This is a continuing series detailing the author’s journey along the Trans-American Bike Trail (TAT).
Recently, I wrote that I was stuck in Kansas while biking and walking across the United States. Many readers know my virtual trek across America (plotting my exercise miles along the Trans-American Trail) started a year and five months ago with the goal of reaching Oregon in two years. This sounds like a simple goal with plenty of time to complete the task. After all, biking across the United States has been done in ten days. Others have taken the more “conservative approach” and traversed the country in 60 days at approximately 60 miles per day. These riders have had to deal with difficult elevations, inclement weather and sleeping in tents.
On the other hand, I have been striving to reach five miles per day using indoor exercise equipment. I also walk and bike outdoors when the weather is nice and I sleep in a comfortable bed. I have all the conveniences. Reaching Oregon should be an easy task; this should be a simple walk in the park.
Unfortunately, things fell apart in early January when I slipped and fell on ice and wrenched my back and I stopped exercising due to my pain level. Ever since, I have been stuck and unable to find a way to move forward. Feeling physically and mentally drained, I wasn’t sure how I was going to go on. Was I down? Yes. Was I down and out for good? No.
After years of living with chronic pain, I have learned to live with limitations but I have never learned to “accept” my limitations. For me, accepting my limitations is equivalent to “giving up.” In order to live with chronic pain while maintaining some semblance of an active lifestyle, I have found that I have to continually remind myself that I have to keep going and do what I can do no matter what happens. Stopping or quitting is not an option, especially with my history of heart disease and diabetes. Yet, somewhere in Kansas, I found myself lacking the courage, heart, and brains necessary to continue my journey.
In an effort to help get me back on track, I spent the last month and a half in physical therapy in attempts to improve my strength and endurance and reduce my pain level. I was discharged last week. Unfortunately, I spent my last physical therapy session flat on my back with ice packs and hot packs trying yet another option to reduce pain and inflammation and promote healing. My therapist’s final discharge instructions were to withhold all exercises except a few basic stretches until my pain level was under control. Seems I have two areas that are triggering pain – the sacroiliac joint and my lower back. When one area improves, the other area responds with muscle tension, increased inflammation and pain. I knew an increase in my pain level would probably be a result of therapy even before I started as this has been the trend in the past. Seems the more I do, the worse I get. Still, the doctor felt therapy would help so I gave it a try. Still, all was not unsuccessful. I do see an improvement in my leg strength and I left with an arsenal of exercises to continue with strengthening and improving my endurance. I also have some additional knowledge related to my condition which I didn’t have previously.
How to manage pain and inflammation after any physical activity, continues to be an elusive subject and a question to which I am not sure there is an answer. Chronic pain is what it is and I refuse to continue to be stuck in my fantasy (Oz) of being pain-free. Hoping and wishing that physical therapy would be the answer keeps me stuck. There are no wizards in Kansas, or anywhere else for that matter, who can make chronic pain go away. Accepting chronic pain is the only way I can move forward.
For me, day to day living is not a simple walk in the park or ride across the country for that matter. My Trans-America goal is difficult but attainable. As long as I continue to have the heart and courage to never hope for an easier way, I will reach my goal.
Most importantly, if I am to succeed, I need to have the brains to realize that no one is going to do this for me, except for me. Reconnecting with that fact has made all the difference. If I am to rely on clicking my heels together to get me to where I need to be, I will never reach my destination.
On the days I come with an excuse not to exercise it goes something like this: ‘I am in too much pain’, ‘I can’t go far enough’, ‘I can’t go fast enough’, or ‘my efforts just aren’t good enough’ (the old athlete mentality).
Knowing the alternative is plugged arteries, higher blood sugar levels and the possibility of an additional cardiac event makes “just do it anyway” despite all obstacles and limitations my only option.
I came across this poem by Mother Theresa (a revised version of The Paradoxical Commandments by Kent M. Keith), and thought I’d pass it along since we can all use a little inspiration to help us “do it anyway” whatever your “it” may be.
Do It Anyway
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest anyway.
What you spend years building could be destroyed overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt;
Give the world your best anyway.
And my rendition to help me stick to my exercise program no matter what…
Even though you don’t feel well,
and you think your efforts aren’t good enough,
and you wish you could do more…
Do it anyways!
Wish me well. I am sick and tired of Kansas!