Having recently been signed off work due to my anxiety, I thought I should probably start writing again. I remain overly-open about being quite mad on social media, but 140 characters sometimes just isn’t enough. I had purposefully let this blog go quiet for a long time. This was ostensibly because I’m not really running much and am rather less mad these days. And that, dear friends, is what we call hubris.
Towards the end of January, I had a serious panic attack at work. It’s the first I’ve had in this role, triggered by a specific event rather than my general state of mind. Panic attacks aren’t new. Unfortunately, this one happened in front of my manager; to her, it was new. Before I knew it, there was a whole paragraph in my appraisal concerning my mental health. Notes made that I had been medicated, that I had received therapy, that perhaps I felt too muddled for the role. (Nobody, but nobody who has ever met would say I come across as “muddled”.)
A selection of our trustees read our appraisals. I was, understandably, I think, rather unhappy (read: really fucking angry) that people were going to be told that I have been dealing with this since my teens. Since I was legally a child. Telling them this, without my consent. Cue phone calls to Mind’s Legal Line, to ACAS, to the ICO, anybody who might be able to confirm I should put a stop to this. Having a law degree really helps with knowing what not to stand for. The advice was yes, it was unreasonable but there was little I could do except ask for it to be removed from the report. When that request failed, repeatedly, I gave up.
I phoned my mother in tears who immediately drove to Surrey, to have lunch with her finally beaten daughter. Poor woman, I think she’d hoped to be free of me by almost 28. Over lunch, I phoned my GP. When he asked what I wanted, I begged he declare me unfit for work for a fortnight. He wrote the certificate immediately, without even seeing me (quote: “well, we can close our eyes and pretend we’re in the same room if you like…”). It was that easy, from that moment I was signed off work. I went back to the office, packed my bag and went home for the next two weeks. Before those two weeks were up, I resignedly phoned my GP again and asked for a prescription for any drugs to get me through my return.
Being signed off work sounds serious…
It does, but the severity of it is somewhat negated by the fact that I chose it. My problem for a long time was that I didn’t recognise how ill I was until it was too late. Now I can recognise that bursting into tears at work isn’t normal. That having a meltdown because I can’t bear to answer my phone or open a letter is no way to live a life. Anxiety is going to be a part of my life forever. There isn’t going to be a day where I wake up and finally, I’m over it. What I can do is mitigate the damage and removing myself from damaging situations is part of that.
My day to day mental health is probably the best it has been for years but that doesn’t render me immune. I still struggle to find enough resilience in difficult situations. True crisis and I’m fine, something deep in my brain kicks in when I know that I simply have to cope. The rest of the time, I’ve worked out a finely tuned balance of various triggers to keep me level. I need to account elsewhere in my lifestyle for each little slip.
The 5 Pillars of Mental Health
- Exercise: The first pillar to crumble when I’m starting to struggle but it probably has the most pronounced effect. It doesn’t need to be running, a walk will do. But at least twice a week, preferably three times, ideally four. More than four and a different sort of burnout takes hold which in turn affects…
- Sleep: Seven hours. Functional on six. Five and under and we’re really struggling. Don’t try to make up any deficit at weekends, too much sleep is no better. Nap if needed, but don’t use sleep to escape the way you’re feeling. Try not to need…
- Caffeine: Minimised. The occasional cup of Earl Grey. I can’t have coffee despite adoring it.
- Diet: Low carb, high fat.Lots of oily fish, lots of avocado. Running friends are currently gasping at the idea of not eating all the pasta the night before a race. My body can’t handle the blood sugar/insulin changes. It converts me to a toddler on a sugar crash. Similar to…
- Alcohol: Despite being famed amongst my friends for my love of a drink (and a correlating talent for spilling them), my boozing days are now largely over. Partly because I’ve always been a lousy drunk. The classic drunk crying girl, a lot of parties have ended with me wailing on the kitchen floor. These days, it’s that my resilience suffers for days afterwards like a lingering after effect to my hangover.
I think this is how everyone’s mind works. Plenty of runners start to feel antsy when injured. Caffeine leaves many of us too wired. We’ve all spent mornings hungover and fragile. Mental health is a spectrum and I’m further along it than others. Life requires balance and mine has always been notoriously bad. Seriously, I fall over a lot. Can’t be surprising that my mind falls over too.