Yep, that’s right, I, Snooze Mackenzie, CFS warrior and worrier, accidentally went surfing on Monday! What, did I trip and somehow find myself on a floating board in the ocean? Well, no, it was a decision I made, one that was fun, but one that freaked me out as well and has had me on the foam roller twice a day since!
I was visiting a friend down at the beach and had told him about my fatigue issues and how I’d need naps etc and was planning on just a quiet dip in the ocean and then a sleep on the sand. That would be fine for me; I wouldn’t turn into a fatigued mess if I did that. So, that was the plan. As the others contorted their bodies into wetsuits I stoically stuck to my bathers as I wouldn’t be in for long and if I was cold I’d just go back to shore.
The problem is, among the many facets of my personality are stubbornness, determination and a love of the ocean… So, I was in the waves, frolicking about, blissfully happy and somehow I just forgot that I had CFS. I felt great, I was having fun, I was in the ocean; what fatigue? So, when my friend offered me the super floaty beginner surfboard to play on I just said yes, strapped the leash to my ankle and stubbornly blocked all thoughts that I should not be doing something so ludicrous as surfing in to my now rather cold big toe.
When I say I went surfing, I don’t mean I carved up the waves for hours I mean that I repeatedly tried to catch a wave and stand up, which involved lots of paddling with my weak arms, an awkward and bumbled attempt to stand, about one second of vertical bliss (if I was lucky) before a lurching dive back in to the water. Oh, and lots of laughing. Not tiring at all? After about my fifth wave reality crept back in to my consciousness and I flopped back in to the sea under my own buoyancy and returned the board. Woops, surfing wasn’t in the plan, oh well, I’m ok, I’ll just bob around a bit longer then I’ll go in. I’m fine.
The weird thing with CFS is that when you’re in the recovery stage and you’re having a good day you can actually push yourself quite hard; too hard! Bloody adrenaline. It’s just the payback on the other side that will be gross, and what scares the hell out of us.
It was while I floated around and jumped over waves that the delayed alarm bells started ringing and as much as I tried to drown them out it didn’t work. Surfing? What the hell was I thinking? I’m doing this carefully constructed graded exercise therapy and then I go surfing, idiot! Then the really scary thoughts started: Oh god, I’m going to bed bound for two days, I’m going to be in agony, I’m going to relapse, another setback, I’d been making good progress the last two months, now it would be gone, shit shit shit, what have I done?
At this point I said I was going in, and I must have looked rather perturbed by the panicked gymnastics going on in my head as one of the others asked me if I needed someone to come in with me. I assured her I was ok and walked in. I was freaking out about how badly I’d crash, holding my hands up to see if they were shaking, noticing that my legs were feeling less than stable. Shit, shit, shit what have I done? Oh god, I’m not going to be able to drive home, I’m not going to be able to even walk back to the house two blocks away.
Ok, I managed to think, once I was wrapped up in a towel and sitting down, “food is fuel” so eat your muesli bar, and it’s hot so you need some water, so finish your drink bottle and then you can sleep. I’m quite proud of the fact that I actually managed to break though the panic and think clearly about this and once re-fuelled I curled up in a ball, commandeered my friend’s towel for a pillow and slept like it was the middle of the night, dark and silent, not 11am on a summer’s day on a crowded beach.
When my friends came back, I apparently didn’t respond to their voices and when one tapped me on the foot I lurched out of a deep sleep, who knows how long I’d been out. I stretched and made sleepy noises and cautiously assessed my state of annihilation. I was ok… I was tired but I didn’t feel like I was dying. I could follow the conversation between the others and as we walked back to the house I realised my body was fatigued to a point but not destroyed. Interesting. Then I heard the two friends who were less experienced in the surf talking about their sore legs, about their tiredness. Commenting on how hard their legs had to work to stay in the one spot with the strong undertow, how their arms were sore from paddling. I listened with fascination; fit and healthy people were tired too!!
I got back to my home eventually, I had a nap and then waited for the big crash but it just didn’t come. My sleep was a bit disturbed from my beach-side slumber but since I was up early I took this snap of the sunrise, which was a nice surprise.
I’d written off the day for recovery; in my head Tuesday was cancelled. I had water and food by my bed in case I couldn’t get up and an audio book downloaded to entertain me for the day. It turns out I didn’t crash, no ‘death by surfing’ for me. Sure, I was tired, very very tired and my muscles were complaining most angrily, but as I analysed my way through the day I realised that I was normal-person tired, not CFS-tired. The reason it was hitting me quite hard is because I am an unfit deconditioned mess, not because I have chronic fatigue! What? Crazy!
This photo was taken by my friend Jean after we went water skiing about three years ago.Three years ago I was fit and healthy and this was the result after water skiing. Hmm, so if fit and healthy me can be whacked by water skiing then unfit unhealthy me should feel pretty wiped by surfing. So, this isn’t a huge setback? This isn’t going to lead to a huge flare up? Nope. Don’t get me wrong, Tuesday was essentially still cancelled but instead of it being horrendous it was a day of DVDs and audio books and healthy snacks, aware of brain fog and fatigue but not incapacitated by it.
I spoke to my CFS coach Raeya from CFS Health about this on Wednesday. She agreed, I hadn’t undone all my work, I had pushed my body (most probably to its limit) and it had survived. I was fitter than I thought I was, yay! She then very quickly told me to stay calm and not try it again in the near future… The most interesting thing she told me though was that the freak out I had after surfing was probably more tiring than the actual effort of going surfing! Panicking like that is exhausting, your heart rate races, your brain is firing off rapid thoughts, adrenaline courses around to make you feel ill. It’s quite common with CFS and something I’ve dealt with for years. So, my new theory is if I do push myself past what I’m supposed to do I need to accept it, it’s happening, enjoy the activity I’m doing, accept that I might pay for it, but there’s no point worrying about the possible crash, no need to help it on its way. So next time I find myself walking to a café that was further than I planned or playing some backyard cricket I can think, ok, I’m doing this, I need to pace myself and not go too far, but I’m not going to freak out about it, instead I’m going to enjoy using my body and being out of the house, because up until I got off the surfboard and started to think I was having a brilliant time.