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.
In the summer of 2012, I was healing from my shunt re-placement surgery, and was encouraged by my neurosurgeon to work on my physical fitness, and specifically to get my body fat percentage down. I was not terribly overweight, and had never been concerned about body image, so I was hesitant to work with a personal trainer. In light of the challenging physical condition I was in at the time (no strength and zero balance!), working with a trainer could have easily been a disaster, if it wasn’t the right person. Clifton met Joe Locascio, at trainer at our gym, chatted with him a bit, and felt like he was a good match for me. Trusting my husband’s judgment, I went forward - and he was right, Joe was absolutely the right fit, wasn't intimidated by my hydrocephalus, and really wanted to help us. The relationship that formed those first few difficult months resulted in an amazing friendship, and ultimately led to some pretty significant changes in our lifestyle. The strength training and balance work that I started with Joe also led to the current training I do at Courthouse Performance Training here in Salem, Oregon. Being physically strong has been a game-changer for me, and as you all know, is a major component in how we prepare my body for the battles of surgery, and rehabilitate it after the trauma. But the guidance and advice he gave us regarding my nutrition was the most important thing I took away from the training, and started me back on the road to overall health.
Joe introduced me to the concept of an anti-inflammatory diet, and I began to learn about the Paleo lifestyle. Eliminating grains, processed sugar, and processed dairy from my diet greatly reduced the stress and inflammation in my body. I found a lot of great resources and support online, and purchased a book called Practical Paleo, by Diane Sanfilippo. In this book, she outlines different protocols based on your specific health goals, and there was a section on Neurological Health. I was fortunate enough to meet and connect with Diane at a book signing in Portland, and she and her team have been so supportive and gracious to me.
Two years ago today, Diane featured my story on her nationally recognized Paleo blog, www.balancedbites.com - The feedback I received from the article was amazing, and it was the first time that I realized that I could impact other people by sharing what had helped me to manage my hydro. So, here we are, I now have a blog of my own… I really want to thank Diane for the inspiration she gave me to give back, and all of the incredible connections I have made in the Paleo community due to her featuring me on Balanced Bites.
As a result of these changes we made to my diet, and my strength training with Joe, I am a completely different person physically. I lost over 50 pounds of body fat and gained 10 pounds of lean mass (muscle) in the first year, and went from a size 14 to a size 4 in just 9 months. It was a drastic shift, and I know that being in better shape has made a big difference to reduce how hard my body and brain have had to work to get me through the repeated shunt surgeries. My neurosurgeon has been very supportive of this anti-inflammatory diet, as he believes that it assists my body in healing. I encourage everyone to look at their nutrition as a major component in the management of hydrocephalus - as what we eat and drink not only affects healing after surgery, but it also directly affects our production and absorption of CSF. Consult with your medical team to see if the Paleo diet or something similar could be a benefit for you! You can also check the Treatments & Therapies page on my website, and the Resources page - for more information and links.
It’s important to be willing to do whatever it takes to keep moving forward. For me, being strong and eating right helps me to feel like I’m staying “ready” for whatever lies around the bend. I might not be able to control what happens with my shunt, but I can work hard to keep the rest of my body healthy and happy… Which means I lift kettlebells and eat bacon on a regular basis.
Stay in the arena.
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.