Wow! You folks are an optimistic bunch. I lead off my last letter with a sarcastic (I thought) rant about “being cured” of Sarcoidosis despite still feeling like crap and you all respond with joy and congratulations and talk of miracles. If ever there was an example of the limitations of the written word (or at least my written word) to properly express my intent, this was it. Had I spoken that rant the tone of my voice would have clearly expressed my cynicism in relaying my doctor’s proclamation of being Sarcoidosis free. Nonetheless it speaks volumes as to the quality of people you are. You saw a silver lining and jumped all over it like kids at a trampoline party. Slow golf claps all around.
Then again, you might actually be horrible people and were simply grasping any false hope that would lead to my finally shutting up about my health tribulations? Well you’re out of luck I’m afraid. Not only am I going to make trite remarks about your, uhh, remarks, but I’ve got a whole bunch of new griping about my health to share culminating with a foot stomping, finger pointing “I told you so”. And the golf claps fade away as heads bow and sighs of exasperation filter out from behind computer monitors across the nation (the globe, even).
If you recall, my Respirologist had asked that I attempt to increase my activity level to see how my “cured” (the quotes indicate sarcasm on my part) body reacted. For years now as I dealt with mystery illness and Sarc I was adamant that physical activity was the major precursor to the chronic fatigue that plagued me. This occurred on both a micro and macro scale but by far the most damning, in my opinion, was the three significant setbacks in my health that all corresponded to a deliberate, extended period of increased physical activity on my part. Each time a routine of regular, elevated physical activity lasting for six weeks would result in extreme fatigue and brain fog overwhelming my mortal vessel. I’ve even gone so far as to document this in graphic form. If you’re looking for some unique wall art I’d be happy to send you a signed, framed print of this historic document.
Let’s Get Physical
So beginning yet another program of elevated physical activity was something I embarked upon with great trepidation. I did, however, attempt to use my smarts a bit more this time around. The three previous attempts at this, all of which ended poorly, were identical in my stubborn all or nothing attitude. Moderation was a bad word and I went from zero to one hundred in seconds flat. I’m a sports car, not a station wagon, folks! This time, however, I made a concerted effort right from the start to restrain the horses under my hood. This isn’t to say that I went about my exercise in a wimpy manner; I wasn’t just strolling around the neighbourhood on a Sunday afternoon. No, the goal was still to actually stress my body a bit; attempt to improve my health and physical fitness. It’s just that where in the past I did it every day, this time I’d pace myself and do legitimate, strenuous exercise (the sweat, slobber, and stink producing kind) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays only.
This seemed like a reasonable program to me. It was enough to improve my health and test my system but it also gave my body time to rest in between which would hopefully prevent any relapse. My workout initially consisted of a few minutes stretching (desperate attempts to gain flexibility and hopefully remediate the endless muscle pain and stiffness throughout my body), twenty minutes on a recumbent bicycle (cardio!) and about thirty minutes of weights. All together it was an hour workout covering all the bases. I was really excited about doing this despite my consternation at what it might cause in the future. I don’t love exercise but the few times I’ve forced myself into a routine it actually feels pretty good. Mentally, that is, physically it sucks harder than a sewage truck.
As the first couple weeks passed I increased my time on the bike by ten minutes and increased the weights poundage a bit. I mean, if I was going to be exercising I might as well try to get right smoking hot while doing it. A little muscle tone would be nice, particularly in my arms. I’ve long lamented my lengthy, formless arms. They’re spindly. They’re two giant dandelion stalks. I’ve seen greater definition in Ikea table legs. And while I am certainly not fat in the conventional sense, my spare tire, as it were, is hardly something I enjoy exposing to the world at the beach. I’m a single segment Michelin Man. It’s bad enough that my bleached-white gut-skin draws the attention of gawkers like a police chopper search light but to then regale them with an unflattering muffin top is one of the least agreeable experiences of living in a lake community.
And so I went forth with a goal and a glimmer of hope, working out, rebuilding my temple as it were, inspiring lecherous thoughts in the wife for a grand total of … anyone? … anyone? … Bueller? … Bueller? That’s right, six @#*$@^*%&#-ing weeks! Six weeks and blammo, the fatigue and brain mush came roaring back just as I knew bloody well it would. Cured, my ass! Look, this might not technically be Sarcoidosis. Considering how poorly understood Sarcoidosis is and how varied the symptomology is anything is possible. Hell almost all chronic illnesses seem to have some fashion of fatigue as a symptom. Makes sense since the body is working hard to fix itself continually but cannot succeed. But this brain mush/brain fog and extreme fatigue that I get is most certainly not indicative of a cured situation. I remain sick. It impacts my life, my daily comfort and impinges on my ability to remain physically active and fit. It won’t kill me and it doesn’t prevent me from having a reasonably meaningful life. But don’t tell me I’m free of Sarc or whatever else the hell is in my body.
Brains vs Brawn
I am now presented with a new predicament in my life. I have a decision to make; a decision of rather epic proportions, a decision as old as civilization itself. I must make the immortal choice between Brains or Brawn/Beauty. With this being the fourth experiment in extended physical activity to result in unfavourable symptoms flaring up I’m convinced that strenuous physical activity for any sustained amount of time (six weeks is magic) is not something I am capable of performing. The result of trying to be beautiful is a brain that turns to mush. I become too tired to accomplish much of anything. I become stupid. I cannot be both.
I would like very much to be brawny. Not freakishly so, but enough that I could see the mythical six pack in my abdomen and perhaps give my other muscle groups the appearance of having been used within the past two decades. And hey, I wouldn’t mind if the hot teachers were perhaps as keen for parent-teacher interviews as I. Maybe hear the odd breathy gasp or turned head at the beach. Our bodies may age but our egos remain in need of the odd stroke now and then.
On the other hand, I am 42, married and the father of two children. It’s kind of nice atthis stage to no longer have to worry about earning myself a mate. I’ve already accomplished that. Quite well, thank you very much. Surprisingly well, actually, as those that have known me for long enough can attest. It’s nice to just stop with that whole exhausting and more often than not humiliating courting game. Let things go a little bit. The hair is graying without my permission anyway. And these damned “things” beneath my eyes aren’t exactly beauty marks. A little fat here and a little flab there is kind of to be expected, no? It’s not like I’m growing a beer gut capable of holding a tray of nachos on its own.
Still, I would very much like to remain brainy. Just the slightly above average brainy I’ve always been is fine with me. Oh I’d LOVE to be MIT brainy but that wasn’t happening at twenty and it sure ain’t happening now. My kids can pursue that milestone of human intellect. But I can’t stand feeling stupid and boy does brain fog ever make one stupid. It’s one thing to be tired and incapable of focus, but to be unable to think or read or speak properly because your brain is fried is a terrible experience. And to achieve such a state without any eye-widening tales of debauchery or rock ‘n’ roll high life as the cause is inexcusable.
So while being frumpy frustrates me, being brain dead terrifies me. I cannot handle it. And so, I’m afraid that I must chose brains over brawn. Ladies, I am just not meant to be beautiful. I’m sorry. I know some of you have been holding out hope for many a year now. That I’d finally figure it out and unleash the true potential locked up in this spindly-armed frame of mine but alas, it is not to be. Charm and wit will remain my only weapons in the battle of the sexes. As much as rusted butter knives can be considered weapons.
Calf Brains – By Scott (originally posted to Flickr as Calf Brains) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Bicep – By Nicolago (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
This is edited June 2014 from its original first published as part of my June 2014 letter.