My relationship with my job as a public school teacher is touchy. Many days I love it and I am emboldened by the work I do. Many days I am angry and bitter about the work that I do. And many days I am too depleted to even process emotions other than count down the seconds from waking to sleeping. But as my life evolves and the more I think about the legacy I want to leave behind; working with children to improve themselves to be better humans socially, emotionally, and academically seems to routinely hit the nail on the head as far as fulfilling me.
Despite that fullness though, for years I have complained and begged my husband to let me quit my job to work exclusively in fitness. And for years, he begrudgingly agreed I could leave my teaching position, so long as I could make enough money teaching group classes, training clients, and even with my writing. It finally seemed like 2017 was going to be my year. My group fitness schedule swelled, my classes were packed, I was getting good feedback, and I was so swamped that I had to start turning down personal training clients! I was so close. Sooooooo close to finally getting what I wanted when the universe had different plans.
[More on my teaching job later]
Four months ago, my beloved husband was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called Scleroderma. To say the diagnosis rocked our worlds is an understatement and immediately thoughts of fear and terror took over.
How much time do we have left?
Would my husband die?
Would I have to morph into a caretaker?
What’s going to happen to Greg’s body…?
The day of Greg’s diagnosis, we left the doctor’s office in shock. I found myself unable to really process much and Greg kept pushing me to ‘talk about my feelings’. I came straight home and crawled into bed—jeans and all, immediately falling asleep. For me, sleeping is my escape and avoidance behavior. It’s my way of running from things I choose to not address or cannot face. Perhaps Greg needed me in that moment to hold him as he cried, but what I needed was stillness to allow things to fully sink in.
The days that unfolded consisted of lots of crying. Much of that time I held my husband as he divulged how scared he was of dying and leaving me. As a newlywed of only 2 years, the thought of losing my husband is completely unfathomable. But during this time, through the tears and initial distress, something magical happened.
Greg sprang into action instantly and started reaching out to members of the Scleroderma community. He spent hours online conducting research, learning about his disease, finding support groups, learning about treatments, etc. Through his search, we connected with the Scleroderma Foundation of Southern California where we met Tina, a patient advocate not afflicted with the disease. Tina spent hours talking to Greg and sent us both many emails during those early days of his diagnosis with support groups and other resources. In one of her emails, she invited us to attend a patient information day at Cedars-Sinai so we could meet others battling Scleroderma, learn more about how to live, manage, and treat the disease. Both nervous and excited at the same time to attend the patient day, we signed up immediately.
While attending the patient day at Cedars, Greg and I looked around the room and both had the same thoughts: How could we help these people?
Scleroderma affects mobility in its patients. It targets connective tissue and the skin thickens, making it hard for many people to move their faces, hands, and bodies. Some patients suffer internal organ complications, gastrointestinal distress, and some may struggle to breath as a result of pulmonary fibrosis. Sure, Scleroderma could be devastating and ravage someone’s body, but the spirit of the people I kept meeting touched my heart. Their indomitable will inspired me to my core.
I kept asking myself over and over and over again, how can I help?
The answer I kept coming up with was yoga.
Yoga with props and balls for myofascial release.
And so, things come full circle (remember all that stuff about me being a teacher and all…).
Whether it’s in my full time job as an English teacher to underserved minority youth in Los Angeles, as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, or coach; everything about my life has been and shall be dedicated to lifting others up (literally and figuratively).
I have spent so darn long trying to suppress my gifts, hell even run from my gifts while trying with every fiber of my being to NOT BE A TEACHER, but as life would have it; I AM A TEACHER. Being a teacher simply IS my path. And truly in recent months it has become more obvious than ever that my place in this world is a bold call to action to serve others: To teach children how to analyze text, think critically, be socially responsible. To empower others to take control of their lives and bodies, to move with joy, to sweat, and above all—to love themselves unconditionally.
So I am not working exclusively in fitness. This duality and polarization of my life has been tough for me to wrangle over the years, but the more and more I moved forward with my life I have realized that being a teacher has made me a better fitness professional and working in fitness has in turn made me a better English teacher. Being a school teacher has allowed me to do so much more than I could have imagined with my life. At times, I feel burdened to elevate my community and those kids in my efforts to get them to college so they can change their lives, circumstances, and this world. Other times—well, much of the time, I feel bestowed insurmountable power to positively touch peoples lives. But I need to be totally honest here, that is all I know how to do: Push people to strive for excellence at all times—regardless of the modality.
And while I chose my career in education, and I chose my incredible husband, Scleroderma chose us. We could very easily succumb to the diagnosis or we can rise up and channel our efforts positively because friends, never forget—positivity is a choice. Ultimately, we’ve decided to use our presence in our community and talents as fitness professionals to help others afflicted with this rare and little-known, and little-talked about disease.
Both Greg and I truly feel a higher calling and pull to help others feel better in their bodies while raising money for research and patient support. Talk about turning something seemingly negative into a positive!
In a few short weeks, I will be leading a donation yoga class for those fighting Scleroderma with my husband and our new friends. I couldn’t think of a better way to use what I know, while sharing what I love to do while doing some serious good in this world.
I am going to say it again because it never gets old, but I feel honored and blessed right now. I am grateful that my job as a teacher affords us phenomenal health care and treatment. I am grateful that my work in the classroom transforms kids lives. And finally, I am also grateful that my work in fitness enables people to feel better in their bodies, to get healthy, and stay healthy.
How we choose to look at our lives and circumstances are a choice. Things do not happen to us; they happen for us. Being sad and angry about something is ok—but we must not allow those emotions to overrun our lives and existence. And trust me, there are times we cry and crying is allowed but wallowing is not. I promise even amidst the darkest days there will always be light, and sometimes rather than constantly seeking the light can choose to be the light.
Lean on others. Ask for help. Find your people. Let your community support you. And remember, when life hands you lemons; make lemonade.