Just keep swimming…..

This past June I asked the members who attend my Weight Watchers meetings to set a summer goal and asked them where they wanted to be when September arrived.  Goals help to keep us focused and give us something to strive for.  And summer can be a difficult time… routine changes, kids home, travel, visitors, hot days and so much more can make summer a challenge when on this journey of weight loss and improved health.  So I asked them what would make them feel successful this summer and set the goal.

And then I did what I asked them to do and I set a summer goal for myself as well.  This summer I wanted to focus on what would get me back on track, help me feel more in control and help me to continue improving my health….physically and mentally.

20180528_072329_HDR copyThis year we got a pool in our backyard… really we had an entire yard built for us, pool and so much more.  The pool has been my calm place, my meditative place, and my active space.  I love the water.  Our pool is 31 feet in length so that I could swim laps.  I love to swim the length of our pool over and over.  It is so soothing.

It was while I was in the pool that I decided on my summer goal—I would swim the length of our pool 100 times.  When I set the goal I was swimming 10 lengths and then pausing before doing another 10.  So, okay, goal set!  It may take me all summer….maybe into the first week of September, but I was going to do it.

A month into the summer I got up early one morning and swam 70 lengths of the pool… 70!  This was going to be easy to hit my summer goal.

And then I went back to 50 lengths.  It was hard to keep track of the laps in my head and starting out it sounded like a lot to do.  But I was still enjoying my swim time.

In July I joined a team to participate in another challenge that got me walking again and had me figuring out how many lengths in the pool I would need to do to swim a mile—170!  That was too many!  85 lengths for half a mile was more achievable and would help me get to my summer goal, so I started swimming a half mile in the mornings…. Not every morning, but some.  It felt good, but boy was I tired by the 85 length.

A quarter of a mile was more achievable for me, so that became my normal swim.  And then last week I checked in with my members to see how their summer goals were going…we were now in our last month of our summer goal.  And that is when I realized I still had not met my goal.  I had until the end of the month to achieve the goal of swimming 100 lengths of our pool… 3100 feet!

Yesterday I didn’t have a chance to get in the pool, so I decided last night that I would get up and swim early this morning and just add 5 lengths to my half mile for a total of 90.  Okay I could do that!  It was just another 5 beyond what I had already shown I could do.  And then by next weekend I could hit my goal.

This morning I got up early and stepped into the cool water in our pool.  I needed some way to keep track of these laps because 90 was a lot and I knew I would get lost in my thoughts.  And really, 90 seemed like way too much.  How would I do this?

Determined to do this swim, I grabbed 9 small rocks from our yard, 1 rock for every 10 lengths of the pool.  Okay, looking at the rocks, yes that seemed doable.  And I began to swim…. First 10 and a pause to move one rock to another area.

And I swam another 10, moving another rock.  Wow, this was easier than I thought.  I was focusing on 10 at a time and I didn’t need to count higher.  Each rock I moved meant I had done 10 and then I would say I could do another 10.  I kept going and before I knew it I had more rocks in the done pile than in the need to do pile.  That was motivating.

Finally, I moved that 9th rock!  Done.  But I could do 10 more to hit my goal.  I know I can…. So I did another 10.  100 laps, 3100 feet, more than half a mile!  I was so thrilled to have achieved a goal I had set for myself…..

And then I thought well, how many for a mile….. okay let’s see what I can do.  And I grabbed 7 more rocks, not really expecting to get to 170 lengths but I was going to go until I was too tired to go any farther…. And I swam, focusing on 10 at a time and moving a rock after every 10.  After moving 3 of those rocks, having now completed 130 lengths of my pool, my mind was telling me that I had already gone beyond my goal, did I really need to continue?

Yes, the mind is powerful and my mind, my doubts, were working to get me to stop, to be happy with what I had achieved.  I had reached my summer goal a week early and didn’t need to do more.  And yes, I was very happy with myself at that moment, but as I moved that 4th rock, I said, just 10 more….. and I kept going….. just 10 more…..

rocks 2And then I moved that last rock.  I had done it!  1 hour and 15 minutes after starting, I had completed 170 lengths in my pool and 1 mile!!  I DID IT!

Not only did I hit my summer goal, I crushed it!  I pushed through my thoughts of stopping and completed something I wasn’t sure I could do.  I kept going.  And it was because I broke the bigger goal into smaller goals.  Saying I was going to swim 100 laps seemed daunting, but 10…well that I could do.  And when I reached that 100, I was able to push myself outside that comfort zone beyond what I thought I could do and go farther, 10 lengths at a time.  Just 10.

Weight Watchers is about more than counting points and losing weight….so much more.  Because of Weight Watchers I have learned so many skills, changed habits, discovered just how much I can do, and found a belief in me that my younger self never dreamed was possible.  I am grateful for all that I have learned and continue to learn through my journey with Weight Watchers, becoming the best and healthiest version of me that I can be.

Setting goals keeps me motivated and gives me something to strive for.  And when the long-term goal seems too big or too far away or unreachable, setting a smaller goal makes it more achievable.  And that is what I did this morning, just 10 at a time and all those 10’s added up to a BIG 170!!  Reaching goals, well it feels AMAZING!  It gives me a boost in my confidence and has me feeling like I can take on anything and conquer it!  IT may take some time, I may not be perfect at it, but I will get there. One step at a time, one small goal at a time!

I will get there by taking that leap….. one small leap at a time!

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Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Today is the 102nd birthday of our National Park Service, so in celebration I thought I would share another one of our adventures to a National Park… Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.

My husband has always been an adventurer and loves to explore near and far.  So when he said he wanted to take me on a day trip to some ruins he had researched, I thought, okay let’s go!

On Aug 11, 2013, we loaded the car and headed out early for another adventure.

entrance

The drive was long… 3 hours to get to Chaco.  And the last 16 miles of the drive was on a gravel road.  Yes, a gravel road.  This was an out-of-the-way, you REALLY want to go there, park.  And we wanted to see it.

Chaco Canyon was inhabited by the ancestors of the Hopi, Navajo and the New Mexico Pueblo Indians more than 1000 years ago.  The Chacoan people began using this canyon as a cultural center in the mid-800’s and for 300 hundred years it was inhabited.  There were many Great houses built by and for those who stayed here or just traveled through.  These Great Houses were used for ceremonies, storage, burial and hospitality among other things.  This valley was the cultural center for hundreds of miles.   

As we drove into the park, where the road was finally paved, I couldn’t help but wonder about those early people who lived here…. And how they lived.  This was such a harsh desert environment. 

Our first stop, as always, was the visitor center where we were able to see and learn a little more about these long ago people. 

We then drove further into the park, stopping at Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the Great Houses here in Chaco Canyon and it was impressive.  In its heyday, Pueblo Bonito had 500 rooms and 16 kivas (ceremonial rooms).  We were able to walk in and around the ruins, seeing for ourselves the incredible architecture of those ancient people who used sandstone to build their buildings and kivas and then held it all together with mud mortar.  Incredible!  And enough was still standing for us to see and imagine what a magnificent building this Pueblo must have been. 

We explored Pueblo Bonito for quite some time and then walked down to the next Great House, which was smaller.  This one, Kin Kietso, had at one time 100 rooms and 5 kivas.  It was easy to imagine the people wandering around here, socializing, trading and celebrating. 

After exploring the ruins, it was time to go on a hike…. To the top of the mesa above the ruins… where the park ranger said there was a great view of the canyon and the pueblo ruins.  And she was right.  But…

She didn’t tell us that the hike was so steep or that it was a trail from an ancient trail to the top.  Talk about fear of heights!  Of course, I had imagined the trail going up would be like most trails we had hiked in the past and be a path to follow, well maintained and though steep, fairly uneventful.  And then I saw this…. 

And I told my husband there was no trail.  Really, where was that trail?  It was just rocks with no safety holds…. Ummm…. We started up.  It started off okay, there was a path to follow and then…..

When you see huge rock walls with cracks in them, you ask yourself when will the day come that that rock sheers off (and I was just praying today was not that day)…. and never think that oh, yeah, lets hike through that crevice in the rock….what?  And that is where the trail took us.  When we got to that point we stopped for a minute (I needed to figure out how I was going to do it, as my heart was already racing and my head felt light from the height and knowing that one wrong step, one loose rock and there I would go, falling down the cliff-side…).  While I was gathering my courage, we were joined by a young father with his kids.  He was from the Laguna Pueblo and had brought his children here to show them their ancestral heritage.  Today, Chaco Canyon is a sacred site that is revered and honored by the Hopi, Navajo and Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and they often come to learn and connect with their ancestors.  And that is what this young father was doing with his children.  He told us a little about his life in the Laguna Pueblo and a little of his heritage and then the five of us finished the climb.  My husband and this young man helping me and the children up and over the rocks, through the tiny crevice and onto the top of the mesa.  At the top we said goodbye to this nice young family. 

mesa top trail down

And then I looked at my husband and said there is NO WAY I am going back down that path.  NO WAY!  I was still shaking and had to sit a minute to calm my trembling legs.  We had forgotten to bring the map with us but we remembered that the map in the visitor center showed that there was another way down at the other end of the mesa, which would mean a longer walk back to the car but that was okay because it would be on flat ground. 

We had each brought a bottle of water with us, I had my camera and there was a marked trail.  Did I mention this was August in New Mexico?  In the middle of the day?  On top of a mesa with no shade on a bright sunny day? 

Off we went.  I was determined to find less treacherous, less scary way off of this mesa top.

The views were absolutely spectacular.  We could see forever.  And looking down on the Great Houses allowed us to see just how enormous they really were and the amazing architecture.  The view was worth climbing up to the top for!

mesa top are we going down yetWe followed the path….. and followed the path….. and began to wonder when we might start going back down…. This was pretty flat.   And then we came to a spot where we started to descend, it was a little scary but nothing like the climb up…. And then the descent became gradual…. And then we started to go back up again?  What?  Okay, we should be going down by now….

By this point I was hot!  The sun was beating down on us.  I had finished my water.  My husband still had some of his.  Good thing!

We continued following the path until we found ourselves right back where we had started… right back to the spot where I said I would NOT go down.  Crap!  It was the ONLY path down from this mesa and I couldn’t stay up there…. We had just finished my husband’s water but there was more water in our car, waiting for us in the cooler.

I began to panic.  I was shaking.  I was petrified.  I knew how steep that path was and that one wrong step would mean certain death…. But I had no other choice.

So with my husband guiding me down, we began the descent.  And YES, it was just as frightening as I thought it would be.  I was holding back the tears.  DANG, that was a long way down. 

And then we made it.  I wanted to kiss the ground!  But we were hot, sunburned and thirsty. 

Back to our car for some cold water and a look at the map to see how we missed the way down on the other end…. Oh….. there was no other path down.  Had we known that we would not have hiked the mesa top and then we would have missed the views and the fun we had.  I am glad we didn’t know before we hiked.  

We did learn that day, though,  to always take a map with us and to carry more than one bottle of water each when hiking in the middle of the day, in the summer in the southwest.  That could have gone terribly wrong for us.  God was watching out for us that day!  

Chaco Culture National Historical Park is worth the many miles it takes to get there.  To see ruins from more than 1000 years ago and to imagine what life was like back then, and to see the harsh environment was worth every step taken on our hike.  After visiting Chaco Canyon and learning about the Chacoan culture I can’t help but admire the people that lived there over 1000 years ago, their creativity, their strength and their resilience in such a harsh environment. 

That summer day in August, 2013, we went on an adventure to learn about the past.  We drove 6 hours round trip and spent 4 hours walking through the ruins and hiking atop the mesa.  At the end of the day, after hiking 5+miles, 17,000+ steps and up 39 flights of stairs, this girl was VERY sore, exhausted and sunburned….. It was an AMAZING day! 

We would love to go back again and see this amazing cultural center and piece of our countries history.   But I think I will stay firmly down in the valley next time….been there, done that and I don’t need to do that climb again!

And we checked another National Park off our bucket list!

 

Paralyzing Fear

Anxiety….

I am sure I am not the only one who has felt anxious…you know that heart racing, butterflies in the tummy, sweating and sometimes nauseous feeling.  Yes, I think most people have experienced anxiety at some point in life.

My first real anxious moment that stuck with me was my first day on my very first job, at the age of 14.  I had applied to work as a maid in a hotel in the beach town my family lived in just a few months after losing my mom.  I was sitting there in the lobby area on my first day, surrounded by those who had worked there for some time and a couple of other new employees.  And I was nervous.  Really nervous.  My heart began racing, my body started shaking, and suddenly the world around me became a tunnel and started to fade….I was going to faint….that made me panic…. So I slowed my breathing, taking deep breaths and focused on one person…. And slowly, the world came back into focus and my heart slowed.  I was able to get through that moment of intense anxiety…

But not everyone can.

There have been many other moments in my life that have made me feel anxious.  And when anxiety inducing moments happen, I just push through it and breathe and I am okay.

But not everyone is.

I believed, like many believe, that anxiety was momentary, that it was a sign that I was stepping outside my comfort zone.  Pushing through and doing the thing that made a person anxious was the way to deal with it.

So when my young son (my first born) showed signs of being anxious, well I just encouraged him to push through it, take a deep breath and do it.  So many fits of anger and uncontrolled emotions filled his life when I tried to force him to “just do it”.

I didn’t realize the debilitating effect that anxiety had on some people.  On him.

If I knew then what I know now, how much different would my son’s life have been?  How much different would the life of my family have been?  How many fights would we have prevented?  How much stress would we have avoided?

Thinking back now and remembering, I can see those moments, the stress and the effects the anxiety had on my son…. I just didn’t know it all those years ago.  How could I?  No one I knew suffered, or maybe it was that no one talked about it.  We all were told to just “suck it up” and do it.  And that is why I am sharing today what I have learned and what may have been different had we known all those years ago what we know now.

So many times, my son fought going to school…. Oh the fights to get him to go when he was young, and the “mommy I am sick” moments were many.  So many times, he would drag his feet, often ending up in tears when we tried to get him to get moving for many events.  The times he would be sick to his stomach before having to perform in a band concert or speak to a group, go to school, go to the doctor, or when meeting someone new.  The hours, yes HOURS, of crying when he was too young to really verbalize is fears when going to bed.  Everyone told us to just put him in bed and let him cry… they didn’t know that the crying would not stop, for hours, not until I went in and sat with him, reassuring him that all was okay and promising to stay with him… then the crying stopped and he would finally sleep (for a bit anyway).  The difficulty he had with every move we made with the Air Force and the difficulty getting him to get out and join other kids in our new locations were moments of stress for him, often leading to emotional distress, an upset tummy and isolation.

So many times I missed the signs.

Because I didn’t know.

In October 2016 my son decided he was tired of the anxiety medicine and the addictive and dangerous side-effects, so he asked the doctor to titrate him down, slowly, until he was no longer taking the medicine.  He was sure that the anxiety wasn’t as bad as he thought and that it was the fear of the seizures when taken off the medicine that would cause the anxiety and panic attacks.  So he felt if he was weaned off the medicine, slowly, he could overcome the fears and then life would be easier.

It took a year to do.

The first week of October 2017 was the first time in over 13 years that my son was no longer taking the anxiety medication.  He was so proud of himself.  And he had hope for the future.

And then…

It became difficult.  The anxiety was coming every day, stronger each day.  The anxiety was real.  Not imagined.  Not created from a fear of not having his meds.

For the month of October 2017 into the first half of November 2017, we watched our son’s mental health deteriorate.  The anxiety was so debilitating that he could not look us in the eye.  He could not get out of bed.  He could not talk on the phone.  He could not shower.  He could not leave his room.  He could not sleep.

My son was fading away from us, sinking deeper and deeper into a hole.  He kept trying to explain to us what he was feeling, but it was so hard.  He couldn’t live in his own skin.

Here was my son, who had been through treatment, was not self-medicating and was off all mental health meds.

And we were losing him.

We were beyond frightened.

When he began to express to us that he now understood why some take their own lives…. Well, we knew we had to do something.  We had not been through all that we had been through to lose our son now.  Losing him was not an option!  Not when we finally had him back from the grip of drugs.

We got him in to see a psychiatrist who was hesitant to put him back on any medication, because he was an addict.  (and that will be part of my coming blog on the problems and difficulties and brokenness with our mental health system).  The Psychiatrist then asked my husband if he was worried about our son going back on the anxiety meds…. And my husband’s response was that he was more scared of what would happen to our son if he wasn’t put back on the medication.  And so they started our son back on his meds, just a much lower dose.

I never knew until that month and a half just how debilitating anxiety is for some in this world.  There is no “just getting through it” or “sucking it up”.  It is real.  It is a fear that is so deep that the person cannot move beyond it.  It keeps them isolated.  The fear paralyzes them.  And they cannot stop it.

I asked my son recently what it was like that month and a half, how he would describe it and here is what he said

“It was like I was collecting phobias.  I was constantly having a panic attack and everything around me became something to fear.  I would fear that spiders and bugs were going to attack me in my sleep so I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t leave my room for the fear that something would get me.  I couldn’t do anything to stop the panic.  Nothing!  I kept thinking I was going to have to live with this constant panic attack and kept fearing I would have to live in a hospital for the rest of my life.  I kept thinking it would never end so maybe it would be better to not live any longer.”

This breaks my heart.  This makes me realize just how debilitating anxiety disorder is.  I didn’t know.  I wish I had.  Maybe, just maybe, things would have been different….

That month and half in the fall of 2017, showed me what my son has been dealing with his entire life and has given me an understanding I did not have before.  An understanding that now has me being more patient with my son when it takes him a little longer to get moving, when he needs a moment to catch his breath, when he just can’t do it today.  I now understand and I am learning new ways to help him through it and to make it easier for him to do the things he needs to do, without the pressure from me…. Things I wish I had done when he was younger.  Maybe then he would have learned more of the coping skills he so desperately needs now.  Maybe then he would have felt supported.  Maybe then I could have provided a safe place for him to share his worries and learn to find strength in the midst of gripping fear.  Maybe, if I had known what I know now, we would have been able to get him the help he needed all those years ago….

Why share this now, when the medication is helping, when my son is doing well and having more good days than bad?  Because I wish that the generation before me and the generation before them had talked about mental health issues.  I wish earlier generations had shared what was happening in their families, instead of keeping it secret and keeping it “in the family”.  And I want to change that for future generations.  I want to keep talking and sharing our story, my son’s story, so that others know they are not alone.  So that the young parent who’s feeling alone and judged because their child has uncontrolled emotional outbursts in public and at home, knows that they ARE NOT alone.  Help is out there.  Support is out there.

If we keep talking we can change the life of so many before they get to the point my son did or before they are no longer with us and take their own life, as my friend did.

When you see someone struggling, or you know someone is dealing with a loved one who has a mental illness or addiction, or you see the young parent at their wits end because their child is on an emotional rollercoaster, reach out to them…. Let them know you care.  Let them know you understand and do not judge.  Let them know they are not alone.

Let’s go beyond previous generations and let’s change things for future generations by talking about mental illness, educating ourselves and supporting those who need our love and empathy.

I am taking the leap and continuing to share our story……

Will you take the leap with me?