The floors are falling out from everybody I know

This morning, I was sat at my desk when the phone rang from a meeting room downstairs. It was the head of our HR team, asking me to pop down. When I got there, I was quickly dismissed. I was still in my probationary period and it has been decided that the role and I are a bad fit. The wording in my explanatory letter is that I don’t exhibit “essential qualities for the role to the extent required”. Or something equally woolly sounding. The most blindsided I have ever felt. At my one month review, everything seemed fine and targets were set for me to work towards by the end of my 6 months probation. Certainly, at no point was I warned that I needed to be doing things so differently that my job was in danger.

4 weeks pay in lieu of notice. HR collected my bag and coat. I was walked out the office without saying goodbye to anyone. That’s that.

I don’t really object to the reasoning. Some matches are wrong. Employee and employer don’t always fit together in terms of culture and this was a total 180 from my previous firms. I do object to the lack of warning. Nothing mentioned was so significant that it couldn’t easily have been remedied if I had actually been made aware of a problem. But oh well, worse things happen at sea. So I’m told.

So what now? I’ve decamped to my parents’ house, for a few days at least. I’ve been in touch with recruiters straight away and the market for what I do seems buoyant. I now have the chance to reassess what I truly want out of my life. It was only very recently that I was wondering if any of this was right for me. The last few days before the Bath Half are now full of rest, of my mother’s cooking, of short runs in the sunshine. I’m reading Rod Junkins’ The Art of Creative Thinking and finally planning some time to invest in personal projects I’ve been talking about for years.

Out of all this, there has been serious positivity. In the most dire of circumstances, there was no panic attack. I sat through the meeting without breaking down. I scratched my arms in a desperate attempt to keep control while waiting for my possessions to be brought down, but recovered and a few hours later there’s no damage to be seen. I left the office, called my parents and walked back to Waterloo. I text and called various friends to try and keep calm; thank you to everyone who rallied in the middle of their working days. Throughout it, I stayed reasonably calm. The panic and the tears were there, looming, but for once they were shut behind a door. The best text in response, “to be honest, you should have quit last week the second you didn’t get the bacon roll you were promised”. I laughed.

It’s February again, we must get older

It’s time for the month in review! What’s been going on inside my head and where have my feet been taking me this month?

The month began on a serious high with my Time To Talk post going the smalltime blogger version of viral. I was asked in advance by the event director at Southwark parkrun if I had anything suitable for them to share as part of the day. I didn’t, but they’re good people so I wrote a piece on how parkrun has been more than just running to me. It ended up being retweeted a ridiculous number of times and being shared by so many parkruns, by parkrunners and by the founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt. A bizarre day of people sending screenshots of my face as it popped up in their Facebook feeds via parkruns across the country.

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Sporting my parkrun performance shirt. A ginger in apricot. Bold.

That post has now been viewed well over 5000 times, in over 40 countries. Thank you to all who supported, shared and talked about mental health on that day. You know how much the cause means to me and to have had even the tiniest impact was fantastic. The blog will probably never reach such lofty heights again!

Running has been a mixed bag. Again, the month started well. I managed a couple of post-work 5 milers, as opposed to my usual 5km. I’m slowly trying to up my overall mileage and it’s reassuring to have broken the mental block I had of doing more than 5km on a school night. This will seem such a tiny breakthrough to so many of you but my running is plagued with arbitrary and nonsensical negative mental blocks of my own forming and it’s taking a lot of resolve to dismantle them.

The first weekend in February I once again smashed my longest run, taking the distance to 17.1km/10.6 miles. With 5 weeks to go until Bath Half, this was hugely reassuring. Thank you to everyone at #ukrunchat that evening who confirmed that yes, that was indeed completely on track when I was having a wobble! The other bonus of that run was my pacing was almost spot on; a little slower than usual but that led to consistency with a couple of (actually very small) blips that I think correlate to where I paused to stretch my niggling calves.

But then came the dreaded lurgy. Classic February cold/flu/misery had been doing the rounds at the office and I finally succumbed in the second week of February. Coincidentally, also set up to be the toughest week I’ve had at this job yet. Life, oh life.  A week of feeling terrible both physically and mentally and not being able to run at all, so once again a month where my mileage is nowhere near as high as I had hoped. I’ve actually only run about 50km all month which is appalling. I’m frustrated but I know how dangerous for my emotional resilience it is to push myself too hard. A lot of rest, a lot of cups of tea and watching Netflix in leggings and ratty old jumpers, a lot of envying everyone talking about their running. I attempted a long slow run exactly one week after having run 17km. I made it through 3km with legs and a stomach feeling like lead, went home and was promptly sick. Another attempt at 5km in the week was cut short at around the 3km mark again with burning lungs. Super disheartening.

The following weekend I made it out for my long run with minimal confidence after almost 2 weeks off. I put myself through 16km, although with a few short walks thrown in there (at 3km, 10km, 14km). I’ve already written about how negative I felt after that run. I’m trying to be objective about it and be a lot kinder to myself. I was on course to be only about 2-3 minutes slower than my 17km run 2 weeks earlier. Considering that there was a good 5+ minutes of walking involved, I was just coming back from illness, I’d had some time off and it was horrendously windy out there, that’s not at all bad going. Pain and Panic are whispering that I’m making excuses but they can hush. I ran 16km when I wasn’t at my best, having expected to struggle to hit 10km, and I didn’t run them that badly. I didn’t run them anywhere near as well as I would have liked but you can’t always get what you want.

Given the setback of illness, I now won’t run the full half marathon distance until race day but I’ve now comfortably hit 15km+ on several occasions in the past 6 weeks without any real ill effect and I think I could probably have kept going. I think the adrenaline and atmosphere on the day will carry me through without too much fuss. It’s “less than a parkrun” (a well-established unit of distance!) to be added on my longest run and that’s not too terrifying. I’ve just hit the initial fundraising target I set when I signed up for Bath but as I’ve now planned an entire year of running for Mind, I’m hoping to absolutely smash that amount. Anyone feeling kind and inclined to donate, you can do so here and it means the world to me.

I went back to work and had a panicked couple of days trying to progress various matters before putting the out of office on and heading to Iceland.

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Iceland was like Narnia

This actually prompted the biggest meltdown of the month, a severe 2 hour panic attack the night before my holiday and the first serious one I’ve had in a while. I can’t explain the terror that I experience knowing that emails are flooding into my inbox and not being able to deal with them. Holidays are more stress than they’re worth really. Anyway, Iceland. The highlight of my month and you can read about it in a lot more detail here. After recently wondering where I’m going in life, I’ve realised that maybe this is where I’m supposed to be right now, booking holidays on a near-whim with one of my best friends. Now we are home and I am planning our trip to Japan next year.

This morning I turned my work phone back on to be greeted with over 300 emails. I was only out the office for 3 days…A moment of inner panic, a couple of whiny messages to people, a tube journey spent sifting through the noise. By the time I stepped into the office, I knew where I stood, a huge number of emails had been deleted, more had been filed and I could start prioritising the relatively few that required any level of attention. That’s real progress. Once that scenario would have resulted in so much panic that I wouldn’t have made it to the office.

I’d hoped to pick the running back up tonight but leaving at gone 7pm and having to be back in for 7.30am is making that seem unlikely. Law is all kinds of fun.

That’s February done. On we march to March. In 2 days, I will be 27. In 13 days, I will be running my first half marathon for Mind. Work is set to be very busy (when is it not?). I have two incredibly exciting projects relating to this blog that I’m hoping to announce soon, I’m just waiting for confirmation on some details. It’s going to be a big month.

Are you satisfied with an average life?

I’m having a quarter-life crisis. Again. We shouldn’t worry, I’ve been having a quarter-life crisis approximately every 6 months for the past 5 years. This is not a symptom of anxiety, this is exacerbated by anxiety. Important distinction there – the way I feel is legitimate, the extremes I feel it to is not.

These crises are triggered by any milestones in life, personal or annual. At the moment, I’m not long into a new job, Valentine’s Day has just passed, and I’m about to turn 27. Triple whammy. All these things make me evaluate where I am with my life. I don’t think I’m where I want to be but at the same time, I’m not sure where it is that I want to be so I can’t plan how to get there.

I’m a Senior Business Development Executive at a law firm. This broadly means that I support lawyers in winning new business as well as advising them on how to maintain and strengthen their client relationships. I can’t pretend this is what I’ve dreamt of doing all my life. I’m good at it and I’ve progressed quickly but is this the dream? Shouldn’t there be something…more? Possibly not. I’m not a special snowflake and probably need to find happiness in mediocrity. It’s not that I had particularly grand aspirations. It’s that I’m 26 years old and I still have no ideas about what to be when I grow up.

I had vague aspirations to write. I suppose this counts to some extent. If you want to be a writer, write. My job involves writing (although arguably I did not mean that I wanted to write about why the firm I work for should be selected to give property law advice) and I like that. I’m not quite ignoring that dream, I’m just not realising it either.

Friends are settling into careers rather than jobs. Getting married. Having babies. I have a job I’m not entirely certain about and the rest of my life is equally fluid. I could jack it all in tomorrow and run away to Mexico if the whim struck me. There are days when I love that freedom and days when I despise the lack of things anchoring me while everyone else builds a life. It is of course foolish to compare yourself to others, the lives we portray are to an extent always curated. My ex used to complain that other couples didn’t have our problems. I used to point out that to other people, we didn’t have our problems. So yes, there are the days of desperately envying your gorgeous newborn children and wonderful relationships. But I also appreciate you’re up at 3am for a middle of the night feed while I’m either out dancing or fast asleep and in that instance, I’m happy with my lot.

It’s not wanting what other people have now, not really, it’s the crushing fear of not knowing what’s coming next. I’ve always had this impatient rampant perfectionism, a truly crushing need to be perfect and brilliant at everything and for that to be immediate. The better I naturally am at something, the greater the meltdown when I eventually (and inevitably) hit a challenge. I thought that running would temper the perfectionism. Old friends will confirm that I’m not a natural athlete, school was spent dodging PE lessons and I probably couldn’t run a mile until I was 25. An activity I would be forced to work at (and hard!) to improve was supposed to help me finally realise that not being brilliant immediately was fine, still worth it. I now don’t think too much of running 10 miles on a Sunday as part of my final efforts for Bath Half in March. Still, it all needs to be better and it needs to be now and that is unrealistic. Every bad run is, to me, a punishing failure.

There will always be bad days and they are frustrating and disheartening to everyone. Their effect on me is just too extreme. Today I ran 10 miles. I’ve barely run in 2 weeks (I think I racked up a grand total of about 6km in 14 days – my month in review post should be brief next week!) following a lingering bout of lurgy. Fitness is slightly down. Confidence is dented. I am still recovering. The conditions weren’t great with high winds on the coast so huge portions felt like a battle. I should be overwhelmingly pleased that I managed that distance. It was slow, a little painful but it’s more than I was really expecting to achieve given recent circumstances. But still, I came home and cried because it’s never enough and the more I achieve with my running, the harder it’s becoming for me to accept my current limitations. I need to be faster, to be running further, every bit of training needs to bring with it improvement.

That’s the worry. That nothing is ever enough for me. That I will never be satisfied because there’s always more out there. Most runners experience it to a degree, that need to take a few seconds more off each PB. To take your long run a mile further than ever before. I just don’t find much happiness from achieving those goals because there’s the immediate replacement with harder/better/faster/stronger. Then apply that to every single aspect of my life. If I could only learn to rein this way of thinking in, even the tiniest bit, it would probably flip and become one of my better qualities. There’s a lot of drive and a reasonable amount of ambition firing all this panic and it’s got me a lot of places in life.

It’s okay to feel a bit lost at 26, I know that. So what that I have a job that isn’t what I dreamt of and I now have a couple of very serious but catastrophically failed relationships behind me? So does almost everybody else. This isn’t full-blown panic, but it’s constant gnawing unease that is grating away and consuming a lot of my thoughts. There isn’t much to be done for it. Write more. Run more. Stop leaving jobs and purposefully destroying relationships because I’m worried they’re not quite right. Treat my friends better. Got to stop worrying about everything to the letter.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Sing oh January oh!

31st January already. 1/12 of another year gone. I thought I’d do a “month in review” style post, both of my running and my mental state.

I ran 70km in January. Far less than I was aiming to. January is a hard month to motivate yourself through anyway, it has been cold and wet and dark. I began a new job on 4th January and getting up to speed with everything it entails has left me exhausted. I made the decision to listen to my body and get as much rest as I could, I know my resilience is linked heavily to my energy levels. If I push myself too hard it will result in a meltdown and so I’m remaining cautious.

I started the year badly with a couple of reasonably severe panic attacks hitting me, most frequently on Sunday nights. Refusing to leave Hampshire to go back to London, tearful phone calls to friends and family, hyperventilating. I’m not being too harsh on myself about them, there’s more to be gained from being kind to myself. January is hard and new jobs are tiring and anxiety-inducing in the best of us. I seem to have settled a little as the month has gone on so I think a situational blip.

The new job is going well. I’ve now completed 4 weeks and managed not to have a panic attack in the office. It’s a dramatic change in attitude from my previous firm and I’m still adjusting to having a better work/life balance, to kinder people, to not feeling like I work in a pressure cooker. This was a big promotion for me and I’m trying not to put pressure on myself when nobody else is doing that. Last year I was regularly working until 8pm in the City, getting home at 9pm, leaving less time for running and my energy levels already depleted. I’m now back at my flat by 6.30pm most evenings. Over the course of the month I have gained hours back to my life and over time, I’m hoping that means I can factor a lot more running into my week. So far, so good. It all feels like the right decision and I am far happier.

I have slowly upped my long slow runs and with 7 weeks to go until Bath Half, I had run 15km, or 9.3 miles of the 13.1 I’ll need to do on the day. This weekend I have a slightly dodgy knee and a bout of tonsillitis which have kept me at home. Irritating and I was concerned that it would set me back but it’s better to rest now. I’ve been adding about 2km on to each long run so the distance will come to me, I’m almost there, there is still time.

I kicked off my year of running for Mind with the Romsey 5 Mile Road Race. No matter the race, I experience severe nerves and I spent most of the night before feeling a little sick and sleeping fitfully. Romsey is a fast flat course, 3 laps around a portion of the Broadlands estate with a run up and down an additional straight about halfway round the 3rd lap. Race day was grey and warmer than I would have liked but the rain thankfully held off. I ran 10km the day before which is unusual, IMG_20160124_162732I don’t tend to run on consecutive days. I was a bit worried that this would have left me slightly tired for the race but happily, my chip time came in at 47:17, meaning an average pace of around 9:27/mile. It was by no means fast but I’m aiming for 10 minute miles for Bath Half in March so this was a nice start. I started out too quickly and paid for it about halfway round the course so briefly slowed to a walk – I would be annoyed that it impacted on my overall time but I think really it will just have balanced out that early burst. I find the beginning of races difficult, the bustle of the crowd around me leaves me claustrophobic and I struggle to find my own pace instead of matching everyone else’s.

On to February. More writing. More running. The last push before Bath Half. A tiny holiday to Iceland all planned and booked. A shorter month.

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First medal of the year!