chronic illness, healing

The Unbroken Chronicles, Pt 1: don’t be a superhuman

August 3, 2015
the unbroken chronicles: healing from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue

ESTIMATED READ TIME: 5 MINUTES


Recovering from Chronic Illness: Acknowledge Your Limits and Stay within Them

Read Part 2 Assembling a Healthcare Team and Plan

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In the summer of 2002, I had a very bad car accident that initiated the process of becoming chronically ill. 11 years later, I was still struggling with these illnesses (fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome/ME) and doing everything I could to not give up and keep seeking answers and health. You can read a little more about where I was in May 2013, 11 years from my initial diagnosis, from my post (You are Not) BROKEN. This is a blog series about that journey and what I did along the way that ultimately led be to being healthier than I was pre-diagnosis. DISCLAIMER: Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are very unique and complex illnesses. I am not suggesting that my path to wellness will work for others. I am hoping by this series that I can encourage others who are ill on their own journeys to wellness. Please be sure you have a good doctor and consult with them!


When I had my car accident, I was a 20-year-old-former-competitive-gymnast-all-A-student perfectionist. I didn’t really know how to set limits and I always pushed to live beyond them. I had finished competing as a Level 10 (the highest level before the competitions you see on TV) gymnast two years prior, and had an over-loaded schedule as I was a double degree student. I was socially active, held positions on leadership teams, coached gymnastics and was getting my As. So when I got in my accident, I continued in my typical type-A style: I got my ducks in a row and called my acupuncturist from the scene. I was actually relatively ok at the scene (other than completely unnerved from having to climb out of my car with another one on my roof), but I knew I needed to get on top of treating what had just happened to my body.

This was not my actual accident, but this is what mine looked like. I was the car underneath. Photo credit: nbcmiami.com

This was not my actual accident, but this is what mine looked like. I was the car underneath. Photo credit: nbcmiami.com

Within 2-3 weeks of starting treatment with my acupuncturist, my pain levels had increased significantly and we had more and more to treat. I then contacted one of the best doctors in the world (no, that is NOT an exaggeration) and arranged to see Dr. Larry Nassar that August while he was working at the USA Gymnastics National Championships. I had seen him before for a previous back injury (significantly more acute to start, but never turned chronic) and he worked miracles for my back. When I returned from that trip, I started seeing TWO osteopaths. They treated a bit differently, so I thought I was just giving my body extra healing. My main Osteopath, Dr. Laura Ramipil (also one of the best of the best), finally told me that I had to chose between her and the other. Basically I was OVER-treating. My nervous system was still too freaked out from the accident to even allow my physical injuries to be treated, and I was doing TOO MUCH. Of course I had the best intentions, but I had to take a step back.

So I slowed my roll a bit, and after about 6 months, she was finally able to start treating my tissue. Trauma is no joke! The kicker is no one told me the MOST important part in preventing my acute injuries from turning chronic: STOP. SLOW DOWN. YOU AREN’T A SUPERHUMAN. And even if you have managed to function in superhuman mode in the past, it CAN’T WORK NOW. No one told me was that I needed to slow it down in ALL parts of my life: treatment, physical and mental activity (if you struggle with these illnesses, you know that mental work = physical work). I was still trying to manage everything that had been in my life pre-accident and that was simply more than my body could handle. When you are processing trauma, be it emotional or physical or both, the body just can’t do it all. It needs time. Space. Rest. I didn’t give it any of that. Instead, I ADDED more to my list as I was trying to get well… which quickly amounted to 8–10 appointments a week between acupuncture, massage, osteopathic and physical therapy.

STOP. SLOW DOWN. YOU AREN’T A SUPERHUMAN.

Three years later, I graduated college and began working as a Creative Director, which is a very demanding job. It wasn’t until 2009 when another doctor (Dr. Charles Lapp, one of the leading fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue/me docs in the world) finally told me: “YOU MUST STOP [working] or you will be irrecoverable.” The word irrecoverable to a 28 year-old is pretty scary. And serious. It was finally enough to slow me down. I stopped working for what was supposed to be 6 months. Several years later, I was still ill, even more so, but there were different reasons for that which I’ll get to in another post. There is absolutely NO WAY I would have ever gotten better if I hadn’t slowed down and made rest a priority. There are so many other things I did that were really important, but without this step, none of it would have ever mattered. I had to work hard at not working hard. If you are like me, and many of you are, you are a type-A go-getter that has always done “everything.” You need to stop. Now. Listen to your body and go at it’s pace—as much as possible it’s non artificially created pace (as in if you drink 5 cups of coffee or a take a stimulant med, you are just creating false energy that is allowing you to push your body beyond its limits). That’s the only way.

Next time I’ll talk about the team of doctors I assembled over the years and the treatments that helped me the most.

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growth, health, life

You are Not Broken

August 3, 2015
You are Not Broken

This was originally posted on my graphic design website back in April, 2013. I am in the process of creating a series of posts about how I became “unbroken;” how I healed from my chronic illnesses. But first, I’ll share this one:


Being that I am sitting in a hotel room in Charlotte, NC for my annual visit to my fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue specialist AND that May is Fibromyalgia Awareness Month (what, you hadn’t heard?), I figured I’d do a little blog post about living with this diagnosis.

My journey with fibro/cfs (Fibromyalgia/Chronic Fatigue/Myalgic Encephalopathy) began 11 years ago when I was rear-ended on the way to work. Long story short, I was hit pretty hard and pushed underneath the car in front of me so their back wheels were on my roof. It was terrifying. I drove a little “tupperware car” Saturn Sport Coupe and I had no idea if it’s frame was going to collapse below the weight of the Chevy Malibu that was suddenly imposed upon me. It was definitely one of those moments where you wonder, “Is this how it is going to end?”  I ended up with some pretty intense pain from my injuries, but was fortunate to be able to crawl out the window of my car and walk away.

Fast-forward several years and I had the most bizarre constellation of symptoms. I was still dealing with a decent amount of daily pain in my back and neck, but I was also experiencing migraines 6/7 days of the week. I developed TMJ and my skin became so sensitive it hurt when the wind would blow against it. My eyes would often have difficulty finding focus and depth of field in a large space, and when I got really overwhelmed, they would spasm and rapidly twitch back and forth. I couldn’t sleep at night, and then would fall asleep at work. I never felt like I could get a good night’s sleep, even if I had slept for 8-10 hours. I had difficulty articulating my thoughts and even more difficulty managing multiple tasks/projects at once. My skin would itch, my nose and knees would sometimes go numb, and my hands and feet would always throb and feel swollen in the morning. It hurt to put weight on my feet and felt like I was walking on pins and needles every single morning. I would get so tired that my entire body burned—simple tasks like picking up a glass of water would sometimes make my muscles fatigue as if I had just completed a strenuous workout. And, finally, I had terrible abdominal and chest pain that would sometimes hurt so much I couldn’t stand up straight or take a deep breath (which later I discovered was due to IBS and food sensitivities). Last time I checked, I have battled at least 35 distinct symptoms. Each day was different—some days I would have five symptoms, some days I would have 10, some days I would only have one or two. I never knew when I would be able to get up in the morning or if I was going to make it through the day.

I grew up as a highly competitive gymnast, so I was trained to always push through pain and just work a little harder to achieve anything I set my mind to. The biggest thing I have had to learn through the past decade is that I have to work harder at doing less, not more. I have to constantly ask for help. This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do as it goes against every fiber of my being. It makes me feel broken, incapable, and defeated. It is absolutely impossible to explain to someone who doesn’t have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue (the two syndromes are typically present together) what it is like to live, er, feel trapped, inside my body.

It would be easy to give up, and honestly, it is often quite tempting. I’ve been on this chronic illness journey for pretty much all of my adult life and it has cost me everything that the world would call stability. I must constantly remind myself that God will not abandon me, thus He must be up to something here. There must be something good that will come out of this. I even have this art, designed by a friend of mine Jim LePage, hanging on my living room wall that reads:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.”

I need that reminder. Every. single. day. I also need to remember that I am not broken and I am not past the point of repair. I am simply on a journey, albeit a difficult one. Something more lies ahead. I have made progress over these years. Sometimes it is hard for me to see that, but the indicators are certainly there. On the hardest of days, I cling to those indicators—they give me hope and motivation to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

If you happen to know someone with chronic illness, be it fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue, or something other (often hidden) disability, give them grace. For most of us, our lives feel like they are not our own. We will let you down. We will not carry “our fair share” or “our weight” in most relationships, but I promise you we are carrying weight 24/7. If you happen to suffer from fibro/chronic fatigue (or are in the midst of recovering from an serious injury or trauma), my best advice to you is to give yourself grace. Take time to rest. Then take more time to rest. Surround yourself with supportive people that love you regardless of how well they can understand you or how much you can do for them. And never give up.

You are not broken.

fitness, health

I CIZED!

July 29, 2015
cize_day1

About 18 months ago, Shaun T and I first met. He had changed some friends’ lives, so I figured he couldn’t be too bad. We hung out in my living room nearly every day and he told me what to do and made it so easy. He even gave me a helper (Tania) that showed me what to do when things were too hard.

I started his T25 program right as I was really starting to improve my health. It got me in the best shape of my life, even though I was doing almost all modified/no-impact moves à la Tania. Stuff happened (like that time I moved to another continent) and we haven’t hung out in a long time. But, the guy earned my respect and trust real fast.

I also kinda love Shaun T because he is an AMAZING dancer. And I always wished he just would create a workout program where he would teach me to dance like him. Since we are besties and all, he must have heard me and he went to work. The result: CIZE (the “end of exercize”). It just launched last week and I gave it a try today.

EEK!! It was so awesome! I was worried it would be corny, honestly. Let’s be honest: an exercize program for “everyone” that is dance-based could easily be cheesy. And then there is that line in the preview where the girl says “that made me feel, like, really cool.” Don’t worry, he redeems the whole video by ending it with “this ain’t no cha-cha-cha.” I’m a swing dancer and ex-gymnast, so I can dance a bit. I don’t THIS kind of dance, but I can dance. So, somehow, in his Shaun T awesomeness, he made Cize easy to follow (it was about as easy to learn the choreography as his other workouts… he breaks it down but you still need a couple of tries to put it all together without a fumble), and fun! So FUN! NOT CHEESY! I was dancing between the “sets” and the best part: my cardio workout—which is NOT my favorite thing and I usually have to block the clock on the screen so I stop staring at it the whole time—flew by!

Shaun T, you won me over again. I’ll see you tomorrow!

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Wanna join me? You can even try it for free for a month! Hit me up if you want to join my daily dance parties or get started here and click on “Beachbody on Demand” on the top left.

health, nutrition

HEALTHY EATING TIP: Eat what you love

July 29, 2015
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Eat the foods you love and enjoy! This salad contained some of my favorites, and yes, some are healthier than others. But it averaged out to a very healthy meal and finished as two cleaned plates! I learned this tip long ago when I started eating salads for lunch every day. I found that if I threw in a few “treat” ingredients (at the time it was black olives, organic corn and green grapes), I ended up LOVING my big healthy salad. Eating, and being, healthy should be an enjoyable experience. It should be more about adding in the GOOD STUFF and loving it so much that you stick to the plan. No one likes deprivation, and no one is going to stay in deprivation mode as a lifestyle. This salad included some of my favorite foods and flavors (sweet potatoes, grapes, chèvre, sriracha, cayenne and chipotlé) and came together harmoniously. If these aren’t some of your favorite foods, try putting together a salad or healthy meal that incorporates them. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

PAM_arrow_HR

RECIPE: Sweet Potato Salad with Sriracha-Lime Dressing

//INGREDIENTS
(serves 4)

➵ 3 sweet potatoes (including my FAVORITE Japanese yams—it’s purple on the outside and white on the inside and amazing), cubed
➵ 2 tbsp of melted butter or coconut oil
➵ 1 large avocado, cubed
➵ 1 red onion, thinly sliced
➵ 1/2 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
➵ 1 cup red grapes, halved
➵ chèvre (optional for serving)
➵ mixed greens (I used romaine, spinach, mâche and roquette)
➵ 2 tbsp mayonaise
➵ 2 tbsp (or more to taste) of fresh lime juice
➵ 1tsp sriracha
➵ pinch of cayenne
➵ pinch of chipotlé
➵ 1/2 tsp of honey (optional)
➵ salt and pepper

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//DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Cube sweet potatoes, toss in melted butter or coconut oil, season with salt and pepper. Retain the skin for added nutrition!
  2. Roast sweet potatoes until soft and slightly browned, about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and let cool to room temperature after finished.
  3. In small bowl, make lime-sriracha dressing. Combine mayo, lime juice, sriracha, cayenne, chipotlé and salt/pepper to taste. Add the honey if desired. Stir well and set aside.
  4. Prepare other salad items: onion, cranberries and grapes. Toss with greens, add cooled sweet potatoes, optional chèvre (but this is not “optional” if you live in France! 😉), and top with dressing.
  5. Enjoy!

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community, growth, life

Calling all Dreamers!

July 28, 2015
Dreamers

There are so many times in my life I’ve been knocked down. Be it when I was a toddler and abused by my bio-father. Or when I was a gymnast and always breaking. When I finished 11th, just fractions of a point outside of the coveted Top Ten in my graduating class. When I had a car accident that could have killed me. When I became chronically ill and partially home-bound for 5+ years. When I lost my job due to betrayal from someone that was supposed to be protecting and supporting me. Each punch could have been a knock-out. And honestly, a couple of them almost were. But, I refuse to be less than I am meant to be. I refuse to leave this world without making a difference. I refuse to be overcome.

So here I am. I’m not just living, but I’m thriving. I still have a long trail to forge ahead, and I’ll keep dreaming and proving to myself that I am resilient and can do hard things.

I’ve spent the last week in an awesome group of 500+ like-minded dreamers. Community is so important. In just that week, I feel the momentum, the courage, and the excitement swelling in my bones. I am waking up with excitement each day and having trouble sleeping because I can’t stop dreaming about the future. I’m home here, and for the first time in my life I feel like I’m WHERE I’m meant to be, DOING what I was meant to do. That sweet spot.

I’m looking for other dreamers. Other world-changers. Other brave souls. The ones who don’t give up. Don’t play victim. Don’t stay down. The ones who have a dream to chase. The ones determined to chose what they will become.

All I’ve ever wanted to do was help people. Make the world a better place. Make a difference in the lives of others. I believe my journey has happened for a reason and it’s my _responsibility_ to use that journey and to extend my hand and pay it forward into the lives of others. THAT’S why I chose to become a wellness coach. I’ve learned too much about health, fitness and nutrition as I’ve worked on saving my own life to keep it to myself. Now that things are a bit more settled here in France, I’m diving (back) in and would love for you to join me.

Curious? Drop me a comment, use the contact form or shoot me a message on any social media account. I’m extending my hand to 5 more change-makers for my DO SOMETHING Project group this month, to 2 curious souls in a no-commitment coaching sneak peek to see what the heck I’m talking about, and to another 2 fire-starters for a new coach training!