Back Problems Suck

It’s amazing how fast things can change.

If I didn’t have bad luck I wouldn’t have any. Since 2006, I have had a chronic back problem. It’s difficult to describe because when one says, “I threw my back out,” I’m not sure what that means. I think that vernacular applies to bulging or herniated discs. My doctor thought it had to do with the Sacroiliac joint (SI) and my chiropractor says the source of the problem is higher than that but still near the base of my spine.

Here’s what happens. If I bend over the wrong way, whether or not I have any weight in my hands, I feel a wiggle in my lower back and a grab to the lower right of my spine. When I return to an upright position, all the muscles in my lower back seize up and go into a locked spasm. Treatments like heat and ice and ibuprofen only provide temporary relief. Stretching doesn’t help. Nothing helps. The only way I get any relief is when the spasm finally lets go. There’s some residual nerve pain when that finally happens and that usually only lasts a couple of days.

So, last Saturday, a week ago today, I was dressed and on my way out for an early morning run. I dropped my headphones. I bent down to pick them up and when I did I felt the wiggle, I felt the grab and when I stood upright all the muscles in my lower back seized.

I went to the emergency room Sunday. The nurse practitioner wrote me three prescriptions, gave me an insulting brochure and sent me on my merry way. I followed up with my primary care physician Monday and she added ibuprofen to my diet of pills and prescribed six physical therapy sessions. I’ve tried stretching, the heating pad, walking, and ice. Nothing helps. I feel like I have a knife in my back. I struggle to stand up straight and I look like a 5’10” “S.”

My first physical therapy session is Monday. I am skeptical to say the least.

The bigger question is what this has done to my confidence and psyche.

This problem first arose in 2006. I don’t remember what I weighed but a professional sports trainer told me to lose belly fat and develop my core strength. It happened again in 2008 and I was again told that belly fat and lack of core strength were why this kept happening. I started exercising in 2009, lost some weight, gained it back and the problem with my back happened again in 2010, this time while lifting something very heavy. It took six weeks for that one to feel better. It happened again in 2012 when I was pretty close to my heaviest weight. I was lifting something heavy when this one happened. In July of 2014, I bent over to pick something up and it happened again with absolutely no weight in my hands. I saw my primary care physician and she told me anything can cause this and there’s nothing I can do to prevent it. She gave me prescription strength ibuprofen and a muscle relaxer. It took about two weeks to feel better. Sometime in November or December it happened again while I was doing goblet squats. I was pissed off so I finished the legs work out anyway and recovered in about three days.

I strained my calf and pulled a hamstring and saw my doctor about it. She shut me down for a month of no running. I mentioned that the area near my SI joint had been acting up, no spasms just some soreness, and she said my SI joint was out of alignment. I had the chiropractor work on my lower back two weeks in a row. I missed an appointment for an adjustment and two days later it flared up.

Here I am a week later writing this blog. I am angry. I am frustrated. I am fed up. One of the reasons I wanted to lose weight and get in shape was to end this back problem once and for all. I am in the best shape I have been in a long time, decades even. I had achieved another low, 178.4 pounds, of which I was very proud. I’ve put a few pounds back on, which does not thrill me. I can already tell I am losing muscle from not lifting weights.

The bottom line is I don’t feel like I did when I wrote the last blog entry. I have gone from the height of self-esteem and confidence to the bottom again in just over a week. I recently wrote that I have to remind myself that I am trying to undo 16 years of relative inactivity and largess. I can’t help but feel like the work I have put in the last two years has been all for nothing. Yes, I look better. Yes, I am healthier. But I have yet to eliminate two of the major problems that I thought were caused by being overweight. I’m not in the mood to write about the second one right now.

I’m not better than the poster on the wall. I am still the 180-pound Jell-O mold. I didn’t know you could crack Jell-O. If you’ve followed this blog from the beginning you’ll note that this isn’t my first injury or setback. But this is the most frustrating of them all. Nobody seems to want to find the root cause. My doctor doesn’t want to have an MRI done yet. She wants me to do the physical therapy. She wants me to try yoga. I need to know what causes this and I need to find out how to prevent it from happening ever again.

This problem has gone from happening every two years to three times in seven months. Exercise and weight loss have had no affect on this issue, in fact, it seems to be getting worse and happening more often. I’ve been told age is just a number and that being 45 shouldn’t matter. But I can’t help but feel old and broken-down.

I am angry and confused and I don’t know what to do anymore.

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The Body Image Blog You’ve All Been Waiting For

I look pretty good in a suit again. This was taken in November 2014.
I look pretty good in a suit again. This was taken in November 2014.

This one has been a long time coming and I have a lot to say on this subject – from my own neuroses and self-image to fat shaming, fitness shaming, celebrity worship – there is a lot to be written about body image and self-esteem. I am going to relive a lot of painful memories and personal experiences. There are many reasons why I am the way I am. I have lived for 45 ½ years, I have taken abuse, given some, been bullied, done a measure of my own bullying and most of the time I just ride the wave of my life. But when I look in the mirror, I mean really look, I wonder why I am the way I am. All I can come up with is that we are the sum of our experiences and choices.

I have had problems with self-esteem and body image my entire life. When I was a child I was skinny. So skinny in fact, my mother once asked my pediatrician, the eminent Dr. Joseph Incavo of Rochester, NY, if I was underweight. He replied with a “hrumph” and dissuaded my mother’s fears. As childhood continued I grew to hate meal times. I don’t remember breakfast much, I ate the lunch my mother packed for me, and there were home-cooked meals every evening and weekend. It was dinner I had issue with. I couldn’t stand to sit and eat supper. My mother was a wonderful cook but I just couldn’t do it. I liked sweets, baked goods and whatnot and I didn’t start with pop (soda) until 12 or so.

We kids in the 10th Ward were active to say the least. We were constantly playing something and you couldn’t keep up indoors. Even in the winter, we’d don anything that would make our mothers feel better about sending us out in a blizzard just to play outside. I don’t know about food conspiracies of today or if the food was made or grown differently 35 years ago but there weren’t many overweight kids, let alone parents, in my neighborhood.

I think I was 13 or 14 when I played for "Fred's Snack Wagon." See? Skinny.
I think I was 13 or 14 when I played for “Fred’s Snack Wagon.” See? Skinny.

It was clear, however, that when I really started playing with larger group of kids that I was the skinny one. Even the younger kids who were shorter than me were sturdier, for lack of a better term. My house was the one with the basketball hoop and we played basketball whenever the weather permitted. We’d play one-on-one and four-on-four half court. They called me Jerry “Bird.” Not because I resembled the Hall of Fame forward for the Boston Celtics or that I had a deadly jump shot, but because I was skinny. Looking back at pictures from that time I don’t think I was that skinny. But I was picked on mercilessly because of my slight build.

My hair wasn’t much help. I never embraced the naturally curly locks as I grew up. My school pictures were terrible – my hair was a mess.

High school was hell in many regards. Please don’t get out the Kleenex for me now. I know I am not the only person who went through a tough time in high school. However, some of those memories are way too painful to bring up in this forum. I’ll just focus on those recollections that are pertinent for this blog.

I have a real problem with celebrity worship. I have a real problem with the poster on the wall. Maybe I was different, my buddy Jean-Paul can attest to that, but I had pictures of Mary Lou Retton (1984 Olympics), posters of the Go Go’s, The Cure and pennants of some of my favorite sports teams on my bedroom walls. When I was younger I watched Charlie’s Angels and I had a thing for Farrah Fawcett. I like to think that I never held any female in my life to an impossible standard. Well, mom was the impossible standard. But all the amateur Sigmund Freuds out there can pipe down.

Those were the days of Tiger Beat magazine and the dawn of pop idols like Steve Perry of Journey and Bon Jovi – I really hate them all, the music, the image, all manufactured to make girls swoon. Right or wrong, need therapy or not, I started to get it stuck in my head that I would be never good enough for whatever female held my attention. That if [insert pop idol/actor’s name here] sauntered in or through I’d be cast aside like used Kleenex. The poster on the wall was better than me. The poster on the wall was more talented than I ever would be. The poster on the wall was better looking. The poster on the wall was sexier. The poster on the wall didn’t look anorexic. The poster on the wall had better hair.

Looking pretty svelte in San Francisco last July.
Looking pretty svelte in San Francisco last July.

I also remember counseling many female friends on the phone about their boyfriends on any given Friday night. I was good enough for advice but not enough to go out with. I was all too frequently on the wrong end of “let’s just be friends.”

To this day I bristle about celebrity worship. Pop star du jour, athlete object of minute, and now the new things that permeate social media that objectify men (for a change) such as #WetWednesday are things that drive me nuts. Yes, I realize there is a #WCW (Woman Crush Wednesday). Trust me I realize men have been objectifying women for centuries. I guess turnabout is fair play.

I do realize that fantasy is a healthy part of the human psyche, but I also believe that for millions of people, if their celebrity crush walked through the door and asked them to run off, they’d drop everything and run off with Matthew McConaughey, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Adam Levine, David Beckham, etc. I guess when your reality is gaseous and overweight and unemployed, these crushes help people get through the day. I am not even going to get into how much I loathe boy bands. In my late 20s, the poster on the wall thing happened again and this time is was much closer to home, much more personal. It didn’t sit well with me as teenager and it didn’t sit well with me then either.

Is your life that drab or droll, is your significant other that repulsive, did your dreams not come true…

I guess my point to this rant is that I never had the confidence others had. I didn’t have good enough looks, I wasn’t that good at sports, I wasn’t enough. My personality developed while my looks did not. My intellect developed while my physique did not.

Couple this with my father’s work ethic, which I have inherited. It took me awhile to discover it, but believe you me, I have it. I firmly believe that what I do for a living is a privilege and can be taken away. I never take it for granted and I bust my ass for my employer. I sweat blood and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am passionate and I am good at what I do. This is one area where my confidence is not lacking. However, I always have that sense in the back of my head, neurosis if you will, that it’s never good enough. No matter how hard I work, no matter how successful something I create is, it’s not good enough…I’m not good enough.

I like celebrities too.
I like celebrities too.

By the time I was in my mid-30s I started to fill out some and I looked pretty good in a suit. Since I have been working in my current job I have only really been vain about my hair. However, vanity has become a real problem the past few years.

When you gain weight like I did one of the things that sneaks up on you is your wardrobe. Things start to not fit anymore. You buy a bigger belt, you suck it in when you’re trying to fit into those favorite jeans and then it really hits. For me it was my neck size. When I couldn’t button the top button on a dress shirt, oh man, did I flip. Getting dressed then became a real struggle as I continued to gain weight. Nothing fit, I got out of breath putting my socks and shoes on, I sweat as I pulled my pants on. I started wearing baggier and baggier clothes.

For a while, as the clothes became comfortable and I got used to my size, I really didn’t care. Hey, I wasn’t the skinny kid anymore. I had some size and girth. You were going to have a real hard time pushing me around. The sleep apnea came and that didn’t convince me to lose weight. Having trouble playing in the yard with kid didn’t convince me. This is the guy who was shown countless photos and video of black lung and people with lung cancer and still smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. It was going to take more than sleep apnea and having to go up a few sizes to convince me I was fat and needed to do something about it.

A funny thing happened on the way to theater…vanity woke up. I caught myself in that wide bathroom mirror and I finally saw. I didn’t just look to brush my hair or my teeth. I really saw and I was mortified. I didn’t recognize the guy in the mirror. It wasn’t me. The whys and the hows and the reps and the miles have all been well-documented in this blog.

Fast-forward a little bit. I finally am starting to like what I see in the mirror again. Yeah, my hairline is receding and my hair is thinning a little bit. And maybe the color isn’t my natural color. As I mentioned in the previous blog that I actually care what I wear and I now endeavor to look good.

So, I posited what my next move could be and should be. I am going to carve up the Jello, I’ll see if the Stay Puft Marshamallow Man can get ripped.

Which brings me to my next point and for the most part, I really don’t care if I offend some over-sensitive folks. I am tired of the overweight’s “this is the way I am, deal with it” attitude. This has now led to “fitness shaming.” We all know about “fat shaming.” Trying to get the couch potatoes into the gym and exercising but making them feel bad about themselves in the process. Yeah, that works.

Look, it’s really wrong to make fun of people and make them feel bad about themselves. I was quite disturbed that there are folks out there who want to classify obesity as a disease. It’s not. It really isn’t. Now, I am not stupid to think that there aren’t factors unique to every individual that create what we are. Everyone is different, everyone’s metabolism is different.

So rather than make the obese feel bad about themselves or engage in any form of arm-twisting, I write this blog. I am trying to demonstrate what can be done if you decide to do it.

This “take me for what I am” mentality is bullshit. There are so many reasons to do something about obesity. Vanity is one of the least, but the health risks and concerns are real. If you want to blink out early, keep stuffing your face with donuts and cheeseburgers and don’t exercise. It’s been nice knowing you. Insofar as it is wrong to make fun of people and shame them for being overweight, the opposite is true and this is a disturbing trend that really has pissed me off of late.

Fitness shaming is absolutely bat-shit crazy. The thought that a lazy person who has let him or herself go would ridicule someone who is fit or has fought hard to get in shape is appalling to me. I read recently that a woman who had recently given birth had posted great pictures of herself on social media proclaiming she was getting her tummy back. It was suggested in the comments she had used a surrogate, that there was no way she had a flat stomach just four months after giving birth. There is a mom out there with several kids who writes about her regimen and what great shape she is in and folks try to make her feel like she is doing something wrong.

I made excuses for a long time. Ask anyone around me. But, I had fitness envy when I was overweight. I never thought or said that this is the way I am now, take it or leave it. I always thought I wanted to try to lose the weight I just kept making excuse with regard to why I couldn’t try. I didn’t want to stay overweight and I was envious of the people with the flat stomachs or the fit runners zipping through my neighborhood. I watched the P90X and Insanity infomercials and I thought, “yeah, I want to be that.” There is this thing called the Internet – there are no excuses.

Again, I am no dummy. I realize that there are impossible beauty standards perpetuated by the fashion industry and magazines. I am not an advocate of trying to achieve the impossible. But there is a difference between being obese and being fit. One is good and the other isn’t. There is nothing wrong with being “thick” or “curvy.” There is nothing wrong with not having the “warrior” body or carrying a few extra pounds. And, there’s nothing wrong with looking the way I do right now. I’ll be damned if I am made to feel bad about being fit. There is something very wrong with the lazy and unmotivated ripping into those of us who stopped making excuses and found a way.

So, when I rip up this 45-year-old body and drop my body fat down to about 15 percent from the 24 percent I carry today, go ahead and try to tell me it’s unrealistic. Try and tell me I found magic pills from Dr. Oz or that I’m on the juice. Then I’ll hit you in the face with this blog.

This 40-something is better than the poster on the wall. I always was. Only now am I starting to believe that. The only thing I can do is try to be the best me I can be. If that’s not good enough for you…I’m okay with that. I am more than enough. And I am more than most can handle.

The 180-Pound Jell-O Mold

Daniel Craig
This is what a 45-year-old, 180-pound, 5’10” – body can look like. Can I ever achieve this? I am going to try. If I don’t, I’ll be all the better for the trying. I’ll post new pics soon.

I have lost all the weight I want to lose. I am not going to complain if I lose a few more and give myself a buffer and make 180 pounds my hard ceiling. I tipped the scales at 178.6 pounds yesterday, my lowest recorded weight yet.

Now what?

I have spent two years trying to reach my goal weight, I have lost almost 60 pounds in doing so and I’m not entirely sure what to do next. My gut, which is the basic problem still, tells me to make a plan and stick to it, kind of like how I lost all this weight in the first place.

Sounds simple enough, right?

I have been accused of doing too much research (um Google), reading too many articles and not listening to sound advice. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

Fat continues to be the enemy. I may be a lot slimmer and I may weigh a lot less than I did but my muscles are still hiding under a layer of fat and are still made of fat. I read that you can’t get “cut,” that you can only make a muscle bigger or smaller and that what keeps you from having that elusive definition is FAT.

I lift weights three to four days a week, I have found a couple of different workouts of varying degrees of difficulty that I enjoy and I make sure the amount of weight is challenging. I am much stronger than I was, however, my muscles are not hard and much of my hard work is hidden. I know I have abdominal muscles – I can feel them. I see my biceps look great after a good pump. My quads and calves look good if I flex them. But, again, as much as I can see some muscles and what I see looks good when I conjure it, nothing is hard or toned or defined.

My pecs are probably the most visible with regard to obvious change aside from just being slimmer and looking fairly trim. I thought I had pecs some months ago but it was just puffed up fat. My chest actually has man-chest shape now. I can’t say I have a great chest or a large chest, but I can say I have one and that I have shed the “moobs.”

I definitely see that I have lost quite a bit of fat. I see muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments I haven’t seen in years. As I mentioned, I am much stronger. I have more endurance and I can run farther and faster. I can endure an intense 75-minute workout from www.bodybuildng.com. I can do push-ups with good form and I can bend over and touch my toes with relative ease (yes, this is a thing). But there is much more fat to be shred.

I have continue to try to resist fitness envy. Since I have been working out and eating better I pay more attention to folks who are fit than people who are not. I have to remind myself that I am 45, not 25. I have to remind myself that I have 16 years of inactivity and subsequent atrophy to undo. I need to understand that everyone is different and I need to stop comparing myself to other people.

Besides losing weight, feeling better and looking better, I am not sure what else I wanted to accomplish. I don’t know if I have the time in the day to put in the work if I decide to go after what I think I want. Adjusting the diet again is going to be critical and difficult.

Again with the reading. Apparently for maximum fat burning and to facilitate muscle building I should be consuming 1g of protein per pound of body weight. So, I should be eating 180g of protein per day. There’s the rub. That’s not as easy as it sounds when I am still trying to keep my metabolism straight while maintaining this new weight. I guess I have a lot of Whey protein shakes in my future.

I also read that the brain runs on glucose which is why we still crave carbs even though we’re full on a protein-rich meal. So that whole protein/carbs/fat thing crops up again.

I went running for the first time in three and a half weeks, and although my time wasn’t terrible, I may have aggravated my strained calf that had me on the running shelf. What does this have to do with the point I’m going to make further down the screen? It’s hard to do any cardio or leg workouts with an injured leg. No excuses. Just statement of fact. I did a legs workout a few nights ago and it went pretty well. The three-mile run and post-run stretch has me in pain. The hamstring pull is irritated too. So, basically, I’m an idiot.

I think I have decided to try to get the body I want. Good nutrition and exercise are part of my life now. There is no going back. Maintenance would be great. I think I am going to be happy at 180 pounds. I think this is a good weight for me. Maybe picking out an ideal at the beginning wasn’t the best idea for me personally because of my OCD tendencies. I see what a 45-year-old, 5’10”, 180-pound body can look like. I mentioned before that I don’t have Daniel Craig’s body yet but I am closer than I ever have been. I’m going to see how close I can get.

I am going to get lean, I am going to get strong and I am going to shred this fat.

Again with the reading. A few weeks ago I posted a link to an article discussing the five things nobody tells you about weight loss and one of the items mentioned that body image is the last thing to go. It was refreshing to read that I am not the only person who, after losing a substantial amount of weight, still saw the fat person in the mirror or still thought themselves fat.

I had gotten to the point where I didn’t see the fat guy in the mirror anymore and he returned. He’s gone for good this time. I proclaimed that I am no longer obese or overweight, but I am not “in shape.” I am not “fit.” I’m better. But I’m not all that I could be, not to sound like a military recruiting commercial. I like what I see in the mirror much more today than I have in a long, long time. I am wearing clothes I have not worn in a long time. I am worried about what’s “fashionable” for the first time in the history of ever. I can thank the new GQ subscription for that.

There’s an epic body image blog coming and I am going to tackle fitness and fat shaming.

I will endeavor to adjust the diet and go seriously protein heavy, I will do the things I need to do to shred the body fat and build muscle. I feel like a 180-pound Jell-o mold. Unfortunately, there’s always room for Jell-o. The form looks much better but it’s squishy when you push your finger into it.

I don’t know if getting ripped is something I can accomplish. Then again, there was a time I didn’t think I could lose weight or ever fit into 34-inch waist pants again. Age is but a number and I am sure there are men who are older than me that look like they could do well in a body-building competition. I still have my ideal. I guess I am just going to have to keep working toward it because I am not there yet. I would love to have six-pack abs. Maybe fellow bloggers have some advice for me. Hint hint. Working to achieve that, whether I do or not, can’t possibly be a bad thing. Cabana boy/Speedo body is achievable in time for suburban swimming pool season.

I always knew this was a journey that would never end although there were many times I wanted to have a destination. I’ll probably never be finished, and you know what, I am okay with that.