Before I became unwell with the chronic illnesses of fibromyalgia and POTS I didn’t think too much about the capabilities of my body. If I wanted it to run, skip or jump, it did. It looked OK in clothes, and didn’t object too much whatever I ate or drank.
I took it for granted, this body of mine.
But my relationship with my body took on a different tone when I became unwell rather suddenly in my early thirties. Suddenly my body was very ‘present’ in a way that I wasn’t used to. It reminded all the time it was there, with my heart beating too fast, my joints and muscles aching and migraines forcing me to lie down in a darkened room instead of being out with my friends. Unsurprisingly I came to resent this noisy, demanding and aggravated body. It was causing so much pain and discomfort and disrupting everything that I wanted to do with my life. My painful collection of bones and muscles didn’t feel part of me; instead my body felt like a ‘thing’ that was setting out to destroy me.
In short, I came to hate my body.
As time went on, and it became clear that my conditions, being chronic in nature, weren’t going to magically disappear one day, I started to exercise again. That exercise began with literal baby steps. Five minutes tentatively walking at the speed of a snail up and down the road, my dizzy head not tolerating much more. Then five minutes became ten, then twenty. There were good days and bad, and some major setbacks, but overall I made progress. Hills were added to the walks, and uneven ground attempted. Stairs were taken, occasionally, two at a time. My conditions didn’t disappear, and neither did my symptoms. But they became more manageable and weren’t as all-encompassing as they once were.
Gradually, this body of mine was doing what I wanted it to do some of the time. I could walk in the park, the woods, through beautiful gardens during spring while the daffodils were blooming.
Then, I decided to take it a step further (excuse the pun . . . ). I decided that if I was to have a proper connection with my body, I wanted to go back to an activity I used to love to do: I wanted to run.
So one day I pulled my trainers on and I ran. Super slow, and for a minute at a time to begin with. I followed a programme for complete beginners, which irritated me no end. I wasn’t a beginner, I told myself in frustration, I was a ‘returning’ runner. Of course, my body didn’t quite see the distinction as I did. But I stuck to the programme, clutching my phone set to the stopwatch app to keep time on my efforts and diligently consumed salt and water as recommended by my doctor. Now on a good day I can run for 20 minutes, occasionally more. On a bad day I don’t even attempt it.
I could say that I wanted to run to get fitter, to spend more time in nature and not at my desk or simply to look better in a pair of jeans. All of those reasons are true.
But the real reason I wanted to run was to be in charge of my body again. I wanted it to do what I wanted for a change, not what it felt like with its pain and dizziness and all the other symptoms it came up with whenever it wanted to disrupt my day.
Running makes me ‘feel’ my body as I used to — the familiar ache from running up a hill and the breathlessness for attempting a little sprint in the last minute. I feel as though I have accomplished something when I complete a run. There’s a little victory in my body being strong enough to power me around the park. I can run along routes that a few years ago I couldn’t even walk down. Sometimes that me smile, other times I have to swallow back tears that my life is starting to change for the better again.
All in all, running lets me inhabit my body again. It helps me feel like me. And when you have chronic illness, in my experience, feeling like yourself can easily slip away from you at times. For me then, running serves as an anchor. It brings me back to being me.