One person’s challenge: how I push myself with fibromyalgia

Bank Holidays are the dream, and I love nothing more than doing something a little bit out of the ordinary to make the most of the extra long weekend.

Often we plan a weekend away – I love to explore new places across the UK – but with exploration, there is always the challenge of balance. How do we find somewhere where the views are stunning, where the walks are interesting yet short and accessible, and where there are excellent places to eat without it being too busy or too expensive. Yes, we’re a difficult pair to please… and yet Dorset managed it perfectly.

We spent two days on the South Coast; one day at Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, and one day at The Matravers, Dancing Ledge and Swanage. Firstly, what excellent place names. Secondly, look at this coastline.

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If you’ve not been to the South West of England and explored the Jurassic Coast, you are missing out. It’s beautiful, it’s interesting, and there are cream teas a-plenty. But weekend trips away aren’t quite as easy as they seem, especially when it comes to balancing curiosity and chronic pain.

R loves to hike and I struggle to walk more than 30 minutes, so it’s really important to me that we find somewhere that challenges me without pushing my body to the point of ruin, and that challenges him in a way that doesn’t mean 10 hours of walking. It’s a difficult balance to find.

After a bit of research we decided to book a night in the Lulworth Cove Inn and, on our first day, parked the car at West Lulworth car park. It’s a one mile walk over the coast path to Durdle Door and the sites are stunning, but let me tell you this: it is one of the most painful walks I’ve ever done.

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The hill is steeper than it looks and after a couple of minutes, I sat down on the paving. I said to R, “I can’t do this.” We discussed me going to get the car and meeting him at Durdle Door and we discussed both driving round together, but in the end we agreed to walk it – just really really slowly. We weren’t in a rush, the weather was beautiful, and we had nothing else planned for the day, so we took it slow and I sat down every time it got too much to bear.

When it comes to living with chronic pain, I find myself in a constant battle.

I never want to be one of those people who stops working, stops exploring, stops pushing myself because of my pain. But I also don’t want to be an idiot. I want to respect my body, I want to understand what it needs to help it be better.

At the moment I’m living in fear that eventually my muscles will start to seize up and I will no longer be able to walk in the way I do now. My limping is already becoming more frequent, not because fibromyalgia is degenerative but because our muscles are not exercised in the way that they should be.

Every time we go away I try to challenge myself, to force myself up that hill and to walk off the beaten track to see something I can’t see from the car. This coastline was worth it, but the journey was harder than I could have imagined and, as I hurled myself up the hill with all the will in the world, I couldn’t help wondering if I was being a hero or a moron.

That night I rested my body and had a good night’s sleep, but the next day we got up and, somewhat foolishly, did it all again. This time we drove to the Matravers and parked the car to complete the mile-long walk to Dancing Ledge. As is the case with most naturally stunning places in the world, it was awkward to get to and required another difficult walk.

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My legs were still sore from the day before, but I was pleased to find that I still had some energy. We walked down yet another hill and clambered down the rocks to have a picnic lunch on the cliff edge, watching the waves crashing into stone and some very brave kids swimming in the water. It was beautiful, but I was starting to wonder how the hell I was going to get back up.

R went off to explore a bit more and whilst he was away, I realised that I would never do half the things I do – or see half the things I see – if it wasn’t for him. He pushes me at times when it would be easier to give up or say no, and tells me to stop pushing myself when I’m being stubborn and going too far.

I told him this when he got back, and thanked him for always challenging me. You know what he said? He said, “thanks for always being willing to be challenged.” I liked that. It made me realise that it takes two sets of compromise and a very special kind of balance to make a chronic illness relationship work.

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In the afternoon of the second day when we were back at the car and I could no longer walk, we knew just how to make things better; a train and a cream tea. Surely that’s all anyone needs to ease their pain, right?

We went to Swanage station and caught the gorgeous steam train to Corfe Castle, where an incredible cream tea was waiting for us at Mortons House Hotel. I judge my cream teas harshly but man oh man, this was delicious. (And plus, if you love a cute train station, Corfe Castle is one of the best. Just look at those castle ruins in the background.)

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It was a wonderful weekend, one that had me proud and exhausted in equal measure.

If you’re trying to find the balance between managing your pain and still having fun, my advice is: take it slowly, make it fun, and give yourself a treat at the end. Knowing I had a steam train and scones waiting for me at the end of the giant hill is half of what got me to the top! The other half was knowing that when I got there, I’d be exhausted but satisfied, and so so proud of myself. It took far longer than I care to admit, but there are far worst places to sit and catch your breath.