Friday, 30 December 2016

The Release of Running

Rhiannon writes about the delicate balance between triggers and exercise, and knowing how to keep tabs on both.
- Rhiannon Long

Very often with a mental health disorder, we become aware of our ‘triggers’: things we know might make us feel vulnerable, lonely, or a little like we’re losing the control we had over our illness. When we learn what they are, it can become easier to avoid situations in which they might occur. 

What happens, though, when triggers aren’t quite as clear cut? This is a difficulty I encountered when it came to physical exercise. 

I love running. I love the release it gives me after a stressful day. I love the fresh air and I love the childlike joy of overtaking dog-walkers, cyclists, and even fellow runners. When I became ill, however, this once joyful hobby became dangerous. If anyone’s tried to run on an empty stomach, they’ll know how tough it is; imagining having run on a stomach that’s been empty for days. Instead of being something I looked forward to after a hard day at uni, it became another ritual, another strict rule to add to the list which I didn’t feel I could miss. And perhaps worst of all, it became another weight-loss technique. 

In all honesty, its success as a weight-loss technique was doubtful – but in my mind, I couldn’t afford to skip it. When it comes to disordered eating, these rules are often nonsensical and based on pure fiction. But to sufferers, that doesn’t make them any less worth adhering to. 

Whilst I’m fully and happily cemented in my recovery now, this is still an area where I have to proceed with caution. Although I can no longer run due to a back injury, I’m now a member of a gym. I regularly attend classes, work out with my flatmate, and, while it’s not the same, get my running release on the treadmill. 

Personal fitness is something lauded as generally positive; everyone is advised to take some form of regular exercise, and the benefits on your body, mind and sometimes even social life are well-known. But having what could potentially be a trigger to set me back down that dark path also come highly recommended by professionals can be tricky and downright confusing. 

Instead of treating it like a regular trigger and avoiding it altogether, I’ve found simple awareness to be the most successful technique. I’m not going to deprive myself of exercise, but I’m constantly keeping tabs on how often I do it, whether it encroaches on my life, whether it becomes a fixation, and, most importantly, on how it makes me feel. The minute I see signs of it being detrimental, rather than beneficial to my mind and body, I’ll know to cut back.

For now though, I’ll keep running, getting stronger, and going further. 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Christmas and Mental Health Support

Claire writes about why the holidays can be hard and how much receiving a supportive card can mean.
 -  Claire Eastham

It’s “the most wonderful time of the year.” Christmas trees, presents and bright lights wherever you look. How could you possibly feel anything but happiness? Well… because you have depression or anxiety. As much as I’d like to think that mental health conditions give way to the Christmas break, I’m afraid they don’t. In fairness, neither would a cold or a broken bone. Can you imagine? “oh its Christmas, I best get my arm out of this cast.”

The holidays can be hard if you suffer from a mental health issue. On top of everything else, it makes you feel guilty for not being happy when the rest of the world is. However, this is all part of the trick. Both anxiety and depression have ‘bully like’ characteristics and guilt will be used to punish you. Remember, it’s ok to feel exactly how you want to feel. Certainly, don’t curl up with it and hide yourself away from the festivities, but also, allow yourself to feel sad, anxious or low. Suppressing feelings will only strengthen them. After a while, you might find that the interactions, food, games and general vibe of the day will naturally start to have a positive impact. So just go with it.

I’m a big believer in kindness and words of support. Having someone tell you that they care and will be there if you need help, can be incredibly effective. That’s why when I spotted the Student Minds Christmas Card campaign I jumped at the chance to spread the word! Make a donation and they will send a card with a personal message of support to either yourself or a friend.

One of the reasons why I love Student Minds is because they seek to empower students, with the knowledge that they CAN look after their mental health. It’s something that I wish had been around when I was at university.

You have five days to sign up, so do it NOW… like this second!

Claire Eastham is an award winning mental health blogger and her book We’re All Mad Here is available now.