archives, yoga

Taking brave steps toward gratitude.

{Photo: shantishiftyoga.wordpress.com}

{Photo courtesy: Danielle Orner / danielleorner.com}

I wore my prosthetic leg during the first yoga class I ever took.

There was no time to take it off because I was late making it into the practice room just in time.

Leaving my shoes in the hall, I approached the teacher, “I have a prosthetic leg and I’ve never done this before.” The yoga teacher’s eyes widened and he looked down at my feet.

Not knowing what else to say, I turned on my heel, unrolled my mat and sat down. The other students were already sitting in a cross-legged position with their eyes closed and palms facing up.

I rushed to class because it had not been planned. Thirty minutes earlier, I was sitting at my desk in the office where I worked for a fundraising company on Canal Street in Manhattan. I was working late and the only one left in the office. The heating system was broken. For some reason, I could not turn down the temperature.

“It’s like working in a sauna,” I muttered, punching away at my computer keys, “this really, really sucks.”

It was not just the intense heat that was making me unhappy. I had been miserable for a few months. Depressed about the fights I was having with my roommate who was a slob, and apparently I did not know how to clean dishes.

I had picked up a second job as a barista and a waitress at a cafe in Harlem, mostly working Friday nights and weekends until the early hours of the morning. Exhausted, I’d collapse on my bed and feel angry at myself for eating some of the croissants and other pastries the dishwasher at the cafe had given me to take home.

I had been struggling with food and body image for a long time. During my pre-teen and teenage years, I was a serious overeater who constantly tried to lose weight. With my twenties came anorexia, obsessive calorie counting and working out for hours on end. I lived off coffee.

I must have been on my fourth cup the night I stayed working late at the office. I do not remember what exactly inspired me to go to my computer’s keyboard and type in Yoga. I do remember the long list of results and randomly clicking on the link that led me to the main website for a studio in the West Village.

I noted the upcoming class on the schedule and an inner voice saying, “Go.”

Interesting how I was not nervous during that first class. It was as if my body knew that being on the yoga mat was exactly where I should be. I did the best I could. When the teacher asked if I was okay, I nodded yes, because I was. After the deep relaxation, I hummed along as the other students and teacher chanted.

When he ended the class with “Namaste,” I burst into tears. I did not quite understand it then, but essentially I had found a way to break away from the tension in my body and I could finally breathe.

I would have never, in a million years, seen myself taking a yoga class in Manhattan. Originally, I’d come to NYC to attend my first choice college on the Upper East Side. My dream was to major in Sociology and become a social worker.

The dream never came true.

Instead, one evening during the second semester of my freshman year of college, I was run over by bus and almost killed. The bus driver was speeding, and not looking while making a left hand turn. Thankfully, my roommate was with me. She grabbed enough of my coat just in time for the bus to miss slamming into my face. The bus hit my right shoulder and ran over my left leg. My roommate ordered me to stay down and called 911.

When sirens were heard at a distance, she asked, “Can you hear them, Margaret? They are coming.” An ambulance arrived shortly. My roommate and the bus driver were taken away. Strangers now surrounded me and said everything was going to be fine. One of the EMT workers knelt by my side, “Stay with us, sweetheart. You have the entire city of New York behind you.”

Thankfully, Bellevue Hospital, one of the best medical centers to treat trauma, was not that far away. As a result of the accident, my right ankle was broken and my left foot was severely damaged, later resulting in an amputation inches below the knee.

I spent six weeks in the hospital and had multiple surgeries, followed by intense physical and occupational therapies to regain my strength and learn daily activities of living, but this time as a woman adapting to life with limb loss.

I was discharged in April. Although I knew there would be challenges, I was excited about returning to life outside the hospital.

Throughout my initial recovery, I kept an upbeat attitude and looked forward to returning to New York that fall to resume college.

Everyone was glad to see me. To some, I was unrecognizable. After dropping sixty pounds in the hospital, I was finally thin and loving it. For the first time in my life, I fit into the skinny jeans that were sold in the popular sections at the store and wore tank tops without shame.

I hugged those who said I looked great more closely than those who gave me a worried look which was all I needed to see before telling myself I had not lost enough weight. One of the first things I did after moving into the dorms was join a gym.

At first, I was doing OK, and then something shifted. I could not tell you how exactly I went crazy, I just did.

I continued to eat little. Counted calories too closely. I worked out for up to six hours a day. The gym became one of my hideouts when I realized I could not juggle a full-time school schedule with the several medical appointments I attended over the course of the week. When I did attend class, I fell asleep during the lectures.

When I became uncomfortable with being in class, I hid out in the bathroom where the stalls were my cocoon of safety.
I did not yet know eating disorders were a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I did not even know what PTSD was. I also did not understand why I shook while attempting to cross the street. Crowds were frightening. Bright lights and loud noises caused me to wince.

I dropped to 89 pounds. Friends shared their concern, but I promised them my health was perfectly fine.

When I crashed, my bed was a close second to gym as my favorite place to be. No one told me I looked good anymore. I was too thin. Looking back now, I can see how everyone was just concerned and did not know how to help me because I was not listening.

My support system encouraged me to take the time off from school. I moved into a room the size of a closet above a bar and found work.

Finding a therapist was the next step, so I began meeting with one who specialized in trauma and eating disorders. At first it was a love/hate relationship. I loved her because she listened to me, but despised her when she told me I was not consuming enough calories.

I stayed because deep down inside I knew she had my best interest in mind. Eventually, we went deeper into understanding the effects being hit by a bus had on my mind, body and spirit. She reassured me, “It’s OK not to be OK.” I was not crazy. I just needed to take the time to heal.

Yoga became a lifesaver. I went to class at every chance I got. I continued to research a variety of healing modalities. Over the years, I have tried multiple healing modalities; everything from acupuncture, to meditation, to shamanic healing.

It has been a little over ten years since the accident happened. On some days, it feels like it was just yesterday. Sometimes I cannot believe it was not twenty years ago.

People are often curious about my healing process. I prefer the word Process to Overcoming because I have not overcome anything.

My amputated leg is not going to grow back. To be quite honest, I would not want it to. I have learned invaluable lessons about myself, life, and how important it is to take the time to be.

Still, life is challenging. Life with limb loss is exhausting. As an amputee, I burn 60% more energy than I did when I had two legs. Sadness hits from time to time, but it is not the type of depression I experienced directly following the accident. Eating can still be a struggle, but I am no longer starving myself or working out for hours on end.

No matter what day it is, I take the time to connect with myself. I pause. I breathe. I cry. A lot of the time I smile. Always, I am grateful to be alive.

 

{Extraordinary Humans.}

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