Next week would have been my father’s 54th birthday. I’m struggling still with the loss. Grief is a bizarre little animal. The only way I’ve found to move forward is to keep taking care of my health. When I lost my Dad this year, I felt compelled to do more to safeguard myself and my family against the ravages of chronic illness. My father’s ultimate cause of death may have been cardiac arrest, but he had fought the battle against his Type II diabetes for years, weakening his system and ultimately depleting his will.
So, what terrifies me in life? Chronic illness. After watching my Dad battle neuropathy (loss of feeling in his feet) and a myriad of other challenges as a result of diabetes, I remain resolute to do as much as I can to avoid diabetes and maintain my health. And, as we all know, any resolution, any hope for change, has to be grounded in a “rock bottom” of sorts. A time when we looked around at our environment, a relationship or ourselves and decided that something had to change. This is my “rock bottom” story.
This photo, taken at a fundraiser event Phil and I attended, is one of the few that exist of me from this time period. I avoided the camera like the plague. And with good reason-I mean, did I even have eyelids at this point? My emotional eating was at an all time high. I worked opposite shifts from Phil (to avoid the high cost of day care) and parented a 4-year-old and 2-year-old while trying to complete my bachelor’s degree in special education at night. Most evenings, I fed the kids one meal, ate scraps from their plates and made myself a second dinner once they were asleep. At nine or ten o’clock I would collapse on to the couch, exhausted and frustrated with my life. Phil and I passed each other like two ships in the night and I fretted constantly over whether or not we were doing what was best for our kids. I was tired all the time. I was often sad.
I had a terrible physical exam that spring with my doctor, who informed me that my usually low blood pressure had gone slightly above normal, a huge leap in a short time. She suggested I look at lifestyle changes to improve my feelings of sleepiness and confirmed that I had zero thyroid or blood problems. But, at just over 200 pounds, I was in the “red zone” for my BMI. I left the office, drove home and signed up for Weight Watchers. Fear is a powerful motivator.
I’d love to tell you that my battle with food and my body ended that year. I learned a lot about nutrition in my near year on Weight Watchers. I learned what real portions looked like. I discovered how important fiber is in your diet. I learned that the more I exercised, the more freedom I could have with what I ate. I discovered running on the message boards of the WW site. Every woman I communicated with seemed to be completing some magical program called the “Couch to 5K,” so I started it too. But recording every bite you put in your mouth or every minute you exercise can be tiresome. So, I have made the decision at times to just eat and not worry about the scale or the grams of fiber in my cereal. Some months and years since my initial weight loss have been better than others, but I have maintained a healthy weight for a significant period of time and consistently weigh 40 pounds less than what I did in the doctor’s office that first day.
Running has been a key to my success. Completing my first race gave me the satisfaction and desire to keep running. Training forces me to view food as fuel. The hours I spend running each week are my main stress reliever. The “high” I find after running is indescribable, but it certainly surpasses anything I’ve found in a bowl of ice cream or a bag of potato chips. I am a healthier person because of this sport. When people ask me why I run, how I got started, I give them the brief version of this story. I tell them about my Dad. I tell them that running is my life-preserver.
This Christmas, I forced myself to ask Phil to take my photo. I was dressed up for his company holiday party and agonized over taking a decent picture and dealing with being the one on the other side of the lens. This is me now-healthier, happier and more “myself” than I have ever been in life.