I was talking to my therapist the other week, trying to describe to them the pain that I’m in on a regular basis. They were (understandably) concerned, and I found it difficult to relate the information objectively without alarming them.
I hate when I alarm people, simply by being and living the way I do. I’m not trying to shock them, but when folks become acquainted with my interior life, yes, it can be shocking.
Anyway, they recommended plenty of exercise (which I’m doing), and they suggested physical therapy might be useful.
Now, I can’t imagine that anyone is going to offer me physical therapy that can help my situation. What exercises could I possibly do, to address the myofascial all-over pain that wreaks havoc with my sanity? What specific routines could anyone recommend to ease the aching scream in my joints and the connecting points in my lower back, hips, knees, elbows… you name it…?
It’s not that I dispute it can be addresed — this pain, I mean — it’s just that I’m skeptical of the ability of others to prescribe a suitable solution for me. I’m just not that easy. Or easily explained. Besides, the pain tends to travel. Where is it today? Only today will tell.
What I do not dispute is the benefit of exercise. Daily. Routinely. As part of my waking-up ritual. I get up, and the first thing I do, is get on that exercise bike. Then I stretch. Then I lift. Not a lot of weight, but enough to notice it’s there. Enough to make my muscles burn in a good way, get my heart pumping and my skin sweating. Enough to remind me how far I’ve come, and how far I have to go.
One of the things my therapist mentioned was that physical therapy can help the knees. This I know. You help the knees — joints which can’t be helped directly — by strengthening the muscles around them. You don’t fix the joint. You fix what’s around it, what’s supporting it, what’s holding it together.
And it works. It took physical therapists years and years to figure that one out, and now we can all benefit.
From where I’m sitting, the rest of me benefits in the same way. The weak and crackly shoulders I have, the weak and crackly back I have, the weak and complaining legs I have — hips, knees, ankles — are all improved when I strengthen the muscles around them. Even my neck, which is a wreck, most of the time — pain and stiffness and the third vertebra from the top turning out to be pushed out of place every time I pay close attention to it — is helped by a good dose of concentrated lifting. In fact, when I was doing a lot of heavy weights, back about 10 years ago (and pretty much built of solid muscle, thank you very much), my neck always felt better when I did 70 lbs worth of shrugs.
You should have seen the looks on the faces of the other cubicle dwellers I worked out with, when I walked over and grabbed two 35-lb dumbells off the rack and started shrugging away. Priceless. But it worked like a charm. By the end of three sets of 12, my neck felt 200% better than it had before. And the benefits lasted for days. And the same was true of the rest of my body. I always felt so much better when I lifted regularly. And one of the things I resent losing the most, after my last fall in 2004, was the ability to go to the gym and work out without overwhelm or anxiety. I miss it. I still miss being able to go out and work out. But for now I’m doing what I can in the privacy of my own home.
I do what I can to build muscle. And it doesn’t get built on its own. It takes work and concentration and dedication to a greater cause. It takes persistence that defies logic and human resolve. It takes tenacity and a small dose of fear of what might happen if I don’t do it. Muscle doesn’t get built on its own. But when you do build it, it works for you.
Sometimes you gotta give a whole lot, before you can expect to get anything (no matter how small) in return.
I guess this is what I’m doing with my life, these days –giving a lot to get something back. Building up the proverbial muscle around the weak spots in my life — building up routines and strategies and techniques and tactics, to support the weak parts of my brain, the parts that got broken, the parts that won’t be fixed, no matter how determined I am. I’m re-routing around the burned-out shells of my old domains. I’m blazing trails through the jungle, to skirt the blown-up bridges in my neural network. I’m carving out new pathways in uncharted territory, and I’m moving what deadfall I can from the paths I must tread.
A blown-out knee, in and of itself, cannot be strengthened. It’s just bone and cartilage and connective sinews. But the muscle around it can — and should — be strengthened, and function can be restored to the leg and the body. A broken brain, in and of itself, may or may not heal. The neural connections that get shredded, are frayed for good, and nothing can return them to their original pristine state. But there are other ways of connecting disparate regions, and there are plenty of strategies and techniques available to get from Point A to Point Z in fine style.
I can sit around and bemoan my fate as an mtbi survivor with a whole truckload of residual issues… I can feel sorry for myself and worry about whether I’ll ever get back exactly the capabilities I had before… or I can take the focus off specifics and focus more fully on results — achieving the same sorts of things I did before, but now through different means.
A lot is possible, if we consider alternatives. But the alternatives won’t come out of the woodwork and make themselves known to us without our direct involvement. And we’ll never find out what does and does not work for us, if we sit around waiting for someone else to tell us what our next steps are.
It was a real struggle for me to get out of bed this morning, and I resented most of my workout with a begrudging resignation. But I did what needed to be done, and by the time I was finished, I felt ten times better than when I started. Day by day, bit by bit, I make headway and I find my way further down the path I wish to tread. Work doesn’t do itself. Workouts don’t do themselves. Muscle doesn’t build itself.
That’s all on me. And I’m glad of it.