As a child I was always doing something. From soccer, swimming, skating and tennis to skiing every winter, getting exercise has always been a big part of my life. I have always considered myself extremely lucky that I was already in shape, fit and strong when I was diagnosed with MS. Although what I could achieve looked a bit different (miles logged on the elliptical or in the pool rather than running the hills of Seattle with my kids and dogs in tow) I continued to make exercise a daily priority.
Until the pain got so severe, so all-consuming that dragging my ass to the gym became an insurmountable task. It hurt so much from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning, hurt so much just performing the most basic of tasks, that all the energy and willpower that I had always applied to my workouts were put towards simply surviving the days.
I have never been out of shape, EVER. Hell, I swam two miles three hours before my water broke with my first child. My FIRST child – so you can imagine what I was doing just before child #2 and #3 decided to arrive. The point is, up until the pain got bad and the pills made me fat I have never had to get BACK in shape. But I am now confronted with just that – getting back into shape, and making exercise a regular part of my daily activities. Being motivated to workout has never been something I have had to think about. It has always just been a part of who I am and what I do.
Over the past 6 months or so, as I have found relief from the pain with medical marijuana and my pain strains. I have begun to be more active. I have started going on walks and hikes with the dogs, I’ve worked out both at home and in the gym, we have gone fishing and I even went mushroom foraging this past weekend. But nothing really seems to be sticking – nothing is bringing back that spark I have always had when exercising. I have been searching for something that will make me WANT to do it again….and keep doing it.
Swimming has ALWAYS been my zen place, the one place and activity that allows my mind to completely chill and not worry about the million and one things that fly around my brain constantly. Quite simply, it shuts the voice off and in its place is just this lovely silence, interrupted only by the muted sounds of the pool, the quiet swish of my flip turns, my own breathing steady and even.
When I was diagnosed with MS and my mobility and balance became questionable, hitting the pool was a natural migration from my constant running. After all, you can’t suffer a severe fall while in the pool. You can’t fall down while swimming. I missed running, being out in the world, seeing things and people while exercising, but swimming has always been my “comfort” exercise and given the stress of being diagnosed, it was a great way for me to keep active, while staying safe. Or so I thought….
I spent hours in the pool at our local “Y”. I often surprised people, when I would hobble in with my cane, moving unsteadily and awkwardly as I approached the edge of the pool, and gingerly climbed down the “handicap” stairs nestled it the corner of the pool. But the minute I was in the water, swim cap and goggles in place, I became someone completely different from the “disabled” body that I am living in. When I am swimming I feel as if I recognize my own body and it’s movements, because that cane-wielding wobbly being that climbed down into the pool isn’t REALLY me. The REAL me is fit and fast and sure-footed and will take on any challenge presented. When I am in the pool, there is no stumbling, no falling, no fear of falling….UNTIL…
Three years ago….something happened. Something that threatened to ruin swimming (at least in pools) for me, forever. I had actually forgotten about this particular “incident” until recently. While cleaning out our closet, I came across my old swim bag and as I opened it and looked at my goggles, cap, paddles, and pull-buoy I was hit with the memories of the last time I went swimming at the pool.
I had hit the “Y” just after dropping the kids off at school. I had hobbled my way into the dressing room and then out onto the pool deck. I swam for 90 minutes straight- turn and after turn, my mind clearing a bit more with each flip turn. At the end of my workout, I gathered up my cane, towel and locker key and headed to the showers, which is just a large room with shower heads sprouting out the walls. There were a few shower benches strewn around the large open space so I hung up my towel, placed my shampoo and conditioner on one of the benches and propped my cane up against the wall. I had about 45 minutes before I had to be back at the kid’s school to volunteer in my oldest’s art class, and my intention had been to take a quick shower, get dressed and out to my car, where I would rest for a bit before heading over there. But, that is not how it played out…
Because I fell. In the shower area. Butt naked. Not only did I fall, and not only did I fall while completely naked, but it was one of those falls that leaves me completely paralyzed from the waist down, unable to move my legs or get up. “Fortunately” for me, I was not alone in the shower area. The “Silver Sneakers” water aerobics class had let out just as I had finished up my laps and so when I decided to go crashing to the tile floor, I was immediately surrounded by six naked octogenarians. I don’t recall the details of their “rescue” mission or the specifics of my injuries, other than I was pretty bruised up, but I know that having those old ladies help my slippery bare naked ass up and safely into the changing room traumatized me far beyond a few bumps and bruises. I had experienced plenty of falls over the years since my diagnosis and I was familiar with turning my feelings of embarrassment into humor. I would find the reasons to laugh and smile at my mishaps. But this fall was different…
This one stuck with me, to the point that I realized that I have not been back to a pool (any pool) since that day. I have done some swimming, but only in the ocean or the lake. That one stupid fall had managed to take away something that has always been so comforting to me. After finding the bag in the closet, I became determined to get back to the pool and swimming.
This past week I returned to the pool, to swim laps. Making that first trip last week took every ounce of courage and willpower that I could muster up. Honestly, I almost left, after having pulled the truck into a parking space at the far end of the parking lot. I almost chickened out, because as I sat in the truck trying to build up the courage to actually go in and get into the pool I was hit with the overwhelming thought “I really don’t want to fall again.” Pretty simple want, but as I have learned not necessarily something that I can control.
But I did it! And then I did it the next day, and then the next. I woke up this morning and the very first thing I thought of was “oooo, I can go swimming today!” That is a huge difference from just a few days ago. I still have reservations each time I head over there. I worry a bit as I make my way out to the pool deck, wet and slippery from the required “pre-swim” shower. I worry even more after my laps, as I stand in the shower washing the chlorine out of my hair. I try not to think about “the naked fall,” I try and think about the fact that I did it, that I have made it back to the pool and that I am loving it again.
I KNOW that I should be proud of myself. I KNOW that I should praise myself for getting back into the pool, and for again incorporating exercise into my daily life. But instead of acknowledging these accomplishments, I find that I am admonishing myself for letting it get this far. I am disappointed that I could only swim 30 laps when 2 miles (132 laps) used to be a warm-up for a run back in my pre-MS days. Rather than applauding that I am now doing something about it, I harp on what more I should be doing and feeling disgusted that I let myself get so out of shape.
Prior to finding relief from the pain using cannabis, if someone had said “I get high to go to the gym because it gives me a better workout” I would have said that that sounds a hell of a lot like someone saying “I drink beer while doing P90X in my garage because it helps me lose weight.” I would have thought it was complete and utter bullshit. But a lot has changed in the past year. I have found relief and am feeling more “together” than I have in years. Taking a few extra puffs of my pain strain gives me the courage and motivation to get my ass out of the truck and into the pool. It relaxes my muscles and allows me to stretch and move them in ways that I haven’t done for too long now. I am now the one that is saying “I smoke MMJ before going to the gym because it helps me….
- It helps me with the pain, which is always significantly worse while exercising.
- It helps me actually think about my body, what muscles are tight/sore and allows me to adjust my workout around trying to make those areas better.
- It helps me muster up the courage to get back in the pool and to keep focused on feeling better and getting back in shape.
Exercise and activity have always been about stronger, faster, longer for me. Because of the help I am getting from MMJ, I am once again focused on setting and achieving goals, but I am doing it in a way that is also helping my body feel better, rather than just beating it up to meet my target. At this stage in my life, this is exactly what I need. I am super excited to be swimming again and I am hopeful that it will stick and I will again start waking up each morning, excited about going swimming, or getting exercise.
I need to stop thinking about what I COULD do back THEN and focus on what I CAN do NOW.
I need to be relentless in my pursuit of getting back in shape and forgiving of the differences in my abilities.
**This is my personal blog and all opinions are my own. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one here on my blog. The content here is for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of medical professionals. Be sure to contact your doctor before trying any new medications/vitamins/supplements, physical activities or therapies **