I went from National-Class Athlete to Bedridden: I’m trying to Climb back Out
In August 2017, and I was flying high. Really high. Too caught up in how fantastic my training felt to realize I wasn’t recovering enough. This tendency to respond to positive training sensation by training a lot more was once referred to by American x-c skiing rock-star Kikkan Randall as, “The Temptation.” It leads nowhere good.
My experience with Over-Training Syndrome (OTS) is documented on the blog. I began resting in the fall of 2018: a period I originally hoped would be three weeks. Three weeks would turn into three months, would turn into three years…and counting.
In 2020, my ongoing inability to train coupled with new and alarming symptoms kicked off the medical search for answers. In this two-part 2020 blog post, [Part 1, Part 2] I explained some of my new symptoms and the tests I was undergoing. The post ended on a hopeful note: I had just removed gluten from my diet and experienced rapid (if partial) relief from many of my symptoms.
But I did not experience anything near a full recovery, and eventually, my symptoms took a serious turn for the worse.
In the past year, I have spent a majority of my time feeling sick: sometimes mildly, like I’m coming down with a cold for weeks, and sometimes severely, as if I have the flu. While deeply unpleasant, I can mostly “fake my way” through chronic flu-like symptoms, and get through the basics of daily life while pretending to be normal. However, in February 2021, after attempting to casually participate in a ski race, I experienced a 6-week energy crash that rendered me too ill to take care of myself, and on some days, too exhausted even to walk to the bathroom. While that was the peak of my symptoms, I had been experiencing a milder version of the same extreme lack of energy for three years.
Now, with the benefit of a little hindsight and a TON of research and self-experimentation, I can begin to explain what I have experienced. Though my official diagnosis was myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME,) and through many of my symptoms were likely due to a chronic Borrelia infection (Lyme Disease,) no single diagnosis can truly summarize my experience. I refer to what I experienced as Dysautonomia, and others with any of these diagnoses may find the following information helpful.
Due to the nature of these illnesses, and the nuance of my own experience, I think dysautonomia better encapsulates my experience. I also believe many of us live with this type of dysregulation, (and the vague sense that something isn’t quite right,) but the effects are mild enough that we continue to power through, rather than truly healing.
Athletes are prone to pushing themselves too hard, whether in excited anticipation of a goal, or in the battle of self-worth that afflicts many of us. My story displays the damage that can be done by pushing the body in punishing ways. While my experience has been extreme, the behavioral and thought patterns that led me here are common.
My intention in sharing what I have learned is twofold:
1) I hope to reach others who are trying to help their bodies heal. It IS possible.
2) I hope to highlight for other athletes that the mechanisms by which my body became so ill are the same mechanisms by which bodies adapt. Though my story is a cautionary tale, the tools I’m using to heal are tools we can all use to thrive.
In this new “wing” of my website, I will share what I have learned and/or intuited about the nature of this type of chronic dysautonomia, how I have begun to heal, encouragement and resources for anyone else who is suffering, and some takeaways I hope healthy athletes and their coaches can benefit from.
Over the next two weeks, I will be posting here on the blog two additional pieces of my story: Where I am at Now, and What’s Next. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you would like to peruse the new information now available on my website, I suggest starting with Understanding ME/CFS and Dysautonomia or How my Health Informs my Coaching.
Please also remember that I am not a doctor, and the story of my own health journey should not be taken as medical advice.