These past weeks I received multiple messages from folks who’ve been wondering why I’m MIA.
In fact, Gabriel wrote, “What’s the REAL reason you went on sabbatical”?
(Yeah, I read all your messages even if I don’t always get back to you).
Well, gather round and settle down, because I have a strange story to tell you and this might take some time.
To set proper context for this strange story, we need to rewind a few years.
Those of you who have been with me for a while might already know this, but I’ve always been a big fitness buff.
Those of you who were in my programs have probably watched me walk on my desk treadmill or do Zoom meetings at my bike desk.
This is in addition to training for endurance runs (lots (and lots) of half marathons and one full one).
In fact, in 2019 I was training for my first ultra marathon. I hired a running coach and was even working with a very highly recommended British nutritionist who specialized in endurance athletes.
I was trying to lose the last 6 lbs that seemed to be stuck stubbornly to my middle and that prevented me from fitting into my favourite pre-second-kid clothes.
But I am nothing if not a workhorse and I fully believed I would get there. I just had to keep chipping away as I had always done.
Because if you put in the work, the results are inevitable, right?
And that’s when I fell into the Upside Down.
Throughout the first 6 months of 2020, I trained 6 days a week and ate extremely clean and took all my prescribed supplements.
And every single month, each time my period approached, I would gain a pound. Some months I gained two pounds.
I told myself it was water weight. There’s no way I could be gaining with my clean lifestyle and workout habits (minimal processed sugar and zero alcohol).
And yet, each month, that new weight became the starting point and by the end of my cycle, sure enough, there was more.
My running progress first stalled and then started to decline. While all the other athletes following the MAF protocol (low intensity steady state – the gold standard for endurance athletes -especially those who wanted to cover ultra distances) would get faster over time, I got slower.
In other words, when I ran for an hour each day, I covered less distance as time went on. I wasn’t getting faster. I was slowing down. And I wasn’t enjoying the running much either.
A heavier body meant my muscles and joints were sore. I tried taking breaks and more rest days, but it felt like any rest I took made it that much harder to get back on the horse.
So I doubled down on the discipline. I must need to really pay attention to my strength workouts and watch form or increase weights lifted.
My body didn’t want to hear it.
Six months in, I fired both my coach and nutritionist. Neither of them could explain what was happening to me – why I was gaining weight so steadily despite my clean eating, workouts and diligent tracking. Neither could explain why I was so freaking exhausted all the time. Why everything ached so much. Why I couldn’t seem to recover no matter how much I slowed down or rested.
I even took 3 months off.
This may not seem like a big deal to most people. But you have to understand – I have worked out regularly since I was a pre-teen. I never needed accountability or motivation because I had enough hours clocked that I knew on an embodied level that any resistance was a thin membrane and I’d feel great once I got into it.
Except now that resistance was a brick wall. And there was no other side. I only ever felt tired, not exhilarated like I’d always felt after exercise.
In October 2020, I hired a kettlebell coach to work with me for 30 mins, four days a week. He is amazing. Highly skilled, extremely technical and very patient. I put in the work (I always do).
My neck and shoulders started to ache. Again, an ache that never seemed to go away or be relieved by stretching or rest or anything else that had previously always worked for me.
I came to my workouts by sheer force of will – I look forward to them the way I had in the past – I feel deep ambivalence at best and proper loathing on bad days. Instead of feeling good at the end of a workout, I felt…
Relieved it was over and happy to lie on the floor and rest.
These weren’t even intense. It was a joke. The workouts that wiped me out were the kind of things I used to do on my rest day for shits and giggles.
I didn’t lose a pound either (in case you were wondering). I did gain some minor definition and I did sometimes enjoy the feeling of swinging a kettlebell (it hurt less than running). But I didn’t seem to have the juice to sustain even a 30 minute workout.
I was 40.
I felt like I was 80.
In Jan 2021, I woke one morning with shoulder pain so bad that I couldn’t use my right arm at all; I couldn’t even straighten it. I had to strap it, bent, to my torso and get help to use the bathroom.
Over the counter medication did nothing for the pain.
Eventually it eased after 4-5 days of NSAIDs and muscle relaxants and then slowly tapered to that now familiar neck and shoulder ache that I’ve lived with since 2020.
I stopped structured workouts.
I tried walking instead.
I mean walking’s gentle right? Even 80 year olds can walk?
My left hip flared up and had me in so much pain even sitting was hard.
Anything that felt even remotely like “pushing” (something that had always gotten me results in the past) now created pain that radiated all the way from crown to heel. As if the muscles and ligaments of my my posterior chain had shrunk and were too tight for my frame.
So I iced and rested and tried again. And again. And again.
I’m not a quitter. Exercise is good for you, right? What the fuck was happening to me?
I saw osteopaths and physiotherapists and muscle testing “alternative” practitioners. A psychic, a shaman. I left no stone unturned.
No one thought there was anything particularly wrong with me.
I felt like I was going crazy.
In case you’re wondering about my stress levels and all that good stuff in the background, it was the usual. 2020 had been an incredibly bountiful year for us – we were an online company after all and the whole world suddenly wanted in on the party.
There were the usual stresses of hiring under pressure, but nothing crazy. Client love poured in. Business felt like the one thing that WAS working in my life.
So yes, being an entrepreneur has its stresses and being the frontwoman of a company comes with pressure, but overall I felt like I was operating in my zone of genius.
But you know what they say, if you don’t have your health, the rest matters less.
These were the years of compulsive googling.
If I could just ask the right question, I reasoned, someone out there will have an answer. A solution. A treatment that actually works and makes sense.
I’d experienced this years earlier when I had a copper IUD that gave me debilitating cystic acne and no one – not doctors or naturopaths – ever connected the excess copper with my condition. Every time I told them it was non-hormonal, they would check the box and move on.
It was through relentless googling that I found a random forum in some corner of the internet that had scads of women telling my story.
I had the IUD removed and took zinc supplements to counter the copper excess. Within 2 months my acne was gone.
Shared stories are powerful medicine.
By now I had invested well over $25K in trying to be fit and vital. Every expert was convinced that their way was the way and that I just had to stick with it long enough to see results. Every expert contradicted the other experts.
I had already experimented with various eating styles including 6 months of strict keto, intermittent fasting, Atkins, the Bean Protocol.
Each restricted something else. Each warned how noncompliance would wreck my microbiome or cause inflammation, etc.
I remember my friend Brad and I chatting about alter egos after reading Todd Herman’s book about them. I didn’t like the idea of the necessary fracturing of self that I perceived as a requirement for an alter ego – I wanted to be all of me in all circumstances.
Brad said, “Imagine you knock your head and have total amnesia. You don’t remember anything about yourself or your life. None of your memories or beliefs, who would you be?”
It was meant to have me thinking deeply about my limiting beliefs and habitual patterns, but you know what my mind immediately jumped to? “What the fuck would I eat? What would happen to me if I didn’t remember all my food rules?”
I realized I was in trouble. At 41 I was too old for another eating disorder. I’d done my time with anorexia and bulimia in college and while I didn’t feel certain about much any more, I was sure I didn’t want to spiral into that dark place again.
I loved my body. Not the way it looked or felt, perhaps, but the changes I was trying to make didn’t come from self loathing. They came from trying to do right by this wicked magic machine I was riding.
This incredible body that had always been so vital and strong and resilient. That had moved countries and adapted to extreme climates. That had birthed and nursed two beautiful babies. That had put up with so many of my whims.
The image that came to mind was of me (the Self) sitting beside my body as if it were a sick child, suffering and in pain. I felt helpless; my usually almost psychic intuition gummed up by the voices of all the experts who I had turned to for translation because I didn’t understand what my body was trying to tell me.
No eating disorder for me, thanks. So I hired an intuitive eating coach. She was fabulous. She helped me surrender (mostly) the conflicting food rules.
While I couldn’t lose any weight (I was by now 20lbs over my pre-pregnancy weight), I at least stopped gaining. And I was able to eat whatever I wanted. Even sweet, buttery almond croissants.
My mind very much wanted to believe that you can eat all things as long as you listened to your body and that food rules weren’t necessary. The problem was I still felt like crap and my body ached and refused to let me move the way I enjoyed.
Eventually, I returned to the Bean Protocol that had me eating loads of soluble fibre (in the form of, you guessed it, beans), cutting out caffeine including decaf and all herbal drinks of any kind, fragrance, cinnamon and saturated fat. And you had to separate your bean meals from “fat snacks” (nuts) so the fibre could bind with excess hormone and toxins.
Things began to unravel for the business at a Christmas party in December 2021.
I’ll tell you about that in my next post.
The REAL reason I went on sabbatical (part 1)
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