I was very interested and moved reading Lara’s story in Stu’s blog last week. It is inspiring to hear that she overcame this major health setback and that exercise was part of her recovery.
Personally I can relate to Lara’s situation having suffered with ME / chronic fatigue in 2012 for about a year. I had flu, and didn’t recover. The first few months were pretty terrible, and it would have been impossible to care for my two boys who were aged eight and five without the support of my brilliant husband Chris, and friends and family. Chris did everything for the family on top of his full time, busy job, and kept really positive that I would improve soon. I had a phone call one day from him on his way to hospital in an ambulance; a suspected heart attack. He had only fainted, but due to irregular heart readings they had to take him in for testing. It turned out to be good news; after eleven days of unpleasant testing at hospital they concluded that he had an ‘athlete’s’ heart – enlarged left ventricle due to lots of endurance training. Phew. This was a testing time for us both.
Doctors told me to rest, as did everyone else, which seems sensible, but it was only when I started to force myself to move more that I began to recover. I used a self help book from the library which was my turning point. I timed myself with a stop watch all day, noting how long I was lying down resting and how long I was up doing activity, and then very gradually I started to increase the active time (eating, dressing, washing, etc) and decrease the resting time. I took it week by week, seeing how I reacted to the careful changes. As Lara says, overdoing activity one day if you felt good meant a decline one or two days later, so it was important to stick with the plan rather than how I felt. Exercise in the form of walking began about three months after I fell ill, with slow five minutes at first building up very slowly each week. I had lost a lot of strength by lying down for so long so I knew I had to do some simple exercises like squats and resistance band work. The hardest thing was making myself do it at the correct time in my plan even though I felt exhausted.
I felt much benefit from starting a yoga class six months in, beginning with half a class and taking it really steady. It was great for mental release as well as physical gain. I started getting stronger and this gave me hope. It was important though, for me, to accept that I may not improve totally, that if this was the best condition my body could reach then that was fine. I was disappointed that I may not be able to run again, but I came to terms with that. Self acceptance was key in staying positive about the future, reminding myself that many other people are much more incapacitated.
Well, now I can run again, albeit not as fast, and I have adapted my lifestyle to limit my chances of relapsing with chronic fatigue. Certainly I think psychological stress paid a part in my becoming ill, so now I make sure to stick to a few personal rules to avoid that type of stress.
Exercise is a major part of my life and was paramount to my recovery, and balancing that with work, physical and mental rest, a lowish carb diet, a positive outlook, and happy family life is ensuring I maintain my optimum wellbeing.