Celebrating Life – The Anniversary of My Decision to LIVE

Tomorrow is an important anniversary for me.  I will celebrate one year of learning to love life again.

Sometimes depression creeps  in unnoticed.  We keep on doing the things we need to do, but we stop caring about the things that used to matter to us.  We may continue to care about others, but we stop caring about ourselves.   For me, it was like that.  I can’t point to an event that triggered it.  I don’t know why things changed.  I just know that in the days and weeks leading up to March 9, 2014, I was in a dangerous place.  I didn’t think anybody really cared.

You see, at over 300 pounds I was having a lot of health issues.  Daily life was difficult.  Losing half of my body weight seemed like an impossible task to contemplate.  I was having “heart palpitations” and began to feel as if I was about to lose consciousness on more than one occasion.  I came to believe that I was dying.  Rather than seek medical help, I decided to let nature take its course.  I wasn’t about to take steps to actively end my life, but I didn’t want to make the effort to save it.  I guess you’d call it passive suicide.  My overeating and inactivity were robbing me of life in a very real way, and I didn’t care enough to stop it.

I wish I could tell you what, exactly, flipped the switch in my head.  On March 9, 2014, I made up my mind to call my doctor and ask him to prescribe an antidepressant medication.  It was a Sunday.  The office was closed, but I made up my mind.

I called first thing on Monday morning.  My doctor was out of the office for the week, but I had a prescription bottle and an appointment for the next week before noon that day.  Opening the bottle and putting the first pill in my mouth, I felt both a sense of failure for not being strong enough and a sense of relief that maybe, just maybe I could feel better.

I have a group of online friends who I have “talked” with in various places for 7-8 years.  They are my invisible (not imaginary) friends.  I have plants they sent to my dad’s funeral to prove they exist.  I confessed to them my feelings of failure over needing medicine.

I confided in them about the tremendous loneliness and the feelings of isolation I was experiencing.  One of them suggested I try running.  I chuckled at the thought.  I tried going to the gym the next day.  I had a panic attack.  I couldn’t do it.  I was afraid of judgment.  I made my husband turn around and take me home.

A fellow attorney practicing in another part of the state (not one of the previously mentioned group of invisible friends) who I have never met in real life sent me a message suggesting we virtually work out  / run together and sign up for a race.

The “Arthur” video began showing up in my facebook feed over and over.  I’d watched it dozens of times before.  I’d even purchased the DDP Yoga videos in 2012, shed quite a few pounds,  and did a great job of learning to get off the floor (a skill I’d retained) before eventually giving up and going back to my old ways and regaining nearly every pound I had lost.

I watched the video again.  This time, when Arthur began running, the tears streamed down my face.

I’ve learned in my life that when I start getting the same message over and over from different sources, God is trying to tell me something.  I listened.  I decided that if I wanted to live badly enough to put medicine in my body, then I wanted to live badly enough to take back my life.  If Arthur could learn to walk again, and learn to run, then so could I.

Those of you who have followed me the past year know how the rest of the story goes.  I started walking, and then I began running slowly on the treadmill.  I got over the fear of the gym and added weights to my workout.  I hit the yoga mat and did some DDPYoga.  I swam laps.  I posted on Facebook (a lot).

Soon the weather warmed and the outdoors called.  I ran on the high school track.  I ran through town.  I ran on trails.  I ran on the beach.  Although I sometimes took Jimi the Wonder Dood with me, usually this was time to myself.  I started seeing the wonder in nature- in leaves and waves and birds.  I talked to God.  He talked back in rustling leaves and wind on my face.  He talked to me through “cheers” when friends “liked” my runs on Facebook.

It wasn’t quick or easy.  I still had days when sadness pressed on my heart and made it difficult to do anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary.  Slowly, though, I returned to the land of the living.  I stopped just going through the motions.  I devoted more time to getting my soul back in order through prayer, meditation and lots and lots of sweat.

The popular adage says that when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.  I’m making lemonade and trying to give it away.  One year ago I really didn’t care if I lived or died.  One year ago, I thought that nobody cared.  One year ago I couldn’t have dreamed how wonderful life is today.

I still take those pills.  I take another for my thyroid and one for my blood pressure.  It’s part of my daily routine.  The pills didn’t fix me.  I had to do that myself with a lot of help from God and my friends and family.  I still run.  I still get sad once in a while.  It’s no longer overwhelming.

I’m a little frightened to post this, but I feel it is necessary.  It’s scary to admit that you struggle with depression.  I worry that it could hurt me professionally.  I fear that people will think less of me if they know that I have problems just like anyone else.  I believe that we need to move beyond the stigma that mental health issues hold.  I believe that if people in pain knew how many people suffer with them, people would be more inclined to seek help before it becomes easier to think about dying than to think about living.

Writing this blog post is me making lemonade.  It’s not the  “koolaid,” if it’s not your thing – move on.

I don’t believe that God tests us like Job in the Old Testament, but I do think that he gives us opportunities to understand and help others when we face trials.  I think that he gives us the grace to move through our challenges if we ask.  I think that when we are taught lessons paid for with blood, sweat and tears, it is only right to share the lessons that we have learned.

Please don’t give up.   Don’t passively wait for your vices and problems to kill you.  If you are depressed, there is hope.  Medicine is not shameful.  Therapy is not shameful.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Don’t be afraid of failure.  Don’t be afraid of judgment.  Never, ever give up.

Today, I celebrate the life I have been given.  I am excited to see what the next 365 days holds. I am a work in progress.  Next year you will see another brand new me.  I can’t wait.

To those of you who have “liked,” “commented,” or “shared” my writing in the past, thank you for encouraging me.  To those of you who are new to this page, welcome.  Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share with you.

Today, I am celebrating life.  Welcome to the party.

~Be~

They Call it the Present Because it’s a Gift

There is no time like the present.  I really mean that.  Right now is the time to start doing whatever it is that you know that you need to do but have been avoiding.  You may think it’s too big.  You may think you’re not ready.  Whatever idea it is that you have in your head that’s holding you back, get RID of it.

I’ve spent pretty much my entire adult life being overweight, obese, or morbidly obese.  I’ve used every excuse out there.  I can justify anything.  I’m the master procrastinator.  I’d go see my doctor and he’d bug me about my weight.  My line was always, “One thing at a time.  I’ll deal with (fill in the blank), and then I’ll work on the weight.”

I dealt with the broken leg, the thyroid, the illness and death of several people close to me, undergrad, law school, setting up a law practice, and countless crises that come with the territory of being a wife, mother and human being. When I had bloodwork, my numbers were good.  Although I was borderline hypertensive, my A1C and lipids were good.  I prided myself on being “healthy fat.”  I had a love affair with Ballreich’s potato chips and anything sweet or salty.

Just about a year ago I was sitting at my office conference table with three friends who were in my Rotary Club.  We were discussing what needed to happen and how to get things rolling.  As one of my colleagues was talking, I realized that the room was fading.  I broke into a cold sweat.  My heart was doing weird jumpy things, and I couldn’t concentrate.  I considered asking one of my friends to call my husband to take me to the hospital.  I was feeling that strange.  However, I said nothing.  I concluded the meeting, went upstairs to my office and collapsed into my chair.  I was chilled and clammy. I wondered if I was sick or dying, and at the moment, I wasn’t sure if I cared.  Life wasn’t much fun.  I had a hard time moving on the best of days.  I was tired of watching the people who I cared about get sick and die.

Whatever happened was happening to me passed.  I went about my business and finished up the day.  I didn’t pass out, die, or get sicker.  I also didn’t say anything to anyone about what had happened.  In retrospect, it was probably an anxiety attack, but in that moment it felt like death was knocking at the door.

I got up the next morning and realized that something had to change.  I had put off going to the doctor because I didn’t want to have the conversation about my weight.  I hadn’t been on a scale in months.  I don’t know exactly how heavy I was, but it was a big scary number, and it was only one of my problems.

I posted in a Facebook group full of ladies I met on another internet site that I was having some troubles in my life that had me feeling very discouraged.  One of those ladies suggested I look for a group called Moms Run This Town.  She said that not only would I feel better getting some running in, but the other ladies would be great listeners as I worked through my issues.  I thanked her, and laughed silently at the thought of me running anywhere.

Over the course of the next week or two, more people suggested I try running.  One offered to train with me for a 5K race.  Although we lived miles apart, and the training together would be virtual, I agreed to give it a try.  That night I put on my walking shoes and dusted off the treadmill.  I walked a mile.  It took a good, long time, but it felt good.

I remembered a line from The Shawshank Redemption.  Red said, “get busy living, or get busy dying.”  I decided to get busy living.  I’d been just simply going through the motions for far too long.

When I first started exercising, it felt like I would never be able to “run” a mile without stopping.  In those first weeks, I spent lots of time holding on to the side rails of the treadmill and supporting a good part of my weight with my arms.  Still, I faithfully got on that treadmill night after night.

Time passed, and I got up the courage to go to a running store for a pair of real running shoes.  They didn’t laugh at me.  I didn’t get sarcastic comments or rude remarks.  I left the store with a box with a pair of shoes that cost a good chunk of change and I vowed not to let them gather dust in the closet.  I vowed that if God would just let me live long enough to undo some of the damage I had done to my body, I would enjoy life again.

As I progressed, I left the safety of the house for the high school track and then trails at local parks.  I began participating in 5K and 10K races.  I marvelled as a doe and fawn watched me run.  I came alive listening to the sounds of nature.  I began looking for new places to run.  I visited parks and neighborhoods in my town that I had never been to in the 15 years that I have lived here.

I’ve listened to music of every genre, waved at hundreds of strangers, learned to enjoy a good sweaty run, and I’ve enjoyed (nearly) every moment of it.  I’ve learned that chocolate tastes better if you have to run a mile to earn a piece, and that potato chips are still my kryptonite.

Since that day in March 2014, I have run over 450 miles.  Today, I ran a half marathon on the indoor track at my gym.  In two weeks, I will repeat that feat at Walt Disney World dressed as Ursula from The Little Mermaid.  I can hardly wait.  I’m still 100 pounds overweight, but I can run a half marathon.

half marathon

I’ve done a lot of reviewing the past year.  What does it have to do with the present?  I’m still here.  I’m healthier than I’ve been in years.  I’m happier than I’ve been in years.  My life is still not perfect, but life is sweeter because I received a wakeup call.  Only when I thought that I might possibly be dying did I realize how sweet life really is.  I don’t take my life for granted any longer.  I want to live long enough to dance at the grandchildren’s weddings.  I want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane on my 65th birthday.  None of those experiences are promised.  Life is sweet and it can be cut short in a moment.  When you “get busy living,” every moment, even the sad ones, is a gift.

I don’t know what you’re struggling with.  I don’t know what battle you are waging and which side is winning.  I do know that whatever you want to happen, there is no better time than right now to start doing something about it.  If you want to lose weight, get up and walk right now.  Don’t wait until Monday to start your exercise program.  If you want to write a book, grab your pen and write an outline.  If you want to learn to play Rhapsody in Blue, get up and play the first page as slow as you have to play it to get all of the fingers in the right place.

If you want to run a half marathon, put one on the calendar.  Pay the registration.  Recruit a partner.

There is no time like the present.  Tomorrow is not promised.  You will never regret starting right now.  A year from now you’ll wonder why you waited so long.  I promise.

Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Story

I didn’t come up with this title on my own.  It hit me smack between my eyes first thing this morning as I reviewed my Facebook feed.  I thank Kara Louisell for sharing it.  Check out her FB page for lots of inspiration.  https://www.facebook.com/karalouisell?fref=photo

dont be afraid

I shared this image on my own Facebook feed this morning.  I’ve made a lot of changes in my life in the past 10 months or so.  As a result, I’ve shed a bunch of weight.  I’ve run over 350 miles.  I’ve learned new ways to deal with sadness.  I’ve begun reaching out to others, learning to delegate, and being kinder to myself.  I’ve chronicled those changes and shared them here and on my Facebook page along the way.

I’m not normally an attention-seeker.  I’m a little bit uncomfortable being in the public eye.  I like to work behind he scenes.  I’m the person who doesn’t generally strike up a conversation, but I enjoy it immensely once given the opportunity to engage.  I’m naturally quick to discount a compliment and I still don’t like the way I look.  I’m my own worst critic.

I’ve become one of those annoying people who “checks in” at the gym on Facebook.  My nike+ app tells my friends when I start a run and how far I go.  I’ve posted pictures *eek* spandex, covered in sweat, painted up, covered in colored powder, and generally having fun while being less than necessarily “proper.”

A long-time friend posted something recently about people who stay the course without need for praise from others as opposed to people who do things half-way and seek applause.  I pray that I’m not the person that friend had in mind.  I share these changes because many have shared privately that I am inspiring them to change, too.

I am very uncomfortable being anyone’s inspiration.  I know how fallible I am.  I know how often I stray from my health diet and eat potato chips.  I am very aware when I skip a workout to go shopping or watch TV.  I’m imperfect.  I’m still overweight.  I mess up.  I don’t FEEL very inspirational.

Perhaps that imperfection – the humanity – is what inspires?  I have lost 75 pounds through sheer determination despite going through down spells, having injuries, and just feeling grumpy some days.  I’m not a fitness model.  I haven’t reached my goal weight.  I finish last at most races that I run.  My flaws are myriad – but my sincerity is real.

When people started telling me that I INSPIRE them, I wanted to tell them not to be absurd.  But, just as I learned to accept a compliment graciously, I’m learning to accept that I have no right to tell another person what (or who) is “good enough” to inspire her.

My story is complicated and colorful.  I’ve been through a lot of challenges, and despite it all I’ve managed to carry on. I’ve made decisions that I’m not proud of, but I am proud of where those decisions have brought me.  Perhaps that’s why I have been given the gift of being able to inspire others.

I’ve made a decision not to be ashamed of my story.  It’s mine to tell – all mine.  It’s different from your story.  Perhaps it will inspire you to change.  Perhaps it will inspire you to block me on Facebook.  I just write what I know.

It isn’t all about you

It’s sometimes difficult to look at the big picture.  I’ve often been guilty of seeing only how something affects me and not how the same circumstance affects those around me.  It’s human nature.  I don’t wear the other person’s shoes, so it’s not always easy to know how they feel.  At the same time, not knowing what is plaguing others, it’s easy to misinterpret bad moods, scowls and just plain lack of friendliness as a personal assault when it’s quite possible that the person is actually distracted or consumed by events that have absolutely nothing to do with me.

Nearly two decades ago a very wise woman listened to my complaint of the day and said, “Betty, it’s not all about you.”  I was taken aback.  I felt attacked.  I was pouring out my heart to someone who was there to listen, and she had the NERVE to tell me that my pain wasn’t about me.  Seconds later, she said, again, “It’s not all about you...  and you can be so glad it isn’t.”

I learned all about “Jesus Christ Syndrome” from that wise woman.  She told me that I “take on the sins of the world.”  I really do tend to blame myself for a lot of things.  I say “I’m sorry” a lot.  My friend once challenged me to go an entire week without apologizing to anyone for anything (I didn’t make it).

This morning I had a reminder that “it’s not all about me.”

My husband and I go to the gym together.  I had a rough start last year.  Actually, I had a (couple of) false start(s) last year.  I was extremely obese, self conscious, and absolutely sure that everyone would be starting at me at the gym.  I invented errands to do on the way to the gym and the errands gave me opportunities to become very upset with my poor husband about something dumb and as a result, I had an excuse to demand that he take me back home without setting foot in the gym.

After two of those incident, I finally made it past the front desk.  The staff were smiling and the other members were not staring at me.  I had a good time and it soon became a habit.  I’ve been going regularly now for about 6 months, and until recently I’ve never had a negative experience.  Recently, though, things changed.

There is a male staff member at the gym whose actions today reminded me that it isn’t all about me.  I smile a lot and I say good morning to just about everyone.  It’s just how I am.  This guy never smiles back.  Sometimes, when I am walking my warm-up laps around the track, he stands in the middle of the track to watch Fox news.  He never smiles.  He rarely makes eye contact.  He exudes contempt.

I was really very happy this morning.  Think about Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, and you’ll get a good idea of how bouncy I was feeling.  I was jamming out to Time Warp, Funky Town, and other favorite tunes as I walked around the track when I came upon Mr. Muscles directly in my path.  I gave him a big smile and said, “good morning!”  He looked right at me, locked eyes for an uncomfortable second or two and said NOTHING.

I checked my clothing for stains.  I sniffed to see if I smelled funny.  I ran my fingers through my hair, made sure that I was walking the correct direction around the track, checked my shoes for dog poop and concluded that I was okay, but that he either has a problem with women in general or just with fat women.  Whatever caused him to stare me down was obviously my fault.  I wondered what I did wrong.  I finished the workout avoiding all possibility of making eye contact with him.  I lost the bounce in my step, and felt my Tigger mood transition to Eeyore.

I finished my workout and dashed down the steps, collected my belongings from the locker room and got in the car.  Once we were in the safety of our car, I turned to my husband and asked him if he had noticed the tall blonde staff member wearing the Lifeguard shirt.  He said he knew who I was talking to.  I told him that I thought I must have irritated him because he wouldn’t even say “Good Morning.”  He chuckled and said, “it’s not about you – it’s him.”  Darling Hubby, too, had tried to engage Mr. Muscles.  He didn’t get as far as I did because Mr. Muscles wouldn’t even make eye contact.

Darling Hubby said, “It’s obvious that guy doesn’t like his job.  He doesn’t want to be here.  He doesn’t like the members.  He doesn’t like the work.  He probably won’t be here long.”

I don’t know if Darling Hubby is right on all accounts or not.  Mr. Muscles may work at the gym for a long time, but I do think he’s likely correct in stating that Mr. Muscles isn’t a happy guy.  It’s not all about me, and I’m so glad it isn’t!

Today was a good reminder that it’s not all about me.   Just as nobody else is responsible for my happiness, I’m not likely to single-handedly ruin someone else’s day very often – especially not a stranger.

One key to my happiness is to live my life trying to do the right thing.  The words below have often been attributed to Mother Teresa.  I don’t know if she actually said them, but  I love them.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

It’s not all about you, and aren’t you glad it isn’t?

Nobody else can “make” you happy

My blog is titled “just write what you know.”  I know a lot of things about a lot of things.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am an expert on any subject, but there are areas where I am well-versed.  This post isn’t about one of those subjects.  This post is on a lesson learned hard, and one I may never master.

Nobody else can make you happy.

The moment you depend on someone else for your happiness, it’s all over.  People can certainly say or do things that make you UNhappy. Don’t get me wrong – other people can do things that help you feel good about yourself, and their actions can give you happy moments.   However, most of us aren’t content to go through life unhappy with little bursts of happiness that depend solely on someone else’s actions.  To me, at least, that would be an unhappy existence.

If what you seek is a life that is full of peace, joy, contentment and satisfaction, you must take responsibility for your own happiness.  As a first step, being happy requires that you learn about yourself.  Do you consciously seek out experiences that you enjoy, or do you just go along for the ride with your friends or significant other because you don’t want to rock the boat?  I like to do things that make other people happy. Doing for others is sometimes easier than doing for myself.  Doing things that make others feel happy feels good.  Doing something just for me can feel selfish.  If you know that feeling, it’s time for you to understand that doing something for yourself or buying something for yourself is not selfish.

What experiences or things do you enjoy just for the sake of pleasure? If you could spend an hour alone, what would make that hour enjoyable?  If you had $10 and had to spend it on yourself right now on something completely unnecessary, what would you buy? If you can’t name at last five answers to either question, it’s time to figure it out!

With my hour alone, I would run alone on a trail in the fall woods.  I would crochet in my zen den with all of the candles lit and soothing music playing on the stereo.  I would brew a pot of tea in a real tea pot and drink it out of a china cup while looking out the window.  I would lose myself in a novel wrapped up in front of the fire in the afghan my mom made for me.  I would sit in the sun watching waves lap at the sand.  Those would be happy hours.

With a ten spot in my pocket, I could buy an abandoned treasure at the thrift shop and imagine a story for it.  I could buy a bar (or two) of hand-crafted soap that smells sweet and makes me look forward to a hot shower or a soak in the tub.  I could buy a couple of dark chocolate covered sea salt caramels to savor (and have $8) left over.  I could buy a book for my kindle that would take me to a far away place I’ll never see and pull me into a story rich with imagination.

The next thing you need to learn is that happiness doesn’t come from things – it comes from a place deep down inside.  Happiness is an emotion, and it is subjective.  What I label “happy,” you may label “content,” or “peaceful,” or maybe “giddy,” “joyful,” or “downright crazy.”  What you call it is unimportant.  What matters is that I know what happy feels like to me, and I know when I’m feeling it.  I can be happy and feel sadness at the same time.  I can be happy for others while I suffer disappointment.  I can be happy for myself when seeing others in pain.  Happy is a state of being.  Having things we love or doing things we enjoy can give us glimpses of happiness.  Once we become accustomed to those glimpses of happiness, it becomes easier to remember what happy feels like.  When you feel down, you can remember those happy moments and summon up the strength and the emotion to recall what it feels like to be happy.

I remember being in relationship that ended badly and feeling that I would never be happy again.  I remember people doing things that hurt me, or things that I didn’t approve of and feeling that they were responsible for my dark emotions.  What I had not learned yet was that although those events saddened me, I still retained a choice regarding how I would respond to those events.  I could choose to be bitter because my love found someone else.  I could choose to be angry because someone else did something negative, OR, I could choose to accept that their decision caused me pain but that I could still choose to be happy.

Once you’ve mastered the art of creating your own happiness, you can experience the pain, anger and sadness without allowing it to overcome you.  Taking a moment to reflect on what is good in your life, to enjoy something that soothes you, and to react to the negative experience in a healthy way allows you to move back to your peace, contentment or happiness.

My own quiet life includes prayer.  I believe in a higher power.  When there are issues that I cannot solve, praying for wisdom brings me peace.  Even if you do not have a belief in God, learning that worrying over things you cannot change changes nothing allows you to put the worry aside.

When I began my fitness journey, I discovered Diamond Dallas Page’s DDPYoga program.  One of DDP’s pearls of wisdom is that “Life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it.”  DDP is a smart guy.

I’m in a place in my life where I have a lot of things to be thankful for and a lot of problems to face.  The people in my life are mostly adults with free will.  Sometimes they make choices that I approve of, and sometimes they don’t.  Learning that I can be happy even when things don’t go my way is difficult.  I’m not close to mastering that skill.  I’ve accepted, though, that my happiness is my own responsibility.

 I’ll admit that the journey is much more enjoyable with someone who cares about my happiness.   I don’t need someone else to make me happy, though.  I have to learn to get there on my own.

Everybody has a story

I’ve never attended a twelve-step meeting, but I’m familiar with the one day at a time concept.  I have often used it, or variations (one semester at a time, one month at a time…you get the idea) to deal with difficult or stressful events.  I got through law school 16 weeks at a time.  I told myself that I could do anything for 16 weeks, and having resolved to do so, I finished on schedule.

I started making some big changes in my life in March.  There was no plan.  I was afraid that I was going to die.  I had a couple of scary medical events.  I was hypertensive, morbidly obese, and full of excuses.  With a thyroid disorder, a busted up leg, severe arthritis, COPD and likely close to type II diabetes, I was a mess and convinced that my sedentary lifestyle and obesity were beyond my control.

One day in February I was in a meeting in my conference room and the room began to get black around the edges while a ringing in my ears got louder and louder.  I didn’t pass out.  The event passed and I lived in far that it might repeat itself. Soon thereafter, I was walking through the grocery store with my husband when I broke into a cold sweat.  I could feel my heart beating, and I couldn’t wait to get back home to crawl into bed and see if I lived until morning.

This pattern repeated itself a few times over the course of a few weeks.  I did not seek medical attention because I was convinced that my physician would scold me about my weight.  I had a gym membership that had been unused for at least 9 months.  Several times I got dressed for the gym only to have a panic attack on the way there and scream at my husband until he drove me back home.  I was convinced people would stare.  I was convinced people would laugh.  I was convinced that people would find me disgusting – and tell me so.

One day, I hit rock bottom.  My health was scaring me.  I was short-tempered, my family was bewildered, and I was depressed.  I went to the doctor.  He added a prescription for an anti-depressant to my list of meds and told me I needed to lose weight.  I said I would (like I had each time I saw him over the many years before), and scheduled my follow up visit.

The next day, I decided it was time to “get busy living, or get busy dying.”  I dusted off the treadmill (we won’t talk about the thickness of the dust layer) and took a step.  I don’t remember how long it took me, but I walked a mile that first day.  I went back the next day and tried jogging a little bit.  I was thrilled when I was able to “sprint” 2.5 mph for 30 seconds.  Day after day, I went back to the treadmill, and was amazed at the difference those 20, 30 or 40 minutes made in my attitude.

I began to share those little successes with my facebook friends.  I found a iPhone app that tracked my runs.  My feet starting hurting, and I asked my facebook friends to help me pick out a pair of running shoes.  I received scores of comments and suggestions from runners and walkers who are scattered all over the country.  Boosted by their well wishes, and filled with a sense that this time would be different, I entered a running store and plunked down $120 for my first pair of running shoes.  On that day I posted a photo of my new kicks and decided “I am a runner.”

Having found the confidence to walk into a store for athletes without being met with scorn or laughter, I resolved to try the gym again.  Armed with my new shoes, I made it through the door and through a circuit without anyone laughing, pointing, or (to my knowledge) posting a picture of my backside to their flickr account.

I have a hugely supportive circle of family and friends.  They have “liked” and commented on my runs (which makes my phone cheer), they have put up with me posting photos of myself in spandex, shining with sweat and holding up a medal.  I began posting for accountability’s sake, and along the way I have received many messages telling me to keep posting because I have inspired my friends to make changes in their own lives.

As I share my story, those friends keep telling me to write a book.  I love the idea, but didn’t know where to begin. I finally know where the book is coming from. I am a survivor.  I am a fighter.  I am a listener.  I am changing my life one day at a time, one step at a time, and one mile at a time.

My name is Betty.  This is my story.  It’s still being played out.  I want to help you become the person you were meant to be.  I can’t tell you how to do it, but I can tell you how I’m going about it, and perhaps you will find inspiration to do the same.

Every story has to have a beginning.  You may see parts of mine in flashback, but for now, we’ll start here: “Once upon a time there was an unhappy woman who was scared of life.  She was sick, and tired, and didn’t know where to turn.  This is the story of how she took her life back.”

It’s a journey, not a destination

I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while.  I’ve had a few “when life hands you lemons” moments, and seemed to have lost my recipe for lemonade at the time when I needed it most.  Yesterday one of those moments happened, and I was reminded that although we have no control over many of the things that happen to us, how we react to them is 100% within our control.  I’m sad to say that I didn’t react to some of those things the way that I wish I would have, but I learned a powerful lesson.

Whatever the goal, be it fitness, happiness, or health – it is a journey, not a destination.  If you think that you can achieve any of those without continuing to work at it, you’ve lost the battle.

Those of you who know me in real life know that weight has been a lifelong struggle.  I’ve gained and lost hundreds of pounds over the last 30 years.  Each time, I looked at the weight loss as a project, thinking that once I reached my destination I would be free and happy and the problems that got me to an unhealthy weight would miraculously be cured and I wouldn’t have to struggle.

This past March, I reached a crisis point in my life.  Some of the stressors were within my control, but many were not.  My health was bad.  My mood was depressed.  My life seemed to be spinning madly out of control.  I was not fit, healthy or happy.  In desperation, I turned to diet and exercise because those were two things that I could control.  By taking control of what I could control, I was able to better deal with the aspects of my life that were beyond my control.  I had an outlet for that stress and negativity.  This time, instead of dieting, I am focusing on remaking my life.  I know that to be happy and healthy, I must fuel my body with healthy foods and get plenty of exercise.  This isn’t a “fix,” it is a journey that will never end.   If it ends, the trip is back to an unhappy, unhealthy place.

I have spent part of this journey sharing my story with others through Facebook and on this blog.  Sharing keeps me accountable, but I hope that it also shows others that depression, obesity, arthritis, auto-immune disease and a host of other problems are not insurmountable.  My journey began when someone else shared their journey and I was inspired to make a change.

On the days when I put in the work (eating clean, exercising, practicing thankfulness and being kind), I enjoy happiness.  I enjoy the benefits of increased health and stamina.  On the days when I slip back into my old habits and cure hurt feelings with potato chips and lash out at the person who I perceive hurt me, I wallow in pain. The emotional pain becomes physical pain as my body becomes inflamed and my joints hurt, which makes me put off exercise, and throws my whole system into a mess.

I cannot claim that happiness is merely a choice for everyone.  Some people are suffering so much that telling them to “choose to be happy,” minimizes their pain.  I do not want to do that.  For me, though, happiness began with a choice, and it depends on me making the right choice every time I am confronted by something that makes me want to crawl back into the hole that I created for myself.

Fitness is a journey (one that I’m enjoying more and more as I progress).  Happiness is a journey (one that is becoming easier day by day).  Some days the journey seems solitary.  Other days I am surrounded by people who inspire my every step.  I am not content to just keep doing what I am doing.  I want to be fitter, happier and healthier than I am today.  I am doing this for myself, but if I can inspire others by sharing what I learn that is a bonus.

I am learning to reach out and reconnect with others.  The journey does not have to be solitary (and it’s much more fun when there are companions!

We all need goals, but they are mere milestones on our journey.  When we reach one, there must be another to look for or we will lose our way.  The journey never ends.  Thank you for joining me on this step of the way.

The Face of Depression

The new Facebook challenge is the Mrs. Doubtfire “Helloooo” face for suicide prevention.  The person challenged recreates this scene from Mrs. Doubtfire (see below) and tags three friends.  Unlike the ALS challenge, there is no monetary penalty attached, but donations would, I’m sure, be gladly accepted. 

Click here for more information on the Mrs. Doubtfire Challenge

Youtube Hellooooo Clip

The articles I’ve seen that promote this challenge don’t seem to spell out how this is connected to suicide or depression, other than the obvious link to Robin Williams.  That’s why I’m writing to you today.  You may not recognize the face of depression because those who suffer often learn to smile through the pain.  We wear a mask.

When my husband committed suicide in 1998, I found a therapist to talk to.  I had actually scheduled the appointment before the death happened because I was very troubled about how my life was unfolding.  I’d never met this wonderful woman before, and I sat on her couch and spilled out the story of how his bipolar disorder affected my life, the events that led up to his suicide, and finding him lifeless.  She didn’t say a word.  She just listened.  When I stopped, she looked at me and said, “you just spent the last 30 minutes telling me about upsetting things – terrible things… and the smile never left your face.”

Mrs. Doubtfire hid her “true face” with icing so the visitor wouldn’t see the truth.  People who suffer from depression do that too.  Smiles are effective masks.  Some people use false bravado and angry attitudes to hide the sadness.  

Earlier this year I had a very difficult period of time.  The issues that were troubling me were not something I felt comfortable sharing with anyone else.  In addition to my own troubles, real and imagined, my profession brings with it the troubles of others.  All of those things added together had me feeling like a failure as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a professional, a volunteer, and a person in general.  Despite it all, I went out to a local festival and tried to have fun while I was there.  I talked with people, I smiled, and then I went home and crawled back into my dark cave.  I posted something vague about my dark mood on Facebook, and a dear friend replied that she was concerned.  She had just seen me and had no idea that anything was wrong.  My mask was on.  She could not see the pain.  

This is the face of depression:  

bumpitb05-123

Currently, there is too much stigma attached to mental health issues for a campaign asking those suffering from depression to share their faces with the world so others suffering can know they are in good company.   Until then, be kind to those around you.  Everyone you encounter is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  

 

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