A few weeks ago, I turned 39 years old. Thirty-nine is kind of a weird age. On one hand, it’s just a number – it’s simply another year and another day. Every day is important, and every year presents a new opportunity. But on the other hand, it’s almost 40… which is one of those milestone birthdays—and one that for whatever reason, feels important. My life has changed significantly in the past few years, with tough changes in my health and relationship status – but undeniable growth in other areas. I’m mentally and emotionally stronger, and much clearer in my spirituality. But turning 39 has been interesting, because it’s challenged me to look at where I’ve been and think about where I’m going – and has brought a certain resolve to get some key factors figured out (to the best of my ability) before my next birthday.
One of the fundamental things I’ve been examining within myself is where I am at with my overall health, and the ways in which I am currently handling it. It’s extremely hard to type this sentence… but I am really unhappy with my body right now. It’s so uncomfortable to put that thought out there, because in my mind and in my heart, I know I shouldn’t feel this way… but I do. My weight and body shape have changed a bit in the past several years, even though by many standards, I understand that I look just fine. Please don’t send me a message about how I am being completely ridiculous about this… I fully realize that this opinion will not be shared by the people who are close to me. But here’s the deal. I have this personal policy – that I’m not allowed to complain or feel negatively about something if I’m not willing to make changes that will move me forward.
So, I have asked myself, “Why. What’s wrong with the way you look?” I’ve never been a girl who has been wrapped up in body image… I’m actually kind of a tomboy at heart. I wasn’t raised to focus on what I look like, and I am so thankful for that. Also, I really do have a generally healthy and very active lifestyle. I eat good quality food, and I lift weights avidly – 5 days a week.
So… what’s the problem, Am??
Like most things, the answer is multifaceted.
Even though I know I shouldn’t be, I’m angry at my brain for the surgeries that I continue to endure. When I saw my neurosurgeon this past week, we made the decision to schedule my next brain surgery – and we counted that this will be my 20th surgery related to my hydrocephalus in 6 years. It will be the 24th overall. The daily pain, the various medications, and the basic trauma of going through all of these episodes has taken a toll on my physical being. There’s just no getting around that part. The only way for me to not be angry about the situation is to believe and understand that God has a bigger purpose for my life, and that He will somehow use all of this pain and suffering in that purpose. If I didn’t believe that, I would be absolutely discouraged and devastated by these trials. I’m working every day to accept the challenge and live out my purpose, but it is so hard to process at times.
The second reason is that I’ve let myself be lazy about the food and drinks I put into my body. Like I said, I generally eat high quality food, and I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge about nutrition over the years. I love to cook, so when I do, I prepare things that are good for me. However, the emotions and exhaustion resulting from the roller coaster of the past few years has made me much less diligent about making the right choices all the time. It’s safe to say that I often eat the wrong things at the wrong times – and sometimes when I don’t feel good, I don’t eat at all. If consistency is the key to forward progress, I’m failing in that department.
Lastly, I acknowledge that my exercise routine has changed significantly since the time when I feel like my body was where I wanted it to be. The frequency has not changed, but the type of training has. In 2012-2017 I worked out with a couple of different trainers and embraced more of a strength and conditioning style of programming. My exercise was much more varied, and I also worked out in a boxing gym off and on during that time. (Keep in mind that this was also about 15 brain surgeries ago!) In late 2017, I changed trainers to the strength coach I currently have and changed my programming to a strictly strength-based regimen. It was a huge shift, but I adore my coach and I’m the strongest I’ve ever been. I love lifting weights, and the more brute strength I have, the more stable and balanced I feel. It’s also made a difference in my ability to sleep and heal from surgery. All of these things hold incredible value, so I don’t have any regrets. But there’s no question that the heavy lifting 5 days a week along with the lack of conditioning has changed the shape of my body. I’m strong, but I’m just not as thin as I was.
I’ve come to this conclusion. Mental discipline needs to be applied to this area of my thought life. The way I feel about my body is completely in my own control, and if I want it to change, I just need to make the decision to change it. How I feel about myself is a choice, and if I’m not happy with something, I am fully capable of taking the steps to modify what I’m doing. I also have the ability to make a clearer distinction between what I want and what is necessary – and separate the emotional part from the necessity. This involves asking myself some difficult questions, then facing the answers head-on and dealing with them.
Do I want to be super thin, or do I want to be incredibly strong?
Why do I feel like I don’t look good enough? Does it have to do with the fact that I’m single? And where does the treatment and recovery from my hydrocephalus fall in all of this?
Am I going to fight this condition from a proactive standpoint, like I encourage other people to do?
Here’s what I know. I am strong enough to face the feelings that I’m having and make choices that will change the game.
I am willing to stay in the arena and battle the demons that tell me I’m not good enough and not pretty enough.
And I’m resilient enough to start over when I have to.
“What are you thinking about, Am?”
I guess I must have gotten quiet, but the question brought me back to the present moment. Aron is one of the only people who has seen the day-to-day, week-to-week battle of the last year and a half. As my strength coach, he’s had to endure the past few brain surgeries and recoveries almost as if he was going through them himself—and it’s been a rocky road. And as one of my closest friends, he also knows that when I don’t say anything, I’m probably thinking about something.
The monkey mind rarely stops thinking.
So, I looked up at him (upside down) and answered. “I didn’t lose any strength.”
Those words are heavier than all the pounds of weight loaded on the barbell I just lifted. As I laid on my back and let my brain unwind, I thought about how hard it was to get back to this point.
The nights I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours.
The days when I could hardly move because of the pain.
The times we lifted weights with a giant ice pack ace bandaged to my torso.
Dose after dose of anti-nausea medication.
The many times I’ve passed out.
Rep after rep of weight lifted off the ground—a symbolic tribute to the promise that I will stay in the arena.
Day after day of stringing little victories together until we can declare that I am finally healed from the latest greatest trip to the operating room.
All of it is part of this crazy, excruciating, confusing, and beautiful lesson I’m learning… that I am living proof that you can find peace in the midst of chaos and catastrophe.
“No Am… you’re stronger than you were. We are stronger than we were.”
Aron, you’re right. We are stronger. I bury myself in this constant drive for progress, obsessing over all the little things and losing sight of the big picture. I need to zoom out and look at the journey through a different lens, recognizing that I’m making it. We’re making it.
As it always is, the physical recovery from the surgeries I had last year (May, September, and October 2018) has been a roller coaster. If you’ve ever had brain surgery, I know you understand this. But truly… if you’ve ever had ANY type of surgery – let alone back-to-back-to-back surgeries – you get it. The effects that the anesthesia alone leaves on your body can take months to correct. The biggest struggle I’ve experienced in this recovery period has been extreme nausea every morning. Naturally, we’ve assumed that this was an issue with the drainage of my shunt – either too much or too little. We’re about four months into figuring out a shunt setting and combination of anti-nausea medications to get this under control. My neurosurgeon has adjusted my shunt setting a few times, and my primary care doctor and pain management specialist are involved in finding the right combo of meds. It’s a constant work in progress – we rejoice on the days when it seems even a tiny bit better, and plough through the tough days when it feels like it will never end.
As my friend and fellow hydro warrior Bryant always reminds me, “Chin up, eyes forward.”
Mentally and emotionally, I am doing well. I have created a routine in which I can regularly have a peaceful couple of hours to myself in the morning, and it has helped me immensely. Between my career, my time in the gym, and the fact that I live with two of my siblings (which is amazing!) I am around people all day long. I decided about a year ago that I would get up earlier every day in order to have some quiet time and a routine time to study, pray, and write. I’ve grown to love this time, and it’s not hard to wake up early any more.
As we near the end of the first quarter of 2019, I’m excited about the plans and goals I have for this year. I’ve got some projects coming up that will stretch my comfort and challenge me mentally. Every day is a new opportunity to grow and learn, connect with people, and be influenced by the good things around me. God has truly blessed me and kept me safe through all the insanity swirling through my world the past few years—and I am prepared to move forward as called.
We’re only going to get stronger. We don’t go backwards.
It’s like riding a bicycle downhill without brakes. We can pedal backwards, but we keep rolling forward.
Let’s do that.
for Aron - Love, Monkey
My name is Amy but friends and family call me Am. I am a lover of dogs, good whiskey, and strength training. I'm a brain surgery survivor (x23), a fiddle player, a construction designer, and a boxing enthusiast. I have six real siblings, and five fake brothers. I love deeply, and consider my close friends to be family.