One day this summer, I was having a particularly good run. My legs felt strong, my endorphins were kicking, and inspiration struck:
I am going to sign up for the marathon.
And so I did. 26.2 miles on November 23. Let’s do this.
When I dropped this bomb on Phil, he was cautiously supportive: “Maybe we should talk to Dr. K. first.”
“Why? I’ve run a marathon before.”
“Uhh, yeah but you had all your organs then.”
Dr. K. is my hematologist. One unfortunate side effect of having my colon removed is that now my body refuses to absorb iron. So, I need to have iron infused into my arm intravenously. I figure this is the cost of doing business in the field of major organ removal, and for the most part, it seems to work. So well, in fact, that when I am feeling good and all juiced up on ferric carboxymaltose, I kind of forget about it.
But Phil had not forgotten, so off to Dr K’s we went. Phil was pretty confident we would get the answer he was after (NO. WAY. IN HELL), but I knew something he didn’t: Dr. K runs marathons. Two a year, in fact. She would have my back on this. She gets that the decision to run 26.2 is not rooted in common sense.
But soon my bravado would shrivel like a deflated balloon.
As Dr K flipped through my chart, I asked, “So what do you think about me running the marathon in November?”
And she started to laugh.
Then she saw my face.
“Ohhh,” she said, sitting down. “Oh, you are serious.”
I nodded. My eyes felt hot.
We discussed all the ways you lose iron through distance running: foot strike hemolysis, sweat, microscopic GI bleeds, etc. I knew all these things already. I had just chosen to stick my fingers in my ears and sing “LALALALALALALALA!!!”
On the car ride home, I stared out the window. The rational side of my brain was doing its best to talk me off the ledge: It’s not a big deal, Dr. K is right, just move on.
But my inner crackpot control freak was not giving up without a fight: Maybe I should get a hysterectomy, because then I wouldn’t get my period and that would save iron! As if removing your reproductive organs was equivalent to say, getting your eyebrows waxed. I turned to Phil to share this potential plan, but he was in a quiet space, deep in thought, his eyes glued to the road. I thought better of it. Even the most tolerant man reaches his capacity for crazy.
This battle in my head raged on throughout the weekend – a mental boxing match between “Sad” vs. “Stop Being Sad.” I played the game “Stop Bitching and Be Grateful Because How Can You Cry Over a Marathon When People are Starving and Homeless or Don’t Even Have Legs.”
But bullying myself into gratitude did not prove to be an effective strategy.
I remembered a book I had read half-heartedly early in the summer called Make Miracles in Forty Days: Turning What You Have into What You Want. I dug it out of my secret drawer of
shame self-help and gave it another try.
The book is basically a backwards approach to gratitude. Author Melody Beattie explains:
A monkey can count his blessings. We’re going to practice being grateful for everything we don’t like about ourselves and our lives. That includes people, places, and things that happen now or happened before. It also includes our feelings, especially those we judge as being bad or wrong.
I admit, this exercise felt ridiculous to me at first. But I figured I had nothing to lose, so I just rolled with it. My first list looked something like this:
I am grateful:
1. That I can’t run the marathon and I am filled with all this sadness and disappointment that I can’t explain
2. Being out of the good chocolate because then I can’t eat my feelings. Although I wish I had some.
3. Wine. So I can drink my feelings instead
So right now you are saying, “What the….?” But just hear me out, because this nonsensical bitch list had unexpected results. I plowed through my resistance each morning and made my list, and after a few days something began to shift. I felt lighter. The mental boxing matches subsided. Why?
Because I stopped fighting the thoughts and feelings we label as “bad.” Beattie writes:
When we surrender to and accept that which we judge as negative, we move into the light. The reality is that negative and positive are different sides of the same coin.
I found myself trying to over-complicate the exercise (shocking) by searching for the silver lining of each item on my list. But Beattie encourages the reader to resist that temptation:
It’s crucial that you’re honest about who you are and how you really feel, not who you think you should be and should feel.
There are times when it is appropriate and effortless to turn lemons into lemonade. But other times, someone steals your sugar and all you have is a shit pile of lemons.
And it’s ok to say: “I’m just going to write it down and leave it alone until I figure out what to do with all these fucking lemons.”
And yesterday, while sitting in carline, it dawned on me that my sadness is not about the marathon. It’s about wanting to feel in control of my life. It’s about wanting to feel like I have direction, I have a plan, I know where I am going. Running is a blessing in my life; it gives me structure and discipline.
But there is a difference between running and running away.
Beattie says that “feelings tend to come in trios….they come in layers.” Underneath the marathon disappointment is fear and insecurity. And knowing this gives me permission to be a bit kinder to myself – a bit more patient and compassionate. I am learning to love myself through it. You know, instead of mentally screaming: “AT LEAST YOU HAVE LEGS!”
And for that, I am grateful.