Bicycling is Balm for My Soul

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We purchased bicycles recently, in an effort to get more exercise in a way that won’t make my physical issues worse. It’s also important to pick an exercise you’ll actually do and I used to love bicycle riding. Turns out, I think they were a good idea for my mental health, as well.

Bicycling is Balm for My Soul

Stressed Out from the Pain and Cascading Medical Issues

For the last several months, I’ve gone to several doctors in different disciplines to track down the source of my body pain. For many years, I’ve had a variety of joint and muscle pains, most of which have been manageable with a combination of over-the-counter painkillers, movement, massage, and patience.

Then I developed frozen shoulder on the left side, followed by frozen shoulder on the right. The right shoulder also showed a rotator cuff tear on the MRI, but it wasn’t bad enough for immediate surgery. Instead the doc sent me for physical therapy.

The physical therapist thought the issue might be originating from a problem with my cervical spine and suggested we talk to the ortho doc.

That started a months-long saga of imaging tests, different specialists, medication experimentation, and considerations of scary surgeries. And of course, we had to jump through the insurance company’s ridiculous hoops at every step to make sure we did everything in the right order.

Bicycling is Balm for My SoulI began to feel more and more broken and discouraged. I already knew I was in pain and not sleeping well. I had suspected there was something more systemic going on, but had no idea what that could be. It’s just not normal to hurt in so many different places so often, for no external or observable reason. I even got a referral to a rheumatologist to ascertain whether I might have a form of arthritis or another chronic disease.

My poor husband is 20 years older than me, and yet, I’m the one who is falling apart. When we went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom park recently, I was the youngest in a group of seven or eight people, and yet I was the one in a wheelchair (we rented an electric scooter for me for the day).

Just being in pain and not getting good sleep can affect mood and mental health. Add to that a feeling of “being broken,” and the fears that come from not knowing and from worrying if you’ll need surgery…now that’s a recipe for some serious stress. Needless to say, it’s been a rough few months, even though we’ve been in the state of perpetual sunshine all winter (FL).

Finding Closure & Learning to Manage My Conditions

Finally, we’ve discovered that while I do have some serious issues, none of them are bad enough to warrant surgery at this time. My physical therapy and at-home exercises are helping to rebuild my muscle strength to alleviate some of the pain. I’ve also gotten a couple medications that seem to be working well to help me sleep and to alleviate pain on an as-needed basis. We’re in maintenance mode, unless something changes.

I’d been told by a couple of the specialists that walking was probably not my best choice for getting exercise right now. Bicycling or swimming were recommended as ways I could get my cardio without making my back pain worse.

We tried the pool and while I can walk across the pool, which helps to get my heartrate up, I can’t actually swim yet. My right shoulder is still partially frozen and when I tried to just doggy-paddle, the searing pain made me catch my breath.

Then we were talking with a friend who also suffers from diabetes and has dealt with peripheral neuropathy issues. He told me that when he has the time to go bike riding every day, he doesn’t experience the stabbing neuropathy pains. He’s not even taking Gabapentin (aka Neurontin) anymore, which is the medication I’m on for the same issue.

Bicycling is Balm for My Soul

Gabapentin, like most medications, has some side effects, and the one that may be affecting me the most is the “brain fog.” I’ve been on it for almost four years now, almost the whole time I’ve known my husband. He finds it ironic and somewhat funny that I, a self-proclaimed wordsmith, can have so much trouble coming up with words in verbal conversation. Now we may know why that’s become such a strugle for me.

While it has always been easier for me to access my vast vocabulary through writing than speaking, the issue seems to be getting more pronounced. I had been attributing it to the perimenopause I seem to be in, but it could easily be the Gabapentin, instead, or a combination of the two.

I figured it was worth a shot to try. The idea is that the more you move your feet and lower legs, the more you move the blood and assist its return to the heart. Apparently, it’s through the action of the muscles in your lower legs that the blood can circulate through that part of your body. The heart would have to work much harder if it were the only thing responsible for moving all that blood around so far away from itself.

The more the blood can circulate, the healthier all the tissues and nerves are from the infusion of fresh blood and the oxygen and other molecules it carries.

Bicycling Turns Out to be Good for Me, Body & Soul

So we decided to invest in a couple of bikes. We went to Walmart and found a couple of bikes that fit our frames and the other criteria we had in mind. We tested them out in the store and enjoyed the funny looks we got from people as they dodged out of our way.

We brought them home in the Prius (which continues to impress me with how much it can carry!) We pumped up the tires, made sure the seats were at the right height, and I attached a cup holder to the handlebars of my beautiful new mint green bicycle, so that I can carry my water bottle with me.

Then we climbed on and started pedaling. The joy I have always felt on a bike came flooding back and I looked at my husband with a huge smile and told him how happy I was. He was so glad to hear and see this, because he’s been worried about my mental health of late, too. I’ve been, by turns, anxious, depressed, resigned, apathetic, and sad. But now, with the bike and the realization that my problems aren’t as bad as I had feared, all that stress has started to evaporate. I’m ready to get on with my life. I’m ready to start living again and enjoying the adventure.

Bicycling is Balm for My Soul

Now we are taking a bike ride almost every day, getting our exercise and reveling in the feeling of the wind through our hair, the sun on our backs, and even the burn in our thighs as our muscles adapt.

Speaking of pain, I have had mixed results, so far, with my neuropathy-bicycle experiment. The first day we rode, I had inadvertently forgotten my mid-day dose of Gabapentin. When I realized it, I was a little concerned, but decided to just not worry about it and see how the night went.

It’s usually the middle of the night when I have the most pain in my feet, ankles, and lower legs. When it happens, it wakes me or keeps me up, and I can’t lay still. I have to rub the area and move it. Sometimes I can calm it with a topical analgesic, like arnica, and sometimes I have to resort to prescription-strength Naproxen.

But that particular night, I slept until morning without any problems. I was cautiously ecstatic.

Unfortunately, the next two nights did not go so well. I had intentionally missed my mid-day dose both of the next two days, and wound up having a lot of pain problems both nights. I didn’t get much restful sleep at all.

Bicycling is Balm for My SoulSo my husband and I discussed it and I will resume taking all my doses for the next few days, and then eliminate just half of one dose, and see how that does. Maybe I came down in too big a step. I don’t know, but it’s worth trying to figure out what works to reduce the amount of this medication I’m taking, if possible.

No matter what happens with this experiment, though, I will continue bicycling. It’s like a balm for my soul that has been feeling trapped by a disintegrating body.

I’m also working on repairing my relationship with this physical body my soul currently resides in. I know it’s not helpful for me to experience feelings of hate, disgust, or despair toward this body. Our thoughts and feelings can have profound effects on our physical bodies, so I am adding self-love exercises to my healing regimen. I’ll share those exercises in a future post.

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© Rebecca Dugas 2017 All Rights Reserved

Written by Rebecca Dugas

I am the original Diabetic Herbivore. I created this site to help others who live with diabetes and have chosen a plant-based diet to find recipes, resources, education, and support. The information here will also be helpful to anyone who chooses to eat more low carb and/or more vegetables. I believe we all should be able to feel full and satisfied no matter what food choices we make, or for whatever reason we make them.


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