Navigating change. . . without completely losing yourself in the process

“The process of metamorphosis is scary and sometimes painful, but it is also the way to experience wonderful new adventures we weren’t even able to imagine in our “caterpillar” identities. Accept the process: care for yourself, dream big, work hard, and keep learning. Then don’t be surprised when one morning, you wake up to find that you have wings.” ~Martha Beck

C-H-A-N-G-E.

The dreaded “C” word.

Some embrace it.

Others, not so much.

The rest of us? I’m guessing we fall somewhere in between.

If you haven’t experienced a major life change yet, hang on, because–you will. It’s inevitable. Change is a part of life that we can’t skip over, no matter how hard we might want to. Maybe it’s a career change,  a new marriage, or a divorce. Maybe you just had your first child or grandchild. Maybe your baby is about to start kindergarten or they are leaving the nest for the first time. Maybe you are facing a sudden illness or injury or maybe you are facing the loss of someone you love. Maybe it’s something entirely different. Whatever you’ve experienced, change, whether it’s a welcome one or not, can be quite scary, messy, and difficult to navigate. (It can be joyful and beautiful too, but that’s a story for another day.) You would think that after living for a certain number of years on this planet we’d get the hang of it, right? But, we mostly don’t. At least in my experience anyway! Change is H-A-R-D and there is no getting around it, you can only go through. Unfortunately, there is no play-by-play manual that shows us the way, mainly because every change and every human are different. There’s no one size fits all model for being human and/or surviving change.

Last year, at the age of 47, I dove headfirst into a mid-life career change when I moved from working as a director of a nonprofit agency advocating for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, to working as a high school teacher. (Yeah, you heard that right.) This change came on top of a few other big life changes like finishing grad school and becoming a first-time grandparent for starters.  The career change was positive, one that I sought after and welcomed. I knew my transition would be a rough one but because I was well-versed on how to deal with change (in fact, previously, I had taught others about navigating life change) and how to take care of myself in the process, I wasn’t super worried the transition. In retrospect, the fact that I wasn’t super worried should have been my first clue that shit was about to hit the fan, but in the stress and angst of my change, I totally lost sight of my path. I couldn’t manage my anxiety like usual and I could feel depression aching to grab hold. A very long story short, I seriously thought I was L-O-S-I-N-G my shit for good. And I was a little freaky about it all. Prolonged stress had hijacked my brain and I was pretty sure I was on the fast track to derailing. My body finally shut me down (as in I had to take a sick day) before I began to get a clue what I was really dealing with.

The stress I was under due to the changes I was in the midst of, had taken a serious toll on my body, mind, and spirit. One that has taken months to recover from. It got so bad that about midway through the school year I actually thought there was something physically wrong with me (like I had a serious disease or something) yet, in actuality, it was my body sending a giant SOS signal to slow the heck down and figure my shit out. It took a few months and a lot of patience, but eventually, things began to get better. Now, several months later, I’ve gotten somewhat of a grip and I thought I’d share what I did to survive my mid-life crisis, although if I am being honest, I probably didn’t do any of this consciously at first as I’m pretty sure some innate, well-trained survival forces kicked in to keep me going. There is no particular order to what I have written as for me as these steps all kind of blended into one ginormous mess of a process. If you are struggling with changes, I hope you’ll find some value in my words. Take what you need now, and come back later if you need the rest.

  1. Recognize the grief that accompanies change. Sounds weird, right? Why would there be grief attached to a change that I chose and welcomed? Well, often times we forget that every time we have a life change, we lose something. Change equals loss. Plain and simple. You can’t have one without the other. It’s quite obvious to see the loss and experience the accompanying grief when there is a loss of life, or job loss, or major illness, etc. but it’s not so obvious when the change is a positive one. For me, (nutshell version here) the loss of the comfortability in my previous job led to a loss of self-confidence in my new position, which eventually gave way to a total loss of my sense of self which created room for some pretty intense self-loathing. The stress of the unrecognized grief was tremendous. It was devastating to me for a while there until I figured out that I need to make space to honor what I lost when switched careers. By making space for my grief, I was able to open the door to celebrate all the new and wonderful people and things that my new career had to offer.
  2. PRACTICE GRATITUDE! Yes, those words deserve all caps and bold. I cannot stress this enough. Practicing gratitude has saved me from myself and has lifted me from the depths of some pretty unrelenting grief in my life. It truly is difficult to feel sorry for yourself if you begin to look at your circumstances in a different light. Apparently, through the angst of my career change, I’d abandoned the practice. When I resumed and began making a conscious effort to be grateful, even when I absolutely wasn’t feeling it, my outlook began to change and my mood began to shift to a more positive one. My self-esteem started to improve and my mental strength began to increase. Practicing gratitude had ignited the process of getting over myself (for the umpteenth time in my life) and that paved the way for a clearer path for me to keep moving forward. (For more on the life changing power of practicing gratitude, start here with this short read, 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round )
  3. Manage stress. Well, let’s just say this is a mighty, big topic, one that I will barely, and I mean, barely, scratch the surface on here. For starters, I’ll offer this. Did you know that we are not made to handle long-term stress? I repeat, we are NOT created to handle long term stress. Ever heard of the flight, fight, or freeze response? Well, in short, when we are stressed, the part of our brain designed to keep us safe from a potentially dangerous situation (our amygdala) is activated. When that happens, the part of our brain that we need to think critically, to process, to learn, and grow, etc. (our prefrontal cortex) shuts down, which makes things difficult because we need our pre-frontal cortexes to help us think through our current dilemma. Our fight, flight, or freeze process was designed as a short-term stress response to keep us safe. Prolonged stress damages our brain. (Science backs this up. Google it or message me for some research.) Because I was under a period of prolonged stress my brain wasn’t functioning as it should. It took me figuring some stuff out (at a much slower rate than normal) and then beginning to tackle some of my stress before my brain finally started to calm down. Finally, with some stress subsiding, I was able to start thinking more clearly, which made moving forward much easier. fofbraindiagSide note: It is important to remember that we all deal with stress in our own way. Nobody can tell you exactly what you need to do because we are all different. Regardless, do your homework on stress management and then learn to manage yours! For real. Get to the core of what’s causing your stress and figure out what you need to do to keep yourself healthy–body, mind, and spirit. BE HONEST with yourself. Retail therapy, alcohol, food, drugs, or the oft-touted hot bubble bath with a glass of wine, are only band-aids and band-aids are only temporary.  They stop the bleeding but don’t heal the wound. Does that make sense? (Go here for more information on what stress does to your brain. You’ll be shocked.)
  4. Find a mentor or a friend. REACH OUT! We have been conditioned in this society to believe that we can go it alone when times get tough, you know,  the ridiculous bootstrap mentality, (which I totally call bullshit on by the way.) We try to figure it out on our own because we don’t want to appear weak, or unintelligent, or unprepared. Or maybe we don’t feel comfortable burdening others with problems that we think that we should be able to handle on our own. Well, guess what? We are not made to go it alone. We need other people. Let me say it again. We need other people. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. (Thanks to the coworker that reminded me of that when I was struggling.) When I finally began to figure out what was going on with me, I mustered up what courage I had left and spilled it all to some of my new coworkers. I cannot tell you how good it felt to be supported and to hear the words “me too” come from some of them. There is so much restorative power in learning that you aren’t alone in your struggles. A good friend or mentor will listen without judging and be there to walk alongside you as you figure things out. (For more on the value of mentoring, check out this article. Eight Qualities of a Great Teacher Mentor.  Even though this is an education themed article, the qualities apply to all.)
  5. Authentic reflection. Equally as powerful in my book as practicing gratitude, is practicing authentic reflection. When you are honest with yourself about how things are really going, you can begin to lay the groundwork for dealing with whatever you need to deal with. What is going well? What isn’t? And most importantly, why? By taking the time to critically think about a situation or event, you can begin to see what you can do differently to navigate better. For the record, authentic reflection is not an easy task. In fact, often times, at least in my case, it sucks and is hard because for reflection to be effective, you need to be brutally honest with yourself and maybe face parts of you that you don’t really want to. (Or you might have to take ownership of your role in something instead of blaming others or something similar. Anyways, you get my drift.) On the flip side of that ugly stuff though, you might actually discover some awesome pieces to the puzzle that you hadn’t noticed before or maybe you’ll discover something pretty cool about yourself! Regardless of where your reflections bring you, remember that for reflection to be truly meaningful, for you to learn and grow, you must be willing to take action with what you discover–good, bad, or otherwise. (My actions over the past months were the steps above. You don’t have to change the world with your actions, just yourself. Not always easy, but always worth it.)change4.jpg

It’s funny. Even after writing all of this, I feel like it’s just the beginning of the story. I’m still reflecting on all of this, even a couple months after scribbling this all down for the first time.  No doubt I’ll be writing more in the future. For now, though, this is what I have for you and I’ll leave you with this. . . Remember that change, whether it’s welcomed or not, is often hard, and messy, and scary, but you will get through it. And maybe, just maybe, if you look for it, you’ll find some joy and beauty along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

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Joy and Pain. Side by Side.

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“Choosing to nurture joy does not mean turning a blind eye to pain or difficulty or injustice. It means holding positive possibilities while looking deeply into pain. Deep truth about what is and recognizing joy can exist side by side.” ~Circle Forward

I read those words and I was reminded of the phrase finding joy in the mess. And then I was reminded of the times in my life when there wasn’t much to be joyful for, yet, somehow opportunities to choose a moment of pure joy would sneak in, despite the current state of messiness. A sudden eruption of pee-your pants laughter in the depths of unfathomable grief, a beautiful ray of sun appearing from the clouds when all hope seemed lost, a heartfelt hug from a dear friend in a moment of despair. Life-saving snippets of joy in the midst of struggle. Joy and pain. Side by side. How can we know one without the other? Kind of a mind blow, right? Always the paradox. Always the struggle. How can they co-exist? Yet . . . how can they not?

Choosing to find joy in the midst of difficulty is one of the most courageous acts a person can take–although we rarely give ourselves permission to do so. What if, in the midst of your struggles, no matter how big or small, you gave yourself permission to choose joy for just one day, or for one hour, or for even one minute or one second? It’s SO okay to take a break from your pain. Choosing to nurture joy does not dismiss or diminish our hurts, but instead creates space for hope to seep in. And with hope, all things are possible.

Let yourself choose joy and then nurture it. Let it live side by side with your sorrows. Let hope create the space.

the soul knows

There are no coincidences. The soul seeks its own path. ~Angela Gwinner

The other day, I stumbled upon a box of treasures from my youth. Having no recollection of packing it all away, I was clueless to its existence. So, when I realized what I had found, I excitedly started digging through the old stash.

Tucked within the memorabilia, most of which was deeply sentimental, was this edition of Young Miss, circa 1980. Of the hundreds of magazines that I read growing up, this one was the only one that I saved. For real. None of the juicy gossip mags (hello, Tiger Beat) full of pictures of all the 80′s heart throbs and hair bands. Nope. Not those. Instead, I saved this one.

It’s funny because I was not a runner growing up. I would not become a runner for 33 more years after this magazine came out. Now, I cannot imagine a life without running. In fact, running has saved me in ways I’ll never fully understand. I guess my 11 year-old self instinctively knew what my grown up self would need? They say the soul knows. . .

I guess they’re right.

Trail time

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As we say in our family, “It ain’t a trail run unless you’re muddy and bloody.” Today’s run delivered both and more…

Still feeling the lingering effects of a ridiculous sinus cold that set in a couple of weeks ago, I headed out on today’s run with no agenda. No set number of miles to complete. No time goals to hit. No anything other than just being outside on this glorious February day. I hopped in my car and headed south, not really even sure of my destination. I ultimately settled on the park that grounds my soul. Every. Single. Time.

The space of time between the snow melt and the new buds of spring gives opportunity to explore new trails, ones far less traveled than the paths that I usually traverse. Trails that are not visible during the overgrowth of summer, had now become visible and invited me in. Sites unseen, I opted out of running for the remainder of my time and instead settled on a fast hike as to enjoy the woods through a new lens. The eagles were soaring and the geese were gathering, honking loudly overhead as I eventually traveled back to the big river in the park.

No time in the woods is ever wasted but some runs are just a little more special than others. Today it wasn’t about the mileage or my mile-per-minute pace, but instead about so much more. I left the park with a grateful heart and a peaceful spirit, in awe of the gift of nature.

Facing Fears and Finding Me: 5 years later

It has been a year since I’ve posted here. I’m really not sure why it has been so long. There are a million things floating around in my head and scribbled in my journal that I need to write about, things that are bursting at the seams to leave my realm and hit the pages of this blog. I could provide an ample amount of excuses to why I haven’t been writing, excuses that would pretty much be all valid but I’ll spare you all and just dive in.  I almost feel it’s like a rebirth here with this post and if I’m being honest, it is.  2016 was a year of struggle, change, and growth for me but through it all, I am re-emerging. . .  

On January 23, it will be FIVE years since I began my journey to better health. Five years since I faced the scale and bared my soul in a blog about my struggles. Five years and 75 pounds! I remember that terrifying day like it was yesterday. . .

Change has abounded in that time and life is completely different now than it was back then. Many of those life changes I have written about and are buried within the recesses of this blog. Many more of those changes are scrawled across the pages one of my many journals waiting to be shared here, and yet others, I still have to process. In short, there is no way I could have foreseen what life would have in store when I began writing about my journey so long ago.

Every year since has brought its own successes and failures and 2016 proved to be no different, with the exception that my successes and failures this year unexpectedly came with a far greater meaning than they ever had before. Maybe it’s because I’m older and wiser now, or maybe it’s because I had just fallen so far away from myself that I needed some hard lessons to find my way back to me again. I’m not really sure.

The fitness flops of 2016 (that stupidly started with the failure to follow a training plan and spiraled downward from there) began to erode my self-confidence and eventually the failures began to chip away at my self-esteem. It didn’t take long for my already waning self image to erode rather quickly. It wasn’t too much longer after the erosion began that I started feeling pretty sorry for myself. (FYI: Self-pity is selfish and leaves no space for gratitude. Without gratitude, it’s hard to remember how far you have come.) Before I knew it, I was s-t-r-u-g-g-l-i-n-g with where I was at in my journey, especially when it came to running. It finally took a 17-hour mountain summit in late July (when 100 feet from the top I was absolutely sure I couldn’t climb anymore, but did it anyways) and a middle of the night 10.5 miler during a relay race in mid-August (in which I had a full-on mental breakdown complete with the old fat girl tapes playing loudly in my head, but finished the run anyways) for me to begin to really examine at what was going on in my life. The icing on this figure-your-shit-out cake came for me in September (after my second failed attempt at a 50k) when I was reminded of the the phrase our growth is in our struggle. I’ve been ruminating ever since. Our growth is in our struggle. . .

What I’ve discerned through it all is that is exactly that–our biggest growth always comes through our biggest struggles. Always. Failures are nothing but opportunities for growth. I’ve also figured out that growth only begins when self-pity ends.We just have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves long enough to figure it all out.

Cheers to the lessons of 2016. I am grateful for the struggles, and failures, and growth. And here’s to 2017. I am looking forward to another year of facing fears and finding me.

P. S. Thank you, as always, to all that have been there for me along the way. Our journeys aren’t meant to be traveled alone and for all you that have been along for the ride, I am so very grateful. Happy New Year. With love.

Two of my biggest struggles  growth moments, not only of last year, but probably of my life. Both of these photos are raw and at my most broken open of moments. Picture one is on the summit of Longs Peak ( 14,259 feet) in Colorado. I took this photo seconds after realizing my accomplishment, something I never could have imagined when I began my fitness journey five years ago. Picture two is shortly after I finished one of the most grueling runs of my life, not physically grueling, but mentally. Every old fat girl tape that has ever played in my head suddenly replayed during the first miles of a long, middle of the night relay run. It didn’t help that I was getting passed by runners like I was standing still. I recovered though and finished. 

Baby-steppin’ it to better health

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Goal setting.

If you do a little Google search on the term goal-setting, you will find 28,100,000 results in .30 seconds. Literally. You will also see this toward the top of your search page:

Goal setting is a powerful process for thinking about your ideal future, and for motivating yourself to turn your vision of this future into reality. The process of setting goals helps you choose where you want to go in life.

The process of setting goals helps you choose where you want to go in life. . . 

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Additionally, if you want to dig into it a little farther, you will find meme after meme stating things like this:

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or this,

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or this,

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To keep us alive? Ahhhh! And on and on it goes. It can get scary as fuck (pardon the language) quite quickly. If you aren’t careful you can go from simply wanting to make a positive change to being overwhelmed in exactly.30 seconds with 28,100,000 examples of how to do it. If I was new to goal-setting or to the fitness world,  I probably would have said fuck-it (done swearing now) after Googling goal-setting and walked away. But, I am not new to either one so I will tell you this. . . goal-setting IS a powerful tool that WILL lead to lasting and sustainable change, IF you are SMART about it.

The acronym SMART as applied to goal-setting means creating goals that are: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant/realistic, and time-bound. It may sound a bit intimidating but trust me, it isn’t. Using the SMART acronym to will help you reach the goals you have made for yourself and that, in turn, will keep you moving forward on your journey to better health. Let me give you a hypothetical example of setting a proper SMART goal and hopefully it will make better sense.

Goal: To run a marathon by February 25, 2016. That’s a great goal if you are already an experienced runner that consistently runs substantial miles every week.  The goal is specific (to run a marathon), measurable (26.2 miles), achievable (you are already an experienced runner), realistic (you’ve been logging the necessary miles), and time-bound (you have a specific date.) There is only one problem with this scenario–you are not an experienced runner. You are a 42-year old couch potato that hasn’t run since high school (which was me in 2012 when I began my quest to better health.) If I would have set a goal like this for myself early on in my journey, I would have failed MISERABLY. The failure would have likely set me up for additional failures because I was already feeling bad about the inability to achieve the first goal (albeit wildly unrealistic) I had set for myself. (Some of you know that downward spiral. A person can go down the drain of self-despair pretty quickly sometimes.)

Keeping with the hypothetical couch potato-to-marathoner scenario, what if the goal-setting looked more like this:

My goal  is to run a marathon in December of 2016. Currently, I do no physical activity so I will begin work on my long-term goal by setting smaller, SMART goals to help me achieve my dream of running a marathon. My first step will be to walk for 10 minutes per day for the next week so my body can begin to get used to moving. This small, short-term goal is specific (walking for 10 minutes per day), measurable (10 minutes), achievable (most any able-bodied person can walk for 10 minutes per day), realistic (it’s 10 minutes), and time-bound (one week.) The most important point here is that this small goal, with some effort, is achievable. With achievement comes a mindset for success. This success mindset will help you  to create your next goal, and your next goal, and your next until you suddenly find yourself cruising across the finish line in a 26.2 mile race. Make sense? You can dream big but to achieve great things, we have to start somewhere and that somewhere is usually small. And that somewhere always involves time and effort; but, starting small makes the big dreams possible. Think baby-stepping it small like Bill Murray did in the movie What About Bob?

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Baby steps. Set small goals that are achievable (achievable not easy, there is a difference) and go from there. It really is that simple. Baby-steppin’ it to better health. We can ALL do that.

Where are you in your journey to better health? What goals have you or are you going to set for yourself in 2016? Write them down and go for it! One baby step at a time.

 

Facing fears and finding me…

The past few days I have spent some time reflecting on my weight-loss/health/fitness journey. And while reflecting on this journey is something I tend to do regularly, I have been extra reflective as I get ready to write down my 2016 goals. Adding to that, a good friend recently asked me for some weight-loss tips the other day which really got me thinking. . .

This was the very first honest post I wrote about my weight and my struggles. I wrote it on January 23, 2012 and I remember this night vividly. We had just returned home from Iowa after sending our youngest off to Oman to study abroad. I had looked at the going away pictures. I remember consciously trying to stand in a way that would make me look not as large as I was when we were taking the pics. Those pics were my tipping point. My surrender. Later that night I sat down to write this after I ordered my scale. Again, thank God for Amazon one-click or I may have chickened out. I am also not sure where I found the courage to hit the publish button that night. . . but I did. Facing your fears and owning your story, is the most empowering and freeing thing I have ever done in my life. Happy New Year. May you find yourself and be free.

Hangin' by a Thread



Part of truly being yourself is owning your story. Today, I’m owning a pretty big part of mine…


I did something today that absolutely T-E-R-R-I-F-I-E-D me, something I have avoided- successfully or not, depending upon how you look at it- for years. My heart is still pounding a bit, but thanks to one-click shopping at Amazon.com I didn’t have time to stop and think before I tossed it into my virtual cart. Boom, it was done. No going back. I had to face this once and for all.

Anti-climactic, I know, but the big, scary thing I did was order a digital scale, something I haven’t owned for years. For many people, hopping on the scale is not a big deal, but, as a person that has battled an eating disorder for a good share of my 40 plus years, the thought of owning and stepping on a scale is…

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