Goodbye, Vitreous Gel, I Won’t Be Missing You
I am a runner. Well, WAS a runner. Now, I’m more of a walker who wants to be a runner again.
More than a run
This is not an article about running or exercise. This is an article about everyday people gaining knowledge about medical processes that affect our vision and using that along with our gut instinct to make personal best decisions for our own (eye) health.
I gave up running to ‘save’ my eyes
Running is not for everyone. In fact, I was never a great runner. It was always hard for me to make it through an entire race without stopping...or without crying in pain...but over time, running helped me feel strong, healthy and confident. It just made me better. If I ever had something difficult going on or just something to work through, I’d pound it out on the pavement. It was sort of a form of therapy for me, something I could always turn to. Something I could count on. Something I found success and solace in, and something I would miss dearly once I stopped doing it. The point is, running was important to me, and I gave it up to ‘save’ my eyes.
My vitreous gel was detaching
In October of 2016, I ran my last race because of my failing eyes. At the time, I was having a lot of scary vision changes and found out that my vitreous gel was detaching...about thirty years too soon. Clearly, to a regular person such as myself, that news sounded REALLY scary and the detachment of my vitreous gel did pose a certain threat to my eyes.
What is vitreous gel?
Through my own layman research and through listening to my specialists over the years, I’ve learned that the majority of the interior of our eyes is filled with a gel-like substance referred to in the ophthalmological world as the vitreous gel. This gel helps give our eyes their shape.
Most people’s vitreous gel detaches in their later years of life. If it detaches early, it’s really not that big of a deal unless it takes some of the retina with it. The vitreous gel is attached to our retina by like a bazillion itty bitty fibers (I don’t really know how many, but it’s a lot). Because of this, when the gel detaches, it can sometimes pull down the retina along with it, causing tears or retinal detachments. Picture tearing down wallpaper...you can carefully peel it away from the wall, but if you pull too hard, you may tear a piece or rip one off.
Did running cause the tear in my retina?
This happened to me. I required surgery to repair a tear in my retina from my detaching vitreous gel. Was the cause of the tear running? Nobody knows for sure, but needing surgery really made me take a step back to analyze my situation. On one hand, I knew I needed to exercise for optimal eye and overall health, but on the other...I had to wonder if the constant pounding with each running step would cause more retinal tearing. Once I knew about my detaching vitreous gel, I became hyper-focused on the sensation of pounding with each running step I took.
Preventing further vitreous detachment
Instead of being a place of peace, running became something that worried me. It was a personal decision to stop running in an attempt to prevent my retinas from detaching along with my vitreous gel. Did my retina specialist suggest I stop running? No, he told me the running could just cause my vitreous gel to detach more quickly. I made the decision to stop on my own and let my eyes do their own thing, in their own time.
For more information on why exercise is so important to our eyes, you can read the article Why People with MD Don't Just Exercise to Get Skinny.
Once a person’s vitreous gel is completely detached, they may see eye floaters. This is just the loose gel floating around in our eyes, in our field of vision...super annoying, but not harmful. The good news is that after the gel is fully detached, the risk of retinal detachment and tearing goes down to basically none. Without the gel being attached to the retina, it can no longer tug on it.
Making sacrifices for my eyes
I remember training for this last race. I had run thousands of miles before, but this was one I would never forget. I was running my last trial early one fall evening on one of the long country roads in the small town I live in. At the start of my run, I was running straight into the most beautiful pink and orange sunset, my favorite kind of sky. It was on fire, and so was my heart. My failing eyes were already having consequences for me, I knew I had to stop doing this thing that made me happy in order to try to preserve them. I would do what I needed to do, but I wasn’t happy about it.
My last run
On my way back into town, I happened to be running straight toward this giant, low-lying full moon that lit up the country road I was on. I knew I was sprinting toward something I could never reach, but it didn’t stop me from trying. I knew that was it for me. Whatever powers that be knew it was too, and boy did they give me the most beautifully symbolic run of my life. I ran my last race, a fun Halloween run, two days later with my best friend...and that was that.
I recently went to my retina specialist for a checkup and was informed that my vitreous gel had finally completely detached. This meant I no longer had to worry about those tiny fibers pulling on my retina, and I can think about taking up running again!
Quick Tip: Just because I decided to stop running until my vitreous gel completely detached does not mean you have to. I believe that each of us has the responsibility to make the best choices we can for our own unique situations.
Run your race
The night I ran my last race, a friend that knew I was struggling with it shared this quote with me:
"If you’re feeling frightened about what comes next, don’t be. Embrace the uncertainty. Allow it to lead you places. Be brave as it challenges you to exercise both your heart and your mind as you create your own path toward happiness; don’t waste time with regret. Spin wildly into your next action. If you should ever look up and find yourself lost, simply take a breath and start over. Retrace your steps and go back to the purest place in your heart...where your hope lives. You’ll find your way again." -Everwood
Run your race,
When you need to vent, who do you turn to first?