Breaking Food Rules

I had a really bad day that mostly sucked because something I’d felt a lot of hope about turned out to be nothing. I’m always cautious with my hope, especially about things that seems like long shots anyway, but I guess I was more hopeful than I thought this time, and the letdown was shockingly crushing. It’s just a work thing, not life or death, but sometimes wanting something really bad and working hard for it and then not getting it is devastating. My rational mind says it’s part of a learning process, but that’s easier to say than it is to feel when the letdown is fresh and the pain is raw.

I’m usually not one to eat my feelings, but last night, after a healthy dinner at the local co-op, I eyed a big bag of ranch-flavored tortilla chips. In mild defense of my transgression, the chips were organic (LOL, I know, still fried junk). I decided that if I took a long walk and still wanted them, I’d allow myself to stray from my normally strict diet and indulge a little. The walk didn’t help lift my sadness, and I walked back to the co-op with fifteen minutes to spare before closing and plunked down $2 for the bag of chips. Then, of course, I ate them all. Every single one of them, even though the serving size was for a family.

It was a rare slip for me, and I felt the familiar guilt of eating crap while dealing with chronic health problems, but damn, those chips were good. I tried pouring some in a bowl and eating just that amount, but it wasn’t long before I dumped the whole bag out and feasted. The free-for-all didn’t make the disappointment of the day go away, but I truly enjoyed eating some junk for a change, and that brief feeling of pleasure was a nice distraction.

I worried that I wouldn’t sleep much and would get achy from the processed food, but I ended up sleeping longer (and uninterrupted!) than I have in months. I didn’t even wake up to pee in the middle of the night, which was probably due to the massive salt load I put in my body with my chow fest. And when I woke up this morning, I felt better and less achy than usual.

I’m not advocating a junk food diet, but I think there’s a lesson here for me, and that is to relax and enjoy a treat every now and then. That’s something that can be hard for someone who feels guilt over poor dietary choices, but maybe my thinking should shift to allow more occasional treats. When I woke up this morning, I felt great, ran 4 miles in a thunderstorm, and am way less stiff and sore than usual. Cheers to chips, at least every once in a while.

Inspirational Podcast

restoration row podcast victoria stopp
Not only does the team at Restoration Row produce a podcast, but they also create art. This is the illustration they did for my story!

I recently had the honor of being interviewed for Kaigo Health’s new podcast, Restoration Row. Their CEO, Uzochukwu Chima, and I talked awhile, and then an actress named Megan Dunlop performed a reading from my book. How cool! The book journey has been quite a ride so far.

Restoration Row has some really interesting and inspiring stories, and I highly recommend checking it out on iTunes or Stitcher. Click here for my episode, but definitely check out all the others while you’re there. The talented production crew will upload a new episode often, so check back soon for more.

Book Sale!

hurting like hell, living with gusto
The book is a spinoff of the Fibromyalgia Athlete blog and tells some backstory and a lot more details of my journey with chronic pain.

I got word from my publisher that the Kindle version of my book will be temporarily discounted. Now’s your chance to snag the e-book for less than the price of artisanal coffee! Click here to check it out.

My book, Hurting Like Hell, Living with Gusto: My Battle with Chronic Pain, is helping me spread the word about those of us living with less-than-ideal health. I have no idea where the journey will end, but I’m happy with all the chances I’m getting to advocate for chronic pain patients.

As for my health, I’m having ups and downs as usual, but I keep seeking new information and trying new solutions. I met two awesome chiropractors while I was in metro Atlanta for book tour events, and they gave me invaluable feedback after taking specialized x-rays to analyze my posture. Since meeting with them, I’ve been able to return to running, albeit carefully and not easily. I work hard every day to correct my excessive lumbar lordosis along with the other postural misalignments they showed me on x-ray. Good health is definitely a work in progress, but the work pays off slowly and surely.

 

A Few Updates

I’ve been very busy with the release of my book (yay!) plus continuing to work some healthcare shifts, and the best way to catch up here is a series of random updates. Here they are:

  1. The regenerative medicine doctor is awesome. After several comprehensive blood tests, he settled on a supplement regimen to help me restore some of my health. Based on the results of my blood work (and OMG it was a TON of blood work– never want to do that again), I’m taking more than a dozen supplements twice a day to address things like low testosterone, gut yeast, and inflammation. All of the supplements are purified and/or hypoallergenic. Some of the supplements I take are fish oil, magnesium, turmeric, DHEA, and an interesting little combo called “cognitive aminos.” I feel much better in general, have less anxiety, and have pretty much gotten used to swallowing a zillion capsules a day. All of this, of course, comes at a steep financial price and is NOT covered by my extremely expensive health insurance policy.
  2. I’m midway through Class IV laser treatments on my back. It, too is expensive and not covered by insurance, but it’s really helping. Almost all of the referred pain is gone from my butt, and there’s much less referred pain in my groin and abdomen. I’m still having a hell of a time when I lie down, and I’m losing my mind not being able to work out as much as I want, but the lack of butt pain is miraculous.
  3. Despite trying not to, I still have to take occasional prescription meds. Two nights ago, I took one muscle relaxer because it was 3 a.m. and I was in misery. I don’t even think it did anything clinically except knock me out, but it was nice to have lights out, if only for a few hours.
  4. I started the first round of paperwork to get medical marijuana for muscle spasms. It is an absolutely ridiculous process and it, too, will not be covered by insurance– assuming I’m approved, which is a big assumption. Soap box– I could go get a prescription for something a lot stronger, a lot more addictive, and a lot heavier on the side effects tomorrow and fill it the same day. There’s something very, very wrong with that.
  5. My book is finally out, and I’d really appreciate it if you’d take a look at it. Click here to see it on Amazon.

 

Sciatica Pain and Sleep Positions

bike
New bike!

I’m going through a weird stage with back pain. It’s not new, but it seems especially magnified in recent months. I’m stronger than I have been in a long time, despite being almost completely unable to run. But almost magically (and not in a good way!) when I lie down in bed, the pain starts with a vengeance. I don’t know exactly what’s happening, but even my usual trick of elevating my legs isn’t helping as much as it used to. Something is definitely shifting when I get in bed, and it’s happening no matter what mattress I try— new, old, foam, springs, etc.

I get sciatica-type symptoms that start with a burning/tingling pain in my right butt cheek and trace down my leg to the hamstring, lateral thigh, and sometimes all the way to the heel. Next comes intense pain in the right front hip, and once it starts, it’s very hard to stop it.

I got a new bike— a cruiser with a very stable seat to keep my SI joints from getting angry— and can ride it without aggravating my back, which is awesome. It’s easy on my neck, too, since I sit upright in the seat rather than leaning over to reach the handlebars. I walk 5 or more miles every day, lift light weights, do a core workout like it’s my religion, and row a mile on our awesome Concept2 machine. For these reasons, I’m pretty strong, although I really want to return to more freedom and running. The lack of comfortable sleep position is maddening, and the pain can be crazy-making. Sometimes I change positions for three hours before I can go to sleep, but other times I get lucky and only move around for about an hour before conking out. It’s very frustrating to go to bed exhausted but unable to sleep because of pain. Lately, I sometimes have no pain at all until I lie down, which is quite bizarre.

No matter how long this shit goes on with chronic pain, I’m never able to get to used to it. There’s still some huge part of me that thinks it’s temporary, or maybe fake, despite making some serious strides toward peace with reality. But when I watch soccer on TV, I still feel the field under my cleans, the ball against my feet, and the rush of adrenaline from scoring a goal. I’m not sure that longing to play sports, to compete, to be free, will ever go away.

Tuft & Needle Mattress Review

I bought a Tuft & Needle mattress last week and it arrived yesterday. I’d heard great things about their mattresses and ordered one to try. I hate the high pressure and high prices in mattress stores and have never felt that lying on a bed in a showroom gave me a realistic impression of how the mattress would perform at home. Tuft & Needle has a great guarantee and their mattresses are made in the US. Their prices seem fair— not dirt-cheap, but they shouldn’t be, since they’re good quality— and they use a patented type of foam that’s supposed to be awesome. The mattress arrived within a few days, as promised, and was tightly rolled in plastic for shipping. It was heavier than I expected, but two of us were able to get it into the house and out of the box.

After we cut away the plastic, the mattress expanded. It was like magic. Not only did it get much bigger than its shipping size, but it quickly took nice, firm shape. Tuft & Needle advises waiting 2-3 hours before lying on it, so I let it air out in the bedroom while I went for a long walk and played with my dogs. The mattress had a bit of an odor, but nothing like the horrific, chemically smell I’ve experienced with other new mattresses. When it was time for bed, the odor was only detectable if I put my nose against the mattress.

I stretched out on the mattress with high but cautious hope. Sleeping—especially getting comfortable at night— is still a major problem for me. I’d done a two-hour private yoga session that morning to try to work on my rigid legs, and my back was aggravated from the new movements. The Tuft & Needle mattress had to be perfect if I was going to get any sleep at all.

And it was perfect. I mean, literally perfect. I still had to stack pillows under my knees to keep my back comfortable, but that’s no fault of any mattress. Once I arranged myself into my usual sleeping position, I laid there and closed my eyes and waited for discomfort that never came. The mattress was absolutely awesome— the best surface I’ve slept on in many years.

I needed to shift to my side once during the night, and because the T&N is quite firm, I had to make sure the fatter part of my cervical pillow was stuffed under my neck just right. Twenty seconds or so of pillow placement yielded good results, and I slept for another two hours without disturbance.

When I woke up this morning, my usual aches and pains weren’t cured (and I didn’t expect them to be), but I’d slept well and actually look forward to going to bed tonight. I haven’t looked forward to going to bed in as long as I can remember, because it’s usually a disappointing battle that leaves me stiff and in pain. Assuming the T&N keeps up its quality, I can see where sleeping on it could be life-changing.

This afternoon, I contacted one of their customer service reps to ask if they make camping versions of their mattresses. They don’t (yet?!), but the rep was not only instantly available via online chat, but extremely helpful and polite. What a relief, and a departure from the norm for a lot of purchases— a good product, good customer service, and made in the United States.

I have no connection at all to Tuft & Needle. I paid full price for my mattress and only wrote this review because I hope other people will read it and potentially find something that may help them sleep comfortably. Night-night, y’all.

Running, Renewal, and a Pretty Good Month

cheaha sunset
Gorgeous sunset at Cheaha.

I’ve had as good an October so far as I had a bad September, health-wise. It’s been a almost six weeks since I’ve needed a chiropractic adjustment (although I have to twist, roll, and traction myself daily), and I’m back up to running multiple times per week and lifting weights. Until a few days ago, I was sleeping pretty well, too. Chronic health problems are often cyclical, and I was reminded of that a few days ago when my hips and low back felt locked and painful and self-care wasn’t cutting it. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to cause the issue, and I’m hoping a quick trip to my beloved chiropractor will fix my woes.

I bit off more than I can chew with work, and some of that stress is probably contributing to my tight muscles and sore back. The teaching semester will be over in about five weeks— not that I’m counting— and getting down to one job plus writing will be relieving. I don’t know if it’s age, health issues, or what, but I just can’t work as many jobs as I used to without feeling overwhelmed.

I had a business meeting at an office about twenty miles from the state forest, and I knew a good run in the clean air would help clear my mind. I saw an awesome rattlesnake and enjoyed the solitude. I had to stop a few times to try to work the kinks out of my back, but otherwise it was a great run. I hope I can get out there again soon. And speaking of awesome runs– I had a great one at Cheaha State Park in Alabama. The mountain views, the morning mist…it was one of those days when it’s great to be alive and aware.

Stabilizing SI Joints for Air Squats

squat si joint
No, I’m not about to go to the bathroom in my yard. I’m descending into a squat while holding my SI joints!

My re-acquired (or earned!) ability to squat is absolutely awesome. Many years—yes, years—of persistence, hard work, and dedication finally paid off the day I realized I could finally squat again after so much time of squat=excruciating low back pain.

Since the breakthrough day, I’ve slowly added squatting back into my workout routine. The benefits, both psychological and physical, are obvious already. I have more energy because I feel like I’ve accomplished something major. My workouts are more challenging, in a good way, because I can squat. I’m better able to strengthen my body, which helps keep my joints safe and stable. And I’m so, so excited!

My squats come with a caveat. I’m up to sixty air squats in one workout, but I have to do every single one while using my hands to hold my SI joints in place. If that sounds weird, I promise it looks weird, too, but it works for me. I dig my fingers into the divots near the joints that attach my pelvis to my spine, apply pressure, and squat without pain. I can’t go beyond parallel without sacral nerve irritation, but I can squat! I can squat!

Did I mention I can squat again? J My newfound squatting ability has injected life into my strength-training workouts. I’ve recommitted myself to doing as many resistance exercises as my body will allow, and I feel great. My posture is already improved, and I can hold my puppy with more confidence when she pulls on her leash. I’ve been doing a good core workout plus basic arm weights for quite some time, but squatting has really reminded me of how much a strong body can protect itself—even when it needs to protect itself from itself (thanks, autoimmune issues).

I can’t add weight to my squats since my hands are busy holding my SI joints in alignment, but I have faith that one day I’ll progress. Just the fact that I can do the basic movement again is a huge victory. Every time I squat, I smile. It’s a great feeling to be able to squat, and I’ve worked hard and long to earn it.

Earlier Mornings and Organization

I’m making a major effort to organize and restructure my life. The reasons are varied, but the bottom line is I need to be more productive if I’m going to have a shot at accomplishing my major life goals. Lately I’ve dedicated a lot of thought to what I want my life to look like, and I realized (no shock) that my lack of Type-A tendencies hold me back from getting the most from my days. My brain is scattered, my workspace is scattered, and there’s no way I’m maxing out my potential in the midst of chaos. I could make excuses, some of which are legitimate (like how exhausting it is to fight chronic health issues), but the crux of the problem remains the same—I have goals, and I can’t accomplish them if I don’t get organized.

inspirational quotes
I put together some inspiration to hang over my newly organized desk. These are just simple notecards I wrote on and laid out before tacking them onto a cork board.

I printed a simple Excel spreadsheet to itemize my days and times, and started yesterday by filling in what I did with each time block. My ultimate plan is to write myself a schedule and adhere to it come hell or high water, but for now I’m just feeling out what a truly organized life will be like. I spent three hours going through stacks of paper, drawers of random stuff, and bins with pens that don’t write anymore. I chose to work meticulously rather than just tidying my space, and the task definitely started to drag. However, when I was done, I had a usable, organized desk. A large paper grocery bag full of recyclables proved just how much crap I’d kept for years.

I also confirmed what I suspected—I’ve let my health problems dictate too much of my days. There are times when that can’t be helped, but overall, even attention to a health crisis can be scheduled in a spreadsheet. I’ve been nearly killing myself by running too late in the mornings. By the time I get around to running, it’s usually 92-95 degrees in the shade. I struggle with getting comfortable at night, which means I often don’t sleep well, which, in turn, means I don’t move very efficiently in the morning. When I do get up, I take a lot of time to traction and stretch my back, rub Cryoderm on my neck, and/or do whatever else my body demands. It’s sometimes 10 a.m. before I run, and that’s not the smartest routine in the summer in the Deep South. It’s also a productivity-killer.

Fix number one was definitely organizing my desk. I’m not entirely sure if it’s true that a cluttered space equals a cluttered mind, but I feel better when I look at my newly arranged workspace. It’s been a source of embarrassment for years, and the piles of junk on it have definitely hindered my productivity. Now it’s a place that signifies pride in myself and my work and dedication to my future. Seriously, it seems that important.

Fix number two is saying to hell with my health problems and insomnia and getting up early anyway. (I used to work the 5 a.m. – 5 p.m. shift, so it’s not like I’ve never had to get up early.) I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m., but when I still couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep at 1 a.m., I grabbed my phone and changed the alarm to 7. It felt a little like defeat, but I respect my body enough not to punish myself too much for my pain. Guilt over health conditions is absolutely counter-productive. At 6:57, I woke up anyway and turned off the alarm before it could blare. That small action empowered me, and I headed to the kitchen to wake the dogs and put them out to do their business.

Side note—as far as “doing business,” like many runners, I much prefer to do mine before I run. I knew there was a possibility that last night’s dinner wouldn’t get moving at such an early hour, and I was right. Luckily, nothing catastrophic happened, although it was a little weird to head out the door to run before using the bathroom.

I drank ½ a cup of coffee and ate a Larabar, rubbed sunscreen on my face, and put on the running clothes I’d laid out the night before. I paced around the house as a preliminary warm-up, and played with our puppy for some dynamic movement. I sat on the porch stairs for a minute and self-tractioned my back, then knocked my SI joints into alignment against the tiled steps. So far, so good, and I was out the door before 8 a.m. to start my warm-up walk.

5.15 miles run
Electronic proof of a solid run. I used my refurbished iPod Nano and the Nike+ app to track my route, and the nice background pic belongs to the app.

The run wasn’t glorious or amazing or any of those other words I’d hoped would apply, but it was pretty damn good. The sun was still low enough that the mature trees in our neighborhood blocked it from directly cooking me, and the asphalt hadn’t heated up to the point of steam and odor yet. The bayou looked peaceful, almost like it was just waking up, too. I was covered in sweat by the end of my five-mile route, but not completely drenched like I am when I run later. The best part was, I wasn’t exhausted. I came home completely sold on running early in the morning and determined to back that alarm up to 6:30 and eventually to 6.

So far, my time log looks a lot better than yesterday’s. I couldn’t sleep two nights ago, partly because a nasty outbreak of psoriasis itched so bad that it kept me up. The skin calamity was the main reason I didn’t get up until almost 9 yesterday, but it had a strong effect on my productivity. What I’ve also realized is, staying in bed later doesn’t make me any less tired or any less itchy or really affect my pain and discomfort at all. In fact, I was less stiff this morning than usual after less time in bed.

Today’s To Do list is long, and it’s a good feeling to be partway through it at only 10:25 in the morning. I’m figuring out that I thrive off the sense of control I get from being extremely organized. Chronic pain demands so much attention, and it’s nice to fight back by telling my body that it’ll still get the help it needs, but that it’ll have to be helped efficiently and within my schedule. I truly feel empowered (also somewhat due to being able to squat again, which I’m sure makes me mentally and physically stronger!), and “empowerment” is something I haven’t really experienced in years. It’s a damn good feeling.

Squatting with Sacroiliac Joint Instability

air squat
Imperfect form, but I can squat! Victory!

I’m able to squat again! That probably sounds like a weird thing to celebrate, but I’m absolutely ecstatic. The recovery from my back pain/sacroiliac joint dysfunction has been long and complicated. I still believe that exercise with an emphasis on functional movement is the closest thing to a cure. I stick to my core workout like a religion. That said, it’s a tough road and sometimes I’m exhausted from the dedication it takes to heal myself. My three major holdouts in the battle against back pain have been sleeping, sitting, and squatting.

Sleeping is a night-by-night ordeal. Sometimes I can get comfortable and sleep 3 or 4 hours without even changing positions. Other times I spend almost all night turning, getting up to stretch, stacking and re-stacking pillows under my legs, and generally feeling like shit. Overall, my sleep situation is vastly improved, but if my SI joints are misaligned and put pressure on a nerve or two, I have a miserable night.

Sitting, too, is much improved, although I still can’t tolerate a soft surface like a couch or recliner. I do a lot of computer work while sitting on a wooden piano bench and am grateful I can sit half an hour on my butt. There was a time, not that long ago, when half a minute was torture.

Squatting is a bigger deal than I first realized. For starters, picking anything up with good body mechanics almost always requires squatting, especially if something heavy needs lifting. Petting small dogs requires squatting. Tying shoes requires squatting. You get the idea. I’ve made several adaptations, including training my puppy to get on a chair so I can pet her without squatting (no kidding!), but of course I want to be able to squat. My fitness has somewhat plateaued due to the lack of squatting, since lots of major weightlifting and core exercises require a squat.

A few days ago, after trying some new kneeling exercises to open my hips, I decided to advance to a wide-stance squat. I needed to lift a piece of landscaping concrete and didn’t want to ask for help. Living with chronic pain means frequently asking for help, and I hate asking people to do things for me. I took a deep breath and separated my feet well beyond the width of my hips, then squatted slowly. I waited for the usual searing pain to shoot through my right SI and into my right buttock, but all I felt was a slight twinge. I held the squat for a few seconds and got tears in my eyes. That may sound crazy, but anyone who’s had a physical limitation will understand. When that limitation is lifted—even if only partially—it feels like a personal miracle.

I’m very, very careful with my newfound squatting ability. As much as I’d like to do air squats until I drop (seriously, that’s my idea of fun), I’m only doing ten per day until I’m sure my back can handle more. I’m also resisting the urge to add weight to my squats. Just being able to squat is a huge accomplishment and I don’t want to take it for granted and end up hurt worse than ever.

I don’t keep a gratitude journal, although I probably should. If I did, one of the first things on my list this week would be “ability to squat.” Sometimes the simple things really are the best.