It wasn’t until last year that I realized I had been taking my health for granted. The fact that I didn’t eat fast food everyday made me think I was doing pretty well, which I know is a pretty low bar. I felt like I was healthy enough. I ate vegetables when I was in the mood, which was about 3x a week and usually as a side dish at dinner. Like a lot of people, I have been working exclusively from my house since March 2020. Over the last year, I made a point to walk my energetic dog everyday if for no other reason than to get out of the house and enjoy a change in scenery. I didn’t strength train or do any other kind of exercise. I drank water – I don’t know how much – but enough to not feel dehydrated. I felt okay.
With the lines blurred between home and work, I also started staying up late, way past what I normally considered “bedtime”. As a working mom of a young child and a wife, nighttime felt like the only time in the day that I had to myself. It was the only time of day where I didn’t have to be someone’s mom or someone’s partner or someone’s employee or some fuzzy creature’s constant companion. With expectations completely off come nightfall, I binged on Netflix. I ate chips and scarfed down multiple bowls of cereal. I usually drank too much wine. I mindlessly scrolled on my phone. Most nights, I’d fall asleep on the couch and wake up around midnight to drag myself to bed and try to get enough sleep to wake up and do it all over again the next day.
My little one didn’t get the memo that I was staying up late and needed a little extra shuteye in the morning. Which is to say, all my days began by being awakened sometime in the 5:00 hour after about as many hours of sleep. I was grumpy and exhausted. I snapped at my family more times than I care to admit. I felt overwhelmed and overworked. I gained weight and picked up some new, unproductive habits: procrastinating, skipping meals then binging on snack foods and saying ‘yes’ to everything so I could feel like I was doing something for someone, even if it wasn’t for me.
Unsurprisingly, I started to feel wildly resentful. Of my kid. Of my job. Of my spouse. Of my dog. Of my house that was always a mess and my to-do list that never ended. Why did everyone need something from me? I had no energy left for myself and was thoroughly and utterly depleted. I went through most of 2020 feeling as if I was running on empty. I wish I could say I picked up these habits to cope with the uncertainty of 2020, but that’s not entirely true. My self-sabotaging habits have been lurking for a while, I just ratcheted things up a notch in the face of the pandemic. I had been giving all of myself to everyone but myself for the last few years.
I met Cate a few years ago through a mutual friend and have trained with her, and received nutrition guidance from her, off-and-on ever since. My goal had always been to lose weight and get healthy, but my issue was consistency. If I’m being honest, my only motivation to eat better or exercise was vanity – to lose weight and to fit into certain clothes – which wasn’t sustainable or meaningful enough for me to stick with any healthy habit. I didn’t make any progress on losing the weight or cleaning up my diet. In fact, I think I gained more weight in the years I’ve known Cate which says far more about me and my lifestyle than it does about anything else. Yet, she stayed with me – encouraging texts, offering to train with me anytime/any day/anywhere, listening to me vent, sending recipes my way and offering support whenever I needed it. She never made me feel bad about myself or my slip-ups (of which, there were many). And so I kept coming back to her in the moments when I felt motivated and would stick with it for a few weeks and then go back to my old, familiar, self-sabotaging habits.
At the end of 2020, I went in for my annual physical. I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my adult life so the steady unease I felt for most of last year was nothing new. I had to take a mental health assessment at the beginning of my appointment and, unsurprisingly, my anxiety was off the charts. I was so numb to feeling out-of-sorts that I didn’t even recognize it in myself or think to ask for help. We talked about stress management and put together a plan to help me get back to some sense of equanimity. I felt relieved to be able to point to a culprit and to have an action plan to feel better.
And then came the cuff. My blood pressure was extremely high and had been steadily climbing for a few years. My family has a history of heart disease so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but it did. We talked about making improvements to my diet and enhancing my fitness routine to get my numbers down into the healthy range. By this point in my appointment, I felt deflated but understood that I needed to clean up my eating. Bacon for breakfast does not a healthy heart make.
After my appointment, my doctor also sent me in for blood work. The results were disheartening. That day, I learned that not only was I anxious with alarmingly high blood pressure, but my glucose levels were in the prediabetic range. I was shocked.
A few weeks earlier, I thought I was a regular, average, somewhat healthy 30-something. And then, all of a sudden, I wasn’t. I knew I needed to make radical changes to my life if I wanted to be truly healthy and feel my best. I texted Cate that afternoon to tell her and ask for help. True to her nature, she was kind, compassionate and supportive. She told me that prediabetes is more common than we realize and it could be managed if I put in the work to change my habits.
I was ready. I was finally motivated to improve my health, this time not for vanity. That day, I stopped taking my health for granted and started prioritizing taking care of myself. As Cate says, “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and I’d been carrying an empty cup for the last few years without realizing it was bone dry. I was already practicing meditation and taking my dog for daily walks, but I added new habits into my life, too. I made a point to incorporate more vegetables into my meals – at least 3 servings of vegetables everyday (ideally something with every meal). I upped my water intake. I practiced yoga before bed to lower my stress levels and try to improve my sleep. At the start of this year, I joined Cate’s juice challenge and, later, the 30 Day Challenge with no booze, gluten or sugar. I started jogging a few days a week and started taking short walks throughout my day to get away from my laptop and move my body more than once every four hours. I incorporated YouTube workout videos and sessions with Cate into my week. These days, I read before bed instead of numbing out to Netflix and Instagram.
I’m only a few months into taking better care of myself, but I finally understand that it is a practice to revisit everyday, not a goal that needs to be achieved. And the by-product of my new practice? I’m gradually lowering my blood pressure numbers; I still have a few digits to go to be in the “healthy” range but I’m moving in the right direction. I’m more patient with challenges that arise and more centered when dealing with difficult personalities and life’s stressors. I’m more present, especially with my family. I still fall down the rabbit hole of what-could-go-wrong scenarios from time to time, but they are fewer and farther between. I finally feel comfortable in my own skin, in how I feel.
I never thought I’d say this, but I look forward to my morning workouts with Cate now and I am not a morning person; we’ve made them 30min which feels do-able on busy mornings when I also have to wrangle my 5 y/o to get ready for preschool and start working before 9am (and my husband is out of the house before we even wake up). I’m eating more balanced meals so I find myself less snack-y during the day. I still meditate every morning because I like the quiet time and the soothing voices on the Insight Timer app. I practice yoga as often as I can and have begun to really look forward to making this time for myself at night (instead of Netflix or snacks or wine or the mindless Instagram scroll). And, most importantly, I finally understand that health isn’t just my physical body, it’s also my mind and spirit so I make a point to nurture all parts of myself as often as I can. Like everything and everyone, I’m a work in progress but I’m feeling more optimistic about my journey these days.