A Lot of Good Things Started with This Red Ball.
Roughly two years ago I started to see a chiropractor mostly by happenstance. He had been treating my daughter and he seemed smart and competent, so one day I casually mentioned that maybe he could help me. He asked what my issue was, and I basically asked how much time he had.
I couldn’t get into my whole life/lyme story so I started with the issue I thought would be most easily addressed by chiropractic care. For about three years, my left leg had been pulling up. It caused pain and discomfort day and night and I felt very unbalanced. Also, I could not easily raise my arms over my head. Several other practitioners had tried to help me, but without success.
The chiropractor, Dr. Mike, had me lay on his table for a quick assessment. Right away he said something was very wrong with my spine and said I needed an x-ray. Turns out I had about a 25 degree curve in my lower spine. That would account for my leg pulling up. Good news. But the even better news is the curve would be impinging on nerves that impact……you guessed it, digestion. And yes, I call that good news. Any time I find something fixable that is contributing to my problems, that’s good. I knew the spine wasn’t causing all my GI problems, but I also knew fixing it wouldn’t hurt anything.
Back to my initial assessment with Dr. Mike. After the x-ray he examined the rest of my body. At a certain point he grabbed my butt and upper thigh (it’s OK, it was non-sexual and my husband was standing right there) and basically told me it was all terrible. He said my legs and butt were completely atrophied and I had no muscle. Further, he said this was problematic because the adjustments he needed to make to straighten my spine would not hold due to my lack of muscle.
He said I needed to get to work, and asked me to start doing squats while putting an exercise ball between my back and the wall. I think he said to just start with 10. Sounds easy. It wasn’t. At that point I felt super crappy every day. My stomach always hurt, I frequently felt nauseated, and the idea of jostling myself by moving up and down just didn’t sound appealing. Plus, I had no muscle and no motivation. I will remind you, the last thing I did before I got sick was run a half marathon. In my past life I loved to exercise. But this was my present life, and exercise was something I only dreamed about.
I started seeing Dr. Mike three times per week. At each visit we’d go through the same routine:
Dr. Mike: “So, have you started doing the ball squats yet?”
Me: “Um, no.”
Dr. Mike: “I really need you to do that so my adjustments will hold.”
Me: “I know. But I just haven’t been able to do it.”
I felt like a complete failure after every visit. Why couldn’t I get myself to do the damn squats? It was out of character for me to completely ignore a doctor’s recommendation. In fact, throughout this journey I have been an extremely compliant patient because I’m so driven to regain my health. Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.
Apparently, that didn’t apply to ball squats.
Finally, one day before my visit to Dr. Mike I decided to do the damn squats. Not because I wanted to, but because I didn’t want to face the humiliation of not having done it. Yet again.
Well, doing the ball squats sucked. I truly had no muscle, and it was an enormous chore. Nothing about it felt good. But I did it.
Around this time I was also trying to do a little more walking. I thought it would be good for body, soul and digestion. I’m being generous with the word “walk” here. My “walks” usually consisted of going maximum three blocks, at a snail’s pace, often with my husband’s hand in the small of my back, helping me maintain forward progress. So I was killing it.
So, I was “walking” and I was ball squatting, excelling at neither. Then one day when I was walking I noticed the most infinitesimal of changes. Just a tiny bit more spring in my butt and legs when I walked. This led to more walking. Which led to more ball squatting. Which led to more walking, and you get the story.
Now, nearly two years later, my walking and squatting have evolved into what I call “The Hour of Power”. I do it at 5:45 AM, and it consists of a half hour on the treadmill (going fast, no snail pace), and a half hour of strength training and stretching. I have actual, visible muscle in my arms, legs, butt and abs. I do the Hour of Power every other day. On the alternate day I walk outside for three and a half miles. Also at 5:45 AM.
I have been doing this routine for over a year, but I haven’t written about it because it has taken a year for me to believe I am actually doing this on a consistent basis. In the past when I’ve tried to exercise I’d be able to do it for a while, and then I’d suffer some health setback, and my exercise program would go out the window.
But this time, it seems like it’s sticking. Progress.
Today was an Hour of Power day, and it felt fantastic. I felt strong and alive. The whole time I was working out I just kept saying to myself “I can’t believe I’m doing this. It feels like a miracle.” In fact, I say those words pretty much every time I exercise or go for a long walk.
When I finished working out this morning, I sat on the red ball that started it all, and I wept. Tears of joy. But also tears for my long journey to the heart of darkness and my slow march back into the light. I realized that while in the midst of my fight I didn’t have the luxury to take stock of how hard it was, how hard I was fighting or how much progress I was or wasn’t making. I just had to keep going.
Now I feel well enough to embrace the possibility I’m getting better. I feel well enough to begin to let go of the survival instinct that prevented me from stopping to reflect on what I was going through. Now I do have the luxury to ponder how much I have suffered. How hard I have fought. How tired it all made me. Physically. Emotionally. And when I think about all that, I cry. It’s a healing kind of crying.
I’ve grown pretty attached to that ball I once ignored. It’s helping me regain the physical vitality I so desperately missed. And it all started with a set of ten pitiful squats.