February ended with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which coincided with the lowest point of my mental exhaustion. I had been unable to break the cycle of slight improvement, followed by several days of depressed inertia. Rather like Sisyphus, I was in what seemed to be an unending labour, with no hope of release. But, of course, reality takes hold and time does not stop. One reaches the point where even doing nothing is hard work – then there is yet another day to face. I knew my life would continue, so what to do? I wrote some time back that, ‘I gave up once, and nobody noticed.’ In the end, no matter what help there is, one has to take that first of many steps to recovery. After all, what is the alternative? The answer to that is misery. And that misery can be many things, but will be self-perpetuating. Choice always remains.
My illness is fully work-induced. That was a truth I had to accept. Without the expected support, it was up to me to become proactive and take control. After all, I had applied this to my physical being successfully enough, so why not with my mind? In early February, that seemed like a step too much, but by the end of the month I found the help I needed with the start of CBT which is allowing me to step back and rationalise my anxieties. In that one proactive step, a spark of life entered my mental battery. By the first week in March I could see my constant training had kept me very fit, so once my mind started its long road back to recovery, the vehicle it travelled in would be very reliable.
I took stock and noticed a few things that had become helpful or unhelpful habits since last December. This month I started to address each aspect to increase positivity. I will cover them here.
Without doubt, running has been my saviour, right through the various pandemic lockdowns as well as throughout my illness. Last year I maintained basic tenets to reduce my weight and increase my fitness: keeping my balance of calories below 2000; running every day; maintaining my mainly plant-based diet; keeping my monthly running total at 100 miles or more; and having regular core workouts. This had become a habit to the point where I would stick to these targets without much thought. It became my normal way of being. Thus, once I was suffering from burnout, I automatically kept to this baseline. Even at times of absolute hopelessness, this kept me moving. Running, indeed all exercise is the best therapy in the long term. It is a moment of taking control.
In March I started to train properly with a focus on the 100k. The results are summarised at the end of this blog post.
One of the main symptoms of my burnout was only leaving the house to run or shop. After the huge, emotionally draining journey to Scotland, over Christmas, I had become semi-reclusive. Yes, I ran every day, but that was solo and mainly on trails where few people would be met. Whilst shopping I always wear a mask – there is now a learnt stand-away-from-others in society, so I remained isolated. Thus, whilst reflecting, I knew I had to start getting out more, not just for necessity. With the CBT sessions helping me to set strategy, I decided to make a couple journeys to get used to being in the greater world. One to Somerset where I set a new course record on a local route I’d used many years ago. Then, later in the month a trip to London, staying the night in Kensington. My Passepartout and I ran in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and the trip made me tired, but much less anxious. Little trips away from home were helping my mind adjust to a more proactive future.
Imposter syndrome – the fear of authority
Imposter Syndrome has been written about by greater minds than mine (sic). In my case, being self-educated in most important areas of life, I never had the confirmation of achievement by a father or higher educational establishment. My childhood had been dominated by Christian brutality at its worst, so I had been programmed early on to ‘fear’ authority. I am free of any faith-based twaddle now, but still have that deep-set programming. I have never fully dealt with this, so I’m using CBT to lance that boil. As I recover I am taking charge of my return to my career, rather than waiting for ‘authority’ to lend a hand. They have not in 5 months, so ‘authority’ has become of no meaning for me. I am building this in the most positive way – firm, fair and proactive. In March I applied this fully and have started to regain control of all aspects of my life. After all, fear is only about what may happen – and the variables are astronomically high. Thus, proactivity becomes the key in steering strategy in the way best suited to oneself.
Rage and its positive effects
I survived a cruel childhood. The details are not important here, but it was life-changing. Fear is a terrible thing for any child to live with. In later life this can manifest in many ways, both positive and negative, but it can define one’s future growth. My way of surviving was to develop a ‘rage battery’. I discovered that physical pain can be endured, so gradually I found an armour. My rage battery overcame pain. It remains my ‘impulse power’, (to use a Trekky metaphor). Even at my lowest, this source of energy gave me belief that I would recover, get stronger and overcome the odds. Giving in to violent rage is not good, but to channel it into intellect and cognitive function has served me well.
Fear of statistics – belief in oneself
Just like maintaining good habits, it is easy to stop good habits. My Racing the Reaper Man Year gave me a positive routine. My abiding fear, or anxiety, was finding out that my formula would stop working. Reducing weight was almost straightforward, but would my philosophy and system maintain my final goal weight and statistics? From October I stopped taking weekly readings from my smart scales. Initially I did this on purpose to allow me to rest, but then the fear of what the scales would show took over. Then circumstances forced me to just about tick over until March, this month. I stepped on the scales on March 12th. I had convinced myself I would have ballooned in weight. Yet, there I was – 166.6lbs! Slightly up on my fully conditioned best of last year, but well below my original target. I had maintained a healthy weight by just living my Racing the Reaper Man philosophy! My belief returned, and with it more positivity to train properly.
Staying ahead of the Reaper Man – Choice
I set out choice as the main tenet of what we are. What one sees in a mirror or on the scales is a reflection of one’s choices – it is not an accident nor someone else’s fault. Thus, if one chooses to change a lifestyle to become a healthier, fitter and happier person, it will be done. I hope I am proving it. I have chosen to recover from burnout by understanding what happened and applying techniques to get through. I will now continue to build on my winter’s foundations and move towards my ultra in June with renewed belief. All that is left, is to regain the full health of my mind.
My March transition
CBT was allowing me to see a way of parcelling out each of my anxiety-creating issues, focusing on those that were not really so bad, and dealing with the immediate problems. It was interesting to find out I seem to be suffering from a type of PTSD, brought on by the work-induced pressure I had endured. On March 19th my world turned to Technicolor… after 16 weeks of floundering through the effects of mental illness, I finally reached a point where I knew I was on the way back.
The day was bright and sunny. Mentally, I still had the daily challenge of getting out, so as I faced a 20-miler, with lots of hills, my focus had to be ramped up. I prepared and set out feeling heavy, tired, with a stiff right leg from core work. The hills were huge – I’d miscalculated the climbs on trails over Kingley Vale, got lost on a descent near West Stoke, and plodded lesser hills to the 10-mile mark wondering how I would get back.
Then, at 10½ miles I seemed to break through a barrier. The pain in my leg went, I felt good and, as I turned to see the huge return climb ahead, felt euphoric! A runner’s high? More than that. In that moment my anxieties looked smaller, I felt stronger and the world more beautiful. The climb back over the mighty Bow Hill was tough, but I was even moving quickly on the race-walking bits – those parts of a steep climb where running is near impossible. As I dropped down to the 16-mile point and took on a caffeine gel and an extra bottle of water (stashed earlier) I knew I would recover my mental health. The final miles clipped by at just over 10-minute miles and I got home having covered 20½ miles. Monstrous, marvellous and a defining moment in my year.
This route was easily the equivalent of a flat marathon. That evening I entered the Goodwood Marathon on 3rd April – it had been pencilled in as a training run for months. Now I felt I could use it as a training run without fear. I also firmed up a 32-mile multi-terrain training run for the end of April. The 100k in June seemed more attainable.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) would preclude any more longer runs up to the Marathon, but by the end of March I was just about right. Somehow, unbeknownst to me, I had got ahead of last year’s mileage. March was also my biggest mileage month for many, many years – 143 miles. All this without noticing – sticking to my basic philosophy had worked: just do the healthy things automatically when in doubt, then your physical fitness will be there to carry your healing mind when it’s needed.
To sum up March, I would use the word ‘transitional’. I had started taking control of smaller things; this in turn, helped me to have the confidence to take control of greater things.
A thought for the coming month
As you will know religion or blind faith in ideology is anathema to me. The introduction to my partly completed book, Racing the Reaper Man, has this passage in its Introduction:
‘Although I can become philosophical, I am also a stepper-backer. I have found that most debates forever shrink as they focus on the specks of irritation, rather than a logical, progressive overview. Politics, religion and social media are the greatest subjects for speck-focussing, and life can seem like a series of screaming strap-lines as a result. A statement is not factual without proof – proof is not true unless tested – tests are not certain unless repeatable. Opinions are generally strap-lines for lazy thinkers. Humans naturally believe what they want, based on personal bias, so to look at improving one’s life, it becomes necessary to learn to step back. So, for this blog, and its future incarnation as a book, I will step back and write what I know about making life healthier, fitter and better for the more mature person.’
Ironically, I found a passage from the Chinese Taoist/philosophical text that I loved. It is from Chapter 38 of the Tao Te Ching:
‘When Tao is lost, there is goodness. When goodness is lost, there is kindness. When kindness is lost, there is justice. When justice is lost, there is ritual. Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.”
Let not ritual, for the sake of ritual, command our lives. Running is not ritual, it is like breathing, a necessity of life.
- Weight: 11st 10.2lbs
- Daily calorie balance: 1721kcal
- VO2 Max average: 44/45
- Average resting pulse: 49 bpm
- Total miles: 143 (biggest month for years)
- Unbroken running streak: 450 days
- Belly: 30½”
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