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By Sue Kidd
Well, I’ve done it! 70 days, 350.78km, 84 walks. It certainly has been a challenge physically, mentally and emotionally and now it’s over, I do have quite a few thoughts to share. If you’ve read my previous blog post, ‘A leisurely stroll is a gift’ you would know why this long challenge has been a big deal for me. I had an idea of how it might go, through years of experience of chronic illness and rehabilitation. I was right about a lot of it but there were some surprises thrown in and I’ve also been amazed at some of the helpful things I’ve learned along the way.
I knew adrenaline, nerves and excitement would get me off to a strong start.
The first week passed quickly, however, by week 2 and 3 I was rather anxious and overwhelmed by how long and far lay ahead of me. I started to feel the effects physically and my pain levels had increased somewhat and this was something I had expected, however, I hoped if I carried on my body would simply adjust. Thankfully this turned out to be the case and as the challenge continued, some pains started to level off. As the weeks went on I found a routine that worked for me; I felt my stamina and strength levels improve but the last couple of weeks were a huge effort as I could almost see the end. I was expecting this to happen too.
The last week was difficult and the final walk was one of the toughest! I was also expecting my various symptoms to flare up along the way, be it subluxations, problems with my neck, migraines, hormones, digestive issues, increased pain or fatigue. These issues made some days so hard despite how much my stamina had improved.
Something else I was possibly expecting, but desperately hoping wouldn’t happen, was getting an injury. This happened around the end of week 7. My ankle gave out badly 3 times on a walk and caused a lot of pain that transferred to my foot, leg, knee, hip and back. After this incident, I woke up the next morning with my foot at a weird angle (despite my best efforts to keep it still) causing another injury to my big toe, which is a problem area for me. This made the last couple of weeks particularly difficult. Lots of tape, bandaging, ice, heat and resting as much as I could helped me to get through this test.
There are 2 days that stick with me: day 2 and day 70. Day 2 was a walk with my Dad in the sand dunes. Now sand is not the easiest of surfaces to walk on and climbing sand dunes is quite the cardio work out. It was a freezing cold day at the end of February and I hadn’t taken any water with me. The day felt like a huge effort. I got really hot and my legs, hips and back became very painful. A PoTS flare up was kicking off by the time we got back to the car. I was completely exhausted and so anxious that the whole challenge would be too much. On hindsight, this day taught me the importance of always taking water with me (no matter how cold it is outside) and don’t walk 5km purely on the sand dunes. I learnt the importance of mixing it up with some flatter, firmer paths too.
Day 70 (the final walk) was more difficult than I anticipated. I was very emotional as I knew I was about to complete this mammoth challenge. I walked through the dunes again but this time against 50mph winds that were pushing against me the whole way. I climbed up a steep dune for a quick view of the sea which was difficult but I felt the strength in my legs. I’d grown stronger both physically and mentally despite the difficult walking conditions. I could almost hear myself crying out with determination. I encouraged myself on and I had felt the support of others throughout the challenge too. My parents and my dog, Buddy were waiting for me at the end; the closer I got the further away and more difficult it had all felt. The emotional release and realisation that I’d completed the challenge was overwhelming. I’ll never forget it.
It's been quite a lesson in planning and pacing. It took more planning than I expected to finish on day 70 at exactly 350km! At the start of the challenge, I didn’t really have too many other things or appointments going on. But appointments started up again and it was tricky at times to try and plan my walks around them. Some days I split my walks to help pace myself. On days that I was struggling I had to reduce my activity in other areas, like doing cooking. I’m lucky I had my parents support to help me with this activity.
The kindness of people I know and of strangers has been a wonderful thing to experience. Whether it’s been a donation or an encouraging comment, it all kept me going. I know times are difficult and I really have appreciated every donation, whilst completely understanding that others are unable to give. To start with I was able to thank people who donated as I knew them. As my story got shared and I got donations from strangers I got a bit concerned I couldn’t personally thank them. I was surprised how edgy this made me feel. So, if you happen to be reading this blog and I haven’t personally thanked you, I want to take this opportunity to say, ‘thank you so much!’
I’ve connected with people from all over the world on social media, and others have discovered my story after I had a feature in the local press. Consequently, I’ve reconnected with people I haven’t spoken to in years. Also, people who know me have found it interesting to see how my conditions really affect me (rather than the edited version I normally share). It’s been a big help to be involved in the online chronic illness community. It’s nice to share experiences with others in a similar position. It’s good to know I’m not alone. This challenge has reminded me the importance of human connection; it’s easy to get lost in our own world sometimes.
Setting up my Instagram account to track my walks every day came as an unexpected challenge. I didn’t realise how much effort and time this would take. Even things like increased pain in my hands and wrists due to using my phone more came as a bit of a surprise. I did eventually get into a routine with managing my social media and I’m glad I stuck with it. I wanted to keep an honest and hopefully positive account of my challenge. So, no filters or altering of photos, if I looked tired or unwell, then fine, that’s how it is!
I didn’t realise how difficult I would find sharing my experience and personal details of my life. I’m usually fairly private and keep things to myself and I don’t always share things with people I know, so to put it out there for the whole world to see certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone. As the challenge went on, however, I became more comfortable. I realised how valuable a tool social media can be for spreading and raising awareness of particular issues. I really felt more strongly as time went on about raising awareness of chronic illness and dispelling misconceptions. I was surprised that I felt comfortable filming myself and sharing my experience. Some things were a lot to try and write in an Instagram caption, so I found it easier to talk and film it.
By sharing my experiences as well as completing the challenge I’ve confronted and looked at my health issues more than I expected. I thought I was actually coping and managing to get by quite well, yet I realised as the challenge went on that this wasn’t always the case and I was in fact burying my head in the sand at times. I didn’t realise how bad my mental health was (after a difficult year for everybody) and how much my anxiety and OCD were affecting me. My mental health problems really flared for the first half of the challenge; I really wasn’t expecting this to happen. I decided to make a video to document the ways my mental health problems affect me. I felt incredibly nervous posting this video but, to my surprise, I got such encouraging feedback and it helped me to accept these issues. I also found posting every day reinforced the positive and helpful things that I do daily to help me get by. It served as a good reminder and also a gentle push to keep me going in areas I’ve let go (like relaxation exercises).
Something I really wasn’t expecting to feel was the sadness of losing my Grandpa over 20 years ago. Maybe it’s because I was thinking and talking more about how EDS affects my family. It’s actually quite hard to figure out once it gets to my grandparents but after talking with my Dad, we’re fairly sure it comes from my Grandpa. I wish I could have a conversation with him now as an adult and I wonder what he would have made of the challenge (he loved walking and being outdoors). I have a photo of him with his brother (my great-uncle) on the path I walked down almost every day on my challenge and I took one in the same spot; I might share it on Instagram sometime.
Spending so much time in nature has been incredible. I’m even more grateful that I live so close to such beautiful landscapes like sand dunes, pinewoods, wetlands and a beach. I’ve had many comments from people appreciating the beautiful scenery in my photos. Before this challenge I walked mainly on roads but now I think I’d prefer to walk in more rural settings. Being in nature has calmed my anxiety and soothed my soul. It’s helped me with my mindfulness practice, especially on my rest stops. I love listening to the birds, spotting insects, watching flowers and trees come back to life moving from winter to spring, feeling all the elements or watching the sea sitting on the sand dunes.
I wasn’t really expecting any improvements to my health during this challenge, if anything, I was expecting to feel worse! But I’ve spotted a few things that I think are linked to it: my stamina and strength have improved, along with my confidence and communications skills with others. I suffer with less migraines, my anxiety levels are reduced and my restless legs have improved. I’ve given myself more and have realised the importance of having time out by myself. I’m now able to refocus on what I need to do to manage my issues and keep myself going. I’ve come to realise that my voice matters, as does everyone else’s. My life matters, as well as everyone else’s.
It's strange to think it’s over. I keep being asked what next? I’m not really sure. If I’m honest I feel a little lost now. I understand it’s important to have a purpose in life and the challenge I set myself (to raise money and raise awareness) really kept me going. I know from experience I will feel a bit low for a little while but that’s okay. I’ll let it be, treat myself kindly and then work out what to do next.
I will continue to walk every day because this is a very important part of my pain management, however, I’ll not be necessarily covering 5km every day! I will walk more in nature. I will also keep my Instagram account going (@sueswalkingchallenge) to share my nice walks with Buddy and my experience of chronic illness. I’ve connected with some great people and I don’t really want to lose this.
This challenge will stay with me forever. For me it’s been a life changing experience and this is something I wasn’t expecting! It’s completely changed how I view myself. I know I have such incredible support and I’m not alone. I’ve learnt just how gutsy, strong and determined I really am. I’ve come to an even greater level of acceptance of all my issues. I know that I can still achieve things, even if it is in a body that doesn’t function properly. Also, I know life is worth living, even if it is with limitations.
I love a good quote, so let’s finish on one of my favourites:
“Patience, Firmness and Perseverance were my only weapons; and these I resolved to use to the utmost” Agnes Grey (1847) by Anne Bronte
Full post reading by Kemi Rodgers