December 1, 2021

Photo of Christopher Blakeslee Bouldering in November 2021

Another month has passed, and there’s more progress in my health recovery story! In this update, I’ll touch on a period of increased symptoms, my physical improvement, and my health purchases on Black Friday.

I had two more days with time without any pain, bringing the total up to 25 days in the last 21 months. I always welcome those respites. However, unlike most other months this year, this one was not without a pain management hurdle to navigate.

Dealing with a Setback

I’ll start with an examination of the lousy part of the month. I think it could be helpful to readers to see how many contributing factors I identified and how I adjust my behavior and routine when adverse symptoms arise. One of my greatest strengths in dealing with chronic health problems and pain is that I keep the full scope of possible causes in mind. I’ve used this same outlook to help many clients discover unexpected contributors to their health ill. These contributors have to be dealt with for healing to occur, and it’s often surprising how certain habits and behaviors can be the root causes of health problems.

In the second week of November, I had a surge of nerve pain throughout my shoulders, base of skull, mouth, and pelvic area into the near-constant 4-6 pain range. I had a headache most of each day, and tilting my head could easily make jaw and occipital pain worse. In addition, sitting for a couple of hours could cause me to urinate more frequently than usual.

So, where did the increased pain come from?

My recovery story is approaching five years, and no triggers sneak up on me any longer. I had to figure them out to get out of the endless pain and deterioration cycle. Part of how I avoid flare-ups is that I can see one coming from a mile away when I knowingly engage in a triggering activity, or there’s a minor uptick in symptoms. Since February, I’ve managed to be flare-up-free. (That’s when I lost water for a week due to the Texas Snowpocalypse. My pain gets feisty if I don’t shower daily.) This instance didn’t quite become a full flare-up due to my extensive experience. It came about from four causes:

  • 1. Trying to figure out how many days per week my body could handle jogging with and without my weighted vest
  • 2. Trying to fit in some extra workouts before travel and holiday
  • 3. Travel that involved sitting on very hard chairs
  • 4. Not getting enough sleep while I was away from home
  • 5. While traveling, prolonged working on a surface that caused me to lift my shoulder blades about 1/4 of an inch up
  • 6. My high-fat keto diet may be causing some inflammation as some of the symptoms seem to come on after meals

Of the three causes, the second was the most important. I had a trip planned on the 17th that lasted through the end of the month, both for business and for Thanksgiving. Because of this, I tried lifting weights every other day during November. I made significant strength gains that I’ll detail in the next section, but it came at a cost. When I only took one day off instead of two between squatting and deadlifting, I noticed an immediate drop in my energy level. On top of that, my back, neck, and shoulders all had an increase in pain of about 2 points. Then, when I did bench press day with a single day off, the symptoms got even worse.

The tests of jogging with my weighted vest also exacerbated things. Adding in a lack of recovery time from sleep deprivation, sitting on hard chairs, and then switching to a standing desk surface of the wrong height was a recipe to keep the symptoms from fully calming down.

Interestingly, I discovered from the improper surface that shoulder and occipital nerve pain could trigger my old urinary frequency. That’s one more example that the nervous system is an integrated whole!

How I Overcame the Symptoms

With the causes identified, I addressed them simultaneously, as I do whenever possible when a health problem arises. I:

  • 1. Took two weeks off from lifting and five days from jogging

  • 2. Took three days off from work (I usually work at least 3 hours each day)

  • 3. Switched to standing 80% of each day instead of 50%
  • 4. Made an effort to get to bed earlier and slept an hour more each night
  • 5. Did some self-massage of the pained areas
  • 6. Ate 30-60 grams more of carbs per day and removed coffee and chili powder from my diet
  • 7. Made a conscious effort to work in an added 15 minutes of deep breathing each day
  • 8. Had a pleasurable weekend touring with friends and a week of quality time with my family

That last point of pure pleasure is always part of my prescription when dealing with symptoms. The endorphin release from happiness is a valuable healing resource. (For why see point 5 here.)

This method got the symptoms completely under control in four days, and when I resumed exercise at the end of the month, I felt great and had my longest and fastest run so far!

More Monthly Physical Progress

Despite the increased pain and symptoms in the latter half of the month, I still reached all-time highs on every weightlifting exercise I do except for bench press. Below are the weights I can do sets of 7-15 reps.

  • Deadlift: 198
  • Pendlay rows: 105.5
  • Calf raises: 185 (this is actually less than previously, but I’m now doing them on a one-inch thicker step up than before)
  • Bench press: 132.5
  • Standing press: 76
  • Squats: 160
  • Weighted chin-ups: 22
  • Triceps kickbacks: 45.6
  • Chest flys: 25.6

I also went bouldering once and climbed a record twenty unique walls. It took me about thirty minutes to loosen up, and I struggled through the yellow-colored beginner walls during that time. Afterward, I felt strong and limber and moved on to more advanced red and green walls.

Here are two side-by-side images of me attempting more aggressive moves. (Click to scroll.) Those images are of me completing my first-ever dynamic lunge hold! I paid the price of missing a few times with some bloody knuckles, but I kept at the move until I succeeded on my seventh try. Oftentimes when I attempt a new move, half of the battle is mentally figuring out how to do it and trusting that it feels right. I had a lot of hesitancy going all-out for this type of move, knowing that I would fall if I missed the lunge. It also helped to get some coaching from my friend and watch others with varying physical builds attempt the wall.

To my delight, I only had marginal soreness and pain increases the two days after.

Photo of Christopher Blakeslee doing a dynamic lunge move while bouldering in November 2021Photo of Christopher Blakeslee succeeding with a dynamic lunge move while bouldering in November 2021
Christopher Blakeslee's monthly resting heart rate data for November 2021

But the best physical development of the month was that I now have the lowest resting heart rate I’ve ever had! I averaged 65 beats per minute for the month, and the daily rate was still dropping as November ended.

When my recovery story started on January 16, 2017, my beats per minute would be in the 95-110 range when I was sitting. Now I can be working at a desk with a heart rate in the 60s! For the first time since I started tracking with Fitbit in March 2018, the app scores me as in excellent cardiovascular condition for a man my age! My resting heart rate has markedly improved since I lowered my carbs and changed my cardio routine this month.

I have a goal of playing sports such as basketball which would require sustained and/or explosive running. Because of this and a desire to speed up my fat loss, I began jogging five times per week. To tease my nervous system (see point 7 here) and exercise-induced asthma, I began with a five-minute jog. I added 30 seconds each time I ran and built up to 23 minutes and 1.75 miles of distance. Three of the five days, I jog while wearing my weighted vest, and to avoid overtraining, I stopped doing High Intensity Interval Training rounds of mountain climbers, pushups, and dips. My heart rate stays over 160 the entire time. On three of the jogging days, I can go a little over a mile while wearing the vest.

I ended the month with two weeks without weighted exercise. In addition to recovering from elevated symptoms, I thought I’d use the holiday to see if my body felt better without intense exercise.

Interestingly, my nerve pain went down the first three days without lifting weights, but then it increased to around a 3-4 the longer I didn’t lift. I suspect this is because I didn’t get the pain-relieving endorphin release from the exercise. There certainly is a crucial balance to achieve between too much and too little physical exertion!

One last note about physical progress: I’ve been curious what my body fat percentage is, so I had a DEXA scan done. It came back with 22.4%, which seems right visually for my 5’9″ 162-pound frame. When I weighed over 242 pounds at the beginning of my health recovery story, I suspect the number could’ve been around 50% with how atrophied I was. Regardless, I still have a long way to go with changing my body composition. However, I have a plan that I’m confident will speed the process, which I’ll detail below.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Health Products I Bought

I see every Thanksgiving as an opportunity for more progress in my health recovery story. I stock up and try out new health products and services during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. This year, I had an extravaganza. Here are the ones I bought:

I look forward to using all of these!

Looking to December

In all, it was a good month of health progress, even despite 1.5 weeks of daily increased symptoms.

In addition to integrating some of my holiday purchases, I have two big planned changes for my health in December.

First, I will lower my fat intake and raise the amount of protein I’m consuming to around 1.2 grams per pound of my weight (192 grams up from 140-155). I want to see if my occasional inflammatory nerve feelings are associated with fatty breakfasts. I’m also going to increase my daily calorie deficit from 12% to 20% to see if I can expedite my body fat reduction. I’ll recheck my body composition with a DEXA scan in three months.

I’ll see you in the next edition of my health recovery story, hopefully feeling even better!