My entire life I have struggled with exercise. As a child I was severely asthmatic and therefore banned from doing P.E. or any sports that caused my heart rate to increase. Fortunately I discovered that I could ride horses, and my parents gladly supported that in lieu of doing sports. When I was in college and discovered that my asthma was really a severe dairy allergy, everything changed. I bought my first pair of running shoes and was immediately hooked. I decided that I needed to run a marathon. I would get all worked up into a frenzy and start training much too often too soon, and my efforts always ended in injury. Once this cycle had repeated itself over and over for a few years, I took up cycling. I began commuting long distances to work on my bike, riding after work with friends and then going on long destination rides on the weekend. I went through phases where I would begin a running program on top of all of the cycling. I don’t know if it was because of the lack of exercise in my childhood, but I was obsessed with pushing my body to the limit.
In late 2011 I had my big “crash.” It followed my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, a liver cleanse, an exhausting road trip, and one of my recent running/cycling phases (one where I was running and cycling more than I ever had in my life). All it took was a viral infection in the midst of all of this and boom, I was deep in the throes of adrenal fatigue.
As I began to heal from this crash, one thing was incredibly apparent – exercise was not my friend. I was obsessed with the need to move, but my body wouldn’t allow it. I went for months only managing to be able to walk a few blocks around the neighborhood (some days having to be supported by my loving husband and sister because I was so weak). My mom gave me a rebounding trampoline and I gently bounced on it for 10 minutes twice a day. I was extremely upset to discover that I could not do yoga because my blood pressure was too low. I figured out a couple of seated poses that I could manage and built that into my routine. I also got into meditation and qigong. My “exercise” routine consisted of a short walk, some bouncing, a couple of yoga poses, and a meditation. For someone that a few months earlier was strong and fit, this was an incredibly humbling experience.
2012 brought with it many revelations about health and my life changed considerably. I was intent on figuring out how to heal myself, and I knew that one of those pieces was going to be exercise. The answer wasn’t what I expected, however – it was a clear “no”, at least to my definition of exercise. This was an incredibly difficult lesson to learn. The second I felt any type of improvement in my energy, I started dreaming of all the ways I could use it. I seriously had to put my running shoes away because they were taunting me. At this point I was aware of what I needed to do to help my body heal, and I made a plan.
My exercise goal for 2012 ended up being this: I would attempt to do a little yoga every day. I would try and walk as much as I could. Thats it! I would not run or start riding my bike again, even if I felt I was up to it. I would not get a gym membership and take classes that would exhaust me. Instead I would work on exercising my spirit through meditation and reading.
How did I do? I was a little disobedient – I rode my bike once and attempted to run a few times, I am not going to lie. In the beginning of the year when I was still quite sick, I found it hard to do the little yoga that I could tolerate. Eventually I felt myself getting stronger, and I was able to do more and more poses. The day that I was able to stand up without fainting was met with celebration – I could now do standing poses! I continued building my practice until I could endure an hour-long session almost every day. Other than yoga, the only other exercise I have been doing is walking. As I got stronger, I could walk further and in more hilly areas in my neighborhood. I have really come to enjoy it – I have met more of my neighbors, know where all the cool fruit trees are and have a greater sense of being connected to the place that I live.
What are my exercise goals from here? This year I am so happy to be where I am at. I love my yoga practice and my walking routine (although it is hard to be inspired by the weather in Seattle this time of year). I am considering adding some strength training to my yoga routine and putting more effort into planning hikes. In essence, kicking it up a notch, but not really heading into the running/cycling/adrenal fatigue territory that I was in before. I am open to trying some new things that aren’t super intense – maybe kayaking or bouldering. It feels good to be here and not feel the pressure to push myself because I feel the need to be an incredible athlete. I accept that with autoimmune disease my body has limitations, and I seek to respect and work with them instead of ignore and force it to do something that is counterproductive.
What has been your experience exercising with a chronic illness? I am curious to find out what you have done to stay moving while not overdoing it!