02/8/19

You are, and will always be, OK

A few years after losing my mom I made a big career change. 

After 13 years, I left the safety and security of the four walls of my classroom, and took a leap into a position working for a educational non-profit where I would be able to make a greater impact on students and teachers on a national level. And because I would be working with educational systems all across the country, this new role would bring a new adventure into my life- a schedule comprised of traveling and working from home. It was also around the same time my husband and I tied the knot, which made it an even more exciting transitional time in my life. 

At first the thought of this career change excited me (it still does… stay with me). But when the glitter and the “new-ness” of it all settled, grief started to re-surface. This new reality unexpectedly became a trigger for my grief. 

Of course I wanted to share all of these new adventures with my mother, and the thought of not being able to was difficult, but that’s not the only emotion these changes bubbled up. Brian, my husband, lost his father just before I lost my mother. Our losses helped to connect us in such a beautiful way. We are more than just husband and wife. We are best friends, confidants, and true partners in this life. Everyday we reflect on how lucky we are to have found one another, and how amazing the timing was for us to meet. Our paths crossed at just the right time for the both of us, and we don’t take that timing for granted. 

You see, experiencing multiple losses by the age of 31- a prior divorce and the losses of my mother, three grandparents, and cousins who I was close to- shook me to the core. Although all of the losses were significant, my mother’s death had the most impact on me. It took me almost a year to come to grips with what had happened, and how to figure out my path towards healing.

When I sat down and started to internalize the reality of what my new schedule would look like, specifically in regards to the traveling aspect of my role, I initially felt an overwhelming rush of dread around leaving my family and my friends-especially my husband- even if it would be for just short periods of time. 

I can clearly recall thinking to myself- “What if something bad happens to me?”

In that moment so many thoughts flashed through my mind like a rolodex-What if I get sick or seriously injured far from home? What if I’m involved in a plane crash and die? What if I get in a car accident on some rural road in another state and I’m left for dead? My husband would be a widow. Would he be ok? What will he do without me? Would he be able to take care of the house? Our pets? Our responsibilities? Would he be burdened with all of that? Would he resent me? What about my family and friends? What would happen to them? Would they be ok? Would they remember me? Would they be angry that I took this job? 

GRIEF. Big time.

Just when I thought I was on the road to deep healing, one trigger in the form of a big life change flooded all of those trauma-driven thoughts back into my mind. 

I knew it was grief resurfacing because I remember having very similar thoughts shortly after losing my mom. I would often cry myself to sleep thinking things like “What if I get cancer too? Maybe I already have it. Maybe it’s already stage IV like my mother’s was. I don’t want to die. I didn’t want her to die. I don’t want to leave everyone behind like she did. What will I do without my mother? What will my family and friends do without me?”

These thoughts and fears are real. It’s totally normal and to be expected. When we experience a trauma or a loss of any kind, the world no longer feels like a safe, predictable, and reliable place like it once was. And that’s an uneasy and scary feeling to try and sort through. Attempting to figure out how to rationalize and move from these thoughts and fears uses up a lot of our energy, which is why grief is so exhausting. When these “what if something bad happens to me” thoughts are consuming our minds, it takes so much energy and effort to sort through and move past them, that we find that we have little desire to think about or do anything else-including healing.

With all of our energy being drained inside those cyclones of “what if something bad happens to me” type of thoughts, and limited energy left to devote to healing, suddenly those trauma-related thoughts become our “safe, predictable, and reliable place”. They’re safe because we know what to expect when they pop into our heads. They’re predictable because we know exactly how we are going to feel. They’re reliable because we know exactly what the physical response will be. And because of that, we somewhat feel “in control” because we know what to expect, and it becomes a familiar and “comfortable” pattern for our brains to settle into. And in the moment, spiraling into these thoughts of “what if” feels SO much easier than the alternative- putting in the work to rationalize our thoughts and fears so that we can begin this journey towards healing. 

I couldn’t believe I had come back to this place. I couldn’t believe that a new job was triggering old grief. I couldn’t believe that I was dreading life because of paralyzing “what if something bad happens to me” thoughts. I couldn’t believe fear had returned, ready to consume all of my energy again. I felt like all of the work I had devoted to healing over these years was for naught. For the first time in a long time I felt like the weakest person in the world. 

I knew I couldn’t live like this.

I knew I was about to embark on an amazing opportunity for growth in my career. 

I knew deep down that I was strong enough to do it.

I knew that I could not allow my energy to be used up on “what if” thoughts because I had a life that I deserved to honor.

I knew I needed to dig deep and lean into the path I had taken before. 

I started by reflecting on my journey after the passing of my mother and thinking about all of the strategies that I had learned and used, especially in that first year, that have helped me be the person that I am today. 

I thought about the ways I have chosen to honor my own life. I thought about the connections I have made through this blog, my grief healing group, my friendships, and my relationships. I thought about how I am able to see the bigger picture and how I recognize and respect griefโ€™s purpose in my life. I thought about the ways that I have cultivated self-compassion, self-forgiveness, grace, joy, strength, and understanding. I thought about what my inner voice has evolved into over the past few years. I thought about the conversations and friendships I have with others who are grieving, and how we support each other’s grief journeys. I thought about the spiritual relationship I have formed with my mother and how special that is to me. I thought about moments when I showed courage, hope, and resilience-like going through that first mammogram after my mother’s passing. I thought about the steps that I have taken to live in the present, to be mindful, intentional, and deliberately choose joy every single day no matter whatI thought about how I live and breath all of these actions every single day out loud for all the world to see. 

And that’s when it hit me. 

My grief journey these past few years has been 100% public. I have shared my truth authentically, transparently, and passionately to everyone and anyone who wanted to hear. I have given my grief journey heavy boots to stomp with, without fear or embarrassment. My grief has become a badge of love and strength, not shame. It has become a part of who I am, in a positive way. I have been able to talk about it every single day since April 11, 2012. I have talked about both the most difficult sides of grief and the sweetest sides as well. And because I have grieved out loud, I think I have been able to show others that there is life after loss; that there is healing after loss. That there is, in fact, joy after loss. 

I am ok. In fact, I am more than ok. Of course there will still be days that are hard. There will still be triggers that I have to navigate through. Grief is certainly not a perfect process. And I will always, always miss my mother, but overall my life is good, and full, and happy because I have decided that is what I want my story to be. I want people to remember me as someone who lost their mother at a very young age, but continued on believing in and uncovering the good in each day. Because I have grieved out loud for all the world to see, I have been able to rest in the idea that everyone else will be ok too because they’ve seen people like me. People who are truly OK even after all that we have been through. When my mind starts to wander through thoughts of “what if something bad happens to me” I say to myself- “It’s ok if something happens to me, because I know I would leave behind a strong, capable, resilient, and loving circle of family and friends who have seen what healing looks like. Who have felt what joy after loss feels like. Who have listening to and read about how beautiful and full life can be after loss. Who will be more than ok because deep in my soul I believe they will.”

When grief rears it’s face, and tries to drag me down into “what if something bad happens to me” thoughts, I don’t picture my husband as a devastated widow. I don’t picture my family and friends with sadness or anger in their hearts. I don’t picture their lives ending. I don’t picture hopelessness, helplessness, or weakness. In those moments I choose to envision strength and resilience. I envision happiness. I envision them laughing over memories and funny stories of years passed. I envision them living full and peaceful lives. I envision them speaking my name the same way I speak of my mother’s- with joy and courage. I envision them finding the good in each day. Because I choose to envision love, I am able to move forward, without fear, because I believe that everything, and everyone will always, always be OK. 

If you are on a journey towards healing and you find yourself struggling to take that next step towards overcoming fear, scary “what if” scenarios, or other paralyzing thoughts that are getting in the way of living a full life after loss, stop responding to the question “What if something bad happens to me?” and start answering the questions “What good things are happening to me/us right now? What do I believe I/we are capable of? How do I/we show strength, resilience, and courage? How do I/we spread joy, hope, love, and compassion?”

Focus on the good of right now so that you can build upon it. Focus on the strengths that you have cultivated within your inner circle of loved ones. Together, you will all make it- no matter what happens.

Believe that you are strong. Believe that you are capable. Believe that you are resilient. Believe that you are loved.

Believe that you are, and will always be, OK.

01/4/19

My Health Journey (and a Giveaway for the new year!)

In the spring of 2005 I weighed 388lbs. 

It was one of those numbers that you never thought you’d actually see on a scale that YOU are standing on. That number was reserved for really obese people-like the ones you see on tv that have difficulty leaving their house because of their situation. I wasn’t that big. At least I didn’t think I was that big. But there I was. That number was my reality. 

I didn’t understand what that number meant, how I got there, or why there was so much shame attached to it. I just knew it was a LOT, and I would never, ever admit it to anyone. Ever. The scale became my enemy, and that number became the only identity I fixated on. And, the only identity I attempted to fix.

Truth be told it’s been the Stephanie vs. the scale show for as long as I can remember. 

I was an average-sized (whatever that means!) baby and toddler, but by kindergarten, I was already labeled as “the chubby girl”, and still hold onto vivid memories of being aware of my size compared to my classmates. 

I don’t recall a single grade where I wasn’t one of the biggest (and often THE biggest) student in my class- including college. 

Being overweight was who I was, and to be honest, aside from my career, it was all that I was. Being overweight got in the way of everything because it’s all that I ever thought about. It was difficult for me to form friendships, be in relationships, and, most important, understand how to love myself. Life revolved around my weight. It made me angry, sad, and embarrassed. It made me feel as though I wasn’t good enough. It made me settle for things. I couldn’t look any deeper into who I was as a person and how to get better at being ME because my mind was obsessed with the idea that fat=broken.

From 2005-2011 I decided to try something, anything, to lose the weight once and for all. I dieted, exercised, started running (I even completed a few triathlons!), went to weight loss meetings, downed weight-loss shakes, and although I never tried anything drastic or dangerous, I tried many, many things. 

In that time I discovered a love of running. Although I was slow, when I ran, I didn’t feel fat. I felt strong. 

I felt strong enough to complete multiple 5ks, a 10k, a 15k, and even two sprint distance triathlons! 

I also began learning how to cook and experimenting with creating and cooking healthy, clean, and nutritious recipes and sharing them on my first blog, Faked Goods (a play on the words Baked Goods). Running, cooking, and sharing my story with the few blog followers I had gained were game changers. In fact, they were my life changers. 

Through these newfound passions I was able to begin to gain strength and confidence that I never thought I had, AND I was able to lose around 80lbs. For the first time in a long time I was feeling good, and beginning to figure out that I was capable of so much more than I had ever imagined. I began to realize that I wasn’t limited by a number on a scale, and that the only person putting these limits on me was ME. I began to realize that I wasn’t just the chubby girl. And even if I was, it didn’t matter. Registering for races, committing to training, crossing finish lines, sharing recipes, and connecting with like-minded people was something so much bigger than the value, energy, and time I gave to the number 388. 

In the spring of 2011 my life did a complete 180. 

I went through a divorce, and my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 of an aggressive form of metastatic breast cancer. In 2012, she passed away, and my mindset took a hit. That first year of my grief journey was the most difficult year of my life. Nothing had prepared me for what it would be like to lose a parent at the young age of 32. Anything that had happened in the past- my divorce, weight loss struggles- it all paled in comparison to the emotional tornado I had just been unwillingly thrown into. I lost my motivation, I ate whatever I wanted, and crept back up to 340lbs. 

Fortunately, I had some bright spots to support this unexpected life chapter. While my mom was facing cancer treatment, I met Brian, my now husband, and shortly after her passing, I decided to join Orangetheory Fitness

Watching my mother suffer through cancer, and witnessing her taking her literal last breath was more debilitating and traumatic than I could have ever imagined. And although I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, being there for my mother’s last year of life helped me see that I needed to prioritize myself, my health, and my happiness.

It took a year for me to even begin to think about how to go about doing this. Fortunately, falling in love and gaining a strong push and support system through my new coach friends at Orangetheory (plus grief therapy, and lots of vent sessions with the best girlfriends I could ask for), I was able to begin to heal, rediscover my motivation, and get back into the groove I had lost. 

I began to sign up for races again.

I began blogging again (specifically about my grief journey).

I began living again.

For the next 4 years I pretty much tossed around the same 50lbs. I continued to run, cook healthy meals, and attend classes at OTF, but something was always getting in the way of truly controlling my health and my weight. Now I know that weight is just a number, and should not define overall health, but those extra pounds I was carrying on my body day in and day out were getting in the way- literally and figuratively. Even though I was in a much better place in my head than the girl that fixated on and placed way too much value in “388”, I knew I needed to take control of my future. The excess weight was preventing me from feeling good- not only mentally, but physically. I wanted to run faster. I wanted to feel confident in my skin. I wanted to feel comfortable in clothes. I no longer wanted to fear the numbers I’d see on my annual bloodwork paperwork (or fear going to the doctor for that matter!). I didn’t want to be *this close* to being pre-diabetic anymore. And most of all, I didn’t want to go down the same tragic road as my mother. 

When you lose a loved one to cancer, especially someone in your immediate family, you think about your own mortality and fate. Everyday is a battle to not take my mind down dark thoughts of “what if it happens to me too.” While I know that I cannot control every situation, I know that I CAN control my thoughts, my choices, and how I take care of my body in hopes to possibly play a significant part avoiding disease.

Two years ago Kristen, a dear friend of mine, started following a way of eating that I had heard a little bit about, but didn’t really understand what it really was. She would talk about the ketogenic, or “keto” way of life, being in ketosis, and foods and recipes that were “keto friendly”, but all that I ever got out of our conversations was how she was eating as much butter as she wanted, while still managing to lose weight.

I sat back and watched her lose 100+lbs in a year, and keep it off. I watched her get rid of aches and pains (she fought Plantar’s Fasciitis for years, like I did), and use this low carb, no sugar, moderate protein, high healthy fat way of eating to help manage her MS, which she was diagnosed with two years ago. Because the ketogenic way of eating is super anti-inflammatory, she was also able to  heal her plantar’s fasciitis, and improve all of her bloodwork numbers immensely which has been one of the most significant benefits of this lifestyle. She continued to encourage me to try it- that if I already cook, and eat pretty clean, this wouldn’t be such a difficult transition. And how it’s not about eating mass amounts of bacon, and zipping through the drive thru for bunless double cheeseburgers on the regular. That it’s about eating clean, whole, nutrient dense foods- a moderate amount of good quality proteins, a higher amount of healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, and real butter, low glycemic vegetables and fruits like spinach, asparagus, squash, and berries, natural sweeteners like stevia, low carb nuts like macadamias, and real dairy products, including cheese (my favorite). It sounded completely doable, and not far from what I was already doing, but for some reason I just wouldn’t take the leap and try it. 

In 2016 I started a new career which completely changed the 8am-3:30pm teacher’s routine I had become accustomed to over the past 13 years. This new position had a steep learning curve and significant travel away from home. Along with that life change, Brian had also proposed! That same year of learning a new career also brought a fun (and stressful!) year of wedding planning. We had a beautiful, amazing, and wonderful wedding in the spring of 2017, and I was on cloud 9. But by the summer of that same year, I knew that I was on the path back to square 1. Between travel, and wedding planning, I was cooking less and running through drive-thrus more. I was stress eating, and using travel and wedding planning as an excuse to do so. 

In August of 2017, a wellness coach I know was starting a group for clean eating and exercise accountability. She invited me to join and so I did. At the same time I decided to finally take Kristen’s advice and expand on the clean eating goals by giving the ketogenic way of eating a try too. For two weeks I’d go all in to see how I felt. If by the end of two weeks I wasn’t feeling good, or if this was too difficult to keep up with, I’d quit and add the carbs back in. But I promised myself two weeks. Two weeks to give it a chance and see what it was all about.

I didn’t decide to take this leap for anyone else but myself. I wasn’t doing it to gain approval from people that don’t know the real me. I wasn’t doing it to be skinny, or to look beautiful (because I already felt beautiful and still do). I wasn’t doing it because I thought I needed to change my body to be happy (because I was already deliriously happy and still am). I decided to make this commitment as an effort to regain control of my health, of my body, and my future. I watched others do it, and I felt hopeful that this might be something that I could do too.

I quickly realized two things- there is SO much to learn about fueling my body this way, AND there is a ton of support, and information in the form of blogs, social media groups, and of course, Kristen out there. There was definitely a learning curve (like knowing that I needed to up my salt intake because as my body began to flush out excess fat, it will also flush out necessary salts, AND that fat=fuel), and, of course, there was some carb/sugar withdrawal the first couple of days (showing itself as a headache mostly). But by the first few days into my two week experiment, the headache had subsided and I was feeling GREAT. Like really, really great. I felt GOOD. I felt energized. I was sleeping better, thinking better, and was less bloated. In two weeks, the scale had even moved, and my clothes were fitting better. 

I decided to do two more strict weeks. Which turned into 2 strict months, then 4 months, then 6 months. Aside from days where I might have eaten too many carbs in the form of vegetables (I love a good salad!), I only went off plan once- with jalapeno jelly while on vacation in the mountains. I ate Lily’s chocolate bars while passing out Halloween candy. I whipped up low carb blackberry crisp and creamed spinach for Thanksgiving. I gifted ketogenic Christmas cookies to family and friends. And even enjoyed biscuits and gravy on Christmas morning. I was feeling TOO good to do anything else than what I was doing. So I continued. And it was awesome. 

And now, here I am celebrating 1.5 years of following a low carb, no sugar, ketogenic way of life with no intent on going back! 

I have lost a total of 78lbs since starting a year and a half ago, have gone from a size 24/26w jeans to a standard size 16, have lowered my average blood pressure readings significantly (they used to average 132/85, and now they average 110/70. I have also reduced my A1C from 5.8 to 3.2 (no more pre-pre diabetic!), have increased my good cholesterol by 40+ points, have lowered my triglycerides by 60+ points, and have lowered my total cholesterol by 80 points! 

In addition to all of those things I have significantly cleared up my skin, gained confidence, energy, mental clarity, and so much more. Making the commitment to give the ketogenic way of life a try was the best decision I have ever made for myself! While I wish I hadn’t waited so long to jump in, I’m so glad I did!

And it’s not over yet! I’m excited to see what year 2 brings. I want to continue to drop the excess weight, and most of all, I want to continue to regain control of my fate. 

If you are feeling stuck in a health or fitness rut, facing weight loss struggles, feeling like you don’t have the energy or ability to do all that you want to do, or if you just want to be a stronger, healthier version of yourself and excess weight is getting in the way of that, I want you to know that you are not alone and you CAN make changes that will benefit your life in the present and change your course for the future. 

If you have heard about keto and have been on the fence about trying it out, or if reading this blog post has inspired you to take a chance and try it out for two weeks like I did, I encourage you to begin some research and think about how this way of eating might fit into your life. One place you might begin is by checking out Diane Sanfilippo’s new book Keto Quick Start: A Beginner’s Guide to a Whole-Foods Ketogenic Diet with More Than 100 RecipesI picked up a copy for myself at Target this week and it’s SUCH a great guide! What’s even better is that YOU CAN WIN A COPY FROM ME RIGHT NOW! 

I am giving away a copy of Keto Quick Start to one lucky Orangespoken friend! Enter below! A winner will be chosen on 1/11/19 and will be notified by email. Good Luck! 
Win a free copy of Keto Quick Start!

As always, I am not a medical professional, and am nowhere near qualified to give nutritional advice, but I urge you to do some research and think about what two weeks of changing the way you fuel your body might do for you and your situation. YOU CAN DO THIS. 

 

 

 

 

 

01/2/19

Low carb, keto friendly buffalo chicken meatballs

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season! I know I did!

Wait, who am I kidding? The holidays are still in full swing around here! Although we are taking down our tree today (so the hens can enjoy it in the backyard for a while!), Christmas movies are still on the tv, holiday scented candles are still burning, twinkle lights are still sparkling, and that festive feeling is still very much in the air.  Continue reading

12/2/18

Cinnamon apple waffles #EnvyApples

Disclosure: I received free product and compensation because of a partnership with Envy Apples, Publix, and the Tampa Bay Bloggers. All delicious thoughts and words are my own. 

Actually, I wanted the title to be “Fluffy and buttery almond flour waffles topped with sweet carmelized sliced Envy apples, toasted pecans, and a drizzle of warm apple cinnamon tea glaze” but that was a little wordy. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Continue reading

11/21/18

Low carb green bean casserole!

Happy Thanksgiving Eve!

If I had to decide on one dish that was my all-time-favorite Thanksgiving side, it would have to be STUFFING.

I know, I know… the title of this post says Green Bean Casserole! I’m not confused, don’t worry. I just haven’t finished preparing my low carb biscuit stuffing yet! That recipe is coming though, so stay tuned! Continue reading

10/20/18

Low carb, sugar free pumpkin spiced cinnamon rolls

The other day I was chatting with a friend about childhood memories when Grandy’s came up. 

When I was a kid, we’d make trips to our local theme park, Busch Gardens, quite often. And we always, ALWAYS stopped for breakfast before heading into the park at a place called Grandy’s nearby. Although it’s not there anymore. I have fond memories of those breakfast stops- full of excitement and anticipation of what was to come that day- and full of the BEST cinnamon rolls ever.  Continue reading