Tag Archives: healing

Spirituality and Physical Health

I’ve talked before about how wellness is a balancing act, in perpetual motion as elements of our lives swing left to right, into clarity and back to darkness. I’ve even gone so far as saying that people who are physically healthy but spiritually empty are out of sync, and people who are spiritually devout but negligent of their health are in disharmony, too. Ahem, not talking down on ANYONE here or speaking blasphemy. If you’re imperfect, raise your hand!! Mine is waving high. At first, this concept rubbed me the wrong way, but it gradually settled in my heart after listening to a sermon by Pastor David Stine, Founder and Lead Pastor of Metro Church, home to a congregation of thousands and the largest assembly space in all of Alexandria, VA (its “home base” for several locations).

You can imagine my surprise when Pastor David suddenly and unexpectedly said a choked-up goodbye to his congregation last week, admitting that his marriage and physical health were suffering. I was a bit shaken up, like many people. After swallowing the news, I realized that he isn’t all that different from the rest of us, even as a pastor. His relentless pursuit of “doing it all” [for God, in his case] is universal in American culture. Here’s what I have put together that he went through over the last few years and how it’s a warning to us all…

Photo Credit Instagram: @metrochurchdc

Eye on the Prize

Pastor David’s spiritual journey began when he was diagnosed with Leukemia as a young teenager. Doctors weren’t optimistic about his ability to survive and gave him his death sentence before he was old enough to have attended a prom and a healthy number of Friday night football games. Pastor David’s grandfather was a spiritual man, unlike young David, and he told his grandson that while he was praying for him, God gave him a vision. He said he saw David emerging from his hospital room a normal, happy boy. He felt confident this was a sign that God was going to heal him, in spite of the medical world’s ominous prognosis. The next day – yes, the next day –  David woke up in his hospital bed and felt great. The doctors were stunned when scans revealed that in less than 24 hours, the cancer had quite inexplicably vanished.

As you can imagine, this is one of many things in Pastor David’s life that ignited a fire under him to live out God’s word and spread it to as many people as possible. And he did. He did just that. He moved from the deep south to the Washington, DC area where more incredible divine interventions took place and allowed him to launch a thriving non-denominational Christian church community. His vision for expansion was aggressive, confident and, in a lot of ways, one might say “ordained.” For example, in just ONE weekend, he lead the effort of raising multiple MILLIONS of dollars from the congregation so that the church could build a new, larger main campus and new additional church homes across the region.

All this is the tip of the iceberg. Pastor David also has four beautiful children and has written and published several books. Wow. He has done A LOT. To me, it seemed there would be nothing stopping his relentless pursuit of his big dream; the vision he says God gave him, to establish over a dozen churches in the DC metro region. So, why is he having to step back? And what does this have to do with wellness or physical health? In a lot of ways, we sacrifice too much when we gives things our all…

Photo Credit Instagram: @metrochurchdc

Energizer Bunnies Come to Abrupt Halts

Pastor David hasn’t committed any moral wrongdoings and he is NOT a failure. No one can sustain momentum forever on only a few hours of sleep a night for several years as they pour all of themselves into their goals and work. I’m sure that this fact along with other unmentioned struggles caused turmoil in his marriage and home life. It also hurt his physical health. He has a surgery scheduled to remove his thyroid, after which he plans to spend time with a spiritual counselor.

Pastor David and his wife, Pastor Taryn courageously told their congregation that they couldn’t focus on healing their marriage and health the way they needed to while also pouring the energy required of them into leading the church. From the outside, it’s easy to quickly judge this as weakness. It’s convenient to separate ourselves from their situation and assume that they must be somehow very different from us; less strong, more sensitive, lacking thoughtfulness about their former life choices. But this is a lie. If we’re telling ourselves this, it’s because it’s hard to remember that we pour a lot of our own energy into some things at the expense of others. No one can “do it all.” We are all only human. And I’m personally so impressed they have the strength to publicly admit this, leading by example how to make the tough calls in life. 

 

 “No, You Can’t Have It All”

The news from last weekend came full circle [for me] when I read an article one of my friends posted on Facebook: “No, You Can’t Have It All” by Mark Manson. Manson writes about a man named Mohammed El-Erian who was the CEO of a $2 trillion bond fund, earning $100 million/yr. Like Pastor David, he abruptly stepped away from his company, explaining that family needed to come first. He realized that his relationship with his daughter was paper thin after missing out on so many important experiences in her first 10 years of life. She made him realize that he hadn’t really “fathered” her when she countered his attempts at discipline one day by proffering a list of 22 things that were important to her that he had missed due to work.

Manson writes that in America “we regularly celebrate people who become rich by doing ‘exceptional things.’ But the nature of those ‘exceptional things’ often requires extremely high opportunity costs.” He argues that work/life balance plagues us all and that we are constantly guilt-tripping ourselves over what we can’t do more of. More workouts at the gym. Higher promotion and pay at work. Home-cooked meals and quality time with family every day. Manson asks us to ponder if the answer is to say “this is what I choose to value more than everything else” and wholly embracing the decision.

 

Spiritual and/or Physical Brokenness

I’m not sure that I can say there is a perfect answer. Actually, I know there isn’t. But I think one of several solutions for spiritual and/or physical brokenness lies in Manson’s suggestion; being honest with ourselves about what truly matters to our hearts. Another possible solution is finding harmony in the different aspects of our lives – that elusive “work/life balance” that Manson and many people argue is impossible. I will counter that thought. I think that it IS possible. But that doesn’t mean that “balance” will look or feel like we expect it to.

For example, we may not be able to assume a role at work that brings more responsibility, even if it means a bigger paycheck. We can say “no” to climbing the ladder aggressively fast, especially when it means we keep sanity in check for our families and sleep a little more soundly at night. Likewise, we can bounce back and forth between feeling full and whole in different elements of our lives. This oscillation between almost-full and somewhat-empty doesn’t mean we are failures.

I’m betting even Pastor David feels confident that God has promised him nothing is impossible and that he can feel overflowing with purpose, health and joy, even after stepping back from his big dreams [the church he founded]. Even after feeling left empty and depleted.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

Your Healthy Holiday Reading Guide

A good book can make things a whole lot cozier while you’re relaxing by the fire with a warm cup of cocoa. Enjoyable reading can also help pass the time as you travel back and forth between family and friends over the holidays. The 12 books on this list cover a range of health and wellness topics (Healing, Lifestyle Choices, Spiritual Reflection, Relationships, Attitude, and Workplace Satisfaction), and they have all been vetted by yours truly. Each of these books has impacted my life in a profound way. I believe that whichever one speaks to you is worth investing a little time in. Give yourself the gift of some soul-searching and/or nuturing this season. These books are sure to do the trick. Healthy Holiday Reading

 


*Healing*

Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can

“Both visionary and practical, Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can presents a bold new account of the development of human consciousness and spirituality over the ages, and examines the dynamic global transformation of attitudes about healing. To help you get and stay on the path to wellness, Dr. Myss provides rituals and prayers for gaining a symbolic perspective on your life issues; for bolstering your personal power; and for connecting with a universal divine energy. Dr. Myss’s breakthrough views on energy medicine and her active approach to healing life issues and physical illness will help you overcome the mental blocks that keep you from becoming well.”

The Language of Letting Go

“Melody Beattie integrates her own life experiences and fundamental recovery reflections in this unique daily meditation book written especially for those of us who struggle with the issue of codependency.

Problems are made to be solved, Melody reminds us, and the best thing we can do is take responsibility for our own pain and self-care. In this daily inspirational book, Melody provides us with a thought to guide us through the day and she encourages us to remember that each day is an opportunity for growth and renewal.”

 


*Lifestyle Choices*

The Power of Habit

“In The Power of Habit, Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.”

Ultrametabolism: The Simple Plan for Automatic Weight Loss

“For many, losing weight is a never-ending struggle, especially since our bodies are designed to keep weight on at all costs; it’s a matter of survival. But a medical revolution is under way, showing us how to work with our bodies instead of against them to improve nutrition and ignite the natural fat-burning furnaces that lie dormant within us.

Drawing on cutting-edge research about nutrigenomics—the science of how food talks to our genes—Dr. Hyman, author of bestsellers including The Blood Sugar Solution, The Ultra-Mind Solution, UltraPrevention, and The UltraSimple Diet has created a method for losing weight by eating the right foods to detox and manage food allergies.”

 


*Spiritual Reflection*

Proof of Heaven

“Dr. Alexander’s brain was attacked by a rare illness. The part of the brain that controls thought and emotion—and in essence makes us human—shut down completely. For seven days he lay in a coma. Then, as his doctors considered stopping treatment, Alexander’s eyes popped open. He had come back. Alexander’s recovery is a medical miracle.

Alexander’s story is not a fantasy. Before he underwent his journey, he could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with any belief in heaven, God, or the soul. Today Alexander is a doctor who believes that true health can be achieved only when we realize that God and the soul are real and that death is not the end of personal existence but only a transition.”

The God-First Life; Uncomplicate Your Life, God’s Way

“There are thousands of how-to books for improving various areas of life―self, relationships, finances, fitness, business, marriage, family. And there are nearly as many books written for believers offering a framework for the “right” approach to a new life in God.

In The God-First Life, Weems shows that true success in our walk with God and in life in general is not an issue of need, but an issue of order. Brilliantly unpacking the simple Scripture in Matthew 6:33, Weems gives a fresh and practical perspective on what Christian “discipleship” is about. Bringing clarity, depth, and simplicity, Pastor Weems makes clear core truths that have been misunderstood by many Christians and non-Christians alike.”

 


*Relationships*

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts

“Falling in love is easy. Staying in love—that’s the challenge! How can you keep your relationship fresh and growing amid the demands, conflicts, and just plain boredom of everyday life?

In the #1 New York Times bestseller The 5 Love Languages, you’ll discover the secret that has transformed millions of relationships worldwide. Whether your relationship is flourishing or failing, Dr. Gary Chapman’s proven approach to showing and receiving love will help you experience deeper and richer levels of intimacy with your partner—starting today.”

The 4 Seasons of Marriage

“Spring, summer, winter, fall. Marriages are perpetually in a state of transition, continually moving from one season to another―perhaps not annually, as in nature, but just as certainly and consistently. Sometimes we find ourselves in winter―discouraged, detached, and dissatisfied; other times, we experience springtime with its openness, hope, and anticipation. On other occasions, we bask in the warmth of summer―comfortable, relaxed, enjoying life. And then comes fall with its uncertainty, negligence, and apprehension. The cycle repeats itself many times throughout the life of a marriage, just as the seasons repeat themselves in nature.
The seasons of marriage come and go. Each one holds the potential for emotional health and happiness, and each one has its challenges. The purpose of this book is to describe these recurring seasons of marriage, help you and your spouse identify which season your marriage is in, and show you how to enhance your marriage in all four seasons.”

 


*Attitude*

Choose Your Attitude, Change Your Life

“You’ve heard the expression, “Attitude is everything.” But can a positive mental attitude make all that much difference in your personal and professional life? Deborah Smith Pegues, author of the bestselling 30 Days to Taming Your Tongue, believes strongly that it can.

In Choose Your Attitude, Change Your Life, Deborah explores the root causes of 30 negative attitudes, their impact on your life and relationships, and how you can learn to think positively instead. As a result, she helps you recognize and conquer counterproductive behaviors, such as criticizing the choices others make, being inflexible, and being indifferent to the needs of others.”

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

“Is it possible to live well when the very ground we stand on is shaky? Yes, says everyone’s favorite Buddhist nun, it’s even possible to live beautifully, compassionately, and happily on shaky ground–the secret being that the ground is always shaky beneath us, and everyone who has ever learned to be happy has done so with that understanding. Pema Chödrön presents a simple Buddhist practice that we can use to commit ourselves to a life of profound sanity, even when it seems like there’s only nonsanity all around us. Using this practice, called the Three Commitments, can really change things.”

 


*Workplace Inspiration*

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead

“Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.

Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TEDTalk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which became a phenomenon and has been viewed more than two million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.”

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

“Mark Twain once observed, ‘A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.’ His observation rings true: Urban legends, conspiracy theories, and bogus public-health scares circulate effortlessly. Meanwhile, people with important ideas–business people, teachers, politicians, journalists, and others– struggle to make their ideas ‘stick.’

Made to Stick is a book that will transform the way you communicate ideas. It’s a fast-paced tour of success stories (and failures)– the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of ‘the Mother Teresa Effect’; the elementary-school teacher whose simulation actually prevented racial prejudice. Provocative, eye-opening, and often surprisingly funny, Made to Stick shows us the vital principles of winning ideas–and tells us how we can apply these rules to making our own messages stick.”


Wishing you a physically, mentally and spirutually healthy season! Happy reading!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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What I Learned About the Body…after I got hit by a car (Part 2)

If you’re joining the story now, please feel free to read the first part of it: http://bit.ly/1Leo8Fp

These are lessons that I have learned the hard way and that I’m here to share.  

 car accident 4

 

Lesson #5: Don’t give up on finding the right care from the right professional

It can be incredibly difficult to navigate the confusing network of health professionals. So many people get lost when they try to figure out if they should seek treatment options from general practitioners, massage therapists, physical therapists, acupuncture specialists, chiropractic doctors, nutritionists, personal trainers, psychologists, and more. One common question is: “Should I try one at a time or opt for multiple forms of treatment at once?” This is a tricky question to answer because it’s very different for each and every person, according to their condition and stage of healing.

For me, I’ve tried it all. Literally. I sought out acupuncture and cupping techniques with one specialist, cognitive therapy for post-traumatic stress with another, chiropractic adjustments with two doctors, physical therapy with five different professionals, and massage therapies from an uncountable number of nimble-fingered individuals. This is not even an exhaustive list of the professionals I worked with while trying to recover from my accident. The reason I kept trying different things is because every person gave me a different opinion. I would give heed to their opinion and try their approach for a while and if it wasn’t working out, then I moved on to the next.

Although I had moments when tears of frustration would roll down my face, feeling like I had set out on a fruitless treasure hunt, I just knew that I had to keep trying. What on earth would happen if I gave up?!  Thus, the years stretched on, but ironically, I started to learn so much more than I bargained for. I began to learn how to heal other people who were dealing with back pain. In the time that it took me to heal my own, I helped over a dozen people quickly dissolve their issues. Perhaps, I thought, those seemingly pointless efforts with other health professionals weren’t such a waste of time after all!

In the end, I’ve learned that different stages of healing may require different forms of assistance. For example, there was a time when the most important thing for me to do was heal emotionally. Once I was calmer, I began to believe in the physical healing process again. Once I rebooted that journey, I found that needling in physical therapy worked for a while, to bring flexibility back to stiff muscles that had been stuck in spasm. At another point, I found that my muscles were flexible enough to allow my back to get adjusted into alignment by a chiropractor. And finally, I found that my body was getting better and better at keeping me in alignment all on its own, thanks to being able to increase strength training again.

car accident 5

This long, drawn-out process is just my story. (Believe it or not, we barely scratched the surface.) It doesn’t have to be so convoluted for everyone. What’s important is that you keep looking for the right help. Once you’ve found a great professional, give them time to really impact your body with their treatment/approach. Full healing won’t happen overnight so try not to leave after your first session expecting the process to be done.

Lastly on this subject, although I’m preaching to give practitioners time and patience, it’s also important to recognize and get out of a bad situation. One chiropractor I used to work with actually had the audacity to tell me not to gain weight, citing that it wouldn’t be attractive to men. It was so out of the blue (not to mention UNCALLED FOR) that it completely took me aback. I told the chauvinist straight to his face that he was lucky he said that to me and not another woman because I wouldn’t sue the pants off of him for harassment. This was not the first comment of his that was inappropriate. I walked out of his clinic that day and never turned back. There is nothing more damaging than someone who is supposed to heal you trying to tear you down instead. I deserved better. You deserve better.

 

Lesson #6: Inflammation does weird things to the body

Yes, it’s true. When inflammation is high, your body reacts in strange and confusing ways. For example, I already mentioned to you that my body gained a lot of weight during this time. Part of this weight gain was my body hoarding fat because it was scared for its life (rightfully so). Another part of the weight gain was because of excessive water retention. My body couldn’t figure out how to flush anything through its system because it was so backed up and slowed down by all the stresses it was trying to combat.

I can remember one evening when I was with a group of friends, and the guy I liked at the time, at a bar. I drank a cocktail and it sent me over the edge. I felt sick and got an intense menopausal-like hot flash. I couldn’t understand what was going on with my body. All I knew was that I needed to cool down FAST. I was profusely sweating through my dress. I told my friends that I needed to go to the bathroom but instead, I snuck around the bar counter and flung open a beer fridge’s door. If I could have squeezed my whole body into that cool little space I would have. I was desperate.

I understand now that when the body is severely inflamed, even simple things like eating a food that you are sensitive to, or drinking an alcoholic beverage, can tip you into unpredictable states of discomfort. I wish I could say exactly what happens to each person in every scenario known to man, but I can’t. I can only say that keeping attuned to your healthy – or unhealthy – habits is more important than ever. Pay attention to how your body is reacting. It’s a powerful experience to realize just how prepared our bodies are to defend themselves. It physically feels like a bad thing, but it’s actually a good thing in the end.

There was another time that I experienced something really bizarre, that I think may have been related to inflammation too. It happened to me was about a year after the accident. I went for a jog on a treadmill one afternoon. It felt good. Later that day, I had red spots all over my legs. I couldn’t tell if they were burst blood capillaries, an allergic reaction, or what! Even doctors weren’t sure. It was terrifying.

I’m still not sure what the red spots were from but I have my suspicions. I was hyped up on Ambien every night, to help with my insomnia, and I took pain killers from time to time, when my pain got really bad. In other words, my body was dealing with a lot of foreign substances. It seemed that anything wacky was game to happen.

Since I noticed that my body was obviously NOT okay with me putting anything foreign or toxic into it, I started to strip down my diet and reduce medications. I was extra careful about everything I put into my body. Over time, eating clean and being cautious about medicines really helped me. I think the crazy bodily dysfunctions were its way of telling me to stop putting foreign substances into it, and to let it do what the human body is best at: take care of me.

car accident 1

 Pictures on top = post-exercise red spots.

Pictures below = marks from cupping treatments I did for a while…definitely not ideal during sundress season. 

 

Lesson #7: If your spirit is defeated, your body is defeated

A few months after my accident my cousin visited. She was excited to see Washington, DC and at the time, I lived smack dab in the center of “the action.” She was in my bathroom, showering and primping to get ready for a fun girls’ night out, while I was in my bed, head spinning and body screaming for more sleep. She came into the room and asked if I was feeling okay. The only thing I could say was “I feel like I want to go to sleep and never wake up again.”

She was in obvious shock at my statement and shared her concern. I had to explain to her that I wasn’t suicidal; I just didn’t want to keep fighting. I was spent! My comment just felt like the most natural statement I could make at the moment.

This feeling of burnout lasted for a while. I made many careless mistakes during that time in my life. I went out partying, initiated arguments with my family over nothing, and showed interest in “bad boys” when I had forever favored mamas’ boys. It wasn’t until I started to put more effort into finding peace within myself and with God that I got back on track.

I decided to initiate this process by taking a month off of work. I spent lots of time soul-searching in coffee shops and wrote a book that reconnected me to my faith. As I wrote, I started to realize that I wasn’t alone. I could stop feeling so afraid. I can still remember the day that I fell down to my knees in my shower – it hit me out of nowhere that God had been there for me the whole time, even when I had forgotten and lost my way. I began to understand how to replenish my spirit and thereby discovered energy to move forward and physically heal.

 

Lesson #8: The universe has a wonderful way of bringing the right people your way during times of need

I wonder if I would still be married to my husband if I hadn’t been hit by that car. I know it sounds crazy but it’s true! I met my husband during my “bad boy” streak and he was the farthest thing from dismissive, rude and reckless. He was compassionate and full of life. Although I tried to shrug him off, his persistence and light kept me tethered. Although I didn’t feel attractive or worthy at that time, he saw every good thing about me even though I was focused so exclusively on the bad.

I remember the night that we met. We ended up dancing for hours. Dancing became our favorite thing to do during the first few months of knowing one another. It felt great. We would find places to dance in the city and would continue dancing in our living rooms. Wherever we were, we found a way to celebrate and have fun. It was the most refreshing experience ever.

I really do believe that he was sent into my life at the exact right time. He helped show me that healing was possible and that there is much to be excited about, even when you’re not feeling physically great. I would briefly forget about my pain while I was having fun and laughing with him. Soon, the bouts of pain became less frequent and less severe. Eventually, I would go an entire 24 hours without severe pain. Even when pain did hit me with a vengeance, I found new ways to stay calm because I realized that someday I would get over it completely. Everything was going to be okay.

0376-Maggie_and_Casey

 

Lesson #9: Moments of weakness and frustration are not signs that you’re failing to heal

I wish I could say that healing is a linear process but alas, I can’t do that. I had many hang-ups and pitfalls along the way. Sometimes I would feel gently defeated and other times I would feel like an utter failure, but I learned to get over those negative mentalities. I learned to get stronger each and every time.

Simple moments challenged me, like when I slipped on ice during the winter and my back went into a brief spasm, and when friends would ask me to go to tough exercise classes with them and I would have to say no even though I had formerly always said yes. There were other more profound moments that set back my body and spirits too. For example, one mid-summer day I collapsed in my apartment building’s garage. It was three years after the accident but I still had moments when my back would give out on me. I had been carrying heavy groceries because I was planning to spend the whole day cooking for family that was in town. It was a quiet hour in the middle of the day so no one was around to help me. I crawled, dragging my groceries along the garage floor, until I reached the elevator. I tried to stand up in the elevator and keeled over again. I kept trying to get back on my feet but I collapsed another two times as I made my way down the hallway to my apartment. Once inside, I cried until I was too tired to cry more.

Although moments like this have the power to defeat you, they aren’t a sign that you haven’t made progress. Every time I would reignite the pain, I would get over it a little faster than before. Each time, I learned something valuable.

 

Lesson #10: Learning to let go is the final step

Has my body reached pre-trauma condition? Honestly…no. But, have I fully recovered? Yes. Let me explain…

Up until a few short years ago, I still had to put a heating pack on my back a few times every month. I would also occasionally have a sleepless night or two when my nerves would get set off and I’d fear falling back into insomnia. To this day, my back and hips have remained a little more sensitive and prone to instability. I keep it under control though.

My heart will always feel a little bit sad when I think of how dark some of those days of pain were but I also know that they taught me a lot. I decided years ago that I would be okay and my body has followed me in that decision. I’ve learned exactly what to do in 15-20 minutes to immediately correct a flare-up that would formerly last for months. I’ve also learned that I’m capable of surviving one of the worst kinds of pain in the world – the loss of self-identity. If I can rediscover myself and come out stronger, I know that you can too.

Recovery is possible when we decide to let go of hurt and move on. It’s a single, simple, profound decision [to let go] that one has to consistently choose, every day and during every moment of frustration. It’s a decision that is made in the midst of pain that can pull you through to the other side.

I believe that the power of letting go can have a meaningful impact in anyone’s life. I encourage you to give it a try.

 

I sincerely hope that sharing this authentic story will help someone else

find healing and joy soon too.

“Start believing you can.”

Maggie

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What I Learned About the Body…after I got hit by a car (Part 1)

Six years ago, from the day of this article’s publication (05/18/2015), my world literally turned upside down. While riding my bike to work, I was hit by a car at a busy intersection located in the heart of Washington, DC.

car accident 3

I immediately felt sharp pain in my back after plunging to the pavement in the middle of Florida Avenue. At that moment, a startling thought crossed through my mind, one that concerned me far more than the physical agony; Am I about to become roadkill?! I couldn’t move for a minute. My breath had been taken away. I couldn’t pick myself up to get out of the intersection. I couldn’t even wave my hands for help. All I could do was focus on trying to stay conscious in spite of bolts of pain through my hips and back. Thankfully, no other car ran an additional 4,500 lbs of steel and aluminum alloy into my 130 lb body.

The EMTs arrived quickly on the scene. They gave me a disapproving look when I waved them briefly away in order to call my work to say that I couldn’t teach my “Cycle and Core” class that morning. After placing the call, I let the EMTs strap me down to a spine board and make their assessments. I recall laughing with pride at how my blood pressure was still fairly stable, just minutes following a trauma. Only a crazy fitness professional would be proud of something like that. My amusement was quickly snuffed out though, thanks to escalating pain.

While on the way to the hospital, one husky, dark-and-dreamy man asked me several times to rank my pain on a scale of 1-10. I kept thinking, well, if you’d just let me off this stupid spine board then it would be a whole lot better. But, I couldn’t be let off that cursed board. It was protocol for the ambulance ride. So, my response was consistently and emphatically, “TEN!!!!!!”

…….

The pain didn’t stay at its initial 10 forever but it did continue. It troubled my health, threatened my career, and haunted my psyche for the next five years. It had such a palpable presence in my life that it felt like the pain was on the verge of scraping itself out of my body and becoming its own entity; an embodiment that could more properly pound the shell of my formerly strong self deeper into the unforgiving ground. It was the cruelest “thing” I’ve ever met – hell bent on squeezing every last ounce of hope and perseverance from my body.

But, I’m here today to tell you that the pain didn’t win. I did. I won thanks to the lessons I learned along the healing journey. The trying times taught me how to interpret the language of pain and how to effect physical wellbeing through a multi-pronged approach to healthy living.

It was a long process, let me tell you. But, the silver lining is that I get to share the things I’ve learned with others. I hope that lessons from my journey can help you with yours. I pray that they shed light on your pain or even personal challenges.

We all go through pain at some point in our life. The process of picking ourselves up again is not always pretty. But, it’s important that we try. And try again. And again. And again.

 

Lesson #1: The first serious pain you experience is always the hardest…but it has the potential to be the one of the most meaningful experiences in your life

Before getting hit by a car, I had literally never broken, sprained or strained any part of my body. One time, when I was 5 years old, I was ambitiously trying to follow a friend across the monkey bars, swinging and stretching each arm to skip every other bar. It was the cool thing to do. I missed one bar mid-way across and landed in a precarious position on the ground, one arm twisted behind my back with my little body’s weight crushing it. Even then, I didn’t actually break anything; I bent my arm bone!

I assumed that injuring my arm would mean getting a cast with my kindergarten classmates’ sympathies strewn all over it, smiley faces, hearts and rainbows. I was miffed by the removable brace that I was given to wear. No cast tic-tac-toe? No purple marker heart encircled by stars?

Similarly, after getting hit by the car, I was certain that the pain I was experiencing would reveal itself on X-rays. It didn’t though. No fractures in my pelvis, no hairline fractures upon my follow-up appointment, nothing! Just one enormous, dark-as-night bruise taking up 75% of the real estate on the left cheek of my rear end. I will spare you those gruesome pictures…but below you can take a glimpse at some other ones. My face is the thing behind the purple wash cloth and ice…in case you were wondering.  

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It was so frustrating for me to be told that nothing major was wrong because I could tell that something was actually very out-of-sorts in my body. It made it difficult to justify to my co-workers and friends that I was decidedly NOT okay. I was in pain for a long time. I just couldn’t pin a clinical name and prognosis to the discomfort. I didn’t have something like a cast as proof.

Unfortunately, because my pain lacked a “title,” I thought that all I needed to do was take the pain killers and muscle relaxants that I had been prescribed, and wait it out. The doctors at the hospital didn’t recommend physical therapy, so why would I need it? They didn’t say anything about psychological help, so why would I assume that counseling for post-traumatic stress should be considered? I could deal with it all on my own, right?! Wrong.

The first serious injury you experience is scary and overwhelming. You may even be in a situation like mine, with a lot of unanswered questions and mixed information coming at you. You may even have feelings that getting over the injury is your sole responsibility and burden to bear – but that is just false, false, false!

There is a reason that children color “get well” messages on a friend’s cast; it’s important not to feel alone as you undergo the process of healing. Finding the right support networks as you navigate the journey is essential because feeling confused and afraid is normal. Lean on everyone you can the first time around because how you respond to this injury will impact your mentality the next time you encounter pain or hurt. It can either cripple you or cause you to take a step back and calmly evaluate your plan to get over it.

It’s interesting…the first time that you’re injured, you’re in a position to learn and grow. For example, if a woman (let’s call her Angela) sprains her ankle and has to avoid her favorite sport, running, for 8 or more weeks, then she is likely going to feel frustrated and maybe even depressed. Instead of giving in to these defeated feelings, Angela can come out of her injury stronger than ever by remaining mentally patient, emotionally calm, and focused on things that she can control. She may decide to cook more healthy meals at home or spend time with friends whom she usually brushes off in order to exercise. If Angela does want to keep exercising rigorously then she can devote effort to building upper body strength so that she looks incredible come strapless dress season!

The options are endless, not ending, when you get injured and have to look at the world from a new perspective. It takes time to see things this way, but it can happen.

 

Lesson #2: It’s OK to take a little time to grieve

Okay, I know I just mentioned that learning from your injury helps you become stronger and move on. But, I know that it’s also important to grieve, to give yourself time to be frustrated and feel that the world crashing around you. If you don’t do it initially, you may have a surprise meltdown far later in life when buried emotions get unearthed. I wish I had listened to this advice. Instead, this is what I did…

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Chick in picture looking lovely since this “accident” was merely staged for stock photography. Disclaimer: The real deal is NOT this tidy and attractive!

Once I was released from the hospital, I got a ride home from a cop. After she dropped me off, I took a nap on my couch and then hobbled down the block to the pharmacy for my pain killer and muscle relaxant prescriptions. Moving felt terrible but I took it as a positive sign that I was capable of putting one foot in front of the other. This meant that I could get back to my job, right?

The day of my accident I had 11 hours of work on my schedule. I was terrified of losing income and damaging accountability with my clients. Most of this fear stemmed from the fact that it was the spring of 2009, not long after the major U.S. economic crash. I was in a hustle mentality, happy to have a secure job and determined to pack my work days with exercise classes to teach and clients to train. I was exceptionally exhausted and simultaneously exhilarated from my one-woman daily mission to change the world in spite of the most obvious obstacle: people were tightening their purse strings because they were afraid they would lose money or already had lost money in the crash.

So, ignoring my exhausted body’s protests, I went in to train the last few hours of clients I had on schedule for that evening. I was delirious and in denial. I laughed off others’ concerns about the “crazy accident” that happened earlier that day. Needless to say, nothing about it was funny.   

I wonder, if I hadn’t been so naïve and if proper discharge procedures had been in place, would I have stayed home and gotten the appropriate rest and recovery that I needed? If I had gotten that rest, would I have continued to deal with severe pain, bulging discs, spinal disc fissures, hip instability, and dysfunctional scar tissue on my piriformis for years to come? Would I have still slipped into insomnia, chronic pain, anxiety, weight gain, and borderline depression? It’s hard to say…

All I do know is that I refused to think of myself as “injured” for too long. One of the most critical things to do when injured, is to accept it. Also important is learning (over time) that acceptance doesn’t mean your life is over. Acceptance is simply the first step towards truly healing.

 

Lesson #3: The mind-body connection is REAL; sleep-deprivation & somatization

As mentioned in lesson #2, I dealt with some major challenges after getting injured, one of which was sleep deprivation. At first I couldn’t sleep because of the severe inflammation in my hips and back. Any direct pressure on that area was excruciating. Sleeping directly on my back or stomach was simply out of the question due to the discomfort, so I slept on my side. Even that posed challenges. I could be sound asleep in the middle of the night and wake up to pain while attempting to roll from one side of my body to the other. Over time, I couldn’t even fall sleep because I was afraid of the pain and restlessness that lay ahead of me throughout the night.

This fear caused me to stay in a fight-or-flight mode throughout the night, my heart racing. The harder I tried to fall asleep, the more sleep evaded me. My efforts regularly turned into frustrated tears and fits of fatigued hysteria. For almost a year, I barely got 6 hours of sleep each night. The majority of this timeframe, I was working 10-12 hour work days on a broken 4-5 hours of rest. Obviously, my mind and body began to break down even more. The more I mentally and emotionally caved under the pain, the worse it became. It was a vicious cycle that I didn’t know how to break. I can remember days when I wondered if my life was over. I thought I would never see the day that the pain ended. It was stifling and slowly suffocated my ability to stay positive.

As I became more physically inflamed and emotionally overrun, my stress translated into many new physical issues. This is sometimes considered to be somatization; mental and emotional stress resulting in physical problems. I suffered a few panic attacks that seemingly struck me out of nowhere, I had a moment or two of binge eating in my distress, and I began moving in pain-avoidance patterns that exasperated my issues. My stomach would hurt. My head would hurt. Everything hurt. I could no longer tell which pains and challenges were the cause of my physical stress versus my emotional stress…there were no hard lines separating the two because they were inherently connected.

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Lesson #4: Pain pathways are tricky to navigate – understanding the “language” they speak is essential

For the longest time, I felt like I could control the pain if I just tried hard enough. Eventually though, after many months and years of playing ring-around-the-rosy with this nemesis, I discovered that the world could stop spinning…if I learned my pain’s language. I realized that the pain wasn’t actually trying to hurt me, it was trying to help me! My body was sending me signals that something was wrong and if I learned what my body wanted most, then it would reduce the pain, sending me the message that we were finally on the same team with the same mission: to get better!

Although I already mentally knew that the body acts like one integrated machine, with all its complex parts influencing one another with every step and every breath, I didn’t really understand this firsthand. I hadn’t felt this truth before. But suddenly, I started to realize that a brand new pain in my knee, and a strange crackling in my ankle, were both related to my initial injury. They weren’t brand new injuries out of the blue, they were responses that my kinetic chain (i.e. musculo-skeletal system and neuromuscular system) was having to the primary issue: back and hip misalignment and instability resulting from damaged soft tissue (i.e. muscle).

The more I remained out of alignment and unstable, the more the different parts of my body started talking in foreign languages and losing touch with one another. It was up to me, and me alone, to figure out how to treat the initial issue in order for my body to send out a message to all its parts, commanding that they get back to their primary language. They needed to speak the same language to work properly together.

When I started to realize that my body wasn’t breaking down in a million places haphazardly, I began to look at exercise and recovery solutions that would benefit my whole body rather than its isolated parts. If I continued to ignore the relationships between my various body parts then each would continue to grow stronger in its new language (which subsequently would make the whole body weaker).

Thank you for reading Part 1 of this story. As you can tell, it’s very personal to me. Part 2 is coming up soon! Stay tuned.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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