Monthly Archives: October 2015
The Leicester Marathon route is mostly flat and fast. Having completed a gruelling hilly Marathon the month before, I was expecting this one to be easier and more mundane. At the outset, things seemed to run fairly smoothly, us runners lining up at the start, the race beginning on time to cheers and waves. Other than it was a freezing cold morning, the weather was on our side – dry and bright.
This is why I enjoy running Marathons: every race is different and every time I put myself through one, I learn and experience something new. Running through Leicester’s Golden Mile, adorned with Diwali decorations, amazing, I noticed a runner with a photograph of a loved one on the back of her t-shirt, a much loved husband or partner who had died in middle age. I gained a sense of why she was running, in memory of her loved one. It was at this moment that I noticed quite a few runners around me with t-shirts that showed they were running for the memory of their loved ones also, people who had been traumatically taken from them. As a psychotherapist, I understood that in running with photos or names of their relatives on their backs, these runners were staying connected to the people that had died, whom they had loved. There is quite a lot of literature on bereavement that suggests that if a person can continue to feel a sense of connection with a lost loved one then they tend to cope better than people who try to push their dead relatives away. I pondered these thoughts as I ran behind these runners, tears in my eyes, emotionally moved by their grief and their coping strategies.
Soon, we had reached the stage of the race where Half Marathon runners went one way, and we Marathon runners went in another direction. I enjoyed this part of the race because I felt proud at this moment that I was placing myself in the crazy, tough nut, category. I was proud to have trained to this level, where I knew I could run non-stop for over 4 hours. I laughed when I began to get a small pain in my foot, telling myself that soon that pain would be insignificant compared to the overall body pain I would be experiencing. The miles cranked up as we ran through beautiful Leicestershire villages, and I felt excited by running along the roads I drive along to work, gaining a different perspective upon my surroundings. At mile 14 I watched a lady infront of me start to walk and my thoughts at that time were that she still has a long way to go, that this is going to be painful for her and that she has my full respect. Every village that we ran through had spectators, mums, dads, children who had come out of their homes to wave us on. I felt a warm welcome from each and every Leicestershire village, and enjoyed running past chocolate box houses and ancient churches.
Every time I run a Marathon, the worst miles for me are between mile 18 and mile 23, because at this stage I am really tired and my legs start to hurt, no matter how much training I have done. I cannot see an end to the race, I only see the pain ahead. It was during this stage of the race that I discovered aspects to myself that I can truly appreciate. I told myself that I was going to keep the pressure on, that this was the middle stage of the race and that it would not defeat me. I found an inner drive, a desire to keep up my pace, telling myself that I wanted to complete the Marathon in around 4 hours. I also made sure to smile at the race marshals and to thank them profusely as I ran past them, because without them there would be no race. I was exhausted, in pain, feeling a little sick, yet I was good natured with the people around me and compassionate towards myself. This Marathon had revealed these aspects about myself, perhaps more starkly than other things I do. These qualities I can take into my everyday life, and when I now remember this section of the race, I walk with my back a little straighter, my head held a little higher.
In the last two miles of the Marathon, I found myself running side by side with a male runner, similar age to myself. We started to talk. We laughed about how our legs now hurt running downhill, running uphill, running around corners, simply running. We spoke about the amazing support provided by the marshals, the energy drinks and gels that were handed out, how we were now only a couple of miles away from the finish. We spoke positively, despite being in significant pain, and this really helped to get those final two miles out of the way. At that stage it did not matter who would finish first, the fact is that we both knew we would complete the Leicester Marathon. My temporary running companion told me that I could run on ahead as he felt I had a sprint finish in me. I joked with him that my husband and brother were waiting for me on the finish line and so it would be good to have a faster pace then ! I do feel we shared an experience here together, this runner and I, and yet when I think back now I would not have a clue about what he looked like. We shared conversation running side by side together, and so never looked at each others’ faces. Funnily enough, in the last half mile or so I found myself becoming increasingly ecstatic at knowing the finish line was but a few breaths away, and I did find my pace picking up. One man shouted out, ‘You have run a Marathon this morning, what else are you going to do for the rest of the day ?’ I shouted back, ‘Sleep and watch Downton Abbey at 9pm’. The Leicester crowds were amazing and towards the end people were cheering us all on, because the last mile was all up a steep hill. I remember running past one male runner right near the end, who was shouting out and cursing, out of exhaustion and anger. Anger I could recognise in him because I myself have experienced anger in previous Marathons that I have run. Coming up to the finish line I saw my husband, we high fived as I ran past him, so delighted at my finish time of 4 hours and 3 minutes. Over the line I saw my brother with a huge smile on his face. Two years previously, he had been waiting for me in a similar place to finish the Leicester Half Marathon, along with my dad who had given me a massive hug, emotionally moved by what I had done, this tight hug coming from a man who rarely shared physical touch with others. My dad is now dead, and so having my brother on the finish line meant a lot to me.
When I got home I opened up the booty bag that I had been given. I took out my medal and saw, to my distress, that by mistake I had been given a Half Marathon medal ! I had pictured getting the Full Marathon medal during the entire race, so you can imagine how upset I was. Strangely, however, getting the wrong medal did not detract from my sense of completion and satisfaction, having run over 26 miles, courageously in the way that I had wanted to run. I guess I learned from this that I don’t run for the medals. Afterall, nothing really lasts. Yes, I like hanging the medals up on my wall and I like looking at them, but actually for me the Marathon is a journey, an emotional as well as physical one. I did contact the race organisers and they sent through the Full Marathon medal so I now have two medals for that day’s running. I am already planning my next Marathon – bring it on !
I find Autumn to be a difficult time of year, observing nature slowly decaying; leaves turning brown and falling off the trees, cloudy days with less sunshine to enjoy, the air turning cold. This is the time of year when I tend to think a lot about family and friends who have died, who have moved into a different dimension of being, lying beyond my own sensory perception.
Now that the days are getting shorter, running in the dark is becoming increasingly part of my everyday existence. When I first began to run in the dark, I was frightened. Images of giant rats scuttling across the road infront of me, of werewolves, vampires, other nocturnal monsters, ran through my mind, chasing me, potentially attacking me. I also dreaded the darkness, an overwhelming nothingness, bleakness, a sense of disconnection from the environment as I could no longer clearly see the landscapes surrounding me, that had comforted and inspired me on sunny days.
In fact, running in the dark is a vastly different experience from running in daylight. Familiar pathways can seem unfamiliar, and the rustling sounds of animals and birds can be disorientating and frightening. Despite these challenges, I persist in going out and running in the dark, building my experience slowly, strongly. I have found that by doing this I am able to overcome my fears, step by step, and to begin to develop a new appreciation of the darkness and of the nocturnal creatures that I am privileged to see or hear. I have started to look forward to seeing bats swooping above my head, to hearing the sound of owls coming out of nowhere, to see deer in the woodland scampering away from me, and to notice cats’ eyes glimmer in the dark, observing me.
I think that running in the dark is a bit like experiencing life after bereavement. Grief can be overwhelming, it can leave us frightened and disorientated. The World can be vastly different from the World as we experienced it before the loss of a loved one. Suddenly, we find that we no longer enjoy the small pleasures we used to enjoy, suddenly there can be feelings of pointlessness and doom. Our perceptions can become very sensitised so that the smallest thing can upset us. Perhaps we need to build small and strong steps within our journeys of bereavement as a coping strategy. Maybe we need to go out and experience the World in its transformed state, and to appreciate new things or old things in new ways. We may try to embrace our new sensations and perceptions, rather than being frightened of, or by, them. In this way we can slowly acquaint ourselves with the realities of bereavement and then gain a deeper connection to ourselves, others and the World around us.
Recently, I completed a ten-mile race. I followed a race plan that I had given some thought to. The plan was to begin the race at a warm-up pace so as to ease myself in, then gently pick up my speed by mile three, start running a medium pace by mile six, and use the last two to three miles to really go for it! I stuck to this plan, not really knowing whether it would provide me with the finishing time I wanted, and nor what physical state I would be in by the end of the race.
As it turned out, I completed the ten miles in 77 minutes and 10 seconds, placing me in the Gold category for my age group and only five minutes short of the top category, Diamond. I was pleased with this result because it was the nearest I had come to attaining my main goal of a Diamond finish time. Running stubborn is perhaps the best phrase I can use to describe what I saw and felt during the ten-mile race that Sunday. Running stubborn was there in oodles, awe-inspiring and thought-provoking. Perhaps the best example of running stubborn personified in a racing legend is that of John Tarrant, the man dubbed ‘the Ghost Runner’ by the media. Despite a series of significant set-backs in his life, such as being denied Amateur Athletics Association status, which meant he was not officially recognised at any races, John Tarrant continued to race, hiding from the officials until at the last moment sprinting away from the start line when no-one could intervene to stop him from running. Running stubborn is about bravery and dogged determination – never giving up.
Running stubborn is also about ordinary people going out to run a challenging distance, which is going to hurt, and completing the distance in whichever way they can – whether this involves race plans, energy gels, walking up the hills and running down them, keeping the same steady pace throughout the race or gradually speeding up towards the end. It is about runners drawing upon a bloody-mindedness that means they are not going to stop, no matter how challenging the race becomes. During the ten-mile race a club team member, a man 78 years of age, said to me, “Keep going lass, I don’t want to see you again in this race” as I overtook him. This runner has stubbornness written into his body, a body that is strong, muscular and fit, despite his advancing years. During the race I also witnessed another club team member doggedly pushing herself forward, determination emanating from her physique, and I knew that she was hurting at this stage because with three miles to go we were all hurting!
Running stubborn for me was the determination to stick to my race plan, even though this required a leap of faith because I didn’t know what the outcome of the plan would be. By mile eight I was exhausted, but absolutely firm in my resolve to keep to a medium to fast pace in order to get the best time I could. It was sheer will-power that kept me going at that speed. Towards the end of the race, I was running a few feet behind the runner in-front. I was absolutely determined to stick to his shoulder, to keep him on his toes and out of his comfort zone. I came to understand the importance of controlled aggression, the ability to draw on one’s inner strength to maintain a particular level of running intensity, to ensure that the person in-front is having to work as hard as they can.
I took my race experience to work the following week. At work there was an unsupportive, challenging, environment. Achievements and the effort people made were rarely acknowledged, yet any perceived oversights were handled in an unconstructive manner. Basically, if you didn’t do exactly what your boss wanted, then you were in trouble! To survive such an environment is even more challenging than running a long distance race. I have found controlled stubbornness to be a wonderful resource for dealing with a difficult work situation. Controlled stubbornness means not allowing yourself to act angrily and disrespectfully towards work colleagues who are trying to control you, who are playing into wider organisational politics, who want you to be part of their great race plan to become the next Chief Executive. Controlled stubbornness means sticking to your own race plan; staying on the shoulders of those who are trying to dominate you, keeping them out of their comfort zones.
So, I have drawn on my determination as a runner to create my own space of productivity within a very difficult work environment. Sticking to my core aims and outcomes, despite the challenges of dealing with difficult work colleagues, is similar to sticking to my own race plans. Supporting those colleagues who are also at the brunt of hostilities at work is something I also try to do, as in any race you find your running club team members offering you amazing and fantastic words of encouragement despite their own physical and mental pressures. Running stubborn is an approach that we can all apply to dealing with challenging situations in our lives. We can draw on our inner resources to create our own race plans, to lead the kind of life that we wish to lead. Come what may, we can survive, we can cross the finish line, our arms raised up in pride as we tell ourselves that we have done it, that we have helped to determine those aspects of our lives that are important to us out of the sheer will to do so. Running stubborn – perhaps this is the best that we can seek for our lives?
Bullying often involves an abuse of power. Bullies are often in relationships of power over the people they choose to bully. Bullies can be found at work, within institutions like schools, care homes, prisons, within peer groups and within families. We know that the impacts of bullying are huge. Bullying can make us feel small, humiliated, afraid, even terrified. Bullying can also make us depressed and anxious, and can make us believe that there is something wrong with us.
An important life skill to develop is to be able to manage and deal effectively with bullies. Therapy offers many tools in relation to doing this. One way of dealing with bullying may involve minimising the bully and their effects upon us. For instance, in our minds and on a piece of paper we can shrink the bully in size and manipulate their shape into something that perhaps even makes us laugh at them. We might consider thinking about the bully’s own emotional and psychological state. It may be that they themselves have been bullied or even abused and bullying for them is a coping strategy. Bullies therefore might be viewed as victims as much as perpetrators. We might consider writing a letter to the bully, a letter which we do not send but which enables us to articulate our stories of being bullied. In giving our accounts we can experience distance between ourselves and what is happening or what has happened, thereby reducing the impacts of the trauma.
It is important to highlight the importance of the therapeutic relationship when reflecting upon how to deal with bullies. Experiencing a relationship of trust and unconditional positive regard from a therapist can help us to articulate experiences of bullying, especially those that are extremely sensitive to us. A therapist can validate accounts of bullying by listening and acknowledging traumatic experiences. A therapist can also suggest formal and informal mechanisms of support that can be accessed to help. If bullies are often in relationships of power over those they choose to bully, then it is important for individuals who are experiencing being bullied to have a supportive, non-judgemental relationship with another person, and a good therapist can offer this therapeutic relationship. As a therapist I have found that individuals want their stories of bullying to be heard and believed by another person. This can be as important as providing an individual with the coping skills and tools they need to deal more effectively with the bully. Bullies rely on marginalising their victims. It is therefore important to provide a space in which individuals who are bullied can grow and build their self-confidence, in order to stop any current or future bullying.
Many clients I see have experienced traumatic and troubling experiences in their childhoods. Such experiences may include severe physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse committed by adults who are supposed to care for them. Such experiences may also include the fragmentation that comes with fleeing from a war zone and having to re-settle and re-build a new life within a new country, culture, and environment. Childhood traumas can also include being bullied by other children, or feeling unrecognised by, and isolated from, our peers.
Within each of us is an inner child who can still feel terrified, frightened, angry, frustrated, humiliated, guilty and/or ashamed. As adults we may try to avoid thinking about those times when we were children, when we felt these difficult emotions and when we had challenging experiences. Avoidance only works temporarily, however, because certain situations or people may still create the same overwhelming emotions we experienced as children, and we may have unpleasant flashbacks or memories. Unresolved childhood traumas can create a distance between ourselves and other people, making it extremely challenging to have fulfilling relationships.
It is important for us to build a relationship with our inner child. As an adult it is important to reach out to the child that has been traumatised, to tell that child that things are okay now, that what happened is in the past, that they are no longer alone. In some of the work I do with clients I explore whether clients might like to write a letter to their inner child, or whether they might like to imagine comforting their inner child, or carrying out a fun activity with them. I also may ask a client to go back in time when they were children, when they felt afraid or alone, and what they might like to say to that child now, as an adult. In this way clients are encouraged to engage with, rather than avoid, the child that is inside them, who still craves for love and acceptance.
I do believe that in building a relationship with our inner child we can heal the hurt and pain that is inside. We can become more self-compassionate through caring for our inner child. This can also heighten our awareness of the vulnerability of others, that perhaps everyone has an inner child that needs comforting in one way or another. In this way our inner child can help us to connect with other people and to create a more compassionate World.