The double-edged sword of exercise

Exercise. Sometimes it’s been my best friend and sometimes it’s been my worst enemy.

I’ve always been an athletic person, so it’s difficult to admit that exercise was probably one cause of my getting sick with Lyme.

Here’s what I mean. It appears I was carrying Lyme and various coinfections for years until the perfect storm hit and several stressors gave the microbes the upper hand.

Things like picking up a bad flu bug, working in a sick building, living in a moldy house, and doing too much exercise.

There were few activities I enjoyed more than cross-country skiing. I’d go for miles and miles, and I’d always feel exhilarated when finished. Until suddenly I started feeling exhausted.

I had no clue the last thing I needed was to further wear out my adrenal glands, which Lyme was stealthily battering. The doctor said I was fine, but I soon knew I had to stop knocking myself out on the ski trails.

As my health began spiraling downward, I gave up exercise altogether. The Lyme took off, and I quickly found myself bedridden.

My first mistake was too much exercise. My second was too little. While the idea of expending energy for anything besides essentials seemed preposterous, doing no exercise contributed to my getting weaker and weaker. At one point, I had to switch from 16-ounce water bottles to eight-ounce bottles because the larger container was too heavy.

Eventually, I decided I’d do whatever exercise I could manage. It was a good move, if you’ll pardon the pun.

I started with the invisible nautilus. I figured I had enough strength to do exercises I once did at the gym – things like arm curls, bench presses and leg raises – if I used zero weight.

Slowly I advanced to wall pushups. Then I could start walking again. One day to the first telephone pole on my street, a few days later to the second telephone pole and so on. I was walking at the speed of a 95-year-old, but I was walking.

In retrospect, I credit exercise as a factor in a return to much-improved health. The arm curls advanced to two-pound weights, then three pounds, four pounds and upwards and onward. The walks got a bit longer and longer. Moderate exercise became possible once again.

I haven’t strapped on the cross-country skis yet, but I look forward to the day when that happens. The key for me with exercise is always, always, always, do only what I feel confident I can manage and no more. So now that I have a grasp of what my limits are, exercise has once again become a real good buddy of mine – all the time.

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Helping yourself too much

Hey Jetsons fans. Remember the episode where Elroy gets a movie gig.

Well, if you don’t, here’s how it goes. Elroy gets chosen for a movie part, and Papa George is hanging around the set all day trying to help out his son, the director and anybody else who happens to be around.

But of course, George only gets in the way, messing up scene after scene. The director gets fed up, and George ends up being chased around by a variety of ferocious beasts, barely escaping with his life.

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I can be a lot like George.

That episode came to mind a while back when I was trying to ward off a cold. Like most people with Lyme, I’ve got enough microbes to handle, and I try fiercely to avoid colds and flu. But I overdo it sometimes, and my herculean efforts can get in my body’s way.

As I’ve mentioned in recent posts (maybe I’m overdoing this too), one of the Lyme bacteria’s main survival strategies is to overly boost a person’s immune system. This throws the immune out of balance and leads the person with Lyme to overreact to pollens, dust, molds, cat and dog hair, microbes, etc. and end up exhausted by the effort. And this gives the Lyme a chance to get the upper hand and make you miserable.

So I always keep in mind the need to not add to that overstimulation.

But all of a sudden my roommate is endlessly barking out coughs and making kazoo sounds with his nose, and I really don’t want that cold.

What do I do?

I dig into my supplement bag and pull out the vitamin C, the zinc, the herbal cold formula and a few other things, and I zing that virus with something every two hours. It works, as I get away with a few sniffles.

I’ve won the battle, but, unfortunately, it looks like I lost the war. One mistake was taking stuff in the middle of the night. I woke up with a stuffy nose, got up and wolfed down a few supplements. The resulting immune boost kept me awake for several hours.

I did this a couple of nights in a row, and I rose in the morning with no stuffy nose, no sore throat or other cold symptoms. But on day two I felt really tired and draggy with some of that old Lyme malaise. The kind you try to explain to the doctor and she comes back with a puzzled look. Then you say, ‘Doc, I just feel like crap.’

What it seems I had done was lose too much sleep and at the same time push my immune system out of balance by taking too many anti-cold supplements, giving the Lyme a chance to bash me over the head again. And it took several days to get back in balance.

This is just one example of how careful I have to be not to try to help myself too much. I try not to beat myself up over it because Lyme presents so many can’t win propositions. But I always have to remember not to take too many supplements and not overstimulate my body. I also have to avoid the danger of taking too much and thus drawing out more toxins than my body can handle at a given time.

So what will I do the next time my roommate’s cough sounds like something coming out of a Labrador retriever. Hmm, let’s see. How about rest and fluids?

Food Fight!

Have you ever had a food fight with yourself?

No, I don’t mean smushing a cream pie in your face or whacking yourself over the head with a jumbo pizza. I mean having an argument between your inner self and your outer self over which morsels of food on your plate you should eat and which you should shun.

This happens a lot with me, and I suspect I’m not the only person with Lyme with this dilemma. I think it results from Lyme causing people to have off-the-charts sensitivity.

According to the smart doctors, Lyme overstimulates the immune system as one of its survival mechanisms. It tries to get you flail away wildly instead of attacking it with a calm, measured, effective response.

Let’s face it. Those of us managing a severe case of Lyme are walking a tightrope. One false move here or there can bring misery. And I think this is what my finicky eating is all about.

My food fight goes something like this.

The outer me notices halfway through the meal that I haven’t touched the steamed kale. I push my fork towards it, but it’s like there’s a magnetic pull preventing me from reaching it. Then I go for a hefty chunk of salmon sitting next to it. Again something seems to be warning me away.

If it were a conversation, it would go as follows.

Outer self: “Hey, what gives. We’re really skinny. We need to eat.”

Inner self: “Look, I’m overstimulated as it is, and if you make me eat this stuff, it’s going to get worse, and I’m going to overreact to that stupid Lyme.”

Outer self: “Are you sure?”

Inner self: “Remember the last time you force fed me. We kept waking up all night sweating and felt lousy in the morning. You didn’t check the scale, but all that sweating means we didn’t gain weight, we even got a bit skinnier. The same thing happened the time before and the time before that. Clueing in yet?”

Outer self: “I guess you’re right. Sorry about that. I’ll try not to do that again.”

Inner self: “Hey, it’s your funeral.  Wait a minute. It’s our funeral. Smarten up, eh!”

One of the advantages of Lyme making me super sensitive is that I get a lot of feedback from my inner self. Especially when it comes to food. Yesterday, it was hold the parsnips, the day before no more cabbage and parsley please. Green veggies, for some reason, bring out the most red flags.

Yogurt is another one. I just stick my spoon into the tub and wait for inner self to say whoa with that magnetic pull feeling. Some days it comes after a few spoonfuls and some days after half the container.

The last while I’ve learned to negotiate with my inner self. I’ll lobby for a few extra forkfuls of chicken or those last two pieces of carrots, and the force field will ease off a bit. But I don’t push it. I’ve learned through experience that my inner self knows a lot more about what’s going on inside than I do, and when the outer me has a full-blown food fight with the inner me, all of me ends up losing.

Rope a Lyme dope

Remember Muhammad Ali and his rope a dope trick. Well, that was a long time ago, so maybe you don’t, but here’s how it goes.

Ali was the world’s heavyweight boxing champ for much of the ’60s and ’70s. He didn’t know it, but he was stealing one of the Lyme bacteria’s killer strategies.

In many fights, he would spend the 14th and second last round huddled against the ropes, gloves up covering his face and his brawny arms covering his torso.

His hapless opponent would pound away at Ali’s rock-hard midsection, and the champ would barely feel it. He didn’t punch back, but just stood there getting his second wind.

Then came round 15 and Bam!, a fresh Ali knocked out the dope who’d just worn himself out a few minutes before.

Sound familiar Lyme sufferers? Who among us hasn’t been that chump? While Lyme bides its time waiting for an opportunity to strike, we often wear ourselves out trying to fulfill our commitments with the limited energy we have. When we do have a window where we feel better, it’s so tempting to try to rush to get things done. Never enough time. Always catching up.

Like so many people, I didn’t know I had Lyme when I first got sick. There was no bullseye rash and the dozen or so doctors I tried to get help from never even brought Lyme up as a possibility.

I felt absolutely dreadful all the time, but the doctors said there was nothing wrong with me. I asked if I should stop working and they could see no reason to do that. “You can’t hurt anything,” one said. And I believed him.

So I kept working, thinking it was some flu bug that would soon pass like all the other flu bugs had over the years. Like most people, I had a stressful job, and I kept running around, wearing myself down until I finally had to stop working.

I desperately wish I had that to do over again. The way to beat rope a dope, I’ve learned since, is to chill. Be like Ali, conserving your energy. Now if I start to feel I’m rushing around too much and getting tired, I stop and take a brief nap. I also take a short nap after lunch and spend time meditating after dinner.

I don’t work full-time, so I can do that. But even if I had that kind of employment, I could make adjustments to keep myself from getting overtired. For example, I have a friend who spends many a lunch hour sleeping in his car.

So, my rule is never, never, never knock myself out. Exercise, yes, but not to the point where I’m bushed. And maybe there’s something I really want to do, but it’s going to require getting stressed out. Regretfully, I pass on it. Too many times I’ve overextended myself and given Lyme the upper hand in our daily tussle.

By refusing to play the dope anymore, I’ve slowly been able to gain back ground from my arch-nemesis in the black corner. It’s rematch time. Lyme won the first battle, but I’m winning the second one.

Tasting your way to better health

Hmm. I can barely taste that zinc tablet when I suck on it. And the vitamin C crystals sure seem a lot less tangy today. Uh oh, something is thinking of zapping me with a cold.

We’ve all heard the phrase “salt to taste”. But one thing I’ve found on my journey to health is that you can also “magnesium to taste” and “calcium to taste” and “copper to taste”. Etcetera, etcetera.

Our bodies are really smart. They are always trying to help us if only we would pay attention. Take the taste buds for example. There are scores of things the body loves to give us feedback on that we generally don’t consider.

I use a powdered probiotic every morning. Some mornings it tastes really strong, other mornings not so strong, and other mornings downright weak. In the middle is what puts a smile on my face, really strong just means back off a bit tomorrow, and weak concerns me. That means something might be wrong in my gut, so I’ll toss a bit more in my glass and hope for the best.

The general rule is if tastes weak, my body could use some more of the substance in question. If it tastes really strong, I may have too much in my system, and if it’s in the middle, I’m probably in balance.

Balance. The key word. When it comes to minerals, vitamins, other nutritional supplements and just about everything else in life, balance is the body’s desire. For me, megadosing supplements doesn’t work. Too much is often as bad as too little.

The list of supplements I’ve tried where the taste test comes into play is a long one. Just about every mineral applies, as do things like B12 lozenges, colloidal silver and grapefruit seed extract.

My doctor uses this theory when she gives new patients a bit of zinc liquid to swish around in their mouths and gauge its taste, which can range from “like water” to “like dishwater”.  It’s a screening test to get an idea of their zinc level, as zinc plays a vital role in so many of the body’s important functions.

All this is not foolproof science. The body may have other reasons for judging a substance weak, strong or middling. And remember the taste test is a snapshot of a moment in time. You might put the same amount of salt on a plate of eggs at breakfast and another one at dinner and have it taste weak in the morning, and then strong in the evening.

Lyme is at least thousands of years old. If it were stupid, it would have died long ago. It’s probably a lot smarter than I am.  But then again my body is a lot smarter than I am too. So when it’s using the taste buds to try to keep me free from nasty things like colds and flu that could weaken me and give the Lyme a chance to make inroads, I’ve learned to listen very, very carefully.

 

Intro to Lymetips.com

Lymetips is about sharing things I’ve learned from my struggles with Lyme.  I got the full meal deal with this disease- several strains of Lyme, several coinfections, several viruses, severe candida, etc., etc. So whatever you’ve faced, I’ve probably faced it too. At one point, I asked my doctor if I was dying. All she said was, ‘I’m not sure.’ As you probably guessed, I didn’t die, and while I’m not fully recovered yet, I’m waaayyy better than I was.

Solving the wobbly legs dilemma

I’m standing in the supermarket checkout line with three people in front of me. I’m thinking, “Hurry up everybody, don’t you realize my legs could give out at any time.”

Ever been there? Legs left so wobbly by Lyme that you’ve lost confidence they can hold you up for more than a few minutes. It feels like driving an old car that could quit on you at any moment. Not fun.

After going through this several times, I decided I had to do something. I bought a cane, but I hated using that. Vanity perhaps, but really, does anyone want to use a cane?

Then an idea came to mind. I used to cover Olympic sports as a journalist, and I remembered how athletes sometimes wore compression clothes on their legs to gain an edge.

Usually made of spandex or similar material, compression clothes come in upper and lower body varieties. I needed help with the lower. That could mean running pants, cycling pants, knee supports, knee braces and athletic socks among other items. The compression increases microcirculation in the body and thus increases strength and stability.

A bit of research told me that testing showed compression clothes could increase your leg strength by five to 10 percent. Not a lot, but maybe it could make a difference.

My web search started with compression cycling pants. I eagerly awaited their arrival, and when they came, I pulled them on quickly and headed outside. Then I just stood. I stood for five minutes, and it felt good. Then I stood for 10 minutes, and it felt just as good. Eureka!

I quickly found that the cycling pants solved my checkout line dilemma. I could now comfortably stand for a half hour or more instead of less than five minutes.

The experiment continued with online shopping for compression running pants, compression cycling shorts, compression knee supports, compression knee braces, compression running pants and compression athletic socks. 

The first thing I found out is that I needed a high-quality product for it to work. That meant cycling pants and shorts a serious cyclist would wear, running pants and knee supports fit for an Olympian.

Everything did work, but some things worked better than others. My fave combo is compression cycling shorts, compression knee supports and compression socks. I also found that the lowest grade of compression socks (high grades need a doctor’s prescription) felt best for me.

This combination can be counted on to hold me up for an hour, which is as long as I’m called to stand.

Another bonus is this can all be worn under your pants, so nobody knows. Not so in summer, though. At first, I felt a bit goofy, having the black knee supports stick out from underneath my shorts. But then I remembered that a lot of National Basketball Association players wear pretty much the same stuff, and they’re some of the coolest folks on the planet. Besides, it beats the heck out of carrying a cane, and it beats even more heck out of falling down at the supermarket.