Have You Found Your Thing?

When Sunshine was less than a year old, a coworker stopped me in the hallway to comment on how quickly I had lost weight.

“I cannot believe how good you look for having an infant. I never looked that good again after having kids. But look at you!”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ve been running again.”

She said, and I will never forget this comment, “I just don’t see how you can do it. You’re away from her all day. Don’t you think you should be spending that time with her instead?”

She had taken off from work when her children were little, she said. You cannot get that time back with them, she said. Maybe you should reconsider, she said. You have your whole life to get fit again, she said.

But for me, running is not just about fitness.

I was never fit growing up. I was the pudgy one of my parents’ older children. I was not athletic. I wore the same sizes as my older sister until we hit puberty, and then, I was a size or two larger. I did not enjoy sweating or being outside or sunshine. I was a homebody through and through.  In undergrad, I put on the freshman twenty-five without any issues. I loved food and sitting around watching reruns while I drank a Coke and ate salt and vinegar potato chips or graham crackers smothered in gobs of creamy Jif.

There was no shame in my emotional eating game.

I did not become active until sophomore year. I had a horrendous roommate, and the rec center on campus gave me somewhere to go. I worked out and discovered cottage cheese and egg white omelets and portion control.

Saint Daddy and I did not see each other for six weeks that spring because of how our spring breaks lined up and he did not have a car and I could not drive. He called me one afternoon, wanting to see my new room after I had finally convinced res life to let me move out of that situation, and when he walked into my room with a cherry gelati from Rita’s in his hand and his roommate trailing behind him, he thought I had given up eating altogether.

I did not. I was eating well and working out. Food was still delicious, but it was more fresh fruit than processed carbs.

My fitness level fluctuated a lot over the next few years.

I took up running about a year after Saint Daddy and I got married. My doctor prescribed me an antidepressant and told me that I should limit my caffeine intake and take up exercise and see if the combination of the three helped curtail my daily panic attacks. He said, “The trick with exercise is to find something that works for you. That something is not what works for everyone. But you have to find your thing and love it. Then it’ll become part of your life.”

One day, I had off from work and Saint Daddy did not. I put on my sneakers, a pair of New Balance that my dad had gotten me during a BOGO event four years before that day, and walked to the park near our home. I ran two laps on the path around the park, and I went home.

Two days later, I did it again. But I did it faster. Without even trying. I thought, “I wonder how fast I could do that…” Two days later, I did it as fast as I could. I impressed myself. I did not know how far I had run, but I knew I had run.

Shortly thereafter, I looked up a Couch to 5K program, and set out to impress myself some more.

I did give up caffeine. I have been caffeine free since 2010, no easy feat for a full-time working mom with multiples. If I have more caffeine than the amount in a small cup of decaf coffee, I suffer from heart palpitations, chest pains, and nausea. Another doctor said it is an intolerance. Sometimes, I call it an allergy because people understand that term better.

And I ran.

I have been running since 2010. I am pretty good at it. I cannot run very fast. I cannot run very far. But I run with heart. That is what makes me good at it. I am a runner. The kind of runner that gets irritated by the term “jogger.”  I have been properly fitted. I have opinions on running brands. I actually use the treadmill in my basement. I rarely miss a run.

When Sunshine was born in 2013, I went back to running.

It was not only to get my body back. It was to get myself back.

When I run, my only competition is the person I thought I was. The person I thought I was did not run at all or could only run for a quarter of a mile at a time or could not run better than a twelve minute mile or did not have the endurance for a 5K. She certainly could not run a half marathon.

But I am not the person that I thought I was.

And running has helped my mental health immensely. Because I am constantly beating that person that I thought I was, I know that I am strong and capable.

Is it perfect? No. I run three times a week. I used to run four times a week. But I still have panic attacks. I still wake up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts. We still sit on the aisle at the theater. I still hate driving. Running does not cure my anxiety.

But it helps me to remember that I am the one in control of it.

I often think about that conversation with my former coworker. I have since switched jobs. I have moved on. I will likely never see her again. We are not friends on any social media platforms.

But I think of her. I think of what she represents.

This is my love letter mommas everywhere.

Find your thing.

Run or dance or draw or take bubble baths or go out for a drink with your friends.

Find your thing that helps you feel like a person. Find your thing that allows you to feel strong and capable and brilliant. Find your thing that helps you to see the good in yourself and in the world.

No one asks Saint Daddy how he can stand to be away from our children for an hour or two each week so that he can go to the gym. No one wonders how he manages to stay in shape or read or write or tutor or sleep or eat.

Mommas of the world are not required to explain to anyone why they need time for themselves.

That coworker was right. Sunshine was only a baby for a little bit. She is very much a kid now. But giving up my thirty minutes of sanity three times a week was not going to slow down that time. It was also not going to make me a better mother.

I believed then, and I believe now, that I am a better mother because I know what my thing is. I am more present when I am with my children than I would be otherwise. I feel happier because I have taken care of me. Running is how I take care of me.

Never let naysayers tell you that you should not have something for yourself just because you have babies. You do not deserve that guilt or that anxiety.

And for me, comments like that do fuel my anxiety. Now, I can look back and see that giant grain of salt. But in the moment, with my infant at home and me missing her dreadfully all day, I allowed that thought to consume me. It was unfair of her to make something simple into something so sinister. Saint Daddy understood. I understood. Sunshine was thriving. That was all that mattered.

And, mommas and daddies, taking that time for you does not make you any less of a loving parent. If anything, it makes you that much more capable of being exactly what your children need.

Have you found your thing?

I Will Get There

I had twin boys eighteen months ago. Sleepy and Grumpy are wonderful little terrors, constantly working to destroy our home and bring joy into our hearts.

During my pregnancy with Sleepy and Grumpy, I gave up on all forms of exercise. My high risk doctor told me to stop running at the end of my first trimester. At twenty weeks, he told me to stop lifting anything over ten pounds, including Sunshine. By twenty-four weeks, I weighed more than I did at forty-two weeks with Sunshine and most yoga poses were nearly impossible.

By the end of my thirty-eight week pregnancy with my sons, I had put on sixty-two pounds.

That is eight pounds more than the recommended amount for a twin pregnancy, but I was not concerned. My doctors were not either.

While pregnant with Sunshine, I ran 2-3 miles three days a week until my thirty-sixth week. I delivered six weeks later. I had gained thirty-five pounds, the upper limit of the recommendation.

I lost all but five of those pounds before returning to work at twelve weeks post partum. I returned to running at six weeks postpartum. I kept those extra five pounds until I stopped nursing Sunshine at eighteen months old, even during half marathon training. Then, they melted right off of me.

With Grumpy and Sleepy, my C-section meant not returning to running until ten weeks after delivery. Because I was so completely out of shape and thoroughly exhausted by newborn twins, it was slow and horrible.

When the boys were four months old, they entered the four month sleep regression. I lost sleep and precious ounces in milk output. I started eating my feelings and I stopped running. I needed to consume a minimum of 2500 calories and drink a gallon of water each day to maintain my supply.

I lost fifteen pounds between two and four months, and I gained every ounce of that back between four and six months as I ate more and exercised not at all.

I have been running again for ten months. Seven months ago, I cut my calorie intake back down to my pre-pregnancy levels.

I reached my goal weight three months ago.

But I am not happy with my body.

It will never be the same.

After Sunshine, I lost the weight and my body was only a little worse for the wear.

Now I am soft and doughy. There is extra skin that droops. I look like someone who lost weight too quickly and her skin did not get the memo until it was too late.

Which makes sense because I did and it did not.

It is demoralizing.

Because I am not happy with my body, I am having a hard time focusing on my fitness goals.

In my mind, I should be able to easily run six miles at this point. The boys are eighteen months old. Six miles is no big deal. I have done it countless times before. And I have done it a handful of times since the boys were born.

But I keep accepting excuses.

I often quote Wedding Crashers, saying, “No excuses. Play like a champion.”

But I am not playing like a champion.

I have a great long run. Hitting my six mile goal. I feel awesome. I know I can do it. I am proud of myself.

But the next weekend, it does not go nearly as well. And the following weekend, I convince myself that four miles is enough. That it is okay. I am still working on my comeback.

It is not until afterwards, when I am home again, that I realize that four miles is not enough. I could be better. I could do better.

The thing is, what sucks the most is that, no matter how hard I work or push or try, I am probably still going to be soft and doughy. I hit my goal weight and I do not look anything like what I think I should.

This is not a cry for compliments. I know I look good. About six months ago, people stopped adding “for having twins” to their comments about how good I look. I just look good.

But I do not feel good.

I am not happy with my body.

It is not just the running. I am not strength training because I do not feel strong. I am not eating well because I do not feel like it even matters at this point.

I have become incredibly cynical about my body, and it is being a twin mom that did that to me.

Now, while I have said before that there are experiences that are unique to being a MoM that non-MoMs cannot appreciate, this is not one of those things. I believe there are millions of moms who feel this disconnect with their own bodies. Women who love their bodies because of the babies that they brought into this world but hate them for what they look like afterwards.

For me, though, I believe I feel this way expressly because I am a MoM. Carrying Sunshine did not make me feel so uncomfortable in my own skin. My stretch marks never made me feel uncomfortable. I still only own bikinis. But I am afraid that I will never truly feel comfortable in one again.

For me, my journey to accepting my body has been rife with highs and lows. I first started questioning its value when I was very young.

My skin is pale. Very pale. It makes getting blood work easier because my blue veins stand out against my white skin. I am paler than all of my siblings. They pointed out my Irish skin frequently. How I burned and they tanned. How I needed my own beach umbrella.

I was always chubbier than my next older sister. She was athletic from a young age. I was not. And my mother pointed it out to me on more than a few occasions. Grandma took me to her TOPS meetings where she weighed in and women sat in a circle and discussed how disappointed they were with their bodies.

Dislike of our bodies is ingrained in the minds of young girls so thoroughly, and I was no exception.

I did not buy my first bikini until I was in my mid-twenties. I was “too fat” before that.

But I had taken up running to combat my anxiety at my doctor’s suggestion (exercise, he said, may help if medication was not something I wanted to stick with). And running did something for me that nothing else could have done.

Running showed me that my body was capable of amazing things. My body could run miles. My body could go farther than I could have ever imagined. My body is wonderful. It is spectacular.

I was proud of it.

I remained proud of it until about a year ago. It brought me three children. Two at once.

But then I was thoroughly post-partum, and it feels less mine than the one I used to have. I feel less capable and less amazing.

I want to love my body again. Sometimes, I am afraid that I never will.

I keep trying to.

One day, I will to write a love letter to my body. One day, this will merely be evidence of where we once were.

Today, though, I am feeling that disconnect from what I see and what I am. From what I did and what I can do.

I hope that I can find my pride again. No, I know that I will.

For any mommas reading this post who understand, I see you. Your body is amazing, but I know that it can be hard to see that when you spent so much time sharing it with other people. You will get there.

I will get there.