I never was the “workout” type. I would go jogging occasionally, walk often and of course, sports were my favorite, particularly basketball. Training horses and my wildlife photography also called for an active body. I wasn’t the kind to work out; I used to laugh at those who did. I liked using my body to accomplish tasks. And I was competitive, able to drive my body until I would almost pass out. And I enjoyed the feeling, the challenge of accomplishing the feat I had set my mind to.

“When Lyme hit, I had serious adjustments to make.”

I say this often and I find myself saying it again: if only I knew then what I know now! The months before my collapse of summer 2011, I was setting aside time to exercise, more than ever before. A 40 minute cardio workout, 20 minute core workout, also a mile+ run every morning, I was serious about getting in shape as I planned to take up trick riding on horseback that summer. Often exhausted but determined to accomplish the task before me, I pushed through, steadily holding to this routine for over a month before I started collapsing.

Hello summer 2011! I did collapse. Exercise went out the window. It’s difficult to exercise when you can’t stand upright for more than 30 minutes before your legs buckle underneath your diminishing weight!

Back in Canada the end of August, working my job as assistant dean and not wanting to lose the ground I had gained, I attempted to exercise again. Exhaustion after completing part of a workout was so severe that only hours later, I could hardly move. All winter I tried to do my favorite Turbo-Jam cardio workout, only to collapse for a week or two. It became a cycle for me. Workout and push, push, push. Collapse for 2 weeks. And then?

I finally understood: working out was making me weaker. Yet I didn’t understand! What was wrong with my body? Exercise had always made it stronger but now it seemed to give this strange weakness a hold over me. The body I once knew was there, but it wasn’t functioning. I still carried all my muscle tone. It just didn’t work.

Lyme disease. After a clinical diagnoses and research, I discovered that those who exercise tend to recover quicker than those who do not. I wanted a quick recovery, yet included in the research I found that though exercise is good, it can give Lyme a stronger hold.

How? When the body is pushed too hard it brings the immune system down for a good 12 hrs, during which the Lyme can further progress. If exercising, I couldn’t push my body beyond a particular point.

Suddenly it all made sense. I hadn’t been listening to my body. It had been telling me that working out was too much, yet for the sake of ‘keeping in shape’ and wanting to hold onto my dream, I had pushed myself beyond what was now healthy for me.

Relief. I could stop. I could rest if I felt the need. I could savor those moments when everything lifted and I felt a hint of normality returning. I could enjoy it, instead of burning up my wee bit of energy.

I cut back. In fact, I quit. No more video workouts. I couldn’t monitor myself. I’d get into it and go hard, not knowing my body well enough to recognize its ‘fatigue’ signals. So I quit. Rest. My body needed rest.

I did walk in that time, went ice skating, did try to ‘get out’. But everything changed. No longer at a neck-breaking pace but instead, slow and steady. Walk a block. Quit before I get tired. Or if I’m feeling really tired, just do household duties. If I’m too tired for that, do nothing. Sit and read. Sleep. Give this body every fighting chance it has. Often it was all I could do to get through my day without exercise!

Now that I am on the road to recovery, I have found that exercise does me good. I do rebuild and I am growing stronger. After 1 year of grueling treatments, (second year being lighter), I find myself able to enjoy exercise. But not to the same degree it once was. I’ll never return to that.

Recently I attempted to re-visit my favorite ab/core workout. I do love Turbo-Jam yet I find I can’t do a full workout every day. Perhaps twice a week. Or every day, only doing 10 minutes. I’ve discovered my rule of thumb is this: if I can’t sweep my floor or climb steps after, if I’m too weary to stand and do my dishes or fold laundry, I’ve pushed my body too far. The following day I’ll be weary, worn and tired. I don’t want to live life like that!

I’ve learned to see exercise as a preservation. And that’s what it is. Its there to keep me in shape, to help me feel healthy. I don’t exercise to push my body forward, to be stronger but instead to maintain what I do have. And slowly, strength does build.

But now, I know instinctively if I’m feeling sore muscles, I shouldn’t exercise the next day. Perhaps do some stretches or a very light workout to loosen muscles but never a repeat of the day before, cause my body now takes (noticeable) energy to heal. And if I give it that rest, I actually do move forward at a snail’s pace.