This is a post from My Health Journey, an ongoing series where I document my health progress. Follow along to see, month after month, how I implement my recovery protocol, handle stressful situations, eliminate food sensitivities, incrementally train my nervous system to handle more stress, and ultimately, how my method continues to allow me greater and greater freedom, happiness, and health!
Welcome to my health update for March 2022. It turned into the best month yet for my chronic pain after I fully recovered from my illness at the end of last month. The month had a couple of minor challenges and significant progress.
Afterword on Illness
First, here are a few thoughts on my illness that lingered a few days into the month. I don’t feel like I adequately described the experience and how I got through it. That’s because I was still affected by it when I wrote that health update. I had a sinus infection with whopping headaches in the 6-7 pain range that occurred mostly during the morning and night. It lasted for a couple of weeks.
Even when one has had chronic health problems and gotten through them, my experience in myself and working with my clients is that those old susceptible areas of the body and conditions are lingering right under the surface. They’re ready to come back when the body gets the slightest bit out of balance. Sure enough, the illness brought back my hotspots of pain at the base of my skull and shoulder blades. I also had the occasional recurrence of pain with urination.
My first reaction was consternation. I had ambitious work goals and was in the best workout groove of my life, and now my body needed extended rest and recovery. I thought and complained on paper a bit about the loss to process the negative emotions, which I find always helps. This action cleared most of the feelings. I was able to rapidly accept that it would take a lower productivity period to get back to my healthy self quicker. The deadlines would have to shift, and the video launches of the new batch I recorded and the two I needed to record would have to slide. It took all of my energy and focus to maintain client work.
This process only took me a few minutes since it’s second nature for me after how many times I’ve done it.
Then I immediately turned to solutions, which I have plenty of thanks to my near-lifelong health problems. This part of my mindset is one of my greatest strengths–I quickly process losses of value and pivot to what I can still do. I think it’s one reason I was able to have resilience for so long while disabled.
I knew that my new ill limits were constraining me, so that meant it was time to retreat and retrench in my proven routines that got me out of my years of disability.
The headaches called for double-length sessions or longer of my massage gun on my neck and back–up to ten minutes at a time. I dosed myself with at least four cups of bone broth each day along with zinc, Vitamin A, C, and elderberry until the symptoms finally broke. I also leaned on my CBC oil from Nuleaf Naturals for pain relief. Unfortunately, the illness also meant my exercise program needed a complete overhaul–it’s far too intense to maintain during an illness.
I also went back to my exercise in year 2 of my recovery. For two straight weeks, I dropped weight training and daily running. I turned to only walking, and I got on my foam roller five times per week instead of three to help stretch the neck and back muscles.
The illness also called for a quick makeover of my daily routine to one from a couple of years ago when my pain and symptoms were still pervasive. First, I budgeted in time for an extra 1-2 hours of sleep each day. Next up, I ramped up my deep breathing practice for an additional 15 minutes to get some added endorphins and calm my nervous system.
The symptoms were worst in the morning and night when I would get congested. To adapt to this and keep working and giving quality service to my clients, I went back to my routine from the middle of last year. As I wrote about in a previous update at that time, I was on an anti-parasite protocol. That protocol finally cleared my histamine intolerance symptoms. However, it made me feel lousy for a few morning hours every day for three months just like this illness was. I adjusted by having as many of my client calls in afternoons and accepted that great creative work wouldn’t get done while I was ill.
More pleasure was an essential part of my prescription. This is due to humans being integrated of mind and body and the biochemical benefits for health from happiness.
Epic role-playing games are my long-time hobby love. My favorites are games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect that mimic real-life in having you make difficult moral choices and them shaping the story, just as we are shaped by our every decision. But since opening my business last year, I find that my work brings me so much pleasure that I hadn’t played a game in 4.5 months. So I made time each morning to play a game to provide me with a mental and endorphin boost when I didn’t feel like creating content or writing for my book.
That recreation time helped to distract from the symptoms and give me some pleasure rather than the frustration of not being able to create at my usual level. Here’s a photo from Dragon Age: Inquisition for your edification.
All these changes added up to not overstressing myself from work or exercise and having a relatively pleasant ill period. I was proud of all my client sessions and had a fine recovery.
This approach shows the kind of toolkit I have for managing my life when symptoms are present. This is something everyone has to do to improve with a chronic illness or chronic pain. A repeated theme with my clients is building a personalized toolkit that works for their particular health context. When they have a complete toolkit, management of their situations becomes automatic and seemingly effortless. Everyone needs something that works for each of the ailments that are bothering them. When they have that, health breakthroughs become the norm.
After the first week of the month, I felt terrific and got back to all my usual routines by the second week of March.
A Short down Spell, but the Whole Was Great
I continued to cruise along until the third week. Then, my pain crept up thanks to shorter sleep while traveling, and I sprained my left pinky while bouldering. The inflammation that I experienced from the sprain seemed to throw off the delicate balance of my workout recovery, as I felt a surge in nerve pain in my shoulders and neck despite taking it easier during that workout. On top of that, I didn’t have my usual bed when I returned home due to having houseguests. It all threw my routines just enough out of balance that I had five days with significant symptoms.
The lesson here is the importance of routine and regularity. I need to take more care to ensure my sleep doesn’t get disrupted when I travel. And it would’ve been good to have my massage gun with me while traveling to help with the unexpected inflammation. I’ll fix both next time!
It was still a fantastic month despite the illness and that tough week. I had my most days with pain-free time yet with 20 days for the month! That exceeds the goal rate I set on my fifth recovery anniversary of having half my days have such time. You can read about that in that health update here. It’s interesting to see that I could come into the month with an illness, have a minor injury, and still make progress with my pain. I truly have benevolent cycles set up throughout my life to keep the healing coming!
Body Composition Progress
My favorite part of the month was March 16th. That’s when I had my second DEXA scan to track my body composition progress. Both times, I’ve used the Bodyspec service in Austin, TX. The last test was on November 17th.
My primary goal is to get my body fat into the 8-12% range, with the final amount determined by what amount I have and feel the best. My reasoning for this goal is multiple. First, I want to burn off the fat from my disability years since toxins can be stored in fat tissue. Plus, there are the longevity benefits and better energy, and simply looking better. Having all those values at stake makes it easy for me to commit to the lifestyle habits that can foster such progress.
I’ve made several changes since the first DEXA. First, I instituted a 25-33% daily calorie deficit. The deficit varied after my Fitbit croaked, and I was winging how many calories I burned each day. Second, I started running daily 5ks inside my house due to inclement winter weather. The only exception was when I was traveling for work. I didn’t run those days, roughly one week per month. Third, I committed to sleeping 8.5-9 hours instead of 7.5-8 per night. Other than the illness period I described above, I kept most things the same. I kept lifting weights every other day, just as I had been the months prior to the first DEXA.
The results were fantastic! I lost 5.9% body fat, 7.3 pounds, and gained 3.5 pounds of lean muscle mass since the last scan. Interestingly, their scale had me weighing 156.6 pounds, and my scale was measuring around 151.
The lean mass addition was all over my body, with one exception. I gained an impressive 6.3 pounds of muscle on my trunk and 1.4 on my arms. However, these gains were despite a 4-pound loss of lean mass on my legs. Curiously, my squats have continued to reach new personal records these past four months as my legs have lost muscle. I suspect the answer is that I’ve moved indoors for walking and running and had no use of my weighted vest during the winter.
The weather has improved, so I’ve started running my neighborhood again. It will be interesting to see if the lean mass in my legs increases next time I do a DEXA.
I love getting this objective data to track my progress. It is one thing to see the changes in my body and “kind of know” the shift is occurring. It is quite another to see the numbers showing exactly what has changed. And it is immensely gratifying to look back at how far I’ve come.
I think it’s a fundamental human need to see progress, such as this scan, to stay motivated. This is a principle I implement with every coaching client. I help them set up goals that will show results quickly so they can get fired up about continually pushing their boundaries to keep improving. These wins are especially important at the beginning of a difficult health journey when someone likely hasn’t seen any success in a long time. So I will do a third scan in a few more months to keep my motivation stoked to the maximum.
Lifting and Bouldering
I had another excellent month of exercise gains. I felt well enough after illness to start lifting again at the end of the first week of March. To my surprise, I was able to attempt all my personal records from a couple of weeks prior!
When I was traveling mid-month, I went bouldering twice. My skills and strength had vastly improved again! As I continue to drop fat weight, the bouldering keeps getting easier. I performed all kinds of new moves and attempted new grips such as cup holds and flashed (did a wall on the first try) on over 20 walls. Some of my feats are pictured to the side.
I excel at walls that emphasize straight arm climbing strength. I was shocked that I could complete several walls that other climbers who appeared to be in better shape than me couldn’t. That was a first for me. Here’s one of those walls. It was a very short route, but it featured grips of less than 1/2 of an inch!
I’m particularly pleased with the move I pulled off at the start of this upper intermediate difficulty wall I completed. Standing on those triangles and reaching took much more leg strength and arm strength than I had previously had!
But as I mentioned above, I sprained my left little finger on the third wall after warm-up during the second session. That limited me considerably. I had to go down two to three difficulties for the rest of the session because I couldn’t grip well with my left hand. It’s still a little sore but isn’t impeding my ability to lift.
In all, it’s very satisfying to me to see tangible improvements in climbing and my body composition. I love seeing these videos of what I’ve accomplished.
Despite the sprain, I could still lift weights and continued on my record-setting spree, hitting records in all ten of my lifts toward the end of the month! At the end of my last workout on the 31st, I felt so great that my only thought was: “what else can I lift?” I’m usually pretty exhausted afterward, so this was a welcome sign.
That’s a Wrap for March!
It was another fine month. It was a first for me to have time without pain on nearly 2/3rds of the days! There are many big things ahead in April. I hope you have a healthy month!