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Get out of your own way.

Anjli Lodhavia is a licensed speech-language pathologist in Chicago, Illinois. Outside of work, her interests include dancing, yoga, mindbody medicine, mindfulness meditation, travel, the outdoors, and trying out new restaurants. We chose her as our #WCW because of her compassion and understanding for others while leading with strength and purpose.

1. What's your story? What makes you unique?

When I’m going through the motions of my every day, my life feels mundane. But I’ve started to realize that everyone has a few stories we know nothing about—so here is mine.

I grew up in a mid-sized suburb outside of Chicago with my parents, my grandparents, and my older sister, Avani. My family had emigrated from India in the late 80s/early 90s to ensure that my sister and I obtained a proper education and had opportunities that they themselves did not have in their small, rural town. My parents worked multiple jobs to provide for us, and encouraged us to study hard so we would get into a respected college, and that we did—we both attended Northwestern University. Go ‘Cats!

What makes me unique is my allegiance to mind-body medicine. After graduate school, I moved to Minneapolis to start my career as a clinical fellow in speech-language pathology. Around this time, I started to feel sick. But it wasn’t your average cold or flu, I found myself struggling with symptoms such as hair loss, stomach pains, heartburn, and dry, flakey skin. I didn’t think any of them were related at the time, so I bounced from specialist to specialist accumulating creams and pills and elimination diets. Little did I know the worst was yet to come. In December 2015, I found myself in unbearable pelvic pain. I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t wear pants, and my gynecologist scared me into believing this would be a permanent abnormality. Fast forward four months, and I was in even worse shape. I stopped driving, I loathed using the restroom, and I used a donut pillow when sitting at my desk.

The pain and associated symptoms were coupled with feelings of hopelessness and panic. Because of this, I distanced myself from everyone I loved. I would come home from work and dive into my computer for hours researching this untreatable condition, often finding myself in a rabbit hole between WebMD and an unregulated medical forum. Somehow, in the midst of all this browsing, I came across a novel term—mind-body medicine. And that’s when everything picked up.

The premise of mind-body medicine is that strong emotions—such as anger, fear, resentment, and guilt—can manifest physically within our bodies. This isn’t a novel concept; most people agree that embarrassment causes our cheeks to turn pink, and fright raises the hairs on our arms. It all goes back to our innate ‘flight or fight’ response, and mine was completely out of whack.

Long story short, I stopped the pills, and creams, and diets, and took an introspective look at my life. I learned how moving across state lines, starting a career, and losing a family member can take a toll on one's physical and mental health. I started seeing a psychotherapist, confided in family and friends about my newfound struggles, and began to shift my focus to things that made me happy (i.e. dance, yoga, sunshine, travel, meditation, etc.)

I still struggle with short bouts of body pain occasionally, but it’s nowhere near as debilitating as it was when I first began this journey, and it’s almost always related to something going on in my life (i.e. a new job, a new relationship, a personal battle.) A year later, I can honestly say my journey with pain was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. Because of it, I better understand the values that are most important to me, and feel more resilient than ever before.

2. What motivates you?

My patients motivate me! As a speech-language pathologist, I primarily work with adult and geriatric individuals following an acquired brain injury, like a stroke or impact from a motorcycle accident. I see perseverance at its finest. Surely if my patients can go through months of therapy to learn how to walk and talk again, I can plow through a tough day. Every session with a patient helps me put my own life into perspective—I have it pretty good. And even when things get rough, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.

3. Who is a hero of yours?

This is cliché—but my parents are my heroes. As an adolescent, I had a contentious relationship with the two of them. While I recognized they worked very hard to provide for my family, I often mistook their cultural differences as weaknesses and ignorance. As I got older, I gained a strong appreciation for the personal and professional sacrifices they made to give my sister and I a brighter future. It takes a lot of courage to step back and put your needs second. I am forever grateful to my parents for not only their sacrifices, but for their ongoing support.

4. Give us a road map of your career. How did you get to where you are today?

I knew early on that I wanted to be a helping professional, but did not want the responsibilities or lifestyle of a doctor. My grandmother, who helped raise me and has lived with me since I was a baby, suffered a traumatic brain injury in the 1950s at the age of 25, and has since struggled with aphasia and hemiplegia. She learned to compensate by using the strong side of her body to move around and expressing simple, telegraphic speech to communicate.

Because of my early childhood experiences, I knew that speech-language pathology was my calling by the time I was a freshman at Northwestern. I immersed myself in research, got involved with special needs communities, and organized campus-wide events to promote awareness and advocacy. After graduating, I attended Rush University to obtain my graduate degree, and moved to Minneapolis for my clinical fellowship. After a year away, I moved back to my hometown and worked for a nationally renowned hospital system at the day rehabilitation level. This means I work with people right after they leave the hospital, and assist them with community reintegration.

To be honest, I am where I am because I always ask for feedback and I am persistent. When interviewing for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for my fellowship, I was faced with early rejections, but asked for constructive criticism on what I could do better during the application process. It turns out that the individual who offered me feedback was impressed with my initiative, and reached out to the other hospitals to let them know I was a strong applicant. The same thing happened with my current job, I was rejected twice before they offered me a position. It’s important to keep trying and build a network along the way. In a small field like speech-language pathology, everyone knows everyone.

5. What's your future plan? Your goals?

If I’ve learned anything in the past 26 years, it’s that very little goes according to plan. Right now I’m just a speech-language pathologist. Eventually, I’d like to get my hands into something bigger, such as management, research, and/or academia—but that’s still a few years away. I also want to get more involved in mind-body medicine and share my story. My experience in the last year has made me realize how biased the medical community can be in prescribing medications and recommending surgery. There are other options—and the public needs to know.

Ultimately, my life goal is to be happy—which I’ve learned is easier said than done. Not only do I want to surround myself with people that make me happy, but I hope to find happiness within myself. You can’t always control what happens in your life, but you can control how you choose to feel about it. Happiness is a choice, not a result. And I want to train myself to consistently make that choice.

6. If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Get out of your own way. Sometimes our own thoughts and feelings are the only barrier that keep us from getting where we want to be. Tear down the cynicism, and get out of your way.

7. What is something you feel strongly about (a cause, belief, etc.)?

I am confident that the most powerful force in the world is belief itself. I don’t think it matters what you believe in, just that you believe in something; whether it be a specific religion, a particular cause, or the power within yourself. I see it all the time when I am with my patients. Those who believe that they can recover from their illness or injury typically make better progress during rehabilitation. Those who believe in their abilities, their brains, their bodies, and their social circles find it easier to overcome adversity.

8. What's one of the coolest things you've ever done?

The coolest thing I’ve ever done is take a four-day, three-night trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota with a group of women I barely knew. Sans technology, we portaged our way through a chain of lakes carrying only our food, clothing, tents, and canoes. We cooked by campfire, urinated in latrines, and entertained ourselves by getting to know each other. We played charades, shared personal stories, and found peace while conversing under a sky full of stars. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t care what I looked like, and was one with nature in the present moment.

If you'd like to contact Anjli for mentorship opportunities, you can reach her HERE.

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