The Christmas tree has been taken down, the New Year’s Eve confetti has been vacuumed up, and that can only mean one thing: it’s time to tackle those New Year’s Resolutions.
I’ve never been a real fan of resolutions – why wait until January 1 to make a change? – but this year, things feel a little different. My 2017 was filled with medical diagnoses, surgeries, ER trips, and everything in between. Will my 2018 contain some of those same things? You bet. After all, I spent five hours in the emergency room on the second day of the new year, and I’ve already got another surgery planned for this summer. But there is something freeing about writing “2018” instead of “2017” on everything now. It feels symbolic, like I made it through one of the toughest years of my life and lived to tell the tale. In 2017, I had life-changing surgery that left me with a stoma. I had an ileus. I underwent dozens of medical tests. I got over my fear of needles. I also took 29 credits in a single semester. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with my Bachelor’s Degree in Math. I lost friends who didn’t understand why I wasn’t “healthy” any more.
I stopped being able to eat ice cream. But despite all this, I’m still standing. And I’m ready to tackle everything that this new year brings, from the highs to the lows. That doesn’t mean I’m not looking to get even better and stronger this year though, and for that reason, I’ve selected three areas of improvement to work on in 2018: being kind to myself when going after my workout goals, respecting my body’s limits, and saying “yes” to more experiences.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise – almost every year I set a new fitness goal for myself. One year, I signed up to run a half-marathon on New Year’s Eve. Another year, I spent New Year’s Day studying to take the American Council of Exercise Group Fitness Certification Exam. Circumstances may be different this year, since some new medical diagnoses have complicated the whole working out thing recently, but that doesn’t mean I won’t still chase after some goals.
In 2018, there are three things I want to do: master an unassisted pull-up, run a 5K without stopping, and climb a rope. A few years ago, I had some of these same goals, and while they took some work, they were all well within reach. This year, these three goals are a bit more of a stretch. I’ve already had some moments of frustration, mainly when I start comparing myself now to the athlete I was two years ago before I got sick. I’ve gotten frustrated because I couldn’t make it through two minutes of running without a heart rate spike when two years ago I could complete a strength training workout followed by running a 10K without any problems whatsoever. I’ve gotten frustrated because I struggled through a set of body weight squats when two years ago I could squat with a 135-pound barbell on my back. But I am a different athlete now than I was back then. I have gone through so many more hardships, and have increased my strength in ways other than setting a new race PR or lifting a heavier weight. So maybe I have set some goals that I have already reached before. But now, I’m setting them with an entirely new mindset, an entirely new body, and an entirely new appreciation for how amazing it will feel to conquer those goals again.
I’m one of those people who thrives on making others happy, often to my own detriment. I’ve been known to overextend myself by saying “yes” to things because I felt that I was supposed to or because I felt guilty saying no. Fighting through some chronic illnesses, I’ve come to realize that sometimes, saying yes to one more thing can mean spreading myself too thin, adding unnecessary stress to my already hectic schedule of classes, doctor’s appointments, and regular life tasks, and making my symptoms even worse than they typically are. In my attempt to please others, I have gotten myself into situations where I’ve sacrificed my own health and happiness. In the grand scheme of things, that moment of disappointment may be worth it if it means that I can go an extra day without feeling super sick.
Sometimes, things just aren’t feasible when dealing with a chronic illness, and that takes some serious self-awareness. The week before Christmas, my sister and her two children came to visit. We don’t see them much, so the time we get with them is precious. For one of the days they would be here, they wanted to visit one of the major cities nearby, meaning a full itinerary of sightseeing, shopping, and a lot of walking outside in the cold. Originally, I planned to accompany them on this adventure, since I desperately wanted to spend time with everyone. But in thinking about the aftermath that I knew would come with the day – headaches, nausea, and dizziness so bad that I can’t get out of bed – I realized that I needed to respect my health, listen to my body, and say “no.” It killed me to tell my niece and nephew that I couldn’t go exploring with them, but I knew that by taking it easy that day, I would be able to spend time with them before they went home. Saying no to things like this can be a major disappointment, but it’s something I need to practice in order to keep myself as healthy as possible.
I know what you’re thinking – “didn’t she just say one of her goals was to say ‘no’ more?” Yes, that is one of my goals, but I also am striving to say “yes” more. For so long, I felt limited by my body. There were foods I couldn’t eat because they gave me such bad abdominal pain that I couldn’t even stand up. There were places I couldn’t go because there wasn’t a restroom close by for me to run to in case of emergency. There were activities I couldn’t do because they made my heart rate skyrocket and left me on the verge of passing out. Some of these things remain true, and I do have to be careful because of my ileostomy and other diagnoses. I can’t eat foods that would give me a blockage, I can’t stand up too quickly, and I can’t let my heart rate exceed a certain threshold. But I can find ways to enjoy experiences with people I love while getting creative.
Before my surgery, date nights with my boyfriend were pretty much off the table. Anything I ordered would leave me lying on the bathroom floor from pain. So I got used to saying “no” to anything that involved a meal out. This year, I am striving to say “yes.” I may still have some limited options for foods, but in the grand scheme of things, the joy that I get from a few hours alone with the man that I love trumps the frustration I feel when I have to order yet another shrimp cocktail as my meal. So this year, I am working on saying “yes” to the experiences and the people that ultimately bring me joy regardless of the extra steps it may take to manage my health.
I’m not sure what is in store for the next 365 days, but I do know that I’ll be working hard to take care of myself and get even stronger than I was last year. If 2017 taught me one thing, it’s that it doesn’t matter how hard I get knocked down as long as I spring right back up and keep on fighting. And you better believe I’m ready for it.