This is a long article. First is my journey. Then I share my two biggest lessons. If you just want the lessons, scroll down. But I hope you take the time to read about my story.
Exactly 2 years ago from last Saturday, January 14th, I made a decision. After years of being self-conscious, failed attempts to get into a workout routine, and unhealthy methods to tamper with my food intake, I was fed up. I bought Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide program, created an “accountability Instagram”, and took my starting photos. I joined a gym down the street, bought healthy food for my fridge, and made a plan to get in my workouts for the week.
At the time I was in a weird limbo stage of my life. I had left my college after just one semester. It was the wrong fit, and mental health prevented me from completing an entire year. I was going to be a visiting student at a school outside of Boston. Essentially I would show up for classes, and that was it. No orientation, no option to join clubs, no opportunities for an extremely introverted person like myself to make acquaintances. I was going to be living alone in my grandparents’ apartment while they were in Florida. I was depressed after years of mental health issues. I was still battling eating disorders. I was alone.
I threw myself into BBG- the program and the community. My Instagram helped keep my on track with fitness and food. And as I stayed on track with the program, it became the one stable thing in my life. Something I could rely on each day. I knew it would be there the following day, and I knew what came next. Looking back, I now compare it to my life vest.
I stayed on track for the full 12 weeks. I lost 20+lbs. I went from a 10/12 to a 2/4 in dresses, 30 to a 26 in pants. I got through my semester. My eating disorder behaviors had reduced. I was a little happier. But I was struggling with medications. I still was alone. I was far from healed. I went home to a town full of all of my high school friends. I hadn’t spoken to them the entire semester. I couldn’t handle it at the time. But most no longer considered me a friend. I was surrounded by people telling only positive stories of their first year of college, stories of parties and sororities, boyfriends, and fun flings. When I did join, I had nothing to share. I fell silent.
Then I met the boy who would become my first boyfriend. I was in a pretty dark hole at the time and he helped me out. We stayed together for 11 months before he ended it. I didn’t know how healthy relationships were supposed to be. I was so happy to have someone who truly cared for me that I let a lot of terrible things slide. I gave 1000% of myself to him and the relationship, and he did not reciprocate. My mental health was an arguing point. He was annoyed that I wasn’t getting healthier; that if I truly loved him I would be improving. I stayed because I was afraid to be alone. I knew I could live without him specifically, but I wasn’t sure I could be by myself again like I had been the winter of 2015. While he was the one who ended it, I should have been strong enough to end it many months before.
On my two-year timeline, we are now in May of 2016. Fitness during my relationship took a back seat. I was maintaining, but I wasn’t improving. Enter weightlifting. I had dabbled with weights and heavy lifting earlier that year, but now I was determined to actually devote time. Right after our breakup, I was eating large servings of ice cream every day (we’re talking Dairy Queen blizzards people) alongside my normal meals and still losing weight. Over that summer I was doing 4-hour lifts. I wasn’t trying to lose crazy weight or be unhealthy. I would take my fave pre-workout (ATHENA by Unico Nutrition) and simply get in the zone. I finally started seeing some ab definition, hitting new PRs (person record) each week. I was finally moving my life forward again.
Then I went to Kayla’s NYC BBG meetup. I finally got to meet some of my closest Instagram friends. People thought I was crazy for traveling to another state to meet girls I had never seen in person, stay in their homes, and stand in line for 6+ hours in the summer heat. But I had so much fun. Every second filled my heart.
When I got home I tried reconnecting with people from my hometown. I had taken the past year off from school (working at a law firm), so I felt even more removed. But I tried putting myself out there little by little. I had picked my future school, Boston University, and got my own place in the city. While it was still a long and lonely summer, fitness was the structure I needed in my life.
My first semester at BU, this past fall, was amazing and difficult. With fitness, I kept lifting heavier and heavier. I had decided I was going to take the ACE Certified Personal Trainer exam at the end of the semester. I was learning and training. I was seeing more physical progress, and I was loving it. But with school, it was a different story. While classes were pretty easy, I was very removed. I had one friend I had made at orientation over the summer. I had met a few girls in one of my classes, but everyone seemed to have established lives. It was too much for me to try to integrate. So I kept to myself. I studied, I worked out, I watched Netflix, and occasionally saw my friend. It was a tough semester. I was alone still.
Since the start of 2017, a lot of things have happened. I passed my ACE test. I have two amazing jobs associated with fitness. I am getting the chance to interact and work with other fitness-focused people. I still work at my law firm. Next semester I am going to be a lot busier. So even if I’m alone, I’ll be alone with my thoughts a lot less.
And now we come to January 14, 2017. I am officially 15 weeks out from NPC Cutler Classic in Boston. That’s right, I am doing my first bikini division competition. I am both nervous and excited. It is a good new test for me. Plus, the intense structure is actually a lot less stressful for me. My mental health is a daily challenge. And my diagnoses mean that it will be for many years to come. But I now have much more confidence in my inner strength to tackle the obstacles I have in front of me, both fitness and mental health related.
1. Never apologize for taking the steps you need to be healthy.
This is something I spent a lot of time learning, through positive and negative experiences. It first learned it with physical health. Sometimes it was in my best interest to meet up with a friend later that day (for example) so I could get a workout in. My workouts had become a time to focus on myself. I felt calmer afterward. I had taken time that day to better my body and myself for tomorrow. I was less anxious because I was able to get my workout in as opposed to skipping it. Maybe I would choose not to go out to a dinner so I could make a healthier food choice. I wouldn’t necessarily skip on the evening, just meet up later. Some people might see this as me having the wrong priorities, but I beg to differ. I am not prioritizing getting skinny over relationships. I am putting my health first.
It took longer with mental health. I spent a lot of time apologizing for how my mental health affected the people in my life. I never directly meant to hurt any of them, but sometimes they would indirectly get caught in the crossfire. Now I am at a point where I am simply done. I am not arguing my problems are more important than someone else’s in the grand scheme of things. But I know now that I can’t keep apologizing for not being there to help my friends out when I was battling with extreme suicidal thoughts. There is only so much a person can handle. And I had to prioritize myself to stay sane. I am not saying I should still be considered the most amazing friend or partner. Maybe I am far from. But this is who I am, this is what I can bring to the table.
Bottom line, you and your health should be your number one priority. Don’t put yourself on a pedestal high above others, but you need to recognize when you need to focus on yourself.
2. Surround yourself with people who support you, but be able to stand straight without anyone to lean against.
I gave too much credit to my ex during the months I spent with him. I thought I couldn’t stand tall on my own. But I could, I can. Never give someone the power to make you think you aren’t strong enough to be your own beautiful person.
About half of the past two years I spent truly alone. And yes, I dipped extremely low. But I am still here. And I owe at least 85-90% of that to myself and my own will to push to tomorrow. But the other 15% goes out to my amazing Instagram community. I would spill my heart out into my captions, and at least one person would always come through, sometimes dozens. Even in my darkest moments, women across the globe would make me smile. These people supported every drop of my personality. Never had or have I met so many supportive people. I wouldn’t have been as successful as quickly in my physical transformation, or my mental growth without these ladies.
Success is truly surrounding yourself with the right people. It’s not about quantity. It’s all about quality of the people in your life, and the quality of your relationship with that person. Find your people. Yes, you can bloom beautifully on your own. But a field of flowers is much more gorgeous than a single rose. Yes, that’s corny, but I like the imagery and the metaphor.
Everyone gets dealt different cards. I used to be so hostile and resentful for the mental health “cards” I was given. And while I do wish things were different, I like to hope one day it will come full circle and all seem worth it. Two years ago I NEVER would have expected to be a student at Boston University with a certification to be a personal trainer and a year and a half internship at a law firm under my belt. You truly do not know what tomorrow holds. Plan for a better tomorrow, but be prepared to take on whatever life throws at you.