Gaining Strength and Getting Better

Last night I climbed 5.11a* and b at the gym, grades that I never thought I’d be able to climb. Grades that I thought of as the gateway levels to solid outdoor climbing. Two months ago, I was just breaching 5.10a and two weeks ago, I began solidly climbing 5.10d. I am gaining strength and ability rapidly and it feels so good.

One of the classic tells of Lyme Disease is the inability to learn anything new or to be able to gain strength. When I had Lyme Disease, I felt like I was running in place. No matter how much I tried, my life was stagnant. I was too sick to go out so my social life was whittled down to a very few friends; I never took on a full-time work load, and; while I took salsa dancing lessons and Spanish classes and started yoga, I never got past a strong beginner level. I’d repeat beginning level classes over and over, never retaining anything I’d been exposed to before. It took months to learn the basics and I formed no memories of the things I was trying to learn beyond the basics.

Lyme Disease also challenges the body to such an extent that it doesn’t recover from workouts or injury and doesn’t build strength. I had no idea what I was missing until the past few months where I have flown through climbing and yoga levels. In the past, it would take me three or four days to recover from a never-too-challenging workout; now, I feel recovered and refreshed in half a day.

I’d started rock climbing several times during my decade of Lyme disease. I loved it but never climbed past 5.8. Two years ago, when I started climbing again, once I got to 5.9, I stayed there for well over a year. Now, suddenly, I climbing a level that had seemed forever barred off to me. Being well is incredible.

*and for those of you who don’t know, climbs are ranked from beginning at 5.6 and 5.7. after 5.9, they add in letters: 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, 5.10d then 5.11a-d and so on

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In the absence of fear

Half HandstandFor many years, pain and fear were my constant state of being. I had a slew of athletic injuries to my ankles, knees, hips and spine that never healed. Once I injured a joint, it became this weak link, flaring up with debilitating pain, even years after the initial injury and despite constant physical therapy. There were full weeks in high school when I had to crawl up the stairs because I couldn’t walk them. Just as suddenly as the pain came on, it would pass and I’d be back to functioning until the next flareup happened. By the time that I was in college, the pain was matched with fear. I saw how other people injured themselves and the injuries healed in a way that mine never did. I was terrified that I was witnessing the rapid and irreversible decrepitude of my body and didn’t believe that I’d be walking by the time that I was thirty.

Of course, the pain and dysfunction had little to do with my athletic injuries and everything to do with undiagnosed Lyme Disease.

Over the past years of treatment, I always prioritized regaining mental clarity over limiting pain so it wasn’t until I was several years into treatment that I could begin to pick up the pieces of my athletic past and begin to train again. Still, because my body was so very depleted, I had to be very watchful of how hard and long I trained, to prevent myself from collapsing for days afterward. Healing from Lyme has required incredible internal balance and a constant willingness to learn the subtle rhythms of my body.

Here I am, a full twelve years after diagnosis and it was only at my yoga class last week that I moved without fear for the first time. Only in its absence did I recognize the extent that that fear has limited movement: uncaged, I could explore the full expression each asana. For once, I didn’t cradle my ankles when seated, I didn’t hold myself back or move gingerly, a full beat behind the rest of the class in every motion, anticipating pain and trying to work within a limited range of motion to mitigate it.