One step at a time: walking back to health

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12 February

By Sharon Liptrott

I have found that looking after my own physical health has helped me so much mentally. And whilst during Covid-19 there have been many restrictions in place, one thing we can all do is get out and walk. Or can we?

In July 2020 I woke up to severe pain in my calves. Within a matter of days, I was in A&E and within 10 days I was unable to walk unaided. I had lost feeling in both of my feet from my shins down and could not get my feet to work.

You certainly never think it’s going to happen to you. I have always been reasonably fit, mobile and active. So, to suddenly wake one night in pain that left me unable to walk, was terrifying.

It turns out I have a rare autoimmune disease called Churg-Strauss Syndrome, which is a form of vasculitis. Only 1-5 people in every one million in the UK are likely to get this (I always knew I was one in a million!). For me, this disease was attacking my healthy nerves in my feet, hence the loss of use.

You certainly never think it’s going to happen to you... to suddenly wake one night in pain that left me unable to walk, was terrifying

It was, and still can be on my bad days, a very difficult time. At one point I thought I’d never walk properly again. It wasn’t clear if this disease would continue to attack my body and go for my kidneys and heart.

But thanks to great care from the NHS, at a time when they themselves were going through one of the toughest challenges in their history, I was able to get the excellent medical help I needed.

More than anything, I needed the emotional and psychological support. And thank goodness I had such a great support network - I am very lucky enough to have many close friends, family and loved ones – and I don’t take that for granted. Not everyone is as lucky as me.

In the months that followed there were many tests and talk of chemotherapy treatment. I even had to have a bone marrow biopsy – twenty minutes of my life I never wish to repeat, nor the week that followed whilst we awaited the all clear results.

A big turning point for me, and something that is helping with my rehabilitation, is taking part in the One Million Steps challenge in support of Centre for Mental Health

Fast forward to six months later and I am doing well. I am well on the way to getting better. I am now able to walk without the help of others, but I do need some aids to help me walk safely – and confidence-wise, I still need to walk with others to feel safe (there have been a few tumbles but fewer over time!).

As a result of the disease I lost a lot of strength and muscle, but that is returning each day. A big turning point for me, and something that is helping with my rehabilitation, is taking part in the One Million Steps challenge in support of Centre for Mental Health.

One of my closest friends and part of my support network, Jenny Banks, works for Centre for Mental Health and she is always waxing lyrical about the great work they do, and I couldn’t agree more! I wanted something to help me with my recovery this year, but something I knew would be a big challenge for me – and this challenge fitted the bill. I am determined to do as much as I can and help raise money for this amazing charity.

I thought I was doing ‘okay’ and managing my stress well. On reflection I now wonder… was I really managing my stress and mental health that well?

As I reflect on the last six months, I’m struck by the impact that stress may have had on my illness – the loss of my stepfather, the end of a 20 year relationship, and moving home all in the space of a few months – not to mention the impact of Covid-19 and multiple lockdowns, which is bound to take its toll. But I thought I was doing ‘okay’ and managing my stress well. On reflection I now wonder… was I really managing my stress and mental health that well?

What I do know is that the biggest challenge I have faced has not been the physical impact of my disease, but the mental challenge. Many more people will be facing their own mental health challenges, especially over the next few years with the fall out of Covid-19. So I believe it is vital we all keep talking, keep walking and raise the profile of mental health.

If anyone reading this would like any help or fancy joining me as a walking buddy (Covid rules permitting) or even a virtual walk and talk, please get it touch. I need all the help, support and encouragement I can get!

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