The Real Life Spouse Stories Series is part of InDependent’s Wellness Unfiltered™ program. It’s a platform for military spouses to share their struggles with tougher wellness topics. They’re sharing these stories to help with their healing, open up conversations so other military spouses know that they aren’t alone, provide resources to people struggling with something similar, and to help the community know how to better help others who are going through difficult wellness issues.
I grew up in a family that did not really talk about health. As an “elder millennial” and growing up in a family on food stamps and unemployment for many years, I was not raised in a family that discussed mental health, healthy foods, and a healthy lifestyle. I do not say this to blame my family or my parents; it was just simply the way I grew up.
As a kid, I grew up on southern foods: fried chicken, casseroles, roasts and potatoes, etc. I also grew up on hefty servings of guilt and shame. Emotions were not to be expressed, I needed to toughen up, and the words “I love you” were saved for special times. As a result, I struggled with my health. I struggled with infertility, no one was able to explain why. Then I had four kids in five years, with major postpartum depression and anxiety to go along with them. I would gain weight, lose weight, yo-yo back and forth with different diets and meal plans, and spend so much money to make those changes…but nothing stuck. I was constantly in a cycle of ups and downs, both mentally, emotionally, and physically.
One piece of wisdom you hear often is that people should make changes in their lives and their behavior for themselves, not for others. That’s always been the standard advice from friends, magazines, and “experts” in any field.
But what if you don’t feel ready, worthy, or capable of making the change for yourself? What if you feel so confused and scared that you don’t know where to start? Or what if those people who are supposed to be helping you make you feel like you are “crazy” to even suggest what you are feeling may not be normal?
ADVOCATING FOR MYSELF
For the past two years, I have lived in Japan. During this time, I struggled with depression and anxiety more than ever before. However, along with that, I had a feeling that something physical was going on with me too.
I gained forty pounds in a year. Nothing changed with my diet, and I was even exercising, but the weight continued to increase. I was tired all the time, struggled to be motivated to do things I had previously loved, HATED the way I looked in the mirror, and was continuously getting sick. I went to the doctor, asked tons of questions, and asked for blood work and labs.
Everything was “normal.”
But it wasn’t, and I knew that something needed to change.
Then, in May of 2022, my dad died. He was sick for a long time, struggling with heart failure, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. After he died, I started researching about all of his problems and came across some new terms that had never been told to me before, including insulin resistance. These terms fit the boxes of my symptoms, and due to my family history, I knew I was at risk. I needed to make a change but had NO IDEA how to do it.
So I doctor shopped and found someone here in Japan who came highly recommended. She listened to me, looked at all my past labs, and made a recommendation: something I was not expecting.
“I believe you should go vegan.”
Me, the southern belle, who regularly cooks with meat, cheese, and eggs, should go vegan?
Now, I am not writing this to discuss how veganism is the right choice for everyone in every situation – that is something that is personal to every person. However, I do want to discuss how utterly unmotivated I was to make this change.
I mean…I LOVE cheese. And a delicious pot roast on a Sunday evening? The best! And I am the best at making lasagna, casseroles, and meatloaf. How was I possibly going to make this change?
I needed to talk through this – I called my three best friends and talked through my concerns.
WHAT GETS IN THE WAY
When a change is necessary but the motivation is not there, it is important to determine what is getting in the way and then get past each of those roadblocks. None of these are insurmountable, but they can often cause us to put off major changes. So be aware of them:
- Fear of change
- Not wanting to be uncomfortable
- Fear of uncertainty
- Being tired
- Fear of failure
- Fear of not being good enough
- Not having time
- Being busy with all kinds of things
- Waiting for something to happen
- Being overwhelmed with all that you have to do
- Not knowing how
We all have these fears and reasons for not taking action. Know you are not alone. But for me, there was one fear that trumped them all: the fear of not being around for my family and those I love.
Yes, the fear of failure, and change, and discomfort, and uncertainty are real…but they can all be overcome. After seeing the way my dad lived his life and also how he ended up passing, I knew that I needed to face my fears and make this change.
So I then sat down and determined what the plan was. I needed to overhaul my diet and how I was cooking for myself and my family, all while putting in daily work on my mental and emotional wellbeing. I needed to make a “dos” list and not just a “don’ts.”
THE “MAKE IT HAPPEN” ACTIONS
These are the actions that I’ve found to help overcome fears, find motivation, and prioritize:
- Find a purpose.
You might already know what your purpose is, but it’s good to review it and keep it at the forefront of your thoughts. If you don’t have a purpose, start here: what will you want to look back on at the end of your life? What will make your life feel significant? What will give your life some meaning? If you don’t have an answer to these questions, it’s worth spending a little time here. Go for a walk and think about it.
- Embrace your desire.
You’re reading this article because you have a desire to do something positive in your life. Embrace that. Isn’t it wonderful that you have this desire? See this as the first positive step, one you’ve already taken. Now use it and take action.
- Create the space.
You won’t make any changes if you don’t create a small space for the change. Don’t wait for the change to happen – make it happen. I decided that I would give myself time during the week to research, recipe search, meal prep, etc., so I could set myself up for success. Block off some time on your calendar each day, even if it’s just ten or fifteen minutes. If you don’t have the time, think about how long you spend each day on Facebook, TV, games, or doing smaller tasks that aren’t as important. Push those back for just a bit, and do what’s most important to you first.
- Set up accountability.
Find at least one person who will hold you accountable for making this change. It might be the support team mentioned above, or a coach, or an accountability partner. Tell them not to let you off the hook. I have found a couple people who are also vegans to support me, as well as my besties. My spouse is also involved and supportive of the change.
- Take a small action.
If you’re overwhelmed by a large change or a bunch of large changes, just focus on one small step. What small action can you take today that will move you forward? It might be something as simple as “do an Internet search about a new recipe” or “go for a fifteen minute walk.” Take a small step and get moving. Movement begets movement. Now take another small step.
SO LET’S TALK ABOUT YOU NOW…
It doesn’t really matter who you’re starting out on this journey for – just start it. If you do it with a desire to learn, grow, heal, and feel happier, you will get there.
Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself or investing in things that will help you get there.
When you feel better, are kinder to yourself, and no longer spend hours a day wrestling with your own demons, you free up so much time, energy, and love to give back to those around you.
You might feel scared. You might feel guilty for wanting to take an hour to read that book, or visit the gym, or attend that course. You might think you’re not worthy of it.
You might feel that being a good person is about focusing all of your energy on your loved ones and ignoring yourself. But I want to tell you that’s not true. The best thing you can do for your loved ones is sort your own stuff out. Show your loved ones a model of choosing happiness, health, and hope over depression and despair.
The greatest gift that we can give to those we love is to show them that they can learn, grow, and evolve—and that they are in control of that.
After five weeks, I am down eleven pounds, I am sleeping so much better, and I am feeling better about the future. Progress is small, but it is still progress. Motivation for improving health and wellness is not always flashy and full of rainbows and sunshine. Sometimes it is hard. But I promise, it is worth it.
Noralee Jones is a MILSO of fourteen years, mom of four, and the writer/creator at Mrs. Navy Mama. Having experiences with eight deployments, five PCS moves alone, and the author of the Self-Care Guide for MILSOs, she is an expert on the importance of taking the time to focus on filling our bodies, minds, and souls with our individual needs in order to make the most out of our lives. She is also the Co-Author of The Newbie’s Guide to Military Life and focuses on supporting MILSOs through the ups and downs of military life through Mrs. Navy Mama. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
OTHER ARTICLES IN THE MOTIVATION SERIES: