Friday, February 16, 2018

Birthdays and the power of connection

Yesterday, I went for a run. Twice. Despite the myriad to-do's pressing on my list, I could not quiet my mind enough to accomplish email responses much less progress on my growing list. I couldn't stop thinking about the most recent shooting and the shooter himself. You see, since I have become a mother, I see all people as once someone's baby, someone's ten months of pregnancy and someone's joy (or sorrow) when that person's birthday arrived. Everyone came from someone, at some point, and from there a life story is being shaped.

It cripples my emotions to think about someone not wanting their baby. I'm not talking about the complex feelings of prenatal and postpartum depression, I'm talking people who voluntarily hand their babies over to strangers or have them removed due to the circumstances into which the child is being born. That baby becomes an older baby, then a toddler, then a child, I mean we all understand that progression, right? So my question is this- when did we, as a country, stop caring about the meaning of the lives of others?

Do you know what it's like to not be wanted? It is a pain that I cannot adequately express on paper. Even with years of counseling, it cannot be completely undone. Painful memories are erased with happy ones as a blanket sweep of wishing time away. To have a parent not want you is a pain that is very meticulously balanced or undone, relatively, by coping mechanisms both healthy and otherwise.

Yesterday, as I was mourning the many lives lost in recent shootings, I also thought just as much about the shooters. How much pain, how much disregard for their lives and wellbeing, caused them to do such harm to others? What have they endured that exacerbated existing cognitive impairments or blunted normal human emotions and connections to the point that it's okay to end the lives of six-year-olds and high-schoolers just a few months from graduation? It makes my heart ache just as much to think about the pain these people must have endured to bring them to this point in their minds to justify inflicting such pain on others as they have likely experienced in other more systemic ways.

Recently, I submitted a grant proposal with a team of my friends (who are also healthcare professionals) to help improve social connections of older adults who identify as being lonely or isolated, and having read the data and the outcomes for this demographic, it is clear connections to people can literally extend your lifespan. It brings joy to your morning and purpose to your day. The accountability of meeting someone or expecting someone because you are important to that person or those people brings both emotional benefit as well as physical, cognitive, and so on. Older adults are particularly vulnerable as their older family members have passed away and younger family members have their own families to which they must attend, so naturally there are gaps in connected care which various programs hope to remedy in a variety of creative ways. While the relationships may be "manufactured" by programs and services, ultimately the human connection developed is a genuine one that evidence suggests improves quality of life and, for older adults, extends their healthy living years.

However, in order to celebrate an 70th birthday, you must celebrate the ones preceding it. For those babies, those toddlers, those children who grow up without someone to celebrate with, or they "celebrate" birthdays with parents who are addicted, distracted, or disconnected, what is that like to age without a support system there to celebrate those milestones? I happened upon an Instagram account of a teenager who is friends with one of my adoptive brothers, and I don't know his story, but one of the recent posts said "I'm digging a grave for all of those who doubted me." Where does an 18-year-old learn to think this way? How does it come to this point? Again, it saddens me to think that one day, my own son would ever think that he was doubted, not loved, discarded. I would conjecture that some, perhaps all, of the people pulling the trigger of these mass casualties have experienced similar thoughts.

Today I am still struggling with quieting my mind, to want to save the world and tell all of the babies, the toddlers, the children, that you ARE loved by someone. Sometimes, unfortunately, the biological parents are not the ones to convey that message, but if there is at least one person in that child's life who can provide a glimmer of hope that love is possible in many forms, if we could really connect with people instead of virtually associating with them, maybe these children would feel a more positive sense of purpose. I'm not so naive as to believe this would solve this pervasive public safety problem, but perhaps these children wouldn't spend their days contriving diabolical schemes of mass casualty and instead do something of meaning for someone else. If not for a parent, for a friend, for a teacher, for a volunteer community member, for a sibling, for a pastor, for a mentor.

To not celebrate a birthday with biological parents in genuine happiness is something I would not wish on anyone, ever. It is a pain that doesn't go away with years of therapy and even the strongest of advocates in your corner telling you how loved you are and how wonderful life is with you in it. It's a tough pill to swallow when a biological parent tells you that you weren't wanted. You can never unhear those words in whatever form they take- if you were adopted and figured it out yourself, or if you were birthed and told at point blank range that this was his truth. I can verify this with certainty as my own father told me this when I was four years old and I will never forget it. I never did forget it. Even as a Christian, I never forgave him for it. I was in and out of therapy since my parents divorced when I was two and eventually severed ties with him when I turned 18. When he died several years ago, I didn't say goodbye. He etched scars on my mind and in my heart that will likely never heal, but I have never wanted to harm anyone else because of it. Harm myself? Absolutely. Harm others? Never. Why? Thankfully, the other half of my gene pool is the most loving and supportive network of people you could ever ask for, and it pained me to do anything that brought disappointment to them. Eventually the thoughts of self-harm subsided but only with many years of building friendships that strengthened my resolve and self-confidence that I did have a future worth living and I could bring joy to others. Therapy helped me learn to not feel sorry for myself; my family and friends helped me learn that love comes in many forms.

So, this is another effort to quiet my mind before I go for yet another run, one of my forms of healthy coping with "all of my stuff". I am one of the lucky ones, to learn ways of dealing with the stuff that comes from this type of trauma. I have found ways of loving myself through self-reliance and loving myself through connection with others, and this can only happen with the developmental scaffolding early in life that provides such enlightenment. The darkness and pain that comes from disconnection and hurt, it is so deep you guys. It can take hold of your mind and your heart and never let go. Can we all please do our part to make real, meaningful connections with people? I hope you know that if you're reading this, you are loved. Your birthdays are important, your life is important, and you have meaning. If you haven't found something that brings you joy, I promise if you bring joy to someone else, it will come to you at least in the short-term. This is not a panacea, but maybe if we remembered everyone has a birthday, we could remember everyone is worth celebrating and every life can have positive meaning if the collective "we" shape it that way. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mother's minutes and the irony of Mother's Day

Me right now- enjoying a baby not screaming
Yesterday was Mother's Day, but more importantly for me, it was an affirmation that taking time EVERY day for myself not aligned with the pomp and circumstance of a day with "holiday" distinction is mission-critical.  This is because this weekend was largely not a celebration at all, but rather a reality check that children, particularly babies, give zero fucks if it's your birthday, Mother's Day, etc. Case in point- our daughter has been down and out with the most intense and clearly painful bout of diaper rash we have ever encountered, and having been battling it since Friday afternoon, we are exhausted and exasperated for relief for her. We are slowly making headway, but it has not been easy, relaxing, or fun. In fact, I'm quite certain I cried more yesterday than I have the past few months combined. 
The irony of Mother's Day is that on a day meant to celebrate all things maternal, I would argue it is somewhat counterproductive to put all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to hoping for one day "off" from Mom-duty. That's the thing- this does not exist. Once you become a parent, you are a parent for eternity. Sure, some people chose to not fill that role, or only fill it with partial presence, but it is a title that doesn't accrue PTO, afford you certain luxuries at certain times, or guarantee happiness of return-on-investment (at least in the short-term).  This weekend, and yesterday in particular, was a reminder that taking time every day to do something important to me is the Mother's Day gift that yields such returns. When you throw all those hopeful eggs in the singular Mother's Day basket, you may get what you were hoping for, or you may get scrambled eggs and lots of tears. 
TJ (age 3) and his "MiMi" - my mom :)
We had some fun moments this weekend including spending time with my mom and a girls' night dinner at a nice restaurant in real adult clothes complete with hair and makeup on (read: my current version of prom). Regarding the latter, though, we had planned this outing several weeks in advance, including taking an Uber home because we were going to PAINT THE TOWN RED baby! Well, I think most women would tell you that mom-guilt is the most powerful motivator on the planet, and I had a severe case of it Saturday evening because I was leaving my miserable, screaming baby with my mom (and it was her Mother's Day too, so no fun for her to have to deal either!). I was tempted to not go at all. The happy medium was to go enjoy dinner and come home early, sober and ready to scrub back in and help with the baby. We had a great time and I got home at a decent hour, so all wasn't completely lost. 
Mom-tribe love 
Aside from the wonderful dinner, tasty wine, and great company, I enjoyed reflecting on motherhood with these women who share similar viewpoints on life in general. We talked about how motherhood has changed us (for better or worse) and compared experiences and thoughts, and while we varied on how we may have changed, I greatly value knowing other women who share my passion for making contributions in a professional setting as well as inside the home with our families and friends. Many of us expressed some guilt and self-doubt about working outside the home or preparing for and celebrating professionals achievements while balancing parenting and marriage. The beauty of evenings like this is the reminder that you aren't alone and others share these feelings. It's amazing how therapeutic it is to hear someone say aloud something you have thought in your head and somehow convinced yourself it is unique to your experience as a (insert role here). That's what I share with these women (and others not pictured whom I greatly appreciate), and it is so important that we not be afraid to divulge our experiences because it is likely you are experiencing similar challenges and may find strength in the revelation you are living in parallel. 

In honor of the official "holiday" of Mothers' Day, I encourage you to use yesterday's distinction as a reminder to take time for yourself every day to do something you value. Do something because you WANT to, and not because you should or have to, that list is likely very long and overwhelming too. Maybe you had a fabulous Mother's Day and would love to relive it time and time again, but I would surmise at some point you may encounter a less-than-stellar Mother's Day (or birthday, or Christmas Day, whatever), and immediately be pining for next year's ::insert holiday here:: because this year was so miserable. Or maybe the holiday distinction carries negative associations for you and you go out of your way to NOT celebrate ::insert holiday::. In any case, the greatest lesson I have learned thus far from juggling the various hats I wear is that small, consistent, daily time for myself is WAY more meaningful that a few isolated shots. These daily doses of "me" time keep me the most sane, and now with raising two young children, there is no time where I shouldn't be doing something. There is ALWAYS something to be done. The issue is- if you are doing all the things, you cannot continue to do all the things well if you aren't doing things for yourself, too. If you need permission to do something for yourself, here it is- you need "you" time, period. Holiday or otherwise, mothers need a moment to reset and invest in the one doing all the things. We will all be a hot mess, covered in diaper cream and eating your toddler's leftover cereal from yesterday because yes that bowl is still sitting on the table, but the proverbial hot mess will always be there. You will not. Your expiration date may creep in closer if you allow it, so take that time for yourself every day. Your "mother's minutes" every day will pay you a return on the investment that a Mother's Day outing never may. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Self preservation

This Saturday, folks all across southwest Virginia will gather in support, memory, and/or recognition of the fight against heart disease, stroke, congenital heart defects, and life-saving researc funded by the American Heart Association. Those of you who have known me for a long time know my story, and the abbreviated version is posted on my personal fundraising page for the heart walk here: I welcome you to donate $5 or more if you feel so inclined. Every year I try to attend the local walk and volunteer in whatever capacity they need me, and last year I missed the walk because I was QUALIFYING FOR THE BOSTON MARATHON :):):):):) Fast forward to one year later, I am now a qualifier and officially registered for the race, we have a beautiful and healthy baby girl, and life is busy but oh so full of joy. I am honored to have been asked to serve as the "featured survivor" for the regional Heart Walk this year, and in prep for a very short speech I will give at the beginning of the walk, I wanted to type it out here because it's a message I repeat to myself on a daily basis right now. So, let me know what you think. I only get a few minutes to talk (I actually love public speaking now that I've done it enough to feel comfortable with it), so I want to keep my message short, sweet, and memorable. 


Having fun with Rory (2 months) in the Kroger parking lot :)
Family selfie
We all experience some form of stress in our daily personal and professional lives. Some stress is good, like giving birth for the first (or second, or third...) time, or finishing a 5k that you never felt possible, or getting married! Some stress is bad, like losing a job or learning of the death of a loved one. No matter whether you experience a little or a lot of good or bad stress, it still boils down to the same hormones being produced and metabolized by your body in higher proportion than it would without the presence of stress. You could say- stress (at least some form of it) is inevitable. To complicate things further, a lot of the stresses we encounter are outside our control. Some people experience more stress and anxiety trying to control situations and circumstances for which the outcome cannot be changed. Some people experience "first world" stresses like forgetting to set their fantasy football roster or being served a lukewarm meal at a fine dining restaurant. Again, we will all experience stress, but how you deal with this stress is what ultimately harms or helps your overall health. 

If you are a woman, I feel for you. You are at greater risk from suffering a heart attack or stroke simply because you have a lot going on and you are less likely to acknowledge the symptoms or seek medical attention at their presentation. My message is this: who will be "you" if you are hospitalized or worse? As women and, in particular, as mothers, we tend to put the needs of our family before our own and sometimes at our own expense. Obviously there are responsibilities that must be met, like feeding your infant or changing a diaper, but will your kids hate you forever if you spend 30 minutes practicing yoga in your basement? Will your kids' brains turn to mush if you stash them at gym daycare for an hour while you join a cycle class with friends? Chances are you will be a better ::insert title here:: by taking time for yourself and, in return, investing in the one thing you can control- yourself. 

Granted, there is no guarantee that the investment in your health every day will protect against disease. People who don't smoke do die from lung cancer. People who eat a healthy diet and exercise daily die from heart attacks. There are always unknowns, but the only way to say for sure that you've done everything you can to prevent something from happening to you is to invest in yourself every day. Again, as a mother of two young children (one of which is very fresh as you can see), you can lose sight of yourself very quickly if you don't make the conscious choice to carve out time for your health. Notice that I didn't say "time for yourself" because that implies selfishness, and often I think moms in particular are overloaded with guilt if they don't spend every waking moment on their many hats and responsibilities. I am giving you permission to invest in self preservation every day because it is VITAL for you, your family, your spouse, and your little ecosystem of things swirling around you and involving YOU. Without you, that piece of your system is missing and cannot be replaced. Only you are you and all the things YOU do. 

You can invest time in your children, time in your marriage, your job, your home, your church, all the pieces of your ecosystem that make your life whole, but you cannot control the outcome of those investments. You certainly hope they pay the dividends you want, but there is no guarantee. The only investment you can control and, from which, reap both immediate and long-term benefits, is in yourself. I encourage you to use today as the starting point for letting go of any guilt you may espouse with making healthy choices for yourself. You never know what variable outside of your control may creep in and disrupt your zen, so be prepared by preserving your self (and your mind) every day. 
Benched 105lbs at 9 weeks postpartum thanks to daily investment in myself throughout pregnancy #2

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The drawbacks of being fit and pregnant

While this second pregnancy has been virtually nothing like the first, the common thread has been my effort to be active and healthy throughout the process. With my first pregnancy, I was able to run/jog until the very end, but I did not lift nearly as heavy or as frequently as I have with this pregnancy (which forced me to stop running around 30 weeks due to discomfort not advisement to avoid it). I have enjoyed the 50-60 minute cycle classes at my gym at least two days/week and various cardio machines on other days as tolerated, but I have felt my best and most energetic on days that I lift weights during this pregnancy. Some of this is due to increased confidence in knowing what I am doing is both safe and beneficial (I felt more guilty/uncertain with the first pregnancy- running felt better and safer at the time), but overall I am happy to have found something that helped minimize my back pain and maintain some semblance of muscle mass throughout the duration of this pregnancy. 

8/1/2016: 37 weeks, 27lbs gained
So let's get down to business- if you follow me on social media, you've seen my incessant posts about the importance of being healthy before, during, and after pregnancy. Why the hell would I write a blog post suggesting fit pregnancies have drawbacks? This is my way of paying it forward for all you active women who are pregnant or want to get pregnant and who may also be working toward various fitness goals or want to pursue them postpartum. There are some issues which may arise during and/or after your pregnancy which A- are not talked about much and/or B- are not heavily referenced in the literature because being fit and pregnant means you are an outlier. Norms and standards by which doctors base their care are based on these norms and outcomes compared to them- by being fit during pregnancy, you may likely fall outside of some of these norms, and you should be prepared for some "bumps" along the pregnancy road (HA.HA.HA.). Here are a few of my "heads up" warnings if you, like me, want to be healthy and fit at all stages of pregnancy:

1- Start pelvic floor PT. Like, now. 
 If you are a runner or some type of endurance athlete, but especially a runner, heed this advice! Many moms experience stress urinary incontinence (SUI) after any form of delivery, not just difficult vaginal deliveries like my first, but the degree to which you may experience this depends largely on how well you cared for the muscles of your pelvic floor at all stages of the pregnancy. What does this mean? In short- you will pee yourself. You may just pee yourself when sprinting or doing high-intensity plyometric exercises- congrats to you if this is your degree of incontinence. Some of us, myself included, pee in those instances as well as when we cough, sneeze, laugh, or change position (sitting-to-standing, for example). Yeah, it really sucks. It's embarassing, it's frustrating as hell, and you feel like a prisoner in your own body because you can't get through a day without carrying multiple pads or changes of underwear, even planning the outfits you wear based on who you will be with and what you will be doing, to salvage your dignity. 
   You may be thinking- I do Kegels, I do lots of core work, I have it covered. Are you sure? How can you be sure? I was certain that doing core stability exercises like Pilates and certain yoga poses facilitated strengthening the pelvic floor as well. HELL TO THE NO my friends. These are very different exercises entirely, and you can actually do pelvic floor exercises while doing yoga or Pilates, but they are not the same! Rather than reading a two-dimensional description of how to do these exercises, I HIGHLY encourage you to talk with your OBGYN or PCP and get a referral for pelvic floor PT or a women's health PT for consultation if you even experience a light amount of incontinence. I am a strong proponent of now saying that while incontinence may be common among female mother athletes, this does not make it acceptable for your quality of life. You should not have to tolerate peeing yourself to any degree. 
          For me, my degree of SUI was interfering with my quality of life to the extent that I was, for the first time in my life, truly depressed. I can see this in hindsight, the pinnacle of my SUI complications came in first trimester of this (second) pregnancy. I had a cold that seemed to last the entire duration of the trimester, so not only was I exhausted and nauseous from the pregnancy, but every time I did anything other than sit quietly, I would leak. I eventually stopped running despite my physical ability to do so, I was just too embarrassed to continue to try. Black spandex pants only get you so far when you have no control of the flow of your urine. I finally mentioned it to one of the OB docs in the practice I visit (not my "regular" OB) and she recommended a series of anti-depressant medications safe for pregnancy. That was my breaking point, and I decided to seek a second opinion. I finally reached out to my regular OB and described my symptoms, he was the one to suggest that I go to pelvic floor PT while pregnant and ask about being fitted for a pessary (Google it). Truly, this little donut-shaped device saved my sanity until I was too uncomfortable to run around 30 weeks. We will resume PFPT after I delivery and explore the timeline for the sling surgery to permanently fix the damage "down there", but I can't say it enough- don't tolerate leakage if it makes you uncomfortable. There are treatment options for you. Better yet, start PFPT before you realize you need it! 

2- Don't freak out if you are told you are "measuring small". 

36 weeks
First, I would like credit a few of my mama friends who helped support me when I was told this same info on multiple occasions with this pregnancy. I won't share your names, but you know who you are. Thank you :):) I started getting the "you're measuring small" feedback around 34 weeks when most women start to change shape somewhat drastically and quickly. Even with my first pregnancy, I gained 12lbs in the last month and while much of it was due to a growing baby boy, some of it was also due to decreased activity levels (and I didn't have a toddler to chase, so I could nap and rest more!). At the first mention, I didn't panic. The doc at that particular visit even advised me to not panic, but that I should have changed measurements by the next appointment.  So, next appointment rolls around- no change in fundal length or my bodyweight. By the next appointment, at this point 36 weeks, I had not gained any weight from 34 weeks and fundal length was considered 5cm below gestational age. In other words, the norms suggested I should be around 34-36cm in fundal length, and I'm assuming based on the numbers that I was measuring 31cm. My doc at this appointment, who is my usual doc and I do trust very much, advised that it was medically necessary to be referred for an ultrasound to check my fluid levels and to ensure the baby's development was normal to this point. He did mention that it was likely due to my fitness and activity levels that I was measuring small, nevertheless I needed to follow through this time as he would order it per medical necessity. Commence freak out. 

Turns out, thankfully, baby girl is healthy and growing and "average" for this point in pregnancy. Also turns out this was a blessing in disguise as we learned she had flipped from head-down presentation to breech... ugh. I will be sure to document my recovery-from-c-section journey in many blog posts to come, but at least we know now we are likely headed for surgical removal of our daughter. I digress. 

At my 37-week appointment yesterday, I had a long conversation with my OB about our options with breech presentation. He reiterated several times that because I am "so small", the likelihood that she will flip or that a procedure known as ECV would be likely unsuccessful, I'm fairly limited in options. Who knew? We have crappy luck of the draw that she decided to flip and will likely stay that way because, in so many words, my strong abdominal muscles have created a tight cage around the placenta and there's little room for her to change position at this point. 

Chances are you won't encounter these crappy odds, and I certainly don't regret doing core work and strength training throughout this pregnancy despite the ironic likelihood that we will have to slice through my abs to remove the baby. 

3- People can be just as nasty about gaining too little weight (in their opinion) as gaining too much. 

You know, I hope there are people out there who make a point of showing such disdain for women who smoke and drink and do other ellicit and recreational drugs while pregnant as they do for women who eat healthy and stay active. Holy crap. I don't know what it is about pregnancy that suggests to strangers hey sure, if you have the audacity to touch my protruding belly, you sure as hell are allowed to make a comment about the size of said protrusion. Um, what? This phenomenon is incredibly frustrating for someone who tries to teach empathy in healthcare settings for a living, you know, we don't judge obese people just because they're obese, right? Yes, I am lifting what you consider to be heavy weights in the effort to slowly drain the oxygen from my placenta. You are exactly right. Oh, that's not what you meant by your comment? Well what outcome would you have that I offer to you when you ask such an insensitive question. WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?! "Are you sure that's safe?" No, actually, I'm not sure. You should ask that man eating a double bacon cheeseburger and supersize soft drink with a Rx for an insulin pump if what he's doing is safe, then you can get back to me. 

If you plan to exercise while pregnant, heaven forbid you are/were an athlete before becoming pregnant, be prepared for some truly idiotic comments. As a teacher, it is true: there are no dumb questions. There are, however, plenty of dumb people in this world, and I recommend you prepare yourself for some of the craziest and most personal questions you will ever receive in your lifetime as when you are trying to be both healthy and pregnant. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Mom Guilt, Time, and Strength

This image is from my morning off with little man exploring the local mall-walking mall. We had a great morning! Can I tell you, though, 48 hours prior, I thought my head was going to explode. I let time slip away from me, I had not been feeling great, and I did not take "me" time. You guys know for me, usually "me" time is the gym. I just needed a break from some toddler tantrums and being inside too much with a sick toddler (he had pink eye late last week). Anyway, my mood has greatly improved since I got some much-needed me time at the gym yesterday. Thanks to my fellow strong-mom friend Kristin who helped motivate me to go lift even when I didn't feel like going :) It wasn't a long time away, but enough to get some blood pumping and prove to myself it was worth the time away.

"Mom guilt" is likely a familiar phrase to many of you, whether you feel as though you have experienced it or you know someone who is unwilling to carve out "me" time despite the many demands we all juggle any given day. I say 'unwilling' not to offend but to send a strong message that there IS time for you each day. It may not be the long stretches of uninterrupted quiet time or alone time to which you were once accustomed, but it is there.  You have to be willing to let go of the guilt that is for some reason attributed to women who spend time on themselves.

Anyway, we sometimes use an activity with our students where we have them keep a "time log" of everything they do for one week in terms of hours each day. The days are listed out by the hour, and you record everything you do down to the hour for the week. While this is not the exact form, it is very similar: Time Log Sheet. Anyway, usually our students are surprised to find how much time they waste on watching television or otherwise killing time with no real purpose. This can be an effective first step in being honest with yourself as to how your time is used each day. Then you can determine that you do have time, but how do you spend it? 

Previous posts have reflected on the limited amount of time (in comparison to BK- before kids) I have to invest in "me" time, so I try to spend it wisely. I have found since having a baby that one of my favorite ways to invest in myself is physical activity, but specifically, lifting weights. I feel so fortunate that I've had a series of mentors who have helped develop my confidence in the weight room so that I feel much satisfaction from this element of my workouts. While I do still feel like, in many ways, a novice runner and triathlete, the strength training piece is my comfort zone. 

So, why mention strength training with time management and mom guilt? I can't say it enough- all women should be strength training. There are so many benefits, but when it comes to time-crunch, strength training is the best of all worlds! There should be NO guilt in knowing you are not only doing your body good, but you are also keeping your bones strong, and building lean muscle tissue which helps improve stability and coordination (read: injury prevention), improves integrity of connective tissue and joints, improves metabolism (read: burn more calories at rest, who doesn't want that??), and the list continues.

Given the understanding that many people are not comfortable in the weight room or starting a strength training program, so I will be sharing videos and links for my favorite exercises and resources for all things strength training for general health and wellness. Perhaps rather than simply recommending strength training to you, showing you the exercises and links I recommend would be more beneficial. While I'm reviving our Bowersock Wellness website, I've created a public Instagram account called "BWellandStrong". Pinterest account soon to follow. I hope this "platform" will help alleviate some mom-guilt by showing you some of my videos and links, the time-factor is removed because you have a go-to spot for workout ideas. You should never regret investing in your health, but it doesn't have to be hours every day. Something is better than nothing, but nothing is just that, so go do something for yourself. I hope these links and resources will help give you some "somethings" to do without the guilt. Remember, exercise is medicine :) 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Happiness Variable

I pirated this picture from our local newspaper on Thanksgiving weekend after Tyler, TJ, and I ran the Drumstick Dash, a local 5k raising money for the Rescue Mission of the Roanoke Valley. This picture constitutes a number of my happiness variables-family, running, being outside, community involvement, and spending time with friends. Many other things make me happy, but these are among the top variables that on any given day bring me joy. 

So, I participate in several public speaking engagements each year for various organizations, some for my employer, some for a speaker's bureau I contract with out of New York who sends me referrals from mostly corporate wellness speaking requests. Anyway, all of my presentations have to do with some permutation of, you guessed it, fitness and physical activity. My two largest presentation audiences (150+) were in 2011 for a regional medical conference of mostly physicians, nurses, and other allied healthcare professionals, the other the Virginia Banker's Association state conference (one of my contracted presentations). While the presentation content varied given to whom I was speaking, some of the qualitative feedback I received from both was virtually identical. People made comments like 'wow, very profound, I am so thankful for you' and 'you have inspired me to make a change in my life, thank you', and other similar comments.

Now, I'm by no means a perfect public speaker, nor do I know everything there is to know about health and wellness. What I do know is that I led both presentation with the same question to the audience and the presentation flowed from there. Again, the directions were somewhat different based on my medical vs. banking audiences, but the lead-off question went like this:

Are you happy? Did you wake up this morning excited about something in your life or some part of your day? 

I think it is important that you remember you deserve to be happy. You don't have to be enthusiastic necessarily, or in cases of acute sleep deprivation or illness, etc. there will be an ebb and flow in overall mood. But in general, are you happy? When you answer, where do your answers take you? In relationship to the pursuit of health, I think it is vital that we reflect on this question before moving forward on other behavioral changes. To answer this question is to address the underlying current of what moves you or what keeps you standing still, as it were.

I felt compelled to my experiences with these groups because I see so many people making efforts toward healthier lives when ultimately they do not seem happy. While some people find happiness in this pursuit of health, many others fall further in despair and frustration when their efforts turn futile. The 'yo-yo' of up and down, perhaps multiple times in succession, certainly takes a toll on your willpower as well as your metabolism. Some succumb to the lures of quick-fixes and gimmicks, spending money on top of time and effort again for a distraction from meaningful change.

While I love to tout the benefits of physical activity as a cure-all for many woes, ultimately the happiness variable is the key element of choices made with consistency. I am oversimplifying a very complex "equation", but in my observations, the folks who choose to find daily joy are the ones who maintain the most consistent health and healthy lifestyles. So, for what it's worth, you should you know you deserve happiness and joy. Every person is deserving of joy. Remember this and hopefully it will help you in your wellness journey :)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

For 2016- "make it count"

Killing two birds with one stone on this one- A- race report (finally) from my October 2015 BQ at the Columbus marathon, and B- starting my 2016 resolution- write every day. Also, I gotta pump this out quickly because naptime is almost over ;)

I've already seen so many posts about wanting to lose weight, get stronger, improve eating habits, the usual gamut of health-related resolutions for the new year. Some experience success, others do not, even year after year resolving to make the same changes with no result. You try the shakes, the pills, the fad diets, you buy the diet books, you hire a personal trainer, you have seemingly done it all and still feel like you're barely holding it all together. Sound familiar?

So, I'm sharing my race recap NOW because I have learned a lot not only about myself but about the human body after having had a baby. I will say, I do not consider myself "postpartum" at this point (20 months out seems a little excessive to me), but I am still very much learning how to balance my training habits before baby...and after. The one difference between then and now that has changed my fitness for the better is an emphasis on quality in every workout.

Why should you care how I go about my workouts? You should care because of the aforementioned tactics you may have taken to achieve your goals. What is it about a personal trainer that helps you reach your goals? Perhaps he or she helps motivate you to increase the intensity of your workouts beyond what you feel capable of doing on your own. What is it about diets that (sometimes) lead to successful weight loss? Usually, it is because you have exchanged low-quality calories for high-quality ones, and your body really likes those high-quality kcals.

My point is this- my BQ success this year is the perfect of example of how quality can equal quantity, or, in some cases, surpass it. Short and sweet run-down of my "plan" vs. my training partner- Dee. Dee and I shared the same goal (qualifying for Boston) so we started our long runs together late in the summer. The only time Dee and I ran together was on Sunday mornings for long runs. Otherwise, our training plans could not have been more different. Dee used what I would consider a moderate-to-high volume training plan capping at 55 miles a week at its highest. I think the week I ran my 22-mile long run (only once), I ran one 6-mile tempo run three days prior. That's it. I did not have a formal training plan. Having studied the physiology of all this stuff, and given this was my seventh full marathon, I've picked up some ideas along the way.

Anyway, the basic gist of Dee's plan vs. my plan was this- she was running most days/week, and I ran maybe three times/week. On the days I did not run, I was lifting, and compared to marathon training seasons prior, I was lifting pretty heavy. Before I wrecked my bike over the summer during a cross-training ride, I was able to bench my bodyweight one time (135lbs). Let me tell you, should injuries really suck, and even being married to a stellar PT, it has taken this long to inch my way closer to that strength. I'm able to do several reps of 115lbs, but man, what a long road to recovery! Anyway, I was lifting for strength during my marathon training. No 4 sets of 20 for this girl!

Final result for me and Dee- Dee beat me by three minutes. We both qualified for Boston. She ran virtually double the training miles per week that I ran and yet we ran almost exactly the same times. So, can you train for a marathon if you only run a few times a week? Sure. I shaved ten minutes off my last marathon time running less than half the weekly mileage. Aaaaaand the running haters are going to say "well okay, I could give a shit about running, what about us normal people who hate running and want to lose weight?". The take-home message is the same- make it count. Make your workouts count! Make what you feed your body and your family count. Make the time that you spend count toward something. Having a baby has forever changed my concept of time management and prioritizing everything that needs to happen in a day, and sometimes not everything does get done, but the priorities find a way to get in there. Make your health count in 2016, whatever that looks like for you.