A wise woman once looked in the mirror and said ‘I love you’ and in that moment, her life changed forever.
That was the defining moment for me.
A little under a year ago, I came crashing down to rock bottom in a way I can’t quite put into words. Simply put, I ran out of steam.
A go getter and perfectionist by nature, I had lived my life with the highest expectation of myself, in every area of my life. I had it all mapped out. Marry at 25, have kids by 27 and get my house paid off by 40. I was kind of on track! At 24 I owned my first house, and at 25 I got married. I had my own successful business as a dance teacher and was also training on the side to be a primary school teacher on a paid degree that a small handful of candidates in the county were granted places on. I bought a second house at 26 and even renovated it in the 6 months I was training. I was doing just swell (Insert smug face here).
Mum had been suffering with a long term degenerative genetic condition since I was 18 called Huntington’s Disease, but I even seemed to have that under control. My care free 18 year old self decided I would never take predictive testing to see if I had the gene as I was a ‘live in the moment’ kind of gal and could handle whatever life threw at me. I was indestructible!
At the age of 27, my world changed. My sister had tested negative for Huntington’s Disease (thank goodness), and without any warning I suddenly questioned my future. Surely if she didn’t have it, it was just too good to be true that I didn’t? I can only describe it as though we had both been in a burning building together and she had been saved whilst I was still there. We had coped all those years by knowing we were both in it together. I began the testing process and in a whirlwind 6 months my relationship took a turn for the worst and I became a divorcee before I was even 30. I backed out of testing, terrified to know and life suddenly became a little less perfect than I had hoped.
In reality, my relationship broke down because we just took different paths personally meaning our core values changed. Without wanting the same things out of life, it didn’t matter that we were married. We had simply grown apart and I now know that this was ok but at the time, I blamed Huntington’s and convinced myself it was because he didn’t want to look after me. I had been dumped by a boyfriend at University because he feared this and it was only at this moment it dawned on me how much that had affected me.
During the few years that would follow, I experienced life in a different way to what I knew before. I lost both my houses and all I’d built up in a long and exhausting court battle. My business suffered to the point I almost had to close as I took on a new studio and couldn’t afford to keep it afloat. Mum became increasingly unwell, and began needing around the clock care and I found myself a long way away from the girl who once said she would never test and feared every time I dropped a plate, or bumping into a door frame. With all this pressure, I fell apart and I looked in the mirror one day and didn’t recognise the woman looking back. She looked old, tired and ugly.
I had met a new man (Kevin who I am still with today) and was struggling to trust like I once could. Previously I was relaxed in relationships. I liked who I was and so didn’t worry about my men looking elsewhere, but something had changed, I was a paranoid mess. It didn’t help that I had entered the territory of ‘step mum’, a term I still cannot stand due to its fairy tale connotations. I already knew I may not have the freedom to have my own children due to my genetic risks, and to know that someone had provided my boyfriend with the one thing I may never be able to was so difficult. I tried hard to keep my distance and ensure I was in no way a threat, but it seemed no matter what I did, I would always be made to feel like I didn’t belong. This made the battle with myself even more challenging.
This year I came to a halt. After a stern talk from my sister, I opened up to the fact that I was only human and if I didn’t stop I would make myself ill. In all honesty if it wasn’t for my sister, I don’t know how I would have got through it all. I just stopped and said to myself ‘enough’. I guess you could say I had hit a point where I knew I couldn’t feel any worse. I told myself that no matter who was in my life, no matter where I was or what came next, I was going to dedicate my time to loving myself for who I was, because in the end, if there is one thing life has taught me, it’s that you are the only person guaranteed to be there until the very end, so you might as well like who you are.
My Dad was starting to struggle emotionally and mentally with my Mum’s illness, and I had got to find a way to push past this fear that had consumed me so I could help him, and help my Mum too. For years now I had run away from my responsibilities of helping with her care because I would just cry for hours afterwards. I realised that I had to learn to accept my situation with Huntington’s Disease and recognise that whilst I keep convincing myself that it will get easier, it is inevitably only going to get harder, because the older I get, the closer I get to the symptoms if I did inherit it. It was time to tackle life head on and accept what might come. ‘Bring it on’ I said to myself. I had to. For Mum and Dad, for Kev, for his daughter Evie but most importantly, for myself.
And there, Love Yourself Lean was born. I learned meditation, and began to understand my mind and body at a new level. It became so clear to me what I needed to heal, and I was so much more aware of my thoughts, but at the same time, less attached to them. Less affected.
I began to focus my energy on doing something small for myself each day. Sometimes only 5 minutes with a cup of tea in silence before bed. I balanced my activities, recognising that sometimes a workout is what my body needed, and sometimes a glass of wine and a belly laugh was just as valuable. I consciously celebrated that both were equally beneficial to my health, and soon realised that happiness was the key to it all.
I spoke to so many Mums at the dance studio, and was amazed at how many of them felt the same way. Lost, disconnected and deflated by the woman looking back at them in the mirror.
Despite my challenges, the one thing I never lost was the desire to help people. My sister has always joked that every idea I have comes with a ‘I am going to change the world’ text message at god knows what hour. I’ve always wanted people to feel absolutely amazing (perhaps fuelled by feeling so awful myself and never wanting anyone to feel the same way, perhaps because HD has always made me aware of how precious life is). Nonetheless, I went on a mission to create the Love Yourself Lean Journal.
The journal itself consists of daily diary pages for you to record your food, water intake and hours of sleep. You also write down one thing you are grateful for each day. The most important part of each page is choosing your ‘Self Love’ activity each day. This can be physical, spiritual, mental or emotional and the book has lots of suggestions to get you going. The book is for you, and you alone, (Yes, something you don’t have to share with the kids or your hubby!) and what’s more, not a to do list in sight! The journal is a way to document all the things you do to show yourself a little bit of love.
We all know that habit is what makes a difference when it comes to our health. So, the idea is that over the course of a year, you will develop the habit of practising daily self love, and in turn become happier and healthier in the most balanced way. You will learn to recognise patterns in your behaviour, and furthermore recognise what activities feed your soul the most. We are all different and that should be celebrated wholeheartedly.
The truth is, the fact that we exist is pretty damn special and in any given moment our life can be taken away from us. So why would we spend our life doing anything other than loving ourselves for who we are?
There is increasing evidence that happiness is genuinely the key to good long term health, and I believe that exercising from a place of love, eating from a place of love and embarking on all that we do from a place of love is the real key to being truly healthy. The rat race is over. No more busting a gut on the latest diet fad (don’t even get my started on fad diets), or pounding away on a treadmill at the gym checking the number of calories you’ve burnt willing the time to come when you can get off. We do not need to be athletes to be healthy. We need to embrace who we are, what we have and tell that awesome woman looking back at us in the mirror that we love her.
A wholehearted thank you for taking the time to read this
All my love
A Guest Blog from Kelly Terranova