Quick note: This isn’t one of those posts where I end going on a long tirade that ends up saying “gotcha! jk I love the thing I claim to hate.” Those annoy me.
When I was diagnosed with POTS, a lot of people were sympathetic to the diagnosis and to the fact that with it, I was taking on a new banner and new identity. But for me, the worst part of it all was not necessarily the “chronic” or the uncertainty, but it was the treatment plan.
- Water, doable.
- Salt, doable.
- New meds, doable.
- Exercise? HOLD UP.
Intuitively, as a person with a brain that understands the basics of biology and the Health & Physical Education curriculum from Fairfax County Public Schools, I understand the essence of how exercise benefits the human body.
BUT, as someone whose primary symptoms are tachycardia, chronic pain, dizziness, and random unsolicited adrenaline surges, I’m not crazy about participating in the activity that wildly exacerbates ALL of those things.
I was dreading the entire exercise process: the blood, the sweat, the tears, the sweat, the more sweat because I can’t control my body temperature and because summer in the mid-Atlantic is a sick joke.
But my first cardiologist post-POTS diagnosis said the right words to get me started on exercise.
“It’s not gonna feel good.”
YOU HAVE MY FULL ATTENTION.
Because up until that point, doctors always painted the unrealistically happy portrait of exercise to me, someone who couldn’t achieve any of the goals they were suggesting. I’d list all of my symptoms and they’d come up with ridiculous suggestions that didn’t fit what I was capable of:
- “Why don’t you start up a jogging group with your friends?”
- “You should take a fitness class at the local rec center!”
- “Have you tried pilates? Do that and some cardio every day, I think you’d like it!”
And then here comes this new doctor, honest and realistic:
“There’s really no good treatment for POTS, and your body isn’t gonna like exercise, but it’s important and really the only thing we got.”
I started slow. He had me walking for five minutes a day every day for a week. At the end of the week, I increased my time by a minute. And I actually did it, because he was the first physician who didn’t bullshit me. He didn’t try to sell me on the magic of endorphins (which I’ve never felt, anyway); instead he just broke down exercise into something I could manage.
Over the last two years, I’ve started and stopped exercising a handful of times. Currently, I’m at 22 minutes on my recumbent bicycle, and oh my gosh I hate it, but at least there’s no expectations besides getting it done. It’s just me, my bike, and the DVR.
When I’m done, I climb the stairs from the rec room and drink water, panting and sweating, exhausted and weak. The closest thing to euphoria I feel is the alleviation of guilt. Now that I did my daily exercise, I don’t need to worry about that until tomorrow.
I know I’m not the only one who hates exercise and sees it purely as a necessary evil. But sometimes, in the supercharged world where the culture is shifting more towards “RUN A MARATHON BECAUSE IT’S THE WEEKEND!”, it feels a little lonely that working out is such a challenge for me. But then again, even if I was the healthiest person on the planet… I don’t think I’d be doing 5K’s or marathons. Because, in the words of Ann Perkins: