I Am That Girl Now

Thursday, February 28, 2008

This looks to be a travelin' year

Money, I have to say, sucks. Our rent just went up $35/month, which on top of our electric bill doubling and the price of various groceries going up (meat and milk particularly) is causing a certain amount of gnawing anxiety about the future. It doesn't help that our company just fired six people today; according to our president that's all the staff cuts that'll happen, but since my Hub and I are both employed by the same company it really does remind one at moments like this that having both one's employment eggs in one basket is possibly not the best idea. Too late to really do anything about it now, at any rate; with the economy going south, it's not a good time to switch jobs-- and I'd feel bad about possibly taking a job away from someone else who really NEEDS the work, you know?

Recessions are scary things, I tell you. This is my second while in the workforce, and it looks to be a lot worse than the first. We're continuing to pay down the student loan like mad, which is probably stupid-- if we were sane people we'd be making the minimum payments and socking the rest into savings to keep us afloat in case next year there's another budget deficit in our company and one of us gets laid off because of it. Our credit cards are almost free of any lingering debt (mild problem with my Hub's card, but it should be taken care of by mid-March), my medical bills are paid (or will be as soon as the bastards finally apply the check), our taxes for the year will be paid tonight or tomorrow, and I figure that if worst comes to worst, we'll have enough money to pack our possessions into a U-Haul and drive back to the old homestead to live with my parents for a year. It's been done before-- and this time, at least they have high-speed internet, which is frankly all we need to sustain our lifestyle. Well, that and occasional access to sushi and Thai food, which is problematic in the small-town Midwest, but oh well.

Must admit that I'm looking for corners to cut. It sucks to be my Hub right now because he is JUST starting to get a handle on his spending (I really need to stop enabling him when he goes on one of his "I just need to get out of the office, so we're going to go out to eat" jaunts) and now I'm eyeing his parking expenses and all the times he buys extra food. Poor boy. I can't help it; if there's any way we can sock money into savings again, I intend to do it.

I've just been working on the budget again, specifically in this case hashing through the travel budget. We throw in $70 per month, which used to get us airfare to wherever my family was gathering for Thanksgiving or Christmas plus car rental for Christmas or Thanksgiving for my Hub's family, who live closer. (We trade off; one family gets us for Thanksgiving, the other Christmas, alternating by year.) After a tense situation with the travel budget last year when airfare skyrocketed, my Hub got over his intense dislike of long car trips and, last year, we drove the 13-hours-each-way journey to my hometown not once, but THREE TIMES.

This year looks to be no different. The budget thus far looks like it can handle two or three trips out to see my Hub's family, and three or four trips to see mine. This does not include the possible trip to go see my sister and help move her from one side of the country to the other, which I am considering, but which would need to be funded by me alone. (On the one side, it might be kind of fun, and I love my sister and would rather not have her drive the whole thing alone. On the other side, OH MY HOLY GOD that's a lot of driving.)

We have five trips planned already, four of which are necessary; one is extra. There's the trip (which needs to happen pretty damn soon) to visit our nieces and nephew and, incidentally, my brother-in-law and his intended. The trip home for my sister's wedding. The trip home for the great outdoor music festival. The trip out to ye olde homestead (quite literally; my mom's family farm) for Thanksgiving. The trip back to the in-laws for Christmas.

The two extra, thus-far-unplanned-albeit-much-bandied-about trips are starting to look like trips that would involve Doing Things. New things. Camping and hiking, on one; roller coasters on another. I am dubious of all these things.

I am not typically an outdoorsy girl. My sister and my dad go on camping trips out in one national park or another every summer, and it sounds like this year will be no different-- except for the part where they've invited me and the Hub along. Mom will not be coming, since she hates camping quite a lot, and my sister's fiance' (who will be by that point her husband) is stuck with work, but apparently they want us along.

My Hub wants to go, rather desperately. One of the wacky things about getting him into regular contact with my family is that they influence him in strange ways, on things where I've always been the odd duck out. He encounters these things via my family and then gets very enthusiastic about them, so I end up getting dragged along and, here's the weird part, most of the time I end up enjoying myself. In this case: camping.

I associate camping with a lack of toilet facilities, possibly due to the girls-only camping out in a cow pasture at a friend's grandma's farm back in high school (one morning we woke up with a cow staring through the tent door, I shit you not), and while I am vaguely okay with doing that overnight in an all-girl environment, more than one night is not okay. So when this idea came up, I immediately called my sister to find out how the hell one peed in a national park. Happily, she assures me that when Dad says "camping" he means "car camping" (with daily loooong hikes to see pretty things) and so we would have facilities at hand. Which is a relief.

That said, there's still the rest of it. The outdoors. Lots and lots of hiking. Mosquitos and bears and lord knows what else. In the great tradition of my mother and her mother before her, I am spending some quality time freaking out about all the unknowns involved.

Part of my thing about unknowns (both "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns" as Donald Rumsfeld would say) is, I guess, a lack of assertiveness... which sounds weird, but hear me out. Known issues, I can plan for and work around. Unknown issues, I have to deal with on the spot, and either shut up and deal with it or-- a new option for me-- assert myself in order to take care of myself. Some stuff I have to ask for on the spot, like if I get tired and have to rest or am hungry and want to stop to eat (or have to pee and have to find somewhere to go), but some stuff I have to assert myself about earlier, asking questions and participating in the planning. I'm... really not used to that. To be honest, that part scares me more than the actual camping or hiking. Asserting myself as an equal partner in this stuff is a freaky concept. Having some control is a comforting thought, don't get me wrong, but doing the part where I actually speak up and take some of that control? Oy. Nerve-wracking.

I'm trying, I'm trying. I'm getting little practice sessions every day at work, when I have to poke someone about an e-mail that they still haven't responded to, or ask if they've finished project X yet. As they say in Intuitive Eating-- granted, in reference to a whole different thing-- each little instance of finding that you can do something weaves together, over time, into a structure that you can stand on, and trust, and feel confidence in. Hopefully that means that over time I won't be so scared of new, unknown things anymore, because I'll have the confidence to ask questions-- not to mention have confidence that I can walk into any situation and if I need to change something to suit myself, I will be able to ask and take care of it.

In the meantime, it's still nerve-wracking.

I'm continuing to work on recognizing my hunger and my fullness. It's odd, because while I can recognize the extremes (starving half to death and stuffed to the gills, respectively) the smaller levels on the way up are still strangers to me and I have to listen like crazy. For instance: today we had sushi for lunch because, seriously, had to escape the atmosphere of morbid paranoia at the office. My combo had three rolls. I stopped with six pieces still on my plate, listening to my stomach, and couldn't tell what the hell was going on because it was just plain quiet, so I split the difference, ate two more pieces, and left the other four for my Hub. Right now I feel slightly overstuffed, so apparently my initial instinct was correct. It's just so damn hard to leave food on my plate when I can't tell if I'm full or not-- and harder still to leave food knowing it will immediately disappear into my Hub's mouth. 'Cause then it's GONE. That's the scars of twenty years of dieting, right there-- that "fuck, if I don't eat it ALL then I'll regret it forever because I'll never have it again!" mentality. You'd think it would just be about sweets and junk food, but I have low levels of this reaction even for ordinary food like tuna noodle cassarole.

I'm trying to think of hunger and fullness along the lines of another biological need: having to pee. It takes a lot of time when we're little to learn to go before there's an imminent explosion, because the signs before that point are a lot more subtle. All of us learn to recognize those subtle signs eventually, though, so we take care of things long before the point of no return. We learn to recognize such subtleties in our bladders that we can gauge, when on a road-trip, whether we'll make it to the next road oasis in 23 miles or if this one, right here, is our best bet. Hunger and fullness can't be that different, can they? I learned one; surely I can learn the others.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Monday, February 25, 2008

An ENTIRE MONTH LATER I am finishing the review!

I started writing this on 1/25/08-- strangely, a full week before my life briefly blew up on February 1. It may have been one of the outlying warning signs, I think. Anyway, since I'm reviewing Shauna's book The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl, I am going to throw in a bonus review for the hell of it, on Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata.

Okay, so, about The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl. I quite honestly rode past my El stop the first time I read this book on the train, because I was so engrossed in the early adventures of tiny!Dietgirl that I looked up groggily at Fullerton and realized moments before the door closed again that, wait, I was supposed to get off BEFORE this, and jumped off the train in the nick of time. And the thing is, it pissed me off mightily, because I wanted to keep reading! I did something I haven't done since my college days: I kept the book out and read out of the corner of my eye while navigating the steps down, corridor across under the tracks, and steps back up to the opposite platform. Then kept reading-- mind you, this was in single-digit temperatures and I had no gloves with me-- while waiting for the train.

Also out in the cold, I was about to cry, because while Shauna's trademark combination of graceful wit and hilarity was very much in evidence in those early chapters, there's a lot of painful stuff in there and it resonates, man, it resonates hard. I do not like remembering being at a place where I hated myself and couldn't stand being in my own body, I don't like remembering the stuff that made me grow up the way I did or the times when I was so depressed after college that I hid in my room all day and only ventured out after dark to get groceries and rent movies, but at this point it was like someone had pulled it gently from my brain and put it down on paper, only changed a little. And now I'm getting all welled-up again, because of this weird thing where I don't like to feel bad for myself about those times, but reading about someone else having such similar times meant it was okay to feel bad for her... so I could feel bad, at last, about those experiences, through her. I'm doing a terrible job of explaining it but maybe this is what Aristotle referred to with drama as catharsis, an acceptable release for emotions. Either way, many many thanks to Shauna for writing it because dear God, I needed that.

It's a wonderful book. I've read all the Dietgirl archives so you'd think that reading a book I already knew the ending to would be less engrossing, but, nope, every time I picked it up (I have had four books on rotation this week, another thing I haven't done since college) I got sucked right in. It's such a wonderful mix of big dramatic stuff (large amounts of weight lost! moving across the world! meeting a guy! Red Square! impending doom! weddings and more weddings!) combined with wacky hilarity (farting and Elvis and drunken babble and all) and unabashed honesty about the whole sticky business of owning and caring for a body in transition. I am also now of the opinion that Dr. G needs to be cloned and these clones distributed around the globe to women everywhere, because he sounds like an utter delight and a real keeper.

I kept wondering how the hell she was going to turn this into a story with an ending, but she did, and did so beautifully, and I damn near cried. I feel so proud and sort of ready to bound off into mid-air. Oh, Shauna: NICE JOB.

Next up: Rethinking Thin. This ended up being the last of the pile o' books on my nightstand from my ill-fated whoops-wait-that-didn't-use-the-gift-certificate! Amazon purchase, most of which were about fat. And holy cow, this is the most scientific one of the bunch. No Fat Chicks was electric with the fervor of a woman who'd just discovered how she personally, among millions of others, had been fucked over by the diet industry, and extensively covered how the whole thing works, from models to magazines to WeightWatchers to Lean Cuisine; The Diet Myth was a drier read by a lawyer reviewing the supposed scientific case that being fat will kill you, who takes short breaks among all the data and the fascinating sociological narrative (including a fascinating look at the Clinton/Lewinski mess with an eye toward the influence of fat and dieting upon the psyches of Clinton, Lewinski, and Linda Tripp-- AND Hillary for good measure) to burst out with worry over what the hell is going to happen to his daughter as she grows up among the fat-is-bad noise machine. Both are clear from the outset about what their conclusions are.

Rethinking Thin is more coy about its main premise, and instead leads the reader through the whole thinking process, handing us more and more evidence along the way, until we reach the end of the book gaping at the sheer overwhelming mass of accumulated evidence indicating that the diet game is complete bullshit. Even better for the average reader (i.e. those without a weight problem) who is likely to think that the problem with fat people is that they don't really, REALLY try to lose weight, this book also follows a group of people serving as test subjects for a study on whether Atkins does better than traditional calorie-counting. We meet them, we see their initial desperation, we share their initial triumphs and fall into the same belief that this time, this time, it's going to be different and they're going to make it, they're going to become skinny. Then, as time goes on, we see the inevitable plateaus, we watch them struggle as their bodies take back control of the situation and render each dieter helpless before their hunger and the need for a variety of nutritional components. In the end, the system didn't prove that one diet won out over the other-- it concluded that they both sucked.

There's so much scientific data in here that I nearly burst my brain trying to work it all in. Kolada lays out the details of study after study after study showing that the appetite is controlled by forces determined by a person's genetic code, and that no amount of willpower is enough to fight the body when the body really, really, really wants something. We also get a frightening history of the past 100+ years of diet insanity, from the "chew your food insanely thoroughly" movement and women taking digitalis (!!) to increase their metabolism, to the birth of the low-carb diet (not from Dr. Atkins, but before the turn of the last century) and the original low-calorie health-foods dieters (which incidentally produced the breakfast cereal as we know it, via the accidental invention of the cornflake), to the ham-handed attempts of doctors in the 1920s testing to see what would happen if they just sawed fat off a person and the first bariatric surgeries, to the long, long story of how more modern scientists are slowly untangling the process of how the stomach tells the brain "enough" and how that process can differ between a thin person and a fat person. It's just crazy.

I finished it about five minutes before calling my parents for our weekly hour-long chat, and it came in handy when I made the mistake of mentioning the buffet my Hub and I had gone to and how he'd eaten easily twice as much as I had. My dad immediately started talking about how Mom eats twice as much as he does, all the time; he meant to give it a jokey tone but we all knew it was another one of his supposedly sly attempts to poke Mom about her weight. For the first time I can remember, I had information immediately at my fingertips and I crushed his comment in the most chipper way possible. I didn't yell, I didn't point out that he was being a jackass, I just mentioned that hey, I just read this book that talks all about how people have completely different appetites determined by their genes, and how the process is so long and complicated that the scientists don't know the half of it yet, but they do have a LOT of things in that process documented that differ from person to person and affect each person's weight. Dad backed up really fast at that point, as he is wont to do when he discovers that he's up against someone who's loaded for bear with information on a subject he really knows very little about beyond surface assumptions.

IT WAS AWESOME. I was so proud of myself. I protected my mom! I stood up to my dad! I wasn't scared! It was great! For that, this book is already worth the cost (admittedly, I bought it used and hence discounted, but it would've been worth the full price). Bravo, Gina Kolata.

Putting all of this together with the other books-- No Fat Chicks, The Diet Myth, and the gentle "banish disordered eating and accept your body no matter what weight it turns out is your natural one" views of Intuitive Eating, I've got a wealth of material that all informs each other. From No Fat Chicks, I know the extent of the noise machine, how pervasive the "lose weight so you can count as an actual person" message is in our society, and how incestuous the relationship is between women's magazines and the diet industry, and how freakish amounts of diet studies are sponsored by companies that stand to make money off women's hatred of their own bodies, and how deep fat prejudice runs, how bad it can get. From The Diet Myth I know what the "fat kills" arguments are, how the studies are flawed, how they're ignoring other studies that indicate that the whole concept of "eat less, move more, lose weight" is hopelessly useless, how journalists always tip the story towards the "fatties suck" side, and I was introduced to the concept of a "moral panic", which is certainly what we're in the middle of right now when it comes to obesity. From Rethinking Thin, I've got a pretty good handle on how amazingly complex the human body is, and how appetite is an innate survival trait, genetically created, and difficult to fight. From Intuitive Eating, I've picked up on just how disordered the eating of even the average American has gotten, and how trying to get skinny can give you the opposite affect (not to mention the new studies these days indicating that whoops, artificial sweeteners make the body expect sweets and can actually make you fatter as a result).

Conclusion: Bodies come in a vast, vast variety of weights, just as they do heights. Humans are genetically wired to have a 20 to 30 pound range of weight individual unto themselves; below or above that range, drastic measures need to be taken to keep ya there. Years of dieting count as drastic measures, but generally they end up counting as drastic measures to keep the weight high, because all they really do is teach the body that starvation is right around the corner, so keep the metabolism low and don't let go of any fat, ever. Disordered eating (which actually includes diets) messes things up further.

What I can't hash out yet (and it sounds like nobody else can, either, so at least I'm not alone in this) is what happens in the cases where something does work. Is there such a thing as "doing it right", or did it just work for the people it worked for and they're a minority? Am I at the bottom of my weight range right now (if one assumes my top weight as the top), or was my top weight entirely due to severely disordered eating, and I'm at the top (or middle?) of my natural weight range right now? As I continue intuitive eating, will my weight go up, or down?

I'm also not sure how much it matters, at the end of the day. The two things I seem to have latched onto as great truths are that I should accept my body for what it is and love it, and that I can have a natural, satisfying relationship with food. And if I both feel good about my body and feel calm and satisfied in my eating, then that's honestly all I ever wanted. I used to think that's something that dieting could give me, but it never did; I was never at peace with my body or with food. Nor did it occur when I was ferociously non-dieting, eating food to prove that I could, or to sop up excess negative emotions. I never felt good about my body either way; I never felt at peace with food either way. I always, always was preoccupied with food to some degree (more so when I was dieting than when I wasn't). And I just can't deal with that anymore, can't handle hating my body anymore (even at my thinnest, I had lots of spots to complain about and a deep distrust of it, just waiting for the fat to come back), can't deal with having food be such a huge thing in my life. I want more than that.


Cut for length-- click to read more.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Okay, I had a whole post about stuff which had NOTHING to do with me, or mental health, or dis-disordering one's eating, or yoga, or meditation, or personal finances, or ranting about diets, and I don't mean in a refreshing "oh thank God, she's onto a new topic" but more in a "wow, is she taking too many cold meds?" way. I'm trying to piece together some kind of what-I-learned summary that can be useful as a parallel to something from the fatblogosphere but honestly at this point it's almost time to do yoga and I want to keep an eye on the Wisconsin primary results after eight. So. Here's a ramble-y update instead.

1) Okay, did you see the stories on how diet soda can seriously mess you up? I am bereft. I'd heard rumors about this for a few years, but mostly on blogs, not on the news, and as close as the two are getting to each other (God bless Junkfood Science), these were not the kind of blogs that act like news organizations, they were the kind of OMG THE WORLD IS GOING TO BLOW UP blogs that do not inspire confidence. So... this was more of a "oh, hell, they were right" kind of thing.

I've been trying to go off diet soda for a while now. Mostly because of the caffeine, which I try to avoid because I seriously have enough problems even without it. And because my boss's dentist told him that his one-per-day diet cola habit was dissolving his teeth, which wigged me out, but that is neither here nor there. Thing is, that logic led me to have decaf versions instead, and now I am hearing bad things about them. Well, PHOOEY. I suppose I'm going to have to just go ahead and stick to un-soda drinks from now on-- mainly water with lemon, as is our wont, because we are so damn cheap-- and have full-on sweet-ass soda once in a blue moon if I really want it. What the hell, it'll save me money, I guess.

2) I'm re-reading Intuitive Eating, inspired by Mae over at The Pretty Face, who is going deeply into it with her therapist and is awesome enough to post about her progress-- which I applaud and consider a damn brave thing to do, considering that it's a difficult thing to articulate and that it lacks any tangible number-based goals and markers the way that scale-based progress does. This time, I think, I'm going to do actual work with it, try to incorporate it into my life instead of sort of padding around the edges. I suppose the past several months count sort of as the first phase, in which I got used to the idea that I am never ever going to diet again, and read a lot of books about the damage dieting can do, am doing pretty well with honoring my hunger, and kiiiind of started making peace with food. It comes and it goes, and I'm glad for every time I have a good moment that I can remember later and remind myself that it's possible to be comfortable with food.

I have some amazing moments that make me go !!! in retrospect. My husband ordered pizza on Friday, and I got myself three pieces. Put 'em on the plate, and as I was carrying it out of the kitchen I clearly remember hefting the plate, looking down at it in amazement, and thinking, Good Christ, that's heavy. That's a lot of food. It kind of caught me in the middle of the whole thing, so when I ate them ('cause of course I ate them! they were yummy!) I made an effort to take my time and "be present" for the eating process, so my mind would recognize that I had eaten, y'know? And then I thought about more, and contemplated my tummy, and decided, No, that will do. That may in fact have been too much. Five minutes later, my stomach was informing me Oy, that was totally too much, what were you thinking? So, small victory: I recognized the size of what I was eating, I ate it mindfully, and I have a clear mental image of the aftermath to remember next time, so hopefully next time I'll pause between the second and third slices. And, hey, I was full. It is not unknown for me to try to eat the whole damn pizza, yea, even in these enlightened days.

I had another one of those moments when it occurred to me that we have had tortilla chips-- flavored ones, even-- on top of our refrigerator since Saturday. I ate some of them Saturday, got bored with them fairly quickly, and haven't been back since. This is huge news because tortilla chips in general (Doritos in particular, but any kind with flavored dust on it) are a long-standing weakness of mine, going back to the days when the people I baby-sat for every evening after school regularly stocked Doritos of one kind or another, which I was welcome to, and which my parents never had around-- and taking on special significance during college when I had a long-standing joke about choosing my vending machine "meal" items based on color (Coke: red can, Doritos: red bag) and also did my first full-on binging with a bag of Doritos and a pint of ice cream (that, a 2-liter of soda, and two or three one-dollar/one-night movie rentals, and you've got my idea of an enjoyable Friday night; granted, sometimes pizza would replace the Doritos). Ah, chips.

My point being that it's typically impossible for me to get chips and not eat them immediately, as in eat damn near all of them immediately. And we've had these since Saturday. And I've been hormonal. I'm kind of amazed at this. I consider eating them every night, but the thing is that I'm never in the mood for them, or not hungry, and I never end up eating them. It's the damnedest thing.

Here's another one: I was reading Intuitive Eating this morning, and I considered getting a bag of chocolate to keep in my desk, the better to convince myself that I could have chocolate any time if I wanted it, and so forth. Considering is as far as I went, though, because, I swear to God, a weary little voice piped up in the back of my head saying Oh, God, do we have to? I really don't want any chocolate.


The most astonishing thing was that when I consulted my stomach, it turned out to be true: I wasn't hungry, and the thought of chocolate gave me a sort of weird "bleah, ick" feeling. I changed my thought process, wondering if maybe I should still buy it in case I wanted it later, and the little voice piped up again: If we do, we'll just buy a damn candy bar, or pick up one of those little pieces from the free bowl in the mailroom. Now shut up about chocolate because I'm seriously tired of talking about it.

And you know what? That's exactly what happened. I kind of wanted something sweet right after lunch, as I tend to do, so I snagged a piece of chocolate from the free candy bowl, and relished the hell out of it, and moved on. It sounds like such a small thing, having a day when I treated chocolate like a tiny part of my life instead of something huge and important, but it felt big.

3) It has occurred to me that I'm learning from meditation in wacky ways. I've mentioned before about how I'm learning to treat moments when my brain wanders off following one thought or another, the gentle "hey, when you drift away from concentrating on your breathing, no big; when you recognize that's what you've done, don't judge yourself on it, just let go and go back to the breath" attitude. What I realized today is that that's concentration, at least what passes for it with me. Not only that, it's having an effect on my work performance; while I'm still just as distractable, I notice the distraction earlier and go back to what I was doing without kicking myself or, for that matter, fighting myself on it. It seems that when I'm not punishing myself for being distractable, my rebellious half isn't so keen on running off away from the task at hand.


Still working on the thing where I avoid certain jobs at work. Some things I've got a handle on-- my customer service and e-mail/voice-mail response time is up a billion percent in the past few months-- and some things I'm trying to figure out. Part of it are the things I don't think I should have to do; because I'm actively denying the fact that I do in fact have to do these jobs, I'm neither doing something constructive in a) doing the job or b) putting together a game plan for having someone else do the job. Which means that it gets put off until the end of time.

Part of it, I've noticed, is where I hit things I don't know (or things that I'm uncertain on, or things that I know part of but I feel unsure of a particular detail or even if a detail exists). I get antsy about things I don't know, and avoid them, put them off, pretend they don't exist. Which is a problem at the moment because one of my big projects for the year hit a snag regarding things I don't know, and I got stuck. The clear answer is to ask someone else, which I still haven't done. If I want to get the damn thing done, though, it would probably be a good idea to ask someone and get moving again. Breathe in, breathe out, make the call.

So... progress, I think. And now, yoga time.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The stunning concept of doing something for the pure hell of it

This cold season is the worst, I swear. I'm still draining yuck out of my sinuses (and one ear, which I'm keeping a wary eye on) after almost two weeks, and when my Hub caught the cold from me last week, he ended up spending two days at home before venturing back to work, insisting on driving for the last two days of last week and now again today because he was too wiped to contemplate using the train. On the one hand, he really is, although I'm pretty sure he'd survive it if we had no other means of transportation. On the other hand, I'm wondering if I just got a lesser version of the same cold, or if it hit him harder than it hit me, or if I'm just all-around tougher than he is, because I took one day off and still went to physical therapy that day, taking the train in fact, and took the train to work the rest of the week. Probably a combination of all three, although I am enjoying the possibility that I am bad-assed.

I did two sessions of very very very gentle yoga-- the first yoga DVD I ever bought, as it turns out-- the week before I got this cold. Then I was laid out for pretty much another week, because this is the cold that eats all other colds for breakfast. On my way home from work last Wednesday, I was all by myself because I'd given my poor Hub this cold and I started thinking that I should do some yoga when I got home. On the one hand, I was feeling a little feisty and wanted to use the other "introduction" yoga DVD that I have, the one that's a step up from the other, twice as long, twice as hard. On the other hand, I still wasn't sure if I was physically up to it. I'd meant to do the other DVD a few more times before venturing into anything harder.

I finally decided hey, what the hell, I'll do the harder one. Do it carefully, and only go as far as I can, and take breaks if I need to, because the DVD doesn't know more about what my body can do than I know. Do the DVD, in a word, mindfully.

So I did.

Essentially, I'm starting over. I know the poses, but it's been a year and my body is forgetful. My flexibility has gone right back to pretty much zero. I'm still terribly nervous about my shoulder; I'm doing my PT exercises every day but a part of me still lives in dread that I'll reach a certain way at some point and feel that flash of dull pain again, signalling that the inflammation is back, that it will always come back, that my bones are too close together and I'll have to get the surgery. So I wasn't really expecting this to be any kind of profoundly positive experience.

Boy, was I wrong.

It's been a whole different experience this time through. For one thing, I've been doing meditation for a year now, and that influences my attitude more than I expected. I can concentrate on my breathing while I move and hold the poses, something that I used to really not be good at. More to the point, I find that I have something invested in the breathing-- I understand what it's for, I grasp the meaning, and thus I think it's important.

Another thing is that my physical therapy has made me very, very aware of what the muscles in my shoulders and back do, why they exist, how they move. I thought it would make me hesitant and more prone to quit; on the contrary, I have ended up working harder because of it. For the first time, I've really heard the instructor on the DVD talking when they add detail to poses, telling me to "sink the spine into the back, pull the shoulder blades together and down, keep the neck long, the shoulders away from the ears". Suddenly it makes sense! it means all the things that my physical therapist has been telling me about proper posture and the muscles that need to be strengthened to keep me from getting injured again! it means that if I do these poses with a view toward working my back properly, instead of stretching out my recalcitrant hamstrings, yoga can actually be part of my therapy instead of a danger to it! Oh, happy day.

The real difference, though, didn't occur to me until last night, after my third session of "real" yoga. I've been doing yoga every other day, using the body scan meditation on the "off" days, and even though I consciously set up that schedule a whole week ago, it didn't strike me until yesterday that I'm not doing this for exercise. It's not exercise for me now; it's meditation. It's one of the things that I do when I have my hour every night to work on my concentration and my ability to relax; it's something I do to keep in touch with my body and with the current moment.

Not exercise.

People, it floored me to realize this. For the past twenty years, I can't name a single physical activity that I undertook without an intention of burning calories. I live in a densely populated urban area where I walk to get from place to place, but any time it became something more challenging, like seeing if we could walk home from work (about six miles, last I checked), it immediately crossed the line into exercise. Even paddling around on our beloved inflatable kayak was exercise; I enjoyed it, sure, but again I always had it in the back of my mind that this was an acceptable pastime because it was physical and burned calories.

Every other time I've done yoga before this month, I did it for the exercise-- usually in combination with something more cardio-oriented, like running or pedaling an exercise bike. Not this time. I actually have been doing something physically challenging without thinking about burning calories. THIS IS HUGE.

I remember getting a free session with a fitness coach at Bally's (oy) back when I was newly moved to Chicago, when I was worried about gaining back the weight that I'd lost on my anorexic-level diet and obsessive exercise, back home. The woman asked me what kind of exercise I liked, and for a minute I just kind of stared at her with a blank expression, baffled at the whole notion of enjoyment in combination with exercise. I'd been on the yo-yo diet cycle for more than ten years by that point and nobody had ever told me that I had the option of doing things I enjoyed for exercise. By that point, I really didn't have anything that I liked to do, physically, so I just gawped at the woman like she was a crazy person. I didn't like any exercise. There was the kind I could stand, and the kind I couldn't stand, and that was pretty much it.

I have vague memories of this not being true when I was a child. I liked to ride my bike. I liked to twirl my baton. I loved dancing and swimming and running around the park with my sister, chasing our dog. Having read and adored the (incredibly racist and sexist in retrospect, holy shit) Tarzan books, I aspired to climb trees-- something which I never really got the hang of, which is just as well given my fear of heights. I ran around like any other kid, acting out my imaginary world.

What I really remember, though, is the summer when I was twelve and my dad decided that, as part of my punishment for some completely unrelated thing involving my grades, I would have to do a series of chores every day all summer. Vacuuming the house was one, I remember that. Cleaning the dog poo out of the backyard, which was a disgusting and odeous task. There were other things that I've forgotten, about ten in total, and one was exercise. Every day I had to either work on our Nordic-Trak cross-country skiing machine (remember those?) or run around the park X number of times. Absolutely required. And, like the rest of my chores, it was something I had to get done in the morning before I was allowed to do anything else.

My sister didn't get this punishment, of course, because she hadn't been acting out at school via procrastination and occasional cheating. If she had, I'm not sure whether or not she would have had the exercise portion tacked on. Maybe she would have; that was the summer marking the worst point of the war between my parents regarding my mom's weight, and it's possible that my dad was panicked enough about either of his daughters following in their mother's footsteps that he might have made my stick-thin sister exercise, too. I doubt it, though, because that was the summer he convinced me I was fat. That was the summer his cousins, visiting on their way somewhere else, couldn't remember us kids' names and referred to me offhand as "the chubby one", which infuriated my dad-- at me, for existing in a way that brought on that comment, and he yelled at me about it later that night. That was the summer I saw him forcing my weeping mother onto the bathroom scale. That was the summer he admonished me that I didn't "want to turn out like (my) mother". That was the summer he started criticizing the way I looked, changing forever the way I looked at myself in the mirror. That was the summer he criticized my running on the few times he bothered going running with me, calling me lazy when I was honestly tired.

I came out of that summer associating exercise with forced drudgery, I came out of that summer convinced that I was no good at any kind of physical movement, and I came out of that summer horribly self-conscious about what I looked like in public. I wouldn't go swimming anymore, or go to dance lessons, or play kickball at recess. And since then, I haven't done anything physically challenging (or at least physically interesting) just to do it, just to experience it; I've always had that exercise angle going on, and it never lasts.

So... WOW. I've recognized for a while that I used to have a capability to do physical things for the pure hell of it, and that I lost it, and why, but before now the enormity of what I lost was still a little lost on me because I didn't know, in the here and now, what it was like to enjoy moving without any thought of exercise. Now, I kind of do, and it's a little freaky. It's like I've taken my whole concept of how to tell if I'm "doing it right" and turned it upside-down; instead of looking to other people and their views and judgements of me, instead of looking to the experts who talk about what burns the most calories or has the biggest health benefits, I'm checking inside of me, asking hey, is this okay? we feeling good? we enjoying this? and getting answers, listening to them.

What I'm hearing from inside these days is that I like meditating. I don't do well with sitting meditation, but the body scan works wonders, and yoga works that same me-with-my-body vibe. Possibly it's because what I need, more than anything else, is to get out of my own head and reconnect with my body. And maybe this is acting as a bridge into other activities, reconnecting me not only with my own body, but with the joy of moving my body for the sheer hell of it. Not because anybody else makes me. Not because I should. Not because I'm fat and I deserve to be punished. Just because I like doing something.

I'm vaguely eyeing other activities at this point, but right now I'm just enjoying the fact that I have this one. It's a glowing little personal triumph, all mine.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Reaction vs. Response; Acceptance vs. Denial

I still owe DietGirl a review, but in the meantime, I thought it was better to write SOMETHING than to lapse into another one of my absences.

I'm back on the dedicated meditation train this week. I've been getting spotty about it in the past four months or so, and it's been showing: I get more tense, I get more emotionally volitile, I don't handle stress as well. The biggest thing I noticed, though, was the same thing that kept me off this blog lately: I hit a point where I had a lot to do, and a lot that I owed other people, and somehow that made me just... power down, go into hibernation mode. Now that I think about it, that happens a lot. In my good spots, I agree to a lot of stuff and get kind of ambitious, and then I hit a bad spot and the stuff on my list just looks overwhelming to the point where I can't do any of it at all, and I go into hiding. This time through, I had a very bad day last Friday, a full plate all weekend just with chores, and by the time I looked at my in-box on Monday I just couldn't handle anything anymore, and I spent the day putzing around online (which meant avoiding most of my usual sites, since I "owed" people things there, too). Which just made it worse, since nothing got done, and then I woke up Tuesday feeling so overwhelmed that I could barely handle going to work; I had to put in my earplugs (sensory deprivation almost always helps) and power through a bunch of stuff.

Wednesday I stayed home sick, which worked out well because I was sick. It gave me a chance to be quiet and still and empty all day, with nothing expected of me, and that was enough to re-set my mental computer; I've been slowly crawling out of the mess ever since then. I think that part of the problem might have been that I was getting ill-- that never does well for my stress levels or for my ability to concentrate-- and part might have been the lovely winter storm cycles we've been getting that have dumped about a foot and a half of snow on us in the past week, but most of the problem was the same thing it always is: that "too much! overwhelmed!" point, where I react by running away and hiding.

I know that my first reaction to anything is an automatic fight-or-flight reaction... oh, hell, who am I kidding? it's the "flight" reaction, I very rarely manage to stand up for myself. So my first reaction to stressors is to run away, avoid them, duck out, ignore them, deny their existance. I refuse to engage, and then spend a lot of energy staying well clear of them. Then, because I haven't done anything about them, they start weighing on my mind and it becomes twice as exhausting, dragging all that weight around, and I don't feel up to doing anything, and thus the weight builds up and my will-to-work goes down until I'm paralyzed and freaking out. Clearly this reaction is not working for me.

I honestly haven't figured out what's behind all of this. It could be my general fear of imperfection popping up again, or just my chronic general anxiety. It might have something to do with the tiny fear-feeling that pops up out of nowhere when I'm in the middle of a project, and I've noticed that if I don't pay attention at that moment, my automatic reaction is to go do something else instead. It's an incredibly fast reaction; I feel that twinge, and next thing I know I'm surfing the internet.

That one, at least, I have a handle on these days. I still don't know what the hell it is that sets me off, but while my reaction is to bounce off and surf the net, I'm teaching myself a response-- to stop, do a couple deep breaths, recognize that even though I don't know what's up, I'm anxious and glitchy and need to calm down, and then keep working on the same project. Which isn't to say I'm paying attention that much, but I do notice when I make a move to switch from one window to another, and that's when I stop and breathe and stay in one place instead. So instead of an automatic reaction, I do a deliberate response.

What I need is a deliberate response to the TOO MUCH TO DO feeling. I already know that what makes me feel better is to complete SOMETHING, even if it's something small-- anything off my plate is an improvement and it makes me feel more in control of the situation. Get out of denial and into motion.

That reminds me of another thing I've been pondering lately: the concept of acceptance. It is mentioned a lot in my meditation CDs and in my new-to-me copy of Full Catastrophe Living: Accept that X is happening, it says, or accept that you are who you are in this moment, or accept that someone else is doing what they're doing. Which, even in my chronically-afraid-of-confrontation state, strikes me as a very annoying thing to say. "Accept it," these days, generally means that something is how it is, and you just have to get used to it, and if you don't like it, fuck off. That didn't seem to be what the meditation stuff meant, though, because they kept saying that only after accepting something can you respond to it, whether positively or negatively.

There's a subtle distinction there, and I had to really fight it out in my head, but I finally did. They're not having acceptance mean approval, by any means. They're not saying that acceptance means the end of struggle, either; you can still fight against it and say that it is wrong. I finally sorted out that when they use the word acceptance, they're meaning it as the opposite of denial. Acceptance = admitting something exists, admitting it is happening. Accepting racism or sexism, then, would mean admitting that it is occurring, not simmering down and letting the bullshit continue. Acceptance is only a step on the way to action, not the action itself.

Therefore, response is a three-part process: acceptance of the problem, deciding on an appropriate action, and then going forward with that action. Reaction, on the other hand, skips over the first two parts and goes straight to an unthinking action. I can react to something while being in denial about it, or while avoiding it, as I've proven to dramatic effect all week. I can't respond to it, though, without accepting what's going on.

Example: Phone rings at work. Old reaction (this is really what I used to do, up until about a year ago): flinch away from the thought of more demands upon me, and promptly ignore the ringing phone unless it's my boss or a few other in-house people. Call goes to voicemail, and I then ignore its existance forever because I don't listen to my voicemail. New reaction: flinch away from the thought of more demands upon me, then breathe deeply twice as the phone continues to ring, then answer the fucking phone in my best customer-service voice.

I just have to expand that to the rest of my life. When I think about it, I already have in some areas: I get the mail from the mailbox and open it, instead of doing what I used to do when I was first out on my own and ignoring the mailbox for weeks at a time out of sheer dread; I pay my bills (mostly on autopay) instead of putting it off; I answer all my e-mail at work and try to clean out my virtual in-box before I leave for the day; I listen to any voicemail that gets left while I'm away from my desk and answer it. Hard-learned reactions, every one of them, and a lot of work stuff didn't get sorted out until the past six months. I'm still sort of surprised that I didn't get fired; I can only conclude that nobody really knows what I do all day.

So there's my latest breakdown of what I need to work on: acceptance. Recognize the impulse to hide from something, breathe a few times, and dive in. Answer the e-mail from my friends and relatives that I've been ducking for the past week. Pick up the pile of assorted junk in that far corner of the bedroom. Start by not adding to it anymore, maybe, and move on to slow chipping away at what's accumulated already. Move forward.

::breathes deep a few times before hitting POST::

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A rant, if you will, about pretty much everything

I'm in thinking mode. I've been reading a lot-- a lot-- lately, and this time I've moved briefly out of my glut of listen-to-your-body/instincts/etc. books and into a glut of seriously-the-diet-industry-is-fucked-up books. Books that indicate that a) it doesn't seem right for women to be put in the position of having to hate their bodies in order to prove that they're good people, b) what the hell is wrong with people that the level of vindictive hate toward fat people just for being fat is way higher than for, say, drug addicts? c) it seems a mite suspicious that there are a LOT of people making money off the fact that we're on a perpetual weight-loss cycle, particularly given their incestuous relationships with women's magazines and with the studies done on how fat effects health, and d) possibly, just possibly, not all women have the same body types, women naturally put on weight in bits past the age of, oh, fourteen, and maybe we should get over expecting everyone to have the body of a teenage model when that doesn't seem to be physically possible.

My Hub has been giving me a lot of raised eyebrows at my reading material. We got in a very cranky fight once about the entire concept of size-acceptance because he'd read on [very annoying website/forum name deleted] that this meant claiming that morbidly obese people had no health problems. Which is NOT what I meant. I was going with two points:

1) Correlation is not causation. Meaning that although extra weight, heart disease and diabetes seem to go hand in hand, the real thing that causes heart disease and diabetes and whatnot is a crap diet and a lack of exercise, not the weight. Eat better and get exercise: be more healthy. Lose weight by any means necessary: be less healthy. The thing that makes you healthy is not the weight loss, it is the healthy foods and exercise. Your weight is a symptom, not a contributing factor. And frankly, in a lot of people it's not going to match up exactly with their health. People can be perfectly healthy and fifty pounds overweight. People can be skinny and terribly unhealthy. Follow the health, not the weight.

2) The first point aside, how exactly does it help to hate on people "for their own good"? Seriously, this is the worst kind of concern trolling in the history of concern trolling. People are not really that concerned about the health of a fat person walking down the street; they are pissed off that their vision is being polluted by a fat person and they want that person to be skinny so that they, the viewer, can only see things that they find attractive. People discriminate against fat people all the time-- dating, employment, customer service-- and that's not out of concern for the fat person's good. That's out of pure "eeew, yuck, fat cooties". There is no respect, no admittance that yes, we're all human beings here and worthy of being treated with dignity. And frankly, there's no reason for that. It's mean. It's stupid. It's like we're all living in eighth grade, all the time, and I swear to God I thought people were supposed to mature as they got older, have we forgotten how to do that?

In conclusion: a) fat does not necessarily mean bad health, just as skinny does not necessarily mean good health, b) you're not really concerned about someone's health when you bitch about seeing a 140-lb woman on a billboard, and c) does someone's bad health mean that you should mock them and discriminate against them? ("Hey, that guy's got cancer, let's make fun of him!" doesn't parse very well if you're not, you know, in elementary school.) I'm still pissed off about that argument, in case you couldn't tell.

What I'm getting out of all of these books, besides what I mentioned up top, is this:

We do honestly eat like shit in this country. Big companies make a lot of money off of that, too: all the most convenient foods are terrible for you. Fruits and vegetables and lean protein and whole grains don't really figure into convenience; wanting to eat those last three in particular takes learning and dedicated time, instead of just toss, heat, and go. Don't even get me started on fast food. There is serious BIG MONEY in all these things, and the problem isn't that people don't know what the calorie content is, the problem is that this stuff is convenient and the healthy stuff isn't. That's it. It's not asking people to choose between apples and oranges, it's asking people to choose half an hour of work vs. waiting in line for maybe two minutes, or nuking something in the microwave for three, and either way doing no work whatsoever.

Also: we do honestly get shit exercise in this country. And there's a lot of money in that, too. Lots of money in TV, lots of money in video games, lots of money in cars, lots of money, now, in computers... and it goes on and on. Our housing is arranged in suburbs so we can't walk down the block to get a gallon of milk, we have to take the car three miles. Public gathering spaces aren't really so much of a thing anymore. The whole world is arranged for us to do as little exercise as possible to get through our days.

These things, I've been saying since forever. The game is rigged, and in order to overcome it and actually eat well and get exercise, we have to go way out of our way and that sucks. We have to spend a lot of extra time and a lot of extra money to live healthy, and that's not easy, and it shouldn't be treated as such because that ignores the reality of the situation and makes it so that nobody talks about how to honestly fix the fucking problem.

Why? Back to the Myth of the Lazy Fatties. Can't talk about how these things are a lot of work because only fat people have a problem with it, and they only have a problem with it because they're fat and, hence, lazy! BAAAAAAAALLLLS. This isn't something that only touches the lives of the fatties, this is an everybody thing. The skinny people just get to ignore it because nobody looks at them with that "shame, shame, you're doing all this to yourself on purpose" look.

Which leads me to the next point. Yes, to a certain extent we do do this to ourselves. A lot of us, me definitely included, have deep-seated issues about our looks and that turns into disordered eating, and turns into a lot of hiding at home so that we won't have to deal with having other people see us, which in turn doesn't really lend itself to an active lifestyle. Technically, though, even a rat in a maze chooses to go down corridor A, which has proven itself safe if nonetheless an eventual dead end, versus corridor B, which is obviously the right one but which gives the rat an electric shock every time it tries to set foot on it. It's the rat's choice, though, which means that the rat is stupid for ending up in the dead end time and time again. Even when the electric shocks get turned off, even though the rat can't tell; stupid rat. Obviously, it's a choice.

I am starting to feel a lot of anger toward the people dolling out the electric shocks, let me tell you.

My sister always says 'it's like we grew up with two different sets of parents' and, you know, that's true, and in the end I think my problems with my body image comes down to this: I was the first one to hit puberty, and it happened while my dad was in the middle of a war with my mom over her weight. My dad promptly went to work on making sure that I wouldn't turn out like my mom (a phrase he actually used on me, many times, which in retrospect pisses me off a LOT), assigning daily exercise, shaming me for eating more than I "should", shaming me for my weight. Which, seriously, was perfectly normal for my frame. Put that together with the way he reacted to me having problems in school in fourth grade through sixth grade-- gee, ironic, all around the same time!-- and what we had there was a recipe for disaster. It's no surprise that I grew up skittish and passive and headed directly for an eating disorder. Just as it's no surprise that my sister, having a naturally skinnier frame that doesn't come with as much boobs & butt, and who never had problems at school, didn't grow up with the same problems that I had.

I ate my way into larger and larger sizes in a way of rebelling against the notion that I wasn't good enough as I was, and that I had to be controlled because I couldn't be trusted. If my dad and I had concentrated our war on something else, like sex or dating, I probably would have ended up sleeping with every boy in town... a fate which I missed out on because I was convinced at age 13, 5'2" and 120 pounds, that nobody would ever want me because I was so grotesque. Instead, I spent all my pocket money on fast food and then, when I went to college, I spent it all on Ben & Jerry's and Doritos and pizza delivery. THIS is simple cause and effect: mercilessly shame a pre-teen about her body, and you get a socially inept teenager/college student with an eating disorder who is convinced that you hate her. You do NOT get a girl with good health, confidence, a healthy body image, and an intact loving relationship with you. How the hell my dad thought this was possible, I will never know.

Again, this is stuff I've known for forever. I haven't looked out at the big picture for that stuff, though. I haven't looked at what gives people like my dad the ammunition that they use, their concepts of "normal" and "health" all wrapped up in skinny. I haven't looked at the studies that skewed the results and the politicians that used it to create a public scare, I haven't looked at the businesses that can only keep the billions of dollars coming their way if women hate their bodies and will do anything to change them, I haven't, in short, noticed that it doesn't make any sense to start the whole process of shame when shame does more damage than it ever, ever helps, and yet that's all that our entire society seems to do regarding fat. I haven't looked at it before, and it's seriously starting to piss me off.

I eat mostly healthy foods. I exercise a moderate amount. I have awesome scores for blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. I carry between fifteen to thirty pounds more than my Weight Watchers goal said I should. I'm pretty fucking healthy, my husband thinks I'm the most gorgeous woman he's ever met in his life, I'm good at my job, I have excellent relationships with my family (even my dad, who still might get yelled at for past events if I ever get my courage up) and friends, I give money to charity and give blood and go to church, I take great care of our finances, and I keep myself clean and moisturized and deodorized and my hair is brushed and my teeth are brushed and all my clothes are clean and ironed.

FUCK the weight. If it moves, it moves. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I am through freaking out about this because all the stuff that is important to me is already taken care of. I'm healthy and I'm happy and I intend to stay that way. All I want out of life now is a normal relationship with food and with exercise, and a better ability to deal with stress, and I think I'm on track for eventually having all those things. To hell with expectations of what I should look like: my experiences and thoughts and feelings here, inside my body, need to be at LEAST of equal importance with other people's thoughts and feelings about me. Because it's me, and I am more than what other people think about me, and that's the end of the damn story.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Welcome to Chicago!

There's something about Chicago in the winter that I dearly love. Admittedly, it's cold, it's bleak, the sky goes iron-gray, we have zero humidity and hence cracked and itchy skin, it snows and, in spite of it being a strong pedestrian town, some of our neighbors utterly refuse to acknowledge the concept of shoveling the sidewalk (note: one of them will shovel a path from their door down to the street, but ignore the sidewalk, the bastards). The wind picks up. The temperature goes down. The sun is only visible during work hours, when we don't get to enjoy it. I still love the season.

I understand that if I was in Los Angeles right now, there would be no snow on the ground and I could walk around in my shirtsleeves or, at most, a hoodie. Friends and family living in various places around the country see every winter as a chance to poke fun at me for living in Chicago, as if it wouldn't be worse in, say, Buffalo, or Minneapolis, or Montreal, or Toronto, or Anchorage. I explain every year that winter is worth it, for the amazing spring and fall we get (and the hot-but-it-could-be-worse summer), and besides, it's not that bad. That's when people start laughing at me.

The thing is, it's really not that bad, once I get the hang of it. It takes a while every year to get my brain recalibrated, the same way that it takes a while each January to force myself to write the new year instead of the old, but once I get the hang of things, it's not that bad. Chicago folk are tough and practical by nature, and I think that's mostly our winters at work: winter survival is not cool by any stretch of the imagination, so there are several months every year where even the rich people wear puffy coats (some still go for fur coats but they are still puffy) and funny-looking hats, where even the flakey guy down the hall will have earnest things to say about making sure there's kitty litter tucked in the trunk of his car, where even the fashionistas in Lincoln Park will adjust to the need for long-johns and layers and waterproof boots. There's a marvelous leveling effect there. It's even a time of great civic... well, not exactly pride, more like identity: we are bonded together as a city by the common need to bitch about street-plowing (it's lightning-fast and efficient by most standards but we are a demanding folk) and The Way People Drive In This Shit (more cautiously than you'd think) and Why The Damn Train Is Taking So Long To Get Here (still generally a fast and well-organized service, for all the bullshit involved). I take it back, actually, there is civic pride proper, which can be boiled down to a single concept: We Are So Bad-Assed That This Fucking Weather Ain't Got NOTHING On Us. When the weather first dipped down into the single-digits this past weekend, nothing slowed down. Everyone joked about hiding inside until Monday with a stock of DVDs and frozen pizzas, but we all knew that if the Bears had made it to the playoffs half the city would have been swarming the stadium. And when it came down to it, it wasn't that bad, you know? Add another layer of socks and an extra t-shirt underneath, break out the down coat and the fleece-lined boots, put a hat on underneath the hood, get a big scarf on the top: problem solved. The city keeps moving, even if the population finds it rather difficult to lower their arms due to the many layers. We Are That Bad-Assed.

Not only that, but there's awesome stuff to make up for it. When we look out at the lake, not only do we get the huge flood of steam coming off it every time the temperature drops, but on certain gray and mildly-cloudy days the sky so exactly matches the lake that it's almost impossible to figure out where the horizon is, and that's a trippy experience you can't get without the big lake and freezing temperatures.

It's a season of unlimited snuggling on the couch because that'll never make you too warm. It's a season of cats wanting lap time instead of draping themselves along the windowsill. It's a season of hot drinks and soup and fresh-baked bread. It's a season of crazy knit or fleece hats, with pom-poms or surprising colors or goofy decorations. It's a season of having something to do in that awkward moment when you've just come in someone's front door, having an instant conversation topic in the questin of where to put coats and whether or not to leave shoes or boots by the door. It's a season of fireplaces and heated discussions about the football post-season games and wondering whether we'll get a good crop of Superbowl commercials this year. It's a season of bulky sweaters and squabbles over the thermostat. Oh, Chicago. Never change.

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Cut for length-- click to read more.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hopefully this won't have to be reposted once I've had sleep

The thing is, I had a GREAT morning before I left for work. I woke up half an hour before the alarm and didn't feel like snoozing anymore, so I showered, fed the cats, meditated for ten minutes, woke up my Hub, got frisky with my Hub (yay morning!), had breakfast, brushed teeth, dried hair, made snacks, and was still out the door on time.

Similarly to the last time I spontaneously awoke before the alarm (last week, I think), all went well until I got on the El. I didn't fall asleep hard this time, but I did fall asleep, and even after jogging around our (largely empty) office a bit and indulging in caffeine, I still feel like I'm about to tip over.

I caught a goof on my husband's paycheck which means they owe him twenty bucks on his next paycheck (and let's just say that it's a good thing I'm watching now, 'cause he didn't notice at all, and it would have been deducted on every paycheck all year had I not noticed), which is all well and good but it means he's $20 short this pay-period... which is really not helpful. I'm trying to get him to follow a spending plan! WORK WITH ME, UNIVERSE, PLEASE.

My Hub is having a worse day than I am... at least, he was. He was so beat and so depressed that I convinced him to take a half-day and go home. Hopefully this fixes things, because I honestly don't know if I'll be able to help. I'm already pretty groggy and I don't imagine it'll improve after work. What the hell is wrong with this week?

My chief concern for the day is that I've got a good friend who went to a fertility doctor and was told, flat-out, that they don't perform IVF on patients with a BMI over 40, and won't do so without a doctor's note if the patient has a BMI between 35 and 39. Now, because my friend desperately wants a baby, she's gone into full-on diet mode. Which isn't the problem. I worry about her, since she seems to be paying more attention to the outside cues than the inside cues and I hope she actually does eat when she's hungry because that way lies madness, but that's not the problem.

First part of the problem: the fact that the doctor has a policy based on BMI. I had a lot of red flags go up on that one. It doesn't say anything about blood pressure, or diabetes, or, you know, anything that might be a legitimate medical concern: it just flat-out assumes that if one has a high BMI like that, one is too risky a case to impregnate. I understand that it's taken as a kind of shorthand for having medical conditions, but dude. Seriously. There's being fat, and then there's being a health risk: these two things may occur together, but assuming that the one is the cause of the other is like saying that pimples cause emotional disturbances in teenagers, when the real cause of both is an excess of hormones. Excess weight and health problems may have the same cause-- eating crap and not exercising-- but what if a person is eating healthy, getting plenty of excercise, scores perfectly on health issues, and still weighs in heavy? What then?

I put my friend in touch with a fat-friendly fertility specialist, "just as a back-up" in case it turns out that a) her doctor is a real asshole when it comes to fat people or b) she gets healthy but doesn't lose weight, in which case she plans to give the current doctor a very rude gesture and go make an appointment with the other one. Yay for First, Do No Harm and their list of open-minded physicians!

Second part of the problem: all the rest of our friends, who immediately jumped on with "yay, lose some weight! we will support you!" instead of "wow, what a fucker! we will support you!". And all the suggestions. Weight Watchers, calorie counting, exercise routines. I mean, hooray for health and all, but it's long been my experience that having some other person in authority impose ye olde "you need to fix yourself before you're worthy to do X" thing is never a good thing in terms of weight loss or, more to the point, mental health. JEEZ.

The point at which a very dear friend suggested a weight-loss calculation tool which, it turns out, adjusts every few weeks to stop counting the exercise you do because your body has "compensated" for it made me want to weep. Because that's definitely not be a sign that your body is compensating the way that starvation victims' bodies compensate. It just means you need to try HARDER and eat LESS.

[Here I would normally rant about diets in which I was encouraged to eat less and less and that "if you don't add on calories for exercise, you'll lose weight faster" and how that ended up making me feel cold in the middle of the fucking summer when it was 100 degrees out. Oh, wait, this is a rant, just shorter.]

I think the lesson to be learned here is a) I have learned a great deal this year regarding how to deal with doctors, b) I do not like it when people pick on my friends, c) I am still not very good at dealing with it when other people have concepts that do not match up with my experience, and d) I am still really easily triggered when it comes to people talking weight-loss because my first thought was "you know, you're right, I should really get in some extra time on the elliptical machine."

I gotta remember-- and this is really hard-- that I gotta live in a way that keeps me sane and healthy, not in a way that makes me skinny. Which for me right now means meditation, intuitive eating, listening to my body's inner cues (which right now are all saying GO TO BED EARLY TONIGHT, YOU DORK), and a certain amount of emphasis on getting exercise and proper nutrition. I may lose weight this way, I may not, but I can't let that be the point or I will lose my mind again and, really, who wants that?

Slightly hilarious side note: I bought a book called "The Gift Of Fear" used over the internet, and I'm only now noticing that it fits in perfectly with my other preoccupations of late: it's all about checking in with your inner instincts and trusting them. You'd think I'd spent a lifetime doing my best to ignore my inner cues and instincts and intuition. OH WAIT, right, that's exactly what I did. Never mind.

Also purchased:

  • No Fat Chicks: How Big Business Profits Making Women Hate Their Bodies - And How To Fight Back by Terry Poulton

  • The Diet Myth by Paul Campos

  • Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting by Gina Kolata

  • Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress by Jon Kabat-Zinn (yeah, I know, I bought this a year ago, but I lent mine to a friend and either she thought I meant to give it to her or she's lost it or something, any way I'm now treating it as a gift and am re-ordering it).

  • AND I'm still reading three books I got for Christmas AND reading DG's book. Just reading on the El isn't going to do, man; I'm going to have to put in some serious hours off-train in order to catch up. It's like being seven all over again and coming home from the library with a stack of books that my mom thought I'd never get read in two weeks. (By the time I was ten, she had ceased to worry about that, and instead worried that I'd finish them too quickly and need to be hauled to the library again at the end of the week. My poor mom.) Ahhhhh, BOOKS.

    Cut for length-- click to read more.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    It's a wacky week so far

    First of all, EEEEE, I got my copy of DietGirl's book! It is shiny and new and MINE, ALL MINE. A very biased plug, admittedly before I have read the whole thing: go buy the thing, folks! Yes, it's not out in the U.S. yet, but it's in Canada and it's in the U.K. and it'll soon be (February?) in Oz! Our Shauna is hilarious and brave and stubborn and completely unafraid to air all the goofy things in life. I continue to hope that I'll grow up to be half as amazing as she is. I've had a peek at a few chapters pages before official worktime started, and it's fantastic stuff. ::jumps up and down in blogger solidarity::

    Secondly, the mad warehouse of fun that is physical therapy has re-started as of yesterday. I'm back in, and doing much better than I was before, thanks to the cortizone shot the doc gave me at my last appointment. Pain-free!

    Thing is, I remember full well that the LAST time I had a cortizone shot, I went on to re-fuck-up my shoulder just a few months later. Therefore, I'm taking this therapy seriously. I want my life back; I want my shoulder to work properly and let me do yoga again. I've been on tiptoes over this thing for ages now, have been dealing with it in one way or another for a solid year, and I just want to go back to the way things were before I did whatever it is that I did. At my last doctor's appointment, he said, "I hope all goes well and I never have to see you here again." Which, dude, right back atcha. I would like very much to put this chapter of my life behind me and be okay again.

    Another reason not to fuck up one's shoulder: I got the bill for the MRI today. !!!! Most of it paid for via insurance, but still !!!! Well, I guess we have insurance for that reason. Oh, shoulder. So expensive you are.

    Slightly related question: I have heard tales of suppliments to cushion one's joints, particularly knees. I keep having the urge to start running again, but my knees complain whenever I do, so I've been stuck on the elliptical machine for a while now, looking longingly at the treadmill. Anyone out there have any experience with such suppliments? If I can get this knee thing figured out, I want to get my Hub training with me and see if we can do a 5K race in the spring. Weirdly, I miss it.

    I chickened out of the Martial Arts class on Saturday. On the one hand, I rather want to try it. On the other hand, I'm worried about my shoulder, which fits in rather nicely with the sheer terror I get when facing new classes of some kind. Made it very easy to justify not going.

    Speaking of the Hub, he's in the doghouse at the moment; he would be more so if he wasn't so darn cute and if he hadn't sensibly cooked me an awesome dinner when I got home last night. After two weeks of tracking his spending, it turns out that he's spent $160 on food. Not groceries; those are covered. This is "I am a sad panda and want to eat takeout/frozen pizza" food, or "I am a bored panda and want to go to a restaurant" food. We seriously need to teach him some other method of stress relief, because that's just not right.

    Today is his first day of real Mvelopes fun. For the past two weeks, he was letting me do all the work and scrutinizing the thing out of the corner of his eye. Now he promises to actually pay attention and attempt to stay within his boundaries. With added reason: after the events of this past pay-period, I concluded that having him send $150 to his credit card every pay-period wasn't going to be possible, because he's so unused to having to restrain himself that by the end he was concluding that he NEEDED all this shite, IMMEDIATELY... and then that we NEEDED to go to Chili's (!) for dinner, and that he would gleefully put this extravagance on the credit card. All of which resulted in him being incredibly stupid and negating half of the payment he put on the damn thing at the beginning of the month.

    He was saying stuff that I swear came right out of the how-to-be-a-nutty-dieter handbook: not only the "well, I already fucked up this pay period, I might as well cheerfully continue causing as much damage as possible until the 15th" bit, but the Last Supper routine: "I'm going to be good starting on the 15th, so I'm going to be retarded with my money now while I can and do all the things now that I won't be able to EVER EVER AGAIN." I'm becoming convinced that this is the way that all human minds operate. As a species, we do not respond well to limits.

    I'll fully admit that I'm not responding well to limits right now, myself. Due to the Amazon.com goof (oh how could I be so stupid) I was out of money for the last week, with $8 clutched firmly in my bank account so that I could go out to eat for Friday lunch (if my college friends and I don't see each other then, we just don't see each other, so it's like an investment). Now I'm going to be low on funds because I'm sending $50 to the future bro-in-law for my sister's birthday present.

    Next pay period, February 1, is the last one that I'll be quite so pinched; that's the last one that I have to save $25 toward a two-year subscription for X service instead of a quarterly subscription, which'll mean that the price-per-month will be cut in half, as I save it up again slowly over the next two years, and that I will actually have my Meg's Stash money stashed away for my own purposes again. I have three virtual envelopes labeled in anticipation: one for the slowly-accumulating subscription cash, one for gifts (which I always forget I'll need money for) and one labled "Meg: Adventure!" in the expectation that I will need some ready money in the event of sudden adventure. My life has thus far lacked such excitement, but it might still happen! Perhaps with an envelope marked for that specific purpose, I will find myself seeking out adventure. Perhaps adventure will hear about my bold envelope-marking move and come seeking me. Limitless possibilities here, y'know.

    Cut for length-- click to read more.

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Things I would like to discuss with the universe

    (And, before I start: yes, I am trying to take these things up with the people who might actually give me answers. They just haven't got back to me yet and this makes me feel tense.)

    Problem: Why didn't Amazon use my gift certificate that I had thoughtfully saved in their little save-yer-gift-certificate thing? Did I fuck this up somehow? Why did it charge me money? Why wouldn't it let me cancel the order once I twigged to the fact that it was about to charge me?

    Preferred result: Amazon staff will reply to my e-mail saying "Goodness gracious, something went wrong there. Why, we'll refund your money immediately." And then I can use that money for my sister's birthday present (which I foolishly agreed to pitch in for, $50 worth, and which I won't be able to afford if Amazon keeps charging me, ACK).

    Problem: I can't remember which of the windfall checks we deposited last January is from X, and which is from Y, and frankly that does mean a lot because of taxes, and I would really rather know this before we go to see ye olde financial advisor (sigh) tonight.

    Preferred result: Magically, the information will appear on my desk. Alternately, I'll remember where we deposited the checks, because apparently I need to know that information in order to get someone to tell me. Alternately, our financial advisor will be willing to throw together some kind of tax estimate based on both versions.

    Problem: I think I may have run the car out of gas, and it's (badly) parked a block south of our apartment. It had a quarter-tank of gas when I got there, and then when I re-started the thing in order to park it somewhat closer to the curb, it suddenly started flashing the GAS light at me and the needle was pegged near the zero mark, in the red zone. I'm baffled as to how I lost several gallons of gas, or possibly broke the car. (Eeeee.)

    Preferred result: Everything will be fine and we'll have enough gas to get to the gas station. On Tuesday, that is. No money in the budget for gas until Tuesday. I have no bloody clue how we used it all up, although my Hub driving to work four times in two weeks (one week having two days of work as we were just back from vacation, one week having three days of work as it involved New Year's) may well be a clue.

    In other news...

    My Hub has got the hang-- kinda-- of Mvelopes. So far he does not blindly hate it. So far he does not mind having eight different totals for his checking account versus just plain looking at his checking account. The main problem thus far is getting him to check the damn thing instead of looking at his bank account. He forgets.

    He did, however, make the decision to move money over from one envelope to the other, sacrificing his video game money in order to go out to eat. I'm kind of satisfied; he had that moment where he had to think about it, and that's a big step. He also realized that while he doesn't have a video game per se that he wants to buy, he does want to throw more money at X-Box Live points, in order to buy more content, since he's burning through his current balance like WHOA. And he's pleased that he doesn't have to remember not to spend his NPR money or the Yahoo money (automatic payments every month), since those are tucked into their own little envelopes. I totally understand that one, since I had the same reaction of "WHEW, there's a layer of stress I didn't even realize I had, all gone" when I first set up the household budget on the thing.

    He might get the hang of this. I think it might work. He doesn't have to do any math or any upkeep (I'm handling the which-envelope-does-this-go-in maintenance, since I'm already doing it for everything else) and just the fact that the money is in seperate piles, piles with names all symbolizing things he wants, is already much different for him than just looking at the single nameless mass of money in his checking account. Looking at the names means that every time, he remembers that he might not want to spend $20 on [random item here] because that'll take $20 away from something else he really wants.

    It's all about names. He laughed at me when I said that I loved knowing that all the money had names, but really, that's the thing that makes it work-- that moment where you look at it and remember "Oh, right, that $50 is earmarked for Mom's birthday gift," and then don't spend it on something else. It's magical.

    Also, it is Thursday, and we have not driven to work at all this week. My Hub has a $0 balance in his "parking" envelope in Mvelopes. Coincidence? I hope not. He hasn't said anything, but then again we haven't had cold/wet weather in which to walk to the El, only chilly/dry and warm/wet. He may start bemoaning his fate when the weather starts acting like proper January again.

    I really, really wish we could telecommute during the winter months... well, I probably could, with a slight upgrade on my laptop. My Hub, on the other hand, needs to be at the office. And since I don't mind dealing with the weather half as much as he does (or perhaps I'm just more determined to not pay the $14 to park downtown), that pretty much ruins the whole point. Oh well.

    We've eaten salads or at least mostly-veggie dinners for three days straight now, and I think we'll end up with at least one more salad dinner tonight, since we have chicken breasts and from-scratch croutons already made. All I have to do is slice up the pears, wash and spin the lettuce, have my Hub make the dressing (he's good at it, hence his eternal fate), and chuck lettuce, dressing, chicken, croutons, pears, goat cheese, and chopped walnuts together. Instant-ish awesome dinner!

    You may have noticed I'm slowly adding tags/labels to my posts. It's slow going, since I have to go back and read all the damn things, but I will get organized. More or less. I'm not sure what good this will do me or any of you darling readers, but all the cool kids are doing it, so I feel strangely compelled to keep up.

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    Cut for length-- click to read more.