Yes, I too have my own health concerns and have been dealing with many of them for decades. Much of the time, these issues were minor annoyances that I learned to live with. But a perfect storm created in the last few years brought them all to a head at the same time - knocking me down like I have never been knocked down before.
The end of 2015 and all of 2016 brought a great deal of stress, changes, and health issues to my family. Though I was not directly involved in some instances, I had to watch someone I loved and cared for suffer. I wanted to fix things, but couldn't. I wanted to change what life had handed them, but it was beyond my control. I felt useless at a time when I just wanted to make things better
Some things directly impacted me and I had to be physically involved in the process. Added errands, appointments, phone calls, and trying to make sense of someone else's paper work left little time for me to take care of my own stuff. I became forgetful, distracted, and exhausted. Somehow, autopilot kicked in and things got done, but I often made it through the day in a complete fog.
Some of the minor annoyances I had dealt with started to have a major impact on my life. Sudden skin rashes, chronic digestive issues, anxiety attacks, and the feeling that my muscles were in a constant state of contraction were occurring more frequently and with much more force. Certainly my stress level was affecting my health, but I knew there was more going on than just stress.
I had been seeing a chiropractor and receiving monthly massages for a couple of years. My hip was out of alignment (probably from a sprain I suffered years ago), my right leg was shorter than my left, and all of the muscles on the right side of my body were tight and shortened. A quick adjustment and a therapeutic massage would bring everything back into alignment, but this only lasted a few hours.
I tried naprapathy with the same result - temporary relief, but quickly the contraction came back as my hip fell out of alignment.
My primary doctor - well, he said it was probably just a muscle strain and prescribed some muscle relaxers.
In 2017 when the stress diminished, my symptoms remained. My chiropractor became concerned and ordered a battery of tests including a blood test and an x-ray.
The x-ray showed inflammation of my SI joint as well as osteitis (bone inflammation), consistent with a few types of arthritis. My CRP level was extremely elevated, red blood cell and white blood cell counts low, and a few nutrient deficiencies. Upon receiving the results, my primary care doctor sent me to a rheumatologist.
Fortunately, I tested negative for rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, either of which could have eventually ended my job as a personal trainer. Many other tests, tracking of symptoms, and noting my response to various treatments led to a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune disease. Like other autoimmune diseases, PsA occurs when the body mistakes healthy tissue for a foreign invader and begins to attack; in this case, the healthy tissue being attacked includes the skin and joints. This attack triggers inflammation which causes pain and stiffness.
Most of the other issues I have are also common symptoms of PsA. Digestive problems have plagued me for years and I have been tested for a variety of diseases, from celiac to Crohn's disease. My skin rashes were attributed to allergies, though I always tested negative for those things that might cause my symptoms.
Anxiety and muscle contractions became entangled in a feedback loop that seemed almost impossible to stop. A little bit of stress sent my muscles into contraction, which triggered an anxiety attacked, which caused my muscles to contract even more . . . and on, and on, and on.
My "family of fibroids", as my doctor calls them, has grown and have expanded the size of my uterus to what it would be if I were 4 months pregnant. This adds strain to my back and leaves my SI joint vulnerable to more pain and inflammation. My "family" has grown too large to be removed simply, so I have decided to live with them rather than having my abdomen cut and sewn back together. Fortunately, with decreasing estrogen from menopause (that is another story in itself!), the family will stop growing.
So, why am I revealing all of this now? For a few reasons.
First, I have made it to the other side. I hit a roadblock in life that I couldn't get over, so I just went around it. Most of my symptoms have subsided and I have learned to recognize them and deal with them before they become out of control.
I didn't share all of this with too many people because I wanted to spend my time with family and friends relaxing and enjoying, not dwelling on how crappy I felt. Some well-meaning, though not fully-informed, people who noticed my pain, saw me limp, or recognized my escalating stress level offered well-intentioned advice.
I found it funny that so many suggested that maybe I should stop exercising for awhile; maybe I was overdoing it. Even one doctor offered the same suggestion.
But, truly, exercise kept me going. Sometimes it just offered a diversion so my mind could focus on something positive. Most of the time, it eased the pain as I increased blood flow, moved my joints through their range of motion, and gave my muscles a time to relax and lengthen.
Yes, I had to make some changes. I stopped lifting heavy weights, stopped loading my back, stopped jumping, and stopped anything that was high impact. Instead, I added functional movements, stretching, more yoga, and resistance work using bands.
I stopped long distance bike rides, but added long walks. I haven't kayaked in over a year (the side to side motion was tough on my SI joint), but have been on my paddleboard many, many times this year.
A few weeks ago I was sitting on my deck enjoying my morning cup of coffee. A hummingbird whizzed by and I quickly turned to watch it head to the feeder. At that moment I noticed something different. The constant pain is gone!
As of today, it is still gone. I have slowly begun to add more resistance to my workouts and feel great. I feel ready to run, jump, and slam some heavy bags around, but I won't. Not yet.
I still have pain in my joints occasionally. My SI joint is still healing and my hands, feet, and knees are susceptible to flare ups. But the pain is mild and short-lived.
What, exactly, did I do to stop the pain? Anything I could. My rheumatologist prescribed anti-inflammatories and anti-anxiety medication which I took for awhile. They took the edge off and probably helped control the anxiety/pain loop, but I don't like taking medication just to mask the symptoms. I pay close attention to my diet, have become more careful about what I put on my skin, rest when my body needs it, and give my brain and thoughts a break through a daily walk, meditation, or even just a good book. I pay attention to what I need, and I do it.
I have worked with many people, as clients, class participants, or co-workers who have dealt with their own health issues. Unfortunately, I have watched many of these people give up the things that are good for them and simply succumb to their illness. I am always puzzled when I hear of someone dealing with pain or illness who has chosen to stop exercising, gives up on their quest of eating well, and just gives in to the suffering.
The second reason I share this story is because I work with many clients who are dealing with health and life issues that are far more difficult than anything I have gone through. As a Health Coach and Personal Trainer, I have worked with people suffering from illnesses such as early onset Alzheimers, Parkinson's disease and fibromyalgia, as well as those who have been forever physically changed due to a stroke or an accident.
Yet, they don't give up - they show up!
Like the rest of us, life knocks them down sometimes, but they get back up. They come to all of their appointments and continue to follow the program on their own. They have many "reasons" to feel sorry for themselves and to throw in the towel. Their time and energy is limited, but they carve out that one hour per day to take care of themselves knowing it is one thing they can control. They may not always want to drag themselves out of the house, but after their workout, they feel better than they had all day.
They don't make excuses - they make it happen. They harness every bit of strength, motivation and determination, either to beat the illness, or to avoid letting the illness beat them down. I am truly amazed and inspired by these clients!
I have had many people mention how "lucky" I am because I am in good shape, have nothing wrong (they didn't know), and have tons of energy. It's not luck - it's hard work. It's paying attention to yourself and then taking the action needed to fix things. It's not giving up. It's not blind acceptance.
It's all about choosing to be your best you. Some days your best you may not be so great, and that's OK. You may be having a hard day, experiencing more stress at work, or feeling exhausted. You might have a breakdown. It happens to all of us. Recognize what is happening, address it as well as you can, and move forward.
Choose to feel better, if even for a few minutes, and take action. Chronic pain is exhausting and, because of it, I had to change my workout. But, I didn't stop my workout. On the bad days, I did some gentle stretching and restorative yoga. On the not-so-bad days, I did what my body could handle. And on some days, what my body needed was rest, so I rested.
The final reason I am sharing this is as a reminder that much of what we are given is temporary. I had no idea how things were going to play out and was unsure of what life would be like. But I knew what I did not want and did what I could to avoid certain outcomes. And now that the storm is over, I am as strong as ever and, in some ways, even stronger.
Don't give up and don't lose hope. Take steps, however small, to take care of yourself. And if you get knocked down, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and move on - "For the Health of It".
"Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly"
Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your story. Feel free to contact me at any time with questions, concerns, or just to chat!
Learn more by visiting my website www.cinergydynamics.com, or find me on social media @cinergydynamics.