On June 1 I launched a new keynote, What’s Your Joe Joe®? I’m a professional speaker whose topics are on productivity and health with titles of Email Extinguisher, Conquer the Calendar, Task Mastery, and Energy Escalators. Easy-peasy for me, but not this one. This new keynote was personal and about triggering three autoimmune diseases in my thirties living a high-stress, high-intensity lifestyle. And did I mention I put myself in menopause at 36?
Yep, sure did. And most people would have thought I was the healthiest person in the room. I was competing in long-distance triathlon, ultra-running, ultra-mountain biking, and adventure racing. I traveled up to 45 weeks a year. I was climbing that corporate ladder like a boss.
I was Superwoman.
Until I wasn’t.
I spent 3-4 years trying to get diagnosed appropriately. I didn’t look like a sick person, so I wasn’t really looked at seriously. I also had a facade to manage. That facade was so strong, not even my closest friends knew I was suffering. I didn’t even tell my husband everything because deep down, I knew my lifestyle wasn’t healthy, but I was getting satisfaction from it in other ways.
I was burned out and bored at work and those long hours of training made tasks doable. Traveling so much gave me a lot of private time to sit with mild bouts of depression.
When I get a promotion, then I’ll slow down. When I get a raise, I’ll hire someone to help me with personal tasks. When I do an Ironman, I’ll feel like it’s enough. When I do an off-road Ironman, I’ll feel like it’s enough. When I move to a smaller house, I’ll spend more time with my husband because I’ll have less to manage.
I lived by someday, but it never came. I hit the goal and immediately made another one that was harder to reach.
Writing this 7-minute keynote took four months and I’m still tweaking and refining. I felt scared for people to see the real me. To know that I had felt like a fraud and wasn’t who they thought I was (or who I thought they thought I was). I believed I was emotionally over all these diagnoses and was living my new routine. Instead, I was just playing the role of a different type of Superwoman and realized that I was still grieving the old me.
What I gave up.
I had to give up a lot to get better. I had to completely change my diet, which made me feel high-maintenance and a pain-in-the-ass to my friends and family. I retired from racing and lost an entire group of friends. These things felt impossible at the time, but I found support in unexpected places, made new friends, found new activities, and created firm boundaries for myself.
Have you ever given up alcohol and stopped getting invitations? Have you turned down a promotion or job because of family obligations and felt resentful or like you missed your one chance? Have you missed out on parties or social events because you have anxiety?
We all have something that we’ve been told to give up to get better, but it’s seemed so challenging or alienating, we don’t do it, or we only do it halfway. We’re afraid we’ll lose our facade, our friends, or jobs once we make the change.
Superman and Superwoman are fictional characters. You can climb the ladder or build a business without sacrificing your health. You can be a woman or man who’s super, without being a superhero.
And those Joe-Joe's?
My husband Kevin is a drum teacher and casually told a student the story of the Joe-Joe's and why I stopped eating them. This woman, who I have NEVER met, figured out how to make gluten-free Joe Joe's, made them, packaged them and called them Ro-Ro's. Cue Ugly Cry big time. I have only had two people Alicia Marker (hoop cookies) and Lisa Veronica Wood (birthday donuts) go to such trouble to continue a tradition for me, but this woman does not even know me. What a beautiful, special soul she has. The only gifts I bought this year were for my 25 in 25@ challenge because this is what the holidays are about for me. Nothing I will receive will be as special as this.
What do you need to give up to get better? What’s Your Joe Joe®?
The symptoms started with a few pounds on the scale in just a couple of weeks. A few pounds on a 5’2 100lbs ish person is noticeable, and I could feel it. My sleep was horrible, and I was having nightmares. Then, my heart rate started rising. And rising. At rest, my average heart rate is 52. After meditating for 10 minutes, it would be in the 80s. Sometimes while working, it would jump to 130, just standing there at my desk. There wasn’t any explanation for it. I would get super tired and have to go to bed. The last straw was when my overactive bladder issues came back (yes folks, even young healthy women have this) and I was going to the bathroom 12-18 times a day. I knew it had to be a stress-related nerve/brain issue because I'd been tested several years ago. I emailed my doctor and told her something was up. I am very aware of my body, track my macronutrients, heart rate variability, and had even posted this article Worn Out Weary and Tired because I was getting paranoid that my Hashimoto’s Disease was acting up, or worse, I was getting another autoimmune disease. I had labs drawn, and they were stellar. I cut my fluids to 30 ounces, and it didn’t change anything. Nothing I was doing seemed to be helping. It took an unexpected crying session for me to make the connection.
Low Information Diet
I expose myself to very little news intentionally. Just three minutes of negative press in the morning affects happiness levels 6-8 hours later. I listen to the New York Times The Daily podcast every morning and NPR in the car during my short trips around town. I hardly read any news on social media and feel like I stay up to date enough on my low-information diet. But the Kavanaugh hearings were inescapable. Every morning while I was running or making my breakfast, The Daily would have a 20-minute recap. The morning I heard her speak about the thing she remembered the most, the maniacal laughter, stopped me in my tracks on the greenway. I felt claustrophobic and couldn’t breathe. I felt her pain because that’s what I remembered too. I remember the laughter of the two boys holding me down in 5th grade and the smile on the face of the male teacher who watched the entire thing. I remember the incessant taunts of the boys in junior high and high school, commenting about my (then) 36 DD breasts. I remembered the teenage boy on the DC metro in 2003, during rush hour, groping me while I was yelling at him to stop and no one came to help me. Most of all, I remember his laughter. It was the most chilling and haunting sound I’ve ever heard. A couple of days later I was explaining to my husband how terrible I felt that people were making fun of her and discounting her testimony because I also could remember the laughter and I started crying. This was totally unexpected. I thought I was over the incident. I thought I was no longer bothered by it and had overcome it.
Fast forward to hearing it get even worse, not that the President mocked her (because I’ve come to expect that from him), but that the crowd laughed along with him. And when that crowd laughed at her, they laughed at me. I started feeling panicked. I stopped running on the greenway for over a week because I became anxious and scared. They were the ones who didn’t help me on the metro. They were the ones turning their backs, except now they were laughing while doing it. I remember the exact moment when I had the aha that these symptoms were indeed real, but that I wasn’t sick, at least not in the conventional sense. I was listening to an interview with a woman who had gone to that rally and thought what he said was funny. She felt like Dr. Blasey-Ford, and all the other #MeToo women should get over it. Her commentary was so ignorant, in the true sense of the word, I was dumbfounded. I could not control my emotions the previous two weeks. I was having symptoms to the point I thought I was sick. I was not seeking attention, nor was I out giving a rallying cry. Even after knowing this, I unexpectedly started crying in a coffee shop talking about the hearings with a friend.
Once I realized the connection, I was able to start feeling better. The news moved on to climate change, Saudi Arabia, and voting rights. I took a weekend trip to Asheville. Then I saw this video by Delta Rae and after doing the ugly cry, decided it would only make me feel better to write because unfortunately, this is not uncommon. This isn’t new and some of us can’t just ‘get over it’. This post is not a political statement. It’s a real-life story of how stress symptoms are real. So real that I thought I was sick. So real that I went to the doctor and convinced myself I was falling apart. So real that I know that taking care of myself means writing this blog post.
Don’t discount your feelings and the reaction it can have on your body. Don’t disregard your history and because there have been days, months or years since an incident that it doesn’t matter. And don’t be afraid to say #MeToo.
Updated on 24/June 2020. At the age of 39, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Disease, early-onset menopause (from the age of 36), nervous system fatigue, autoimmune Raynaud's Disease, pernicious anemia, osteopenia, and gluten-intolerance.
What a way to start my first year in business! I had next-to-nothing insurance, turned 40, and had what I thought would be more time to race and train.
You can read about my diagnosis here and here, so I won't go into it in detail. My posts on Hashimoto's Disease have been my most shared posts. After my article about it being a gift, I received emails and calls from numerous people who said: “that's me.”
I honestly see it as a gift. I wouldn't trade it for a yard with real grass, meeting Oprah or Jubala almond lattes' for a lifetime.
I went through 40+ hours of training through every course I could find. I read more than ten books and already held health coaching certifications. I wanted to share what I learned with my clients and help them to prevent relapses or manage their illness effectively.
My Top Three ways I control my Hashimoto's Disease are:
I take Naturethroid, which works well for me. It's important not to take any thyroid medications near doses of magnesium (this means your multivitamin too) and calcium and take it in the morning on an empty stomach. I had four doctors before this was explained to me and I've had two clients not know either was important.
I take my heart rate variability using the Oura ring. This measures the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system activity and predicts when my body is stressed before I realize it.
I prioritize sleep over everything. Even if it's 8:30, if I'm tired, I'll go to bed. There is no shame in my sleep game.
One of my rock star clients, Melissa Kennedy, co-founder of Everleigh Body, got her gift while we were working together. After battling fatigue and general malaise for months, she was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Disease. What are her Top Three to control her health?
As an intrapreneur turned entrepreneur my passion, ambition, and drive are my biggest assets, but they are also my biggest barriers to a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. Add in the complications of an autoimmune thyroid disease requiring more rest and an eating lifestyle change, and you get a life of extremes…a pendulum swing of blowout productivity vs. physical and emotional burnout. Then rolls in Marcey…
Marcey's Three Big Wins to Balance my Extreme Lifestyle:
Creating an absolute “No” list of canned responses ready when approached to do something that wasn't serving my interest. I didn't have to think about it. The decision and emotional guilt were taken away.
Developing a work transition routine to help me stop working and start living every day. These 15-minute activities to transition from work to life were a real game changer. I started shutting down at 6pm to cook a healthy dinner, walk my dog, or garden on lovely spring days. Later I realized I didn't miss anything by shutting down at a reasonable time and gained so much in return.
Asking where my fun was? One time, Marcey asked me what was good and fun today? I paused and listed a litany of work accomplishments. She replied, “That's awesome, now what have you done for fun?” I didn't have an answer. I immediately realized I had lost my fun. Marcey put me back on track.
You may think I'm pushing it with thinking that Hashimoto's can be a gift, but if nothing else, it is a learning experience about extreme lifestyles. It's also a way to look inward and reset. What can we learn from this to help make our lives better and my outcome healthier?
No health issues? Lucky you! Do you know a friend or colleague that might benefit from this article? Please share it with them. They may need motivation and help to see things differently.
AI saw two conventional endocrinologists who prescribed medication but didn't really care about lifestyle changes. I knew I had to find a functional medicine provider that could also prescribe me medicine and help deal with my other issues. I wanted to be looked at as a whole person, not just as separate organs. Dr. Loan Huynh was incredible and got me on the right path with a complete reset diet.
In early June, I went to the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine to find the best of both worlds. A conventional doctor with extra training in Integrative Medicine, who actually believed that a gluten-free, soy-free diet matters. She understood that lifestyle changes are crucial and that I could help myself beyond just taking a pill for the rest of my life.
A pill. Every. Single. Day. Ugh.
She performed a more updated cortisol test than the conventional endocrinologist because she understood that my adrenal glands played a massive part in Hashimoto's health and progression. She knew that menopause at 36 (I'm now 39) wasn't as simple as taking Estrogen Replacement Therapy. It would deplete the body of selenium (significant for thyroid patients) and cause me to need more thyroid medication.
Menopause at 36 was something I brought up to a conventional endo, and they dismissed it without any further question. However, they said I should go on an estrogen-only patch. Later, when I found an integrative OB/GYN, I learned that this was absolutely not the way to go and it needed to be a combination. So confusing.
She also said the first thing I needed to address was my gut. Eighty percent of the immune system is in your gut. Leaky Gut, or Intestinal Permeability, is basically where the intestinal barrier becomes permeable and large protein molecules escape into the bloodstream. When this happens, the body has an immune response and attacks them and can play a significant role in autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto's and Type 1 diabetes. Tell someone you have Leaky Gut, and you'll get some crack jokes or blank stares.
I bought The Thyroid Sessions and The Thyroid Summit and spent over 40 hours watching and listening to webinars. I read two books on the adrenal glands and four more on the thyroid.
I paid for a consult with an exercise physiologist, Ben Greenfield, who coached professional athletes and was an expert on the Thyroid Sessions. I can't look at myself objectively and needed to know if my serious attitude to racing had to now be casual if I could even do it at all.
Ben put me in the Marcey-equivalent to hell. Because I had nervous system fatigue, I had to quit exercising for four weeks except for light yoga 3 times a week and easy walking 20 minutes or so a day. Anyone that knows me understands that I would rather be greeted every morning with thumbscrews than have to do light workouts. Then I was on a specific ramp-up program that started out with McGuff training. Four weeks later, I added short high-intensity interval training (HIIT), then more extended HIIT training. In October, I ran and biked again at an aerobic pace and participated in the Uwharrie Trail Race in February.
I basically lost my summer. We had to change our vacation plans to celebrate my 40th birthday, which was supposed to be hiking and mountain biking in Moab to going to San Francisco instead. I could hike and exercise, but not at the level I would want to for Moab.
In the meantime, I took my heart rate variability with the Sweetbeat app and a Vital Connect every morning and again throughout the day. I exercised more with a shattered clavicle, then I could while my body was healing.
The way I train myself now is very different than the way I trained before. If you were a client more than three months ago, I would train you in a very different way. I've learned enough to change my mind and what is now coming out as ‘new,' i.e., heart rate variability, has decades of research already behind it.
I'm now on a gluten-free diet…forever. If there is one thing that drives me UP THE WALL, it's that the only autoimmune disease that ever gets noted for gluten is Celiac. It's even hard to find a conventional dietician that understands the gluten-Hashimoto's or Hashimoto's-Celiac connection. I cringe every time I read a bit in a magazine that gluten only affects Celiac sufferers. There is so much research on the indigestibility of gluten. More and more research is coming out on gluten and other autoimmune diseases. Yet, the news prefers to just pick up the sound bites that sound the most interesting at that second. As I said, Hashimoto's sounds badass, but it's not, so evidently not newsworthy.
I felt like a pain in the ass for my friends. Still, thankfully 99% of them have been completely cool with it and have gone out of their way to accommodate me (without my asking) without making it a big deal at the same time. I even had a friend who had invited me for dinner tell me to eat before I came. It hurt my feelings and made me feel like an even bigger nuisance than I already did. Thankfully, that only happened once. I prefer not to call attention to it unless I have to. With no complaint, my husband has gone gluten-free in the house to help me and didn't even argue that we had to cancel a weekend away and our Moab vacation. He was AWESOME.
I went from eating mostly vegetarian, except for the occasional fish, to eating meat because being a gluten-free, soy-free vegetarian that can only eat small amounts of beans or lentils is almost impossible. My nutrition choices were part of my identity, and I went through a period where I was actually embarrassed to say I ate meat. Now, I have to worry about hormone and antibiotic-free, grass-fed or conventional, so my restaurant choices are still pretty limited. Thankfully, I think I cook as well as most restaurants, so it's really when I'm out, traveling, or a guest that it is difficult.
If anyone can deal with this..
When I was first diagnosed, I had a lot of people tell me, “if anyone can deal with this, you can.” I know they were saying it with kindness, but it took away the pain I was in. It made me feel like I was so strong, I didn't need anyone's support. I heard “it's a widespread autoimmune disease” several times like that's supposed to lessen the severity. Diabetes is common, but it doesn't mean you don't take it seriously.
I could get on a soapbox about this topic, but I'll spare you the details. Also, “I'm hypothyroid too” when the person didn't understand the difference. Hypothyroid is a condition. Hashimoto's is a disease. Autoimmunity is different. They both suck but in different ways. Hashimoto's is a polyendocrine autoimmune pattern, which means it's not uncommon to later get Celiac, pernicious anemia, or late-onset Type 1 Diabetes.
When I was diagnosed, I thought my race career would be over. I thought my business career would be over. Who wants to hire a coach to help them with their health who has a disease? Then I mentioned it a couple of times in my posts because it is what it is and I can only fight it like I do everything else. Researching, consulting and changing my lifestyle.
I took on a client with Hashimoto's, Addison's, and was in early menopause. I realized during our consult that I could help her. I spent 40+ hours and many doctor appointments learning what I needed to learn not just to help myself but also to help other people with Hashimoto's.
Not everyone understands how it feels day to day, how it affects your brain space, and how scary it is to know that now you are at risk for other things. I've enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and in June 2015 became a board-certified Integrative Nutritionist. This will completed my trifecta of certifications – Fitness, Nutrition, and Productivity.
Sorry this post was so long. I needed to say it. It's cheaper than therapy 🙂
If you have Hashimoto's Autoimmune Disease or another health condition you want to improve with private coaching, complete an application today, and see if we are a good fit for each other. I'd love to help you on your journey to improved health.
HERE'S THE NEXT STEP.
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