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How CrossFit Has Helped Me See Myself as More Than Just 'Sick'

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Runner, triathlete, book nerd, animal lover, vegan, go-getter, passionate, smart, feisty… these are all terms I would have used to describe myself pre-Lyme disease. But since 2015, I’ve only used one adjective when thinking about myself: sick. Something happened when I got sick and I lost everything that made me, me. Or perhaps I didn’t lose it at all and instead it was stolen from me. Every time I hit a limitation a part of me was chipped away until suddenly I was nothing but my illness. I was constantly consumed with what I couldn’t do and thoughts about how far I had fallen from where I once was. I was no longer Melissa, I was simply a Lyme disease patient.

But over the past few weeks I learned that’s not necessarily true. It seems deep down, I am still me, I was just really good at hiding it for three years.

I reached a pivotal turning point when once again, for the seemingly millionth time, someone got mad at me for prioritizing my health. But this time something changed and instead of getting upset about it, I shrugged it off and carried on with my healing. And you know what? The world did not end. The sky did not fall. No one has died as a result, and I’m feeling on top of the world.

So what have I been up to? Well, recently I had a stomach bug and spent three days doing nothing but lying in bed watching gymnastics… that led to a Google search for a beginner adult gymnastics class in my area. Not because I’d ever be able to take one, I’d be much too sick for that, but I was just curious. And as it turns out, these don’t exist, but CrossFit kept showing up. And for whatever reason I found myself researching local CrossFit boxes.

Now this is the point in the story when you have to realize how many drugs (all prescription) I take daily. We’re talking handfuls. I liken my current decision-making abilities to those made by most 21-year-olds after too much tequila – there’s not a whole lot of logical thought that goes into things. Before I knew it I had expressed some interest in a CrossFit intro class, and then I happily went back to napping, never expecting to hear from them again.

Until the coach called, and then emailed, and I began to panic. Uhm, don’t you know I’m just a Lyme patient who makes funny and absurd life choices when high on my pain meds? I can’t do CrossFit. Heck, I can’t even go for walks without being winded. I very quickly sent back my standard “Hi, I’ve been in bed for two years and probably won’t be able to do this, it’s OK if you don’t want me there” (paraphrasing) email thinking I’d get a “that’s OK, hope you feel better soon, but you’d probably be overwhelmed in the gym” email and that would be that. I mean, I’ve seen CrossFitters, and they’re intense. Surely they’re not going to want someone with Lyme and a sprinkling of heart disease crashing their WODs.

Instead I got: “You’ll be fine, see you tonight.”

I don’t normally curse (that’s a bold faced lie!) but I think I said the big one.

Things got even scarier when I actually arrived at the box. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt fear like that before. There were people holding giant bars with weights on them. I don’t know why but this completely shocked me. To make things even scarier, when they drop they make a really loud noise. I was completely overwhelmed and was looking for any possible emergency exit I could find. But I took solace in the fact that the coach would surely see me as a sick person and he’d cordially tell me I’d be better off sticking to gentle yoga classes, or maybe I could try knitting – you know, “sick” activities. That’s honestly in that moment what I thought I deserved. That’s what I thought I should get for being sick.

But the exact opposite happened. I was welcomed into the group and for the first time in a long time I didn’t have the sense of dread from being a burden on those around me. Instead I found what is possibly the kindest and most welcoming group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Seriously, I didn’t think people like this existed outside of Disney World (and even those people get paid to be that happy). All of a sudden people were telling me I could do this, and when you hear that enough, you kind of start to believe them.

I ended up doing the three class introduction program and then have gone every day since. It turns out CrossFit workouts are doable even with Lyme disease, but I never would have realized this if I had gone with my gut and said “Sorry, I’m too sick for this.” I’m already stronger in more ways than one. I’ve found my inner athlete again. I’m all of a sudden the same girl that bites off way more than she can chew, and yet somehow manages to succeed. I’ve got my determination, my grit and my fight back.

Getty Image by jacoblund

Originally published: February 23, 2018
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