#mightyifitkillsme, The Tiniest Capen

I took the dog for a walk the other day — probably not much more than a mile down Pleasant Valley Road. It felt great; out in the open air, some sunshine, cold breeze, happy dog. And I realized I hadn’t been walking since probably October. And that my feet, calves, shins, and quads were aching by the time I got back. And I was sweaty. And breathing hard. I felt almost as exercised as if I’d done my old loop, which is 4 miles down PVR to Adams and back up 56 to home. I wasn’t quite as noodly-feeling as I would be after four fast miles, but…

What the hell. I am in AWFUL shape.

When I commented on that on Twitter (Facebook, etc, since Twitter populates all my other social media), someone somewhere commented “you’re in mom shape!” and I did not reply with my initial thought. See, I know that was meant as encouraging kindness, so my knee-jerk reaction would have been both unkind and uncalled for. But seriously: If this is “mom shape”, then moms are fucked. Because this is no good. Yes, pregnancy can be hard on a body, and early parenting is chaos and stress incarnate, but seriously: Moms deserve better. Moms deserve — nay, NEED — to be mighty. Because this parenting thing? Not easy.

I mean, I’m not sure it’s a prereq of parenthood to be able to do a pullup, but still: being able to do pullups can’t hurt, since they usually come with other fitness-related benefits. And it sure seems, from where I perch on my couch next to a sleeping infant, that some added stamina and energy would be an entry in the plus column, as would the zen of endorphins and better balanced hormones and more even brain chemistry and all the other things those kooky scientists tell you regular physical exercise does for you.

Added bonus, if you’re like me, your level of fitness and your commitment to an exercise program is something you have control over. And there’s very little I have control over right now… I have no control over when I sleep, when I wake, what I do at any given moment of the day, or how I feel about any of it. I am adrift on a sea of hormones, in a leaky ship steered by a six week old blue eyed tyrant who regularly pees her pants and then yells because she’s understandably unhappy about the consequences of her actions. So, I can make some choices with my free time. I can be in charge of that. I can value it, and myself, and try to strengthen all my resources to keep bailing out that leaky boat, to learn to swim in the hormones, and to steady my resolve for dealing amiably with my adorable little tyrant captain.

So, yoga, then. And a nice walk with the dog. I won’t dive straight back into the 30 Day Sculpt — I’m not a masochist — but I’ll add some planks and assisted pull-ups for good measure. We all start somewhere.

Because I’m going to be mighty again, if it kills me to get there. My definition of “mom shape” is going to include the ability to do pull-ups. Unassisted.

So say we all.

#mightyifitkillsme, The Tiniest Capen

Interestingly, no matter how many challenges I remark upon in my recent/current life, people latch onto one: weight gain and pregnancy.

The overwhelming majority of opinions that I get shoved at me say the same thing: Don’t worry about how much you gain, you’re doing what your body needs to do, and you can lose any extra later. Yay babies!

I know — truly know — that those wishes come from a place of concern and affection and belief. And if my main concern were that I “look fat” now or later, I’d take them to heart. That’s not my concern. Let me be bluntly open about this.

I spent the last four years working to control chronic pain, muscle fatigue, muscle spasm, and joint problems caused by a combination of my hypermobility, my weight, and my approach to physical activity. I spent the last four years weaning myself off of daily painkillers, twice weekly physical therapy, and weekly therapeutic massages. I spent the last four years dreading the moment when I accidentally let my physical symptoms get out of control and I’d end up in bed for 36 hours, drugging myself to sleep and crying through a trigger point migraine brought on by muscles spasming in my back and neck. I spent the last four years figuring out what my maximum possible weight was in order to allow me to be as active as I must be in order to control that pain, figuring out what kind of core strength I needed in order to have the stability my joints require, and figuring out how to live so that I don’t live in pain. I spent the last four years playing with the #mightyifitkillsme tag on my posts and tweets not because I want to look great, but because I need to be healthy and functional.

Coupled with appropriate diagnosis and treatment for long-un-realized asthma, it’s been a goddamn triumph. Those four years of learning, trying, working, and pain paid off. I don’t hoard the occasionally-granted scrip for Vicodin anymore. I don’t need muscle relaxers anymore. I don’t take anti-inflammatories daily. I actually started *running* for the first time, ever.

And now I’m pregnant, which is another triumph. If you’ve talked to me, you know I’m thrilled. We’re thrilled. But the problem is that I’m gaining weight, and exercising is harder, and my core muscles are being abused by the changes my body is undergoing. And my truth is that controlling my weight and committing to exercise and establishing and maintaining core strength are a key part of my ability to control my pain.

So my pain is coming back. Plain and simple. I don’t want it to be true, but it is, and I can’t ignore it anymore or I’m going to be a wreck by February. Today I have a screaming headache, my shoulder hurts and is rolling forward, and I can feel the pinch in my traps that I immediately recognize is the precursor to something worse. Why? Because I’m heavier, and so my muscles and joints have to work harder to carry around my mass. Because I’ve been exercising less, because I’m so damn tired all the time, and so I’m losing muscle tone. Because my abs are stretching and opening for the baby, as they should, and so I’m losing core stability.

All of that is hard on me. And none of that is about “looking fat”.

I can control parts of it. I really can. I need to give up some of my  hobby and relaxation activities so that I can exercise more despite my need to sleep more. Exercise can’t be the part that gives, unfortunately for my desire to finish watching Elementary with Justin. And I can eat better; in my generalized physical discomfort of the first and early second trimester, I was eating whatever sounded edible, because really, I needed to eat something, and if I could manage to eat it, great. Let’s do that. And I truly was craving simple carbs and fat. So I switched off my protein-and-veg diet and made a bunch of batches of cheesy potatoes and mac and cheese, and loved every bite. And as my body does with calories it doesn’t actually need, it turned them into fat, and I’m gaining weight. And I can feel every pound when I walk. In my toes, my ankles, my knees, my hips, my shoulders, and my neck. I can identify every arthritic spot in my body today.

And it hurts. Physically.

So I know that you’re all telling me that weight gain is okay, it’s a natural part of pregnancy, and I’ll be fine. And in the long run, you’re totally right. I will gain weight, as I should, and it will be okay. But when you offer me those platitudes, they feel empty. Because they don’t acknowledge that while yes, I’ll be okay, I’m healthy, and the baby’s healthy, I’m also causing myself pain and suffering right now, and in the near future. I’m causing it because I could do this differently. I need to do this differently. And it’s not about whether or not I “feel fat”. It’s about my health. It’s about pain. It’s about me, and my needs, and the fact that those matter, too.

#mightyifitkillsme, insert emoticon here

On Sunday I chose to start exercising again — pullups, pushups, chest flies, arm curls, crunches. Yesterday and today, the consequences were obvious any time I moved anything above my waist. Long term, I’ll be stronger and leaner and healthier, and I don’t regret doing it (though I do regret taking such a long break from which I am now attempting to recover), but short term, OW.

On Monday I chose to go out to dinner with a visiting friend. The consequences, in negative terms, will be obvious as I try to fit more work (professional and personal) into fewer weekday evenings. But it was worth it, in terms of the “consequences” of choosing to live the kind of life I want to live. Would I be happier, better, healthier if I’d stayed in my office and worked, or sat and did financial chores on the couch instead of going out with Anna? Hell no. Will I feel a little more pressured now? Absolutely. Am I absolutely certain I did the right thing, despite the pressured feeling? Yes. Consequences.

Today I chatted with a friend about a piece of the Venn diagram that is my social life, and I noted that the piece in question, no matter how much I’d love to, is a thing I can’t and won’t ever do so long as some other people are involved. That’s the result of choices I made about my life four years ago, the consequences of which keep echoing back to me. Short term and long term, they were the right choices for me. I’m happier, better, and more whole than I was when I started this particular path. But short term and long term… choices have consequences. And there’s a path that’s cut off, for me, because I chose to walk this one. And that makes me a little sad.

Consequences. Choices.

#mightyifitkillsme, insert emoticon here

I’m sitting in my office today, struggling to hold my right shoulder back and up the way I know it needs to be. It’s a painful, frustrating thing, and it’s all too familiar. When I stop actively thinking about it, my shoulder drops forward and rolls down, and I don’t even notice until I start to get alternating stabbing pains and pins and needles in my forearm and fingers. This is what my chronic joint problem looks like when I’m not taking care of myself.

I haven’t added up the miles I traveled in the last month, but I bet they’re impressive — Potsdam to Cooperstown, Utica, Minneapolis, Virginia, and Idaho — and every one of those involved a 2-5 hour drive and carrying a briefcase bag. On my right shoulder. Of course.

I love to travel. I really do. And I don’t want it to become my truth that traveling breaks my body. So I’m trying to think of coping strategies. Sadly for my self-image, a wheelie briefcase carryon may be the logical answer. They’re just so … ugly. They’re certainly not stylish neon pink bags.

But this thing where I spend huge amounts of brain energy pulling my shoulder back into alignment (and then weeks of stretching and exercise to get myself back into functional shape) isn’t gonna work. Something’s gotta give. And it needs to not be my shoulder.

#mightyifitkillsme, insert emoticon here

Next week is the answer. The eye doc and his nurse were chuckling in the hall after I asked that — “not the kind of question we get very often!” was the comment I overheard. Yup. I know. But it matters to me!

Part of why it matters is that this morning the scale inexplicably said 168, which is my current-in-recent-history low, which makes no sense given that I’m eating all the things and not exercising at all, minus one 30 minute treadmill stint on Sunday. But okay, cool, I’ll take it.

The other part of why it matters is that I have the worst back spasm I’ve had in ages, right now. Oi. Ow. Ack. I’m alternating, for the last 36 hours, between having an active trigger point migraine, having pins-and-needles tingles in my radial and ulnar nerve fingers (but rarely both at the same time) on both hands (sometimes both at the same time), pins-and-needles in my nose (SUPER BIZARRE FEELING, wtf, body?), pins-and-needles in my right foot (again, wtf, body?) and an active spasm in my mid-right back, below my shoulderblade. And all the muscles of my neck are tight like iron cord. I am not a happy camper.

It’s dispiriting in part because A) I recognize this problem and B) I’ve been feeling really good for, honestly, months. I made it through the Australia travel and walking and snorkeling with really minimal pain, and I felt good about that. I’ve been intentionally staying flexible and agile but also building strength — the Exercise Hell DVD is a mix of yoga, pilates, and full-body strength training — and figuring that I’m getting my cardio through the fact that all of that’s HARD for me. And full-body strength builds balance across all my muscle groups, and that balance means less muscle tension caused by joint instability unevenly supported. It’s a great plan, and it was totally working.

Except now, right now, post-op, all I’m left with is light cardio. I hate light cardio. Even when I go for walks after work in nice weather, I’m inclined to do 4 or 5 miles. 30 minutes on a treadmill? Bleck.

And my back is in spasm. I can’t help but think that these two things are related. I spend 10 days being uber-lazy (RESTING!), and my body falls apart.

So. I want to get back to this thing. One week, they say. Next Monday, they say. Okay, then. Next Monday it is. Back at it, with Week One Day One of Exercise Hell. Let’s do this thing. (again.)

#mightyifitkillsme

I went back to work on Thursday, today was back on the treadmill day. I’m planning on using the treadmill and weights and core work until I have cataract surgery on the 4th, then back to the Exercise Hell DVD once I’m cleared by the doctor for that. I walked 6-10 miles a day while I was in Australia, not in an intensive “exercise-y” way, but it was sustained exercise that kept my energy up and weight pretty stable, considering I was in Eat On Vacation mode. As boring as intentional cardio is, outside of an active lifestyle, it works.

I just have to find a way to make it work for me, in my daily life. So today I walked for half an hour, doing arm exercises with a medicine ball all the while. Turns out that I can walk pretty endlessly on a treadmill if I have something else to do. Listening to an audiobook isn’t enough; I just stare at the time clicking over and the distance climbing and get resentful that it isn’t going fast enough, and then I miss parts of the story because I’m busy being mad at the slow passage of time. This is not how I want to live ANY part of my life.

But if I’m doing bicep curls with a 4 lb medicine ball and listening to an audiobook… I don’t care that I’m walking in one place. So I’m coming up with creative arm things I can do with that freakin’ ball, and filling my time with arm exercises so that when the treadmill clicks to 30:00, I’m not furious that it took so long for half an hour to go by.

(Conquering your own idiotic brain: Life’s ongoing joy.)

And it felt good. Really good. Okay, then.

#mightyifitkillsme

Wow. Okay, so today I only did half. For the first time. 17 days before I said “oh, hell no.” I can work with that. Today my quads were burning, I couldn’t breathe, and it’s less than 0F outside today, so the basement is cold. These are useful excuses.

I did the 10 minutes of cardio flow, or whatever they call it — sun salutations with pushups in the plank slot, and active lunges on the Warrior 1 part. Heart rate up, breathing up, and lots of trembling muscles.

But when they wanted me to do the chair work again, which is all quads and glutes, I just said no. I tried the first set, and I just can’t. Something about today isn’t working.

So. 10 minutes today.

However, I did do 7 assisted pullups this morning before my muscles gave out. New record!

#mightyifitkillsme, misc

So, today: Part 1 was Qi Gong and hip openers. Lots of intensive wide-stance bent-knee thigh exercises. The stretches at the end, though, those feel like magic. I should remember those. I don’t bend as low as they do in the video, but I’m getting much, much closer. Full sets on everything. Go me.  Second half was the chair thing, which makes me sort of sad/glad I was never a ballet dancer. Hold onto the back of a chair in front of you. Start with your feet in second position, lift your heels off the floor, and, now… bend your knees until your hips reach your heels. Now lift your right leg until it’s as close to parallel with the ground as you can get it. Lower. Lift. Lower. Now bend the other knee while you do it. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

So that happened. I did as much as I could, which was most of it, but there is no way in hell my foot is going to come up to hip height with a straight knee, at this point. Maybe someday. I did all the reps, just… with very little height.  It was a good workout, that’s for sure. As I stood at the counter blending up my banana-protein powder smoothie, I could feel my legs trembling. Just standing there. Huh. This is me, I guess. Just a new me.

Justin and I were talking yesterday, and he observed that right now I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in the years he’s known me. He’s right. I’m also in the least pain. In the last few months, my right ankle is a bit of a disaster after this summer’s knife fight, and my right shoulder is still not 100% and may never be, but I’m having fewer headaches, fewer shoulder problems, fewer joint issues in general. That’s amazing, and my painkiller/muscle relaxer intake is down by about 75%. I’ll take it, even if it does make me sweaty and irritable for 20 minutes each day.

I also observed while we were talking that it’s entirely probable that I had exercise-induced asthma (diagnosed by my doctor 2 years ago) for my entire life. I hated sprinting as a kid, because I couldn’t breathe. I loathed running days and Presidential fitness tests because they were hard and I couldn’t breathe. I avoided team sports because most of them involved running (I liked volleyball). The outdoor things I enjoyed — swimming, playing outside, skiing, bike riding — are not heavy cardio exercises that would push my lung capacity (or, not the way I did ’em). And since I sort of openly hated team sports and organized play, nobody pushed me to do those things, and who knows. Maybe this was happening all along but I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain it. I just “hated exercise.”

Then 2 years ago I was at the gym on campus, on the elliptical machine, pushing myself to burn and sweat (because omg getting fat and this is not okay), and I realized my breath was whistling out of my windpipe. Literally whistling. I called it a night, bundled up to go home, and when I hit the 10 degree air outside, I nearly panicked, because the breathing got worse. I called for a doctor appointment. My doctor (of 9 years) listened to my lungs, and I told him my story, and then also the story of the time I went to get allergy tested and they did a lung volume test and the nurse kept telling me to blow harder because I wasn’t getting enough volume into the machine and I kept saying, “That’s all I can do”… And he gave me a prophylactic Albuterol inhaler. “Exercise induced asthma.” I’m fine the rest of the time, just when I do vigorous sudden activity, my lungs freak out. Hiking, running, aerobics, yep, not surprised that’s when it happens. Use it 20 minutes before you start, and the symptoms won’t appear.

It works. If I forget to use it? Whistling.

So. The things I’m learning. Justin said, “You just never did anything that was hard before”, and exercise was hard, so I never really noticed the asthma. Rather than being insulted, I just know he’s right. I’ve always avoided doing things that are hard. It’s just part of my pathology.

Part I’m getting rid of.

#mightyifitkillsme, misc

Wrote a long professional blog post about work-life balance. Most days I feel like I have it… some days not. Today I wonder when I’m going to find/make time to hang out with my friends, knit the baby gifts I have on the needles, write my Christmas thank you notes and mail photos to my grandmother, finish Justin’s slippers and hat, deal with the Life Checklist thing I discovered recently, sort and pay the medical bills, and on, and on, and on…

Ah, well. So be it. I’ll go home after work, make broiled salmon and steamed veggies with wild rice for dinner, and go do more of Workout Hell. If we decide to watch tv together, I’ll also work on knitting projects. If we don’t, I’ll tackle some paperwork. It all comes out in the end.

But it does feel like an awfully heavy weight, sometimes, to manage the details of making it come out.

In other news, the last two days of Week 2 of Workout Hell were hard hard hard. I didn’t write about Day 6, because it generally sucked and I promptly went upstairs and got back in bed: I felt uncoordinated, had no energy, and was confused and frustrated and tired. That might have been me more than the routine, but I’m not so sure. Day 7 was better; less swinging body movement, so I felt like less of an idiot, more yoga-based strength poses. I was able to do all the things, and only gave up in the first half of the day on the last half of the last sets, dropping from 8 to 4, which is progress from the first time I did this segment in Week 1. The second half of the program was the Curl section, doing tons of ab work. Harder than hell, and I followed Modification Girl the whole way, because I just don’t have the core strength not to. Today is the start of another week of Strength, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m interested to see how long it takes before I can do all the sets, full counts, no modifications, on the upper body sections. I’d like to have a functional upper body!

Also, these are my favorite boots, not counting my $400 Son of Sandlar larp boots:

Someday I’ll take a picture of the Son of Sandlar boots, but for now, have an image of my battered, fire-melted $50 Target knockoffs of classic Frye harness boots.

#mightyifitkillsme

Today I had the kind of day that had me thinking, “I could just eat this whole chocolate bar. And there’s a bottle of wine in the fridge, I could open that when I get home. And mashed potatoes would be brilliant with meatloaf.”

I treat stress by consuming things to feed it, soothe it, sedate it. Well, I usually treat stress that way.

Instead, today I meditated for 20 minutes in my office at lunchtime (using a nice little app called Simply Being on my ipad), and I ate two squares of the chocolate bar. Though I did indeed make meatloaf when I got home, I also put seasoned cauliflower in the pan to roast with it and chopped a bunch of veggies to saute right before the oven meal finishes.

And then I went downstairs and did Week 2, Day 4: Cardio Flex and Power Flow.

Cardio Flex I did earlier in the week, and it’s adapted yoga and Qi Gong moves, with added weights in some places. I can totally do it, though it’s still hard on my muscles and gets my heart rate up. Because it feels familiar to me (yoga! woo!), I actually enjoy it.

Then came Power Flow, at which point I began to look and feel like an idiot. Right leg back, arms up, move your arms, knee in… wait. What? I stopped, and stared, and fumbled. I got it by the end, but man, I am BAD at this sort of thing. I just plainly suck at traditional aerobics. These sets were interspersed with sets of about 25-50 running planks. Which, it seems, I can do pretty easily as long as I’m letting my butt come up. Okay, fine. That’s how we’ll do it now. I’ll aim for getting my back flatter over time.

Again, I did all of it, though I did cut the last few sets of leg lifts short — halved them — because my right hip and ankle weren’t having it. But that’s okay. I’ll get better at it.

Tomorrow’s second segment is called Power Sweat. I’m terrified. 🙂