How I realized that healing my physical injuries was only a part of the puzzle.
You may not know it and I am health coach – a really freaking brilliant health coach in fact. I was trained by a Medical Doctor in how to prevent and reverse diseases through a whole foods, plant-based (vegan minus processed foods) diet. I have worked with clients who had major organ failure that limited them to being able to do nothing more than spend all day in bed, clients who had autoimmune diseases that prevented them from working, exercising and enjoying their favorite leisure-time activities and clients who had disease that the Centers for Disease Control said could not be reversed and worked with each and every one of these clients as well as many other clients to help them reverse their disease or health issue and fully get back to the activities that they love.
I don’t mention that I am a health coach because I have mostly worked with clients on a referral basis and have been working another job throughout all of my years as a health coach. In my other jobs, I have strived so hard to be successful and strived so hard to make something of myself because it’s what I thought you needed to do and what I have been told to do.
You hear all of the success stories – people who worked harder than anyone before them, were more committed, had greater leadership skills and never stopped in the pursuit of accomplishing their goals. This pretty much sums up the American dream. Work hard and you will succeed, be completely open, pliable and adjustable, become whoever you need to become to succeed, be highly efficient, do whatever it takes, find a way, don’t say no to a customer or client – these are the messages of many of the most successful people in the world preach as the keys to their success and I have tried them all and while I have had some big successes in my career and while I have some impressive accomplishments to show for it I also destroyed myself in the process.
3 years ago I was working in a dream job and had worked so hard to get there. I pushed myself every single day at the job prior to getting my dream job and I had a lot of success. Yet my non-stop pushing in my prior job also lead to me going into work everyday for well over a year with a torn labrum in my right shoulder. I kept on going in and kept on pushing myself because I wanted to be a good employee and wanted to prove how committed I was and show the world that nothing would stop me from accomplishing what I want.
I have been operating like this since I was in high school. I grew up in New York City (The Bronx to be accurate, which by the way the Bronx is in New York City). New York City has some very specialized high schools that offer a fantastic education and being bright and having good grades lends your parents to push you to take the specialized high schools test because if you get into one of these specialized schools you’ll get a great education, it will look really good on your college applications and your chances of succeeding in life are supposedly higher. So I took the specialized school exam and didn’t make either of the top 2 specialized schools and the one that I made was really far from home and it made no sense to go there.
So I was pushed to take the Catholic High School test because this way I could also get into a great school and be setup for success. I ended up getting into the second best Catholic High School in NYC and off I went…to Catholic School. It was weird, I wasn’t Catholic, I had never been to a religious school let alone church or any place of religious worship for that matter and I didn’t fit in right off the bat.
One area where I thought I could fit in though was in sports and when I didn’t make the soccer team my freshmen year of high school I felt completely lost. I didn’t know what to do to fit in so I decided to run track even though I knew that I wasn’t particularly fast and for most of my freshmen and sophomore years on the track team that was the case. Something changed during my outdoor track season during my sophomore year and I improved a decent amount, although I still was not that good. What may have changed was that I was sick of being a loser, sick of not being good enough, sick of being a failure.
In my pursuit to stop being a loser, I decided to run a few days a week during the summer leading up to the upcoming Cross Country season. I luckily lived close to our home Cross Country course and was running the toughest part of our Cross Country race repeatedly multiple times a week and my times came down quickly on this part of the course. Before official Cross Country practice even started I knew that I had a chance to be good in the upcoming season. We came back to early season practice and I was immediately running with the Varsity and finishing minutes ahead of people who had beaten me by minutes just a year ago. It was invigorating, I finally felt good about myself for the first time in High School and people started to pay attention to me. I had a really good Cross Country season and I decided that I would never feel like a failure again and this decision parlayed itself right in my career.
When I got my first job, I worked so hard and bragged so hard to prove how great I was to prove to myself and others that I was not the failure that I had been earlier in my life. I had a lot of success and I pushed myself to the brink to make it happen. My body started to break down though from the incessant pushing and at the age of 26 I developed adrenal fatigue. Thankfully with the support of an amazing health coach I was able to eliminate my adrenal fatigue and went right back to pushing myself.
After the adrenal fatigue I learned how to deal with the side effects that came with pushing myself so hard, which sounds great, but trust me when I say it is not. So I kept on forging ahead and 2 years later I set out to prove to people that I was a great employee and that I would stick a with something no matter what as I had not always stuck with my jobs prior to this. After I decided that I was going to stick with my job no matter what I knew that nothing was going to stop me, but instead of succeeding off of the bat, I actually struggled mightily. I felt like a failure and decided to kick it into high gear because I could not be failure, so I worked harder and harder. I became whomever I needed to be to succeed. I was open and pliable and adjustable and always said yes and practiced everything that the successful people of the world said that you needed to practice to succeed and i turned it around quickly.
My incessant pushing seemed like it worked (it really did not) and I kept on pushing. Then I tore the labrum in my right shoulder. I was in pain almost everyday at work and yet I couldn’t stop pushing myself as I had to show to people that I wouldn’t quit no matter what happened. I took two days off after the injury and jumped back in as if nothing ever happened and I figured out how to deal with the pain and how to calm it down in a matter of hours and everything was fine.
Then the day came – I was at work and my right forearm turned completely purple, the slightest touch to my forearm caused excruciating pain, my hand was numb and I knew something was wrong. So I stopped doing what I was doing, walked over to my Manager, showed her my forearm and said “I need to leave now”. She saw my arm and said “yes, go”.
At first I went to a medical clinic, hoping that they could diagnose the issue and get it to calm down so I could go back to work the next day. The person at the clinic told me to go to the Hospital and I walked right into the Beth-Israel Medical Center, filled out some paperwork and sat waiting. I expected to be waiting for a while because I heard that you normally wait a while to be seen when you go to a Hospital. Yet I was seen in less than 90 minutes and knew that something serious was happening.
Numerous tests were run, i saw a number of nurses and doctors and I was told that I might have a blood clot in my arm. I was so scared and felt so alone. Thankfully the final Doctor that I saw said that I did not have a blood clot and we were able to get my symptoms down. He told me to go see an Orthopedic Doctor soon. I saw an Orthopedic Doctor about10 days later and was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome where a nerve underneath my shoulder was entrapped by my collarbone (which I had broken less than a year prior to tearing my labrum) and was causing blood flow to be restricted to my right arm. This is also a permanent injury, unless I had a very scary surgery which only had a 70% success rate and the 30% of patients for whom the surgery failed were actually worse off after the failed surgery. I was 29 years old at the time and was sent to physical therapy to see if we could ward off surgery and thankfully physical therapy worked and I have never had another symptom of this injury since wrapping up physical therapy.
Yet I didn’t learn the lesson. In fact, not only did I not learn the lesson to stop pushing myself, I actually pushed myself further when I got my dream job. I was the U.S. Account Manager for a startup company where myself and 2 co-workers were literally launching the U.S. operation. The job was challenging and I had clients all over the U.S., I traveled a lot and dealt with a lot of stress. The stress sometimes caused me to wake up in the middle of the night terrified about client issues and yet I still pushed through it. I kind of felt unstoppable in the role and was pushing myself in all areas of my life. In fact I was working 6 days a week in that job and eventually took on an outside consulting client on my day off. I was making money, making a difference and living a good life. Then during a business trip to Miami, I took a very high-level yoga class that I had wanted to take for over a year. I pushed myself, par the usual, and during the class I fell from an upside down yoga posture and fractured a rib.
I came back from the business trip and despite knowing that I fractured a rib, I did not take a single day off as I told myself that I was too valuable to the company that I was working for and had too many clients that needed me. Some days I would wake up and my ribs were in so much pain that they literally felt like they were on fire and could barely get out of bed and I would always be able to calm the pain down and head right to work. After four months of pushing through, something gave and when I say gave, I mean trouble.
I was at a restaurant client in Manhattan when it happened and was in their kitchen doing my job. I reached forward to grab my notebook and after grabbing my notebook I felt the worst pain that I had ever felt in my life in my back. It felt like my spine had collapsed and I screamed loudly in their kitchen. Everyone working in the kitchen stopped what they were doing and rushed over to me and everyone asked if I was ok. All I could say was “I don’t know and could you get me a chair and a bag of ice”.
After icing my back I knew that I needed to go home and take care of myself and I called my boss and the other person whom i worked side by side with and told them that I hurt my back and needed to go home. I had never done this before and I had to.
Two weeks later I saw my Sports Medicine Doctor. The diagnosis was spondylolisthesis – a vertebrae in my back was pushed forward. Permanent injury number 2. I was devastated. The Physician’s Assistant came in I wrapped up the appointment with my Sports Medicine Doctor and said that I would either never be able to bend forward with regularity again or I would never be able to bend backward with regularity again. I was crushed and resigned myself to a life where I would go to work, go home, rest and take care of my back and maybe see friends once in a while and nothing more.
I left my dream job and took a much simpler job with regular hours, a regular schedule and little to no overtime as I finally got the lesson after my back injury – stop pushing yourself so freaking hard.
Life sucked for a while, sitting on a chair for more than 2 hours hurts and I did no physical activity for close to two years. Thankfully I met a fantastic woman who pushed me to go to Physical Therapy and I kept on getting stronger and stronger everyday. It took three years to get to this point and my back is now at 95%, I am able to do all of the activities that I love, I actually have no issues with bending backwards or forwards at all which is an absolute miracle. I have not pushed myself as hard at work and I am in much better shape physically.
But, I had not stopped pushing myself mentally and I had not dealt with the feelings of not being good enough for quite some time and I realized that while physical healing (which I help my clients with as a health coach) is great, it is easy to slip back into old patterns if you are not working through the mental aspect that lead you to push yourself so physically hard in the first place. I am still on the journey of mental healing and am glad that I am beginning this journey. I want to support other people on this journey and my goal is to make sure that no one else does to themselves what I have done to myself and I know that there are a lot of people who are pushing themselves to the brink of injury, illness and health issues on a daily basis and want to help people through this as their health coach.