A second chance

December 1, 2016

A second chance

Deep-set trauma from a robbery at work, combined with the onset of an autoimmune disease, led to Irma Van Der Plas gaining a significant amount of weight and left her feeling lonely and hopeless. Hitting rock bottom, Irma had nowhere to go but up.

Heavily pregnant with her first child, Irma Van Der Plas arrived at work on her second last day before maternity leave, when she was confronted by a masked man pointing a gun in her face.

With the baby arriving just weeks later, there was little time for Irma to deal with the trauma of the robbery and hostage situation, and she was left to cope as best she could. But the onset of PTSD triggered a downturn in her health and long-term depression.

“I didn’t want to be on medication; I didn’t want people to think I wasn’t capable,” she says, “I remember during the robbery, I felt like I was going to die. Then afterwards I thought, ‘Other people deal with much harder things, so I should just tough it out’.”

Looking back on the ordeal 17 years on, Irma says she now realises she placed too much pressure on herself to recover.

Irma Van Der Plas

“At that time there was still so much stigma around depression and medication. It was a bit of a rollercoaster. I’d be okay for a little while, then I’d fall into a slump, then be okay for a while. I kept trying to get through it, but I finally accepted the fact that I needed antidepressant medication.”

For the next few years Irma struggled. Escalating health issues and unhealthy relationships prompted her to seek help, but a lack of connection with her therapist and the arrival of her second child only added more pressure for Irma to heal.

A decade after the robbery, Irma was diagnosed with autoimmune disease, Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR), and the strong medication caused Irma’s weight
to balloon.

“I was just so horrified with myself, that I didn’t like myself. I wouldn’t look in the mirror, I avoided photos. I was so unwell for such a long time, but at the same time was trying to be a good mum and a good wife, and do everything I thought I was supposed to do,” she says.

I feel the confidence and empowerment to make decisions for the first time ever in my life.”

Then aged 46, Irma had the metabolic age of someone in their late 70s, and from the brink of hopeless desperation, invested in a personal trainer three times a week with the aim of losing 30kg in 12 months – a goal she proudly achieved. But it was a comment from her PT which made the biggest impact on her.

“He planted the seed, ‘Would you be interested in doing personal training yourself?’. Prior to that I never would have had the confidence.”

Irma made the decision to move into the fitness industry, completing her Certificate III then Certificate IV in fitness.

“It’s amazing because now I can help other people do what I did, and I tell all of them, ‘If I can do it, anyone can do it’.”

Along with shedding the weight, Irma was surprised to see other positive changes. She overcame all of her health issues and was able to gradually stop using all of her medications. She also found that her relationships started to change.

“I feel confident and empowered to make decisions for the first time in my life. It’s opened me up to a whole range of new opportunities.”

“I didn’t even have a list before my transformation began!”

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