Illness and surrender

January 14, 2018

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Day bazillion of a wicked painful sinus infection that has left me very puffy and exhausted. I haven’t ran in a week and I’m kind of going crazy but trying really hard to be patient with the healing process.

Yesterday I surrendered to the Minute Clinic and finally got a healthy dose of antibiotics. It had been a ridiculously long time coming. If I’m being honest, I have been feeling rundown for the last several months, it just happened to be that December 12, 2017, was the day my body said, “I give up. I’m taking you hostage until you get your shit together.” Unfortunately, it has taken me until now to get it together. Well, mostly get it together.

It all started with a gastrointestinal bug that took eight days (as opposed to my usual two days) to “recover” from. After the bug, I had a window of a few days where things were looking up. Then, the frigidness set in on the holiday weekend. My nose got stuffy, my throat got raw, and my overall rundownedness flared again. I chalked it up to the weather, crappy holiday eating, and a long pre-Christmas week at school. But alas, I was wrong. A sinus cold soon set in and I spent the last days of 2017 sucking on cough drops like they were candy, with a box of kleenex attached to my hip to catch all the drips. By the new year, I thought I was over the hump. I was so crazy wrong, AGAIN.

Nine days ago, the sinus cold morphed into a full-blown, wickedly painful infection. I thought it would subside in a couple of days so I loaded up on OTC painkillers and toughed out the days. Instead, it got worse. Way worse. Until I just needed it to not be worse anymore. So, I surrendered. And I went to the clinic, something I rarely do. (Besides, my very wise friend gently suggested that it was probably time for antibiotics. And she is a nurse so I figured I better listen.)

Today, I impatiently wait for the antibiotics to begin working their magic. I’m staying in bed all day and doing a whole lot of soul-searching. The pain is annoyingly present but I’ve cut back on the OTC drugs, so I’m pretty sure I’m getting better, even though it doesn’t quite feel like it yet. The doctor said in 2-3 days I should be 50% better.  I can’t freaking wait, although right now, I’m having a hard time believing what she said will come true.

Through it all, I’ve been thinking a lot about the lessons of the last month. While I am extremely grateful to be a healthy person most of the time and while I know that my current state is temporary, I can no longer dismiss being ill for a month as no big deal. I do that a lot, try to pass things off as not important because what I have going on isn’t a big deal in the big picture of life, and it isn’t. Until it is. And I need to stop doing that. One month of being ill is something that shouldn’t be dismissed. I know that now. At least I’m working on believing it.

Physical pain shuts me down mentally so I’ve been in my own little bubble for the last week, saving every ounce of mental and physical energy for the most urgent of things. I’m kind of exhausted from being exhausted BUT from this moment on, right now, I’m vowing to listen to my body when it begins to whisper to me, instead of waiting until it is desperately screaming at me to pay attention. Self-care should always, always, always be our first priority and I know that. But so often, it isn’t. And we have a billion excuses as to why taking care of ourselves shouldn’t be a priority. And the majority of the time all the reasons are bullshit. 

So, while I’m healing, I’ll be refocusing and I will be working on making my health-mind, body, and spirit–a priority. ONCE AND FOR ALL. No more half-hearted attempts or making up excuses. For starters, I’m going to try very hard to manage unhealthy stress (which involves not taking on things that are not mine to take on), to clean up my eating, and to make rest a priority.  I am not exactly sure how I am going to wholeheartedly accomplish this yet, but I’m going to be working on it. Very fucking relentlessly. (Incidentally, this will likely entail a mental unraveling of sorts so stay tuned for more on this matter. Insert evil laugh here. Muhahahaha.)

How about you? Has every viral illness of this weird winter knocked you down? If so, why do you think that is? What are your best wellness tips? What are your best excuses?What do you do for self-care? (Sorry, bubble baths, wine, retail therapy and all of the other fluffy things don’t count.) What changes do you need to make in your life to move forward in a way that is more healthy for your mind, body, and spirit? What whispers should you be listening to? What is stopping you?

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A wellness journey evolving

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Me, five minutes after waking on the morning after a four-day holiday feeding frenzy.  Yes, I felt as rough as I looked. At one point I would have been so shame-filled about my overindulging that I never could have posted a picture like this. Not anymore. I’ve evolved. I know that most of the time I choose well. My worth is not defined by a temporary lapse in judgment. And neither is yours.

It occurred to me last night as my body was going into its post-four-day-holiday-feeding-frenzy total meltdown, that I realized that I really missed (and need to be) blogging about all the things health and wellness that I used to when I began my fitness journey nearly six years ago. So, here I am, back at it, determined to keep writing.

Six years. For real. It’s been that long. It was a journey that began with me just wanting to lose weight. Instead, it has evolved into a journey that I never could have imagined. One that has had me rejoicing on mountaintops to painfully falling on my face (literally), more than once, mind you. From taking life for granted to learning to navigate the grief and challenges that accompany a devastating loss of life. From not being able to run a mile to running marathons. And a whole lot of other things along the way including people. Amazing people have come into my life. Each twist, turn, celebration, and fall from grace that this journey has brought me on has been an opportunity to grow in strength, patience, courage, grace, humility, joy, and so much more. I am grateful for all of it. 

As with every departure from writing regularly that I’ve taken, it always feels a little awkward hopping back in. I always feel the need to recap the gaps in painstaking detail and catch y’all up to speed but that usually turns into a novel that ends up completely emotionally draining me mainly because I haven’t written for so long and I have so much to get out. (Most of the time–for a million reasons or none– I end up not hitting the publish button anyways! Ugh!) Naturally then, because of the mental angst,  I don’t write again for a very long time because it was so hard to write the last time. Which ironically doesn’t make much sense because writing is one of the things that I need to practice as part of my core-level self-care routine so, in theory, I should be keeping up with it. But, I don’t. Then I get caught in my own vicious cycle of feeling bad about things I should be doing to keep myself well but fail to do. Soon, because of my failure to do what I need to do for myself, the shitstorm of shame begins. (For the record, it’s a ridiculously vicious cycle to get caught up in as shame can wreak havoc in a person’s life. And as a side note in this parenthetical note. . .  I know that I’m not alone in this as I am guessing a whole lot of you reading this have your own shitstorm of shame stories to share when it comes to health and wellness. Life is a treat sometimes, isn’t it?)

So, I’ll spare you all the gory details of my hiatus and just recap the highlights of the last couple of years for you, in bulleted form. (Things always seem easier to digest in bullet form, don’t they? Also, I have managed a couple of yearly updates during this time so some of this might be familiar to a few of you. )

  • Since my first DNF (Did Not Finish) on my first attempt at a 50k race in September of 2015, I’ve failed two subsequent times, once in 2016 and once in 2017. Although there is a part of me that cringes when I think about those failed attempts, I’ve grown immensely as a runner from each experience. Considering six years ago at this time I literally could not run a block, the fact that I’ve attempted 50k’s seems like a freaking miracle. I’m trying really, really hard to celebrate how far I have come on my running journey, despite the many setbacks.
  • In 2016, amidst a whole lot of life-changing experiences, the old fat girl tapes started replaying in my head during a particularly tough long run.  “What are you doing? Fat girls don’t run. What are you trying to prove? You aren’t a real runner. Real runners don’t take walk-breaks. Look at those thin fast runners whizzing by you. Why are YOU out here?” And on and on it went in my head for miles. It took me over a year to get to the root of that break-down. Again, like my race failures,  I learned greatly from that experience although if truth be told,  it still haunts me a bit. 
  • I’ve discovered over the past couple of years that writing, practicing yoga, and trail-running are my essentials for my optimal mind, body, and spirit wellness. I need them all to thrive, to breathe. Unfortunately, I don’t practice what I need to. Although I run several times a week, I don’t always get to the trails, which is what soothes my soul. Writing and yoga? Well, they are sparse, but I know that I need them as much as I need to run.  I haven’t figured out what is exactly stopping me from doing what I need to do for myself, although I have a pretty good idea. (Hint, likely relates to the old fat girl tapes mentioned above and there is definitely NOT space to unpack that baggage in this post.) I can, however, wholeheartedly say that I am working on it all. 
  • With the exception of falling off the wagon briefly over the last few days only to eat meatballs and a bit of bacon (my brother and uncle both make incredibly delicious meatballs that I will never pass up and then, of course, there’s bacon, because bacon) I’ve stopped eating red meat and I really don’t miss it. At all. In fact, I feel better NOT eating red meat. Now, if I could just stop eating sugar. . .
  • Although I doubt that I’ll ever follow a completely vegan or vegetarian diet, I will be incorporating more and more vegan recipes into my diet. It is crazy how good food tastes when it’s not laden with a bunch of animal products. During the holiday feeding frenzy we baked/cooked/made the following vegan recipes:
    • Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting. It was decadent and was seriously one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever eaten. (Okay. A chocolate frosted cake is not really a healthy option ever, vegan or not. Just wanted to acknowledge that.)
    • Green-Bean Casserole. You know the kind with the crispy fried onions. Instead of the crappy canned cream-of-something soups, we used a recipe that made a cream of almond milk, garlic, vegetable broth, and a bit of flour. In my opinion, it was much better than the original version.
    • Vegan Monkey Bread. I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when we decided on this recipe, but WOW, I was blown away by the taste. While this was still a sugar-laden treat, applesauce replaced the butter making it a better option. It was incredible!
    • Vegan Waffles. Just as fluffy and delish as regular waffles.
    • Vegan Wheat Bread. Five ingredients. Bam. So good.
  • When I began my weight-loss journey in 2012, my original goal was to lose 100 pounds, a goal that I didn’t come close to reaching. I have, however, lost 70 pounds and kept it off for over five years. Although I know now that my original goal was likely one that was a little too lofty, I do have a solid 20 pounds that I want to be gone, not because I don’t like the way I look, but because I know that I will feel better and be able to move faster and farther. I’ve already unpacked all of the reasons and excuses as to why I’ve remained plateaued, and details aside, it comes down to the fact that I’ll need to return to the hard work of being mindful about what I eat (like when I began) and to commit to not being lazy about my choices. Because I am very active, it has been relatively easy to keep the weight off. Easy is lazy. Lazy is comfortable and fun. It’s easy for me to eat chocolate cake and then run it off. It’s not easy for me to NOT eat the chocolate cake and still go for a run. Flawed? Of course. Am I working on it? Slowly but surely.
  • I’ve learned that health and wellness are SO MUCH MORE than just diet and exercise. True health and wellness come when we are taking care of our WHOLE selves–body, mind, and spirit. Please know that self-care is not selfish. In fact, self-care is essential for life. When you believe that you are worthy of taking care of yourself, you will begin to experience life in a beautifully different way. It was when I was finally able to accept and love all 250 pounds of myself, as is, and then embrace all of my lived experiences wholly for what they were–nothing more, nothing less–was I able to commit to loving and taking care of myself. I’m still a work in progress and always will be. I’m okay with that now. I wasn’t okay with that when I began this journey.
  • I have learned that wherever you are at in your quest for better health, you are never alone. There is a wonderful health and wellness community out there, loving and supportive folks that will have your back. Find people that will be there for you along the way, people that will be there for you to help you through the struggles as well as celebrate wildly with you when you reach your goals. Be accountable. Don’t fall for the plethora of weight loss and health gimmicks available. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Be patient with the journey. Remember that you are worth it. You will gain a much better perspective on life when you stop beating yourself up. I know this from experience.

So, that’s mostly it in a neatly bulleted nutshell! And, I decided as I was writing this that I am not setting resolutions for the upcoming new year, as I do every year, instead, I’m setting them now: write often, run a lot, do yoga, evolve. Sounds like a tee-shirt. Maybe I should get one made.

P.S. Although I will hold myself accountable for my goals, accountability partners are always appreciated! What intentions are you setting for yourself when it comes to health and fitness? Share if you like!

P.S.S. THANK YOU to every single person that has been a part of my journey over the last almost six years. There are so many of you! I have treasured all of the runs, walks, talks, hugs, tears, recipes, challenges, workouts and everything else along the way. And I am looking forward to so much more of all of it!

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Navigating change. . . without completely losing yourself in the process

“The process of metamorphosis is scary and sometimes painful, but it is also the way to experience wonderful new adventures we weren’t even able to imagine in our “caterpillar” identities. Accept the process: care for yourself, dream big, work hard, and keep learning. Then don’t be surprised when one morning, you wake up to find that you have wings.” ~Martha Beck

C-H-A-N-G-E.

The dreaded “C” word.

Some embrace it.

Others, not so much.

The rest of us? I’m guessing we fall somewhere in between.

If you haven’t experienced a major life change yet, hang on, because–you will. It’s inevitable. Change is a part of life that we can’t skip over, no matter how hard we might want to. Maybe it’s a career change,  a new marriage, or a divorce. Maybe you just had your first child or grandchild. Maybe your baby is about to start kindergarten or they are leaving the nest for the first time. Maybe you are facing a sudden illness or injury or maybe you are facing the loss of someone you love. Maybe it’s something entirely different. Whatever you’ve experienced, change, whether it’s a welcome one or not, can be quite scary, messy, and difficult to navigate. (It can be joyful and beautiful too, but that’s a story for another day.) You would think that after living for a certain number of years on this planet we’d get the hang of it, right? But, we mostly don’t. At least in my experience anyway! Change is H-A-R-D and there is no getting around it, you can only go through. Unfortunately, there is no play-by-play manual that shows us the way, mainly because every change and every human are different. There’s no one size fits all model for being human and/or surviving change.

Last year, at the age of 47, I dove headfirst into a mid-life career change when I moved from working as a director of a nonprofit agency advocating for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, to working as a high school teacher. (Yeah, you heard that right.) This change came on top of a few other big life changes like finishing grad school and becoming a first-time grandparent for starters.  The career change was positive, one that I sought after and welcomed. I knew my transition would be a rough one but because I was well-versed on how to deal with change (in fact, previously, I had taught others about navigating life change) and how to take care of myself in the process, I wasn’t super worried the transition. In retrospect, the fact that I wasn’t super worried should have been my first clue that shit was about to hit the fan, but in the stress and angst of my change, I totally lost sight of my path. I couldn’t manage my anxiety like usual and I could feel depression aching to grab hold. A very long story short, I seriously thought I was L-O-S-I-N-G my shit for good. And I was a little freaky about it all. Prolonged stress had hijacked my brain and I was pretty sure I was on the fast track to derailing. My body finally shut me down (as in I had to take a sick day) before I began to get a clue what I was really dealing with.

The stress I was under due to the changes I was in the midst of, had taken a serious toll on my body, mind, and spirit. One that has taken months to recover from. It got so bad that about midway through the school year I actually thought there was something physically wrong with me (like I had a serious disease or something) yet, in actuality, it was my body sending a giant SOS signal to slow the heck down and figure my shit out. It took a few months and a lot of patience, but eventually, things began to get better. Now, several months later, I’ve gotten somewhat of a grip and I thought I’d share what I did to survive my mid-life crisis, although if I am being honest, I probably didn’t do any of this consciously at first as I’m pretty sure some innate, well-trained survival forces kicked in to keep me going. There is no particular order to what I have written as for me as these steps all kind of blended into one ginormous mess of a process. If you are struggling with changes, I hope you’ll find some value in my words. Take what you need now, and come back later if you need the rest.

  1. Recognize the grief that accompanies change. Sounds weird, right? Why would there be grief attached to a change that I chose and welcomed? Well, often times we forget that every time we have a life change, we lose something. Change equals loss. Plain and simple. You can’t have one without the other. It’s quite obvious to see the loss and experience the accompanying grief when there is a loss of life, or job loss, or major illness, etc. but it’s not so obvious when the change is a positive one. For me, (nutshell version here) the loss of the comfortability in my previous job led to a loss of self-confidence in my new position, which eventually gave way to a total loss of my sense of self which created room for some pretty intense self-loathing. The stress of the unrecognized grief was tremendous. It was devastating to me for a while there until I figured out that I need to make space to honor what I lost when switched careers. By making space for my grief, I was able to open the door to celebrate all the new and wonderful people and things that my new career had to offer.
  2. PRACTICE GRATITUDE! Yes, those words deserve all caps and bold. I cannot stress this enough. Practicing gratitude has saved me from myself and has lifted me from the depths of some pretty unrelenting grief in my life. It truly is difficult to feel sorry for yourself if you begin to look at your circumstances in a different light. Apparently, through the angst of my career change, I’d abandoned the practice. When I resumed and began making a conscious effort to be grateful, even when I absolutely wasn’t feeling it, my outlook began to change and my mood began to shift to a more positive one. My self-esteem started to improve and my mental strength began to increase. Practicing gratitude had ignited the process of getting over myself (for the umpteenth time in my life) and that paved the way for a clearer path for me to keep moving forward. (For more on the life changing power of practicing gratitude, start here with this short read, 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round )
  3. Manage stress. Well, let’s just say this is a mighty, big topic, one that I will barely, and I mean, barely, scratch the surface on here. For starters, I’ll offer this. Did you know that we are not made to handle long-term stress? I repeat, we are NOT created to handle long term stress. Ever heard of the flight, fight, or freeze response? Well, in short, when we are stressed, the part of our brain designed to keep us safe from a potentially dangerous situation (our amygdala) is activated. When that happens, the part of our brain that we need to think critically, to process, to learn, and grow, etc. (our prefrontal cortex) shuts down, which makes things difficult because we need our pre-frontal cortexes to help us think through our current dilemma. Our fight, flight, or freeze process was designed as a short-term stress response to keep us safe. Prolonged stress damages our brain. (Science backs this up. Google it or message me for some research.) Because I was under a period of prolonged stress my brain wasn’t functioning as it should. It took me figuring some stuff out (at a much slower rate than normal) and then beginning to tackle some of my stress before my brain finally started to calm down. Finally, with some stress subsiding, I was able to start thinking more clearly, which made moving forward much easier. fofbraindiagSide note: It is important to remember that we all deal with stress in our own way. Nobody can tell you exactly what you need to do because we are all different. Regardless, do your homework on stress management and then learn to manage yours! For real. Get to the core of what’s causing your stress and figure out what you need to do to keep yourself healthy–body, mind, and spirit. BE HONEST with yourself. Retail therapy, alcohol, food, drugs, or the oft-touted hot bubble bath with a glass of wine, are only band-aids and band-aids are only temporary.  They stop the bleeding but don’t heal the wound. Does that make sense? (Go here for more information on what stress does to your brain. You’ll be shocked.)
  4. Find a mentor or a friend. REACH OUT! We have been conditioned in this society to believe that we can go it alone when times get tough, you know,  the ridiculous bootstrap mentality, (which I totally call bullshit on by the way.) We try to figure it out on our own because we don’t want to appear weak, or unintelligent, or unprepared. Or maybe we don’t feel comfortable burdening others with problems that we think that we should be able to handle on our own. Well, guess what? We are not made to go it alone. We need other people. Let me say it again. We need other people. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. (Thanks to the coworker that reminded me of that when I was struggling.) When I finally began to figure out what was going on with me, I mustered up what courage I had left and spilled it all to some of my new coworkers. I cannot tell you how good it felt to be supported and to hear the words “me too” come from some of them. There is so much restorative power in learning that you aren’t alone in your struggles. A good friend or mentor will listen without judging and be there to walk alongside you as you figure things out. (For more on the value of mentoring, check out this article. Eight Qualities of a Great Teacher Mentor.  Even though this is an education themed article, the qualities apply to all.)
  5. Authentic reflection. Equally as powerful in my book as practicing gratitude, is practicing authentic reflection. When you are honest with yourself about how things are really going, you can begin to lay the groundwork for dealing with whatever you need to deal with. What is going well? What isn’t? And most importantly, why? By taking the time to critically think about a situation or event, you can begin to see what you can do differently to navigate better. For the record, authentic reflection is not an easy task. In fact, often times, at least in my case, it sucks and is hard because for reflection to be effective, you need to be brutally honest with yourself and maybe face parts of you that you don’t really want to. (Or you might have to take ownership of your role in something instead of blaming others or something similar. Anyways, you get my drift.) On the flip side of that ugly stuff though, you might actually discover some awesome pieces to the puzzle that you hadn’t noticed before or maybe you’ll discover something pretty cool about yourself! Regardless of where your reflections bring you, remember that for reflection to be truly meaningful, for you to learn and grow, you must be willing to take action with what you discover–good, bad, or otherwise. (My actions over the past months were the steps above. You don’t have to change the world with your actions, just yourself. Not always easy, but always worth it.)change4.jpg

It’s funny. Even after writing all of this, I feel like it’s just the beginning of the story. I’m still reflecting on all of this, even a couple months after scribbling this all down for the first time.  No doubt I’ll be writing more in the future. For now, though, this is what I have for you and I’ll leave you with this. . . Remember that change, whether it’s welcomed or not, is often hard, and messy, and scary, but you will get through it. And maybe, just maybe, if you look for it, you’ll find some joy and beauty along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

Joy and Pain. Side by Side.

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“Choosing to nurture joy does not mean turning a blind eye to pain or difficulty or injustice. It means holding positive possibilities while looking deeply into pain. Deep truth about what is and recognizing joy can exist side by side.” ~Circle Forward

I read those words and I was reminded of the phrase finding joy in the mess. And then I was reminded of the times in my life when there wasn’t much to be joyful for, yet, somehow opportunities to choose a moment of pure joy would sneak in, despite the current state of messiness. A sudden eruption of pee-your pants laughter in the depths of unfathomable grief, a beautiful ray of sun appearing from the clouds when all hope seemed lost, a heartfelt hug from a dear friend in a moment of despair. Life-saving snippets of joy in the midst of struggle. Joy and pain. Side by side. How can we know one without the other? Kind of a mind blow, right? Always the paradox. Always the struggle. How can they co-exist? Yet . . . how can they not?

Choosing to find joy in the midst of difficulty is one of the most courageous acts a person can take–although we rarely give ourselves permission to do so. What if, in the midst of your struggles, no matter how big or small, you gave yourself permission to choose joy for just one day, or for one hour, or for even one minute or one second? It’s SO okay to take a break from your pain. Choosing to nurture joy does not dismiss or diminish our hurts, but instead creates space for hope to seep in. And with hope, all things are possible.

Let yourself choose joy and then nurture it. Let it live side by side with your sorrows. Let hope create the space.