Begin Again

One of those comeback stories.

My journey from elite fitness to harrowing sickness and the road back to health. An attempt to simultaneously recount what has been and share what is as I cross the country, heading for the new life that awaits me on the west coast. Because I don’t do anything unless it’s halfway ambitious. 

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Labels and Price Tags


Entrepreneur, coach, trainer, instructor, nerd, nomad, CrossFitter, artist, dancer, scientist, international aid worker, seeker, Ivy League graduate, fitness model, farmer, fringe-lifer, body builder … These labels and many more would all apply to me. When I see this list I see a lot of curiosity, a lot of drive and a boatload of mistakes. Yet I’m soothed by the fact that it's been done with heart; my heart's pursuit to express itself, connect with world and to help. I tend to want to see sensibility in the labels too. Sadly my recent ambitions outweighed my common sense. For this I paid dearly. 

The price? The sum is still being tallied, but as of now: kidney damage, liver toxicity, autoimmune disease, hypothyroid, depressed pituitary, aldosterone dysregulation, adrenal crisis, mononucleosis, GI bacterial and fungal infections, chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, a growing list of food allergies and about 20 lbs of weight gain. “Cha — Ching.” In all honesty that is the short list. I hesitate to reveal every diagnosis because I’m still a little too proud to keep going. I’m also deeply angry with myself as I am with all the well-intended professionals involved in monitoring my “progress” as it were. Not only had I wiped out physically, but my ability to conduct and grow my new business took a nosedive as did my finances and my relationships. My assets dwindled and so did my options. Life became very unsteady for me while my illness morphed from an acute crisis to a chronic, multifaceted onslaught of symptoms that did not abate.

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You’ve heard the motivational saying:

 

 

“Your mind will give up long before your body ever will.”?

 

 

In this case, my body gave up well in advance of my mind.

 

Suffice to say the quote I once found to be so true and relentlessly inspiring has now been bitterly shelved as mere platitude. But it’s my nature, my hearts desire to help and inspire. In this I find purpose, so I’ll introduce you to my story.

Photo taken at June 2017 at Warhouse Gym in PA while coaching and prepping for my first show, Oly meet, CrossFit Regionals and Qi Gong cert. I was crazy but I remember I felt strong and in control the day this picture was taken.

 

Post shooting and shows. In a little over 24 hours I gained 14 lbs of water. Several hours later I’d gain three more. That’s 136 lbs one day and 153 lbs. the next.  Some have said “I didn’t think that was possible!” I’m here to tell you that it is.

Comparison photos. Top 12 hours apart. Bottom about 30 hours apart. The water bloat was so much that I icily referred to the new addition to my abdomen as my “marsupial pouch”. It could have held a baby wombat.

Comparison photos. Top 12 hours apart. Bottom about 30 hours apart. The water bloat was so much that I icily referred to the new addition to my abdomen as my “marsupial pouch”. It could have held a baby wombat.

Spring is not the most gentle of seasons. It’s as though it’s been waiting for too much to happen. Too much suppressed, packed down beneath the earth or penned above in the sky. Green shoots grow sharp and gray steel skies are unforgiving. This spring portends to be particularly harsh. The regrowth that is representative in spring has been stifled by uncommonly tenacious weather unleashing a deluge of vicious sleet, snow and pervasive cold. I know we’ve all felt it.

Correspondingly, my whole being has been simultaneously gritting its teeth against the endless winter and heaving with the anticipation of change. My health has been slow to return to me, but I feel it tightly coiled within. Held back for a very long time. But like this year's spring which took its sweet time, there’s relief on the horizon. It may be that when I transition into my own springtime, my body will grow back supple and strong like the famous bamboo. Able to flex under great weight and snap back with incredible power. I suspect, today at least, that I’ll become even more powerful and resilient than ever before.

I suspect, today at least, that I’ll become stronger and more resiliant than ever before.
Photo taken April 2018 while recovering from a bout with chronic flu infections, mono., and hypothyroid   in Ithaca, NY. Also home of my alma mater, Cornell.

Photo taken April 2018 while recovering from a bout with chronic flu infections, mono., and hypothyroid in Ithaca, NY. Also home of my alma mater, Cornell.

It has taken me nearly 9 months to truly believe that. I’ve been through 247 days of a slow and twisted hell. The kind of experience that causes one to absolutely plummet into an astounding level of disorientation. The threat posed to my identity and longevity is still staggering to me. In my stunned silence I waited and listened to the symptoms. Sometimes I’d listen as a victim in that dull stupor of sickness, sometimes as a student in a gush of earnestness, most times as an actor portraying the boss having everything in hand. All I heard for a long time though was my own patient and peculiar sound, the same sound of a cut flower waiting to die. I was swallowed whole by grief for the opportunities lost and the precious time passed.

Every time I walked past a mirror or examined my skin a silent scream would fill my mind and pierced every cell of my body. The animal inside raged as I watched my form continue to bloat beyond belief and my skin literally yellow before my eyes. I kept thinking, “All my work. All the sacrifice. All of my discipline. None of it mattered.” It’s as though my work was being stolen from me slowly. As though my results were being reeled in by some invisible thing that was delighting in my torment. But not only was I tormented, I was terrified. No amount of self discipline or diligence made a difference. I was obsessed with doing everything right. Despite my teachers assurances I was scared I had done something terribly wrong in my internal practice. I followed all the rules that my coach laid down. And I was convinced that if I messed up anything: my supplements, my macronutrients, my electrolytes; or if I didn’t get to the gym twice a day ... if I deviated in any way the consequences would be so dire I would never salvage my life.


Road Trip

 

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Nothing like an abrupt change in narrative.

So I’m about to embark on the great American right of passage; I’ll be hitting the road, crossing the country. But as I make my way from sea to shining sea I’ll also be crossing the threshold from one lifestyle into another. In these articles I’m going to slowly, mindfully recount my journey from fitness to sickness to recovery as I create the change I need to realize my optimal life. And I invite you to bear witness as I work and play, as I earn the privilege to thrive. I invite to experience the transformation from your own vantage point as I make the greatest lifestyle change of my career, one that actually aligns with my spirit this time.

In the posts to follow I’ll reveal how I became so ill, when it all began and why. I'll share my story of overcoming illnesses incurred as I attempted physical “perfection” and “success” as an entrepreneur. This exercise in writing and sharing my experience with you is as much for me as it is for anyone out there. I hope readers that have experience in or knowledge of the issues I bring up won't be shy about sharing. Believe me. If you’ve been through something similar I want to hear from you! And if I can be a bright spot for someone struggling in the wake of striving for perfection, then something positive will have come from all of this suffering.

As an athlete I’ll be revealing how this all came to pass. I’ll share my training, nutrition and lifestyle. I’ll also share with you my steps in piecing together the recovery puzzle; the tests, protocols, medications and supplements that proved useful and what was trash. I'll also be discussing the coaching support I've received and the branches of medicine I’ve consulted both through my training periods and during my healing process. If you choose to you can read about my life on the road and on the trail, chapter and verse. I’ll be outside exploring the US and its natural wonders. I’ll be training and playing in dojos, studios, maybe a few gyms or even on roadsides if need be! (I’ll share my fitness program for anyone who wants to know.) Exciting camping and outdoor training stories will abound.

As a coach and fitness nerd I’ll be discussing issues in health, wellness and fitness. You’ll find helpful resources and peer reviewed articles to help shed light on health news, fitness modalities, nutrition and more. If you’d like to receive notice of articles being uploaded you can subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me at kimberly@movingartsacademy.com.

Kimberly McNeil