Overcoming chronic health struggles by honoring my own pace…with softness and compassion!

Written by Meghna Bhat

On March 11th, I completed the ShamrockN 10k race on a rainy Saturday in Sacramento, California. I mostly brisk walked and jogged. I surprised myself with the best pace I ever achieved in my adult life: 15:55 minutes per mile.

I am sharing because I am just astonished and thrilled that my body, mind and spirit could bring me so far. I keep underestimating and forgetting how healing looks different to everyone. This was one of my beautiful #healingmoments I am embracing today. I will tell you why.

My story: As a chronically ill child, I never dreamt of being an athlete growing up in Mumbai, India. That’s where I was born and raised. Having hypothyroidism diagnosed at an early age, it was a daily struggle for my young parents and me to take my medicines on time, and to stay mentally and physically healthy. It was very easy getting mentally and physically lethargic, gaining weight (from a health point of view and not shaming), experiencing depression, and other life changing symptoms.

Some weeks looked like I would barely have the energy to comb my hair. But I eventually learned how important it was for me to take care of my health and have medicines.

Besides being enrolled in a summer athletics camp, that was the first and last stint with athletics in India.

As a graduate student in the US, when I moved to Chicago for my PhD program, I got back into running. I completed my first 5 miles race at a Shamrock event on a chilly and windy March day.

But in 2010, long chronic episodes of debilitating throbbing leg pain and fatigue unexpectedly took over my life, my graduate studies, my training for these races, and my sleep. I struggled everyday. It affected my PhD progress. My pain tolerance had reduced. For those 6 years, I may have gone to every doctor and specialist to see what was wrong. I took every lab work and the doctors were baffled. I felt like I had bricks tied to my feet.

For every two people who were supportive towards my illness, I had 4 people who doubted that my pain did not exist, micro managed my research assistant work, and questioned me if I was really sick.

That was very isolating. Instead of self-care, I wanted to seek community care and support.
I cannot remember exactly when this chronic pain and fatigue eventually slowed down, but I had to rely on tai-chi, yoga, and other alternative treatments to cope with this unexplained chronic illness.

Why this moment mattered? Four months ago, I had a laparoscopic yet huge critical surgery under general anesthesia. I had never had any surgeries before that needed me to go under. With our immediate families being far away and having their share of anxiety about my surgery, I had to mentally prepare them and myself that everything is going to be alright. I kept telling myself everyday:

I wouldn’t have any complications.

If any complications happen, we will figure out when we come across that moment.

Should I say my few farewell words to my loved ones incase I don’t make it

I thanked my body, organs, muscles, bones, for not giving up on me.

I also offered apologies to my body for shaming it, for ridiculing and putting it down in the past and sometimes recently… for not offering more compassion and grace.

I am not sure if some of you can relate to this, but in my mid-30s, I realized how much I was constantly conditioned to shame my body, mind and spirit for not fulfilling mainstream narratives and expectations. I am tired of navigating spaces of harassment, health gaslighting etc.

That mental preparation to honor my healing, to accept and make peace with my surgery and possible outcomes was exhausting and cumbersome but this is what helped me personally deal with my health. It helped me define what my healing looks like. Whether it’s from trauma, violence, systemic oppression, or from chronic health struggles. Even though my surgeon gave a green signal to resume normal activities– I wasn’t sure whether I should do this 10k.

Trusting my instinct, I told myself: “I enjoy brisk walking- does wonders for my mental health. I love listening to my music. I love watching the city landscapes and people-watching. And don’t forget I get a snazzy finishers’ medal :)”

I also told myself the night before: If I was unable to get out of bed on Saturday or complete the 10k race, I will still cherish my capacity. Either way, I was going to hold the same softness, grace and compassion for myself that I would offer others.

For some days, my healing looks like barely surviving the moment of anxiety, or it may look like taking my medicines on time, or getting out of bed, and some days, it looks like completing a 10k!

Friendly reminder: Healing looks different for everyone, and is not a race.

#IndividualHealing #ChronicHealthStruggles #ImmigrantVoices #OurStoriesMatter

For more information on trauma and healing please check out TILA’s resources.



Me with my snazzy 10k finishers medal at the ShamrockN