I found a photo in my room today of me at the Inter-school APS Athletics Finals in Melbourne in 2005 running in the 4x100m relay. My arm is outstretched for the baton, I’ve got my serious Suze focussed face on and I’m about to sprint to the finish line. So, that was 2005… Now? My legs are sore from wearing high heels yesterday, so yeah, a bit of a difference.
It’s pretty hard not to get dispirited about all this when I think back to my “old life” and want to experience exercise like that again. My “old life” where I ran around at lacrosse training one night a week then played in a match every Sunday, walked 5km to work every second morning, ran around the park for fun and played netball at the drop of a hat when my friend texted me to fill in. Did I think about how all this would affect me? Nope. Did I worry about how I’d feel the next day? Not really. Did I get anxious that I’d have to sit down in the middle of the field as I just couldn’t stand up anymore? Not a chance. Sure, I stretched before and after exercise and taped and strapped my rogue ankles and knee into submission and knew the value of an ice pack but those concerns were all periphery. Fatigue isn’t periphery; it’s right smack bang in front of you, threatening to take you down at any moment if you even think about overdoing it.
Growing up with two older brothers I became very good at sport at a young age as I simply wasn’t going to be allowed to play with them if I wasn’t up to scratch. I wouldn’t be included in backyard cricket if I couldn’t throw a ball at the wickets accurately and I was certainly not going to fang down our gravel driveway with training wheels on my bike. I was going to quell all fear about big waves and go body boarding or I’d be sitting on the beach feeling left out and I needed to learn how to kick a footy if I wanted to participate in marks up (read, get repeatedly flattened to the ground).
Sport was my drug, it was my guaranteed happy place. When I dealt with depression four years ago I found the best thing to do was to exercise. Sure, it was bloody hard to find the motivation to do it, but once I got to the park or the pool I could feel the depression shroud slightly lift off. But since fatigue staged its assault on my body exercise hasn’t been a big part of my life. And this is sad. Sure, my ankles and knees appreciate me not twisting and turning en route to the lacrosse goal, but I haven’t felt that rush in a long time, and my go-to mental health prescription of exercise is not available. When I wrote about riding my bike the other day I was so happy, it was amazing to feel that rush, to feel my muscles working in a way other than holding my body up to watch television. But the crash the other side was pretty nasty, and it held on to me for most of the week.
The thing with fatigue is that exercise is supposed to help, but in a very limited controlled graduated form, and that’s something I’m not very good at – I was a sprinter after all, pacing myself isn’t my style. But I try and be good and walk 500m, then 550m, then 600m, then 650m etc but I somehow walk a kilometre or break in to ten strides of a run as I’m so desperate to get that feeling back. And the thing is I can walk a kilometre, I could probably walk five kilometres, I’d just be in agony and comatose for the next two days. The same happens with yoga. I love yoga, it’s brilliant and strengthening and keeps me sane, but I’m not very good at just doing a little bit. I have an app on my iPad that has programs on it and I vow to do just ten minutes but at ten minutes we’ve only really warmed up and I want to feel my body stretch and lengthen and feel good. So I do 20 minutes. The result? I don’t want to walk for the rest of the week and feel scared of my yoga mat.
The best time I’ve had exercise-wise was in February this year. I spent the month down on the coast and I swam every morning and it was bliss.
By swim I mostly mean shrieked and squealed at the cold water, dived under a few waves then proceeded to float on my back like a dead starfish, limbs outstretched, loving the water and being outside. I’d do a few strokes of freestyle and relish the feeling of my arms and legs moving and being strong. Then I’d float again, hopefully body surf a wave back in and walk back to the sand. I did this almost every morning, well before the masses descended on the beach, and would be back in my chair on the verandah by 9am with a cup of tea, salty skin, a runny nose and a deliriously happy smile. Honestly, it would be better for all concerned if only inactive exercise haters had to deal with fatigue problems!