Category Archives: depression and exercise

2014 – a Summary

It’s the penultimate day of 2014, which seems as good a day as any to look back over 2014.

I’ve been using the Rheumatrack App on my phone since October 2013, which means that, for the first time ever, I can look back on the year and have a realistic idea of how much PR has affected me.

The good thing about using an app like this is that you can export all the data – within a specified time frame – as a file, so it means I can get a good overview and even do a little bit of analysis.

On the app, I record my pain on a scale of 0 – 100. I also record where in the body I’m in pain and sometimes I add notes too. Most days, I enter the data in the early evening, but sometimes, if the pain changes (dramatically increases or decreases) there will be multiple entries on the same day.  I record something even if there is so flaring at all.

The year in Numbers

So, time for some geekery as I look at 2014 in numbers. There were 355 entries in total.

  • 173 records out of 355 were COMPLETELY PAIN FREE! That’s almost half!  (48%). I’m pretty sure that is higher than it would have been in previous years.
  • 89 of the records were values of 30 or less. That means that for a quarter of the time, I am not in much pain at all.

Adding them both up, this means, that ¾ of the time, I’ve been in no or neglible pain. I’d say that was a pretty good result.

  • I had NO flare ups where the pain was higher than 85 (it’s at about 80 and above that I am crying in pain and can’t really function well at all) and only 24 days where the pain was higher than 65/100. this is only 6% of the time.
  • Which leaves 21% of the time – (1/5th) I was in some sort of uncomfortable pain, but could still function.

I had the longest run of pain in the early part of the year while there was a lot of stress going on in the house due to building work: 42 entries over February 14th til the 25th March. I had a long run again in the summer – 27 entries 19th July – 14th August. I wasn’t particularly stressed and can’t pinpoint anything to that particular run.

I had quite a few nice spells with no pain at all, with the longest being 17 completely pain free days in a row in May (4th til 22nd). This was also during and straight after my detox retreat in Spain. This may or may not be a coincidence.

Where do you flare?

Most of the flares in the early part of the year were persistent in my elbow and shoulder. Most common areas for flares continue to be somewhere on the hand – wrist, base of the thumb, or any of the finger joints. My toes are rarely afflicted, but they have flared once or twice. I had a jaw flare twice. My knees have been troubling me off and on, but it seems that this may be down to tendonitis. I’m waiting for a physio appointment to assess this further

What I have not recorded in the app much is my fatigue or energy levels. I have three days of note where I was completely incapacited with fatigue.

Diet stuff

Overall, I do feel healthier at the moment, despite flaring from time to time. My energy seems more manageable, my mood more stable and my ability to cope with my PR much higher than it has ever been. I’ve been gluten-free since April and have been sticking to a fairly ‘clean’ alkaline type diet about 80% of the time. I notice that when I eat more sugary things, my mood and energy levels are both affected. I’m pretty committed to this new way of eating – which is just a stricter and healthier version of the mostly vegetarian diet I had already been following. But now, I eat less dairy, no gluten, and cook a lot more from scratch than ever before.

What about exercise?

I have done very very well when it comes to exercise this past year. I have definitely found that a daily morning yoga practice with my energy levels, as well as alleviating the morning muscular aches and pains I have, possibly from the fibromyalgia. I did an amazing fitness bootcamp in March and completely surprised myself with what my body could handle. And I have continued to fit in various exercise classes into my working week. In May, I got a new job working for Manchester Mind, and I enjoy it a lot. What’s also great is that I am able to fit in my lifestyle around it – continuing with my twice weekly zumba classes and working my hours over 3 days instead of 2 1/2. As part of the job, I had to visit a lot of people around Manchester and so over the summer, cycled about 70 miles a month JUST FOR WORK!  I also did a 26- mile sponsored cycle ride and raised over £400 for Refugee Action.

Since I decided to prioritise my yoga practice first thing, my meditation practice has taken a bit of a back seat. There isn’t enough time to fit in both yoga and meditation every day in the morning, so in the days when I’ve not been able to do both, I tend to meditate right before sleeping.

Looking after my Mind is important too

During 2014, I also learned to lead others in meditation on the Breathworks course learning to teach Mindfulness for Health. I felt hugely self-conscious the first time I led a meditation. Previously I’d just read it off a script or played something on the Ipad when I’d led meditations before. I still feel a little self-conscious, but I’m getting more confident simultaneously meditating and leading. I also got such great feedback on the last course I ran (I run 6-week long stress management and emotional wellbeing courses for people with diabetes and heart disease) that my confidence has really been boosted in that area. My meditation practice has really been life changing and it really does help me cope when things are tough.

Looking ahead

I’ve got a bunch of goals and hopes for 2015, but my main one is to continue with everything I’ve been doing that helps my health – so that means sticking with the alkaline diet, keeping exercising and doing yoga as well as meditating too. I have two yoga retreats booked – a weekend one in March, and a week-long retreat in Morocco in May, which I’m very much looking forward to.

Of course, one of my hopes is that there will be many pain-free days ahead, and fewer ones full of pain, but at the end of the day, that is something that I’m not completely in control of. I really hope that sticking with my healthy lifestyle over a long period of time might mean fewer and fewer flares. I can live in hope. But I also know that my healthy lifestyle helps me cope better with pain and fatigue so even if it doesn’t ‘cure’ me, it certainly helps me live better and be happier.

Happy 2015! Thank you for reading.



Exercise and depression – my experience

I was quite interested to read in the papers last week about some research into exercise and depression which appeared to have found that exercise does not help depression. Reading into it a bit further, it appears that this is NOT necessarily what the research found at all. Instead, it found that interventions to encourage people to exercise did not have much long-term impact, which isn’t quite the same thing.

It led me to think about my own experience of exercise and depression last year. When I’d heard the snippet on the radio news about the report, the first thing I quipped was that the researchers obviously hadn’t ‘prescribed’ Zumba as the exercise to try out! Obviously, this was a joke, but it was also a reflection of how useful Zumba had been to me last autumn.

Around the time I started this blog – and a little bit before – I hit a really bad patch. I was burned out, tired, had had a bad experience with a consultant and altogether, pretty down. I was struggling to function with everyday things, crying a lot and it was a massive effort just to get out of bed. I really didn’t want to see or be with people and I couldn’t stop obsessing about the horrible consultant, or about my palindromic rheumatism.

About the same time I’d found a local Zumba class and had started going as I’d previously really enjoyed it as a form of exercise. I found that it really lifted my spirits and that I really enjoyed myself during the class. When I realised how depressed I’d become, I sat down and wrote myself an action plan. I decided to stop pressuring myself to do any work and cleared the decks for at least a month to concentrate on my recovery. Exercise and going to Zumba was an important part of that recovery. I also decided to see the Dr and to ask for anti-depressants. Although I’ve been depressed a number of times before, and for substantially longer, I had never taken antidepressants, but this time, I felt that I needed them.

The GP asked me the standard questions about depression – about my eating and sleeping habits, about my energy levels, difficulty concentrating and about my mood. She also asked me about enjoyment and pleasure – whether I was getting any. “Yes” I said, “but only during Zumba class”. “And is there anything you look forward to?” she asked. I struggled to think of anything I was looking forward to before answering “Yes! My Zumba class!” The Dr decided (perhaps on the strength of these two answers) not to prescribe anti-depressants, to recommend counselling and advised me to keep continue going to Zumba.

While I wouldn’t be as flippant as to say that Zumba ‘cured’ my depression, it was an important element in my recovery. There were some days where I spent the whole day in bed crying, but for a whole hour during Zumba, I stopped. Sometimes I even felt happy. Even if it was only fleeting, those moments of pleasure and happiness were a light during a dark time. I prioritised going to the classes, saw an excellent counsellor, started the blog, took St John’s Wort and started meditating again. I also told everyone I knew and was very open about being depressed. I felt that it meant that I did not have to put on an act, which was an additional pressure I did not want.

Gradually, probably because of ALL of those things, the darkness lifted and I realised that I was no longer depressed. Would I have recovered as quickly without my exercise fix? We’ll never know. I do know that I didn’t go to Zumba because the Dr had told me to. I went because I enjoyed it.  I went because the morning classes gave me a reason to get out of bed, to get dressed and to leave the house. I knew that if I did not do those things, then I would not get my ‘happy fix’.

I believe that people’s relation to exercise is very individual – lots of people on the Guardian blog quote exercising outdoors or running as their saviour. Although I cycled throughout my depression, and it did make me feel good, it didn’t have the same emotional or physical impact on me as the Zumba. It wasn’t just ‘exercise’ that helped me, it was the type of exercise I’d chosen. My class is a dance class with a friendly atmosphere and a great teacher with a sense of fun. Not someone shouting at us to move our bodies or feel the burn, but someone who encouraged us to laugh along and to enjoy ourselves. It was also an exercise which gave me positive feelings about my body when part of the root of my depression was negative feelings about my body and my PR. Would the gym have given me an equivalent ‘high’. I very much doubt it? In fact, I suspect it may have made me feel worse!

I don’t see the counsellor any more – in fact, just a few sessions with her were enough. But I am still meditating and needless to say, still Zumba-ing. Even though I’m a lot happier in myself, my Zumba fix is still crucial for both my physical AND emotional well being. It’ll take more than a bunch of scientists to convince me otherwise.