I can not imagine what the ambulance technicians must have thought. They were taking me to the hospital after the car accident. There I was, a thirty-seven year old fat woman in pink spandex tights mumbling, ‘Oh, no, my body can not be hurt. I make my living with my body!’
I was on my way to a business meeting when the accident occurred. I was to meet my partner to discuss the opening of our new fitness studio in Center City Philadelphia. We were a perfect pair of instructors. She was tall and lean. She looked like the typical picture of an aerobic instructor. I was short and very fit. I was also fat. Between the two of us, all of our clients could identify with an instructor who was similar to them.
It turned out that my body would be fine in a few months. I wish the same was true for my brain. I had a head injury in the accident that resulted in uncontrolled epileptic seizures. I became depressed as I saw my dream go down the drain. What could I do?
I never knew when a seizure would hit. At any moment I could find myself staring into space, not able to understand anything that was said to me, not able to speak, seeing the world through distorted perceptions. For hours afterwards, I could not think. Often I did not even know where I was. How could I live like this? I certainly could not function as a business woman. I could not lead my fitness classes. What if I had a seizure in front of the class?
After many months of feeling as if I was being beaten up by an invisible giant who could knock me senseless at any time, I got angry. I decided that I would not let this disability take my life away. After all, I was a trained psychotherapist. I should be able to use the same problem solving that I taught to my clients to figure out how to live with epilepsy and function in my daily life.
I began to use problem solving in my own life. When I set my hand on the stove burner during the disorientation that follows a seizure, I found microwave recipes so I could cook safely. When I tried to exercise by walking, I got lost in my own neighborhood. So I walked around my yard instead (I got lost there too, but I found my way home faster).
I needed to eat well, reduce stress, and get my regular exercise, if I was to fight off depression and cope with my disability. I needed to get my life back. My family shared many of my responsibilities to reduce my stress. I gave extra attention to my nutrition. But exercise remained a challenge.
The reason I began my own fitness company was that I was unable to find any health club, exercise video, or aerobic class that was safe on the joints and was free of size- prejudice. The workout that I had designed was the best workout for me. However, my thinking was impaired from the medications or the seizures or both. I could not remember the moves when I tried to exercise. Then, I got an idea!
I used my home video camera on a tripod to record my workout. I sat down and designed my exercises. Then, I wrote the moves down on a poster board and hung it under the camera. I did not have to remember the moves. They were hanging right in front of me. If I had a seizure, I could turn the camera off for a few hours until I could think better. This was the answer!
I was able to maintain and increase my fitness using a set of my own workout videos. Friends and family who saw my tapes asked me to design a workout and make a video tape for them. Former clients who missed my unique classes wanted workout videos. Could there be a market for this service? Do I have the ability to do this between seizures?
I sat down and figured out what would be necessary to accomplish this. I had to be more functional. I had to learn to think all over again. I could no longer remember any sequence of ideas or tasks. (As it turns out, I still cannot remember sequences. But I sure got good at conceptual thinking!) It would take time to find the right medications to reduce or control my seizures. During that time I could work on the skills necessary to succeed.
It took three years to find a medication with livable side effects that reduced seizures. During that time, I became computer literate and learned to design and print out advertising materials. I also developed a catalogue of moves I had used in my thirteen years as a full figured fitness instructor. I did test marketing for my services. Yes, there is a market for custom made exercise videos that focus on fitness rather than on the shape or size of the body. And yes, I am able to do this!
After the accident, I thought my dream of helping people of all sizes to lead healthier lives was dead. At first, I thought my disability was an insurmountable obstacle that I could not overcome. Well, I did not overcome it. I embraced it. My head injury was the best educational experience I have had since graduate school!
The entire idea of making fitness videos to meet individual needs, came from making one to meet my own needs. Through the use of problem solving, I found an opportunity to make a living because of the way I coped with the obstacles in my life.
If life has cluttered your path with obstacles, you can find opportunities to learn more about yourself and your environment. When you feel overwhelmed, talk to someone who can help. As you use problem solving to explore your life, who knows what creative solutions lie within yourself waiting to be discovered.
Kelly Bliss M. Ed. Psychoeducational, B. S. Mathematics and Logics, Certified Effectiveness Training Instructor, and ACE Certified Personal Fitness Trainer.