This is only the second act

I?m usually not one to cry. Sure, if there?s a commercial with an adorable puppy, my vision is bound to get a little blurry. And if I see an uber cheesy Hallmark movie while channel surfing, you can bet I?m going to watch it and I will probably dissolve into a puddle of tears. I?m more likely to cry over a cataclysmic event in a literary character?s life than I am my own. But on Saturday afternoon, in a dressing room, as the ultra bright florescent lights hovering around a full-length mirror that seemed to magnify every blemish and imperfection in my skin, I cried. I didn?t just cry, I crumbled onto the floor and wept - one of those ugly, silent cries we all hope nobody witnesses.

I wasn?t crying because of the imperfections, blemishes or even because of the outfit was not at all what I had imagined it would be. I cried because I could finally see I was making progress on a journey that has been a decade in the making.

For years, I have been telling myself I need to get into shape. As I quickly tiptoe my way to 30 (shudder) I know it will be easier to begin on the healthy track now and to keep it up as I age. And with the history of diabetes, heart disease and cancer in the family, a healthier and more active lifestyle is a must.

However, this narrative contradicted with another one, one I?ve struggled with for years, that I need to learn to love myself exactly as I am.

You see, I have never really felt at home in my own body; just simply like it?s a rental until my old one is fixed up and ready to go.

When I was 17, I was a lanky, awkward teenager who had absolutely nothing figured out and all the time in the world to do it in. Then one sunny September morning, my entire life changed. I found out I had a congenital heart condition - Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Connection with an Atrial Septal Defect. It?s a mouthful, I know. And don?t worry if you have no idea what it is, it?s very rare. Basically, the pulmonary veins take the oxygenated blood from your lungs to the left side of the heart and is pumped to the rest of the body, my pulmonary veins went to the right side. This meant the oxygen rich blood was mixing with low-oxygen blood, seeping through the hole in my heart (atrial septal defect) to the left side and then making its way through my body. The only way to fix it was open-heart surgery, which I had the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

My surgery went off without a hitch, thanks to my team of doctors at the University of Iowa Children?s Hospital. I returned back to school, graduated with honors, went on to college and eventually landed here in beautiful Mt. Pleasant. But I was different. You can?t go through something like that unscathed. Besides the zipper scar, which seems to have faded over the years, I gained weight. A lot of it. At first it was 45 pounds, right after the surgery. This was great, my doctors said. It meant I was healthy and my body wasn?t having to burn so many calories to keep me alive. Then I went off to college and instead of the freshmen 15, I gained the freshman 25. And over the years, as I got older, it was a few more pounds each year.

How can you love something you feel alien to?

I kept telling myself, every year for almost 10 years, that it was finally time to get in shape. After my surgery, I could actually run and not feel like I was on death?s door, because in some ways, I had been. Now, the only reason I wheeze is because I?m out of shape, not because my body physically is not receiving enough oxygen.

How do you move on when you haven?t accepted your storyline?

I finally began to answer that question this spring. My story is not done, my book is not written. I didn?t get a prologue or a second volume to my story that November morning, I simply went into the second act. Act II is always the best. It?s where the character has trials and tribulations, learns lessons about life, the world and themselves.

I?m learning that you can move forward and still appreciate the past. I can work towards a better, healthier, happier me and not forget who I am at my core. We all grow and evolve, and that?s what I?m doing.

When I hit that 10 year anniversary mark in November, I want to feel like I?ve made this decade worthwhile. I want to know that I?ve used this time I?ve been given to put good into the world, and maybe even to have an impact on someone?s life. Even if it?s just bringing a smile to their face on a day they needed it. And on that day, I want to fully love myself, scar, stretch marks and all.