Tag Archives: Mental Health

Dancing with your Shadow

Your shadow is always there, regardless of where you are. Even in a dark room you cast a shadow on something. It can be behind you, in front of you, beside you, under you and over you. It’s always there, casting itself, a constant companion.

A shadow is more than simply an area you darken; it’s something you carry with you for life. It got me thinking when I saw the (adorable) video of a little girl who was scared to death of her own shadow. A shadow for me is a reminder of what’s there. I have started to think of the whole area of mental health as a shadow of sorts. The shadow is the part you don’t pay much attention to most of the time.

A shadow for me symbolises our low points and our high points and being able to live with it and accept it is important, vitally important. Things will not always be sunny and the sun won’t always be in your face and that’s ok. Sometimes you’ll be gazing down at a long and enduring shadow as it refuses to leave you and sometimes it will be behind you and out of mind.
In my case my shadow is an anxious one. It shouts up ominous words at me and sometimes envelops me in its grip, stifling my every thought. It can be withdrawn, it can be out of sorts and it can be downright rude. On the flip side it can also be loving, happy and carefree. It can also be just ok, getting by and middling the road, nothing too fancy. It all happens and that’s ok.

When I saw that little girl I did briefly consider how ridiculous the whole concept was, I mean, scared of a shadow. But then I stopped being an ass and thought about it. We all have our shadows to fear. The hard part is realising that we control the shadow and what it thinks. Yes, ok, some people will try and get in on it, but you choose how to let them in. Some people will be nasty, they’ll try and bring you down and they’ll try and keep you down. You control their influence. You control how you much you let them interact with you in that manner. On the other side of it you have the people who will feed your shadow with healthy thoughts. They’ll hug it, they’ll embrace it and if you’re lucky enough they’ll even love it. Let the good people in, it’ll be worth it in the end.

The important thing is to not deny your shadow. Don’t pretend it’s not there. If you’re going to accept the laughing and dancing then you have to be willing to accept the crying and the curled up in a ball under a duvet pretending the world doesn’t exist. It exists and you do have to deal with it. Here’s the trick though. Your happy and laughing shadow will usually come with the help of others, but you’re muggy and head wrecking shadow may only go with the help of others.

So what do you do? Well, my advice would be to stop, breath and talk. Go to someone you trust. Go to your partner, go to a friend, go to a family member, go for a walk, go for a shower, go for a cycle, go for a hike, go to a counsellor, do something! It may not shake itself. It’s ok to need help every now and then. We all need a little TLC at times and accepting that can be the hardest thing to do. It’s not shameful or weak. It’s hard and it’s brave.

Accept it, own it and carry on.

Eating Outdoors

I’m an outdoors kinda guy so it will come as no big surprise that I like to eat outside, have a coffee outside or have a pint outside. However, I find that leads to a problem for me, I hate smoking. I don’t try to shove that opinion in peoples faces but there it is, I hate smoking.

Smoking is peoples own business, if they wanna smoke, do it, it’s fine. It’s insane to me, I don’t understand how anyone sees any sense in it but fair enough. What I am seeing now though is a cultural shift against smoking.

It’s no longer all that acceptable in daily life. Even Leo the lion is getting smokers off government property. One employer even said he does not hire smokers and neither would I in his position. I even think we’re finally getting to the stage where one of the most addictive substances humankind willingly ingests is coming to an end.

My questions; are restaurants, pubs, cafes etcetera going to follow suit? Are the outdoors areas forever going to be refuges of smokers? Who is going to introduce non smoking outdoors areas?

Some people complain that all the new rules regarding smoking and the social stigma attached make it harder for them to enjoy their habit. Good! It’s not a habit, it’s not a treat, it’s not a pleasure, it’s an addiction. It’s a filthy, dirty and expensive addiction. Plain and simple. I feel sorry for smokers, sorry that they’re caught in the grasp of one of the most addictive legal drugs available.

I’ve never smoked, I will never fully understand it, that’s true. All I’ve ever seen of it is the damage it does to people I care about. When people tell me they had the power to quit I genuinely congratulate them, that must be extremely tough.

Maybe it’s time that smoking is pushed to the fringes of society. Not the smokers but smoking. Make it a chore to smoke. The chore may push people over the edge of quitting. It might make them sick of going out of their way to bring their chemical balance back up towards normal. That’s all it does by the way, it doesn’t give you a high it just levels you out so you’re on the same level as a non smoker, for a little while anyway.

So, people who sell booze, food and coffee, please have a non smoking area outside, that would be great.

Hiking Tips

I like the auld bit of hiking. The whole thing of getting outdoors and pushing yourself. It’s a great mix of nature and exercise. When you’re doing it you’ll often see other hill-walkers and climbers and you’ll exchange a pleasant hello and maybe a bit of banter. Then you encounter the people who don’t do it as much and you’d almost have to pay them to talk to you.

The first group are grand. They’re friendly and welcoming and usually share the same interests. Mainly being the love of getting out. They’ll also have a common look about them. They’ve got the gear and they genuinely look happy about being out. If you’re planning on getting into hill-walking or climbing the bigger mountains there are a couple of things you should put on a checklist;

  • Clothing: Wear appropriate clothing for the conditions. Head to any of the many outdoors shops around Ireland and you’re sure to pick up proper pants, t-shirts, jumpers, jackets and socks. They’ll make a big difference to your morale and indeed your safety. In winter time and in cooler weather warm and appropriate clothing could be the difference between a successful climb and an accident. Hats, gloves, scarves should all be in your bag. Bring spares as well. Spare socks and tops are the big ones, but try fit some spare pants in there too.
  • Footwear: Invest in decent boots. Decent boots will pay dividends in protecting your feet and keeping you steady on the rocks. Don’t just buy the cheapest or indeed the most expensive pair. Try them on, see if they support your ankle and the sole of your foot. These two things will be most likely to bother you on a hike. Also, try and make sure they’re waterproof. Mountains and hills tend to have rivers, bogs, large ponds. Soggy socks will ruin your day. Gators are handy too.
  • Equipment: Walking poles are extremely handy. Especially on windy days and on longer hikes. They are very effective in helping you climb and keep your balance. Know how to use them. When you should keep them shorter and when they should be longer. They’ll also make for handy splints if you or one of your party hurts something in a fall or slip. Bring a compass and map and do your best to keep orientated on your hike. Electronic GPS devices are cool and all but can be absolutely useless. Try and do a bit of research on your route as well. Do not rely on your phone for anything but calling for help.
  • First Aid: Bring a basic first aid kit. Plasters, scissors, bandages, that kind of thing. You may not need them but somebody else who is injured may need them. They weigh very little so why not bring them.
  • Supplies: Food and water are the big ones, especially the liquids part. For the longer hikes you will sweat and need hydration so try bring between 1.5 and 3 litres of water. Some lucozade can also be a good pick me up. Soft drinks though are mostly useless and work against your energy levels and hydration. Brings snacks and a main snack for when you reach your peak. Fruit, sandwiches, tins of tuna are all good choices. A hot drink in a flask can also boost you on the trip. Toilet paper. Bring toilet paper. You never know when you’ll need it, but surely it’s one of those things you’d rather not miss having.
  • Talk: Tell people where you’re going and roughly how long you’ll be. That way if you get injured or stranded you shouldn’t be missing for too long. If you’re driving try not to hide your car when you park it, that way people will have a good indication as to where you started.
  • Bag: why bring all that nice dry stuff and then bring a bag that will soak up the water like a sponge. A good waterproof bag will cost you between €30-€50 and will come with a cover for when (WHEN) it rains. Try go for a 33/35 litre bag, they’re the perfect size. Lots of places to put all your stuff.
  • The Weather: The weather rules, you will not beat it. Look at the forecast. If it’s not too bad you’re good to go. If it’s to be particularly poor then maybe choose a different hike or less challenging route.
  • Plan: Have a plan (at least a rough one). Know where you’re going, what to expect, when the sun goes down, the basics really. Plan to bring what you need. Don’t go crazy though, there’s no point lugging a massive pack around if you’re only out for a relaxing hike.

The last time I went hiking with a small group there was a wind warning in effect and on a mountain or a hill you really feel that. I was fine. I was snug in my ski pants, jacket and 2 layers underneath with my hat, gloves and scarf. I was astounded and shocked by the people I saw coming up as I headed back down, the second group of people you encounter on days out. There was one group of ladies with no jacket between them all wearing a t-shirt and yoga pants with flat runners. It was a recipe for disaster and on the way down I could hear it in them.

One lady complained that she couldn’t feel her hands and nearly started crying. I don’t blame her. As she was saying that her friends where leaving her there. Which was in particularly poor form as the one lady with a small bottle of water had passed me already. They were clearly not prepared for the day that was in it and the climb ahead. I also once encountered two hikers who had relied on their GPS, which failed them. They went a long way in the wrong direction. Luckily for them it wasn’t too late to correct their mistake.

In not preparing in even the slightest way they were putting themselves at risk. In doing that they were putting others in harms way. If we’ve seen anything over the past few months it is that there is a network of brave volunteers out there who are prepared and ready to go rescue and help people who get stuck or injured. Yes, sometimes the shit just hits the fan and you need to get help. However, I can’t help but get the feeling that they wouldn’t have to go out so much if people just got the basics right.

So…KISS. Keep it simple stupid. Plan ahead and try avoid the hassle of making the news. Try not to go beyond your abilities. Over time you will be able to do more, but take it easy. Most importantly, get out there and enjoy yourself. Take in the fresh air, the sights and the relaxing feeling that comes with putting your boots on the ground.

Please do share your own tips in the comments below. What would you add in?

5 Good Things

All too often I concentrate on the negative things. The negative things about myself and the negative things going on around me. I’m going to try something new. I’m going to try and concentrate on some good things about me and good things going on around me.

So here ya go, just what you’ve been waiting for, 5 good things about me:

  1. I am well educated: I get hung up on the education thing. I did not do well in school. However, since then, I did educate myself and I did find the motivation to pull my thumb out of my ass. I have many letters after my name. Among them are MBS. I completed my Masters in Marketing from DCU Business School in 2010. That was an important personal and educational milestone to reach. Especially so considering I had a teacher in school who convinced me I could do no better than a C in ordinary level English in the Leaving Cert, that was a knock to the confidence and a pretty horrible thing for her to say. I got an A1 in the end.
  2. I have jumped (fallen) out of a plane: I did this mostly to see what it was like. I did this four times and loved it each time. It made me believe that I’m either very brave or very stupid, I’m still not sure. I’m glad I had the balls to get into the plane, leave solo, plummet towards the Earth and keep the head. Again, a big milestone.
  3. I have climbed two of the highest peaks: In Ireland, nowhere else, just yet. I know I still have two to go. However, it’s nice to know I can set my sights on something and do it. It’s important to know that you can keep going even when your body is screaming at you to stop.
  4. I have a wife and child now: It’s nice. It’s a lot of pressure. Sometimes you don’t know what the hell is going on (with the child mostly (just kidding dearest wife)). It’s nice to have people in your life who you know are a massive part of yours and that you are a massive part of theirs. I make my wife smile and laugh and my 3 month old daughter is starting to laugh at with me too. I can make people happy just by being there and that is a very good thing.
  5. I am strong: OK, this is a very simple one but it’s always nice to be strong. It’s comforting to know that you can be the heavy lifter in the house.

So there’s 5 things which are good about me. When you’re getting bogged down by all the negative thoughts running through your head then maybe it’s time to take a step back grab a piece of paper and just write down 5 good things about yourself. If you can’t do it then maybe ask someone else to.

No matter how much of a bad guy you believe yourself to be there will always be redeeming features. It may seem a little self indulgent, but sometimes you really do need to concentrate on yourself before you lose yourself.

Couch to 5K – Day 4

Well, that was hard. My good lady did an early run yesterday so I was flying solo on this brisk and foggy night. My word, that made a difference, the whole not having someone to chat with. I didn’t think it would make a difference, but I guess it’s a mental thing.

The rounds were upped tonight and the whole time I had a thought in the back of my head! The next time the whistle blows I’m throwing in the towel. Funnily enough I think that made it slightly easier to get through each one.

Another thought recurring in my head was my little 11 week old daughter. It’s not fair on her to have a Dad who risks his health by not exercising his body. I want to be around for her for a good long time.

You see, earlier I scared the crap out of myself and weighed in. The grand total was a very worrying 17 stone. What I have now is a combination fit for disaster. My fitness is the lowest it has ever been while my weight is the highest. That situation needs to be reversed. Hopefully this couch to 5k will set me on the right path for a long and healthy life.

I did get through in the end. The legs were still sore and the back still ached. It’s for the greater good though, right? The greater good. I have to keep remembering that no matter how slow I jog, I’m still going faster than I would be on the couch.

Ireland may not be ready to face up to its health problem, but I am. All you can do is watch this space for more info. Hopefully this might spur someone on to make the change they need to.

Couch to 5K – Day 3

Ok, so day 3 was on Tuesday, but I’ve been busy so here’s a quick update before day 4 tonight!

It was cold, wet, windy and the track was waterlogged and filthy so day 3 wasn’t easy. Add to that the fact that my shin splints kicked in and you have a proper combo to knock the motivation out of you. Basically day 3 was hard and probably my tipping point. Ya know, the point at which you either stop or persevere.

It was hard. The runs were longer and we hadn’t a clue what way it was working. There must’ve been a busy schedule that night as the instructions were rushed and the instructors all had a different view of what was happening on the night. My good lady’s knee was also at her.

So, to sum up again. Cold, wet, filthy and sore, we weren’t loving it.

Then I noticed one of the guys there. Now, you have many different types of runners and joggers and walkers there. The more seasoned people fly past you, the ladies who have been doing this for years saunter on by while having their weekly chats and people like me just try to get better each time. Then I saw this big guy who was really putting his all into it. He motivated me. I thought to myself that as hard as I was finding it, how hard was he finding it? So I shut myself up with the moaning and just kept trying.

I’ll go back tonight and see how I do. But I do know one thing. If I don’t put the effort in now then it will only ever get harder.

Climbing Mountains

As I said in a previous post I was looking at starting counselling again. To reiterate, it’s not because I think I’m on the verge of losing ALL my marbles but rather I’m doing it to help me get through some rough seas. To be honest I think it’s something which a lot of people could use.

It’s a lot like mountain climbing. You look up and are in awe of the place you want to be. It’s so far away and you never think you’re going to get there. The thing you have to realise is that you can’t really think about the top, you can’t really think about the place you want to be, you just have to concentrate on taking that next step, that’s all. Unfortunately for me I’m not Superman, so it is highly unlikely I’ll do this in one bound. I’ll have to put the effort in and just take it bit by bit.

That’s where I think I’m falling down. All I can see is the big picture. In every picture there are little bits. Little sections that make up the whole scene. Looking at the big picture in your head and just expecting it all to come together is overwhelming. It’s very stressful trying to get all those things on the canvas at once.

So I’m going to start mountain climbing instead. Hopefully I’ll also start that again literally. But metaphorically I’m going to start taking things step by step. Little steps and little changes. Little obstacles and little jumps.

Maybe someone might read this who needs a little push or who needs to see they’re not alone. As REM said; Everybody Hurts. So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop, breath and do something small. Take a little step. Make a little change. It’s the little things which matter.