Name of the Game


STRONG and BENDY
I lost 165 pounds over several years. And then, nothing. I varied diets, tried new versions of low carb and low calorie. I couldn’t move the scale (my toxic lover) without extreme dieting. As we know, you can’t maintain “extreme” anything. Extreme dieting usually has backwards results, in that most people gain back the weight lost and then some. Not an option for me.

I reassessed my situation: my success thus far, how to sustain my progress and not regain any weight, I reviewed the statistics of how others who’ve lost massive amount of weight have faired–percentage wise, not good because they mostly stopped evolving. I considered my business requirements and travel, my new goals, what I need to support my family, and even what kind of vacation adventures we want.

 

I determined that now, having just turned 50, and with the full life I have, I want to become “STRONG and BENDY.”

I know I’m still a work-in-progress, but I wanted something else now, not necessarily to be thin as defined by society. I want to be something that makes ME happy, that gives me something more than what I see in the mirror. I want to age gracefully, with strength and agility. I want to remain a force in my own life, mentally and physically.

 

Strong. Bendy. Fit. Flexible. Formidable. Badass. Sexy.

 

Fit and flexible enough to reach down and pick up big bags of mulch and work in my garden. Mentally and physically able to handle the demands of our software company and the travel that comes with it, including long arduous conventions. And one day, flexible and strong enough to throw some grand babies up in the air and hear them squeal with laughter. Fit enough to keep up with my 12 year old son – or to his dismay, surpass his energy. Badass enough to skateboard, or ride a dirt bike, and know that my physical equilibrium can support the dynamic forces that require balance and endurance. I love bounding energetically through my daily life and hope to continue to do so through my 50’s, into my 60’s and beyond.

 

Giving this new goal of mine a descriptive and well-stated name–STRONG and BENDY–has turned into the best next chapter.

Since putting together my new goals, I have found a trainer, Catherine (Cece) English and a studio, Red Dot Fitness. I interviewed many trainers and I knew Cece would be perfect for me. I was impressed with Cece’s althletic education and experience, and just as important, she totally got me. She understood what I wanted and why. We’ve become a wonderful team. I am well on my way to lifting heavy weights. Cece is training me in such a way that I am becoming “strong and bendy” in a rewarding time frame.

I’m madly, head-over-heals in love with big heavy weights. Each time Cece puts the bar out and we add the weights, I get so excited. I like when we do bench work with free weights. When she increases my load, I call it “graduating”.  I think kettle bells are my new lovers. Love. Love. Love kettle bells and swinging them, and catching them mid air to switch hands. They make me feel so badass! I am all about the kettle bells. Where have all these big sexy weights been all my life?!

 

Cece and I have so much fun in my training sessions, though I’m dripping and projectile sweating , I require big breaths at times, and long swigs of water. The weights may be sexy to me, but THIS. IS. HARD. WORK. Cece often reminds me, as she’s pushing me to do (assisted) chin-ups (3 sets of 10 – yikes!), that I’m getting ‘strong’. She points out how my shoulders, back and my arms are building “strength.” When she has me do medicine ball (those balls are heavy) tosses from one side to another, or up and down, or below and then around, or works me with tubes/bands/cables, she reminds me how “bendy” I’m becoming. She educates me on how vital range of motion is to my being ‘bendy’. My range of motion and my overall strength are improving with each workout. I now appreciate how range of motion is improving my strength, it’s intrinsic in supporting it.

My trainer and I being on the same page makes for a symbiotic experience. I feel this is helping me remain focused, and have greater success with my training. I strongly recommend getting a professional trainer for this level of undertaking.

Dieting, though extremely necessary for someone who had the pounds to lose I had, at times left me feeling a bit weak. In contrast, training with big heavy weights, makes me feel empowered. I now eat to train, and that’s such a great mental shift for me. If by lifting weights and eating clean, I eventually lose more weight, or remain the same weight but get smaller in size, then that will be fabulous. If not, my life will be just as beautiful at this size with all my curves, and my new strong muscles–with The Hubs happy as can be about me (if you know what I mean 😜).

I don’t feel guilty when I eat clean and lift weights. I’m constantly figuring out my next clean, balanced meal. Fruit and great fats/oils are my welcomed friends. I eat mostly WHOLE 30 ish. Sugar and flour make rare appearances at my meals but when they do, I make sure they’re yummy and worth it. I must admit, I need to reduce my cheat/celebratory days, and focus more on my “eat to train”. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day happened, and camping with the familia and road trips…and friends over for dinner, and out with friends to dinner, and daughter time, and dates with Jon~Jon… Working on it.

Feeling strong and bendy aren’t the only benefits: the endorphins post-training are worth the price of admission for this 50 year old female who feels more like a 17 year old after training. I drive home with the windows rolled down and music blasting as though I were that age again. Gotta love classic rock! I feel happy almost all of the time since I began my training.

 

If there’s something you want to ‘get your game on’ for yourself, and you aren’t working on whatever your version of “Strong and Bendy” is for YOU, decide what you want and join me. Give it a good enough name, and go for it! Share with all of us: the good and the bad. Let us support you, too. We can do this together. Don’t you think that’s even more powerful than just me getting “strong and bendy” by myself?

The Game-Changer That Helped Me Lose Over 165 Pounds

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WHY DIDN’T I CHANGE THINGS EARLIER?!

 

I often ask myself this question. One of the biggest things I wish I’d been able to change are some of the toxic situations I’ve found myself in, at different times in my life, much sooner. The short answer: I wasn’t educated enough about toxic behavior to identify the red flags early. In these situations, I always thought there was something seriously wrong with ME. I’ve researched this subject enough so that I feel confident I can understand and identify the behaviors much earlier.

 

Since I’ve mentioned stepping away from toxic situations as part of my weight loss journey, I’ve received countless messages and communications asking me to write about my experiences. It still surprises me that people are so interested in talking to me about this type of pain and hurt.

 

I’m also frequently asked what the game-changer was in my (healing) massive weight loss. What was the catalyst that started my transformation? This blog post is my answer.

 

Five years ago, I walked away from an engulfing toxic situation, that was slowly killing my soul. I tried to tell myself everything was ok but I see now how M-I-S-E-R-A-B-L-E I really was. Walking away from it, and the behaviors that went with it, freed me. I suddenly had an abundant amount of drive to improve my life, in so many aspects, and I was unstoppable. I started to feel so much better about myself. In the unraveling of the toxic situation, I found my inner strength, and discovered how resilient I can be. Somewhere in there I started to feel personal pride, and before I knew it, I was practicing self-care, which became self-acceptance, which made me happy. I am so much healthier physically too.

 

Oh, and I went from wearing size 28 to size 8/10 jeans.

 

I’ve never in my life been happier or healthier!

 

BEHAVIORS, RED FLAGS

(I understand the behaviors I’m writing about have so many labels, and fall on a spectrum. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to these disorders, or whatever they are, as ‘toxic people’ throughout this article.)

 

I’m not a mental health expert. This is only my experience, what I’ve done, how I’ve dealt.

 

These are some of the red flags with toxic people. They usually have many of these traits but not all:

  • It’s ALL about them, extremely selfish
  • Arrogance, big ego
  • They lack empathy, and don’t consider what’s going on with others
  • No one can stand up to a toxic person, or call them on their behavior–they’ll discard or there’ll be retribution
  • Nothing is really ever their fault, excellent at displacing blame to another
  • Extremely controlling, their way or the highway
  • Manipulative
  • They don’t recognize boundaries, disrespectful
  • Lots of drama
  • They actually feed off of the goodness and love of others
  • In the case of a narcissist: they idealize, devalue and discard
  • Love bombing to win you initially
  • In need of constant admiration, not giving it to them properly is cause for discard or retribution
  • Sometimes extremely charming
  • They have a short shelf life as friends
  • They don’t have real meaningful friendships
  • Extremely jealous and envious
  • Capricious
  • They demand unquestionable loyalty, but don’t actually give it in return
  • Low self-awareness
  • They don’t know how to love

 

Whenever I’ve stood up to a toxic person, or refused to enable what a toxic person wants–which is usually crazy or hurtful–the toxic person has lashed out. When I still didn’t do what they wanted, they’ve pitted friends and/or family against me. They’ve surprised me at how easily they can discard and defame.

 

I make it a point to never do the bidding of toxic people–any kind of bidding, even lessening my love or connection for the toxic person’s (perceived) enemy. Ever. I’ve been sent requests to unfriend people on Facebook, to not include someone for a celebration, to not give my attention and to cease giving love to someone. I feel these requests attempt to reduce my infinite and unconditional love, and my deep-seated humanity. So, no matter how much I love the requester, and understand their hurt, I never comply with these requests. Even when dear family has had break ups with partners, I never unfriend, de-friend, or lessen my love for either party. I don’t allow myself to be manipulated this way. I don’t think for a moment, someone asking me to lessen my love, support or admiration for someone else or to do something hurtful, isn’t manipulative behavior. It is.

 

People that do the bidding for toxic people are called ‘flying monkeys’–taken from the movie, The Wizard of Oz. Usually, a flying monkey doesn’t have both sides of the story, and simply acts on behalf of a toxic person, without thinking for themselves, to put the hurt on. Sometimes they do have both sides and they are still willing. Flying monkeys are enablers.

 

I, unfortunately, have to admit that I’ve behaved like a flying monkey. When I’ve realized this, I found the person and I apologized. One person I had to apologize to is now a very dear friend to me, and I’m so lucky she understood and forgave me. I love this lady so much. I’m glad I found the courage to talk to her.

 

In the past five years I’ve had a few of flying monkeys attempt to hurt me. One couple, when they realized their error, came and apologized to me. I totally understood. We are super close besties now. I’m so grateful for the apology, and the friendship.

 

The other person that behaved like a flying monkey was by best friend of 30 years. After this friend took acts against me, she couldn’t look at me the few times I ran into her. She looked as if she was in horrible pain every time I saw her, and couldn’t look me in the eye. One day, following one of these encounters, I showed up at her house to tell her how much I loved her, and that she didn’t have to be ashamed every time she saw me. All she could do was look at me with her beautiful blue eyes, and all her love, and sadly ask that I “forgive her ill behavior.” She followed up with a private message thanking me for forgiving her. She’s still in the toxic environment, with a really toxic person, so we can’t have the relationship we once had. I love my old friend so very much and I miss her every day. There is so much of my life that has turned beautiful, and I’ve wished so many times I could share my joy with her. She would have been the first person shopping with me when I bought my first pair of fabulous jeans.

 

Stepping away from a toxic situation is difficult but not nearly as painful and personally destructive as remaining in one.

 

Even though people that behave like ‘flying monkeys’ can eventually see their mistakes and apologize, toxic people can NOT own up to their behavior. Sincere apologies require courage toxic people do not have. Remember this: they can NOT take responsibility for the havoc they create. They are experts at twisting hostile situations they created, into ones where they are the victim. They create fantasies of how others wronged them, and they displace blame. I’ve seen it time and time again. It’s just part of the behavior. Because they are suffering so very much, and can NOT experience the vulnerability it would take to accept responsibility. They can NOT be wrong. That’s why it’s almost impossible to really clear things up with a toxic person. I realize that I can’t reason with crazy.

 

Toxic behavior is a chronic pattern. It is never a rare upset with a good hearted person, nor is it “rough patch.” There are extreme exceptions, but usually toxic behavior is a pattern I’ve been able to follow and see: drama, shaming, vitriol, threats, domination, forceful control, etc.

 

If alcohol, drugs or other psychological influences are involved, it makes them worse than toxic, it makes them radioactive.

 

Toxic people that are alcoholics (or are heavy drinkers), do drugs, or have serious psychological influences bearing upon them, are usually spinning out of control with many of their relationships. In these states people can sometimes become paranoid, and can be very nasty, controlling, and manipulative.

 

COMPASSION

 

I didn’t think I could ever have understanding or compassion for toxic people until I read some books and lots of articles which gave me insight into the cause of these behaviors and how to deal with them.

 

A major take away: a toxic person = a suffering person. Always.

 

Nothing toxic people do–no matter how hurtful they try to be–is personal. Not. Personal. At. All. Because: suffering. The suffering and emotional pain are so much that the toxic person lashes out.

 

I’ve had to step away from toxic people to protect our family and myself. I never cut anyone off entirely, as I believe that’s inhumane and not possible since we’re all connected in this universe. I make it possible to have love flow through any channel in any direction. However, toxic people don’t recognize boundaries, so I’ve had to impose them.

 

If a toxic person has been in my life as a family member or friend, I probably love them a lot, and the decision to step away was not easy. I concentrate on loving them–a lot–from afar. And if I see them, I’m sincerely sweet and loving to them.

 

I’ve come to realize that I can’t save people, but I can still love them.

 

THE HIGH ROAD IS THE ONLY ROAD

 

I don’t engage in crazy. I learned a long time ago that I can’t talk to crazy toxic people about their behavior.

 

The only road out of toxic relationships is the high road. Really. I’ve had to put my emotional big girl underpants on a few times and be a brave strong girl, and NOT ENGAGE at all. This. Was. Hard. Really, really hard. Toxic people bait. They vilify. They attempt to suck the loveliness out of you. They’ve said things that are so wrong about me. They’ve twisted my kind acts and intentions to them or others into something bad. They’ve tried to to make me feel bad for being me.

 

Still, I don’t engage. I don’t drown in their suffering. Don’t sink down to that level. So, I take the high road.

 

Taking the high road: not getting others involved in taking sides, or in gathering sympathy, not becoming a drama queen myself about the upsets, or just ignoring it utterly (the best option) requires a certain discipline that comes from practice. Easier said than done. It’s very hard to do because sometimes I find the behavior of toxic people upsets me, and it gets to me. I have an urge to let them have it. Toxic people need drama, and want to entangle me in it, so me letting them have it, or engaging, just feeds it more. Taking the high road requires practice. Practice. Practice. The more I take the high road, the better I get at being a good person, and keeping my life on track.

 

DRINKING POISON AND EXPECTING AN ENEMY TO DIE

 

There’s an Eastern saying that I’ve come to appreciate: vitriolic behavior is “like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”

 

Toxic people consume vitriol, and attempt to serve it to others, expecting their (perceived) enemy will die. And sometimes they even drink copious amounts of alcohol, do drugs, or practice some sort of zealotry with that in mind. Their low self-awareness prevents them from recognizing they’re the ones drinking the poison.

 

Truth is that people aren’t our enemies, not really. The behavior of delusion, ignorance and greed are–and these make up so much of the suffering.

 

IT’S NONE OF MY BUSINESS WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK OF ME

 

I don’t believe every thought that goes through my head. And if I don’t believe some of my own, then I’m definitely not going to concern myself with what someone else thinks of me, or projects onto me. What people are thinking, or may be thinking, doesn’t concern me. Truth is that not that many people actually care about what I’m thinking or feeling. But a lot of people care about how I behave. And that’s why I have to remain on my side of the street, and take care of my issues and my business.
Seriously, I can’t concern myself with what crazy toxic people think. They think crazy toxic thoughts.

 

I’ve had to look back and reflect at why I stayed longer than I should’ve in certain toxic relationships. I’ve had to be honest with myself about what I was getting from the toxic relationship, and ask myself what were my attachments. Was it attention, identity, approval, to feel worthy, validation, crazy excitement, a sense of belonging, etc? In one friendship I had with a woman I had adored, I wanted to feel accepted by her. The friendship was actually stifling. It wasn’t until years later that I realized she was a fake with her love-bombing. My own sense of self worth was so low at the time, that I felt that if she accepted me, and gave me her attention and admiration, then I would really matter.

 

AND, YEP, THEY WILL SMEAR AND…

 

Standing up to a toxic person is tantamount to starting a war (in their heads). Toxic people can’t tolerate being stood up to. You can’t call them on their behavior, like ever. They can’t deal at that level. Even if it’s documented proof. They have melt downs and it triggers horrible things with them, and they take actions that seem incredulous to sane people. I expect real friends call me out on issues, it’s how we help each other. But toxic people can’t be called out. Like, ever.

 

I’ve noticed that once I’ve called the toxic person on their behavior, or don’t support the toxic person, they will try to turn people against me by smearing me. Yep. They do. What can I do? Nada. Nothing. I trust that just like I see the toxic behavior, others will too, eventually. In many cases, immediately.

 

Even with my bubbly personality and my great sense of humor ;), toxic people will smear me. I’ve come to understand that I’m not THAT special to be spared this behavior, even though I make a really yummy jam, and I remembered their birthday. It doesn’t matter how sweet, kind or thoughtful I’ve ever been, they WILL smear me once I stand up to them. Always.

 

They have. They do. That’s how they roll.

 

I just had to get over myself.

 

Since it’s none of my business what people think about me, I have to stay on my side of the street, and get busy with my own issues and my life.

 

I got wind of something being said about me recently by someone from my past. Nope, I didn’t contact anyone. I didn’t “clear things up.” Instead, I lost another ten pounds, and had a bunch of fun dates with friends and family.

 

That’s what I do. That’s how I roll.

 

TOXIC PEOPLE AND DOUBLESPEAK

 

If you remember George Orwell’s 1984, he uses the term “doublespeak”: toxic people use doublespeak in order to drive wedges between people. They say things such as, “Supporting me (in my toxic behavior) against so-and-so is supporting ‘The Cause’, ‘The Group’, ‘The Family’, ‘The Friendship’, etc. They’ll ask, “Where are your loyalties?!”

 

It’s some of the most manipulative and controlling behavior I’ve ever seen.
In truth, supporting toxic behavior and the driving of wedges does exactly the opposite: it destroys groups, causes, families, friendships.

 

Toxic people can sound so passionate and romantic in their destruction, and delusion.

 

Doublespeak is a trick of the toxic to confuse loyal people.

 

LIVE IN UNAPOLOGETIC JOY

 

It’s still hard for me when I have to deal with toxic situations–not fun, not easy. These behaviors serve to remind me the blessings of the joyful people in my life. I find focusing on the love and goodness of family and real friends to be most healing.
My biggest piece of advice is to never let anyone steal your joy. Live in unapologetic joy, and share it with the world!

 

In my life I have loving intelligent close family and friends that love me and support me, and it’s mutual, but that’s all I want from them. I’ve come to realize that no one can give me confidence. People can be praising but they can’t give me validation and self worth–or even make me feel beautiful. No one can give me a sense of belonging. I can’t get courage and strength from anyone else. It’s ALL an inside job. The great side of that is that no one can take away my self worth, my confidence, my value nor my innate goodness and deep-seated humanity. No one. Because: inside job.

 

Love,
Mari

How My Dying Friend Taught Me How to Live

 

(If you double tap on each picture, it gives you a description.)

I recently had a coffee date with my dear friend, Rich. We were mistaken to think that after six months of not seeing one another that we could simply do coffee. Coffee turned to lunch because it didn’t take long after we got caught up on our lives that “She” came up. Rich told me how this birthday he would turn 62 years old. He pointed out that “She” would have turned 62 this past September. Funny that when someone passes they remain that age. “She” is always one day short of 57 to me.

“She” is Barb. Rich’s late wife, and my late dear bestie. Barb is the late sister to my best friend, Robert. (Barb told me she was gifting me Robert and to look after him. We’ve been close friends since. Robert is my partner on many of my work projects and business travels.)

It’s been five years.

At lunch Rich and I retold our Barb stories. They never get old, just funnier. I left our lunch date nostalgic and grateful for this beautiful woman that graced my life with wicked humor and loads of unsolicited, but welcomed, advice. Barb was her own brand of unique. She was classy with her own sense of style. She admitted, unapologetically, that she did not posses a filter between her thoughts and what came out of her mouth. She was the straightest shooter I’ve ever met. We once had a huge argument about whether a public figure was a sociopath, and she was really mad at me because I didn’t agree with her. I wanted her to support her argument with provable facts that this person was indeed a sociopath, and she thought it was obvious and that I was being naive. After extreme frustration on both our parts, we went and got a pedicure. So us.

I like to think I learned more about how to be a friend, a real friend, from Barb. She taught me how to service friendships, and she let me be her friend, just as I was then, when she needed one at the end of her life. Barb had a sweet place in her heart for my husband, Jon, and she adored my children. Barb’s oldest granddaughter is my son’s age, so Barb and I did fun things with the kids.

In the five years since we lost Barb, my life has transitioned into a life that though Barb, from her hospital bed, predicted and encouraged me to live, even she wouldn’t recognize me in. Not just physically but professionally, emotionally and spiritually.

Barb gave me the gift of living, even as she was dying. She allowed me to be in a very personal and private place with her–making her transition into her next world. I was the one the family asked to work out with Barb what “plan B” would be if her doctors couldn’t save her from the onset leukemia that resulted from the chemotherapy used  treating breast cancer. Barb had a resolute optimism that kept her from understanding the crushing devastation of her prognosis. It was left to me to begin to prepare her for what was to come because if any member of her family tried, she would shut them down. Somehow, I was close and distant enough to work with. She in turn nurtured and loved me like a big sister would. There, many late nights in her hospital room, we sat and planned each other’s next adventures. We told one another secrets and we made big promises.

Barb encouraged me to change many aspects of my life. She felt I was too disconnected from the world and from people outside a very tight circle of friends. She wanted me to connect in a bigger way, and felt I would live a more meaningful life that way–best advice ever. She wanted me to get healthy because, though she was the one with cancer, she felt that I should thrive after she passed. “Fuck cancer, Mari! Please be beautiful and healthy. I want you to wear my jeans when you get thin enough and you need to rock them! Promise me, Mari.” I promised. I promised that and so much more. She promised me she would be nice to her family in her final days. She was being difficult because she was scared out of her mind. She kept her promises, and her kids and husband each thanked me. Then Barb thanked me. It went something like this: “Thanks, Mari for (insert expletive) straightening me out.”

I think when someone allows you to correct them, or influence them for the better, they give you a gift too.

Sadly, I don’t have pics of Barb and me because I didn’t do pics of me then–a huge regret on my part, and one I’m no longer experiencing as I take pictures every chance I get with family and friends. Barb was a 5 foot 10 inch red headed ball of fire. A perfect match for this feisty Mexican girl from a tough barrio. Although, Barb thought I was too nice. She felt I needed to toughen up, and I needed to quit letting people walk all over me. That was Barb. No filter. Lots of unsolicited advice.

Barb transitioned peacefully, and I went on to thrive in my life. She helped me so much. I don’t think I would have had the confidence or felt brave enough to make the dedicated choices I made in my life, shortly after her death, without her encouragement.

Out of nowhere it seemed that brave and tough and strong I became.

As hard as it was, I took Barb’s advice and walked away from the circle of toxic friends I was slowly dying in, and I never looked back. She would be proud to know that no one walks all over me and I’m not so nice. I have this great need to have adventures and to connect with people in a meaningful way, and I do every chance I get. My life is currently rich with people, activities and love. And I’ve never been healthier.

Thanks, Barb.

A couple of years ago, at one of our lunch dates, I wore the jeans Barb left me, to meet Rich. Of course, I had to have the tailor cut three inches off of them to work with my 5 foot 7 inches. But wore them, I sure did. Because: fuck cancer, Barb! I modeled them for Rich, spinning around and all. We had our Barb moment. I know Barb would roll with laughter if I told her that her ($200.00) size 12 Paige jeans were too big for me now. {Rich, if you’re reading this, I’m sure Barb only paid $50.00 for the jeans ;), as a matter of fact, I’m certain of it.} Maybe she’d laugh her raspy laugh, and tell me, “Fuck cancer, Mari.” She would be so happy for me. In my heart I feel she is.

A few days after my recent lunch with Rich, I found the book I pictured above, When Breath Becomes Air. The author, Paul Kalanithi, spun gold when he wrote it. He, too, died of cancer. He was on the verge of a promising career. He left his wife and their baby behind. This brilliant book was released two months after the Paul’s death. Somehow Paul chronicled how he kept his humanity and his deep-seated compassion for people while becoming a neurosurgeon, dealing in many cases with death–even deciding whether someone should be kept from living in a vegetative state and allowed to die without his interference. Paul dealt with his own mortality, and he did it with gravitas.

Until I read this book, I never understood what Barb and I were all about in those last few months of her life–because it was almost magic what we did for one another, especially what she left me with–and why she was so influential in how I changed my life. I just knew I needed her as much as she needed me.

I took in every word of Paul’s book. He showed me through his brilliance, proved to me, how the dying are the ones on whom we sometimes depend to teach us how to live–how to go on, and how to thrive.

I loved this book, written by a man with a real understanding for the human spirit and how it interacts with science and life.

I recommend this book to anyone seeking meaningful answers to living, or even to dying.

Thank you, Barb. Thank you, Paul. And fuck cancer!

Always,
~Maricela

The You’re Supposed To’s and Being Shamed

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If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you don’t appreciate being told why you MUST do something, such as going on a diet or fitness program, which can be so hard and painful. As an unapologetic non-conformist, I’ve never done well with “Mari needs to…!” With the exception of my late friend Barb, anyone that has ever given me unsolicited advice about my weight or any meaningful aspect of my life, has failed at epic levels. No one that has ever forced or shamed me into doing anything has ever remained my friend. Ever.

As someone who understands these feelings, I’m going to ask you to separate yourself from the “I’m expected to’s” and the “what YOU really need to do’s…” You see, with some of us strong-willed people, there’s combativeness with someone pushing us to do something we haven’t owned or aren’t able to own, and combat takes up energy–energy we need for ourselves.

I’m going to tell you what I did to set apart that battle, and how I decided the only reason for going on such a large difficult transformation.

I hope I can give you a deeper understanding that in this process I came to find myself, and to love and respect myself in the most caring way. I sincerely hope this encourages you, whether you need to lose weight, quit drinking, quit smoking, or quit some other destructive behavior–or any combination.

In truth, there as many reasons to get to a healthy weight as there are ways to get there. Maybe someone is putting pressure on you, or your mother tells you that you have such a pretty face, if only…Or maybe you’re being (or feeling) judged or shamed about your body.

I didn’t begin this journey because a friend told me I needed to lose weight, or because my mother reminded me a guzzillion times that I have “such pretty face”, or because I felt judged by other people. Or even that someone’s shaming got through to me–it didn’t, it was just mean, hurtful and not helpful. Nope. Not one of those reasons, nor all of them added up together, were reasons enough to get me off of my self-imposed situation.

Now, I’m not out to make our friends and family, that want us to get healthy, or quit a destructive habit, enemies. They aren’t. Anyone encouraging you to get well and thrive is not an enemy, they’re probably the best people in your life and they probably really love you. When my mother told me what a pretty face I had, she was looking into the beauty of her daughter, and she wanted to see me enjoy great health and potential beauty. Nothing wrong with that. My mother is extremely proud of my transformation.

I believe that sometimes when we’re not fighting the right fight, we begin to fight those around us–and, who better than those that are hitting nerves, and thereby bringing it on?! That’s why it’s important to own your fight, and know what your fighting, and why.

One day I realized I needed to do this for ME, and I needed to OWN it.

Simply for ME! And only for ME. And it needed to be done by me, under my command and my impetus.

How did I do it? I realized that I was disengaged. I was disconnected. I later realized how far disengaged and disconnected I’d become but that’s for another blog post. Fear and apathy are the enemies of engagement and connection. Fear and apathy are the reasons we fail to even try to meet our dreams. I chose to engage, and I chose to engage with whatever I had to do, or leave in order to master this journey. I connected in every possible way I could with making my goal come to fruition.

Instead of using my energy to fight others, I used my energy to move my mind and body out of the apathetic inertia I was firmly set in. Most people that knew me then would not have believed I was apathetic or in fear of anything because I have a big personality.

I was really really unhappy.

I did this transformation for me, and me alone. There are a hundred things I wanted from dropping the weight, and I got all of them, and even more.

I later came to realize that my disengagement, which became self-neglect, was numbing me to a real sense of who I was. It kept me in a disconnected state and prevented me from living a joyful life.

What I never expected, what I never saw coming, was how deeply glorious it is to have self-respect. It gave me a new confidence I’ve used successfully in life, and especially in business. When I started treating myself better, I demanded others treat me better.

I found it satisfying to know that I could set my mind to something so personal and hard, and push through it.

It feels empowering to have the strength to say no to myself, and to take control of my own behavior.

I wear size ten jeans that I call my big pants. And I wear size eight when I’m on plan. I don’t know where I stand with today’s vanity sizing but I still have more weight loss goals.

However, there isn’t a jean size for the best gift I got out for pursuing these goals: ME.

Me–engaged and connected, living in a state of joy. How cool is that?!

I find that even when I’m locking horns with someone, I’m still engaged, and connected. To me, that’s living.

I found out that I’m a strong brave girl. I found out I’m younger as I get older. I found out I’m a ball of energy and can run circles around thirty year olds–that has more to do with the physical conditioning I got from exercise. I found out so many things about myself that I never thought were in me.

So, if you’re dying a little each day. If you wake up unhappy with your condition. If you feel like you’re not respecting yourself. I challenge you to do what you know you need to do, to own it, for the only reason you should: YOU! Engage and connected you.

Beautiful amazing you. The strength and energy is in YOU. And you are so worth it.

~Mari

Four Stents and One Happy Software Developer

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Big luck, preparation, vigilance, and science met on December 7, 2015, when  my husband, Jon had stents put in each of his four coronary arteries, as they were each blocked. Two were 90% blocked, the other two 99% blocked. This life-saving procedure was done in less than two hours. And it was done through a artery in his arm while he was awake but medicated.

 

Freakin’ amazing high-tech science…and fantabulous on the ball doctors. Wow!

 

One of Jon’s cardiologist made it very clear to me, when she praised me for my vigilance, that getting Jon properly diagnosed and pushing for this exact procedure saved his life. Her exact words, “Without this procedure Jon would have had a heart attack. He was a walking-ticking-time bomb.”

 

After this dramatic statement, unbeknownst to me and everyone else, I went into shock.

 

It was weeks later that I was able to appreciate that Jon and our family came out of this victorious.

 

Victorious because instead of Jon having a massive heart attack, and who-knows-what, Zack and Daniella (our kids, 11 and 29, respectively) got to celebrate Christmas with their father.

 

Before I tell you our story, I need to tell you that my medical knowledge is limited to high school science, the education our cardiologist gave me in his office–I’m relieved there wasn’t a written exam–and articles I read on-line. That’s it. I am sharing our experience as I remember it. Hopefully, I’m not over-romanticizing it with revisionist history, you’ll have to be the judge of that. If giving up a little of our privacy, putting this story out there, increases awareness then it’s worth it to Jon and me.

 

Arriving to Jon’s diagnosis required that we recognize three red flags that recently showed up in the regular course of our lives, and some tests, that led us to the diagnosis. In retrospect the red flags are clear. I’m listing them here because they were much more subtle in the moment, and it scares me to think we could have missed them, as they were so easy to “explain” and minimize away. Hopefully by pointing them out to you, and how easily we could have missed them, it might one day cause question in someone’s life, and save it. Just like it did for Jon.

 

Other people’s symptoms vary. What I’m trying to point out is how subtle heart disease symptoms can be and how easily these nuances can be missed, and how important it is to get proper medical care and diagnosis.

 

The three red flags we noticed happened over the span of about a week. The first red flag was when Jon and I decided to make our exercise target five miles. I thought we could help make up for some added celebratory calories by adding two miles to our workout. We did five miles effortlessly. When we stopped we both agreed we could have done a few more miles. Only this time after we were done my face was red, and Jon’s wasn’t. He looked slightly ashen. We had plenty of (wrong) explanations. Change in diet, added exercise, perhaps? Then Jon seemed back to normal after his shower and some lunch.

 

The following day we noticed the next flag, after a hard Yoga/Pilates work out. We took a selfie before and after. Jon did not look good after. He called the Kaiser help line. It was determined he was ok. Maybe it was too hard of a class? Maybe not enough to eat before the class? But my antennae were up.

 

The third was days after, when Jon and our son, Zack, were helping me set up for Christmas. Jon felt awful, wiped out. Jon is not a couch potato. He exercises regularly and he does a lot of projects around the house. He also does a lot of stair work at the track. His feeling like this after going up and down the ladder a whole bunch was inconsistent. He contacted his primary care doctor and Jon got in immediately.

 

After a failed EKG and a bad stress test result, it was determined Jon would have a cardiac procedure to see if there was blockage to his arteries. Jon was reluctant, I pushed heavily for this procedure, and I came across as a very pushy dominating wife–what’s new–and I didn’t care what anyone was thinking of me. It was suggested we do more tets but I was worried we’d get a misdiagnosis. This angio-plasti needed to get done. Period.

 

I’d like to tell you that it was a total surprise to me that Jon would ever need this procedure. After all, his blood pressure and his LDL cholesterol levels are in COMPLETELY NORMAL ranges, and always have been. Although Jon indulges in a few treats from time to time (fruit pies, fruit pies, fruit pies…and he loves a great steak), Jon’s been a health food nut since he was born in Berkeley, California to a mom that only let him eat sugar once a year, on Halloween. He’s rarely eaten processed food. He was never one to eat from a drive thru. He eats green leafy salads and/or vegetables at every meal, including breakfast. He doesn’t drink alcohol. He’s never smoked. He exercises regularly. I could easily say Jon eats 90% amazing.

 

However, Jon’s family has a medical history of heart disease–so, I knew what to watch out for.

 

Four years ago we changed up our game. We made our diet a top priority and exercise became second to breathing. We walked away from toxic situations and crazy people; you know, the ones that like to involve people in social underhanded warfare. Toxic situations and crazy people create environments that introvert you and keep you from seeing the real world. They distort and create mis-estimations of situations, and they create stress.

 

As a result of the changes we made, we’ve never been happier and more distraction-free. I really believe, and I can’t emphasize this enough, that if we hadn’t made all the changes we had made, when we did, then we would have been too absorbed in others’ drama to see the tiny red flags we needed to clearly see in order to keep Jon from having a massive heart attack. Even having the history of exercising together, gave us a base to know how we react to exercise so that we were able to recognize when post-workout reactions were out of the ordinary.

 

Now, let me be clear when Jon and I changed up our diet, the levels of change were as different as we are. Jon and I are not made of the same food groups. I love sugar and flour (I love whiskey and Scotch). Jon doesn’t. The immense dietary changes I’ve had to make have been different than Jon’s. But his diet has been is much improved these past four years, because I’ve upgraded so many of the things we eat, and even when we do indulge it’s still with better choices and with better ingredients–and more limitations. As an example, salad dressings are often made with avocado oil. Some of our cookies are made with almond butter, coconut sugar, and no flour. This isn’t all the time, we eat regular cookies from to time and other prepared salad dressings but our diet is vastly different than it was four years ago. And even when we do indulge, it’s about 1/2 a portion of anything we did before.

 

The day of the stents installation, Jon spent the night at the hospital, though they were willing to send him home the same day. Jon got settled into his hospital room, and out came his laptop and he got on his cell phone and called the office since it was still a workday. And I freaked out! Yep.

 

I was instructed by the cardiologist to wait a few days but they wanted Jon back out at the track doing a couple miles. She expected Jon out there doing his previous level of exercise within a week! We complied. And we haven’t had any problems. His rosy color is slowly coming back, and the ashen color is fading.

 

Five days after the cardiac procedure, Jon attended a holiday party with me. Minutes after we arrived, Jon made a new friend and I heard all the software developer geek talk I’m familiar with. For the first time ever, it sounded kind of sweet to me and it made smile.

 

We recently had a follow up visit to the cardiologist. I asked all sorts of questions about Jon’s health and prognosis. The cardiologist told us that Jon is no longer a cardiac patient. He has no physical restrictions or limitations. I was instructed to have him dance all night New Year’s Eve.

 

There are a few dietary restrictions–his dear steaks and pies are going to be fewer and further in between, but he will still have them. They’ll just be more special now. He made his famous rib roast for Christmas, though this year we froze the left overs before it got out of hand.

 

Because Jon has great cholesterol and blood pressure, his doctor pointed out that Jon was doing his part all along to fight the good fight, and pointed out that Jon’s genetic make-up of heart disease is luckily something modern medicine could deal with in this situation.

 

Don’t be surprised if you see Jon lose a bit of weight in the next year. I’m currently figuring out our plan.

 

I’ve also noticed Jon has a bit more energy than he did some months back. At my birthday dinner in November he seemed tired and quiet. Then, post-stents, at Christmas he was energetic, cheery and involved. Jon didn’t want to miss one single Holiday celebration this year. He made it to all we could fit in our schedule and he had a great time at all of them.

 

The cardiologist recently praised us for the deliberate choices we’d made in our lifestyle, Jon’s lack of medical history for his entire fifty-nine years of life, his blood work, his blood pressure.

 

When we left the cardiologist’s office I realized that this was the first time since the December 7th cardiac procedure that I was no longer in a state of shock. And I began to finally appreciate that because of everything we had done years before, and weeks prior, and because of freakin’ amazing modern medicine, and fabulous doctors, we were for this one situation in our life, absolutely victorious.

 

Absolutely victorious!

 

I want to give a shout out to our tribe of family and friends. Having real intelligent friends, who give unconditional love and support has allowed us to have the environment to fight real fights, not fake ones. I think fighting and and overcoming heart disease is a real battle we can all agree needs to be fought well. And, when you have to go into these sorts of real battles your close circle of friends can’t be stupid, toxic or crazy.

 

I think we also have a new lease on life and our priorities are going to get an even greater upgrade. One thing we both want is more face time and fun activities with our friends and family.

 

We don’t normally travel for the New Year. But this year feels kind of gifted, so we’re off to be with some of the dearest, most loving people in our life to celebrate all that we have and all the wonderful that is to come. And doctor’s orders are that Jon dance all night long.

 

Happy New Year, dear friends! May you have love and health, and keep them both!.

~Maricela

How My Primary Care Physician Helped Me Lose Over 150 Pounds

Grateful for the Doctor that Helped Me Change My Life,
Dr. James Kastelman

(Note: In October of this year I wrote the following as part of my gratitude thread on Facebook. Through my story, I wanted to tell my friends and family how vital it is to have a medical doctor oversee a weight loss transformation, and some of the things a doctor could and should be doing to help us change our lives; and what’s sometimes needed by our medical support teams to wake us the heck up and pop us out of our denial for whatever medical conditions we need to deal with.

Dr. Kastelman just saw a family member and ordered some life saving tests–I am not exaggerating about this. I will write more about this in the next few days. In the meantime, if you didn’t read this on FB, here it is. If you or anyone you love are going to be working on a diet and exercise plan, I can’t stress enough how important it is to get a competent primary care physician to examine you, do all the necessary blood work, tests, exams, to have all the necessary conversations, get all your questions asked and answered, and then for you to follow their instructions. Please note that I said ‘competent primary care physician’. You may have to do some extra research, like I did, in order to find one that fits that standard.)

Five years ago I selected my primary care physician after research through the Kaiser network. I needed more than a doctor to do maintenance doctor visits. I needed one that could supervise me into a healthy weight, as I needed to lose a dramatic amount of weight–without creating greater harm in the process.

For many reasons, I determined Dr. Kastelman was most qualified to help me. He had a strong interest in fitness and nutrition as part of the complete approach to overall health.

Unfortunately, at the time, Dr. Kastelman was filled to capacity with patients. I don’t know how I did it but I sweet talked him into taking a meeting me. I told Dr. K about my desire to get healthy, to lose a lot of weight and that I wanted to get fit through exercise.

With my great intentions and my winning personality, how could he not take me on as his patient? He accepted me. He seemed like one of the smartest, kindest, warmest doctors I’d ever met. Well, until I managed to piss him off.

That’s when Dr. Kastelman woke me up, and changed my life!

I had been Dr. Kastelman’s patient for about six months when I had to see him about a rash. My bestie had been in the hospital with cancer fighting for her life and I couldn’t be at the hospital with any type of contagious rash, or illness. I had been caring for her, cooking for her out of town visitors and taking care of her family. Every night, after leaving the hospital, I managed to unwind with friends and family with an alcoholic beverage (or two), a comforting meal and home made dessert.

By the time I saw Dr. Kastelman for this rash, I was up about ten pounds in weight from when he accepted me as his patient. He didn’t seem that interested in my rash–though he ruled it out as non-contagious–or my excuses. One look at him and I knew the excuses coming out of my mouth for my weight gain were futile. He told me the direction I was going in was destructive and not what he and I had agreed to. He made it perfectly clear he was not happy with me and exactly why.

For the first time in my adult life, I left my clinic visit jolted out of my denial and disconnected existence. Dr. Kastelman’s words and tone impinged upon me for days and weeks. I couldn’t shake them off. I was used to people getting mad at me for the lamest things. This was one of the few times in my life when someone was mad at me for all the right reasons, and I knew it. I didn’t realize then just how much I was affected by his attitude and his refusal to accept my “reasons”. This quick little visit to see Dr. K made such a difference in my life.

I knew I had the option to switch doctors if I wanted–I quick little email, and viola! I didn’t bother to entertain that idea, I knew it was a cop out.

I sucked it up and began to look at my life, my behaviors, and even the people I surrounded myself with.

My bestie died. With the loss of my friend, I probably could have gained another ten pounds but it was not an option for me, to see Dr. K with anything other than being with the program and showing some weight loss. I made sure the next time he saw me I weighed less than when he initially took me on as a patient. After that, I went on to lose and lose and lose.

Dr. Kastelman made sure we did all the blood work necessary to monitor my wellness and he ensured I stayed well. He guided me on staying with a nutritional diet and away from crazy fad diets. He got me to cut back on refined carbs and drastically cut down on sugar–probably the greatest impact on my weight loss. Most importantly, he kept me from becoming a diabetic. Other than the few pounds I oscillate in, I’ve managed to keep all my weight loss progress.

Since the beginning, Dr. Kastelman and I have discussed my exercise plans. He’s advised me on how to approach exercise, how to listen to my body, and what to look for. In the past five years I’ve walked, ran, rowed, done TRX, lifted weights, yoga classes, etc., and I’ve never had an injury. Not one.

I’ve fallen in love with exercise and I crave it.

In spite of being booked with patients, Dr. K has been quick to answer emails, return calls, and been very willing to take an appointment with me anytime I’ve needed it.

About a year ago in a visit, I reminded Dr. Kastelman of the time he got mad at me, and how much it meant to me. He looked up our conversation in his computer notes and smiled. He asked if he should apologize.

Um, no!

I’m in the best health of my entire adult life, and that has contributed to my overall happiness and sense of well-being. I think that speaks best to what Dr. Kastelman has meant to me.

I am eternally grateful for this smart, lovely, caring doctor that also knows when to call bull shit.

Forever grateful,
~Maricela Perry

Choose Your Hard

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“Dieting and physical exercise are hard. Being fat and out-of-shape is hard. Choose your hard.”

My motto these past few years. Anytime I’ve wanted to give in, I would remind myself to choose my hard.

Which ‘hard’ is always a personal choice.

If I don’t feel ‘on plan’ about some aspect of my life, my mood when I go to bed is anywhere between slightly annoyed to majorly mad at myself, depending on the size of the self-imposed delays to my project. I don’t experience procrastination well–not that I don’t procrastinate–and I suck at making excuses for not following through. The Hubs will confirm that I’m not fun to live with when I’m disappointed, especially with myself. I’ve come to realize it takes more energy to NOT DO projects as I intend them, due to all the internal turmoil, than it takes to just do them and gain a feeling of personal satisfaction and pride.

When I’ve excused my way out of doing a workout, or gone ‘off-plan’ on my nutrition, I’ve experienced regret. It’s just how I am when I set goals and don’t live up to them. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Regret and owning up to things is how we process our actions so that we can appreciate better choices. I had to learn to experience regret and then let it go–a pivotal point for moving forward and creating improvement.

I find that once I get back ‘on plan’ that after a few days of eating well and doing my workouts, I go to bed happy with myself. Maybe all the yummy endorphins and nutrition make me feel satiated and at peace with myself. Or maybe it’s the personal respect of keeping my own promises.

There hasn’t been one single workout I’ve regretted. Not one.

There hasn’t been a time when I’ve made a nutritional meal choice that I’ve regretted.

I’ve just never had a nice piece of wild salmon with a great salad, and then thought to myself, “That sucked. Why did I eat that?” Or left the track and thought, “Why did I run three miles today? What a waste of my time?!”

Never happened. Not once.

There’s a saying in the fitness world, “The only workout you regret is the one you didn’t do.”