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What Keeps Me Running on Difficult Days With Crohn's Disease

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Natalie, ready for a run, wearing headphones and giving the thumbs up
Natalie on a run.

As the weather warms up, the desire to exercise outdoors is
so inviting. Like many brides-to-be I have a little extra motivation to lace up my shoes and a little extra jump in my step as my June 4 wedding day quickly approaches. While I’ve always considered myself a somewhat active person, working out and running have taken on a whole new meaning since last summer — when I spent two months of my life riddled with pain on the couch, doing all I could to heal from debilitating Crohn’s flare-ups and the eventual removal of 18 inches of my intestine. I spent much of the summer of 2015 on the sidelines — both professionally and personally, watching as the rest of the world went on with their days.

Fast-forward eight months — and now, time and time again when
I’m out running I have flashbacks that push me to be strong. I think back to the monotonous days of watching full seasons on Bravo with my mom and her pushing me to walk eight laps around the family room post-surgery. I would grimace in pain and whine about how hard it was to put my right foot down compared to my left — walking more like Frankenstein in my pajama dresses than a 31-year-old woman. Then, when I graduated from laps around the house, my fiancé and I tried a walk outside. We made it maybe 75 steps, 100 pushing it. And I had to stop. I knew the road ahead to feeling 100 percent was going to be a long one, whatever feeling 100 percent actually feels like. To this day, each and every time I pass that spot on my runs it takes me back to that moment that felt like defeat.

Prior to surgery the doctor let me out of the hospital for 10 days so that I could get my energy back and be strong for surgery. Each morning in July I would walk one hour and mentally prepare myself for what was about to go down. The walks were easy; I always felt a sense of accomplishment when they were done. So, when I tried to walk that same route a week after surgery and made it about three minutes, you can imagine how discouraging it was.

As the days passed, I continued to get stronger. My mom knew she had to go back to Chicago and I would need to be on my own while my fiancé was at work. So she gradually tried to wean me off needing her to get me water from the fridge, needing her to tie my shoes and dry my hair while I sat at the kitchen table. I’ll never forget the day we went for a walk together and I was able to make it around the block. Putting on my own shoes and tying them so that I could walk a little farther felt like the greatest accomplishment of my summer.

Now, every time I take a walk or run around my neighborhood and I want to slow down or stop, I think back to how fragile and weak I was. It feels like a shot of adrenaline that runs through my veins and pushes me to keep going. The flashbacks of battling Crohn’s for nearly 11 years, while painful, also inspire me. The difficult days guide me to be strong and grateful. The flashbacks of how bad it can get make the “feel good” days all the more glorious.

It’s so easy to take feeling well for granted. For those of us who’ve been dealt a different hand of cards, it’s important to remember there are countless opportunities to be positive and healthy.

The other day when I got home from work, when I felt a gnawing pain in my stomach and walking became difficult, I contemplated just going for a run the next day and spending the night on the couch. But, once again — I stopped to reflect on the situation and was determined not to let this disease keep me on the sidelines another day. I started the run in pain and finished it pain-free and proud of my accomplishment.

Lace up those shoes, focus on the now and use past and current struggles as a source of strength — even if it feels like you’re only taking baby steps. Whether it’s for yourself or for someone else, run with reason and you too might feel that shot of adrenaline.

a woman and man in running gear
Natalie and her fiancé.

Editor’s note: This is based on one person’s experiences and should not be taken as medical advice. Consult a doctor or medical professional for any questions or concerns you have.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one unexpected source of comfort when it comes to your (or a loved one’s) disability and/or disease? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: April 20, 2016
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