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Starting to watch this season’s episodes of So You Think You Can Dance has been mixed with a nostalgia for my dancing years and a frustration from my constant pain, which has been stopping me from staying active for several years.  I feel trapped inside the body of an 80-year old with chronic joint pain and other ailments and I just want to live!

I went to my pilates private lesson and was almost in tears with frustration and disappointment.  I was barely able to do simple strengthening exercises without flaring up my herniated disk in my spine.  My L4 vertabrae was the victim of an unfortunate medical reaction last October, which was probably the most painful and debilitating thing I’ve experienced in my life.  After a month of soma muscle relaxers and oxycodone, followed by an epidural of cortizone and 6 weeks of physical therapy, I was finally able to sleep without muscle spasms.  But 7 months later, I pushed it just far enough with some leg exercises at pilates that the disk became sensitive again and is now stopping me from exercising.  It seems like an unending battle and I have no control over it.

My joint ailments and pain all started back when I went to college.  After competing in all types of dance for 14 years, with some additional softball seasons and family skiing trips, my knees finally gave out.  At the time, the doctors didn’t know what could have caused the misalignment of my patellas in both knees, except for blaming the years of turning-out for ballet and possibly some ligament damage from a ski incident in Utah.  But it really was just genetics that caused the knee issues — and it was the start of my body rebelling against me.

The knee surgery took a year and a half to recover from, including learning how to bend my knees and walk again, filled with over a year of crutches and knee braces after college.  And of course with the RA flare-ups and the weak muscles in my legs, my knees are a constant irritation. (Who knows why I chose the hills of San Francisco to battle either.)

The pain and frustration then moved to my wrists, which started flaring up when I was a bartender at the Ritz Carlton last year.  I would constantly drop glasses, champagne bottles and have a hard time opening cans and bottles.  Bartending was obviously not meant for someone battling RA.  And now they cause me to get irritated when I have trouble opening a peanut butter jar or carrying groceries home from the store.  Most frustrating is when I am trying to hold a weight or band at pilates and I have to stop the exercise — not because I can’t handle the resistance or my muscles are sore — but because my wrists can’t grip the freaking handle anymore!

And then the herniated disk.  It came out of left field — starting with severe back spasms while I was at dinner at Ruth’s Chris steak house with a boyfriend and continuing through the night until I finally went to the ER the next morning.  I spent the next month laying down most of the day on my couch, awkwardly sleeping and under the influence of several pain medications (and alcohol).  I couldn’t lift anything, bend over, or basically move without pain.  It was annoying to say the least.  And it took a good 7 months to feel slightly back to normal, until yesterday of course.  I suppose it’s going to be a longer recovery than I thought.

It really is frustrating that I want to be an active, healthy, in-shape 26 year-old who can barely open a jar, walk up the hill to my front door, or do simple strengthening exercises at pilates without pain.  That’s why I it makes me emotional to watch the amazing dancers on So You Think You Can Dance — I thought when I was younger that I would grow up to be one of them, and now I’m just praying that one day I will be able to be active again.

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