The Weight is Over – Cindy Yuill: ‘Pull yourself out of the hole’

cindy valdez after be the voice shirt

Today I speak with Cindy Yuill, a success story on so many levels. I’ll let her explain what I mean by that in a second. Welcome, Cindy to A News Cafe.com. I’m so glad you agreed to share your story on The Weight is Over. Thank you. First, can you please tell a little about yourself?

I”m married with three boys; one is in heaven. I currently am a stay-at-home mom. I am a licensed vocational nurse, and have an AA degree in science. I also volunteer for various mental health groups and volunteer as a co-facilitator for a grief group. My youngest son has special needs, so I spend a lot of time with him.

Q: Thanks, Cindy. It’s been a long time since we last connected when we published a story here about your son’s suicide, which you touched upon a second ago when you said you have a son in heaven. A lot has happened since Josh died, not the least of which is you’ve been instrumental in bringing light to the topic of mental illness, especially in young people. Do you want to talk about it? It’s totally OK if you want to skip this part. I’ll understand.

I’ll talk about it. During the shock, and beginning stages of grief after Josh’s suicide, I took a stand as an advocate to build awareness. After my son’s suicide I realized so many of Josh’s friends battled depression, suicidal thoughts and bullying. I learned Josh confided in kids a year before that he felt suicidal. They did not know what to do, and so they did nothing.

josh valdez change dot org photo

Josh Valdez

That was my inspiration to take public speaking and complete my A.A. I wanted to find a way to help all these kids. I spoke at many events, and even in front of educators. I was lucky and blessed to meet Josh’s new friends and get to visit them for lunch, dinner or events I planned in memory of Josh.

Josh Valdez with jacket

Josh Valdez committed suicide at age 14.

I even went a little crazy planning huge Halloween parties with a haunted house we constructed in hopes that every young person would have a fun and safe place to go. I even had hopes of building teen support groups.

Little did I know that the beginning of child-loss and grief was so much easier than what was to follow: the darkness of depression.

I learned so much during my research in college. I learned the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention fights for laws in schools to have two hours of training on suicide each year, yet currently only six states are doing this. The other states consider it an option.

When suicide prevention programs are in place, educators have the opportunity to work with the city mental health groups, and young people have an opportunity to learn. The program works through peers helping peers. College kids help high school kids, using that pattern all the way down to junior high.

Coping skills are vital. Educators can learn to watch for the suicide warning signs. They can see the kids at risk and be the first to call a parent. Remember, parents see their kids every day, and can become oblivious to the warning signs.

The main reason I work so hard to build awareness was the fact that Josh was sent home twice in one week from two mental health agencies. After my research I realized they should of sent him to the emergency room where you get the most help, and a 3-day evaluation and treatment.

Josh had the warning signs noted by the Centers for Disease Control and the AFSP. He was on Prozac. Two months earlier he was hit by a truck, which resulted in chronic pain. He had anxiety issues, but he also had a family history of bipolar, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.

He was brought in for an appointment at mental health after he attempted to choke himself out. I did not understand at the time what that meant. Josh was self-medicating and told the therapist he tried substances.

The first place he went to was Shasta County Mental Health. I filed a grievance because of the way they handled Josh. The intake worker was told everything by Josh and frantically calling code blue for the social worker. When the social worker arrived, she held a paper and read it like a scripted speech threatening to lock him down and lock up anyone that supplied him drugs before even asking how he felt.

After Josh passed I learned another boy was also sent home, and seven hours later the boy killed his father. Josh was not delusional like this young man, but he had all the warning signs.

I believe they were saving money by sending them to Remi Vista, which is an outpatient treatment center where people in training evaluated Josh, and unfortunately putting a diagnosis label on him before even determining if he could handle it. That day at Remi Vista I heard Josh say for the first time — in three different ways — that he felt suicidal.

I left in shock, and with no help, my only hope was that his appointment next week would help us all. Three hours later he took his life. His dad lived 100 feet away from Remi Vista. On his way home with his dad Josh told his dad,”Everyone will know.” The therapist told her supervisor she was concerned. They did nothing. We sued for lack of help. Our lawyer said Josh would still be here if they  handled it correctly.

Q: Cindy, thank you so for the courage you have to share your heartbreaking story. I am so sorry for your loss. I cannot even begin to imagine your pain.

I know you’re a changed woman because of what you’ve gone through.  But you have worked on not just your life, but your career, and your body and health, too. Tell me about your career first.

When Josh passed I was supposed to go back and complete the RN program. I was in the fourth semester and had an opportunity to go back. At the time Josh had passed I decided to become a advocate and finish my AA until I decided what I wanted to pursue.

It became a bit emotional toward the end. English 1A was a great was to write about Josh, but it was hard to get a grade on something so personal. I was able to utilize the therapy at Shasta College where I learned I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

After college my husband graduated as a PTA and provided for us. I decided to work on my mental health some more and be just a stay at home mom until i was ready to work. After the lawsuit I was able to volunteer with a county mental health program called Stand Against Stigma. I recently became a co-facilitator at Good Grief Support Group for those that survived a loss to suicide.

I participated in many grief groups and found they all help. Our group is geared towards enjoying life together and when things surface we talk about them and support each other. Grief is a life-long process.

I participated in weight-training at the college. I started playing tennis. I never lost weight or realized I had a weight problem. I mostly wanted to work on my lordosis to try to get rid of the back pain i was having. It was made worse by not being able to sit up easily due to being over 40. 🙂

Q: Wow. Cindy. You’ve accomplished a lot in a short period of time, and helped so many others through your grief and loss. I appreciate your being so open.

Actually, one of the reasons I wanted to talk with you today is I’ve been following stalking you on Facebook, and I’ve watched with great interest your weight-loss progress. First, can you tell a bit about your history with your weight and health?
cindy valdez before in the woods

I’ve never dieted in my life. I’ve always been active. I only lost weight in the past after a divorce, and exercise got me into sports about 12 years ago. All the weight came back on, but I’ve always been healthy.

The only problem I noticed was the lordsosis in my back was creating pain. The way to relieve the pain was to exercise and stretch. I tried the paleo diet and had no results. I had trouble with motivation due to depression and being shy.
Cindy valdez hiking with husband

Q: What finally caused you to want to change your weight and address your fitness?

My husband Robert inspired me. Following his surgery he wanted to work out by getting on the elyptical machine for an hour a day for  six days a week. We did that together. I lost 10 pounds.

Cindy works out with her husband, who always lost more weight than she did.

Cindy works out with her husband, who always lost more weight than she did.

He always lost more. After I plateaued i decided to try protein shakes like he was using. I just happened to find a post on Facebook about womens protein shakes and ended up joining their online support group called Ideal Shape and Ideal Fit. That led me into trying the 15-day challenge. It was very confusing for me, but I figured it out.

They provided free recipes and even videos to follow on YouTube called the 15-Day Challenge. I lost another 10 pounds. About every six months I lost 10 pounds and plateaued. I learned more and more. Their pre-workout had a fat-loss blend in it and I would add their BCAA’s. I’d order bulk to save. I even learned how to eat. I prepared my lunches in advance and my husband’s, too. I took my product to GNC and vitamin stores and found I could also use their products and not have to order in bulk. My husband’s had the same amount of calories and already had the BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids) in it, which help with muscle recovery.

I learned to try to eat my body weight in protein and to build my metabolism by eating five times s a day, or 250-300 calories a meal. The lunch meal was tough because I was used to eating 1000 calories a meal, three times a day. I was still hungry so I tried my favorite product ideal fit sells called Boost. You just add it to your water. It has an appetite suppressant in it. It magically tasted delicious and kept me full for three hours. The group taught me to make a shake in the morning. I would add oatmeal, chia seeds, flax seeds, almond milk, water, spinach, a frozen fruit, and then the protein powder. I’d shake it and drink it cold by adding an ice cube. On the way to the gym I would work on drinking the pre-work-out drink with the BCAA’s mixed in. It helps with focusing during workouts.

Learning all this was overwhelming at times, because I was dealing with my anxiety issues. Eventually I saw this lady’s nicely formed hard body and read in the comments that she followed Jamie Eason on Bodybuilding.com.

I loved it because every week I’d get new email with videos showing how to do the exercises the right way. The meals she shared were yummy! I get weekly newsletters from Bodybuilding.com and am impressed with the info, workouts, meals and more. They sell products, but there is no pressure. Using weights also speeds up the metabolism. After losing another 10-plus pounds, I realized I fluctuate on what I do and eat.
Cindy Valdez lost 20 pounds

The gym I joined is called Shasta Athletic. My favorite sport of all time is racquetball. I play six times a week or more, and was inducted into the old timers groups. I”m one of the guys now! We joke and laugh everyday. If I don’t show up the “God Father Ben” will write me on Facebook. They invite us out with them to events. They are my family now. They showed me that the whole gym is family, not just the r-ball players.

In the gym I learned another man lost a son to drugs. On Josh’s memorial I cried on the racquetball court, where the man hugged me. Of course another man joked, “Hey, no hugging in the courts!” LOL. On my worst days they would laugh and say I”m crazy just like them. I love them all.

Q: That’s a lot of information to take in, and it sounds like you really embraced exercise, and your new high-protein diet, and the joy of working out with others in a gym, all of which I can relate to. Was there a tipping point, a place where you decided to start your health and fitness journey?

I wasn’t aware I was over weight until I lost the weight, LOL.

cindy valdez hugs son in kitchen

Q: That’s an amazing story, Cindy. Now, go ahead and brag. What does your “after” Cindy look like?

Here, I’ll show you. This picture tells it all.

Cindy after her health and fitness journey.

Cindy after her health and fitness journey.

And here’s another one that you said you saw on Facebook and liked.

cindy valdez in pink formal dress

Q: Yes, I love those photos. You look incredible, Cindy. Do you have advice for people who feel unhealthy and helpless?

My advice is to find something you love to do. Even if you are the worst player, do it. I even played pickle-ball. Waiting forever to play with these players was rough, but I did it. Keep going, keep fighting, and know you’re never alone.

If you’ve been around this long, think of your coping skills. On bad days go back to them. Pull yourself out of the hole. Take time for yourself. Bubble baths. Touch the sand and earth with your toes. Feel the cool water on your face on a hot summer day. Listen to the sounds of the birds in the trees, watch how they fly and return. Notice how the wind blows against you. Think of the present and enjoy it. Breath it in. Look to the people that are here. Love them. If you need love, it’s OK to love.

Q: Cindy, that is beautiful and poetic. Thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Cindy, on top of the world.

Cindy, on top of the world.

Like Robin Williams I have my own quote. This is mine: “I need to feel love, so therefore I love many.” If they, too, never feel the pain of loneliness and abandonment, giving of myself is worth it. By helping others we help ourselves.

Q: Thank you, Cindy. You’re an inspiration. I wish you the very best.

Love you Doni, and cyber hugs to you!

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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