It's true, exercise really is good for you! Since going back to the gym last week, I have felt more positive and energised than at any time over the past six months. I am taking it slowly and trying not to push myself too far, but at the same time I want to increase my levels of fitness and build up stamina (got a marathon to run next year, you know!). I'm doing a mix of cv work and resistance work, with some shoulder physio and abs work as well. I tried running for the first time yesterday and did a minute walk, a minute run for 10 minutes, then ran for about two and a half minutes. It felt good - but hard! I knew I had lost a lot of my base fitness and stamina and the way I felt when I ran proved it!
When I saw the psychologist a couple of weeks ago, I said exercise was one of the things I miss - and it's not just about the endorphins it produces but also about the fact that running and exercise are so bound up for me with my perception of myself that all the time I was unable to exercise the way I want to, I felt farther away from how I wanted to be. And from how I used to be. I really hoped that starting to exercise again would be a positive thing for me psychologically as well as physically, and happily that seems to be the case - at least, so far!
I saw my GP yesterday to talk to him about whether I should take anti-depressants (my psychologist had suggested I have the conversation with him) and as soon as I said that I had started exercising and that it made a difference, he said about endorphins and research showing that exercise is as effective in dealing with mild depression as a/ds. We had quite a long talk about it and we agreed that, at the moment, my exercise regime is helping me cope better with what's happened, so I don't need to take any medication at the moment. The proviso is, obviously, that if I get to the point where I do feel unable to cope, I go back to see him and we discuss medication. I don't mind taking medication to help me through things, but I must confess to feeling a sense of relief that I don't have to worry about possible side-effects or having to change medication if the initial one doesn't suit me. So, as long as exercise makes me feel positive about myself and that I can deal with what's happening, then that will be great.
I am so pleased - and relieved - with the change I feel in myself over the last 10 days or so. I've been lacking confidence in so many areas, including driving, to the extent that I have avoided driving except when absolutely necessary (usually to get to hospital appointments and even then, only in the last couple of months). Yesterday, I had to drive to the Marsden to see the dental hygienist and I felt like my old driving self, as it were - didn't get anxious, didn't think I was bound to have a mishap or lose my way (silly, really, as I could probably direct someone to the Marsden if I were blindfolded and sitting in the back of their car!). In fact, I felt so fine about it that when I left the Marsden, instead of going home, I drove into Croydon and did a couple of hours of shopping. Now, that really is a breakthrough, as it meant that I voluntarily put myself in crowds of people and accepted that I might be on the receiving end of looks or comments. I did it. I didn't avoid it, I actively sought out the challenge. And it was fine. I actually found the supermarket shop this morning more of a challenge, but that was probably because everyone seemed to be really dopey, blocking aisles with their trollies, stepping out without looking and then glaring at me as if I were in the wrong. I think early Christmas panic-buying had set in!
At the Marsden yesterday, I was seeing the dental hygienist. Long-term readers of my blog will remember that one of the side-effects from my radiotherapy is weakened enamel and higher risk of tooth decay, with attendant difficulties if any tooth couldn't be saved and had to be extracted. I have been diligent with my teeth-cleaning and flossing, even though there have been times when my mouth was too painful to open properly and the absolute rock-bottom time, when cleaning my teeth made me vomit (I do hope you're not eating your lunch or dinner when you read this!), so I have failed to clean them properly a few times. However, the hygienist said they are looking really good and I am looking after them very well, so she signed me off and I only need to see the hygienist at my dental surgery from now on (this means, of course, that I shall now have to pay for it, whereas at the Marsden it's free!).
All in all, yesterday was a good day. Wednesday was good too, as two former colleagues (and current friends!) came over and took me out to lunch. They had driven over in Jim's Aston Martin DB9 and we went for a spin - wonderful! I even asked them to take photos of me sitting in the driver's seat, which shows how much better I must be feeling, because normally I avoid cameras like the plague. Of course, it could be that I am just shallow and my misgivings about being photographed were easily overridden by the desire to be seen sitting in a posh car and pretend it's mine! It was good to catch up with Jim and Alan and we had a good laugh.
Today? Well, today I have been to the gym first thing, with Neil. I didn't enjoy running as much as yesterday, so I did less of it and did some time on the step machine instead. The old Ali would have been cross about not doing the running, but this Ali just says - well, I did other exercise instead and it is very early days. It will come. Then the food shopping (grim) and I have blitzed the cooker and oven, tidied out, cleaned and reorganised some kitchen cupboards and am now having a bit of a sit-down. The sun is shining, the washing machine is whirring, the cats are sleeping and I had a lovely chat with Adam, who phoned me from Carlisle. It's the Christmas Fair at the school where he is doing his teaching practice, so it's all very exciting for the children (and Adam!). Amy has her work Christmas night out tonight, so it will be a quiet night in for Neil and me, and all the more precious for being so.
Long may this positive feeling continue! I am off all my painkillers now, so my only medication is half a sleeping tablet at bedtime and I said to the GP yesterday that when this prescription runs out, I don't want to renew it. I feel it's time I tried to establish a sleep pattern that's not based on chemicals.
I know I will have down days, but I genuinely feel as if I have turned a corner and am returning to a normal that I feel more comfortable with. And when I have a down day, I shall remember how good I feel now and remind myself that I can feel like this again.
I see my psychologist next week and I would like to be able to go in and show this positive, energised Ali to her, but much depends on how I feel on the day and I accept that, although I will make sure I have been to the gym that day before I go to hospital!
Thank you for your support and friendship - I am keeping this blog going, because it helps me to set things down, whether things are going well, or not so well, so please keep reading! Biggest thanks and love, as always, to Neil, Amy and Adam.