Monthly Archives: January 2017

At the Mercy of the Hammy

The hamstring saga continues…

The last time I updated this topic, I had just come off Prednisone, and the pain was returning but manageable. Oh, how things have changed again.

This week, things culminated to a new peak of pain. The discomfort had steadily returned since the end of the anti-inflammatories. Then it started to get worse, hearkening back to the onset of the injury. Until one morning I could not walk, could not move on my own for an alarming amount of time.

My insurance denied the claim for the referral for the MRI in December, so I never did get scanned. Instead, they sent me to an orthopedic then physical therapy before they would entertain the idea of payment for scans.

So I went to the orthopedic. The visit was rushed and abbreviated. Both the doctor and his assistant asked a few questions and did not wait for an elaborations on the answers. I do not think I ever got to accurately articulate the full issue. Yet I was willing to trust. I was willing to try just about anything to change the situation and, especially, lessen the pain.

Then it was a steroid shot into my hamstring and a referral to physical therapy. I did not want to jump straight to a steroid shot, but again, I would take anything. I resolved to just go with it and give it a chance.

I had optimism in the shot, yet it did nothing. I know it could take weeks, but I guess I dreamed of the instant effect of the pills. Then things seemed to get worse. I doubt it was a result of the shot, but I do not know what changed. I did not notice any tweak that made it worse. I had not really changed my routine. Yet suddenly so much more pain. Like falling backward into the start of the injury.

The pain appeared more often and was called up by more movements and activities. Then that one morning where I could not walk.

Thankfully, so far, that degree of pain has only been reserved for that one instant and the first day of the injury. It really did reach levels that called up childbirth memories. Yet I now live in fear of it. Every catch and tweak, I wonder if it will fade. I worry I will be trapped like a whimpering turtle again. In that pain, I thought that was just how it was going to be, what my injury had become, and I think that hopelessness fueled the majority of my tears.

My orthopedic’s assistant did not seem at all concerned by my hellish morning, so I continued on to start physical therapy this week. Instead of mobility training or gentle exercises, I was there for one treatment: dry needling.

Dry Needling

I had never heard of dry needling, definitely never experienced. In short, the practitioner takes an acupuncture needle and stabs the muscle in a trigger point until it hypercontracts. That contraction is meant to reset the muscle, work out the knots, encourage healing.

Despite my extensive tattooing, I was nervous. Something about the idea of a needle being plunged into the sweet meat of my inner thigh. Yet it was not as bad as I had feared. The initial pierce of the needle was barely noticeable, and the muscle stabbing was also relatively minute. The pain came from the muscle contractions. The harder and more effective the contraction, the more painful. The sensation paled in comparison to that of the actual injury, so I just breathed through it.

The physical therapy has at least given me hope. Mostly because I liked my therapist. There seems to be a minute improvement since the needling. The pain remains just as intense, but the frequency and duration have lightened a bit. It would make sense to be from the treatment. Or it could be from starting to sleep with it wrapped or from taking a couple rest days.

I hesitate to think it is getting better because, in the past months, every time I do, it immediately regresses and gets much worse. The injury reminds me that I am at its mercy; then I am just crushed by the defeat.

Even as things have improved physically, I find myself struggling mentally and emotionally this week. I can feel the pain changing me, affecting my personality and reactions, and I do not want it to. That terrible, immobile morning has shaken me. It has made me gun-shy and paranoid, and it has also deflated my hope. I find myself frustrated and bitter all over again, as if my leg owes me something, as if I’m promised permanent functionality.

Then, at some point in my pathetic wallowing and pointless bitching, I realized that the pain is not the root of my mental discontent; it’s the restriction. And I think it is less not being able to do the activities I want and more not being able to reap the benefits of doing them. The injury simultaneous puts me in this nagging pain then limits my coping mechanisms to deal with it (and all the normal things).

I use exercise to deal, to manage. I rely on endorphins to tame my bipolar. I leverage time spent exercising as alone time and time to mentally process. It is a huge part of my routine and my balance. Which is a large part of the reason I have been pushing through the injury to continue the activities.

An amplification in pain was more to deal with but also took away the crutch. Add to that the fact that I am doing the Whole30 diet, and I am also missing my beloved consolations of alcohol and food that I actually enjoy. Not to mention the void of those things alters the chemistry in my brain. I cannot even use my Monster energy drink hack.

Basically, I have stripped myself bare, removed all safety pads, and left myself alone with life in general and this injury in specific. I find that I am terribly weak solo, without all my tricks and tools. And I am getting my ass kicked. It is all sloppy and just sad. I feel like a mess.

The realization helps, tames the beast a bit. As always, I find the true break is in my mind. And I am the only one who can fix that.

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My Love and Hate Relationship with the Barre

My hands grip the barre until my knuckles start to pale; my rings dig into my fingers from the pressure. I am clinging to the slender wood for dear life as my entire body threatens to tremble into a puddle on the thin carpet.

“Rise onto your highest pair of heels, and sink you seat an inch lower,” the instructor says as she paces methodically around the room. Her tone is soothing, yet her words abrate my mind as my muscles beg me to stop in an ascending burn.

I roll onto my toes, pressing and arching my foot until I feel my calf muscle ball up behind the back of my knee. As I ease my hips lower, awkwardly squatting above my elevated heels, my legs behind to vibrate. It’s a subtle tremble at first, just a quiver on the edge of my skin, sending waves through the acid beginning to team on my muscles. I breathe through pursed lips and hold tighter to the barre.

“Now tuck to tempo. Tuck, tuck, tuck.”

I dig deep and gather the muscles of my abdomen in towards my spine, tilting my pelvis up into my torso. The muscles that still feel so distended from two babies. With each tuck, fire licks the tops of my thighs. My heels press against each other, desperate to stay lifted. I feel the weakness trickle down, pouring over my legs down into my perched toes.

“Lower your hips down an inch, up an inch. Little down, little up.”

My muscles practically cackle at her words they sound so outrageous. Didn’t she mean lower your heels and lock your knees? Stand like a normal, relaxed person?

I close my eyes and breathe more purposefully. I do not look in the mirror. I do not want to see the sweaty tomato of my face while my reflection wants to give up so deeply. 

“This is your last change,” she says.

Hope blossoms across my chest. I can do this. It has to be less than a minute left.

A minute of burning hell on my legs.

I lower and lift my hips against the objections of my flesh. I make the small, controlled motions even though my nerves send relentless messages indicating they cannot comply. My body moves just the same. With each lower, the shake seizes me. My heels wobble and smack together; my knees knock and tremble. I can feel the vibrations rolling up my body in waves all the way to my cheeks.

“Final 10 strong. 1, 2, 3, 4…”

The countdown inspires me. Only 10 tiny movements left. I clutch the barre harder, close my eyes tighter, focus only on her count. I drop my seat lower, tuck my hips harder. My entire body is a mess of quivering fire.

” 9 and 10.”

I made it. I lock my knees and bask in the pleasant rush of the acid receding from my muscles. I breathe out relief as the heat stops flaring beneath my face.

Then I feel it, somewhere between the endorphins and the accomplishment–the high. The pain in my body evolves into euphoria, and my mind climbs somewhere both level and calm.

 

love

I believe I can safely say that I have reached addiction level with my affair with Pure Barre.

socks

That is what I do, after all: become addicted to things. Substances, activities, people, places. My mind will turn about anything into a drug. I live in extremes and chases excesses. If a little is good, more must be better, and a lethal dose is probably where I’ll end up.

Hence the attempt to shift addictions to “healthy” outlets. But I digress…

I started trying barre classes because an acquaintance of mine had started teaching classes and was posting about it. I was mired in my obsession to recover from my son and was trying any and all fitness options available, so I gave it a shot.

The first class absolutely annihilated me. I could scarcely perform the exercises included, and I was sore like I potentially never have been. And I rarely get sore anyway.

bettersorethansorry

I enjoyed the class, felt deeply intrigued by the challenge; however, I was married to my gym and the full schedule of classes I committed to every week. I could not afford the extra expense and more the extra time without provided child care. So barre became an occasional flirtation, once a month or so.

At some point, I started going more frequently. Perhaps when my son’s school schedule changed and gave me more unencumbered time. Then I purchased a deal on classes without actually reading the fine print. When my unused classes were about to expire, the studio owner was gracious enough to give me an extension, into which I stuffed every class I could make.

Boom. Addiction.

I actually injured my hamstring doing barre stretches. After a dance class, I was moving gently through the thigh stretch sequence. When I came down easily into the splits (which was a celebrated accomplishment), something popped, and five months later, I am still recovering. Ironically enough, the activity that injured me also seems to the best suited to my injury. With its minute, controlled movements, barre  is the perfect exercise to strengthen my hamstring without straining it further.

It is as if the class itself has trapped me.

plie

Now, I am a 2-3 classes a week attendee whenever I can support it. With my obsessive commitment, it is pretty often though children and work are known to pop up in the way. Barre even has me convinced me to abandon the gym, shifting to only barre, belly dance, and running. Once I found a piece of dance to complete my heart, I was sold.

I LOVE and HATE Pure Barre classes, potentially equally, definitely simultaneously.

The classes themselves make me uncomfortable. Yes, I am a dancer; I was a belly dancer for eight years and still pursued hauntings of that with zumba and hip hop classes. However, that is all VERY different from ballet. The only ballet I have experienced is watching my daughter’s classes. I had the benefit of knowing how to tuck my hips, but the form and movements are all completely divergent. It throws my body out of its comfort zone, challenges its muscle memory and ingrained positions.

platformsquat

Yet, beyond the physical fluency, I do not look like a ballerina. The instructors and the majority of the students look like they came up on the barre, long, lean, and svelte. I am a thicker girl with curves and things that shake when I shimmy. Never do I look larger than in a classroom full of these slender former dancers. And that unavoidable comparison tickles every tingle of body dysmorphia I have. Hating myself in a barre class mirror is what pushed me back to counting calories (which I thankfully have dropped again).

This discomfort is part of the reason I keep going back. Yes, I am a masochist at heart, but it is also the challenge that seduces me. I want to feel like I overcame the weakness of my flesh; I want to feel like I made progress battling back the crazy in my mind.

sock-blog

Physically, I am enticed by not being good at it, by it always being hard no matter how much I improve. Like running, regardless of how much I train or how I often I do it, I am not able to coast. I coasted through my entire youth; I don’t want that anymore. If I somehow master one routine, it changes to a new one that wreaks havoc on my muscles. And I’m a sucker for the pain of it.

And it hurts. So much. The class is literally painful. You would think such tiny movements would be easy. Absolutely not. My muscles are on fire and trembling the entire class. I can feel tidal waves of acid blaze over my nerves. My knuckles go white clinging to that barre for dear life. I sweat as much as I do in high cardio. It hurts. Yet on the flip side of that pain is the rush after, the high, the euphoria. Which is ultimately what I am always physically chasing. Which I why I am so addicted to running.

As much as it pains me physically, the true challenge for me is mental, emotional. That goddamn echo of an eating disorder I can’t seem to shake. Mentally, I refuse to be controlled my own insecurities. I will not allow my misguided, shallow fixations and comparisons to prevent me from doing anything. I may feel gigantic and weak in these classes, out of place and incongruent with all the other participants, but that is why I have to keep going. Not to work my way into fitting in but to make myself become comfortable standing out. I will learn to love and accept myself one way or another. If I can wrangle bipolar, body distortion should be downhill from here. Even if I have to sit with my own self-loathing beating at my chest and a swarm of inappropriate comparisons buzzing in my brain for 100 classes. I will not limit myself.

ball

And with each class, it gets better. I feel more at home in the class; I feel more comfortable in my skin. I am wearing myself down, dulling my sensitivities, making it part of my normal. If I can accomplish that, it would be far more valuable than getting to a certain size or weight.

So I love and hate the physical challenge. I hate and need the mental challenge. The results… I just love.

My son is over two now. I have been literally beating myself up for two years trying to recover from him. Between thyroid issues and injuries, diets and different classes, nothing really worked. Or maybe did not work fast enough for me. Either way. Yet, with the recent burst of barre classes, I not only notice a different in the performance of my muscles, I actually physically see the different on my body. I think all the cross training is why my running pace continues to improve though my injury does not and training has not happened at all.

Most of all, these classes are doing amazing things for my ass (or “seat,” as they call it). It is at a height and shape it has never been in my life. My waistline, or saddlebags if you will, are also trimming way down. My back is tightening up. Muscles are starting to bulge out of my flexed quads and calves like they did when I played soccer in high school. My body is not perfect, not where the crazy part of my mind demands it be, but I am seeing the positive results. The more I see, the more fervently I devote to the classes.

So I’m in it, maybe all in it, working harder at quelling my self-abuse and finding a real acceptance for my body than anything else. If barre is the tool I need and makes my body healthier in the process, all the better. I’ll be there, obsessively shaking at the barre.

equip2

And just to up the ante, I am also doing the Whole30 challenge as part of my new commitment to the barre. Not to lose weight, not to starve myself but because my body needs the detox and the reset. And because it does not allow any weighing or measuring. I am going all in, striving to find my strength and my balance.

setthebarre

Christina Bergling

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Resolutions

Ah, the new year. An arbitrary revolution of the calendar that gives us the illusion or the excuse at a fresh start.

I have made many resolutions over the years, mostly of the extreme or self-loathing variety. Not all of them are precipitated by the new year; that just presents a convenient excuse to brand intention into my brain. Over the course of my “fitness journey” (read: whole damn life), I have made countless goals and resolutions. And each time I fail at them or they turn on me, I tell myself that I have learned from them; that I will get it right next time. Yet, instead, I seem to find a new way of getting it wrong, another unique way of pushing it too far and perverting the intention to masochistic proportions.

So I am accepting this quirk in my pathology, this extremist tendency of mine. I am acknowledging and embracing it. I am changing my resolution paradigm. Instead, I am going to keep it simple. My goal, my new year’s resolution as it were is: BALANCE.

That’s it. Balance.

(Potentially the hardest thing ever for me, by the way.)

I want to find the compromise between a hardcore diet and binging on food. I want to exercise from a place of health, loving my body, and enjoying the activity rather than to punish my body. I want to find a way to pursue my goals while also appreciating where I am.

Balance.

I think this idea has become especially important as I recently decided to return to therapy. I have not worked with a therapist since I was pregnant and post-partum with my daughter, over 5 years ago. Yet, I very lately plunged into a bought of body dysmorphia so strong, so persistent, so pervasive that I felt compelled to reestablish a clinical lifeline.

Generally, when I am managing my crazy, I can diffuse distorted thoughts by analyzing them, dismantling them, and applying logic. It may not necessarily cure or alleviate the feelings, but generally, it brings me back to perspective enough to ride it out while preventing behavioral consequences. In this particular round, nothing had any impact on the thoughts. I could tell myself that it was physically impossible to gain any significant amount of weight overnight, yet I just continued to obsess, fixate, hate myself, plan how I would punish myself.

It was alarming enough for me to decide to do something different. It has been over two years of unhealthy obsession disguised as health and recovery. I need to break the cycle and actually create balance in my mind more than anywhere else.

I am also changing my fitness regime with the new year. After two years of being devotedly dedicated to the gym, I am dropping my membership. My favorite zumba teacher left. They dropped the hip hop class I enjoyed. I went from attending 6+ times a week to maybe 2. It is simply not worth the investment. Plus, it is time to spice things up.

In the spirit of enjoyment over punishment, I am trading the gym to return to belly dance. I am also diving into my new barre addiction. And, hamstring willing, I want to get back to more running.

I guess my new year’s resolution is to have no resolution, to learn to let go. To find my balance.