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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Family and Friendship

I've written a lot about my family and how close we all are.  I've always been blessed with an amazing family.  However, I do think there are times when I didn't 100% appreciate all that I had.  Of course, I think all kids go through that at some point.  Especially as teenagers.  But, there is one part of my family that I feel extra blessed to have.  My brother and sister.  I am the middle child.  And, honestly, I act like the middle child.  A lot.  But, that's another story.  

As I grew up, I didn't realize how lucky I was to have them in my life.  I spent so much time trying to be just like them or comparing myself to them.  Even though I had no reason to compare myself.  I just put this pressure on myself to be just like them.  They are a lot alike and I would definitely consider myself to be the "different one".  I wasn't overly interested in playing sports.  They are both athletic.  And coordinated.  Me, not so much.  And I always felt that, for some reason, that made me not as good as them.

As I've gone through this life changing journey over the last year and a half, I've had to do a lot of soul searching.  A lot of healing on my own.  I've had to figure out that it's okay that I'm the "different one".  That there's absolutely nothing wrong with me.  That I can be proud of who I am.  What I've accomplished in my life.  That my interests and talents make me who I am.  And I have finally come to the realization that our family would have a missing piece without me.  Here's a couple of examples - 
1.  I'm not sure there would be many pictures of all of us.  
I am known as the photographer of the family.  
2.  Who would remember everything from our childhood and beyond?  You'd be amazed at everything I remember.... I've been called rainman before.  I think it's an appropriate title... :)
3.  Who would be the "fun" sister, cheer on my siblings as they coach their soccer teams, 
remind them about birthdays, anniversaries, etc?  

As the middle child, I don't remember a time when either Andy or Angie wasn't an important part of my life.

Andy - I've read in my baby book (years ago.... but there's that memory of mine) that I used to follow you around when it was just the two of us.  "Mandy and Andy".  Cute, huh?  From very early on I must have known that you are the best older brother in the world.  You care about me in a way no one else does.  You've always been there to support me through everything.  I leaned on you a lot throughout our childhood.  I depended on you - probably more than I should have.  I always wanted to be just like you.  You have so many admirable qualities.  You are the perfect mixture of mom and dad.  Smart, patient, hilarious, responsible, respected by so many, friendly, easy to talk to, etc.... I could go on.  But it would take me a very long time.  You were a huge part of getting me started on this journey.  I think back to a year and a half ago.  Me crying on your couch at 1:30 am while you and Kristin just listened to me.  I was so lost.  I can only imagine how hard that was for you to see.  You'll never know how much I love and admire you for always being there for me.  Without your help and willingness to connect me with Renee', I don't know where I'd be.  And I certainly would not have found a couple of the most amazing friendships in my life.  Cooper and Chloe are so lucky to have you for their daddy.  I am so thankful to have you in my life as my big brother and my friend.  I couldn't imagine going through life without you as such a big part of every day.

Because I have a brother, I'll always have a friend.

Ang - Where do I start?  Obviously, I don't remember much about the early years.  But, I do remember sharing a room with you on Hazelgrove and listening to you talk.  Every night.  Always entertained me.  I remember being both excited and sad when we moved to Fallbrook and got our own rooms.  Cue the beginning of many years of "sneaking" out of our rooms and talking.  We really thought mom and dad didn't know!  We definitely had our battles growing up.  But, as you got older, we became better friends.  We still fought (what sisters don't fight).  But, I ALWAYS knew I had a friend in you.  That you had my back all the time.  And I still know that.  As I was talking to some people recently about my journey of the last year and a half, I said that I had kinda pushed you away without even realizing it.  I didn't even see what I was doing.  I do now and I am so thankful every day that you stuck by me and never gave up on me.  You've been a huge piece of my support system throughout this adventure.  I trust you and value your opinion more than you'll ever know.  You, too are a wonderful combination of our parents.  However, I will say, you are almost mom's twin.  You two are a lot alike.  And that's a good thing.  You are so open, friendly, smart, patient and have such a big heart.  Emma is so lucky to have you for a mommy.  You'll never know how immensely grateful I am that God decided to give me a sister. You. My lifelong best friend.  I can't imagine life without you.

There is no better friend than a sister.  
And there is no better sister than you.

My siblings are one of the single greatest blessings in my life. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Difference of a Year

As I get ready to leave for what I am sure will be another unforgettable vacation with my amazing family and some lifelong friends, I thought it would be fun to reflect on how much things can change from year to year.

In just the last year so much has changed just for me -

1. A year ago, I weighed 218 pounds leaving for vacation.  I was so proud of myself (still am) but can't believe what a difference an additional 34 pounds and building muscle can make -

2. A year ago, Cooper was 5 and just learning to read.  Chloe and Emma were 1.5 and it still felt like they were babies.  Fast forward a year, Cooper will start 1st grade in August and Chloe and Emma are 2.5 years old, talking up a storm and developing such fun personalities!  And being an aunt is still the greatest job in the world!

3. I was hoping that I would hear something from Fairfield.  I had sent my resume in but hadn't heard anything.  Little did I know my wish would come true over my vacation.  A year has passed and I am happier than I have been in a long time with my job and all the fun people I work with.  And I have some amazing new friends :)  

4. A year ago, I wasn't quite as embarrassed to be wearing a swim suit but still wasn't 100% comfortable.  I think it was last summer when I realized just how far I let things get with my weight and health.  When I saw that, even after losing 63 pounds I still wasn't comfortable in a swim suit.  This year, although I'll never have a perfect body, I am so happy with everything I've accomplished and love that I am comfortable enough to be seen in my swim suit without being wrapped up in a towel most of the time :)  Maybe I'll even take a full picture of myself in my suit this year... For now here's one from last year and a half shot of me and my sister from this year that Cooper took :)

5.  Confidence was still really difficult for me.  I also knew being on vacation was going to be difficult for me, food wise.  This year, I have more confidence than I ever thought I would find in myself.  Also, I'm not all that concerned about the food.  As Renee' often tells me, life is about balance.  And it's okay to indulge at times.  I also know I'm going to have an active vacation and I'm so excited to spend time outside, running around with all the kids, bike rides, walks on the beach and playing newly invented games in the pool that involve empty beer cans, squirt guns and rafts.  And probably other things that will be discovered at our new house this year.... :) I was already smiling more last year but here's a picture from two years ago in Destin and one from just last weekend....

As the years have gone on, so much has changed for all of us but, then again, so much has remained the same.  I couldn't imagine a better way to vacation every year.  I get to spend a week with the best kids in the world (Mackenzie, Mya, Marley, Mallory, Avery, Ruby, Lydia, Tyson and, my personal favorites, Cooper, Chloe and Emma :)) and some of the best families I've ever met.  Including my own!  We laugh, play games, hang out and just have fun.  And the houses we stay in are awesome!  

Here's to more amazing memories at the beach :) 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Happiness Is....

Throughout this journey to find myself, happiness has been a big part of what I've found and how I feel.  So, what does happiness feel like?  Here are my thoughts -

Happiness is - 

1.  Being told by a friend you've known for 10 years that you look more and more like your younger (beautiful) sister in pictures :) (Thanks Kim!)
2.  Running around with my 6 year old nephew, not getting winded, laughing and smiling the whole time.
3.  Going to a restaurant, ordering food that isn't that bad for me, enjoying myself and not feeling deprived.
4.  Having my nieces run up to me every time I see them and being able to bend down and hug both of them without thinking twice.
5.  Having a job I love.
6.  Watching kids I work with see their dreams realized.
7.  Making friends with different people and seeing how much is available out in the world for me.
8.  Putting on a swim suit, going to the pool and walking around in it like it's no big deal.  
9.  Looking back at pictures and realizing how far I've come in such a short amount of time.
10. Enjoying new experiences and developing a little more confidence every day.  
11. Hearing that my brother and sister are proud of me.  Their opinions of me mean more to me than I think they'll ever know.
12.  Seeing the smile on my my parents' face when they see how happy I am.  I know it's been a struggle for them watching me go through the last few years and I think my victory is just as much mine as it is theirs.  
13.  Getting messages from people that I haven't talked to in ages via Facebook and hearing that I've inspired them in one way or another.  Although I still have trouble believing I am an inspiration to anyone, I love to hear that I can make a difference in the lives of others.  Even if I don't know them well or see them on a regular basis.
14.  Taking two less medications than I was a year ago.
15.  Not letting the scale control how I feel about myself and the progress I've made.  
16.  Not spending an hour in Whole Foods when I try to find something.... when I choose to go in there.... that place is still super confusing to me.
17.  Finding simple recipes... I'm still a moron when it comes to food... And I think I always will be...
18.  Wearing a pair of shorts in public... still can't believe I did that...more than once!
19.  Finding self confidence.  If you've never felt a lack of it, just know that, when you find it, it is the greatest feeling in the world.
20.  Having 97 pounds of weight, unhappiness, despair and just feelings of inadequacy lifted off my shoulders.  Although I haven't lost anymore physical weight, the amount of emotional weight I've lost just in the last few months still amazes me on a regular basis.  

You might be wondering when, or how, I finally found happiness.  Well, to be honest, I don't know.  It's been a gradual process.  It was someone taking time to believe in me.  It was my family taking a step back but supporting me at the same time while I figured this out for myself.  It was breaking down all the walls I had built up around myself for so many years.  It was taking chances.  It was stepping out of my comfort zone even when it was extremely difficult for me to do.  It still is at times.  It was being willing to laugh at myself and all my ridiculous questions.  It was being comfortable enough to let my guard down and trust these new people in my life.  It was opening back up to my old friends and allowing them to be there for me.  And, most importantly, it's been the ongoing process of accepting who I am and being okay with it.  Being more than okay with it.  Being happy with myself.  

My life is finally my own.  I'm no longer allowing the outside world to control me, my thoughts and my feelings.  I'm becoming my own person.  It may have taken me 34 years to get to this point but, I'm here and I love that I make new discoveries everyday about myself and the world around me.  

"Being happy doesn't mean that everything is perfect.  It means that you've decided to 
look beyond the imperfections."

As the wrappers of my dove dark chocolate often say.... 

"Happiness looks great on you"

I think so too :)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Choice

Almost every day I have people ask me random questions that center around the same theme. The most visible evidence of the changes I have made in my life is the weight loss.  But, this journey is about so much more than that for me.  I've written a little about these ideas in previous entries but, as I get ready to start my summer break, I thought it would be a good time to write some more thoughts so that, maybe, I can help others who find themselves in the same position I was in a couple of years ago.

Well, why not?  I had nothing to lose (other than weight) by jumping in with both feet.  I mean, hey, I don't think I could have been anymore down on myself, my life, my world than I was a year and a half ago.  So, either I needed to make a change or I would just continue to be sad all the time.  I look back on that now and can't believe I wasted so much time being sad.  But, depression is real.  And it's different for everyone.  For me, I think there were various times in my life when I was slightly depressed but found ways to climb out of it.  This time, I just couldn't seem to find my way out on my own.  With a lot of help, I feel 1000x better than I did a year and a half ago.  I am weaning myself off another medication and I am happier than I ever thought possible.  It is possible to beat this stuff.  You just have to figure out what the root of the problem is and what works for you.

By figuring out what makes me happy.  By finding self confidence (which I still struggle with daily).  By not taking myself, or life, too seriously.  By taking pride in what I achieve.  By putting myself out there, no matter how difficult it might be.  By finding friends I never thought I'd be lucky enough to meet or have things in common with.  I mean, for those who know me, sports are not my strength.  I don't mind watching them but I am not what one would call athletic by any stretch of the imagination.  But, I've found things I enjoy and I even try things that I know are not my strength and have fun doing them.  (ie. soccer....).  And some of my closest friends now are athletes... turns out we have a lot in common!  Probably the simplest answer to this question is this - By living my life.

And one question I think many people are interested in knowing the answer to but may feel weird asking is - If you had to pick one thing about this journey that is the best / biggest accomplishment / or whatever, what would it be?
     One word.  Happiness.  I think that simple word encompasses everything I have accomplished in the last year and a half.  I run around with Coop, Chloe and Emma.  I'm almost always smiling.  I love my job and have the best co-workers.  And, yes, I will always love naps and the time I spend being lazy.  But, being around people is the biggest part of happiness.  I get energy from my friends and family.  I want to be out and about, among the living.  

 I think about these things on a daily basis.  I've made a choice to change my life.  The results have been greater than I could have ever wished or hoped for in my wildest dreams.  Although the weight loss is still the most visible change, I have so many people who comment on how happy I look.  For the first time in more years than I can remember (probably since I was a kid), I am completely content with my life.  What an incredible gift.  It's something I work for every day.  And, let me tell you, it's worth every second of the work I put in to make a better life for myself.

What defines us is how we rise after falling.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Owning My Story

According to Google, this is my 150th blog post.  Never thought I'd have that much to say.  To anyone.  Let alone anyone who is interested enough to do a search on Google and find this blog :) 

But, writing is like therapy for me.  I have trouble expressing myself if I don't have time to think about what I want to say.  So, with writing, I can take the time to think about what I want to say and then express myself.  Thanks for taking an interest in my story :)  It means more to me than anyone will ever know.  

So, with that, here's what inspired me today - 

For so long, I was never proud of my life story.  If anything, I regretted so many things and focused on the negative.  As I've gone through this process of changing my life, I've accepted who I am, where I've been and, hopefully, where I'm going in the future.  Just as this quote says, I honestly believe this is one of the bravest things I've done.  By owning where I've been in life, decisions I've made, experiences I've had, etc., I've come such a long way in discovering who I am.  And who I want to be.  Yeah, I know, lots of people figure that out well before I have at the age of 34 but, I'm okay with it.  Because, obviously I wasn't meant to discover all of this until now.  
I love myself.  Sure, I have days where I struggle.  I'm human.  But, when you finally discover all the wonderful things about yourself, you'll slowly learn how amazing it feels when you love who you are and who you hope to continue to be as life continues.

When you are finally willing to take pride in who you are and the life you've created for yourself, you'll be astonished at how your life changes for the better.  Owning my story allows me to really connect with the second quote that inspired me today - 

My shell is my happy place.  It's my comfort.  And that's okay.  Sometimes. If you ever see me among a group of people that I don't know, you would probably think, 'does she ever speak?'.  The answer to that would be yes.  I am definitely a shy person.  At first.  I think it relates back to my childhood and, more so, to my entire life and the issues I've had with people I trusted not turning out to be the people I needed them to be.  Or expected them to be.  So, it takes me awhile to open up.  However, once I do, I think you'd be amazed at how my personality shines through.  I LOVE to laugh.  Finding humor in every day life is a must for me.  I am an open book.  Ask me a question and you'll get an honest answer.  Sometimes a long winded one.  It depends on the situation.  As I've gone through this life changing journey, I've learned how to open myself up a little more.  I think a big part of that is because I'm happy.  When you are happy with yourself and your life, comfort and happiness will shine through even when you don't realize it.

If I had to pick one thing my friendship with Renee' has taught me over the last year and a half, it's this.  For so long (most of my adult life), I never thought I had anything to offer the world.  Sure, I hoped I was making a difference in the lives of the kids I worked with but, other than that, why was my life important?  Yes, I asked myself that question A LOT.  More than I should have.  And more than I think anyone, even my family realizes.  When you find true friends, people who want to see you happy, help you find ways to be your best and so much more, you begin to see all that you have to offer the world.  My family always tried to tell me that and, although I trust all of them, I didn't always believe them.  I mean, they are my family, they're supposed to say that, right?  Throughout the last year and a half, I've (slowly) discovered that I have many gifts to offer the world.  I guess I needed to see that through the eyes of someone who hasn't known me or my family my whole life.  Who knows about my life and past experiences simply by talking to me and waiting to hear my answers.  

There's something inside everyone that the world needs.  For some of us, it just takes a little longer to figure out what that is.  In fact, I'm still trying to figure it out.  Maybe it will change from day to day, week to week, etc.  But, one thing I am sure of, I want to help other people find the happiness and inner peace I feel now.  I know how it feels to be at rock bottom.  It's possible to find your way out.  Just look around you.  And open yourself up to new people and new experiences.  You'll be amazed at what you find.  In others and in yourself.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Taking A Chance

If there's nothing else that I've learned over the past 16 months, it's that you have to take chances to get the life that you want. I don't think I could possibly list all of the times I've learned that lesson since I started this adventure.  But, there is definitely one chance that, as the school year wraps up, stands out to me.

I think it was almost exactly a year ago that Kira (who I just knew through work and Butler Tech) mentioned to me that there would be an opening for a guidance counselor at Fairfield High School the following year.  As soon as I heard that, I was immediately intrigued but scared at the same time. 

 If you've gotten nothing else from this blog, you've probably figured out that I am a creature of comfort.  And I am not a big fan of change.  I was finishing up my 9th year at the job I'd had since I finished grad school.  I was very lucky to have the job and get to do what I went to school for but, for several reasons, I wasn't happy anymore.  So, when I learned of this job opening, I thought, I wonder what would happen if I applied?  I hadn't been actively looking for a new job but, right from the beginning, it just felt right.  Of course, I needed some reassurance that I wasn't crazy.  After all, I was very secure in the job I had and, as a single person, stability is a big selling point for me.  But, as I had slowly learned over the last 4 months (at that point), staying in the same place doesn't always mean happiness.  So, I talked to the people I trust most in the world.  My siblings (who always want me to be happy and work in education so I knew they had informed opinions) and Renee', who, at that point, had already become someone I could bounce things off of and not feel crazy.  I knew she'd tell me the truth without any bias and make me think about things that I may not have thought about, good or bad.  

As you can probably guess, I decided to go for it and apply.  As Renee' said, what's the worst that could happen?  And you'll never know if you don't try.  Maybe I just needed to hear that from someone other than my own thoughts.  Either way, it was the push I needed to write a new resume' and submit the application.  Now, all I could do was wait.  And, if nothing happened, at least I had made an effort.  

As luck would have it, I got an interview and it went well.  I was offered the job and, without any hesitation, I accepted it.  As I said before, it just felt right.  In more ways than I could describe.  I shared the news with my family and a friend or two ;)  

I went in to my new school to meet some people and see my office.  I immediately felt at home.  The people I met the first day were so nice and welcoming.  What an amazing feeling.  I knew the chance I had taken was going to pay off.  I'm just not sure I could have imagined how much it would pay off.  I love going to work.  Sure, there are days when I'm tired.  But, in the end, I love my job and the kids I am lucky enough to work with everyday.  The best part is that I have become great friends with my co-workers.  They make me laugh every single day.  They make work fun.  I can't remember the last time I spent so much time smiling at work.  

It's difficult to imagine how different things would be if I hadn't applied for the job.  Thankfully, I don't have to think that way.  Because I took the chance.  And the results have been better than I ever could have imagined.   To everyone I work with on a daily basis - Thank you for making my first year at Fairfield one of the best I've ever had!  Nancy, Kira, Kelli, Marilyn, Tracy, Linda and Russ - I feel lucky to work with all of you on a daily basis - Thanks for making the chance I took one of the best decisions I've ever made :)

And so, the picture below seems to be an appropriate ending to this entry -