It’s a long way to black belt

16 05 2012

Black Gi and White Belt

There are a lot of reasons why taking up a martial art at 43 might not be a good idea.  For starters, I’ve got more medical issues to manage than I care to mention.  I’m also very unfit and I have regular physiotherapy anyway, before even contemplating getting thrown to the ground.   I also startle easily and without my glasses on, I have no depth perception which isn’t particularly helpful if I’m trying to stop short of striking you.  So why on earth would I even dream of taking up a vigorous martial art?

Right before my 40th birthday I was diagnosed with H1N1 (the swine ‘flu) and after six months of debilitating illness my (still) burning and swollen joints indicated I had Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Fibromyalgia (FM).  My immune system had been fighting a cytokine storm, brought on by the voracity of the H1N1 virus and had not turned off.  It turned its attention to literally attacking my joints and organs, not distinguishing between the virus and my own healthy tissue.  The onset of the RA was aggressive and progression fast.  My hands were frozen into painful claws and my shoulders and hips felt like they’d been staked.  The bones in my feet were so painful it was like walking with two pebbles stuck in my shoes.  My rheumatologist insisted on an aggressive treatment approach to try for remission, which he estimated would take about two years.

So, the two and a half years since then has seen me trying various combinations of medication and therapies to enable me to arrest the progression of the disease and prevent further damage.  Last visit, my rheumatologist told me that I’m as close to remission as I’m going to get, which means the disease is still active but progressing much more slowly.  I notice it everyday, whether it be primary pain or just managing the side effects from the other medicines I need to take.

During the first year, I had a lot of time in bed and a lot of time off work.  My hands, hips and feet were painful beyond measure.  I could limp a short distance, I couldn’t pick up a cup, turn on a tap, do up my buttons or cut up my food.  I worked mostly from home via internet and email which meant I could fit my work in around the times I felt well-ish enough.  I had no idea what the future would hold.  Would I improve any?  Would I be able to walk more than 100ft?  would I need splints for my hands? would I ever find a comfortable position?  or be able to work full-time again?

I mourned the loss of some favourite activities like bushwalking and hiking, motorbike riding and an aimless wander in the sunshine.  In extended illness, like grief, people around you get tired of the illness. They tire of hearing that things are still not okay, that life has changed and it’s scary.  It’s confronting.  People wonder about their lives and what might be around the corner, what can happen without warning and how it can change your life.  They don’t want to think about it, let alone hear it or see you in person.  It’s awkward, uncomfortable and undignifying.  I had to accept that life would be different and I’d need to change some things, especially the stories I’d told myself about how life would be, or was supposed to be.

I made a long mental list of all the things I could no longer do.  It was a necessary part of the process but wasn’t helpful and only made me more negative and miserable for a time.  But actually, by going through the process I realised there were things in my life I was ever so thankful for and things on my list that I’d longed to try and never done.  The deep places you get to when faced with physical limits and the uncertainty of the future enables you to cherish the things you can do.  It also makes you stop and get angry about the things that have stopped you doing what you want.  It was mainly me – I’d been the one to stop me enjoying life.  I’d been working too long and too hard.  I’d been building a career, well, not one but at least three.  I’d changed my career  direction radically and was concentrating all my efforts into working, getting recognised, promoted, studying and achieving.  I made no time to relax, enjoy and savour life.  While I was ill, it was an achievement to be able to get out of bed, shower and dress myself ready for a day back in bed.  It sure put things into perspective.

I realised that work went on without me and through ‘wasting’ all that time working long days I’d missed out on life, missed out on enjoying, making and experiencing good times.  It sickened me to think that I’d missed those opportunities by my own doing. That moment was a double cruelty – much better to miss the opportunity and not actually realise.  It was an acute loss.  I was wracked with uncertainty and vowed that no matter how ‘capable’ my body was, from now on, I’d do things differently.  I didn’t expect to get better and at that point, it didn’t matter.  I started living and enjoying little things.  The view from the window, the birds in the hedge, the sunset, patterns in the clouds, the unfurling bud of a rose, the spiderweb glistening with dew.  I decided to explore new hobbies and habits, slow down, get out of living in my head, and learn to find joy in whatever was around me. I realised that the ‘small things’ in life are really the big things and I decided to revisit my ‘list’ of things not done.  One of the most joyous things I did during that time was grow a crop of vegetables in a tub.  I’d take a daily ‘hobble’ out to my little farm and check on progress as well as keep a log of the overnight rainfall that had crept into the rain gauge.  It was life.

Recovery gave me permission to move myself higher up my list of priorities rather than live to work. It has been a long road with plenty of good times and set backs along the way.  I’m not free of the disease but am keeping it at bay.   2012 has been my best year in a physical sense although it has been a year of excruciating emotional loss.  Life is never easy, but it is good.

I’m walking daily and have a lot of movement back in most of my fingers. One of the things I always wanted to do as a child was learn a martial art. If I was sensible, I’d be continuing with Tai Chi, which is a deadly martial art if you speed it up!!  Instead, I decided not to settle for something near enough to what I wanted, but to step out and try it, even if I failed miserably.

I joined my local club which practices Muay Thai and a freeform martial art. Despite being one of the oldest in the class, I was welcomed and encouraged to challenge myself.  It is a path of growth for each person and each does what they can to progress.  I’m now the proud wearer of a white belt, the lowest rank in a weekly class of skilled martial artists, mostly half my age.  There is a lot I cannot physically do but I strive to do as much as I can and I’m loving it.  I won’t make it to black, I know that, but I’ve already achieved more than I ever thought I could and it feels great.  I’m hoping I can get to yellow before the next RA flare up locks my bones.   🙂

white – yelloworangebluegreenbrownblack




18 responses

16 05 2012

Thank you for sharing! Very inspirational. It’s great that you don’t give up and that you are enjoying the small moments in life…. Take care… 🙂

16 05 2012

Thanks Cat – yes the small things really are the joys in life! 🙂

16 05 2012

louise you are such an encouragment! that you saw through your illness how you had been missing out on life, and learnt how to enjoy it in each moment, that is huge! now you have this marvellous challenge to learn a new martial art, i have no doubt your healing will continue, how could it not when we are only energy anyway …… and your energy is flowing 😀

16 05 2012

Hi Christine – well, I eventually got the message… Yes, it is a huge shift and although it is easy to say or hear the words, I now understand what “enjoying each moment” really means, on a completely different level. Thanks so much for your encouragement! 🙂

16 05 2012

I can’t tell you how inspired I am by your story and perspective. I truly believe that illnesses and injuries that come our way–when we release resistance to them–offer opportunities for unprecedented growth and awareness, painful as those stretching periods may be. The mind and body eventually learn to expand in consciousness together. It’s brilliant that you have taken a step towards fulfilling something on your ‘bucket list’. I’m about your age and have lived with illness and injury, too. I really heard you!!!!

By the way, I don’t know how interested you are in alternative and complementary modalities, but I have found tremendous relief for my auto-immune disorder by:

1. Seeing a N.A.E.T. practitioner regularly
2. Getting regular acupuncture treatments
3. Getting regular Reiki treatments

Lots of love, and shine on, girlfriend!!

16 05 2012

Hi Zen! Yes, it is a huge learning curve!! It’s something I wrestle with because although I’m not ‘thankful’ for the illness (I’d rather be without it) I am truly grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to start a new life with a very different perspective. Thanks for the tips – I am very interested in bodywork (in particular) and respond very well to massage/tapping/reiki and super well to acupuncture. I get a regular massage/reiki and float treatment each month which has been really good for body and mind. I have not heard of NAET so I’ll go look that up and see what it’s about. Thanks again.

16 05 2012

NAET (Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques) works by desensitizing one’s immune system to daily sources of nutrition and environmental agents/chemicals so that the immune system doesn’t have to fire so often–when it doesn’t need to. Thus, it is stronger to fight real threats, like viruses.

16 05 2012
Imelda Evans

My karate teacher has recently taken on a student with MS. It’s helping her (and unfit, injured me). I hope it helps you too!

16 05 2012

Hi Imelda, yep – it’s already helping me feel better about what I can do and I’m learning to pace myself and get my mind to remember to think of my body!! I hope you recover and enjoy your class too. 🙂

17 05 2012
Cee Neuner

Yeah for you!! You go girl!!! Keep us informed of your progress!!!

17 05 2012
Gilly Gee

Well done Louise you are so courageous and an inspiration to all. Take care.

17 05 2012
Balsillie & Associates

In some ways, it’s a long way to any belt, or any goal for that matter…but worth the ride.

17 05 2012

I have no doubt you will get to yellow with your positive attitude! I truly believe we can will our bodies to heal and I hope you can overcome your RA. Take care Louise.

17 05 2012
Rev Dani Lynn

Thats really inspiring, what a great story. Thank you for sharing. Love and Light.

18 05 2012
Words We Women Write

How wise you are ~ Namaste.

22 05 2012
Julia Fry

Thank you, Louise, for sharing such an inspiring story. Can’t wait to hear when you get your yellow belt!

22 05 2012

Thanks Julia! I’m working on it. It is said that when awarded a black belt, it should be worn for 24 hours, to remind you of how far you’ve come. I think I might be doing that with a yellow if I get there!! 😀

25 05 2012
Julia Fry

Yes! That could be done with so many things rather than quickly moving on to the next thing 🙂

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