I adopted the nickname Flexy Michelle because of my flexibility (surprise!) I am from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and I am a yoga instructor, novice contortionist, pole fitness enthusiast/competitor, nutritionist, academic, university graduate, volunteer, travel addict, and sun chaser! Before I decided to pursue a career in health and wellness, I was a rigid, type-A academic destined for law school. I was an over-achiever and a jack-of-all trades. People are often surprised to learn I did stand-up comedy for eight years!
However, after a catastrophic car accident in Cozumel Mexico on December 26th, 2006, my life changed forever. I will never forget that date because it was my first year of university and it was the day after Christmas while my sister, parents, and I were vacationing in our winter home.
I was in a coma for three days, I lost part of my hearing, developed epilepsy due to bruising on my brain, and had 186 stitches. My left ear was literally sewn back onto me. I was told by the doctor that I may not be able to walk again, but yoga is what helped me gain back my strength and mobility. Immediately after the accident, the bruising on my brain affected my language production. I experienced temporary aphasia (a communication disorder the occurs due to brain damage in one or more areas of the brain that control language, usually caused by a head trauma, stroke, or seizure, etc.) I could not retrieve my English words, only my second language, Spanish (which I’ll admit is currently a little rusty.) I was discovered without a pulse; the paramedics told my sister not to touch me because I may have been dead. Statistically, I shouldn’t have made it; but fortunately had youth on my side to help me recover.
For those of you who don’t know, epilepsy is a neurological disorder that one can be born with, it can be developed, or provoked by a head trauma like mine. Before a seizure, I would experience an aura which is an altered perceptual state preceding a convulsion. When experiencing an aura, I would lose control of my movements and speech. I would still be conscious, but my brain could not connect my thoughts to my mouth or body. I can best describe the feeling as short-circuiting or a temporary paralysis of the brain to the body. I would then have a typical grand mal seizure, followed by a postictal state, another altered state of consciousness.
The changes in my health and life catalyzed my interest to study speech pathology and not law. This temporary brain-body paralysis is terrifying and frustrating because you know what you want to do or say, but you just can’t make the mind-body connection. This is what people living with aphasia experience every single day. Speech-language pathologists (less formally known as speech therapists) work with clients with aphasia, as well as individuals with communication and behavioral disorders, autism, and Asperger’s. I decided that this is what I wanted to do, help people who experience what I had experienced. I am lucky that I can say “experienced” and not “experience.”
In the summer of 2016, (10 years later, post-recovery) I volunteered at a speech pathology clinic, helping clients with their language development. That same summer, I also did my yoga teacher training. My intention was never to become a yoga teacher, but simply to develop a more profound knowledge of yoga. However, I was getting so many requests for private yoga classes as well as strength and flexibility training via social media and word of mouth that I eventually left my academic career to pursue a life and career in health and wellness.
My struggles have revealed both my weaknesses and my strengths, but have served to make me a more compassionate and better human being.