Feeling Athletic & Chronically Ill: Not Polarized Feelings

Setting the scene: I’m propped up on the chaise section of the couch with a heating pad on my back, a cat snuggled on my shins, while I think about the Baltimore Running Festival 5k. I set a personal record by 30 seconds yesterday, running the 5k in 21:23. This post will recap the race, then I’ll explain what I did to prepare while managing endometriosis. I share my endometriosis journey not so you feel sympathy, but to share information and break down the isolation that comes with the alienating condition. I run for the endowarriors that can’t because their kidneys or diaphragm are compromised from the disease, or because a doctor has not referred them to excision surgery.

First, the easy part: the race recap. The weather was PERFECT. The course was mostly shaded by buildings in the 7:30am morning sun while the temperature was around 50 degrees. I wore a Team Baltimore Flowtank top and shorts because I know I overheat. 

Mile 1: 6:49 pace

The first mile felt easy. I started close to a 6 minute mile, so I pulled back. My virtual coach from Charm City Run sent positive affirmations throughout training to help me feel confident in controlling the first mile. I also saw Frugal Nutrition a bunch of times on her bike. Seeing her brought me so much joy!

Mile 2: 6:58 pace

            I worked on staying controlled and strong, repeating lines from “Polarize” in my head. It’s deciding where to die and deciding where to fight, deny, deny, denial. I find those lines comforting, anyway. The course layout also helped with staying strong. The turn-around was at the halfway point, which helped me chunk each half mile as a small goal to reach. 

Mile 3: 7:00 pace

            The race is billed as “completely flat”—not true!! Maybe compared to the traumatic hills in the half marathon and marathon, but NO. Most of the race is like running at a 1-3 elevation on the treadmill. The course is a common route for my training runs, so I paid careful attention to these changes in order to mentally prepare, and you know, not have unrealistic expectations. The stretch of Key Highway next to Rash Field tends to mess with me. To push through these soft elevation changes, I thought about all my 6:30-6:40 paced repeats in sprint runs workouts.

Last .1: 6:15 pace

            I turned the corner of Charles and Pratt to face my partner and his family screaming, seeing them gave me strength to push it with everything I had left. I had more speed than I expected. I feel more confident that mile 2 can be more aggressive, setting me up to also push harder on mile 3. My heart rate never crested 150. After multiple 5k bonks with a final mile slower than 8 minutes, I can finally see I’m capable of a consistent race pace. My coach planned quite a few runs at tempo pace for 30-40 minutes. They are physically and mentally challenging, but that made the 5k speed seem less daunting.

Will I ever have cute race photos?

I was in my ovulation phase the week before the race, which brings escalating pelvic pain and fatigue as I get closer to my menstrual cycle (yes, despite having excision surgery 16 months ago). I acknowledged my fear that it would be detrimental on race day, then did my best to let the feeling go. Wouldn’t it be great to one day run a race on the most energetic day of my cycle! Rest, despite three evening events at work, was a priority all week. Also: water, gentle stretching, and easy work at physical therapy for an unhappy hamstring. My partner and I partially prepped dinner to remove the dinner decision making after long work days.

How did I prepare in general? In addition to working with a virtual running coach, I have an incredible care team that includes pelvic floor physical therapy, acupuncture, and a gynecologist. I also take extra care to preserve my health by reading about the latest endometriosis research and hormonal cycles in training. If you are looking for a start in your endometriosis journey, join Nancy’s Nook on Facebook. The group has the latest research resources and doctor recommendations. The admins work tirelessly to remove misinformation.

An awful truth: most of my care is not covered by insurance. On top of endometriosis having a 7-10 year diagnostic window, most of the best care is still difficult to access. There are multiple reasons: dismissal of women’s pain (just read this essay by Tressie MacMillan Cottom), inadequate diagnostic procedures, or insurance companies deeming excision surgery medically unnecessary. When your body is experiencing pain for such a long time, it takes extra care after diagnosis to get close to a baseline of “normal,” which I like to think of as pain-free. I’m still not there. Working to balance my hormones and energy levels with everything listed above has been a start. I cycle syncto nourish my body, including easy activities at certain times, even when I’m working towards big running goals. 

More than the pain, I’m at a point where I can barely control my anger about inadequate care and access to resources. Writing to break the silence is my main advocacy now, though that will change as I meet more people working to create change.

Some books I was thinking about while writing this:

  • The Body Paper, Grace Talusan
  • Music for Wartime, Rebecca Makkai
  • Thick, Tressie MacMillan Cottom

Now, to take a week off from running to stretch, practice yoga, and learn new hamstring strengthening tools at physical therapy. Stay sweaty and glittery.

Redefining Expectations

None of the beaten end up how we began.

A poem is a gesture toward home.

The two final lines from “Duplex” in Jericho Brown’s The Tradition hit my heart. Brown created the duplex to say what he couldn’t express in other forms. Or in his words, “I should remind everyone who knows me that I do not believe that poems are made of our beliefs. Instead, I believe poems lead us to and tell us what we really believe.” Poetry Foundation

I feel this way when redefining goals while living with chronic illness. Have you noticed that I don’t say overcomewhen speaking about chronic illness yet? Overcoming suggests an ending. You cannot fail without a set end. You cannot find out what you really believe without exploration.

Sylvia Plath published four books, despite dying at 30. I was obsessed with this before my 30thbirthday. “The Applicant” is one of my favorite poems because of the saltiness, the suits, the repetition. I mean, will you marry it, make it yours, take on the expectations built before you? Will you marry it? Don’t. The expectations are empty, there is no reason to follow them.

I’m about to turn 31 and have put aside this obsession with number of books as publishing success. I’m still chasing some time goals in running, but the minute details interest me at this point: the consistent tempo run, the amount of times I perform physical therapy in a week, or the amount of hours I sleep. In writing, it’s about the process: drafting, or reading and journaling my reaction to the work.

Recovery isn’t standardized. Neither is success. I see this deeply in Lily Hoang’s Bestiary: “The success of the true rat race is all veneer. It is a hot-boxed garbage and infidelity.” Hoang sends her piercing gaze on perfection, family, the immigrant experience, expectations, myth. There are so many ways to live, any one definitions of success is garbage. I hope you, reader, see this in your life and find joy in the process.

Stay sweaty and glittery.

Books I was thinking about while writing this: Jericho Brown’s The Tradition, Lily Hoang’s Bestiary, Candice Carty-Williams’s Queenie.

#cheesememe

It’s the beginning of Endometriosis Awareness Month, and today, I want to talk about cheese. I may be influenced by Jenny Lawson. I finished Furiously Happy on audiobook in January and I’ve been thinking humor and chronic illness since then. As I change my daily habits, I will never forget all that cheese has done for my gastrointestinal system and my poetry career.

This post will begin with a confession: I watch The Today Show almost every day. I’ve had this morning ritual since moving to Baltimore in 2010. Despite changes in career and habits (early bird to night owl, then back to early bird), Al Roker has stayed with me. He’s the only staff member that hasn’t changed in the eight year period, right? But I was betrayed on January 31, 2019. The segment was on CHEESE.

Per nutritionist advice, I have mostly eliminated dairy (anything with casein, the main protein in dairy) from my diet since February 2018. Endometriosis is exacerbated by inflammation. Dairy is an inflammatory food. I grumbled my way through it, and continue to grumble to this day. Are we at Harris Teeter? Let’s walk by the cheese area to check on my favorites. Look, Satori Balsamic Bellavinto Cheese is on sale and in a sample pod! I’m going to smell it. Ordering food? Homeslyce still has my favorite four-cheese garlic. Let me linger my mouse over the item, remembering the surprise of tart blue cheese with sweeter mozzarella, then build-my-own-pizza with dairy-free cheese, pineapple, and basil.

If a poet can have a brand (debatable), I built the early part of my career on sad poems about loneliness and cheese. Spreadable cheese, block cheese, string cheese (which I bite into, by the way)—cheese was comfort. The soft taste on the tongue, the salty sting, was a hug from the inside. There was even a Baltimore flurry of #cheesememe posts after an MFA classmate made a book out of Kraft Singles (3-4 years ago, I think). How is that book doing, anyway? I saw it about a year ago and it still hadn’t started decomposing. Giving up cheese was probably a good idea.

Anyway, it’s day two of Endometriosis Awareness Month. Click here for facts—the disease affects an estimated 176 million people worldwide. The disease isn’t limited to gender. Or cheese preferences. I’ll be posting more on my Instagram and on the blog throughout the month.

Stay sweaty and glittery.

Welcome

Welcome to #poetsthatsweat.

On this blog, I’m bringing together my two loves: language and movement. I started using the hashtag, #poetsthatsweat, facetiously a few years ago to get over my embarrassment of being a jock and artist. I’m no longer concerned about being embarrassed.

I’ve also spent a long time pretending to be fine. Since officially diagnosed with stage IV endometriosis in April 2018 (after over a decade of pain, more in a later post), I’ve been looking for ways to express joy. Casual clothes, hard work, and coffee fuel me, but I’ve had to be more strategic if I’m being honest about the chronic fatigue that comes with endometriosis. I’m always thinking about how I will feel in the coming days, trying to ration my energy while still participating in things I love.

On this blog you’ll find my thoughts on running, circus arts (find a solo of me losing myself in a Kesha song here), writing, and reading in the context of health. All things that lead to joy in some way. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, right?

Most recent reading pleasure: I finished Station Eleven yesterday morning. What an intricate, masterfully written book. Emily St. John Mandel weaves multiple lives together in a society nearly decimated by the Georgia Flu. As you read, you find out how Station Eleven has touched each character. The world is so big, yet so small in the energies of lives that bind us. This line stuck with me:

“If nothing else, it’s pleasant to consider the possibility.”

I want possibilities to look better for future generations of women, womyn. Treatment in the healthcare system is a piece of equal opportunity. Endometriosis hasn’t been studied on a broad scale, only recently receiving major funding.  Medicine’s history is full of patriarchal treatment. I can look back at the rage in my poetry and say “I see why you feel that way.” I am not the first to say this either. Read Dora Malech’s The Kenyon Review blog post CLIFTON, PAIN, AND POETRY. There is finally federal funding to research endometriosis, which will hopefully mean something.

For now, here are some quick resources that have helped me:

Thanks for reading. Stay sweaty and glittery.