Archive for the ‘Health’ Category


My son took a course last spring about traumatic brain injury, and we were discussing the mind-body connection. He now has some definite ideas about the brain and the mind.

Synapse. Tweaked version of Image:SynapseIllus...

Synapse.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It’s a silly expression,” he said, referring to “mind-body.” I gave him my “Qua?” look.1 “Thought is a physical act. It’s about the flow of electro-chemical impulses between synapses.”

On some level, I’d known that for a long time. A family friend, a doctor, explained my father’s illness to me that way–that the synapses just weren’t making the right connections. When I repeated my son’s to my mind therapist, she said, “That sounds like a physicist.” However, I found it helpful in understanding myself and my past.

The past. A dreadful word. I’m trying to write past it.

For about eight years of my life, I was defined by the circumstances that started shortly before I was thirteen. After I got married, I tried to refer to them as infrequently and as clinically as possible. Even here, I don’t want to get into an emotional recounting, but it was ugly: my much-admired father was medically retired for what we later found out was an infarct (dead spot) in the basal ganglia, but which manifested itself as what the shrinks at the time, before the imaging equipment now available, as atypical paranoid schizophrenia (in other words, the closest thing it came to was paranoid schiz, but it didn’t quite fit in the box). At that time, the “polite” way to refer to it was “nervous breakdown,” a term I still abhor because it sounds as though things just got too rough and the sufferer simply couldn’t hack it. That was not my father.

I was asked in the fall of my eighth grade year, by the most popular girl in school, “Did you drive him crazy?” The carload of kids laughed. I tried to join them, but anyone with a sympathetic nature can imagine the pain such an attempt at wit caused. It was a very public tragedy, and was soon to get worse. By March of that school year,  my 3-year-old sister was hospitalized when she went into a coma with grand mal seizures. She lived in the pediatric ICU for the next eight months, dying less than a month after her fourth birthday. She wasn’t diagnosed until autopsy; hers was as odd as my dad’s: encephalitis, which is rare enough, but instead of being widespread, it was confined to the hypothalamus, making it even more bizarre.

No Me Mireis!

No Me Mireis! (Photo credit: El Hermano Pila)

This brief history of my past is not meant to engender sympathy for me, but to illustrate that everyone walks around with problems or challenges that they may not share. It is also to talk about the injuries to the mind, which, as my son pointed out, are just as much an injury as a broken leg, just far more difficult to see. it’s been hard to think of my difficulties as injuries to the mind when I had two immediate family members die with injuries to the brain. I’m talking about my own with the hope of helping some reader to face theirown mind injuries.

So posted here is more info here than I generally share with people, although I’ve found myself talking about it more over the last year. My theory is that we delay working through certain events in our past until we’re ready. These events have broken through to affect my life ever since they occurred, but I wasn’t ready to consciously address them; I had other things to deal with: marriage, career, child-rearing. It’s not until the crises are over that you can deal with deeper mind injuries. Most of us are just trying to survive today.

The first time I was diagnosed with depression, it was treated as if it were the flu. It’d go away after a course of antidepressants. The short course helped, but it was merely a band-aid. Most drugs for mind injuries are treating the symptoms. But the classic symptoms were predated by what was then called psychosomatic illnesses, now just somatic., mostly because the precise mechanics of how they work aren’t really understood, although mine all seem to do with serotonin production (as do most of my laundry list of chronic ailments). There are subtypes of serotonin that affect different receptors, for one thing, and then there’s the surprisingly common  genetic defect which makes it difficult for some of us to get sufficient folate into our systems. This is a problem because folate is among the building blocks your body uses to manufacture serotonin. Sadly, most insurance doesn’t cover the drug that will give you this important building block.

It makes sense to me why you have weirdass symptoms for mind injuries. Think about it this way: Your body is always trying to communicate with your conscious self. It gives you pain and swelling to tell you to get the hell off that ankle you twisted and give it a rest if you’ve injured it. But mind injuries are harder for the body to talk to you about, so it comes up with novel ways: unexplained stomach aches and nausea, headaches–all those illnesses now linked to stress, a mind injury.

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was in my late thirties before I started to get more or less continuous care for my mental injuries. More in that I’ve been constantly drugged ever since with something or other; less in that I’ve floundered through several mental health professionals and only sporadically gotten therapy. And the diagnosis has changed, evolved, and is still a bit uncertain, because diagnosis of injuries to the mind aren’t about the chemistry of your brain, which is probably where the physical injury lies, but about a given set of actions, all of which can be normal unless carried to the extreme.

The first diagnosis of the era of semi-continuous care was bipolar II (what used to be called manic-depressive). Sounded right: I have two speeds, normally: full go or full stop. Then it was clinical depression plus ADHD. I’m definitely both of those things, although the depression is in waves; the ADHD is a permanent state of being for which I’m rarely medicated. And then I was diagnosed with PTSD.

All of them can co-exist. It’s the PTSD that was both scary and vindication of the trauma of those early years. I spent years with screaming nightmares. I can be triggered to the point of incapacity by certain things that unexpectedly flash that period into my brain as if Scotty transported me into those past situations. People from that era do a great job of doing so, mostly because they want to keep me the victim of my family drama, not seeing the overcomer I try to be. When I’m not, I tend toward taking refuge like an anchoress, walling myself into the house, or, when it’s really bad, into my bedroom.

What to do about mind injuries

You’ll be shocked to know that exercise helps. My daughter-in-law told me that if you watch animals after a flight/fight/freeze moment, they will “dance it out”: jump, run, shake, shimmy and jive. They get rid of the bad chemicals generated by stress encounters of the bad kind, not having the prefrontal cortex bullying them into behaving like responsible adults. Nope. They deal with it then and there.

As I’ve said many times before in this blog, I’m a big mess physically. Much of it can be attributed to a sedentary life, but a larger toll has been taken because of the mind injuries. Untreated, they only get worse, just like any other injury. Yet people still act as though it’s a character weakness. They are wrong, ignorant of how the brain works. They might as well say diabetes is a character weakness–if you just had the right attitude, that pancreas would make you some insulin.

I’m not a wuss, although I can talk myself into believing I am lazy, gutless, and weak. But I survived my personal war, which isn’t at all like the most frequently recognized form of PTSD, combat survivors. The fact that I have scars and need treatment is not weakness, it is reality.

Get help. Drugs are useful, and so is cognitive therapy, but studies show that the combination of the two is the most effective treatment.

Educate yourself. Check out Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unnquiet Mind, Edwards M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey’s Driven to Distraction, or Joseph Le Doux’s The Emotional Brain, all of which are excellent resources.

Also check out SuperBetter.com, part of what has made me decide to gut up and go to a real CrossFit box as soon as my PT says it’s okay. I’m scared, but avoiding what I fear just makes the fear stronger. It’s no longer a question of if, but when. SuperBetter is a game developed by Jane McGonigal, as she describes in this TED Talk:

Hope your mind injuries improve, too, because that’s the good news: They can!

Footnotes:

1, Stolen from Eddie Izzard in “Dress to Kill.”

2. I know there isn’t number agreement between the referent and the pronoun. Don’t care; I predict it will become standard American English within fifty years.


English: WPA poster warning cancer patients to...

WPA poster warning cancer patients to be wary of persons claiming to be physicians and promising to cure cancer. Check with your internist or oncologist before beginning any particular exercise program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s post is from guest poster Melanie Bowen, a regular blogger for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Although this is not a cancer-related blog, I don’t know anyone whose life has not been touched by cancer, whether as a patient or as a loved one of a cancer patient.

Exercise has all kinds of benefits and can continue under unusual circumstances. I’d say cancer qualifies as “unusual circumstances,” although, sadly, not a rare one.

And, with that introduction, here’s Melanie:

In the past, patients with a cancer diagnosis were often advised by healthcare professionals to avoid any kind of physical exertion in order to preserve as much energy as possible.  No longer.

The medical community is finding a wealth of evidence showing the importance of exercise for the cancer patient to maintain weight and maximum health, endure short- or long-term medical interventions, and to improve their quality of life. All exercise programs should have well-defined guidelines and approved by a physician. Each person and diagnosis is unique, and therefore should have an appropriate regimen to follow.

Maintain strength and fight fatigue

Cancer patients may receive long-term medication, chemotherapyradiation therapy, or a combination of treatments. Although cancer itself can induce fatigue, cancer treatment itself  often increases weakness, lack of motivation and immobility.

Steps can be taken to help counter and cope with the side effects of cancer treatment. Daily walking, for example, can increase the drainage of toxins from the body and stimulate circulation to renew muscle tissue with oxygen.

In addition, research has shown that immobility restricts the lung function and may cause pneumonia as a complication. Patients with mesothelioma are especially prone to decreased lung function and may only tolerate exercises performed in bed. It is important to find physical activities that you enjoy: walking, weight lifting, yoga, water aerobics, CrossFit or something else.

Chair yoga, for example, is a form of yoga that helps compensate for health issues. Look for things that sound like fun and which emphasize meeting you at your current state rather than competitive exercise programs. If you are interested in CrossFit, it can be tailored to your situation. Whatever choice you make, be sure to find an experienced coach.

Maintain healthy weight to complete cancer treatment

Physical activity can promote appetite and help the patient maintain a healthy weight. Many cancer therapies and procedures are particularly difficult for the body to endure, and as patients lose weight and sometimes struggle to stay nutritionally balanced.

Patients with serious weight loss and nutritional problems may find their therapy postponed until they resume a healthier weight. The main goal of being physically active is to keep your body in a healthy overall state, which may not always entail losing weight — especially when battling cancer.

Maintain healthy immune system and avoid cancer complications

The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and is a network of vessels similar in structure to the veins and arteries of the body. Without a healthy heart to circulate and cleanse the lymph fluid, this system uses the activity of muscle and skeletal movement to cleanse the body of toxins and fight off the bacteria and viruses that enter the body. Simple movement and exercise of the body boosts this process and provides the cancer patient with a vital immune system.

Exercise increases survival rate for cancer patients

More cancer patients are surviving than ever before. With evidence-based research* in exercise and fitness, patients are successfully completing cancer therapies and prolonging their lives. Not only that, patients are reducing the risk of recurrence through healthy activity.

As always, consult with your doctor to find the most beneficial exercise plan for you and to ensure you maintain a healthy weight during and after treatment.

*[Ed. note: Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud by Robert L. Park is an excellent book for non-scientists about evaluating medical claims (and other scientific theories).]


Today I’m turning over the blog to Rick Martinez of Transition Possible. As the daughter of an Air Force fighter pilot, the niece of an Army Ranger and Green Beret, the cousin of an Iraqi War vet from the Coast Guard, and the mother of an EOD tech, living in a world populated with active-duty servicemembers, reservists, retirees, veterans and their dependents, I know too many individuals and families who bear a heavier burden than the average American for the various armed conflicts our country has been involved in. No matter how you feel about the politics behind the conflicts, the intrinsic honor and sacrifice of our servicemembers are not diminished nor tarnished by performing their duties. 

My name is Rick Martinez and my mission is Transition Possible. I am a retired Army nurse, an entrepreneur, the head vision-keeper of the Fitness Porvida movement, the owner of two CrossFit gyms and the founder of an organization that allows us to support and celebrate our nation’s heroes. It’s my moral obligation and I believe it is one that we all have.

Picture from Transition Possible

The parents of SPC Tracy Willis, who was killed in action in 2007 in Afghanistan. Transition Possible held a fundraiser in Willis’s honor and named the WOD “Tracy. “(Photo Credit: Transition Possible)

Transition Possible’s mission is four-fold:

  •  To positively impact the lives of our nation’s heroes
  • To encourage them to continue living and achieving through sport and functional athletics
  • To show the world that the warrior spirit can thrive no matter the circumstance
  • To bridge the gap between wounded heroes and citizens

As I post this, we are one day away from the launch of the world’s first non-profit whose vision is to create mentorship and leadership programs through which wounded heroes and adaptive athletes can find a new path or career in the world of sport. Think entrepreneurial boot camp for heroes.

On Saturday, October 6, 2012, in San Antonio, Texas, we will host the Warrior Summit II, which will bring together the nation’s best coaches, U.S. Paralympians and adaptive athletes to prove that CrossFit can be for everyone. In the evening, we will be hosting a special fundraiser (tickets available here) with keynote speaker Kyle Maynard — an ESPY-award winning athlete and one of the most motivational individuals in this world. “An Evening with Heroes” will celebrate adaptive sport and our nation’s heroes and will raise funds to support Transition Possible.

Why does this vision, this launch and this cause matter?

Let me share Mike’s story:

How a daisy-chain IED is set up. (Photo credit: GlobalSecurity.org)

Mike Gallardo is a Tribe Member and he is an amputee. His dream was to become an elite trooper, “Delta Force,” he says, to serve his country. The events of February 7, 2008 had a different path for Mike. That’s when his platoon was hit by a daisy-chain IED. That’s when he, for lack of better words, became broken.

Folks, that’s when Mike’s hopes and dreams were radically changed because he made the choice to serve. To protect us. Mike came to us some time ago, buy us I mean Fitness Porvida, and it was evident that though broken physically, mentally he was not bowed. He attacked the program and embraced CrossFit as a means to a new end. The Tribe was his new platoon.

Mike Gallardo at work … or play? (Photo Credit: Transition Possible)

The WODs were his new mission.

But where does it go?

How does that fulfill a destiny?

Even more, how does that offer a life of fulfillment where a man can support a family, start a career and be a productive citizen?

Mike was integrated into the Tribe (as we call it at Fitness Porvida), accepted as a regular Joe and soon he started a 90-day internship pilot program to test the efficacy of making a coach/trainer a viable career option.
Here are his words:

The internship helped me in many ways people can’t see. It has helped with my PTSD because I did not like to be around lots of people. The Tribe made me feel at home and that I can trust people once again. It helped with my TBI because before I could barely remember my own birthday, now I can remember over 50-100 members names. It also helped me be a little more organized because I have to plan my day and keep a daily planner for my tasks.

WOW!

Soon after, Mike was offered employment as a coach at Fitness Porvida. He’s one of the finest coaches
we have EVER had. In his words,

Fitness Porvida has been very helpful because they have set me up for success. They helped me make goals for myself and accomplish them ahead of time. They helped me become a good coach, but they still are in contact with me to make me a great coach. Not only did they treat me with respect, they treated me as part of the family.

Now imagine doing this ten-fold, folks

Transition Possible exists to make this transition possible.

Today it’s Mike.

Tomorrow … well … tomorrow depends on you.

Be a part of making the transition possible.

~ Rick Martinez


Peanut Butter Cookie Batch

Peanut Butter Cookie Batch (Photo credit: Greatist): I can’t stand peanut butter, but maybe some of you crave it.

I love Greatist. I encourage anyone interested in health, fitness and weight loss to subscribe to them. No, I have no financial or personal interest in them, so feel free to take it or leave it with my blessing and no effect on my pocketbook:

  1. How to foam roll like a pro
  2. Can you be too sore to work out?
  3. 10 interval training mobile apps to download right now
  4. News: Talk to yourself to stay motivated
  5. Schedule your day to reduce stress
  6. Give in to cravings to avoid binges
  7. Ultimate guide to good posture at work
  8. Develop a routine to improve sleep
  9. Why do I eat when I’m not hungry?
  10. How to handle criticism like a pro

There seems to be a “routines” theme in my list. Maybe I’m trying to tell myself something. I’m not even touching the word “pro,” given that I’m a woman old enough to remember that as a euphemism.


The Illness/Wellness Spectrum

I’ve thought about illness to wellness spectrum (above) a lot lately. Whenever I think about it, I recall civil defendants’ attorneys describing “a preponderance of the evidence” as meaning the plaintiff has to push a boulder over the top of a peak before a jury can conclude that the plaintiff has won the case. (Plaintiffs’ attorneys, on the other hand, will start out like an Olympic diver at the top of a platform with outstretched arms, but with more clothes, and begin see-sawing to explain that the scales just need to be tipped.)

Pushing a boulder up a mountain is not a bad metaphor for getting fit when you’re already chronically ill. Or, better, climbing an icy slope with a backpack. You gotta push up that slope, and any time you lose your grip or your balance, you start sliding back down that damn mountain, with the load of the past dragging at you.

And now I think I may have found an ice axe, which you use to stick into an icy slope to make sure you don’t slide any farther. The maneuver referred to as a self-arrest. I like that term: You stop yourself before you start picking up speed on your way down. From Wikipedia:

 The longer the delay of the climber before he/she starts to put weight on the axe’s pick the longer s/he freely accelerates down the slope.

Ariel Bravy learns to self-arrest with an ice axe on St. Mary’s Glacier, Colorado.

In the past I’ve worked out and thought, gee, I feel better now, but when I stopped, I had to think about it before I realized I kind of missed it.

That’s not the case any longer. These days, at the three-day no-workout mark I start declining and find myself in increasing pain. That’s when I use the ice axe. It is something that makes me say to myself that there is no more time for delay, no excuse, and that if I don’t do something now, even if it hurts, things will just get worse.

I’m not talking about the stiffness and pain of the morning. That’s one of the reasons I hate waking up. I start out sleepy and warm, and then the fog dissipates and, like a morning glory, my pain opens to the sun. But those creaks tend to even out (or at least recede into the background) as the day goes on and I warm up.

Nor am I talking about DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), the sore you get from breaking down and rebuilding muscles. (I almost like that pain; it means I’ve done something to push myself.)

No, the pain that is the warning arrives at night when I try to go to sleep that tells me I’m starting to fall. No anti-inflammatory will make it go away. I can’t reposition my body to ease it. Ice nor heat will beat it into submission. It’s a bone-deep ache that generally affects me from the hips down. And when it happens, I either have to be so sleepy that I could fall asleep while someone was amputating my leg, or I have to get out of bed and at least stretch in order to get the pain level down to the point I can sleep.

On those nights, I wake up knowing that no matter what is hurting me, I’ve got to do *some* sort of exercise. Time for the ice axe.

I’ve crawled out of bed, ate a little something and hydrated, then exercised, and crawled back to bed, completely spent for the day. I’ve exercised with a night mask and ear plugs (on better days, inside with sunglasses) because of a migraine (and had it get worse during the exercise). I’ve exercised with twinges in my knee that I jammed. I’ve had nausea and dizziness while working out (when light-headed, I try to make sure I don’t do anything that involves standing with a heavy weight). I’ve sneezed, hacked, coughed, wheezed and otherwise been an allergy queen during my workouts..

I’ve had a lot of what I’ve come to call fibro spasms (more intensely during workouts; they seem to lay off once I stop): the closest I can come to describing it is that an area along any muscle fiber of about 3 inches long and a half-inch wide that suddenly hurts as if someone pushed into a particularly tender bruise. It lasts for less than 30 seconds in any given spot, then wanders to kick a different muscle.

But none of that deters me once the three-day ache kicks in; it makes me  use all my will to plunge my imaginary ice axe into the side of the friggin’ mountain and say to myself, “Yeah, this sucks, but do you really want to hit the bottom of this slope at full speed?”

And I work out. It may be modified or scaled because of whatever is going on, but I get out of bed and move and lift and stretch.

Someday I’ll get over the top and let the backpack coast down ahead of me and spill out a million fragments. And then I’ll walk down the other side.


The first time I saw Stephanie for physical therapy, around six years ago, she told me there was “no time off from good biomechanics.” At the time, I was seeing her for a sacroiliac joint (SI joint) problem, and at some point I picked up my purse off the floor by bending at the hips. She stopped me and said something to the effect of “What are you doing?” and made me pick it up correctly, with the admonition “There’s no time off from good biomechanics.”

Clearly, I haven’t forgotten it. Just as clearly, I don’t necessarily heed the warning.

It’s easy to think about form and injury prevention when you’re in a workout; after all, that’s what you’re concentrating on. During the rest of the day, though, it’s easy to get distracted and do things that can end up injuring you. And sometimes it’s really frickin’ stupid things, like “watch where you’re going.” (Not so much biomechanics there, but the failure to look may end up in some funky movements.) And when you’re injury-prone, older and/or obese, you are more vulnerable than other springier, younger or lighter people.

Yep, there’s a reason I’m bringing this up.

My husband and I went to see “The Fifth Element” on the big screen last night. We’ve periodically been annoyed that we missed it when it was released, as it’s a favorite. Alamo Drafthouse, also a favorite, was showing it. The particular location has a big flight of stairs as well as escalators. I opted for the stairs, and was quite pleased with myself for getting up them without being winded or leg-dead.

When did I get hurt? In the dark-ish movie theater when we were trying to figure out where to sit. I stepped down without looking and jammed/twisted my knee because the step wasn’t where I thought it was. Ergo bad biomechanics.

So I’m now icing my knee after my workout (which was modified to keep from aggravating the injury) and seeing Stephanie in the morning. And guess what she’ll probably say? Yep, see title of post.


This last week I had a rather unexpected setback. I had a “minor” oral surgery procedure that managed to knock me on my butt for at least three days straight (advertised as “you’ll be up and going the day after”). I visited my wonderful physical therapist, Dr. Stephanie Thurmond, and after talking to her, and reading some blogs and comments from other folks in my position, I started thinking about CrossFit for “nonathletes” generally and what’s important for those of us who

  • are overweight to morbidly obese,
  • are over 50,
  • are congenitally awkward and remember PE as a torture chamber filled with humiliation,
  • have accumulated injuries that need accommodation,
  • are illness- or injury-prone,
  • have hormone issues (HRT, perimenopausal). and/or
  • have illnesses that make them hypersensitive to stimuli (fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, allergies and asthma, as examples).

I’ve discussed much of this in other posts, but I felt the need to sum up.

1. Get past the slogans and hype.

“Forging Elite Fitness,”  CrossFit’s official slogan, intimidates the hell out of most non-elite nonathletes. And lots of affiliates (aka boxes) like to up the ante. One I saw recently was “Blood is replaceable, Sweat is Expected and Tears are optional.”  At this point it made me laugh, but a couple of years ago I would have seen it as a “nonathletes need not apply” sign. Although my husband was really into it, and is level-headed about pretty much everything, I still saw it as a testosterone-marketed competitive activity.

And it may have been, at least in the beginning. But the CrossFit powers-that-be quickly saw that even if you’ve got motivated folks, not all of them are athletes, or, if they are, they’re specialized enough that they burn out in a CrossFit workout, which is generally designed to improve your ability to function in the real world. You read variations on it all the time: “Our specialty is not specializing.” So even competitive athletes had to have parts of their WODs (workout of the day) scaled.

So it seemed that as CrossFit expanded and evolved, many CrossFit coaches saw the benefit of making the program more inclusive, involving the elderly and kids. I mean, as long as you’re having to adjust WODs on a custom basis, why not do it for anyone?

2. Ask questions. Lots of them.

Membership in a CrossFit affiliate isn’t cheap, nor is hiring a CrossFit coach.  Boxes are cropping up everywhere (at least in my neck of the woods), so you may have some choices. Or you can consider working out at home, but you need someone who knows what they’re doing to watch how you’re doing things or you can easily end up worse rather than better.

First, look at staff bios if they’re available; I prefer being able to read them online. Most CrossFit boxes have at least a semblance of a web page. Ideally, you’d find a coach who has a lot of experience or special interest in working with people with whatever limitations you have, and, cherry on top, has professional training in biomechanics (like a physical therapist). Kelly Starrett is a well known CrossFit instructor who is also a physical therapist and he has tons of good information. But even his website can make you think it wouldn’t be a good fit, as he works with “elite athletes” and uses the term “athlete” to describe who his website is for. But I emailed the site, asking for clarification. I received the following response:

These mobilization are for everyone and everyone is an athlete!

Not my mindset, but cool, now I know that if I were in the San Francisco area, I’d definitely look at going there. And the response was from another physical therapist apparently working with Starrett.

But not every CrossFit box is going to have that attitude or that depth of experience. However, CrossFit central is very big on working with nonathletes, even if some individual coaches aren’t:

CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning program. We have designed our program to elicit as broad an adaptational response as possible. CrossFit is not a specialized fitness program but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains. They are Cardiovascular and Respiratory endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy.

A bit stuffy, but the bottom line is that CrossFit is designed to improve anyone’s overall fitness. And affiliates and coaches who are members of CrossFit have access to materials to help them scale IF the coach is interested in working it out. Your job is to figure out which coach is going to be not just willing to work with your limitations, but who has an active interest in doing so.

So take the time to talk to the coaches before making a decision. Listen carefully to their responses. Tell them your particular concerns and ask them how they’ll be able to scale down or adapt the program for you.

3. Make consistency your first priority

Most injuries occur when people try to do too much too soon. Whatever your limitations, be willing to start slow and concentrate on being steady at it. When I started, I was really consistent for five months before a knee problem got in the way, and I let myself be sidelined for at least an equal amount of time. This last setback felt almost as bad, but I did what little I could within 3 days of my recovery. I’m bouncing back far more quickly than I have in the past.

And I have discovered that if I miss more than around 3 days in a row, I will start deteriorating in a much broader sense than being able to do fewer reps or less weight. Whichever illness has decided to start picking on me, migraines or fibro or seasonal allergies, it will get worse as well, and then my sleep is affected because I’m in pain or hacking, and things begin to snowball. If I suck it up and do what I can without injuring myself, which may be far less than what I was doing before whatever obstacle got in my way.

4. Listen to your body, and tell your coach what it’s saying

If your body is hurting, you need to evaluate it. I’ve written earlier posts about when to pay attention to pain and when to ignore it. Short version: If it’s sharp and new, stop and figure out whether you can continue or if you need to stop. Achey pains and cramps are generally not going to be things you’ll need to quit for.

But your coach cannot help you if you don’t communicate. I’m bad at this; I hate sounding like a whiner, particularly when other people are doing the same thing easily. But your primary goal should be getting yourself fit. That’s the whole reason you’re putting yourself through this stuff and why you came to CrossFit to begin with, so swallow your pride and tell your coach your problem. Sometimes it’s just a slight form problem that’s causing the pain.

For example, I started feeling a weird pain in my left knee (which is the bad one) while on the rower. It was on the outside of my knee, which was new. Turned out that I was opening my legs to give my gut extra room so I could get a longer push, which was putting torque on my knee. As soon as I corrected that, the problem went away. You will learn to troubleshoot some of the problems yourself, but often you need someone else to watch to see the form flaw.

5. Scale, scale, scale; form, form, form. Did I mention you should scale?

One of the aspects of a CrossFit workout is intensity: You need to push yourself. But that doesn’t mean overdoing it. What you are capable of doing is, to some extent, subjective. And it will vary from day-to-day. If you’ve tweaked a muscle, scale back anything that is the problem. Find ways to deal with whatever areas give you problems. Rule of thumb is that you should find the first round relatively easy and begin to start having difficulty (needing to take more stops, for example) around the third set. If you start getting sloppy with your form, you are increasing the chances of getting injured. On the other hand, if it’s just a lot of effort, but you can keep the form, then you’re on target.

This is what you’ve looked for in your coach: Someone who is willing to be creative to find solutions to your weaknesses. Use that creativity to scale appropriately. Concentrate on getting the form right and the rest will take care of itself.

6. Expect set-backs

Life happens, and things will get in the way of being as consistent as you’d like to be. Illnesses, vacations, injuries, surgeries, drugs: Any of these may cause a period when you can’t work out. It happens. Don’t flagellate yourself. Do what you can as soon as you can. This is the same principle as in weight loss. There’s a great post from LiveStrong’s The Born Reality that applies; here’s a taste:

Having worked with clients for more than 10 years, most people suffer from an extreme inability to fail on a small scale. When they screw-up, that’s it for them–they have screwed up permanently, and so they keep going.

Conventional wisdom tells us that if you find yourself in a hole, you should stop digging–that’s the logical thing to do. However, when it comes to nutrition, we aren’t logical or conventionally wise. When clients have a dietary faux pas, their impulse, paradoxically, is to make it worse; after they eat the brownie, they think, “Well, I’ve ruined today. I may as well just eat whatever I want and then be good tomorrow.”

That would be bad enough by itself; however, for many people, they carry the failure over to the next day, and the day after, and finally, “I’ll be good tomorrow” becomes “I’ll start again on Monday.”

The Monday Mindset

Historically, Monday is the busiest day at gyms. (In my facility, attendance is 30% higher than any other day of the week, and that is not unique.) A decade of looking at clients’ food logs makes it clear that Monday is also the day with the highest level of dietary compliance.

Which is ironic, considering this: In my view, Monday is the most dangerous day of the week. Not Monday, but the idea of Monday–a fresh start, always available, never more than a week away.

7. Remember that you are only competing with yourself

CrossFit encourages competition and working in a group. In a well-run CrossFit box, the other people working with you should be supportive, and the coaches should create a supportive environment. Of course, we live in a flawed world with flawed people. There may be someone who makes you uncomfortable or is smug about how much “better” s/he is at whatever WOD. Don’t worry about them, and don’t let the jerks get you down. Most affiliates keep records of your times, reps, etc., and will make a big deal when you achieve a personal best.

It is a big deal. Pat yourself on the back and keep going!


Even though the human brain averages a mere 445 square inches, the mind contained within it encompasses an immeasurable amount of space. You can time travel to the past or future, explore parallel realities (all the “what ifs” we regularly contemplate) and imagine the future. But this mind space is full of black holes.

When you’re full of energy and motion, hurtling through your days by physical and emotional momentum, you can avoid the pull of those black holes (for the most part). But when you hit the skids, whether emotionally or physically, you can find yourself pulled into the gravitational well of those lurking black holes.

Let me give you an example. I’m currently lowering dosages of various drugs that help prevent migraines (aka prophylactics) because of their side effects. As the most recent neurologist I’ve visited (still trying to find a successor to Dr. Nett, headache specialist and doctor par excellence) explained, there are the three basic groups of go-to drugs for migraine prevention.

  1. Calcium channel blockers, which are commonly prescribed as  for high blood pressure
  2. Antidepressants, also prescribed for depression (yes, I’m stating the obvious), perimenopausal symptoms, ADHD, OCD
  3. Anticonvulsants, primarily developed for epilepsy and other seizure disorders

All of these interact with the way your brain reads, transmits and builds neurotransmitters, the chemical components that are the equivalent to computer commands. So, as these drugs are going out of my body, I hit all kinds of funky withdrawal effects. (By the way, when it’s a prescription drug, docs tend not to like the term “withdrawal” because of its association with street drugs, but it pretty much amounts to the same thing. The pc term is “discontinuation effects.”) The discontinuation effects can be reoccurences of whatever the drug was supposed to prevent as well as any side effects potentials that were risks of taking the drug to begin with.

The best everyday analogy I can draw is the effect the hormones can have on you. Everyone knows about the nice hand that PMS can deal you.

So after being chronically ill, fairly isolated, and fighting the damn withdrawal symptoms, which have ranged from a day visiting the world of Alzheimer’s (really, I sounded like my grandfather did in the early stages of the disease, asking the same questions several times within an hour), I’ve been emotionally hydroplaning, which feels like this:

So I start drifting into some really old black holes that lurk in various corners of my mind space.

A basic one that keeps grabbing me is the “invisible woman” black hole. This one, like all black holes, is based on something I believe about myself, true or false. Ed Smith, E.Ed., has a ministry based on t he idea that most of our problems stem from lies we believe about ourselves. He says, essentially, that if you were Satan, why bother messing with someone’s head their whole life when you can just plant a few good lies in childhood, a gift that keeps on giving.

Whether you buy into the religious aspect of the theory is irrelevant to whether the underlying premise holds true. I think there’s merit to the principle. As a child, you believe the world revolves around you, and, thus, your actions affect all of your environment, a condition known as “magical thinking.” (Of course, some people never develop past this way of thinking.)

Some of these ideas become embedded into your thought-process to the point you are not aware of them. Cognitive therapy is based, at least in part, that if you identify and articulate these ideas, you can begin to recognize and change your patterns of thought. Meditation and prayer can also help you self-identify the lies you believe about yourself. Once identified, you can use reframing or self-talk to try to recondition yourself. Theophostic Ministries advocates going back to your first memory of believing the lie about yourself, and praying to recognize the truth of the matter (more accurately, asking Jesus to show you the true perspective).

However you get there, the truth is what will set you free. However, for it to do so, you need to begin integrating and internalizing the truth. Sometimes that is as simple as telling yourself the truth every time the lie begins to affect you.

So, for me, a precocious only child who didn’t understand the social rules of my peer group, I experienced a world in which other children didn’t get me, and therefore pretty much ignored me, and adults would be kind and tolerant, but (understandably) only interested in talking to a child for a short period.  In my childhood’s mostly adult-centered world, I felt seen and not heard (although my dad called me “Yak-Yak the Monkey,” so obviously I was making noise). Despite the fact that now I’m a very large woman, with, sadly, a very loud but not pretty voice (my entire family has mastered a “turn the volume down” gesture) which learned the trick of making statements sound authoritative, when I’m down, I feel invisible.

The consequence of sliding into the gravitational field of that particular black hole is that I begin to feel like nothing I do or say has any significance or meaning. As the gravitational pull becomes stronger, it sucks out motivation.

How do you escape that pull? Maybe you can do it yourself by identifying the kind of black hole you’re falling into. Often you need help, though. I’m a very fortunate woman. Regardless of the pain and weirdnesses of my discontinuation, I have caring family to pull me out of the gravitational field by telling me how I’m wrong (and giving me help when I can’t make myself ask for it), and helping me reframe the situation so that I can stay motivated.

Moral of the story: When you start feeling sucked into your own black hole, send out an SOS to those who love and support you. It’ll keep you on the path to overcoming whatever obstacles you need to overcome to reach your goals, be they fitness, diet, health, addictions, or fill-in-the-blank-here. And never rule out the possibility of seeking out a health care professional (including mental health care folks).


Reflecting on the pressures I feel while navigating through the challenges of escaping my poor health/fitness condition, I wondered if it was anything like what a 600 lb. octopus felt when squeezing through a hole the size of a quarter.

The ability of the octopus to compress like that could reasonably be considered a survival mechanism, although I can’t seem to locate any authority that states the reason for the behavior. Makes sense, though: Why else would you scoot through an unreasonably small opening, if not to get away to live another day? Or, to twist the question into the shape I’d like it to take, why else would you put yourself through all this pressure and/or pain except to stay healthy?

The other question I can’t find an answer for is whether this is painful for the octopus. Granted, it’s hard to ask them to rate their pain on a scale of 1-10, but their physiology should suggest whether it would be possible for the compression to cause pain.

This all came to me when I was joking about meeting the four horsemen of the apocalyptic workout–the day that makes you want to end all exercise forever.

I’d had a workout that left me sobbing in pain and frustration: changing my dosage and timing on one of the medications to prevent migraines had made me light-headed and light-sensitive, so I was doing my workout in the shade in sunglasses…and with my eyes closed whenever possible. Every squeak of the equipment and sound of the timer going off put my teeth on edge. I had flash migraines, where it felt like someone had shot me in the left eye with an arrow, but only for a few seconds at a go. I was cranky, because the changes had disrupted my sleep schedule.

Unrelated to the medication change, I was cramping in my left quad and gastroc. My body seemed to be screaming at me to quit, assaulting me on all fronts. I felt rather like the one time I’d had sunstroke, just before I passed out. And then, the crowning blow was a simple hamstring stretch.  This is usually the “ahh” moment, as I’m almost done and everything left to do is on my back on a nice foam mat.

Pain exploded in my right quad, radiating to my hip. That’s when I started crying. As I said before, pain for a purpose, to achieve a goal, is one thing, but there’s no sense in suffering needlessly. And, as often occurs, I began doubting whether I would ever progress.

The same thing happened for the next three workouts. I felt like I was squeezing my fat ass through a teeny hope, pressured by pain and fear. My husband felt a big knot in my quad. I set up for an early appointment with Stephanie the phenomenal PT, but, in this case, early meant five days away rather than three weeks.

In the meantime, Gary was rolling the knot. Foam rolling is the best way to do this for yourself, but it’s really difficult for me to get the balance right for most of these, so we’ve taken to using a rolling pin over the area. As I’ve mentioned before, muscle knotting is common in people with fibromyalgia. Usually neither Gary nor I can find the knots, although massage and/or physical therapists seem to put their fingers on them immediately. This one was big enough for him to find.

So we looked up how to deal with knots in muscles. The instructions basically said (in all the sources we could find) to stretch the knot away from the contraction. Since we had no idea how to figure out which way it was contracted, Gary and I decided to go with rolling along the same direction as the muscle fibers. Turns out that was the right idea, and that, yes, until you’ve had a lot of hands-on training, figuring out which direction it should be stretched isn’t that easy for most people.

So he put some pressure on the rolling pin and ran it up and down the knot, the IT band and the hip. I concentrated on breathing like I was in a Lamaze class (although when applied to childbirth, I gave up and asked for the epidural) so the crying incident would not be repeated.

The rolling (and some anti-inflammatory OTC meds) helped, but I dreaded the hamstring stretch each and every day after the first time my quad screamed. On something like the fourth workout after this ghastly newcomer showed up, I had finished the hamstring stretch and was into the piriformis stretch (which you do by pulling your knee toward the opposite shoulder) and there was something like a pop where the knot had been, a burning sensation, and then an immediate reduction in the pain.

Ahh. Is that what the octopus feels once it’s out of the hole?


There once was a popular refrigerator magnet of a sheep inscribed “Ewe’s not fat. Ewe’s fluffy.” Close to the mark: fluffy=fat.

The first month or so after I started CrossFit, I said, in effect, “Don’t freak out because you aren’t seeing any results on the scale.” The gist was:

  • Muscles weigh more than fat because they’re denser, so as your body works at losing fat and gaining muscle*, the weight may stay the same (or even temporarily increase).
  • You may retain water during workouts because of the chemical processes involved.
  • Your clothes will be the first place you will see a change (for some reason, that seems to happen before my measurements change — can’t explain why).

Now I’m a case study in the reverse process. As I noted when the downhill slide started last September, I have gained some weight due to emotional eating, but I still weigh less than when I started: from 242 to 237. I’d lost almost 12 lbs and regained 7 lbs. But my lower density is more significant than the weight gain — and it bothers me more.

I think I’ve already made the observation that if I was looked like Halle Berry, I wouldn’t care if I weighed over 200 lbs (even though I should, because I’d probably still be playing hell with my health). It’s the look of the thing that reminds you, day after day, that you’re a fattie. You can avoid the scale, but it’s a little harder to avoid the mirror. Even so, you still never think you’re as fat as you are until you see a friggin’ photo.

As I went through recomposing my body to an increased fat to muscle ratio, I would obsessively rub my upper left arm, feeling the little definition my tricep had gained.

Yep, that bit right where the line points at the muscle. I was so pleased when it became discernible. I was really bummed the day I could no longer feel a noticeable bump there. Now it just feels like flab.

I was, of course, avoiding the scale. But the first symptom that I was gaining weight and becoming more fatty was that my clothes started getting tighter. They had been about to drop off of me, but whenever I went shopping I was just a little shy of going down a size without feeling like the clothes were too snug.

Other people didn’t notice that I’d lost weight, and didn’t notice I gained it back. At least, not for the most part. The fatter you are, the harder it is to see a 10 lb weight loss. Think of it as a ball of string: When you pull the first yard off the ball, it doesn’t look much difference, but the closer you get to the end, the more you see the diameter shrinking by the yard. That’s why the clothes thing is a really good indicator for weight loss, as you feel where clothes bind less. And as you gain weight (or lose density), they bind here and there.

So now I got back on the scale and compared the first set of stats I’d posted (good place to keep them; God only knows where I’d scribbled them on paper). Oh, and I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it, but I’m 5’5″.

  • Weight: Then — 230.8 (this is the only stat from my July posting); Now — 237.2  (started at 242, so still a net gain…Loss?)
  • Fat: Then — 49.4%; Now — 48.9%  ( the fat percentage wanders a bit, so I’m calling it a draw)
  • Bust: Then — 46″;  Now — 48″ (so, yeah, that doesn’t bum me out so much, since that’s one of the few places women actually like having fat…up to a point)
  • Hips: Then — 53″; Now — 51.5″
  • Thigh: Then — 30″; Now — 29″ (this one hurts; my waist was smaller than this at one point in my life)
  • Upper arm: Then — 16″; Now —15.75″ (again, I’m calling this a draw, as that could be a measurer error)

Fluffier than when I stopped working out (last stats are here), but still ahead of where I was when I very first started. As I get back on track, I expect to go through a period of little-to-no change on the scales, but my clothes loosening, before the scale reflects progress.

Daunting, but doable.

*Note I did not say the fat turns into muscle. That’s not how it works.