Every morning while I’m drinking my morning coffee I log into my Facebook page and look at my memories. For the most part, they are happy, funny or witty things I have posted or been tagged in. They usually make me smile. Today, my memory made me cry first, but now I’m smiling again as I reflect back on my 26th year of life.
One year ago today, 2 days before my 26th birthday, two days before I was set to run my first half marathon, the one I had been training for for 12 weeks long, I visited my doctor with some strange symptoms. A few days prior I had a 103 degree fever, yet in true Kaitlin fashion, I ran my last long training run anyway. 9 miles. Those 9 miles were complete and utter torture. I was extremely fatigued, out of breath, and I could feel heaviness in my lungs and in my legs the entire time. Yet, I imagined myself crossing the finish line of the race and I kept going.
One year ago today my doctor pulled me from racing in that half marathon. It was just too risky, he had explained. I didn’t yet have a diagnosis and his fear was that I would push myself through the pain (he knows me well) and would keep going even if my body begged me to stop.
I didn’t yet know then what I know now: that my high fever, chest pain, and heart-disease like symptoms were from excess fluid surrounding my heart. Something called Pericarditis- a word I would hear continuously throughout the next year. A word that is still following me around to this day. Though my case (like everything else in life!) has been complicated and I am still healing, I am so grateful for this crazy year. Lots of tears, lots of days in bed when I would have rather been out with my friends, a zillion doctors appointments and blood draws, and one too many Web MD searches later, I have learned a whole lot. I have learned how strong I am in the face of adversity. After some, ok, A LOT, of crying, I get back up and I keep going.
I am so grateful for my family and my friends. The people that have stuck by me no matter what. The one’s who sent me check in texts daily, told me it was going to be ok, hugged me extra tight, or listened to me when I just wanted to cry or complain. Most importantly, I am thankful for my parents. They are the one’s who suffered right alongside with me. My pain was their pain, when I was hurting they were hurting too. My mom was with me at every single doctors appointment and when she couldn’t take me my dad would step up and make sure I wasn’t alone. I hope they know how much it means to me, at 26 years old, to have them still do what they do.
I still have chest pain at least once daily, though not as bad as it was when I was first diagnosed, and the pain was so terrible I would be forced to stop whatever it was I was doing and bend over to relieve the pain and pressure. I still get tired easily and cannot run as fast or as far as I would like to.
I am not naive. I realize that there are so many worse things that could have happened to me, and that do happen to people every single day, but that doesn’t make this journey any less meaningful for me. That doesn’t mean this year wasn’t hard. Not a day went by where I didn’t think about what was happening to me. It’s easy for someone else to think that I am being ‘dramatic’ or making this more than it is, but they haven’t ran a mile in my shoes. They haven’t been there when the cardiologist told my mom and I it was worse than he thought or when I had to bend over on 7th Avenue and 26th Street because my heart felt like it was being stabbed with a knife. I couldn’t help but get consumed by it at times, because there were constant reminders that I wasn’t OK.
So much of who I am as a person has come from my ability to run and what I have learned in the six years since I started running, and when that was taken away from me, I struggled to make sense of my life without it. I wasn’t only dealing with the physical pain of my diagnosis, but I was dealing with the mental stress of not being able to run. It was challenging, and it still challenges me to this day. I know the limits my doctor has set for me as I am recovering, and yet I struggle to listen to my body when it tells me to rest because I am so used to pushing myself as a runner. I conditioned myself mentally to be comfortable with discomfort, because that’s how you grow in any sport. In my case now, there is a fine line when it comes to discomfort, and I struggle to identify it sometimes.
This year has taught me so much about myself and so much about life in general. This year had some really low lows, but some high highs too. I made beautiful memories with my amazing friends and I watched wonderful things happen to the people I love. There were weddings, engagements, births and more. It’s easy for me to find the rainbows amongst this year of rain. I had some happy moments too, including the time I spent with the ones closest to me, and landing my amazing job at PurseBlog. 26 you were quite the year, but I wouldn’t change a thing.