Do You Play Through the Pain?

01.31.14

I’ve had a lifetime of joyful physical activity. From a childhood on the beach with hours spent in the ocean, on bikes, in the sand playing soccer and volleyball or hiking in the cliffs, there was never a day we kids weren’t in motion. As a teen I learned to love running and as a college student I took up mountaineering and cycling, both on the road and on the trails. Early adulthood brought me back to running and it was only during the 2007 City of Angels Half Marathon that I thought to myself, “If I play tennis there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll win. If I keep doing these runs I’ll never win a thing.” And because I missed competing I took up tennis. In retrospect it’s also the first time I knew that something was wrong with my body. I felt fatigue and joint pain and intuitively knew there was a problem, a big problem and decided to ignore it.

I’m not a great tennis player. I’m not even very good. I’m a solid 3.5 club player and the only reason I’m a 3.5 and not a 3.0 is because when we get to the third set I’m not tired. I’m just starting. My body is built for distance. I’m happy running (now quite slowly) for a couple of hours. My lungs feel like they’re full of glass the first 20 minutes but sometime around 30 minutes in they feel full and sweet with air and near the end of the first hour I feel a surge of lightness and joy and that’s when I know I’m about to have fun.

When I exercise I stop thinking in words and that’s the most important benefit that exercise has given me. This brain shut off comes around the end of the first hour and it’s a joy unlike anything I’ve ever known. It’s higher than any drug and sweeter than any candy. You know the sound of a baby’s laugh? My body feels like that laughter has been bottled and injected into my veins for a full hour. It’s bliss. Golden bliss.

Except that a year ago my tennis racquet fell out of my hand. And I dropped a dinner plate because my hand couldn’t support it. And the acupuncture that I was having three days a week wasn’t taking the pain away and I’ve completely forgotten what it’s like to live in a body that doesn’t hurt. I don’t even miss the pain free feeling anymore because it’s so unfamiliar, so lost.

My elbow hurts. Most days it only hurts a bit. I’m still having acupuncture and doing the physical therapy that was prescribed to me a year ago. I haven’t required a pain pill and I’m using topical anti inflammatories only. I can pick up a plate and I even bowled right handed (though the score is really no better than when I use my not dominant left hand). I miss tennis and I’m ready to get back to it. Perhaps even with a small ache in my elbow.

I’m going to beg the doctor for a cortisone injection next week and live my life again. I can’t be a runner again. Yes, I can run about 3 miles straight and not ache the next day but if I run the fourth it’s impossible to get out of bed the following morning. For some reason the side to side, sprinting and bouncing of a tennis court hurt a lot less and quite often not at all.

When I was younger and wanted to run faster, jump higher or just look better I trained through the pain. But before rheumatoid arthritis the pain wasn’t debilitating. It was the sweet pain of muscle growth. This new pain is the pain of joints deteriorating and I have to decide if I want to be happy now or later. Part of me knows that getting back to tennis without being 100% healed will hurt me down the road, but the other part of me really needs to play. It’s the part that needs to compete and is bored silly with Pilates. I’m at war with my own immune system. Hopefully my rheumatologist can give me secret weapon next week.

RA and Non-Remissions

07.16.13

I hate the word remission because I’m not in one. I’ve never been in one. I mean technically the first 38 years of my life were a remission and the next 50 will be something else.

Today’s an injection day and one of the reasons I’m grateful for an every 25 day injection schedule is that I only feel like a patient every 25 days. For some reason aches and pains don’t make me feel like a patient. Fatigue does. I find the fatigue to be the most debilitating part of this disease and it depresses me to no end.

Today is a little different. Right now I’m leaving my injector pen out of the refrigerator for 20 minutes before I shoot up and I’m feeling mostly grateful that I just threw out a full bottle of Tramadol. After a year those pills expire and of the 30 pills I picked up at the pharmacy I think I only took four of them during the course of the year and one might have been for menstrual cramps. Normal people might take three narcotic tablets in a year. I’m not in remission, I’m not without pain but I’m in the normal zone and brimming with gratitude.

I haven’t been for acupuncture in a while because I haven’t had a flare but I’m a terrible patient and an ignorer of pain. There’s a dull ache in my shoulder that I should probably tend to and my tennis elbow is close to zero. I’d changed my tennis membership at the club over to a fitness membership and I’m hopeful that in a month or two I’ll pick up a racquet again.

I feel like crap (and get fat) when I eat wheat and sugar but I eat wheat and sugar. I’m flawed. Deeply. Tomorrow I see the rheumatologist and it’s long past time for me to have some wrist and foot x-rays. I’ve been able to run… okay jog about a mile on a padded track without excruciating foot pain the following morning but there is pain and I need to talk to my doctor about what sort of risk that really is. I love to run but a body with Rheumatoid Arthritis has a limited number of steps it can take. And no, I do not wish to swim. Pools for for floating.

This sort of non-remission is pretty good stuff. My body isn’t a total hostage but it’s not completely free. Or maybe I am captive to my immune system and I just have some sort of Stockholm Syndrome where I used to hate it but am growing to accept it.

My Running is About to Become a Figure of Speech

02.28.12

Running hurts too much. I’ve got this weird space in my life where I love to run and being in motion makes me feel centered and sane. Unfortunately running is doing permanent damage to my joints.

I feel great when I run. Who doesn’t? It’s an incredible feeling when both feet are off the ground. Unfortunately by the end of a run I feel throbbing in my feet and then an hour later in my hips. The next morning my toes feel like they’re on fire. This is the arthritis telling me to slow the fuck down.

This weekend I ran on the sand and I had no pain whatsoever the next day. I’m not sure that I’m willing to make a commitment to being on the beach four days a week just to get my exercise. This puts me back at the gym, stuck on the elliptical.

Since AT&T has begun throttling my “unlimited” data plan I’m having to download my podcasts on wifi rather than streaming Sirius. I do not have words for how entertaining it is to listen to Howard Stern while simultaneously watching actors preen for one another at the gym. With Sirius not an option I need something else to make the gym not suck. 

I need podcast recommendations. I’m totally depressed about giving up the running so make it something wonderful.

Training with Rheumatoid Arthritis

01.31.12

I used to love running. Running has been my link to sanity in every difficult moment of my life. I ran as a child, as a teen and as an adult. I ran short and long distances and I’ve always loved running in the hills. I love running downhill and taking flight almost as much as I love running up hill and feeling fire in my lungs.

When I can’t shut my brain off I go for a run and it fixes everything. It’s been my meditation, my therapy and my joy.

With he onset of Rheumatoid Arthritis I went from running a few miles a day to not being able to walk upstairs in my house almost overnight. In addition to the toll it took on my body there was a huge price to pay emotionally. Without being able to move well I was antsy, grumpy and sad all at once. I’d watch people run past me and stare wistfully.

In the last few months a combination of medicines has allowed me to exercise again. I can take long walks and hikes and still feel okay and I can even run a few miles without aches.

I’ve worked up to a four mile run. Rheumatologists will tell RA patients that you should exercise only to the point where you don’t feel joint soreness an hour or a day afterward. What’s been difficult for me as a former athlete is that my old mindset was to exercise to the point of pain. Not extreme pain, but in order to grow muscle strength you need to push it and feel something, a strain, fatigue… light pain.

Exercising when you’re an RA patient means stopping before there is pain and it’s a wholly unsatisfying experience.

Today I did a flat four miles of interval training. I would run at a slow but steady pace for 3 minutes and then walk for one. My hips didn’t hurt, my ankles and toes felt fine an hour later and even this evening. I never lost my wind. I never felt a burning in my chest and I never lost track of time.

My new normal isn’t leaving me happy.

I’ve signed up to run a half marathon in April and it looks like I’ll need to readjust my goals. I won’t be running. I’ll be walking because it’s the only way that I’ll be able to make the distance without injuring my joints.

I should be incredibly grateful that I have the ability to do this long walk. I’m not there yet. Maybe this race (though I’ll hardly be competing with anyone) will be a milestone that can help the disappointment dissipate.

I wish I was running. I’m trying to not look at walking as a defeat.

Grace Jones Licked my Arm and I Went Running with Snot on my Shirt

04.20.11

Last night Alexander had a baseball game that didn’t end until almost 7pm. I threw two tired and dusty kids in the car, ran through the drycleaner to grab Mr G’s clothes (they love it when he doesn’t come to work naked), and then headed off to my favorite Gastropub.

Mr G says that Gastopub is a horrible name made up by elitist hipsters. I tend to agree with him, but it is a gastropub and it’s frequented by families like ours who want to cling the mistaken notion that we are still hip and cool post parenthood.

In any event we were off to the gastropub because everyone knows that for the second night of passover it is traditional to have pork belly skewers. Or not, but I really really love them. So Jane and I shared three small dishes, one chopped salad, one order of roasted marrow bones, and pork belly skewers. Sadly Mr G was working late and I had to drive us all home so I had just one glass of wine.

I’m pretty sure dinner was eighty bazillion calories so I promised myself that I would run (not walk) Fryman Canyon. The Fryman Canyon loop is just about 3 miles and it’s pretty hilly but it’s nice soft dirt and if you can manage to not slide down the mountain you’re in pretty good shape. As I was approaching the parking lot and thinking who the hell pays three dollars to take a hike I noticed a woman who looked a little familiar. And then I saw a smile and I had that wonderful moment where I saw a friend. A real honest to goodness I chose you because you’re grounded and smart and talented and not just because we met at mommy and me friend. We smiled and waved and said hello and I got a chance to meet Grace Jones, her five month old dog who has almost grown into her ears.

Grace greeted me by jumping on my legs (she is not a lady) and when I bent over to pet her she could not decide if she wanted to bite me or lick me so she settled for five minutes of gnawing my right forearm while slobbering profusely. Mary and I chatted and I used my left arm to pet Grace Jones all the while thinking about how fabulous mother nature is. Had Grace Jones been any less adorable this would have been unbearable, but Grace is ridiculous is the cute department so I wasn’t going to let a bucketful of slobber deter me.

Follow Mary on Instagram @fightinmadmary

 

I hugged Mary goodbye and made my way up the hill. The first part of the run is tough because tons of folks bring their dogs on walks, make it about 200 feet and then turn around and walk right back to their cars. The first 200 feet is all dog pee and poop. I walk quickly because everyone knows my supersmell makes walks like this difficult. I pass a trio of very fancy women who leave a cloud of perfume in their wake. I hold my breath when I’m close to them.

After the first bit of the hike I’m jogging slowly. I’m scanning ten feet in front of me to look for gopher holes and slippery rocks. I’m a little congested. The ragweed is as tall as I am and everything is in bloom so I spit a lot.

I reach the top of the hill and now the sun is just breaking through the morning clouds. My eyes begin to water. I’m running on flat ground so I’m picking up speed and my nose begins to run so I touch my nose with my right hand and now all I can smell is Grace Jones slobber. The heat of my body is activating her scent so I instead use my right hand to grab my left sleeve and wipe my eyes and then my nose on my tee.

I’m running through the canyons in my Media Temple tee (nerd running) with dog slobber on my right arm, snot on my left shoulder and bits of yesterday’s makeup around the corners of my teary eyes.

I ran pretty fast even if it was a pitiful sight.