Getting Better 2009

The Story So Far

Executive summary: I’ve been sick for a while. (End of summary.) I have reported on this at various times in this journal; in February 2007, which would have corresponded fairly closely to the nadir of my health issues, I described a day in the life of (me.)

Skip on a couple of months and I started – albeit slowly – weight training. The Weighty Matters section of this site (includes this article) documents my weight training progress.

Now, 2 years and 10 months from that low point, things are much better – and I am talking quantum levels better, from my rather subjective viewpoint, at any rate.

The Story Today

I think that my work capacity speaks volumes. At the beginning of this year, I was able to work about 12-14 hours per week, never more than 4 hours a day (on a really good day) and never 2 consecutive days. At the time of writing, I am able to work in excess of 20 hours per week, sometimes up to 6 hours per day (best days) and up to 2 days consecutively.

As regards lifting weights, improvements during this year include some of my troublesome joints ceasing to be so (and for the first time in my life,) and breathing issues that hindered exercises with heavier weights, far more than the weights themselves, having resolved.

Where I Am With Weights

My weight training progress seems to have been the most constant of improvements. This is a good thing as it creates motivation (and something to feel good about in general) through positive feedback.

Primarily due to elbow issues – the last of my joint troubles to persist – and a weakness in my thoracic spine due to a probable combination of scoliosis and an old horse-fall, I have simplified my workout cycle to something resembling the following:

  • Bench press
  • Variants on the lat pull
  • Squat
  • Bench press
  • Variants on the lat pull
  • Deadlift

Including rest days, this constitutes about 10 days to 2 weeks of workouts. I tend to avoid using the same intensity of exercise for more than two sessions of a specific workout.

Numbers-wise, I regard workout-weight to be that which can be performed for 6-8 repetitions, expressed in terms of bodyweight. (My bodyweight, that is!) Squats are at 1.75, deadlifts at 1.46 (with hooks – wrists still a bit dodgy,) bench press lagging at 0.92, with 5 reps at 0.97.

My most significant, recent, milestones in terms of absolute weight were reaching what had for long seemed the unobtainable 4+ reps at 100kg (after months in the 90’s,) and achieving 4 sets of 5-rep deadlifts at 130kg without hooks. Meaningless milestones to most, but morale-boosters for me. And yes, I can be a bit numbers-obsessive; I have a terrible compulsion to count things – wonder if it means I’m a vampire?

Quantum Sleep-Leap

My health improvements have been due to factors both within and beyond my control. In the list of ‘beyond my control,’ I include things which I could control, but am unaware. It turned out that my sleep quality was one of these things.

After 4 years of CPAP therapy, I thought that my sleep apnoea issues were well and truly nailed. So did my respiratory/sleep physician and the rest of my medical team. At my last appointment, my physician suggested a machine upgrade as the old one was rather old and I had no backup should it fail. (No machine = no sleep. Or at least, no sleep that would count.) I followed up on this advice and acquired a new machine and mask.

Within a week of starting with the new equipment, I had far more energy and my work capacity shot up. Why? Despite 100% CPAP compliance and despite data downloaded from the machine suggesting that all was well, there was more to the problems of sleep than just apnoeas. The discomfort of the mask – possibly designed by a member of the Spanish Inquisition – and the noise of the old machine appeared to have been giving me really lousy sleep-quality. I just wish I had known that a long time ago.

CPAP therapy isn’t the scary thing that it may seem to those who think they may need it or are about to start on it. You need it, you use it, you get used to it. At least I do/did. Having the extra bag when traveling and trying to find a power point near hotel beds can be a bit of an inconvenience, but that’s life. It would be far worse without it.

Keep Taking The Medicine

One of the key players in my improved health has been my doctor (GP.) Lots of diagnostics, trialling medications (mostly hormones,) and regular reviews have finally hit a relatively sweet-spot. Whilst I’m still well below-par when compared with that elusive beast, the population average, I am very pleased with where I am and what I can do compared with that time nearly 3 years ago.

Although I’m not writing the prescriptions or ordering the blood tests, the business between my doctor and myself is very much a factor within my control. Collecting and presenting relevant information and complying with a doctor’s suggestions (including taking medications) is very much the patient’s responsibility. Doctors can’t work miracles.

Despite the best of intentions in both directions, things can go wrong. I have experienced a few occasions where everything started going wrong – fatigue started to get worse again, the weird eye problems that limit my work came back – almost like forgetting to take medications. It transpired that, on each of these occasions, there was a common factor: stale medication. A crucial, heat-sensitive, medication (hydrocortisone,) short-dated and sourced through a rural pharmacy which has no cold-chain deliveries seemed to be the culprit. Changing the source to an online supplier – which incidentally seems to have much longer-dated batches – and ordering for delivery during cooler weather has eliminated yet another unanticipated, external factor.

In addition to medication, I have also received several treatments from a massage therapist. This has certainly helped with various skeleto-muscular issues, which has helped with lifting weights. (Having a massage therapist who understands weight training is a big advantage.)

Lifestyle Management

That which isn’t from my doctor or lifting weights falls under the catch-all of Lifestyle Management. This I will break down into two sections: Eat Well and Don’t Overdo It.

Eat Well

I’m not going to give a nutrition lecture unless it’s “don’t eat processed food.” I tend to break my own rule here by eating the occasional protein bar.

Don’t Overdo It

You may need to push yourself a bit to get moving but, once moving, don’t keep pushing – you may end up crashing to a halt.

One of the most important lessons that I have learned through the time of my incapacity is to learn to gauge my limits and work within them – whether working, lifting weights, gardening or anything else. I won’t pretend otherwise – this can be incredibly frustrating; stopping a job half-way through because you’ve reached your fatigue threshold may be very hard. But then so is the crash from over-doing it and equally frustrating the week that you are unable to work due to poor body-management. I have been there many times. I think that I am finally getting the message and no longer exceeding my limits.

Conclusion: My Message

  • This article is all about me. If you see yourself or somebody you know in here, take heart, you are not alone.
  • Chronic fatigue is probably one of the biggest cop-out diagnoses being made by doctors in this day and age.
  • Don’t let your doctor write you off; if looks like they’re going to, write them off first and find one who really cares and wants to help you.
  • Sick people can lift weights – and doing so with care can help make them less sick.

Stupid Disclaimer

I am not a doctor, this article doesn’t constitute medical advice. If you want medical advice, go to a healthcare professional.