I was a physically active person in high school. I was a two-sport varsity athlete playing baseball and golf and a two-time MVP golfer for my high school. I loved to be outside and active. At 19 years old I joined an adult softball league and continued to be active. But somewhere along the way I realized that my body wasn’t doing what it used to and it ached more than I ever could have imagined. I knew my mother had rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. I knew that both are thought to be hereditary, but I never thought it could happen to me. Years, many tests and doctors later I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia along with a few other chronic illnesses. I was crushed.
Learning to Live with Limitations
The pain began around January 2016. I tried to get exercise by walking and swimming, but slowly I started to feel worse the day after I would exercise. The pain worsened and fatigue began. Eventually I could barely get out of bed. I felt worthless- I couldn’t play baseball anymore, I couldn’t walk a round of golf, I could barely walk around the block. I had to learn to tie my self-worth to something other than my physical abilities.
Finding other things to help with my self-worth was difficult at first. I was and sometimes still am grieving the loss of who I was and what I used to be able to do. I started avoiding people, not going out and not doing anything more than what was required. I became depressed, which wasn’t new to me, but it was a different kind of depression than what I was used to. This depression had a legitimate cause. I felt like I was right to feel awful, anyone would in my situation, right?
With having depression and being on Prednisone for the pain before I even had a diagnosis, I began to eat more and more, exercise less and less and I began to gain weight. The weight gain caused even more depression. I was really felt worthless. It took a long time to recover from the depression and sometimes it still comes back, but I was beginning to learn to put more value on things other than transient physical capabilities. I pushed myself to get out more, I made new friends and got back in contact with old ones. By the end of 2017, I received a multitude of new diagnoses and I had friends to talk about it with. By being open about my chronic illnesses both online and in my day-to-day life, I gained friendships with other people who understand what it’s like to be in a constant war with your own body.
I decided that I wouldn’t allow my chronic illnesses to hold me down. I would eat healthy and get exercise. I’m still working on that, and it’s not easy, but I’m slowly feeling better and getting healthier. Here are a couple things I’ve learned.
Know Your Limits
When I was first diagnosed I was told by my doctor that exercise helps and as much as I hate to admit it, my doctor was partially right. Exercise does help, but I had to learn to go within my limitations and I had to slowly increase what I do in the gym. Doing too much is detrimental, but doing just enough makes my body feel better and makes me feel better emotionally. Even just doing a little bit of exercise made me feel more productive and gives me a feeling of accomplishment.
When I first started going to the gym, I started off doing the same amount of cardio I did when I was an active athlete – 30 minutes on the elliptical. That was a huge mistake which I paid for the next day in bed in agonizing pain from overexertion. I had to learned from that to start small and build up to doing more. I went from 15 minutes of cardio a couple times a week, to 15 minutes of cardio 3 times a week, to cardio plus some weights, and now I am adding yoga on top of 20 minutes of cardio 3 times a week. It’s been a process of trial-and-error and learning. Sometimes I make a mistake that causes me more pain, but mostly it’s been a slow progression of getting my body used to exercising again.
For me, staying positive is the hardest thing to do. I hate that I even have limitations at 23 years old and sometimes I beat myself up over things that are out of my control. The hardest part of getting healthier is to remain positive when I don’t see any results. When I slip up, I have to remain calm and let it go. When I can’t do what I want to, or what I decide I should be able to do, I have to remain positive.
Positivity is the key to get anything done, from doing housework to getting healthy. If all you see is the problem, you can’t see the solution. It’s about going forward without always seeing what’s coming. It’s about forgiving yourself for not always being able to do what you want and it’s about learning to love yourself despite what you can’t do. And that might not be easy, but it’s about trying to remain positive through it all. That’s how things get better.
About the Author
Chris is a 23 year old college student who lives with several chronic illnesses. Chris loves meeting and talking to new people, especially those who struggle with similar things.