Just over three years ago, Clare was in pain. Her knees hurt, she was struggling to do some of the everyday tasks she previously took for granted, and she felt much older than her age. Her body was letting her down and the effect was more than physical. It impacted on how she felt about herself and her life. Fast forward three years, and things look rather different.
Heartfelt thanks to Clare for writing this blog and sharing her story. I hope that it will offer hope and reassurance to anyone feeling the same way.
In 2021, I was ‘kidnapped’ by a husband tired of London who, seeking his roots, fresh air and nature, found a cottage in the highlands of Scotland and since then has more or less stayed there. Surrounded by hills, mountains, lochs and rivers, I quickly discovered that if I was going to accept and enjoy this new life, I was going to have to meet people and get involved in the outside life.
I take cycling, hill walking and wild swimming in the loch (yes in all weathers) for granted now. But wind back three years, and none of this would have been possible. I remember catching sight of my reflection in a shop window. Thirty years of working at a desk had taken its toll. My knees were bent, I stooped, and everything hurt! I grunted when I got up from a chair and found it uncomfortable to sit for long periods in a theatre seat. I was slowing down having somehow lost a naturally fluid way of walking. I had been Nordic walking for a number of years and I now found myself at the back of the group. I had put on weight and I felt frumpy. I didn’t feel me.
Come back when you can no longer walk and we will put you on the list for knee joint replacements
A visit to the GP and an X-ray confirmed osteoarthritis with the advice to “come back when you can no longer walk and we will put you on the list for knee joint replacements”. I was 60 and I had just retired. This was the last thing I wanted to hear and something I could not and would not accept. I had witnessed the often lengthy recovery process from joint surgery. I didn’t want to ‘lose’ years of an active life waiting for and recovering from an operation if I could help it. If they can put Andy Murray back on court after a hip injury, then why not me? I was certain that by strengthening the muscles that support the knee, I could not only prevent further wear and tear, but possibly improve the function of the joints.
A few physiotherapist consultations later, I embarked on a lengthy process of fixing myself with Lindsay alongside to help me set the goals, and provide motivation when I needed it. I committed to a weekly exercise programme to strengthen my joints, improve my stamina and flexibility. I must have done thousands of squats (among many other things!) since then with Lindsay peering through the screen on Zoom correcting my position, making sure I was doing them safely and correctly, and slowly increasing the number and difficulty.
I remember getting down on my hands and knees to unplug the TV and struggling to get up again. I can now get up and down many times over with ease (and no grunting!). The pesky transverse abdominis muscle, once so difficult to access, is now stronger, supporting my back, improving posture and alignment, and taking the pressure off my knees. My back is much less rounded and my shoulder blades lie flat. I have lost and kept off the unwanted kilos which also helps but most of all, I don’t hurt anymore! My knee joints rattle and crunch a little but there is no pain and I figure that means I can press on.
Onwards and upwards
Three years ago I could have accepted the GP’s advice, rested and waited. Eventually I may have stopped pushing and challenging myself completely. Instead, I am planning to climb the two Munroes I can see from the cottage – Schiehallion and Ben Lawers. They are two of the easier peaks but are each a good 6 hour trek. I have asked a couple of women to join me and we want to do this next summer. I’m certain that being physically stronger has made it easier to set and accept challenges like these.
Three years ago my knees were too painful to swim breaststroke properly. I now try to get into the pool every week to swim lengths, and don a wetsuit for wild swimming in Loch Tay a few mornings a week. There is also an island I would like to swim to …… But leaving aside the Wim Hof story, it is also about being able to ‘trust’ my knees to be strong on a step ladder, to step off a train to the platform without wincing, to get up from the floor without hanging onto a chair and get up from the sofa without sighing.
The process hasn’t always been linear. I have slipped back occasionally. The move to Scotland has been a little bumpy and staying positive hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had to learn to accept some sacrifices and take risks, but also to look for opportunities and develop a sense of adventure and an ambition for making the best of it.
Mental, emotional and physical fitness for me have had to go hand-in-hand. I have learnt to understand the habits and ways of thinking that hold me back, and re-script where necessary. I feel more in control and I know what to do to get back to feeling my best self. I only have to look in the mirror to see how straight and strong my legs look now and how much straighter my posture is. I feel more sprightly and positive. Younger even.
Writing this down has made me realise how different I feel about myself and about the future. I haven’t undertaken a massive expedition or physical challenge, or lived through a serious illness, but taking action in these small ways to improve my strength and stamina, has certainly made the future look more promising.