I am 26 years old and work as a social media manager for the indie club night Propaganda. I trained in professional dance at London Contemporary Dance School and CalArts, and play flute and piano. And I have two house rabbits!
I became ill with glandular fever over 5 years ago, not long after my graduation. I didn’t recover, and was soon diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), which meant I could barely walk to the shops without getting a flurry of symptoms such as feeling very fluey, brain fog, sensory overload, exhaustion with insomnia, infections, headaches and aches. I was mostly house bound for many months, and of course any dance was out of the question – in fact any exercise would make me ill. Over the years I improved very gradually by learning to manage my symptoms, pace and deal with setbacks/’crashes’, with the help of an ME physiotherapist and my boyfriend. I picked up some new unexpected skills such as crochet! Very short heart-rate monitored walks gradually increasing in length, and light stretching helped.
The big turning point was having my tonsils removed at the end of 2016 (thanks to an incredible GP). I started to feel a lot more like myself, and no more infections meant I could increase my strength more consistently. I started doing a graded return to dance, using ballet classes as that particular structure suited it well. After a few months I had managed a full class, which felt incredible!
At this point I felt I was ready to look into personal training, with the goals of increasing my upper body strength, core and overall fitness, and to be able to manage more dance as well as more activities in general. I was very fortunate to find Stuart to help me with this – he has been extremely understanding of my limitations and has found a way to push me at the right level without overdoing it and making me crash, whilst helping me improve constantly. He took time to understand how my energy works and closely monitors how each session effects me and adjusts things accordingly. It has been invaluable to have someone who I am accountable to and to have support and encouragement from – it can be rare to encounter with an illness like ME that has a lot of stigma and misunderstanding around it!
I found that my strength increased quite quickly, faster than we both expected I think! Whilst I sometimes overdid it with other activities during the week and had occasional setbacks, I soon found a better balance and in fact it has ultimately managed to help give me the strength to manage a lot more during my weeks!
In terms of the training itself, I had always thought I would dislike and be terrible at weights however I’ve found it really enjoyable and motivating each time I go up a weight. It’s great to have more upper body strength – I never worked on it enough in my dance training! Keeping a log has been very helpful for seeing what factors likely caused a setback, or for appreciating when things are going well. The fact that there’s only two maximum training at once has created a perfect environment – a big gym would have too much sensory overload whereas here I can properly focus!
I’m gaining strength and feelings of achievement and motivation. I always leave each session feeling really good and positive, which itself helps with management of any setbacks. I recover much more quickly from setbacks and don’t get them as much in the first place. Personal training has been an essential part of gaining my life back – I no longer have to cancel holidays or seeing friends etc.. and can say yes to lots of activities and experiences. I managed a trip of a lifetime to Australia recently! I now borrow a dog to walk which is great fun! And I can carry a heavy suitcase up the stairs again! I am dancing more with a variety of classes, and look forward to increasing this further. After having had a healthy body taken away from me for a few years, I now appreciate everything that it allows me to do and am grateful to be able to move! I’m very lucky to have recovered this much from ME and to have had the support I’ve had – others aren’t so fortunate.
Advice I would give to someone doing personal training would be to always listen to your body, treat it well and find the enjoyment in movement (and the exercise endorphins!). Try not to over-push yourself. And whilst it’s good to focus on goals, I think it’s also important to recognise and be proud of progress along the way, even if there are some setbacks – especially if they are overcome!