Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mind over Matter

It's funny how various things pull themselves together in one's mind, steering one to a particular course of action.

A few positive or negative remarks, the course of the weather, how matters are going at home or work, a certain tune on the radio, the scent of the air that promises something good...all these things, and more, possess the ability to affect our mindset.

Notice I said "possess the ability;" I didn't say they always did affect our mindset.

In the past few weeks, I've been receiving many nice compliments. It's amazing, actually. But that is not what suddenly rejuvenated me. I've been low-carbing since May (after many attempts for the past 10 years!) and never have I had such success.

What motivates me is my mind, which affects the will. Late last winter, I reached a point - a rather low one actually - when I said to Self, "That's it. No more. No more sickness, no more pain, no more inability to even walk through my own house, no more frustration, no more humiliation. I don't care what it takes, but I am going to get better!"

That was my first goal - just getting better. But with that goal was its twin - losing the weight which has piled on, not without notice, and which always had its way with me. I can't relate with those who say the weight piled on and they didn't notice; nor can I relate with those who say they can't control themselves. Self-control was not my problem.

The problem is that I have hyperinsulinemia. As far as I can tell, I've likely had it since entering puberty (which is when I went from slim to slightly chubby to chubby). That was in the 1970's, and who knew of hyperinsulemia then? Even today, hyperinsulinemia is not well-acknowledged, even among health care professionals. In my experience, those who do acknowledge it either say "Fine, try low carb" but they offer no real support or advice or they say one can't actually live the low-carb lifestyle.

Wanna bet?

My low-carb journey began in January 1997, when I came across Dr. Robert Atkin's book, The "New" Diet Revolution. Its opening paragraphs were a revelation to me; the questions he asked (and the answers he provided) were directed at me. Here was a doctor who believed me when I stated I didn't binge, overeat, or otherwise overly indulge in food.

So I began low-carbing. I dropped 15 lbs. in 3 weeks, and then discovered I was expecting. End of low-carbing - for then, anyway.

I tried low-carbing again many times, and I was always determined. Something "bad" always happened to stop me, usually illness. What was wrong with me? Fibromyalgia, for starters. "Mild" lupus, as a specialist diagnosed it ("mild" meaning no renal involvement so far). Chronic bronchitis and asthma, resulting in bouts of pneumonia almost every winter. Symptoms of osteo-arthritis but nothing definitely showed with blood tests. Yet arthritis or the fibro explained the increasing pain in my neck and lower back. My children were still young (from teen to new-born) and, with my husband's grueling work hours, I had no free time for regular exercise. What I didn't know then was that "normal" exercise didn't help.

Docs say push thru the pain and exercise by bicycling, walking, resistance training, and cardio. Yes, I tried it all - and it only made my pain worse.

About a year ago, I finally managed to talk my doctor into ordering an MRI. It diagnosed two herniated disks, with a third one ready to go, and narrowing of the "horse's tail" (the main nerves in the lower back which "trunk" into a "Y" shape, down into the legs.) My doctor's recommendation? "There's a wheelchair in your future...I'd say within 5 years."

That did it. Due to the excruciating pain in my lower back, I was already leaning heavily on a cane. Standing upright was impossible. A bona fide walk of any kind was out of the question; it caused too much pain. There were occasions before and after that diagnosis in which I was forced to use a wheelchair. But I was not going to live like that if I could help it!

It took a few months to find what to do, because trouble always comes in pairs or trios. My mom's health took a turn for the worse; after that two-month emergency, my symptoms became worse. Stress does that to fibromyalgics. It took a few months to recover, both in mind and body. I hit rock-bottom and the only way to go was even further down or work my way out of that black hole of illness and pain.

I chose to go up.

The answer, as I discovered, was not just correct low-carb nutrition, but "cycling" carbs, fats and proteins - along with various natural supplements and water exercise. I don't mean aerobics; I mean gentle stretching and strengthening, like the movements one learns in drama class (called "movement") or ballet. In the water.

Water movement ("exercises") gave me what I consider a miracle. When in the water, I am always moving, always stretching, always conditioning. I don't do an imitation of a talking buoy; I don't jump around, trying to increase my heart rate. The first thing are the stretching and strengthening movements. That's my key to lessening and finally eradicating the pain from fibromyalgia.

The winter is not kind to fibromyalgics and arthritics, because the fluctuating barometer increases inflammation. For me, that means pain, outright water retention and "weight gain," which is not fat but all water. Living in a cold weather state makes it difficult to get into a pool every day, even if one has a local community center. Mine isn't that local; it's a 30 minute drive, both ways. Add to that the time in the pool (1.5 hours, every other day), shower time, complete drying time (otherwise I'll get very sick), and we're talking 4 hours given to "water therapy" - but it more than worth the time!

There were days this winter I simply couldn't make it to the center. Eventually, the bad weather turned those days into weeks...and gradually, the pain, stiffness, and other distressing fibromyalgia symptoms returned. Fortunately, my mind was prodding me - I simply had to get moving in the water again. I had to make the time. It was either that or...well, I decided months ago that the alternative is not an option.

Then spring left its calling card yesterday....the lovely scents on the air and higher temperature of the air allured. I thought of the coming summer, about how far I've come, and how much I want to keep the benfits I have...and keep increasing the benefits, too.

It really is a situation of "mind over matter." The first thing we must make our own is the right mental attitude. Despite setbacks, whatever they may be, never give in and never give up!

So I returned to my Water Workout last night...and I think I'll start using the indoor track or the treadmill on other days. If I can't get to the center every day, then at home I'll do gentle Callanetics and light resistance bands.

Something has to give, and it's not going to be ME!

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