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Are you your body?

I used to think that people were divided between those who lived in the head and those who lived in the body. I would have put myself down as one who lived in the head. I am a reader, a dreamer, a thinker, an analyser. But I am starting to think that I have got it all quite wrong.

A couple of years ago I decided to try the Couch to 5k app, a running programme designed to take you over the course of nine weeks from not running at all to being able to run for thirty minutes without stopping.

Here is my record from that time of the whole process. I was doing it for my health so you could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather when I found I enjoyed it, not always, often more when I had finished than when I was actually doing it, but I enjoyed it. I loved the sense of achievement and I loved the feeling of moving my body, of doing with it what it was made for. I was, and remain, slow as slow, but I have carried on running.

Sometimes I have drifted away from running when winter or cold or lockdown made it hard but I always come back, after a week or three but before I have lost so much fitness I would need to start from scratch again. To my very great surprise running makes me feel more like myself.

About a month ago Ian and I ran the Chester 10k together. It was very hot and I really struggled. I had to walk some which disappointed me but we did finish. On the evening after the race I began to feel unwell, with abdominal pain and diarrhoea. For a few days I was as ill as I have been for years, confined to bed or the bathroom. My doctor was great and I was referred for a colonoscopy which I have now had. But the result has been three or fours weeks when I haven't done any of the physical things I normally do, no yoga or pilates, no running, very little walking. I have read and read, in fact it looks as if I have read nineteen books in that time, detective fiction, historical fiction, nothing challenging, just escaping into books as I did as a child. And I have felt like a shadow of myself.

Today, three days after the colonoscopy and feeling much better, I have been for a short run and spent half an hour doing some easy weights. Just using my body feels wonderful. I feel as though the world is showing in brighter colours and I am more present somehow. Some years ago my father endured a long and lonely decline with motor neurone disease. We kept him company as best as we could. He was a strong personality and he hung onto his sense of himself for as long as he could. Before he became unable to speak, which was for him the last and most dreadful loss, he told me that he felt he was being rubbed out. When he finally died it was a release and a relief. So I have seen at close quarters what illness can do to overwhelm even the strongest person but I don't think I had understood that even on a much milder scale losing the capacity to act, to do, to move, powerfully affects your sense of who you are. A very short time of doing so much less than I usually do made me feel smaller, slower, less engaged with the world.

The body is after all where we live. This pleasure at feeling better again makes me feel all the more determined to look after it. We are all getting older and the energy and strength we took for granted for so much of our adult life is not a given. I look down at my body with its stretch marks and its operation scars and I feel very fond of it. It has brought me through a lot. I shall try very hard to look after it.

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Anne Wareham
Anne Wareham
Aug 23, 2021

That will be interesting - and yes, the issue is more that, if you have or can great freedom for yourself, how to you decide and prioritise how you spend time.


Anne Wareham
Anne Wareham
Aug 21, 2021

Whenever I spend a day reading and come towards the end, I find myself wondering why I do anything else. And whether I will regret doing anything else, one day, when I see the end with so many days not spent reading. (and thinking).

At this rate you may well live much longer than me. But - critical question - how can we value each precious day?

You, clearly by running, now. Me with a book. And a garden!

Elizabeth Musgrave
Elizabeth Musgrave
Aug 22, 2021
Replying to

I agree. I don’t think it can be a dispute because that would suggest there is a “right” way to spend time and I think my fascination at the moment is to do with making it count, for me. It’s not a matter of bucket lists and crossing things off, it’s a matter of feeling alive, feeling strongly oneself. It’s such an obsession with me I will certainly write more.

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