I know that I am not 18 any more.
One of my doctors kindly pointed that out to me recently.
What I mean is that I can no longer demand of my body what I once did. And I know this, as I embrace the things that come with years gone by. Aging is a complicated issue for me, emotionally charged and not something I am willing to discuss right now, but it is important to note that this post is not about aging. It is, however, about the way my body has worn down due to my disability.
When I was 18 I drilled endlessly on the U.S. style football fields, with the careful precision that four years of training an 8-to-5 step — that being my ability to march exactly eight steps in five yards to whatever beat you set for me — will ingrain into a person. I was able (and expected) to teach others under me to do the same all while playing the horn. To this day I can not hear most music without at least tapping my foot. Emerson, Lake, & Palmer’s “Karn Evil 9” will actually cause me to hum along wistfully. Later I did the same at University. Anyone who participated in University Marching Band at Eastern Michigan University can tell you that marching band was not something you just did, but rather worded at, and I worked hard. Hauling that tuba around during pregame was no easy feat. There was a reason music majors received PE credit for marching band.
Before I was diagnosed I was a runner. When I was 18 I had pounded out miles on the track and on mapped out road routes in order to get into the condition I needed to race for years. I was able to sprint out the eleven or thirteen steps, whichever felt right, to take me to the high jump pit and sail over the bar. I wasn’t amazing, but I had determination to demand it from myself. I ran in high school, and I hated it. I loathed it. I had clever names for the malevolent task-masters whom I called Coaches that I went to voluntarily every day after school and asked for work out schedules and whose hands I shook afterwards.
I ran before, during and after my pregnancy (when I wasn’t throwing up), cussing myself out the whole time. I ran in Navy boot camp, filling myself with the urge and the desire to do well. I hated every moment, but loved the feeling of feet on pavement even as my shins cried out in pain. I filled myself with the desire to go one step further, two, one mile, two, as I shoved tears out of me to replace the pain that filled my body (and I usually peed my pants a little at some point, but that is another story).
Eventually the shin pain became a lot worse. It was massive, and no amount of ice or ibuprofin was going to alleviate it. A bone scan later and some Tolkein-esque blathering you don’t care about and I am told I can never run again. Sure, the Navy loved that. I couldn’t get a chit to back it up w/o getting kicked out earlier than I already did, so I had to go back every 45 days or so to get a new one, and I had to be very sure it was a nice sailor-doctor who signed it, because the Fitness Enhancement people were not going to take anything signed by anyone who was a civilian or any other branch of the military regardless of what degrees they had on the wall. So, running was right out, and they weren’t making it easy for me to, well, take care of me.
I became a swimmer, and I was fantastic at it. I probably knew this deep down, having been a natural swimmer since before I could walk. Had anyone told me that I could swim as an option to running in the Navy sooner I would have. I swam thousands of meters a day, until I was exhausted (trying not to notice that my body was telling me this was sooner and sooner each day). I would do kick turns through migraines that were getting more and more fierce despite the amount of over-the-counter meds I was pounding. Go figure. My Fitness Test scores went from Good/Low to Excellent/High.
Until my abdominal muscles gave out.
I finally pulled something doing sit-ups. I went from doing in the high 60’s to barely being able to do the 35 that was required to pass for my age group pretty much overnight. I would get to 15 and the pain would make me yell out it was so sharp. I could almost clock it, too. Of course sit-ups were always first, and this made push-ups impossible. I couldn’t even do the simple 15 I needed to pass. My doctor felt around, and determined that core exercises were out for fitness tests. I was to do them only at my own pace or with a doctor in physical therapy.
Finally the headaches were bad enough that it was too much and my swimming was scaled back. My exercise was restricted so much that I was barely allowed to do 30 minutes a day. I was still not receiving any pain medication other than anti-depressants, which were not working for me. I started seeing a chiropractor, and doing yoga, which I was told was not a “real” workout, but would count for my weekly number of workouts anyway. Even then I couldn’t do a full class because I was in too much pain.
Still, as I gained weight, cornered in by pain and now stuck in a body that wasn’t allowed to move anymore, my new doctors (because they were always changing) said that I just needed to lose weight, if only I would watch my diet and include more exercise into my daily routine, which by now was only limited to half days of work due to pain and 15 minutes of exercise by my chiropractor and PCM, and Hey! How about seeing a dietician?
After my discharge, when my second career choice was unceremoniously ended with me handing over my ID card, I finally settled into a place where I stopped hating my body so much (OK, you got me, I’m still working on it). I am finally on a pain management regimen, I do light exercise as the pain permits, and my body is stable at a weight that hasn’t fluxed one way or the other for a few years now. I had to give some things up (drinking alcohol any more than a few sips being the one that comes to mind mostly) because of those medications. But all of this aside, I have tried to take care of myself. I have followed what doctors have told me to do, I didn’t smoke, I tried to eat right, I wore sunscreen…I even eat very little meat, having been an on again/off again vegetarian. I know that these are not hard and fast actual things that guarantee health, they are just things that I have always followed because some doctor or dietician or another has advised me blah blibitty blah… What I mean is that I have very few of what people generally consider vices.
Recently I had some issues where I have been vomiting in my mouth, acid reflux, heart burn, all kinds of fun stuff. They gave me a nice, handy laundry list of things I need to give up in order to help alleviate the symptoms now that they have prodded around my duodendum with a camera.
Things like coffee, and chocolate, and anything spicy (or tomato-based in general), which are three of my favorite things. All citrus foods are right out, which I expected, but they snuck in things that surprised me, like mint and mint flavoured things, which took half of my herbal teas out as well. Finally, I find myself with no vices if I am to follow all of the doctorly advice to maintaining my health.
Let me tell you that I have not been a pleasant person to be around lately. I depend on that Super Human tolerance for things like caffeine and chocolate (sometimes at the same time!) to fuel things like my snark and ability to write 2,000+ word blogs posts. I have sustained myself on coffee and little else at times. It is often the centerpiece of friendly chats and family gatherings.
It leaves me to wonder, how many straws do we lose before we say “that’s the last one? I can’t take any more!”?
What lines do we draw when we get all of that medical advice, when things that we enjoy or that we once did have been stripped away from us one by one, to balance a quality of life for ourselves so we don’t sit around stewing about what we can or can’t do anymore, and to make sure that we do actually pay attention to the call of our bodies as they try to tell us something (if they do send us signals at all)? Where do we draw the lines between telling our bodies to piss off because we need that comfort, that thing that helps us get through the day when we feel like everything else has been taken from us?
Or am I making mountains out of molehills here?
Photo credit: ashleigh290