It’s the inside that counts by Mallory Martin

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Mallory currently works as the interim Assistant Director for Housing Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution at the University of Michigan.  Prior to her work at Michigan she worked at the University of Washington as an Admissions Counselor.  Originally from Colorado, Mallory enjoys anything that involves a bit of risk, laughter and sunshine.  Running, swimming and biking are some of her favorite activities.  She is grateful to live closer to her mom in the Michigan countryside with her soul mate where she can go for those long contemplative runs and still be home in time for a movie on the couch.

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Often we assume that wellness means taking care of your waistline and getting to the gym as often as possible, neglecting to realize that mental wellness and emotional wellness can also be big weights and stumbling blocks along any health journey.

My emotional weight had accumulated after a childhood of living in a household with an overbearing and alcoholic parent.  I was often afraid of doing something wrong and overstepping my bounds so withdrew into myself and began eating in excess as a way to cope with my confusing feelings of loving and loathing a parent.  After boughts of depression in high school a teacher recommended that I begin to sift through some of my emotions to help mend the rift between myself and my parent.

Acknowledging and then attending counseling was risky, primarily because I was voicing concerns and stressors aloud for the first time.  Recognizing that I had a voice and plenty to say was some of the initial weight loss that occurred in my life.  Of course high school still proved to be a bear and I did my best to navigate the world of popularity, academics and dating.  Thankfully my sense of humor and energy won more people over then my figure or social skills. Thus, through counseling I began to work through my own emotional weight which would prove to be some of the best and most challenging conversations that I would have with myself about myself.

The next blow that came to my emotional wellness was the early onset diagnosis of my mother’s Alzheimer’s during my freshman year of college.  After months of struggling to pay the bills, help fend off my mother’s depression and coordinate doctors’ appointments it felt oddly comforting to know that there was a reason and a diagnosis to explain her behavior.  Of course, simply knowing what the problem was did not prepare me at all for dealing with and acknowledging it.  In fact the denial and my drive to finish school (all the while pretending that life was back to normal) led to a whopping 40lb weight gain and a dramatic loss of self-esteem.

While school gave me focus and kept me busy, it also kept me from following up on counseling sessions and confronting my mother’s illness and the loss of her “mothering” role in my life.  Unwilling to talk about her diagnosis and its pain I focused more attention on applying to graduate schools that would take me far from my family and related challenges.

While graduate school took up a fair amount of my time, I also had the time and space to grow into myself.  Leaving Colorado and the emotional burdens I associated with it allowed me to approach my “new life” in Seattle with greater zest and rigor.  I began to walk to campus every day to take in the beauty of the area.  Along my walk I got to see houseboats, the crew team and on a clear sunny day, Mount Rainier.  Walking slowly turned into a 15 minute attempt at running on the treadmill which then turned into 20 minutes, then 30 minutes and suddenly I found myself exercising and (gasp) losing weight.    My happiness and growth into my true self was the catalyst to my physical wellness.  The more weight I lost the better I felt which then gave me the confidence to delve further into my emotional weight.  Taking an inventory of the life experiences that had led up to this point in my life allowed me to see the pain and distress that was buried from my childhood and college years.  Talking about my mother’s illness and attending support groups also allowed me to shed the emotional weight that had been bottled up for many years.  Day after day of talking, journaling and exercising had led to a clear mind, confident demeanor, slimmer shape and my proud collection of half marathon medals, triathlon medals and my coveted marathon finisher medal.

Now, when I feel myself bottling my emotions and getting the heebie-jeebies as a result, I know that going to the gym is of utmost importance in order to clear my head and feel light again.  No matter the calorie count or the miles logged just the act of going to the gym or outside and moving helps to calm not only my body, but also my mind and soul.

Finding what makes me happy and at peace is still an evolving process and as life throws more at me I know that I have to be flexible and adapt.  I am still triggered by things from my childhood and think daily about my mother and her changing role in my life but those things don’t shut me down anymore rather, they help to fuel my motivation and presence at the gym.

So, to you dear SAfit reader, I encourage you to consider and challenge the ways in which your physical wellness is integrated and informed by your mental and emotional wellness.  Question why you do the things you do, reflect on why you eat or drink the way you do too.  Focus not just on moving more or eating better but also on clearing your mind, reducing stressors and knowing yourself.

As student affairs professionals we recognize the holistic and multifaceted characteristics of our students so often; we would do ourselves a greater justice if we recognized it in the mirror as well.

Book recommendations:

-The Not So Big Life: making room for what really matters.  Sarah Susanka, 2008 Random House Trade Paperbacks.

-The Power of Now.  Eckhart Tolle, 2004 New World Library and Namaste Publishing.

-Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart.  Mark Epstein, 1998 Broadway Books.

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