Meet Marisa, circa 2011...
This is really, really, hard for me to share, and not at all because of my physical appearance during this time, but because of all of the emotions I feel for this 32 year old version of myself. I'm not sure I can put them all into words, but the strongest feelings I have towards this young woman, right now, are gratitude and grace.
There are, literally, maybe a handful of people who remember this version of Me. That went through thick and thin with me, and I appreciate and love you so much.
Let me share a little bit about where I was at in this photo, how it lead me into who I am today, and the passion for integrative and holistic health it created.
This picture was snapped in July of 2011. We were visiting family and took a day trip to Great Gun on my brothers boat. It was a wonderful day. This is probably the literal start of my healing journey. I was 185lbs, which on my 5'5" frame was significantly overweight. I didn't feel that part of it, I didn't have many self image issues (yet), because I felt strong, and I WAS strong, but I had been battling many health issues for many years, that to me were just normal. If you would have asked me, I would have told you, "...yeah, I am healthy". Which is so ironic considering the number of times I had bronchitis, strept, asthma, allergies, ER visits, ultrasounds, CT scans, bloodwork, reproductive issues, emotional issues, anxiety, chronic pain, migraines... this list could literally go on and on. I think you get the picture. It was my norm though, and a trudged through it thinking it was all ok, but I knew deep down that it wasn't.
What had me taking a "look in the mirror" after this day? I wanted more days like this, where I felt like me, I felt at peace. Then I started wondering about how the hell I got so farm away from who I authentically was, and I wasn't even sure if I remembered that person. Vibrant, independent, solid, focused... how the hell did I end up here?
Broken marriage, overweight, depressed, chronic mystery illnesses and pain, the list goes on...
I made a decision to get my weight under control and used a knock off weight watchers app. Losing the weight was easy, and quick, the rest of this journey was neither...
By the end of Sept 2011, I had lost 25+lbs. I felt good about the weight loss, but nothing else changed. I was still on an emotional rollercoaster, my marriage was still a mess, I had toxic relationships, including with myself, I still had chronic pain and mystery ailments, my blood work wasn't quite right, mildly elevated inflammatory factors but nothing tipped the scales to "concerning."
I was tired of being tired, I was frustrated with how I felt, I was frustrated that my life was still a mess, I was frustrated that I still didn't know who the hell I was, and how I had lost myself in the first place, I was frustrated my body and soul didn't feel like my own, I was frustrated with my "normal" and finally beginning to acknowledge that there was not anything "normal" about it. Even with this, guess what I focused on? Losing those last 10-15 lbs, so in December I signed up for the Gym and in January I signed up for Personal Training. I was focusing on the things that were "easy" to control and just occasionally glancing at all of the internal conflict.
I want to remind myself and anyone reading this, that when I started this journey I was a full time horse professional for over 10 years. I was physical, I was active, I was strong, I've been an athlete my whole life, my first personal training appointment was an incredible humbling moment to me. I looked in the mirror and didn't like myself for so many reasons. I didn't like feeling weak, I didn't like the person I was inside and out. Finally a fire started to ignite under my literal and figurative ass. I worked hard in the gym, which was challenging not just to my physical strength, but to my mental as well. That lead to me starting to feel better about myself, having a little more energy, wanting to take back control of my life. I lost another 10 lbs over a few months. You would think that this would be the point in my life that I started at least physically healing, but about 3 months into the fitness portion of my journey I had an skin flare that led to one of the worst full on flares I have ever experienced. It was the breaking point for my health. I broke out from shoulder to toe in an awful rash, seemingly an allergic reaction that was also photosensitive while in Aruba...
Came home, was prescribed steroids, a week later, off the steroids. A month later I was so inflamed, retaining water, puffy, in pain, had numbness in my feet, tingling in my hands, memory losses, vision losses, bouts of not being able to speak, bouts of intense pain. The steroid was a catalyst for a rebound of inflammation in my body and it was major.
I remember during this time being curled up on my kitchen floor in a ball of pain praying to pass out. It was this exact moment I understood suicide. I remember thinking to myself I can understand someone wanting to end this. My husband at the time was really concerned and asked if I wanted him to take me to the hospital. I declined. My history with the hospital was always intense fear going in, and unexplained issues upon leaving. I rode this out on the floor and when it passed I was exhausted. I scheduled an appointment with my GP, who I love and to this day I am so grateful for. We talked, autoimmune, neurology, and ended with referrals to rheumatology and neurology.
Now the funny part of this is that I don't take meds, I can't explain to you why, other then I have always intrinsically not wanted to put things that don't be long in my body into my body. I am also a label and packet reader. I read everything, and I often think the risk reward is not in my favor lol. My doctor knows this about me and I'm grateful that its also not in his nature to prescribe off of the bat. So me walking into rheumatology is kind of like a joke. My doc knew this and did his best to refer appropriately.
I had no idea that hitting my breaking point and having one of my best friends say, "Rease, these things are NOT normal, you HAVE to get checked" would lead me on a crazy transformative year and a half.
I didn't even want to consider all of the awful drugs, when no one knew what was wrong with me... so on an angry neurologist referral to The Blum Center for Health in NY. I bought a book. That book changed my life. You see, I could not afford the Blum Center, it was out of pocket at the time, and our insurance wouldn't reimburse. Today, Integrative Medicine is growing in leaps and bounds, back then it was barely known, let alone available. The book I bought was the Immune System Recovery Plan, by Susan Blum MD. I can not tell you the number of times I have lent and recommended this book. Besides guiding me with tools to heal myself, this book validated all of the things that I was feeling. It validate all of the things that made me feel like I was crazy. When I started finally taking control of my life, my whole life... I began to heal.
It started with the weight of feeling crazy being removed. Me feeling validated by someone else's experience, and then having hope and faith that I can change it all. I began to follow an elimination diet. It was HARD! I couldn't believe all of the toxic things I'd been unknowingly putting into my body for pretty much my whole life. I cried the first time I went into Wegmans to purchase food that didn't have a long list of ingredients. I hadn't realized how much processed food I was living on. I walked out of the grocery store 1.5hrs later with dried tears and a bunch of bananas.
I felt sorry for myself for half of a second, and then got firery about it. I COULD do this. I Love to cook, I just needed to get back to creating in the kitchen and experimenting. I went back to Wegmans, and this time I walked out with a full cart of food that came almost completely from the "outside" of the store, plus a few tasty boxed goods that had no dairy and grains.
Three months into this elimination I felt the best I ever remember feeling....EVER. I still had some weird things going on, but my doctor acknowledged it would take time for those things to heal and subside. I love him for supporting the road I chose, he cheered me along the whole way, and still does. I learned that I had pretty serious reactivities to some foods, and that stress is one of my biggest triggers. Living inauthentically up to this point had put me in about the worst stress management situation I could have. I needed to do some serious soul searching about how to change this.
Along the way, I also learned that it REALLY does matter what the animals eat that I am eating because grain fed anything gave me the same reactivities as the grains, especially in chicken and eggs. So I got my own chickens!! (for the eggs, I could never eat them, they have names lol). I started sticking to mostly wild caught seafood and a little bit of very mindfully sourced pasture raised meats. I learned how to minimize stress, and actually acknowledging when I had some, I eliminated harmful things I put onto my body and into it, I eliminated unhealthy relationships and habits, I reconnected with nature and myself.
In 6 months I had no allergies, anxiety was gone, mood was probably the most balanced it had been in my entire life, energy levels were great, sleep was great, I felt amazing inside and out. About 1 year to 1.5 years later all the weird things were gone, my blood work was perfect, my body looked and felt great, and so did my soul.
I was carrying around so much weight from childhood trauma, adult trauma, awful life choices and decisions, toxic relationships, pregnancy loss, intimacy loss, disconnection with myself, disconnection with nature, disconnection with people, unhealthy boundaries... So much baggage. Then I started to just let go of that shit. I forgave myself, forgave others, thanked the universe for the experience because it led me here, to a place where I am finally authentic to myself, and I feel good from the inside out.
I didn't just make a choice to "get healthy." I made a choice to take back control of my life. All of it. It was hard, I cried, I lost some people, I removed others, I had moments I felt alone, but I could not be more grateful for everything this experience has brought me and taught me. With out it I would have never known how to advocate for my daughter when she was at a health cross roads and prescribed awful high risk meds, I wouldn't have been prepared to be in a healthy relationship or how to fight to keep it, grow it and heal it. It wouldn't have lead me to an incredibly rewarding career helping people find balance and healing in their own lives.
I wouldn't have met myself again and fallen back in love with her.
My journey has had it's ups and downs before this chapter and after, but this part of it has given me so many tools to live my best life.
Maybe you are on a similar journey, maybe you have felt like you just can't do those hard things. I promise you that YOU CAN. Keep going.
Much love, peace, and healing,