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Poling with Chronic Pain and Illness

By on June 28, 2016

In the pole world, it seems like injuries are par for the course. Maybe it’s a tweaked intercostal, or a strained muscle. Maybe it’s something more serious, like a labral tear, or even a broken bone. These are terrifying and heartbreaking for polers. Nobody wants to ever be injured, and if it does happen, everyone wants to know how to cope with it and get better quickly.

But what I don’t see much of is discussions surrounding chronic health problems that can impact a poler’s ability to continue with their passion. I noticed an absence of these stories because I was looking for an experience like my own.

In late 2014, I started training hip circles on lyra, an activity that puts a repetitive and sudden pressure on the abdomen. After my first class working on them, I had spotting as if my period had come early. But it hadn’t. The spotting continued to appear after every session I was working on them. The class eventually moved on from practicing them, but the spotting kept coming back. Soon, it was happening almost all the time, and especially after any work out session where I used my abs with any intensity. I also had developed issues with chronic exhaustion and cramps. I would curl around an electric heating pad throughout my day at work, sleep with a homemade heating pad at night (one made from flax seed, heated in the microwave before bed), take pain meds all day – but nothing worked. I was almost always in pain, and almost always tired.

Photo by Alloy Images 2015

Obviously, not the answer I was looking for.

It took working with an amazing nutritionist for me to have any relief. With her help in changing elements of my diet, as well as some key supplements, I was able to go from chronic exhaustion and pain to moderate and manageable issues that come and go. (And if I were better about my diet, it’d be even better.)

However…the damage has been done. I no longer have the lower ab strength that I once had. And, when I do a lot of intense work, I pay for it with my old enemies, cramps and spotting. This has been, and remains, heartbreaking for me. It’s crushing to not be able to do the things I once used to do, and to not be able to enjoy things the way I used to. Watching my friends advance, while I can sometimes barely manage the basics…it hurts.

What I started to realize, though, was that I was not alone. Chronic health issues are everywhere; we just don’t see them, or don’t hear about them. But there are polers suffering silently, or pushing through with quiet pride, and nobody hears much about it.

Hiding in light by Jhanmary on 500px.com

Hiding in light by Jhanmary on 500px.com

 

Through the power of the community, I was able to make contact with polers across the US and in the UK, who were willing to share their stories of dealing with chronic pain and illness: what has happened, how it effects them, and how they deal. Phyllis, Ellen, Vicky, and Suzannah all offered to share their own experiences.* Their health issues range from Fibromyalgia and chronic pain, to IBS and other digestive problems.

Each poler described their difficulties with their health, which can impact their self-esteem to the point that they stay home, rather than risk an episode in a class. Strength and endurance can fluctuate wildly, depending on how they feel, and some shared that they feel like they are slower learners because of it. Successful training times can be few and far between, and in some cases, health issues can contribute to injury, even with good form. During the worst times, Suzannah shares, “Pain radiates through my body and is excruciating, so much so that on returning home from my lesson that sometimes I have had to get into bed.”

For the instructors in the group, the flare ups cause the additional stress of having to cancel classes or get them covered. No teacher wants to disappoint their students this way. Vicky shared the frustration of not being able to train for herself as often, due to flare ups of her health problems. She also brought up another dilemma: teaching while feeling under the weather. In her words, “Some days my demos are not up to my usual standards in classes, but my students are very understanding…” On a personal note, I feel this every time I teach. I find myself prefacing any demo with a quick, “I’m still coming back from some health stuff,” and then apologizing before I show anything, just in case it isn’t perfect.

Woman with acute abdominal pain by Lars Zahner on 500px.com

Woman with acute abdominal pain by Lars Zahner on 500px.com

 

Despite the hardships that come with these health issues, each of the polers also talked about how pole helps them cope. For Ellen, “…the endorphins and adrenaline that come from teaching class are helpful, and will tamp down the nausea I might be feeling when I get there.” Vicky shares that, “Pole makes me so happy, on the hardest days I leave classes feeling so lucky and grateful.” And for Suzannah, it’s not just the act of pole, but the community that helps: “Pole has helped in several ways. My strength has definitely increased. My happiness levels have increased, not that I think I’ve ever been depressed, but being in pain and tired is a drain even on a ‘normal’ person. My pole family is something that I don’t think I could ever live without. We have an active social life, nights out, beach poling, spa days, meals out. Pole has made me more positive about my dysfunctional body, as I have achieved more than I thought it was ever capable of.”

Each of the respondents mentioned that they are lucky to be at studios with supportive environments, which allow them to modify their schedules as needed, should health issues flare up. For Phyllis, this is vital to feeling accepted for who she is: “My studio and the instructors are wonderful in that they know if I need to cancel, it is not a frivolous request.” An encouraging and supportive community environment seems key to the well-being of these students, who may feel isolated due to their issues.

Depression by ankihoglund on 500px.com

Depression by ankihoglund on 500px.com

 

For studio owners out there who are curious about how to accommodate students with chronic health issues, the key is acceptance and gentleness: allowing them flexibility in scheduling, encouragement in their pursuit of their goals, and understanding when things may come up – they may come to class in a fog, or not be as strong as they were the week before, but they are there, and they are trying.

As an instructor, my first rule of class is that my students should only participate if their bodies are telling them it is okay. If they’re having an off day, or something is bothering them, I ask them to always speak up and let me know. I can modify things for them, or give them another option to work on. I try to never leave anyone behind, and if a student is having an emotional reaction to a difficulty, I try to always give them comfort and the space to feel what they feel – and to let them know that they aren’t alone. Even if it takes a few minutes from my regular class, I’m okay with it, because I have been there.

Poling with chronic pain and health issues is, at times, more difficult emotionally than physically. For my fellow chronic pain and health issue suffers, I offer this again: you aren’t alone.

*each poler gave permission to use their first names in this piece

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Danielle C.

Danielle C.

Creative entity, cat mom, dog auntie, consumer of too much sugar. Pole and lyra enthusiast, amateur foodie, local explorer. One half of Poleitical Clothing. Read my musings at www.poleitical.com.
Danielle C.

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