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Sunday, 17 January 2016

A Little Fresh Air: Walking It Off.

Brentford - five miles from home 
= a few cobwebs dusted from my mind

I've been trying to take a more sensible approach to working off some of the stuffing and pastry-based products Christmas always includes for me, and just aiming for a number of steps in a day. Sensible rather than ultra juicing (kale only, of course) whilst doing a billion squats a day is the only way at the moment.

I don't have the time to run during daylight hours, and I have about as much enthusiasm for getting up in the dark and rain to run as I have to spend an entire 5 seconds listening to a 1970s open university programme on physics. I'm aiming for 10000 steps a day, which is just about doable with the number of escalator steps plus making meetings at least a floor away from where I am, so I have to clock some extra paces.

Syon House and the Thames on a cold, clear day

The year has brought some new responsibilities, which have given me much to think about, and little time in which to put thoughts into actions. As the new network chair of our mental health network at work I am really keen to follow on the amazing work the last chair and committee put in, not least since supporting mental health has become so central to my life.

Free as a bird. How I want my mind to be.

For this reason I was thrilled to take on a voluntary role leading digital and social communications for the City Mental Health Alliance, too, which is an incredible opportunity to help support colleagues in the city beyond my own organisation. These opportunities will help me to achieve my goal of reaching more organisations with the truth about what mental health really means (from my own perspective especially) and that people can thrive professionally with the right level of support from their work and the care they give to themselves.

Kew Gardens from the tow path. Nothing but views.

Critically, while any change is going on, I need to make sure that I take care of my mental health, so I don't risk exhaustion and having to give up these things, which would risk bringing out that old chestnut self-loathing, always a very unwelcome guest in my life. "Balance," I keep telling myself, "balance." I really need to find this as much as possible to keep me well, at work and out of hospital. Enough activity, enough active rest and enough physical rest and time out from doing anything at all. I need all of these things for the best chance to stay well.

Even if it means getting a bid mucky, I'm up for a challenge.
Mentally and physically, I think.

It's definitely easier said than done. I'm the first to admit that I'm not very good at saying 'no' to exciting opportunities, even if they might take a lot of work. I don't want the fact that I have depression to get in the way of taking on ambitious projects in my life.

Choosing pathways. Nearly six miles in.

I admit that in the past I've tried to manage an ever increasing workload by ploughing on through it at all hours of the day (particularly in the past, trying to get promoted and actively panicking that if I made a single 'mistake' that I would miss out). Now I know that working 100 hour weeks is not even realistic for one week, let alone a string of them. So even though my stomach currently has butterflies at the amount of work I have on for the weeks ahead, I have forced myself not to spend the weekend working or completing ever more activities. The weekends are there for a reason, and I will just get ill and stressed if I don't have a break.

Kew Bridge and rowing.
I think I chose a slightly more sedentary activity, but lovely to see!

Yesterday, then, I decided to spend time on things that would help me to take time out and hopefully get a different perspective. And what often helps me is to get out and about, into the fresh (and ideally not rainy) air and walk.

And it's quite hard to get lost!

I learned about London on foot. I first moved to Archway, single and with a lot of friends well established with their weekends filled, so, with no other plans, I used to walk all the way down Holloway Road on a Sunday morning and keep going, into the deserted city, its austere stone blocks feeling almost as cold as Oxford on any autumnal morning as no pedestrians and few cars blunted the sharp wind racing around its tall, noble cornices. Nowadays I really am spoiled for choice, living near to two of our most beautiful royal parks - Richmond and Bushy - and a five minute walk from the Thames.

Perfect running weather. Or walking. Or rowing. 

My mother taught me to be a walker in Nottingham, where I grew up. To my horror, on days when at least half of my classmates had to stay away from school due to snow, because we lived in the centre of town, there was no discussion: we would walk. I find it faintly comical now, because the walk was fewer than two miles in length, but to my five or six year old self it was a marathon distance, on top of the massive unfairness of having to go to school when I wanted to stay at home and make snowmen.

Under the district line across to Chiswick. 

I have many happy memories of walking now, though, and it has always kept me - relatively - fit. Mat and I have a shared love of walking around London, which his friends exploited when he was made to walk (for pleasure) from Hammersmith to central London for his stag do, and made to (for their pleasure) down a shot chaser with every pint consumed, at every pub, along the way. Ouch.

A booze-free walk for me. Phew!

I had to walk to the doctor two weeks ago as I appear to have developed sleep apnoea... always a delight to have a new condition to add to my collection... and wanted the exercise. It has been so wet and miserable here in January so far that I have shunned running and even a walk to the station has been a chore.

Made it to Chiswick Bridge... nearly there!

But walking makes me feel so much better. Or at least prevents me from feeling any worse, if I'm feeling unwell. I have always found a lovely rhythm to walking. I can listen to the birds or the river or the traffic; I can listen to podcasts (Woman's Hour is a firm favourite) or audio books, or I can listen to the Frozen soundtrack or the Trout quintet, with no one any the wiser what music I might have in my ears!

Under the bridge

As I walk, I don't care so much about whatever I've left behind. Part of me is concentrating on not falling over, so there can only be so much focus on the extended to-do list; part of me is listening to the soundtrack of my choice. And lastly, my eyes are part devouring, part dwelling on, the sights to every side.

Mud. Nothing doing. Mud.

I'm lucky to live in a place where I can walk so far along the river to many destinations, to the shops two or three miles away, depending on the direction, or farther afield, and all bypassing beautiful houses, boats, locks, gull, herons, cormorants and many river birds, proprietary robins, bridges, gardens and streams and rivers. And of course, the city buildings and omnipresent sky.

A mere spattering. I got off lightly!

The mud is another matter, and not particularly top of my list of things I want to adorn myself with as a fashionable accessory. Elizabeth Bennet may have got away with it, but she was, after all, the wittiest of women, and the beauty of Hertfordshire, as even Mr. Darcy realised in the end.

 "She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild."
   "She did indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!"
   "Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it, not doing its office."
   "Your picture may be very exact, Louisa," said Bingley; "but this was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well when she came into the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice."

There are other benefits. The assault of nature experienced while walking is another way of practising mindfulness. Except of course that you're not really practising, it's got you with both hands. There is no way that I can just ignore sights like those above when I'm walking. In fact I think I made myself a bit late yesterday by stopping so many times to take photographs.

Even the river bank is fascinating.
I've seen mice, rats (I like rats by the river)
and many other lovely animals and plants.

As well as all the above, it is lovely to meet so many people along the way on the river - quite different to my earlier north London experiences early on a Sunday morning. Cyclists, runners, yes, but walkers of all ages and many nationalities with dogs, dressed for a smart Saturday lunch, dressed for another 30 miles in well-trodden walking boots, it is simply lovely to spend an hour (or three) on a bracing walk. It warms you up in the cold, and warms me through to participate in this community activity, albeit on my own, with a simple smile of "Hello" to those I pass.

Dry routes are good. As long as you're still dry.

Yesterday I met friends in Barnes (west London) for a pub lunch. And there really only is one thing I love better than a pub lunch with good friends, and that is a pub lunch with good friends that I feel that I've thoroughly earned at the end! I had my work cut out to make it there on time with a slightly more relaxed stroll with Mat to Richmond (three miles) before the remaining five and a half to cover at a considerably speedier pace!

End in sight!

This week will be very busy again, and I know that my to do list is only minutely shorter for the few things I've accomplished today. (Then again, I did make it to the tip today. Things really don't get much more exciting than that.) However busy it will be, though, I have breathed fresh air and had a decent attempt at exercise. And there are always West Wing conversations to be had. That's my tip of the week, dear professional readers. If you want to get a meeting with someone who doesn't have time for a meeting, go and meet them as their meeting ends and walk them to their next meeting. Polish your elevator pitch or the points you need to raise to a minute's chat and you might be surprised what you accomplish in a short walk around the building (as well as adding a few more steps to your day)!

Yeah. Not sure...

I slept better, and woke surprisingly rested (albeit with rather aching legs this afternoon). As always, I will see how the week goes. But tomorrow when I get on those escalators at Waterloo, I'll know that a few steps are - in more ways than one - in the right direction. Take care. x

Hooray! A lemonade for the muddy woman with the purple hair.

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