When strong women set their minds and hearts to a goal, there’s little that can’t be accomplished. When they combine forces? They’re nothing short of fierce!
OZFM’s Stephanie O’Brien, comedian (and owner of cats) Nicole Downton, Ideal Protein Clinic owner Angela Crawford, retired District Banking Manager Peg Goss and Business Management Consultant Jay Parsons join me around the table at The Herald office. If someone randomly wandered in it would certainly look, and sound, like a group of girlfriends gathering for a casual catch up, but this meeting of the minds is so much more.
All the women gathered, yours truly included, share one truth and connection, and that link is Crawford her business. At some point in everyone’s past, Crawford helped uncover the person beneath the exterior the world viewed for a segment in time.
O’Brien, who was the brains behind that evening’s gathering, begins.
“This, to me, is about empowering ourselves as women and getting our lives back. And I just really felt so strongly about sharing that message, because that’s what happened to me. I once felt like I’d lost all control and all power in my life. And even when I should have been at the top of my game, when I should have felt at the top of the world, like everything in life was completely aligned, there was something missing.”
O’Brien bravely shares she was overweight for a time and she admits she wasn’t even sure she loved herself anymore.
“For some reason, I’d given up on me. I sacrificed everything that I believed in, like caring for my body. I stopped caring about me to get all these other things. Being a mom, and being successful at work, and being a good wife/daughter/friend. All those things became more important than me.”
For O’Brien, gathering together what she calls ‘Women of Power’ was important. ‘‘(Crawford) actually mentioned it to me, saying that this is the perfect opportunity to get some really powerful women together and talk about how, at some point in our lives, even the most successful and so-called together women can fail or falter when it comes to their power, but if we can get it back, everyone can,’’ she says.
‘I’d lost myself’
Downton nods. She gets it, she adds. She herself lost over 100 pounds. She also has dealt with Bell’s palsy and the facial paralysis that followed.
‘‘I’d lost myself. I thought I had control over my life, including my weight. But I never did it the right way. I never made anything about me. It was always about just losing weight, not about health.’’ Hearing O’Brien talk about her journey on OZFM and seeing her on social media inspired Downton to reach out. In fact, O’Brien became Downton’s coach.
“I know now it was about how I was feeling. It was about taking control of my life back. And if it wasn’t for (O’Brien) having publicly announced what she had done with her journey, I don’t think I would have made the push myself. She was an inspiration.’’
Her experience with Bell’s palsy was also a journey. Downton shares she ‘felt funny’ before taking the stage one evening.
‘‘That was fun. Right before I got on stage I went around and asked a few people; is my face moving? It doesn’t feel like it’s moving. I’ve got this headache and think, tumor. Half my face just doesn’t work.’’
It’s been four years, and Downton shares she’s adapted and made it, and her battles with weight, part of her act. ‘‘I’ve literally probably got a good solid half hour of fat jokes about myself. I’m not just putting myself down, but taking control. The troubles of shopping, the troubles of breathing, taking stairs. My poor knees. And now, my face. Life, and the ability to laugh, is all about choice.’’
‘50 extra pounds’
Crawford smiles. Before owning Ideal Protein Clinics, she herself was 50 pounds overweight.
‘‘Everything had finally kind of come together in my life. I had a beautiful blended family. Everything was perfect but I really struggled with how I felt and looked as I was climbing the corporate ladder at the time. I just could not get to a place where I was really happy because everything that I did took way too much effort with 50 extra pounds on my frame,” she shares.
She had a health scare, and her body sent her a firm message she could no longer ignore. ‘‘I was traveling a lot and working a lot, and I still think now that it was my body’s way of just pushing back and saying; you can’t continue with life at this pace. I was forced to take some medical leave for the first time ever. And six, seven weeks later, I had done so much research and found Ideal Protein.’’
Parsons opens up, though she admits it’s difficult. She shares she’s private, so exposing there was a point in her life when not everything was together is very much ‘not like her.’
‘‘I know others are looking for solutions and I’ve spent a lot of time and money, and have experienced a lot of frustration over the last number of years trying to figure out what was happening to me. I’m sharing in hopes that it helps other women.’’
So many are suffering, she adds. ‘‘Women are trying to balance personal relationships, take care of children, run households, do jobs and build careers, volunteer with their kid’s activities/school or in their communities and then something happens when there’s no room for anything else. We become needed by our aging parents and the only available time left in our schedules is the little bit we had for ourselves and we tend to give that up because we have commitments elsewhere.’’
‘My final straw’
The strain also affects sleep, she says, so eventually, some thing’s got to give.
‘‘With no time left to decompress or rejuvenate that’s when so many of us get into trouble trying to cope and our bodies react. This was my final straw situation but that final straw could be many things; a medical issue, death, end of relationship, loss of job.’’
Even though the women gathered have different backgrounds and situations, the common theme seems to be over-stressed women. Stress that causes body changes, sleep issues and mood changes threatening overall health and well-being. Some people eat differently out of convenience (no time) or maybe comfort (carb addiction) and have no time to exercise, Parsons continues.
‘‘Stress changes your body chemistry. I continued to eat my healthy food and my exercise regimen didn’t change but my stress level did and then body did. The stress was extremely high and ‘my time’ was almost non-existent. Stress also kept me awake. But until I dealt with some of the internal changes and stress I wouldn’t have been able to get back my real self. Dealing with the overload and starting to commit to myself and identifying the effects stress has on my body were key,’’ Parsons adds.
Women live in a world of raised eyebrows and messages like; “there’s nothing wrong with you” or “it’s because you’re getting older” or “you can’t be trying hard enough” or “maybe you shouldn’t eat as much” or “you must be eating junk food.”
Goss, who had been an athlete all her life and had no previous weight issues, opens up.
‘‘Other things just seemed more important than taking care of me, all of a sudden. My son was a pretty competitive hockey player, so I was just go, go, go, go, go. My whole life I got away with not worrying about what I ate, and that suddenly stopped,’’
‘A lifestyle change’
The year she lost her dad, which was nine years ago, was ‘hell’ for her, she shares. ‘‘I basically went to work. I stopped living. Things just started to go downhill. By nine at night, I was done. My job at the bank was extremely demanding. I was working six and seven days a week.’’
Her doctor warned her, saying; you gotta get your life together. ‘‘I never, ever felt better than I feel today. This started out as a weight loss journey, but very quickly became a lifestyle change and about me getting me back on track so I could still do everything I love.’’
This writer can relate to everything shared, for I too had lost myself for much too long. Work, family and the needs of others came first. One saying I remember that helped set me straight was this one; If your cup is empty, you have absolutely nothing to share.
Crawford smiles. ‘‘I say to everyone, when we travel by plane, if the oxygen level changes, we’re told to put on our mask first before helping anyone else, yet we don’t apply that to our every day lives, and we should,’’ she says.
The women gathered know there’s no one size fits all solution, but the methods that Crawford offers has helped those gathered. Everyone in that room that evening still lead busy lives. They all still work. They all still help others. We all volunteer, raise families, and give of ourselves. What has changed is that we all now make ourselves priority number one.
‘Feeling in control’
‘‘It’s not about looking good for a picture, or for a wedding. It’s about feeling in control, and feeling great from the inside out,’’ says Crawford.
‘‘For me, I can’t be a good mom to Charlie if I’m not feeling good, and it would be hard to do my job with enthusiasm,’’ adds O’Brien.
Goss agrees. ‘‘I am accountable to me. It took me decades to figure out how to feed myself, but I’m there.’’
Downton says she had to ‘kick the culture’ a little, too. ‘‘Potatoes. Bread. Eat your salt beef. Green peppers are spicy. That’s what I thought. That’s how I was raised. I had to overcome decades of ‘knowledge’ and traditions.’’
For Parsons, it’s about picking something that fits easy into your lifestyle, so that it becomes second nature. ‘‘We are looking for solutions to everyone else’s problems. When you find a way to solve your own, don’t ignore it. Embrace it.’’
For this writer, taking care of number one means everything else can more easily fall into place. I’ll leave this feature with one final personal thought and it’s this; ‘‘I had nothing to lose and so much to gain.’’