People who have only known me for about ten years find it extremely hard to believe I have not been an athlete my whole life. People frequently ask me: “What sports did you play in high school and college?” My answer: “I was great at beer pong and tailgating all sporting events but never once exercises.” I did not exercise once in my life until I was clearly diagnosed with chronic pain that had no cure.
I had been through brain surgery due to a bike accident and lived in constant pain every day of my life. I thought exercise would make my pain ten times worse, not help it. I was in non-stop pain, crying constantly, depressed, anxious, and spent many days wanting to die. I was so jealous when I saw people running and playing tennis etc. I remember always thinking: Oh my god, I would love to be able to do that instead of sitting here with my friends partying. The only time I was exercising was on my walks home from the bars in Boulder, Colorado.
Now, exercise is one of my biggest tools for managing chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. Every morning after my run with my daughter we stop for coffee at Wa Wa. The people there always say to me: Augh how do you run all the time? I would never have the motivation to do that. I never know what to say (strangers do not know about my chronic pain and my silent daily battle with pain and anxiety.) I honestly do not know what I would do if I did not exercise in the morning. People also say to me: “Why do you need to exercise every day? You are so tiny!” I do not exercise to look good, I exercise to feel good. If I truly cared about looks, I would be wearing makeup and getting my hair done all the time like I used to. Now I truly do things that make me feel good on the inside. Of course being in shape boosts my self esteem but it is not the reason I work out.
Once I learned all the benefits of exercise for chronic pain I started off really slow. I was petrified of a gym so I actually started out with a Richard Simmons dvd. I realized quite quickly that getting my heart rate up and my body moving not only decreased my depression and anxiety but really helped my pain levels go down. I then moved on to more difficult dvds and started using light weights and walking around my town. After months of this I was hooked. I had a routine. I woke up and had a banana with peanut butter and exercised. No matter how sad I was, no matter my pain level I used the Nike approach and I Just Did It. No excuses. Soon, I braved a gym and started taking classes like spin and kickboxing and saw how much fun exercise was. A couple years later, I was running half marathons.
Now with chronic pain, one has to be careful they do not over do it. It took me many years to find a balance of how much exercise I can do. If I push myself too much I feel my pain levels increase especially when it comes to weights or intense yoga. I still make the mistake of overdoing it but balance is something we all work on. I ran about five miles yesterday and felt great. However, I woke up this morning and felt sore and listened to my body. I still exercised but I did a light yoga session with my one year old playing next to me.
It is so odd that the one thing I always thought would make my pain so much worse is now one of my biggest weapons against chronic pain. Chronic pain, anxiety, and depression are so intertwined that helping one helps the others. Exercise helps all three.