Thursday, May 5, 2022

Time and Effort: The Pain I Can't Hide

Welcome back, friends. Let's get right to it. You already know about my weight loss journey. You also know about my Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis. But today I'm going to share my experience living with chronic pain.

Yeah, I know What a terrible thing to read about it. It's not happy, upbeat, or positive. So why write about it? Because I want other people to know that someone else really gets it. If we can't beat the pain, at least we can know we aren't alone.

Here we go. First, let's get the clinical information.

What is neuropathy?
Neuropathy is damage or dysfunction of one or more nerves that typically results in numbness, tingling, muscle weakness and pain in the affected area. Neuropathies frequently start in your hands and feet, but other parts of your body can be affected too.

Is neuropathy curable?
In some cases, correcting the underlying condition that caused neuropathy can allow nerves to recover or regenerate. For instance, not all cases of chemotherapy-induced neuropathy are permanent. Some types of neuropathy, such as diabetic neuropathy, are irreversible, and the goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and prevent further damage.

What does neuropathic pain feel like?
It frequently involves burning or tingling sensations, but it can also have shooting, stabbing, electric-shock-like, or numbing qualities. It can be spontaneous or brought on by a stimulus that wouldn’t normally trigger pain signals (allodynia). Your reaction to a stimulus could feel more intense than normal (hyperalgesia) or unusual (paresthesia).

I wrote about it in my blog about my diabetes, and all of that same pain (and more) still continues. I cannot sit with my feet still for more than a few minutes at a time. If I do, the pain intensifies to the point I need to apply one of several pain blocker lotions or gels. I am constantly flexing my toes and my ankles, trying to keep my feet in motion to minimize the pain. And usually, I am unsuccessful in doing that.

And that brings us to the real point of this blog post. 

The physical pain is only one part of the problem. The other part is experiencing it without making it the focus of every conversation and get-together with friends. 

Since my diagnosis, I have mostly been at home. I work remotely, I have a home gym, and Ric has retired, so we generally pass the time right here together. He also knows how much pain I am in, and he is always trying to find ways to make me feel a little better. He's my husband and he meant every word of the "in sickness and in health" vow that we made to each other.

But when I'm with my friends, I realize that I am now extremely self-conscious about it. It's not that my friends are anything less than supportive. It's me in my own head, worried that I am making every moment about me and the pain I am in.

Here's an example. This past weekend, I was with friends up in Mammoth Lakes. While sitting around talking, I could feel the pain starting. My friend asked, "how are your feet?" Obviously, from the expressions on my face and the non-stop wriggling around, she knew I was hurting. I admitted I was, but immediately worried that I was becoming the-guy-who-won't-shut-up-about-it.

Again, this is me. My friends have expressed true concern for me and I am grateful for that. But my insecurity is running rampant. If this is truly non-reversible, and I'll experience some degree of this pain for the rest of my life, I worry that I won't be able to be out and about with other people and hide what is happening. And that means well-meaning friends will be in their own tough spot. Do they ask about the obvious pain I am in or do they ignore it, already knowing exactly what is happening and that neither of us can really do anything about it?

You know, I have always thought of myself as empathic and understanding of those in chronic pain. Now I worry that I really didn't get how intrusive and impactful it is to everyday living. And maybe I came off as indifferent and uncaring to friends who were experiencing their own chronic pain and illnesses. I didn't really understand until now the dark places it can take you. But in a weak moment brought on by a lack of sleep and feeling powerless over your own body, the promise of no more pain at any cost looms large. And that scares the fuck out of me right now, because I now understand the appeal that choice can have.

I don't know what else to say about this right now, besides a reassuring promise that I know I will get through all of this somehow. I'm not the kind who gives up. I'll keep focusing on the good things in my life, continue to work with my doctor to reduce the pain, and try and try to not get caught in a doom spiral.

What's my doom spiral? It's me thinking that my friends are annoyed hearing about my pain, so I stop spending time with them which makes me feel less connected and more isolated and more fearful that my friends don't want to be around me so I isolate even more and the cycle goes round and round.

Writing this post and sharing it is a first step in reaching out, setting anchors, and trusting in the people who care about me. I can't hide this pain, and honestly, there's no reason I should. Instead, I've written this long, rambling blog that probably only makes sense to me. And that's okay, too. At least this truth is out there.

And finally, for no reason other than my own vanity, is a selfie I took yesterday. Because the pain I am experiencing isn't enough to dull my own light.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Time and Effort: The Big Reveal

Me going from ignorance to shock to acceptance to healing.

It's been a month since my last post in this series, and I was planning to share the different ways I am working out. But that is going to have to wait, because I really have more important news to share today. And there's a lot here, so I hope you stick around for the full story.

As you may already know, my weight in the Summer of 2021 was somewhere over 220 pounds. I don't know for sure because I stopped weighing myself, but it was a lot and out of control. I made the decision then to make some small changes and work towards a healthier me.

Fast forward to February 2022. I was down to 200 pounds by exercising but still hadn't made any real changes to my diet. I was eating and drinking whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it. I was losing weight but not really getting any healthier.

And then came February 10th. That's the day my lab work came back and I got a shocking diagnosis.

Type 2 Diabetes.

Yep. Really. And it wasn't even close. I tested with numbers so high, my doctor wondered out loud how I was still walking around and not having a stroke or a seizure. My fasting high blood sugar reading was 461... and healthy levels are in the 70-130 range. Worse, my A1C was 16.9. No, that is not a typo. Healthy A1C is less than 6. I was nearly triple the healthy high mark.

After the first wave of emotions, I knew one thing for sure. I had no one to blame but myself. I had ignored so many signs over the years that should have been obvious, but I just kept telling myself everything was fine. 

Spoiler: Everything was not fine.

If you've read this far, thanks. Here's what's still to come:

  1. Why I was tested
  2. What I've done since the diagnosis
  3. How am I now
So, why does a guy who thinks he's pretty healthy get tested for diabetes? Because since December, I have been having terrible pain in my feet. I mean, pain so bad that it wakes me up in the middle of the night and I have to get out of bed and move around. Now I know it's diabetic neuropathy, but when I reached out to my doctor in late January, I just knew I was in terrible pain. One round of lab work later and we had a cause.

What have I done since the diagnosis? So, so many things. We absolutely have taken this very seriously, and we have made changes to most everything. We added medications, completely overhauled my nutrition, and increased the number and intensity of my workouts. I'll share more about the food and fitness in later blog posts, since the focus here is the diabetes. But know that I began tracking calories, carbs, and sugars, stopped drinking alcohol and eating junk food, and decided to be as perfect with all of that as I could be. It's not a long-term plan, of course, but it was exactly what I needed to get my diabetes under control. Fix the problem now and then slowly loosen up and experiment to see what pleasures and vices I can still enjoy. Hey, it's a process and a learning curve.

How am I doing now? Well, almost everything is good. I've lost another 12+ pounds in 8 weeks. I've lowered my A1C from 16.9 to 9.8. And my three-times-daily glucose readings are regularly coming in at healthy levels. I am just now loosening my restrictions ever so slowly and evaluating what can stay and what has to go for good. More on that in a future blog, as well.

But here's the not-good news. My feet are still in near-constant pain. Since December, I have rarely slept more than a couple of hours at a time. I wake up with the bottoms of my feet feeling like they are on fire or freezing cold or being jabbed repeatedly with a knife. I can't really put into words how fucking awful this is.

And the really bad news is that there is no cure for diabetic neuropathy. You can attempt to manage diabetic nerve pain with medication, exercise, acupuncture, and proper nutrition. But it never completely goes away.

With my doctor's guidance, I am slowly increasing my various nerve pain medications. I am hopeful that we will find whatever combination of drugs that finally stops the pain and allows me to get real sleep. And I need it, because I am physically and mentally exhausted.

So, there it is. Now you know what's really been going on with me for the last two months. And you know what I'm dealing with still. And I thank you all in advance for what I know will be an outpouring of support.

I'll end with this: Me being me, I'm going to keep sharing my updates. Why? 
  • Because I hope other people will get themselves tested if they have any reason at all to be concerned
  • Because I want others in my situation to know they are not alone
  • Because my struggle with chronic pain continues and support and encouragement make a difference
Thanks for reading all of this. It's not funny and it's not sexy and it's not awesome. But it's real life. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Time and Effort: Making Space

Or, “Setting Yourself Up For Success”

This is the second in my series about my ongoing journey to a healthier me. Part One can be found here.

Where and When

The first step on the road to health and physical fitness is, of course, making the conscious and purposeful choice to do the work to get there. No amount of tolls, tips, and tricks can get you to a place you won’t work to get to. Be very clear what you are trying to accomplish and what you are willing to do to make it happen.

Once you decide to take this journey, the next step is to make it as easy as possible. And that starts with making space for it.

By making space, I am talking specifically about two things:

  • A physical place

  • Allotted time on your calendar

First, you will need a literal, physical place where you can workout, stretch, lift weights, or just dance about. This will look different for each person. It might mean paying for a gym membership, clearing out space in a garage, or rearranging furniture in a living room or family room. It might be a neighborhood route where you feel safe going for a walk, run, or bike ride. Whatever works for you may not work for others, and that’s okay. This is all about you and your place.

Second, you need to make your health and wellness efforts a priority. That means carving out time in what is likely an already full schedule. This may require flexibility and creative thinking and it’s not optional. If you don’t make the time, you won’t make the changes. It won’t be easy, but I’ll share some ideas that have worked for me. Hopefully, you can incorporate some of those into your own calendar.

Goodbye Cabana, Hello Fitness Center

For me, the perfect place started as an afterthought. We impulsively bought a Peloton Bike but hadn’t really thought through where we were going to put it. We tried to picture it in the dining room or the corner of our living room and even along a bedroom wall, but none of those options offered the room or the privacy I knew I would need. I also am an early-riser, and there’s no way to quietly workout on a stationary bike while in the same room with someone else sleeping.

And then I had a thought. We had really quit using our once-popular backyard cabana. One reason was COVID and a lack of visitors during the pandemic. More so, it’s because we built an outdoor lounge on the side of our house which is much nicer and has more room for guests. So the cabana became our “why not here?” choice for the exercise bike.

That was just the beginning, though. Once the bike was set up, we started to envision the whole space in a completely different way. Instead of a guest space with a bike, we saw it as a complete fitness center. Several Amazon purchases and a treadmill later, and our plans became a reality.

This is the cabana in our backyard.

This is it what it looked like before.

And this is the space now, fully converted to a fitness center.

In addition to the cabana, I also have an open floor space in my home office where I can stretch, do some strength training, and work out with some online fitness programs. I also have one-mile, three-mile, and 5k distances mapped out in my neighborhood that offer a safe place to get outside year round. I have plenty of places to be active, and I know that makes me fortunate. You don’t have to have all the options I do to be successful, though. You just need one space to start.

Calendar What You Can and Flex The Rest

Now that you have a place, you need to make time to be in it. I am fortunate in that I work from home, have no commute, and don’t have kids or pets or any other demands on my time. I can work out before work, at lunch, and anytime after work. But having so many options can be its own challenge in that I will sometimes think, “oh, I’ll make time later” and then it doesn’t happen.

The most helpful tip I can offer is that three 10-minute workouts offer the same benefits as a single 30-minute workout. If you can’t find a half-hour to work out, then find smaller blocks of time throughout your day and lift dumbbells, do the Marine Corps Daily 7, or stretch your body. What you do - at least in the early days - is less important than the fact that you are doing anything at all.

For me, I have a few physical habits I am working to develop:

  1. 30-45 minutes of activity at least five days each week

  2. Dumbbells, 5x per day every workday

  3. Stretching 2-3 times per week

The longer sessions are either before or after work. I prefer to do those early so I can feel good all day about having them done, but sometimes my pre-work mornings get away from me. If so, that’s okay. I get off work at 4:30pm and have plenty of time afterwards to get a longer workout in. All that matters at the end of the day is that I met my goals.

The Takeaway

If you are serious about wanting to make changes in your life and work on building a healthier, stronger you, it can happen. But you’ll need to make a commitment to yourself and honor that by doing what needs to be done. And that starts with making it as easy as possible to get your workouts in. Create a space and dedicate the time. You’ll be happy you did.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Time and Effort: The Reality of Weight Loss

 Or, “Small Steps Can Become Big Accomplishments”

This is the first post in what I intend to be a seven-part series. I’m sharing these in the hopes that others might see themselves in my journey and have the confidence to embark on one of their own.

Obvious yet necessary disclaimers:

  1. This is my story and what is working for me. Your experience will be uniquely yours.
  2. I am aware of my privilege. I have enough time, money, and help from my husband to devote to this. I understand that is not the situation for everyone.
  3. I will continue to try to improve, which means I will make mistakes, I will fail, and I will adapt. If you’re looking for perfection, it’s not here.
  4. I will be honest and share the good and the bad. I have zero interest in feeling guilt or shame for being human.
  5. And finally, I am not a doctor and none of what follows is medical advice. Please be mindful of your own body, know your limits, and be realistic about the changes you make and the impact they can have.

Who Is This Guy?

I’m a certified life coach. My story was featured in the documentary, “From Fat To Finish Line.” I was even spotlighted in an issue of “Runners World.” And none of that matters here. Because this isn’t a series telling other people what they need to do. It’s just me sharing my own journey, what is working and what isn’t, and how I plan to continue losing the weight and keep it off. So what qualifies me to write and share all of this? The fact that it’s my story and no one else knows it like I do.
And since I’m talking about my own experiences, here’s a visual I’m particularly proud of.

March 2022 vs April 2019
A Little Background

Skinny kid. Gained a little weight while in the Marine Corps. Gained a lot after. Made multiple efforts to lose the weight, some of which were even successful, albeit temporarily. Lost more weight in 2010 and started running. A lot. Seven full marathons, 30+ half marathons, and 20+ long distance team relays. Appeared in a documentary with eleven other success stories running from Miami to Key West, Florida. Stopped running in the Fall of 2017. By August 2021, I was well over 220 pounds and feeling horrible. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, I was in a really dark place and feeling at my lowest.

Deep Down, I’m Very Shallow

What started my current journey? I’d like to say something profound, but no. It’s pretty vain, actually. I am planning a trip to Italy in September, and as I was looking ahead to it, I realized I didn’t want to be fat in all of the photos and videos we will take while there. More importantly, I didn’t want to be distracted by my insecurities when I should be enjoying the vacation experience of a lifetime. I didn’t know what I was going to do, exactly, but I knew I had a year to do something. And targeted marketing did the trick, because I got an email from Apple at the same moment I was contemplating how to start. (Is my iPhone reading my mind?) 
Throwing Money at the Problem
In August 2021, I bought an Apple Watch. It was my incentive to start making positive changes. It also came with a subscription to Apple Fitness+, and that gave me easy access to cardio and strength training videos. My commitment wasn’t really there, yet, but I was still more active than I had been in years, so it was a win. 
Fast forward to a month later, and a random interaction on Facebook, a Q&A with a friend, and my husband’s encouragement resulted in me buying a Peloton Bike. I’m a gadget and toy kind of guy, so I knew that these two purchases would help get me motivated. And with that, I was on my way.

Up Next: Making Space

(I’ll come back and link part two after it’s written and posted.)