It was the best of times, it was the worst of time, it was the tritest way to open a blog post, it was an overused cliché well past it’s time. While the opening of the Dickens’ classic is such an overused analogy of contrast, it is simply the perfect simplification of how I feel about 2016.
The Worst of Times
Everyone is losing their collective minds over 2016 and the impact it had and will have for coming years. The US elected a new President, celebrities died off as if it was check out time at the Waldorf, and in general there is this consensus that 2016 was the worst year ever from the collective standpoint. I won’t get into the politics of 2016 too much, as this blog is about bettering ourselves, and frankly no good was ever developed by a person in the modern age by having a conversation that leads to politics.
2016 was the year we lost so much talent of stage, screen, and music. It was as if we were all in an episode of Game of Thrones that simply would not end, and even to the point that mid-writing of this entry we lost more celebrities
While 2016 was a bad year for me in many respects, it went from “meh” to “oh crap” in 0 to 60 beginning in late September. First it began with my mother going into the hospital with a staph infection. Shortly thereafter, I had a muscle injury that left me near-bed ridden for several days and limping for weeks. Then my mother had a stroke, followed by a decline that ultimately led to her untimely death on November 18.
You never realize how much impact someone has on your day to day life until they are gone. Suddenly the daily calls go away, the conversations for hours are gone, and the connections dissolve. There is a huge void in your life, and you must somehow figure out how to reconnect with your life with that missing part. This is what I wrote on Facebook the day after; I think it sums up my feelings well and rather than trying to rehash those moments, I’ll simply include it here. (I’ll be writing more about my mother as part of another project in the future.)
I’m just not sure what to say. I feel numb, scared, sad, and a million other emotions all at once right now.
On Friday, November 18 at 6:00 PM my mother passed away. She had been suffering from some long term illnesses, including COPD, for some time now, and suffered a stroke a couple of weeks ago. No matter how much you try to prepare yourself, you’re never prepared to let go of a loved one.
My mother and I definitely had our moments of contention. She was protective of me and my brother to the end. Perhaps a bit too protective at times. I remember when I wanted to play baseball, she said “you’ll get hit by the ball and kill yourself”. Mom always wanted to make sure I was always safe. To the end, she was always worried about my safety. Even driving to work in New Jersey, I always checked on Facebook just so she knew I was safe during the trip.
While we were raised from humble beginnings, she worked hard every day of our lives to make sure we had a good childhood. We lived in low income housing growing up, but she never made it seem like it was that bad. She always made sure we had great toys, were well fed.
She worked herself out of poverty to go to school as a single, working mother in the 1980s. No matter what, we never went hungry.
She gave birth to her first child in 1973 at the age of 13; her lover-then-shotgun-marriage-husband (and i do mean shotgun marriage literally) was 22. They divorced, and she later married my father and I was born a year later when she was 18. Five years later, she divorced my father (with some good reasons!) and was a single mother from that point forward.
As an adult, she became not just my mother but one of my best friends. She truly was my favorite person in the whole world. We would talk for hours when I was taking long drives. Even when I moved to Connecticut, we talked on the phone on a nearly daily basis.
There is more to my mother’s story than can be encapsulated in a single Facebook post. She a tough, strong woman who persevered over great odds, raised two successful children, and fought more life battles than most people will know. I do believe I lost her too soon, and will miss her so much.
My final words to her were simple, “You know I love you more than anything in the world, right?” In her stroke-limited voice, she smiled and said “yeah” and we hugged. She went to sleep from the medicines, and 8 hours later she passed peacefully in her sleep with no pain.
I love you mom. More than anything in the world. May you rest in peace.
I would say from a personal perspective, there are few events that can affect your life more than losing your mother, especially so untimely and at such a young age. (I would say the only thing worse would be losing your own child.)
As human beings, we tend to dwell on those things that are bad and don’t think about the things that are good.
I had a pretty miserable 2016, much as everyone else did… right? Sure, in the right context. However, two things come to mind as I look back on the year.
First, that my 2016 comparably speaking is no where near as bad as a vast majority of people on the planet. Between the war in Syria, terrorist attacks across the world, famine, disease, and a multitude of other things my problems in comparison seem miniscule.
Second, I made changes in my own life that made it one of the best years of my life as well. I controlled the things I could control, rode the waves of the things I couldn’t control, and came out the other side what I feel is a better overall person.
The Best of Times
When I started 2016, I was depressed. I was morbidly obese at 287 pounds and upper-30s body fat. I was feeling sick to my stomach on a near daily basis. I had trouble sleeping at night, and during the days my thoughts were filled constantly with fear of death which I truly felt was impending. I was feeling angry about myself and the world, closed off from anyone and everyone even remotely near me.
I had started working with a trainer a couple of months earlier, but wasn’t really seeing many results yet. Sure, I felt a little stronger and a little more mobile, but my weight was fairly static and a lot of my pains, emotional and physical, were still there.
I set a goal at the beginning of the year to “lose weight”. It’s this generic “resolution” type goal that everyone sets, especially those who are morbidly obese. After all, isn’t that really the core of the problem, that I needed to lose weight? So I continued working with the trainer, and did lose a little weight.
The biggest change I noticed, however, was my increasing strength and stamina. I started noticing this through the early parts of January. In my apartment, there is a rather steep stairway leading up to the second floor where my office and the bedroom are. Where in the past I would be winded by step four or five, I could begin to climb more and more stairs without the constant pain in my knees. I could get to the top without stopping for a moment to catch my breath. I could also lift things more easily; those 5 gallon water jugs on my watercooler started to become easier to pick up and move around the house.
February came, and the gym manager approached me with a rather interesting query; she asked if it would be ok if I was featured as the ‘Member Spotlight’ for that month. I’ll be honest, it made me very uncomfortable. After all, I had only been working with the trainer for about 3 months so far, hadn’t made much traction on overall weight. I know my strength was increasing but I really didn’t feel like I should be “spotlighted”. I agreed, though. I used to agree to a lot of things because I liked taking the path of least resistance.
When I saw the posting she put on the Facebook page, I read through it a couple of times. Each time, honestly, it did make me smile. I could see myself beginning to change, and this was just the beginning. I think this Facebook post was honestly the first time I felt some validation that I accepted of the effort I was putting in, and honestly it was an amazing feeling. (Aside: When I went looking for this post I past it several times. Apparently I forgot what I looked like.)
As the next couple of month’s went through, I worked on building my strength up more and more. As I approached the end of March, something really began to click in me. I went to my trainer and said, firmly, “I want to be 15% bodyfat”. He almost seemed a little stunned at the moment, as I had difficulty articulating my goals in the past. It went from “lose weight” to “lose fat”; that was the first step.
It wasn’t so much that I didn’t know what I wanted, but I needed someone to pull that out of me. I needed someone to show me, to tell me, to reinforce to me that I was capable of achieving great things. I could become as strong, as big, as lean, and as great as I wanted to be if I simply put my mind and body to the test. My trainer played that role of bringing that out, and driving me to continuing efforts towards greatness.
In April, I participated in a fun run with some other people from the gym. It was a fun time where we all got to run through color shots and just enjoy ourselves and get outside. It was the first time in a long time I was willing to do anything outside, much less anything that was with a group of people. It was just this feeling that I finally felt like I was starting to connect with other humans, something I’ve always had difficulty with. It was more and more becoming about a holistic change and less about weight change.
I immediately got my diet on point and have consistently kept it there since; I exterminated garbage from my diet and instead adopted a healthier diet and macros aligned with my evolving goals.
There was this one moment mid-Spring when I walked into the gym for a training session, and my trainer looks straight at me and says “you’re smiling.” It was this moment when I realized that yes, in fact, I was smiling and actually enjoying life and finally it felt like things were coming together. Life is good. Life is worth living.
In May I made a decision that would have a huge impact on the coming months, as well as myself psychologically. I was going to go on vacation to “Camp Nerd Fitness“, an adult summer camp in rural Georgia in September. This was going to be huge. First, it began as a huge motivator to further my body transformation. Second, it was forced cohabitation with six other people in bunks. Finally, it was out in the wilderness; sure in cabins, but out in a rural area with no cell phone service.
Through June & July, I participated in a “Fitclub” at the gym which drove me to drop a big chunk of bodyfat. I basically went into “full on beast mode” at that moment, and didn’t stop. Some days I would put in 2+ hours at the gym between cardio and lifting. It was a grueling schedule, but it was for a greater good of driving my transformation. Through that, I also began meeting more people and interacting with others much more than I had prior. Through attending group coaching sessions, I had greater chances of talking to people from all walks of life, from all levels of fitness, and all levels of social anxiety as well.
In June I also decided to launch this blog to chronicle my continued efforts. My hope is that my efforts do inspire at least one person, and if so, I’ve succeeded.
The three months between the start of Fitclub and Camp seemed like a bit of a blur. During this period of time, I also started to feel some additional changes in my mentality. I was progressing to becoming stronger and stronger. I was feeling the “pure beast” of the moments in my workouts, and loving every minute of it. As I became stronger, as my endurance began rising from the group coaching sessions, my goals began to evolve even more. Suddenly the guy who wanted to “lose weight” to “lose fat, gain endurance, gain strength”.
As Fitclub wound down, I still kept my routine going, but something else happened. One day I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that the person I was becoming was the person I always wanted to be. I saw my body changing, my attitude changing, and my whole life before me as an expanse instead of a blip.
Camp came and went in September, which I wrote about earlier this year. It was truly the beginning of Ben 2.0, as I called it. I was no longer the same Ben that began the year. That Ben was long gone, and a new one had risen. Someone healthier, happier, and more content with the world than ever before.
After coming home from camp, life went into chaos for a little while. From a muscle pull, the death of my mother, and getting whacked in the head with a hockey puck it seemed like life was throwing any number of obstacles at me.
I couldn’t let life’s bumps stop me. I had come too far, changed so much in the last year, and I needed to keep going. Not long after the muscle pull, I was already throwing up Personal Records in my strength efforts. Moving my body to new levels became more and more important to me. Whether it was continuing to push up my back squat weight, my deadlift weight, or hitting heavier and heavier dumbbells on my bench press, I just wanted to keep pushing.
Through December, my number one objective has been to get back to normal after the speed bumps life threw at me. I’ve pushed through and have begun achieving greater and greater things. I am getting heavier weights up, getting endurance back, and driving myself day in and day out to be a better person physically, emotionally, and mentally.
So 2016 truly has been the best year and worst year of my life simultaneously. It will truly go down as the year that changed my entire life. When I started the year, I was feeling awful about life and felt like I had nothing to live for; today, I feel like I have everything to live for and know I have another half of my life ahead of me.
So now, I have to begin looking towards 2017 and what that will bring…