This week, I dove headfirst into a semi-distraction. One that will help my writing in the end in more ways than one, even if it doesn’t seem connected at first.
Also, it may look like I’m about to lapse into irrelevant whining. Stick with me. This is for writers, I have no intention of boring you with details.
I mentioned that hunting dinosaurs helps me with my goal of whipping my chronic pain into submission, so I can go camping. I can afford equipment and the occasional road trip now, after all. Can’t let pain hold me back from that one, I have bigfeet to meet.
Exercise can relieve the pain of fibromyalgia. Not at first though. At first, it gets worse and it’s kind of hard to tell if I’ve sprained something, or it’s just my nerve endings being idiots and panicking like wussy little bitches again.
So, I take it slow and gentle. My dumb ass has certainly pushed myself too hard in the past, and then gone and made recovery a slow thing because it’s hard to tell if I’m walking around on a real injury or not.
Luckily, milestones still happen even when taking it easy. I’ve finally reached the flexibility that I had before I got pregnant with my daughter. This milestone is simple, but opens a lot of possibilities.
I am now flexible enough to start learning to belly dance again. I was struggling with simple moves when I got pregnant, those isolations are magnificent physical therapy.
Plus, I realized that I have some resources now. I can afford some simple equipment to make my routines more effective. And I realized something else, too. I would be seeing Joe in a month, and that might not be time to lose a lot of weight, but I can get as toned as possible.
So, I splurged, bought some simple equipment from Walmart, and have been using it to work out my nervous energy and excitement. I’ll be seeing him at the end of this month. Bouncing on a ball and kicking in delight is certainly my mood.
All week long, instead of writing I’ve been working on learning to use my new stuff, motivated by my girly crush but incredibly happy that a side effect will be more mobility and (drumroll) better brain health, increasing the circulation my brain needs for writing.
A lot of skill books I’ve been perusing lately (both meanings) have mentioned the connection between writing and exercise. Julia Cameron frequently praises walking and its merits for the creative person. Jordan Rosenfeld praises the merits of moving around so much she makes it part of the learning process for her chapters in A Writer’s Guide to Persistence. In Fire Up Your Writing Brain, Susan Reynolds gives the neurological benefits of increased circulation from sustained exercise on brain health, making the general task of writing more efficient.
That’s just the stuff I’ve run across in the last couple of months. I know I have things from school that talked about the neurological benefits of exercise. It also has the indirect side effect of increasing discipline and energy, both traits put to good use in a writing practice.
Anyway, it’s nice how it all comes together. Like when you shop at thrift stores because you’re broke, but you realize that you are also conserving resources, and you know your money goes to a charity rather than “the man”. Never do anything for just one reason, it’s a waste of time.
Now I can dance and play for beauty, for relaxation, for health, for mind, and eventual awesome nature adventures (likely to provide content for my writing). Naturally, I will also dance to awaken my muse.
As long as no one is looking, I get a chance to dance through imaginary and exotic locations while dreaming up adventures far away. Seductive little plot bunnies will lazily drip from my fluttering fingers. The kind of daydreaming that can happen when relaxing and gently moving while listening to music can do magic.
P.S. – I want to just straight up talk to people in chronic pain now. Those with no need to hear can wander off, this is where I hid the boring details.
Please move around as much as you can. You don’t have to work to the point of pain and buckets of sweat, especially if, like me, you are an idiot with a history of pushing yourself to the point of injury. Just start with something gentle, and do a steady pace so you don’t burn out or overextend.
If there are things that you can’t do, find something you can do. Find things that feel good and provide immediate pain relief, like yoga or water aerobics (YMCA sometimes provides classes if you need more than internet instructions).
I have friends with chronic pain that only faced it with medication and rest, and as the years went on, they collapsed under the weight of it, to the point that they can’t live a life without assistance. I’ve seen people rely on medication, and end up adding opiate addiction to their list of problems, and it looks a lot worse than pain alone.
I’ve had friends with conditions that will always prevent certain exercise (especially spinal conditions) that still do what they can as much as they can, and they live independently. My own experience shows me that if I don’t move around when I start getting sore, I am asking for a very limited life full of pain.
My experience has also shown me how limited money can be, and how priorities often put frivolous things, like simple equipment for physical therapy, aside.
This is what my most recent shopping spree has taught me, and what I want to share with you.
If you suffer from chronic pain, but you’re flat broke and you can’t justify spending $15 on a stupid foam roller or a bouncy ball, do so anyway (if your doctor agrees). Don’t starve, but maybe eat beans rather than hamburger helper a couple of times. Or, see if you can make your home more resource efficient to lower your bills. Turn off more lights, block drafts, that kind of stuff. Find a way to work simple equipment in, it’s worth the investment.
I’d start with a stability ball. Don’t worry about an instructional DVD. Apparently you have internet access, and YouTube is full of instructional videos. Sitting upright and doing slow clockwise and counter clockwise circles with my hips feels sooo good when my lower back locks up. When my upper back is stiff, resting across the top of the ball can really help me open it up for some relief.
The foam roller “hurts so good”. It confuses your nerves into submission. Be careful of your lower spine, and don’t worry about fumbling around like an idiot at first, you’ll get the hang of it.
Other stuff, like walking weights and yoga blocks are optional but inexpensive. They can help you reach your goals more quickly and give you a wider range of options. The more options you have, the more varied and effective your routine becomes. I am reaching areas that need work more easily now.
My best weapon against pain, yoga, doesn’t require any equipment and the internet is full of instruction. I started doing it when I was 14 and my back started hurting. Because I mostly use it for pain control, I can’t do anything super impressive. Just knowing a handful of moves that alleviate my most common pains has been a great way to get more comfortable.
It feels great, and it doesn’t require getting sweaty. Plus, yoga teaches you to listen to your body, and that is a great way to prevent pain from bad posture. You become more aware of areas under strain, adjust your balance to soften the pressure, and your muscles are stronger to help hold you in the new posture.
When pregnant with my son, I was forced into inactivity by bedrest (preeclampsia). Before I was pregnant, my pain was just some annoying bad back stuff and old injuries that refused to heal right. Sometimes they would spasm, but I hadn’t reached the point of thinking anything was seriously wrong.
After he was born, I was crawling on the ground in pain. I had lead an active enough life, walking and biking everywhere because I’m not fond of cars, and the muscles had prevented a lot of my pain. My reaction to sudden weakness and the pain that came with it was to sit on a heating pad and rest.
That wasn’t a good idea, and I spent a couple of years where a week out of every month I had to use a cane. When I started walking instead of taking the bus, struggling through the pain that wanted to hold me back, after a few months I was able to put my cane aside and I haven’t needed it regularly since.
When life forces me into inactivity and I start exercising to recover, there is a certain point were even though I’m moving gently, post-exercise stiffness kicks in and adds another layer to my pain. I’ve learned to love when this happens.
For one thing, the best way to deal with it is to stretch. Get up and move around, work it out. This means it just reinforces my goals, and I start working a little harder, but stretching feels great so I don’t mind.
The next phase is just around the corner, and it’s a great one. The pain starts moving from my joints to the surrounding muscle, and then shortly after that my overall pain starts decreasing.
Stiff muscle pain means they are healing, growing stronger tissue, that stronger tissue starts cushioning my joints and my nerve endings, and makes it easier to hold correct posture for longer periods of time, preventing some of the pain from occurring in the first place. Reward.
This is why I’m drawing out this long, personal, and probably somewhat boring story. If you have pain, and you’ve tried to work it out, but it just got worse and you gave up, as long as your doctor is okay with it, consider trying again. Keep your Epsom salts and heating pads on hand, and work out stiffness with stretching.
Not every condition is like mine, but if your doctor has been a jerk harassing you about exercise, please give into it. You’ll recover some of the bits of life lost to pain.