I got a great challenge from NancyL (no, thank YOU) and this is my response, as promised.
For anyone hanging with me for a while, you know that I have been rehabbing from various injuries and surgeries quite steadily for about two years.
Um, okay, three.
OKAY, okay, nearly five.
It all began with rotator cuff surgery in 2018, and went careening downhill from there. I feel as though my wondrous, steady, predictable training program will FOREVER be waiting for me to get the stitches out, wait 'til it doesn't hurt so much to hike or run. Or ride or climb or kayak. Well, CRAP already.
What that has done is force me to be forever trying to catch back up, living for those good days at the gym when I can finally do some semblance of a workout.
The kind of workout I'm used to turning in, that is.
I had great plans to do legs while hands were out, upper body while legs were out. Sometimes this worked, often it didn't.
That said, I did keep moving, even if proper workouts such as running or a really good heavy lift were out of the question. The point is to MOVE, for the body does indeed respond to the message that you wish it to be healthy, and moving= healing.
But this is a bit different.
NancyL's note, the bulk of which I share below, speaks to the heart of what happens (Warren Nelson, are you listening?) when we injure and are forced to sit with it. Deal with it.
Here's what she asks:
I'm ready for the "working out while rehabbing an injury" pep talk, Julia. Now that you are home and before you go to Thailand and between all the crap you have to do, are you managing any cardio work? With a downed hand, how can you manage weight stuff?
I ran myself into an injury, and I'm fretful and impatient and annoyed. It's too long to share, but the net net is a hip strain - hoping not sprain - that I am trying to allow to heal. But I miss the running, and seeing the streets, and the dogs, and and and - the endorphins, I suppose. And the silence: cardio shuts up the tinnitus, and without cardio I am pestered by the cicadas in my head. My trainer is sympathetic and helpful and tells me to do non-hip workouts fast with light weights since I also don't have a pool available - but that just feels so different from the freedom of running. It's been 6 days and it's definitely not ready for me to hit the streets, though it's better than a week ago. Whine, whine, whine. Movement is medicine, and stillness is illness - at least for me, for now.
I would surely like to hear how YOUR healing journey is going while you simultaneously juggle the 17 balls that are in the air around you. That might make me shut up and stop whining.
First of all, how I love a good challenge. Many thanks. I strongly believe that a great deal of this is relevant for many of us right now.
Several things here, and every bit of this is directed as much at myself as it is at Nancy, and I invite others in my circle here to weigh in.
First: One of THE first questions I have to ask myself when I injure is, how much of this is the Universe telling me to slow down? For me that's a good check. That Nancy describes so honestly (and I CAN RELATE) as fretful and impatient and annoyed is very telling. Perhaps, just perhaps, when we injure, it has little to do with our exercise program and more to do with the need to deal with what is making us fretful, etc. I can't say for anyone else but for me it's damned good question.
Second: Nancy says, and this is powerful, that "stillness is illness." I have most assuredly lived much of my own life like this, and again, speaking only for myself, when I did a better job of sinking into the deep, warm embrace of stillness, I found sources of dopamine there, too. But first I had to find out what on earth is making me need to fidget and fill my time all the time?
Here's something to consider:
I've had to work awfully hard to slow down. The aging body demands a different kind of respect, and as I lumber through these last years of constant repairs, down time and long hiatuses from what I most decidedly love (tossing weights around and my beloved pushups), I am forced to reckon with what's changing. I don't always like it, but the fact is that my body has been up on blocks for a good while.
Learning to read quietly, or stand in silence in my kitchen (my favorite spot in the house) to watch the birds go after the suet, those are where I will go when I have to gear down.
Third: Let's talk about tinnitus. While I have no direct experience, one item that I have been using for my own sanity when I travel long plane rides, tent close to loud people etc. is a Sound Oasis. I use their teeny tiny sound machine but they also have this:
I have found their products to be superb. No idea if they will help, but it may well be worth a try. Note to other Dear Readers, if you have suggestions please kindly weigh in here.
Fourth: Yesterday I had a session with my fitness trainer, the first since my hand surgery. The complications of that surgery were brutal: unbelievable nerve pain, then a serious infection. While I spent a lot of time in Colombia walking and did go horse riding, I have to admit that I used those as distractions as much as I did them for fun. The nerve pain was a whole other strata of discomfort. My primary care provider yesterday made sure that when I leave for Thailand I will bloody well have enough nerve pain meds so that I can't possibly run out:
To your question about the hand down: I do not have full use of my thumb, and part of it is now replaced with a tough tripwire. That means daily, constant PT and learning how to grasp and curve that thumb all over again. It is uniquely painful as an entire joint was removed and I have to learn to operate a bionic thumb. I did some curls with - don't laugh- a 3-lb dumbbell, because first, I can't hold anything heavier, and second, I will damage that new thumb if I try.
So part of this is being utterly realistic about where I am in the recovery process, not pushing as is my habit, and giving my aging body the love it deserves, as these invasive procedures bloody well HURT.
When we sprain, or strain, that's feedback. It could be overtraining, poor form, a poor gait, any one of many things. For me, given that I have abnormally high arches, when I finally broke down and got custom orthotics, that was the game changer. Knee, hip and ankle issues subsided. I still got injured but the constant problems dissipated. It might make sense to have someone look at our feet, at our gait. These are sports docs or really good chiropractors, and they focus on performance and whole body movement.
Pain, any kind of pain, physical or psychic or emotional, is feedback. It's a call to attend. I've been learning to listen more rather than trying to drown everything out. That's also a skill.
I heal fast. Sure. But I still have to teach my hand to work. I can do all the same things on the right side as before, and I can most certainly hike. Running is way too painful as the impact jars my hand. Right about the time my right hand is good, I have surgery on my left foot. Then my right hand, then my right foot. See what I mean? I am hardly done.
So it behooves me and all of us to attend to what the body needs, not so much what we think we should be doing. For the body has its own schedule for recovery. As I have often discovered, my impatience will knock me back days or even weeks.
Fourth: The other essential question that I have to ask myself and which might serve is what, if anything, are you so afraid of, that you are having such a terrible time being down?
I really, truly relate to this. When I've had to take a forced break from a full-on training program I was righteously terrified I would lose ground that I couldn't regain. That made me awfully (and unnecessarily) anxious. It's only been since I have had these injuries and surgeries one right after the other that my body has repeatedly shown me that while yeah, sarcopenia is real, and yah, I might not be at my pinnacle right now, my body is in incredible shape.
To wit: While in Colombia, the entire time there we were between 5-7000'. I've not lived at altitude since August of 2020. I hiked the streets at speed, rode a fine horse one-handed, and was regularly complimented by my hosts who were surprised at my fitness level.
It doesn't go anywhere unless we totally give up, eat crap and drink and smoke. We talk ourselves- or at least I did- into a tizzy believing that if we're not doing doing doing all the time, something will get lost. It might retreat a bit, but that fitness comes roaring back when we start back up.
Muscle memory is just one of a thousand love letters that the trained body gives us as we age, and have to take time off when we get banged up. What we have put in the bank pays dividends, particularly if we mind the time we need to repair ourselves, body mind and soul.
For years I was too busy being busy and filling my time with compulsive workouts to notice. Terrified of losing my fitness, which wasn't going anywhere. It's still here.
What does get lost is life.
I am as hard-core, push to the walls as anyone. However, with an oophrectomy, kidney stone surgery, a terrible car crash, smashed finger, broken toes, two shoulder surgeries, a hand surgery and a whole lot more just in two years, to say nothing of all the small stuff, I have been forced to sit more often, read more often, relax more often and simply by god REST more often than I ever have.
When my body is called upon, like going for a hike with my buddy Stef over on the coast, I can coast along right on her much-younger heels for six miles without losing a single step. And that after five weeks in Africa largely stuck in a Land Rover. I still loaded two cords of firewood with one hand down, still packed up my entire house with one hand down, moved furniture and schlepped it out. It is utterly amazing what the body can do- and we worry if a few days or weeks might set us back. I'm not saying this is Nancy's thing, but it was most certainly mine.
While I am obsessing like an idiot over how my left arm looks like a shriveled chicken wing, the muscles are there, and they will pop back. My endurance is still there. All of it is still there. I have fretted for no reason whatsoever.
That is a fine fine fine FINE lesson.
I am, right now, surrounded by firs just like this. I have no idea how long I get to live here. I am surrounded by a gorgeous world, and a healing body. I have no idea how long I get to live here. And I have no idea how long I get to inhabit this skin suit. But what a skin suit it is. As I go through all these injuries and surgeries, I am continually astounded that this body shows up day after day, year after year.
Yours will too if you give it the food, training and love it needs. And patience it deserves.
To the point about having 17 balls in the air (OKAY 18), the far greater lesson for me these past two years has been that I have every reason to trust my body, to have faith in my ability to bounce back. When I need the stores, they will be there. That said I still have to work, which is why the small weights are back out, the bench isn't sold yet, and I will be creating new ways of moving when I have a foot down come October.
No hiking after that. Or swimming either until I heal enough. I have to find other ways to move.
We don't have to be in constant motion. At the cellular level, we are. Always, forever, in constant motion. Stillness is learned. It's a very high level skill. Perhaps the body, your body, Nancy, is challenging you to explore the other end of the activity bell curve. The quiet end.
I dunno. That most certainly came up for me, and it still does. At this point, having been in recovery and PT mode almost incessantly since 2018, learning to be in the slow lane every so often has most certainly given me more life to enjoy. But that's just me.
What we resist persists, which is precisely what I've been dealing with for two years. I've resisted slowing down, feared slowing down, but what I've learned is that taking rest breaks isn't all about losing my edge or my fitness. I am about to start hiking again, now that my hand isn't so bad, and will hike until foot surgery. Then I'll need to be on a scooter, but at that point I will be able to do my upper body workouts. So I will still be working with what I have.
It is, for me, recognizing that while I have to sell the house, finishing packing what I have, move more stuff to consignment and schlep a big curio cabinet to Vancouver, write every day, do the PT, plan my trip to Thailand, identify more places to sell my gear, (the list is endless) I am finding ways to fit in what I can do while one or more body parts is barking, getting better, and rebuilding to the level of fitness I want. That is off in the distance, likely next summer. Since I know that I have three more surgeries, if they happen as planned, I will be in recovery more often than not.
That takes patience. You and I are tasked to make the most of the moments we are given, not to fret about what we don't have, or be anxious that we aren't pounding the pavement. I spent a lot of time doing just that, and while I understand where it comes from in my life, I can't speak for anyone else. All I know are the questions I've learned to ask myself which allow me to give better answers for both the body and the mind.
It's hard work to learn how to be in the moment. Given the tinnitus that's a whole order of magnitude more difficulty. However, and here I will post the exercise program I sent Nancy separately, our hips need work. Good work. Dr. Rosenna Bakari sent me this last week and she both hates and loves this program for what it does for her. It's hard- which she hates- but hip mobility and flexiblity are essential to our health most especially as we age.
Here you go:
I invite all of you to weigh in. Many of you are elder athletes, so my guess is that all of you have suggestions about how Nancy can navigate this period. She and I would be grateful for your input. I've also tagged Nurit Amichai for suggestions from her work in Israel. Stay tuned!
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