Monday Meditation: My 10,000 Steps (and very sore feet).

A very personal post this week. I hope you’ll bear with me, I am writing this the night before posting in place of the scheduled one. Typos may happen as I’m pretty tired and sore because yesterday (Saturday), this happened:

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This is the first time I have ever reached this goal and this is how I felt when I saw the stats:

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To put it into context: I’ve had a severe back injury that goes back (sorry) to when I was 20, and has been exacerbated by numerous other injuries, surgery, medications and treatments. I have spent months in a plaster cast, weeks in traction, years wearing a steel reinforced corset, and spent most of my adult life lying flat on my back rattling with pills that didn’t work, unable to have anyone touch me due to intractable pain.

I’ve missed countless family events.  I have gone to bed in my trainers because there was no-one around to unfasten them for me. I have frequently slept in my clothes because either I couldn’t move or the pain was too severe to have someone help me. There are times I can’t even clean my teeth because raising my arm is too painful. I didn’t have a bath, shower or hair wash for 5 years – I eventually had my son shave my head, very liberating! I can’t travel to see my mum. I can’t hold a book. There are still days when I can’t get out of bed. But just occasionally, with a lot of hard work over a long period of time, with fingers crossed and all the planets in alignment, I manage to go for a walk. Usually they are short. Once in a blue moon and usually in warm summer weather, they become longer.

Saturday was one of these days.

To cut a long story short, my husband needed me to go with him to take a parcel that was being returned and the address needed to be scanned, but he doesn’t have a smartphone and wanted to use mine. He has a (justified) reputation for losing or breaking electronic devices and I didn’t trust him with mine!

Had I known how far we would be going, and end up going via a circuitous route along the canal, I would have gone by car. I wasn’t feeling the best, but knew I should try and have a walk. In the event, I was distracted by swans and ducks – flying overhead and sitting on the water –  crocuses, snowdrops and canal architecture, smallholdings with geese, old buildings, and my husband pointing out where various people lived and so on.

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By the time we arrived home, I had done 7,000 steps. SEVEN THOUSAND STEPS!! In winter when it’s impossible to leave the house, I struggle to make a few hundred; previously when I did go out, I was delirious if I made 1500. Lately, with hard work, I’ve been managing 3-4,000, that’s how momentous this is. I couldn’t believe it and knew immediately there would be payback. I could feel myself stiffening up as soon as I sat down.

It had threatened rain, so it had been damp, which didn’t help. The next time I stood up, I couldn’t straighten my legs, and my feet and ankles felt like they would break with the pressure. My back was not happy at all. I knew I had to keep moving, hard as it might be. So, even though my husband kept offering to fetch things for me, I doggedly shuffled about trying to keep the bodyparts mobile. I felt like I was in my nineties! Injections of WD40 would have been appreciated.

Later, as my husband made dinner, it became a lovely evening with a peach-toned sky and I decided I had to try to walk around the block or I would never get out of bed in the morning. I was rewarded by the most beautiful song from an overhanging tree as I rounded the corner. A robin was in full voice right above my head and I had my own private concert. I was glad I made the effort.

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Can you see him? I wish you could hear him, but my blog won’t support video. I took this still from the video I took with my phone camera.

His song lifted my spirits and I walked the rest of the way with a smile and a metaphorical if not literal spring in my step.

By late evening, my husband and I compared notes, we had both done just over 9,000 steps! I couldn’t believe it. My competitive genes kicked in and I knew, if I tried really hard, I could manage the final 1,000 before bed, just walking around the house. I knew I would be sorry next day, but I didn’t care: I also knew that my sense of achievement (and the fact I beat my very fit husband!) would be worth all the pain and discomfort.

I had a long and very hot shower, smothered myself in arnica gel and set about my task. Eventually, I looked at my stats and it said 9,951! So close. I shuffled and counted. I was sure I had made it. I checked again. 9,951. What was going on? Again I counted. Still 9,951. I knew I had made it but I needed the visual evidence! I walked around and around the kitchen as I waited for the kettle to heat up for a couple of hot water bottles, I was going to need them! I was dead on my feet, they would ever forgive me for abusing them this way.

Finally, finally, the stats changed. 10,360! That was so cruel. I could have been in bed 360 steps ago! But I was ecstatic. And so proud. I have been trying for years to improve my walking and kept being kicked back to the starting point. This was incredible. I was so happy.

All I needed now was a good night’s rest and to take things easy next day, try to keep moving but not push myself. So, what happened? A dog barked all night. The temperature had risen and I was overheated with the shower and hot water bottles. I was over-stimulated by the exercise and my mind wouldn’t stop recalling my efforts and everything I’d seen that day. I was so stiff, I found it hard to change position. By the time I felt like I had just managed to drop off, a blackbird was singing his heart out and it was still pitch dark!

It took me an hour and a half to get up this morning. Another long hot shower. More arnica gel. My feet didn’t want to touch the ground. I felt like I’d been in the ring with Ali. My husband went on a 50 mile bike ride and I could barely lift a cup of tea!

And yet, I was smiling. I couldn’t wait to show my also very fit cycling son and my kick-boxing daughter what I had achieved. They wouldn’t believe it. I still had trouble believing it. I keep having to look back at the stats.

I may never manage it again. But if I don’t, I will always have this feeling. I will always remember this euphoria. I will always be grateful for the chance to prove that despite all the ‘can’ts’, this time I could.

Ps Plus the added bonus of beating my husband!

PPs I could never have done this before I started juicing and became vegan. There has been a marked improvement in my overall health in the last 4-5 years. I think there has been a reduction in the inflammation throughout my body, plus the added nutrients feeding my muscles, nerves and so on.

Thank you for reading. I just had to tell someone!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

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Invisible Disabilities Week – My Story

IMG_4186I just learned today that it is Invisible Disabilities Week. As someone who has spent her whole adult life with an invisible disability, I thought I would share this ‘short’  anecdote on what it is like to look strong and healthy but struggle with a pain and disability that is not obvious to the casual observer. I know I promised short, but this wasn’t planned and you know me, this could go on a bit, for which I apologise in advance – but there are some nice photos too (and yes, that is a packet of crisps in front of me!)

Many moons ago, in a county far, far away, I had a prolapsed disc that refused to heal. I was in my early twenties with a toddler son, had spent a couple of months in bed on the advice of my doctor but could not get moving. I did, however, read the complete Thomas Hardy oeuvre and while doing so, discovered my son was teaching himself to read when he looked at a paragraph containing lots of t’s, p’s and s’s and announced, ‘Look, Mummy, that’s like Top of the Pops!’ (A popular BBC chart programme).

 I had three weeks in hospital on traction where even hospital staff would leave my meals by the side of my bed while I lay flat on my back unable to reach, because I was young and they were preoccupied with the older patients. Eventually, I was sent home with a steel reinforced surgical corset and instructions not to spend a lot of time sitting. A few weeks later, I had my check-up appointment at the hospital. There had been no improvement. Despite the ‘no sitting’ command, I was kept waiting – and sitting – for two hours for a five minute chat that ended with ‘come back in a few weeks’.

Afterwards, I had to wait in reception for a sitting ambulance to take me home. Unfortunately, it was almost lunchtime but there was one ambulance leaving before the lunch-break and I inwardly heaved a sigh of relief. I was in excruciating pain, all the while knowing that things were going to get worse not better for my trip to the doctor (a constant theme in my life) and all this sitting was doing me more harm than good.

A driver came over. He had one seat left. He looked at the elderly lady next to me with a stick. She had told me she had been to the audio clinic to have her hearing checked. He looked at me. Young, smiling, long shiny hair. He chose the elderly lady.

I wanted to cry. I didn’t know how I was going to get through the next hour, possibly longer, before another ambulance left. Not only was I in pain, but despite the corset, I didn’t have enough strength to sit upright, I kept tilting.

I eventually made it home about 3 p.m., having left home at 8.30 a.m. Up until that point, I hadn’t sat for more than half an hour at a time in several months. The pain was so severe I almost passed out before I could get upstairs to bed. My poor excited son had to make do with the briefest of hugs before the painkillers took hold and knocked me out.

That was a long time ago. During the interim decades, things have improved and got worse and improved in a monotonous recycled pattern including surgery, torturous treatments and therapies, car accidents and so on. My overall health is much improved since I changed my diet and lifestyle, gave up prescription drugs that never helped and always made things worse, and took my health into my own hands. However, despite seasonal improvements during warm weather, I have never regained my strength and full mobility.

IMG_4182And yet… just yesterday, my elderly mum was lauding my efforts to look after her during her stay at the weekend, saying ‘It’s lovely to have my daughter back, back to normal!’ A smile and a talent for acting work wonders in reassuring others, but they also help make a disability invisible and raise expectations.

29935072_UnknownOn Saturday, we took Mum out to see the barges on the canal. She had a lovely time, sitting in the sun eating ice-cream – where unexpectedly, an owl and a hawk where among the patrons! – happy that the three of us were able to have a rare outing together. I usually stay at home.

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29935168_UnknownShe went home next morning and I spent the rest of the day sorting out all her files (with the help of a green smoothie of course).

This morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. My whole body felt like I had been kicked by a mule, my back was on fire, I had no strength, I was exhausted despite twelve hours in bed. I couldn’t get dressed. When I did get up, about 11.30 a.m., I sat with a heated pad on my back while my husband brought me herbal anti-inflammatory drops and an anti-inflammatory ginger and turmeric juice.

Two hours later, I am dressed and writing this post. I will soon be making phonecalls on my mother’s behalf. I will call her to see if she is ok after the journey home. I won’t of course tell her how I’m feeling.

As someone recently said to me, we have no idea what is going on in other people’s lives. If someone is rude, irritable, in a bad mood, unwilling to contribute help to some event you’re organising or collect your kids from school etc. please bear in mind they may be suffering a devastating migraine attack or a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis; they may have an undiagnosed brain tumour, they may have insufferable chronic pain, MS, ME, or any number of invisible conditions. If they are behaving ‘inappropriately’, they may have Asperger’s, anxiety, dementia, having a panic attack, depression or on the verge of going into a diabetic coma.

And most of all, just because someone with a disability or chronic illness can do something one day, doesn’t mean at all that they can do it repeatedly, or even ever again. My mum thinks that everything I do when she is here is what I do every day. She has no appreciation of the superhuman effort I make when she – or anyone else – is here, to make her stay comfortable, to give her something to tell her friends about, some nice memories. But once she has left, I am back in bed, desperate for rest and relief.

Please note: This was written on the spur of the moment as a plea on behalf of others, not for sympathy. I am used to the ups and downs of my life and make the most of it. I am a positive person who laughs a lot and I enjoy seeing Mum doing things she wouldn’t otherwise get to do and I know it means a lot to her that I join in. 

Ps It did get a bit long, didn’t it? Oops…

Feeling Overwhelmed: World Mental Health Day

Monday Meditation: Osteopathy, Rest & Recuperation in Nature

Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine – Paint a Rock & Give a Smile to Someone Who Needs It!

The Mood Booster: Raw Chocolate Mulberry, Banana & Walnut Smoothie

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine – Paint a Rock & Give a Smile to Someone Who Needs It!

 B4B53D6F-9C92-4C30-920B-75FB1D18287AMany of you know that I have a long-term back problem, but perhaps not how serious it is. The warmer weather helps and today we ventured out for a walk along the former railway line, now turned Sustrans bike track. Unfortunately, I was enjoying myself so much that I pushed my body too far and my back seized up by the side of the canal where I had wanted to look at the brightly-coloured barges. I was in a bit of a pickle and knew I couldn’t turn around and go back, nor could I see a bench to perch on while I worked out how get out of this predicament.

I was wondering how on earth I would make it back to the car when I looked up and saw on a ledge a small rock painted with the words: ‘Staffs Smilesstones, please share a pic on FB then rehide me’ with the name of the family who had put it there. It did indeed make me smile, it was such a surprise, sitting there at my eyeline, waiting for me to look up and smile.

This smile and its subsequent break into laughter helped me relax enough to make it to where I needed to go – a nearby pub where I waited while my husband walked back to fetch the car.

When I got back home, and after a few hours’ rest, I looked up Staffs Smilestones and they have a page on Facebook, full of photos of young children with painted stones and cute happy faces, finding and re-hiding the rocks all over Staffordshire for the pure joy of giving someone a smile. I joined their group and will be painting my own rocks very soon.

I am sitting here with a heat pad on my back, having taken some Arnica and smoothed on some Arnica cream, about to go to bed, but wanted to share this story with you.

Here’s a calming photo of a barge drifting along the canal for your Friday night meditation 💜 I love the reflections in the water.

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I’ll be writing a fuller post with lots of photos of our walk when I’m up to it. Oh, and we didn’t get lost!

This story was first shared on Terry’s blog

Copyright: Chris McGowan