My Biggest Regret and How I’m Fixing it Now

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of American Heart Association / American Stroke Association. All opinions are 100% mine.

Regrets – we all have them. I know I have my share.

There are many little regrets. The chances we did or didn’t take. The choices we made or didn’t make.

As time passes, we appreciate what we learn from our regrets and challenges . But the big ones are a reminder of our opportunity and power to change.

One of my biggest regrets that sticks out to me is ignoring my own needs for so long. You see, I knew I needed to take better care of myself. Eat healthier meals, exercise regularly, get enough sleep. But as a mom, I thought the right thing to do was to put everyone else’s needs above my own. That’s what moms do, right?

Well, now I know I was wrong. Last year, I found out there were consequences. I learned my lesson the hard way – through a health crisis. But now that I’ve come through it I can finally make better decisions.

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I recently trained to run a 5k and try to be active in some way every other day. It really makes me feel so good to know I’m doing something amazing for my body and my brain. An active body (through physical activity) and mind can improve brain health, and help you avoid brain problems like stroke, dementia, confusion, or memory loss.

Gosh, what I wouldn’t do to have my twenties back, not because I was a size 2, but so I could make better decisions that would affect my Brain Health now!

The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association defines a healthy brain as a brain that is functioning at its best, free from disease and is receiving normal blood flow and oxygen levels.

I don’t ever want to take my body or my brain for granted again. I want to keep things sharp. This isn’t a phase or a fad with me. It’s a healthy living lifestyle change that needs to stick! Eating and sleeping well and being physically and socially active can reduce my risk of stroke and heat disease.

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I’m also trying to eat healthier so I can function at my best. With three young kids and being on the go a lot, it’s definitely not easy. But simple changes like choosing fruit instead of a cupcake can help. Eating almonds or blueberries is my favorite healthy snack and I love having grilled fish for dinner.

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I don’t know about you but taking my health for granted is definitely one of my biggest regrets. I’m thankful that by making changes those regrets can fade away. No matter what your regrets are in life there are ways to overcome them. Thank goodness for the passing of time and a willingness to change! I’m ready to move forward and do better.

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You can learn more about the Life’s Simple 7 at the American Heart Association’s website.

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The One Thing that Helped Me Learn to Exercise Guilt-Free

Learn to exercise guilt-free

I’ve been a mom for almost eight years and have only just begun making exercise a priority. Why did it take me so long to make a solid attempt at getting healthy?

Because I felt guilty about it.

That’s right. I had exercise guilt.

How many times have you thought about exercising but guilt stopped you? You spend all day either working or taking care of your kids, yet you can’t bring yourself to carve out a mere thirty minutes to take care of yourself!

Learn to exercise guilt-free

So how did I get over the guilt and get started on a path to wellness? I had a very tough run of sickness last winter. I spent a lot of time in my bed with different illnesses missing out on life. It was all because I hadn’t been taking care of myself for a long time. I’d let myself go.

My body’s natural defenses were nowhere to be found.

I knew what I needed to do to get healthy but I was stopped in my tracks by the “mom-guilt.” Inside my brain I heard . . .

My kids need me. My husband needs me. I should be spending the next thirty minutes with them – not exercising!

It was my husband who eventually helped push me out the door to go for my first run, which led to my first 5k. He said, “Go honey, I’ve got this.” And the rest is history.

When I realized the world would not come crashing down without me, that’s when I finally felt free to exercise.

If you’re like I was, unhealthy and unhappy, but you don’t think your family can spare you? Believe me – THEY CAN! The little bit of time you spend on yourself will help you so much when it comes time to take care of everyone else.

Hopeful.

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Wow. The support on my last post has been overwhelming. Not only have I received amazing encouragement on my facebook page, but I have received messages and emails letting me know friends are there for me if I need anything or they are available to chat and listen.

Just so you know – that means the world to me. It truly does.

It has always been my hope that opening up about my illness could help someone else. I’m still amazed that anything I write would be worthy of saving a life. But apparently it is. And I know for a fact that it has saved mine. Writing is like a life vest for me. I can be drowning in the ocean of depression and writing words will allow me to float until I can reach the shore.

I usually choose a “word of the year” at each start of the New Year. I started thinking about my word in December and thought I would choose fearless. I thought I had come through the worst of my illness and would be able to start a new year as fearlessly as possible.

And then I had another setback and wound up in the hospital again. When I was finally released I came home to ice on the ground and freezing wind. I walked in my house and immediately felt uneasy and afraid. What would 2016 hold for me? If I went by the past year, it didn’t look favorable.

But it’s May 31st and this is the longest I’ve gone without having to go back.

Does that mean the past five months have been fearless? No. In fact, they’ve been filled with fear. Fear of having to go back to the hospital. Fear of missing out on more life due to depression. Fear of people finding out what has happened and the judgement it would bring. Fear of hurting the people I love by not being able to stay well. Fear of how this would effect my children.

Fearful. Not fearless.

So should I be disappointed that the word I originally picked ended up on the complete opposite spectrum of what it has actually been? I don’t think so. Because I don’t think I can take anymore disappointment.

So I’m choosing, instead, to move on. Almost half of 2016 is over. But right now is my New Year. Right now is the celebration I missed.

I’m not saying the rest of the year won’t hold any fear. It will. This much I know.

But it can be full of other things too. Family, laughter, fun. But most of all . . . hope.

And that overrides fear every time.

So, I got sick

If I tell them, they’ll think less of me. Even I have a hard time believing it happened. But it’s the truth. It’s my truth. And after holding it in for nearly a year I’m ready to tell it. My story is worthy of being told.

I got sick last year. Not the kind of sick you’re thinking about. Not a fever or a stomach virus. No, not that kind. And not the kind of sick that is widely accepted in our society such as cancer or diabetes or even a broken bone.

I’ve made no secret on this blog that I am diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. My life has been a constant struggle of trying to stay well and, let’s be honest, a functional member of society.

But here is what has unfolded in the last three years . . .

When I learned I was pregnant with Sawyer in June 2013, I immediately went off all of my medicines that helped control my illness. I stayed off of them for the duration of my pregnancy. And then when she was born I continued unmedicated for another entire year while I breastfed her.

So, doing the math, I was unmedicated for almost two years. A bipolar person with no meds and hormone fluctuations all over the place. This does not make for a well-adjusted, functional person.

By May of last year, I was an emotional disaster. I couldn’t concentrate or focus on anything. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was in a full-on manic episode, which actually began right after I stopped breastfeeding Sawyer in January. It was bad. Really bad. I didn’t know which way was up or down. But oh, that roller coaster was fun at the time. My thoughts were all over the place. It was like the tilt-a-whirl in my brain.

Think of a movie on fast forward mode. That was my life. My mind racing at all times. I couldn’t shut it off. It was SO LOUD in my head. I was tired but I couldn’t sleep. I would stay up way too late writing, many times I was drinking at night. A glass of wine (or two or three) was the only thing that slowed my brain down long enough for me to breathe and sleep.

I was seeing a new therapist and had gone to my psychiatrist begging for medicines because I knew something was wrong. But it was too late. I had waited too long and the medicines weren’t working anyway because of the drinking.

I started running every other day even though I hate running. I lost weight due to my exercise routine and not eating as much. I didn’t need food. I was surviving on how thrilling life was. I’m not sure how much weight I lost but I remember being really excited when the scale read a number that I had last seen when I was in college.

At times I felt invincible, on top of the world. Other times I dropped to my knees, utterly exhausted by my own energy.

I spent a lot of money that I shouldn’t have spent. I made really bad decisions but believe me when I tell you, they felt so right at the time. It doesn’t excuse my behavior. But it does explain it. Read up on bipolar manic episodes. A lot of people think they would be fun. But the aftermath tells a different story. It was a textbook manic episode as I had every symptom. Weight loss, not sleeping, racing thoughts, overspending, obsessing over a certain task (running, in my case), abusing a substance, and some other ones that I won’t even discuss because . . . ugh. I just won’t.

In early June I was hospitalized for the first time. After coming down off of my manic episode with severe depression I was hospitalized a second time in early September. And while everyone else was partying it up for New Year’s Eve, I was once again in the hospital. It was the worst depressive episode I’ve ever had. Going from a manic episode directly into a depressive episode. Oh God. I’m not sure how I’m still here.

I’m finally writing this, at the urging of my husband and my best friend, because they know what I’ve known for awhile. I haven’t been able to write on my blog because not writing about this was like having a huge pink elephant in the sidebar! I have always been honest on my blog. I’ve always shared what’s going on in my life.  But this time, I was deeply ashamed and stayed quiet to please everyone. It is now clear that hiding this has been to my detriment as I have lost something I dearly love . . . writing. Since I was sixteen it has been a sort of therapy for me. Writing and sharing my struggle and all the while still being hopeful. It helps me.

But this . . . I wasn’t sure about telling the world about this. I am scared – no – TERRIFIED, to put this out there. What will people think of me? Will they think less of me? Will they betray me after learning the truth of what has happened over the last year. Will they stop talking to me or wanting to be my friend?

I know I have nothing to be ashamed of. This illness is not something I chose. This illness is not who I am as a person.

The reason I have chosen to be open about this is because I want others who are going through this to know that they are not alone. You are not alone. And if we hide it, try to sweep it under the rug, well that serves no one.

I thought about my kids. I thought about if they, God forbid, have an illness such as mine, would I want them to feel ashamed? Would I want them to stay quiet and go through their struggle alone? The answer is NO. I wouldn’t want that for them. I would want them to feel safe telling me anything. Life is hard enough. I would want them to be open with me and feel free to live their life out loud. Because that is the definition of bravery and hope. Standing up and saying, hey, I’m hurting but I’m not giving in.

This illness haunts me like a ghost. It follows me wherever I go. But I fight it. I fight hard. I turn around and punch depression in the face on a daily basis. I tell it where it can go.

And that’s what I’ve been doing the past year. I’ve been fighting. I’ve been in so much pain and confusion I can’t even explain it. Just know that it is an absolute miracle I am sitting here today, writing this for you to read.

At times, death was a very real possibility. I didn’t know if I would make it to my 37th birthday. (I did so it’s okay!)

I’m not really even sure how to end this blog post. I didn’t know how to start it either. I mean, what do you say anyway . . . “Hi! Oh, you know, I’ve been good. I went to a psychiatric hospital three times! The food was bad. So what’s going on with you?”

AWKWARRRRD.

I will hopefully be able to share more details as time passes. But it was eating me up inside not to share this part of me with those who have been reading for so long.

There’s nothing wrong with me. I didn’t fail. I’m not “less than” someone else because of this. But I still have to tell myself that every single day in order to believe it. Some nights the shame is too much to bear.

But somehow, I still find hope.

On Becoming a Runner

One year ago I laced up a new pair of tennis shoes and went for my first run. I didn’t have any fancy running gear. And I didn’t have any clue how I would feel. But I assumed it would hurt like hell and I wasn’t looking forward to it at all.

I’m not sure why the trend stuck this time. I just knew I was tired of feeling like shit all the time, physically and emotionally.

The past year was one of the most difficult years of my life. There are a few things that kept me going and that runner’s high they talk about was one of them. Running changed not only how I felt. It changed who I am. After so many years of feeling weak I found out I’m actually quite strong. Better than that I found out I can accomplish anything as long as I don’t give up. I’m so grateful for the multitude of chances we get in this life.

I’m not the fastest or the best. But the point is I get out there and I go for it. That’s what matters. I’m so proud of myself.

So to celebrate, I’m gonna buy a new pair of running shoes and go for a run. But this time I’ll do so with the knowledge that life is just one big marathon. There are bumps in the road, stop to enjoy the view once in awhile, watch to see who’s really rooting for you, and your breathing technique is really important ?