By Jill Farr
Joyce Harrison wasn’t athletic growing up, and carried some extra weight as a result, not unlike many kids who aren’t particularly active.
However, not many people have a clear idea about the “why” behind childhood habits...and Joyce does.
“I survived being raped and molested as a child,” Joyce explains. “So, from a young age, I already felt unworthy, broken and dirty. Looking back I think I kept my body hidden under layers of fat, ate my feelings, then hated myself even more in that vicious cycle.”
“As an adult I worked through those feelings, or so I thought, and went on about my life and got married to an amazing man and started a family.”
While the trauma of her early years had posed a significant challenge, Joyce had no idea that an even greater one lay ahead.
“When our second child Olivia was 11 months old,” Joyce says, “She died of a very rare condition. We were devastated.”
The loss of a child is one of the most horrible things most parents can imagine, and Joyce and her husband Terrance faced it, and carried on.
But the heartbreak wasn’t over.
“Three years and three days later,” Joyce explains, “Our third child, 18 month old Samuel died of the very same rare condition.”
“I fell into a pit of grief so deep and dark and terrifying. Losing one child is tragic, but losing two? I begged God to help me understand. I was in a constant state of fear that something else bad would happen. The toll that grief and stress takes on the body, mind and soul is immeasurable.”
Joyce kept going forward, doing the things that needed to be done, and living, but finally the pressure of continually managing such a deep, underlying depression finally became unbearable.
“When my youngest son, Max was 6 months old,” Joyce shares, “My husband deployed for a year to Iraq. Within a month, I hit rock bottom. I felt isolated and alone. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to live either.”
Friends and family stepped in, helping Joyce to take some initial steps.
“My mom took me to weight watchers and a friend took me to a spin class--my first ever.”
“Within a few weeks of lining up some nutrition and exercise, I saw some results,” Joyce says.
“I also sought treatment for my depression and PTSD and started to feel like I was worth it. I felt like I was climbing out of the rubble and looking around at my life--in fact, the previous almost 10 years were a blur, I didn’t even remember how I got to that point exactly.”
Joyce decided that living her best life and being the best mom possible to her living children Gracie (now 18) and Max (now 9) would be a way of honoring Olivia and Samuel...not forgetting them.
The impact of exercise on a variety of types of depression is well studied and documented, and while those suffering should always consult a health professional for diagnosis and treatment, engaging in exercise is a meaningful way of helping your brain and body cope with trauma. Research has also indicated that the relief from depression that exercise can provide is long lasting, and Joyce is a believer. Once on the road of recovery, she made the decision to amp up her activity level.
“My primary fitness goal is to be healthy and strong,” Joyce shares. “Although losing weight seems to be all I can think about. The scale and clothing size has ruled me for as long as I can remember, but I’m trying to change that mindset and not focus on the numbers. One day I would love to walk across the stage in a fitness competition just to wear the sparkly bikini, but right now I’m still trying to learn my body and how to get it in the shape I want. Until then I will love it and honor it for giving me 4 amazing babies.”
“After I got started, I followed (stalked) some people on Facebook. People like Busy Mom Gets Fit, Sisters in Shape, Dani Get UR Guns, FitNix and my coach, Natalie, and then I read about this thing called Camp GORGO!”
Joyce’s initial excitement was temporarily derailed by old, negative thought patterns, though.
“It was so close to my home! But I kept thinking things like, ‘Oh, but I couldn’t, I’m not fit, I’m not strong, I’m too fat. So I just sat and watched for two years as this amazing event was happening.”
But that didn’t last, and eventually Joyce’s desire to be a part of this event overcame her self-doubts...and the results were worth it.
“Camp Gorgo literally changed my life,” Joyce says. “Obviously from meeting these amazing women that I totally fangirl over in person, but also from them being transparent, open and vulnerable.”
“I connected with a tribe of women that are strong, fearless, full of grace and grit. I communicate regularly with my Camp GORGO roommates and even though it’s through text or Facebook, the strength, encouragement, and empowerment is palpable.”
In sharp contrast to the years of darkness and depression, Joyce now has joy in abundance.
“Sometimes I feel guilty for being so happy and sparkly,” Joyce says, “But God has restored my joy and I can find it anywhere! I have been an RN for about 20 years and I have just graduated from the University of Cincinnati with my BSN. I am very fortunate to have the support of a great husband and family.”
When asked what advice she would give other women, who are struggling with feelings of unworthiness, or crippling depression that feels as if it’s all-consuming, Joyce admits that it’s hard to share, but wants other women to know that they can take the reins of their mental and physical health.
“I struggle telling my story sometimes,” Joyce says, “Because I am not where I want to be; it’s messy and imperfect. But I have learned to take responsibility for my mental and physical health, become proactive and less reactive.”
“Have an honest discussion with yourself, ask yourself, what is the life you want to live, what does it look like and how would it make you feel? It is so liberating to discover your authentic self. Do one thing everyday that will get you to your goals. Change your inner dialogue, tell yourself how awesome you are and what a great butt you have! I was told that whatever you are going through, God has already put in you what you need to make it through, So dig and push through! It’s painful and it reveals parts of me I don’t like- but then I imagine the life I want to live to honor my children and it’s so worth it!”