Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chronic Illness Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint

Recently, one of my good friends got a tattoo to commemorate running her first marathon.

I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo for awhile, one that symbolically represents lupus and my illness journey. And my friend’s explanation got me to thinking about the fact that having lupus is like running a marathon…every day…for the rest of my life. Or living with any chronic illness really.

Acute illness is a sprint. You run hard and fast for a short period of time. You lose stamina, but you gain it back.

But chronic illness is a marathon. It’s a long haul. You need to learn how to pace yourself so that you’ll survive to the finish line.

Running a marathon takes discipline and training. It takes as much mental, as it does physical, agility.

While I may never actually take part in a “real” marathon – although I would like to try to walk a half-marathon at some point – I think the analogy of chronic illness as a marathon is a fitting one.

And some of the advice for marathon runners is fitting for “sick” people, too: get plenty of rest, drink plenty of water, practice self-care, and always wear comfortable shoes.

It’s hard to imagine that people who want and put their minds to running a marathon get tired of training. But they do. So just imagine how chronically ill people feel. They’re training for something they didn’t ask and weren’t prepared for.

So if we think about the courage and strength it takes runners to undertake such a feat, it should give us hope (and pause) about the courage and strength that we, as chronically ill people, have to get through each and every day.

We don’t always make it through on the top of the leader board. Sometimes our illnesses get the better of us. But ultimately, we push through and move on. And if we think of each day as a leg of the journey, we always have our eye on the prize and are focused on the end goal, whatever that may be.

(And in case you’re wondering, the jury is still out on my tattoo. I know what I want to get, and where on my body I want to get it, but there’s something that’s holding me back. I’m not sure what it is, really. A tattoo is so permanent. But then again, so is lupus. And lupus wasn’t a choice. So stay tuned…)


  1. I love this quote: "And some of the advice for marathon runners is fitting for “sick” people, too: get plenty of rest, drink plenty of water, practice self-care, and always wear comfortable shoes."

    Great stuff! Thanks!

    And jury's still out on my tattoo, too. Maybe it's because I have so much unchosen pain from the lupus and the fibro that I just can't stand to volunteer for added pain.

  2. I also like the "always wear comfortable shoes" quote. It sounds like something from a Douglas Adams Novel. What tattoo are you thinking of getting?

  3. Pacing myself is so hard for me! But it's great advice! Thanks.

  4. Hello there. I've enjoyed reading your blog. You are a very talented writer. I'm so sorry that you have Lupus. I do too.

    I wanted to throw a little word of caution out there- some autoimmune diseases can sometimes get worse or appear after a person gets a tattoo. Just a thought- maybe research that a bit before you take the plunge.

    Peace and wellness to you.

  5. i have eight tattoos, eight piercings and an autoimmune disease. for myself, i haven't seen any correlation with increased symptoms after any tattoo or piercing that i've had. i make sure to stay hydrated before, during and after. i take my vitamins to fend off the anemia and boost my immune system. my suggestion is to not get one done when you are having a major flare, wait until you think your body can handle the possibility of fighting off a minor infection (which is always a possibility with a new tattoo). beyond that, i say go for it! i love the analogy of the marathon. but for me, it feels like i am running from something, it is always right behind me trying to trip me up. it seems i am constantly getting sick no matter how hard i try.

    good luck and let me know if you want any tattoo planning advice!

    -jenn p

  6. i also have lupus and have 19 tattoos the last 2 that i have gotten the next day i was sick and it lasted for about a week. i think it just depleted my strength or at least what i had left and it was harder for me to recover. dont get me wrong i will get more i love my tats. just make sure you eat and drink well before and after.