Lessons Along the Path: My personal journey to wellness
I was not a high achieving student during my middle and early high school years. In fact, I earned a whopping 1.3 GPA during the first semester of my freshman year. I was a kid who was fraught with frustration and self-doubt, and I hated school. During this time, I was also struggling with mysterious physical symptoms that caused extreme fatigue, as well as pain and swelling in my joints. It took over a year for a diagnosis, and at 14 I learned that I had an autoimmune disease known then as Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. By that time my left knee had swollen up to the size of a grapefruit, and my right elbow had a knot in it that was so large I lost the ability to fully bend and straighten my arm. I was so tired during the school day that I think I slept through the first semester of my freshman history class. I was told by one physician that if I didn’t take medications that would require my blood and organ functions to be tested on a regular basis, that I could find myself needing a wheelchair by adulthood due to the extreme joint damage I would experience. Those were shocking words to hear, and needless to say this was a very confusing and lonely time for me as a teenager. I was an athletic kid and came from a very active family. My parents were both runners, and health and fitness was an important part of my upbringing. My brother and I were encouraged to play sports, and by high school I was a competitive tennis player, swimmer and skier. In my brain I was an athlete, but everything else about me was crumbling and I felt defeated. My body was in pain, my mind was depressed and confused, and my family, friends, coaches and teachers didn’t know how to help. I was sure that everyone just thought I was stupid and lazy when I did poorly on an assignment or had to sit out a practice. I felt like no one understood what I was experiencing, and even my doctors were unsure of the best course of treatment.
Fortunately, my mother did not take my diagnosis lightly and she spent many hours doing research and driving me to specialists where I had my joints prodded, aspirated and injected with cortisone. We tried therapeutic touch and acupressure massage (practices that not many people had heard of in 1984), and learned about how the foods I put into my body could impact my energy and disease progression (this was also pretty progressive thinking for the time). My doctor agreed that we also would try strong anti-inflammatory medications instead of more aggressive treatments to see how I would respond. Eventually I learned that I had some power over aspects of my situation; including how nutrition, stress, sleep and activity levels influenced my physical and emotional wellbeing.
I had a wonderful high school guidance counselor who took me under his wing and gave me a supportive and safe place to talk, as I worked my way out of the dark academic hole I found myself in. My motivation and confidence improved and my physical symptoms lessoned so that I was able to resume many of the activities that I enjoyed. I began to thrive academically and managed to pull things together during my last two years of high school, bringing my GPA up just enough to get admitted into a state college on academic probation. Yay me! I wasn’t super thrilled about that status, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
The college program required a special preparation class that set me up for success and taught me tools and techniques to get organized, manage my time, and learn to study efficiently. I continued to perform well, eventually transferring to a smaller university where I graduated with honors. Simultaneously I began to study and practice yoga, and was becoming aware of the mind-body connection in relation to my disease response. After graduating I worked in special education at an urban school for pregnant and parenting teens, where I discovered a love for helping kids learn. Soon I was applying to graduate programs, completed two master’s degrees, and began a career as a school psychologist working primarily with adolescents and their families. I took a step back from work soon after my third child was born in order to be a full-time mom, while growing my skills in the mind-body/health industry and becoming a yoga instructor and wellness coach.
I wanted to share my story because I believe it’s important to honor the challenges and transitions that shape us into the unique individuals that we are. The ups and downs of my life have led me down numerous paths, and I am grateful for them all. Those early teen years were hard. In fact, they really sucked at times! I felt pain, depression, anger, frustration, and failure for a long period. However, at an early age I also learned the importance of self-care and became an adult with a good awareness about what is happening in my body and mind. With the support and guidance of my amazing family, good friends, and many others, I learned (and continue to learn) so many important lessons that give me strength and help me continue to change and grow throughout my life.
We all face personal obstacles throughout our lives. With an attitude of growth and an openness to learning from our experiences, we find our path and become increasingly aware of our ability to shape and change our lives to align with what is important to us. My life continues to unfold in unique ways that I hadn’t expected. When doubt, failure, worry, or the occasional flare up catches me off guard, I know I have an arsenal of tools, healthy habits, self-compassion and awareness that help me stay positive and moving forward. As a wellness coach I am grateful to draw upon the experiences I’ve had (as a student, patient, educator and parent), in order to guide others as they move through their own challenges to create lifelong health and wellbeing.
Yvette Morton is a master certified wellness coach and former school psychologist. She specializes in how the mind body connection influences overall health and wellbeing, and guides clients to break free of thought patterns and behaviors that are barriers to long-term success. She works with adolescents, young adults, women and families.