My heart has been quite heavy this week with the passing of some very iconic people. Society often forgets that mental illness physically changes a person’s brain chemistry. It is very much a physical illness but this aspect often gets left out of the picture. People still hold on to the belief that material wealth and success can make it all disappear somehow. Headlines of recent show us quite the opposite. Please remember that from the outside you can’t always tell what someone’s ill brain is poisoning them with. Try to embrace the concept that suicide is a symptom of mental illness and that these beautiful humans, and all the beautiful ones taken too early from this life, died from a mental illness, not simply because they killed themselves. Somewhere along the line their brain chemistry became hijacked and they weren’t able to get the help they needed. While it is important for crises numbers or text lines to be available – I will personally attest to the fact that in a moment of crises there was and still is a very slim chance I would ever reach out to a stranger. Others have benefited greatly from these resources which is why it is important to share, but we can do more. I have realized lately that I need to do more as an advocate. I need to make my story more available to others in hopes that it can reflect the fact that recovery is not only attainable, but sustainable. I need to work every day to keep it that way, which is why I need to be one of the people to stop and say here are my tools. Here is how I get through a tough situation or day. I believe honesty and transparency will create a community that allows for people to ask how they can get to a better place too. I know it is hard to ask for help when you are struggling. So I urge others to reach out to people to bridge that gap. Ask two or three people in your life today what they are grateful for. What their passions are. Go beyond the how are you bs and have real conversations. Talk about life and love and dreams and show people you care about them as a person, not just as a formality. There is a lot on my heart but for now I will leave you with a quote from Anthony Bourdain – “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simple across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”
It has been awhile since I have posted anything. Work has been incredibly busy. Life incredibly busy. So I thought I would take a minute to slow down and write a gratitude post. Five things I am grateful for in this moment:
A new hard drive in my personal computer which is allowing me to get back to the swing of more personal writing. Much love to my man for working on this for me!
A beautiful fall day with endless colors, making way for the first snowfall of the season tonight.
My person who took time out of her busy schedule to fly home to surprise me and share margaritas with me for my birthday.
A job I love and learn from daily. Every time I get to be in the OR observing clinical trial surgeries I feel like a little kid with so much excitement bursting forth.
Vanilla bean lattes. I can’t pass up coffee and I had one of the best lattes ever last weekend in Nashville. I am already planning to go back!
This time of year is difficult and after finding myself stressing and full of anxiety, just pausing for these few minutes to think about things I am grateful for has allowed my mind to slow. Now I can breathe and relax before starting another week. I hope if you are reading this you will take some time to clear your mind and think about five things you are grateful for too.
I have spent the past several months writing and editing my master’s thesis so any other form of creative writing or blogging completely fell by the wayside as plenty of you had noticed. It has been about eight months since I have touched or posted anything on this blog and I miss it! Writing, painting, and reading have been at the top of my list now that life is slowing down a bit. Here is a brief rundown of the past few months!
August – I stepped away from the blog for a bit because I needed to put all my writing energy into my thesis. (If anyone has an interest in that I will post my abstract and a little more about what I did the past two years). I wanted to see if the six-minute walk test was a valid test to predict peak oxygen consumption in cancer survivors compared to a treadmill test. Conclusion – the walk test is not valid in cancer survivors who have average or higher levels of functional capacity. I will present my findings this year at the annual American College of Sports Medicine Conference (ACSM). Last August I was continuing data collection and starting to draft out my thesis document. I was also gearing up for a very busy semester with courses like cardiac and muscle physiology.
September – School was immensely busy and I was there pretty much 24/7. I was still commuting an hour plus one way so it was often draining and coursework was demanding. I enjoyed classes though. I spent much of this month preparing for October though.
October/November – I finished data collection on my thesis and began to look at analyzing the data for my abstract. After several months of debating, I undertook another major foot surgery in October to correct my alignment. The technical term for those who care was a calcaneal osteotomy with a tendon transfer. It was not pretty and I was very unprepared for the actual recovery. I am solely to blame because I went in thinking it was just another surgery and I would be back in no time. I have been an ortho patient so many times in my life that I guess I took this one for granted. I have had a spinal fusion, yet this was the worst surgery recovery to date. Add in the fact that fall is not the best time of year for me mentally and it was a rough six-week period. Thankfully my family took amazing care of me and my dad even drove me around to school during this time! I was non-weight bearing for a couple months but I was sick of crutches and tried out a new fun walking “leg” which allowed me more freedom to shop or walk around. During this time I didn’t work on my thesis a ton, I was just focused on my classes. Looking back now, I am still not sure it was worth it to go through with the surgery, but I still have 2-3 more months before I am close to one hundred percent again so we will see. This was the first scenario though where I realized that I have truly recovered from the eating disorder and that if I can handle a few months like that then I can handle anything.
December – I started to feel better and was relieved that fall semester was out, although this is the time I geared up to write. It was almost a good thing that it was winter and I couldn’t walk so I could write a large portion of my draft. The holidays used to be a big problem for my eating disorder recovery, but they honestly keep getting better and better with every passing year.
January – New year and a new walking boot. It was a great relief to start walking and driving again. I am very independent and having that freedom taken away was just plain torture some days. I also began a new semester finishing up writing and an online statistics class. I visited family in Oklahoma and started to get a little panicked that I was graduating so soon.
February – While all of the things surrounding my surgery and school were going on I should also mention I had been on the job search. In February I officially accepted an offer as a full time professional research assistant in sports medicine. This month was full of excitement as I finished my draft and started to continue editing with my advisors. I was also able to find time to spend with my sister and it was unseasonably warm for February!
March- I officially started my job and absolutely have loved every aspect of it! I had my thesis defense and turned it into the graduate school for review….party!!! I had a quick business trip to San Diego and enjoyed some sun and relaxation away from thesis work.
Every day I wake up generally in awe of where I am in life today. No one who knows me is surprised in the least bit, but I still surprise myself. It was a challenging academic year and to see the light at the end is very sweet. I graduate in a month and I am definitely looking forward to some down time that doesn’t involve academics. I have a long list of things I want to do this spring and summer. Lots of hiking and camping especially! I tried to keep this a bit brief just for an update and want to post more frequently in depth on topics as they come up. I want to keep mindfulness and mental health priority topics on this blog. Even though I am recovered, I want to support anyone struggling and hopefully be a source of positivity that full recovery is possible and sustainable. Take care!
I apologize for not posting more frequently about the mindfulness series I started to discuss. I have had to take a step back due to a couple of injuries and the start of my second year in grad school. I haven’t felt very motivated to write and I realize that it is perfectly okay to take time for myself. Although I want to keep up with writing, I am not going to set deadlines or expectations for the blog. Thanks for your understanding and patience!
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.
No matter what sport or activity you are involved in, it seems that all goals are centered around numbers. Score, weight, miles, time, etc. My workouts and training are no different. In competitive jump rope most events are timed and the goal is to get as many speed steps or double unders in that set time frame. All I do in my head during an event and practice is count. Other people may count the miles they run or the number of goals in a practice (or baskets or yards or touchdowns)…you get the point. Statistics and numebrs are inescapable for athletes. This mindset has bled over into recreation as well. Miles on a treadmill, calories during a workout, laps in a pool. I remember my dazed and confused face when my psychologist asked me about how my exercise lined up with my values. Values? Besides being competitive and winning I was at a total loss. What did exercise mean to me without assigning quantitative values to it? I really thought it meant nothing. I mean without winning what was the point? And then on the off season when I was more entrenched in eating disorder behaviors, I also though the whole goal was the most calories burned, or miles ran, or minutes total. That one question threw me for a whole loop. I wasn’t let off easy either. This was one of those questions my psychologist let sit with me. And sit and sit. Can you answer this question off the top of your head? If not, I challenge you to sit with it for a while too. Because I want you to think about this on your own and have your own answers I am only going to give you one example from my own experience. One of my values in life is compassion. One of the reasons I exercise is because I am compassionate towards myself and want to take care of this body I have been given. I have compassion towards others and looking forward to my future I realize that exercise lines up with this value because I want to take care of myself so that I can have children one day and that I can live a long healthy life for my family. This made me think a lot about how some of the exercise I was engaging in was not at all lined up with this value. Running your body into the ground and punishing it for the things it didn’t do that day is not compassion. This whole question started resonating with me as I sorted out my values and realized there is a definite line between positive exercise and detrimental exercise.
To really get in touch with myself and my values, I had to explore exercise without the numbers. Explore what exercise really meant to my wellbeing. What does running actually feel like if I am not running towards a particular set mileage? What does it feel like to just lift weights without thinking about adding more or reaching a particular set for that day? What does it feel like to jump an event without counting or even knowing the end outcome? This took a lot of patience and effort on my part. It felt extremely out of place and uncomfortable for a while. In training it isn’t always practical to do this in a workout, but I would recommend trying this on your own. Go outside for a run without a tracker and try a new route where you don’t automatically know the mileage. How did it make you feel? What were you thinking about? Even just for a day, try to exercise without a goal centered around numbers. It is like intuitive eating is a way. Exercise because you genuinely want to and stop when you know your body needs a rest. This was the best way to get back in touch with my body. I couldn’t believe how out of touch I was until I started exercising to just exercise. Of course during training, it becomes about numbers again, but because of this practice I can always go back to my roots of why I do this. I make sure and take days where the numbers don’t run everything. You may be reading this and thinking to yourself I bet that works for some people but I could never do that. I thought the same thing. I have been involved with the crossfit community for a few years now and if I can foster this mindset in an environment that is all about the numbers, I have faith others can too. I was deeply entrenched in eating disorder behaviors and I have been free from exercise dependence now for over a year. I challenge you to take one day of your workout routine this week and let your focus be on how you are actually feeling. As exercise begins to shift in your life and it is lining up with your values, you can then start to use numbers as a positive experience and not feel controlled by them. If you have more specific questions about this or my particular experience and workouts, please feel free to leave a comment and also please let me know how this exercise without numbers goes for you!
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.