I always put everyone else before me.

When I was 21, my grandma had a stroke and I helped to care for her. I’d cook and clean, and I’d bathe her. I worked three jobs to help support the family. Then a few years ago my sister, Deanna, was down on her luck and lost her job. So I took her and my niece, Samantha, in to live with me until Deanna got back on her feet.

Seven years ago, my mom had a massive stroke.

I lost the Mom I knew, and everything changed. Ma was paralyzed and in a wheelchair. She has aphasia, which means she can’t speak more than a few words. Ma lives in a care home, and she was staying with me on all my days off work. It’s difficult to switch roles from daughter to caregiver. I was cutting up her food, showering her, and helping her on the toilet. I’m taking care of her now instead of her taking care of me. What a big honor that is, but you’re never prepared for that kind of care — I was overwhelmed. And I felt guilty if I took a day for myself, thinking that every time I saw her might be the last. 

At one point I felt like I wanted to give up. 

I’m 46 and single — I live with my beloved senior rescue dogs, Ginger and Rosie, and my rescue cats, Darcy and Chloe. But I had no energy for my pets or for anyone. My family noticed that I wasn’t acting like myself. My nieces, Samantha, who’s now 16, and Corrina, who’s nine, were sad that we weren’t hanging out anymore. 

I ended up getting sick. 

I had an appendectomy, and after the surgery, they also found out I had diverticulitis — the lining of my digestive system was infected. As I was recovering, I knew I needed to change my lifestyle. I needed to put on my own oxygen mask first so I could be there for Ma and myself.

My friend, Ro Opinga, encouraged me. 

Ro is a Thrive Challenge Grand Champ and she’s very inspiring. She wanted me to feel as good as she was feeling, so I started my own Thrive journey. I loved the idea of small Microsteps, which sounded doable and made perfect sense to me. 

My first Microstep was to drink more water.

I started to feel clear-headed. Next, I introduced veggies into my diet. I know this sounds silly, but I’m a vegetarian who didn’t like veggies! Living by myself, I’d eat a sandwich or cereal, and I had to relearn how to cook. I found recipes to make broccoli more interesting, like stir fries with coconut oil and salt. I’ll often have breakfast for dinner — eggs with mushrooms and tomatoes, or I’ll make spinach lasagna. 

I started to take time for myself.

I was feeling a little resentful that Ma was sick. And that’s not easy to admit. But instead of spending all my time off with her, she stays with me once a week now, which gives me time to do the activities I love, like having a spa day with friends or going bowling.

I used to be a big hiker.

I’ve hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, Table Mountain in South Africa, and I trekked to Mount Everest Base Camp. But during COVID, I couldn’t travel and I got a little case of the lazies. The only person I was seeing was Ma, and I felt isolated. Thanks to the Challenge, I started walking again with my dogs, who were getting chubby! We began going around the block a couple of times, then we’d gradually take longer walks, and now we’re doing 5K hikes.

Breathing in fresh air feels great.

Reconnecting with the earth is wonderful — I love walking by the Assiniboine River. Hiking in Manitoba is absolutely gorgeous, especially in fall when the trees look like they’re on fire, and the air is crisp. Now it’s spring, and the other day I was out with Corrina, and we just enjoyed being together in the moment. Walking in nature helps me to feel alive.

I’m sleeping well.

I bought a meditation pillow and I sit on it and have quiet time and do some deep breathing. I used to have trouble getting to sleep. I’d toss and turn. So I moved my phone to the opposite side of my bedroom and bought a nice alarm clock to keep next to my bed. Thrive Resets help me relax. I also bought myself an oil diffuser — lavender oil is very calming. I’m falling asleep faster and sleeping longer. 

Ma and I are enjoying our time together.

We’re cooking together. She can’t do much physically, but she’s definitely The Boss. She’ll point at the salt, or motion for me to mix the pancake batter so there are no lumps. And she’s the boss of the radio! She loves ’50s rock and we listen to Elvis all the time. I do the “Kitchen Dance” and she sits there laughing. I’m a better daughter and a better caregiver — I have more energy and more to give. Ma was a single mom with five kids. She’s a legendary type of mom so I just want to pay it forward to her now. 

I won the Thrive Challenge.

My boss presented me with a plaque and flowers, and I was awarded $2000. It was really beautiful. I’m not a crier, but I started tearing up. Everyone was asking how I did it and saying I’d inspired them. But to be honest, it was hard to hear that. I’m not good with being the center of attention, and I felt a bit of imposter syndrome because I was still struggling with my own mental health. I knew I had to keep going on my Thrive journey.

Arianna Huffington inspires me.

I follow her on LinkedIn, and last year I felt like every post she wrote was just for me. She talked about mental health, manager burnout, and the importance of putting your own oxygen mask on first. Her posts motivated me to do something I’ve never talked about before. I decided to use our benefits program at work to get some therapy. And the support is wonderful. Therapy has helped me open myself up to receive positive feedback and know that I deserve it. It’s also helped me become more confident and make better decisions. 

My niece, Sam, and I are closer than we’ve ever been.

I threw her a Sweet 16 at my house for all her friends — they were so cute. We went on a road trip to Dryden, Ontario, where I was officiating at a friend’s wedding. She was my date! And I took her to Vancouver to see Machine Gun Kelly, who she loves. Then for Christmas, I surprised her with a trip to Cuba. Sam kept saying she couldn’t believe it was really happening. We took a tour of historic Havana, we swam in the ocean, and we went dancing.

Taking care of my mental health is a priority.

That felt uncomfortable at first because I like to take care of other people. But it’s so important. I love my job as store manager. I’m responsible for 220 people — that’s a lot, and I’ve learned to take a minute for myself when I feel stressed. The other day I took a step back, went into my office, shut the door and watched a calming Reset, which I’ve never done before at work — and it changed the rest of my day. 

Walmart has given me endless opportunities.

I always say I started out with a job — as a cashier — and ended up with a lifelong career. This is my purpose and I’m passionate about my work. My boss, Eric Payne, is so supportive. If I tell him I have a care conference at my mom’s home to talk about her needs, he says things like, “Nina, you put so much time in, don’t worry about it.” He’s absolutely amazing. It’s not just Eric; no one ever makes me feel bad when I have to take time off to be with my mom. 

I’m inspiring others.

I challenged myself to inspire 21 associates to start the Thrive Challenge in 21 days. But 25 people ended up downloading the app. And now there are even more! I also started a group called Thrive Buddies, so we can keep each other accountable. It really helps to have other people on the same journey for moral support.

I’m becoming a better leader.

Something great I’ve learned with Thrive is active listening — really listening. When I started doing it, a light bulb went off. It works so well. One of my associates, Lakshit, opened up to me about how he’d moved from India to Canada and is making his parents proud. He told me how he wants to move up in the company and said, “My goal is to be you, Boss!” I teared up a bit because it was so flattering. I just listened and encouraged him to expand on his ideas, instead of just talking about my ideas. And he’s actually been promoted to assistant manager. He’s thrilled and loves his job. 

I moved to be closer to work. 

I used to live out in the country, which meant I had a long commute. When I won the Challenge, I decided to buy a house close to work to support the life I want to live. I’m remodeling my home, which is fun and creative. I painted my kitchen gray and white and I bought gorgeous gold handles for the drawers and cabinets. I put in a fireplace wall and a coffee bar so when my friends and family come over, I can make cappuccinos.

I’m leading by example.

I used to think staying late is something managers need to do. Now, I have a better work-life balance — a million percent! And that has an impact on everyone else. They see me leaving on time, so they leave on time. And at lunch time, I disconnect from work. People used to be knocking on the door of my office saying, “Hey Nina, I need this.” Now I’m gone for a full hour. Maybe I’ll go out with dogs or go home for a spinach salad. And when I come back, I am a better version of myself. 

I’m writing a book.

I’ve been thinking about how interesting my life has been: my childhood, my adventures, my career, and my caregiving journey. So I started writing a memoir, and the next thing I knew, I’d written 100,000 words. I’m hoping my book will be published — I want people to know that you can get through hard times — and that you can always find light in the darkness. 

I’ve been noticing what I’m grateful for.

I’m writing things down on Post-It notes — things like “my family and my friends” that are easy to take for granted. For my birthday, last week, my friends planned a surprise. I thought we were going for a pedicure, but they took me target shooting at a gun range! None of us are gun enthusiasts, but we had so much fun. We were all out of our comfort zone. I realized I’m so lucky to have these wonderful women who care about me, who will do crazy things with me, and who appreciate me for who I am. 

Ma and I are both happy.

A few weeks ago, we invited my brother, Neil, and his family over for dinner. I made risotto, and we spent the evening eating and laughing. After they left, Ma looked at me and said clearly, “I’m so happy you’re happy.” I was shocked that she could put the words together, and she was completely aware of all the changes I’d made. Ma knows she doesn’t have to worry about me, she can feel it in her heart. And I am happy — I feel like a whole new person.

— Nina Migalski, Walmart Supercentre #3117, Winnipeg, MB; Thrive Challenge Grand Champion