Monthly Archives: October 2014

Rehab and Jigsaws.

While I was out on one of my rehabilitative runs I started mulling over my injury and how I’m currently feeling. As an injured runner you become hyper-self aware of how each part of your body feels. An injured or rehabilitating runner can never just run. There is always an analysis of how every part of you feels, the sensations coming from your cardiovascular system and the messages being sent from your neuromusculoskeletal system. Your central nervous system goes into over drive as each ‘feeling’ that you register is converted to a meaning that it holds for you. And in the case of a runner returning from injury those feelings and meanings are often translated into ‘better’ or ‘not better’.

As I came into the last part of my run I considered how my various body parts were feeling. And I realised that I didn’t feel too bad. My right lower limb, which had been feeling really heavy during running, no longer felt like it had to be dragged along. The tightness in my calf was minimal and as for the dreaded left achilles, I hadn’t actually given it much thought. Maybe the jigsaw was coming together.

The word jigsaw got me thinking. Injury rehabilitation is a little bit similar to a jigsaw. Firstly you want a good solid base to build your jigsaw on. If you don’t have that solid base the jigsaw will fall apart. Next you need a mixture of patience and tenacity. You can’t rush a jigsaw puzzle but you also must not let it beat you, no matter how frustrating it is when you realise that you’ve rushed things and tried to push the wrong bits together. If you rush your rehab jigsaw and try to force things to work, the jigsaw will be wrong and won’t make sense. You’ll have to start again. (If the frustration gets too much then go away and do something else for a bit, like go for a bike ride). Eventually you find, usually after a few bad starts, when you build on a solid base, work gradually, with patience, the pieces will suddenly start melting into one another and the full picture will be revealed before you, as if it was always there.

And so for the first time in ages I felt like the pieces of my jigsaw have started to fit themselves together. It’s taken more patience than I ever believed I had and lots of effort not to rush things. It has also helped me discover the joy of bike rides to clear my head but also to build back the solid base that is always required. So hopefully now, I’m well on the way to completing my running jigsaw and gradually putting injury behind me.

Big, Exciting Things (After Some Scarier Things).

For many months I suffered from horrendous insomnia. Very inconveniently it had been at its worse during training for the London Marathon. I was perpetually tired and yet no matter how tired I was I could easily go three or four consecutive nights with no sleep. After the third or fourth night I would pass out from pure exhaustion, think I was over it and the cycle would begin again. It was so awful that some nights I was having full on panic attacks at the thought of going to bed.

In the end, after trying many things, I saw my GP who referred me to the Primary Mental Health Care Practitioner. She felt that my insomnia was due to anxiety and stress and referred me to a Mindfulness course. This was an absolute game changer for me. I learnt many things on that course including how to manage my anxiety laden thought processes. My insomnia wasn’t cured over night but it gradually improved with a conscious effort. Things were getting better. And then something else happened. A counselling appointment arrived.

The lovely practitioner who first assessed me had felt that counselling would help me to address the many unresolved issues that I had from when my husband had been very ill. I agreed that this was probably at the root of my anxiety. And so I went along to counselling prepared for it to deal mostly with the last couple of years of stress, money worries, anxiety about my husband and his condition and everything else that went with it. It actually became so much more.

I won’t go into too much detail here but counselling was actually more about me. I’m not usually very comfortable talking to people about my feelings and how I feel things impact on me. The counsellor, in the most gentle way possible, turned my focus back to me and I realised some very scary things:

I had zero self esteem.

I saw myself as a mother and little else.

I had some very negative thoughts about myself as a person (very deeply entrenched).

I didn’t believe that anyone really wanted to know me (hugely paranoid and sounds ridiculous).

After that first session I felt dreadful. The counsellor had warned me this would be the case. My belief system had been totally broken down and there were a great deal of tears from me for a few days. Why on earth would I want to go back if it made me feel like that?

To re-build me I guess.

And that is what has been happening over the last few weeks. I have been working on switching off the negative voices that tell me I’m not good at things or that I shouldn’t bother. I’ve worked on finding out what I want to do rather than focusing on what I think I should do as a mother and a wife. I have realised that I can’t be the one to ‘fix’ my husband and that to cope with his illness I have to keep myself well. Obviously there is lots and lots more to this but I don’t want to share everything that went on. Finally I also worked out how to break the cycle of ‘what ifs’ by finally going for something that I have wanted to do for years.

This week I enrolled on an MSc in Sport and Exercise Physiotherapy. The course that I wanted to do years ago but allowed myself to be talked out of doing, because of my low self esteem and because I thought other people know better and because I tend to put other people on a pedestal and think everyone is and knows better than me.

It has been a hard process over the last few weeks, months even and it has forced me to look myself straight in the eye. Not to judge myself, the opposite in fact. It has allowed me to look at myself and think actually I’m pretty bloody awesome. I can think good things about myself and I am a good person and I’m not as unlikable as I had believed for a very long time.

Thanks to counselling I have also realised that I can do the things I’ve always wanted to do. And that is big, kind of scary, but very, very exciting.

Gender, Sport and Mother Nature.

In the week I read this report on BBC Sport from Matte Slater called Sport and Gender: A History of Bad Science and Biological Racism. Long title but it is definitely worth a read. I jumped on this article immediately as the case of Caster Semenya, the South African 800m athlete, has always fascinated me. When she first burst onto the scene with her androgynous appearance, I along with plenty of others I’m sure, wondered if this was the most obvious case of doping ever. From what I’ve read though the suspicions of others jumped straight to whether she was actually male with fellow athletes openly questioning her gender.

When I read Matt Slater’s report my heart actually ached a little bit for the women involved. Through no fault of their own they have been subject to humiliating and traumatic investigations to establish their gender. Governing bodies do not seem equipped to deal with matters of gender at all and instead these women are left feeling rejected by the sport they love. It amazes me that in some ways sport can be so forward moving in aspects of training and technology and yet in gender they seem so backwards. As Matt Slater says in his report, ‘Mother Nature is not as black-and-white as your typical blazer would like his competitions to be’. And that statement there raises the other issues that I have with these cases: our ideas of what femininity is and what it is to be a woman.

I feel that society’s projections of what it is to be feminine or female have affected the way these women are dealt with. Because these women, like Caster, do not fit into the mould of crop top wearing, long flowing hair and fancy nails that many other women do they seem to raise suspicion more than most. I understand that most of the suspicions came from their sudden rise in performances but that does not justify the way the cases are dealt with. One athlete in the report attempted suicide because of the way she was treated. How can that be right?

Gender is not as clear cut as many would like to believe. We are all on a hormonal and chemical spectrum which affects us physiologically inside and outside. I think that these cases actually reveal some very scary prejudices that surround women in sport, especially women who are not deemed to be feminine enough. Often because they are not ‘feminine’ enough it is demanded that they have life changing surgery, to appease these ‘blazer’ types, a fact that quite frankly I find barbaric. I think those in charge of sport need to review their processes and their approaches with regard to gender otherwise women like Caster Semenya and many others will continue to be discriminated against for a something which is natural, biological fact.