Monthly Archives: February 2016

The theory of weight and everything

Weight is a funny word, if you stare at it long enough.  It starts out looking mostly
normal, and then the longer you stare the weirder and less correct it looks.  Go ahead, try it, I’ll wait (haha!).

weight

See?

The most interesting thing about the word is that the meaning it conveys does kind of the same thing.  At first glance weight means nothing more than the relationship between an item, gravity, and a surface.  (I’m really tempted to pull out a force diagram, I love force diagrams…)  It is a number that describes this relationship.  As you stare at it longer though, you begin to see the additional meanings placed on it by the social, cultural, psychological, and whatever other categories you like.

Now this is a complex topic, and I’m not going to get into all the ins and outs of  the culture around weight/fitness/health or body acceptance- at least not today –  though it is a topic I am passionate about.  Today I want to dive into a more personal weirdness around the topic.  Relativity.

When I was very heavy I was convinced I could not do many of the things I wanted to solely because of my size. People disagreed in some cases but in my world this was an absolute.  As I lost weight and gained more confidence in myself, my body, and my ability to move, more things became possible, but because all of these things were changing at the same time I could cheat a little. While most of my brain realized that it had more to do with my changing mindset and outlook on life than the actual number on the scale, I didn’t have to look too closely at what the other part of my brain was thinking, because there was no conflict.

For various reasons I have gained quite a bit of weight since I hit my lowest 2 years ago.  While I wouldn’t have chosen that it has given me a great environment to explore what parts of me really believe about weight.  One of the biggest “A-Has!” I had while having a blast in Turkey was that I’m really enjoying having confidence in who I am, and that while I may not look like most of the other people doing the things I dream of, I’m still rocking them.  Since the same things were not even possibilities to me at the same weight 2 years ago, this really shined a practical light on how much of our experience is perception.

Which made it all the weirder when not 2 weeks after I got back I found myself fairytower_echthinking, “Well I have to drop weight before I can go to Scotland this summer.”  Uhhhh, what?   I literally just proved that I can do the trip at my current weight, even that I can do what I had set as my performance goal for Scotland – to be able to walk 10 miles a day reliably. Are there skills I’d like to work on that will make the trip easier/even better?  Sure. However I know I can have a phenomenal time as I am, so I should be confident and on top of the moon!  Yet that voice decrying my current state is getting louder.

In the past this would probably have triggered some depression for me.  I would have felt like I was dealing with the same issues I did years ago, and I would have dropped into an inner dialogue of failure.  Now though, that I have this new mentality, and because I understand that working on problems resembles a spiral far more than a straight line, I love situations like this. Through this experience and inner dialogue I can get face to face with what is really going on, and I can recognize that while the general topics and dialogue may be the same, the level with which I am working with them has changed dramatically.

I can now see that, at lest in part, this is a defense mechanism of my inner critic, of the voice whose job it is to keep me safe, trying to get me to swerve off the very obviously sketchy goal of getting back on a plane across an ocean and having a fantastically awesome time.  But it is her job, so once I can see behind the curtain that the message is coming from her, I can better deal with the inaccuracies.

It is also part of my ongoing work of rationalizing some of the inequities of my expectations. With many of my dreams I had an expectation of how I would look while achieving them, and my current reality doesn’t quite match my expectation.  Summer Innanen (http://summerinnanen.com/) has a great quote that talks about how you have to mourn the loss of the body you constructed as the one you should have, and embrace and celebrate the one you do have. So I think this is one more step towards accepting that – because until that attachment to the “should” body is let go, it will negatively color the astounding experience of my current body. Not to mention give the inner voices fodder to attack with.

In the end it comes back to the simple and the complex.  The inner dialogues are complex, the way we see the world is complex, and in many ways the way we experience the world, is complex…  but the solutions are often simple.  (Note I in no way mentioned easy)  If I question my beliefs, and am willing to dive deep to understand, and let go of the ones that I do not agree are true, what possibilities arise? If I change what beliefs fuel my perception, my perception, and thus my experience changes – without ever having to change the number that describes the relationship between my body, the surface I am on/in, and gravity.  Pretty cool!

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I’ve been part of a group of wonderful women who are changing how they think about their bodies for a while now.  Here is what I wrote to them when I got back from Turkey.  Sometimes the wisdom we need to remember is in ourselves all along…

Well ladies. I did something crazy 10 days ago that really tested how far I’ve come around my self image, and relationship to my body. I bought a ticket to Istanbul inTurkey, and 24 hours later was on a plane with a friend of mine! I found an incredible deal (we did the entire trip for the usual cost of the flight) and I decided it was one of those decision points where you live the life you want, or bow to what has always been. So to Turkey I went! There were constant opportunities to berate myself for how I looked in pictures, or about how I got winded walking up a seemingly endless steep hill (that even the fittest guy in our group got winded on)… but instead I focused on OMG – I’m in TURKEY! and that I could walk up the hill, and the beautiful scenery in the photos – and that I was in them, and that was beautiful too. The last mission kept popping into my head as I embraced that even though I didn’t have the body I had always been waiting for before I did this kind of thing, I was in fact doing it, and having a phenomenal time. I feel like my relationship with my body really strengthened through that testing. I’m much more appreciative. I’m not sure what I will do to top going abroad (for the first time ever) on 30 hours notice, but I’m really enjoying this new confidence that while I may not look like most of the other people doing the things I dream of, I’m still going to rock them, and they can cope or not.  Dream following is terrifying, and oh so very rewarding!

 

When I “don’t want to”

Some days I wake up and I just don’t want to.  My body hurts, my brain is conflicted, and what I seem to want most is to crawl back into bed, burrow under the covers, and escape – no let’s be honest, hide – from my world.

That’s a big choice, and I tend to be aware of hitting the top of the spectrum where I disengage from my world entirely for a time, but recently I’ve been thinking about the middle.  The space where you are only half engaging with your life without even realizing it. My escapist preferences lean towards television and sugar, with the occasional foray into video games of one kind or another. Oh, then there is “busyness” but that is definitely another post. What they all have in common is the ability to numb my experience of reality, and kill time.  All of those things can be perfectly fine things to choose to experience, but I know for me they tend to fill time, but not address any of the buckets I need to fill to be well, and even more insidious I’m not always aware of the choice I’m making.  “Just one episode” can quickly turn into 2 or 3, or an entire evening.  Rarely do I feel more energized, refreshed, or better able to cope after going “under the blanket” of numbing agents, yet it happens, more often then I would like.  The cost of this used to seem minimal to me, so I didn’t get the house picked up, or whatever task I had on my to-do list, not a big deal. My survival was not impacted.  However as I have moved towards thriving, and believing I can have the big things I want in life, I realize the cost is actually much higher.  The things I don’t tackle now ARE the things that will refresh, revitalize, and keep the fires of my soul stoked. Not only that if I don’t engage with them I lose steam, and patterns of un-wellness tend to creep back in.  When I compare that with vegging in front of the tv… well now it feels like that is a problem that is really holding me back.

What I’m talking about here is different than purposeful rest. Rest is vital, and not something I am very good at, but it is also different.  I would feel differently about the numbing agents in my life if I came out the other side better balanced and more energized, but for me that just isn’t the case.

Even today, even though I started this post first thing this morning so it was in the forefront of my mind, then went to yoga and came back refreshed and energized, as soon as I sat in front of the TV to eat breakfast (I know, I know) I fell into the trap. 2 hours later and despite having a to-do list as long as my arm of things I *want* to tackle today, I instead watched a bunch of Stargate episodes I have already seen a hundred times.  Not the plan!

One of the tenets that I have adopted that really dumped me on my head was the concept of being responsible for myself. Now at first glance of COURSE I am responsible for myself. Who else would be responsible for me? But it goes so much further and deeper.  It gets to those deep places where we are subconsciously (or consciously) waiting to be rescued, or blaming society, or just plain think we can’t.  If I want to accomplish things I am currently not, I have to be willing to look at what I can change to achieve them.  I can’t blame my long term struggles with chronic pain and fatigue, I can’t dismiss things as simply as “I struggle with depression so there” (ya, a few sore spots there let me tell you, I know!) I have to ask myself what, within my boundaries of possibility, can I do to get closer to what my heart is calling for. What can I do, even in a small way, to let that tiny voice know that I hear it and want to honor it?  What can I learn about myself, that is hiding and driving these behaviours that do not serve my greater life? (spoiler: for me its almost always fear and self worth issues)  Here is the kicker. My experience is that once you get through the rejection that you can impact where those boundaries are, and the anger that you – who are already so tired, overtaxed, and struggling to survive yet alone thrive – are also responsible for picking yourself up, and you start taking those baby steps toward the “wall of impossibility,” the wall moves. I kid you not.  It may not even move perceptibly, but it moves.  Which means that those tiny honorings of your longings, even if it is just saying to them in your head “I hear you, I just don’t know what to do about it” can eventually move that wall so far out that you don’t even recognize your world.

Which brings me back to my problem with numbing agents. Unfortunately sometimes the answer can feel unpleasant – sometimes even implausible, in fact almost all of the changes I’ve made that have led to the greatest impacts have been kind of a struggle for me. (I’ve been told that is my fear of success rearing its head. Whatever, its annoying!) After trying to stick my head in the sand I’ve finally come to face my own responsibility in today’s matter.  So, starting Monday, as part of a great “How well can you care for yourself” extravaganza, I’m giving up television and sugar for 30 days. I hadn’t really planned on declaring that. It sounds terrifying and like something I’m not sure I can successfully do, but there you go.  Sometimes stepping out with the brave moves is terribly exciting and sexy (Turkey, ahem), and sometimes it is mundane. I find the mundane far more difficult, but usually the larger long term impact.

So there you go. I gave a keynote to a large group of grad students on finding balance in their lives, and one of the phrases I used that really resonated with them was this, “Purpose not perfection.” I’m not striving for perfection anymore, I know full well that few can travel that path successfully, but I am striving to be purposeful. If I am making the best choices I can in a given moment, consciously, even (possibly even especially) if I’m not sure I can accomplish them, then I am living the best life I can, and I can’t really desire more than that.

An IMPORTANT note to those who struggle with depression or other mental health issues: Talking about some of the areas this post ended up touching on is a little scary to me because when I first started thinking about these kinds of things the concept that I was the only person who could dig me out of the extremely deep hole I was living in did not only seem laughable, but was an incredibly strong depression trigger for me.  It brought together so many things I didn’t feel like I could cope with, that then appeared to be my only salvation. So I want to say this. Seek help. Create/find/hire a network. Know that the climb is one step at a time and that instead of it taking away from your already depleted life energy it will replenish it, over time. Please be patient. You bring a unique and needed energy to our existence. Yes, I’m serious.  

I am wholly unqualified to give advice.  I do know that some of my darkest days were pondering through this kind of thinking, and it was scary and very nearly overwhelmed me. So I want to stress that there is light, there is always light, whether you can currently see it or not.  While we are responsible for ourselves, that doesn’t mean in any way that we don’t sometimes (often) need the support of others to draw back the curtain so that we can remember the sun.  In fact being responsible to ourselves means seeking that support when desired or needed.  It isn’t easy, but I firmly believe it is worth it – at least it has been for me. 

 

Turkey Trip – Choosing to Go

This post is the first in a series of posts about a recent trip I took to Turkey.

I have wanted to travel internationally for most of my life.  It all began with reading a children’s book that had been my Mothers, Eloise in Moscow. I still love that book, and because of it I will someday make my way to Moscow.

Despite my desire International travel was not something that I felt was possible for me until recently. For one it is difficult to imagine sitting on a plane for 6, 10, 12+ hours when you weigh more than 400 pounds and flying domestically doesn’t even seem viable.  An even bigger barrier was the level of anxiety in my life.  As a complex-systems thinker I can come up with 20 disaster scenarios in 30 seconds or less at any given moment, and when that drives your life, mixed with a belief that your worth is performative… well getting in a giant tube you can’t get out of with a bunch of strangers who you think will judge you every moment and in a situation where you will be squashed and bruised and terrified you will die of SOMETHING at any moment just isn’t high on the priority list.  That doesn’t even get into what might happen when the plane landed!  There were other reasons too, like I was in grad school with no money and i did not yet have the same view of “making things happen” that I do now.

When I first decided to figure out how to thrive in my life, instead of just survive, travel was a big motivator. To me thriving includes experiencing as much as I can, and  that definitely includes travel.  So as I dropped weight, and gained confidence in my own ability to function getting on a plane became more possible.  At about the same time I started a new job, one that would require some travel, and making the choice to step out in faith that by the time I needed to get on a plane I would be ready to do so  is a choice that will someday be a post in itself, I’m sure.  That first business trip I was terrified I would be thrown off the plane, but when I returned home, successfully having gone from WI to Colorado, I felt like a new world had opened up to me.  I then promptly booked a dream trip to Seattle, WA and have been toodling around the US since. Ok, it wasn’t quite that easy, but that was the outcome!

So enter this year. I had promised myself a trip to Scotland when I had dropped 100 pounds, but never took it. I decided that THIS was the year that it was going to happen, so planning has been going on in earnest. Christmas was full of presents from my parents of things that would be helpful like outlet adapters, and noise canceling headphones. I’m mentally ramping up for my first international trip this summer, and I have a friend who has traveled a lot and is helping me with planning. Go me!  I am already feeling quite proud of myself, and how different the thought about going to Scotland feels.  Little did I know all of this prep would also make another trip possible!

One day over lunch another friend who will be traveling to Scotland for work this Spring mentions that Turkish Air is running a pretty deep fare sale and she got her flight very cheap, I should check it out. Despite my suspicion that the fares were only for spring travel I did, and what I found was that yes, the fares were only good through April (too early to go to Scotland if you want to hike in the Highlands not through snow), but that the sale was to many locations, not just Edinburgh, including a ridiculous price to go to Istanbul Turkey.

Now I had planned to go to Istanbul 2 years ago for a good friend’s wedding.  It was a big deal, and while my eventual bailing did have some rational basis in that I was in a walking boot trying to heal a “sort of” broken foot, the real reason I bailed was that it just wasn’t possible for me yet. I didn’t have the mental ways of thinking to overcome all of the anxiety, fear, and general overwhelming-ness (it is so a word) of such a trip.  I can see that now, looking back.

But now, I looked at the ridiculous fare and my first thought was – oooo, that would be fun!  I half jokingly emailed my travel guru friend to see if she might want to go in March or April, plenty of time to plan. Her response was a resounding yes, but with one caveat. Due to her work schedule we would need to go… next week.

Huh.

Here I had the first of many choices to make.  I could dismiss the possibility of such a trip on such short notice.  Which in my mind was the choice that would lead to me continuing the type of life I have been living.  Not a bad life to be sure, and by many definitions highly successful, but not the life I dreamed of.  Or I could look at ways to make it happen. To make the bold choice, to step up and live like the person I want to be, and that person DEFINITELY wanted to go to Turkey on a whim. The amount of resonance of this choice was almost deafening.

So my friend and I started a serious discussion about whether this could happen.  We had 12 hours to decide, no problem!

Over the course of that 12 hours, beginning on a Tuesday night, our tentative itinerary went from leaving the next Monday, to leaving Thursday.  We had to leave by Friday or the trip wouldn’t be long enough to be worth it, and if we were going to do that I didn’t have anything specific going on on Thursday, so why wouldn’t we just leave then?  I lost count of how many times one or the other of us said, “Oh my god, are we really doing this?”

And we really were!  We bought our tickets Wednesday afternoon and were on a flight to Istanbul just over 24 hours later.  For people that know both my friend and I they assume that she was the instigator. In the past it would have been an incredibly safe assumption. But not this time.  In the life I am creating, I do this sort of thing, and I suspect that specific choice, the choice to follow my desires and step into the life I want, instead of listening to the “safe, should” voices, will be something I am forever proud of.  It is a choice made possible only by all the other choices toward change I have made, which is awesome.

Taking the trip with so little planning required us to approach it with the mindset of “this will all work out.” Something that was tested over and over again… and things always did work out!  Did I mention we bought tickets before I could reach my Turkish friend? We had a back up plan but didn’t know for sure where we would be staying, what we would be doing… or any of that.

That night I went to bed and my last thought was, “Holy Sh*t, I’m going to Turkey tomorrow.” and a big part of me still didn’t believe it.

 

My First Post

I have been quite perplexed as to what topic to choose for my first post.  It feels like it should be important.  Possibly even momentous! There are so many things running through my head that I wish to explore, but what to choose?  I could contemplate why 10% of the time I drink out of my water bottle I end up with water down the front of my shirt, or possibly why I love that my house is a brilliant turquoise…  Then it came to me.

Choose what you know. What you live with. What is looking over your shoulder at this very moment making the choice of what to post seem bigger than it really is.  Something that has taught me more lessons than I can count.

Fear.

I’ve had the following words on my board of inspiration for at least 2 years. I have read them so often that they are now a part of who I am.

“Fear is the absence of love. In the same way darkness is the absence of light.  You cannot fight darkness because it does not exist, you can only fill the space with light – which will eradicate the dark.  In the same way you cannot fight fear, you can only flood it with love.”

These words are paraphrased out of Courage, a book by Osho. (Who is a great example of why you should test knowledge and action against your own values and code, and not follow blindly.  Some brilliant insights though.)  When I first read them they seemed a bit ridiculous. Of course fear was real. At the time I was living with several significant anxiety disorders, and generally was quite fearful all the time.  How was someone saying, “I love you” going to help?  Not to mention, if it wasn’t real, what had I been battling for so many years?  (This was not the first, nor the last time I had to decide if I was willing to go down a path that might change how I looked back on the past. So far always worth it, but rarely fun.)

As I delved further and further into the rabbit hole of what fear was, the concept of absence resonated again and again.  If I was afraid to speak in public what was I really afraid of? For me most of my fears boil down to a lack of inherent self worth – something I struggle with much less now – but the thought process went something like this.  “I’m afraid to speak in public because I might say/do/act in a way that will bring  judgement down on me from everyone watching. Since my value as a human being is at least somewhat dependent on what they think of me, this is an unacceptable possible outcome.  It is actually so unacceptable that NOT speaking in public seems an infinitely better option, so let’s have your body do all kinds of things that will feed into your initial fear of doing something “unacceptable” seem even more valid in the hope you will give in and not speak.”  The problem of course was that my job required me to give presentations occasionally, and even more problematically I very much enjoy public speaking – at least when I’m not terrified.

Now to be honest, it took me a while to hone down what was happening to that paragraph.  Getting to a point where I realized that my main fear was actually being unacceptable to my “tribe” and thus having no value took some serious deep diving. However, low and behold, what is it that can make that cease to be?

Love.

I did not see that coming, but it seemed it was actually true. If I developed enough love for myself that I understood my value to be inherent the entire tower tumbles. The spectators lose the power to devalue me as a human (something they weren’t actively doing anyway!) I can step up and speak and have only those moments at stake, and possibly a performance evaluation, which if looked at from a place of love is just feedback on how to get better. An opportunity for improvement.  Not to mention the much more likely outcome of anything undesirable happening is concern, not judgement.

This process of diving into my fears, and seeing what empty space is allowing them to be can be kind of fun. It can also be very hard, and difficult to face. Sometimes it takes a long time – which can feed other fears as I excavate, sometimes I just get a-has!  It is always a teacher.  I – at least so far – am always a stronger, better person for the lesson.

I can’t say that this approach has rid me of fear. It is still one of the things I struggle with most. However now I recognize it as a teacher, not a terrible beast out to devour me… even though sometimes that is how it communicates. I can thank the fear, and whatever inner voices are feeding it… both acts of love. And through these acts of love and light my world gets brighter. I gain knowledge of myself, I shine a little brighter, illuminating even more corners of my world to explore, opening up even more options for experience (Istanbul anyone?).

It isn’t the easy path, but it is a rewarding path, and  it is the path of an Impeccable Warrior.