I broke a personal distance record yesterday while running very slowly, though my current “slow” speed would spike my heart rate at least by 10bpm just a few weeks ago. I accomplished 7.7km from last week’s 7km, attempting to add 10% distance every week as advised by experienced runners on the internet.
I was having a remnant headache from the day before but I ran anyway thinking it could fade along the way. It did fade along the way and I felt pretty good during the run, or I wouldn’t have attempted that distance. To celebrate my small milestone I ordered some pulled pork on a croffle for breakfast – I usually eat low carb but I thought it could replenish some glycogen lost during that run.
My headache imploded into a migraine a couple of hours after my breakfast. I went from enjoying a rare croffle to having nausea so bad that I couldn’t even stomach a few spoonfuls of soup. I really love to eat, so my partner knows I am really sick when I start rejecting food. I spent the day slumped, interspersed with trips to the bathroom wondering if my stomach would choose to empty its contents.
Of course the self-blaming started. I should not have run or eaten that croffle. My traditional chinese physician told me not to run until day 7 of my cycle but it is impossible tell any aspiring runner to take an entire week off running. I started an easy run on day 3 and ran a zone 2 run on day 5, and I thought my body felt well enough to run on day 6 again.
It is actually impossible to tell what would have happened if I didn’t run. I spent months, years avoiding streneous exercise until my fitness suffered. I have had period cycles when I did nothing and I had still have gotten migraines. They also happened when I did light walking instead. They happened when I went too low carb or ate too much. They happened so much that I blamed myself for all the choices I have made.
I knew this is bound to happen if I wanted to push the limits of my body, even in a reasonable way. Muscle will only grow when they breakdown, mitochondria will only generate if you push them to a certain threshold. In short, there is no aspiring for improved health without some level of discomfort. I don’t want my body to gingerly exist, I want to feel like my body is thriving. I have been weak and sick for my entire life. For once, I want to know what it is like to be strong.
I am typing this as some remnants of my migraine lurks in the shadows. I have no way of telling if it will develop later. But I have had bouts when it just progressively grows worse for days, even disrupting my sleep with extreme pain. I slept reasonably well last night.
I write about the second arrow buddhist parable often. The first arrow pierces our skin and causes real physical suffering, the second arrow is the suffering generated by the response to the first. I am actually pretty skeptical of buddhist teachings (or any religious teachings) at times because I resent the insinuation that we are capable of choosing our responses when neuroscience seems to point otherwise. This places the entire responsibility on the individual (okay I am digressing into another essay) instead of empathising with the circumstances that shaped that nervous system in the first place. But based on my personal experience we are capable of small nudges…if the conditions are right, and a lot of those conditions do depend on external circumstances that can be out of our control. The key is to recognise where we are at the moment.
Another key buddhist teaching (I am no scholar so this is my interpretation) is the acceptance of reality. I also resent this sometimes because can we really throw someone into a concentration camp and ask of them to accept their reality? My personal belief is that both responses are equally valid: it is valid to be unable to accept reality if that reality is unjust, but it is also valid to accept reality if that is what that provides another door that we seek. I think it is valid to hold both responses at the same time.
So, I do rage against my own reality that I am plagued with this never-ending condition, and yet I do have somewhere in me that accepts this reality. This acceptance does confer some inner freedom as even a tiny bit of acceptance alongside the rage will make a difference in how we navigate our inner world. If there is solely rage, only certain doors are open. But if there are other responses alongside that rage, perhaps there can be a wider or different spectrum of doors available.
There is self-pity and self-blame as I suffered my migraine yesterday. But perhaps there is also a newish voice that is emerging: reminding myself that the suffering and the self that I was experiencing is different from before (also it helps to have a kind partner who consistently reminds me of the same). It is easy to believe we are caught in the same old trap – one of the outcomes of chronic trauma – replaying the same tape over and over again deepening the neural connections that reinforce the memory and the suffering.
This time my symptoms are less severe, and it is possibly triggered by a 7.7km run, not by merely lifting my finger. I wanted to push my limits and my limits are broadened as I have wanted. It would be unrealistic for me to expect zero negative consequences.
I have lost so much of myself, but in returned I gained new parts of me. I can be angry at my illness and yet grateful to it at the same time. I think my life would have been on an entirely different trajectory had I not fallen sick, but I still believe I would have been much narrower as a person, because I was a workaholic and nothing could fill me up except work. I think it is valid to grieve my old self, but also anticipate the new parts of me emerging over this process.
I just wish I can remember all of this when the lights go out in my head and I succumb to the darkness – perhaps intellectually I know all of this during those times, but the darkness was just too overwhelming and paralysing to search for any tiny flickering of lights within me. Or maybe it is okay to allow myself to be fully immersed in my own darkness instead of unhealthy repression. Sometimes it feels almost cleansing in the aftermath. To feel all of it, to acknowledge its existence.
I am not pretending I have the right answers or any. But I am searching. To be willing to search, I think that makes all the difference.