It ain’t over till the fat lady swims…

Sometime in the murky depths of February I saw a sponsored post from Diabetes UK on Facebook. Swim the Channel, it proclaimed. In the comfort of your local pool! Raise money! Being a Type 2 diabetic myself, and with my daughter Zoe a Type 1 since she was 9, I was sufficiently curious to click on the link. I scrolled through the page and something inside me was ignited. At the same time the nasty little imp inside my head started laughing. “Swim the channel?” he asked “You? Hahahahaha!” For once I found enough courage to drown him out with positivity and carried on reading.

Before the imp could recover and start harassing me again, I signed up, just for half the distance. I could manage 11 miles I told myself. Swimming is easy, I will lose weight, my blood sugar will stabilize, and I will raise £200 for the charity. It will be wonderful, I need to exercise, I can do this!

Further spurred on by a conversation and a donation from Chris Evans on Virgin Radio I upped my game.

Celebrating 11 miles, half way!

Fast forward about 3 months. On Sunday I swam into Calais and stumbled up the beach to reward myself with a croissant. 22 miles and over £1000 raised for the charity that is so close to my heart.

Am I proud of myself? You bet I am. I can honestly say that this is both the worst and the best thing that I have EVER done.

I knew that physically this would be hard. I am 60 years old, overweight, diabetic, totally unfit with little or no core strength in my body. I had some major expectations of my marathon swim. I believed I would lose a lot of weight. I believed that my diabetic blood sugar readings would drop to a healthier level. I believed it would get easier. In reality, I did drop a dress size, but I didn’t lose weight. My blood sugar readings were all over the place, not helped by the fact that I was really hungry most of the time! I think that perhaps my body was somewhat confused by a regular and consistent exercise routine and it just could not figure out when I needed glucose to keep my muscles going! I also hurt. At every point one of those muscles ached. My back, my knees, even my elbows! My skin shriveled and I broke out in spots. My feet were dry and cracked. A whiff of chlorine followed me wherever I went. As for my hair…where did I put my wig?

But at the end of the challenge I do feel better. I can walk further and faster than before I started, and I don’t get breathless.

What I was not prepared for was the effect of the challenge on my mental and emotional health.

The first day that I got into the pool I aimed for swimming 10 lengths. I managed 20 with several rest stops. At that point I figured out how many lengths I would have to swim to reach 11 miles if I only swam 20 lengths each swim. Just about doable I thought.

By the end of the swim I was routinely swimming a minimum of 34 lengths (1/2 mile) per session with only one or two short pauses. A couple of times I managed a whole mile!

I discovered a determination and a resilience that I really did not know I had in me. Even on the days when I just did not want to get in the water, I dragged my sorry arse to the pool and got in. I persevered despite several incidents of swimming snobbery. On one occasion I was told that I was too slow for the slow lane! She was probably right.

But. I showed up, gritted my teeth and just did it. Kept doing it.

I also reconnected mentally with my body. It likes to be exercised. My physical wellbeing connects with my mental wellbeing. It feels good (apart from the chlorine!)

My husband Nigel came with me every Sunday and I was so grateful, but the rest of the time I was pretty much alone with my thoughts and there were days when I just knew that I did not have a hope in hell of ever reaching France. Those days were the hardest and I remember one day just crying all the way and getting out of the pool with barely enough energy to dry myself. But I dug deep, learned to focus and just kept going.

Time and again I convinced myself that I would not finish the challenge. That I was not strong enough, or good enough to finish. But I was spurred on by my team of cheerleaders on Facebook who responded to every Facebook Live with words of encouragement and who sponsored me and kept me going. There was also an incredibly supportive Facebook group where people cheered each other on and shared their up and downs. I also had the support of a couple of lifeguards at the pool who cheered me on when they were working.

Thank you to EVERYONE who helped me reach my goals. I could not have done it without you all.

To wrap up, here are some of the things I have learned from this grand adventure.

  • Start with one length, one step, one breath
  • If you think you can’t, you won’t
  • If you need support, ask for it, there is always someone willing to help
  • Remember your underwear
  • Moisturise, and stay hydrated!
  • Laugh at yourself…often
  • Never underestimate yourself, you are amazing!
  • Enjoy the croissant!

This challenge has made me stronger, braver, happier. The lessons I have learned have changed me. They will make me a better human being. A better coach.

Will I do it again? Well, once I have taken a brief break from the chlorine, I will continue swimming a couple of times a week, and I am planning some other exercise. But swimming the channel? I’m not sure. Ask me next February!

If you have enjoyed this blog and would like to donate, the fundraising page is open until 22 June 2019

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/penny-thresher

Penny is a life coach living in Morecambe in Lancashire. Her business is Corner House Coaching.

She works with clients right across the UK. If you would like to know more, or simply stay in touch here are her details

Email: penny@cornerhousecoaching.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cornerhousecoaching/

She would love to hear how you enjoyed this blog so please leave a comment

Thank you for reading x

The Naked Truth…

This morning I had a brave moment. I stood naked in front of a mirror and looked at my body.

As a 60-year-old fat woman with poor hair and Type 2 diabetes, currently spending a minimum of 3-4 hours a week in a chlorinated swimming pool, this is not something I do very often. I prefer to avert my eyes, getting dressed quickly out of mirror view, only sitting at my dressing table to take care of my face and appalling hair. To apply the bare minimum of makeup. And even that is something that I get through as quickly as I can. A quick check of my clothed body before venturing out into the world is the most examination that I usually do.

When I embarked on my swimming challenge (for Diabetes UK – swimming the channel in my local pool over 3 months for those of you that do not know) it was for 3 reasons.

  • I needed to something to improve my fitness levels
  • I wanted to raise money for this charity on behalf of my Type 1 daughter
  • I thought it would make me accountable – if I went public, I would have to stick at it, particularly if people were sponsoring me!

I have tried the public thing before with varying degrees of success, but sponsorship is extremely motivating!

Healthwise I really thought that I would see weight loss and an improvement in my blood sugars.

What has actually happened, is that I have gained 5lb and my blood sugar is all over the place! I am also hungry. All the time. And not for salad! I also ache. A lot. Pushing myself to do 30-40 lengths each swim from a standing start of no real exercise is a push.

However, my clothes are a little looser, I don’t get out of breath so much and I do feel proud of myself. So, I decided to brave the mirror.

Its not a pretty sight. Don’t worry, I know I overshare, but there are no photographs to scare the children! I can see that my body has changed shape. Its never going to be that “acceptable” sight that adorns our magazines, newspapers and social media. There are lumps and bumps, drooping and scars. The last two of course are connected with Zoe, my daughter. A caesarian scar and droopy boobs after breastfeeding are a reminder of something wonderful. Creating another human being. Someone who I love and am so proud of. I do not regret them. But the rest are testament to years in sedentary jobs, a total lack of self-esteem which resulted in eating too much, and a lack of interest in exercise for exercise’s sake.

I grew up in the generation that played outside. There were only 3 television channels and none of them broadcast all day. I read books, built dens, rode my bicycle. We did PE at school on our lovely field and it was competitive. My mum cooked everything from scratch and once a week we got pocket money for sweets. Sixpence I believe. And I didn’t spend it on chocolate – my joy was a jamboree bag!

I was always a little chunky, although back then I had good hair! In beach pictures I looked long-legged and healthy. But I was the fat one in the class. And it did affect me, I felt somehow less. Not pretty, unattractive and that stayed with me for a long time.

Now I could continue and talk about all the bad stuff that happened in my life and made things worse. My parents divorce when I was 16. Someone I loved very dearly dying when I was 21. Being a doormat for numerous partners and believing that was normal. My first marriage that ended in drunken violence when my daughter was 6. Piles of crap! We all have them.

I could blame my weight problems on all of that. When my marriage broke up, I topped the scales at over 26 stone. At the same time my job became unbearably stressful and I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. There is no doubt that all the stress played its part in my diagnosis, which was discovered at a routine work medical. But my life choices were all unhealthy ones.

When I met Nigel in 2003 I was still over 22 stone. He is a Labrador and loved/loves food. So I fed us. It’s what I do. We got a grip in 2008 when we decided to get married and we both lost a lot of weight.

By the time we moved to Morecambe, 21 months ago, my weight had settled at just over 18 stone, give or take 5lbs. Last summer I embarked on healthy habits – better eating, more walking. I felt better but then for six months from August I had a spell of really bad health, including my fall downstairs at the end of November. That fall was really a turning point for me. I have never felt so physically frail, so immobile. It scared me.

Since I started swimming various bunches of muscles have taken it in turns to hurt. It started with my biceps. Although I have not lost the bingo wings I have much improved strength in my arms. Next my calf muscles. Useful in a 3-storey house! This week it is my stomach muscles and my quadriceps (yes I googled!).

My stomach is a really weird shape. Where the muscles are contracting. I have an umbilical hernia that is more pronounced (too small to warrant an operation apparently), with great hollows either side below my waist. The tops of my thighs are like rocks!

Sorry for the visuals. What I am trying to say is that nothing stays the same. With a bit of effort and determination you can change your landscape. It might take a while, and it may never look exactly how you want it but what is more important is the hidden landscape.

Yesterday in the pool I was completely overwhelmed and tearful. Note to self: No-one notices if you cry in a swimming pool. This challenge has become about so much more than me getting a bit fitter, or raising some money for a good cause. It is about changing my beliefs, pushing myself. Stretching my limits.

I have realised that for a long time I have avoided things that might stretch me, physically and mentally. My opening thoughts are often about how difficult something might be. I make elaborate plans to avoid challenging physical or mental situations. To the point where I avoid going to places where I cannot park close by. Where I don’t speak out loud when I believe something strongly. My default thought has been “I can’t”.

Every time I go swimming, I feel fear. Fear of not being able to finish the challenge. Fear of looking awful in my swim suit. Fear of being in the way of faster swimmers. Every time I get past 30 lengths, I feel better. I feel triumph. I am exhausted but I do have a sense of achievement. I feel the fear and do it anyway.

In the end it does not matter what I think. It does not matter what other people think. It is just thoughts. And I can choose to pay attention to them or not. I can choose to love this body that I see in the mirror with all its lumps and bumps. I am choosing to work on making it fitter so it can last longer. Its not easy, and it is not always enjoyable. But I will persevere. And when I get to Calais – bugger the blood sugar! There is a chocolate croissant with my name on waiting for me!

P.S. Its Sunday now and we were back in the pool this morning for an hour. 34 lengths more to add to my tracker. I am at 7.7 miles now and got a new badge!

And the other thing? When I read this blog to my lovely husband before publishing – he told me that he thinks I am gorgeous! Whilst I know that he includes this battered overweight body in his definition of gorgeous he also knows my inner landscape really well. I am blessed to have him in my life!

If you would like to know more about my coaching or my swimming please get in touch!

  • Phone – 07771 896670
  • Email – penny@cornerhousecoaching.co.uk
  • Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/thecornerhouseUK/

This seems an appropriate song, and a great way to live – looking through the eyes of love!

Make your mark…

 

vote

I am sitting in my living room on my laptop on a damp, miserable Thursday morning. There are limp England flags plastered to the walls of houses down my street, looking rather dismal despite our success so far in the Euros. My dogs are miserable and damp, and quite frankly I could live without the odour of wet Labrador while I write. Across the country people are visiting their polling stations, voting on whether or not the UK should remain within the EU or strike out on its own and leave.

In the last week I have been pilloried by people from both sides of the argument when I dared to publically state on Facebook that I was struggling to decide how I would vote. I was looking for more input to make up my mind, and as I value the opinions of my friends and family it seemed a sensible thing to do. Find out what they were thinking, browse more facts and figures, share some questions. This little exercise has resulted in a culling of my Facebook “friends” since I do believe in free speech and I believe that everyone has a right to an opinion. What they don’t have a right to do is to privately and publicly attack me on Social Media, I can choose not to be “friends” any more, so I exercised my right to eject them from my life! Felt quite liberating too!

However, some of my other friend’s comments did lead me to me questioning some long held beliefs that I have held. Asking myself what I meant by one of two sweeping statements I have made during the long months of campaigning. I have wrestled with my conscience and thought long and hard about the pros and cons of MY vote, from MY point of view.

I went through a stage of thinking that I would not even go and vote because I was simply unable to choose. But then I thought about how hard we fought for the right to vote, and how there are still places in the world where women are fighting to have a voice, and I realized that not voting was not an option.

I did not actually 100% make up my mind until I was there, standing in the booth with the voting paper in my hand. I looked at it, in black and white, and listened to my heart and my head before placing my cross in one box, posting it in the ballot box and heading back out into the rain.

It was actually a huge relief that, for me at least, it was done.

So much rhetoric, and warnings of dire consequences whichever way we voted, and the truth is NOBODY actually knows what will definitely happen, and whatever the result, we will never really know how it would have turned out if the vote had gone the other way!

I am not going to share which way I eventually voted. It’s between me and my conscience. No one else’s business, and whichever way it goes we will simply cope with the circumstances like we always do, and always have done.

Life goes on. My family and friends love me. The rain is still raining. The sun will shine again. (Actually as I proof-read this, the sun burst into my living room through the window!) People will continue to post cute pictures of puppies and kittens on Facebook, and tweet meaningless….erm I mean meaningful things on Twitter in 140 words or less, the world will continue to spin on its axis.

I have realized this week that whatever I am “going through” and sharing in my blog, it is nothing compared to some people. Trying to get my head around a lack of self-esteem, a struggle with my health and weight, learning to deal with my “issues” is a very small thing. There are people out there struggling with so much worse. I am really working on “living in the moment”, appreciating every small thing in my life that is good, and there is a lot! And those things will not be affected by a vote on whether to remain in the EU or not. They are the important things and will transcend whatever economic reality we find ourselves in.

Appreciate the good stuff! But don’t forget to vote!

Here are my damp, and smelly, dogs, Barney and Ben 🙂

dogs voting

Food, glorious food!

It’s been a while since I put pen to paper, well, fingers to keyboard. Last time I wrote anything was just after my mum-in-law’s death. It has been a very emotional couple of weeks, more so than I expected. And it has brought me face to face with some uncomfortable facts that I think I have previously been able to ignore.

We all know that most people have an emotional response to food. Food is at the centre of celebration, friendship, family events and yes, even funerals. For me too, cooking is an emotional thing. When I feel happy I love to cook, when I am uncomfortable I like to retreat to my kitchen to hide behind recipes and ingredients. I am confident in a kitchen, its somewhere I know I can shine. Food is sharing, loving, joyous.

As you know Nigel and I had embarked on the Blood Sugar Diet – an 8 week, 800 calories a day, plan to stabilise blood sugar in Type 2 diabetics, or pre-diabetics. It requires some dedication and much enthusiasm but the results are spectacular. Nigel lost over a stone in the first week and I lost 6lb. We both felt great, full of energy and keen to continue.

But in between when Mum died and her funeral last Thursday we both felt like we were wading through glue. Everything felt like a huge effort, and time ran so slowly. To be honest all I really wanted to do was to sleep or sit on the sofa and watch mindless TV. Those of you who know me well know that this is not my default mode! I have been so miserable.

People often talk about comfort eating. It conjures up pictures of people stuffing their faces with cake, chocolate, takeaways, and all the things we think of as “comfort food”.  There have been times in my life when I have done this, but what usually happens to me is that I completely lose interest in food and cooking. Again, not my default mode!

The problem with this is that when I do eat it is usually simple carbs that I want. Toast. Cream crackers. Potatoes. All of which are as bad for me as the cake and chocolate. Suffice it to say that with a few exceptions I have not eaten properly or sensibly for nearly 3 weeks. And I feel terrible! Lethargic, with joint pain, bloat and so, so tired.

I did not consume massive amounts of food, but I did eat the wrong things, I didn’t plan meals, didn’t pay attention.

This complete contrast to how I was feeling on the low calorie eating plan, has prompted me to take a brutally honest look at my relationship with food.

Having Type 2 diabetes does not help with my emotional response to food. At times it is as though everything I eat is poison to me. Even though my sensible head tells me that I can eat perfectly well with a little thought and planning.

We all know the feeling of wanting to eat everything in sight the moment that we hear the word “diet” – for a long time I have substituted “eating plan” for the d-word. We also all know that to sustain health, well-being and weight loss, we need to be in it for the long term. The minute that you return to old habits the benefits of a period of healthy eating are undone. My emotional response to stress or unhappiness is always to pull the covers over my head and sleep, or read. I get lazy and introverted. I take no pleasure in food – simply eating because I have to, cooking if I must, taking the easy option with no creativity or joy. This in turn makes me more miserable and tired.  A vicious circle, and raised blood sugar.

So, the funeral was on Thursday. It was a beautiful service. Mum’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were there. The weather was miserable but there was sunshine in our hearts. We shared memories of both Mum and Dad, the flowers were beautiful, there was poetry, music and laughter.

Good Friday was spent mainly huddled on the sofa, in front of the TV, although sunlight was pouring through the windows. It was what we needed. And gradually over the Easter weekend we came back to life, ready to get back to normal, still grieving, but still breathing.

And here is where it gets corny! Although I am not “religious” per se, Easter always seems to me to be about renewal, new opportunities, new futures. So on Easter Monday we went right back to our carb-free regime. Back on track and newly determined! And I think I have a new awareness of my complicated relationship with food. Let’s see how it goes….

 

I leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the amazing Julia Child

Julia child steak quote