In the initial days of my mother’s cancer diagnosis, I was fielding endless emails, texts, and phone calls from all of our friends and family. They understandably wanted to know what was happening, know how my mother was, and most of all, express their concern and offer their support. While this outpouring of love meant more to my family than anything, we simply couldn’t keep up with all of the communication, while also trying to navigate the early days of this new and arduous journey ahead for both my mother and my family.
So I decided to do what I had seen many people in situations similar to ours do before — I started a blog. At first the blog was simply meant to serve as a central hub and an easy way for our network to get updates on my mother, her health, and her progress (in one direction or the other). However, coming from a media and communications background, I knew this wasn’t simply a place for medical facts and updates, but instead, this blog would become the narrative of my mother’s journey. I knew that not only would my mother herself be reading what I wrote, but this would shape the way in which all of our friends and family would learn about her journey, and in turn that narrative would lead to how they reflected it back to her. It was through this narrative that I could have my mother surrounded by people who were worried, scared, and sad, or we could tell them a story of humor, courage, and hope, which in turn would make them champions for my mother. You see, my mother’s journey was ALL of those things, but this simple narrative on this simple blog chose to focus on the positive as much as we could, and it was more powerful than I could have imagined.
In turn, my mother became just what was reflected to her — not just the victim of a terrible disease, but the hero of a long and brave battle. Was this to say that our little blog took away the many days of pain and suffering that were inevitable on such a journey? No. Did we pretend like everything was just fine when it clearly wasn’t? No. Did we choose to direct the overall narrative for how we looked at the situation, and in turn how it manifested in our lives? 100%.
For me, this was one of the not-yet-known beginnings of The Sweat Life. Having been a storyteller my whole life, then majoring in it in college, then making a career of it in film and television, I have always understood the power of a good narrative. However, until this point, I was mostly working with fictional scripts and characters. This was the first time — at least consciously — I witnessed first-hand the power of the narrative in our lives, and how we choose to write it.
It occurred to me that if I could take something as scary and often hopeless as the journey through stage IV ovarian cancer and turn it into a story of humor, love, hope, and strength, why couldn’t that be applied to everything? Specifically, I saw a need for a change in the narrative of health — which at that point, was mostly a story filled with fad diets, weight loss “secrets," ab exercises, and bikini body transformations. To me, this was not a narrative that would actually motivate or empower anyone to want to get healthy, and even if they did, they were just being set up to feel like they were failing.
So I chose a different narrative — the one I truly believe in. The one in which health is a gift to be cherished, the one in which our bodies are our temples to be treated with the utmost respect (no matter what the shape or size), the one where getting healthy is not only highly personal and emotional, but is something that is fun, positive, often hilarious, filled with failures and learning, and something we should love having in our lives. A narrative that has no best of anything, only what is best for you. A narrative where you are not the victim of unhealthy behaviors or five pounds lost or gained, but a narrative where you are the hero of your own amazing journey of becoming healthier, stronger, happier, and more powerful. This is, what I truly believe, the narrative of healthy living needs to be, and I truly hope that is the narrative you feel you are getting from us each week.
Now here's the tricky part: How do we take this outlook, and apply it to ourselves in our own lives and our own daily narratives? It feels so often that so much of our lives are not, in fact, up to us, no matter what story we choose to tell others or ourselves. (Trust me, I've tried to change the ending to my mother’s story every day in hopes it will bring her back — but it doesn’t work that way.) However, in reality, we ARE in control of so much of our life’s narrative, not only in the present moment, but we can actually direct and manifest the way in which the story unfolds. It can start from simply telling ourselves a different story. Single and lonely can become independent and free. Overextended can become powerful and important. A workout to lose weight can become a fun activity to look forward to… and so on. We are in charge. Can we control everything around us? No. But we most certainly can control our actions, our choices, our thoughts, and our feelings, and that will have more of an impact on our lives than we could ever imagine.
Personally, this is something I work on daily — especially after the happenings of the last year of my life. After losing my mom, one of my closest friends, my relationship, and continuing to hustle to grow this company — I have struggled with not feeling in control of anything. There are days I just feel like it’s all happening to me. And then I remind myself, that even the things that I have no control over, I do have control over how they affect me and play a role in my life. Am I sad every day that my mother is no longer here? It’s the deepest pain I have ever felt. However, I can choose to just sit in that sadness, or I can choose another narrative — the one in which I have been given the deep privilege of perspective, of cherishing my time and the people around me, of taking my experience and turning it out towards the world in the hopes of helping others live better lives.
So we are dedicating this week to the journey of changing narratives: Former convict Coss Marte capitalized on the body exercises he taught himself in jail to create a successful bootcamp workout both here in NYC and beyond; Chalk Point Kitchen is changing the narrative on healthy dining out one delicious veggie-packed dish at a time; Sweat Life video producer Ryan Stumpe took the opportunity to have one last crazy adventure before his daughter is born; teacher and activist Natalia Petrzela is working to change the conversation around beauty standards; and celeb jewelry-maker Katherine Kane is allowing her clients to sketch the narrative they hope for, and sport it right on their bracelet or necklace.
Most of all, every day is a new blank page, and it is up to us what we will put on it. What will you choose? How will you create your narrative? Over the next week, share with us ways in which you are changing your own narrative!
Until next week,
Founder, CEO, and Host
The Sweat Life