Find your flow

Disclaimer: I wrote this at the end of a panic attack. I spent about an hour in a full panic, and I calmed down. I wanted to go on a run – but I have to wait for a delivery to my house (First world problems), so instead, I wrote about running. Hence why this post is basically just me talking about how much I love running, and writing. It doesn’t really make much sense, but it helped me to chill out. 

The very moment you recognise your own poor mental health or even the poor mental health of others; the first suggestion is to get help. This help can be defined as medication, talking therapy, self-care, distractions, support from loved ones etc.

There are many elements of “help” for mental health which are designed to assist you in coping with your illness. The most frustrating aspect about recovering from, or coping with a mental illness is that it never truly goes away. The symptoms can change, the impact on your life can become better or worse, and the outlook can become considerably more positive.

I’ve been receiving help for my mental health since 2013. I’ve been given countless worksheets, constructive advice, medication,  interventions and treatments. However I never really found that any of this helped – purely because I didn’t invest any belief into them, and I found it hard to actually utilise any of these techniques when the time came to it.

Think of it this way – whilst I was in the middle of a panic attack or feeling highly depressed; the last thing I wanted to do was to fill out a worksheet. Often I would seek distraction from my thoughts – whether this be from TV,  food, friends, exercise, cleaning the house, running errands or drinking. I refused to do anything which meant that I’d have to actually address my feelings and emotions. It was easier to mask the feelings or run off the adrenaline.

Meditation is recommended as one of the best ways to cope with your mental health. Interestingly enough, many people find meditation boring, difficult, hard to stick to, stressful etc. The most common complaint of meditating is that it’s hard to concentrate and stay focused. For some reason, people are lead to believe that meditating involves sitting cross-legged on the floor, thinking about absolutely nothing other than their breathing.

Running is one of the best meditation processes for me; particularly because it allows me to burn off the adrenaline that builds up with anxiety. I used to hate hate hate any form of running, and throughout 5 years of high school, I only competed in one sports day event – which was the 100m run, and I bottled it.

Treadmills seemed like the most torturous device possible – probably a thought which was conjured up from watching too many ITV shows about middle aged women on a treadmill to burn off the calories in a Muller Corner. I would rather watch paint dry than walk or run on a treadmill.

Running outdoors was an absolute comedy in itself. Why on earth would I go outside, and do something which I am terrible at? Do you know how many people would see me out of breath, tomato-faced, tangled up in my headphones and hiking my leggins up every 4 minutes? No way.

Spring/Summer 2018 was particularly stressful for me – as well as trying to recover from a very difficult dip in my mental health, I also had a lot of financial difficulties and potentially life-changing decisions to make. My head was constantly ticking over and I tried very hard to ignore any thoughts and feelings. I was also trying to shake off the extra weight that my anti-depressants had kindly donated to me, so I had started going to the gym – purely doing weights training rather than any cardio.

However, there was one day where I decided to warm up on the treadmill for 10 minutes. A song came on my phone, I think it was something by Calvin Harris, and it just put me in a really good mood. I also realised that the pace was quite fast, and it made me want to move faster. I decided to kick the speed up a bit on the treadmill and I was soon in a fast jog/slow run.

When I stepped onto the treadmill, my thoughts were along the lines of “how am I going to afford to do XYZ when I have no money?” “Will I ever get anywhere in life” “I’m a failure” “I can’t do anything” “I literally can’t do anything right” -which were all genuine thoughts, constantly rattling around in my head, 24/7 all the time.

As soon as I started to pick up the pace on the treadmill, my thoughts quickly shifted to “oh my god, this is horrible” “I can’t breath” “I am going to die” “I can’t breath” “my heart is exploding” – horrible thoughts, but these quickly shifted to “Wait, I’m actually running?” “I am actually running???” “I think I can keep going” “I could probably go faster” “I still can’t breath though”

At the time, it was an amazing feeling. I probably ran for a grand total of 8 minutes before my legs handed in their notice. But for 8 minutes, I wasn’t worrying my life. I wasn’t picking apart every minor detail about myself. I didn’t give a shit what I looked like. I forgot about my bank balance. I forgot about my massive to-do list, I forgot about what certain people think about me. I just focused on what was happening right now.

I don’t have twitter anymore, but I can remember when I got home, I tweeted something along the lines of “I never used to understand why people love running so much, but then I realised – it’s impossible to be anxious and depressed, when all you can think about is the fact that your body feels like its exploding”.

Over time, I started to make a beeline for the treadmill straight away. I made myself a playlist full of dance music (which I never used to listen to, as I didn’t understand how people could listen to *happy music*), I would run for as long as I could and listen to the most upbeat music possible. I started to develop a good pace, and eventually, I stopped feeling like I was exploding or dying. With regulated breathing, I started to chill out. I could allow my thoughts to come and go, and because I was running, I couldn’t become immobilized or actively distracted by thoughts. I was truly running away from my problems.

Thankfully, this happened over summer, and I started to build up the courage to run outside. I downloaded the Nike Run app, and could see my progress building up over time. More importantly, I shifted my focus from losing weight that I’d gained due to depression and started to focus more on being strong enough or fit enough to actually run properly.

I’m absolutely not a pro, I’ve been running for about 6 months – I think I’ve had food in my cupboard for twice as long as that. I don’t think I could ever run competitively, and I don’t even think my technique is that good. But it’s an escape for me, and it allows me to be in a flow.

The second form of “flow” which takes me out of my own head – is writing for my blog. This is another thing which I discovered over summer, and I found it to be greatly beneficial for my mental health.

I used to write in my diary, however, the problem with this is that I was the only one who read my diary (I assume so anyway…). Therefore, I’d write about two lines, and then think, fuck it – who am I actually writing to here? I couldn’t be bothered to continue, because the odds on me reading it back were as likely as me completing that 100m run in the 2010 Sports Day.

However, blogging is different – because I know that at least one other person is going to read this. It gives a sort of purpose to how I am feeling, and I like to help others, so I guess by writing and being honest with how I am feeling, someone else can feel a bit less alone.

I guess the take-home message from this post is to find your flow, find the thing that allows you to be in your thoughts, rather than running away from them.

All the best,

Heather x


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