And Then There’s Food…

Over the last 60 years I’ve had some time to think. I’ve also had lots of time to try different approaches to life. As an older fat woman with a cringe-worthy history of dieting – from the family doctor handing me amphetamine-based diet pills while I was in high school to starving myself until I passed out when jogging one day (there’s nothing like waking up with your face planted against a sea-wall) – my only explanation for jumping on way-too-many faddish programs is… uh… I dunno…

As an intelligent woman, I might have decoded the honest-truth about the dismal prospects that accompany the diet-mentality, but it’s difficult to tune in through the static and disapproval littering the atmosphere.

Without mentioning program or product names (remember, I’ve tried just about everything), I had surprisingly few successes. Worse, those successes were fleeting. I’d hover weight-wise around the higher limits of “normal” until a personal calamity sucked all the optimism out of the air, leaving me bracing for another catastrophe. In those days, when a close friend repeatedly reminded me I was “born under an unlucky star,” avoiding self-reflection seemed a good idea.

Surgery eventually popped up as an option as I moved up the scale and watched my best friend intentionally gain weight to make herself eligible for what she saw as “an easy” solution.  Then I watched her post-surgical turn to alcohol. “You’re killing yourself,” I pointed out during a drunk-and-dial episode. “Yes,” she responded, “but at least I’ll die thin.” And she did die thin. And young. That loss convinced me surgery definitely didn’t fit for me.

After paying attention for a while, I grew weary of the obvious gap between the marketing push toward eat-drink-and-be-happy (consider photos of bikini-clad slender women gobbling fast food) telling us we deserve to eat while the culture upheld the no-such-thing-as-too-rich-or-too-thin value. Really?!

During the 80s and 90s, a lot of good information started invading bookstores and, later, the internet. I still had my heart set on a magical, brilliant, flashy, easy-peasy resolution to my relationships with food and my body. I knew it rested between being furious at the way fat folks are discriminated against to looking suspiciously at an uninformed medical community.

Years ago I examined some data, then picked up Health at Every Size and several other outside-the-norm books (The Diet Myth, The Obesity Myth are others that come to mind, though I know there are a lot more!) ; a couple of years ago, I reached for Intuitive Eating and I thought what the heck – I’ll give this an honest try.

It’s surprisingly basic and easy…almost magical. I committed to eating when and what I believed my body wanted, to noticing when I felt hungry and when I craved something (and wondering, without judgement, what the craving was about). I committed to paying attention to how I felt after eating different types of foods, to paying attention when eating, to enjoy eating, and to not feeling guilty about eating with gusto.

It sounds a little crazy, but I also rediscovered my love of real food and cooking. I quit allowing others to determine what’s “healthy/delicious” and started letting my body tell me what’s good for me. No weighing, no self-shaming, no long lists of forbidden foods. And I’m healthier and happier. The practices described eloquently and in detail in the book earn my two-thumbs-up as an important component of self-care for me. Both books deserve to be on every medical practitioner’s bookshelf.

For now, suggest anyone who feels beaten-down related to food- or weight-issues read Intuitive Eating. There’s data (I am, after all, a geek) to support the effectiveness, but I’ve known since I was 10 years old that one size doesn’t fit all.

May we all find our own best path and may we all enjoy the journey!

Guilty as Charged

Over the weekend some extended family decided to attend a small community event, and I opted out. Folks immediately offer suggestions (such as how to get a disabled parking placard), but this time I explained, not too articulately, it’s not a lack of mobility but that I need some alone-time.  I think, at worst, I hurt some feelings, and at best, confirmed I’m quite peculiar and possibly standoffish.

I really don’t mean it that way.

As they drove off, I felt guilty and realized for my own peace of mind I need to find a better way to explain to them why, as an introvert, I need quiet time to recharge. After that, if they don’t understand, I can let go of the guilt and know I have done my best.

In those dreaded workplace personality inventories, I often tested in or near the middle of the scale – in a vague area between a never-alone extrovert and the living-alone-in-a-cave side of introversion.

When I worked in a busy office with lots of noise and people flowing in/out, I enjoyed the ebb and flow, the challenges, and the opportunity to help. The chaos had a purpose. Then I came home to quiet.

I didn’t play the radio or need a television for background noise.  I came home, showered to clear away the day, cooked a meal, and took some time for silence. On weekends I learned I benefit from one day going nowhere and doing not-much, engaging in what my dad would call “piddling around.”

I know folks sometimes confuse depression and introversion, but they’re not the same. Having worked in a community mental health center, we asked if folks felt hopeless, helpless, irritable without a reason, felt sad (without a loss or explanation) for weeks or months, experienced fatigue and/or thoughts of worthlessness, or even considered suicide. However, I’m not sure people understand Introverts aren’t depressed or personality disordered or shy.

Jung, who seems credited with the personality theories that use extroversion and introversion, felt everyone had both sides, with general preferences in one direction. For some, a big loud party feels like heaven; for others a gazebo in a quiet garden feels the same.

Now that I’m thinking about it, someone once explained the difference between extroverts and introverts as this:

  • extroverts feel energized by being around people, sometimes the more people the merrier they feel, so they often prefer to be with others (that’s where they recharge);
  • introverts feel energized by spending time alone or with a few trusted folks, so generally prefer small groups or alone-time (that’s where they recharge).

To me, that seems a simple but sufficient explanation. Think I’ll try it soon as part of my self-care practice of taking time to recharge in my own way.

Life in Slow-Mo

Just ripped another page off the calendar as a new month begins. I tell myself the start of each new month provides opportunities. Still, my benchmarks seem to hover around Perfection. Self-care and Perfectionism. Hmmmm.

After joining a gym almost 3 weeks ago, I’ve been twice. My self-care plan dictates at least three visits a week (though I imagined 4 or 5), leaving me with a growing net deficit that I avoid calculating. The question I ask myself is: Why is it so hard to pull into the parking lot, park the vehicle, and walk inside?

Initially I came up with excuses. The staff I encountered seemed abrupt. The classes I want don’t fit the inflexible pieces of my schedule. The promised tour of the facility never materialized and after some solo-exploration, it still isn’t clear what’s what. One day I pulled into the parking lot and realized I sported mules (against the rules) instead of sneakers.

After struggling to get a membership I can barely afford, why can’t I suck it up and (assuming proper footwear) walk in the door?

Really. It’s not the first time I’ve walked into a new-to-me environment alone. I’ve moved half-way across the Pacific alone. I’ve traveled for both work and vacation as a single mom and, later, a single woman. I’ve changed jobs. Moved to new homes. Been through a hurricane, a small tsunami, a flood, gale force winds. I’ve survived many uncomfortable, and a few life-threatening, situations. It amazes me that something so simple has me confounded.

Since my days lack moping-time, though I admit to a talent for finding ways to distract myself, I decided some action is in order. What can I do? Push myself to suck-it-up and go daily? (Hasn’t worked so far.) Cancel my membership or just not-go? (Also hasn’t worked for me.)  How about figuring out why the building feels so intimidating?

After brief consideration, I decided to create a simply-easy plan to test whether exposure to the environment makes it feel less intimidating/more comfortable.

Since there are two days a week when I have a 4-hour block of alone/unscheduled-time, instead of pushing for perfect attendance at perfect classes or a specific workout for a specific length of time, I’ll keep those two time slots open and commit to making a trip to the gym on each of those two days during this month. No big plans. No worrying about the mismatched class schedule. Just showing up, going inside, asking some human there a question to learn my way around, hanging out for 10 or 20 or 200 minutes, and trying on the place as if it were a potential new pair of jeans.

By the end of the month I’ll know if the gym feels like worn, comfy jeans or something else entirely. Either way, I can make an informed decision. Who knows? Maybe I’ll fall in love with the place.


Week One Update: Tried the gym floor (got help with the treadmill) one day; the second gym day I attended a beginner-level aerobics class (survived + instructor invited me to return even though I’ll start late because of other obligations).


Week Two Update: Thought I’d enjoy the classes in the water best, so tried two different classes on two different days with two different instructors.

 

Graphic thanks to Creative Commons and this link: <a href=”https://openclipart.org/pdf/306740/1537120038.pdf”>Surprised Sneaker (PDF)</a>

Find other work by jkstrib here: https://openclipart.org/user-detail/jkstrib60

Finding Thankful

Frankly, I’ve celebrated holidays when I felt the gratitude in every cell of my body. Thanksgiving is tomorrow. This year I’m pushing myself to fall into a thankful mindset because I know it’s important. This year I’m reciting lists of reasons to be thankful each time I slip toward the Dark Side. Thankful people are healthier, happier, make the world a better place, have better relationships, and, frankly, it seems the highest road to take in life.

Yesterday my 3 year old grandson told me “I feel very angry with you” and “I don’t like you very much” (I did, after all, take away his video device to push him toward some outdoor play time). In his interpretation of a dinosaur slow-stomp, he headed to the backdoor and suggested “Tutu, it’s time for you to go back to your house.”

In that moment something hit me with the grace of a toilet tumbling off the roof of a 20-story building. I told him, in a calm and rational adult way, “My darling, I don’t have a house to go back to. I left it to come here.”

Then I walked away to burst into tears as privately as possible.

It wasn’t until later (after the 3rd or 4th tear-burst), that I sat down to ask myself what the heck was going on. And I realized I mourn my old life. I mourn the loss of privacy – my own little house where I didn’t have to get dressed on weekends if I didn’t want to. I miss the fabulous people I connected with far too seldom. I miss the job that gave me the opportunity to feel I made a difference in the lives of homeless folks. I have difficulty wrapping my head around the loss of the cultural connection to a small island with significant elements of my birth-culture.

That sense of loss took me by surprise. I’m so thankful I took time to feel what I was feeling and explore those feelings.

Having hit several brick walls (or perhaps they were speed bumps that jolted like brick walls), the most recent one regarding health coverage, I asked for help today.

After waiting in a series of lines at a government office, the young worker who greeted me gazed at my previous address and asked about life in Hawaii. Many people assume short work days and long beach stints. I explained it was expensive, for sure, but it definitely felt rewarding. And while everyone thinks of Hawaii in tourism poster perfection, the people I knew there worked harder than anyone I’ve ever met and dealt with floods, tsunami, epic storms, earthquakes, and all the typical ups and downs of life, too.

As I headed home, I realized I built the life in Hawaii slowly and this one will develop as well. The brief conversation helped me connect my past to my present.

In honor of the present, on my way home I stopped at the Y for a short workout and to get to know what’s going on there. I spoke with a few people very briefly. Chances are they won’t become best friends, but there’s always the possibility, and possibility is something for which to give thanks.

 

Thanks to creativecommons and GDJ for the image:Created2016-11-17DescriptionGold Happy Thanksgiving Typography Variation 2

Once Upon A Trail

Last night in my dreams I was at some type of event with lots of different opportunities and hundreds of interesting people. In the dream, I met Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. They’ve both been gone for many years, but in the dream I told them their movies lightened my childhood, made it better. And when the morning sun shook me out of bed, I wondered why in the world that couple showed up in my dreams.

I have not thought about them for … I can’t remember the last time I thought about them. Possibly years ago when I visited the Singing Cowboy exhibit at the Autry Museum of the American West.

As any good geek would do, I launched a little online research. They both had multiple marriages, faced some great losses, and stayed together for decades. Dale wrote the song “Happy Trails” as somewhat of a reality check because a cowboy’s days may lean toward simple, but aren’t always easy. Still, the good cowboy does the right thing and works hard. One line stood out to me: It’s the way you ride the trail that counts[i].

Issues like homelessness don’t make it to the nightly news, but perhaps they should. I was one of the majority of people (around 50%) who rode that trail very briefly. I rarely talk about it because to “normal folks” it makes no sense (they feel certain it could never happen to them) (and I feel equally certain it could). My motivation to attain a more mainstream living situation was fueled by a need to stay connected with my children. My angels (in human skin) were longer-term homeless women who pushed me to take advantage of the personal resources available to me to help me get back on my feet.

Since then – for the last 20 years and until a few weeks ago – I worked in the social service industry trying to eliminate homelessness. And 20+ years after that personal experience with homelessness, I still see so much room for change. Homelessness is not just an inconvenience; for many, it’s a death sentence.

But for all the folks working for a paycheck and idolizing bureaucracy, I also know there are people who really care, there are great service models (we have data and we know what works!), and many opportunities to learn (so much free info is available).

I also see it’s how you ride the trail that counts. For me, part of self-care includes making the journey fruitful/joyful/peaceful (or whatever “full” we each long for) and finding our tribe/peeps.

This week I finish unpacking/organizing and go to the local YMCA to apply for a discounted membership based on my current (pathetically low) income. The goal: exploring opportunities to improve my physical health and build a local support system. Other potential resources include churches, clubs, civic groups, part-time work, school, and volunteering.

So, about Roy and Dale, I remember them reminding children to be honest and work hard. They didn’t let their personal experience with hard times slow their momentum or change their message. They continued to wish others happy trails.

It’s going to be a busy week, but it’s time to cowgirl up.

[i] Visit http://royrogersworld.com/happy-trails/ for more info

Invisibility and Age

At some point in time, anyone who lives long enough will cross the line from Adult to Elder. The crossing, in this culture, generally won’t be marked with fireworks and whoops of joy. Many folks stop celebrating birth days by age 40. For many it’s seen as a first step into oblivion. For others it’s viewed as a challenge (to duck the appearance of aging). For me, it’s a little complicated. If I had super-powers, I’d make aging and the invisibility that accompanies it a different experience. Joyful. Compassionate. Integrated. Public.

Dealing with aging through cosmetic surgery or related treatments never made it to my priority list. It’s not that I don’t care; it’s that I think we should all be given leeway to age in whatever way we feel is best for us. For example, I admit I enjoyed hair color when it was for fun. It ceased being fun nearly 10 years ago when I realized the products are beyond unpleasant, the stylist mentioned them as “required” for a working woman of my age, and the rebel in me decided it’s just not my style to conform to the 1950s rules my aunties spouted or to ignore the 1970s 4-MMPD controversy (during which the cancer-connection was ignored in light of the Necessity of hair-color) or current studies noting increased sensitivity to coloring products.

What continues to shock me, though, is how many people totally ignore very young as well as older people, as if relevance accrues as we age and then evaporates as we age some more. Call me small town, but can’t we agree that we retain our core essence throughout our lives? The lessons we’ve learned, sometimes the Hard Way, may add value, as does innocence, but our person-hood continues.

I envision a future in which adaptation will increasingly require broader, rather than narrower, roles. I see a future with more faces at the table, not fewer, more visibility for all, not just a few. With that, I hope to see people of all ages letting go of the belief that we somehow reach a wrinkle-quotient and are no longer interested in life, in music, in art, in love, in sex, in passion. Those things stay with us, along with love, hope, curiosity, humor, and compassion.

Without compassion, I think invisibility infiltrates lives, and self-compassion seems a grand way to begin standing out. The people I admire find ways to practice self-compassion and enjoy their days, every day, just as they are. So that’s a practice I plan to follow. Here are a few things that make me happy:

  • Healthy (usually simple) food.
  • Time in or around nature.
  • Learning new things.
  • Stories and movies that make me laugh!

Pondering happy-generators seems easy enough, but taking action speaks more clearly to intention. Moving beyond invisibility and turning pondering into action, I:

  • signed up for a local CSA delivering organic produce
  • went to a large park and invested several minutes in admiring beautiful trees
  • started reading a book about causes of common illnesses/conditions so I can improve my health. Learned about powerful veggies I think of as delicious but ordinary (like celery, cilantro, and asparagus).
  • watched a short Netflix comedy special and picked out a comedy to enjoy another day.

One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, moving forward and remembering my role in the invisibility game.

The Journey Begins

My job came to a rapid halt. Not because I failed to live up to expectations or because I planned to retire. A flock of compelling reasons swooped in out of a clear blue Hawaiian sky and left me with few choices. They boiled down to the following: stick with a job I loved (and a good income) or prioritize family needs (and live in poverty).

What’s a woman to do?

It wasn’t an easy decision and I reject the notion that women lean into sacrifice. I’ve bumped into more than a few people, both male and female, who made similarly difficult choices. Our specific circumstances differ, but I realized that sometimes we have to make the hard choices, take a leap of faith, and turn into a new journey… whether our choice is to dig in our heels or go for the big changes…

In my experience, the key consideration is this: does Fear or Love drive the choice? Secondarily, is the move Toward or Away From some person, place, or thing? (No judgments on #2; moving away from danger seems sane, but wherever we go, there we are.) Finally, for me, in the end, ignoring my instincts has created more problems for me than practicing sound logic.

Today I’m over 2,500 miles from my former life. It has only been 2 weeks and I’m completely exhausted from running around trying to fit into this new existence. Granted, some of the tasks suck a lot of energy: unpacking, sorting, squeezing my life into a smaller physical space, updating the new space so it feels like my own. Still, something huge occurred to me today, as I rushed from my grandson’s school to Target to pick up a few necessities and, conveniently, to Starbucks to await contact from my disabled son’s case manager (while enjoying a Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte, coconut milk, please), trusting the caffeine to propel me through at least until noon.

Seated at a table, in a quiet moment, I generated a list of things I should do. Buy backup fabric for the fabric for the costume I planned to sew for someone else; recalling what foods family members like so I could shop for a meal they might enjoy; comparing prices for airfare, train, and rental car for a trip to visit my son and meet with his care team.

Among the things I planned to do during semi-retirement: join the YMCA and visit the gym or pool a few times a week, edit the book I finished, research and include more anti-inflammatory foods in my diet, and, oh, yeah, develop a support system. What steps had I taken with any of those? Not a single one, unless it counts to recall the plan whenever I pass the YMCA.

The gigantic revelation: I’m not practicing good self-care.

It seems the challenge of a lifetime to move from one situation to another without bringing the same baggage of long hours, setting aside my own needs, wondering what else I can do for others. It doesn’t take a genius to acknowledge the importance of, in the words of attendants on every commercial flight I’ve ever taken, putting on my own oxygen mask first.

This self-care stuff is not as easy as it seems. I believe it takes courage, determination, and a willingness to fail – then try again. And that’s what this bloggy-slogging journey is about.

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton