Monday, July 17, 2017

Fitness--with a Chronic Illness

To begin, here's the rundown. This is not a whinging post or an "I wish I had a different life" post. I do not want you to feel sorry for me. I do not need solutions or supplements given to me; I have doctors and experts doing that. Keep your pyramid schemes and juice cleanses on Facebook. I'm good.

Today I'm going to write the blog post I wish I could have read as a preteen, a teen, when I started trying to become fit, and now. I keep randomly Googling, looking for this kind of post, and it just doesn't exist in the form I want it to. So I'm writing it.

Here's to being active and having a chronic illness.

No, that's not a sunburn or bad white balance, I'm that red after a run.

I have asthma and allergies and endometriosis and some other bonus diseases. My body mostly hates me. I'm on hormone therapy to shut my reproductive system down, and it still doesn't manage to do that, my hormones are so messed up. I try to work out three times a week. Here's why: I always feel healthier when I'm active.

But the bottom line is, I can't always do it. And that doesn't make me a bad runner, or a bad athlete, or a bad person. It doesn't undo what I've done and how fast I ran my last mile. It doesn't mean I'm not serious about being fit.

When I was in junior high, I approached my gym teacher and my doctor to ask why, when I ran even a lap of the gym, I felt like I was going to black out in pain. I was told it was a stitch in my side and to breathe through it. I ran slower because it hurt so much. Sometimes I walked. Later, I discovered that "breathing through it" could have killed me. I had a 17 inch cyst on my left ovary that could have ruptured at any time.

In high school, I was still in agony. I really wanted to be athletic, because that was the cool thing. I wanted long hair in a high ponytail, and to run down the street looking fit and healthy. I was neither fit nor healthy. I managed a fourteen minute mile my senior year and was proud. That summer, I had major surgery to remove the cyst I'd never known was there, the same cyst that caused the chronic pain I'd felt since junior high. I lost 15 pounds and part of an ovary during several hours of surgery.

In college, I discovered yoga, and I loved it. For once, my body wasn't fighting me. I stuck to yoga until I met a friend in a lit class and discovered she, now calmly taking notes, had run 23 miles right before coming to class. And I wanted to do that too.

I couldn't.

The face you make after being attacked by biting flies.

I'd hoped the surgery would have done away with what was keeping me still. But I kept getting dizzy and lightheaded. I still had joint pain almost every day, even when I did next to nothing. The longer I stood, the more my diaphragm HURT. I can't explain how that feels, but it sucks. I managed a three mile run with my friend. I spent the rest of the weekend coughing and gasping for air. Eventually, we found out that was asthma, which I'd been walking around with for years. I'd lucked out and never had a massive attack that landed me in the hospital, so I was never diagnosed. I got inhalers and steroids and medicines to make my sinuses work and my lungs work and I felt...well.

When I get steroids now, I wake up in the morning, roll out of bed, and have a full day of activity. I get more done at work and home than I thought possible. I can go outside and sit in the fresh air. I feel healthy. This is because at long last, my body works the way it was designed to work. That will never be my everyday.

My everyday is taking a handful of pills, steroid nasal spray, and inhalers. I feel ill for about an hour, which is why I wake up an hour earlier than I really need to, so I can spend that hour eating breakfast and watching YouTube waiting to feel human. On a good day, I feel better at about 6:50 AM. Then I start getting ready. On a good day, I can make it through work and then head to the gym. On a bad day, my joint and/or sinus pain is so bad I can't consider running or lifting weights, so I go home and spend my evening prone, watching TV or reading. That's okay.

It's taken me years--since the days of the 30 Day Shred on this blog--to learn to be okay with bad days. But they're fine.

I might never be a marathon runner. In fact, I almost certainly won't be. I'm still a runner. I'm still athletic. I'm physically fit, even with my "endo-belly." Even with all the times I have to stop at the side of the road and gasp. I'm a runner. I spent the spring recovering from a nasty case of bronchitis. I didn't run for two months. I'm still a runner.

Look at me, outside! Only slightly red-faced!

If you're like me, Couch to 5K won't work the way it says it will. I'm sorry that there's no training plan for us. We have to make our own. Count your spoons. Do you have enough?  Tie on your shoes, go outside or to the gym. Maybe you'll walk or ride a bike, maybe you'll feel well enough to run. Maybe tomorrow you'll do more, or maybe you'll spend the day lying down. It's fine. That happens to me too. We are enough.

I used to joke when someone asked if I was a runner. I would reply, "Yes, the world's suckiest!" Then I realized how cruel that was to myself. Spoonies, let's stop stomping on our accomplishments. Let's be proud of all the things we can do instead

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