When Ashleigh sent me her contribution to the positivity series my immediate thought was of how brave she was to share her story. She has overcome a lot and has learned to recognise and love who she is as a person, underneath the masks that she has carried for a long time. I know first hand how difficult it is to change this kind of mindset and therefore applaud her for persevering with consistent efforts to change her self-talk and implement positive strategies into her day.

Check out Ashleigh’s post and be inspired by visiting her website at the end.


 

I haven’t always been a positive person.

For a long time, I was pretty much the opposite of a positive person. I used to say that my glass was neither half full nor half empty; rather, it was completely empty because it had fallen on the floor and shattered and I had stepped on the pieces and was now bleeding to death.

See, I have severe recurring depression, and for a large chunk of my life, the depression was a constant in my life, to one degree or another. It ruled my personality.

As I went through treatment after treatment and finally found things that helped, I found my true personality emerging. This girl is cheerful, bubbly, and even – oh my gosh can it be? – positive!

I don’t think I ever really realized how much I had changed, though, until I embarked on a journey to lose weight and improve my health.

On February 25, 2012, I weighed in at 280 pounds (127kg). After several failed weight loss attempts in the past, followed by a few years of apathy (where I had decided that I was just going to stay obese for the rest of my life), that Saturday I decided that I was going to give the whole weight loss thing one last shot. If it didn’t work, then I was going to return to my state of apathy.

I lost over 63 pounds (about 29kg) in 9 months.

Ashleigh before after

That’s awesome, right? It’s not hard to be positive when things are going well.

But then it started. The re-gain. I had my first depression episode since the start of my weight loss journey and discovered that I have really poor eating habits when I’m depressed. Not to mention the fact that convincing myself to exercise is pretty much out of the question when I can barely get out of bed.

I regained some weight during that depression episode, but as the depression faded and I got back to normal, I returned to my healthy habits. I was determined to meet my weight loss goals! So I started losing weight again.

This was the start of a period of yo-yoing. I wasn’t yo-yo dieting, but my weight yo-yoed as I bounced from depression episode to depression episode. By the time three years had passed since the start of my journey, I had fit the stereotype, having regained all the weight I’d lost, and then some. I now top the scales at 307 pounds (about 139kg).

ashleigh table tennis

And this is how I know I have changed into a more positive person: Remember how I had decided that if this weight loss attempt failed, I would give up for forever? Well something else has happened entirely! This is still considered my “last weight loss attempt”…but that’s not because I’m giving up. Rather, it’s because I now see this as a life-long journey. That journey I started on February 25, 2012 has no end date! No matter what happens to my weight, I will continue to fight for greater health and to reach a healthier weight for my body.

How did I reach this point? How have I become so committed to my health after life kept trying to trample on my plans? How on earth am I not so discouraged to the point of giving up?!?

I fully believe a huge piece of the determination and tenacity I’ve gained can be attributed to something I started practicing during this journey. A positivity exercise, if you will. I have learned to view each setback, mistake, failure, and any other “negative” experience as an opportunity.  They are learning opportunities. What lessons can I take from them?

See, setbacks are not fun. They can be super discouraging. But the more I spend time dwelling on the discouragement of the experiences, the worse I end up feeling. And it gets me nowhere. Of course, it’s totally okay and understandable to feel discouraged when a setback occurs. But I don’t have to let it end there! I don’t have to stay in that pit of frustration.

So when I mess up or when life takes an unexpected and unwelcome turn, I acknowledge and feel the disappointment and I ask myself what I can learn from what just happened.

Another way you could put this is that I’m learning how to focus on the positive. Lessons learned are the silver lining of the setback clouds!

I feel like this might sound great and all, but is it really realistic? I’ll share a couple examples from my life, to show that it’s really possible to do this!

My weight loss/health gain journey has had a lot of setbacks, AKA opportunities for learning. On big group of setbacks is the set of depression episodes I’ve had since embarking on this journey. They’re obviously quite large obstacles to overcome. I get bitter at the depression a lot. I hate that it feels as though it’s holding me back from reaching my goals. It frustrates the crap outta me!

If it weren’t for those episodes, though, I don’t think I would have realized as easily how important healthy convenience foods are in my life. See, cooking is one of the first tasks to be dropped when I start getting depressed. This means I end up relying on lots of fast food and other convenience foods, which of course are neither healthy nor weight loss friendly! Lesson learned: I am, for lack of a better word, a lazy creature when it comes time to eat (even when I’m not depressed, although it’s not as bad then). I need to find healthy convenience foods and/or make my own.

The other example is a less tangible lesson learned. Parts of this journey have of course been super frustrating, as I’ve gone through many periods of weight gain. But this journey has also taught me that I’m more determined, stronger, and more tenacious than I ever would have guessed. Not only does it feel good to come to that realization, but it also has practical applications. When I’m faced with other tough situations in life, I can now draw on the knowledge that I’m a strong person to help me feel more capable of making it through those situations as well.

When people tell you to “just focus on the positive” in a situation, it can feel like kind of abstract advice. How do you even find the positive, much less focus on it? I’ve found that by treating the situation as a learning opportunity, the positive focus begins to become second nature. At least, it has in my life.

 

ashleigh bioAshleigh blogs over at Passion for Life, Love, and Health, a chronicle of her journey and a place of encouragement, empowerment, inspiration, and information for women struggling to lose weight. Her dream is to build a business providing support, accountability, and education around the psychological aspects of obesity and weight loss – including mindset, motivation, self-love, commitment, self-compassion, emotion, and attitude. Her heart aches to encourage women and help them recognize their strengths and worth apart from the scale, but without them becoming complacent. Watch her website as the business develops!