537 Elle Russ:
We all take a lot of things for granted… our gifts, our talents, our health, anything and everything …that comes easy to us. Often, it’s only when something is taken away, do we realize in the loss how much we valued what we no longer have.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who has found gratitude in such a loss … as painful as it was throughout much of her life.
Elle Russ found success super early managing hundreds of people as a hyper-charged tech exec by age 22. Then one day she lost the use of her hands. Imagine for a moment not being able to … use your hands. Today she shares her painful journey and how it led her to write the book Confident As Fu*k and the best-selling, Paleo Thyroid Solution – which has helped thousands of people around the world reclaim their health.
Elle Russ is on a mission to help people find their true confidence – and it’s a journey of self-acceptance. We all have things we don’t like about ourselves – things we try to hide from others in shame and for fear we won’t be liked or accepted “if they really knew”.
For years Elle hid her disability from friends and colleagues – beset by the deep fear that, as she says, “no one will want me” because her hands and arms were permanently disabled from a repetitive strain injury back in her tech days. This life-altering physical limitation became a deep emotional and psychological wound – compounded later by a big weight gain from hypo-thyroidism that sabotaged her acting career.
Over the years Elle has alchemized into a formidable sense of self-esteem and confidence – and ultimately led her to become a leading voice in the paleo and ancestral health movements – helping millions reclaim their health.
Elle is the 5th person in the world to be certified in paleo/primal/ancestral health. Through a devoted paleo/primal lifestyle, intensive personal experimentation, and a radically modified approach to thyroid hormone replacement therapy…Elle went from fat, foggy, and fatigued – to fit, focused, and full of life! She hosts the popular Primal Blueprint Podcast and co-hosts the Kick Ass Life Podcast with fellow empowerment coach, Tara Garrison.
Today you will find much inspiration in Elle’s story…and her powerful tips for how to find self-acceptance and self-confidence – no matter your circumstances.
You’re going to want to listen to every second of this interview, because Elle Russ’s inspiring journey dealing with disability and the emotional struggles borne from it … gives us all the blueprint to overcome self-judgment, shame and imposter syndrome … and step into the light in grace, vulnerable strength and self-confidence.
Elle is also a TV/Film writer and the host of two podcasts:
Let’s put on our wings with the inspiring Elle Russ.
Melinda Wittstock: Elle, welcome to Wings.
Elle Russ: I’m so happy to be here and have this conversation.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, me too. My heart goes out to you because you really suffered a life changing event in your early 20s that shapes your career and your entrepreneurial journey. You lost the use of your hands. I can’t begin to imagine what that was like and the impact it had on you.
Elle Russ: Everyone listening right now, you’ve probably adjusted your hands and fingers multiple times without even thinking about it. Now, I can use my hands. I swim. Now, I’m not in chronic pain anymore, but I still have the issue, which means I just can’t do things other people can do, and I can’t do them for as long as maybe other people can do, but I can still go stand up paddle, throw a Frisbee with you at the picnic, but I’m not going to be on the tennis league. Do you know what I’m saying? Which is a bummer because I love tennis. What happened was is, I was in the tech boom, it was right out of college. It was like 1995 I graduated.
I was like, “I’m going to go get some salary paying dumb job with benefits until I apply to law school. Ended up being the fifth person of a company that was really fast growing in the tech boom, and I was the assistant to the head of the corporation, was like his first assistant ever, he had started this company. They were rolling, they were rolling. Next thing you know, I’m promoted like three or four times. I’m managing 100 people throughout the state of California. I’m literally wearing Armani suits. I’m 22. I’m slicking my hair back, wearing fake glasses because I don’t want anyone to think, like know how old I am. I’m interviewing and hiring all these men.
I had a full on office with a view. It was like living … Now, I was like, “Yes.” You have to understand I was like, “F law school. Forget law school. I’m already making more than a starting attorney and I’m 22 now. I’ll be retired with 10 Porsches by the time I’m 35.” I was just so excited. I was more successful than anyone that I had graduated with so quickly. It was fun. It was awesome to make six figures and be so young right out of college. I really had everything ahead of me. Then one day, I was walking home with a friend and we were literally just carrying a very light chair from the store down the street. It was like a block and it was just too bulky to carry myself, so I had a friend come after work, and I had to put it down every five seconds.
My wrists were really weak and I remember being like, “Huh, this is weird.” I kept having to stop and put it down. Then it was shortly very after that, that my arms became entirely inflamed and somewhat useless. They would go numb every night. Sometimes they still do, it depends. I could not even hold a fork in my hand. I could not run my fingers through my hair or wipe myself without pain. I was in chronic pain 24/7. Now at the time, I just thought, “Well, someone’s going to figure this out, right? There’ll be a pill or some drug.” I didn’t think at all this was going to be permanent, until it just got worse and worse and worse. Here I am, I’m making six figures.
Now the blessing that happened to me in that moment was that, when came the day where … They even tried to hire someone to be my hands for me, because I was too valuable. I was making over, bringing in $2 million a year for the company. I’m 22 years old, and I’m one of their highest producers, actually the highest producer in the company. It really was just phenomenal to be in that position. Yet one day my arms stopped working and they’re like on fire, and I don’t know what the rest of my life is going to look like. That didn’t work out over time, because you still need to use your hands repetitively, right? You still have to answer the phone.
You have to take a note when you’re interviewing someone to put them on a job. I contracted out computer consultants for Fortune 500 companies. I couldn’t just not use my hands. I couldn’t even carry a purse. I had to use a backpack. I couldn’t hold a pan. I ordered a lot of food. I had money thankfully at that time, so I paid for a masseuse to come over, and I did every modality you could think of from acupuncture. I did everything to try to be like, “This can’t be happening.” Then came the day when they were like, “Listen, we have to put you on workman’s comp,” I’m 22. I don’t even know what that means. Do you know what I’m saying?
I’m like, “What is …that, I have no idea what’s happening. Someone told me, they pulled me aside, they’re like, “Listen, you just need to get a lawyer. It’s not a contentious thing. But you need to get a workman’s comp lawyer because you can’t do this yourself,” and so I did. When I went to the workman’s comp lawyer, they asked me who my hand doctor’s name was, and they checked it against the list. They go, “Oh, good, they’re not in the list.” I said, “What does that mean?” They’re like, “Well, there’s doctors in the hands of insurance companies.” I was just open to this; I was like in a John Grisham novel. I was like, “What is going on with this whole dark world of when I’m learning?” Long story short, I have the best doctor in the world.
His name is Dr. Kind actually in San Francisco, The Buncke Clinic and they basically invented microsurgery where they reattach limbs. I was at one of the best places in the world. I went through physical therapy three times a week, and they were just like, “It is just what it is. It’s a repetitive strain injury. It’s like any baseball player that you see out first season, then they come back and pitch and then they’re out again. If you keep doing these things, it’s going to happen. You have to probably never be able to go back to this job again.” Here I am, I had all this money ahead of me I’m like, “Oh, my God, I’m set for life. I’m good,” and then all of a sudden, I get thrown into, I’m 40% disabled by the State of California.
I am horrified because I’m also an alpha and I’m extremely embarrassed. I don’t know if you have someone to chime in here. I can keep going on the story of course, and it ended up being a really positive thing that happened to me and I’d never take it back. But it was a horrible day and very lonely, and I remember my first thought of shame. In my book I have a chapter titled Shame Disables Confidence. While I was very confident person all my life for 20 years that followed after that, I carried such great shame.
Melinda Wittstock: Did you feel that you had somehow failed because you had this? Was that the walk of shame or …?
Elle Russ: It was a little bit of that but it was more like, “Who’s going to want me? I’m 22. I can’t take care of a kid. I can’t get a kid ready for school. I can’t even cook. I couldn’t be … I can’t even hold my boyfriend’s hand, who’s going to want me? I don’t want a dude that’s hands are done at the age of 22. I can’t be hypocritical.” These are the things going through my head. My first thought of shame was, “Who’s going to want me? Who is going to want me?” I am finished already and I haven’t even started, and everyone starting their career and so yes, I was high on the mount but it was less about failure and more about fear for my future and also this feeling of who would want to be with me now, I am damaged goods.
Why would you choose me? The lucky part of it was that, and I recommend this to everybody, especially if you work for yourself. My company had amazing benefits and they had an own occupation disability policy. I didn’t even know we had it. They called me after several months and we’re like, “Hey …” It’s the only thing that saved my life and allowed me … Now, it was like 40,000 a year preschool salary teacher, type of salary. It doesn’t get you a lot in California. But it was enough to not have me stress and try to figure out what my next move was going to be to try to support myself in life.
I was making six figures, and my next promotion I was going to be making a quarter of a million dollars at the age of 23. You can only imagine getting like, “Here’s 40 grand a year,” and it’s taxable. I was like, “All right, this sucks.” I thought, “Well, as a kid, I always wanted to be an actor and I always thought it was ridiculous and I was going to go for the money.” I was going to go right for the money, which is what I did. I’m going to go be attorney; I know the benchmarks, become a partner. Then that got sidetracked by the tech net industry and I was like, “Oh, this is even better.
It’s going to be quicker. I’m just going to get to that level of security quicker. It turns out the universe cut the golden handcuffs off my wrist literally and ruined my wrist so that I actually couldn’t do the backup plan. I went for what was initially my dream as a kid, was to be a performer. I thought, “Well, I have my voice, I’m going to have to start to do things leaning towards …” You can’t just walk up to NBC and be like, “Hey, can you hire me on the radio?” It doesn’t work like that. By the way, that’s an industry of which there are no clear benchmarks. You know this.
There’s no benchmarks other than hopefully, you keep getting called back to producers, and that’s a good sign people like you, but other than that, it’s not if you do A, B and C, it’s going to yield D. That’s not always the case, and there’s so many factors involved. Then I went about a 20 year journey of using my voice. I went back and did … I always was into comedy and I did the Second City in Chicago, which is a renowned theater, where most of the cast or writers of SNL for decades have come from, and went back there, did sketch comedy, then came back out to Los Angeles to pursue acting. In that pursuit went down the avenue that led me to be a writer.
I still do obviously go out for TV and film sometimes. But it led me to this role. Now, of course, I’m a podcaster and I’m a public speaker so it worked out. But I tell you what; it was not cool because when you are in a creative profession, and I talk about this in my book, you are going to get people projecting more of a lack of confidence onto you than any other freaking profession you could pursue. When someone says to their parents, “Well, I want to be an opera singer?” Most of the time the parents are like, “What?” But they cherish those opera seats at The Met, don’t they? Oh, boy.
That’s just like their card to society, but then their daughter wants to be a singer. Forget it. Creative professionals get a lot of crap from people like, “Good luck with that.” People are rolling their eyes like, “Oh, you want to be an actor?” It was even tougher and I didn’t even have the excuse of being like, “I don’t have any choice,” because I was too embarrassed and ashamed about admitting that I had a problem with my arms because you can’t see it. When you can’t see it, a lot of people don’t have empathy for it. Because if I was missing an arm, people would be like, “Oh my God,” but because they can’t see it, then people sometimes don’t believe it.
You learn over time to be like, “You know what, I’m just going to shut up about it. Just not going to tell people,” and that was the wrong move. If I could go back in time, I would get with this shame immediately and just own this thing but I didn’t. Life worked out. But in the past five years, getting over and being totally coming out with this, there’s people in my industry … I wrote the Paleo Thyroid Solution. I’m in the health industry as well. I’ve also been part of a comedy theater for many years, no one ever knew. When people read it or heard me talk about it, they were just really shocked. People are like, “I had no idea,” and I’m like, “Exactly, because I made sure you didn’t.” I’ll pause there.
Melinda Wittstock: I often think that we have a purpose in life and we’re going to live our purpose, whether we like it or not. Life has a funny way of throwing us curveballs to get us where we need to be. Sometimes all too often, we have to suffer through it until we step into that purpose. Was there a moment, when was the epiphany moment that you’re like, “Oh, I understand why this happened to me. It happened for me, not to me.”?
Elle Russ: Interesting. There were several levels. I detail a few of them in the story in the book, but I’ll try to make a pattern here. I had two major tragedies in my life so far that I considered really horrible challenges. One was of course, getting disabled at the age of 23. Then the second one was about a decade later getting riddled with hypothyroidism. Both of those things not only led to being things that made money and became a purpose, and became a source of inspiration for others, but they also connected with each other.
Because in my pursuit of using my voice, I was an actor in Hollywood and then I got hypothyroidism and so I got really fat and I thought, “Oh, well, I’m not [inaudible 00:12:22] anymore.” Because if anyone sees a photo of me that’s the category I would be put in. It wasn’t like, “Oh, the funny quirky friend.” That just wasn’t my look. I got fat and I was trying to solve the hypothyroidism. I went untreated. That’s what my book is about, that I suffered for a lot of my 30s and had to be my own doctor and finally solved it. It’s great, wonderful, awesome, but during that time, when I got fat, I thought, “All right, well, damn it. I can’t go out for these auditions for lead role.
I might have to be the fat funny friend. I should go back to sketch comedy that I used to do many years ago.” I joined the sketch comedy theater in LA. That led me right in sketch comedy for many years. Then one day going, “You know what, what about writing a screenplay?” Then I went that way and I grabbed this man, I go, “Do you have any screenplay? Maybe we should blow this up, start writing pilots.” Then I started doing that. Mind you, most of it with my voice, so I had voice recognition since 1998 by the way, or having a writing partner, and then they would do a lot of the physical work, so it was actually really perfect.
That’s what it’s really good for is dictation. We would write all this stuff. Then someone’s like, “Hey, I need a writer for this documentary.” I was like, “Okay, that’s interesting. I’ve never written a documentary.” By the way it’s an award winning documentary called Headhunting Revisited. It is a wonderful, amazing story and anyone can look it up and go to the website and see it online. I did that and then I’m like, “This interesting.” Then I go through my second bout of hypothyroidism and I’m broke from the first bout and spending all this money on these uninformed doctors and getting nowhere and I have the disability, but it’s not a lot to live on in California and I’m really living at the lowest means and I’m like, “I need a job,” but what kind of job?
What am I going to do? Pick up laundry for a wealthy woman in Malibu? Okay, maybe I could do that. I could babysit, but I can’t use my hands. I can’t use them that much, who’s going to want me 15 hours a week? You know what I mean? Then I was like, “Well, hold on a minute.” I literally used the law of attraction and I was like, “No, no, something’s out there.” I was living in an apartment in Malibu at the time, and I went onto the porch and I was like, “You know what, universe? You know my shiz, and I need a job that’s right for me, damn it. But I need a job because I cannot live this way anymore. I cannot live this way anymore.”
That was about nine years ago, and I met Mark Sisson. I got three job offers by the way within that week after going on my porch, and they were all four writers in Malibu, and one of them was Mark Sisson. He had written the bestselling book Primal Blueprint, but he hadn’t started Primal Kitchen Foods or the podcast that I host or anything at that time, but he was going to start a publishing company. I get a job with him. It turns out that I don’t have … I’m working 10 hours a week sometimes or a month. It’s very perfect with my arms. I’m so grateful, I’m making a little extra cash, I have some purpose.
At the same time, I’m starting to watch him and his wife and I’m like, “These guys are 20 years older than me, and they look way better than me. Maybe I should read his book.” I read his book about paleo primal nutrition, went for it, changed my life. I made a connection because I had solved at that point two bouts of hypothyroidism, but I hadn’t made full connections and hadn’t lost the weight yet. I make the connections and they go off in my head between paleo primal health and how our thyroid works, which no one else has made. I go to Mark and I’m like, “I’m not insane. I believe that this is absolutely tied in this way. No one’s ever done a book about it.
What do you think?” He says, “I’ve wanted to do a thyroid book. This is perfect.” It’s interesting that … The disability that I got from my arms allowed me the time to heal my hypothyroidism, become a subject expert because I didn’t have to work, so I could rest, I could research, I could go see doctors, I could cry my ass off, I could be at home and not worry about the extra stress of life like a lot of people and have … One fostered me in the other, and then that in and of itself led me back to the original one of being a writer, speaker, whatever that is and then Mark published my first book. I never thought I’d write a book, but people have always been like, “Oh, you should on the thyroid stuff.”
I was like, “Whatever. I’m a comedy writer. I’ll do it someday, but whatever.” I’m not surprised that’s the first one that came in was the one you just, the throwaway is always the one with the least resistance right?
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, my goodness, yeah. Often the things that we should be doing, for whatever reason we put off. I don’t know what that is. Maybe it’s because it’s too easy for us or something or we think that there’s some belief lurking subconsciously, that whatever we do, it’s valuable if it’s hard, and that the easy things we don’t do.
Elle Russ: Yeah, somehow there’s an addiction to that struggle too. It happens with a lot of alphas as well that there’s this life cycle where struggle is a part of it. You can replay that. They kind of went all, no pun intended hand in hand with each other in a variety of ways, because then I meet Mark and he publishes my book, then he starts a podcast and he gets too busy with his company that he sold for 300 plus million dollars to Kraft Heinz a couple years ago. He gets too busy with his company that he’s like, “Here, take my podcast.” Now all of a sudden, thank you for giving me a show to use my voice, that’s built an audience and ready to go.
Then that just led to more things and then now I’ve got two books, I coach people all over the world, and I use my voice. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I’m not in pain 24/7. I mostly live my life 95% pain free. However, like the other day, I had a horrible flare up, woke up in middle of the night, my whole entire right arm was completely numb and in pain, and I can’t sleep on my sides. I’ve had to train myself for years to sleep on my back. I swim. It’s therapeutic for me. I swim laps. I can play a game of ball with you. No one needs to cry or whatever for me. I take care of myself in the ways that really foster me being able to have full mobility.
It’s just a matter of time, like even a remote control on a TV will aggravate one of my hands at some point. I’d have to move it to the left hand, you know what I mean? You would never see me watching TV and just have my hand on my head or my chin and resting it on there, because that’s pressure on my wrist. Over 20 years, it’s a weird thing when you have a disability, because you learn all of these small ways to mitigate and foster and help your situation and they become second nature. I also am so glad that I did come out with it. I wrote a speech called The Shame of Disability and the Disability of Shame. The shame was more freaking disabling than the damn disability itself.
Melinda Wittstock: Isn’t it always.
Elle Russ: It just was.
Melinda Wittstock: [crosstalk 00:19:07]. It’s the impact because these challenges, whatever they are, whether they’re health challenges, financial challenges or whatever, the impact on us psychically, emotionally, mentally is always far greater and more lasting and actually more difficult to unravel than the original injury in my experience with all the women that I interview, and all the many people I’ve worked with and mentored over the years. It happens and it shows us something about ourselves that we have to either let go of, or I don’t know, figure out in some way. Tell me how you walked through that shame piece and came out the other end of that.
Elle Russ: Well, it really … I knew I had it. People would be like, because I wouldn’t tell any of my boyfriends and my friends were like, “Elle you have to, you’re dating someone for a year, you’ve got to tell him.” [inaudible 00:20:05] Believe me, there’s so many boyfriends out there that have no clue. Because again I was ashamed I was afraid, “Well, if I voice this maybe I’ll be rejected or seen as a medical liability, a financial liability again,” just as shame is a sense of not having worth and for someone who’s confident as F in every other area, and this is what I talk about in my book, which is that was the last piece for me because you can be confident in all these other areas of your life, but if you’re trying to shuffle some shame under the rug somewhere, it’s not going to work. It’s going to come back in your face somehow and this is how …
Melinda Wittstock: It just gets bigger. It gets bigger if you put it under the rug.
Elle Russ: It does and it came, it really hit me about seven years ago. I was with someone I thought I was going to marry, amazing relationship, amazing person. I just couldn’t tell him. I was waiting for him to say I love you or something. I was maybe getting a sign, was like I’m safe or whatever. Oh my god, I can laugh about it now, but anyway at the time, the only thing about him that, like literally I still to this day cannot find anything wrong with the guy. But the one thing about him that I was like, okay, that was sort of the ultimate ender of the relationship was, he was really an emotional robot. In some ways he was very, just couldn’t express himself emotionally.
Not that I want a guy to be sappy and stuff, but he literally just couldn’t … No verbal intimacy. He showed me he loved me, but he couldn’t express it. It was brought up … Anyway, we parted. I am devastated and I call my coach who I’ve had for 15 years, and maybe only call him every two years or whatever, but I call him up, I’m bawling my eyes out. I’m like, “This seems so unfair. I did all this work on myself all these years, and then I finally meet this great guy, and the one thing about him is a deal breaker because he’s an emotional robot, and this feels like the universe played a cruel joke on me and dah, dah, dah.” He said, “Elle, did you tell him about your disability situation?”
I said, “No.” He goes, “Well, then you’re the robot. How do you expect to find someone to have an open emotional vulnerable connection with when you can’t be vulnerable?” I bawled my eyes out, because it was like a katana sword that I put in my stomach because I did that. He was right. He was really right. I’m like, “Well, how do I get out of it. That’s so unfair.” He said, “You’re going to have to start to be more vulnerable.” It started with me being like, “I got to come out with this,” and it started with me telling some friends. Some friends that had become close with me, but I had not shared this important part of my life with them and it felt a little one sided, and this is how it did hurt me over time, which is romantic relationships with the shame and also friendships because I always stayed on the outside.
People would be like, “People don’t know much about you Elle.” I’d be like, “Good.” You know what I mean? Because I was hiding this thing, because also I was afraid that if they found out I had it, they’d look at me differently and then also to the fact that I was receiving money for it. There was shame about receiving something called disability. For an alpha chick, this is not a cool place to be whatsoever. This is the worst nightmare. But also, the biggest lesson every alpha female has to learn which is, we talked a little bit about that when you’re on …
Melinda Wittstock: How to be strong in vulnerability.
Elle Russ: That’s right.
Melinda Wittstock: Because I think we can easily get confused by this and think that vulnerability means weakness when in actual fact it’s a strength.
Elle Russ: Yes. I argue that in order to be confident as F or the most confident as F people are the ones that can be vulnerable because A, it’s real, we’re all human beings. Come on.
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Elle Russ: Secondly, it’s because it’s really the ultimate and not giving a shit about what other people think of you. That’s what that is and that is confident as F when you are at that point. I had to get there. I’ll tell you what, I couldn’t even tell you the story I just told you without sobbing, bawling, choking, crying for years. I would tell someone the story like a new friend, and I just couldn’t, I couldn’t handle it. It was the most stressful thing in the world. I laugh at myself now because I’m now it’s just a story.
Melinda Wittstock: But you’re past it now.
Elle Russ: I’m so past it and that’s the thing is I had to move towards being vulnerable and started to come out, started to talk about it. It started with friends. It started with talking with my coach more It started with, “Okay, I’m going to go on a date and I’m when they asked me what I do or how I make my money or whatever, I’m just not going to dance around it anymore and pull some semantics. I’m going to just tell them the story.” You know it’s funny thing is that a lot of people … Here’s the problem with shame. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got unsightly moles on your back or you hit someone as a drunk driver and killed them 10 years ago, and you still have shame or used to be an addict.
It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter how stupid some of the things it is or how small, it doesn’t matter. It’s real. What happens is, when you have people around you who are well meaning but sometimes they’re like, “No one’s going to care. It’s not your fault. You got injured. This is ridiculous. I can’t believe you were even ashamed. Why would you be ashamed?” It just makes you cower further back. No one ever truly addressed it. I had to really just get okay with it, accept myself for it, be proud of it, because once I started telling people the story they’re like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this is … you’ve completely kicked ass. I mean, of all the people that have had their arms disabled, you nailed it.”
It’s why I have a special place in my heart for Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm to a shark in that movie Soul Surfer that she as you did based on that, is someone whenever I’m feeling pity party for myself, I will watch that movie.
Melinda Wittstock: The fact is, everybody has something.
Elle Russ: Sure.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s impossible to compare because the impact that that something, that injury, whatever it is, or trauma or anything that any of us goes through in life, we all carry it, and how do we heal that and step into owning it, making it, being an alchemist and turning it into an asset. It’s kind of the hero’s journey or I guess on this podcast, we’ll call it the shero’s journey. But often, I know this in entrepreneurship, often the things that happen to us do so, so we can help others. Because it gives us in tackling all these internal demons that we have as a result of these traumas, we’re able to find a path that helps millions of other people. That transition for you into entrepreneurship was there a sense, a moment where, “Oh, I know why this happened so I can help other people.”?
Elle Russ: Oh, absolutely, particularly … Well, my second book and in the past couple years, I finally started speaking about the disability part and giving talks on that, but before that I was already experiencing it and this is why I thought to come out and be open about it is that I was very vulnerable and open with the world about my journey with hypothyroidism. I have helped people, thousands of people around the world. I get messages on a weekly basis.
Melinda Wittstock: So many women, so many women have this issue.
Elle Russ: It’s disproportionately a disease.
Melinda Wittstock: It comes up on this podcast a lot because so many women in their 20s, 30s, 40s we all were in the hustle and grind, we are all doing it the men’s way and what works for men doesn’t really work for women.
Elle Russ: Yes. Then based on what I just told you, you can see me growing up in those decades in the tech environment, coming from that world that corporate world dominated by men, we need to chat about that. We talk right? You’re right, and so I had to ease into my feminine and get into my vulnerable side. I am the softest, snugly baby loving, doggy loving person on planet earth, and I couldn’t even crying in front of someone because I was [crosstalk 00:27:42].
Melinda Wittstock: Oh god, I was like that too. I felt like I had to be strong all the time. It took me years to be able to show the vulnerable or more softer side of myself.
Elle Russ: Exactly.
Melinda Wittstock: Then when you integrate that though, what’s really cool is for women who were really had strong masculine, and then you finally figure out a way to step into your strong or divine … step into your strong, divine, feminine power and find an equilibrium between these two, that’s really evolved and that’s … Women who are in that zone, leveraging both I think are unstoppable.
Elle Russ: Yeah, and I think it helped me get there, finally be okay with, “All right, hey, you need to probably come out about the disability story too.” Because I saw that when I was vulnerable and open about how horrible it was, when I did interviews about my book, the Paleo Thyroid Solution and I would talk, some interviews, I would be more … A matter of fact, let’s say there’s a hundreds of interviews I’ve been talking about it, but the ones where I really get into how it felt and really bring that back, those are the ones when people reach out and they’re like, “Oh, my god, you were speaking in my brain,” and I had realized that the connection I had with so many strangers all over the world and being able to save their life, help them save their lives, help their doctors help them which is just is still to this day so touching.
I’ll always forever help people and speak about thyroid health. I knew that there was some more inspiration to learn from my disability story and from my level of confidence, which is another thing that people have sought me out over the years for. I don’t think though that I would have been able to do that had I not really gotten over the shame of disability and being able to incorporate that story, and being able to be open. I’ve had some amazing responses from people who are disabled. I want to share this and this is in the book, but I want to share this because this is a really interesting thing that happened.
I’m edging towards coming out about this and I’m starting to get comfortable with, “Okay, I’m just going to tell people,” like, “I’m just going to do it. I’m just going to rip this band aid off,” and I’m speaking with a fellow podcaster who I’m just starting to get to know. It was a couple years ago. Her name’s Karen Martel, and we’re talking and she goes, “Hey, Elle you know you do all these things, dah, dah, what are your main sources of income?” Before I would dance around that topic or not even mention that I had this thing and I really liked her and I thought, “Okay, just rip off the band and just tell her, just give her the story.”
I gave her the brief rundown and her responses, “Oh my god that happened to me. I became a health coach because my hands got disabled because I was a rolfer for 15 years,” which is really intense body work with your hands. She said, “I always thought it was an impractical dream. I always wanted to be a nutritionist and a health coach, but I thought it was ridiculous, and so the universe also cut the golden handcuffs off of me.” I got off that phone call and started crying. If that wasn’t a universal signal like, “Girl go in that direction, keep going.” Then it happened again, which is crazy. Two weeks later, I’m interviewing a woman on my podcast, Jazlan Moyet, and she’s a model and she looks totally normal to everybody.
Someone said, “Hey, she has a really interesting health story.” I didn’t ask what it was. I thought, “I’ll find out on the podcast. This will be interesting.” We’re talking on the podcast and I had to put the microphone on mute and start bawling, crying, because she says, “I had a freak accident that nearly severed every tendon and nerve to my left hand.” After nine hours of emergency surgery, she woke up and she couldn’t feel her left hand. One of her first thoughts that she said was she goes, “Oh my god, am I ever going to feel a man put a ring on my finger?”
Again, that low self-worth, again that “Who’s going to want me?” I was dying; I’m like, “Oh my god, what are the chances? I’m just coming out about my hand disability, and I meet two women that have unseen hand disabilities.” If you see Jazlan you cannot tell but she has severe … It’s the chronic regional pain syndrome and she has to keep her hand warm all the time. She can’t go to hot climates. She’s in pain 24/7. She looks completely normal. Here in this moment now, I’m vulnerable and I meet two women that I now feel all of a sudden, so much less alone it makes me want to cry right now.
It was the biggest encouragement that I could have gotten from the universe to keep going with this. I had no idea and it really changed my life to be able to talk with Jazlan and Karen, especially because Jazlan and I even shared, it’s hard when you have a doctor’s appointment or a follow up for the insurance company or something like that, because it’s always a reminder that you have this thing that you try to forget you have. Do you know what I mean? Also being disabled in Hollywood, she is a model, she is a host, she thankfully gets to use her voice and her looks, but she still struggles on a regular basis with it, and actually has it, I guess, you could say worse off than me in the pain management type of way.
Wow, that was just such a sign that I needed to keep going and that’s when I was like, “All right, I’m going to just tell this whole story, tell this whole story,” and did some of it at Paleo FX last year, and that’s where I wrote that … I said, “Hey, you know what, instead of talking about me,” I said-
Melinda Wittstock: You know my friend.
Elle Russ: [Crosstalk 00:33:07] this year, let me do this.”
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. You know my friend Michelle Norris, who runs Paleo f(x).
Elle Russ: Yeah, I actually mentioned them in my book, because I did that speech at Paleo f(x) because they had a spiritual side of talks, and I said, “Hey, look I know, I’m like your health speaker. But I really want to do this talk.” I pitched it to them they were like, “Great.” It was so wonderful. I said, when I was writing my book, I was like, “Can I have the mp3 for that because I might need to transcribe it, so I don’t have to like rewrite the whole thing again.” I do mention them in the book and give them a shout out for allowing me to have the stage at their event to share that speech, the shame of disability and the disability of shame.
Actually, I’ve even worked for Mark Sisson for eight years now, and I didn’t even tell him till a few years ago. I hid this from every known person on planet earth except for my five or 10 friends that I’ve known from day one and now I tell everyone. I don’t care. It feels fine. If someone didn’t like it, well, obviously they’re not right for me. Actually, no one has cared. I haven’t heard any weirdness from anybody.
Melinda Wittstock: I mean, if anything it actually sparks people’s compassion, because everybody like I say, everybody has something. When we connect, whether it’s just in terms of our personal relationships, our relationships with team members, running our company, vendors, friends, just all the people that we encounter in our lives, when we do share that it’s the thing that connects us. I truly believe that miracles happen in those moments.
Elle Russ: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: But it does take courage for sure.
Elle Russ: My confidence got hit at several times in life. Really did with these two things, and it’s repairable, it’s definable. It needs to get cultivated if people don’t have it. But it’s not to say that even the most confident people among us don’t have these issues. People really have responded with the shame story obviously, that I tell in my book about my disability. I have had so many people reach out and be like, “Thank you so much for just being honest about that and sharing that,” and I think also too, because people have known me for years before that. I’ve been in the public space in the paleo, I’m somewhat of a figure there where people know me and follow me.
I think that that brought a new level of like, “Oh, I had no idea, right?” Because who thinks right? No one thinks. You see a normal person, you don’t think they’re permanently disabled or have struggled and I think that that also… That’s the thing about … I’ll tell you this, these two experiences, the one thing they brought me was a level of compassion I would not otherwise have. I have such compassion for people that are disabled. Oddly enough, my niece, my brother’s daughter was disabled unfortunately by a vaccine way long ago, too aggressive a vaccine thing when she was six months and she lost the use of her legs. She has transverse myelitis. She has to get catheterized every day. She has a walker. She’s 13 now.
But in getting through this, I thought, maybe I was also meant to be there for her when she becomes a teenager and starts to deal with, “Why me,” and everyone else and the comparisons, right?
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Elle Russ: There’s that gift there that I can be there for her through that. But it brought me a level of compassion also with the hypothyroid thing. When you’re hypothyroid, now not always but 99% of the time people get really fat because it’s a level of having no metabolism, no fat burning hormone T3. Often people get really fat. It’s uncontrollable until you fix the thyroid problem. It’s very frustrating situation and I got to be honest with you, when I was fit and doing the whole like … I’m fit now, but when I was, before I became hypothyroid, and I was an actor and going off for all the roles and had the perfect, whatever size two dah, dah, dah, I judged people.
I’m going to just admit it, I judged people. I’d walk by people who, not to their face necessarily but I’d walk by people that were obese or whatever and be like, “Oh my god, stop eating.” I just I would be a little bit judgmental. This was maybe 20 years ago. Boy, I got my ass handed to me there too. Because now when I see someone who’s either obese or really … I’m more like … My first thought is like, “Oh my god, I hope they figure out what’s up.” Because I know that it took me years to figure out what’s up. I couldn’t do anything to change it and I remember being fat and bloated and talking with some friends outside the comedy theater and one was saying to the other, “Oh, if I don’t work out every day. I go crazy.”
The other person said, “Oh, me too.” then I said, “Oh, I’m with you guys. If I don’t work out every day I go crazy.” I did work out every day. I was just fat anyway. One of them looked at the other and rolled their eyes like, “Yeah, right, she works out,” and that moment killed me because I was doing everything, and I was being judged and you know what? Good, good, in my face, in my face. I’m glad I learned that lesson, because I will never ever … I can’t even feel it. Do you know what I mean? It’s impossible for me to have that judgment feeling. These are obviously the things I needed to learn and the things I needed to preach, and teach people about and I am …
Every day that I help someone or get a letter from someone about their journey in solving hypothyroidism makes every day I suffered worth it, which is beyond. Again, gifts in life, some of the best gifts in life come wrapped in poop. They do. It takes a minute to scrape it and feel … It does, and so those were two amazing gifts that were not seen initially. I could not see the benefits of them then, and so that’s why you have to persevere, you have to move through and you move forward. I didn’t just sit around when my arms got disabled and said, “Oh well …” It was like, “Well what am I going to do now? I’ve got to start to go in that direction.”
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my goodness Elle, I could talk to you for forever. There’s so much to talk to you about. I want to make sure that people can find you, listen to your podcast and find all your books. What’s the best way?
Elle Russ: You can just go to elleruss.com and also I do have a free thyroid guide on my website which says every test you get to take, how you judge whether a doctor’s office knows what they’re doing, free resources. I wasted so much money with doctors and stuff, so there’s a free thyroid guide there that can get people started in the right direction. Then of course you can get my books Paleo Thyroid Solution and Confident as F-U-C-K on Amazon. I don’t know, I don’t know how Disney friendly to be.
Melinda Wittstock: Well just say Confident as F.
Elle Russ: As F, yeah. Then every Monday I host the Primal Blueprint podcast where I interview thought leaders in the health and mind body space. Then also every Wednesday, I co-host a show called the Kick Ass Life Podcast, video episodes on YouTube as well. It’s kickasslifepodcast.com. My co-host and I Tara Garrison, she’s keto specialist and a personal trainer and a mindset coach and we just sit there and talk about topics to help make your life better, whether it’s the power of the subconscious mind or what we do for gratitude, just talking and having fun trying to inspire people.
Melinda Wittstock: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us.
Elle Russ: Thank you.
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