Running with MS
They say when you have multiple sclerosis you can’t go running. .
Each morning, a bit after sunrise, I take a jog through the bush near my house. It’s beautiful. The light fans out through the trees. Tendrils of mist hang in the air because we are at an altitude and it’s winter.
Jogging is an unremarkable practice that I suppose a lot of people do every morning. For me, it’s a profound blessing. I have had multiple sclerosis for 22 years. I couldn’t run for a long time.
As a kid, I liked running. Our street that curved around a disused quarry that had an active train line running through and Tickhole Tunnel plunged through the rock.
The smooth asphalt took a sharp incline up to the busy main road, four lanes of traffic and a red stop sign. From the house, up past the quarry to the stop sign and back was a perfect one kilometre.
I spent my childhood in that quarry. Sometimes with my brother riding his Peewee Fifty little motorcycle. Mostly by myself. Running with rabbits, climbing the scaffolding of creamy sandstone rocks, clambering up the flat concrete roof of the tunnel, watching the trains roar underneath me. I felt like I could have anything I set my mind to. That my creative power was vast.
I last attempted running in 2006. After work at 5.30, I tied my shoelaces so I wouldn’t trip and ventured onto the local bike path. I’d had a relationship breakup and wanted to feel that power again — that surge of endorphins, the heart pumping, the lungs working like a machine.
I ignored the tingles — the rubbery electric bands wrapped around my legs. Running made them worse. Stronger. One hundred metres in and those pins and needles — paresthesia — was like being plugged into an electrical circuit.
It would start at the thighs. And then rise every few metres. The top of my legs. My butt. My lower back. My chest. The lesions on my brain and spinal cord were flopping around and sparking. Wild snakes in a lightning storm. It felt dangerous. My nerves were singeing. Burning. Fraying. Myelin coils cindering toward a time bomb. A tight, full-body corset of electricity around my ribs.
You know, it’s hard to run in a corset. Then the circuit cut out. The signal gave way. In the end, it was the knees. They couldn’t remember how to run. Brain and legs in motion were not in sync. I limped home and wept in frustration. How do you get over a broken heart if you can’t run wild?
Ever since then, I’ve replaced running with walking (when I could walk). Stairs (up, easier than down). Bushwalks. Hiking. Some bike riding. Some half-paralysed swimming. That was my salve for a time.
When the coronavirus hit my state, I was at home a lot. My anxiety level was high. I needed the quick daily endorphins that only exercise can bring. My bike was in the shed. I hadn’t ridden in a few years. I was willing to use one of the kids’ helmets for a quick spin.
Another obstacle. My bike had two flat tyres. I remembered how to fix a puncture — I’d done it as a kid and it was tedious. Take out the tube, submerge it in the bath. Where it bubbled, stick on a patch.
I couldn’t find a puncture repair kit anywhere — no petrol stations, shops, or supermarkets — no one had this simple thing anymore. Damn, I wish I could just go running, I thought. How simple. Pure.
So, I thought, I’ll just try it. I know I can’t. I know the tingles will come and poke me in the ass. I won’t be disappointed. I’ll just have a little go. Because I feel pretty good. There were no lingering tingles anywhere. When I tipped my head forward, my fingers had stopped buzzing ages ago. Good signs. Worth a try.
I stripped down to my leggings, put on a T-shirt, and a jumper, gloves, sunglasses, and a beanie. We are a family of early risers, so no one would see me as I tried running again in the dawn.
I jogged for a hundred metres. This is good, I thought. I’m jogging, nice and slow, but it’s happening. I’m doing this. No tingles.
After five hundred metres in. Wow — this is really nice. Still no tangles. I’m not falling.
I did the loop through the bush, past the oval — a lake of silver frost — beautiful — heart and lungs labouring — endorphins, feel-good chemicals flooding my brain. One. Full. Kilometres. No tingles.
I decided that morning would do that every day for as long as I could. This is week ten now. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.
Then I’ll go back to the other ways I can tap into that feeling I had as a kid — of strengths, of unlimited potential. Because I can also find it in nature, in bushwalking and hiking, swimming, and in meditation.
One thing is clear to me. I need exercise every day. It keeps my body strong. But mostly it’s for my mental health. The physical benefits are a bonus. It gives me clarity and focus. It clears away the driftwood in my mind. When I’m fit, everything else is easier.
Life is short. Tomorrow won’t be the same as today. Next month won’t be the same as this month. Everything changes. So I’ll enjoy my time running with MS while I can.