photo of a oier

How to emerge out of Lockdown and find our Selves again…

On Thursday I went into Brighton and wandered through the North Lanes. I bought a coffee and sat outside at a café. Later I bought a falafel wrap from “I Love Falafel, an old favourite of mine.

As I sat at the café watching people go past, I felt part of myself returning. In the past, I would cycle into Brighton along the seafront daily to work.  My bike currently sits rusting in my garden….

I would go to the office, chat with my colleagues in between clients and wander the Lanes. I may sit in the Pavilion Gardens for lunch, observe the buskers and the street goings-on. I may take in a film at the Duke of York Cinema after work, or meet friends for a few drinks in a pub.

What I realised is how much of myself I have lost this past year.  I have predominantly become an Online Therapist and a Mum. Many are talking of losing their ability to make conversation, how our memories are foggy and it seems we need to relearn how to do those everyday tasks we took for granted. Our brains over this past year have processed those regular occurrences as past experiences and stored them as memories. We need to learn our way of being again.

How do we bring back those parts of our identity we have lost?

Our Self-concept is our personal knowledge of who we are, encompassing all our thoughts and feelings about ourselves physically, personally, and socially. Self-concept also includes our knowledge of how we behave, our capabilities, and our individual characteristics.

Our self-concept develops most rapidly during early childhood and adolescence.  As a baby we develop our sense of self by having it reflected back to us by our caregiver. If we receive love from our mother, we grow up believing we are loveable. The holder of the mirror then switches to our peers at school, hence that time of life for so many who have difficult experiences at school can be so crushing for developing a positive self-concept.

However, our self-concept continues to form and change over time as we have new experiences, and it changes as we develop new friendships and relationships with others. Our self-concept is dependent on the social situations in which we find ourselves and the feedback we receive from that environment.

Our isolation this past year has meant that many of our interactions with others has been very restricted.  We have lost our sense of self. 

This week I returned to CrossFit, an important community that I have been part of for the past 5 years. A place outside my four walls that I have a sense of belonging.  There, I am not “Mum” or “Therapist” but someone who does some crazy exercise routines, laughs and connects with others on all sorts of levels. I have missed that person. She needs to emerge again.

There used to be this person who would jump on a train to London Victoria and take herself off spontaneously to explore the delights of London. She would take that free spirit further afield and find herself on a solo trip to Goa, looking for new environments and connections with people from different backgrounds and cultures. That part of myself has laid dormant for this past year, rarely making it past the end of my road at times. I want her back.

So, as we start to emerge out of lockdown, is it safe for us to start to give fuel to these lost parts of ourselves? Can we allow ourselves the space to grieve their absence? For many of us, they may not return. Certain relationships and parts of our Selves are lost, and we feel irrevocably changed by this past year.

But just maybe…..as Spring is here….a new Self can now emerge and our Lockdown Self can take a backseat.

I’m off to get my bike fixed….

Exercise – Why do we really do it?

I passed a friend on the way back from the gym this morning at 7am.  She sent me a message saying, “I can’t believe you get up so early to go to Crossfit. “

I realise that to many it may seem like madness, some crazy fitness addiction, a punishing regime.  For many people, there is no doubt that it can become this and people can also use intensive exercise as a way to manage their anxiety and emotions. It can replace other addictions they may have used in the past such as drugs and alcohol, be part of an eating disorder and can work as a distraction or a form of control.  

I began running about 10 years ago and quickly noticed how dependent I became on it.  The run round the park became 5k, then 10k, a half marathon and then the Brighton Marathon.  Two weeks before I was due to run in the Brighton Marathon, I tore my calf muscle and was unable to take part.  I was gutted, but the hardest part of it all was being told that I couldn’t run for several months in order to give my calf the time it needed to heal. This took six months. I realised then how dependent I had become on running for my mental health.  How it had become an addiction that had helped me manage the difficulties in my marriage, my loss of self and my low self- esteem which had plummeted as a result of being a stay at home mum.  It meant that I didn’t have to focus on the lifestyle changes that I really needed to make, as each time I shut the front door I could leave all those worries behind me and get my fix of endorphins.  It was my substitute anti-depressant.  As a result of my injury, I had to take stock and work through all the emotional difficulties I was having at the time and make fundamental changes to the way I was living my life. I couldn’t run away from them any longer. Literally and metaphorically.

A few years later, a friend encouraged me to put my name into the ballot for the London Marathon.  Many people try year after year, so it was a complete surprise to get a place. This time I did it differently. I trained slowly and gently, listening to my body and what it needed.  When I had a twinge I rested, I had sports massages and a few weeks before the event, I took myself off to a yoga retreat. Running the London Marathon was one of the best days of my life. The atmosphere was electric, the sun was shinning and I crossed that finish line in disbelief.  I think I was in shock for a while.  Everything worked.  Nothing was injured.  I know that the reason I was able to do so was because of the way I had looked after my body and mind in a completely different way than I had those years earlier.  This time I wasn’t running away from anything or pounding the pavements in desperation to get that fix I needed to make my life more manageable.

Exercise for me now is incredibly important in maintaining my physical and mental health but is no longer the coping mechanism it once was. I go to Crossfit three times a week, regularly sea swim and try and do some yoga.  In this morning’s session, I lifted some weights whilst we swapped stories about what posters we had on our walls as teenagers (Pamela Anderson and bikes seemed to be a popular theme for the men). We discussed music and shared our nostalgia for gigs and the loss we feel with their absence at the moment. We discussed Freddie Flintoff and his documentary on Bulimia that was shown this week. The causes of Bulimia and how it is such a hidden illness for men, despite 1 in 4 sufferers being male.  We stretched. And we ate cake on the way out that someone had baked.

The physical fitness is important but equally as important for me is the connections, the laughs, the conversations, and spending time with a group of people in my community made up of different genders and ages that I may not mix with in other parts of my life.  As we all discovered in Lockdown, Social isolation has a huge negative impact on our mental health. Having an excuse to go and hang out with others regularly, check in how we are and discuss weekly topics under the guise that we are all only there to get fit, is an essential part of my self-care and wellbeing.