Blair joined the Apollo Neuro team with a lifelong interest in alternative wellness, breathwork, and nutrition. We sat down with Blair to talk about recovering from injury and surgery, learning to prioritize sleep, and life after competitive sports. Thanks for sharing, Blair, we’re excited to share your story.
Q: Could you explain more about your health journey?
A: I grew up in upstate New York riding horses, skiing, and playing volleyball; I honestly don’t remember much downtime in my childhood as my days were filled with these activities! After high school, I went to college on a full Division I scholarship for volleyball.
After graduating college, I moved to San Diego to write for a nutrition book company. I didn’t really know what to do with myself outside of work as I had played volleyball on average six days a week from age 14-21. I was living at the beach and everyone seemed to either be going surfing or going to yoga. I tried surfing and didn’t take to it, so I tried yoga. It was life-changing for me. Finally I didn’t rely on a horse, a snowy hill, or five other teammates on the court, and it was just me. I felt like I was getting to know myself for the first time.
I really started to dive deep into wellness then and went on to get certified to teach yoga, Pilates, meditation, and breathwork over the course of the next several years. Because I was writing about nutrition full-time, I was also learning a lot about how to fuel my body properly and live a healthier lifestyle compared to the cereal, coffee, and little sleep I survived on in college.
In 2020 when the pandemic hit, I was living in Los Angeles and was active as ever, doing yoga and Pilates in my backyard every morning with my three roommates, playing beach volleyball several days a week, and hiking and going on beach bike rides. There wasn’t much to do in LA at all during that time besides being outdoors. I felt amazing.
Suddenly in November 2020, I started having pain down my left leg. Being surrounded by very holistically-minded people, my friends and peers reassured me I just needed to rest and suggested I take an epsom salt bath or watch a movie. But I knew something was very wrong with me based on how severe the pain felt. I tried everything under the sun from seeing a chiropractor regularly to seeing spiritual healers.
By December 2020, the pain was so bad I could hardly walk around the house. I couldn’t sit in a chair and had to lie flat on my back or belly 24 hours a day. I kept my marketing job by balancing my laptop on my belly and angling the laptop screen down, keeping my camera off in meetings. I could barely sit on the toilet. I was miserable. I didn’t understand how this was happening to me. I was always the one helping my friends and family be healthy. My body had paid for my college education and could endure teaching multiple yoga classes a day. What had I done wrong?
COVID-19 was surging in LA at that time, so even when my roommate took me to the emergency room, pushing me in a wheelchair, they wouldn’t let me get an x-ray or MRI. Unless your head was falling off, they wouldn’t really help you as they were already so overwhelmed. They told me I had sciatica and gave me more painkillers. I felt hopeless.
Finally, after switching to a new primary care physician and demanding imaging, I got an x-ray and MRI on New Year’s Eve. I got to the imaging center right before they closed for the holiday weekend, hanging by a thread. When I got the results back in the New Year, I found out a piece of my spine had broken off into my canal and was pushing on my left SI nerve. I would be getting spine surgery as soon as possible to get it removed.
I went on to have spine surgery in January 2021, then reinjuring myself, and having the very same surgery in July 2021, which left me recovering for more than a year. My relationship to my health changed drastically during that time. I finally stopped asking myself “how could this have happened?” and changed my internal question to “how do I get better?”
Q: What was your recovery like from your surgeries?
A: Recovery from two spine surgeries in six months was obviously very challenging physically, but I didn’t anticipate how challenging it would be for me mentally and emotionally. I was on a lot of painkillers, and I hated the way they made me feel. I would sit to do my daily meditation and just start crying for no reason. I would look in the mirror and feel like I didn’t recognize myself. I didn’t realize how much I had used exercise almost my entire life to boost my mood and energy. Eventually I started walking around my neighborhood, but without physical activity for many months, I felt reactive and not like myself at all.
Q: What were the three most important things you prioritized in your recovery?
A: As I mentioned, I had to have a second spine surgery (same exact surgeon, location, everything) as I reinjured myself just a few months after the first surgery. Needless to say, I didn’t prioritize rest. I thought to myself, “I’m young! I’m healthy! I’m going to prove to everyone how quick I can bounce back.” Only later did I realize how silly that was. By doing this, I set myself back another six months. Six more months of not doing the things I loved.
After the second surgery, I obviously didn’t want to go through the whole ordeal a third time, so I got serious about sleep. My weekends as a young adult had always been jam-packed with activities. For the first time ever, I spent my weekends recharging. I got an oura ring to track my sleep and started to learn what supported me and hindered me. Game-ifying my sleep helped; as a former 4.0 student and a crazy Capricorn, I could challenge myself to get a better sleep score! I started avoiding eating late at night, taking hot showers before bed, keeping my room cool, and limiting phone use before bed. Even now with my surgeries receding into the rearview mirror of my life, I’m still prioritizing sleep and can’t imagine life any other way now.
Breathwork was also a key tool in my recovery. I might not have been able to lift weights or jump on the beach volleyball court, but I could breathe. Breathwork, lying down, became a way for me to connect with my body and was extremely cathartic for me during this time.
A third way I healed from my surgeries was through microdosing psilocybin. After the second surgery, I tried to get off the painkillers as quickly as I (safely) could as I hated the way they made me feel. With the help of a coach, microdosing helped me to feel connected to myself and the world around me again. After a few months of this protocol, I began to notice how I was making more friends, networking, and experiencing joy again.
Q: What have you learned about your sleep since using Apollo?
A: I love that when I wear my Apollo™ device consistently during the day, it’s helping my sleep at night. This has been a new realization for me, as I’m more used to working through my day pretty non-stop, then only thinking about sleep right before bed when I start my nightly routine of dimming the lights, taking a shower, and so on. This notion has rippled into the rest of my life. I find that I’m thinking ahead more about how I can better prepare myself for the night during the day or setting myself up for the morning at night so I’m not putting myself under unnecessary stress in the moment.
Q: What are the most surprising things you’ve discovered since using Apollo?
A: One reason I love my Apollo wearable is because it’s something positive I can do to improve my health that isn’t consuming something or doing something active. Since beginning my career ghostwriting nutrition books, I’ve become increasingly conscious of what I eat, but there are only so many things I can consume in a day! All the supplements get to be overwhelmingly pretty fast (not to mention, pricey to replenish month after month). I like that I’m strapping on my Apollo wearable, and I don’t have to make another elixir or smoothie or meal to get the benefits. In addition, as I’ve mentioned, staying active is huge for me, but again, there is only so much movement you can fit into a day with a full-time job! Finally, my Apollo wearable isn’t adding another workout regime to my schedule and I benefit from it just by using it consistently day and night.
When I started using the Apollo wearable, I wanted to keep improving my sleep, but I’ve been surprised by how much the other modes have helped me, too. I particularly like Social and Open. It helps me feel more at ease in creative brainstorm sessions or going out with friends or on a date. Clear and Focused is also a game-changer for writing copy. I don’t need to drink an espresso to get in the zone!
Q: What are your future health goals?
A: Right now, I’m focused on continuing to get stronger physically and build my confidence so I can participate in the activities I love again without fear of getting reinjured. This includes doing inversions in yoga again, playing volleyball, and skiing. Playing volleyball and skiing in particular are very social for me, so I’m looking forward to being able to participate in them again so I can spend time with friends and family doing those healthy activities, versus, say, just going out to eat.
As for my mental and emotional health, I’m constantly working on accepting and loving my body as it is right now. My body is so resilient, and I’m grateful for it even when it’s not at 100%. The Apollo wearable has played into this a lot as when I wear it, I know I’m improving my resilience to stress. Going through two spine surgeries was the hardest challenge I’ve faced yet, but I know more challenges in my life will arise. It’s important to prepare ourselves as best we can so we’re equipped when the going gets tough.