anxiety, Health, Home, Lifestyle, Mental Health

Emma, in the park, with the iron bar.

IMG_3505

In order to get a good title, I may have twisted the truth. It was not me who brandished an iron bar in this board game life event. In order to paint an effective picture of the scene though, I need to rewind the clock a little and give you a brief but thoroughly illuminating insight into both my mental health and state of training for a half marathon.

Anxiety has been bothering me as an adult for over half a decade but I think it’s been going on a lot longer than that without me realising. As a five-year old, before swimming lessons, I used to bite the skin around my fingers until they bled all over the changing room floor, and the smell of antiseptic cream can bring it all back in an instant. As a pre-teen I started biting the inside of my mouth without even realising – until I saw it on a poster on the inside of a toilet door and became aware it was a thing. The butterflies, the bad habits, they’ve been around for as long as I can remember.

Fast forward to 2018, and I’m a month away from turning 28. I still bite the inside of my mouth and I live in fear that it will end up being the thing that kills me, from infected scar tissue, a jaw that slowly crumbles from friction in the wrong places, or that I’m so focussed on trying to loosen a bit of skin from my bottom lip when I’m crossing the road, that I accidentally get hit by an ice cream van. I stay in a coma for six months, then go to hell, not heaven, because no kids got ice cream that day and that’s a punishable offence, and hell is just one giant mouth, and now I’m the skin inside, being chewed for eternity, that is my sentence.

Most days, though, in spite of my wild, uncontrollable imagination, I’m functioning. I’ve had a good dose of therapy, although it’s been over eighteen months, and I think I should probably go back for more. I get my eyebrows tinted and waxed, I should probably keep an eye on those wayward thoughts of mine too. They’re just as invisible as my eyebrows but equally worth a look at. Too bad my “luxury items” budget on my four day a week salary covers eyebrows only on a good month and mental health is somewhere under “Sensodyne even when it isn’t on offer.”

I’m a strong, independent woman. Not superwoman by any means. Strong enough, say, to hang the washing up on the line without getting achy arms, and independent enough to put a tampon in without supervision. And it was in a moment of feeling particularly confident in my abilities that I signed up to a half marathon. I wanted to do something for charity, challenge myself to do something big, prove to myself I can do anything. I’m running for Mind UK, who do incredible work supporting people who are suffering with mental illness and fighting the stigmas that surround it.

Anxiety can be really inconvenient. Usually I feel the warning signs coming on, and when I do, running is one of my go-to remedies. It makes me feel strong, fills me with the good kind of adrenaline, gets me outside, often results in a return journey via Co-Op where I can pick myself up a well-done-for-exercising white Magnum. Sometimes though, events or situations happen that take me by surprise – from unexpected smear test results to anonymous phone calls – and there’s not a damn thing I can do to control it. And when these things happen during a run… well, see for yourself.

Picture the scene.

Eduardo and I ate our weight in carbs on holiday. Ed is also running the half marathon in October for a different charity. We have two months of training to go and have not yet run over 10km in training. We have some serious work to do. So we decide to run 11km on this sunny Sunday and to my surprise it’s going well.

We reach 9.5km, and we’re on the final stretch of road before the park that lies between potential asthma attack and home, and I’m feeling positively resplendent when a car reverses along the pavement in front of us. It’s fast, so we stop and hop to one side, to avoid, you know, a spine-crushing entanglement with a Vauxhall Corsa. We’re in marathon-mode, so we don’t stop, and instead run along the side of the car, whose driver still hasn’t seen us and decides to accelerate in front of us to get into the football grounds to our left. At which point Ed (not me, when I get to over 6km on a run my ability to form words is diminished significantly) yells at her (maybe with some expletives, he’s not an angel) to look at where she’s going. The driver is ultra defensive and wheel spins towards Ed telling him to get out her way.

It’s not the most fun I’ve ever had, but that could also be because I’ve stopped running at this point, and the inside of my groin is seizing up. I feel slightly anxious, because in a fight or flight situation I usually run off, apologising over my shoulder for no reason, but this woman is turning her car around and has followed us down the road, where she proceeds to get out her car, with a two foot iron bar in her hand.

Of all the things I thought would prevent me getting to 11km on a post-holiday slump, it’s not a real life Cluedo weapon being brandished at me by an angry driver. In her words, we “could have damaged her car” when in reality, as we explained, she could have damaged all of our limbs and maybe our skulls too. It went on a bit and in the end she got back in her car, still holding the bar, and said she was “going to watch out for us and we should be careful where we run in the future.” All very comforting stuff.

I got through the final kilometre and a half but all joy of running the furthest I’ve ever run in my life had dissipated. I felt sad, and stressed out, and a bit lost for words, and could feel something inside my chest getting tight. What if she has a son who is in a gang and they find out where we live and batter us to death? What if I never feel safe going on my normal long-distance running route again, because she could turn up in her Vauxhall with the same iron bar, or worse, the rope, or the wrench, or the fucking candlestick. What if she calls the police and somehow makes it seem like we were in the wrong? Were we in the wrong? And, please, God, don’t let her get Colonel Mustard involved.

I get in the shower to try and clear my head, I have somewhere to be. When I get out the shower, I almost cheer up because my tan hasn’t entirely disappeared on the plane, and I decide to moisturise so I don’t dry out like a fig, and then I notice my ribs hurt. They feel bruised, unusually painful, and this is new to me, and number one trigger for anxiety attack for Emma = unusual pain. So I do what I never, ever let myself do when I’m functioning sensibly, when I haven’t been threatened by an iron bar in the previous hour, when anxiety strikes and I start to think about cancer. I google it.

No one is ever reassured when they google symptoms. Everyone knows this. It’s one of those facts we have inside our heads, and we don’t know when we learned them but we know they are true, like “don’t put metal in the fridge” and “George Clooney is gay.” I enter a rabbit hole death trap called “symptoms of bone cancer and how to spot them” and start to have a panic attack.

What a day. We should be celebrating our half way point in training, but somewhere between feeling fit and feeling frightened, I’ve lost my mind and think I’m about to die. One of the many reasons I’m marrying Ed is because when I come down to the kitchen in tears explaining I’m worried I’m dying, he takes me seriously – my anxiety that is, not my imaginary cancer. Eventually I begin to rationalise. Obviously there is a small, small chance I do indeed have Ewing’s sarcoma, but more likely than not, my brain has latched on to a pretty easy trigger and let rip.

Needless to say the afternoon is a write-off. There are many things that make anxiety the absolute balls. Intrusive thoughts, yes, inability to make decisions, absolutely, sense of overwhelming dread, my personal favourite. Logistics, speaking on the phone, social situations, driving, crowded places, dentists, hell, even the hairdressers. But it’s the physical effects that wipe me out. The headache that lasted until bedtime, the hoarse voice that’s a happy after-effect of your throat restricting, and the butterflies that turn into stomach pain and discomfort and zero appetite.

I wanted to write this post because, even though I feel embarrassed, a lot, about my own irrationality, you can pretend everything is great on social media, or you can be honest. I still feel shit this morning – probably because in all the madness I forgot to stretch when I got home, and my muscles currently feel like lead (if you read lead pipe, well done). I promise this isn’t emotional blackmail to get you to donate to my funding page, but if you do feel sorry for me right now, then I’m linking the fundraising page at the bottom of this post. But, I implore you, don’t pity me for my anxiety. These things happen and there are a lot of things I have to be grateful for – my limbs, my fiancé, and the inspiration to write a blog, for instance. If you want to feel sorry for me, just join me in feeling gutted that in all the commotion neither Ed or I managed to use a Cluedo reference as a retort or (my personal favourite) “pipe down, will you?” to the driver of the Vauxhall. A missed opportunity, and one that we have to live with now.

August is an expensive month. If you have any money left after holidays or Edinburgh Fringe or that aircon unit you invested in for your bedroom during the record-breaking temperatures, then may I direct you to my fundraising page, right here. It’s for a genuinely brilliant cause and the only thing that will get me back out there, running, praying I don’t encounter any more weapons. Other ways you can do good – look after each other, look after yourself, and never drive on the pavement.

 

 

 

 

Books, Home, Humour, Lifestyle, London, Students

Books for a duvet day.

thumb_IMG_3192_1024

The last time I wrote about my favourite books, it was that day in May when it was forty degrees, and I was temping, in a pencil skirt, trying not to melt onto the floor of the world’s most boring insurance company. I was daydreaming of sandy beaches, sun loungers and all the time in the world to recline, just me, a nice paperback and all the ice cream bloating. 

In reality I didn’t actually have time to read once my summer started because I was too busy trying not to get skin cancer and working out how to afford to eat. Now though, I’m in month six of real life (also known as full time work) and I have a lot of time on my hands because my trains are always delayed. So far this year I’ve had slippery leaves, a suicidal pigeon, and an unnaturally large passenger as excuses read over the tannoy, which, whilst making me furious to the point of an embolism, have also given me treasured close contact time with a good story. 

So, I got a Kindle for Christmas from Eduardo, which I am interpreting as a pretty blatant sign of how fed up he was of me complaining my shoulders hurt after lugging Vanity Fair round central London every day. Either way, having clung to paperbacks for years like an old romantic, I can’t believe what a party I’ve been missing out on. Kindle has revolutionised my reading experience. I read more than ever, I’ve stopped having to beg for neck and shoulder massages from the person sitting behind me on the bus, and get to save my book shelf for the ultimate favourites and charity shop gems. 

Every time I sense spring might be approaching, sunlight trying desperately hard to penetrate the gaps in the clouds, like someone hopefully peering through a crumpet, providing enough light for me to briefly consider shaving my legs, I walk outside and discover we’re still knee-deep in winter. And despite momentarily seeing both my breath and my disappointment in front of my eyes at the thought of perhaps never regaining proper circulation in my hands again, there’s a secret warmth in my heart that we still have a few more weeks left to spend quality time with ourselves. Not masturbating, guys, before you go there. Or shaving. I’m talking about nestling down on a corner sofa, in duvet hibernation, with a hot chocolate in one hand and a book in the other. 

And so we come to the books that have carried me through my winter daydreams. I’m throwing in a mix of fiction and non-fiction because it turns out I get my kicks from real life superheroes too. 

My new Bible…Not That Kind Of Girl by Lena Dunham

This book is the gospel truth for every twenty-something girl who’s ever had bad sex, doubted themselves, worried about cancer, embarked on a strange diet, been friend-zoned or just let your own head get in the way of success. I will read it over and over again and talk about it all the time until I become friends with Lena and have to disguise my inner fangirl. 

One to warm you up…Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

This one made me fall in love with reading all over again. Love, Nina is a collection of beautifully written and hilarious anecdotes documented by Nina in letters to her sister, while she was working as a nanny in 80s London. I loved it mostly because Nina lived opposite Alan Bennett, and her unique retelling of familial interactions and observations will split your sides. It’s also being made into a television series so get reading and say you heard it here first.

While her name is everywhere…Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Emma’s getting deservedly famous now Room’s a film and winning yonks of awards but Frog Music is incredibly different in style and tone. Set in San Francisco, Frog Music is a murder mystery come love story based on a true events and I couldn’t get enough. It’s a slow burning thriller but the most successful part of the book for me is the picture Emma paints of a city that can’t breathe for heat, sickness, death, crime and sex. If you want to fall into a different world for a little while this is pretty marvellous.

Because I’m in love with her…Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler. 

I’m so into America’s funny women sometimes I wake up crying that they’re not my friends. (Only half-joking). I’m experiencing a pretty intense girl crush on Amy at the moment. I blame the fact she played one of the most loveable characters ever to grace our television screens in Parks and Rec, founded the SmartGirls initiative that makes me sad not to be a young girl anymore, and that she writes like a total dream. If you love Amy, you’ll love Yes, Please, and if you’re unfamiliar, it’ll make you want to jump on the bandwagon immediately because the Poehler movement is pretty infectious. 

I got hooked on…The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

I’ve been waiting for a book that makes me consider taking a sick day to finish it and this is the one. I’ve tweeted a little incessantly about it and for all the good reasons. The story follows the journey of film-maker Sophie Stark, told only from the perspective of the people who knew, loved or worked with her, which turns out to be an uncanny and beautiful way of portraying an artist built out of the impact she made on other people’s lives. It’s what I like to call hashtag meta…Sophie Stark has instantly jumped to one of my favourite books of all time. Go read so we can talk about it. 

What I’m reading right now…The First Bad Man by Miranda July

I’m saying nada because I’m about three and a half pages in but it’s pretty unique already and it’s come highly recommended so that’s enough for me for now. Watch this space.

Next on the list for me… A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler and Hot Feminist by Polly Vernon. So all in all – girl power much!? Any recommendations swing ’em my way please.

HAPPY READING. KEEP WARM. Love xxxxxx