Crunching My Way to the Zoo

The National Zoo is 5 blocks from my apartment in Washington, DC. On the way you'll walk through a quaint shopping district with amazing restaurants, quirky gift stores and a Metro stop that will take you to all the monuments in minutes. Growing up in West Virginia, I had always wanted to live the city life and eventually I ended up in vibrant DC. I was ready to conquer... if I could just get out of bed. My Chronic Migraines kept me sidelined for two years. It was exhausting to muster up enough energy to make it to work so it was rare if I ventured on a walking tour of the city. Actually, just walking the few blocks down the street to the bakery or movie theatre winded me. I had succumbed to my illness to the point where simple exercise seemed like I was climbing Mt. Everest.

My boyfriend, a very active guy, constantly encouraged me to get into the gym or just walk more often. In healthier times I went to the gym, kickboxing classes and hot yoga, but I've never been a fitness buff. He badgered me enough that I acquiesced occasionally and joined him in the gym, hoping it would buy me a few weeks before I had to go again. Since I shied away from using weights or machines, he showed me exercises to make me comfortable. He would simplify his workout so that we could do it together, but I got tired and frustrated so quickly. For a change of pace we walked down the street to the Zoo, thinking that walking would be easier for me. I ended up in tears because it was so taxing on my body and sparked a migraine. As a thin 32-year-old woman, I was ashamed that a walk around the Tidal Basin to see the Cherry Blossoms would put me in bed for a day. With each failed attempt at any physical activity, I would get mad at my boyfriend thinking, "You have no clue what this pain is like, why are you making me do this?  It's only going to make things worse!" But he just wanted me to get better, to live a more fulfilled life. He knew being in bed all the time wasn't helping me. And he was right.

When I went on disability from work earlier this year, I had no excuse not to build up my strength. My boyfriend is knowledgeable about exercise and he's patient with me, but I figured I would take direction better from a professional. After talking with my doctor, I began working with a trainer twice a week for 30 minutes each session. I shared my limitations with him and he tailored each workout accordingly. Sometimes I would start an exercise and realize that it made me really dizzy, an ongoing issue due to low blood pressure caused by certain medications. I'd beat myself up, thinking that I should easily be able to do a burpee. Instead of dwelling on it, the trainer would substitute a new exercise working similar muscles. I could finish the set and feel good about what I accomplished, quickly forgetting the exercise that made me feel faint. Intense cardio is also a struggle for me. When my blood gets pumping, my head starts pounding. I've slowly built up time on the elliptical , but have to admit that an hour-long Zumba class is not for me.

Some workouts are better than others. I'm learning how to increase my training without causing pain. When I fall into a deep cycle of headaches, I can be away from the gym for weeks at a time. The first session back can be challenging, especially when it feels like I'm starting back at the beginning. My trainer has learned to read the look on my face and knows when the headaches are taking over. We adjust and move on. When I'm having good days, I'll work out alone, using what I've learned in training. Occasionally, I'll even go to the gym with my boyfriend and he lets me lead the exercises. That's progress.  

Working with my trainer has allowed me to push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. I'm not ready to run a 5K or enter a body building competition, but I feel much stronger. The Migraines remain a constant battle. If I'm not careful, over-zealous exercise can exacerbate the issue, so I'm learning to listen to my body. I often need a nap after my sessions. But with each workout I complete, I know that I've done something within my power to fight back against the Migraines. Now I'm able to join my friends and their babies at the zoo without wishing to take a taxi back home. I can play tourist around the monuments with my parents. I'm enjoying the city I live in.

I understand having a mental block when it comes to exercise. It seems so daunting. Paying for a personal trainer might not be in the budget for everyone. Most gyms offer group sessions or classes that are more wallet-friendly. YouTube is also a great resource for free exercise videos of varying lengths and intensities. Even just a 10-minute stretching session can relieve stress during a Migraine. How does exercise fit in your Migraine life? What hurdles do you have to overcome? What tricks do you use to be healthy?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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