Imagine that you’d suddenly get the flu, that just wouldn’t go away, and, instead, it would get worse and worse. Months and years would pass but instead of getting better, your muscles and joints would be sore and get cramps, your blood pressure would be high, and your body would just shut down. The pain would be so bad that you would pass out and you would lose your muscles, not being able to even brush your own hair. And doctors would keep saying that you would never get better. All this happened to young Angelica Prytz, who, until then, had been very active and loved life.
Through all stages of grief
“They couldn’t find anything wrong with me, so I got diagnosed with fibromyalgia, IBS and pustulosis palmoplantaris (PPP). I worked with a team of doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists and occupational therapists. All of them told me for about 3.5 years that I would never get better, that I would never be able to do things that I used to do and that I should just accept that.”
Angelica went through all the stages of grief. Denial; “I could walk, it was just hard and hurt a lot, it would get better I told myself.” Anger; “Why did this happen to me? I loved life and was always on the go.” Bargaining; “I began to pray, even though I’m not religious.” Depression; I got really depressed and cried all the time. I thought my life was at its end and couldn’t think of a life in bed with horrible pains for tens of years to come. I even thought about taking my own life. But I had my dogs, I had to take care of them.“ Then acceptance, the phase where the magic happened; “I gave up, I had no tears left. I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t live like that. I had two choices - to end it, or fight - for real. So, for the love of my dogs, for the love of agility and for the longing of being able to run again, I chose the latter.”
She thought she could, so she did
Angelica bought a wheelchair with motors, so that she could take her dogs for walks alone. “So, me and my five dogs went on walks for the first time in years, alone, and I loved it. It was the start of feeling some independence again and made me become even more determined to reach my goal.”
Today, Angelica works full time again, driving a truck at a warehouse, and building her own company, focusing on dog training and agility. Even though she still has a lot of pain and other symptoms, she runs agility every weekend.
Like so many who have gone through a major crisis, Angelica has done a lot of self-reflection and changed the course of her life: “If I compare me then and me now, I’m not the same person. I lost my whole personality and had to build it all up again, to find myself and my motivators. I fought to find out what my own opinions were and what I was feeling about things without the pressure from everyone else. I became a vegan, I ended a relationship, I stopped smoking and I decided to start challenging myself more, as I was, and still am, pretty scared of all new things and unfamiliar situations. So, after I had been training agility since 2001, I decided to start competing! I wanted to challenge myself and grow, so I did it.”
“Agility saved my life – and keeps me fighting”
A year ago the doctors found several cysts in Angelica’s spinal cord that were pressing against the nerves and may have been one of the causes that lead her body to crash. They also found five herniated discs in her thoracic and neck that could explain some of her pain.
“I think agility saved my life. And still, I’m not always strong and positive, but agility keeps me fighting, as well as keeps me meeting friends and new people. Agility keeps me seeing new places and challenging myself, to keep fighting and to be in the moment, right now. It keeps me moving forward even though my body hurts and my mind sometimes has a hard time holding it all together.”
Angelica started to teach agility and trick training classes again, even though it took all she had and she had to lie for days in bed afterwards. “When I was teaching, I didn’t feel like I was "the sick one", I was me. Agility made me feel alive again.”
Angelica says she knows she’s not alone in this. “I wish I could show everyone who doesn’t feel good, mentally or physically, that there is a way of coping; of getting better; of feeling happy again. I want to tell them never to listen to someone telling them they can’t, because that’s not up to anyone else. As long as you keep fighting, anything can happen. If I could do it, so can you.”
Finding alternative ways to do agility
Angelica’s main goal in agility is to keep challenging herself. Because of the pains, Angelica can’t move as well as before. For this reason she has to find alternative ways of doing agility: “I have to be a good dog trainer to have a chance to compete with the really good handlers. So that is where I put most of my efforts. I want to be able to do all the things everybody else can do, but in my own way. I want to get better, I want to get stronger and I want to overcome my fear of things I can’t control. Our next goal is to qualify for the Swedish championships. And when we’ve done that, I probably want to go ever further. I want to be as good as I possibly can, in spite of my disabilities.”
Even though Angelica is quite a fighter and her goals keep her going, she wants to remind everyone that in the end, agility is still all about having fun: “On the course, it’s only you and your dog; your best friend. Don’t ever forget that, even if it’s easy to get frustrated when things go wrong; when we don’t reach our goals. You and your dog having the best time of your life, that’s the reason we do this in the first place. That’s the reason we travel far and meet new people; the reason we empty our wallets and sit out in the rain a whole weekend to run a course in 40 seconds. That’s the reason we keep fighting.”