If you follow author/publisher Emma Lai at all – and I do – you know she’s come through some tough times that have helped shape the power and depth of her stories. What I did not know, until I ran across it on Facebook a few weeks ago, was this:
“Want to know my life goal? Help 10 people become better, healthier people. Will I ever succeed? I don’t know, but I keep trying.”
I just knew there was a story there, and I’m pleased she’s willing to share it as part of our occasional Stay Sexy column, where my husband and I focus helping others stay vibrant, healthy, excited and sexy across the life cycle.
Adriana: For starters, could you tell us how long this has been your goal?
Emma: The day I wrote that was a couple of days after I had the thought, but if you ask my dad, it’s been my lifelong goal to make everyone around me happy. He was always telling me while I was growing up that I couldn’t please everyone. On its face, that statement could be read to mean that I wanted people to like me so I’d bend over backwards; but for as long as I can remember, I just wanted everyone around me to be as happy as I am (for the most part. I have my bad days, too.).
Adriana: And of course the next question is how it got started – what happened that made you take up this cause?
Emma: I’m a very empathic person, as opposed to just sympathetic. Sympathetic means you feel bad for other’s misfortunes. Empathic means you feel as if those misfortunes are your own as much as the other person’s. So being prone to mild depression, it behooves me to keep those I care about as healthy as possible because I can’t help but adopt their woes, which could send me deeper into depression—a place I prefer not to be.
Adriana: I’m assuming since you want to help others be “better, healthier people” that you have the same goal in your own life. What’s the story there – when, why?
Emma: I’m just now coming to terms with this, but I suffered from PTSD from traumatic delivery and postpartum depression for years. My son, who is four now, didn’t sleep much as an infant and toddler and then around 18 months went through a development reversal. (And yeah, people obviously thought autism, but it’s way more complicated a story than slapping so simple a label on it.) Anyway, my depression didn’t cause me to not want to take care of him, but rather I was hyper-aware of him and only him and doing whatever was necessary to help him overcome his obstacles. Needless to say, I had no thought for myself. I hardly slept; I ate junk; I didn’t exercise; and I ended up weighing as much as I did right before I gave birth to him—that’s an extra fifteen pounds of weight I didn’t need.
By the time he turned three, I was thirty-eight and got winded walking up one flight of stairs. My arrhythmia was making itself known. Anxiety and panic attacks were becoming my constant companions. I realized if I didn’t start taking care of myself I might not be around to fight for my son anymore. (Think I’m overreacting? Look up heart attacks for women.) Not to mention I didn’t relish the thought of leaving my wonderful, kind, caring husband to be a single parent.
So I decided to start taking care of myself. No one could do that for me. I had to realize that. I had to love myself as much as I loved everyone else.
Adriana: Wow. That’s a profound awareness – and no, not overreacting one iota.
Could you share the components of your own health regimen – exercise? Diet? Meditation? What’s key for you?
Emma: All of it is key. It’s not just enough to eat right or exercise or be self-aware. We are complex creatures and for balance, we need both physical and mental exercise, and it needs to be fueled with good food.
I started by cutting out any foods with high fructose corn syrup and sodas—that stuff is super-addictive and changes the entire way my taste buds functioned—and got out and walked (which is also when I would think about myself and how I was feeling and what I wanted out of life, etc) and started doing 10 minutes of Pilates every other day—two things I enjoy. That’s key—finding things to do you enjoy because it’s hard enough to stay motivated.
Nowadays, I try to eat fresh as often as possible, but I do allow myself indulgences. Perfection isn’t the goal, but rather feeling better. I can run a 5K. I still do Pilates, though it’s up to a 30- or 40-minute routine, and I lift weights.
Adriana: You started exactly where I did – cutting out the sugar, walking, and identifying which higher-energy aerobic activities you would enjoy. I agree. All of it is key.
I’m always looking for the bottom line – what keeps you motivated? What’s the one thing that keeps you going when you don’t feel like staying on top of your regimen?
Emma: This is a real tough one. (I just had a conversation with my sister’s boyfriend about this a couple of days ago. He’s in his mid-twenties and works out every day.) Even knowing my health is on the line and that my family needs me healthy sometimes aren’t enough.
Nike’s slogan fits well here: Just Do It. Even when I don’t feel like it, just starting the process kicks in the body’s muscle memory and once I get started I can’t stop until I reach the end. Though I’ll freely admit to reducing sets or time if my body’s not feeling it. (I listen to my body. It reduces the risk of injury. If something doesn’t feel right, I stop.)
Adriana: I’m with you, though my slogan is slightly different: Just start. Just begin. I have a warm-up and stretch routine that begins with simply standing in place and swinging my arms. Once you’ve started moving, it’s so much easier to keep going.
If you had one single piece of advice for others who struggle with this, what would it be?
Emma: Stop thinking of all the reasons you can’t do something and find the reasons that you can. Loving yourself enough to realize you can and should come first isn’t being selfish, it’s being smart–only you can do what needs to be done to get yourself healthy.
Adriana: Have you written a character who faces any of these same issues? Tell us about him or her.
Emma: I haven’t written any characters as complex as what I feel like I’ve been through because like I said, I’m just now coming to grips with all my issues. Maybe as time goes on and there’s a little more distance between me and the rawness of those emotions, I’ll be able to capture it in a story and do the character justice.
For now, most of my heroines are sexually self-aware and self-confident to a degree (much how I recall myself pre-pregnancy), but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their insecurities. People often don’t act the way they feel. We live in our heads a lot. I love writing because it gives me a chance to show others that people shouldn’t always be judged on the face of their actions; if you really want to know someone, you have to delve deeper than the surface.
Annabelle from At Least Once More was one of my favorite heroines to write. She’s coming into her own and brave enough to admit her attraction to an ineligible man, inexperienced enough to not know how to fight it, and smart enough to realize when the right man comes along. Some readers have hated her, calling her a slut, but to me, she’s so very real.
Adriana: And of course our readers would love a brief bio and your web links.
Emma: I like nothing more than a challenge. I’ve been an engineer in the oil services industry, worked in education at a military boarding school for high school and junior college students, owned an engineering consulting company, and now run a small digital press.
I write because it keeps me sane. I hear voices and if I don’t purge them, they nag me. The characters are very insistent about me remaining faithful to their individual adventures, and as a result, I write a range of genres and levels of heat.
And here’s my question to readers: how do you know when whatever you’re doing is enough? I never think I’m doing enough, but that’s a lot of pressure to be under all the time. That’s my latest project brought about by my endeavor to be self-aware, realizing when I’ve done enough.