Before the Dawn
Five years ago today, I had the weakest of a dying hope for a health recovery. The irony is that it was based on a false treatment model and doomed to fail.
January 15th, 2017, was a day much like the previous five years. I sat all day in the same position to keep my pain in the 6-7 range and avoid aggravating the occipital and trigeminal nerves that made my head constantly burn. I sat as still as I could to avoid stimulating my gut into having a bowel movement that would guarantee at least another four hours of worse pain. The only thing that got me out of bed was to go to the bathroom and one trip to get some food from the kitchen. I hadn’t showered in almost two weeks, avoiding the pain increase from the water stimulating my ravaged body.
In the bathroom, I’d try to avoid looking in the mirror to see how dreadful I looked. I weighed somewhere over 242 pounds, having given up on tracking my weight since I had no avenue to move to burn calories. I was 5’6″ tall, having lost three inches off my height from leaning forward for over 30 hours on average for the previous nine months. My mind was muddled from medications and pain. Putting together coherent sentences was a challenge. Each day, there were only two things to look forward to: going to sleep so that I could escape my pain, and the next time my pill timer would go off so I could get an hour or so of relief from narcotics and muscle relaxers. I was on fifteen prescriptions, including short and long-acting narcotics, three different muscle relaxers, and two nerve pain medications.
Sadly, I pinned the weak hope I had on another drug: an immunosuppressant drug trial. As each day of the trial passed and I only felt worse, the desperation of my situation grew. I thought there was a chance that the drug could somehow stop the ravages of my multiple autoimmune diseases. Interstitial cystitis, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and a host of other problems dominated every moment for the past fifteen years. I was wrong.
As January 15th turned to the 16th, I was in the sixth week of the trial. That night, black spots invaded my vision and began flashing. My pain had been rising and shot up to a 9 out of 10, interfering with every thought and movement. My heart rate went over 140 beats per minute while sitting in bed. I sweated and shook uncontrollably all through the night and into the afternoon. I finally thought I was dying from all that afflicted me. My parents sat with me, trying to help keep me calm as I finally reached a breaking point with my tolerance for pain, suffering, and fear.
Ten years earlier, I had survived nine months of sensory isolation from stimulation and still stayed the course of looking for a way out of my health problems. But this incident was the wake-up call that something had to change. Thankfully, I had some ideas about what to do. I immediately got started on the arduous process, staying committed no matter the pain, the flare-ups, and the emotional hurdles.
The Future Was Brighter than I Imagined
Fast forward five years, and I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life! I turned away from the passive treatment of symptoms through medications. Instead, I put my all into making lifestyle changes and working on my mindset. My fifteen-year study of Functional Medicine was of great use, making several protocols for myself to get at the root causes of the dysfunction in my body. In late 2017, I met former Mayo Clinic doctor Jim Lemons, and he introduced me to how thinking, moving, and breathing as informed by neuroscience could change my pain for the better. I’ve been rocketing forward to perfect health ever since. For my full health story, see this video.
Now I’m writing a book with Dr. Lemons about a comprehensive approach for managing and reversing chronic health problems and pain. I have a successful business where I help others with chronic illnesses and chronic pain achieve their best health. My clients are seeing remarkable progress!
Happy fifth health recovery anniversary to me! My autoimmune diseases have been in remission for over 15 months. My once severe nerve pain has dramatically subsided during this year of my health recovery. The minute-to-minute struggles of the past are becoming distant memories I have to work even to remember.
Since the anniversary is close to the beginning of the year, I use January 16th as my starting point to review and plan the next year. I want to take you all through the last year of my health recovery to show how progress is still possible this far into a health journey. I think showing this method will also give readers more of an idea of my Survive-and-Thrive mindset in action and how I’ve motivated myself to continually improve across the years. This motivational process is one of the most important aspects of my health recovery story and of any health recovery story. Let’s dive in!
Today marks the fourth time I’ve done a year review and planning session. I aim to keep the exercise going for a couple of main reasons. First, doing this helps me keep connected to how far I’ve come. My health has improved so much that it’s like I’m a different person now, and I don’t want to ever lose the full context of what challenges I’ve overcome. Annually revisiting how I overcame my limited health reinforces and increases my confidence.
Second, doing so keeps me thinking about how to best help my clients and readers. I stay grounded with where they’re coming from and then tap into the strategies that can help them improve their health despite their impaired circumstances. Each year, I leave the review feeling great after reliving all I’ve accomplished with the drive to set ambitious goals for the future.
At the beginning of my recovery, my focus was 100% on my health. That approach is necessary when one’s health is in a crisis. Soon, I’ll be writing about starting from that point in some articles about mindset. The essence of the method is the same when whether one is ill or healthy. It is the scope that is different–when you’re ill, you find one place to improve yourself, set a goal that is within your abilities, and attach as many of your values to it as possible so you feel motivated to pursue and attain it.
When you’re healthy, you usually have a better idea of your limits and can go after many more goals at once, as I do now. I make a twelve-category vision that allows for goals in health along with career and other areas of life.
For this update, I’ll focus on my health progress, goal review, and goal setting in year five of my recovery, but it’s that vision of what I want my life to be and wanting to keep what I already have that gets the engine started. For this reason, I begin my coaching work by helping a client to craft their unique vision for what their ideal health looks like to them. There’s nowhere to go if you don’t have a destination in mind. In my case, I want to inspire people to be their best. (There are many other values that feed that purpose, but that’s outside the scope of this piece.) The success of achieving goals and improving oneself turns the engine into a perpetual motivational machine. Mine gets me excited to make ever more goals and set my sights even higher.
As for the review process, before I go through the previous year, I start by writing down all of the top accomplishments I can remember. I check my yearly goals each month, so it’s easy for me to recall the big ones. This way, I begin feeling good from recollecting and relishing some great moments. It also builds up some emotional resilience for the next step. Then, I look at my daily activity logs to see everything I did. Seeing the daily achievements immediately gives me more boosts of positivity.
My Most Significant Accomplishments
Thankfully, I accomplish so much now that this could go on for quite a bit. I set 38 goals, but 12 ended up not applying to my situation for one reason or another (COVID interfering with going to health events, moving changing my circumstances, not needing water fasts for pain). Of the remaining 26, I accomplished 22 of them! I’ll discuss the health developments below, starting with the all-important pain-related ones.
Improvements with Pain
- 42 days with time without pain
- Only used CBD on 2/3rds of days
- Conquered worm infection and elevated histamine with Mimosa Pudica Seed protocol
- Only one flare-up from behavior when I lost water for five days and couldn’t shower
- Two five-day water fasts
This category of improvement is the big one, so I’m leading with it! During my fourth year of recovery, I had my first glorious day with time without pain in the past 24 years. That’s all I had. This year, I had 42 more this year! That’s 11.5% of my days, with most of them coming in the last two months! I also used CBD on all but a handful of days last year. Because of this decrease in pain and how my fast in March made me feel a bit worse, I only did two of four water fasts I had planned for the year to help with my pain. The improvements I had with them this year were marginal. Water fasting generates stem cells and has been instrumental in my recovery since 2019–I’ll be releasing a video about that subject here.
Also on the pain front, I only had one flare-up all year that was a result of my behavior. That came when my residence lost water for five days during the Texas Snowpocalypse in February. I was unable to shower during that period yet continued to lift weights. That meant I didn’t take ice baths after, and the nerves in my shoulders reacted accordingly with a pain flare. I should’ve shown more restraint and skipped lifting in those unusual circumstances. Still, that’s only one flare-up in a weird situation. I’m giving myself a big pat on the back for that achievement!
And thanks to a three-month anti-parasite protocol, I purged myself of parasites, which I think is key to the days without pain. After all, I had most of the days in the last two months of my year after the protocol was over and I had the all-clear from a stool test. Also gone with the bugs are three years of elevated blood histamine levels.
Simply put, my pain is no longer a big issue for me. The interstitial cystitis, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome that used to cripple me don’t show up in the least! Only the nerve pain comes back for a visit, and it is such a minor player in my body now. As a result, I feel wonderful most of the time. The pain no longer interferes with my work and allows me to be my best self!
Even my workout recovery became excellent in the last two months since I integrated my massage gun and Flex supplement that I detailed in my Black Friday post. I think I could now lift weights 4-5x per week, despite how much nerve pain that used to cause.
On to easily measurable physical improvement in year five of my health recovery. Here are the weights at which I can now do sets. The increases over last year follow in parentheses.
- Deadlift: 213 (+115)
- Pendlay Rows: 108 (+30)
- Calf Raises: 200 (+25)
- Bench Press: 137.5 (+32.5)
- Overhead Press: 74.5 (+14.5)
- Squats: 155 (+60)
- Curls: 78 (0)
- Chin-ups: 8,8,12 34 lbs (+34 vs only doing 6,2,2)
- Triceps Kickbacks: 48.6 (+21.6)
- Chest Flys: 28.6 (+11.6)
Pullups: 6,6,7 (I could do zero before)
I am delighted with this progress! Even though I didn’t make my goal of increasing my bench press by 50, squats by 75, and deadlift by 100, but I still consider the year of weightlifting a success. After all, I lost three months when I felt so poorly from parasite detox that I couldn’t lift during that time. And still, I’m now stronger than I ever was in the past! I have surpassed my records on every exercise from when I lifted weights in my early 20s.
Only five points deserve explanation here:
- My calf raises didn’t increase much because I added a step up to them late in the year, which caused me to lower the weight quite a bit.
- I replaced my standing press with a sitting overhead press. This change is because my weight bench got moved into a room with a lower ceiling.
- My biceps curls look like they didn’t change because I realized I was cheating the form on the exercise. I only lowered my arms to 90 degrees on the downswing instead of extending back to my legs. When I corrected the form, I had to drop over thirty pounds from the lift and start again with proper form. I added 18 pounds to them after the change!
- I was doing unweighted chin-ups last year, but they became so easy that I had to add weight to have a challenge.
- I couldn’t do any pull-ups last year. I added them three weeks ago and am happy that I can do sets of 6, 6, and 7.
- As I mentioned above, I feel so great on my off days that I’m considering adding a fourth day of lifting per week this year.
- On a related note, I began bouldering this year and loved it, which I’ve written about many times. I had eight trips to bouldering gyms and had a record of climbing 20 walls in one session. In my last session, I developed some advanced dynamic moves, slanted walls, and performed a lunge to end a wall. I began on V0 difficulty walls and was up to V2 difficulties at the end of this year of recovery. I look forward to getting even better at this new favorite activity!
This section requires a little context. Last year, I could only run ten spans of time for about 30 seconds each before my legs hurt too much or I developed trouble breathing from exercise-induced asthma. Now I can:
- Run a 5k in 28:10 on a very unlevel route
- Go all-out to run a mile in 7:29
- Run a mile in 8:30 while wearing a twenty-six-pound rucking vest
As I wrote about in my December health update, I broke through my difficulties of the last 31 years with exercise-induced asthma! As I ramped up my running, my cardiovascular health reached a new level. My resting heart rate is currently at 65 beats per minute, ten fewer than this time last year. Fitbit grades me as having excellent cardiovascular fitness for a man my age! It pleases me to see such progress on a vital health marker.
I feel calmer at rest too. That could be because my heart rate is low now!
In a mix of both pain and cardiovascular improvement, my resting heart rate no longer shoots up the night after a weightlifting workout.
I also walked 5,074,929 steps. That’s over 13,903 steps per day and 2,327 miles on foot! That distance is the equivalent of one-and-a-half roundtrip walks from Kansas City to Austin, Texas! Walking is a breeze. It doesn’t feel like it’s pushing me unless I walk as fast as possible.
I’m still shocked that I don’t start coughing and wheezing when I’m running. Followed by the pain improvements, these cardiovascular achievements are the physical improvements that please me the most during this year of my recovery story.
My body changed significantly during this year of my health recovery story.
I started the year at 160.2 pounds and spent the first half of the year bulking up to 175. Then, I went full keto with under 50 grams of carbohydrates starting on September 26th to lean out. My waist measured 35 3/16″ at the end of the bulk.
Now, I’ve come full circle with my weight. I weigh 159, and my waist is 33.25″. My biceps are 13″, and my chest is 38.5″. My muscles are much more developed now. In November, I had a DXA scan when I weighed 163.9 pounds, which showed I had 22.9% body fat. I suspect the number is significantly lower now. I’ll recheck my body fat in the first quarter of this year.
- Streamlined nightly recording about the day
- Exercise spreadsheet with calculations
- Introduced coffee
- Up every day by 10 a.m.
These are minor but important. I feel so good now that I can jot down scant amounts about each day. For almost two decades, I wrote down a full page about my day to try and find patterns that could explain the countless disheartening symptoms and lengthy pain-flareups. I’m thrilled that there’s nothing negative to track anymore and all the extra time that allows me! I also made a digital spreadsheet to track my weightlifting progress. It has some nifty functions that only require me to type in the amount of weight on my first set, and it calculates the warmups and subsequent set weights. This digitization saves time, eliminates paper, and gives me a quick way to see everything I’m doing.
Another health development was that I conquered Mt. Coffee. I had never tolerated caffeine due to gut problems and a hypersensitive nervous system. Thankfully, my health is finally stable enough to successfully introduce the glorious liquid five days per week! It did stimulate my nervous system a bit at first. I had to find a proper balance to not trigger frequent urination, but I was fine if I didn’t exceed two cups or one strong cup.
One last health development was that I was out of bed every day by 10 a.m. This item probably sounds eyebrow-raising, but I still had days in year four of my health recovery where the nerve pain in my head would keep me awake for a few hours. So, to compensate, I would sometimes sleep late. After a few months into the year, I easily achieved this goal and maintained it.
Summary of Year-Five Accomplishments
I feel very proud of all of this progress and cherish every day with such little pain! It’s a stark contrast to my disabled past. It’s even more amazing to me that I improved to this level while becoming doubly certified as a health coach, developing a successful and valuable business, and moving!
As I mentioned in my last health recovery story update, professional success was vital to my improvement with all the endorphins I generated from pleasure, and thus necessary to include here. My top career highlights were the second article I wrote about pain neuroscience and getting interviewed six times, including becoming a regular on Rebel Health Tribe’s content. Getting recognized by a top health outlet like Rebel Health Tribe felt amazingly fulfilling! Additionally, I feel great about the value I’m providing in both my consultation and coaching services that I offer and the tremendous progress I’m seeing my clients make. Seeing how I’m helping others reclaim their health gives me more satisfaction with work than I’ve ever had!
At this point in the review, I was revved up from seeing all these positive developments. I was now ready to look at myself with a critical eye for what didn’t get done.
Unachieved Goals and What Got in the Way
As important to pay attention to as the successes, I look at what I didn’t accomplish from the goal list. For where I fell short, I write about why I didn’t achieve them to see if valid obstacles or life changes were the explanation. Sometimes, it turned out the goal wasn’t as important as I thought, and I let it slide for a good reason. I also make sure to see if I let something important slide that I shouldn’t have. Then, I look into why that happened and what I can do to rectify it.
There wasn’t much to examine here. Everything was explainable. I also quickly made a list of almost two-dozen things I won’t be spending time on again. This list included huge time-consumers, such as three months of parasite detox and building the infrastructure of my business, which covers coming up with the foundation of my coaching and consulting workflow.
The one goal of note that I didn’t attain was regarding progress on my book. While I got substantial work done on several chapters, I’d hoped for more. Coming up short was due to me not accurately estimating how much time it would take to start and grow my business, along with my client work. However, there is an upside to the slower than expected pace of my writing. Working directly to teach clients the tools to deal with chronic pain and other health problems and learning to better motivate them has brought a great deal more polish on my book’s subject. Doing so surfaced many nuances I had not fully articulated previously about dealing with such situations. I am confident that the book is much better for this delay.
I look forward to the day when the book is available so there’s one potent handbook for dealing with the tortuous journey of chronic health problems. To make sure it gets done, I have blocked out ten months of solid book this year and am sure of my method for sticking with it!
Year Six Goals
After all that reflection, it is time to look forward. So here are the physical goals I want to achieve during year six of my health recovery story!
- Have pain-free time on 1/2 of days = 183 days
- One five-day water fast at the end of June
- 10-minute ice baths with only my back submerged and no longer on deadlift days
For the first time, I’m making a goal about my pain level. I have resisted making a pain-related goal until now. This hesitancy is due to my knowledge of the subject and my experience with it. There is currently no way to know how much the body can heal due to the extent of the damage from years of autoimmunity. Age also inhibits one’s healing potential, and I’m 41-years-old, meaning I have substantially fewer stem cells than someone who’s 20. Pain is often unpredictable, as well. Even when one knows their triggers for pain, uncontrollable factors such as a stressful period of life or even the weather can influence it.
However, with the flood of days with time without pain in these last three months, I finally think it’s plausible that I could have time without pain every day, so I’m aiming for that to happen on at least half of the days. My stretch goal is for 2/3rds of the days.
I’ll do just one extended water fast this year, exactly a year after the last one, to see what that does for my health. I think one such fast per year is an excellent general health goal for someone who is healthy and can put the weight back on that they lose. It’s a useful cellular tuneup through the process of autophagy, which repairs or destroys damaged cells, and even a hormonal reset.
Lastly, I’m reducing the frequency of and amount of time I spend in an ice bath post-lifting since my pain no longer requires it. Research indicates that icing after lifting may inhibit strength gains, so I want to ditch this from my routine as soon as possible.
- Bench press: 170. Squats: 210. Deadlift: 303. Pendlay rows: 135.5. Calf raises: 255. Overhead press: 91. Biceps curls: 100. Weighted chin-ups: 56. Triceps kickbacks 60.6. Chest flys: 40.6.
Lifting Stretch Goals
- Bench press: 200. Squats: 247.5. Deadlift: 323. Pendlay rows: 165.5. Calf raises: 315. Overhead press: 109. Biceps curls: 124. Weighted chin-ups: 80. Triceps kickbacks: 72.6. Chest flys: 52.6.
These are pretty straightforward. One year is a long time, and so much can get in the way of lifting progress, such as soreness, that I like to make a very doable goal. Then, I set a second, more ambitious goal. If I make it to the stretch goals, I will have achieved my long-time health goals of benching my weight, squatting 1.5x my weight, and deadlifting twice my weight!
- Be able to complete V3-4 difficulty walls
I am only bouldering once per month this year, so I think this is a reasonable goal for only twelve tries at it.
- Reduce steps to 10,000 per day, then 9,000 after three months, and 8,000 at six months
- Fasted cardio on non-lifting days (3-4x per week)
- Run a 6:58 mile (better than intermediate rating)
- Do a one-mile maximum effort run on three non-lifting days per week
- Run a 23:43 5k (better than intermediate rating)
- Run a 5k on the two non-leg lifting days
- Sub 8-minute mile with 26-pound weighted vest
- Weighted vest one-mile run 1x per week
Cardio Stretch Goals
- Run a 6:04 mile
- Run a 20:46 5k
As mentioned above, I like to make two goals for physical metrics like lifting and running for similar reasons. The most significant change is the decrease in my steps per day. I have been wondering if my daily steps could be inhibiting my recovery time. I also would like to reduce the time I spend moving around each day. The last few goals are about making my complicated running schedule more definite.
Recovery and Schedule-related
- At least one day off per week from exercise other than step goals
- Only take a summer, Thanksgiving, and Christmas exercise break
- Have a daily schedule of 0600-2230 daily and never still be in bed after 0800
As I continue to focus on improving my workout recovery, I felt the need to make a specific goal around having a rest day. I didn’t specify which day because I often travel and take an extra day off for soreness. That flexibility leads to variable workout days. The daily schedule represents another degree of stability afforded by the lack of pain allowing me to sleep more regularly. I’ll discuss that a bit more below in the medication section.
- Keep losing body fat until I reach 12%
- Bulk up to 160 pounds and get to that weight at 12% body fat
Having never been that lean, I think these two goals are plenty for the year. But if I do make it there, I’ll entertain the idea of getting to 165 pounds and 10% body fat. As I’ve continually mentioned, I don’t have a final body composition goal for how I look. My goals are to burn off fat and feel good. Adipose tissue is a suspected area for storing toxins, so I want to get rid of as much as I can and settle into whatever body fat percentage I feel best at while maintaining my lifting, running, and bouldering goals.
Medication and Supplement Health
- Titrate my last two medications down by at least half
- By the end of February, quit Revitalizing Sleep Formula supplement
I am on one medication to help me sleep and another for weightlifting-related nerve pain. I’ve decreased them over the years and had stopped both, but I found that they improved my quality of life and workout recovery significantly once I started lifting, so I brought them back. With how great my pain level and steady my sleep are, I think I can at least reduce them by half and hope to quit both.
Similarly, I’ve been on Revitalizing Sleep Formula for 14 years and no longer seem to need its help to get to sleep. I am on 1/8th of the amount I used to be on, so I think this is finally the year I get to sleep without it.
Cognitive Standing Orders
I also set ten cognitive standing orders. These are thinking habits to improve myself, but eight are work-related, so I’ll pass over discussing those.
The two relevant ones are:
- Maintain cherishing life and celebrate the successes of clients
- Never hit the snooze button on my alarm
The key to mention here is to maintain my daily focus of cherishing life and celebrating clients’ successes. Since starting to work with clients early last year, I have found that I get some of my strongest feelings of pleasure from helping them improve. So I want to consciously work to foster those moments to keep me focused on the great rewards of my work.
Last of all, I made monthly work plans which portend tremendous progress writing my book and balancing my business. As a result, I expect to have something important to announce about my book later this year!
Celebration of My Efforts
When I completed the exercise, I was utterly fired up from seeing my accomplishments and bubbling with excitement for the future. However, the day would not be complete without celebrating the present!
I filled my day with my values to honor my favorite activities in line with my spirit. It was another day with time without pain, and I treasured that by running a 5k and lifting weights. I also had a delicious dinner with my family, and we talked about how I’ve conquered my health problems and pain. Then we watched my hometown Kansas City Chiefs advance in the playoffs.
Finally, I capped off the value indulgence in a way that connects back to my years of disability. I purchased some memorabilia from the games that helped keep my spirits up when I was trapped in my dire health struggle. Now, I’ll be surrounded by the memories of grand, larger-than-life characters from Skies of Arcadia, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect. These characters fueled me to keep going, give my best effort in everything I do, and never settle for anything but the best. Every time I see them, I will be reminded of that time in my life and the qualities of my character I share with them that allowed me to overcome a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
The Dawn has Come, and it’s Radiant
Thinking about my past misery and feeling imprisoned by my health, I realize that I now have the freedom of limits from pain. A healthy man’s range of activity and work is entirely open to me. Where I could barely move, I can run and lift weights. My mind is now free from pain to exercise my full capabilities. Instead of the wish to escape into unconsciousness, I am eager to make the most of every day. I have had many moments of solemn reverie over this realization. This review and goal-planning exercise help intensify and keep it alive in my daily thinking.
I would never have imagined on January 16th, 2017, that I could achieve a health recovery and a life like this! I’m both stronger and happier than ever! Soon, I’m going to record a video about that first year of recovery. I think individuals suffering from chronic health problems and chronic pain can gain from hearing about that process as I acquired my first footholds on stable health ground. The years of darkness and hopelessness are long gone. All my perseverance has paid off to greater health and a better life than I could have ever imagined. Staying the course with my health principles through every agonizing flare-up and the crippling stress of narcotic withdrawal was worth it. And now, I’ve systematized the process to such that I’m confident I could shave years off my recovery time and am putting that into practice with my clients.
Vibrant health is possible with chronic health problems and chronic pain. I’m living proof! Below is a photo of me at the start of my health recovery story and every year since. I can’t wait to see how many others I help achieve similar results across the decades to come of my career.
This was a fantastic year for my health and my life. I look forward to the progress of 2022 and increasingly to helping my clients have successes like mine! Here I am from the start of my recovery and each year since. I do not doubt for the third straight year that this coming year of my recovery will be the best one yet! I want to do everything I can to help you have the same experience!