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It so often seems that the key to Fibromyalgia is balance: balance in eating, in finding the right amount of quality sleep, and perhaps most importantly finding a balance in movement. This has been documented in numerous studies and several blog posts I’ve written.

We know exercise is good for us. The media likes to remind us all the time, and people as influential as First Lady Michelle Obama are putting healthy movement (and healthy eating) at the forefront.

I find that one of the trickiest parts for me is finding the right amount and intensity of exercise. Under-doing exercise leads to weakened muscles, increased pain, and even poor mood. Over-doing exercise often leads to pain flares.

One has to gradually work up to doing greater and greater amounts of exercise. This is true of anyone trying a new exercise routine. If an able-bodied person tries lifting 50 lb weights with no previous experience, they’re going to hurt themselves. When I’ve done very mild weight lifting, my physical therapist has started me off with no weights or even soup cans (a handy 1 lb. h ousehold weight).

The problem is that I want to do things. I was so excited and proud last week because I was wearing my pedometer and I walked almost 10,000 steps – the golden number that everyone says one should aim for. My steps generally vary from 2,000 (on very sedentary days) to 7,500 (on very active days). So this was a Big Deal. (Tip for anyone trying to increase their steps while using a pedometer: lose something. You will walk around a lot trying to find it. Also, go shopping. There’s a lot of walking involved and you hardly notice it.)

Anyway, midway through the day I decided I’d do a little work in the garden. I have some table-top container gardening that I can do that doesn’t over-stretch my back. Did I work on those? Noooo, I decided to re-pot some (terribly potbound) things on the ground. I wasn’t super-careful about how I was lifting things.

The following day was pain. Lots and lots of pain.

It would be easy to let experiences like these scare me off from exercising. Exercise is pain, right? Well, no – too much exercise is pain. Somewhere out there is a magic amount of exercise that is “just right,” a la Goldilocks and the Three Bears. To make it more interesting, the number moves based on how I’m feeling on a particular day and how much exercise I’ve been doing lately.

I know I’m going to make mistakes and overdo it sometimes. There are just days when I seize the moment, and the moment happens to be a little too much. I know there are going to be days when I can’t seem to motivate myself to move out of bed, much less exercise. I can have compassion for myself on these days instead of beating myself up over what I “should” have done.

In between the paradox of too much and too little, I walk.

Hopefully for 10,000 steps.

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I grew up with a camping family. It’s a cheap way to go on vacation with three kids and two adults, and it’s fun as well. Sure, there were some…incidents…involving my brother setting up his hammock underneath a raccoon’s mating tree, or when a couple of squirrels fought over a cookie all night long. They make good stories now, and I guess maybe they built character?

I think a good analogy for hotels versus tents that it’s sort of like the difference between driving and walking. If you drive, you’re better protected from the elements, it’s usually pretty comfy, and you tend to get places more quickly. If you walk, you get to notice more. Since it takes time to walk by that house on the corner, there’s time to notice the chihuahua in the window hopping up and down and barking like mad. You can notice when the tulips start coming up, and whether someone new has moved in to a house. It’s more relaxed than driving.

Camping is similar. There’s time to sit out talking by the campfire (it smells so good!). I like listening to the birds in the morning, or watching the sun come up. And the stars are amazing!

When I got diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I thought my camping days were over. Sleep on the ground? You’ve got to be kidding me. Set up a tent, carry gear, ride in a car for hours to get somewhere? Impossible.

I think it probably was pretty impossible when I was first diagnosed. I had trouble going shopping in one store, and I was pretty much limited to half hour car trips. I also stopped exercising because I was afraid of pain, which made it even harder to get around. At the moment, I’m definitely not “cured.” I still have aches and pains, and when I have a flare-up it is, well, agonizing. I really want to make camping work, though. I enjoy it, and it’s a cheap way for someone living on disability income to go on vacation.

I think the key to making camping is going to be having the right gear and being prepared. (Although really that’s the key to any camping experience. You do not want to be cold and wet.)

Here’s my camping plan, complete with accommodations and ways to work around common fibromyalgia issues:

  1. Getting there: long car rides are tricky for my back and my body. My doctor has recommended that I take frequent breaks. I think she said I should take 15 minute breaks ever hour, although that adds a lot of time to a trip. Whatever the case, I try to get out of the car and stretch frequently. Solution: take frequent breaks and stretch.
  2. Making sure I can manage the gear (e.g. setting up the tent, loading the car, etc.): This is where I probably need an ally to help me. I can do some of this, but no matter what your ability level, setting up a tent alone is tricky. I want to go camping with friends anyway, so this is pretty much taken care of. Solution: recruit a friend.
  3. Getting a good night’s sleep: Sleep is such an issue for people with fibromyalgia anyway. I think some people even use it as part of the diagnostic criteria. I managed to get a foam camping mat that is self-inflating and 3.5 inches thick. It’s not cheap, but I think this is one of the most important pieces of equipment. I do not want to feel every bump on the ground when I’m trying to sleep. I would also recommend checking night-time temperatures for the area you’re going to be camping. In my region, it usually drops about 20 degrees overnight. So if it’s a comfortable 65 degrees outside during the daytime, you’re going to be sleeping in 45 degree weather. I have a down sleeping bag from when I was a kid. I think any kind of thick blanket or comforter can work, unless you’re going in winter or something. Camping can also be noisy. I’m used to forest noises (birds, the occasional rustling), and I find them quite soothing. If the dawn bird chorus bothers you, you might want to get some ear plugs. If there are any sleep issues that you usually have at home, think about how you usually deal with them and try to mimic it when camping. Solution: Plan ahead, invest in a good sleeping mat, stay warm, and be prepared for things like noise and temperature.
  4. Morning stiffness: This is usually an issue for people with fibromyalgia, even when sleeping in a bed. Make sure you know some good stretches, and bring anything you normally use to deal with morning stiffness. I find menthol rubs such as icy-hot or Tiger Balm helpful, and Thermacare wraps are a-MAZ-ing. If cold is your thing, try bringing a small ice chest with some ice packs in it. It’s also good to bring any pain medication you have. Solution: stretch and use heat or ice therapy, as well as anything that usually helps.
  5. Other issues: All campers have to be prepared for certain things. Does your campground have showers with hot water? If not, investigate how other people keep clean. Do you have gear for inclement weather? Do you want to prepare food or eat out? Don’t forget to bring things like sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Check out camping guides and books before you go. Also, remember to bring anything that’s part of your everyday treatment routine – plus things for flare-ups – with you. Don’t forget your medication! Solution: Read up before you go, prepare for the unexpected, and bring necessities such as your medication with you.
  6. Don’t forget to have fun! Otherwise, what’s the point?

I tried a test run of my set-up in the backyard last night. It worked well, although I did have some morning stiffness. I’ve been stretching, and it seems to be going okay.

I’m going for a “real” camping trip Wednesday night – beach, here I come! So this is also a roundabout way of saying that there will be no Wednesday update. However, I’ll try to write up some after-thoughts about camping on Friday. Maybe I’ll post some pictures too, who knows.

People always talk about finding positive coping mechanisms, and I always find they’re hardest to remember when you’re not feeling well. It’s helpful to have some sort of plan, as discussed in one of Health Skills’ blog entries on coping strategies.

Perhaps you could say this post is more for my own reference, but here are a few “healthy” coping mechnanisms that I try to keep in my knapsack:

  • Going for a walk
  • Go swimming
  • Creating something – a physical craft, a work of writing, a batch of vegan cookies…you name it
  • Petting my dog. He can always use more belly rubs.
  • Sitting in the garden or some other place outside
  • Light gardening
  • Reading one of my “comfort books” (Pride and Prejudice springs to mind)
  • Meditating
  • Stretching/doing yoga
  • Making a point of eating breakfast and other healthy foods
  • Buying a bouquet of cut flowers, especially if it’s winter and there are none in the garden
  • Planning potential vacations for when I feel better (even if I never actually go, the thought of going to the Caribbean always perks up my mood)
  • Bird-watching
  • Listening to music or a stand-up comedy tape
  • Lighting a candle
  • Talking to friends and others in my support system

Recently life was difficult because life circumstances made it very difficult to utilize a lot of my coping mechanisms. (It’s hard to go for a walk when your foot hurts if you put any weight on it.) That’s when it’s hardest to use those healthy skills, rather than fall back on things like eating lots and lots of chocolate. It’s still a work in progress for me. I’m hoping having a record of this will help with future flare-ups.

This post is the third in a three-part series on exercising with physical limitations.

If you went to public school in the United States in the past couple of decades (or had a child that did), you’re probably familiar with the dreaded physical fitness tests administered every year. Gym teachers administer five fitness tests to determine each student’s fitness level. In front of all their classmates. These tests include: “curl-ups or partial curl-ups, shuttle run, endurance run/walk [‘The mile run’], pull-ups or right angle push-ups, and V-sit or sit and reach.” The students who pass a certain number of tests get awards, and the others sigh in relief because another year has passed.

Those events were hellish for me, although possibly not for every child. I always had trouble with the pull-ups. Since my gym classes tended to be after lunch, the mile-long run/walk usually ended with me clutching my side while walking around the field as my classmates headed off to get drinks of water.

I am not here to talk about those tests.

The same President’s Council on Fitness and Sports created some very helpful programs for adults. (Or maybe it’s just better if you’re an adult, it’s voluntary, and you’re not judged by a jury of your adolescent peers.)

These include the Presidential Champions* and Active Lifestyle programs.

The Active Lifestyle program is a really awesome program that I’ve participated in twice. I’ve found it really good motivation to continue exercising. Your goal: Exercise 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week, for 5 weeks. (You have 8 weeks total for the program, so if you end up missing a week it’s okay.) “Exercise” can be anything outside your normal activity level – walking, doing housework, gardening, swimming, playing Nintendo Wii. It can be low-impact, ease-you-in kinds of exercise, or it can be high-endurance things like weight-lifting. They don’t even have to be 30 consecutive minutes of exercise. Basically, the Active Lifestyle program encourages you to work at your level of fitness.

Many of the fitness resources I have state that keeping an exercise log helps motivate people to continue exercising. (I can’t link them here, because they’re books. Sorry for the lack of an immediate citation!) It’s really satisfying to be able to look over your log and think, “Wow, when I began I could only walk for 10 minutes at a time. Now I’m walking to the park!” The program helped me increase my confidence in my ability to exercise. Even when I’m unable to exercise because of a circumstance outside my control (such as a stomach bug), I know that I can ease back into the program.

Oh, it’s also nice to get a snazzy certificate at the end.

*In case you were wondering, the Presidential Champions program is a more challenging program, in that you input the kind of exercise and length of time you did it, and the program assigns a number of “points” to your total score. When you reach a certain number of points, you get the medal. There is no time limit, although they do limit the amount of points you can get in a day to encourage participants to exercise daily rather than in large bursts. (Yes, Sarah Palin was a recipient of the Gold Presidential Champions medal. That does not mean it’s good or bad, and it did get some publicity about the program out there.)

This post is the first of a three-part series on exercising with physical limitations.

When I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I froze. Everything hurt, and I was convinced that moving would hurt even more. (In the short term, it can.) I would “over exercise,” and then end up hurting for several days. The less I exercised, the harder it became to do anything.

It didn’t help that my view of exercise to that point was “something that you do to stay in shape but no one actually enjoys.” In general, gyms seemed like giant fishbowls where people watched you torture yourself from the street. Gym clothes were utterly intimidating. Why would I want to do that?

I’ve found – with a lot of help and encouragement from professionals and some loved ones – that exercise can be fun and enjoyable. There are a wealth of reasons to exercise:

  • Feeling able to exercise can boost confidence.
  • Exercising is a great way of getting in touch with your body, which is essential if you’re trying to get into the whole “mind-body” way of life.
  • The more you exercise, the more you find you can do. It’s an “upward spiral” rather than a “downward spiral.”
  • It can be fun to “discover” new things to do as exercise. I recently started swimming again, which is both fun and low impact.
  • One day you will probably be showering and realize that you have new, sleek, firm muscles.

Notice that I’m not even getting into the weight-loss issue here. I’ve found that “exercising for weight loss” is the quickest way for me to lose interest. If I don’t lose weight right away, then it’s disappointing. However, if I’m exercising so that my body will feel better, then I’m likely to see immediate results.

The trick is to take baby steps, as with all things. If I were to try to go for a five mile run, I’d end up sore and swollen and tired and in bed for a few days.

When I first started exercising again after a long period of inactivity, I would go very gradually. Maybe I’d walk to the stop sign near my house and back (about 1 block total, if that). I’d gradually add more and more. It’s the same with any exercises my physical therapist has given me.

Even now, I’m having to re-establish my exercise routine. There was a really bad cold snap, which tends to make walking outside challenging. I’m still trying to find a good “back up plan” for when the weather outside is frightful. Then I got a really bad stomach flu, and was too sick to exercise. Now it’s back to exercising. The good thing is that since I’ve built up those muscles and health routines before, it won’t take me as long to get back to where I was.

Any amount of movement is good. Slowly increasing your activity with something you enjoy is a step towards a healthier lifestyle.

Here are some sample ways to begin: walk, swim, bike, drum, do laundry, vacuum, stretch, canoe, sail, garden, hike, dance, build a table/bookshelf/etc., do yoga, shop, play fetch with your dog, spend any amount of time with a toddler…

Pick something that you enjoy. That is key.

Note: Check with your medical professional before beginning any exercise routine.

My Etsy Store

A fibro-friendly item from my Etsy store

I've been working on making fibro-friendly jewelry. I'd love it if you checked them out by clicking the image above, or going to www.etsy.com/people/RogueCrafter

About Me

This blog is intended as a place for me to reflect on my own healing journey, in the hopes that others may also gain insight from my experiences. I've "borrowed" a line from Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken:

'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.'

I think the most important thing for me now is that I feel empowered to be a force for positive change in my life. And that, my friends, has made all the difference.

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