Tag Archives: physical illness

Why am I running a marathon?

Some of you will know I’ve spent the last little while training for a marathon and it’s coming up fast so I thought I’d share a few things I’ve been reflecting on! Firstly, why the heck am I doing it?!

Because I want to!

Group of mixed sex marathon running

Ever since I can remember being aware of what a marathon is, I have wanted to do one! I can’t quite put my finger on why, I just remember seeing it on television and I thought it was amazing to be able to run that far; it seemed as though finishing it led to a huge sense of achievement and so much positivity surrounded the whole event. Whether people run for charity, in fancy dress or for personal goals, everyone has one target, the finish line! While it’s a solitary pursuit, there’s a fantastic sense of comradery! Having done a couple of half marathons the buzz produced by the spectators is great, complete strangers come to cheer you on. Everyone wants everyone to achieve whatever goal they’ve set themselves! That goal may simply be to finish while others chase records.

It’s now or never!

Over the years my health has let me down. Chronic mental and physical illnesses have taken their toll on my body. After a failed operation on my ankle a couple of years ago, my surgeon has said the next option is to fuse my ankle joint. While it will be possible to run on a fused ankle, I know the rehab process will be long. To put off the operation as long as possible I’ve been fitted with an orthotic that keeps my ankle joint rigid; currently this keeps my pain to a minimum and allows me to run.

I have fibromyalgia, currently an incurable condition that tends to get worse rather than better. I also have degeneration and various arthritic changes in my cervical and thoracic spine, which, again, are getting worse, not better! I’m on a waiting list to have injections into my spine to help with the pain, I’m currently managing with multiple painkillers and frequent chiropractic sessions.

I’m using this window, before another ankle op is absolutely necessary, to achieve my dream. My body is crumbling (some people don’t believe me because I’m really good at covering up how much pain I’m in but it really is!), the longer I leave it, the less likelihood there is of me achieving this! If I tried waiting for optimal health, it’s never going to happen so it’s now or never!

Things I’ve learnt

  • Fuelling while I’m running – having run a couple of half marathons without eating, this came as a bit of a shock but it turns out the body can only store enough glycogen to keep you going for about 1.5 hours. I’m going to take a lot longer than that so it’s been an interesting part of training to work out what to eat, when and how! I well and truly hit the proverbial wall about 2.5 hours into my first long run… I don’t want to experience that again! (Good to experience it in training rather than the real thing though!). Fuelling correctly before running is to ensure the glycogen stores a jam-packed. I’ve been having fun cooking more varied meals!
  • It’s a good idea to smell soya milk before using it to make pre-run porridge – turns out, soya milk goes off. I had no idea and it tasted fine in my porridge… until mid 18-mile-training-run my tummy was very very unhappy, ‘nuff said… again, good job I experienced this mid-training run and not in the real thing!
  • My mind is incredibly strong – even when achy and exhausted, I’ve proved again and again, I can keep going. I may not be fast but I can keep going. That unforgettable 18 miles I mentioned above? I finished that run! Just shows what you can force your body to do when you want to/have to! I keep going when it’s tough using a few mantras in time with my footsteps: “you can do this” or “just keep go-ing” – the 4 syllables helps keep my rhythm going. My body may not be great, it’s going to hurt but it’s going to be the power of self belief that carries me over the line.
  • Rest is just as much a part of training as running is – I’m finding as I taper down my miles (a important part of any training schedule) when I do run I’m feeling stronger. In my younger years when I’ve not followed any training plan, I’ve pounded the streets day-after-day-after-day, not achieving anything but exhaustion. Unfortunately my sleep will never be the best quality (due to fibro) but resting for long enough is required for muscles to recover.
  • Podcasts are fantastic – lots of people like running to music but I find it difficult as I tend to run to the beat even if it too fast or slow for me. However, I’ve been entertained during the long hours on my own by some great podcasts. The subject matter of some of these may surprise you but I think I’ve learnt the atmosphere created by the banter matters more to me than the theme (in no particular order): You, me and the Big C: Putting the can in cancer – fantastically funny and serious but above all honest conversations around the subject of cancer, Wellfar – podcast tracking marathon training with Amy Hopkinson, Sh**ged Married Annoyed – Rosie and Chris Ramsey taking an honest look at their married and answer listen questions, Something Rhymes with Purple – a fun discussion about our bright and colourful English language with etymologist Susie Dent and Giles Brandreth, Scummy Mummies – an hilarious look at parenthood, Deliciously Ella – a down to earth conversation about mental and physical health, David Tenant Does a Podcast – revealing but relaxed conversations with the gorgeous David Tenant at the helm. One thing I would say is I’ve found running is compatible with neither laughing nor crying…!
  • There’s a lot to remember before setting out on a long run – while you’re remembering to put on suncream and sunglasses to position blister plasters, carry water and food, you’ve got to decide on a garment to carry everything, you’ve also got to do the right warm up, I have to remember to warm up my ankle before putting on my ankle brace as my ankle muscle still try to work (despite being braced) and they get tight. It took me a long time to decide on a comfortable hair-do for running – to low plait has it – not too tight but not too loose! Remembering to charge my headphones is essential too!
  • A new brace solves the blister issues – I was told each orthotic would last 9-12 months of normal use. But, I’m, erm… thwacking it through marathon training! My 6 month old brace was causing awful blisters, fortunately, my orthotist ordered a new one, no questions asked and my new one is doing a grand job!
  • It’s possible to stick to a plan and be flexible at the same time – I mapped out my training programme in front of a computer. I’m usually someone who sets a plan and sticks rigidly to it but that would have been a recipe for self destruction so as the weeks went by I found small adjustments and made it more suitable for my weekly commitments and how I felt my body was recovering from long runs etc.

Never have the following sayings been more true:

If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right” and

If you want to you’ll find a way, if you don’t want to you’ll find an excuse”!

If you’re thinking you might want to run a marathon…keep both of these in mind!

Female running down a track between a line of trees

Training for a marathon is no small feat, it takes time and discipline. My husband has been a saint, giving me the time and space I need, he’s even been water-boy on occasion, tracking me around the beautiful Hampshire countryside providing water and sustenance. I’m being selfish, this dream is all about me, feeling good about myself and nothing else. I know there will be many people there raising money for charity or doing other honourable things but I spend the large majority of my life doing stuff for other people so this is just for me. It’s really hard to admit this because I don’t think I deserve it, but that’s exactly why I’m doing it, to prove to myself, I am worth it!

Image of my tattoo

What does my tattoo mean?

I’ve finally done it! It may surprise some people but I’ve finally been inked and I have some permanent body art I absolutely love! For me, it’s been a long time coming. I thought long and hard and whether I wanted one at all and I considered very carefully the content and placement of said tattoo.

The cat

My pencil sketch

I’ve had cats as pets all my life. I don’t just love cats, they’ve been an integral part of my mental health recovery. When in a dark place, a cat does not judge you or treat you differently, they do not worry about what to say or how to treat you; if they want food or fuss, they pester you, they lead a simple life but I love their individual characters. At times when getting on with humans has been too difficult, I’ve always found comfort in the companionship of a cat.

Milly has taught me to be more laid back. Rosa taught me to be content with the small things. Figgy teaches me everyday that being an idiot is ok!

The cat in my tattoo represents the comfort and relief I find when in the presence of a cat. But from my position of comfort I can reach for…

The butterfly

A symbol of freedom. As a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis and dries out its wings, it’s undergone and incredible transformation and now has the freedom to fly. Mental health recovery is a fragile entity, not to be taken for granted. As a butterfly has the freedom to fly, it’s also vulnerable to the slightest insult.

Butterfly is also a symbol of hope, bravery and commitment.

The semi colon

The body of the butterfly is a semi colon and represents the idea that my story is not over. It was coined by the semi colon project to be shared by people who’ve been touched by suicide. I have attempted to take my life on a number of occasions but I live and my story goes on.

I’ve joined a community of people who believe we have a collective responsibility to prevent suicide by sharing information and resources. If I can have just one more conversation about suicide prevention, it;’s worth it. Hopefully, it’ll start many conversations!

Designed by me

Lots of my sketches

After looking at numerous pages of Google images and trawling Pinterest, I knew what I wanted, I hadn’t found the exact image, the best way to explain it was to draw it myself so that’s what I did! It took a lot of drafting, I’m no artist! But I got there eventually. The final design s a combination of the cat drawn by me, refined by the tattoo artist and the butterfly designed and drawn by the artist.

I think there’s beauty in the simplicity of the lines. I didn’t want it to be any specific cat or species of butterfly – what they represent is more important.

Placed on my back

To represent my perseverance to put my mental illness behind me.

While I’m glad to have serious episodes of mental illness behind me, I can’t say that about physical illness. I continue to have serious neck and back pain caused by arthritis in my spine and fibromyalgia. I feel like, by putting something pretty on the area that’s causing me grief, I’m doing something to counteract my feelings of annoyance and frustration.

Hidden by my clothes

Because I know there are people out there who judge: People with tattoos, people with scars, people with mental illness.

I did wonder about having it visible and laughing the face of judgment but I’d rather people get to know me and then they find out I don’t fit the stereotypes they’d expect. They way I can challenge their judgments they hold. I do, also, need to consider my professional life. It’s a shame that people make judgments and assume stereotypes but in my professional life, I’m in a position of trust and I need to put my clients first and consider how they feel – I don’t want them to be distracted by my tattoos.

Visible on occasion

While my tattoo is for me, I didn’t get it for anyone else, I not averse to positive feedback! I’ve chosen a position that I can choose whether or not I have it on show. I think it’s quite pretty and while there are people who’re against tattoos in general, I think if people see mine, on the whole, people will not be offended by mine, so I going to enjoy choosing clothing based on how low the back is!

My tattoo

Represents how I live my life – in an incredibly careful and considered way! Maybe I overthink things sometimes but then I’m able to step outside the box into the unexpected too!

Hidden disability, stick person standing

Am I disabled?

I recently watched a video where 2 people discussed various scenarios in which they would (or woulnd’t) be considered disabled and it got me thinking about my situation.

I have severe arthritis in various parts of my body. A couple of years ago I had an operation that was meant to prolong the use of my left ankle. Unfortunately, it’s so damaged that, even though they did extensive work (microfracturing to try and regenerate the cartilage), it wasn’t enough and the only option I have left is to have it fused (they’d literally fuse the bones to prevent the joint moving). We’re putting off that operation as long as possible by using an external brace (orthotic) that does the same job, the joint is completely immobilised but I can take the brace off if I want to, for example, wear high heels!

The pain in my neck and back is kept to a bearable level by painkillers and physio but this doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact me on a daily basis. Of course, it hurts physically but chronic pain is mentally draining too. I also have chronic fatigue that means I have to consider the level of activity I can manage but this is still a work in progress and I frequently overdo things. See this blog for how much time and effort go into managing chronic illness.

But – do I considered myself disabled?!

On the surface, no I don’t. I just get on with my life. I have a fairly standard life, nothing particular spectacular but I’m content and I do most of the things I want to do.

The social model of disability looks at whether there are things in society, either physically, or the way the world works, that dis-able someone from functioning fully. But how far should we expect society to bend in order to accommodate one person’s needs?

Simple images of disability examples, person in a wheelchair, brain, sign language, person with cane.

For some people it’s obvious; if you’re in a wheelchair and the only way into a building is via stairs, the environment is disabling your entry into the venue, a ramp or lift is needed. But what alterations would someone with a learning disability need, or autism? How about changing the configuration of the office to accommodate someone with anxiety disorder? What flexibility would you offer someone managing epilepsy? What if someone needs different alterations on different days depending on how their condition is impacting them? Society tend to be confused by hidden or changeable conditions such as mine.

If I had my way, I would have about 36 hours each day, I would sleep for an extra 4 hours, I would use 4 hours to do the things I want to do (hobbies, socialising etc) and the other 4 hours would be spent resting. But this is not something society can offer me!

I work part time, part of the reason for this is because I’m studying to be a counselor but this is an evening course so in theory I would continue working full time and fit course work in around my paid work. However, levels of fatigue dictate this isn’t possible, working part time means I can share my energy between my commitments. With part time work comes a lower salary, I would prefer to work full time, I have the intellectual capability to work full time in a much higher paid job but my health doesn’t allow this – what “reasonable adjustment” that would solve this one?

Sometimes disabilities are invisible. A line of people with labels “ADHD”, “Fibromyalgia”, “Dyslexia”, “Crohn’s disease”, “Arthritis”

My ankle orthotic means that slopes and some steps are awkward – my foot and knee have to work harder but I can’t expect the world to be designed to suit my needs, can I? I find it much harder to stand on public transport because my ability to balance is impaired but no one can tell I need a seat so don’t get me started…! Very few weeks post recent ankle op I was non-weight bearing, balancing on crutches on the underground, did anyone offer me a seat?? I’ll just leave it there!

My orthotic is very well designed to fit inside standard shoes but I’m restricted with the type of shoe I can wear, I could probably do with a left shoe half a size bigger than the right but I don’t want to buy 2 pairs of shoes!

Evenings are a tricky time for me. Pain and fatigue are at their worst and getting to bed on time is important. But I don’t want to miss out on social activities or hobbies. I find it very difficult to send my apologies when I’m “tired”, I don’t want to be seen as unreliable or considered a flake, that’s not in my nature. I’m more likely to push myself beyond my limits because I’m intolerant of my restrictions. But I can’t expect evening activities to be brought forward so that I’m not constantly pushing my body further than it’s really capable, can I?

If I was being obnoxious, I could say that society is disabling me by not providing me with specific adjustments for my needs but I don’t know what entitles me to adaptations?

Another method for measuring disability is whether you could just “up and off” if the worst happened. Could I cope with just the clothes on my back in an unfamiliar environment?

Multiple medications coming out of a pot

Most people with chronic illness are reliant on regular medication, I am no exception – I take a multitude of medication everyday and (when errors have occurred with supply) me off meds is not pretty! Without my thyroid hormone, after a few days I start to slow down, the list of problems is extensive: blood pressure irregularities, low body temperature and memory problems being just the start! Without daily migraine preventative, other painkillers and psychiatric medication, functioning is very difficult, if not impossible!

I manage my mental health to such an extent that I would now say I’m recovered. However, maintaining my health requires certain familiar routines, I don’t know how I’d cope in an unfamiliar environment. Knowing me, I think I’d cope fine for a few days, I’d turn my attention to supporting other people but after about 2 weeks my cracks would start to show, as my energy ran out, my coping mechanisms would break down.

I don’t think I identify as disabled but it’s interesting to think how my life is different because of my chronic conditions. Other people find life a lot easier than I do, perhaps I could ask them to make alterations so we’re on more of a level playing field but I’m not bold enough to be that person who stands up and demands the world adjust for me. It’s different in America, an environment without alterations is unusual but in the the UK we still expect the individual to stand up for themselves. I find it easier to struggle on rather than face judgments from people who don’t want to help me out.