I have always been a fighter from the day I was born. I was born addicted to heroin from my biological mother's abuse during her pregnancy with me. Strangely I grew up having a recurring dream that I was in a plastic bed looking up at a nurse with the most intense blue eyes, beautiful blonde curls flowing over her shoulders, and a soothing voice telling me the only way was to fight as hard as I could because I had a lot of life to live.
That dream really never made sense to me until the day my mom sat me down to tell me that she was actually my Grandma, but she had adopted me and my brother when I was six months old. She shared with me about my mother's lifestyle struggles, so I shared the dream. She told me it was not a dream, that my NICU nurse looked exactly as I described, and if not for her I may not have made it.
To say the least, I got chills up my spine but realized there was a reason for me to remember her angelic words.
Boosting my confidence with martial arts
Growing up I was never really part of the popular crowd, and back then it was so very devastating to me. I got teased a lot because I had no control over crying over everything. I never did get a grasp of why I was not able to fit in, so I had no self-esteem and was always an easy target.
My brother noticed my struggle as I was getting to my preteen years and thought that it would help me to learn some martial arts to build my confidence. My Dad, however, did not agree with the plan at all because I was his princess and he didn’t want me taking those classes. My brother didn’t give up though, and in private before our father would come home from work he would teach me what he was learning. He taught me how to take a kick, hit and shove. I could not be more thankful.
Memories of MMA
As a grown woman and mother I decided I would get in shape to lose weight and get healthier. I started doing MMA. Even in adult life I was struggling to fit in at my job and thought it would also help me with some confidence. I was in my prime and absolutely loved it!
I was blessed over six years to be with three teams and meet a lot of amazing people. I was able to travel quite a bit and enjoy several different fight venues; it was an experience I could not have imagined. For the last two years, I was a fight team manager until the demands outweighed what I could promise to accomplish, so I just went back to training, but wow I have stories and memories for life.
An unexpected incident at the gym
It was a normal day at the gym. I was doing my wraps and starting to warm up by jogging around the edge of the area where we trained. Out of nowhere, my breath was gone, I had pain all over my body, and I collapsed against a wall then slid to the floor. For a bit, I thought I was going to have to ask them to call 911, but thankfully it all subsided except for the pain in my hips and shooting excruciating sharp jolts into my legs.
I went home and did an alcohol bath, used a heating pad, and put Tiger Balm on my hips. It eased when I was resting, but it just wasn’t going away. I finally went to my doctor and he said I had weak discs in my lower spine and told me to ease off for a bit. So I did just that and took some time away. I just wasn’t getting better. He then advised me not to do MMA any longer.
Diagnosed after 15 years
I was shattered in ways I can never explain. Mentally it was the worst thing I had ever had to go through because I had to give up the thing I really had come to love. I put myself through the process of self-destruction over and over fighting to prove the doctor wrong, only making things worse. This was the start of the battle to accept that I was not going to be able to do that, and the beginning of having to scream, rant, and rave with doctors for the next 15 years to get them to listen to me.
I knew something was really wrong but kept getting brushed off. I was in it to win and finally, I did. In 2020 I was finally diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis and Sjogren's disease. It was a bittersweet moment to have answers and anger that it took so many years for one person to hear me while I was almost literally screaming for help.
Fighting for normalcy
Since the moment of my diagnosis, I have nose-dived multiple times down the rabbit hole looking for ways that I can deal with living with something that can’t be cured. I have read about diet, exercise, medications, and what I can expect for my stage of the disease. It wasn’t until recently after several rounds of therapy for my anxiety, depression, and PTSD that I realized that I was fighting again, but not for the right thing.
I have been battling for normal and to get my life back on track so I can go back to work. I again have been in self-destruct mode and have tried three times to join the workforce only to fail and twice end up in the hospital. I thought losing the ability to do MMA was my toughest struggle, but it wasn’t. This was my title match and it was one that I have lost and won at the same time. I can now face that my life will never be the same and that winning the fight to get out of bed every day is an accomplishment.
Learning to appreciate the small wins
I have learned that being able to get to the bathroom or wash a couple of dishes is a win. There are people with this disease that can keep going like they used to and there are those that can not, I can not.
As I write this article I am being screened for neurological deficits that are not related to the AS but feel blessed that I have figured out the right thing to fight for, and that is one day at a time. I will win sometimes and I will lose sometimes because that is the nature of the beast, but I will never give up because I have a lot of life to live.
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