Who Am I to Be Fit, Strong and Confident?

 

 

Girl, Woman, Goddess
Who am I NOT to be fit, strong and confident?!

Dear Reader:

I had a moment today when suddenly, all at once, I could hear every negative (or at least not positive) comment that has been made about My Journey to Strong.

  1. “Why would anyone want to spend 50 minutes burning 700 calories in the gym?”
  2. “Aren’t you getting a bit carried away with this fitness thing?”
  3. “Are you going to start wearing those ridiculously tiny bra tops and shorts?
  4. “Aren’t you afraid you’re going to pack on too much muscle?”
  5. “It’s hard to imagine you’re going to want to do this forever!”

When people make major, positive changes, it seems a natural consequence for some of those in their world to question the transformation. I do understand that simple psychology. The response, I think, is a mix of curiosity and envy. I’ve been there.

We ask ourselves how? How did she do it…get fit, write a book, learn to paint, start a business? But, we know the answer. She just made up her mind to do it and then she showed up….over and over and over again! How wonderful! That means that we all have the potential to do anything we set our minds to!

I am reminded of the brilliance of Marianne Williamson in her best-selling book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

My trainer, pictured with me above, encourages me and challenges me, in addition to educating me about all things related to health and fitness. My daughter, who refers to me as a “beast,” reminds me regularly that she is very proud of me. And, my husband is very supportive of me. But, in the end, it is just as it was in the beginning; my desire, my commitment and my continued hard work are the key to my success.

Should you be curious, here are my answers to the five queries above:

  1. Why not?
  2. My trainer ensures that I’m not doing too much or too little. I have the time and I love it!
  3. Maybe…and, when I do, I’ll send you a photo!
  4. No. Once again there’s my trainer. Plus, let me just say, Michelle Obama’s arms are a thing of beauty. I can’t wait to be that muscular.
  5. It’s okay; I can imagine it!

So, when all I can hear are the voices of skeptics, I remind myself that I am fit, strong and confident. One might even suggest that I am a goddess and I would fight my natural impulse to demure and just own it! I am a goddess.

Are you letting your light shine, dear reader? I’d love to hear about your success in the gym, studio, kitchen, office, garden….

Michele

 

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 5

 

My Journey to Strong

Chapter 5: Six Months In and I’m Not Going Back!

Dear Reader:

Who’d have thought that there was an athlete inside of me?! Not me! But, I can’t imagine going back now. How do I love strength training and cardio workouts? Let me count the ways:

  1. I feel good.
  2. I look good.
  3. I haven’t fallen in six months.
  4. I can confidently scale stone walls in search of my Winnie.
  5. I feel strong, accomplished and proud.
  6. I’m having fun!

I can not think of anything else I could do that would yield those kind of results. And, I can not think of one thing I don’t like about it. Truly. I’ve become addicted to doing the right thing for my body!

It seems that training has brought out the best parts of my nature. I’m extremely competitive and intense and strength training gives me the opportunity to constantly work to best myself. It’s easy to measure my progress in time, pounds and reps.

On my first day, I could barely last five minutes at level 1 on the arc; today I’m burning more than 600 calories in 50 minutes on level 5. In the beginning, my knee was sore and my ankle swollen and I couldn’t imagine ever getting beyond the movements I was doing on the psychical therapy table. Soon, I graduated to resistance bands and weight benches. I impressed myself a couple of weeks ago when I sat down at the leg press and pushed through twelve reps of 245 pounds (noisy knees and all)!

Some of my progress is quantifiable with hard numbers, but I’m just as excited about the progress that I’ve made in areas of my life that are not easily measured. I just feel more comfortable in my own body. I’ve worked to strengthen my legs and my knees are now better supported. I have less pain, despite the arthritis. All of this makes me feel more confident when I’m presented with stairs or hills. Would it be an exaggeration to say I feel younger? NO!

I know that I’m not younger, dear reader. But, I also know that I am stronger. And, I’ll tell you, I feel empowered. There’s another benefit of my time in the gym. I have the energy and confidence to take on other challenges in the future. It’s not over until it’s over!

Tonight, I’m congratulating myself on six months of hard work. I’m also happily anticipating a strenuous workout tomorrow morning and a return to my regular four days a week in the gym. (There’s been a break in my schedule due to the holiday and the birth of my trainer’s son. Congratulations Jonathan and Britney!) 

Next up for me: deadlifts! I’ll let you know how that goes.

What’s your exercise regime? I’d love to hear from you.

Michele

My Memorial Day Cardio Workout

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What Mom?!

Dear Reader:

On any other Monday morning, I’d be killing it on the Cybex arc burning in excess of 600 calories in 50 minutes. But, Zone Fitness was closed for Memorial Day, so I took to the streets in my slippers and p.j.’s, blanket wrapped round my shoulders for modesty’s sake.

To be sure, this was an unplanned session of cardio. It lasted only 30 minutes, but it was more brutal and intense than anything I’ve ever done in the gym. It began just after I’d poured my second cup of coffee.

“Where’s Winnie?” was the rallying cry! When you live with three dachshunds always under foot, you develop a sixth sense that warns you when one of them is in trouble (of their own making)! We called for her and searched the yard, but it quickly became clear that she was gone!

My husband and I ran to the driveway to begin our rescue mission while our daughter, home from school for the weekend, changed from p.j.’s to street clothing.  Tom headed left. I went right and flagged down a car just as he rounded our corner. I didn’t know him, but he knew enough about me that I didn’t have to tell him the breed of my dogs!

“Oh, I’ve seen your doxies,” or did he say “heard your doxies”? It’s all a blur. “I have a dog; I understand,” he continued.

He offered to drive, slowly, around the loop that is our street and search for my girl. My belief in the kindness of strangers is so often validated.

I continued down the street, alternately yelling “Winnie” and explaining to any passers-by that my dog was loose, and very tiny. About 20 frantic minutes after the realization that she was gone, I felt the first tear slip down my cheek. I began knocking on doors. People can be very sweet when presented with a lightly clad, very sad neighbor at their door. No one had seen her, but everyone would watch out for her. A few even joined me in the street.

It would be about another 10 minutes before my husband found our pup and sent my daughter out in the car to look for me. I heard he gave her simple instructions.

“Don’t come back without your mother!”

Back in our family room where our day had quietly begun, my husband described what he’d learned about Winnie’s great escape and adventure. I must describe the geography of our home for you to fully appreciate her great feat. Our house is below street level, so our garden is terraced. Stone walls divide each level. Our little one had jumped four 18 inch walls (we knew she could do that) and a 2 foot metal fence (we didn’t know she could do that) and then tunneled under the bottom of the fence to arrive in our neighbor’s back yard. She didn’t stop there, though. She tunneled further to pop up in the next neighbors yard and had just left and crossed the street when the man who offered to help me spotted her from his car and called out to my husband.

My husband called out to Winnie, who obviously knew she’d been a bad girl. She turned and ran away from him, but thankfully back the way she’d come. She arrived in our yard to my husband’s great pleasure (or displeasure)?!

Dachshunds were bred to burrow and they are known to be trouble-makers. Our Winnie is an overachiever in both areas! She’s light on her short-little legs and she’d already shown us that she could scale the walls to magically appear at our back door. But, we thought we had contained her after my husband built a small fence to keep her on the second level of the yard.

Thankfully, this is a story with a happy ending, but I also think it’s a cautionary tale to anyone thinking about acquiring a dog:

There are dogs and then there are dachshunds…beware!

Michele

P.S. On a positive note, I did get in some cardio…and my husband will be getting his workout after he returns from Home Depot with cement and lumber to build a bigger, better fence!

Wonder Woman and Superman Spotted in Monterey, California!

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Dear Reader:

In a rare photo-op today at Zone Fitness in Monterey, California, Wonder Woman and Superman appeared together. It seems Wonder Woman was under the impression that she, and only she, would be the focus of the shoot. But, Superman had other ideas.

“Wow, he just photo bombed her,” one young fan exclaimed!

“I’d expect that from the Flash,” said another.

Wonder Woman, however, was unperturbed and warmly introduced the Man of Steel as her “favorite Justice League colleague.”

“Ladies,” she said, “I am a singular wonder, but I’m also a good team player!”

The event included an impressive demonstration of crunches, curls and squats followed by the inspiring story of Wonder Woman’s pursuit of strength. Premier Protein shakes in banana (WW’s favorite) were served following the Q & A portion of the show.

Batman, upon hearing of Superman’s surprise appearance, reportedly announced he may be in the neighborhood the next time his female cohort appears. Stay tuned to this site for further updates.

Michele

P.S. If you’d like to feel like a superhero (or just dress like one),  you can buy a WW t-shirt at Target!

I Am a Prozac Queen

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Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Dear Reader:

I feel anger and contentment, sorrow and joy, anxiety and enthusiasm, along with fear and courage… sometimes all in the same day! And, yet, I am a “Fluoxetine Queen” as defined by the Urban Dictionary.

Fluoxetine Queen

An enthusiastic and outgoing advocate of the drug Fluoxetine, more commonly known as Prozac, especially one who has used the drug and experienced its benefits or one who is dependant on it to function normally.

There are some who will be surprised to hear that, despite pharmacological intervention, I feel every spoke in the Wheel of Emotions. Indeed I once consulted an orthopedic surgeon regarding my ankle.

He perused my paperwork and inquired, “I see you’re on Prozac…so you’re happy all the time, huh?”

He was an older doctor and I believe he needed to retire or take a continuing education course. I never saw him again and I never had the surgery he recommended. Maybe you can tell by my tone that his question miraculously caused me to feel something other than happiness. I was irritated, annoyed and downright angry.

Early in my blogging career, I wrote a post entitled In Praise of Prozac. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been depressed and that I was brave enough to get treatment. I want to be part of the movement that seeks to destigmatize issues relating to mental health. And, I’d like to reach out and offer compassion and hope to anyone who is suffering.

I decided to re-visit the topic after reading the New York Times front page story  Many People Taking Antidepressants Discover They Cannot Quit. I had an immediate reaction to the story. (I’m not the only one; less than two weeks after its publication there are over 2,000 reader responses.) You see, I am one of the “many…who cannot quit.”

When I filled my first prescription for 20mg of Prozac, I was a stay-at-home mom with a four-year-old daughter. My 35-year-old brother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer the month before. My husband’s job was demanding and my support system consisted of only a few close friends.

Matt and I had been very close and it wasn’t surprising that I felt overwhelmed and heartbroken. But, it was clear that I was not simply sad. I struggled to get out of bed and into the shower every morning. I was irritable. Each day seemed to bring physical aches and pains, despite the fact that I was not sick or injured. I remember most clearly a feeling of heaviness, exhaustion and emptiness.

I might have continued to suffer had it not been for my beautiful daughter. After I had a panic attack while at the bookstore with her, I knew I needed to do something. I had to take care of myself so I could take care of my child. I set up an appointment with a counselor and saw my general practitioner.

The only question I remember asking my doctor, “How does one stop taking antidepressants?!”

I do not remember his answer.

But, I didn’t re-visit that question for nearly a year because Prozac improved the quality of my life and relationships. It did not deaden my emotions; it made them manageable again. I continued to feel sad, but that emotion did not paralyze me. I often felt tired, but I did not feel utterly depleted. I no longer felt like a detached viewer of my own life. I felt  present again. The random, unexplainable aches and pains disappeared and with them several other prescriptions. And the fear was gone; I could leave the house without worrying that I’d experience another panic attack. I felt equipped to handle the responsibilities of motherhood.

I was not successful the first time I tried to taper down my antidepressant, nor the second time…nor the third. Seventeen years after my first dosage, Prozac still makes it possible for me to live my best life. Why does a strong, content, fulfilled woman need an antidepressant? I don’t know and neither does my doctor.

If you’ve done your research, as I have, you’ve probably seen depression defined as a “chemical imbalance” or a “serotonin deficiency.” But, that’s an oversimplification. Experts really don’t know what causes depression or how it affects the brain, nor do they understand exactly how antidepressants improve the symptoms.

But, this is what I know:

  1. Prozac and counseling helped me face a huge loss.
  2. Prozac continues to help me.
  3. I have no regrets.

Antidepressants will continue to grab headlines and much of the press will continue to be alarming. That’s just the way it works. You are not likely to see Antidepressants Save Millions of Lives Every Year printed across the front page of any newspaper. And yet, I personally believe that is the bigger story.

Prozac hit the market a mere 12 years before I needed it. So, in a very real way, I am a guinea pig. I can live with that. After all, I am a Fluoxetine Queen!

Michele 

Beauty in the Ordinary

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Dear Reader:

There are so many ways to feel happy. Sometimes, a moment can bring on a smile that lasts for days.

I showed up at the gym for cardio today, as usual. I was feeling exhilarated and energized at the 35 minute mark on the arc when a young man climbed on the machine next to me. I had met him the week before. It was impossible for me to forget his name.

I removed my ear buds and said hello. I was feeling so good that I couldn’t resist teasing him.

“Oh, Matthew, that was just a talk test,” I said.

The look of terror in his eyes was amusing, but he was too sweet to torture. I’m into humor, not cruelty, so I quickly assured him that I was fine. I imagined him imagining me collapsing near his feet and requiring immediate emergency care!

Five minutes later my workout was done and he peaked at the numbers displayed on the screen of my machine.

“Wow, you just did 40 minutes on that thing,” he exclaimed.

Not long ago, I felt self-conscious when I found myself sweating next to a young, fit person. But, today I was impressed …with myself. I knew his praise was genuine. That was a gift, but it wasn’t the only one he presented to me, without knowing it.

If you know me or have read my posts, you are aware that I lost someone very special to me in 2001. He was 36 at the time; I was 40. I will live the rest of my life looking for him… and finding him.  My brother, Matthew, seems to appear in the face of any young man who is kind to me…and also happens to call himself Matthew.

Look for the beautiful, in the ordinary, and you’ll find it!

Michele

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: Balance is Important

Dear Reader:

You could say that I was “unbalanced” before I started working out. I’m not talking about the fact that walking, quite regularly, led to falling! I’m referring to “life balance”.

In the words of the incredibly bodacious Jennifer Lopez, “Beauty is only skin deep. I think what’s really important is finding a balance of mind, body and spirit.”

I’m a natural-born student. I love to learn and I love a challenge; my mind has always been a priority for me. I’m blessed to have a loving husband, an amazing daughter and generous friends. My outlook on life is positive and my faith is deep. Before I began training, I had two of Jennifer’s bases covered.

Since November, I’ve integrated the “body” component into my life. I’ve got a routine: Tuesday/Thursday for strength training, Monday/Wednesday/Saturday for cardio.  I have a more balanced life and it feels good. My newly acquired bit of wisdom …well, you’ve heard it before, but, here it is again:

 Exercise brings confidence and energy to your life!

Thanks to all of you who have supported and encouraged me. I hear you: I’m sticking with it!

Michele

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 3

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Chapter 3: Cardio is Not a Walk in the Park

Dear Reader:

OMG, I knew so little the day I walked through the door at Zone Fitness! During my first meeting with my personal trainer, Jonathan, we discussed the importance of both cardio (fitness slang for cardiovascular activity) and weight training. I told him that I was intimidated by weights.

“But, I like cardio,” I offered. “In fact, I exercise four days a week and count my steps!”

I learned very quickly, though, that my idea of cardio was not the same as Jonathan’s. I discovered that I fell far short of meeting the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association and by extension my doctor. Intensity matters! It only counts as cardio when you elevate your heart rate into an aerobic zone, which is 55 to 85 percent of your maximum. Any movement is good, but I was really short-changing myself. I was not working or sweating enough to achieve my weight loss goals or maintain my health. 

Real cardio is hard. The machine I’m sitting on in the picture above is a Cybex arc. I’d never given one a go and, let’s just say, the first time was an experience. I felt like I was going to die after 5 minutes, but I needed to make friends with that machine because it’s designed to be easier on the joints than an elliptical and burn 16% more calories than a treadmill.

I’m proud to say that I can now burn 400 calories in a 35 minute workout on the arc. Getting there required me to trust my trainer. I’d constantly joke that I hoped picking me up after my heart attack was included in my dues. But, honestly, I was scared. I had to learn that I couldn’t/shouldn’t jump off the machine when my inner monologue changed from…you can do this, Michele to …this feels horrible, Tom will kill me if I die in the gym, I don’t know if I can continue, I hate this blanking machine!

Jonathan identified this highly unpleasant feeling:  metabolic pain. (I’ll let you google that for the scientific explanation.) I only needed to know that it wasn’t a sign that I was going to die, but instead a sign that I was getting a good work out. We monitored my heart rate and Jonathan checked in frequently to ensure that I was expending the correct amount of energy.

“How are you doing?” he’d ask me. In those moments, I wasn’t sure I liked him.  My inner monologue went something like this…Can’t you tell by the look on my face?, Didn’t you notice that drop of sweat that just fell to the floor by your foot? Can’t you think of a better question? I later learned that Jonathan was administering the “talk test.” (You should be working so hard that you can’t carry on a conversation, but easy enough that you can contribute short sentences.)

After the first week of cardio training, it did get easier for me to keep pushing. I know what to expect. I can sense what my heart rate is before I check my reading. In short, I know my body better. Cardio has become a three-day a week activity, but I’m not saying it’s easy. Just when I’ve got my workout nailed, my trainer tweaks the settings! That brings me to my third bit of newly acquired wisdom on My Journey to Strong:

You only improve your fitness when you challenge your body.

Michele

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 2

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Chapter 2: Look What I Can Do!

Dear Reader:

I’m a visual person and this seems to be how I decide what I want to invest my energy in. Last January I pictured myself blogging in my pink shed. By March, I was writing to you!

This year I pictured a stronger me; I never thought I’d say that. I’m lifting weights; I never thought I’d do that! And, I’m making progress!

When I hobbled in to meet my personal trainer, I was nine pounds heavier with a swollen, blue ankle. Jonathan was supportive and instructive. He was careful to reinforce the correct position for every exercise so that I would not experience a “gym injury” of any kind. After all, I confessed that I am an extremely experienced and talented klutz. My friends asked if I felt that he was pushing me to my max, and I had to respond negatively….until.

I made a quick trip over to see my daughter who is an active college student. Her routine includes Boot Camp in the Park every Sunday. How could I say no?! The trainer modified some of the activities to take into account my weak ankle, but I pulled my weight…figuratively and literally! I felt so proud of myself that I sent a photo to my trainer.

Oops! I returned home to an amped up routine.

“Ack, you don’t feel sorry for me anymore, do you?!” I asked Jonathan.

“Nope, think I saw you dragging a weighted tire through the park!” he answered.

When, way back when, I was in high school, kids divided themselves up into four groups: jocks, brains, socials and stoners. I fell into the “brains” group. I’ve always felt most comfortable pursuing intellectual goals. My recent foray into the gym has not been easy and so I feel that much more pride in my commitment and effort. I am getting stronger! I love that. This brings me to my second bit of newly acquired wisdom on My Journey to Strong:

We are capable of more than we think! 

Michele

It’s Time for my #MeToo Moment

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Dear Reader:

I’ve written about personal and painful subjects in these posts:  In Praise of Prozac and Mean Mothers and Happy Birthday, Brother. Yet, I have been hesitant to share my #Me Too moments with you. Even now, I’m not writing because I need to write, but instead, because I feel a responsibility to write. I must be part of this historical conversation.

I’m lucky to have never encountered a Weinstein in my life, but to this day, I’m affected by three experiences I had with doctors when I was much younger.

Doctor #1:  I visited your office because my father knew you through his work as a pharmaceutical salesman and thought you were a great guy. I was seventeen years old and I had a horrible sore throat. While my father was in the next room, your hands travelled from my throat down my body and it seemed you thought I’d feel complimented with your assessment of my shape.

Doctor #2:  My general practitioner recommended you highly. I was already uncomfortable as I waited for you on the exam table cloaked in paper; no woman looks forward to a gynecological exam. I can not say why you decided to recite adjectives to describe my body when you began the exam at my breasts, but I can remember the fear and disgust I felt as you finished my pelvic exam. No, dear reader, I did not have the presence of mind, at that time, to bolt from the table before enduring the final indignity.

Doctor #3:  You came as a surprise to me. It had been five years since I encountered Doctor #2. I’d come to work that day sicker than I knew I was and my boss insisted I see a doctor. A co-worker recommended the clinic just up the street where she’d seen a couple good doctors. Unfortunately, none of the doctors that were recommended were available,  so I saw you. You started with my throat and worked your way down just as Doctor #1 had done so many years before.

I’d had this experience already twice in my life and yet I still couldn’t quite believe what had happened. I returned to work in shock. Despite my inability to clearly articulate what had happened to me, my boss understood.

“Yes, it really happened,” she said to me.

I can still see her face and remember her kindness. She told me I could stay and work if I felt up to it. I spent the day at my desk with a never-ending cup of tea forcing myself to forget the doctor.

But, the next morning when I woke up, the first face I saw was Doctor #3 and I was ANGRY. A decade had passed since I’d encountered Doctor #1. I felt stronger. So, I filed a written complaint with the Medical Board of California. A couple of weeks later, a board representative visited me to discuss my claim. It was quite obvious that the gentleman did not believe me. I found myself declaring, with great certainty, that there must have been other complaints about this doctor.

“There are no other complaints,” he said. “And, this man has been in practice for many years. He’s close to retirement and this is unfortunate.”

By this, he clearly meant my complaint and not the doctor’s behavior.

“Well,” I said ,”don’t send your wife or daughter or mother to see him!”

None of my experiences rise to the level of what so many other unfortunate women have encountered, but it’s surprising to me how much anger I still feel as I write this post. To this day, my blood pressure literally rises whenever I encounter a new doctor. I feel great sympathy and admiration for the young women who have courageously told their stories and brought Dr. Larry Nassar down.

My husband’s reaction to the #Me Too movement must be common. He often looks at me as we watch the news of the day and expresses surprise at how prevalent sexual harassment and abuse are in our society. I’m not surprised, but then I’m a woman.

Michele