Monday, December 28, 2015

The 30-Minute Mile

Never in my 34 years of life did I think I'd brag about a 30-minute mile.

Even as an asthmatic kid, I could still fight the blackout with my inhaler long enough to eek out a 12-minute-or-so mile. And hell, up to and until July of this year, even taking my typical, leisured nature walk, I'd average around 18 minutes.

So if you'd told me then - in fifth grade, in the fifth month of this year - that I'd be all bragadocious about a 30-minute mile, I'da toldja you were nuttier than Planter's Pistachios.

And then, there came JULY.

If my Life were a screenplay, the first 34 years would be what is often referred to as Act 1 of the 3-Act structure, wherein we get to know the characters and surroundings - you know, the basics: who is sleeping with whom, who is really so-and-so's long-lost brother, who is secretly a scumbag successfully masquerading as a sweetheart... that kind of thing.

For us screenwriters, it's called establishing the stasis, and, as every good screenwriter knows, into every stasis, a conflict must fall.

Thus, we enter Act 2.


It was at this point in my Life's play, that the "conflict" portion of the plot reared its stasis-shattering head in the form of blood, forced anorexia and a sudden inability to go more than five minutes without sweating, fainting, or otherwise feeling like I was going to fucking die.

Unbeknownst to and unwelcomed by The Lead (me, for those of you bad at theater and script analogies), Dysautonomia entered, stage right... and since then I've been praying for a denuement and Dysautonomia's exit, stage left.

But like all worthwhile adversaries, it seems this fucker just won't leave The Lead alone... which brings me to THE MILE...

Here we are - five months into Act 2 - and the conflict has left me, very literally, weak.

I've lost count of the doctors' visits, medications, hospitalizations, and days spent in the bed, too weak or sick or pained to move.

My 18-minute mile? Likely said, "Sayonara," around month three, but I was too busy being bedbound, writhing in agony to hear her depart.


Not much changed when I received my diagnosis, except that the crippling fear that had gripped me for months now had a name, and a "get cozy 'cause you're gonna have me for life" prognosis. In some ways, this made my life better: I could research this monster and find out how to best wound it. In some ways I was worse: knowing there's no cure for the plague infecting me robbed me of what little hope I'd managed to salvage.


Prior to Dysautonomia, I was a journalist, and, despite this disorder's crippling effects, the standards of that station still persist in me - the tenacity to uncover the truth, the refusal to take no for an answer, the unmitigated gall to put my foot in the door and absolutely refuse to remove it until I have had my say - these things remain.

And they are serving me well.

It typically takes a patient five years to be diagnosed with Dysautonomia.

I was diagnosed in five months.

Because if I had to knock on the door of every damned doctor in Georgia (and Florida, as it turns out), I was gonna be heard. I was gonna be seen. I was gonna be treated. I was gonna improve.

I found my diagnosis on my own, because no local doctor could make heads or tails of what was wrong with me (if they believed anything was wrong at all).

I took what I found to a doctor who'd listen and perform the tests I asked for.

The tests (whose brothers had all come back with negative, you're-perfectly-healthy-now-go-home results) finally started coming back in measurable "positives" - I say finally because finally we were running the right tests.

With the Dysautonomia diagnosis, I began to do what I've always done when I had a story or paper due - I researched.

I got my hands on every piece of credible literature I could find and I read it. And I marked it. And I returned to it for reference.

And in doing so an unexpected thing happened - I got some of my power back.

I got just a modicum of my momentum back.

Dysautonomia had hindered my health, but it hadn't claimed me.

I was - I am - still here.

And dammit, I can walk a mile.


Today, I began to write Act 3.

I took what I had learned from my reading - that exercise, perhaps the most difficult thing in the world for a Dysautonomia sufferer, is a key to feeling better.

Today, nauseated and lightheaded, I climbed on the treadmill in the gym at the Marriott Courtyard in Birmingham, Alabama, and began to walk.

I would make it to 30 minutes, I told myself.

And I know Dysautonomia heard me say it.

My pace was embarrassingly slow, but I was able to select a program that included sporadic use of an incline.

I clenched the bars tightly - to guard against collapse, yes, but also because doing so would allow the machine to monitor my now tachycardic heart.

Slow and steady.

Minute by minute.

I made my 30-minute mile.

Sure, it wasn't what I was used to.

It wasn't what I was capable of even six or seven months ago.

But I'm not the same person I was six or seven months ago.

And that is as it should be.

The Lead must change over the course of the story. She cannot be who she was before Conflict disrupted Stasis. She must be stronger, better, wiser, changed.

Sometimes, she may even need to be broken.

But this time - this story - is not one about the brokenness, the shattering.

As I've told you before (and Buddha said before me), the glass was already broken.

This story, then, is about what I am going to do with the pieces.

And the first thing I am going to do

is walk.

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