Banga-bang-bang (pause) thump thumpa thump BANG. This was no drum solo – it was the sound of my heart hooked up to the EKG machine in my doctor’s office almost two years ago. My concern about my arrhythmia was growing. From a few blips and stops here and there over the years, it had become worse and now occurred most of the day, even waking me from sleep. I decided to go into the doctor’s the day I was driving my young son to school and nearly passed out at the wheel. It could not go on.
Age 45 then, I hated to go to the doctor, primarily because of the embarrassment of being overweight. Three kids, zero exercise, and too much food had put me way over any reasonable estimate of what I should weigh. All the cute clothes and awesome shoes in the world could not disguise the truth: I was fat and unhealthy. Along with the heart issue, my blood sugar was teetering on the edge of diabetes, my feet would swell so much that I could not get my shoes on, I was exhausted from sleep apnea, and could not climb a small set of stairs without having to catch my breath. I was mortified that I had allowed this to happen to me, ashamed and in denial. This was not me! But it was.
My doctor finished up with the EKG and immediately made me appointments with a cardiologist, a vascular specialist, and a sleep disorder clinic. She prescribed me pills to take down the swelling in my feet, told me I should come back every month to have my blood tested, and gave me more pills to regulate my heart. I thought to myself, “Here is where it starts. Everything is going to be pills and doctors and fear for the rest of my life.” The specialist visits all turned out fine, in that I had no imminent issues or defects. I knew what the problem was. I was too fat, for too long, and everything was falling apart because of it. The doctors all had the same rueful look to their faces, telling me again I should probably try to get some weight off. Each one probably said the same words to other patients many times a day, no one would ever lose the weight, and all they could do as health care providers would be to cope with the outcomes. It was all very depressing. Where does one begin to make such a huge change?
I looked at the pill bottles one day soon afterwards, and I felt a kind of boiling in my chest that had nothing to do with the stupid arrhythmia. I was mad, profoundly mad. Somewhere, buried under pasta and sloth, I was still there, the me that could dance for hours and play baseball and wear a miniskirt. I was going to dig her out and keep her, or die trying. No more pills, no more fear, no more excuses. Just NO MORE.
I knew that there is really quite a simple formula for losing weight: take in fewer calories than you expend. The critical issue for me was exercise. What was I going to do? It all seemed impossible. One day I was chatting with a friend, a gym rat, and he was talking about what kind of music he listened to while running on the treadmill, and how much it helped him to keep going even when he was tired. Aha! I thought. I love music even more than I love food and inactivity! Maybe…maybe this would be my answer.
Too embarrassed to join a gym, I got a treadmill and installed it in my bedroom. My husband was very hesitant to approve the purchase; we had many such exercise devices over the years and they had all ended up as clothes hangers and were eventually given away to others, who would then use them as clothes hangers. But I knew, I just knew, this time was different. My anger had turned into a determined fire, and I was ready to GO. I got my iPod loaded, dug out some old running shoes, and a pair of bike shorts with degrading elastic and started up the machine.
The first GO was a whopping 10 minutes at less than 2 MPH. I was wiped out. But I told myself, “Ten minutes was better than no minutes. Good job.” And every day, that is what I kept saying, and every day I did a little better than the day before. If I felt weak or dizzy, I backed off. If I felt like sprinting to “Free and Freaky” by The Stooges, I did it. Ten minutes turned into sixty, and a quarter-mile turned into almost five miles. I began to look forward to my hour on the treadmill, just me and my music, and the bam bam bam bam that was not my broken heart, but the sound of my feet pounding, moving, going.