I slept without a pillow last night. I know it sounds crazy but I had a theory about why I wake up most days feeling like someone had been hitting me with a baseball bat all night. It has to do with the memory foam pad on top on my mattress. The way I see it in my head is that my shoulders and back are sinking into the mattress enough to put my neck at a weird angle as it tries to reach the pillow. This angle plus the strain on my neck and shoulder muscles from trying to resist this stretch are what have me waking kinked and beaten. From what I can tell, it seems like laying on the bed without a pillow will allow my hips and shoulders to sink in while keeping my spine straight.

It looks like I might be correct. While I woke up a bunch of times during the night because the posture is awkward at first, I ultimately got up without soreness. In addition, even though my sleep was interrupted, when I did sleep I must have done so more soundly because I woke up extremely refreshed. It’s going to take getting used to but I’m going to continue sleeping without a pillow.

I don’t want this to sound like a miracle cure, because it’s not. After walking the dog about 20% of my neck pain has returned. In addition I’m also having some lower back and hip pain.

In regards to the neck pain. I think this is residual from repeated stress over time. I’d like to think that things are just off kilter or out-of-whack, and with better sleeping posture everything will return to a healthy state.

The hip pain is fairly normal for me after a walk. I experience this about 50% of the time. I believe this too is connected to sleep, as I would often wake to find myself in contorted shapes. I ended up in these hip-twisting pretzels because they brought me some sort of relief. I’m sure that overtime the muscles and joints have become extremely tense and susceptible to the mild irritation of walking. I believe this will too will adjust itself to normal with time.

Certainly it makes sense to have lower back pain when anatomically it’s in line between the other two pain points of the neck and the hips, but I think in particular, today’s lower back soreness is exacerbated by my experiments with jogging.

I’m trying to increase my cardiopulmonary stamina by challenging myself to a couple short jogs on my walk each day. (More on this in a bit.) In regards to the back pain, I believe this comes from three things colluding together.

  1. Running on pavement.
  2. Running on pavement with barefoot shoes which have minimal soles.
  3. Running on pavement with barefoot shoes which have minimal soles and with bad form.

I’m not sure how much of this will change with conditioning, but clearly some will and I can begin to mitigate this immediately by focusing on form.

Back to the jogging experiment. I’m incredibly out of shape and on top of that I’m an ex-smoker, which means that I cannot go a full block without running out of breath. This forces me to create smaller challenges of eye-balled distance. “I’m going from that tree to that car.” Sometimes I over-aim and I can’t make it all the way and sometimes do the opposite and breeze past my finish line. The whole purpose of this right now is to expand my stamina and meet the first milestone of one side of a block in a straight shot. I’ve never been much of a runner, so this challenge also involves breaking a lifelong aversion to running. In addition, there is a strong psychological barrier that I’m facing.

When I was going through my most extreme stages of anxiety, I was having several panic attacks per day. In those panic attacks all of the fear and symptoms focused around my heart, my heartbeat, and my chest. My heart rate, during a non-panic state continuously stayed above 100 beats per minute (when 60 to 70 is considered healthy.) When in a panicked state, my heart rate would increase to 130 or even 140, which is around my target heart rate for rigorous exercise (A few times I hit as high as 180.) Because of this, I grew averse to the sensation of an accelerated heart rate. In fact, this mental association grew so strong that the few times during this period when I attempted exercise, I triggered panic attacks.

Anytime my body felt the sensation of an increased heart rate it immediately went into panic mode. For this same reason I had to cut caffeine out of my diet for over a year as the modest jolts from a simple cup of coffee would set me off as well. (Thankfully, I’m now able to enjoy coffee again, though I limited myself to one cup per day.)

I think you can easily connect the dots here to see what the psychological struggle is with jogging for me. While I no longer trigger panic attacks. (It’s been over a year or longer, since the last one.) I do still find my mind entering into uneasy territory every time I briefly jog. The good news it that this tends to get easier with time. The more often I jog (even briefly) with nothing bad happening, the more that the protective part of my brain begins to relax. “You know, this might actually be safe.” (I went through the same thing as I eased back into drinking coffee.) In addition, as the distance of each jog incrementally increases, so do the endorphin hits. These minute rewards slowly assure my mind over time that what the body is doing is good and it slowly begins to associate the activity with feeling good. This in time will also help me to face and re-associate the sensations of chest tightness and shortness of breath. “We’re running. We’re not dying.”