Category Archives: conversation

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

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?

On Why I’ll Never Stop being a Chatterbox

One night this week while having a few cocktails with some work friends, to say farewell to someone who is moving on to pastures new, I got possibly the best compliment I could ever ask for. One of the girls told me that since meeting and getting to know me, she feels a lot more comfortable with talking about mental health.

It was said in such an unassuming, casual way and I think that’s partly why it meant so much. I’m not one to easily accept compliments at face value (I doubt myself way too much to do the easily) and after all we had enjoyed considerably more 2-4-1 cocktails than had originally been intended. But I knew that this was said genuinely, mainly because it was clear after she saw my reaction that she hadn’t a clue it was going to mean as much to me as it does.

Now I want to stress that this was a work friend I haven’t known for all that long and whose knowledge of my life and experiences is comprised only of what I have posted on this blog since I started it before Christmas, and a few mental health-related conversations here and there at work. Natural, unobtrusive, day-to-day conversations about mental health and mental illness. This is not someone who I have dramatically opened up my heart and soul to and sat sharing experiences with for hours on end.

This is not someone who has come to me with problems that they wanted to talk about, or who is having a hard time with their own mental health, as far as I know. Any discussion that we have had about these issues has been just that, basically just every day chat.

So being a chatterbox can be a good thing – take that teachers of Blyth!

As you’ll know if you follow this blog or have basically ever met me in the last 5 years or so, I think that being open about my own experiences with mental illness is the best gift that I can give back to all of the people who have supported me through them – whether by telling me about their’s, talking to me about mine, or just not running a mile when they’ve realised I am about as far as it gets from this mythical ‘normal’ person people are always banging on about. I am what could be described as ‘aggressively’ open about my experiences and I’m fully aware that I’ve made people feel uncomfortable on occasion with my openness. After all unfortunately, the stiff upper lip is not yet dead .

I know as well as anyone that having the courage to ask that friend who doesn’t quite seem themselves lately if there is anything they want to talk about, then listening while they tell you about the ‘weird’ things happening in their head lately and not running a mile, is important. Spending some time reading up on OCD or anorexia or post-natal depression or schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or bulimia or anxiety disorders because you’re worried about someone close to you, so that you can understand what they may be going through and how you can offer them the best support, is crucial.

But what is at the very root of fighting the stigma around mental illness, in my eyes, and what has the power to allow all of these types of support to become more widely available for everyone and even become ingrained in the way that we think about each other and about our health; really is just being willing to chat about it. It’s about not going awkwardly silent if it is inadvertently brought up in a conversation with your workmates. It’s about not ignoring that it may be a factor in whatever it is that you happen to be chatting about, because you don’t want to ‘bring the mood down.’

It would seem that we don’t need to have personal experiences of mental illness and/or to share those experiences with the world, in order to make a contribution to the opening up of discourse around mental health, we just need to allow it to be a topic of everyday, ‘normal’ conversation.

This way we can help to show everyone that it is an everyday, ‘normal’ issue and help to banish the “I’m a freak” belief system that can make mental illnesses even more difficult to deal with.