Pembrokeshire Coastal Path (Part I)

The idea

The decision to take on the 186 miles of the Pembrokeshire coastal path just appeared in my head, just like ideas about what to have for dinner. I made up my mind quickly and thought that it would be a good, even a fun thing to do. I wanted to get away, I guess to hide from life for a while, to escape reality and to do something different, something worth while, and importantly something which would be good for me.  With no plans to go abroad, I decided that this would be my holiday, my time away. The practicalities with Olly staying with my parents, who at the furtherest point live no more than an hour or so away from where I would be worked out, and that was it. Decision made. The ordinance survey (OS) maps of South and North Pembrokeshire were ordered and promptly arrived allowing me to match up miles per day to camp sites. I worked out that I could get from St Dogmaels to Amroth in 8 days.

As someone who has only one experience of camping (as a girl guide), my knowledge on best practical equipment was somewhat limited. I spent countless hours researching  and watching YouTube clips to find the best of everything for my budget. This, combined with a few trips to Go Outdoors to check on the weight of these items turned me into a camping equipment expert over night. 

The idea to the start line took less than a month and on Friday 6th August I was ready to go.

Day 1 (Friday 6th August 2021)

After packing, unpacking and repacking my 55L bag numerous times it was time to leave the comfort of my parents house where I had stayed the night before and head north of the county to St Dogmaels. After a few obligatory photos at the start line, I along with my parents and Olly set off on the 1.3 miles to Poppit Sands, where they then waved and barked me off. 

The start at St Dogmaels

After taking in the view of the beach and coast, I headed off up a very steep hill. Not the start I wanted. I knew that I was not going to be able to run with the pack on my back so resigned myself to walk and enjoy what was around me. According to the coastal path calculations, and my plan, I had 21.9 miles to cover to take me to my camp site in Dinas Head. It did not take long for my bag to feel heavy, but I did not let this deter me from a big day of walking. I followed the little acorn signs directing me along the path and kept the sea on my right as I walked through farms, fields and rugged ground.

I was instantly struck by the scenery, I took time to study the vastness of the ocean. Around each corner was a different shaped cove, unique in its standing and appearance. No two shapes the same. The sea in its wildness crashing against the rocks beneath me. Above me was blue sky with minimal cloud; however, the ferocity of the wind became my enemy as I battled it with every step, not knowing the best way to handle it as it came off the sea and swirled around the cliff top. There was no shelter and there was no escape as I walked along narrow and uneven paths. To my right, the cliff face dropped down, to my left blew some sort of bracken, fern or wildly growing weed. I kept telling myself that if I was going to blow over then to make sure it was to my left. My baseball cap was already on backwards so not to blow off, but soon enough I had to take it off and clip it to my bag. The wind plus the added weight of my bag and steep descents on craggy rocks often made me stop and think about exactly how I was going to tackle the section. I soon worked out the nature of this part of coastline as a steep down hill to a cove at sea level was soon followed by a dreaded up hill climb. I would like to think that I am relatively fit, but when you have steep steps, rocks, mud and uneven terrain on narrow paths it becomes more of a challenge and perhaps one that I may have overlooked. It was technically difficult, more so because of what I was carrying with me.

Fall left

It wasn’t long before I did fall over as I lost my footing whilst climbing up a hill. Thankfully I fell left which resulted in a couple of thrones in my hand. There were times when I had to crouch down and slowly manoeuvre myself around the cliff as the wind was so strong. It was the only way I could balance myself. I felt like some sort of ninja turtle. I was averaging 2mph. Somewhat frustrating when knowing I could run that distance in 15 minutes. 

I walked miles without seeing a single human being. I was out there on my own, with my own thoughts and in my own world. The first person I saw was a man running towards me. He looked like a pro, by that, I mean he was carrying poles, wearing compression clothing and had a small back pack. I jumped left into the hedge so he could carry on along the narrow overgrown path. We exchanged pleasantries and continued on our respective journeys. 

I quickly learnt that no gate (of which there were zillions) never opened the same way and the stiles got bigger the tireder I became. My tactic was to throw my bag over then sit and rest on the stile until I could get moving again.

Acorns and stiles

As the sun warmed up, and after a challenging 7.1 miles, I sat on the pebbles at Ceibwr Bay and ate the picnic which my mum prepared for me. I made the decision to eat proper food throughout the day and not rely on energy packs or drinks. I would be burning in excess of 4000 Kcals per day and would be exercising for 7-8 hours.  

As I sat down I felt the peacefulness wash over me. I felt a calmness about everything, it was as if I had escaped the monotony of life and everything felt right. This is why I decided to do this. This was what it was all about. I sat there watching a dog playing in the stream, s/he was having the time of their life. Two children close by looking for sea life by the rocks and a small group of adults chatting on a picnic blanket. There were two other ladies with dogs and that was it. It was like a secret cove that nobody knew about. I could have stayed there for the rest of the day, just soaking up the early afternoon sun, but that would have not got me to my camp site. 

With a belly full of pitta bread, cake, crips and an apple, it was time to pick up my pack, which I named turtle and head off. Putting a heavy 55L pack on my back was difficult and over time I learnt tricks on how to do this, but from a low position on the beach it was difficult. I managed to get the thing on without toppling over and decided that my next stop would be at Newport. I saw a sign telling me that it was 8 miles away and swear in my head as that would take me at least 4 hours.

The peacefulness of Ceibwr Bay

Bored of my own voice in my head, I decided it was time for an inspiring audio book from some ultra runner. I stick on the headphones and I am immediately disappointed by the boring tone of the narrator. I switch off, remove headphones then randomly start humming a stupid tune. I must have hit delirium.

As my Garmin beeps and tells me that I have covered 10 miles, 2 people appear in front of me carrying large back packs like myself. We have a brief conversation and they tell me that they are  also walking the coastal path and it was their last day of 14. I felt like poking them in the eyes, but instead wished them well for their last section as I plodded on to Newport.

The coast is deceiving, it has this ability to look beautiful, as the shapes, contours and colours along the headland blindsight you into thinking that what you can see ahead in a straight line is close. The dips, swerves, gradients and hidden coves tell a different story as you follow the crow who clearly wants to the take the piss and not the one who has gone ahead in a straight line. As I saw Newport in the distance I tried not to get disillusioned, instead, I gave myself a kick up the butt to keep moving. It was hard to get into any sort of rhythm due to there being very little flat or even ground. The descent into Newport tested my new found hiking skills as I had to bend down, putting my hands on nearby rocks to keep me stable as the wind kicked up around me. As I rolled into Newport (literally) the half a mile up into the small town to get some refreshments was not what I wanted. I had no other option as both me and turtle bashed our way through a small Spar shop. I headed back down the hill to the path eating jelly babies thinking that I only had another 7.8 miles left of the day.

Unfortunately the 7.8 miles turned out to be a lot more, which was another theme of the day. Was the coastal path correctly measured, or was my Garmin GPS and data significantly out? I found that Garmin was adding at least 2-3 miles on to each section that I was doing which was massively skewing my plans and screwing my head.

Newport

My first campsite was located on Dinas Island and as time crept on and the wind continued to gust all I wanted to do was get there. I knew I was close when I got to Cwm-Yr-Eglwys, a small place centred around some church remains on a grassy area where some teenagers were sitting. I didn’t have a clue where I was going as I lost track of the small acorn signs. I had no phone or wifi signal, and thinking that my OS mapping would not work, I took out my big multi folding map. I had thankfully screen shot the address and some directions to the campsite, but these did not make sense from where I was. The campsite was also not depicted on the map. Total bollocks. Pick a direction. Any direction. I walked back past the teenagers and headed towards a caravan park and towards a hill. Adamant that I was not going to walk up the hill, I put turtle down on a bank and once again studied the map. My reluctance to walk up the hill sent me back the way I had just come from (yep, past the group of teenagers again). By now it was early evening and the sun was still thankfully above me. 

I stood there, like the lost tourist I was. My neck, shoulders and back in pieces. I was just about to ask the teenagers for directions when a male and female walked towards me. I looked down at my map when I heard the male say ‘hi, fellow Ironman’. He noticed the tattoo on my wrist as he pointed to the one on his calf. We instantly had that mutual appreciation and respect, like a special bond of toughness. He asked where I was going and after some more chat, pointed me in the right direction, which was thankfully not back towards the hill. Thank you lovely people.

Relieved to see the acorn sign (less than 100 metres from where I was standing) I continued along the path to Pwll-Gwaelod beach. Too tired to appreciate it at this point I headed towards the camp site after spotting a sign. Thankful to have finally made it alive I followed the direction of the sign which happened to be up a very long hilly drive.

I have been very fortunate over the years to travel and stay at some fantastic resorts. On arrival at said resorts, my luggage is taken off me, I am given the option of champagne or juice, I am greeted by pleasant (mostly) staff behind the reception desk, handed a key card, a map of the resort, taken to the nearest buggy and transported through the resort in warm temperatures to my room. My luggage arrives shortly after, my bed is turned down as I tuck into the complementary water, chocolate or fruit.

Back to reality. I am stood in a field in force 10 winds on the top of Dinas Island. Too many expletives to type here. In front of me were about thirty tents and vans / motorhomes. The wind was cold and a few people were sitting outside their tents in thermal clothing having a BBQ. Just to the right of the entrance was a male and 2 two females. I asked them where I was supposed to go. They said to ring the owner of the site to let him know that I had arrived and advised me where the sheltered area was. It appeared that wherever I went it was going to be windy and that no doubt tomorrow I would be in a different field. You can imagine the deep joy I was feeling. I found my pitch, unpacked my tent, fought with it in wind, wrestled it to the ground and just lay on it. I could not move. My body had decided to give up. This is how I was going to spend my first night. Laying on top of my tent. 

It was then like 3 superheroes, the male and 2 females approached me and offered to help. For the second time in an hour I was being helped by kind strangers. Relieved that I had a practice build of my tent in my garden, I confidently, and somewhat professionally explained what went were. Finally, twenty minutes later and at 8pm my tent was up ready for me to climb in to. Thankfully not hungry as there was nothing near by, I put on my fluffy Christmas pyjamas, looked at the painful blisters on my feet and hid in my sleeping bag. It was light outside as I lay there listening to the wind, hoping and praying that I did not blow away (obviously not possible, but my brain was playing tricks on me). A few hours later, heavy rain joined the wind. I lay there putting all my trust and confidence into my well researched Vango tent.

Home

Due to the way I changed the recording on my Garmin, I do not know exactly how many miles I covered but I know it was more than the 21.9 it should have been.

Nineteen words

Sunday 1st August 2021 (1220pm)

Sometimes I see something and I immediately think how real or how true this is and how it resonates with me in such a powerful way. Nineteen simple words ‘so many people from your past know a version of you that know longer exits anymore. Growth is beautiful’. This can also be flipped in that people who know me now never knew me as I was five years ago.

It’s amazing how things change, we only have to look back over the last eighteen months to see that. Every one of us affected in some way. Some lives have changed more than others, some reshape a life without a loved one, or worry about the prospect of employment. Others watch their new lockdown puppy grow into a bigger bundle of fluff, whilst others have somewhat changed their habits and routines. We talk of pre COVID and the new normal as rules are slowly phased out. 

For me I talk about pre help and post help, or my old life and my new one. There are only a handful of people who I associate with now who I did pre help (April 2016). It’s like that life existed in some weird universe and I have since been re-made, recreated and perhaps moulded into someone new. Of course this is not the case as I remind myself of my sense of reality. 

Let me take you back to pre help as I chuck some descriptors out there: focused, busy, stressed, non stop, worried, anxious, perfectionist, motivated, successful, hardworking.

I was someone who was supposedly happy, I had everything I could ever want. In a materialistic world, I had the car, the nice apartment, the holidays, the good job. I had relationships and all the love I ever wanted, but the words I threw out in the above paragraph chipped away in the background, they kept eating away at me, unnoticed, like a silent assassin ninja bunny.

Going back to those nineteen words and I think of the people who knew me and who I saw on a regular basis. Those were the people I worked with. Those were the people who I stood by, who stood by me as we dealt with deceased people, bereaved relatives, children who had been abused, vulnerable, elderly people, homelessness, addicts, shop lifters, victims of domestic abuse. The list goes on and this could all be in one day. The closeness and the bond you have with colleagues in the police is like no other I have experienced. It is a special understanding, It is a feeling and a job that is difficult to explain to those who have never walked it.

Apart from two or three good friends I no longer see those who I worked with. When I first went off sick, the contact was there but over the years this has dwindled away. People move on and life moves on. I had to distance myself from that world in order to heal, I still do. There are too many reminders and even writing this brings a great deal of sadness. I am still friends with many people pre help on social media but even then I apply a filter to my brain. 

Fast forward to where I am now, some 5 years later. I have a completely different way of life, outlook and perspective. Whilst I am still worried, stressed and anxious about certain things, the way I manage and handle my life is better. Everyone who I associate with now are all post help so they would not have known what I was like as that police officer in uniform, or that detective sergeant. People know me now as George or George & Olly, the runner, the writer, the one who goes to a coffee shop everyday, the one who does mad challenges. These friends would not have known me as the one who made life changing decisions on a daily basis, or who influenced strategic policy decisions. They would have not seen me pale, gaunt, stressed, moody and constantly tired (unless they saw the photo on my warrant card).

I have changed over the last 5 years and more so in the last 18 months. I am happier in myself, I am freer, I have regained some confidence and I am definitely more sociable (within reason). I belong to two amazing run clubs and I am loving my outdoor gym. I have an awesome group of friends who are kind of ok 😂

This is not a comparison of friends pre or post help as I love you all. It is just different. I am different. Whilst my core values and beliefs are still there, my attitude to life and in general is different. Many things which I used to care about I don’t, and many things that I never had time for have become the central part of my life.

We all move on, we all change and friendship groups naturally evolve. For me, it took a major turning point in my life to point me in a different direction. A direction of hope and a direction with future.

Pre help, I never even liked dogs. Now look at me. Growth is beautiful xx

Viewpoint

Sunday 25th July 2021 11.25am

It’s been a while since I have written anything here and there are many reasons for this. It is not that I haven’t wanted to, far from it. It is predominantly down to keeping busy and not being able to make public what is currently my reality for both professional and legal reasons. The fact is that I am still frustratingly stuck in a cycle of doom with my work situation. It has been 5 years and 3 months since I walked out of my job as a then Temporary Detective Inspector within the police.

So much has happened with my case, and if I told you now, you would not believe or comprehend the how’s and why’s of certain decisions. I am thankful to every professional I have seen, including my GP, a number of psychiatrists and my current therapist. All of which have agreed that any return to the police service would be detrimental to my mental wellbeing. I still maintain, that if I was asked to return tomorrow I would not turn up. The incredible fear and overwhelming level of anxiety is too much to handle. Words of my therapist resonate with me in that the trauma experienced with ‘the job’ is too big and even a graded exposure would not work. Everyone who sees me on a regular basis and knows me can see this.

My social media life has always been very open and transparent. I have a public profile and a platform which enables me to share what I get up to. If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter you will see this. My posts are mainly about all of the exercise I do (and Olly dog of course). Those who understand mental distress will also appreciate and understand that physical activity is beneficial to myself and those who suffer or struggle. I can’t help feeling that during my time off the finger has been pointed at me. In addition, so has my ability to intellectually function on a level that you would not associate with someone who suffers from depression, anxiety and phobic anxiety been questioned (I have graduated 3 times from university in sport science and medicine. I have a brain). It is well documented in my medical reports that I have a strong desire to achieve, I am a perfectionist, I have a fear of failure and everything I do has to be the very best. That’s what got me here right?

It is also documented by medical professionals that I am able to continue to function outside of the police but put me back into that situation and my ability to function won’t exist (my words). This was evidenced by my previous 2 attempts to return. Does anyone know what happens to me, or how I feel when I see a police car pass me in the street, or when I turn on the TV and see some cop reality show? No. I cannot even entertain entering what was my familiar and much loved work place.

This is what it is all about and not the fact that I can go and run a marathon.

Can you imagine how I feel when I hear ‘if she is well enough to exercise, get herself to events and organise herself, then she is well enough to return to work’. 

Maybe today I am just having a rant, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because over the last few days I have lost my will, my fight, my desire. I have given up with listening to such pathetic and nonsensical shit. I actually feel discriminated against and my illness invalidated because I function and exercise.

Ironically, I sit here on a wooden bench on Penarth seafront. I sip a hot chocolate whilst Olly people and dog watches all that pass by. Those familiar with my earlier writings will understand the significance of this place. Maybe, that is what prompted me to write today.  

Maybe I should have turned to alcohol, got bolloxed everyday and stunk of my own piss rather than exercising. If we want to look at out dated stereotypical norms.

I metaphorically ask the following:

  1. Does the fact that tomorrow, If I wanted to, I could run a marathon, or cycle 100 miles mean that I do not suffer from any form of mental illness? And what if I smile, take and picture and post to social media? Does this mean that I am happy and that all is right in my world? Remember, behind every photograph is an untold story.
  2. Does the fact that I can verbally string two sentences together and write mean that I do not suffer from any sort of mental illness? How long has this blog taken me? How many rereads? How are my levels of concentration? People only see the finished article and think nothing else.

We only have to look at some well known and incredibly talented people to realise that people, can still function like me outside of their triggers (however hard that may be). You may even be the same yourself or know of someone.

Of course, I am not going to give up on where I am. I will continue to (supposedly) inspire people and show the importance / benefits of exercise and mental wellbeing. I will soon embark on my next journey. A 186 mile run / walk of the Pembrokeshire coastal path. It’s time for me to reset, forget the world and enjoy the beauty around me. Having grown up in Pembrokeshire it is something that I am very much looking forward to. I will journal my way through it and I hope when published it is something that you will enjoy reading.

I must point out that I am currently receiving support from my organisation. Please do not think this is directed at them. They want this resolved as much as I do and are doing what they can to progress this matter. These are general comments and observations which have come my way over recent years.

Use your own ruler

Photo: @runthroughuk

When I initially read this, I instantly knew that this does not apply to me. Not anymore anyway. It once did, but not in the world of sport, training, races or events. I have never cared about anyone else’s training plan or programme. We are all different. We all have different abilities, fitness levels and skill sets. Ten miles of running for one person, maybe 2 miles of walking to another. It is all relative.

Where I did become hung up on such thoughts were based around work and the competitiveness of promotion. I worked hard in my own way to pass the Sergeant process, CID exams and Inspector exams. Even though I worked my butt off. I would always feel guilty if I knew someone was doing more than me. Could I do anymore? No. Did measuring myself against others help? No.

What you get from someone’s ruler is stress, anxiety, lack of confidence, and self doubt. I could go on. The best thing to do is get your own ruler. Remember those shatter proof ones we had at school that we always tried to break but they would only bend. That’s what we need to be. Flexible on how we approach things. Flexible with our goals and expectations based on our ability and time.

Don’t compare yourself to what others are doing. Focus on you.

Next in this series will be the story of the protractor and compass 😂

#ownyourlife #ownit #ownyourstory #ownyourstyle

Five years ago

31st March 2021

Today marks the five year anniversary that I asked for help. I remember the day as if it was yesterday as I stood in my office, looking out of the window at nothing in particular. The main HQ building was having major construction work so there were builders and vehicles coming and going, but everything else was a blur. It was minutes to 8am. There were papers sitting neatly on my desk (I hated mess, still do). I was working on sourcing new alarms for our victims of domestic abuse and had put a proposal together regarding numbers needed, connectivity, finance options, ease of use and training. 

I was spinning many other plates and juggling day to day demands of a Detective Inspector in a very busy Public Protection Department. I knew what was sitting in my email box as I would check my work phone or laptop in the evening and morning, just to clear some work before my actual working day started. I would always tell my staff not to do this, but typically it is something I always did. There are so many out there who do exactly the same. 

As I stared out of the window and checked the time on my phone I knew what I had to do. It was 8am. The magic time where the GP phone call rat race starts to get an appointment that day. Thoughts were spinning around my head as I rehearsed what I was going to say when the receptionist asked me what the problem was. All I knew was that I was tired, maybe burnt out, a bit down in the dumps, fed up. My thoughts were that perhaps some physical illness was plaguing me. I had previously suffered with anaemia, was it that? It did not matter as the phone line was constantly engaged. Thoughts of whether to carry on with the redial game or to just give up and carry on with my day. I sat down, looked at my screen and decided to multi task hitting the redial button whilst replying to emails which were popping through. 

Redial, redial, redial. 

Gulp, the automated message had kicked in telling me if I was having chest pains, signs of a stroke, or severe bleeding then to contact 999. Nope, I wasn’t having any of them, just exhausted. I have no idea what I said to the call taker in the end, but I had an appointment for after work. Now what do I do? Plan what I want to say? That never works. What do I want to say? I have no idea. The fact that I had recently had failed IVF, and in the last 4 months had split up from my wife, was unsuccessful in my inspectors board and had knee surgery to remove some bolts probably had something to do with it. Oh, and the fact that I had wanted to end my life, more than once and was saved by a friend. 

I have no idea what I did in work that day. I put the happy George face on and continued in the hardworking and professional manner that I conducted myself in. My 2 close friends within the department knew what was going on, but I did not show any weakness to management. I was doing well in my role, I loved my job and it was evident that how I  was feeling was not interfering with work. 

I made sure I left for work on time. I straightened everything on my desk (yep true), packed up my bag, making sure I had my work phone (for email checking later), said my goodbyes and off I went. 

I don’t recall the 25 minute drive from my office to the surgery, but no doubt I was running through things in my head. Was I wasting their time? Was there actually anything wrong with me? Can I back out now?

I have talked about how the standard 10 minute appointment went on for over 30 minutes in earlier blogs. What I did not realise until sometime after this appointment was that this was my first call for help. This was the start of what has become my journey over the last 5 years. The path of destruction, suicide attempts, antidepressants, TV, therapy, and my platform to speak out and help others. Importantly, this became my journey of discovery, my journey of finding me. It became my openness to recovery, it became about me. It led me to Olly, it led me to new people, new friends, new ideas and a new life. 

Importantly, opening up 5 years ago today saved life.

If you are reading this and recognise you need to speak to someone, then do it. Hey, if I can do it, anyone can.

Have you seen Bridgerton?

Thursday 18th March 2021 (2.07pm)

Me: Have you seen Bridgerton?

Therapist: Yes.

True story.

Had she said no then my theory and explanation would have been somewhat diluted. So I began by saying, The Duke of Hastings (Simon, the really good looking one), well that’s me. Not in terms of his upbringing and the treatment he received from his father, as nothing could be more different, but the way he feels in that he cannot fully give himself or commit to anyone. 

The look back towards me was of somewhat recognition, perhaps no surprise (as we have been meeting for over a year). My inability (perhaps) to form attachments to people, to show feeling or demonstrate love is boxed away, but I don’t think the box is padlocked. The key just needs to be found. I have been in and out of therapy for the last 5 years and it is amazing what I have discovered about myself. It is not as if I have looked or searched for answers as I always thought things were how life was. Even now at the age of 46, I am still discovering me. Why I have problems with attachment I don’t know, but it could relate to my fear of failure, or of rejection. I have a wall of not allowing people in, as I think that I am better off with just myself and Olly taking on the world. Over the last year, I have had opportunities to pursue relationships, and when lockdown allowed, met some special people who I remain in contact with. I just don’t feel that I have the energy or emotion to give. Not at the moment anyway.

As my therapist rightly pointed out, The Duke got his happy ending. 

What also makes a whole heap of sense is my recent diagnosis of sleep apnea. Excessive tiredness, even when waking up in the morning has been plaguing me for more years than I can remember. Sometimes my head hurts so much on waking that I feel like I have been kicked by a horse. My doctor has always attributed this to my level of exercise (which I have always disputed). Fitness is relative, and for me to be able to run 5 miles a day would not account for how I was feeling. I thought it was more likely due to my anti depressant medication. Sleep apnea, is something which I thought was related to overweight, older men who snore. I am not wrong here, and when I look at some of the causative factors (smoking, alcohol intake, neck circumference and certain illnesses) I do not fit the general or common criteria. I only have this is in a mild form, meaning that I have up to 15 sleep interruptions an hour (where I can stop breathing). I am waiting to see where I go from here with this, but I am not concerned. I just have to stop smoking and drinking, lose weight and start exercising. So the advice on the internet sates 😂

My exercise challenge continues and I am now 1190/2278 miles along Route 66 (since Jan 1st). I am on a 65 day streak, with 77 sessions. My body is holding up, I had a steroid injection in my knee last week and I will keep going until I physically have to have a day off.

Friday 19th March 2021 (5.39pm)

I had a medication review today via telephone with the GP practice pharmacist regarding my antidepressants. I said that I wanted to come off them. When asked why, I explained that I did not think they were of any benefit to me. With no further questioning at this point, the pharmacist agreed to reduce my dose to assist me in coming off them. Slightly baffled by this as I doubt the pharmacist had much knowledge of my 5 year diagnosed history with mental illness I went with it. It was then the pharmacist asked about my mood, to which I replied ‘shit’. I pick up my new prescription on Monday and was advised to monitor how I was feeling and contact surgery should I need to increase dose. Maybe I should have asked for something magical and happy if it is that easy to get what I want? I joke of course. 

Where did February go?

Monday March 1st 2021 (8.56pm)

Whilst it felt like there were 94 days in January, February felt like it was over before it began. That said, I did hit a mental slump during the month, where I felt like I had hit the deck for a week or so. A common feeling with many no doubt, with the lack of social contact, enjoyable events and lack of normality. It was the first time in the last 12 months where I felt fed up with the whole situation. I kind of got stuck in the chop, where I could have met with my bubble but did not want to. My mood, motivation and enthusiasm all social distanced themselves from me, leaving me to try and work out what was going on. I did not want to do anything apart from my exercise and be with Olly. I did not want to study, I wrote half a research paper (Sports Medicine) and I have since left it sitting as an unfinished document within Word. 

I joined a challenge at the beginning of the month which was to run 75 miles for Mind. Though I average 100 miles per month, I decided to go for 75 due to there being only 28 days to play with and not wanting any pressure to do more. I finished the challenge yesterday running 105 miles and completing 300 cycle miles on the Wattbike. I also walked a fair few with Olly dog. 

I became involved in two challenges with work. One was to run a marathon in 5 or 6 runs  (set distances) within 7 days, and the other was adding all of my miles into a collective exercise pot to win money for my force welfare fund. We are up against all of the other UK police forces and for the last couple of weeks we have been on top of the league table. Results will be announced on Friday.

I am still making my way along Route 66, and as of yesterday (Sunday) I had completed 837 of the 2278 miles (in 2 months). 

My only concern is my lack of ‘off switch’. I have either run or biked (or sometimes both) for the last 47 days without a rest day. My ‘all or nothing’ mentality is hanging around at the moment, and I don’t feel that I can give myself a day off. Don’t ask me how or why because I don’t know. I am seeing my knee surgeon next week, so maybe in the back of my head I am getting what I can in whilst I am still able. The thought of further surgery will once again spark the physical v mental debate in my head, as I wonder how long I can keep putting off the inevitable. This is not worth thinking about until any options are proposed. My ribs have still not fully healed after breaking them early in November and I am plagued by one or two other injuries which thankfully are not stopping me

I have got a medication review this month and whilst I have tried to come off my antidepressants, somewhat unsuccessfully (without my GP knowing or approval**) I have had to stay on them. My plan was to ask about coming off them, but I don’t think I am quite on top of that hill yet. Perhaps I will see where I am in another 6 months. Writing this has just reminded me about my brain activity study which I had back in December as I have not heard anything back yet. I need check to see what is going on with this. Maybe there was no activity so to speak 😊.

Nothing on the exercise challenge front this month, apart from to run 26.2 miles in March for Marie Curie. I would usually run this in a week, so I entered Olly instead. It will probably only take him 7-10 days. He will need his own medal rack at this rate.

Going back to paragraph 1 and the slump I found myself in, I am actually ok. There are no worries or concerns, it is just the peaks and troughs of living with mental distress on top of the situation and circumstances we are all in. I have had a good few days, the sun was shining on the weekend and I have not laughed as much as I have over the last couple of months.

There is finally some positivity regarding an end to ‘stay at home’, so hopefully some normal life will return on a gradual month by month basis. I found being out on the weekend a little strange as the sun brought out the people to the popular places where I either run or walk Olly. I have got so used to the simple quiet life and at times, I felt somewhat disjointed or suffocated by people being around me. I don’t like people at the best of times so being reintroduced into society will take some getting used to (it sounds like I have just been released from prison).

Take care fellow inmates.

** Please seek medical advice and support and do no try and do this yourself.

Quick update on the work situation

Thursday 11th February 2021 (9.05pm)

April 2016 

Signed off sick from work.

March 2019

It is probably easier if I start by going back to the Police Medical Appeal Board (PMAB). In short, the PMAB determines if I am unfit to perform the ordinary duties of a Constable and if my ‘unfitness’ is permanent in line with police pension regulations. Whilst the board determined that I am unfit for work, they requested more information prior to any further decisions being made. I was given a two year time frame (non paid) to undertake what was being asked of me. They diagnosed me with phobic anxiety towards the work place.

April 1st 2019

Met with my GP who referred me to see a Psychiatrist who would complete the assessment. Increased worry and stress to an already overloaded destructive mind.

May 2019

Appointment with Force Medical Advisor who confirmed unfit to return.

June 19th 2019

I met with the consultant physiatrist who agreed with the PMAB diagnosis of phobic anxiety towards the workplace.  He provided answers to all questions posed by the PMAB and importantly stated that the only thing likely to help the amount of stress, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts which I experience on a daily basis would be to remove me from the trigger, i.e the workplace. It was established that returning to the workplace would be detrimental.

July 2nd  2019

I attended a meeting with work HR and line management. Waiting for the full report from the consultant psychiatrist.

July 18th 2019

Report from Consultant Psychiatrist received, however because it did not specifically say that my condition is permanent (though evident it was in text), further clarification needed.

January 2020 

Met with a new therapist (who I continue to see today).

March 4th 2020

Updated report received from consultant psychiatrist. 

All information now obtained (from what was required by the PMAB 12 months ago).

March 2020

Possible referral back to Selected Medical Practitioner (SMP) who may be able to make a  decision regarding permanence. South Wales Police SMP declared me NOT permanent in 2018 (hence the referral through the PMAB process). A different SMP would need to be sought.

April 28th 2020 

Informed I need to be referred back to the original panel on the PMAB who I saw March 2019.

August 24th  2020

As one of the PMAB panel members is no longer available to sit on the board and the remaining panel were not able to review my case, it is back to the original plan of going back to see an SMP, or for them to paper review case. Consent given for whatever needs to be done.

September 2020 

Requested that an urgent referral to a SMP be made to get this matter expedited. File sent to SMP at another police force.

October 2020 

Out of force SMP not willing to review my case.

December 9th 2020

I am waiting to see what the next course of action is.

All I want is for someone to make a decision.

Anybody know what is going on?

December 21st 2020

The force have referred my case to a Barrister for advice / decision.

February 11th 2021

No update.

Left in limbo.

Yes, that is correct, I am off work with a mental illness.

April will mark 5 years since I went off sick.

Red January Results

31st January 2021 (5.20pm)

This year as I am not in training for anything soon I decided to approach Red January differently. With all the miles I did in December, I even thought I would take a few weeks off, or even have a Rest Every Day January. Knowing that this would not be realistic, myself and Olly dog decided to battle the 31 days out together.

The rules:

Total miles run by human 🏃🏻

Total miles run by dog 🐾

Olly’s miles would be recorded by myself, wearing my Garmin. These miles would be attributed to him and not me.

The results:

Total miles run human = 90.3 🏃🏻

Total miles run by dog = 89.2 🐾

Total miles cycled by human on Wattbike = 214.9 (this does not count)

The final results were not rigged in any way, and even though I had weekly totals, I had no idea of the winner until now.

Unfortunately for me, I have to give the gold medal to Olly, as on 1 day he went out with his dog walker (miles not counted, but he said he did 10). Also, on every walk he ran around chasing his ball whilst I mostly stood around getting his treats ready.

Not a bad start to January with 394 miles contributed to my Route 66 challenge (2278 miles).

Next up is Fit February and Olly’s Fitbark is on charge to make it fairer.

Human vs pup round 2

Driven by data. The highs and lows of chasing numbers

Tuesday 26th January 2021 (1.13pm)

The most important thing that I have learnt both physically and mentally over the last four years is don’t be driven by performance data. The multi million pound sports watch industry has boomed over recent years as people are interested in step count, pace, distance travelled, calories burned and heart rate as they strive to hit personal bests. I was introduced to such a watch 30 years ago and have been wearing one ever since. I am currently wearing a Garmin 735XT, but do I really need to?

Being a triathlete, Ironman and someone who takes part in all 3 events individually, my trusted companion has never been far from my wrist. For swimming, it counts my lengths, strokes, pace, distance and time. For cycling, it shows my speed, power,  gradient, and for running I can check out my performance condition, cadence and training effect. All of this then automatically syncs into my Garmin account, Training Peaks and Strava. This opens a whole new world into analysing performance against fatigue, training loads and projections. 

For those of you who own a smart watch, would you consider going for a swim, bike, run, (or any other activity) without one? 

No.

Why?

If it is not on Strava it doesn’t count, right?

Wrong.

In 2017 whilst training for the London marathon I was advised to ditch the watch and run for fun. This in itself was enough to raise my heart rate and show a look of panic on my face.

As a child I was very competitive, I had to be the fastest and the best. I had to win all of my races as both a swimmer and runner. Primary school sports day was all about the cup at the end (which I won every year). This continued into secondary school as I progressed through the levels of international hockey. I lost a few years due to all of my knee operations (I am in double figures) but this made me more determined to smash the goals and targets set for me. I wanted to be fitter, better and faster than ever, and every run needed to be a  personal best. I was  pushing limits and boundaries too far on a road to self destruction. I was the same academically (still am)  and in work (off with mental distress).

Little did I know that such pressure would one day be detrimental both physically and mentally. Something had to give and something had to change. My addictive behaviour  towards exercise saw me fall into the realms of self harm. 

Returning back to 2017, I did what I was told by the marathon coach (kind of). I still wore my watch but step by step I started paying little attention to it. My running changed, it became lighter, it became freer and I started noticing where I was and what was around me. I would go to parkrun and wasn’t bothered about getting a personal best. If I spent the whole run near the back talking to someone then so be it. I found something that I had never really experienced in running before and that was enjoyment. My focus had shifted.

I have been fortunate enough to run the London marathon 3 times, New York marathon,  and finish Ironman Wales (amongst many other events). I am also a holder of the London Classics Medal. The questions I am always asked is what time do you hope to finish in? or what was your time? My answers are always I don’t care, and usually I don’t know.

What I have found is that naturally I have got fitter and faster without the help of my Garmin. These days when I go out for a run, I don’t plan distance, time or route, I just put on my daps and decide when I am out of the door. How much I do is all dependant on how I feel.  I have become better at listening to my body. If I want to return home after 1 mile then I will. If I run for 9.99 miles then it must have been an ok day. When I start my watch, I will not look at it during the run (unless I get a notification). My feet and lungs determine my pace and speed. If I stop for a chat, great. If I stop to take a selfie, great. When I finish I stop my watch as it automatically uploads. It is only when I add a title to my activity do I see what I have run. It does not bother me if I stop on 4.97, or 5.99 miles. I can see how my pace has got much quicker (as an average) over the last couple of years and this has happened through running for fun.

The reason why I still wear my Garmin is because I am interested to see how far I have run or cycled (not much swimming at the moment) during a month. I make no comparisons from month to month or to other people. I also need to provide evidence for my virtual challenges. Oh, and I am also in a Red January challenge with my dog Olly.

Of course everyone has different goals and objectives. Some of you want a 5k, 10k, half marathon, or marathon PB. I have utmost respect to your commitment and drive. This works for many people. It can give training structure and is a good measure of progress,  but to me it became detrimental to my mental health.

Next time you are out running, try taking things back to basics by listening to your body rather than being a slave to your watch. You never know, it may work for you as it has done for me.

Let me know your thoughts and how you get on.