other complimentary treatments, as well as other practices.
With the Chiropractor there is very little mental going on, the treatment itself is very much physical, and the only mental implications are those of taken from the positive physical outcome of each treatment. Knowing you are on the mend is a powerful tool in itself.
To this day, when problems arise Chiropractors remain one of my go to treatments, along with physio.
More recently, as I have written about, I experienced Reflexology for the first time. With a friend James building up towards his final exams to become fully qualified, I was blessed with a couple of tester sessions. Again, knowing little about the practice, I turned to the internet for guidance, and again my findings were similar. Negativity, calls for proof of some of the claims of Reflexology, driven by the slightly further reaching claims of what it can treat. For me, expectations were neutral, mind wide open.
After the initial pre treatment chat, my mind was eased further by the lack of promises of the session. Suggested effects were discussed, expected sensations explained, and away we went.
I will say from the off that with some of these treatments, state of mind is crucial. As I said earlier, close yourself off to the possibilities and you immediately limit the scope of things to come. The mind is a powerful tool when it comes to healing both physically and mentally, not to be underestimated. If you are tense during any kind of massage or physical stimulation, you will reduce the ability to reach those deep seated physical hot spots which are key to the sessions.
For me, doing yoga when I can has allowed me to relax my mind far better than I have ever been able to before. This relaxation really helps with such situations.
Reflexology for me combines both physical and mental stimulation. The right environment allowing you to slip into deep relaxation, which in turn allows the physical stimulation to have maximum effect. With feet being so delicate and sensitive, some might find it hard to relax enough to have them massaged and stimulated. However, allow your mind to take you to a place of relaxation, and the results are fantastic.
With the basic understanding of the practice, and what it is set out to do, I know that each part of the foot has a trigger point relating to a part of the rest of the body. With no major issues that I was aware of, it is hard for me to say exactly what impact the treatment had on different parts of my body. That said, there were most definitely some physical benefits to be had from the treatment.
By the end of a one hour session I was relaxed from head to toe, both inside and out. For me, this in itself is one of the keys of the treatment, the mental well-being. Releasing the stress and tension brought upon by any ailment, in itself is healing. Time out from the worry, laying completely relaxed, somewhat vulnerable can be of massive benefit to a physical issue. Body relaxation, reduced heart rate, easing the strain on the body, allowing it to find a little balance, and work on fixing the issues. Accelerated bed rest if you like.
Mentally, it is hard for me to explain the benefits to anyone who has not needed time out from themselves and their thoughts. When you mind is running at a million miles an hour, for every waking moment of every day, the chance to switch off for a while, and focus on something as simple as breathing deeply is a blessing. So to have a treatment like Reflexology is a great opportunity to be at one with yourself, while being gently controlled by the practitioner.
Mindfulness is a bit of a tough cookie for some people. The more active your mind is, the harder it is to switch it off for a while. Being in a situation where there is a mild physical distraction to try and block out while you relax, is easier that simply meditating and trying to clear your mind. I am not sure if it makes sense, but if someone tells you to clear you head of worries and thoughts, and concentrate on your breathing, for the inexperienced it is nigh on impossible. A thought of some kind will sneak in, and spiral into a whole train of thought in a flash.
Now put yourself in a situation where there is a physical distraction, such as massage, it becomes the focus of your thoughts, and like when running or cycling, it is hard to think about anything else in the moment. At this point you tend to surrender your mind to the moment. For reflexology, as long as you are comfortable in the environment you are in, it is easy to zone out so to speak, and just experience the sensations, rather than fighting them, or over thinking them. With this state of mind achieved, the next step is simple, and taught by yoga all the time, breathe!
Feeling your breaths, allowing your mind to relax and let everything go, becoming hyper aware of every inch of your body, what you are feeling. Feeling the pressure of the blood pumping through your body, feeling every heartbeat pulse through you. Once relaxed, the body and mind really work together, and anything is possible.
It is at this point I believe that physical change can come about, encouraged by the stimulation of the Reflexologist. As I say, in my experience I lacked any real feeling of such change, but then maybe my mind was not as open as it could have been, and I was simply not aware of what I was feeling. This is something I learned more about with my next experience, Reiki, but I will come to that in a bit.
I can say by the end of each session I was left in a physical and mental state I would have been happy to remain in. A natural high of relaxation. So relaxed, I craved it more. For someone like me who finds it so hard to relax even when the situation allows it, such as bedtime, feeling this relaxed is a blessing. I somehow need to invoke this feeling before I sleep at night.
In fact, so convinced as to how the state of mind can alter how I sleep, I have now started yoga before bed on some nights, just to get my mind to a state of relaxation.
My final take on Reflexology for this entry is a simple one. While there are those who cast doubts on what can be achieved by it. For anyone who is active and spends a lot of time on or using their feet, if nothing else, Reflexology will be the best and most relaxing foot massage you have had in your life. With the added benefits of doing nothing other than unwinding, breathing, and having some time to yourself. Unlike some other alternative treatments, there are 100% guaranteed physical benefits from the sessions.
The most recent treatment I have had is Reiki. Something I knew absolutely nothing about until last week. For some reason I have always put it in the same category as yoga and pilates. Don't ask me why, at 46 I am still ignorant to many things, Reiki is no longer one of them.
For anyone who is not familiar with Reiki (similar to me last week) it is basically "healing hands". The passing and channeling of energy via the hands. Helping re-balance the energy in the body. Probably the hardest to prove for any doubters out there. Again, research on the internet will turn up many a bold claim, much to the disapproval of some, so once again it attracts a large following of negativity.
Having only had one session, and not being sure what to expect from the whole situation, it is a hard one to say much about. During the consult some issues I have were discussed, mentioning that I struggle to sleep, have a history of depression and anxiety were the main things that came to mind. Also mentioning physical issues with my shoulder and hip, but these were not focused on.
Deciding to focus on the sleep issues, I was laid down, allowed to get comfortable and relax, before the process begun. The only way I can describe it is, if you have ever had a massage which has ended with pressure points around the head and certain points of the body, it is a little like that. Nothing intrusive, nothing painful or awkward. Simply put, it is placing the hands on certain parts of the body, for my session the head, and drawing energy to stimulate change of some sort.
Again, turning to yoga to relax and find my head space, it was easy for me to clear my head, and just be aware of my body and mind.
Sensations I felt I experienced during the session are as follows.
Change of weight and balance within my head. Tough to explain but if you have ever had an imbalance in your inner ear, and felt your head feels it wants to drop to one side, this is similar. As hands move around, feeling the head become weighty on one side, and feel the sensation of it dropping to one side.
The next one is a bit harder to explain. If you have ever lay still, eyes closed, you may have noticed colours, lines, patterns in your vision. Flowing and pulsing as your heart beats. When you relax deeply, these patterns and lines can calm down, and seem to flow gently, in line with your heartbeat For me, during the session, I am sure they changed direction according to my thoughts, and where the hands of the practitioner were at any one time. Feeling the flow of energy towards the hands on my head, seeing the lines racing in that direction, from time to time, as the hands moved, or my thoughts returned to my mind momentarily, I would see and feel a change.
Hard to quantify really, but if you believe in the flow of energy in your body, if you are aware of your state of mind, then it might make a little more sense. At the end of the session, discussing how it had been, I mentioned these changes, and was told she too could feel them. Suggesting it felt like I was blocking the flow with my mind, it would fit with the idea that the thoughts rushing back into my mind may have contributed towards this change. Who knows! I am going back next week, so will experiment a little.
The thing I takeaway from these sessions is that physical stimulation goes a long way to helping with mental relaxation. Regardless of what you make of such treatments, for me they create a fantastic channel for me to allow my mind to relax to a state I struggle to achieve otherwise. With balance restored in my mind, I find it much easier to deal with anything life throws at me. Less stress, means less tension, so there are certainly physical benefits to be had. Add to this the release of tension and increased relaxation from the massage aspects of some of the treatments, and all in all it is an hour well spent, and money well spent.
Is it for everyone, probably not. If you simply have tight shoulders from gardening, then a massage will suit you down to the ground. Want to take some time to yourself, relax deeply, and explore you mind and body, then maybe it is time to look into a suitable form of complimentary therapy.
If you are interested in anything I have mentioned above, I will leave the links to all the services below. Thank you for reading, and if you take nothing else away from this, I hope it has induced a good nights sleep.
Riding home from work one evening this week, something suddenly came to me. A moment of clarity, a rare thing these days! Triggers! What are they, and starts my anxious mind spinning.
Whilst having a late night Netflix binge at the start of the week, I got watching "Your Mind, Explained". A series of shorts I have to recommend, especially for anyone trying to get to grips with any mental health issues. One episode in particular resonated with me, surprise, surprise it was the one about Anxiety. In a couple of minutes, with a couple of simple diagrams, the process which causes anxiety to be an issue is explained brilliantly.
To recap, anxiety is a natural feeling, which is why everyone at some point refers to moments of anxiety. From remembering to doing things before leaving home, to triggers which help up make decisions in the blink of an eye (cross or don't cross the road etc), identifying danger, using our past experiences, or things we have learned growing up. Anxiety is a necessary process to keep us safe and functioning.
The problem arises when that process is used irrationally, albeit unintentionally. There is a time and place for genuine anxiety. Most will know the unwanted kind which tends to pop up when you are in a new environment, or in a situation which could change things for you, exams etc. This is usually a short lived thing, but it triggers all sorts of physical actions. Upset stomach, dry mouth, you know, all those things which you really don't need right there and then.
For others, these moments are all too frequent, and triggered by what most would deem the most insignificant of events. Getting on a crowded train or bus for example. For me, this can be complete hell, for most it is just an unwanted situation, but one you will get through with little more than a little reluctance.
As I was taught by Netflix, this is Social Anxiety, and quite simply, it is the feeling of being judged and watched by everyone around you. Fearing that you are not worthy, not wanted, or just don't fit in. Simple eye contact can turn into a fast spinning whirlwind of panic. Of course, eye contact is something 95% of people avoid in confined spaces anyway, which is demonstrated by our love of phones, games consoles, and newspapers when using public transport. Not to mention my two favourites, headphones and sunglasses.
Then there is the sort of anxiety I noticed on the ride home, and a far more common one for me. Situational anxiety. Have you ever had a confrontation with someone, and found yourself replaying it in your head? The confrontation lasted 30 seconds, a quick exchange of words, and it's over. But for you, in your mind, the next 20-30 mins are spent dwelling on it. Replaying it, rethinking what you could have, or should have said or done? I am guessing at that time period, as for me, it can last a few hours or a few days. I kid you not. Revisiting the situation, going through the whole thing from start to finish, examining what was said by the other party, exploring what could have been meant by every word. Wondering what that person is thinking or saying about you, how could you have handled it differently. Wondering if they are even bothered about it, or simply moved on.
An exchange on social media last week is a great example of that. And for the few words that were said, their meaning was chewed over for a couple of days at least. With the intentions towards me, of the person saying them mulled over too.
Anyway, back to the ride...
Riding along a quiet road, decent pace, I noticed a few young lads by the side of the road throwing conkers at each other. From about 50-100 metres away I could see what they were doing. Playful, laughing, no aggression. However as I got closer I started thinking they might throw something at me as I passed. A lone cyclist, quiet road, I mean, why not, that's what kids do, right.
Now I KNOW this isn't what all kids do, and I know it is completely irrational to assume something would happen, but that is how this mind works. So now I am getting tense. Remember this is all happening within 50-100 metres at about 20mph! Getting closer I can feel my grip on the bars increasing, shoulders tensing, waiting, preparing for something to be thrown my way.
Will it hit me, will something bounce on the ground near me, will it make me fall off or wobble. Just the one or multiple, if they do, should I stop, should I just shout, maybe just ride on. If I stop or shout, what do I say, do I swear and become immediately aggressive, laugh it off, turn around and confront them.
If I say something, what if they reply, would it turn physical, 3 onto 1, confronting is a bad idea, but why should they get away with it... And so on. 10 seconds later, I have passed them, stiff as a board, stressed as I can possibly be. Breathing out for the first time since seeing them.... NOTHING! They are still messing about, play fighting among each other, probably didn't even see me pass by. A few deep breaths, the cycle of anxiety broken this time around, and I carry on on my way home.
Within a minute of this happening, my mind is busy, writing this blog entry in my head. It's a breakthrough! Finally I have a perfect example of how the anxious mind works, and how quickly normality can become hell for some people. Similar cycles pop up repeatedly for the remainder of the ride home, and every ride which has any kind of interaction or even just potential interaction with people along the way.
Now imagine that thought process, almost ever present, ready to leap out at you and start spinning. Any situation is a potential trigger, it just takes the wrong word, look, or environment for it all to start spinning. Shopping, travelling, driving, the list is endless. And the list is very different for different people.
So finally after almost a week, here I am writing this, hoping that it once again strikes a chord with one or two people out there, and makes some sense of what they are feeling. Or in some cases, makes it easier for others to understand how some peoples minds works.
Anxiety and avoidance go hand in hand for this exact reason. It is not the fear of the activity or event, not the lack of will to participate. But instead the fear of the unknown, unplanned, unforseen. Being unprepared for a situation which might arise, and the subsequent spiral of thoughts it will induce.
Meeting a stranger for the first time. I can outwardly appear fine about it. My natural defences will help me fight through the situation with some dark humour, a little laughter and finding a way to speed my way through the encounter. Like a duck in water, on the surface, all seems calm, I am gliding along through the conversation or situation. But below the surface, all hell is breaking loose. Legs kicking like crazy, struggling to stay afloat and present.
While I may glide through a situation with apparent ease. By the end of it I am absolutely exhausted and drained. Needing some me time to recharge, regroup, before I can even contemplate being in a similar situation. The natural ability to fight through a situation can become a serious drain on the mind, and if put in a situation too many times, in too short a period of time, can lead to a complete shutdown.
This is something I try and avoid putting myself through. So if ever you see me being quiet, doing my own thing, not being too chatty or getting into big conversations, that is more than likely all that is going on with me. The same I would guess would apply to some others too.
To put it into context, when the average person has a physically exhausting day, it is nice to put your feet up in the evening. When the same person has a long week, it is nice for them to take the weekend to themselves to get their energy back. When you do that for too long without a good enough rest, you become weak, exhausted, and unable to function correctly..
Welcome to my mind.... It is exactly the same, you just can't see the soreness, or massage it away. It just takes time.
Phew, speaking of exhaustion... For once, it is physical for me, and that is a nice feeling. Doesn't mean I will sleep any better, but it is nice to physically feel recovery once in a while.
Speaking of sleeping, before I go... YOGA!
I blogged about relaxation the other day, with James and his reflexology being one way to recharge. At the moment yoga is my thing. Spending time with yourself, relaxing the mind while working the body hard, all in the privacy of my home, and not moving an inch. The best part being, with no risk of encountering anyone in the process. 30 minutes of a near state of meditation is an amazing thing, and something I am really benefiting from. So if you get a chance, relax, be at one with yourself, and take some time out to relax your mind.
Phew, that has been one heck of a week to say the least. Sitting here at the kitchen table at gone 10pm on a Sunday night, dogs by my side, just taking a breather, and trying to clear my head of what has been a pretty bloody horrible week.
Don't get me wrong, there have been some fantastic moments this week, as there always are, but I think they have been over shadowed by my mind and my mood. Not quite sure what set it all off, but the end of last week was the beginning of a bit of a spiral for me, and I have been trying to shake it all week.
Recognising something has been up has been massive for me. It always helps me fight back a little, and not take things too much to heart. But as the week has gone on, it has gotten harder and harder to get away from the obvious. I was seriously anxious.
There has been nothing to be really anxious about, good weather, yoga in the mornings has been a good start to the days. Cycling as always has been a great escape from the stress. Lowering my energy before work, blowing off the steam at the end of the day. Riding has actually been feeling really good in fact, with the core work paying off a bit, I have been really enjoying attacking some of the sections on the way home. But still the feeling remained.
Either way, as the next work week appears on the horizon, I am hoping I have shaken the worst of it, and a good session in the morning will get my head back in the game. You can't rush things, and I am not kidding myself that I will wake up tomorrow back on top. But I can hope right, and by hoping I mean I can be positive, and look up not down.
Teeth aching, jaw tired, fingers sore, all great signs that I have been stressed this week. For once, the avoidance has not been present, and the tiredness has not appeared, but where there is anxiety, there are signs, and this time around, those are the indicators that have made it obvious I need to take some action.
I have been keeping my head low where I can, steering clear of awkward situations, and trying to have some time to myself wherever possible. Cuddles at night on the floor with the dogs, Kallik is my little comfort dog of the moment, gives great cuddles. So all in all, it has been an uneventful episode of anxiety. But it just goes to show, even when nothing is going wrong, even when all is well, the shadows can start to appear, and your mood can take a dive.
The importance of realising this can happen is always highlighted to me by the sessions at the RCGP, with the questions asked to steer towards a diagnosis of anxiety. Recent changes in life, physical changes, or any other obvious triggers are not always present when anxiety comes knocking. So for some, it is important to recognise and identify it yourself, rather than relying on the confirmation from others.
This isn't the blog I originally set out to write, so I am gonna wrap this up here, and keep my fingers crossed that next week is a bit of an up week for me. In the meantime, I am going to delve into my mind, and see if I can write the entry I planned on writing since Wednesday!