Introducing Justin & Shawna Barnes

Adult male, smiling with a beard, wearing glasses and a backwards facing hat.

Justin Barnes

Justin is a personal trainer and fitness coach as well as being Shawna’s caregiver through the VA (Veterans Administration).

Justin really began his TBI journey when a “widow maker” (aka a dead tree) fell on his head while he was out with his step-son, Caden, clearing trees from around their home in Maine. He knew it was dead and took the necessary precautions, but the limb decided to bounce off the tree he was trying to slide it down when he cut it down and it came back and knocked him on the noggin.

This major blow to the head spidered the logging helmet that he was wearing. Had he not been wearing the helmet or been as strong as he was/is, Justin would likely not be here with us today.

Other contributing factors to the severity of his residual/likely permanent symptoms are the years of playing tackle football in high school and college, as well as multiple falls during his childhood.

Justin began his journey into training and coaching as a youth football couch. After his accident, he interned at Hybrid Fitness as he pursued a variety of certifications related to the industry. He loved his time there but the driving go to be too much and he had to reluctanly step down from his position there. While working at Hybring he met Beth Feraco.

Beth branched off and started her own online personal training and nutrition coaching program and hired Justin as an assistant coach for Beth Feraco Fitness.

Justin has found his passion in helping those with disabilities find accessible means of exercising through adpatation and creative problem solving. He continues to give back to the TBI and chronic illness communities by helping those affected navigate a healthier way of living so they can pursue their best quality of life.

Adult smiling female wearing red glasses and curly hair pulled back.

Shawna Barnes

Shawna is a disabled Veteran turned multimedia artist. In 2011 she was medically retired from the US Army after having served just shy of four years before she got sick while deployed to Iraq in 2010. 

Her spoonie life journey began with seizures during deployment and continued to progress. It took seven years and lots of doctors appointments, speaking up and advocating for herself and a few hospital stays before she was finally diagnosed with a neuromuscular autoimmune disease called Myasthenia Gravis in 2018. As a way to help others and give back, she writes for Myasthenia Gravis News.

Shawna also has PTSD from MST (military sexual trauma), cervical dystonia, chronic pain with a few partially herniated discs, asthma (thanks to long-haul Covid-19), a hypermobility joint disorder, osteopenia, a pineal cyst, and a seizure disorder.

After her medical retirement she studied graphic design and took up sculpting in clay. In 2017 she began volunteering as an art instructor at the Travis Mills Foundation. In 2019, thinking her health was stable, she got her first “real job” at a print shop in Belfast as a graphic designer. Then Covid hit. In an effort to save the shop from closing she purchased it in July 2020 and ran with it for 18 months. She soon found out that her body was not up to the grueling task of being a business owner and she experienced her first myasthenic crisis in August 2021 resulting in a week long stay in ICU. As a result of her declining health she had to close the shop and accept that her place in the general workforce is no more.

Shawna now uses her graphic design and artistic skills to run this blog and help others through her writing at Myasthenia Gravis News and as an ambassador for the Travis Mills Foundation. 

How We Met

Believe it or not, we met on Match . com! When Shawna first got out of the Army, her health was not stable AT ALL. She had to move back in with her parents and was unable to drive to her seizures. She thought using an online dating app would be the best way to meet someone.

That someone happened to be Justin. Justin sent her a message asking about the phoenix tattoo that could just barely be seen on her right bicep/tricep in one of her pictures. Shawna nearly didn’t reply because some of his pictures made him look like a goofball. Shawna has a son from a previous marriage and was looking for something serious. Needless to say, it’s a good thing she decided to chance it!

Justin lived four hours away and made the drive up to where Shawna was staying with her folks and a few of her younger sisters. We took a walk in the woods (this was before Shawna developed leg weakness that is associated/attributed to the myasthenia gravis) and basically laid it all out. Shawna’s health issues. Justin had just been laid off from work and was dealing with some of his own baggage. And surprisingly neither one of us got scared off!

Two years later, on 10 August 2013, we got married in a small-ish ceremony at our home in northern Maine.

Justin has only ever known Shawna in her current state – not healthy. This is actually where the name for this blog came from…

In Sickness and Nevermind was Born

After a couple of years of wedded bliss, we had this idea for this blog. Its birth was actually as a podcast. But due to Shawna’s fluctuating ability to speak as the MG affects her vocal chords, the podcast slowly fizzled away. Over the years, we have tried to reinvigorate the podcast.

Finally, in April 2022, after we moved from Maine to Wisconsin, the decision was made to move forward and grow In Sickness and Nevermind (ISAN) but as a blog and a resource repository. As part of the move, Shawna decided to really scale back and take time to focus on improving her health. That meant NOT growing her graphic design business like she had originally considered doing. She found out that the slower life we now live in Wisconsin has actually been FANTASTIC for helping her health stabilize. Not able to sit and be idle, Shawna decided to spearhead the re-invigoration of ISAN.

And here we are. Now you know the cliffnotes version of how we got from A to Z.

You may notice some jumping around of tenses – using WE but then she/him and referring to one another by our names instead of I depending on who is writing. To stay consistent, we just figured this would be easier. Yea, we know, it’s not recommended for “good writing” and if Shawna’s editors from Myathenia Gravis News ever see this…they’ll probably cringe! haha

An adult male with a beard standing next to an adult female sitting in a wheelchair. The woman has her arm around a young male child on the opposite side of the adult male.

Justin, Shawna, Caden – 2017

Adult female sitting in a wheelchair dressed in a wedding dress with an adult male supporting her wheelchair behind her.

Justin & Shawna, 10 August 2013

Our Wedding Day