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Two years ago, I would never have called myself gutsy. I had absolutely no interest in going skydiving, I left the room if Jaws came on, and eating a hot pepper was the furthest thing from my to-do list. No, I wasn’t gutsy; I was a rule follower to a T. I skipped a grand total of one class in college and, much to the dismay of my friends, it took me until the second semester of my senior year to do so. I ate well, exercised daily, took my vitamins, and was known to drive to the store at 10 PM if I realized I was out of floss.
Granted, I have always loved a fantastic gallop down an open field on a speedy horse, but that has never felt gutsy, it just felt natural. There are always exceptions, I suppose.
I was a happy, healthy, newly-wed fourth-grade teacher when my life turned absolutely upside down. A random virus passed along from my students wreaked havoc on my immune system and paralyzed my gastrointestinal system, along with parts of my vascular and musculoskeletal systems. Seemingly overnight I became a young woman on medical disability, being fed by a tube and watching multiple parts of my body struggle to survive, over and over again.
No amount of flossing could have prepared me for this.
In the span of two years, I was diagnosed with Gastroparesis, POTS, Grave’s disease, Cancer, Dysphasia, Raynaud’s disease, IBS, Visceral Hypersensitivity and Vocal Chord Paralysis. I have collected new allergies like baseball cards, eliminating more and more foods and medical options from my diet and lifestyle. I have undergone anesthesia thirteen times in one year alone and often spend more time with my doctors than my friends and family. My limitations prevent me from doing what I love best – teaching, horseback riding, running, singing, enjoying restaurants with friends, and living the life that my husband and I had imagined.
When your life is turned upside down, it can be a very dark and cold place. I could have made the choice to nestle right in on that terrifying roller coaster of a chronic health battle. I could have focused on the long, lonely nights in the hospital or the ever-increasing road map of scars all over my body. I could have let one virus erase who I am and what I stand for, but I said no. I realized that with every obstacle in life, you have a choice. You choose who you are and you choose how you will unwrap what is given to you. I made the choice to embrace my life. I chose gratitude over devastation.
I recently went back to school at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a holistic health counselor. I will be certified to work with many wonderful people, but I plan to focus on people who have had life-changing diagnoses, surgeries and/or allergies. I’ve been there. I get it… and I’m ok. I am better than ok -> I am thriving.
I still have the piece of paper from the day I was diagnosed with Gastroparesis that told me to eat only chicken broth, Ensure, Carnation Instant Breakfast, and mashed potatoes. Yep, that’s it. I managed to pull myself out of that deep level of malnutrition and failing health, but it was the hardest thing I have ever done. Now I have the opportunity to pay it forward and devote my life to making that transition to health and happiness easier for someone else. I get to say, “Hey, your life isn’t over. Let me help.” That is a true gift.
My medical obstacles are not a thing of the past, and my doctors and I may never truly understand exactly what happened with that virus in 2010, but that’s ok.
Douglas Adams said, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.”
I am alive. I am grateful. I am doing well. And, as it turns out, I am gutsy.
Love your guts,