Author Archives: emialv

I’ve been here before and I know the way out.

Earlier this year I spoke at a women’s roundtable alongside some of LA’s top female influencers in the cycling community. I shared my story of the eight months prior to, the health challenges I was facing, and how they affected my life on and off the bike. This small, intimate event was a big deal to me. You see, I have a tendency to internalize and often remain very private about my personal life, my emotions, and the anxious thoughts that are actually running rampant in my head. I hide behind quip. I avoid having to talk about myself and I control conversations by asking questions instead (as a result, I am a REALLY good listener). After my diagnosis last summer, it took me five months just to publicly confess my reasons behind my disappearing act, so you can imagine how sharing my experience for the first time with people staring me straight in the face, no phone or computer screen to hide behind, would be a big deal.

After the panel discussion ended I naturally migrated over to a table of goodies and grabbed myself a cup of coffee. It was then that I was approached by a woman (Let’s call her Ysabel for anonymity) who, with a smile from ear-to-ear, thanked me for sharing my story, acknowledged me for how difficult it must be, and empathized with me (for she, too, had faced very different challenges, but similar in the effects it had on her life, health, and spirit). What a great feeling to know that someone else could relate. Someone else in this room full of kickass female athletes knew what it was like to feel so fatigued that you’d rather starve than go through the struggle of walking yourself to the kitchen. So tired that the simple act of standing up didn’t seem like an option worth my while. I wasn’t alone. Someone else knew, and there were likely more of us out there who’s Egos were standing in the way of admitting it (This is a direct reference to myself. As I point my finger there are four others pointing right back at me).

Fast forward to late March, when my health took another turn for the worse and all the moving parts of everyday life were becoming unmanageable. I needed to face the hard reality that my routine was unsustainable. I had already let go of anything and everything you could describe as fun or enjoyable. No time for that. I had spent a total of 32 days in a clinic, doctors office, or some sort of testing lab over a span of 11 months. More than a month of my life in less than a year – drawing blood, collecting urine, sitting by myself in waiting rooms, listening to doctors use words I had never heard of and then spending the remainder of that day researching them. That’s not counting all the additional time spent in self-prescribed Acupuncture visits, yoga classes, and dedicated meditation sessions in efforts to calm the mind. Who had time for fun? Not this girl. Holy. Fuck. But I still needed to let more go, and that’s when I made the hard decision to take a leave from work.

It seems silly that this would be such a big deal.  Many people have taken disability leaves for far less complex reasons. But it was the meaning that I attached to it that was making this difficult for me. It meant defeat. It meant I wasn’t as good or as strong or as fierce as I used to be. I realize now it was all bullshit.

Afraid. Defeated. Alone. Anxious. Weak. Broken. Useless. Hopeless. Terrified. Terrified. Terrified.

All those were feelings that came with this decision. All driven by fear. All ultimately coming from Ego. Then Ysabel came to mind. I remembered her telling me she was unable to work for some time during her experience, so I opened up social media and reached out in desperation for words from someone who’s worn these panicked shoes.

Fast forward to yesterday. After four months of separation from work and chronic stress, I felt like my health was finally manageable and I was back in a fairly decent spot, or at least headed that way. Wrong. My Cortisol levels are back up to four times the norm and my doctor decides to increase the dosage of the study drug because it’s stopped working or I’ve built a tolerance or something. Who really knows.  Needless to say, all those feelings I highlighted above came flooding back.

I went out on my bike this morning for some moving meditation to help clear my head. After meeting up with the group I intended to ride with, they chose to take a route that I knew was harder than I needed to push. So I buried my Ego and decided to forgo. Instead I rode to the ocean and sat there and cried. I cried because I was scared. Because I felt broken. Because I wasn’t as strong as I used to be. I’m not physically the same Emily. Here I was all over again. And then my adult temper tantrum was interrupted by a woman’s voice speaking my name. She was someone I had met on a ride once in the Santa Monica mountains a few months prior and was just finishing her early morning workout. She sat with me for an hour and the deeper we got into our conversation the more I noticed all those above highlighted feelings fade. She told me that although she had only met me once, she had overheard something I said in conversation with another woman on that ride that stuck with her.
“If your legs hurt more than your face does from smiling, you’re doing it wrong.”

That woman she overheard me talking to was Ysabel. Funny how everything comes full circe.

Fast forward to this moment. I write these words just after returning from my ride turned unexpected therapy session and revisiting the response I received after reaching out to Ysabel in my moments of despair.

As my eyes flood with tears, my head floods with thoughts, and my heart floods with gratitude. My tears now are ones of pride in the realization that I made the best decision for myself in leaving work and creating space, and that realization will be the foundation of all decisions moving forward. Tears of joy because in the end, I find more satisfaction in hanging back, creating relationships, and cultivating a positive energy for people to carry with them beyond a bike ride than I do in being at the front of the pack all the time. Tears of hope that although my health challenges may not ever be truly resolved, I am continuing to learn how to create a better, healthier life for myself and in doing that, I am silently setting an example for others to do the same. But mostly, tears of gratitude for not just Ysabel, but the people like her who I have shared my innermost battles with over the last year and have selflessly extended their time, advice, love, and kindness. The strangers listening to my kookiness and the aforementioned quip I sometimes hide behind, who end up helping me through emotional turmoil on a random Friday morning when I least expect to be found. The friends on both coasts I text before the sun even rises because I’m having a moment – and they respond without hesitation. There are many of them. And I’m thankful for each and every one.

Today is Friday. And as always on SEXY Friday, there’s always a takeaway. The Universe is a funny place and when you let go of resistance it will mysteriously work for you, never against you. When you find yourself in panic or fear, let the thoughts go. Think of something you are grateful for. You will find that gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions you can practice in your everyday life. The problem is, we don’t practice it enough.
I heard this fable once, it went something like this…
A guy was stuck wounded in a dark well. A doctor walked by and threw him an RX. A little while later, a Priest walked by and recited a prayer for him. Soon after, a friend of his walked by and after realizing his buddy was stuck in this well, jumps in.
The guy says “What’d you do that for?! Now we’re both stuck in this darkness!”
The friend smiles and says “Yes, but I’ve been here before and I know the way out.”

Where I’ve been and where I’m going

Where have you been?

It’s a question I’ve been receiving more frequently, as I seemingly dropped off the face of the earth and went radio-silent.

The truth is, I’ve been forced to do what’s hardest for me: slow down and stop everything. I’ve been avoiding an explanation for quite some time now and for various reasons: fear, hope that it’ll go away if I don’t acknowledge or talk about it, not wanting to repeat the complexity of the situation over and over again. But that avoidance and secrecy is causing me more stress than benefit.

So here we go. Here is my confession (if you want to call it that) – six months ago I was diagnosed with Cushing Syndrome and it’s turned my entire world on its head.

What the hell is Cushing Syndrome?

It’s pretty rare, although my belief is because it’s not highly understood by medical professionals and often misdiagnosed. I don’t expect most people to have heard of it. So here, let me Google it for you.

For those of you that don’t feel like researching (and I don’t blame you), here’s the high-level explanation: I’m over-producing Cortisol at about six times the rate that any healthy human-being should be.

What is Cortisol, what does it do, and why is this bad?

Anatomy lesson for the day: Your adrenal glands produce Cortisol in response to stress (physical or mental – our bodies don’t differentiate between the two). It’s your “fight or flight” hormone – the physiological reaction to a perceived threat in preparation to fight or get the hell out of the way. This hormonal hullabaloo prepares us for vigorous muscle action that fighting or escaping pronto requires. There is typically long-term trouble within all of your body’s processes if it’s under this constant state of stress, as is mine. The release of Cortisol triggers increased blood pressure, decreased lung and muscle function, and messes with your blood sugar levels. Simultaneously, blood vessels constrict in many parts of the body, immune and digestive function slows, bone density suffers, and other necessary hormones become depleted. In my case, my body is under a constant state of emergency thanks to two tumors on my adrenal glands. No bueno.

So now what?

Because I have to be such a special snowflake (intended to be read with sarcasm), my form of this condition is seen in about 1% of patients. I look nothing like the doctors would expect a Cushing’s patient to look like. There is not an enormous amount of medical research on it, nor is there a known cure aside from removal of my adrenal glands altogether, which would present a whole new set of implications to deal with – clearly a last resort.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to participate in a medical study to test a drug that they hope will suppress Cortisol levels. There are strict eligibility requirements, which I’ve met, and the clinical trial is capped somewhere around 90 people globally (#specialsnowflake). It is slated to last around 18 months and, without getting into detail, is very demanding of me and my oh-so-precious time. This is an experiment. There are no guarantees but I am going in with high hopes because… why not?

If this doesn’t work, I’ll have to think of a new course of action. I don’t know what that is but I’m not there yet, so don’t ask. I’m not worrying about it right now.

What I feel

Physically: Tired. Some days it’s so bad that even standing up is a struggle. As a data analyst, I’ve tried to figure out a pattern to these extreme levels of fatigue. I can’t seem to identify any trends to help forecast the crash-and-burn and neither can doctors. We’re working on it. In the meantime, I need to be patient and gentle with myself. Lots of naps. Lots of rest.

Mentally: Anxious – and usually it’s unjustified. It’s a side effect. Scared. Of the unknown. Of the future. Of not getting my normal life back or feeling 100% again.

What do I need?

Those that are aware of my situation have asked what they can do for me. The only thing I can really ask for is love and support. Be patient. Understand that my absence is only because my efforts are focused on recovery and healing. I do not value my relationships any less. I am just learning the value in taking care of myself and prioritizing my health, and accepting that I have boundaries and limitations, and there are certain things that I just can’t do right now (like long, scenic rides. But God damn, do I miss my bike).

I’ve grown up more in the past six months than I have in my 28 years of life. One of the many things I’ve learned in this short period is that you can do everything right and sometimes shit just goes wrong. I do realize and take responsibility that I definitely wasn’t doing everything right. Pushing too hard, working too much, not sleeping enough. Not valuing myself. For those of you who know me, these are the things that are hard-wired into my persona and what I’ve always done best. Needless to say, this has been quite a challenge on many fronts.

This is the type of confession that I haven’t wanted to accept or admit. I’m supposed to be a model of health, strength, and most seem to think I can do anything. But here’s another reality:

We are all human. Including myself. And like all humans, I am also imperfect. But I am enough.

I’ve had to talk myself out of calling this giving in. To me, while a struggle, I’m calling it acceptance. I’m calling it evolution. Change doesn’t mean a shift to worse. It means a readjustment to better. Just because you can’t do what you’ve always done doesn’t mean you can’t be better than before.

So I’m slowly making a comeback, but in many ways I’m here for the first time. Old me. New me. They meet in the same place: a never-ending quest to find ways to live better, feel better, and be grateful for every moment of life.

Looking forward to what’s to come. Cheers.

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Simple kind of life

Every year I pick one word that serves as my guiding force.

In 2013, this word was a noun. I wanted to focus on something that seemed tangible. Something attainable. So I decided all my actions would lead to achieving an ultimate goal. And that goal was Balance. From an outside perspective, some may argue that I am far from living a Balanced lifestyle. I am constantly “on.” Always involved in some new project or adventure. Can’t relax. These are all facts, but the truth is that I make sure to spend my time doing things I truly enjoy. Feel challenged by life but relaxed enough to enjoy it. I’m enjoying it.

Balance? Check.

In 2014 I opted to take a different approach. Instead of picking a word that would serve as an end result, I wanted to close out my year with an ultimate definition of myself. A single adjective that could paint a picture of Emily Alvarez to any given stranger (and, unbeknownst to me at the time, I’d certainly be meeting a lot of strangers in the coming year). I decided my word would be Fearless. But one can’t just be Fearless. You have to earn the part. So I focused on doing things that made me slightly nervous. Or that scared me for reasons that were, in the grand scheme of things, unjustified. Like running a full marathon. Leaving a comfortable job that I knew deep down I wasn’t completely happy with. Packing up and moving cross-country to Los Angeles, where I knew almost no one and didn’t have work lined up. It sounded crazy to most people. And it felt crazy in the midst of the transition (and every moment leading up to it), but it was all for a bigger purpose.

Fearlessness? Check.

I closed out 2014 with some very personal decisions that only reinforce the Fearless factor. These decisions are the basis of the life I intend to lead in 2015. So what word will steer my path in the coming year? Something actionable. This year I will Simplify. I’ve come to the realization that I hold on to too many things that don’t add much value to my life. Why do I waste my time and energy on things I will not benefit from? I realize that may sound selfish but I encourage you to think about self-development for a minute. It’s something we should all strive for. If you have a limited amount of time and energy, you are limiting your opportunity to grow if you exhaust yourself on items that aren’t on your agenda for improvement. It’s time to let go. Reduce the noise and add some white space. Get rid of the negative and learn to say no to things that don’t matter. Get over the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).  Free up some time for myself and enjoy the positive new opportunities that will present themselves as a result. But be careful not to overdo it (remember Balance!).

My best friend Gil, in all her wisdom, reminded me the other day that less is more.

“…spend your energy wisely and don’t overdo it. Otherwise you end up doing a bunch of things half assed.”

Simplicity? Added to the Checklist.

I read somewhere that it takes repeating an action three times before it becomes an official tradition. Year three. Word three. Cheers to new traditions.

Happy 2015.

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Thank you, Idiot.

I am moving to LA in two weeks. I left my comfortable job and will be driving cross-country to start a new adventure. Needless to say, I am extremely excited for what’s to come. I love adventures. But that excitement is also coupled with extreme anxiety. I’m nervous about a million things. Where will I work? When will I work? What if I don’t meet genuine people? What if I chose the wrong area and I end up amongst a bunch of materialistic idiots? I’m really tired of idiots.


I must’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning because not even the rush of mood-boosting endorphins as a result of my morning spin class could snap me out of the funk I found myself in. I decided to set every responsibility aside and gather my thoughts. Alone. Sunshine. Poolside. No crazy bike ride. No ridiculous long distance run. Just R&R to clear my head. Nothingness. Back to basics.


I think I was only there for about ten minutes before some guy tried to start meaningless conversation with me and another woman who was not sitting too far away. Don’t get me wrong, I am nice to everyone and love meeting and talking to new people, but the few minutes of conversation shared with this guy were mind-numbing. He seemed like a complete idiot (you know, the materialistic ones referenced above). He eventually realized my lack of enthusiasm and left me and the other woman alone in our conversation – a conversation that lasted nearly three and a half hours and touched on a broad spectrum of topics. Past experiences. Future experiences. Books. Careers. Society. Relationships. Food. People.


I am not an overly spiritual person by any means but I do believe things are occasionally presented to us as signs. They could take any form – music, literature, an incident, a moment. In this case, I was receiving a sign in the form of a person. I won’t get into too much detail not only because it would take up way too much of your time to read but also because it would really get quite personal. I don’t write to talk about me. I write to hope readers take something from my experiences. It seemed like everything her and I talked about resonated with something in my life, past or present. Everything from interests to emotions to experiences. In a very strange way, it almost felt as though I was having a conversation with an older version of myself. She brought me back down to Earth and opened my eyes without even realizing she was doing so. She wasn’t offering me advice and I wasn’t asking for it. We were just talking but I felt at peace. Confident and fearless. Original afternoon mission accomplished.


I have always believed that every encounter is intentional and every person in your life serves a purpose. Whether that role is big or small or whether you know what that purpose is now or twenty years from now, these people have been strategically placed in our lives for a reason. Even the idiots that make failed attempts to hit on you while you’re trying to meditate by the pool end up having something to bring to the table. I might not have ever even noticed this woman sitting right next to me. Don’t take for granted any conversation you may have with someone or the opportunity to have one. You may find comfort in a complete stranger. In my case, that comfort was just what I needed to guide some imminent decisions and get me back on a healthy mental track when I felt I was reaching a breaking point (which we all have, by the way). Keep your mind open to new people and new ideas and let the universe run its course. Brilliant things will happen.


And to the idiot wandering the pool – Thank you. You make me feel a tad bit more okay about any possible encounters with idiots in LA 🙂


“Life has funny turns. This was a good one.”


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What SEXY really means

Let me preface this post with a brief explanation of SEXY Friday, for those of you who don’t already know. Almost two years ago I established Fridays as a day for women to celebrate themselves. This idea piggybacks off of “Handsome Friday,” established by my former trainer Ken Wawa and made popular among our group of friends and colleagues by our mutual (crazy) friend Joe Mazzella. I deemed my ban from their weekly man dates unfair and so came the birth of SEXY Friday.

I recently eavesdropped on a conversation between two women sitting at a bar discussing who they found attractive in the room. I took a good look around and (over)analyzed a few of the subjects at hand. I admit that I did have a few initial reactions but after a few minutes of close study I found it nearly impossible to decide who I was attracted to just based on physical appearance alone. I found myself instantly turned off by the vibes exuded from some of these people. I then started to question: What exactly is Sexy? Yes, physical attraction is extremely important (when it comes to intimate relationships). But beyond that it is a combination of the following things (in no particular order):

1. Emotional Security / Confidence. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Confidence sans arrogance. There are tactful ways to display confidence in oneself without seeming egotistical. Anyone that can master this is definitely worth the time. Ditch the insecurities. It’s not a good look and will ultimately cause problems down the road. But don’t overdo it. No one wants to be around someone who thinks they are superior. As with most things, balance is key.

2. Compassion: Someone once told me to pay close attention to how a man treats his mother, for it is a reflection of how he will treat you. Generosity, kindness, love. Look for an open heart. (Ladies – this goes for you too). I don’t think anymore needs to be said here.

3. Sense of Humor: A good laugh can cure anything. I am such a sucker for someone who can appreciate sarcasm. If you can combat my wit, I commend you. A good sense of humor is nothing short of magnetic. Sex appeal at max volume.

4. Authenticity: There is no need for anyone to be anything other than themselves. Your experiences have molded you into the person you are. Don’t try to be someone you’re not regardless of your surroundings. Everyone will see through it. Be genuine and you will likely attract the people you want to be around.

5. Ambition: There is something so appealing about drive. A willingness and capacity to grow and learn and figure things out. An understanding and appreciation that change and transition are a part of life and human relationships, and the zeal to take things on regardless of fear. Be fearless. Remember that overachievers don’t exist. Always strive to be bigger and better. Reach one goal and transition straight into the next. Comfort with ones current state of being is a huge red flag.

There are, of course, other factors that contribute to overall “sexiness.” And these factors will, of course, differ depending on who you ask. I mean, someone who can appreciate a good tune and bust a decent dance move is always a plus in my book. But these other fun factors are just a part of the whole package: how we carry and treat ourselves, our loved ones, even strangers of the world are what really draw people into each other.

On this SEXY Friday focus less on what you look like in the mirror and more on how you carry yourself and treat others. Exude confidence. Practice compassion. Make someone smile. Take one step toward your ultimate goals. Be you. Be sexy.



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