Exercise & Invisible Illness

 

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Anyone who suffers from an invisible illness can testify to the effect that it has on you, mentally & physically.

I suffer from two different invisible illnesses, PCOS & CFS. The PCOS has been under control for many years however I have been experiencing a very bad flare-up…which has caused my CFS to go mad. The combination has caused my workouts to stop, my weight to rise, and my mind to go bonkers. Let’s back up a bit so I can explain better.

Unbeknownst to me, the  (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) began in high school. I would get extremely sick every month and end up sent home from school, doubled over in pain. Soon after my graduation I went for my first ob-gyn appointment, and learned that there was a reason for my misery. I was placed on birth control and, barring some issues along the way, have mostly been fine ever since. Until now. Up until recently, I have not had the insurance to warrant my regular exams or medication. The results have my weight sky rocketing, my sugar cravings going absolutely MAD, my hormones completely out of whack, my skin breaking out like a teenager,  and my lower back in chronic discomfort. The more research I do, the more I realize I have been suffering with various symptoms of this all along but since the pain was gone, I had no idea. It also seems that some of my stomach problems may be linked to this. While there is no concrete evidence, I’m finding that the “PCOS-friendly” diet is actually the diet that helped my stomach most when I followed it a while back. While I do follow the high protein/low carb diet, I have been on sugar overload. Now I may love candy but even I can admit that my cravings have been out of control lately. All of this has my wheels turning and thinking that perhaps PCOS has been the cause of all of my health issues all along…but since it is not a proven fact I will just let that be for now. What I can say is that the PCOS, combined with my insane stress levels, have caused my CFS to run wild.

CFS, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is something that is very hard to explain…and even more difficult for people to understand. There are no visible signs. Your body aches as though you have a very high fever or the flu and you get extremely tired and feel this overwhelming sense of fatigue that no amount of sleep seems to cure. Your immune system also gets significantly weakened with CFS. Some days it just feels like my body is fighting a losing battle within itself.

With the combination PCOS & CFS wreaking havoc on my body, my exercise routine has taken a BIG hit. So much so, that my Summertime Shred has been put on hold. It’s been really hard on me mentally but I know it’s for the best. I have been doing my best to follow a very good (PCOS-friendly) diet and exercise whenever possible, but it’s still taking a toll on me.

Often times people who suffer from CFS feel as though they don’t have the energy for simple tasks such as going to work or taking a shower. That’s exactly where I’m at. Lately just getting myself out of bed has been a chore in and of itself. However, seeing how much you can accomplish and improve over time by exercising can be a big motivator and a way to feel better, both physically and mentally. I am doing my best to get some type of exercise in every day, no matter how little it may be.

A common trend that came up in my research for both CFS & PCOS is that of walking & yoga. Both seem to be exercises that are extremely effective and favorable to both illnesses. As the weather gets warmer (HELLOOO SPRING!!), I have been incorporating walks more & more into my daily routine. Despite the fact that I am not the biggest fan of walking, it does make me feel good to get my body moving. Since it seems to be working well for my body, I find myself doing this most often.

I have also found myself stretching a lot more. I’ve tried to take advantage of the foam rollers around me and, while I have never been the biggest yogi, I’ve also been using several yoga poses to help with managing the aches & pains. It has been proven that certain yoga poses promote hormonal balance and deep relaxation, which help to bring the adrenal and cortisol levels of otherwise stressed-out PCOS minds and bodies in check, while assisting in healing from chronic inflammation. The more my lower back hurts, the more I find myself gravitating towards this practice. Right now I’m doing some of the stretches/poses myself however, I may be trying out some yoga classes (or dusting off my old SkinnyGirl dvd) one day very soon.

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If you are like me and have grown accustomed to a structured strength training regimen, having chronic pain & fatigue can be torture. However, I have found that resistance bands, in all their simplistic glory, are quite the amazing resource in such times. The bands are designed to keep your strength training up with as little impact & intensity as possible. Your muscles will feel as though they had a monster workout but you are actually putting in half the effort you normally would.

I have also found in my research…and my own experience…that it is often easier to divide daily exercise into two sessions, to avoid symptom flare-ups. Activity may be alternating and brief, spread throughout the day and/or followed by rest. If you experience a worsening of symptoms, you should return to the most recent manageable level of activity.

It’s important to keep in mind the following when beginning a workout routine, under the stress of any chronic pain/illness:

  • The more gentle the exercise, the better it will likely be for you. It may seem like you are doing nothing (especially at first) however it’s important to ease into a new routine that will suit your current needs.
  • Start slow – It’s not about the ego! I’m guilty of trying to do more than my body will allow but it’s critical to monitor your symptoms and adjust your workouts accordingly.
  • Push yourself to get moving, but don’t push yourself to do more until you know you’re ready. You want to make sure you get your body going…but not overdo it to the point you make a bad situation worse.
  • Expect some setbacks – you’ll need to experiment to find your current level of tolerance.
  • Remember that exertion comes in all forms. Don’t try to exercise on a day that you’re also going to the grocery store or doing something else that’s strenuous.
  • Take breaks when you need them, but don’t give up! The payoff could be less pain, more energy and a better quality of life.

**Note: Many people who suffer from chronic illness/pain are so ill they can barely get out of bed, let alone leave their home. In this instance, there should be a very modified & careful approach to exercise. Hand stretches and picking up/grasping objects may be all that can be managed at first. Gradually increasing activity to the point where you can handle essential activities of daily living such as getting up, personal hygiene and dressing would be the next step. Those in this situation, should focus on improving flexibility and minimizing the impact of deconditioning so they can slowly increase function enough to manage basic activities.

I always struggle with sharing my setbacks on here and on my Instagram but the goal has always been to inspire others by sharing my story…no matter how good or bad it may be. I want you all to see that no matter how hard things get and whatever life throws your way – it IS possible. I have been feeling really defeated lately, especially as I am trying to build a fitness business. However, I know that I work hard and I will get myself back to looking AND feeling good soon enough. As a matter of fact, I have recently obtained insurance and have already begun taking the necessary steps to alleviate this whole mess! I may not be able to crank out my own crazy workouts right now but that doesn’t mean I can’t help others achieve their goals. I know how hard this journey is and I know what it takes to succeed. I have always said that nothing worth having comes easy – and this is by far the biggest test of that. The best advice I can give anyone (including myself) is to take it one day at a time…one step at a time…and above all, just keep going!

Stay strong & stay in the fight!

-Gina

TheFight2BeFit@gmail.com

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2 thoughts on “Exercise & Invisible Illness

  1. Hi there. Found you on IG. I also have PCOS and am wondering exactly what the PCOS friendly diet you refer to is? If you could direct me to this information I would very much appreciate it. Thank you! And thank you for being so honest about your struggles. The fact that you have been able to persevere is inspiring!

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    • Hello! Thank you so much for your kind words! The diet that I was referring to is similar to the Whole30 diet. It involves little to no sugar and very clean eating. I’ve had several people ask me about it, so I will be writing a full blog post containing more specific info in the next couple of weeks – stay tuned! 🙂

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