November 6, 2010

Grief

Yesterday, after proctoring an exam for one of my students, I sat down with a friend of mine, Lorelei, and we talked for a while. It's a stressful time in the semester for everyone, but she is also preparing her MA research for the spring, so she's really overwhelmed a lot lately. A year ago, it was totally me in that position, so I try and offer any help that I can - offering to help grade things, giving time management advice, whatever.

Lorelei is one of my best friends here in Chicago - we grew close this summer when we were both teaching intensive French courses. She is the kind of person that I feel very safe talking to, and so I tell her a lot of things. I'm very open and honest, which is very hard for me to be with people. Eventually the conversation deviated to her man problems, and then life problems in general, and then we got to talking about weight loss. We usually talk a lot about eating well and cooking, and all the new things I am experiencing seem to amaze her. Yesterday, she asked me how I was feeling, and then I spilled it:

I'm having a really hard time dealing with losing weight.

I always thought that if I lost a ton of weight, I would be the happiest person in the world, that there couldn't possibly be a downside. I'm nowhere near my long-term goal yet, but even already, there's a lot to deal with. There are the physically different feelings, but also, there's a huge emotional side I never considered. It seems as if someone who is doing so well should be full of self-confidence and constantly happy - and while I do have more good days than I ever have in the past, it's not the wonderful experience I always fantasized about. It's really strange, actually.

a softer world dot com
The fat on my abdomen is disappearing, especially the bottom part, which I learned has a medical name: panniculus. My bum is feeling toned. I look at my thinning arms, and they don't look like they belong to me. I can put my fingers around my wrists. When I put my hands on my hips, and I can feel that there are bones in there. Same for my collarbones. And as awesome and exciting as that is, it's also really, really, really weird feeling. A lot of times, I wake up feeling like I am in the wrong body. The last time I weighed this much was in my sophomore or junior year of high school - none of this is familiar to me anymore.

One of the weirdest sensations is being able to wear almost anything in my closet - and the things I can't wear are too big. My winter coat is pretty big on me now, and last year it was hard to zip - I was packed into it like a fat little sausage. I needed to retire my stretch denim size 24 jeans in exchange for the plain denim 24's, and even the plain denim ones are already getting baggy. Last night, I put on my technical shirt from the 5k a couple weeks ago, and it's already looser. That's surprisingly hard to get used to. I feel like a little kid playing dress-up in someone else's clothes.

I knew I would have to deal with this stuff. I guess I just thought I would have more time to mentally prepare for it. This is all happening really fast. It seems like a really strange thing to be upset about, but last night, wearing the race shirt, I cried. I get a lot more emotional lately, and over really ridiculous things.

I've been thinking about grief lately after continuing to watch episodes of "Ruby." After getting from 479 pounds to under 350 in about six months, she is thrilled, but also terrified. She's extremely hesitant to get rid of the dresses she wore at 5, 6, and 700 pounds, and so she goes to her psychiatrist to try and work it out. He understands, but tells her she needs to get rid of the dresses since that part of her life is over now.i want pink boxing gloves too! She's very emotional at this point, and tells the doctor how much she has been crying lately. His response is simple: Of course you're upset. You're grieving. He clarifies by adding that even though the grief is for lost weight and related lost restrictions, she's still grieving a loss.

It's really easy to see weight loss as a strictly physical journey, and that is simply not the case at all. There are so many changes that come with weight loss - the loss of fat and the strengthening of muscle, but even beyond that. There are still challenges, they're just different. There are things you can do physically that you couldn't do before, but also, there are emotional barriers you have to break through. It's a whole new kind of life.

I still have a long way to go on my journey, but it was really kind of comforting to hear Ruby talk about her emotional weight problems and know that I'm not the only one who is crying a lot through all of this. With grieving, sometimes the best thing you can do is just let it happen - take a few minutes and bawl your eyes out. Embrace it, and then let it go. It could be just what you need.
"Society teaches us that having feelings and crying is bad and wrong. Well, that's baloney, because grief isn't wrong. There's such a thing as good grief. Just ask Charlie Brown."
- "The Office"

November 5, 2010

Roses and thorns

This week was tough on almost every level - it started out strong with beating my personal best time at the 5k on Sunday, but life has thrown quite a few difficult things my way.

Work has been challenging again - it's nearing the end of the semester, which means the students are all stressing pretty bad. Next week should be a little better since two of my three classes will be watching a film for most of the week. But I'm getting observed in my third class, which is always a major stressor - moreso than it ought to be. After my last observation, I went into the staff office and everyone was complaining about how terrible their post-observation meetings went - and it was tough, because in my meeting, the director told me that I was "an exceptionally gifted educator." garfield park conservatory - love of my life.It made me feel amazing, but as great of a compliment as that is, it made me very nervous about the already extremely high bar I set for myself in terms of my work.

The end of the semester also means that I need to start looking for possible jobs for next year - my contract at the university is only for a nine month, visiting lecturer post. The job I have right now was an absolute blessing, and it's the first full-time job I've ever had - this is the first time since I was four years old that I haven't been a full-time student. So I will teach Spring 2011, but after that, I'm back at square one. I want to find another lecturer job - this is my dream job, I absolutely love teaching basic French to college kids, and ideally I'd like to do it for the rest of my life. But the problem is that I'm out there competing with PhD's who also need work right now. I'm already polishing my CV and thinking about how to let any colleges and universities that I apply to know that I am, without a doubt, the best lady out there for this job. But it's still scary and stressful. I'm a lady who loves a plan, and this kind of uncertainty makes me really anxious.

Whatever is going on with my mother seems stable for now - I have talked to her a few times, with no more details than the first call, but that's okay. I'm pretty upset that I'm not in a position geographically or financially to drop everything and go home, but my mom said that it's not so serious that I need to do that. I trust that, despite her secrecy, she would tell me to come home if it was really a big deal - because when her mother had her heart surgery, she hadn't been told that it was as serious as it was, and unfortunately my grandmother passed away while my mom was on a flight down to Florida. At a layover in Georgia, she called home to check up on us, and we had all just heard from our uncles that Grammy had died. When my kid sister Katie answered the phone and Mom asked what was going on, Katie burst into tears. My mom found out over a payphone, alone in a strange airport, that her mother had passed away. She started sobbing and fell to the ground, and she said the only thing that got her through to her connecting flight was a stranger who asked her what was wrong and gave her a big hug and helped her orient herself for the second leg of her trip. Despite the powerfulness of this random act of kindness, I know she would not want any of us to have the same kind of experience. So I trust that she's being honest at least with saying that it's not so serious right now that I need to be by her side.

I'm down another four pounds this week, to 282 - a total of 63 pounds gone, which is exactly 30% of the weight I want to lose long-term! not quite lemon meringue but still, a delightful little pieIt's a big week for "mile markers" - not only hitting the 60 pound loss, but I also have officially lost over 10 points off my BMI score! I'm nearly into another "decade" of weight, and I'm quite pleased.

My October pedometer challenge ended well - I logged 350,799 steps, which was 113% of my goal - and I have enjoyed the third week of the Couch to 5k thus far. But for the most part, I took it easy with exercise this week. I just had too much on my mind, and while exercise usually helps me clear it, I took other measures this week. For example, on Wednesday, I went over my cousin Sarah's apartment and we had dinner (she made an incredible beet soup - lots of dill, which I love! - and Irish soda bread with raisins) and watched a movie. We talked a lot, and that really helped me - the last time I saw her was at the stairathon, about fifteen pounds ago! She and her boyfriend Marty are my strongest real-life support, and I am unbelievably grateful for having them so close by!

Gratitude has been something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Every day, usually while waiting for the bus in the morning, I take my little pink Moleskine notebook, and I write whatever I am feeling grateful for. Usually it's one to three things, and they can be simple or profound. Some examples:
10/17/10: I am grateful for beautiful days like today. I am grateful for the energy to go out and make the most of today.

10/21/10: I am grateful for the moments of peace when I sit back, breathe, and recognize that I am doing the best that I can.

10/26/10: I am grateful for good days like today that make bad days worth it.

11/02/10: I am grateful for my options in life. I am educated and a hard worker, so I am destined to do great things with this life!
Every single day, I am grateful for you. You, the people who read my words and who share your own stories and who help me with my struggles as well as give me pats on the back. I love that I feel safe here, that I can be honest and open and share exactly what I am thinking and feeling. I've never had a community like this, and I cannot thank you enough for the overwhelming love and happiness I feel because of your support.

November 4, 2010

Jumper

On Tuesday, I started week three of the Couch to 5k program. I usually go Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday, but since I had the 5k on Sunday this week, I've slightly altered my plans to Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday this week.

The third week basically consists of a five-minute warm-up walk, then two repetitions of ninety seconds jogging, ninety seconds walking, three minutes jogging, and three minutes walking. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but every week since starting the Couch to 5k, I've remarked that I really enjoyed that week, but I'm not quite sure that I'm ready to move on - and yet I haven't repeated anything thus far. And Tuesday was no exception: I was convinced that I would be working through w3d1 and have to quit.

Three minutes jogging?! I can't do that.

Even now, a little over a day removed from my moments of doubt, I can't completely explain why I thought I wouldn't be able to do it. Week one wasn't too much of a challenge. Week two was harder, but it wasn't painful or impossibly difficult. So when the voice on the mp3 said it was time to start the three minute walk, I could hardly believe it. I had just jogged for three minutes - without stopping! Jogging for three minutes seems so simple, but it's such a huge step for me. I don't think that has ever happened before in my entire life, even when I was a little kid.

I have always felt really held back by my weight. I always assumed that I could not do most things because of it. But looking back, I'm saddened by how few times I have actually, really tried things. I've never ran before, but that's not all - for example, I didn't study abroad in college or grad school because I was afraid. florida, april 2007 - this is clearly old, as my feet aren't tattooed.I said my language skills weren't good enough, but really, I was just terrified of leaving my comfort zone. My French was excellent; I wish I could say the same for my self-confidence.

One of my long-term non-scale goals is to become the do-er I've always secretly dreamed of being. I want to challenge myself in all aspects of life, to push myself to my fullest potential. I've always been a dip-your-toe-in-the-water, wade-in kind of girl. Now, I want to be a jumper. A full-on running head start, and then cannonball into the life I've been too afraid to immerse myself in.

November 3, 2010

It's nothing, really

The other night, as I was leaving the gym, I noticed I had a missed call from my parents. I called them back, and Dad said he hadn't called and Mom was asleep but he'd let her know I called back. We talked until I got on the bus, and that was that. Yesterday I called her back as I was leaving work. It seemed like her usual "just checking in" sort of conversation. I kept asking what was new in Connecticut, and it was met with the usual "oh, nothing much."

Then, without warning: "Oh ... I'm having surgery on Monday."

My stomach clenched up.

The thing about my mom is, she's very private. Her mother was the same way, and so am I. Speaking for myself, I don't share most things with my family and friends because I want to make sure everyone else my grammy, 2001is taken care of first, and I just don't want people to worry about me. (Which is, again, one reason why my honesty here in this blog is really out-of-character for me, because I'm a very secretive person.)

With my grandmother, everything was a secret, always. When she went into the hospital in June 2006, she referred to what was going to happen as "a small procedure," yet when we all arrived at her home the day after she passed away post-surgery, all her important documents were laid out on the table and everything she owned was covered in Post-It notes saying who it was for. It wasn't small. It was actually really serious and her odds weren't great. But she didn't want people to worry.

So when my mom said this was just going to be a small procedure, tears welled up in my eyes, and I let the bus pass right by me.

My sisters and I have known that our mom hasn't been feeling well for a while, but she usually dismisses it with the same excuses her own mother used to give - it's nothing, really. And yet she sees specialist after specialist, refusing to let us know what gets said. It especially worries us when she goes to heart doctors, since that's what was wrong with her own mother. This most recent health issue started quite a while ago, and we finally convinced her to go get the tests that the doctor suggested literally months ago.

"What is going on, Mom?"

"Well, I guess I have something like a cyst on my ovary. It's only, like, seven centimeters."

Only, like, seven centimeters.

My honest first thought was frustration at not knowing the metric system better, because seven is a pretty big number when you're measuring anything, let alone something growing inside your mother.

"So what are they going to do?"

"They are going to inflate my stomach a bit, go in through my bellybutton, and take care of what they need to take care of. Might have to remove an ovary."

I am full on sobbing at this point, trying to do it as quietly as possible because once she knows I'm getting emotional, the details might stop.

"It's not cancer, though, right?"

Silence.

"Right?!"

"Don't worry. It's nothing."at dad's surprise 50th birthday party, 2008

We wrapped up our conversation, and I headed to the gym. My first reaction to news like this is to binge, usually pizza or some heavy takeout - I overeat to the point where I get tired, and then I fall asleep so I don't have to deal with my present realities. But I can't do that anymore, and even though I know in the back of my mind that it's better for me in the long run, right now, it really hurts.

I worked hard at the gym, ate a bowl of escarole and beans, and participated in the Fitblog chat on Twitter. And I really wish I could say it was enough to get me through. It usually is when dealing with work stresses or minor family/friend problems. But this is a pain that I really can't soften with exercise. I know coping with things like this is part of being a grownup (and one of the lousier parts, at that). But right now, I feel like a little kid, really lost and aching, and I'm not allowed to have my one, reliable security blanket.

So what do I do now? How do I cope with really big hurts?

November 2, 2010

Time traveling

I've had so many quits and restarts in the past. With past diets, I've always gone overboard with restricting food or overdoing it with exercise. I think one of the biggest keys to my past failures, though, is how defeated I feel after not making the goals I have in my mind. I obsess over watching numbers drop, and if they don't, I've failed, so I might as well quit. I've never really balanced the eating and exercise parts - I either starve myself but barely exercise, or I continue to eat junk but figure I will work it off by spending six hours at the gym. The most I've lasted like that was three weeks, and I end up feeling even worse than when I started.

I'm usually my biggest critic, and one of my recurring negative thoughts with diets is that if I had just stuck with it last time, I could weigh X pounds by now. Even if I am doing well and making a lot of progress, I tend to focus on the fact that a loss of Y pounds barely matters winter 2k9, clinton beachbecause all that hard work is only getting me back to where I was six months ago - if I hadn't quit then, I would be even lower now!

I'm trying to stay positive this time around, and focus on the balance of everything. Even on days when I feel a little down, I'm still doing well. I'm drinking water and taking vitamins, and my workouts are focused not just on counting calories burned, but on getting a healthier, more toned body. Looking at pictures from previous periods of weight loss, I can see a big change in my arms and legs - they look leaner now, even if I weigh about the same in the older pictures. One of my goals for getting healthier is to live presently - to focus not on what I could have been or where I ought to be, but where I am and how I can make the most of this opportunity. In Dr. Susan Albers' book "Eating Mindfully," she talks a lot about Buddhist meditation and beliefs. Balance is a big theme, and it's something I'm striving towards.

One thing she remarked upon really hit me, though, and I wish I had this moment of revelation somewhere besides the back of a bus, because it was a beautiful, enlightening moment that I want to hold in my heart.
This moment we are living in right now is the only moment in life that we are guaranteed.
There's no use cursing the past and saying that I could be somewhere else right now if I had only been better, more careful, more on-task. I couldn't plan for this moment, just as I cannot plan for the next one.

A lot of twelve-step programs make use of this philosophy as well: one day at a time, one step at a time. I'm trying to keep this in mind as I face the holiday season. I am doing my best, and that is the best I can do - but I don't know how my challenges might be different on November 25th, or how they might be changed even more a month from then. So I need to work on my day-to-day plan for success and not worry so much about the future. Let those moments unfold as they happen - the work I am doing is helping me right now, and right now, this moment is the only one that matters.

November 1, 2010

Kick-off

Since moving to Chicago, I haven't given a single piece of candy to a trick-or-treater, but that's not to say I haven't bought tons of candy. Halloween was one of the few times a year when I could feel less ashamed about my binge eating - it gave me an alibi while going through the checkout line.

When I was a kid, I used to love Halloween - really, what kid doesn't love a day when you get to wear a costume and then get handed free candy? More often than not, our costumes were some variation on a doctor theme, with my sisters and I wearing our dad's scrubs covered in red food coloring. The costume hardly mattered, though. We'd hit up our neighborhood, then go over to my grandparents' neighborhood and get treats there, too. We'd end up with such heavy bags that they were hard to carry - especially if there was an unattended treat bowl, which we were told was the green light for dumping it into our pillowcases. We'd head home, sort through the goods, make trades, and eat 'til we felt sick.

I don't remember having the candy ever last until my birthday, which is just under three weeks after Halloween. I remember my sisters being a bit slower with theirs, which only meant that once mine was gone, I'd sneak pieces of theirs. Evidently, being sneaky and secretive about food is a problem I've dealt with for a very, very long time, and I still feel like that little kid when I'm faced with a bowl of candy - or a big amount of anything. I don't want to savor or even really enjoy it, I just want to shovel it in, quickly, before anyone sees. I want the high without getting caught, and that danger adds to the feeling of false euphoria.

Knowing that I am still very susceptible to my old habits, I decided that I needed to do everything I could to get through this weekend. This weekend, after all, is not just Halloween - it's the kick-off of the whole holiday season. (My local Target already has Christmas stuff up, and has for weeks now. Yikes.) Surviving this weekend means that I will be just that much stronger come Thanksgiving, and then my cumulative holiday work will help get me prepared and ready to live through my first Christmas as someone who is trying to live a healthy lifestyle.

For Halloween, my plan was threefold: resist, educate, and prevent.

For resisting, I made sure that I did not buy candy for my students or for the trick-or-treaters until the day-of. For my students, this meant Thursday night for Friday; for the kids, it meant Sunday morning. My neighborhood has a lot of little kids in it, but it's mostly apartments, so a few of my neighbors and I got together and set up a craft table for them - we had mini pumpkins, paint, hot chocolate, and some candy to give away. It was a tremendous success, and I gave away every piece of candy that I had bought!

For education, I went to the library on Saturday and got a book I had requested a few weeks ago (and it just came in - exactly when I needed it most. Thanks, Universe!) called "50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food." It's by Dr. Susan Albers, a woman whose other works on mindful eating are helping me incredibly. The book is really great, oh, hello downtown!and I will most likely end up purchasing myself a copy since I find myself reading it and wanting to highlight points and take notes.

And finally, prevention. My first two steps were intended to avoid giving in to temptation, but the third would help either (a) raise my adrenaline so I didn't even think about craving candy or (b) cover my behind in case I slipped. So, yesterday morning, I walked my third 5k race, the Trick or Treat Trot here in Chicago. It was in Lincoln Park, right by Montrose Harbor - so lovely. I grew up on the Connecticut shoreline, so I have a pretty hard time calling these bits of sand next to Lake Michigan "beaches," but the marina made me feel like home.

I went to pick up my race shirt and bib on Friday after work, and as it turns out, my number was 1707. This was pretty significant to me, as my pace for the last 5k I did was 17m9s per mile, and I wanted to beat it, if only by one or two seconds. Since the C-to-5k mp3's have been helping me so much, I decided to make a playlist exclusively for this race.

trick or treat trot soundtrack
Some Halloween-ish type music, mostly just a mixture of things to get me pumped and keep me moving. The total came to 53m11s - four seconds shorter than my last race time. I figured, if the music was still playing or if it finished just as I did, I beat my last time.

This race was smaller than the Race for the Cure, but considerably larger than the Go Go Green race. I think they said the number was around 2500. I really liked it: starting line it seemed like a lot of people focused on fitness, and I loved feeling, for the first time, like I belonged there. A lot of people wore Halloween costumes, but I didn't want to do anything fancy, so I just wore my race shirt, my new workout pants, and a fleece vest I bought Saturday at Old Navy - another huge victory, since it was, again, something bought in a ladies section of a normal store. I haven't bought clothes from Old Navy since middle school!

The race started, and I eased my way towards the starting line. As I crossed, I started my playlist, and loved it. It was a sunny day, breezy because of the lake, chilly but not too cold. When I got to the first mile marker, it said 17m30, and I felt a little down until I remembered that they start the clocks with the first runners, so I was probably around 17m even.

The music helped keep me motivated, but my mind still wandered a few times. Just thinking about how I've been doing and the non-scale measures of my success. Every now and then during a race, I get struck by the realization that this moment is actually happening to me. A few months ago, I couldn't be coaxed off the couch. four minutes and changeThen I could walk a mile and a half in about an hour and it exhausted me. And now, I'm passing the second mile marker and making excellent time. This is my life now, and I am so overwhelmed with happiness.

I knew the last song was "Thriller," since it was Halloween after all, and I thought it would be a fun way to end the morning. However, as the third mile marker came into view, I realized that it hadn't even started playing yet. It began just as I passed the sign; when I passed the finish line, I quickly hit pause.

I was hoping for four seconds off my last time, but this was just under five minutes off. I could hardly believe it. Not going to lie, I teared up a little bit. Even now, I'm speechless and amazed. I need to run a 16-minute mile to get a finishers medal for the Disney 5k - and until now, I couldn't even walk a 16-minute mile. My goals no longer seem so distant - now, they're only slightly out of my reach.

I had a banana and walked around for a bit, then headed back towards the marina to catch my bus. A family was there in their running gears, and while I'm usually really shy with strangers, thanks to this huge accomplishment, I got the courage to ask the woman to take my picture.

perfect moment.
And I'm so glad she did. There is so much to celebrate about this picture. Those pants! That vest! The personal best that's still swirling around my head! And - I'm smiling. I know it seems so simple, but after spending years and years in a very deep weight/body-image related depression, I marvel at every one of my smiles. They're one of my favorite measures of progress - they mean that I'm getting healthy in every aspect of my life.

October 31, 2010

Drop dead gorgeous

My positive sign for the week:

if you had such a dream
Lyrics from one of my favorite songs ("I Could Be Dreaming") by one of my favorite bands (Belle & Sebastian). It really motivates me, especially since the name of this blog comes from a weight loss dream I had about six months ago. I woke up, sketched the dream, painted it three months later on a big canvas, and got to work. Now, just over three months after painting it, I'm down an unbelievable amount of weight. It never occurred to me that my waking life could be just as fulfilling as a dream, and now I'm so hopeful about many of the things I've always dreamed of.

Challenge start weight: 332
Current weight: 286

Six more pounds gone this week - I think last Saturday had a lot to do with it, since I did the 5k in the morning, then walked to the grocery store that afternoon (over two more miles). I had a lot of energy last week, too, so I made the most of it!

Progress on my DDGbG goals: After last week's sushi disaster, I wanted to try something a bit more all-American, and what says America quite like a cheesesteak? But I'm not a huge fan of beef to begin with, plus the point is to make new healthy recipes, so I decided to make it vegetarian!

usa! usa! usa!
Unbe-stinkin'-lievable. So good. I'm a huge fan of a well-made sandwich, and this was just what I was craving last Monday after a marathon of grading student compositions!

4 portobello mushroom caps
1 medium green pepper
1 medium sweet onion
1 tbsp. olive oil
4 pieces of cheese
2 rolls

Thinly slice mushrooms, pepper, and onion. Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and add oil. Add veggies, stirring to coat with the oil. Cook for about seven to ten minutes, until peppers/mushrooms are softened and onions are translucent. Slice open rolls and put two slices of cheese in each. Top with veggie mix; let sit a few minutes for the cheese to get good and melty!


Easy, filling, and incredibly delicious. The oil seems like it won't be enough for all the veggies - trust that it will! And for the cheese, the less fancy, the better - you want a good melting cheese. I went to the supermarket deli and asked for two orange American slices (and confused the poor kid working there, who was used to quarter, half, and whole pound requests).

It makes two sandwiches but could easily be halved. I made all the veggies but only one sandwich: the leftover veggies I put into spaghetti sauce and served it over spaghetti squash a few days later. SO delicious! I'm totally in love with portobello mushrooms, and will definitely be looking for more recipes with them.

ONE thing that you are proud of for the week: Writing in my gratitude journal every day. It helps keep me focused, I think - I try to write as often as possible about being grateful for things that seem negative and stressful in the short term.

ONE thing that you can improve upon for the following week: Reading my body. It's my TOM week, which means a few days of totally manic moods, and I already had a mini-meltdown on Friday night/yesterday morning. I sat back and thought about it, particularly when I wanted to eat junk - and I recognized that this is not my normal, rational state-of-mind. Candy is not what my body really wants. It's only saying this because it's an off week. I need to trust that it wants to keep going to the gym, keep eating well, and drink more water than usual.