When Your Priorities Change, So Do Your Fears

There are many things in life that either freak me out or just plain scare the bajesus out of me. Spiders, clowns, bugs, supernatural nastiness, to name a few. One thing that has always terrified me is the idea of being alone. I’m not talking about being alone as in a room by myself, but rather ending up living a solitary life with a bunch of cats writing My Little Pony fanfiction (ok…..maybe that’s a stretch, but you get the picture)

A year ago, my focus was on my career, my fitness, and just enjoying life. When people would ask me why I was single, I’d say “Oh, I don’t have time for one right now. I’m just happy living my life for me!” And that was true….on the outside. Inside, I was starting to have those dark thoughts of whether or not I’d find someone. Whether or not I’d ever find the happiness that my friends had and, if I did, would it be while I was still young enough to have kids. I was scared to death of never knowing what true happiness felt like. On the outside, I presented myself as being happy as can be with life and all it had to offer. On the inside, I was bitter, insecure, and absolutely devastated that I was 26 and didn’t see marriage and kids on the horizon anytime soon.

And then, just like that, my whole world turned upside down. I found the man who is the very reason my heart beats. My priorities changed once I met and fell in love with Cameron. Sure, my focus was still very much fitness and career driven, but I was making decisions based upon OUR future. I accepted a job in Merrillville so we could move in together, we started planning our wedding, and he prepared me for the training that would come for my next season of competition. Life is brilliant, and I couldn’t be happier.

As my priorities changed, so did my fears….in a way. I was still fearful of ending up alone. I wasn’t fearful of ending up alone because I didn’t find someone—I was fearful of being left behind in the event something happened to Cameron. I had a nightmare the other night that caused me to wake up in a cold sweat and throw up several times. In the awful dream, Cameron called me and said he wasn’t feeling well, so he was going to go home from work early. I told him to keep me posted on how he was feeling, that I loved him, and that I’d be home in a few hours. He then began telling me how much he loved me, how amazing I was, and that I deserved so much. The next part of the dream was me getting home, finding all the lights off, and no dogs barking. I opened the door, turned on the light, and found him on the couch with our wedding picture in his left hand……and a gun in the other. The nightmare then fast forwards to the funeral, where I am handed a folded up flag as I stare blankly at my husband’s casket. And then, thank God, I woke up.

For those of you who don’t know, Cameron is a Marine. Not only that, but he is a combat veteran who has been deployed multiple times to Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. He’s endured trauma that I can’t even begin to comprehend, from personal injury to losing his best friends in combat. As a result, he has PTSD, as many veterans do. Veterans with PTSD are more vulnerable to suicidal ideation or attempts.

Cameron has had both. As a mental health professional and a future Marine wife, this scares me more than I could ever express.

I’m a sociologist at heart. I nerd out about statistics like it’s my job……but the statistics regarding veterans and suicide? Those make my blood run cold. They always were shocking to me, but they never were more than statistics until I fell in love with my Marine. Roughly between 17-22 veterans commit suicide on a daily basis, according to most statistical reports between 2011-2014. A recent study found that among OIF/OEF Veterans, those with subthreshold PTSD were 3 times more likely to report hopelessness or suicidal ideation than those without PTSD. This has become my absolute biggest fear.

He is my whole life, my whole heart, and I am determined to help him keep his demons at bay. He has not had another PTSD episode since July 4th, and he is very much aware of my fears. Since he and I have been together, he has lost multiple friends to suicide. Each time, my heart sinks into my stomach and I can’t help but sob because this has become all too common. I refuse to let the love of my life become a mere statistic.

Veterans are more than statistics. It’s time we started giving them the praise, the help, and the recognition they deserve.

“So what happens after he climbs up and rescues her?” “She rescues him right back.”

Every little girl dreams of finding her Prince Charming. The hopes, the dreams, and the expectations perpetuated by every single fairy tale we were exposed to as children followed me well into adulthood. After graduating from college, I began my professional career and daydreamed about the day my prince would come.

And then I became married to my career…….and fitness.

My fitness journey took me from overweight to an NPC Bikini Competitor. I posted several weight loss transformation pictures throughout my journey on my Facebook page. One afternoon, I saw my cousin Angie tag me in a status thanking me for being an inspiration to her. She also tagged another competitor named Sunny, so I sent him a friend request because I was new to the world of competition. A few days later, I received a friend request from a guy who had Sunny as a mutual friend……and he was attractive, he was single, I was single, I accepted. Little did I know that clicking that “accept” button would change my entire life. His name was Cameron.

It’s no secret that I have a love of proper grammar, spelling, and the Oxford Comma. Cameron’s first message to me was a Strunks & White joke about how grammar saves lives:

“‘Let’s eat, Grandma.’ and ‘Let’s eat Grandma.’, grammar saves lives. Hi, I’m Cameron.”

I smiled so big, and of course responded with an equally sassy response applauding him for his clever opening line. After a few messages, we exchanged numbers and began talking nonstop. Aside from his good looks and dreamy blue eyes, I was instantly drawn to his humor, his mutual interest of fitness, his passion for life, and his love of God. However, I was definitely skeptical. He seemed too good to be true, so I kept pushing off meeting until we finally agreed to meet at my gym for a workout.

He was an hour late, and I was beginning to think he was going to stand me up. He sent hilarious picture messages of buggies and his responses to them (which happened to be Robin Williams screaming “WHAT YEAR IS IT?!”). I was able to get my cardio in before he arrived, then quickly touched up my makeup so I didn’t look like a sweaty mess when he arrived. He texted me and said “Here!”, and so I walked out and stood by the front doors of the gym to wait for him. I, naturally, gave him a hard time about being late, and tried my hardest to keep him from seeing how nervous I was. Pictures didn’t do him justice! I showed him around the gym, and then we got to work with our epic CrossFit workout that was on the docket. I can’t tell you exactly what the workouts contained, I can’t tell you how many times my legs felt like they were going to fall off, I can’t tell you how many times I had to readjust my ponytail……but I can tell you the amount of times I got distracted because of watching the handsome man in front of me lift heavy things–38.

He pushed me to keep going. He didn’t let me wimp out just because I couldn’t feel my limbs anymore. He pushed me off a box when I sat down. You know what I did? Imagined him shirtless. In fact, he was getting agitated that he couldn’t take his shirt off in the gym. I jokingly told him to tie it up like a country girl. He did. I dropped my kettlebell. Not sorry. When we finished the workout, we decided to go get lunch. We laughed about our pasts, our workout fails, and how his brother thought that Alpha Delta Pi was a fraternity. Then, we went to PetSmart so I could buy Ellie Belle a new toy and get goldfish food. Then, we sat in my car for an hour and 32 minutes because neither of us wanted the day to be over.

My best friend was supposed to be getting married on July 4th, but the wedding was postponed due to issues with his fiancee’s visa. Since Cameron had already agreed to be my date to the wedding, we decided to spend the 4th together anyway. The plan was for me to come meet him in La Porte, and then we’d head to the beach. After a couple hours of finding a beach that wasn’t closed due to sinkholes or crowded beyond words, we decided to just relax, eat some steak….and drink some Fireball. One shot turned into two, two into three, and then I remembered that I don’t drink much anymore. That’s when I, realizing I was exactly 13 inches shorter than Cameron, decided to stand on his dining room chair. I lost my balance and fell into his arms—and then he kissed me. When dusk arrived, I asked if he wanted to go outside to see the fireworks. Within minutes, he was in the grasp of a violent PTSD episode. As a mental health professional, I quickly ran to his side and began trying my best to comfort him. As heartbreaking as the situation was, it was the closest I had ever felt to another human being in my life. I stayed by his side the entire night to make sure he was happy, safe, and comforted.

In the months that followed, we shared in moments of laughter and tears. When Satan and past demons tried to tear us apart, we remained strong when most bonds would shatter. After a date night in Chicago while Cameron was on business, we came back to the hotel and he started working on a report for his leadership course the following day. I perched myself on the bed and began watching one of my crazy TLC reality documentary shows. I felt him writing on my leg during a commercial break, and laughed as I glanced down to see what he was sketching on my thigh. It said “I ❤ You.” I, of course, told him I loved him too. He then wrote “Marry me?” I smiled, gave him a kiss, took the pen, and wrote “Yes.” He has asked me every day since, and my answer is and forever will be yes ❤

It’s been quite the whirlwind, and some may say it’s even “too fast,” but to them I reply–Life has no recipe. I never knew it was possible to be this happy or to love another person this much, but I thank God every day for Cameron and I cannot wait to see what’s in store as we take this next step!

Simma Down Nah

It’s no secret that I absolutely love Instagram. 90% of my posts are related to either food, fitness, or my dachshunds. Today, I posted this picture for #flashbackfriday/#flexfriday/#fitfriday:

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I shared it on both IG and Facebook with the following caption:

From obliterated hot mess to dedicated gym rat. My transformation has been much more than weight loss. My entire lifestyle has changed. I used to be so insecure and depressed that I needed to drink excessively to numb the pain. I was unhappy with my weight, but I just kept living the same destructive lifestyle I had been. Alcohol made me forget. Alcohol made me bold. Alcohol also made me overweight, unhealthy, and more depressed. Fast forward 5 years from that picture on the left, and life is completely different. I’m in the gym 5-6 days a week, I eat healthy, and for the first time in a long time I feel good about myself. I don’t need alcohol, I don’t need complements from men, and I don’t need to party in order to find peace in my life. I have God, I have the gym, and I have faith in myself. I looked for happiness in the bottom of a bottle, but I found it in the gym.

It took a LOT of courage to share that part of my story, because not many people knew about the alcohol problems I had in college. I drank to numb the pain of insecurity, I drank to numb the pain of losing loved ones, I drank to numb the hurt of breakups. My sisters were worried, my family was worried, and deep down I was worried, but I kept drinking. I was dangerously close to being, from a clinical standpoint, an alcoholic.

After posting this picture, most of the comments were incredibly supportive and contained nothing but love and support. However, after refreshing my browser while eating lunch, I found this status from one of my FB friends.

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I honestly feel it’s no coincidence that this was posted less than an hour after I shared my picture and my story.  Alcohol was not the reason I gained all the weight. It was a factor, but so were the poor food choices and making excuses not to go to the gym, along with being too depressed to get out of bed some days. I found this extremely rude and incredibly offensive. I feel it’s stupid to take offense to someone’s personal story of overcoming obstacles like that just because you’re a bartender. I still drink on occasion. I love wine, I love good beer, and I love going to bars with friends. I just don’t drink to get drunk anymore. I drink socially, and I prefer wine tastings and breweries to clubs. That’s what adults do. They drink to socialize, they drink because they love the art and the taste. Alcoholics drink to deal with life and numb the pain they’re too scared to process—alcoholics drink to function. “You don’t need to be sober to be healthy”? I’ve never met a single alcoholic who a doctor could look at and give a thumbs up with a clean bill of health. Devaluing someone’s life experiences in such a hurtful manner is ridiculous.

Sloppy ass mess, huh? I guarantee that even at my most intoxicated I could carry on a better conversation than most people. So suck on that Popsicle, holmes.

And life goes on.

As 2014 flies by at lightning speed, lately I’ve found myself thinking about how much has changed in the past couple years. Things I’ve lost, things I’ve gained, things I’ve learned, and things I’ve experienced—all of them having a major effect on my life in one way or another. Some of them still have a hold on a daily basis, and some of them I’ve learned to let go. That’s life.

And it goes on.

November 3rd, it will be 4 years since my beloved Grandpa went home to Jesus. The struggle is still so very real on a daily basis. I miss him more than words and my heart aches to have just one more day with him. I wonder how our conversations would go about my post-graduate life, who I’m dating, and about my job. I wonder what he’d have to say about my weight loss, and how he’d feel about the fact that I cut way back on the drinking like he wanted. But then, I wonder what he’d have to say about how I coped with his passing. How I drank to numb the pain. How I tried to fill the void in my life with any guy who told me I was pretty. How I almost gave up all the hard work I put into my college career. However, you can’t live with a bunch of “what if’s” lingering over your head. I just hope that, above all else, he’s proud of me. The void will never be filled and I’ll always miss him.

But life goes on

In March, I logged on to Facebook only to discover that my best friend of 20 years had unfriended me. To some, this may not seem like a big deal, but it was a crushing blow to me. We used to be insanely close and then our paths took us in different directions, I guess.

But life goes on.

I look back at all my pictures from college and feel horrible that I let myself get to the weight that I did. I want so badly to be able to proudly display pictures from my 4 amazing years at IU, but I’m so ashamed of how I look in most of them that I only have a few set out. I always wonder how much different my life would have been in college had I not gained the weight.

But life goes on.

If 2014 has taught me anything, it’s been to keep pushing forward regardless of how bleak the journey may seem. I’m looking so forward to what the next year has to bring. Relationship? Engagement? Children? Grad School? Who knows. All I know is that I have my feet rooted in confidence and am ready for whatever 2015 throws at me.

Life goes on, the story unfolds, and the next chapter is on the horizon. Bring it.

Stop asking me when I’m going to [insert life event here]

I’m just a small town girl (((go ahead….try to not hear “Don’t Stop Believin'” in your head right now))) and with that comes small town expectations. I graduated in a class of approximately 132, and many of the friends I grew up with are in serious relationships, engaged, married, and/or building families.

And then there’s me.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me the plethora of “When are you going to….” questions related to all aspects of my life. 90% of them are from people who assume that since I’m 26, single, living at home, and married to my job that I’m just miserable all the time. The truth is that, aside from my age, those are all things I’ve chosen for myself.

“When are you going to move to a place of your own? Aren’t you tired of living at home?”

I work in Elkhart, which is significantly bigger than my teenie town of Ligonier. There are some really nice areas of the city, but there are also very bad parts. Affordable housing in good areas of town are hard to come by, so I CHOOSE to live at home. I love my parents dearly and living at home during the start of my professional life has allowed me to grow a lot closer with both of them. Plus, I work for a non-profit agency which means I get paid far less than I should for the work that I do, so the money saving aspect is pretty fantastic. Truthfully, I love my job so the pay doesn’t bother me nearly as much as what people think.

“When are you going to settle down? Maybe you should stop being so shallow and overlooking good guys that are right in front of you.”

This one grinds my gears to no end. First off, my job makes the dating scene difficult the vast majority of the time. Second, since when did having standards make me shallow? While it’s not everything, I think physical attraction is a very important thing in a relationship. It’s a very primitive thing as we look for mates with good genes to pass along to future offspring. All that aside, the reason I’m attracted to men who are physically fit is because it shows me that they care enough about their bodies to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Fitness is a HUGE part of my life, and ideally I’d like a partner with the same passion. The other major things I look for are:

  • Intelligence/Education-I’m college educated and consider myself to be a fairly intelligent individual. I would love to find the same in a partner.
  • Morals-Knowing right from wrong isn’t hard for most, but there are the select few that just don’t get it.
  • Open Mindedness-I tend to clash with close-minded individuals. I have friends and family whose lifestyles vary from the societal norm. I refuse to let these individuals leave my life and so I need someone who will accept them for who they are and not what they are.
  • Stability/Career-Building a career is a beautiful thing. I want someone in a field they’re passionate about that they see bettering themselves in for years to come.
  • Sense of Humor-I’m sarcastic, goofy, and I snort when I laugh. I want someone who is on par with my sense of humor.

I highly doubt the fact that I know what I want makes me shallow, considering the bulk of my qualities aren’t even related to physical features. As for when I’m going to settle down, that’s God’s timing, not mine. I’ve got prospects, but I’m not putting all my eggs into one basket. My relationship with Cameron taking a fiery downward spiral kind of wrecked my ability to easily put my faith into a “could be forever” sort of thing. I’m not going to rush into something or settle simply because those around me are pressuring to do so. I’d rather marry later than my peers than be both married and divorced before 30.

“When are you going to stop taking all that stuff? You’re already skinny enough and you should be proud of where you’re at, not trying to lose more weight.”

This one is simple: AdvoCare products make me feel great, help me cut body fat %, and build glorious muscle. So…..you know…..never is the answer to that question.

“When are you going to have kids? If you wait until you’re married, it may be too late.”

Just….what the hell, people. Stahp. Just staaahhhp.

You get the picture. The bottom line is that this is my life and I’m happy with the way things are going. I firmly believe that when the time is right, each of these questions will be answered. Until then, stop hounding me. If you’re over the age of 50, I may just start hounding you with the “When are you going to plan your funeral? You know you’re getting up there, right?” response.

For When Smiling Isn’t Enough

Last night, I logged on to Facebook to respond to some messages before having dinner with my parents. There, at the top of my news feed, was the tragic headline:

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My first thought? “Oh, this has to be another death hoax. They’ve killed him, Hulk Hogan, and almost all of One Direction in the past few months.” Then I saw that it was a link to CNN. CNN does not (typically) report hoaxes. Sadly, it was true. One of the greatest actors, comedians, and human beings of my lifetime was gone. I immediately passed the information along to my parents and my brother, and we just kind of sat there after reading the even bigger shock: his death was an apparent suicide.

I’ve worked in the mental health field for almost 3 years. During that 3 years, I’ve worn many hats. I’ve been a direct care staff, a skills training specialist, and am now a care facilitator. I’ve had training upon training about depression and suicide, and it amazes me how taboo the subject of mental health still is. Depression is not a joke. It is a real illness that can affect absolutely anyone. Robin Williams’ sudden passing is a sobering reminder of this. All the smiles, adoration, and fame in the world are not enough to suppress the demons within. Sometimes, death seems like the only escape. Suicide is also a hush-hush subject. Many people consider it to be a “cowardly” way to escape from problems. Truthfully? It takes a lot of courage and despair to make the decision that ending your life is the only way to extinguish the pain. There’s no undoing it—and that’s terrifying to think about. On the outside, Robin Williams was happiness in human form. On the inside, he battled the demons of depression and addiction. No one is immune to mental illness. Eerily, some of my favorite Robin Williams quotes fall right in line with views and treatment of mental illness.

As John Keating in Dead Poets Society:

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

As Hunter “Patch” Adams in Patch Adams:

“You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.

As Jack Powell in Jack:

“Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting.”

As Andrew Martin in Bicentennial Man:

“I try to make sense of things. Which is why, I guess, I believe in destiny. There must be a reason that I am as I am. There must be.”

As Dr. Malcolm Sayer in Awakenings:

“The human spirit is more powerful than any drug and THAT is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. THESE are the things that matter.”

And, of course, as the lovable Genie in Aladdin, Williams said this:

“But oh, to be free…such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world.”

And how true it is. You’re free now, Genie. May your joyful soul  find in passing the peace you longed for in life.

If you or anyone you know is battling depression, mental illness, or thinking of suicide. Please get help. You’re not alone and there are people there to help you.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-8255

Once Upon a 60 Pound Weight Loss

A couple weeks ago, I finally hit the 60 pound weight loss mark. It was another major accomplishment in my weight loss journey, so I celebrated by taking a shopping day with my Momma yesterday. We celebrated the completion of my initial challenge with a shopping trip, too. I, of course, documented a successful dress purchase and texted it to my best friend saying “I’m obsessed with this dress and I can’t remember the last time I bought something this tight that I felt good in!” And it’s true, I did feel great in that dress because I thought I looked slim, trim, and ready for a night out on the town.

 

And I did……at that point.

 

Yesterday, not only did I purchase jeans that were a 8 sizes smaller than where I was 18 months ago, but I also bought a dress that was a size 4 and almost bought one in a size 2.

L: March 2013 (17 pounds down) R: April 2014 (60 pounds down)

L: March 2013 (17 pounds down)
R: April 2014 (60 pounds down)

 

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This is my “OMG I just fit into a size 2” face

 

At my heaviest weight of almost 200 pounds, I never thought I’d ever be able to fit into a size 2 again. Ever. However, with all this weight loss and fitness success, I have had a flood of thoughts over questions and comments that have been asked/stated in the past several years. Some of them from peers, some from pageant judges, and some from my own family members. One in particular was asked during a pageant interview shortly after I graduated.

I answered a variety of questions regarding the 4 points of the crown, my platform, etc. Then, one of the judges asked me a question that I will never, ever forget.

“Why do you think you have a chance at winning today? You do realize there has never been a plus-sized Miss America, don’t you?”

His tone was very condescending, and his question followed one regarding my platform of “Celebrate EveryBODY: Beauty Comes in All Sizes”, which promoted eating disorder prevention. I paused for a moment, mostly because I felt the tears welling up in my eyes and the lump forming in my throat, then I calmly said:

“Yes, I’m very much aware of that. However, with all due respect, sir, before 2008 we never had a black president either. Change is a brilliant and powerful thing.”

Change is, indeed, a very powerful thing. Whether you’re changing your lifestyle, your religion, your relationship, your hair color, or even just your shoes—a little bit of change can go a long way. I’ve made many, many changes in my life in the past 18 months. For the first time in my life, I’m not going to settle for just anything. The future is bright. I better get my shades.

Here’s to the next fitness achievement. Leggo.