During one of our agency professional development sessions earlier this year, we were to select our “one word” for the year. If you have never done the “one word” initiative it is basically replacing New Year’s resolutions with one word you can focus on every day, all year long. It is one word that basically sums up who you want to be or how you want to live. I sat in the meeting going back and forth in my mind on what word I should choose. As those around me chose “balance,” “gratitude,” and “service,”  I landed on “wellness.”

If you know me at all, you know I have always been overweight. I have struggled with my weight my whole life. It really spiraled out of control once I got divorced about ten years ago. I did not feel well physically, as doing even the most mundane tasks was painful. I am an energetic and outgoing person, and I hated sitting on the sidelines making excuses for why I wasn’t participating in something. I was too embarrassed to try something and not be able to do it because of my size. I am happy to say that started to change in January. I joined a program recommended by a friend. Shockingly, it was a “lifestyle change” I had never heard of before. I thought I had done every diet in the book. What sold me was that I would be eating real food and exercising. I already knew there was no magic pill and I needed to do something I could sustain. I had lost weight before, but I always gained it back plus some. I went to an informational meeting and decided I would try it. I did not tell many people as I was afraid of failing again.  

I made major lifestyle changes and started finding out I didn’t hate vegetables like I thought I did. I also realized how good I felt after a workout even though it was so hard and every muscle in my body hurt. Every time I complained about being sore, a co-worker said, “That’s good!” I was not getting any sympathy from her, but she was right. They do say, “no pain, no gain!” In March, when the country shut down, I thought I would, too, as I had always turned to food for comfort. What I did to combat those urges was walk! A co-worker and I walked every day over our lunch break. I soon found out I was not only changing my physical health but my mental health as well. I would come back feeling better thanks to the fresh air, steps, and support of a good friend. The pounds fell off slowly at first. No one even noticed it was so minimal, and I never said a word. I just wanted someone—anyone—to notice. I kept plugging away. I finally told a few co-workers. One colleague began texting me every Thursday to see how my weigh-in went the day before and to tell me she was proud of me. I truly cherished every text she sent as each was full of encouragement and praise. We walked in rain, we walked in snow, we walked in scorching heat but we kept walking. I am proud to say I have worn out three pairs of shoes! I am less than 10 pounds away from my ultimate goal which is what the computer says I should weigh for my height and age. I feel stronger than ever and for the first time in years, I am in control!

I realized this fall, as I was coming close to ending my wellness journey, that I had suppressed a lot of feelings and needed someone to help me sort through those and teach me strategies to deal with my stress and anxiety that did not include food! I shared this with two co-workers and I was waiting for the mental health stigma meaning they would look at me differently or feel sorry for me, but instead one colleague said, “I am so excited for you!” I literally cried. There was no shame—only support! I have lost over 100 pounds, but I am more proud of the fact that I am now working on my mental health wellness!

2020 has been anything but easy, but I am so thankful for the support of my family, friends, and colleagues! Surround yourself with good people and you’ll be amazed at what it does for your overall wellness!

This picture hangs in the hallway at work, and I see it every time I step out of my office. The constant visual has been extremely helpful!

— Amy Benson, educational consultant