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My Fitness Journey and Health Issues: Part 2

In Part 1, I left off by saying that the ER doctor told me my high blood pressure was the only thing keeping me alive since my heart rate was so slow, and that I needed to have emergency surgery to put a pacemaker in.

I instantly started panicking, to say the least. I called my mom right away and she and my dad left Iowa immediately to drive the 4 hours to Charleston, Illinois. A few minutes later, the ER doctor came back into my room and said to me, “Your cardiologist told us that he won’t allow us to put a pacemaker in a 19-year-old. This is your decision to make, though, so if you want a second opinion, that’s fine, but you will be going against our professional advice.” So, I did what any sane person would do: I called my mom again.

My mom was hesitant about a pacemaker, so told me that she and my dad were coming to pick me up and that they were going to take me to the University of Iowa hospital right away. When we got to Iowa’s emergency room, they almost refused to admit me. There were no obvious signs of illness in me, and from basic tests, I seemed perfectly healthy. So, as soon as they said that to me, I stood up to start getting my things together. I was (luckily) still hooked up to the heart monitor, though, and my heart rate jumped from 42 bpm when I was sitting, to 140 bpm the second I stood up. The doctor and nurse were shocked and said that was enough for them to admit me.

I spent the next 4 days and 3 nights in that hospital, where once again, I went through every test imaginable. But this time, it was different. This time, the doctors were able to give me the answers I needed and had been searching for months. While I wasn’t happy with the diagnosis, I felt peace and validity in finally knowing why.

The Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with myocarditis and pericarditis. Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart, whereas pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, which is the membrane enclosing the heart. But the “why” is the real kicker. 

It turned out that the mono rapid test that I had done that March gave a false negative and that I actually did have mono then. However, I was told I didn’t, so kept working out and playing soccer as if everything was fine. Which, ultimately, led to my heart enlarging and my heartbeat slowing down and skipping a beat unexpectedly.

The doctors told me that they could put me on medications for this, but the medications would cause more complications and side effects than necessary. They told me that the best and safest option for me was to quit playing soccer and to learn how to workout in a way that didn’t trigger my symptoms.

I don’t know how to explain the way that I felt after hearing that. When you play a sport for 15 out of the 19 years of your life, when it’s the reason you’re able to afford college when it becomes a defining identity of yours, losing it for something that could have been avoided is absolutely heartbreaking. I felt like I was losing who I was, so, in natural teen spirit, I ignored my doctors.

I Tried to Continue Playing Despite My Diagnosis

Young and dumb is the only way to explain why I kept trying to play soccer. I spent the next season attempting to practice, attempting to pass our team’s fitness test, and attempting to get back to the level of fitness I had been at before Mono. But, no matter how hard I tried, I kept failing.

I couldn’t play in a game longer than 5 minutes without needing to be pulled out. I couldn’t keep up during cardio at practice, no matter how hard I tried to push through. It definitely didn’t help that my new soccer coach thought I was just out of shape and faking my health issues, but once again, that’s a story for another blog.

When I went to my normal doctor for a check-up that year, she was shocked and appalled that I had ignored the medical advice I was given after my diagnosis. So she looked at me and said, “As your doctor, I can not let you keep playing soccer. It’s too dangerous to you and your health at this point. It’s time to let it go, Chloe.”

Saying Goodbye

I knew my doctor was right, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept. My entire identity was centered around soccer, I viewed myself as Chloe: The Soccer Player. Plus, literally, all of my friends played soccer. What was I supposed to do now?

I’ll be honest, I was pissed at the world. I couldn’t figure out why it was happening to me- I had worked so hard for my entire life to get where I was with soccer, and it was all stripped away from me by one person’s mistake. I kept replaying the ‘what-ifs’ inside of my head. What if the doctor who gave me a rapid test for Mono would’ve done the blood test instead? Would I have recovered and played a successful 4 years of college soccer? I would never know.

However, I will say this: it’s been over 5 years since I was misdiagnosed with Mono and 4 years since I stopped playing soccer, and I finally understand the ‘why’ behind it all.

After mourning my loss of soccer, I had to learn how to work out on my own. I no longer had coaches to write my workouts for me, I had to write my own workouts and get my booty to the gym by myself, which felt extremely weird. So, I looked to outside sources for help, by making a fake Instagram page and following a bunch of women who posted fitness content. Can you guess what my fake Instagram account handle was? Yep, @chloegottsfit.

I would take bits and pieces from different people’s workouts and put them together to form my own workout. After a few months, I really did fall in love with working out again, which I didn’t think was possible. It was a fun challenge to push myself in the gym, even if I didn’t have coaches or teammates cheering me on. I, of course, had to adjust my workouts to be low-medium intensity, as my myocarditis and pericarditis would flare up when I was pushing myself too hard during cardio. But, it was an adjustment that wasn’t nearly as hard as I expected it to be. For example, walking at an incline on the treadmill instead of doing sprints on it.

I Finally Understand the ‘Why’

I started sharing my workouts on that fake Instagram account towards the end of my senior year of college, in April of 2018. Within 6 months, I had over 6,000 followers. Within a year, I had over 40,000 followers. And now, over two years later, I have nearly 200,000 followers on my personal page and 23,000 followers on my business page. I own a business and work with my dream activewear, supplement, and CBD companies, and was able to hire my fiance to work full-time with me.

I finally see the ‘why’ behind it all-the universe had a bigger plan for me, and I’m now to a point where I can say I’m grateful for the physical and mental health struggles I went through prior to and after my diagnosis. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

My biggest advice for anyone reading this is to be your biggest advocate, especially at the doctor’s office. I could have settled for my asthma and anxiety diagnosis, but I knew there was something more going on. I had to fight to figure out what it was, but it’s a fight I’ve never regretted starting.

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