When Working Out Doesn't 'Hurt so Good' Anymore: Exploring Exercise That's Autoimmune-Disease Approved
For those of you who know me, you know that athleticism and exercise has been an integral part of my identity/life since rec-league soccer at age five. Over the years, I have played basketball, softball, soccer, and rugby competitively. I spent the majority of my teenage years traveling around the tri-state area playing in some hardcore softball tournaments as a catcher, which of course, required that I practice quite often and lift weights, because who likes losing? Not me, that's for sure.
When I wasn't playing softball nine months out of the year, it was soccer season, aka pure hell: timed miles, sprints galore until I was dry heaving (that might be because I spent the summer not running... but whatever...), two-a-days, being screamed at by militant coaches (true story, one of our coaches called us all schmucks once. How motivating!), and pulled muscles left and right.
Once the second semester of college rolled around and I was going crazy from not playing any type of organized sports, I opted to join our club rugby team. As you can imagine, practices and games were pretty physical, which I truly enjoyed. My body would feel battered and bruised after every game, and I even got to experience a few concussions (sorry brain :-(). When I was home for summers, I decided to take up boxing at a local gym, and fell in love with that as well. Then, I tried out MMA. I loved punching things, why not add kicking, elbowing, and choking into the mix?
As you can see, I have a history of and an affinity toward high-intensity sports. Well, that all changed once I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's and realized I have histamine intolerance issues. Exercise as I knew it had to change. Some of the exercise suggestions for individuals with chronic illnesses include yoga, pilates, ~light walks~, working out for 20 minutes, but keeping cardio/extraneous workouts to a minimum, "light exercise" (whatever the f!@$ that means...), strength training (thank God!) and water-based workouts (when you wear a wig and have body image dysmorphia with your face, jumping into a pool is the last thing on your list, tbh).
Clearly, this list is very different than what I was used to, and I am still feeling a little bit lost, but I have been trying my best to make this work and keep in shape, although right now I've been a bit lazy (thanks, seasonal depression. Ilysm bb <3). I've always appreciated my muscularity (even when I was called a man in 8th grade for being able to bench press more than my male peers #suckstosuck) and strength, and I'm sad to say that my illnesses have gotten in the way of maintaining my ~stature~.
Anyway, what I'd like to do is share with you what I've tried and what I'm currently doing with the hopes of helping anyone feel less hopeless and/or re-framing what it means to "workout" (my working definition has always pain, pain, and more pain lolol).
I appreciate yoga. It centers me. It calms me. It makes me feel a lot more flexible than I have ever been. Yet, I still can't get behind it being a true workout for me. I do find it to be challenging at times (e.g. holding those damn planks for what feels like hours while the instructor talks to us effortlessly, or boat pose :-o), and I will continue to keep doing yoga as much as possible, but it can't and won't be the only thing in my arsenal. I think yoga is wonderful and has so many benefits, but it doesn't help me channel my frustration effectively like boxing or rugby used to. Maybe I need to try a different program out :-) Right now, though, Yoga with Adriene is my jam, and I highly recommend checking her out!
For whatever reason, I chose the farthest parking garage from my office, so my walk to work takes about ten minutes. If the weather is nice outside, I try to take a walk on my lunch break, and sometimes I walk around my apartment complex since it's a quiet area and has a few walking trails surrounding it. Yet again, I can't justify this as exercise that makes it okay for me to eat an entire jar of sunflower butter without feeling guilty (I think I just found my exercise benchmark... haha...). I love walking though, as I just put on my headphones and escape for a bit. So, walking will stay in the arsenal as long as I can walk.
Strength Training/Weight Lifting
I love to lift weights, but I realized that I've been treating it like a chore/my need to be a perfectionist has been taking over. I bring a journal with me, I make sure that I up my weight amount every time I go, and I get pissed at myself if I don't improve. Yay... typical Julie. Over the past few months, I have ditched the journal and have been going three times a week if possible. While I still use the workout routine that my softball coach hooked me up with back in the 8th grade, it gets the job done and it helps me work up a minimal sweat. I don't do any cardio at the gym because 1) it will cause those histameanies to attack in full force and 2) I absolutely abhor cardio... so it's a win-win! Oh, and If you're interested in hearing how I go about lifting, just leave me a comment and we can chat :-)
Calisthenics/Gorilla Workout App.
Is this considered "light exercise"? I'm still not sure. Anyway, I try to do lunges, push-ups, sit-ups, body squats, and the like when I remember (which is hardly ever. Awesome!). Since my life is a hot mess because I try to do 1,000 things at once, I've started putting reminders on my Outlook calendar to workout because that calendar is my life (welp, I guess this is growing up). Moving on... this type of exercise is easy enough to do in my room, and the Gorilla Workout app. creates quick and easy circuits for you to do and subsequently feel accomplished about yourself. Yay :-)
I have no desire to play competitive sports again (which is definitely something I never thought I'd say) because 1) I'm not supposed to 2) I'm out of shape 3) I roll my eyes at people who take beer league softball as serious as if they're playing in the world series. I have tried to do workouts like Zumba, but even that caused a lot of unfavorable symptoms to flare up, which was a bummer. Thankfully, I have always hated long distance running (thnx compartment syndrome), so I don't miss that very much.
All in all, I'm pretty sure I can make the aforementioned regiment work, I just have to believe in it and stay committed. What I am learning is that I can't do everything perfectly all the time (work, teaching, research, health protocol, social relationships, etc.), and that should also apply to exercise. Yet, and I'm sure plenty of my other athlete friends can attest to this, when you've been in the competitive sports world for so long, the mantra that comes to mind is GO HARD OR GO HOME!!! So, I've been going home since I can't go hard, and subsequently watching my body turn from muscle to squishy, which is now motivating me to get up and change things.
Anyway, I hope this didn't sound like a diary post and was somewhat informative. I know that plenty of people in the spoonie community would be happy to be able to lift weights and/or go for a walk, and I do not mean to put down lighter forms of exercise. Even though I have multiple chronic illnesses, I am highly functioning, so I find myself stuck in the middle somewhere, constantly feeling like an impostor no matter which way I turn. I guess that means I get to be a lone wolf and figure this out while keeping the unique being I am in mind ;-)
Do any of my readers have any suggestions for what types of exercise or workouts they think might pass the test for those of us with chronic illnesses? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time!