Saturday, May 31, 2014

Seeking help and monthly challenge update

It's been a while since my last post, not only because I've been struggling with a bout of depression but I've also come down with the flu. I think my body has simply collapsed under the strain of worrying about my family, working full time, having relationship issues and generally just trying to cope on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis.

Mike has convinced me to sign up for counselling with a carers organisation, which I can do via email rather than face to face. Its such a relief to be able to access that kind of service that way, as there is simply no time I could take out of my week to visit a counsellor, without work having to know (which is not something I'm ready to face as yet). So hopefully communicating with someone external to our situation, with experience caring for someone, will be able to help relieve the emotional burden I'm feeling.

Our trip to Germany is also coming up soon, we fly out in just over two weeks and all the arrangements are made. We want to continue with our monthly challenge up to and around our trip, while we'll have the three weeks we are away as a holiday without any challenge attached. So we only have two weeks to implement this 'months' challenge, so we thought we'd pick a tough one. As a lead up to trying to go vegan, we have decided to go dairy-free for the first two weeks of June.

I already drink soy milk in my coffee and rice milk in my smoothies (I'm lactose intolerant), but Mike is dreading having a soy coffee so will probably go back to drinking black coffee instead. The toughest part of this challenge will be for both of us to go without cheese and chocolate. We have cheese in most dinners and often have a few pieces of chocolate for dessert.

We found a deli not far away that sells raw vegan chocolate and it is the tastiest chocolate I have EVER eaten (no exaggeration), however it costs about $10 for a tiny tiny bar, so we are going to try to make our own raw vegan chocolate. I'll let you know how that goes.

Our monthly challenge for May was to quit smoking again which I managed after the first few days but Mike has struggled with this more - he still doesn't really want to quit, so without the motivation it just isn't possible, however he has cut down enormously.

I'll send an update prior to our trip to let you know how the raw vegan chocolate and dairy-free experience is going.

Auf Wiedersehen

Friday, May 16, 2014

Talking about depression

I've decided to write a blog post about depression, as this is something I experience fairly regularly, but rarely talk about openly. I think a lot of people do the same thing, talk when they're happy and don't talk when they're not, so it's not a topic blogged or talked about much.

However at any point in time, someone close to you is likely experiencing some level of depression or anxiety, they may just be good at hiding it. My partner is now 'coming around' after a prolonged period of depression. I should point out he would probably deny this, however his symptoms of reduced sleep and appetite and extreme apathy and introversion argue otherwise.

Likewise my father is currently going through a prolonged period of depression and a close friend is also experiencing symptoms of post-natal depression. Because my friends know I have had depression in the past, the women in my life are more likely to open up and share their experiences with me. However men find it much harder talking about their symptoms.

There are multiple reasons for this including the cultural barrier (especially in Australia but also in many other countries) where men are taught not to talk about their feelings, so shy away from emotional topics. Similarly, men are taught not to show their vulnerabilities so have (a) no desire and (b) no method of talking about their experiences.

Although my thoughts may become bleak I have found that presence in the moment is very helpful in keeping the dark thoughts from developing into suicidal thoughts. That's because we can become overwhelmed by our memories of the past, or fears and anxieties about the future, but things are usually OK in the present moment.

If things are not OK in the present moment, because we are grieving (or similar) then just remember that this period is temporary, it will pass. We will not feel like this forever, or even for a long time (although it may feel that way).

If it is memory of the past or fear/anxiety about the future making you depressed, come back to the present moment. Feel your feet on the floor, wiggle your toes. Your mind can be anywhere but your body is always in the present, so focus the mind on the body. Feel your breath enter your nostrils and your stomach rise and fall. This is the present.

You can do this at work, at home, on the bus or even on the toilet! Take notice of tension in your body, and your body posture. Are your arms or legs crossed? Uncross them. Is there tension in your jaw, stomach or shoulders? Relax them. Take a few deep breaths, and move forward with your day.

The longer you have been depressed, the more those neural networks in your brain will have a clear path to fire those same depressed thoughts at you. It's a cycle. So when you interrupt a 'dark' thought by bringing your focus to the present, you create a new path. Your mind WILL wander back to those same old thoughts, but when you are aware of it, bring your focus back to the present, and you make that new path a little wider.

This practice is called mindfulness and it's an ongoing process. When you become aware of your thoughts, bring your focus back to the present. Over and over again. Soon the new neural network path in your brain is clear and wide enough that you can pick up on your depressive thought AS IT ARISES, and you won't be taken down that depressing mental path so far. 

So although I still get depressed and overwhelmed sometimes, I am able to control my reaction to these thoughts by awareness of their presence, and I NEVER feel as bad as I used to, as things in the present are never that bad.

If you are experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone about it today. The practice of mindfulness will help, however you are not alone and there are organisations you can talk to for free, if you can't talk to someone you know about it.
In Australia: or call LifeLine on 13 11 14

Monday, May 12, 2014

100-Up Exercises: The Path to Better Running Form!

I have previously blogged about 100-Up Exercises, and have now completed the 30 day challenge. I must admit that I did not manage to do the exercises every day; on average I did the exercises five times each week. The simple exercises are designed to improve your running form, so if you can't do 100 of the exercises in a row, you just stop when you can't keep good form.

Usually I stopped at between 60 and 80 exercises as my legs started to shake, or the hip burn became too much, however for the last week I managed 100 each time (except one day when I had a sore stomach and stopped at 40).

To lay a benchmark running time I went out for a 2.6km run in early April and ran at 6:39min/km. Toward the end of the run I was feeling twinges of strain in both knees and one ankle. I often had to ice my knees after runs longer than 5kms.

During the 30 day 100-Up challenge I have been running about 5kms per week on a treadmill, however a few days ago I went out and ran a 5km Park Run as well as running another 5kms home. Not only did I run a personal best Park Run time of 00:30:16 (making my speed 6:03min/km) but my run home (when I was already tired) was at 6:13min/km - faster than my original short run time a month ago.

I believe that the exercises have made me faster AND I have had no twinges of pain ANYWHERE. No pain in my knees, shins, ankles or shoulders, ALL of which were common before. Even though the challenge is over I am definitely continuing to do the 100-Up exercises each morning as they have proven to be effective in making me faster and (more importantly) injury-free.

Now that I am getting faster at the exercises in good form I intend to advance to the 100-Up Major exercises too. Since I can only offer anecdotal evidence that these exercises work I would encourage any sports medicine student to trial this in a more serious manner, including video footage of running form prior and post the challenge.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Swing Dance April

Our monthly challenge for April was to learn to Swing Dance, so we enrolled in a beginner's workshop and learnt the basic steps of the Lindy Hop, Charleston and Jive. What fun!

Mike is generally not the active type so it took some convincing for him to join me, especially on the three-hour beginner's workshop; however without the beginners class he would not be able to join in the weekly classes, so eventually he capitulated.

It was a warm day and after about fifteen minutes most of us were sweating freely, and by the end of the three hours there wasn't a dry shirt in the house! Our teachers were very patient and kind and invited us to join them at Hullabaloo (a five-day swing dancing event) the following week.

Instead of just going out to dance we decided to make a date night out of it and had dinner and cocktails before going out for a swing! The dancefloor was very crowded so we knocked into a few people and stepped on a few toes, but when we got our moves down and our turns right, we felt like 1950's superstars.

We'll continue the Friday night classes through May so we are a bit more comfortable doing some swing dancing at Mike's brother's wedding in June.

So for me April wasn't much of a 'challenge', it was fun, however Mike certainly stepped out of his comfort zone. This month we are focusing on smoking. We are both ex-smokers who still bum cigarettes when drinking and lately Mike even bought some baccy and the smoking was creeping back into our lives. It's time to nip that in the bud before we get hooked again, so May's monthly challenge is no cigarettes, at all, no excuses. Wish us luck!