(And where is Crabby McSlacker and why the heck is she so slow in posting any of the great guest posts she's received?
Well, at the moment, Crabby and the Lobster are cruising the Rhine, and while she doesn't expect any sympathy on that front, the internet aboard has been extremely pissy and mean, and it dislikes Crabby in particular and goes into hiding whenever she even LOOKS at her computer. But she swears she's at least been trying, and every now there's a little window of connectivity which she will attempt to exploit:
Anyway, Genie's story is a great illustration of a Cranky Fitness Fundamental Truth: the road to health and fitness is not always a smooth one. In fact, sometimes it feels like a series detours strewn with potholes, broken glass, and roadkill.
So what do you do? Pull over at the first rest stop, scarf up a double cheeseburger and head back home? Or try to keep going? Well, I'll let Genie fill you in on which approach she takes.
“I am half-sick of shadows” – “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Disclaimer: I did some stupid things on my path to fitness that no one should do. EVER. I am no longer a fitness professional and I am not a physician, an exercise physiologist or a physical therapist. The message here isn’t about doing what I did. The moral of the story is at the end so you’ll have to slog through all the drivel to get to it!
So, I had an eating plan, a menu and a well-stocked kitchen. I needed a work-out plan that would get me back into fighting shape. Here’s a secret: I’ve been in fighting shape before. Hell, I was a fitness instructor at one point in my life (Best. Job. Ever!). So I had some information but that was from a time in my life before fat, age and chronic pain caught up with me. I had to make some decisions about how to handle all this.
But I jumped in like a fool first. Especially considering the following:
- I have a really messed up right foot from a stress fracture that was never treated properly.
- I have a seriously messed up right shoulder, arm and hand from a bicycle wreck that wasn’t treated at all.
- I have two bulging discs in my lower back. This I treat with exercises from a physical therapist. At least I didn’t mess around with this! I absolutely refused a surgical option and these exercises keep me (mostly/usually) mobile.
- Add to all this the usual aches and pains of an aging body that was far too heavy.
I live in a small town without fancy gyms. But I teach at a university that does have fitness facilities. That option was discounted quickly. Sweating with my students wasn’t on my list of fun activities. And everyone says you have to do things that you enjoy. I definitely would NOT enjoy that. I have a classroom reputation to maintain (I am not the cuddly sort that students run to with personal problems) and allowing students to see me that vulnerable (sweating, in pain and possibly crying) was not going to cut it.
I do have an elliptical trainer that is near gym quality thanks to a holiday gift from indulgent in-laws (Thanks DaddyJim and SallyMom!). I have a step, oodles of step videos and lots of free weights. I started on the elliptical. My journal entry from my first day back on the elliptical: “May 6, 2013: I got on the elliptical. For 45 minutes. I did it. It hurt so much I cried for a little while I was on it but I did it. I am proud.” Yep. I overdid it and my back hated me. Clearly I needed to do something other than just stubbornly pushing past pain although that works well for me most of the time because I’m mean as hell. But I didn’t change yet. I foolishly stayed on track. Journal entry from May 12, after recovering from a cold: “Back to the elliptical today. I had to keep saying, ‘I will not cry, I will not cry’ to get through the last 15 minutes. I am so tired of being in pain . . . But I did the 45 minutes.”
Yep. I am insane. Isn’t one of the definitions continuing to do the same thing expecting a different result? Did I really think that a few days were going to cure me? Clearly, I did. While Lucy thinks she is my personal trainer, I was really my own trainer and I had to think of a way to decrease pain or this wasn’t going to last long. As tough as I think I am, I can only take so much.
I needed to strengthen my core. My core muscles had become seriously weak due to my back problem. I had allowed myself to baby my back to the point of near atrophy (this was also one of the reasons I ended up in this unfit mess). I started doing research. I hit on Pilates. Since there are no fancy gyms here, obviously I found video Pilates. I started with the beginner’s DVD. Damn, that was hard! But I progressed quickly through that one and moved to harder ones as my body was ready for them. I shortened my time on the elliptical while I was building my core and started doing step aerobics. For some reason, unless I do stupid things (like twisty hop turns over the thing without supporting my core), that doesn’t hurt as much. Then, I added one more element that may have saved my life.
The Husband begged me to do it. I resisted for all the reasons you can probably guess. We’ll just start with what’s most likely obvious—a swimsuit. Oh, my sweet fat heavens! Do you seriously expect me to put on swimsuit and go out in public in it? I practically yelled something like this, but less polite, at The Husband who desperately wanted me in less pain. And the pain was getting intense. I was in tears just sitting at my computer working. Even sitting upright reading was painful. These two “activities” are an important part of how I make a living. His response was a level, reasonable, not yelled, “Yes” (This man should be on Pope Francis’ list for beatification for living with me!). After more tears and excuses, I agreed. I found a swimsuit that didn’t make me feel like Jabba the Hutt. I found a fitness center at a senior center that allowed people 45 and older (my feelings about being old enough to go to a senior center will not be explored here!). I figured out how to pay for it. Budget was a serious concern. College professors where I am don’t make nearly what a lot people think we do—some of us make less than kindergarten teachers in our county. I went.
Eureka! I could do something physical that didn’t hurt! This was a revelation. I was a good swimmer as a kid and quickly remembered strokes and the rhythm of breathing. This actually felt good. Journal entry from June 19 after my first day in the pool: “I think I should keep that up. Yesterday was the most pain free day I’ve had in a long time.” A genius, aren’t I? It took me over a month to get in the water and I wrote that “I think” I should keep swimming? Damn. Obviously, my PhD isn’t in logic.
Being in the water allowed me to build some muscle, continue to strengthen my core and get in the cardio I was quickly discovering to be mood altering. It gave me physical freedom. The Husband bought me waterproof pouch and earphones for my iPod that reduced the boredom of swimming back and forth endlessly. Boredom is a killer for me since my basic nature is thrill seeking, so this was also a possible life saving discovery. He meant to keep me in the water!
With all the new core and cardio strength, I can do things I couldn’t last year without much pain. Some days, I have very little pain that I can relate to my exercise habit. I learned to listen to my body and give it what it needs each day. If I’m having a “bad back day,” I go to the pool. If it’s a “good back day,” I’ll go all in for a combination of free weights and HIITs on the elliptical or some Pilates and the elliptical. Some days my stress levels are high and my back is good, so I’ll declare it a “Cardio Therapy Day,” go all high intensity and get lots of my happy chemicals that make everything else so much easier. But I listen to what my body tells me it needs. Some days it needs rest. I admit that I am not crazy about those days, but I finally passed Body Logic 101 and know I have to give it what needs to fight another day.
People ask me, “How do you find the time for all this?” I just do. It’s that simple. This is “The Life Project” and without it I’m not living. I’m just working and existing. I’ve managed to arrange my schedule so that “all this” fits. No, it isn’t always perfect, but planning is crucial. And I’m pretty rigid about my time to maintain “all this.” Here’s the journal entry from the day in July of 2013 I was on the verge of an important decision: “I have to decide I am worth the time. Time away from the office and computer to exercise. I have to decide I am simply worth it. And I have to decide that my life is worth living. That’s the hard part. Maybe my life would be more worth living if I weren’t so fat and in so much pain. So ok. Let’s do this. It is going to hurt. A lot. But it isn’t going to hurt less if I’m in worse shape than I’m in now."
I am in less pain. My life is worth living and I am worth it. I took the time away from things that weren’t as important as my quality of life is. The journey continues and the struggles continue. But I’m still fighting and I won’t give up. There’s always another alternative to allowing myself to return to hopeless.
That’s the moral to the story.