My running shoes shuffle hesitantly by the door, moving in unplanned rhythm with cat hair and dust bunnies that create a grey veil over their silent, still tongues. How long have they been sitting there? They peer at me hopefully every time I open the front door, but I can see they feel more neglected each day, every time I look at them and shake my head: “No, not today. I don’t know when. I’m sorry. I miss you, too.”
Being a prisoner in my own body has taught me that I cannot expect to ever lace up those shoes regularly again – ever.
This is just one of the tortures of becoming permanently and progressively ill.
I wake up and can’t move. It takes 45 minutes or more for my eyes to open and escape the drowsiness of my medication, then another 30-45 minutes to get out of bed. I can’t raise my head to watch the light enter my room as I push aside the curtains and I can’t look down to my bare feet on the floor. My back and my neck haven’t warmed up enough yet.
I used to leap out of bed ready to accomplish 518.5 things before sunrise. What happened to me?
My running shoes are still by the front door, because maybe today will be one of the three days per year I can put them on and run a couple miles (only to regret it later as I lie in bed recovering).
Exercise is good for anyone, but for me it is a double-edged sword. It’s good for me, but deceptively easy to overdo it because I still have the mind of an athlete; if something hurts, my default is to push through the pain to the other side. That’s how I achieved glory before: 1st place medals, being team captain, scoring a goal, finishing that marathon, working a 14-hour day. But now, agony has replaced glory when I push through the pain; and the pain doesn’t recede – it worsens and grows.
I miss the ache of sore muscles after pushing my body beyond its screams to stop. I miss the high that comes after the physical and mental plateau, victory! It is different now. It is as if I inhabit a completely different body, or I exist in an alternate existence. My body cannot follow my brain’s desires; my brain screams at me to stop before I’ve even begun.
My body aches 24/7/365, angrily. No, not sore muscles that need to be stretched and massaged back to comfortable elasticity. Rather, it is severe, unrelenting inflammation caused by my own body attacking itself. I am plagued by a disease I did not cause but that will follow me, or even lead the way, to my grave.
My running shoes are still by the door. My soccer cleats still wait, too, laces crossed, hoping for one more time maneuvering balls and opponents through turf and grass. They haunt and mock me along with trophies and pictures and memories of ability, strength, and the joy of pushing beyond perceived limits of ability and competition.
My body fights a different way now. To breathe. To rest. To survive. That’s all the competition I can handle, now. This isn’t what I dreamed of, but it is what I have.
My running shoes are waiting for a cure for ankylosing spondylitis.
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