Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Evolution of Goals

To say I'm a goal oriented person is a huge understatement. When I started running a decade ago I went from not running since track in high school (and only sprinting then) to signing up for a marathon as my first ever road race. I like to start small. My desire  - no my need - to have big goals shapes who I am. Goals are unique to the individual, and they're only for me. My meeting, exceeding or changing goals only affects me. Then how is it so hard?

My goal for this summer was to break 20 minutes in the 5k. It was originally my goal last year too, but I abandoned it in favor of a busy distance race schedule and the teeny task of focusing on my small human instead of training. This year was supposed to be the year. It started out so promising earlier this spring with speed training intervals at speeds (6:00/min mile) that I never could've imagined hitting even for a few minutes. I was going to do this.

Fast forward three months. I am not going to do this. Certainly not this year. At this point I recognize even if I really wanted to, my body is not up to running those kinds of speeds. It's not a good idea to even try it. Now it's time to pivot my 2016 goal.

This year has been a very light race schedule. So far I've run the Super Bowl 5k in February, the Shamrock Shuffle 8k in April and the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in April. Three races in five months isn't the worst, but it's way below my usual race volume. I am registered to run the Deckers Creek Half Marathon next weekend where I shattered my half marathon PR last year. I sadly will not be running that race. I haven't dwelled on it (much) after coming to the realization that my body just can't do that right now. I was registered for the Charlevoix Half Marathon in Northern Michigan in late June and switched to the 10k. At this point that goal seems lofty.

A few years ago I wrote a blog questioning what makes one a real runner. My conclusion is that you're just doing it makes you a real runner. It doesn't matter if your 5k PR is 15 minutes or 45 minutes. If you're lacing up and pushing from start to finish, you're a runner. After a decade of running and countless races my body is pissed at me. Okay it's pissed at me for a lot of reasons, but after two sluggish runs this weekend I don't feel like a real runner. I feel like an imposter lacing up my shoes and donning my cute running gear. Doubt has crept into my usual bad ass demeanor.

It's been a rough month or so. After all the health drama of the last few weeks my GI doctor at the University of Michigan decided I needed an aggressive course of antibiotics and a nine-week course of steroids to finally calm down this Crohn's flare that thus far has refused to be contained. I HATE steroids. I haven't taken them for 15 years because they're atrocious. Any time it's been on the table I've done everything possible to take them off the menu. This time there is no other alternative, and I find myself swallowing my pride along with four Prednisone every morning (plus antibiotics, an acid reducer and four over the counter supplements. My husband threatens to get me a pill box. He's not amusing.)

This flare has made me face reality for the first time in 19 years of having Crohn's. That may sound like a silly statement given that I've had so many surgeries, but surgery is to fix something. After surgery you generally feel better than you did before. Managing a flare is different. It's harder to fix. It's the first time in nearly two decades that I've really faced the fact that I have to manage this disease and make said management a priority. That means a priority over running and busyness and my own ego. I have to do that for me and my family. It's not easy to admit.

Steroids suck for a lot of reasons. Their side effects are pretty significant, but they are generally successful in settling down my Crohn's flares. Unfortunately it comes with significant joint pain and swelling. I feel like my knees and back are on fire. Squatting down to play with my son makes me feel like I'm 80 years old. My skin actually hurts when I touch it. My body is not cooperating mostly because my immune system is being shut down by aggressive steroids. Running two miles twice this weekend made me feel like I was not a real runner. I know that's absurd, but having to take steroids has gotten into my head. What if my body doesn't bounce back after this flare? What if this is the flare that changes everything?      

The last time I was on steroids was one of the most challenging times of my life. I was starting law school. I had three abdominal surgeries in eight months (during my first year of law school). It was a lot, but back then I didn't realize I wouldn't get better. The surgeries were going to fix things. This time I have a reality check.

Me on Prednisone in 2000. Holy puffy face.

This, my friends, is why there is therapy. (Also writing this blog is therapy and gives me something to do at 3:18 am when my dog woke me and my body decided sleep is overrated.) I know the easy answer sounds like I should stop running entirely for a few weeks, but while my body might like that my mind would rebel. So it's slower speeds, walking when I need to and keeping my perspective. I have a long summer ahead with a light race calendar, and that makes me so anxious. How can I run these towns without a busy race schedule? Maybe I should go back to my idea of brunching these towns for the summer or drinking gin and tonics in these towns (who are we kidding...I'm doing that anyway). Our amended summer travel season (both personal and professional) begins this week, so I'm looking forward to short runs in new (and familiar) cities to keep my running morale up. 

Goals are a huge part of what defines me. Instead of breaking 20 minutes in the 5k my new summer goal is to not let steroids take over. My goal is to get healthy. Seems easy enough right? Even with sore joints and a puffy face I will rock this sh*t out. I'll be a little slower and I'll be honest probably a little grouchier. But it's nine weeks. It's like a half marathon training program only instead of logging lots of miles I'm working my way back to healthy. It's a much loftier goal than I'm used to. I should probably get started by going back to bed...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Run Half a Mile in My Shoes

The human body is remarkable. It's both fragile and very strong. It's a complex organism that regularly exceeds my expectations. Even though my body has not been cooperating in the last few weeks, I'm still amazed that it can take such a beating and keep on going. I told my colleague earlier today that if my body could talk it would have spend the last month or so telling me to go f*ck myself. Apparently my body would also have a potty mouth.

Recovering is a weird thing. Last week I came back to work, but I left early Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to go home and rest. On Thursday I headed to Muskegon, Michigan for a two-day work trip. I had rescheduled one day of meetings from the week I was in the hospital so I could do the two days in a block and stay overnight. I figured staying overnight would at least allow me to rest after all my meetings and not chase a toddler around.

My first meeting was at 9:30 (Muskegon is about an hour and a half drive). By the time my meetings ended at 3 (back to back without a break) I was exhausted. As we were leaving our last meeting my colleague said to me: "Are you okay? You look low." I felt low. I went back to the hotel and napped nearly three hours before getting up and walking around downtown and heading out to check out the city's beaches on Lake Michigan. I will admit I was extremely tired, but I felt like this was my version of a compromise. I got several snarky "glad to see you're feeling better" texts, and I ignored them. I'm doing my version of a slow down, and I will do it my way. 

Selfies on Lake Michigan
On Friday morning I woke up sluggish, and I decided to walk around downtown a bit. I put on running clothes and started walking in a historic neighborhood. I live in a historic home, so I know how cool they are. But these houses in Muskegon were phenomenal. I was so impressed. I even let myself run for a block here and there mostly because my legs just started taking off without my mind even realizing what was happening.

Lovely downtown Muskegon
Nearly five years ago I wrote a blog about how running makes me feel normal. That's still true today. When I'm running I don't feel like a woman with Crohn's. Right now I feel like a sick person, and when I was running (for a half a mile total according to my Garmin) I felt strong and normal. I miss it. I miss my normal.

I ran only a half a mile, but by the time I was touring Muskegon's nature preserve later in the morning, I suddenly felt exhausted. I was supposed to have a late meeting scouting some sites for a meeting we're having in Muskegon later in the summer, and I canceled. I knew I had pushed too hard, and I needed to rest. Trust me, it's a step for me to even recognize this.

Over the weekend I didn't nap, but I didn't run. My body is still figuring out what's going on, and I'm trying to be kind to it. I had running clothes on last night with full intentions of going for a quick run, but I didn't feel well. And instead of pushing it I rested.

I'm hoping to start running again this week if only to feel normal. My body feels weak, and it's not a familiar feeling. Running half a mile shouldn't give me side stitches and leave me out of breath, but it did. But I'm getting into to my new normal slowly and surely. I'm doing very little travel this week and sitting here with a glass of wine as I type this trying to channel the inner piece that writing (one of my other big stress relievers) provides me. Running half a mile reiterated what a remarkable and fragile thing the human body is. I've never appreciated it more.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Change Will Do You Good

Change is hard. It's scary. Despite that I generally like change. I think it can be productive and healthy. Generally I like facing change head on and taking on new challenges. After last week's hospital stay I realized I need to make some changes. It's scary and intimidating, and in an unusual reaction change is kind of freaking me out. Well not so much the act of change but rather my fear of my body's ability to adapt. My fear is that I will make changes and it won't matter. That is terrifying.

In 19 years of struggling with Crohn's disease, six surgeries, weeks in the hospital and countless procedures, office visits and IV infusions, I've almost always maintained a positive outlook in the face of my health issues. This time I'm rattled in a way I never have been. This was my first hospitalization that did not result in surgery. While I'm thrilled to not have to go under the knife again, it worries me that this is the future of my health. What if this is starting to become my norm? What if it becomes harder and harder to push through and deal with my health issues as I'm getting older? What if this change is not in my control and my Crohn's starts to take over? I don't do well with what ifs.

I spent five days and four nights in the hospital. I went through myriad tests and had my body pumped full of steroids and pain medication. I gained 11 pounds and emerged from the hospital a puffy mess. When I saw my GI doctor before being released on Friday we talked about next steps: staying on Protonix (acid-reducing drugs), nixing the steroids (thank God - the high dose appears to have pulled me out of my flare), and really closely monitoring my pain and reaction to food.  At the end of the day Friday my roommate (my third in five days) was released a few hours before me, and I had the room to myself. I had the TV off, and it was quiet save the rhythmic pump of my IV. I found tears filling my eyes because I was (and am) afraid. The hospital is a safe, controlled environment. I actually did a lot of work while I was there (it's easy to be on my laptop in the wee hours of the morning), but I slept a lot. I felt rested. There was nothing else for me to do other than rest. 

As I waited for the wheelchair to take me down to the car where my husband was waiting, I felt panicked. As soon as I got home things would get real again. I would be faced with all the things I could ignore in the hospital. As soon as I got in the car I started crying. I was crying with relief to be heading home and crying with fear that I need to figure things out. I need to learn to let things go.

Recovering with a toddler is a challenge. My husband is incredible, but I feel guilty leaving everything to him. He'd already spent a week working and parenting alone. I needed to jump back in. I was shocked when I got home at how tired I still was. Just walking up the stairs in my house made my leg muscles burn. Carrying the baby was hard. Chasing him was even harder. I had to force myself to let my husband be in charge. He is more than capable of handling it (an understatement - he's amazing), and I had to let him take care of it.

Now after being home a few days it's really not much easier. I'm trying desperately to just leave things...the house can be messy. I can go take a nap and not feel guilty while my husband plays with the baby. I underestimated the toll a week in the hospital and all the drugs took on my body. I haven't even given a thought to running or exercising at all. I'm just focusing on recovering.

I've also realized I've got a very short fuse for the unsolicited advice from my friends and family. I've always gotten lots of advice: give up gluten, give up dairy, give up meat, give up caffeine, stop running, etc. etc. Other than the running recommendation I have at times given up all of those things. Auto immune disorders are hard to deal with and extremely individual. I have a friend with Crohn's who can't eat chocolate at all. It makes her violently ill. That's no an issue for me. I've spent nearly 20 years trying to figure out my nutritional challenges. I've seen four different nutritionists to no avail.

I get that I need to figure this out, but enough with the lectures. I've had so many people texting or emailing me this week about what I need to do. Here's the thing: I am dealing with it. It is a constant and daily struggle. Figuring it out will be too. I'm working on it, and being lectured about what you think I should do does not work. So please stop it. I know it comes from a good place, but it makes me resentful. 

Change is indeed good, and I'm taking it one day at a time. I'm being kind to myself. I'm taking deep breaths. I'm focusing on better choices. Today I had my first thought that I miss running. I know I'm not going to be breaking 20 minutes in the 5k this summer, but I miss way running frees me from Crohn's. It's not going to happen today, but I'll figure out how to incorporate a reasonable level of running into my life again soon. I'm looking forward to getting back to myself and realizing what the new version of myself will look like. I'm sure I'll slip up, but I'll get there.   

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

My Body is an Angry Motherf*cker

If you've read this blog for any length of time you know that 1) I have Crohn's disease; 2) I refuse to live like a sick person and 3) I push myself harder than most of the people I know who do nowthave a chronic illness. I've had six abdominal surgeries, IV infusions of medication for 14 years, and regular struggles where I just feel crummy, but I have a really active life with tons of travel, running, a busy job I love and chasing after a toddler. I don't exactly take it easy (understatement of the century).

A few years ago what should've been routine hernia surgery turned into nearly a month in the hospital with a bowel obstruction and blood clot. It was shocking. My body generally cooperates so well I don't know how to handle when it doesn't. I've had the occasional infection or Crohn's hiccup, but I generally am able to power through.

Last week I wrote a blog about faking it, but I didn't really talk about my health. If I can be candid my health pisses me off. I don't want to be sick. I don't want to struggle. And I power through because it's the only way I can deal with it emotionally. Being sick is not okay.

For the last few weeks I've really been struggling. A month ago my son brought home Norovirus, and my husband and I were both fortunate enough to contract it. If you're a healthy person it's a nasty virus, and I've had a hard time getting past it. My level of fatigue has been extraordinary, and some of the stomach issues continue to linger. 

Two weeks ago I had extreme abdominal pain on a Monday afternoon. It was a pain that made it hurt to breathe pain, and that is not the norm for me. It started while I was at work, and I went to a late meeting. By the time I was got home I was taking short breaths through gritted teeth. At the hospital you're always asked your pain level on a scale of 1-10. I have a high pain tolerance, and I was at about an eight. My husband wanted to take me to the ER, but I thought it would get better. This is one of the worst things about Crohn's: sometimes you're inextricably sick, and it runs it course. I try not to overreact. If I went to the doctor every time I didn't feel well, I'd be there a lot. I also just don't want it to be a thing. I don't want to have to tell people and explain it. Because it feels like it's always something, and I'm annoyed by it. Power. Through.

I struggled for two more days (still going to work) before calling the doctor. My doc ordered an abdominal x-ray and lab work. When I went to his office on Thursday (three days after this started) the pain was much better (I'd say 6 on a scale of 1-10). The physician's assistant looked me in the eye and said, "I honestly don't know what's causing this. Let's take some anti-spasm medicine and keep monitoring." I left frustrated because it was another doctor's appointment that was a waste of time. If I'd just powered through it would've gone away.

Last week I went to my family doctor. I've been so tired that I thought it might be anemia again. I had a great appointment where we talked a lot about adrenal fatigue. She called for more labs and recommended some over the counter supplements. The lab work required fasting, and I was having a hard time fitting it in last week. I waited until after our weekend visit to surprise my mom in West Virginia for Mother's Day.

On the drive back from WV I started having the agonizing abdominal pain again. We got home, and I was at the gritting my teeth pain level again. I didn't eat lunch or dinner and crawled into bed early. I woke up at 1:40 am to use the bathroom, and my first thought was "wow I'm in so much pain". When I got up Monday morning I felt sluggish but better. I was more uncomfortable than in pain. I walked my son to daycare, dropped my running clothes (because of course I was planning to run in the late afternoon) and computer off at work and walked around the corner around 7:45 am to the lab to finally get those labs drawn.  

The first technician poked me and couldn't get blood. I'm a super easy blood draw, so that was unusual. She brought in another nurse who poked me three times to no avail. As I was sitting in the chair I began to see stars. I told the nurse I was struggling. I had loud ringing in my ears and couldn't hear anything. I passed out and woke up to ammonia under my nose. I insisted on lying down, and the nurse (who was seven months pregnant) insisted that I be okay before I stood up. I promised that I was, and the next thing I knew I woke up on the floor in the arms of the pregnant nurse asking her if she was okay. I was shaking and sweating and honestly terrified. It was the scariest thing that's ever happened to me. She then had the other nurse call an ambulance and told me it was protocol to call 9-1-1 in this instance. I asked her to call my husband who told her he'd meet me at the ER.

Downtown Lansing is a small town, and I was terrified I'd see someone I knew as I was getting into the ambulance. Thankfully I got into the vehicle without being spotted and headed to the ER. They immediately started running tests, and my equilibrium mostly returned to normal. I was in a room in the ER for 13 hours, an absurd amount of time. I was told I might have to have surgery based on a potential partial bowel obstruction, but thankfully I am dodging the surgery bullet. 

They admitted me Monday night, and I'm here until at least Thursday. I am anemic again, and I have just settled into a Crohn's flare I can't get out of alone. I'm getting really strong steroid injections, and I'll keep the steroids going when I get home. I hate steroids, but they are better than surgery. I'm getting morphine every few hours, and I'm still really dizzy when I walk. I'm a fall risk and was told not to get out of my bed alone. So I may have done it anyway earlier and got caught by the nurse. I now have a bed alarm on so I can't get out without them knowing. Foiled.

Tomorrow I'll have some more tests, and this afternoon they took some tests to see if I have a viral infection (results pending). I'm on clear liquids only, but it turns out hot tea and chicken broth aren't the worst things ever. Everything I've been eating the last few weeks has made me sick, so I know my stomach needs this break. A few days of rest, steroids, pain meds and clear liquids is what the doctor is ordering (and maybe more things depending on tomorrow's tests).

Beautiful flowers from my mom, sister and work plus a balloon from my little dude. So loved.
Yesterday I was angry followed by despondent followed by resigned. Today I accept that I need to slow down. This is even scarier than my surgeries/blood clot from a few years ago. This was more random, and passing out like that really rattled my cage. My husband has brought my son in to see me the last two nights, and I realize I have to slow down to be there for them. I have to take it easier. Even thought it's entirely counterintuitive for me to relax more, I have to. I have to let things go.  This level of pushing just doesn't work anymore, and I have two people in my home who love me and rely on me. They are my priority, and I can't let them down.

This hospital gown is super flattering.
So here I lie at 8:50 pm on my second night in the hospital. I've been searching for perspective, and I found it on the floor of an urgent care in Downtown Lansing. It's not going to be easy for me to make these changes, but it is the only option. I still want to do the best job I can at taking care of my family, at my job, running and enjoying life. But sometimes going to bed early, running a shorter race and saying no is the smart thing to do. My body may be a total jerk, but I need to listen to it. The morphine helps.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

To Mom with Gratitude

Everyone says the same thing about their mom. One of the most cliche is that one's mother is their "best friend". I have always been really close to my mom. She's a remarkable human, but she is not and should not be my best friend. She's my mom. Even at the age of 37 she can still chastise me with a simple look. Now that I am have a child of my own I have an even greater appreciation for the fact that my mom is my mother and not my BFF. I love spending time with my mom. We have a lot in common. But ultimately even as an adult she's still an authority figure in my life. She still has my best interests at heart even above her own. She worries about me. She get frustrated with me and she loves me unconditionally in a way that nobody else ever has or will. It's a more important role than best friend.

With my mom at the Badlands in South Dakota
In this new world of parenting everyone is afraid to make their kids mad. Parenting is about making sure kids are happy and get everything they want. I have friends and acquaintances who are besties with their young daughters. It's hard to watch. My mom wasn't the world's strictest mother, but we did have solid rules. She let me stay up late at slumber parties with my friends. We always had all of our friends and neighborhood kids at our house because my mom is so fun and she's an awesome cook who would always open the kitchen to everyone. I told my mom pretty much everything growing up, and I felt comfortable with that. But it wasn't because we were best friends. My mom made the rules. My mom wanted me to tell her about my day, but she would also push me to do well in school and go to church. She created the much needed structure in my childhood, and I know that's a huge part of why I'm a successful adult.

Before my bridal shower in 2008
My mother raised four children largely on her own as my dad worked 12 hour afternoon shifts with very little time off. She didn't go on trips without us. She and my dad didn't do date nights. She didn't go out to the bar with her friends. She was always very active in church, and her faith makes me envious and proud. Her life was (and is) dedicated to God and her children, and I knew that. I appreciate that and her more than I'll ever be able to tell her.

A great candid at our wedding rehearsal dinner
Now that I am an adult of course my mom and I are friends. We've gotten our nails done. She and my dad have joined my husband and me for many vacations. We're going on vacation again together in July. We go out to dinner and watch fun things on television. But if I say something unkind I know I'll get a "Samantha Lynne" in that tone only my mom has, and at the age of 37 she's still first and foremost my mom. The mom/friend line never gets blurred. 

My parents meeting their grandson for the first time
There are no words I can type in a blog to express my unending gratitude for my mother. I can and will never say it properly. But I will try to emulate her in the way I parent my son. I will continue to try to make her proud. Thank you, Mom, for being my compass, and thank you for not being my best friend.   

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Art of Faking It

I have a confession to make, but I don't really want to say it out loud. Come here...I'll tell you if you promise not to tell anyone my secret. Closer...closer. Okay, here it is: I'm faking it.  What is it, you may ask? All of it: life, career, parenting, running. I like to pretend like I've got it all together, but I am faking it.

In reality I know that this is hyperbole, but there are times when it feels like that's true. I remember starting law school among this largely serious and intense group of humans. I am rarely serious and only intense when it comes to working out or being in love. Despite actually being a relatively smart person I have never thought of myself as very intellectual. I felt lacking in law school, and I showed it by not appearing to care that much. In fairness I had three abdominal surgeries my first year. I followed my heart to Texas and visited my third year at Baylor where I didn't know anyone. My grades, whether good or bad, transferred back to WVU as pass/fail, so I wasn't exactly the hardest worker. (Ironically I had my best grades of law school). My third year I had a business organizations class where the professor posted his teaching notes online. I went to that class twice: the first and last classes. I still have a recurring nightmare where I go to that class on the day of the final and am lost. I faked it into getting a B.

With my parents at my law school graduation in 2003. Ha ha! Fooled them all!
I remember starting my job as the Mayor's executive assistant in Norfolk at the age of 25. I had no clue what I was doing. I answered a classified ad. The Mayor loved introducing me as a "young lawyer from West Virginia", and it made it sound like I had a clue what I was doing. I will never forget being in my very first meeting with the council's economic development committee. They were discussing a local developer's project. The committee members kept saying the word "Kotarides" which is the name of the developer's firm. At the time I could not figure out what they were talking about. I wrote the word over and over again with different spellings to immediately Google it after the meeting. I remember wondering what I'd gotten myself into and how long it would take them to figure out I was clueless.

Meeting Emmitt Smith at work in April 2005. He was totally onto me.
I moved to Michigan largely on a whim, and on my second day of work I stood on the House floor looking around at the beautiful legislative chamber wondering what on earth I was doing. I handled my first bill and wondered how long it would take for someone to call me out. I was the policy advisor, the "expert" on the issue, and they'd find me out for sure. I transitioned to lobbying and then running a foundation - both new endeavors - without anyone figuring out that I don't entirely know what I'm doing. 

With brilliant women in the MI Capitol ten years after moving here (March 2016)
I'm a "runner" even though I'm barely running these days. I squeaked out a 2:04 half marathon a few weeks ago, but it was a fluke. I pushed through it not because I'm a runner but because I'm stubborn. (Caveat: I truly think being a runner just means doing it, but it shows you how crazy I am that I sometimes think I'm not one.)

Finishing the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon a few weeks ago
I have a fear that someone will look at my life one day and says, "She's totally faking it." My bigger fear is that they're right. I think being the type of person who is constantly pushing boundaries and living outside my comfort zone means there's always an element of figuring out what the heck you're doing. In instances where I feel uncomfortable or out of my element I fake it until I make it. It happens more often than I usually admit, but I keep making it. That's probably the part I should focus on.

On stage at a work event a few months ago. I admit: I felt like a rockstar this day.
I don't have it all figured out. I stumble as much as I reach the top. My confidence takes hits, and I sometimes feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. Then on many (actually most) other days I feel like a total rockstar who can (and does) conquer the world. Life is too short to not face challenges head on. I'm not here to be average; I'm here to be awesome.