Well, this is bigger.
Often in my posts I discuss my progress and new understanding, because so much of this slow process is figuring out how, and to what exercises, my body responds best. Paying attention to the subtle sensations I experience is important, as is being patient in each workout and through each month because it takes time for the body to reap the benefits of any program, especially a new one...
And so it has been for me with Pilates. I had a new world completely opened up by working with Alejandra in March, but there were no immediate gains, no "unlocking" of new abilities. However, I learned a completely new way of understanding movement in general, and there was a ton of potential for me to improve if I was willing to put in the work. I have done that, and it shows.
I have developed quite a bit of improved trunk stability. I’m steadier, as I hold myself together more tightly. This means that I can sit more firmly, and hold my body position better in any exercise we do (because the trunk and pelvis are involved in every exercise).
However, the big news is that I have seen some recovery of voluntary muscle firing in my abdomen. This is exciting on many levels, most importantly because it is a kind of proof that what I am doing is working to establish new nerve connections.
The reason that this is bigger news than me being able to push myself to standing is that I have been able to connect to those muscles through the nerves in my connective tissue, thereby circumventing some of those previously used and now-damaged nerve routes. Much of that standing ability came from old neural passageways: the function in my right leg that returned pretty quickly last year came back because the swelling in my neck abated. My intense exercising helped it along, but the reason my left leg and trunk did not follow in the same way is probably that the injury affected the left side of my spinal cord more. This means I have to find new ways to get nerve signals through to that side, instead of simply relying on, and strengthening, old pathways.
This advancement is thanks to my dedicated efforts in Pilates, and particularly Alejandra’s work: providing a way for me to make new ‘paths’ for motor signals to follow. It is subtle, but you can see controlled movement in my abdominal muscles when my hips are in a gravity-neutral position (without my upper body pressing down on them):
I think it is very appropriate that I should be traveling to Hawaii for therapy today of all days, as it happens to be the second anniversary of my injury. Thinking back, I am struck by the difference between my mental framework now, and where I thought I would be.
The “two years” rule is one that gets proclaimed repeatedly in the hospital environment: “whatever function you have two years after the injury is all you'll get” or “you have to maximize the first two years because that is all the time your body has to heal.” It's terrifying, being told again and again that the clock is ticking, and it takes energy to block it out. One should never have his/her limits dictated by another.
Then, people tell you that the doctors who say that are completely wrong, that that is not how the healing works at all...
As is often the case, the truth is somewhere in-between. The two-year rule could well be very accurate – my body has indeed eliminated the majority of the inhibitory swelling by this time, and I regained some crucial function through that process. However, that is only one of the ways by which the body heals, and although this next phase will be marked by nearly-imperceptible advances, there will be steady improvements, as you saw above.
So, I can understand how those nay-sayers found it safer, easier to prepare me for an assumed stagnation in my progress, but, be assured, I feel fortunate to have my devoted and far-thinking therapists, as well as the strength of my family. These three – my new approach for establishing connection, the resourcefulness of my therapists, and the support of my family and all members of Team Theo – enable me to be in control of my recovery, both physically and psychologically, which, I can tell you after these last two, trying years, is a very special thing.