Why I’m curvy and why I hike

I don’t tend to participate in things like this, but this post on WordPress’ The Daily Post caught, and more importantly held, my interest:

Weekly Writing Challenge: Fit to Write

I could write a book on this subject, at the very least I could write a thesis-length essay…and no doubt I’d bore you all stupid with a blow-by-blow account of my health issues, both real and imaginary!  I will try not to do any of this, but I would suggest you settle down with a nice cup of tea, and make sure you’re sitting comfortably.

Horses (and ponies) were a big part of my life, from a very early age.  I attended a local riding school every Saturday from when I was tiny, and had my first pony by the age of 5.  At 6 years old I was competing in local shows every weekend, and by 7 years we were registered with the BSPS and showing at County level.  I graduated from lead rein showing, to show ponies.  I preferred jumping to the plain showing, so I then graduated from Cradle Stakes, through Nursery Stakes, to Open Working Hunter Ponies.  I showed my own ponies, I showed ponies for other owners.  At home I schooled my own ponies, and we travelled to school other people’s ponies too. I went all the way up through the Pony Club, competing in Area Show jumping, Eventing and Dressage.  Qualifying for the Championships, and competing at the hallowed Weston Park year after year.  Starting with my D test, I finished my Pony Club days with the hard-earned and prestigious A- test qualification.  I fell in love with dressage, and I took an unschooled New Forest X hunting pony up through the dressage ranks from Preliminary level, all the way to the European Championships in Holland as part of the British Junior/Pony Dressage team.   I schooled. trained and competed horses for myself and for clients from our home base.  I worked in top competition yards in Dressage and Eventing in both the UK and Europe, and I travelled all over, competing some amazing horses, for some fantastic owners.  With the horses at home, during my school years, I was up feeding ad mucking out before heading to school.  On a good day I’d have exercised at least one before changing into my uniform too.  After school, I could well be working out in the yard until 6, 7, 8pm 5 days a week.  Weekends were generally taken up with competing.  Whilst studying for my A-levels I was trying to balance all this with having a yard full of horses at home, and trying to prepare for competitions in Europe.  I scraped through my A levels, the horses always came first.   I did have friends, I did have a social life.  I did have other interests (Venture Scouts, etc) but the horses always came first, and my life was fitted around them, always.  Non-horsey boyfriends were taught to lunge…there WAS a pay-off here for them.  The quicker I could have every horse exercised/schooled in the evenings, and put away for the night, the sooner we could head down the pub or wherever our plans were taking us that evening.  Boyfriends knew there was no compromise, I didn’t leave the house, through my own choice, until everything was done and every horse was finished for the day.  A boyfriend with lungeing skills, albeit basic skills, could at the very least be ‘exercising’ one horse whilst I rode another.  Some really enthusiastic boyfriends even learnt to muck out, this earned them mega Brownie points!
What I’m trying to emphasise here is that all through my school years, all through my college years and all through most of my 20’s….I worked long hours, 7 days a week, and I worked hard.  I didn’t spend my evenings on the sofa, or my weekends lazing around…but throughout all of these years I struggled, really struggled with my weight.  My mother worked for a very well-known dieting company, whose name might imply watching weight.  We ate a properly balanced diet, we ate good food, cooked well, and we ate a tasty, varied diet.  But I struggled with my weight.  And everyone just said it was puppy fat, I’d grow out of it.  Then in my early 20’s…its still puppy fat, you’ll work it off.

The weight crept up and up.  My self-confidence got lower and lower.  I gave up horses, and went back to college in my mid-20’s and ultimately on to university to do a degree as a mature student.  I played rugby etc at college and Uni (another passion of mine) and still tried to stay active.  Whilst in my 2nd year at college I was asked to compete a horse for a friend.  She’d broken her wrist and it was an important show jumping qualifier that she wanted the horse to do.  I was completely mortified to find on the day that I couldn’t get my breeches to do up.  It was a fight to even get them on, but they were definitely not going to do up.  I competed with a white v-neck sweater under my jacket, as snug-fitting as we could find in the trade stands, and pulled down over my tum to cover up the fact that the zip and button on my breeches weren’t done up.  The horse won his class, but I was disgusted with myself, and beyond embarrassed.

I haven’t ridden a horse since.

I was emotionally unstable, bursting into tears at the slightest thing, exhausted, yet not sleeping.  I had absolutely no self-esteem. my confidence was diminishing.  No matter what I did or ate, my weight just continued to rise.  One doctor decided I had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and told me a magic ‘daylight’ lamp would cure-all.  A second doctor told me I had classic depression, and sent me home with sleeping pills.  I took one sleeping pill on a Wednesday evening, and when in to college on the Thursday morning, to find it was actually Friday….I’d slept through an entire day without realising it.  I flushed the rest of those sleeping pills away.
In my late 20’s a friend’s mother stopped me in her kitchen, pointed to my neck and said “You’ve got a goitre!”.  The doctor I subsequently went to told me I just had a fat neck.  None of these doctors, in all these years, had taken any blood tests.

My weight went higher and higher.  I could no longer buy clothes from your average high street shop.  I had to ask for seat belt extensions on aeroplanes.  One doctor, the first one in years, took blood tests and called me in to discuss the results.  She told me my blood pressure was too high, that I should go on a diet, and that my thyroid numbers were a little out, but that she thought there was some mistake with those, so not to worry about it.  I pointed out my ‘fat neck’ which was getting bigger and firmer, and she referred me to a ‘specialist.  He told me my thyroid numbers weren’t so bad, and that if my goitre (he DID confirm it was a goitre!) bothered me, I should wear a scarf, or a turtle neck.
I cut my leg on a rusty car, and developed cellulitis.  I went in to the out-of-hours doctor’s service (these things ALWAYS happen on a Sunday!) and the GP on duty gave me antibiotics, drew around my cellulitis with a biro.  She was more than a little surprised to find I wasn’t registered with any of the doctors surgeries locally and hadn’t been to a doctor in a few years,  She told me to make an appointment with her at her own surgery if it hadn’t improved within a few days…as I walked out, she asked me to make an appointment anyway, within the next couple of weeks, so that she could get to work on my obvious thyroid issues.
She saved my life.  That isn’t an understatement.
I now know that the first doctor who even intimated that there might be a thyroid issue, didn’t follow it up or take it seriously, because my results screamed hyperthyroidism, yet my most obvious symptoms (weight gain, lethargy, muscle aches etc) shouted hypothyroidism.  She decided I couldn’t possibly be my size if I was hypER, so concluded that the results must have been wrong.  The hospital “specialist” she had referred me to, working off the same set of blood results, told me the lab ranges were the wrong ones and that I was reading them incorrectly.

So here we are.  It is 2013.  I no longer have a thyroid gland, and I no longer have a massive goitre crushing my windpipe.  I’m on thyroid medication for the rest of my life..but thanks to all that I can now have a life!

I’m still very overweight.  My metabolism is a law unto itself.  No matter what I do exercise or food wise, it does its own thing, as does my weight.  The fact that you can do little or nothing to affect your weight, which just seems to keep rising no matter how well you eat, or how much you exercise, is frankly bloody frightening! But I’ve taken control of my health as best I can.  I’m learning to ignore the scales, and instead concentrate on how I feel!  My resting heart beat, sitting now in the low 60s, instills a calm in me that my bathroom scales never will.   I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I will never be skinny, its unlikely I’ll ever be slim.  But whatever weight or size I am, I will be in control of my fitness, my exercise and my diet, and I can only hope that my metabolism and my body gets on the same train at some point.

That is why I’m curvy…and this is why I hike!

Walking is easy and best of all, it’s free.  Building the habit of walking daily was the hardest thing for me, especially starting my new regime in January. (My top-tip to new aspiring walkers, start now, whilst its warm and mostly dry! Get the habit ingrained into your daily routine, before the weather closes in for the winter!)
Hiking makes walking more interesting, and the fact that I live in a country where there are stunning mountain ranges and walking locations all within a few hours drive, and the beautiful Slieve Bloom mountains virtually on my doorstep, makes hiking a no-brainer.

I try to walk every day during the week.  Out on the local lanes, pounding the road.  At weekends, if I’m working, then I don’t have time.  But the hours I do are typically long, and the work can be physical, so I don’t overly worry about not getting out on an otherwise busy weekend.  If I’m not working, then we try to hit the roads and head off for a hike.  During the week, I also try to do at least 3-4 aerobic style workouts.  I give myself at least one full day off from exercise each week, but find I’m just itching to go and do something, anything, on my rest days.  I never previously believed those people who claimed that exercise and keeping fit was addictive – I do now!
I try to mix it up a little, conscious that it is my understanding that with the repetition of the same type of workout, your body will get used to the exercise routine and will consume less energy.  My metabolism makes my life hell, so with my exercise regime, I like to think I’m giving it a little hell in return.

A more serious, but very simplistic explanation. There are strong links between thyroid replacement medication and increased risk of developing post-menopausal osteoporosis.  There are many excellent articles extolling walking and other weight-bearing exercises as an excellent way to reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis.  I think it is highly likely that I will develop osteoporosis at some point, It is my hope that all this walking and hiking will delay it somewhat!

I would love to ride horse again.  I cannot describe the sense of loss I feel to not have such a previously important part of my life completely missing now.  But realistically I don’t know if it will ever happen.  I would love to start a family, but we’ve been trying for nearly three years now, and I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that its is becoming increasingly unlikely, due to my weight, due to my thyroid issues, due to my age, due to just too many factors against me.

A media outlet was recently asking for submissions from people, writing letters to their 18-year old self…well my letter would be in block capitals, would consist of just five words, and it would simply say…

GET YOUR THYROID LEVELS TESTED!!!

I have to stop now.  I imagine I’m boring you, and I’m ashamed to admit I’m just crying too hard to type.

Goddamnit, I thought I was in control!!

Normal hike blogging will resume shortly….

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3 thoughts on “Why I’m curvy and why I hike

  1. Pingback: Expression and the Art of Letting Go | The Seeker's Dungeon

  2. I found your blog while looking for information on visiting Maeve’s cairn. I enjoyed your account and hope to make it to the top (fully clothed) on our next trip to Ireland in about a week. My wife has some health issues as well, and I’m hoping she is able to make the ascent. Your candid account of your health and weight struggles will hopefully help others realize the importance of not only regular check-ups but also trusting the messages your body is sending you. I hope you continue to do well and enjoy hiking in one of the loveliest places on earth. Thanks.

  3. Thank you for your lovely comments Luther. The best advice I can give is for your wife to take her time, and stop for a rest when she needs to stop. Its not a race, and she has nothing to prove to anybody. The views are spectacular all the way up, as long as the weather is being kind, so stopping frequently on the way up to take in the views is highly recommended by me anyway 🙂
    I really hope you enjoy your visit to Ireland, and get to do all that you have planned 🙂

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