Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Year of (Not) Running

It's just about mid-July.

This time last year, I ran my last run before I started dealing with significant losses in my balance, strength, and coordination that impacted even my ability to walk for the better part of 6 months. I went from being able to run 8 miles at a time to being unable to walk from the parking lot into our church without help. No healthy 25 year old expects to lose something as simple as the ability to walk. Hey, no chronically ill mast cell disease patient expects that either...

When my symptoms first started, we thought it was just dehydration or fatigue or a medication reaction, something we could explain. It started gradually, so when it only happened every so often, it's way easier to ignore or brush off or just assume it's some weird mast cell reaction. But when it started happening more frequently, and then stopped going away...that's when I finally had to admit that something was wrong...

After a visit to my primary care resulted in a potentially abnormal brain MRI (seriously, when is a brain scan "potentially" abnormal, right??), it was all I could do to keep myself from getting anxious about something I couldn't control. My first neurology appointment ended with us being able to rule out some major (read easily testable) conditions and agreeing that my symptoms were very odd. We decided that I would start physical therapy and would come back in 6 weeks.

Fast forward to November and while there was no visible improvement, we had moved closer to a possible explanation...chronic hypoglycemia. After discovering my sugars were regularly hanging out in the 50/60 range with occasional drops even lower, we identified a potential factor in my weakness and balance issues. 

A clear EMG in January continued to suggest that my symptoms were not specifically with my extremities, but still gave no explanation for the sudden onset of symptoms. After another 2 months of physical therapy and consistent blood sugar management, my balance and strength began to improve, and I worked back to walking almost normally.

The first time I tried to run in physical therapy, I couldn't even make it 200 yards before my legs "forgot how to be legs." I remembering feeling so discouraged when I thought about what I used to be able to do between soccer and triathlons and marathon training...especially when one of my co-workers left for an 8 mile run after work...but my PT reminded me of how far I had already come and that I WOULD get back to running...

Sometimes it's hard to remember the progress already made when I can still see how far I have left to go....

I'm not ever going to say running 20 miles is easy. If I did, I'd be crazy. But trust me when I say that working up to 45 minutes of 3 minutes running/2 minutes walking has been some of the toughest running I have ever done. I can almost run(/walk) 4 miles regularly now. While I'll never deny that the marathons I ran were a HUGE accomplishment (props to anyone who has ever run a marathon, those things are intense!), there's a whole different feeling of accomplishment in every 3/2 interval I can add to my runs right now. I may not be training for marathons right now, but I'm running to prove that mast cell disease hasn't and won't win.

I remember after I ran my first marathon, I was so proud of my accomplishment. I mean, seriously, I ran 26.2 one day...on purpose! I'm still proud that I was able to run 2 marathons. Those may be the only 2 I ever run, and I am thankful that I had those opportunities. But knowing that I can run(/walk) 45 minutes now when 6 months ago I couldn't walk without help...that's a way cooler feeling. 

I'm so proud of that and not ashamed to say it only because I think it is the way pride should be. I'm proud because I know I couldn't (and didn't) get back to running on my own. There are many days that I sit and wonder how in the world people ever manage life with a rare disease or chronic illness on their own. Without the hope of heaven...without peace that surpasses any earthly understanding...without knowing that I am loved more than I could ever imagine...without complete trust that God is in control...There. Is. Just. No. Way. 

I'm proud of getting back to running, because it is one more story line in my life that points back to God. It's just another testimony that even in the midst of my crazy life with mast cell disease, I'm not fighting this battle alone. It's another glimpse of how God can use my life even when sometimes I can't see the purpose. It's a reminder that despite anything I may go through in this life, God is so much bigger than what I can see.

So when I'm running now and someone asks what I'm training for or why I'm running with a service dog or why I wear compression socks even on super hot days or why I take walk breaks during a 3 mile run while wearing a marathon shirt, I don't feel embarrassed because I can't keep up, I just smile and let God tell another part of His story.

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