My First Mile: Overcoming a Lifetime of Negative Beliefs About My Body

I wish someone had told me, years ago, that the way I saw myself at 10 or 15 could be the way I’d see myself at 25, 35, 45.

Certain self images can and will change but others will be stubborn as hell to budge.

I had weight issues growing up, but not the variety that our society pays attention to: I was underweight. In fact, I think I may have even fallen off the growth charts at some point. I remember catching colds frequently and being teased about my small frame. I turned down friends’ invitations to the beach because I didn’t dare get into a bathing suit. But most damaging of all was what I came to believe about my physical ability.

Moving was not my activity of choice. My mother said to me once that she could stick a book in my hands as a child and forget that I was in the room. I preferred daydreaming, reading, writing, and drawing. P.E. in school was an exercise in torture and humiliation from elementary school on through high school. Unlike the physical education that my son is now getting, my schools didn’t emphasize wellness, or at least that is not what I remember. What I remember is cringing at dodgeball, kickball, softball, and relay races. P.E. was about competition and winning.

And yes, when it came time for the captains to pick their teams, it would always come down to me or the fat boy as the last candidate. Maybe no one felt good about this because I remember their sympathetic and uncomfortable looks, even at 10 or 11. I was a nice girl, everyone liked me, but competition is competition.

Am I being melodramatic and overly sorry for myself when I say that I still tear up when I think back on that? Over 30 years later I can still feel the wind blowing over my hair and hear the muffled sounds of chatter as I stand there waiting for the captains to make up their minds and wishing that I could disappear.

As a teen I learned to forge my parents’ signatures to get out of P.E. and swim classes. I discovered that I could wear gym clothes that passed for regular clothes and sit out the rest of class after attendance was taken. I took myself out of the category of humans who could do things with their bodies. “I’m not an athlete,” “I’m not good at sports,” “I don’t exercise” all became part of the identity I would, for years to come, describe to others.

Thankfully though, life became more humane after high school graduation. I enrolled at a women’s college despite their graduation requirement of a year of P.E. credits. It was in college that my eyes opened to real physical education for the first time. The choices seemed endless, and kind: yoga, ballet, strength training, aerobics…yes, there were competitive or “hard” sports like lacrosse and squash but the menu was inclusive. I came to look forward to each semester when I could try something different. By senior year, I felt safe enough to even sign up for tennis. But my tennis instructor, also the coach for the women’s team, soon put me into the bottom group of the class so she could focus on the more talented players. “Your forearm is so thin,” she had said to me. “You’ll never be truly good at tennis.” I wasn’t trying out for the varsity team; I just wanted to try.

And so it went. I didn’t become a permanent couch potato as an adult, but I have been up and down. I joined a gym for the first time at 27, after a bad relationship break-up, and continued for a couple of years. And I tried yoga for the first time, as well as ice skating and rollerblading. With each sport the person teaching me would say the same thing: “You are really good for someone who has never done this before.” It was nice to hear, but my own messages about my athletic potential overpowered their words. I continued to dabble in yoga on and off over the years, but I abandoned the others.

It is ironic that I ended up marrying an athlete, seeing how I had always been intimidated by athletes. And then I birthed an athletic son. I also work with many successful professionals who had once been athletes. The last ten years of my life have been a gradual armchair lesson in the transformative value of sports, of believing in your body, of developing teamwork skills, perseverance, and a goal-setting mindset through sports. Most eye-opening was the fact that many “athletes” were not necessarily born but made…made over the course of many years if not decades of physical obstacles and self-doubt. It was this shred of belief that perhaps my body isn’t so different from everyone else’s that at 41 I overcame my lifelong terror of the water to learn to swim.

And last week, on Memorial Day, I ran my first mile without stopping. I never thought I could run. I was one of the last to finish in my high school running assessments, straggling in the rear with my lungs hurting. It was Max, who ran his first half-marathon at 48, who said that I could do it. Even after I had broken my ankle, even after undergoing surgery, even after believing for nearly 40 years that I didn’t have it in me to run more than 30 seconds before gasping for air. Max has been running with me, coaching me gently a few times a week. He didn’t know me when I was 10 or 15 or 20. He doesn’t know the person that has been occupying my thoughts all these years. Instead, he sees the woman I never met: beautiful, athletic, capable of anything.

Last Monday, when I could feel that I was running much longer than I ever had in my life and without any pain in my lungs, I began to cry, trying to juxtapose what my body was doing against all the pictures that were passing by of my days as a child. I did it. I finally did it.

running_onlyou

 

 

On Self-Consciousness, the Fear of Being Judged, and Struggling to Write

I’ve been having a hard time over the last couple of weeks mustering up the energy to write. The struggle is not new; I get hit by this every so often.

Emotional and physical fatigue is my biggest culprit. I experienced extreme highs and lows over the last couple of weeks that included a death in the family. I don’t sleep as much as I should on normal days, so the last couple of weeks have taken a bit out of me.

The other block is a renewed self-consciousness. I’ve received only support and encouragement ever since I posted about my experiences with anxiety, and friends are now even forwarding articles to me on being good to myself. But in the aftermath of those personal posts are the uncomfortable feelings of having said too much. Do my friends look at me differently now, even though my achievements have not changed? When I meet people, are they smiling at me out of pity or judgment? One friend confessed quietly that she had suffered from depression as well, but added, “But I’m not about to go around telling everyone about it.” Though she was speaking only of herself, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was also making a statement about my choice.

How do writers balance authenticity and vulnerability?

There are two sides in me, constantly, that either fuel or drain my motivations to write. There’s the side that expects the best in others – their open-mindedness, their compassion, their acceptance, their lack of judgment. And then there’s the side in me that fears the worst. My culture has instilled in me the importance of keeping secrets and keeping face; the reality of my life has shown me the toxicity of holding everything in. Since I started writing almost five years ago I’ve been gaining strength in my internal battle against the needless shame of being human. I had made the decision that having a voice outweighs the fear of being judged. It’s a seesaw I ride on every week that I write, and I hope that in time the nobler side wins.

Image courtesy http://www.ynaija.com

 

 

 

Keep walking

I’d struggled to write for the last few weeks.

We reached a domestic code orange when we came back from our spring break trip in early April. For the first week we were all tired and uninspired. The house was in disarray and it was a struggle to get Fred to stick to his daily routines and homework assignments. Then the Boston Marathon bombings happened and the clouds and rain took up residence over our town. Max stepped up to the plate while I wrestled with guilt, self-criticism, and an internal debate over whether or not I should seek therapy. Because behind the lethargy was an undercurrent of anxiety and loss of purpose that I have only recently begun to acknowledge.

During all of this, a former client paid a visit from the UK. His visit forced us to make the house presentable. This has been an area of struggle for me for as long as I can remember, and as an adult I have wondered if all this time I have been suffering with an undiagnosed case of attention deficit disorder. Deep down, I knew that our lack of organization in the home was also a prison of chaos for our son, making his completion of daily tasks distracting and difficult.

We cleaned up. Got rid of all the paper that made my waking hours a living hell. Cleared our tabletops. Set up a gigantic white board checklist for Fred. As soon as we organized our house, everything clicked into place. Fred checked off his tasks one-by-one and by the end of two weeks we were high-fiving and hugging one another over his achievements. Of course, he improved in his time management because we removed the noise that had been drowning him.

Clearing my physical surroundings made it possible for me to begin making sense of the static that was inside my mind. And I finally admitted that maybe I was not okay. I have certain anxiety issues that I have conveniently ignored, that Max and girlfriends have so kindly worked around. Driving makes me anxious, for example, and I am dependent on rides if going beyond the confines of our small town. While I never loved driving, at least when I was younger this fear never really stopped me; it took more work but I would make it my goal to get to where I needed to be. I’ve since stopped pushing myself in this way. The risks outweigh the benefits, I would tell myself. But this is not okay. It is not okay because I am letting my anxiety over driving and other areas box me in at an age when I should be heading toward self-actualization. But I have harbored these secrets because I am competent and professional, and I am at an age and stage in my career where I am supposed to be confident, not afraid.

Being present – acknowledging, admitting and doing – has helped me swing out of these up-and-down three weeks. I was so traumatized by the cleaning job we did that now I deal with every piece of clutter as soon as it presents itself instead of waiting for it to accumulate. I’ve re-started my walk/jog program post-ankle surgery, having so far moved from a snail’s pace of jogging 20 seconds to jogging 30 seconds for every two minutes of walking. Someday, I think, I might go for a 5K. Or drive to the next city to meet a friend for lunch. Someday I might do more to help expand our business. Somehow, I’d let my dreams for myself and my goals for self-improvement fall away the moment I began nurturing someone else’s life as a mother.

Especially since I broke my leg last summer I’ve learned to accept that improvement can often only inch along. As it is often said, any journey is made up of many small steps. I don’t need to run. I just need to admit that I have to take that first step, and to keep walking.

Are there areas in your life that you’d like to improve? Do you also have issues with anxiety?

Kindness for my new year

Firstly, a happy new year to you! I’m a week “late”…it’s taken me that long to recover from 2012 😉

I’ve also been thinking about new year…goals. Many people don’t like resolutions, or maybe it’s just the word “resolutions,” because it conjures up fears and assumptions of failure before Valentine’s Day even arrives. I was struck by wonderful posts like this one where Rudri talks about the focus on a key word, and this one, where GG Renee asks us how we want to feel in 2013. I am incorporating both into my new year: my word is kindness and I want to feel alive.

I choose kindness because all my life I’ve been nice (and its cousin, polite), and I’ve neglected “kind” because I’d simply assumed that I’m that too. Except in recent years I’ve noticed that I’m not. Or, I am, but not as kind as I could be, and not as kind as I am nice, or polite, which I’ve honed to perfection.

It’s easy to be polite because it’s a script. Thank you, please, I’m so sorry, won’t you kindly, etc. It’s automatic and automated. While I enjoy being polite and often can’t even turn it off, I don’t think it requires a whole lot of feeling or discipline, at least not on my part.

And it’s effortless to be nice if you, like me, do not want to be disliked. People-pleasers are nice, because otherwise they cannot meet their goal of having the whole world like them!

Now kind. Kind is a different animal. It requires work and thought and self awareness and self control and selflessness. Kind is nice when no one is looking. Kind is being able to let it be about the other person (though ultimately the biggest beneficiary may be you/us).

Kind is being grateful. Grateful to have been thought of and to have been given, not critical at the gift.

Kind is seeing the light in somebody, rather than the dark. It is feeling good and proud to see the light and threatened when you see the dark, rather than the other way around.

Kind is ignoring the arrows that your anger or resentment so desperately wants to send, and choosing instead words that will preserve the feelings of that other person.

Kind is being kind to ourselves first, because often we are the first and largest targets of our own arrows. And when we feel wounded, it’s hard to be much of a light for anyone else.

And this year I want to feel alive. “Alive” carries a more literal meaning for those who know depression. I was not depressed in 2012 but maybe something in my psychological makeup prevents me from being on and present as much as I would like. I want to feel purposeful, to have daily goals, to not squander the time that drips daily in my life’s hour glass.

Last year too many days passed where I was neither productive nor relaxed. I had reasons to enjoy down time, from a break from my pressured work season to the time needed to heal from my injury. But I poisoned my quiet time with guilt – guilt that I wasn’t doing enough.  I need to make a decision about how I feel about down time. Do I deserve it? If yes, then enjoy it; if not, then work! But what I can’t do is give myself chunks of self-time but NOT permission to enjoy it.

And I spent too many days wasted on negative emotions. These were days when I let my mind take over…everything. In the land of my body my mind was a dictator and my heart its victim. It’s powerful and mighty, that mind of mine. Critical thoughts, over analyses…strong enough to have battered me to an emotional crawl, to have sent me to the doctor’s wondering why I was always feeling sick.

My mind needs a coup d’etat…by kindness.

What do you want for your new year, for your new you?

Accepting calm

I’ve been doing something this year that I’ve never been able to do:  I’ve been saying No.

No to a well established business that its retiring owner has asked and asked me to take over.

No to the additional clients who ask to work with me.

It’s not that I’m not working, but I’ve been persuaded (by Max) to think about my stress level. Do I really want to go where I have been going all these past years? With mixed feelings, I’ve reduced my work load and instead delegated some of it to our staff.

But saying no comes at a price, quite literally.

I – we – lose income. How much exactly Max hasn’t yet calculated. But it’s not insignificant, especially during a year when my medical bills are sky high given my recent surgery. And we have other bills. And childcare and piano and martial arts lessons. And retirement and college to save for.

In a typical year I would be so busy right now I wouldn’t be writing this post. I wouldn’t be Christmas shopping. I wouldn’t be cooking. I wouldn’t be cleaning. I wouldn’t be sleeping 7 deep hours straight. Instead I have been spending chunks of entire days reading and writing; keeping the house reasonably tidy and clean; and making dinner in time to eat by 5:30 p.m. I even cooked on Thanksgiving for the first time since we moved back to the States, and I have been able to heal my broken ankle completely. Something feels different and thereby discomforting: I feel I am not busy enough.

It doesn’t feel “right” because neither work nor domestic life is stressful right now. It is the first time in the eight years since I became a parent and business owner that I can say this. We launched our business when Fred was a year old, and we did so without childcare. Max and I would trade off back then, and I’d either get up at 4 a.m. to do client work before Fred woke up, or work until 3 a.m. after he fell asleep. Stress was the air I breathed, and now I can’t recognize what it is that I’m enveloped in. Is it peace? Calm? Sanity? It doesn’t feel right.

Ironic, isn’t it, that once I have achieved the balance and quality of life that I have been working toward all these years, I find myself feeling as though I am cheating.

As a mother there is an odd unspoken pressure to groan about lack of sleep and lack of hours in a day. While it is hardly enjoyable to be constantly frenetic, it is frenetic that we (seem to) strive to be, because somehow that means we are being capable and useful and necessary. And to be anything less than crazy busy seems to be anything less than necessary.

I am so used to – since high school! – living constantly on a cliff’s edge that being on the brink of falling – and yet not falling – had become the ideal state to be. Suffering is the sign that I have pushed myself as far as I can go. The success of my son and my clients are my badges of honor and my own sleeplessness and anxiety are my battle scars. That is how it has always been.

But this new air…maybe it’s doing something to me. Because aside from the guilt, I have to admit I am feeling pretty good. At this place far from the edge of my cliff I hear no pounding of my heart, feel no sweating of my palms. At this distance from the precipice I find it easier to smile, to laugh, to notice, to feel, to soften, to love. I have decelerated from a blur to a human being. Maybe this is in fact useful, because maybe this is what my family needs: a mother who is present, a wife who pays attention, a woman who is happy. Perhaps I have not failed after all. Perhaps I may have even succeeded.

How crazy busy are you? Have you found calm in your life? If so, how did you do it and was it hard to accept?

Recovering

I’m going to do something today which I don’t normally do: write spontaneously.

Because I want to capture this moment, today, which doesn’t happen all the time. It’s a day where, yes, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, I was sweet as soon as I got up, and I’m feeling like I can actually walk someday soon. Soon may still be 3 months away but somehow today – magic today – 3 months feels like it’s around the corner.

I don’t always feel this way. In the last 3 weeks that I’ve been bedridden I’ve swung from one extreme personality to another, usually in the space of just days. Seeing my son jump over my bad leg instead of saying ‘excuse me’ will have me snapping at him for the rest of the evening. Hearing a friend tell me that the time will fly can bring me to tears. Those days – like just 18 hours ago – are days where the road to walking seems impossibly long. And I’ll tell myself that I have never experienced physical hardship, and I don’t know if I have what it takes to be this patient, to push my atrophied leg and foot to move beyond an inch, let alone ever walk like a normal human being again.

Today was good because school opening was delayed and we didn’t have to rush in the morning. Today Fred “slept in” until 7:05 and scampered downstairs to read. Not turn on Cartoon Network or a videogame but actually read (and then proceed to clip his nails).

Grooming becomes a chore when you’ve got an anvil dragging on your leg. But today I took a shower. I took a shower! Used conditioner! Put my contact lenses in. Got out of my pajamas. Let my past-shoulder length hair cascade out of my usual ratty pony tail holder. A few minutes before all this took place I had woken up to an email from my friend Kathryn who told me (from having seen recent Facebook uploads) I was PRETTY – caps by Kathryn – and this told her I seemed well. Who even tells a friend that any more, especially when she’s in her 40s? Mostly I feel gross these days, and my mummy-like leg doesn’t help one bit, but this sweet message, and getting rid of that pony tail holder, helped.

And since I finished my work early, I moved to the couch to write and opened the door to our veranda. We never do this, paranoid about mosquitoes and flies and bees as we are, but Max said he wouldn’t mind, even after an unidentifiable bug flew in. From where I’m typing I can see blue and green and smell and hear a beautiful early fall (yes, now I can hear seasons) that is just out of reach for me right now…but not completely taken away.

And after this I’m going to get myself a snack – something with sugar and heavy in carbohydrates – and I’m going to continue with part 2 of Gone Girl. (Has anyone read this??)

Then there’s school pick up (I will tag along), an evening meeting at school (I will attend), dinner (I will eat), homework nagging (or not, if my day continues on its current roll), and my now daily good night hugs and kisses done downstairs, before everyone turns off the lights and marches up and away to their bedrooms on a separate floor.

And finally sleep. Fitful sleep, sleep where I sometimes wake up with an all-over pin and needle feeling from not having moved all night, or from dreams where I have use of both legs and yet can barely move. The IKEA sofa bed in our dark home office will forever remind me of the taste of pain killers and filtered water, my isolation from my family at night, and the excruciation of minutes and hours that no longer pass quickly enough.

And I will wake up – 5 or 6 hours later – and start another day again…wondering to which heights I will fly or to which depths I will plumment this time.

How do you make it through difficult times?

Back, Slowly

I’m back, though just barely 😉 We had a fun and exhausting trip and Fred has somehow decided over the last couple of weeks that he needs just 2-7 hours of sleep a day…If my blog were a t.v. sitcom this is the part where I would air a rerun or one of those compilation episodes. So luckily for me one of my posts is up at the blog Laugh Out Loud today. I wrote this one in February before most people knew I had a blog. Please join me at LOL and I hope you enjoy the post. I can’t wait to start reading and writing and connecting again. Happy 4th of July!