So last week I made a rather "rant-y" blog post about motivation. You know, the hard line, full tilt "Coach Michelle" talk. You can read that post here, in case it's not longer "yesterday" when you read this. So today I thought I better back up the bus and give you the REAL talk on how to "create motivation" in your life, around fitness anyways.
But you will quickly see that I'm not a fan of this "motivation" word. I get asked all the time... "where do you find the motivation" or "how do you stay motivated"...
It's not about THAT word. The real word is HABIT.
Fun side note, or digression...something I do often when I write... Our online board currently has a book club with an amazing book about just that, creating habits. One of the perks of being a BADASS!
I've started from scratch at least 6 times.
So what gives me the right to give advice on this topic? One of my least favourite things in the fitness industry is trainers who offer up advice having not lived through a particular circumstance. If you've always been fit and never overweight...how do you really know what it's like to start from square one?
Maybe in some people's eyes the fact that I've had to start from scratch at least 6 times makes me less qualified to give advice about things like habits, consistency and motivation...but I beg to differ. You may say that means that I have "failed" at maintaining my "fit lifestyle". But I figure it makes me fucking human.
I've had 4 children, which means I've taken 4 breaks from fitness for well justified reasons. Post-partum is no joke, not all of my pregnancies were easy, some had longer fitness breaks than others. Some had far more weight gain than others....ooooppps....
So I said 6, that's only 4. Back in my university days I made a trip to France, seemed like a good idea. But it ended in some rather significant mental health issues, a boat load of therapy and about 80lbs of weight gain. And then I lost my husband to suicide when I was 36, I've written about how I allowed grief to take fitness from me many times, so I won't go into that here. So there's 6.
All that to say...I've practiced this "get on track" thing a few times...and through that I've learned a fair amount about what works and what does not, for me anyways. Maybe what I learned will help you as well.
I've lost over 50 lbs...3 times? Two for sure.
And I'm not talking about a little 20lbs of off track. My 5'1" frame has been over 190lbs on more than one occasion, and not always during pregnancy. I know the struggle of feeling defeated by the weight gain. I have repeated to myself many time "there's soooo much weight to lose, I'll never be successful." The other story I would often repeat to myself is "I can't do ALL of what I use to be able to do because of ALL the weight I'm now carrying, so there's NO point in doing anything." I would say something like, "well, I can no longer run 10km at a 5:30 pace, so what's the point in running a shorter distance and taking walking breaks."
I realize, and maybe you do as well, that this kind of talk lacks logic. But I can also promise you that if you have been in this situation before, you have said similar things to yourself.
Can I get a HELL YES from those of you in the back?
So maybe I know how to do this!
So initially when I entered the fitness industry I had nothing but experience, and zero education to back up said experience. I had also only applied my elementary skills to myself. So as my late husband use to say "your sample size isn't big enough."
So I set about fixing that. I've taken a few courses, read a bunch of books and improved my knowledge base about weight loss and building better habits. And I've practiced this experience/knowledge combination with over 100 clients.
What I've learned? It's not about "motivation"...it's just about deciding, and then creating really good routines and habits.
So here's a little tutorial...
Building your fitness motivation from 0 to 10
If you have NEVER worked out before or if you are returning to fitness the very first place to start is deciding that you are committed to this process. It's not about "wanting"...you can want something and still sit on the couch all damn day. It's about actually deciding and then taking action. Nothing half ass here. Make the choice, every day.
1 - start with 7 minutes
This was by far my most successful method of returning to fitness after my pregnancies. I would decide on a little workout that took only 7 minutes, and required no bra. No changing my clothes in the am, no fancy equipment. Just get up, before my brain had the chance to say NO, and move my body for 7 minutes.
I tried jumping in fast once, went out for a what I wanted to be a 5km run, pushed too hard, fucked up my knee and then didn't do anything for another two months. So I've also tried the "jump in with both feet" approach. Never worked for me. Building gradually was always successful though. If you go from 0 to 60 minutes three times a week you'll likely injure yourself or at the very least feel like you "can't do it" after the first week and then quit.
Start slow, build up steadily over time. It works, trust me.
2 - solidify one or two habits before adding more
This one I see often. Over commitment.
Clients that announce, "starting Monday I will drink 2L of water a day, workout 5 times a week, give my food intake a complete overhaul and walk 20 minutes every night."
Then as soon as one of those items goes by the wayside, the negative self talk starts and everything goes to shit.
The much more sustainable approach is to add one small change at a time, solidify that good habit and then move on to the next one. This will not get you the kind of "12 week transformation" photos that blow up Instagram accounts, but it will get you long term sustainable lifestyle changes.
3 - find your obstacles and adjust
So you're trying to drink 2L of water a day and you keep missing your goal. Why? Step one of identifying an "obstacle" is simply to become aware that it exists. Is it that you keep forgetting and then at the end of the day you have too much to drink? Find an app on your phone to remind you. Get an accountability buddy and send each other messages. Figure it out! If you can't figure it out then ask for help solving your obstacle.
Example two, you're trying to get your workouts in before work in the morning, but by the time you find your clothes and get organized you are short on time and then you feel rushed and then you end early and then you feel defeated and and and... How about if you try getting everything ready and organized the night before? So the only thing you have to do is roll out of bed and start moving. See if that works!
Honestly...I've had these conversations 100s of times with clients, about dozens of different obstacles. There are very few we have been unable to solve just by talking it out and brainstorming about solutions. It's not always easy, but again it comes down to building good habits to support the healthy lifestyle you're looking to achieve.
4 - drag someone with you
Support is vital. Surround yourself with others who are equally interested in making healthy changes. A whole tribe of them if possible. And although it doesn't need to be family...I find it particularly heartwarming when it is. The picture at the top of this blog is of two incredible sister-in-laws, and these two women below are two sisters who consistently zoom together to keep each other motivated when we are in lockdown mode. Having a partner in crime can make a huge difference in your journey!
One of the things that really warms my heart is when I see new friendships bloom as a result of women crossing each other's paths in my space. It's wild to watch!
5 - watch your language
There's a rule in my Facebook Coach Board. Say something negative about yourself and I'll make you write out 3 positive things about yourself. Watch how you speak to yourself! It will have a huge impact on your "motivation". If you are trying to build a new habit and you are constantly telling yourself things like "I suck" or "I ALWAYS forget to drink my water." Guess what happens? You start to believe them. Tell yourself positive things and guess what? You start to believe that instead. Basic psych folks. Powerful shit.
6 - consistency = habit = "motivation"
I've been hinting about this all along and in my blog last week as well. It's not about "motivation" its about creating habits and being consistent about them. If part of your healthy plan is to walk 20 minutes a day and you run short on time, walk 5 instead. You'll be contributing to the consistency of the habit and you'll still feel like you're making progress. If you are trying to get in 3 cups of veggies daily, measure them out, prep them in advance and be diligent about eating them. Only get in two? Ok, try again tomorrow. And keep trying consistently...eventually it becomes second nature. Habit. And the whole world will marvel at your "motivation"....insert eye roll.
7 - be clear about WHY
I've turned clients away because I can't get on board with their "why". Here's a short list of why reasons I've sent to other facilities.
~ I need to look hot in a bikini for my beach vacation
~ I want to fit into the size 6 dress I wore at my cousin's wedding in 199X
~ I must lose the last 10lbs (this one really makes me wanna vomit)
Once upon a time I was asked to run a "little black dress bootcamp"....I'm sure it would have made some good coin. But I'm not in this gig for the $. And I don't care if you fit into the little black dress of your dreams. Although if it happens I'll celebrate with you.
My point? If the aesthetics is your primary WHY, your fitness habits are unlikely to last. You'll come back from the beach and stop, or you'll hit that magic number and quit. I don't like turnover at my gym. So I'd rather you just not start with me if you plan to quit some day.
I feel strongly that your WHY should be a forever kinda thing. Get stronger and STAY stronger. And my primary goal is to make you strong for your entire life, not break you for later, or just to make that dress fit now. Make you strong so that you can run after your great grandchildren.
So there's a good chance that said size 6 dress won't fit well when you go to put it on because I will have made your lats bigger. This is a win in my eyes, but you'll be pissy with me if that dress is your goal.
Whatever your WHY is, be super clear about it. Remind yourself about it regularly and then build your habits around that WHY. And bam, just like that, you're fit AF.
8 - if necessary, fake it
Here's the thing. I want fitness to become as habitual for you as brushing your teeth. Or putting your pants on before you leave the house. So on the days when you just don't feel like putting on pants or brushing your teeth...what do you do? You do it anyways. So why is your fitness habit any different?
If you have a day of "I'm not in the mood" you need to assess that...is it because you are overworked or stressed? Ok, find something more gentle to do. Be kind to yourself, but still get some movement in. Maybe you go for a walk instead of doing 100 burpees.
As a suicide widow I had MANY of these days during my return to fitness. Days when the sadness was so overwhelming that I could barely breath. When I wanted to just crawl into bed and pretend the world had ended. But I had three kids to feed. That needed me. So I am very, very well practiced as this "fake it" business. And I know the benefits of bothering to fake it. Eventually the habit factor takes over and then gradually it gets easier, and enjoyable.
You can do this...just fake it through the days when you really are not feeling it...trust me on this one.
9 - Mantra it up
If you are telling yourself that this "fitness thing is not for me"...then guess what? You won't get very far. Repeat cool positive shit to yourself morning, noon and night. Even if it's not true. Lie to yourself, or stretch the truth a little...pump yourself up. If you won't do it, who will?
Tell yourself, "I am a fitness goddess" or "Fitness is my middle name" or "I am the definition of what it is to be fitAF."
Or you can tell yourself something a little less over the top, "I am putting my best fitness foot forward daily." or "I own my fitness plan and will not be stopped."
Post these mantras all over the place. Make it your screen saver, have reminders pop up on your phone. Send it in text messages to yourself. Do NOT shut up about it! If you keep telling yourself these things, they will become who you ARE.
Mantras are incredibly powerful tools!
10 - when you fuck up, forgive yourself
You will fuck up. Likely a few times. Or if you're like me a few hundred times :P
The key? Don't beat yourself up about it. See #5. Talk nicely to yourself. Forgive yourself for the little bump in the road. Move on. Get back on track. This is not an instant fix. It's habits to change your life. And if you make it about long lasting change, it's not meant to be perfect.
In the words of the amazing Jen Sincero, "It's not your fault you're fucked up. It's your fault if you stay fucked up." So just keep trying badass. You'll get there.
So there you go...the real non-ranty version of keeping "motivated" in fitness. Also known as the non-motivation approach. Also known as creating habits, being kind to yourself, and owning your badass life.
Photo credit: Tabitha Rees Photography
Oh hi there...maybe you don't know me, or maybe you stalk me on the regular. I find people who cross my path are of one of those two camps. So which ever it is...hello.... In all likelihood, regardless of which camp you're in, you probably don't even know I have a blog page on my website, because it's been a hot minute since I have taken the time to sit down and write an "official" blog post.
I looked back...my last blog post, which was a bit of a hit, was in response to an article posted on "ScaryMommy"...about a bunch of excuses to not engage in self care. To which I replied with a blog post at the end of 2019, you can read it here. And as I was deciding to write a post tonight I thought, "I wonder how many more excuses she's come up with during the shit show of Covid to not engage in any form of self-care." Maybe this woman and I will cross paths some day.
Once again, I'm not claiming perfection during this Shit Show we call "Covid". And maybe you will look at the fact that I own a gym and say...fuck that, it's easy for her to stay active when we are in lockdown.
So first let's counter that claim. My empty gym makes me angry, very angry. And depressed, like super sad. It also makes me anxious, because I depend on the income from my empty gym to feed a lot of very hungry mouths. So no, owning a gym doesn't make it any easier for me to maintain my motivation during all these lockdowns.
For some time now I've been thinking of making a list of the non-Covid SHIT I've overcome, while simultaneously growing my gym. Why? Why would I want to do that? So you can look at me and say "holy fucking hell, she's some kind of superwoman." Nope. I don't want that from you. In fact, you saying that would likely make me want to toss a kettlebell in your general direction.
I'm not a some kind of super woman. As I like to say, I'm just some girl. Some girl who, after her first husband chose suicide, picked her drunk ass up off the kitchen floor and made something of her life. Some girl who, when I was at my very, very, very darkest points, looked to other widows who were in far "worse shape" and said...I'll be fine. These other women, who were widowed at much younger ages, or in far "worse circumstances" are managing...and I can too.
Ever heard of Erica Roman? She's my kind of "widow famous"...you can read her blog here. She was widowed at 24 years old, found out she was pregnant with her second child at her husband's funeral. I often thought of her when I was feeling sad about being widowed at 36 with three children. Made my story less sad.
So if sharing some of what my shit storm of 2020 looked like - as well as some of the amazing things that happened to me in 2020 - will help even just one person regain their motivation during our current lockdown...well, then I've done my job.
Here's the Coles Notes...
Awesome - trip to Panama with my daughter and some amazing women
Shit Storm - caught that "high maintenance" husband I referred to in my previous blog cheating on me, kicked his ass out
Awesome - same daughter was accepted to University with a big ass scholarship
Shit Storm - Covid - first lockdown, gym closed
Awesome - met an amazing man, he's somehow managed to stick around, seems to love me a lot
Shit Storm - ex-husband facing criminal charges, major legal issues
Awesome - we get to do outdoor classes
Shit Storm - loss of a tenant at the gym leads to major expenses and massive business restructuring
Awesome - said loss leads to a ton of new opportunities
Shit Storm - daughter drops out of school
Awesome - amazing man moves in, he must be crazy to love me so much
Shit Storm - daughter's eating disorder hits a climax which lands her in an expensive treatment facility
Awesome - clientele at 90% retention, lots of media coverage, growth in online programs
Extra Awesome - more than one tattoo appointment (aka therapy)
Extra Awesome - joined both my girls in a head shaving fundraiser
Shit Storm - find out I can't see my baby girl at Christmas
Awesome - although missing her, Christmas with said amazing man was incredible
Shit Storm - gym is closed again...no end to Covid in sight
Awesome - my baby girl comes home
Awesome - online programs and partnerships are growing and keeping me afloat
Extra Awesome - this amazing man and I are approaching our 1 year anniversary and somehow, I haven't scared him yet
Maybe my story isn't half as bad as yours. Maybe you lost a loved one during this time, couldn't have a proper funeral. Maybe you were diagnosed with something life threatening. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
So what's my point? Somewhere in the midst of picking myself up off the kitchen floor I started to repeat something to myself.
"This I can control,"
I couldn't control how my so-called friends were treating me. I couldn't control that my kids were sad about not having their Dad. I couldn't control a lot. But I could control what I ate. I could control the amount of movement I got on a regular basis. I could control my own physical and mental health. I could CHOOSE every damn day to make myself a priority. So that I could be a better Mom to my kids.
Now I CHOOSE to maintain my fitness because I have 100+ "kids" who expect that from me. And they look to me for motivation. They know every single bump in my road. I don't keep secrets from my clients. Ever. They see me cry. They see me in pain...I don't pretend it's all sunshine and roses. Ever.
And then they see me sweat. And work shit out on the gym floor. They look to me for tips on how to keep that up when the gym is closed. And they get it. Create a routine. (Fun fact, motivation will only get you started...you need HABITS to keep you going). Commit to yourself. Find a way to make it work.
Motivation doesn't come from some outside source...it comes from you. Deciding. Everyday deciding to do a little better than the day before. Everyday deciding that you WILL take care of yourself...put your own mask on, then take care of the rest of the people in your life.
No Pressure. No Diamond.
This rant was posted first on my Facebook profile. In response to an article titled “Stop telling me I need to practice more “self care” by scarymommy.com. I posted it with some hesitation. And risked a big blow up for my opinion on the subject. However it was well received and I had some requests to make it a blog post...so here you are.
I’m not advocating for “self-care” because I want to sell you something...even though I own a gym. And I’m not some kind of perfectly healthy being who overloads on self care...and yes I’m writing this from a spa resort.
All that aside. I call 100% BULLSHIT on this article.
And yes my children are mostly older now. But in the prime days of my child rearing I was a prof and I would have “busy adult” students justify plagiarism based on how busy their lives were. And I would say “do you want to play the busy game?” Because I have 3 kids, two jobs and three rental properties. I win. Today that’s 4 kids, a high maintenance husband, three rentals and a full time very busy gym to run. It’s pretty rare that I don’t win. And it’s not a contest. My point is always...I can do self-care. You can too.
Let’s start by clarifying the term “self-care”. I’ve actually been asked this a few times recently. I’m starting to think this should be a blog post.
Self care is simple - it’s YOU taking care of YOU. Physically and mentally. My heart breaks for the woman in this article and the lies she is telling herself. And this quote.
“There is no time for self care when you are so mentally and physically depleted that all of the last few drops left in your tank have to be reserved for your family because they need you. And it’s your job.”
So what will it take for you to take an hour of your day to take care of your own needs? I’ll get into what that looks like later. Do you need to compromise your own physical health so much that you need blood pressure meds? Or develop type 2 diabetes? Do you need to struggle to get up and down off the floor or worse say no to getting on the floor because of how much it will hurt? Do you need to neglect your mental health so much that you develop and addiction of some form?
What will it take for you to really assess how you spend your time and MAKE time to care for you? To delegate some of those 900 post it notes? Yes you can delegate to a 5 year old. To say...GASP...NO...to your kids participating in every activity available? So that you can find the energy to do your own thing sometimes. Omg what will the Jones say!?!
And here’s a really hard truth. And a unique perspective I have that you probably are not going to like. You could die tomorrow. And guess what? Your family will survive. With time they will even thrive. I’m not saying they won’t miss you. I know far too many widows and widowers to make that kind of statement.
If you get hit by a bus tomorrow the world will go on. So stop making yourself seem so damn important in the lives of everyone around you - and this goes beyond your family...work, friends, all of it. Try that perspective on for size. And then tell me you don’t have time to take care of your own damn self.
Stop reading this for a minute and go into the settings on your phone. What’s your screen time usage daily? What if you took that time to care for yourself?
What if you taught your kids to make their own lunches or you did it together each night? How much time would you save? And you would develop responsible kids who don’t think you’re their fucking slave.
Are you doing all the laundry? If your child or partner can use a cell phone they can use the washing machine. Stop trying to control everything Mary and loosen your bone Wilma. Delegate. So you can get your ass to bed at a decent time.
Look for efficiencies in your day. This was something Kristen Schnepp Giger and I did when we were in the early days of life as suicide widows. Where can you make more time. Sometimes it’s little things. Like making two coffees in the morning. One in a cup and one in a to go mug...just saved 5 min.
Sometimes creating time means learning new habits that you initially won’t believe will help. Like planning your meals at 5am on a Sunday morning...GASP you didn’t sleep in?!?...so that dinner stress becomes non-existent during the week. And a bunch of other time saving habits that are part of a healthy - boundary laden life.
So what does self care look like to me? It’s an hour. Not necessarily all at the same time. Usually for me it’s 15 minutes of quiet time and meditation first thing in the morning...I can’t stress enough how POWERFUL it is as a woman and mother to do something for YOU first thing in the morning. Before you take care of everyone else. And about 45 minutes of moving my body some other time of day. Sometimes that’s a sweaty mess workout. Sometimes it’s flow and stretch. Sometimes it’s a walk with my pup.
For a lot of my clients it’s coming to class. And maybe that takes a whole 1:15 of their day. GASP. The point is you find and MAKE the time that works for you.
And no those post it notes won’t magically disappear. But you’ll have FAR more energy to tackle them. And you won’t feel like a depleted chicken with your head cut off while doing it.
Who the fuck wants to feel like that anyways.
As you were. Or maybe...as you were not.
When the concept for My Round Two started I remember chatting with my sister about it. I told her I wanted to share how post loss in “My Round Two” that things happened differently. I wanted to share how my round two family experience was different, my round two relationships (spouse and friends) totally different, my round two with a baby completely different.
I also talk a lot about how my approach to fitness post loss has changed. I’m softer and gentler with myself while at the same time pursuing my goals with a determination that I was not capable of before life as a widow.
But this week, the focus of my round two has been on my career. It had to change because my outlook on life was so vastly different that staying where I was simply became unacceptable. And this week I have had this overwhelming emotional climax because my career transition feels complete.
Classroom to Classroom
On Tuesday I started my day at 5:30am at the Lively Athletic Centre. An amazing new facility 5 minutes from my home, where I am proud to be employed as a personal trainer and fitness class instructor. I then left the gym to head to the University where I’ve been working for the last 9 years as a marketing professor. An extremely under valued one.
I made the decision to change careers not because of my lack of love for my job as a professor. I’m an amazing professor, my students love me and my dedication to their development has kept me engaged for nearly a decade. The administrative side of academia, however, became so incredibly toxic and detrimental to my own mental health that change became essential.
It’s not that I will never teach again. In fact, I fully intend to. I simply will not be employed full time in an environment that is damaging to my inner peace. Life’s too short for that.
So I’ve taken a pay cut of roughly 70% and jumped into a career where my colleagues and I build each other up. Where instead of students learning marketing I have clients who leave puddles of sweat on the gym floor.
Maybe some will call this change irresponsible. But my tribe, the ones that matter most to me, they say I have big #widowballs. And they call me #braveAF.
So is my transformation complete? Is the story of My Round Two complete? Not by a long shot.
Tomorrow is the day. The deathaversay...the shitaversary...the day. And for the first time I actually have the space and support to grieve it in a meaningful way. Year 1 was a complete blur, and as most widows feel on that first year, it was an anti-climactic nightmare. Year 2 I was dealing with a newborn in NICU, year 3 I was in the midst of a house flip, busy AF and barely coping with life.
Life is complicated right now. But somehow tomorrow I have manifested a good amount of time alone with my three children from Round 1. And I’m scared. This is the real deal. The widow shit I ran screaming from in the first year. It’s about to hit me full force.
Recently I had to switch phones. To do so I had to delete a bunch of pictures. I kept a few. Newborn pictures. One of me with my grandpa. Some fun memories from recent trips. And this one.
I was sitting on the couch with a woman I thought would never leave my side. She was just as concerned as I was. Our kids were playing in the basement. And one of mine came up dressed like this. And I snapped this picture and sent it to her Dad.
It was one of many things I did that day in a desperate attempt to convince him life was worth living. I sent crisis info. I called on friends to check in on him. I kept checking on him. I knew.
I know now that he never received the picture. That I was already too late. I know far too much about what was happening right around that time. Details I will not share. Not with you. No one needs that shit in their head.
I know how many people currently blame me. I know the haters that read this. I recently password protected this part of my sight because of some nasty comments left anonymously by the same cowardly haters. I know saying this will attract new haters. And I don’t give a fuck.
I know now why the first words to leave the funeral directors mouth were “this was not your fault”...at the time I didn’t understand. You mean people will blame me? Wow, was I ever naive.
I know after months of counseling that secondary losses of friends is normal. Loss of identity, normal. Massive self esteem issues stemming from abandonment, normal.
I know every emotion I felt that day. I can name them. And each year I relive them. The pain in my chest becomes unbearable. The physical agony that accompanies the emotional heartache is exhausting. But I know how to handle it. I’ve done it before. I’ve got this shit handled.
I also know the love and support from the most amazing community in the world. A community no one wants to be a part of. My widow tribe literally picked up the pieces of my life along side me and supported me putting them back together. And they still do.
Day after day.
1462 of them to be exact. I know. And they know. This was not my fault. And I know and they know that day 1462 is just as fucking hard as day 1.
It's no secret that the holidays are tough for the widowed community. There's a bunch of blogs out there on what our triggers are and what to say and not to say to us. I'm not about to start re-hashing those here. I have one clear message for you today. If you know a widow and see her this holiday season, give her a hug.
You may want to ask first...in case she's having a bad day and you try to hug her without warning and her last self defense lesson kicks in. I wouldn't want to see anyone get hurt.
When you are done hugging her, and I can almost guarantee you she won't let go first, tell her she's doing a fucking awesome job raising her kids without their father around. Look her in the eye when you say it, because not many people have the balls to look a young widow in the eyes, and mean every word you say.
And then you will have given her an incredible gift this holiday season. One that you can't wrap and put under the tree.
From the Kitchen Floor
In my early days of widowhood I spent a lot of time on the kitchen floor. Usually drunk. And alone. The comfort I get there is inexplicable. And more so now that I've connected with other widows /widowers who also end up on the kitchen floor for emotional breakdowns. Who knew it was such a common place?!?
I've made a shit ton of progress in my journey as a widow. And now as a remarried widow I don't spend as much time there. Nor do I spend as much time alone as my fellow young widows. But there's one area of widowhood that always drives me back there. Worry about my parenting skills with my round one kiddos. The overwhelming desire to talk things out with their Dad and have his input. The frustration of not being able to do that.
I consider myself fortunate to have easy access to an adult to hug. And one who tells me regularly that I'm an amazing mom. And will also tell me on request, "Please just tell me I'm doing a good job." He's happy to oblige. But recently I was thrust back into the memories of the early days when I didn't have that someone and was reminded of how incredibly hard those days were.
In October I made the 7 hour trek to visit my suicide widow sister, my Redneck wifey, to see her and her amazing kids through their 1 year deathaversary. There are 101 moments from that trip that I could blog about. It was an incredible eye opening experience for me. But this blog is about the hug in front of her garage.
She had been trying to get the kids ready to head out the door. They were being challenging. Pushing limits as kids love to do. And more so when there is company around to watch. It got to be excessive and some disciplinary action was needed. I gave them some space and shortly after my wifey wandered outside behind me.
She was standing in front of the garage and I could see it in her eyes.
Young widows question their parenting all the time. It's a regular topic in our widow/widower groups - the safe places we go to express ourselves. Those of us who have lost a spouse to mental illness - be it suicide, drug overdose or other ends - have the added stress of being ultra paranoid about the mental health of our children. These concerns are amplified around times of discipline.
More than words
So there she was standing in front of her garage. And I could see the look in her eyes. I knew that expression. And it all came rushing back to me. The early days of widowhood when I needed so badly to be reassured - but not with words. When you question those parenting moments, you just want someone to hug.
As I walked towards her I knew it was going to be an emotional one. I couldn't just see it, I could feel it in the air between us. It was pulling us together.
I'm a pretty strong woman, physically and mentally. I can toss around a 20kg kettlebell and I've navigated my way back to mental wellness...but my wifey is strong AF. As I approached her and opened up my arms to pull her in and give her exactly what she needed, she attacked me...she grabbed me and pulled me in.
And she squeezed so hard it knocked the wind out of my lungs.
I tried so hard to match her force I strained a muscle in my back.
All those nights on the kitchen floor alone came rushing back. Agonizing over my parenting. Having no one to hug for reassurance. And I knew that this hug was about more than just the discipline incident of that day. It was about all the ones prior when she had no one to hug. And all the ones still to come. That hug has been with me ever since. And the desire to plea with everyone I know to hug more often. Because in that moment I was reminded of how much we as humans need that physical connection and reassurance.
We live in a society that is starved for affection. In the land of the widowed (and single) this is amplified. "Maybe lets give people real hugs. Real hugs to single people and widows." One of my widow idols, Erica Roman (who discovered she was pregnant with her second child during her husband's funeral), wrote a beautiful blog about this.
If there is one thought I can leave you with let it be that - hug people, often, hard. Don't let go. You don't need to say anything. Just hug.
This is a guest blog written by my Redneck after my visit to see her and her amazing kids as they passed the one year mark post loss. The words are all Kristen. The subtitles, however, are mine.
Enjoy! And thanks wifey for letting me in and letting me hug you.
Third time’s a charm, right? I have sat down two other times focused on writing this, but came up with an unfinished product that didn’t do this topic the justice it deserves.
Today’s topic…the bond of widowhood.
Like many widows who came before me, and (unfortunately) many who will follow, I have experienced the dynamic shift of strong friendships post loss.
(…Shit…tears from the bedroom…pause to go comfort a grieving kid who misses her dad…45 min break to settle kids, 15 min to respond to a work email that needed done tonight, and 15 min to plan out my week…it is now 10:05 and I’m circling back where I was awhile ago…)
In lieu of writing about those shifting friendships, tonight I’m going to focus on a very special friendship: the bond of widowhood.
Seriously I wanted to run away from her.
Early in my grief journey I found myself searching for someone who could validate the plethora of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that were running through my mind. It didn’t take long to realize that I needed to find another person who had a crumbling marriage, young kids, a LH who completed suicide, AND who was working on moving her life in a positive direction post loss.
I’ve heard many widows state that they often feel alone even when they’re in a room surrounded by people whom they love and who love them. This is one of many completely foreign truths I have learned over the past year.
This is where Michelle enters the picture. I read her story and was immediately drawn to her. In short, she had walked the road I was just beginning, AND she was remarried, with a baby to her Chapter 2 – Round Two as she calls it – all while improving her mental and physical health.
I had just entered widowhood at 32. Loss by suicide which was preceded by infidelity is scary shit…how do you piece your life back together? Is it possible to let your guard down enough to trust ANYONE after that, let alone dissolve that guard to allow a new love to form? Basically, this woman was living the life I hoped to build…I needed to see HOW she did it. Ohhh, except, I have zero interest in having another baby…but that’s off topic.
Our love story is one of a kind!
The special widowhood bond that we have formed (you can read the whole story here) over the past 8 months is truly a once in a lifetime bond. This woman became my rock when nobody in my life was in the position to do so. She didn’t have to, but she did…again and again. I can’t even estimate the amount of messages we’ve sent to each other, or the time we’ve spent chatting.
She knew the 1 year deathaversary was coming…and she decided she would, too. In her previous life, she must have been a clown. The juggling act it must have taken for her to line out schedules for her other 3 children, her working non-English speaking husband, the university classes that she is teaching, renovations/move out of one of her rental units, and make the 7 hour drive across international lines with an 18 month old – ya, a circus for sure! Let that last part sink in for a second. 7 hours of driving, through customs, with a toddler. No. Thank. You!
To hug another suicide widow...there are no words
Except, she did.
That hug the Tuesday night she arrived…it was the strong, understanding, loving kind…the kind that takes the broken pieces and, at least for a moment, squishes them all back together. I never knew the bond of friendship could be this strong. But then, the paradox of widowhood is learning that the human heart is capable of and yearning for deep, meaningful relationships full of love and life. There are no limits on the amount of love a broken heart can absorb…if walls are taken down enough to allow that love to pour in.
I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. I was able to introduce her to a few of the folks who have been instrumental in my grief journey. We canned deer meat from the deer that Timmy harvested a few days prior. We enjoyed walks in the woods and walks while the little one pushed his lawnmower on the street. The weather was absolutely perfect. Even made the time to set up my outdoor office so we could both hammer out some much needed work from my back porch. She stayed long enough to see Jennifer swim her first race in her first swim meet on Saturday. I know NOTHING about swimming…glad she was there to coach me in how to be a “swim mom.”
What she calls me most often is "bitch" and "fucker"
But she loves me so its ok
I call her my “wise ol’ widow,” among other knick names, because she has often warned me of pitfalls, brewing shitstorms, and easy workarounds. She knew the 1 year mark was going to suck. No way around it. Not only was she here for that day, but stayed long enough that she was here for the day that I made all the arrangements as well as the date of the funeral. That’s a huge commitment from somebody with an even bigger heart. Pretty sure I didn’t shed a tear the entire time she was here…and it certainly wasn’t because I stuffed all my feelings and emotions into the society approved “grief box.” We talked about Jory, we said his name, we talked about the good and bad times, and walked through the old house. The comfort that she provided can’t be put into words.
Then, she left. Because we live so far apart, goodbyes are always tough. The day after she left, the emotional hangover hit. I did pull up my big girl panties and I’m poised for a kick ass week of work…which is good, because this is my busiest and favorite week of the entire year. It’s the time when I get to say THANK YOU by coordinating an awesome veterans pheasant hunt for many, many of our nation’s heroes. These brave men and women have endured battlefields with bullets. They have survived…many have thrived. Their heartfelt, misty eyed thank you’s that I get at the end of each of these events puts my life into perspective. A major shitstorm hit me in the battlefield of life. A canook kept me alive, and as I write this, I’m intentionally, methodically orchestrating my life to move it in a positive direction. I would never, ever be at this point today without her guidance, her sympathies, and her ass kickings.
I do not wish this journey on anyone…but if you find yourself slugging down this path, my best advice is to find yourself a Canook and hold on tight.
This is my Redneck. We are so different I'm baffled at times by our friendship. Except for that one thing we have in common...that suicide widow badge we share.
Tomorrow I get to hug all three of these amazing humans and eat some of that beast, harvested by that little fire cracker there. Tomorrow my Redneck will hit her one year deathaversary. And I'm making the 8 hour drive to hug her so hard that all the pieces will go back together. Because I'm the "wise old widow"...or so she thinks...
Except I'm not.
I've told her. Warned her countless times. The first year is the easy part. The second year is waaaaay harder. This is not something the average person knows. It's not something I knew in my first year. I was devastated when first year mark passed and it didn't get better.
Fuckers. They all lied to me. "The first year is the hardest". Lies. All lies.
Whoever said that was not living in the land of the grieving. Not widowed. That's for sure.
All the firsts
The big expectation that life reaches this magical recovery point at the 1 year mark comes from the fact that you have survived all the firsts. First Christmas. First round of birthdays. Etc.
You made a plan. Or fumbled through and you made it out the other side.
And my Redneck has done an amazing job on all the firsts. I was with her for almost every single one. Chatting late into the night. Drinking on our kitchen floors. Making sure to help her pick up the pieces the next day. Staying functional right along side her.
She has kicked ass all year. Raw honesty and no denial of the circumstances. Which gives me hope that somehow maybe her second year won't be as rough as it was for me.
Don't deny the feelings
It took me 2.5 years to start rebuilding post loss. The very first thing I did was deny that I was a widow. What? Widow at 36? I don't fucking think so. I'll get married. That will fix that.
Except it didn't. It just made me bury the feelings deeper.
And when they started to emerge I was told to "get over it". "Move on"...and when the emotions kept coming I lost friends. Because I wasn't "fun" anymore.
Because I had finally started to grieve. But with no support.
My Redneck has done such a better job at her first year. And yes I know we don't compare in grief.
But she got support. Never denied her widowhood. Was raw and up front about her feelings from day 1. Didn't bury any of it.
And so I hope that maybe, just maybe her second year will defy the odds and not be worse. She deserves that.
Worth every second
Life is a little nutty in My Round Two. 4 kids with busy schedules, trying to start a small business, means I've had to do a lot of arranging to make this trip happen.
And it will be worth every second. To share the same kitchen floor. To be there for this amazing woman...we pull each other along every day.
All I can think is that I wish I had known her when I hit my 1 year mark. But that would be a terrible wish to bestow upon anyone. And as much as I love this woman I also hate that our paths have crossed at all.
But I know how lonely and completely gutted I felt that day. I can't take her pain away. But I can make damn sure she doesn't feel alone. If there is a way I can take that feeling away for another suicide widow...I'm all over that shit. And she's not just any suicide widow. She's my wifey...wifey for lifey.
Watch out Pennsylvania. I'm on my way.
I have a file sitting on my computer of 486 pictures of Lego scenes. For the longest time after her Dad died my oldest child tried desperately to keep everything exactly the same as it was. She refused to let her hair grow – she had shaved it in September, 6 months prior to his suicide. She wouldn’t move any future in her room, change any pictures on her walls. And she wanted to do all the activities that they use to do together.
One of their favourites was to make stop motion Lego movies.
The spent hours on this together. Carefully placing the Lego. Using the tripod for the digital camera so that the picture was taken exactly in the same spot. Carefully moving the Lego. Take the picture again. And repeat – 486 times to create a second stop motion movie less than a minute long.
This should also give you some insight into the character of both my daughter and her father. Meticulous, perfectionists, extreme patience.
Some times they would even do voice overs for the movies. Which I am forever thankful for as we now have several clips for the kids to listen to their father’s voice.
My LH was a techie. He insisted on using Linux as an operating system – had a serious hatred for all things Windows. So not only did he write a script – that’s like a mini computer program – to create these stop motion movies, he also documented all the Linux code functions that were needed to make them and saved it in a file on our computer. Imagine creating a computer program you could use with your kids to make stop motion movies. I’ve since learned there are apps for that.
But that was his “thing”. He would spend hours with the kids taking those pictures and then hours on the computer getting it to work correctly. After the first time, with the script in place, it only took a few minutes.
So in the first months post-loss when my daughter announced that she wanted to make a Lego movie like she had done with her Dad I panicked. I am not techie. He was always my “tech help desk”. I had needed to get myself a more user-friendly Windows system after he died. Linux has a lot of good qualities, but user-friendly is not one of them.
Faaaaack…how am I going to make this happen for her?
Keep calm, Michelle. Smile. “That’s a great idea Ais, here’s the camera.”
Hours, days, more hours. She spent the better part of two weeks between swim practices taking 486 pictures. Then came the part where I needed to step up. She handed me the camera. Now I needed to do what her Dad had always done. Turn the pictures into a movie.
I had already tried looking up instructions. I had called a local computer store asking for a Linux Geek. They told me, “there’s an App for that.” I tried telling my daughter that we could do it in an easier way. Nope. We needed to do it…
I logged into his old computer. I checked the web browser history and found online help forums for Linux users. I found the file that contained the Linux instructions to make the script work. But I didn’t understand what the instructions were telling me.
So I went to the help forums. I explained to the Linux Geeks what I was trying to do and why I was unable to – I was not one of them. I was simply trying to help my daughter after the death of her Dad. They were so incredibly helpful. They walked me through each step. They provided all the guidance I needed and I was on my way to making those 486 pictures into a movie.
One keystroke at a time. Following his instructions, in a language that I needed translation to read.
I got to the last instruction and…
The computer’s memory was too full to be able to run the script. Ugh. Now what.
Yes, I sat on the kitchen floor and cried. I was so angry that he wasn’t there to solve that problem. That he wasn’t there to take the pictures with his daughter and convert them to a movie. I was angry that I had tried so hard and still failed.
And I still had to tell her that I failed. It wasn’t the first time I failed at trying to accomplish a task just the way their Dad had. And I’m 100% certain now, at 3.5 years post loss, that it will not be the last.
That look of disappointment in your child’s eyes. That doesn’t leave you. Ever.
Shortly after my epic failure I discussed the situation with my therapist. And she said to me...
“Michelle, you cannot become Kenn.”
Faaaaack that was one of those earth shattering therapy moments. An extremely hard pill to swallow. So many layers of emotion in that short sentence.
You cannot become the one you lost. You cannot do things exactly the way they did. You cannot protect your children from all the hurt that comes with letting go of that.
You can keep the memory. You can make new memories. You can smile at what is and cry at what is not.
I still have those 486 pictures. I won’t get rid of them. But I have let go of my obsession with taking over every role he left behind.
**The true stop motion files are mega huge and I couldn't attach them here, but this link is of a movie they made prior to starting on the stop motion adventures.
One of my earliest lessons in my grief healing journey. And one I still need to remind myself of.
The week of prep for my LH's funeral was pure chaos. We don't live in the same town as our families so my house was full. Literally my living room was wall to wall bed. I was surrounded by family who love me unconditionally. But there were 3 people I needed to see that week who were not family members. I could write a separate blog for each of them...but not today.
An amazing woman who lost the father of her first born many years ago and was still thriving in life. She had always been a great friend. And gives fantastic hugs. I needed to see her.
My LH's friend who I had tried to get to connect with him the night of his suicide. I was concerned about him. Still worry about him.
And a woman who I had just started to get to know because her son had passed away. That she was still functioning fascinated me. I had always viewed her as a pillar of strength and I felt that if I could see her I would be able to suck up some of that strength. I was desperate to see her.
Grief has no rules
I am living in very surreal times right now. I'm still healing in my own grief journey. And I've met some incredible people along the way.
My very own Redneck is about to hit her one year deathaversary and I'm doing my utmost to keep my own shit together to support her through that.
I watch as some of my new online contacts pass their wedding anniversaries and birthdays of their LH or LW. The grief is real. And it's raw. And I learn a lot from what they share.
I have also recently made some new friends closer to home. Which was a very brave act on my part. Not easy at all, but necessary since I was running a little low on friends. One of said friends, who I'm totally smitten with, just lost her Dad. She's just entering her year of firsts.
So I've been asking myself a lot what I would like to have been told at the beginning of my journey or as I was approaching my first year. And I've narrowed it down to two.
Grief has no rules. I should state up front this is not my image. I saved it. Don't know where it came from. I'm shitty at that. But it's frightening how accurate it is. It's also frustrating as hell that grief is presented in such a straightforward manner like the picture on the left side.
And because it's not straightforward the myth that the first year is hardest is complete BS. So to anyone in their first year please hold on even tighter for that second year.
Keep it simple
I joke sometimes that my goal for the day is simply to stay functional. But really it's not a joke. Sometimes we have periods in the grief process where that's all we can manage. Eat, make yourself presentable, stay functional. There's no need to move mountains.
Find a support group. In person or online. I cannot stress enough how much it helps to know others have had your experience. It feels like you are being "seen". Know that other people see you. I see you. You are not alone in your pain.
As I was reflecting on these two precious beings in my life and their respective journeys, I was also having a tough weekend. And then I remembered the days following my own loss. And the amazingly simple message I would receive from that woman I needed to see in the funeral prep week.
The sun is shining.
That was it. Repeatedly.
The sun is shining.
I remembered it as I was outside this weekend, desperately trying to get my own head on straight. It's a gratitude message, yes. But it's so much more profound than that. Sit with it awhile.
I see you.
The sun is shining.
I am Michelle. Above all I am a mother of four incredible little beings. I am a certified Personal Trainer and Healthy Eating Coach, an educator and a real estate investor. I am a coach who also participates fully as a fitness enthusiast, a runner, and a swimmer. I speak from the heart and have no filter left to tolerate bull shit.