Why Go Hard or Go Home is Bullshit (Especially if you Have a Chronic Illness)

Photo credit:  Kaye Ford

Photo credit: Kaye Ford

Written by Natasha Lipman

Natasha Lipman is a chronic illness blogger, part-time journalist and full-time robot-bed dweller from London. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @natashalipman.

 

I have been in pain for as long as I can remember.

Like, to the point that it’s actively weird watching videos from my childhood and seeing myself running around, jumping, and laughing with my friends. I literally have no recollection of ever feeling like I’m able to exist in my body, let alone move, without any pain. 

My entire life has been spent trying to keep up.

I was not only forced to participate to the same extent as everyone else during PE classes (the more I think about this as an adult the angrier I get), but I was pushing myself to breaking point just on the day-to-day walking around stuff.

In fact, the best times I had going out as a teenager was with a friend who had M.E. because we literally stopped at a coffee shop to rest multiple times during each outing, and neither of us felt guilty for it, which was definitely a rarity back then.

As I went through my teens and early twenties, fitness and exercise was something I became a more aware of.

It was around the time that social media started to become a ‘thing’, and the way we dressed for our workouts and the classes we went to, were seen as a status symbol. Proof that we ‘cared’ about our health. But with my body feeling like it was constantly falling apart, I felt like I was always on the outside looking in, like I should be trying harder to be fit (instead of crying in the loo because my knees hurt). 

Photo credit:  Kaye Ford

Photo credit: Kaye Ford

Was I just lazy? Was I just super unfit and it was my fault that I was struggling so much to keep up?

Even with a diagnosis, physiotherapists were forcing me to do exercises that caused me harm above my protestations, so I’d been taught from a young age that the end justified the means, even if the means made me worse in the meantime. If I had to move in order to prevent my body declining, this is what I had to do to make it work.

If I had to move in order to prevent my body declining, this is what I had to do to make it work.

And the problem was, part of this mentality of just ‘push through’ ended up applying to every aspect of how I dealt with my health.

It also didn’t help that I’m an incredibly impatient person! When I started swimming in an attempt to help my joints, I overdid it and now have permanent shoulder problems.

I’d go out with friends and walk around for hours, only to be unable to move for so long afterwards.

What is a very small and basic thing for the average person, can injure me and leave me bed-bound for weeks. But it took a really long time for that to sink in. 

Turns out, that for me, ‘go hard or go home’ basically meant ‘go hard (or even go a little bit soft) and you’ll have to go home for a long bloody time’. 

I honestly don’t know what was the factor that caused a shift for me. Maybe I’d grown up. Maybe I’d given up on being able to get help. Maybe I realised that the ends didn’t justify the means because the ends just weren’t appearing. 

Now, as a proud wheelchair user, I’ve been able to shift the way I view exercise, from something that will potentially fix me (and as a weight loss tool) to one of performance completely customised to the reality of my body.

I was following along workouts online that were designed for people who could move safely and without pain, and would inevitably end up ill, wondering why I was consistently failing.

When I first started with my personal trainer, I couldn’t stand up three times from the sofa while holding onto a chair for support without being knocked out. My health was so crap that we made no progress during the first six months because I kept cancelling, unable to be consistent.

And even while my body was literally falling apart, I was still focussed in my mind on exercising for weight loss. Forget about learning to stand and walk again! I want that butt that you can get from squats. 

It was only when I dedicated my time, no matter what, to my PT sessions (obviously very adapted from week to week depending on my health) that I started to see progress.

While I still experience severe pain and anxiety even walking from my bed to my bathroom, we’ve managed to keep me in a stable position that I don’t think I’ve ever had.

One of the most difficult aspects of this is dealing with my consistent crashes and injuries that come as part of my day-to-day life, and not feeling defeated when we have to go backwards.

One thing I’ve learned is that by improving my baseline, my recovery times are slowly starting to improve. But even one session a week uses up a huge amount of my energy - and I’m still really not able to do the stretches and practice I need to in the week. I have to remind myself that’s ok. 

Photo credit:  Kaye Ford

Photo credit: Kaye Ford

I know that I’m lucky that I have access to an amazing PT who can support me in becoming stronger, even though it’s a bloody slow process. It’s financially incredibly difficult for me, but it’s something I cannot stop because of the benefits it has brought to my life.

Sadly, this is not an option for the majority of people, and 10 sessions on the NHS and 10 if you’re lucky enough to have private insurance is not enough for people managing a constantly changing life-long condition.

Physical management for my condition and how it manifests for me is so important, and yet I was unable to ever get appropriate treatment for it. Turning to the internet was a way to feel in control, and find ways to try and DIY my own care, but I ended up making myself worse. 

The ‘go hard or go home’ mentality still floats around somewhere in my brain whenever I feel like I need to quickly do all the work to try and ‘fix’ my latest injury.

Seeing other people going for a walk, training for a park run, taking a spinning class, or even just messing around with friends, seems so alien to me, and it sometimes makes me feel guilty or ashamed that I can’t do these things. 

Learning that rest, time, and a little kindness (barf) to myself has been vitally important in respecting the reality of my body - that I frankly can’t go hard, because I will inevitably end up at home.