I’m a very private person, which makes this is the most difficult article I’ve ever written because it’s about me and all of my deeply personal pain. I am doing this because I know that if I am going to truly help to inspire meaningful changes, you need to understand where I too have come from, and why I may understand you better than you think. This has been a very challenging process for me and I ask that you read the following through the lens of compassion.
From the outside looking in, my life would appear to be filled with joy, love, happiness; maybe even easy. The truth is that my life has been blessed in many ways, but, up until very recently, in many more it has been filled with loss, insurmountable pain, and many, many medical diagnoses and surgeries. My story is a difficult one, but read on, because there is a very happy ending.
I had debilitating anxiety as a child. I was an internalizing mess since about 2nd grade, I thought the worst about myself and was terrified of life. Luckily, I had the privilege of attending a small private school that acted as an incubator for me in any way that it could, I thrived here. I also had a nanny named Rossana that became one of the most important people in my life, she was both a best friend and a mother (and sometimes felt like a sister because we fought like cats and dogs). Life was manageable. That was until my parents decided to move away from our hometown, school, and friends, as I was entering 7th grade. I moved to a school in a new town an hour away that was the opposite; it was the worst. I spent only two years there.
During this very delicate time, I endured the biggest loss I’ve ever known. A few weeks after our move, Rossana was killed very suddenly in a car accident on New Years Eve and was survived by her husband and son. This unhinged me. I sunk into the deepest depression that I could imagine, it was so bad that I felt like I wanted to die. My parents promptly brought me to a Psychiatrist who medicated me with antidepressants and Adderall to mask the symptoms of my despair and to help me “focus in school”. I realize now, looking back, that this was a major crossroads for me. My life was spinning out of control and what I really needed was compassion, patience and support. I will add that my parents did what they thought was right and I don’t blame them for this.
I left this school and attended a different high school, it was a breath of fresh air. It was a vibrant place with many different types of people and ideas, and had a faculty that was very nurturing. Given what I had gone through in the years prior, I had probably done as well as I could have here, but it still wasn’t synonymous with what my potential could have been. I started smoking cigarettes in 9th grade and hung out with people that weren’t nice to me, because if you asked me in 9th grade what my value as a human being was, I would probably hold my hand down to the floor. This absolutely breaks my heart. I tolerated abuse (physical, emotional, and other) because I was just so desperate to feel loved by someone.
I graduated high school and didn’t go to college right away. I spent a few years “finding myself” which was mostly spent trying to understand my place in this world and in my family as well. I have two younger sisters who have had very different experiences as I did and I felt like the black sheep of my family. Nobody understood me, they just thought that I was “bad” or “rebellious”. And to their credit, I was, but I was complex and I was incredibly misunderstood and completely anemic in love and support. It wasn’t until much later that my sisters and I became close. Not until a series of disasters that were soon to occur.
I began attending college at the age of 20, I had decided that I wanted to work in the medical field – I wanted to be a Surgeon. At the age of 21, I underwent knee surgery to correct an IT Band issue. Unfortunately, the trauma from the surgery caused a very abnormal reaction within my Sympathetic Nervous System resulting in a debilitating and chronic pain condition called RSD that causes the most deep, untreatable pain that I have ever known. I didn’t walk for two years. I was back and forth from NYC to my parent’s farm regularly as managing a life on my own at this point was impossible. I had procedures on my spine regularly, was put on a ton of prescriptions to try to calm down my nervous system as well as pain killers that didn’t work. I was in hell.
At 22, I underwent surgery to implant a neurostimulator that could scramble the pain signals in my brain in hopes of distracting it from feeling pain. This worked about 30%, but the device was far from perfect and caused may other issues – I would feel like I was being electrocuted every time I laid down or gave someone a hug. Treatment was supplemented by ketamine treatments in the hospital, including a full week of being medically paralyzed while I hallucinated. The idea here was that the ketamine would “reboot” my brain. I have to say, this did work – but only for a few days. It had become very clear to me that my aspirations of becoming a Surgeon would likely not work out. I accepted this and began to study Marketing.
I got pretty good at moving around on my crutches, so I went back to college focused on Marketing and began working my first job for a start up company. Life was hard, but I was finally being given the gift of some sort of purpose; something to wake up for. I moved back to New York City and began to develop more physical independence. I decided there and then that I would not let this diagnosis define me, I wanted a better life. I fought HARD, I ditched my crutches and would force myself to walk around the city with tears pouring down my face – I literally ran the RSD right out of my body. Or at least for a while.
It was 2010, the year my family fell apart. I will spare you all the details, but my parents suddenly divorced and all that we knew and understood to be our home was turned upside down overnight. It was gone, and so were they. The RSD came running right back through my blood, swallowing me whole. My life fell apart financially, emotionally and physically. I was down for the count. I got back on the medications, including the Adderall, because now I am completely disabled again trying to manage full time college at Pace University and a full time job in New York City. The difference now was that I was doing this alone – no family, no financial support, and no love. This was a suffering like I had never known.
In early 2012, my doctor determined that I needed to replace my Spinal Cord Stimulator for a newer better version of it that had worked out the kinks that left me feeling electrocuted upon changing position. This involved a major surgery that included shaving down my spine to attach a flat lead and running wires through a tunnel carved through my side (flank) into the device which sits above my hip. The recovery was absolutely brutal and for most of it, I was alone in my NYC apartment. You may now be thinking that this is as bad as it gets, and it wasn’t. It gets a little worse, but before it does I need to stop and explain something to you. This was life defining stuff right here. I am grateful for this pain. This made me strong. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined how my life would ever be okay again, but what I didn’t know was that I was going to get through this to find the most amazing life that I could ever know. Hang in there with me.
I was down to 98 lbs. I was malnourished, healing from a traumatic surgery, taking many prescription drugs, and was having a hard time bouncing back. I was drinking a lot of caffeine to try to create synthetic energy that would carry my very weak self back and forth to school each day and then home to work so that I could earn enough money to afford my life. But I was determined. Diagnosis be damned, I kicked this RSD once, and I would do it again. And again I did. This time, I walked myself down to the basement gym in my apartment building, and ran this thing out of me every single day. I took weeks of tears, unimaginable pain, and a lot of grace, but I did it. Life was looking up for me – I thought. Sadly, I was wrong. My battles were not yet over.
About 6 months later in mid 2012, I was sitting on the couch in my Wall Street apartment one day and felt my heart race out of control. I rushed to the ER and they found nothing, it had stopped by the time I got here. This went on for another 6 months, in and out of ER’s at least once a week. To make a very long story short, I saw a battery of doctors in the span of 3 months and the consensus was, I was extremely nutrient deficient, toxic, hyper responsive and I had a heart arrhythmia. All of which had to be treated right away to save my life. I was also in my early Senior year of college and managed to fail every one of my classes as I had to miss my mid-terms for obvious medical reasons. I was not able to finish college.
During my recovery, I received a call telling me that one of my very best friends, someone that stood by my side during this time, suddenly died from a suspected drug overdose. I was in complete shock and I was absolutely terrified. I once again felt an indescribable loss. My doctors put me on Klonopin to try to dull down the anxiety that was complicating my heart condition. The theme here so far has been that feelings weren’t meant to be felt, but instead, medicated. I don’t regret the Klonopin at this time, given that I had also just lost my entire family through the divorce, but I wish I had some better options. I would eventually grow dependent on these too and had to detox myself from them months later, it was a horrible and ugly process. Anyway, back to task at hand: the arrhythmia.
The arrhythmia was finally caught, it took months. There I was, it was February of 2013, and I was blending a kale smoothie in my Upper East Side apartment- a 5th floor walkup. I raced down the stairs which my heart beating out of my chest and ran several blocks to Lenox Hill Hospital. There it was, after all of this time – 350 beats per minute on the rhythm strip. The doctors had the paddles on my chest within 5 minutes of triage while simultaneously administering a medication called Adenosine that would stop my heart for up 1 minute. I was absolutely terrified but I survived. My heart slowly went back down into the low 100’s and I was filled with relief.
I was admitted into the hospital for several days following this episode. What I will never forget is on the night of my arrhythmia, I watched the Superbowl from my hospital bed in the Cardiac Unit. I was alone – but this time, I was hopeful. I was 26 years old and had overcome so much in my life. I couldn’t help thinking about this guy that I had talked to a few days before, I had lost touch during this event but for some reason, I just couldn’t get him out of my head. I decided to write him from my dark hospital room, despite the fact that he had no idea where I actually was and how unbelievably sick I had been.
Here I was, a ticking time bomb on the wait list for heart surgery a few weeks later as Mike is picking me up on E 75th Street for our first date. He felt like a warm beam of light, like God had sent him to me- I knew for the first time in my life that this person was going to be the most important person in the world to me. (*Bonus, he didn’t run away when I explained that I wasn’t speaking to anyone in my family and was going to be undergoing a heart surgery two weeks later). I will save the love story for another time, but this is when it all changed. I had survived the darkness and I was standing in the sun.
Shortly after this, my family and I began having a relationship again. It was apparent to me that we had all dealt with very different but very real trauma. Everyone needed to heal in their own way, even if it wasn’t together. There were many times that I was so heartbroken that they weren’t in my life, but what I understand now is that we are so much stronger individually and as a family, and our relationships are healthy – they are filled with love. I am so grateful for my family and I love them unconditionally.
I did end up having another hospitalization for complications following my surgery. Of course this happened on the day that I was meeting Mike’s extended family for Easter. I distinctly remember standing in their snowy driveway pleading on the phone with my Cardiologist that “I really like this guy and I don’t want to blow it! Please don’t tell me I have to go to the hospital!” I lost that fight and Mike blew every red light in town to get me there. I was transferred back to NYC by ambulance and spent a few extra days being treated and monitored and I was home free. This time I wasn’t alone, my sister came to see me and it meant the world. It was also the last time I was hospitalized and I am so grateful for that.
I spent the next several years in therapy dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Panic Disorder, both being very common for someone who had just endured what I had. This time, I did it without medications, I did the work. I learned everything I could about nutrition, prevention, and self care. I started to exercise again – passively. Until just last year, I was too afraid to push myself too hard physically because I [irrationally] thought that I might not survive, my emotional battles continued long past my physical ones. Mike and I went on to get married, move across the country to Seattle, and started new jobs there. This was my new beginning. I was 29 years old and for the first time, my life was in my hands. I would wake up each morning thanking God for all of my blessings, for my health, and for my husband.
We had two kids while we lived in Seattle, they were both C-Sections; the first being an emergency due to fetal heart rate. The recovery was so difficult. I fought chronic hives, sleep deprivation, irregular bleeding, an irregular heartbeat (benign, but terrifying to me), and severe anemia. Days after delivering my second child, and in the mix of these raging symptoms, we found out that Mike had passed a very challenging selection and that we had orders to move back to the east coast – I would be only 6 weeks postpartum. While this was exactly what we wanted, it was a formidable task. Nonetheless, I left my job and we survived the move. Over the next 6 months, I focused 100% of my energy on my family and healing myself, a job I took very seriously. I have been a nutrition researcher and have implemented much of what I learned through books/articles/studies and my own experience and knew that I wanted to make a career out of it. I managed to enroll in Nutrition School full time, studying in the nooks and crannies of my day, and graduated a few weeks ago. I am extremely proud of this accomplishment.
I stand before you today, two years after having my last c-section, with the healthiest blood panel I’ve ever had, on absolutely zero prescription medications, and anxiety free for 10 months. I am your proof. I have been told that I would never walk again, that I would always feel pain, that I would never lose the baby weight, that my heart may never be normal again, that there is “something wrong with me”, that I need medication for my anxiety, and I am here to tell you that you are the one who decides. You decide how you think, how you see the world, and thus, your own potential.
I don’t regret a single thing that I have been through, in fact I am grateful for all of it. I firmly believe that I was put on this earth to help people to heal themselves and to be an advocate for health and change. I have a purpose. I am bearing my soul to the world because I know there are so many people out there that have suffered abuse, low self esteem, divorce, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, malnourishment, chronic pain, heart conditions, and loss. I stand before you as someone who has been there and who has worked very hard to make lasting changes in my life and in many other peoples. I hope my website serves as inspiration for anyone who: is looking for a lifeline, has had so much conflicting nutrition advice and doesn’t know which end is up, is fed up and exhausted, wants to make positive changes, needs inspiration, or needs to see the example of someone who has been in their shoes. I am here for you.
I made a promise to myself in 2009 as I lay on a hospital bed, hooked up to pain medicine, and unable to walk. I promised myself that if I could manage to get out of that mess, that I would run the New York City Marathon- and guess what? The time has come. Next year I am having that old Spinal Cord Stimulator removed for good, that chapter is over. Once I heal from this final major surgery, I will be taking on the biggest physical challenge in my life. I am running the 2020 New York City Marathon in honor of that sick young fighter in a hospital bed in NYC, in honor of all people who have suffered and persevered, to inspire YOU to make changes in your own life. I am also running in loving memory of my Grandmother Mo who has supported me without judgement for my whole life.
Like I said initially, this process has been hard for me. This is a blog post, not a book, so I had to trim a lot from these years of my life. I have worked so tirelessly over the past 15 years and revisiting old pain can be traumatic. I found closure in writing this, I am no longer that person and I hope my example serves as inspiration for you or someone you know.