I have always been active. For years I climbed competitively, training 2-3 times a week. I walked everywhere. When I was bored I would go out for 10+ mile walks just the pass the time. I have always been happier outdoors.
So when the CFS meant I was too tired to exercise and even go for a long walk I felt trapped. I remember the first six months I was in London. Having moved from the wide open spaces of the Highlands, London was a claustrophobic prison. My mental health suffered badly. For a long time, I have known that I need to get outside and exercise if I am to keep my depression at bay. The meds have worked wonders but exercise, the outdoors and social interaction are even more important.
But how do you exercise when you have no energy? Where can you get outdoors in such a crowded city? How do I make friends when half the time I’m too tired to manage a sustained conversation?
The less I did the more trapped I felt. My world had shrunk to such an extent I didn’t think it would ever open up again. All the things I used to enjoy I could no longer do. What was the point in even trying, when I knew I would just end up exhausted and not able to leave the house for a week?
Due to having depression I was sent on CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) course. Most of it was pretty self-explanatory. I taught myself the basics using common sense when I was a teenager, a distinct advantage of being highly self-critical but also being able to look at myself objectively. The one thing that did come out of it, however, was that I needed to stop making excuse to why I couldn’t go out and exercise and start doing something, preferably something that would get me outside and interacting with other people.
Climbing would have been my first choice, I have climbed since I was a kid, but I was having problems with my hips and climbing was really painful so I needed to find something else. I had kayaked when I was younger but had to give it up so I could climb more. It was something I had always enjoyed so it seemed like a good alternative.
Having only recently got to London I didn’t know any places where I could try kayaking but a google search soon pointed me in the direction of the Westminster boating base. Not only was it easy to get to it is a charity and so membership for youth member (which I was) was super affordable (£15 a year with everything you need included in that!) So I went to try it.
It was perfect for me. Sure I got tired after a session, I was always going too. But I was outside doing sport and with other people. Going up to the river every week made time pass more quickly. I had something to look forward too. I was making friends.
The hardest thing was not over doing it and leaving myself too tired to do anything for the rest of the week. I like to push myself, try new things, keep up with everyone who didn’t have CFS. Over the winter I learnt to roll. The sense of elation when I got the boat upright for the first time was one of the best feelings I had had that year. It was a true achievement. It wasn’t something I had to tell myself was good because of the CFS or anything else, I had learnt a new skill and I was excited by that.
I went every week no matter what the weather was like. The days it had to be cancelled due to poor water quality (the Thames isn’t known for its crystal clear water) I would find my mood dipping. I need to kayak.
I could talk about the skills I’m trying to learn, the fact I managed my first (almost) stern squirt the other day but that will mean very little to most people. I enjoy learning the skills, but I often find the line between pushing myself enough to learn and overdoing it a hard one to walk. But there is more to it for me. Kayaking is where my friends are, it’s something I can do that lets me feel the power of nature, something that can be hard to find in such a big city. And my progress over the last 2 years in a boat is showing me how far I have come with the CFS.
If kayaking has taught me anything it’s that I still can do the things I love. Now I’m getting better I can look forward to the day I can try whitewater and river running. I know that in the not too distant future I will be able to keep up (ish) with my friends and play as hard as they do.
For me kayaking isn’t just about having fun in a small boat, it’s my social life, the place I go the spend time with other people and get chased by massive river boats when we get in the way of their pier’s. It’s a break from my everyday routine and a chance to let my hair down and have fun. If anything in the past few years has helped me come to terms with and start to beat my CFS it’s kayaking.
I hope you enjoyed reading this. Maybe you want to give this great sport a go as well? As always if you want to give me a helping hand and spread the word, please like and share on social media!
the girl with the braid in her hair xxx