She ran, liberated, calm and radiant across my screen. Everything I wasn't. Her bright white trainers standing out against the concrete backdrop of a city street. Her luminous vest top and glossy ponytail swinging in the breeze, innocently mocking me. I felt hot angry tears run down my face, overcome with irrational jealousy and anger at myself. I couldn't get out of my bed to walk to the toilet, let alone run anywhere. It just wasn't fair. I longed so badly to be able to go to the gym, to see my friends and bench press my way through the stresses of everyday life like I used to.
You see, in the 6 months before this advert for gym kit came on my TV, I had become bound to my bed, and all too frequently scooped up off the floor, rushed to the hospital and attached to an IV drip. This was Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). Every day I feared not only for my life but for the life and health of my precious baby boy growing inside me. HG affects just 1% of pregnant women. It's defined as 'excessive vomiting in pregnancy', but for many HG sufferers, this feels like the understatement of the century (don't even get me started on people calling it "really bad morning sickness"). Imagine having norovirus for 9 solid, unrelenting months. For months, I couldn't keep any food or water down at all and rapidly lost 2 stone in just my first month of pregnancy. The strength I had built up through 5 years of weight training vanished overnight. I developed tachycardia and very low blood pressure, causing me to faint whenever I stood up or just got a bit too warm. My hair started falling out and my skin was so dry and tight. The enamel on my teeth became weak from the permanent presence of acid-like vomit and was made even worse by the fact I couldn't use toothpaste because it was a trigger for my vomiting. Even sipping water, moving or smelling certain rooms in the house was a trigger.
I lost my job and my income. I couldn't shower on my own without fainting, let alone sit upright at a desk for 8 hours a day. Going to the gym or even out for a walk became a distant memory. I didn't feel like I was even the same person anymore. My entire identity, along with the joy of pregnancy had been cruelly ripped from me. I hated myself, even though HG can affect any pregnant woman, at no fault of her own. I resented feeling so dependent, weak and isolated. I was so angry that I couldn't just carry on with my life the same way as any other pregnant woman. I feared I was starving my son and I panicked for his life with every research study I read on the effects of antiemetic medication in pregnancy.
Often, I would look out of my bedroom window on a sunny morning and visualise being able to walk through the park with my son in his pram, crunching through autumn leaves as we went and pointing out the many dogs and birds we’d see on our walk. This very image kept me going through the darkest moments. I knew that if we made it through my pregnancy, I would be forever appreciative of being able to take my son for a walk in the park.
I'm very lucky, as my story has a happy ending. My son arrived safely 2 years ago. He's such a handsome, happy and charming little man. Surprisingly, he has a completely clean bill of health and words cannot express how relieved and grateful I am for that. My own health and fitness is getting back on track and I'm back at the gym. Even the loss of my job in pregnancy turned out the be the push I needed to start my own business, which is now growing as rapidly as my son.
It's so easy to look back on all of this now and view HG as just a temporary setback in the grand scheme of life, but at the time it felt like endless suffering. Often it was hard to imagine survival, let alone recovery and I suffered from PND and flashbacks of pregnancy and the birth for over a year after the birth of my son.
I've learned a lot from the experience of HG, as I'm sure anyone who has suffered from a chronic health issue will tell you:
1) It's so easy to take our health for granted. All too often, we only realise how important our health is when we become ill. To give a small-scale example, think of how you're breathing right now. You take it for granted that you can breathe easily, but something as automatic as breathing becomes such a challenge when you have a cold. You might even have trouble eating and sleeping because of a stuffy nose. Only then do you realise how much easier life is when you don't have a cold!
2) Health is not just the absence of illness. Health is the energy and strength needed to get through a busy life filled with work, family, friends. Whether you're conscious of it or not, it's a source of joy. It's being able to play with our children, take our dog for a walk, or go for a run with a friend. It's being able to travel and experience new and exciting things. It's being able to exceed in your career. It's being able to go to the cinema with our partner. It's laughing with a friend in your favourite cafe on a Sunday morning. Good health gives us life, it makes these amazing #EverydayMoments possible.
3) Good health matters right now. Not all illness can be prevented, but there's a lot that can be. You need to look after your health and make it a priority right now, instead of putting it off until it's too late. It's much easier to maintain and improve your health while you're still well enough to do so than it is to recover and rebuild. Live in the present and don't put it off until next Monday or New Year’s Day. Research carried out by Bupa has shown that we’re a nation who live for the future, rather than the here and now, with the “I’ll be happy once I’ve [insert your goal here]. To give an all too common example, a lot of people put off joining the gym, going swimming or even out for a run until after they’ve lost weight. They feel too self-conscious about their bodies to exercise in public and so they avoid it completely (I know because this was me in my late teens!). The irony here is, exercise and succeeding in physical activity – whether it’s a team sport or lifting heavier weights than last week, is often what gives people the self-confidence they needed – long before they’ve lost weight.
4) Prevention is much easier than cure, and to prevent illness we need to keep tabs on health. I’m not saying everyone must (or even should) rush out and by a fitness tracker and begin logging their food. These have become the most common ways for people to keep tabs on their nutrition, fitness and even sleep. But prevention of many illnesses requires more than this. Conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol can all be managed and even reversed if they’re detected early enough. I recommend having at least a basic health assessment 2-4 times a year depending on your health and cover the basics, such as blood pressure, blood glucose and blood cholesterol readings.
You can get the basics checked out some local pharmacies and of course go to your GP if you have any health concerns, but if you would like a much more comprehensive assessment, a report of the findings and someone to coach you through the improvements you need to make, you may wish to consider booking a private assessment such as Bupa’s Core Health Assessment. Contrary to what you may think, you don’t need Bupa Health insurance to access Bupa’s services as the operate on a Pay as You Go basis.
Bupa offers a wide range of different health assessments at their health clinics, including focused health assessments to highlight ay health risks and fitness screenings. You can find out more, compare the range and book online on the Bupa website.
In the meantime, share with us your #EverydayMoments, the moments that you’d miss if poor health meant you couldn’t do them.
Disclosure: This post was kindly sponsored by Bupa Health Clinics. As always, my opinions are honest and my own.