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©2017 by Devin Pena, Certified Health Coach. Proudly created with Wix.com

My Story

January 8, 2019

 

 

 

Yes, this is going to be one of those blog posts, but I think it's long overdue and totally necessary to share. I'm a constant work in progress, and I'm really focusing on not caring so much about what other people think, and giving my audience the person that my friends and family get: someone who is real, someone who has a lot of compassion, and someone who has been through the ringer and come out on top. Well, my version of "on top" at least. 

 

I'm one of seven kids. We aren't all related by blood, but blood couldn't make us anymore related. It's a real long story and not what this post is about, but if you assume that story comes with a complicated childhood, you'd be right. I want this post to be about me from when I really began a life on my own, and I have no intention of airing my families dirty laundry on the internet for all to read. Lots of therapy helped me move past the past, so to speak, and I choose to leave it there. I only mention this because without that complicated childhood, I would not be the person I am today. 

 

I have had to rise above MANY challenges in my life. I know, I know, I'm not the only one and my challenges aren't unique. Some have faced way worse, but here's the thing... my challenges don't make me feel sorry for myself or wish things had gone differently. They make me thankful because they made me strong, and showed me if I could overcome those things from my past, I could overcome anything. A lot of individuals make themselves the victim of their circumstances. It's easy to do that. It means you don't have to move, you can stay in one spot and feed off of your excuses. It keeps you in your comfort zone, but nothing grows there. 

 

I'd like to rewind to about eight years ago. It was 2011, I was 21 years old, working in retail (at Express), living the basic party girl life, and had no real idea of what I wanted for my future. I was often told that I wasn't going to accomplish much, that my goals weren't realistic, and criticized for a lot of my day to day doings. I also hung out with girls who made me feel a lot less than what I now realize I was at the time... so, I became that person. One day, I got really sick of it. It was about three months after I turned 22 and I just didn't know what I was doing anymore. I pulled away from my friends, went to work, thought about going back to school, and kept to myself for the most part.

This guy, Alex, wouldn't stop bugging me to hang out though. I'd known him since I was 15, we had dated for a little while, but mostly just been really good friends and hung out in the same circles, and then he left for boot camp, and then went to school in Pensacola for a year. I ignored his persistence at first because I just wasn't in a place to date anyone. Past relationships left me bitter, and I was really trying to figure out what I wanted in my life. 

Anyways, he really didn't let up for about seven months straight and then one day, the messages stopped. I almost didn't notice and then I was on Facebook and realized he had deleted me as a friend. Yes, THAT is what made me notice, no shame.

At first, I shrugged it off. No big deal. It's just Facebook, who cares right? That was when I realized the messages had stopped and he was no longer pursuing me, which made me feel a little more sad than I thought it would. I reached out to him and apologized for playing games and he offered me one more chance: a frozen yogurt date that weekend. I agreed and he picked me up, we went to Yogurtland down the street from my house and then to my favorite beach. We sat on the beach for FIVE HOURS STRAIGHT talking about All. The. Things. It was one of the best conversations I'd had in so long because it was about real things, nothing superficial, we weren't getting drunk and acting like fools, we were just talking. We've been having chats like that for almost eight years now, and this year marks half of my life that I've known this man. 

 

Our life together has not been rainbows and butterflies though, but he has been a huge factor in my growth as a person and this is my story:  

In 2012, after he had proposed and we'd been engaged for a few months, I told him that I wanted to go back to school. I had FINALLY decided where I saw my future: in nutrition and fitness. I found a private nutrition school, The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, that had a year long Health Coach program where I would learn so much about health, nutrition, and what it takes to be a good coach. He didn't even bat an eye, despite that it costed thousands of dollars. His response was "DO IT." The plan was to finish this certification and then jump right into my Personal Training certification.

In 2013, while planning our wedding and finding out I was pregnant with our daughter, I completed my training and became a Certified Health Coach just 10 days before going into labor with Archer Everly. I didn't get a chance to jump into my Personal Training certification though.

 

Two hours after Archer was born is where things start to get really real for our family, and soon, a dark cloud will hold it's head over this story for a while. 

 

I had a great delivery with my daughter. Once they told me I could push, I had her out in less than an hour, with that wonderful guy by my side the entire time. She was perfect. 8lbs 15oz, full head of hair, latched beautifully and all was well. They finally let me eat for the first time in two days and I was a happy camper.

As my epidural wore off, I started to feel pressure at my sutures. I asked Archer's nurse to find my nurse because I was experiencing discomfort. He told me she was pumping right then (she was a mom of 8, hello Super Woman) and that he would let her know I was looking for her. After an hour, she still hadn't stopped by and I was starting to feel really weak. I pressed my call button and she came fairly quickly to check me out. She said, with total ease, "oh you have a hematoma. I'm going to get another nurse to check this out." Alex was sleeping at the time, but the activity in the room woke him up. The nurse that came in was a little more seasoned and her first comment when she saw me was "wow, she's white as a ghost!" and then, after taking one look at my hematoma, she exclaimed "that's the biggest hematoma I've ever seen! We need the OB/GYN on staff up here NOW!" One look at Alex's face and I knew that things were not OK. The hematoma was the size of a nerf football and I had been bleeding into it for almost two hours now. The world around me was looking incredibly fuzzy and the next few moments were fuzzy as well, but I do remember a few snippets. 

 

1. The OB/GYN on staff ran in, took one look, and said "OR. NOW." And then there was a whole bustle of activity. 

2. The staff started wheeling me away but stopped as we were passing Alex and said we "might want to say our goodbyes." He was holding our baby girl and had tears in his eyes. I don't remember what our "goodbyes" were, I just remember feeling scared. 

3. The OR was really white and I couldn't stop shaking. They gave me another epidural and put my legs in stirrups. I couldn't feel my body from the waist down. The anesthesiologist couldn't put me to sleep because I had eaten, so he just put a heated blanket on me to try to stop the shaking. 

4. At some point, I passed out. The hematoma had ruptured and I had lost a lot of blood. 

 

I woke up in a different room with massager things (I know there is a medical term for these, but I'm not looking it up right now) on my legs and the nurse saying "her pulse is over 200." My husband and my daughter were not there and I still couldn't really feel my body from the waist down. As I started to come to, I noticed there was a bag of blood hanging with my IV, so they were giving me a transfusion due to all the blood I had lost. 

Finally, the new OB/GYN on staff came in to let me know how things went. He said that they weren't able to stitch me back up because they couldn't locate the bleed (so I was still bleeding), and I had some internal packing to apply pressure to hopefully stop the bleeding. He also let me know they were transferring my husband and daughter to my new room. 

 

The next two days were a blur for the most part. Lots of poking to check my CBCs, no sleep because of that, another transfusion, trying to breast feed my daughter while being on painkillers, and then the OB/GYN came in and said as long as I could use the restroom on my own and agreed to come back once a week to get checked out, they would discharge me. This was on Christmas Day.

 

For the next 11 weeks, I went and saw that OB/GYN every week. During those 11 weeks, my husband went back to work (only 10 days of paternity leave for military), my daughter had severe reflux (the doctor laughed in my face when I suggested it until she screamed and then projectile vomited on him) which caused her to cry all the time and never sleep, and I got mastitis all while trying to navigate the world of new motherhood. This combination of things caused Postpartum Depression to hit, and it hit HARD. 

 

At my last check up, the doctor told me that she wouldn't recommend we have any more children. I had damage that was beyond repair and deciding to have another child may or may not put my life at risk again. She explained that she had never seen a situation as serious as mine was that night and that she wasn't sure if I was going to make it through. That news hit hard. As I mentioned, I'm one of seven kids. We have each other, even if we don't always get along or have times when we aren't as close as we wished we were. Unless we adopt, Archer will not have that in her life. 

 

The next six months of my life are the darkest months I can ever remember, and they are a time I usually try to block out, but they were a golden learning experience for me and a time that truly tested my marriage and what we could withstand. I didn't get to bond with Archer much during those months. We actually put in her in daycare because I mentally could not care for her properly. Alex couldn't take any more emergency days to stay home and even got pulled from a deployment that would have been amazing for his career. I still feel guilty about this, but I know God had a plan for us. Even though our family wasn't far from us, we were ashamed of what our little family was going through, so we kept a lot of it to ourselves. I was a mess, all the time. I picked fights with my husband, I never wanted to do anything, and I just couldn't find my way out of that dark place. It got so bad that I started having those thoughts that my family would be better off without me, since I wasn't even participating in our life anyways. 

Alex basically gave me an ultimatum: I needed to go to counseling and get help, or else I would destroy everything we had built together so far. He was kind about it, and I agreed to at least give it a try. 

I did counseling alone and counseling with him. I am a huge advocate for marriage counseling. There is nothing wrong with it and it honestly did so much to help us through such a dark time, I will forever be thankful for it because there are things we learned about communicating effectively that we still use 5 years later. Anyways, the counselor and I decided that I needed to get my identity back. I went to school and then became a mother and had something very traumatizing happen to me in that process, and he believed I was still healing mentally, especially with my history of prior mental illness.

Together, my counselor, Alex and I came up with a plan that I would go back to work part-time and have my own thing to help remind me who I am. I also got back into exercising and feeding my body right during this time and I could feel that dark cloud slowly moving over and away from our family. 

I loved work. I was actually working in insurance and had my health coaching business on the side. I would take Archer to daycare in the morning and pick her up in the afternoon. I began to notice how much she had grown, and how much I had missed by being in such a dark place for so long. It made me sad that I had allowed the darkness to take away a lot of memories I could have had of my child's first year. I was offered a full-time position at work and given a couple days to think it over. I spent those two days with Archer, just soaking up my time with her and really contemplating where I saw myself a year from now. Did I really want to give up my passion for nutrition, for insurance and work a desk job? Did I really want to spend 40 hours a week away from my daughter while she was so little, after all the time I had already lost? 

In the end, after much discussion with my husband, I turned down the position, quit my job, pulled my daughter from daycare and decided that I was mentally healthy enough to be the wife and mother my family deserved. We hit the ground running. I spent the next 6 months trying to get our routine down. Making sure I still had time to exercise and take care of myself so that I could take on all of my responsibilities with a clear head. 

 

After a while, I realized that I really wanted a college degree. Yes, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition taught me so much, and I had gone on to get other certifications, but I wanted the meat and potatoes of the credentials. I wanted to become a Registered Dietitian, so I applied to a community college and went back to school, completely motivated. During my first semester, Alex switched jobs within the Marine Corps and had to go to school in Virginia for six months. Honestly, this time apart gave us the time we needed to focus on our schooling. Alex went through a lot when I was going through PPD. He had to step up and take care of everything, even while working full-time. He supported me when I couldn't support myself. He needed to do this for himself and we have such a tight bond. The distance always sucks, but we got through it. It also gave me independence and taught me how to rely on and trust myself again. It was a period of growth that we both needed. 

Anyways, I continued to go to school while being a mother and having my health coaching business on the side. I spent a lot of time at the YMCA, which had two hours of child care a day that Archer loved. It allowed me to get my workout in and have time for schoolwork after. We had such a good flow going and I finally felt like myself again. 

My husband was a month away from graduating school and he called me to let me know they were issuing orders. One option was Okinawa, Japan. We had always said we were going to live there, but I worried about my flow being disrupted. Overseas PCS's are unlike ANY other PCS. How would that be for Archer? Would I be able to go to school there? Would I be able to take care of myself there? The other option was Yuma, Arizona and I told him to go for that instead. 

Nope. Yuma didn't happen. He called back and let me know he went for Yuma first, but someone else filled the spot. In July, we'd be headed to Okinawa, Japan. 

I was crushed, not because I feared the adventure, I WANTED to live in Japan, I just didn't want to live there at that point in my life. Even though I KNEW it wasn't my husband's fault, I didn't talk to him for two days (sorry about that again, babe). My best friend and her husband came over that night and found me in my kitchen taking shots of tequila by myself. Of course when I told her the news, she went ahead and joined me, because that's what best friends are supposed to do (love you, Candace!). 

 

I got over the initial shock and then hopped on board the excitement train. What an amazing opportunity for my family to get out of our comfort zone and live in a different country for a few years, right? Especially for Archer, although I'm sure she won't remember a lot of our time here since she's still so little. I kept my routine up until my husband came home from Virginia and my school semester ended (got that 4.0 GPA!). We had to get a lot of overseas screening done and get medically cleared to live in Okinawa. I was on anxiety medication at the time and we heard a lot of negative things about attempting medical clearance while on medication. That process took weeks and meant lots and lots of medical appointments for my daughter and I. The routine I once had dissipated and the stress and convenience eating began. When we finally got on the plane to Okinawa, I had no idea what to expect our life would be like once we arrived. 

We lived in a hotel for 21 days. We had no car for 21 days. We could cook basic meals on our one burner stove and could only store enough groceries that would fit in our mini-fridge. Produce prices at the commissary were OUTRAGEOUS (I'm talking $10 for a pack of 12 strawberries) and we couldn't get to the commissary often because it was on a different side of base. I was starting to feel defeated, stressed, and a little depressed again. 

I couldn't fall into that trap and needed to rise above my circumstances. I got an umbrella stroller, popped Archer in it, and walked over to the education center from our hotel to find out my school options. I was enrolled in school before we even found a house to live in. I pushed that umbrella stroller all over base to get us out of our hotel room and get some exercise in. 

Even though I was now getting some exercise, nutrition is key, and mine was definitely not the best. When we did finally move into our home and had a car to drive, we started exploring. We lived in a new country, not just a new state, which means food culture is a huge thing and we wanted to try all of the places! It almost felt like we were on vacation and it took a while for that feeling to wear off. 

I didn't immediately start my health coaching business because I wasn't sure what to do. I debated starting a meal prep service to contribute to our household income and help me pay for school, but didn't know where to start. I also wasn't feeling, or looking, my best, which is a contributing factor in whether or not your clientele takes you seriously in this industry. As I said, my routine really started falling apart months before we even moved. Fast forward to 6 months later, I was about 15 pounds heavier and had lost a good majority of my muscle mass. Who was going to take me seriously as a nutrition professional? Probably no one. I knew I needed to get it together and remind myself why I was busting my butt in school in the first place. 

I tried going it alone for a little while, but I was so far removed from my normal routine and really needed some accountability and an extra push until I was back on my feet. I found an amazing trainer who helped me remember who I was, who pushed me when I needed it, and who I trusted. I worked with her for about 6 months and then I was ready to spread my wings and fly. Physique-wise, I wasn't where I "expected" myself to be, but I had enough momentum to keep going on my own and had really made my fitness, as well as my nutrition, back to being a way of life, instead of an option. I also started my business here on Okinawa during the time that I was working with the trainer, and she sent quite a few people my way to get that extra one on one nutritional counseling that they needed. I will forever be grateful for her support and encouragement, and I hope she knows that. 

 

In January of 2018, I decided I had put it off long enough, and enrolled at NASM to become a Personal Trainer myself. Finally. Five years after setting that goal for myself in the first place. In May, I took my test and became certified! 

During this time, I was still going to school, still running a business, and being a wife and mother. I was also having some medical issues that were finally diagnosed as exercise induced anemia, which is very rare but can effect women my age (of course that's what I had). It took some trial and error with supplements, but I figured out how to manage. Some days are better than others, performance-wise in the gym, and I can't progress as much as someone without the condition would be able to, but I have learned what works best for my body and have refused to be a victim to my circumstances. 

 

Since then, I have continued to work as a personal trainer for a couple of the gyms on base here on Okinawa, as well as continuing my nutritional counseling. I have worked with individuals from all walks of life, specializing in those with hormonal disorders. There is so much to hormone health, and while doctors have great intentions, tests they run for certain conditions, such as thyroid disorders, are tests from the 70's, which honestly tell us next to nothing about what's really going on internally. Stress levels are at an all-time high these days and that can have a severe negative impact on our health, one that is quite often overlooked, and I'm the person who doesn't overlook it and offers a little more assistance in the way of lifestyle changes, nutrition, and fitness to help ease symptoms (partnered with doctors recommendations of course. OH! And I absolutely do not diagnose or treat conditions medically. I always ask for lab tests :)). 

Over the Summer of 2018, I was accepted to Kansas State University's online dietetics program and have been plugging away at that, because my passion is still at the forefront of all of my goals. 

 

I have come a long way from that girl with a complicated childhood. I married the man of my dreams who has given me the support and encouragement every day that I need to keep pushing forward. Some people roll their eyes when I talk about our relationship and our bond, and there are some who might be waiting for the ball to drop and something bad to happen to our relationship so they can laugh about it.

I can tell you one thing I've learned... those people who roll their eyes at other's happiness and success, or laugh when bad things happen to people says A LOT more about them than it does about the people they're targeting, just remember that.  

 

My daughter is my motivation and being an example of a strong woman who chases her dreams and gets treated like a queen by her man (and vice versa), is also what pushes me forward. There are times when I get overwhelmed and I want to give up, but I don't want the story to be "mommy gave up when it got hard." I want the story to be "it got hard, so mommy fought like hell to keep pushing herself forward because she knew it wouldn't be like this forever." 

I also want to be a source of motivation for other women, especially mother's. I want it to be know that you can be and do whatever you want! Motherhood does not define us, it is just a part of who we are. And if being a mom is what makes you the happiest, that is absolutely OK too. You set your own expectations for yourself. No one else can do that for you. 

 

And by no means am I perfect. God made me perfectly imperfect and gave me a whole lot of things to work on because He wanted me to be strong. I am here today and didn't die in that OR because He willed it, and every day I will praise Him for that.

I struggle with approval. I didn't get it a lot as a kid, so now I feel like I need it from everyone. I guess I should write FELT, in the past tense, because over the last year, I've really stopped caring who takes me seriously or likes me, because I really like me and I know that I'm dang good at what I do. I also don't like hurting anyone's feelings or saying no (I'm just laying it all out there huh?), and so it took me a long time to communicate exactly what I feel when I'm feeling it. I also know that not everyone is super into that, so I can be a little overwhelming or intimidating to certain personalities. 

 

My dream has always been to help people and maybe change the world. I'm working on that. My job allows me to reach people in a very vulnerable place, and if they trust me, and allow me to help them, my job allows me to change lives. This means that every day I'm working on being the best coach and trainer I can be, to practice compassion and empathy, to know when to help someone cut through the BS and push forward, and to always, always put my family first. 

 

I share my story because maybe it can inspire someone who's been feeling stuck. Whether they're stuck in the black hole of PPD (in the word's of Dumbledore, "happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light"), stuck in following their dreams (please follow them, no matter what it takes), unsure of what they want for the future (try all the things, and the one that makes you happiest, do that), or just feeling held back by their past circumstances. 

 

Our past does don't define us. It may help contribute to who we are, but it does not write our future. WE do that, in our present. Rise above your circumstances and don't allow yourself to be a victim of them, and don't allow anyone to make you FEEL like the victim. 

 

I am the woman I am today because I fought to become her. You should fight to. If you read to the end of this, thank you for reading. It makes the three hours I spent writing this absolutely worth it. I probably left a lot of stuff out, but that's ok. You just read over 4500 words so I'll leave it at that. 

 

Please expect more fitness and nutrition related blogs in the near future. That was my motivation behind writing this one in the first place. 

 

XOXO

Dev 

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