Follow Your Butterflies

Don’t compare your struggles to anyone else’s. Do not be discouraged by the success of others. Make your own path and never give up. Whether I am running on the road or competing on stage, it is not about being perfect or like anyone else. It is about being the best version of myself and confident in my own skin. 

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A few weeks ago, I was chosen to represent my province, KZN and take part at the IFBB South African Bodybuilding Championships. This weekend we were in Rustenburg to compete and it was an experience I will never forget. It was incredible to connect with old friends, who have become like family, while building new relationships too. We had so much fun!

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It was an honour to be on that stage and I am beyond happy to come home with a medal and memories to treasure always.

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At times I still battle to be vulnerable in this way and overcome the self-doubt, but the support and encouragement I received during the show and now after since being home, has helped squash my fears and lift my spirits tremendously.

“The strongest action for a woman is to love herself, be herself and shine amongst those who never believed she could.”

Behind every tan and sparkling bikini there is a story and I am grateful to be able to use mine to encourage others, while being inspired by the stories of fellow athletes too.

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I am humbled to have stood alongside some of the top competitors in our country and wish our World’s teams all the best, as they prepare for the international stage later this year. We are behind you every step of the way!

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Bikinis And Butterflies

Wow it has been a crazy year. Lots of hard times, tears and fighting fears, mixed with good memories and growth. After overcoming injury and managing to run my strongest Comrades yet, I was again reminded how blessed I am to be able to enjoy my sport and despite the obstacles that this body of mine keeps throwing at me, I will never give up and keep fighting.

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After Comrades I had no intention of stepping on stage, however, on Saturday I competed in the IFBB KZN Bodybuilding Championships. Listening to my heart and not my head, I made this drastic decision, took a big risk and knew no matter what happened, I was doing this for the right reasons.

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I was humbled to place 6th in my Fitness Bikini division and after many years of competing, I finally earned a medal at this prestigious show. It still feels surreal.

However, it didn’t end there. At the end of the night the team was announced to represent KZN at the South African Championship later this month. When my name was called, I shrieked in disbelief. My fake lashes hung on tightly, as my eyes welled up and I made my way onto the stage to join my friends.

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I am proud to have been awarded my KZN colours and honoured with the opportunity to compete at this level. Although it leaves me feeling vulnerable, as I am not as strong as I would like to be, I will always give of my best and am grateful for everyone who supports me, through the ups and downs. Let the adventure continue!

Own Your Story

I was recently chosen as one of the winners for the BLURB “Share Your Story” contest. I printed my book with them in 2011 and years later, it is still having an impact. I was excited to receive my generous voucher prize but more importantly, have another opportunity to reach people and encourage them to own and share their story too.

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I have learned that nothing in my past can stop me having a good future if I keep a positive attitude and decide to believe that although I’m a mess (aren’t we all!?) with God living on the inside of me, I’ve got what it takes to turn the page when bad things happen and begin a new chapter. You have to keep moving forward because you will never get to where you want to be if you keep complaining about where you’re at.

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With August being Women’s month, various topics are being discussed, from physical well-being to mental health awareness. I am under construction in both these areas and overcoming self-doubt is a big one at the moment. Self-doubt will destroy confidence and cause confusion. I still let people’s remarks tear me up inside from time to time and it makes me second-guess my decision to speak as openly as I do about my life. I wonder if it is worth it. But I am responsible for my path and have discovered you can’t let anyone else write your story for you. I am grateful for the friends who love me because of my imperfections and have been there through the messy bits with me.

I took the vulnerability leap a long time ago and am always sensitive to those who do the same and feel safe enough to share their story with me. Many of them recognize that empathy is lacking in our world today and sadly I have noticed this too. Trying to put a silver lining around your friend’s pain is often not the best way to respond. For example, the words “at least” hurt, especially when the wound is still fresh. “I had a miscarriage.” receives the reply “…At least, you know you can fall pregnant.” If you are at a loss for words, rather say, ‘I don’t know what to say, but thank you for telling me.’ Rarely can a response make something better, but a true connection can speak volumes. That is in my experience anyway.

Those are my Tuesday thoughts. Let me know yours.

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” -C.S Lewis

 

Recovery Is Not A Race

Over the years I have grown more aware of my thought patterns and make a constant effort to think about what I’m thinking about. The mind is powerful and I have overcome a lot of struggles by keeping a positive outlook and not letting negativity poison my mind and rob me of the ability to enjoy my life.

This isn’t always easy and when there is a lot of stress at the same time, I do battle. I have suffered from anxiety since I was a child and it still plagues me today. It isn’t something that goes away; it’s something you learn to control. My running helps in this regard but sometimes it has the opposite affect and triggers an attack. Instead of helping me, it becomes part of the problem. Recently I was blind-sighted when the feelings hit and I suddenly felt my heart beating faster and my hands getting clammy. I have had some nasty falls in the past both on the road and the trails and while running this weekend, every step felt like I was going to trip and my mind went wild.

It is hard to explain to someone who has never experienced this firsthand but imagine you miss a step on the stairs and your stomach lurches. Anxiety feels like that but lasts much longer. During a panic attack you can’t control your body and you may have difficulty breathing. There can be chest pain, dizziness, nausea. Symptoms vary. You cry uncontrollably and tremble. I have also experienced a feeling of pins and needles all over my body, which I now know is called Paresthesia.

Why am I sharing this? I feel it is more common than we realize and if this is something you relate to, I want to encourage you don’t ever give up. You are not alone and this isn’t unique to you. The more you change your mind for the better, you will notice your life will change for the better too. Keep a positive mindset, full of faith and hope and remember, a bad day doesn’t mean a bad life. Tomorrow will be better. Be patient with yourself. You are capable and brave, even when it feels like you’re not.

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Lending A Helping Hand

What would it take to change the world? There is so much pain and suffering around us, it can be overwhelming at times. How can I make a difference? What can I do to help? I don’t have all the answers but one thing I have discovered is to use what I have in my hand. Writing is something I love doing and by using this gift, I have been able to share my story and in turn, help others.

My infertility journey opened up a whole new life mission, to help hurting people, not only those who had suffered the way I had, but anyone who needed encouragement to press through hard times and live a life of passion and purpose. During those days of heartbreak and learning, I self-published a book, which was a compilation of some of the emails, journal entries and poems I wrote during the first five years of my infertility journey. I thought having a memoir like this would be the closing chapter on the journey but it proved to be just the start of something that I could never have dreamed of.

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I was asked to speak at church and put in contact with people needing help and support. I was interviewed for several magazines and newspapers and my humble book circulated around the neighbourhood and I eventually printed 100, then another 100 and today I collected a fresh batch, hot off the press. Suddenly the interest has sparked again and I feel blessed to be able to keep using my gift to meet the needs of those around me.

I enjoy baking muffins and this is another way I show love to others.

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Maybe you are good at cooking and can bless someone with a meal. Is your phone in your hand? Why not use your free weekend minutes to call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while? Perhaps the remote is in your hand, ready for the soccer later today. Why not invite someone over, who lives alone and would appreciate the company.

What can you do for those in your corner of the world? What is in your hand?

Comrades Marathon 2018

“Most of us have enough areas in our lives where we have to meet others’ expectations. Let your running be about your own hopes and dreams.” – Meb Keflezighi 

This year I ran my 6th Comrades Marathon and every time I am humbled by the physically demanding, emotional rollercoaster I am about to embark on. The Comrades family is a community where running transcends all our differences, which is one of the many things I love about it.

It is called The Ultimate Human Race for a reason and this year’s campaign theme “Asikiki” means “No Turning Back” and I took it to heart. Despite being out injured for 3 months, I was determined to still start the race and give it my all. Yes, it did hurt but somehow that was also one of the best feelings in the world, which will only make sense to a runner. There were tough times, tears and doubts but also plenty joy, healing and happiness. 

I am humbled to have been able to cross the finish line, in a personal best time, with a smile on my face and a grateful heart. The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start. There are many stories to share between crossing the start line and finish line (a lot happened out there on the road in those 10 hours) but I am still overwhelmed and taking a good physical and mental break from it all, so I will leave that for another time.

Thank you again for the encouragement and support on this journey. Through the hard times and the best times, I value having my family and friends by my side. 

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No Turning Back – ASIJIKI

 

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To The Novices

As novices, the Comrades Marathon is something you are yet to embrace,

And I’m sure you have learned a lot about nutrition, tapering and pace.

It is an experience you’ll never forget and will require you to give your all.

The determination and commitment you show will leave your family in awe.

I’m about to run my 6th Comrades but felt like a novice with the previous five.

It never loses its unique appeal and is a race that makes me feel alive!

Running became my outlet, to help overcome personal heartache and despair,

And it is healing to be able to run every week, with people who truly care

I used to know only a handful of athletes running this Ultimate Human Race,

Now at every turn and up every hill, I’m able to recognize a familiar face.

You too will make many new friends and even strangers will cheer as you run by,

Trust me, at times you will wave and smile and then suddenly just want to cry!

By now you have conquered a marathon or two and done the club long run,

Hopefully you remember the lessons this taught you but also had some fun.

In January you didn’t know how you’d do it, but it has worked out well,

Juggling work, family and training, despite the struggle, it all seemed to gel.

Remember these last few days must involve lots of recovery and rest,

To ensure that come Sunday, 10 June, you can do your very best.

Soon you will be entering Moses Mabida Stadium, to cross that finish line.

And believe me, you will be back next year, to do it a second time!

Hot Off The Press

This week I had the honour of sharing my story in our local newspaper:

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Place of pain motivates Comrades runner 

Westville resident, Debbie Ivins, is preparing for her sixth Comrades Marathon this year and hopes to inspire others through her passion for sport. The runner supports the #IMoveMe campaign, which encourages the community to get moving and living a healthy lifestyle.

For Ivins, her passion for sport grew from a place of pain.

“I have battled infertility for many years and suffered several miscarriages, which caused extreme heartache and depression. It has been a long, hard process, but I do my best to maintain a good attitude and enjoy my life. From a place of pain I found a love of sport, which started with running and I have now completed five Comrades Marathons,” she said.

Sport became a way to uplift and empower herself, said the athlete.

“When I am running or training in the gym, I feel strong and empowered and it helps me be the best version of myself, both physically and mentally. I am passionate about encouraging others and do my best to use my story, combined with my love for sport, as a platform to inspire others.” she added.

Ivins has competed as a body-builder previously and has chosen to shift her focus back to running this year. For Ivins, training should be balanced and rest time should be incorporated.”

Generally training, I run five days a week, always have one complete rest day and on the other day, incorporate a gym routine with strength training to support my running.” said the athlete.

Being an athlete is a part of a lifestyle that includes healthy eating, said Ivins.

“Keeping active and eating healthy is a lifestyle for me, however with Comrades, especially with the longer training runs, it is important to make sure you fuel your body correctly and learn what works for you. I am famous for my love of peanut butter and it is always a part of my daily routine. Oats and peanut butter is my favourite meal before a run,” she said.

Sharing from her experience running the Comrades, Ivins advised first time runners to pace themselves. “My best advice for the day is to hold yourself back and go slowly, especially the first half. You can always make up time later. Don’t get caught up going too fast at the start. Also, never stop. Keep moving forward. Walking is fine and beneficial too.” said Ivins.

 

Share Your Story

“I can shake off everything as I write, my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” – Anne Frank

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I had the opportunity to meet new people this week and realized, once again, that we all have a story in us that has to come out. I want to encourage you to use your story as a platform to inspire others and don’t be ashamed.

Extract from my book, ‘Whole Pieces’:

It has been humbling to look back and I can see how much I have matured, not only in my writing style but also in my relationship with God, the way I deal with my circumstances, as well as my attitude towards my situation. Communicating this way became a great source of comfort to me and from what I was told, it added to the lives of those who read the emails too. I know God worked in many ways through this correspondence and I pray He continues to do so through this book.

Most of the material I have read on infertility has been written by people who now have their ‘bundle of joy’. A baby. I used to find it hard to relate to them, thinking that of course they can write about “staying strong” and “keeping the faith” when they aren’t waiting anymore! Not that it makes them unqualified to address this tender topic. Maybe I simply got emotional because they were where I wanted to be.

I haven’t got perfect patience or answers but I have learnt a few things, which I pray will help you too. Like how important it is to appreciate and respect a waiting period in your life. God doesn’t owe me a baby or an explanation, He simply wants me to keep trusting Him. Have faith in His perfect timing. Rest in Him. Be kind to yourself too and don’t forget to enjoy each day.

Embrace where you are now!

Love Debbie

How To Help A Hurting Friend

This month I celebrated with a friend who gave birth to her first child and a few days later grieved with another friend, who lost her baby through miscarriage. I went from happy to sad, having to work my way through the dark despair I felt for her and fight the pain and flash-backs of my own journey. I thought it was worth re-posting this blog I wrote a year ago, as the question about how to support a friend who is hurting, popped up again and it is important to keep the conversation going.

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I was asked by someone today to please give them advice on how to support a family member who is struggling with infertility. As always, I am honoured that others still come to me for help and yet every time I panic. What do I say? Every situation is different and I remember my journey was incredibly hard in the beginning and nobody could say the right thing.

This question comes up often and I have explored it over the years but I thought it was worth writing about again, immediately, not only for this family who are feeling desperate but perhaps in between the lines you can find chunks of helpful information to comfort someone you know who is also hurting, regardless of the circumstances.

Struggling with infertility is not easy because everywhere you turn, you are reminded of the hole in your heart. You are surrounded by babies, prams and pregnant bellies in the shops, at work, at church and it hurts. It makes you want to withdraw from society and at the same time, this makes it hard for your loved ones to know what to do.

As I said in the beginning, every person is different, so it is impossible to give a blanket answer here. Being a good friend to an infertile is not easy. The situation may change from one day to the next and you have to be prepared for that. Sometimes no matter what you try, you will never get it right but a huge first step is to let them know that you acknowledge how hard it is for them.

A good friend never judges. Show them empathy.

Also educate yourself about their situation (this will help avoid offering pointless advice) and don’t try cheer them up by minimizing their pain (“Want kids? You can borrow mine for the weekend!”)

NEVER SAY ‘JUST RELAX.’ (Would you tell someone who can’t see to just relax? No!) Relaxing will not change the medical diagnosis causing infertility.

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I’m a hardcore vet at this now and have gone through the intense pain of the dark years and while it is unbelievably hard, it is no longer all-consuming. However, everyone moves through stages at their own pace. It can vary from a friend who is at the early stages and is still full of hope and optimism, to the one that is heavily involved in treatment and is carrying great pain (although may not show it). When your loved one is in the dark stage and everything has the power to hurt them it is often best to offer friendship and support from a distance.

It usually has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the situation they find themselves in, as they struggle to cope with their reality. Let them know that you are here for them if they want to talk or cry or scream! But also let them know that if they don’t want to do any of those things, it is okay. You will wait and be there when they are ready. That’s the best advice I can give. If in doubt, ask them. If they don’t want to talk about it, respect that and don’t push.

I hope this helps someone who needs to hear it today.

Thank you to all my friends who have stuck it out with me.