Healing Decade Old Wounds

At the beginning of October, I departed Massachusetts for a quiet town in Maine, just south of Bangor, for a yoga retreat. With a number of different things going on in my life, I felt that it would be a good opportunity to gain new perspective on where I am and where I’m going.

I drove up the coast and felt good as I pulled into the driveway of a quaint old farmhouse. The drive was beautiful and the foliage was vibrant. The farmhouse, though simple and rustic from the outside, had been remodeled to accommodate guests ready for yoga and mediation. As soon as I had arrived, it felt familiar and I was comfortable.

IMG_1058

Actual scenery from the retreat.

We had an introduction to the weekend. Cell phones were to be turned off, yoga and meditation were to be practiced, and words were not to be spoken. Yes, it was a silent retreat. At first, I thought I’d have no problem with it and I didn’t for a while. The night of arrival went well and the majority of the next day was quite pleasant.

There were ample walking trails to meander and walking them brought me into a damp, leaf filled wood that reminded me of plenty of other forests that had soothed me before. It felt so nice to be in that quiet by myself and be so present in every moment.

As the day wore on into evening, I got the bug to write so I did. (What else was there to do?) I scribbled out pages upon pages, seemingly emptying all of the thoughts I’d ever had. I wrote, smiled, felt glad to be writing so much, and kept writing. It turned into a writing exercise and I challenged myself to describe the kitchen in detail. I wrote about feeling like this flow of words was rare and how I needed to savor it. As I savored, words kept coming. The writing seemed endless. It could go on for days if I kept this pace! I could write a book!

And then it stopped. The words went silent. My pen stopped moving. As soon as the writing stopped, so did my joy. I didn’t know it then but my peace was breaking away from me and unrest was fast approaching. I put my pen and journal away as it was nearing the 9:30pm lights out and found my way up the unevenly crafted but sturdy old staircase toward the room I shared with two others. I tucked myself in and the lights were out. I didn’t have the trees, or wind, or notebook to help guide me anymore. It was just me.

I began feeling uneasy that night as I stared into the pitch black room. I know I was looking at the ceiling but I couldn’t see anything. I drifted in and out of sleep and in and out of nightmares. All of those nightmares centered around myself in my high school years when I was angry at the world for everything but couldn’t pinpoint a single bit of where that anger came from. I had visions of people I hadn’t talked to or thought about in many years, some even more than a decade. None of it was good. It felt horrible as I checked my watch every few hours to see if it was over yet. Is it morning? Can I get up? It wasn’t, and I didn’t.

I waited and finally the bell to wake everyone up at 7:30am sounded. I was finally able to get up and out of my head–except I couldn’t. I was still stuck there because I had no where to turn. The day that lay ahead of me was filled with more time in my head meditating, doing yoga, and staring out at the landscape as I tread through the paths of the grounds.

After breakfast, I’d resolved to break a rule. I was going to use my phone. I had to. I had to feel connected to something. It wasn’t the phone itself but who the phone could lead to. People I love are on the other side of that phone and naturally, when upset and scared, I retreat to my safe place: my husband. Only, it was 8:30am on a Sunday and there was no way he was awake. I felt even more alone.

I laid on my bed trying to write something but nothing came. I kept telling myself that I should stay and stick it out because I committed to doing this retreat (except I’d committed before I knew how terrible my brain can be to me.) That was challenged with how I thought my husband would advise me. I kept hearing him say “If you don’t like it, just come home.” He was asleep and I didn’t want to wake him but I know it’s what he would have said.

I toiled over this decision for a good hour before resolving that I would leave.

I packed all of my things, which wasn’t much, and toted my bags downstairs. I told a fellow participant I had to leave “for family reasons” and exited.

Walking to the car, I felt some guilt packaged with the wonderful sense of freedom. I’d let myself down for not staying and enjoying myself but I’d done myself a great justice by realizing when I’d hit my limit and leaving.

I drove and every mile that I traveled further away from the retreat and closer to home, I could breath more deeply and feel more comfortable. That day, as I pulled into the parking lot behind our apartment building, I was so grateful to be home.

Over the next few weeks, I recovered from traveling that deep within my thoughts. I’ve recovered and realized that as much as I did feel pain from all of those thoughts and nightmares, it helped me. There was some positive in it.

Since the time of anger in my high school years, I’ve always felt anger towards that time. The emotions that I felt then are the only bits that I could recall from that time so I ended up hating that time and those people. In reality, I was lost and scared and felt like the weirdest person on Earth because no one I knew was like me. No one I knew felt this way (or at least I didn’t know it if they did). I was angry because I felt alone.

Something happened on the retreat that allowed me to feel the uncomfortable emotions from high school and set them free. It was the exact same set of emotions that I had in high school and I didn’t even know it. I was at a retreat with some people who were probably really cool but there was a rule: silence. I couldn’t speak to them nor them to me and it felt so utterly lonely. Again, I became angry and upset because I felt alone.

The scale is much smaller (two days versus four years) but eventually, feeling the same emotions can help release some old but similar ones. I’m thankful for the retreat because it allowed that bit of unexpected healing. Those feelings have broken free–like I’ve managed to acknowledge and validate them and that’s all they needed to leave me.

But I’m not sure I’ll be going on another retreat anytime soon.

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.

For Sandy Hook

As we all realize the political impact of the terrible events yesterday in Newtown, CT, let’s not forget the suffering that’s being endured at this very moment by that community. They will feel this today, tomorrow, on Christmas, and for years to come. So let’s help them. Here are a few easy ways to donate to their community. I’ve donated. Can you spare a little? (If there are other easy donation channels, please let me know in the comments.)

Newtown Youth & Family Services provides counseling: http://www.newtownyouthandfamilyservices.org/donate.php

The United Way of Western Connecticut: https://newtown.uwwesternct.org

Donate teddy bears: http://www.acorn-online.com/joomla15/thebridgeportnews/news/localnews/134843-donate-teddy-bears-for-the-children-of-newtown.html

Edit:

Here’s another. Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western Connecticut. They provide grief counseling for families and children: http://regionalhospicect.org/donate/ 

Anniversaries

Time is one of those things that we can never escape. Whatever else happens in life, time is a trustworthy force, always marching on. So we use it to tell people facts about things. Some time spans are good. Some are bad. But the constant is that we can tell people just how long these things have been going on.

And anniversaries are just time. They get larger with every new celebration. They don’t tick backwards or stay still unless the original cause of the anniversary no longer exists anymore. Even still, people can count on and say ‘It would have been our X anniversary.”

It becomes interesting to me, though, that as soon as a marriage is introduced, the years spent together before that ultimate commitment become insignificant. Whether a couple was together three months or six years makes no difference as soon as they’ve been married for one day.

Since we eloped this year, we had to decide about celebrating anniversaries. The husband would not accept two anniversaries so we had to pick one. Would it be the anniversary of when we first became a couple? Or would we count the time since we exchanged vows on an unseasonably warm March day?

There’s a common choice but being who we are, we couldn’t accept a common choice just because it’s how other people do things. We’ve never gone that route and weren’t going to start.

Between March when we eloped and mid-October when our dating anniversary was, we’d thought long and hard about which one we would keep. We each thought on our own and we talked about it together. I want to say that we always knew which one we’d choose, but there was weight to this decision and we couldn’t let it go without this level of scrutinization.

When our dating anniversary rolled around, we agreed that it would be the one to stay. It was meaningful. A seven year anniversary is not small. It felt like if we chose the wedding anniversary, we’d be telling everyone that the six and a half years we spent together prior were less special. Somehow, it would be less important. The truth is that it couldn’t be farther from reality. Those six and a half years before we turned into spouses was how we learned that this is worth the commitment. It’s how I learned his quirks and he learned mine. We figured out that those quirks weren’t enough to dissuade us. We went through tough times and good times and came out the other side stronger each time.

We couldn’t bear the thought that those times wouldn’t be worthy with the myriad of times that lay ahead of us.

It was decided that October 18th will always be that anniversary day for us. It’s the one that’s gotten us to where we are now and it’s how we know we have something worth celebrating.

As time does, it will march on. As the years pass and we keep celebrating October 18th, maybe people will even forget the date that we got married. “That’s okay,” we’ll say, and eventually time will get so muddled that some might be surprised that we didn’t marry in October.

Really, we’re creating the groundwork for a future mystery. That sounds much more fun anyway.

The Prime of My Life

I’ve heard that high school is the prime of my life. I’ve also heard that it was my college years. Even further still, it’s the time between getting married and having children when it’s just a family of two. Depending on any one person’s personal experience in life, you’re likely to hear different things and the global consensus usually is that it’s behind you and your life is all downhill from where you are now.

I refuse to subscribe to this.

If high school was supposed to be the prime of my life, that was a magnificent failure. I had so much anger while growing into an adult that I have a difficult time thinking of positive things during that time frame. All of the positives then are short snippets. Sure, much of this has to do with my own perspective, but it’s still worthy. I had no belief that it was the prime of my life and I still don’t think that it was even close.

College is a bit of a different matter. I formed a lot of myself then and met my husband there so I can’t count out the experience. I’m not really even looking to count out my high school experience, either, but there’s a vast difference between counting it and considering it the prime of my life. I don’t think college was my prime. I think I grew a lot then but I wasn’t in a space where I could think that things were amazing all around.

What plagued me then was always thinking about the future. I was thinking about what’s next rather than right now and naturally that lends itself to not living fully in the moment. Not living in the moment completely removes one’s self from life at the very time that it’s happening.

Inherently, this can not be the prime of my life.

Marriage is still fresh and new and there’s a certain perspective that time can give to these things. I can’t really say that it is the prime of my life only due to marriage and I don’t want to say that it would end if I had children.

I’ve finally got it, though. I have a plan and it’s marvelous (or at the very least, it seems to be marvelous now and in the moment).

I am in the prime of my life. And I will continue to be in the prime of my life every year going forward.

Let’s take a step back for a minute to explore this. In 2010 I was obese and unhappy with how I felt about myself. I’d surely say that it wasn’t the prime of my life yet. I then embarked on my 50 pound weight loss journey. It was profound and transformative, but even then, I wasn’t in the prime of my life.

But now, in 2012, I surely am. It wasn’t only the age and it wasn’t only the weight loss. It wasn’t the 5k that I ran or getting married. It was everything. It was learning to live for today and to be happy today. Happiness stopped being a future goal and it became a now goal. I worked on August Happiness, a project dedicated to learning how to be happy despite any other circumstances. And it worked.

I learned that if I had the right mindset, I could be happy even by doing the smallest things. It might be wearing a cute outfit. It might be giving someone a compliment. It might just be listening to an audiobook on my way to work or singing my guts out to a song. It was hard. I’d never thought that finding happiness would be so hard. It was some days, especially after a long day or if I hadn’t slept.

But I found happiness within myself and I learned that I can make myself better among the worst seeming circumstances.

It has brought me into my prime both mentally and physically. I’m more focused when I run and I’m more focused in my life. I’ve achieved so much of what I wanted to as an individual that it’s completely amazing to me.

So my goal is to keep getting better and to keep paying attention to myself. In theory, I will keep improving on the prime of my life and make it last for months, years, decades, a lifetime.

The prime of my life is now because I’ve decided that it is. When is the prime of your life going to be?

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.

Life’s Details: Volume 5

Mostly nature.

  • I was driving through Arlington, Massachusetts on my way home and saw two men up ahead, both seeming very animated. As I approached, I noticed that their mouths weren’t moving. Their animation was sign language and I was reminded that language is an amazingly beautiful thing, whether spoken or illustrated with one’s body.
  • My husband and I were on a motorcycle trip to the Berkshires. We got up the morning we were returning home and headed to brunch. On our way, in a small patch of grass along the side of the road, I saw a deer having her breakfast. It was then that I realized how hard it is to smile inside a motorcycle helmet.
  • We live in an apartment complex near the Charles River so we have an odd mix of wildlife and city at our disposal. There’s a well mannered rabbit that doesn’t seem to be afraid of me that likes to hang out by out back steps.

    Bunny!

Commenting on Weight

I made my weight loss rather public last year for a few reasons. The first was for my own accountability. If people were watching what I did, there would be some level of shame in either screwing up or not reaching the finish line. I think that part helped me to keep the ball rolling, especially at the beginning. The further I got into it, I don’t think I needed accountability as much but I still used it because now people were curious and paying attention. The second reason I talked about it was because I hoped that people would see, though my own success, that you really can do it if you work hard. You can go from obese to a healthy weight. It’s possible.

I have put myself into a position where people comment on my weight. A lot. In a good way. They ask how much I’ve lost and how I did it. I answer them (50 pounds and by learning about nutrition, respectively). I know that I put myself out there and let people see this process. I showed the difficult days and the knee injury. I showed my weekly weigh ins. I was out there. People were happy for me and they wanted to share that with me and it’s a rewarding reminder of where I’ve come. But the important thing is that I made a choice to share.

A couple months ago, though, a comment made me think. I overheard someone (male, I think this matters) mention that a woman had put on a few pounds. Not some imaginary woman but a woman in that room and only just out of earshot. I felt disgusted for her. If I had known the perpetrator more, I would have told him how rough it was to hear that, even if about another person. I thought about what people say to me and how they would never have said “Wow, you’ve put on so much weight! How many pounds has it been?” even though they will tell me “Wow, you’ve lost so much weight! How many pounds has it been?”

It made me think that when I did gain weight, people probably talked about it and how they were worried or wondered if I was okay. Maybe they even joked at my expense and maybe it’s hopeful of me to think that their comments were concern rather than something worse. He could easily have been talking about me a few years ago. But now that I’ve turned the tables they’re able to comment in a positive way and say it to me rather than to other people when I’m not there.

It has made me feel a little bit more weary about the comments I’ve been getting and I know that it’s wrong on some level to feel that because the people commenting positively really do mean it in the best possible way. They are genuinely impressed (or that’s what I’m told). But there’s just something about it that feels wrong because they would never have told me anything when I was in the process of gaining.

So there is a point where it feels strange to receive these comments. At least for me. And also for a friend of mine, except her situation is not like mine. She was not overweight and she isn’t now. The situation that she told me about that struck me was on the other end of the spectrum but very awkward and inappropriate all the same.

She is thin, but not dangerously so, and was commenting on how cold she was in the air conditioning when another person (male, I’m not sure if it matters) told her that if she ate more and wasn’t so thin, then maybe she wouldn’t be cold.

This bothered her because she eats plenty–she’s just naturally thin and okay with her own self. But why do some feel is acceptable to comment on her weight, even thought she is well within healthy limits?

I accept a level of commenting because I talk very openly about my own weight but her? She’s not. She’s just naturally thin and that is not a problem for her. I’ve never even heard her bring up her weight. So why is there negativity? Why is she made to feel as though her weight is unacceptable, even though she’s healthy? And even if she did put on some weight, I have a feeling that these same types would also comment (but maybe not so openly to her) that maybe she was getting a little chubby.

Here’s the point I’m driving at: if people aren’t talking about their weight and they are not harming themselves, then you probably shouldn’t talk about their weight either. It’s none of your business.

I talk openly about my weight loss because it’s important for me to stay honest with myself and for others, even just one person, to see what I’ve done and know it’s possible. But I still didn’t do this for anyone. I didn’t do it in preparation for a wedding. I didn’t do it because I was worried what others thought of me. I didn’t do it for you, or for my family, or for my husband. I did it because I felt like crap and I needed to change.

I welcome people to talk to me about it, ask questions, and figure out how they can achieve their goals. But others have to know that not everyone is me and not everyone welcomes comments on their weight.

So just, you know, don’t.

Treasured Words

I was in high school and I thought I loved math more than writing. That would turn out to be skewed (not entirely wrong–I did love math and if I’d kept at it, could probably have gotten to a high level of study) but I was certainly not at a point when I was writing or reading for pleasure. I was okay with being a math nerd and I didn’t know it fully then, but there was something else stewing. I was mad. Mad at the world but not really at any thing in particular. I was mad at feeling weird and out of place. (Had I known that writing would have helped, maybe I would have done more of it but I’m not sure it helps to speculate on what I should have done when I was 16.) I’d tried to fit in but that made me feel even worse so I stopped. I cut my hair short, dyed it blue, and wore clothes from discount and second hand stores because thrifty was more me than Abercrombie & Fitch jeans that cost $100.

I surrounded myself with other weirdos and we were happy with that. Before the days of claiming my introversion, I just thought we were the only ones who liked to go to the beach at night, walk around, and silently stare out at the moon’s reflection on the ocean. We didn’t have to say as much but we all knew we were in the right place and we were happy to be in each other’s company. At the very least, I was happy in their company. The waves would crash in and I’d feel the cool, damp sand beneath my bare feet. I can’t remember any of what we talked about but I remember the sensation of feeling home. With them, I was not the strange girl. I was a part of it; part of something. It’s one of the few things that I think back on during that period without feeling the anger I’d embodied. It is a rare calm memory and it’s refreshing, even now. In fact, I still dream of it and feel peaceful when I do.

It was around this time when I was told by my friend Emma that I should read a book. I’d really love it, she said. It was called The Perks of Being a Wallflower. My math mind didn’t think much of reading for pleasure but Emma was a weird girl like me. If she liked it, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try. (While Emma gave me this massive gift of life then, it’s strange that we didn’t keep in contact. It was the MySpace days, before Facebook, and I guess we never fully moved over together. Sad. Mostly because I think back so fondly of that time and that group of friends that was so short lived. Emma, Becca, Will, and me. It was a good one and I hope they are well.)

I read it. And then I read it again. I marked pages and underlined passages. The book was broken in and tear stained. I loved it and it spoke to me in a way I didn’t anticipate. I didn’t know what introversion was but I knew that I understood Charlie. I felt like he felt sometimes. I cried not only at the sad parts but at the parts that filled me with so much joy. I was overflowing with those very same emotions that Charlie was feeling. I couldn’t believe that there was a book about the weird kid and that I related so much.

So when another friend asked to borrow it, I let him. It wasn’t just a book to me. It was a piece of my life that I was passing along to someone else, hoping that they’d feel like I did. It was a dream that it would bring us closer as friends. If he read when I loved and saw the passages that I felt, then he could come closer to understanding why I am me. Idealistic. As angry as I was, I was still hopeful that people cared as passionately about the small things as I did.

Weeks and months passed. I wanted to retrace the pages I’d come to love but my copy had not been returned. I asked him about it, hoping to hear an emphatic “I loved it!” but instead, I was faced with a confused look of someone who couldn’t remember what book I had lent to him or where it was.

This piece of my soul had been carelessly shuffled away somewhere. Lost. My markings were gone forever. I was shocked that someone, who I thought was a friend, would treat a part of me so neglectfully. Of course, to him it was just a book. He had no idea that this book was me. Losing it, forgetting it, not caring about it was in turn doing those things to me as if planned and executed with malice. He didn’t do it intentionally but it didn’t matter. It felt just as bad.

If I’m fully honest, I don’t think I’ve lent a book to a friend since. At least not a favorite one. I was burned when I needed those words more than any other time in my life before or since. That’s not an easy wound to heal and all these years later, it still stings a little.

So why am I telling you this today? I’m reminded because I just discovered that there is a movie being made out of this book and I’d love to reread it but my copy was never replaced. It’s time to pick up a brand new version, unworn, and read it again. Maybe it won’t speak to me as much as it did then. Maybe it will. But I know that the girl who once read and cherished that book is still somewhere here, even if she has grown up and matured. She is still here–angry about her own weirdness. She is doing her very best to accept it and embrace it but the memory of then still lies deep inside.

Our weirdness is what makes us stand out, she says to herself. Blending in was never an option.