This blog post is from the #mindflip series that is designed to share real life stories of hardship and pain and how people came out on top. I believe that we find strength is telling our stories and also help one another feel like we are not alone is our struggle.
A HUGE thank you to Letty Cooper for sharing her amazing story. Without further ado…
What if the worst thing to ever happen to you turned out to be the best thing to ever happen FOR you?
My relationship with trust in my life and trust in my body has gone up and down in my life. Growing up, I was a genuinely happy child, a warm blend of free spirited and fiercely determined. I was always smiling, singing, dreaming, envisioning.
I excelled in school, so I transferred to a challenging all-girls school in 8th grade. By this time, I’d been hearing that I’d be doing big things with my life, something with a title behind my name. School became my main focus and I began to place my self-worth in my grades. I also began to value logic over emotions or spirituality, so I denied when my body felt emotions I didn’t deem “logical.” I lost and criticized my former spirituality.
The first messages
With the pressures of academia high, I developed debilitating headaches. Headaches were not part of the logical plan, so I tried to power through and ignore them. I didn’t yet realize that the messages your body sends you are insights that something needs to change, or that you’re not in alignment with your body or spirit. Because the doctors I saw had an impressive title behind their names, I went along with their conventional belief that symptoms should be suppressed through medication, and didn’t look any further into it.
My relationship with headaches, chronic fatigue, and sleep drew me towards pursuing Psychology and Neuroscience at Elon University, and I felt that an advanced degree in Neuroscience would fulfill the “impressive” title I was bound to have. While I loved school, coming back to a small town after taking a semester abroad junior year was extremely stressful. I decided that I would finish the three semesters of classes I had left in just two. On summer break, I would take the GRE. I wasn’t sure what advanced program I wanted to pursue yet, but I knew I didn’t want to disappoint anyone by not being prepared for it.
In February 2014 I increased my coursework and began studying for the GRE. That same month though, I developed a pain in my lower back. It came on slowly for the first three months, and then became a serious concern. That pain was the start of a debilitating pain that traveled through my body for the next 6 years. Conventional doctors across the east coast could only call my pain “mystery pain” or “fibromyalgia.”
I still somehow managed to graduate early and get a job managing a neuroscience lab at The University of North Carolina. While I was on track to getting an advanced degree and fulfilling my “personal destiny,” I was in debilitating pain, disconnected from myself, and constantly trying to find escape from the body I inhabited. The pain was devastating, many months I could barely walk. I went from doctors to physical therapists, specialists to chiropractors, through diagnostic scans and epidural treatments. I also stopped playing the harp.
Eventually, sitting was so painful that I quit my job, moved to Raleigh and got a PT job as a hostess where I was on my feet. I felt grad school slipping away and judged myself for slipping back off of the traditional PhD candidate route. To cope, I juggled social events with pain-numbing behavior and hot yoga to ground myself.
Then the month came. Within the same month, I met a PRI-trained physical therapist, a naturopath, and a life coach who would quickly become my guiding angels. For some reason, these three understood. Just as I was determined in school, I became a fervent student of my own body. This time, my drive wasn’t to please other people. This time, I was working for me alone; towards a loving relationship between my body and spirit I never knew possible.
I learned that all of the symptoms I had earlier in my life were messages – they were my body, working together with my spirit, to tell me things. I learned that suppressing those messages through medication and pain-reducing behaviors was pushing me further away from my truth. If I had learned to interpret the messages earlier, I probably could’ve avoided years of pain, diet changes, and medical bills. But that’s not the way that life works. And truthfully, I am so unbelievably grateful for all of it. It is the best thing that ever happened to me, because it’s gotten me here today.
I now know that my personal destiny isn’t about the title behind my name to please anyone else. It’s about the fall from my spirit and the journey back. It’s about a return to self-love, a deep respect for the body, and the opportunity to share the freedom I’ve found with others looking for help.
Thank you Letty for your inspiration! If you or someone you know is looking to speak to someone about chronic conditions, self-love, or mindfulness practices, reach out to @consciouslyletty or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, to be sure you get to read more stories like this one, sign-up for my newsletter Resilience on Draft.No Fields Found.
With good intentions,