This is a blog post which was requested a while ago but which I was never sure about writing until now. Reason being, I am not a fitness professional so who am I to advise on exercise? So just a little caveat before you start reading that this isn’t advice. It’s just the story of my on-going experience with exercise and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and don’t worry I’m not even going to mention the phrase “graded exercise” – or at least not again.

Before I was diagnosed with CFS I exercised A LOT. In hind-sight probably too much. I ran 2-3 times a week for up to 8 miles at a time, I played netball once a week and would go to the gym or yoga 1-2 times a week as well. Two years before I crashed I ran the London Marathon (still one of my greatest personal achievements) and a year after running the marathon I ran 6 half marathons in 6 months – the last of which was just 6-months before my crash. I pushed my body to its limits physically and I have no doubt this contributed to my developing CFS. But at the time I was someone who associated achievement with success and I was always looking for the next big challenge to achieve.

After my initial CFS crash, before I had accepted my diagnosis, I remember trying to push myself back out to run again. I remember thinking if I can run then I am “healthy”. After a short while, it became very apparent that running wasn’t going to be part of my immediate life and it was just delaying and setting back my recovery.

But for me, doing no exercise was exacerbating the effect of the CFS on my mental health. Running or more generally exercise was always my way of processing life and de-stressing. I missed that endorphin rush which comes with exercise but I needed to find something which I could do without triggering my adrenals which I now knew were flatlining and in need of a lot of TLC. I started with yoga – to be precise an at home yoga DVD called “yoga for fatigue” which I found on Amazon. I could only do a few minutes at a time initially and had to fight the critic in my head telling me how useless and crap I was. Slowly with gentle perseverance, I was able to do a little more for a little longer and eventually (after MONTHS of this) I made it to a “slow flow” yoga class at my local yoga studio. For me, this was a massive step and really required me to challenge my inner critic. I was now in a room surrounded yogis. I was hit full force with imposter syndrome and comparison-itis but the studio and teachers were so welcoming and supportive I didn’t let my inner critic stop me. I was showing up for myself and that was a big step. The benefit was also that the studio offered a drop-in option for all its classes meaning I could plan when I wanted to go but if on the day I couldn’t I didn’t lose anything – a BIG help for me on my recovery.

My goal was still always to get back to running because, as I said before, I believed that if I was able to run, I was “healthy”. So I started doing a daily visualisation of myself running. I would picture myself putting on my running kit, lacing up my trainers, leaving the house, running along the pavements and around the park near where we lived. Every day after meditating I would spend a few minutes on this visualisation. Then one day, my visualisation became a reality. I felt like I was back at square one with my fitness, having to start very slowly with run-walks of just a few minutes – which my inner critic would tell me it was hardly worth getting changed for! But I knew I had to start somewhere, I knew this was part of my recovery story. Fast-forward and eventually 2.5 years after my initial crash I managed to run a 10K. When I think about that now it sort of blows my mind. I don’t remember much about the race, other than the emotion I felt after finishing it, the fact I had done it and proved everyone wrong was a huge achievement for me. I had faced my demons and won – or at least that’s how it felt to me.

However, after a while, I realised that running regularly and pushing myself to run further and faster It wasn’t part of who I was post-CFS. It no longer served me. It took me a while to let go of that need to achieve but now I have re-evaluated why I exercise. While it used to be about doing, about going further and faster and achieving more, I’ve realised the real reason I exercise is that feel-good emotion you get from moving your body – those endorphins again. It’s the mental clarity I feel after exercising and the reduction of nervous, anxious energy. Understanding this has only happened recently, it’s taken a lot of soul searching to get to this point and I’ve asked myself what my values are now – and have accepted they are different to the values I had before CFS.

What does exercising look like for me now?

I’m more loving towards my body when it comes to movement and exercise now, I don’t push it to its limits, I exercise to nourish my body.

I do more at home yoga (we have moved away from the yoga studio I loved so much when I was in my recovery and I haven’t found somewhere I like as much yet) so I follow YouTube yoga videos.

I’ve recently discovered Pilates and have found this a great way to help build muscle strength which I still struggle with.

I do still occasionally do a slow and steady 2-3 mile run on days when I feel like

1. I have the capacity to do this

2. I feel like it’s what my body needs – I’m all about listening to my body these days.

Until very recently I still had a gym membership but I had an epiphany moment a few weeks ago when I realised that the reason I had a gym membership was because I believed that if you’re fit and healthy you go to the gym. I was using it as a symbol of my health. But the truth is I no longer enjoy going to the gym. It doesn’t make me feel good. I do however love swimming – one of the reasons I picked the gym I did was because it had a pool and I’ve always loved swimming and water from a young age. I’ve now discovered you can have a swim only gym pass which means I can still do the exercise I want to do and I save about £12 a month – bonus!

Oh and I walk a lot more now thanks to the addition of Coco the Cockapoo to our lives. She gets me up and out into nature at least once a day, twice most days, and I’ve discovered a real passion for those nature walks – particularly early in the morning when no one else is about!!

I guess the main message I want to convey with this blog is that my relationship with exercise has changed dramatically since my CFS diagnosis and that it’s still evolving now. As I get to know myself and my body and what makes me feel my best, I’ve found the strength to let go of my expectations of myself and my desire to “keep up with others” in terms of fitness. I’ve accepted the new me post-CFS and accepted that what makes me healthy and happy will be different to what other people need. But most importantly I hope I’ve shown you that having a diagnosis of CFS doesn’t need to mean it’s the end of exercising forever. Activity may look different in your life to what it did before but that doesn’t mean it’s any less valuable or any less possible. Just take it slowly, one step at a time in a way which feels good and right for you. And if right now or forever more exercising is not part of who you are, that’s fine too. You and your body know what’s best and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.


1 Comment

Maureen Kinnear · April 29, 2019 at 5:00 pm

Thanks Beth and thanks for yr reply from yr website. I am still struggling with exercise,but slowly making it a change in my life. Helps to hear yr views and know getting back to a semi normal life is possible. Lv Maureen x

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