Sometimes we take action, Sometimes we take pills (Fall Out Boy)

 

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When I was much younger I remember my father telling me that the contraceptive pill wasn’t a good thing, it goes against nature (sic).  Although I would I hear those words many times in my head, it was only many years later that I truly understood their wisdom.

Developed in the late 50’s for menstrual problems, the use of the pill for birth control was limited to married women ( how very un 2016).  However as the women’s liberation movement took force in the 60’s, so did the use of the pill and it is estimated that there are now approximately 13 million women using it worldwide ( This does not include other synthetic hormone contraceptive devices such as the Mirena coil ).

The pill has many uses including and not exhaustive of – reducing menstrual pain, reducing acne and skin issues, reducing bleeding,  reducing migraines, improving mood ( yes really ) and of course birth control.

Using synthetic hormones which mimic those of the body, ovulation is suppressed.  Lets just think about that shall we. Ovulation is suppressed. By using chemicals. And we think this is completely normal?

Some of the common side effects of synthetic hormones are ironically reduced libido – so it’s cool to have sex now you can’t get pregnant but you don’t feel like it now anyway, weight gain, headaches – wait, didn’t we just say that the pill is used to reduce this very symptom?. amenorrhea (missed periods), mood changes – so the pill is used to improve mood, but again ironically can send us into a spiral off depression…. Of course there are other side effects, more serious ones. The ones on the package insert that many seasoned drug users will tell you “are really rare, they just have to list any possible side effects”. Like cancer.

If you’ve continued reading this far you’re either fascinated or outraged at where I’m going with this. Either way I think you’ve worked this much out: I don’t believe in using synthetic hormones without a very good reason. Let me tell you why.

There is now an increasing amount of research linking synthetic hormones with depression, hormonal imbalance and more.

Hormones are regulated by the liver, which as the power house of the body, is also responsible for detoxification. The liver is an incredible organ that is responsible for making potentially harmful substances that we ingest or absorb through the lungs and skin, harmless. When the liver has an excess of substances to deal with, including hormones, it can become less efficient, contributing to hormone imbalances. This can give rise to a whole host of symptoms, including those for which women choose to take the pill.

Of particular importance to women is the hormone oestrogen. Oestrogen is broken down into various oestrogen metabolites and which ones and how much depends on various factors which affect a process called methylation. Synthetic hormones are much more potent than natural ones which means they remain in the blood for longer and take longer for the liver to process, having a greater effect on it.  Metabolites with stronger oestogenic effects present in higher levels are associated with a higher risk of cancer. ( The progestogens in contraceptives are less of an issue as the liver does not contain progestogen receptors). If the liver becomes over worked detoxification is less efficient. This can have far reaching effects on the body.

To regate hormonal levels in the body a feedback mechanism exists, so  when synthetic hormones are taken the body tries to reduce production of its own. It releases proteins that bind sex hormones – making them inactive. This sex hormone binding globulin is more attracted to testosterone than oestrogen however, which can account for decreased libido, energy and even difficulty gaining muscle mass.

I took the pill for a while. On and off. But there was always a nagging doubt in my mind. It goes against nature. I used to think that taking a magic little pill was a wonderful panacea to the days lost curled in a bawl, unable to to go to work, wanting to tear out my womb, the crying and pleading with Doctors who pushed various pills at me – ibuprofen, codeine, paracetamol, ponstan along with a dose of “you just have to deal with it”. And what about those painkillers – pills of a different sort – pills that are still chemical compositions requiring the liver to break them down… on top of the imbalanced hormones it is trying to break down… remember what you just read about the liver being over loaded?  For a while I felt liberated, pain free and in control of my body. Then one day I had a revelation.

The very thing that I thought was liberating me was suppressing me in more ways than I had realised.  I began to wonder why so many women were so keen to stop their bodies working as nature intended, to potentially cause more problems than they know about. And then I realised, knowledge is power and I began to ask women wether they knew how synthetic hormones worked in their bodies, the effects that they had. Had their GP’s explained it? Had they researched it. Did they know about the role of the liver and hormones? Did they know that they could balance their hormones naturally with food, herbs and lifestyle changes? I was met with blank stares and ohhhs.

Somewhere along the line we stopped listening to our bodies. We listened to a man who made a little pill that was sold to us as a magic bullet. We forgot to look at why we might have pain, heavy bleeding and unbalanced moods. We got lazy. And now we are getting ill. Because everything we put in and on our bodies has a reaction. As newton himself said – to each action is an equal and opposite reaction.

Mostly I wonder now why we as women want our bodies to be like mens, with their unfluctuating hormones, their inability to conceive, their lack of curves and softness. And I see that this is because we are told that life is better as a man, better without the very thing that makes us women and gives us the power to reproduce.

If you are taking hormonal contraceptives I urge you to research them. I encourage you to question what they might be doing to your body, your liver and look at ways to support and balance your hormones naturally. I would love you to consider something more empowering and to embrace the very essence of being a woman.

 

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Darkness falls

Darkness. It takes away the light, shortens the days and can be a thief of joy. To feel it can be unbearable and yet paradoxically, there is something comforting about allowing it to seep through your skin and into your heart. It is self indulgent. The war that rages against negativity wanes, allowing a wave of feelings to wash over the tired warrior, bringing with it a mix of self loathing and relief.

 

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There is nothing pleasant about feeling crap. And the mere acceptance of allowing it brings with it a self disgust, and ingrained belief that really the fight should continue. But weariness is no match for a beast that is silent, cunning and at times unrelenting, and eventually fatigue rolls us over to submission. And so comes the relief. A little respite where the defences are dropped, energy is recovered and rest is welcomed. But this is not without compromise. Days of fog, subdued feelings – numbness and an insane desire to run a thousand miles or scream uncontrollably can be the currency traded  for submission.

That’s just the way it is.

 

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Fit and Healthy; a surprisingly uncommon phenomenon?

Its been three months since I decided triathlon and I were no longer good friends. Like many unhealthy relationships I had been struggling for some time to  turn my back and walk away, the familiarity and fond memories playing tricks with my tired mind, I was incapable of really seeing what was going on.

Still, the foray into the unknown was more frightening than continuing down a road that wasn’t helping me grow or allowing me to consider a bigger picture. And so like a high wire performer I continued to try and master walking the thin line between fitness and health. But I was failing. Big time.

I became so used to feeling tired that I no longer recognised fatigue for what it was. I no longer experienced periods of boundless energy. I mistook feeling ok as feeling good. Gradually though I pieced together what was going on and made the decision to start giving my body the love it deserves.

Since I have given up endurance exercise and continued my studies into health and nutrition I have realised that there are probably only a minority of endurance athletes who are truly fit and healthy. There are many who are fit, very fit, but the tell tale signs of a struggling body are there for all to see: the poor recovery, the ongoing fatigue, the insomnia, the self doubt, the digestive issues, the weight issues, the repeated colds, infections and injuries that take just a little bit longer to heal, the dry skin, the fraying nails, the skin rashes, headaches, nausea, the hair loss, the unbalanced hormones, the anaemia, the low vitamin D …etc etc…. Its hard to understand how we can accept any of these things as normal. Yet we do. I did. Low vitamin D – when most endurance athletes spend hours and hours outdoors each week…. maybe its time to ask ourselves why these things are happening in our bodies, rather than just applying a temporary fix.

For a group of people who are so highly in tune with their bodies on one level, many athletes are shockingly out of tune with their bodies on the most basic and seemingly most important of all levels: health.

There are likewise plenty of healthy(ish) people who are possibly not very fit- depending upon the definition of ‘fit’. But what is fitness without health? In todays modern society is being able to cycle 100 miles in 5 hours a fundamental life skill? What about the pressure and strain that the body faces in order to achieve this? Is that a risk factor for health and as such is the drive and desire to be fitter and faster inversely affecting the health and wellbeing of the very thing that on which this goal depends – the body.

Health can be described as : freedom from disease or illness

Fit can be described as : adapted or suited. Qualified or competent.

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The balance between fitness and health is hard and not always obvious. Typically I observe people potentially damaging their progress and recovery by eating badly. Running 10 miles does not make a bag of chips less damaging – the trans fats and high carb content don’t magically transform not something less damaging to your cells. That bar of chocolate still contains enough sugar to cause unstable blood glucose and an ensuing rise in cortisol that could add to your already stressed body. And yet time and again I see people who mistakenly assume that punishing their bodies with hours of exercise somehow negates poor food choices, when in fact just the opposite is true! It seems that for some, food is simply about calories in and calories out. Sigh. Then again, we once believed the world was flat too.

There are some who get the balance right. They achieve a high level of fitness with good health, they invest time into learning about how to recover and grow; what they can manipulate within their environment to do so.

This is a really great article that discusses being fit and healthy and I encourage all athletes to have a read :

http://sportsmedicine-open.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40798-016-0048-x

Don’t confuse being able to run 26.1 miles with being healthy; fitness is not a passport to an illness and disease free life.

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When life gives you lemons…..

A while ago my son’s Instagram account bio said ” when life gives you lemons, demand to see life’s manager, refuse to take those lemons!”  I often think about this and smile. For someone so young, he appears to have it all figured out, the way we all do at 14; don’t settle for anything less than you want.

Some may argue that whilst the simplicity of this is appealing, it is glaring idealistic. Can we really have everything we want? This past couple of weeks I have had some tough “choices” forced upon me. Test results show that my suspicions of not being quite right are not unfounded. That the reason my heart has been racing, my body has been unable to bend to my demands and that sleep has evaded me constantly is quite simply that I need to rest.

I have suspected for sometime that there something has not been quite right. Trips back and forth to my GP revealing nothing more than my frustration that no one was listening to me, that the tests performed were not the right ones, that my faith in the way the majority of GPs are trained is frighteningly non existent. Taking charge of my health was never really an issue, my current studies providing me with plenty of clues as what I suspected was going on. Hypothyroid and high cortisol – an explanation as to why I am unable to push myself without feeling wiped out for days afterwards and why surviving on 3 hours sleep has become the norm.

In a way the news was welcome, I have confirmation that I am not a hypochondriac, that I am not a totally rubbish athlete and after several days- the realisation that here was the permission to rest. But this hasn’t made pulling out of the London marathon, a half ironman, the Dragon ride and Ironman Austria easy. There have been tears. Tears of frustration, tears of anger and of loss. Tears for what might have been, had I been well. But self pity is not my thing and I can frame this the only way I know how – positively. I will not be making myself worse (although my coach would never have allowed that to happen anyway), I will not be feeing inadequate for failing to progress as fast and as far as I would if I were well and I will not be sitting on my bike for 4 hours plus in the nest few weeks……when you feel like you’re having the life sucked out of you, that’s a real positive.

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All or nothing. All of me in or all of me out – never half way. My TT bike is sold as is my aero helmet. I will keep my wetsuit for bobbing around in the lake during the warm summer months and naturally my trainers will never leave. I will run again. I am running right now; away from a sport that I loved, that I can no longer take part in. Because I cannot do anything by half. It slowly kills me. So to walk or run away is what I choose at this moment, because I have no other option, physically or mentally. Life has tried to hand me lemons, but I am not accepting. I am not shouting at life’s manager, but rather negotiating a new deal.

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I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. We can either choose to learn from life’s lessons and grow or refuse and limit our potential by becoming bitter and wallowing in self pity. New projects await me with new friends and my future will not be lacking or empty. Whilst triathlon was a huge part of my life, it was never my life. Sport will always be important to me and I hope that I will be actively entering races of some kind in the future. I have no regrets, only a drawer full of medals and a memory full of amazing experiences to remind me how lucky I have been  to have been able to travel, swim . bike and run enjoying myself in the company of some truly outstanding individuals. And I remain humbled by what my body gave to me and allowed me to do, constantly accepting and rarely complaining, right up until I broke it.

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My only wish is that I had loved it a little more and shown it a little more kindness. But that in itself is an important lesson learned.

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The fears we don’t face become our limits.

I haven’t written much lately, partly a result of being so busy studying and researching ways to improve my own health.

I have been thinking long and hard about what my future might hold, what I want it to hold and how to achieve this. Some of these thoughts have naturally centred around sport and endurance exercise.

I am fortunate to be working with the lovely Kim Ingleby again (http://www.energisedperformance.com), and this is once more helping me find direction and focus in all areas of my life.

I have been struggling with  fully committing mentally to my sporting goals and more with not understanding why this might be. Because I am all or nothing, this lack of self awareness hasn’t been easy.

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And then slowly I began to realise what was holding me back, preventing me from becoming fully committed in my head. Fear. I am terrified of going back to where I was a year ago. I am scared that pushing my body will no longer bring the desired responses, but will have the opposite effect. Fear can be protective but also a crippling emotion, a primeval protective response that when working well can be helpful and keeps us safe. It has taken me months to try and figure out whether this is False Evidence Appearing Real, or whether it is a justified response. I am at the conclusion that it is a combination of both. Every cell in my body is screaming at me to nurture it, protect it and love it. Because to ignore warning signs again would not be foolish, it would be suicide.

And so when I have been exercising and trying to push just a little bit more, the voice in my head has been whispering softly ‘don’t go there, don’t make me sick again’.

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As I have been reviewing many areas of my life, I realise that fear and uncertainty are capable of keeping me in status quo. Trapping me and preventing me finding true happiness. Such fear is obviously self limiting but it is very hard to change something that you have allowed to happen and simply accepted as being the safest option. Change brings uncertainty and when you like order and control, this is not always an easy step to make!

Mindset, i have learnt, is 100% everything. A tiny bit of self doubt will burrow its way deep into your brain, where it will it nag away at you ever so quietly, but loud enough for you take notice. A little bit of confidence and self belief can provide the power to scale mountains that appear so tall that the summit is out of sight. I have been on the receiving end of both fear and self belief.

I have decided that a life living in fear is no life at all. To be trapped by the doubt in my head that does not belong. Because doubt is a two way street, and I have decided to doubt my doubts.

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Reckless abandon is something I am also no stranger to, and this is what has been partly fuelling my fear. The knowledge that I am completely capable of ignoring any potential dangers, and deciding that my desire to have something is far greater than the consequences of doing so.

But everything in life brings with it a lesson, a chance to grow and become stronger. Doing things the same way may always bring the same results and I am acutely aware that in order to achieve what I want, to be strong and healthy and to enjoy my life will take a slightly more considered approach.

And so whilst I don’t have all the answers at the moment, I have come to realise that I do have some. I choose not to be bound by my imagination and fear. I choose to listen to the voice that is also whispering : You can.

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Today as I raced I listened to both voices in my head. I acknowledged the fear and allowed the self belief to speak just a little bit louder. I focused just a little bit harder, smiled a little bit more and looked past the frightened version of me and I glimpsed a future; one where fear does not belong.

 

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