Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An Exercise in Pain Management

When I got on my treadmill last Tuesday, I already had several strikes against me. I was irked at my well-meaning-but-messy boyfriend over shoes in the middle of the floor. The sun had shone just a tad too brightly through two different windows and bored flaming holes of ache through my eyes and left throbbing afterimages that I was firmly, and rather stupidly, ignoring. My morning typing had been loud and grating. Loading the dishwasher was harder than usual. But I was going to work out, dammit, even if I went slow. Some days this ends well, I'll push through some pain and come out the other side with endorphins to sustain me. But that didn't happen last Tuesday.

I'd started back on the treadmill pretty regularly since recovering from the Botox. The injections had a hellish aftermath that rendered me totally inert for several weeks, which just solidified my status as officially out of shape. I'd been taking slow walks around the neighborhood, but I can't get my heart rate up outside, at least not in an aerobic kind of way. There are too many triggers in my bustling big city for endurance to be a realistic goal. My walks outside are more about entertainment than exercise. I bring my camera with me and stop every little bit to have a impromptu photo shoot with some flowers or something rickety and beautiful. And I always bring the dog with me because as soon as she sees that I have real pants on, she gets all wiggly and I can't shut the door on that sweet face. So, there I go on my "walk", already a little worn out from putting on the real pants and sunscreen, bending and stooping and squinting in the sun to take pretty pictures and wrestling via leash with our 13 pound Senorita Sniffs-A-Lot while the cars roaring by bump their bass and fire trucks blare their sirens inside my skull. I never get above a stroll. Hence, the treadmill.

I get on it every day that I can. I try for at least twenty minutes or a mile, and can usually walk for an hour. Last Tuesday, I made it two minutes before I felt the first real twinge. It happens. I breathed through it. I closed my eyes and fell into meditation. I was walking down the block, under the shady trees in the quiet hours of the morning. It changed to a wooded area, with leaves crunching underfoot, then the beach, and a cliff overlooking the sea. I noticed that my thinking was off, that I almost felt like I was dreaming. I suspected something was wrong, but stubbornly kept walking, just slower. It was another ten minutes before the lightning bolts started in the back of my head. I slowed my pace dramatically, hoping it would pass. It did at first, but came roaring back a minute later and hit me so hard that I can't quite remember it. I know I stopped the treadmill and stood there, unable to release the bars, bent at the waist and crying a little. I couldn't think. My head hurt. I breathed and gathered my bearings. I looked at the display and I had only walked for fifteen minutes, a quarter of my usual time. I had no choice but to stop.

But, migraines happen, whether I exercise or not. So, I have to keep moving as much as I can. Learn from my mistakes. Practice my mindfulness. I've learned that I can't walk faster than two miles per hour without consequences. But I can handle a pretty good incline, as long as I increase it incrementally. And, if I keep it slow and steady I can reap painkilling and mood improving brain chemicals and long-term health benefits that make the risk of another last Tuesday unequivocally worth it.

For anyone with chronic migraines thinking about starting a workout routine, I recommend taking it slow, and drinking copious amount of water during and after. If ever in doubt, stop. But always keep trying.

Always, always, always keep trying.


WinnyNinny PooPoo said...

The keep trying is the hard part. We get Pavlovian responses when we've been whammed too many times by the same thing. Thanks for the positive post, it encourages me to get up and go again!

jasminepw said...

Great post. I've been taking it very slowly for months, and it's paying off. I couldn't have done it without my physical therapist though. She was able to stop the pain that kept me from moving my body. Then, as I changed my diet, I was able to see how my body truly was reacting to certain foods/additives.

Sue said...

Great post, and so encouraging! I've been really slowing down my gym attendance and workouts since I finished my part of a local relay run last month (only 2 miles).

Mostly I haven't gone because my headaches have been ramping up horribly and breathing through them takes so much energy. At the end of the day, if I've made it through even part of the afternoon at work, I've just got nothing left for exercise. Even knowing I'll feel better if I go doesn't seem to get me to the treadmill.

When I go back now, I will have to take it slow. Thanks for the reminder.