It was September 11, 2011 and I was at Newark Airport about to get on an airplane with my husband. Like many Americans, flying on this day made me a little uneasy. The thoughts going through my mind were about safety and remembrance. Little did I know, traveling that day would start the most challenging year of my life.
My husband, Frank, and I were looking forward to our trip to Florida. We had each spent the previous month dealing with extra burdens and stresses in our individual lives and a few days in the sun with a visit to an amazing spa planned was the exact escape we needed to recharge. I had developed a sinus infection right before the trip, but I’d be damned if that was going to slow me down. I needed this trip. Besides, compared to the health challenges I faced from living with an autoimmune disease called Interstitial Cystitis (IC) for the past 20 years, a sinus infection was really not a big deal. As the plane was gaining speed for takeoff, I realized I had forgotten to bring ear plugs to reduce the ear pressure that I was sure to feel due to the sinus infection. As we ascended, I felt a sharp pain in my left ear followed by tremendous pain. With that seemingly simple act, so began my seven month health nightmare that brought me to my knees and changed my entire world.
The entire time we were in Florida, my ear was driving me crazy but I ignored it so, I could just enjoy this time with my husband. However, by the time we returned to New Jersey, my health began to deteriorate quickly. I had seen a doctor who told me the sharp pain I felt on the plane was due to fluid behind my inner ear. Ok, I could handle that. It was something that would go away quickly, right? Wrong.
The persistent pain that started in Florida became worse as time went on. I would get up from my office chair and become very dizzy. Every day, the dizziness became worse to the point where I could not walk a straight line and would have to hold onto the wall using it to slide around the house. My doctor told me that the fluid behind my inner ear was causing vertigo. What I discovered about vertigo is that few people are sympathetic to this plight. They think “Oh, you’re dizzy. Well, that stinks but you know, it could be worse.” Well, sure. There are probably plenty of things that are more painful or frustrating, but let me tell you, vertigo is pretty awful. Your entire world is in a constant spin. You can’t move too fast, can’t bend down to tie your shoes, can’t look too far to the left or right without picking up speed that makes you so nauseous that you vomit. If you haven’t experienced it, the best way I can describe it is being in state of constant motion sickness coupled with violent, gut wrenching morning sickness. Unlike morning sickness, it doesn’t come in waves. It is always there. There was no relief. In the middle of the day or the middle of the night, I would be staggering and spinning. I knew there was something very wrong and began documenting what was happening with my health to share with my doctors. Little did I know at the time, those little notes and sentences were the start of the book you are now reading.
Thankfully, at this point in my life I had already educated myself with natural remedies. I called my homeopath practitioner and she put me on a remedy for motion sickness which really helped. In fact, it was the only thing that did work. The prescription that my doctor gave me for the vertigo actually made me more dizzy!
After three months of vertigo, my muscles began to deteriorate to the point where my back rib cage would pop out. I would have to see my chiropractor to put them back in place. I was weak and realized that I needed to get stronger to regain my health. Even though I was suffering with this horrible vertigo and pain, I did something completely out of character and seemingly insane – I joined the gym with my best friend.
I had never been a “gym girl.” In fact, I hated the gym! My last fitness trainer used to work me so hard I would black out. But, my body needed to get stronger. I felt like Rocky Balboa from the movie “Rocky” – I was in the fight of my life! I had to do this. I had to get better. The vertigo was so severe that my friend would drive me to the gym, walk me up the stairs and lead me to my yoga mat. I would lay there with my eyes closed so the room would stop spinning. During the class, I would modify some of the exercises because I would be violently nauseous. Despite this, I continued to go to the gym five times per week taking yoga and Pilate’s classes. Let me tell you, there were plenty of days when I did not want to go to those classes. I didn’t feel good and had plenty of valid reasons for not exercising, but I forced myself to do it. If I ever wondered about the level of my self-determination, this time period in my life taught me that I can persevere.
Even with help from my health team of practitioners which included my homeopath, the vertigo still persisted. It had gone on so long that it was affecting my daily life. I couldn’t work longer than 10 minutes at a time because the words would swim on my computer screen. I had to stop taking the Latin and Ballroom Dance lessons that I loved to do with my husband. I stopped leaving the house because I swayed so much that people assumed I was drunk. One day I was brave enough to go grocery shopping with my two sons. They had to hold the shopping cart so that it would make me steer the cart straight. It was such a miserable experience! The fluorescent lights in the grocery store put me in a severe vertigo attack and the extreme nauseousness overwhelmed me to the point I had to race out of the store. Grocery shopping which normally is such as simple and ordinary task had become monumental for me to achieve.
There were times when the vertigo was so bad that I would put on my sunglasses and just sit on my bed hoping the day would end. However, there was always that slight hope that when I woke up the next day, this nightmare would be over.
Eventually, the vertigo morphed into a roaring in my left ear so intense that I could hear my heart beating. It then grew into such intense pain in my head that it felt like electrical currents zapping through my brain. It is very hard to focus, hard to function and the pain was unbearable. I vividly remember one night trying to watch television as my eyes were shaking back and forth. I looked in a mirror and could see my eyes actually shaking. What in the world was happening to me?! That night, I ventured out into the living room hoping to spend some time with my family. As I sat there, I asked my husband to rub my head because the pain was so severe it felt like my head would explode. As he rubbed my head, I started to have facial and eye twitches. Then the twitches would turn into facial spasms that went down the left side of my face and over to my upper lip. I felt like a hideous monster was inside my body. It was so unreal that this could be happening! I began to cry uncontrollably where the sobs made my whole body shake. I had reached the limits of my pain threshold. This nightmare had been going on for 4 months with no relief in sight.
At this point, vertigo had changed every aspect of my life. I had simply stopped which was unbelievable to me because I wasn’t a person who stopped. I was a wife, mother, business owner with a successful business advising and marketing business, volunteer and basically professional “juggler.” I was a nonstop doer. I was the person that solved other people’s problems. Yet, here I was completely unrecognizable to myself. I couldn’t drive a car, I couldn’t go grocery shopping, I couldn’t even sit and watch television with my family. I was no longer able to work which was very difficult for me to accept. It made me feel like a failure. Money was tight enough already with my one son in college and dealing with the recession. I felt helpless and so depressed. There were days where I felt like I was in this black tunnel with no way out. I know this was the feeling of depression. I tried to hide it from my family and friends; no one realized the level of despair I was feeling or even the level of pain I felt. Despite all of this, somewhere deep inside I refused to give up and accept that this downward cycle was my life. I continued to fight on and pursue answers to these medical challenges.
I was not only visiting my homeopath, but also an Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) doctor. The first two visits with the ENT were unproductive and made me more depressed because I wasn’t given a solution to resolve these issues. He sent me for several tests but everything came back inconclusive. There are no words to express how frustrating this was! What I was feeling was real. It was causing me daily pain,making me give up activities that I loved and stopping me from working. It caused the passions of my life to be on indefinite hold. Inconclusive?!
I continued on with my homeopathic remedies and while they were helping, I couldn’t kick it totally out of my system. I was persistent and continued to make appointments with my ENT doctor demanding answers. I even sought out an eye neurologist. Between the two doctors, I had every test imaginable from a MRI, Circle of Willis, MRA and neurological testing. My mind was racing and thinking I had a brain tumor or heart disease.
In the meantime, I did my own research and came across a description for Meniere’s Disease. As I was reading off the symptoms, I was mentally saying “check, check, check.” I had all the symptoms including vertigo, tinnitus, skull pressure, dizziness, nausea and a host of other issues. I gave the list to my ENT and that was when he started to do additional testing. They did a videonystagmography (VNG) test that confirmed I had Meniere’s Disease.
Finally, after months of walking in this cloud of grief and frustration, I had a diagnosis which was like a lifeline to me. Now that I knew what this was and had a name to give the insanity that had consumed my life, I could tackle it and make a plan to get better. I began visualizing myself healthy and whole. With that very distinct picture in my mind, I began breaking down what I needed to do to capture that vision and turn it into my reality. I signed myself up for my own bootcamp, created my own program to wellness and put systems in place not to reclaim my life, but to make it the life I had always wanted.
Establishing A Wellness Health Team
The first step in regaining my life was surrounding myself with talented medical and wellness professionals. My homeopath and ENT were already on my team for the past four months. Thanks to a recommendation from my ENT, I started seeing a physical therapist three times a week for the next two months. The physical therapist helped to retrain my eyes, retrain my walking ability and helped me to just be still. I was doing the physical therapy while also increasing my yoga classes. I credit yoga to helping me with balance and the ability to remain still. Little by little, I was beginning to get better.
For the past 20 years, I had a business consulting and marketing agency which, in latter years, was comprised of many health and wellness clients. While I was building my business through working with these clients, I was also building a knowledge bank of natural remedies. It began with herbal supplements and eventually moved into naturopathetic medicine (accupunture, homeopathy, chiropractic). Thankfully, my professional path was now merging with my personal one because it was my understanding of natural medicine that led me to the remedies that finally got me back on the path of wellness.
Once I had the Meniere’s Disease diagnosis, I was able to better explain my symptoms to my homeopath practitioner which enabled her to narrow down what I really needed. She gave me a bullseye remedy. I took the first remedy on the way home and heard my ears pop. I could actually feel activity happening in my ears. I continued the remedy for two days then switched to the second remedy. Coupled with the visits to the physical therapist and these supplements, my balance was improving on almost a daily basis. I was suddenly able to stay still, bend down and even look for my shoes in my closet. Could it be that I was getting my life back?! With my homeopath practitioner, physical therapist and yoga instructor on board, over the next seven months I began chipping away at each symptom. I found myself not back to “my old self” but a new self – healthy, strong and forever changed.
I also put myself on a new, healthy meal plan with high nutritional value to help me boost my immune system. With this new plan and commitment to yoga and Pilates, I went from a size 20 to a size 12. Weight loss wasn’t my goal during this time, but it was an added bonus (no pun intended!) that gave me more energy than I ever had before. I remember the day that I truly realized how far I had come. Our family had planned a beach day which five months earlier would have been impossible for me. We were at Island Beach State Park Beach in New Jersey which has a long boardwalk entrance to the beach. The walk onto the beach alone would have been beyond my energy level and stamina only a few months before. But, not that day. The feeling of being in the ocean and riding the waves with my husband and sons was exhilarating! I was able to jump up above the waves and dive under. I had the strength to do it! It was an amazing feeling and I was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.
Building a Support Network
In addition to the recent health challenges, I’ve suffered with an auto immune disease called Interstitial cystitis (IC) for the past 15 years. IC is a painful condition due to inflammation of the tissues of the bladder wall. I didn’t discuss my IC with many people because honestly,I was too busy. I was a working mother, wife, volunteer, the person who said “yes” to everything and basically, a chronic overgiver. If I had the capability or knowledge to do a task that was asked of me, I would do it and everyone around me knew it. I would push through the pain, develop ways to smile and not let anyone know I wasn’t feeling well. I became a master at distracting myself through helping others so that I wouldn’t think about my own problems.
For the first few months of going through Meniere’s Disease, I handled it in the same way I did the IC. The only people who knew what was happening to me were my husband, sons and best friend. I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t able to function or that I had changed so much. But, I had reached a breaking point. My body had stopped the madness for me. I needed help because I simply couldn’t carry the burden alone. This was a major realization during this health challenge! For the first time in my life, I was asking for help. I needed to reach out to others for support and prayers for healing.
I sent an email to people that I knew would pray for me and provide me with support. Almost instantly, I had established a prayer network. I also heard from friends and contacts who were able to relate stories and information to me about their own experiences with vertigo. It showed me that having a network of people to explain, sound off and discuss similar issues was a huge key in getting better. It humbled me and made me realize that I had much to learn from other people’s life and health experiences. It is so important that when you are going through physical health challenges, that more than ever you need to build up your mental and spiritual health to draw on for strength.
Restructuring the Family Diagram
Like many moms, I was at the helm of running a productive household. In addition to working my business, I also shopped, cleaned the house, drove my kids to their sports and social functions, volunteered at their schools and sporting functions and had my finger on the pulse of everything involving my family. Once I got sick, it was impossible to keep up with it all. All I could do was breathe so, it was time for my family to pitch in more than ever. I had a family meeting to let my sons know what was happening with my health and that I needed their help. My husband increased his list of things to do daily including food shopping, laundry and cooking. Frank was my rock in all of this and never once complained.
Redefining My Business
During this time, I was forced to put my business on hold to concentrated on my health. While I was going through this downtime, I reevaluated my business and what was important to me. When I felt better, would I want the same crazy schedule I had been keeping? What could I do to change that aspect of my life? I knew more than ever that I wanted to do what made me truly happy. I didn’t want work that would drain me. I wanted to work with people who made a difference in the lives of others and I wanted to be happy. I began to visualize the kind of clients I wanted and knew without a doubt, that when I returned to work that I would focus my business on supporting companies and individuals whose goal was improving the lives of others.
Focusing On the Good Days
I know it’s almost a cliche to say “you don’t appreciate the good until you experience the bad.” But, with all cliches there is an element of truth. During this seven month journey, there were moments where beauty shined through and gave me windows of wellness that kept pushing me forward. There was one day when my husband and I went for a walk on the Point Pleasant, New Jersey boardwalk. It was the same boardwalk we walked on our first date. My husband had been my greatest supporter during this whole experience so, being with him and seeing the ocean, the white sand and the birds flying overhead took my breath away like it never had before. I vividly remember thinking and saying out loud, “Today is a good day.” When days later I was in pain again, I thought back on that wonderful day at the beach and focused on it to distract me from the pain. I mentally went back there to the boardwalk, the perfect sunny beach day, walking with my husband.
One of the key tools that I used throughout this seven month journey was vision boards. Vision boards are compilations of photos, images or quotes that signify where you want to be in your life. Vision boards have been used for generations as a visualization tool to bring dreams, ideas and hopes into reality.
I always knew about visualization and understood how powerful it could be. Right around the time I first got sick, I learned about vision boards, but none of the examples really spoke to me. They required you to sift through magazines to find photos that may or may not work for you then cut and paste them on a poster board with glue sticks. That didn’t seem to be the best use of my time. However, I loved the concept and decided if I was going to do a vision board, I was going to do it my way. While I had a creative side in my personal life with singing, playing piano and scrapbooking, my professional background was in project management, action plans and strategic thinking. All of that came into play when I began developing my vision board system and what I now call the “Visionary Solution System” which has many other powerful tools in it.
My first vision board began when I saw a card on Pinterest that said, “Let her sleep because when she wakes, she will move mountains.” This spoke volumes to me because I had just come to grips with the fact that I couldn’t work. I really thought on that quote then gave myself permission to take a pause and rest until I was better.
In January, I shifted my mindset. Even though I was miserable, I was determined and committed to going to the gym. That was when I created my first board using Pinterest for photos and quotes. I started with a few photos that all centered around hearts. There was a photo of green vegetables arranged in a heart shape, a cloud that looked like a heart and swans in heart form, all of which represented “self love” and “self nurture.” I also included a sign that said “work/life balance.” After that first board, I created another board based on health, another on food and another on the book I was writing. I made my vision boards with 12×12 paper arranged in quadrants so, that I could take them down when I achieved the goal and archive them to track my progress. My vision boards became my focal points. It reminded me of being in Lamaze class years ago where they teach you to find a focal point to push through the pain. While the original intent of my vision boards was to distract me from pain, what actually happened was I repathed my brain into getting better. I created a system that provided tools that transformed my life.
In mid-October 2012, a little over a year after the trip to Florida that began the fight of my life, I found myself on an airplane again. I was flying to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with the draft of this book in hand to meet my copyeditor for a three day power working session in a beachfront condo. Even though I had come so far, I was still fearful of flying. What if the hell began all over again? While the takeoff was fine, the plane ride was challenging. At times, it felt like the plane was spinning in a circle. I also started to have extreme anxiety as my ears started popping like the sound of popcorn. I thought to myself “If I could be in pain for 7 months straight then I can get through the next 45 minutes on this plane!”
I visually pulled out my tools in my toolbox and started using them to overcome the challenges on the plane.
I closed my eyes and visualized the nature green grass and bridge that I had just looked at on my vision board before I left. The next image I focused on was the beach which I was going to be looking at for three days. I focused on those images and told myself I AM NOW safe, I AM calm. My ear is healed. My ear is protected. When we landed, I held my breath and cautiously stood up hoping that the vertigo wasn’t waiting for me again. I stood. So far, so good. I reached for my briefcase. Oh wow, I was fine. I walked down the aisle of the airplane…in a straight line. I did it! Oh, the relief! I walked out into the sunshine and thanked God for His grace and protection.
I had come full circle and a new journey had truly begun….. One week later Superstorm Sandy
ravaged my community and state of NJ and my family in NY.
I put my manuscript back on a shelf and spent the next year of my life helping do what I could to help my community in recovery, sharing with them tools from my own ‘toolbox’ to deal with ‘extreme challenges’.
I had started teaching my Healthy You Toolbox Transformational 30 Day Challenge workshops to provide people with the very tools that had helped me with my life and business. I flew home the last week of the workshop.
A hurricane was expected to hit New Jersey. The last day of the workshop I was on the conference call with students, and little did I know I was teaching them and providing them tools to help them get through the biggest challenge of their life-time. Many of my friends lost their home and their business.
It was October 29th, and we were all home from work waiting for Sandy. Everyone was nervous, as we didn’t know when it would hit us.
It was raining sideways, and the water began coming in through the window and filling my office window sill. I asked for my husband to board up the window, as I was on the call. Just as he nailed a board to the window, trees started to fall outside my window. He moved the one tree that was coming right at the window. We had no idea how the next twenty-four hours were going to change our New Jersey areas forever.
I gave my students an essential tool; a breathing and visualization technique to help with the “fight or flight” feeling that we were all experiencing. We would use this often over the course of the next two weeks—even months after Super Storm Sandy ravaged our community and state. Who knew that our 30 day Transformational Challenge would prepare us with critical tools we could use during the second largest natural disaster in US history?
Many students in the program were from New Jersey and from areas that were severely affected by this storm. In the aftermath of Sandy, many survivors found themselves with no frame of reference from which to begin their recovery process. The same challenge applied to their emotional, and cognitive starting point. NOTHING was what it used to be.
Some lost their homes; some faced death numerous times during the storm. I call them Sandy Survivors. Many Sandy Caretakers immediately stepped up to help our community and state, and then continued to serve in the long- term recovery.
The Breathing and Visualization technique would be tested in the uncertain days that followed this catastrophic event. One of my students described dealing with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy as looking through emotional cellophane as he fell into survival mode.
He lost his home, and was trying to find a place and finances for his family to live. He felt as if he were suffocating through a thin veil of reality, functioning to meet the immediate needs but not addressing the underlying trauma. Life became a daze of mechanically performed actions, while pent up emotions fought to make their way to the surface. Shocked by recent events and left with no frame of reference, the tools and techniques provided both a starting point and a definitive pathway to recovery. Having just lost his home, emotions and processing what transpired were bottled up while he tried to find a place for his family.
As I was going through these health challenges I would wake up at 3:33 am each night with the message, “You need to document your journey, you need to record the tools you are using to get better so you can help share these tools with others.” Well, the first time this happened I thought “I’m not a writer, I’m a business advisor, speaker and teacher but not a writer.” My English teacher in 5th grade taught me I was not a writer based on her horrific feedback to me that I could not write. Each night I would wake up at 3:33 am with that same message getting louder and louder saying,” You need to write your story; you need to write this book.” So in order to get any sleep, I started to go into my office and try to write. My eyes would shake and the screen was blurry many nights, but I became determined to write. I’m thankful for my typing teacher who taught me how to type without looking at the keys. I started writing in the office but found many writing blocks; there was too much left brain energy in there which just didn’t feel right. I realized I needed a right brain ‘creative space’ to write. So I ended up going into the kitchen, sitting at the table, and writing on my laptop. The direction I would sit allowed me to look into my kitchen, a nourishing place. I could look to the left and see my piano and my scrapbook area which is a very creative space. To the right is my big sliding glass door where, as the night become day, I could see the sunrise and see nature. There were many book writing challenges I faced, however I would look over at my vision board that was on a wall in my kitchen with my book goals and tasks to help me see it through. Perhaps I need to write a book about the book, because there were so many obstacles that happened I can only name a few in this book.
I soon learned that writing the book was the easier part but getting my book finished, edited and published wasn’t a simple journey. I made a business wish and resolution that I would finish and publish this book within the year. I signed up for several author classes to learn the ins and outs of Amazon ebook publishing. I knew I had all the tools to make this challenge successful. I used my Visionary Solutions System and challenges during the classes to give me many author tools and keep me a laser focused healthy SOLOpreneur. I ended up writing two books during the 30 day class and also developed my book series as well.
A funny thing happened. So many authors wanted me to make a Author 30 day and 6 month programs just for them. So using my Visionary Solutions System, I ended up creating an Author Solutions Toolbox program. The funds helped me with my book costs. It warmed my heart to help other authors, and it paid it forward to help me get my book costs covered.
So as you see by reading my story, each challenge I have been faced with in my life has helped me find a tool for overcoming that challenge. What makes my heart sing is sharing my toolbox to help YOU in your life and business challenges. So open your toolbox as you read this book and enjoy filling it up. Be sure to put your favorite tools in your belt so you have easy access.
These were “Extreme Challenges however, each of these challenges also brought transformation and purpose to my life.
This system I created you can implement in your own life, health, family and business to overcome any challenges. I share these same tools with others who have found profound success. In fact many of my students that took my 30 Day Transformational Challenge were on the last conference call with me the day Superstorm Sandy hit our community. These tools can be applied to your life and business to help you have clarity, overcome obstacles and achieve your goals. Provide you with the knowledge, innovative strategies, and tools you need to eliminate struggle, overcome being overwhelmed and build a solid foundation so you life and your business can thrive!
Laura’s Story is a introduction chapter in Healthy Business, Healthy You Toolbox – Transformational Tools For Your Life And Business Toolbox Book Series.
Copyright © 2012-2015 by Laura Cole Gonzalez
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the author
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.