A Vulnerable Life Update

I’ll be honest. I’ve had more than one conversation in the past few months about how I am a sensitive person. They weren’t, for the most part, people telling me how great it is to be sensitive. I’ve often been told I’m sensitive like it’s a bad thing.

I’ll own it, though. Sensitive comes from the Latin sentire, or feel. And I feel things.

I also allow myself to be vulnerable. Or at least, I try. Vulnerable comes from the Latin vulnus, or wound.

I feel wounds.

I may be sensitive by nature, but I am vulnerable by choice.  And I think everyone should strive for more vulnerability.

vulnerability1

Seven years ago today I graduated with my undergraduate degree. I was living in Boulder, Colorado in university-owned apartments at the bottom of campus called Smiley Court. I rode my bike uphill to the main campus in first gear, dripping in sweat, for classes. I coasted back down the hill to my home with nothing but forward momentum, sometimes barely keeping control I was going so fast , and I was usually helmet-less. .This is not the kind of vulnerable I advocate for.

My mom had, a year earlier, jumped off a bridge in a suicide attempt. My last year of college was spent living two lives: the student who tried to blend in while learning about foreign policy and allowing herself dreams of changing the world, and the daughter who drove 6 hours every other weekend to the state mental hospital to visit her mentally ill mother, going through metal detectors, speaking to social workers and doctors (though, in all honestly, my husband and dad did much of that, as I tend to get angsty with authority figures).

For anyone who knows me, this isn’t news. It’s just my story.  I graduated college, we all moved to North Dakota, and lived happily ever. Right?

No.

Vulnerable stems from the word wound, but its modern definition is:  the state of being open to injury, or appearing as if you are. It might be emotional, like admitting that you’re in love with someone who might only like you as a friend, or it can be literal, like the vulnerability of a soccer goal that’s unprotected by any defensive players. (Vocabularly.com)

You see, I didn’t want to be vulnerable. Not then. I just wanted to make things tidy, and help my parents get moved to this utopia I’d created in my head: Fargo, North Dakota. I thought it would be everything they needed, and my husband Alex and I could move to Washington, D.C. after spending a summer helping them get settled in and, to be honest, me fulfulling my need to mother my parents.  But we’d taken a road trip to D.C. to check out our future. I saw myself walking those streets, changing the world.

Then my mom had emergency bowel surgery late that summer, and we didn’t move.

Okay, one more year would be okay. We put in our notice on our apartment the next May, and moved everything to my parents’ garage.

Then my mom got respiratory distress and was hospitalized in the ICU for a few scary days before being sent home with orders to live a different, healthier, life.

We didn’t move. Another year would be okay, just to make sure everything was okay. Okay?

I slowly felt my dreams changing. Like John Mayer sang in Born and Raised, ‘I’ve still got dreams…they’re not the same…they don’t fly as high as they used to.’ 

My husband and I had a baby. I decided to go back to school to be teacher instead of a politician. It seemed Fargo was our destiny. I believed in destiny, after all.

Back when we’d all moved from Colorado to North Dakota, it was me convincing both my mom and dad it would all we’d hoped for and more. I remember signing my mom out of the state mental hospital after a long year. She had no money, no possessions. She loved Colorado. She loved it so much. But I had lived in Colorado since 7th grade and it was just another boring state to me.

“North Dakota is where you belong, mom,” I said, and she protested that it was a stupid idea but I was stubborn and she had no leverage.

I didn’t realize how emotionally vulnerable it is to move. I had expectations, and vague memories of my younger years in Fargo. When these didn’t pan out, I grew mad at North Dakota. I didn’t WANT to be vulnerable.

I felt stuck, though. The perfect solution – the only solution- was a temporary move. It was the only way to do something good for Alex and I without sacrificing too much time away from helping my dad care for my mom.

And so in 2013, we made a purposeful, vulnerable decision. We moved to Scotland for one year, dates set.  My husband’s family was there, and our son got to know his other grandmother, his cousins, etc.

When I stepped into my new classroom in Scotland, I recognized the buzz I got from new experiences. From exposing myself, emotionally. I guess I always knew this, but it was during this year abroad (where everything seemed condensed- our flat, my quickly-forged friendships, my writing) where I felt I was really able to look at my husband and son clearly. From a distance, everything in the USA seemed clearer, as well.

It’s always a risk to lay yourself out there. I think I learned to be purposefully vulnerable, and not just sensitive, when I was in Scotland that year.

And while my blog often speaks of authenticity, I think being vulnerable is an important part of that. It leaves you open to being hurt. It leaves you open to fail. But it also leaves you open to great things, new things, better things.

The only way to know…. is to be vulnerable.

I think social media (and I’m a fan, I am) encourages us to hide our vulnerability. I try not to. I do, on a quite regular basis, have old friends contact me to ask if everything is ‘okay’ for me? (And if this is you, I actually really appreciate it  and I love people showing they care). When this happens I wonder if I’m being *too* visibly vulnerable. But that quickly passes as I realize it’s actually a bit like a pat on that back that I am doing it right – being authentic, being vulnerable.

I think ‘real life’ also encourages us to hide our vulnerability or not seek it out. No one wants to be seen as weak, right? No one wants to look like they’re floundering.

But it’s no secret I am a flounderer. And I don’t mind floundering for a bit, as long as my family is safe.

This summer, my husband, son and I are moving back to Colorado Springs. After seven years of trying to make North Dakota work for us, we just know the life we want for ourselves and our son Alistair lies elsewhere. It’s nothing against North Dakota. I’m like Josh Duhamel. I will wear shirts that say Fargo and go on the TODAY Show and talk about how wonderful it is, if they want me.

 

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An entire Daily Mail article on his North Dakota attire 

 

Because…if you have what you need here, North Dakota can be nice. If you have a house (not a tiny apartment) — to get you through the cold winters with a space to run and play — the winters can be okay. If you have auto-start on your car, you don’t HAVE to freeze. If you have ‘toys’ for summer – a boat, heck, a paddle board – and a place to go, summers can be lovely. The people ARE as nice as everyone says, as a general rule. I’ve found great community within my church and within a local mom’s group. If you have your people here, North Dakota can be great.

But we don’t have a house, a paddle board, a lake, auto-start or a clan. Our ‘people’ move a lot (thanks, friends, for always moving away -ha-), the family we ARE in touch with in this area don’t live close to us at all (except my dad, but he is part of ‘we’ , my immediate family) and the magical life we envisioned for my mom never happened. (She’s in Minnesota’s mental health system, which, for the record, isn’t any better than Colorado’s….)

So, we are returning to Colorado in stages this summer. I find Colorado to be MY roots and they are Alex’s American roots. The details are tedious, but by summer’s end, me, Alistair, Alex, my dad AND my mom should all be back in Colorado.

My mom, who kept telling us over and over as we drove through the midwest to bring her up to North Dakota, ‘This is a bad idea!’ is not going to be left behind. She’s under a psychiatric commitment until September, but essentially lives in a central Minneapolis slum nursing home. I’ve never seen anything like it in Colorado. The housing couldn’t be worse than where she is, so it seems like a good time to bring her back to where she raised me. (She has two sisters in the Minneapolis area who are very, very good at visiting her and being there for her, but they are the same sisters who used to visit us in Colorado, so same difference, more or less). Most importantly, it ‘s my mom’s ‘dream’ to return to Colorado.

And if we can make dreams come true….we should.

Life goes in cycles.

I’m goin’ back to my roots.

———————————-

I think this blog post goes under YAGE.

See ya later, Fargo. Hello, graduation, teaching, and a fresh start…..again.

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A heart shape in the sand. Woooo. 

 

Since this blog was mainly autobiographical , I’d suggest this TED Talk for an actual expert opinion on being vulnerable:

 

 

 

 

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“What Lights You Up?” ….She answered, smugly.

“What makes you light up?” my therapeutic healing yoga instructor asked as we melted into the mat, nothing more than fleeting thoughts and deep breathing. Semi-meditative, we welcomed flashes of feelings instead of the usual focus of a mantra.

Alistair exuberant, Alex laughing, my parents hugging, Weasley’s run in an open park. Susan’s arm link and brisk walk. Fi’s knowing smile on the top deck of a Lothian bus. Walking out to my sister standing in my living room and seeing a missing piece of myself staring back at me. 

These were all people; this was all love.

“Try not to think of relationships,” she’d urged previously. “Try to think of the feeling- the physical feeling of lighting up.”

The acceleration of a plane taking off, cold feet in hot water, walking into a classroom, the opening sequence of a film, the full-body vibration of live music, the initial crack and smell of a new hardback, hands in Alistair’s thick hair, hands on Alex’s rough cheek, being squeezed in a full embrace, the texture of a scone, the tapping flow of the keyboard, the rush of a roller coaster, the reverence of personal prayer. 

As the exercise ended, we took out our journals.What did our feelings tell us? What makes us light up?

I wrote with ease, with the assuredness of being self-aware. Upon reflection, almost smugness. Knowing oneself and knowing oneself well was something I was oh-so good at. I studied philosophy for fun. I’d taken that existentialism class through the Open University just because I’m the type of person who knows what I don’t know or what I’ll never know. You know.

Smug.

I wrote:

1- People with whom I share love — a short list, but whatever, suckers who don’t like me. ( I let them go; see past blog posts. )

2- Travel. Obviously. That’s my thing. Novelty, exploration, adventure, etc. Finding a good airfare- ding- that lights me up big time. Getting lost in big cities- almost as fun as finding the place.

3- Film. Obviously. That’s my other thing. Everyone knows I’m, like, obsessed. 

4- God (He is first, but came to mind fourth — keeping it real here) 

The rest- water, music, reading, writing, physical touch, adrenaline, contemplation. 

Yep, that was me. I wrote in my journal and listened as the instructor told us to seek the things that light us up. It would make us happy.

Doing things you like makes you happy. 

This class, held in a strip mall yoga studio in a new sub-division, sent me all of the good feelings a person likes. Assurance. Hope. Confidence. I even drove away with a certificate when the month was over- hey, I could teach this if I wanted to.

Half a year has passed.

I’m not as smug anymore. I know what lights me up…the same things that lit me up before. I haven’t changed. Because people don’t change, not really, not ever. I’m still working on the same things I started working on when I started blogging. I’ll probably work on them forever. I can make positive change in my circumstances, but changing me, and changing what makes me who I am, will never change. Probably not.

This new chapter, the one where I accept I don’t know it all, is scary. But since I love novelty, it’s also kind of fun.

The same platitudes pass over and over again through my life, on a loop. Maybe everyone hears them.

Changes begins with you.

You’re the only person responsible for your actions. 

You never know unless you try. 

The first step is the hardest.

People never change.

Change is possible, if you really want it. 

One small step in the right direction is better than no step at all.

I have an inkling they’re all true. Just like when my mom used to say to me, “These are the best years of your life but you just don’t know it yet,” when I was a carefree young adult. I dismissed it; my immediate needs outweighed thinking about adulthood. But now I see, it was the truth.  It’s all probably true. The things older people tell us on rotation.

And I…..I  don’t know shit. None of us really do.

We just need to know what lights us up, and keep at it.

We need to do the best we can. 

 

Perception is Nearly Everything, Sometimes

Like memories of what cannot be

Within the reign of memory

That shake our mortal frames to dust

– Hugh MacDiarmid

——————————-

1. Truth is relative

2. Except when it’s not, and you’re just wrong.

As John Mayer once said,

“You can be wrong and swear you’re right…some people been known to do it all their lives.”

But if something is wrong, does that mean it doesn’t exist? No.

Sometimes existence can be relative, too.

If you asked Professor McGonagall what non-being is, she’d tell you…. “Everything.”  *

* (“Where do vanished objects go?” “Into non-being, which is to say, everything.” Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

Here are some examples of times I’ve been wrong:

In a journal entry dated early 2008, I wrote:

I  am old. I am ancient. I am decrepit.

I am a 24 year old undergrad.

Ahhh, the humanity.

… I feel like I have been in college longer than that Stifler guy from American Pie must have been in high school. The fact that I am IN high school when American Pie came out shows how old I am.

Sooo, I went with my dear Lancaster-ians (my English friends from my English university) to the fall convocation and realized that the freshman class of CU this year was born in 1990!!

I wore my sunglasses and tried to hide my smile crinkles, and then was literally paraded with the freshman and study abroad students (oh, there may have been a few grad students and transfers in there but who can spot them with the blinding light of youth surrounding you) past a bunch of cheering, whooping, entirely too perfect looking sorority sisters.

Maybe I have some sort of mental issue going on here, but this campus is making me feel ancient….

Part of me wants to the join the mass of my fellow 2002 high school grads and start having babies. One precursory glance at myspace shows that a large portion of my high school cohorts have babies.

But then part of me wants to make the most of being (relatively) young and revel in my last year of college, even if I am the new Van Wilder (the mormon version lolol).”

Yes, I thought I was ancient at 24. Wrong.

Here is another time I was wrong, in 1997. I was 13:

Bad Idea
Bad Idea

I found this while doing all of my de-cluttering (see other posts). It was empty.

Making pro and con lists are always a sound choice, right?

No.

Again, from 1997:

Baaaad Idea
Baaaad Idea

It’s a bit hard to read, but it’s a list comparing two boys named John and Glynn (wherever they may be, I doubt they are readers of my blog). One ‘good’ thing about John is that he is a ‘ghetto wannabe.’  But then again, Glynn would ‘make a better father.’  What did they share on the Bad List? ‘Wears hats.’

Needless to say, making this list was the Bad Choice here.

All kidding aside, how we perceive reality at any given moment is what’s ‘right,’ most of the time. I don’t want to go around in circles about moral absolutes or a lack of them (like murder), as that’s a topic for another day, but this is more about those of us who are ‘normal’ (functioning in society) and live out our lives in our own perceived reality.

I am one of the those people who finds meaning in everything. I’ve been that way since I was a child. I loved looking for ‘signs’ that I was on the right path, and I still look for those ‘God Winks’, or as some would say, coincidences. I love finding affirmation that the thing I believe is correct. And due to confirmation bias, our brains are pretty adept at doing this.

But it also means we can convince ourselves of untruths.

I’m not talking about a particular person or group of people or a set of beliefs. Because I think this just applies to everyone, as human beings.

I’m writing about this because I’ve been addressing my own mea culpa  as of late. Maybe it’s just becoming an adult, I don’t know. But I am seeing places where I’ve been wrong, even if I would have bet my life I was right, at the time.

Part of my ever-progressing journey into Letting It Go is accepting the times and places where I was truly….wrong.

I had this one idea perpetuating in my head for years (well, I’ve had plenty of ideas perpetuating in my head for years) and then one day a friend of mine told me, bluntly:

“Just stop.”

How does one simply enter Mordor  turn off an idea? It’s not easy. But once you accept it’s wrong, in some cases you really can

Just. Stop.

And some perceptions simply fade with time.  When I was a teenager, I literally believed I could, if opportunity presented itself, marry JC Chasez from N Sync. My best and I manipulated our movements in certain ways at N Sync concerts (trying to get picked to dance on stage, waiting outside certain doors or hotels) , so utterly convinced we were that if we could just MEET THEM, Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez would love us. How could they not?!?!

My first year of college, at 18, I began realizing how silly this seemed as  I was studying  in my psychology class how the adolescent mind quite easily accepts grandiose ideas

I don’t ever want to lose my dreams, my ambitions, or most of all, my sense of self ,  which has been shaping itself ever since all of the quirky incidents I’ve mentioned.

But I want to remember that while perception is everything at the time, sometimes…there are times we are just plain wrong.

And I’m sorry.

The Nostalgic Hoarder

That’s me. The nostalgic hoarder. With all of my talk of simplifying, and my blogged endeavors at letting go, there remains one area where I am/was  woefully cluttered.

‘My Memories’ I’ve called them, as my husband and I  moved them from Colorado Springs to Boulder to Fargo to Moorhead and back to Fargo.

‘Make sure we don’t throw away any of my memories!’ I insist with every move and spring cleaning.

In this new, smaller apartment (thanks harassing neighbors who forced us to move), my ‘memories’ have nowhere to live but the garage. So I’ve been going through each box, one by one, over the past months and trying oh-so-hard to downsize.

My 10th grade Science folder? I finally put it in the bin, 15 years later. My NSYNC seat cushion from Mile High Stadium? Oh, that will be kept forever. A collector’s item, for sure.

Here are some of my weekend finds:


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My favorite Sketchers, 2002-2004.

I don’t usually save old shoes, although these were a firm favorite mine. But I harbored them because they are The Shoes I wore when I met my now husband, Alex. I’ve saved the frayed jeans and blue velour hoodie I wore to the pub that fateful night, as well.

I’m a bit spacy, and excitable by nature.  Back then, in  late 2003 when I meet Alex, I was also still jet-lagged. So I don’t have a ton of memories of the event itself. My best friend Susan and I walked into the Edinburgh pub The Brass Monkey expecting to watch a movie, but ended up ordering Coca Colas and being teased by the barman in the black tshirt.

Alex.

I can picture the way he grinned at me, and how he flirted. But somehow, looking at these shoes makes it seem more tangible, and brings back those feeling I had in the pub. I can remember how it felt to walk in those shoes.

So, I wondered yesterday. Should they stay or should they go?

This was, indeed, a tough one. In the end, they’ve stayed, and I tell myself maybe one day they’ll be…..vintage. For anyone who wants to know what a backpacking teenager wore in 2003.

This is, perhaps, one semester's worth of notes.  What would the kids of today think?
This is, perhaps, one semester’s worth of notes. What would the kids of today think?

Next, I tried to tackle my memory shoeboxes. Each shoebox equals one school year’s worth of ticket stubs, passed notes, concert confetti, and birthday cards. As I went through these (and I still have some to organize, admittedly), I found cards from people who I honestly can’t place. Into the garbage they went. I found old glowsticks, presumably from a concert. Binned. But I kept the concert confetti, and I kept every one of my notes, including those above:  a small sample of one year in the life of Susan and Alana at Coronado High School.

The content of the notes is priceless. One of the notes contains apologies for tear stains. Most contain codewords and initials in an attempt to avoid interception by nosy parties. All include declarations of love for Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez and for each other, as BFFS and NFFs.

I’ll never toss these notes, and I’m so glad to have them. I wonder how today’s communication will be saved for the future? Snapchat is gone in a flash. The handwritten note ran the risk of falling into the wrong hands, but that was all part of the fun.

Next, I found a bittersweet look into my psyche, 2003…..

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When I found this, I could have literally cried. Here I sit in Fargo, 12 years older and none the wiser, and I feel the choice has been made for me. It makes me feel foolish to think I sat, as a 19 year old with the world at my fingertips, and contemplated choosing NORTH DAKOTA over California for college.

No offense, North Dakota. But really.

In the end, my best friend Susan and I ended up going on a student work exchange to Scotland instead, and the rest is history.

But I don’t remember writing this list. I remember applying to both MSUM and Santa Monica College and getting into both. I remember thinking MSUM would be a safe adventure. Ultimately we choose the least safe option of all, moving to Scotland.

This list went into the trash pile, out of pure annoyance.

And what of my box full of college papers and exams? I’ve been lugging around the answer to Hume’s Fork for 13 years.

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This  too went straight into the garbage pile, mainly out of embarrassment I couldn’t possibly get an ‘A’ on the same exam today. Thanks, short-term memory. No, seriously. Thanks for getting me through college.

Next….

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My more recent habit is keeping boarding passes, hotel maps, and other ‘memories’ in my carry on backpack. This means I’ve been hauling maps of London to Cancun, and have the correct walk-in massage information for Covent Garden  on my person as I drive up to Winnipeg.

It’s not laziness; I think I just don’t want to let go of my most recent travels. They seem so immediate right there in my bag.

But I took the step and moved them to a memory box – but only the mementos which held meaning.

And then, finally. Photos.

2000concert

Without this gem of a picture, I would never remember taking a swipe at a Britney Spears piñata (her crime: dating Justin Timberlake), nor would I remember the look of absolute glee on Susan’s face. I certainly wouldn’t have remembered wearing jeans up to my rib cage, and I doubt I would have been able to recall the on point way we all managed to look appropriately disdainful.

How could you, Britney? Justin was OURS. OURS, I tell you.

I don’t throw away old photographs. But I haven’t been amazing at organizing them and digitalizing them, either.

If there were a fire, I’d probably grab Alistair, Weasley and my bag of pictures.

(Alex would be fine to get out on his own, but of course he’s top of the list, as well)

I find great value in Scrapbooking, for those who have the attention span. I’ve started loads, and I love the first few pages I have.

Ha.

I think the best course of action is organization and photo albums, out in the open where people can enjoy them. Making digital copies is also important in case of things such as fires.

But I wholeheartedly believe photos are worth keeping.

So, by the end of the weekend I managed a few bags of trash amongst my boxes of memories.

Just some of the boxes:

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As fun as it was to ponder my past via memory boxes, it also felt good to through some of it away. Moderation was my guide, and I think it served me well.

If you are a nostalgic hoarder like me, here are some general tips I’d pass on:

1. If you can’t remember the person who sent you the note or the card, ponder it in amusement before throwing it away. Same goes for random objects and useless glowsticks.

2. Don’t be afraid to box up things you wish to keep, and then put them away. They’re safer in your garage than in your carryon backpack as you go from trip to trip.

3. If you can work it out, minimize the space ‘memories’ take up by condensing into smaller boxes which fit into bigger boxes, arranged by year or, in some cases by person (such as the ‘Alistair’ box).

4. Be wary of larger items of substandard collector value (such as my Nsync seat cushion, which I just couldn’t let go of). But I did throw away all of my NSYNC calendars, for example.

5. If something truly brings you joy, why let it fester in a box? See if you can find a new use for it.

6. If in doubt, throw it out.

7. But don’t be ashamed of nostalgia. We’re all human, after all, and our memories make up our lives. Little reminders of good times and good things can bring joy when you really need a boost. They can give others a boost as well.

And last of all, but most importantly…..don’t stop making new memories.

Yeah, so my dramatic teenage years are gone, and I can’t meet my husband again for the first time. But we’re making new memories as a family, and one day Alistair will be able to look back on things he doesn’t remember, such as the year he lived in Scotland, and we will be able to tell him about it.

We wouldn’t be able to tell him about it if we hadn’t gone.

Creating memories is much more important than saving them

.

Exercise Anxiety

SONY DSC

‘We Can Do Hard Things.’

This saying is popping up everywhere lately. I even purchased a wooden plaque with the saying from a thrift store the other day. I put it up on my husband’s bed stand, and looking at it makes me giggle just a little bit. Double entendre aside, I like the sentiment. I DO do hard things. Raising my son, looking after my mom, writing a novel, going to endless grad school…

But one of the hardest things for me to do is live an anxiety-free life.

And it’s very, very hard for me to workout; like REALLY workout.  Proper exercise.

Last week I went to Zumba. I’ve gone through phases of doing Zumba regularly, but I always modify it, and leave for at least one song to get a break for my sanity. In the past few years I’ve avoided it completely.  But Lauren, my workout buddy, and I had been doing such a great job at pushing ourselves every day, that on this one day she couldn’t do our cardio/strength routine, I went to Zumba by myself. I felt confident I could do it alone.

The fun ensued and I sweated through a few songs. My heart raced and I tried to ignore it. I shook out my hands, stood in front of the fan, and kept moving. I slowed down the next song, took a drink of water, and willed myself to keep going. But my heart raced and raced,  and as I took a certain misstep I thought for sure I  was going pass to out.

I panicked. This it it, I thought. Death by Zumba.  I wobbled to the door, mopping up my sweat with a towel and willing my heart rate to slow down. It didn’t. The evening remained hot and sunny, and the corridors of the gym filled with warm damp air as I wished for nothing more than a cold place to sit. Everyone walked past happy and fit, unaware I may be dying.

I hyperventilated my way to the locker room. Happy women sat chatting on the chairs and my vision was going blurry but I ran to the toilet and locked myself in, willing myself to stop panicking, trying to ignore the throbbing in my chest, now painful. I tried some vasovagal maneuvers.

I made my way outside somehow, and into my car. I blasted cold air on my face, took a drink of water, an anxiety pill, and sat with my head between my legs. Slowly my heart rate and breathing returned to normal. I was going to live.

It surprised me. It always does after a panic attack.

I texted and called my husband and a few friends, seeking comfort, distraction. I felt better.

Eventually I went on with my evening with nothing but an eye twitch to remind me of the episode.

I cried a bit that night for no real reason. I guess I felt a bit sorry for myself. I couldn’t finish Zumba. I obviously needed Lauren or someone to keep me from panicking. I couldn’t even go to the gym like a normal person.

Because this is one truth about me: I’m a worrier, and I’ve had a fear of cardio exercise for a decade.

It sounds almost silly to say. As I gained weight, doctors told me to exercise. I agreed, but never did. Not REALLY. Not in the P90x sort of way. I stuck with yoga and walking.

Finally I admitted it to my GP: “I  can’t do vigorous exercise. I hate the feeling of my heart beating quickly; it makes me panic. I literally think I’m going to  die every time. I actually look for the defibrillator to make me feel better. ”

“That’s not normal,” she said. “I’ve never had a patient tell me they look for a defibrillator for comfort.”

She raised her eyebrows.

I’ve had many heart tests done, just to rule out if I were paranoid or they really were after me. Anxiety is an expensive disorder.

In the end, it turns out I am able to overcome this particular fear through a variety of methods:

1. Distraction –  I work out with a friend. If alone, I listen to really loud music. Really. Loud.

2. Support –  I feel ‘safe’ with a friend.

3. Something to grab- If I’m feeling panicky on the treadmill, I can grip the sides. Steady myself, as it were. Zumba is so open. A definite  trigger for me. (But sooooo fun if I can do it)

4. Channeling my inner calm. Deep breathing, utilizing CBT techniques..

5. Anxiety medication.

6. Strength training. Less risk of getting short of breath.

Exercise may easy for some people. For me, it’s one of the hard things I have to do.

It’s not as hard as most things  in my life. But I know that to be my best self and to be the mom Alistair deserves…I need to overcome my exercise anxiety.

Tiny Feet

I felt frazzled today as I pulled on my lycra, getting ready for the gym. I was running late to meet Lauren and had just come from the most bizarre writing workshop at my college. I had talked on the phone to my dad on the way home and he sounded sad, and I felt a million worries and stressors, both others and my own, bearing down on me. I couldn’t wait for my workout as I needed an outlet, and I wasn’t finding it in my messy bedroom as I scrambled to find gym clothes.

Alistair came lumbering in, a three year old in my tennis shoes. I said, “Oh, wow, what are YOU wearing?”, thinking I need those shoes now; I’m running late.

“These are my GIANT shoes!” he said, and I quickly grabbed a pair of my loafers and said, “Here, these can be your giant shoes.”

He wasn’t convinced.

“Erm, they can be your DRAGON shoes?” I tried, and quickly made the switch before he could protest. I wasn’t really paying attention to him, even though he’d come into my room to see me.

“Why are you going to the gym?” he asked, as he does whenever he sees me put on workout clothing.  He’s in a ‘Why?’ stage and I love it most of the time.

“Er, to workout.”

“Why?”

“So I can get my exercise.”

I was pulling on my top at this point, shoving one foot in a confiscated shoe.

“Why?”

Ugh, I thought. I hate life this afternoon. I don’t know the answer to any WHYs at the moment.

“Because  I’m FAT and I need to lose weight,” I said briskly, knowing it wasn’t the answer I should give a three year-old but beyond caring.

“Mommy,” Alistair replied earnestly from his perch on the bed. “You’re not fat, you’re perfect!!”

I turned to look at him.

There sat my  little son, so innocent and sincere, desperate to chat with me, and barely able to walk in my tennis shoes, so tiny are his feet.

I went and  gave him the biggest hug.

I felt a rush of pure love, on both our parts.

But I left the house feeling guilty about not being present for him.

And I thought about my shoes as I started the car. I want to leave him big shoes to fill, in the figurative sense. I want to be the best example he has. I’m sure most parents do.

I thought about his comforting words.

I grew up always comforting my parents. I chose to do that; it’s just in my nature.

But I don’t want Alistair to grow up thinking he has to be a little adult  all the time.

I want his worries to be as tiny as his feet. Right now, I just want him to be…three.

I learned an important  lesson today, and I still got in an hour at the gym.

Alistair may be the only human who thinks I’m perfect, and that’s okay.

We can’t be perfect. We can only be the best versions of ourselves, and that is my goal.

Each day is another chance to give it a try.

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Progress Report

I have a confession to make. I have only lost two pounds since this blog began. But I haven’t gained any, which is something I had been steadily doing.

I have become incredibly self-aware of my habits, which I think is of utmost important to losing weight.

Things I have been doing which seem to be working:

– I’ve gone back to weekly yoga. I love the feeling it gives me both during and after, physically and mentally.

– I have been tracking my steps using the built in app on my Samsung Galaxy. I have a daily goal, and if I reach half of that it alerts me and I feel pretty good. Given the cold weather I envision it being harder to get to maximum (which is where working out in the gym comes into play)

-I’ve been continuing to make smoothies, and find they fill me up much more when I use a scoop of whey protein powder. I’ve also discovered a protein shake I just LOVE:  Core Power High Protein Milk Shakes. They have a ‘light’ version which still has 20 grams of protein, and the shakes are good; not chalky or powdery at all.

-I’ve been seeing my doctor. I’m still unsure if I’m going to start metformin but I’m happy to be as informed as I can be.

Things I need to work on:

–Tracking my diet. For whatever reason I find this simple step to be difficult.

-Eating less sugar.

-Venturing beyond yoga and Zumba at the gym into some strength training classes.

And now, here’s a Christmas video from  the 1970’s. Just because. This song is always played in the UK and it reminds me of Scotland during Christmas. Make of it what you will.

The Struggle is Real

ILOVEYOUWhen I was studying creative writing, we learned about something called ‘tonal lurching.’ It’s pretty self-explanatory. If the tone of your writing is inconsistent, and you fall into the trap of tonal lurches, you quickly confuse the reader.

This blog doesn’t have a set tone yet. It hasn’t quite developed it’s identity. It’s a baby blog, if you will.

Just as I’m in the baby stages of making so many major lifestyle changes.

Ahh, synchronicity.

So What is this blog?

The aims of this blog are to:

– Empower others while sharing my own struggles and successes
– Provide meaningful dialogue in the areas of diet, nutrition, lifestyle and mind/body health
– Entertain and engage the reader and myself with light-hearted anecdotes, recipes, etc.

From this point on I’m going to stop numbering my posts in the titles (just tags). I will weigh-in every Thursday as promised. I won’t post every day unless I have something good to write (and I will be taking a two week vacation while I go receive my diploma in Scotland)

The brings me to the meat of this post:

The Struggle is Real

Last weekend I struggled with expectations of myself compared to others. I was honest about it in my blog.

But then the week started and I realized it wasn’t any different than the weekend, just busier. Monday I had my mindfulness group, then I had an exam to do for my freelance analyst job. I had homework and doctor’s appointments and on top of it all, my two year old, Alistair, was sick the entire week off and on. As is usual for me, I overthought it, and I kept him home under quarantine instead of taking him to the doctor. When I finally brought him in last night, I learned he had strep throat! And he was suffering all week with it while I had no idea and was busy calibrating body fat percentage and trying to book plane tickets and hotels for segments of our trip.

I’d been with Alistair all week (with help from his father, of course). I watched countless episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and made him all of his go-to foods and liquids. I snuggled with him, kept watch of his fever, and at one point slept on the floor of his room. Another night it was the two of us on the couch for many hours. And then finally one night he and I were awake in my bed from 3 to 6 am, just tossing and turning and snuggling and talking. That’s when it dawned on me. I was so busy wanting to AVOID germs, I hadn’t brought him to the doctor. But what if he had an ear infection? I mean, he was sick for five days.
So I brought him, and I’m so glad I did.

But the point is that my mind was in so many different places, it took ages for me to realize something obvious. While I was sacrificing sleep and doing intricate things like get-well-tea-parties, I could have just gotten him to the doctor.

My heart was in the right place, but my brain was just all over the place.

And that sums me up pretty well! Haha.

So.

I have had a lot of positive messages and feedback from this blog. I’ve had a lot of people ask questions about long-term strategy. And I just don’t have one. Yet.

Right now my plan is the same as stated before:

-Eat 1500 calories and chart them on My Fitness Pal
-Go to Zumba once a week and Yoga once a week an another class once a week. Walk Weasley, our dog.
-Drink 100 oz of water a day
-Do mindfulness and meditation every day, as part of prayer or separately
– Weigh in on my blog every Thursday

But I think I need to add some caveats.

-When family is sick, or you’re sick, be kind to yourself and take care of yourself
-Understand it’s all change, and even the simplest plan won’t be easy right away
-Taking breaks, like for graduation, is okay, because life is short

Some readers may think my approach is too relaxed. If I find that this relaxed approach doesn’t heed results, I will do something more strict. It’s all part of the journey. The struggle. And while I still do not advocate fat- acceptance movements, I AM going to  try to love myself as a person a little more.

Day Nine: Number Crunching

The official 'before' picture, captured over the weekend at the pumpkin patch.
The official ‘before’ picture, captured over the weekend at the pumpkin patch.

When dealing with health, you deal with a lot of numbers. I don’t like numbers and I don’t care much for precision. I deal in feelings, in words, in spirituality, in the variables of humanity. Just put a flower wreath on my head and call me Sunshine.

But I met with a doctor yesterday and I received the results of some blood tests. Numbers assigned to my chart, to gauge where I am and where I should be. Ranges.

I debated over posting this information, since it’s personal and not exactly flattering. But I decided as part of my journey the tradition of transparency must continue.

First, the doctor’s numbers:

My TSH was 1.4

Good! The Synthroid I am taking for an underactive thyroid is working.

My fasting glucose was 96.

Not-so-good! Anything over 100 is pre-diabetes and anything over 125 would indicate diabetes.

My free insulin was 40.

Bad! This is double the high end of normal. Twice as much insulin is being pumped through my body as should be. As suspected, I am insulin resistant. This is just the proof. The doctor wants to put me on metformin, but I have an international trip coming up so I’m not going to think about that until I return. In the meantime, I need to learn more about what insulin resistance actually means for my dieting choices. Any advice is welcome!

After getting those results, I figured it couldn’t get any worse, so I went out and bought a scale to replace my broken one. I purchased a model which measures weight, body fat, water, muscle and bone. This seemed like a lot of information for $19.99 but I went for it.

Here were my results this morning:

Weight: 217 lbs
Body Fat percentage: 48
Water percentage: 38 water
Pounds of muscle: 106
Pounds of bone: 6
BMI: 36

I’m not sure if I think this body fat percentage is correct. I do think my size G breasts may skew the results. But alas, I looked up my BMI and found this:

“f you have a BMI of 35-39.99 your risk of weight-related health problems and even death, is severe.” (Source: BMI Calculator.net)

I know the BMI is controversial so I won’t take my severe risk of death based on this one calculation too literally.

However. although this is day nine of my blog, I’m going to reset and deem this day one of my journey. Because now I’m adding accountability into it. I will ‘weigh in’ next Thursday and see what results I have.

My plan for the coming week is:

-Eat 1500 calories a day and chart on My Fitness Pal
-Go to Zumba and yoga at least one time each, and find other ways to exercise at least 2 more times
-Drink 100 oz of water a day
-Get at least 7 hours of straight sleep a night

And who knows. Maybe at some point in my journey I will learn to love numbers! Or at least the ones pertaining to me.

Day Five: Epic Fail

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it’s more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

According to the internet, this is something Bill Gates said. I don’t have much in common with the richest man on earth, but I figure he’s probably right about some things in order to be in his position.

And today, I need to heed the lessons of failure. Well, hopefully tomorrow I’ll heed. Today I’ll just write about it.

The weekend is drawing to a close, and with it the end of my fifth day as a fitness and diet guru. Right? Shouldn’t I have lost 10 pounds by now and discovered inner peace?

Alas, all I’ve done this weekend is one list of things I should be doing, another list of things I shouldn’t be doing, and feeling like an epic failure in between.

Friday night I went to the movies with my husband. I skipped dinner so I could have popcorn and chocolate at the theater, and I went to seep feeling okay about that choice, just this once.

Saturday morning I went to see the first Harry Potter movie by myself. It was a special screening and I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd, so I had to go. I snacked and forgot to log My Fitness Pal, which started the guilt train. Then I felt lonely because I was out by myself, but I’m by myself a lot and I’m usually used to it. This guilt was brought on by the fact that most of my friends  were sitting at home watching General Conference for the Mormon Church (which I belong to) and I was watching Harry Potter instead.

So I went home and joined my husband and son and quickly turned on General Conference. Phew. I was doing something on  the list of  *shoulds.* And it was fulfilling. Only no one in my house cared about my change of heart – my son was doing laps around the kitchen and my dog was needing walked and played with and my husband was napping after playing with our son all morning so I could watch Harry Potter and my computer kept freezing so I was missing half of the talks I wanted to be spiritually edified from and on and on.

Weren’t most of the people I know surrounded by loved ones, eating Lion House rolls and singing hymns in unison in their perfectly clean living rooms while I was sitting alone with a toddler and a frozen computer screen?

By the second two-hour block of conference talks I was feeling better. My husband watched some with me, I baked cookies with my son and I felt the pendulum swing again into the *should* category.

But I was still feeling lonely. It had been building up all week, where I spent my days with my two year old and my nights doing homework, devoid of any socialization or connection with human adults. I needed fresh air, so I went for a quick drive.

To the ice cream shop.

Screw it, I thought. I’ve been such a failure all day. I’ll finish with ice cream.

Sunday- today-  I woke up weary but ready to start fresh. But as I started watching General Conference again, and the house erupted into chaos, I kept thinking of all of the loving homes with reverent children, and probably fruit salad instead of the three cookies I just ate, and how they all sat around feeling spiritually and personally fulfilled.

Fail, fail, fail, I thought. I’ve done it all wrong for so long. You can trace it all back sooo far.

So we ditched General Conference and decided on a more worldly pursuit- the pumpkin patch. I fetched out my favorite autumn jacket from the past few years and it wouldn’t fit. It was so tight in my arms I couldn’t fold them. It buttoned but I was more lumpy than a sack of potatoes.

Fail.

I felt the pendulum of my weekend success slide way over into the *should not* category. After the pumpkin patch, we went to my husband’s company picnic at a park and I ate a cookie. And chips. And a non-diet Coke.  Screw it, screw it, screw it, I thought. We came home tonight and I ate chocolate just because we had it.

Now, there’s a few things to know about me: I like to think I’m quite self-aware, and I definitely don’t think I’m mopey, in general. I do take issue with the societal expectations placed on women and I don’t think I am correct to feel like a ‘failure’ at every turn like I did this weekend. It’s not the ‘normal me.’

But I’ve recently moved continents, and that’s a big change. I’ve had to adjust to a lot more time by myself and a lot more time with my thoughts. I’ve switched from having people to talk to about everything to internalizing a lot of my struggles.

And I often feel like an outsider in my new life, here in Fargo. Like I don’t fit anywhere very well.

I don’t always have weekends like the one I just described, but I wanted to recall an honest account of what went into thoughts and decisions this weekend.

If a therapist asked me to synthesize what I’ve written, I’d be able to point out how often I emotionally ate. That’s not something I realized I did!  I’d be able to spot my all-or-nothing attitude. As soon as I felt myself sliding, I let myself down for the rest of the day. I’d also realize I’m probably having some self-esteem issues, which may be related to my weight, or to the move, or to my relationships with others, or a whole host of things. Life, I guess.

I titled this post Epic Fail, but I know that the weekend wasn’t. Yes, I failed at My Fitness Pal, and I ate cookies and ice cream. But I got a lot of good snuggles from my two year old and painted pumpkins with him. I got to see his joy at decorating cookies. I was spiritually edified by my church’s broadcasts (when I was able to watch). My husband made me breakfast this morning and let me sleep in both days!

I’m sure there are plenty of Epic Fails to look forward to. For now, I’ll chalk this up to a learning experience and remember that tomorrow is a new day!