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The Catalyst

A Year of Mindfulness-Healthy Charleston Challenge

BeforeAfterHappily Ever After

Part I - Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels… said Mikie Hayes never.

We all have that mental image of ourselves in our minds; silky, bouncy locks flowing in the wind; taut, youthful skin that needs little more than a hint of blush; a chest that actually rests north of the equator; arms that stop waving when we do…

However, when instead of the ingénue you remember looking back at you in the mirror, you catch a glimpse of your Italian grandmother, liver spots and all, reality can be startling.  

No matter how hard we judge ourselves, there will be others who are far more critical and those who see into our hearts and love us without any addendums.

Take my grandniece, Vivianna. I see her twice a year and as soon as she sees me, she states for all to hear, “Aunt Mikie looks just like Cinderella!” Her sincere joy is often met with an embarrassing silence as those within ear shot cock their heads, squint their eyes, and justifiably try to detect the resemblance.

Still, I relish the description.

While I’m fairly certain the fact that the princess and I both wear swirly up-dos with bangs is responsible for her confusion, Vivi gives me credit for being the full royal package.

(That I’m wearing a satin blue gown and jewel-encrusted tiara… coincidence.)

I don’t know if it’s just me or if everyone has a bubble-bursting critic in their head, but Uncle Arthur (from Bewitched) got the job as mine. And just as I entertain the thought of the handsome Prince placing the perfectly-fitting glass slipper on my delicate foot, Uncle Arthur pops in: “Since the Fairy Godmother works the ball, you won’t be getting the royal treatment, Sweetie.   

But I do get a wand, right?

So what happened on the road between Princess and Fairy Godmother?  A dozen years. Forty pounds. Gravity.

And, like so many other beleaguered women who are responsible for doing it all, my already iffy habits were further derailed by time spent on everyone and everything else.  Things like the stress of running a company, four hours of sleep a night, motherhood…  Being a Girl Scout leader, grade-mom, board member, volunteer; meddler in other people’s business… Putting out fires; dashing through airports; editing till 3 a.m… Taking care of all the household responsibilities; caring for animals and loved ones; spending time on Facebook and watching NCIS marathons.

And lots of times just grabbing whatever food was fast and close and comforting.

Before and After and Ever-after

For almost 11 years, from the mid-90s to the mid-2000s, I worked at MUSC, left for 10 years, and recently came back to work in Public Relations - a size or two bigger. (The extra size depends on whether the label has a “W” on it or not. The ladies will understand.)

I imagine I look relatively the same, since people still seem to recognize me. But picture a raft where the tire pump overshot the proper inflation pressure. There you have it.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve taken an interest in the fascinating things Dr. Susan Johnson is doing in her (Office of Health Promotion) to help employees live fuller, healthier lives. From an urban farm to a non-smoking campus, she’s contributed to a lot of positive change.

Being that the subject of our conversations normally surround getting in shape, whenever I meet with her to discuss ideas for articles, I always feel compelled to work some irrelevant, but ego-preserving fact into the conversation.

“Oh, Susan, did I ever mention that I used to teach aerobics four nights a week,” I’d say, as if that weren’t 20 years ago, or makes up for the fact that my main form of physical activity now is bending over to pick up the M&M I just dropped (peanut M&M - no one bends over for plain).

So sweetly, Susan would reply, “I can totally see you doing that!” (Hopefully she meant the aerobics, not the M&Ms.)

Susan is depressingly in shape, incredibly smart, ridiculously energetic, and worst of all, sincerely nice. Ugh. You can’t even resent her. 

In our most recent meeting, we were discussing New Year’s resolutions and she began enumerating all the healthy programs she would be rolling out over the next few months for MUSC employees and the Charleston community. She has a way of describing things that make exertion sound like fun.

After the third time I said, “You know, I should do that,” Susan said, “Why don’t you?”

“I should,” I said.

“Why don’t you?” she said.

“I might…”

And before she could say why don’t you again, I said, “Hmmm. Why don’t I?”

This was a watershed moment – like Leroy Jethro Gibbs waking up from his coma and realizing he alone held the key to solving the PinPin Pula case, which he did in the nick of time. Maybe this was the nick of time for me.

It was past time to take bull by the horns and make some big changes in my life. I want to look better. Live longer. Be a better role model for my daughter.

As inconsistent as I’ve been, thankfully my child has good habits. She recognized early on that the Hayes fat gene lurks ever-present like the rude brunch guest who won’t leave if he thinks lasagna is being served for dinner.  

She loves working out and constantly asks me to join her. If we can squeeze in a long walk, I happily accept. But if it’s a trip to the gym, needing to finish my work is not an uncommon excuse reply. 

The very night before my meeting with Susan, I was doing some editing when my daughter not so stealthily brought up the topic of diets.  Perhaps my resistance was apparent when my response was, ‘You know Honey, let’s think about that!’ Not what she was hoping to hear, she welled up with tears and said, “I don’t want to lose you.”  

As the Catholic guilt kicked in, my first grade teacher, Sister Rita Louise, beat Uncle Arthur to the punch. “Well Miss Hayes, I hope you’re happy,” she said. “You’ve made the Blessed Mother weep. Again.”  

I hate it when she says that.

Feeling contrite, I promised my daughter I was onboard! She was elated. Badly concealed on my nightstand was a half-eaten bag of Ghirardelli chocolate chips that had mysteriously gone missing from our kitchen pantry. I would need to chuck the other half. What kind of fresh hell is this going to be, I thought.

As this Hallmark movie ran vividly in my head, I said, “Ok, Susan, I’m ready.”  

Once I uttered those words - “Susan, I’m ready," as Kanye says, “ got real.”

A doer by nature, Susan immediately went into high gear. She said, “There are so many wonderful programs you can get involved in right here. You could do the Healthy Charleston Challenge, the Healthy Family Challenge, Lunch-time Losers, Healthy Happy Hour, AND all 12 of the mindful challenges!!  You know what; you could blog about spending a year being mindful.  You could literally be the “Poster Child” for transformation!” 

Poster child? Wasn’t Farrah Fawcett a poster child? I’m in!

Then, Susan asked me if I could commit to a year.  

You know that sound when a needle scratches across a record?

Wait, what?

An entire year? A 365-er. I started to weigh (no pun intended) if I could actually do this.

And then I thought of my daughter and that look on her face.

“Yes, absolutely!” I said.

The next few minutes were a whirlwind of excitement and planning…

The next morning I woke up and thought, Oh for the love of Andolini’s pizza…. what have I done???

To read Part II of A YEAR OF MINDFULNESS, visit

February 7, 2014

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