Engaging My Core, Trusting My Gut & Chronic Illness

I have a conflicted relationship with my gut. When I started my period, my gut totally betrayed me. I had unbelievable pain, pain that woke me up and made me bend over double in a hot shower at 3am, pain that made me get up and drive in my pajamas to get Advil, pain that made me grip the handle of the bathroom door and hope I didn’t pass out. Pain like this, during my period, during ovulation, and in between, for more than 10 years because I thought it was normal and no doctor told me otherwise until I couldn’t get pregnant. Then I discovered I had a disease called endometriosis, we call it endo to make it easier to say (!). Millions of women have it, most of us go undiagnosed for years.

So my core is tender, scarred, broken and full of pain, and I always felt removed from it. Betrayed by my core. Angry at my core. I realized this even more after my last surgery for endo and I found exercise.

This last surgery relieved the pain and inflammation enough that I finally felt able to exercise. And I knew I needed to exercise to keep my scar tissue from hardening and causing pain. And suddenly, I found exercise, like some people find religion. I found it made me feel happier, stronger and relieved stress, just like all the books and blogs said it would! And like in a most religions, where certain phrases are repeated, I found the phrase “engage your core” is invoked all the time. I never understood what the hell they meant by that. Engage your core. My arms and legs are shaking and I’m told to tighten my core.

I had a hard time engaging my core. In fact, I was totally disengaged from my core. After years of living with chronic illness that was mainly settled in my guts, I had stopped listening to my gut, all together. I couldn’t “engage” my core because my insides and me had stopped speaking to each other.

So these couple of years that I have become a steady exerciser, I just started listening to my gut. And I’ve forgiven all the pain it has caused me – we are on the hard long path to reconciliation. I’ve realized that I held all the pain, exhaustion, and fear of pain close inside. Sometimes, I actually feel waves of nausea when I pull in my core and I imagine, it’s all of that shit pouring out. I’m not sure how long the surgery will work to alleviate the pain, and the disease is likely to return, and make exercising harder. So while I can and while I am able, I am learning to engage my core.

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My guts are scarred, after two surgeries and sometimes I feel like my core is broken. But I’ve learned that my core also keeps me standing, and it is really true – if I engage with it, feel it, tighten it, talk with it, treasure it – then my core can help me lift heavier and jump higher and find more strength.

From Spaghetti Arms to “glocks”

I have always been small or petite, as they say. My weight has fluctuated from 98-108 lbs over the years. In this culture of the thin obsessed – I guess you could say I had skinny privilege. BUT I was never very strong, nor fit. As an angst ridden teenager, I was kinda proud of my lack of fitness – in an anti-jock culture kinda way. I mean who had time for exercise, when I was busy smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and performing spoken word poetry?? (At least I never became a smoker for real, more for the persona).

However, what seemed to work so well for me in my 20’s really hurt in my 40’s (and 30’s if I am being honest). I was tired a lot, and my pants stopped fitting me right. I tried to get get out and exercise, but after what would always seem like a good start – I usually puttered out after 2 weeks. I did practice yoga for years, of and on, which helped my mind a lot, but never quite got me fit. I promised myself to get fit by 40, and I was 35 at the time, so it seemed definitely within the realm of possibility. But 40 arrived right on time but my new fit self never materialized.

I kinda stumbled into fitness. But I found out that I needed the desire to work out AND a really great trainer/coach to get me over that first hump. You know – the big hill from sedentary to moving because your body will scream in protest and promise to die if you don’t stop and then promise you bliss if you do stop. I started by going to an indoor rowing studio on a lark, really. For the uninitiated, an indoor rowing machine is what athletes who row crew train on in the winter months, it’s also the only machine used in a cross-fit gym. It is HARD, after almost a year of rowing and over 100,000 meters rowed, I still curse the damn machine. But it is also low-zero-impact and full-body and cardio. But really, that isn’t what did it for me – it was having someone to push me, to train me because working out and exercise is really intimidating when you haven’t done it before. AND because my body was so out of shape, I would have given up right away without someone there to urge me on. Also, I respond well to an encouraging coach, I wanted to try hard impress him. (my nerdy self was working for her A)

I discovered several truths about fitness and exercise. 1. The reason celebrities can have such great, tight figures is because it’s basically their jobs to spend several hours a day exercising, so they have the time and they have the money to hire a personal trainer 2. If we all had personal trainers and the time, we could ALL be fit like that. 3. Exercise REALLY does make you feel better, physically and emotionally.

So after that first few months of hard training – after feeling like I was going to throw up in several classes, I started to see why people get addicted to exercise. My mind felt clearer, my periods and cramps (see previous post about surgery and endometriosis) were a bizillion times better, and I could feel myself becoming just a little bit athletic!

However, I am NOT a celebrity, so I stopped going to the expensive indoor rowing studio, even though I missed my coach terribly and I certainly couldn’t have gotten where I am today without him. I joined the gym and started going to other fitness classes. Now that I feel confident in my body and my strength, I no longer feel intimidated by the gym or fitness classes. Now, I row ( I bought an awesome Concept 2, Dynamic) and I go to a free weights class. To my utter amazement, I discovered that I enjoy being strong and I like pushing myself physically! (In fact, it’s a lot like I just discovered I have a body!)

I just started really, it has been 40 years of me not paying much attention to what my body can accomplish, and only 7 months of exercise. But, I can already see a big difference, and while I don’t have “guns” yet – but according to my son, I do have “glocks”. (He is a bit obsessed with military history and weapons, I am hoping that this obsession will go the way of his dinosaur obsession). Funny thing is that I didn’t lose weight – I just redistributed! Anyway, I don’t have a “before” photo, just visualize spaghetti, toneless arms :). photo(2)