Thursday, April 14, 2016

Deep Dive: Underwater Therapy for Fibromyalgia

If you have Fibromyalgia, you've probably been told that swimming is one of the best forms of physical therapy to relieve the pain. It's absolutely true. Per my doctor's recommendation, I try to swim laps for 40 minutes first thing in the morning, whenever possible.

She also told me I should do yoga, but I loathe yoga. All those hideous bare feet and tooting noises! All those smug skinny people with their sticky mats and expensive unitards and other sorts of leggings and tards and snoods and things.

Listen, I know that yoga would be good for me if I just had the patience, but my mind operates much like an army of frantic little gerbils galloping away on spinning wheels, all wearing spectacles cut to the wrong prescription and listening to competing radio stations that fluctuate on a spectrum between "BBC Unsettling and Depressing World News" and Top 40 songs with inane lyrics like "Now that I'm without your kisses/I'll be needing stitches." (The logic of such a statement causes me significant pain, wholly unrelated to Fibromyalgia.)

This is exactly why yoga would be good for a person like me.

But when one has only a bare 40 minutes, perhaps, to get in essential exercise that will save one's body and soul, I would choose many other activities, such as:
  • Kicking the hoo-ha out of something inanimate
  • Digging a ditch
  • Climbing a hill
  • Moving slabs of concrete from one location to another, for no real purpose
  • Swimming!
It is the latter that brings me the most peace. It's a form of moving meditation. I've always been a strong swimmer, so I don't flounder or flail. I just move forward; I'm unstoppable. I never get tired. I prefer lakes and large bodies of water where I can just head to the horizon and go on until I meet the far shore. But I can put up with chlorinated pools when that's all that is available.

(For the record, I have spotted some weird and unpalatable people in pools as well as in yoga studios, displaying their awful naked feet and such.)

It was in such a pool that I recently—and accidentally—discovered an amazing thing about Fibromyalgia and water that dramatically reduced my pain. Here's how it happened.

In preparation for volunteering some of my vacation time at my children's camp, I signed up for Lifeguarding Certification at my local Y. The course takes five full weekend days. I expected that this would involve a great deal of swimming, but it actually involves a fair amount of "sitting in a room and watching videos."

Also there are some exciting scenarios during which one has to revive gravely-injured and non-responsive victims, who happened to be made of a rubbery substance that made me sneeze explosively for five minutes.

Do NOT swim here. For any reason.
The other participants in the course are two 15-year-old girls and two 18-year-old boys. They are amusing to watch during the boring "sit and watch videos" part of the course because they get all itchy-fingered for their cell phones. One of them fell asleep for a few seconds the other day. And one became so bored that he started aimlessly drawing with a pen on his own palm and gazing obsessively at his artwork.

Plus, they have some pimples. Other than that I am jealous of them, except for the fact that lifeguards—who guard your fucking lives, people, and the lives of your children—can expect to make about $10-12/hour max. After five full days of reviving rubbery half-people and listening to lessons that include "Fecal Incident Response Recommendations!" They ought to make more money.

[Aside: I was faster than all of them in the swim test except for one of the 15-year-olds who happens to be on the swim team.]

So, to even qualify for Lifeguarding you have to do three things:

1. Swim 12 laps (6 breaststroke, 6 freestyle)
2. Jump into the water, swim out and dive straight down to 13 feet to retrieve a 10 lb brick, swim up with it and get it back to the wall and yourself out of water within a time limit.
3. Tread water for 2 minutes with your hands out of the water.

I was feeling pretty warmed up and happy after task 1. But, as I stood shivering on the pool deck and watching the nervous teenagers in line ahead of me complete task 2, I got a mite anxious. What if I failed the test and sank like a stone? What if I couldn't find the brick while peering through the shitty, smeary-assed goggles I'd grabbed from the Lost & Found since I'd misplaced my own?

When it was my turn I struck out, sighted the brick, and made the dive. All the way down to 13 feet. I grabbed it, and kicked myself to the surface. It wasn't that hard, but it wasn't particularly fun. I swam to safety with my precious brick and that was that. I got out.

As we did the third task, I noticed something strange. I felt lighter. Better. The persistent ache that I'd felt even after swimming the 12 laps (admittedly not a long distance) was entirely, completely gone.

The synchronized swim team was practicing at the same time, to a bouncy little jazz number. Boy, were they amazing! In perfect unison, they rose out of the water like dolphins and flexed their arms and kicked and then vanished beneath the surface. The timer started, and I pulled my hands out of the water and did a little jazz hands number to accompany my water-treading, just because I felt like it.

The whole rest of the day I felt better than I had in weeks. Now I make a point to swim underwater and I feel a big difference when I do. I go as deep as I can. Something happens down there, under the pressure of pure water.

I think there is some science behind this, according to my sister-in-law, who is a natural healer. Water somehow helps equalize the pressure in the body and helps lymph nodes drain properly and some other stuff I haven't fully explored yet. Google hasn't been very verbose on the subject. Maybe this will work for some, and maybe not for others. I'd be curious to hear your comments, and any research you come across.

All I know is that when I dove deep, it righted something in me; it equalized my hurting self with the world. I was finally a real thing in the world. I didn't need to fight the hurt anymore. At least for that day, and that was enough.

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