January 8, 2011

Forecast: mostly sunny

Non-secret: I love challenges. I'm a list-maker, so I like having a list of goals to check off. The problem, though, is that the challenges I participate in tend to be "challenges" in a loose sense - they feel more like to-do lists than things I have to really push myself outside of my comfort zone for. There's one challenge out there now that would be a true challenge: Ellen's Hate-Loss Challenge. A lot of people are participating, and seeing their posts so far has been really inspiring. And yet I can't bring myself to commit to the challenge ... because this would truly be a challenge, in the difficult-to-impossible sense.

I'm a totally capable lady, I really am. I can lose 91 pounds in 23 weeks. I can run 3.1 miles in 38 minutes and 11 seconds. But I can't look in the mirror and say "Mary, you're beautiful" without feeling like it isn't entirely true. And my inability to feel honest while saying that little sentence seems to diminish all the other successes.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not walking around in a constant state of self-loathing and depression. Some days I catch a glimpse in the mirror and think I look good, but there are always conditions. everyone else thinks she's beautiful - why doesn't she?I look nice in this shirt - but underneath, my stomach is an absolute mess from years of morbid obesity. My hair looks nice - but over here, look how jiggly my arms still are!

It's a reaction I've had for years, something that was instilled in me as a child by my mother. Whenever I would look in a mirror for longer than a second or say something about thinking I looked good, she would add a condition, or tell me something different that needed improvement - and not always physical. I have a vivid memory of being about twelve or thirteen and being pretty excited about finally getting breasts and hopefully starting to look like a real person instead of a chubby little egg with legs, and my mother telling me to quit parading around in front of the mirror "like some little sexpot" because I still had "a lot of growing up to do." I don't think she consciously wanted to be cruel, just realistic - it was the way her own mother had been to her as well. The effect has been strong and near impossible to overcome, likely for both mother and daughter. Even when I like what I see in the mirror, I don't like one hundred percent of it - there's always another flaw, something to fix.

My sister gave me a lovely Nalgene bottle for Christmas that says "life is good" on it. There's a sun, and underneath it says "Forecast: Mostly Sunny." That's the outlook I aspire to - that life is good, always, even when there are clouds in the sky. I want to be able to look in the mirror and notice only positives, even if negatives exist. Even if I'm not at my goal weight yet and even if I'm having a bad hair day and even if the skin on my stomach is loose, I want to love myself. I am more than a number on the scale, and I am more than a reflection in the mirror. I want to love myself even when my eyes are closed.

I think this is especially important as I consider trying to enter the world of dating and relationships. There's a lot of residual heartache from Scott, who was the first person ever to compliment my body - even at 345 pounds, he told me I was attractive, and he desired me even when I could hardly stand to look at myself in the mirror. It's inauthentic, I know - this isn't love or caring, this is a thirty-something year old married man who will say what he thinks I want to hear in order to get me to do what he wants. The problem is that for a long time, it worked, and so most of my experiences with men have been based on similar deceptions, and now every time a guy tells me that he thinks I am beautiful, I question his motives. Not that it happens terribly frequently, but still, I simply cannot fathom the idea of that being someone's honest belief. Are this guy's feelings real, or does he just want something from me?

I have to love myself before anyone else can love me - it's cliché, I know, but just because it's cliché doesn't mean it isn't true. With self-love will come the ability to truly open my heart to others ... and the faith that someone out there is capable of being sincere when he tells me that I'm beautiful.

January 7, 2011

Roses and thorns

My flight landed at Midway Airport around 8pm on Monday night. I was home by 9:30, and in bed by 10. It had been a long couple of weeks, and after a few hours of traveling, I was just wiped out. The next morning, I stepped on the scale for my first glimpse of my numeric weight in weeks; before I left, I weighed in at 265. I was nervous, but feeling confident. obligatory aerial chicago shot - loveeeI did a good job in Connecticut - in terms of food and exercise, there were some good decisions, and there were days when one or both could have been better. But all things considered, I knew I would see a loss, even if it was a small one. I could feel it.

Lo and behold ... 260.

I'm unbelievably proud. I survived the holidays - but not only, the holidays with my family - and lost five pounds! Since coming home to Chicago, I've been back to eating well and I've been in the gym every day, so my official weigh in for today has me at 254. (It sounds like a lot of loss for only a few days, but I think some of it was retained water - I wasn't counting, but by a rough estimate, I'd say my sodium intake was about a billion times what it usually is. I'm very much a plain, no-sauces kind of lady, and my mom likes butter.)

My total loss is now 91 pounds, which is completely awesome, if I do say so myself! I'm pretty close to a few upcoming landmarks ... hitting 250, finally being "just" obese - and not "morbidly" so - at 247, and finally, marking 100 pounds total lost at 245. An awful lot to celebrate, I think! I'm trying to think of some great non-food rewards for myself - I've already talked about wanting a tattoo for my 100 pound loss, but also, I was thinking about possibly moving my blog to a self-hosted site. I'm still weighing the pros and cons, so we'll see.

It's been a week of introspection and compliling thoughts collected while away, but it has also been a week of springing back into action. At the gym, I've been back in the pool a couple of times, which I love in spite of the awful chapped lips it has given me. I ran on the treadmill a couple days ago and will be back today - admittedly, though, it's tough. I got used to road running really quickly, and that's just not something I can do in Chicago - too many stops and starts with traffic and street lights. Sure, I could go down to the lakeshore paths ... but that's more of a weekend/vacation kind of run, not something I could do most days - it just takes too long to get there. I don't mind the treadmill, I just need to readapt a bit.

Another thing I started at the gym this week was weights - I need to tighten and tone like you wouldn't believe. I've been going to the gym with my friend Lorelei, who has used weight machines before and therefore claimed that I could trust her with showing me what to do. Now I'm doing some research of my own, because my legs are killing me. No joke, I'm walking like a cowboy from a bad Western, ready to duel. Yikes.

NSV for the week: I got an Old Navy gift card from my dad for Christmas, which I spent on two nice shirts and a new pair of jeans ... size 18. The 20's were falling off me already, which is both awesome and awful. Awful, because I just bought them about a month ago. But I haven't worn size 18 jeans since 7th grade, so I'm feeling pretty good about that! This is the first time in twelve years that my jean size hasn't had a two in the tens place ... half my life so far!

January 6, 2011


I was really moved by the comments on my post from yesterday - thank you everyone for sharing your experiences. Quite a few comments mentioned smoking, something else I would like to touch on. Both of my grandmothers died of problems directly related to being life-long smokers, lisa, chicago, summer 2010and so it always perplexed me why my sister Lisa would become one. Besides the fact that smoking is an expensive and dirty habit, I just can't understand how she could choose to be a smoker after having seen how they suffered - struggling to breathe, becoming dependent on machines. There's a great quote (by Maya Angelou, I believe) that says that when we know better, we ought to do better; with these two examples before us, how is she able to justify this habit to herself?

I've been quite vocal about my feelings to Lisa, because I love her very much, and therefore I am fearful that she'll end up the same as Grammy and Nana. They were both relatively young, and their conditions were avoidable. At the same time, though, I've been hypocritical. I could see what a life of poor eating and inactivity had done to my father, yet I still chose to adapt the same lifestyle. Binge eating is also an expensive habit - and a dirty one, although in a different way than cigarette smoke.

I can't speak for Lisa and her life choices - nor can I speak for my father and his decisions. I can only speak for myself, and in terms of my own weight loss journey, I'm finding that continuing to do the right thing every day is not nearly as difficult as it was choosing to do the right thing the first day. Don't get me wrong - it's very tough. But for me, getting started was the hardest part. Once I had my revelatory moment when I realized that I knew better, I decided to start doing better - but it was not an easy decision. Facing hundreds of pounds to lose is unbelievably overwhelming, and that made it suprisingly easy to justify my unhealthy habits. Sara received a great comment a few months ago that sums it up pretty perfectly:
Losing weight is hard.
Being fat is hard.
Choose your hard.
I wrote out on a Post-it to keep on my desk, and I'm thinking about sending it in a card to my father. I can't force him to eat better or try to get active, just like I can't make Lisa quit smoking. But maybe a simply-stated but effective comment like this might offer an interesting perspective that he hadn't considered before.

January 5, 2011

Broken hearts

On October 18, 2006, exactly one week after the death of his mother, my dad was sitting in a doctor's office. He had been diagnosed with type II diabetes about ten years earlier, but because he had failed to properly take care of it, he was experiencing many side effects and related conditions. That day was a regularly scheduled check-up. The doctor was checking his heartbeat with a stethoscope when he stopped very suddenly, looked at my father, and asked "Do you not feel that?!" My dad was having a heart attack, and because of his diabetes-related neuropathy, he could not feel his body failing.

He was airlifted to the hospital where he spent several weeks recovering from his emergency quadruple bypass surgery and congestive heart failure. The recovery was especially difficult because of the effects of not taking his insulin, not losing weight or exercising, and continuing to eat poorly. In fact, he never fully recovered, and the neuropathy worsened in his hands and feet. He was forced to retire early from his job: he could not walk without a cane, and even with the cane he could only walk for a couple of minutes at a time before he became exhausted and needed to stop - also, his vision deteriorated, and he just couldn't make the half-hour drive safely.

A little over four years later, it's hard to remember what life was like before Dad became handicapped ... like how it was when Dad could go with us on family walks, or what it was like to go to the grocery store without having him follow in a motorized scooter. It's also hard to see the whole family seemingly unaffected by what has happened. Given the choice, I know everyone would choose to have Dad healthy and back to normal.fille à papa dès le debut But at the same time, no one has tried to encourage a healthier lifestyle - it would not save him or make him as capable as he used to be, but it would help him feel a little better. In fact, we've all continued to eat poorly, remain sedentary, and gain weight - and I am guilty of this myself.

It took me nearly four years to realize that I was on a fast-track to the same exact situation as my father. I'm trying my absolute hardest to stay on the right path and hopefully avoid a similar situation. And so it really hurts to go back home and see my father free-falling into what he has accepted as his fate. For many people, being told what they ought to be doing is often a catalyst for their doing the exact opposite, and my father is no exception to this. It hurts, because this is not the same as being told to clean your room and refusing. This is huge. This is his life, and he's not willing to make a few changes in order to live longer. Changing habits is hard, but staying the same is easy - even though staying the same worsens his condition.

For the past few months, I've had a recurring nightmare: we sit down at our kitchen table for a meal, and then I start screaming at my father, telling him that he'll never meet his grandchildren. The meaning is obvious, and I'm very glad that they were nightmares and not scenes nestling in for later moments of déjà vu. At many points in my trip, I thought they would come to fruition, and I found myself very conflicted: I cannot scold or lecture - I am the child, not the parent - yet I cannot sit there and watch him eat the way he does without saying something. My father's eating habits are horrible - unhealthy for even an average person, but someone in his condition medically? It's killing him - and that kills me. His broken heart is breaking mine.

January 4, 2011


After eighteen days away, it's nice to be back in my own apartment. I'm definitely looking forward to getting back into my own routines of eating, exercising, and just living my daily life. But of course, there are things I miss about Connecticut already ... such as conversations like this:
Mary, why can't you stay a few more days?

Because I have to go back to work soon, Little. I have to get all my things ready for my students for the beginning of the semester. I have to make lesson plans.

But can't you do that here?

No, I can't, sweetness. All my stuff is at my apartment, you know!

But can't you just run to Chicago, grab your books, and come back?
Every time I have to kiss this kid goodbye, it breaks my heart.

Whenever I return to Chicago after a trip back east, I unlock my apartment door and roll in my suitcase. I kick off my shoes, close the door behind me, and exhale very deeply. It's a sigh of both sadness and relief. I'm at a strange transitional phase in my adult life where I am redefining my definition of "home." Is it the house I grew up in, where the rest of my family is? Or is it this little apartment and the life contained therein that I have created for myself?

This trip back felt like the final, definitive nail in the coffin in favor of retiring the former definition. It had little to do with sticking to or not sticking to my plans for eating and exercising, to be honest. Despite spending the majority of my life in that little house, it has become harder and harder to identify with. The bedroom I once shared with my two sisters has been rearranged, and my bed and dresser have been taken over - so when I visit, I sleep on the couch and live out of my suitcase. Things get changed up, to the point where I have to ask where things go when I put away groceries or dry the dishes. Nothing in that house feels like it is mine anymore - except the people.

There are things that I both love and hate about Connecticut. I suppose the same could be said for Chicago - it certainly has its fair share of bad days - but somehow, the stresses and the pleasures of visiting home feel completely different from those related to my solitary life here in the city. A lot of this difference is related to the fact that when I visit, there are six people in the house in Connecticut - but here in Chicago, I am alone. i wanna eat this baby faceThere are both benefits and challenges to living alone, and I think that is part of why I secretly love the fact that my family is not terribly dynamic. I always know what to expect when I go home - even if the pots and pans are now to the left of the sink instead of the right, I know exactly how my mother will be right before Christmas (crazy and stressed) or what my dad will complain about at least four times a day (money and medications) or what Lisa will want for her birthday dinner (chicken parm) or how bad I will beat my sister Katie at Scrabble (insanely crazy bad) or what is at the top of Dan's Christmas list (Lego sets).

My mom always jokes that even when I was a baby, as soon as I could move on my own, I was walking away from my family. It's true that I'm independent - to a fault, even, sometimes. And I would say that I'm a very dynamic person, at least comparatively. So as much as I love that my parents and siblings always seem to stay the same, I also have a tendency to resent them for their resistance to change. This was especially difficult on this trip. I have changed so drastically from the last time we were all together, but that's not all. The nature of my changes is something that the entire family needs considerable help with, and so to see them so opposed to positive changes really upset me - especially my father, who will get an entry all his own tomorrow.

January 3, 2011

WWW: Week One

My picture for the week:

un be flippin lievable
About to finish my first 5k - I know I just posted this yesterday, but I just love it so much!

What are your ten goals for the WWW challenge?
Why did you choose them?

I already posted about this a few weeks ago, but in short, here's my list:
1. Achieve my 100 pound weight loss.
2. Train for the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle Chicago 8k on 4/10/11.
3. Begin looking for jobs (try to apply for at least one).
4. Be an amazing teacher.
5. Complete two of my 101-in-1001 goals.
6. Visit three museums on their Free Days.
7. Spend 1/4 of my tax return on new clothes.
8. Make art.
9. Do something every week to make me feel gorgeous.
10. Go to the opera.
Are you making a New Year's Resolution beyond the WWW challenge?
No traditional resolutions, but plenty of things on my to-do list. I have a lot of ideas for 2011. My WWW goals will help me get through the first part of the year; when I get to the end, I'll make a new plan.

What does this challenge mean to you?
I love challenges - I find that they really help keep me focused. I tend to do better with goals when they're planned for smaller, more manageable periods of time.

What did you do when the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve?
I was watching the Family Guy version of Star Wars IV with my brother and sister. Nerdy, yes. But delightful.

January 2, 2011

My first 5k

This is probably not much of a surprise, but I'm not the kind of girl who goes crazy on New Years Eve. I think the last time I went out was my senior year of college, when a couple of my girlfriends and I went to one of the casinos here in Connecticut - we played penny slots, drank Midori Sours, laughed an awful lot, and hardly noticed when the clock changed. It's just that the changing of the calendar year has never really been too important to me, as my life has always seemed to revolve around an academic calendar. I tend to make resolutions on my birthday, or at the beginning of a new semester. But never on January 1.

This year, I mixed it up.

A few months ago, I started the Couch to 5k running program, and a few weeks into it, I found a 5k race near my hometown. I figured that signing up for it would be beneficial in a few different ways: not only would I have to finish C25k by that time, but I would have to continue to stay active and eat well while visiting my family in order to be able to complete the race. For the most part, I've done well. There are things that I ate that I shouldn't have, and there are days when I didn't exercise as much as I probably could have. My goal for coming home was weight maintenance, not weight loss - I just wanted to survive a trip home without gaining my usual 15-20 pounds. Physically I feel like I've done a fine job, but emotionally, there have been a lot of challenges.

Besides the physical component, the support of my family is incredibly important to me, and being able to have them there cheering me on would mean just as much as completing the race. Here's my kid brother and me outside the community center where I picked up my race number (#153):

me and the goat outside the community center
(Sorry for the glare - Mom took the pictures.)

We left the community center and walked down to the town hall where I lined up and my family secured a bench near the finish line. The race was really different than any of the races I've done in Chicago, for obvious reasons. There were about 700 runners and walkers here, whereas a small race in Chicago is still about 1500. The set-up was less fancy - in Chicago, we go pick our materials up a couple days before the race at a sporting goods store. Here, it was at the community center the morning of the race. Chicago races usually start around 8 or 9am, but this one started at 11am. And the Chicago races are along flat lakeshore paths, but this one was on the town streets, over a hill and down to the marina, down a hill and around the town fairgrounds, and back to the town green.

the starting line
The race started a little after 11, and we took off towards Boston St., around the historic town green. I had created a pretty epic playlist to get me through my race - all the awesome motivating songs I've been training with, in a very specific order to start strong, stay consistent, and finish strong. Unfortunately, I lent my iPod to my sister the other day and she set it to shuffle, so the track listing I had painstakingly ordered was lost. Not fatal, but it threw me off a bit.

We were almost at the marina when we hit the one mile marker - and people were already coming up on the return side! I can't imagine being that fast just yet. For me, I was just so grateful to be running by my beloved Long Island Sound. I loved growing up on the shoreline, and I miss it so much when I am in Chicago.

Even though I had my music playing, my mind still wandered as I ran. Around the second mile marker, I wanted so badly to stop, and for no real reason. I wasn't in pain. I wasn't struggling. So why stop? It's sad, but no matter how hard I work, no matter what I accomplish, it seems that in the back of my mind, I still hear a little voice saying You can't do this. You haven't been running as much as you should have. And you ate a cupcake yesterday! You're too fat still to succeed at this. What were you thinking? The second when I crossed the starting line, I had already accomplished something wonderful - why isn't this enough?

Around two and a half miles, I was working up a small hill, and it felt like I was going unbelievably slow - and then it hit me. The moment when I realized that I would rather keep running at that pace than walk - even if finishing took me all day. I can do this! I am doing it! Ending negative self-talk is my top priority for 2011 - no excuses. The changing exterior is great, but the physical weight loss won't matter if I still hate the girl inside.

When I turned the corner to get back onto Boston St., a great song came on my iPod (Florence + the Machine, "Dog Days are Over"), and I got my second wind. I turned at the three mile marker and raced towards the finish line - my family standing right there in front of the Town Hall, waving and cheering me on.

un be flippin lievable
I dashed across the finish line, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed back towards my family - they were cheering and giving me huge hugs, and I just bawled my face off. I did it. I really did it! Me! Mary! The girl who never ran a mile in the first 24 years of her life was now kicking off 2011 by running 3.1 without stopping to walk. And in a personal best time, no less!

man, i love breaking records
38:11! I'm so amazed. I made a 50-minute playlist. When I registered for the race, I estimated my finish time at 45:00. Even while I was racing, it felt like I was taking a really long time. So to see that? Unbelievable. I'm just so completely ... amazed.

You know, 2010 was an unbelievable year for me - in the sense that I'm still sort of unable to believe everything that happened. All of the future fears from last January are all old news now: I've passed my MA exams, I graduated, I got my dream job, and I lost an incredible amount of weight. And it's not just the number of pounds that I'm proud of - I've been eating better, I've become more active, I've found an incredible support system, and bit by bit, my self-confidence and self-esteem have started to improve. I'm still a work in progress, but it's wonderful to know that I'm capable of the things I set my mind to. The person I am right now is someone I am not sure I would have recognized if I met her a year ago, and that's both fantastic and scary.

I am so ready for everything 2011 has in store for me - and I hope this year is ready for all I am prepared to give it!