We all have goals in life, but depending on our circumstances, we sometimes end up feeling equally pressed to address several goals at one time. I have been in this situation for five years. The problem is that each takes from the other and the progress we make on all of them is diminished respectively.

If we could learn to prioritize and focus only on ONE goal at a time, maybe things would be different. Progress may come quicker, satisfaction sooner; success stronger and more possible. I want to write a book. I want to run the NYC marathon. I recently started a new job. I recently started dating and am in a new relationship. What comes first?

In my situation, as strange as it may sound, the marathon is number one. Why? I have dreamed of running the NYC marathon for NINE long years. I tried to get a spot in 2010, but no luck. The following year I was pregnant, then pregnant again the next year, and on the story goes. I tried a few years ago again, but no luck getting a spot (it is a lottery system). This year, for the first time in my life, I have received the opportunity to run the marathon through the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation on their inaugural team. Literally, this is a dream come true.

Less than 10 weeks away and on track with my training plan, I sustained an injury. Trying to work around it to keep up my endurance has been an unbelievable challenge. It is less than 50 days until race day now and I still cannot run. I am feeling the pressure. Yesterday I saw a new movie had come out called “Brittany Runs a Marathon.” A woman, way too much like myself, who dreams of running the NYC marathon. God sent me this movie. I hired a babysitter and took myself to this movie. Yes, alone, because that is how widows roll. It was exactly what I needed.

As crazy as it sounds, my late husband Jerry Gass who I met conveniently nine years ago when I was dreaming of and trying to get into the NYC Marathon the first time, brought this movie to my world just in time (I hope) for me to make my dream a reality. He believes in me. He wanted to help me make my dreams come true more than anyone in my life, and here he is, trying to help me as I struggle on the home stretch.

I think some people who did not know me when I was morbidly obese (most of my life) do not realize how unbelievable the concept of me running a marathon is even though I have recently done several fitness events. If you want to know how running the marathon feels in my head, go see this movie. That girl is me. My mind continues to say to myself a line I heard in the movie, “You’ll always be a fat girl. It’s just who you are.” Wow. The pain and rawness of that line struck me like lightning.

It is not about weight, body labels, or judgment (from self or others). It is about so much more than that. It is about internal emotions that are always swirling around; shame, self-doubt, insecurity, and most of all, disbelief that I could be loved…truly loved for who I am…who I am really; a girl that has always been “not good enough.”

Having lost most of my excess weight, people see me now who do not know me and it is like they see a costume, but they think it’s real. They think I am “some pretty girl” who has no idea what it is like to struggle with the concept of not being good enough.

On the contrary, when I go on a date with someone and he says, “hey gorgeous,” I bristle inside and wonder, what’s his angle? He cannot possibly think I am actually beautiful. I feel the reflex to look in a mirror and see if he is actually talking to the girl behind me. I lost most of my excess weight in 2009 after having gastric bypass surgery. It has been 10 years since then. This is NOT about weight. It is not about me feeling “fat.” It is about my identity in general, and my having been overweight was just one piece of that.

I want to say being what others label “fat” does not matter; body appearance does not matter. It should not; but in reality, it changes everything. It changes how people think of you and how they treat you. I have seen both sides. When I married my husband, who would have loved me even if I was 400 pounds, I was a size 2/4. Before my surgery, I was a 24. How does it feel? How did it feel to be my dream weight after struggling to attain it for my entire life? How did it feel to be seen by people as what they considered “the pretty girl?”

To someone who knows this struggle, it seems like a dream come true. It seems like it would make everything better, and make me happier than the smile on a Cheshire cat. In reality though, it felt about the same. Why? When I was overweight, people judged me based on my body. Now, as an “average” person, people still judge me based on my body.

Why did it take a decade for this to really hit me? Crazy as it may seem, I met a man in 2010 who loved me implicitly and unconditionally. He made me feel so genuinely loved that I let him in and my identity was sated by his love. Since he died in Afghanistan in 2014, life has been an overwhelming whirlwind of confusion, loss and emotion. Last spring, I began dating for the first time since my husband.

As a single parent with two young kids, finding time to date has been VERY slow going. Only in the last few months has the experience made the lightbulb go on about my identity. I tried online dating and several guys I met in person have made comments about my body. Some have made too many comments. Favorable comments. This might seem like it should make me happy for a guy to think I am beautiful or sexy, or what have you, but on the contrary, all it made me feel was superficially judged, just like I have been my whole life.

Then there is the conversation about my having had gastric bypass surgery. When is the right time for that conversation? Will they still think I am beautiful then when they find out I had to have surgery to lose weight??? Oh, the confusion. Who am I? How do I expect and deserve to be treated? To be loved? I wish there was a way to separate our physical appearance and social constructs from our identities, how we treat ourselves and how we treat each other. Navigating this world where the two are so intertwined is still beyond my comprehension.

I have a boyfriend now. He seems to love me unconditionally, like my husband did, but my sad, jaded experience makes me skeptical. Could he really love me? Is that even possible?

More to come…

Wishing you unconditional love (from yourself and others),

Nikola Rosa