In Sickness and in Health (Part 1) – If a goal is important, honour it!

by Marianne  - February 24, 2014

This post is a little overview of my recent reflections on my pain, but it also serves as a good lesson for anyone who has set themselves a goal that seems very vulnerable to abandonment when things get tough – perhaps everyone will understand this in some way as i try to draw parallels to life.


Firstly a review of my fitness goal history:

Being Pain-free > any other fitness goal (2007 – 2008)

Aesthetics > Health and Performance (2008-2011)

Strength and performance *now* > strength and performance *later* (2011 – 2013)

Numbers on the bar > numbers on the scale (2011-2013)

Moving despite pain, but preferably less pain … so long as i don’t feel weak > moving pain-free (2013)

Throughout these past few years (since 2004) i have suffered with chronic low back pain /SIJ pain off and on, and to be honest, i have “lived with it” because i believed that it was a problem in my joints (damage to my body) that was the cause.  I believed that pain could only arise because of injury or disease and that if pain remained, then there was something wrong with my ability to heal.  So i felt like i just had to suck it up and do the best i could with my “broken” body.  Yet, when i first started training, i believed it would solve the problem and my pain would go away – which did happen for a while…. however, this state has not remained the case.

My day to day life is a spectrum of various degrees of pain.  On the best day, i might just be a little sore in the morning and loosen up as the day goes on until i get tired or stressed and the pain gets worse again.  On the worst day (which happens every several months) I will be in agony with burning pain in my lower back, hips and different muscles as i get stiffer and more anxious over the situation. I think one of the most challenging feelings, besides the pain itself, is a fear that my current predicament (whether a little or a lot of pain) is permanent.  Feeling this way on a good day is as bad as feeling that way on a bad day because history has shown me that neither circumstance is permanent and it always passes. That is the thought i should hold on to. And i should also try to focus in on the areas of my body that always remain free of any pain.  But that is so hard to do when you’re “in it”.


What disappoints me about my fitness journey is that I got waylaid by other more “attractive” goals and it both delayed my progress to being pain-free (however, it also led me to the correct combination of therapies, so i guess it was all worth it, since it is all a journey).  That said, this cycle has now led me to the point of almost not wanting to train at all because i am so sick of moving in pain.  There have been some improvements made, but i want it gone!  And often, my mindset is all wrong going in. You see, i want to be able to train the way i always have … and i feel restricted, weak and hopeless when i can’t.

So with this in mind, i wanted to deal with 2 aspects of this topic. The first, is how I remain focused on my important (and possibly less exciting goal) in the face of conflicting desires and pressure to start on other paths. The second is relating specifically to pain and how we might approach things if we have a persistent pain issue. The second aspect will be made into a part 2 of this series and my hubby, Dr Jonathan Fass, DPT, will chime in with some great tips to help us view pain in a slightly different way  🙂 Seems we are a match made in heaven in more ways than one as he just so happens to be very interested in research and, in particular, pain research (yay for me!).

Have you ever heard this saying? albert-einstein-insanity-300x300

I feel like this was me stubbornly doing the same things while expecting my pain to magically disappear. Truth be told I saw being in pain as a weakness and so all my other goals became dominant.  If i stopped training because of pain, then i was being defeated by it.  So i kept on doing the exercises i loved, with the weight that made me feel strongest and at the intensity that got me the biggest burn/sweat on.  But over the past year, my pride was being chipped away at bit by bit as i slowly accepted the advice Jonathan gave to me about how i should view my pain.  I had been fighting it, rather than respecting it. And i was fighting it because I was fearing it (and what it might mean), which only made it worse.

In a recent conversation (which was during a particularly bad spell of pain), Jonathan asked me (while i was freaking out that i’d lose all my strength and my butt if i didn’t train my glutes): “if i told you that in 1 year you could be free of your pain, but in the process you would temporarily lose strength, muscle and maybe gain some body fat, would you take that path?”

I looked at him and stubbornly contemplated this – so he added:

“Where does your identity lie: In your strength? Your appearance?”

“No.” I said.

I then realised that everything i have talked about over the last few years – all the stuff about inner strength, humility and faith – had been my true values all along. These are the things that were at my centre and these are the things that will bring me to realising my full potential in life; not my appearance, the weight on a bar … or even my pain.  I can see how everything else has gradually fallen away into the sidelines where it belongs.  None of that other stuff really matters if it is making your pain worse and your pain is holding you back.  It’s exhausting constantly battling the same thing!

I’m not saying that training to be strong isn’t fun, isn’t healthy and isn’t empowering, but at what cost? No matter what your goal, is it worth everything else that it requires to maintain?  Are you sacrificing too much because your pride won’t allow you to consider something else might just work better?

There is nothing wrong with changing direction as long as your are being consistent with your values <– Mr Marianne Fass said this 😉

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to discourage you from getting stronger, or leaner or having a better butt (these things can be very good). For me, the problem was in the *why* and the *at what cost*.  I was looking for something these things couldn’t give me.  There is simply no avoiding fitness merging with life – it is after all an expression of your life –  So ask yourself: does it line up with who you are?  Does it have a secure foundation to be built upon?

Just the other day i was talking with a client who was struggling to remain positive on her path to a long term family-related  goal (this goal required her to change her training approach and her diet). After receiving some “negative” comments from people about her appearance, she was feeling *that* pressure to retreat back to her old ways.  But she has remained strong (inside and out) and i am proud of her!  She recognised that the past no longer aligns with what is more important.  Her *why* changed.  I too, have wavered because of similar fears when i begin to forget to honour my goal and instead begin to adopt old habits (that i know best).  I wondered how many times i have had a “good day” (with less pain) and think i am better, go and lift too much weight or go for a longer walk only to be in pain for 3 days afterward.  Wisdom is needed!

No matter what your goal is, it is important to weigh it up with how you live the rest of your life, or what you would advise someone else to do. Not all goals are worth sticking with forever. Just like relationships: they aren’t all right for you. But when *that one* comes along, you want to give your all to it and you see the value in committing.  However, that’s the easy part – the hard stuff begins when the reality sets in and you realise things don’t happen instantly.  So it’s important to keep on remembering why you are doing what you are doing, and seek comfort from those who support you because they know you inside out.  Don’t give in to the superficial comments or thoughts that try to get a foothold – stay rooted and strong in your deeper reasons for doing it.

Remember: in sickness and in health, for better and for worse; something important is worth the commitment.

Derek Christie Photography
Derek Christie Photography

For anyone who happens to suffer from chronic pain and hopes to make it a goal to lessen that pain or begin to live with it more harmoniously, please come back and read Part 2 where Jonathan and I give some simple tips to help you along that path.

As you can see from the top summary of my goal-history, it changed a lot over the years.  I’d love to hear how your goals have evolved over the years?  Have you found that certain goals fit in with your life better? Or have you reached the point where you no longer have goals?  Leave a wee comment below 🙂

Hope you enjoyed the post.


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In Sickness and In Health (Part 2) - The Pain Game

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  1. Thanks for this great article. I had a multilevel spinal fusion (C4-C7) eleven months ago. For the first six months I was pretty good about just walking, doing the elliptical and such but then I just grew so bored. I added some running back in, kettlebells back in and also started going to yoga and bodyrock classes. I can’t always tell when I’ve overdone it right at the time but usually a day or two later, I get tingly and have some numbness in both of my hands. At this point, I give myself a few days off to feel more like myself again. I don’t use heavy weights at all. In fact, I’m too scared. My highest kettlebell weight is 25 lbs. I really want to increase my weight but have such a fear of injuring myself. I have also gained weight. I did a lot of running previous to my surgery but I still eat like I did when I was running. It’s kind of frustrating. On one hand, I feel like I’m getting stronger everyday. On the other hand, I’m not where I was at before. I read so many articles about lifting heavy. It kind of makes me feel left out. Anyways, it’s nice to know I’m not alone 🙂

  2. This post is exactly what I need, I was diagnosed with RA of the muscles 6 years ago. My pain was easily managed with pills and exercise, but lately the past 6 months have been filled with pain. I am starting my journey again to find out why I make grinding noises from the left side of my back, but more importantly what do I need to do to make the pain subside. More doctor appointments and patience await me, I am eager to see what your hubby writes.

    1. Hi Maria, so good to see you comment 😀

      So sorry about your pain. The same thing happened with me; pain got better and then worse again. What i found was doctors only seem to treat one side of the issue, so i think you’ll get a lot from Jonathan’s part.

      Chat soon x

  3. Great post, very insightful. I have learned so much about moving better from your excellent coaching but I too am beginning to see how more often than not, when I am in pain, it was caused by my overdoing something at the gym. Perhaps I was determined to deadlift the same amount I did a few weeks ago or hit a squat PR. Or I’m just feeling too lazy or macho to take some weight off the bar (partly because that in and of itself can cause pain if the form isn’t spot on every single moment).

    I got hit with over-training related illness that set me all the way back so I am far more cautious since recovering my strength and physique and am teetering on the edge of minimalism with all of it: workouts, eating, just everything. I can no longer justify eating more, knowing it will require me to fast or work out extra which takes time to make up for it. Time is of the essence. Also, overeating has become brutal on my digestion so that’s a whole different kind of discomfort that is trying to be my teacher.

    1. Oh dear, i’m sorry to year this Naomi. You know, i have basically experienced the same thing with food. I actually eat way LESS now and have not got the same appetite. I get down sometimes, but mostly my body hasn’t disintegrated as i expected. I still have my muscle and i just do lighter workouts. I do what doesn’t hurt. And i use the foam roller to “desensitise” my body because i seem to be very sensitive to pain when my muscles are pressed or touched even lightly. My whole body has been in pain for so long that my threshold is very low now.

      I think you’ll find part 2 very helpful <3

      1. Wow, you too on the food?! I can’t wait to read the rest! Pain is no fun but I feel sure you will be sharing something wonderful a year from now!

        And yes, my foam roller almost needs a name, we spend so much time together. I have even started stretching.

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