Finding Harmony

Changing how I eat has been a great learning experience for me and my stomach. I’ve been able to think about it differently, too, now that I’ve found new foods that I love and are so much healthier for me.

I find that in a lot of ways, with eating especially, people tend to focus on what they’re not having. It’s about restriction and sacrifice in order to meet a goal. Really, isn’t that what most fad diets are? Keto is focused on not having carbs. Low-fat diets are focused on not eating any fat at all. Paleo focuses on eliminating anything a caveman wouldn’t have eaten (processed foods, breads, etc.).

For certain, everyone’s diet is made up of things that they do eat and things that they don’t. It’s just become glowingly apparent to me recently that focusing on what I’m not having isn’t helpful for me. I actually stopped even worrying about what I wasn’t eating a few weeks ago. Menus at restaurants got a little smaller based on what I AM eating and it’s ended up being easier to choose what to order. I’ve been learning so much about what makes me feel good that all I want is to pick those things.

I really think that this is the best thing I’ve learned over my journey so far. It’s not about what I’m not having. It’s all about finding a balance, a harmony, with what really feeds my body and what I enjoy eating.

So what if I’m not really eating dairy? I’m pretty sure it makes me bloated and no one needs that. Plus, I had a yogurt today and it was pretty gross so no thanks.

Sometimes I don’t eat meat at all. I’m cool with it (a meal can be complete without animals, for what it’s worth). I’m not running around and calling myself vegetarian or vegan or anything but I’m fine with not having meat. I haven’t had any today, in fact.

I feel like in this process of elimination, I’ve really been able to discover a plethora of foods that I had been ignoring. Like vegetables and whole grains and fruit smoothies and muffins that are so hippie it hurts. So maybe that’s why I don’t want to focus on the things I’m not eating. I really love what I am eating, and isn’t that the part that matters most?

The Start of my Food Revolution

My stomach has been pretty mad lately. It’s been rumbling and swelling with every meal that I’ve ingested. I’m blaming my bout of salmonella food poisoning last summer for the sudden changes in my digestive tolerance. The research that I’ve read on the digestive system after a significant illness indicates that prolonged stomach sensitivity  is quite common.

While that is possibly comforting psychologically, it doesn’t quite help the fact that I’ve been bloated and uncomfortable and unsure of exactly what I was eating that my stomach could no longer tolerate.

The digestive problems combined with my growing waistline led me to seek some food guidance. Luckily, one of my yoga instructors, Abby Thompson, also doubles as a healthy eating coach so I joined on with her to fix my eating and weed out what is causing my discomfort so I can eat smarter going forward. She provided some guidelines and many recipes to get me started.

I started a mere five days ago on this journey of eliminating dairy, refined sugars, gluten, caffeine, and alcohol.

(Yeah. That’s a lot to eliminate all at once. I know. But I needed something drastic and this was it.)

Five days ago, I weighed 166 pounds and felt bloated and lethargic. But today, I’m at 162 pounds and feeling much happier. My bloat has practically run away screaming from all of the veggies I’ve been eating and my stomach, if it could, would be smiling at me and sending thank you notes.

There was a very difficult hump to get over during the end of Tuesday and all of Wednesday. I’m guessing that it was my withdrawal from refined sugars and included very intense cravings for sugar and bread right along with a headache that just wouldn’t go away.

But with sleep, more veggies, and an amazing chocolate pudding made from coconut milk, dates, cocoa powder, and vanilla, I got over the hump on Thursday and woke up feeling like the me that I remember before my stomach started hating what I was putting into it.

I’m not nearly done yet, since this is a four week journey and I haven’t quite finished week one yet, but I’m excited about the things to come and what I’ll learn about my body. I hope that the improvements I’ve seen and felt in these first five days continue to grow and build to lay the foundation for a healthier lifestyle.

The Hardest Thing

Once upon a time, I was fat. It was 2010 when I hit my highest weight of 200 pounds. For a woman measuring only 5’4″, that put me into the obese range.

~

Once upon a time, I lost a lot of weight. At my lowest since 2010, I weighed in at a very healthy 147 pounds. Come to think of it, I was around that weight in March of 2012 when my husband and I eloped.

~

I’d always thought that losing the weight would be the hardest thing I’d ever done, but that was until I did it. It was hard to start, no question, but when I was in it, it became easy. Like butter. The weight came off a pound or two a week–the healthy way. Steady. I loaded up on veggies and took up running and it was actually fun. I splurged on glasses of wine or sweet treats here and there but I kept doing it because it worked.

And it felt easy once the ball was rolling, like how a slinky just walks down the stairs on its own after you get it started.

I can tell you, that was not the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

That prize goes to the two years I’ve lived since being able to celebrate a 50 pound weight loss. When I was getting to my highest weight (which was happening in college and after graduation), I felt helpless to stop the incessant nudge of the scale upwards and I never thought that I’d feel that way again when I started seeing the scale go down.

In 2012, after I achieved 147 pounds, I held there for a little while, and fluctuated, but never more than five pounds up. I had gained a confidence through weight loss and through visiting a counselor that I don’t think I’d ever had before and I was able to keep moving ahead without much of a slip up.

The scale began to nudge up, if I’m honest, after my break-up with my counselor. She was no longer covered under my insurance and I couldn’t afford to see her anymore. This wasn’t a happy departing on my end and I languished over it, and still do sometimes, because she was wonderful. I was very reluctant to leave the security of her office because in some way, I was also leaving part of me, the stronger woman she helped me to become.

The valuable lessons she taught me about caring for myself in meaningful way slipped. I had relied on her as an outlet for my thoughts and emotions but that was removed. Tough emotions usually make us turn to the things we know and for me, that was food.

The scale was slow to move up, and I would see it and move it back down. This happened a few times in rather small increments. Up five. Back down three. Up three. Back down two. But the ups were always just a little bit bigger than the downs.

And this winter, when I stopped running due to the weather, the downs stopped altogether. And I’m up to a weight that I last saw on my decent in 2011, just about exactly three years ago.

166.

This may not seem horrible but it feels like an important dividing line.

If I’m less than 166, I can fit rather comfortably into a size 10 with no frets. But now I’m truly a size 12 and that’s a problem because I no longer own anything in size 12. I got rid of all my too-big sizes three years ago when I was losing and I vowed not to go back up. I refused to buy a size bigger than a 10.

And now I’m at a crossroads: lose weight or buy a bigger size.

I need to get over this emotional hump and find a place where I’m happy being me again. I need to find a way to feel comfortable in my body again. And I need to fall in love with salads and running again.

If only this wasn’t the hardest thing to do.

6am

Quickly, quietly, and without any lights on, I slip from the bedroom into the office where I quickly shut the door. I’m not sure how well it seals in the sound, but in my head, it’s like I can barely breathe until I’m divided away. I want this time for me but I know he prefers to keep sleeping.

And then, I sit. My socks, that I wear to bed every night, save for the hottest summer evenings, get pulled off gently to allow my feet to stick to the mat. It’s dark when I begin but I know that by the time I end, it won’t be. My corner of the world will wake up with me. Gently and gracefully.

The double window in the office provides a sweeping view of the rest of the neighborhood. Perched at the top of our hill, with the window facing the houses and streets that cascade below, I see everything. Well, not yet. It’s still early. But I will see everything in time.

Without any light, either outside or in, I close my eyes while I sit cross-legged on my mat. My eyes are notoriously terrible in the dark. I was once on a long car ride to Maine with my boyfriend (now husband) and when it got dark, he asked if I’d like him to take the wheel for a while. I agreed and not much longer after that we were streaming along a mountain road. He started to slow and, not seeing anything ahead, I asked why. He said “Seriously? You don’t see that moose in the road?” and I felt red and ashamed that my eyes had failed to spot such a gigantic beast.

In the silent house with my eyes closed in the dark, all that I can hear is my breath and the fan of the heat when it decides the house is too cold and the temperature must be fixed. And I begin what is a practice of muscle strength, concentration, will, balance, and peace. Moving from posture to posture, working out quirks as I go, and coming up with new ways to hold my frame to get the greatest boost.

The sun begins to rise and the dark blue sky shades lighter with pale pink and lilac on the edges and I begin my sun salutations. They raise my heart rate enough that I sweat just a little. It creates heat in my arms and legs as the sun, now hitting the horizon, adds copper and golden tones to the sky.

When I’m finished with my set and standing at the top of my mat, the sun’s rays are now hitting the tree tops and I can see smoke rising from chimneys. Some rooms in the other houses are lit from the inside now with the stirrings of morning.

After a few final postures I finish on the floor, sprawled out in a relaxed position usually relegated to bedtime but brought out at dawn to solidify both body and mind before the day ahead.

And then his alarm goes off at 7am and I know that the rest of the day has been set in motion. The sun is up, I am up, and I am finally, truly awake.

The Beach

I hated the beach. For as long as I can remember I did, anyway. Filled with grating sand always stuck everywhere and squirmy weeds that feel like predators brushing legs.

It was grotesque, really. Swimming with crabs and bacteria and letting that get stuck in as many places as the sand did.

Unsanitary.

And then there was the hot sun berating my skin. Even on a cloudy day it was killing me and planting new freckles, or moles, or precancerous cells. I always liked my porcelain skin, almost see-through on the inside of my forearms (and most other places) so I guess I learned early that red was not a flattering color. Maybe for clothes, perhaps, but never for skin.

Not even when my face would blush tomato red. I hated that feeling, too. The feeling of embarrassment to the point of physical reaction, uncontrollable, that told everyone just how uncomfortable I was.

What an evil body — pointing out my thoughts on my face without my consent.

I guess red was never my color. Nor was tan, or brown, or any other beach color except blue and shade. And porcelain. But to keep myself pale and beautiful, I ostracized myself from the beach people. They eventually learned not to invite me because I always said no. Except that first time, anyway. That first time taught me to say no every other time.

What the hell is so great about the beach anyway? Squinting sunshine, hot, sweaty, nearly naked when I was taught to be modest, and fearing the ocean’s uncertainty. Who gives a shit about volleyball and iced tea and sand castles and reading when I’m busy just trying to battle the very nature of what the beach is.

The Bridge

Alone, I stood at the entrance to the forest near home. There was a winding path that I loved to walk, through towering trees, that led to a rickety wooden bridge over a river that once barreled through but had lost its power and was now only a small trickle of its former flow.

I walked the path, hardly needing to watch my step since my feet knew where all the stones and roots obscured even ground. It felt like seconds until I came to the bridge but I knew it was at least a mile. As I approached, there was a small gap in the tree canopy that let a little light shine through onto the bridge and small stream below it. Among the dim glow of the forest in daytime, this sliver of bright light was striking.

If it were Sunday rather than Saturday, maybe this might have been some karmic sign, something etherial telling me something. But, being Saturday, I convinced myself that no cosmic signs from the universe where being presented.

It was just timing.

Another Mission in Happiness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month so it’s fitting that this post and my goals have come into play now. Read on. You’ll see why.

Last year was, by far, my most difficult year since 2003-2004 when I was dealing with the aftermath of an emotionally abusive relationship. Having had quite a few good years with very sparse difficulties, 2012 ended up hitting me on an emotional level that I was vastly underprepared for.

My job had me overworked with little support and when I asked for help, it never came. I was suffering under a weight of stress that I had never endured before and I needed help, especially since none was coming while I was at the office.

So, I got help. I started seeing a therapist every week and as much as I suffered, I also worked extremely hard to find me again. We worked on my problems and we worked on finding solutions. We worked, Tuesday after Tuesday, to piece myself back together and find what makes me happy. In an effort to find a life that I enjoyed despite being under a heafty strain, I used my suffering to aid in my own healing. Every week we’d talk about what I had the most trouble with and figure out how I could look at the situation differently. How could I spin it so that I could be comfortable with my choices? How could I learn to be okay with my life when I was miserable?

During July of 2012, I had what my therapist and I called “an episode of extreme anxiety.” It wasn’t quite a panic attack but it definitely wasn’t business as usual either. I had planned a day at the Cape with my family and earnestly attempted to go but I couldn’t. I got halfway there, stopped for gas, and retreated home where I felt safest. I was not okay. Luckily, every Tuesday that led up to that day had taught me one thing: I can soothe myself. I wrote, I cried, I yelled at myself. And I came out of it no worse for the wear, even if I was terrified that somehow I’d let it get that far.

As fallout from that day, I embarked on a project that I called August Happiness. I knew something had to change and while I was doing my best to find a new job that would fit me much better, I still wanted to better myself in the process. I started to combat daily stresses by adding in daily happiness. I felt I could overcome.

I took more walks. I left the office for every lunch break in order to reset myself. I wrote in my journal more. I listened to the audiobook of “The Art of Happiness” on my way to and from work. I listened to the chapter about anger over and over and over again because I needed that wisdom.

It was challenging and there were some days during that month that I still cried and I was still very stressed out–the underlying problem had not yet been fixed but I was learning how to help myself anyway. I was going to be happy anyway.

It worked. I went in for my third and final interview the end of August for the job I really wanted and was working for. The very next week, on my 27th birthday, I happily accepted that position. We’d already planned an extravagant dinner out. It had all fallen into place.

I give a lot of credit to my therapist and August Happiness for helping me get to that third interview, calm and confident, and to become an employee at a company that is a much better fit for me.

Between then and now, there’s been a lot of adjusting. I’ve been adjusting to my new position and how it has affected my daily life. It’s been a very pleasant process and I half expect that when I’m not looking, things will get hairy again. But it never did.

Then, the Boston Marathon happened. I think it has affected most people that I know differently but it hasn’t seemed to leave anyone untouched. It started out as such a peaceful day and I had contemplated going into my city to enjoy the newly sprouted spring weather. I didn’t and I’m thankful that my cold kept me close to home.

I found out about the bombs via first hand accounts on Twitter. I couldn’t believe that this was happening. Then photos started surfacing and there was no denying that it did. I was unable to comprehend what happened and I couldn’t cry. It was unreal.

It built up even worse just days after, on Friday, when I was awoken at 6am to a phonecall from my office. “Due to the events currently unfolding, we have closed all offices today.” I went to bed the night before thinking I’d finally get some sleep but woke up on lock down to discover that a shootout had happened near Arsenal Mall. Arsenal Mall. The one near me.

What?

And even that, while shocking, was not quite real for me. Not yet. Only in the last two weeks have I started to process it all and to feel it. It doesn’t feel good. My city, the one I love so dearly, was attacked.

The same emotions that I experienced last summer have come flooding back quickly. I’m anxious and sad for what my city has had done to it.

And now I’m embarking on a new project: May Happiness. I’m going to continue what I started last summer and make my happiness a higher priority. The same tactic that helped get me over a hump then will help me remind myself that this isn’t so bad and that I can overcome it. I will be better because of it. Enough happiness and positivity will brush away the gloom.

It will.

Brushing Up

If I’m honest, I often think of myself as a future writer. I’ll be able to fill that role someday. There are plenty who would say that the first step to achieving a goal is to become it and to think of one’s self as if the goal has been achieved. I would love to and think that I’m a writer at heart but it feels incomplete to say, definitively, that I’m a writer now.

As much as I practice and try to write, I know what I’m doing most often is simple journalling. There’s nothing bad with journalling. It’s a wonderful activity and a great release. It’s a way to privately deal with emotions, thoughts, or situations that were otherwise overwhelming. It’s well worth the time spent on it.

I know, though, that journalling is often not complex writing. It’s not writing that I reread and edit. It’s not meant for the eyes of anyone but my own. And if my goal is to one day call myself a writer and feel like I’m not a big faker when I do so, I’ll need to escalate my writing to a more creative plane. I’ll need to relearn how to write for an audience.

That’s why I’ve embarked on becoming a better writer and phase one is well underway. I am reading more.

All great writers seem to agree that there are two ways to become a good writer: write a lot and read a lot. For years now, I’ve been lacking in both. I rediscovered journalling more than a year ago and have been working on writing here and there for many years. Reading, though, slipped off my list of priorities for a while.

That changed when I got a Kindle for Christmas. I’ve been reading at a much more rapid pace and I’ve worked reading into my daily life. Reading has been something that I always thought I was slow at but I’m realizing I’m not. Sometimes when I read, I get distracted by my own thoughts and that’s the part that slows me down. If I push those thoughts out of my head and dig into the story, well, I can push right through the end of a book, even if it’s well past my bed time.

Many people seem to be nostalgic for paper books and snub e-readers but I love my Kindle. I love the flexibility that I have with my whole library in my purse. I can even purchase and download new books from anywhere, on a whim. I don’t think I would have gotten into reading so easily this year without the Kindle and I’m very thankful for the device’s help in working toward my goals.

It’s amazing how much change can happen in four months to make me enjoy reading on a level that I’m not sure I ever have before.

It’s also great to enjoy working towards the end goal of one day becoming a writer. There will be more work beyond just reading more. I know that. There will surely be more classes in creative writing techniques. There will be tough days when I can’t work out how to say what I want to. There will be tough editors who guide me away from lazy grammatical errors. There will be nights when I’m too tired but write anyway and just as many nights when I stay up late to finish just one more paragraph.

But, I want to be a writer. So I’ll do it.

My Movie Scene: Life as Art

In the perfect moment, when I feel victorious, I’m consumed in the final scene of the movie about this act of my life, and I’m silently contented. It happens rarely and is so powerful that even if I hadn’t felt victorious before, the moment will make me feel that I have been.

It starts with one of a few activities, most commonly walking or driving (people watching and sitting in a coffee shop also work, but are less frequent). There’s a song playing but it’s not just any song. It can be many songs but not every song works. As it plays, time slows and everything I do is more deliberate. It brings me headlong into the present moment.

I am living now in perfect clarity with no more thoughts.

In my mind’s eye, I don’t just see what I’m looking at. I see myself as the subject in a camera frame that doesn’t really exist. It slowly pans out, always focused on me, as I’m moving along.

I’m the one driving the car towards my dreams in the end highway scene from Good Will Hunting.

I’m in the scene from the end of My Girl 2, except rather than it being Nick walking away with his stupid love sick smile, it’s me walking away, determined and happy.

In the moment, not only am I happy but I feel like I’ve won. It’s the perfect ending to the movie being made about this part of my life. Whatever battle I’ve been fighting has ended and I’ve emerged the champion. There are no more thoughts–just feelings–and it’s pure bliss.

I’ve won peace of mind, clarity, happiness, and the brief moment in time when I embody positive emotions. My body is coursing with energy usually hidden deep down somewhere and I know that there’s nothing else I can do but savor this. As long as I’m present and fully engulfed, it will last. So I smile and embrace it. It’s fleeting so I drink in every bit of it I can get. Don’t talk to me, it’ll stop it. Don’t look at anyone or think a single thought–I’ll lose it. It’s so urgent that I hold this happiness to keep it from running away when it breaks.

Keep.

Going.

Stay with me.

But,

It fades.

As much as I try to hold on, it will fall away. My thoughts come back and I return to being the me that everyone knows me as, with complex thoughts and emotions, and not just a grinning idiot blissful in the moment that my thoughts stop and I bathe in wondrous feelings.

“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” – Oscar Wilde

My movie scene is just that–art. But this art happens in my life and in my head. This art is my life for the seconds that I’m in my scene. My movie scene is my life as art.

It’s the most spiritual thing I’ve ever experienced. A deep awakening of this inner life happens and makes me feel intimately connected with my mind, body, and the universe in a way that nothing else has ever triggered. It’s spontaneous and organic. I can’t make it happen but it often happens when I need it the most. It’s like it knows I could use this win.

If I’m being honest, it’s probably the reason why I understand what people talk about when they’re talking about the soul.

For me, the soul is just a state of consciousness. When my movie scene plays, my experience becomes completely cerebral. I’m aware of everything and am absorbing what I sense, but my mind and my consciousness are open. I’m fully present. My awareness acts on my behalf. It’s part of me, maybe even the essence of me, and it’s showing it’s power.

I imagine that people who regularly practice meditation may feel like this at times during their practice. It feels like enlightenment and I’ve been given access to a deeper level of emotion. In that moment, I’m truly experiencing everything in life. And as long as I remember that feeling, I’ll always be striving for it.

The most disappointing part of it all is that I don’t know how to make it happen. I can’t enter into an activity, put on a certain song, and float away to this other state of consciousness. I can’t stretch it out and make it stay for hours. It’s locked inside most of the time and I welcome its appearance in my life, but it’s shy and hidden. It won’t happen when I won’t be able to appreciate it.

But if that’s the most disappointing part of achieving bliss and living inside a work of art, I’ll take it. Living through a moment that can be described as art really is as magnificent as it sounds. I just wish that I could bottle up the moment and send it to you, because that would be easier than trying to create art about art.

Rediscovering my Creativity

A few weeks ago, I was digging through folders on my computer that I don’t often venture in to. I found my very vaguely named “Writing” folder and I really had no idea what would even be in there. So I looked. It was filled with both academic and creative writing that I’d done while I was in college. Much of the academic writing was quite dry and boring but the creative writing was, well, creative.

I read pieces that I forgot about writing. I read some and thought maybe with a little revision, they could really be something. I read through others that needed editing and even more that were somewhat juvenile. Regardless of the quality of the collection, it was all writing that took me back to that exact time and place when I was probably the most creative.

It was then that I truly realized how much I’ve lost.

After graduation, I immediately transitioned from a student to working adult and I left my creativity. I stopped writing when I started working. I entered the (incorrect) mindset that my job had to be wholly fulfilling and when I got home and relaxed on the couch, I wouldn’t need anything else to make me feel productive.

I got an itch to write again in late 2008 which led to the beginning of the wine blog that I had for three years but the wine blog was a temporary movement in my creativity. It wasn’t really the best of my writing but it was a way to dive into something I thought that I was the most passionate about.

I’m passionate about wine, that’s certain. I love it. But it’s not the thing that I’m the most passionate about. I’m most passionate about writing, but the writing I did then was handcuffed. It was limited to one topic and didn’t allow me to explore anything else. It was possibly the least creative writing I may have ever done in my spare time (at least since my days as a young girl writing in a diary about my day).

Of course, I tried to make things interesting but it wasn’t quite the same as when I’d walk the college campus at night to the steps of the campus’ main hall, and sit in silence (and often in the cold) while I worked out my thoughts.

Ever since I started this blog last year, I knew I’d lost a bit of my creativity but I didn’t know the extent of it. I’ve had little to write here but it’s not because I have nothing to say. It’s often because I’ve forgotten how to unlock what I have trapped in my head. It’s been hard to find elegant (or maybe messy) ways to express myself.

So I’m deciding to work on my creativity. It’s not an overnight process but the slow return of life to my fingers as I write is completely worth it. Scheduling a night to write in a cafe every week or finding music that can make me cry, even when there’s no lyrics, will help. Maybe finally taking piano lessons or French classes to break me out of the normal patterns of adult monotony will stoke the creative flame. Even writing pieces that aren’t really that good will help me rebuild my skills–not fearing to fail every time I put pen to paper is a huge factor in actually churning out something good. And when I find something like a movie that opens up my soul to new thoughts and feeling, well, I’m going to keep prodding that to see where that can bring my creative mind.

Writing is my main medium and where I feel most comfortable when I go to create my own things but dabbling in other mediums can help make my writing better by being a bit of inspiration. Other creative activities can open me up to be receptive to new ideas, letting myself fail, and try harder next time.

I’m not hoping to be perfectly back to a creative flow immediately. It will take some work. But I’m finding myself again. I’m finding my inner happiness by working to unlock my own creativity.