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.

The first seven days

Thursday 7th January 2021 (7.28pm)

I know so many of you are feeling exactly the same as me about Lockdown 3. Whilst last year I seemingly breezed through it and embraced many elements of it, this time around I have no care for it. I have lost my motivation for things that I would usually love to do, and I appear to have no energy to want to do anything. There are a number of things that I want to be doing, but at the moment I am just staring at the empty page. Mood is not helped by dark mornings, evenings and cold weather outside, and after my exercise time, its back inside to try and pull my brain together to do some research that I am working on. I managed to get some done today for the first time this year.

I know what I am feeling is completely normal. The lack of adult company, socialising, seeing a way out of this situation we are in, but not knowing when, all takes its toll on us as each day comes to a stumbling halt. I have many friends who are working from home as well as home schooling trying to juggle priorities in stressful situations. I know students who have no idea what is going on with school or life at university as they worry about grades and future prospects. As for me, my courses continue online which when I can motivate myself I can do. For me, the uncertainty of my situation, plus lockdown is negatively influencing my thought processes, therefore affecting my motivation and enthusiasm. I know things will naturally work out, it is just up to me not to ruminate on stuff too much.

I didn’t set myself a physical challenge for January. I thought I would just see how things paned out. Olly, however decided to raise the bar and suggested that we compete against each other for RED January. The one who clocks up the most miles at the end of the month is the winner. For someone who can easily run 30 miles a week I agreed to his challenge. Apparently I am not allowed to count any miles for my tally when I am out with him.

After the first seven days the results are in:

Me: 19.59 miles

Olly: 20.81 miles

Enough said 😡

Olly looking smug

Keep plugging away

Saturday 2nd January 2021 (7.11pm)

First run of the year completed along the slippery pavements this morning. It was super fresh and my legs once again felt cold and didn’t want to get going. That said I did quite enjoy it, but was thankful of warm Olly cuddles and a hot shower when I got in. It wasn’t long after that I was back out with Olly clocking up another few miles. We have decided to have a competition this year to see who walks the most. So far he is winning. He must be cheating.

After returning back here from my parents at Christmas, I realised that when I was out walking or running down there I was not looking over my shoulder, or rounding the next corner in anticipation of seeing a certain someone who I did not want to bump in to. I shouldn’t feel this way but events over the last 12 months, especially during the summer still haunt the way I feel. I have spoken to my therapist about this and discussed what techniques I could rely on, but at times I struggle with this and feel emotionally scarred. In so many ways I have moved on, but for some reason this still hangs over me. I foresee some changes for me come the middle or end of the year which potentially may take me in a different direction, or even away from here.

For now, I will continue to be me, I will keep plugging away with the amazing things I have going on at the moment and most importantly continue to keep laughing with my boy Olly.

Time to get back to writing

Friday 1st January 2021 (6.44pm)

It has been a weird kind of day, not helped that I woke up in a strange kind of mood. Not sure why. New year is not my favourite time of year, it is just another day and the end of the year seems a long way off. Not sure why I am willing the year away? Nothing has changed from yesterday, we are still stuck in a global pandemic, things I am sure will get worse before they get better. I didn’t even stay up last night. No point. Olly woke up with the fireworks that was it, the arrival of 2021.

We had a lazy morning, I did some reading before we went out for a walk. My mood still as it was. Not sure how to describe it. Words such as low, sad, lonely, depressed, down, grumpy have crossed my mind, but it was none of these.

Whilst I was out walking I thought that I should write more. I think back to the days when I used to write every day. It became part of my day and it was something which I needed and in fact enjoyed doing. Feelings and thoughts would pour out of me, words would flow easy as my pen would hurriedly skim the paper in my notebook, or nosily tap the keys on my MacBook. Now I don’t seem to have the time. Of course I have time, it is just that my time is now often wasted and channelled into things which are less important. My weekly data figures ping through on my iPhone showing me that I am not using my time productively. Scrolling through social media for hours a day is not what I want to be doing. This is something which I plan on changing. Whilst is it important for me in terms of connecting with friends and the world, there will be an allocated time for it. Time to dial out and refocus my energy and efforts on me.

No running for me today, after clocking up 1195 run only miles in 2020, I thought I would start the year doing naff all. Myself and Olly walked 3.7 miles and I have spent the rest of the afternoon reading and eating. 

I will run tomorrow.