On Running and Brokenness

On Running and Brokenness

Welcome to fall: The season where running is the thing to do. Around here, fall and spring invite runners of all varieties to the sidewalks, streets, and paths around the city. All the cool kids are doing it. You cannot help but see droves of individual runners and groups of runners of all ages along the main street outside of our neighborhood. Our city holds a couple half marathons and one marathon each year. It abounds in running culture.

Once upon a time, I would have happily signed up for every event possible. I would have even won a few races. I was hard-core. I say that pridefully. On my best running days, I ran with freedom and joy, my feet barely touching the pavement. It was my element. A kindred spirit with Eric Liddell, I felt God’s pleasure when I ran. I hit a spirit-note that resonated with the music of heaven when I ran. Granted, on a bad day, I ran as a slave to an exercise addiction and an eating disorder, but isn’t that what the enemy loves to do? Pervert the holy into something toxic? It doesn’t take away its God-breathed intrinsic holiness.

Once upon a time, I celebrated the crisp leaves and even crisper air with an “easy ten-miler.” (And no, that is not an oxymoron, believe it or not.) October ushered in the most glorious running adventures imaginable, and best race times as well. Last October involved longing, because I was waiting out my six-week postpartum time after Elijah was born. There was promise of a restored body, however, and soon. Six weeks is not too long to wait to run again. There seemed to be no reason to think that I couldn’t return to my passion as soon as my pelvic floor could bear it. This October, however, I find myself coming face-to-face with grief and possible bitterness. I see the blissful, healthy runners, and jealousy electrifies my being like a bolt of lightning. I swear, it sometimes physically hurts to see them. I see even sluggish runners, straining with bodies that aren’t quite adapted to the exercise, and I feel envy.

They tell me I am sick. Even my two-year-old daughter tells me that I am sick. As I place the blood pressure cuff on my arm to take my blood pressure ten times a day, she says matter-of-factly, “Momma sick.” I don’t know where she got that. No one told her that I was sick. The poor (and wonderful) child is an intuitive genius. I never know how to respond. Anyway, I would be out there running with the best of them in a heartbeat if I were able. I would be up with the sunrise, pounding out those delicious miles on the trails in the park if I could stand up in the morning without my vision closing in and turning black. At this juncture, however, I am lucky if I can stand up long enough to push my daughter on a swing for five minutes, or take a shower without needed to lay down for half an hour to rest.

I am so beyond sad about my limitations. I never imagined that at 33, I wouldn’t be able to function at a normal level, even bordering on “disabled.” They tell me that this is chronic. It sounds like it gets better at times and worse at others. I’m still waiting to find out what is embedded in my brain, but for now, I am trying to swallow the bitter pill of POTS. With a one-year-old and a two-year-old. I have to have people drive us to playgroups just in case I pass out while we are playing ring-around-the-rosy. This feels humiliating and pathetic. I struggle to embrace grace toward myself to replace the self-loathing and shame that seems to naturally come with my long list of limitations. In my hubris and high expectations, I assume that chronic disability should not be placed upon a young mother of two toddlers. But who am I to call the shots? Who am I to assume that I would be immune to life and the “hard” that inevitably comes along with it? And who am I to assume that within the “hard” isn’t found the greatest treasure of all?

I want to be able to run. I want to be able to push a stroller for a simple walk. I want to be able to go grocery shopping, be alone with the kids, walk up a flight of stairs, stand up through an entire song at church, sweep our kitchen floor, and have dance parties in the living room with my daughter. Some day, maybe I will again. Maybe I will run next October. You never know. As self-indulgent as that rant feels, it leads me to my next moment of gratitude.

I have what really matters. I had the gift of snuggling with my sweet Elijah until he drifted off to sleep tonight, as I reveled in his half-asleep baby babbling. I experienced the privilege of watching my daughter read to herself for an entire hour, quoting the words of books by memory that we have read dozens of times together. I get the joy of cuddling in next to my sweet husband at night every night and feeling known and loved. For me, that connection in itself is an honor that I never imagined to be a possibility. I am engaging in unlikely relationships with individuals who are reaching out to me in my physical brokenness. My brokenness is a blessing. It is a magnifying glass through which I can really study the truly important and remarkable snapshots of life. These moments are mine, and they are where my life is found.

I am thankful for all of this…and I would also like to be able to run. I miss it.   But, really, life is beautiful, maybe even more beautiful from this perspective.

The Privilege (Poem)

I didn’t know if I could understand love.  When you haven’t had parents who loved you or who loved you abusively, it seems like the skill of parenting would be lost forever.  I find, however, as I have ventured down this path of parenting, that there exists within me a redemptive power that fuels a new kind of love.  This is a love that I never received from my parents, but has always been there for my own children.  I am so glad that love is not only learned.  I am so glad that I don’t have to be like my parents.  There is a power that is greater than environment, and that power is paving the way for my healing and allowing me to love my child with God’s love for me. 

I’ve never seen eyes like yours.

Two baby pools reflecting the sun.

I see the floor of the ocean,

And a million other marvels.

How can you come from me,

With your ever-growing beauty?

Infinitely long lashes and perfect pout.

And just when I think that you’ve maxed out,

A new day reveals more.

Your spirit, ablaze with fire,

You overflow with personality.

Little body can’t hold the massive heart,

Throbbing, larger than life.

As you grow into yourself, I watch in awe,

Amazed at you, inhaling your passion.

Catching your fire,

Speechless at the privilege of being your mommy.

Thank you for being.

What Happens

The baby doesn’t sleep through the night and is often up every two hours to eat.  She whimpers on the monitor, and I am now aware of the lake of sweat that I swim in.  Dang nightmares.  I feed her and crawl back into my freezing cold sweat bed.  Hopefully it doesn’t flood the husband’s side.  He needs his sleep.  This happens several times throughout the night, but I can’t quite figure out how often and when.  Dissociation is the highest at night when my guard is down.

The morning houses hope.  Light births hope, so we can go on living.  The baby bounces.  I try to come back to reality, to claw my way out of the hell of the nightmares.  Still afraid of the fat, I put off changing into jeans.  They may reveal that my dissociatve episodes led me to eat more than usual.  And weight gain is terrifying. I need to run today.

She grounds me.  Her gurgles, chatter, da-da-da, her smiles, her needs.  She is the most beautiful baby on the planet.  And she needs me.  I stay.  Please God, don’t let me damage her fragile heart beyond repair.  She evidently gets my anxiety through my breast milk.  That’s what the psychiatrist says….when I am extremely anxious, my breastmilk releases cortisol into her system.  I feel so guilty.  And then get more anxious.  Counterproductive, Mrs. Psychiatrist.  You just stressed me out more, thus damaging my baby.

I had to go off a good number of my meds when I became pregnant, and I still can’t take them because she is breastfeeding.  She’s worth it, but man, it would be helpful to have something to take the edge off of all of the fears.  The flashbacks bombard, and the postpartum OCD transforms them into seemingly legitimate fears of something horrific happening to the baby.  I hate it when the neuroses team up against me.  They are like bullies, working together to immobilize me even more.  Flashbacks and PTSD alone aren’t enough.  They feel the need to inform the postpartum fears around my child’s safety, making it nearly impossible to leave the house.  The superstitions abound.  You can’t loose her pacfiers.  That means that she will die.  How does that make sense?

And we are only approaching seven in the morning….

I hold it together because that’s what I do, for everyone else’s sake.  It’s a good thing.  The alternative is splintering.  Thank God for my strong observing self.  The evil spirits of my childhood have morphed into the demons of my laundry list of disorders:  Anorexia, PTSD, depersonalization disorder, OCD, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression….just to name a few.

But I put on a mask and most people would never know.  I guess that this helps my GAF score, but it certainly doesn’t help my internal sense of peace.  And my child is growing and highly intuitive.  She will pick up on my brokenness if she does not already, and she will internalize it.  I must heal.