I felt like there was nothing I could do

My son is in prison serving a 15-year sentence, and as a mother that’s a lot to deal with. When D was first incarcerated six years ago, it was actually difficult for me to visit him because it was so upsetting. I’d drive three hours to the prison and when I got there, he’d say, “Mama, I am ready to give up.” He went through a nervous breakdown. It was heartbreaking and pretty much broke me down because I felt like there was nothing I could do. It also took a big toll on my 21-year-old daughter, Arrelya. My son is up for parole next October but we don’t know what will happen.

My marriage was rocky

My husband, Ken, and I were arguing all the time. We’ve been together for 10 years and there was no communication, no intimacy, and no bonding. Our marriage was in trouble, it was rocky. Arrelya lives with us, but I was lonely. I felt stressed all the time and overwhelmed, like I was drowning. 

My wake-up call

Because of all the stress, I wasn’t eating well. I’d pick up pizza or burgers for dinner, and at work I’d have chips and cookies. I’m 45 and I weighed 200 pounds. I was so sad and I felt like I’d failed my kids. Then I went to the doctor and I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which was very scary. It was a big wake-up call. My doctor put me on insulin and I realized it was time for me to change. My son was one of my biggest inspirations for me to get strong and healthy; I want to be there to support him when he gets out of prison.   

I started my Thrive Challenge journey

I was inspired by a co-worker, Ahmed Al Sammarraie, who said that when he moved to America from Iraq with his family, he’d been under a lot of pressure and had gained weight. With the Thrive Challenge, he’d been able to lose weight and improve his life. His story really touched me and I downloaded the Thrive app. I was also encouraged by Clare Creegan, an associate on my team and a winner. We’re good friends and we hold each other accountable every day.

Lemon with everything

My first step was to stop eating out and start cooking. Lemon juice has become my best friend! It’s great for flavor and I add it to everything. I put lemon in my water and in my coffee, and I’ll bake chicken or fish like tilapia in the oven with wedges of lemon. I also stopped drinking sodas and sugary drinks.  

I’m moving more

I’m doing a lot of walking at work, at least ten thousand steps a day. And at home, as a family, with Ken’s 12-year-old son, Zenyrick, we’re riding our bikes around the neighborhood. Getting outside, moving, and breathing is very relaxing. Ken and I go for walks along the beautiful trails near our house. It’s a country area and it’s very green and shady with trees and wildlife. We see armadillos, possums, and we might even see a coyote every now and then. Walking together changed things for me and Ken. We’d been so distant. Now we hold hands and laugh together — we’re actually bonding. 

Ken and I support each other

Ken and I are both doing the Thrive Challenge together, which is awesome. We went through counseling, which has been tremendous for our relationship, and we’re communicating much more. It used to be work, work, work for me and now, I’m spending more time with my husband. We’re doing DIY projects together. We built a wooden deck in the backyard. We have a firepit and heaters and a T.V., so even in winter we’ll sit outside and have dinner, and then cuddle and watch a movie. No phones! It’s just me and my hubby enjoying each other. We don’t watch T.V. in bed anymore — we listen to meditations on the Thrive app, with calming music and nature sounds.

I’m trying new activities

I was the type of person who didn’t take risks, but one of my Thrive Microsteps is about trying something new. So when Ken wanted me to go mud-riding with him on our four wheelers, I said, “Okay I’ll give it a go,” and now I love it. You get a thrill and a rush, it’s very exciting going through the mud and the water — and it’s a lot of fun.

We’re appreciating each other

I’ll surprise Ken for no reason, not for a birthday or a holiday, just out of the blue. When he’s still at work I’ll decorate the house with candles and a party banner that says, “I appreciate you.” I’ll have dinner ready with a bottle of wine and flowers. I even scatter rose petals on the floor — I go the whole nine yards. When he comes home, he’ll put his arms around me and you just need to see his facial expression to know how happy he is. And he does the same for me sometimes. We’ve learned to be kind and say affectionate things to each other like, “I love you. Thank you.”

 I make time for myself

I get my hair done because it makes me feel good, and I’ll get a mani pedi or a massage. I love having relaxing baths at the end of the day. Ken built me a shelf to go across the bathtub so I have my candle and bubble bath. I turn off the lights and rest and clear my mind. I’ll listen to music, oldies like “Endless Love” by Luther Vandross and R&B.  

I’m strong for my son

Now when it’s time to take that trip to visit D in prison and it’s been a while since I’ve seen him, I look forward to it and get excited, because I am stronger. The three-hour drive feels more like 15 minutes. I used to get stressed and worried, now I tell myself he’s going to be okay. When I walk into that prison, he starts smiling then he hugs me hard. I just tell him to stay strong and everything will work out. He’s taking college courses and reading a lot. He’s really changed. I hate that my son is locked up, but I’m happy he’s not dead, so guess what? I will take that. I know I am blessed. He’s my child, he’s ready for another chance at life, and when he comes out  I’ll be strong for him. As time passes, all wounds heal and I’ve found peace with myself and with the situation. 

At work, I’m a better leader

I’m more compassionate, and that’s important as a leader. Everyone on my team appreciates it. They tell me, “Ms. Keisha, you’re one of our best managers!” People go through a lot in life and if you aren’t there to ask what’s going on and really listen, you’ll never know how you can help. So I’m always there for my associates. I motivate them and let them know, “You are enough, you’re going to be okay.” One woman on my team was going through some serious marriage challenges with her husband, and she was having a tough time separating work from her home life. She was breaking down at work, so we would sit in my office and I’d listen. She was very grateful and said our talks helped her and she downloaded the Thrive app. I’m motivating everyone on the team to do the Thrive Challenge and they’re loving it because they get moral support from each other and from me, and nobody feels judged.

I’m giving back and having fun

Ever since my cousin Kim passed away from breast cancer four years ago, I’ve said that I would do a cancer walk in her honor. Kim was like another daughter to me and she and Arrelya were very close. Finally, last month I did a 5K for the American Cancer Society. Clare, my co-worker, really motivated me to do it and we walked together, with Shardea, who’s also a Thrive Challenge winner, and other associates. I felt excited and energized doing something I’d never done before — for a great cause.  

My Walmart career

Walmart has been good to me. A lot of people don’t know this, but I’ve only had two jobs in my whole life. I’ve been at Walmart for 24 years. I started off as a cashier and I’ve grown with the company. This is my career and I’m very dedicated. I love my job and I’m building my team as I grow. My goal is to move up and become a store lead and one day a store manager. Walmart offers awesome benefits. I’m a Walmart Plus member and you get free deliveries to your home no matter how much you spend. We get Paramount Plus for free and we get a discount on gas and early access to Black Friday items in the store.

I’m saving money

We used to have money issues and sometimes we didn’t have enough for gas. It was stressful. There were times when my husband would walk home from work at night, and it would take him hours. We wouldn’t see him until the next morning. Arrelya used to cry and say, “Mama, please don’t let Ken walk home,” but I had to tell her, “Well baby, we don’t have the money for gas.” But now our financial situation is a lot better. We stopped eating out and made a budget. When we’re shopping at Walmart, we look for the Great Value Walmart brand items for things like bread, canned food, and condiments, instead of buying name brands, which saves us money. We are putting $500 a month into our savings account, so we’re feeling less stressed.

I’m always praying

Prayer is the most important part of my life and it’s stopped me from breaking down or going into depression mode. If I’m in the kitchen I’m praying, and if I’m in the shower I’m praying. Any time I have a quiet moment, I’m praying. I’ll say, “God, guide me and give me strength.” Whatever I’m going through, I know I have the power to say, “I’m done. I leave it in God’s hands.”

I’m off insulin

I’ve lost 30 pounds in two years and I feel energized and motivated. My doctor took me off insulin and said my diabetes is under control now. She was very excited about how I’ve changed and said once I lose a little bit more weight, I’ll be able to completely come off all my medications. The Thrive Challenge has helped save my marriage. It’s helped me turn my life around. I’m healthier and more energetic, and I’m excited about the future. 

Every year, the Thrive Challenge awards inspiring individuals with cash prizes from a pool of $1 million. Join the Thrive Challenge here and submit your story for a chance to win.