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?

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.

50 Pound Anniversary

A year ago today I woke up to the sound of my alarm just like every other work day. After I shut off my phone’s alarm, I navigated to various apps (Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit–in that order) to see what had happened in the hours since I fell asleep. It wasn’t anything of note but it had become my morning routine while I lay in bed waking up.

Eventually, the nagging of my bladder drew me out of the comfort of bed to seek relief. Another part of what had become routine for me was to weigh myself after using the bathroom but before eating breakfast. I got up, put on my glasses, peed, took off my clothes (so as not to add any extra weight), and stepped on the scale. Of the hundreds of mornings that I’d done that, a year ago today was different.

A year ago today, I saw the scale reach 150 pounds. My goal.

A year ago today, I could officially say that I lost 50 pounds.

That morning last January could have been any day. In fact, until I’d gone through my ever-vigilant weight loss tracking notes, I’d forgotten the date that I hit the milestone. It was a day when I reached a goal and the day when I had nothing left to work towards. I was there. I made it. Sure, I kind of wanted to lose 10 more (and I ended up losing three more before backsliding–we’ll get to that) but I had done what I didn’t think I could do a year and a half prior. I had worked on my eating patterns and kept going with them because I knew I couldn’t revert back to how I’d eaten before.

On this January 30th, that day seems so far away and the journey that I traveled in order to get to that day can’t even compare to the struggles I’ve had with food since. I can tell you that I know why people lose weight and gain it all back. I have been lucky and I haven’t, but I know how it can happen.

When I was on the hunt to lose those 50 pounds, I was determined and I quickly found a rhythm. I followed that rhythm to the point that I didn’t have to think that hard about it. I just woke up every day and did it. It was awesome. It felt easy and like I’d unlocked the secret. The pounds fell away week after week and it just worked. I learned how to lose weight and I mastered it.

But after that goal, I was faced with challenges that I’d dare anyone to meet up with and not bend a few times.

The first challenge was the cruise that my husband and I went on after we eloped. From January 30th until we got on that cruise ship nearly two months later, I held strong. I splurged a little here and there because I knew I could without destroying everything but when we stepped aboard that ship, I no longer had control over what I fed myself. I was at the mercy of their menus and their mealtimes.

I drank more wine and beer than I’d had in a long time. I ate more pizza, burgers, and desserts than I could tally up. And when I got home I saw that I didn’t gain anything. That was the worst thing for me.

The mentality that worked for a year and a half of weight loss broke that week.

I had gotten the taste for foods I hadn’t had en masse for over a year and saw that I could eat it and not gain weight back as quickly as I lost it. When I got back, I kept some of the pre-cruise habits but I introduced some pizza, burgers, and desserts back. I introduced a little more than a splurge.

I knew how to lose weight and I knew I could lose weight, so why not have a few extra things?

Before I knew it, I’d jumped from my 147 elope/cruise weight back up to 157 in about 9 months. I felt bloated and awful. Many days, it felt like I’d gained back the whole 50 and then some even though it was only a fraction of that. A part of weight loss that is hard, at least for me, was knowing how it felt to be obese and then realizing that being bloated triggers that exact same feeling, even if you’re 50 pounds lighter.

The most frustrating part was that I knew how to do what I needed to do to lose the extra I’d gained back but I just wasn’t doing it. I continued to let myself slide because I’d made it to my goal, even though that goal was slowly inching further away.

The truth is that I’m still not back down to 150 pounds, even though I am earnestly working on it again (for real). I’m close so I’ll still consider myself to be on the right path, but it’s important to know that if the non-obese life is something that you want, the work doesn’t stop when you stop being obese.

This next bit that I’m going to say is entirely cliche but it’s also realistic. The work begins when the weight loss ends.

When the goal is reached, a new baseline needs to be established within eating habits. I couldn’t eat like fat Amanda anymore. I didn’t need to eat like weight loss Amanda anymore. I hadn’t learned any other way to eat so piecing that together wasn’t very easy. I ended up with a hybrid between the two for a while which consisted of counting calories and doing well some days but other day just ignoring it altogether and eating my feelings.

I think you probably know how that went some weeks.

I’m finally getting to the point that I’m learning to eat like healthier Amanda and it’s such a different mentality. I don’t have to run screaming from bread like weight loss Amanda learned to do. I don’t need to be either at the calorie limit or miles above it during my hybrid diet days. If I go over a bit, it’s okay. I don’t beat myself up. I move on and do better tomorrow.

One of the things that made it hard for me during the past year was the celebration of losing the weight. In order to keep going on the right food path, what I really need to do is ignore this 50 pounds and just push forward. Sure, I accomplished something, but celebrating it doesn’t help me maintain and it definitely doesn’t help me get in better shape.

Day in and day out, I still struggle. I have great days and I have miserable days. It honestly makes me wish that there was something like Alcoholics Anonymous for weight loss. I guess the closest thing would be Weight Watchers, but that’s a business–it’s not a support group. It would help to know that there are other former fat people struggling in this same way.

I’d like to end this on some sort of happy note but I’m not sure that makes sense. After all, celebrating my weight loss has brought me to a point of gaining a bit of it back. Let’s not celebrate today. Let me just wrap this up with honesty and hope. Here goes nothing.

I think I will struggle with food and weight and feeling fit for many years to come, quite possibly my whole life. That’s the honest part. I also think that if I keep working at this and refining my methods, mentality, and goals, I will get better at dealing with this struggle. Practice makes perfect, right?

Tragedy Fosters Compassion

It’s been a week since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary but even with the passage of time and my distinct lack of connection to anyone involved, I can’t shake the thoughts and feelings that keep flowing through me. It’s for that reason I’m turning to blogging. This isn’t because I think the world needs to hear my voice because I have all of the answers. I will assure you that I don’t. This is because my brain won’t stop buzzing and thinking about this topic and writing is the only true way to clear my head.

Here goes nothing.

When this massacre happened, I immediately felt disgusted and angry. I wept. I cried for these little children who had been brutally slain for no purpose. I’m not sure if it was just their age, or that Connecticut is much closer to home than where many other events like this have occurred, but I can say that I was distraught. This feeling lasted for days. When the public began crying out for gun laws and mental health care, I couldn’t break thought from these families and their suffering. How does one come back from losing a child in such a sudden and horrific way? How does a child learn, understand, and cope with their classmates no longer being in their class?

I felt that although the focus was on what’s wrong, we all really could have used that time to give that community a massive hug and tell them that we’re there for them. Instead of outrage (which I know is fully justified), we could have used some compassion. I don’t think calling for new laws carries that same sentiment quite like saying “I care.”

I donated money to a counseling center in Newtown. They serve that community today and they will serve that community when the media has long forgotten that those people effected still suffer.

Never for a second did I think that donating money was enough to help these people. It felt like honestly the least I could do outside of Tweet about the tragedy. I thought about taking a day off of work to volunteer somehow. Somehow, could I do something that would help comfort someone? But their needs are probably for mental health counselors, of which I’m not one, and was swayed from volunteering. I still do not know if that was the right choice. I regret it as I sit here typing this. I think I want to help both for them to know that someone does care about them in a real and honest way but also because I’m having such a hard time with this so I can only imagine how hard it is for them.

The positive thing about this is that it’s not too late. I can still help (we all can, really). In fact, it might be better to wait. When the spot light has shifted to the next news story, that is when they will need the extra love and care the most.

As a country wide community, we collectively ponder solutions to this issue. As I’ve been feeling all of these things, I’ve also been thinking about changes that would need to occur in this country in order for these events to even just happen less often.

I, too, have thought about gun laws, mental health care, and media coverage. I’ve thought about how the time I’ve grown up is somewhat unprecedented in the way of school shootings. Columbine happened when I was in 8th grade, and not even two weeks later, there was a threat in my own school. It thankfully never materialized but it was taken quite seriously considering the news frenzy.

Columbine wasn’t new, of course. I didn’t grow up in a more violent time if you look at the history of school shootings. School shootings happened just as often before now. They just hadn’t happened in a world with 24-hour news stations.

Not only are school shootings happening, but they’re happening under a microscope. As soon as it’s reported, news crews are on the scene trying to get their scoop and get their ratings. They’re interviewing children hours after they may have seen horrific things so that they can get the sympathy viewers. There’s a point when journalism stops being that and turns into a ploy for more profits by getting the most horrific details of children murdered that you can. That’s what these children have turned into. It’s deeply sad.

We would be negligent as a culture to not examine ourselves after this tragedy and guns and mental health care are some of the most difficult topics to puncture in our culture. We’re supposed to have guns according to the second amendment and we’re supposed to be strong enough to not need help. It harkens back to the days of picking ourselves up by our bootstraps. If you work hard enough, anything can be yours in America.

Except sometimes we change. Sometimes we learn more. Sometimes we develop weapons that the founding fathers didn’t even dream of when writing about the need for a militia. Sometimes we figure out the human brain just a little–enough to realize that it’s hard to sort out our mental space on our own sometimes.

My view of gun ownership has always been shaped by having been raised around them. Hunting and target practice were common things in my family and I know the power guns hold because I’ve wielded one at a paper target. I’ve felt the kick and seen how deep those bullets can burrow in to stacks of logs. It’s probably been more than a decade since I handled or shot a weapon (yes, I was a minor but safety was always paramount) but I’m not inherently afraid of them when they lay dormant.

With that bit of background: I do think now is a time to discuss guns in our culture. I’m not saying that prohibition would work (it didn’t for alcohol and it isn’t working for drugs) because I think it would make things worse. I am saying that we should talk about it. We should talk about how gun owners have a responsibility to keep their weapons secure and out of the hands of others to their best ability. We should talk about how some cartridges simply carry more ammunition than you need to kill a deer. We should talk about hollow-point bullets that are designed to cause the most damage as they cut into and rip apart the target’s flesh.

I’ve heard others speak about other countries who don’t have guns with incredibly low crime rates. Or even places where gun ownership is widespread and they also have low crime rates. I want to say that we have to examine our own laws and treatment of weapons but we also need to know that these laws don’t happen in a vacuum. I don’t think America could adopt a carbon copy of another country’s gun laws and have the same result just because it works somewhere else. Why? Because of our culture.

Guns are part of our founding documents and an inherent part of our culture as a result. I understand that and not wanting them erased completely. But we also have to recognize how much our country has evolved since its inception. We have more powerful firearms and we need to moderate it a bit to do our best to prevent the worst of the worst. It won’t stop gun violence–I’m not sure we ever could in America. The best we can hope at first is to get some type of handle on things. Terrible events have always happened so they will keep happening but we can act like we care about preventing them.

Guns are not the only thing we need to talk about. I’m a big sponsor of mental health care and reducing the stigma of seeking therapy or having any type of mental illness. I think the reason why after a tragedy like this we’re focusing on mental health is because on so many levels and in so many ways, we want to believe that no rational “sane” adult could do something like this. I understand that. It’s hard to figure out how someone could be so cold to murder children.

I also know that there’s massive potential to create more of a stigma against mental health care because of that. If the shooter was insane or crazy and we’re assuming he had some mental illness, are all mentally ill people insane? We, as a culture, should really be careful not to cross that threshold.

In my own life, I’ve received counseling (or therapy, whatever term you prefer). I spoke with a woman every week for the past year. I’ve recently stopped going because we mutually agreed that I didn’t need it as much and had greatly improved in areas where I was struggling, but I hadn’t told many people this. I wasn’t mentally ill. I never took medication or was diagnosed with anything. I just had to talk some things out and get life in order and sometimes that’s what mental health care is. Why, then, does it feel like some giant secret to keep for fear that others will think that maybe I’m crazy? I’m not. Even mentally ill people are not. Somehow we have that idea, though, and it makes it hard to talk openly about the realities of mental health care. It’s up to us, those who’ve had great success, to speak about how we’re not crazy, so that’s why I’m even mentioning it.

Sometimes mental health means dealing with depression or bipolar or schizophrenia. Sometimes it’s handling a tough year or a betrayal by a friend or rediscovering one’s true self. It covers such a range that I firmly think there’s a time in everyone’s life where they could benefit from talking things out. Mentally ill or not, it’s healthy to have an impartial party to just be there to support you.

I’m not going to say that I think the murderer was mentally ill because I don’t know and I can’t diagnose a dead man. But I do think it’d probably have been good for him to talk to someone because I think it’s good for all of us to talk to someone if we’re having a tough time.

Would he have talked to someone if given the chance? I can’t even begin to speculate on that. But what if we didn’t brand all users of mental health care as mentally ill? What if there wasn’t a stigma against saying you’re in therapy? What if it was much like how people go for physical therapy after breaking their wrist and it was just a thing people did to get better? Maybe then we’d be able to talk more openly about the times when we’ve sought help. Maybe if we all admitted that we need help sometimes, it’d be easier to talk about.

All too often, the common response is to just get over it. It goes back to the bootstraps mentality that we have. That mentality got us a long way but there are some times when it’s no longer applicable. If we could all just imagine ourselves better and it would work, we wouldn’t need health care at all. Not everything is a self fulfilling prophecy. I mean, some things are. Some things definitely are. Depression isn’t but compassion is.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time working on myself in the last year and realizing that compassion towards others is something that we all too often forget. We’re all so quick to anger that there leaves no room for caring and that’s the major piece of our culture that I wish I could fix.

We all have situations and people that make us angry. That’s a given. But road rage? Being rude to a cashier? Getting flustered when the number you dial returns someone rude? If we all practiced a little more compassion towards fellow strangers, we could shift from this trend of anger towards a bit more caring and understanding.

This shooting didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened in our culture and we’re the only ones who can fix it. If we can’t have open discourse about all of this, then I don’t think we can recover. That’s not saying this is too far beyond what we can fix. Quite different, actually. If we can talk openly without being insulting to each other, we will be able to put our collective heads together to come up with the ways, bit by bit, to be better.

Let’s cultivate compassion. Let’s work together. Let’s find ways to be Americans with differing opinions that can see that our goals are all the same. I hope we can all agree that this needs solutions.

What’s August Happiness About?

I’ve started tweeting with the hashtag #AugustHappiness and it occurs to me that maybe I should explain a little more about what that means to me in a space that allows more than 140 characters.

This first started with a few really difficult days. I won’t go into why they were difficult but I had felt the worst anxiety I’d had in years. In trying to cope with it, I tried many things: time with family, a glass of wine, talking it out with my husband, and eating whatever it was my heart desired. It worked, but only temporarily. I knew something more had to be done to soothe myself for a longer time than just right now.

So then an opportunity arose, last Monday, to go see Coldplay with some of my family. I happily accepted the invite and went. It was a miraculous experience seeing the use of technology and really feeling like I was part of it. I felt renewed in so many ways. It felt like the life and happiness that I loved was slowly being restored as the concert went on and the happy person that I know I am was restored.

We can make ourselves better by just knowing what it is that makes us happy. It fell into my lap that day, but going into it I knew that live music makes me happy so on some level, I knew it would help refresh me again.

If something that renewed me so much just fell into my lap, then surely I could make an effort to make those things happen, right?

We were on the brink of August anyway so I decided to begin my project called August Happiness.

My goal is to do something every day (at LEAST one thing, but it can be more) that makes me genuinely happy. Here’s how it’s been so far:

  • On day one, I registered for a yoga and meditation retreat.
  • On day two, I had a really nice lunch with one of my coworkers.
  • On day three, I spent the evening alone, centering myself, and watching a documentary called The Buddha.

These things may not be what makes you happy, but that’s the best part. Anyone who would take on this project would have very different things going on every day. That’s good. That’s okay. It’s all about you and your own happiness.

If you’d like, you’re free to join me for the remaining 28 days of August. Find something that makes you happy each day. Not that it will be easy for all 31 days of this month, but that’s part of the challenge.

If you’re on Twitter, please join me on the #AugustHappiness hashtag and we can talk about how our journey is progressing!

Don’t worry. Be happy.

Natural Affinity

As children, my Dad would bring us on nature walks around Lily Pond. We lived across the street and had extremely easy access to the small walking paths that twisted through well rooted pine and oak trees. We’d look for deer tracks using my Dad’s hunting experience. Even though we rarely spotted anything, there was always that possibility and it was exciting as we tried to be quiet enough so we wouldn’t scare anything away. (We were never quiet enough.)

On these walks, I’d listen for squirrels rustling in the leaves or birds calling for others of their kind. It was mostly a quiet retreat into a place where we seemed to be miles from real life but it was just there–seemingly in our front yard.

The Charles at dusk.

Recently, I was very restless on a particularly warm evening and I needed to do something. I walked to the bank of the Charles River and took a seat. It was dusk and I reflected on the nature walks that I went on with my Dad as a child, as well as all of the family vacations we took “up north.” At the time, I never appreciated our quiet and soothing vacations. I wanted to do something. But that night, as I sat by the river listening to frogs croak, I might as well have been far away by a lake in middle-of-nowhere Maine and I realized something extremely important.

I had managed to find a place to live that offered me the same type of escape from reality in nature that I had grown up with.

We all carry some deep rooted values that we learned when we were kids. For me, it’s that it’s okay to just observe nature. It’s okay to be quiet and listen. It’s okay to think about something or nothing. It’s okay to just be and let things be around you.

It has become a very valuable resource as life gets busier and more complicated. There are ever more things to think and worry about. There are so many times when knowing how to feel better is essential. And I have the tools. I have nature to help me refocus on who I am and what really matters. Thank you for that, nature.

And thank you for showing me all of this, Dad.

A Well Timed Musical Discovery

The Fall months at the office are an extremely stressful time. Our clients try to pack a year’s worth of sales into four months and surprisingly, it’s largely successful. It leaves me stretched thin and tired but luckily, there are a few things that help: time off, rest, laughter, and most of all, a poignant song (or album).

Last November is when I discovered the song Shake It Out by Florence and the Machine. She sang triumphantly about how “it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back so shake him off.”

It’s how I felt during the hectic busy season. She understood. I had survived the worst of it for the year and it was time to celebrate. It helps a little to remember that rough times will always happen but the most important part is to get through it and return to your happy self.

So when more tough times lay ahead from various stresses, I found myself in need of another reassuring tune. It was just a standard week day but it was not a good or easy one (I couldn’t tell you what happened and I’m not sure it’s important but it was not the most pleasant of days). My music was on shuffle on my drive home because I had no idea what would sing me some relief.

And then, this: All This and Heaven Too. (Go ahead. Take some time to listen to it. I’ll be here when you get back.)

This brought the emotions and I began crying. Not the pretty crying where one singular tear streams down a cheek but full on wailing. Again, she understood. She sang what I felt and explained it in a way that I wish I’d been able to focus and come up with it myself. She struck a chord.

For months I’d listen to the Ceremonials album to and from the office. It prepared me for the day ahead and comforted me when it was over. It was part enjoyment and part therapy.

Then it happened. She announced tour dates. There weren’t any in Massachusetts but there was one show at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut on May 11th. I purchased a single ticket for just myself, despite a couple adverse reactions. Wouldn’t I be lonely? No. It was an experience I needed to have alone in a sea of people. It was the first time that I’d only gotten one ticket and it felt freeing.

I went to the concert on Saturday and it was perfect.

Florence came out in a long flowing black dress and bare feet. She skipped, twirled, floated around the stage in those bare feet. Free. Her subtle hand gestures to areas of the crowd made us feel a part of it. Blowing kisses and welcoming us to her talent. She must have said “Thank you very much” in her London accent no less than 15 times. She was sweet and gentle until she belted out the lyrics to the songs that have spoken to me. She was powerful.

To me, she has demonstrated what it is to be female. Emotional yet powerful. Sensitive and graceful yet hard willed. Not willing to take shit but also hurt if someone she’s let in betrays her.

I have found myself connecting more and more with these facets of myself which is probably why I’m so pulled into her music. Her album just happened to come out at the time in my life (to date) that I am most receptive to the feelings and messages. It helps me feel like I’m not the only one with an overwhelming emotional burden while also having to seem put together. It’s part of being me: being a human and being a woman.

My emotions make me who I am. Sometimes they’re extreme. Sometimes they’re subtle. All the time, they exist within me. I’m not the only person driven by “I feel” rather than “I think” but that’s okay. The world needs people who feel. The world needs me. I’m just not entirely sure how yet.

I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope – Shake It Out