Weightlessness and Pain

I feel vulnerable writing about my pain because it is invisible. When I share my pain, which is rare, people typically offer advice without realizing that I’ve spent many years working with it myself—as well as my doctors and practitioners. That said, I’m also open to hearing what others have to say about their pain.

The pain started with my left index finger during the winter holidays in 2004. I was on my way to a party, carrying a large box of gifts through a doorway, when I struck my finger on the door jamb. It hurt, but I didn’t think much of it. It didn’t seem serious, but it quickly became red and swollen. I repeated the accident at another party a week later. My injured finger continued to be problematic two weeks later, so I went to a doctor. My finger was examined and x-rayed, but the results didn’t show any damage. Nothing was broken. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be my first experience of Rheumatoid Arthritis, also known as RA. I was 40 years old when I was diagnosed, and I had previously been extremely healthy, hiking, biking, swimming, you name it. I was an ass-kicker until the day my ass was kicked by RA.

I used to characterize RA as an abusive husband who beat me relentlessly. I would wake up in the morning feeling like I’d been pummeled. Today I characterize RA as an unwelcome being that lives inside me, not really part of me, simply a passenger—one that refuses to leave.

During the 14 years that I’ve had this disease, I’ve discovered that the pain seems to be a process of ebb and flow, sometimes constant, sometimes dormant. Many types of chronic pain exist within me: Searing, stabbing, throbbing, tearing, ripping, twinging, aching, shooting and cramping. Worst were the years when the soles of my feet felt filled with shards of glass. Thank goodness I’m past that hurdle.

Pain brings a tremendous amount of weight, physically, psychologically and emotionally.  I’ve noticed that the weight of pain isolates me from others; I tend to avoid people when my pain is too intense and I have no energy for socializing. When my energy is low and I’m interacting with a person with high energy, I become enervated and seek to confine myself in a safe place, which causes anxiety and stress—precisely the opposite of weightlessness.

Weightlessness can ease pain. For those of us with medical conditions, exercise is crucial, but it can be difficult, extremely painful, and sometimes dangerous. When I am exercising, I try to move with the pain, allow it to happen, and take care not to overdo. I know that when I’m finished exercising, I will feel exponentially better. Ten years ago, I went into full, non-clinical remission and exercised just about every day for four years. It was only until I moved to another city, and then another city, and then came back again, that I discovered how much I had let my health go. I hadn’t made time to exercise during those years.

The weightlessness machine wasn’t the only problem I was having with exercise. As a result of neglecting myself, weightlessness today is taking a long time to happen. It comes and goes. I had so weighted myself down, I wasn’t well. Even though I was not as weightless as I wanted to be, I tried to find ways of being weightlessness. Being pampered by hands massaging my aching body makes me feel worlds lighter, and the sound of rain—or being out in the rain—uplifts my spirits and instills a feeling of weightless, calm, clear headedness, wiser, even ethereal. Pure weightlessness.

 

For next time: What, Exactly, Is Weightlessness?

Weightlessness Awry

July 30, 2018

I don’t ever seem to have the same motivation from day to day. I rarely wake up wanting to exercise, but I know it’s got to be done.  What I need most is to have an intense workout with a variety of audio or visual experiences to pique my interest. For example, when I exercise to music, I get lost in the world of each song. I create my song list knowing that I have several songs in a row that will inspire me to work harder.

But today was not that kind of a day. I have a home exercise machine (hybrid) and I love it, except when a part breaks, like it did yesterday. I was distraught, but I persevered. I sent a message to the manufacturer, but it was Sunday, and I probably wouldn’t be able to get in a work out until Wednesday. So I went near and far searching for the part, but I could not find it.

If I wasn’t such a solitary exerciser, I’d go to a gym, but I get too distracted.

Now I just wait for the parts to arrive.

Further Adventures in Weightlessness

Exercise

In addition to monitoring caloric intake, a crucial key to weightlessness is exercise. Our bodies need to move, and if we don’t move them, we won’t be fulfilling our potential. But I’m one to talk. I have a love/hate relationship with exercise. I know it elevates my mood—big time—but I can be lazy and procrastinate about it. There were years of my life when I didn’t have to think about exercise because I was extremely active, and then there were years of my life when I consciously needed to exercise daily.

Joining a gym would never have occurred to me when I was 19 (I am now 54). But I did. I signed up. I knew nothing about gyms, but I wanted to get fit because I wasn’t extremely active at the time, and I’d been gaining weight. I chose a Gold’s Gym because it was close to my apartment. I had no idea it was a bodybuilding gym. I walked in and asked how it all worked and what it would cost. I was given a tour of the machines, and it seemed very straightforward, so I signed up.

I wasn’t quite sure how to use the machines, but a kind soul came along and showed me how to work them. Over the course of the first month, I got the hang of things, and even started to develop some definition. The following month one of the trainers approached me and asked if I might be interested in competing.

“Competing?” I asked, absolutely clueless.

“Yes,” he said, “in bodybuilding.”

I think bodybuilding is nothing short of remarkable because of the enormous amount of effort and energy that is necessary to maintain such a muscular body, but I could not see myself in that role. It was a marvelous compliment; however, I knew the lazy procrastinator in me would eventually win the day. I stopped going to the gym just as soon as I lost the weight I wanted to lose. Of course, that was a mistake.

Over the years my weight (and health) have fluctuated dramatically. I did occasionally go to a local gym, but it seemed to be more of a social scene than a place to work out. I decided to purchase a stationary bicycle for exercise. Because I had it in my house, I was more inclined to exercise than ever before, and I was fit for some years. It wasn’t the first machine I used for my health.

Today I use a Sunny Health & Fitness Air Resistance Hybrid Fan Bike – SF-B2618, which has movable arms and bicycle pedals. It is my machine of choice because I have rheumatoid arthritis in my hands and feet, with accompanying chronic pain. And, as my first rheumatologist told me, “If you lose 20 pounds, your symptoms will decrease by 50%.” If that isn’t a worthy goal, I don’t know what is.

I took my rheumatologist’s advice and got serious about exercising (again). At first, I couldn’t sustain a workout, I was in so much pain. My doctor suggested exercising even a little more every day would make me feel better. He was right. I went into remission for a few years, but once again, I stopped exercising for one reason or another, and fell back into an unhealthy lifestyle.

This is where I find myself now.

More soon…

Adventures in Weightlessness

I had truly lost my mind. Between 2015 and 2018, I gained 43 pounds. When I eventually realized how much weight I had gained, I was shocked. Clearly, I hadn’t been paying attention. Sure, my clothes hadn’t been fitting me well, but instead of taking steps to maintain my weight, I bought new clothes. When those clothes didn’t fit, I bought new clothes again—and again. What was I thinking?

The truth is, I wasn’t thinking, and I wasn’t taking care of myself. I felt perpetually uncomfortable in my skin, and more so, in my clothes. I spent less time with others and more time feeling ashamed of myself. My self-esteem was close to zero, and my well-being needed a makeover.

I eat healthy most of the time, but I was consuming more than I should. I stopped eating meat in 1986, but I eat fish, and I love cheese, particularly on pizza, which is the worst of my temptations. I also exercise every day, except for a day off here and there. It might be a matter of simple indulgence—eating too much, drinking too much alcohol—but it feels like insecurity, anxiety, and instability, somehow.

In May of 2018, I knew something had to give, so I mentioned my predicament to my doctor, who was happy to counsel me.  She suggested I fix my food intake at 1500 calories, which involved counting calories. Come to find out, this is not an easy task, particularly when fruits and vegetables—the majority of foods that I eat—have no nutrition labels. I hopped online and located many of the foods I would normally eat via FitBit and MyFitnessPal. I noted their calorie contents, categorized them, and then wrote them in the back of a blank book, which I could take with me when I’m out and about. I saved the front of the book for noting the foods I was eating or going to eat.

I started my diet by fasting for three days, which seems ludicrous, but there is a method to that madness. According to a study by Catharine Paddock, Ph.D., of Medical News Today, “prolonged fasting ‘re-boots’ immune system.” Further information supports the study, as Sarah Knapton, science correspondent for The Telegraph, writes: “Fasting for as little as three days can regenerate the entire immune system, even in the elderly, scientists have found in a breakthrough described as ‘remarkable’.” There are many reasons, ways, and lengths of time to fast, so I won’t delve deeper into that topic area. If you are interested in fasting, please consult your doctor or a medical professional.

On the morning after my three-day fast, I ate a small bowl of delicious soup consisting of cabbage, carrots, onion, garlic, potato, herbs and three cups of vegetable broth, which I had wittingly prepared in advance. I also discovered that six pounds of my fleshy, overweight body was missing. I was excited about it, but I was also afraid that I had gone too far, and I worried that I would gain back all the weight I had lost, but I held steady, and the next day, I had lost another pound because I was still figuring out how to arrange my calories throughout the day. For a while there, I was consuming just a little over half of the 1500 calories allotted. No wonder I was so tired all the time. In order to get maximum nutrition within 1500 calories, I made a meal plan for each day, and thereafter all went smoothly, for the most part.

Copyright @ 2018 Marla K. Greenway