Swimming the distance: mental health as a endurance pursuit

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If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may (or may not!) know that I’m currently training for a long distance swim in June. I’ll be swimming 5K, which is just over 3 miles (not an insubstantial distance for a swimmer), in lake Windermere during the Great North swim in June. At the moment I’m a bit concerned that I’ll be pulled out of the water half way through as I’m a little slow, but I have a bit more time to train and have been putting the effort in. Last year I swam a 2 mile event in about 1 hour and 20 minutes so if I can up my pace a bit and keep it going I should be ok, but I have the nerves all the same. I am already fitter than I was for last years event, but the distance is longer so on balance I am probably not as far ahead of myself as I would like to be.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been putting in a session in the gym one evening a week after work, as well as the swims. It’s a bit awkward to swim before or after work as the timings of the appropriate swim sessions don’t quite fit with my commute, and I don’t have enough discipline to quite force them to work! I’m trying to build up my stamina in just being able to do the same uncomfortable thing, mostly on the elliptical machine, for extended periods of time. I am concentrating on building up endurance and stamina, not so much speed. That is a gradual game. Little by little I get a bit stronger. Little by little each time I go a bit further.¬†While at the gym a few weeks ago I was thinking about how the same principle applies to many of the other things I’ve been doing. I’ve been making the same film for at least 4 years now, and slowly I accumulate new bits and pieces for that until suddenly it starts to look like something that makes sense as a whole.

I think that working on my own mental health has been a similar process. I have a stressful day job. In the past few years I had some considerable anxiety about a range of things, and a bit of depression tagged along with that. Living like that is really tiring. Getting physically fitter now is probably really helping with that, but that has come as part of a general effort towards a healthier way of living at home. We now eat predominantly (but not exclusively) healthy plant based food, and have been doing so for over a year, but it took some time to work out how to make that work for us. I started working part time last year, dropping one day to enable me to swim and make things, which was quite a big little step in the right direction.

I wouldn’t say that I now spend all my time walking around in a state of ecstatic energetic creative contentment. But little by little, I think my ability to endure for the less enjoyable stuff of life, and look past it to the next fun thing is growing. Mental health isn’t a sprint to the finish line, it’s a long distance game.

Taking the rail replacement bus

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This morning I went swimming with my sister for the first proper training session in preparation for swimming in the Great North Swim in June. I have signed up to swim 5k (which is just over 3 miles), which is the furthest distance I will have swam. Eventually I want to work up to swimming a 10k, which is a marathon style length for swimmers. We swam a mile, and it was pretty tough going. I think it will take 2 swim sessions a week, and an additional session in the gym a week to build my stamina between now and then. So we have work to do. I will try to keep track here I think.

On my journey there this morning, one of my trains was replaced by a rail replacement bus. I normally travel on the train, and which is a relatively direct route. The bus takes a less direct route, and as a consequence I was able to see parts of London that I do not normally see. London is a huge city that has developed and evolved over time, slowly swallowing up towns and villages as it expand outwards. This process has left a patchwork of buildings of different styles, sizes and ages, with different parts of the outer edges of the city having distinct atmospheres and styles of their own. While it took me longer than i expected to get to the pool, I was great to spend some time looking at these bits of this city that I do not always feel at home in.

It got me thinking a bit about doing things differently, or what I may try to do differently last year. Over that last year and a half I have been working on just trying to finish things, which has been helpful in getting me to a place where I feel my creative work has purpose. I have also begun to really appreciate that doing things slowly, and building things over time, is actually the better way for me. I can be comfortable with this. However some of the work has felt, if not trivial, at least a bit light, or thin. In the last few months I have begun working on some pieces that are emotionally more close to home. I’ve been avoiding finishing bits of work like this in the past, as putting it out there is a bit anxiety provoking. When you already have anxiety, adding in more sources of anxiety is a bit of thing. So this year, I will be trying, gently, to push my self a bit more in that direction. Stay tuned to see how that goes…

Is there anything you’ll be having a go at doing differently this year?