17 February 2013

On Physical Health, from a personal experience

I fear that what I am about to write is going to make me seem like a hypochondriac - and maybe I am, just a little, but if I am, I was made into one by experience.  I'm not writing to gain your sympathy, but rather to encourage.  You are more than your physical limitations, and to demonstrate that, I'm going to tell you about mine.

I always had a lot of colds and sinus infections growing up, stubborn sinus infections that took a few weeks to knock down.  A favorite book of mine as a child was A Child's Garden of Verses. Reading this book and learning about the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, I learned that Stevenson had been a sickly child and had to stay in more often than play outside.  I wasn't sickly, but I got sick often enough that I missed a lot of lovely spring and fall days and felt like maybe Stevenson would understand my frustration.  One year when we went for a week in the mountains, I was sick the whole time.  Being sick is lame.  That's my official opinion and you can quote me on it.  After having chronic bronchitis for two consecutive winters as a teenager, I was treated for a weird and not particularly serious immune deficiency (IgG Subclass Deficiency, if you want to look it up).  And you know what?  I got better.  No more bronchitis, and only a couple of sinus infections a year.

While my family has never been particularly athletic (except for my great-grandmother, whose shortness I inherited but not her skill at sports), they've always been pretty tough.  My dad runs 4-5 miles a day, my mom has always been surprisingly strong, and we used to call my granddad the Energizer Bunny (like from the battery commercials) because he seemed to never get tired.  Although I did get some of my mom's physical strength, when I get sick or my endurance runs low, I feel like I'm being cheated out of my genetic inheritance.

Freshman year in college, I had to take the dreaded, required "Concepts of Fitness and Health."  The two options were running and swimming.  Since I'd been swimming since I was a wee babe, and running was seriously the most miserable thing ever, I took swimming.  Only, I suddenly found that I couldn't swim for very long without getting completely out of breath and feeling like it was all I could do to just tread water.  Curse your sudden betrayal, swimming pool, you had always been my friend!  I didn't know what was wrong but I tried, and I guess the teacher felt some sympathy (I did really well in all the written assignments) and I finished with an A-.  The following summer, I found out I had asthma, explaining why swimming was suddenly so difficult.

I have always loved hiking, and in late high school, I discovered I really enjoyed climbing, too.  They were ways I could do physical activity, be outdoors, and build my strength without triggering asthma.  I got some Five Fingers Shoes to hike and climb in.  Toward the end of college, I found that the more I walked and the more time I spent on an elliptical machine, the better my breathing got, until I stopped using daily medication for it.  I was feeling pretty good about myself and pushing myself harder and harder, not allowing myself to feel weak, until I fainted at the gym shortly after graduation.  I spent the whole summer feeling lightheaded and dizzy and fearing I would faint again, until the doctors finally said I had orthostatic hypotension and gave me daily medication to raise my blood pressure.  I was really afraid that if I pushed myself, I might faint again.  I stopped going to the gym, and I moved to Wales to get my Master's degree.  After I'd been there a week, I got a cold, that turned into a sinus infection that didn't really go away, that turned into bronchitis.  I felt like I'd come full circle.  I discovered that running in my Five Fingers was not as uncomfortable as running in regular shoes, but I couldn't run for more than a couple minutes.  I resigned myself to this limitation and didn't try often.  When I moved back to the US and back in with my parents, I put on my Fives and took advantage of the dry weather and nearby cemeteries, walking with bursts of jogging several times a week.  One day, I started running and kept going; when I stopped and checked my watch, it had been 7 minutes.  The next week, I jogged for 11 minutes; the next, for 14.  When the weather got too cold, I went to the gym to use the treadmill, telling myself I wasn't going to push myself so hard this time, that I was going to listen to my body, and aim for 30 minutes without stopping.  I ran for 15, 20, 25, until a couple weeks ago I finally reached 30.  Yeah, I went slow, but I kept going, and I did it without using an inhaler.

And now, I have a sinus infection.  Nobody's perfect.  Our bodies are limited.  But I can tell you, when I reached that 30-minute-mark, and I didn't feel like I was going to die, I praised God.  After 20 years of feeling physically inferior, it was a huge gift to make that slow 30-minute jog.  I have never been seriously ill, so I can't comment on that.  What I can comment on is feeling like somehow, intrinsically, constantly, you can't do.  I felt like that...but I did something that, just a few months ago, I couldn't fathom doing.  I know I'll never be an athlete, and I don't intend to be one.  I do intend to strive constantly to surpass my personal best, and to be able to manage my health without frequent doctor's visits (props to doctors, though, because they're awesome).  I want to be healthy enough for God to use my life in whatever way he sees best.

My life - not just my physical health - has been a series of "I can'ts" and "I would never's" that God utterly reversed.  I hope that continues, and I hope that by sharing it I can encourage you to believe that he makes all things possible.  Have faith!