Meet Alexandra: Fearless fundraiser

This year I took part in the Live Fearless Challenge for the first time. It was such a good opportunity to add greater purpose to the physical training I do and love each day. I previously contributed to the Crohn’s & Colitis Personal Story section earlier this year. It was great to have another chance to write with a more recovery-oriented focus and to share some things I have learnt since being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in October 2023. A lot has happened since, mainly on a personal level. The immediate weeks following the diagnosis were a bit rough, although since getting out of that patch, it’s been quite transformative.

I set a 360km goal for the Live Fearless Challenge in September. This goal was very different to what I was working with last year. Last September, I was pushing myself out for runs, walks and strength training. It eventually got to the point where my body and mind shouted at me to stop. I can remember that morning very clearly. I started jogging and had to stop within about 30 seconds with intolerable stomach pain, joint pain and vertigo. I was a bit late to the mark in choosing self-preservation.

After that, I didn’t run a step for about a month. I had no desire to do any exercise at all. I gave away the morning alarm and went into recovery mode. Not much mattered apart from getting better. I had a holiday planned to New Zealand with a friend which I got to by the skin of my teeth. Over in Queenstown in November, we had entered a 10km run. I was pretty doubtful about the whole thing, so the day before the event I tried an easy 4km around the lake. It went pretty well, so I was able to jog the 10km the next day with no problem. This marked the road to recovery. As I slowly and cautiously hit the road again, I initially had no desire to get back to high mileage and faster sessions. That has naturally returned though without rushing and just trusting the process. I need to keep in check with the early signs of physical exhaustion before they escalate and start to stress my body. I am much better attuned to what my body is telling me and will no longer drag myself through physical distress.

There are so many ways people find their solace and equilibrium. Exercise is a popular one and it seems that running in particular has become more popular in the wake of COVID-19. Without going too far into the physiological benefits (because I struggle to explain them), there is a strong connection between movement and wellbeing. When we exercise, we get a surge of feel good hormones that can sustain us throughout the day. Endorphins are the brain’s natural pain reliever. While exercise really improves our mental and physical strength, it’s the goal setting that propels us towards general self-improvement and this permeates through many areas of life.

Extended from this, following are some valuable lessons I’ve learnt from Crohn’s disease:

We appreciate our health more when we’ve gone without it

Waking up, getting dressed and going about our day seems really simple. But when the body can’t even complete these basic things easily, it’s pretty confronting. Each day with good health is never taken for granted.

We always have a choice

We all have a choice in how we respond to things. We can look at our lot in life from all different perspectives, choosing a problem as an opportunity or something that changes life for the worst. I remember listening to a podcast with Julia Gillard where she spoke about the problem with getting stuck due to being unable to overcome things. She said how problematic and life-limiting it is to become stuck.

Being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease was out of my control, but how I respond to it and manage my body is 100% in my control. The diagnosis was a catalyst for change by taking better care of myself. Knowing that I can’t take Crohn’s away has really made me determined to enhance other aspects of life. If it was all smooth sailing, the resolve to make bigger changes may not have happened.

Forgiveness is always for you.

At the end of 2022 and the start of this year, I really struggled to let go of things. It seemed like many small, unaddressed situations over time accumulated and started to eat away at me. On reflection, this may have been triggered and/or exacerbated by the Prednisone (the steroid to treat Crohn’s disease). I would randomly burst into tears and was so upset and angry about letting certain things slide. I remembered a book I read some time ago, ‘True Lies’, by Dr John Eden, a professor in Reproductive Endocrinology. This book is about forgiveness and letting go. The overarching lesson of this book was, forgiveness is not about forgetting, it is about breaking the bond between yourself and what has hurt you and/or the things you can’t control. Forgiveness is the gate-way to a better life. Holding on only costs us, not anyone else.

Be Fearless

This year, I’ve moved past a lot of fear because it holds us back from so many things.

We can’t get back lost time or missed opportunities. I’ve brought myself outside of my comfort zone now. Growth happens when you become comfortable with discomfort. I have learnt that we are all conditioned in our way. The greatest and most rewarding challenge has been recognising the person I have been in the past, redefining myself and rewriting my story.

Own your story

We all have a story to tell and life would be boring if each person had the same thing to say. I have become pretty open and accepting of my mistakes and flaws, a bit of a transition from unattainable perfectionistic standards. And through it all, despite my short-comings, I’ve realised that the people who really know me actually don’t see me any differently at all.