Photo: Ann Larie Valentine
I am seriously psyched to bring you this guest post--it’s quite inspiring and motivating, as you shall soon see. And another cool thing? This was sent by a heretofore anonymous “lurker,” who challenged herself to tell her story in a more public venue.
However, I need a favor here. I'm hoping that when you get to the end and think to yourselves: "I want to hear more from Genie, she should have a blog of her own!" that you keep your big traps shut about that, ok? Say instead, "I hear starting a new blog is kind of a pain in the ass, but you should really keep contributing posts to Crabby's blog!"
OK, I'm off gallivanting in NYC but I leave you in good hands today; please welcome Genie!
When Crabby sent out an invitation for guest posts, I thought, “Why the hell not?” So I mustered my courage and sent out an email with a short version of my story. Her response was so warm and immediate, I had to “screw my courage to the sticking place” (apologies to Lady Macbeth) and do it.
For better or worse then, this is the short version of how I decided I didn’t want to die anymore.
In April of 2013, in response to “How ya’ doin’?” I casually told someone I wanted to die. Because I am known for my rather dark sense of humor, these words didn’t get the expected response this would have gotten if a “normal” person had said it. But I woke the next morning thinking about the cold fact that I was serious when I said it and I still, in the light of morning, meant it.
I was seriously unhappy despite having so many things to be thankful for. I am an English professor and because of that I understand the power of words. I decided to start writing. Seven pages of single spaced, typed misery spilled out of me. The only thing on that list that I could reasonably control was my body. And so it began. I decided to focus on that one thing. I had no idea how that one thing would change so much.
The “why” I got so unfit is another story that I’ve only recently come to understand with the awareness of age and writing about all of this as I’ve been on this journey. That awareness, while painful, holds a kind of power all its own. But that emotional blather isn’t for this post. This one is about the win!
Before: Far too heavy and feeling rather poorly.
I started doing what all academics know how to do—research. I came up with a plan. I announced to my husband in May of 2013, “Sweetheart, we are about to change everything we do around here.” He simply asked what I meant. I explained that we were going to change how we ate, shopped, planned, lived—the very rhythm of our days. I was going to plan a menu for the week, we would shop for that menu and we would stick to that menu. That menu would have no processed food or what we would come to call “white food” on it. That meant no take-out, white pasta, white rice, white bread, but it would have lots of lean protein and vegetables. And, here was the kicker, no sugar. I knew I married a wonderful man and while I didn’t really need any more proof I got it anyway. He agreed. Readily.
This also meant that in our small, near food desert town, we would no longer be able to eat out. Labor would have to be divided to enable this endeavor. Again, he agreed.
I kept adding things to this list of demands, “We (note I said “we”? Do you feel sorry for him yet?), are going to start working out. A lot.” He agreed. He never wavered.
I’ll fast forward a bit so this doesn’t look so bleak. And believe me, all those changes looked bleak from time to time here too! Here we are a little more than one year later. I am a little over 50 pounds leaner and carrying much more muscle on my 4’11’’ frame. He’s a lot healthier too. I can swim laps for an hour at a time, I can run HIIT’s on the elliptical for ridiculous amounts of time and sing along to my play list (don’t ask!) during the recovery period, I can do silly Pilates things that make me happy, and I’m sure that I have a lot more energy than I did in May of 2013.
No fancy gyms in my small town. Lucy is my fitness trainer.
She thinks Pilates is “Cali-lates.” Butt pats are a crucial part of The Hundred!
I had to learn some hard lessons along the way. Lessons about telling people a hard, resounding “No” because I needed time to do all this. Making time for me became a priority. I also learned that my body became a topic for discussion in a way it had never been before. One colleague asked me, “Don’t you feel like you are giving power to the patriarchy in trying to mold yourself into a culturally mandated ideal”? My answer to that was also a hard, resounding “No.” What’s not empowered about a body that can carry her own box of kitty litter?
I learned that my body really doesn’t like all the processed stuff I’d been feeding it and thrives on an absence of “white food,” a healthy dose of whole grain carbs, lean protein and veggies. I learn that again every time we go on a trip or eat at someone’s house. I learned that once I laid down the ground rules for my life others would help me. Friends now ask things like, “I’m baking for the holidays. Would you like me to bring you anything or not this year? I know you’re taking care of yourself.” My best friend asks before I spend fabulous weekends with her, “What can I do so the weekend doesn’t end up being a train wreck of indulgence for you”? Even the kindness of many of my colleagues astounds me. One inquired gently, “I know your early mornings are for you these days (that’s when I work out), but I really need to meet with you. Can we plan for one day next week.” Because everyone needs rest days, I can do that. She has children who need her in the afternoon, so we can help each other with a little planning. People can be wondrously kind when I allow them to be.
In short, I learned I was important. I deserved a life worth living.
I also learned my marriage, and all the fun stuff that comes with a strong relationship, improved along the way too. I wanted to be touched more often when I was no longer afraid of the fat rolls he would feel. Now, I’ll walk up, grin and say, “Poke that!” inviting him to touch the strong core muscles around my waist. You can use your imagination about the joys that come from a little body confidence!
Here’s something I didn’t tell you to start with. I live in chronic pain. That was on my misery list. I have significantly reduced the amount of pain I live in. I think it’s a combination of core strength, taking all those pounds off my body, adding muscle to support the joints, a change in diet (all that research about food and illness can’t be wrong!), and a higher level of fitness than I’ve had in a long time.
I’m not a “perfect” weight; I’m 47 years old and I don’t do deprivation. On a good day, I’m happy where I am. Where I am is a lot better than where I was in 2013. In addition to the fat puddled around the elliptical trainer (I love that visual!), I’ve gained things that can’t be measured. I’ve put away most of the hurt of a childhood spent being punished by parents who wanted a beauty queen as a daughter and learned some amazing survival skills for a busy life. I also don’t wish I was dead anymore. I still have bad days, really bad days. But exercise centers me and gives me some happy chemicals to fight with. And I often feel a kind of optimism now. I have the energy to fight and face things. I'll never be "skinny" (I don't want to be; I like a lot of my curves) or a "perfect" weight, but I'm a helluva lot better off than I was in 2013. And I'm never going back.
I started off calling this "The Body Project" but now I call it "The Life Project." It isn't about perfection; it's about comfort in my own skin, being able to walk for 12 hours a day when we go to Italy, having the energy to tackle my often difficult work situation, and making time for myself no matter what. Oh, and eating some chocolate when the need hits! We’ve eased up a little on the absolute no sugar thing. Sometimes life demands chocolate—rich, dark chocolate preferably with sea salt.
And some good beer never hurt either. Obviously, extremism isn’t my strong suit.
We laugh and love a lot more in our house these days.
Thanksgiving 2013: Me and the Husband healthier and happier.
Thankful for feeling great! More gains have been made since then.