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When Illness Makes You Redefine the Meaning of 'Fitness'

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I’ve struggled often with emerging feelings and difficulties with my self-worth as I shifted from a working, busy and highly active mom to suddenly losing ability to really exercise, walk distances or strength train because of the weakness, which conquers my legs and arms most days. Having just began building a successful, respected name and budding online coaching business, I was blindsided almost overnight by sudden disability and an epic chronic illness flare I didn’t know was happening. I’ve watched my social circle change as many once so close and involved have faded off and disappeared. Medical issues persisted, doctors, some friends and family  probably pushed away unintentionally, while others dropped off.

The entire direction of my life was Trump-walled. I lost most of my mobility and went from fitness competitor and personal trainer “supermompreneur,” to disabled and working full-time. I continued to decline instead of get better, like the doctors promised I would with lots of rest, relaxation and positive thoughts.

I struggle to feel beautiful when my hair thins or when my cane draws more attention than anything else. I notice how things change when people find out I don’t work. Or that I take medications, including an antidepressant. I see the differences in how I’m treated based on how visible my disability is that day. I feel their discomfort and fear with the simplest acknowledgement. We aren’t taught much about disability awareness or etiquette, it’s an odd world where you feel feared and often judged by externals or stereotypes. A world where disability is anything but sexy and powerful.

It’s baggage few are willing to accept. There is no fix and often when people realize they can’t help or cure me, they leave. It’s not a simple illness with a prescribed regimen to make me “normal.” I will never be “better” and it will always be a significant focus and portion of my life considering it affects most everything in my body. Some days that has enough power to completely break me and I fall apart, leaving the window open to be misunderstood as defeated, unstable, even hysterical for having pretty basic emotions. Health is often viewed as a choice and any sort of physiological fragility inherently echoes on total perception of the individual. If we are always sick or injured, then we are very fragile, weak and unable to do things. Unfortunately, I can’t change minds unless they’re willing to open them. Disability awareness is hard. Especially in a society based heavily on productivity and ability to contribute and material success.

Things are changing and my followers and supporters are also changing.

A collage of nine photos, showing some of hte things the writer has done. Including images of a cruise ship, her holding a trophy, and time with friends.

It’s not the same learning, growth and progress I’m entirely used to. I’ll never hold a candle to the fitness elite again. I may never even go to the gym again, who knows. My life was mostly spent negatively fixated on my body and manipulating it very successfully through what I’d learned. I didn’t waste any time and am so grateful I’d spent so many years working on maximizing fitness efficiency, trying new things and being physically very adventurous. I did mud and color runs, won medals in 5K races, ran for various charities, did a 60 kilometer walk for breast cancer, competed in four fitness competitions across Canada, and won several transformation contests. I’ve been on horses and mules in the mountains, zip lined over the jungle and parasailed over Mexico and and St. Maarten. I’ve snorkeled coral reefs, hiked to waterfalls, jumped off mountains, climbed a piece of the Grand Canyon and almost fell off. I spent my life exploring sports from baseball and gymnastics to figure skating and volleyball, joined competitive choirs and travelled all over with successful provincial and national level teams. I’ve felt the freedom of flying that matches the same feelings lost in the middle of a wheat field on a hot summer day.

So much of my life was action, motion, and endlessly challenging myself physically and mentally. Little did I know how valuable this would become.

Very suddenly I lost a great deal of my ability to manipulate my body and felt my control waste through my fingertips. Disabled within days, I was nearly too weak to get the few steps to the bathroom. I developed tremors, chronic pain, and serious cardiovascular limitations without any obvious reconditioning period. My vision blurred and doubled, hearing muffled and ringing in my ears intensifying. Light and sound causing physical pain much of the time, a shell of my former self, pain and struggle no one could see and seemingly few could even believe.

I was left to figure it out and I feel perhaps I’ve finally begun to succeed, despite the days which devour me or the symptoms I cope with.

I may not be able to run. I may not be able to make personal bests. I may not even be able to get up a few stairs some days.

But I will never stop or give up because I don’t think I know how. This fitness is drastically different than I would have ever even considered “fit” before.

My diet honestly sucks for a lot of medical reasons and my protein has been anything but near optimal. But it’s not about perfection. It’s not about forcing pain and developing iron willpower. It’s not about beast mode or even building my assets.

It’s about my love for moving, for laughing and frolicking with my kids. It’s about finding purpose in what often feels like the small prison of my home. It’s about teaching my kids how to adapt and develop resilience in imperfection and even total devastation. It’s preventing injuries and managing energy really well.

It’s about learning to live for me and stop comparing myself to those around me I feel more capable. It’s understanding, respecting and accepting that limits are not weakness or signs of failure or flaw, but actually requires tremendous strength.

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Gettyimage by: g-stockstudio

Originally published: January 10, 2018
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