In 2012, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a blood cancer) and immediately left my alcoholic husband. I knew there wasn’t a chance in hell that I could ever fight my disease and heal while in an emotionally abusive environment. My daughters and I moved two states away and in with my parents. Never before did I feel the almost primal need to be cared for by my mom and dad. Here I was, 44 years old and I just needed unconditional love and safety– a haven.
I immediately entered treatment, receiving high dose chemotherapy and two stem cell transplants. I also filed for divorce, which turned out to be an extremely high conflict one. In between my stem cell transplants (words cannot describe how hard this treatment is, physically and emotionally), my doctor said I could take a vacation. I almost started crying when he said that. It was a sign that I was still a human, not just a cancer patient and a single mom going through a divorce. I decided to completely cut-off from doctors and attorneys and re-charge. I purchased flex Amtrak tickets and we departed from Salt Lake City in the middle of the night. First stop: Chicago– an 18-hour trek. I brought along electric blankets and travel pillows. We settled into our seats and slept. When I woke up, I felt tired and “strange,” dizzy. I watched a few movies, read, ate lunch in the dining car, and took long naps.
We arrived in Chicago to sweltering heat and humidity. Intense fatigue and weakness set in. But sitting in our hotel was not an option for me. I was going to push beyond my comfort level and enjoy my trip. For the next 17-days, we toured Chicago, Washington, DC and New York City. And I discovered something really surprising: When I was resting, I felt awful. But when I was up and about, those symptoms nearly vanished. Here I was, just weeks post stem cell transplant and I was walking in extreme heat and humidity (temps were 110-degrees and higher) at least ten miles per day, and enjoying it.
When we got back home, I started preparing for my next transplant. It was also time to start responding to some of the filings my ex had sent along. Big breath. I could no longer ignore life, it was time to face reality again.
The thing is– I needed to get strong for all kinds of reasons. I needed to heal from my broken marriage, and from the trauma of divorce. I knew I needed to be strong if I was going to beat cancer and win in the divorce process (at the same time, no less!). As hard as it was, that healing meant working out. As weak and as sick as I was, I needed to start somewhere, even if it was one tiny step at a time. One day at a time. Sometimes, a minute at a time. Allowing tears and anger, yes. And then getting up, moving, and kicking fatigue, sadness and side-effects in the ass.
Exercise (and eating right, which is a topic for another day) helps us divorced moms heal mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. And it keeps us strong and resilient, regardless of life’s challenges.
Mountains of research shows that exercise is good for the brain. If you aren’t in great shape and are starting from Ground Zero, start somewhere. Try shopping Costco and walking every isle and then do something more challenging the next time.
According to Mayo Clinic, here are some of the mental health benefits cancer survivors can get from exercising:
- Fewer signs of depression
- Less anxiety
- Reduced fatigue
- Improved mood
- Higher self-esteem
It is incredibly empowering to finish up a workout and think, “I did that! And I can do it again!” The divorce process is almost as much a mental game as it is an emotional one. Mental strength will help you in court and beyond, and heal from it. Exercise will also keep you mentally strong for any battles ahead, including in those in the dating world.
Every morning, plan your workout. Put it on your calendar and schedule time for your physical health. That appointment is as important than anything else on your calendar. Treat it as such.
Exercise helps improve one emotionally. After treatment, and even more, during my divorce, I was an emotional wreck. I had panic attacks. I was afraid to sleep without the TV on all night. I could not be alone.
And then I discovered Bikram yoga. In those classes, I started meditating and learning how to breathe. I learned calming techniques. I worked my muscles, and I started healing my soul. The panic attacks began ebbing. I started feeling emotionally empowered and, well, at peace.
I’ll tell you one thing: sitting on the couch, eating mounds of cookies, and crying did nothing for me. It didn’t change my reality and it made me feel really awful, inside and out. Exercising was not only a distraction, but a way to feel strong and powerful again.
Each person walks their own spiritual path so I won’t dwell on this one. Suffice it to say that exercising became an almost spiritual experience for me. I was able to clear my head and have long talks with my Higher Power. It was my time, away from distractions, often among nature. My workout routine is a time of solace, reflection, and long talks with God. Yes, this helps me mentally and physically—and it might just do the same for you.
The bottom line is this: Do what you can. And then each day, do a little more.