Breathing heavily, sweating profusely and looking back on my personal trials of life, things have certainly not been quite this easy. Now, more than ever, as I rely on human power to pedal along a demanding Montana countryside, I’m given ample time to rehash past and present health challenges beyond my control. My mind reluctantly wanders, back to a timeframe which most would consider prime of life, where I was overcome by extreme discomfort, perplexity and an unfamiliar sense of fear.
Beginning my sophomore year in high school, while feeling strong and on the verge of graduation, I woke to unbearable pain and uncertainty. To put it lightly, my life quickly went from placid to tough and, after three trying years visiting with specialists, I stooped to accepting the label, “hypochondriac.” I mean, how could I deny it? Each time a trusted health care professional drew a blank diagnosis for my condition I felt alone, with no reprieve, little choice and an overwhelming sense of self-doubt. As time went on, with sprinkles of struggle and mounds of perseverance, I was thankfully able to piece things together and find a pathway forward. I was ultimately diagnosed with an autoimmune disease known as ankylosing spondylitis (AS). It’s hard to describe how I felt when I learned of my condition but in this moment, looking back from atop my saddle, I see myself relieved in knowing my illness is real yet conquerable, neither debilitating nor imagined.
I’ll never forget that pressure-relieving day where my alternate reality, insecurities, and pain were suddenly validated, even by those closest to me. I now had a name for my illness to replace questioning eyes and unnecessary comments around my being too young to chronically feel high levels of pain. Having a name for my illness somehow also served as a first healing step towards better understanding both my body and mind. During these progressive times, diagnosis did not immediately relieve my aches and pains; however, finding proper medication did. Literally, after one injectable treatment I could sit up on my own and with ease! So, I sat up, stretched, and dressed myself utilizing what only 24 hours prior felt like 90-year-old joints.
Now, breathing easy and feeling comfortable within a 30-year-old body, having cycled nearly 700 miles, I see this physically and emotionally demanding journey as my reward for sacrificing years of being patient, enduring and almost accepting a debilitating disease. I sincerely thank WRFI for their encouragement and support before and during this journey. Their work has helped me see the meaning of accomplishment in a whole new light. I feel capability beyond belief – a condition I once believed impossible.
At the end of the road I will step away from my bike within a ‘place’ filled with impeccable self-awareness, exploration, and a brand-new desire to share a short stint of my personal journey.