Arthritis

I woke up last Thursday (the 19th) with tear-inducing pain in my shoulder and the back of my neck which ran down my arm. I may have alluded to this in the previous entry about my U2 concert. Anyway, I innocently figured I’d slept on my neck wrong. I took a few ibuprofen and went on with my day hoping it would get better.

It didn’t. Friday it was about the same. I kept stretching in my chair at work, pulling my arm over the back of my head–as this seemed to make my arm feel better–but I just couldn’t clear it. As the day wore on, it felt a little better. However, I woke Saturday morning–the day of the concert–with an even more intense level of pain. Every time I bent over, a red hot pin of pain stabbed me in the middle of my shoulder and neck. There was a point as I was changing into my clothes for the day that I felt tears well up in my eyes. Oh, crap, I thought. Not on the day of my U2 concert.

Fortunately, it again got better as the day wore on, except some time after I was laying on my thermarest on the ground in the GA line. I could feel some pain radiating like a pool in the middle of my right shoulder. I promptly sat up and it felt better. I took more ibuprofen and decided that the rest of my time in the GA line would be spent upright.

I did experience some pain during the concert. A few times when I wanted to see what was going on on the screen above my head, I had to hold the back of my head with my hand so that it had something to rest on. I’m sure people thought I was just trying to hold my hat in place, thankfully. But the truth is, I felt like I was trying to hold my head in place, as if it was on the verge of becoming unhinged. It was hard to pump my right arm in the air during Where The Streets Have No Name. I felt a little bit stiff for an audience participant.

Anyway, the pain was still there Sunday–my arm most particularly feeling as though it had a constant Charley Horse from the top to the elbow–and it made for the most uncomfortable plane ride home. I’ve never been so antsy in my seat because I couldn’t find a comfortable position in which to put my arm to make the pain stop.

The pain was still there Monday. And Tuesday morning, I couldn’t lift myself from bed–I had to roll out. That’s when I’d decided to call the doctor. This had gone on long enough! I was worried that I’d slipped a disc, which in turn made me fear that I might have to have surgery, which finally led to a panic that I wouldn’t be able to see my remaining U2 shows. (I sure have my priorities straight!) Suddenly this pain was not only making me feel miserable, it was complicating my mobility, my life.

The doctor ordered some x-rays and gave me some muscle relaxants. I ended up having to take the day off of work because by the time I was done with the doctor (couldn’t get an appointment before 11:15 and, of course, she was 45 minutes behind so I didn’t get in right away though I arrived early) and the x-rays, it was 2:30 and it just seemed stupid to try to go into work at that point. Besides, the pain was pretty bad. I could only sit in one specific–very upright–position and each time I wandered out of position, pain shot through my shoulder and neck. Ugh.

Since Tuesday, the pain started reducing a little each day with a help of the muscle relaxants and more ibuprofen (I totally refused the narcotics she offered me to help with the pain as I hate those). My panic started to subside a little. Of course, I had to wait days before the doctor called me with the prognosis. On Friday afternoon, when she at last got back to me, I learned that I have arthritis of the cervical spine; more specifically, C5 & C6, C6 & C7.

Not a slipped disc, thankfully. But still kind of frightening to me. In the sense that I no longer feel like the invincible force of nature I thought I was. I’m pretty sure this flare up was instigated by TOSRV. I spent a majority of the second day of the ride in my drops (lowest position of the handlebar) single-handedly battling the wind. I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much time in my drops, not even last year when I battled the 20-30mph wind gusts on that ride. I guess I figured with that ride that it didn’t matter how low I rode, I was not going anywhere quickly.

I’ve experienced issues with my right shoulder from cycling for several years. Never this bad. But usually at the start of the season, I would experience pain in the middle of my shoulder after rides. Sometimes mid-season, I’d feel it if I did a lot of climbing. I think my posture on the bike favors the right side of my body somehow, but I haven’t been able to figure out just what I’m doing to cause this imbalance. Maybe I’m pulling or holding tighter to the handlebars on that side? Or my body leans to one side? I don’t know. But it’s probably not coincidence that it’s also my right knee with which I’ve had problems (remember XOBA?).

I’m feeling a bit demoralized. As I write this entry, I still am not healed enough to ride my bike. The weather for the coming week is supposed to finally be dry. I’m supposed to be leading a bike ride for my club on Memorial Day. I’m still leading it, in the sense that I will be showing up to the starting point with route maps, however, I will not be riding it. Even if I am healed enough to attempt a ride by Monday, it would be pushing it to throw myself back into 55 miles. I’d risk re-injury.

I suddenly felt old being given a diagnosis of arthritis. I mean, I know people of all ages have problems with arthritis. Yet. I’ve never had problems like this before. It’s hard to imagine myself as anything but unbreakable. Now I feel as though some limits have been imposed on me. Will I ever be able to ride 150 or more in one day again? Will I be able to do a two-day 100-mile/day ride like TOSRV again? Am I going to join the ranks of those people who can’t ride a road bike anymore because they are unable to retain the hunched position? Am I going to have to go back to riding hybrid bikes–those slow, heavy contraptions that immediately label you as a casual rider?

I hope this is merely a small bump in the road for my cycling, not an impassible road block. Cycling is one of the physical activities I love most. I don’t know what else I would do for exercise. I hate running (which presents its own problem, such as knee injury). I’m not the type to work out in a gym. I’m sure rowing has the same potential for triggering my arthritis. Without exercise, I become a very depressed person who worries even more incessantly about her weight.

I guess I will speak to a physical therapist and see what kinds of things I can do–exercises–to help avoid another flare-up like this. I guess I have to consider some herbal supplements or something. I can move my handlebars up a bit–I had an adjustable piece put in last year because of the smaller shoulder problems I was having. I should consult some specialists who fit people for bikes to see if they can figure out what is wrong with my posture so that I can adjust accordingly. I really don’t want to lose the one activity I really enjoy for everything–managing my depression, physical fitness, helping the environment by using a bike as alternative to driving.

I’m only 36. So I know I’m not old. But I can’t help but feel old. Physical limitations, in my mind, have always been for the old. When listening to others’ talk about their physical issues, I’ve always separated myself from them, thinking that I was different, I was strong, I was indestructible. I guess there’s still some naivety of youth in me–that part that thinks I’m somehow different than every other human body on the planet. This recent flare up of arthritis has reminded me, much as Mike’s death told me, that I’m just flesh, bone, and blood like everyone else. I’m not some special super-human thing impervious to injury or even death. I can push myself too far and I can hurt. I can push myself too far and ruin for myself the one activity I do that makes me feel alive, keeps me healthy, and wards off depression.

Taking it easy is not my way. I just don’t know how to relax. When I ride my bike up a hard hill, I want to attack. Always attack. I never take things easy, slow. I run at life with my head tucked down, ready to hit the wall as hard as possible in hopes that I can knock it over. I’m not a planner, I’m a doer. I’m having enough trouble keeping off my bike enough to let myself heal in the first place.

I took a hike in the Cuyahoga Valley today–the first time in a long time. But it didn’t satisfy me despite the beautiful weather and all the warm smells of nature. I wanted to be speeding down some road with my legs spinning to the speed of the thoughts in my head. I wanted to feel the wind in my face. I wanted to climb some obnoxious hill. I feel so heavy and bloated due to lack of exercise. Walking in the woods was just not going to do it for me.

There’s a voice in my head that keeps saying, Maybe you can ride to work next week. Over and over, it prays. I feel left behind. A pathetic 700+ miles to my name in May when last year I was already about 1500 miles in. I think that this is going to be a low mileage year. And I’m going to have to change my approach to exercise or I’m going to end up ruining myself so that I can’t do the thing I love most. It’s time to take a step back, analyze the situation, and for the first time create a wiser plan of attack…

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