I never realized my strength would come from the food I ate, the physical activity I did, and the positive mindset I had adopted. I didn’t realize that those three pieces, when put together in perfect harmony, would allow my amazing body to heal itself. And that’s exactly what happened.
I’m going to be honest with you. I didn’t know how to share my story for 2 reasons. First, it hasn’t ended yet. And second, I’ve placed a lot of my memories from that dark time in a small box, locked away, because I didn’t want to relive what had happened to me. I’m the type of person who doesn’t look back– this moment in my life drained every ounce of my being, so naturally, I did everything I could to forget.
However, someone so dear to my heart reminded me that my story is what changed my life forever. My story is what shaped me into the woman I am today. For the first time in my entire life I heard the words, “You’re my inspiration,” and hearing those simple words was just what I needed to realize that maybe I can inspire someone else. Maybe what I lived through would all be worth it in the end….
So for you, Erik, I sit here in silence, with tears rolling down my cheeks, reliving my story in hopes that my journey can offer up some hope and inspiration to others dealing with obstacles in life. And to anyone reading this, If you take anything away from my story, I hope it’s these three simple words…”Don’t give up.”
Month 10: I’m lying on the floor in my apartment. I had just gotten through the most painful hour drive of my life (one I made twice a day, everyday) from an 8 hour work day (where most of the time I had my office door closed while I laid on the floor and cried).
I barely made it up the stairs into my apartment. I considered crawling but not wanting to feel defeated, I dealt with the pain until I got behind closed doors. I closed the apartment door and crashed on the living room floor. I began bawling. All I wanted to do was go for a walk around the lake. Go to the grocery store and make dinner. Shower. Clean. But I couldn’t do any of that. I just laid there and bawled. The pain was so excruciating. Why had it not gone away yet I kept thinking? Why me? I’m 22 years old. Will I live like this forever? I can’t deal with this the rest of my life….
I had these dark moments for 304 days. My once potential-filled life felt like it was narrowing by the second. I felt like I was drowning in the middle of the ocean and no one could hear my cries for help. For the first time in my life I couldn’t find the light at the end of the tunnel. A firm believer in “everything happens for a reason,” I couldn’t find the “reason” so giving up started to seem like the only viable option. However, something inside of me was still barely holding on to hope. Hope that one day I could live pain free. This is the first time I realized how powerful the mind truly is.
Month 2: I just received the diagnosis of a large herniated disc in my L5-S1 (the lowest disc in your back) and for those of you who don’t know, that basically means that the “jelly” in my spine between my discs had popped out into my nerve cavity and was now constantly pinching the nerves that ran down my left leg. Up to this point, I had felt the pain 24/7. It traveled from my butt, to my knee, and down into my ankle with every breath I took. For most people you can give this injury a few weeks to a couple months, and it should begin to heal itself. But for me, this wasn’t the case. Surgery was scheduled for the following month (which I later pushed off to try and give my body a fighting chance).
I tried everything, or so I thought. I went to physical therapy and rested my back as much as possible – and against everything I believed in – I downed a prescribed cocktail of painkillers daily. I would get on forum boards and read the posts written by unhealthy and unhappy people who dealt with the pain for a few weeks and then went in for surgery and were upset when they didn’t get relief. Over and over I saw comments like “I’ve been living with this pain for years” or “My life is miserable.” It’s safe to say I never found the hope I was looking for while scrolling through those posts.
Month 12: What was left of my world started caving in as my Neurosurgeon sat across from me with my MRI scan up on the screen and said in a defeated manner, “Elizabeth, I think it’s time to reschedule you for surgery, we’re seeing zero signs of improvement. In fact, “it’s getting worse”. At this point, I was told I would never live pain free again, be able to lift anything over 10 lbs, run a mile, or carry a child. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to jump out of my body and into someone else’s. I just sat there, holding my breath to keep the tears from flowing. I didn’t want surgery. How could this possibly be the only option??
I wish I could explain to you what this felt like. We all have those stages in life where we want something so badly that we will do everything possible to make it work. We all have those moments. You struggle through those moments because you know it will all be worth it in the end. I hoped it would be worth it when I went to see the doctor that day. The excruciating pain I endured for months to avoid getting surgery was supposed to be my path. After hearing the doctor tell me I needed surgery made me feel like a failure. I did everything my doctor told me to do but it wasn’t good enough. I was completely shattered.
Month 14: (Day of Surgery) I backed out. Not because I was any better pain-wise – I sure as hell wasn’t – but because I wasn’t going to let myself go under the knife. I still had a little fight left in me and they would have to drag me kicking and screaming into that operating room. This was the first time I hit a turning point. I realized that whatever I was doing wasn’t working and I needed to figure something else out on my own. I didn’t know what that was at the time and had no idea I would shortly begin my health journey and learn the true power of healing your body naturally.
It took me a long time to figure this out. Over the next 7 months, I began slowly making changes to my diet. I had researched inflammatory foods and gluten was the first to go. I began eating only whole foods and cutting out processed foods. I started to cut out sugar and focus more and more on nutrition labels. However, I was still struggling. What was I doing wrong?
I started lifting weights. This might have been the hardest part of my journey. The injury left me bedridden and inactive for so long that I had lost all muscle and strength I once had. I was basically starting completely over with a frail, broken body. There were also a lot of things I “couldn’t” do because of my injury that frustrated me so much. I was so young, yet I couldn’t get on a treadmill or do a weighted squat. I was seriously doing the most basic stuff while fighting through tremendous pain. I would leave the gym defeated every day. But slowly, my time spent with my trainer and my improved diet started to take effect.
Month 22: I could go hours, even a whole day without pain. I still had tough moments but these were becoming less and less frequent. I started making my mindset a priority. Every morning I would wake up and give myself a little pep talk. I would tell myself that I was finally starting to see improvements and to keep going. I was slowly starting to dig myself out of the dark hole I had fallen in. I was finally gaining the strength I needed to get to the top of that hole and crawl out. I never realized my strength would come from the food I ate, the physical activity I did, and the positive mindset I had adopted. I didn’t realize that those three pieces, when put together in perfect harmony, would allow my amazing body to heal itself. And that’s exactly what happened.
Month 36: I am stronger, fitter, and healthier than I’ve ever been. I eat only “real” food and thrive on fats. It’s been over 2 years since I’ve eaten gluten and my inflammation is much more manageable (and my migraines disappeared). I weight train, cycle, and practice yoga. The injury awoke my mind-body connection. It taught me how strong the mind actually is. It taught me to use food, not only as fuel, but as medicine. It taught me not to take things for granted, like enjoying a walk on the beach or a genuine conversation over tea at a coffee shop. It taught me how strong I truly am. It taught me to never give up. Looking back, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. My struggle had purpose. It led me on this beautiful journey of learning how to be more mindful, healthy, and present. And with this discovery, I’ve been led to inspire others to do the same.
This is just the beginning.