When I was younger, I never imagined myself as someone who didn’t exercise. But after competing in the Vancouver Open Beach Volleyball tournament with my sister Rachel in July 2013, my body crashed and I was unable to recover. I had numb hands and feet, severe weakness in my arms (I could hardly wash my hair), and extreme fatigue – so extreme that all I could do was drag myself to work on the streetcar and lie on my desk for the whole day before dragging myself home.
During a period of at least six months straight, I dragged myself to work and back and went right to bed after dinner. I slept over 12 hours each night and woke up feeling exhausted. If I didn’t get a seat on the streetcar, the effort I would have to exert to hang onto the post during the 25-minute ride would create such a high level of lactic acid that I felt like vomiting (and you should have seen how much my arm shook!).
The only thing the doctors have uncovered so far is that my thyroid is off. They “fixed it” with a daily hormone pill but I still don’t feel 100%. This is an extreme situation (but not uncommon) and unfortunately, two and half years later I am still unable to exercise.
WHAT LESSONS CAN I DRAW OUT OF MY BODY CRASHING?
I am an optimist. I always think things happen for a reason – to teach me an important lesson. What I have learned from this is to:
- be more empathetic: Now I understand that each person is struggling with things that people can’t see. From the outside, I look totally healthy. I am a functional person – I can go to work, I can be a mom, I can get things done (like my PhD!) but I can’t exercise. When my thyroid stops working, I gain 10-12 pounds within a two week period. I can drop that weight just as easily as it swings back down. I am now one of those people who never exercises – this was something I couldn’t understand before.
- be more grateful: Even though I don’t feel 100%, I can still do lots of things. With the help of a great acupuncturist and naturopath, I would say I now feel between 70-90% back to normal from day-to-day (of course I still can’t exercise). This is pretty good and I am lucky that I have recovered my health to this degree.
- put myself first: For my own well-being and the well-being of my family I need to start putting myself first. I now make decisions that support my body, my mind, and my spirit. I make it a priority to see my acupuncturist and naturopath – they literally are keeping me vertical and functional. This helps me be a better mother, wife and lawyer.
- deliberately choose happiness: Most importantly, I “choose happy”. Research dispels the myth that people are happy because of external factors (like more money, a nicer car, or more expensive clothes). Rather, study after study has shown people are happy because they choose to be this way. Further, people who choose happy are more successful, productive, energetic, and creative. When I started to “choose happy” – to deliberately practice positivity and gratitude on a daily basis – I noticed an immediate improvement in how I felt and had a reduction of my physical symptoms. This has shifted my perspective from feeling blue back to rainbows and unicorns. One of the main ways that I shifted my perspective was by surrounding myself with people on a mission to lead a positive life; this has absolutely changed my life.
Not being able to exercise has also forced me to rethink who I am – I am an athlete but just as importantly I am a lawyer, a mother, a wife, an author, an academic, and a teacher.
I am also optimistic that I will be able to exercise again soon. I am really looking forward to incorporating exercise back into my life because it has been such a central part of how I have spent my time, the main way I have dealt with stress in my life, and has formed an important part of my identity. And soon I will be back to exercising too (look for a future post with updates on this.)
I would love to hear your stories about something that has happened in your life that has made you rethink who you are…post your comments below.