Here’s Today’s Essay
It was in October of 2013 when I got out of the car and hobbled into the chiropractor’s office. Actually, I couldn’t get out of the car on my own. The pain in my back was so intense that I needed help from my 90-year-old mother-in-law.
I’d have been humiliated – if I could have gotten past the pain far enough to feel embarrassment. However, the simple movement of turning my body to the side sent an electric spasm through my back that hurt so bad I bit my lip and didn’t realize it until I tasted blood.
It wasn’t the first time I’d had spasms like this.
I’d been lying, or sitting, or hunched up – whatever worked until it stopped working – since 5:00 in the morning when I’d woken and tried to get out of bed. The spasm left me on the floor for half an hour before I could get to a phone.
Of course, the chiropractor was out of his local office until six pm – it was that kind of day.
I was climbing slowly out of the car at 5:55 pm. My appointment was for 6:20. I was hoping the first patient would be done quickly.
I was moved into a room at exactly 6:20 and the doctor didn’t arrive until 6:30. It was fine. It took that long to remove my sweater and shoes.
While I waited, I kept asking myself how I had gotten into this mess. What had I done to turn me into the twisted figure I could see reflected in the window glass?
The answer came back – nothing.
On reflection, I had to admit I was guilty. I had done nothing. As a result, I was in this mess.
Let me explain why doing nothing was wrong.
For many years, I had been a ballroom dance instructor. I danced eight to twelve hours a day, six days a week. Sundays were for catching up, doing chores, the usual work you do when you have a home. I mowed my lawn, fixed leaky pipes, raked leaves, dug in the garden. I performed the usual maintenance that’s needed for home ownership.
Then things changed. I moved to a smaller house and yard. The dance business went away. Most importantly, I went back to my former career doing computer-consulting work.
So, I went from moving my body (especially my legs) for 8-12 hours a day to sitting in a chair. The result was predictable on reflection. My legs, which were strong, stretched, and limber, contracted from the constant sitting. It began with leg cramps, mild at first, just a twinge. They grew worse until I could see tiny knots in my calf when they cramped in the middle of the night. I ignored the obvious and focused on getting more potassium in my diet.
The second hint came when I tore part of my Achilles tendon getting out of my car. Fortunately, the tendon did not tear away completely. I didn’t need surgery. I walked on crutches at first, later my toes, my knee bent to take the pressure off the tendon. Gradually, as the tendon healed, I could put more weight on it. I went to a specialist who stretched the tendon and pointed out the knots. It wasn’t fun. As she pushed on sore muscles, she showed me where muscles had been smooth and elastic before. Now they were bunched and stiff.
Still, I was stubborn. I had a new job and I needed to focus to get my work done. I sat even more hours to make up for my lost injury time.
Then came the day I went to get out of bed and had the first spasm.
My eyes watered. I dropped to one knee as if I’d been hit in the stomach. If the carpeting hadn’t cushioned my fall, I probably would have broken my kneecap I struck it so hard. It was black and blue for weeks. I rolled onto my side trying to find a way to stop the electric shocks from running across my back. Everything I did made it spasm again. I vomited and swallowed immediately, tasting bile. My faithful dog bounded around me and whimpered in sympathy.
Finally, I simply stopped trying to move and just lay on the floor curled in a ball until the pain subsided into a fiery ache.
My dog curled up with me and we both took a brief nap on the floor. When I woke, the pain had eased. I moved gingerly and gradually managed to get to my feet. I had two more spasms just doing that, but I was braced for them now and I learned quickly how to accept the pain and move through it.
I went through an MRI and an X-Ray, and was told there was nothing seriously wrong. I was given muscle relaxants.
Over three slow and painful days, I gradually got back to normal.
I wrote it off as a fluke, a nerve I must have pinched when I twisted getting out of bed. I didn’t need to do anything.
I was wrong. It kept happening.
Now, here I was, worse than before going into the chiropractor to see if he could do anything.
Fortunately, he could. The chiropractor explained the muscles in my legs were very strong and they had tightened. They were now unevenly pulling on my body that it was causing nerves in my hip, spine, and lower back to pinch. And, he added, when the spasms happen the affected area swells and the back muscles tighten – trying to keep the damaged area from further movement – making the whole situation worse.
I was slowly stretched out. Electrical stimulation was used to exhaust the muscles into relaxing and heating pads brought some welcome relief. Eventually, I was moving again.
And, I vowed I wasn’t going back to that pain again.
That led me to the question of physical fitness.
Lying on my back that night I decided to get physically fit. I had never tried to get fit. I never pictured myself as the Charles Atlas / Arnold Swartzenegger type (I still don’t and I certainly don’t look like that.) However, that night I decided I was finally done with ignoring my body. I was getting older. If I didn’t want to end up in a hospital bed living on pain killers, I needed to do something to make myself better.
For you, reading this, I hope the journey is less painful. For me, in trying to become physically fit, I also found increased productivity and happiness.
However, to find fitness, productivity, and happiness you must realize the three are interconnected. You will struggle to be productive if you are depressed. Happiness is fleeting to those who are wracked with pain. I know. When I was in that condition, I was not productive and I was not happy.
The connections run in all directions. If you are unhappy you will be less productive. You may find yourself in pain from stress when you are falling behind in your projects. There’s discomfort in feeling nonproductive that saps happiness.
This guide stresses the interconnectedness of these elements. It lays out a general long-term plan to move from being unhealthy, unproductive, and unhappy to its opposite.
Today, I feel fit, productive, and happy. Of course, I don’t feel that way every day. That’s normal. However, I routinely review the techniques, questions, and reminders explained here to stay on track.
So, ask yourself, “What will move you to become physically fit?”
Must you be in agony as I was? I hope not.
I want to be clear. My goal in writing this is not to make you a superman or superwoman. You’re not going to lift cars, run giant corporations in your spare time, or sit on the mountaintop among the enlightened. (But, if you do any of those already, parts of this book can probably be skipped…)
Instead, I’d like to open a door and let you become all that YOU want to be.
How far you choose to go is up to you.
Enjoy the journey.