I met Holly McGrath, a holistic wellness coach, at the Match My Spirit Bazaar at the Open Center in New York City a few months ago. Holly helps to inspire her clients to transform physically, emotionally and spiritually, through personal training, nutrition and supplementation. She also deeply appreciates the benefits of alternative healing and is certified in Usui Reiki. She is passionate about personal training and she is a dedicated to physically fitness. I was blown away to learn that Holly experienced numerous disc herniation’s, digestive issues and a serious auto-immune condition.
At a time when many people, especially women, rely on or abuse pain medication or harsh drugs to deal with pain and/or health conditions, it’s a gift for Holly to share insights that she’s learned along her journey. Holly is thirty years old and she’s come a long way in a short period of time because of the unconventional changes she’s made to transform her health. She hopes sharing her story will inspire something inside you to connect to your own ability to self-heal.
Can you describe what health issues you’ve experienced?
I’m an athlete, runner and lover of obstacle races (Tough Mudder, Spartan and others). Prior to 2012, I dealt with “unknown” stomach issues –severe pain and mild IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) – that got worse in college and progressed post college. When I was younger I didn’t attribute my stomach issues to my lifestyle or my eating habits because I wasn’t educated enough on the importance of diet. I also felt a lot of emotional stress that I didn’t know how to manage. In order to deal with feeling intense emotions, I found relief by aggressively pushing my body training and partying hard. My health started to take a dramatic bad turn three years ago.
In 2012, I was diagnosed with an upper thoracic sprain in my back. The pain spread over time. After multiple MRI’s, I learned I had four disc herniation’s that spanned from my upper to lower back. My pain management doctor’s treatment plan called for multiple pain medications, epidural injections, muscle relaxers, and a brace. Even though I was in a lot of pain, I kept working out above the norm. I felt a stigma wearing a big brace that others could notice.
After being in denial for almost a year, with the medications part of my daily lifestyle, instead of feeling better, I felt worse. The side effects of the pain meds led me into a lot of negative self-talk. I started to doubt if I would ever feel better and thought about how my life sucks and it wasn’t fair.
Feeling sick for an extended period of time is extremely frustrating and difficult. What was one of the hardest or lowest times?
My brother struggled with similar health issues around the same time. After he was misdiagnosed with Lyme disease, I decided to get a second opinion. The results revealed I had a gene, HLA-B27, associated with spondyloarthropy . My brother and I both have genetic Autoimmune Arthritis. This condition is different than rheumatoid arthritis and tends to run in families. It effects the joints where ligaments and tendons attach to bone. My doctor wasn’t 100 percent sure about my diagnosis because the medications didn’t help.
Pain radiated everywhere taking over my whole body – especially the right side of my body. I went to another doctor who didn’t provide clear answers, but he did prescribe more medication – multiple rounds of Prednisone and NSAIDs. To learn more about NSAIDS read here. Nothing worked to make me feel better. I cried a lot. I felt helpless and hopeless. Some days I didn’t want to get out of bed, especially the painful mornings. I saw my life and body literally falling apart, especially after taking Humira, a very strong medication to treat autoimmune arthritis that made me feel worse than ever.
My health got so bad that I started to research and consider filling out an application for disability, but part of me wouldn’t accept that option. A surgeon recommended a $1000 back brace and if it didn’t work I was a candidate for a disc replacement in my L5-S1 (lower back). After two years of high levels of pain, rather than choose surgery – that would weaken my muscles and cause more pain – I decided to focus on medication to avoid the pain.
I used close to 30-60 mg of Percocet a day. My body was clearly addicted. The more down I felt, the more I’d use medication to take away the pain. Desperate for the old me, I felt caught in an unhealthy cycle and didn’t realize a huge piece of my health puzzle was still missing. I often found myself unable to stand during my training sessions, and began making work decisions based on my daily pain. The fear and stress of possibly not being able to hold a steady job consumed me. I felt far away from myself and my dreams.
What helped to turn your health around for the better?
I had faith that I’d find a way. I’d find relief and I wouldn’t give up until I found it. I was blessed to have support along the way, especially a good friend who was my roommate. She repeatedly told me not to give up. I never stopped working out. I started to pay attention to my intuition, rather than believe my life was doomed because of what the doctors told me.
You know when you’re baking and you have most of the ingredients you need, but you forget the oil or an egg? The whole consistency of the cake or cookie is off. The recipe doesn’t work without that one missing ingredient. That’s what it’s like managing chronic pain and/or an autoimmune disease naturally. There are many different natural remedies, but if they aren’t used together — or if you aren’t using the correct combination for your unique body — you won’t get the desired results.
Adjusting my personal health recipe wasn’t pretty at times. Because I was on a lot of pain medication, it wasn’t easy to stop. I made an important choice to commit to change my mindset. By implementing some of the ideas I learned and read about natural pain management, I was willing to go deeper in my healing process.
How did you feel when you focused on your health? What kind of changes did you notice?
A major turning point for me was consistently focusing on:
Changing my diet made a quick and dramatic positive difference. Instead of thinking I had an autoimmune disease forever, I began to see it as something that was curable based on my research. My approach to my health became a game instead of a losing battle. Deep down in my soul I knew there were answers.
Placing myself in a positive and healing environment, inspired me to feel hopeful for my future. Positively focusing on my health took me out of a place of despair, hopelessness and borderline depression. I was surprised to learn that my body responds to my thoughts and feelings. This became a key to my healing and keeping my mind and body feeling good.
Do I still have frustrating and painful days? Yes. Not all mornings are pain free, but the beauty of where I am now is that most days are. I’m confident I’m able to fully reverse my autoimmune disease and I accept every speed bump in the process. I’m grateful for how much healthier I feel and I committed to moving forward. Even when I experience a pain flare up, I’ve learned what to do to make myself feel better.
What was one of your best moments during your healing process?
There’s a lot of amazing moments to my healing process. The ability to get out of bed in the morning without pain is a major breakthrough. I’ve also improved the relationship I have with my body. Rather than force myself to always do an intense workout at the gym, I’ll slow down and do yoga in a class or at home. When the pain is intensely difficult, I allow myself to relax, take a bath, meditate, rest, use my supplements and have a nutritious meal.
Talking myself through the pain process is crucial. I literally give myself advice as if I would give a client or loved one – it’s one of the best gifts I’ve given myself during my healing. I’ve become a huge fan of meditation. Meditation helps to relax my body and I feel as though it rewires my brain to deal with pain in my body.
Last year my chiropractor saw how much I wanted to get off the pain medications. He gave me information on various natural ways to reduce withdrawals. After doing research, I used Passion Flower three times per day to ease the withdrawal symptoms. Rest was also an important ingredient during this period. I allowed myself to overcome the fear of withdrawal and gave myself the time my body needed to be sick during the withdrawal process, knowing I get to the other side.
During your healing process how did you tap into your creativity?
In order to heal, I realized I needed to tap into my creativity. Creativity is what helped to rewire my brain out of the cycle of pain. It re-focuses chronic pain warriors from thinking ‘pain, pain, pain’ to look for positive changes to create. For example, I’ve created ways to still train and be fit without causing myself additional injury or pain. By creating effective workouts during my healing process it’s benefited my clients that struggle with the same condition or other forms of pain.
I’ve adjusted my nutrition in order to serve my body optimally even though I might not be as physically active, to avoid triggering additional stress and inflammation. I love preparing anti-inflammatory meal plans, and supplementing properly using Purium – a company that has Non-GMO, organic products. I’ve been able to break a lot of perceived barriers and find other ways to get the results I desire, while helping others do the same regardless of physical, mental or emotional limitations.
Sharing what I’ve gone/go through on social media allows for another outlet to directly connect with others who are just like me. I’m offering advice, providing healing information, natural remedies and online training to all my clients, but specifically those who don’t want to live in pain anymore (physically, emotionally or spiritually).
I also enjoy writing, so I created a blog, My Life’s a Catch 22. It’s about my journey managing pain naturally and it’s also been a catalyst to venturing into Reiki (energy healing), deeper meditation, and a consistent yoga practice.
The more I heal my mind-body-soul and treat myself with deep care and love, the less pain I feel. This journey has uncovered who I am deep down in my core. The pain has actually made me who I am today.
What does health mean to you?
Health means to live a lifestyle that is loving, self-aware and compassionate.
One that practices disease prevention through nutrition, proper supplementation, and holistic healing, while at the same time nourishing your mind, body, and soul.
Strengthening your body.
Learning how your body functions and responds.
It’s healing past emotional pain, creating a positive mindset and setting goals for the future.
Finding inner peace.
Healing the body from internal and external stress through yoga, massage, meditation, Reiki, and acupuncture.
What advice would you give someone who is struggling with their health, especially with pain?
My advice is to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. That’s how you begin to treat yourself properly and naturally. Learn what works for your body and what doesn’t. Seek out caring sources of support and information. After tons of trial and error, along with a lot of research, I’ve created 10 Tips to Living Pain Free.
I know how challenging and frustrating it feels to be in chronic pain because I’ve experienced it. I’m passionate about sharing what I’ve learned in order to help those who are desperately looking for relief and hope. It’s what brings me to where I am right now.
There’s someone out there who’s going to hear my voice in their head after they read this. Whenever you want to give up, I want you to hear my voice in your head. Listen to some of my words here.
Keep searching, keep reading, reach out and don’t stop until you find a way. Have faith that there WILL BE another side to your journey. Visualize and feel the life and body you desire, the feeling of being pain free and don’t stop working until you find it. As long as you keep hope, faith, and self-love progress is possible.
Healing is a journey that once you’re truly ready, fills you with the inspiration to live in a way that serves every part of your being on levels you never thought existed.
Holly McGrath has an impressive background in enhancing the energy of her clients’ bodies and minds — understanding that trust and connection are the building blocks to achieving your fitness and wellness goals. Her unique Holistic Lifestyle coaching is based around proper exercise, nutrition and supplementation that is specific to your needs.