A year ago this month I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease after two years of being sick enough to know something was wrong — truly wrong — beyond the usual suspects of overwork, lack of sleep, and “that bug” that’s always going around. The tipping point came when I started learning to run. After years of martial arts training, I knew how my body should respond to conditioning, and my body just wasn’t responding. My strength and stamina were actually diminishing the more I ran. In the summer of 2011, I ran my first 5k. By October, I could barely run a mile, and by November, I had stopped running altogether. I felt crushed by fatigue and all-over pain that made me think twice about walking upstairs to get some forgotten item, let alone lacing up my running shoes and heading out the door. The following March, I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome.
If you’ve visited my blog before, then you’ve seen how I have (with the Gent‘s unflagging support) revamped my eating habits with an eye towards an anti-inflammatory diet, one which is also gluten-free and mostly dairy-free. In addition to these beneficial dietary changes, a regular yoga practice stretches my connective tissues, eases inflammation, and builds both breath and muscle stamina. One year since embarking on this quest to regain my health, I’m grateful to say the lifestyle changes have been worthwhile, and continue to be worthwhile.
In affirmation of these positive changes, on January 1, I started running again. This time around, learning to be a runner has been a completely different journey. My lungs and my legs are growing steadily stronger. My training is buoyed by the sheer joy of feeling my body working, the exuberant challenge of conditioning myself to run gradually farther, longer, faster. To my own surprise, last weekend I finished my first 7k race, the “Get Lucky 7k” sponsored by Team Ortho in Minneapolis, MN. I started out on New Year’s Day running a single mile at a 14:00 minute pace, and just two and a half months later crossed my first 7k finish line with a PR and an 11:33 pace. My face hurt from smiling the whole way!
There is no cure for Sjogren’s Syndrome, but developing a sustainable training schedule keeps my body as strong as it can be, so I can better weather the ups and downs of managing a systemic illness.
Sjogren’s has changed my life in many ways, but the most significant of them are not what you might expect. Finding motivation to stay active is no longer an issue; every day that I wake up able to be active feels like a gift. I am more aware of what I eat and how it affects my body. I connect with my friends and family in a deeper way, with more humility and compassion than I ever knew I had. The biggest change however, is this: a sincere gratitude for this life and its many blessings suffuses my daily routine. This gratitude lifts me up, gives me strength, and feeds a sense of joy in the present moment that is new to me. I am so very, very lucky.