Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Meet-Up Spotlight: Ohio's Maggie

Meet Maggie, our Ohio Meet-Up group leader. Her connection to Outdoor Mindset runs deep and we're fortunate to have her as part of the OM family. Here she tells her story about her neurological history that has an amazing outcome... because it brought her to our organization!

"I remember one day when I was probably a junior or senior in high school. I came home from school in severe pain and instead of going straight to bed or taking a hot bath, my anger got the better of me and I decided to go for a run. I was so sick and tired of the constant pain and the feeling that I couldn't really be myself. I was fed up and pissed off. So I put on my running shoes and ran.

I don't remember running, but I do remember stumbling into the house about twenty minutes later, doubled over, pressing the palms of my hands into my forehead as hard as I could to keep myself from vomiting. I could hardly see; everything was too bright and blurry. I couldn't talk, because my own voice triggered a chain reaction, starting with the nerves behind my right eye and radiating down my spine. I couldn't eat, because the nausea made it impossible to swallow. At that point, there was nothing I could do but crawl in bed and wait it out. The next day would be the same, but about 15 hours of sleep might give me the energy it would take to make it through school the next day.

It's strange to look back over the last 10-15 years and realize how much has changed. In the days before I found an effective treatment, it was hard to even imagine spending more than a day without pain or nausea. Now, my bad days are few and far between, and I feel like I finally have the ability to be myself and do the things I want to do.

I was finally diagnosed with migraine after my family doctor put the pieces of my genetic puzzle together: my dad had mostly recovered, but had suffered from severe migraine when he was younger, and while my symptoms presented differently, they all pointed to migraine. At the time, I didn't really understand what that meant. I later learned that migraine is actually a brain disease that affects the entire central nervous system, and it explained the severe stomach pain and nausea I'd experienced when I was younger, as well as the cognitive impairment and other symptoms. Several years later, when I was in college in Kentucky, I was also diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which could have a connection to migraine and contributed to the severe fatigue.

During the two years I was in Kentucky, I struggled with pain, nausea, fatigue and sometimes even cognitive impairment, making it difficult to have a normal social life and succeed in school. Medications I had tried before just made me sick, and I didn't know if I would ever find a treatment that would help me be "normal," whatever that meant for me. At the time, I just wanted to be free from the pain. But I didn't realize how many areas of my life were affected until I got better.

When I transferred to go to school back home, I spent the summer working with my doctor to find a treatment. Around the time school started, I was beginning to adjust to the medication that would change my life. I was starting at a new school, with a new major and hoping and praying that this time things would be different. I didn't really like high school, so I had always looked forward to college: the chance to start over, study things I actually cared about and get the real "college experience." Kentucky had been a bust, but going into my junior year armed with a medication that actually worked, I knew things could be different.

And things were very different. I was no longer afraid to be around people, worried of what they would think when I couldn't keep up with the conversation or it took me an unusually long time to respond to a question. I could go to events and meet new people, because I was there to have fun, not to merely survive until I could get back into bed. I could run for fun; I could go to parties; I could even speak up in class discussions, because I was able to follow them. That's when I realized how much I had been missing out on. It wasn't just the physical pain and limitations that had made things so difficult, I had also lost my personality, my passion and my ability to make connections with other people. I literally didn't know who I was. It was almost like meeting myself for the first time; I learned that I was actually an extrovert and loved meeting new people. I found a passion for fitness, running, biking and other outdoor activities. I joined a sorority and found out that event planning and fundraising was another passion of mine. I learned photography and picked it up as a minor, because why not? I took advantage of every opportunity I could, and I wasn't afraid to try new things.

When I ran across the Outdoor Mindset website, I had no idea there was already an organization that combined some of the things I care about most. I am now a trainer for Planet Fitness and I'd eventually like to specialize in working with clients who have neurological challenges and mental illnesses. I feel like I can relate to some of the challenges that those with neurological diseases face, and I know from experience how exercise can change lives.

I also know how important it is to be surrounded by people who care and support each other, especially when you're facing a chronic illness or disability. I was lucky to have my family and a few close friends by my side while I struggled with my illness, and I don't know what I would've done without them. That's why I'm so excited to be a part of Outdoor Mindset and grow a community in Ohio. Through outdoor activity and social connections, we CAN make a difference in the lives of those with neurological challenges!"

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