Thursday, July 24, 2008

Feeling strong

For the past month, I have been tired. And, I mean TIRED. One of the medications I have been taking has made me particularly tired as it works out the built-up toxins from my body (all those that built up since my immune system was so badly damaged by gluten). Even going on my morning rows twice a week has been a challenge.

And, I’m TIRED of being “sick” and taking what feels like a million pills every day and watching carefully what I eat and not having available the convenience of someone else making a meal for me and just picking it up on my way home from work.

And, although those close to me have been very patient, I can see how they are TIRED of me as well. They want me to “keep a stiff upper lip” and a positive mental state ALL OF THE TIME. They don’t want to hear about how difficult some of this is for me. And, that’s fine. I understand.

However, I know very well that it’s important to grieve. What I am dealing with is a chronic condition. There is no magic cure. This is something I will live with for the rest of my life. If I don’t process this now, I believe there is no hope for me to move beyond it fully. I need to be allowed to cry every once in a while over silly things like a bakery I can’t try or the delicious-looking sandwich in the fridge at work. I need to be able to re-define myself and re-build myself anew. Stuffing these feelings for a false “sense of victory” will only bring long-term detriment to my mental health.

That being said, I refuse to wallow in it. My health psychology education has taught me not only a lot about chronic disease management, but also a lot about coping. That is, what is healthy in what situation and what is not. Emotion-focused coping is engaging in “feel good” or “avoidance” activities such as hanging out with friends or doing something you enjoy. This obviously is not a good path to take when your problem requires action (e.g., you need money to pay the rent so you take a vacation to Las Vegas to forget about it instead of finding a job). Problem-focused coping is engaging in the steps you need to take to resolve a problem. This only works, however, when the problem is within your control. If the problem is outside of your control, such as the threat of nuclear war, then trying to engage in this kind of coping can be mentally detrimental.

Me? I run. After engaging in all of the problem-focused coping I can (eating right, taking my medication, etc.), I run. Sometimes I don’t make it all the way around my 2.8 mile route along the Willamette River, but I try.

This morning as I was running, the sun was sparking off of the river and the tall, shiny downtown buildings and I felt strong. I had Cheryl Crow’s song, “Run, baby, run” in my head, thinking that all I need to carry on is to run. I know it’s not exactly the meaning the song intends, but it’s something I have always thought. Initially, I learned how to run longer distances because it was the only form of exercise that was readily available when I was studying abroad in Germany. Incidentally, that is also where I hurt my knee, which prevents me from running really long distances, such as half marathons…but that’s another story.

Now, running has become the greatest coping mechanism for me. Whenever I am upset, stressed, or worried about something, I know a good run will make me feel stronger. I think more clearly about things when I’m out there, breathing hard and watching the simplicity of the water and the world.

This morning, I thought a lot about my need to grieve and what that process looked like for me. I encourage anyone out there to take the time to do the same, no matter what it is you are dealing with, however large or small. In a culture that begs us to be “happy” all of the time, it is important to recognize that it is far healthier to process and accept your sorrow and move on than it is to stuff it deep down for another day.

Also, do something for yourself that makes you feel stronger. So what if you have some limitations in your life, focus on those areas where possibilities are LIMITLESS. Try something new, learn a new craft, or run longer than you have ever before in your life. The accomplishment will leave you feeling on top of the world…and you never know what you might discover about your own inner strength.

Try this simple activity to feel your body and your muscles:

Turn on your stereo and play some of your favorite music – choose something up-beat, jazzy, or sultry. Play it a little louder than you normally would and allow the music to move you. Let go of any intimidation or self-judgment and dance. Do not censor yourself or critique your movements. Feel the ease of your body in motion and let go. And, if you are so moved – sing along to the music, at the top of your lungs!

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