I’m only 30 and my cholesterol is through the roof.
Now, I can’t say that this doesn’t have a little bit to do with my weekly chicken and dumplings I get at the local diner every Wednesday after picking my daughter up from preschool. It also may be attributed to my love for a bucket of fried chicken and biscuits, or my hatred for cardio-related exercise.
Still, it makes me a little sad and a little scared, and I’m vowing that 2018 is the year I turn adopting a healthy lifestyle from a promise to a priority.
It hit me the other night while researching all the different types of blood pressure medication online. I was told that while my test results didn’t necessarily warrant medication at this time, I’d be looking at this list a little more carefully in the coming years if I didn’t make a major change to the way I was living, eating, drinking, and moving.
I know it’s totally cliché to adopt a healthier mindset moving into the New Year, but there’s a reason why so many people pick this time to start making major changes. It’s a clean slate, and a chance to start over. It’s a chance to re-chart the course in front of us and determine that this time, things will be different.
This time, I’ll eat the salad and not the steak.
This time, I’ll take the stairs instead of the elevator.
This time, I’ll stop when I’m full instead of pushing my body past its limits.
I whisper all of these things to myself and I write them down in my journal. Yet, when it comes time to truly put them into practice, I find myself reverting back to my old, comfortable habits.
Then, a few weeks ago, a little incident happened that changed all that.
I have a minor condition known as pericarditis. In short, there are times every once in a while when the fluid-filled membrane around my heart becomes inflamed and the layers rub against each other. I rarely have a flare-up and it’s not too uncomfortable for the most part, but there are times when, if I take a really deep breath, it sends a debilitating, sharp shot of pain through my chest.
It happened for the first time in a while last Saturday. It was snowing in our sleepy Carolina town and everyone in the house was moving slowly. I bent down to pick up my son and show him something in the refrigerator.
When I stood up, the pain shot through my ribs like a hot splash of water. I nearly dropped him as I sank to the floor in pain. I called my husband in and he told me to lie down and rest for a second.
The only problem? That exacerbated my symptoms and for the next 45 minutes I couldn’t breathe past a short and shallow inhale. As I mentioned, I wasn’t in any true danger, but it was uncomfortable and rendered me incapable of doing much of anything for almost an hour.
Finally, I got in the hot shower and the little kink worked itself out. As I took that first deep breathe, I vowed that I was going to start listening to my body and taking better care of it.
I’m doing it so I can pick up my son with ease.
I’m doing it so I can run with my daughter in the wildflower field behind our house and not get winded as she sprints in circles around me.
I’m doing it so my kids and I can all ride our new bikes together down the long, paved driveway and my joints and bones will move like they’re supposed to.
I’m doing it so my creaky knees won’t announce to my children that I’m coming upstairs long before they see me in their door frame.
I’m doing it so I can get down on the floor and play Barbies and monster trucks and not have to brace myself on the sofa to get back up.
The thing is, as much as I want to say I’m putting my health first for myself, it’s really for my kids. While that might be counterintuitive to much of the health-related literature we’ve read, it works for me. It works because I need an excuse bigger than my vanity to make a permanent change that lasts.
And if that little girl with her papa’s eyes or that little fair-skinned boy with my chin is the reason I take better care of myself, so be it. In 2018, I commit to making smarter, more nutritious food choices. I commit to stretching, twisting, dancing, and praying more freely and purposefully than I ever have before. I commit to focusing on what’s really important and in front of me rather than obsessing over what someone else is flaunting on social media.
That last one is more for my emotional and mental health, but I believe it all ties in together. It all makes up the core and the fabric of who we are. And if we’re ready to pull a few strings and change out that make-up? There’s no time like the present to take that first step.
So here’s to new beginnings, and here’s to big changes. Here’s to showing up and living richly so we can make the most of the body and the time that we have. Here’s to not becoming stuck in the past, but running headfirst and confident into the future.