Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Painful Stumble from Furious to Fit

One fateful day in 2011 I stood before my bathroom mirror and watched myself descend into a full-fledged rage attack. My mere thirty-four years of existence had hit me pretty hard. I was one hundred pounds overweight, riddled with pain, ravaged by illness, and utterly incapable of participating in my own life. Although I had narrowly escaped death and was technically lucky to be alive, it sure didn’t feel that way. I had absolutely no idea how to pick up the shattered pieces of my reality and move forward, but knew I had to do something to curtail the uncontrollable fury gobbling up my sanity. My at-home yoga practice clearly wasn’t doing the trick, so I decided to start running.

But that’s the most misleading way to phrase it. Because I was so out of shape and in so much pain, all I could do was shuffle at a fast trot for five out of every ninety steps. Literally. So that’s what I did, every other day when I walked my dogs. After a few weeks, I was trotting ten steps and walking eighty. Over time I kept whittling away the ratio, until the day finally came when I was running a block at a time. It took many months, and my efforts were rewarded with ungodly amounts of pain. I’d hobble up the stairs, gulp down extra pain meds, and lay around moaning about how bad I hurt. But my rage was tempered, and I even lost a little weight, so my progress kept me going.

Years before, in the early days of my journey with chronic illness, I started researching nutrition. This inspired me to try pretty much every diet, cleanse, potion, philosophy, and ideology imaginable claiming to offer the true key to health. While none of them fixed me, the more I shunned preservatives, chemicals, refined, and processed, the better I felt. Marginally. I delved deeper into my quest to understand the human body’s relationship with food and uncovered the startling truth about the dangers of yo-yo dieting. For the first time in my life it became urgently clear whatever modifications I decided to implement had to be forever. I’d already used up more than my nine lives and didn’t have another to spare! So I changed tiny little things at a time. Initially it was really basic, like not eating takeout as often or stuffing myself so full of food I felt like a sausage ready to explode. After I lived with a lifestyle adjustment for a while, I’d embark upon another. Over the course of a couple years I became a pretty clean eater, with plenty of cheating thrown in to satiate my human factor. I wasn’t striving for perfection; my target was longevity.

One day in early 2013 I went into my closet and grabbed a pair of “skinny” pants that had been collecting dust for half a decade. Imagine my surprise when they not only slid past my hips, but buttoned perfectly at the waist! However, when I turned around, I was shocked to discover they were actually baggy in the butt. Exercise and clean eating helped rejuvenate my metabolism, but I was still a sick girl on a slew of medications and the weight loss wasn’t happening proportionately. Adding a fifteen-minute abs routine to my yoga DVD a couple times a week wasn’t an instant fix, but once again, it helped.

Shortly thereafter it dawned on me exercise no longer hurt, but eased my suffering so much it actually felt worse when I slacked off. Couple that with a diet of whole, natural food, and I was hardly taking pain medicine at all anymore. Then one night after dinner at my mom’s house the unthinkable happened. Without a second thought, I jumped up to clear the table and help with the dishes for the first time in years. It was a stunning moment that seemed to prove the crux of my nightmare was firmly rooted in the past. Except in my own mind, it wasn’t. I was still sick, still disabled, and despite all my progress, so sick and tired of being sick and tired I was anything but happy.

Watching a documentary about juicing vegetables to alleviate chronic illness spurred my next lifestyle alteration. Although I’d tried juicing before, only to discover it was no miracle cure, my desperation encouraged me to give it another whirl. After some nasty experimentation, whereupon I learned I absolutely despise onion juice, I found drinking my daily dose of veggies exponentially stabilized my chronic pain and sickness. But the benefits didn’t stop there. I immediately cut my food consumption in a third because I just wasn’t hungry. My body stopped craving fuel for distraction, pleasure, or any reason other than honest-to-goodness hunger. It didn’t take long for me to lose more weight.

So of course in the spring of 2014 I went and injured my feet, rendering myself unable to run. Terror over regaining all the weight I shed, pain I diminished, and disease I wrangled my life back from propelled me to the gym for the first time since I became disabled in 2006. Until I walked in the front door. The reality of mingling with a bunch of buffed-out muscle heads was so intimidating, I almost turned around and left in tears without lifting a single dumbbell. But I didn’t. That determination was soon rewarded when my “skinny” clothes went from baggy to falling off. The need to replace my wardrobe yielded the shock of my life. Somehow, in my quest to break the cycle of constant and pervasive illness, I’d gone from a size sixteen to a six. It’s an accomplishment I’ve effortlessly maintained for well over a year.

Today I credit exercise and nutrition with giving me much of my life back. While I still struggle with pain and sickness, my symptom severity has improved enough to start moving forward once again. But my journey toward health is nowhere near over. I continue to research and adapt the food I fuel my body with in small, maintainable ways. I’m constantly finding new ways to challenge myself at the gym while respecting the limitations of my illness. And I still cheat all the time. After all, my goal isn’t perfection. It’s longevity.

Thanks for joining,

Many thanks to my readers for all your support over the years. This is my first published article, and I never would have achieved this milestone if you hadn't believed in me and kept reading!   

#chronicillness #chronicpain #pain #exercise #weightloss #diet #fibromyalgia

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Perils of Gainful Employment

A little over three months ago I started back to regular, part-time employment. While returning to retail cosmetics has certainly presented me with many challenges, I have to admit the experience is going overwhelmingly well. During the first month, my determination to be successful put me on my best behavior. In an effort to convince my boss hiring a double-stroke survivor with chronic illness and a four-year gap in work history was a wise move, I knew I had to show up every single day with a smile on my face and a fire lit under my bum. To coax such uncharacteristic behavior out of my moody little self, I set some strict parameters. 

First and foremost, I vowed to juice two days worth of fresh veggie juice every other day without fail, convinced it would keep my immune system boosted enough that I wouldn't descend into a devil-woman viral flare. Shock and awe, it worked. Although a good night's sleep and decent workout at the gym quickly became a distant memory, I felt good. So good, my mortal fear of winding up back on pain killers turned out to be completely unwarranted. The timing also coincided with lent. This year I decided to give up beer, hoping my ginormous sacrifice would serve double-duty to help keep my health stable. While I don't drink more than once a week, and certainly not the night before I work, I'm still a reformed party girl who likes to get a good buzz on. In hindsight, I can begrudgingly admit only imbibing in a couple Moscow Mules twice over a forty-day period helped my fragile well-being, a little. Even if by the time Good Friday hit I was an uptight freak-show who desperately needed to let her hair down. 

In the second month I fell out. I slacked off on juicing, had to do some major making up with Dos Equis to compensate for our forty day breakup, and the first month of not sleeping brutally caught up with me. That devil-woman mood not only reared its ugly head, I descended into what I call the "Mid-2015 Anger Phase." I got myself all bent out of shape about a variety of lame injustices corporate America delivers to its lowly store-level employees. Then my frustration with my demanding, overly-entitled customer base got the best of me. This led me to start fixating on my problems, not my blessings. In turn, I got really pissed off about even getting sick in the first place and how incredibly hard my journey has been. Of course, it didn't take long for my bitterness to take over. Although I know this complex web of my own devise well, I failed to recognize when it was happening. So much so, I threw a couple tantrums. Not with tears or anything, but more of a desperate outpouring of my insecurities and frustrations all over a few coworkers. And plenty of attitude shoved at some others who had gone out of their way to be unhelpful.

Luckily, in the third month I simultaneously got a grip and found my acceptance. I realized juicing only a couple times a week wasn't doing nearly enough to keep me from ping-ponging from flare to flare. While I couldn't do much about my insomnia, short of working mainly closing shifts, I knew juicing was 34% of the reason my health was stable enough to allow me to return to work in the first place. So I upped the frequency, and vowed to shell out wads of cash for the store-made stuff when I didn't have time to do it myself. I also refocused on ignoring any and all negativity at every cost. Squashing my own distorted perceptions until I could sort out my errant emotions from objective reality was the only way I'd moved my life forward, and I wasn't about to backslide now!   

Of course, good intentions and an attitude adjustment don't magically erase the perpetual flare cycle I'm desperate to vacate. In fact, I literally have six huge boils erupting all over my face right now, which is especially helpful when trying to convince Mrs. Beverly Hills with too much Botox she needs my $380 face cream, not the one from the next counter over. I've also totally backslid at the gym, which is desperately depressing after all my hard work. But I'm as determined as ever to reclaim my progress and continue moving my life forward, knowing full-well getting this beast back to managed will take months. 

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#chronicillness #fibromyalgia #fibro #work