Saturday

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I was awake at 1am, waiting for Mr Alt to return from a cross-country fit, and it was not nearly as tough as I’d thought. Once upon a time nocturnal was a default, but now it is far happier on everybody that I sleep early and often. Yesterday was an extra PT session, using vouchers I had left over from the surgery downtime. It was weights, heavier than I have ever lifted before, plus more work on my trunk, which is the part of me that requires the most attention. The difference today is already noticeable. As soon as I’m done here it’ll be a sandwich and then off for an afternoon walk/run. I really don’t want to lose momentum.

This week has gone beyond well, far exceeding expectations. I’m already planning articles for next week, quite apart from the Internet of Words stuff that is scheduled. There’s even a space left to look at a novel starting on Monday, and I don’t remember the last time there was a desire to do that. It is primarily because everything is back in my own hands, no issues with health (either physical or mental.) Knowing full well how life works, it is time to make this weekend really count. Relaxation is all well and good but, as I discovered last weekend, you can balance both downtime and effort. Like everything else, it just takes practice.

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That means less words, and more action. Time to get shit done.

Run for Home

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Once upon a time, exercise scared me. I’d find reasons not to do it: my knees were bad, I took forever to recover, I couldn’t because I was bleeding. Looking back on the litany of excuses, there is now an understanding of the true root cause. I was afraid. I would get out of breath so easily, people would stare at me, there was no real self-confidence anywhere to allow movement past the issues. However, in the last 14 months, all that has changed. It began with a phenomenal amount of just walking, alone, without focus on anything except myself. Inside that bubble, a lot of disparate thoughts finally began to make sense.

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I understand now the set of circumstances that led to confidence evaporating. Some of it is my fault alone to shoulder, but others have their share of blame to take. Now all of that is settled, comes the process of understanding that if you work for long enough, pain can be managed and overcome. Exercise is its own reward, over time: without it, I’d not have been given the warning signs over my gallbladder until possibly it was too late. However, the overriding positive from making myself do something every day is now beginning to manifest. If you do intensive sessions in the gym or on the road, rest days are indeed vital. However, my body doesn’t work like that. I have one (reasonably) intense PT session for an hour a week, which is now supplemented by two more (of the same duration) where I focus on weight training. For all the other days, there is asthmatic cardio.

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I can’t run continuously (as yet) and the most I’ve ever managed is a kilometre on the treadmill, for timing purposes. What happens right now is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) which is bursts of exercise where I push myself to breathlessness, followed by periods of recovery whilst still moving. This builds stamina, strength and allows my body to learn how to breathe properly, which is almost as important as the effort itself. It also allows me to work out if the things I am eating are being effectively converted into fuel or not, which has been quite the adventure after gallbladder removal. Before where I would have relied on quick carbohydrates for an energy burst, more and more it is about packing in more complex carbs before I workout, and supplementing protein rich foods afterwards to ensure muscles build and strengthen.

The biggest change of all has been the sweet cravings: yeah, they still exist, but the frequency and urgency of them has diminished significantly. Whereas before I’d get a need to snack early afternoon, after surgery and with daily exercise, this has simply evaporated. More significantly, the urge to buy ‘rubbish’ has yet to materialise, though I will admit the desire for bread and butter pudding is quite strong right now. That means, this weekend, I’ll attempt to make a version with granary bread and not white, with ingredients I put in and aren’t supplemented by pointless additives and preservatives. At least that way I know exactly what is going into my body.

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Staying on the exercise wagon becomes easier with each day I do something: even if it is only 30 minutes of continuous exercise to get my heart rate up, the key is to make such effort habit-forming and then realise you don’t want to live without it. After that…? Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Wednesday’s ‘Pull’ day of weights: after a month off, I’m almost at the same benchmarks I left behind in May. I feel stronger in arms and trunk than has ever been the case before. Most significant of all however is how I feel afterwards: confident, happy and relaxed. Exercise makes me happy, not simply from the release of endorphins. I am stronger. This alone is worth any amount of effort and discomfort.

My body is a lumpy mess right now: mosquito bites, bruises from cycling, rolls of loose skin and fat that remains stubbornly immoveable. Once upon a time I would have cared about this but now, simply, it doesn’t matter. I have to move through this stage of being uncomfortable in my skin to get to the real goal. Physical appearance is irrelevant, all that matters are the repetitions and the goal, still tantalisingly out of reach but far closer than was ever the case last year. Then I wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture, just a weight goal which would somehow make everything better. Now there’s an understanding that exercise doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to the finish line and BANG its all perfect, far from it. To truly understand the real value of fitness, it has to be lived and understood, one day at a time.

This is a journey I am only just beginning.

The Old Songs :: Four

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I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have liked Saturday, or indeed Sunday. I woke up full of nerves. Instead of riding to the site (which would have added extra miles to the total) the car was driven back to the Festival, and bikes unpacked. The enormity of what I’d taken on registered as I pinned a number to my chest: 3971. Remember, this isn’t a race. There is no prize except the satisfaction of riding. You’re going to do 25 miles and enjoy the journey.

Hashtag Cycle #eroicabritannia2017 @eroicabritannia

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The first achievement? Not falling off at the start, which was over a nasty set of concrete slabs laid into the starting field. Then came the early ride down a narrow trail, surrounded by other riders… and the previous day’s concern about stability melted away, even allowing me to overtake others. I however failed at the first serious hill and had to walk the bike up, but managed the next one. Most of the problems in that regard are to do with not understanding how my gears work. When I do this next year (and I will) I’ll have an instruction plate strapped to my handlebars to remind me what lever does which thing. I’ll just be the same as a Post it note on my PC screen when I’m learning a new Warcraft boss fight.

I really didn’t take time to look at the scenery much until about 15 miles in, when Mr Alt stopped to help a guy with a puncture. Then I was reminded, for the second time that weekend, just how amazingly beautiful the Peak District is. It is also full of hills that are a pain to get up but, at least for me, more frightening to hurtle down. There are the remains of blisters on both hands as I clung onto brakes for grim death, despite husband’s repeated suggestions I do anything but. I think that might take a bit of getting used to, or the reassurance of a helmet next year. The race does not make helmets compulsory but strongly advises them regardless: many people found inventive ways of disguising theirs in order not to break immersion.

The first comfort stop was at 17 miles, in a beautiful village called Monyash. I’d expected to have to buy our own food, and was surprised when I discovered a lunch provided and free beer for anyone who wanted it. However, the highlight for me was the Brass Band, who played an amazingly eclectic selection of modern music and classics.

After a Cheese and Pickle roll, sausage roll, banana and the most amazing Bakewell Flapjack we were off again. This was the scariest part of the course, where at one point Mr Alt lost his GoPro because terrain was so rocky, and I was forced off my bike to walk… which means I found it and was able to hand the thing back. After that it was plain sailing, with another stop to help inflate a second flat tyre. With the finish in sight I remembered weeks of PT training, and found some energy in my legs to do a sprint finish with the husband, much to the delight of the watching crowd. That, for me, was the most amazing part of it all: after miles I’d not prepared or trained for, legs could still do the extra work.

25 Miles Complete @eroicabritannia #eroicabritannia2017

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I am ridiculously proud of my achievement, but realise it pales into insignificance when placed next to my husband’s: he downgraded from the 100 miles to ride with me. He took time to coach me up hills and to explain how I could ride better. There was no thought to stopping when other people were in mechanical distress, and his extra inner tubes and gas cylinders for quickly refilling tyres were given without thought. Most importantly of all, we crossed the finishing line together.

I still haven’t processed all of this weekend. There’s still so much to grasp in terms of how to improve, what I’d do to make the experience feel more comfortable… and how bike riding needs to become a part of the exercise routine. My legs are covered with scratches and bruises, but heart is stronger than I’ve felt for a very long time. Achievement is a great thing, but matters not one jot if one does not use it as a step upwards to something better. That is the plan: onwards and forever upwards.

The only limiting factor now is my ability to ride a bike.

Get The Balance Right

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In an hour, I’ll be off to do my first PT session since the operation. It hasn’t been two weeks since Surgery either, which seems strange, because that time feels like it was forever ago. Yesterday at the Gym there was another 12k, some fatigue but more progress than I can remember for a while: press ups are doable with minimal pain, there could have been running but I simply chose not to. All the work before, efforts towards overall fitness have paid their own reward. Now, there are faint graspings that surgery may have done more than simply allow me to eat what I want. Working yesterday, I feel more balanced.

This is difficult to try and explain, but the whole of my body is more centred. This could be due to the umbilical hernia that was separating stomach muscles, or the amount of work this body generally had accommodated with an internal organ being damaged. Now I am fixed and without a major form of stress, everything just became easier. If this were simply a psychological change there would be no point to mentioning all of this, but looking at body in profile this morning, my core is stronger than can be remembered for quite some time.

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There was a weigh in before I was operated on, and as soon as this is written comes the walk down to the Gym to do the same, two weeks on. In the interests of full disclosure, here’s where we were:

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I’m fairly confident weight will be down, but by how much I couldn’t tell you. The bigger issue is how much muscle mass has been lost from about 10 days of no activity, and how that can now be restored without using weight lifting as its core. That’s in the hands of a PT who I think I’d probably trust now with my life. Her ability to cope with the last month has been beyond impressive, and there is no doubt that my rehabilitation will not only be painless but also an education.

In fact, I should stop typing now and get ready to leave.


Fact of the Day

I once presented a fan award to the creator and writer of Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski, who was very lovely about the whole thing and gave a very decent speech. That was also the same Convention I dressed as Emma Peel from the Avengers… ^^

Being Boiled

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It’s been eight days since the Operation. Let’s recap.

  • I woke up today feeling better than yesterday. This is now a three day trend, as is the increase in Active Minutes exercising since Sunday.

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  • This is the longest uninterrupted sleep since before the Op. It was achieved with no caffeine after 2pm and two Paracetamols before bed. This is now the plan going forward until my chest stops hurting. Right now, pain is about a 1, it went up to about a 3 when I walked to the Gym earlier.
  • First Rehab Gym session is booked for 12.30 on Monday, because I’m not going to sit here and just wait to get better. I need to be doing stuff.
  • This assumes I’ll be given the okay by the Surgeon tomorrow that nothing is horribly bad and wrong and all these people telling me how I great I look are not lying.
  • Appointment with Surgeon at 7.45pm tomorrow, because that’s how he rolls.

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  • No, I’m not going to go mad, yes I KNOW I’m still healing, and I realise that if I go too fast I’ll fuck myself up long term. This will not happen. I can prioritise getting better and not overdoing anything. It’s okay. I also LOVE ALL YOU GUYS for looking out for me and taking the time to tell me you care. That’s totally lovely.
  • There’s a separate post at some point dealing with how I will never complain about constipation ever again. Let’s leave that for another time.

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There’s other stuff too, especially on the back of Manchester, the first passing of a Bond actor and writing fiction again. For now however, this will do.

Deliver Me

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This week’s turning out to be quite the significant landmark. At 8 am I arrived at the location for a well-known reality TV show to begin a two hour health MOT, conducted with a nurse and a doctor, which involved me sitting on a static bike with a breathing tube in my mouth, plus a selection of other exercises and tests. The plan was to see how much better my health has become in the five years since the last time this kind of thing was conducted. The results, quite frankly, blew my mind.

That number, believe me, is a revelation. It puts me in the top 10% of people in my age group for fitness. Everything has improved since my last visit, the only exception being a slightly elevated cholesterol rate, but it is hardly cause for concern. I apparently have a stupidly relaxed resting heart rate and an incredibly efficient system for converting fat to muscle (which I already knew, but is lovely to have confirmed.) My grip, which I thought was average at best is apparently beyond good and into amazing. Mostly, what the two hours this morning did was confirm that yes, it is possible to get healthy from a standing start. If you make the effort and put in the hours, it can change your entire body for the better.

The only cloud on the horizon is my gall bladder, but the scan for this is tomorrow and assuming that everything is clear, I can stop pussy-footing about and get back to Hard Bastard Training. In fact, I suspect I’ll now have no excuse to avoid doing a Tough Mudder type challenge later in the year, which my husband got roped into by someone at work and was afraid of completing alone. I’m hoping to get working on the monkey bar traverse next week, which is my next major obstacle to overcome. Right now, I’m looking forward to everything that is going to be thrown at me, because I suspect exercise shit just got very real indeed.

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The biggest surprise is now being told to eat more each day to cover daily body maintenance. Because of my current level of exercise, I’m simply not taking in enough calories to maintain basic bodily function, which I have to admit explains a fair few things about levels of fatigue. There’s a couple of other issues to take care of too, but mostly I’m celebrating the fact that I have done what I set out to do, in almost exactly a year. Now I’m here, of course, I have to remain long term and not go backwards, and that’s always been the part of the equation that’s never been managed.

I can do this. I know I can. Here’s to the next year’s worth of progress.

Turn to Stone

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Tomorrow, I get up at 6am to go to a Hospital on the fringes of the M25 to have a Health Assessment. Primarily it is being done to check my level of physical fitness, to gain a V02 Max reading after a year of exercise. However, there is going to come a point where a doctor sits and asks me if mentally I’m okay or not, and up until about 3am this morning I’d have probably refused to answer, on the grounds I could seriously incriminate myself as being anything but. However, sitting in a lay by at 8.30am, crying my eyes out, there was a revelation of the sort I only thought happened in movies when you’re pressed for time and the exposition all needs to happen right now.

‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ I’ll say to the female doctor when she asks me. I’ll explain to her I understand why it’s important to talk about mental health, that I’ve coped with depression alone for many decades and now, as it happens, I’ve done the same again. Except on this occasion there’s been light shone in corners that were previously left dark by design, and what they have illuminated is important. I still don’t need drugs to function correctly. There is no requirement to talk to someone to understand what’s going wrong. I now know EXACTLY where some of my issues began, and that there’s not anything that requires a diagnosis. In effect, this is a surprisingly good place for me.

I am reminded this morning of the person who DM-d me in the early days of my life on Twitter and questioned my mental illness credentials. So many people lie for attention, she said, I want to make sure you’re not one of them. I know how desperate I’ve felt in the last few days, feeling the hole in my chest as I sit and type now, even though my brain is able to step back and allow words from brain to fingers to screen. Somehow, in my journey to make expression matter not simply as a storyteller but as an educator, I’ve developed a new and impressive means of internal separation. The panic remains but somehow I learnt how to cope with it and make things better.

Last night, I was able for the first time to tell somebody how much I miss them. Today, I was able to tell a friend that ‘yeah, I’m fine but I don’t want to talk right now’ and these things to individuals who are not my family are huge, enormous steps forward. The thing that snapped inside me on Tuesday night wasn’t a break, but a memory recalled from when I was very young, and the understanding that I’m not simply a copy of somebody else’s failings. What I have become is important, worthwhile and relevant. Most importantly, I am free to not repeat the mistakes of the past if I spend enough time learning to understand myself in the present.

After that, I don’t have time to spend contemplating my navel, mortality or indeed anything else. There is simply too much to do, that matters more. I don’t require the time to assess or understand, all that has already taken place. This, as someone said to me a while ago, is coming out into the light after having spent a long time only in darkness. I know I’ll end up back there as time goes on but this time I know where the exits are. I learnt the skills required to wriggle free of restraints.

I’m no longer lost when the blackness comes because I learnt to see in the dark.

You’re never cured of a mental illness. The bad shit never goes away, there is just an ability to cope with what is presented, and then deal with the consequences. Amazingly, nobody got hurt in this revelation. Everything is awesome, and that’s not hyperbole.

Yes, you really can fix things when they’re broken.