Fighting For Ellie: hump day

April 1st marked exactly 1 year since I passed my driving test. It also turned out to be my ‘hump day’ in terms of this whole amateur boxing situation that I seem to have gotten myself into.

me and joeane
Sparring with Joeanne before we were matched!

By ‘hump day’ I mean the day when I temporarily ran up against a fairly unexpected mound of ‘oh shit, I can’t do this’ and was faced with the decision of whether to turn around and run as quickly as possible in the opposite direction or put my head down and throw everything behind getting up the hill and over the top.

I say it was a decision but it wasn’t really. At least not a conscious one. There was no chance I was doing anything other than getting my head down and gritting my teeth above and below the gum-shield that I am absolutely not any sort of friends with (that thing is Lucifer himself inexplicably re-incarnated in a “multi-layer construction, latex free, shock-absorbing” lump of pure unadulterated sadism). I may be exaggerating, but it is taking some getting used to.

Now as you might have guessed if you follow this blog, I’m not a subscriber to the idea that there are some things that ‘I am’ and some things that ‘I’m not’ – or that I can do some things and can’t do others. Not because I think I’m some sort of everything-guru. Or Superwoman. Or Jennifer Lawrence – but because I don’t believe that those restrictions truly apply to anyone, at least not beyond the significance that we give to them ourselves.

Nonetheless I will say that fighting is one of the things on this planet that feels most alien to me. It just hasn’t been a part of who and how I am or what I do right up to this point. At all. A fact which has of course provided a significant extra psychological fence that I’m having to haul ass over to get to where I’ll be able to step into a ring in front of 800 people and not make an undeniable and irretrievable tit of myself and or lose consciousness for the first time (at least that I’m aware of) in my life.

So perhaps inevitably, the day came when the inner monologue that sometimes helpfully but most often irritatingly nags me through all of life’s many and varied experiences, decided emphatically that I was on a head-long collision course with a knock-out punch.

The sneaky pretend-revelation came half-way through Friday night’s Fighting For Ellie class at Millennium, where I felt a little out of my depth and behind the rest of the class. The class is very much mixed-ability and so there are a lot of people in there that I should fully expect to be playing catch-up with at this stage, but not everyone.

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More shots of me and my mates punching each other. I smashed Mac in this session, if you ask me!

So feeling like I’m lagging behind just 3 weeks out from the fight wasn’t at all welcome and lo-and-behold the hump jumped enthusiastically up out of the floor in front of me, giving it “why did you think you could fight, you lunatic.”

Like I said above though, there really isn’t a decision to be made at this point. I’m doing this and I’m going to do it well. That’s all there is to it.

Of course I’m not saying that I’ve ignored the experience of that class and how it made me feel about my prospects. Because I haven’t. I think that would be impossible not to mention very, very stupid and probably self-fulfilling. But what I realised very soon afterwards was that the only productive thing I could take from it was the realisation of how much work I need to put in between now and 23rd April.

Training diary for blog (3.4.16)
Doing as much colouring in as possible!

It’s sort of funny that ‘hump day’ should have fallen on the anniversary of the day that I passed my driving test because when I was describing what I meant by the temporary “I can’t do this” hump to a friend I used the example of my driving lessons, the last handful of which were tainted by the feeling that I’d never get good at that thing that’s now almost as easy and as natural to me as walking. That feeling that this was something that I just couldn’t do was what made me put in for my test when I did, so that I could employ the “well I just have to” instead (I passed with 0 faults)! And it’s a feeling that I love looking back on now with the context of feeling like I’ve been able to drive since leaving the womb!

So rest assured, I am going to get this down! (Sorry, Joeanne) 😛

One more thing! We’re all collecting sponsorship for our fights as an extra boost to the money raised by the event. If you can spare a pound or two to help spur me on over the Mother of all humps, I will be forever grateful (link below).

Sponsor me here —> https://www.gofundme.com/ffelaurendoug

Love yas!
L xx

Here’s the closer from one of the recent classes at Millennium, where we all had to kneel down within the pink square on the mats and try be the last one remaining within the boundary as everybody endeavoured to man-handle each other out. It doesn’t frighten me at all that against all of the huge blokes in the gym that night, my opponent Joeanne was last one standing (well, you know what I mean)…

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Fighting For Ellie: getting back on track

As I was driving over to Bothal Bank at 8am today in the kind of cold that’s reserved only for those clear, bright mornings that lure you into the false sense that it’s in fact summery-warm outside; only to quickly and violently remind your face and any other daringly-exposed patches of skin that you do indeed live in England and it is indeed still only March – I was looking forward to hill sprints just enough to make me think I might just have lost my mind.

Either that or I hadn’t actually gotten out of bed and was in the middle of a dream where I was embodying a way less lazy and more athletic version of myself.

With the Punch-Drunk run taking up my evenings last week, followed by a bank holiday that involved the gym being closed for Monday’s usual Fighting Fit and Pad-Smash sessions, I’ve been feeling the mounting pressure to get my head back down and get prepared for the fight that is now only 23 days away! I mean, I’m sure you’re thinking that I could have fit in workouts in the mornings during the Punch-Drunk run and done work outside of the gym over the bank holiday weekend. And you’d be right. And I did to an extent. There were some particularly gruelling hill sprints with Team Johbraker* on Sunday morning that I wont be forgetting in a hurry! (followed by a way more awesome 15 mile walk in the woods that you can see my snaps of HERE).

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There are worse things to be distracted from the gym by, but still…

Regardless though, I definitely feel like I let things slip last week and into the beginning of this one – not an acceptable state of affairs considering the ever-shortening window before it all goes down and the fact that I’ve officially been matched-up with my good friend Joeanne Collis; who I don’t mind admitting I’m a teeny-tiny bit scared of!

FFE Go Fund Me Cover - no sponsor me
Face-off!

 

Joeanne gumshield
All smiles before I proper knack her 😛

I was back on it as of last night though, with Fighting Fit circuits ending on team hill-sprints at the harbour, around the corner from the gym. Those are the easiest of the 3 locations that I’ve done hill-sprints so far, it’s just a little hill and not too steep – but are still enough to require some substantial recovering from.

So, rather counter-intuitively (as is every element of this journey towards stepping into the ring for a fight despite absolutely not being what anyone would describe as ‘a fighter’) hill-sprints are to be the first thing that I do every day from now until 23rd April. And I’m actually looking forward to making a habit of smashing them before breakfast!

In other news, updating on the promise last week to go to this week’s Wednesday sparring class. Well. I didn’t. But I have enlisted my boxing enthusiast flatmate for daily lessons, ahead of throwing myself into the shark-tank next  week for absolutely definite! I’ll have photographic evidence and everything, promise!

One more thing! We’re all collecting sponsorship for our fights as an extra boost to the money raised by the event. If you can spare a pound or two to help spur me on in potentially one of the stupidest things I’ve done in a lifelong string of pretty damn stupid things, I will be forever grateful (link below).

Sponsor me here —> https://www.gofundme.com/ffelaurendoug

Love yas!
L xx

*Team Johbraker is the name of our fight-team and I haven’t stopped laughing at it since it was announced a week ago. When we got our match-ups we were split into 2 opposing fight-teams and won’t train alongside our opponents now until the other side of the fights. Our team is coached by John Cairns & Liam Bowmaker and has been beautifully christened by them as ‘Team Johbraker.’ Nicely done, lads!

Fighting For Ellie: It’s On!

Today’s a bit of a big day in the whole Fighting For Ellie process, with weigh-ins and the submission of match-up choices at the gym tonight as well as tickets going on sale!

The last Fighting For Ellie event – the 3rd of its’ kind overall and the first outing of the partnership between Princess Ellie’s Trust and Millennium Martial Arts (hence it being christened ‘Season 1’ – was at Newsham Side Club, which is the 350-capacity home to the Punch-Drunk Blyth events. Tickets were to go on sale at Millennium at 5:00pm on a Friday evening and by 4:50pm the queue was so long – and it being September, everyone was waiting in the cold – that they started selling early and were sold out by 4:55!

This time around for Season 2, FFE is moving to Blyth Sports Centre which recently played host to the spectacular UK Comics Boxing: Fight For Kian and which can host a colossal 800 people. So this time the tickets might last half an hour or so!

Seriously though, I’ll be at the gym and can’t wait to see how fast 800 of these things go!

The Sports Centre venue is amazing if ever-so-slightly daunting! Fancy having your first ever fight in the middle of this set-up…

FFK set-up panoramic

So it’s a very exciting day in the FFE: Season 2 build-up calendar – but I do wish it wasn’t coming at the end of a week in said calendar that’s looking decidedly blank…

Training Diary for WordPress NEW

The forever-good-intentions of getting into the gym during the Punch-Drunk run faded, as usual, into nothingness and coupling that with less than desirable eating habits over the last week and I’m hoping I’m not going to be weighing substantially heavier than I will be in 4 weeks’ time after engaging full beast-mode tonight.

I promise that the next time you see that calendar, there will be a lot more colour happening because not only am I getting steadily more terrified as the hours go by – but comparing how I feel today to how I felt last Friday is easily motivation enough to get right back into it.

So I’m off to make some eggs and try to resist sticking bacon on too, I’ll check back in on how tonight went down, or might see you down there!

I’ll warn you now, this will be the first of many, many of these… Eeeeeeeeek!

L xx

Tickets for Fighting For Ellie go on sale TONIGHT!
(25th March)
5.30pm
Millennium Martial Arts

Standard tickets are £25 each.

Ring side at table with waitress are £35 each or £400 for a table of 12.

UNFORTUNATELY TICKETS CAN NOT BE RESERVED

Fighting For Ellie takes place on 23rd April @Blyth Sports Centre – check the event page here for further details

 

 

Fighting For Ellie: holding pads and hill sprints

So my first training update – as many of them are likely to be – is all about first time experiences.

This week so far I’ve done my first Pad-Smash session at Millennium (Monday night) and my first Hill Sprints up the very beautiful but utterly sadistic Bothal Bank (Tuesday morning).

Like seriously, my little Phoebe Fiat 500 doesn’t like dragging her arse up that thing and my little legs have substantially less horsepower than she does!

It was also very nearly my first instance of throwing up as a result of working out – something that it would appear is some sort of uber-grim rite of passage for any serious boxing trainee. So I’ll keep you posted on if and when I achieve that accolade. I might even take a picture for ya 😉

As it happened today I narrowly avoided a spewing incident – but it was a close run thing.

The thing about Hill Sprints (Yes I’m giving ‘Hill Sprints’ capital letters. You would too. If you don’t respect them, they’ll kill you) is that your head will keep telling you that you don’t need to stop long after your body has quietly come to the opposite conclusion. This is because just as the uphill sprint gets too much and everything’s screaming at you to stop, you do, returning to the bottom of the hill in what in comparison to the uphill part feels like (undoubtedly doesn’t look like but definitely feels like) a proverbial jog in the park.

So guess what. By the time the short window of time has passed that gets you back to the bottom, the uphill bit now somehow seems like a good idea again. Well not exactly a good one but certainly a not-terrible one. Do 7 of these though and if you’re anything like me your body will eventually ‘put it’s foot down’ and use the threat of impending vomiting to convince you that the uphill bit is very much not a good idea any more. Yes only 7. But we’re talking firsts, here!

On the plus side, the photo below shows Bothal, of Bothal Bank fame. So it’s not the worst of places to visit first thing in the morning, even if it is a bit rainy…

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BOTHAL CASTLE, AT THE BOTTOM OF BOTHAL BANK

Yep, Northumberland’s quite nice.

Going back to the other first of the week – Pad-Smash at Millennium on Monday night came directly after I had (if I do say so myself) kicked a Fighting Fit circuit class in the dick. It was super-encouraging to go in there and kick its arse because the last twice that I’d been in, Fighting Fit (a high-intensity circuit class) had unquestionably kicked my arse. The only difference really being that this time I was very aware that I had only 6 weeks until Fighting For Ellie and needed to start training in earnest. So I decided I was going to smash Fighting Fit – and I did.

Now the significance of this lies in the fact that I’m relying very much for the success of this whole process on the belief that by the very virtue of deciding that I’m going to achieve something, I can achieve it. So naturally this small confirmation of the fact that deciding I’m going to do something is the key to accomplishing it, was very welcome indeed.

Directly following the 45-minute circuit class and with my “let’s do this” head firmly on, after a brief water-break as the class members changed over, we started to warm up for an hour’s class on pad-work. as I warmed up I thanked the sadistic workout Gods that it was ‘just’ pad-work and not sparring, because I was sodding knackered already.

Now you’ll notice that I put the “just” in inverted commas. This is because since having that thought on Monday night I’ve realised the error of my ways and won’t refer to the pad-work session as ‘just’ anything, ever again.

Now there are pros and cons to doing pad-work with Gav Humphries as your partner. The pros include that he’s bloody good at holding pads (which it turns out is actually harder than throwing good punches, or at least more confusing) and a good pad-holder makes for a good training session.

The cons are simple – when Gav repeatedly punches pads that you’re holding  with the tiny hands on the end of your chicken-wrists for half of an hour-long session. It eventually gets to fucking hurt.

About 50 minutes in (so 95 minutes into my gym session all together) I asked Gav if we ever got to leave the gym again or if this was it. I mean I knew there was a second wind in there somewhere and that I’d finish the class but we did get to leave at some point, right? I needed to know there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thankfully it turned out we were allowed to leave. After a “burnout.” This turned out to consist of what felt like endless consecutive sets of straight punches, right & left hooks and upper cuts followed by burpees and press-ups. My self-consciousness about making a racket whilst throwing everything into a punch was very quickly wiped out. There was no way in hell I was finishing that without a peep! I managed it though and even managed to keep my face almost grimace-free while Gav took his turn at what felt like 7,000,000 punches. Then did star-jumps until everyone finished their own burnouts.

Let’s just say I left more than a little bit exhausted and after talking to a friend in the carpark for 20 minutes – very cold – as the once-warm sweat went cold on the back of my t-shirt.

I have to admit that I decided against a third first tonight by dipping out of the sparring class that I’d been considering. I’ve heard the sparring class at Millennium (where you make your way around the class practising sparring with as many different partners as possible) described as a shark-tank. And after watching one or two of them I can confirm that description to be terrifyingly accurate. But I’ve got to fight – that kind of being the point of this whole thing – so after a few more pad-work sessions and some practice at home over the next couple of weeks, I’ll have an undoubtedly hilarious account of my first sparring session for you.

This feels like leaving it a little bit late to get into those classes to be honest but with the Punch-Drunk gigs running Monday-Wednesday next week, Monday and Wednesday’s classes will be a no-go 😦

Guess I’ll just have to make up for lost time!

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BEAST-MODE: ENGAGED

 

Thanks for reading!
L xx

Fighting For Ellie: f**k the comfort zone

Nobody who spends any marginally significant portion of their time on social media will have recently gone a day escaping the steady stream of inspirational memes peppering their various newsfeeds. And there’s one particular subject that’s no stranger to an inspirational meme or two that can be well summarised with a pretty handy umbrella-phrase. A phrase that I like so much it’s written on my fridge in industrial-strength sharpie.

Fuck The Comfort Zone

This sentiment takes many forms. So many that you probably come across it most days in one configurement or another:

“Do one thing every day that scares you”
“In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take”
“If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done”
“If it does not challenge you, then it does not change you”
“The person who risks nothing, does nothing”
“He who dares, wins”
“Nothing worth having comes easy”
“Your largest fear carries your greatest growth”
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”

It’s struck me more than a few times that we all use these sayings on a regular basis but few of us really employ them. In fact it seems like it’s the norm not to employ them – at least not on a tangible, practical, consistent basis. As a way of life.

Instead some of us post them regularly on social media and some of us scoff at others for regularly posting them on social media.

But they’re persistent, aren’t they? The words take different forms but the idea never gets old.

I could go all the way down the ‘conspiracy’ route (what I think of the connotations placed upon that word over the centuries will probably have to spill into another post) and suggest that someone, somewhere (in a broad sense of course, I’m not referring to one guy sat on his couch) maybe doesn’t want us to look all the way down the line on these ‘inspirational’ sayings and really understand and employ the meaning behind them. After all, we’d sure as hell be harder to cram into manageable categories like those based on our political persuasions, social classes or career choices, if we en-masse were living by those sentiments.

Of course I’m not saying that I’ve cracked the code for fully downloading the ‘fuck the comfort zone’ mentality and living life on the edge with a complete conviction that I’m capable of anything.

I’m not trying to pretend that I’m way cooler than I am.

But I do make sure to factor the knowledge that the comfort zone is nothing but a self-prohibiting illusion, into every major decision that I make.

I refer to it as an illusion because I don’t think people are too often happy when they confine themselves to what they think of as their ‘comfort zone’ and I’m not sure how a person can be comfortable in a place that they’re not happy. Put simply, I don’t buy that the ‘comfort zone’ is a comfortable place to be.

Anyway! What got me onto all of this is the latest major decision that I’ve made – which was to take my less-than-warrior-like body and complete lack of natural fighting prowess through some intensive training and into a ring in front of 800 people to fight on Fighting For Ellie: Season 2.

Fighting For Ellie is a renowned charity event in the one and only Blyth, Northumberland which has through it’s first 3 outings, played a huge part in Princess Ellie’s Trust’s incredible achievement of raising a phenomenal £100,000 for The Meningitis Research Foundation and the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, over a period of just 5 years.

This fourth event – the second edition to be produced in partnership with Blyth’s Millennium Martial Arts who have recently become an official partner of major martial arts equipment brand Sandee Thailand – is taking things up a notch or 3. This time the previously 350-capacity event will seat around 800 people in it’s new home at the town’s Sports Centre. Meaning that it’s set to comprehensively obliterate the already incredible £13,565.28 raised by the last event in 2015.

I’m all over it this time around for a few reasons:

Firstly and probably most importantly it’s an incredible cause that radiates positivity and pro-action in the face of disaster. Rachel and Dan Long lost their 2-year old daughter Ellie to septicaemia caused by Meningitis in 2010 and they have reacted to this tragedy by creating a legacy for their Princess that has inspired more good in and around their hometown of Blyth, than any other single organisation. Through their carrying of the bright torch that is Ellie’s sparkling personality, they’ve lit an enduring fire under our struggling community – and the sense that they’ve only just gotten started is definite. I’ll be collecting sponsorship for my fight from my community and hope to make a significant contribution to the fundraising achieved through this event.

Secondly – as Punch-Drunk has seen me start spending a lot of time at Millennium Martial Arts, helping out on their Home Show as well as Fighting For Ellie and producing our own fight-event in the shape of the UK Comics Boxing: Fight For Kian, which I’ll be talking a lot more about on this blog over the next few weeks – I’ve been hearing A LOT about the transcendent experience of getting into the ring, what there is to be learned from it and how much fun it can be. Not least of all from the rest of Team Punch-Drunk and particularly Gav Humphries. So I can’t let another opportunity to have a go, pass me by!

And thirdly – my belief in the importance of fucking off the comfort zone as regularly as possible. Not just refusing to let it’s pull affect your decisions but actively letting opportunities to remove yourself from it, decide your actions. I’ll be posting updates about everything that I inevitably learn from the process right here, if you’re interested at all 😉

Thanks for reading!
L xx

Mental Health Awareness – we can’t pick and choose

I’m always thinking about mental health. Mental illness has been a significant undercurrent throughout the second half of my life story so far and my experiences have left me deeply fascinated by our noggins, how they work and why often they don’t work in the ways we think they should.

Much of the reason behind this fascination, I think, may be self-preservation. I want to understand my mental health and that of others because I hope that leaves me in the strongest possible position to face whatever may be coming my way. For me the scariest prospect about my mental health has always been that I don’t understand it.

“Why?” is a very popular question for those figuring out how to deal with a mental illness. Whether it be their own or that of someone close to them. To coin the very popular phrase, if only I had a pound for every time I’ve asked myself WHY I’m feeling a certain way or can’t stop thinking certain things.

But of course we ask WHY. To understand WHY is to figure out HOW to make it feel better.

So I also talk openly about my experiences out of a sense of duty. I feel a distinct camaraderie with anyone and everyone when they are discussing their mental health, and I feel proud of them for doing so. Even when I don’t really know them. And I feel it’s my duty to do the same.

Because I’ve come to see that I’m very lucky to have teetered on the edge of breaking down and pulled through. That I had at my disposal, just when I was good and ready to engage in it, a fantastic, free, accessible counsellor who helped me to understand that there’s nothing wrong with me and more importantly, how to cope when I’m thoroughly convinced that there is. How to ride it out. How to learn from it. How to make sure it’s my approach to mental illness, and not the fact that I’ve suffered it, that defines me.

So anyway, I’m always thinking about mental health and about the personal and societal minefield that surrounds it.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2015 is wrapping up today and I’ve been so encouraged by a lot of what I’ve seen over this past week. It’s clear to me that we’ve come so far in our approach and attitude to mental health and I truly think that we can continue a significant way down that long road during my lifetime.

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One thing that has struck me lately though, is the gulf between levels of acceptance across different mental health conditions.

This particular bee found it’s way into my bonnet when I was watching that programme, you know the one, where people who’ve self-identified their cleaning regime in their home as obsessive compulsive, are merrily sent off to take to task the homes of hoarders. Great. But the problem I have is that while the ‘cleaners’ are identified as having obsessive compulsive behaviours, the hoarders largely aren’t. Yes, the events in their lives leading up to them living the way that they are, are touched upon. But there is most often very little understanding or empathy employed. The obsessive compulsive cleaner rocks up and quickly proceeds to tell the obsessive compulsive hoarder that they’re lazy/disgusting/insert generic insult here, and as the dramatic music plays over close-up shots of piles of unnecessary junk taking up the place where the bed should be, we agree. Because that environment is disgusting, and we can’t imagine how anyone could want to live that way..

But let’s stop for a minute and take a look at the hoarder’s situation from a different perspective. Through the open-minded, empathetic eyes with which we observe the ‘cleaner’ explaining the cleaning regime which, in a lot of cases, impacts considerably on their quality of life. The motivations behind their cleaning behaviours are undoubtedly complex beyond measure, as are the hoarding behaviours of their co-star. But if we strip it all back just for a moment and look at both on a very basic level. These are the behaviours of somebody seeking control. If my personal experiences are anything to go by, they’re both scared.

So why are our levels of sensitivity and empathy so different? Why do we nod in stern agreement while the hoarder is forced, with no psychological or emotional support, to throw away things that – no matter how hard it is for us to believe – mean everything to them; whilst we’d (rightly so) be absolutely horrified if the roles were reversed and the hoarder was let loose on the cleaner’s home in muddy wellies then encouraged to tut and tell them they’re too uptight, forcing them to ignore the mess and go about their day, no cleaning allowed!

Breaking the cycle of debilitating obsessions and compulsions is about learning what thoughts and emotions are causing them and how those can be better dealt with. And this applies no matter what those behaviours are. There can be a place for being forced to learn that not carrying out your obsessive compulsive behaviours will not result in the negative repercussions that you’re so terrified of. And sometimes the only way to do that is to have someone not allow you to do them. But that has to go along with the proper emotional and psychological support.

The first behaviours through which my anxieties presented themselves to me were very much based on cleanliness. It involved all sorts of things but centered, as for so many others, on washing my hands excessively. This is what I got used to and thought I understood. So when I managed to curb these behaviours, get my hands to look ‘normal’ again and stopped spending excessive amounts of time in any bathroom I walked into, I thought I had ‘cured’ myself.

The anxieties at the root of those behaviours though, have gone on to present themselves in many different ways in the last decade and when I finally sought the dreaded ‘professional help’ last year and commenced cognitive behavioural therapy, we focussed on the root anxieties and I realised how closely linked all of my supposedly different experiences were.

I’ve been the obsessive compulsive cleaner but I’ve also struggled with compulsive eating and believe me, that one’s a much harder sell to others when you’re trying to make them understand; and to yourself when you’re trying not to feel ashamed. After all, being clean – socially accepted. Being greedy – not so much.

So that’s what’s been bugging me lately on the subject of mental health awareness, but I’m so encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 7 days that I’m confident we can close the gap between our understanding and acceptance of various mental health conditions through stopping and asking WHY.

Does that person that you’re watching on TV want to live that way, in a pile of their own filth; dangerously overweight; dangerously underweight; with no time to do anything but try to satisfy heir need to clean; drinking a bottle of vodka every day. Of course they don’t. So instead of judging the behaviours, let’s stop and wonder WHY the individual feels like they have to carry on doing them.

An afterthought…

I don’t imagine that I’m coming from some place of divine transcendence here and am exempt from having preconceptions, I just try to recognise and confront them as much as I can. After all, while writing this I repeatedly had to go back and change ‘his’ or ‘her’ to ‘their’ because I kept unwittingly assuming the genders of the imaginary ‘cleaner’ and ‘hoarder’. The obsessive compulsive cleaner I saw in my head was a woman, and the obsessive compulsive hoarder – a man.

I don’t know why?

Anxiety and Focus – mortal enemies?

First of all I feel like the title of this post might be a little misleading so maybe I should warn you – if you’re looking for any enlightenment here then I should probably ‘manage expectations’ a bit. I don’t think I necessarily have any answers to the questions that I want to talk about. But then I suppose that’s probably why I want to talk about them.

So here goes. Concentration doesn’t come easily to me. And this means that writing doesn’t come easily. Nor does reading, at least in as much as I struggle to get ‘lost’ in a book the way I used to be able to. If my 10-year-old self could see how slowly I get through a novel these days she’d be horrified. This is no revelation though, we’re probably all familiar with this change as part of being an adult (I’m getting there) and having adult responsibilities (I like to call them distractions).

But for me concentration is often made all the more difficult by my anxiety. Again I’m sure everyone reading this will identify with that at some level. We’re all human, we’re complex, and we worry about things. We all have various every day distractions and longer-term worries from which it’s hard to detach. So the way I see it, anxiety is really a continuum along which we all fluctuate as we pass through days, weeks, months and years. Like the bubble in a spirit level, we’re so rarely on a completely even keel.

After all modern life is so fast-paced. You only have to realise that there’s so much going on that tips and tricks about how to balance all of the elements of your life and still be productive, without being bogged down in the infinite details and opportunities for becoming burnt out, have become currency.

For me the speed with which thoughts run through my head at any given time sits up there at 10,000 miles per hour, plus. I worry about everything. Then I worry about the fact that I worry about everything. Then I worry about the fact that I’m capable of being worried about worrying about everything and whether I should be concerned about that. On rare occasions when I’m momentarily not worrying about anything, I start to worry that I’m forgetting something important that needs worrying about. I run over things in my head until, usually within a few seconds, I find a suitable candidate to commence worrying about.

I often hear people talking about those nights when they can’t sleep because they’re over-thinking. They’re really taking stock of their lives and I can always empathise because I know all too well that can be a scary thing to do, especially if you’re overly critical of yourself. At these times people take a step back from the everday, look inwards and face difficult truths about what they might need to change. They make tough decisions and they do so while over-analysing minute details and beating themselves up for this, that and the other.

I hear people talk about these episodes of over-thinking and I empathise. I also wonder what it’s like to not be thinking like that all of the time. Because reflection isn’t a once-in-a-while, sleepless-night, take-stock-and-see-if-I-need-to-change-direction thing for me. It’s a continual and almost entirely relentless daily, hourly process.

So although on the whole I’m a very motivated person, I want to get things done and I do, and when I do something I do it absolutely to the best of my ability (and then worry that I could have done better); behind all of this is the fact that I often have to work very, very hard on focusing my head on a task. On concentration.

And it’s not the constant nature of this mindset that makes things difficult. It’s the level of minute detail that my head insists on drilling down into.

Now I don’t mean to sound self-absorbed here, I know that by probably the longest shot possible, I’m not the only person that lives this way. That’s at least 80% of the reason that I talk about these things, because I know there are legions of people who will identify with them, the other 20% of my reasoning being wholly selfish –  it helps me figure these things out. So I’m just trying to describe how it is for me because that’s all that I know intimately.

What I’m trying to say is that although I’m thankful for the way I am because it is all of me, as a package, that’s gotten me what I’ve achieved so far and that makes up my potential for the future; nevertheless sometimes I just can’t help thinking, surely it doesn’t have to be quite this difficult.

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about focus. About working out how to, at will, get into that positive feedback loop of motivation, concentration and productivity that we all experience on our most fruitful days. That focus that overrides the powerful impulse to become distracted by whether I’ve remembered everything I need to factor in before going to pick up my first car next week; whether the conversation I had this morning came across as I meant it to or if I made a bad impression; what meals I’m going to cook next week and what I need to buy for them from Asda; or whether writing this post is what I should be doing with this particular Sunday morning or if there’s something more important that I’m neglecting.

We all know there are few better feelings than when you’re having a really productive day, when you’re really engaged in what you’re doing and you’re getting loads done. Ticking things off the to-do list. We all know that once you’re in that zone the motivation and therefore the focus and concentration, feeds itself.

From a personal point of view, I don’t think that my anxiety prevents me from achieving anything. I can’t let it because the anxiety about not achieving anything is the kind that I feel most acutely. However, the day to day ‘busy-ness’ in my head can make concentration and focus difficult to maintain. Sometimes trying to concentrate on something can feel like a major conflict of interests involving trying my damnedest to stop thinking (something I spent a long time trying very hard to do while I hauled ass through my teenage years with OCD), in order to make room so that I can engage and guess what, think.

Now I’m always going to have to live with my anxiety. I’ve had two and a half decades to get used to that fact and as scary as it sometimes is to admit it, I’ve accepted that I’ll never ‘master’ it. I also know though, that I wouldn’t have achieved what I have in recent years without it. It pushes me forwards, albeit along a very bumpy track. I know that I can handle it and I plan to never stop learning more about how to live productively and more importantly, happily, alongside it.

So if we can’t remove the distraction that anxiety brings a-knocking, I guess the question is how do we learn to tap in, whenever we need to, to whatever it is that’s spurring us on those days when we’re measuring about 10 feet tall and feeling like we can achieve absolutely anything that we want to, right in that moment. That motivation that can allow us to override the distractions.

Or is that the wrong way to look at it? Is it less about working out what magical factor gets us over that subconscious brick wall on our most productive, focused days; and more about working out what the wall is constructed of and therefore how to empower ourselves to start chipping away at it on the harder days?

In other words what is it that isn’t there on those days when nothing can stop you, rather than what is?

Looking at my struggles with my subconscious through that lense, I think that my own brick wall is strongly founded in the fear of going head-long into things and giving them my all – and failing – and the way I’ll then feel about myself if I do. For me, that’s what’s conspicuously absent on my most productive, most effective, most powerful days. The absence of it is what gets me excited and in turn helps me zone in and focus, enough to distract from the distractions.

So can dismantling the wall be as simple (read terrifying) as just having to keep putting myself out there and learning the hard way that I can do it, whatever the ‘it‘ happens to be at the time?

Will that message continue to stick for longer and longer each time? And is that momentum the tool that I need, to dismantle the wall?

Thank you for listening to my somewhat inconclusive ramblings, if you like this post I’d really appreciate if you would share any comments you have, or any personal perspectives, below.

What’s your brick wall? How can you/do you chip away at it?