Exercise, Weight Loss

Own Worst Enemy

Hello lovely readers! Although my posts have been lacking, I’ve still been working away quietly in the background on my health and wellbeing. It’s nice to be back after a prolonged absence. I had to take a break from writing for a while.  The idea of writers sitting up until the wee hours with wine and weaving tales sounds romantic, but in reality it sucks. It’s tedious and mostly involves a lot of editing.  It was taking over my life and was becoming a chore, and as per usual I was putting far too much pressure on myself to do everything.

Which brings me neatly onto the title. The reason I suffered way back at the beginning when I fell ill was that very point. I was far too hard on myself. In fact, I was the undoing of my own sanity. Ten years on, I try and be a bit kinder. I try hard to resist the urge to be that girl who can do everything, and stop putting pressure on myself with things that don’t really matter. I am an incredibly competitive person by nature, but unfortunately it’s only competition with myself. Writing is important to me, but if I don’t line edit a manuscript/submit to a deadline/whatever there will still be food on the table and a roof over my head. In that respect my hiatus has been successful and I have to say I’m feeling better for it.

So does that make me a failure? In the past, I would have answered ‘yes’ to that. I’m a firm believer in finishing what one starts. It’s a rule that I apply to everyday life. Refer back to the competitive comment. However… I may be turning a corner. In making the decision to stop writing for a bit, I recognised that I wasn’t ‘giving up’ writing, but merely taking a breather so I didn’t end up hating one of my passions. The result has been that I’m now raring to go and excited by my projects. I’d say that’s a win.

I took the time away to focus on myself and my home life outside of my office door. I’m finally easing into a routine (god knows I love a routine!) at home and it’s having a positive effect on all the aspects of my life, including my health. I now walk my dogs for at least 45 minutes most days, I’m organised for meals, I have a regular running schedule and do a bit of living room yoga on my rest days. Pretty good, huh?

So somebody tell the scales for me, because they don’t seem to know. I’m stuck in half-a-poundland. And no, I don’t mean a fifty percent discount version of the popular high street chain. It’s excruciating. And it’s not even every week. Sometimes I STS. You hear people talking about hitting a plateau when losing weight, and I am definitely there. And it’s been going on for MONTHS.

In that past life pre-breakdown (and for a while post- also) I’d have dug my heels in, whittled my food intake down to the bare minimum and ran like hell every morning in part punishment, part stubbornness to get the scales going. It would work, and I’d feel validated and successful.

The problem with that behaviour is that I was miserable and obsessive. Yes, getting on the scales (every morning) and seeing the numbers coming down was good, but the manner in which I achieved it was neither healthy or sustainable. Then I’d end up on a binge and feel guilty and even more wretched than when I was only losing half a lb a week.

Not this time, dear readers. Sure, it does nothing to quell my inherent impatience and stoke my competitive edge, but I’ve been able to step back and see the bigger picture. In all these weeks, I’ve never once gained. Not even half a pound. That counts for a lot. I’m also nearly back to where I was before the trauma of moving destroyed my happy little routine-world for the umpteenth time. So who cares if it’s a tiny loss week on week? It’s not a race. I don’t need to compete with myself – I look in the mirror and see that I’m winning. I don’t need to be my own worst enemy.

I say this cautiously, as the saying goes, ‘a leopard never changes its spots’ – but I may be on the way to becoming my own best friend instead.

 

 

 

 

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Mental Wellbeing

Spurious Social Media

We’ve all seen it. That one friend on Instagram who posts pictures of a lean, toned, tanned body in an exotic location and constant status updates on Facebook about how wonderful their life is.

So how does this make us feel?

What is your answer to that question? Jealousy? Happiness at seeing other ‘friends’ material gains or achievements? Guilty?

Social media has become part of our lives whether we like it or not. It is an excellent tool to keep in touch, share joy or grief and network  (and ranty blog posts),  but it also has a dark side. Researchers have found negative links between social media, self-image and depression. Surprise surprise.

There have been several studies recently looking at the frequency and the impact thereof in using sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A lot of this research has been centred around children, as they are the first developing generation in the social media epidemic. But what about us old ‘uns? (Oh, bring back the days of hunting the streets for your pal’s bike to figure out whose house they were at.)

Of course it affects adults too. We are often bombarded with images of fantastic holidays, expensive new purchases and “Oh, look at me!” posts when we log on. Let’s face it, it’s bound to affect us. Mainly we put pressure on ourselves, particularly in terms of self-image. Constant reminders of people you actually know looking fabulous and generally doing exceptionally well in life can become detrimental as we try and make ourselves better. Some often feel like their lives are sub-standard and boring compared to their social media  counterparts, or that we are failures because we aren’t a size 8 and going to the gym twelve times a week. Other pressures include the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ syndrome in providing luxurious items and outlandish treats for our children.

If, like me, you get a twinge of any negative feeling when browsing your news feeds, stop. I beg you. It’s not real. A friend of mine recently said, “Being friends on Facebook is not the same as real life.” – He’s right. Social media platforms are just that – a stage for people to display their personal highlight reels. Many of the images we see are engineered or filtered (who wants to see a picture of themselves with a double chin and greasy hair?) or posed to look good. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to look your best for all the world to see, it creates a very false environment. People aren’t constantly going to talk about all the shit things going on, are they?

But how fake are we talking? At the more extreme end of the spectrum, I urge you to read up on Essena O’Neill – the Australian model who quit her Instagram career because she was miserable.

There will always be certain attention-seekers or materialistic people that you will have in your friends list, but ask yourself what void they are trying to fill if their first thought is “I can’t wait to post this on Facebook!” When I got my first short story published last year, the thought never entered my head to share the news with my ‘friends’ on social media until much later, and I still didn’t actually announce it on Facebook. I didn’t need the validation.

The most interesting thing about the research conducted is the frequency of use. the general but very elementary trend is that the more people use social media, the more likely they are to feel depressed. You can read a little about that from the guys at the University of Pittsburgh via Forbes.

This takes me back to things I know I always bang on about. Moderation. Without Facebook I’d be lost, but I don’t log in two or three times a day. I’ve found more productive uses for my time but still use it for support through an excellent secret WeightWatchers page and the occasional browse with a cuppa. Anything in large volumes isn’t good for you, especially if it is prone to invoke negative feelings within you. Then there’s negative influences – you wouldn’t stay friends with someone who uses you as a doormat – so why endure social media if it is having a negative effect? My favourite site is Pinterest. It’s the most positive form of social media I’ve got. It inspires me, motivates me, and gives me genuine joy without all the showboating.

In the writing group I’m in, I use a phrase when critiquing: “Take what resonates (from my comments) and dump the rest.” That’s what I now do with social media. So the next time you feel bad because you haven’t lost weight this week and everyone else on Twitter did, switch it off. It might just make you feel better.

Further Reading:

http://course.duruofei.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Choudhury_Predicting-Depression-via-Social-Media_ICWSM13.pdf

http://www.mainlinetoday.com/Blogs/Thinking-Forward/February-2014/Can-Too-Much-Social-Media-Cause-Depression/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mental Wellbeing, Sleep, Weight Loss

Practising Sleep

One thing I am not very good at is sleeping. I’m not very good at sewing either, but that’s for another time.

Since losing my marbles in 2006, (holy crap, that was ten years ago!) sleep has escaped me on a regular basis. It was, in fact, the straw that broke the camel’s back and made me admit defeat and that I wasn’t well. I nearly had an accident on the way home from work in heavy traffic because I was nodding off at the wheel.

As any insomniac or parent is sure to agree, sleep deprivation is not funny. I’m not talking about a few sleepless nights, I’m talking about prolonged periods of less than four hours a night. As you drag you leaden carcass out of bed morning after morning, your surroundings gradually become muted; you don’t hear or see with clarity anymore and concentration spans drop to zero. That’s when it gets dangerous. There are obvious side-effects of sleep deprivation (yawning, bags under your eyes you could carry shopping in) but it’s the more subtle signs that you need to watch out for that might indicate a lack of sleep is becoming a real problem.

When my insomnia was at its worst, I was sleeping less than three hours a night and that was happening four and five nights a week, for months on end. Besides nearly totalling myself in the car, I noticed odd little things. Cuts and bruises seemed to take forever to heal. I began to lose the ability to do simple mental arithmetic. I started questioning whether I’d completed everyday tasks, or just thought about doing them. Or did I dream them?

These things happened because during deep, quality sleep, the body repairs itself. This is the most efficient time to do it since everything else is in a resting phase. All the little cells and antibodies have more energy to zoom about while we snooze. As the body does this, our brains are busy sorting out or mental ‘filing cabinet’ – it processes the days events, thoughts, and feelings and puts them in an appropriate place. This is sometimes why, if a stressful event is worrying us, it keeps us awake – we are preventing our brains from ‘filing’ it because we keep thinking about it. It’s also why we often dream (in the lighter phase of sleep) about things that have happened recently, although not necessarily in a sensible way. My body wasn’t getting a chance to do any of that.

Nowadays, although I don’t suffer as badly, I still have episodes of poor sleep. I am by nature a six-hour sleeper anyway (probably just as well, isn’t it?) so don’t require a massive amount of time in bed, but when that drops below four hours for more than a week, things get ugly. I do my best not to worry about it, because generally that makes it worse. It’s been going on long enough now that I know it will pass.

So why am I banging on about all this?

Without the basic functions I’ve mentioned, keeping yourself mentally and physically healthy is very, very difficult. A lack of sleep nurtures poor diet (the old ‘can’t be arsed’ syndrome) zaps motivation and makes us look like crap. It is so easy to slip into a horrible, destructive pattern when sleep is escaping you. So take extra-special time to look after yourself if you aren’t getting all the z’s you need.

When you are sleeping well, it makes such a difference. Firing on all cylinders and being well-rested are the most beneficial things you can do for your wellbeing. Motivation levels are higher, skin is brighter, we have more energy to work, play, exercise. Brain function is tip-top and life in general feels less stressful because you are in a mindset to handle things.

So what can you do to keep yourself well rested? Here are some of the things that have helped me over the years:

  • Listen to your body. Do you know how much sleep you actually need on a regular basis? Everybody is different, so be mindful of how long you actually enjoy peaceful, restful sleep. I’m good on six, my partner needs a solid nine to feel refreshed in the mornings.
  • Bed-head. Are you comfortable in bed? If you share a bed, do you have enough room to move comfortably? Replace mattresses and bedclothes regularly and find a pillow with a firmness that suits (Apparently, you should only sleep with one pillow.) Most large bed outlets can help you with this.
  • Sort your surroundings: Is the bedroom a nice place to be? Do you feel relaxed in your room? The correct temperature and lighting will be a big help here. Keep the room ventilated and dust-free for maximum sleep success.
  • Get a routine. We are creatures of habit. By having a bedtime routine, we are nudging our brains into ‘sleepy time’. Try and go to bed at roughly the same time every night, after following a pattern of ‘get a drink, brush teeth, comb hair, whatever’ – you get the picture.

The benefits of good quality sleep are endless. In an increasingly busy world, I feel it is very important to look after the basics . If I want to keep improving myself as a person, inside and out, I need to have all the oomph I can get.

 

Life Journey, Mental Wellbeing

Packing Ninja

In February my life flipped in a different direction again. James got offered more or less the perfect job. So here I am boxing up my little world again for another adventure. I tell ya, I’m getting mighty good at this packing malarkey. I’ve done this routine 5 times in three and a half years, and haven’t had two consecutive Christmases in the same property since 2006. I could give some military wives a run for their money. It doesn’t make it any less of a stressful process, though. The logistics of moving jobs, animals, belongings etc still has to be done in a timely fashion.

This time feels different though. Firstly, I actually want to move this time. Secondly, the new place is amazing. It’s in a beautiful part of the country, and I feel much more at home already than I ever did in the previous two places. I’m kinda frightened to say it, but I think this might be it.

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I came to this cautious conclusion as I sauntered down the trails on the new farm, exploring the leafy tunnels. My brain is heaving a collective sigh of relief as is the psychological warrior in me.  It occurred to me that at my healthiest, both physically and mentally, was when I was happy in my surroundings and felt secure in my home. It was when I’d stayed in the same place for 2 years. Maybe that might happen again. Hopefully. It’s very difficult to achieve that secure feeling in the position we are in. When you work in agriculture, it’s a lifestyle, not a job. James manages farms. If you want to do that you really need to be on the farm 24/7 – so somewhere to live is often provided. As a ‘farmer’s wife’ you tend to get roped in to helping, regardless of whether you want to or not, or whether you have your own job. We’ve done a proper job on it this time, landing right in the middle of the calving and lambing period. Talk about in at the deep end! Luckily, I like that side of it. It’s a massive ask to be able to get absolutely everything right though – not only does the job have to be right for James, but I still have to be geographically well-placed for my own job, as well as being happy with the house being provided. The size, quality and condition of tied houses can swing wildly from one extreme to the other.  A new job basically  means a new life. If any aspect is wide of the mark, it can have disastrous consequences, and if you make the decision to call it a day, you are automatically moving house.  And this is why I’m cautious.

The first night I stayed at the new house I was the most chilled-out I’ve been in 18 months, so I’m taking that as a good indication. All I want is to settle now, give myself a chance to get to know my surroundings and give myself the chance to really get well again. I don’t think that’s much to ask- but hey, if it doesn’t work out, at least I’m a ninja when it comes time to pack up again.

Healthy Eating, Mental Wellbeing, Weight Loss

Enough is Enough (AKA When to say no)

I find it funny that its the one thing that not many of us are good at. Apparently it’s a very British thing. I’m not sure if it is politeness, fear of repercussion or some other imaginary voodoo factor, but the bulk of us are rubbish at drawing a line before things go too far.

I’ve made a conscious effort since the start of the year to be aware of how far things are going and willingly putting a stop to situations before they escalate to a point where I am unhappy.

Straight after the inevitable Christmas gain at the scales (5lbs!) was the first time I put my strategy in play. I had my festive fun and decided to call a halt to the decadent eating a few days before New Year. I gave away all remaining party food and rearranged my cupboards back to the ‘Gem friendly’ configuration, and dug my heels in. I said ‘no’ to beer. I said ‘no’ to takeaways and pleading puppy eyes from James. My first class in January resulted in a loss of 4lbs, putting me almost back to my pre-Christmas weight. The strategy seemed to be working.

Fast forward another week, and the world fell in on top of me (damn it, I lasted a whole week and a half of 2016 before getting my knickers in a knot) – everything just happened at once. Poor weather stopped my running. I had an extremely busy week with some difficult customers who caused me no end of grief. This just added insult to injury on top of my snotty, frostbitten nose and numb fingers covered in cow poop and raw milk. My new car arrived, and I had to familiarize myself with it on treacherous country roads at three in the morning. My collie came in to season which caused logistical issues with my other (entire) male dog, who howls the house down if you separate him and leave the premises. You get the picture.

I still tried to employ my ‘Keep calm and say no’ strategy, albeit with a higher level of difficulty. I said ‘no’ to trying to squeeze in runs on slippy roads. I said ‘no’ to going to class to weigh in. Enough was enough, and I had to make sure my work was completed to the usual high standard and I didn’t end up with a litter of unwanted puppies. I survived with only one meltdown on Thursday night.

I realize now that I said ‘no’ to the wrong things. Yes, I employed my strategy, but to all the wrong situations. I should have said ‘no’ to my farmer who wanted me to attend his farm late on a Friday night. I should have said ‘no’ to extra responsibilities. I should have said ‘no’ to convenience food and poor eating choices. Sometimes planning ahead isn’t enough, and I’ve definitely learned a lesson from this past week. Next time a heavy week looms, I’m going to say ‘Enough is enough – but what is not important? What should I say no to?’

It is important to manage the expectation of your abilities and goals. Sometimes you do have to say no to things. Be strong and do it, but consider carefully whether the impact will be positive or negative on yourself – after all that’s the reason for doing it in the first place.

 

Mental Wellbeing

Anxiety vs. Depression

They are not the same thing.

I’m aware of the stigma STILL  attached to mental health issues (particularly in the workplace) and I refuse to be ashamed. Why should I? I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was going to make myself a crazy person.

I used to struggle terribly from the second week in January through to my birthday at the beginning of March so I’m very self-aware at the moment, and the start of the week  I could feel the deathgrip coming. The overwhelming urge to dive beneath the duvet and let the world steam-roller over the top of me. This is the feeling that puts me into lockdown – that place where I revert to self-preservation and scrape by doing the bare minimum to function as a human being, because it is all I am capable of.

What I am experiencing is anxiety, not depression. I’m not a doctor, but having suffered both, I can tell the difference. When your brain is swimming and your logic is drunk, sometimes it’s hard to separate the two. They often go hand in hand, and one can lead to the other. They tag-team your ass. And they’re sneaky.

Depression is a mire. You feel worthless, demotivated and cannot see any good or beauty in anything. There is no point in anything. I often suffer terrible lethargy, prolonged bouts of tears/feeling hopeless and the want to do absolutely nothing because everything is so terrible. I can’t feel positive or happy and have no interest in myself or others – which in turn makes me feel worse because it means I’m a selfish, self-absorbed cow. I take no interest in hobbies or pastimes, which is why I find it very difficult to write when I’m truly depressed. I don’t sleep well for weeks on end. And the weirdest thing of all? Brushing my teeth. I kid you not. Chronic sufferers of depression will tell you that taking care of themselves no longer rates, and with me it’s my teeth. I have no idea why.

The main thing about depression for me is cause. If I can get to the root of why, I can take steps to start fixing it. Until I find the root cause (or admit the cause to myself) I might as well stay under that duvet and wave on the steam roller.

Anxiety is worse. Depression I can feel coming on over a period of days, weeks, sometimes months. Anxiety sneaks up and bitch-slaps me whenever the hell it feels like it. Which is frequently. It’s a fast, snappy feeling which contrasts with the sluggishness of depression. Anyone will tell you – I talk a lot. A LOT. No, I mean A LOT. I’m not sorry. It’s the way I’m wired and I can’t help it. I really can’t. I’m one of those people that has a million tabs open in the browser in my head all the time, and things compute on all these tabs at squillions of miles an hour, all simultaneously. It has to get out somehow, or my brain would explode. I think this lends itself to bouts of anxiety.

The things I juggle in my head suddenly start to pile up, and more and more thoughts come crashing in. I become overwhelmed. My heart races, my stomach knots. Intense feelings of guilt engulf me and I panic. My concentration drops to nil. This can last for hours, sometimes days. If I’m in that delicate state, or on the cusp, the slightest little thing can tip me over the edge  and I start to over-think, blow things out of proportion (my doctor used to jokingly call this ‘analysis paralysis’) and I make myself physically ill. I get pins and needles in my face, fingers and arms and my bowel turns to water. I vomited violently before my final Degree exams because of this. (Romantically, this is one of James’ earliest memories of me. Lovely.)

For me, learning to tell them apart has been key in managing my mental state, controlling my weight and generally getting more out of life. Mental illness can be crippling. I’m good at it now, having had years to discover what works. It’s a bit like diabetes. I’ll never be able to make it go away, but I can manage it and take steps to keep on top of it.

I’m not scared to talk about it. I don’t think people realize how common mental illness is, and some don’t even recognize what is wrong with them. Having a mental illness doesn’t make you weak or a lesser person. It doesn’t make you a weirdo. It makes you strong. I cannot begin to describe to someone who has never been depressed or suffered chronic anxiety how frightening it is to fight with your own mind every day and know that the battles are coming.

 

Healthy Eating, Life Journey, Weight Loss, Weight Watchers

Goodbye, 2015

‘It’s definitely a good idea to get weighed in between Christmas and New Year’

Said me, pre-Christmas. Kind of regretting that decision now. I tip-toed onto the scales like they were going to bite me. I had horrible visions of a repercussion of Christmas 2013, where I’d put on a whopping 7lbs over the festive period, and that had included me running most days. This last week, I’ve done no running. At all.

It was bad, but not as bad as expected. 5lbs on, deservedly so. But guess what? I loved every minute of those 5lbs. For the first time since my partner and I got together, I had him at home on Christmas day. It was lovely, if slightly odd. I also had the pleasure of my gran and my parents company, and what a great feeling it was to sit round the table with them.

I’ve stopped panicking about things like putting on 5lbs at Christmas. I know my weight is on a downward trend and won’t take me long to get it back off. This is a revelation for me. In previous years, I’d have spent days and days berating myself for being a pig, and regretting everything that passed my lips. So in a way, I suppose I’ve turned a corner (shame you can see my Xmas Belly before the rest of me). I do kind-of feel like I’m cheating a bit because I’ve got a weeks’ head-start. But that’s good – it gives me the opportunity to put a sizeable dent in those 5lbs before the first weigh-in of 2016.

In the tradition of tying up loose ends for the year finishing, I’ve tweaked the blog to make it a bit more user-friendly, bumping up my social media links and ‘follow’ button. Other places on the web I like have a page all to themselves and you can now find this under ‘Helpful Links’ along the top tabs.

Thank you all once again for your support over the last year, and Best Wishes to all of you for the coming year. I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite posts from the past twelve months, and see you on the other side.

Keep on Truckin’!

2015 Selection

The Apple never falls… – A lot of self-realization went on here. A post about difficult family relationships.

The Beast Has Risen… – My first post-op blog, and moving back to Scotland

Fat Girl Who Runs… – On being big and exercising

SmartPoints 3… – Okay, this is a bit of a cheat because it’s last weeks post, but it’s one of my favourites 🙂