Fibromyalgia and Fitness - My Story
Monday, October 26, 2009
A friend once asked me, “Why do you workout when you have fibromyalgia? Doesn’t it hurt?” Well, yes it does hurt. But then again, I’m going to hurt regardless – so why not try to be fit and healthy?
I haven’t always had a weight problem. When I turned 21, I had to buy pants in the children’s section to find something small enough to fit. (Bonus: children’s pants never needed to be hemmed.) I was an aerobics fanatic at the time and worked out 7 – 8 hours a week, but I didn’t know much at the time and ended up with a stress fracture to a rib in my back due to high-impact aerobics on horrible flooring. As a result of the injury, I quit working out for awhile and, since I was completely ignorant about nutrition, I gained a lot of weight.
Fast forward about ten years. I had tried to get back into the habit of working out, but just couldn’t find anything I liked enough to hold my interest. (I still don’t have the self-discipline to do a workout I don’t like for any length of time.) Still completely ignorant about nutrition, I had gained over 100 lbs in ten years. I hated it; I hated the way I looked, the way I felt. I allowed my weight to dictate my life to a huge degree. I refused to participate in activities I really enjoy because I was so embarrassed about my appearance. I didn’t want to do much of anything, so I’d sit home and try to stifle my emotions with food. Since our emotional health and our physical health are intertwined, I was deteriorating in every aspect of my life.
Several years ago, I decided enough was a enough and started on a quest to get fit and lose weight. (I have to be honest here. I really don’t care what the scale says – I just know what I want to look like and this isn’t it.) I found a great workout program that shrank inches very quickly, but then life decided to throw a wrench in the works and suddenly, I wasn’t able to work out like I wanted to. Doctors didn’t seem to have any answers for the constant pain I was in and the extreme exhaustion I was dealing with on a daily basis. I quickly spiraled downward and in no time, I had regained every inch I had lost, with some reinforcements. Again, my emotional state plummeted, and so did my physical condition. I was beginning to think I was crazy when, finally, I got a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
On one hand, I was so relieved; these aches and pains ARE real and no, I’m not crazy – but on the other hand, what the heck is fibromyalgia anyway? My reading on the subject didn’t do much to encourage me. Fibro is a very poorly understood and often maligned condition. Fibromyalgics LOOK healthy. A little tired, maybe, but generally healthy. Looks can be deceiving.
At any rate, I was tired of being overweight. I knew I needed to find a good workout, but it had to be FUN, too, or I wouldn’t do it. Thankfully, I found Turbo Jam. It appealed to me on several levels; I love to dance, and Turbo Jam has some fun dance moves. I don’t deal with stress very well and have a tendency to hold in anger and frustration; Turbo has enough punching and kicking that I get a healthy, safe outlet for negative feelings. I was so enthralled that, when I had the opportunity to get certified to teach the gym version, Turbo Kick, I signed up immediately.
I passed my certification smoothly. Well, as smoothly as it could go for an asthmatic fibromyalgic! I was about a size 16 at that time, and had to deal with the emotional garbage of being the largest person at the certification event. But I persevered and just acted like I most certainly DID belong there (if you’ve never been fat in a gym, you won’t understand how out of place a fat person can feel). And it paid off – not only did I pass my certification, but I found a friend and mentor in the presenter, Russell.
Unfortunately, I never quite believed in myself and slowly let the fibro take control of me. I didn’t stay focused on my fitness and my eating habits were atrocious. As the pain grew worse, I was desperate to try anything to ease the constant pain. My chiropractor, also feeling desperate at this point, suggested I give up the Turbo Kick. He felt it was just too strenuous for me with the fibro. I sank down into despair and gave up the idea of ever having a nice, fit physique again. The inches and pounds came right back again.
For the past couple of years, I have allowed the fibromyalgia to dictate what I do and when I do it. It got to the point that I didn’t seem to have much of an identity beyond the fibro. But I finally realized that no one can help me if I am not going to help myself. So I started to clean up my eating and decided to rebuild my fitness level very slowly so I wouldn’t over-do and throw myself into an exercise-induced fibro flare.
This past spring, I started to slowly rebuild my fitness level. I have a Wii Fit and used that daily until I didn’t feel much of a challenge from it anymore. Then I went out and bought “Dance, Dance Revolution” for my Wii and used that until I could easily do an hour without a lot of cardio challenge. That’s when my focus returned to my beloved Turbo. I knew I had to be careful, so I didn’t throw myself into firbo flare after fibro flare, but this time, I approached it with a better attitude and some sense. At first, I could only do 20 minutes at a time, but I quickly built back up to being able to do the 40 minutes “Cardio Party” workout with (relative) ease.
Since I picked my Turbo Jam back up, I’ve dropped to a size 12 and I am really starting to see changes in my body. I haven’t lost much weight, but again, I don’t really care much what the scale says. I have more energy and a brighter outlook on life. Yes, I still hurt a lot thanks to the fibro, but as long as I keep movin’ the body, the pain stays at tolerable levels.
So why do I workout when I hurt? I do it because exercise makes me feel better, both physically and emotionally. I do it because, far too often, those 40 minutes a day is the only time I have any real control over my body. I do it because I refuse to let fibromyalgia define me.