“No pain no gain” couldn’t be more wrong – A guest post by Eli S.
“Working out and being active is something I’ve really grown to love as an adult. While I’m not as passionate about fitness as Katelyn, my love of all things outdoors, dance and movement-related, has likely kept me relatively fit. Only a few years ago did I really start to become interested in working out for my heart’s health and bodily fitness. I was a cheerleader and dancer all throughout my youth, but I was never “skinny” like the other girls who participated in Irish Dance with me. Now, I am 24 and interested in becoming more “in-shape” and growing stronger. I especially see Katelyn doing the best she can for her body, and hot damn, do I wish I could do it. I recognize that I won’t be young forever, and that I have a responsibility to take care of my body. I have one big obstacle: I have a mystery, un-diagnosed, chronic pain problem. And it can be disabling.
If you’re familiar with medical terminology at all, here are some fun details: I have chronic muscle spasms and pain in my neck, upper back, shoulders and pectorals. Some days the pain is sharp, others it is dull, but most days everything is tight, uncomfortable and cracks a lot. Every day is a new adventure. I never know how the night will go; will I wake up a few times from the pain?, will I sleep wrong and ruin the next few days?, or will it actually be restful? We have identified no triggers for new spasms or pain. Every day is literally a surprise.
This affects my life in numerous ways, but one of the most frustrating is my ability to stay on a consistent work-out routine. I really enjoy being active and have to restrict myself quite a bit. For example, I’ve never been able to rock climb, even though I would love to. I can’t go backpacking because I can’t carry the pack. Kayaking is super fun… until my neck and shoulders begin to ache. Same with canoeing. Volleyball is fun too, but I recently learned that’s not a good idea after the pain I was in for a week from playing. Swimming tires my shoulders and neck. Etc. Etc. Etc…
Catching my drift? Physical activity (particularly cardio!), no matter how much I love it and want to do it, continually causes problems for me. I’ve even tried dialing back the level of activity– running, using a stationary bicycle and low-impact Zumba, but all have painful results.
It’s really hard to pursue a desire to improve your body and your health when movement and strain cause significant pain and discomfort. This experience with being unable to work-out and lift the way I’d like to has sparked my interested in helping people (including myself) be as healthy and fit as possible in alternative ways- particularly when you can’t work out as your peers do. I’ve come up with some personal rules for myself and some guidelines for being friends with someone who has struggles similar to mine.
I experience a lot of frustration with my body when it comes to exercise and recreational activity. There are so many things I want to do, but I either cannot, or I am afraid to do so. I actually experience a lot of anxiety about my pain. One thing I’ve learned about trying to be fit and healthy while sick is this, and this is key: set realistic expectations.
I think everyone should do this, but particularly people with disabilities or illnesses that impede their ability to work-out. In order to do this, you have to really know your body and accept whatever it is that is happening to you. Maybe it’s pride that needs overcoming, or embarrassment– whatever it is, you owe it to yourself to accept it and let it sink in. You have to accept, and respect, your limitations.
This is not easy.
While my peers may be running 2 miles daily, lifting weights, and looking amazing, here I am managing about 30 minutes of Zumba and hurting for days afterwards. And maybe going on walks. Oh, and my constant routine of stretching, icing, heating and resting whichever muscle I can in effort to alleviate my discomfort. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m finally at a place where I can accept what I am able to do; what is “pushing it,” and what is off limits.
Here brings us to the next rule: Be proud of what you can do. Daily. It’s so easy to overlook small accomplishments, but you need to force yourself to celebrate them, even if you feel silly. Whether you take pride in a workout you do or you managed to sleep all night (which is also part of a fit lifestyle!), be proud!
In concordance with these guidelines, you must also change your expectations for the way you look. I can’t look toned and strong right now, but I have accept that. Again, be proud of the small things.
And, lastly, my biggest, biggest, biggest rule is this: listen to your doctor/physical therapist/chiropractor and ask a lot of specific questions. Working out and lifting while chronically ill or injured can’t be something you do on your own, unfortunately. You need medical professionals helping you along the way so you don’t make yourself worse. Along with this, most important rule, part two; don’t be afraid to ask for something or to say no to an activity. I’ll be the first one to admit I feel like a huge, whiney idiot when I ask my friends if I can have the last chair when, like, 10 people don’t have one, but I guarantee they don’t see you as a whiney idiot. They don’t want to you hurt any more than you want to be hurting. If anyone you think is your friend starts legitimately whining about your limitations, they’re not really your friend.
Being sick or injured is hard. It’s stressful. And you can’t do it alone.
You need support; friends and family to keep you going. So, here are my guidelines for YOU, friends and family members…
DON’T GIVE US ADVICE. AND DON’T QUESTION OUR DOCTORS. We’ve probably heard it all. If you want to find out more about our situation, just ask. If you’re curious about something, ask. If you have an idea about what may be a great workout option, ask if we’ve tried it first. Don’t just tell me to do yoga. Also, I’d absolutely love it if you did my easy, low impact workout with me. If you want to accompany me, please offer to do so. Working out is hard, but working out when you’re scared of pain is harder, and is best done with a friend. I know my workout probably won’t be super challenging for you, but any activity is good, right? This can also go the other way– invite me to do things you know I can do! One of the most challenging things for me (and everyone else, right?) is motivation! Invite me to do something you know I can do! I have to miss out on all the fun trampolining, skydiving, volleyball, swimming, and rock climbing, which sucks. A mid-afternoon hike sounds awesome, however. So does yoga.
I know I’ve thrown a lot of thoughts and information out there. The biggest thing I’d like people to take away from my experience is understanding that all bodies are different and some bodies simply can’t work-out at the level people think they should be or at the level they want to. I hate when people judge me for being sedentary- but then again, those people don’t really know anything about me. So, remember to listen to your body and your doctor and take it slow. Your health is more important than having a six pack or benching 100 pounds. And, all you friends out there, keep being understanding and focusing on what we can do- we may not say it all the time, but we appreciate it immensely.” – Eli
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Wow. I have to be honest with you and say that when I asked Eli to write a guest post for the blog I was extremely surprised when this masterpiece is what she came back at me with. I’ve known this girl for upwards of 2.5 years now, and I absolutely never realized the extent to which her pain inhibited her. But how can that be? I mean, I’d like to think know her pretty well…
I truly believe it’s because she never outwardly complained about her pain. Ever. And she never let it hold her back in ways that she made public.
That’s absolutely amazing in my eyes; to be dealing with physical pain and discomfort on a chronic level, and never once letting that inhibition show through. I could never be that strong.
Eli, thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this blog, but more than that, thank you for being so ridiculously strong all the time. You may not be able to throw around dumbbells with me in the gym, but when it comes to emotional strength, you could outlift me ANY day.