Before I lost my husband I didn’t exercise too often, if at all. I would use the gym as an excuse to get a break from day to day mom duties. My husband passed away in 2014. The first 10 months or so I survived because my body went into autopilot and did what it knew to do, which was pump blood, breath, and block pain. I got my first rush of endorphins October 2015 when I was summiting a mountain and I felt a glimpse of what it may feel like to feel alive again. That’s when I decided I would try to substitute my anti-depressant pill with something my body could produce on its own. After that hike I went home and started going to the gym more often. Hearing my heart pump reminded me that I was still alive. Feeling the sweat run down my skin made me feel human again. But more importantly the rush and willingness to live after a good work out was vital for me. It made me feel like I could handle what life had for me. It gave me the energy to go play with my kids, to clean my house, to get out of bed, to be present for business meetings, and it made taking my next breath easier. Today exercise still does this for me. It’s my saving grace on those bad days. And it’s what I like to do to celebrate a good day.
At 53 I lost Dan, my high school sweetheart, to a heart attack 2.5 years ago It happened right before my eyes, while helplessly waiting for help from 911 even with a fire station next door. We were both going to the gym several times a week but genetics clearly make up more of the equation. In the weeks and months after I did an enormous amount of soul searching, and read extensively about death, grief happiness and mindfulness to try to make sense of this unforseen upheaval of everything in my life. I’ve taken lots of measured risks and made big and bold changes to create a new life but its still a work in progress. I get outside every chance i can, ride my schwinn bike, walk, hike, swim, do yoga, zumba and cardio kick boxing. Im lucky the gym i joined, lifetime fitness, offers a wide range of options so I’m never bored. I lost 40 pounds the first year and a half after dan passed and intend to keep it off through exercise and portion control. I know, not very sophisticated but the secret is simply “eat less, move more”.
Towards the end of 2014 I hit rock bottom. I had just had my 5th or 6th miscarriage in 4 years of trying to conceive. The grief is hard to explain, but it is so much a loss – a loss of a little life, a loss of being a mother, a loss of carrying and birthing that child, a loss of your family, a loss of your future. All things that can’t be seen and can’t be buried and are very difficult to honour. I was finding it hard to cope. All of my friends had had children, and I was lost. I didn’t know who I was, what I was meant to do, or what my place in the world was. When I tried to look into the future, I felt like I was staring into an abyss. I had also developed an unhealthy hatred of my body and I could hardly stand looking in the mirror. Nothing worked like it should – and the one thing I was meant to be able to do, I couldn’t. I felt useless and hopeless.I stumbled across your blog on Facebook one day and started reading your posts. I wanted to feel better, but I didn’t know what to do. You talked about good nutrition and exercise: two basic concepts that my muddled and drained mind could grasp. You talked about baby steps and doing one thing at a time, and going slowly. It was a bit like a door had opened. I realised I had to start with my body. At a really practical, base level, nourish it and look after it, and that everything else would come from there. Planning meals and doing small amounts of exercise gave me something to think about and do which weren’t about babies, or getting pregnant, or any of that. It was just something to do. Learning to take baby steps was such a huge lesson for me. I have always been a planner, and I get easily overwhelmed when my mind skips ahead to ‘all the things’. I took one meal at a time. I took one day at a time. Some days, I took one minute at a time (I realised that if I could get through one minute, then I could get through another). I started a Barre class – an hour of bliss when everything left my mind. All I could think about was how much I was sweating and how hard it was and how my legs and my abs hurt but when it was over I felt incredible. I felt strong and I felt like I loved myself (it’s amazing how quickly your brain starts believing it, too!). I started craving healthy food, and I started craving movement. It was like a cumulative build up – every good meal and every class made me feel exponentially better. Above all, exercising gave me a safe space to just be – it didn’t matter who I was, or what I had done or not done – I could just be me with no agenda, no thoughts, no worries, no past to mull over and no future to feel anxious about. I have no doubt that going to that class 5 times a week absolutely saved my self esteem, my marriage and my health.