I’ve been working my way up to 30 minutes of exercising for nearly three years. I’ve started and stopped exercising regularly dozens of times, but I have finally worked my way up to 30 minutes regularly.
They say that exercise is usually a feat of mind over matter, and in many ways that’s true–because you’re forcing yourself to engage in physical torture.
These are 30 thoughts I regularly have when I exercise on my recumbent bicycle (five days a week!)
- Let’s do this. Let’s get this done.
- Oh my gosh, my throat is on fire. Drink some water ASAP.
- Big mistake, I feel like I’m going to vomit.
- At least I’m wearing these cute shoes. Mom really shelled out for ‘em.
- Mom’s great, but exercising sure isn’t. Exercising is the worst. Why do I keep doing it? (re-think this thought x15)
- Because the doctor said so.
- Ugh, why do I keep giving into that master manipulator? (re-think this thought x15)
- More like that team of master manipulators… all of them are convinced this is good for me. They’re all evil. Them and their medical degrees. And books. And journal articles. And presentations. And scientific trials.
- Hey, am I done yet?
- FIVE MINUTES? I’VE ONLY DONE FIVE MINUTES OF THIS?!?!
- OK, calm down. Turn on the TV. Find something good.
- Ooh, trashy daytime TV. Is E! always running a Keeping Up With the Kardashians marathon?
- Looks like it.
- Uh oh, here comes the dizziness. Hang on to the bike handlebars.
- I’m like Liza Minnelli in Arrested Development. Or just Liza Minnelli period.
- Oh cool, blurry vision. That’s a nice bonus.
- I wonder what shape the sweat on my back is making. Maybe I can make a Rorshach test out of it.
- Nah, too much work. Too many creative endeavors. I’m a busy girl.
- I need something, but I don’t know what.
- No, I know. The battle cry of my people: Must. Consume. Salt.
- Chips and salsa are an excellent source of salt. Dr. L said so. I should go eat that when this is over.
- Is this over yet?
- I’ll take a Snapchat to see.
- WOAH, BAD IDEA. DO NOT SEND THAT TO ANYONE. They don’t need to have their day ruined.
- I’ll be done with this so soon. This will be over so soon. Just hold on. Keep going. Keep breathing. Because THIS IS NEVER GOING TO END.
- NOPE. ROGUE THOUGHTS. WATCH THE TRASHY TELEVISION. DON’T PAY ATTENTION TO THE TIME.
- KEEP UP WITH THOSE KARDASHIANS, SHANNON. Or better yet, watch something outrageously delicious and unhealthy The Pioneer Woman makes and dream of how yummy it is. That’s what daytime television is for.
- YOU CAN DO THIS I SWEAR YOU CAN YOU’VE DONE IT BEFORE.
- Hey, I wonder if I can get my mom to buy me some new yoga pants?
- AND DONE. DONE. NOW I HAVE 23.5 HOURS OF FREEDOM. Time to lay down and chill.
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:
(Parks and Recreation/NBC)
I went to a spin class yesterday.
post workout bubble gum, zengo style
And for all of those who know me and my distaste for intensive exercise, I say to you, RIGHT?
I’m undergoing a bunch of meds changes and I went to a spin class.
And I’ll be feeling the effects for quite some time now.
But it was for several good reasons:
- I got to be surrounded good people
- it was a fundraiser for Dysautonomia International
- I now get to say “yeah, I’ve taken a spin class before”
My current exercise routine is pretty basic: six days a week, I get on my recumbent bicycle and cycle for a designated amount of time while watching late night television. And every week, I up the amount of time by a minute. Yesterday was the 20 minute mark.
The class itself was 45 minutes, so for the half I couldn’t exercise, I was hanging out on the bike, wiping my forehead with the towel, rehydrating, and watching in awe at everyone’s energy. I was also playing the “see if I can balance on this seat without holding on” game—I’m proud to say that I won this round and I don’t know if I should tempt fate ever again. The stakes were too high.
It was a great environment—tons of energy, tons of positive reinforcement, lots of “no one is judging you!” which is one of my favorite types of statements. Normally when I exercise I like to either be alone or I imagine myself in a Harry Potter invisibility cloak. As it turns out, a spin class with the music booming and the lights off offers the same kind of effect.
I never imagined that this type of thing would be possible for me. Again, I completely tailored it to work for me, but that’s really what life with dysautonomia is about—making the things around you work for you because your body can’t do that for you all the time. Mine was such a Spin Class Lite experience, (most everyone else did the real deal), but I STILL DID IT, and I’m still going to be feeling the burn with every step probably for a few more days. (And the burn is so real.)
Huge thanks to Elyse Schwartz for organizing the event (all huge thanks to her for being an all around superstar human being) and a huge thanks to everyone there for being kind and supportive. It’s a good rule of thumb that you’re bound to run into superior humans at dysautonomia events.