Best Buddies and Brave October

I am continuing my campaign for people to participate in Brave October and as part of that I am trying to push myself to be courageous.  I am really skinny right now (seriously, I’m like all elbows and knees) but I am by no means in good shape.  It has been probably two years since I exercised and more like 3 and 1/2 since I did so regularly.  I have gotten cleared by my doctors to start working out again as I feel up to it (see A Brief Timeline of Crazy if you need to catch up on my many health issues) but with my severe anemia and exhaustion I have not felt like starting.  Also I don’t wanna.  I have never been one of those people who enjoys exercise- I strongly believe that running is only for when something big and snarling is chasing you.

And the truth is I have been frightened to start.  I know I am not very strong right now and actually going to the gym seems completely daunting, and an exercise class is so intimidating- I feel like everyone will stare at me and think I am a huge wuss when I am gasping for breath every 5 minutes.  Now, most people probably don’t really care what the person next to them in class is doing, but the reality doesn’t really matter-I have built this up in my head to a point where I am really anxious about it.

Full disclosure here so that no one thinks I am being sneaky and doing a puff piece review- about half my family is somehow involved in SpeedFlex, a workout facility that opened recently in Dallas.  SpeedFlex is supposed to be “revolutionary” because it is a high intensity workout (you only do each exercise for 20 seconds) and there are no weights, just these cool machines that go off your own resistance.  As my father has pointed out to me every time I said I was too weak or tired to go try it, the machines are even being used in clinical trials for chemo patients and in rehab facilities as well as with training for elite athletes.  I still resisted because a) I’m really tired, b) I’m scared that I won’t be able to do it, and c) I don’t wanna.

Then came the Best Buddies SpeedFlex-a-thon this past Saturday.  They did an all day workout event and for every calorie burned got sponsors to donate money to Best Buddies- they raised over $80,000 which is pretty incredible!  I love this organization (more on that later) and I figured I can’t be all #BraveOctober and then not do it myself.  So I put on my big girl yoga pants and started going in a few weeks ago to build up my strength to participate on my family’s team.  The first time I went, I had to bail after 7 minutes, but I actually felt pretty good about myself afterward.  And then I found that each time I could do more and more, and on Saturday, I did a whole 30 minute workout session and burned 347 calories!  I felt great that I helped raise money for Best Buddies, excited that I was actually strong enough to get through it, and really proud of myself that I was brave enough to workout in front of so many people (the place was packed for the event.)  I also felt a little annoyed because now my whole family gets to say “I told you so,” but that’s a separate issue.

Flexing my awesome chicken arms!
Flexing my awesome chicken arms!

The event was also eye opening for me in another way.  If you are unfamiliar with Best Buddies, please click on that link and learn about them, it is an awesome organization.  They pair people up (like a Big Brothers/Big Sisters thing) to help foster one-to-one friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  They start pairing buddies in middle school and continue through high school, college, and with adults.  Having met and talked with a few of the Buddies on Saturday, I can absolutely see how much this program could enrich the lives of both the volunteers and the Buddies.  I spent a lot of time talking to Jeremy, who is a Best Buddies ambassador, and has been with the program for about 12 years.  He is interesting, articulate, and one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met- seriously his smile is the epitome of contagious!

Tyler was another Buddy who had worked out in an earlier session that day but stood to the side in the room when I was exercising.  Every time I was feeling exhausted or like I wanted to quit, I would look over at him and he would wave and clap and cheer me on, which was almost as good as another B12 shot!  I spoke to his mother and she told me how wonderful this program has been for him in the past few years.  When he came over I bragged to his mom about how helpful his cheering was and his response was, “Yeah, I’m the man!”  Yes, Tyler, yes you are!

Jeremy, me, and Tyler.  I am by far the least cool person in this pic! :)
Jeremy, me, and Tyler. I am by far the least cool person in this pic! 🙂

The Best Buddies program to me is an embodiment of my idea of #BraveOctober.  Sometimes just being yourself in a world where you are different is an incredibly courageous move.  I hope my girls get involved with the program when they are old enough, because, as I have mentioned before, I believe that the best way to raise children who are open-minded is to introduce them at a young age to the fact that people have differences and those are not frightening, they’re beautiful.  I want my kids to be brave enough to loudly stand up for someone with an intellectual or developmental disability because they know first hand what a great buddy that someone can be.

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Being Brave Isn’t Pretending You’re Fine

“Gosh, it’s been so long!  How are you?”  I said to a friend I accidentally butt-dialed while trying to call someone else.

“Good…Well…OK… We were really excited because we were pregnant with twins, but then I had a miscarriage.”

And I paused.  Honestly, I was kind of shocked that she just led with that.  I mean, it had been over a year since we last spoke, and we aren’t even close friends.  That’s a pretty personal statement to just put out there.

Why though?  Why isn’t it OK to just tell the truth about how you’re feeling.  If you just lost a baby why should you have to pretend like everything is fine?  It’s not.  And what a brave thing to do.  We often hear the phrase “putting on a brave face” which means covering up your true feelings and going on with your life.  But in reality, what takes courage is to acknowledge those feelings, to let people in.  That is really scary.  Because when you let people in to how you are really feeling, to the struggles in your life, it makes you vulnerable.  It opens you up to people saying stupid, hurtful things, or getting super awkward, or just ignoring your comment and pretending like you didn’t say anything- which can be even more painful.

And miscarriage… well, we really don’t talk about that.  I remember years ago a friend of mine was pregnant and I hadn’t seen her in a while.  When I asked her how she was she said, “Well it’s been a rough summer… I was pregnant, then I wasn’t, and now I am pregnant again.”  I remember freezing, thinking, “Oh wow, she just told me she had a miscarriage.” But I was too scared to acknowledge it- ’cause what do you say?  So I just kind of pretended I didn’t really notice the comment and we skipped over it.  Yeah, I’m not very proud of that.

About 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, that’s huge.  And yet, nobody talks about it, it is kind of a taboo subject in polite conversation.  If your mom or even your dog just died and someone asks how you are, it is perfectly acceptable to say you are feeling pretty lousy because of that loss and people will comfort you accordingly.  But announce that you just lost a baby and eerrk (my impression of a needle scratching across a record,) sometimes conversation just stops.  And if it is acknowledged, the platitudes come out.  “Oh, well at least you know you can get pregnant!”  “You’re young, you’ll have another one!” or my personal favorite, “Well, it probably meant that there was something wrong with the baby anyway.”  Right.  Because I would rather have my baby die than be born with a disability, is that what you are saying?

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I had a miscarriage myself.  I was only about 9 weeks along but I was devastated.  I have been through a lot (see A Brief Timeline of Crazy if you don’t believe me,) but losing the baby was one of the absolute worst things I have dealt with in my life.  Everyone’s experience is different, but I loved that baby fiercely from the moment I knew he/she exsisted.  My husband and I called it the Hufflepuff since we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl and we talked about our plans for the baby all the time.  When I started spotting, I knew in my gut that the baby was gone, but I still made my husband leave on a business trip because some crazy part of me believed that if I asked him to stay home to go to the doctors appointment with me, my fears would prove to be true.  But sending him away didn’t help, I still got the horrible news at the ultrasound that the heartbeat was gone.  And then I had to make decisions about what to do, and suffer through a lot of pain and weeks of bleeding.  I won’t go into that now, but I remember how hard it was.  And most of all, how lonely I felt.

We have decided as a culture not to tell people we are pregnant until 12 weeks, since miscarriage is so common before that.  But that means that if you lose a baby, most people didn’t even know you were pregnant so how can they be invested in that little life?  My husband was wonderful to me at that time, but even he could not understand why it affected me so deeply and why I became so profoundly depressed afterwards.  We have funerals in part so that we do not have to mourn alone, because that is a huge weight to bear.  But most people don’t have funerals for miscarried babies, so that burden is not shared.

Friends and family turned out in droves to help me and send flowers or cards or lend a word of comfort after each of my surgeries, which was wonderful.  But my miscarriage was when I really needed the most support, and I have never felt more alone.  A huge part of that is because no one knew, and I “put on a brave face” for those who did.  I went back to work and just said I had been sick for a few days, but inside I wanted to scream, “How can you people not see that a part of me just died with the baby that was inside me?!”  I went around pretending I was fine, but I was far from it.  Eventually, Sebastian sat me down and said that he thought I needed to see someone and I found an amazing counselor to help me work through my depression.  A few months later, I got pregnant with the twins and was so happy and so very scared at the same time!

I have been talking a lot about #BraveOctober and being brave, whatever that means to you.  To me, today, it means finally speaking up about my loss.  Telling people that if you are hurting, the courageous thing to do is to let someone know.  Not to bottle it up inside and think that you are being “brave” by hiding yourself from the world.  Maybe being honest about your struggles might just let someone know that they are not quite as alone as they feel in whatever pain they are going through.

So I paused.  And then I said to her what I wish people would have said to me.  “I am so sorry for your loss.  Do you want to talk about it? I’m here for you.”

Brave October

Today, I faced a huge fear, conquered it, and feel like a superhero!  What did I do? I gave myself a B12 shot (the B12 might also be part of the reason I feel so good!)

If you have been reading this blog at all, you probably already know that I have been through a lot of medical stuff, some of which was extremely painful.  If this is your first time here, you can visit A Brief Timeline of Crazy to catch up. I get IV iron infusions and bloodwork every week and have had 5 major surgeries and several minor ones in the past few years, so rationally I shouldn’t have a problem with giving myself one little shot.  But, as my husband can attest, I am not confined by the bounds of rationality.

When other people give me shots or take my blood or cut me open, I don’t have to look!  My fear is of the sight of a needle going into skin, not the feel of it.  But today I needed to get my B12 shot (I have severe anemia and a combo of weekly B12 and IV iron is the only thing that keeps me upright) and no one was around to give it to me.  I really didn’t want yet another doctor visit for something so small and I have all the supplies at home.  So I put on my big girl yoga pants (well actually pulled them down, the shot went in my upper thigh) and gave myself the shot.  And I didn’t even take a Xanax before doing it.  And guess what?  I was ok!  I didn’t faint, or cry, or stab an artery or anything.  I gave myself the shot and then went about my day.

But I had a little extra pep in my step.  I faced that fear and I totally owned it!  So I started thinking… being brave and facing something that really frightened me gave me a burst of energy and confidence… maybe it could do the same thing for other people… Halloween is supposed to be scary… Halloween is in October…wouldn’t it be cool if I could get people to challenge themselves and do something that scares them in October, to be brave…I’ve been hearing that word everywhere lately…I could call it Brave October or Bravetober…Bravetober sounds ridiculous, Brave October is probably better…I can be all #BraveOctober everywhere…Wow, those people already have a huge blowup spider in their yard…Oh crap, tomorrow is the first day of October, how did that happen?…I should probably get started with this thing if I’m gonna do it…It’s awesome that my kids don’t like chocolate, I get to eat all their candy… I could really use a Milky Way right now…

That went on for quite awhile until got myself some candy and decided that I was going to take those random thoughts and use them to create #BraveOctober.

Here are the rules of the Brave October challenge.  This month, do something that scares you and then let the world know about it by posting about it on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter- you can simply write about it or include pictures/video if you want!  Then challenge your friends to do the same and use the # BraveOctober. If you want to use this as a platform to raise money for your favorite charity, awesome! But the real point of Brave October is to get people to step out of their comfort zone and do something they have been holding back on because of fear.

Maybe it’s something like riding a roller coaster or petting a snake at the Zoo. Maybe it’s submitting a piece of poetry to a publisher or signing up for that open mike night you have always wanted to do. Maybe it’s sharing a personal story that you have kept to yourself and finally getting to talk about it so that weight doesn’t feel quite so heavy.  Maybe it is standing up for somebody when your first instinct is to walk away.  And sometimes, maybe being brave is just getting out of bed in the morning and facing the day.

Whatever it means to you, let’s start being brave. There is a lot to be afraid of in this world- I live in Dallas, we had our the nation’s first confirmed case of Ebola reported today at the hospital I go to 1-2 times a week!  While I can’t do anything about that, I can stop being afraid of doing some things that would be positive in my life.  Like deciding that I can take an exercise class even though without a doubt I would be the most out of shape person there. Or finally having the courage to leave the house with my kids in their big girl underwear and trust that even if it is a disaster I will live through it.

Let’s do this people.  Help me make #BraveOctober a thing!

It's almost Halloween, let's all be brave! #BraveOctober
It’s almost Halloween, let’s all be brave! #BraveOctober