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Monday, May 4, 2015

expat gratitude: crawling my way to fitness

I am super excited about my first installment of expat gratitude, my new series about how becoming a long term expat has changed my life. The purpose of this series is not to talk about Taiwan and all of the travels I have experienced since moving here. That is obvious. That is what 99% of this blog is all about. Now, I want to talk about the not so obvious.

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.

Check out Travel Tuesday for more stories!

Add your comment

  1. Wow, you are an incredible writer. This was a very moving post and what you've accomplished is really impressive! I'm so glad I've stumbled across your blog, and I think the idea of "expat gratitude" posts is excellent. Way to go!

    1. Awe, thanks. This was one of those posts that just flow out of you and there is no controlling it.

  2. Wow, so great to read your very personal story - thank you for sharing! I love practicing gratitude and reading other people's expressions of it, and this is really inspirational.

    1. It's so important to experience gratitude and carve out a space for it in your life. Thanks for reading, xx

  3. This is so great! Congratulations on being able to run 4 miles! That is SO an accomplishment!

    1. Holy moly, do I know it! Tonight I am going to try for 6! Eek! Sometimes I feel like superwoman and I even have a little theme song for myself. If anyone ever needs an ego boost, they just need to start running! :)

  4. Congratulations on your accomplishments! Your post is so well written and real. You will inspire others to follow your lead.

    1. Man, I hope so. I wish I could have learned from others a wee bit sooner!

  5. Jackie, I love this post! Good on you! I would love to run a race with you next fall. :)

  6. Jackie, this is such an amazing and hearfetlt post. You completely put yourself out there and that in itself is so brave. I don't personally know you but I am proud of you and I believe in you. I can completely relate to you on so many levels with this post. It is so hard to get past the boundaries you have set up in your own mind. Those boundaries you set up because you don't want to get out of your comfort zone or be embarrassed but sometimes in the end those boundaries cause what you're running from. Does that make sense? Keep up the good work and keep having fun with your journey, both in improving your health, and in your life abroad.

    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Those boundaries are more like fortresses, but it feels amazing to smash them to pieces. It's better to realize late than never that we don't give ourselves enough credit for the cool, strong people we are.

  7. I loved ready this! I loved ready myself in this too! Before I moved abroad I was just crazy for working since I was at uni, I took that with me abroad and it took over a year of pure unhappiness, also the death of my father (I'm so sorry to hear that by the way), to get me going, to get me enjoying life, to go out on the weekends and then eventually to start running.
    Our stories are not the same but I feel there's a little bit of me in there. And well, if you can do it, then why not me.

    I'm quite looking forward to my run tonight now!

    1. Yes, I think it is so true that there are pieces of ourselves in the stories of others. I read your blog and definitely found pieces of me there too! It's kind of cool to have life twins all over the globe!

  8. Wow, what an incredibly personal post. I definitely can understand the struggle over getting out the door. That's always the hardest part for me and I'm still learning to do it regularly. Congrats on running consecutive miles & good luck on your upcoming races!

    1. Thanks Adelina!! Over summer, I think we should meet up! I would love to actually meet you face to face! I will be in Bellingham for a race in August. I could catch a train up north to Vancouver!

  9. I am SO PROUD of you. I have so many people in my life who are legitimately afraid of trying to lose weight and failing that they just avoid it completely. It's a tough conversation to have with loved ones and say that it's not actually about losing weight but all about being a healthy you. Yes, sometimes that means losing a certain number of pounds/kilos, but most of the time, losing weight is the byproduct of healthy living. Congratulations to you, and this is the best blog I have read about how your life can change for the better after moving abroad. Way to be brave and share your previous insecurities, and your raw feelings from when you started your journey. Love that you're basically addicted to running now! :) I can't say, "good for you," enough!!!

    1. Thank you! You have no idea how those words, even from a stranger, make me feel. It's so true too. Running is fun. Running feels good. I think I was successful at it because it was never about losing weight or vanity. We intentionally made it about living a more balanced life. Now, there are some days when I can't wait to get out the door to go running. Sometimes, I have bad days, but I think that is true for anyone. Now, I cannot imagine a life without movement.