Being sick all through college, I became a big “push through” type of person. I felt that anything someone wanted, they could get if they just did everything right (whatever that means). For me, this meant getting a ton of experience in my field so I wouldn’t graduate college with only a degree to show for it. Right after I first got sick, I wanted to volunteer, work, be a T.A. and take a full class load. Since it was what I wanted, nothing was going to stop me. So, despite feeling like I had the flu and strep throat every single day, I “pushed through” and did all of these things. If I really wanted to hang out with friends, I’d just take a bunch of caffeine and “push through” the pain. My senior year, I was taking 18 credit hours, working, and interning. I became so ill, that my doctor informed me I would never get better (at this point they didn’t know I had POTS), if I didn’t drop everything and rest. She said my body was physically and mentally stressed and it had no way to heal because I never stopped putting MORE stress on it. I explained to her that was not an option because I wanted to do these things, even if I felt like death doing them. We compromised that I would drop ONE thing and that ended up being work (thank you for your help Mom and Dad!). My mindset was if I reached my goals, I would feel a sense of accomplishment and feel fulfilled. This would make me happy. If something is making me happy and getting me where I want to be, how could it be bad? I also think sticking with your game plan, even when it is not fun, is a good quality — I just tend to take it to the extreme!
During the two month break after college, my symptoms got a little less severe so I felt great about starting a new job. I never dreamed I’d get a job right out of college that allowed me to help people, use my creativity, have a boss who helped me take my ideas to the next level, and work with genuinely nice and like minded coworkers. I loved my job so much that I wasn’t going to let anything prevent me from doing it.I felt the job confirmed the validity of my mindset of “pushing through” no matter what the cost. Had I not “pushed through” throughout my college career and gained experience, I wouldn’t have gotten this job. Despite my job satisfaction, I developed symptoms I’d never had before like swollen lymph nodes in my armpits and stomach, and severe stomach pain. None of this really prevented me from wanting to work. I just took more pain medication and more “uppers” so I could get through the day. I kept a smile on my face through it all because that’s just how I am — I didn’t want my performance, people I helped, or coworkers to suffer from my illness. It wasn’t until it got to the point that I struggled to sit up at my desk, and went straight to bed when I got home, that I took my doctor’s advice and quit my job. I am so lucky to have had such an understanding boss (she really worked with me and my illness prior to my having to quit) and supportive coworkers. It made something that was incredibly heartbreaking a little bit easier.
I am a huge advocate for exercise. Even while I was sick, I’d try and “push through” the illness by doing high intensity workouts like P90X. Sure, I got dizzy and lightheaded while I was working out, but I ignored it, figuring that just meant I needed to work harder, or maybe even that meant I was working hard enough. I attributed my pounding heart to the cardio (as anyone would I think). I didn’t know any differently, so I just assumed everyone’s heart pounded like that. I did this to my body about 4 years out of the almost 5 years I have been sick.
Now I know P90X (or any upright workout) is probably one of the worst things I could have done to my body. I saw great results as far as sculpting my muscles were concerned, so I never dreamed it was hurting me. Exercising upright is stressful my body because the blood all pools in my legs causing the rest of my body not to be getting the blood supply it needs, which makes my heart rate increase to try and pump blood to said areas. This is why the exercise plan the doctors gave me contains exercises with my legs as parallel to the floor as possible.
I thought the exercise program was pretty lame/weak, but I was excited to get the green light to start exercising again. I have really been missing being toned and feeling good about having worked out. At first, I only did the recumbent bike and leg machines just as the doctor had recommended. I stared longingly at the people doing free weights. I’ve never been a fan of weight machines because the muscle built doesn’t really transfer to real world strength. The muscles aren’t working together as they would naturally. After a week of this, I was really annoyed I was putting in this time and effort, but was only working one area of my body in a way I didn’t enjoy. On top of this, it was leading to having a sore throat every night (I get this symptom when I do too much — my lymph nodes swell), swollen lymph node armpits, and headaches.
Enter old Jackie who thinks she just needs to “push through” her symptoms. I thought “What would working on my abs some days and arms other days in addition to legs hurt, especially if it makes you happy?” So, after only a week of doing the exercise plan the doctor gave me, I “adjusted” it to my liking. I continued utilizing the exercise mats at the gym to lye down and let the blood redistribute in my body. I would start out doing sitting/lying down stretches, move on to either my arms or abs, go back to the mat and do more lying down/sitting stretches, move on to my legs, and finish up by lying down again and stretching. I thought all of this lying down meant I was being responsible about working with my body.
Boy was I wrong! After about two weeks of what I thought was my improved exercise plan, I got extremely sick and still am. From the time I woke up, my throat was hurting and I was lightheaded. Every afternoon, I began shaking to the point that I couldn’t eat cereal with almond milk because it would all spill out of the spoon. I was having to lye in my bedroom with all of the lights and sounds off earlier in the night than usual. Any plans I had, were getting canceled because I just felt too sick to do anything. Clearly, my body was not happy with me.
Did I recognize perhaps my resorting to my old ways of “pushing through” was a likely cause of this setback? Of course not :-). I was already seeing more toned muscles, so I figured that meant I was doing it right! I don’t know why I didn’t learn from my past experience, but I didn’t. It took Jake calling me out this past weekend for me to see the problem. He said I wasn’t doing what the doctor said and I needed to try their plan, not my own because clearly mine wasn’t working out for me. Initially, I told him he was wrong because I am stubborn like that. He let it be because he knows that although I am stubborn, I would think about it later when he wasn’t around. After I thought about it, I realized he was right. Why, when I was getting worse, not better, was I making my exercise plan more difficult? Why was I not following the advice of doctors who have seen hundreds of patients like me?
Yesterday was my first day at the gym since my epiphany. I did the recumbent bike for 20 minutes (5 minutes warm up, 10 minutes exercise, 5 minutes cool down). I did the recumbent bike again today, and will do the weight machines tomorrow. I still hate it and wish I could be exercising how I want to, but I know I’ll never get to exercise how I want to if I don’t take baby steps. The doctor said eventually, I can do upright exercise. First, I need to be able to exercise with my legs parallel to the floor without it making me sick.
If you can workout upright, please enjoy it for me :-).