Respectfully, I ask, of course.
I’m in hospital again. I’m alright, but I have had another attack of what feels like a viral illness – I get a temperature, joint pains, endless and profuse sweating, headache and general fatigue before collapsing into feverish sleep and enduring a 24-48 hangover, where I feel weak, sweaty and useless. In short, I’m a bit of a mess, but largely a functional one. I feel fine for days on end and the cycle begins again.
Since this sort of cycle is a) shit and b) incompatible with work-based usefulness, my GP, who is incredibly attentive and thorough, called me in and sent me immediately to hospital.
The differential list of what could be up with me this time is as long as my arm at the minute, but I am confident and happy that the team taking care of me are racking their brains. They are liaising with microbiology labs and the centre of infectious disease, which makes me feel super important. It also makes me feel somewhat fraudulent because I am mobile, alert, and mostly able to take care of myself. Plus, I know how to work my own drip pump.
On the whole I am being bombarded with messages of love and good wishes. I have also been the ‘lucky’ recipient of several solo dance party videos from the most excellent of friends. Tom drove up to the hospital and played Worms with me until the early hours of the morning (He chose a team of Worms for me that were all injured. I won by one point). I have offers of visits from left right and centre and I feel like people really care. It’s lovely.
Unfortunately, it is times like this that lead to an awful lot of armchair diagnoses and ‘helpful’ opinions about what I should and shouldn’t be doing with me life. And I’m asking now, and I’m asking nicely. Please stop.
I understand that to a lot of people, that I appear to zip around like a blue arsed fly, with no respite. I do spend most of my day either at work, on call or thinking about work, but unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast. I work long hours and I work longer weeks than most. I have few weekends off. I have few evenings off. But it is not unreasonable to want to do something with those evenings or weekends. Yet, a fair few seem to think that wanting to spend time doing obstacle course races at weekends is too much, and don’t hesitate to tell me so. I would like to try to explain why this is not helpful to me at all.
A few years ago, I could barely bring myself to get up and dressed. I dragged myself out of bed for two reasons: to go to the toilet, and to take my dog out. The only thing that brought regularity to my life was making sure that my puppy had a good routine and maintained a disciplined upbringing. Working hard on her was good for me, and most will attest now, that she’s fucking awesome, so it was time well spent. I was signed off work, and rightly so; I had no concentration span or motivation. I was unwell, and very sad. I lost so much weight and colour that if I stood next to someone, it looked like I was haunting them. I went on a weekend break to Amsterdam; there are no photographs of me in that beautiful city because I looked dreadful.
I have always struggled without direction or a plan. Planning and executing is what I do. It helps me progress in my education, career and now, fitness. I like to have things to look forward to, and I flounder if I don’t have a focal point. If I don’t have focus, I procrastinate, I miss deadlines, I get depressed and I get anxious about being depressed. I stop socialising. I stop going outside. I stop talking. I just stop.
Going out with my very dear friends on a day out around an obstacle course provides me with so much more than meets the eye: it provides me with vitamin D (steady on) from simply being outside, I get fresh air, I speak to people, I socialise, I exercise my body, and I can set targets and goals accordingly depending on how ‘on’ I am that week. When I train for these events, or go on runs, I take the actual love of my life, Remy, out on adventures that very few tiny furry Shih Tzus have. We swim in streams together, we conquer hills, we bound through fields and she fucking loves it. And I love giving my dog the BEST life that I can afford her. When I started running again, I was able to reconnect properly with my dad – I still maintain that running is shit, but it gave me back more than it ever took away from me.
When it comes to race weekends, if I’m having a crappy time, I just want to get around the course and have a nice time to buoy my spirits. If I feel like I have something to prove to myself, I might set myself an obstacle challenge (I’ll maybe try to muscle up a wall, say), or if I am feeling strong, I might just want to see how fast I can do something. The point is, I decide what I am fit for, and I adapt my aims accordingly. I do this every time, and I will DNF/S if I am not, for whatever reason, fit. I ran a race I shouldn’t have ONCE. And I won’t do it again.
I do not want to continually keep justifying a hobby (that I don’t even bother competing in anymore) that literally keeps me going for a myriad reasons.
And please don’t think that this is something I leave my doctor out of. From the Fatigue service at the Royal Free, to my GP, to the very team taking care of me today – they all know what I do. And not a single one of them has suggested I cut down. In fact, a nurse yesterday was really excited to talk about treating people who enjoy sports – she said they can grade and type their pain better, they understand their bodies, their blood sugar levels and can differentiate between problematic symptoms and the aftermath of a hard run. They are more in tune. Happier.
I am by no means comparing myself to someone who trains for a hundred hours a day for some world event; I still eat breaded chicken a lot more than is normal, I don’t diet at all, never mind excessively, I don’t buy into health fads and I don’t take weird supplements I bought from a guy in the gym. I barely even go to the gym. I go to BMF once a week if work allows and I play in the mud with my friends at weekends. Some weekends are harder than others, but I have spent enough time in a hole to know that I am better like this than I was two years ago.
And believe me when I say – you think this is busy? You should have seen the old me. Old me did this and more, and balanced it expertly. Old me got 5 hours sleep a night and thrived. New me gets 8 hours or more a night and records University Challenge religiously. I am distinctly more sedate during the week; I have a bum-divot in my sofa, and I consider going to the cinema a big night out. I have days where I just can’t, and days where I just don’t. My BMF instructor will probably attest to the fact that I am about as regular as a Hufflepuff victory in the Hogwarts House Cup. When I am on call, which may be often, I try to practice self-care when I am waiting for calls. I vegetate a lot – you probably just don’t see that side of me. I read books for fun again (yes, I make time for that). I write when I feel like it. I do give myself so much more of a break than I used to. But I can’t strip down every single facet of myself to the bone. I need something.
I am not listing hard on a bar stool telling you that I’ll know when I’ve had enough. I am not telling you that I can quit whenever I want when I’m smoking 25 a day or whatever. I’m telling you that finding a new sport has motivated me to get outside and make myself happy and focussed in a way that nothing else has before. There is a rather beautiful irony the fact that I most likely picked up whatever is affecting me now whilst on a holiday in paradise in which I was the most relaxed I have been all year, yet,
Neither I, nor my doctors think that leading an active sporting life has put me in the hospital. This is something that could be a lot worse if I sat indoors too depressed to do anything. It also pretty useful to remember that whilst people’s lives can look thrilling, fun-packed, and dangerous on social media, that these events are designed to look probably a lot more dangerous and exciting than they really are. I’m pretty decent at holding on to things, and largely I just pose for silly photographs. Jumping over fire sounds a lot more dramatic than the microsecond that is the reality of it. Also, the fitter I am, the less it takes out of me. I don’t push hard enough to wind up with sport injuries or even DOMS, most of the time. I’m in it for the headspace.
I know that comments about me overdoing it come from a kind place, but I am respectfully noting that it makes me feel terrible. So please, if you’re going to tell me that I do too much, I would really like it if you could think twice. It is tiring having to justify my choices when I am ill. If there is some genuine concern that I’m burning myself out climbing up cargo nets, then by all means show me how to do it more energy efficiently, but please don’t tell me to quit, because I fear that if it doesn’t stop… Then I just might.