Making Space For Me

When I moved into this apartment over a year and a half ago, I brought much of my old life with me. Boxes and bins, bags, books, furniture, and with them, plenty of leftover negative emotion. Luckily, I also brought hope, and the first sparks of happiness. But as I’ve gone on making my nest here, I’ve come to realize that moving forward is harder when you’re holding on to too much of the past, be that physically or emotionally.

About a year ago, I started getting rid of things. I sold things that could be sold on Ebay or Amazon, and put other bits and pieces out on the curb for passersby. Periodically, I’d look through my possessions and reassess how they made me feel. If I held a positive emotional attachment to an item, like the stuffed rabbit my grandfather gave me before he died, or the wooden cactus that reminds me of my dad, I’d keep it. If it affected me negatively, like presents from an ex, or clothes that reminded me of how much weight I’d gained, I found a way to get rid of them. Very slowly, my apartment began to feel lighter, less jumbled.

It’s crazy how much stuff one 400 square foot space can hold, because I’m STILL cleaning. Right now I have another ten items on Ebay, a list of products up on Amazon, and a big box of other stuff that needs to get listed tonight on Ebay and Craigslist. That, after putting at least a box of random things out on the curb every single week.

However, I think I’m getting somewhat close to the end. It’s time to go through my closet one more time to eliminate any pieces that don’t fit. I’ve ordered all new underthings (all in black, to eliminate time wasted each morning making such a silly decision as what color underwear to wear today). I bought a new size of my favorite jacket, the one that stopped fitting my shoulders when I started weightlifting. No use in holding on. I’m going to cull my shoe collection to 1/2 of its current size, since I only ever wear my sneakers, TOMS and Tevas anyway. I’m also going to sell my Arabian Nights book collection, and consolidate my jewelry boxes.

Once my belongings are pared down, I’ll revise my work station and get started with the big bad plan for my new year – building a new career identity. While I still have my job as online marketing director for my New Orleans ad agency, I’m also going back to school in a few days for a certificate in Copyediting. On top of that, I’m going to start making my origami & jewelry-making business, one piece at a time. By 2017, I plan to be a hell of a lot closer to the me I see when I close my eyes at night.

It is said that, “Fine words butter no parsnips.” Work is required. I am worth it. I will not wait any longer for the world to make space for me. I’ll just make my own, thanks.

 

 

Feeling Stronger Every Day

C’mon, you know I couldn’t resist a Chicago reference!

I’m feeling better this week than last. Last Tuesday I had that doctor’s appointment where I found out that I have prehypertension (which means that my blood pressure is a bit high), Vitamin D deficiency, and my BMI classifies me as obese*. Awesome. Still got a couple of weeks before I get to go to the next doctor and do some serious digging into the rest of the symptoms that I’m pretty sure are related to a hormone imbalance, but I wanted to get a jump on fixing what I could with a renewed focus on diet and exercise. (*I do put stock in there being such a thing as a healthy weight, and I’m definitely not where I should be, weight-wise, but BMI isn’t the best way to determine it. Here’s a New York Times article on the discrepancies of the system.)

On Wednesday I put on my big girl pants and went back to eating 95% paleo, instead of my typical 60%. I’m also testing out how I do with intermittent fasting, eating my full day’s worth of calories between 10am and 6pm most days to give my body more time to rest between processes. For more info on intermittent fasting, here’s a great article from Nerd Fitness with all the basics.

Dropped coffee (I was already only drinking decaf, and it was still giving me jitters) from my diet, and I’m taking it easy with alcohol, as well. Taking all of my supplements (magnesium/calcium, multivitamin, B complex, D, probiotic, glucosamine, and fish oil) every day, but I was already doing that. Also went back to drinking an ounce of water per pound of body weight, which means that I have to pee pretty much constantly, but between the water and cutting out coffee, my skin is looking great!

One thing I’ve noticed is that since I started cutting off my ability to eat at night, I’ve weirdly stopped craving food. Went to the grocery store tonight and was able to walk right past those homemade double chocolate caramel brownies that I typically adore. (Though I’m not a saint – I did buy a dark chocolate orange peel bar to get me through the late night work session I’m about to embark upon after finishing up this blog post.) I’m also starting to pay attention to when I’m actually hungry vs. just bored – and guess what? Every time in the last week that I’ve felt like I should be eating something “after hours”, thus far it’s ALWAYS been related to boredom or being upset. Of course, I pretty much knew that, but reaffirming it by taking a mental note each time it happens is going to be very helpful in the long run. Hopefully, at least.

Last week I worked out four days at Iron Tribe, and this week I’m going to try for five or six. That doesn’t include steps – I’ve been aiming for (and hitting) 15k steps per day. That’s nothing new, though. I’ve been doing 15k steps per day for months now. In fact, I’m thinking of upping it to 20k steps, but for the moment I think it’s more important to get fully into the new eating schedule and take care of my right calf, which has been kind of tight lately. I don’t want to overwork it too much and damage myself, because my daily walks keep me sane. A day without a good long walk just feels wrong somehow.

All of the above is important, but the biggest changes are the ones that were already happening for me at the gym. The weight might not be falling off, but there are other ways to take a look at fitness, and it’s evident from the inches that I’ve lost and the new challenges that I’ve been undertaking during my workouts that working out is working, period. I’m finally able to see some definition in my arms, I’ve lost an inch off of my waist and thighs, two inches off of my boobs (sigh) and holy crap, can I lift some weight!

When I started at Iron Tribe last October, I had trouble just lifting the 35 lbs. bar without plates added. This Monday our workout included 2 reps of push presses for our heaviest weight, and I put 85 lbs. over my head – the most weight I’ve ever put over my head in any lift (strict, push press, push jerk, you name it)! I also have a feeling that if we weren’t doing 5 second holds as part of the press, I might have been able to do 90 to 95 lbs. In fact, I’m just realizing that I PR’d in my clean, too, since I put 95 lbs. into my front rack but couldn’t complete the press. Yay me! Adding it to my list of current PRs: 135 lbs. in front squat, back squat, and deadlift, 85 lbs. push press, and a 95 lbs. clean. Sweet.

Tuesday’s workout was better, but for a different reason: I had three personal firsts that were directly related to being stronger, all in the same workout. First off, we had to open and close the workout with 15 burpees. I typically try a couple of regulation burpees, then get worn out and do a scaled version where you step up instead of jump up. I got through NINE in the opening round, which is huge for me. Here’s a pic of me doing burpees at the end of the workout (22 minutes to do 15 burpees, 5 rounds of 6 pull ups and 6 deadlifts, 15 more burpees – I finished in 16:52), with my coach, Shelby, beside me helping me through those last few reps. Doesn’t she have the most amazing arms? I’m asking Santa for two of those this Christmas 😀

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The next good thing to happen was during pull ups. If you can’t do an unassisted pull up, you can use a resistance band to help support your weight and get you back to the top of the bar. If you squint a bit at the photo above, you can see green and red lines hanging near the top of the shot – those are the bands, dangling down from the pull up bar. You put one foot in your band(s), cross your ankles, and do the pull up as normal, and the bands help you pull your own weight back up to get your chin over the bar.

There are multiple weights of resistance bands, and people with less arm strength combine two bands of the heaviest weight, or maybe one of the heaviest weight and one of the next weight down. I usually use the two heaviest bands, but yesterday I felt stronger, and had a hunch that I’d be able to do a little better. So I used a strong band and a weaker band that even a month ago I wouldn’t have been able to do a single pull up with – and I rocked it! Was super tired by the end of the workout, and almost couldn’t get that very last pull up, but I got there after a few attempts. My arms were noodles today, but it was so worth it.

Today was also a victory, but in yet another sense – I got so bummed about not being able to make it to the gym because of work that I ended up putting work on hold so I could walk the 45 minutes there, do my workout, and walk back. Not a single regret 🙂

Alright, time to get some of that work done, so I’ll sign off. Have you been seeing any big changes in your life (physical, mental, spiritual)? I’d love to hear about them. Drop me a line in the comments!

Tackling Tribal Wars

ITF NOLA's Gray Division teams before Tribal Wars started.

ITF NOLA’s Gray Division teams before Tribal Wars started.

This weekend I competed in my first-ever fitness competition. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll have seen me talk about joining a gym called Iron Tribe Fitness. I’ve never been to a crossfit gym, but I hear that the two are very similar, but technically they’re both their own brands. So I’m not a crossfitter, I’m an ITF athlete…which suits me just fine.

I go to the gym four or five days a week, unless I’m traveling or sick. The workouts are 45 minutes long, and consist of a warm up, cool down, and about 35 minutes of HIIT training / weight lifting. Every day is something different, so you never get bored. The coaches are really hands on, and there’s a real camaraderie between coaches and athletes. Everyone’s very supportive, no matter your fitness level, and over the course of the last nine months I’ve ended up making both gym friends (folks that I chat with on site), and real life friends (people that I hang out with outside of gym-related activities). When I started at ITF, I had no clue how deeply my life would be affected, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve grown to adore my coaches and the people I work out with, and genuinely look forward to that precious time each day when I get to just go and work up a good sweat with people who not only don’t judge me, but also help me forget to judge myself for awhile. To put it mildly, it’s a great feeling.

Even with all of the above being said, I was still very nervous to sign up for Tribal Wars, the annual Iron Tribe competition. The event is for teams of four, competing in one of three divisions: Gray (lowest weight and reps), Orange (more weight and reps), and Black (lots of weight and reps, ie. superhuman effort). Our workouts at the gym are color coded, as well, and I’m typically working out in the Gray range, so I knew that I’d be competing in Gray as well. Easy. But none of my regular gym friends were competing, so I didn’t know how to tackle that. Luckily, the coaches were really helpful on that level, and set me up in a team with three other people I hadn’t met before in class, but ended up really liking.

Last Friday I hitched a ride up to Birmingham, AL with Lauren, another girl from the gym that I’d said hi to on occasion but didn’t know that well. As it turned out, she ended up being awesome, and we talked non-stop on the five-hour trip from Louisiana to Alabama. We were also in the same hotel room as our female coach, Shelby, which ended up being a great arrangement, since our personalities meshed really well. We all crashed pretty early, then woke up at 5:30 the next morning to make it to the stadium for Tribal Wars by 6:30. My team had had a hard time getting together prior to the competition, so that morning was the first time we were all in one place. We talked strategy, sat through a “how to” session where the event judges ran us through what constituted a rep or a no-rep (that means that you’ve done something incorrectly and that rep won’t count), and got ready to rumble.

My team after the competition.

My team after the competition.

My team was named The French Squatters, which was meant to be a pun on French Quarter and the numerous weightlifting exercises that involve squatting. It was funny enough, and none of us really cared that much about the name, but there were some truly funny/clever ones out on the field. I loved The Chalking Dead (where the logo had a chalk handprint), and Double Stuffed (their logo was a kettlebell that looked like an Oreo cookie), but my favorite one was 2 Jerks & 2 Snatches. There was also a team that wore Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirts. Can’t remember their actual team name, but they wore cool uniforms. Really looking forward to next year’s team name/uniforms. I’d love to put together an all-girl team named The Power Snatches!

Each division had three workouts overall. I didn’t pay attention to how the workouts were being scored, but there were several different things that were being calculated, involving weights and times, and a certain number of reps were required in each workout. The event took place on a college football field, and each team had an aisle to work out in. I don’t know much about how football fields are marked, but the aisle was the area between the horizontal lines that mark the field. Yard lines? Not sure, and not taking the time to look it up.

Doing kettlebell swings in Workout #1.

Doing kettlebell swings in Workout #1.

Anyway, Workout #1 for Gray Division sent two people to one end of the aisle, and the other two people to the other end. At one end, the two people had to do 100 barbell cleans (55 lbs) and 100 box jumps. At the other end, the other two people had 300 single unders (jump rope) and 100 kettlebell swings (26 lbs). After both sides had completed all assigned activity, all four team members met up in the middle for 15 team barbell burpees, where all four people had to do a burpee and jump over the equivalent of a barbell, then all four would do a burpee on that side, then jump, then burpee, etc, back and forth. All team members had to jump and land with both feet off the ground, or it would be a no rep and the whole team would have to repeat that burpee. I was most worried about the burpees for this workout. My teammate Olga and I were on the jump rope / kettlebell side, and didn’t have much problem taking care of them. I tripped a couple of times on the jump rope, which I honestly didn’t expect because I’m typically pretty quick at single unders, but she picked up when I faltered, and I did my fair share of kettlebell swings to help her out. I was surprised to really love those, by the way. I keep finding exercises that I used to be afraid of, and now really like. What surprised me most is that even though I was afraid that I’d be really slow and hold my team up on the burpees, we were all about the same level of proficiency, and I was even faster at some points. That surprised me a lot.

Workout #2 was a 300 meter shuttle run where the first team member ran up and down the field, then as soon as the first person got back, the second person and the first person could go again, then as soon as the second person got back, the first, second and third people could go, etc. As soon as the first person was done with the run (3 trips across and back the short side of the football field), they could go to the sidelines where there was a rack set up with a barbell and weights. All team members then had the remainder of the time for that workout (I think it was 15 minutes overall) to reach their heaviest weight for a complex of 3 front squats and an overhead of each person’s choice. I was a little bit disappointed on this workout, to be honest. My shuttle run was a lot faster than I’d thought it would be, but in the end there wasn’t enough time to get to my heaviest front squats / overhead combo. My PR with an overhead up until that point was 75 lbs, but that day I knew I had more in me. Since we were working our way up to adding more weight as a team, there just wasn’t enough time on the clock to adding any more weight, and my final weight was the same as my existing PR. I honestly think I could have done at least 85 lbs, but that day I was planning on trying for 95 lbs. Oh well – that gives me something to try for in the coming weeks. One great thing about the front squats is that I wasn’t very confident that my squat was low enough, and I was afraid of getting a no rep. I’ve historically had a lot of hip and back pain, and though squats have really been helping me get rid of the tightness in my hips, I still was worrying all the way up to the competition. While I was working out, Lauren took some photos of me from the stands – and look at this awesome front squat! I don’t look beautiful in this pic, but I look strong, and I’m very proud of it.

I finally get low enough in my front squat!!!

I finally get low enough in my front squat!!!

My feet are too far apart, and I could have put more weight over my head. But this is me holding up 75 lbs overhead, when 9 months ago I struggled with just putting a 35 lbs bar up there.

My feet are too far apart, I’m making THE WORST expression, and I could have put more weight over my head. But this is me holding up 75 lbs overhead, when 9 months ago I struggled with just putting a 35 lbs bar up there, so I’m sharing it for posterity.

The first two workouts had been common knowledge for a few weeks before the competition, but the final workout was kept a mystery until that day. We had to do weighted forwards and backwards lunges with 2 kettlebells (26 lbs for girls, 35 lbs for guys), a 250 meter row on a rowing machine, and 100 push presses as a team (55 lbs for girls, 75 lbs for guys). The hitch was that the first person would do the lunges, run to the rowing machine, and as soon as they got strapped into the rowing machine, the next person would pick up their kettlebells and stand with them (no lunges) until the row was complete. At that point, the rower would run to the push press station and start working on push presses, and the lunger would start doing lunges, then move on to the rower. The person doing lunges could never start doing them until the rower was done, and if at any point the person put down their kettlebells the rower had to stop rowing until the kettlebells were back in hand. After all of the team members were done with lunges, rowing, and all 100 push presses, then they had to do this weird exercise called a mudskipper (after a fish native to the region that walks on land). One team member puts their toes on a frisbee, gets into what basically turns out to be the plank position, and uses their hands to walk across the football field and drag their feet behind them. The best strategy that we saw for this was to do more of an inchworm move, where instead of making the back half of your body deadweight, you bring your knees towards your chest, walk hands forward, scoot knees to chest, walk hands forward, etc. It covered a lot more ground more quickly, and was a great ab workout.

The Gray Division teams after competing, sweaty and happy.

The Gray Division teams after competing, sweaty and happy.

In the end, my team didn’t win. We finished 45th out of 47 teams. But to my surprise, I wasn’t disappointed at all. We worked REALLY HARD. It was a great workout. We finished everything we started out to do, and never gave up. For a team where only one of us had competed in Tribal Wars before, we did a damn good job.

What was even more surprising for me is that after the competition was over, after we all got together on Saturday night to take over the hotel bar, and after the biggest Cracker Barrel breakfast the next morning, all the way home I couldn’t help but plan for how I’d be better next year. I walked into Tribal Wars feeling pretty apprehensive, not sure that I’d even make it through the workouts, almost certain that I was bound to disappoint my teammates and make a fool of myself. I left Birmingham feeling awesome. I’d made new friends, completed a really hard workout, and had complete faith that I could do it again – better – next year. It also gave me the idea to start thinking of every workout between now and the next Tribal Wars as competition training. It’s entirely possible to get much, much stronger between now and then, and I’m going to do it.

Breakfast at Cracker Barrel on Sunday - we had so many plates that we were running out of room on the table!

Breakfast at Cracker Barrel on Sunday – we had so many plates that we were running out of room on the table!

Overall, I’m really grateful to my Iron Tribe friends and family for being there. I have a lot of issues with my body. I was never confident about my physical appearance to begin with, but gaining so much weight over the last couple of years has been an enormous strain on me. I feel like Tribal Wars helped punch a big ol’ hole in those clouds of doubt. Yes, I’m aware that my body doesn’t look how I’d look in an ideal world. But I’m happy to trade out those worries for the time being, and to instead concentrate on how powerful and capable my body is. I’m so strong, and only getting stronger. I’m totally OK with that.

Finding My Way

I'll be traveling the Camino Frances.

I’ll be traveling the Camino Frances.

A few days ago, I bought an expensive plane ticket.

Wait, let me back up a bit.

A few weeks ago, my credit card limit was raised. I’ve been good about paying it off, so I guess they decided I was good for it. Ha! Anyway it was completely out of the blue. I hemmed and hawed, but eventually came to the decision that it was the Universe telling me to get off my ass and commit to my pilgrimage, already. So now we’re back at the beginning of the story – I bought an expensive plane ticket. The credit card gods laughed with glee.

I thought that after a day or two, I would have processed this information to the point where I could sit down and write a few words about it in my blog. What it means to me, what I’m scared about, what I’m happy about, how I plan to go about making the room in my life for this giant step, etc. Instead, there’s this big blank space in my mind where the worry/joy/excitement/trepidation should be. It kinda feels like I might be in shock, to tell you the truth. Except would I realize it if I were in shock? I don’t know.

Here’s a somewhat related “aside” for you: I realized today that when my brain thinks I’ll probably freak out about a fact, it just skims over it. For instance, every morning I wake up and look up the workout of the day on my gym’s website. Every class that day does the exact same workout, so it’s handy to take a look, get prepared, then go into class at some point and knock out those exercises. The WOD info is also written on a white board at the front of the gym, and the coaches give us a mini lecture before the workout begins, outlining exactly what the workout will entail. Easy, right? Last week, despite reading the website, listening to the instructors, and reading the whiteboard, I completely screwed up the workout. I missed three whole rounds of exercises (which I might have said was literally impossible, except now I know it’s definitely not).

This is what a WOD (workout of the day) looks like at my gym.

This is what a WOD (workout of the day) looks like at my gym.

I wrote it off as a strange day, and moved on…but then today I almost did it again. I read the workout online, talked about it with my coworker, read the whiteboard, listened to the coaches explain it, and then right before the workout started I realized that I’d somehow been thinking that we had 80 reps to do, when in fact we had about four times that amount of reps. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s be clear that this is REALLY weird. It occurred to me during my coaches assessment today that I must be just letting my brain slide right over any unpleasantness, for fear of freaking myself out. Not exactly what I’d prefer, but interesting to note for the time being.

Anyway, so here I am, less than ten months til blastoff, proud holder of a round trip to Paris and a lot of random information about the pilgrimage. I feel prepared, intellectually, to choose the correct items for my pack (including said pack). I feel prepared, physically, to start training for the really, really long walk. But spiritually? And emotionally? And financially? Not so much.

That’s OK. I’ve got time. There’s also this great community of American pilgrims on Facebook who talk about stuff like this every day, and talking with them has been helpful. I even met someone who’s going to loan me her SPOT GPS so I can have a way of telling my friends and family where I am on the journey – pretty cool. I feel ready for the challenge, and ready for the change. I deserve it. My soul is hungry for it. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be. Maybe that’s what has me so scared.

You know that part in Interstellar where Matthew Mcconaughey’s character is trying to dock his little landing craft with a wildly spinning spacecraft, and you’re just watching, holding your breath, thinking “holy shit, dude!”? I feel like maybe that’s what my spirit and my body are doing right now. Like I’ve been so out of whack for so long, and everything’s finally getting aligned. So yeah, I’m in shock. It’s a shock. It’s completely necessary.

This is good.

 

The Transformation Challenge

I'm so excited - my gym is actually getting special Mardi Gras shirts made. Totally geeking out over this one :-D

I’m so excited – my gym is actually getting special Mardi Gras shirts made. Totally geeking out over this one 😀

It’s 10 days into the Transformation Challenge at my gym, Iron Tribe, and quite unexpectedly, I’m loving it. The challenge is, well, challenging, but also pretty simply laid out, in my opinion. From January 5th to February 13th, participants eat a strict paleo diet and work out up to 5 times a week at the gym. There are two competitions that are running concurrently: a weight loss division, and a performance division. I’m in the weight loss division, obviously.

There’s a point system for determining the winner. It’s a little complicated, so I won’t break it down entirely, but it includes points for working out in certain amounts, points for keeping a detailed food/water/sleep/exercise journal, points for completing a goal setting course, and points for each .2% of fat lost over the course of the challenge. The prizes are HUGE. First place winner gets a $200 gift certificate to Whole Foods (some of you might recognize it as Whole Paycheck), a free month at the gym, a free week of paleo food from Inner Fire Grill (yum), an entire free outfit from Lululemon, and a free 80 minute massage. Second place gets $150 at Whole Foods, $50 at a nearby restaurant, and a free month at the gym. Third gets $100 at Whole Foods and a great supplements package. I’m in it to win it, so I’m visualizing myself in a brand new Lululemon getup 😀

I'm coveting these awesome Lululemon pants.

I’m coveting these awesome Lululemon pants.

The awful thing: I had my body fat measured (by caliper) at the beginning of the challenge, and it came in at 43.1%. Meaning that at 5’7″ and 194.8 lbs, I was/am obese. I don’t look it – I mean, I know I’ve put on a little weight in my butt and thighs, and my boobs are bigger (how can that be a bad thing, you ask) but overall I don’t look like I weigh what I weigh. I’ve only gone up one pants size, even with all the additional weight I’ve put on over the last year or so – but “obese” put the fear of god in me. So I’ve been taking this thing seriously. And it hasn’t been hard. That’s the part that’s blowing my mind.

I’m at the gym daily, lifting weights or doing whatever the WOD is that day. I walk to and from work/the gym from my house, and then anywhere else I have to go, so I’m typically walking between 5 and 9 miles a day. I ran a 5k on Saturday morning, and went to my first yoga class in ages on Monday night. And I’ve been eating clean – all organic, no processed food, sugar, wheat, dairy, legumes, alcohol or sodas. You’d think I’d be losing my shit by now, not having a single slice of pizza or sip of wine, but overall I just feel…good. Just good. Not great. Not more focused. Not suddenly insightful or whatever it is that people always proclaim when they’ve found the diet to end all diets. Maybe that’s because it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. It’s something that will sustain me for the long term, and the longer I go, the better I’ll feel. I’m pretty certain I’ve still got some thyroid stuff going on, especially with the recent struggle with depression, and that’s definitely going to take some of the “high” out of whatever impact this change is having on me. But overall, “good” is much, much better than what I’d been living with prior to starting this new lifestyle. And it’s easy. For the first time in my life, I’ve found a way to eat that doesn’t have me sad and craving constantly. I think I’ll keep doing it.

It’s having other effects, too. As of today, 10 days in, I’ve lost 7.2 lbs. I’m still too heavy, and I have a LONG way to go to get to my goal weight of 145 lbs, but that’s nothing new. But suddenly I feel like it’s not farfetched to picture myself finally wearing a bikini this summer, or trying out a miniskirt before I get too old to wear one (I’ve been dying to try out a TOS Star Trek uniform – yes, I’m a geek).

That's one nearly non-existent skirt you've got there, Uhura.

That’s one nearly non-existent skirt you’ve got there, Uhura.

I think that maybe part of feeling so relaxed about this is from the work I’ve been doing with that book, Beautiful You. Once I get home tonight, I’ll tackle the next chapter.

So what are you doing lately that makes you proud of yourself, internet friends? I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment, or direct me to your latest blog post about your achievements. I’d be more than happy to help you celebrate!

Dissatisfaction

“Are these things really better than the things I already have? Or am I just trained to be dissatisfied with what I have now?”

– Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

Today’s prompt (gee, I’m going slowly – just on Day 12) in Beautiful You is to realize that my dissatisfaction is not about my body, but rather other things in my life. I’m supposed to consider that fact, and see what my mind is really trying to tell me. What else should I be addressing?

I don’t necessarily believe that being unhappy with the way I look is to be blamed entirely on other life problems. That being said, of course there are a ton of things that all of us need to work on to create better lives for ourselves. I could write a thousand page dissertation on all of the things that I’m dissatisfied in this world, starting with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, easing into the destruction of the rainforest, and rounding out nicely with bigoted, low-IQ’d fundamentalists and their conservative buddies in Congress who are trying to shove their ideals down our throats at every twist and turn these days.

But given today’s reading, I feel like I’m supposed to be talking about what in my life is so dissatisfying that that I’d turn it all inward and focus on being ashamed of my body. Let’s see.

I’m terribly smart, so it’s not that. I’m witty, and I make people laugh. Not uproariously, of course, but I’m not devoid of humor, so that’s a good thing. I’m mildly successful, and creative, and I try very hard to be very nice. So none of those. I’m not really that talented at anything though. I’m a good writer, and a good singer, and I make origami, and I put together great outfits when I try. I’m also a good cook, though I hate cooking and try to avoid it as much as possible.

OK, I’ve figured it out. Kinda. I procrastinate a lot. When I’m anxious, I freeze up (if it’s the good kind of anxious, because otherwise I have a panic attack or something similar). When I freeze up, the only way I can calm myself down is by ignoring the thing that made me anxious. Since almost everything makes me anxious these days – phone calls, emails, talking to people, social engagements of any kind, social media, trying to write long form, trying to be creative, you name it, it’s stressing me the fuck out – this process of ignoring things turns into procrastination. Procrastination begets its own kind of stress. Now, I’m not stupid, I can honestly look at this situation and go, “well, if it stresses you out to procrastinate, wouldn’t it be better to break down the things you have to do into small, manageable chunks and accomplish them that way?” No shit. It’s how I end up making it through every day without boiling over into panic attack mode. But every single day is a repeat of the scenario. It’s driving me crazy. It’s definitely driven me to depression.

But now I’m reading back through this, and I don’t know if I’ve answered the question at all. Maybe these are two different issues that happen to be going on at the same time. Hmmm.

I guess the other reason I might be dissatisfied and taking it out on my body is that I’m dissatisfied with the way my life has turned out. But no, that’s not either. I’m dissatisfied with the way my life has turned out, so I overeat and drink, which in turn makes me gain weight (along with the thyroid issue), and then I’m dissatisfied with my body. But I guess that works. It’s not that I’m dissatisfied with my life and blaming it on my body, it’s that I’m dissatisfied with life and find a way to treat that dissatisfaction in an unhealthy way that allows me to turn my attention on my body. Woohoo! Great to know.

Well, I’m already treating part of the issue – I’ve been eating paleo (including no drinking) for a week now. I’ve lost over 6 lbs already, and aside from being tired from my workouts, I’m feeling pretty OK with my body right now. It feels strong, and that’s good. I deadlifted 105 lbs the other day!

I guess that being dissatisfied with the way I look could very well be related to being embarrassed and awkward when it comes to presenting myself physically. I hate being looked at, and any time I get in the spotlight, it makes me really uncomfortable. The same thing happens all the time at work and in social situations – I’ve just learned how to hide how I’m feeling and project a somewhat more confident exterior to my clients and colleagues. The constant doubt and fear does impact me on a personal level every day, and probably also has something to do with my procrastination and interpersonal relationship issues. This is something to think about.

Make ‘Em Laugh

Click through to find out more about this book I keep going on about :-)

Click through to find out more about this book I keep going on about 🙂

I’m not quite sure what day of Beautiful You I’m supposed to be at today (it’s one of those chapter-per-day books, where there’s an exercise each day for a year), but I’ve only made it to Day 10. Which is absolutely fine, because today I’m supposed to be sharing positive thoughts about myself, and for most of my holiday break, it was difficult – nearing on impossible, in fact – to find a single one. Luckily, I’m feeling pretty happy today, so I’m sure I’ll be able to dredge something up.

First off, today’s the second day of the Iron Tribe (that’s my gym, btw) Transformation Challenge, and I’m loving it so far. There are two different divisions – performance and weight loss. I’m doing weight loss, since it’ll probably be a year or more until I’m as strong as some of the people are in the performance division. Yesterday I walked to and from work from my house (almost 7 miles, since I did a little extra walking during the day), and went to the gym. Today I did the same thing, but only clocked around 6 miles.

I also worked out both days – part of the challenge is to log 5 workouts a week, which is cool, because my plan only pays for 4 workouts, so for the remainder of the challenge I’m getting a free class every week (thanks Iron Tribe!). Yesterday’s workout was pretty easy, really – We had 25 minutes to do a 500m row, 200m run, 100 single-unders (that’s jump rope for the layman), then 36 burpees and 36 wall balls, which are a similar motion to thrusters if you lift weights, just with a medicine ball. Today’s was a little more intense – it was a timed workout where you started at 2 pull ups, 2 pistols (one-legged squats), and 2 burpees, then 4 of each, then 6 of each, then 8 of each, etc, adding 2 of each rep each round. At the 10 minute mark, whatever round you were on, you’d go back the other way – 8, 6, 4, 2. I ended up doing 50 pull ups (I’m not that much of a bad ass, I use a band for assistance), 40 pistols and 40 burpees. I know, I’m boring you. Hell, I’m boring myself. But I’m proud that I’m getting stronger. It’s nice.

Anyway, today is supposed to be about positivity, and since working out makes me feel great about myself, I guess that was as good a place as any to start. But let’s really get down to brass tacks here. Beautiful You asks me: What do you most appreciate about yourself? What are you most confident about? What is the first positive memory you have of yourself? Was anyone there to witness that moment? If so, who was there and how did he, she, or they react?

When I was in high school, I took classes on a block schedule. We had four or five long classes a day for a semester, and then at the end of the semester we had an entirely different set of classes. We got to choose two electives each semester. Since the only way my parents knew to pay for my college was to have me go into the military after school, I was put in Air Force JROTC from the beginning of freshman year on. It taught discipline and teamwork, but also sacrifice.

I wasn't just in JROTC - I was  on the JROTC color guard AND drill teams, a cadre, went to officer's training school in the summers, the whole 9 yards. Even so, I was so relieved to not have to go into the Air Force in the end.

That’s me with the American flag, marching in a parade. I wasn’t just in JROTC – I was on the JROTC color guard AND drill teams, a cadre, went to officer’s training school in the summers, the whole 9 yards. Even so, I was so relieved to not have to go into the Air Force in the end.

 

One of the biggest sacrifices for me was having to give up one elective each semester to be in JROTC. I really wanted to take art, and drama, and dance, but with JROTC eating up half of my electives, and the other electives needing to be things that my parents deemed “useful,” I had to be really careful about selecting the rest of my fun classes. I never got to take drama or art – two things that I still love, and have a sneaking suspicion I would have excelled at had I started early – but I did get to take one semester of dance.

Let’s just get this out of the way early – I’m not a great dancer. I’m coordinated enough to pick up line dances and couples dances with a little practice on the floor, and can flub my way through a tango social if needs be, but when it comes to jazz, ballet, or modern (basically anything where I have to be on my own), I’m hopeless. I had a ballet teacher call me an elephant once. I’m just kind of hopelessly white – nothing shakes the way I’d like it to, lol. Anyway, at the end of the semester we had a dance show, where all the girls taking dance got to perform a couple of routines. My class did three dances, but I only remember one. It was the best one, so that’s OK.

Greasers in NYC, 1950

Greasers in NYC, 1950

The routine was a 50’s number. Half of the girls were dressed as greaser boys (there were no boys in our dance program), and half of the girls were in poodle skirts, with ponytails and cute sparkly neck scarves. We were mostly dancing solo, but would interact and do some swing dance types of moves with our “partners”. I was dancing with an older girl named April, who passed away under dark circumstances a few years ago. She was a sweetheart, but normally tried to appear really tough. That really worked for the greaser costume. For one of the moves, the greaser would swing the poodle skirt girl through “his” legs, leave the poodle skirt girl lying there, and then walk around her. It’s hard to explain, but it was a cute/funny scene. The poodle skirt girl was supposed to be in love with the greaser, and looking up at “him” adoringly.

Poodle skirts sans poodles, 1956.

Poodle skirts sans poodles, 1956

 

April and I were at the front of the performance, right in center stage. The theater was packed (I’m from a small town – there’s not much else to do). Everything was going off without a hitch. We danced. She swung me, then started walking around me. I pretended I was over the moon in love with her, stuck on a dopey grin, and batted my eyes. As tough as she was, she couldn’t help but crack a grin back at me. The crowd loved it, and we got a laugh. It was one of the best moments for me. It was the precise moment that I realized I could be someone different onstage if I wanted to. It also made me feel special because even though I wasn’t the best dancer, I still had a talent. I love to make people laugh. It’s a great feeling. Making a crowd laugh? Wow. I was on cloud 9 after that show.

But that’s only part of the answer, I guess. Though I love to make people laugh, my real gift is caring about people, and genuinely wanting them to be happy and well. I love that about me. Sometimes I still have to remind myself that when people don’t treat you with utmost respect, it doesn’t mean that they’re awful people, it just means that they don’t understand the degree of everything’s interconnectedness yet. I also have to remind myself that maybe they never will get it, and that’s OK. That’s their journey.

My journey, my biggest need right now, is to be OK with me, and that means finding small things to love or accept (hopefully both) about other people, without letting them bog me down in their darkness. Hopefully I can offer a little light to help them on their way. I can still remember April as she cracked that grin at me. She had a tough life. It was too short. But she had a pretty smile. That spark can never die.

The World’s A Stage

What are your hopes – personally and for the world – with regard to body image and beauty perception? How can you begin to live your hopes today? Thinking about what you want most for yourself and for the world allows you to act on that information.

I’ve had a few realizations over the last week. One I’m still mulling over, and will share with you eventually. One is that I am way too stressed out, and it’s really taking its toll on me 24 hours a day. But the most important thing I’ve worked through and come to terms with is that instead of working myself up by constantly – and I do mean constantly – thinking how ugly and fat and stupid and worthless I am, and focusing all of my efforts to change solely on my diet and exercise regime, I should be concentrating a lot more on trying to love myself. The diet and exercise are never going to work – no matter how perfectly I attempt them – if I’m constantly in self-sabotage mode because I loathe myself.

So I’m going to start doing some daily exercises to get to know and love myself better, using the book Beautiful You: A Radical Guide to Self Acceptance as my guide. Luckily, the plan involves daily journaling, which I’m pretty much already doing here.

Currently it’s 7:51 in the morning, and I’m typing from a Starbucks in Houston. I just got off of a sleepless 6-hour bus ride from New Orleans, and will soon embark on another 3.5-hour bus ride to Austin. Fun fact about Anna: I can’t sleep in automobiles or on planes. I need a place to stretch out and lie down completely, not recline 4 inches. Typically, I’d have taken a sleeping pill, but I packed them in my suitcase that was stowed under the bus before we left. Joy. But oh well – the things we do to be with the people we love, right? Two of my best friends and I are meeting up in Austin today to have some much-needed girl time. I’m so excited to see them, even if I will be a zombie by the time I get there.

All that time awake on the bus this morning led me to this, though: My primary hope for myself in the realm of body image is that I’d learn to see myself the way I see my friends. All of my friends are attractive to me. I love their smiles, and the way their eyes glow when they’re being their authentic selves. I love their individual styles, and senses of humor, and getting to know more about each and every one of them. When I see my friends’ flaws, I see them as beautiful things that make them different and unique. When I see my own flaws, I see them as things that set me apart from the world in a negative way. I feel like a laughingstock. Or something less than a laughingstock, actually – I feel more like I should be ostracized in some way. I want to look at my differences and see how they could be perceived as beautiful. I want to feel comfortable enough in my skin that I can move freely again – physically and emotionally.

As far as the world goes, I’m not sure what I want for people to think/say about bodies, whether at home, in the media, etc. I know that I didn’t get the way I am because of the media – at least not directly. I was barely plugged in as a kid, and I remember feeling fat as early as 2nd grade. I do know that things are much worse now, and men and women everywhere are dealing with serious body acceptance issues as a result of peer pressure and unrealistic expectations placed on them by themselves and others. I do want people to realize that it’s not just women who feel shitty about their bodies, and we can’t keep talking about it like it’s something that only women can own. And that’s enough for now. I’m going to catch my Austin bus and go get mani/pedis with my lovely KT and Trin.