#WALKIT with pride…
I received something in the post last week which got me thinking. I was reminded of how it used to feel being given a badge for an achievement at swimming or brownies, or even how it felt to earn my LAMDA medals. Now firmly fixed to our office pinboard, is my #WALKIT medal from Crohn’s And Colitis UK.
The bigger picture
The total collective funds raised from the June-long walking challenge, came to £336,064. This was reached by 1996 people who walked a total of 60,104km between us. That’s the equivalent of walking to Australia and back, twice. I was sixth on the leaderboard for funds raised, having exceeded my original target of £250 by quite a long way.
It is a rarity for me to allow myself to take pride in something I have done. With the wisdom of age, and a lifetime spent unpicking the complex mess that is my brain, I am clued up enough to try and encourage myself to bask in the moment, however fleeting it may be.
Why the delay?
Having been a member of Crohn’s and Colitis UK since childhood (when the fledgling charity was still named National Association for Crohn’s and Colitis or NACC) it would be fair to ask why I have waited until now to take part in one of their annual #WALKIT challenges.
In truth, I have considered it many times. Yet I have never got further than considering it. I have always dismissed the idea and talked myself out of it before even registering.
Ordinarily, the challenge takes place on a specific date, in various locations across the country. There has never been any shortage of willing volunteers in my family to #WALKIT with me. I would be spoilt for choice for locations too.
So what’s been stopping me?
It’s a fair question, particularly given that I am usually so proactive in my endeavours.
The truth is, I have stood in my own way for years with challenges like this. I have panicked about every scenario under the sun. What if I’m having a really bad day? Or I need the toilet and there isn’t one? How about if I can’t even manage 5km? If I’m struggling so much that it takes me all day to do the minimum, what happens then? What if…? How about…? And what happens if…?
Then there is the bully inside who reserves her nastiness for me alone. She pipes up really loudly, telling me that I can’t possibly ask for sponsorship to walk a pathetic 5km when all my friends and relatives run marathons – some of them repeatedly.
So, you see, there has always been a multi-faceted little me standing in my way; building brick walls and putting up barriers to my taking part.
Thanks pandemic…kind of
That’s a strange thing to say, I know. Yet there is no denying that the #my element of this year’s #WALKIT is what made it possible for me to participate. After I had been persuaded that it was alright for me to ask people for sponsorship for such a worthy cause, I just had to get over the concern as to whether or not I could sustain the commitment of daily walking.
What if I didn’t manage the marathon in a month? What if I asked for money for something I couldn’t achieve?
Practise what I preach…
For someone who has spent the past two decades professionally boosting other people’s confidence and sense of self worth, I really must try harder at living by my own advice.
Some words of reassurance from those nearest and dearest to me brought the realisation that a marathon in a month only actually meant a couple of km every day. I could do that. I knew I could do that, however slowly I needed to. And, if I had a really bad day and had to opt out once or twice, I should still be able to make up the steps in another walk.
As most of you will know, once I set my mind to something, there is very little that can stand in my way. So, my goal was (finally!) set. I was going to walk a marathon in the month of June. I would aim to raise an achievable amount of £250, keeping in mind how frequently people are asked to donate.
Of course, in reality, I didn’t want it simply to be a bonus.
We began our early morning walks, enjoying the fresh air and recalling our good habits from the first lockdown. I quickly found myself pushing harder each day. It helped that Miles was with me for every step, logging my total and letting me know what I needed to do to clock each km towards my marathon.
Hooked on a feeling
I actually think I got hooked on it. I don’t mean exercise – though I’ve been addicted to that before – this was something different.
After a year and a half of more stillness than I’ve ever experienced, which saw absolutely no reprieve in how listless I felt, it was a relief to have some activity on which I could pin my tiredness. So, no matter how much effort every extra km took, it felt worth it. It gave me a sense of satisfaction and somehow helped me feel less usel…a bit more…I suppose it made me feel better about myself.
Now feels like a good time to sidestep and explain something about my Crohn’s Disease. Although I am currently relatively okay – fabulous when compared to how I was a few years ago – I am still affected by my condition on a daily basis.
The symptom I struggle most with is fatigue. A lot of people find it hard to grasp the concept of fatigue, thinking that a good sleep or a couple of days off will be restorative. As it should be.
Unfortunately, fatigue is not the same as tiredness. It is, in fact, nothing like it. Fatigue can strike at any time. It can come on suddenly and without warning, no matter how much or how little a person has exerted themselves. Alternatively, fatigue can simply be constant, becoming a person’s very-far-below-par norm.
For some people, myself included, it is quite common to wake up from a night’s sleep already feeling exhausted. That sense of weariness usually doesn’t lift at all throughout the day. Some people experience a feeling of severe mental fog as well as physical weakness, making any and all tasks challenging.
It is only in relatively recent years that fatigue has even been acknowledged as a legitimate symptom of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I remember going to one of the early seminars on the subject, with mum at my side for moral support.
Mum was, in all honesty, more of a bodyguard on that particular day. She had to twist my arm very firmly to persuade me not to do a runner immediately after signing into the seminar – such was the extent of my inexplicable anxiety.
At 28, having just returned from my year in LA – the only twelve month period I had ever gone between hospital appointments. I was suddenly trying to make myself open to acceptance of the part of me I’d always concealed and I was finding it tough.
Learning that I wasn’t alone in needing a rest after having a shower, understanding why hanging the laundry out took so much effort, ultimately realising that it wasn’t weakness if I allowed mum to collect some extra provisions for me on her own supermarket trips made that seminar a game changer for me. I finally gave myself permission to say yes please to some of the help I was offered.
It can be incredibly frustrating to be so lacking in energy before the day has even begun. I often feel as though I have used up all my reserves simply by getting out of bed and preparing for the day ahead. I know how much it upsets Miles when I berate myself and call myself useless (among other more offensive things) for feeling like the smallest of tasks is an uphill struggle. He often tells me that he can’t imagine what it feels like to experience such constant pain and lethargy.
The best way I can describe it, is the feeling of everything being leaden. I feel as though I am making every move against the most fierce resistance. At times, I feel like I have to sift every thought from the deepest recesses of my brain.
It is hard for others to believe that the boundless energy I seem to exude actually doesn’t come naturally.
It makes sense, when you pause to consider what a person with IBD expects their body to do. On a very simple level, my body spends most of its time in combat with itself so of course it will be tired. Imagine going to a boxercise class that lasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, then see how much puff you have left in you.
Crohn’s and Colitis UK has produced an informative resource for anyone trying to get to grips with fatigue, either for themselves or for explanatory purposes.
Back to now
Which brings us back to where I digressed…I suppose to paint a clearer picture of how big an achievement this has all been for me; to allow myself that moment of pride for having walked 4.25 marathons in June, not just the one I set out to complete.
So, to everyone who supported my efforts, thank you. Who knows, maybe you have helped give me the confidence to make #WALKIT an annual event on my own calendar.