If you have read some of my stuff before you may have heard me talk wistfully about ‘the summer of 2016’, I time when I managed to string a series of good habits together, to get on top of various conditions and symptoms and to start to experience a little taste of chronic wellness. Don’t get me wrong, there were setbacks, flair ups and things weren’t perfect, but generally I felt good, I had energy and life was better.
Part of that routine included exercise. I almost find it hard to believe now but my routine actually included varied and regular exercise, and even less believable to me, I was actually enjoying it (I know, WTF?!). Possibly even more importantly it seemed to work. I worked largely on my core, with some work also building strength in my arms and my legs and building strength is the perfect analogy. I could feel that extra strength every day. I carried it around with me, like a badge of honour, making me feel capable and strong in my approach to everyday life.
From Strength to Strength…
This routine continued for months, building strength, reducing waistline (another nice side effect) and generally supporting my wellness everyday, until that is… Flare time. Having a condition that flares is a pain in the arse, but, to draw on the spoon analogy, it also majorly reduces the number of spoons at your disposal each day. All of a sudden you find half the number of spoons to spare for your normal routine and of course, in the end, something has to give.
For me that ‘giving up’ of things, so far in my illness has never been conscious. I just shed the things that appear less urgent in the hope of being able to manage the little remaining spoon for the ‘essentials’. Exercise becomes a no brainer on that front, ‘hmmm my symptoms of fatigue, extreme muscle pain and stiffness are ramping up on a daily basis, maybe I’ll just drop the exercise for a few days’.
Spoon related decisions
Then here you are nine months later, yet to pick back up the routine. Also having come out the other side of the (rather extreme and long lasting) flare, wondering if your strategy of spoon preservation was correct in the first place? Is work really more important than everyday items that keep your core strength up and enable you to do your job well when you get there? But how can you maintain such routines, any routines, when you feel so bloody horrendous every single day?
Hmmm. A lot of food for thought.
My exercise routine
So what was I doing, back in the good old days? My routine looked something like this…
15 minute workout 3/4 times per week (short but intense, with big girl weights and everything!)
16 minutes of Yoga (rounds of sun salutations) 2/3 times per week
Plus increased walking and trying to do at least one longer walk (5k +) at weekends
Apart from longer walks nothing took a major time commitment and nothing required me to leave the house for the gym etc.
One of the key elements of making it work for me was trying to work it into a sensible daily routine. One of the things that always annoys me about exercise is not necessarily the time doing it, but the time ‘around’ it. Getting ready, getting to the gym, or park or whatever (if applicable), having to shower, washing hair, drying hair, reapply make up etc. etc., then getting back to wherever you came from. All of a suddenly this manageable 30 minute gym session designed by your personal trainer has turned into a 2 hour daily drain! In the words of the woman off of the youtube ‘ain’t nobody got time for that!’ (literally and figuratively!)
I worked exercise into my routine by doing it in the evening shortly before tea, so that I could also have a shower (and if i’m being honest get ready for bed afterwards – as my husband will attest/complain I’m no stranger to earlier than socially acceptable pyjamas!). This meant I could combine hair wash that I would have done that night or next day for work anyway, and the fact that there was no need to dry hair and reapply make up etc. or to return to work or everyday life. Perfect.
So, I know what you’re thinking, ‘this all sounds lovely Kate, but if it’s so great, why aren’t you doing it now?’.
Well dear reader, I have to confess, I know I should, I ‘want’ to, but honestly, I can’t be arsed! I just can’t get my motivation into gear! Terrible but true.
I think part of the problem is, I’m trying to get started at the peak point where I was before, putting pressure on myself to follow the routine described above from week one. And of course that’s not realistic. My body is considerably weaker now. Just as I built up slowly before I need to do the same again.
The other part of the problem is the rebel complex in me, in a lot of us I think. ‘I should’ be doing this, is a notion unlikely to get me doing anything. A bit like when someone or something tells me I should eat more greens or drink less wine, my inner teenage rebel kicks in, no body tells me what I ‘must’ or ‘should’ do, not even me! (Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!).
So I suppose it comes down to an issue of reframing. I need to ‘want’ to do it. Want to do it for myself, for the strength it gives me, for the chronic feelings of wellbeing, rather than just walk around feeling guilty like I ‘should’.
I have been reading a little recently about good habits, making and breaking habits, as well as the odd self help book here and there. As a result I have cobbled together a plan. So here it is:
- Visualise – I am going to start by spending a week visualising the issue – not only me doing exercise but also the exercised me, feeling stronger and well, feeling that buzz of energy you get immediately after you finish
- Say it out loud – I am going to speak aloud as many times as I can, to myself and to everyone I meet (without looking and sounding totally crazy) that I want to start a new exercise routine, that I can’t wait to get started, that I am so excited about the way I am going to look and feel
- Then when I am super excited and can’t wait to get going, I am going to instigate an easing in gently plan and get started, building back into a routine and building week on week.
- Most importantly I am going to build that plan into my routine, set diary appointments if I have to, whatever it takes to make me remember and to ensure that I start stringing several good days together.
In theory the brain is retrainable and reframe-able and we can literally brain wash ourselves to change our opinions and attitude in positive ways.
So as always dear reader I am willing to be your guinea pig. I will try it out and report back. However, I promise not to turn into a total exercise worshiping crazy person and posting pictures of my muscular toned torso on instagram every five minutes (sorry, had to pause for a moment there from laughing at the thought of me with a muscular and toned torso!)
What do you think? Will it work? Have you tried anything similar before? Do you balance exercise and chronic illness and make it work? If you do I would live to hear how in the comments below…
Speak soon, hopefully with an update.