In the summer of 2015, I turned 40 years old. After having four surgeries in seven years (a cyst removed from my ovary, which eventually led to a hysterectomy, as well as a knee and an Achilles repair), I was starting to feel like myself again. After finally adjusting to having an extra ten pounds on my body frame, I sprinted towards 40 with the determination to be in my best shape ever. My summer was filled with traveling to fitness conferences, and a lot of rigorous practice for the bachata dance team I was a part of that would perform at the Las Vegas Salsa convention the week of my birthday. I had what could be considered a mid-life crisis at 30, so staying positive was my main focus.
In November of 2015, my son turned 18.
It was the day that my previous life would perish.
It was the day that my focus changed forever.
My son was shot in the chest on his 18th birthday. Exhale – he is alive, well, and thriving. I spent sixteen days sleeping in a recliner surviving on Starbucks, French Fries, chocolate, and whatever people could get me to eat for the day (FYI – hospital cafeterias aren’t plant-based friendly). Instead of people stopping in the grocery stores and gyms because they recognized me from a class I may have taught or seen me online, people were now talking about my life and categorizing my son as a “criminal” and me as a “bad parent.” I went from training clients and teaching classes all over the city to sneaking in my own house, trying to dodge the media. Because this story made international news, I could not hide.
I gained eight pounds in those 16 days. It is four and a half years later, and I have never seen my “pre-incident” weight again. I have never seen that Tasha again. I suffered from significant PTSD and anxiety, so I rarely slept. I can now admit I half-taught my classes for a while because I was more concerned about having a random crying fit or wondering if people were in the class so they could see “his mother.” I tried to keep up with the vigorous teaching schedule I had had, but it required an espresso, an energy drink, and a sugar cookie to get through the doors of the gym. I eventually had to let some of my classes go. My thyroid crashed, my adrenals crashed, my cortisol levels were off the chart. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. I fell apart trying to be the Tasha that people once knew and loved, but I was a mess. Not only was I dealing with the aftermath of the shooting, but I was also embarrassed and ashamed of the weight I had gained and my inability to keep up in my classes.
A lot of things have happened since then.
In 2018, I was mostly successful in my first attempt to REALLY come back. Since I had let go of so many classes, my weight kept going up and up. In January of that year, I started a three-month fitness challenge. Days after that, my grandmother began to get ill. I was often traveling 7 hours in one day to take care of her needs and be by her side, but I stuck with the plans. I finished the challenge on a Wednesday, and my grandmother died the following Tuesday. Four months later, my 49-year-old aunt died in her sleep from a heart attack. My life crashed again. I did not work out for three months. My weight was higher than it had ever been since I had been in the fitness profession. My knees, hips, and back were always hurting.
I then won a scholarship for a comprehensive Pilates training through Club Pilates, and everything changed. I was certified to teach mat Pilates, but most of the gyms were not offering Pilates anymore, and, other than having a client do roll-ups or a few double leg stretches, Pilates was not a part of my life. I could tell you about the amazing and cool things I learned and did in training, but the real work was the mental shift that emerged during the year I was completing my certification requirements. I began to slow down. I began to focus on things that would help me move better and smarter and try not to get so caught up in the fact that I was gaining weight. I am a yoga teacher, and after taking the training, these two modalities blended beautifully in my quest to have a stronger body that moved more efficiently. The breath became more critical than ever. I was conscious of how I sat and stood. I also began to give myself permission to move slow. This opened the door for my clients to become “curious” about their bodies and movement as opposed to just punching the clock to say they were present for class. They became PRESENT.
So did I.
I still struggle sometimes. I’ve had two more surgeries (a right shoulder tear and a gallbladder/appendix removal). I have mourned my body of yesteryear, and I miss the energy of teaching 5 or 6 Zumba or Piloxing classes a week. I have not lost weight. I have, however, owned the experience of being in this body. I am often the exception (over 40, curvy, and African American) in my chosen genres of fitness. I have made it a mission to take what I know and love and create mind-body experiences that are inclusive and diverse. As I become gentler with myself, I am mindful of what it may take for someone who has experienced tragedy, loss, injury, and or weight gain to try Pilates or anything. I am mindful of how one can feel “out of place” and feel like it’s not for them. Mindful movement is a birthright, and I hope to spread the message that 1) you CAN come back and 2) it’s ok if you come back different than you were before.
May we all offer grace to ourselves and others, open and close doors, fight back and move with intention.