Category: My Story (Page 1 of 12)

Nia: Reclaiming the Joy of Movement

We are born with an innate desire to move, to explore, and to find joy and freedom in our bodies.

We move for pleasure, responding to our body’s call to express and release itself through movement. As children, we climb, dance, skip, jump, twirl, and run. When I was younger, I played soccer and softball and loved jumping rope and roller skating.

Yet as we grow older, we become self-conscious, reserved and restricted, and even disconnected from our bodies. The idea of moving our bodies as freely as we once did when we were kids can trigger feelings of anxiety or fear of embarrassment or shame.

We stop moving in ways we enjoy and turn movement into a means to an end, usually so we can lose weight or tone up, especially for women.

Once I entered college, I opted for movement that would be a good calorie burn and keep me in shape. I took part in group exercise classes like spinning and boot camps, spent hours on treadmills and elliptical machines, and lifted weights. I convinced myself that the endorphin rush I felt at the end of the workout made it worthwhile, even if I didn’t look forward to class and was counting down the minutes until it was over..

About a decade ago, I was introduced to a form of movement that made me feel alive – Zumba, a choreographed, Latin-inspired dance class. The music brought me back to my semester abroad in Southern Spain, and the dance steps made me feel free, sexy and playful. Unfortunately, after a few years, my favorite Zumba instructors left my gym, and I found myself going to class less and less over time.

Then, about three years ago, I discovered Nia.

Nia is a sensory-based movement experience that blends 52 moves with movement forms from dance arts, martial arts and healing arts. Flexibility, agility, mobility, stability and strength are the five sensations at the foundation of Nia. The class empowers people of all shapes and sizes by connecting the body, mind, emotions and spirit.

Lola Manekin, who married into the family of friends of my parents, tried to expose me to Nia at a time when I had no interest or openness to trying it. She’s from Brazil and learned at a young age to trust her body and its wisdom. Nia was a way for her to share that gift. Each time I saw her, she encouraged me to check out one of her Nia classes. I had no idea what Nia was, but when I looked up a class on YouTube to see what it was all about, I was further dissuaded from trying it.

“What are those people doing? They’re moving in all sorts of weird ways. No thanks. Not for me.”

I have a tendency to be tightly wound and a strong desire to be in control, and what I saw in the video challenged both of those inclinations. It almost seemed as though the people in the videos were too free.

Each time I ran into Lola, she would nudge me again to come to one of her classes…and I would politely decline, hoping she would eventually stop asking.

About three years ago, my friend Dori and I decided to try a Nia class. We’d been taking Zumba together for some time and were curious to see what this Nia thing was all about and if it was as great as Lola had said. We nervously entered the room on the first day of class, and were greeted by Alba, who welcomed us with enthusiasm, love and kindness. She assured us that there was no wrong way to do Nia and encouraged us to move our bodies in ways that felt good.

I don’t remember everything that happened in that class, but I do remember how it made me feel in my body and in my soul.

Open

Playful

Alive

Flowing

Free

Something in me was awakened.

I was invited to move my body without judging myself or worrying about how I looked.

Photo Credit: Billy Michels Photography

I was reminded of the joy of movement.

I continued taking classes and eventually found my way to one of Lola’s classes. After all of those years of nudging, I finally responded and realized why she had been so intentional about inviting me for so long.

Over the past three years, Nia has helped me reclaim the joy of movement. I regularly practice Nia at my favorite mind-body studio in Baltimore called Movement Lab.

Nia has given me permission to release, to move freely, and to connect with my body and embrace its desire to dance and play.

Nia is an invitation to shift from confinement to openness, from restriction to freedom, from judgment to joy. It helps me loosen up and not take myself so seriously. It makes me feel like a kid again.

Nia is about reconnecting with and loving my body rather than trying to shame it or fix it. As we find freedom and connection in our bodies, we experience freedom and connection in our minds as well. We open up to whatever it is our body is telling us it needs physically and emotionally in that moment – more flexibility, strength, agility or stability – and we respond.

Nia calls us to balance and embrace both our masculine and feminine energies. The masculine energy leads and gives; it is contracting and tight (think martial arts moves). Feminine energy receives and invites us to soften; it is expansive and fluid (think undulations and twirling).

For me and many others, Nia is the foundation of a community of people who love, support, and encourage each other. We come together in times of celebration and lift each other up in times of struggle.

This past year for my birthday, I invited friends to join me for a Nia class, and Lola was kind enough to put together a custom playlist with some of my favorites 90s hip-hop and pop music. It felt more like a dance party than a workout class. We had so much fun! At the end of class, Lola had everyone form a circle around me and sing Happy Birthday to me. I experienced a profound sense of gratitude and love that day as I joyfully danced my way into my 34th year of life.

What a joy.

What a life-giving gift.

Alba, thank you for creating such an open and inviting initial Nia experience for me, one that helped me overcome my reservations and explore freedom in my body.

Heather and Steph, thank you for the spaces you have created as Nia instructors to invite me to be myself and embrace my femininity.

Lola, thank you for how you lead and love. I’m so grateful to you for bringing Nia to Baltimore and for your vision to create Movement Lab, where we can move our bodies so freely and joyfully and reconnect with ourselves and each other. Thank you for being so intentional and insistent about inviting me to be part of such a special community.

Thank you all for helping me reclaim the joy of movement.

Photo Credit: Billy Michels Photography

If you want to join me for a Nia class, let me know, or check out Movement Lab’s schedule here. If you are outside of the Baltimore area, find a Nia class near you here.

Dig Deeper

This is Lola’s TED Talk about the joy of movement and her journey with Nia. She shares how she helps women in her community find balance, be authentic and celebrate themselves and one another through Nia.

My friend, Heather Huddleston, also did a TED Talk about her experience with Nia and how transformative and healing it has been for her. She suffered from painfully paralyzing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that overtook her body. After seeking answers and healing from a number of other modalities, she discovered Nia and has since found freedom from years of pain.

 

I’m Into It! Grainful, Chickpea Croutons & Yoga with Adriene

I started this “I’m Into It” series back in the summer, and I’ve gotten great feedback from you about it, so thanks for taking the time to let me know what you think! With all the rage about Instant Pot these days (especially post-Black Friday and Cyber Monday), make sure you check out my last post in the series about my favorite Instant Pot recipes.

Today, we’re going to be looking at one of my favorite frozen meal options, what I use to add some crunch and protein to just about every salad I make, and take a look at my #1 channel on YouTube for at-home yoga classes. I hope you learn something that inspires you to take action and try one of these!

Grainful

I found out about these guys at the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore in September. I almost missed their booth because it was off the beaten path, but I’m so glad I stopped by. Grainful puts a savory spin on a breakfast favorite…steel cut oats!

Most of us don’t think that oats can be used for anything but oatmeal, but we’re selling them short when we think that way.

Grainful products are chef-inspired frozen entrees and meal kits made with 100% whole grain steel cut oats. They are certified gluten-free, non-GMO (not genetically modified), high in fiber and protein, and made with REAL ingredients. Many of them are vegan or vegetarian, too.

Most frozen meals have an ingredient list as long as your arm, but what I love about Grainful products is that I recognize everything on the ingredient list. Take my favorite meal they make – Tuscan Bean and Kale. Here’s the ingredient list:

Water, Kidney Beans, Garbanzo Beans, 100% Whole Grain Steel Cut Oats, Tomatoes, Kale, Tomato Paste, Onions, Garlic, Tomato Flakes, Olive Oil, Salt, Spices (Granulated Garlic, Parsley, Oregano, Basil).

That’s what the ingredients would look like if I were to make that dish at home, which is exactly how it should be. We don’t have to sacrifice quality just because we’re not making it ourselves.

Buy It: You can find Grainful products near you by using this store locator. Where I live (Baltimore area), you can find their products (frozen case and in the natural food aisle) at ShopRite, Safeway, Giant and Wegmans.

Biena Snacks

Over the past few years, roasted chickpeas have become a pantry staple for us. They are a good source of fiber and protein, make a great substitute for the crunch of croutons on a salad, and are a filling snack. I’ve even added them to trail mix for a protein boost and a hint of salt.

I love knowing the stories behind the companies I support, and Biena’s is worth sharing!

Biena started with Poorvi Patodia. While pregnant, she was searching for a healthier way to satisfy her snack cravings. Inspired by a favorite childhood snack, she started experimenting with roasted chickpeas in her own kitchen, developing a unique way to roast chickpeas to make them light and crispy, yet still maintain the protein, fiber and nutrients of a whole chickpea. Poorvi launched Biena in 2012, at a time when the trend around plant-protein snacks was still in it’s infancy.

They have a ton of flavors, but I’d say the Sea Salt and Rockin’ Ranch are my favorites. Both are vegan, too!

Buy It: Find Biena Snacks near you by using their store locator. For all of my local peeps in Baltimore, you can find them at Target, Giant, and CVS.

Yoga with Adriene

If I lived in Austin, Texas, I would want to hang out with this woman ALL THE TIME. I’ve been using her yoga videos for the past three years for my at-home practice. She posts hundreds of FREE videos on YouTube, and with 2.8 million subscribers, she clearly has a huge fan club.

My favorite series (so far!) is 30 Days of Yoga, but she has others like Morning Yoga, Yoga for Digestion, Yoga for Beginners, Yoga on the Road, and even Yoga for Anxiety.

If you’re looking for an easy way to move more without having to leave the comfort of your home, you have to check out her videos. You could even go through a series with a friend, so if any of you want to start one of her series and want me to partner with you, so we can hold each other accountable, let me know!

Try It: To subscribe to Adriene’s channel and check out all of her free yoga videos, click here.

There you have it, my friends! Those are just a few of the things I’m “into” at the moment.

What about you? Have you tried any new recipes or products that you think I should know about? Feel free to email me or leave a comment below!

With a whole lot of love and gratitude for YOU,

Rachel

Unassigned: On Letting Go of Relationships

A few years ago, I let go of something.

A relationship, a friendship that had lasted 17 years.

But instead of feeling bitter about it, I’m grateful for what that relationship was in my life.

To everything, there is a season.

But why is it so hard for us to let go of relationships that once meant something to us but no longer do?

We often hold on to them when we should let them go.

All of us have been wounded in relationship. We’ve been wounded in childhood, as adolescents, and as adults. We’ve been wounded by relatives, classmates, teachers, and friends. Despite these wounds, sometimes we have trouble letting go of or releasing relationships, even if they are no longer serving us. We allow our fear of disappointing people to override our desire to release relationships that are no longer healthy.

But letting go is difficult.

Being connected is core to our very nature and necessary for our survival. Maybe that’s why the thought of disconnection, of letting go is so frightening and painful.  I love what Brene Brown has to say about the power of connection:

I longed to feel connected from the time I was a young girl, but I struggled. My parents were going through a rough patch in their marriage when I was at the highly malleable age of five. They separated briefly. It affected me. I feared rejection and being a burden or disappointment to people.

As a kid, I was content to spend time alone and loved to read, write and make up my own activities. I did have friends, but I was never one to have a “group” of friends until I was in high school. I was excluded by and emotionally wounded by several of my peers, especially throughout grade school, and those wounds further reinforced my fear of rejection.

Although I didn’t really have groups of friends, I can remember at each point in my life who my “best” friend was, and that really mattered to me; it made me feel special and wanted.

I chose to let go of one of those friendships a few years ago.

The turning point for me happened on my wedding day when a member of the bridal party gave a speech that felt more like a roast than a tribute. I was mortified, humiliated, angry, and sad. I didn’t know what to do but smile through it, masking how I was truly feeling in the moment. Afterwards, the wife of one of our groomsmen said, “If that happened at my wedding, I would have taken the microphone out of her hand.” 

Ouch.

I carried the pain of that moment with me for months but knew that I had to forgive her, so I could move on with my life. We ended up talking a few months later and exchanged tears in the process. She apologized and said she never intended to hurt me. I believed her, but the conversation made me realize how far apart we’d grown and how little we knew each other. Though we tried to resolve what happened, I ultimately made the decision to move on from the friendship.

The truth is, we’d been drifting apart since starting college. We were friends with the history of our friendship but didn’t really know each other as adults. We had taken different paths. Ever since that time, I’ve wrestled with losing that friendship and still think about it from time to time.

About a year ago, I was reading the book A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson and landed on these words:

Relationships are assignments.

Hmmm…assignments?

Yes, relationships are meant to teach us something.

We come together in relationship to teach and learn lessons that will help us grow and become more of who we are meant to be.

Maybe my relationship with that friend was over, and it wasn’t something to mourn but something to celebrate.

The Three Levels of Relationship

Williamson writes that relationships have varying levels of duration – brief, sustained, and life-long.

Some are chance encounters, brief interactions with people we do or don’t know. Think of two strangers who meet in line at the store or on an elevator; your interaction with a waiter at a restaurant; the cashier at Target. How we treat people in those brief encounters matters and is often an indication of how we will treat people in more intense relationships. If we treat strangers with unkindness or impatience, it’s likely that those negative behaviors will be magnified in more long-term relationships. The second level of teaching is where we’re going to camp out today, so I’ll come back to it in just a moment.

The third level of teaching is characterized by life-long relationships. The presence of these people in our lives forces us to grow, but “just because someone has a lot to teach us, doesn’t mean we like them.” We can learn more about our own capacity to love in the midst of discomfort or in the face of seemingly irreconcilable differences than we do when we are comfortable and go unchallenged. Think about relationships that may be a thorn in your side but have taught you lessons about life, growth, other people and yourself.

Williamson describes the second level of teaching as:

A more sustained relationship in which, for a time, two people enter into a fairly intense teaching-learning relationship situation and then appear to separate.

Think of the friendships from different points in your life. Bring to mind the people you have called friends or partners, even family members, who are no longer part of your life. Sometimes we struggle with how to talk about those relationships without bitterness. If we can come to see them as an assignment, perhaps we can appreciate them for what they were, even if they are no longer part of our lives. And, who knows? Maybe they are meant to return to our lives at some point.

What if I could view the relationship I had with that friend differently and appreciate it for all that it taught me and all that it meant to me? As I reflect back on my friend, here’s what I want to remember:

  • She loved my family. She thought my little sister, Jane, was the coolest and funniest kid and appreciated my brother in ways I didn’t. She went on vacations with us and bought my sister her very first Halloween costume. She was one of my few friends who spent time at my house and actually got to know my family.
  • She gave me permission to be playful and to not take myself so seriously. She laughed a lot and loved to make people laugh, and so did her family. We would sometimes tape improv skits at her house, and we played lots of games. Very few people in my life invited me to let loose and have fun the way she and her family did.
  • She welcomed me into her family as one of her own. I felt at home at her house. I got hugs and kisses from her aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins and was invited to family parties and other big events. Her younger cousin had a crush on me and got me a plastic, blue heart-shaped ring as a sign of his affection. He gave me the nickname, “Blue Girl” and that is how my first AOL screen name, Bluegrl834, came to be.
  • She was with me for special moments. She was there for my high school ring day, graduation and birthday parties, and for the not so happy times. She was there the day I found out mom’s mom died and the day my parents called me to tell me that my favorite pet, a guinea pig named Wendy, had passed away. I so vividly remember both of those moments and how she was there.
  • She shared my love of all things sentimental. She would give me homemade gifts, heartfelt letters, and those books from the Hallmark store that most people flip through but never buy. I still have them in my bookcase. She knew that personalized gifts meant a lot to me, and she honored that. I’ve held onto many of those gifts, letters, cards and books.

Shifting my perspective about our friendship from one of bitterness and anger to one of acceptance and appreciation has given me a sense of peace about it.

Williamson closes out her insights about these “level two” relationships in A Return to Love:

During their time together, they will go through whatever experiences provide them with their next lessons to be learned […] what then appears to be the end of the relationship however, is not really an end.

Relationships are eternal.

What a hopeful perspective.

As I sit here and write this, I’m even thinking I may end up reaching out to her to see how she is doing. I’m not sure what will happen, but it’s possible. We may not talk anymore or even see each other again, but the impact of that relationship on my life is eternal regardless of what happens in the future.

Shifting Our Perspective

Here’s my question for you.

What if you were to view your relationships as assignments?

What if the people in our lives are “assigned” to be with us for a certain period of time until we learn what we are meant to learn from them before we can release them for their next assignment?

Are you holding on to a relationship, a person whose assignment is over, but you are refusing to let them go?

Have you considered that, in order for this person to be freed up for their next assignment and for YOU to be freed up to receive future assignments, you may have to release the relationship?

IT’S NOT EASY, but neither is being a relationship that is bringing you down, triggering anxiety or wounding you.

Here are some steps to take to begin this process:

  1. Think of a relationship in your life that you’d like to release, a person whose assignment in your life you think has ended. Some signs of this are: when this person calls, I cringe because all they do is talk about themselves; they’ve hurt you in the past and have refused to ask for forgiveness and just make excuses when you tell them how they hurt you; they make you feel less about yourself; you find yourself making excuses to avoid spending time with them; they constantly one up you out of their own insecurities, and you’re exhausted by it.
  2. Reflect back on the challenges that relationship has presented and consider any lessons learned or gifts it has given you. Make a list of both. A little prayer I like to think to myself in this moment is, “God, help me to see what I’m not seeing. Help me see this person as you do.”
  3. Forgive the person for any wrongdoing. THIS IS THE HARDEST PART. Forgiving them means releasing yourself from the desire to see any harm or ill will come to them. It doesn’t mean you trust or want to talk to or see them again, but it does mean that you have the choice to release yourself from bitterness and resentment.

If this person is still a part of your life, I’d suggest doing a few things. Give it to God and wait for wisdom. “God, I’m not sure what is going in this relationship, but I trust that you do. Show me the next step to take and give me the courage to take action.” You can let the drifting apart continue and not initiate any further conversations or get togethers. If the person does call you and you want to make a move, let them know you’ve spent time reflecting on your relationship and its future. Share with them what you appreciate about the relationship and any lessons you’ve learned but that you see the two of you moving in different directions and wish them well. You can’t control how they respond, and it will likely feel pretty awkward, but for your own well-being and sanity, you may need to take a step like this.

Consider that your fear of how the conversation will go will likely be more dramatic than how it actually does go.

Consider that this person may still have lessons to teach you and “goodbye” may not be forever…or maybe it will be.

Remember, for life-long assignments, you may not like the person but may need to remain open to whatever lessons you may still need to learn from the relationship. We might classify some of these people as EGRs – Extra Grace Required – and part of our growth might come from staying in it with them even when it is uncomfortable.

Relationships are complex, but quality relationships are at the core of a healthy, happy life. The people who are happiest, healthiest and live the longest are the ones with the best quality relationships rooted in vulnerability, honesty, love, care, and kindness.

My hope is that this reflection gives you the courage to take a necessary step in a relationship in your life that has been troubling you. At the very least, I hope it gives you pause to consider that you are worthy of relationships that lift you up, lovingly challenge you to grow and learn, and invite you to become more of who you are meant to be rather than holding you back.

I’m Into It: Instant Pot, Kitchfix Granola + Food Art

It’s been some time since I told you guys what I’m “into” on here, but I’ve been keeping the updates coming on Instagram, so make sure you follow my Instagram page to get the latest recipes and inspirational posts each week.

Today, I have three recommendations for you, and all of them are related to the kitchen!

  1. A gadget
  2. A snack
  3. Beautiful art

To say I’ve been obsessed with the first item is an understatement. For the past month or so, Bill and I have been looking for recipes that require us to use only one gadget and dirty only one pot. As much as I love to cook, I HATE to clean, so having a device that makes the clean-up process easy goes a long way with me.

Meet, the Instant Pot.

Instant Pot

I remember seeing people post about this gadget around this time last year, but I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. “I have a crockpot,” I remember thinking to myself. “What’s so great about this instant pot thing?”

On Cyber Monday last year, the price went down so low that I had to snag one. Because I wasn’t totally sold even at that point, the Instant Pot sat in the box until August of 2017. I know I’m not the only one who does this! I’m going to bet that you have some boxed appliance collecting dust on a shelf or hiding so far back in a closet or cabinet that it’s not worth the effort to unearth it.

I can’t believe I waited so long to use this!

The Instant Pot has quickly become one of our top three must-have kitchen gadgets. Sure, it’s bulky and takes up a decent amount of space, but it makes cooking and clean-up SO SIMPLE. The Instant Pot is 7 kitchen appliances in 1: Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Steamer, Sauté, Yogurt Maker and Warmer. It prepares dishes up to 70% faster than cooking them the conventional way. 

Here are just a few of the delicious recipes we’ve made with the Instant Pot. Each one made enough to fill three quart-sized mason jars, which means lots of leftovers and less time in the kitchen during the week:

Buy It: On Amazon (wait until Black Friday or Cyber Monday – it’ll be worth it!)

Kitchfix Paleo Granola

I first found out about these guys a few years ago at the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore. I liked that their granola had a lower sugar count than other granolas on the market and that it was a grain-free option. Some people really struggle to digest grains of any kind – even gluten-free ones – so having options for snacks and breakfast that don’t contain grains is a big deal.

Their grain-free granola is a satisfying snack (full of protein, fiber and healthy fats), a balanced start to your day, and a pantry staple perfect for parfaits and even topping your favorite dairy-free ice cream. They do not contain refined sugars and are always gluten-free, non-GMO (not genetically modified), and paleo.

My two favorite flavors are the Cocoa Sea Salt (also made with freeze-dried raspberries!!) and the Lemon Berry Chia. Other flavors include Original, Vanilla Berry, and Honey Pecan.

Buy It: Create an account at Kitchfix.com and receive 20% off your first order using the code NEW20. You can also buy Kitchfix on Amazon and use this zip code search to find where it is sold near you.

Marcella Kriebel Art + Illustration

I first found out about Marcella’s art at Artscape, an annual festival in Baltimore celebrating local art and artisans. I was drawn to her watercolor images of fruits and vegetables and knew I’d ultimately want to hang them in our kitchen once we renovated it.

Her prints are beautiful, unique, and full of vibrant colors. In addition to hanging them through our house (the Brassica and Rosaceae prints above are hanging in our kitchen and a pomegranate print is in our hallway), I’ve purchased these as gifts for other food lovers.

From her Illustrated Feast Watercolor Prints to greeting cards, frames, illustrated cookbooks and custom signs, Marcella has an incredible gift of turning food into art with paint and water. It’s amazing!

Buy It: Check out Marcella’s website or her etsy page.  It’ll be a feast for your eyes!

That’s what I’ve been into lately, my friends!

Let me know if you have an Instant Pot (and what your favorite recipes are!), whether you’ve tried Kitchfix granola and if you end up buying some of Marcella’s amazing artwork. I love hearing from you and what’s going on in your lives, so send me a note to let me know 🙂

How I Recovered from Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)

Prior to February 2017, I had never heard of Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). I had just been diagnosed with it after being sick for four months and not knowing why.

Fast forward seven months, and I know more than I ever thought I would about EBV because of the incredible coaching and guidance I have received from my nutritionist, Kasia Kines. An acute form of mono, EBV occurs more frequently in immunocompromised people, especially after periods of prolonged or intense stress or hormonal changes. The stress that had been accumulating in my life up to that point had nowhere else to go, so it took me down for the count.

As I wrote in a previous post, EBV has been a gift, even though it has been frustrating, confusing and overwhelming to deal with. Since sharing my story, multiple people have reached out to me asking me what I did to treat the virus and quiet it. The truth is, once you get EBV, you always have it, so once it’s been activated, you have no choice but to make some changes to your lifestyle. Most people have the virus in their body but never experience its activation. I had the perfect storm of circumstances come together to turn it “on”.

I’ve since learned how to calm it down, restore my immune system and get my energy back, and that’s what I want to share with you today. I’m forever grateful to my nutritionist, Kasia, for guiding me through this healing process. If you know someone struggling with EBV, tell them to contact her!

1) Rest

This was the most important thing I did.

And one of the toughest.

I had to prioritize sleep more than ever before. In the past, I could easily get a second wind at 10pm and just keep going until midnight reading, writing or watching mindless TV. After EBV, sleep was no longer a negotiable behavior. I consistently got about nine to ten hours of sleep each night in the three or four months following the diagnosis. My body needed additional time to recover and repair itself, so I gave it what it needed. Getting inadequate sleep suppresses the immune system and can trigger a cascade of hormonal changes, which can trigger EBV reactivation.

I also gave my body a break from movement. Any physical exertion at all seemed to set me back, so that meant no exercise for several months. Gentle walks and gentle stretching or yoga every now and then seemed to be okay, but my body needed to rest in every way, including physically. It took me almost six months to recover the vigor I once I had physically, which was frustrating but necessary. Since then, if I’m feeling mentally or emotionally run down, I am more aware, and I choose to be gentle with my body and movement on those days.

I love taking epsom salt baths, started reading even more than usual, wrote in my journal A LOT, listened to music, read my devotional, and was frequently diffusing calming essential oils like lavender and frankincense.

2) Slow Down + Create Space

Yup. This sucked. I didn’t want to do it. I thought I could keep being superwoman and superhuman.

EBV was the only thing that got my attention and made me take changes to my life seriously. Hormonal changes due to stress and even that time of the month can trigger EBV, so reducing stress is super important.

Prior to the virus, I would jam pack every day and week with as much excitement as I thought I could handle. Sometimes that meant four speaking gigs in one week, often with new content. I had no idea how exhausting that was for my mind and body, even though I love speaking. I had to email my boss and our CEO letting them know the seriousness of the virus and asking for support in terms of time and staffing. I knew I had to protect my calendar, which meant no more than two speaking gigs in any week. Period.

Slowing down meant saying “no” to people, late night socializing and exciting “opportunities”, so I could take care of myself and respect my need to create space in my life.

I’m still working on this, but I am so much more aware when I’m heading in a not so good direction that I catch myself before I go off the deep end. I also started seeing a therapist to start processing and working on some of the emotional and psychological factors that cause me to run myself into the ground. I know I have a lot of emotions inside that I have not acknowledged or addressed that send me into a spiral, and I am committed to getting to the root of them, too!

3) Connect to Community

As someone who finds it easy to be alone and crawl into a hole when I’m feeling down, I’ve learned in the importance of reaching out to people and bringing them into the muck with you. I can’t tell you the number of people who were praying for me, with me, and over me during this time.

I felt like there was an army of love behind me, pleading for my healing.

There were multiple days when I was at an 8-session spiritual gifts training at my church and was so sick I just sobbed out of desperation and pain, and people weren’t repelled by it; they came closer to me. When I was at my worst, people were checking in on me, asking how I was doing, sending sweet text messages, and stopping by to see me. I’m so grateful for all of the people who loved me so well through this period of time.

If you’re going through a difficult illness, REACH OUT to people. ASK FOR HELP. BE VULNERABLE. It’s one of the best things I ever did and that lesson has stuck with me ever since. I feel closer and more connected to my friends and larger community than ever before.

What a gift.

4) Supplement***

Kasia was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable in this area. She was in the process of finishing her final PhD project for a degree in Functional Nutrition and had selected EBV as her topic of choice. Lucky for me! She put me on antiviral, immune-boosting, energy-restoring supplements, which I have listed below.

Exact dosages should be determined by a healthcare provider with experience with EBV.*** For that, Kasia has no equal.

  • Licorice Root Extract (NOT Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice): One of the strongest anti-viral foods out there, I took this every either in the form of tea or a capsule from Vital Nutrients. Licorice root is contraindicated for people with hypertension, as it increases blood pressure. My favorite tea brand is Buddha Teas Licorice Root tea. I buy it at MOMs Organic Market.
  • Selenium: strengthens and protects the nervous system; antiviral
  • L-Lysine: strong antiviral amino acid
  • NAC: anti-replication of the virus and cell system support (energy)
  • Vitamin D3 + K2: increases energy levels and immunity, boosts mood and balances hormones; antiviral
  • B-vitamin Complex: supports balanced moods, healthy energy levels, and the nervous and immune systems
  • Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin NOT cyanocobalamin – read the label): strengthens the nervous system and increases energy
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: prime modulator of inflammatory hormones
  • CoQ10: a natural antioxidant synthesized by the body that can improve energy production in cells
  • Magnesium: anti-inflammatory for nerves; nerve calmer; reduces constipation
  • Vitamin C: strengthens immune system and flushes out EBV toxins from the liver
  • Vitamin A: immune system support
  • Turmeric: active ingredient curcumin helps strengthen the endocrine and central nervous systems
  • Probiotics: digestive system support. Make sure to get these from foods like naturally fermented sauerkraut (HEX Ferments, Farmhouse Culture, Bubbies brands). Otherwise, use a high quality probiotic with a variety of strains (at least 8 different kinds) and 10-50 billion CFUs.

A few other supplements and herbs I didn’t use that can be helpful are red marine algae, nettle leaf (get in tea form), 5-MTHF, lemon balm (tea form), elderberry, red clover, star anise, rose hip tea, cat’s claw.

***As with any health condition, especially one as serious as EBV, consult with a trusted health care provider. My choice would be Kasia!

5) Eat to Nourish and Heal the Body

Every bite I consumed was intended to calm the raging inflammation in my body and heal my digestive system. I was already dairy-free and gluten-free, which helped because gluten and dairy tend to be key triggers of autoimmune conditions and promote gut dysfunction. They tend to trigger EBV symptoms, too. I pretty much nixed sugar, alcohol, caffeine, corn (digestive irritant) and even eggs for a while because they can aggravate EBV, according to Kasia’s research.

Here are some of the main foods I consumed a LOT of because of their antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and gut-supportive properties.

Veggies: celery (whole plant and juiced), sprouts (I LOVE Potomac Sprouts Company sprouts), cilantro, spirulina, asparagus, spinach, artichokes, parsley, sauerkraut, fermented veggies, lettuces except iceberg, green beans, winter squash, zucchini, kale, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, fennel

Roots: garlic, ginger, turmeric (try this turmeric golden milk smoothie!)

Fruit: wild blueberries (try this blueberry avocado smoothie bowl), pears, bananas, red-skinned apples, blackberries, melons, raspberries, papaya, apricots, pomegranate, grapefruit

Other: coconut oil, bone broth, herbal teas made with licorice root, ginger, fennel, chamomile, nettle leaf, lemon balm, red clover or rose hips

That’s a wrap, my friends. I hope it helps you and anyone you know on a journey of healing autoimmune conditions or chronic illnesses like Epstein-Barr Virus. Be patient and give your body what it needs to heal, and it will respond.

Sending love and light to all of you!

I’m Into It: HotelTonight, A Song & Ice Cream

What an exciting week it’s been!

Bill and I have been in Colorado celebrating our anniversary and a cousin’s wedding. We’re about two hours south of Denver in a small town called Salida. It is absolutely stunning out here!

I’m glad you guys have been so excited about the I’m Into It! series, so I have three more recommendations coming your way, including one that we used while on this trip!

App: HotelTonight

I first found out about this app last year when Bill and I were traveling to Wilmington, North Carolina to stay with my grandmother before he did the Half Ironman in Raleigh that weekend. It was approaching midnight and we still had almost three hours to go in the trip and know it would not have been smart to keep driving.

I discovered the app HotelTonight, which gives you great last-minute deals on top-rated hotels. You can book tonight, tomorrow or seven days out and will see the difference in price between what the hotel usually charges and the deal they are offering you. You book it through the app, quickly and easily, and the one stipulation is that you can’t cancel, and the fees are nonrefundable. But if you’re looking for a room with that little notice, chances are that you wouldn’t cancel anyway. I also like how they categorize the hotel by “type” (Basic, Solid, Hip, Luxe) and show you customer ratings.

On a recent trip to NYC, we had a less than awesome Airbnb experience and decided to bail on our place the second night because the accommodations were so awful. At 11:30 on a Friday night, we found a room at the Roosevelt Hotel on Madison Avenue and 45th for $115 for the following night! That was cheaper than the Airbnb room and SO much better! We’re currently in Denver celebrating our anniversary and a cousin’s wedding, and the first day we landed in Denver, we didn’t have a place to stay and booked one that morning through the HotelTonight app and had plenty of options.

We always call the hotel just in case to confirm whether their rate is cheaper than what we’ve found online. It never hurts to double check!

Try It: Download the app in the app store. And if you want to save $25 on your first booking, use promo code RADRUCKENMILLER.

Food: Nada Moo Ice Cream

I apologize in advance if this recommendation causes you to consume copious amounts of ice cream 🙂

I was at the Green Goddess Market in Lake Placid, NY a few weeks ago and was using a birthday gift card my mom had given me. I was trying to figure out what I could buy there that I couldn’t find at stores back home and came across Nada Moo Mmm…Maple Pecan dairy-free ice cream!

HOLY COW.

It was smooth and creamy and delicious, not icy like a lot of non-dairy ice cream can be. Not only that, but each serving of that flavor had 5 grams of fiber and only 8 grams of sugar (about half of what most ice cream contains!). You never see a single digit sugar content in ice cream that tastes this good. It’s still a treat and not a daily staple, but it is an upgraded one! Another perk about this brand is that it’s certified fair trade, meaning the people who make it receive a fair wage and are treated like human beings, and it’s organic! With fun flavors like “That Snickerdoodle Dough”, “Vanilla…Ahhh!” and “Lotta Mint Chip,” you’re going to want to grab a pint of Nada Moo the next time you’re at the grocery store!

Try It: You can search your zip code on their website to find where it’s sold near you or you can buy it at Whole Foods Market, Harris Teeter, and Roots Market, if you live in the Baltimore/DC area.

Song: You’re Gonna Be Okay by Brian & Jenn Johnson

As you guys know, one of the things I like to do on this blog is share honest and open stories about challenges I face to create a space where you can feel safe to do the same in your own life. One of my goals is to be a light in the world and bring hope to dark places, so as much as I share uplifting quotes and other forms of positivity, I also live in the real world and know that life isn’t rainbows and butterflies all the time.

In those moments, we seek comfort.

That’s what this song has been for me.

A few months ago when I was in the early stages of recovering from Epstein-Barr Virus, I was driving home from a meeting and heard this song. It made me think of my friend whose sister has been dealing with the impact of a horrific brain injury since last June and hasn’t been the same since. I thought of another friend who lost her first child in the third trimester of her pregnancy. I thought of yet another friend who has been battling a lifetime of autoimmune conditions and struggles to hold on to hope each day.

This song brought a sense of peace and comfort to all of those situations. I hope it does the same for you. Share it with someone you know who is going through a tough time. Maybe it bring them hope and encouragement.

And that’s a wrap, my friends.

What are you into this week? Feel free to leave your thoughts below! I love hearing from you.

 

I’m Into It: Ravensburger, Winks & Wise + Well

What a WEEK it’s been, my friends!

I’ll be sharing more about the full story with lots more pictures in an upcoming post, but a 50-foot maple tree in our backyard came down the other day as a result of a terrible storm here in Baltimore!

Dealing with our insurance company, roofer, tree remover, fence company and neighbors to sort out all of the logistics has not been the best ending to my week. But I’ll be sharing lessons learned in the process in a future post.

After the wonderful feedback you gave me when I announced the new “I’m Into It” series last week, I was excited to put together this week’s version!

PUZZLES: Ravensburger and Springbok

I was talking to my friend Jenn at the beginning of the summer, and she shared with me how she was committing to being more intentional about how she spent her time. No more Netflix binges or just spending hours watching TV each night of the summer. She would ask more of herself than that.

I started thinking about it. How often do we just eat dinner and then plop on the couch for the rest of the night watching hours of TV until one of us falls asleep?

A LOT.

I thought about how doing that didn’t make me feel connected to Bill at all. It usually meant I was staying up later than I needed to be watching yet another Jimmy Fallon episode that would be there in the morning.

So, I talked to Bill about it and asked if we could do something else that might help us feel more connected instead of checked out.

We decided to start putting together puzzles…and listening to Les Miserables or Broadway radio on Pandora. It really makes the night! I could listen to “On My Own” a thousand times over. Any other Les Mis fans out there?

This Beauty & the Beast puzzle has been my favorite so far. They even hid characters from other Disney movies – Bambi, Pinocchio, and the mice from Cinderella – in the puzzle!

The best brand of puzzles I’ve found is Ravensburger. The pieces snap together, so you know for sure when you’ve found a match. Springbok is another good brand, but some of their pieces are cut in odd ways, so it’s tough to figure out which ones are corners and which are not. Either way, I’d encourage you to buy yourself a puzzle this month to cut down on TV time!

Try It: Here is Ravensburger’s website and Springbok. We’ve bought a few at Barnes & Noble, but you can also buy puzzles on Amazon.

Blog: Wise + Well

The nature of my work gives me the opportunity to meet so many amazing people. Just over a year ago, I was giving a presentation at my company for our clients, and afterwards, I met Leigh Winters. I had been told that we needed to meet and that we’d have a lot in common.

She is delightful…and so is her blog, Wise + Well!

Leigh is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the blog, Wise + Well. She is a clinical researcher at Columbia University’s Spirituality Mind Body Institute and Columbia University Department of Psychiatry’s New York State Psychiatric Institute. In addition to studying and researching mind-body and mindfulness practices, Leigh is also a certified aromatherapist and Ayurveda specialist. She holds dual master’s degrees from Columbia University in Clinical Psychology and Neuroscience.

Her blog covers a wide range of holistic health topics, including aromatherapy, mindfulness, nutrition, fitness, and nature, among others. She is a regular contributor to the online lifestyle website, mindbodygreen, and her posts are so thorough, engaging and easy to read. Applying her training and the latest research, she wrote this recent Essential Oils Beginner Guide that is SO incredibly helpful. We’ve been using essential oils in our home for the past two and a half years, so I appreciate having the scientific backing for them from Leigh! You have to check out her beautiful Instagram feed, too!

Follow: Check out Wise + Well on their Blog, Instagram, and Facebook.

Book: When God Winks: How the Power of Coincidence Guides Your Life by SQuire Rushnell

My friend Samantha recommended that I read this book several months ago, so I took it on vacation with me and read it.

I tend to be someone who looks for meaning in any situation, especially challenging ones, because I believe we can learn lessons or receive gifts if we are open to it. In this book are dozens of stories of people whose lives were, in many cases, radically transformed as a result of seeming coincidences.  The author uses the term “God Winks” to describe these messages given to us on our journey, nudging us along the grand path that has been designed especially for us.

One of the stories, in particular, stood out to and stuck with me. Beth’s father had just passed away suddenly after a heart transplant. As she’s at the airport terminal crying, a man puts his hand on her shoulder and asks if she’s all right. She looks at him and recognizes him.

Kevin Costner.

He comforted her as she shared her story through tears and then invited her to join him at the set of a movie he was working on nearby. To make a long story short, Beth ended up visiting the set and meeting the film’s public relations executive, whom she ended up marrying within the year!

A horrible situation (the death of her father) ultimately led to a life-changing joy (meeting her husband). If you want to be uplifted, encouraged and inspired, I invite you to check out When God Winks!

Read It: Find it at a bookstore or online at Amazon.

That’s a wrap, my friends! What are YOU into this week? Feel free to let me know in the comments below 🙂 Have a great week!

Minted Chickpea Salad with Creamy Curry Dressing

I’ve been wanting to create a recipe for a curry-flavored salad for months. I’ve come to love Indian food over the past few years and have noticed that curry makes its way into a meal at least every other week in our house. A last-minute dinner date with our friends Lisa and Brody and a whole lot of quinoa and curry powder prompted me to come up with a new recipe.

As a total aside, Lisa and Brody have the cutest kiddos and just welcomed a little girl into the world earlier this month with the same name as my younger sister, Jane! Their kids are always up for trying anything, so that makes experimenting with new recipes that much more fun with their family. They’ve found that introducing their kids to a variety of foods from a young age without making a fuss about it has resulted in kids who aren’t afraid to try new foods!

Now, back to the curry 🙂 I didn’t try anything with curry powder in it until my mid-20s. I was too weirded out by the color and didn’t really know much about it, but since then, it has become a staple in our spice rack. We use it in everything from hummus and curry-roasted potatoes, to fancy pants curried cauliflower steaks and mash and one of my favorite dishes ever – this curried lentil and rice casserole.

Something I didn’t know about Indian food when I first started trying it (no small feat for a picky eater!) was that a lot of it isn’t spicy. Sure, it’s made with lots of spices, but that doesn’t mean that all of it is going to burn your mouth. Some Indian food is spicy and made with different types of peppers, and I’m not a big fan of those dishes, but this particular dish isn’t spicy and is full of flavor and a variety of textures.

Curry likely started as a combination of ginger, turmeric and garlic, the origin of a signature Indian spice blend that has been traced back thousands of years to the Indus Valley Civilization in modern-day India. Most likely rooted in the South Indian term for sauce (kari), British traders adopted the more familiar word curry to categorize these spice blends. It has evolved and been adopted by other cultures since then.

Curry spice blends vary widely, depending on which region they’re from and based on people’s personal tastes, but some of the most common ingredients include turmeric, ginger, fenugreek, coriander, and cinnamon. Other varieties include cayenne pepper, cumin, mustard seed, and cardamom. You can find curry powder in the spice aisle at your grocery store or make it yourself following this recipe if you’re feeling really ambitious.

You’ll notice that I used yogurt in the dressing instead of an oil to serve as the source of fat and a base. I used Forager Project’s plain, unsweetened cashew yogurt instead of a dairy-based yogurt, since dairy products trigger a lot of my past health challenges (allergies, reflux, ear infections, congestion). I wrote all about their dairy-free yogurt and milk products in this post!

Adding some lightly toasted cashews gives each bite a nice crunch. The fresh mint leaves add a pop of color and pair perfectly with the curry spices. The finishing touch, which my friend Brody said really completes the dish, is the raisins. Raisins are commonly used in south Indian cooking, and they round out the dish by adding a hint of sweetness.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we did! 🙂



Print

Minted Chickpea Salad with Creamy Curry Dressing

This light and refreshing side salad is packed with flavors and a variety of textures to keep your taste buds happy!

Course Side Dish
Cuisine Indian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6
Author Rachel Druckenmiller

Ingredients

Salad Base

  • 1 cup quinoa drained and rinsed
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup cashews chopped and toasted
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup mint thinly sliced

Curry Dressing

  • 1/2 cup non-dairy yogurt plain, unsweetened
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice fresh
  • 2 teaspoons raw honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder

Instructions

  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions (or instructions below in notes!). Set aside to cool.

  2. Toss salad ingredients together in a medium bowl.

  3. Whisk dressing ingredients together and pour over quinoa mix. Toss to combine. 

New Series: “I’m Into It!”

I’ve been away on vacation since late last week in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. My family has a house up here, and we have spent part of every summer up here since I was a little girl. It’s my little slice of heaven on earth. 

Spending time away from all of the distractions and pressures of everyday life is always so restorative for me. My creative juices start flowing and I’m drawn to write again, something I love to do but don’t often make time for at home. As I open up space and give my mind permission to wander, all sorts of new ideas come to me, including what I’m sharing today!

Over the past few years, I’ve also found that people frequently ask me about my recommendations for a variety of things – from food brands and supplements to books, gadgets, bloggers, recipes and words of inspiration. I thought it would be helpful to do a biweekly recap (that feels reasonable to start!) of what I’m exploring and post it on my blog, to share with all of you!

I’ll try to keep it simple and share with you maybe three to five things every other week in a series called, “I’m Into It”.

I’m excited to start inviting you into my world more regularly and taking some of the headache out of the decision-making process for you. I’ll put some affiliate links in the post to support my blogging activities, but I will never in a million years promote something I don’t use myself and believe in, so you have my word that it’s legit if it’s on here!

For those of you who are new to my blog (welcome!), you’ll notice that all of my products recommendations are gluten-free, dairy-free and focus on simple ingredients that we can pronounce and find in the store. To learn more about my personal food philosophy, check out this post I wrote earlier this year.

I will be sharing these posts on the weekend, but I was so ready to get moving that I’m going to give you the first one today, on a Tuesday 🙂 

Let’s dive in to the very FIRST post in this fun new series.

Book: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

“The tricky part of illness is that, as you go through it, your values are constantly changing. You try to figure out what matters to you, and then you keep figuring it out. It felt like someone had taken away my credit card and I was having to learn how to budget.”

As I shared in my most recent post, I’ve been healing from Epstein-Barr Virus and taking steps to restore my immune system after a lifetime of pushing myself too hard. I connected immediately with this passage from the book about the process of healing.

Grab your tissues. In this heart-reaching story of Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon whose life takes a sudden turn when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer, you’ll be taken on a journey of joy, inspiration and sadness. The story is an inspiring testament to the power of the human spirit and the importance of leaving a legacy.

Read It: Order it here.

Supplement: Vital Proteins Collagen Proteins

My sister, Jane, did her third Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, New York this past Sunday, which marks the 10th time someone in my family has completed the grueling 140.6-mile race.

In the days leading to the race, we always scope out the scene at the Ironman Village, where the athletes check in and amass a collection of Ironman gear and performance-enhancing products.

I was excited to spot the Vital Proteins booth as I wandered through the village.

I’m a fan of their products for a few reasons. They prioritize quality and purity in their products. They source from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals. My favorite product, collagen peptides, contain only one ingredient, mix easily into smoothies and liquids and are flavorless and odorless. One serving contains a whopping 20 grams of pure protein, which contributes to feelings of fullness and staves off cravings. I also use their bone broth and tried their newer line of collagen beauty water (lavender lemon, cucumber aloe or melon mint), which was refreshing and delicious! 

Try It: Order Vital Proteins products here.

Product: Numi Organic Tea – Gratitude

I have a little bit of an obsession with and a growing collection of herbal teas. Drinking herbal tea is a quick and easy way to boost your immune system, balance your mood, and promote healing by reducing inflammation. The exact combination of herbs and spices determines which purpose a particular tea serves, but I was so drawn to this one because of the name of the tea (Gratitude!) and the specific blend of ingredients.

Anti-viral licorice, anti-inflammatory turmeric, calming chamomile, and libido-boosting maca (a Peruvian herb from the cruciferous veg family) are just a few of the supercharged ingredients in this amazing tea. Holy basil, tulsi and ashwaganda are three additional ingredients that have adaptogenic qualities. Adaptogens (notice the root word, “adapt”) help our body respond better to stress by promoting a sense of balance and calm. You can get all of them in supplement form, but why not just drink a cozy cup of tea instead?

Try It: Order online here or buy in person at The Vitamin Shoppe and at some Whole Foods Markets.

And that’s a wrap! I’d love to hear from you if you’ve used any of these products or read the book, When Breath Becomes Air.

The Gift of Sickness: How EBV Changed My Life

Most people would not think of sickness as a gift.

When we’re sick, we tend to feel frustrated, overwhelmed, confused and irritable. Most people would hardly call those feelings “gifts,” but I’ve learned that some gifts come in unexpected packages. Sometimes we’re given gifts that we would have never asked for that end up being more valuable than the thing we thought we wanted.

Over the past eight months, I’ve been through a journey with sickness that I’ve shared little about with you. I’ve continued posting recipes and tips and tricks all while going through an incredibly challenging time with my body and my spirit.

It’s time to share what I’ve been going through and learning in the process of this time of transformation and growth. My wish is that you find hope for your own situation in the midst of mine. When we are honest and vulnerable about our own struggles, we invite other people to be honest about theirs.

Gift #1: Pain is the body’s way of bringing us back to the present; it grabs our attention.

It was Valentine’s Day 2017.

Instead of enjoying a romantic dinner with my husband, I’d been home sick all day and was at the doctor’s office feeling depleted, exhausted and in pain, so tired I felt like I was going to pass out.

It was the fourth time in four months that I’d been sick for a week at a time with symptoms of fatigue, pain in my throat, swollen lymph nodes, and listlessness. I just didn’t feel like myself. My voice was always one of the first things to go as a result of each bout of illness, which was problematic, considering how much of my time I spend speaking, presenting and consulting. I love to sing, too, and I hadn’t been able to do that joyfully and fully for months. I couldn’t seem to get to the root of why I kept getting sick.

I felt isolated, alone, defeated and scared. 

I sat next to my husband, Bill, and across from Dr. Bill Rollow, an M.D. trained in integrative medicine, who has become my parents’ doctor and mine in recent years. He understands how the body operates as an interconnected system rather than a set of disconnected symptoms. He approaches his patients with an abundance of gentleness, kindness and love and seeks to identify the root cause of why someone isn’t well.

As I was lamenting how awful I felt – sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, low energy, malaise, a cough, congestion – Dr. Rollow asked me:

“Would you say this is the result of pressures from the outside and work, or would you say that it’s more self-inflicted?”

Without hesitation and with a great deal of conviction, I knew the answer:

“Oh, it’s totally self-inflicted. 

I do this to myself.”

Tears began to well up in my eyes and roll down my cheeks, as I sat in a state of sheer desperation, realizing how much of what I was experiencing was brought on by my own demands. It was my relentless drive to achieve, succeed, and be perceived as worthy and valued throughout school and in my career that brought me to this point of exhaustion.

A lifetime of striving, proving, achieving, and performing.

My body and soul were tired.

We talked candidly about how I would have to decide that I wanted my life to look differently if I wanted to feel differently. I would have to change some things if I wanted to start feeling better and heal emotionally and physically. I had to be honest about how much I tend to set my personal needs and health aside for the sake of my career and my desire to get ahead.

At the end of our conversation, Dr. Rollow said he was going to test me for Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). I had never heard of it and had no idea what it was. I’ve come to learn that EBV is an acute form of mono that many people have in their bodies but that does not often manifest full blown. It tends to be brought on by prolonged stress and other hormonal changes. It’s more likely to occur in an immunocompromised person. I fit the bill perfectly.

I’ve learned that many doctors don’t think to test for EBV right away and often test patients for things like Lyme disease, lupus, and mono when they have symptoms like mine. Fortunately for me, Dr. Rollow knew better. When the lab results came back, it turned out his suspicions where confirmed; all of my EBV antibodies were elevated.

Each month when the virus reactivated, I would get more and more dejected and distressed. I felt like my body was betraying me again, as it had for much of my life with chronic ear infections, sinus infections, strep throat, bronchitis, acid reflux, and amenorrhea.

What was going on?

Will I ever feel better or like myself again?

Why was this happening to me?

I’m supposed to be the healthy one.

In the midst of my desperation, I was given the gift of hope.

Within a week or so of receiving the news about Epstein-Barr, I received an email from my nutritionist, Kasia Kines, who has helped my body heal from years of other dysfunctions and ailments. She is finishing her PhD in Functional Nutrition and sent this email to her email list serve on February 28th.

No way. 

I couldn’t believe it.

She’d picked Epstein-Barr Virus.

“Here’s your sign, Rachel.”

Suddenly, I had hope.

As I’ve shared before, Kasia has been instrumental in my healing journey and has given me hope before. I immediately reached out to her to let her know I had the virus she was studying and had no idea what to do about it. She was eager to help.

As I began working with her, I learned what a nasty virus EBV is and how it ravages your immune system and can wreak havoc on your neurological system as well, left unchecked. In my case, it camped out in my throat, which was a primary cause of losing my voice. I learned that stress and hormonal changes trigger reactivation of the virus, which meant I’d have to make some lifestyle changes and reprioritize sleep, friendships and aspects of my job. I added in even more nutrient-rich foods to my diet and started taking about a dozen different supplements to restore my immune system and fight the virus (I’ll share more about that later!).

Within a week of treatment, I felt like a switch had been flipped and started to feel energized again. It was amazing how quickly my body responded.

Sickness was my body’s way of saying, “Hey, listen up. Something’s not working here. Pay attention.”

Gift #2: We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.

The more I reflected on why I’d gotten to this point, the more I realized this virus was a symptom of a deep-seated issue. Growing up, I felt like I had very little social value and worth in my peer groups, so I sought my worth in other places and found it in achievement.

If they wouldn’t embrace me socially, surely they’d find value in what I could bring to the table by being smart. It was hard for me to see how I brought value if I wasn’t being useful to someone in some way. The idea that just being me and not doing anything to earn acceptance was foreign to me. I pushed myself academically and made sure I was always performing at the highest level.

I’d show them I was worthy of attention by achieving. 

As soon as school ended, I sought the same validation in my career. I pushed myself to be a leader in my field, to create and design new initiatives, to build my job from scratch, with little to no model for how to do that. And I did. I’ve won awards and received national accolades for my work. The satisfaction that followed was always temporary and just another opportunity for me to up the ante on myself.

C’mon, Rachel. What’s next?

Don’t settle. Don’t get complacent.

You might be outdone. You’ll be forgotten.

I put work ahead of everything else, partly because I love what I do, but also because I wanted to keep “winning” in my career. I wanted to keep showing everyone how worthy I was of attention, praise and love.

I pushed and achieved my way right into sickness.

But instead of resenting it, I’ve come to embrace what this time of healing is teaching me.

Getting sick in that way made me realize the way I was living wasn’t working. Something had to change.

I had a lot of time to reflect, think, read and write during the weeks I was home sick. That alone was a gift. But, more than anything, this journey is teaching me that I maintaining my former way of living is not sustainable and that I don’t have to do this on my own.

Instead of trying to conquer this challenge by myself, I’ve sought support and help, not only from my nutritionist but also from my workplace, the Baltimore health community, and my church. I’ve had people praying for my health and healing each week and checking in on my regularly. I talked to my boss and explained what was happening, and he supported me in setting healthier boundaries at work and getting support.

I’m spending more time talking and hanging out with my friends and am fostering new relationships. I have more community and a stronger support network around me now than I’ve ever had before. I’ve come to realize how lonely life would be with lots of professional success and no friends to share life with, but that’s the path I was on, blinded by my own ego.

Seeking growth and opportunities to challenge myself are hardwired into who I am, and I know I will continue to pursue excellence in my career, but not at the expense of my health and relationships. I’ve learned two lessons in the midst of this healing time:

Connection is more important than all of our success.

Gift #3: Transformation happens when I’m not in charge.

This has been an incredibly humbling time for me. My EBV journey has reminded me who is in charge of and in control of my life – God, not me. It’s like I was playing God, thinking I could run the show and fix any issues that arose by myself.

I don’t need help.

I’ll hold the world on my shoulders.

I can do it ALL.

But I can’t, and no one ever asked me to.

I remember back in November when I first started experiencing symptoms of fatigue and a recurrence of vocal strain. I was so frustrated. I was talking with my friend, Heather, and she said something so profound that I will never forget:

“Maybe there’s something you need to hear, but you need to be quiet enough to hear it.”

Oh.

In the midst of my constant striving and busyness, I didn’t leave any room for quiet.

Maybe losing my voice had a purpose other than frustrating me. Maybe being forced to sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing had a purpose. Maybe there was something I needed to hear; maybe someone was trying desperately to get my attention – God, friends, family, my body – but I was so busy being important that I missed it.

For years, I had ignored the voice beckoning to me to “SLOW DOWN” and “BE STILL.” Just yesterday, I heard the song, “Still” three times on Pandora Radio.

You’re parting waters
Making a way for me
You’re moving mountains that I don’t even see
You’ve answered my prayer before I even speak
All You need for me to be is still

Being quiet and sitting in the unknown is so challenging for me, but I know it’s one of the gifts EBV has given me, and for that I’m grateful. It has given me the time and space to be transformed, initially against my will, but now for what I know is my greater good.

I feel like I’m more supported and loved than ever before. I am not in this alone. All of the frustration, overwhelm and pain were not without a purpose. In fact, I’ve already met several people who have told me they or someone they know is struggling with Epstein-Barr, and they don’t know what to do about it.

At the very least, perhaps I can offer them some of the perspective I’ve gained and the hope I’ve experienced.

I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom passed on to me by my friend, Stef, about finding purpose in the midst of the pain:

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