Why exercise and adventure is my new drug

Why did you want to become active, did you have a moment when you realised something had to change?

Wanting to become active is often associated with weight, but exercise has so many benefits and everyone’s reason for doing it, I think, starts differently – our motivations are often as individual as we are.

Facebook kindly reminded me that 4 years ago today I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance and while I’d love to be able to say that this was the start of my journey to a healthier happier life, it wasn’t.

My health

I woke up on the 8th of January 2014 feeling sick and spent the morning feeling increasingly worse, the symptoms started out as reflux (acid indigestion) and progressed to severe abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. The realisation that this was something bad came when I couldn’t stop being sick and eventually collapsed on the bathroom floor.

I got an emergency doctor’s appointment and was checked over, the doctor began pressed my abdomen and I swear I nearly passed out with the pain. 10 minutes later I was being led out to the ambulance.

I spent the next 5 days in hospital being treated for acute pancreatitis, which is where the pancreas swells over a short period of time and essentially it tries to eat itself.

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Source: https://www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk/information-and-support/facts-about-pancreatic-cancer/what-is-the-pancreas/

After 3 days I was able to start drinking tea, a huge mental milestone for any Englishman and it was at this point I was seen by the Consultant. I was questioned about my health and my lifestyle and the Consultant told me that the tests undertaken had ruled out anything other than alcohol being the cause. I was told I was a binge drinker and a borderline alcoholic and it was this that had caused the pancreatitis. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I drank again I would be back in hospital and it would be worse, potentially fatal.

Screenshot 2018-01-11 at 8.52.23 PM

It was a demeaning, shaming experience and I was left feeling angry and confused – to be so brutally told that I was in effect killing myself. I couldn’t get my head around it – I wasn’t doing anything different from anyone else in my mind – I worked hard and I enjoyed a drink to unwind at the end of the week. I spend the next few days and weeks considering a life without alcohol – could I really die if I drank again? How would I cope without it? What a shame it would be not to be able to celebrate my children’s landmarks without a drink – birthdays, graduations etc. Looking back those questions were the point, I associated the milestones and happy moments with alcohol.

I was discharged, continued to recover and I gave up alcohol.

A wake up call ignored

Being dry lasted 3 and half months and over the course of a further year I slipped back to the same behaviours again. While I had recovered, I was suffering with frequent bouts of acid reflux, diarrhoea, bleeding and cramps.

None of what had happened had made me change my lifestyle – I was still drinking, I was eating huge amounts of processed foods, saturated fats and not engaging in any exercise. Looking back I am a little ashamed of myself.

In February 2015, a year after the pancreatitis, I came down with duodenitis, an inflammation of the initial part of the small intestine. I was back in hospital for two days and back on a high dose antacid. In order to understand the cause of these digestive and bowel problems I spent the next year going through different tests and treatments.

During one of the camera tests they found a polyp, an abnormal tissue growth, in my bowel. It was removed and sent off for testing – bowel polyps don’t usually turn in to cancer I was told, but it’s presence in my body left me scared. It left a dark cloud hanging over me for the next 3 months while I waited for the results and a for further investigations. I’m pleased to say that the polyp was benign, as expected, and there were no more in there – RESULT.

The relief and the lifting of that weight was an amazing feeling and it was that moment and the recognition of how I felt in it really made me think about committing to living differently.

I went through 3 years of pain. I had spent years abusing my body – through alcohol, through diet, through self imposed pressure and stress and through a lack of physical exercise. I had let my mental health suffer and as a result damaged the relationships I had with the people I loved the most. I looked at my life hard and I realised that I was using alcohol as a crutch – a way to manage stress and to keep me ‘even’, and while I still don’t consider myself to have at any point been an alcoholic I do acknowledge that the way I was using alcohol wasn’t healthy or helping my physical or mental wellbeing.

Hitting the reset button

In April 2016 I hit the reset button my life – I moved in to a flat on my own, I started eating differently, I took the time to learn about how food could help me feel better, I significantly reduced my alcohol intake and I started going to the gym.

8 months later, in January 2017 I started on my year of challenges, completing 13 amazing mini adventures in aid of Make-A-Wish.

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Why? In a way I got a reprieve and I want to make the most of my life – to do something different, something good, something that gives back and inspires others to do the same. Last year I pushed myself physically harder than I ever thought possible – that is one of the most amazing feelings, it is a high that is hard to ignore. Exercise and the adventures that come with it have become like a drug for me.

…and now?

I control my IBS now and I very rarely get a truly bad episode. I feel great and mentally I am stronger than I have ever been. I can’t put a price on what exercise and a good diet has given me. I’m not a robot – I eat pizza, spicy foods and I drink coffee and alcohol. BUT, I don’t feel guilty about it and nor are they, particularly alcohol, a crutch.

I can’t emphasise this enough about exercise

it’s free, easy to take, has an immediate effect and you don’t need a GP to get some.

The National Health Service gets a lot of stick, but the front line doctors and nurses I’ve come across are dedicated, passionate and they give a damn about the patients in their care. I am grateful for everything the NHS has done for me – the staff within the NHS, particularly at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, were there when I needed them most. They have, in so many ways, helped me change my life for the better.

That said, I never want to be back there…

Your story

So you’ve heard why I needed to get active, what’s your story? Share it on social media and use the #MyActiveYear hashtag and inspire others with your story.

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