In 2013, I met LaNice. At that time, she was one of the fiercest 15 year olds I have ever encountered. I had the good fortune to judge the Junior Miss Cherokee competition when she was crowned and instantly fell in love with her in an auntie sorta way. I’ve watched her from a distance ever since, knowing that she would make a big impact in whatever she decided to do next.

She was so incredibly poised, talented, real. To get a small taste of what I saw, here she is back in 2014 performing (piano AND bassoon) at the Smithsonian. Remarkable.

But that kind of talent often comes at a very high price. I’m sure you have all looked at someone who seemingly had it all together, appearing effortless in their successes, without realizing that they might be carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. And sometimes that weight can literally and figuratively take it’s toll.

See a kid that is a great basketball player? They probably worked their fingers to the bone. See a straight “A” student? They probably burned the midnight oil, perhaps consumed by unspeakable stress. See a first generation college student from “regular” family across Indian country? They might have 25 dollars left to get them through the whole rest of the semester, not knowing when the next meals might come. Resourceful people, that manage to make “it” happen in remarkable ways. Generation after generation.

All of it. Dealing with trauma, and I mean, REALLY dealing with it, is a tall order.

Fast forward 7 years. That fierce Cherokee girl that made me beam with pride and nod my head affirmatively over and over? She’s still got that same fire in her belly and she’s moved on to her next journey(s).

She’s still performing. She’s still inspiring. But this time? She’s unpacking it all, to find the healthiest version of self. You can follow her on Instagram @FryBreadFitness.

Here’s LaNice’s health story:

“Disclaimer: first things first, I want to clarify one thing before I say anything else: my parents raised me to be strong, to stand up for what I believe in, and to always find a way to get back up. They have given me unconditional love, support, and a shoulder to cry on throughout this journey. My parents are working to make small incremental changes to their own lifestyles now, but here is my story.

When I got to high school, I worked my ass off. I put in 18+ hour work days and rehearsed or performed almost every weekend. I took 4 years of every subject, attended the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics regional center, was a 3 year all state bassoonist, recorded CDs with NSU, took concurrent classes, played in various festivals and operas, and marched a season of drum corps. I worked hard and was known for achieving just about anything I set my mind to and I wanted EVERYTHING.

However, things were messy at home and in my head. I consistently had a dirty room. Not like a weeks worth, it was more like a months worth of garbage and dirty clothes. I slept approximately 3-4 hours every night and when I would dream, I had nightmares. I hated the dark, and I always slept with a light and radio on. I didn’t care what I looked like, I didn’t care that my clothes didn’t match, I hated brushing my hair, I just wanted to be left alone to work. At one point my nightmares were so bad I started taking caffeine pills by the time I was 16 so that I could just stay awake and study for 2 days straight. I ate jalapeño Cheetos and diet Mountain Dew for lunch most days.

All of this was a result of unresolved trauma and grief I couldn’t face. I tried to do it on my own and all I did was strain the relationships I had with my family and friends because I was so angry. I was bottling the anger so far down it started to burn me from the inside. I got to college and the entire world changed for me… I also got busier. This meant I couldn’t make normal meal times or sit down to eat a meal at the cafeteria (not like it mattered anyway, I had no knowledge of nutrition). For that reason, I had to pay for snacks out of pocket, which quickly began to add up because I was working 2 jobs and was on at least 7 scholarships to be able to afford school.

So, I started going to every event to eat, every meeting, every social gathering, and people thought it was just because I was so socially involved— in reality, I was trying to make sure I got to eat that day. I ate as much as I could, I would wait until the end and take the boxes home and save the food. It was mainly pizza and sub sandwiches, but there was also soda and cookies most of the time too.

After college, I moved away to San Antonio and I was unexpectedly separated for 10 months from my husband due to his active duty in Georgia during quarantine. At the beginning of my husbands deployment, I weighed 202.8 pounds—> almost 40 pounds more than the weight on my drivers license. I told my husband when he left I wanted him to come back to a better partner, both emotionally and physically.

I worked hard, just like how my parents taught me. I studied books on nutrition, read about other peoples stories, followed people who inspired me, found people to go hiking and eat healthy yummy food with. I started with a diet that turned into a lifestyle change. Once my physical health was starting to improve, I felt the urge to seek therapy for all my anger. I wanted all the problems and quirks to stop. It wasn’t until a month ago that I reached out and found a fantastic therapist who has been practicing for 50+ years and has already moved mountains in my brain. PTSD is a difficult disorder to deal with and I have never felt so validated and heard until I began these visits. The techniques he has given me have brought me to tears because of the relief that I get to experience.

When you have children, the river always flows down stream. My grandparents made mistakes that flowed down to my parents, my parents made mistakes that flowed down to me, and I will make mistakes that will flow to my own children someday.

But one thing I have learned from this journey is that every generation has tried to filter as much of the bad as they can in an effort to protect the next generation. Just because my parents couldn’t teach me about nutrition, does not negate that it is a skill that I should strive to learn independently.

Even if you have no support in your lifestyle change (whether it’s intentional or not) physical and mental health become YOUR responsibility when you turn 18.

So here is the delicate balance I challenge you to consider as you either start or continue your journey: be honest with yourself, hold yourself accountable, and give yourself grace.“

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