Tag Archives: physical health

Why do we need rewards to look after ourselves?!

After my recent ankle arthroplasty I struggled with the expected pain, a lot of it but it was bearable. I was working hard at my physio and doing more, she told me I would obviously experience more pain but it really wasn’t feeling right, she told me to persevere but I don’t think she really understood how much pain I was in. I may have a low pain threshold but I have a very high pain tolerance. I experience a lot of pain, I just get on with my life but that doesn’t mean it’s ok or that I’m ok with it! It’s hard to know where to draw the line, how do you know, when you’re rehabilitating, how much pain is too much pain? I was pretty much told, I should keep exercising but absolute agony was the line at which I should stop!

Speaking to a colleague about his painful knee has had me thinking. He was injured 4 months ago and because he didn’t make a fuss when he first went to A&E he’e been through months of pointless pain, finally culminating in an MRI that concluded he needed surgery. He’s been thinking he should have made more of a fuss, if only he’d limped into A&E stating he was in agony, he would have had an MRI within days and surgery so much sooner. Those of us that don’t complain so often don’t get what we need.

I’ve been wondering if I was experiencing more pain than I should have been but my physio said it was fine, to be expected.

I was beginning to think I would be in pain for the rest of my life and I was beginning to get to used to the idea that I may never run again. Disappointed, doesn’t even begin to come close.

I saw my surgeon last week and he had a different opinion, I should NOT be in so much pain. Steroid and local anaesthetic injection on board and…I’m pain free, I can’t quite believe it!

When my physio said “repeat this exercise 20 times”, I do it 60 times and she says “good”, to be honest, I don’t think she was used to patients actually following through with their exercises but I’m so desperate to get better I thought the more I did the better…I can’t help wondering I shouldn’t have been doing so much exercise, I guess there’ll be no way of knowing.

Anyway! Today, on a totally pain-free ankle, I (with more measured advice from another physio) tried running for the first time in 5 months, it was for 1 minute at a time and I’m so excited that I didn’t feel any pain. This is the first time for many years I’ve run with no pain!! So excited, it’s unreal!

I have promised my husband I won’t push it. I will stick to 1 minute at a time for 2 weeks and increase it so slowly I’ll feel like I’m running backwards! But the hope is, I will be back running properly within a year!

My husband knows I’m likely to want to push myself. For starters, I got on the treadmill earlier and said to myself I’d to 2 x 1 minute stints, I ended up doing 5… it’s not don’t any damage and I’m still pain-free but I really cannot push it! I cannot risk needing more surgery.

We started talking about whether I need an incentive…for every week I’m “good” and stick to the slow build up plan, is there anything that would help me stay focused? We discussed all sorts of things but it occurred to me, what more incentive do I need than to look after my health?

Why do we always need incentives? When people are giving up smoking, it’s suggested they put the money they would have spent on cigarettes in a jar so that they can spend it on a big holiday or some new clothes, there has to be something to aim for. It’s the same with people trying to lose weight, for every pound, there has to be some material reward. Reducing the chances of long term life limiting illnesses just isn’t enough!

Our health gains are intangible and it’s like they’re just not enough.

I’m so proud of my 60-something mum who has just completed a couch-to-5k program and has done a couple of Parkruns, being one of the fastest women in her age category! That’s what I want to be doing in 30 years time, but I won’t be if I don’t look after my bones and my joints now, what more incentive do I need?!

Seriously, if I want the best chance of avoiding further surgery and to be running in my 60s, I need to take it slow and steady so that’s what I’m going to do, no other incentive necessary!

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Is it ok if I feel sorry for myself?

I’m currently laid up recovering from an operation on my ankle.

I’m usually a fairly active person and fiercely independent so being told to keep my foot elevated and be non-weight bearing for 6 weeks is an incredibly challenging prospect.

I’m also contending with thoughts about why my ankle’s in a bad state. 11 years ago, I broke both legs in a suicide attempt. My ankle needed this surgery due to significant cartilage damage, initiated by the original fracture. Initially we hoped the joint could just have a clean out but the surgeon found the cartilage was too badly damaged and extra work was needed. I also don’t know how much damage I’ve done having had anorexia, my body has suffered many years of malnourishment.


I’m finishing it incredibly hard how little I can do for myself. Being fit and relatively healthy does help, I can do a lot standing in one leg but as soon as I need to carry anything anywhere, a drink, food, literally anything, I’m stuck! I’m also (obviously) unable to drive so I’m having to rely on my husband for an awful lot. I’m having to ask for a lot of favours from family and friends, and I’m incredibly grateful to the unquestioning help I’ve received. But I find this really hard, partly because I’m so used to being independent, partly because I feel like no one will want to help, they just feel obliged. I fear spoiling relationships I’ve worked hard to build on a equal level, now I’m asking for help, I wonder if it will ruin the balance and I’ll be seen as ‘the needy one’, a label I’ve fought hard to shake off.

Being off work is hard, I’m missing the change of pace and environment that it offers, I feel useful and needed at work. I’ve been forced into the sick role. I am, of course, keeping up my side of the sick role bargin and I’m making every effort to get better.

I’m putting on a brave face most of the time but the truth is that I’m feeling pretty dejected. I’m not only laid up physically but my independent character is taking a hit.


I’ve written previously about how it’s important to be honest about our feelings as hiding them, putting a lid on them or pretending they’re not there will just make them worse and we end up expressing them in other (normally unhealthy) ways. For example, if I don’t say “I’m feeling pretty rubbish today” to my husband, I more likely to be short tempered and irritable with him which is very unhelpful when I need to ask for so much support.

If I notice I’m feeling sorry for myself, it’s important not to tell myself that’s bad, then I’ll get into a destructive cycle of beating myself up, not helpful for anyone!

If you listen to your honest emotions, they can tell you a lot about what’s going on. For me, right now, my (feeling sorry for myself) emotions are telling me that things are not ok, and there are things I can do to work towards things being ok. Basically:

  1. I need to do things that will ensure I recover as quickly as possible
  2. I need to look after myself and not do things that will jeopardise my recovery
  3. Do as much for myself as I can – I carry things in a backpack so my hands are free to use my crutches
  4. I need to ask for help and support when needed

If I ignored my feelings I could con myself that everything is fine and this may prevent me doing the 4 things I need to do in order to move forward, out of the sick role.


Being honest and keeping the situation in perspective helps me to keep sight of the facts of my situation, things aren’t good right now but this is a temporary position, things will get better. Pretending things are fine can get quite confusing – if things are fine, why aren’t leading a normal life, going to work, cooking dinner, why would I need to ask for help?!

I fear enjoying being looked after as it reminds me of times gone by when mental illness prevented me looking after myself properly. There have been times when I’ve had a total lack of confidence that I was able to look after myself and this perpetuated my illness. I’ve fought hard to break free from this vicious destructive cycle and I’m desperate not to go down that path again.

The thesaurus states that a synonym for “to feel for” is also “to feel compassion”. Whenever something bad happens (to ourselves or another person), it is important to feel compassion, this has a positive effect on the healing process.


It is not, however, ok for me to wallow in self pity! This is not productive, in fact, it can be incredible destructive. Self pity has no purpose, other than to turn our focus inwards. It has a negative impact on recovery as it can actually stop us reacting positively to the situation.

In conclusion, it is ok to feel sorry for ourselves but in listening to this we need to react positively.

 

A lesson in accepting my humanity

While trying to carry a cup of coffee, I trip, causing my painful ankle to slam into the ground. At this point I step (hop) back and think, “what am I doing?!”

Having recently had an arthroplasty, I’m not allowed to put any weight on my left leg so I was doing a weird shuffly hop with 1 crutch while carrying my coffee… it didn’t work out too well! But I wanted a coffee, what was I meant to do? Stand in the kitchen while it cooled down so I could drink it where I’d made it? It’s shocking how little you can do on crutches! I’m managing to carry things around in a backpack and I can do some tasks standing on one leg but there’s so much I simply can’t do…carry a hot drink turns out to be one of them!

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m fiercely independent. I hate asking for help and will do anything to manage everything on my own. I’d rather really struggle to do a task than ask for help, even if the easier/better/safer option is for someone else to do it. When I first got together with my now, husband I had to learn that it’s ok to ask for help, it’s ok to let him do things for me, even if I am capable of doing it myself! I learnt that it can actually improve our relationship if I relinquish some of my independence.

I thought everything was going well, I’d started gentle physio but I had a set back this week with one of the wounds not healing properly. This has hit me hard. I was already feeling fairly down but this has knocked me down further.
I’ve even asked for prayer – something I struggle with, partly because I do not think I deserve it but partly because no matter what I’ve been through, I’ve accepted my lot and do not feel I need to hope for things to be different.


Much as I hate asking for favours or putting people out, I’ve asked people to visit me and asked for lifts to go out. Otherwise I’d be stuck at home (mostly) on my own 24/7.

I find it so hard to rely on people but it occurred to me that if the shoe was on the other foot (not my other foot, someone else’s) I wouldn’t think twice about helping them out and certainly wouldn’t want them to feel like they owe me.

I’m really struggling with how little I can do for myself and how exhausting the simplest task is. For someone who’s had to work hard to break free of mental illness and the dependence that that caused, I hate how dependent I now am. I never want to go back down the path of being so hopeless and helpless, some of my stubbornness is born of fear.

My husband has pointed out to me that this is temporary, even if I do have set backs, my ankle will recover eventually and I will be able to walk again soon. I am normally an incredibly patient person but I’m feeling incredibly impatient just now.

While I’m hating how much help I need, doing things for myself right now is seriously putting my recovery at risk. I must look after myself in order to return to full health, and part of that is asking for help. It feels like I’m asking for help because I’m weak, as though I’m a lesser person, but I suppose it’s a sign of strength and courage to be vulnerable.


I find it so hard to ask for help but no one can mind read! If I need to go somewhere or I need help with something or I need something doing for me, I’ve had to be blunt and just say “please can someone help”. I feel like every time I say this I may as well be saying “I’m completely useless” and my self esteem is knocked a little further each time. I don’t know why I judge myself so harshly when I wouldn’t think that of anyone else making the same requests.

I feel like all I’m saying at the moment is “thank you” and “sorry”, I’m fed up and just want to be able to do things myself.

This period is being a real lesson in just accepting help and support.

I’m incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful people who care and who want to help. I should be grateful instead of tarring the gestures with guilt and awkwardness from my side.

In the words of Nick Knowles “we can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone”. I know if I was able to help someone (give them a lift or do some shopping for them) I’d feel really good that I could be helpful when they needed it so maybe in an odd way, I’m helping people by me asking for help?!

Back on medication – have I failed?

Some of you will know, this time last year I was gradually coming off my psychiatric medication. I’d been on medication most of my adult life, I was still in therapy but I felt it was the right time to give it a go. If you’ve been on medication a long time it can be hard to tell if you still need it. The only way to be sure is to try coming off them in a controlled way and see if symptoms return. I did this, I came off everything very gradually, keeping a careful track of how I was feeling and what thoughts I was having. Soon after, my therapy came to an end and all seemed to be going well.

Unfortunately, my physical health in 2016 has taken a bad turn. I’ve had to see specialist after specialist as one organ system after another started going wrong. I was having numerous tests, appointments and procedures. For a time I was managing to keep positive and take it in my stride but there was only so much I could take and I started noticing symptoms of mental illness creeping back in. In an appointment with my GP I was updating her on all the hospital appointments I’d had and talking about test results etc, I was trying to hold it together but eventually the tears started falling. I then explained the other symptoms I was struggling with.

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We had both been keeping an eye on my mental health as it’s common for physical health problems to take their toll on ones mental health and so at this point we discussed going back on medication. I felt disappointed about the prospect but I made the tough decision to give it a go and see if it could help. Starting on a low dose, of course, and stepping it up gradually until I felt a benefit.

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Initially this felt like a failure, I’d worked so hard to remain stable but I’ve managed to re-frame how I see it and I now don’t see it as a failure. In fact, noticing my symptoms and flagging up the problems earlier rather than later is an achievement for me. If the chemicals in my brain are out of balance again, surely it’s sensible to try and put this right? My old habit was to ignore it for as long as possible and hope it would sort itself out but this landed me in hospital too many times! If someone breaks their leg, you don’t expect them to walk around on it, ignoring the pain, we’d all advise them to have it x-rayed and put in plaster. It’s the same with mental illness, it’s important to find the right treatment.

Fortunately, this time, it seems we’ve spotted the signs early enough and the medication is helping.

Like all medications it’s important you’re not on them if it’s not necessary. We’ve all heard about the antibiotic crisis, over treating can have a devastating effect. It is important that anti-depressants and the like are not taken lightly without thinking about therapy and lifestyle changes as well. Also, we need to give careful consideration to any unwanted side effects. It’s also been much trickier for me this time as we’ve had to consider the interactions with all the physical health medication I’m now taking.

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I do not want to be on psychiatric medication longer than necessary so when things settled down I will consider coming off them again. Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon. But, I’m not going to beat myself up or apologise for putting my hand up and saying “I need some additional support just now”.

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