Say your goodbyes, they told my family. She is not expected to live. Just days before, I had been the picture of health sprinting up stadium stairs with my bootcamp clients in preparation for an upcoming fitness competition and half marathon. Now here I lay, on the brink of death. I came into the hospital with severe low back and hip pain barely able to walk from the pain. I had been crawling around the house and it was only getting worse. The pain became unbearable. On my first visit to the ER, I was originally diagnosed with sciatica, given morphine to manage the pain and discharged. A day later, I was in and out of consciousness, sweating profusely, and I told my family that I was dying. They rushed me back into the ER. My system was crashing and I was almost immediately placed on life support and in a medically induced coma. I was experiencing multi system organ failure due to MSSA and rhabdo. My kidneys were failing, I suffered a heart attack, and my blood pressure was crashing. The medications they pumped me full of to keep the blood flow concentrated in my brain and vital organs to keep me alive made me lose blood flow to my hands and feet. Again, I was not expected to live. Of all the people in the ICU, I was the most grave. I vaguely recall people dying around me. It was an eerie feeling.
While in a coma, I was experiencing the fight of my life both physically and spiritually. I was in a coma for approximately two weeks, and during that entire time, I was experiencing my murder, death and torture on a loop. It was as real as if it was actually happening. As soon as one scene would end, another would begin, on a loop nonstop for the full time I was under. There is a picture of me looking like a Disney Princess, or Sleeping Beauty, all while experiencing severe mental trauma. I was trapped in a nightmare, and I couldn’t get out, let alone ask for help or comfort.
When I woke up, I didn’t trust anyone or anything. I did not speak and barely moved and they feared I suffered severe brain damage. Until one day, I answered a complicated question and they knew I was me. I had just gone through hell alone and didn’t know how to communicate it to anyone. I didn’t have words for it. Nor did I understand what had happened and what would happen next.
Basically overnight, I went from a trophy body to what felt like a creature from Lord of the Rings. I was unrecognizable to myself. Anything and everything that could possibly happen to my body happened. I went in show ready around 120lbs with minimal body fat and ballooned up to 160lbs with liquids oozing out of my skin and my eyes turned inside out and then down to 80lbs looking like a ghost or death camp prisoner. When I finally saw my reflection, it sent chills through my fragile bones. My kneecaps were larger than my legs and my eyes were huge compared to my sunken face. I once had strong quads that could leg press 900lbs and now I couldn’t hold my frail frame up. Its incredible what the mind, body and soul can endure.
I kept thinking I would leave the hospital at any moment to teach bootcamp until a surgeon came in to tell me they would have to amputate both of my legs below the knees. I told him to get lost and couldn’t understand what the hell was going on. It wouldn’t be until I left the hospital when things would begin to sink in. I was fairly contained and well cared for in the hospital so it didn’t fully settle in until I would go home. I was in an extremely toxic relationship and would have to leave with him. To put things in perspective, what happened in my body was an adequate depiction of what happened to my spirit by remaining in this soul killing relationship. High pain tolerance in my body translated to a high pain tolerance in my life. Pain is a messenger and when we ignore it, we are missing vital feedback. We need to stop wearing badges of honor for the level of pain we are able to endure.
I had a lot of shame about this relationship that I had gotten myself into and backed myself into a corner. I needed help getting out, but the embarrassment kept me fenced in. I knew better and it caused great shame that I found myself in this situation. It is a lot like a frog in a pot. If the water was scalding hot initially, the frog would jump out and only suffer a burn. Because it is luke warm and turned up slowly, the frog is boiled alive. That was this relationship. The light went out of my eyes and the fire inside me died a little each day. In a lot of ways, I feel that nearly dying saved my life, if only to get me out of this relationship and set me on a path of healing, reclamation and right relationship with myself.
I ended up moving out one day while he was at work in my wheelchair with only the essential items. I left my life and most of my possessions to regain my freedom and wellbeing. I found the courage to do at rockbottom what I could not find the courage to do standing on my own two feet. I wheeled out, when I could have walked out. If I’m being honest, I don’t think I would be where I am today if I had left sooner. Stress manifests in our body and creates disease and illness. It was like a full blown war in my body, and it was like that in my life until I could no longer go on as I was. Until all of the suppressed pain, emotion and stress hit a critical tipping point. While I of course wish I had done it differently, I have compassion for myself and know I did the best I could with what I had and where I was at at the time. It was a high price to pay to learn valuable lessons about life, but the lessons are priceless. I truly believe that life happens for us even when it doesn’t always look or feel like it. That is usually because we are in the middle, or we need to take a higher perspective to have a better vantage point. When we have nothing else, we have the power to choose and that is our most undervalued super power. It is a choice that can make or break our lives. And a choice only we can make. Too often we outsource our choices to others, we give our power away for one reason or another. Most often, we do not even recognize it. They don’t feel like red flags when red flags feel like home.
After leaving the relationship and undergoing limb salvage in an attempt to keep my feet, I would go on to tackle the next challenge of having both of my legs amputated below the knees along with having my right hip replaced. It wasn’t until I went to have my hip replaced that they found what they believe to be where the infection started. My right hip was annihilated. Looking back, I had had pain in my right hip, but it had barely registered at the time. As I said, I was in the habit of silencing or ignoring pain in all areas of my life until it hit critical levels. Perhaps if I had gotten it looked at sooner, I could have avoided all of this loss and devastation. Just like perhaps if I had left the relationship sooner, this all could have been avoided. However, the only power in looking back is in reflection and learning the lessons of our past so we do not have to repeat them in the future. I knew there were powerful lessons along my journey and I did the work of looking deep within and healing from the inside out. Its a messy journey, but absolutely worth it. When we take radical responsibility for all of it, we are ultimately set free.
It took some time for my body to heal, but it was really my mind and soul that took the longest.
Somewhere along the line of being a competitive athlete and fitness model, body image became a large part of my identity. It became the thing that made me feel safe and significant. When I lost it, I had to reckon with the part of me that didn’t feel whole in and of myself and rebuild a solid foundation from rock bottom. It’s funny…people seek these external sources for their self worth, when they in fact can become a prison, they are anything but a solid foundation. Anything outside of us can be lost or destroyed and we will feel left with nothing. It is always about placing our worth and finding our wholeness inside of ourselves…in who God created us to be.
When I was at rockbottom, unrecognizable to myself, I stood outside of myself. It was almost as if there were two of me…the me who needed holding and the me who held myself. I had these moments, where I was able to take myself out of it. I saw myself as vulnerable as I was, having endured hell and survived actual death, covered in battle wounds, and I didn’t dare disrespect myself one more time. I honored and respected myself for all that I endured. For the first time in life, I held myself with reverence. What I couldn’t find a way to do at my highest, I decided to do at my lowest. The girl who couldn’t love herself without a six pack found a way to love herself without her feet.
I realized that the job to love, honor and accept myself was my own. The love, respect and acceptance of others will always be the icing on top of the cake we are responsible for making. We teach others how to treat us. I had this understanding that even if I gained the love and acceptance of everyone else, but lacked it within myself, I would not be able to really receive it externally. Self love and acceptance is an inside job.I could no longer avoid the inner “work” by striving to earn it in the mirror. I literally had to sit with myself and face the work I had spent my life trying to avoid. When I first lost my legs, all I wanted was to be able to hide it. I was used to people admiring my physique, and to be viewed in the opposite light would be extremely painful. For a long time, I kind of hid myself, I kept to myself while I allowed myself to heal. I kind of cocooned while I gave my mind and soul time to catch up with my body. It is not in seeking or “achieving” perfection that we come to accept ourselves, but in reckoning with and honoring our imperfections.
It is now my honor to advocate for loving, honoring and respecting ourselves at the highest level. When we know better, we do better. If my journey and my story can serve to help others not fall into similar circumstances, it will have been worth it. If it can serve as a wake up call to those who need it, it will have been worth it. If it can serve as a roadmap of self love, forgiveness, resilience and healing, it will be worth it. If it can serve as a testimony of overcoming to those who may one day need it, it will have been worth it. At the end of the day, it has already been worth it. In losing part of me, I found all of me. If the girl who couldn’t love herself with a six pack and bikini model body can love, honor and respect herself without her feet, you can conquer whatever mountain or demon you may be facing. I am truly better for the journey. It doesn’t happen by accident. It is a conscious choice, and one only we can make and show up for every step of the way. I believe with all of my being that He who is in us is greater than anything or anyone against us. We are capable of rising up and thriving through and beyond any seemingly insurmountable challenge that may come our way.
If you would like to listen to my personal account along with the full interview from the This Is A True Story Podcast, find on all major podcast platforms or go to: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0y7xeQG01L5lgeIZC1Qq8S