Figuring out how to manage your chronic conditions is often a years-long work in process that never really ends. My newest experiment is a continuation of my on-again, off-again relationship with exercise.
Exercise has never come easy for me. I’m not naturally athletic and having back surgery twice only compounded my lack of athletic ability and inclination. I’ve never experienced a runner’s high or anything else after working out except fatigue and soreness: sometimes not in a good way.
I’ve done physical therapy multiple times over the years, but never really got a lot out of it. Most physical therapists have never seen anything like my back and don’t really know how to work with it. This just left me more and more discouraged.
I tried yoga in college despite my doctor’s advice and regretted it. I like to walk and I’m fine on the elliptical because it doesn’t put a strain on my joints that are already under great strain due to my spinal fusions. However, I really wanted to do something that would develop my torso muscles and core: to support my spine.
Still and unyielding muscles cause a great deal of my pain and joint degeneration. I continue to do acupuncture as regularly as possible to get them moving again, but I needed to support this work with exercise. I kept coming up empty (aside from planks—planks are incredibly hard, but about the only thing I’ve found that worked on my muscles).
My body has developed all types of compensation techniques to make up for my lack of limited spine movements. At this point, it’s not even something I do consciously, but I need it to stop. Finally, I decided to do Pilates after hearing about it here and there as something those who have struggled to do yoga do instead. The focus is on core strength and I decided to give it a shot.
As anyone reading this blog knows, I am pretty open to trying new stuff although I try not to be too quick to purchase any promised fad or jump on the most popular trend of the moment (which is why it took me over a year or so to get a weighted blanket…that and the price came down when more companies started making them). But I am always tempted because I am often hopeful that this will be the thing that really helps, that makes a difference, that will set me up for years of health and strength.
So I’m giving Pilates my best shot. I signed up for private classes to start (the only way someone like me can really get started and give it a real try is to make sure that my instructor knows my limits and can work with them and, moreover, help me to do so). I went three times last week which was pretty much most of my physical energy for the week, but so far I am hopeful, really truly hopeful.
I not only met instructors who have lots of ideas for exercises that will help me strengthen my core and my back, instead of just washing their hands of me, but I also felt sore in those muscles after working out for the first time in a very long time. Good sore, workout sore, not that I damaged them sore. If you’re anything like me, you know there’s good sore and bad sore. Good sore makes you stronger, and bad sore…well, it doesn’t.
They also helped me identify when and how I was compensating for my muscles and how to stop my body from doing that. So I’m going to keep trying, keep hoping, throwing my energy and resources into hoping that I will learn to retrain my body to learn to use these muscles.
Some of the old habits I have were useful when I was first recovering, but now they’re doing more harm than good. I feel like the last few years have been mentally and physically focused not only retraining my body and mind but also learning to work with them, instead of seeing them as the enemy. I’m hoping that work like this will help me continue that work.
After years of hating my weaknesses and trying to power through pain only to pay for it later, I’m trying to stop seeing my body as separate, as a barrier, as the enemy. It’s hard. It’s so hard when so many perceived limitations come from your body when you have multiple chronic conditions. But trying to work against my body and ignore it didn’t work. Maybe this will.
Photo by Cristian Palmer on Unsplash