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Chapter 29: Duct Tape !

We all know how amazing duct tape is. During my trek in the Himalayas, I've learned that duct tape can temporarily fix battered hiking boots, fix hiking poles, patch torn rain gear or a leaking hydration bladder. It can even be used as a protective guard over a medical bandage protecting a sensitive blister or to remove thorns. It definitely should be in every medical kit. Like I said, it is an amazing product, if only it can fix EVERYTHING … I’ve been off the grid for a couple of months, mainly because I am trying to find a new normal after an intense year of training and focus, figuring out how to cope with the mental side of completing an immense challenge.  Never before have I completed a challenge on this scale and certainly never have I had to handle 'out of control’ emotions like this. My training become a struggle as I was compensating for all my injuries which appeared one after another. It has NOT been easy since returning from Nepal and I did not anticipate being in a place like this after my trek.

When I returned to England, I was on such a high. I was literally buzzing despite fighting the Khumbu cough which lingered for another two weeks. I took two weeks off to recover and rest before going back to my training. My joints feel so much better when I exercise but definitely not 5 days a week, 2 days a week will do. I very quickly realised that my body took a massive beating while being at altitude. I have read so much about altitude sickness but did not know how much altitude can affect you on your return. Well, I soon found out. My first session back at Bootcamp was shocking. Why can’t I do any of the exercises the way I used to do 5 weeks ago? My body felt weak and I had no strength. Running was out of the question as I just got over a very bad bronchitis and the Khumbu cough, my lungs were burning. I started experiencing severe muscle loss on day 7 of my trek, but did not anticipate the result to be so severe. It hit me hard. I know the time, pain and effort I invested to prepare my body to walk 130km to an altitude of 5364m over 12 days. It was hard to face reality and after my second Bootcamp session, my tennis and golf-elbow returned with a vengeance, soon followed by a serious shoulder injury, back injury and neck injury. I need duct tape! EDS is unpredictable. Everyone kept telling me to rest and take time off, but I’m the only one who knows the reality; only exercise makes my joints feel better. I reduced my training to Mondays only, but by Friday I was in such discomfort. I can write a book about this. Doctors appointments, injections that don’t work and physiotherapy started taking up a lot of my time.

Mentally it was even harder. I just wanted to continue the way I left. For a whole year I did research, blogged, visited schools, raised awareness etc. It became a full time job and now all of a sudden it was over (well, a big chunk of it). In hindsight I wish I had the knowledge then to set myself mini goals on my return. Emotional-eating is so common and a hush-hush, no one knows what is going on behind closed doors - right? From a young age, bindge-eating has been a part of my life. Over the years I gained control over it but like any addiction, it is easy to fall back into old habits. When I’m not in a good place, oh boy, I can eat like a hoover baby! Not proud of it, but it is my battle with food. With all my injuries piling on top of each other and not training properly, it felt like everything I worked so hard for started to slip away. Although it is not really the case, it sure feels that way after gaining 5.5kg since returning from EBC. The added weight on my joints is not helping either. So, you see this vicious circle - injuries - emotional - can’t train - not feeling good -  eat - can’t sleep - repeat. (Duct tape please!)

Before I left for Nepal my Vascular-EDS DNA results were still outstanding (crazy, it was meant to be ready after 4-6 months but by now it is 16 months- go figure). I blocked it from my mind and focused on my trek. A few days after I returned from Nepal, I started the very long, frustrating and stressful process of searching for my DNA on my own. A journey which lead to more questions and a battle with doctors for answers. All I can say, my body did not like the added stress and my anxiety, which was well managed, started creeping up on me again. I had no results, no replies on any of my emails asking my specialist for my results, and no answers.  A big part of the emotional eating came from the “not knowing”, “no answers”. I’ll explain…

(Reason for DNA test for Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome: In 2015 and in 2017 I had 2 VADs (Vertebral Artery Dissections). My main artery in my neck tore in two different places on two occasions, which left me a high risk for stroke without having a stroke which is highly unusual. That is why my DNA was tested as doctors have no clue why I got these spontaneous tears but suspect Vascular EDS).  Subconsciously it played on my mind non-stop. It is not so much being anxious of what the results will say, not at all, it is what it is, but just to get an answer and know for the future so that I can move on with my life, face the facts if needed and close this chapter. 5 weeks ago I woke up, got dressed and sat down with all the letters I’ve ever received under my specialist’s care. I had a good cry and said to God that this is it, I am going to give it my all one last time but by 6pm that evening I will close this chapter in my life for good, I can not carry on like this. In September 2018 I was copied in on a letter addressed to a Genetic Scientist, stating that my DNA testing and the insane funds for it has been approved on the NHS. My MI5 training kicked in - just kidding, I never had MI5 training but I was rocking it. I started searching for the doctor online and after a few hours I found a phone number and phoned ... A lovely lady told me that the doctor still works there and wanted to know how she can help as they don’t deal directly with patients, I had the number of the laboratory ;). I told her everything and also said to her that this is my last lead; my DNA went missing and my specialist and his department has no desire to help me find out what was going on. She said that they will look into this as this letter was written by my specialist and addressed directly to the genetic scientist. If there was any news, they would contact my specialist’s secretary on the number I gave them. 3 hours later I received a call from my neurologist’s secretary … they found my DNA in Sheffield!! I was over the moon and in deep shock! I don’t have a clear explanation of what happened and why it took so long, but I was told that they have activated my DNA late that Tuesday afternoon and it will be ready in 3-4 weeks. My test was done on February 25th, so I will know in the next few week or so (hopefully).

I am still seeing my physiotherapist and battling injuries but I started my training again last week, once a week for now and a 10k walk. I also started my eating plan to get rid of this unwanted weight which piled on and got severely out of hand. Mentally and physically I’m gaining control again. Baby steps. I contacted my trainer and sat down with him- sharing what has been going on in my head and body lately. Accountability. I set a new interim goal and will hike up Snowdon the last week of April. Goals do not have to be big but it helps us stay accountable and on track especially if you share it with someone. But I do have a bigger goal which I am super excited about. This time it is a 3-in-1. In July this year, as a family, we will be trekking to Machu Picchu, go up the Rainbow Mountains and go deep into Peru's Amazon forest for some family time.

"There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty."

Steve Maraboli

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