When I was young we didn’t have a car in our family. We walked – a lot. Right into my early twenties I thought nothing of walking 3 or 4 miles there and back on a night out.
We also cycled – a lot. I remember vividly Saturday cycle rides through country lanes with my mom and dad to a nearby village with a big market. Cycling 5 miles or so (on a girls bike, not even full sized wheels!), locking up the bikes and begging my dad to let us buy a lamb from the livestock auction. He always said that as we couldn’t carry a lamb on a bicycle maybe another time.
To visit grandparents and go shopping in the big cities it was the bus for us. A walk to the bus station, standing around waiting and another walk the other end.
In my mid-late twenties I got lazy. This co-incided with an unhealthy and intense realtionship with a man – who had a car. Along with a major crash and burn with depression, comfort eating, spiralling debt, self harm and lots of unhappiness. Within 6 months I had piled on weight. I got help for my break-down/depression/self harm and for the first time discovered true joy for life. This triggered the end of my relationship and a new phase of confidence and contentment in my life.
I had started going to the gym to regain my fitness and lose the weight. It worked – for a while until I started getting a nagging pain down my leg which wouldn’t go away. X-rays at the hospital revealed I have severly compacted discs in my lower spine and the resulting agonising pain wasn’t going to go away on it’s own.
I was so determined to get fit and toned – but my body couldn’t cope. The various exercises certainly seemed to be making the problem a lot worse. I was recommended to walk, swim and do gentle phsyio excercises. My phsyio told me there was nothing I couldn’t do but it just needed a lot more thought (apart from bungee jumping which was out). But she also told me I would now have to think about my back problem first and foremost – buy a car with this in mind, buy a house with this in mind – no huge DIY projects because I just wasn’t capable of it.
It was a crushing blow. I’ve always been one to get stuck in. I don’t shy away from DIY, self assembly furniture, moving and shifting. But now I had to. I had to learn to say “I can’t do that” and it was heart breaking.
Around this time I had met Paul, my (now) husband. He was a tremendous comfort and support as I learnt I had to change my approach to life in order to survive and prosper with a severe back condition. I had a course of epidurals, which Paul held my hand throughout and took care of me whilst we watched videos and I lay about feeling spacey.
I adapted my life considerably. So many small things could (still can) aggrevate the pain – I learnt to move my feet instead of twisting my body to reach things, I learnt to make a bed took a long time with deliberate movements and lots of crouching not bending, I learnt that with a special chair at work I could suddenly work 8 hours a day without grunting in pain constantly.
All these things took a long time to learn. There are some things I am still bad at remembering. Soon Paul and I moved in together. We established more things that gave me problems – lifting/carrying bags of shopping, filling/emptying the washing machine, hoovering for more than 5/10 minutes, using the lawn mower. Ha! Most households chores were difficult. So Paul took up the slack and I found things I was able to do without rendering myself useless!
We began to eat a much healthier and balanced diet. In the first year I lost about on and half stones (20 odd pounds). Losing the weight seemed to make things easier on my back and I was able to do a little more – light gardening, some carrying and light lifting, more hoovering and so forth.
The weight loss stalled. I didn’t seem able to shift the rest of the weight. By now I was commuting to work and driving to the office was the only way to get there from where we live now. My job is IT based and so sedentary for 90% of the time. As the months rolled on (and my wedding got closer!) it was time for action – time to get my fitness back and stop the lazing!
I started to go for walks during my lunch break. A colleague and I even started to walk up and down the many flights of stairs in our campus buildings as good aerobic exercise. Paul and I dusted down our bicycles, even getting them serviced by the local bike shop and we started going for short rides at weekends with the aim of buidling up our fitness to go further afield. On trips away and holidays we walked more to explore. We started going for a walk every evening.
I remembered the days when I was younger and would think nothing of a 3 mile walk – yet now walking a mile into town seemed impossible to me. I was determined that I would become who I felt I was inside – fit, active and capable.
Yet – I seemed to be getting more and more tired. In Autumn 2005 I had my first trip to New York. We walked miles – and I was exhausted. I couldn’t understand it. It was a hot weekend, very humid and we put it down to that. But it didn’t feel like exhaustion had felt before. I was used to getting worn out from constant chronic back pain. I was used to taking those steps into exercise and needing a good rest afterwards. But I didn’t seem to be bouncing back.
I was also experiecning chronic stress in my job which reached a climax in 2004-2005. My close colleagues all felt that somehow it was making me ill – and I suspected that too but didn’t know what to do about it.
By late 2005 I had experienced a series of viral type infections and felt wiped out. I made my first doctors appointment in a long time. This was a big deal for me. My last appointment before then was in 2004 for pain killers after I thrown my back out on holiday. Before that was various visits for back related pain and contraception back in 2002/3. Before that was visits for depression. I hadn’t seen a doctor for feeling unwell/under the weather since I had tonsillitis in 1994.
I used to get a lot of sore throats and ear aches when I was a kid. But my attendence at school was excellent. So was my attendence at work. I rarely had days off sick and if I did pick up a cold I usually got over it quite quickly.
So, when in late 2005 I found myself saying to the doctor “I just don’t feel right somehow” I knew something was up.
I won’t tell the whole CFS story here – I’ll only digress. To summarise … I felt pretty wrong throught early 2006. I managed to do those stair walks and cycle rides with Paul but felt I’d lost some of my ability to bounce back and recover from exertion. It didn’t make sense. In May 2006 I had 3 weeks off work – unheard of for me and I thought I would go stir crazy. After a week back at work I was struck down with bad tonsillitis and signed off work again. My blood tests came back as positive for Glandular Fever and everyone decided that was what we were dealing with. I stayed off work, very ill and exhausted until October 2006 (having gone in for a few days in July and not coping). I did a “phased” return to work gradually cranking up the hours until mid December, at nearly full hours I crashed into a full on relapse. I was poorlier than ever before and 9 months later there is little improvement. I had a formal diagnosis of CFS/ME in Jan 2007 after that crash.
Now I find myself struggling most days to walk up or down my own stairs without getting breathless and feeling exhausted. Walking around my garden for 2 minutes means I need a 10-20 minutes rest afterwards. Yet I’m the woman who could walk for miles.