Saturday, January 07, 2006

Why do we put ourselves last?

Five years ago I was a single woman. I worked out religiously all the time. I'd stop at the gym nearly every day after work. At least twice a week I would work out on the weights machines and at least three to four days a week I’d spend about forty minutes on the elliptical and/or the recumbent bike. The elliptical was my favorite. If no one else was waiting for the machine I would often extend my time on it to 40, sometimes 60 minutes. The high I felt afterwards was indescribable. I felt great. I loved to walk too and often would park at the gym or nearby park and walk alone or with a good friend of mine. With her it was fun because we talked the entire time, making an hour and a few miles go by very quickly. During the 40 minute drive home I felt completely and totally relaxed. By the time I got home I wasn’t that hungry. I’d eat dinner but I was more content with some leftovers or sometimes a salad or on many days a can of spinach heated in the microwave.

I felt the most energetic during a five year period of 1996-2001 when I think I was pretty physically fit and felt good. I still needed to lose a few pounds, I mean I battled that ever since getting out of the military years back, but overall while I needed to lose it, I did look and feel great. My clothes fit great, I was toned, and I was relaxed.

Five years after that I had gained weight, felt depressed, sad, angry, anxious and hopeless. I hated my life, didn’t know which way to turn, and how to get out of this deep dark black hole I was in.

So what happened?

I got married.

Before you think I’m blaming my husband, let me say that it’s not my husband’s fault. He always encourages me to get out and exercise, eat right, get my education, and do anything I want that makes me feel happy and content. He supported me but I’d be really negative and he got to the point where he didn’t know what to say or do for me to make me feel better. I finally just gave up on me because I lost sight of who “me” really was. You see when I got married; I believed that I suddenly had to focus on someone else and not me. Instead of focusing on both of us, I spent all my time doing stuff for him and not me. He didn’t tell me to do this, it just happened that way. I thought it was the way it was supposed to be done. I had watched my mom spend most of her married life doing things for my dad and us kids, she always put us first. Nobody told her she had to do it that way, she just did. And even though my parents are still happily married and have been through a lot in their lives, my mom didn’t realize until a few years ago that it was ok to think about her first. I sometimes wonder if she really does put herself first though. She spends so much time thinking about all of us and worrying about us, she never really focuses much on herself or treats herself to anything. She’s a born caretaker and she’ll always be that way. And so when I got married I just fell into this role of caretaker too. I felt my husband’s entire existence was dependent on me and I felt that it was my responsibility to take care of him. I think though the felt quite differently. I think while he liked being pampered (or huggied as he calls it LOL); he probably wished I would have spent as much time on me. If I had I wouldn’t have gained weight, wouldn’t have gotten depressed about life in general and wouldn’t have become resentful, sometimes blaming him for me not spending enough time taking care of ME. There are more issues, of which I don’t want to go into but I had so much baggage when I got married, I think that combined with the stress of marriage (and it IS stressful) just got to me.

There’s a misconception that when a person gets married, they have to give up their own life. Actually I find it’s the woman who mysteriously gives up her life while the husband goes about his business without much change. This isn’t the man’s fault; it’s the woman’s fault. We somehow are conditioned to believe this happens as soon as we say “I do”.

It started with aches and pains, sadness, crying, anger, feeling tired, emotional, drained, uninterested in going out or doing anything anymore. I had been tested for RA and Lupus and all tests were negative. My doctor told me there was nothing physically wrong with me stemming from a physical condition. But I did have a mental condition—I was depressed. In one year I had gained sixty pounds and no wonder I felt so tired all the time. And when I faced the reality I would cry and feel a terrible anxiety because I knew I had to do something about it but I had no idea what. I felt like I had lost control of my life. I felt like I was in a rut.

I knew how to eat right and exercise, the problem was making my mind realize it too. I didn’t know anymore how to create a life for myself that was separate from being married. How could this happen to a once very independent person? Easy. It can happen to anyone. I forgot about me, plain and simple, I didn’t even know who the real me was and no matter where I turned nobody I knew could help me.

Believe it or not while my emotional turmoil was affecting me physically, I wasn’t the only one who needed a major change. DH realized he wanted to get healthy too. He needed to lose weight too, he wanted to get healthy, learn to quit smoking and become a calmer person. Between his baggage and mine, both emotional and physical, we had a long way to go.

Just a few months ago it finally hit us and DH and I have finally come to a point where we are on the same page and very adamant about getting healthy! We are very concerned about getting any number of illnesses that can befall people who aren’t healthy. Our outlooks have really changed.

After several attempts to quit smoking, DH went to a hypnotherapist and he will proudly tell you it’s been over a month and he is still smoke-free and has hardly any cravings or desire for cigarettes. Also, he cut down the amount of beer he drinks on the weekends, but it’s a start. He enjoys eating the healthy meals I cook, enjoys salads, fruits and veggies and he enjoys going on walks with me during the week. He also has enrolled in college at night and he wants to work out at the gym a few days a week now. As for me, I was seeing a psychologist who helped greatly and I haven’t been back but plan to see her again soon. I have begun stretching more, to loosen my painful muscles and be more flexible. I am also enjoying our walks and looking forward to the gym again. And the same hypnotherapist who helped DH also helped me with my stress eating and also helped me develop a strategy to handle stress when it happens. I am eating right, not snacking during those critical times anymore and I am working on drinking more water.

Our biggest goal is to lose weight, build muscle and be healthy. We realized that in our thirties, this isn’t getting any easier. If we don’t get healthy we will surely die young. I have seen what heart conditions, type II diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s does to people. I know exercise and eating right won’t immunize us from these diseases but if we are healthy we have a better chance of fighting them and winning. Dh and I have developed the philosophy now that in addition to physical exercise and eating right, being more relaxed, calmer and having a more positive outlook will also help contribute to our well-being.

We can’t do this overnight or all at once but we can and will do it even if it takes us awhile. It’s just nice to know now I don’t have to give up my life and he doesn’t have to give up his, we work together in this and STILL be individuals and do things for ourselves and put ourselves first when we need to. How nice is that?

My final words on this topic at least for the moment are if you are reading this and have ever experienced any of the things I talked about here, whether you were like me or like my DH, you aren’t crazy and you aren’t alone and you have nothing to be ashamed of. We’re only human.


  1. I can totally relate! It's a good feeling to know that I'm not alone, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. So often, we women follow our mothers footsteps and simply do what we've witnessed them do. Also, it's part of our nature to nurture others, and so often we neglect ourselves. We need to remember that we're very important too! I think it's great that you've made some changes and are working toward a healthier you. Kudos also to your dh for quiting smoking-

  2. How wonderful you are working together, and thanks for the PSA - so many people suffering from depression feel alone, isolated, like nobody could possibly understand... and crazy. But I've been there, and it's very real, and ittakes a tremendous amount of internal strength to drag yourself out of it. Good for you both!