Falling off the Wagon

Aviary Photo_130552099038430843The 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.Aviary Photo_130552100232321693

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.



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  1. Carla Kienast on September 15, 2014 at 7:27 am

    I not only fell off the wagon, the wagon rolled over my poor limp, listless body and I’m still laying in the ditch! Excuses are definitely easier than exercise.

    • J.G. Chayko on September 15, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      Here’s hoping you can pull yourself out of that ditch Carla. It’s so tough to keep moving when things aren’t going well.

  2. Irma on September 15, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Your opening paragraph is so vivid, I actually saw you lying on the cold, muddy ground! I’ve been on and off that wagon for several years now and every day I say it’s time to climb back on, but then life happens. But I agree, we must work our bodies and our joints to keep the beast at bay.

    • J.G. Chayko on September 15, 2014 at 12:20 pm

      Yes, Irma, I agree, life has a way of bumping us off the wagon and it gets hard to find the time to climb back on and focus. But I do my best, doing a little bit each day. I’ve learned that I can find even ten minutes to do a little something to keep me on the wagon – even if it’s just some much needed hand exercises.

  3. Wren on September 15, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    My exercise wagon left me behind a long time ago. I need to stand up, brush myself off, and try to catch the next one that comes along. 😉

    Nice writin’, there, JG.

    • J.G. Chayko on September 17, 2014 at 6:48 am

      Thanks Wren. I’ve always been one to keep moving, but sometimes arthritis has other plans – just like you, I always keep a look out for the next wagon 😉 . Hope all is well with you. Cheers.

  4. Lynne on September 19, 2014 at 8:56 am

    This is so true re: exercise and arthritis. Some days it is very difficult to sustain enough energy to exercise; the body craves sleep or rest and walking is an effort. Exercise does appear to help, though (at least it appears to help me) it can be tricky. Personally, I need to listen to my body and let it have its way; then my body needs to “settle down” and listen to me!

    I enjoy reading your posts, J.G. You articulate so well the discomfort, quirkiness and puzzle that is arthritis. Thank you.

    • J.G. Chayko on September 19, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      Thanks Lynne 🙂 I know what you mean about listening to your body. There are days my body is yelling and the message is loud and clear…other days, the easier days, it’s just a whisper. I hope you are keeping well. Cheers.

  5. Lynne on September 19, 2014 at 8:57 am

    PS~ Have you heard of a technique for resetting the immune system- a sort of cold sauna event that is being touted at the moment?

    • J.G. Chayko on September 19, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      No, I haven’t read about this… I’ll have to look it up 🙂

  6. helenathena on September 20, 2014 at 10:41 am

    Hi. I’m new here. I’m 43 and have had RA for seven years. It has been manageable and at one point, I was getting Orencia infusions regularly and went into remission. I actually had the confidence that it would not return as aggressively and pursued my dream of being a massage therapist but that was snuffed out in one year after flares came back and very unpredictably. I have the same problem with exercise. I have a very hard time keeping myself motivated and in the last month have experienced much longer and heavier symptoms. I am going to be starting the Orencia injections and thank the Good Lord for Prednisone as I can actually feel my body in a normal state and not on fire with no energy than, like you, to turn on the remote and lie on the couch. I just need a place to vent,. and talk about what is going on. I have been thinking of creating a blog for myself as well..but I thought I would start by joining one. I really enjoyed your post. Thank you.:)

    • J.G. Chayko on September 21, 2014 at 10:02 am

      Hello, welcome 🙂 I am hoping your new treatment will help. It can be a very tough and unpredictable disease to control but there are many success stories. Blogging is a wonderful tool that can help get you through the bad days and it’s a good way to connect with others. The great thing about it is there’s no schedule, you can blog whenever you feel like it and you can write about anything. Feel free to visit anytime, it’s lovely to have you. Stay well. Cheers.

  7. Sue MacDonald (@CouchDaySue) on September 22, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Hi J.G. I am hoping to get back on the wagon too. Every day is a chance to try again. Although we have different illnesses, I find comfort in being able to relate to your experience. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone in my quest to exercise and try a little bit each day. I also thank you for reminding me that it is possible to do what I dream of doing (writing). I want to write, but I struggle with finding balance, focus & concentration. I continue to look forward to each new day despite the challenges of living with chronic pain, fatigue, etc. Reading your posts inspires me. Thank you for continuing to share your journey.

    • J.G. Chayko on September 22, 2014 at 2:23 pm

      Hello Sue, Thanks for stopping bye. It can be difficult with any illness to find the motivation to exercise and follow our passions. The important thing is to not put pressure on yourself. Taking five minutes a day to do something, whether it’s exercise or writing is a great start. Over time, five minutes can be a powerful force in our lives. I am confident you will pursue your dream when you are ready. The desire is already there. Be kind to yourself, and thank you for your lovely words.

  8. Sue MacDonald (@CouchDaySue) on September 24, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Thank you, J.G. I do a little writing almost every day and then tuck it away. At times, I go back to look at what I’ve written and see the potential. My dream is to develop my ideas further and form them into inspirational works that I can share. I draw strength from those (such as yourself) that are already sharing with the world. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and support. Have a beautiful day!

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About me

J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.