As you can probably tell by my first few posts, I’ve never really been the athletic type. In high school I spent most of my free time either reading or playing on the computer. Gym class had always been a nightmare.
I tried to get more into fitness in college, since the price of the membership to my university’s gym was built into my tuition anyway. I actually did pretty well for a while. At least three days a week I’d hit the treadmill and the weights, until I was actually able to jog a mile straight. That was huge for me, and it was something I was really proud of.
Unfortunately life decided to throw me another curve ball, and that year I had my first episode of tachycardia mixed with atrial flutter.
For anyone who doesn’t know, tachycardia is when your heart beats WAY too fast for your current activity level. Atrial flutter is when your atria (upper heart chambers) beat too fast and as a result are out of sync with your ventricles (the lower chambers of your heart).
After that first incident my exercise levels fell to zero. I was terrified of triggering it again, so I avoided exercise, coffee, and anything else that might stress out my heart too much.
Flash forward to last year. I graduated from college in May, with only one offer from a graduate school that offered almost zero financial help. I couldn’t afford it. My fiance got accepted to a pH.D program about 70 miles north of where I live, but I wasn’t able to find a decent job anywhere in his town. I accepted an okay paying job in a city just south of me, knowing that I’d be seeing my fiance pretty rarely until I could find a job in his area.
I was really torn. On the one hand, it’s incredibly hard for me to go more than a few days without seeing my fiance. But on the other hand, I wasn’t going to be satisfied being a Starbucks barista if I could have a position that got me some exposure to my field, no matter how marginal that exposure was.
I’m sure a lot of you have been through the same thing. Priorities need to be chosen, and decisions need to be made.
I was really hard on myself for quite a while after that. I started thinking my degree had been a complete waste. I started telling myself I wasn’t good enough. In my mind, my very best try had gotten me nowhere – so why keep trying? All my hard work had gotten me a desk job that anyone with a high school degree could do. I was focusing on the negative, turning everything into black and white scenarios that were unwinnable no matter what I did. I was also feeling WAY too sorry for myself.
I got depressed, and started eating way too much. All I did after work was make dinner, watch TV and go to bed early.
In November, I went to a transplant follow up visit where my nurse gently pointed out that I’d gained quite a bit of weight since my last check up. He asked me how I’d been doing lately, and I just broke down. I told him about how I was feeling, and why I was gaining weight. Life wasn’t going the way I wanted, and so I was giving up.
Well, isn’t that silly? When does life go exactly the way any of us wish it would? And how many times had I been through much worse than this and come out the other side?
My nurse and my doctor gave me the advice I knew they would. Exercise more, eat better, get out more. And reach out more. They were incredibly kind and supportive, and I felt like they actually cared.
It’s funny though. I went home that day not actually planning to do those things. I knew I should, I knew I probably could. As an aspiring psychologist, I am very aware of all the research that supports these things for treating depression. But it didn’t quite click for me.
Until I tried to show my roommate my wedding dress.
And it didn’t zip up. And the buttons couldn’t close. And no matter how much I sucked it in, the dress just wouldn’t fit.
It was the worst feeling, realizing exactly what I’d done to my body. So the next day I dusted off the fold-up stationary bike my mom had bought me the Christmas before, and slowly (very slowly) I got my ass moving.
It was really hard at first, because mentally I just DID NOT want to do it. I appealed to my own sense of pride to get myself going. (Come on, where’s that girl that worked her ass off in college to run that mile?) There was also a bit of fear in there, that if I didn’t turn things around I’d just keep backsliding, mentally and physically. I’ve been there before, and it’s a place I never want to visit again. It’s a place where nothing and nobody matters, not even the ones you love most.
I had to stop focusing on how much I hated exercise and start focusing on why I needed to do it anyway. I needed a reason to be proud of myself again. I needed the endorphins released by exercise, so that just for an hour a day I could feel like life was worth pursuing.
Once I got over that initial mental hurdle and started exercising routinely, I began to lose the weight. My clothes fit better, and every day I went to sleep thinking about that little accomplishment of biking for 30 whole minutes. I started wanting bigger and better accomplishments, and that’s how I got started running. All my life I believed I couldn’t do it, and some stubborn part of me was like, “Screw that! I can do anything I want to do!”
So here we are. I’m starting small because I have to, but one day soon I’m going to be running a mile straight, then two miles straight. I’ve got something to look forward to, and something to be proud of again. For anyone who needs the sort of life change I did, I recommend starting anywhere. Once you see the positive results you’ll be hooked. Your mind and body will change faster than you thought possible. You’ll start a new positive chapter in your life, and you’ll never want to look back.