I want to get personal.
And I am really excited to tell you all about the first feature of expat gratitude: my physical fitness. It may sound strange, but it took moving abroad to realize that I could actually be a fit person.
Let's put this as plainly as possible: my life in the states, prior to our departure, was not good. I was not happy at work. I was not happy with my 3 hour commute. I was so not happy, I was continually stressed out. All I could do when I got home was put on my PJs and lay in bed with my two fluffy cats and read. Sometimes, if it was a good day, maybe, just maybe, my husband could coax me out of my PJs, out of bed and into the forest by our house for a walk.
But here's the deal: walking was hard work for me.
I was a size 18/16, depending on the brand, but I leaned more towards 18.
I was more than overweight, I was actually obese.
Even writing those words is hard.
But, even more than that, living it was exhausting.
And, for me personally, humiliating.
I was so sure that I was stuck that way.
I was so sure that I could not be different so I never really tried.
That did not change automatically when we got to Taiwan. In fact, for one year, nothing changed except for my geographical location and my job satisfaction. Things did change after my father suddenly and unexpectedly died. And it was my husband who changed them. One night, he looked at me and said, so earnestly it made me cry, that he was terrified of losing me due to my health (or lack of it). He said, matter of fact, that we were going to start exercising and moving our bodies.
I scoffed at the very idea.
Didn't he know I wasn't that girl?
That I would never be that girl?
But, if you know my husband, you know how stubborn he is. So sure enough, the very next night, we found ourselves taking a leisurely stroll around the small lake by our house. And I had an epiphany! I didn't hate my job so much that all I could do when I got home from work was mope and nap. And I had no commute at all. My [rather abundant] time after school was now spent with friends, laughing and having fun, or hobbying.
And my epiphany jarred me.
I realized that one of my excuses was no longer valid.
One day, our walks took a turn that made me very, very uncomfortable; my husband took me to my school's track. From my reaction, you would think I was allergic to the very idea of strenuous exercise. I told him: no. I told him: I can't. I told him: you said walk! I told him: I won't! So then he held my hand while we walked around the track. And we went back night after night. One night, he told me we were going to run just one lap. I balked at the very suggestion. I told him: no! I told him: I can't! I told him: you said walk! I told him: I won't.
But then we very slowly jogged around the track.
Just one lap.
And it was that lap that chipped away at another excuse of mine.
Because, as it turned out, I could.
You know that saying: things get worse before they get better? Well, for me and my journey to fitness, that was 100% true. Being an obese white girl in Taiwan is humiliating. Being an obese white girl huffing and puffing around a track full of fit individuals in Taiwan is even more embarrassing. The school track is no Y, with all shapes and sizes working in the same space. It was me and a bunch of really skinny, really fit Asian men. I was so self conscious that my large breasts were bouncing all over the place that I refused to run anytime except for at night. It took me a long time to come to recognize the friendly regulars at the track and realize that the only person judging me was myself.
Ever so slowly, I could jog two laps, then three laps, then four laps, and then I about had a stroke from pure shock and joy when I ran 5 laps, which is one mile. It took me about four months to be able to do so nonstop. I only ever went when my husband dragged me out of the apartment, and I typically did so in a foul disposition, convinced we were both being fools about this whole Jackie-is-going-to-get-fit thing.
I would like to tell you that I am a quick person and realized that if I could jog one mile, then I could jog two, then three, then four.... but I was still convinced that it was all some hoax. But, slowly, things did start to change. I could walk up to the fourth floor of my school without huffing and puffing. My legs were growing actual muscles! My body, very minimally, started to change. And all of that felt good. Like, really, really good. So good, it felt a lot like pride, something I never had in relation to my body.
But it wasn't until someone back home told me that they were going to look into moving abroad that my irrevocable shift in thinking truly occurred. And it was from the most off hand comment in the world. She said: if you, why not me? Meaning: hey, Jackie did it, Jackie moved abroad, if she can, then why not me too? Her words were not profound at the time. It wasn't until the next evening, when I was on lap three, that her words came to me. It happened as I watched a fit woman pass me while running, and my friend's words ricocheted in my head: if her, why not me?
And that was when the last excuse shattered and there were no more.
It was a long journey to realize that there was no rule book that said I had to be unhealthy and unfit.
That, in fact, just like I worked hard to move abroad and build a life I loved, I could also work hard to be fit and healthy.
And so I did.
And so I am.
It really was that simple.
I run at least four times a week, without my husband.
I regularly run three or four miles each time.
That's right, I run them.
Now, I am the person passing some other people at the track (my husband included).
I know four miles is no marathon, but for me and where I began both mentally and physically, you better believe it is just as impressive!
I am still a chubby white girl running around a track in Taiwan, but that's 100% okay with me.
I'm a work in progress, and this was never about my vanity.
But, I love this person I have become: this strong, resilient person.
I love the challenge and the accomplishment I feel every time I do something I have never done before and seriously believed, for far too long, that I could never do.
I was elated and on a high for two days after I ran two miles for the first time in my life.
I was so happy that when I ordered an adorable size 12 dress, it fit like a glove and looked seriously amazing.
I love that, over winter break in New Zealand, I could climb two mountains!
Most of all, I love that I was wrong.
This summer, I am running three races with friends and family and next year I am going to try a half marathon.
There is still a little part of me that is terrified of this, but then I remind that piece how far I have come. Walking was once hard. Now I can run four consecutive miles, and that number keeps going up!
As it turns out, I am that girl, and I can always be that girl, so long as I choose to be her.
Moving abroad changed my life, and in the long run, probably saved my life. It put the pieces in place so I could make the tough choice and choose to take the risk of challenging myself, of thinking that maybe I could actually be different and then having the courage to be different once I realized that I could.
And for that, I do not have enough words of gratitude.
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