Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Moments of Weakness

I've come a long way in gaining mental strength over the past eight years. There was a time when I had very little of it; I didn't understand it. I simply let my emotions control me without feeling empowered to control them. There was a time in my life when I trying numbing everything out, but that's not a long-term strategy.

You have to walk before you can run.
Running and working with a sports psychologist have taught me the importance of mental strength in ways I never expected. And even though I wrote a book about how much I've learned and how far I've come, I'm still not perfect at it. Nor will I ever be. Over the past seven weeks with mono, my mental strength has been tested over and over again. Most days I pass the test. Actually, every day I pass the test. But there are individual moments when I cave.

Backing up a bit, I came down with mono on June 30 and I haven't run since. I did two very short "test runs" and neither of them ended well. I guess that's to be expected, since my legs feel weak when I walk. And in fact, after each of those runs I was able to accept that I wasn't ready to get back into running quite yet, and moved on. For me, mono has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. Sometimes I feel almost normal, and other times I feel completely exhausted, weak and/or dizzy.

Throughout all of this, I've been about 95% positive, but I would be lying if I said I didn't have any breakdowns. And that's what this post is about.

It starts with one negative thought. For example "I was in the best shape of my life and a 3:20 marathon was in sight. I may never get back there." And then that thought spirals into another, even more negative thought: "What if I never recover and I have to deal with this forever?" And then comes thinking about how amazing my life was this past spring before I got sick, and thinking that will never happen again. And so on, until I'm all worked up into tears.

I'm pleased to say this is not an everyday occurrence, but it has happened several times. So what to do? Here's my thinking:

I remind myself that mono is tough.
No matter how mentally strong I am, it's unrealistic that I am going to be little miss sunshine all the time. It is okay to feel frustrated, sad and disappointed. Mono has taken a lot from me (my entire summer and fall racing season) so there's a bit of mourning that's to be expected.

I remind myself that NOT running is harder than running.
I love a good challenge. And for me, running is usually the "challenge" in my life. I miss that. So, I simply remind myself that I'm still being challenged every day (like how running would challenge me) but just in a different way. Instead of powering through tough set of intervals on the track. Or suffering through a long run in the heat, I'm battling illness. It's a different kind of fight.

I think of all the things I can do to help my situation.
Feeling depressed and defeated actually has physical consequences. I'm only making things worse for myself if I succumb to negative thought patterns. One of the best things I can do is NOT think about mono. What do I think about instead? Things I can do to help me recover as quickly as possible (like eating healthy, getting enough rest, reducing stress) and things that I can do in spite of having mono (like blogging, celebrating my wedding anniversary with Greg, and seeing friends).

I also helped my situation in a huge way by removing a major source of stress from my life. This particular "thing" was keeping me up at night and occupying way too much head space. So, now that's gone and I'm truly free to focus on my health without worrying about other things.

How am I feeling these days? I was starting to feel really good the weekend of August 7th. The
doctor had cleared me to go for walks, so I walked around my block once on Saturday, once on Sunday, and then twice on Monday. (It's about 0.6 mile for one lap). I went to work on Monday, and a few hours in, I felt horrible. Like I needed to lie down immediately. That wave of sickness passed after 30 minutes, but I ended up leaving work at 3:00 because I was exhausted by then.

6-Year wedding anniversary at the Ritz Carlton
By Tuesday morning I was feeling strong again, so I figured I would do a test jog: jog for 5 minutes, walk for 1 minute jog for 5 minutes. Even though there was still weakness in my legs, the running felt decent. I was really optimistic! But about an hour later, I found myself crashing and needing to sleep. And then the next four days were really bad, and I stopped walking around the neighborhood and stayed home from work.

On Saturday, August 13th, Greg and I celebrated our six-year anniversary by going to the Ritz Carlton where we spent our wedding night. That's when I snapped out of feeling awful and suddenly felt way more energized. I honestly think there's a mental connection. I got out of the house, was celebrating something special. I was laughing a lot, and it was really good for me. I definitely turned a corner.

On Monday I resumed walking around the neighborhood. Just one lap, and I felt decent for the remainder of the day. I didn't walk on Tuesday, but this morning I polished off two laps (1.2 miles) and right now I am feeling relatively good. So essentially it's been up and down and up and down. I'm seriously hoping that I am done with the long periods of lethargy (like last Tuesday-Friday), but there's really no way to know.

TimeHop from 4 years ago.
I'm going to see an infectious disease specialist next week. Even though my original doctor diagnosed me with mono, I just want to make sure there's nothing else going on. What scares me the most is the weakness in my legs. I know that there can be long-lasting complications with mono, and if that's what's happening, I would rather know sooner than later. Also, why am getting mono AGAIN? Is it connected to running too hard in the heat? Maybe the new doctor will have some ideas. Thanks to the TimeHop app, I am reminded that my situation 4 years ago was very similar to my current one, and I came out of that with no lingering affects. It did, however, take nearly 3 months.

I'll continue to do my best to stay mentally strong, and now that the other source of stress has been removed, I am cautiously optimistic about my recovery.


  1. I enjoyed listening to your interview on DizRuns! It's so hard not to run when you want to run. I hope you feel better soon!

  2. Progress, Elizabeth. Your identity is not in your running but in your character. That is growing. Pulling for you!!!

  3. I was glad to read an update. Hang in there. Sending you positive thoughts!! Good idea to get another medical opinion.

  4. Fingers crossed you keep getting better! And congratulations for your anniversary :) Sounds like a great way to celebrate it with the hotel and what looks like an amazing brownie!

    1. Thanks. It was a deep chocolate cake and it was delicious!

  5. I'm still concerned that this isn't mono--as far as I know, you can't get it more than once! I'll be curious to hear what the infectious disease specialist says. Glad you are slowly feeling better.

    1. You can get it more than once because the virus can mutate ever so slightly. Even if it is mono, it will be good to understand why I've had it three times.

  6. IMO, you are taking this as well as can be expected. You will come back from this! I didn't run for about 7 months during pregnancy. I was able to get my base back - took a few months, but it happened. Once your healed up, you'll be back! This may or may not be of interest to you, but in your non-running free time, maybe you can polish up some neglected hobbies! (I saw one of your IG stories with the piano! Maybe a goal to master a new song, or a rusty one? I dream of one day reclaiming my ability to play Chopin's Revolutionary Etude - haven't been able to do that since 1998!)

    1. I think that I can NOW start taking up a neglected hobby (the piano) a bit more. I had been far too stressed with that other situation to get myself in the right frame of mind, but now I am free to do so. I go through phases with the piano. Sometimes I play every day, other times, I go for weeks without touching it. I play by ear, though, so I don't feel like I lose skill if I'm away for awhile.

  7. Ugh... negative thoughts spiral so easily and it's so hard to get rid of them! Great job with the tactics to deal with it. And yay for getting rid of a source of stress! I hope things keep improving.