The letter below was written by my sister. She has been on a challenging health journey for a few years; many of the intense details are spared below. She has been so brave to continue to ask questions and seek answers, even though she has received many discouraging responses of “I don’t know” and ultimately, dead ends. What I love about her story is that she continues to try to understand her body, even though no one else does. Another aspect I love that her story so accurately depicts is that movement can meet you where you are. Movement can bring you to the top of a mountain or out of a valley of despair. You just have to say yes and start searching for your starting line.
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On January 22, 2013, I woke up in excruciating pain. I was rushed to the hospital, and after endless testing, no cause for my pain was determined. This was the beginning of my journey with pain. Over the years, I spent countless time, energy, finances, and tears on trying to find the source of my illness to no avail. I was told it was everything under the sun, but mostly, it was “stress.” As a psychologist, I felt like I could identify my stress and definitely knew my pain was not being triggered by my stress levels. In October 2017, my health took a turn for the worse. I could not even get out of bed. The pain felt like groups of needles were being pushed into my body, which escalated when I walked. There were two weeks when I would crawl out of my bed to the kitchen to get a large glass of milk, and that would be my “meal” for the day. The only reason it was milk was that it was delivered to my front door.
From then on, walking more than necessary felt impossible. As a teenager, I was quite active, but my physical activity level had significantly decreased since 2013 and was nearly nothing by 2017. I spent most of my day sitting or laying down. I worked as I could, but I could hardly function. I tried to find my way and adjust to my new norm. I continued to serve at church because there was so much joy in working with toddlers, but the pain from their sweet hugs left me so exhausted after two hours with them, that I needed a four-hour nap! And so, this was my “new” life.
During this time, my family and friends encouraged to exercise. My doctors expressed concern about exercising fearing it would drain me even more. Natural body movement was painful, so adding “exercise” felt impossible. In a turn of events, I moved to a more dynamic city. My physical therapist of a sister encouraged me to try Pilates (which was not available in my previous town). I felt discouraged by the price and felt there was no possibility of me exercising. However, she and my mother joined forces, so I gave it a whirl. With neuropathy in my feet, I wasn’t feeling optimistic when I arrived and saw a strange contraption I was supposed to try.
I accidentally signed up for a cardio Pilates class, and it took me days to recover. I could not move afterward and felt lethargic. I was encouraged to try again. The next time I went, I took a private class. The instructor helped me find alternatives to accommodate my pain. I even ordered ankle straps to minimize my time with my feet in straps. We kept the weight incredibly low, starting at only a blue (which was the lowest this machine could go). The instructor was encouraging and talked about the importance of the movement, noting that the rest would come in time. I had my reservations.
When I first started Pilates, I could hardly do anything! I met with each instructor, notifying them of my difficulties. Many worked with me to find accommodations. Two instructors precisely, Danielle and Cindy, worked with me, complimented me on the tiniest improvements, and helped me find my own pace. Starting on a blue, I worked my way up to two reds and a blue, which is the starting weight for most people. I could not bridge at all when I first began, and now, I am able to hold my bridge, just now beginning to try to keep my bridge with one foot!
While I have made considerable strides in Pilates, it is my personal life that has been dramatically impacted. Once upon a time, I had flare ups regularly. Although I still experience pain, there have been no flare-ups in seven months. Below the flab of my belly fat, there is a strong core there. I can even lift items that once were too heavy! Where walking felt distressing, I have slowly begun to incorporate walking for pleasure into my daily life. I believe the movement in my body has helped me greatly achieve that milestone. Mostly, I find myself in a new relationship with my body. I no longer look at all the things it cannot do, instead, I recall all the things my body has accomplished! I face obstacles with my health regularly, but with each obstacle I face, I no longer see it as an obstacle that is standing in my way, but rather an adventure that is about to begin and a destination I’m about to encounter in the near future!
Where is your starting line?