Saturday, January 21, 2012

Putting Pain Into Perspective

So far this week has been very difficult for me physically.  It has been a bad week for fatigue and joint/muscle pain making work and workouts very unpleasant.  I realize that I am going to have these weeks and there is nothing to do but get through them.  Since my attitude is flagging a little bit, I am trying to put some things into perspective.

As a rule, my workweek defines my health week because of the patterns of my sleep schedule.  Tuesdays is the first night of work and generally speaking, I do not sleep at all.  I wake up Monday morning and then go around the clock until Tuesday morning.  Then I am on a daytime sleeping schedule until Sunday, when I nap during the day but sleep a full night.  Mondays are a day off and my patterns are normal.  I have tried on occasion to stay on a night schedule on Sundays and Mondays but it is too hard and I require at least one day of sunshine and normality.  The body knows that night is the time for sleeping and unless I am forced to stay awake, it's just not happening.

I made a mistake on Tuesday for which I am still paying dues.  I ran myself into a state of total depletion by forgetting my nutrition.  Tuesday night I paid and paid and paid for that.  I managed my workouts on Wednesday, although I felt miserable, and on Thursday I got  so dizzy and lightheaded during my intervals that I cut the workout short.  I took yesterday off.  I will run and swim tonight and revisit those intervals tomorrow.

Still, even if I get it all done by the end of the week, somehow I feel like I have failed.  Usually I refrain from writing posts when I feel totally dejected about my performance until after I have spoken to DW.  His way of showing everything in a positive light really helps.  But this is something I need to find terms with on my own.

The effects of the gluten and dairy sensitivities, the raging inflammation that they cause, all of the autoimmune issues that result are something I need to learn to live with.  I made a mistake on Tuesday.  For me, the price of mistakes like that is very high.  However, I am as human as they come and mistakes will happen.  These mistakes, when they happen, feel like huge setbacks and can be very demoralizing.  It does not mean that I am hopeless, a bad athlete, or that I should give up and resign myself to a two dimensional life.   They are just mistakes, albeit painful ones, and the longer I do this, the fewer I will make.

During my twenties, I was a successful martial arts practitioner, undefeated against the women for a number of years before I began seeking special permission to compete in the men's divisions.  While I trained very hard and took care of myself the best way I knew how, I was very, very sick the whole time. The fact that I was young and stubborn allowed me to compensate for this with will and discipline.  That fell apart after a series of injuries that led to two knee surgeries and over a year of physical therapy for my back.  I had to take downtime to heal.  A LOT of downtime.

I always had a saying that if I ever stop moving, I won't be able to start again.  I was about to find out how true that was.  For the next seven years, I froze up, fattened up and got progressively more ill.  I began to genuinely believe that I was fundamentally unhealthy.  I also believed that I was going to die young.

By the summer of 2008, I was in so much pain I could not perform my job, I was nearing 100 lbs overweight, my athletic life was totally trashed, and my body was a mess.  I remember one morning after calling someone to finish my work, something I had never done before, I stood in the bathroom in front of the mirror.  The spasms in my back had twisted my left shoulder down several inches below the right, springing my shoulder blade outward and causing my collarbone to point at a 45 degree angle to the floor.  I was taking 25 ibuprofen to get through a night and the doctor handed me a prescription for oxycontin to manage pain without destroying my heart.  I was totally shocked!  I tore it up as soon as I got into the car but refused to take any more ibuprofen.   I quit my steady job and began working on independent basis so that my obligation was never more than two weeks long, since I had no idea on any day if I could manage it again tomorrow.  I limped through the end of that year, barely functioning.

By January of 2009, I felt like I was totally out of options.  I did the one thing I knew how to do.  All that martial arts training taught me one thing... when in doubt, go to the gym.  I walked into the gym and met a brilliant personal trainer.  We began working together and I started a very long road back to health.  At that point, I couldn't life my arms up high enough to wash my hair.  Every night, working had me gasping for breath and to the point of tears.  Slowly, CE's program began to stabilize my body.  I started dropping some of the weight and the pain began to subside a little.  As I got stronger, I added cardio to the program.  A little swimming, biking and running, but not too much of anything so that I didn't irritate any old injuries.  (You might guess where this ended up going.)

As time went by, I got stronger and stronger.  The more I demanded of myself, the more apparent it became, to CE and I both, that something was wrong.

However the illness was progressing.  It came to a head roughly two and a half years ago when after a particularly bad bout of fatigue, I sent myself in for some blood work.  After the tests, I became lightheaded.  My blood pressure and heart rate plummeted.  I passed out, "brady-ed out" and departed this world for about two minutes.  After my return to this material world, I then found out that I was going to spend all my money on cardiologists and their tests to determine what happened.  (Of course thousands of declined-by-my-insurance-company dollars later, they have no clue.)

Today, I understand that I what is going on with my body.  I am working on controlling it.  I am accepting that it will not be perfect.  There is a learning curve but I am healthier than I have ever been.  I am gaining more and more control by the day and even though sometimes it seems like I am making so many mistakes that make me so ill, at one point I was so much more ill all the time that I thought it was normal!  It is by comparison to my now much healthier self that it seems like such a diseased state.

Sometimes it seems like I have so much road ahead of me.  It seems audacious to the point of ridiculous that I would attempt to train this broken body into the well-oiled machine of a triathlete.  I have a system wide problem plus a laundry list of old injuries.  It feels hopeless.  Still, my worst day today is far better than my best day two years ago.  For once in my life, it seems prudent to save for retirement.  Perhaps when the road ahead seems too long, I need to turn my head and take a peek at the road behind.

But while I do, I'd best keep the handlebars steady and keep turning the cranks or I might fall over!

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