Fitness with Fibro
When managing a long term health condition, getting active is about what works for you. Sophie from Basingstoke tells us what has worked for her and how doing the Couch to 5k improved her wellbeing. From better mental health, increased stamina, better focus and improved physical health, it’s an all-rounder!
So here’s a little background info on me…
I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia around the age of 18 after years of pain – mainly affecting my lower back down to my legs. I used to do horse riding from the age of 12, until I gave it up at 18 due to the fact that a 30 minute ride could put me in a flare up for a whole week – sometimes more. This was the one and only hobby I really had, so giving it up meant I had given up my only means of ‘escape’ from my everyday life. This was massively detrimental to my mental health. I was going to work in pain, coming home in pain, and my days off were just used as recovery days.
My work life began in shop floor work – and stayed like this until my early 20’s. I couldn’t manage more than 20 to 25 minutes at a push on my feet even on quieter days. I decided the only way I would ever manage full time was if I did an office job where I could sit down. I figured it couldn’t make my pain any worse. I was wrong. Totally wrong.
The impact of a long term health condition
I actually really enjoyed working in a shop, interacting face to face with people and doing practical work, and because I was no longer able to do this, or have a hobby outside of it, my mental health was massively impacted. I was diagnosed with anxiety and having panic attacks almost every morning at one point. Unfortunately, my anxiety led me into a depressive state. I wasn’t exactly suicidal – I wouldn’t and didn’t have any plans to end my life – but I was so anxious that most days I would hope that something terrible would happen – like being involved in a car accident resulting in me not being able to go to work for a long time, or on my worse days, that I just wouldn’t make it to another day. This sounds dramatic, but it really did get that bad.
I had been to the doctors and hospital so many times through the years and been fed countless amounts of different tablets to try. All of which worked, for about a month, then we would be back to square one. If my pain was better, then I could guarantee my head would not be. I would wake up, but it felt like my body couldn’t. I couldn’t concentrate and all I could do in my spare time was sleep.
Turning things around
Eventually, I decided to stop my tablets altogether, and I haven’t taken any tablets for my fibromyalgia for about the last 4 years approximately, and honestly, it was the best thing I ever did. My head was feeling clearer and I was listening to my body more. Because tablets masked the pain, I would overdo it every single day without realising it, so it was hard for me to pace myself. This is what worked best for me and it won’t work for everyone. If you think this might be something you want to explore, always speak to your doctor first. Listen to how your body is responding to things.
Getting back to it
I took the plunge and went back to retail – on a full-time basis as a team leader. This involved being on my feet, running around and working/sorting deliveries. Not light work at all. I’m not going to lie – physically and mentally it was draining and it was really REALLY difficult at first. I pretended I was ok because they had taken the risk to take me on and I didn’t want to let them and myself down. I actually think that by faking that I was ok (I have always been the sort of person to put a smile on their face no matter what) I almost made myself BELIEVE I was fine. My fitness and stamina improved as well as my mental health. I still struggle with both at stressful times but getting back into retail and getting my body moving again was the best thing I could have done. The fact that people told me it was a bad idea or that I wouldn’t manage it just made me more determined to do my best.
Starting my Couch to 5k journey
My work life had improved, and so I decided it was time to work on my personal life and get some sort of hobby back. After speaking with one of my brothers, who is a keen runner, I decided I would try the ‘Couch to 5k’ app by Public Health England. It aims to get you running in approx. 5k in 9 weeks. I was a bit scared at first, to be honest, but I love the outdoors and had done a little bit of running when I was younger and always enjoyed it.
If you want to build on your fitness but you’re worried about pushing yourself too far, I highly recommend the app. It helps you to pace your exercise slowly – for example, you will start off with set amounts of time walking and running and slowly build up. The first time I tried this, I got to the first run of Week 2 (there are 3 runs for each week, all last about 30 mins) and I ended up causing my body to go into a ‘flare up’ and was in pain for about 2 full weeks as a result. I decided to go back to the beginning and start Week 1 again, but this time, I took at least 2 days in between each run, rather than the recommended 1 day break. I also repeated week 1 twice so that I could let my body and fitness build up slowly rather than pushing myself too far too quickly. It’s taken me about 10 weeks in total to reach Week 4, but I am finally able to do the sessions without being in pain for a week after.
A little tip though; Don’t be afraid to not follow the app exactly, it will tell you to push yourself, but it doesn’t know you have a chronic pain condition, so if you feel you have reached your limit and you need to just walk the rest, then do it. Just don’t move onto the next week until you have been able to complete the whole week as it tells you to, otherwise you will relapse.
The impact of physical activity
Doing these sessions has improved everything. My mental health is the best it has been for a good while. My stamina is far better, I am more focused and more importantly, my physical health is the best I have been for about 9 years. I am 26 now – and I have just gained a promotion in my job. I am now an Assistant Manager and working even more hours but I am loving it. It’s harder to get my running in, but I am definitely keeping my fitness up at work and running in the evenings on my earlier finishes.
If you take anything away from reading this blog post, it should be this. DON’T GIVE UP. You will have bad days, you won’t be pain free, but you CAN still live a life. I know not everyone with Fibromyalgia is the same and it is far harder for some than others but try not to let it control every part of your life. You are still a person and you still deserve to be more than a ‘sufferer.’
Thank you Sophie for sharing your story. If you would like to share your story please get in touch with Jen. #WeAreUndefeatable