Guess who has two thumbs and is becoming a personal trainer? THIS GAL!
Ahhhhhhhh that still feels so weird to say. Because when I picture a personal trainer, my mental image doesn’t look anything like me.
I’m not a perky, bubbly, Energizer Bunny.
I’m not a natural-born athlete.
I’m not even a competitive person!
I walk funny.
I tend to slouch.
I’m addicted to chocolate.
I don’t currently know how much I can bench, bro.
I hate jogging.
I probably couldn’t get a job selling athletic wear at Lululemon.
(Despite my years-long record of spending 99% of my time in yoga pants.)
And no, I don’t have a “trainer’s body”.
What sort of bull is that anyway?
As if only certain body-shapes and personality-types can know about health and fitness?
Nope. FAKE NEWS.
I am who I am…. I’m proud to have gotten here…. and I am enough.
For VERY personal reasons (as you’re about to read), I’ll be specializing in training people who are deconditioned, post-injury, dealing with long-term illness, or just don’t see themselves as the athletic type (yet?).
This area has my heart.
I know I’m right for it, and I don’t plan on changing to fit anyone else’s expectations.
I’m sure my intensity will be more like a physical therapist than a drill sergeant. Or a teacher rather than a cheerleader. And I’m good with that.
In particular, I refuse to become one of those Instagram models with FAKE BUTTS (HELLO, YES, WE SEE YOU) and Photoshopped waists, wearing a new $90 outfit in every picture.
(Side note: HOLY CRAP, how can people afford to become fitness models on social media?! Like, are they allowed to expense their sports bras as a tax write-off or…….?! How are they doing this?? No, seriously, please tell me. I’m not good at Instagram.)
Circling back to my point.
I got this. I know it. And I’ll tell you why.
***Here’s where it gets deeply personal for me. To be honest, I’m more than a little scared to put it out there. Because I know from experience, unfortunately, that many people won’t “get it”. Or they’ll judge me like I’ve been judged a hundred times before. Well. This story isn’t for them. This story is for my people. Kindred spirits. People who see themselves here and need this, as much as I need to release it. So here goes.***
For many years, I struggled with chronic pain.
What started as a few herniated discs, treated improperly, cascaded into widespread back pain, neck pain, sciatica, insomnia, imbalances, sprains, tears, fasciitis, persistent neuropathic pain, migraines lasting 9 days and 2 ER visits, and searing stomach pain too intense to eat most foods… among other symptoms, some too strange and embarrassing even to write.
For an eternity, which turned out to be six years, I felt trapped in my body.
It’s hard to articulate the darkness I felt.
On my good days, I put on a heavily medicated smile to the world. Pushed through. Maybe even exercised, gritting my teeth against the pain. Knowing my “reward” would be worse pain later.
On my bad days, I lay immobile; in so much pain, that the meds on the bedside table felt miles out of reach.
My entire life changed. I quit a job I loved. I cancelled plans. I let people down.
A new body-part seemed to break each day, the result of years of unchecked inflammation, stress, and unhealthy self-medication, because I couldn’t fix the root problems.
My life became an endless parade of doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and the like. Some of them were wonderful. Some of them helped me. A few of them, I owe my life to.
But here’s the sticking point.
Most of them did not. Some didn’t listen, or didn’t understand. Some didn’t even believe me.
I remember one ER nurse in particular. Rolling her eyes, she lectured me for “whining”, while I fought back tears, helpless and at her mercy. Eventually she took her anger out at me by administering the pain medicine I “didn’t need” through an aggressive, exaggerated, frightening stab into my butt cheek, rather than the IV drip I was already hooked up to. (Later, when I told my regular doctor about the episode, she was perplexed by this choice. “But why… the butt?”)
Then there was another doctor, a specialist in pain and rehabilitation. I was SO hopeful to finally meet her, after waiting for several, agonizing months for her schedule to open up. When she finally walked into the examination room, she took one look at my pain diagram, saw many body-parts shaded to indicate pain, and before asking me a single question, announced that this widespread pain was ridiculous. She insinuated it was all in my head, and refused to treat me until my mental health was better managed. “Your primary care provider shouldn’t have even referred you here,” she spat, as I sat in shocked silence. The rest of the examination was perfunctory. She asked me a series of yes/no questions, and cut me off angrily if I tried to say anything by means of explanation. At the end of the list, she concluded what she’d already decided. I wasn’t her problem. She walked out without me ever speaking a full sentence.
It would be a year of cognitive behavioral therapy and psychiatric medication before I stepped foot into her office again, presenting with the exact same symptoms. (Don’t worry, I requested a different doctor.)
So it was, that in my lowest moments– moments when I was entertaining thoughts of suicide, moments when I couldn’t IMAGINE living into my 40s, since every year brought more pain– in these lowest, darkest, most vulnerable moments, I was failed by the people I desperately needed help from.
*****Quick aside: I know no one gets into the medical field or a helping profession without having a good heart. I know their dream is to heal people and do good in the world. But I also know sometimes our best intentions can get lost along the way. I don’t blame them for having to endure a broken, no-win system, where they’re forced to make heartbreaking triage decisions, not based on their expertise, but based on insurance and practicality… and then given laughably insufficient time and resources to actually make the difference they once aspired to. This is not meant to be a diatribe against the doctors, nurses, or any other service providers out on the front lines of healthcare. If anything, my experience reflects a broken system that they are also the victims of. Okay, back to my story.*****
I saw over 25 providers (after that I lost count) to try to fix my problem. I turned to every medical and alternative therapy I could find. I tried every treatment– some of which were very painful. Thinking eventually, after so many years, I’d HAVE to stumble upon the answer.
It took a toll.
I left many appointments in tears. Feeling like I’d reached out my hand to someone in desperation, and grasped only empty air in return.
The lead-up to each appointment was often just as bad, due to the intense (and well-founded) fear that I would tell a healthcare provider my needs, and they wouldn’t understand me, believe me, or try to help me.
So much did I dread being misunderstood or dismissed, that I tried to prepare myself before each appointment. I practiced saying my health updates in the mirror. I brought notes to each appointment. I knew I had to sound thorough, yet succinct. Educated, yet deferent to their expertise. In need of help, but not whiny.
The stress frequently sent me into a panic attack. (To this day, no doctor has taken my resting heartrate below 96.)
“Where are you on the pain scale?” became a phrase that triggered my palms to sweat as I debated what to say.
Too high of a number, and I got eye rolls. “There’s no way.”
Too low of a number, and I got glares and exasperation. “Why are you HERE then?” Or, “You know, everyone has SOME pain.” Implying I was wasting their time.
No matter what I said, it seemed to lead people to distrust my experience in my own body.
It led me to start distrusting MYSELF.
Sometimes I questioned my own sanity. Although it seems unbelievable to me now, I remember tearfully asking David, “Am I going crazy? Am I making it all up?” And really fearing I might be. So gaslit was I.
Soooo many times, as I sobbed on the bus rides home, I wished for someone to understand.
I wanted, I NEEDED a guide. And not just any guide.
Someone who had actually BEEN THERE. (Not someone blessed with a perfect, functioning body, who’d had to learn about my pain from a book.)
Someone who UNDERSTOOD. And who would respect my body’s limitations without judgment. But also encourage me to reach, slowly but surely, for more.
Someone PATIENT. With enough time to spend with me, and follow-up with me, long-term. Because these kinds of problems aren’t fixed with a “one and done” sort of appointment.
Someone compassionate and kind, who I’d actually look forward to meeting with each week.
……………..My list was long. But to make this story short…
Although plenty of people helped me (most of all, my own angel on earth, David,) no one like that materialized.
You know the quote, “I needed a hero, so I became one”?
Nothing better explains my last few years.
I’ll spare you the details that could fill a novel, but in summary: My journey to better health has been LONG and it has been HARD.
The kickoff was meeting with one very compassionate doctor, who didn’t turn me away, like so many others had, empty-handed and empty-hearted.
He drastically altered the course of my life by prescribing me a new, life-changing medicine. (The 10th medicine I tried. And our final hope– the only drug left in a category of options I had exhausted, to no avail.)
While I can’t call it a “miracle cure,” because it’s not that simple, it WAS the start of a miracle for me.
To my disbelief, that tiny, red pill granted me glorious, merciful, (partial) RELIEF, which only increased over the next few weeks.
It was the dawn of a new day.
Without the constant background noise of pain, I began to see cause and effect.
Before, when I was in constant pain, all that my food diaries, pain journals, and physical therapy experiments ever yielded was confusing, confounding, ambiguous results. Because every choice led to pain.
But suddenly, after my pain level had dropped significantly, everything came into focus.
Very rapidly, I could identify — easily — what choices led to more pain, and what choices led to less, and I committed with gusto to the latter.
Gradually, I began sleeping for longer periods of time. Eventually, for the entire night.
My panic attacks dwindled down to scarcely one per month, and then even less.
The backpack I carried with me always, full of prescription and over-the-counter medicines, began to empty, until I had no use for it.
So, less pain / begat less pain / begat less pain.
I learned more, and I continue to learn more, about my own body that I knew was possible TO learn.
I put in the time, every day. (It took 90 minutes of physical therapy, daily, for almost a year, before I finally progressed to the point where my doctor gave the OK for me to begin gentle yoga and water aerobics.)
I made sacrifices. (Too many to count. But driving and other forms of extended sitting come to mind.)
I completely changed my life, my routine, my hobbies, my diet, my mindset, and, finally, at long last, my body.
The words no longer sicken me. Because I’m no longer a prisoner inside it.
Do I still have pain sometimes? Of course. It’s a work in progress– one I’ll have to tend forever.
But is it manageable? HECK YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sure, there will be days when I hurt. But the good days FAR outnumber the bad. And the bad aren’t so bad anymore.
It feels SO – UNBELIEVABLY – GOOD to know that finally, for the most part, I’m in control.
Now I have the keys. And I know how to drive this crazy thing.
I am so grateful.
I have to stop for a second and make something clear.
Please understand. The moral of this story is NOT, “You, too, can BEAT chronic pain if you just work HARD enough!!!”
Oh, how I wish that were true. But sadly, it just isn’t.
In the real world, it’s often more about luck than effort. And I was very lucky, in so many ways.
I had the time and resources to devote to this. (This crap is EXPENSIVE and astonishingly time-consuming.)
I had the privilege of being mostly-Caucasian and speaking the power dialect. (If I was a person of color, I can’t imagine how much worse the skepticism and annoyance from service providers might have been, simply due to unconscious bias.)
The cause of my problems wasn’t a degenerative condition, or a condition with no known cure or hope of recovery.
I had LOTS and LOTS of help. Much of it medicinal.
(I push back STRONGLY against anyone who claims that living 100% drug-free is the best choice for everyone. If medicine drastically improves your quality of life, I believe you deserve that much.)
I didn’t “earn” this success because I “did more” to fix it than others. In fact, I’ve met plenty of people with lifelong illnesses, who have worked MUCH harder and longer on their issues than me, and yet won’t experience any such ceasefire in the war to improve the living conditions inside their own bodies.
It’s not fair. As much as we sometimes pretend otherwise, people DON’T always get what they deserve. Sometimes there is no happy ending, despite a lifetime of trying.
To the people in this boat, fighting just to PERSERVERE each day, please know that I hold you in the highest regard. There is no courage like the courage you’ve had to grow. You are the unsung heroes of life.
I never thought I’d get here.
I never thought I’d feel so happy and at peace inside my body again.
I never thought 33 would be the healthiest year of my life.
And I never, ever imagined I’d have the confidence to tell the world, “I’m going to become a personal trainer.”
But after winning the battle that consumed my last six years, (or at least wrestling it into submission, so I can continue to LIVE MY LIFE around it with joy and gratitude,) well, anything seems possible.
For the first time in a long time, my path feels clear.
I want to be the coach that I needed.
I want to help people with aching, broken bodies get their lives back.
I want to show them that regaining their physical fitness is possible.
I want to listen to them and really HEAR them.
I want to tell them, “I believe you. You’re not crazy.”
I want to support them as long as they need, regardless of what health insurance will pay for.
I want to show them that fitness (to me) isn’t about how tiny your waist is, or how much you can bench press.
It’s about being able to ACCESS YOUR LIFE.
To play on the trampoline with your nieces and nephews. To go snowboarding again when you thought you were done forever. To notice your posture in the mirror, and not be able to resist giving yourself a wink and a thumbs-up.
I want to give people this feeling– this feeling I’d lost and, for a long time, given up on searching for— the feeling of HOPE.
Because it feels too good to keep to myself.
So what’s next for me?
Well, I’m going to continue running Progressive Gym’s marketing, web presence, client contact, events, promotions, billing, tracking, legal paperwork, & scheduling…
But I also plan to start studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist immediately! (Like my love, and the world’s sexiest boss, David!!)
I’m grateful that my SLP master’s program prepared me well for this undertaking. Besides the anatomy/physiology/and all that jazz, my experiences working with people who have had strokes, traumatic brain injuries, learning disabilities, and degenerative diseases set me apart from most personal trainers. Clients with limps, clients with one-sided weakness, clients with hemispacial neglect. What other personal trainer could understand those clients like I will?
Maybe I haven’t run a marathon. But I’ve cotreated medically fragile children with their PTs and nurses. I’ve assessed the structure and function of many an orofacial musculature. I’ve designed and implemented programs so my clients could learn and MAINTAIN difficult, new movement patterns. And I’ve heard and felt the life stories of so many people for whom movement doesn’t come easy.
In some ways, it feels a natural branching-off point from my last career.
In many other ways, it feels like a crazy, thrilling, new adventure.
I’m up for it.
I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.