Mental health with a chronic illness

There's a myriad of issues to deal with when diagnosed with a chronic illness. It's not just the symptoms, the pain, the shortness of breath even though you're only sitting on a sofa, the needing help from others, or the incessant hospital appointments, but the thoughts and emotions around acceptance and adjusting to life being different now. At almost nine years since diagnosis I'm still not there yet.

For me, the biggest one is running. I'm not as fast as I used to be and it was a big shock how slow I had become. Plus how difficult it was, and sometimes still is, to lift one foot in front of the other without my toes catching the floor and landing flat on my face! I had to forget my old PBs, and accept the new ones. Well, I say new ones, they've been there since Spring of 2012. Since before a couple of big relapses that caused major setbacks. I've done Couch to 5k more times than I can count, just so I can keep running through illness.

How do you run away from what’s inside your head?
Then there’s the fear…  The fear that my legs will give out whilst running and no one will be around to help me.  The fear that my heart rate will go past 210 (206 is quite common for me), or that one of my lungs will spasm and I’ll stop breathing for a moment. The fear that something more sinister could happen and I won’t have it in my legs to run away. The fear that if I push myself with running  will I be pushing myself back towards a relapse?  The list goes on…

So this year seems to be a good year. This year will be a good year. I'm training for my first ultra. Five miles more than a marathon. Oh, so I’m also training for my first marathon. The ideal goal for my stubborn determination to focus on, because time isn't the major factor for completing an ultra. Somewhere in the back of my mind, whilst focusing on the longer distance, I finally accepted my 2012 PBs and re-learned the lesson of letting go.

Back in 2012 – 5k: 36.53; 10k: 1.33.27; Half: 3.00.21. Those 21 seconds…  I was always rubbish at 10k and this PB  is only 1.08 slower than my pre-illness 10k and I rarely took part in 10k races to beat it.  In Feb of this year, at the Winter10k in London, the 10k PB was beaten and it now stands at 1.14.47. Almost 20 minutes quicker.  One had finally given way.  The unimportant one, but one nonetheless. 

I went out for my run this morning. The sun was shining, and the air cool. With lots of mental health awareness week posts on social media, and having signed up for miles for Mind with Runr, I was thinking about what I've achieved in the last nine years. This meant that for once I wasn't running in my head. I wasn't checking my lungs were okay. I wasn't paying attention to my legs or feet. I was just running. I didn’t even notice the 2 mile alert on my Garmin. I had what has eluded me for years - the runner's high. A feeling of euphoria coupled with reduced anxiety and a lessened ability to feel pain. It felt great, and it was a huge relief.  I also smashed through my 5k PB. It now stands at 35.32.  With the 10k and now the 5k, if everything really does come in threes, then that half-marathon PB must be toast.

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