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  • Writer's pictureKris Barling

A Change of Focus

Well, it’s the day after I got smacked in the face with a reality check of how serious my back injury actually is. To say that I am still devastated is the understatement of the year. I knew that my injury wasn’t great, but I still had in my head that 6-8 weeks of rest/adding in some light exercise and I would be good to go. I had already thought about long term implications and as such had already decided that I was going to reduce my training load and cut back a few Group Fitness Classes. I think I had decided to remove four classes from my schedule per week. I had accepted this and I was doing ok, despite the level of pain that I was in.

Yesterday I had another CT scan and cortisone injection appointment, this time with the specialist doctor who had done my original report. When I explained to him how much pain I had been in, he completely understood, saying that he would expect that based on the amount of damage that had occurred in my spine. He was very upfront and honest about the situation. The reality was I had caused so much damage that I needed surgery. He said that if I took my reports to a surgeon, they wouldn’t hesitate but to operate. BUT! Because I had done so much damage, the surgery would be extreme and life changing. The entire L5/S1 disc (at the base of the spine) would have to be removed completely. This would mean a couple of things. The first, I would have to cease any moderate to high impact activities, permanently. Initially the pain would be lessened from what it is now, but I would be in some form of back pain for the rest of my life. I would also have to have a repeat operation every ten years. He said that there was a very high chance that I wouldn’t be able to walk properly by the time I was 50. Needless to say, what he said scared the absolute crap out of me.

But then, there was a glimmer of hope. He said that the dosage of cortisone that I had been receiving was the normal dose that people receive and there was a possibility to greatly increase the dosage. The cortisone acts to reduce inflammation as well as to assist the body in its healing process. He explained that the body, with all of the right things, does have the ability to miraculously heal itself at times, and there was still hope that this could happen with me. It could take 6 months or more, I would need to focus completely on healing my body, it wasn’t guaranteed, but if my body could heal itself then I could avoid surgery. He knew how much pain I was in and the fact that the surgery would almost reduce this instantly. He also explained that it wasn’t guaranteed that my body would be able to heal itself. But he explained that if it did, there was a very high chance that I could go back to normal physical activity.

It’s the age old question of whether or not you choose the quick fix. It’s just like someone who is overweight and wants to lose weight. Often they choose the quick fix, extreme diet that they cannot sustain for the rest of their life. They are too impatient to lose the weight and even though they may understand the dangers of extreme dieting (and trust me they are there), they ignore them anyway. What often tends to happen is they eventually fall off the wagon and end up worse than they were before they started. I figure, this is very similar. Yes, I am in extreme pain and I desperately want it to go. But I have to understand that although surgery is a quick fix, it won’t be a long term fix for me. I told the Doctor that I do not want surgery. I want to try and get my body to fix itself.

So we talked about the plan of attack from here. The first priority is starting to reduce at least a little bit of the pain that I am in by increasing the dosage of cortisone and doing 4-5 more treatments. The goal is to see that there is at least a tiny amount of reduction in pain which will give us hope that the body may be able to heal the damage. The injection yesterday was far more painful than the other two I have received. Today I woke up and I am in so much pain that I am barely able to walk. I’m not alarmed though as I am in the in-between stage of the local anaesthetic wearing off and the cortisone yet to kick in. I am going to view this as the perfect opportunity, where all I can do is rest, to conduct some research and to write. I am so grateful that I was lucky enough to see a Doctor who had my best interests at heart and has given me hope rather than straight away resorting to the quick fix.

At this stage, I will have to retire from teaching Group Fitness and moderate to high physical activity. This is one of the hardest things for me to do. Exercise and teaching classes are things that I am extremely passionate about and make me so very happy. It was exercise that first assisted me to begin to overcome depression and anxiety. I am so very lucky that I have spent the last two years working on my mental health and improving my mindset. Without this, I don’t know how I would have coped with this news. I won’t lie, I am very upset. I cried the whole way home from my appointment yesterday, partly because of the pain I was in and also because of the reality of the situation. My initial response was one of despair and hopelessness. It was as though my whole world had come crashing down.

I am so very lucky to have people in my life that care about me, who are positive and help me to see things in a different perspective. I called one of my closest friends to talk about what had just happened. Thankfully by that stage I had calmed down enough to be able to talk. We talked about the fact that I was now going to do everything in my power to assist my body to repair and heal. My number one focus needed to be on my nutrition. Recently I have been learning even more about nutrition and the role it plays on a deeper level. In the past, my focus on nutrition was about fat loss, over the last couple of years it has been about fuelling and repairing my muscles in order to build my strength. My focus now has to centre completely on healing. I am a problem solver. I always have been. The reason I became a Personal Trainer in the first place was because I wanted to rehabilitate my knee after I had been told my Specialists and Surgeons that I would never be able to run again and that I would need a complete knee replacement by the time I was 30. I am still yet to have this knee replacement that they speak of and I have completed five Ironman races. It is not in my nature to just throw in the towel and give up. It is in my nature to always try and find a way. So this has become my new goal.

I love to learn new things and this is no exception. As soon as I calmed myself down, I downloaded a kindle book to read on healing through nutrition. Last night I watched a very confronting documentary called What the Health? I have spoken to people about many of the topics in this film in the past, but at that stage I just wasn’t open to the concepts that were discussed because I didn’t really feel any need to. I was relatively happy and functioning well. In hindsight, the reality is although I thought I was functioning well, I still got sick often, I had gastrointestinal issues, I had surgery to remove cervical cancer a couple of years ago, niggling injuries and this major issue in my spine was gradually worsening. Just because I couldn’t see it didn’t mean it wasn’t happening.

I’m not going to explain what was in the film because I think it is an important film for everyone to watch. Some people won’t watch it because they don’t want to be made aware of the issues that it presents and I will not judge anyone for this. I was one of these people also. The changes I am going to make to my nutrition plan are going to be extreme. But if I want to avoid surgery, then it isn’t even an option. I talk often about the pain of changing vs the pain of not changing. The pain associated with not making these changes for myself is extreme and permanently life altering. It will be a great deal of effort to make these changes, but this pain pales in comparison to the pain of continuing on the way I have been. If there is hope that I will be able to teach Group Fitness again and lead a normal life, then I will do it.

In a nutshell, my nutrition is going to become plant based. Basically Vegan. I almost feel like a hypocrite saying this because I have never been able to understand why someone would become a Vegan. After the research I have been doing over the last 24 hours, I now understand completely. I also realise that many people won’t understand this choice that I am making and will question it. This is my life and my choices and by no means am I advocating this to others to do. This is the decision I have made based on the quality and scientifically researched information that I now have. I figure, it’s worth a shot. My current diet obviously does not promote rapid healing otherwise I wouldn’t have been sick or injured as often as I have been. At the end of the day, I am prepared to go to this extreme if the end result may be that I will be able to heal the damage in my spine.

It is much easier to follow a nutritious Vegan diet these days than what it would have been in the past. Very nutritious Vegan foods are readily available just about everywhere you go. The company that I purchase my protein powder from, Isagenix, also make a Dairy free range. So I have gifted the remaining dairy containing shakes that I have and am moving over to a Dairy Free version. This covers my Breakfast and Lunch. They also have dairy free protein bars too which taste amazing. So straight away, that is an easy transition for me. Much of the research also promotes nutritionally supported fasting days too, which is also part of the Isagenix program which is really cool. From there it will just be a few small adjustments to my snacks and my evening meal and I will be good to go. I’m well aware that it may not be an easy transition, but I want to do it badly enough to make it happen. It may not work, but I have absolutely nothing to lose. The way I see this, it’s worth a shot and I have the motivation and drive to make it work. I will remind myself daily of the reasons why I am making these changes and that is what will keep me on track. I will also closely monitor my energy levels and constantly reassess how I am feeling and make changes as I feel they are needed. I am excited to try this and to have something to focus on other than the pain and the things that I cannot do. 2018 is still going to be a great year for me. I have massive things happening with my business and I will have even more time to be able to dedicate to this which will be fantastic. Stay tuned, it will be an interesting 6-12 months!!

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