Each morning since this new life adventure I am on started, I have watched the sun rise. I typically find myself sitting sideways on the couch, two pillows propped behind my back against the arm, blanket over my legs and hot coffee held between cool fingers…sitting in awe of something that has occurred every day since the beginning of time. As the colors change from cool yellow to bright orange tucked into long strips of morning clouds and then into the day, I never cease to be amazed. Truly amazed.
For many years my commute involved the sunrise. Best case scenario it meant it would be a warm day but one I would experience from behind glass windows on the third floor. Worst case scenario it meant it was low in the sky as drivers tried to traverse their daily drive without crashing into another car or truck going 70 miles an hour while weaving in between those impeding their drive. While I’ve always loved the sun, those mornings with the visor low and my sun glasses on in 30 degree temperatures made me less then appreciative of its bright, life giving light. Even on the days when I thought it was beautiful that thought rarely had time to continue on to appreciation as thoughts of the upcoming day quickly took over, pulling my attention from the wonder that was there for my enjoyment.
I’ve found a few of those things since being home. I had forgotten the pleasure of a long hot shower without time restrictions and music up loud, the joy of working out at 2pm instead of 5am and the middle of the day phone call with someone I love just to say hello and catch up. Yes, all of these things can be done at other times of the day to help with efficiency and to accommodate work hours and I do understand that is how life needs to work for most of us most of the time, but these small changes to my blossoming routine are bringing a deep, heartfelt joy that I had not anticipated.
One of the joys that has been rekindled in the last 25 days is working out, and in whole new ways. We used to go to the gym, daily, at 4:30am. We’d spend an hour or so there, rush home to start the morning and head to work. When I say I used to, I mean 7 years ago I used to. Fitness was one of the things that got swallowed up in my pursuit of the corporate dream. I was too tired to get up early and to exhausted in the evenings to add it to my hectic day. I watched my fitness level and my weight slip, trying to get a work out in on the weekends or in 20 minutes somewhere here or there, always to be disappointed in the outcome or what I could no longer do. Knowing I was losing all the progress I had made years ago, losing 60 pounds and being more fit then I had ever been, only added to my stress and anxiety and confirmed the voice in my head that here was yet another area of my life I was failing at.
Part of my journey the past few years has been about my health. Or rather the decline of my health. And while I am not a physician and I’m not making recommendations by any means, I think my path is worth sharing in hopes it might help someone else see how stress can manifest itself physically. When I got my first entry level corporate management position I weighed about 135, worked out daily, had great eating habits and I was not on any medications. As I climbed the ladder, increasing my responsibilities, my salary, the stress and the hours I worked, those things began to take a hit. Small, little changes at first. One workout missed due to a 7am meeting. Two workouts missed for another meeting. Medication to help with ‘hormones’ because my stress level was increasing and my sleep was interrupted nightly by an overactive mind. Two years ago, after lots of tests and doctor visits I was diagnosed with an unspecified auto-immune disease and three more medications were added to the daily regime along with my cortisol being so low it was almost undetectable. Then six months ago, an ulcer with three more meds and anxiety with another med to counter its affects and help me sleep. By the end of every day I had taken 9-10 pills.
9-10 pills A DAY! I am 51 years old. At lunch with a physician friend of mine this week, she gasped when I told her …”that is what you expect from a 90 year old” …. I know. I knew. BIG sigh. It was one of the many flags that told me things had to change. More than a flag really….more like fireworks exploding overhead that something had to change with bombs and lights and thumping music. YOU’RE KILLING YOURSELF! We all know that, don’t we? That stress is bad for us. We’ve read article after article about de-stressing, meditating, being present. But I didn’t see a clear way out until I did.
With that knowledge, one of the things I committed to myself and my family when we made the decision for me to take this time off was that I would make my health a priority. I had visions of hitting the gym first thing in the morning again like I used to, lifting weights until I was too sore to sit for three days, doing hours of cardio weekly and pretty much returning to my 40 year old self, preferably within 60 days.. But what I have found has been a sweet, sweet path leading to something completely different.
While I’ve tried Yoga a few times in the past, my daughter, who is 41 weeks pregnant today and still practicing every day, has made Yoga part of her life for years and last year had the opportunity to go to Bali for a retreat. I have first hand seen the changes in her spirit and in her body and the benefits it has added to her pregnancy. So I started there. I asked if I could practice with her a couple mornings. I figured hey, she’s 8 months pregnant, I should be able to keep up with her, right? She graciously chose 30 minute practices, provided the mat and blocks and encouragement. And at the end of each time together, I found myself tearfully aware that I had just done something really good for my body and my soul. Our first practice together was on Christmas day and I am proud to say I’ve not missed a day since. I’m improving daily. I am surprisingly sore many mornings from the day before’s practice but I look forward to it like I’ve rarely anticipated exercise before. It’s been a wonderful addition to the healing of my body and heart.
And even as I contemplate writing this next sentence I am asking myself who I am, but,… I’ve started running. While I find myself wanting to say all the parts of it I’m not good at or talk about the distance, I am going instead to say I am proud of me. It was one of those things I had said I could never do. I was told in fourth grade that I was a ridiculous runner because I smiled too much. I have always believed I am not athletic. I was afraid of looking foolish, I thought I was too old, I have a bad hip, blah, blah blah….but I started by walking up to an hour a day then, a couple weeks ago I thought, fear is not going to keep me from trying this…and I ran. And damn, my body can do it! And it feels really good. I’ve successfully added it to my exercise routine and look forward to that feeling when you first step into stride.
While I am proud of these parts of my adventure so far, it’s not why I feel compelled to write today’s blog. The part I really want to share is that due to these changes in my fitness and leaving the environment that was not healthy for me, I am off all medications. All 10 of them. The symptoms of the auto-immune are completely gone. Any discomfort I am feeling is that of well used muscles after a workout. I quit the anxiety meds when I gave my notice and the ulcer has healed. I am not a doctor, and I’m not recommending anyone just stop taking prescribed medications, but for me, this is the best outcome to date. Its been just 7 weeks. That is an amazing and fast physical turn around. One I had not believed could happen so quickly, if ever. But our bodies rebel against anxiety and stress and when I didn’t listen for so long, it just kept getting sicker and sicker. We are meant to live healthy, happy lives.
Each morning while I sit and watch the sun rise, coffee in hand, I am acutely aware of what is missing in my life. For me, that is a fistful of meds, anxiety about my upcoming day and a belief that no matter how hard I keep trying, I am failing.
I feel great. I still cry most days so grateful for this gift of time and the blessings of family support, the ability to get healthy, the examples of how to do it and the encouragement to do so. I would trade it again for the paycheck and the title.
For now, I’ll enjoy the rest of this morning, quietly finishing a second cup, then retire to my space to enjoy getting healthy, my way, while I wait patiently for our next grandson.
Thanks for reading. I want to continue to share my journey in hopes that it encourages someone to reconsider what ‘arriving’ looks like for them and to remind myself again and again that my health, my life and my happiness are worth more than any amount of zero’s.
Until next time,