One of the things I’ve appreciated most since Dylan moved into residential care is being able to walk to work instead of drive. I had no choice but to use my car while Dylan lived with me as I could only leave for work after his transport had collected him in the morning and I had to be back in time for his arrival home from day centre in the afternoon. I had to get to and from work the most efficient way if I were to manage my work commitments and that meant using my car.
Although caring for Dylan involved physical activity for which I needed to be fit, I found it difficult to combine exercise with caring. Dylan and I took long walks together in the countryside and went tandem cycling as often as possible, but I couldn’t play racquet or ball games with Dylan. Although he likes physical activity, Dylan isn’t interested in ‘sport’; he won’t join in anything which involves teams or rules or a purpose he doesn’t see the point of. Hitting a small white ball with a metal stick until you get it in a hole? Ridiculous. Trying to hit a wooden ball with a bat while standing in front of three wooden sticks? Mad. Throwing a really heavy ball down an alley at a group of big wooden peg-things? Weird. That’s fine by me – I don’t see the point of cricket either. But I did sometimes wish that we could play badminton together.
For the physical activities which Dylan does enjoy (such as skating and swimming) I have always been needed in a supporting rather than participatory role. Thinking it might provide an opportunity for me to exercise alongside Dylan, I took out a joint membership at an inclusive gym last year. Any expectation of using the equipment myself, however, was quickly abandoned as I realised how closely Dylan needed supervising. So in the last few years – since I turned 50 actually – I have been conscious that as well as not exercising as much as I wanted, I wasn’t exercising as much as I needed.
As the time approached for Dylan to move into care and my anxiety levels escalated, it was the thought that I would be able to cycle and swim again that kept me going some days. In the weeks since Dylan’s move, however, I have taken it gently. In the past I resumed exercise, when I got a chance, at the level at which I had previously performed. This proved foolish as each time I picked up an injury; this time, I vowed, I would ease myself back in. Which is how I came to start the walk: two hours a day, I told myself, will get me back on the starting block.
Arriving at work the other day I announced a personal best: 45 minutes, I declared, triumphantly. I had shaved five minutes off, I reflected, by crossing the road strategically and without slowing my pace. But as I said this I realised that the walk was not about fitness anymore; sure I had checked my watch as I approached the city centre but my PB was accidental. The walk, I realised, had become my transition process.
The time I spend walking between home and work, morning and evening, gives me space to adjust. The first part of my route is through a city park but the middle is a long, busy road and the final stretch a bleak slog through underpasses and concrete. If I let myself listen to it I would hear the constant roar of traffic and voices. But instead this 50 minute trudge is almost meditation. I don’t listen to music or distract myself from the space in which I prepare myself for what lies ahead.
But this evening, just a few minutes from home, I sat down on a bench in the park. ‘Don’t you want to go home tonight, Lizzie?’ I whispered. Why was I stalling? I had walked a different way home for the first time; arriving at the junction where I usually turn right, I had continued straight ahead instead. I hadn’t planned this; it just happened. ‘I shouldn’t establish routines’, I told myself as I headed up the hill. ‘It will take the beauty out of it’.
It’s true that I had noticed new things about the city on my alternative route tonight. But perhaps, I thought to myself as I sat on the park bench, what I had lost was the chance to see inside my head. This walk I do – I think somehow it helps.