It’s not just what you’re eating… it’s also what’s eating you!
I had never planned to divulge all that is about to follow, at least not in such a direct and personal way. Given my job as a health and nutrition coach, what I am going to share may come as a surprise to some of you, but in light of the quote that heads this piece – which jumped out and smacked me in the face when I heard it – I realised I was ready to put my ‘stuff’ out there in hope that it may resonate with some of you on a personal level too.
In hindsight – which as we know is a wonderful thing – it had been a longtime coming. During the time I was unwell, I couldn’t really pinpoint a pivotal moment when it all began but somewhere between the end of 2009 and April 2011 I started to notice that life in general seemed harder and less enjoyable on almost every level. Over time I became numb, nothing excited me anymore. I struggled to see my future clearly and as time progressed, I struggled to see it even at all. I had no sense of purpose or self esteem and I I was not at all healthy, sexy or happy.
What shocked me the most about my mental state at this time was how I had involuntarily defaulted to a very negative view of the world. I had become fearful, not of any one thing in particular but fearful of everything around me: fearful of getting a serious illness, fearful of losing loved ones, fearful of making plans/not making plans, having money/not having money, fearful of flying, being alone, being in crowds – you name it, I was developing anxiety over it. I clearly knew on a level I was far from ‘me’, but I had no justification for it and given how slow and insidious these changes were, I ignored the reality of what was causing them for a very long time.
Even exercise, which I had always loved (yes I was that annoying happy gym bunny) became unenjoyable and despite the personal trainer in me, I began to even doubt the point of training – I could almost say I started to hate it. After 11 years as a personal trainer these thoughts brought so much guilt. I couldn’t admit these feelings to anyone not even my boyfriend and business partner at the time. I guess looking back all these years later it makes perfect sense why I ended up where I did, but I was not to realise this for a long time to come.
Naturally, back then I had the usual stresses and strains of running a busy health studio business along side dealing with the various curve balls that life decided to throw, but nothing (in my opinion) at the time that I could relate to causing the kind of physical and mental symptoms I started to display.
By my 29th Birthday in May 2011, my physical health began to in a nutshell, crap itself!
I began to experience varying degrees of concerning pain and fatigue – every muscle in my body constantly felt tort and contracted and would spasm, seemingly ‘just because’. By mid June, I started to experience one of the scariest things anyone can for the first time, that being lengthy episodes of chest- thrashing heart palpitations. In conjunction with these arrhythmias I had unpredictable head spins, dizziness, feeling of falling, chest pains and night sweats. Initially I tried to ignore these symptoms – which obviously was a silly and unsuccessful endeavour – hoping everything would go away, but after a week or so, when things got really bad, I was sent to hospital for a full day of cardiac tests – but all came back…. Normal!
Naturally my reaction was … ‘ah what the!?’ With my scientifically wired brain, I was sure the doctors would find something – a crazy virus at the very least. But nothing significant was out of place. The hospital did however acknowledge the irregular heart beats passing them off as ‘normal’ and that I had nothing to worry about.
Nothing to worry about! Were they actually kidding? I’m no medical doctor, but I was pretty certain that an abnormal heart rhythm could not be a good thing! Not only was it something I had never experienced for the first 29 years of my life but also incredibly uncomfortable, keeping me awake at night and causing feelings of extreme weakness. As expected the doctors offered me a prescription of beta blockers and anti depressants and told me I would just have to live with it. Also as expected, I politely declined and told them I’d just take a holiday. I admitted that much was needed – 4 weeks in Thailand should do the trick, right?
So I continued to live with my non-improving symptoms for a couple more weeks in the belief that some chillaxing time in the sun would reinstate me to perfect health. There is nothing quite like blobbing by a pool to get a stressed body back to normal…one would assume!
I holidayed with my family and friends in Thailand and Australia for four weeks only to experience worsening symptoms, both physically and mentally. I experienced the palpitations along with now constant pains in my chest and body on a daily basis. Almost like clockwork my symptoms would kick off at a certain time of the day and not even reading a book by the pool as I had hoped, gave me the respite I sought. In fact, being in a restful state only seemed to exacerbate these sensations. The peace and quiet outside of me made the chaos inside stronger, louder and inescapable.
I had a constant tingling feeling running though my body, as if I knocked back a 10-shot coffee, despite not having any caffeine at all. My hands, feet, arms and face would seesaw between feeling numb and involuntary twitching. If I ever managed to sleep I would suddenly wake to a racing heart and by the end of my trip I was finding it hard to get my breath and to put it bluntly I was Sh!*ing myself and needless to say my friends and family were equally concerned.
When I returned to the UK I was ‘on the floor’! Long haul travel had no doubt added to my acute issues and it was clear from the moment I reached back home I couldn’t return to work. Exhaustion and full anxiety had now taken over my days, which I spent bed bound. Even getting up to go to the bathroom sent me into an uncontrollable spin of panic. I couldn’t cope with anything. Eating was a no go. I felt constantly nauseous and my appetite disappeared entirely. I lost about a stone in weight over the initial 5 day period and continued to lose for months to follow – not a recommended form of weight loss, but that just shows the levels of adrenalin I had shooting through my veins!
I missed my best friends 30th birthday celebrations, which devastated me for two reasons – one, I couldn’t believe I was missing her special event which I had been looking forward to and two, it forced a blatant realisation as to just how ill I was!
As I lay for those weeks hardly able to leave the house I naturally wondered if this was my ‘lot’, was this my future now – a crazy nervous wreck? Would I ever return to work, let alone attend any birthday party again?
Slowly however over several more weeks I regained enough energy to get out and about. Taking short walks along the Mersey waterfront and eventually making it back into work with limited hours and contact time with clients. I had managed to call on some favours from some of the private labs in London to run what we call ‘Functional Medical Tests’ which are not used widely in mainstream medicine. I knew they would find some considerable nutritional imbalances caused by my stress and unintentional famine. I was still experiencing the exact same symptoms, as before but by this time they seemed a little dulled down. I wondered if I was slowly getting better, or just becoming desensitised to my ill-fated physical state.
Not surprisingly the lab results came back showing that my cortisol (main stress hormone) levels were ‘through the roof’ (a technical term) which explained my continued anxiety and susceptibility to panic. The tests also showed that my blood levels of essential fatty acids including omega -3’s were literally non-existent, which was a huge problem physically and explained the constant pain and inflammation in my body – but not as big of a problem as the fact that I still really had no Idea how I got to this place of mental and physical ruin. What had happened? What had gone wrong and how was I going to make it right?
I remained weak and shaky with a constant jelly-leg sensation for months to follow, I also began to lose my hair 😦 and experienced migraines for the first time in my life. These were however the last symptoms of imbalance to come and thankfully the first to go. The numbness, pins and needles, pains and dizzy spells all started to settle over the course of 12 months and the heart palpitations – well they hung around for 18 months or so, but albeit less frequent – they reduced to every few days, every few weeks and then every month to every few months and even now, still if I let myself get too run down or stressed they can show up intermittently for a day or two. In some ways I feel this is a good thing, just like when the speedometer ‘dings’ at you to slow down if you’re driving over the limit – my heart likes to keep me in line!
So back to the problematic questions… why did this happen to me? What on earth started it and how was I going to make myself better?
I still don’t know what had been the straw that broke the camels back, but ultimately it was a combination ignoring my own health advice, working too hard for too long, chasing success rather than focusing on what was important, ignoring red flags in my relationship and ultimately not living authentically in-line with true happiness. Though my ego initially refused the issues that had blatantly come to light, there was thankfully a part of me more ‘real’ and more honest than my ego that was open to the realisation that I needed to change my mind in order to change my world and my experiences.
I’ve always considered myself healthy – physically healthy. But of course physical health doesn’t necessarily translate into mental and spiritual health; that much I have well discovered. Ultimately if you’re headed on the wrong path or stressed and in need of a break, but continue to ignore all the signs your body will simply force it upon you in a rather dramatic ‘in-your-face – IMAX 3D movie’ kind of way. So needless to say, I got the message loud and clear – “start nourishing your soul Emma!” – so that is exactly what I set out to do and I haven’t stopped.
What happened within the next few months of healing was pretty amazing…as soon as I made that conscious decision to get better, to not let fear, anxiety and depression rule my life, I found my energy coming back bit by bit and my positivity came back a little each day too. It became so vividly clear to me, that I had been living soullessly – forcing, willing and chasing life to impress and avoid failure in so many areas. I had been blindly immersed in the daily grind for so long that, there was no room for things I deeply loved about life and that made me happy. I was so focused on diet and exercise, running a business and people pleasing, that I had forgotten about me! When I started to give time to myself and engage in positive practices like daily gratitude, yoga, meditation, mindfulness and the art of saying ‘no’ to things that didn’t serve me, I started to LOVE my work again. I attracted more clients and my relationships improved from every angle.
These practices made me feel physically better than I had even years before this all took hold and mentally I know I am better off for having had this breakthrough period. As a result I started to relate better to my clients when I returned properly to work as I was more authentically able to understand the plague of stress in each of our lives and the effect that mental health has on the physical. I saw even greater results with my clients and I became inspired to expand my work and business in ways that served my truth and no longer external expectations.
I created programmes and income revenues that allowed me freedom and flexibility at the same time as still serving my unwavering goal of helping others to achieve better health and sense of self. As cheesy as it sounds, I started to create the life of my dreams, which of course is not to say that there would be no more stress, struggle, heartache or karmic lessons – because believe me they came in time, good and proper – but the person I nurtured myself to be as a result of this ‘crash and burn’ and the lifestyle/business I was creating, made me far more stable in my self and thus prepared for life as it continued to unfold.
In my next blog Confession of A Health Professional (Part 2) I share exactly what I did to get myself back to better than normal and my advice for anyone going through a similar experience.
In Health & Happiness
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