I used to fly fairly often, but since I’ve changed careers, it’s been years. I flew frequently enough that I didn’t bother to listen to the schpiel at the beginning of the flight. “Blah blah blah… phone in airplane mode… blah blah blah… exit row…may be required to assist… blah blah blah…snacks available for purchase…blah bla—” Wait! Did someone say snacks??
But this time when I flew, it wasn’t the snacks that caught my attention. (Proof that people can change! And side note in the same category, this was the first time ever that the seat was not squishing me. I had plenty of wiggle room! Win!) What caught my ear was the seemingly small sentence “In the event of emergency, please secure your oxygen mask first before assisting others.”
In my before life, I was a pastor. We clergy folks loved that sentence nearly as much as we loved to talk about that sentence. It was the thing that kept us grounded as human beings sometimes when we started to notice that our superhero capes were becoming tattered from the constant caretaking of others, when there were more funeral marches than victory dances, more silly meetings than any actual progress. When we’d talk to trusted colleagues about our struggles, that’s what we’d say to each other. “Put your oxygen mask on first.” It was sort of like the classic line from Pretty Woman, “Take care of you.” Only it was more, it was a gentle reminder of the a gruesome fact: you can’t help anyone else if you suffocate to death.
In some ways, it was those words that motivated me to start getting healthy in the first place. When I took a job in 2012 that involved moving, I decided I was really ready to make a change. I was 30 and 250lbs. By 10 o’clock every morning, I was so tired from just moving my body around that I could barely move or think. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed to get anything at all done. I couldn’t walk a whole block without being winded. And after five minutes of standing, both my low back and my knees would have me nearly ready to cry. The hard truth is that my body and health (or lack of it) were keeping me from doing my job, or at least doing it well. And I knew it. I’ve posted the story in bits and pieces other places, so I won’t tell it all here. But when I over and over prayed that I’d figure out a way to finally get healthy (since NOTHING had worked!), I didn’t expect a personal trainer (with nearly 40 years of experience, who would not quit nagging me) to be plopped down in the middle of my life. Long story short, I lost 100lbs, and the back and knee stuff, and the asthma. That person who was squished in an airplane seat, and squashed from her own lack of self care doesn’t exist anymore.
So when I flew a few days ago, those were the words that grabbed my attention. They were words long forgotten, words I no longer thought I needed. Except that suddenly, all the excuses I’ve made during my weight loss journey came to mind. “I’m too busy to make my meals.” “I don’t have time to workout this week.” “There are a 1000 things I have to do.” They are the same words my clients tell me about how there were soccer games, and swim meets, and working late, and family stuff, and church obligations.
I get it. Absolutely, no questions asked, I get it. But I also get that your ability to live your life and “do you” depend on you being healthy enough to do it. You need to be able to get off the floor after playing with your grandchildren. You need your back and knees and hips to not hurt all the time. You need to have the energy to do all the things your life demands of you. And you need to be strong enough to open the jar of jelly.
Often when people find out I’m a personal trainer, they make wistful comments like “I wish I could join a gym” or “I just don’t have time to take care of myself” or sometimes “I really need to do that but…”. One of the hardest things I had to change as I lost 100lbs wasn’t how I ate or my schedule, it was my mindset.
My favorite quote is from a poem by Mary Oliver and says, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Ask yourself that question and make a list of all of your answers, big and small. Knowing that you only have one life to live, and only so many years to that life, what do you want to do? Do you want to be able to see your kids grow up and get married and have kids of their own? Do you want to be able to travel to places you’ve read about in magazines? Do you want to remain active and independent until the last years of your life?
Whatever dreams and plans you have for yourself, I bet they don’t include having nagging pain, or being on lifelong medication for diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, or heart disease, or getting one of the 13 cancers that whose incidence is directly reduced through a healthy lifestyle. I bet your dreams don’t include being immobile. I’m sure they don’t include plans to have a heart attack or mental breakdown in your forties or fifties. And I bet they don’t include a lifetime of waddling around, feeling uncomfortable in your skin and body, wishing your arms didn’t keep waving after you stopped. ( I know that sure wasn’t in my plan!)
Think about your list again. How are your health and your body getting in your way? What would your life look like if you had more energy? If you were strong enough and healthy enough to do what you wanted to do? If you could finally make peace with what you saw in the mirror?
If you were honest with yourself, it turns out that taking care of your body is essential to you being able to do what you want to do for the rest of your life. Exercise and proper nutrition are your oxygen mask—the thing you must take care of before you take care of anything else. If you’re not strong enough or healthy enough to be able to “do you” for all your life, then what?
Think taking time to exercise and eat well are selfish? (Trust me, I’ve heard it! I felt plenty guilty as a wife and a pastor when I made commitments to take care of my body.) In my life 2.0, I’ve learned to argue that taking care of the yourself is the least selfish thing you can do! I’ve learned that there are people who depend on me, and who want me around for a long time and I want to be able to enjoy my life and my body.
I’m all about people making choices for their own bodies, but I finally realized that my health and wellbeing affect and matter to a lot more people than just me. And the opposite is true, the health of my family and friends matters more than you would believe to me. I not only want them to live long, happy lives, but I want them to be able to enjoy everything they want to do.
Still not convinced? Think about this. Nobody can “do you” like you can “do you.” It’s your life–make sure you’re healthy enough to live it. Secure your oxygen mask first…
Find your happy-healthy!