Before you start reading it’s probably a good idea that you recap on Part One (here) Part Two (here) Part Three (here) and Part Four (here). By now you know the drill. This time it’s gonna be a really long post. Get your cup of tea ready.
By the way – if you’re still reading after all those other episodes then kudos to you for your staying power. You rock.
(As before my ‘lightbulb moments’ will be in red.)
We start this time in 2014.
At this point I’m sick. Really sick – way more than I want to admit to myself. As I look back now I have no idea how I was still functioning in any capacity.
I’ve already been referred to the obesity unit of Covetry hospital and they want to perform gastric sleeve surgery on me. This entails cutting 4/5ths of my stomach out of my body and throwing it in the bin.
I can’t face the horror of it and I’ve retreated even further into my self destructive drinking and eating habits.
I’m only a shade over 40 years old and my medicated and incidental conditions are:
- Blood pressure shows signs of hyper-tension
- High cholesterol
- Sleep apnea so bad that I could only breathe lying on my left side or sitting upright in my armchair, but still woke up almost every hour in the night terrified I was suffocating
- Odemas (water retention) in both ankles
- The beginnings of gout
- Eczema everywhere (particularly on my hands and face)
- Wrecked (and very painful) knees that couldn’t support my weight and constant lower back pain – meaning I was barely able to stand after a few minutes unless I was resting on a supporting surface
- Type 2 diabetes
I’ve become a burden to the NHS and have been given a card entitling me to free prescriptions because I’m likely to need so many things as time goes on. When I return from the chemist this is the typical content of my (rather large) paper bag.
Walking is agonising.
My feet and ankles are constantly alternating between a sensation of itching, burning or freezing. They almost never stop tingling and I keep getting breakouts of cellulitis (requiring lots of antibiotics) which are so bad that they confine me to bed for at least a week at a time.
The swelling in my feet only reduces when I lie down – which I can’t accomplish easily because if I do then I cant breathe properly. I can also only lie down on my bed because I don’t fit on my sofa.
If I sit in my armchair with my feet up then my huge stomach presses on the tops of my legs and my ankles steadily grow until I have to lie on the floor.
I can barely get out of my armchair to stand up so that I can relieve the pressure on my legs. If I do I then I soon need to kneel or crouch down to relieve the pressure on my lower back.
I can no longer do this and stand back up because of my knees so I often find myself face down on the sofa with my knees on the floor which is sometimes the only position left to me where nothing hurts. Eventually it too becomes uncomfortable and I can’t breathe because I can’t rest for too long on my stomach.
I have my shopping delivered because I can’t walk the entire way around the supermarket without sitting down and it’s been years since I’ve been able to fit in my bath.
I can only go places in my car but I’m so heavy that when trying to steady myself I have already managed to snap my steering wheel almost completely in half.
I rarely go to new places because I’ve become scared that I won’t physically fit into the seats they have. Even if I can I worry that I won’t be able to park close enough to the location and find myself unable to walk there and back or trapped without a place to rest.
This worry starts weeks in advance of any appointment and I continually obsess over the potential problems until the stress is too much and I cancel.
I’ve even missed my brother’s wedding because of this.
However – out of all of these huge problems my diabetes is the thing that’s worrying me the most.
I’ve started obsessing over losing my eyesight (the diabetes hasn’t helped this at all and I need glasses to read) losing the sensation in my extremeties, becoming type one, needing to inject Insulin and eventually having to have things amputated.
When I was first diagnosed in January 2014 I was wetting the bed because I couldnt get to the toilet in time. I hadn’t slept more than 45 minutes at a time for over six months, was absolutely at my wits end and completely shattered.
When the results finally came back from my HbA1c test it showed a level of 94. If it was just a little higher it wouldnt have even been on my doctor’s wall chart any more.
My daily pill organiser reflects how bad things have become.
As I’ve mentioned in the linked posts above that even as a young man I was fully expecting to die.
HOPEFULLY VERY SOON.
My life had become so agonising, restricted and small that I actually wanted it to happen.
At this point in time I start to admit to myself when I’m drunk (I never tell anyone else this secret) that this is because I am too much of a coward to kill myself. I just want to finally bring an end to the misery of every single increasingly impossible day.
(Autor’s note – I’ve been extensive and frank here because I want everyone to understand how bad things had become. I want them to know this because then I want them to recognise that they too can start to change.)
Now I’ve set the rather grim scene let’s jump forward a little to September 2015.
In order to ease the pain of dealing with my dying mother I engage in retail therapy and buy an Apple Watch.
It only just fits with the longest of the two supplied straps on the last notch. I momentarily fiddle with it and then largely ignore it even though it sits on my wrist every day.
Now we skip on a bit more.
It’s February the 16th 2016.
I’m around 35 stone, my blood HbA1c is now reading 74 and it’s been just over two weeks since I had any alcohol. I’m still in denial about what its going to take to fix my many problems. However long held opinions about what I can or can’t do are starting to change in my head and my perspective is gradually shifting.
I try to walk to the end of my street (link). I barely make it but establish that my radius is around 400 metres if I take a break in the middle. A week later I try to walk around the block.
I tear both of my calf musles, pull the plantar tendon in my right foot and develop plantar faciitis – these injuries ultimately result in shin splints affecting both legs.
I realise later that the tendons in my legs have stortened because I spent years sitting down with my feet up.
I persist however and on the 29th of February 2016 I try my exercise bike instead. I can only pedal for five minutes before I have to stop (link).
On April the 16th I decide to join Slimming World and as the weight comes off I begin to feel a bit more sprightly – so on the 29th May I decide to get up and go to the park to see how far I can now walk (link).
The answer is ‘not very’.
It’s about 150 metres in my case – but there are a lot of benches so I start going to St Nicholas regularly. I like the swans there and name the cygnets swanlings. They keep me going back because I want to see how they progress. In a way I feel my own gradual growth mirrors the only survivor from a group of five babies.
I’ve been inspired by a man who mentioned in my group that he walks four miles in the morning before coming to weigh in.
He tells me that it takes him an hour.
In contrast I cant yet walk a mile without sitting every 200 metres or so. It takes me well over an hour to accomplish that and my plantar fasciitis is a constant issue – but slowly I start to get better.
Nevertheless it seems like a good idea to walk. I’ve been told at work I’m being made redundant so I won’t be able to afford a gym membership and walking is free. I also want to feel a part of the world again – and not scared to step out of my front door.
So I make a decision to make this ‘my thing’.
In order to try and track this I use an app on my phone called ‘Walkmeter’. It’s crap and crashes all the time – however Apple watch has been gathering a total of the distance I walk and it’s slowly adding up.
Walking also has another benefit.
I’ve lived in such a small world for so long where I just endlessly moved between work and home that I’ve become terrified that I’ll find myself trapped out in the open and unable to get back to my house if my car breaks down.
I very consciously start to try and walk the distances to places that I would regularly drive to by making half of the journey in my car and the rest on foot.
I park further and further away each time and bit by bit I extend my range and reduce my fear.
It’s now late August.
Around this time I realise that I no longer wear my glasses. I can’t remember the last time I put them on.
Bizarrely my eyesight has improved too.
My friend points out that I’ve almost walked the length of the channel tunnel in a week and I’m amazed when I add it up that she’s right (link). A while later I mention this in my group and another friend suggests that I plot my progress over a virtual route – and although I’m initially resistant (I never used to say yes to a lot) I decide to take the challenge on – and decide to calculate how far I’ve walked and compare it to Lands end to John o Groats (link).
It’s now September 2016.
I’ve realised three things.
- The whole time I’ve been walking I had a workout app on my watch and I never used it. I’ve now started and it’s really good. It’s saving not only my distance – but an accurate representation of my split times per mile.
- The green exercise ring on my watch is set at an un-modifiable 30 minutes because of a massive body of evidence suggesting that 30 minutes exercise a day has incredible health benefits.
- Point two is correct
I visit the doctor (link) and I’m told that the results for my HbA1c are now 30. All of a sudden I’m no longer on their chart and I’m told to discontinue one of the two medications I’m taking. My cholesterol levels have plummeted and I’m told my blood pressure is excellent.
Over the coming months I continue to up my walking. My increased level of exercise and radically improved diet has enabled something wonderful.
I’m feeling connected to people in a way that I never have before. Everyone seems to be swept along with my newfound enthusiasm to go twalking.
I make sure every time I go for a walk with someone that I’m proactive and try to organise the next walk at the end.
This means that my exercise is never a burden. I’m just meeting people I like to catch up with them about how they are.
I’m finding that is not only cementing good habits into my life but it’s quietly promoting little changes with other people too. I begin to see evidence that people are going for their own ‘twalks‘ and that I seem to be unconsciously promoting good behaviour elsewhere just by regularly doing something in public and showing how it affects me and my health.
By late October I’ve lost an entire fridge freezer in weight (link).
Things like this just motivate me even more and are a huge factor in me pushing myself to average almost five miles a day.
I still suffer from dark moods though – and even though the weight keeps falling off my mind can be my own worst enemy. I’m terrified that I’ll ‘plateau’ and get to a point where I give up.
Although I doubt she realised its significance a lady at my group (who loves the Pixar film ‘Finding Nemo’) picks up on the moods in my blog and in person – and every time she sees me downbeat tells me to ‘just keep swimming’ (link).
Sometimes little things like this make all the difference. Over time this has stuck in my head and I find that I’m saying to myself and others over and over again ‘just keep walking’ or ‘ just keep putting one foot in front of the other ‘.
This means that whenever I encounter a problem or an emotional rut I no longer retreat to a sedentary pursuit for answers and I instead try to think things through with a walk.
Even if I can’t find an answer it makes me feel better – and often realise that there is no answer needed. It’s just my mind playing games and building catastrophes out of nothing.
So I just keep walking.
The cumulatively increasing effort and distance means that by the end of December I’ve actually managed to do it.
I’ve walked the whole distance I wanted to and more besides.
I’ve also begun to grasp how powerful the data is that my Apple Watch has been collecting on me since I put it on my wrist. It prompts me to work out how much I used to consume.
I’m stunned to read that I needed 7500kcal a day just to sit in my armchair (link).
Without understanding what I was doing when I put Apple Watch on my wrist I enabled myself to see an end to end view of my fitness. Even when I didnt care it still kept a tally and as time went on I was able to see the gradual progress I was making in almost every area of life.
The more I did the more it made me realise I could do.
It’s now late Ferruary/March 2017
I’ve started a new job in an office. I have to drive there and spend all day long sitting there.
It drives me instantly insane, and although through a combination of my exercise bike and walking during my lunch hour and after work I maintain my exercise levels I know instantly deep down that something has changed.
I can’t just drive to an office every day any more – so I leave after three weeks, feeling like a total failure – but I want a different life now.
Unable to resolve the problem in my mind I resolve to temporarily ignore it and ‘just keep walking’.
Since I started twalking with friends I’d been saying to them (often not fully believing that I would do it) that I’d climb Mt Snowdon, and I start training with little hills (there aren’t many in Warwick) to try and build my stamina.
The latter absolutely kills my knees and I’m completely knackered by the end of the day – but I can do it! I can finally climb really challenging gradients!
It’s now April 2017 and I have a HbA1c reading of 29 (link).
I’ve already discontinued my diabetes medication by this point and I’m managing my condition by diet and exercise alone.
Furthermore – by the time that my one year anniversary at Slimming World arrives (link) I realise that I’ve not only cumulatively walked from Lands end to John o Groats I’ve walked back again too!!!
By June I’m regularly tackling gradients and working towards my goal. I spend more and more time in places like Burton Dasset and Ilmington downs (link).
All the time it’s becoming easier.
When the big day arrives in July I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.
I take the first day off Slimming World that I’ve had since I started and on Saturday the 22nd July (weighing around 19.5st) I climb Snowdon with my friend (link).
Words simply can’t do it justice. It’s a truly fantastic moment. I’ve gone from a man who could hardly get out of his armchair to standing on top of a mountain. I’m quite literally on top of the world.
It’s now August.
I can’t stop now. I love walking so much that I’m incapable of not putting one foot in front of the other.
I use it for everything in life. It’s become part of my DNA and everyone I know asks if I want to go for a walk when they suggest meeting up. I mention it so often that twalking appears to have entered the vocabulary of everyone I know, and many that I don’t.
Furthermore I’ve found another job – and this time it’s local (link). I can walk to work every day and fit my exercise invisibly into what I do.
Once again the job turns out to be something that’s not for me – but during the time I’m there I realise that all the exercise I’m doing appears to have altered my mental capabilities.
I always considered myself to be someone that struggled in classrooms to pick things up and that information didn’t get retained quickly. I always felt that I wasn’t agile enough when others around me grasped new concepts or processes at work.
Whilst in this job I’m the top of the class. I pick everything up way quicker than I ever would have before and for the very first time I realise that my mind has benefited from all of the exercise too.
Not only am I more positive but I can think on my feet and adapt in discussions and meetings like never before. I feel instantly more capable.
I leave the job and with it I leave behind a fear of change that I’ve had my entire adult life.
If I can adapt to anything then there’s no longer a need to be frightened – so I trust that things will just work themselves out and keep walking.
I do it so much that now I’ve walked the cumulative distance from San Francisco to New York (link).
By this time I’m regularly forgetting that I ever had diabetes in the first place – but I’m still going for tests (link). When I do they report that my HbA1c readings have now dropped even further and are at a stupendous 28. My blood pressure is also excellent – but I’m still taking Statins.
If in doubt I just keep walking. Whatever the weather.
It’s now January 2018
Thanks to Apple Watch keeping a dilligent eye on me since I put it on I can see how much I’ve improved over time. I’ve gradually moved from doing less than 5 minutes exercise a day in 2016 to an average of over two hours a day.
Furthermore, after 21 months of trying on the way to work one morning I finally mange to crack the fifteen minute mile (link).
I can now walk four miles in an hour – just like the man in group told me he could back when I started Slimming World.
I’ve never been so fit in my life and I feel wonderful.
I’ve finally found a use for my old clothes.
In a surprise move my friend marks the occasion by secretly arranging for almost everyone I’ve walked with along my journey to join us.
The exercise (twalking) that I have done over the last two years has meant that I spend more quality time with people that matter to me than I have at any other point in my life. My friendships have strengthened immesurably and I feel loved.
A few days later In what may be my last but one HbA1c test (link) my results now show a reading of 25. My blood pressure resembles that of a much younger man, my resting heart rate is around 40bpm and I’m also told that my cholesterol medication can be discontinued.
It’s not the only thing I can get rid of. My much hated pill dispenser can finally go in the bin along with my unused pills. It looks very different on its last day of employment compared to when I first started using it.
So – what’s transpired here?
Well – these I feel are the lessons I’ve learned through gradually increasing and then learning to love my activity.
- If you can’t go far it doesnt matter. Just try to go a little bit further either day. Start small.
- Try to do it with friends if you can
- Do something that’s free if at all possible. Gyms require willpower – but walking the dog or getting a pint of milk doesn’t.
- Try and build it into your daily routine – then it won’t involve willpower. If you want to go for a coffee make a deal with yourself that you wont use the car when you do.
- You can lose weight without exercise – but with it you’ll lose it faster, stand a better chance of keeping it off and feel positive and alive, meaning you won’t lose focus.
- Get a fitness wearable if you can. Mine changed my life.
- Track your progress and document everything that you can from the beginning even if you hate doing it. You’ll be glad you did afterwards.
- Don’t lose hope. Not everything can be completely fixed but almost everything can be immesurably improved.
- You can do more than you ever thought you could. It’s all about trying rather than doing nothing
- Things might cumulatively creep up on you – and eventually you might suddenly realise that you’ve painted yourself into a corner. But paint eventually dries. You can gently step on it and make your way back from a place that seems hopeless.
- Don’t end your life. You’re worth so much more.
Finally – this is my complete list of non-scale victories. I couldnt have done it without exercise.