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Overcoming health anxiety

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  • Overcoming health anxiety

    When I received my surprise MS diagnosis in 2010, my first thought was, "Eff it, I'm riding again." I was in my late 20s and wound up leasing a mare I loved who was a 9/10 on the hot, sensitive OTTB scale. Somehow we made it through four years without me coming off, huzzah, and then I took another break due to moving, commuting, finances, all the usuals.

    Now I'm in my late 30s and riding again. I'm on a TB/Shetland cross built like a warmblood, with the stubbornness of a pony and the occasional flight instincts of a TB. Despite his being a butt, I like him an awful lot, and I have absolutely become a better rider in the 9 months that I've been leasing him. I also had my third fall off him last night, so I'm making up for lost time there as well. None were really his fault: first time, the overhead arena lights went out and threw us into pitch dark; we were at a very brisk trot and he stopped, spooked and dropped a shoulder when I couldn't see to follow. Second time was all my fault and just a weird fall. Last night was, of course, a no-stirrups, no-reins lunge lesson when something spooked him at the canter, and I might have made it through if the the <swear word swear word> saddle hadn't slipped sideways and made everything worse.

    I'm overcoming the fear of falling, which is great. Now I am grappling with a new fear: terror over injuring my brain and not knowing it. My second derpy fall involved just knocking the back of my helmet. I had a bit of a headache and felt a little woozy, so I visited the ER and then took a few days to rest just in case. Last night I hit hip-first and did literally eat dirt, but the arena footing is soft and deep, and I had no effects apart from a very sore glute.

    But I am still terrified I must have head trauma and am being an idiot continuing to ride. (This is where I should mention I have a history of GAD, too, which I'm sure helps a ton here.) I know a lot of it is well-founded—I joke that I do have holes in my head, in a sense, so I don't need to lose any additional brain cells! At the same time, I can't imagine not riding unless I physically cannot, and worrying about imaginary brain trauma isn't helping. I am lucky that I have mild MS, but fear of making it worse lurks in the recesses of my mind whenever I do something that gets me hurt.

    So: no headache. No loss of memory or consciousness. No neck pain. No vomiting, irritability, fatigue. Some mild nausea this afternoon which is just as likely psychosomatic. COTF chronic-disease friends, please help: 1) Should I go get checked out anyway? 2) Does anyone else struggle with a health thing that can make riding psychologically difficult in addition to more physically challenging? And do you have tips for balancing reasonable caution with living your life?

    Thanks, all.

  • #2
    Originally posted by ToughShet View Post
    When I received my surprise MS diagnosis in 2010, my first thought was, "Eff it, I'm riding again." I was in my late 20s and wound up leasing a mare I loved who was a 9/10 on the hot, sensitive OTTB scale. Somehow we made it through four years without me coming off, huzzah, and then I took another break due to moving, commuting, finances, all the usuals.

    Now I'm in my late 30s and riding again. I'm on a TB/Shetland cross built like a warmblood, with the stubbornness of a pony and the occasional flight instincts of a TB. Despite his being a butt, I like him an awful lot, and I have absolutely become a better rider in the 9 months that I've been leasing him. I also had my third fall off him last night, so I'm making up for lost time there as well. None were really his fault: first time, the overhead arena lights went out and threw us into pitch dark; we were at a very brisk trot and he stopped, spooked and dropped a shoulder when I couldn't see to follow. Second time was all my fault and just a weird fall. Last night was, of course, a no-stirrups, no-reins lunge lesson when something spooked him at the canter, and I might have made it through if the the <swear word swear word> saddle hadn't slipped sideways and made everything worse.

    I'm overcoming the fear of falling, which is great. Now I am grappling with a new fear: terror over injuring my brain and not knowing it. My second derpy fall involved just knocking the back of my helmet. I had a bit of a headache and felt a little woozy, so I visited the ER and then took a few days to rest just in case. Last night I hit hip-first and did literally eat dirt, but the arena footing is soft and deep, and I had no effects apart from a very sore glute.

    But I am still terrified I must have head trauma and am being an idiot continuing to ride. (This is where I should mention I have a history of GAD, too, which I'm sure helps a ton here.) I know a lot of it is well-founded—I joke that I do have holes in my head, in a sense, so I don't need to lose any additional brain cells! At the same time, I can't imagine not riding unless I physically cannot, and worrying about imaginary brain trauma isn't helping. I am lucky that I have mild MS, but fear of making it worse lurks in the recesses of my mind whenever I do something that gets me hurt.

    So: no headache. No loss of memory or consciousness. No neck pain. No vomiting, irritability, fatigue. Some mild nausea this afternoon which is just as likely psychosomatic. COTF chronic-disease friends, please help: 1) Should I go get checked out anyway? 2) Does anyone else struggle with a health thing that can make riding psychologically difficult in addition to more physically challenging? And do you have tips for balancing reasonable caution with living your life?

    Thanks, all.
    When your little voice speaks, it is good to listen.

    We take chances just being alive.
    We take chances every time we get in a vehicle and drive on roads.
    We take chances every time we are around horses, ride them.

    Taking chances is what you do in life.

    Now, we have a little voice helping us minimize the results of those chances we take.
    We know to listen to little voice and stop at stop lights, drive sensibly, not race other cars and such.
    We should do the same riding, get on horses that are not hot and known to have their less nice moments that put us at risk, as that horse that already dumped you has done.

    Ride, but on a horse that will take more to set it off than just this or that excuse.
    When you know that horse will dump you if in a mild wreck, consider riding a less reactive one to stay safe?
    No one has any to prove to anyone by taking chances we get in a wreck and how bad it may be.

    No sense in doing the same and expecting different results.
    Consider changing to a more suitable horse for you right now?

    Comment


    • #3
      I have a connective tissue disease, and I also have anxiety as a result of a serious concussion. I don't have specific fears though, just seemingly random anxiety trigger moments. I work on it by challenging myself to one thing a week that makes me nervous/anxious. Sometimes it's riding things, sometimes it is social things. I try to tell the anxious part of my brain to shut up, and make it know I am not listening to it. I think each time I do something despite my anxiety, it makes me stronger.

      That said, I am not reckless. I am talking about things where my anxiety seems irrational. Your anxiety doesn't seem irrational to me: Perhaps your coach can help you figure out why you are falling and hitting your head, rather than a more typical flat work fall onto the feet/bum.
      Freeing worms from cans everywhere!

      Comment


      • #4
        1) Should I go get checked out anyway?

        Dunno about the ER part -- they can produce tons of anxiety and not much clarity. Or, sometimes they're just what you need. Your call on the timing of when you need help, but, you definitely want to discuss concussions with a good, sympathetic neurologist at some point. There's some evidence that people with concussions have a higher rate of MS. There's probably no research about concussions worsening MS, but, a sports-friendly neurologist should be able to give you their opinion of that risk. This will help you differentiate anxious feelings from actual risk.

        2) Does anyone else struggle with a health thing that can make riding psychologically difficult in addition to more physically challenging? And do you have tips for balancing reasonable caution with living your life?

        You gotta be more careful and probably don't ride horses who spook. Your anxiety and falls are going to go way down if you ride horses who don't react by dumping you. That has worked wonders for me. You can find steady Eddy's who are still fun to ride.

        I loved riding boldly as a young person. Lifelong GAD, but I pushed it aside. Concussions, surgeries and chronic health stuff made me realize that I needed to do things differently if I wanted to keep horses in my life. I'm tall and like to go fast still, so I got an off the track Standardbred. Yesterday I was riding him around in a halter and lead and an enormous tree fell over and hit the ground about 50' from us - he tossed his head and backed up a few feet. The other horses spooked and scrambled, huffing and puffing. He's not a unicorn - just a very seasoned guy. (They come in all breeds - but seriously, TB/Shetland? Fast, stubborn, sassy - yikes! Got a good laugh at that combo.)

        So - be less understanding of spooking horses, get some clarity on your particular risk and head trauma, and find a horse or sport friendly therapist to work on anxiety. They're out there, too. I found one, and that's made a world of difference - someone who gets MY take on risk and fun. Not the standard doctor/therapist take that all things horse are high risk. That's just toxic.

        Good luck with it all.
        Researchers found that people who had a concussion prior to age 20 had a greater risk of developing MS, suggesting head injuries are a risk factor.

        Comment


        • #5
          I have MS. I am now 68 years old. Though I was not diagnosed until I was 42 looking back it has affected me most of my life--really poor balance, bad coordination, and never being able to get into physical activities unless a horse was involved.

          Get a neurologist, preferably one with a lot of experience with MS, to check you out. The emergency room people rarely have experience dealing with MS, and usually they are extremely busy, too busy to check out a neurological patient thoroughly.

          I am very protective of my brain and spinal cord. I wear a MIPS helmet, the Trauma-Void sold by the Back on Track people. When it is not too hot I also wear a safety vest.

          I AVOID DOING THE SITTING TROT for more than 6 strides, just long enough to get my point across to the horse. After that I do not do the sitting trot for a long time, as in months. This is with me not bumping on the horse's back, if I could not keep my seat-bones "glued" to the saddle I would not do the sitting trot at all. When I canter I am usually up in two-point. This avoids injuring my central nervous system even further and avoids my brain bouncing off of my skull as I ride.

          I used to gallop and jump, but no longer. I used to trail ride, gallop across fields freely and generally have fun on my horse, but no longer. Now I just have enough energy to ride 30 minutes at a time (with someone else grooming and tacking up), and for my safety I stay in the riding ring, mostly walking, some trot, and a rare canter. I no longer own a horse so I ride lesson horses.

          Even so my riding teachers will put me up on some challenging horses since I know what I am doing. The horses and I come up with compromises, if I do not hurt their mouths or backs and I keep control of my legs when I wear spurs the horses generally cooperate with me. After I've ridden a horse for a few months I find that the horse often makes sure to move within my abilities--as in stopping or slowing down a shy when I get unbalanced, and they forgive me when I make mistakes as long as I try to correct myself. I try to show the horse as much consideration as I hope the horse shows me.

          Some gear that has helped me:

          Look up the RS-tor riding aid, it hooks up to the stirrup bars and I hold the end (that has a rubber stop) in my hands. It is supposed to help the falling rider to land on their feet. The only time I've fallen in the past 12 years I was not holding the RS-tor because the horse blew up at the walk (6 yr. old OTTB.) Usually I hold it when I trot or when the horse starts getting antsy at the walk.

          I wear the Spursuader spurs. Before I got these spurs my riding teachers would take my spurs off when it got hot and I lost the fine control of my lower legs. Ever since I got the Spursuader spurs my riding teachers have let me wear them all year long since the horses do not seem to mind me wearing them.

          I also use the Rider Grips, big circles of a rubber like material that self-glue to the saddle flap. Since my balance is so totally horrible and modern saddles and breeches are so slippery, these really, really, really help me keep my seat properly centered in the saddle.

          The modern technical summer fabrics have been a blessing to me, keeping me somewhat cooler in the hot, muggy weather down here in NC.

          Riding horses keeps me walking on my own two feet (2 canes), before I got back in the saddle I wore out an electric wheelchair. When I get an exacerbation I head out to the stable as soon as possible telling my teachers I HAVE to ride. My last exacerbation I was creeping with two canes very slowly on the way out to the ring. After 30 minutes of riding at the walk I was able to walk strongly without a cane. I have converted my neurologists as to riding horses helping people with MS.

          Keep on riding, keep on walking.

          Horses are GOOD for people with MS. It is wonderful physical therapy. I often tell my neurologists that the horses I ride know more about my nervous system than the neurologist does with MRIs. By now my neurologists just tell me to go on riding because it is obvious that it helps my MS.

          If your body tells you to just walk do not fight it or try to "prove" anything. Many horses have gaping holes in their training because the trainers do not work much at the walk. My riding teachers like that I am willing to fill these gaping holes by my sane riding and training at the walk. I usually improve the horses I ride.
          My current plan is to go on riding until the day I die.


          Last edited by Jackie Cochran; May. 25, 2019, 02:00 PM.

          Comment

          • Original Poster

            #6
            Thank you all, and I'm sorry for the long silence!

            Jackie, I really appreciate your thoughts. The Spursuaders have made a huge difference for me, and I'm going to look into some of the other tools you mention. I completely agree about the effects of riding on our gaits, too; when I taught and volunteered at a therapeutic riding center, we always heard that riding was so wonderful because it helps you "walk" using the same muscles that you do unaided. Whether or not that's exactly right, it does seem accurate to me.

            I spent some time thinking about things this weekend and also checked in with my neuro, who told me, "You sound fine; just try not to fall off." Right now, it's worth the joy I get out of experiencing good rides with an admittedly challenging horse. I don't have to ride him, and I don't have anything to prove — but I WANT to ride him, and I'm not ready to call it quits yet. That said, I have asked my instructor to alternate lessons with a steady Eddie type where we focus on the things that are most challenging for me: trot-canter transitions (in anything but two point) and adjusting the canter/using my seat correctly at the canter. Those are also the hardest things for Teddy to maintain, so it's a recipe for trouble when we tackle them together right now. I also said that I'd like to consider switching horses if I have any additional falls this year.

            And yes, it's true: whoever thought a TB-Shetland was a good cross is bananas! Although his brother went to pony nationals and is a complete doll. Teddy got all the most interesting parts of both breeds, I guess.

            Thank you all again. I am so grateful for your thoughts and advice. Whatever decision I need to make in the future, your feedback makes it easier for me to clearly see where my lines are and when I want to push forward or dial back.

            Comment


            • #7
              I'm glad to hear that you've come to a decision, and that you're enjoying your rides with Teddy!

              But one other thought I had when I saw this thread is, if you are worried about having a concussion and not knowing it, you could consider doing baseline testing:
              https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/b...e_testing.html

              the basic idea is that you get the same type of exam doctors use post-concussion use to keep track of progress when you haven't had any recent head trauma. Then if you have a possible concussion they know what your normal test looks like, and especially if a concussion occurs, baseline testing can be helpful in making decisions about when it's appropriate to resume activities
              May just be something worth asking your neurologist about, if it would be something that would give you peace of mind if you have another fall.

              Comment

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