Updated: Sep 23, 2020
In order for me to explain where I am now, it’s important for me to provide a picture of where I was.
While I’ve been practicing yoga casually since 2002, I never really took yoga as anything other than stretching until 2016. Even while playing sports growing up, yoga was not necessarily part of my process. I ran (admittedly only when I had to in order to train), I played soccer, I weight trained- all the things I would absolutely say today that yoga helps to enhance.
I've always considered myself an athlete. For many years, I solely defined myself as this, even when I stopped playing sports competitively at the end of high school. In early adulthood, I found ways to stay active, played sports casually in beer-leagues, and even spent a couple years playing roller derby. It was a source of pride and strength, which slowly became a way to mask the way I was feeling. It was in my early 20's that I started to notice myself increasingly having a hard time functioning the way I felt I "should" physically. Around this time I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I ignored, I pushed through, I pretended I was fine, and started demanding more and more of my body even though I felt it pushing back against my demands. I did this for over 10 years, slowly getting worse, slowly feeling more depressed, less capable, more helpless, until I was in chronic pain, my body was inflamed, and I could hardly move. Around age 30, I was hospitalized for acute pancreatitis. Between ages 30 and 32, I had several more hospitalizations due to chronic acute pancreatitis. I remained in near-constant pain, and had difficulty doing basic tasks. I still remember the day I tried to walk to my mailbox, which at the time was down a single flight of stairs, and I couldn't make it without sitting down to rest because the pain was so bad.
So, I tried all the diets. Every single one of them. You name it, I've been there and done that. Even though I never really considered myself extremely overweight, my doctor felt losing weight would help my pain, in addition to addressing my diabetes. No dice. Short term, I could lose 10-20 pounds, and then gain it all back again, and my diabetes was worse than ever. I gave up and busied myself with other things in life.
In 2014, I started graduate school for my masters in social work. A few months later, in early 2015, I was diagnosed with stage II thyroid cancer. While my prognosis was very good, having someone say, “You have cancer,” was one of the scariest moments of my life. I spent the next year sinking into a dark place that I masked by taking on as much as I could between working a full time job, being a full time graduate student, and working a 20 hour per week internship.
In 2016, I underwent a full thyroidectomy and radiation treatment, and during that time finished graduate school. If you've ever struggled with uncontrolled diabetes, you may know that it can complicate every aspect of your life, including treatments for other illnesses and disease. I felt caught in this weird paradox of wanting to be healthy, but actively self-sabotaging at every turn. I had always identified with being strong, athletic, determined, and independent - and it increasingly felt like the life I was living couldn’t possibly belong to me. I was lost in who I was, I was still in chronic pain nearly every day, and it continued to prevent me from doing the things that I loved. I felt completely dependent upon this ever-changing regime of medications, and I was starting to latch onto the belief that I was “sick,” and will always be “sick.” Beyond the physical pain, what I felt most was shame— and the shame felt like the most crippling experience of all. I was too embarrassed to go out anywhere- forget going to the gym. I think I had a gym membership for 3 years, and only went once...to get my gym card and my free t-shirt as a bonus gift for signing up.
However, It was also in 2016 that a friend had mentioned that she does yoga online through an app, and I thought "Well, at least I can embarrass myself in the privacy of my own home," so I gave it a try. I started out doing a few minutes here and there, nearly every day, simply to say I did something if my doctor asked me. A little, turned into a lot. I found myself wanting to get on my mat, because it was one of the only places I felt better. Feeling better helped me feel more invested in myself, my body, and my happiness. For the next two years, I connected with other yogis on social media who were also just starting out, and practicing primarily from home. I started reading about yoga, and discovering that it was so much more than just "stretching." Yoga could be in every breath, movement, and thought; it could be in the kitchen when I'm eating; when I'm sleeping; when I'm spending time with my family. I was learning that yoga was about discovering something divine within myself.
In 2018, I ended up transitioning to a plant-based way of eating. I still ate a little meat here and there, but it was when I started to eliminate animal proteins altogether that my physical activity and my nutrition put on their Power Rings and went into "Beast-Mode." I was no longer in pain, I was doing yoga regularly, I was running, hiking, biking, and just enjoying life.
2019 rolls around and I start thinking about how great I feel, and how I could share that with others. I knew I was not alone in how I used to feel- there were others out there, feeling the darkness, feeling the shame, the helplessness, the loss of control. I wanted to show people that if I could change the way I felt, anyone could. I applied to the Kripalu School of Yoga for my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training. I met some of the most amazing people that I still share time and space with on and off the mat.
In June of 2020, three amazing things happened for me: (1) I officially became a Kripalu yoga teacher, (2) I went into full remission, and (3) my Type 2 diabetes diagnosis, which had been incorrectly diagnosed for over 12 years, was changed to Type 1.5 or Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA)- and this allowed me to engage in more effective diabetes management.
I am currently teaching yoga classes regularly through my virtual studio reTHRIVE Yoga & Wellness, and maintain my own practice in my home during these COVID-19 times. I am proud to say that I'm living in a way that makes my heart sing, and I am truly grateful for the people who have supported me along my journey, and continue to support me to this day. If you can identify with my story, I encourage you to reach out. Let's connect and chat. If you need an ear, a shoulder, a support, I am here.
Love to you All,
Edit: I wanted to note here that for those of you reading this, Wellness is an ongoing process. I have my ups and downs, and that’s part of the transparency I try to promote. I have days where I feel really successful and I’m on my game, and other days where I feel like a dumpster fire rolling down a mountain of you-know-what; but now the times where I am working effectively in service of my well-being far outweigh those really tough days. Wellness is a series of skillful actions. It takes practice, support, patience, and to paraphrase a dear yogi friend of mine— It takes getting it wrong, to get it right.
Nicole MacDonald is an RYT200, social worker, reiki master, and whole-food plant-based food gobbler living in Southern Maine with her wonderful husband and golden retriever. Nicole lives with Type 1.5 diabetes, and is now in full remission from stage II thyroid cancer. She is active in the outdoors, delights in traveling, and also loves being at home cooking, gardening, knitting, reading, playing video games, and spending time with her family.
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