TILLAMOOK COUNTY WELLNESS: Opening the Doors to Personal Transformation (Part 2 of 2)

Last week we shared Mariah Decker’s story, about her personal journey and how experiencing trauma in her early childhood led to severe depression, anxiety and poor health into her twenties. Thanks to on-the-job training for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), Mariah was able to make the connection between her exposure to early trauma and her mental and physical health concerns. Taking inspiration from the quote, You can’t pour from an empty cup, she began a process to fill her own cup and restore her health.

Struggling with mental health issues and obesity, Mariah was overwhelmed by the thought of making healthy behavior changes. “It was terrifying.” she recalls. “How am I going to get from where I am now to where I want to be?” She took a step back and thought, “What are the little decisions I can make today that are going to compound into a big difference later on?”

Mariah’s plan for personal transformation did not start with a goal of losing weight. She decided to focus first on getting her “mind right” and says, “The more I got my brain in order, the more I started feeling happy.” She began by practicing being present and grateful each day, finding inspirational quotes and choosing to have a positive perspective. That was a turning point, she says. “With my mindset and motivation in place, I was ready to take charge of my life and not just be a bystander.”

As a teacher at South Prairie School, Mariah was required to set professional goals each year and she had the option to include personal goals as well. Mariah decided to make her health transformation a “work-thing,” where her boss could help hold her accountable. “I decided to set a personal goal – something I had never done before – to do one social thing every month. I had to post about it on Facebook and tag my boss.” Despite extreme anxiety, she committed to completing one new social activity each month, like going out for ice cream with a co-worker or attending a family dinner. Over time, getting out and doing things became easier and more fun and she started taking better care of herself and her appearance.

One of Mariah’s monthly goals was to go to the YMCA. She and her husband had a membership but she had never used it. “I had never even walked through the doors of the building,” she says. “That became my goal – just to walk through the doors. Sometimes, the hardest part is just getting started; I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself to use the gym or join a class. All I had to do was go there and see what it was all about.”

When she did walk through the doors of the Y, people were friendly and welcoming. “I did it and none of my worst fears were realized,” Mariah says. “What I saw was there were real people who looked like me, were the same size as me, on elliptical machines, grunting, lifting weights, swimming. And I realized, this wasn’t just for the healthy people, it was for all the people. I ended up signing up for a class and it evolved from there. I did Zumba and weight training classes. I even work out at home now.” Mariah explains that it is the “not knowing” that’s scary. Once she put herself into each new situation, she was able to discover that it was okay and gained the confidence she needed to try the next thing.

Now, four years into her journey, Mariah is quick to point out that this is a long-term gig. “From the very beginning I told myself this isn’t going to be a fad thing. This is going to be a lifestyle. And It looks different today than it did four years ago.”

Other steps Mariah has taken during this journey include eating a mostly plant-based diet, consuming much smaller portions, and nearly eliminating junk food. “I know myself well enough to allow for an indulgence here or there; I do love French fries,” she says.

Having lost eighty pounds, people have taken notice of Mariah’s physical transformation but she says that isn’t what motivates her. “It’s an extra thing; My body is just a vessel. What motivates me is how I feel – having more energy and vitality.”

And, while she does not belong to an organized religion, Mariah emphasizes the role spirituality has played in supporting her well-being. “I feel really close to God. It is related to my practice of gratefulness. It’s hard to be judgmental or feel angry when you are practicing being grateful. It’s a continuous, on-going process to fill your own cup.”

For more local health and wellness information, go to www.tillamookcountywellness.org, follow Tillamook County Wellness on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.