Nine months ago I was in grave danger of never leading an active life again. Although only 54, I was beginning to feel old. My body often creaked and ached. Some days I could leap out of bed whilst others I crawled, clutching on the bedside table for support as I swung my feet to the floor. I was in a dark hole of despair. Then I met Tania Cotton, a movement analyst and physiotherapist who together with her team at Movementwise, has me 9 months later back to living my life to the full.
So what is my story and where am I from? I am married to Peter and together we have three adult children. Peter has been absent for a lot of our marriage with his career in the Navy. As a submariner he would be away for between 3 and 6 months with no means of communication. To try and optimise our time together, we as a family would move to wherever he was posted. We moved house 15 times in 25 years. Our children changed school several times with our daughter topping out with 9 schools. Today she is a secondary school English teacher so it hasn’t done her any harm. However living like this has made the children and me very independent and mentally tough. It has also meant that I like a lot of women have put myself last when it comes to most things in family life – career, sports, hobbies, sleep, and most importantly self-care.
With such a nomadic life it is often tricky for military partners to work, but luckily for me I was able to continue my work as a freelance features writer which kept me semi sane. It did mean, however, that I was often cramming my work into any free moment I had. I would sit crouched over my computer sitting on a kitchen chair, my back hunched and awkward. My days were spent like most mothers carrying the shopping, cooking, even hoovering with one hand whilst the other hand held a small child on my jutting out hip. I suffered excruciating migraines during these years which I suspect now was due to my appalling posture.
Embarking On A New Adventure
Fast forward twenty years and my husband has left the navy and works away. His routine is three weeks away and three weeks at home and to be honest after so much time apart, this works well for us as a couple. Peter’s last posting in the Navy was in a beautiful coastal village on the west of Scotland. We loved living there and if there was one place we felt was home, this was it, however after so many years of moving around playing second fiddle, I wanted an adventure where my needs were put first. So I suggested a sabbatical year abroad. I would write and Peter would commute. The children were all at university by now so they would be with us in their holidays. We discussed several places and the one we all, as a family, agreed on was the French Alps. There we could ski in the winter and walk in the summer. So we rented out our house, packed the car to overflowing and moved to a small village near Saint Gervais in the alps. For a year.
We arrived on the 1st May when the snow was melting and the wild flowers were beginning to appear. The cows were being put out to pasture and the village was asleep post ski season. Peter and our youngest son helped me unpack the car, settled me in and then were off back to work and university. Our two spaniels and I were on our own. We knew no one and the mountains were beckoning so every day I would get up with the sun, sit at the kitchen table and write until lunch time and then we would go for a walk for the rest of the day often returning at dusk. The dogs had never been so fit and nor had I.
Falling In Love With the Mountains
I loved the summer. It was a season I hadn’t associated with the alps but it was heaven. The days were long and sunny, there were walks and paths where I could walk for a day and meet only a few goats, ibex or marmottes. I discovered I loved being on my own and rarely felt lonely. When Peter or the children came home I rejoiced in sharing my new life. I knew the cafes with the best coffee, the restaurants with the best raclette, the walks with the best views. I was beginning to meet people who just by the mere fact they too were living in the same place, had things in common with us. I was happy like I had never been before. Our rented three bedroom apartment on the top floor was enough for me. But it also expanded to fit in family and friends as they came to visit and witness our change of lifestyle.
Before the year was up, we were so in love with the weather, the sports, the lack of politics, the alpine summers, the alpine winters, in fact all of it, that we decided to commit. We sold our house in Scotland, bought a chalet and moved out here permanently.
Our first year was spent renovating our tired 1960s chalet. We did a lot of the work ourselves and employed local tradesmen for the trickier work or for the time when Peter was away. I am big and strong so I thought nothing of helping out carrying timbers for flooring, one half of a washing machine or bath, kitchen units or radiators.
Falling Out of Love With Life
I still walked the dogs but not for such long stretches. Then bit by bit my day-long walks became half a day and then an hour and then half an hour. I didn’t want to admit to anyone, but I was in pain. I carried on renovating the chalet. I was on a mission to complete the work so I could get back to my daily routine of writing and walking. But the pain in my hip intensified. I was stiff and irritable. I couldn’t walk properly. I was taking back-to-back pain killers and hell of hells, I couldn’t sleep. No position was comfortable. In the morning it took me ten minutes to uncurl off my bed before I could stand up. Eventually I had to admit to myself and my family that I needed to see a doctor.
This blog is the story of how I, an average middle-aged women with entirely preventable injuries, went from physically broken and mentally depressed after three years of pain and several operations, and thanks to Tania Cotton and the team at Movementwise, to getting my health, fitness and happiness back. We as women put ourselves last and I have learnt through my Movementwise journey how important it is to invest in our health and recognise our worth. It is essential to look after ourselves through our younger years but it is CRUCIAL to look after ourselves in middle age. As we live longer, it is imperative that we prepare our bodies for the next stage of life. In this blog, I will aim to inspire you with my story so that we can work together to be strong, robust and mentally well into our golden years and beyond.
MovementWise Journey Insights
When I first met Mairi, she came across as an extremely capable, competent, confident women who had a curiosity for what life had to offer. She was fascinated by what I did, and in particular how I could help people live a healthy, happy life at any age and into their old age. There was this inner fire that spoke of dreams she wanted to fulfil and not wanting to settle for second best. This was before I realised that under that stoic exterior there was an inner struggle and fear – that her body was breaking down and she was getting old before her time.
She spoke of her husband and her grown up children with a deep love and sense of service. Together they could overcome anything…. as long as she could remain fit and healthy she was infinitely resourceful. As someone who had had to move with her 3 children to follow her husband’s career, whilst maintaining her own as a professional journalist, Mairi was clearly very adaptable. Adaptability is key to our survival both as individuals and as a society.
Mairi had always felt strong, physically and mentally, yet as her body started to fail her and cause her pain, so the emotional pain and self-doubt set in. Mairi had a condition that I saw too often ‘ALIVE BUT NOT LIVING’. Yet ironically this condition had begun just as she had had the courage to embark on her own journey of freedom and self-expression living in the mountains. Being surrounded by fit, active people only served to amplify the dilemma she found herself – finding herself in pain, unable to embrace the lifestyle she had worked so hard to create. This was supposed to be her adventure!
The first way many of us cope with any pain that threatens to stop us being able to do what we want to do is DENIAL. And so the downward spiral begins as we try to carry on as we always have, hoping that this pain will just ‘go away’.
Too many people are tired of being in pain, confused by recurrent injuries and frustrated by not being able to perform at their best. To many people are not able to do the things they really want to do in their lives in the way that will enable them to thrive, not just survive. I want to show all of you out there in the world who may be feeling like this, just what is possible and how you can overcome pain and performance challenges to do things in your life you may currently believe impossible.
The first step is to find health and performance professionals who want to understand you, really understand you, not as ‘an injury’ or ‘a disease’ but as a whole person in the context of YOUR life.