O Bendy Gymster / This Keto Life: A Tale of Glycogen and Pain

When I think about my hypermobility, I usually frame it in a fairly simple way: it’s a physical disorder that sets limits on what I can do and how I do it. I work and think and plan to find a way around it so I can do the things I want and need to do, but I recognise that some things are probably off the cards (high impact aerobics, for starters, or any sort of “boot camp”, or weightlifting moves that involve very rapid and precise shifts in position, like snatches or jerks).

I dislike the fact that I’m hypermobile, but I also recognise that I experience a moderate presentation only and am very fortunate that it’s not worse. I can do a lot of things that many hypermobile people can’t.

It’s a degenerative condition, so I’m glad I found out about it in time to find ways to slow the process of damage accumulation.

Overall, I think I have a pretty good attitude towards my hypermobility. I see it as presenting problems to which I must find solutions, and I enjoy problem-solving.

But.

But.

Today is not one of those days.

Today I’m pissed off. Today I’m in pain.

It’s been a pretty intense week. I had a grant application deadline on Wednesday, which I only just met. I am normally much more organised with these things, but there was a last minute change to the budget which meant I had to scramble to re-jig the project, and my schedule, and then make the numbers add up and was emailing it to our grants manager at 10am on the due date (she needed time to review it before submission). I’m actually pretty pleased with myself that I managed to fine-tune this in the time that I had, but I’m irritated that it looked disorganised.

This meant a certain amount of anxiety, and not very much sleep – that’s not for lack of trying, mind you, but I don’t sleep well when anxious.

So I increased my activity level to try and bust the stress. It’s a time-honoured coping mechanism.

Then, on Thursday, I got an email from my diving instructor / mentor who offered me a job with the store to lead dives. I’d just finished my SSI Dive Control Specialist qualification (qualifies to work as a Divemaster and Assistant Instructor), and this was a very welcome and exciting piece of news. On Friday I signed the contract, feeling appropriately privileged to be able to do so, and on Saturday I drove out to lead my first paid dives. This went really well.

Except that I did it on extremely limited sleep. I was a bit stressed about the maiden voyage – so to speak – and I had to get up early, so naturally, sleep was an elusive bastard. I was rested enough to drive and dive safely, but it was well below what I function well on.

There was a party on Saturday that I really wanted to go to, so I followed my first day of a new job, involving heavy exercise, with a long drive out to a friend’s place for a shindig and a late night.

Meanwhile, partly due to anxiety and lack of sleep and scheduling issues, we ended up eating out a few times, and I really pushed the limits of keto. In fact, without meaning to, I pushed them far enough to break. I knocked myself out of ketosis and switched to a carb-burning metabolism.

In a timely manner – and this TMI is relevant – I also got my period.

What does this all mean for the Bendy Gymster?

It means that, because of excessive carbohydrate consumption, the Bendy Gymster is retaining bucketloads of water on her person. It means that, because of menstrual hormone issues, the Bendy Gymster is retaining even more water on her person, and has additional endometriosis pain parties happening.

Water retention is not good for hypermobile people. It’s not fully understood why, but it seems to irritate the joints profoundly. This irritation leads to inflammation. Even after you get rid of the extra water weight, the inflammation can take a while to die down. In addition, progesterone makes collagen more bendy, so the actual symptoms of hypermobility are more intense when a woman is going through shark week (my favourite euphemism. I don’t normally hold with euphemisms, but sharks are awesome).

Yesterday, the day after all the diving and sedate partying on no sleep, I woke up feeling seriously broken. Everything ached. I cancelled a much-anticipated meet-up with a friend I hardly ever see (due to his living in a different country) and crawled to the couch.

I forced myself through my physio exercises.

I forced myself through foam rolling and the spiky massage ball and a series of stretches, because after all the exercise this past week (remember, I was running to try and bust stress), my legs felt like knots dipped in concrete.

I forced myself through a very small set of modified push-ups and bent-over dumbbell rows (very light weight – I only have 5kg dumbbells).

Then I napped for two hours.

Then later on I forced myself out on a 90 minute walk.

“For fuck’s sake, Kate,” I hear you mutter, “Why would you do that? You’re exhausted and broken and in pain.”

Here’s why: because water retention caused by excessive carb consumption exists in the form of muscle glycogen. The quicker I can burn that off, the quicker the water weight is lost (nothing I can do about the period water, that just takes time), and the less my joints are being irritated, and the sooner the inflammation will go down.

Also, the physio exercises and the minor upper body work will help recruit and activate muscles that will support these very sore joints. Taking the pressure off, even slightly, will ease the pain and reduce any possible long-term damage. Yes, it was hard to do in my state. Yes, it hurt. It was a pain investment in a reduced-pain future.

This is what I mean when I refer to hypermobility as presenting a set of problems I need to solve. There are some problems I can’t solve – endometriosis is one of them. Down the line, I’ll probably get another laparoscopy, but there are reasons to postpone that.

But the period issues intensify before they get better, and this morning I woke up in so much pain I could hardly move.

Every joint in my body was irritated and inflamed. This includes my spine. I could almost count my vertebrae simply by noting the little spots of pain between the joints. I started the day with ibuprofen + codeine (the over the counter version) and wondered absently if I shouldn’t have hit something stronger. It was a toss-up as to whether I should take the ibuprofen (anti-inflammatory better for joint pain) or naproxen (anti-inflammatory better for endometriosis pain). The codeine tipped the balance.

Although if someone invents Naprogesic Plus Codeine, honestly, just shut up and take my money.

This does come out as a bit of a rant – and fair enough, because that’s what it is – but it’s also an illustration of why I might force myself to exercise when it hurts. It’s not the normal “something is injured” pain or the more benign “you did exercise, ouch” ache. It’s a specific kind of pain that I need to fix, and the best way I can fix it is by moving, and moving hurts.

If I didn’t know about glycogen and ketosis and so on, I wouldn’t know why too much carbohydrate causes me pain – and I wouldn’t know that movement is the best way to resolve it. Knowledge is power.

If I didn’t know about progesterone making collagen stretchy, I wouldn’t know that now is a very bad time to run – and I might have tried to deal with my “I need to move” solution in a dangerous way, and given myself an injury (I would predict a sprained ankle, but it could be anything).

The more you know, the better decisions you can make, and the easier it is to solve problems. That is why I do a ridiculous amount of research on my health situation. I use the information given to me by physiotherapists, podiatrists and doctors as a jumping-off point. The more I can go back and understand basic metabolic processes, hormonal processes, and so on, the more informed I can be. I’m not an expert in these things. I never will be. It’s not my field.

The best I can do is be an expert in me, and then use that information in conjunction with my medical support team to live the best and most active life that I can.

So, in conclusion: some days I am okay with being hypermobile. Some days it pisses me off that I’m in pain. Some days I see people running like graceful gazelles along my running track, legs lifted high and weight perfectly balanced, and it’s upsetting to know that I will never run like that – my body just won’t do it – to know that I look like a goofball, that I will always be slow, that I can’t lift my legs that high and stay balanced. It hurts.

And then some days I remember how far I’ve come, and I feel pretty damn good about being in a place I never expected to be.

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