Journey Back To Wellness with Ankylosing Spondylitis

by Bruce Blander

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Thirty-seven years ago, my life was abruptly altered. It was my last year of college and I woke up one night with so much pain in my ribs – both front and back – that I had difficulty breathing.

It continued to happen night after night and I knew that I’d better get it checked out.

Within a week, my parents took me to a rheumatologist? Why that specialty? Because oddly enough my sister – who is five years my senior – had been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis eight years earlier and they thought it was possible that I also had RA. They were close enough.

I had Ankylosing Spondylitis

I had a systemic, auto-immune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, or AS for short. As the years passed, many other health problems emerged, including a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. It all wreaked havoc on my body causing daily pain, stiffness, and fatigue.

Thus, I began a long journey into the unknown, where pain avoidance became all-consuming.

Learning the hard way

Since I didn’t know what else to do, I followed my doctors’ recommendations. I tried to live a “normal” life.

The pain I experienced from the auto-immune diseases was dealt with in the worst possible ways. Most often with quick, temporary fixes that made my situation even worse.

Scans, medications, medical procedures and seeing other specialists became woven into my life.  The problems only increased as I desperately tried to outpace the pain. They thwarted my interest, and the ability to engage in things that I enjoyed. The medications, in particular, did my body great harm.

Yet onward I plodded, with little hope in sight.

I was unable to see how I could just stop what I was doing. I continued to push myself to do things beyond what my body could handle.  I was in denial and I avoided anything that would slow me down. Society dictated that if I stopped engaging in life I wouldn’t be pulling my weight.

I was not ready to surrender to my health problems. What would become of my family, career goals, and dreams?

A Predictable Crash

Because the pain became so unmanageable, so intense, I became increasingly dependent upon medications, injections and the like in order to get me through each day. I became angry, depressed and ultimately defeated.

My job as a Computer Systems Manager also required all sorts of difficult physical activities. They ultimately became intolerable. By the age of 40, I left my job permanently and went on long-term disability. From then on I became alternately bed-bound and house-bound.

I had gone too far by relying solely on a healthcare system that never encouraged alternative approaches.

Becoming Proactive

As the years passed and the internet became a viable resource, I eventually learned about other, safer treatment modalities. I gave new things a try, including acupuncture, myotherapy, trigger point therapy, massage, swimming and many others – but only with limited success.

I was determined to keep searching.

So I looked, learned, gathered information. I read books and articles about other approaches that were more natural and less medically oriented. I found a pain management clinic that focused on relaxation therapy, occupational therapy, and more.

With additional time on my hands, I could keep trying new ways to reduce symptoms and become less reliant upon meds, procedures, and doctors.

Success at Last

One afternoon I happened upon an arthritis magazine. I came across an article that ultimately led to the most significant life-changing event in my 37-years with Ankylosing Spondylitis and Fibromyalgia. It was logical, backed by science and research, and involved moving in ways that I believed could help.

The article described The Feldenkrais Method. Everything about it made sense to me.

I was excited to get home and look up Feldenkrais on the computer. I was elated to find out that there was someone nearby who taught and practiced this method of somatic education!

As many of you know, that person is Buffy Owens. What followed has been 2 ½ years (and counting) of the most rewarding therapy I had ever encountered. With Buffy’s guidance and support, I have turned my life around in ways I had never dreamed possible.

I began to move in new, simpler and more productive ways. I’ve learned how to breathe deeply, become increasingly self-aware and to think of pain in a less threatening way. As time passed and the pain has dissipated, I began to move more, walk regularly, and eliminate and reduce doses of many medications. I have come full circle and now enjoy bicycling, hiking, guitar playing and helping out with household chores and errands.

Buffy has been a mentor to me. With her encouragement and patience, I have totally changed the way I eat. Sticking to healthy and more natural foods, I’ve lost 40 lbs. I am still in awe.

Never Lose Hope

Never losing hope has taught me to persevere in the darkest of times. Educating myself has brought me happiness and a deep sense of well-being. If there is one thing you can take away from this post, let it be that it is never, ever too late for change.

Educating myself has brought me happiness and a deep sense of well-being.
— Bruce Blander

Header Photo Credit: Flickr/sophistechate