My R.A. Story - How I Got Diagnosed + What The Hell I Did About It
Life was mediocre. Actually, in my brain-foggy, distraction-driven mind, I thought I was doing alright. You know when you are so used to going through the motions, or feeling “ok” that you talk yourself into thinking your life is actually good? Welp, that was me.
I was a recent college grad, just back from a 2 month trip to Europe and working as a Youth Counselor for an amazing nonprofit. On the outside, it looked like things were pretty damn good - on the inside? Well, let's just say it was pretty messy. I was in a constant battle - mostly with my body, secondly, with my food, thirdly, with my relationship with myself.
My Body: I never felt quite comfortable in it. I was constantly trying to shift and change it, to make it different, better, enough. There wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t worry about how much I weighed or obsess over what others thought of my body and whether or not it was acceptable. I had a gym membership that I rarely used and when I did go is was solely out of guilt for something I ate the day before. I had acne, anxiety, mood swings and every digestive upset you can think of.
My Food: Pasta. Bread. Rice. Candy. Diet Coke. Vodka soda. Any food item that came out of a box. This was my diet for most of my life. It consisted of zero fat (which for a long time as some of you may remember, low fat and fat-free food was considered ‘health food’), very little nutrient value and always left me hungry for more. I was empty on the inside - literally and figuratively.
Myself: Pleasing. Perfecting. Performing. 3 words that define how I showed up in my life for so many years. I pushed, pushed, pushed myself to succeed at everything I did. I had BIG ambitions, and even bigger dreams - dreams that would one day prove to everyone that I was worthy and enough. Pfffft, boy was I wrong about that. I hustled for all the wrong reasons. My hustle never came from a place of love; it came from a place of desperation and seeking external approval. I applied to med school, master’s programs, applied for bigger, better jobs, all with the hope to one day feel worthy enough of an existence here on Planet Earth.
Not only was I unhealthy on so many levels in my life, I was incredibly unhappy. My stress and anxiety was at an all-time high, I was partying way too hard and ultimately giving way too many fucks about what other people thought about me. I was terrified of being rejected, criticised and judged, so I put everyone’s needs first, rarely spoke up for myself and clung to the belief that if I could just be perfect, I could avoid all of those things. And for a long time, I had those things nailed.
I also didn’t know it at the time, but through punishing and performing and trying to perfect and control my diet, I was creating an ass-load of inflammation in my body.
All this shittiness came to a head in the spring of 2011 when I woke up one morning with joint pain so bad that I couldn’t even steer the steering wheel in my car. I felt like, over night, my body had betrayed me. I went from a ‘healthy’ young women who could eagerly move and twist and jump and hug and steer the steering wheel in her car, to being...well, broken. Wrong. Ill.
Test after test, the results finally came back: I was showing signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis. My liver enzymes were through the roof, the rheumatoid factor in my blood was elevated, my body was basically a fire of inflammation, and I was in a lot of pain. The next thing I know the doctor is handing me a prescription for Methotrexate, and also a list of side effects longer than my arm. (Side note: I am not saying that medications or modern medicine is at all bad. As a matter of fact, you can read about my view on medication as a holistic health coach right here).
My doctor looked at me and said, “Ashley. I am going to give you this prescription, but something tells me that there is something else going on here - I am not sure what it is. My daughter once had a similar inflammatory reaction. My gut is telling me that you need to try something different. Good luck.” And he walked out the door.
And just like that, I was on my own. At 23 I didn’t know what the hell to do. So, after about a week of mourning, feeling sorry for myself, sulking and throwing a pity party, I picked myself up and started doing some research on alternative healing techniques. I quickly started seeing these words everywhere I looked: “holistic health.” Something about those words made sense to me and they gave me hope. I just knew that this was the avenue I needed to take.
I decided that I would start making small changes to my diet - and quickly discovered that my diet was fucking terrible. Of course, it’s easy to know that now, but during that time, low-fat and fat-free foods were what our society and so many health experts considered healthy foods.
And rather than listening to my own body wisdom, I listened to them. *face palm*
Slowly over time (and I am talking over the course of about 3 years) I started making small yet sustainable changes to my diet. I didn’t do anything drastic like cut out every delicious food that ever existed. I had done that before and knew that wasn’t going to work. Plus I LOVE my carbs. Shameless confession: I am totally anti-Atkins - I cannot live without my carbs! But here's the thing, after looking outside of myself for so many years for the answers, what worked for me was experimenting, being curious and not subscribing to what strangers believed what was best for me. I started to listen and pay attention to what felt good in my body, rather than letting someone else determine that for me by going on some fucked-up diet.
Slowly but surely I started to feel so much better physically, mentally and emotionally - my skin started to clear up, my anxiety started to decrease, my digestive symptoms started to subside, I had natural energy (not the artificial kind), and I woke up most days not dreading what was to come, but feeling happy. It’s crazy how bad you can feel for so long, not knowing how good you can actually feel.
Finally, once I started to understand nutrition and what felt good for me in my body, I moved onto the next area of my life that needed the most love and attention: my movement and exercise.
I was done punishing myself through exercise. I was done feeling guilty on the days I didn’t work out, and done using exercise as a way to feel good about myself.
Being the somewhat scatterbrained, hyperactive person that I was, I thought “hmmm yoga would be a good thing to try? Maybe it will calm my ass down?” And that ounce of curiosity sparked my love and passion for the practice of yoga. I never knew how disconnected I was from my True Self and my body I was until I started studying and practicing yoga consistently. That ounce of curiosity and the guts to try a class got me to sign up for Yoga Teacher Training - one of the best decisions I ever made, and changed the trajectory of my life.
From there I moved into relationships. Oye. I remember the day I realized I needed to end my romantic relationship in order to get to where I wanted to go. It was absolutely heartbreaking, but if we want to live our best lives, it means exploring all areas of our lives, not just the easy ones.
Slowly over time, I started choosing wisely who I spent my time with, I ended up breaking up with the shitty boyfriend, I started setting healthier boundaries, putting my relationship with myself first and focusing on self love rather than external love and approval.
From there, career, home environment, creativity and spirituality….
And over the course of about 5 years I had completely transformed my life - this time from the inside-out, not from the outside-in.
And I think that’s what so many of us try to do, right? Tirelessly try to shift and change everything outside of ourselves, most of which is out of our control and gets us nowhere.
Sustainable, healthy change starts on the inside. It starts with an inkling of self love, a curiosity, and a desire to step fully into your personal power and your body’s innate wisdom to heal.