Health & Fitness: The Chronic Illness Paradox

A massive thank you to Bethany for writing this honest and insightful guest post about maintaining your health and fitness with chronic illness. If you’d like to write something for my site then please leave a comment below or get in touch on social media 🙂

Everyone struggles to exercise. I have found excuses for years, through school, university, and my first jobs. Even people who look like they love to workout sometimes still struggle to get out of bed in the morning and go for a run. However, over the last few months, I have been trying really hard to go to the gym regularly, eat well and generally attempt to improve my health and fitness. It was working as well; I was getting stronger, and the cycle uphill from work was getting easier each day. This was all before my most recent bout of pain.

When Illness Strikes…

Although these bouts of undiagnosed and almost crippling pain happen quite regularly, they usually go within a week. This bout has been continuous for the last five weeks. There are lots of effects that the pain has had on my life: not being able to work, struggling to eat properly (or at all) and even my relationship with my partner has changed in subtle ways. I regret a lot of these but, surprisingly enough, exercise is something I miss the most.

I’m no longer able to go for a run, cycle to work or the shops, swim in the evening or even walk to the bus stop on the worst days. A year ago I’d have almost been relieved. I would have used the pain as an excuse not to do any fitness, to ignore my health and just eat whatever I liked. So many people in our society associate exercise with health and well-being. I’m not one of those people. I’m not condemning people for not going to the gym if they can. It’s just hard to accept when that choice has been taken away from you.


You’ll Never Guess What…

Now I find that I actually miss moving around and being able to use my body normally. I’ve had to watch in the mirror as all the hard work I put in at the gym and on my cycles to work can no longer be seen. Walking round the local supermarket is now a mission, and I get completely out of breath going up a flight of stairs. About a week ago I was ready to cancel my gym membership, use that money for tubs of ice-cream and completely give up. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, deciding to give exercise a shot in the future doesn’t mean I’m going to be winning the London Marathon next year. What it does mean is that I can see a way past this pain and I have something to aim for that will keep me focused on remaining as healthy as I can be and take control of those moments when the pain is manageable. One of those moments came earlier today.

Small Triumphs

For the first time in days I woke up and didn’t feel sick, I could sit up on my own and even felt hungry. I decided that I wanted to go for a walk. This probably seems daft but at the moment going out on my own, just for a leisurely walk in jeans and a jumper, is such a big thing for me. It was my decision this morning to do something independent, active and positive. I took my various painkillers and set out. I thought I’d just make it to the local cycle path then turn back if I needed to but I went a bit further, then a bit further.

I wasn’t exactly skipping along picking daisies, but I was capable of doing this walk. On my own, one step in front of the other, I was out. I looked at the time and saw I’d been walking for fifteen minutes, should I turn back, what if it starts hurting and I can’t get home, is half an hour enough, is it too much? No. I was doing well, and as I’m stubborn as a mule most of the time I decided I could do a bit more and go a bit further.

I can’t say how glad I am that I kept on walking. This morning I walked the furthest I have in five weeks. Yes, I stopped off on a bench for a bit to wait for a wave of pain to pass but I stood up, and I kept on going. I walked about 5km in an hour and a half, and I am so proud of myself!

Every time I reach a goal that I didn’t think I could achieve, I’m proud of myself. I really hope that everyone else who manages to climb a flight of stairs for the first time, make themselves a cup of tea on their own or run the London Marathon feels the same way.


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