I am taking a short break from my mindfulness series to do a bit of a reflection. Three years ago I had my spinal fusion surgery. Reflecting over the past three years really makes me sentimental. Going into that surgery was terrifying. What if this? What if that? I had painstakingly gone through the process of finding the right surgeon for me and one who believed I would get back to my old self. There was no hesitation and his confidence allowed me to let go of my own fears and literally put my life into his hands. I cannot stress to you enough the importance of a second, third, or fourth opinion. And I cannot stress to you enough the importance of rehabilitation after the fact. Since my surgery three years ago I have once again competed at a national level, have had the ability to go on 12+ mile hikes, taken part in crossfit workouts that include Olympic type lifting, continued to do light gymnastics tumbling, have had the ability to be on my feet all day whether at a museum or other event, and I could name a hundred more. Pain free through it all! Of course I can get sore on occasion if I overdo it, but doesn’t everyone? I learned how to listen to my body. I learned patience and perseverance and vulnerability. I have since recovered from an eating disorder because this surgery allowed me to realize how much of a hold it still had on my mind when I was forced to give up daily exercise. I started graduate school and am on a path towards a career I am passionate about. I have grown so much as a person and I continue to strive towards what makes me truly happy. It was nowhere near easy, but it changed me as a person and really had an impact on my life that makes me thankful I had to go through it. If you are in the midst of a difficult situation in life, keep enduring. Take it that one day at a time and soon you will look back and realize things are for the better. Everything takes time.
I just returned from competing in my 12th national championships for USA jump rope. I have spent many hours in the gym focused towards this specific competition, but now coming home I wanted to start a blog series on mindfulness based exercise. The majority of people aren’t training for a specific competitive event and I wanted to share some of my experiences when I am in an off season. Even if you are a competitive athlete in the midst of training, I hope that you find this mini-series helpful to get grounded in your mind and body. A lot of the times those who are obsessed with exercise, as well as serious competitive athletes, get lost in the motion of training and repetition. The joy is often lost and people can have resentment towards their sport or desired exercise platform. I didn’t truly recover from the eating disorder until I addressed my exercise dependence and reconnected my mind and body. I hope I can at least get you thinking about your relationship with exercise and share with you some thoughts and tools that have helped me recover and continue to help me in everyday life. Be on the lookout for a new post each week on the following topics:
~Being mindful of numbers and even learning to let go of them completely. This applies to miles, minutes, weights, calories burned, etc
~Checking in with what your body is REALLY feeling before, during, and after exercise
~ Mobility, flexibility, and breathing
~Group or Team sports and exercise
~Exploring new exercise opportunities without judgement
~Mindfulness around physical transformation
~I will also spend a post talking specifically to those training for an event or competition and how they can apply mindfulness tools even during a time when repetition and many hours of training are required for a successful performance
I hope you will join me over the next few weeks and are able to put what you read into practice. My hope is that you will connect to exercise in a different way than you have before. It will be good for me to reconnect after a competition and continue to have a healthy relationship with exercise.
I tend to fixate too much on the future, especially when it comes to school. I am finding that the hardest thing about writing a thesis is to actually start the writing. I love data collection and actually getting to do the research, but with the writing it seems overwhelming to start. I have an outline, I know the formula, so why is it getting in my way so much? The answer goes back to fixating on the future. Instead of chapters with subheadings nicely broken down, I can’t help but see the deadline for the entire thing and I am left with an overwhelming sense of dread. There is so much to do! I like to be a perfectionist when it comes to about everything in life, which I might add has been mostly a harmful attribute, and it is the same with this. My head gets in the way and just stops me from writing. I want to get it perfect the first time even though rationally I know that isn’t the right mindset.
In my mind this is very relatable to the recovery process. Whether it is addiction or eating disorders or self-harm, or any destructive behavior- if you look at the grand scale of things, it will automatically become overwhelming and you won’t even want to continue. You know what you have to do, yet your head gets in the way and you fail before you even try. Recovery is just like the writing process. There will be several, and I repeat several, “drafts” before things start to fall into the place you want. You will stumble and trip up and succeed and slip and win and lose and the list could go on endlessly. Recovery has become second nature to me now because I took that first step and kept climbing. I also continue to take small steps every day to commit to this new life. Stop focusing on the end goal and start focusing on all the little steps you can do right now in this moment and today that will help you move forwards. Before you know it, your life will change for the better. Trust me in the fact that you may not see it happening, but you will be able to look back after a while and be proud at what you have accomplished. When I put writing a thesis into perspective and comparing it to my recovery, I know that I will succeed. I just need to start, no matter how small and eventually I will have a finished product to be proud of.
As an athlete I know all too well how my energy can impact my performance. Not only my physical energy, but the energy of my state of mind. Anxiety and excitement are two opposite forms of the same energy that lead to very different results. Anxiety is a negative form of energy that sucks the life out of me, leaving me hopeless and prone to depression. When I am anxious, I pick apart certain skills or movements and am never left satisfied. Excitement is the positive form of anxiety and instead gives me hope and confidence. I work hard on skills and sets with excitement trying to become my best self. In both energy states I work my ass off, but which one produces the results I want? Obvious to any athlete. But what about applying this principle to other aspects of my life? Getting back into a new semester I find myself a bit anxious and stressed concerning my master’s thesis. That energy didn’t do me any favors last semester. As I picked apart every little piece trying to make it perfect, I lost all mindfulness and serenity in life. That energy carried over through the break and it is exhausting. My brain is wired to default to the negative. I am working very hard to re-wire it and be very intentional about mindfulness and gratitude. At first thought it was very hard to think about my master’s thesis as exciting. Yet the more I separate the stress and anxiety, I actually find there is a lot to be excited about. I love the work I am doing with cancer rehabilitation and it is a privilege to get to work with these survivors every day. Each passing week I am closer to the career I want and the life I have envisioned. This is my passion and school is just a stepping stone to get there. Writing can definitely be compared to competing in athletics. You work hard, have many drafts and edits, and eventually end up with something you hope to be proud of. I compete to win and this makes me excited. I am writing in hopes that my thesis will become published and to have a successful defense in order to graduate. That will be a huge victory and this makes me excited. Regardless, I will finish my degree no matter the state of energy. I hope in the coming weeks to continue to be mindful about this topic and use my energy in a positive manner. Thinking this way does transform you. Think about what makes you anxious and then think about how that energy can be converted into excitement. For example, maybe recovery is wrought with anxiety and there is no way for it to be exciting. Really dig deep and come up with your own personal reasons of how it could be exciting. With no exaggeration, I have found recovery to be the most exciting thing in my life. It gave me a new life. I encourage you to take a step back and consider how you can be intentional with your own energy. It is a challenge and as I move forward I strive to stay excited and inspired about life.
I think I will put my two cents in on what full recovery from an eating disorder looks like to me. It is my opinion that it is a very individual and unique process to go through recovery and therefore everyone’s outcome will not be the same. I think many people strive to return to the person they were before the eating disorder took hold and that is very unrealistic and to me dangerous thinking. In fact having been diagnosed and gone through treatment I believe that I have changed for the better. I like who I am becoming more and more as the days pass and accepting that I am different has been nothing but positive. I have to be realistic when it comes to recovery. To me that means accepting that I have to take care of myself first and be aware of areas that could cause struggles. You can’t just automatically recover and live life as though you never had this experience. To me there could always be a stray occasional thought but that doesn’t mean that I am not recovered or that I am on the edge of relapse. My brain has been physiologically wired differently due to this disease and those pathways are hard to rewire. Recovery and recovered seem very synonymous to me which is why some people adopt the thinking that recovery is a lifelong process. I agree one hundred percent that it is a lifelong process, but I also believe that to fully live a life of recovery you have to take that step and confidently say that you are recovered. I have never called myself fully recovered and I think that is a hindrance to me fully accepting my life. I know in many people’s experience, including my own, they are waiting for some defining moment where they are recovered and boom everything would be perfect. Black and white thinking is often the thinking that led us down the destructive path to begin with. I used to tell myself oh I will be recovered when I don’t see a therapist anymore. Oh I will be recovered when I can plan meals and go grocery shopping without getting stressed. Oh I will be recovered when…..the list was endless. I believe full recovery is possible because I am living a functional, fulfilling life where I once wanted no life at all. I am living full recovery so why shouldn’t I take that leap and declare myself recovered? Calling myself recovered doesn’t change who I am or invalidate the fact that life is a process and I will continue to work towards a better me every day. So I challenge you if you are in that ambiguous area where you aren’t sure if you are recovered or what that looks like to you, to take that step with me and start referring to yourselves as recovered and see what happens! And for those continuing to struggle, hold on to hope that there are many of us out there who have been through this hell of a journey and are succeeding.
Things are going really well. I owe an update of sorts since it appears that I have disappeared the last couple of weeks. Thank grad school for that! Between classes, training a few clients in cancer rehab, coaching gymnastics and jump rope, and my own training, I have very few precious minutes left to enjoy my family and make sure I am also taking time for myself. A few highlights over the past weeks:
- My cousin got married and my boyfriend and I were able to fly out and celebrate with my family over the weekend! My best friend was able to drive out and spend time with us. She is the complete definition of my person and anytime with her makes life better. It was a great getaway from classes even though it was an incredibly quick trip. The ceremony was lovely and the reception that followed was full of laughs and dancing.
- I began to train clients at the rehab center on campus and although I haven’t been at it long it is already very rewarding and usually the best part of my day. Right now I am just volunteering as a grad student for hours towards my cancer exercise certification, but I really hope to have my internship there in the future as well.
- It is that time of year again where the competitive jump rope team begins their season and I get the amazing chance to coach and see these kids succeed and conquer challenges. I get to improve their gymnastics skills and they also brighten my day considerably.
- Regular season football begins tonight!!! Another reason I love this time of year. I am a little nervous my fantasy team won’t live up to my expectations but we will see after week 1. I am missing out on the first game of the season tonight but I will let that slide because I am going to a very anticipated concert.
Some challenges over the past couple of weeks:
- My great-grandmother passed away. It wasn’t completely unexpected and although sad, I celebrate her life and realize how awesome it was for me to have twenty five years with her around. She lived until 95 years old! I can only hope to be around that long. She was feisty and I thankful for the Native American heritage she passed down to me. Wah Doh.
- Breakfasts and meal planning in general has been quite a challenge with a vastly different and new schedule. I am not a morning person in the least and by the time I am ready for breakfast I am already training clients. I have an hour commute which doesn’t help the situation. Bagels with peanut butter have become my friends recently. Not only is it hard finding things I can eat on the go, I generally don’t like to eat while driving or being occupied because it isn’t very mindful. This is still a work in progress. Luckily I have been able to write out my dinners on a board and go to the store every Sunday to be prepared for the week. It is a lot easier just to come home and not have to think about what is for dinner or if I have everything to make it. This has worked out very well for me and I am happy to say food doesn’t preoccupy my mind like it used to. I get hungry, I eat, I move on to the next thing. The one thing I have to be cautious of is making sure that even when I get super busy that I still take the time to eat. I know it is sometimes normal for people to forget to eat because they were so engrossed in a project, but that can mean disaster for me. I have had to be more aware of that.
- Just getting back into the swing of classes has been a challenge! I graduated over three years ago from my undergrad so reading textbooks and writing papers in my spare time has required some extra motivation on my part. I enjoy my classes though which definitely helps overall.
Overall I am in a very positive place and as the semester progresses I will continue to greet my challenges head on! Writing is always a great stress outlet so hopefully you will see me around more!
When life gets busy, writing tends to fall by the wayside as I have mentioned before. I wanted to pop in and give a little update on what has me so busy and assure you that I have been working on some posts for the future. Next week I officially start grad school! It has been a long time coming, but I have been truly blessed to be able to take time and really invest in what I want out of a career. My degree will be in exercise physiology with a concentration in cancer rehabilitation. I am beginning to train clients on a weekly basis and it has been extremely rewarding. I want to continue to be involved in research and advance this field in order for clients to have insurance coverage. The treatment from cancer leaves people with many different forms of toxicities which exercise can help alleviate. For example, cardiotoxicity from chemotherapy weakens the heart muscle and pulmonary toxicity makes it difficult to transport oxygen from environment to cells. Exercise on the other hand strengthens the heart and increases cardiac output as well as strengthens the intercostal muscles to increase lung capacity and improve ventilation. These are just two examples of many in which exercise improves the awful side effects caused by the treatments from cancer. Exercise improves cancer related fatigue and improves psychological function as well. All of this comes from research at rehabilitation centers and I am excited to be involved! Coming from a background of athletics I thought that I wanted to train athletes and help them get to a high level of competition. After my spinal fusion surgery and seeing a family member go through treatment for cancer I realized that it is much more important to me to help people achieve a better quality of life. I want all people to be able to do the simple things in life like carry their own groceries and tie their shoes. I didn’t realize all of the things that I take for granted sometimes. I like to train at a high level and some people just want to be able to walk down the street. It is a very humbling environment to work in. The progress that I have seen from various clients over the summer makes my heart full of joy and I know that this is the career I want to pursue. I may not end up just in cancer rehabilitation, but anyone struggling with chronic conditions can benefit from exercise and I hope to be one to help them achieve their goals!