Liz: “I don’t have a disability. I have a DIFFERENT ability.” —How to Run With Arthritis
By Liz Contreras
It was 2008. I had just been diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis after 6 years of experiencing symptoms. I was relieved to put a name to my pain.
Ankylosing Spondylitis. Sounds more like a weird dinosaur name than a disease. Oh wait, it is a dinosaur! Ankylosaurus is a dinosaur with an armored back with spikes all over. I guess I found my new spirit animal.
After learning how to pronounce it, I soon got a definition. “It’s a type of arthritis that mostly affects the joints in the spine but can cause inflammation in the eyes, hearts, and lungs too.” I thought, So in addition to the back pain and eye pain, I have heart and lung pain to look forward to? But I asked, “What’s the cure?” Dr. Diamond responded, “There is no cure yet. We can try medications to slow the disease. But without a cure, you have a 50% chance that your spine will fuse and you will have limited mobility. Honestly, if you can stand it, start exercising, because if you don’t move your body, you’ll lose it.”
It was several years before I decided to become a runner. It seemed to be the only thing I could stick with as a routine exercise, after multiple attempts to go the gym regularly failed. After I developed a love of running, everything else—diet, cross-training, stretching, and injury prevention—seemed to fall into place too.
But running isn’t easy when you are dealing with a chronic disease. So I’m sharing with you the lessons I’ve learned that help me to keep moving while surviving a disease that wants to keep me from doing so.
- You do not have a disability. You have a different ability. No, I will NEVER run like a normal person, but I can run. I can still enjoy running even though my body fights this ability. That’s because I’ve decided that I run this body, not my disease. And forward is a pace.
- Be mindful of the messages your body is sending you. Some days, I just don’t think my body can run. It’s not because I don’t want to (although that happens too). Maybe I’m just super fatigued (another side effect of this disease) or my back hurts and I don’t want to make it worse. Those are the days I take an active rest day instead of run. And I’ll postpone my run until my body is up for it.
- Tell the negative committee inside your head to shut up and sit down. Sometimes, while running, my mind starts to tell me that I can’t run. That I have a disease and I shouldn’t be able to do this. That I shouldn’t try hard because I’ll never be Alyson Felix. That I will never run fast, or run long. So I’ve learned that these thoughts are wrong and I use them as motivation to keep going.
Motion is lotion. And I’ve decided I’ll rest when I’m dead. Until then, I will keep this body moving until there’s a cure.