‘Where’s the the ‘fitspo’ for chronic illness sufferers? Who can we look to for understanding, motivation, and encouragment for leading an ‘active’ lifestyle? The fitness journey for someone suffering in chronic pain each day is far different than the journey you see gracing the feeds of your social media accounts. I’m here to tell my fellow ‘spoonies’, ‘chronies’, and ‘sisters’ that I’m here AND I’m here to support you!’
If you look through any of my social media accounts or even here on my blog, you will see I’m not one of those gals who snaps selfie after selfie after selfie after video after selfie of themselves. It’s never been me, never my thing (great if its yours!). I usually feel weird taking (so many) pictures of just myself, think I always look awkward and uncomfortable, and honestly don’t think I need a day to day (or hour to hour) account of what my body looks like. Even when I was training daily and working my ass off, my gratification & happiness always came from the effort I put in and how I felt after my workout. At that point, the only time I would take a picture of myself was to either send to my coach for check ins during a bulk/cut or if I happen to be having a really really good body part day which absolutely had to be documented haha!
However, after many many many months without taking one picture of myself, I decided yesterday definitely called for some selfie action! Not only was I having a really good pain/symptom day, but I was also curious what the reflection in the mirror looked like after nearly a FULL YEAR of very very little activity. The view you see when you look down at yourself or how you look in clothes is usually VERY different than what you catch and can analyze in the mirror reflection. Case in point with this shot I took yesterday.
First and foremost, let me just catch you up to speed in case you are new to my blog and/or fitness story. About a year ago I was diagnosed with an extremely rare spinal disease which also happens to be incurable. A cluster of cysts was found surrounding my spinal cord nerves around S1/S2. From last August until this past February (approximately 6 full months), I was nearly completely bed bound and in excruciating, constant 24 hour pain from head to toe. Sitting hurt, laying hurt, standing hurt, moving hurt, breathing hurt, and sometimes even thinking hurt.
I went from training 6X a week to basically being immobile. The only time I wasn’t laying down from September to February was if my daughter had volleyball practice or a tournament or if I felt well enough to go out to dinner with the family. If I were having a “better” pain/symptom day, I would try to do light exercises such as walking 1-2 miles or moving some 5lb dumbbells around. Some weeks I was only able to “exercise” one time (if that) because more often than not I would usually put myself right into a flare up from the movements and be bed bound again for 1-2 weeks to ‘recover’. It was a horrendous cycle.
Since February my activity has definitely increased a bit, but I’m still extremely limited. Some exercises are completely out, namely my favorite lower body lifts like dead lifts or heavy squats. I also haven’t been able to do any high intensity work like plyo’s or sprints or ropes or sled pushes (favorite HIIT’s). It’s been an interesting journey trying to see what my body can and can’t handle with this medical condition, but I ‘think’ I have finally found some middle ground between complete inactivity and pushing my body too hard! Pain and symptoms have been much more manageable for me… only took me a year of trial and error!
OK, back to this picture and all the ‘feels’ now that you are somewhat caught up! So many thoughts, feelings, and emotions went through me after I snapped this shot (shared in no particular order)…
- When you’ve worked your ass off trying to build muscle and reshape your body, the absolute last thing you want to see is losing ANY of it. In my mind I had felt I was holding on to some mass, but it wasn’t until seeing this shot that I do see it hasn’t all gone away! I attribute the muscle in my lower body hanging on for dear life so well to: #1 proper diet/eating ENOUGH every single day to maintain muscle, #2 moving absolutely anytime I could to avoid any muscle atrophy #3 good genes (my mother and siblings all have strong legs) and #4 my daily serving of PEScience Amino Iv’s (I literally have NOT missed a single serving in almost 3 years now). 48 ounces of water and BCAA’s each and every day… HUGE part of my fitness supplement routine!
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- Exercise is important, but nutrition plays an even larger role in your progress (in my opinion). Clearly you can see that although I haven’t properly worked out in almost a year, I’m still not 5,000 pounds. Why? Because I’m ALWAYS in control of what I eat, not the other way around. I don’t eat “clean”. I don’t do paleo. I don’t do low carb. I don’t do keto. I don’t starve myself. And more importantly, I also don’t overeat every day. I have an extremely varied diet that includes bread, proteins, tons of fresh veggies, fruit, pizza, hamburgers, pasta, ice cream, brownies, whole grains, super foods, low carb, high carb, low fat, high fat, and everything in between. Why? Because I decided many years ago that falling into a diet protocol trap would NOT benefit me in the long term. Anyone can go on an ultra restrictive diet for a few weeks or even months, but is that sustainable 1, 2, 10 years down the road? Do people REALLY want to give up foods they love just because someone told them it would ruin their progress or because its “unhealthy”? Nope, not this girl. Moderation with EVERYTHING!!! Life is too short to not eat the foods you love! There is a reason why I’m 38 and have weighed basically the same weight as I have my entire adult life… healthy metabolism (not destroyed by crashing dieting or doing low carb), varied diet, and NOT eating more than my body is burning each day. Science is a magical thing huh?
- All those days, weeks, and months spent worrying about missing a training day? Definitely not worth my time or energy. Clearly if I can go an entire year with barely moving (let alone not anything lifting heavy) and still carry some muscle on me, I see stressing out at all was a big waste of time. In retrospect, I wish I would have taken MORE rest days to properly recover my body between lifts!
- I don’t care what anyone says… cardio is great and everyone should do it BUT lifting is what will really change and shape your body! Thank GOD I discovered weight training years ago!!! I can’t imagine what my body would look like now if I had been a cardio bunny. I would have ended up just looking like skin & bones! Muscle is what really transforms the body and makes it interesting! Want to build more muscle? The recipe is easy… #1 eat to grow #2 lift heavy weights with proper form and #3 be patient! It’s a slow process, but one you will thank yourself for doing years and years down the line! Lift lift lift (and do some extra for me)!
- Damn, I got pretty tan this summer 🙂
- It doesn’t take much to get a good AND effective workout in! I went from training 1-2 hours a day 6x a week for years TO not moving at all TO being able to exercise 1-2x per week with mainly body weight exercises only and/or very very light weights. So if your goal is to simply get healthier, make some physical changes to your body, and feel good through exercise… I’m proof that you do NOT need to be hitting PR’s every single time you pick up the weights. For maintenance or minor body recomp, 20-30 minute workouts are plenty for me! Will I ever grow muscle again? Probably not, but at this point I feel blessed to not be bed bound 24 hours a day!
- And perhaps the most important feels I got from seeing this picture was…
More downs, hopelessness, helplessness, and depressed moments than I can count this past year, but through it all I ALWAYS bounced back from those lowest periods. Not only do I have to give myself some credit with how I’ve handled & dealt with all of my major life changes this past year, but throughout it all my passion for fitness NEVER went away. Most times it was masked in a cloud of darkness, but it remained in my heart. No matter how many times I failed at a workout or threw myself into a horrible flare up from trying to lift or even walk, I NEVER stopped trying! 9 times falling down, 10 getting back up!
Can’t help but feel overwhelmingly proud of who I am, my strength, and my determination. This girl can get down & out every now and then just like anyone else, BUT you won’t ever see me there for very long. If I’m breathing, I will continue fighting and pushing myself forward!!! If it doesn’t work today, I will try again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.
More importantly… if I can do it, ANYONE can do it. You just need to always believe in yourself, never underestimate the power of positive thoughts, go at your own pace, roll with all the punches, take calculated risks, don’t let fear dictate your life, and be kind to yourself (body, mind, and spirit) throughout the entire journey. I hope you continue to come along for my ride because it’s definitely NOT over!!!