Be a Starfish Part 1

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Hi, I’m Kate. I started life as a happy kid, blessed to find my passion at a very young age. I started classical ballet dancing when I was 3 years old and absolutely loved it. Ballet was my everything..My sport, my social life, my discipline, most of all my comfort zone. The older I got the more enthralled I was with ballet and the closer I got to my dreams of pursuing an art degree in dance. I loved being on stage and expressing myself without the need of speaking a single word, this is the time I was most at peace and I felt like I had something of value to share with the world. Things were going great for me as I grew older and advanced through high school, but I was soon to learn that nothing in life is guaranteed.

In the summer between my junior and senior year I attended a skills seminar for dancers where we were working on new techniques and transitions. Everything was going fine until as I was landing from a jump I instantly had excruciating burning pain in my lower back and all the way down through my hips. I fell to the floor in agony not knowing the extent or severity of my injury. The instructors comforted me and kept me still until my mother arrived to take me to the hospital. When they examined me, the outcome was less than favorable. I had severely sprained my lumbar spine and there was significant muscle and ligament damage throughout. In order to heal I was going to have to wear a restrictive pelvic brace that kept everything in place. The brace coupled with the extent of my injury made dance a physical impossibility. That was it, just like that I was done. Ballet was over for me, the very thing that defined me had been taken away. This was my first experience with losing a piece of myself.

Over the next 5 years I spent my time in and out of physical therapy for my injuries as well as therapy to help deal with the deep depression I fell into after losing ballet. Without ballet, I started to gain weight (significant amounts of weight) and had very few friends. My self-confidence plummeted as I withdrew more and more from the world each day. There was one bright spot though, one person who through it all remained my best friend and partner in crime. His name was Chris and he didn’t see me any differently even though I had gained almost 150lbs since we first met. Chris and I got married in the Spring of 2006. Despite my mental struggles and my ongoing physical battle with the weight gain, my life started to feel full again. I was hopeful about the next chapter, about starting a family and being a great mom and wife.

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In 2007 Chris and I brought our beautiful son Ryan into the world. All was well until 2 years later; Chris had a routine visit with his doctor and ended up being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (high functioning autism). This is around the same time that our son had begun to exhibit some questionable symptoms. A week after Chris’ diagnosis, I heard the news from Ryan’s doctors that he was also autistic, but he had low functioning (moderate to severe) autism; as well as something called “sensory processing disorder.” I sat in the exam room shell shocked as the doctors went down the list of all of the things my little boy would never do and never get to experience on his own. “We just want to be open and realistic about his future,” they said. My heart was broken. To make matters worse, I had to process this mostly on my own because Chris took his own diagnosis very hard and went on a figurative trip of “self-discovery” trying to deal with his emotions.

I felt like a rug had pulled out from under me, everything I knew in life changed. It reminded me of the empty feeling I had when I had to quit ballet, only this time I was a mom. This time I had a responsibility to someone more than myself. I was going to do everything in my power to take care of my son…Little did I know, this responsibility was about to double. Three days after Ryan’s diagnosis I found out I was pregnant with my second child. Curveball! My resolve was unchanged. I would find a way to make it work, I had no choice. Our daughter Lizzie was born in early 2010.

Within a few short months of Ryan’s diagnosis I had become an autism expert. I researched, I joined parent groups, I did it all. My knowledge of the disorder became so vast that I recognized by month 6 of Lizzie’s life that she too was on the autism spectrum. It took doctors 8 more months to agree with me, but she was eventually diagnosed as having Asperger’s. Having 2 children with autism is akin to having two full time jobs. My weight problem went from concerning to severe in the first few years of my kids’ lives, but there was no time to focus on that. I had to take care of my kids. At the time, the insurance coverage for autism therapies was scarcely covered. We were living in constant stress just trying to make ends meet and pay for all of the therapies the kids needed. I became an emotional eater, I felt things that I didn’t know how to deal with and I ate my feelings. That’s how I coped with the stress. Before you knew it, I weighed 325 lbs.

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I denied it then, but things were getting dangerously out of hand for me. I couldn’t bend down to tie my shoes without passing out, I couldn’t walk all the way into the grocery store from the parking lot without stopping and catching my breath, I couldn’t even make it through a full day without taking a nap because my body was under so much stress from the weight. I was in a downward spiral. Something needed to change, and fast.

One day I took Ryan in for one of his visits with the occupational therapist. Ryan sat calmly in the corner doing his assigned exercise while I spoke with the therapist. “He’s making great progress,” she said…”but how are you?” She asked. Quickly I swept the question off responding: “Oh, everything is fine at home, I have him keeping up with his assignments and he’s liking…” “No,” she interrupted- “how are YOU?” I was taken aback, no one had asked me that in years, heck I hadn’t even thought about that in years. “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” She asked. “You know when you’re on an airplane and the flight attendant tells you in the event of an emergency to put on your oxygen mask first (before your child)? That’s because you’re no good to your kid if you’re passed out in the seat next to them.” Her statement hit me hard! Part of me was offended, but the other part was in complete agreement with the therapist. “Holy hell, who is going to take care of these kids if I keep killing myself?” If I was going to be there forever for my kids I needed to transform. I needed to be more.

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click here for the second installment of my blog! Find out the steps I took to regain control of my health and lose over 150lbs. Also, you’ll learn why I named my blog after a sea creature 😉

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