The Positive Side of Medicine

How I ran a 5K with chronic illness

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How I ran a 5K with chronic illness

[By Peter Waite]
I never expected to run a 5K race. In fact, I never expected to run again in my life, period. Having battled chronic illness for 17 years and suffered a serious leg injury 10 years ago, running wasn’t even on my mental radar. Over the years just walking has been difficult for me. So you can understand how unimaginable it was for me to believe that I could ever be fit enough to run 3.11 miles. But I am and I did.

The story of how I came to run my first 5K is a miracle of modern medicine and physical and mental determination. I call it a miracle because there’s really no other word to describe it. Four months ago I couldn’t even walk a city block without it wiping me out for days. That’s what Fibromyalgia does to you. It causes endless fatigue and body-wide chronic pain. Sort of like a flu that never ends. I have to admit – there were times I almost lost hope.

But I didn’t give up. A year ago I launched into a battery of medical tests, procedures and doctor visits that I hoped would give me answers. It wasn’t easy. It’s hard to keep your chin up when someone with an M.D. tells you there is nothing they can do for you or that they don’t know what’s wrong with you. But I also know that doctors don’t know everything. They are human too, trying to solve a complex puzzle of symptoms.

And I had a lot of symptoms. Burning pain in my hands and feet. Deep aching and stiffness in my shoulders, back, and thighs each morning. Difficulty sleeping. Brain fog and memory loss. Fatigue that would not quit no matter how much sleep I got. Painful bouts of cramps and intestinal distress, to put it politely. Sometimes I’d wake up feeling like I was literally dying.

It didn’t take long to find out that my gastrointestinal symptoms were actually Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). A colonoscopy confirmed that I had no sign of inflammation. I began a new medicine for IBS. My gut was relieved.

But the specialists had a more difficult time with my other symptoms. Tests for rheumatic and infectious diseases, like Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lyme Disease, came back normal. I didn’t want those illnesses, but each time a test came back normal I felt betrayed and disappointed. Why then was I feeling so awful? What was wrong with my body? I was determined to find out this time.

After they ran out of tests, my rheumatologist told me he suspected Fibromyalgia. You see Fibromyalgia is usually a diagnosis of exclusion. There’s no blood test for it. It’s also rare in men, who make up only 10 to 20 percent of Fibromyalgia patients. IBS, however, is common in patients with Fibromyalgia. He told me there was no cure but in the last few years there have been major breakthroughs in treatment. Research shows it’s likely a neurobiological disorder where pain sensations are amplified by the way your brain processes pain signals. I was a skeptical, but I decided to give the new medication a try.

After only 3 days I knew something had changed. I felt less morning stiffness. The pain wasn’t gone but it was manageable. I was more alert at work. And I felt more rested and less fatigued than I had in years. But most importantly, I didn’t have any more “dying” sensations. That was confirmation enough.

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Peter Waite (@HealingWell) is the founder of HealingWell.com, a 120,000+ member support community focused on living well with chronic illness. He blogs at blog.healingwell.com

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