Monthly Archives: January 2013

Why do I run?

Because I can. Because my feet and legs still move me forward. Because my heart pumps blood through my muscles. Because my lungs keep expanding and contracting, just as they should. Well, at least one of them.

I was 13 when my father took me running the first time. We ran down the hill from our white mexi brick house, across the big road, and down to the sea. Along the beach, through pinetree groves and back up again, following dirt roads, passing old, quiet houses and the occasional evening wanderer.

Now and then, I had to stop to catch my breath and walk. At the end of the run I could taste blood in my mouth. I was beat. My dad went for a second lap.

I was not an athletic child. I had grown quickly and reached puberty early. My body was my enemy. I was an artist, a singer, a reader and a dreamer. Somehow, in spite of everything, I became a runner.

I had tried dancing, riding, tennis and soccer. Unfortunately, they all involved other kids. I was afraid of other kids. When I found running, it was a perfect match. Not because of my speed or endurance, obviously, but because I could do it alone, when I wanted, where I wanted. No choreography, no big animal, no ball. No kids. Just one foot in front of the other.

Since then, there have been periods without running in my life. But I always come back. And every time it blows me away how good it makes me feel. Physically and mentally. It makes me stronger and more self-confident. It helps ease depressions and anxiety.

Almost six years ago, my right lung popped and collapsed. No reason whatsoever. I was getting ready to go to work in the morning, when I felt something snap next to my sternum, like a small muscle rupture. It got harder and harder to breathe, and my whole chest cramped. Unfortunately, ignoring it did not make it go away, so I finally called a cab and went to the hospital.

I remember crying and thinking “I have a heart attack and I am going to die. Why now?! When I finally enjoy being alive.”

(I thought I was dying, but I didn’t call for an ambulance. Oh no, miss self-sufficient took a goddamn cab. Go figure.)

Ten months later I knew that my predicament was called spontaneous pneumothorax. By then, my lung had popped and collapsed several times, and it was decided I should have surgery.

“You have a very healthy-looking lung”, the surgeon complimented me afterwards. Apart from the whole popping and collapsing business, I guess…

In very unorthodox and brief words, he had cut off the damaged corner of my malfunctioning lung, “stapled” the hole shut, and “glued” the lung to the inside of my chest. I was happy, high on morphine and thrilled to get rid of my lung problem. Until it happened again, while I was still healing. This time it tore right at the bottom, towards the diaphragm, where the lung was “unattached”.

Apparently, this was not unusual. So they just left it to heal on its own. At least the lung could no longer collapse, since it was now held up by my rib cage.

I got back to work and eventually started running again, encouraged by my surgeon. Staying active would be good for me and my lung. But I kept having problems for years. My impatience made me too ambitious, to soon. Last time it popped was after an evening run along the Las Canteras boardwalk in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. I could feel the familiar tightness in my chest and had to walk the last kilometer back to my hotel. Next morning, there it was again. That bubbling, rustling sensation inside my chest, at every breath.

I gave up. Thought I would never run again. Started taking yoga classes. And I found myself gradually breathing better, deeper, gaining a new kind of body consciousness. When I finally dared to try running again, I was taking no risks. I decided to run short distances, slowly. If my chest tightened or felt heavy, I would pause to stretch my upper body, and breathe, deeply and slowly. I was patient.

For a while, my stamina got even worse, but I carried on. All that mattered was that I got out there and did a few kilometers. If nothing else, the air and the monotonous movement soothed the depression I was in. And I was relieved and thankful to be running at all.

Both my depression and my lousy endurance turned out to be caused (partially) by anemia. And when my blood count got back to normal again, so did my running. I had been able to keep my lung intact for fourteen months and now there was an oxygen party in my veins. This was the summer of 2012.

Today, I run more than ever. Call me crazy, but I’m training for an ultra marathon in June. I am going to run 53 kilometers! My longest run so far is 23.5 kilometers, and the only race I’ve participated in was a 10K a few years back. I’m a lone runner, remember? Races never appealed to me, until last summer, when I heard about Tjejmarathon.

It was started last year by Madeleine Johansson and Ann-Sofie Forsmark, as a marathon for women. But rather than making it shorter than the regular marathon, like women’s races usually are, they decided to make it longer. Because why should a women’s race be shorter? When I heard about it on the radio, I had just read Christopher McDougall’s “Born to run”, and my love for running was back with a vengeance.

I’ve also signed up for a half-marathon in May. Let’s call it a warm-up. I’m not fast. Never have been. But I’m thinking I might have what it takes to run long. My only goal is to keep going, because I never want to stop. I just love running, and I’m thankful for every step.

I can run. So I run.

Why do you run? Or why don’t you?

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The color of 2013.

Part of me wanted to go black. Because it really is my favorite color, and I don’t care what people say – black is not boring. It’s beautiful.

But another part of me wanted a bright and energetic color. One that fits the health and the lust for life that I regained in 2012.

That year started with a decision to escape my growing exhaustion and depression. To find a way back up. So, for my 2012 diary I chose the color beige. A “soothing and permissive non-color” that promised me “no more drama”. And I started moving in the right direction:

1) I was kind to myself.

2) I made professional choices that would minimize anxiety and maximize stability. True, I was lucky to be able to work at all. Working kept me afloat. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning and keep moving forward.

3) I was open and honest about my depression. I shared it with my family and my friends, naturally, but also with co-workers and with my social media networks. Not primarily to get help and support (although I appreciated it). It was more like…“This is me. Right now I feel like shit and it might make me difficult to be around for a while. But I’m working my way back up, so just bear with me, ok?”

4) I prioritized work, food, exercise and sleep, while minimizing my social life. People exhausted me. Even close friends and family. This might seem harsh and ungrateful, but it was just a matter of surviving until I got my health back. Now that I’m “back”, I am filled with love and gratitude towards the people who stood by me.

5) I sought professional help. The psychologist agreed the problem did not seem to be “in my head”, and the doctor concluded I had anemia and hypothyroidism. Eventually, I was also prescribed an anti-depressant, which I am still taking.

The results were mindblowing. I got my life back. Colors are brighter, contours sharper. I’m still no superwoman, but compared to one year ago, I feel super. I still hate getting up in the morning, but I no longer fall asleep sitting at my kitchen table at 7 p.m. I’m still miserable when it comes to basic everyday logistics, but it no longer turns me into a sobbing pile of misery on the floor.

I embrace 2013, with a smile and a…(drumroll)…red diary. Not dark, blood red like in 2010, the year of passion and risk-taking. A brighter, lighter red, that stands for energy, joy and generosity. Red for following my heart, loving without fear and taking center stage. Red like my face will be after I’ve run 53K on the 29th of June.

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