Despite my health challenges, I choose to heal

Updated 8:20 AM ET, Sat January 8, 2022

(CNN)The last 12 months have been weird for me. I'm a pretty healthy 39-year-old marathon runner. And yet I had a heart attack, was subsequently diagnosed with a rare disease, and broke my right clavicle -- all within months of each other, all unexpected and unwelcome.

This past year was supposed to be a "bounce back" year, wasn't it? I hoped everything would run a little smoother and that we'd all know how to live a little healthier than we did in 2020, when a tiny virus spread and changed our lives forever.
But as the new year dawns, many of us are still just trying to heal -- from the pandemic, disheartening political and racial divides and new health issues.
Dealing with my own struggles amid this turmoil, I started to rethink what it means to break, and what it takes to heal.
Can the way we recover from social traumas help us heal from illness? Do I have to actually believe I can heal from something for it to happen?
A year into my health journey, I think so.

Listen to this essay

Recorded and produced by Eryn Mathewson, Alex Stern, Allison Park and Tarek Fouda

The last time I needed to heal

Before I got sick last year, the last time I remember needing to heal was when George Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 of killing Trayvon Martin. My well -- that intangible, deep down fount that allows me to find silver linings and keep believing in progress -- ran dry. I just couldn't understand how a grown man who had so obviously and egregiously killed a Black kid, could go unpunished by the justice system.
I don't remember exactly how long it took to replenish the well, but it didn't happen overnight. My dad was sympathetic, but he told me that the fight for racial justice would continue and that I had one day to mope before I had to move on.
I definitely moped for more than a day -- but marching to protest the acquittal, prayer, talking with friends and watching a new generation of civil rights activists organize helped push me forward. Ultimately, I think my desire to live in hope -- not pessimism and anger (though these emotions were useful) -- restored me.
I didn't know it then, but my desire and ability to heal from emotional and physical setbacks was crucial to how I live a meaningful and satisfying life. As I was healing, I was developing a blueprint that I will probably follow for the rest of my life.

My well ran dry again

It's been nearly a decade since Martin's death, and I found myself looking up the definition of healing in Merriam-Webster's dictionary: "To make free from injury or disease; to make sound or whole; to patch up or correct; to restore to original purity or integrity. "
The prompt? My unexpected health issues caused my well to run dry again.
Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with idiopathic hypereosinophilic syndrome (HES). My body produces more eosinophils than I need, and my doctors don't know why. Eosinophils are a type of white blood cell that fight disease. They create inflammation to help fight infections -- which is generally a good thing. But when they overproduce, the little suckers are dangerous.
From golf to figure skating to marathon running, Eryn has always been athletic. Her heart attack, at age 38, came as an unexpected shock to everyone, and was only the tip of the iceberg.
In my case, I've experienced many of the symptoms of this disease: fever, diarrhea, an inflamed liver. At one point, my overzealous eosinophils likely caused my heart to spasm, and I had an abnormal heart attack.

My medicine wasn't working well

The road to recovery has been bumpy -- and, in the middle of all it, I fell and broke my collarbone during a run, and had surgery to repair it.
And then, a recent visit to my hematologist revealed that one of my medications was not working as well as I thought or hoped.
My hematologist is one of my favorite caregivers. During a normal checkup, we talk about exercise, his kids, my siblings. Once we catch up, he'll explain my latest test results and check vitals, always with a succinct yet relaxed delivery.
I was alarmed when our banter was short this time. He straightened his smile and his tone transitioned to serious in a way I'd never heard. He didn't try to frame the disappointing news as "nothing to worry about until we know it's a trend" like he normally does.
Straight up, no chaser, he told me that my eosinophil levels were higher than expected and that my current medication was not sustainable over the long term. The longer I stay on it, especially at the high dose I was on, the more likely other major health issues would arise -- like osteoporosis and high blood pressure.
That's when the floor and whatever else was keeping my spirits up, fell out from under me. If this man was worried, then so was I.
The appointment lasted all of 15 minutes, but I walked away with a heavy head, processing that my illness was potentially not "beatable." It was mine to keep. And to manage it, I would need to get on a new medication: a "safe," but disruptive, hard-to-pronounce pill with a bevy of potential undesirable side effects including a warning to avoid pregnancy because it could cause birth defects.
Little did I know, this would not be the last new pill I'd be introduced to. A few months after this visit, my doctors found blood clots in one of my lungs and one of my legs. I didn't need to be hospitalized