One of the hardest things for me to do as I figured out my fitness path was to get up and get moving. It’s not like I wasn’t active most of my life, it’s that life tends to get in the way. My self-employed, always on the go lifestyle meant that when I finally settled in at the end of the day I was completely wiped.
I would start out at 6 in the morning, begin working almost immediately, drive to this meeting or that, do client work, and take care of some issues my father needed. Or there are the days when I need to stay with dad the entire day, or several days in a row, and by the time I was home exhaustion took over. Except what I discovered was that all of the physical running around and mental stress wasn’t really the full reason for my exhaustion.
From 2009 through to her death in 2011, my cousin, my siblings and I cared for my mother during her decline from Alzheimer’s disease. I’m told by those around me and who know me well that I seem to thrive on “emergency,” I work well under pressure and take it all in stride. Unfortunately, this kind of inherent skill, or coping mechanism, or whatever you want to call it, also causes you to forget some pretty basic things – eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising, and any level of downtime to give your body and mind a chance to recharge.
When you’re this stressed and spent from just maintaining the care and comfort of someone else, or maybe more than one person, your own health will suffer, and in a big way. I was the poster child for letting myself go in favor of my mom’s welfare. I’ve learned over the years that this is pretty common among caregivers. There’s a sense of “guilt” associated with personal comfort and care – “I’ll be comfortable and take care of myself once they (our charges) are cared for.” The problem is that there is no foreseeable end to the constant state of emergency or anxiety experienced by a family caregiver – so we let ourselves go.
Now, taking care of my father, it’s not quite as difficult in a lot of ways, but has its stresses far and away greater than anything I experienced before. But this time, I’m doing it right. Well, maybe not “right” but at least better. I decided in December to make the move to a healthier life – for all the reasons you can read about in my post titled, “In the beginning…”
Some of the foundation of that healthy change was already in place. When I saw the incredible effect hydration had on my bed-bound mother during her care, I began to slowly eliminate 95% of soda from my diet – a pretty significant move when you consider that I would burn through a case of Cherry Coke in four or five days, plus whatever I had outside of home. My family is riddled with diabetics, my dad included, and my numbers were pretty high at that point too. Changing over to water was probably the best thing I had done to that point, especially considering the profound improved effect it had on urinary and kidney functions.
But now it was about physical activity – trying to get into the mindset of the person who “works out.” That certainly wasn’t me. I just didn’t understand it. It seemed vain and pointless. I’m usually way too practical for my own good. I would argue with myself about the idea that the word “work” in “workout” seemed silly because you’re not really accomplishing anything productive. “I don’t understand the purpose of sitting there raising a dumbbell up and down repeatedly, or running – to go where, exactly?” Boy, was I wrong, but I was right in a way as well.
I was right in that it’s true you’re not doing something that earns any money or gets the lawn mowed or the house painted or whatever. But where I was wrong is that you are doing something productive; you’re taking care of your health and body and future. Giving myself a longer life seemed to be a good motivator, but it wasn’t quite enough. I spent weeks going back and forth on what I would do that didn’t feel like a complete waste of time. After all, you have to get your head in the game or you’ll never accomplish anything. If I was going to be the worst critic of this process, I had to get out of my own head – somehow.
After a great deal of research, talking to other people who enjoyed working out, and discussing with my family and doctor what would be the best way for me to start, I chose swimming. When I was young and dealing with so many surgical procedures and physical issues, the doctors would always suggest that my parents let me swim. They taught me early on and my dad even built a huge in-ground pool in the house where I lived until the age of 9.
What the doctors hoped was that the water pressure, buoyancy, and low-impact nature of swimming would help my body heal faster and give me a respite from pain and gravity. I don’t really remember what it did back then, but I was willing to give it a shot this time around. So I bit the bullet and visited a local fitness center, a non-profit place with no meat market or people just making time to stare at themselves in a mirror while they flex. It had a fantastic indoor pool, clean and clear and warm. Just after Christmas 2016, I headed for the water.
And while most people might be afraid of the water, I was having anxiety before I ever got into my swimming trunks. I dreaded the fact that I’d be wearing shorts and had to change and shower in … a public locker room! Stay tuned for more!