I went for a run this morning and was reminded what a sucker I am for one of the big depression thinking traps: mind reading. Running is a step back into my previous life for me. As you may know from reading earlier posts, I had a bad fall last year which turned me (and my world) upside down for a while and resulted in me having spinal fusion surgery to prevent spinal paralysis and surgery to insert wires into my beautifully smashed up left elbow.
It's been a tiring road to recovery. No public transport. No exercise apart from walking (because swimming is the wrong kind of exercise for my elbow, though the right kind for my back); no ice cream (okay, this is a total lie, but I did try to eat somewhat healthily when I went from being a 20-26 mile a week runner to someone who occasionally made it out of bed to have a wash, and then a wash sitting down).
As of late January I got the green light from my spinal surgeon to start exercising again, because my fractured spine is healed. Thus with great trepidation a couple of weeks ago I made my first attempt at jogging and managed to run a mile. My body and mind were exceptionally shocked by the (slow) jerking movements of running after months of walking only and a lot of lying down.
Body: What on earth do you think you're doing to me?
Me: I'm going for a run!
Body: Are you crazy? [Yes.] Get back to bed now and under those two comfy duvets. There's more Ugly Betty to be watched on Netflix
Mind: Yes, and what if you fall over? Oh, and by the way everyone's looking at you and thinking you're an idiot for running at about 1 mile an hour. That's not running, that's walking lopsided. You're a laughing stock.
Me: Shut up.
I've now run a second run and two miles. Then another couple of very short runs. And then on Saturday, finally, a 5K at my local park run.
But back to mind reading. This is what we depressive types love to do when we're feeling low.
As a type A personality, I consider myself exceptional at mind reading. Unfortunately I don't think I'd be able to make any money at the local fun fair. I'm talking about a slightly different kind of mind reading. No, my mind reading is all about me, how rubbish I am and how everyone else is looking at me and thinking badly of me for all my many failures. "I know," I think, "I'm feeling utterly rubbish. Let's add to that by telling myself that everyone hates me and thinks I'm crap."
Mind reading is one of the common negative thought patterns that people who suffer from depression can encounter as part of being ill. All part of the fun and games. You can read more about negative thought patterns here. Here's a quick statement that sums this up: "I can tell people don't like me because of the way they behave." The simplest way to think about this statement is to consider the following scenario: imagine you walk down the street and see someone you know. You look at them and smile, but they don't look at you and walk on as if they didn't see you. In this situation what are you thinking? Are you wondering whether you've done something wrong? Or are you thinking that perhaps it's not you, but they might be having a bad day / be busy? If you are more likely to think the former, perhaps you also are someone whose mind likes to go off at a tangent from time to time.
So, running this morning, I didn't mention that this run came after a fun night of anxiety-filled dreams which make me feel like I haven't slept (thanks, anxiety) and need to take a day off (yeah, that won't be happening). Sometimes running can help, largely because if I am concentrating on not falling over, avoiding crashing into people and continuing to breathe I can often not think of other things. But on other days, when my mind reading comes out to play, it really goes to town.
This is what my mind told me today:
1. I pass commuters rushing for the train looking at me with grim faces
My mind reading: "Look at you, running, well, jogging or not quite walking. Some of us have to work for a living, you know. You're probably one of those stay at home wives who thinks working is a slightly tough pilates class. I'm off to do my important job which I hate and you get to run. Stop looking so smug."
My response: "But I'm not smug, honest! I can hardly breathe and getting myself out of the door was difficult enough, and when I get home I have three different projects to work on for the whole day. I'm not smug at all!"
A More Likely reality: the poor commuters are thinking "Bugger, did I turn my hair straighteners off? Do I have any spare cash for a coffee. I'm really hungover. Surely it can't be only Tuesday? Oh God it is."
2. I pass other runners speeding past. (Obviously they're going in the other direction. Otherwise clearly they are passing me!)
My mind reading: "Call that running? I've been up since 5 am and I'm on mile 20 already. I'm just about to complete my 5th ultra of the year and it's only February. You should work harder, like me, you're just not trying"
My response: "Actually I've just recovered from spinal fusion surgery so I still have masses of metal work in my back and have to run slowly to get my body used to high impact activities again without damaging it. I do try to run properly honest! Give me a little credit for trying?"
A More Likely reality: "Must - [pant] - keep - [pant] - breathing. Must - [pant] - keep - [pant] - going."
3. I pass a beautifully made up yummy mummy with her little treasures on the way to nursery, frowning slightly.
My mind reading: "My dear, if you're going to exercise in public, do try to think about styling. For one thing your running top and leggings don't go. Haven't you heard of Kate Hudson's new Fabletics range? Or Sweaty Betty at least. And do try to remember that just because you're running, doesn't mean you shouldn't look your best. a dab of concealer, a little tinted moisturiser and some mascara at least."
My response: "Mummy dearest, do sod off. It was hard enough to get out of bed this morning. I know that I look like a train wreck. I don't need you to remind me. At least I'm doing some exercise!"
A More Likely reality: "Shit. I definitely left the hair straighteners on. Must get home. And must call for another botox appointment. I'm sure I caught myself frowning in the mirror this morning."
4. I pass builders starting work on a new housing development nearby.
My mind reading: "Phwooar look at the arse on that. Now where's my fags?" [Note, this doesn't strike me as a good or a bad comment. My negative, generalised and totally biased opinion of builders means that they could be commenting on the gargantuan size of my wobbling behind or the shapeliness of my buns of steel.]
My response: "Arrrgh! I don't dress like this to be looked at; lycra is my only option, and I had to wear this fleecy jacket 'cause it's freezing, not because I want you looking at my bum. Leave me alone!"
A More Likely reality: "Phwooar look at the arse on that. Now where's my fags?"
Today my mind was more involved with all of these thoughts. I hardly noticed I was running. There have got to be upsides to having a mind that's working overtime 'reading' other people's (fictional thoughts). Today I ran two miles. Tomorrow I wouldn't mind running again. But perhaps this time I'll focus on the fact that I can't breathe. It might just be less exhausting.