Training with a chronic illness

Updated: Feb 7, 2021

Three years ago, age 30 and in the midst of GB training, I was diagnosed with a life-long chronic illness. For months, I had been successfully kidding myself that nothing was wrong.

Blood tests confirmed I had Hashimoto's disease. An autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland, my thyroid and iron levels had bottomed out and were almost through the floor. How I was still getting up every day and training was a bit of a mystery (unless you realise how powerful the mind is of course, but that's a different post!).

The symptoms that I had so skilfully been ignoring for months were:

  • Muscle aches and pains

  • Extreme tiredness

  • Cold all the time

  • Sleep problems

  • Disruptions to my normally very regular period

  • Absolutely no memory - total brain fog

  • Anxiety and mood swings

  • Athletic performance plateaued - I just couldn't achieve what I knew I should

  • Hair loss

You can probably see how the majority of these things could be put down to the fact I was training hard, running a business and being a mum. Not only was it so easy to brush the symptoms off as something else but it was also convenient for me to ignore my body's shouts for help. My sights were so fixed on the European Champs that I did not have time to be ill.

Not only this, my whole persona at the time was built around being fit, strong, competitive and healthy. To have something wrong, was to have a weakness in my mind. It was a real blow to the ego and not one I was ready for.

The most important lessons I have learnt...

I have always thought I was very body aware. But on what level? I could balance, move and strike a pose well but I was point blank ignoring what was most important. The subtle whispers, the intelligence that is deeper within all of us.

Don't ignore your body! It will tell you so much if you take the time to listen. Recognise how you feel. Be honest with yourself. Get to know yourself. If you regularly check in, you know when things don't feel right and you can act on them quicker.

I have spent a lot of time learning how to tune in to my body and listen to what it is telling me. I've done this with meditation, mindfulness and yoga. These practices combined have been my saviour, an absolutely fantastic way of getting beneath the skin. There's a great 2 minute body scan here as a starting point. I've also used trackers and journals to monitor my energy compared to what's going on in my life. You quickly become aware of patterns and cycles and once you do, you can work with these.

Give yourself time. It's taken the best part of three years to finally get to a point where I'm feeling 'normal' most of the time (whatever that is!). I still have my ups and downs if I'm not careful - it's a constant balancing act. Don't force it and be kind with yourself. I used to beat myself up about my 'broken' body, it really doesn't help. Learn to slow down, practice acceptance of things as they are and be grateful for what you can still do. A real mindset shift - but a powerful one.

Rest and recover. I'm fairly sure looking back my symptoms started because I burnt myself out trying to do everything at once, at one hundred miles an hour. It was my body's way of telling me it couldn't cope and that I needed to slow down. My specific training cycle now involves three weeks on, one week off. I'll walk and do gentle yoga that week, but that's it. That might not be right for everyone but there will be a cycle that works for you. You need to make sure you factor enough rest and recovery into your training - it may feel strange to take time off but you will come back stronger and progress quicker overall.

Empower and educate yourself. I spent a lot of time reading around the subject, reading blogs of others in a similar situation and teaching myself everything I could about the condition. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Seek others out in a similar situation to you and learn from each other. Know that your performance, what you can and can't do, what illness you may or may not have does not define who you are. It does not make you weak.

Avoid negativity. With any chronic illness, stress will make it worse. My symptoms certainly flare up in times of stress. Negativity produces more stress. Choose where you spend your energy carefully, avoid situations and people that drain you and stress you out. Learn to say no. This is a hard one for me but your energy is precious and you need it most. In a strange way, lockdown has been great for me - no pressure to commit to things just because you don't want to let others down.

An interesting fact to end...

The thyroid gland specifically relates to the throat chakra, one of seven energy centres in the body. The throat chakra relates to communication and speaking your truth. Interesting that my complete lack of communication and honesty with myself lead to a problem in this area. Chakras are something I'm learning a lot about at the moment and find them so fascinating - more coming on that in due course!

I would love to hear if any one manages an illness alongside their training or if any of this resonated with you.

Stay curious x

#chronicillness #alternativetreatments #holistic #training #running #triathlon #training #energy #wellness

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