ob·sta·cle

1. something that obstructs or hinders progress.

 op·por·tu·ni·ty

1. a situation or condition favorable for attainment of a goal.

My Favorite Year. In 2011, I quit my unfulfilling job in the restaurant industry, packed up my Elantra, and moved to California on a whim. Spent eight weeks in Orange County traveling, exploring, making new friends, living out of my car, running along the ocean every day, riding my bike around Newport Peninsula, soaking up the sun, and getting in the best shape of my life. Got a new job and settled in San Diego and went through the rough patches that come with starting over financially. These were minor compared to the big picture and as I took advantage of a new business opportunity, they dissipated. Overall, it was an incredible, life-changing year. The kind that when you wake up every morning at some point during the day you say “is this really my life?” But 2011 wasn’t my favorite year.

My favorite year was the past 365 days. On Thanksgiving Day of 2011, I ran the Father Joe’s 5k which resulted in my left knee blowing up like a balloon. For the next two weeks, it continued to swell and stiffen. I had spent the past six months working out every day, in incredible shape, happy as ever, and it all changed in an instant. The inflammation spread through my body to my wrist and fingers. I called my roommate one Friday night asking if he had painkillers, and had to have my other roommate open the pill bottle. I was desperate for a solution and began a seven day dose of Prednisone. By the second day off of it, it was worse than ever. I went to a Rheumatologist who drained four large tubes of fluid out of my knee. She said that amount was the second largest amount she has ever drained in her career, second only to a 400 pound man. Immediately she put me on 5 mg of Prednisone daily and started me on Methotrexate.

In case you don’t know, Prednisone works like a charm for the symptoms but has horrible side effects. For kids, some develop what is called “moon face”, they gain weight, they grow hair on their face. It’s sad because we all know that kids are brutal towards each other and it is totally out of their control. For me, I gained a little bit of weight but take the best nutritional supplements on the planet (I’m biased) so that wasn’t the main issue. For me, it was the side effect of hormonal imbalance and cystic acne. I was 26 and my skin was worse than it was as a teenager. Thankfully, my Dermatologist (Pacific Dermatology & Cosmetic Laser Center) is incredible and I paid frequent visits for Kenalog injections which lessened the severity. (And when I finally stopped the steroids, the Vi Peel and my aesthetician, Gillian Lloyd, were a God-send!) All of this was going on plus I was still trying to acclimate to a new city, make new friends, and enjoy the dating scene. Naturally, I decided I wanted to run a half marathon before I turned 27. During my stay in Newport Beach, I made a friend who had done the OC Marathon and to be quite honest, I loved the medal. My sister had never been a runner so she agreed to race with me. The training began.

Still on meds, feeling physically very capable thanks to them, I began to train harder than I ever had before. Physical action, diet, and supplements all worked together to keep me going. While my friends went out drinking on Friday nights, I stayed in so I could wake up early and complete long runs on Saturdays. Come the end of April, one of my best and longest friends, Michelle, who I have known since Kindergarten, committed to joining us. There were times during this period that I wanted to give up, but A) I’ve never been a quitter and B) Malerie (my sister) had been training so hard, and I wanted to do it for her.

After five months, I desperately wanted to stop taking Prednisone. I started taking Orencea via bi-monthly injections which gave me panic attacks trying to shoot this drug into my own body (eventually I switched to Infusions so I get to spend two-three hours a month now at the hospital, which is much easier than shooting myself up.). As it is just like me to not think things through, I quit taking Prednisone a week before the OC Half Marathon. The excitement carried me through the main event. On race day, Michelle, Malerie, and I were both nervous and excited. The weather was perfect, and I finished the race in 2:19 and some odd seconds. I was so proud of both of them and myself, but on the way back to San Diego I couldn’t even handle the excrutiating pain going down the right side of my leg between my hip and knee. Unless I was digging my heel into the floor of the car, it was miserable. I found out a few weeks later that it was my IT Band and had a personal trainer and friend work it out for me.

I wanted a new hobby so in June, I bought a road bike. You can read more about that story here. All I remember from the last five months is riding, working, and sleeping. That is basically all I did. The hot weather this summer made me sick. I was swollen, stiff, weak, and miserable most days. In addition to RA I have a condition called Sjogren’s. Where most people with RA do well in heat and dryness, it exacerbates my symptoms. Here I am in this incredibly beautiful city and the heat is making it hard to enjoy any second during the day. My bike became my escape. I immediately started riding 100 miles a week minimum. I signed up for a two day 150 mi ride. My doctor told me to stop, but she didn’t understand how important it was to me and I rode harder.

The California Coast Classic came and went and immediately thereafter, everything became very real – all of the pain, all of the symptoms, it was like a slap in the face. 90% of my day was spent in pain. Imagine going to the dentist, and he hits a nerve. That’s happening all over my body at all times. It feels like a corkscrew is being screwed into my muscles and bones. Sitting, standing, cycling, laying down, talking, typing. I go to the doctor and tears are streaming down my face and you know what she asks me? “Did you have a bad day at work? Did you just break up with your boyfriend? We need to get rid of your anxiety.” She prescribes me Cymbalta, an antidepressant approved for the treatment of Fibromyalgia and hands me a poorly photocopied brochure discussing the disease and tells me to read it. Are you kidding me? Of course I have anxiety, I’m in pain all day. I don’t need anxiety meds. I need a answers and a solution.

The next two months are foggy and a mess. The Cymbalta made me feel crazy so I stop taking it and was back in pain. Saw a Neurologist who requested both an MRI and EMG…both showed nothing. I got every blood test and urinalysis known to man I think. Still, nothing. Was in the ER twice in one month. The second time because my lips were blue. And at that point people started telling me maybe it was in my head. My lips are blue and people are telling me it’s in my head – and at the time, I had been on another antidepressant used to treat Fibromyalgia called Savella. I was on Vicodin and some other pain killers as well, and my doctor eventually recommended marijuana. I’ve never been a huge fan and I don’t doubt that it works, but I refuse to do it. I read everything I could about Fibro and it is completely overwhelming.

Finally, after two months of literally feeling sick or in pain every day, I just stopped the meds and decided to focus on all of thing things I needed to do in my life to be productive and fulfilled. I decided I could either let this poorly diagnosed disease take over my life and my focus, or I could decide to persist without exception and redirect my focus to the activities that would make a positive impact in my life. This was just two weeks ago. I have felt great ever since. Am I in pain sometimes? Absolutely. Do I get headaches almost every day? Yes. When people ask me how I am, I tell them I am amazing because in the grand scheme of things, I am. My focus has shifted.

Whatever you focus on in your life will become affluent. I went back and read journal entries from January through September, the period of time I spent in difficult physical training. I was in the same pain at that time. The entire time. But my desire to train hard and accomplish something bigger than I thought I ever would was greater than my focus on the pain. I have learned how to prioritize my life and focus on my goals – both short and long term.

Recently my roommate had a great idea to create vision boards. If you have never created a vision board, I highly encourage it. We had some friends over and had magazines spread all over the floor, and we chose pictures, quotes, words, and phrases that we can associate with our goals. You can see my vision board below. It was interesting to see the other girls’ boards. Some had more pictures, some had less. Some were organized compartmentally and some, like mine, are more all over the place. My board is organized the way that I think. I have pictures that focus on health, adventure, fitness, travel, love, and business. It is still a work in progress and there are a few things I will edit, but it incorporates what is important to me. Paint a vision of your goals and look at it daily. Talk about your goals out loud. Whatever you focus on will come to fruition. In addition, spend time with the people who support you, push you, motivate you, and keep positivity in your life. I’ve done a friend cleanse over the past few years. There are just people you need to get out. It’s OK. You only get to live once. Don’t waste your time or energy on people who drag you down and steal your dreams.

What I just described to some may seem like a lot of challenges. That is why 2012 has been my favorite year. My greatest obstacles and most spectacular accomplishments happened this year. Tonight, one day after creating my vision board which includes the word “RUN”, I went on my first run since before I bought my bike. After three miles, I stopped and typed my thoughts into my iPhone. “Lay out your wildest dreams and you will begin to see an explosion in your life. It’s full of energy ignited by a spark. Your passion. Allow it to continue to light a fire under your ass so that every single day you are running towards your goals like your ass is on fire.” Above all, persist without exception.

*Just for the record, I am not a doctor, nutritionist, nurse, or certified ____. Please consult a physician before changing your training, diet, or supplementation. If you have specific questions about my conditions, medications, supplement regimen or workout routine, please feel free to contact me.

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