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.

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.”

Over the hill

I live on the south shore of Lake Erie.  I’ve been in this town for 15 years, and I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never really explored it.  I’ve lived here, but I’ve never really LIVED here before.

I started running in March.  I use the term “running” loosely, as there is not a category for the pace I run at on My Fitness Pal or SparkPeople.  When I told my doctor I had started running, I started to discredit it, saying, “I guess it’s more like slow jogging…”  He stopped me and said, “Betty, if you’re not walking, you’re RUNNING.”  I like his definition, and it’s the one I use when someone asks me if I’m “really” running.

I started on my treadmill.  I could only run 1/10th mile before I had to walk, but I fought for those first miles.  I soon progressed to the high school track, the parking lot at an Amusement Park, and a wooded trail at a MetroPark.  All were very level.

Several weeks ago, I noticed a trail winding through a city park on the lake.  I resolved to check it out.  Last night was perfect.  It was in the low 70s, with a beautiful breeze coming in off the lake.  I ran the loop closest to the parking lot, and then stopped – there was a hill – and I needed to go down it.

I have injured myself in two falls in the last 20 years.  The last fall resulted in 4 breaks, a plate and a whole bunch of screws in my left ankle.  That hardware has been my excuse for not doing anything about my weight for almost a decade.  At any rate, I am deathly afraid of falling down.  The last time I fell down (I slipped on a wet spot on the deck), I wasn’t even hurt, but I screamed and cried like a baby because I was sure I was injured.  Falling is bad.

I took little teeny tiny steps down the hill and got to the next level stretch, congratulating myself for not dying.  Soon, though, I was faced with the fact that where there is a “down” hill, there is sure to be an “up” hill that follows.  I trudged up the hill (okay, it was just a bank, but it was a BIG bank) and continued on my way.

The trail continued to wind through the park, over a bridge and sure enough – another hill.  This one led to a path along the road.  I froze.  Roads mean cars, and where there are cars, there are people who might shout mean things at me out the window.  (yes, it has happened to me).  I considered turning around and going back the way I came, but curiosity got the best of me.  I wanted to see where the trail ran.

I took a deep breath, and “ran” the hill the best I could.  I was over the hill!  I got to the top and ran the handful of yards along the road to the next “down” hill.  There were cars.  Their drivers did not honk the horns or shout at me.  It was okay.

I proceeded along the path around trees, along the lake, and looked up.  A dozen buzzards were trailing me.  They sensed weakness.  They circled.  I ran some more.  I looked up.  Still there.  The buzzards knew I was a goner.  Obviously, they sensed my history with falls, and they were waiting.

buzzards

I shook my fists at the feathered hecklers.  If the cars on the highway couldn’t stop me, neither could a bunch of feathered carrion-eaters.  I laughed.  I charged down the next hill.  I felt the blister form on my right big toe.  I laughed some more.

I managed to make it around the trail 3 times.  By the last lap, the hills were no longer something to be feared.  The buzzards didn’t get me.  I was sweaty, happy, and as I reached the end of the path, I was treated to the most glorious view of the sun descending toward the horizon…and the buzzards were still circling.

Like me, the sun was proudly going over the hill.  Life is good.

sunsetlakeside run