For the latest edition of Wellbeing Wednesday, we asked one of our members to share their experiences of navigating Covid-19 and all it’s challenges over the last 12 months. Claire’s personal account is a real eye opener to how this pandemic has affected those who already live with differing needs.  We think you’ll agree it’s an incredibly interesting read and one many of us can relate to in the current climate, albeit for different reasons. So pour yourself a cuppa and start reading!

The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have dramatically altered many people’s normal routines. I am sure we all can’t wait for some form of a return to normality, a return to simple things such as being able to hug our families, go out for a meal with our families, attend group runs and being able to lose social distancing measures. I’m sure we’ve all in some ways had increased anxiety levels and could write our highlights of 2020 with little ink, with 2021 not starting any better.

Personally, I have a couple of fond memories of 2020.  The first being running back-to-back marathons; something I never dreamt I’d be able to do.  Even though I completed them, I’m sad to not have been able to do that surrounded by my RIOT family.  My second fond memory is completing my first two Olympic Duathlons.  Both of these things helped a lot during the first two lockdowns, bringing a real training focus, however as we have gone into our third lockdown I’m sure we are all desperate for normality to return.

As for a lot of people routine has been important, and for people with the challenges of Neurodiversity conditions, routine is often even more important than for most. It is the way in which they thrive, it’s in fact a vital part of survival. These people like to know exactly how their day will unravel and strive to stick to the same routine, day in and day out.  These people can become easily overwhelmed by the world around them – unexpected changes to established plans, or even something as simple as a surprise party can be too much to handle. To combat the chaos of contemporary society, they strive to make their world as predictable as possible. One or two changes can be handled but a large amount of uncertainty all at once really can be too much. Sticking to a routine or a detailed schedule is one of the ways to provide some control over the world. It provides those with Neurodiversity conditions with a buffer between what they can and cannot regulate – which is soothing to their highly responsive nervous system.

Personally, I have dyspraxia and I thrive in routine, it’s how I function best. I am as rigid as they come. It helps me in my work environment and it actually makes me very focused on my training.  Dyspraxia itself is a condition which most people haven’t heard of or if they have, they simply see it as clumsy child syndrome, but it’s so much more.  It does bring many positive characteristics too though; I believe it provides me with strategic thinking and problem-solving skills. It causes me to be extremely determined and hard-working and highly motivated.

One of the characteristics is that I need to know what will happen and when. This is so I can remember more of what I need to do. I work from a list of tasks to complete at certain times during my day.  Naturally, unexpected things happen and I would have to adjust accordingly, especially in both the prison and gym working environments, but small changes, just one or two at a time are manageable.

Just 12 months ago very few of us would have heard of tiered lockdowns, furlough, or ever come across Zoom. Very few of us would be aware of who Chris Whitty was but now he fills our TV screens on a regular basis. The first lockdown in March was hard for us all but going into the Summer somewhat made it a little easier; for me I had found a new love of biking and a number of virtual events were still appealing. I’m sure many of us believed it was only for a short period, though things then kept changing as we moved through the new tier system. We had a team meeting in our gym and went from us being fully open and having all completed a lot of Covid training, to January being usually our busiest time of the year, to planning our outdoor classes for the cold dark, to then being closed, all within ten days.  Far too much change and too much going on at once. I find these sorts of rapid changes impossible to deal with.

Anything that brings order is helpful; I write lists, I write things down. Growing up with dyspraxia has caused me to develop my own strategies which work for me – I really struggled with my balance and coordination but have managed to overcome a lot of these difficulties. However, this is by having built firm foundations and strategies and ongoing repetition.

It is highly researched that the most successful people in history – the ones many refer to as ‘geniuses’ in their fields, masters of their crafts – had one thing in common (other than talent); most adhered to rigid (and specific) routines. Whatever you want your day-to-day life to consist of doesn’t matter, the point is that you decide and then stick to it.  Implementing a structure to your day can give you a sense of control. It can also improve your focus, organisation, and productivity.

For me, training and races is a foundation for me; marathon training and training for my first Ironman 70.3 provides a great sense of structure. Working using Training Peaks provides me accountability, structure and routine, which ultimately seriously aids my mental wellbeing. With my gym opening and closing and the loss of services and groups in the prison context I have really been thrown off course.

“I’m far from alone and we just have to look at what we want to achieve that’s within our capabilities and take things day by day, and be kind to ourselves.”

I thrive in group situations such as club training, and both training with RIOT and Goal Specific triathlon club are firm foundations in my life. My life is packed with action and I have to be extremely careful and disciplined to not tread over the thin line of doing too much and overtraining.  Training Peaks has stopped this but I thrive around people in a busy lifestyle. The constant isolation and lack of a normal schedule can be mentally taxing, with the loss of group training, squads, events, separation from family members, lack of groups and services in prison, a lack of a routine or structure has all caused increased stress and anxiety for me, and I know I’m not alone in this increased feeling of being overwhelmed. This has really impacted my concentration and focus and I know I’m not the only one.

“Let’s all share any strategies that help us day in day out.”

I’m sure many of you find yourself in a similar situation.  As a club it’s more important than ever that we support one another, as even for many of us with no previous difficulties with our mental health these new situations we find ourselves in can make things that much harder. Though we must remember that together we are RIOT and we are a family that need each other, now more than ever. I for one can’t wait for our big groups to be back running together, doing events together, having social events together and hopefully doing Ironman 70.3 surrounded by many of my RIOT family.

“For now though, let’s all look out for each other and support one another as much as we can.”

Thank you so much to Claire for sharing such an in depth insight into her daily struggles with a number of conditions.  We hope you’ve all been able to benefit in some way from this blog, and I’m sure you’ll all join me in wishing Claire the best of luck with training for this year’s events.  If anyone else would like to share their experiences please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  

Blog written by Claire Carlin.  Edited and formatted by Christina Guppy.