On eating and running and loving my body, part two 

Let’s just preface this by saying that again, definitively, I do not want to write. On the other hand, I have been looking forward to this since I stopped writing last week. So, I have a conflicted relationship with writing. It is my favorite outlet for my thoughts, even more so than running, which I usually use to escape the chattering mind. Still, it is so hard to confront these thoughts, the stupid imaginings, worries, memories, that I often push writing to the very last possible minute. I do not want to open that box, even though I know it will help, as it has all those times before, during the twenty-odd years I have been writing my feelings into solutions. In any event, I am here today to continue my story about eating.

By the time I reached high school, restriction was the norm. I was becoming familiar with and comfortable in hunger. I did not necessarily like being hungry, but it was the norm and accepted as such. That summer after middle school I looked forward to the heavy-legged exhaustion I felt post-run; this total lack of energy meant I was working hard, building strength, and readying myself for the rigors of varsity racing. Adding food into the mix gave me energy and eliminated this reminder of my exertion; food, therefore, was avoided as much as possible. I wasn’t interested in totally starving (part of my mind knew I couldn’t run and starve at the same time) and so I ate what I deemed minimal for survival, and minimal for parental acceptance.

That I was a runner made my skinny frame easier to rationalize.  Successful runners are thin by nature and by sport. Every time I was praised for my “runner’s legs” or “runner’s frame” my resolve to maintain this new physique solidified. (Until I began running long distances, no one had ever, to my memory, told me I looked like a runner, or athletic in any sense. I did not believe my parents and their friends when they told me my frame was natural, but was sure it was the result of hard work through exercise and restriction.)

In high school, adult supervision of my meals disappeared. I went to a boarding school in New England, thousands of miles from family and friends in Los Angeles. I want to emphasize that the boarding school did not create my disordered eating. It was already well engrained in my mind before I packed my bags and attempted this new, far-away life. To my knowledge, none of my close friends from this time developed eating disorders (although, of course, as in any high school they did exist).  I was also, again to my knowledge, the only member of the girl’s cross-country team during my four years to struggle with food. I was surrounded by supportive people (peers and adults); I simply was not ready to accept their help nor their theory that I needed to eat if I wanted to thrive.

The first day of cross-country pre-season, after my mom had unpacked my boxes and made my bed and kissed me goodbye and headed back to California, I realized there was a salad bar in the dining hall. I could eat vegetables upon vegetables and nothing else, if I so chose, and nobody would notice! The elation I felt at this epiphany remains vivid: control, my most sought-after state, was now possible at every meal. The presence of the salad bar meant, to me, that eating salads alone was socially sanctioned: they  (the intelligent and omnipotent powers of the school) would not have included a salad bar if they did not believe salads were valid meals, right?

It did not occur to me that my teammates might notice my veg-heavy meal. I was absolutely astounded when a new friend asked if that -pointing at my bowl of greens -was the entirety of my meal. (In fairness, the salad probably contained tofu and/or beans of some sort and so was not at nutritionally unbalanced as it might have been, but still I was fooling no one, especially not myself, with my claims to health.) I did not have a good reason to defend my meal, and in all likelihood stammered my way into embarrassment.

Even in my flustered state, however, I felt a sense of pride. I had more control than my friends. I could survive on less. I did not need food to run well. I am strong because I am not dependent on food. These were my beliefs and even as I felt myself falling into more destructive patterns of restriction (skipping meals, especially on weekends when I had more time alone), I clung to their words as my reinforcing mantra. What had started out as justifications changed to rules, unable to be broken. Restriction changed from a choice, a neat way to control a tiny space of my life, to a compulsion.

Friends pleaded with me to eat more than a salad, to eat more than half a sandwich, more than an orange. I wanted to listen but I couldn’t. The more I restricted the more I had to restrict to feel like myself.

The times when I gave in, when I had the cookie, the cake, the pizza, the cheese and crackers at the holiday dinner -I panicked. I would pay penance by eating nothing either before or after the binge (basically anything more than my safe foods of fruit, vegetables, maybe a bit of yogurt or cereal was considered a binge and even these could be labeled as such if I felt too full after eating). I never went whole days without food, but I was generally eating below my caloric and nutritional needs. My body was trying to sustain the massive growth of puberty along with a rigorous running schedule and I refused to give credence to either.

I don’t like to regret, but I often wonder how much I could have achieved if I had fed myself and loved myself during these years. I certainly would have been happier. But I was stubborn and refused to believe I was worthy, no matter what my friends, family members, or teachers said. I was not even swayed much by awards or leadership positions, although they did lessen my need for control for short periods of time.

And so I passed through high school without much confidence in my ability to do much more than study and run (and I even faltered in those pursuits more than once, especially when my need for control usurped my desire to perform).

Again, this post will be continued. I have never written this much about my relationship with food and it is just as difficult as I expected. Thank you, as always, for reading. 

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Weekend Diversions 3.25.2016

I found out on Monday that I have been accepted to graduate school! I cried when I read the email. Fell to my knees and cried. So much vulnerability went into preparing my application materials and making it through the interview day, that I really felt my self  was wrapped up in the process. I shared with the admissions committee difficult aspects of my past, and how they all contributed to my decision to return to school. I trusted them to accept me as am, and that is always scary. I told them about my divorce, the poverty I faced when I tried to live in Los Angeles again, my struggles with mental health. If they had rejected me, they would also have (in a way), been rejecting my story. Acceptance into the program is validating. It means the choices I have made in my life have not shut me out of a career. Even though I have been broken, I can be trusted to help others heal.

I know my self-worth should not be tied to the whims of people who are basically strangers, and I certainly would have recovered had I been rejected, but I think that when we take the time to be brave we are making space for wounding. The important part is that I did not let my fear keep me from trying, keep me from exposing my whole self. I am proud of myself for taking this next step in my journey and so excited to see where it leads. I start in September, but part of me wishes I could start tomorrow: I don’t know how I will have the patience to wait five months. Perhaps with some reading? (My therapist suggested I indulge in as much fiction as possible before my time becomes consumed with academia. I started the fiction binge with The American, one of the few Henry James novels I have not read. As I expected, it is amazing and dense and critical.) Enjoy this week’s selections!

  1. Group protests number of low-income units in planned Lathrop redevelopment: This past Sunday, I joined hundreds of advocates, church leaders, and l0w-income housing residents to protest the redevelopment of the Lathrop Homes, a public-housing complex on Chicago’s northwest side. You can read more about my impressions of the project here. Only 400 of the 925 existing public housing units at Lathrop will remain after the redevelopment. The remaining units will be either market-rate (494) or low-income (220 -no idea what will qualify households for these units, but they don’t seem to be linked to any public or housing choice voucher initiative). Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Housing Authority have yet to create a concrete plan for replacing the 525 lost public housing units. The protest was intended to force officials to commit to a plan. So far, they have refused to expand upon their promise to build new units when finances, time, and space permit. In other words, they have no intention to do much of anything. The Chicago Reporter provides a thorough history of the inadequacies of the CHA and Mayor Emanuel here. (Warning: this may cause you to lose hours of time yelling at your computer screen. The good news is that you will be more well informed.)
  2. A letter in response: for housing and against displacement: In the same vein of protecting housing (can you tell my interests yet?), this eloquent letter in defense of housing and the need to treat homeless individuals as people with rights. Although the letter is in reference to a local problem here in Chicago (neighborhood residents complaining about homeless folk and demanding their immediate removal to…anyplace far away where they can’t be seen), the arguments for housing are universal.
  3. How do so many people get stuck in poverty? My unending question. This piece provides a nice overview of some of the factors that create and then compound individual poverty. Lack of education about supportive services (such as food stamps) and lack of emergency savings funds to shield people against unexpected expenses or the consequences of not having quite enough money to make ends meet some days (the example they use is not having enough money for gas, resulting in missed work, resulting in being fired, resulting in losing housing, children, etc.).  Increasing access to housing is one of the proposed solutions.
  4. Vegan eating would slash food’s global warming emissions: A study recently published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that reducing reliance on animal products for food has positive implications for global health and climate change. Using a modeling program, the Oxford University researchers compared outcomes for four scenarios: no widespread dietary changes; a world in which everyone complied with guidelines to limit animal products and load up on plants; total vegetarianism; and total veganism. All movement away from the status quo resulted in fewer deaths and climate changes, but veganism had the most drastic improvements: 8.1 million fewer people would die each year by 2050, were vegan diets universal, and food-related emissions would drop by 70 percent. Following global guidelines would reduce deaths by 5.1 million per year and emissions by 29 percent, still meaningful reductions. This is proof that even the most incremental changes away from animal agriculture can yield important results.
  5. Not Carrot-Cake: Lastly, this is on my baking plan for the weekend. Carrot cake is my favorite, but I have yet to give it a try since becoming vegan over two years ago. This is the closest recipe that I have found to my mother’s (taken from a very battered copy of Cooking for the Health of It). I am so excited. Also, what a lovely way to celebrate my grad school journey!

Wishing you all a spring-like and sunny weekend!

 

On eating and running and loving my body, part one

*Trigger warning: this post will cover disordered eating, and my early experiences with restriction. 

I’m avoiding writing today because what I want to write about is scary. What I want to write about is personal. What I want to write about makes me feel vulnerable, naked, unnerved. What I want to write about is body size, weight, restriction, and recovery. This morning, after years of  heading toward recovery, I tried on a skirt that was once too big and is now barely the right size and I landed in a tailspin of shame. I try to tell myself that I love my body at any size, but I don’t know if that is totally true yet.  To process, I thought I’d share some of my story. My journey is still ongoing. 

When I was four, my dad declined to buy me the Cheeze-Its I requested, because they are unhealthy. In their place, he bought me pretzel thins, probably saltless, which tasted like cardboard. They sat in my mouth, refusing to be dissolved by saliva, or to be properly dismantled by my teeth. Flecks stuck to my tongue and the roof of my mouth. Health, I learned, was a burden, but was somehow preferably to cheesy, salty, delectable snacking. My first lesson. 

Around the time I was nine, my step-mom’s sister pulled me aside to feel how hard her legs were, from biking so much and subsisting on Trident sugarfree gum (the wrappers of which she scattered around the house, messy reminders of her strength) and on the boiled cabbage that had been filling our house with the smell of sulphur since her arrival. “Hit them,” she said. “They don’t jiggle at all. See? Feel?” And then we went on a bike ride. That night, I hit my own legs. They jiggled. My second lesson. 

I don’t know how much I weighed by the time I was ten, but I remember feeling like I was bigger than the other girls in my class. Not fat, and years away from puberty, but larger. I was never a skinny child. Strong, my mom told me. Well-proportioned. The hit-test on my thighs (which I soon performed regularly on myself in the shower, or whenever I needed to reinforce my inadequacy) told a different story. My legs jiggled. I was not enough. My third lesson.

By the time I was in sixth grade, I learned I could substitute my normal breakfast of a bagel and yogurt with my younger sister’s toddler-portioned containers of yogurt. I learned I was okay with part of a half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I learned to leave the cheese off turkey and cheese sandwiches and to only use one slice of deli turkey. At family meals, and when I was at my mom’s house, I ate normally and so my restrictive habits went unnoticed. 

I became obsessed with stories of anorexic and bulimic women. I knew it was unhealthy, I knew the articles in teen magazines and the books about recovered actresses were meant to be cautionary: do not repeat our mistakes. But I wanted their strength. I wanted their willpower. I wanted to be skinny and cool enough to have a story of my own. 

In sixth grade I also discovered running. A friend suggested I take out the frustration I was feeling toward a teacher during our weekly timed mile in gym. The relief was almost instantaneous. I was hooked. I was the fastest girl, and relished the praise of my teacher. I had shunned sports before, and was always picked last for teams in elementary school. Being good at running took some (but certainly not all) of my attention away from food. If I ran, I figured, I deserved treats: a cookie, a scoop of ice cream, a soda.

In seventh grade, my friends convinced me to join an after-school running club, designed to keep kids off the street by training them to run the Los Angeles Marathon. I never intended to continue long enough for the marathon (I hadn’t run much more than a mile at a time by this point), but it was more entertaining than sitting around for hours waiting for someone to pick me up from school. But then I became hooked on increasing my mileage, and my strength. My legs hardened. I could see new muscles. The adults in my life began to comment with approval. My parents had a reason to brag (a twelve-year-old marathon runner is a unique conversation topic). I felt their pride. And I enjoyed my changing body.

Becoming vegetarian, also in seventh grade, was one more way to exert control. To keep myself from becoming fat. My decision was accepted without much fuss, as long as I promised to continue eating fish on occasion. I felt smug in my choice, powerful. I could abstain from meat. I could subsist on vegetables and ranch dressing, on salads with the dressing on the side, on soy protein powder in orange juice (horrible, horrible combination. Do not try this at home).

Still, part of me was worried about my weight, or increasing lack thereof. The rational bit at the back of my mind knew I was too thin and wanted hello. In eighth grade, after I had run the marathon, had begun running track on a club team, and had increased my mileage, strength and commitment to the sport, I was weighed in gym class. I was 5’5″ and 83 pounds. I commented to my teacher on my low weight and she replied that I had been running a lot and was fine, and gestured for the next student to step on the scale. 

A picture from around this time, taken at my then-best friend’s birthday party, shows me in a bikini top, twisted to the side, my torso all rib cage. My friend told me I looked like an alien. I felt pride at having whittled away so much flesh and embarrassment and not being able to feed myself enough to look human.  

My mom was worried, too, but I resented her questioning and encouragement to eat, and my weight and eating patterns only became fuel for fighting. If I ate the right amount at the right times, and compensated when I was away, peace was easier to maintain. And so I hid my restriction as much as possible, trading cake now for carrots later. 

There were moments of unabandoned indulgence, when I forgot I wanted to be skinny and just enjoyed being happy, like the day I found out I had been accepted into a boarding school far away from my family and in celebration ate half a pan of brownies before track practice (also the day I discovered the visiousness of side cramps as I struggled through two-mile repeats). Or the Cinnabon I devoured at the airport the day after competing in the Junior Olympics in South Carolina.

But those moments were rare, often tinged with shame, and always connected with running. 

**This is all I can handle for today. I will share the rest of my story next week. Thank you for reading. 

Weekend Diversions 3.18.2016

I have taken too long a break from these weekend posts. My work schedule was different when I started this segment and I had more weekend time to compile the articles. To combat this scheduling conflict, I have decided to try writing and publishing the roundups on Fridays, when I have more free time during the day.

  1. How black people are being shut out of America’s weed boom: Systemic racism never ceases to fascinate and incite me. I read this over my coffee this morning, yelling aloud at intervals about how creating barriers for people who want to earn an honest, legal living only creates more injustice and racial disparity (my boyfriend, who was trying to plant seeds for our garden in peace nearby, is used to me talking to my phone, the radio, magazine articles, and so was not totally shocked by my random outbursts). The piece shows that, as in other emerging markets, white people have an economic and societal advantage over people of color.  Even those with experience selling, growing, distributing pot cannot make easy inroads as legalization spreads, because of past arrest records. Because darker-skinned Americans are more likely to have been caught for possession or selling marijuana (even though they are no more likely than anyone else, whites included, to have grown, possessed, sold the drug) they are banned from taking legal part in the weed trade. In order to truly move past the war on drugs and the targeting of people of color, strict edicts against past drug charges must be loosened; these arrests mark not a higher predilection for criminal behavior among people of color, but a disparity in how police treat people of different races. If someone wants to work legally, pay taxes, participate in their communities and economies, I do not understand making forcing them away, back into the underground black markets that legalization is designed to dismantle.
  2. Why losing a home means everything: While I’m on this political roll (am I ever not?), this is the article I wish I had written about the book I wish even more that I had written about housing injustice. Emily Badger does a wonderful job profiling a new book by Matthew Desmond (Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City) posits housing as a foundational necessity to success. And, surprise surprise, people of color often fair worse than whites in terms of housing poverty (spending more than thirty percent of income on housing, facing discrimination, being taken advantage of by landlords). When the majority of a household’s budget goes toward paying rent and utilities, even the slightest extra economic burden can result in homelessness. A visit to the dentist, the need for new clothes or shoes for children, car trouble becomes more than a minor upset in the budget; it can upset the entire household balance. As parents experience more money stress, as they begin to fear losing their homes, children may receive less emotional attention. Their grades may drop. They may struggle to socialize. This is not necessarily a reflection on poor parenting but on a system that does not support working poor. Many families have no support, and may not even know their legal rights, making them vulnerable to exploitation by landlords. They feel they have no ground to fight, and would rather live in substandard apartments than on the street. Desmond’s solution is a universal voucher program, which would guarantee adequate, safe, affordable housing for everyone. I agree. I can only hope the people with power do as well.
  3. Medical doctors and mental health professionals are finally talking: “People with severe mental illness are more likely to die prematurely than those without, often from treatable chronic diseases — in part because many…don’t receive regular medical care. They may be uninsured or unable to find doctors who take their insurance. They may be reluctant to seek care in traditional medical offices because of stigma or discrimination.”  Luckily, some practices are beginning to integrate behavioral and physical health systems. Bringing medical doctors into mental health facilities can remove barriers to care, resulting in better health outcomes for individuals with mental illness. Since 2009, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has distributed $150 million in grants to facilities across the country who are combining counseling with physical checkups. Outcomes for such programs are positive, leading to reduction in hypertension, diabetes, and other health concerns. The more support we can give people with few resources the better. Helping people where they are, with the least difficulty, yields great results.
  4. The wisdom of shattering: As I move through my own period of rebuilding, I enjoyed this poignant essay by Kimberly Brunelle George about letting oneself become fractured in order to heal. After my literal fracture, I have spent so much time healing physically and emotionally. George’s words were a wonderful reminder that taking a break does not equate failure and also that it is okay to feel grief when moving off one life path and contemplating another. Her words are so much more eloquent than mine, so I will let you take the full experience of the sentiment from her.
  5. Raw vegan donut holes: Because after all this reading you have probably worked up a healthy appetite. Or maybe you want something to nibble as your read. Or maybe both. In any event, make these donut holes. You will be very happy to have done so. I have yet to find a recipe by Emily von Euw that I do not adore. I have a hard time sharing the food I make from her site or her book. If you want to share, I recommend a double batch.

Alright, that’s all I have for today. Have a wonderful day and an amazing weekend. Go outside and play for a while. Smile. Hang out with good people Do some social justice. Whatever brings you joy.

 

Uncertainty and self-care

I haven’t been working as much lately. I cut down my restaurant hours to make room for a freelance job and to apply to graduate school. Now the freelancing has ended and the school application has been submitted, but my restaurant schedule remains unchanged. This means a lot of time at home by myself, during which I should be writing, working, networking, improving myself in some measurable fashion. Instead I have distracted myself with errands, half-interested reading, cleaning, avoiding the hard stuff. I have shrouded myself in self-care practices: yoga, walks, runs, podcasts, silly shows on Netflix, quality cuddles with the cats. I have written a bit (here and in my journal) but it doesn’t feel like enough. I don’t know what enough feels like. I don’t know what would make me satisfied. A reply from the admissions department of the graduate school to which I applied, of course, but what then? I have no plan, for either acceptance or rejection. All I have is endless amounts of self-care and a refusal to deal with the complicated emotions elicited by my decision to attempt a return to school. 
I applied once before, on the tail-end of a divorce. I was massively unhappy and unsure of who I was. I did not like myself much, and I still believes my ex-husband who told me no one else could like me either. I also believed him when he told me I could not survive graduate school, that I needed to be in a job with a boss to tell me what to do, that I could not thrive with independent work. I think he thought he was being helpful, truthful. He told me nothing I had not told myself before; he mimicked all the horrible voices in my head. When I left him for good, I moved across the country and tried to prove him (and the voices) wrong. 

Unfortunately, they were all dead right. I was rejected from school. I could not find a job. I could not pay my rent. I was a failure. 

Fast forward six years, and my life (and self-image) is dramatically improved. I am happy, most of the time, and confident in many of my life decisions. I no longer believe (thank goodness) that I am unlikable. I have friends, a job, a home, and a stable partner. And so, I decided it was time to revisit the graduate school decision. 

I am confident in my choice to return to school, but now that all the hubbub of applying has died down, the old doubts are creeping back in. Am I good enough? Do I deserve success? Will I survive rejection? Or will I convince myself all over again that I am the most horrible person on earth? 

To deal with these questions (read: block out with so much other stuff they cannot be heard) I am cramming all the reading, exercising, cleaning, avoiding I can into each day. 

This is not as satisfying as I’d like it to be. Which brings me to the next set of questions: 

Can there be too much self-care? Is it possible to become preoccupied with feeling good? With making yourself happy? With managing fear and anxiety? Is there a moment when enough is enough? When it is time to force work? To force routine for the sake of routine? Does that moment come naturally? Does it announce itself? How do I know when to work on my self and when to focus on writing, on networking, on making the next big plan?   

In my life, the time to change from almost obsessive self-care into productivity usually does come naturally. I move from needing all the time to myself, avoiding socializing, avoiding anything that isn’t pleasurable, into creativity. Plans begin to form. The next step becomes clear. Ideas and opportunities become unavoidable.   but usually it does not take this long to shift. 
This time, however, I do not trust myself to emerge, creative and energetic. I am afraid that the safety of self-care is a mask for depression. I am afraid I am losing myself and my passion and I don’t know what to do. I am afraid of what rejection from graduate school will mean. I jumped into this without a backup plan. One school, one program, one path. 

I cannot relax in this waiting-pattern. Fear of the unknown has brought with it a return to traumatic memories. I have had a panic attack and an unstoppable fit of  crying. Neither was without reason, but neither would have happened had I felt more secure in myself and my purpose. The thought of returning into the person who is ruled by the cyclical pattern of panic and by self-soothing is terrifying. I did not like being that person. I do not know if I am strong enough to prevent her return. 

The only solution is difficult, almost beyond my capacity. It entails sitting with my fear, my uncertainty, my doubt. It entails letting my tumultuous emotions be okay. It entails deep breaths and patience. To move through this period I must trust myself to survive and thrive and maybe even fail a few times along the way. 

I have made it through worse shit than uncertainty. 

Freedom in identity leads to freedom in running 

Deep breath. Writing remains scary. As much as I pumped myself up last week, I am still avoiding writing and doing so is still causing me anxiety. And so here I am again, to force the habit and prove to myself that I enjoy this practice. 

To begin, a quick update on my running/injury cycle. As of last Tuesday, I am running again! It took about two months of rest, of wrestling with my identity and reframing my focus but I am now pain free and excited to return to my favorite sport. The progression is slow (three days a week, progressively shorter walk breaks, no back-to-back days, a pace so slow I sometimes can’t differentiate between the walking and running segments, and plenty of checking in with my body to ensure I do not overdo things) but it is happening. And in three weeks I should, unless further complications arise, be running thirty minutes nonstop. 

I am using the same program that brought me back to running after my first sacral stress fracture more than a year ago. This time around it feels conservative, but last year it felt aggressive and exhausting. I was theoretically stronger then since my physical therapy routine was far more intense than I the one I have followed at home, so perhaps I was speedier but I did not feel in control. I was exhausted from the physical therapy and drained by the slight depression brought about by not running for six weeks. I thought I had decoupled running from my identity, but I had not done the hard work of redefining myself.

I still felt very tied to the image of myself as a Runner, one whose purpose is to run. I rejected the idea that yoga or biking or anything else could act as a substitute. And while I still believe that running fulfills a specific and unique role in my life that cannot be exactly replicated, I am comfortable with how I feel after other activities. Running is no longer the only way I connect with my body, and that is an important change. I can feel whole after stretching, after doing intense body weight exercises, hiking, biking, practicing yoga. Running is not my only therapy.  

Because of this newfound freedom within exercise, I have been able to let go of my expectations within running. It would be nice to regain my previous speed and ability, but that doesn’t need to happen tomorrow, or next month, or even by the end of the summer. Really, it doesn’t need to happen at all; as long as I stay strong, injury-free and joyful, I will have succeeded in achieving my goals. For now, I am grateful for each step, for (as I heard someone recently term it) the “guilty pleasure” of global warming that has brought unnaturally warm weather to Chicago, for my body and all it is accomplishing. I am learning, bit by bit, to enjoy the process and it is pretty amazing. 

Writing again, and so much happier for it

I haven’t written here in more than two weeks and the longer I go without posting something, the harder writing becomes in my mind. I worry that this lapse is an insurmountable failure, that my purpose has been obscured by time and cannot be regained. I worry about looking like a failure, lazy because I have not carved out time from my day to commit to this blog. I have excuses, of course: the new injury I  described in my previous post; a vacation to see a friend in Seattle (and an increase in pain as a result of flying followed by a long car trip); a surprise visit from my dad upon returning to Chicago; a last-minute vet appointment to check on a chronically coughing cat (it looks to be just allergies, thank goodness); massive changes to my mom’s life and living situation that I have provided support for from across the country; and generalized anxiety about my body’s health, an upcoming grad school interview, and life. 

Still, I have found time for other important parts of my life (journaling, reading, exercising) and so I see no reason why I could not find even a few minutes to write. But I didn’t. And the longer I didn’t the harder it became to even contemplate restarting. I even found myself unable to read blogs I follow, out of shame for writing nothing of my own. 

Writing has always been the hardest habits to maintain for me, which is a pity because it is also one of the most fulfilling. I began writing around the age of six, when I asked for diaries for Christmas and received four, all filled within a year or two. 

I developed a belief sometime in my childhood that diary writing was only for the difficult times in life. I never chronicled my successes, only my challenges. 

When coupled with my omnipresent fear of failure and my conviction that writing had to be perfect or nothing (possibly an unintended consequence of reading great literature from a young age), my association between writing and stress made even simple school essays almost impossible to pen. I remember spending six hours one night in fourth grade writing a story that was not much more than a page long. Episodes such as this repeated myself throughout my academic career, even when I became known to teachers and other students for my writing ability. My fear of writing came not from lack of ability, but of confidence.

So many years later I still struggle to believe I can write. I still can stare blankly at my screen or my paper for hours without success. I still worry that if I haven’t written in more than a day that I have lost the capacity forever. I worry about which topics to choose and I worry I am not writerly enough to be a writer. I worry I lack discipline and imagination. I worry that no one will listen, and I worry that everyone will listen. I worry, all the time, about writing. 

And that is why taking a break is actually more stressful than writing on a regular basis. When I don’t write, I have more time to worry. When I write, my thoughts are momentarily transfixed, and anxiety suspended. I feel like myself when I write, as hard as it might be at times to overcome ambivalence and roll into motivation. 

Remembering that this state of flow exists and is attainable is key to my writing practice. Even a few minutes a day at my computer, and on this blog, can return me to a place of strength and of confidence.