"Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person's physical, emotional, and mental states". ~ Carol Welch
It is two o'clock in the morning and I have to go to the bathroom. I try to get out of the bed and realize that I cannot physically get my body to sit up. I am too weak and don't have the strength to even get myself to the edge of the bed. I wake up my fiance, who was probably half awake anyways, so he can help me get out of the bed just to use the bathroom. I am frustrated and scared.
Three months go by.
It is eight o'clock in the morning and I am staring down a very large machine called a cross trainer. Seems like the biggest bang for my buck as it will give me a good cardiovascular work out with minimal impact on the already painful parts of my body. I expect to last three minutes on it. I start and my legs and arms just keep going and going. I am on it for twenty-five minutes. I am exhilarated.
I have won.
I found out three months ago that in addition to having Sjogren's syndrome, I was afflicted with a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre, which was causing severe body weakness, difficulty walking, and severe pain to the point that I wished I was dead. Even the simplest of tasks was difficult. Guillain-Barre arrives like a freight train, does its damage, and leaves. I was extremely lucky that I had a milder version of it and was started on steroids relatively quickly which may have lessened the blow of the illness. I was never completely paralyzed and did not end up on a ventilator like some people do. I still count my blessings every day about that.
I have been working my tail off ever since January to get better. I already had several strikes against me due to the Sjogren's syndrome and the Guillain-Barre, along with some blood clots in my lungs; all of which presented more obstacles in my recovery than I knew what to do with. Physical therapy was, and sometimes still is, brutal and exhausting. In addition to all the previously mentioned diagnoses, I was also diagnosed with occipital neuralgia in February. This has resulted in severe head pain and headaches. Yet another obstacle. Or an excuse, depending on how you want to look at it.
But even on my worse days, I stuck with the physical therapy and as the weeks progressed, I started to notice a significant improvement in my strength. I no longer fell over when I crouched down to get a pot or pan out of the lower kitchen cabinet. I could lift a plant above my head again. Taking a shower was a routine task again although I must admit, I don't take my ability to do that for granted anymore. Come to think of it, I don't take my ability to do anything physical for granted anymore.
My most recent goal in physical therapy, besides getting the occipital neuralgia under control, was to get back into the gym. I was exercising in one way or another before this whole fiasco began in January which to be honest, is no small feat because of the Sjogren's syndrome. I am frequently plagued by joint pain, muscle pain, neurological pain, breathing difficulties, and the list goes on and on. Some days I would go to the gym and some days I would take a walk with my dog. I was usually not exercising to the point of winning any marathons, but I have found that pushing myself to get physical activity whenever possible has been helpful with my Sjogren's symptoms; provided that I do it within reason. Not to mention all the other excellent health benefits.
I had been going to a Planet Fitness in town and had decided that instead of renewing my membership there, I was going to try a different gym that had a pool. My reason for this was that my Sjogren's issues were occurring more frequently and if I had access to a pool, I may be able to get exercise in the pool on days that I would typically be too sick to exercise. It would be less impact on my joints. Problem was, I was hit with the Guillain-Barre before I had the chance to join this new gym. I was recently cleared by my physical therapist to get back to the gym. Unfortunately I had a fall three weeks ago and still have an open wound which will keep me out of the pool right now, but there were so many other things I could do at the gym besides swim.
If I could just get the courage to go.
Here's the thing: I was scared. I felt comfortable at my old gym. It was simple and familiar. There has been so much upheaval in my life over the past few months with my health and I find that I am not quite as open to change and new surroundings as I was once. I feel more vulnerable. I feel the need to protect myself. I have always been self conscious about how I look and gyms have always been intimidating to me; especially one like this that is not simply laid out and where I do not know anyone. All of a sudden I felt very insecure about this new place with its different machines, new classes, and unfamiliar rules. It was my insecurity at its finest you could say.
Today was the day to just do it. I was hesitant at first because I was having more joint and muscle pain than in past weeks and my head was acting up after the physical therapist worked on it extensively yesterday. But I had previously chosen today to start going because except for some blood work, I had no doctor appointments or other pressing commitments that I could not get out of if I had to. So if I was down for the count afterwards, so be it!
And guess what?
I loved it.
When I got to the gym this morning, I asked about signing up for their free two session orientation and the staff person that was working the desk, Tom, talked to me about what I specifically wanted help with. This of course led to a conversation about my physical therapy, why I was doing it, my diagnosis etc. He immediately put me at ease and gave me a lot of various ideas about different work outs, especially in regards to classes and the pool. All of a sudden, I didn't feel so overwhelmed. I felt like this was doable. I felt more secure.
I decided that today I was going to do my physical therapy exercises at the gym instead of at home and get an aerobic workout as well. I spotted the cross trainer, which is similar to an elliptical but looked more difficult as there was an incline. I liked the fact that it overlooked the pool area where I could observe a water aerobics class while I was working out. Besides some walking with my dog over the past week, I have not had any aerobic activity since maybe around Christmas and I anticipated that I would be starting from square one again. I jokingly told Tom that if I lasted three minutes without keeling over, that would be sufficient and I would move on to a bike or a treadmill, both of which had a lesser chance of making me pass out. We figured out, based on my age and recent physical issues, that my maximum heart rate should be around 140.
I don't know what the deal was, but I was on that thing for twenty-five minutes. Granted the machine was at the easiest incline and resistance, but who cares?? Maybe it was all those physical therapy sessions or hours and hours of doing exercises in my living room. Maybe three months on a new eating plan has helped. Who knows. I was surprised at how much endurance I had and how well I did cardiovascular wise. Not that it was easy, but I got through the twenty-five minutes unscathed. After so many long months of being in bed or on the couch, it felt so good to be sweating and to be able feel my heart pumping so fast again.
It felt good to be out of the house.
To be having fun.
To be able to out one foot in front of the another.
To trust my body not to fall apart.
I know that this morning's work out will probably wipe me out this evening and maybe even the next several days to come. There will be Motrin involved, maybe some stronger pain medication if I am desperate. Hot packs will once again be my new best friend. I also know that due to the Sjogren's syndrome, exercising of any type will always be a constant battle for me; probably one that I will have to deal with every single day of my life. But for today, I feel like I can say that I have conquered yet one more obstacle on my path to wellness and healing.
And you know what?
It feels pretty amazing.
Photos Courtesy of Google Images