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You Can Change Your Life Too by Emma

You Can Change Your Life Too by Emma
Over the last ten years I've had a rollercoaster relationship with my body. In honesty, only this year have I truly started to appreciate just how far it has carried me.
My relationship with my body deteriorated after I dropped out of uni, completely broken in spirit, with a busted lumbar disc and diagnosed with depression. I felt like a failure. In my attempt to gain some control on my life, I used food to punish myself, in the hope that maybe things would get better if I was thinner. I dropped to a scarily low BMI and then turned to bulimia and obsessive exercise to keep my weight in check. Exercise for me - was what I did to justify food, to earn food. I had no love for it, and I have no idea how my body held up to those hours on the treadmill considering it was running on empty. Our bodies are truly amazing resilient things - and I am so grateful for all mine has carried me through.
Fast forward three years and at 21 I finally found some stability with food. My problem now, was that all the muscle I'd had before my eating disorder had wasted away and I was in more pain than I'd ever been in before and had no idea why! I was tired constantly, my muscles burned and standing tired me out as much as a half marathon does now!
I now put this pain down to my 2019 diagnosis of Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder. Throughout my childhood and early teens I was a swimmer, and now wonder if this regular exercise helped me maintain enough muscle to keep me from being in pain. Honestly? I have no idea. But I do know I've always been very flexible. As a kid, I'd sit in the V position on the floor, tucking my feet behind me. This is now regarded as an early sign that a child may be hypermobile.
So what is HSD and what does it mean for me?
Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder (HSD), is a connective tissue disorder that affects the joints and ligaments in a person's body - the ligaments are lax, so the joints are loose and unstable. Some people are hypermobile but don't experience pain, but for others the pain can be quite severe, and can really affect the person's life. They may struggle to walk properly or for long distances, and experience pain in affected areas - for me, this was mainly my spine, hips and knees. It can also make the person feel exhausted all the time, which really isnt fun! Ultimately I knew I couldn't accept this quality of life and vowed to do everything in my power to change it. When my doctor told me that building up muscle could help me cope with my pain, I started working really hard - much as my pink walking stick was cute, I would do anything to be free of it. I attended Pilates for hypermobile patients, I followed endless youtube videos to work on my strength, and gradually increased the distance I walked to work until I could walk miles, no problem. My pain was starting to become more manageable, and I felt less of a victim, and more of a fighter. My weight, which had got to be a little more than healthy due to inactivity, started to drop, but in a steady, healthy way that I NEVER thought I'd be able to do!
Then lockdown hit and I lost my walk to work. We got one precious hour to exercise. So for me? I used it to gradually break myself in to running - then came back home and continued my endless strength training! Slowly but surely, one mile became two and two became three. I did take a really bad fall at the start of training (hypermobile people can also be extremely clumsy!) but I still remember finishing that run with bleeding knees and burning scraped palms - and realising that I had the mental strength to push through ANYTHING, as long as I refused to give up. My favourite running quote - and I'm afraid I dont know where I got this from - is that your legs won't give up until your mind gives them permission. And it's so true! I find myself repeating it in my head mid race, and it spurs me on every time.
And I started to LOVE running! I loved the hour of fresh air, the buzz at the start of my day, the peace of early mornings running around a quiet town as the sun came up. Running in lockdown kept me sane and is a gift that keeps on giving. It allows me to start my day right and come back feeling focused. It gives me time to plan, to pray, to work out pent up frustration - and it gives me an opportunity to be grateful for this body and to love it for how far its come and how much it allows me to do now!
Since mid March, I have gradually built up my distance to a longest distance so far of 15 miles, and gone from 11minute miles to breaking my first sub 7 mile in September. I run races, I push myself, and every little improvement is the biggest victory. Next year I hope to run the London Marathon, something I'd never even considered before this year. I'm excited for my running future, and grateful for the lovely people I've met at races, online (yes, the online running community is a loving and beautiful thing - thanks Instagram!) and all the friends I've been able to run with since I started my journey. Running has honestly changed my life in SO many ways. As an added bonus to the physical, mental and social benefits, its transformed my body visually too - given me strong muscles, sturdy legs, a healthy glow and has taught me that strong is BEAUTIFUL. In March, I would have told you that I 'accept' my body and am learning to love it. I can honestly say that I do love it now.
I hope this is helpful for someone out there. I am so thankful to the one doctor who gave me hope that I could change my life. If you have hope, and fight in you - you can change your life too.
This month I pledged to run 150 miles for Mind for the Leave Nothing But Footprints Challenge, and given my story, each mile feels extremely special. Thank you @runr for creating this brilliant challenge - for an charity that has saved my life and is SO close to my heart.
Emma (arunnercalledemma)


Thanks to Emma for sharing her story.
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