New Year, Same Me

I started the year with an 8am barre fitness class at my new gym, which is also my new love. No hangovers. No excuses. I got up at the crack truve picof dawn on New Year’s Day, and I went and tried a new class, and it kicked my everlovin ass! Thank god for Sombra! (Serioulsy, they should douse you in this stuff on your way out of the studio.

Why did I sacrifice a morning of sleeping in to get sweaty and sore? Because I could. See, over the last few years my body has been to hell and back (several times). I’ve suffered bouts of all out immobility thanks to first a broken leg, then a temporarily crippling flare of Crohn’s disease and related arthritis. As 2014 came to a close, a lot of my health problems eased closer to remission, and now that I’m starting to feel like myself again, I’ve been able to increase my physical activity. So I’ve been sort of haphazardly getting out and trying things here and there – a spin class after work, a Sunday jog by the Lake (using the term “jog” loosely here), walking to work instead of riding the bus. That sort of thing. And as my activity becomes more frequent, I keep asking myself why I exercise. Is it to lose weight? And the answer, for me anyway, is: not really.

Here’s where I’m at with my body: I fucking love it to death. This is a body that survived being run over by a motorcycle! This is the body that rebuilt itself, from muscle loss, bone fractures, torn ligaments, monstrous autoimmune attacks – and it still gets me everywhere I need to be. And it feels good! It’s me! Sure, my immune system is a little bit ratchet, but that makes it even more apparent how strong I am, how robust my organs are to stand up to that kind of constant assault.  And I feel compelled to celebrate my strength by moving more, in new and challenging ways that feel good.

Because I’ve felt what it’s like to not be able to move. And there’s a chance I’ll be in that situation again at some point, so I want to enjoy my mobility now, while I still can, and because I know that moving my joints now is the best way to keep them moving for the long haul.

So, I’m not looking to change myself, although I’m sure my shape will change a bit along the way. I’m not looking for a new me, not at all, I’m looking to experience more of who I already am. And that’s a much stronger motivator than “having to go work out” – it infuses my decision to get out there with curiosity and excitement rather than dread and stress.

I got lucky that just yesterday I found a gym that’s in line with my goals and attitude about exercise. After years of the uncomfortable sweaty ham-scented grind of a mega-gym chain, I decided to check out a new place in my neighborhood. It’s clean, and beautiful and warm and welcoming and personal. The classes are exciting and challenging and the instructors are encouraging and friendly. And I get excited to go there. So even though the membership is significantly more expensive, I’ve decided to join up, because I’d rather pay more for something I’ll actually use, than less for something I’ll avoid.

So that’s the last piece of my exercise resolution. Here it is in full: 1. Take time every day to think about why movement is important to me. 2. Move in ways that feel good. 3. Move in ways that feel like accomplishments. 4. Spend active time in places I actually enjoy being.

That’s it. No “lose 20 lbs.,” no “run a marathon,” no “fit into my skinny jeans.” Just me experiencing my body in motion.

You Could Find Me In the (Autoimmune) Club, Bottle Full of Bud

I always sort of knew I might develop an autoimmune disease at some point. The women in my family are riddled with them, and they get them fast and hard. My mom died of lupus 3 weeks after her 52nd birthday. My grandmother developed rheumatoid arthritis in her mid thirties and was wheelchair bound for most of her life thereafter. All of my aunts and many of my cousins have some form of thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or some combination of them. So I had a good sense that something might come up for me eventually. I got tested every few years for lupus and R.A. and all my tests were good – my blood pressure is low, cholesterol too, my diet’s clean, I’m physically active, no joint pain and I could run three or four miles without passing out, so I thought I still had a long way to go before I developed problems. But, like I say, everything happens, especially change.

About a year ago I started having digestive problems. It came on slowly at first, just discomfort after eating, but more and more I started noticing that food, in general, was making me sick. As my symptoms got worse, I tried various elimination diets, trying to identify what was causing so much grief – gluten? dairy? alcohol? caffeine? sugar? But no matter what I took out or put into my diet, I kept getting sicker… and sicker. I got to a point where food wouldn’t stay in my body long enough to digest anything. I was bloated, and pale, and in so much pain that I basically trembled constantly, and I’d gotten so used to it that I didn’t even notice I was going through my life like a beat-down robot. Then my boyfriend and one of my best friends teamed up and made me finally go to the doctor. It took about 6 weeks of increasingly unpleasant tests for the doctor’s to identify what I have as Crohn’s disease and confirm that yes, in fact it was all food that was making me sick, or rather it was my immune system that was making me sick in such a way that no food could possibly feel good. Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease where your body sends too many white blood cells to parts of your digestive system causing inflammation, ulcers and erosion of various membranes, so that when you eat, it’s kinda like shoving food into an open wound. When I saw the scopes of my insides it looked like I’d been eating shards of glass and battery acid for days.

Then, just as my doctor was coming up with a treatment plan,, my immune system continued to get hopped up like a college girl on Cuervo and sugar-free GoGirl, and got all ratchet on the hardware in my (formerly broken) leg. After almost six months of steady healing, my leg started doing a historical reenactment of what it looked and felt like when it was first broken (swollen to twice its normal size, impossible to put any weight on it.) And it kept getting worse! Red, blotchy, firey hot, it looked like I had dunked my leg from the knee down in boiling water, I assumed I had reinjured it, but when I mentioned it to my trusty GI doctor, she identified it as an extension of the Crohn’s disease. So now we know that what’s going on is a more general inflammatory condition and whenever my body feels stress, it starts ramping up and goes off to fight The Great War somewhere in my body, and if there’s no war to fight, it damn sure starts one.At least now we have a diagnois(ish) and a plan.

Knowing that autoimmune disease is triggered and aggravated by stress, it made perfect sense that this had started when it did, 6 months after I was run over by a motorcycle, amid all the stress of balancing an intense physical therapy schedule, full-time work, a 10 mile commute on public transportation on crutches, fighting daily with hospital accountants and my insurance company, and learning that my boyfriend and I were on our own because the dirtbag who ran me over had no insurance. Stress-wise, I was fully primed for my immune system to overreact.The good news about that, from my perspective, is that because it responds so dramatically to stress, it’ll probably respond well to stress-reduction.

So while we convince my white blood cells to go home and sleep it off, I’m on steroids, anti-inflammatories and a super limited diet of basically white starchy food and meat. I’ll write more about the details of the diet and the creative solutions my boyfriend and I are coming up with to accommodate the new restrictions and challenges. If you have a similar situation, or a blog with recipes or tips, please feel free to share them! (and good luck with your healing!)