that time I was hospitalized for working out

If your body doesn’t work,
If your mind isn’t sharp,
If you can no longer contribute to your life,
what is the most important, truest thing about you?

Really… If you can’t cook for your family, engage your friends, text someone back, call your mother, walk up stairs, cook dinner, email potential clients, or participate in your business or financial life or personal life, are you as valuable?

What is the truest thing about you?

I spent most of the past year being completely driven by the idea that, if I could just get physically fit, I could cross into some new plane of purpose and worth. I think most of us spend chunks of our lives trying to say “here’s what I bring to the table. here’s what makes me more valuable this year than I was last year and thus worthy to still take up space here.” I poured more money and time and thought into the fitness process than I can even count now. And in large part, my life did change. I not only saw physical repercussions, but also felt more aware, awake, and strong. But I also got a bit obsessed, took daily selfie’s, let everyone see what I looked like in a sports-bra, and way too excited about fat turning to muscle, about dropping jean sizes.

Change and passion are contagious, and I watched as other women joined in on the journey. I started up a blog that was visited by tens of thousands of women. I shared on a fitness Instagram account and began a movement of women embracing health. Somewhere in there, between the 2 hours at the gym each day, the $3,000 / month grocery budget, the complicated relationships with virtual strangers, I started to lose myself in the pressure. I not only felt pressure from myself to perform, but an unspoken pressure to lead these women to the promised land of health. As I always do, I went “all or nothing” on the fitness project and found myself tired, resenting it all, and missing out on other things that needed my attention – my spirit, my family, our business, and my friends.

In the spring, our family had a week away at a cabin in Colorado and I came home with perspective. I was healthy and getting skinnier every day, but I was losing those deep, interior places where I connected to myself and the people in front of me. In all or nothing fashion, I took a huge step back from it all. I stopped blogging about fitness, I quit social media, stopped training at the gym, pumped the breaks on the fad diet. Apart from an infrequent trip to the yoga studio or a morning walk, I really wasn’t exercising. I wasn’t unhealthy or gaining weight back, but I wasn’t being extreme either. I lived with a mix of joy that I was free from the performance and guilt that I was letting “my followers” down.

I have found something out about myself recently – I really like extremes. I like the idea of being the “most”, “best”, or “favorite”. I love the “all in” or “shit or get off the pot” mentality. The only problem is my humanity won’t support it. Not for long, at least. In case you haven’t noticed the state of things, our bodies aren’t perfect, and neither are we. We get sick, resolve weakens, and spirits get crushed. We are remarkable creations, but we are frail and breakable, and imperfect. We can’t live at extremes forever.

Just over a month ago I found myself in Brooklyn, NY doing some shoots and meetings. On a free Saturday my dear friend, total work out badass, and recent triathlon-et, treated me to one of her favorite and most challenging exercise classes in the city, soul cycle. Instead of spending paragraphs on this I will just say: Soul Cycle is insane. If you are in the best shape of your life, go do it. it’s madness and intense and addictive and you will get wicked high off the endorphins. If you haven’t exercised in awhile or ever, run away. I should have known the second I signed the medical waiver that I was getting myself into something a bit too over my head.

I was immediately in trouble, but my months of training and pushing myself had taught me how to mentally “power through” any work out. Even though my body wasn’t physically able to perform, my mind knew how to push to make it happen. Within seconds after the class was over, I knew I was injured. I couldn’t walk without locking my knees, my quads were destroyed, I was in excruciating pain, and my legs began to swell. I still had shoots and meetings scheduled, so I downplayed it and tried to power through. 24 hours later I was almost completely incapacitated, couldn’t see my knees because my quads had swelled so severely, was in more pain than anything I could remember, and was peeing brown.

A few days later, I found myself back home (after taking wheelchairs through airports), being admitted to the hospital. I had developed a condition called Rhabdomyolysis. my damaged muscle tissue was breaking down and releasing itself into my bloodstream. My kidneys were at risk of failing. According to my doc, normal protein levels in the blood are 30 to 200. Mine were 40,000. Just a day or two before that my levels could have easily been in the 100,000 + range. He immediately went pale and started reading me my rights, more or less. He told me I was at risk for shock or heart failure and they needed my permission, if it came to this, to take all measures possible to resuscitate me. I laughed out loud. I literally didn’t know what else to do in that moment. “um. yeah, doc. I wanna live.” He laughed back and said, “oh good. because, if you were going to say no, I had this whole speech prepared about how young your are and how life is worth living..” I made eye contact with Jeremy and he looked a little shellshocked by it all. That was a first.

One of the reasons I love intense exercise is because it reminds me of natural childbirth. As strange as that sounds, there is a zone I get in with both of those where it is just me and God. I push past walls of fear and pain and the past and enter into this place where it is just the Spirit speaking, and my only hope is to listen. I became an exercise junkie, in large part, to find that unmapped zone every day. And on that bike in that dark, loud, hot room at Soul Cycle, it happened again. I was pushing through pain that was actually my body telling me to “stop!” and I had a moment where God spoke to me:

“Ashley, my love is the truest and most important thing about you. I love you because I love you, not because of anything you do.”

I sit here over a month later understanding what those words, echoing in my heart during that class, meant. Just as the doctor predicted, It took me about a month to recover, and by recover I mean get out of bed, put on pants, and walk down stairs. For weeks I laid in bed, totally and completely worthless. The rhabdo messed with my mental ability to reason and think and process. The meds only made it worse and I spent most of the days sleeping or binge watching LOST and most of my nights having insane nightmares. The pain and weakness lasted weeks longer than I thought, and by the time the month had passed, I hardly knew what way was up.

I wish it wasn’t true, but this past month has reminded me that I really like to put my worth in my performance. Yeah, yeah, I know God loves me no matter what, blah, blah, blah. But, if I’m totally honest, there is this driven part of me saying I have to work harder, push harder, be better, go to the extreme to prove just how lovable and worthy I am. For the past month, I have not had that option, though. I have had to lay in hospital beds and in my quiet and empty room day after day, knowing that my performance, my participation, my mental agility, and my ability to be extreme, are not the truest things about me.

In the Bible, Paul writes a letter to the Ephesians where he prays that they will be strengthened in their inner being so they can grasp how much God loves them. He wants them to get stronger, but not physically. I can envision Paul writing the letter to people like me today saying something like, “there’s nothing wrong with going to the gym and taking care of your body. but it isn’t the truest thing about you, and it isn’t the point of your life.” Paul wants them to be strengthened in the deep, inner places because the pathway to knowing God’s love for us lies not in our physical fitness or what we can contribute, but in our inner being. I read his words and I realize that this is what this past year has been about. All along I dedicated this year as a “journey to health and fitness” but no amount of physical fitness, strength, or smaller sized pants could give me what I really needed – the inner strength to know and believe that God loves me, no matter what I do or don’t bring to the table.

I celebrated the anniversary of the year we dedicated to fitness with atrophied muscles and a different kind of selfie. Instead of coming from a place of being the best or the most impressive or extreme, this came from a place of having nothing to offer and being wholly and completely loved. I know God, my father, loves me. No performance from me or lack thereof is going to change that an ounce. I used to be able to say that and know it in my head, but the past month has drilled it into the deepest parts of my heart and experience – into my inner being. His love is the truest thing about me and it took hospital beds and a complete lack of contributing anything to remember it.

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Kristin You are so beautiful Ashley. I am so sorry you had to go through all of this and I will continue to be praying as you continue to walk through a full recovery.September 7, 2015 – 12:51 am

Andrea B. I’ve sincerely missed hearing from you! I hate that you’ve had such a difficult month, but wow, what an experience. I didn’t even know what happened was possible and I am so glad that you’ve been able to just be still. I love that you are open to learning and listening. I hope you let us have sneak peeks as you navigate your new, balanced normal. Thank you once again for your authenticity and transparency. It’s so rare and needed.August 31, 2015 – 3:01 am

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