Have you ever just sat and thought…FLAMING NORA, I’ve been through a lot of shite?
I had, arguably, one of the most unpleasant pricks in England as my father. He defined hands off child rearing. To be specific, he could have written a book entitled: “Parenting: I Don’t Give a Fuck” except his meager ability to express himself, other than by an upward sweeping hand gesture, would have prevented this. My mother did the best she could with the exiguous skills she had, raising two girls, but it got much harder for her when we emigrated from England to Canada, where she promptly delivered a third girl. She was alone, without friends or family, and isolated in the middle of nowhere. Trapped, car-less, in a suburban tract home hell located in Trenton, Ontario in 1966.
One of these days I will either write a blistering rant of a blog post about what it was like growing up OR I’ll finally finish that book I am writing about that very subject. Fictional book, but I’m drawing on VERY real experiences just like Stephen King suggests that you do.
Here’s the thing, by all scientific accounting and trendy peer reviewed studies I should have zero self esteem and basically be a blubbering cotton headed ninny muggins. While I have my moments, I’m now fifty-five, mostly blubber free emotionally and physically, and have worked for twenty-four years in an industry where high self esteem and confidence is absolutely necessary. I have been, and continue to be, a positive and cheery role model for women striving to lose weight and get healthy. For the most part I am able to look back on my years AFTER leaving home at 18 fondly. I got out of that house alive, and apparently with my ego intact, though God knows I was told all the time by my father that I was ugly, worthless, an idiot, and some rather colorful British slang terms for a woman of low moral character. I deserved none of those names, and I always knew that deep in the inner core of me.
So. what about those years after I left home? When I was in my twenties, I was spectacularly dense. I had some positively cringe worthy moments in that decade of life, but you’re supposed to and as long as you don’t harm anyone, those are forgettable and forgivable. No regrets though as we are all supposed to be learning, making mistakes and figuring things out then.
By the time I reached thirty I was already smart, pretty, powerful, and influential but I did not know it and I certainly was not honoring my body the way I should have. I was MUCH too busy telling everyone, including me, how OLD I was instead of just enjoying the fact that I was young, knowledgeable and capable. At the beginning of this decade, I utterly ignored the reality of being in my thirties. I know that this is not a fashionable thing to say, because as women, we are told that we come into our own in our fifties and beyond. I call bullshit. As women we are ALWAYS coming into our own! If only I had realized earlier the power and wisdom I already had in my thirties instead of running around thinking my life was now over because I was….gasp….THIRTY! Just to be sure you really understand my mindset when I turned thirty, I need to disclose that I had a funeral instead of a birthday party. People gave me sympathy cards instead of birthday cards. I got a cake in the shape of a coffin (though as I recall it was deliciously chocolaty good), everyone wore black armbands, as well as dressing in black. It turned out to be a very funny birthday party, but it DID set the tone for the next full year. I THOUGHT thirty was the beginning of the end, I THOUGHT thirty was long in the tooth. I THOUGHT thirty meant telling everyone that I was old.
As far as my physical well being went, I spent my first full year of being thirty suffering general aches and pains. I remember a friend telling me that I was in my thirties now (like that was a death sentence) and this was to be expected. You know what the truth was though? I was out of completely out of shape and piling on the cellulite and back fat. I was eating crap that passed for food and completely lying to myself that this was all okay because I could still fit into my clothes even if my muffin top was spilling out over my pants. I had a light bulb go off inside my vain self when that friend opined that I should just accept the inevitable. Ah HAH!! Like I was going to be a sheeple and become like so many people and just give up and let the pounds pile on. I needed to face the TRUTH…and so I did.
When I decided to become a fitness professional in 1992, at 31 years of age, that is when I started honoring my physical self. It took another four years for my mental and emotional health to catch up. I snapped out of my obsession with my doddery self once we moved to Calgary when I was thirty-five and I promptly accepted a job as the Group Fitness Director at a large chain of women’s only health clubs, though I’m sure I brought up my grizzled age occasionally when I was hiring twenty somethings for my fitness team. My point is that it took me a long time to just LIKE being the age I was. Once you start liking it, you accept it. Once you accept it, you don’t think about it. Once you don’t think about it, you’re happier and just live your life. Your thoughts are your reality.
The rest of my thirties, all of my forties, and including the time leading up to the age I am now, have been spent by me feeling pretty good about myself and sincerely wanting everyone else to feel that way too. There have been occasional emotional detours along my road, but one thing has always been constant. I have belief in myself. My self esteem is good and that has translated into keeping myself healthy. It really goes hand in hand. I am often asked how I have been able to keep myself fit, stay the same weight, able to keep my dress and pant size in the low single digits, and to continue to LOVE to exercise over the decades. Simple really. I like myself, I honor myself and I’m worth it. I’ve never sincerely hated myself, other than the time I decided not to buy those really cute heels while I was in Vegas in 2009. I’ve never felt that my life was incomplete or was lacking in anything. It is probably the reason I never had kids. I never felt that my life was empty without them.
I already feel fulfilled by helping people reach their fitness goals, however, I could NEVER do that in an authentic way if I did not felt good about myself. I cannot motivate others if I am unable to motivate myself. I could never tell someone that they should love themselves if I did not like myself. It would fall flat, and sound insincere. I love to help people, women most particularly, understand the power they have within themselves. My mission? To help people pull the trigger on a more healthy and fit life. I can’t do it for them. To be successful at building a better body and lifestyle, you have to want to do it, consistently.
So what about you? Do you see how fabulous and worthwhile you are, or do you have an inability to comprehend it? For those of you that have put yourselves aside and have abandoned your fitness and health goals, perhaps it is because you have not taken the time to put yourself first, to actually SEE who you are, to understand that you are MUCH more than your children, your job, and your role within your family. It’s NOT selfish to do this.
From my experience working with so many people, one theme has stayed common throughout my twenty-four years of doing this……..FEAR. Fear of taking a real hard look at yourself because you might not like who you see. Who you have evolved into. I understand this. As I just wrote, I took my first long hard look at myself when I turned thirty and did NOT lie to myself. (And there have been plenty more of those self examinations over the years) I wasn’t feeling and looking dreadful because I was now thirty. I was looking and feeling dreadful because I had stopped looking after myself. It was easier to stuff my face with cake than do the actual hard work it would be to change my patterns. Besides, patterns hold comfort don’t they?
When I decided to write this particular post, I called upon some friends to talk to me about a time in their life where they STOPPED believing in themselves and were brought to a grinding halt health and fitness wise. They could decide whether to remain anonymous or not. I just wanted some authenticity in this article. I was presented with heartbreaking stories, some with positive outcomes and others that are still stuck in place. I can’t possibly use them all so I have chosen three that particularly stood out to me, each outlining completely different situations. One story will show the start of a change, another story the results of a change, and the last story depicts a woman stuck in place and yet to start on her change. As to the other stories, many of you have already received a reply from me. If you were one of those people still frozen in place, I hope that I was able to give you some advice that will help get you moving again…and of course I’m anticipating that reading this post will galvanize you into positive forward motion. I still have a few to get to, so if you have not heard from me, you will very shortly.
I absolutely loved the way my new friend Julie was brutally honest in her story. Her brother got cancer and that was her focus, which was the right thing to do at the time. However, she lost herself in the process, including her fitness and overall wellness. She was no longer a priority to herself and she spiraled into negative habits. As Julie put it to me: “I was frigging P90X fit-to-be-tied three years ago. My brother got cancer and it went ALL to shit. I just haven’t been able to get my groove back. I KNOW what I have to do … it’s just FUCK – how do we get it back? I KNOW having cancer is the GD shittiest THING EVER – EVER – EVER. But those around you – they suffer wounds you may never know”.
I told her that she was right. Cancer IS the shittiest thing ever and YES the people close to the person with cancer have wounds as well, and in many ways the helpers have it worse emotionally because they can’t complain out loud. People will think they suck. It is complicated and can make you feel like you are stuck in mud.
Julie went on to say that as caregivers we frequently put ourselves on the back burner, or worse, right off the shelf, when someone else needs us. This begs the question: well, what about when WE need us? Where are WE then? Julie WAS stuck. I write WAS because between confessing her soul to me and the writing of this, Julie has taken some steps to change her patterns. In fact, as of the writing of these words Julie has run four days in a row.
There are some other positive changes coming, but I am not at liberty to share those. Suffice it to say that Julie FORCED herself out of her inertia. She took Nike’s advice and just did it. The fact is there was no magic button for either her or me to press to get her “groove” back. You just have to do. I think for Julie, and she may have a different opinion, but HEY, I’m the one writing this…she just needed to write it all out and have someone listen to her. Her frustrations, despair and annoyance at herself. Sometimes when you share, it can be EXACTLY what you need to move forward. Julie herself wrote that she KNOWS what she has to do. Sometimes knowing is not enough and it certainly wasn’t in Julie’s case. It wasn’t until she decided to take action that her pattern was broken.
In order to change a negative habit or pattern of behavior you have to substitute it with a positive habit or pattern of behavior. Not exactly rocket science, yet for some people this can seem impossible, or just too much effort.
In Julie’s case, however, it wasn’t too much effort to help her brother. It wasn’t too much effort to be there when he took his last breath…to smile at him as she told him through tears that she would help his body give birth to his soul. All of that took immense effort on her part mentally, emotionally and even physically. With her brother Julie was acting like she was the wealthiest woman in the world giving all of her currency to him. It was the right thing to do, but what about spending that currency on herself? What is so difficult about that? Is it because she felt the currency would be wasted? Well, if she did, it appears that she no longer thinks that way and I say hallelujah!
Michelle’s story echoed the majority of the messages I got. I just chose hers to tell because she is a relative of mine and I know first hand the immense pressure she is under right now. If she can attempt to get her fitness and health together, then so can you!
Michelle, in her own accounting, has never really been skinny. From the age of seven to twenty she did martial arts and from seventeen to twenty she was as fit as she could be. Well, that’s a pretty easy achievement for most people at that age. You’ve got metabolism on your side, plus Michelle was working out seven days a week. Then….COLLEGE! She discovered beer and her weight fluctuated.
Michelle got married and then started having babies…three of them in fairly quick succession. As Michelle writes: “I was made to be pregnant. No stretchmarks after 3 kids, and the baby belly melted away soon after I had them. But I was never proactively trying to lose weight, and I was never overly cautious about not gaining it either. After my 3rd kid, I moved far away to a land of isolation where fresh food is limited and expensive. There are ridiculous amounts of bugs in the summer, and even more snow in the winter. Even going for a walk around the block was daunting. My youngest has health issues, and at the time of our move he was 3 months and undiagnosed. It was a difficult time in my life. I fell into a depression. And I also gained weight. I was unhappy, but unmotivated to change my eating and drinking habits, and even more unmotivated to add exercise to my life”.
Okay…so here we go. An unhealthy pattern. SO easy to fall into and so difficult to extricate yourself from especially when you don’t want to face what you have become, where you are, and what life has handed you. And, really that, in my opinion, was Michelle’s “stuck” point. Once again, there was NO magic button for Michelle to push, though I’m sure she longed for one. If she wanted to change, then SHE had to be the catalyst…and so she was. Again, in Michelle’s own words: “A group of friends decided to start a Biggest Loser Challenge at the end of last summer. I joined for the social aspect, and also the chance at winning some cash if I did well. Best decision ever. I started working out. I started counting calories so I became aware of what I was putting into my body. I felt better. I had more energy. I liked the way my clothes fit. And the biggest surprise was I really enjoyed working out. The rush it gave me was amazing. I lost 20 lbs in that challenge. At 34, almost 35 years old I was taking the time to take care of myself. I put in the work, and got the results I wanted”.
Yep…Michelle built that. She took control, at a time in her life where so many things were totally out of her control. She made that decision. No one else could have.The last part of what Michelle wrote to me, touched me the most because this is where her self esteem comes into play. This was the moment I knew she had made the connection between her health and fitness, and herself as a woman who was pretty darned awesome and deserved to be the best she could make herself be . Michelle closed her message to me this way: “I don’t want to be that frumpy mom who can’t keep up with her kids, who doesn’t have the energy to even want to. I want to be the fit, healthy woman who cares about how she feels, and looks, and is also an attractive wife, whose husband finds her sexually arousing, and an active mother who is running along side her children without missing a beat”.
YES!! You can be all that IF you choose it. It simply starts with one day where you decide to focus on health rather than despair, or hopelessness. Honestly, Michelle has an amazing story, filled with heartbreaking twists and turns but also filled with hope, strength, determination and triumph. She has a blog at http://www.adventuresinpostings.wordpress.com and I highly recommend that you grab a nice cup of tea and binge read her posts. You’ll be crying for days, then cheering her on, and then you’ll be grateful for where you live…..no honestly, you will. Goose Bay winters last 11 and 1/2 months…..allegedly.
My last story I’m sharing with you is from Caroline and was the hardest for me to read. I just found it so sad. I had no idea she was struggling because she has never shared this part of herself with me. I knew she was having difficulties, but I did not know the depth of it all. Because of some of the intimate details she provided about her personal life, she asked that I use a pseudonym. I love Caroline and she knows this, but I told her that I was going to be brutally honest with her and that if she wanted to break her pattern, then she had to face her truth head on. I KNOW that her story will resonate with many people out there.
Caroline is a 46 year old woman with two teenagers living at home. She is also, by her accounting, forty pounds overweight, has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, her blood sugar is borderline and her doctor has warned her about diabetes type two. Caroline is completely aware that she is not on a healthy path, but will not change course. Actually “will not” is what I wrote. Caroline prefers “can’t”. Caroline wrote that she can’t because she has no time, no energy and her kids always take priority.
Caroline started her message to me this way: “My goal as a mother is to be a concerned, understanding parent who is listening to her children rather than screaming at them. All I want is for my children to be happy, but both of them are bound and determined not to be happy. I feel anxious all the time. Nothing I do is ever good enough. They constantly argue with me and never thank me for anything I do. I’m on an emotional rollercoaster. It’s exhausting. I’ve had a couple of friends tell me that I am over identifying with my kids and investing too much of myself into their lives and not mine. They also called me a helicopter mom. I know what that means, but I’m not sure I think it is a bad thing. I’m stressed, though, there is no getting around that. I feel I have absolutely no balance in my life. I wake up and for the rest of the day I am doing everything for them, which is what I am supposed to do as a mother, right? There is no time left for me and I glance at myself in the mirror some days and I just have to look away. I hate what I see. A big fat mess. That is what I am”.
At this point I had to get up and grab a glass of red wine. Luckily it was after 12:00 pm. I could not believe what I was reading. I hated that she thought of herself as “a big fat mess”. Self loathing never leads to anything positive. Ever.
Caroline went on to tell me that she is neglecting her own health, has stopped exercising and is on antidepressants. She finished her message to me by writing: “I’m terrified. I want to be involved in every aspect of their lives, the way I have been since they were babies, but it is the last thing they want. I am making myself ill with worry. I find myself mindlessly eating junk at night. I’m either just sitting on the couch or sitting in my car, driving them to where they need to be. I can’t remember the last time I had a night out with any of my friends. I do not have a life, but I can’t change it”.
WTUF? Can’t change it? More like WON’T change it. Caroline is the only story I am using where no health and fitness changes have been made yet by her. She sincerely is paralyzed. Caroline will be reading my advice here just like the rest of you, for the very first time. We decided together that would be best and would perhaps help her see her situation more clearly.
For Caroline, there is obviously a large physical price she is paying for being the kind of parent she has chosen to be. In my opinion, she is less empathetic to her children and more self sacrificing. No one likes a martyr. I liken it to the talk that flight attendants give in their instructions to passengers about the oxygen mask. You can’t look after a child until you’ve taken care of your own needs first. I’ve always advocated to all my mums whom I have worked with over the years that you absolutely need to replenish yourself to be of any use to your children, or anyone else really. It is extremely important that Caroline keep herself physically healthy, and not to make her teenagers the center of her universe all the time. Caroline needs to go to the gym, have her own interests, reinvigorate her circle of friends, and basically have her own life! It’s time that she allows her older teenager to use that drivers licence that was earned over a year ago and do some of the driving so that Caroline can be elsewhere!!! She needs to detach so that not only can she be happy and healthy, but her kids can be as well. It does our society absolutely no good, again in my opinion, to unleash over-managed, coddled and spoiled people into the world. (Are you still my friend, Caroline)? What will happen when her children leave home? Will she be just left staring at her “big fat mess”? Despite what Caroline thinks, her kids are not her passion. If she is treating them as if they are, she’s placing them in the very untenable and unhealthy role of trying to bring fulfillment to her life. It is about balancing what you give to your kids with how much you cherish yourself. No one will argue that teenage years are tough, but most children come out all right. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
What I would suggest is that Caroline immediately go through her pantry and fridge and throw out anything that does not serve her health and then go grocery shopping for fresh and nutritious foods. (Caroline, I will email you a list of foods that you have to get, if you want me to).
The next thing Caroline should do is get moving. Whether she joins a gym, which based on her starting point I highly recommend, or just gets out and starts walking, it will be head and shoulders above what she is currently doing which is nothing. Alas, stuffing potato chips in your mouth whilst watching The Bachelor does NOT count as muscle conditioning. The last thing I would suggest is to join a group, similar to the one that Michelle in the previous story did. Just having that constant support could prove to be the game changer as currently Caroline feels unsuccessful doing what she is engaging in, which results in an inner dialogue that is pessimistic and self defeating. In other words, a negative cycle.
None of my suggestions will work, though, unless Caroline works. As the other two stories illustrate, there is not a magic button to push, no pixie dust to sprinkle on your cereal and certainly no mystical pill to swallow that can give you willpower. You have got to want change to effect change. What Caroline is doing now is not sustainable and by just reaching out to me, she is taking the first step. She is recognizing that what she is doing is NOT working for her.She needs to reclaim her own life, and make time for fitness, health and wellness so she can lead a healthy adult life and model one for her kids.
I would genuinely love to hear from anyone with a comment about whether this post has helped them define more clearly what they need to do in order to start building a healthier and more fitness inspired lifestyle. If there is one thing this blog writing endeavor has taught me it is that we are all in this together and there is strength in numbers. Just knowing that there are others who struggle and stumble, then pick themselves back up and go for the finish line can be motivating. Love and fitness to all of you!
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