A Really Long Blog
Tuesday, May 08, 2018
The past year has been challenging in two major areas.
Starting last May, work became incredibly stressful. Last month, after a ton of upheaval and change, some problems were resolved and I was able to move into a new role in the same company. And the stress abated. I try to learn from every situation and avoid negativity, and I am doing that with this as well. Enough said…
The other major challenge has been my health. (I’ve mentioned this before so feel free to turn the page…) Last year, just as I was beginning to train and compete in triathlons, I began having a lot of neck pain and headaches. As the pain got worse, I decided to stop competing. I went to my doctor, who sent me to physical therapy which didn’t help at all, and ordered an MRI, which showed arthritis and stenosis in my neck. That sounded terrible! I went to a chiropractor for a few months, and learned some stretches, which made the pain abate somewhat. But it was still hard to live with and I was getting scared. And at some point along the way, I started throwing my back out on a fairly regular basis, and old shoulder and knee injuries were flaring up too. Was I never going to feel better? Were my bones going to continue to deteriorate? It was depressing.
So my next step was to go to a neurosurgeon who said that while the MRI didn’t look great, I had surprisingly good function and that I wasn’t a candidate for neck surgery (thankfully!). He said I should limit my exercise only to control the pain and check in with him if it got worse.
At that point, I had to rethink my approach to fitness, exercise and competition. And truthfully, my life goals. At this point, at least, going back to doing triathlons and half marathons was putting too much stress on my body and not good for my health. This was really difficult for me, since I’m used to exercising regularly and pretty vigorously – 4-5 mile runs, 15- 20 mile bike rides, etc. But as much as I knew I would miss it, I decided to stop competing and exercise for health and fitness instead.
I also decided that I needed to find a more holistic approach to dealing with the problem. Arthritis is a degenerative disease, but there are ways to manage the symptoms and according to some, you can slow the progression. So, how to do that? I’m still figuring that out and while it’s been trial and error I think I am on the right path.
I tried acupuncture and while I wouldn’t rule it out, the practitioner I went to didn’t help.
I was working out pretty lightly at that point, and realized I was afraid to step it up because I didn’t know whether what I was doing was going to make it worse. My husband has back problems and had found a trainer who specializes in training people with issues like ours. So I started training with her once a week and after a month, I feel like it’s been helpful. She pays a lot of attention to posture, core strength and body mechanics.
She also referred me to her chiropractor, who has an entirely different approach than the first one I went to. I learned that I don’t have good posture (that was a surprise to me) and that there are exercises I can do to correct it, putting my neck and spine in better alignment, which will reduce the pain and slow the progression of the arthritis. My neck also feels better than it has felt in a year. He doesn’t adjust (“pop”) my neck, but instead stretches it and has also used “dry needling” which is a type of acupuncture. I am starting to feel like there might be a time when I’m not in constant pain!
I’ve also realized that I have a part in this too; in addition to improving my posture, I need to learn my “functional range.” That is, what I can reasonably ask my body to do at this point in my life, without causing pain and injury. This is hard for me because I’ve always had a ton of strength and stamina, and so, when I start to feel a little better, as I did last week, what do I do? I go and lift something way too heavy and (surprise) throw my back out again.
But I can learn. So I will continue to do my corrective exercises and stretches, and step up my workouts slowly but surely. I’m also using my new standing desk for as long as I can at any given time, working up to half to three quarters of my working day. Apparently, sitting is the new smoking.
I also gained more weight than I want to admit over the last year. Between the injury and the stress, I have felt more than a little out of control at times. I have decided to be kind to myself and not beat myself up about it. After all, it’s been a challenging time, and I’ve been doing the best I can. For now, I’ve gotten myself back on track with morning journaling, meditation and exercise, to deal with the regular anxieties of life. I am planning healthy evening meals and bringing a salad to work for lunch. I am tracking calories and using my Beck skills - giving myself credit, setting incremental goals, reminding myself why it is that I want to get fit and healthy.
And those other life goals? All my life, I have loved art. I’ve decided to put the energy that I used to put into training and competing into my creativity instead. I am trying to draw or paint a little bit every day and more on the weekends. Some days are better than others and some weeks have gone by with nothing. But I keep coming back to it. And I will continue. If I have learned nothing else in this life, I have learned to persevere.
Thanks for reading this long, long blog. Somehow it needed to come out ... Happy Sparking, my friends!