Jeannine and Reggie

Jeannine and Reggie

Starting at the Finish Line:

One woman’s triumphant journey from disabling illness to half-marathon runner

If you met my friend Jeannine, you would like her. She is one of those gracious people that seems naturally friendly, naturally smart, naturally kind, naturally strong. If you met her at the Inland Empire Running Club (IERC), you would also guess that she was a natural born runner. During the workweek, she fastidiously follows the training plan set forth by Reggie, her Boston Marathon runner-husband. This is after teaching science to junior high students all day.

In the last two years she has run seven half-marathons and has achieved a “PR” (personal record) every time. You may be starting to think, “Well, it’s easy for people like that.” Well, let me tell you something about Jeannine you would never guess if you met her. Just three years ago, she suffered from an illness that nearly destroyed her life.

What started as sore muscles and joint pain soon turned into an illness that left her bedridden, burning with fever, unable to eat, frightfully thin, dehydrated, with barely the energy to speak. In her words, “I was literally molting; my hair fell out and my skin fell off!”

She had to take a leave from her teaching job, let her husband take care of the kids and the house, and allow her mother to move in to care for her. At one point, her daughter asked, “Is Mama going to die?” Day after day, leaning on her husband’s arm, she hobbled into dozens of doctor’s appointments seeking a diagnosis for her ailment. It took months for the team of specialists to determine that it was “Stills Disease,” an autoimmune disorder that is often life-long and permanently disabling.

When the mysterious malady was finally labeled, the proper treatment could be administered.  This led to slow but steady progress. Before long Jeannine could leave the house and do short errands. Mustering up her strength, she pushed herself toward a small goal: to greet Reggie at the finish line when he ran the San Diego Marathon.

She explains, “I was in so much pain that day – as I approached him, I nearly stumbled. I had only left the hospital two weeks prior.”

Then she saw something that changed her life: the San Diego sun beaming on a throng of people: black, brown, yellow, white; they were young and old, thick and thin, male and female, perfect form and pitiable form – every one of them finishing the race. As she moved through the dizzying mob of fatigued but ebullient runners, each drenched in sweat and smiles as they approached the finish … Jeannine had an epiphany:

“In one year I will complete the half-marathon race – running, walking, or crawling … I will cross this finish line.”

Preparing for that half-marathon became the cornerstone of her recovery. It took five months for her to be able to walk even a mile. But, one step at a time, she worked her way up to several miles. It hurt and she was tired, but she kept on going. She was determined to get healthy enough to accomplish her goal. Over a period of months she strengthened, eventually able to walk 5, then 7, and finally 9 miles through her Chino Hills community.

Jeannine explains, “Pretty soon walking 9 miles got boring, so I started jogging – just a little bit.” It was February – the race was only four months away. She had never entered races before, and certainly never considered herself “a runner.” Her husband asked her repeatedly to come join him at IERC. When he explained that they have walkers who complete races, Jeannine reluctantly agreed.

Reggie reports, “I knew she would finish the race. And I also knew she would not walk; she would run.”

Jeannine showed up at IERC the next Saturday morning and found herself amongst kind and helpful people, all eager to support her success. She was embraced by her walk/run pace leader, Lizette, now a dear friend. With her new group of allies, Jeannine painstakingly prepared for victory – over the wretched illness and over the 13.1 mile race.

On race day there was no surprise. Jeannine completed the distance, finishing strong. She not only ran it, she crossed the finish line hand-in-hand with Reggie.

Two years later Jeannine and I are sipping coffee at Starbucks. We discuss the pain and the pleasure of running and what it has done to enhance our lives. Her smile is wide and she radiates health. Looking gorgeously fit, she may be in the best shape of her life (certainly the best shape of anyone in that Starbucks). Grasping for the right words to describe her process, she makes a teacherly gesture with her thumb and forefinger. Thoughtfully, she tells me,

“When I first start each run, I don’t want to move – my muscles are tight and my knees ache. Eventually my legs warm up, the pain is gone, and I can pick up my speed. What keeps me going? Knowing the pain is temporary. It won’t keep feeling like this. Even though it is intense and you don’t think you can endure, if you keep going, you get through it. And then somehow, it’s an important and meaningful part of you.  I guess now, I can call myself a runner. That’s how life is.”

If you like the support of a group, you can visit IERC on a Saturday morning in Chino Hills at Butterfield Ranch Elementary School at 7:00 am. For more information regarding IERC, check out our website at ierunningclub.com , visit our Facebook page, or write to us at info@ierunningclub.com .

*This article was first published in Chino Hills Life Magazine (Hibu company).

Lisa & Jeannine

Jeannine and Lisa after the Surf-City Half-Marathon

Reggie, Jeannine, Lisa

Lisa, Reggie, and Jeannine after running the Surf City Half-Marathon

My Life as a Dog

As I was walking Winston today, happily wandering the rugged trails of Chino Hills, a vexing question came to mind. Is it possible that I am unconsciously projecting my own worries, fears, and anxieties on my Dog?

I hold the general belief that I am well-adjusted, healthy, hopeful, and even filled with a cheerful holiday spirit.  And I can find reliable evidence to back up these assertions.

But for some reason, I seem to be worrying a lot about my dog. It happens in many ways: in my private thoughts, in my one-on-one “conversations” with Winston, and even as I discuss him with others.

I have been alone with him for the last week. I find myself  thinking …  poor Winston, he’s so lonely. He misses his Daddy (Steve). He misses Johnny and Grace – they need to hurry home for Christmas, because he gets so sad without them. He doesn’t like the house so quiet. I turn on some Christmas carols to soothe him.

I cuddle and caress his coarse curly back. “Poor Winston. Don’t worry, we-re gonna have a great Christmas. You wait and see.” I brush him head to toe – his favorite form of massage. “Don’t you worry at all poor baby, cuz it will be special – we’ll watch It’s a Wonderful Life” I stroke his golden velvet ears. “Good doggie. Such a good doggie. Your mommy loves you … you’re the best doggie in the whole world.”

When people inquire about me, I assure them, “Oh, I don’t mind Steve traveling. I love time to myself. And as far as the ‘empty nest’? Now it’s actually clean, and I have so much time to do what I want. I read more, I write more, I see friends and have fun! This may be one of the best times of life.”

But poor, poor Winston. That doggie; he just gets so sad. He nuzzles up to me, and nearly breaks my heart with his old soul brown eyes.

Here’s where I need to rely on my psychologist friends. Tell me truly, is this some form of neurosis? Denial? Repression? Is it serious, or even pathological? What is your professional opinion?

I admit – there’s more. You see … I also worry about Winston’s health. I want him to have a long life, free of knee problems or heart disease. That’s why I worry about how much he weighs.  But me? No, I am strong and fit. My diet and weight? Now that’s nothing to be concerned about. (Except for the sad fact that avoiding weight gain is my second religion, sometimes my first).

Yet, Winnie, now he is entirely too focused on food – its his obsession! He’s looking rather thick around the middle lately. He can’t seem to curtail his ferocious appetite, and love for all types of food that cross his path. It’s not his fault though. He runs and walks everyday. Getting fat is in his genes. I explain this to people, wanting to be sure they understand. “Labs have a genetic risk of obesity. They are quite naturally, a stout breed. And their instinct to continually eat dates back to the old days, when they lived in cold climates, and worked all day. They just can’t help it.”

So, Labs tend to get a little on the chubby side. As a responsible owner, I must be vigilant so he doesn’t become overweight. Poor, Poor Doggie!

Winston’s so hungry all the time. So I put him on the “weight control” food. We have to be disciplined about this – no cheating! He gets a full bowl every morning and night, but I guess because its lower fat, he is never satiated. He always wants more! It’s so hard when you’re always wanting more. Poor doggie.

And then, I admit, I have some concerns about his overall lifestyle. Does he have enough time for play? Maybe he has too much time alone at home. Could he even be getting too sedentary, or even, God forbid, lazy? Lately he would rather scarf down a treat, than chase rabbits through the field– that’s a bad sign.  Poor Doggie!

What about his social life? Is he too isolated? Maybe he is spending excessive time sitting around the house, when he should be out romping with the other dogs and making new friends! What about play dates and the doggie park? He would probably be happier if he got off the porch, and ran with the big dogs. But here he sits. Poor, tired doggie.

As his owner, I’m simply concerned for his well-being. A dog is a big responsibility. MY responsibility! He is one of God’s precious creatures. He deserves a good life. He deserves to be happy, healthy, and loved. His life could pass him by, and what would he have to show for it?  Was each day lived to its fullest? Did he give and receive every possible ounce of joy? You never know how many dog years you will have – and then suddenly, bam, its all over.

That’s it.  For New Years, I will have to make some resolutions for Winston. Poor doggie!
Winston

Winston

 

Keeping Your Balance with a Wellness Wheel

 I love the word balance. It conjures up images of living well – with strength and resilience, enjoying the best times and transcending the tough times. For most of us, balance isn’t spontaneously achieved. It takes awareness, sustained effort, and continual adjustment over time. One tool I have used and taught to others in my work is the use of the “Wellness Wheel.”

Wellness Wheel

The Wellness Wheel incorporates a holistic notion of health, recognizing that people are multi-dimensional, with a variety of needs. It suggests that being healthy involves an integrated combination of different domains. Individuals may have varying words to label these, but they typically include: social, physical, emotional, intellectual, environmental, and spiritual. It is important to work within each domain to optimize overall health. Impairment in any area has the potential to impact all the other areas. When that happens, a person may eventually feel like they are falling apart.

Think of a time in your life when one of these areas was even temporarily compromised. Then try to identify how this impacted the other areas.  Neglecting even one dimension will often contribute to problems in the others. It is important to intervene in this process of deterioration before our problems become so big and pervasive that they feel insurmountable.

For example, I have a friend I’ll call “Jennifer” who is smart, hard working, and quite capable. However, she is struggling to perform well in her work and feels unhappy in her personal life. It seems to me that the source may be her tendency to neglect the intellectual dimension of the wellness wheel. Jennifer doesn’t readily seek growth – rarely reading or taking on new ventures, risks, trainings, or challenges.  Watching TV is her only hobby. Maintaining her routine is paramount to her. Due to her tendency to resist new ideas and change, she doesn’t explore new relationships (social realm), challenge herself to a higher fitness level (physical), or seek more stimulating surroundings (environmental). She also acts overly sensitive to criticism (emotional). It is sad to observe that Jennifer’s life is not what it could be. She trudges through each day feeling dissatisfied with every area of her life.

What if Jennifer sought out some intellectual challenges? It could start with simply taking a class or reading a new book. Any positive results would likely spill over into the other life areas, and start producing changes in those as well.  With a few small steps, there is potential for her to be much happier and more fulfilled.

When I experienced depression 10 years ago I went through an even more extreme version of this phenomena. For me, one of the earliest signs of trouble was in the physical realm: I developed severe insomnia. This was combined with another physical ingredient: my genetic vulnerability toward mental illness. Another factor was the emotional/psychological realm; I wasn’t effectively managing stress. This played out in the context of a cascade of life changes that left me bewildered – without any stability. By the time the depression was full blown, every area of my life was profoundly and horribly impacted.

Getting educated about wellness and being proactive and self-aware can help you avoid the trouble I had. You may want to start with assessing your life by examining each area of the wellness wheel.

To start with, identify what you currently do to support wellness in each domain.  You may even want to rate your level of satisfaction on a 1 – 10 scale. Then identify the things that undermine your wellness pertaining to that area. Finally, brainstorm the things you can begin doing (or stop doing) that will contribute to a greater fullness and improved functioning in that area.

If looking at all dimensions is overwhelming, just start with one. As I described above, making a change in one can start a domino effect and lead to enhancements in other dimensions. This can be the beginning of a powerful process of change for you.

In addition to working holistically within each life domain, two additional variables are critical to wellness: stability and change. They sound like opposites but they are actually dialectical. By that I mean, that for one to be fully expressed, the other is equally essential. Neither can be optimized without the other.

Stability provides a strong foundation to grow from – a base of continuity. It enhances a sense of the core self. Change enables growth and development – the part of you that is evolving and becoming. Consider my friend Jennifer, clinging too tightly to stability, and not open enough to change. How stifling! On the other hand, consider me at the onset of my depression, facing so much change I lost my footing. Both Jennifer and I need balance. When you can strike a nice balance between stability and change, you will likely enjoy a quality of life that has a necessary level of safety but is also vibrant and rich with vitality.

I chose the seashore image at the top of this blog because it represents this crucial dynamic. The rocks signify stability and the waves signify change. The interaction of the two forces creates something beautiful – simultaneously calming and energizing. It suggests the value of embracing what is ancient and eternal as well as what is new and emerging. An exciting synergy of the two is how I want to live my life. Working holistically on wellness and striving for both stability and change are powerful ways that you and I can be well and stay well.