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Scar – A Love Story

Scars usually are the result of a good story – not “good” as in smiley-face emoji’s and fairy tales, but good in the sense of having overcome a fear or a seemingly impossible challenge by facing some physical, mental or emotional demon. Good as in The Heroes Journey.

Each scar that is etched on my body is a permanent reminder of a lesson, and a moment in time. From a fearless first-grader trying to fly, to the countless crashes on my mountain bike, to the most noticeable and most life changing scar–my surgery to remove a Pancreatic tumor. This physical scar is what people notice, but it is the emotional scars that have left a larger mark on my life.

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As they rolled me into surgery the doctor said with a smile, I’ll be giving you the “Mercedes Benz Cut.” I imagined the little silver hood adornment atop those sleek cars. Cute. What I got was a giant Peace Sign. Ironic, because up until that moment, I had never felt peace when it came to my stomach–shivering at the thought of being touched, and taking every opportunity to pull a shirt down. Ironic also that my name, Shanti, is Hindi for “Peace.”

My life before surgery, what I now call my “past life,” was a dream. And I do not mean fuzzy memories. I mean, at a very young age I already felt like I was living my dream. I started teaching Taebo (kickboxing aerobics) up in the Bay Area right out of college. Soon after, I was living the fantasy-trainer life, personal training and jetting off to exotic locales with my clients all over the country and also abroad. I taught fitness classes at two major motion film studios in the Bay Area AND was a fitness model in my spare time.

While my outside looked amazing, my inside was a disgusting mess full of low self-esteem and a self-worth-ometer set at zero. I punished my body overtraining for mountain bike races, Muay Thai (kickboxing) and trail running. Even yoga was a platform for self-abuse, beating myself up if I did not perform double chaturangas throughout every vinyasa yoga class. I now realize that I pushed my body to extremes to quiet my inner torment.

And the punishment did not stop at my physical endeavors.

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This photo was taken about 5 months before my surgery. Two days before the shoot, I stopped eating anything solid. It was 48 hours of protein shakes and green juices while I logging extra miles running and cycling. I was incredibly self-conscious about every inch of my body, and mostly about my mid-section. I was the product of the “super-model era”, when waifs were the IT-girls and to look like a pre-pubescent boy was a thing of beauty. Every modeling job was a chance to say, “Hey – you ARE pretty, you ARE good enough.” But like fake friends, fake feelings never last. They were temporary band-aids to hide my wounded sense of self.

It’s clear to me now that I did not have a clue who I was, let alone love myself. At 26, clinging to the attention of a very fun and charismatic man, I got married. He would be the last in a string of long-term co-dependent relationships. The old Shanti needed to be with men that felt like they had to “save me.” The price of their love was high, and I paid with my need to please and my need to feel “not good enough.”

My surgery saved my life.

Quite literally, yes, but my emotional rescue was even more profound.

A couple days after surgery, while laying in ICU, I wrote in my journal:
Dear Diary: “I guess this is what people mean by getting a second chance. I am one of the lucky ones… to have all of my anger, frustration, fear and pain, physically removed from my body. I am an emotional clean slate. I am so grateful for this chance to truly start living my life.”

I can’t explain why I had such a clear sense of knowing, but I have never been so sure of anything in my life. Is this what all people experience when faced with their own mortality? My tumor was a self-inflicted wound created by holding in 30 years of emotional pain. Not feeling understood by my family as a child, to feeling tormented by classmates, and hating myself for never fitting in or fitting the mold of how a girl/young lady/woman was supposed to behave.

At first I was shocked by the size of my scar. I bought all the “scar creams” and cover-ups, and imagined I would continue to hide my mid-section with big shirts and tankinis.

What happened was very unexpected.

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I just didn’t care anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

I finally accepted my body, scars and all, for what it was– Mine. The months of recovery were tough and I was told that without my spleen, I would be sick all of the time. I would also never attain the same level of fitness ever again. They had stitched me up so tight that I walked like a hunch-back and just pushing myself up out of bed left me wincing and breathless. But it is true that time heals. Little by little I began to move, sitting upright on my spin bike and going for long walks. I also vowed that my new life was going to be filled with love and smiles. Doing only the things that brought me joy and spending time with people that truly loved and supported me.

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Like the tumor, I removed everything toxic from my life.

I now give my permission to just be myself. Instead of doing, pushing, and forcing – I feel. I have also learned to love my scars. They represent lessons and growth. I do not think I would be physically or emotionally where I am now if it were not for my illness and the surgery. I am grateful for every ugly and uncomfortable moment, for every mean word spoken in my direction, and every physical and emotional ache, for they encouraged me to embrace my inner strength, to rise up and own ME, my true self that loves all of me – every flaw, every scar.

The truth is, we all have scars. Your scars are badges of honor. A reminder that you faced a challenge, walked through the fire, fought your demons, was presented with lessons and survived.

You are your own hero and it is up to you to create your own happily ever after!

 

The Busy Epidemic + A quick exercise to break the cycle.

I have a confession to make: I used to feel like a wasn’t good enough.

Not because I didn’t have a certain job, or owned houses and cars, etc. But because I wasn’t as busy as everyone else in my community. Oh, I started out busy. There was a time when I was personal training clients 3-4 hours a day, teaching 2-3 fitness classes, being a dedicated yogi practicing 3-5 classes a week, and also training for mountain bike stage races which entailed being on my bike 20+ hours a week. AND then I decided to start a granola company. GOGO Granola consumed every second of my “free time.” Baking from 7pm-1am and then bagging, labeling, and mailing granola during every spare second of every day of every week. The decision to support my husband during his father’s battle with the late stages of cancer took us to Australia and away from this “crazy busy” lifestyle. When we returned to the states, I did not feel drawn to continue building my granola “empire”. I resumed my personal training and teaching schedule, but a funny thing happened. I started telling myself that I was LAZY when I would sit and read a book, or watch TV at night. I had become so used to multi-tasking and filling my days with doing doing doing that any down-time left me feeling guilt and even shame.

I watched my clients and friends going non-stop, staying busy – “doing it all.” Working 8+ hour days, shuttling kids from one activity to another and volunteering in the classrooms and at church functions, cooking dinners every night, and still finding time to hit the gym – They were my heroes. So of course I was lazy in comparison… Or at least that was the the story I told myself. While it looked like my peers were thriving with their busy schedules, after closer inspection (and chats while they were driving their kids from lacrosse to gymnastics and then off to a client meeting) my heroes were actually “at the end of their ropes” and barely keeping it together. Clearly a big lesson here is: Stop comparing yourself to others.

People fall into 3 categories – Some of us really do love being busy and wear it like a badge of honor. And others need to keep busy so there is no time to deal with big-scary, often painful issues. But the majority of people I talk to are just caught up in the hustle of work-life and family-life; trying to keep their heads above water, and are purely existing instead of creating – Instead of truly LIVING.

I believe a work/life “balance” does exist, but it looks different to everyone (another reason to stop comparing.) That picture of balance is ever-evolving and changes daily with varying degrees of success. That is A-OK as long as you can clearly define what success is to you!

We can get so caught up with doing that we forget that being, feeling, and experiencing are really what life is about. Here is a super quick exercise to feel successful every day.

Get clear on your definition of success – What does your successful day look like?
Think in terms of laying a foundation for success. What are the building blocks that help you perform your best physically, mentally and emotionally during a typical day?

Example, I need to:
Get 8 hours of sleep. Yes, I can survive with 6, but if I am being completely honest, I feel like crap. I do think getting sleep can absolutely change your life, but don’t just take my word for it, read what Arianna Huffington says about it in the Sleep Revolution

Exercise 1 hour. Sometimes I get a lot more (or a little less) but if I do not move everyday, it 100% effects my mood.

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Get outside. From a very young age I knew that I could not be cramped indoors. If I am not teaching outside, I make a point of getting outdoors and breathing fresh air for at least 20-30 minutes. This is where having dogs is great! Even if I am not able to exercise outside during the day, I love taking my girls for their evening walks. I use this time as a moving meditation and try to focus on my breath – breathing slowly in and out through my nose.

 

 

Creativity breaks. I will admit that this is IMG_6289a new one for me. I recently began drawing again. It started with an adult *coloring book… Yeah, you heard me right. (Check out the beautiful books by Johanna Basford.) I found that as I colored, I focused on my breath and tuned everything else out. Sounds a little like meditating right? It was for me, and that segued into drawing.

*I can hear some of you right now saying, “Color? I barely have time to make my kid’s lunches in the morning.” This is just what works for me. You might have very different success-building blocks up your sleeve :)

 

*There are plenty of other things that I will do during my week but these are the foundation or building blocks for my “successful day.”

 

 

 

So what are your successful day “must do’s”?
Do you make them a priority?
If not, why and what can you give up so that you can truly be living your best life?

Is it doing 3 sun-salutations before sunrise? Drinking 3 liters of water? Gardening or meditating for 20 minutes a day? Get it out of your head – write it down!

So now that you have pinpointed exactly what you need to do to kick ass everyday, you must DO them! 

Knowing your daily priorities will set you up for success – so the next time you get asked to volunteer at another church potluck or community fundraiser, as wonderful as these events may be, you can make a conscious decision.
Ask yourself:
Will losing 2 hours of sleep, or feeling anxious and frazzled, or missing the 30 minutes reading to your kids, be adding to the quality of your life?

The Busy Epidemic does not have to be a death sentence. Remember that BUSY does not equal SUCCESSFUL. I need to remember that busy does not equate to “good enough.” Each of us is responsible for creating our own reality.

CHOOSE activities that ENERGIZE and CHARGE YOU UP, then see how your life truly begins to reflect your definition of SUCCESS!

Take Action On Your Dream Life!

Have you ever sat down and really thought about what you want your life to look like?
When you were little I bet you had some fun dreams – where you dancing in the Nut Cracker, or jumping out of airplanes putting out forest fires?

When I was 5, I had typical little-girl dreams – I wanted to be a veterinarian, marry my high school sweet heart (because 18 seemed super old already) and have boy, then a girl. A scary incident with my cat at age 7 brought my veterinary career to a screeching halt – I just couldn’t handle being around any injured animal without falling on the ground and sobbing uncontrollably.. A trait that that I will never out-grow. In high school I realized that I could not have a regular 9-5 job and also keep my sanity, and by my early 20’s I just knew deep in my heart that kids were not a part of my program. Things change. Values change. Life throws us punches. We can either bob and weave, or stay pinned up against the ropes. Our relationship, work, and life situations all lead to growth… or struggle,  if you choose to ignore the lessons.

So, I ask again, when was the last time you sat down and evaluated your life? Does it look and feel like the life of your dreams? If the answer is no, then grab your journal or a piece of paper and write this down:

~ WHAT DOES YOUR DREAM LIFE LOOK LIKE?
This is a bigger picture snapshot of your life. Don’t hold back. This is not your BFF’s dream or your partner’s dream… This is YOUR dream, so go big!

~ WHAT DOES YOUR PERFECT DAY LOOK LIKE?
From the moment you wake up till the moment you fall asleep.
This is a super fun exercise. I did this about 4 years ago and now my perfect day is everyday! Not kidding.

~ LIST 3 THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO TO GET CLOSER TO YOUR DREAM LIFE!
Did you read this and say to yourself, “I’ll do it tomorrow?”
This is where people hesitate. Taking the action. If you want to live in a cabin on a lake, start looking up locations and even real estate properties. It doesn’t mean you are going to go out buy something tomorrow, but it gets the juices flowing and creates excitement. Want to start a vegan handbag line? Start sketching designs or taking sewing classes. It can be small steps, but take the steps – TAKE ACTION!

~ WRITE DOWN 3 OBSTACLES THAT YOU WILL HAVE TO OVERCOME.
Because there WILL be obstacles and challenges. Maybe your kids are still in middle school and flying off a lake-front cabin is not realistic. Could you spend the summers there until the kids go off to college? Your community college sewing class is only offered during your night shift. Can you borrow a sewing machine from a friend and take online classes?

Have a plan of attack!

This dreaming exercise is so much fun, but LIVING YOUR DREAM –  IS   –  THE  –  BEST!