Ankylosing Spondylitis has probably turned me into an “Endorphin’s junky”!

People who don’t know me, say that I have to have a problem, that I am obsessive, that how is it possible that exercise has such a big role in my life, that I might have an eating disorder, that I am obsessed with my body and appearance, they have also said that I have a lover because they never see me around. What do I say to them? Nothing. Over the years I learned that the way a person speaks, acts or reacts says more about themselves than about me. It is like when you look in a mirror and you see your own reflection. There are many others that really want to know why, to those I tell my story and I have to say that most of them get inspired and sometimes they even end up giving me a call trying to get some advice, and I love it. I am always in the seek of playmates! And come on, let’s keep it real, I am 46 years old, with scars, three c-sections, I have cellulitis and stretch marks training hard is not gonna make me get any sexier nor younger.

When I just got diagnosed with AS the rheumatologist prescribed me really strong medicine. He advised me to try to engage in any kind of physical low impact activity, but my body was in so much pain that I didn’t even consider it. I started taking medicine but after few weeks I felt worse, the side effects were horrible for me, yes, it took the pain away but it always came back and on top I was feeling emotionally destroyed! Low impact activity as the doctor suggested, was way too boring for me and I am the kind of person that needs challenges, the bigger the better, that is the reason why I first started with running and eventually moved into triathlons.

The first triathlon was, to be honest, just for the challenge I didn’t even considered that it will be part of my life at all, but after I finished I realized how much I loved it. When I am training my pain goes away, I sleep so much better, and it makes me feel young and healthy! on top of it keeps my body strong, I get to connect with a community of focused, healthy people and being part of it helps me forget everything. So yes, I do have a problem, I carry AS inside of my body for the rest of my life and triathlon is the only natural way that I have found to fight the pain, and stay healthy, active and focused.

I don’t know for how long I will be able to keep it going, I have no idea but as long as I enjoy it and my body allows me to, why will I stop? I am a happy me.

Even though it is said that there are not enough scientific evidences to prove the role of endorphins some reports affirm that when you exercise your body releases endorphins, these endorphins interact with receptors in our brain that reduce our perception of pain and act similarly to drugs such as morphine and codeine. In addition the secretion of endorphins leads to feeling of euphoria, modulation of appetite, release of sex hormones, and enhancement of the immune response. I am not a doctor nor a scientist, but this is exactly what I feel when I train and lets not talk about the race days… it gets even higher! I might have become an “Endorphin’s junky”.

Exercise has worked for me and for so many others, give it a try, look for an activity that helps you get your own dose of endorphins. I know that it is hard to start, but there is always a reason within our hearts that will help us get and keep motivated. Get into your heart and look for it, and don’t stop until you make yourself proud!

After so many years of pain and injuries: “You have Ankylosing Spondylitis, and there is no cure”

It all “started” 7 years ago, but because it all might have started much longer ago I didn’t even care or noticed, nor even the doctors.

7 years ago I was into a lot of pain, so much pain! I was at home hosting my brother’s 40s birthday party and I couldn’t hide the pain any longer, so I went to my bedroom and closed the door,  thinking and wishing that I will be better after some stretching. I got on the floor and then I couldn’t move, I couldn’t get back on my feet, even breathing hurt, I tried to scream for help but the pain was too much plus the door was closed and the crowd were to far from me. Thanks God for my old mate Habibi, my Golden Retriever, he started barking and help came around. It took my brother, my father and my husband to take me into my bed. Every time they tried to move me I screamed at that point I was 38 years old and I have to say that I am not very easy to cry for pain because everything started way too long ago.

I was 19 when I had my first car accident. I had a pneumothorax causing a lung decompression, broken hip, broken diaphragm, broken femur, broken ribs, liver and spleen damage. I went into coma for about three days. Doctors didn’t expected me to come back , but I did and the prognostics to go back to a “normal” life they said that it will take at least one year. Three months later I was back on track! back into my ordinary life. With a huge scar on my left leg and my stomach, but alive and walking.

2 years later I had the 2nd car accident. This time it wasn’t that traumatic, only few stitches here and there and whip syndrome. My face was completely swollen, and once again I got back to “normal” in a couple of days!

The 3rd accident wasn’t in a car, this time it was a horse accident. The beautiful animal went crazy and when he hit the end of the road and the gate was closed he brake to zero, lifted the two back legs and that was it! on the floor with a broken arm, in 4 pieces!

I always recovered so quickly and was able to keep my life so normal that I didn’t even liked to complain about pain, scars, or anything related to any of this situations, I have actually always felt guilty and embarrassed for having put my whole family, specially my parents and brother, into so much worry and suffering. But that day 7 years ago when I couldn’t get back into my feet and was lying on the floor I was scared, so freaking scared!

I went to the doctors but they couldn’t find anything different, and I have so many things as result of all my injuries, but this time none of them were the source of this specific pain. I don’t know how many doctors I went to and I am conscious in the fact that I’m not an easy patient, I have so many injuries, syndromes that sometimes is hard for them to narrow things down. On top of everything we are an expat family, we keep moving from one country into another one, and with three kids, it was hard to find doctors and once I found them I had to move again…

Finally after keeping a very detail written record of my pains and narrowing down every single detail I read about an autoimmune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, I felt my stomach twerking and a feeling of fear that I never experience before, not even during those days with the accidents. I asked around and got the name of a rheumatologist. My fear was confirmed, I had sacroiliac joint damage on my left hip caused by Ankylosing Spondylitis. At that point I was in so much pain, on top of everything the weather of the city that we were living at that time didn’t help at all!!!! The doctor told me that it was no cure for this disease, prescribed medicine and suggested to buy a walking cane because I couldn’t walk properly anymore.

I remember faking being strong, talking about what will I do and garbage, just to calm others down. When I got home and being alone I cried my eyes off, I felt like my own body was letting me down, how come after all I have been through this can be happening to me now? Somehow I managed to put myself back together and after few days of thinking I decided to leave that country. Spoke to my husband and we took the decision that I will leave with the kids somewhere “safer” for me until he could get relocated again, hopefully in a better place for me to be.

There “my journey” started. I found a Chiropractor, he was recommended to me by my neighbor (I will never forget his name Dr Alex Keith, in Lake worth, Fl). She was a very active lady and I used to see her running everyday, one day talking about it and how much I would love to be able to run she recommended me a book “the non runner’s marathon trainer”. I devoured it in less than two days. The third day I decided that I WILL run a marathon! (42 km) and the training started. The only problem was that I needed to be able to walk longer, so I started to walk everyday, my goal was to everyday walk at least one minute longer than the day before, then I went back home and put ice packs everywhere to easy the pain. I had no help, no family around, a cleaning lady that came once a week to help me with the deep cleaning, three kids and had to go to university in order to keep my visa, the only time to train was literally midnight after having finished with the kids, chores and homework, yes homework! So it was, every night I went out, every night one minute longer.

As a first stage I planned to run a half marathon (21 km) within the next three months, the day came and it took me almost 4 hours actually 3:59 my goal was to do it under 4 hours, and I did it!!! Unfortunately I hurt myself really bad. I kept my running hidden from my chiropractor, I knew he will disagree and tell me to stop… I went to his office three days after the run, he wasn’t very happy and found hip bursitis in both of them, I got banned from any kind of exercise that provides impact on my joints for at least 6 weeks. I was so upset, and scared of loosing all what I had achieved, but he told me to run in the pool with a float belt so that my feet won’t hit the ground, and suggested me to star training for triathlons. I thought that I was way to old (40 years at that time) He asked me if I knew how to swim and cycle, and coming from Venezuela swimming is not an issue but I had to start from zero I didn’t swim in years, but once in the pool I said to myself why not? cycling wasn’t an issue even though the pain in the position can be tough, I managed it.

I registered for my first triathlon which was within the next 3 months and started training without telling anyone, not even to my husband, I was training with a program that I got from the internet. The day came and I was so scared! the night before I decided to call my husband who happened to be in Turkey ( the country from were I left) and we were (me and the kids) in the USA, told him about, he was so nervous and as a joke I told him to not complain that at least now he knows where to go and claim the body! He didn’t laugh too much…

Well, long story short, I did it!!!! I finished it!!!! and the feeling was AMAZING. Since then I have never stoped, it doesn’t  matter if I have a triathlon coming up or not, I keep training everyday, 6 days a week.

It has not been easy, AS is a very tough condition when I have the flares I have to slow down, the disease has now taken over my right hip, the symptoms are harsh, is painful, everything hurts, the fatigue is (to me) the worse part, sometimes I have to skip sessions, focus only on swimming, or only on cycling, or running… But the hardest is learning to deal with this disease, because is so not deeply known, not every patient has the same symptoms. It is hard to meet doctors with enough experience on it, and even harder to meet people affected. To listen to other tell their experience, what do they do, how do they deal with all the symptoms, until today I have not met one and this is why I decided to “come out”, to talk about my journey, to share what I do, how do I deal with it, and I hope I can help or inspire at least one person out there. To help them know that it is not over, that you don’t have to give up! that where there is a will there is a way.

After my first triathlon I got my first tattoo, I took a sentence from a poem of William Ernest Henley, it says:

“I thank whatever Gods may be for my unconquerable soul”

I want to be active and as healthy as possible, I want to be a present mother and be there for them whenever and wherever they need me, I want to be a supportive wife, a helpful therapist and an if possible an inspiring human being and not to inspire pity. I will keep pushing myself as long as possible! There are some people that I haven’t met yet and when I do meet them I need and want to be active and healthy so that i will be able to enjoy them, they are my future grandchildren! I still have so much to live and experience and I’m not willing of giving up!


Renata Santos Continue reading “After so many years of pain and injuries: “You have Ankylosing Spondylitis, and there is no cure””