November 29th was the 3rd anniversary of my first entry on this blog. I know I have said it before, but I will say it again - when I began writing this blog, I had no idea how things would go. I expected an overwhelming amount of hate mail, to be honest, because the response to plus-sized riders that you generally see on forums and various other spots on the internet (and sometimes even in person) is rarely tactful or, let's be honest here, based in anything except nasty stereotypes. What I didn't expect was the overwhelming amount of mail that thanked me and identified with me. Most of the time, I still feel like I am not qualified to write for the talented, compassionate, wonderful people that read my words - and all of the time, I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do so.
So I tried to decide what I could do to give back to you all, especially at this time of year, and I thought about the lessons I have learned over the last few years that have really helped me maximize the enjoyment I get out of my life. Some of you know that I struggled with mild-to-moderate depression from about age 12 until 21 or 22 - and sometime after that, I started to figure things out. I wouldn't say I have everything figured out, I still have moments where I think my life is running off the tracks, but as a general whole, I am satisfied with my life and the direction it is going - and what it took to head in that direction were a few basic truths and tricks.
I want to give to some of you, this holiday season, some invaluable tools that I have discovered for myself over the last few years. They aren't a guaranteed fix-all, and some of them are hard to grasp (so hard, in fact, that there are some areas that I truly encourage "fake-it-til-you-make-it"). If you are reading this and you are much like me, being kind to yourself and giving to yourself can be difficult. So pick one or two, or all of the "gifts" that I would like you to give yourself this year for the holidays, and try to stick with it through the new year. Eventually, it gets easier.
Self Acceptance & Love
This one was the hardest for me to get my head around but it was the most crucial and truly a gateway to everything else. You are a good person and you are kind to others - but let's think about the people that you go out of your way to do the most for. They are people that you care about and love. You would do whatever you could to make sure they were happy, healthy, and safe. As a basically good human being, you will be kind to those that you don't like - or at least not go out of your way to make them miserable, but you are going to put in the extra effort for the people that you care about.
I didn't hate myself, but I sure didn't love myself either. I thought there were a lot of ways that I could improve, both emotionally and physically before I was a person worthy of my own love. I thought about how much better a person I could be if only this or that. And I would respect myself a little more if I lost some weight.
At one point, during an interesting summer, I got this notion in my head that I was, fundamentally, a good person. I don't go out of my way to hurt others (if they've hurt someone I am close to, well... that's a different story), I am a fiercely loyal friend (see previous), I let funny things slip out from time to time, I feel things with my whole heart. Those are qualities of a person that I would enjoy spending time with and would actively seek out. Those are qualities of someone I would admire. So if I possessed these qualities, why was I so indifferent to myself? What made me any less deserving of my own acceptance and love than the average person I would meet on the street that I would accept and love? I began to understand that I am a good person and I deserve good things like anybody else.
Then, I got a hair cut. I think it is important to point out that acceptance of my personal and physical self had to come hand in hand. If I had not accepted my body at that time (at 325lbs), I don't think I would have been able to accept my internal self. I would have thought Sure, you're a great person and everything, but.... you're fat. Because society has programmed us, somehow, to believe that a fat person is less worthy of good things than a skinny person when really there is no correlation between the number on the scale and fundamental goodness of person. So - back to this hair cut. It was uncharacteristically short but I chose it because I thought it was probably the cutest hair cut going at that time. I remember catching my eyes in the rear view mirror one morning as I was getting out of the car to go to work. I looked myself square in the face and tentatively said "You look pretty cute today." I don't know if I truly believed it at that time, but I began to look at myself. Really look at myself. Who told me that a double chin was "disgusting"? Where did I get that idea from? Where did I get the idea that I was not worth looking at? Not worth being a friend, or heavens - a girlfriend because even though I possessed all these great personality characteristics, my physical body was not appealing?
So I looked at myself in the mirror every day and I said "You are cute, you are worthy." - even though a lot of days I didn't believe it - I kept telling myself that. I don't walk around with an inflated sense of hotness, but I can look at my whole body in the mirror most days and think "I look good." - and I had to feel that way at 325lbs in order to feel that way at 250lbs... and everywhere in between. I had to look at the body that I was in and accept her - to acknowledge her as a valid human being worthy of love and good things. To understand that where I was was a part of the journey I am on and though that same body at 325lbs might not always stay the same (in either direction), that body existed and it was mine, and it was okay. I was allowed to love myself that way. I was allowed to then go do the things I wanted to do. I could live my life without hating myself.
(And while this is not an entry focused on weight loss, I want to point out that it was a LOT easier to work out and eat better and learn the practice of fueling and moving my body better because I cared about it, not because I hated it and wanted it to change. I had lost and gained the same 40lbs several times prior to reaching the conclusion that I was a valuable, valid person - but it was only after I reached that conclusion that I lost 75lbs and maintained that loss. You don't do nice things for people that you don't like, remember?)
Support Structure & Home
I have to admit that during the time frame where I was the least happy, I was subjecting myself to toxic relationships - mostly because I had been involved with these people and situations most of my life and so the logical step was to maintain them, because that was the way it had always been. I still struggle with it but I have adapted the policy that if you do not support and uplift me in my life in the same way that I support and uplift you in your life, then it is not a good relationship.
I am not trying to toot my own horn here and say that I 100% of the time deserve the #1 Best Friend Ever All The Time (TM) Award. I am only human. Sometimes I fail my friends. Sometimes I am not there for them for one reason or another. But if the load of caring for one another and supporting one another is grossly imbalanced, then it's not a good relationship, and I feel that, as my life is a journey, if the relationship is not advancing my journey, it should be terminated from my life. I know this probably all comes off as sounding really selfish and self-absorbed, but it is truly the second largest factor to me being able to live a happier, emotionally healthier life - right after accepting and loving myself.
I am not suggesting you delete everybody from your life who is not helping you move forward, but keep close and spend your time and energy on those who value you the same way that you value them. Delete that person from your Facebook friends list who mostly aggravates you and doesn't offer anything to you in the way of happiness and support in return. Consider that you only have so much of yourself to give and if you are spending it on people who don't truly deserve it, the ones who do aren't getting the portion they deserve. And make sure that, while you are taking care of yourself, you are giving the support and love that you are getting back to those who need it.
Surround yourself with people who understand your goals and dreams and want to do what they can to help you achieve them, without telling you that you can't. My parents are a pretty excellent example. While we never have had a lot of money growing up, I am reasonably confident that if I said to them that I wanted to start a campaign to walk across the country on my hands, they would first (possibly quite rightly) question my sanity - but then upon discovering that it is truly something that I desire and am passionate about, would do everything within their power to help me achieve it. I wanted to ride, my dad said ride. I wanted to write, my mom said write.
The second part of this gift is home. Find the place where those people that support and love you reside and make that your home.
My boyfriend and I talked about this as we rounded out our first year of living together. Our little apartment is home, to me - but I referenced the farm, where my family lives, as home in a conversation at one point. Of course, he then wanted to know which place I considered my "home" - was it here in the apartment with him or was it at the farm with my parents? The thing is... when I think about it, I have several places that I consider "home". Wherever he, or my parents or sister are - that is my "home". Wherever my horses are - that is my "home". Wherever the people who have supported and loved me through all of my good times and bad - that is my "home". This apartment, the farm, the barn where Bronwyn lives, the house where the parents of my best friend since first grade lives, the restaurant where I worked full time for two years and still work the occasional evening or weekend at - these are all "home" to me, and coming to them brings me a sense of comfort and ease that I can't just manufacture. To me, "home" implicates more than the dwelling - it is the people within and the role that they play in my life. And I cannot stress how incredibly important it is to find those people and places and value them. They are your refuge, your boost when you need it, your place to spin dreams and find those who will help you make them happen.
I mentioned above that while my life is not sunshine and rainbows, I am generally happy. When I am not, the most valuable tool I have found is to recognize it, and do my best to control it. It is so important to me to be able to feel my feelings - be it crying or writing or meditating to process - but it is also important to me that I don't unnecessarily project those feelings onto people or my surroundings who might not deserve it (again with giving what I deserve and putting in what I wish to get out).
Every few months, I have a "dark day". Though everything can be going right, I am unnecessarily angry or morose. I can usually feel them come on and I know that I am not excellent company at that time. The absolute best thing for me at this point is to go to bed. Or take a bath, or go for a run. I could go ride but I can't school my horse, it is a time to just sit on my horse and be with her. I usually need to be by myself, and I will go to bed early. In the morning, it has usually dissipated and my potential for doing damage has decreased substantially. This goes along with treating your support group well - supporting them and uplifting them.
I think it is also important to understand why you feel the way that you feel when you're feeling sad or angry or not like yourself. Self reflection and some quiet time usually help me - or bouncing it off of someone who will just listen and not say much and let me come to my own conclusions. It is only through understanding the reasoning behind your emotions that you will be able to control your reactions to things and keep a positive and forward-moving theme through your life.
Making a List of Goals (and Achieving Them!)
I have mentioned before that I am a list-maker - nothing is more satisfying than crossing off something that has been done from a to-do list - to me. Even if it is small. It means I am moving forward - and seeing proof of my moving forward is an incredibly important part of the journey for me.
In September, I turned 27. My boyfriend asked me what my "three year plan" is. I unblinkingly said to have a fulfilling job, be debt free and have a child on the way, if not already here. Those seem like pretty ambitious plans, certainly - and I think if my list just included those three giant things, which are very big and important (and honestly, except for the last, daunting and will require some planning in the interim), I would likely just give up. So I've methodically broken down each larger goal into a series of smaller goals - I am planning to take an Equine Massage Therapy course in June to head toward having the fulfilling job - which someday I hope will be full time, but in the meantime, I have mapped out the collection of a clientele while working full time, then building my clientele as I work part time, eventually doing something that I love as my sole income. We are meeting with someone who is going to help us make that smaller, broken-down list to become debt free in the first week of January - and we have a few smaller steps in our lives to accomplish before we can responsibly bring any children into this world.
The point is that if I just looked at my list as I laid it out originally - I would give up. They are too much, too big, too daunting, and how many times will I think to myself "I'll never get there!". Much like breaking my desired weight loss into smaller segments and celebrating every 5 or 10 pound milestone, breaking my greater goals and desires down into smaller, attainable goals has given me the steam to keep moving forward until I reach the things I truly desire as I see myself checking things off of the list and getting closer to the goal.
Having goals and desires is so important in the first place. Even if it is something you think is far off in the future, especially if it is something large and fanciful. Desiring more from your life, and moving forward on the journey - these are important things to me. And having the motivation to move forward for those big goals or dreams is the only way to keep moving.
Recognizing The Journey
You might not be happy right now - you could be quite happy. This is a part of the journey of your life.
I have mentioned before that when Angel died, my dad came into my bedroom while I was clutching the piece of her forelock that he cut for me and crying so hard I thought I would vomit, thinking I would never be able to get out of that bed again, and said "I know it doesn't make sense right now but everything happens for a reason." I could have risen out of that bed and hit him with a right hook to leave him reeling.
Something that took some time for me to recognize is that every little piece of this journey shapes who I am. Without even some of those horrible things that I had wished had never happened, I would not be the person that I am today (and remember that I like and accept the person that I am today!). Even little things that seem inconsequential and silly may have a bearing on things that you may not recognize until many years later - or never at all.
I had to realize that while I may not be 100% satisfied with my life, this is what it is right now, and it will probably not stay the same. And it is the way that it is right now because that is how it has to be in order for it to be different down the road, in order for me to be able to learn and grow and move forward. And it took me well over a year (closer to 2!) to recognize why I would come home to my heart horse alive and okay and eight hours later for my earth Angel to be taken from me, but I know now that everything happens exactly the way that it is supposed to happen in order for progress to happen - whether you believe in a greater power or force manipulating it (which I choose to) or simply in the linear cause-and-effect pattern of life - everything happening as a direct result of something else.
Understanding this was a hard and painful one for me to grasp but it was so important.
And last, but not least:
Give yourself permission to be happy. You deserve it as much as anybody else does.
I have been wanting to write this entry all month but it took me a long time to collect the thoughts that I wanted to express. I want you all to live the lives that you want to and I know there was a time in my life when I thought that I was in a rut and could not get out of it and these are the things that helped me. It might be daunting - you might need to give yourself all of these gifts but they are time and emotionally intensive and will take too much to give all at once - pick one and work on it (I recommend the first) - and the others will come in succession.
If you don't need these - these are things that you already know and have employed in your life, I wish that you would help to impart these gifts to others in your life that might need them - you can't tell them how to be happy but you can help guide them on that path. I wish someone had written me a manual on how to be happy a decade ago - but the truth is that you are the only one who can figure it out for yourself, no matter how much someone else wants to intervene. They can show you the tools and the instructions but you have to put them together yourself.
I want to thank you all for three incredible years of learning and sharing together, and here's to that many more again. Happy holidays to each and every one of you.
Amanda & Bronwyn