With the title of this post ‘a walk in the park’ I am not referring to ME/CFS recovery. As we all know by now, a chronic illness is anything but a walk in the park.
No, the meaning behind the title for this post is much more literal. Today I’m going to write about an actual walk in an actual park. Namely Victoria Park, a gorgeous green space close to my home in East London.
Walking has been a big part of my life with ME/CFS. After an initial time, back in December 2010 and January 2011, of being too ill to move anywhere other than from bed to sofa and back to bed, I have walked most days. When I was too poorly to partake in more active pursuits, walking I could still (mostly) do. It has become a good barometer of how my recovery is going. At the beginning I could only manage a few minutes; a few steps up the street. From that feeble starting point, I built it up. Walking was a key part of my paced activity programme, increasing the time I spent walking in minute incremental increases of literally 1 or 2 minutes. I built it up gradually, oh so gradually, until at my strongest pre Lightning Process, I was able to manage 25 minutes of walking without suffering severe post exertion malaise. There were ups and downs and fluctuations in my walking ability went hand in hand with relapses and set backs that are the bread and butter it seems of having ME/CFS. Before I got sick with ME/CFS walking was purely a mode of transport. It got me to and from the train station. I didn’t see it as exercise. It didn’t push me enough. Running on the gym treadmill, pushing myself as hard as I possibly could was more my cup of tea (that is not to say I was a gym bunny though! I went sporadically).
As my energy has returned and ME/CFS has lessened its grip on me through this last year, walking has become a staple in mine and Mr B’s weekend routine (and has continued to be a part of my own daily routine during the week). Walking is very much an activity in its own right for us now. On a Saturday or Sunday we walk for a couple of miles and have coffee or brunch out mid way. During our trip to the US back in April, Mr B and continued our walks and one day in San Francisco we managed just over 4 miles – and as you probably know San Fran is not flat terrain! So that was a doubly great achievement for me. Recently my Mum and I walked through East London reminiscing about the places Mum used to live and teach in her younger days. We walked 3.78 miles that day to Stoke Newington Whole Foods where I stocked up on Jess friendly foods (we got the bus home, I was tired and we had too much shopping)! For a girl who a few years ago could only manage walking for a matter of minutes and other wise needed to be pushed in a wheelchair, I hope you can see why I’m so proud, happy and relieved that I am now well enough to walk without debilitating consequences. Sometime after longer walks I am definitely achy and fatigued but it doesn’t last like it used to. I use the Nike Run App to track how far I’ve walked. It’s a great tool to use for pacing yourself both in an ME/CFS sense and an exercise speed kinda way.
The other day I took my camera out with me on my walk to Victoria Park, hence the photos peppering this post. The park is 0.7 of a mile from home, which was frustrating when I wasn’t doing as well as I am now. I’d barely get to the park before I had to turn back because my allotted walking time was up / I was tired and could feel symptoms creeping in. But now the distance to get there is nothing. The walk alongside London traffic and on grey pavements through concrete towers is worth it as you cross over the canal and see the green open space greeting you on entry into the park.
Earlier in the year I went on a spa break. One of the activities there was a moving meditation. I had no idea what to expect but it turned out to be a lovely, peaceful and grounding experience. My guide and I walked around the lush grounds of the stately home that housed the spa in silence except for my guide giving me instructions every so often: focus on your feet touching the ground, notice the textures around you, close your eyes and listen purely to the sounds, notice the smells, the colours, reach out and touch the leaves, feel the air on your skin. It may sound utterly bizarre, and I guess it was a bit. But it was such a peaceful, tranquil time and mindfully brought you into the very moment.
I was reminded of my moving meditation experience on my walk with my camera. Photography is a very mindful activity. Seems obvious but I’d never really realized that before. I was purely focused on the nature around me. I was focused on the reflections on the trees in the lake; on the colour and shape of the trees and their leaves and on the wildlife that came out to play whilst I was there: squirrels, ducks, geese, obligatory London pigeons and many other birds for which I’m afraid to say I don’t know the names. If only my Mum had been with me. She is a walking treasure trove of information and would have known for sure! It was a fairly grey damp Autumnal day. But as I turned back ready to walk home watery sunshine broke through the clouds for a few minutes casting beautiful shadows across the grass from the trees.
I’m no great photographer but I did enjoy taking the time to capture the park and it will be something I will definitely do again. It was a relaxing and uplifting experience and I walked 2.5 miles which will have burned a few calories to boot!
Do you enjoy walking? Is it part of your routine? Why not try a moving meditation style walk next time you’re out. I’ll leave you with a few more photos from my walk in the park as inspiration.