**I started putting this post together several weeks ago - and have just returned to it at a point where I could realistically change the title to "One year to SAVE a life" - read on... (And apologies - this has turned into a bit of a novel!)**
Sometimes something happens along that you wish you'd thought to blog about as a sort of "progress report" thing, but then you realise that actually, you've slipped into the whole thing with the sort of mix of conscious/unconscious thought that would have made that impossible, as at the start, you weren't aware of quite how big what you were getting into was...
Regular readers will be aware of my aversion to New Year's Resolutions but how, at the start of 2017, I set myself a list of goals - things I'd like to achieve in the course of this year. It was all quite casual - for example I said I wanted to reach an average of at least 5,000 steps a day rather than the usual "I'll get my 10,000 steps in every day!" that I knew would foster failure. Eating better - not "I'll get my five-a-day EVERY day" - as sometimes that's just not practical. More improvements to the flat - new doors and window, and the kitchen of course (and yes I know I've not actually got round to blogging pics of that there, but I will do, I promise!). To keep using "free money" to pay down the balance on the 0% credit card. Others were in relation to friendships, and to being better organised. What I realised a few months in was that all the goals I'd set were in one way or another pointing towards making my life better, and happier, for the longer term, and also that these weren't short term goals - nearly everything on that list was something that was going to require working through over a period of time. Almost without realising it, I'd set myself up with a plan that, if I could follow through with it, would indeed change my life for the better in a year...one year to change a life - can that be done? Good question!
The biggest challenge for me has been the changes I've made with a view to improving my physical health. This stemmed from worsening Arthritis which, just under a year ago, threatened to rob me of my mobility. I woke up one morning in severe pain to the extent that walking at all was agony and even getting up from a sitting position was causing me problems. I was terrified - and I knew without question that I was going to do whatever it took to try to fight back. The first thing for that was to improve my fitness - not easy when even walking is excruciating - but walking was exactly where I started. I forced myself to get out for a walk every lunchtime - just a mile or a bit over. By the time the New Year and those challenges had kicked in I was making that 5k target pretty much daily, and felt ready to step it up, and in fact since then I've hit the recommended 10,000 a day more often than not. I now walk whenever I can - before work if I only have a spare 5 minutes I'll just walk a slightly longer route to the office, and after work, while waiting for MrEH to get back to the car, I'll throw in a walk then too. I also started looking more closely at what I was eating - partly to start incorporating foodstuffs that were proven to help with the Arthritis, and partly because I knew full well I was tending to eat too much, by means of over-large portions, snacking when I was bored, or just too much of the sorts of foods that should really be more of a treat (yes cheese, I mean you). I started keeping a food diary via an app - and that in turn told me if I was eating more calories than I ought to be, or not. I knew I didn't want to "go on a diet" - because diets are temporary, and this needs to be permanent, but equally I knew that I needed to re-educate myself on what a portion of this, or that, ought to look and feel like, and the app proved a great way of doing this. The other problem with diets is that they tend to leave you feeling hungry, and I'm not great at being hungry - so I started investigating foods that would fill me up better without being "stodgy". A natter with a really good pal just before Christmas made us realise that we had similar goals and we got a group of friends together for motivation and inspiration - having to account to several others on this stuff definitely makes you focus a bit more!
Oddly, the one thing that never really featured in my consciousness was losing weight - yes, I know that seems daft when two of the goals were eating less and moving more - but there you go - so when I first started noticing that my clothes were getting looser - to the extent of really not fitting, I was actually a bit surprised. I've no firm idea of what my start weight was, although I could hazard a decent enough guess, but I was a largish size 16. The aim though was very definitely fitness rather than weightloss - and I can't help but think that made the whole thing feel more attainable.
So I walked, then started throwing in some more intense exercise when I felt ready for it - MrEH has proved a great (if demanding!) personal trainer. Going back to the gym was incredibly hard - just getting the nerve to walk in the door in the first place - but I did it. I was struggling though - I'll freely admit - I felt like I should be getting fitter - I was losing weight and toning up, but my breathing wasn't improving and I was really finding running difficult. Three times I started the Couch25k programme, and three times I gave up after repeating week one several times and just not being able to get to the point where I could complete even that without a problem. Frustrating just doesn't begin to cover it - and I had no idea why. MrEH kept assuring me that yes, I was definitely getting fitter - but not feeling the results made it incredibly tough to continue... Just over two weeks ago I got my answer on this when all of a sudden the breathlessness got a LOT worse. I started having problems just with regular walking about, and over the course of just three days this got steadily more and more problematic. Then I started feeling generally very unwell, and getting heart palpitations which were truly alarming... I felt bad enough that in the absence of being able to get a GP appointment, and no walk-in centre in town these days, MrEH took me to A&E where a blood test was done and I was sent home...briefly, before being called urgently to go back as the blood test had shown a rather alarming result - and as the Dr who called me said "You're going to need a blood transfusion". Who? Me? No - that sort of thing happens to other people, not me, surely... Well apparently not - Haemoglobin levels in women should be 110 - 145 and anything below 70 is considered as "dangerously low" - mine was sitting at 45. With a Ferritin level at 3 (should be at least 12) the diagnosis of severe anaemia was a pretty easy one to reach I suspect! In the end I spent several days in hospital and had a total of FIVE transfusions (thanks to the O+ blood donors out there!) - the first three didn't even get me out of the dangerously low level, which goes to show how bad things had got. The first truly sobering thing was being told that had MrEH not made me go to hospital that first afternoon, I wouldn't have woken up the following morning. (That is very definitely another thing that happens to other people, surely?) The second was realising that had I not taken the steps I had to improve my fitness, I'd have been incredibly lucky not to have ended up with significant damage to my heart - the very first thing they did when I was admitted was hook me up to a ECG which thankfully proved that everything was in order. All in all I was - as a nurse friend of mine pointed out in stern tones - "one very lucky lady". On the plus side, the beauty of the transfusions is that it sort of does a "hard reset" back to where you should be without having to go through any of the nuisance stuff like "recuperating" - by the time I had the second bag of blood on board I felt back to what my "normal" had been for rather a long while...once I'd had all five I was so bursting with energy that I was annoying even myself! I'm on iron tablets for the foreseeable future - no surprise there - and regular blood tests (ugh!) but have also now had a diagnosis and started treatment for the root cause of the problem, which hopefully will sort things out.
So a post that started out focusing on whether you can change your life in just a year - by tackling things that are impacting on your physical and mental health - has turned into a rather more serious message. If something isn't quite adding up in your personal health, don't assume that the fault lies with something you're doing, or not doing. Join symptoms together too - in my case a "join the dots" approach resulted in a fairly obvious conclusion that I could have drawn much earlier - but the various symptoms came on at different times and on the face of it didn't seem to be linked in the slightest. If in doubt go and see your GP - and if you don't get an answer, go back and back until you do.
As for whether you can change your life in a year - yes, I'd say so. The exercise thing hasn't been easy - not in the least - it took a long while for me to be able to do much at all without my knees demanding to know what precisely I thought I was doing to them, and even now I have "ouchy" moments. Some of the stuff around friendships has been tough - albeit ironically being ill and in hospital helped to make things clearer on that one - you certainly find out who your real friends are in that situation! Some people have been gently "sidelined" - the acquaintance option on FB has been utilised and others have just been stepped aside from. I've made a conscious decision to step away from back-biting and sh*t-stirring - that's negativity I just don't need. On the whole, I'm so much fitter and healthier both mentally AND physically than I was this time last year - and that was the change I was looking to make. Exercise and smaller portions are habits now, and habits I want to keep to, and I've even been brave enough to purchase a set of bathroom scales! On my other goals, the household stuff - the kitchen was a truly traumatic process but has turned out stunningly. The new doors and windows are making SUCH a huge difference - and there are more to come imminently. I'm on target to pay down the amount I was aiming for this year on the 0% card without touching the money that was set aside to pay for those items. My long lens upgrade was done - without using any form of credit. We went back to Cornwall, and we're planning some more trips for the next little while as well including a return to beautiful Lundy next year.
All in all life is good - and very, VERY definitely not to be taken for granted...