Tag Archives: Washington DC

Stressful Life Events + Self-Sabotage

Many of us have heard mention of the “five biggest stressors” in life, to include:

Death of a loved one

Divorce

Serious illness/injury

Moving

Job loss

Lots of people live out the truth that these experiences and even happy life events can bring unusual amounts of stress and uneasiness. Brides balk in the face of too many wedding-planning details and recently-promoted employees experience a sense of urgency and unrest as they work to prove themselves in their new role. Personally, in the face of major stressors – both the bad and good – I tend to self-sabotage. It’s something I’ve done for a long time and I don’t think I’m alone in doing this. But, as the years have passed, I’ve learned not to. In the spirit of openness and evolving in wellness, here’s a little insight into my life right now, where I’ve come from and where I’m heading, and how you might relate.

If you hadn’t already noticed, it’s been a little over a month since my last blog post. Since having a kiddo and writing two manuscripts, I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to blogging, but I still make it a goal to get a couple posts out every month. So, why the recent delay? You guessed it. I’m going through one of life’s major stressful events; moving. My house hasn’t even hit the market yet and I’m already feeling like the process of buying/selling and moving to a new city is so dizzying that it should be over by now.

Past stressful events in my life have included launching my personal training career the month the American markets crashed in 2008, getting hit by a car in 2009, experiencing the deaths of loved ones, and moving after college to busy-busy Washington, DC from small town Charlottesville, VA. My stressors may pale in comparison to other people’s but they’re mine, and the ownership over my own drama and circumstances is what has helped me evolve into the woman, professional and mother that I am today. Here’s what used to happen to me when I got stressed…

When the markets crashed, I felt manic and the need to impress everyone around me, working double-time and internalizing other people’s misfortunes as my own. When I was hit by the car, I felt like I had to push as fast as humanly possible, turning on all engines and running on all cylinders, as if the harder I tried, the quicker I would physically recover and emotionally heal. When I experienced the loss of a close family member, I felt like it was my mission to work harder to prove that my life efforts were a worthy legacy. And when I moved to Washington, DC, I was too intimidated by the accomplished and city-smart colleagues and professionals around me to calm down and be unapologetically myself. As you can see, stress doesn’t slow me down. It speeds me up.

My inability to cope with stress has led to self-sabotage. The kind that isn’t intentional but nonetheless does a very good job of chiseling away at a person’s soul. I’ve seen the same kind of thing happen with countless personal training clients. People have sought out exercise as a means of escape, an effort to feel some kind of control as the world spins like a crazy twister around them. At first, it seems to help them. Over time, and without containment, it steadily wears them down.

This time around, on the frontier of the unknown and leaving my entire life from the past decade in Washington, DC with one large leap of faith, I refuse to repeat past mistakes. Wellness is about evolving. Figuring out how to better care for oneself in the many facets of the body, mind and spirit as each gently molds into new forms over time. Hence, no blog post for the past month and no pressure on myself to spit out new ones “just because.” I’m also not putting pressure on myself to tackle my crazy, sky-high “to-do list” this time (isn’t prepping one home for sale and planning contractors for another enough?!). Sending query letters to agents for my books shouldn’t be rushed just because I’d love to feel like all my big goals have been reached before leaving the area. Pushing myself to stick to my normal workout regime isn’t worth it when it takes too much of a toll on my already-taxed body. I swear, I’ve probably burned a million calories anyways, cleaning and running after my toddler to keep him from messing it all up! The things of the past, that I used to lump on top of stressful experiences, aren’t going to get the best of me. I deserve better than some unrealistic standard that I’ve set for myself. Self-sabotage has no place in this season.

Do you act as your own worst enemy at times, too? Other common forms of self-sabotage include:

People-pleasing

Addiction; alcohol, drugs, caffeine, overeating

Procrastination

Extreme Modesty

Dodging Emotions

Self-harm

These things may seem initially helpful to the person who is under stress but all of them are dangerous, even the ones like “people-pleasing” that don’t raise an immediate red flag like “self-harm” does. Somehow, a lot of us women tend to make things harder on ourselves during some of life’s most trying times. Instead of setting the bar super high or resorting to behaviors that aren’t helpful in the long run, here are a few things to consider trying to get you through turbulent circumstances:

1) Use exercise as a stress-release not as punishment

I see this happen ALL the time. Exercise is used as “punishment” without people even realizing it. They rationalize in their minds that if they can get into great shape to get up-and-over an ex-boyfriend or ex-husband that sadness can’t touch their hearts. They unknowingly make up their minds that because they lost their job, they must pound the pavement and hit the weights for hours every day, as though the harder they test their physical limits, the closer they will be to feeling invincible again. Exercise can build people up, but not when the intention behind the action is fraught with insecurity and a feeling of unworthiness.

2) Avoid over-caffeinating or drinking away your feelings

Sure, it seems like a good idea to push through the afternoon on a caffeine high and to unwind after a long day with a little wine buzz, but the more we repetitively consume these things in excess, or even in more-than-normal proportions, the more we tax our bodies. When our bodies get taxed, our minds get worn out, too.

3) Use food as comfort on occasion, but not all the time

I’m very different from some other health advocates out there who stick to the Whole30 Program or paleo diets year-round. I believe in eating healthfully most of the time, but I also strongly feel that food IS a very emotional experience. There’s no denying it. It’s part of our cultural and personal identities, and conjures memories and emotions. Enjoy a few comfort meals when you’re going through a tough time. It’s OKAY to emotionally eat once in a blue moon. Just don’t make a habit of it. For the record, I’m never going to only eat salads for a month. Not. Gonna. Happen.

4) Don’t let the bark be worse than the bite

Fear is a common reason for resorting to people-pleasing, procrastination, over-committing, and more. What if I’m not good enough? What if they don’t like me? What if my dreams don’t come true even why I try? If you hide “under a rock” and put off self-care, emotions and/or your goals, you’ll never overcome fear and you certainly won’t accomplish anything for your authentic self. For example:

My Situation: Afraid to hold back from blogging for a month while undergoing extreme stress. Fearful that people will judge me for not being committed enough. Guilt-ridden over not sticking to my commitment of producing content more often.

Action: No blog writing for a handful of weeks.

Result: Seemingly, no one has judged me, and I have had more time and energy for myself and my family during an important and unique time.

Bonus: No more fear.

5) Ingratiate YOURSELF

Too often, when life hands women lemons, we make lemonade, lemon meringue, roasted chicken with lemon and fennel, amaretto sour cocktails, and elderflower lemon cake (?!?!?). Instead of tasting life’s bitterness and adjusting to what that means to us, we try to make ourselves appear more likeable and put-together to everyone around us. Social media has only exacerbated this tendency. Been there – I tend to post way more often when I’m struggling than when I’m happy. Isn’t it time we ingratiate ourselves? What can you do to make yourself more likeable to the only person who truly matters – YOU?

These are just a few ideas for how to survive and stay healthy during life’s most stressful events. I will be trying to keep myself in check on ALL these fronts as I pack up my bags this summer and move on from the Washington, DC area after a decade of urban living. I may have experienced my childhood elsewhere, but I truly grew up after moving to DC. The people I’ve met – some of which are among the readers of this blog – have changed my life. But the relationships and the experiences are not over – no one said I can’t take my laptop and WellnessWinz with me! So, cheers to DC AND cheers to change!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

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MasterChef and WellnessWinz Unite

MasterChef, a reality TV show on Fox, features three famous culinary icons as judges; Gordon Ramsey, Graham Elliot and Christina Tosi. In its latest season, DC area resident, Ailsa von Dobeneck, joined the esteemed group of home cooks, ready to compete before the judges for the title “MasterChef.”  This past week, I was honored to join forces with Ailsa to offer a fun and healthy event for women. The workout was sweaty and the food was to die for! Here are some details on how to replicate both.

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The workout that I coached is SO easy to replicate at home or in a local park with friends (as we did – see our beautiful park below!) since it doesn’t require any equipment. Also, it’s fun and fast-moving so you don’t get bored or hit a wall. Plus, if you do the workout in a park then you get the added benefit of sunshine and fresh air. What better way to spend a Saturday morning?!

Pssst – I converted Ailsa, a professed foodie who has little history with exercise. If she enjoyed it, I bet you will too!  

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The Workout:

1) Pick 12 exercises that involve the entire body and boost your heart rate. Write them down on a piece of paper.

2) Exercises 1-3 should be performed in sequence (including rest intervals) and should be repeated 2-3x.  This breaks up the workout’s sets and gives you mini goals to accomplish.

3) Each individual exercise should be performed with maximum effort for 30-60 seconds. After each exercise you rest for half the amount of time that you were working hard for. For example, if you do mountain climbers or burpees for 60 seconds, you rest for 30 seconds. This keeps you working at full capacity each exercise as you progress through them.

To sum:

  • Choose 12 exercises
  • Perform exercises 1-3 in sequence for 30-60 seconds, each with 15-30 seconds rest in between
  • Perform exercises 4-6 ”     “
  • Perform exercises 7-9 ”     “
  • Perform exercises 10-12 ”  “
  • …Sweaty and DONE!

The whole workout will take you less than 30-35 minutes but you will have exercised your entire body, burning tons of energy and maximizing toning potential.

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Here are some of the exercises that we did (videos will be uploaded for demonstration purposes to Instagram: @maggie_wellnesswinz):

Set 1:

  • High Knees while holding the arms straight over head
  • Lateral Squat Hops
  • Diagonal Mountain Climbers

Set 2:

  • Double Leg Lift + Sit-up (alternating)
  • Burpees
  • Speed Skaters

Set 3:

  • Down Dog to Upward Dog (with tricep burner transition)
  • Plank Jumping Jacks
  • Alternating Lunge Jumps

Set 4:

  • Core V-tucks
  • Balancing Plank Hand-to-Toe Taps
  • Quick Feet

Don’t stop, get it get it!!! 

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A few of the girls who participated…happy after a hard workout. That’s the spirit!

Recovery Snack:

Now, for the FOOD! I know, I know, it’s probably the best part of the experience. It’s a bit of a love/hate relationship that forms when I coach people through a tough routine, but Ailsa…well, she just gets the love part of the equation as a chef.

chia pudding

Let me tell you, we were lucky ladies to be fed this easy-to-replicate recipe that Ailsa brought us as a recovery snack. Ailsa has all sorts of delicious recipes up her sleeve and many are featured on her blog, The Curious Tastebud, but I have to say, this one recipe felt like perfection after a summer morning sweat.

She made us a delicious fruit pudding that was perfect for restoring our energy and supplying us with key nutrients. The pudding’s exact recipe will be posted to her blog early this week, so check it out! The recipe consisted of mango, chia seeds, strawberries, shredded coconut and agave. Another helping, please?

In case you don’t know much about chia seeds, they are what many health professionals call a “superfood.” It’s pretty close to the truth too. Chia seeds pack in tons of fiber, protein, omega-3s, calcium, magnesium and more! Magnesium is especially important after a workout since it helps repair muscle tissues. Here is a typical nutrient breakdown for just a single ounce of chia seeds:

  • Fiber: 11 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s)
  • Calcium: 18% of the RDA
  • Manganese: 30% of the RDA
  • Magnesium: 30% of the RDA
  • Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA

IMG_2226  yummmmm – enjoying our post-workout revival snack!

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So now you can see that it’s straightforward and fun to create your own healthy girls’ gathering. In fact, it may be even more enjoyable than bonding over cocktails! Or is that too much of a stretch?!? Oh, life’s great questions…

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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References:

http://authoritynutrition.com/11-proven-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds/

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.  

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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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