I was feeling OK this morning so I went to gym. My favourite class. It’s a 30 minute group session that focuses on core strength, most imaginatively named ‘Core’.
I walked in slowly and set up slowly. I can only carry one piece of equipment at a time, so a very nice lady who I didn’t know, helped me and then she set herself up behind me. We had a brief chat and the class started.
I did all the easy options, and didn’t do some of the exercises at all. The class uses weight plates in some sections, but I didn’t. Just moving my body without weights is enough for me, and all I can manage right now. I don’t lift my arms above shoulder height to preserve my shoulder joint function and to minimise the strain on my torn rotator cuff tendons. I don’t squat or lunge deeply, too much strain on my knees. I can’t hold a plank from my toes anymore, too hard on my shoulders and lumbar spine, so I drop to my knees. I also tend to do elbow planks, also less pressure on my shoulders.
You might read all that and be thinking ‘hardly worth doing at all’ but it is worth doing, to me. Even a little bit of exercise goes a very long way towards keeping me stronger, and mobile for longer, and helps stave off depression.
I have been exercising for most of my life, and I’ve been a member of this gym for about five years (I think). I go to this instructor’s class often, and she knows me and my ‘ishoos’. She’s an excellent instructor and always gives easier options, usually at least three levels. Hard, medium and easy. I did all the easy options today, and some exercises I skipped over completely and just held some stretches instead.
I’m more sore after gym, and a little more swollen. That might be all I achieve today, but I did my body and my mind good by going to gym. This prednisone taper is not only hard on the body, but it’s hard on my emotions. I’m feeling more down, more sad, and working on trying to stay positive and keep smiling takes energy too.
At the end of class, the lady who helped me set up came over to talk to me. She told me I did really well me and encouraged me to keep coming and keep trying, telling me I’ll improve in no time. She was lovely, I liked her a lot. She just assumed it was my first time.
I could have been upset that she thought me a beginner, when in fact I’ve been going to this gym for years now. Most people go to gym and get fitter and stronger. Most lose some weight, gain some muscle and get healthier.
That’s not the way it’s working for me. I’m going backwards, and have been for a few years now. I was a fit, strong, runner a few years ago. And nothing was every going to stop me!
I remember when I first acknowledged to myself that I was going backwards, despite my best efforts. I’ve followed doctor’s orders, taken medication as directed, tried to keep my weight in a healthy range, followed restrictive diets, and exercised to the degree I could. I have fought as hard as I could fight! Despite all that, I’m going downhill, getting weaker, losing function.
The day I accepted I wasn’t ever going to get back to being a fully functioning person, I was angry. Really, really angry. Then when that burned out, I was devastated. Then I cried for a long while. Felt sorry for myself a bit. Cried for all the things I’ll never get to do. (And that’s not being negative, that’s realistic. I will never climb Kilimanjaro…Heck, I’ll probably never walk to the shops!). Then I wished I’d made different decisions, and wondered if it would have made a difference anyway. I had a last burst of anger, and told the world it wasn’t fair. I gave voice to some regrets. And then I cried some more.
But then I pulled myself together and decided to keep doing everything I’m doing – medication, diet, exercise, staying positive – to slow down the process of this disease as much as possible. This disease may be winning, but I’m not going to make it easy on it!
Today I could easily have let this lady’s well-meaning comments put me back into that head space. I was reminded that I joined the gym more than five years ago as a fit, strong person who exercised every day, sometimes for two hours, because I enjoyed it. I was leaner, stronger and much faster then. And instead of improving, I have become a slow, clumsy, relatively weak ‘beginner’. I could have let that bring me down. I could have let today’s experience put me right back in that miserable sad space.
But I didn’t focus on that.
Instead, I focused on what a lovely lady she is, offering support and encouragement to a stranger, who was clearly having difficulty managing the equipment and the exercises, but trying hard. She offered her help and her smile and a brief chat, all of which made a huge difference to my day. A very positive difference.
There are a lot of things I don’t get a choice about. Very basic things. I’ve always said the biggest difference between a healthy person and a chronically ill person is choice. But (in the absence of depression) one thing I do get to choose is what to focus on and where to direct my energy. So I chose the positive. That this lady was kind and helpful and supportive and encouraging.
The fact that I am resolutely positive tends to make people overestimate my abilities and underestimate my disease, especially doctors. It tends to make ME overestimate my abilities and underestimate my disease. But sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes biting off more than you can chew, and chewing like heck means I get to live more.
True, I crashed hard two hours later and needed to sleep. True, I’m in much pain now, but I was in much pain this time last night too. But today I got to do something I enjoy.
Also true, that there are many days now where exercise is impossible. But whenever I can, I will, even if it doesn’t seem worth the effort. To me, it always is.