I realised something big the other day… I am no longer feel a great sense of loss and grief when I think of exercise and it feels like a huge weight has been lifted!!
Before my chronic pain condition began, I absolutely LOVED exercise! From a very young age I was a competitive swimmer and then when I was a bit older, a competitive synchronised swimmer which I did until I was 18. I trained 4-6 times a week and weekends were often spent travelling to competitions or going to intense training courses. I also used to do a lot of sport at school and was in the rounders and hockey teams. Went I went to university I got heavily involved in the women’s boxing team and became captain. I know what you’re thinking – what a contrast…graceful, elegant synchronised swimming and rough and dangerous boxing – but I love all sports and the harder and more challenging they are the better! Boxing is probably my favourite sport…it gives you the BEST workout and really helps relieve stress! Exercise always used to be a therapy for me, it would eliminate anxiety and dramatically lift my spirits. Even though I began suffering with chronic pain in my first year of uni, the pain came and went and I was still able to do sport in the good patches. This was also the case for my second and third year. And in third year I had about 6 months completely pain free which was amazing and I took full advantage of it!
However, in my final year, I had the worst flare yet and had to stop sport completely…and I’ve not been able to go back to it since. My legs became so hypersensitive and painful that walking was a challenge let alone anything more physical. I was so frustrated and upset that I was unable to exercise due to my chronic pain; I was angry at everyone around me who did sport or talked about sport, angry at the world when sport was on TV, and angry when I saw people outside doing sport. I just wanted to shut it all out. But I couldn’t as my entire family also have the same exercise bug I have. My parents run marathons and ultra marathons, as do my aunties and uncles, and my boyfriend loves cycling and playing footie. I hated that I resented everyone for being able to exercise, it didn’t make me feel like a very nice person. But I couldn’t help it. I tried so hard to be happy for everyone. What was particularly difficult was when someone would complain about a tiny injury they had such as a pulled muscle, I really had to bite my tongue as all I wanted to say was, ‘count yourself lucky, you’ll be back to it in no time. Others aren’t so lucky!’
Seeing a pain psychologist last summer did help me a lot with this issue and it gradually started to bother me less and less (If you want to find out what strategies I used with my psychologist take a look at my post on dealing with the psychological and emotional effects of chronic pain). But, I still felt niggles when a friend for example, would talk about their workout at the gym etc. It wasn’t until I became really poorly with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) in January this year that my mindset really changed. I started to care much less about exercise and more about the smaller things. I now just want to be well enough to put on make up, go out more than once a week for an hour, to enjoy being out again, to chat to friends on the phone more often etc. Those are the things I long for now. I don’t care if I never exercise again, as long as I can get a bit better to be able to do some more of life’s little pleasures
I am now quite happy to sit and listen to my family talk about their running races, or my boyfriend talk about his 90km weekend bike ride. I am genuinely really happy for them and so proud of what they’ve achieved! My mum for example, ran for England a couple of years ago in an 100km race, how amazing is that!! And Paddy did his first marathon this year with a fantastic time in memory of a close friend of his!!
I only properly realised how far I’ve come psychologically when we were having dinner a couple of weeks ago, and the Commonwealth Games was on – the swimming. I used to turn all sport off when it was on the TV or walk out of the room, but this time I sat and really enjoyed watching the swimming and talking about sport. I was totally griped for the first time in years and found myself getting really excited when watching the likes of Hannah Miley and other young British hopefuls swim! From then on I watched the games pretty much everyday and loved it
If I got suddenly got better tomorrow, I’m not saying I wouldn’t immediately put my trainers back on and get back on the road, but I no longer care about not being able to do sport or others being able to do it! I find happiness in the simplest of things!
Have you ever felt a great sense of loss and frustration when loosing your ability to exercise? Xx