Getting the Message Out

It’s been a long time since my last post, and that’s part of the story.  The everyday pressures of a normal life: work, study, family, health, etc. can lead me to the inappropriate conclusion that I don’t have the time to do the things that are beneficial to my health and sobriety.  Recently, I have struggled with my physical health, leading to reduced income and the associated financial stress, whilst trying to find a job in the mental health care or AOD sector.  During this period, I have been studying and continuing my volunteer roles. Consequently, I have not been exercising or journaling – two of the things that I find so helpful – and my mental health has suffered, leading me to do even less of the things that help!  Thankfully, I have now completed the first semester of 2018, so hopefully I can pick myself up and get back into my exercise and writing.

Recently, despite other issues, I have been fortunate to have been given a few opportunities to get the message out regarding the importance of consumer engagement in the recovery process.  Two of these came when I was asked to speak to management staff at the new University of Canberra Hospital, which is a rehabilitation facility on the UC Campus.  The mental health facility is a breath of fresh air.  Comprising 20 beds, split into pods of 4, each with it’s own kitchen, lounge and patio area, the space is more akin to a shared home rather than a hospital.  Hopefully, this should facilitate recovery.  There is also space for family members to stay in one of the pods, a first for Canberra I believe.  Residents will have access to gyms and shared outdoor areas, with opportunities for growing vegetables and other plants.  The ethos of the unit is to focus on the holistic health and recovery.  Whilst we are still woefully short of beds for mental health patients, this is a step in the right direction.

On Friday 8 June, I will be co-delivering a presentation to the Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies (NADA) Exploring Therapeutic Interventions Conference in Sydney.  The presentation will discuss the work of the Community Advisory Group of Directions Health Services (an AOD service provider).  The CAG comprises current and former clients, carers and staff and is a forum for reviewing services and possible initiatives.  It’s a great opportunity to both repay Directions for the help they have provided and to Pay It Forward to help the people that are still suffering.

on Tuesday 12 June I will be part of a panel discussion on mental health immediately following a performance of Diary of a Madman at the Street Theatre.

http://www.thestreet.org.au/shows/conversation-tipping-point

This should prove to be an interesting evening of great theatre and hopefully stimulating conversation.  It’s been a few years since I last went to see live theatre (Yes, Minister at the Canberra Theatre in 2012 I think), so I’m looking forward to it.  I grew up around theatre and my first job was at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester, so it should be good.

 

 

 

To the top of Australia – hiking in Mt Kosciuszko National Park

Before university restarted,  I took three days off from the paper round and drove down to Thredbo for a few days serious hiking in Mt Kosciuszko National Park.  My goal was to climb to the highest point in Australia, the peak of Mt Kosciuszko.  I checked out the trails and discovered that I could catch a ski lift from Thredbo village to Eagles Nest, and then have a “moderate” intensity, 13km round trip walk to the peak, or I could attempt to climb from the village.  This hike was described as “strenuous”, it basically runs parallel to the ski runs.  On further reading, the description in the guides was based on the descent – there was no description of the ascent!

Tuesday.

After getting up at 1:30am and completing my paper round, I prepare for my trip.  The drive down to Thredbo takes me through one of my favourite places, Jindabyne.  If I could afford to take the risk, I wouldn’t mind setting up in Jindabyne.  Better buy that lotto ticket!

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I take a walk around the visitor centre and pick up a better copy of the trails map and a guidebook to the trails.  Some of the exhibits of life during the building of the Snowy Mountains Hydro scheme are fascinating and well worth a look.  I was a bit grossed out by one of the exhibits though:

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I’m hoping this wasn’t inflicted on me when I was a bairn!

Not only is Mt Kosciuszko named after a Pole but there is another famous Polish explorer recognised in the Snowys.

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I finish the drive to Thredbo and check into my room, which has a great view of the challenge awaiting me.

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And no, I wasn’t referring to the pool.

Wednesday

Ah, luxury – no early morning alarms and I can sleep in.  Well, I manage to sleep until nearly 7am, which is devine decadence on a weekday!  I have a light breakfast then head out to find the Merritts Nature Trail that will take me up to Eagles Nest.  This first stage is steep  and characterised by numerous steps, some of which have very large risers!  Fortunately there is also plenty of shade, as the temperature is rising.

I cross several running streams, taking time to enjoy the sound of running water, which I always find relaxing.  These moments also give me a chance to catch my breath and get my heart rate down to at least an aerobic zone.

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I push on up the climb, encountering just three other people between Thredbo village and Eagles Nest, which suits me just fine.  About 3/4 of the way up, I get a view of my interim target.  Doesn’t look far, but it was a hard slog with many rest stops to get there.

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Eventually, about 3 hours after leaving the village I reach Eagles Nest.  From here the peak is about 6.5km away on a well defined and formed track.  The crowds get significantly larger as the walk is suitable for all ages with decent mobility.

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The peak is visible over the final few kilometres as the track takes you around and passed Rawsons Pass where there are much welcome toilets, and then up to the peak.  At 2228m above sea level, I’m now at the top of Australia.

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It was extremely windy up there and as the ski lift closes at 4:30, I needed to get back to Eagles Nest before then if I was to avoid hiking back down to the village.  By now I was tired and I didn’t fancy attempting some of those steps going downhill – a momentary loss of concentration could easily result in a tumble and badly twist ankle or knee.

The return was pretty easy, the path is formed by metal grating over most of the length, so I was able to maintain a good pace.  I still managed to enjoy the views and the isolation, or to quote Buzz Aldrin’s description of the moon, magnificent desolation.

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As I approach Eagles Nest, I am confronted by signs advertising the bistro, which is located at the terminus to the ski lift.  These signs promise ice cold beers and ice cream that us sturdy walkers have earned.  The beer is a definite no-no and I saw no sign of ice cream whilst there, but I did enjoy a nice cold lemonade before getting the ski lift back to the village.

On riding the ski lift, I realised that it is possible to take your bike on the lift and then ride the tracks down from Eagles Nest to Thredbo – next time I’m bringing my mountain bike as those tracks look awesome!

According to my Garmin, I hiked a total of 21km today, in about 6 hours with a net climb of approximately 900m.

Thursday

I am pleasantly surprised to find that I can move this morning!  After breakfast and a bit of souvenir shopping, I hit the Thredbo River trail towards Dead Horse Gap.  No major climbs for me today, I hope!

The trail takes me through parts of the village and then alongside the golf course.  I find what has to be the bedt named chalet in the village, surely only party animals stay here!

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As I head out of the village, the trail starts to follow the Thredbo River, becoming undulating in places.  There are a few short sections of steps and climbing, but my legs feel strong and if the school kids on their field trip can manage it, then so can I!  Apart from the kids and a few other small groups of people, my preference for solitude is met and I am able to relax and enjoy the countryside.

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After completing the hike, I head into the village for a coffee and a slice of cake – I’ve burnt the calories, I’ve earned it 🙂   About 18km today, in a nice and easy 4 hours.

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I head back to my room to flop and read.  Mentally I try to prepare myself for the weeks ahead.  The second year of my Psychology and Sport & Exercise Science degrees starts next week and I have classes, tutorials or labs every day.  But before I even get to class, I will be up at 1:30am each morning to do my paper round.  On top of that, my committee work is about to recommence.  Between all of that, I will need to find the time and energy to train for the Sri Chimnoy 100km (actually 105 this year, but no extension to the 18 hour cur off limit) run later this year, and all the other things like cooking, shopping and sleeping!  It’s probably a good thing that I’m reading this little gem right now.

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As I enjoy my book, I can hear sounds of nightlife in the village for the first time since my arrival.  There is live music coming from the pub and I am tempted to investigate, but decide not to risk it.  Instead, I snuggle under the doona, put Veruca Salt on my phone and continue with my book.

Friday

I’m tempted to stay and do another walk, but I’m also acutely aware that I’ve not been to a meeting for over a week and so I check out and hit the road.  A quick stop in Jindabyne to get a coffee and then on up to Canberra and the serenity of a meeting in Lyons.

As with most holidays, this one was way too short.  I only really started to unwind on Thursday and I was on the way home Friday.  Next time I will probably stay in a place where I can prepare my own food, as being off-season the options for eating in the village were limited.  I will also bring my bike next time, although I will have to hire a full face helmet, as normal bike helmets are not permitted on the trails.

And so, let the madness begin!

 

Lions and Foo Fighters – a tale of two visits to the ANZ Stadium

In late June 2013, my alcoholism was reaching it’s nadir fuelled by job insecurity and personal relationship issues.  Or more accurately, they were two of the excuses I made to justify my drinking.  If I am honest, I would have been drinking heavily even if things were going great because at that time I had, for want of a better term, completely lost my soul.  I had lost my work ethic and my contribution to family life was purely financial; I was never there emotionally, and if I was there physically I was usually so far gone that I might just as well been absent.  Earlier in the year we had bought a house but before I had paid the first mortgage instalment, my employer announced that they were in financial difficulties and were looking to reduce their wages costs.  I was the highest earner in an office with sluggish business; my position was in serious doubt.  Eventually I was made redundant and re-employed with a 40% pay cut and a demotion of two grades.

It was against this backdrop that I traveled up to Sydney to watch the final test of the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia in 2013.  The test series was nicely balanced at one a piece and a great game was promised.  Unfortunately after drinking solidly from about 6am, my day became one of recurring blackouts, occasional clarity and general stupidity!  I have virtually no recollection of the first half, but as friends wisely limited my access to alcohol during the game, I do remember that the Lions put in a storming performance in the second half to win the test and hence the series, by 2 tests to 1.

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The next morning, I was booked on the train back to Canberra and headed to Central at about 10, with the intention of doing some shopping on George Street first.  Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and I got as far as the Palace Hotel, an old haunt, and decided to have one drink.  Unfortunately, one is too many and 100 is never enough, and the inevitable happened- I stayed and continued drinking.  As the departure time for my train approached, I was settling in.  I then had a brainwave: I would fly back to Canberra!  The flight is only about 30 minutes, compared to over 4 hours on the train.  I could stay in the bar a while longer, hop on a train to the airport, get the next flight and still be home on time and nobody would be any the wiser.  Genius!

Of course, that is not what happened.  I arrived at Sydney Airport at about 2pm and went to get my ticket.  First set back; the next flight wasn’t until 6pm.  This was a Sunday, not a week day with flights every hour.  So, I did the obvious and went to the bar.  Second set back; I missed the flight!  I had to go out and buy a second ticket and that flight was another 2 hours wait.  I eventually got home after 10pm, about 5 hours later than planned.  Well, the best laid plans of mice and men….

A few months later everything came to a head and I entered the detox unit at the Canberra Hospital on 17 October 2013 and I haven’t had a drink since.

In January 2018 I returned to the ANZ Stadium, this time to see the Foo Fighters.  Booking my ticket only a week before the concert, I was unable to get a seat in an alcohol free zone, so I was a bit anxious about how I would feel, especially in the lead up to the show.  I’ve found that once the main event has started, I’m focussed on that and I’m not too  bothered by what is happening around me.

I stayed in a ‘safe’ hotel, i.e. one that doesn’t have minibars in the rooms, which was a short walk from Central Station.  Arriving early at the stadium, I was feeling the anxiety build whilst queuing for a T-shirt.  Once inside the stadium, I found my seat and then got some food, ensuring that I had plenty of water available.  The first support act, The Preatures played a short but impressive set.  I wasn’t so impressed by Weezer though.

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I was feeling quite comfortable as there were a few families near me and not many people seemed to be drinking.  That did change just as the Foo Fighters took to the stage and all seats around me filled up.  The show was great, it was wonderful to be able to remember it the next day, and now as I write this.  Whilst not the visual spectacle presented by Muse, I enjoyed it more as they avoided obscure tracks unlike Muse.  By the end though, I was very tired and beginning to get a bit uncomfortable with the way the couple in front of me were getting through 4 scooners every 20 minutes or so (like I would have done) so I decided to beat the rush for the train back to Central.  I was able to listen to the encore tracks as I made the short walk to Olympic Park Station anyway.

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It was good for me to lay the ghost of that Lions weekend to rest, and I have some great memories of the show.  One enduring memory is that of the display of ‘torches’ in the crowd whilst the band played Hero.

Trainspotting: Self-sabotage in Auld Reekie

 

1985 was shaping up to be a great year for me.  I was 23 years old and finally seemed to be getting my drinking under control through my athletics and my increasing interest in taking my education to another level.  Early in the year, I had a conversation with someone who worked for the Leicestershire Education Department that was destined to change my life completely.  Following a road race relay, I had to run two legs as my team only had 2 members instead of 3, we were relaxing in the Leicestershire County Council Staff Social Club and I was informed that, although I had been working for 6 years, I would still be entitled to a full grant to study at university.  Back in 1985 there were no student loans, the fees were paid in full and you got a decent grant to cover basic living costs. On spec, I applied to several universities and to my surprise I was given an unconditional offer to study civil engineering at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.

In April, I ran the London Marathon in 2 hours 43 mins, a time that remains a personal best and is the only time that I have not walked at any stage in a full-marathon.  

London 1985

One enduring memory of that day is that after finishing, I travelled back to my home in Leicester, turned on the TV only to see live coverage of people who were still running! The next day I travelled up to Edinburgh to meet members of the civil engineering faculty and tour the university.  I liked what I saw and accepted the offer without any further consideration.

In late spring I was awarded the most improved athlete of the year by my club, Leicester Coritanians. 

Trophy

Things looked good, Band Aid was rocking the world and I had a great two weeks in Porec, in the former Yugoslavia.  On return from that holiday, I returned home and opened my mail to learn I had won a trip to Brussels to watch the athletics at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels!

It was with great excitement that I left my job of a little over 6 years and travelled up to Edinburgh in the first week of October.  Things started well; I was coping with my studies, well most of them, calculus was tough.  I joined the university Cross Country Club and was soon posting good times in the local cross country league.  Soon there was talk about me becoming the first runner from Heriot Watt to be selected to represent Scottish Universities in the annual three-way international cross country meet to be held in Edinburgh in late Autumn.

As easily as I had settled into my studies and cross country, I had also settled into the Edinburgh drinking scene!  Very early on I had learned that, unlike England in those days, the pubs did not close during the afternoon – beer drinkers heaven!  And so I discovered the delights of Rose Street, in particular the Rose Street Brewery, The Last Drop, Deacon Brodies, Greyfriars Bobby and many more.

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Photo from bestofedinburgh.com

The day before the trial, classes finished at 12:30 and after lunch I headed into the city to get some text books.  About 4pm I remembered that one of my class mates, Alan, had said that a friend of his was coming up from Stoke and would be arriving at Waverley Station about now.  I thought that it would be nice to have a beer and welcome him to Auld Reekie before heading home and preparing for the big race.  Yeah, right!  Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was a burgeoning alcoholic and one drink is never enough.  The drinks flowed and the hours passed and we finally got back to the halls of residence at about 3:30 Saturday morning, with the trial now less than 11 hours away.  Not only had I blown my chances in the trial – I managed to get around the course, but only just – but I then proceeded to blow my chances with the most beautiful Denise.  Denise lived in the same block as Alan and for some reason we thought it would be a good idea to wake her up at 3:30. The sight of three very drunk Sasanachs making complete fools of themselves was not going to help my cause, and from then on I was too embarrassed to even talk to her again until the third year of my degree, when she was in the same halls as me and in her final year.  By that time my mum was dying of cancer and I was a complete mess, barely managing to get through the academic year, yet alone making a success of any form of relationship.

Many years later and with the benefit of over four year’s sobriety, I can recognise that blowing my chances in the trial and with Denise were forms of self-sabotage, something that I would excel at in the coming years, as my life was driven by constant fear.  In the case of the trial it was a fear of success that held me back.  I knew that I would qualify if I ran to the best of my ability and current form, but then what?  I would have to maintain that level of performance or even better it.  May be, I subconsciously thought, it would be better to fail now, whilst the expectations were lower, rather than later when more people would depend on me to perform well.  In the case of Denise, it was my complete fear of rejection and inability to approach someone I liked that led my undoing. Even though Denise’s friends encouraged me to talk to her, even after the debacle in her corridor, I could not bring myself to do so. I’m still hopeless at reading the opposite sex, and in all of my longer-term relationships, it was the lady that made the first move.  At least that way I don’t have to judge whether she is interested or not!

Nowadays I am able to recognise when fear is beginning to control my decision making and take appropriate steps to address it so that I can continue to challenge my limits.  It is hard work, and at times I feel like I am in a constant battle with my depression and anxiety, but generally that fight is worth it.  I hope that I will continue to grow during 2018.

The Bridge

In my mid-teens I was a bit of a drifter with no clear idea of what I wanted to do later in life. It was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to be a professional sportsman or rockstar, being devoid of talent in both spheres and without the good looks of a Robert Plant or Marc Bolan that might have mitigated for a complete lack of musical ability.  I was interested in writing and history, so considered journalism and I enjoyed science, but struggled at higher maths, so I was not going to be the astronomer that I had dreamt of whilst at junior school.

My lack of direction was exacerbated by having recently discovered by new best friend – alcohol!  Things got so bad that, in my final school report before sitting my GCSE/CSE exams, the majority of my teachers reported that I had no chance of attending further education, when just a few years previously I was assessed as a shoe-in for university.

During this period, I would ride the bus into Leicester city centre and I became aware of some construction works along the Melton Road in Belgrave.

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Over the next few weeks a bridge began to take shape and I remember thinking

“This looks interesting. What’s this about?”

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And so began a thirty plus year relationship with civil engineering.  I mustered down and proved my teachers wrong and was admitted to Sixth Form to study A Level maths and engineering science.  Unfortunately, my burgeoning alcoholism was becoming dominant and I chose to drop out after one year, and signed on as a Trainee Civil Engineering Technician with Leicester City Council.  During this period I received an excellent schooling in civil engineering and obtained a Higher Certificate in Civil Engineering via day release.  I soon realised that I had more ambition than I thought and so in September 1985 I left a well-paid job and returned to full-time education. I studied Civil Engineering at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, gaining a Beer Drinkers First (Upper Second Class Honours degree) and then earned a Master’s Degree in Foundation Engineering from Birmingham University.

I loved my job, I loved being part of something that left a lasting legacy and, that I could see later and say “I was part of the team that designed and built that!”.  As my career progressed it took me all over the UK and then Hong Kong and China and finally Australia.  I had everything I wanted; a house, a family, a very well-paid job.  Or did I?

As my career progressed, so did my alcoholism, depression and anxiety.  A progressive illness is how many people describe alcoholism, and not only was it progressing, but so was my disillusionment with engineering.  Long hours, a lack of consideration for the welfare of staff in order to maximise profit and a nagging feeling that I was not where I wanted to be.  Throw a failing relationship into the pot and my alcoholism became dominant and my work ethics evaporated.  On the outside, things looked great, but on the inside I was dying – physically, emotionally and spiritually.  My engineering speciality is geotechnics; I design foundations.  I know that if you build on saturated sand in an earthquake zone, you take your foundations deep to bedrock, because when the earthquake strikes, the saturated sand liquifies and down comes your building! My life was that house with shallow footings on saturated sand and my earthquake inevitably struck in late September 2013.

I spiralled completely out of control until finally surrendering and entering detox on 17 October 2013. Whilst in detox the idea of attending a residential rebab facility was planted and I was accepted into the Arcadia House Therapeutic Community.  The only problem – I had to wait until early January 2014 for the next intake.  I white knuckled it and attended as many support groups as I could during the period, remaining dry, but not emotionally sober – in fact I was as mad as a cut snake during that period!  During my eight weeks in Arcadia House I lost my job on medical grounds, something that horrified me at the time, but now I realise it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.  More importantly, during my time at Arcadia House, I was given the gift of the beginnings of an emotional sobriety.

As I left Arcadia, I reconnected with the internet and frantically searched for information about my beloved Leicester City.  As I did this, a story in the Leicester Mercury caught my eye.  After 36 years, the Melton Road Flyover was to be demolished.

imageThe bridge that was being built as the initial seeds of my career path were being planted; as the early warning signs of my alcoholism were beginning to display themselves; that had been in service across the same time span as my career and my addiction, was now to be demolished at the same time that my life was about to take a new direction.  It was the end of an era, in more ways than one.  Now that has to be a message from a higher power.

imageNearly four years on and I’m still taking a new direction.  I’m studying for a double degree in Psychology and Sports & Exercise Science and I’m an active mental health advocate amongst other things, none of them related to civil engineering.  Four years ago that would have been unthinkable, but once again I love the work I do and relish the challenges ahead.  My depression and anxiety can still can hinder me, but I don’t allow them to define me or stop me.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step

This week has finally seen me overcome my inertia and get back into the gym!  It’s a far cry from completing 100km over the rugged terrain surrounding the Bush Capital, but it’s a start; and as Laozi said in the Tao Te Ching “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Training so far this week has comprised four sessions, each including an hour on the treadmill and some weights or core strengthening work.  I am attempting to be guided by science and evidence based recommendations rather than my usual instinct of gunning it!  This involves going slow to get faster more efficiently.  As discussed by Rich Roll in Finding Ultra, Christopher McDougall in Natural Born Heroes, and Dr Philip Maffetone in The Maffetone Method, amongst others, I am focussing my efforts within Zone 2.  This involves keeping my heart rate between 98 and 115bpm.  The fat burn heart rate range is approximately 60-70% of 220 – your age.  Keeping my heart rate this low is extremely difficult, and feels like I am hardly exercising!  However, the EVIDENCE shows that if I keep with the programme I will eventually be able to go faster, without increasing my heart rate significantly.  This will mean that I will be exercising more efficiently and reducing the development of lactate in my blood.  By utilising my bodies fat stores I will also recuce my bodies dependence of blood sugars for energy, which can be depleted quickly and lead to fatigue.

I will persevere wih this programme as I have over 11 months to prepare and lay down the base mileage, which, all else being equal, will allow me to achieve my goal of completing the 100km in under 18 hours.

Mindful Walking and Muse

On Thursday I finished my paper round duties for the year, which means that for the next few weeks I won’t have to get up at 2:00am!  On Friday I drove up to Sydney for a short break.  I went to see Sydney FC play Melbourne City on the Friday, and then on Saturday morning I went for a three hour walk around the wetlands adjacent to Sydney Olympic Park.

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The weather was fine and sunny, and it was great to get away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney.  I turned off my music and walked without distraction, taking time to listen to nature, to notice the scents from the flora and nearby water, to notice the breeze on my skin, and to feel the connection of my feet on the ground.  In other words, I was walking mindfully.  Usually when I walk I do so at speed, with no attention or appreciation given to my surroundings.  This experience was far more relaxing and spiritual.

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Later on Saturday, I went to see Muse at the Qudos Bank Arena.  The show was good, but I wouldn’t call it great.  When they played the old favourites, the arena was bouncing, but unlike Kasabian earlier in the year, they did not seem to have the whole crowd up and dancing in the aisles.  There were periods during some of the more experimental stuff, when I even began to feel a bit bored!  Having said that, the show was spectactular and the good far exceeded the bad.

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Also, as I get more comfortable attending events such as Muse and the football, I can relax and enjoy them more.  When I went to see the Jezabels in October 2016, I was very anxious and arrived at the venue as late as possible to avoid any temptation to drink.  On Saturday, I was able to queue up at the bar and order a bottle of water without any axiety.   The $5 that cost was a bit much, but I didn’t let it create a resentment, which it most certainly would have done a little over four years ago.

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On Sunday I drove back to Canberra refreshed and ready to start my training tha I hope, no intend, will deliver a sub 18-hour 100km next November.

HALTS

Friday 15 December, 2017

The last seven days or so have been a bit crazy busy, with some major disappointments and personal tests.  However, I have been able to get through with support from friends, who reminded me of a basic concept of recovery; avoid the HALTS.

Hungry

Angry

Lonely

Tired

Stressed

These five feelings are frequently killers of recovery and living a balanced life, and I had allowed myself to become very tired and stressed.  Thankfully, friends intervened and gently guided me back to the right path.

The last seven days started out so optimistically, but first a bit of context.  After being out of the workforce for over 3 years, and receiving numerous rejections for jobs that I applied for, I decided to start my own company and be self-employed.  Running and exercise has always been important to me and has been a major part of my ongoing recovery from addiction and also helps me live with depression and anxiety.  Between completing Cert IVs in Mental Health and Alcohol & Other Drugs and commencing a Diploma in AOD, I had completed a Cert IV in Fitness, which would permit me to work as a personal trainer.  My long-term goal is to use exercise as part of a structured therapy programme to help people recover from addiction and/or manage their lives with a mental health issue – this is why I am now studying a double degree in Psychology and Sports & Exercise Science.  However, in order to be able to launch my business, e.g. buy equipment, marketing, etc., I needed additional income.  This led me to my current paid job, which is delivering newspapers to embassies and Australian Defence Force establishments around Canberra.  A significant drawback of this job is that I have to get up at 2am; a significant benefit is that I’ve usually finished no later than 9am, which frees up the rest of the day to pursue my real passions.  Of course, I’m usually in bed by 7pm, so I have no social life during the week!  Sleep can be at a premium keeping these hours.

So, back to the main narrative.  The past week started out so optimistically.  Having finished my paper round last Friday, I was part of a very energetic meeting that was one of the Working Groups trying to plan the launch of the proposed Canberra Recovery College.  A Recovery College is a concept where persons with lived experience of mental health issues can come together to learn in a safe and nurturing environment.  Courses are designed not simply by the educators, but together with the students.  This ensures that the courses provide content that will be of practical use for all persons, ‘consumers’, carers and support workers, involved in the recovery process.  Courses can be very basic, e.g. helping a person learn how to take care of themselves, through to providing pathways to higher education.  A very useful addition to the current education ‘infrastructure’ in Canberra.

Things started to go pear shaped on Monday.  First, I had to miss work as my car was booked in for service, so I lost a days pay.  The car had a flat battery, which had to be replaced, costing me over $300.  I got the car into service, then headed off to a Recovery College Steering Committee meeting.  At this meeting a bomb was dropped; the initial funding application had been rejected by Treasury, meaning that the funding application would not proceed to the second stage.  This was a major kick in the teeth to the project team, who had invested so much into the project.  Unfortunately, they were not the people who drafted the application, so they had no control over the quality of the submission.  The group are determined to continue the fight, but it was a major disappointment and my stress levels were rising.

After the meeting, I kicked my heels until I could collect my car.  Having bought the car on finance, I am required to use the garage associated with the dealer.  Usually a basic service costs me about $150.  This one was over $500, stress increasing exponentially!

Things got worse when I tried to get some sleep and my ‘neighbour’, was on the phone for hours organising medical tourism then talking to her family in Hong Kong.  That disturbance lasted until nearly 1am, by which time I had no chance of any sleep.  I then proceeded to do my paper round, which includes 3 hours of driving, with no sleep for over 24 hours.  On completion of my paper round, I then attended a board meeting of the ACT Mental Health Consumer Network.  I was then supposed to attend an end of year BBQ, but as a friend reminded me with a timely text: Beware the HALTS!  I was letting stress and tiredness override self care.  Not a good plan.  I went home and tried to relax, not easy when my depression and anxiety eagerly await the times when I stop ‘moving’ and come flooding in to remind me of all sorts of negative things about me.  Fun – NOT.

Fortunately, I got some sleep and equilibrium has been restored for now.  I have now finished the paper round duties for the year and later today I am driving up to Sydney for a short break.  I am celebrating 4 years sobriety, 5 years off the cigarettes, and my 56 birthday by going to see Sydney FC play Melbourne City tonight and then Muse in concert on Saturday night.

Self care is essential and is not being selfish.  If I am not well, I cannot help others.

 

Don’t Look Back

 

My first real experience of the thrill of running came back in the spring of 1976, when I was 14 years old.  I had always ran around alot, and was known as an enthuisiastic runner when playing football, rather than the skilled player who would go on to play for my beloved Leicester City that I dreamed of being.  I can still remember the PE session at Stonehill High School, when Mr Paine told me about some athletic trials, which would be held at the adjacent school, Longslade, the next day.  The trials would be held to determine who would represent North Leicester in the Leicestershire Schools County Championships later that year.  He suggested that I might like to try for the Junior Boys 3000m.  I had never even heard of that distance as a race, let alone ran it.

“How many laps of the track is it?” I asked.

“7.5” he replied.

“OK, I’ll give it a go.”.  So, off I went and ran 7.5 laps of the school’s grass track.  It was very slow, but I knew I could at least finish.

The next day after school, I got changed and walked across the campus to Longslade.  My dad arrived from work to watch, which made me pleased but a little nervous.  This was the first time a parent had come to watch me play!  The race started and I went slowly at first, but soon found myself in second place (something that I would get all too familiar with in the future!).  As the race progressed, I found myself closing down the leader, but it was hard work!  I had run the distance just once before, the previous day, and although I was reasonably fit, this was a different experience.  At 14, I didn’t smoke, but I had discovered the magic elixor that was alcohol!  My lungs seared as I strived to close the gap and finish in the top two.  Frequenty, I would look behind to make sure no one was closing in on me.  Finally I crossed the line in second place and promptly collapsed in a heap on the groumd!  Officials, other runners and school mates gathered around and my dad had to clear some space for me to recover, but I had done it!  I had qualified for the County Championships in my first real foot race!

 

Qualifier

Over the coming months, I found myself immersed in running.  There were two of us at Stonehill who dominated the local 1500m school races.  I felt very comfortable running alongside Tim (I think that was his name), and never really pushed myself.  If I was running comfortably and felt like pressing ahead, Tim would ask me to hold back and help him stay the course.  I would oblige and would always be beaten in a sprint finish.  As I said, I started to get used to coming second.

In addition to the two double PE sessions per week that were part of the school programme, Tim and I would train every lunchtime under the tutelage of Mr Paine.  During these sessions I encountered Fartlek training for the first time.  My fitness, and overall strength soared.  Whereas previously I struggled with events like shot put or javelin, I found that suddenly  I could post decent efforts in these events, without having done any upper body strength work.

Eventually the big day arrived, 12 June 1976.  To date, all of my races had been on school fields, with grass tracks and only a handful of teachers, parents, and other competitors watching.  This time I would be running on a synthetic track AND there was a grandstand!  The whole family turned out to watch me.  To say I was nervous, was an understatement.

This is the story of that afternoon, as I told it as part of my presentation to the first ever This Is My Brave: The Show to be held outside the USA, at the Tuggeranong Theatre Centre, Canberra, May 2017.

“3000m.  7.5 laps.  A long way.  I’ve run this far only twice before, back in May to qualify.  I check out the opposition.  15 other runners and I’m the smallest with the slowest qualifying time.  My only thought now:

“Don’t finish last!”.

“Stop thinking like this.  I’ve trained hard, I’m fit, I’m strong.”

“But I’m the smallest with the slowest qualifying time!”

The internal debate goes on and on…

We’re off!  The early pace is fast, not how I like it and I’m in last place as we pass the grandstand for the first time.  My worst fears panning out.

As the race unfurls, I settle and find myself moving up throught the field.  I’m feeling comfortable; strong.  By lap 5 I’m lapping tail enders and I’ve left the heat winner a long way back.

“Wow! This is going better than I expected.”

Entering the last lap I’m in second place.  I risk a quick look back – no one near me.  I look around and I’ve lost a yard.  300m to go, I’m 30m behind the leader.  I’m feeling strong, breathing easy.  Closing.  200m to go, I’m gaining his shoulder.  I look back, lose yards.  Have to catch up again.  We’re running stride for stride.

“I can do this!”

Or is it:

“Can I do this?”

I’m feeling strong, breathing easy.  What to do? Look back, no one there.  Look forward, I’ve lost yards again.  Waste energy regaining his shoulder.

150m to go.  Should I kick now?  A long kick after nearly 3000m.  Pace is increasing.  We’re stride for stride.  I’m strong, breathing easy.  Look back, still no one there.  Look forward, lost ground again.  Waste more energy regaining his shoulder.  100m to go, I’m no sprinter.  Wait then.  Look back.  Why?  Lost more yards!  Regain his shoulder.  Pace increases.  I’m strong; is he stronger?  I’m vaguely aware of the crowd.  80m to go, when to kick?  Look back again!  More wasted energy!  Only 60m to go.  Indecision.  40m to go.  Now or never.  Look back.  STUPID!  20m to go.  This is it!

“Go for it!”

Cross the line together – second place by a fraction of a second.

Later I see my time – 9 mins 43 seconds, more than 4.5 minutes faster than qualifying.  For the first time in my life I feel like a winner; gaining plaudits, not put downs.

Final.jpg

 

I wrote the base of this account as part of a creative therapy exercise when I was in a Drug & Alcohol Therapeutic Community in Canberra in early 2014.  I realised that my experiences during this race contained a major life lesson.  Sure I have many regrets, not least that I waited so long to reach out and ask for help.  However, that is in the past and there is nothing that I can change about it.  Focusing on my past will only hold me back, and exacerbate my depression.  To move forwards I should focus on the moment and that which is immediately ahead of me.  I still make plans, but now I try to live one day at a time.  Carpe Diem – Sieze The Day.

 

 

 

Inertia

For many years I believed I was good at change.  I was adaptable at work; taking on roles such as Quality Assurance Manager, Risk Assessment Manager, and Training Manager in addition to my design and project management roles.  I was willing to move to find work and new opportunitie.  I am very fortunate to have lived and worked in some great places – Edinburgh, London, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Sydney and currently Canberra.  However, although my roles and the locations may have changed, nothing changed.  I was still a confused and, although I didn’t recognise it at the time, scared person who was not maturing emotionally at the same rate that I was aging, and deteriorating, physically.  I was still wracked with depression and anxiety, self-medicating with alcohol at alarmingly increasing rates.  Since removing alcohol from my system, I am still struggling with depression and anxiety but I no longer have the ‘medication’ to null my emotions and fears.

One of my biggest fears, I now realise, has been a fear of success.  Frequently I have self-sabotaged to prevent me from succeeding so that I could say “Well, I wasn’t good enough anyway.  It’s better I fail now rather than later, when expectations are higher.”.  And it was those expectatations, that I would have to continue and repeat the success, that I was so afraid of.  In a future post, I will explore self-sabotage further, but this post is about inertia, and how hard I find it to overcome.

One of the reasons I started this blog, is that I need the motivation to start training!  I love exercise; as a kid I was always playing football or tennis, or riding my bike, or swimming, or running around.  Not even rain or snow would keep me indoors.  In my 20s and early 30s, although I was already drinking, and occassionally drugging hard, I was still relatively active.  From 1980 to 1992, I ran 4 full marathons and numerous half-marathons, swam and cycled several times per week, and played squash, tennis, badminton and football regularly.  However, after I moved to Hong Kong in 1994, I became more sedentary as work pressure increased.  I still worked hard – played hard, it was just that the playing was entirely in bars. By the time I left Hong Kong in 2009, I was seriously overweight and rapidly deteriorating physically and mentally.  Yet, despite another geographical move, this time to Sydney and subsequently Canberra, still nothing changed.  I could not overcome the inertia of staying in the life I knew so well, no matter how much it harmed myself and others.  No matter how much family, friends or colleagues tried to help, I could not change.

When I first got sober, I replaced the alcohol with the gym, sometimes spending up to 7 hours in my local gym.  This was simply replacing one addiction with another, and was not sustainable.  The only thing that stopped me continuing with yet another damaging addiction, was needing to have both hips replaced due to severe arthritis!  Change was forced upon me again.

Since the surgery in 2015, I have hiked the Canberra CBR100 Challenge and done a few other walks, but I am yet to run outside, I’ve used my bike about 3 times, and I’ve not been in a pool once.  Nor have I done any gardening, something  I used to find very therapeutic.  I have got into the habit of getting home from work, and lounging on my bed doing puzzles.  Applying for a new, more interesting job – tomorrow; tax return – tomorrow; starting training – tomorrow.  You get the picture.  It’s not that I don’t do anything – I have studied hard since gaining sobriety and I am now back at university getting very good grades.  I am Deputy Chair of the ACT Mental Health Consumer Network, I am a consumer rep, I am a co-facilitator of training for persons with lived experience of mental illness.  I do these things – but it is a massive fight. My head wants me to do nothing, which leads to depression, which leads to me doing even less.  It is a vicious and damaging downward spirral.  When people tell me that I do so much I (if I know and trust them), tell them that I have to keep busy, otherwise the self-pity and depression will take over, which could ultimately lead me to pick-up again.  I would dearly love to just relax without fear, may be one day I will be able to.  But until that day, I will continue to fight inertia, because the alternative would be disastrous.  This is why, although it was a fight in itself, I have started this blog.  Hopefully, it will motivate me to achieve my goal, and help others who are in a similar position to me.  And hopefully, it might just help me to truly relax as I come to understand who I really am and finally accept myself for who I am.