AKA: staying sane in lockdown
“None of us are getting out of here alive. So please stop treating yourself like an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth that you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There is no time for anything else.”Anthony Hopkins
Hey all, hope you’re staying safe and well during lockdown! If we keep up this social isolation we’ll be doing our bit, so keep on saving the world from your sofa and settle on down for a read…
Last week we talked about methods for setting up a regime and why it’s important to follow through with those plans.
This week, before we go into the fun part of filling that regime with various creative/health/social/self-care things, let’s explore failure.
Failure sounds dire, but stick with me here, I promise that failure is okay. Everyone fails at following through with plans at some point and it’s absolutely normal. Sometimes it’s because of external factors outside of your control (hello Covid-19) and sometimes it’s because of something personal.
Now I could write some general fluff about how failing, then adjusting your goals rather than quitting, but if you’re anything like most readers, you would probably prefer an actual story. Something funny and dramatic, maybe with a fable-esk moral to take away at the end, and you’ll have avoided boredom for a few minutes. Not War and Peace, but a fun excerpt.
That’s a long way of procrastinating to say: I want to share with you this week one of my failures for trying to “glow-up during isolation” (that’s what YouTube/Instagram are calling getting fit, etc during lockdown apparently).
How was I attempting to “glow-up”, you might be asking? It’s not very original, but through getting back into running outdoors rather than on the treadmill. Running is definitely more enjoyable when you’re not running on the spot behind slow walkers three-abreast. (Also going to stop using the phrase “glow-up” now because I am 100% not young enough to be using that anymore.)
Right then. Story time. (Trigger warning: mental health and personal talk.)
On my Habitica schedule I’d originally planned on running a 5k and 7k each week, but then one morning last week my anxiety said otherwise.
Context: I’ve been through therapy for a string of pretty intense panic attacks, which essentially resulted in me looking like I was fitting so ended up in hospital having tests until they discovered that was what they were. Comically, the first attack I had years ago included not only the appearance of a fit, but also vomiting quite spectacularly on my new boyfriend at the time (still sorry!), doesn’t everyone want to date Emily Rose?
Being physically the medical picture of health, I was very confused, but the mind is a peculiar thing that knows better than your conscious self when you’re reaching your mental limit and will short circuit to protect you.
Any Lovecraft fans reading? Imagine having a panic attack as suddenly being shown an unknowable thing, say, Yog-Sothoth, and your mind decides to NOPE consciousness for a while and reboot.
It’s different for everyone, but my personal experience was that I felt confident, able to cope with all my stressors and not particularly more anxious than normal, then suddenly and without provocation I was having a panic attack. Something in my mind had seen Yog-Sothoth.
With the context and Outer Gods aside…
Running in the sun, I felt great, with clear roads and the familiar feeling of self-assurance that comes from easing my body into exercise. That was all true, until getting five minutes from my house without seeing anyone and suddenly my brain pointed out the likelihood of getting help or infected if, say, I fell and broke my leg.
Obviously this was not going to happen.
I’m a careful enough person to have never broken a single bone ever, and fit enough that a 5k run is not a problem. I pushed on and ignored the tight feeling in my chest and the Vader-esk breathing.
Come on. I thought, passing an abandoned church that I made note to snap on the way back. I’ve always preferred running and walking without anyone around. No weirdoes looking at you or getting stuck behind a pram when the road is too busy to cut around. Why the hell are you getting anxious? It’s beautiful weather and quiet! This is perfect!
But despite all reason and arguing against the feeling, it persisted. That was when I had to start remembering my therapist’s breathing exercises.
I haven’t had a panic attack in a long time and I’m now perfectly acquainted with the symptoms of having one; knowing to get the floor or seated when the edges of my vision start to go and the tingling feeling in my extremities begin.
Outside and still running, I was still at the difficulty regulating my breathing stage. Not yet hyperventilating, but now sounding less regular than Vader and more like Saw Gerrera with his raggedy-ass ventilator and scowling about as much as him too.
Persisting with running, I imagined my breath as the tide washing in, then releasing back out again, steady and certain.
My therapist knew that I’m incredibly visual and adore semantics, so she gave me a visual, semantically powerful image to fixate on when an attack was building. It sounds simple, sure, but what good advice isn’t at its core? Methods of calming your breathing will vary between people, and if you can’t get access to a therapist during this time*, then it can’t hurt to try this method.
Visualising my breath, I felt good enough to keep jogging, but knew I would have to slow down soon, as I wasn’t sure how my body would react to continuing exercising while building itself up to a potential attack, though logically the exertion wouldn’t do it much good.
Speaking of not doing much good: in the back of my mind, I knew that I’d failed my goal of doing a 5k run.
But if I was going to fail, I thought, then I’ll fail on my terms.
Except at the time, the thought was really much less dramatic or well considered. It actually came out as something more like…
So long story short, I ran around the lamppost I’d seen and the goal for running was adjusted from 5k to 1.5k and remains that way for now. I’ve not had any more hyperventilating while running, because I’m building up again less in kilometres and more in arbitrary landmarks, and the distance will come back again as the creeping anxiety is receding. I feel good about adjusting my goal to something more manageable, so the sense of achievement is still there and my schedule is still being kept to without a sense of dread at doing the task I need/want to do.
From this story, I hope you take the time to adjust anything in your schedule that’s giving you anxiety or stress during this time.
You are not failing in doing something, you’re safeguarding your mental health and keeping your stress levels low during a strange and unpredictable time.
Still push yourself if you feel comfortable to, but always know you can flex that goal back to something more manageable.
Change is what keeps us engaged in our lives, but too much or little of it can be a source of discomfort, so take things at your own pace. Adjust when you need to. Take the time to check in with how you’re feeling, please stop treating yourself like an afterthought, because you’re worth taking care of.
That got very real there at the end, so here’s a picture of the abandoned church I ran past and managed to get a decent snap of despite the internal strife I was experiencing.
Let’s call it a perk of being a Millennial who’s practised at Instagraming everything on a hair-trigger a la Doc Holliday… but with an iPhone.
Thank you for reading! This was a long post with a lot to cover, so we’ll return to shorter, more mobile friendly versions next week.
Speaking of which… next week’s Part 3 is where we’ll get into what things are useful to fill a regime with, and then Part 4/5: the fun things like creative hobbies, self-care and the often missed out but highly necessary time to do absolutely nothing but chill.
Until then, stay safe, stay in and enjoy yourselves!
The next post is the Monday’s writing advice.
The next Saturday post is part 3 of Life in your Fortress of Solitude.
* Even if you feel fine, I would 100% recommend talking to one, it’s amazing what these professionals can do for your headspace. There are some reputable online or telephone therapy services that you can try too, but nothing beats sitting down with a real person. Talking to your friends about problems is important yes, yet a professional is not only actually trained to help you, but will also give you an objective view.
This week’s featured image is Fortress of Solitude by Dylan Cole.