I am pretty OCD by nature and so it has been easy to turn this quest for medical answers into an obsession. For the past couple of years, I have tried to put everything else in life behind getting diagnosed and treated. This was not completely irrational, as I was/am sick and very limited in what else I could do besides try and figure this out. But the other big motivation was simply the belief that the harder I worked at fixing this problem, the faster I would get better so I could go back to work and my regular life. With running and work and most every other challenge I had faced in life so far, hard work lead to the desired outcome: a degree, a marathon, a publication, a promotion, you name it. I figured that the same strategy could be applied here and with the same effect. The problem is brute force is only getting me so far: this is just not a problem that I can completely solve and fix on my own.
Stage one of the five stages of grief is denial and, despite dealing with the reality of my situation daily, I do think I have been in denial about the fact that this “temporary” health issue is probably going to be permanent in one form or another. Whenever people try to ask questions such as “if you can’t run again, what will you do instead?” or “if you can’t go back to your job (with it’s crazy hours), what will you do instead?” my response has always been “I am not even going to go there.” The only thing that has kept me from completely melting down many days is the belief, however misguided it may be at this point, that I was going to return to my former life – marathons, crazy work hours and all. But as the days and weeks of being sick have now turned into years, I am forced to face the fact that I need to figure out a way to make the most of today too. I need to start feeling and acting like the days and weeks that are passing by now are valuable moments. This is not the life I want, perhaps. But it is still a life. And it is not just my life that is being put on hold – M’s life is being put on hold too. So, I have started to use some of the time I used to spend becoming an amateur medical researcher/radiologist/endocrinologist (and a professional harasser of doctors) for other purposes. I am still sick and I still can’t do most of the things I want to do, but there are things I can do to try and improve my health NOW and to enjoy life more NOW while I wait for the other medical problems I have to get fixed.
I have been reading a lot about nutrition and am very focused now on maximizing the amount of nutrients that go on my plate. I was always a reasonably healthy eater, but now I really want to give my body the best possible chance to recover and get better while I am still sick. I also started exercising again. I can’t do much, but I am trying to do something every day I feel well enough to try. I started with walking. The walks used to be short and painful, but I have been able to gradually increase the length and speed of my walks and reduce some of the discomfort. Part of this has been made possible because I recently caved in and started taking the pain meds I had been prescribed, which for stupid macho reasons I was refusing to do before (and this only after I got a lecture on the consequences of chronic pain from my psychiatrist who told me to stop being a “Calvinist” with the pain meds). Now, I am almost up to five miles at a time. I have been walking with a friend of mine at times, and also with M, which has been a great way to sneak in some quality time with those I care about too. We have an erg at home, and the other day I was able to erg a little. I used to be able to easily erg 10,000 meters at a time and was super happy that I was able to crank out 2,500 meters on my first try. Not fast. Not pretty. Not painless. But I did it!
I still need to sleep many hours during the day. I still have a lot of pain. I am still very limited in terms of how much stress, mental and physical, I can handle without getting sick. I still don’t know if I will be able to run a marathon or go back to being a workaholic. But these little steps have enabled me to lose about 15 pounds in six weeks, to improve what I am eating, to spend quality time with people that make me happy, to enjoy a few activities that make me feel good about myself.
It’s not the life I want, but it is a start.