Crossing the Finish Line (in more ways than one)

As of this week, I am officially divorced. After almost two years in limbo (and only slightly less than the marriage itself lasted) the final paperwork is complete and the whole sorry episode has reached it’s conclusion. At 34 years old, I’m a divorcee. I’m not going to talk here about how that makes me feel, as I’m not sure I could put it into words at the moment. Instead this post is about how I marked the end of this chapter.

I had known for a while that I wanted to do something significant to acknowledge the turning of this page. A ‘Divorce Party’ was out of the question. There’s nothing to celebrate about wasted years and broken dreams. I briefly considered trashing my wedding dress at next weekend’s colour run, but realised that would probably attract more attention than I’m comfortable with. An attempt to toast the new beginning over a quiet meal with close friends went awry when my Ex-Husband walked into the same, very small, restaurant (Honestly; what are the chances?! You couldn’t make it up).

So instead, I ran a Half Marathon. It seemed fitting, as the breakdown of our marriage was what started my running in the first place, and after several years of being told repeatedly that I was lazy, it seemed a subtle but effective middle finger up to the Man that so enjoyed taunting me.

I had kept my plan to take part in the Jersey Half mostly on the down low, partly because I didn’t even known if I’d be able to finish it, and partly because I don’t want to detract too much attention from the Great North Run, which I’m doing for charity in September. But now I’ve done it, pride in myself means I can’t help but document it here.

The furthest I’d run in training was a little over 10 miles, so an extra 3 on top was daunting, but I spent the days beforehand just excited to get to the start line. Have you seen that GIF of the puppy running in his dreams? That was me every night last week! I woke up on Sunday morning to heavy grey skies; the one time I’ve been thrilled to see the Island shrouded in fog; far better running weather than hot sunshine!

Arriving at the start line in St Ouen it was good to see a decent handful of familiar faces through the drizzle; the running community in Jersey is small and friendly, and I’m starting to feel like a little part of it. 9am soon came around and we were off; an easy start down Hydrangea Avenue before the hills of L’Etacq and La Pulente that lay ahead! I won’t bore you with a mile by mile account, but the highlights for me were the camaraderie amongst runners both local and visiting, and the brilliant support from marshalls, supporters and very patient motorists that offered words of encouragement as we slogged past, taking up the road. The family at the top of La Pulente with a big bowl of Haribo were life-savers, and the personal yells of encouragement from friends I passed by were like an injection of energy when I had little left of my own.

I had friends taking part, but I’d quite deliberately not run with them. I needed this to be something I did on my own; with nothing to prove to anyone but myself, and no distractions.

The first 11 miles I can honestly say I enjoyed every step of; the last 2 along the solid granite promenade towards the finish were hard on my feet, my knees, my hips and my head, but I was far too close to stop now, so I struggled on at something between a jog and a stumble until I reached that last few metres and the support of strangers powered me over the line. If I’d kept my intention to run on the DL, I’d played my cards even closer to my chest when it came to my time prediction. I’d privately hoped to come in under 2 hours 20. I thought that if I ran well I might make 2 hours 15. The time on the clock when I crossed the line was 2 hours, 6 minutes and 50 seconds. To say I’m delighted would be something of an understatement.

It was a little emotional crossing the line, and I took a little time straight afterwards to sit by myself and take it in. 2 years ago I would never for a second have believed myself capable running a half marathon, much less that I’d enjoy it AND have another two booked before the end of the year.

Which brings me back to the Great North Run. Whilst this will no longer be my first half, it remains the most important to me, and the only one that I’m running for a cause other than my own. As detailed on my Get Inspired post, I’m raising money for Maggie’s Centres who mean a lot to my extended family, and do fantastic things for many thousands of other families. I’m now confident that I can fulfil my promise to finish, and I have a better understanding of what training I need to do in order to better my time. Any improvement would be a win; can I get myself home in under 2 hours?! We’ll see….

If you have a couple of pounds to spare, your sponsorship would be very much appreciated; I’m inching ever closer to my target, but every little helps 🙂

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rebeccalevans

So as I’m finally able to close & lock the door on being Mrs Evans, and forge ahead into the unknown (At the moment I’m not even entirely sure what my name will be), I’m setting aside my old familiar comfort blanket of self-doubt, and doing so with the fresh conviction that I can achieve anything I put my  mind to, and more importantly, that I can do it on my own.

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Anxiety Girl

If I had a superpower it would be leaping to conclusions in a single bound.

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Until about 18 months ago, I had never really suffered from anxiety. I’d been anxious of course about an exam result or an interview, but didn’t recognise the difference between that and actual anxiety.

The first time it hit me was on a flight from Majorca to Jersey, when I knew that whatever happened after I walked through arrivals was going to determine whether my marriage was really over. I found myself sitting in baggage claim, head between my knees, heart pounding, trying desperately (but not altogether successfully) to stop myself from a/ crying, b/vomiting and c/ hyperventilating. You don’t want to do those last two at the same time, believe me.

I didn’t know what was happening at the time, aside from the fact that it really wasn’t ideal, but I’ve come to realise that it was a full blown anxiety or panic attack. Luckily the first time was the worst time, and I’d only describe one or two of the incidences since then as ‘attacks’, with ‘episodes’ seeming a more appropriate and less violent word to describe what takes me over every so often.

From time to time since that day in the airport, I’ve been gripped by feelings of anxiety for anywhere between a few hours and a few weeks (the 3 weeks after my Grandmother passed away were a challenge). By day the feelings manifest in a relatively manageable way; low level nausea and loss of appetite, lack of concentration, tearfulness and a slightly increased heart rate. I thought I might have been imagining the latter but I’ve checked, and it’s a thing. Pretty standard regular symptoms for a lot of Women.

It’s by night that the full effects really kick in. Chronic sleeplessness is fuelled by my mind running at 1000 miles an hour, replaying conversations word by word, analysing any situation over and over and over again, and jumping wildly to irrational conclusions. An off the cuff comment at work can easily become an imminent sacking, and if a friend hasn’t replied to a message or email I become convinced it’s because they’re dead, they hate me, or they’re hiding something from me, probably because they hate me. The innumerable completely rational reasons for their delayed response don’t even register, I convince myself of the worst, and can’t be persuaded otherwise.

Mostly however I worry uncontrollably about the future. Whilst normal, level-headed rational Me knows that things will be ok, that an unknown future is actually quite exciting, and to take one day at a time, anxiety stricken Me is utterly incapable of thinking straight, instead inventing all kinds of future scenarios for myself, none of them particularly good, and scrutinizing every past event from my childhood until yesterday that has led me to where I am. The best way I can describe it is that my mind is taken over, or starts to self-destruct. As hard as I try I just can’t pull myself back into reality at these points.

Sleep, when it finally arrives, barely helps as I’m prone during these episodes to nightmares, waking up sweat-drenched and tear-streaked, heart beating out of my chest at whatever horror my subconscious has thrown up.

18 months in I’m slowly learning what can trigger these spells of chaos. Too much time spent in solitude, especially when I’ve not planned to, is almost guaranteed to set me off, I’m more likely to start to spin out when I’m hormonal, or by allowing myself to get stressed by work or life.

Despite the above I try and keep in mind that I’m one of the lucky ones; 99% of the time I’m completely fine. These episodes are intermittent and often I can go months without a sleepless night or an irrational thought, whilst I have friends who suffer with varying levels of anxiety all the time. I’m so sorry that I didn’t understand until I experienced it myself, and dam girls I don’t know how you get out of bed in the mornings.  You have my utmost admiration for carrying on.

I’ve been reading up on what steps I can take to manage anxious feelings, and am already cutting back on alcohol, caffeine and nicotine which can aggravate the problem, eating well, trying hard to accept what I can’t control, letting go of disappointments and beginning to practice mindfulness and positivity exercises to keep my head on the straight and narrow.  I already knew that exercise and keeping myself busy and sociable is a guaranteed way to get back on track, but that can be tricky at 3am in the dead of winter.

Certain friends now recognise when I’m not myself, one will make sure I’m eating by bringing me food to work, and another two will bombard me with messages, jokes and gifs designed to make me laugh. I don’t think any of them know how grateful I am, so I hope they’re reading this.

I’m optimistic that in time, as my life settles down and whatever path I’m on becomes clearer, that these bouts become fewer, farther between and easier to extinguish. Until then I’ll keep talking about it, and keep asking people to read about it, because nobody should ever be ashamed to admit that they’re not ok.

I’ve included a few helpful links about anxiety below, and for anyone reading this who recognises the feeling and believes they need further support can call Anxiety UK on 08444 775 774 or MIND on 0300 123 3393, or speak to your GP.

NHS UK

Mind.org.uk

Anxiety UK

Radio Ga Ga

So an unexpected thing happened this week; on Wednesday I received a message from one of BBC Radio Jersey’s presenters, who had read my previous blog post about the  #JoinIn phenomenon and asked if I would be prepared to go chat about it live on air, as part of a programme focusing on people being lonely over the festive period.

I have to admit that my initial reaction was ‘HELL NO!’ Whilst those that know me will attest that I don’t usually struggle for words, the idea of sitting in front of a mic in a radio station was more than a little un-nerving!

But after a little thought, some gentle encouragement from my colleagues and more than a couple of glasses of red wine, I threw caution to the wind and said yes. After all, I am supposed to be making the most of every new experience, no matter how scary.

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So that’s how I found myself sitting in the BBC Jersey reception area a little after 8am this morning, trying to hold a coffee in my shaking hands. I’d had a brief chat with the lovely Julie who produces the show yesterday afternoon, which had gone some way to calming my nerves but not enough to stop me waking up at 5am with all kinds of  scenarios running through my head!

I needn’t have worried however, as soon as I was sitting in the studio with Ashlea the conversation flowed and I (almost) managed to forget that the mic was there at all. It was great to chat about something I am so positive about, and know that it was spreading the message to people who might otherwise remain unaware.

Having ended up on-air a little bit earlier than I’d originally thought, I was hopeful/worried (delete as applicable) that friends & family may have missed it, but a barrage of messages once I was back in the car proved otherwise. The response was all positive, and I’m not going to assume that it’s because they’re all biased 😉

It took me a few hours to bring myself to be able to listen and WOW it’s weird to hear yourself on the radio; turns out I’m not actually as Yorkshire as I thought I was?!? Once I’d finished cringing myself inside out, I was actually quite proud – There weren’t too many times that I stumbled over my words or repeated myself, I don’t *think* I embarrassed myself, and the whole thing seemed to more or less make sense, although I largely have Ashlea’s well timed and thoughtful questions to thank for that.

So that is another new experience box ticked in my ‘If Not Now, Then When?’ philosophy, and along the way I hopefully spread the word that it’s OK that we’re not always OK, and more importantly that it’s OK to talk about it.

If you’re interested you can listen here. The whole show is worth hearing, but if you’re short on time skip ahead to around the 2 hours 7 minutes mark.

I’d be interested to hear your comments!

#JoinIn

It’s funny to think that only 10 years ago, social media sites such as Facebook & Twitter were still in their infancy, and Instagram was still 3 years away from being launched. A decade on there are over a billion active users on Facebook and an average of 60 million photos are uploaded to Instagram every day.

This boom in sharing our every waking moment with the world obviously has it’s drawbacks (I would hate to be a teenager trying to negotiate my way through the minefield of  24 hour contact with friends and enemies) but every so often something comes along that is such a positive use of the medium that it offsets some of the bad.

The #JoinIn campaign on Twitter is one of these. Started by British Comedienne Sarah Millican 5 years ago and increasing in popularity annually ever since, the idea is simply to connect those that are spending the Christmas period alone with others in the same boat, in order to offer support, distraction and to alleviate some of the loneliness.

Of course some people are quite happy to be alone, and more power to them, but many more find it extremely difficult. There are myriad reasons why someone may find themselves going solo over the holidays, from bereavement or relationship breakdown, insurmountable distance from family and friends, work commitments and countless more. The #JoinIn community offers support without question or judgement to anyone who needs it.

Some people take the opportunity to discuss how they are feeling and why, whilst others just want to chat about the Christmas episode of Eastenders and which their favourite Quality Street is. It’s all fine, and there are so many users involved that conversations naturally branch off in all directions, from serious discussions to light hearted banter. Some users report making genuine and lasting friendships, online and offline, that started through the hashtag, and I think that’s just lovely.

Not everyone using #JoinIn is alone of course; loneliness is not a condition unique to being alone. Some people are surrounded by people that they’d rather not be with, and others just seek an outlet for thoughts and feelings that they can’t voice to those around them. It’s often easier to speak openly with strangers. Others are having a perfectly lovely day, but pop in and out of the conversation anyway, adding to the chatter and sense of camaraderie with those in a less fortunate position.

I started getting involved with Join In as one of the latter, taking a few minutes out of my day to lend an ear to someone who needed it. Little did I know then that in 2016 I’d come to need that support and encouragement myself, and for the portions of the day that I was alone and desperately sad, I found it invaluable to have a whole circle of people to lift my spirits, without having to spoil the day for the people close to me by laying a sorrow that nobody could fix on their shoulders.

This year once again I’ll be alone at each end of the big day, which will be difficult (I’ve lived alone over a year, but I still don’t like going to bed alone at the best of times) but the thought that I can easily reach like minded folk to chat to and take my mind off my troubles is reassuring.

At a time of year when society and the media scrabble to convince us that we should all be happy and joyful and surrounded by loved ones, it’s easy to feel like you’re failing if that’s not the case. Calls to the Samaritans peak at Christmas with feelings of depression and anxiety amplified by social pressure, so any initiative that can help someone feel better, in any small way, is fantastic. #JoinIn is a triumph in the very best use of a social media platform and as far as I’m concerned should be shouted from the rooftops.

From sloth to strava. A journey.

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A little over 18 months ago, I was a stereotypical couch potato. I had an expensive gym membership that I rarely used; and even when I did darken their door, the sweat was more likely to originate from the sauna than a session of squats.

I was one of those girls that would lament the state of my waistline and my thighs whilst sitting on the couch, and who would then spend 15 minutes on the treadmill before rewarding myself with a takeaway and 3 cans of cider.

ANY excuse was a good enough one to get out of exercise. It’s too hot, it’s too cold, work was stressful today, work was great today, I’m hungry, I have my period, I’ll have it tomorrow, It’s Friday, It’s Monday, I’ve forgotten a hair band, I already worked out once this week, the gym car park is too busy, I’ve used every one of them. And more besides.

I’m not sure exactly where the change started, I think it was a combination of things.

Firstly I discovered Parkrun. For those who haven’t heard of it, Parkrun is a completely free, volunteer run and corporate sponsored community 5km run that takes place every Saturday morning in locations all over the country. I can’t remember what first inspired me to give it a go, but completing that course amongst 200+ friendly runners, and not being last, was a high that I’d not experienced during exercise before. I walked a lot of it that first time, but I got round and didn’t die. It was a revelation.

Secondly, I volunteered as a marshall for the 13km Durrell Challenge; a distance that I considered to be way beyond my capability. Let’s be honest, a lot of the motivation for volunteering was getting a glimpse of Henry Cavill (in addition to playing a small part in raising funds for Durrell) but by a stroke of luck I ended up handing out medals on the finish line, and found myself inspired by everyone that came over that line. From regular runners who were chuffed to have beaten their PB, to those who had only taken part to raise money and were just thrilled to have finished. These people were all shapes and sizes, all abilities, and it occurred to me that there was really no reason why I couldn’t be one of them. Almost a year to the day later, I crossed that line holding hands with one of my best friends, a few seconds over our target time of 90 minutes, and the euphoria and sense of achievement was something I’ll remember for a long time.

By the summer of 2016 I was becoming hooked. running regularly and attending several gym classes a week. I still find it better to run or work out in a crowd. I reached the stage that I was annoyed if a work commitment got in the way of a class, and finally began to see the results of my efforts in my body and general health – something I’d always been demotivated by when a half-arsed session on the cross-trainer once a week made no difference to my bingo wings. First my clothes got looser, then I started to fit into things I’d bought in haste, assuring myself it was only a fat day and they’d be ok tomorrow (they never were).

I started to eat better; when you’ve put the effort in physically, it becomes easier to want to avoid the rubbish that will undo it all. Don’t get me wrong I’m still very partial to a few beers, a cornish pasty and a very large bag of pick & mix, but generally not all in the same day anymore. Unless it’s the weekend.

This new lifestyle really came into it’s own at the end of last year, when my marriage unravelled and a black cloud settled over me. For the first time in my life I often felt that I didn’t just want to go for a run, I HAD to go. Turning up my playlist, pulling on my trainers and concentrating only on my breathing and heart rate as I ran along the sea front or through Jersey’s leafy country lanes was balm for my soul. I honestly believe that for a period of several months, I’d have struggled to keep my head above water without that kind of release. A bottle of red and a bar of dairy milk has it’s place in healing a broken heart (and don’t worry, I still resort to those at times) but it doesn’t raise your spirits and keep them raised in the same way as a decent work out. Of course the compliments received as others started to notice my new physique only served to help rebuild my shattered self-confidence.

Now I’m happier in life I’ve settled into a sensible gym & running routine. I’m far from the fittest person in the world but I can manage a steady 10km run without stopping and a HIIT class without throwing up and that’s just fine by me; I know now that if I decide to run that half marathon, or take part in the rowathon, I AM capable of achieving it through training and perseverance, and I’m ready and willing to take on my next challenge. That’s not something I ever really felt before.

I don’t feel the same desperate urge to work out as I did earlier in the year, but the habit hasn’t completely died. I know that when my mood starts to falter I have a guaranteed pick me up that will improve, rather than harm my health. Last week was a particular low point for a number of reasons, and come Friday night instead of reaching straight for the wine as the old me would have, I attended a boxing class, which left me invigorated, motivated and far less anxious than I was when I walked in. (Obviously there was wine afterwards; it was still Friday and I’m not a Nun).

The effect that exercise has had on my mental, as well as physical, well-being in the past 12 months has made me think a lot about how effective a treatment for some cases of depression it may be, as an alternative to popping pills. That’s something I’m now interested in learning more about, having witnessed friends be prescribed drugs that have had little discernible effect on their situation.

Looking back to the day I skipped the gym because I’d forgotten my socks (my flat, containing all my socks, is a 5 minute drive from the gym), I can barely believe I’m the same person. I know this is the cheesy tagline of many a ‘celebrity’ workout DVD, but honestly, if I can do it, anyone can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solitary Sundays

An unexpected side effect of my separation at the end of 2016 has been how much it has changed how I feel about different times of the year (Christmas has certainly lost some of it’s sparkle) and days of the week.

Sundays used to be one of the highlights of my week, second only to that wonderful Friday night feeling of freedom and promise.

Waking on a Sunday to a whole new day of possibility used to be bliss. The day was our oyster. Perhaps a lazy lie-in, or up and out early for breakfast by the beach. Sunny days held the possibility of adventure exploring our beautiful Island, happy hours passed at the beach or strolling around the zoo, always managing to find something new no matter how many times we’d visited before. Winter Sundays brought their own pleasures. Long pub lunches, visiting family, staying on the sofa and quarrelling over which film to watch next, or playing intense and often heated games of scrabble over one too many bottles of Rioja.

Perhaps I’m romanticising how it really was, in fact I’m almost sure I am. I’ve edited out those days we too hungover to function, or not speaking to each other, the tortuous afternoons we had to spend with his Mother, or when we spent so long procrastinating that we didn’t get anything done at all. But I do know that by and large, Sundays were good days.

Even before I settled down with my Ex, the day had historically been a day to catch up with friends here in Jersey, or with family before I arrived here. Generally involving a boozy afternoon and an exchange of the weekend’s gossip before we all took a couple of aspirin and got on with real life come Monday.

Something has changed in the intervening 8 years though. Those friends that I enjoyed so many Sunday sessions with have settled down themselves. Families, children, responsible jobs that don’t sit well with Monday hangovers. Those days have long gone.

Now, approaching a year on my own, most of my life has settled into new patterns. On weeknights I find it easy to keep myself busy. The gym, work events, getting together with friends for early dinners with the kids, I find myself relieved to have the occasional night with no plans. Weekend nights fill themselves; a whole new circle of wonderful friends have welcomed me into their arms and provided countless nights of  fun, dancing and laughter. Saturdays are also a breeze. When I’m not recovering from Friday night there are errands to run, chores to do and the almost inevitable round 2 night out to prepare for.

 

Sundays are where I fall down.

 

The earlier I wake, the harder it seems. The more hours stretch ahead before I can reasonably return to bed. Everything seems more difficult somehow. I don’t want to stay in the house all day, but I have to force myself to leave. Going out for a run or catching a movie is something I’d look forward to on any other day, but on a Sunday I have to talk myself into it, despite knowing full well that I’ll feel better for doing it. Of course there’s nothing to stop me heading to the beach, the zoo, a restaurant or any of the Island’s events, but on a day when I’m already feeling low, being surrounded by families and couples enjoying their day as I once would have is still too bitter a pill to swallow.

Sundays are the day of the week when the difference between my old life and my new one is most stark, and when it’s impossible to deny that I’m fundamentally alone here. That’s a fact that I can largely ignore at other times, at least until someone asks me to name an emergency contact.

My friends don’t dematerialize on Sundays of course, they’re still here and I know that they always make me welcome, but they are often tied up with their own families and for that I can’t possibly blame them. It’s exactly what I’d be doing in a parallel universe, and what I did do in fact for many years. On occasions that I do receive a Sunday invitation it’s not uncommon for me to turn it down, worried that I’d be imposing, or that I’d bring the atmosphere down with my mood.

After 13 years of living here I’ve become more than accustomed to my own family being a flight away and never gave it a second thought, but recently I’ve found myself feeling increasingly homesick on the Sabbath, wanting to be somewhere that I’m naturally a part of, where I’m not an outsider.

So the challenge I have now is to re-invent Sundays for myself. To shake off the self-fulfilling prophecy that the day will be  tough, because I think it will be tough. I’m going to be actively seeking a sports club or a special interest group to join, a charity that could make use of my spare time, or a new hobby that I can soak up some hours with. Perhaps all three.  I’ll try and document some of my experiences here on my blog. In the meantime I’m going to make plans to do something each Sunday, no matter how small, and make myself stick to them. Whether that’s planning the route and going for a long run, booking myself onto a tour or guided walk, or stocking up on trashy magazines and taking myself out for a picnic lunch.

I’m sorry that this post isn’t as chirpy as you might have come to expect, but I believe that in a time when we’re quick to edit our public lives to show only the enhanced and photo-shopped best bits, that it’s even more important to talk openly about those bits that aren’t so great. It’s ok to not be ok.