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.