glow notes

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Sit down here and get comfy, I'll tell you a little story

When I was a teenager, I was a very bad kid indeed (-I- would have sent me to military school).

An example of this is that I used to go running before school with my friend Cindy, then pop by the cafeteria for a cup of coffee and head out to the curb near the high school for a cigarette. I won't go into all of my other deviances today, because we're going to talk more about that running thing.

So, despite some of my poor health habits (e.g. smoking camel straights in a hard pack, which at the time were 99 cents a pack at the Circle K, and which they sold to me, a 15 year old, back before that was a shooting offense), I was relatively fit. I ran, I lifted weights, I took ballet and modern dance, I did yoga, I did aerobics. This was not for health reasons, mind you, it was because I was obsessed with being thin (very very thin, though not quite anorexic). But I got the health benefits of the exercise nonetheless.

When I went to college, I majored in English literature, for reasons that are unavailable to me now. Living in Eugene Oregon, I didn't need to actually smoke weed to get a contact high, but smoke it I did. Needless to say, sitting on my butt reading, writing, and taking bong-hits took a front seat to fitness.

I gained some weight, but I still looked good - I was young and lush of form, I could get away with these things. But, at some point I decided to take steps to get back into shape.

The problem with a person who used to be fit starting an exercise program after a 4 year hiatus from any movement at all is that said person may not realize that she has to take it very very slowly. I signed up for a jogging class. The class simply involved jogging - no stretching, no strengthening, no information on warming up or building up to 3 miles.

Within days, I had extreme pain in my hips and low back right around the sacroiliac joint. It was a crippling pain, and walking was difficult. I was 22 years old.

And thus began a journey of 12 years.

Over time, I saw a variety of practitioners and tried a variety of therapies. An incomplete list includes:

- At least 5 chiropractors
- A sports medicine doctor who told me that my symptoms were impossible
- A sports medicine doctor who wanted to inject bursae in my hips with saline solution to re-injure them so that they would heal properly - a procedure which he invented and I (thankfully) declined.
- At least four physical therapists
- Massage therapists out the wazoo
- Hundreds of hours of physical therapy exercises, stretches, yoga, and probably some other stuff I can't remember.

The pain was alternately bearable and horrible through all of these treatments until, at age 30, I hired a personal trainer and learned how to get myself fit. I lost most of the pounds I had put on during that time and packed on enough muscle to help stabilize my hips and low back.

But, the pain would recur if I overdid it, and I knew that I could never run again. Every time I tried, my hips would sieze up and I'd be crippled with pain for a week.

I love to run - it's free, it's childlike, it's primal. It's my favorite exercise next to picking heavy things up and putting them down again.

Jump forward. I'm 33, and I've injured my elbow tendon at work typing too danged much. My doctor sends me to acupuncture, then to physical therapy. Except these therapists aren't like any I've met before. They're working in an entirely different paradigm, which I can't go into because it'd make my little story too long, but it fixed my elbow (which, by that point, I sincerely thought would never get better, and which was another source of depression and weight gain, though not as severe).

So, I spoke to Mike, my therapist, about my hips. And whether I could ever run again.

"Sure," he said. And he told me about his wife, who couldn't run around the block when they met in PT school due to knee pain, and recently ran a 1/2 marathon. So I signed up. Within a month or so, if I did my exercises assiduously, I was able to run a few miles a week on soft surfaces. This was a major victory. But the pain didn't completely go away, and I had to be vigilant about stretching and PT. Some days I felt good, some days I felt about 90 years old. I began to wonder if running was worth the hassle and pain.

So . . . cut to a few months ago of this year. I'm at a used bookstore where I like to trade in my have-reads for new to-reads, and I saw a book called The Wharton's Stretch Book. Me being a fitness-obsessed sort of a girl who likes to build her personal library of exercise and nutrition books, I picked it up and looked it over. I saw new info in there that seemed worth a couple of bucks. Maybe it would be useful for a client. I took it home and put it on the shelf.

Then one day I sat down and read it. And I did the stretches.

The next day, I had no pain.

Hmm, I thought. So I went for a run. And stretched again.

No pain.

I have tried this experiment multiple times, with the same results. I can hill run, I can run on pavement. I can trail run. I am a running fool. I'm running anywhere from 6 to 10 miles per week - I could do more, but resistance training is more important to me right now.

Was everything else I did a waste of time and money? Some of it was a detour in my journey to health, but I know that much of it was crucial to my healing. I think of it like a deadbolt lock. The key has to press each pin. Yoga pushed one of the pins. Chiropractic, especially when I started going regularly, was another piece of they key. This latest round of PT pushed another. the stretching routine was the last, and - click- healing was unlocked in a miraculously short amount of time.

Why do I write this? Because sometimes when people (like me) fail at healing, at weight loss, at whatever, they give up. They think nothing will work. They think they've tried, and oh well, I guess there are worse things than not running/being unhealthily overweight/knee pain, etc. Like me, they may get frustrated and low-grade depressed.

Thing is, you may not be failing. You may be succeeding in pushing consecutive pins in that deadbolt, but you won't see the benefits till you find that last piece to push the last pin.

Huh, my metaphor could use some work maybe. But you see what I'm saying?

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