This post is a little overview of my recent reflections on my pain, but it also serves as a good lesson for anyone who has set themselves a goal that seems very vulnerable to abandonment when things get tough – perhaps everyone will understand this in some way as i try to draw parallels to life.
Firstly a review of my fitness goal history:
Being Pain-free > any other fitness goal (2007 – 2008)
Aesthetics > Health and Performance (2008-2011)
Strength and performance *now* > strength and performance *later* (2011 – 2013)
Numbers on the bar > numbers on the scale (2011-2013)
Moving despite pain, but preferably less pain … so long as i don’t feel weak > moving pain-free (2013)
Throughout these past few years (since 2004) i have suffered with chronic low back pain /SIJ pain off and on, and to be honest, i have “lived with it” because i believed that it was a problem in my joints (damage to my body) that was the cause. I believed that pain could only arise because of injury or disease and that if pain remained, then there was something wrong with my ability to heal. So i felt like i just had to suck it up and do the best i could with my “broken” body. Yet, when i first started training, i believed it would solve the problem and my pain would go away – which did happen for a while…. however, this state has not remained the case.
My day to day life is a spectrum of various degrees of pain. On the best day, i might just be a little sore in the morning and loosen up as the day goes on until i get tired or stressed and the pain gets worse again. On the worst day (which happens every several months) I will be in agony with burning pain in my lower back, hips and different muscles as i get stiffer and more anxious over the situation. I think one of the most challenging feelings, besides the pain itself, is a fear that my current predicament (whether a little or a lot of pain) is permanent. Feeling this way on a good day is as bad as feeling that way on a bad day because history has shown me that neither circumstance is permanent and it always passes. That is the thought i should hold on to. And i should also try to focus in on the areas of my body that always remain free of any pain. But that is so hard to do when you’re “in it”.
What disappoints me about my fitness journey is that I got waylaid by other more “attractive” goals and it both delayed my progress to being pain-free (however, it also led me to the correct combination of therapies, so i guess it was all worth it, since it is all a journey). That said, this cycle has now led me to the point of almost not wanting to train at all because i am so sick of moving in pain. There have been some improvements made, but i want it gone! And often, my mindset is all wrong going in. You see, i want to be able to train the way i always have … and i feel restricted, weak and hopeless when i can’t.
So with this in mind, i wanted to deal with 2 aspects of this topic. The first, is how I remain focused on my important (and possibly less exciting goal) in the face of conflicting desires and pressure to start on other paths. The second is relating specifically to pain and how we might approach things if we have a persistent pain issue. The second aspect will be made into a part 2 of this series and my hubby, Dr Jonathan Fass, DPT, will chime in with some great tips to help us view pain in a slightly different way 🙂 Seems we are a match made in heaven in more ways than one as he just so happens to be very interested in research and, in particular, pain research (yay for me!).
Have you ever heard this saying?
I feel like this was me stubbornly doing the same things while expecting my pain to magically disappear. Truth be told I saw being in pain as a weakness and so all my other goals became dominant. If i stopped training because of pain, then i was being defeated by it. So i kept on doing the exercises i loved, with the weight that made me feel strongest and at the intensity that got me the biggest burn/sweat on. But over the past year, my pride was being chipped away at bit by bit as i slowly accepted the advice Jonathan gave to me about how i should view my pain. I had been fighting it, rather than respecting it. And i was fighting it because I was fearing it (and what it might mean), which only made it worse.
In a recent conversation (which was during a particularly bad spell of pain), Jonathan asked me (while i was freaking out that i’d lose all my strength and my butt if i didn’t train my glutes): “if i told you that in 1 year you could be free of your pain, but in the process you would temporarily lose strength, muscle and maybe gain some body fat, would you take that path?”
I looked at him and stubbornly contemplated this – so he added:
“Where does your identity lie: In your strength? Your appearance?”
“No.” I said.
I then realised that everything i have talked about over the last few years – all the stuff about inner strength, humility and faith – had been my true values all along. These are the things that were at my centre and these are the things that will bring me to realising my full potential in life; not my appearance, the weight on a bar … or even my pain. I can see how everything else has gradually fallen away into the sidelines where it belongs. None of that other stuff really matters if it is making your pain worse and your pain is holding you back. It’s exhausting constantly battling the same thing!
I’m not saying that training to be strong isn’t fun, isn’t healthy and isn’t empowering, but at what cost? No matter what your goal, is it worth everything else that it requires to maintain? Are you sacrificing too much because your pride won’t allow you to consider something else might just work better?
There is nothing wrong with changing direction as long as your are being consistent with your values <– Mr Marianne Fass said this 😉
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to discourage you from getting stronger, or leaner or having a better butt (these things can be very good). For me, the problem was in the *why* and the *at what cost*. I was looking for something these things couldn’t give me. There is simply no avoiding fitness merging with life – it is after all an expression of your life – So ask yourself: does it line up with who you are? Does it have a secure foundation to be built upon?
Just the other day i was talking with a client who was struggling to remain positive on her path to a long term family-related goal (this goal required her to change her training approach and her diet). After receiving some “negative” comments from people about her appearance, she was feeling *that* pressure to retreat back to her old ways. But she has remained strong (inside and out) and i am proud of her! She recognised that the past no longer aligns with what is more important. Her *why* changed. I too, have wavered because of similar fears when i begin to forget to honour my goal and instead begin to adopt old habits (that i know best). I wondered how many times i have had a “good day” (with less pain) and think i am better, go and lift too much weight or go for a longer walk only to be in pain for 3 days afterward. Wisdom is needed!
No matter what your goal is, it is important to weigh it up with how you live the rest of your life, or what you would advise someone else to do. Not all goals are worth sticking with forever. Just like relationships: they aren’t all right for you. But when *that one* comes along, you want to give your all to it and you see the value in committing. However, that’s the easy part – the hard stuff begins when the reality sets in and you realise things don’t happen instantly. So it’s important to keep on remembering why you are doing what you are doing, and seek comfort from those who support you because they know you inside out. Don’t give in to the superficial comments or thoughts that try to get a foothold – stay rooted and strong in your deeper reasons for doing it.
Remember: in sickness and in health, for better and for worse; something important is worth the commitment.
For anyone who happens to suffer from chronic pain and hopes to make it a goal to lessen that pain or begin to live with it more harmoniously, please come back and read Part 2 where Jonathan and I give some simple tips to help you along that path.
As you can see from the top summary of my goal-history, it changed a lot over the years. I’d love to hear how your goals have evolved over the years? Have you found that certain goals fit in with your life better? Or have you reached the point where you no longer have goals? Leave a wee comment below 🙂
Hope you enjoyed the post.