30 May 2013

Up to speed

I can't remember the last time I was in shape.

That's a lie, I can. It was the day after I ran the Chicago Marathon. I was sitting in the airport with my feet on my suitcase, occasionally pulling out the finishers' medal to assure myself that yes, I actually did that, and there were so many racing possibilities and I couldn't wait to tackle them all. And then, for all intents and purposes, I never ran again.

I mean, I did. I registered for a November marathon, I once again started training too late, and I ended up having to stop completely because I was taking a medication that made my joints ache and it hurt too much. I deferred that marathon entry to this November. I registered for a marathon and half-heartedly tried to train, but got shin splints, a side effect of what turned out to be a fairly serious vitamin D deficiency.

And then, my left foot started going numb for no reason and I began having weird twitches all over my body. I went to the doctor thinking it wouldn't be a big deal. Instead, I've spent the past five months mired in the terrifying and frustrating and maddeningly slow-moving process of being diagnosed with a nerve disorder.

I don't have a firm diagnosis yet, because it takes forever and there are a bunch of terrifying things that have to be ruled out first. Most likely I don't have multiple sclerosis. Almost certainly I do not have ALS. Probably what I have is peripheral neuropathy, but I don't know what that means or how I can treat it and I'm still a few steps away from getting to that point.

(You can Google this if you want, but it will just confuse you. Everything you'll find will talk about diabetes, and I don't have diabetes. Essentially what peripheral neuropathy means is that the pathways between my brain and my nerves are breaking down, and that's why I'm twitching. Does it get worse? Does it get better? That all depends on the outcome of tests I haven't taken yet, and Googling that shit is terrifying so I no longer do that. I try to be content with the waiting. I am sometimes successful.)

What I can tell you is what it has meant in terms of running, which is basically that I haven't been. At all. My main symptom is nerve twitching in my feet. Sometimes, it is strong enough to move my toes, and I can see the nerve fibers moving under the skin. None of it is painful and so it probably doesn't sound like a big deal to you, because it wouldn't to me, but trust me when I say that it's not the only symptom and it is very, very, very unnerving, and that it happens every single day, for long periods of time. For several hours after every run, the twitching would be worse, and stronger, and scarier, and it made me panic, and so I just stopped doing it.

What this means is that I have essentially been out of shape for a year and a half. I have not run consistently since before my marathon. I do not remember what it feels like to go run three miles and not be gasping for breath at the end. Stairs make me winded. This is the least physically active I've ever been, and it's a devastating feeling. It's a lot of, "How did it get to this point?" and, "Why can't I do this?" and it leads pretty quickly into a spiral of self-loathing, with not a small amount of fear over the ongoing neuro stuff.

What I've decided is that I need to just snap out of it. Both my research and my neurologist say that it's fine if I run as long as it doesn't make my symptoms worse, and according to the doctor, "sometimes it twitches more for a while after idk" is not a sign that it's getting worse. Exercise can actually help with neuropathy symptoms, and so can a healthy diet and so can calming the hell down about it.

So that's what I'm trying to do. I've really only been giving it a serious try for the past two days. Yesterday, I was out the door before 6 am to run 2 miles (twitch-free!). Today, I just ate a lot of pasta. Everything in my life is a process and a balance and it usually involves a lot of food because I like food, and that's okay. All I want to do is to treat myself really well, and to remember that I know how to run, and to believe that it will feel good again someday. I want to drink more tea and eat more strawberries and stretch more and write more and take more photos and read more books and do fun things with fun people. I want to take my whole life one day at a time. That's a cliche, and I know it, but I've never been able to do it. I jump 87 steps ahead. What I have learned in this health-scare process - one of the many things I've learned - is that leaping to conclusions is awful. Googling things is terrible. Looking eight years to the future doesn't help anyone, unless you're doing it to finagle a detailed plan for saving to buy an awesome house or a puppy. And so going forward, I'm going to do my best to stay right here, in the present, where I am.

Which is here: on the couch, having a little gchat with my cute boyfriend, not caring all that much about my stupid feet twitching, and looking forward to my run in the morning. It'll be 6 am and the city will be cool and quiet and it will be all mine, and that is good. That is all very good.

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