The inky sky was ignited by the silver light of a full moon; I watched the horses’ hot breath puff out in white billows and dissipate in the night air. The wheels bumped along over uneven ground, pitching the wooden wagon to and fro. I leaned back against a bale of hay, feeling the fibres puncture through my thin fleece jacket. I looked up at the sky, searching for the first twinkle of starlight, when suddenly, the wagon jolted, knocking me off my bundle of hay, tossing me to the cold muddy ground…
It happened without warning – one day, I just fell off the exercise wagon. I was struggling through a few days of intense flares and it was difficult to get motivated. Every morning I dragged myself from the bed to the couch, while my yoga mat sat bereft in the corner. I had just enough energy to lift the remote to change the channel – not exactly the most efficient exercise for arm strength. When I’m tired and sore, exercise is the last thing I want to engage in. It’s difficult to find the motivation to do yoga, strength training, walking or swimming when I’m woozy from the discomfort of arthritis. Usually, once I can get moving, things tend to improve; I’ve always found exercise is a great way to loosen up stiff limbs and transform a gloomy mood.
When I decided the flare had gone on long enough, I made an appointment with my specialist. He examined my swollen joints, reviewed my medications, checked my recent labs; as he did all these things, he asked his customary question – have you been exercising? My first instinct was to blurt out “of course”. I was a dancer, I always enjoyed being active. I did yoga, swimming, a bit of strength training, and on the good days, some cardio. Of course I exercised – except for the last few weeks. Yep, I’d definitely fallen off the proverbial wagon.
At some point, we all fall off the exercise wagon. On those rough days, it’s difficult to muster the energy to workout. We feel a bit like the cowboy getting dragged behind the wheels while the horses run wild. It’s easy to say I’ll exercise tomorrow – tomorrow becomes next week, and next week becomes next month. Before you know it, days have gone by, you’re still flaring and feeling a bit like a lump of coal. The longer you allow yourself to get dragged behind the wheels, the harder it is to climb back up. During these times, I try to do a little bit of exercise each day. I may walk for ten minutes, perhaps do some gentle stretching – I listen to my body, I don’t overdo it and I stop when it’s necessary, but I do try to keep moving.
There will still be days when I’ll get pitched off the wagon, but if can hold on long enough, I’ll be able to pick myself up, dust myself off and hoist myself back up. There will come a day when I’ll have full control of the reins and it’ll be old lady RA’s turn to get pitched off the wagon.