Let’s Get Personal: My Struggle with Chronic Illness as a Personal Trainer

It’s time to talk about obstacles. Everybody has them. Yes, even that person who seems to have everything together and is constantly posting perfectly posed photos of their life online followed by some inspirational words and a quick “#blessed”. (Although, can I have some of whatever they’ve been drinking?). Knowing that this is true, why is it so hard for each of us to admit when we have challenges? I know I am guilty of wanting to look like I have it all together, but recently I have had some conversations with clients that have made me think that it’s time to be more open about my own issues with staying healthy. I want to break away, get vulnerable, and talk about my biggest obstacle as a health and wellness professional: Hypothyroidism.

For those who aren’t familiar, here is the elevator pitch on thyroid issues: the thyroid is a gland that controls your metabolism and, when it isn’t working properly, it can lead to health complications such as a compromised immune system, fertility issues, fatigue, muscle aches, heat and cold sensitivity, insomnia, stomach issues, depression, anxiety, inexplicable weight gain, brain fog…it’s not a pretty picture.

When I was studying to become a personal trainer, I felt a sudden shift in my physical health. I worked hard in the gym and ate well (I mean, it’s in the job description, right?), but suddenly I found myself having gained 30 pounds over just 3 months. To step on that scale and see that number, despite knowing I was doing everything right, was terrifying. I didn’t know where it would end or why it was happening and I felt helpless. On top of that, I was constantly tired, cold, sore, and foggy. What was happening to me??? Several blood tests and doctor visits later I had my answer–hypothyroidism.

To be honest, all I had really heard about this disease in the past had been jokes. People calling it an excuse for laziness or something that overweight people made up to get out of having to eat well and exercise. I told my family and some close friends and, while most were supportive, I became the butt of those jokes too. A personal trainer being told she’s not working hard enough to stay in shape–I was losing my identity. How could I expect clients to trust me if I didn’t look the part? Who would ever want to hire me?

Admittedly, there was a period of MAJOR wallowing while I came to accept what felt like a life sentence. While it is reassuring to know that my symptoms aren’t all in my head, I know now that this is something I will fight for the rest of my life. I still have a hard time  knowing that my dream job involves a judgement of my competence based on how I look when I am up against trainers without a chronic condition, but that doesn’t mean that I get give up. I owe it to myself to push through and, despite a lot of tears and frustration, have learned how to better listen to my body, know when to rest, and focus on reducing my symptoms without worrying as much about how I appear to others. I am a smart, badass coach and nobody can take that away from me–not even my thyroid.

It isn’t all bad. With this personal struggle has come a better understanding of my clients. 1 in 5 people in this country have some type of autoimmune condition. 1 in 5! At least 1 in 10 have problems with their thyroid, just like me. Those numbers are scary, but they motivate me to continue to learn and advocate for my clients who are fighting an invisible fight. It is hard to see what someone with an autoimmune disease is dealing with on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean that the struggle isn’t there or that it isn’t important.

I don’t know what specific obstacle is standing in the way of your goals, fitness related or not, but there are a few things I do know. I know that you deserve to reach your full potential. I know that having to fight for what you want makes it that much sweeter when you finally achieve it. I know that it can be discouraging, painful, and frustrating when things aren’t as easy for you as they seem to be for others, but that is no excuse to just give up. You might find that what you are struggling with will set you apart and put you in a position to help someone else down the road. Keep pushing, keep fighting, and give yourself a little extra kindness today. You’ve earned it.