What you think you become

This post is not to garner sympathy or admiration. It was inspired by a post of Curt Ehlinger’s a few days ago on World Suicide Prevention Day. It is merely my way of sharing how depression and anxiety can exist in someone who most people think has it all together all the time. My hope is that it provides someone some hope and a believe that they can change their lives. It’s a long read but I hope someone finds it worth it.

The Winter Challenge of 2015 at Farrell’s was a magical time for me. Sometime in the fall of 2014 someone told me publicly in a Facebook post that “I was awesome and amazing.” That statement was a catalyst that ignited a fire in me. That statement had given me enough courage to try and be a coach and the Winter Challenge was my first. In a way, that ten week challenge was a crucible for a change that has been more powerful than my physical transformation. It was an emotional and joyous time but it was also a time of tears, grief, and depression. I had told myself that my second year in Farrell’s was going to be a time of emotional transformation. With any transformation, change is accompanied by pain with very few exceptions. This time was no exception

My transformation had actually started with me taking charge of my health and joining Farrell’s the prior year. My ten week challenge was actually in the Winter of 2014. My daughter had done Farrell’s for a couple of years and convinced me to try it. I was skeptical going in. I already had a list of excuses before the first day.

The intensity is too high.
I won’t be able to handle it.
My asthma will act up.
I’m not good enough.
I will be burning muscle more than fat because the intensity is too high.
I won’t be able to do it.
I’m not good enough.
I’m not strong enough.
I’m just getting over pneumonia.
I’ll quit.
I’m not good enough.

Somehow I survived that first ten week challenge and was so excited about the physical transformation I had experienced in just ten weeks that I signed up for the one year challenge. Part of my reason for doing so was I knew my own shortcomings. I knew I personally needed that additional accountability. I knew I needed to continue to set short term and long term goals to succeed. I had lost weight before and never kept it off. In fact, I had continually put on more weight than when I had started. I knew I wasn’t strong willed enough to do it without additional help. So the one year challenge seemed the best way to hold me accountable and keep me on track.

I continued to show progress each quarter throughout the rest of 2014. While I continued to work hard and continued to get results, I was all about the workout. For me it was all about the calorie burn and working hard to be able to get through kickboxing classes and not quitting on any part of it. My Facebook posts were always about the workout and how many calories I burned. Honestly, I seldom made it through class without quitting at some point and taking a breather. There would always be a plank I couldn’t hold or a pyramid that would be too tough. When the class did 10 burpees, I would be lucky to struggle through 5 or 6. I kept trying though. I kept pushing. That nagging voice telling me I wasn’t good enough always reared its ugly head. While I tried to embrace “Progress not Perfection” my inner demons were not easily slain.

The Fall Quarter had been lackluster at best for me. With the holidays and all the food that goes with it, I struggled to lose more weight. It had been my worst quarter of any. I needed something to energize me to finish off my one year challenge. After the physical success and hearing that I was awesome I also started hearing people say they were inspired by what I had done. Slowly those feelings that I wasn’t good enough were at least pushed back enough that I agreed to become a coach for the next Winter Challenge. While I thought the physical transformation had been hard and challenging, the change I would experience in that first ten week challenge as a coach was something I could never have foreseen. It truly was a crucible of change.

I was very nervous. Meeting new people in a non-work setting is absolutely the worst thing I could imagine doing. I had never really thought about it closely, but I have social anxiety issues. Meeting 10 new challengers who were depending on me to help them achieve their goals was frightening. I would often glance at my fellow 6:30 coach and be amazed at how calm and collected she was. I know at times while I was doing measurements for the challengers I was shaking. I was thinking to myself, these people are counting on me to help them and I just know they’re going to see right through me and realize what a fake I am. Things changed though when a new 10 week challenger told me “I think you’re going to like me!” When I heard those words and saw the smile on the face of that challenger, a lot of that nervousness melted away.

I was as conscientious of a coach as I had been a student and I did my best to help out the new ten week challengers. They had each given me sheets that told me a little about them and what their goals were. Some seemed less serious, “I want to look good in a bikini/my clothes”, while others were serious, “I want to have a baby and I need to lose weight to do that.” I learned that for each one of the challengers, no matter what I thought of the goal that they shared, that goal was important to them and was a window into their own anxiety.I tried my best to use some of those goals as a way to motivate them. I seriously tried to help, to coach, to make them feel at ease. I shared some of my own experiences hoping that would help. I posted more on Facebook praising their efforts. I can honestly say though that I still had that nagging voice in my head telling me –

You’re not good enough.
You’re not a good person.
You’re a lousy coach.

The challenge though did energize me and get me back on track to meeting some of my one year goals. As I saw the success that the challengers had, I was inspired. When I was sharing a bag with a challenger, I felt compelled to work as hard as they did or harder, not in a competitive way, but more motivated by the fact that I was a coach. I should be motivating them and pushing them to work harder. How will it look if I drop that plank, don’t do the same number of burpees that everyone else did, or just plain quit during part of a workout. I let that fuel my drive during the workouts.

Even though things were going well in the middle of February I started feeling some raw emotions of sadness. I didn’t know where they were coming from at first and the demon of doubt and self-deprecation reared its ugly head to take advantage of me. My internal demons were prodding me with taunts.

Why are you so sad when you have so many good things happening in your life?
You’re pitiful and worthless!
You can’t even be happy when things are going well.
You’re not good enough!

I realized later that I was suffering from grief. A grief that maybe I should have dealt with 12 years earlier. In February of 2003, my god-daughter and her brother had been killed in February of 2003 by their father, my best friend. He had also tried to kill their mother, also my friend, that same night. Luckily he did not succeed and my friend survived. In one day, I lost my god-daughter and her brother, I lost a friend, the mother, who while she didn’t die was forever changed, and I lost a best friend to prison. I hadn’t really processed all of that loss at the time. I cried and grieved some but more over the loss of my god-daughter and her brother. I was a much more cynical, solitary, and bitter person at that time and I didn’t have the time nor inclination to process that grief like I should have. Until 2014, I was a solitary hermit with my only social interactions being those at work.

In February of 2015 though, their mom had posted pictures of her lost children on Facebook. I had added them to my Instagram feed as I didn’t really have any pictures of them. The anniversary of their loss and my thinking about it seemed to just amplify the grief. I think I had been in the first stage of Engel’s six stages of grief for 12 years. That is the stage of shock or disbelief followed by a stunned or numb response. I honestly believe that I had been numb to the loss and to life for 12 years.

I questioned my sanity at this time. I wasn’t comfortable enough with anyone yet to really talk about it at this point. I did my best to appear to be the positive, helpful coach and student. I tried to help and to inspire. Honestly it was hard. Getting out of bed each morning and going to work was a challenge. I had to take deep breaths in the car before I could work up the courage to go into Farrell’s each night at 6:30. If I hadn’t been a coach and had 10 challengers expecting me, I honestly am not sure I would have gone in. I seriously wanted to quit at that point.

However, in the only way I knew how to process this grief, I came up with an idea that I thought would make me feel awesome and push all that grief aside. What better way to get over those feelings then to do something inspiring. I got the idea during this time to do 8 kickboxing classes in one day on a Fun Friday in the eighth week of the ten week challenge. I also thought what a great way to raise money. So I put my efforts into this new challenge. I created a Facebook event. I promoted the idea. I got pledges. Then on March 6th, I did those eight kickboxing classes and raised over $2000 dollars.

Just to be clear I still had a lot of that doubt and insecurity nagging at me. I thought I would be lucky to raise $1000 dollars. I wasn’t sure I was physically capable of doing eight classes. I was worried I might collapse and not be able to continue because I wasn’t physically able to do so.

Somehow I managed to survive. My team that I was coaching was awesome and inspired. They decorated. They made me a poster to encourage me. Some people participated in multiple classes with me. I felt at the end of that day that perhaps for once in my life I had made a positive difference in the world no matter how small. I was on top of the world.

For 2 days!

By the second day, maybe sooner, I was depressed again. The challenge had simply stuffed that grief down for a brief period of time and now it came roaring back with even more power. If I could personify it, it came back like a mad, petulant child who wanted more attention. It lay down on the floor and kicked and screamed and cried. I shed plenty of tears after that.

It was at this point that I actually was courageous enough to talk to someone about it. I talked to the mother about how I was feeling. I talked to a sister of my friend who had committed these murders. I talked to a friend who believed I was awesome. Those were scary conversations. They were nerve wracking, anxiety laced conversations. They were also enlightening.

I learned how grief can crop up at birthdays, anniversaries, and even the anniversaries of deaths. I learned that no matter how much someone seems to have moved beyond the grief of those days they still grieve, often silently and especially on those anniversary days. I learned that the family of a person who is in prison grieves just as deeply as those who lost their children. I learned that they grieve for the loss of their son, their brother and that that grief is just as real and deep as anyone’s. I learned that it is okay to reach out to a friend when you are sad and grieving and they won’t think ill of you or think that you’re less awesome because of your sadness and grief. In fact they might have other insights and ways to re-frame your experience and your grief. If nothing else, they can give you an encouraging word and tell you that it is okay to be sad.

There were only 2 weeks left in my one year challenge as I dealt with this grief and I did my best to not show it publicly. I saved my tears for late at night often in the darkness of my bedroom as I drifted off to sleep. It was a weird experience for me as I could have had the best day, the most awesome Farrell’s workout, and/or the most incredible run but suddenly, when left with just my own thoughts and the silence of the dark, I would feel the sadness well up in my chest and throat to the point that I nearly choked. Only by crying could I find relief and even then I still felt guilt, shame, and the sadness. That nagging voice kept saying, “Why are you so sad when you have so many positive things going for you?

I finished my one year challenge and many months have passed. My emotional transformation has been even harder and more painful than my physical challenge. I have felt joy and experienced new friendships during that time but that magical time of the winter challenge helped forge the resolve that I needed to continue. I know that just like my previous attempts to change physically, it is too easy to be happy with a certain level of progress and then quit. It is too easy to be content and stop growing. It is too easy to let the voice of insecurity, the demons of my past to control my present and my future. So I continue to try and to change and to grow.

I’ve experienced tears and sadness since March. I have learned to not fight the emotions, even the negative ones. When I feel them coming on, I don’t suppress them. I feel them fully and let them wash over me. Sometimes they’re like a flood. Sometimes they’re just like an irritating leaky faucet. I can’t get through Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer” without shedding a tear. Within the last month, just before my birthday, I parked up the street from Farrell’s before a kickboxing class because I was in tears. I felt the feeling of sadness wash over me but it seemed to be a very deep well that day. I was considering driving home because I didn’t know if it would stop but I calmed down enough to dam up the tears. I made it through that kickboxing class like I had so many others with no one the wiser.

I’ve also been working hard to defeat my demons of insecurity, doubt, delay, and division. While I still feel the negative self-talk, that nagging voice that used to scream, “you’re not good enough!” I have at least quieted it. It doesn’t have the same volume. I still need to work on Faith. I still need to work on Action. I’m embracing Love. For now though, I’m happy with my progress. I remember daily, “Progress not Perfection!” I believe I’m good enough to achieve my dreams, to live my life with abandon, to be a positive force and inspiration for others, to run free, to connect with people in a positive way. I don’t know how deep my well of sadness is as there are other triggers for it besides the loss of my god-daughter but I’m attempting to drain it as low as I can. In the meantime, as I’m emptying one well, I’m attempting to fill a new well of joy and abundance with positive experiences, beautiful connections, and feelings of confidence. The journey is not over and when looking at things realistically, it never is, but I believe I have a compass that will guide me to a happier, more free life and the courage and resolve to follow that guide.

The pain of this transformation has been pretty intense. The well of sadness was a pretty deep reservoir. The tears have been worth it though. Each time it is like a baptism and each time brings a relief from some pain or worry that has plagued me in some instances since I was 5 years old. That nagging voice has been reduced to a whisper (most of the time!) The people that thought I was awesome and amazing still think I am. The ten week challenger that thought I was going to like her was right. I do and she likes me. I can envision a new life for myself. I envision a life with positive friendships. I envision happiness. More importantly, I’m taking action to realize that new life and that happiness.

I hope this message gives you some hope if you suffer from anxiety and/or depression. I hope this message inspires you to be there for a friend or family member who may also be suffering silently. I hope you all find joy and abundance.

P.S. My Facebook profile picture has a quote attributed to Buddha which is also linked to this post. It is also shown below along with how I’m trying to live it.

What you think you become. I think my life can be as awesome and amazing as some people believe I already am. I think I can be loving, courageous, strong, and better than good enough.

What you feel you attract. I feel love for myself and others. I feel pride and accomplishment. I feel commitment to my life and my ideals and to others. I feel a strong urge to help encourage others.

What you imagine you create. I imagine a life filled with joy and abundance and a life filled with purpose where I live, I love, and I matter.