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.

 

 

Introduction

Welcome.  This is my first post, so I’ll introduce myself.  My name is Chris, I am a 55 (very soon to be 56) year old male.  I was born in Morecambe, Lancashire but grew up in Leicester, and went to university in Edinburgh and Birmingham.  My career in civil engineering took me to  the south of England, then Hong Kong & China, and finally Australia.  I currently live in Canberra.

I have struggled with depression and addiction since my mid-teens.  In 2013 things came to a head and I entered a detox facility at the Canberra Hospital on 17 October, and I have not had a drink since then.  I have subsequently left the engineering profession and have completed Cert IV Certificates in Mental Health, Alcohol & Other Drugs and Fitness (Personal Training) and a Diploma in Alcohol & Other Drugs.  I have also qualified as a Personal Trainer with Fitness Australia and as a Level 2 Recreational running coach with Athletics Australia.  I am currently studying for a double degree in Psychology and Sports & Exercise Science at the University of Canberra.

In addition to my studies, I am the Deputy Chair of the ACT Mental Health Consumer Network and a consumer representative on several ACT Health Directorate committees, including the recently convened Physical Health for Adult Mental Health Consumers.  I also help present the Network’s Self-Advocacy and Consumer Representation training.  I am a member of the Steering Committee and Working Groups developing the curriculum for the proposed Canberra Recovery College, which will provide a forum for persons with lived experience of mental health issues, their carers and professionals to learn in a safe environment.  Course units will be co-designed between consumers, carers, service providers and experts.

In addition to my work in the mental health sphere, I am also a member of the Community Advisory Group for Directions Health Services, a drug & alcohol support service.  Until the service was centralised in Victoria, I was a volunteer on the Wellways Peer Led Mental Health Telephone Support Line in the ACT.  To earn a bit of money, I currently deliver newspapers to embassies and the ADF facilities around Canberra.

Running has always been an important part of my life, at school I placed 2nd in the Leicestershire Schools U15 3000m and I ran my first marathon at 18 in 1980.  I ran my best marathon time (2hrs 43min) at the London Marathon in 1985.  In my 20s, I consistenly ran 1hr 18mins (or thereabouts) for half-marathons, with a best of 1hr 14mins at Loughborough in 1983.  I continued to run sporadically throughout my increasingly dominant addictions, but was in constant pain from arthritis.  In 2015, I underwent bilateral total hip replacement surgery.  In March 2016, I walked the Canberra CBR100 Challenge in 27hrs 28mins.

My intention is to run my first 100km in Canberra in November 2018 and this blog will attempt to describe my endeavours, including my work in the mental health field.  I hope it is enjoyable and possibly will inspire others to attempt what others might say was impossible.