We're Not Out Of The Woods Yet
December 07, 2017 • By Seamus Mullen
Try as I might to be as positive as I can, I can’t help being human and getting really down sometimes. This week has been one of those times. The past few months have been pretty tough for me. Earlier this year I was really focused on my health and fitness goals and I pushed hard, really hard to get to a place of fitness I hadn’t been at for nearly 20 years. My body weight was at an all-time low, my body fat percentage hovering right around 13% - something really remarkable for me - and my general fitness was at a very high level.
And then, life.
A number of work commitments and personal travel had me on a plane twice a week for months at a time, flying all over Hell’s half-acre, going long periods of time without sufficient sleep, cutting corners with my nutrition in ways I don’t normally do and slacking on my fitness. The reality was that there was no way for me to maintain the level of intense exercise AND the workload and the inevitable happened. The universe forced me to stop.
One Sunday afternoon in July, after a really fun mountain bike ride, I felt a weird stitch in my ribs. I thought maybe I had been bitten by a tick? Or pulled an intercostal muscle? That night I had trouble sleeping and the next morning it turned into a weird jabbing sensation in my chest. I did what most guys do, I ignored it. And I went on a hard bike ride with a friend. Halfway through the ride, the pain was intolerable and worried that I was having some sort of heart issue, I went to the ER. Of course, I checked out totally fine and I was sent home. The next day I developed a rash on my ribs, the tell-tale sign of shingles, which in turn is the tell-tale sign of burning the candle at both ends.
The next several weeks sucked. At times, virtually intolerable pain that made work extremely difficult and exercise, impossible. I was forced to rest, something I’m working to get better at. And so I did just that, I rested and I said “no” more that “yes” and slowly I recovered, but it took the better part of 8 weeks and by the time I was back on the bike, all that hard earned fitness from the Spring? Slipped away.
But I did as I do and I got back on the horse and started building back my fitness, getting back into my routine and just as I was starting to hit my stride, about a month back at it....I crashed my bicycle and royally screwed up my shoulders. Shoulder pain has been a reality for me for years, since my days as a sickie, living with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I used to get frequent flare-ups in my shoulders that would cause intolerable pain. What I didn’t realize is that all those flare-ups were slowly causing structural damage to my shoulder joints which lead to ongoing pain and eventually compromised joints. When I crashed my bike in October, the tendons in my rotator cuffs were already so worn down that any minor wrong movement would have torn them. So once again, the universe has forced me to slow down. This time, I’m really trying to listen.
I have spent the last 6 weeks laying low, doing all the hacks and tricks I can to coax along my body on this road to recovery. Despite a lot of pain and lack of sleep, I’m actually making great progress, in fact my surgeon told me that my range of motion at 4 weeks was where most of his patients are after 3-4 months!
So, this week was the week to start to move again in earnest, to start the process of building back my strength. I intentionally hadn’t jumped on a scale or taken any body metrics since June, when things started to go pear-shaped. Mostly because in the height of my recovery, I didn’t want to burden myself further by lamenting how far my fitness had slipped, particularly when my primary goal needed to be healing. But this week it was time. And for me, the news was hard to take. My body fat percentage had jumped up 7% and I had gained 17 pounds. Ugh.
Everyone (myself included) gives me the old “cut yourself some slack!” and “you know what to do, you’ll be back in no time!” and while I know it, and I believe it, I still can’t help the reality that losing something you’ve worked so hard to achieve can leave you extremely deflated and emotionally bare.
It’s really important to me to put out a positive and inspirational message into the world...I’ve been through a lot and turned around what seemed to me and others to be an unchangeable course, but I still struggle. I struggle every day with the memory of what it was like to be so sick for so long. And when I feel myself slip, when I lose some of the ground that I’ve gained, I have this deep inner panic that I could so easily lose all that I’ve worked for and slide back into illness, even though the logical part of my being knows that’s never going to happen.
So I’m reminded of Zeno’s Paradox: that in order to travel a distance of d, one must first travel a distance of d/2 and in order to travel d/2 one must first travel a distance of d/4 and so one. In essence d can never be defined as the sequence can go on forever and it is an aggregate of infinite distances. Eventually Calculus figured this out (way above my pay grade!) but the lesson is that any seemingly insurmountable task can be tackled by dividing it into small, digestible tasks. Perhaps a better illustration is Lao Tze’s famous teaching that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. So, this week I took the first step. Now my job is to keep adding to that step. And I need to remind myself that it’s okay to slide backwards. That’s fucking life. Sometimes shit just happens. I’m not going to let it overwhelm me, but I’m also not going to lie to myself and pretend it doesn’t suck. So here we are, back on the horse, slowly, slowly. One foot in front of the other