Sometimes instead of doing yoga, I like to go running. I got into running a few years ago when I wanted to get in shape after having gained 60 lbs during pregnancy. When I started, I couldn’t go half a mile without losing a lung in the process. After a while, I hit the 3 mile mark and the eventually the 5 mile mark, until this year I invited myself to run a Half Marathon with a group of friends who were tackling a race as a group, and with training managed to finish intact and with a relatively decent time.
There’s something about being tired and sweaty that makes me feel like I just accomplished something BIG. Running doesn’t have the same mind-anchoring effect as yoga does, but covering one more mile than the prior week, or running a little bit faster than I was once able to fills me with enough pride to keep me coming back for one more run.
I went for a relatively short run this morning – just a couple of miles to get myself back into the habit, since a nasty case of Strep Throat last week put me out of commission from any kind of strenuous physical activity. I really needed it today, after the ordeal that was our drive up to Connecticut to visit my brother-in-law and his family.
In therapy, I learned that part of the secret to being happy was tricking your brain into doing things differently – releasing or not releasing certain chemicals that make us feel the way we do. Exercise (any kind of exercise) prompts your brain to create endorphins and produce dopamine, “happy” chemicals that boost your mood and leave you feeling like a million bucks. Combine your body’s natural response to exercise with indulging in exercise you actually enjoy, and you go a long way toward relieving stress and naturally lifting your spirits.
Yesterday one of my recurring fears – one that I’ve been very good at keeping under control – actually came true. My husband and I had been planning for a while to come up to Connecticut, where my brother-in-law is currently living, to spend a few days with family. I’d been pretty sick with Strep last week, but got back to work on Monday and felt well enough for business as usual. I was nearing the end of my course of antibiotics (horse pills if I’ve ever seen them), and with my symptoms gone I was no longer contagious.
The plan was to leave after having lunch as a family, and we were basically ready to hit the road when I noticed a rash on my legs. It was much more noticeable on my thighs, but I could see it starting to emerge on my arms and trunk as well.
Any other adult might not even give a small rash a second thought. I see a rash, and I start reviewing in my head every episode of House I’ve ever been dumb enough to watch. I think kidney failure, meningitis, blood cancers and all sorts of lovely and unlikely diseases that occasionally present with a rash – not to mention my nemesis from my panic disorder days, severe allergic reaction.
Five minutes before we were supposed to be hitting the road to avoid holiday weekend traffic, I had a choice to make. Ignore the rash – which to be 100% honest didn’t look like much of a big deal – and get on the road anyway for the 6 hour drive to Connecticut, or abort the trip and go to the Doctor to make sure I wasn’t in the middle of multiorgan failure despite my feeling absolutely fine.
This kind of thinking – these kinds of decisions – represent a bigger test for me than “normal” people realize. Do I follow my instinct, stay home to be safe and set myself back in my struggle to not let anxiety rule my life, or do I trust my training and let rational thinking prevail?
In the end, I found a middle road that helped us stick as closely to our plans as possible, but maintain a cautious posture toward my health – particularly since I knew Strep has been known to cause some complications when not treated properly. Before heading out on our trip, we stopped briefly by an urgent care center, where they told me my rash was in fact hives, due most likely to an allergic reaction to my antibiotic. The Dr. recommended some antihistamines, prescribed a dose of steroids just in case my puny rash got worse, and sent me on my way.
And on our way we went, all the way to Connecticut, despite having the “low oil” warning light come on in our brand new car, and despite being stuck in traffic behind a car with the license plate “GoBach” between Baltimore and Wilmington – something I would clearly have taken as a sign from the Universe in a previous life. In this life, I took my antihistamine, picked up my corticosteroids, and went on my way.
The rash is much better this morning after a couple of rounds of Claritin, but I’ll likely make an appointment with a specialist when I get home to check on the extent of my allergy and see whether I should avoid taking penicillin in the future. In the meantime, I’ll go running, try to convince my brother- and sister-in-law to let me practice my yoga instruction skills on them, and enjoy my time in Connecticut.
This isn’t the first time something I’ve feared has become a reality, but every time that’s happened, I have the same realization I’m having now: worrying about an imaginary situation is often so much more nerve wracking than living the situation itself. Live your life. Go trick your brain into submission and enjoy your time on earth. If something scary happens, you will be more than capable of managing it. In the meantime, focus on the here and now. You’re here, you’re breathing, and life is beautiful.