Ah, you guys. Today's guest post really hit home for me. It reminded me so much of what I went through with Lyme disease, and the lessons I learned are similar and what I wrote about in Namaslay. Thank you so much to Jennifer for sharing what's clearly been a very difficult experience. Be sure to leave her some love in the comments section below. xoCandace
I firmly believe that we all have a journey we’re meant to take and if we deviate too far off that path the universe will guide us back on course. I’m a stubborn one though, which, as my mother has always told me, is a blessing and a curse. Thankfully, the universe is stronger than my stubbornness and decided I would do better with a hard shove after the first couple nudges got them nowhere.
I was a child when I started having a troubled relationship with food due to issues at home and began binging to distract myself from the anxiety that was slowly intensifying. The summer going into 6th grade I wanted a fresh start so I spent three months running every day and just eating rice cakes for lunch to lose some of my baby chub. When the school year began both my classmates and their parents congratulated me on my newly svelte figure. This was my first taste of the positive attention and popularity that being slender brought and I became addicted to it. As I grew older my relationship with food only grew more detrimental as I learned purging and over-exercising could negate the extra calories and give me a way to control my life after my Dad’s sudden death when I was thirteen-years-old.
In college, it got to the point that if I was forced to miss a day of running I’d make sure that I did two workouts the next day. My first real shove from the universe came in 2011 when I underwent major hip surgery, but I ignored the universe and biked right up until the day before surgery despite the excruciating pain. I exercised off and on until 2014 because after my surgery I couldn’t run, but then I found weightlifting and the cycle began again. I was physically in the best shape of my life and getting compliments from everyone, but inside I was miserable and couldn’t take one day off of working out without feeling itchy in my own skin. It was as if I could feel the fat gathering all over my body in less than 24-hours. Getting to the gym each day controlled my life. I would skip out on vacations if the hotel didn’t have a gym or avoid social gatherings because I couldn’t control what I ate there. In March 2015, the universe gave me a swift kick in the shins when I was diagnosed with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). I’ll save you the science and just say it’s a bunch of bacteria where those little buggers shouldn’t be. It caused bloating, pain and food intolerances, but even when I was down to only being able to eat ten foods I still pushed myself to workout. I was desperate to not gain weight and lose the muscle I had worked so hard to build.
After a year, despite getting my first negative test back for SIBO, I was still having massive abdominal pain and was diagnosed with Endometriosis. By the time I had the surgery to help me I had been living off of Norco, a medication that contains both an opioid pain reliever and a non-opioid pain reliever, just to function. Any opioid has a risk of addiction and is disruptive to digestion so I didn’t want to be on it any longer than necessary since it can be dangerous and alter healthy gut function which I already had issues with. Five months after the surgery that was meant to cure me I was in more pain than ever. What gives, universe? I’d barely make it to work, even with Norco, and would do my best just to smile through the pain until I could come home and collapse into my bed crying under my covers. I felt despair like I never had before and it was swallowing me whole. What would happen to me if I couldn’t work anymore? What if this pain never ended? The places your brain goes to when it feels like it has no escape is terrifying and I just wanted it to all be over. When you’re in chronic, unrelenting pain it soon becomes the best friend you never wanted. I felt like I was in a waking nightmare when the pain greeted me each morning and followed me into my slumber each night.
As a last ditch effort, I made an appointment with a physical therapist who specialized in women’s health. By this time I’d been to 40+ doctors in the last two years who all had their own regimen they wanted me to follow, but I never really felt any hope. However, after my first appointment with my current PT I felt real hope for the first time since the pain had started. Somehow, I knew, deep in my soul, that this is exactly where I was supposed to be. So when she said to stop weight lifting and just trust her I actually listened. It turns out my body is chock-full of pain generators and the scar tissue from my surgeries was pulling my body all out of whack with every breath I took. All this time I had been working out through the pain and treating my body like the enemy when in reality it was me.
Stopping myself from weight lifting or doing any high intensity workouts was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Being able to push around heavy weights in the gym had been my identity for so long I didn’t know who I was without it. I was still allowed to take walks and do yoga, but I was desperate for the high that a sweaty gym session offered and that nothing else could replace. I missed feeling utterly wiped out after a workout and I despised watching my body slowly grow smaller as my muscles shrank and my definition diminished. All I could see was years of work down the drain and there was nothing I could do about it, but with grit and determination I kept pushing forward. I constantly reminded myself that I was doing this for my health which is so much more important than how much weight I can lift or a number on the scale.
With the spare energy I had I began investing my time in reading books I had never gotten around to and DIY projects that had sat half-finished collecting dust. I took up photography and created my blog, Buddha Belly, to help others who may be going through the same thing I am. I gave myself purpose and an identity beyond how much I could deadlift and it felt amazing! I didn’t feel like a slave to the gym anymore and was able to experience so much more in life than just whatever next workout I had programmed was. I had the epiphany that when I’m older I’m not going to remember a session in the gym. I’m going to remember the vacations I took with my loved ones, the moments I spent laughing with my best friends and dates with my boyfriend. I am not just a weightlifter. I am a daughter, girlfriend, friend, sister, blogger and I plan to be many other things in the future.
Even reading this over makes me a little overwhelmed from what I’ve been through and how far I still have to go, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Had I not gotten sick I wouldn’t have had to stop exercising, face my issues and gotten back on the right path for me. The universe shoved and I finally couldn’t shove back. I was forced to close my eyes to finally see what I had been doing to my poor body and all the life I’d been missing out on. Some might think I’m crazy, but I’m thankful every day for getting sick because it stopped me from moving out of state with the wrong person, brought me together with the love of my life and made me realize that vacations always win over a workout session. I needed to go through this in order to be set free. I’m far from out of the woods yet and there’s still painful days, but not only am I still standing…I’m running for the first time in years.
If you’re reading this, no matter what you’re going through, you are still standing. Please remember you aren’t standing alone. If you find yourself constantly making the choice to work out instead of seeing your friends and family, exercising more each time you eat a bit too much food or find food controlling you please seek help. There is so much more to life and every single one of you deserves to live your best one.
Is anyone else out there battling their own addictions and kicking butt (or not)? I’d love to hear about your own battles with addiction or chronic pain. Speak out below!
Bio: Jen O’Neill is the founder of Buddha Belly, a wellness and lifestyle blog focusing on her journey to wellness that she hopes will help you in return. Helping others learn to be their best selves is her greatest passion right after coffee and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You can find her hiking with her boyfriend and Husky around the Chicagoland area, taking pretty pictures for her Instagram or nerding out on the latest scientific studies in the wellness community.