Achieving a healthy lifestyle has become very challenging for me in the past couple years. Increasing chronic debilitating pain has greatly reduced my ability to perform normal tasks, and has made safe exercise impossible.
When I was a young adult, I was one of those people who never gained weight, no matter what I ate or how much of it I ate. In my early and mid 20's I was actually underweight, despite deliberate efforts to overeat and eat very high-calorie food in hopes of gaining weight. I was otherwise very fit. In my free time I pursued artistic endeavors or spent time with my close friends, so I never found the motivation to attend a gym or set aside time specifically to exercise. Instead I found employment in jobs requiring physical labor, which was a perfect solution for me.
When I was about 26 I finally started to gain weight, and before my 30th birthday I was happily maintaining a 160lb size 12. I had six-pack abs and muscle definition, was strong and fit, and had a nice, healthy layer of padding covering my ribs and other previously bony areas. I was mostly eating healthy, in large quantities to match my activity level working building maintenance and landscaping, plus extensive hiking on the weekends. I was making progress as an artist and business woman, selling my artwork and sewing on commission. I had some financial stresses, but otherwise my life was fairly stable and my stress levels were manageable. I had a lot of hope for my future, and completely ignored a growing pain in my hip.
Chronic pain has become the bane of my existence. Over the last three years, the pain has grown from a minor irritation to debilitating. At first I started walking with a cane only periodically when the pain was bad, or when I was hiking to help with my stamina. I focused most of my time with office-related work and my art and sewing. Stairs and ladders became challenging, but otherwise I could find no pattern in the ebb and flow of the pain except that as the months went by the worse times were more frequent and more intense. I had been without health care for years, so I did my best to manage it on my own. Almost all the pain was focused in my right hip, so I treated it accordingly.
My activity level decreased as the pain increased. Without health care and unsure of the cause of the pain, I was afraid of making the problem worse. The attempts I made to care for myself often seemed to make the pain worse, but I still kept active enough to hike in the spring of 2010, and participated in a 5K run in July of 2010. However, by October of 2010 I was walking with a cane full time, and by March of 2011 I could no longer hide my pain from my friends. The pain was severe enough and consistent enough to significantly impact my ability to do normal things, like walk around a weekend event and spend significant amounts of time on my feet. I was no longer fit. My activity level was so low that I lost muscle and gained fat. I had actually lost weight, and was about 150-155 lbs for roughly two years. From August to October I gained weight, growing to 165 lbs and a size 14.
My friends helped me figure out where I could get health care, and I was able to see doctors through county-run low-income health insurance. I was very happy to be able to receive care, but I was also constantly frustrated by refusal of the insurance to authorize tests. In July the pain became intense enough that I could no longer walk and I went to the ER, and after that my doctor started me on medication for nerve pain. Unlike any other pain killer I had tried, this one has reduced the pain to a level where I can think and function, but I have still not been able to regain any level of activity. We were able to determine that my hip was fine and the problem is most likely in my lower back, but the insurance denied the MRI for a specific diagnosis. They did approve a physical therapy referral, but I was unable to see the physical therapist because the referral process was completed just a few days I lost coverage under the county insurance.
The past few months have been stressed-out and miserable. I lost my day job, lost my home, and the chronic pain made it difficult to do the things required to deal with any of the problems in my life. I had to stop taking sewing commissions, and have been very slow to finish commissions I already have. I have friends who are letting me stay with them so I'm not homeless, but I feel guilty continually that I cannot effectively contribute to the household and am so limited in my ability to reach and hold down a day job. The job problem is made worse by the fact that my work history is predominantly in physical labor, something I can no longer do. I hope to be able to regain mobility and activity, but without a diagnosis and physical therapy I am at a loss for how to do that. I am absolutely terrified of making myself worse in attempting to regain fitness. In moving I lost coverage under the county insurance, and am in the process of finding different coverage.
Despite the tough times, I feel that my life is starting to move in a positive direction. I am spending time on my art, which is a huge relief to me. I create very little art when I am depressed or over-stressed, and have created very little in the past couple years. Returning to my art is helping me be happier, better deal with stress, and giving me hope for my future. Art is my passion, the one activity I have always come back to throughout my life, and I would love nothing more than to be able to make a living creating art. As I create more art, there is more opportunity for me to sell my art and create a financial future for myself through that art.
I'm working on regaining health care, and hope to find a diagnosis in the coming months. I am in a stable house, and eating far healthier food cooked in the kitchen, rather than junk purchased at a drive-through window. I'm making a point to walk a little and move around on days when I'm able, and am trying to figure out exercises I can try which are easy on the back. It's challenging, but I can reclaim my health and manage my life for a better future.