2020 goals for more than just your physical health
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The first time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I sat across from my psychiatrist and watched her draw a wavy line on a piece of paper.
“These,” she said, “are your moods.”
The line immediately made me think of the ebb and flow of calm waves in a harbor. I cocked my head to the side and thought, “That doesn’t seem so bad.”
Then she reached for a thicker pen and began drawing again. This time the waves were bigger, the peaks much higher, and the valleys dismally lower. The bay turned into a violent ocean, whipping debris from all the ships stranded at sea.
“These,” she corrected, “are your moods when you have bipolar disorder.”
This simple illustration landed hard.
It explained the days of elation, like I could conquer the world. It also helped me understand the dismal depression that I often felt. Those waves explained why one moment, I could be charging hundreds of dollars on plane flights and then be suicidal just hours later.
I’ve lived with bipolar disorder for almost two decades now. Like many chronic illnesses, there are days where it’s seemingly unbearable. There have been moments when I’ve been convinced that my brain was broken beyond repair. But, more than that, there have been stretches of months where life is good. Where I’ve built a family, a career, a life that I love.
Trust me, my path to wellness has been a journey. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way that have helped me manage my mental health:
It’s easy to disregard our mental health symptoms as “having a bad day” or as “being too emotional.” If your mental health is impacting your daily life, I suggest seeing a specialist for a diagnosis. A specialist has experience with the nuances of different mental health issues and can provide you with more effective treatments than a general practitioner.
Perhaps it’s coffee with a friend, a heart-to-heart with a trusted family member, or (my favorite) a weekly session with a licensed counselor. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those. Either way, find someone that you can trust and confide in on a regular basis.
Find what feels good for you in this season and go with it. It could be walking your dog. Powerlifting. Perhaps it’s swimming laps or playing soccer. Studies have shown that regular exercise helps increase your brain’s serotonin production, so try to exercise 3-5 times a week.
A mental illness trigger is something that tends to make your symptoms worse. For me, it’s lack of sleep. For other people, it can be alcohol, spending too much time on social media, or perhaps a toxic person from their past. Take some time to learn what your triggers are and work hard to navigate around them.
At the end of the day, I encourage you to remember that mental illness is a diagnosable disorder. It is not a lack of personal discipline, an inability to shift to a more positive perspective, or a weakness of character. All illnesses can benefit from wellness practices such as movement, meditation, and self-care. Often, though, these practices must be balanced with professional medical supervision and medications. Repeat after me: there’s no shame in my SSRI game.
Want more mental health and wellness talk? Follow Paula on Instagram at @paulatamarahoss to read more about her story and tips!
Have you ever come across a fitness class on Instagram and thought, that looks so fun, only to scroll on by knowing you’d never in a million years actually sign up for it? Because, same.
For me, it’s always been dance. Pole dancing, twerking, salsa, ballet, Zumba... I don’t even think twice about booking. There is no way in hell I’m heading into a studio with a bunch of strangers and attempting to follow along to some moves I’ve never tried before.
...and then there was COVID.
When studios everywhere started to shut down, virtual fitness started to blow up—and all of the sudden, I had the opportunity to try basically anything without leaving my house (or feeling at all embarrassed). It was a silver lining and a kick in the ass all wrapped into one.
I started small, doing the classes I was most comfortable with. Once I had perfected my online yoga routine, I needed a little more oomph, so, I stepped it up to HIIT. I was proud of myself for getting back into the swing of things after a long the-world-is-ending-so-I-don't-need-to-work-out break. But still, I hadn’t fully gotten out of my comfort zone. I had taken in-person yoga and HIIT classes before, so even though I had tried out some new studios online, I had a general idea of what to expect.
Then, my coworkers told me about Rachel Vickhouse and MVP Dance Fit. Rachel and some other badass, beautiful ladies coined the phrase “Lift Your Booty, Love Your Body ™,” and that’s what MVP Dance Fit is all about. They told me this studio offered twerk fitness classes, and that right now, they’re not only offering virtual, but they’re giving one free class to all newbies, too.
I was curious.
Without really looking into it much further, I trusted my coworkers and signed up for the signature “Swerk” class (Sweat, Work, Twerk) to take after work one day.
Or so I thought...
My first mistake was not checking the time zone before booking. I thought I was signing up for a class at 5:30 PM, but turns out, the studio is in Ohio. Seeing that I live in California, my timing was all off. Luckily, I realized my mistake when I received the link to join the class in my inbox, and I had time to get ready to twerk in the middle of my workday (whoops).
I usually exercise out on my deck, but there was no way I was going to give my neighbors a free show (although I’m sure it would’ve spiced up their Monday). So, there I was—at 2:30 PM on a Monday afternoon, dragging my coffee table to the side, shutting my blinds and curtains, filling up my water bottle, and getting ready to dance like no one was watching.
When I logged on, I saw lots of faces on the screen. One woman was dancing while doing her laundry, another was rocking to the beat in her living room, and another had a prime weight room setup I was pretty jealous of. About half of the participants had their cameras turned on and were starting to warm up (AKA dance around) to the Drake song that was playing, while the other half kept their videos off. Because these women looked like seasoned pros, and I was a total newbie, I opted to keep mine off. (Yes, this is 100% an excuse. I know you see right through me.)
Then, Rachel herself appeared onscreen with French braids and bright pink lipstick. I’ve never seen someone with more energy—I swear, I think she was drinking Diet Coke out of her tumbler, but I can’t be sure. She let everyone know there were a bunch of first-timers in class, and they’d all have to show us how it’s done (no pressure). She asked if anyone had any song requests, and the chat started popping off.
After that, there was no messing around. The first song started playing, and she got right to it. Right about now, I was so glad I had my camera off because I must’ve looked ridiculous. She was moving so fast, and I was stumbling trying to keep up.
She went from sliding left to right, to dropping low, to lifting a leg and landing in a squat, to hands-on-the-floor-ass-in-the-air, all in the span of a song.
But after just a few minutes, I started getting the hang of it. The choreography repeated, with different moves for different parts of the song, and once I figured them out, I was able to keep up.
As soon as I got the hang of song #1, we were onto the next. And I love a challenge, so I was ready. Throughout class, we switched from more cardio-intensive songs to leg-focused dances involving squats and lunges. Halfway through, I was sweating. I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having, while also getting such a good workout at the same time.
At the end, I was so proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone, and I definitely felt the high of a great workout on a day when I was feeling some serious Monday energy (or lack of energy) beforehand. I’m so thankful virtual was an option, because, without it, I don’t know if I ever would’ve tried a class like this.
During class, I knew I’d end up being sore, and over the next few days, I proved myself right. The next morning, I stood up out of bed and I felt it in my quads and glutes. Thinking I’d be good by the weekend, I planned an eight-mile hike for Saturday morning with some friends. I was so sore I thought they were going to have to leave me on the mountain. Thanks, Rachel.
1. Check the time zone.
Luckily, I figured it out just in time, but if I didn’t check my email, I easily could’ve missed my class. The beauty of online fitness classes is you can book them at studios all over the world. But, with that, comes time differences. Whenever you’re booking a virtual class, make sure you check the time zone and figure out where the studio is located, so you don’t have to ditch your afternoon meetings. (Unless that’s what you’re going for. Then, more power to you.)
2. Wear shoes.
This might seem obvious, but to me, it wasn’t. When I was getting ready to start class, I wasn’t sure if I needed to wear shoes or if I should have a yoga mat, towel, or weights ready. I wasn’t really sure of anything, to be honest. So, after I made some space in my living room, I looked up MVP Dance Fit on Instagram to see if I could find some answers. From the looks of it, no equipment was necessary, and shoes were probably a good idea. So, if you’re reading this, I hope I saved you some trouble. All you need is some shoes and a little bit of space.
3. Know that no one’s watching you.
Camera or not, no one can really see what you’re doing. And no one cares. I started off the class in gallery mode so I could see everyone, but to follow along with Rachel’s movements, I had to have her on full screen, and I couldn’t pay attention to anyone else in class. Having the camera on just gives everyone the sense that you’re in class together, just like you would be in person. So, maybe next time, I’ll toughen up and leave it on.
4. Maybe have some caffeine.
Should I be encouraging that? I don’t know. But man, that girl had a lot of energy. And dancing takes a lot out of you. About halfway through, when I started getting tired, I wished I’d had something caffeinated before to get me through. But maybe that’s just me. The good music and Rachel’s encouragement definitely got me going, and I had a lot of fun with it.
5. Try it with friends.
Distracting or helpful? I’m not sure. But I do know it would’ve been so fun to have seen all my friends dancing around in little boxes on the screen from their respective houses. And since the first class is free, it probably wouldn’t have been too hard to convince them. So, if you’re planning on trying it out, get some friends to join! I’m sure it’ll be fun to talk about after.
I’d recommend this class to anyone who likes hip-hop and wants to spice up their routine. If you’ve thought about trying a twerk fitness class, just do it already. There are literally no more excuses (coming from someone who would literally never set foot in a dance studio for real).
Maybe pole dancing is more up your alley, or maybe you’ve never tried a HIIT class before. Whatever it is, just know that it's the perfect time to get over your exercise embarrassment and try something new.