• Emily Doyon

A Time to Grow

It’s the end of October which means that DSN’s Superhero Virtual 5k is drawing to a close. The Superhero 5k is a big deal every year. For DSN it’s a major fundraiser and awareness campaign that allows them to spend 100% of the profits on awareness and educational materials for patients and healthcare professionals as well as the education scholarship and service dog grant. For members, it’s a chance to challenge ourselves and set goals.

I have been doing the Superhero 5k since it began 2 years ago. The first year I was doing well for the first time in a long time. I was well enough to take the dog on mile-long walks, run errands and drive to appointments within an hour of my house. More than anything, I was well enough to stand next to one of my best friends at her wedding, marrying another of my best friends. Being well enough to be there and to actually stand beside her (not that she would have minded if I sat!) and witness their special day is a priceless and cherished memory. I was so impressed with how well I was doing and I wish it could have lasted forever.

As anyone with chronic illness (or a fleet of them) knows, nothing lasts forever. Good or bad. My health plummeted due to an MCAS/MCAD flare. Things were mostly under control for last year’s Superhero 5k. I had been bedridden for much of the spring and was still weak when the fall rolled around. That October my miles walked was far less impressive, especially compared to the previous year. Overall, I was disappointed. Thinking back, I should have focused on the fact that I was moving, eating, and healthier than I had been months previously. I had set a goal and achieved it which is, to me, one of the major points of the event.

This year I am better than I have been in a long time. In September I walked as much as I could and averaged the miles per week to set a goal for October. I wanted to challenge myself, but within reason. This is always a difficult thing as I am a perfectionist and can expect a lot from myself. The average came out to 11 miles per week. Every week I have been able to walk more than I thought, and I even started keeping track of the miles I biked on the recumbent bicycle. In the second week of October I walked 26 miles and biked 22 miles! I can’t lie, I’ve been pretty happy with myself, but also pleasantly surprised. I never would have thought that I was capable of such a thing.

That is the reason why the Superhero 5k is invaluable. I set a goal, a challenge for myself. I came up with something reasonable, and so far even on a bad week with many flare days, I have been able to surpass it. If someone had told me that I could clock 26 miles in a week walking I would have laughed in their faces thinking it the most ludicrous thing I had ever heard. But I would have been selling myself short. So many of us are far more capable of feats than we think we are. I recently read a book in which a character says that we don’t see ourselves as we truly are, that we think ourselves less than we are. For most of us I think that is true. Either due to fear of hurting ourselves in some way or some other block we don’t try as hard as we might.

Many of us have learned the hard way that ‘pushing ourselves’ is an easy way to end up in bed for days and so we are always careful and cautious to prevent backlash from our bodies. There are days when I have felt a little funny in my head, sort of dizzy and far-off, or really sore and thought, “I can’t walk today. I can’t do PT or ride the bike. I have to rest,” and then later, with no symptom change I’d think “I’ll take a lap through the house and see how I feel” and next thing I know I’ve taken 1,000 steps. For me, having that goal makes me more willing to push myself and try. I want to reach my goal for the week. Heck, I want to annihilate it! I’ve learned that I can push myself harder than I thought I could and actually accomplish what I want. That with time, patience, and determination I can reach the goals that I set for myself even if along the way I need to adjust. I’ve also learned that I should never doubt how strong I am because I’ve proven to myself that I can already do more than I think I can.

For me the Superhero 5k is a time to reflect on the past year and see how far I’ve come and that even if I have gone “backwards” realizing that I have nevertheless moved forward from something worse. We are all struggling in one way or another throughout the year but at this time of year, for me, it is a celebration of what I can do and spreading as much awareness as I can. It inspires growth both physically and emotionally, and a reminder that positive change is possible. Every year it refreshes my perspective and every year I am so grateful for it. Perhaps it will help refresh your perspective too and you will end up surprised at what you can do and the growth that you achieve.

We are all invisible superheroes. No one sees the struggles, defeats, or even successes or even if they do they may not realize their value to us. Not to mention all of the maintenance work we do for our bodies, the appointments, battles with insurance, and making sure pharmacies and doctors (or even just the doctors) are on the same page. We fight every single day and the 5k allows us to revel in a “win” no matter what form it takes. And so I will leave you with this mantra: My body is a well of strength. I am capable. I am fierce. I am a superhero in disguise. I am a superhero.

If you haven’t signed up for the DSN Superhero Virtual 5k yet there is still plenty of time. If you do not feel like participating but would like to contribute please donate to DSN. Both can be done on this link: https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/dsnsuperherowalk (‘Register’ is on the left with the orange button. ‘Donate’ is in the middle and somewhat blends into the photograph.) You can also share on fb and spread awareness and try to raise money for DSN or not. You can join a team, or you can just walk by yourself, or even create a team if you have family and friends who may like to participate and support you.

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