I’m one of those “half-full” people that believes everything happens for us versus to us. As an example, my friend Darya at Summer Tomato wrote this great post about transformative gifts:
A transformative gift is any circumstance or event that feels negative in the present moment, but ultimately reveals itself as a gift that benefits your life tremendously.
These gifts help us become a better human being. Often, we don’t recognize these gifts at first because they can come in the form of tragedy, loss, or disappointment. When we begin to see the why of something, the a-Ha happens. This scene in Evan Almighty, one of my favorites, best expresses what’s happening.
My biggest transformative gift came in August 2001 in the form of a nervous breakdown in the HR lady’s office at my fancy Silicon Valley job.
I’m not kidding when I say that I lost my shit and had an epic meltdown at work.
I was put on medication and forced to go on medical leave for three months.
Back then, I self-identified being the strong, perfect, super woman who would never dare show signs of weakness or vulnerability. I was competing in male-dominated Silicon Valley so I was the gladiator.
I pushed myself to unrelenting expectations…just so I could get ahead.
Sound familiar? Can you relate?
With a mentality like that, you don’t willingly go take care of yourself because that would appear weak. You have to be taken out at the knees so you’re “forced” to go. So, that’s what my body did. She took me down! She got drastic for my own good.
I was given many signs and opportunities to change, but did not.
I was arrogant and ignorant.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I was able to see my transformative gift, that this breakdown was really a breakthrough. This gift of going on medical leave not only helped me learn about healing, and surrender, but it helped me find my life purpose.
Before medical leave, often, I would stare out the airplane window on my latest work road trip and look at the clouds and the earth below and get existential. I would ask God why I was here.
I believed I could get a better answer because I was in the sky closer to God.
I wanted to know what was the point of my existence. On the surface, I had a life many people were envious of, but deep down, I hated the person I had become.
I love reading the HONY (Humans of New York) stories so here’s the backstory HONY-style on what happened during medical leave that helped changed my life for good.
When did life as you know it change?
It was a week after 9/11. I was on medical leave from my high-paying Silicon Valley job. I came home from a doctor’s appointment and collapsed on the couch drugged out from new meds.
I dropped my bag on the floor and everything fell out. My eyes focused on the letters W,T,F on my pill organizer.
I didn’t see Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. I saw What The Fuck.
Looking up, hypnotized by the spinning ceiling fan in my drug-induced state, I thought, “What if I died suddenly like all those people in 9/11?”
Clarity struck. I decided, fuck this. My legacy will not be a depressed, pill popping, corporate servant.
I want to feel alive.
First step. No more pills!
I was determined to get off the meds. I hated the side effects. I didn’t feel better. I felt worse. I went to see a naturopathic doctor for the first time in my life to see if alternative medicine could get me off the pills. This was a big deal because I grew up believing that Western medicine was the only way to heal.
It’s the first time I saw empathy in a doctor’s eyes. My ND figured out the true source of what was making me sick, and she got me off all the pills.
That’s when I learned the difference between creating health and disease management. That’s when I learned that food could be a source of disease as well as a source of healing. That’s when I was grateful that I trusted what my body told me.
I am well. I have been pill-free since 2002. I want to be pill-free when I’m 75.
That clarity was righteous indignation. I just absolutely refused to accept that pill popping was my future. That way of life was unacceptable. I didn’t care what those doctors in my fancy hospital told me.
When I was a kid, I dreamed about becoming a pilot or an architect. It never occurred to me that one of my life goals would be being pill-free. Why would it?
Look at what our culture has become today. We’re Generation Rx where pill organizers are becoming as common as having a water bottle.
Here’s a simple question. How many people do you know who are pill-free? How many people over the age of 60 do you know who are pill-free?
Let me start with my physical health issues, and then I’ll share the emotional/mental health issues.
I had Adrenal fatigue, Irritable bowel, Leaky gut, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. I suffered from hives and big patches of eczema that would appear on my body and never go away. I always felt tired even though I’d sleep 8-10 hours.
Turns out the source of my physical health issues was food allergies, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and metal toxicity. The pills my Western doctors were prescribing me were actually useless at healing me.
I started to see the light. We don’t have a healthcare system. We have a disease management system.
Although, I had a bad experience with meds, I am not anti-pills. Many meds help people and save lives. Pills are not the problem. It’s the business model behind them. What disturbs me is the profit made off keeping humans in a perpetual state of unwellness.
There is no profit in wellness in a disease management system.
The Naturopathic doctor was the first doctor to ever test me for food allergies, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and metal toxicity. I had some of the best medical insurance and was going to one of the best hospitals in the Bay Area, and not one of my doctors tested me for any of these things. It turns out I was allergic to over a dozen foods. Dairy and eggs were the worst.
Egg-white only omelettes and organic cottage cheese, foods my trainer and nutritionist told me would do my body good, turned out to do my body bad.
I was highly deficient in tryptophan which is a key building block of serotonin which monitors our moods. Getting my tryptophan level back up to speed so my body could produce the proper levels of serotonin was key in helping me get off the SSRI I was taking for depression.
I was toxic in mercury, lead and tungsten. The high levels of mercury were because of all the farm-raised seafood I was eating like salmon, tuna and tilapia. Through doing elimination diets, I also discovered that my body reacted negatively to artificial and highly processed ingredients like food dyes, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and food thickeners.
Like many, I bought into the low-calorie, low-fat story. I focused on calories of food versus the quality of the food.
The industrialization of our food system has turned food into a significant source of disease where it should be a source of vitality. I want to live in a world where no one suffers from disease or sickness like I did because of the food they eat. Getting sick from food was insight into my life purpose work.
It’s time to end Generation Rx and create generations of Wellenials.
Now, onto what was happening on the emotional/mental level.
Here I am on a yacht I rented for my birthday party, four months before I went on medical leave.
I had the glamorous life I worked so hard to get. I had a high-profile marketing job at a successful tech startup that went IPO and made all of us rich. I lived in a swank apartment. Bought my Mercedes with cash. I traveled all over the world, ate at the finest restaurants and partied at the coolest clubs. I could shop and buy what I wanted and never look at the sale rack.
I had it all.
That’s what I told myself. Inside was a whole other story.
Here’s the beautiful smile masking the pain.
Oh, and there was A LOT of pain.
I suffered from things that have shame and stigma attached to them. Coupled with the physical issues, this is why I ended up on medical leave:
Panic and anxiety attacks. I worked in an environment that was highly toxic and combative. I was constantly living in fear and anxiety about when I’d get attacked or thrown under the bus. Working in a predominantly male industry, I also had to deal constantly with men making sexual advances and inappropriate behavior.
Eating disorder – bulimia
A boyfriend sexually assaulted me several years prior to me going on medical leave. I told no one and tried to rationalize it in my head that it never happened, and buried myself in my career thinking I could work it away, but yeah, no dice.
PTSD from the sexual assault
Alcohol abuse – I was self-medicating to numb my pain and it got to the point of me blanking out and not remembering what I had done or said that night.
Agoraphobia – Had a mild form of this for about 3 years after medical leave. I would go out but only to my regular places where I felt safe like my gym, the grocery store, gas station, Target or to the homes of friends and family.
So yeah, long story short, I was effed up. Not even going to sugarcoat it. Straight up, it was like VH1 Behind The Music BAD.
Along with my naturopathic doctor, to help with my emotional and mental health issues, I also saw a great therapist, and tried a whole bunch of alternative healing treatments like reiki, breathe work, past life therapy, chakra therapy, hand analysis which taught me plenty about why I was depressed in my career, crystal energy work, and a whole bunch of other things.
I kind of went on a metaphysical safari trying out all these new agey treatments mainly because I was just so fascinated with it all. Much of it was kinda hocus pocus, but there were a few that wow healed me faster than anything I experienced in any western hospital. I’ll save all that for another post.
I started blogging in 2005 and shared my experiences because I wanted to help bring some light to health issues that have shame and stigma attached because there is no need to hide, to deny, or to feel embarrassed or ashamed.
The more we talk about this stuff, the better it gets.
I want you to know that if you are early on or in the middle of your healing process, that you can and will come out the other end better. You can thrive.
For me, the work of healing looked daunting and overwhelming in the beginning, so believe me if you feel like it’s too much, I totally get it.
There will be some really shitty, ugly cry, painful-ass days where you will feel like you got the beat down of your life from Apollo Creed like Rocky in the ring, not going to lie. But, you can get through this and come out victorious.
I love the final fight scene in Rocky because it perfectly embodies metaphorically my experience, and was an inspiration while I was in the healing process. Medical leave was the fight of my life for my health and future. It was time for me to reach into that warrior spirit of mine, get back on my feet and not give up.
Kris Carr refers to cancer as teacher. I relate to that. Since I am a Sci-Fi lover, I refer to my health issues as Jedi mentor, the Yoda to my Luke Skywalker.
When I returned to work from medical leave, I resigned after 5 days. I chose my health, my life. Many thought I was crazy for giving up security; a paycheck, pre-IPO stock options, and medical benefits especially since 9/11 happened.
I reasoned, I can always make money. I cannot get time or my health back.
So, I quit. I was done pretending to be happy.
Leaving my job made all the sense in the world. And 9/11 was a slap of reality for me that life was too short. I wasn’t going to waste any more of my precious life for a job that literally made me sick and was killing my soul.
What I didn’t know at the time, my resignation was the end of my corporate career. I was beginning my life as an entrepreneur, and a changemaker.
I have been pill-free since 2002. I dropped 40 lbs and have kept that weight off since 2008. I no longer diet. I just eat. I learned what my body needs to be well.
Going on medical leave, my transformative gift, I came to see that you are not given the life you want, but are given the life you need. Things don’t happen to you. They happen for you.
I am grateful for the blessing of my gift.
For more details, I wrote a book about my medical leave experience called, “Death of a Road Warrior,” available on Kindle for $2.99 or free if you’re a Prime member.