Exercise for mental health

POP at 49 / Story at 49

The following is my story to date after being diagnosed with a rectocele and cystocele in June 2020. I was 49 years old.

I was diagnosed in June with POP by a doctor in my local surgery at an after hours clinic. It was a massive shock to me. I attended the clinic both Saturday and Sunday, with pain in my lower abdomen, with what I thought was a bladder infection. Funnily enough, all of a sudden, that same Saturday afternoon, I noticed a heaviness in my vagina. I knew this was not right and returned to the clinic the next day. After the examination the doctor diagnosed me with POP, gave a brief rundown of the condition and told me to see a physiotherapist or surgeon. I was totally shell shocked. I had little knowledge of this condition and felt really scared and devastated.

I was very fortunate to see a very experienced physiotherapist who gave me so much help, support and reassurance. She fitted me with a pessary to support my organs. At the time of diagnosis I was very unwell, apparently unrelated to the prolapse, but it did not feel that way. My mental health started to decline rapidly as I was thoroughly exhausted from it all. I felt so bad that I thought I was going to have to give up my job. The worst part was to be told that I would be unable to participate in some of my favourite gym classes. I have been a member of a gym since I was 18 and have always been very fit and absolutely love exercising.

To begin with I was extremely uncomfortable with the feeling of the prolapse. It really got to me, I hated it and was totally obsessed with it. The good news is now that I am getting on top of it, I really hardly notice the feeling any more. I have the occasional day when I feel uncomfortable, but not as often. I think this is due to using the pessary. I also use an internal oestrogen cream, do my pelvic floor exercises religiously three times per day and have started on HRT gel for perimenopause symptoms.

I am still unable to run, jump or do anything high-impact or lift heavy items, but life is returning to normal for me. I am still very active, work with 4/5-year-old children and have become addicted to yoga. With the exception of some small exercises, yoga is one activity I don’t need to adapt and it also helps me relax. I have educated myself by reading books and watching YouTube videos made by qualified physiotherapists. I also saw a physiologist who went through all the dos and don’ts exercises with me. I cannot express enough about doing your research and talking to people. I am super open about it and feel it should not be talked about behind closed doors. 

My mother in law became my saviour. She told me she had been living with prolapse since she was my age – she’s now 69. She advised me not to rush into an operation. My physio also told me, “Do what you can to avoid surgery”. I still don’t know many women who admit to having a prolapse but I wish I did, as this would have helped me get over the pure helplessness I felt. 

Some of my gym instructors have been great, but I do feel out of it when I have to adapt half the class to suit my condition. However, I refuse to let it get the better of me and try to pick classes that empower me to keep going. Exercise is so important to our mental health, especially as you get a bit older! 

The funny thing is, after giving birth to my eldest child who is now 18, I was told by the same physio I have now that I was at risk of issues later on with my pelvic floor. The reason was a large baby delivered by ventouse. Do your pelvic floor exercises ladies, they are so important!