Musings on when my life took an unexpected turn
Symbols of Hope
Hear This Read Aloud Below
“You will never live a normal life again. You will never exercise again. This is the best you can hope for.”
Those were words I never expected to hear. I could feel the emotion welling up behind my eyes. Grief, shock, hopelessness. My throat felt tight and I wanted to crumble to the floor. I was only in my late 30’s, a former runner, someone who loved being physical. Life as I knew it was over.
The doctor was one I trusted, someone I had turned to because he specialized in exactly what I was dealing with. After years of debilitation, I had emptied out my savings to attend a week long healing retreat at the clinic he ran for people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It was a week of meetings with specialists and therapists, medical tests and nutrition consults, all of this with the intent of diagnosing and then teaching us how to live with our disease.
Though I had been dealing with a severe lack of vitality for years, the Western medical doctors told me it was all in my head, that I needed a shrink. I had been batted around by so many doctors, poked and prodded and mis-diagnosed so many times, that when I found a doctor who actually listened to me I felt some hope for the first time in years. My current physician, an expert in the field of CFS, combined both Western and Alternative approaches to the illness and treated it with respect. This was a real thing, not made up in my head.
So when he said those words to me I knew he was speaking his truth.
But he wasn’t speaking mine.
I was too young, with too much to do in my life to give in. This was not how I intended to spend the rest of my life. This was no way to live.
I was nearing 40, a turning point in and of itself. I had a 5 year old son who needed me. I had a business to run. I had a life to live.
I took those words…”you will never…” and I took that grief, that sense of hopelessness and I reached inside to my heart and soul for the truth.
I heard myself say out loud “I know what I need. I need my physical strength back.”
I knew nothing of bodybuilding. I had been working out with weights a bit while running, but I was no expert. So I hired a strength coach from a local university. He knew nothing of CFS or bodybuilding, but he knew how to train an athlete to build strength and that was all I needed. His name was Jim.
This was the early 1980’s. CFS was still considered a fake diagnosis. There was very little out there in the way of help or information. I remember being in the studio where I had my business, just Jim and myself. It was our initial meeting. Jim asked me to get down and do a pushup. I laughed, knowing how weak I was. He’d soon see it for himself. I was mortified as I got down on the floor, weak, overweight, feeling embarrassed at the state I was in as if it was my fault. My arms shook as I struggled to come up from the floor. This wasn’t going to be an easy task for either of us.
As ashamed as I was, weak as I had become, I still felt a sense of hope because I had taken the work of healing myself back into my own hands.
Those first days in the gym were humbling. One set of leg extensions sent me home to bed for the next two weeks. Jim said to call him when I felt I could go back and we’d do it again. I can still see the wall phone hanging in the hallway outside the bathroom upstairs. Legs shaking, I got myself out of bed and picked up the phone to call him. The fever had passed and I was determined to try again.
Week after week, month after month we repeated this routine, both of us determined not to quit. Every time I put on my workout gear and slipped my hands into my gloves I felt hope.
The gym was a local one, populated by many individuals I knew from town both male and female. They watched me over the months and little by little began coming to me with questions about how I was doing what I was doing. They saw that I was transforming and they wanted in. I found myself in the women’s locker room surrounded by women asking for advice on things well beyond training.
They began to share their struggles with me and looked to me for support and advice.
One day about 8 months into my work with Jim we were going through a workout and he turned to me and said “I think we need to consider cycling your workouts. You’ve been training steadily for awhile now with no break because you haven’t gotten sick.” And then I knew.
Sitting on a bench beneath the Smith Machine between sets of cable crossovers, I knew that my life was taking a turn.
Turning to Jim I said “I know what I want to do with my life. I want to become a trainer. This has given me my life back and I want to share the power of this with others.”
It all began with hope.
Those gloves, that gym, the feel of the iron in my hands, became symbols of hope to me. They held a magic that no doctor possessed.
I still have my gloves. But somewhere along the way I lost the hope.
Years of continued illness, debilitation, anxiety, depression, and loss have brought me to my knees again. Without help from any medical doctor I knew I needed my own medicine. I needed hope and belief in my own capacity to heal…again.
Yesterday I took myself out on my first solo hike in the desert after more than a year. The day was clear and breezy and the sun was bright in the sky. I put on my hiking shoes, dogs excitedly licking at my legs thinking they were going along. But this was something I had to do on my own. It was no more than a 10 minute drive to the trail, one I had been on countless times so there was no reason for concern. I parked the car with a mixture of trepidation and resolve. I could do this. Nothing bad was going to happen. I could turn around at any point if I felt too weak.
Within steps I felt my energy surge. One foot in front of the other. The desert is my healing place, a place I had turned to many times over the years to come back after a relapse of the CFS. I felt a kinship with the thorny, rugged terrain and the vegetation out there. In the desert plants look dead during this time of year, but beneath the surface they are very much alive. They have a resilience that is born of necessity in an unforgiving landscape of scorching sun and parched earth.
As I walked my awareness turned to the plants around me. Amidst the dry brown brittle branches I noticed the buds of new growth, green sprouts of life. A little ways down the path a spot of yellow caught my eye. Some of those buds had actually begun to blossom. New life out of what appeared to be only death.
My pace increased and I felt a sense of something that I couldn’t quite articulate. And then there it was. HOPE. I felt hope. And I realized that without the emotion nothing was going to shift. I had to FEEL to shift. Emotion was the key.
Hopelessness had become a way of life for me. It permeated my life so completely that I couldn’t find myself anymore. Hopeless is not who I am.
Connecting with the emotion of hope changed everything. I reclaimed my healing. I will have more setbacks. And I will not give up. I still have my gloves and my hiking boots. And I have hope.
It has been a couple of years since I first wrote this. I've had many ups and downs with my health along the way. I'm not exaggerating when I say that things shift from one day to the next and not always in a positive direction. But I have never given up that hope. I know who I am and what I'm capable of. I've shown myself repeatedly that this story is not over until I take my last breath. As I write these words I am in a physical state far from being able to put on my hiking boots and taking to the desert, but I know that one day I will. Even if that time lasts 5 minutes and then I have to come home, I will hike again. And even if I can only lift a small amount of weight, I will lift something. Hope is the key that keeps me going through it all and I refuse to let that die. So I re-read my own words for inspiration. I turn to myself as my greatest role model because I have never let myself down yet. I keep going. And when its time to stop, I let myself dream of the time when I will use my body in the ways I love again. I urge you to turn to whatever and whoever inspires your hope. And don't allow circumstances to dictate who you are - ever.