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A Runner With RA Cycles Through the 5 Stages of Grief

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Running with rheumatoid arthritis has been a challenge both physically and mentally for me. The diagnosis was so dramatic and the decline in my physical function was difficult for me. I’ve been fighting with RA for the last year and a half, trying to regain some semblance of the athlete I was before my diagnosis. It’s been an interesting journey so far as I fight my body and this disease to let me be me.

As I prepared this post, I decided to share my emotions. In a comic style. Truth be told, I had some fun with this post. After all, as they say, a picture tells a thousand words. Amateurish? Yes. Therapeutic? Yes. Indulge me as I cycle through the five stages of grief.

a runner with RA runs through the stages of grief

Since being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a year and a half ago, I’ve been experiencing each of the stages of grief at various times. The grief process isn’t linear. You can move from one stage to another in no particular order. Some days you can cycle through multiple stages. You can also get stuck in a stage or two like I have been with anger and depression. If I could choose, I’d like to be stuck in acceptance. Who wouldn’t? Of course, with RA, just when you think you’ve got this thing figured out, something new is thrown at you. Usually, it’s an uptick in symptoms, or as we call it, a flare. Here we go again.

stage 1: denial. I got this! I'm wearing new shoes! steroids give me wings!

I like to think that I’m not a control freak, but the truth of the matter is that I do like to be in control of my health. I’ve never felt as out of control as I do with this disease. I do everything right, I take all the supplements, I eat all the healthy foods, foods that claim to have magical anti-inflammatory properties, and I still flare! So if it doesn’t seem to make a difference, why bother trying? Why not just eat a  bacon double cheeseburger with cheese fries? Does it really matter? Pass the wine, please.

stage 2: anger. WTF! I miss you steroids! Damn, new shoes must have lead soles

After my diagnosis with RA, I’ve gone from being a super active energetic person to a tired chronically ill person who pleads with the RA gods to stay active. I’ve been a runner most of my adult life. Running has always been such a huge part of my identity. There have been a few times over the past year and a half that I actually considered giving up running. Sometimes running is really hard. I even mentioned this to my husband, and as much as he loves to hate on my running, he looked shocked. But there it is.

Stage 3: bargaining. please let me finish without walking and I'll never try new shoes again. I promise to stop drinking wine if it means I can run fast again

Once I got over the ridiculous idea of giving up running, I needed to figure out how to let go of the old pre-RA me and accept the runner that I currently am. I can complete a run using run/walk intervals even though it makes me feel like a lesser runner. I use the mantra “finishing is winning,” but I look at my old finish times and compare them to where I’m at now. It makes me sad. I get greedy when I’m on steroids because they make me feel good and I get to run fast again, the way I always used to. Too bad they aren’t good for me in the long term.

stage 4: depression. I can't run and cry at the same time. the steroids were only temporary. i am a turtle

When I was first diagnosed, I was really optimistic. The steroids made me feel so much better. I truly believed I’d go into remission and that I’d be back to my old speedy self again. I’m starting to realize that is probably not going to happen. It’s time for me to consider that if I really want to continue to run, I am going to have to accept being slower. I’m going to have to utilize run/walk intervals whether I want to or not. I may have to take extra rest days. But I’ll still be a runner. Just a slower, gentler runner.

stage 5: acceptance. finishing is winning! I'm still me! I got this!

As I like to say, we all get the same medal no matter when we cross the finish line. Save me a beer for when I get there, would you? Acceptance is sweet and yep, finishing is winning. No matter how fast or slow I go, I’m still a runner.

Originally published: April 4, 2018
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