I sat on the hard concrete and leaned against the cold brick wall waiting for my husband to pull up alongside the curb next to me. The last few minutes were a blur. I waited, curled over myself, trying to take deep breaths and make sense of what had just happened. I had started feeling weird towards the end of our meal, sort of all weak and trembly. Hard to describe really, I just knew something wasn’t “right.” The feeling persisted and began to worsen, so, thinking that maybe I had eaten something that didn’t agree with me, I indicated to my husband that we should go. From our seat to the door I could barely walk and held onto my husband so I wouldn’t fall. I made it outside the building but could go no further. I crumpled to the sidewalk feeling like I was going pass out. My heart was racing and beating out of my chest and I thought I might throw up. I willed myself to just take deep breaths and tried to convince myself that this would soon pass…but it didn’t. In fact, this was just the beginning of a long and arduous journey that would change my life forever.
Up to this point I had been living a very active life. My husband and I were exercising together regularly. I loved baking, trying new recipes, and prided myself in providing my family with nourishing and healthy meals, usually made from scratch. I worked hard, often to exhaustion, thinking that I had to be the perfect wife to my husband, and the perfect mother to our two young children. I cooked, I cleaned, I fed, I washed, I pushed through many sleepless nights with my children, never allowing myself time for rest and recovery. There was always something to do, somewhere to be, something that needed improving. I ALWAYS put myself at the end of the list of importance, believing that this was the only option if I hoped to be the kind of wife and mother that I desperately wanted to be. I had cast aside myself for the belief that anything else was selfish. This belief, along with many others, came crashing down on that cold Valentine’s Day in February, and nothing has been quite the same since.
I rested the remainder of that day, still feeling weak but a little better overall, and still believing that I had food poisoning or was coming down with the flu. But the days turned into weeks, the flu test came back negative, and my symptoms persisted. As time went on, I grew weaker and weaker, and other strange symptoms started to appear. I felt nauseous most of the time and was only able to eat little bits of food, so I lost a lot of weight. Starting out at 5’ 10” and 120 pounds I was already thin, now I was gaunt. My body went from toned and lithe to, quite literally, a bag of bones with skin that just hung off my skeletal frame.
But this wasn’t all. I developed sores in my mouth that made eating, drinking, and brushing my teeth painful. I developed strange rashes on the once clear skin of my face. My chest hurt all the time. An unexplained ache. It hurt to breathe, it hurt to move. The fatigue and weakness were overwhelming. Many days it was impossible to get out of bed to care for myself or my young children and I continued to run unexplained fevers and have episodes of near fainting.
One of the most unsettling and difficult to manage symptoms was feeling like I was pumped full of adrenaline all the time. You know that feeling you get when something scares you and your body reacts with that surge of adrenaline to prepare you for fight or flight? Well, it felt like that in my body ALL. THE. TIME. I was on constant high alert, my body and mind unable to rest. This made sleep nearly impossible, and the slightest disturbance would have me jumping out of my skin and send my heart pounding and racing, while at the same time experiencing such extreme fatigue that I could barely move.
Night after night I feared dying as I lay there unable to find rest in a body I could no longer manage. My biggest fear was that my children would wake to find me dead in bed the next morning. My once strong, athletic, and graceful body was now completely out of my control. I was trapped in a body that was betraying me, and I had no idea why.
I was shuffled from doctor to doctor and test to test. After buckets of blood draws, X-rays, stress tests, CT scans, cardiac catheterizations, echocardiograms and a slew of other tests and procedures, the doctors all said the same thing…”We can’t find anything wrong with you.” Different medications were tried with little to no effect. Whispered comments were passed from doctor to doctor behind hospital doors. questioning why I was in the hospital to begin with because they could find nothing wrong with me. The weeks turned into months without any answers and very little reprieve.
I became depressed and constantly anxious, fearing death at any moment. I asked my parents if they would help raise my young children after I was gone, and left my mom with instructions to make sure they didn’t spend too much time watching TV or eating junk food. I felt hopeless.
On one particularly bad day I called my husband at work and told him to come and get me – that I was dying and needed to go the hospital. As we drove away, I distinctly remember looking at my young children’s faces and thinking, “I’m never going to see them again.”
The lowest of lows came for me after about 8 months from that initial day in February. I was lying in a bathtub full of water (being too weak to stand in the shower) and thinking to myself, “I should just go under the water and not come back up.” I believed I had become a burden. I could no longer care for my children, my family, or even myself, so what was the point of going on.
But, I don’t know how, hope still found a way to shine in the darkest of places and I made the decision to pull myself out of that bathtub and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I grieved for my past life and made a deal with myself that I would NEVER give up on hope. From that moment on I chose to face each day with hope that tomorrow might be better. I let go of “what was” and turned what little energy I had to “what now.”
This was a turning point for me. I’m not gonna lie and tell you that everything got easy or magically changed overnight but things did slowly start to improve. After about a year. I finally found an amazing rheumatologist who was able to diagnose me with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, an autoimmune disease that attacks one’s own body systems as if they are foreign invaders. I took an active role in whatever I could do to improve my health and well-being. I sought a counselor to help me deal with my anxiety, depression, and residual trauma from the past year. I discovered tools like mindfulness, tapping, and meditation to assist me on my journey. I experimented with diet and lifestyle changes to find what helped me. I learned to take breaks when I needed to, set limits for myself, and prioritize my own well-being. Most importantly, I learned to start listening to my body, saying “yes” to myself, and let go of the guilt I had previously felt in doing so.
So now, when I say that I know the price of not saying “yes” to yourself, I really do. When I say that I know what paralyzing fear and anxiety feel like, I really do. When I say that I can understand how it feels to think you are never good enough, I really can. When I say that I know what it means to set aside all your own hopes and dreams for your future, I really do.
But, I also now know what it means to set boundaries, listen to my body, and know my limits. I know what it means to let go of the guilt of saying “yes” to myself and accept the perfectly imperfect that comes with life. I know what it means to face my deepest fears and survive. I know the importance of awakening afresh to my own hopes and dreams daily because that is what helps get me through the tough times and motivates me to continue to be the best version of myself that I can be.
Do I still have tough times? Absolutely. Do I still have days where getting out of bed feels incredibly challenging? You bet. Do I still struggle with bouts of anxiety, depression, and extreme fatigue? Of course. The difference is that now I know how to disconnect from the world when I need to, and reconnect with myself. I’ve gained tools and wisdom to help me travel through the rough times without staying stuck in those moments (for long anyway).
Am I still learning? Ooooh yeah! At least I hope so anyway. I never want to get to the point that I think I have all the answers or that I stop growing or challenging myself to pursue my greatest potential.
I have no doubt that the Valentine’s Day in February changed the trajectory of my life forever but I’m no longer sure that that’s such a bad thing. Out of that struggle I discovered my passion for helping other women say “yes” to themselves – to their hopes, their dreams, to what lights them up and inspires them to live their best life. It’s my passion, a passion born out of challenge, fear, struggle, and ultimately, overcoming. I don’t know about you, but I think that might just be the very best kind of passion to have…
If you are struggling and would like to connect or learn ways to start saying “yes” to yourself I’d love to talk with you!