I am a personal trainer and nutritional therapist living with an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. And after at least a decade of living with this chronic condition, I’ve decided to stop hiding it.
I have struggled with chronic illness most of my life, and for most of that time I have kept it on the down low.
For one, until my diagnosis a few years ago, I wasn’t seeing the range of symptoms I was experiencing as part of a cohesive whole illness, but rather as a vast constellation far too great for me to grasp. In other words, I thought I was crazy.
Two, I’m not a whiner. I believe in being solution-oriented and not complaining.
And three, as a person working in the field of health and wellness, I felt like a failure. How on earth could I be an example of and leader in healthy living when I could hardly get myself out of bed and was having anxiety attacks on the regular?
For the longest time and way before the diagnosis, I was asking, “Why me?” My question initially came from a place of exhaustion and frustration, from years of doing everything in my power to take care of myself, eat well, exercise appropriately, etc. and still struggling and suffering with chronic infections and illness.
My question of “why me” came from my struggle to find answers to the following questions:
Why do I always feel so run down, even if/when I get what seems like adequate sleep?
Why do I have these anxiety attacks and bouts of depression?
Why do I feel spacey and extremely forgetful?
Why do I get dizzy when I stand up and feel like I am going to black out?
Why do I feel weak, despite all the work I do to build strength?
Why is my hair falling out?
Why am I in pain?
It seemed cruel and unfair that despite all the painstaking care I was taking to be healthy (elimination diets, decreased exercise intensity, better sleep hygiene, supplements specific to my nutritional deficiencies, etc.) I was confronting a pretty major disease. I felt like my body was betraying me.
So I did what seemed like the most practical thing to do: I isolated myself. I worked and rested and took care of myself as best I could. But I did it in somewhat of a vacuum. I told a few people close to me but no one really seemed to have a grasp on what it meant or how it was affecting me (again…proof that I am far too good at hiding my struggles).
I wanted to be understood without the exhausting work of educating people on my illness. I wanted empathy, not pity. But more than anything, I wanted to just throw myself down on the floor and cry really loudly and for a long time. And, I did.
In asking this question over and over, I realized I wasn’t really asking a question, I was actually whining and demanding to know why I was being burdened. Feeling sorry for myself. This was not helping me feel better.
So I decided to take a different approach. Instead of asking “why me?” in that same tone, I let the question lead me to places where I could find answers. Instead of suffering through symptoms, I started to cultivate the art of deeply listening to what was going on in my body. And I began to ask in a slightly gentler way, “Why am I dealing with (insert range of symptoms) right now? And I began to listen.
By tuning in to what is going on in my body, I am demonstrating to myself that I am worthy of care.
Every symptom has had something to teach me. And the better I get at listening (as opposed to freaking out when I start to feel sick) the shorter my flares of illness seem to become. No, it’s not always that simple and straightforward, but the less I struggle against what is happening or try to avoid facing it, the easier it gets to work with it and work through it.
One of the biggest symptoms I have dealt with since childhood has been chronic sore throats and strep infection. The thyroid, which is the organ attacked by the body’s immune system when Hashimoto’s Disease is present, sits in the throat region. Some believe that illness that manifests in this region of the body has to do with speaking your truth. Part of speaking my truth is in coming out about living with chronic illness. Not just to those closest to me, but also to my clients.
Living with chronic illness has informed me so much about the human body, about the immune system, and about how to support myself and others in the dynamic process of healing and recovery. It has led me to meet and connect with people I never would have otherwise met and it has even made me a better parent.
It has not just made me a better practitioner and fitness professional, it is what drew me into this evolving career path in the first place.
When symptoms arise, I am getting better at being emotionally neutral. I choose to see symptoms as a way my body is communicating with me and I listen in. It is a challenge, though, because my default has always been to panic when I start to feel sick. I know I have control over my thoughts, even when it doesn’t feel like I do. So I practice mindfulness and reinforce the thoughts I want in my life.
Living with autoimmunity has taught me about self tolerance. Throughout my life I have gotten very upset with myself for not feeling well. In essence, I felt bad for feeling bad. I would get angry with myself and panic. Autoimmunity is literally the lack of self tolerance: the body attacks part of itself. In the work I have done to heal over the years I have seen how powerful and transformative self love is and can be. Cultivating self tolerance and self love has gone a long way in restoring balance to my life and has helped me re-establish trust in my body, in myself.
Cultivating mindfulness has been a huge part of re-establishing that trust. It is about slowing down and listening to what is going on in the moment, and taking control of the only thing I have control over – my own thoughts. It’s all fine and well to have a meditation practice when things are quiet, but the real practice is in my daily life, when I feel stressed, overwhelmed, sad, frustrated or in physical pain.
It is true that some days are much more difficult than others. It is also true that I still have control over my thoughts.
I believe we are all capable of deep healing and growth and that our bodies have a lot of information to give us if we know how to listen. I am grateful to be in a position to guide others in tuning in to their own wisdom.
Rebecca Francis has been a certified personal trainer since 2009 and a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner since 2013. She has a background in martial arts and is currently a student in Integrated Movement Therapy. Rebecca works with a wide range of people, from athletes to those living with chronic disease. Through movement, nutrition and mindfulness practices, she helps each individual find and access their own power.
Rebecca works in-person with clients in Seattle, and conducts sessions across the country with clients via phone, Facetime and Skype. To find out more about working with Rebecca, email email@example.com
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PS. Healing is crazy multi dimensional process, both emotional and physical. Take another step forward in your healing with Yoga for Healing.