About a month ago, I decided to go back to the gym. Over the past few years I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with the gym. If I had it my way, there would have not been any extended breaks during this time. Yoga has done wonders for my flexibility and my mental peace, and incorporating exercise into my day has allowed me to shed many extra pounds that I carried around for all too long.
One of my mistakes, however, as I struggled to manage both my rheumatoid arthritis and my exercise routine was that I often pushed myself too far. By wanting to do more, I just ended up being able to do less…and it frustrated the heck out of me.
But when I returned a few weeks ago, I did so with a new frame of mind. Rule #1: In everything I did, I was going to listen to my body. If my body told me not to do something, I was not going to do it. I was not going to return with some preset idea of what I should do. Instead, I was going to focus on what I could do.
And in a funny sort of way, I’ve actually been able to do more than I have been able to do in the past couple of years. Most mornings (and sometimes, in the evenings) I spend 30-60 minutes on the elliptical trainer. I spend an hour in yoga or pilates class. I started lifting weights…and I end my visit to the gym by spending a half hour in the sauna.
I’m at my lowest weight since finishing graduate school, which was more than ten years ago, and I’m within reach of my ideal weight. Physically, I haven’t felt this good in more than two years.
An interesting thing happened when I returned to the gym, after being absent for a few months. I had a couple of months credit on my membership (the gym has been very accommodating of my situation, and days that I do not go to the gym are not counted against me), so I needed to speak with the administrator – a lady who is a few years younger than me. This administrator knew the general details of my agreement with the gym, but did not know about the specifics of my chronic condition.
During this visit, she asked me what illness I lived with.
“Rheumatoid arthritis,” I told her.
And I’ll never forget the reaction on her face.
“I live with rheumatoid arthritis too,” she said.
And then, like a movie, scenes from the past couple of years flashed through my head. Images of her walking around with a limp, sometimes slight and sometimes very pronounced. I think there was even the use of a can now and then. Thoughts passing though my head, wondering what condition she lived with, but never asking.
Just like that, we started talking about RA medications and local rheumatologists. We compared wrists and fingers. She asked if I was afraid of living with rheumatoid arthritis. We talked about the pain, and how bad it can get in the hands. She told me that it was nice to finally have someone to speak with, someone else who understands what she is going through. She told me how family members have actually told her to stop limping, to stop faking. After years of living with these symptoms, she finally received a diagnosis a few months ago.
This morning, as I was on the elliptical trainer in front of the third-floor window overlooking the entry plaza, I saw this young lady walking in to work. Her limp was quite noticeable, and I could envision the pain that was resulting from every step that she took. I know what it feels like – I’ve been there in the past and I know I will be there again in the future.
But for the moment, and forever how long it lasts, I will continue to appreciate to the fullest every pain-free step I can take, every yoga posture and breath, and every repetition of weights that I can lift.
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!