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Fitness

On spending money and being frugal

I’m a pretty frugal person.

I don’t think I’m cheap (though maybe some people might think otherwise?) but there are some things that I know I don’t want to spend money than necessary on. It’s not about depriving myself, or getting the last cent shaved off, or trying to be a bargain hunter.

(Here’s an interlude to acknowledge that I’m definitely speaking from a place of privilege, to be even able to have choices to be frugal. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had that kind of financial anxiety that only living paycheck to paycheck can gather, and now I can spend money without worrying too much.)

There are a few reasons why my spending habits are this way:

  1. I like being intentional with what I’m spending my money on, since there are other things I would rather spend my money on
  2. Having options with my money — bulking up my emergency savings, putting aside money for bigger ticket purchases like a new device or a vacation, or even just taking advantage of a bear market — brings me a sense of security
  3. I have a percentage in mind when it comes to my savings rate (and yes, this comes into the whole Financial Independence (and maybe Retire Early) thing, but the jury is still out on the latter)

And yet, in the past month, I found myself with a huge money decision to make: whether or not to sign up with a personal trainer so that I can really dial my fitness levels in. This is on top of the physiotherapy sessions I go to, because of my back betraying my body in general.

It’s not an insignificant sum of money: personal training would take up a huge percentage of my monthly expenses, and would set me back a bit of my target “retirement” age. It’s also a pretty huge cost upfront.

I’m doing it, though. As I’ve so rapidly found in the past couple of years, my health is worth more than the money I can afford to throw at it.

Believe me, it took a couple of days for me to come to this decision and reframe my position on it.

My initial thoughts: no way, I can just go to my cheap gym on my own, this is way too much, this is going to affect my spending by a whole lot.

Eventually, the combination of knowing exactly what my body fat percentage is right now (hint: way, way worse than I had always estimated) as well as wanting a professional to spot my form and fixing it where it’s hurting me won out.

Now, excuse me while I buy some gym shoes, because my Metcon 5s are literally breaking apart at the seams.

The back of my back is ridiculous

Over the course of the last week and a half, while I’ve gotten my official diagnosis of what makes up my back issues, one phrase stood out from at least four different health care professionals:

“You’re so young.”

Am I, though?


spondylos

“spine” or “vertebra”

-lysis

“defect”

listhesis

“slipping, sliding or movement”


From the x-rays and the MRI scan, the doctors are able to pinpoint the actual issues I have. Specifically for my lower back pain, the main culprits are:

  • Disc desiccation between my L1 and S1 vertebrae, which means that the disc is dehydrated and has lost all the fluid. It’s also “protruding”, and has a tear where it is connecting both vertebrae;
  • Foraminal stenosis, which means there is a narrowing of the cervical disc space
  • Spondylolysis, with fractures through the pars bones (which are the soft little spiky bones on your spine), and;
  • Spondylolisthesis, which is a mouthful, but means that the vertebra has slipped forward, out of place from the rest of the spine

I’m still getting used to spelling these — all I know is that there’s an ‘lol’ in both spondy words.


I’ve had a week or so to sit with this diagnosis, and the neurosurgeon’s recommendation is to get back surgery done so that it doesn’t worsen.

I’ll know when it gets worse, because I’ll lose bladder and bowel function, so that’s real comforting.

But back surgery doesn’t come with zero risks: it’s not a guarantee that it’ll improve, and there is always a chance that something else might happen and the nerves might get nicked even more.

There’s also the other matter of how young I am, apparently. I can see two schools of thought here:

  1. I don’t need surgery at this point, because I can build up my core (for real for real this time) and the muscles will protect the spine from deteriorating — but I probably will have to do the surgery anyway when I’m older, even if I’ve built up the strongest core in the world
  2. I need surgery right now, because I’m young and can withstand the recovery period than if I do it when I’m much older — but I might not fully recover; there might be complications; the recovery period is actually pretty long right now anyway (a year was what I have heard), and what if the nails fail in the next few decades?

There’s still a lot of other things to think about too, beyond the actual medical aspect, like the economics of it. It’s actually cheaper to get the surgery because I’m covered by insurance, while physio sessions are capped at $750 a year, and — I’m not even kidding — I’ll be able to get a grand total of 3.75 sessions covered.


My hope is that I’ll be able to get some quality of life with no aching and pain when I do… pretty much anything at all, but especially when I arch my back. A stretch goal (haha stretch) would be getting back to lifting and squatting with no pain and no risk of anything cracking further.

Ultimately, right now I’m still in the information-gathering stage. I’ll probably suck it up and pay massively out-of-pocket for the physio sessions, and get second+ opinions on whether surgery is needed.

Until then, I’m just going to be paranoid every time I get a twinge or numbness in my butt or thighs, because that’s when I know this is progressing.


Frequently Asked Questions

Updated 11 May, 2022, because I’ve been getting the same responses and questions, and thought it’ll make sense to document the responses to everyone’s concerns 💖


Q: How? What did you do?

A: I truly do not know, and neither do the doctors and physio. The best assumption is because I naturally have hyper-extended joints, this has been happening through years of living. It could be from working out as well, but I have my own doubts about it as I’m not lifting super heavy, and my form is good (and vetted by the physio!).


Q: How does it feel?

A: Thankfully, I’m not in constant pain. Instead, it’s a dull ache that I have taken as my baseline for the past three years. I mostly feel it when I stay in one position for too long. The level of achiness, from most annoying to least: laying down on my stomach, walking down stairs, sitting, standing, laying down on my back, laying down on my back with my knees tucked to my chest.

I also absolutely cannot jump or do any sort of impact activity, without feeling like something is actually shattering within me 😬

On turning 33, and an update for my back problems


So, with turning 33, I really wanted to get my health and fitness in order. I’ve talked a little about my back problems here and here. Despite my chronic procrastinating on important things, I finally got myself to the doctor, thinking I would get a straight-forward referral to a physio.

Instead, the doctor first got me to take an x-ray. I’d originally thought that was overkill, but I suppose if that was the process to getting that referral, I’d do it.

What happened next was that in the span of five days, I went from thinking my back problems was because of “a weak core” (something that a physio told me two years ago), to finding out that it’s possibly something wrong with my actual spine? From the x-ray, it appears that I have a few conditions:

  • Mild scoliosis, which seems fair enough, as I do seem to favor my left side;
  • Spondylosis, which is a fracture in the thin bone in between two vertebrae on my lower back;
  • Retrolisthesis, which is a slipped disc, I think?

Of course, these are pretty 😳 prognosis – instead of the referral to a physio, I’ve been referred to a neurosurgeon (who is getting me to do an MRI this coming Wednesday), and who also said that my nerves are sensitive.

(I know, me too 🥲 )

Anyway, I’m just glad that these issues are being identified, and I can get to treating it ASAP instead of letting it linger forever.

On fitness, strength, and barely knowing what to do next

I hurt my back in 2018.

It’s not a long story, but a pretty convoluted one: On the morning of my flight back home from London, I tripped down the stairs of our apartment and spent the commute to the airport, and the flight back home with a sprained ankle. At that point, I’ve been consistently going to the gym for about a year — I remember doing modified bodyweight sessions during the trip too — but had to pause that with the ankle.

The first session back after a couple of months, I was really pumped to be back. It was my usual routine: Get to the gym at my workplace, do a few sets of squats, deadlifts, lat pulldowns and a few other movements.

Too pumped, maybe. I was super careful not to roll and hurt my ankle again. Instead, I did something to my back. I don’t know what it was exactly, but I just remember tweaking it during the session, thinking it was nothing, then progressively getting more scared of how painful it was while I was on the way home.

That’s the thing about memories — I remember what I was wearing (blue exercise top, shorts, my Timberland boots because I switch out my gym shoes in the office), and I remember the route to the train station and desperately trying to block out the pain, as the adrenaline of the session faded away. I bend down, ostensibly pretending to tie my shoelaces to any onlookers.

What happened next is that for the last three and a half years, I’ve been letting that injury cloud my mind.

I went to test for my resting metabolic rate yesterday. As I’ve suspected, my resting metabolic rate is 30% less than the average person my size. I know this because I’ve been eating like an asshole, knowing that my muscles are wasting away anyway.

Casey Johnston, aka Ask A Swole Woman, has a great post illustrating what’s been happening to my body.

I’m at the ‘muscle has gone bye bye’ stage 😭

I’m at a bit of a standstill, I think. What I can do to fix it is to get back to building muscles again, and for that to happen, first I need to get back to seeing a physio — hopefully one who wouldn’t just laugh at my terrible form when doing the bird dog exercise.

But actually, first I need a referral be able to make a claim from the insurance. Which means that first, I need to go to my GP. Actually, first, I need to go to a GP that is on the insurer’s list.

Kidding aside, there’s just a lot of steps and hoops to go through, and I’m not particularly enthused about that. It is something I really want to move forward with though, so I’ll probably document this whole process somehow.