My journey to a healthier me

Tales of my life

GUEST POST – Never underestimate the POSITIVE benefit of a BAD habit

Welcome to the first Guest Post on my blog! Thank you to my brother Jerry for agreeing to impart some of his wisdom on me and my readers. I hope you all enjoy!
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I know this blog is about my sister’s journey to a healthier, happier person – and I am proud of her for that. I think she inspires more people than she realizes. But just think back, when is the last time a road trip was a straight shot on a flat highway? (Parts of Kansas or Nebraska don’t count!!) There are, and always will be, twists, turns, hills, mountains, valleys, rivers, stop-lights, and a fair amount of road-kill – these cannot be avoided (I dare you to try)! So I say why try to avoid them at all? Let us embrace the journey for what it is. And to that point, here is some food for thought…

Never underestimate the POSITIVE benefit of a BAD habit!

Just think about it for a minute…

We all have our vices; those naughty little behaviors that drive us to sanity! Yes, that’s right, I said SANITY. In an insane world, we all need a bit of sanity to keep the balance. How many of us (myself included) feel giddy after scoring an awesome pair of new shoes at a bargain (or not so much a bargain but awesome shoes nonetheless)? That is the positive benefit of retail therapy. Who cares that you’re almost broke; you did what makes you happy.

How many of us loosen up after a glass or two of wine, or a margarita, or a beer or three? Health Nazi’s might scold you for the “empty calories” you drizzled down your gullet, but again … didn’t you feel pretty darn good right about then, and for a good while afterwards too?

How about smoking – cigars for me, cigarettes for many others – we are outcasts, shun by society for “polluting the air” and raising a (literal) stink. Well kiss my ASH Mr. Do-gooder as you drive your diesel car around town spewing black diesel smoke up and down the street. Your car destroys more fresh air in a BLOCK than what my cigar will ever do in a lifetime!

So what do all of these “bad habits” have in common? Like I said before, they keep us in balance – keep us sane. There cannot be good without evil to compare it to. Every hero needs a nemesis. Victory cannot be appreciated unless the victor has known defeat … otherwise victory is simply status quo. I partake in unhealthy activities because they MAKE ME HAPPY. For some it might be a guilty pleasure – eh – I’m not big on guilt … but pleasure – that is a whole other story! Wine and cigars help me relax, help me unwind, help me clear my head – all of which are … wait for … HEALTHY!! That’s right, my empty calories and smog-filled stogie really ARE good for me! Now, do I go around smoking like a chimney? No, that would be tantamount to victory without defeat. How can I release stress and unwind if I’m not wound up? See the similarity? I know, some of you that know me are asking – “You get wound up”? Yes, I most certainly do. I’m better at hiding it most of the time, but it does come out every once in a while.

My point is anything, even bad habits, can be healthy if they are kept in check and a little bit of discipline is applied to ensure moderation. I’m not going to go running 5 miles after I just ate a cupcake to offset a mere portion of those delicious calories. For one I don’t much like running … why take something I like and associate it with something I don’t? That would be asinine. So, the moral of this story might be: Give yourself some retail therapy by going out and buying me a box of cigars and a bottle or two of wine, then sit down and let me share them with you while I impart a bit of the useless knowledge I have stored up in my noggin to you or just fill the air with a little bit of good old fashioned bullshit. Either way it’s a good time!

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Conquering Fear

Everyone has fears. If someone says they don’t, they are lying … either to you or to themselves or both. I’ve written about fear before. This post is different. This post is about conquering fear.

One of my biggest fear is heights. To go along with the fear of heights, is the fear of bridges. If I’m driving over a bridge and I’m up high, I can feel myself wanting to panic. It’s worse if I can see straight down to whatever is below, usually water. If I can only see out across the water, it’s not so bad. If the bridge isn’t up high, it doesn’t seem to bother me as much. I’ve been able to walk over short, low bridges, although that did take some doing. I felt like I could fly the first time I did it. So now that I can do that, what do I do next? How do I continue to work on my fear of heights and bridges? That’s easy — find a taller, longer bridge.

Lucky for me, there happens to be one right here in my little town. Just looking at it terrifies me. I’ve driven over it many times. It’s pretty high. I used to think people who walked over it were a little bat-shit crazy (to borrow a phrase from a friend, thank you Nick). So why am I going to do it if it scares me so bad? To prove that I can. To prove that I can conquer my fear. To make Tyler proud. To make myself proud.

When Tyler first suggested we walk the bridge, I thought there is no way I could do it. It was just insane! I thought he was bat-shit crazy for even suggesting it. But somehow he got into my head and soon I was thinking that maybe I can do it. I still think it’s a little crazy, but I’m going to do it.

(The above paragraphs were written days before we actually walked the bridge. They are the thoughts and feelings I had after deciding that I would do it. I had been a bit nervous and anxious and still a little scared about it. But none of that was going to change my mind. I had decided to walk the bridge and nothing, not even my own fear, was going to stop me from doing it.)

So after much debate as to when, we decided it would be today, August 21, 2012. At first it was just going to be me and Tyler. But then he asked if his mom could join us. I had only met his mom once before but immediately liked her, so without hesitation I said yes, she could join us. It would a milestone for her as well.

When I woke up this morning, I felt a calm inside me. No longer was I terrified about what I was going to do today. I knew it would be alright. I knew it would be a good day. Part of me still wanted to be terrified, but I knew I couldn’t be. I showered, dressed, and made my way downstairs. I made breakfast, a smoothie as usual. And made extra for Tyler and Joe. I killed time on my computer, straightened up the kitchen, and put a few things in a bag I was taking with me today. Then I waited. Waited for Tyler to let me know they were on the way to get me. I was not nervous as I thought I’d be. When they arrived, I could barely contain my excitement, although I tried to hide it as best I could. I helped navigate the way to the bridge. There is a parking lot near the base of it. After parking the car and getting out, I stood and stared at the bridge. I was not terrified of what I was about to do, which surprised me a little. A part of me was a little scared, never having done anything like this before, but the greater part of me was calm and knew it would be fine. Having Tyler there, I’m sure, was a big part of that.

So we start walking towards the bridge. There is a walking path along one side. So we begin our walk. Tyler has an app on his phone to tell us how far we will end up walking and how long it will take us, so he turned it on. The incline feels steep. My legs begin to hurt a little from my workout yesterday. But only a little. I can feel my heartbeat go a little faster. I try to calm it down. I don’t feel the panic I expected. It’s a beautiful day and the view is fantastic. Most of the way, I’m looking down at the water. Even as we walk higher, I don’t take my eyes off the water for too long. Occasionally, I can feel the bridge shake as a giant truck drives over it. There seems to be quite a bit of traffic, but I try to block it out. We reach the top and stop. I put my hands on the railing and gradually force myself to look straight down to the water, not just across it. When I did, I realized I was not scared of it as I thought I would be. And I look up and out across the water. It really is a beautiful day. We continue walking to the far end. When we reach the end, there are high-fives and smiles. Distance .72 miles; time 26 minutes. Not too bad, better time than i thought. We stand there for a few minutes, catching our breath and chatting. Then we begin the walk again. Again I can feel my legs hurt a little, but I do my best to ignore them. Again we reach the top and stop and take in the view. Again we continue back to where we started. And before I know it, we are at the end. I did it. I walked over the bridge and back. I conquered my fear and I feel good. I felt so much pride in myself at that moment. I could feel myself smiling, and not just on the outside.

Never before would I have attempted it. Never before would I have even thought I could do it. Never before I met Tyler. I’ve said it before, to him and to others and in this blog, that his unwavering belief in me, belief that I can do things I never thought possible makes me believe that I can do anything. And I’ve done so much thanks to him. I am forever grateful for him, his support, his friendship. He has done more for me than I can even say. He has helped me find a life I never knew I could have, a life I never knew I could live. And that means more to me than I can ever say. So I will only say thank you and hope it is enough and hope he knows how much more I wish I could say. So, thank you, Tyler, for everything so far and for everything yet to come.

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Emotions

I’ve always been a fairly emotional person. I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve for the world to see. Because of that, I also tend to be an emotional eater. In the past, when I was upset or stressed or sad (or just about anything else), I turned to food. It took me a long time to realize that was what I was doing. Since I have learned that about myself, it has become easier to control. But that doesn’t mean the emotions have. In fact, it seems like I’ve become even more emotional than before. Lately it feels like I’m just a big ball of emotions. Things are getting to me like never before. Sometimes I’m not even sure what is bothering me, just that something is. And I hate that. How can I deal with the problem if I don’t know what it is?! I want to talk about it, want to deal with it, want to overcome it. But how can I? What am I supposed to do? The only thing I know for sure is I don’t want to be like I was before. I don’t want to use food as a comfort. I don’t want to be that person any more. I’m not that person any more. So that brings me back to the question, what am I supposed to do? How can I control the emotions? How do I tell someone what’s wrong if I don’t know? I feel like an emotional basket-case. Someone asks me what’s wrong and all I can do is shake my head, say “I don’t know”, and cry. I feel stupid. I feel like a stupid little kid. Here I am almost 42 years old and sometimes I feel like I’m 12. I don’t know why I’m letting things get to me lately. I don’t know why I’m so emotional. I wish I did. I really wish I did. Maybe if I knew, I would know how to deal with it. Maybe this is just another lesson I have to learn, another milestone to meet, another leg on my journey to be a healthier person.

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If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem

This post was inspired by my friend Crystal. She said this during a recent conversation while venting about a problem she was having with someone. I thought it would make a good blog post.

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That statement could apply to so many situations and to many different people. You’re trying to change something about yourself, improve yourself, go after your dreams, and most people you know are supportive, willing to help any way they can. And then there is that one person. The one who seems to be sabotaging you at every turn. The one who doubts you will succeed. The one who seems to only have negative things to say. It could be your spouse or significant other, a parent or sibling, your co-worker, or the person you thought was a dear friend. It could be anybody.

You want to go back to school … they say you’re too old.

You want a promotion at work … they say you aren’t qualified.

Or, as is in my case, you want to lose weight, get fit, be a healthier person … they say you won’t be able to do it … they tempt you with junk food … they say things like “oh you can have that just this once” … they make fun of the amount of time you spend in the gym.

Why do they do it? Why do they think you won’t succeed? Why do they try to sabotage you? Good questions. But you may never really know the answers.

Maybe they’re jealous. Maybe they just like being negative. Maybe they tried it once before and didn’t succeed so they don’t think you will either.

So what do you do? What do you say to them? How do you handle the situation? Again, good questions. The answers really depend on the situation and the people involved.

You can try talking to them. Ask them why they are doing what they’re doing. You can explain how their negativity is adversely affecting your relationship with them. You can politely tell them to mind their own business. You can just ignore them. You can stop associating with them. You can cut them out of your life.

Does that work? Sometimes.

Will they stop? Maybe or maybe not.

Will they change their behavior? Probably not.

All you can do is do the best job you can. Surround yourself with those who support you. Try to understand and sympathize with those who doubt you, but stay true to yourself. Don’t give up on what you want. And remember, if they’re not part of the solution, they are part of the problem.

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“Strive for progress, not perfection”

It’s something I’ve read over and over again. It seems simple enough, but is it? What is progress? And how is it measured? Is progress the same for everyone? Or do we each need to have our own definition of it?

Part of me thinks that I’m not making progress if I’m not getting better at something. If I do something on a regular basis, I should get better at it over time. That’s progress. But what if I don’t? I feel like I’m at a stand-still, or worse, going backward. If I’ve done something before, and did it fairly well, but then suddenly I’m struggling with it, I don’t think I’m making progress. And then the negative voices flare up in my head and I struggle more. It’s a vicious cycle.

So how do I break out of it?
How do I keep myself from struggling when that happens?
How do I convince myself that I am making progress, even if it doesn’t feel like it?

Good questions.

And I think the answers might be:

1) I need to remind myself that this is not an easy journey that I’m on. There will be ups and downs. Everyone struggles, it’s not just me.
2) I shouldn’t expect to be perfect. No one is.
3) don’t be so hard on myself.
4) talk about it. If I’m struggling, let someone know, let them try to help. There is nothing wrong with asking for or accepting help.
5) and probably most important, I need to rethink how I define progress.

Seems simple enough. But not necessarily that easy.

The first is probably the easiest. I know what I’m doing isn’t easy. I know it will take time. And if I have a bad day, it’s not the end of the world, I just need to remember that tomorrow is a new day.

The second and third go hand-in-hand. I always want to do my best. What’s the point of doing something if I’m not going to give it all I have? But that doesn’t mean I have to be perfect. I’m my own worst critic. I’m harder on myself than anyone else could be. So I have to learn to lighten up, give myself a break. I’m not perfect and that’s perfectly okay.

The next one is hard. The problem with talking about it is there aren’t many people who can understand where I’m coming from or that can understand my struggles. Unless they are or have been on a similar journey, can they really help? I’ve tried to talk to friends and loved ones before, but they just don’t seem to get it. And sometimes I think they are just tired to hearing me talk about it. There are a couple people, though, that I can talk to, that do know what I’m going through or that can help, but why should I continually burden them with my troubles? I’m afraid that at some point they will just get tired of me. And sometimes when I’m struggling, I don’t really know why. It’s hard to talk about what’s bothering me if I don’t really know myself.

The last is the hardest. Redefining progress. If you’ve always thought of progress in a certain way, how do you make yourself think of it differently? And how should it be thought of? I’m not sure I have an answer for that one yet.

Maybe I need to set more goals. As long as I’m working towards those goals, I’m making progress … right?

I made a commitment to go to the gym 5 days a week, and I get up each day and go, is that considered progress?

As I continue with my training sessions with Tyler, is that considered progress?

As I continue to eat healthy and stay away from junk food, is that considered progress?

The answer to these questions is I don’t know. I don’t know how to redefine progress. It’s something I need to seriously work on. And maybe that’s progress in itself. Maybe changing how I look at things and questioning the way I think is a form of progress.

As I continue on my journey to a healthier me, I will continue to strive for progress, even as I’m learning to redefine it. Progress doesn’t have to mean great strides; it can mean baby steps too. I will do the best job I can each day. And if I have a bad day, that’s okay. It happens. I just have to remember that tomorrow is a new day. I won’t give up.

So tell me, how do you define progress?

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Notes to myself …

This post was inspired by my friend Jeff who wrote something similar for his own blog. Click here to read it.
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I’m sure we’ve all thought about it from time to time. We look back at who we were and things we’ve done. We might wish we had done things a little different or we had more information before making the decisions we did. Hopefully we don’t have many regrets. So if I could go back in time and talk to my younger self at various stages of my life, what would I say? These are in no particular order. And the list is far from complete.

1) school is important, don’t waste your opportunities there.

2) food is not comfort nor is it your only friend.

3) it’s okay to be a little weird.

4) friendships are important … make sure your friends know how much you value them.

5) it’s never too late.

6) let more people “in” … take down your walls, or at least make them smaller.

7) don’t be afraid to show people the real you.

8) never lose your sense of humour.

9) never stop learning.

10) travel more.

11) always remember your love for books.

12) have dreams and goals … and go after them.

13) don’t take your loved ones for granted … you don’t know how much time you’ll have with them.

14) don’t be afraid to fall in love.

15) be crazy once in a while … life is too short to be serious all the time.

16) appreciate the little things, the every day things.

17) try new things, even if they scare you a little.

18) be careful who you share your secrets with … not everyone who seems like a friend is one.

19) it’s okay to have secrets.

20) believe in yourself.

21) laugh and smile more.

22) be true to yourself.

23) don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

24) trust your instincts.

25) sometimes you really just need to take a nap.

26) take more risks.

27) never lose your passion for writing.

28) don’t be so hard on yourself.

29) you’re a good person.

30) no one is perfect.

So that’s just a few of things I wish I could tell the younger me. Some of them seem simple. Most should be common sense. But hindsight is 20/20 as they say. Having said that, I don’t have many regrets in my life. And most of the ones I do have are more about what I didn’t do. I didn’t ask the cute guy out … I didn’t stand up for myself when I should have … I didn’t tell someone how much they meant to me when I had the chance. But everything I’ve done, everything I’ve said, every event has happened has helped shape me into the person I am. And I think I’m pretty great.

So what would you say to your younger self if given the chance?

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Heroes

A few months ago a friend suggested I check out a website called Celebrate The Hero. It’s really amazing. I think it was intended to help kids and teens, but it has a lot to teach all of us. Reading the quotes and stories posted got me thinking about those in my life I consider to be heroes. You should really check it out for yourself. And bookmark it too. It’s worth looking at over and over and over. Forward it to everyone you know because as I said, it has a lot to offer everyone, not just kids.

Not long ago, Nick Foley, who is the founder of Celebrate The Hero, posed a question, asking how we define a hero. I, of course, had to answer that. I had two answers actually. The first answer was “a hero is someone who sees someone who needs helps & helps them without a 2nd thought”. The second answer I gave was “a hero is someone who makes the world a better place by making the lives of others better”. I particularly like that one. Nick asked me to write something for the site. I was very honoured. So I decided to write something based on the second definition. It’s called My Heroes and you can find it here. And if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you will know those I wrote about, and probably understand why I chose them.

While thinking about what I wanted to write, I thought about all the people in my life, both past and present, who I might consider a hero and why. And that got me thinking about heroes in general. Anyone can be a hero. There are the obvious answers like policemen, firefighters, military … those who put their lives on the line every day for us. But what about the not-so-obvious. The teacher who sees the potential in us and takes us under their wings. The “popular” kid who sees us sitting alone and befriends us. The stranger who sees us struggling with bags or packages and offers to help. The friend who always seems to know when we need them, even without us saying it. In their own way, they are all heroes. Everyone in our lives has the potential to be a hero, whether we realize it or not … whether they realize it or not. The things we do and say have an impact on ourselves as well as others. And that impact can be either good or bad.

At this point you might be asking yourself what this might have to do with my journey. Well I think it has a great deal to do with it. If everyone I know has the potential of being a hero, then everyone has the potential of helping me along in my journey. And my journey is not just about being healthier physically. It’s also about being healthier mentally. And it’s not just the people in my life now. It’s also about every person who I’ve met along the way.

So who are some of those I consider to be heroes (other than those I’ve already written about)? I’ve had a great many in my life. More than I can write about here. But every one of them is important. Every one of them have helped me to become the person I am and the person I’m becoming. Here are just a few of them:

I would have to say one of my earliest heroes was a teacher I had in high school. Her name was Gloria Mora. She was one of those that saw my potential and tried all she could to help me. She was a great influence on my life. When I graduated, she gave me a beautiful book of poetry. I still have it. I lost touch with her after I moved away. I wish I knew what happened to her. I’m not sure she ever realized how much she meant to not just me, but to a great many of her students. We don’t always appreciate our teachers when we are in school. If you know a great teacher, make sure you let them know how much they mean to you. And if you are a teacher, please know that there are a great many students who value you more than you may realize.

Another hero of mine is also from high school. She was a classmate of mine. Her name is Michelle Hanson. Michelle was one of the popular kids, and I wasn’t. I was the super shy, kind of nerdy kid who didn’t have a lot of friends. But Michelle went out of her way to be my friend. To this day, I’m not sure if she realizes how much that meant to me, how much that still means to me.

This might seem a bit obvious, but my brothers, Jerry and Jeff, I would also consider to be heroes. Both have met life’s challenges head-on and made good lives for themselves. They have shown me what it means to be strong, to be independent, to be capable of more than some might think. While we may not have always gotten along, I love them dearly and I hope they know that.

My friend Matt Tweedy. Watching his transformation over the past several months has been inspiring. Seeing what one person can accomplish if they put their mind to it and put their heart into it is amazing. And his words of encouragement have been priceless. Knowing that he is there if ever I need anything means so much.

My doctor, whom I won’t name, who has always treated me with kindness and respect, has always listened to me and taken me seriously, and who has never talked down to me, never yelled at me, never got on my case about my weight. Not all doctors are like that. I’ve met a few who are not. It means a great deal to have someone like that in my corner.

And every person who has ever had a kind word for me about my journey, who has said how much of an inspiration I am, or said how happy they are to see the changes in me. We may not have met personally, but know that your words and support will stay with me forever. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Like I said, those are just a few of the heroes in my life. There are many many more I could write about. Maybe someday I will.

My point is this, if there is someone in your life that you think of as a hero, TELL THEM! Let them know what they mean to you. Let the world know. I don’t know where I’d be without those around me, helping me along, supporting me and cheering me on. It means so much to know there are people who will fight for you, who won’t give up on you, even if you feel like giving up. Be that kind of person to someone else. Be a hero.

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