It’s easy to fall into the trap of only showing the negative aspects of chronic illness. When we’re “healthy” (for us) and feeling well, we tend to go out and live! When we’re sick and feeling awful, that’s when we think “I haven’t written in a while, and this is something interesting to write about.” If we’re just so-so then we’re probably doing something that we deem ‘boring’ and don’t write about it. I try to keep my blog focused on my entire life, not just the chronic illness pieces, but it’s definitely easier to write about the “bad times.”
However, I have been quite lucky lately: my body is cooperating. For the most part, I’ve been able to feel relatively normal in the past few weeks. No, I’m not ‘better’ but I’ve been able to do more than I had been able to do in over a year! My Pilates classes went surprisingly well, my physical therapy was going really well, and I’ve been able to be significantly more active day-to-day! Of course, I’m waiting to accidentally run off a cliff (metaphorically of course), but until then I’m really excited that my body is letting me be ‘normal’ most of the time!
The first clue I really had that my body was starting to cooperate was when we went to Casper to see the total solar eclipse. The first day we were there, we went to the downtown street fair that was going on. Walking from my mother-in-law’s house, walking around the fair, then walking back to my MIL’s house was roughly 2.5 miles! It was also hot, and there was no wind (apparently I’m an anti-wind charm because Casper is supposedly “always windy” but I’ve only experienced wind ONCE the entire time I’ve been going up there). It wasn’t “easy” for me to do, but I did it! I didn’t totally die, didn’t take a nap, and actually felt better after a short rest and dinner! I went to bed earlier than I usually do, but I wasn’t that sore the next day! (This was on Sunday the 20th of August.)
That Wednesday, I met up with a good friend of mine because she happened to be in Colorado! Her husband was on a business trip to Boulder, so we met up in Golden (where Dan and I met) and I got to meet her baby! Well, her daughter is now ten months old, so not a tiny baby, but she’s gotten to a really fun stage so it was great to finally get to meet her! We walked about 3.5 miles that day! That makes roughly six miles in less than five days (not to mention all the other walking that is necessary on a daily basis).
That Friday, I had my physical therapy, and it actually went fantastic! Since then, I’ve also done really well in my group classes and have been able to add extra weight! My recovery times have gotten shorter, and I’ve felt rather good physically. My fibromyalgia has been almost entirely non-existent, even with some of my usual joint problems. (Dysautonomia, joint problems from my hypermobility, and my allergies are all still present, but I’ve still been much more functional than normal.)
This past Labor Day weekend, September 1-3, which is the last weekend most summer attractions are open around here. One of our favorites is Mt Evans, and we’ve gone a lot over the years. We usually just drive up and drive back down (we usually can’t do much else either due to weather or my health). The first time I was actually able to get out of the car and walk around was when we took my mom up about just about a year ago. (Picture to the right is from the trip with mom.) Even then, it was really difficult and we didn’t do a ton of walking. (My mom is from only 1500 feet, or ~457 meters, above sea level.)
Mt Evans is a 14er – which is a nickname Coloradans have given to their mountains that are over 14,000 feet, or ~4267 meters, above sea level (pronounced “fourteen – er”). There are 53 14ers in Colorado, with the tallest being Mt Elbert at 14,433 feet, and the shortest being Sunshine Peak at 14,001 feet. There is an entire culture around climbing 14ers, and it’s a big deal here! Some are significantly easier than others – based on their trail difficulty and length, not based on their elevation – and some you can actually drive all the way to the top of if you want. (If you’re interested in learning more about the 14ers, and seeing ranking lists, you can check out 14ers.com. I found the site while writing this, and it has some really interesting lists!)
Mt Evans is the 14th tallest peak, at 14, 264 feet above sea level (4347.7 meters). It’s one of the easier 14ers to climb (though, you have to start all 14ers before sunrise so you can be back off the peak before any thunderstorms may show up), and it’s one of them you can drive most of the way to the top of. The parking lot at the “top” is at 14,130 feet (4306.8 meters) above sea level, with an old stone structure open to the public with signs about the mountain and awesome views! Even without the hike, walking around above 14k feet is difficult! The air is extremely thin and dry, and the air pressure is a lot less so you can swell up (less pressure to hold fluids in place) and generally feel unwell. Altitude sickness is very real, can happen to anyone, and can be extremely dangerous. If you decide to go visit one of these mountains, be sure to listen to your body. The only way to prevent altitude sickness from getting worse is to retreat to a lower altitude and wait for your body to get used to it.
Denver is at 5280 feet, exactly one mile, above sea level (~1609 meters). I live in the greater Denver area, and my house is ~5720 feet above sea level (~1743 meters). I’ve been living over 5000 feet (closer to 6000 feet) for nine years now. While I generally do alright at this altitude, I do notice a big difference in how I feel with activity between being in Colorado and being in California (being near or at sea level). However, I would consider myself acclimated (some people actually never acclimate at all). The parking lot of Mt Evans is still 8410 feet (~2563 meters) higher than my house! Which is definitely a big deal!
On Sunday, September 3rd, Dan and I drove up to the parking lot of Mt Evans. From there, we decided to walk/hike up to the peak! I was really nervous, but decided to go for it. The peak is another 134 feet above the parking lot, with a switch back, rocky trail in between. It only took me 30 minutes, which I’m extremely proud of, and I didn’t actually feel all that awful doing it. That’s about how long it takes me to climb any steep trail that long. It felt different, however, because you can noticeably feel less oxygen going through your nostrils (you don’t realize you can feel the air density with your nostrils until there is significantly less of it). My heart rate was higher than normal (and higher than my normal exercise heart rate) but not atrocious. On the way back down, however, my body was starting to notice the lack of oxygen. Even though I was taking deep and steady breaths the entire, my legs were burning – which is a sign of anaerobic (without air) exercise. I took my blood pressure when I got back to the car, because I was starting to feel not-so-great (headache, dizzy, etc). My BP was 119/89, and my heart rate was 124 bpm (while seated) with an irregular beat detected. While the 119 is a good number, 89 is elevated. Maximum heart rate is roughly 220 minus your age, meaning mine is about 193 beats per minute. I was shocked my numbers were so good! And Dan was shocked I could do it as quickly as I did!
That was slightly overdoing it, however, as it took me about a week to fully recover. I’d had a few more episodes of palpitations, been more fatigued, and had some pretty bad soreness in my quads (thighs). Regardless, I’m extremely proud of myself! I’m still not struggling as badly as I would have a few months ago, so I’m still excited by my progress!
As the weather gets colder (now that fall is just around the corner – just over a week), I’m hoping my body will continue to cooperate with me. Cold weather flares my fibromyalgia, causing me to be in a lot more pain and usually renders me less active.