Resting, in order to move foreward

I took three weeks, nearly four, off of working out. I didn’t plan it (there is so little that I plan. For years, I’d try to plan and plan events, workouts, careers, but everything always fell by the wayside of chronically ill), it just happened because I was traveling but now that I am back to training, stronger than I was before I left, I’ll be scheduling in longer periods of rest in the future.

Rest is a key factor in training and in healing from an injury or illness. The body doesn’t grow stronger when you workout but when you are at rest. The body repairs itself during sleep and if you don’t rest and sleep, you don’t get stronger, you don’t recover from illness or injury fully, you don’t heal completely.

I preach rest and sleep to my clients all the time. The ones who don’t get nearly enough sleep are all chronically injured and have layers and layers of injury (this is not to say that the casue of chronic injury and illness is due to solely to sleep nor that every person with chronic conditions doesn’t get enough but that this is my experience with my clients) Not by the arbitrary “everyone needs 8 hours of sleep a night” rule (ahem. I need 9 at least, 10 if I am working out but my brother doesn’t need more than 6) but by their own admission. When people come in to see me and every session they tell me, I am so tired or I just want to take a nap, well then, its clear that they are not getting enough rest.

I just took nearly four weeks off of any sort of training. I climbed twice in Kenya, once outside and once at Blue Sky’s climbing gym in Nairobi, I went on a hike outside of Moshi and I did yoga twice. I wasn’t completely inactive but I was hardly training. Besides that, I had a lot of 12 and 18 hour days of just sitting. I am used to biking anywhere from 5-12 miles a day, just commuting, and running, climbing, yoga-ing on top of that. On my second day back to climbing, I moved up a whole grade and comfortably climbed 5.10b all evening. Two days later, I was comfortably climbing one more grade up and tackling some 5.10d problems. Not only that but when my feet slipped off and before, where I would have either fallen or had to take a break, my feet would slip off and I’d pull myself up again and keep going. It felt fantastic to be so refreshed and back on the wall. I wasn’t particularly surprised, though. When my clients who train hard and often take 2-3 week breaks, even though they go into them fretting about ‘losing ground’ or gaining weight, they generally come back stronger. Obviously, in a two-three week break, the body has time to fully recover but I notice that something else happens as well. People come back more coordinated than they were before, nailing the choreography on a move or exercise sequence that had been just out of reach for them previously, as if their brain and body have finally had a chance to catch up to each other.

For me, I also made massive strides forward in healing from Lyme Disease when I began to sleep whenever I needed to. Initially, I slept all the time. 14, 18 hours a day. It was a really hard decision to make as rest is hard to take, especially in a society that values doing and accomplishing. When I finally put getting better at the top of my list of priorities, I had to take a giant step back from life. I stopped going out, worked half-time or less, just to sleep a lot. When I first changed my lifestyle, there were many days when I’d go to sleep at 4pm and sleep straight through until 8 or 9am. For about a year, I’d sleep 12 or 14 hours straight two or three times a week.

With people who are chronically ill or injured, I think that rest is even more important. You have to keep challenging your body to do more, but in a careful, cautious way so as not to trigger a flareup even while continuing to work through flareups and sleep enough to heal from the challenge of workout and illness or injury.

Gratitude

There was a time that, when I thought of myself, the image that came to mind was of an old clay pot, dropped and shattered and badly put back together again. At that time, I was in so much pain, I hobbled when I walked and was so tired that I became anxious at the thought of leaving my apartment. I was 22.

These days, I write posts on healing, on compassion for the body—your body and how to train when dealing with a chronic illness. As I write, I always return to the time that I was sick for understanding, for a way in, for compassion on what my clients and readers are dealing with in their bodies.

Yesterday, I wrote on pain and when I did, I remembered when the pain and the fatigue were hardly indecipherable from each other. I was so tired that it hurt to be awake; I was in so much pain that it exhausted me. I remembered, as I wrote, how weak I used to be, as if a strong breeze could take me down. As I wrote, I recognized how strong and resilient I’ve become and how the sick person I used to be is no longer true.

When I think of myself now, I have an image of a giant trampoline, of its ability to bend deeply to the blows of people landing and regaining its shape so rapidly that it throws them in the air again.

I remember how it used to be, when there was no end in sight of Lyme Disease for me, just an endless slog of days marred by illness. The end of Lyme finally came but it seems that I was so busy living my life that I hardly noticed it until it had passed.

Pain is your body in conversation with you

Pain can be scary. It’s uncomfortable and also indicative of something not right in the body but when it has no obvious source—not a burn nor a fall nor an accident, but just shows up, seemingly out of nowhere, and lingers, it can trigger fear and anxiety, interrupt sleep and make it harder to cope with let alone heal. Especially if you don’t know what to do to fix it.

 PJ-BB600_HEALTH_G_20110704185119I am no stranger to the downward spiral of pain creating fear and anxiety and disrupting my sleep. It begins with pain, becomes more pain and then fear that my body is disintegrating shows up followed by anxiety: am I injuring my body more? The fear and anxiety, I’ve noticed, usually cause the pain to intensify and spread. Lyme is a really painful disease. There were weeks when I couldn’t even walk for the pain in my knees and days when I couldn’t do anything but lay on my back for the spinal pain. At the time, I never knew what set the pain off and, until I was diagnosed with Lyme, no doc or PT I saw could figure out its cause either. The joint pain was so rough that it felt like, just by using my joints, I was contributing to their deterioration. For a dancer and athlete, this was a heartbreaking thought. I gave up so many activities I loved by the time I was twenty and just hoped that I would still be able to walk when I was thirty.

These days, my joints are stable, move fluidly and never even ache but I fully understand what so many of my clients are going through when they come to me because of pain and fear or with anxiety about “What is happening to my body?!”

When pain comes from a straight forward injury, it’s easy to understand and, as tough as it is to deal with it, you have a pretty good sense that the body will heal and the pain will pass. When pain comes from layers of muscular imbalance, skeletal misalignment, compensatory patterns, and inflammation, it can be hard to get to understand the root of it and hard to see an end in sight.

I try to disarm people first. By which I mean, to get them to unload the emotions around pain. We immediately jump to evaluating whatever state we are in: if we’re happy, that’s good. If we’re sad, that’s bad. If we’re in pain, that’s bad. What if, I ask my clients, you could just experience the pain? It is simply a sensation and assigning a negative judgment to it makes it worse. Uncomfortable, yes. Scary, possibly. But bad? No.

In fact, pain is an incredibly useful tool. It is your body in conversation with you. This hurts, it is saying, stop what you are doing because it’s not good for your health and survival. Pain if you touch your hand to a fire–you can see the immediate need to pull your hand away so you don’t burn it off, but pain in the low back from a lifetime of sitting isn’t necessarily as clear a direction. Pain will get you to stop and take a look around and see what isn’t working in your life, where you’re forcing yourself through situations that are hurting your body and make changes. The real trick is, do you stop and listen when your body speaks up? Are you learning how to listen to your body? It is yours, and you’ll be with it your whole life. If you listen now, you’ll be in better shape in the long run.

Fear, Lyme & Nairobi

It has been years since I was in intensive treatment for Lyme Disease. These days, even though my body is healthy, I find that I am still trying to undo the ways that being chronically ill for so long changed me. I hadn’t even noticed when I began to build up my beliefs of not being able and stocking up on fear, even as they came to limit and define me during the time that I was sick. I am finally letting go of them.

Four years ago, I was out nearly every night of the week. I didn’t drink and I didn’t stay out late but it was destroying me all the same. At the time, I was better than I had been in years and I believed that I was as well as I would get. The life I was living was all the life I believed I could have and going out every night of the week, even though I would be gritting my teeth to not yawn on the dance floor, was my clawing, desperate struggle for life. In the mornings, I’d get up and struggle through the near-paralyzing fatigue, yawning through work and stagnating in every aspect of my life.

I still made half-hearted rounds of health care and an acupuncturist I was working with finally asked me, “How often do you go out?”

“All the time,” I said.

“You need to go to bed at 8pm,” she said, “You’re too sick to stay up to ten, eleven, midnight. And no drinking alcohol or coffee.”

I looked at her blankly. 8pm? That wasn’t even dinnertime to me.

The next time I saw her, we had the same conversation. And the following week. And the following, until I ceased to even hear what she was saying. One week, though, she changed it up.

“Just don’t go out on weeknights,” she begged me on a day that I was already calculating when I’d get some sleep against my work schedule and all my plans for the week, through to the weekend, four days later. It clicked and for the first time, I cancelled all plans that week, and the next and then stopped making plans during the week.

I completely flipped. As much as I’d been going out, now I hid under a rock. I slept. I took naps, slept late, stayed in. I stopped working out, at all, and rested. Three years later, I am so bright and have so much more energy than I’ve had in years. I still hardly go out and put sleep first. But I’ve also developed, without realizing it, an intense layer of fear. Fear of disturbing my schedule, fear of not getting enough sleep, fear of anything that might weaken my body and take me down again. Fear of getting sick again.

One of my best friends, one of the ones I used to be out with any night of the week and until all hours of night, is Kenyan and invited me to come with her when she visited her family. Before I was diagnosed, every time I had two coins to rub together, I was off to some part of the world or another. I moved frequently: Ireland, NYC, Italy, California, Costa Rica, bouncing around the world learning languages and having adventures, in spite of or perhaps because I could feel my body and mind disintegrating as Lyme disease pared away at my health. In the years since I was diagnosed and the seemingly interminable years that I was in treatment, I hardly traveled: a flight from San Francisco to San Diego knocked me out so completely that I was in bed for weeks. A four hour drive north meant I never left my hotel room the entire trip. I love to travel and had demurred on visiting her family in the past, always for fear of getting sick. For the way I’ve conflated financial poverty and poor health, my energy level and ability to interact with people.

This year I went. I flew into Nairobi and the next morning, was up with the sun, heading out with Blue Sky Adventures to go rock climbing in Hell’s Gate, three hours drive North West of Nairobi. I was tired, sure. 26 hours of travel and a ten hour time change will do that to a person. But I climbed seven or eight routes all the same, chatted with people and belayed all day. The next day I was up early again, to fly to Moshi, Tanzania and three days later I was heading back to Nairobi and then off to the Masai Mara for a three day safari. I was tired, but not destroyed. I never got sick, never had to limit what I was doing. Once I was back in Nairobi, I met up with my friend. We went out, staying up until five in the morning and then running around during the day. We bounced from her parents house to her sister’s to her good friend’s home. We jetted to Mombasa and ran around Nairobi and I never got sick. It was exhilarating to finally be doing the things I’d told myself that I couldn’t do, things I’d told myself I couldn’t do for so long that I’d come to believe that I never would be able to do them. My trip, as travels do, shifted my perspective about where I come from and what place I have in the world, but this trip also broke through my limiting fears and beliefs about myself. To come home with the new knowledge that I can, that I am able is powerful indeed.

Going backwards in order to go forwards, or: Trusting the process

Once again, I have had to sideline my life as medical appointments take center stage. It is so hard to trust that I am doing the right thing. I have mostly been doing really well for these past several years and, because of that, I’ve been moving and growing in so many areas of my life. Now, once again, I find myself putting these things to the side so that I can focus on my health.

Lyme and tick-borne infections are so hard to heal from. There is no one, established direct route to health. For me, it has very much been like peeling an onion: I deal with one thing and get better, only to discover another layer beneath that needs an altogether different sort of attention and treatment. I am doing so much better—the years when I spent most of my life in bed are long behind me and I hardly worry about flare-ups anymore. It’s been two really fun things that got me motivated to keep going: a trip to NYC and an upcoming trip to Kenya.

I’ve limited travel in my life for years, even though I love it, mainly because, since I got Lyme disease, it’s been really hard on my body. And even though I climbed Mt Shasta and Half Dome (up Snake Dike) last summer and was fine, when I flew to San Diego a few weeks after my Yosemite trip, I ended up in bed for days. So having many long flights looming made me realize that I needed to figure out what it was about travel that limited me so much. My Lyme specialist pointed out that all my symptoms coincide with a lack of oxygen, so I started Hyperbaric Oxygen sessions and my flight to NYC was fine. The flight was a breeze for me, I had no Lyme symptoms or even any fatigue at all. It was like flying used to be for me: just get on a plane and go. So I am committed to the hyperbaric Oxygen treatments in these final weeks before I head off to Kenya—I am so much brighter and more awake with them—but as I shunt the central parts of my life off to the side to make room for daily sessions (and lets face it, with getting to the office, getting setup, having a 90 minute session and then getting home, it’s a full three hours of my day), I find myself nervous and anxious about all the things that I am not doing: the book I am not writing, the friends and lover I am not seeing, my art projects that sit in a pile in my mind, wondering when I get them done. Schedule-wise, I am back to where I was years ago, when all I did was go to work, go to doctors’ appointments and sleep. These days, I am again running a narrow circuit in my life and the things that give me the most joy, the things that I value so much are left by the wayside. It is true, I know, that without health, I have nothing. I have experienced that already and this is why I am once more fully engaged in treatments that are working (and incredibly, without side-effects, if you can imagine that): because I know that I without my full health, I won’t be able to do the things I most want to do and enjoy and engage in. But it is so hard to be in the middle of letting go of the things that matter in order to take care of health concerns that don’t bother me in my daily life. It is hard to trust the process, hard to trust that I’ll get through these next six weeks and my life will still be waiting for me at the other end.

Six weeks isn’t long, I know, but it’s once again a return to where I was so many years ago. I was living in NYC when I was diagnosed and left to move in with my parents because I was so very sick. I got through so many years of sick with the belief, that somehow, when it was all over, I could just go back and pick up where I left off. And then I visited NYC last month, a full decade after I left, and finally had to face that I still fostered some fairytale belief that this whole Lyme diapause thing has all been a terrible dream. The city has changed; I have changed. I am no longer 24, my friends have moved on. So jumping into six weeks of treatments, six weeks of putting my life on hold, is terrifying. What happens at the end? Do I have to rebuild my life from the ground up? Intellectually, I know that this is an absurd fear, that six weeks is nothing, but in my heart, it’s me once again grappling with the world moving by while I sit and wait for my body to heal.

Hyperbaric O2 Treatment Number One

After the session, my eyes were open wider than they have ever been, I could not find a trace of fatigue anywhere in my body and my mind was awake and fresh and bright in the way that I am looking for but never find when I drink coffee.

I am pissed! Is this what healthy people feel like? Or could feel like if they took care of themselves? In this moment of brilliant mental clarity I am aware, more than at any other time, of how much I lost in those Lyme years.

I want to feel like this all the time.

On Knowing Myself in Motion

I was on the wall last week and as I was working my way up a challenging route, the thought percolated up to me: I know myself best when I am in motion.

When I am climbing, as when I am running or dancing, doing yoga or pilates, capoeira or boxing, walking, biking, swimming or any of the myriad other sports that I have done throughout my life, my mind quiets and my whole self integrates into focused movement: I know myself best when I am in motion.

It is also when I love myself the most.

Which is why the hardest thing for me in the years I was sick with Lyme Disease was giving up nearly all forms of movement. When I was diagnosed, I was 25 years old and I was a mess. I was fully in third stage Lyme and could no longer read or write, could barely speak, routinely got lost, even in my hometown. I’d lost my hair, couldn’t keep any weight on, had had a migraine for four years and was so tired I didn’t leave the house for anything but work for six months. My doctors ordered me to immediately stop anything aerobic, as it opens up the blood-brain barrier and allows the Lyme bacteria to pass into the brain, where it destroys neural synapses, memory, coordination, decision-making, you name it. They also told me not to push myself physically, to keep my efforts under thirty percent, to take slow and gentle walks, to do restorative yoga, to make sure that my body had the energy to heal.

I wanted to get well badly enough that I stopped do anything other than walks, yoga and pilates, but I still pushed myself hard enough that I’d get fevers and be exhausted for a few days. As the seemingly endless years of treatment have rolled by, I’ve gotten better, then stagnated. Or relapsed. I’ve tried to start new things, a dance class, maybe, or trail running or even just getting to a regular weekly yoga class but I’ve always had to quit after a few weeks because I just wasn’t recovering, because each class or run seemed to build my energy deficit, I’d get sick again and then take a few months to get back on top.

It’s different now. I’ve been consistently climbing and in the gym. Instead of being destroyed my efforts and stopped them to get better, I’ve steadily gotten stronger—both on the wall and in my constitution. I am beginning to be able to add in other activities, to explore the limits of my body without fear of collapse and I remember that being in motion is, to me, the purest form of joy that I know.

I am beginning this blog for several reasons. I’d like to talk about getting, being and staying physically active with a chronic illness. Movement, being in my body in motion is, like writing, an act of discovery for me, the way I know and learn things about myself. It allows things to percolate up, usually about my understanding of healing and I want to share that. This will be a mix of personal narrative, with training and healing tips and write-ups of my exploration into the types of body and energy work available in the Bay.