Written in 2003

My life has changed a lot over the last eighteen months or so - I sometimes have trouble recognising myself these days!

I spent a lot of 2001 trying to stop smoking. I wanted to do it, but never managed to go for longer than two weeks without the nasty weed. On Bonfire Night (November 5th) that year, I finally stopped just trying and actually stopped. No nicotine substitutes or help of any type, just plain determination, and I felt much better within a few weeks.

In March 2002 my settlement came through so I bought something I had wanted for a few months - a multi-gym. I'd been interested in taking up resistance training for a while and had previously tried using free weights, but found the constant folding and unfolding of the bench extremely off putting. Admittedly my multi-gym did sit and do nothing for a few weeks, but once I started putting real effort into working out, I really started to enjoy it. I ended up buying some free weights to use along-side the multi-gym exercises. Gradually the weights I'm lifting have increased, as have the size of my muscles and my confidence levels. I'm now doing fairly intense resistance work every other day, alternating with an at least eight miles long cycle ride. I tried jogging and it was great, but my ankles started to hurt so I'm now working on strengthening them before trying again.

Exercising regularly takes a certain level of self discipline. Developing this has been of great benefit to me and has definitely helped with the progress I've made (and am still making) in other areas of my life.

The weight training has also enabled me to tap into the anger that I've kept bottled up for so many years. Although this is something I have needed to do for a long time, it can be very difficult to cope with. Weight training used to help me vent anger, but recently it seems to aggravate it instead - I'm wondering if this might partly be due to the increased muscle mass and the higher testosterone levels that have resulted from it.... ? Or maybe it's simply because I'm strong enough to deal with it now. Whatever the reason, I know it's better to vent anger rather than bottle it up, but I really need to find a safe way of venting it. Anyone got an unwanted punch-bag lurking in the back of a garage... ?

Another of the changes I've made is my diet, although a healthier diet should go alongside exercise anyway, this isn't the only reason that I have altered what I eat. In August 2002 I went to a wedding and ate all sorts of things I wouldn't usually have eaten - the next day I was struck by a short-lived but very deep depression. It had to have been something I'd eaten the previous day, but there was no way of knowing what. About a week later I was again struck with a deep depression. I decided to try analysing what I'd eaten the previous day and comparing it with the food at the wedding. There was only one thing that I'd eaten on both days - cream. I'd avoided cream for many years as it used to trigger my asthma (which has gone since I stopped smoking), and it was still something that I very rarely consumed. I naturally decided not to have it again, but wondered if I needed to take things slightly further and eliminate all dairy products from my diet. I searched the 'net looking for information about dairy products and depression, but couldn't find anything (I did find lots of info about other reasons not to have dairy products though!). Despite the lack of information, I decided there was no harm in my avoiding dairy products for a few months to see if it improved my mood - another decision that I have never regretted. Initially I was going to stay dairy free until Christmas 2002, just to see if it did make a difference. Well, the difference it's made is amazing enough for me to still be totally dairy free. Not only has my depression been virtually non-existent (it's only a problem when food manufacturers aren't as clear in labelling as they should be... ), but I've lost a noticeable amount of excess body fat too.

There's only one draw-back with the changes I've made; they've lead to a lot of frustration because I can't do everything I want to do - or can I? Frustration isn't always a bad thing, in my case, it has proved to be a very positive thing as I decided to stop sitting around feeling sorry for myself and start living. I tried, as explained in Fighting to live, finding work, but no one seemed prepared to give me a chance. I could have easily given up, if I was still the person I once was, I definitely would have given up, but I didn't. Instead I started working hard on making myself someone who employers will want to take on. I've now completed Pitman Level One Book-keeping and Accounts and am currently awaiting my results (I passed by the way!!). I started Pitman Level Two last week. As well as these college courses, I have also completed a Confidence Building course, an Interpersonal Skills course and a basic HTML course (which started me off with this site!). I'm still working on CLAIT1 (Computer Literacy and Information Technology) which is more than a little too basic for me, but I have still learnt from, and a Communication Skills course. I'm also waiting for a basic psychology course to start, exploring the idea of a creative writing class and will soon be helping to run a workshop on overcoming fear. At some point I really should start having regular driving lessons, but these are financially not an option at the moment so will have to wait.