How Chronic Illness Saved Me

What burning out taught me about how to live my life

I sat on the hard bleachers in the gymnasium next to my mother. A medal from a twirling competition felt heavy in my hands. I must have been eight or nine years old and I was crying. Second place wasn’t good enough.

I was an over-achiever in high school. My photo appeared in the community newspaper on a regular basis. I created my identity from being at the top in academics and extra-curricular activities: National Honor Society. Varsity volleyball. All-Eastern Orchestra. National finalist in speech competitions. Music was a competitive art form as I won state and national honors and scholarships from my talent.

Fast forward to a personal crisis in my mid-twenties that led me to yoga, which healed my body, mind and soul. I wanted so much to give this sense of healing and wholeness to others.

Photo taken by my daughter at age 11

So in spite of my Harvard education and Masters degree that demanded a more mainstream direction, I got certified as a yoga teacher and looked for jobs in every gym, women’s fitness center and alternative healing venue I could find in the Boston area where I was living.

Despite my yoga students’ delight in my teaching, and my long list of accomplishments, I still felt that same emptiness inside — I’m not enough.

Almost overnight, I chose to commit to a religious lifestyle. (Maybe then I’d prove that I was worthy and good enough?) I felt an intuitive calling to go to Israel. I also heard an intuitive calling to marry the man who I am proud to say is now my husband. And as a mom I continued my legacy as an over-achiever, in anxious-stress-rushed mode most of the time.

No matter how much I did, it was never enough.

My house was never as clean or organized as I wanted it to be. The walls weren’t a nice enough color. There was always so much to take care of. My family was in the States with no one to help out. (And even if they were here to help, I may not have accepted it anyway!)

The yoga went out the window.

I found a mentor who taught me healing techniques. Ironically, using these techniques was like a band-aid to help me pull it all together while I ran my life on an empty tank.

At the time, I had three energetic children, ages four though eight. My husband often worked from morning until night, so most of the childcare was up to me. And even if he were available, I usually took charge. (After all, he wasn’t a good enough parent either, right?)

So I gave all I had to my family while putting my self-care on the back burner. Especially when it came to eating and getting enough sleep.

My subconscious mantra: You’re not enough, you’re not worthy… you’re not enough, you’re not worthy…

Little did I know that these unconscious thoughts were leading to the behaviors that were burning me out.

In the summer of 2009 I got excited about cleansing and became fanatical about raw food because I felt that even my intestines were not good enough. Only I didn’t have the energy to prepare food for myself, so I practically lived on fruit, vegetable sticks and rice cakes (which aren’t even raw food).

At the time I was performing in a two-woman show which took up a lot of energy with performances and rehearsals.

Meanwhile, I dutifully walked my kids to and from school and kindergarten each day even though we had a car — so I could teach them to be independent.

I pointed out the beauty of nature along the way to help develop their spirituality. I did art projects with them in the afternoon, made homemade whole-wheat pizza and baked cookies together.

I’d call up a friend for my four-year-old to play with, only to hear that the mother was resting. Resting? Who rests? How dare she! And, exhausted, I would entertain the kids or keep busy doing something important around the house.

At bath time I would play word games to help them develop their language skills. I think I was trying to create for them the perfect life because mine wasn’t enough.

At night I would read them a bedtime story (or two or three) with my eyes half-closed. Sometimes I would ping-pong between bedrooms to their calls of “Mom! Mom!” until I thought I would just drop.

At every moment possible I focused on giving to their bodies, minds and souls. Neglecting myself. And it was never enough!

I wish I could say that I was mostly calm and cheery as well.

But the reality is, I was often irritable and would lose my patience and get frustrated and angry. Or I’d cry, because I was so burned out and malnourished.

Mother of three, I noted that I was at my weight from my senior year in high school. A friend said that I was going to get sick. That made me angry. How dare she tell me what could happen to me?

And you know that “mom” thing, where you finally get the kids into bed, and you’re exhausted out of your mind and you just want to have some time for yourself?

So even though I was really tired, instead of going to bed I would just stay up on the computer. I’d force myself to stay up, not being productive, because I just didn’t have the head space or energy to do anything else.

And I kept thinking: I need to get away for a few days where someone will take care of me.

Well, I got what I wished for. I did get away for a few days. Because I landed in the hospital with a rare neurological condition, with inflammation of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. And boy, did they take care of me!

A doctor helped me navigate the MRI of my brain. He pointed out these unidentifiable bright objects, UBOs. It reminded me of UFOs. I nodded as I followed the explanation about the UBOs.

Then I finally made the connection — the picture of that brain was actually what was going on inside my own head. Those UFOs are flying around inside my head! That was me!

I literally had damage to my brain in the form of inflammation and was going blind. The Harvard grad, yoga teacher, alternative healing enthusiast, the I-can-do-everything-but-still-not-enough-mom.

I did this to myself.

I was scared.

I didn’t know what would be.

But there in the hospital, my intuitive voice spoke to me again. It was the same voice that told me to go to Israel and to get married. I recognized it as the voice of the Divine.

Now the voice was telling me: You are already enough.

I was overcome by a strange, comforting feeling. I knew I’d be OK. And that I was in for a long haul.

I realized that I would have to change my life. Do a complete turnaround. Recreate my relationship with myself. Change my thinking.

I made the decision to get off of the monstrous hamster wheel I had created and learn how to live my life from a different place. As Einstein said: “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.”

So I made a personal commitment to become a happier and healthier mom — not just for the sake of my family, but for myself.

You could say that getting seriously ill saved my life.

It made me recommit to taking care of my body, mind, heart and soul.

So I immersed myself into a powerful inward healing journey. I placed myself in the care of several healing professionals: homeopath, naturopath, healing coach, reflexologist, and cranio-sacral practitioner.

I deepened my personal inner guidance system and intuitive abilities to help others. Along the way, I reached out for more connection with God and created an exquisitely profound relationship there. This helped me deepen all of my personal relationships.

I no longer performed in the two-woman show as a singer. But women came to me for singing lessons, and I now had a deeper way to help them find their voice.

I taught them how to find their inner voice while developing their outer one. This spiritual work helped them find their soulmates and improve their marriage. One delighted client even conceived a child after trying for two years!

One day, I announced my complete faith, with every cell of my being, that God could heal my last remnants of fatigue and weakness. That night I experienced a miracle healing — my remaining symptoms disappeared!

This miracle healing inspired me to heed another intuitive call — the birth of our fourth child. Was this another case of “not enough”? I don’t think it was. But it did bring on a relapse in my health condition, which forces me to focus on maintaining habits for better self-care.

In any case, the outcome of that part of my life’s journey had highlights of abundance, serenity and joy. We sold our house for a nice profit, moved to a beautiful town across the country, where we could grow as a family. We could finally own a house without a mortgage.

I launched my coaching/healing business that helps women find more time and energy to take better care of themselves and enjoy life more. My husband has realized his dream of becoming a professional writer. We enrolled our “emotionally rich” children at schools where they can express themselves and their creativity.

I am now able to see my family role as “lighting the way” by shining my spirit — instead of always trying to micromanage the moment.

Now with a greater sense of self-acceptance, I can navigate the natural cycles of life’s ups and downs with greater self-awareness and love for myself.

Photo taken by my daughter at age 11

When thoughts of “not enough” and “not worthy” emerge, I can acknowledge them as guideposts and gateways to higher levels of well-being for myself and my family.

And every day I practice walking the path of personal growth, transformation and healing, surrounded by like-minded professionals who support me and whom I can cheer on as well.

Just like anyone, I have my highs and lows.

But burning out taught me how to have a much deeper connection with the Divine that guides me along the way toward personal growth, connection with others, and overall wellness.

This spiritual connection helps me get back into alignment whenever I need to reconnect with what’s truly important.

So I understand the emotional challenges and physical discomfort of chronic illness, while at the same time continually emerging on the other side with profound life lessons.

Having said that, I want to encourage you, wherever you are in your life, to listen inward for cues of what you need for yourself.

How can you take better care of yourself? What do you want to welcome into your life? What do you need to eliminate?

Whatever emerges from those questions, keep turning inward toward your deep spiritual connection so you can navigate your ongoing journey toward wellness.

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