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Letting Go: Learning to Accept Your Chronic Illness as an Athlete

Updated: Jul 31, 2018

By Rachael | @Gonnetopots | July 30th, 2018

Letting Go: Learning to Accept Your Chronic Illness as an Athlete

I've always been one to push my limits--that's one of the things I loved about being an athlete. The harder I pushed, the stronger I became, and the feeling was almost addicting. Climbing was my passion. I practically lived and breathed it. I had trouble focusing on anything else but climbing. Nothing else made me so happy or excited.

But then I became sick. I remember it vividly. I was going to compete in a local bouldering competition, but that day I woke up feeling really "off" with a bad headache. I thought I must just be coming down with something and figured I'd take some aspirin and hope for the best. As I started climbing, I was very light-headed and started seeing black spots. My heart was racing uncontrollably, but I didn't feel nervous. My head was throbbing. I sat down and drank some water thinking it would help. It didn't. I tried to push through and continue, but I eventually had to withdraw from competition. An employee helped me to lay down in the climbing gym office while my boyfriend (now husband) finished the competition. I laid there and cried, frustrated and even embarrassed that I couldn't beat my body. I had no idea what I was in for at the time. As the days and weeks went on, I didn't get better. I was so dizzy, so tired, so sick. As someone that was almost obsessive about exercise I was starting to lose my mind. I was later diagnosed with POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) and IH (Intracranial Hypertension), and a few other chronic illnesses. Several months later, I had a short window of time after starting a new medication that I was able to start exercising again. I probably pushed myself too hard. I was always dizzy, out of breath and in pain. I did it anyways because I could.  I was climbing again, and climbing pretty well. People thought that because of this I was better, but I wasn't. My condition eventually became worse, and I had to make the decision to stop climbing. No matter how hard I pushed myself, it wasn't good for me, and I knew it. Knowing when to let go is tough, especially when you're stubborn and willing to fight hard for what you love. But I had to make the right choice for my health. Its difficult to describe how heartbreaking it was for me to give up climbing. I still miss it every single day. Whenever I see a photo of a climber my heart just hurts. From time to time, I've even deleted my Instagram app because of how upsetting it is for me to see all my friends doing what I love.

If you were an athlete and now have chronic illness, I'm sure you can relate to this, and I'm sorry. I wouldn't wish this on anyone. We can still have joy now, it's just harder to recognize sometimes. I'm slowly learning to focus on what matters the most in life, and I think that's a very unique opportunity for someone of my age. I hope that one day I'll get back to climbing, but for now I have to focus on healing and getting well again. Not knowing what the future holds for your health is scary, but we have to keep hope and keep fighting.

By Racheal

Instagram: @gonnetopots


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