Losing Control

I’ve always known I’m a bit of a control freak, from having to get the best grades at school to letting Joshua “help” me with something, then secretly undoing it and redoing it properly when he’s gone down for a nap. I had a pretty bumpy start in adolescence, with some dubious moments, and times that I’ve had to put down to experience, lest risk them eating me up like a Weight Watcher’s meeting in a chocolate factory. But the bits I’ve enjoyed the most, are the times where I’ve had the most control; like my PhD, or when I left academia to become my own boss. In a way, I suppose it’s one reason why I love circus arts so much – it’s a dangerous sport, but it’s a danger that lays in my hands. If I fall, and we all do, it’s not the fault of some external force; I fell because I let go of the trapeze, or I didn’t catch the silks in time, or I misjudged where my doubles partner was. The is control ultimately mine. 

This week, for the first time in 7 years, I lost control. I mean, not just “I’ve misplaced my diary” lost control, or “the buttmokeys that are Yodal have lost my package…again” lost control; I mean “colonic irrigation after a vindaloo”… I totally lost my sh*t.

A couple of weeks ago, I pushed a pole move too hard. As pro level competitors, we’re all guilty of pushing training harder than we should at times, and ‘rest’ is not a word within our vocabulary. However, this time I literally pushed myself too hard. There was a trending move that required you to put your foot behind your head and tuck it behind your neck, whilst holding onto the pole with the other knee. I’d like to point out here that I have no trouble getting my leg behind my head; I can split and oversplit on both sides. However, once behind the head, the move required an external rotation of the knee. I gave permission to one of my fellow instructors to push my knee outwards, and just as the move was complete, there was a crack so audible that the whole room went quiet and someone over the other side dropped their phone. Whether it was the adrenaline or the fact that my surrounding leg muscles are quite strong anyway, it didn’t feel too painful at the time – just a bit lax. So, me being me, I kept teaching for the next 6 hours, including a high impact Zumba cardio session. It was only that night that it started hurting, so in the early hours of the morning, I made my way to A&E. It was X-rayed and put in a temporary cast until the next day when I returned to the fracture clinic. It was a suspected tear to the Lateral Collateral Ligament and the fracture clinic fitted a full leg brace and ordered an urgent MRI.

For the first week, it didn’t bother me so much – I’d organised temporary cover for my high impact classes and taught the rest from the sidelines, because in my mind, this was just a temporary thing. I felt kind of badass in the brace – a little bit like Robocop – and I occupied myself with upper body weight machines in the gym to try to maintain some level of fitness. I had a very “can do” attitude about me for the first week and was so sure that in a week’s time, the consultant would deem the whole thing a silly mistake and discharge me.

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It turned out that the consultant had the personality of a potato and the sense of humour of Hitler’s missing testicle. I tried to be light-hearted about the whole situation, but it was like making a ‘bomb’ joke in an airport – nobody finds it funny, you immediately regret saying it, and panic strikes when the medical gloves come out. The results of the MRI showed a small tear to the LCL, which was highlighted white, surrounded by a grey area of ligament, which the consultant described as “angry”. I contemplated asking him to define what “angry” meant – was it like “they’ve cancelled Bake Off for a special edition of Great Canal Journeys” angry, or more a “Gordon Ramsey with a hot poker stuck up is rectum” angry? Alas, my earlier revelations on the vegetable-like persona of the consultant encouraged me to say nothing, just nod & agree. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was to do no high impact for 6 weeks and that I was stuck in the leg brace for the duration of that time. Oh B*llocks. I suddenly felt less like Robocop and more like Forest Gump.

On the way out of the hospital, I stopped by the fertility clinic, as, by chance, the cocktail of estradiol and dydrogesterone I was on had induced a bleed and it was time for me to book an ultrasound scan before starting the new dose of Clomid. Walking down the corridor to the fertility clinic was like walking to the deepest darkest corners of the earth, where broken things are hidden away. The hallway was seemingly never ending, like a slightly more clinical version of the 1986 film Labrynth with Scary David Bowie in his scary tight white trousers. In fact, I made a toilet stop on the way, and the facilities did loosely resemble the Bog of Eternal Stench. I half expected to pass skeletons of previous patients who had given up halfway, or wooden warning signs with “Go Back” written in blood. It was like a test – if you can make it all the way to the fertility clinic, you obviously really wanted to be there, and thus you are worthy of treatment.

After booking the ultrasound, I hobbled away, reflecting on the previous 24 hours and everything that had happened. It’s funny, as much of a cliche as it is, you really don’t know how much you want something until you can’t have it. For example, I didn’t really like kids until we discovered we may not be able to have one; now the journey to become pregnant is all-consuming. And after just 1 week of being in the leg brace, I missed running. Now there’s something I never thought I’d say! The difference was that, unlike before, I couldn’t choose not to run – that choice had been made for me. I remember feeling a similar sense of yearning when I gave up chocolate for Lent, so much so that I seriously questioned whether it was an addition. Although, I can honestly say that I’m not addicted to birthing small humans, as the aftermath of that trauma can be best described as a unihole, and I can’t see anyone being addicted to that.

It wasn’t long before the reality of being stuck in a leg brace for six weeks really hit. As well as a £700 cut to my income from not being able to teach high impact cardio, I was constantly being lectured by what felt like the entire world for trying to keep active, albeit a leg down. I have been in the fitness industry my whole life and have been a pro level competitive athlete for 7 years now. I know what I can and can’t do safely to take into account an existing injury, and I was trying so damn hard to remain positive. I knew that if I didn’t keep moving, literally, then my mental health would start to suffer. Exercise is not just my job or my hobby, it’s my escapism, my “me time”, a rush of adrenaline and endorphins, and a chance to escape my own thoughts. Constantly being told that I shouldn’t be doing something was not only patronising but was making me feel immensely guilty. My choices were: do what I can to remain active and be made to feel terrible about it; or do nothing and still feel terrible about it. A bit of a Hobson’s Choice really. Things started to decline further when I realised that I wouldn’t be allowed to attend the flips & pole acrobatics workshops that were taking place at the end of next month. They were a birthday present and I had been looking forward to them for what felt like an eternity! The poler was visiting the UK as a one-off, and this was my chance to train with her. My only chance. I was gutted. After a little sob to myself, I messaged the host studio and explained the situation. The workshops were a whole month away, so at least the refunded money could go towards Joshua’s nursery fees, as the cut in my wage this month was a hard blow to our disposable income. I was shocked and appalled when the studio owner wrote back to say that she wasn’t going to give me any of the money back. Running two businesses myself, I understand the need for cancellation policies; and we enforce a 48 hour notice period at my studios. However, the workshops were a whole month away and she was willing to offer me nothing back of the best part of £100. I was so angry and upset and disappointed all at once. It just felt like everything was being taken away from me and I had no choice in the matter. I felt like it couldn’t get much worse at that point. Then I got the text. The text from the gym that said that I couldn’t teach pole there whilst in the leg brace, unless I got a note from the Doctor to say I was fit for work with adjustments. I broke down. The people I teach are not only my students; they are my close friends and my extended family. Even if I had to give up cardio classes, I was well within my capabilities to teach pole, albeit with a demonstrator for some things. The thought of having this connection with my pole family cut off for 6 weeks was the last straw. I collapsed in a heap on the floor and melted into a pile of self pity and snot. Yup – never felt sexier.

All of the above may not seem like a big deal to you, or indeed, reading back on it reflectively, to me. However, at the time, I had just started the new dose of Clomid. FML Clomid is a nasty, nasty drug. It removes your ability to see anything beyond the immediate problem, which is then magnified eleventy frickin billion times out of proportion. You lose all perspective or capability to look at things reflectively. It’s like a storm cloud has come down over you and everything has turned to back and white. Everyone who knows me…or has seen me, can tell you that I’m a colourful person, in every way; fashion sense, hair, language, personality, sense of humour – a lot of the time I look like a unicorn has bumped uglies with a rainbow. But in this moment, it felt like every drop of colour had been drained from my life. For the first time ever, I ended up having a full-blown panic attack. It was like my lungs were a wet plastic bag with all the air sucked out and every time I tried to breath in, the bag would create a vacuum, sticking to itself and not allowing any oxygen in. My thoughts turned to darker places, places that my mind hadn’t visited since I was a troubled hormonal teenager. Ironically, these emotional and physical problems I had in my adolescence were the reason I went on the combined contraceptive pill in the first place; the pill that turned out 15 years later to have messed up my hormones so badly that we were struggling to have children; and in an attempt to counteract this I’ve been prescribed medical grade quantities of the first lot of hormones that f*cked me up in the first place! It’s messed up. Like, “two girls; one cup” level of messed up (if you don’t know, don’t google it! You can never unsee things). When I tried to explain how I was feeling to Dave, I was initially frustrated that he couldn’t grasp how low I was feeling, and how serious I was being. Which was made worse by his suggested solution to “just stop taking the drugs”. For two years I’ve been kicked around the NHS system trying to have another baby. I’ve had every test known to man, I’ve had cameras put where cameras should not go, I’ve lost weight, gained weight, changed diet, changed exercise regime, been poked prodded and probed, had every cocktail of experimental drugs and been lost in the system not once, but twice. The Clomid was horrendous, but it was the first thing that has done anything. If I gave up now, the last two years would have been a waste. What kind of a choice was that?

After crying constantly for 4 hours, I locked myself away from 9pm that night and did not get up until 8.30am the next morning, long after Dave had taken Joshua to nursery and gone to work himself. I didn’t feel as angry the next day, just lifeless and hopeless, walking around blurry eyed and limping like a lame duck. And not a metaphorical lame duck, like a duck that was actually lame. Everything was hazy, partially because my eyes were still puffy from crying for 4 hours straight the day before, and partially because I was emotionally exhausted and hadn’t eaten for 24 hours. I don’t know whether not eating was a subconscious attempt to regain some control amongst the chaos, but I genuinely didn’t feel hungry or worthy of consumption. I looked like I’d spent 24 hours hanging out with an angry swarm of bees trying to harvest honey with my eyeballs – I could have taken the Michelin Man on in a gurning competition just by turning up. You know how some people can cry and still look pretty? Yeah…that’s not me. I looked like Popeye with conjunctivitis.

I went to the studio to freestyle to some lyrically meaningful music. The hormone drugs had conjured a sudden affinity for rock/metal/goth/greebo/indie songs with “woe is me” lyrics that brought back memories of being in long leather coats and spiked dog collars. Hand me the black nail varnish, I was 16 again! By the way, those “body switching” movies where the adult goes back to their 16-year-old self are about as real as Donald Trump’s hairpiece. They leave out the emotional f*uckwhittery of mood swings beyond your control and thinking that the whole world is plotting against you just because your mum wouldn’t buy you a copy of Smash Hits magazine, even though every other girl in the class had one, so you slam the bedroom door and shout “nobody loves me!” before stamping really hard so that the downstairs lights shook. This is kind of what being on Clomid is like. Studies have shown that almost half of women taking Clomid experience depression and/or anxiety. Yes, I was truly upset by the prospect of not being allowed to teach, and of having that decision made for me, but the drugs made it ten times worse. They magnified everything until it felt like the world was ending. So going to the studio and spending 45 minutes on the pole, on my own, with some expressive, if somewhat lyrically dubious, music was my way of working through that potential loss. I had decided that if I could get out of bed that day, and do something to express how I was feeling, even if I couldn’t do that with words, even if I felt no different for it afterwards, then just by being there I was making progress. Because sometimes it’s not about having a Good Day; it’s just about having A Day.

When things started to subside after a couple of days, Dave said to me “it was obvious it was just the drugs, I’d never seen you like that before; the person who was here a couple of days ago, wasn’t you”. And I suppose that’s something to take solace in – I’m not really batsh*t crazy, it was just a temporary side effect for a long-term goal. Another silver lining is that I’m at no risk of becoming a drug addict. I don’t even like the feeling of being that little bit too drunk where the room starts spinning. I couldn’t imagine being on hallucinogens or other mind-altering drugs where patchwork elephants play tennis with the local tap dancing hobo. I think I’m always going to be that little bit of a control freak who will insist that odd socks maintain a theme, and that stacking the washing up in a pile does not count as tidying, and who still gets upset when despite doing everything asked of her, is still unable to make a human. But if I’ve learnt anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s how to digest information in uncertain times to help take control of a situation. Instead of asking yourself “why is this happening to me?” it’s worth asking yourself ”What can I learn from this?”. And I don’t mean that to sound like one of those annoying pre-written positive thinking slogans on a rainbow background or a landscape with a person looking thoughtful by the water’s edge, when what they’re probably thinking is “FML it’s cold by this water, I wish the photographer would just take the picture so I can go home and watch Bake Off”. So here’s what I’ve learnt:

  • There are certain ways my body does not bend and there IS such a thing as pushing a move too far. I shall take greater care to respect these boundaries
  • Not being able to physically demonstrate some moves on the pole has challenged and enhanced my verbal teaching skills 
  • I’ve realised that I have a real passion for zumba, dance, cardio, and dare I say, even running. I will make more of an effort not to take these skills for granted
  • Me and Clomid do NOT mix. However, next time I will know what to expect, and I will be prepared.

More than anything, there were people around me who reached out when I needed them the most. Because sometimes, when life is a bit rubbish, you don’t need positive thinking slogans on picturesque backgrounds. You just need wine…and really good friends who say f*ck a lot.

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