Weekend Diversions 7.1.2016

I submitted an essay this week (about my body image and running and many of the challenges I have faced post-injury) to a magazine. Sharing myself like that made me feel vulnerable and unstable. Even though I know the readers will be strangers, I still worry about judgement and being thought unworthy. I worry that the concerns in my essay will be construed as whiny and irrelevant to a cultural discussion of body image. I worry the readers will laugh at me for being so critical of myself. I worry I will be told I don’t deserve to criticize myself, because I am ablebodied and fit. Submitting this essay was hard. But also liberating because my story is no longer pent up inside myself. I have kept my body-hatred as much of a secret as possible for most of my life. Sharing in this way marks a huge progression in my journey toward self-acceptance. So, I am proud of myself even as I worry about how I will be perceived.

To celebrate my successful submission, here are a few things I have been reading this week. Enjoy!

  1. Strawberry rhubarb crumble bars I have a fridge full of strawberries as well as some rhubarb leftover from recent CSA pickup. I made these bars last year when strawberries and rhubarb were in season and I was impressed with how easy they were to make (and then eat!). They are this weekend’s baking project.
  2. Can you get over an addiction? Or are addicts doomed to live a life of degeneracy if they do not repent and succumb to a higher power?
  3. All U.S. medical school training is now animal-free! Until I read this announcement, I did not realize medical training has required extensive animal testing (often using dogs as the experimental model -after they are injected with various drugs and substances the dogs are killed by the doctors for dissection). After years of lobbying and legal efforts led by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, Johns Hopkins University and University of Tennessee (the last two holdouts) have removed animal testing from their curricula.  Current technology makes using live models for anatomy unnecessary and, therefore, unethical.  Advanced medical training still includes animal testing, as does veterinary training, but with concerted efforts from PCRM and animal advocacy groups, this practice will hopefully become an anachronism.
  4. Why I don’t give toothpaste advice A funny (and short) lesson about taking nutrition advice from someone who is not qualified to give such advice. As Dr. Davis points out in his rant, dentists know a lot about dentition and oral health, but do not usually immerse themselves in nutrition research. As such, in his professional opinion, dentists should stick to recommending toothpaste and not specific diets (especially when the diets they are promoting have no scientific validation).

Have a lovely long weekend! I will be working for most of it, but I do have off on Monday (4th of July), which I plan to spend working in the garden with my boyfriend.

 

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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. 

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. 

Old journals

I thought it would be a really great idea to read through old journals today. It wasn’t. It rarely is. I was super depressing (and depressed) in high school and college. My writing was filled with self-directed obscenities and hatred. I did not like who I was. I did not really like who anyone was -I was jealous of the normalcy I perceived around me and I turned that jealousy into anger. It was far easier to withdraw from and then blame the world for my problems than to risk the shame of rejection. 

I was so convinced that I was unlovable, unlikable, unworthy of receiving compassion that I actively avoided friendships. In many passages, I proclaim  my friends are not true friends; they will not help me when I am truly in need; they will not stand by when confronted with the truth of my instability. I was afraid of being different, weird and abnormal. I was afraid of being shunned for my depression and tendency toward self-harm. I did not want to let anyone become to close to me; I was afraid the truth would frighten them.

I didn’t trust anyone. I didn’t trust myself. I was comfortable by myself because it was my norm, even though I was often consumed by loneliness.

Reading the old entries was hard. I forgot how awful life felt. Even positive moments seemed twinged with doom. 

I am not that person anymore, although I am aware part of her will always be inside me. I am confident in my relationships now. I am confident in my accomplishments. I even enjoy being lonely sometimes.  I am more forgiving of my circumstances. I don’t have everything figured out, but I know I am much, much better than I was. 

I want to give my former self a hug. I want to tell her everything will work out, that she is lovable, that she has worth. I want to give her support, a large cup of tea, a shoulder to cry on and an ear to rant into. I want to be her best friend. 

I know it isn’t possible to go back and rectify the past. And I am certain I would not be myself today if I had not experienced those scary years. 

So why do I hang on to the journals? Why have I moved them across the county and back? And why do I read them if they are so unnerving? I because throwing them away feels like disowning my prior self. It feels cruel. The past sucked and it hurt, but it is still a part of my history and I am not willing (yet) to let go. These journals are my proof that I am strong, that I can overcame rough shit and emerged compassionate and kind. If I could evolve beyond the drama and turmoil of my early life, I am capable of greatness. 

Reflections and intentions

It is nearing the end of the month, which means time for reflection on the last four weeks and intention-setting for the upcoming ones.

This month was hard. I started January feeling strong, increasing my distance in running and entertaining the idea of signing up for a mid-winter half-marathon. I even bought a pair of pricey cleats to keep me from falling over on the ice-filled sidewalks. I was ready for winter, and ready for more running.

And then I happened to mention one day to my boyfriend that my back hurt. And that the pain happened to be a bit severe at times, and located near a previous stress fracture. My boyfriend is practical, more attached to the idea of my health than to increasing the length of my weekly long runs. And so he suggested I stop running until the pain went away.

I am not always practical. I am stubborn. And so I took three days off from running. Days in which I biked for an hour on a bike with a frame too big for my torso. Days in which I went to work as a waitress and carried heavy trays of food. Days in which I did nothing that resembling rest, except perhaps a little bit of foam rolling in the evenings (when my back was coiled in tension). And then I decided I was healed.

Three days is an awful long time without a run, therefore, my reasoning went, it must be okay to run again. Surely my body had ample time to make the necessary repairs (painful feedback from my nerves notwithstanding). So I ran on Saturday. And on Sunday. And again on Tuesday. (Monday, big surprise, my back felt tender, and so I practiced yoga.) By the end of Tuesday night, I could not stand up straight. The muscles in my back were spasming in a futile attempt to protect my bones. I decided to listen to my boyfriend.

Three weeks later and the pain has subsided for the most part, as long as I don’t bend too much, carry anything too heavy, or stand too long on my feet. In lieu of running, I have rested, practiced yoga, and biked on my indoor trainer (using a properly proportioned frame). I have also started to write daily.

I am so grateful that I chose writing over moping. Introspection over pity. I have uncovered a lot of truths about myself during this month. Perhaps the greatest of which is that the world will not end if I do not run every day, or even most days. I am still productive. I am still creative. I can still think and plan and hold a conversation. Without running, I am still me. I feel this truth in my core; this deep understanding of who I am is a revelation.

Below is an excerpt from a reflection exercise created by Nicole Antionette. (I highly recommend signing up for her weekly emails.) My response to the prompt is my attempt to separate running from my identity, without losing my passion for the sport.

***

The lesson I learned and am carrying forward with me from January is:

I want to learn how to be a runner, lowercase “r”. To me, this means patience, mindfulness, listening to my body. It means only running as far or as hard as I want on any particular day. It means running when I find joy in the act, and staying home when I know that it will be nothing but a grind. There are some days when running does not seem like the pleasant choice: when it is too hot, too humid, too cold; when I am too tired, too restless, too afraid of being out in the world alone with my own thoughts. There are times when running just doesn’t seem fun from the vantage point of my bed. But in those times I know from experience, that all the negative emotions can fall away within the first mile or two. That I can find my flow, enjoy the connection to my body. Sometime it doesn’t work, and the good feelings do not come until I am done, and can revel in a sense of sweaty accomplishment -the joy of pushing my boundaries. But I also know that I have completed enough runs, both good and bad, to tell the difference between the days when the run will be a horrid slog ending in a tired and horrid day, and when the run will be an uplifting and affirming experience. If I were to sit with the decision to run before heading out the door each morning, I could predict (with high accuracy) the run’s outcome. I won’t be cleared to run again until the end of February. When I do resume, I would like to carry with me a spirit of intention before every run, so that it becomes a sport of joy and not one of injury. Until then, I would like to enter each morning with intention, exercising as my body needs, and not necessarily as my mind (which is always eager to go longer, harder, faster) would like.

My intention for February is: to be patient with myself, both in terms of my healing process and my writing practice.

***

Although I cannot predict how February will unfold, I can be mindful of my intentions and work, every day, on becoming a kinder person to myself.

 

I don’t know why senseless violence continues to infuriate me, but it does. 

Five homeless people were shot Wednesday night in Seattle. 

The good news is that homelessness in Seattle will not be criminalized. Nor will mental illness.

The good news is that the crime was because of low-level drug dealings. Police suspect. The good news is that they were probably not targeted because they were homeless but because they dealt and/or took drugs, which could be the primary or secondary problem, depending on your perspective. Were they homeless because they were involved with drugs or were they involved with drugs because they were homeless and felt, therefore, hopeless. 

I do not know. 

What I do know is the bed news. The bad news is that two people were murdered with multiple gunshot wounds and three more are in critical condition. The bad news is that a campful of individuals are now traumatized. They cannot hide from the world in their homes; they have no homes. They cannot find safety. They may never find safety. 

Encampments are not ideal places to live. They are usually cramped, ill-maintained, unsanitary. They are not places of choice. But they are better than nothing. They usually allow for a sense of community. They provide a shard of stability in lives otherwise in a constant state of upheaval. 

Now even that bit of stability has been shattered for those who live in this Seattle encampment. The police chief stated there will be no increase in enforcement. The means the residents will not even have thoughts of increased safety to help them fall asleep at night.