My Scarlet Letter

There comes a point in every runner’s life where you have to stare directly into the face of something you don’t want to.  Something that, though you have swept it under the rug and tried to kick it behind you like dirt on a trail run, creeps up on you and eventually haults you in your tracks until you confront it.  For some it is an emotional  issue.  For others it is physical.  Either way, what sets running apart from other sports is its ability to bring the best and worst out of you as it forces deep seated issues to the surface like a nice fat head on a beer.  Sometimes, especially if you log your miles solo, running gives you the opportunity to shield your issues from the rest of the world.  It allows you to bear your scarlet letter quietly, hidden discreetly underneath your wet wicking top and invisible to passersby.  It gives you a way to work through and deal with your issues employing only the help of nature’s whispers and your racing mind. That is, until it doesn’t.

Possessing a primarily Choleric temperament, I’ve always wanted the world to see me as strong and fearless.  Friends, family, and strangers alike, I want to look at me and think, “That girl has her s**t together.”  I want people to be able to see, by looking at me, the confidence that I was birthed along side me and that was carefully cultivated in me by my parents.  I would rather be known for my sense of pride than be associated with the terms “weak”, “sick”, and/or “broken”.  I’m the kind of person that refuses pain medication after surgery and jokes about my multiple knee surgeries.  While I am the first of my friends to offer help where it is needed or comforting words when necessary, I am usually the last to ask for them.  You can imagine how hard it is for me to admit openly and freely that I am, indeed, not only sick, but very much broken.

I have an Autoimmune Disorder.  A rheumatic disorder of my immune system that has forced my body, over the years, to live in constant battle with itself.  Most likely genetic, the disease has always been there.  Symptoms presented themselves early on in my life and I have fought tooth and nail to live normally and not use labels such as “sick” or “chronic”, appearing to the outside world to be perfectly ok while there is a storm raging inside of me.  It is a truly humbling experience for a woman who wants to embody the epitome of “strong” to submit to the Emergency Room four, sometimes five times a year.  It is excruciating to try and maintain a strong exterior when my insides are being ravaged by the effects of strong, toxic medications that are being used to combat the inflammation that moves through my body like a drug.  For many years I have thought it easier to maintain a strong front even when the castle inside is crumbling, but not anymore.  I have spent the last year coming to terms with who I am – physically, mentally, and spiritually.  I have watched closely as I’ve trained along side friends and while they have excelled, I’ve fallen behind.  I’ve tossed and turned through anxiety ridden night sweats due to unrealistic expectations of myself that my physical being just can’t live up to. Self-realization has led me to accept the fact that every aspect of who we are works together to speak our message to the world.  Exclaiming to the earth one thing, while living another is not only a lie, but is detrimental to the soul.

When I began this blog, I did so not only to write about something I love, but to connect with others who share the same passion.  While I was hoping that I could hide the negative aspects of my life behind a computer screen, I soon realized that you can’t (or at least I can’t) relay my true feelings, struggles and passions while refusing to disclose the truth of the burden of disease I bear.  There are many, many running blogs out there that belong to perfectly healthy, perfectly perfect people who make it look so deliciously easy.  This is not one of them.  I began this post back in March, but banished it to the land of drafts with the thought that people don’t want to read about others’ pain and struggles.  Months later after reading MUCH about others’ hardships (especially when relating to autoimmune diseases) I realized that people do in fact want to read about it, because what is a good story without the dirt and the grit? More importantly, I myself have learned, grown and been challenged by the written words of others in my situation who have dared to bare their souls upon the computer screen.  What a joy it would be to me to reach out in some capacity to even one person who is struggling their way through a similar life as my own.

This is not, and never will be, a “woe is me” blog.   I manage my illness as I do the rest of my life – with humor, passion, and the realization that things could always be much, much worse.  Autoimmune disease or not, I am still running, still pushing and testing my limits, and still here to talk about it.  As Emily from the Indigo Girls so eloquently put it years ago:  “You have to laugh at yourself … cause you’d cry your eyes out otherwise!”.


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