I have an app called ‘Timehop’, which allows me to see past posts and pictures that I have shared over the years on social media. I love it, as it will throw up pictures that I haven’t seen in years, often reminding me of a specific time or of particular events that I haven’t thought of in ages. A picture that came up in today’s Timehop feed was this one:
This was taken exactly 4 years ago, May 2013. It shows me coming to the end of a tandem skydive from 15,000 feet, an activity that I had wanted to do for years. Back then, I had only just started to feel the effects my long standing Multiple Sclerosis was having on me; I was starting to struggle to walk long distances and I remember worrying that I would not be able to raise my legs up for landing (though, from the picture, you can see that I managed this ok – I just really had to concentrate on holding my legs up).
I know the idea of doing a skydive isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it. Don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely petrified when I saw just how high we were going up in the plane and I almost felt like stopping the jump when I was literally hanging off the man ready to jump out, but it was one of the best things that I have ever done and I am so, so proud of myself for finding the courage to face the challenge that I set myself. And I raised £600 for a local hospice!
At first, seeing the skydive pictures made me wistful for a time when I was able to set myself these physical goals. Then I realised: I set myself physical goals every day. And I achieve them. Like yesterday, when I managed to walk (albeit using my crutches) through a large hospital to get to my appointment, instead of relying on my scooter. Or the other day, when I was able to complete 45 mins of gardening, pulling out weeds and feeding the plants, something that I can often struggle with due to MS fatigue. Obviously, these achievements aren’t nearly as grand as doing a skydive. I would love to be able to run a marathon, but I am not able, so these ‘little’ achievements (which feel massive to me) will have to do.
I find that setting myself challenges and achieving them, helps me to feel good. They make me feel productive and proud of myself and I try and stress this to my children too. My daughter was recently asked to compete in a swimming gala – her first – and her initial reaction was ‘I don’t want to do it’. But isn’t that what makes it a challenge? I spoke to her about what a great swimmer she is and that she doesn’t need to win a medal, just have fun. And I told her how proud I was of her and how proud she will be of herself if she had a go. She’s now decided to do it – result.
Of course, achievements don’t need to be physical in nature. Just this morning, I faced my fear of calling work to inform them I have been signed off for another couple of months, due to my MS. My boss was brilliant, but I know how stretched they are, and I worry about the impact my not being there has, even though I feel 100% better for the chance to rest. Travelling to new places, meeting new people who don’t know about my diagnosis and parenting with a chronic illness are also challenges that I go through.
In fact, my days since I have been off work have all been about setting myself ‘mini challenges’. Picking the kids up from school, taking time to do yoga, trying to write a weekly blog post… all things that sound like they should be easy, but take a surprising amount of energy for me to complete, especially when I have the need for a daily nap too. A good day for me is when I get the chance to complete my mini challenges and still have some energy to spare for a catch up with family or friends.
In the long term, especially if I have to adapt my ways of working, my challenges will potentially be around trying something new and maybe dealing with worsening ill health. There’s no doubt that challenges aren’t always easy, but doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to tackle them head-on. I feel like I am doing this by trying to keep myself as healthy as I can and by listening to my body, changing and adapting my life as needed to help it work as efficiently as possible. And of course having a physical disability doesn’t always stop you from taking part in physical challenges… I currently have my eye on this zip wire activity – now I just need to convince someone to come and do it with me!