Valerie Azinge self-deprecatingly calls herself the Bionic Woman because of the rods and pins that she needed after surgeries for her traumatic accident. She went through a lot to get to where she is today. She was living her dream, and that dream had to be put on hold. Her advice – don’t give yourself a timeline for your own dream – it takes time. Follow your passion, take your time – it can take years and seek the right resources to make your dream happen. My Digital Kitchen, her successful bslog and business are only part of that dream. Her cookbook, 30-Minute Low-Carb Dinners, is in-stores now.
Her story, and her wisdom, like her recipes, needs to be savoured. Here is part two of Valerie’s story in #WomenInspiringWomen.
I was bed-ridden for over 6-weeks and lost muscle mass. You can even lose muscle in your neck which disrupts your balance. When I had to get up to take my first steps, I had a nine-inch pelvic fixator (used to fuse your pelvis after an injury) and it protruded. I had an open book fracture that was 25 centimeters wide, that literally had to be fused together. This restriction made it impossible to stand up straight, plus I had this open wound so moving was painful.
The first time I tried walking, my feet were so swollen that it took five minutes before I could take my first step. I had two physiotherapists behind me holding me, and guiding me. I could only take three steps that day. They told me how well I had done and that I had to train my body to walk again, but I cried. When you are a kid, you don’t remember learning how to walk – you just do it. As an adult it’s different. My body is still uneven and my balance is still off. There was long-standing damage that still affects me. There is a chance that I may not be able to carry children and that was a bitter pill to swallow. As a woman, it’s very hard to hear – I was so upset. It took me awhile to wrap my head around it. You never know though.
I was diagnosed with PTSD and have to take anti-anxiety medication. I don’t feel guilty now about taking medication because when you’ve gone through something like I’ve gone through, or worse, it does take a toll. Your physical body may not be able to process it all. You have to take the steps to take care of yourself.
It teaches you that life is short and you have to value every single day, and don’t take anything for granted. You go from living day to day, showing everyone how well you are doing. You put on your hair, clothes and your makeup to being stripped bare and completely beat up and injured. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I kept telling myself that there is a reason for this.
In a strange way, the accident was kind of a blessing. Prior to the accident, I was on the fast lane. I never took any time to slow down. I put a lot of pressure on myself and I always felt like I had to be three steps ahead. I never gave myself any time to focus on who I was and what my value entailed. The accident taught me that I had to slow down, take a step back and understand that what I’ve accomplished doesn’t define who I am. I also realized that I don’t need success just to compete with other people. There is room for everyone.
I know that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. This also taught me to not just associate myself with what I’ve accomplished. Should it be stripped from me one day, I still want to be someone who is liked for who they are and for their spirit. I feel that gets lost a bit now with people trying to make something out of themselves and their careers with social media. It’s like you identify yourself for what you have accomplished instead of just being you. Your success is what you do, not who you are.
One Year Anniversary
After the one-year anniversary of my accident, I got a few friends together and created recipes from my catering service and took them to St. Michael’s and Toronto Rehab to give back to the doctors and nurses that got me back on my feet. They not only took care of me physically, they made sure that my well-being was taken care of as well. I broke three fingers and the doctor knew that I was a baker and really advocated for me so that I could get most of my mobility back.
Social Media and Business
People can feel inadequate when they see others doing things that you feel like you should be doing. When we come across other people who are traveling in private jets to luxury vacations with their family, you feel like you are lacking. You feel like you are working so hard, but you aren’t reaping the same results. Even if you are achieving some success, when you see others, you think maybe they are ten steps ahead. It can make you feel inadequate. We forget that not everything that we see is the truth. Social media, with the filter and the lighting is meant to show you at your best, but you never know what is behind that. You don’t know if people are renting those private jets or if they are inflating their net profit. What you know is your own truth and that you are taking the right steps in your business and in your life.
If you are only in business for profit, you will hit a lot of roadblocks. If you are in business because it is a passion and you want to inspire others and help people with your brand, then you will find success. You will spend less time focusing on what everyone else is doing because you are confident in your own space.
My Digital Kitchen
My Digital Kitchen is online catering service where you pick out the desserts that you want and then it gets delivered to your door, whether it’s for an event, a business or a private home. We also provide care packages. Part of what I learned being in the hospital, particularly in rehab is that there are a lot of geriatric patients. They can be there for a very long time and some don’t get a lot of visitors. They feel lonely and unloved. When I was in rehab, they opened up to me and they don’t feel like they have a good support system. I decided that care packages were essential to my business. People can receive something beautiful with a special message so that they know that they are thought of, appreciated and loved. We create them for special occasions as well.
Gordon Ramsay, Her Cookbook and Beyond
I would tag people in my Instagram photos to get engagement. Gordon Ramsay came across my page, engaged with my photos and started following me. At first, I thought it was a glitch but it was him. He interacted with my stories. I was still a blogger. He is my celebrity chef idol and it made me feel that people value what I do and it is good. I’ve had the Food Network feature me a few times and was featured in Buzzfeed and a few other outlets.
One of the things that the accident inspired was making me write my cookbook which was published in May. I was in rehab, and I was literally on my birthday when I got the offer. When you get the offer, the publisher has cooks and chefs that test the recipes. They want to make sure that the person that they are endorsing is legitimate. Recipes have to be delicious, easy to follow and have ingredients that are high quality for them to green light a book. I had to come up with 75 recipes. I was only allowed to use three from my blog, the others had to be created from scratch.
A lot of research and testing goes into writing a cookbook. You have to develop and test the recipes before you write your manuscript. I tested each recipe about three or four times to adjust the flavour or cooking time. Then, you have to create them again to do the photography, so it’s a lot of cooking. It took about a year from start to finish.
The 30-Minute Low-Carb Dinners Cookbook was inspired by my time in the hospital. I went from being this healthy person who could cook and exercise to not being able to walk. I had to live off of hospital food for three months which is not the greatest. I needed a way to eat my way back to health. These low-carb recipes inspired me because typically, cookbooks only target the able bodied. I couldn’t exercise because of my disability, but still wanted to detox and could feel good about myself again.
I wondered if there was a way to structure my diet to feel healthy, lose the weight and be able to nourish myself with nutritious food while I tried to work my way back to exercising again. The low-carb recipes were a workable alternative for me. You can follow a low-carb diet, lose the weight without waiting to physically fit again. There are people, including me because of my disability, who may never be able to exercise hard core. I have been able to achieve success using this diet because my body has reset, I’ve been able to detox using healing foods like vegetables and my confidence has grown. The book was very personal and healing, it wasn’t just a cookbook to me. It was based on my needs, my experience and I love the food.
My mother inspires me. When I was growing up, my dad was the bread winner, but he had challenges managing money. At the time, my mom was fine with being a housewife and taking care of me. When she saw my father’s difficulties in managing money, she didn’t want the family to crumble, so she started working in catering. She was also a great cook, so I guess I got it from her. She would do things to create an income and save any cash that she had for a rainy day. My mother realized that she needed to extend her career. She went to law school and became a lawyer. She has four degrees and she has a great career.
It inspired me and really showed me the strength of a woman. My mother didn’t just up and leave. She stuck it out and said that if her husband couldn’t provide an income for her family, that she could. Her life taught me the value of hard work.