''I Overcame a Life of Hardships by Making the Decision to Change''

Lisa (LOFLLAMA) could have been the poster child for a life gone awry. Having battled mental illness and alcohol dependence for many years, she thought her existence was hopeless and was so depressed that she wished her life would end. But with the right doctor and treatment plan, she found her way. Along her journey, she discovered SparkPeople, started exercising and eating better, and even reached her goal weight.  Lisa realized that a healthy lifestyle helped her not just physically, but also mentally. We asked her to share how her healthy habits helped her overcome depression and other obstacles. Her inspiring story proves that even uphill battles are worth fighting when it comes to your health and happiness.
How have you battled with depression and health issues in your life? How have they affected you?
I suffered from depression as a child, through my teenage years, and well into my adult life. Because I have bipolar disorder, I also suffered from mania, which often times manifested as seizures and panic/anxiety attacks. I started drinking alcohol in my early 20's and became a full blown alcoholic within a few months. I was drunk most of the next decade. In February of 1997, I had a nervous breakdown (also known as a psychotic break from reality), caused by a severe manic episode. It was actually one of the best things that ever happened to me because I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder for the first time and put on medication. On October 13, 1999, I got sober. In January 2002, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and started on a horrible roller coaster of narcotics. Two and a half years later I had neck surgery for a missing disc and degenerative bone loss. Through all of this, I relapsed back to alcohol use to numb all of the pain I was in. Finally on January 12, 2006 I turned away from alcohol and have been sober ever since. I will never drink again because I truly understand what alcoholism will do to me, my health, my family and my life.
How has adopting a healthy lifestyle helped you improve your life and depression management?  
I gained 65 pounds after beginning lithium medication for bipolar disorder, so I asked to be taken off of it. I've been on Zoloft for the last 16 years since I've been out of the hospital. I consider it like air or water. It's just part of my life—my HAPPY life!  Just before my son was born in July 2001, I weighed 201 pounds. I'm 5'9", but very small boned. Much to my horror, I barely lost any of the weight I had gained after my son was born. Because of my medical issues, I wasn't able to do much of anything except take care of my son.
When I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia my doctor told me to exercise. I laughed at her. I said, "I can't even get out of bed some days. How can I possibly exercise?" But I bought a swimsuit and some leg weights to start working out. I had such a great feeling of satisfaction with myself that I wanted more. The next day I did it again and felt even more satisfied. By the end of the first week I felt better than I had in years—not just physically, but also mentally. I just kept going. I joined SparkPeople in February of 2008. It took me about a year, but I got down to my goal weight of 140 pounds.

How do you maintain a positive attitude despite these difficulties?
Despite all of these issues, I have been very fortunate. I do NOT consider myself "lucky" because I have worked very hard to get help and get better. I know I have had some lucky moments, but for the most part I consider myself fortunate. The saying "This, too, shall pass" applies to good and bad alike. I know that if I keep a positive attitude my life will more likely stay positive. My saying is "Your perception of your reality IS your reality." If you believe you are going to have a good day, even if bad things happen, you are more likely to have a good day. I try to look at things like a child does. Life is so much more fulfilling if you learn to laugh at the circumstances and yourself. We are all goofy sometimes, but if you remember that we all make mistakes and learn lessons from them then the mistake was worth making. Take the lesson and leave the rest behind!
What are the most helpful techniques you have found to keep motivated to stick to a routine even on down days?
Exercise helped me feel better once I got started.  Now, when I don't want to do anything I just make myself start. Within a few minutes I usually start feeling better and am so proud of myself. Pride is a great motivator. I never really felt proud before. Watching the scale go down and my body get firmer was very fulfilling!
How has SparkPeople helped you in your journey?
Having people rooting for me, encouraging me, inspiring me and complimenting me on a regular basis felt so good. I wanted to prove to them (and myself) I could do it! Every time I lost a pound or an inch, I got applause and more encouragement. What was even better for me though, was knowing that I was inspiring people the way they had inspired me. When I said, "I did it, so can you," and they did it—I was so happy and impressed. It made me want to continue to cheer everyone on. I want to come online every day to look for people who may need my encouragement that day or somebody who just needs an "'Atta girl!" To have somebody tell me that I helped them is even more powerful than being helped! Everything I have gone through has been worth it when I know other people get to gain from my experiences because I shared my story with them.
What other health benefits besides weight loss have you seen while reaching healthy living goals?
Of course, being sober has been the greatest gift I have given to myself, my family and my friends. I'm happier. My next goal is to become a motivational speaker. I now believe that I can be. People genuinely like me and can benefit from my story. I'm more compassionate toward other people now, too, which in turn has taught me to be more compassionate to myself!
The changes I've made have also impacted my son. He reads labels, loves to exercise and watches what he eats so he will grow up to be as strong and healthy as possible. At the age of 7, he was reading labels to make sure he wasn't eating unhealthy things. Now, at almost 12, he is a healthy example to friends and family!
What healthy living strategies have you found most helpful in naturally aiding depression?
Exercise is a natural sleep aid. On the days I work out, I go to bed with a sense of well-being that only comes from exercise. I don't need sleep medication. Being able to look in the mirror and be happy with what I see is such a confidence builder. Having good self-esteem and self-confidence did not come naturally to me so to be able to KNOW that I am worthy of love, happiness and a good life has increased my ability to stay happy. I never felt peace until I was over 30, and now I feel it every day.
Having my son tell me he is proud of me is the MOST amazing thing ever! Being able to play with my son and grandsons is one of my greatest joys. I can run with them. I wrestle with them. I can swim with them. All of this is because I lost weight, quit smoking, got sober and got fit. I would not have these joys if it weren't for my healthy lifestyle. Playing is good for the soul. Being healthy spiritually is as important as physical, mental and emotional health!
What is the best advice you could offer to someone who is struggling with depression and feeling like giving up on their healthy living or weight loss goals?
NEVER GIVE UP! Not only are you worth it, but your family and friends are worth it. Always remember "This, too, shall pass." Life always gets better. Every time I have been at my worst, I come out better on the other side. You deserve a good life, but you'll need to do some work for it. The work is worth it because YOU are worth it. I KNOW how bad it can be. I spent (literally) years lying on the couch wishing my days away—even wishing for death. I changed my life by doing something about it. Quit looking outside of yourself for happiness. You will never find it. Happiness is within and you are capable of finding it. YOU are the only one who can change you, your weight, your health, your life! DO IT!
 I have to believe that we can all make ourselves better because I have done it. Sometimes the odds seem so great, but they are not greater than self-will! You can succeed with your own power. If you do look outside of yourself, look to positive people and role models. They are everywhere AND you, potentially, are the next role model for someone else. Take yourself and that responsibility seriously, but ALWAYS remember that life should be fun. Laugh often!