Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Luxury of Being Sick

Last month Hillary Clinton was under fire for not informing the American public that she had pneumonia. She was called "weak". In what was not America's best moment we vilified a woman for contracting an illness that any of us could get. Apparently getting sick makes one "weak". I'd say sticking to a brutal schedule with pneumonia actually makes her a badass, but then again, this is coming from a sick person. 

I felt a lot of empathy toward Hillary because I know what it's like to be sick and feel like you have to hide it. I truly believe if we want to succeed women don't have the luxury of being sick. I would say this also applies to any person with a chronic illness. Moms don't get sick days. To keep up in the professional world we're expected to suck it up or be seen as weak. In Notorious R.B.G.: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it's noted that RBG was never gone from the bench while battling cancer. She quickly went back to law school classes after giving birth. Women are already at a disadvantage when it comes to child birth and maternity leave. We can pretend like it's not true, but it is. We don't also have the luxury of being sick. 

When I was in law school I worked at a firm in Texas. I had a severe Crohn's episode and spent the night in the ER. When I tried to call off the office manager insisted I come to work. My sister happened to be visiting and drove me there because I was on morphine and couldn't drive. I could not even stand up I was so much pain, and I was sent home. But they had to actually see how bad I was before they'd send me home. Amazing.

I've returned to work from hospital stays and been told the next work day that I am being pressured to show more results. I've returned emails in the hospital and pushed myself to come back. People tell me not to worry about work, but when push comes to shove if I want to be a successful professional I have to. Otherwise, as Secretary Clinton's incident shows us, I'm "weak". If I want to be seen as a serious professional then I have to at least appear to be well.

Having a chronic illness is weird. My level of "sick" is different from most people's. I regularly have stomach issues, fevers, infections and pain. This is my normal. My "sick" means I'm in the hospital. There's no in between. And because it's a disease nobody sees it's hard for others to grasp that I'm sick.  

Last week I wrote my recap of the Detroit Half Marathon and how grateful I was to be able to run it. What I didn't say was that in the ensuing days I began having tremendous pain. On Thursday (four days after the race) my doctor told me to start Humira, so I gave myself four injections before heading to a meeting. On Friday I started a my sixth course of antibiotics in as many months. Over the weekend I was in so much pain that I could barely walk.

Yesterday I went to the ER where I was told I had a very large abscess that would require surgery. By 2 pm I was in the OR and I was home by the end of the work day having had a surprise outpatient surgery. I was in so much pain before the surgery that I actually felt better when I woke up. I also felt dizzy which is fair given morphine, anesthesia and Benedryl in my IV. I've been told I can't lift more than 15 pounds for two weeks. For the record my toddler is 24 pounds, so that's an impossible ask. The surgeon looked at my husband after the procedure and said he couldn't believe I was functioning with an abscess that size. The day before the surgery we had spent a beautiful afternoon at Greenfield Village in Dearborn. I was actually feeling okay for much of the day (thanks tons of Ibuprofen!) but by the time we got home I was wiped out. The photos show me looking healthy and happy. One of the two is true. Twenty four hours later I was in the OR. My pain tolerance is epic.


Taken at Greenfield Village about 24 hours before my surgery. Like you do.
I have spent much of today sleeping but I've also returned a few work emails. It's frustrating to be on week four of a new job and say "sorry I'm out for a few days. Surprise surgery!" My new boss has been nothing but understanding, but it's not how I want to start a new gig. I had 14 years of hospital free Crohn's, and as we regulate my meds I am hopeful that this year will be a distant memory soon.

I realize I'm harder on myself than anyone will ever be on me, but I'm not wrong about the pressure put on working women or anyone with a chronic illness. I don't have the luxury of being sick when it comes to every day illnesses: colds, allergies, headaches. I have to save my sick time for my surprise surgeries or when I pass out unexpectedly twice in the doctor's office. My almost two year old doesn't understand sick days. I have a very supportive husband, but he's got a job too. Our life is a lot of busy, and I won't leave it all to him...at least not for very long.

Secretary Clinton is not weak for having pneumonia anymore than I'm weak for having Crohn's. Crohn's has made me stronger. It's made me a fighter. I will have to miss the 10k I'd planned on doing this weekend (no running for me for a few weeks), but my running goals for next year are intense. I don't feel sorry for myself for having Crohn's because it's made me who I am. Some days (like ones this week) are really frustrating, but it could be so much worse. I'll be at a few meetings tomorrow although I am missing the conference I'd planned to attend later this week. By next week I'll be back to full speed. Crohn's is an asshole, but it makes me a tough guy. Let's just hope this surgery (lucky #7!) is my last for a while. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Reasons to Smile

I've had a rough year of barely running. I've written a lot about it, and I've tried not to make excuses. I simply haven't done the work, and I haven't been motivated. Period. It's been health issues/grief issues/plain lack of motivation. But somehow this past weekend, in a half marathon I had no business running, I found my motivation in the driving rain on Detroit's Belle Isle.

I registered for the Detroit Domestic Half Marathon on January 11, 2016. I was still in my serious running hiatus after New York, and I thought having races on the calendar would help. Two of our good friends were also running, and it would be my girlfriend's first half marathon. It's always such an awesome thing to share someone's first race with them, so I was really excited to register.

Fast forward ten months and the year has not gone as expected. Instead of my achieving my original goal of breaking 20 minutes in the 5k I ended up in a Crohn's downward spiral punctuated by a week-long hospital stay, months of steroids, and five cycles of antibiotics. Even once I started feeling better my motivation was shot. I ran the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in April and a few 10ks over the summer. That's been it. I haven't done a training run longer than five miles this entire year. I was not ready for Detroit.

I listened to my friend talk about half marathon training for the first time. She was running distances she'd never ran before. I was excited for her but felt disconnected from my own training (or lack thereof). We met on Saturday in downtown Detroit for the race expo, and it still didn't hit me that I was running the following day. I bought some cool swag, we had snacks and cocktails in the afternoon and a pre-race dinner at the Detroit Athletic Club.

Pre-race #WVU125
The domestic half is strange because it doesn't start until 10:30 am. The international half is well over by then, and we joined marathoners on the back part of the 26.2 course. I remember running the full marathon in 2010 and feeling like the last 13.1 miles were so dead. The international half has injected some life in those final 13.1 miles of the marathon. We took off in Cadillac Square promptly at 10:30 and headed toward the Lafayette Park neighborhood. I love Detroit so much, and I was determined to take in the course and crowds and enjoy the race without focusing on my time. I started with the two hour pace group knowing it was unlikely I'd finish there.

Taken by friends at mile 1
As we got into the stunning Indian Village neighborhood the heavens opened and it began pouring rain. It was so muggy the rain felt good. Indian Village houses brought the fun; there was music, beer, fun and frivolity. The first few miles flew by. As we turned onto Jefferson Avenue the rain was pretty significant. My shoes were water logged and squishy. 

The bridge to Belle Isle passed quickly, and as I ran onto the island right before mile seven I got my second wind. I remembered that point vividly during the full: it's where I hit my wall. A volunteer jogged beside me and encouraged me. She told me that if I completed this feat I'd be a marathoner, and I could do anything. I wish I could find that woman and thank her because that advice has helped me so many times. 

As we rounded the back side of the island the rain and wind hit their stride. We were running into nearly sideways rain, but I still felt good approaching mile eight. As we ran toward the riverfront I found myself smiling and continued to smile the last few miles of the race. The rain let up before mile 12, and spectators started commenting on my smile. "Look at her! She's got this with that smile!"  and "You look too happy! It's not supposed to be that easy!"

I felt so, so blessed. I ran down Larned Street and started reflecting on this year. I recalled barely being able to bend down and play with my son because my joints were swollen from steroids. I remember those runs in June and July where my body refused to cooperate. I knew this race was far from a personal best, but I felt great. I felt strong and healthy.

In 18 years of Crohn's (including six surgeries, numerous hospitalizations, about 125 IV infusions, countless CT scans, MRIs and lab work) my body has always bounced back. In my darkest days of the hospital last spring it never occurred to me that I wouldn't run again. I registered for races to motivate myself. I bought cute running clothes. Five months ago in the middle of the night in the hospital I KNEW my body would come through on race day. It would not let me down.

I smiled those last few miles because I have so much to celebrate. I got to see my absolutely amazingly supportive husband and son at the finish. I had a rock star cheering section and got to see my dear friend destroy her first race. In the wind and rain I took on 13.1 miles without training and ran 2:08:33. How can I not smile?

Finishing strong
My friend KILLED her first half. So proud!
Running the Detroit half gave me back my motivation, and I'm so excited for some big goals in 2017 (stay tuned!) I feel emotional for all the blessings I have but particularly for the ability to run. Race day has never let me down.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Does Slow and Steady Really Win the Race?

I started this year with a serious speed goal: break 20 minutes in the 5k. I knew it was a really challenging goal, but challenges are my favorite. I started the year by shaving 41 seconds off my PR at the Super Bowl 5k. That PR still stands: 23:09. I knew taking another three minutes off would be tough, but my training was going really well.

It was going well until it wasn't. I started having dizzy spells and health issues at the beginning of May and spent a surprise week in the hospital. All of a sudden I knew running a 5k at that speed was unlikely particularly when my GI doctor prescribed several months of steroids. The goal changed to simply getting back into running.

The problem with getting faster is it increases my expectations. My PR of 26:00 stood from 2011 until the spring of 2014. I couldn't break 26 minutes to save my life, and once I did it's been a huge disappointment the few times I've gone over it. I've run 20 half marathons and have only broken two hours in 3 or 4 of them. Now if I run longer than two hours I'm so disappointed, and that is frustrating. I'm never going to win the Olympics. My focus needs to go back to the love of running not this obsession with time. 

Last weekend I ran the Dino Dash in East Lansing in 26:03. I felt really good. I've had a rough few months with hip and back pain, and running has been really hard. This is the best I've felt while running in months. I'll admit when I crossed the finish line and saw the clock above 26 minutes I was disappointed, but I forced myself to let it go. Feeling good and enjoying the beautiful fall morning was way more important than shaving a few seconds off my time.

The old adage "slow and steady wins the race" is an interesting one, and I guess it really depends on how we define the race. I've loved getting faster. It's been a run way to challenge my body and my mind. I also need to realize being faster isn't always the best thing for me physically or mentally. As I look toward the Detroit Half Marathon next weekend I am tempering my speed goals because I want to enjoy the race. Initially I thought I'd like to break 1:50 which would take a few minutes off my PR. Then I thought I'd just like to break two hours. Now I'm looking at my less than impressive training schedule and realizing I just want to enjoy the race. Whether it's 1:58 or 2:15, I will enjoy the race. I'll thank volunteers and high five kids and read all the signs. Slow and steady will win that race. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Reset Button

Very rarely do we have the luxury of pushing the reset button. It's hard because as spouses, parents, family members, friends and colleagues there are always so many obligations. I hate the word "obligations" because it implies something unpleasant, but even when they are things one loves to do the calendar fills up and it can get overwhelming.

I had a sabbatical planned in August, and I was hoping to hit the reset button. I ended up having free time earlier and had nearly three months off before starting a new job this week. While at first it was a shock to the system to not have the calendar filled with work, it turned out to be magical. For three months I got to do whatever I wanted to do. I spent time in Portland, Oregon and a week in both West Virginia and Virginia visiting family. I spent afternoons by the pool and read dozens of books. I walked my son to daycare and then went for long runs. I got groceries during the middle of the day and took naps. 

I looked for jobs, but mostly they came to me, which was the most flattering thing. I found something that keeps me working with the communities I love and provides a new challenge. I genuinely hit the reset button and it's been fantastic.

Last week my husband, son and I spent a few days at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. My husband was there for a conference, and we tagged along. The Broadmoor is a five-star resort nestled in the Rocky Mountains, and it's stunning. It's unequivocally the nicest place we've ever stayed, and I didn't want to leave. We lazed about the resort and went to top of Pike's Peak. We checked out the Garden of the Gods and had breakfast in downtown Colorado Springs. In my last week before starting a new job I was clinging to precious moments of quiet, work-free time. I didn't run because I have been having hip and back pain, so I swam laps in the amazing outdoor lap pool. 

Deer at the Broadmoor
Garden of the Gods
At the summit of Pike's Peak
Swimming laps
When we got home I spent my last few unemployed days doing what I love most: spending time with my husband and son. I ran a 5k, and my son helped me cook. He LOVES to help me cook. My husband and I shared a bottle of wine and watched a terrible movie. I could feel my complete reset coming to and end, but I was the most relaxed I've been in years.

Cooking with my favorite toddler

My cheering section
I had a friend tell me a few months ago that I've had a lot of moments that would make most people take a step back: my health, the birth of my son, losing my dad. And if none of those things would do it maybe having a few months of quiet would help. And it did. I'm so excited about my new job, and I'm in the best place I've been in my adult life. I have the most perspective, and I'm ready to take on the world. Not everyone gets this opportunity, and I'm so glad I allowed myself to appreciate it.