11. Walking Back to Health

11. Walking Back to Health

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Walking Back to Health

Whether you think you can or think you can’t—you are right.
 ~Henry Ford

I stared at my doctor in disbelief. I suspected what my mystery illness was, but now I had confirmation by a medical professional. I finally had a label. I was not crazy. There were millions of others, mostly women, who suffered the same way I did, with the same bizarre array of symptoms that I experienced day in and day out. I had fibromyalgia. According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, fibromyalgia is “a complex chronic pain illness that includes widespread pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and a variety of other issues, such as numbness, vision problems, stiff joints, and headaches.” Although I believed I was predisposed for this condition, I began to have symptoms after two very difficult pregnancies. I almost bled to death after the birth of my second daughter.

I had an answer for what caused my symptoms. The question now was what to do about it. My doctor made it very clear. I could sit on the couch and complain about my pain and fatigue, or I could get up, no matter how much it hurt and do something about it. After prescribing medication for my pain and to help me sleep, he said the word that sends many people running straight for a bag of potato chips. “Exercise.” How did he expect me to do that when every part of my body hurt? The truth was I had enjoyed exercising before all this had happened. Before my difficult pregnancies and the birth of my two daughters, I had walked diligently on our treadmill. I even belonged to a fitness center and worked out three times a week before I was married. But that was when I was in my 20s. One husband and two kids later, I was staring at my approaching 40s and it wasn’t looking so good.

There was one thing I knew for sure, and that was I didn’t want to become a hurting couch potato. I wasn’t interested in letting my medical condition get the better of me. I was going to get the better of it, even if it killed me! So I started out by returning to what was familiar, and that was walking on the treadmill.

I knew walking would help me and I could start out nice and slow. This was no time to start some new exercise program! I started by walking just 10 minutes a day, then added more minutes as I felt better. I figured if I didn’t feel well, I could just get off. I needed to be kind to myself and listen closely to the messages my body was giving me. Any intense pain was like a big stop sign. But learning when to push myself was the hard part. If I stopped with any ache or pain, I would never progress. I had to learn the difference between temporary pain and pain that signaled injury. With fibromyalgia, this wasn’t always easy.

While walking, I needed to think about something beside myself, to distract me from my discomfort. So I began to use my exercise time as a time of prayer. Instead of focusing on myself, I began to focus on others. Our treadmill was in a small room in our basement, so I posted prayer requests on the wall to the right of me, and Bible verses I wanted to memorize in front of me. This proved to be a wonderful distraction for me as well as getting me centered on the real Source of my strength.

Next on the agenda was losing weight. I had definitely put on pounds with my last pregnancy. I knew what I was supposed to do, having gone to Weight Watchers after the birth of my first daughter. But try as I might, I couldn’t get myself to do the right thing. I would lose five pounds, and then put four back on. I was quickly going nowhere. I needed the accountability a formal group provided, along with admitting my need for help from God. Because my schedule had changed drastically with my two active, older daughters, going to meetings just wasn’t going to work. So I looked into the Weight Watchers online program, and it turned out to be exactly what I needed. Since I was already walking as exercise, reducing the amount I ate was easier. It wasn’t easy, just easier. Changing your eating habits is never easy. It takes a solid commitment and a firm discipline to do the right thing. I also started praying about my weight loss efforts, for God to help me eat right and stay away from foods that were unhealthy for me.

The Weight Watchers program was a perfect fit for me. It teaches about correct serving size, and encourages eating more fruits and vegetables, along with providing a good tracking system to record these choices as you go through the day. It provided the accountability I needed. It was during this time that a friend told me about the benefits of drinking water. I learned that I was not drinking enough water throughout the day. This helped me tremendously.

Slowly I worked toward getting my health back. It was a long and difficult journey. Some days I would improve. Then I would have a bad day and everything seemed hopeless. But I kept going on. Having a positive attitude about my condition and believing that I could improve, with God’s help, was one of the most important parts of my healing. If you believe you will never get better, you probably won’t. But I paced myself, rested when I needed to, kept exercising, kept praying, and little by little, I started to see improvement. Slowly, I had more energy during the day, or my pain would be less severe. It wasn’t overnight; it actually took about eight years. But I can do more now than I ever could before.

When I reached my goal weight, it really was a milestone. It helped me feel better and gave me momentum to keep going. Not carrying all that weight around helped lessen my pain as well. I even added a new form of exercise at that point: riding a bike. It helped to vary my exercise routine. And I was excited I could do something new!

I will never get rid of my fibromyalgia symptoms completely. I’m sure there will be times when they will worsen and then get better again. But one thing I do know, I will be prepared to deal with whatever comes. I will continue to eat right, and exercise. I will continue to have a positive attitude and to pray for others. And I know I can rely on God’s strength to get me through.

~Joanna G. Wright

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