A Sunday Morning Blog

Spring Awakening

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Today is the first day of spring, and the sun forgot to show up. Instead, a light rain drizzled down on the city, and while it wasn’t snow, it was still not idea. Even so, as I ran next to Lake Michigan this morning, the birds were out singing and a light wind rustled through the trees. It was a sign that a softer, sweeter time is on the horizon.

It’s been a rough winter. As I eluded to back in December, my husband and I were dealt a major life challenge right before the holidays. Ethan lost his job, and with me being in school full-time, this was a huge blow to us, and it has been a rough few months. His job search led him to a different career path, and we beyond grateful to our families stepped up in helping us pay for some necessities that we can’t cover and our friends who were there to support in this most trying time. However, we are still in it, and while we think we are finally headed down a road to normal, there is never going back to where we were. That’s gone.

Over the last five months, I all I have wanted is for my husband to come home and say he got a new job. Then, the tightness in my shoulders would fade. I could sleep through the night. And, I could go back to being just a graduate student. That moment, though, never came.  Like the last time he was without work, he often came close but not enough for the offer.

After one particular rejection, I lost it. I got the news before boarding the train south down into the Loop, and I cried throughout the entire public ride and on the street. I screamed at the sky, wondering why God, the fates, the Universe had been so cruel to my family and I. I stared at my phone, waiting for someone to text me something that would make all the pain and heartache go away. Some friends and family did try to comfort me, but it wasn’t enough. Instead, I went to my favorite fast food restaurant and ordered everything I wanted, and that too wasn’t enough. For months, I had been doing whatever I could to help us fix this – working extra shifts at my part-time job, connecting Ethan to people who might help get him an in, offering suggestions, pouring over our budget – but nothing I did could undo this setback. Which is how I felt that day, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t numb the pain enough. All that was left was to endure it and hold on tight enough to get through the other end.

A depression has taken hold of me. I’ve been entertaining more vices – sleeping, drinking, eating, scrolling, isolating. I have not written nor do I have any nails left. I am close to yelling at strangers and often do yell at my husband. So much anger has popped out of me that it’s surprised even myself. I cry easily or burst into a fit. It doesn’t take much these days to send me into a downward spiral.

I know it’s hard to see why this has bothered me so much. Five years ago, if someone who had said that I would be so upset because my husband lost his job, I would have said, “Wait, aren’t I just happy to have a husband?” This is his problem, not mine, even though I also lost my health insurance and have to pay more for everyday expenses than we planned I would while in school. Also, we come from enough privilege that we are financially OK, and to be honest, I have more money in my bank account now than I did a year ago (does it count if a good chunk of that belongs to the federal government? No? OK, great.).

For a normal person, like my husband, this is a just a hurdle in a long life full of them. It sucks, but you know you will make it out because life often rebounds. He has actually been rather optimistic, and is even happier. However, I have anxiety and depression, so events like this send me into a dark and hairy place. Add school and working two jobs to the anxiety, and you have a tried-and-true recipe for a breakdown. This winter, my head went to a very, very bad place, and there were times I was certain I couldn’t pull myself out of it. I felt unloveable, like I was failing at all things, and that I would absolutely never be OK again.

And right when I thought I could never feel relief again, I decided that I would. I woke up the next day and vowed to be in control of my thoughts and reactions. I could make the universe give me what I want, but I could want what I already had. The sun shined that day, the temps rose a bit, and my shoulders were a bit more relaxed. As the season began to change, so did my soul. If I wanted to be OK again, well I already had everything inside of me to make it so.

It doesn’t quite feel like spring, nor do I feel like myself again, but there are signs both are coming. Like the birds that sang me through my run this morning, as I smiled and thanked the heavens for their song. They were welcoming a brand new season, for me and all of us. I don’t know what summer will bring, but I will greet it with hope.

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On Self-Care

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This summer, back when I was working full time, I decided to use some of my leave time for a mental health day. I had been stock piling sick days in the event that we got pregnant (the lack of standards for maternity care in the U.S. is disgusting and degrading), but then I decided to quit my job for graduate school and so I had a few days to burn. I slept in, road my bike to the gym, swam laps in the rooftop pool, had lunch at a brewery, read a book by the beach, and finished it with dinner with my husband. It had been a crazy summer with our wedding, moving, and preparing for graduate school, and I needed this day for myself, to unwind and replenish.

These days, my schedule is bananas. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I am usually up at 7 a.m. to take out Annie, get in a run, and do some homework before heading to school to work at my graduate assistant job and then go to class. Because class goes till 10:10, and I live fairly far from school, I don’t get home until 11:00 – 11:15. Then, I work  at the bakery Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and when I have free time, I am usually running, doing homework, catching up on errands, spending time with my husband, or trying to see friends (although I am failing pretty hard at that these days). Student life has built-in breaks for holidays and the spring, but in the thick of the semester, I can’t just take a day off. Instead, I have to find pockets of time for self-care, or I will crash.

And, I am crashing. My stress-induced nausea is almost a daily occurrence, I have at least one teary breakdown a week, and I often work myself up into a lather, convinced that no one truly likes me. (Just this week, I apologized for slighting people, thinking maybe they were upset with me, and they responded with, “I didn’t think twice about it.”)

For one of my classes, I recently had to do a photo collage of myself, with pictures from my infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adult phases, and then describe what I was like at that age. Looking through old photos, I got really sad remembering how hard I’ve always been on myself. Like seeing my posed cross country photo, when I was limiting myself to 800 calories a day and refusing to eat dinner after a meet if I didn’t run as well I thought I should have. I called my mom to ask what I was like as a kid, and she said lots of sweet things but also that I was a perfectionist and I was eager to please people. My husband, who was listening by speaker phone, responded sarcastically, “Wow, things have really changed.”

Reflecting on who I was a kid and teenager added some insight to my current life, and all the stress I am balancing with school, keeping our bills paid, being a good wife and friend, and living the way I think I should be. Yes, I am stressed now, but I’ve always been stressed, chasing whatever I think will finally make me feel enough.

I just need to lose 10 pounds, and I then I will feel worthy.

I just need to have a good paying job, and then I can relax.

I just need to meet a great guy and get married, and then I will feel whole.

I just need to get a book published, and then I will know I am OK.

I just need friends to want to be around me, and then I will feel valued.

My whole life, I’ve been chasing that thing that will finally make me feel enough, but once I reach that finish line, the goal morphs, and I am running again. So, yes I am at a specifically stressed time in my life, but this feeling of moving in a hundred directions just to silence the “you are not enough” in my head is not new. And, if I am going to make it out of this program and live contently, I need to stop chasing finish lines and find solace in who I am and where I am right now.

This is where self care comes in. Most people think that self care is about bubble baths and solo dinners, which it can be, but it’s also about putting yourself first and showing yourself love. Honestly, love to myself is likely what I have been missing all along and why all the things I’ve done, the people I love, and the good in my life are not enough to make me feel whole. One giant piece is missing.

Here is what self care looks like for me these days:

  • Running. Thankfully, my hip is healed, and despite what a psychic told me last April, I am running again. I have even signed up for two races this year, and I am strongly considering a marathon in the fall. Some people do yoga or meditate to center themselves, but for me, it’s running. Yes, it’s a pain to run in 17-degree weather and some of my runs are more like ice skating, but running is the best calmer to my anxiety. When I go too many days without a run, I usually end up having a breakdown, so as much as I don’t want to go some days, I force myself anyway. Also, I feel so fortunate to run again, and I don’t want to take that for granted.
  • Saying no. As I mentioned earlier, I really don’t have a lot of free time these days, so the time I do have is valuable. I hate bailing on things I’ve committed to, but I can’t keep spreading myself so thin in order to please others. Lately, I’ve started to say no to certain things and create stronger boundaries so that I can have more time to cuddle with my dog or write (which I do very little of these days). I am no good to the world, if I can’t take care of myself.
  • Watching trashy TV. Wednesday mornings, before I go to school, I make myself coffee and watch a really awful MTV show that aired the night before. It’s not that it is reality TV, but it’s bad reality TV, and I freaking love it. I don’t care that it’s dumb and vain; it makes me happy. I give myself that hour without judgement and then go back to my text books and writing assignments. That little break, filled of made-up drama, is a nice little reset for me, and I won’t apologize for it.
  • Silencing voices I don’t need. I have a pretty unhealthy relationship to social media, and it’s a destructive coping mechanism to endlessly scroll after a long day of class, but I have taken the initiative to unfollow people who make me feel bad about myself. There is a running blogger who I’ve long followed and compared my life to, and not only did I obsessively read her blog, listen to her podcast, and read her social posts, but I also followed a GOMI thread about her to see how people were judging and gossiping about her life. She always seemed to have everything I want, and I used her life to prove to myself that I am failing. That was definitely not filling me up, so since the new year, I unfollowed and unsubscribed her completely. There is still plenty for me to feel bad about (P.S. Does anyone else use Venmo to see what friends where hanging out without you? Oh, just me? Cool.) and I need to set better social media boundaries, but at least I don’t have this one person in my space anymore.
  • Prioritizing sleep. I need at least 7.5 hours of sleep to function each day, and the older I get, the more I realize that nearly nothing is worth skimping on the sleep. If I am tired and dragging the next day, then I can’t be in the moment and enjoy it. So, I go home early, skip runs, and put my husband on dog morning duty so that I can get in the sleep I need.
  • Introducing a new narrative. My head is really good at telling me lies about who I am to other people and how I am not enough. I’ve longed believed these lies, but after years of therapy and some maturity, I am starting to challenge them. It’s not easy, but I am throwing my support to myself when I say, “Yeah, I don’t think that is true.”
  • Letting myself breakdown, and then rebuild. I have anxiety and depression, so I am going to breakdown more often than other people. So be it. I need that sometimes, and as long as I can withstand the storm, which I can, then I will be there for sunshine.

I am still going to have bad days, and I won’t immediately feel like enough, but I am committed to working towards that. While I can’t take those mental health days, I can still put my well-being at the center, and when I do that, I am a better person to everyone I am around.

Your turn. Tell me about your self-care routine? What’s the thing you do to make you a better human?

What I Wished For

Whenever I feel despair or hopelessness, I turn to Pinterest. I search for quotes that will resonate and encourage me, and I’ve even built an entire board of more than 1,000 of these pinned quotes. The majority of these quotes come from pre-June 2015, before I met my husband and was fairly love lost and hopeless. I’d scroll through the site, looking for words to reassure me that I wouldn’t forever feel this way.

There is one particular image that stuck with me over the years. Not because it was what I had hoped for (although it was), but more because it is what happened.

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Ethan and I came back from our dream honeymoon a few days ago, and I’ve been in denial about it. The end of our vacation means the official finale of the holiday break, and in just a week, I will go back to school. I’ve got a new job and a freelancing gig, and I am already starting to worry about balancing them in addition to my classes (and, being the overachiever that I am, I decided to take an extra class this semester). Plus we are still working through the challenges of a major life change. Back in reality, thoughts on my short comings and not being enough are lining up to zap out any bliss I gained while sipping fruiting cocktails poolside in Costa Rica.

We were supposed to drive down to southern Illinois today to pick up our dog, who has been with Ethan’s parents in Tennessee for the last three weeks, but those plans have been derailed because of snow. And, since I don’t go back to work until tomorrow, I was given an extra day to catch up on errands, work on the freelance stuff, do all the tidying projects around the house that I promised myself I would do over the winter break.

Instead, though, Ethan and I slept in, which is a huge treat since my new bakery job comes with a 5 a.m. wakeup time, and even on my days off, Annie starts making noises around 6:30 demanding to be fed. Not on this gloomy Saturday. We laid in bed snuggling and reading, before I got up to make us pancakes and coffee, which we brought back from Costa Rica.

And, as the quote says, everything was alright. For a few hours, I forgot about my to-do lists, what I should be doing, where our bank accounts is, how many pounds I gained on vacation, if I will ever get published, if I am doing enough for the world, if I am doing enough creatively, if I am being a good friend, and all the other worries that keep me up at night.

Sitting there, eating pancakes and drinking coffee with my newish husband as the snow came down, I remembered that this is the life I had dreamt about years ago, and it doesn’t seem to right squander it away with worries that it could be better. What’s the point of wishing and hoping for things if you won’t enjoy them when they arrive? Yes, I wish our circumstances were a bit different, and my days weren’t so full, but there is so much good still pulsing through our lives.

With a new year upon us, I’m making the intention to find more good in the present rather than going hunting for what is missing or how it doesn’t compare to what other’s may have. I realized that I need more joy in my life, and the only way to get it is by recognizing what is already there.

So, I sip my coffee, watch the snow come down, write, and be so thankful that what I had long wanted is now mine, giving me reassurance that I all is, and will be, OK.

 

Just a Job

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When I was evacuated from my first Peace Corps service, in Niger, I went home to live with my parents for a few months, where I planned to get my bearings straight and decide what to do next. I figured I would get a low-stress, no-stakes job, so once I passed the initial devastation of my service ending, I started looking around for gigs. I went to the local ice cream shop, a bar, a couple of retail stores. No one wanted to hire me, probably because I didn’t have much experience in those industries. The place that did want to hire me, though, was the local newspaper, and so I took the job and immediately became one of the more veteran reporters on staff. A few months later, the Missouri River Flood of 2011 happened, and while I won an award and produced clips that I used to get jobs a few years later (after a second Peace Corps service), it was not the stress-less job I had hoped to have.

I’ve been very fortunate that I haven’t had to work many service, minimum wage jobs in my lifetime. My first real job, outside of babysitting, was lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons, which I did all throughout high school. In college, I interned and freelanced for newspapers and made most of my beer and rent money working in the marketing department of a scoreboard company. Outside of short stints at Blockbuster and a pizzeria housed in a gas station, I have always held jobs that were linked to my field of choice. I never folded clothes at a Gap, made a latte, or waited tables. I am lucky, I know.

When I made the choice to quit my job to go to school it was with the idea that I would probably get some part-time work down the road. With my grad assistantship to cover my tuition, loan money to cover my rent and extra school fees, a willing husband to cover more costs, and a fairly decent savings, I didn’t need a job right away but that didn’t stop me from obsessing over our bank account and feeling guilty for not contributing more to the household expenses.

Initially, I thought that this would be through freelance work. I could do some writing, editing, and marketing work on the side, creating my own hours and bringing in a bit of cash. When I left my job, though, I didn’t want to start putting out the feelers right away because I needed a break. Plus, I wanted to adjust to my new life as a student. I did apply for a few positions from postings online, but I knew that the best way to get work was reaching out to connections. Part of me put off looking for this kind of work because school hadn’t quite ramped up and I didn’t know what kind of time I could commit to a side gig, but also because I wasn’t ready to dive back into that work just yet. And because writing those “Hey, I am looking for work” emails isn’t the best way to spend an afternoon.

Then, one day, while returning home from the gym where I just swam tens of laps to get rid of my anxieties about money, I decided to stop in at a health foods market in my neighborhood. The market is attached to a restaurant and cafe that has been in the neighborhood for 40-some years and is known for its vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. The store’s items include produce from an organic farm in Michigan, sustainable coffee, vegetable versions of chips, and natural beauty and cleaning products. I had been in there a few times to browse their vegan section, and while I couldn’t afford much, it was the type of store I often dreamed about shopping at exclusively. Locally owned. All organic. Kombucha on tap.

I’ve often been scared to go up to a business and ask if they are hiring, as if I am the first person to ever think of such an idea, because of the possibility of instant rejection. On this day, though, I would risk that fear because the worry over money was greater, so I walked up right to the counter and asked if they were hiring.

The woman wasn’t sure. Maybe, she said. I told her I wasn’t looking for many hours, just one or two shifts a week. I didn’t know if this would hurt or help my chances, but it was actually the answer she was looking for. They could use a filler here and there, and even better that I was willing to work weekends, almost exclusively. I didn’t flinch saying ‘no’ when she asked if I had retail experience, but she gave me an application to fill out. I returned it later that day and was hired the following week at Heartland Café.

Generally speaking, the job is easy. Checking the produce, make inventory notes, answering the phone, and taking to-go orders. It can get stressful on a Sunday morning when I have several online orders that need to be sent to the kitchen and a line full of customers waiting to be checked out, but other than that it is low-stakes. Whatever fire ignites is easily put out in a few minutes. I was overwhelmed at first, not knowing how busy a kitchen can get and terrified to ask the chefs to make special accommodations on orders, but then I found my groove and identified my little role in this business.

Some have said that the worst part of jobs like these are the people. Rude customers, unlikeable characters, strays from the neighborhood. And, it’s this unknown of who is going to come in the door that has kept me from jobs like this in the past, but it’s actually the people that are my favorite part. I love the regulars who come in for the same thing each Sunday or whose order I can predict before their open their mouth. I love helping people find something that they can’t get at other stores. I even like the uncomfortable situations, where someone comments about how high the prices are or how the business has gone down in recent years, because it’s great training for a counselor who will be in all kinds of awkward scenarios.

What’s best about this job, though, is that it is just a job. I don’t have to think too much, except when counting the cash, and it gets me out of my own head for a few hours. I work just a shift or two a week making minimum wage, but even that is enough to soothe some of my money worries. Plus, I’ve always loved grocery stores and it’s an easy two-block commute from my house.

And, it’s low stakes. I don’t have to be here forever. I don’t have to work my way up. I don’t have to prove to everyone that I am good at what I do. I can just show up, do my job, and then go home. The key, for me, is to keep out the stress. In my last position, I spent so much time worry about where I was in the organization and what others thought of me (they often were not thinking about me) that it diluted my experience. Much of the time, I was more stressed than I needed to be. In fact, when I left, one piece of advice someone gave me was to just relax. This market job is a way of reclaiming my passion and my energy. I want to succeed and do well at school, but work is actually a break from that. It’s just a job, and at this moment in my life, it’s exactly what I need.

Just when I started to really enjoy this just-a-job job, I lost it (after I had written 1,300 words about it). The Heartland announced that it was closing because the building had been bought (by developers, cue the eye roll). Both the restaurant and café will close tomorrow evening, December 31, without a new home, although the owner hopes to be in a new Rogers Park location by the spring, but nothing is confirmed.

At first, losing my job was a kick in the teeth after some already unfortunate events Ethan and I were handling. Second, I am losing my strongest connection to the neighborhood. But most of all, the neighborhood is losing, as many customers have told me, an institution. Over the last few weeks, people have poured into the store, telling me how they started coming there three years ago, 15 years ago, 35 years ago, when they first moved to the area. It was their first home, they tell me. They are sad for me, but mostly for their neighborhood.

It’s very interesting to be at a store as it approaches its end. Some people are sad, saying they love this place, but admit they haven’t been there in years. Other people are very pumped about the discount on market products and buy baskets full of stuff when they wouldn’t have bought anything if there wasn’t a sale. It reminds me of a radio piece I heard several years ago, about the 2008 recession, and how some customers were upset that either something was discounted further or they no longer had what the shopper wanted. Most people are generally upset about the Heartland closing, but there are some who just want a good deal. It makes me sad.

For a while, I wasn’t sure what I would do. Maybe I would actually try freelancing this time, because we do need the extra income, or I could get another part-time job. Either way, I told myself that I wouldn’t bother with that until after Heartland closed. Till then, I would work my shifts and say goodbye properly.

One thing that is nice about working at a locally-owned business is that other locally-owned businesses want to hire those employees. A few places reached out to the owner about some opportunities and he passed them on to those who were interested, myself included. Before Heartland closed its doors tomorrow (I’m working the morning shift that day), I’ve already worked two days at my new job. It’s at a bakery, not too far away, and so far it’s as cute and as quaint as you would think baking at a bakery would be.

I will miss Heartland, but it was my threshold to just-a-job jobs. I needed that foundation of doing something unfamiliar yet low stakes to help me through school. Getting through my master’s is my main focus right now, but these jobs shows me sides of myself that have yet been cultivated. Now I know I can have just a job and be perfectly content.

 

Holiday Magic

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One of the things that I love most about the holiday season is that it comes with a strong connection to what was and what will be. Time slows down just a tad and we’re able to soak up all the magic that comes with the season. From family traditions passed from generation to generation to classic Christmas carols sung by musicians long gone, the holidays allow us to step into a different world for a few weeks. We eat more than normal, we spend a little extra, we smile more. We remember what it’s like to be a kid, and we believe in the impossible.

But, life does not stop in December, not with trees and menorahs, not with anything, and our hardships are even accentuated among the festivities. What can’t be afforded, who is no longer with us, the stability of last year, the “if only” slamming against what is. As the author Brené Brown wrote: “The gremlins don’t go on vacation. Checks bounce, chemotherapy appointments are scheduled, interventions are planned, relationships keep unravelling, being alone feels even lonelier, parents negotiate who will have the kids on Christmas morning, and the ‘never enoughs’ are in full swing.

Each fall, my eyes turn toward creating the best ever holiday. With baked treats, buffalo plaid, and several strands of white lights, I hope to conjure not just the Christmases of my past but also the ones in my dreams, and this year was no exception. A few weeks before Thanksgiving, life threw a curve ball at my husband and I, and our worst fears became reality. Our lives were paused and our plans pushed back. I was bitter and angry, like my throw-my-fists-into-my-mattress angry. Why us, I pleaded with God while filled with tears and rage. The uncertainty of what was next not only occupied most of my thoughts, it made me physically sick. This path of hardship will end at some point, but it’s quite unclear as to when and what other trials we may endure before we get there.

Not only did life give as an unfair set of circumstances, but the timing right before the holidays felt especially cruel. They are happy holidays, and sad ones, and the holidays joined an increasingly growing list of things we could no longer enjoy. Everywhere I turned I was reminded that our Christmas will not only not be the Christmas I had hoped for, but it would be more depleted others in recent years. No holiday cards, fewer presents, and less holiday magic. Maybe none at all.

That Brené Brown quote continues on: I will find my holiday magic in the mess. I will practice love and gratitude with the special group of folks who keep showing up and loving me, not despite my vulnerabilities, but because of them.” The thing about the magic of the holidays, though, is that it is present for all of us, no matter what struggles we are enduring. We just have to be willing to receive it.

I realized that the only way that I could continue on each day without being full of rage and tears is to stop focusing on the darkness and find the light with gratitude. Each day, I made myself write down five wonderful things that happened that day, and overtime I started to notice that while the list of what we don’t have is long, the one with what we do have is longer.

This is not the holiday I had envisioned, but it is our first as a married couple. I spent many Christmases wondering if I would always be alone, and now I have this wonderful man who grabs me by the shoulders, tells me that he doesn’t know how but it will all be OK, and then kisses me on the forehead. It’s all the reassurance I need. Also, we have incredible families who have promised they will not let us fall and wonderful friends who have made us feel loved and supported, even if they might not know what’s going on. Then there is school and finally doing something that I love, and running is finally back in my life to soothe my ailing heart. We are healthy, our basic needs are met, and there is so much love bundling us.

We are enduring a tough time, that’s for sure, but I do recognize that we are not alone. Many, many people I know also are not having the Christmases they wanted—with loved ones past, medical diagnosis threatening what they know, and deep pain from other struggles—and yet they still have much to celebrate. So do I, and while I refused to see it at first, I do now. I am very loved, blessed, and lucky right now.

Just a few days before Christmas, and I feel that magic. It captured me after all, and I know that I have absolutely everything I need right now. While I hope the new year brings new beginnings, I hold on to the beauty our trials have revealed, because it is all more than enough.

Wherever you are, whatever you are dealing with, I hope you can find your magic. A merry and bright holidays to you all.

 

December 13, 2018

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December 13, 2017, was another day at the office. Not a particularly bad day, but also not a good one. I didn’t have many good days anymore, just slow, uninspired days, sometimes with bright spots. For weeks, the dread of going to a job that was unfulfilling flattened me. I felt it every morning as I quickly scanned my emails, before I was even dressed, to anticipate what fires may erupt when I got to the office, and every Sunday when I wondered if everyone else felt so stuck in their careers. And, I felt it in this moment, sitting at my desk, between morning meetings and sending out holiday-themed pitches.

I opened up the journal that I take almost everywhere with me. I hoped that a few minutes of writing could snap me out of my fog so I could focus on finishing my tasks. When the pen reached the paper, I did not exactly what words it would produce but the pen moved quickly.

I promise, my scratchy writing read, that by December 13, 2018, I will no longer be in this job.

It’s not like me to make such bold predictions, and on the surface it seemed foolish, but deep down I wanted it to be true. I maybe even believed that it could be. I didn’t know how or why or where, but I had the ambition to start searching for those answers, and I guess that was enough.

Well, it’s December 13, 2018, and I am not sitting in an office that is too cold responding to work emails. Rather, I am on my couch, with my dog at my feet, and enjoying the site of my small Christmas tree. Not a terrible place to be at 10 a.m. on a weekday morning.

One year ago, I didn’t have a specific plan to apply for schools, but the desire to become a therapist had been brewing for about 10 years. That little note was a permission slip to take a chance on a dream and myself, to make big sweeping changes for a shot at being happy. Over the next few months, I began doing little tasks that lead me to where I am now, a graduate student in clinical mental health counseling.

My first semester of graduate school was, simply, wonderful, and life as a student comes with some nice perks, like a six-week holiday break. My classes pushed me to levels of uncomfortable that are necessary for professional and personal growth, and I started to my swim in an identity outside of the one as a communications professional. Many times, specifically when I was practicing my counseling skills, I felt a deep reassurance that I made the right decision, that I was going to be a good counselor someday.

However, leaving my job has not come without repercussions. We’ve endured some setbacks this fall that did make me think for a second that this dream chasing was foolish, that maybe I should return to the 9-5 with stable paychecks and benefits. I could suffer through a job I didn’t like if it meant that I didn’t have to worry as much.

Except, I couldn’t. I worried a lot back then too, so not do what I want and just try to keep the worrying at bay? I tried that, and a year ago I vowed to never let myself get that stuck again. Even though I love being a graduate student and working towards becoming a therapist, things are not perfect, but they never will be. Instead, I have to focus on all the good that I have, and when I look back at where I was last year, I feel so grateful. I took a risk on myself, and it was worth it.

A new year is coming, what permission slip will you write for yourself?

A Year in My Body – A Year Later

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I started writing “A Year in My Body”* about a year ago while sitting on my couch, my leg locked into a machine that moved it back and forth. My body and I have been through a lot together, from throwing up meals on abandoned street corners to running for seven hours in the African foothills. However, it seemed like that one year, from my 32nd birthday to my 33rd, held some of its greatest ups and downs, so I wrote down those moments, being as brutally honest as I could in hopes someone else could relate.

Following the final posting, I had hoped to write a long, nuanced blog about what has happened in the last year, but, to be honest, I don’t really have the time for that. Between school, my graduate assistantship, and the part-time job I picked up, time dedicated to writing has diminished. Even so, I wanted to give you a quick wrap up as to what has happened in the last year during my recovery and finding a new normal in my body.

So, from my 33rd to my 34th birthday, here is “A Year in My Body: The Condensed Version”:

  • I was on crutches and in a body brace for a month. In that time, I worked mostly from home, and spent most of the time on the couch. Ethan was unemployed at this time, and although we had just got engaged, it was a really low moment for both of us.
  • In December, I went wedding dress shopping. I could have lost 20 pounds, and still not had the body I wanted for this activity. Going into that weekend, I knew that the hate I had for my body would likely try to dampen the experience, which I didn’t want to happen mostly for my mother. Buying her daughter a wedding dress is something my mom has waited decades for, so I tried to put behind any feelings of grotesque I held toward my body as not to ruin this for her. In the end, it was a great weekend and we found a dress that complimented my body type well.
  • At the beginning of the new year, I bought a fancy gym membership and went four to five days a week. The goal was to shape my arms and whittle my thighs through strength exercising. I was biking and using the elliptical, with the blessings of both my surgeon and physical therapist. I even got the green light for a few minutes of running and yoga.
  • My hip pain disappeared for a week, but then came back with fire. It could have been the running, or a yoga class, or even an intense water aerobics class. Whatever it was, it set my recovery back two months. I had to start from the beginning.
  • The person I saw the most, outside of my husband and co-workers, was my physical therapist. I know about her dating life, she knows the details of my wedding. She is a wonderful therapist, and I like our chats, but I desperately wanted to stop seeing her. A few friends have small injuries that need PT attention; and I was jealous that their stints with the therapist are so short.
  • I did not run on my wedding day. It’s May, It always seemed natural to me that before I slipped into my white dress, I would put on my running shoes and take one last jaunt as a single woman. But, because the hip pain was persistent, that could not happen. I cried for days. In losing running, I’ve lost a friend.
  • My friends took me to a psychic for my bachelorette party. Before she gave me the reading, she asked me to think of things I must know. I had three questions: 1) Am I marrying the right man? 2) Should I quit my job and go to graduate school? 3) Will I ever run again? Yes, yes, and no. She told me I am done with running and I should focus on water sports.
  • To tame the pain, my PT used dry needling. In front of the other clients doing exercises and waiting their turn on the table, she stabbed me with small needles, repeatedly. She said this releases the muscle and tissue tension. It hurt, and I made faces of pain, but it worked. My hip pain lessened with each session.
  • Swimming is not running. I know that I was a swimmer before I was a runner, but it is the not the same. The basement pool at my fancy gym is nice, but lonely. I do not have the same feelings of strength and belonging in the pool that I do while running. I did a few swims, but I can’t commit to it. Then, one day at the gym, I learn that there is a rooftop pool that is open for lap swim. Maybe I will try that.
  • I woke up wanting to swim. I sometimes can’t sleep because I am so excited to get back into the pool. In the early mornings, I took a bus from my house to the gym so I can swim in the rooftop pool. Something about being outdoors in that tiny pool reminded me of summers at the Pierre City Pool when I first fell in love with swimming. I love the way the light hits the water, the site of my stroke as I turn to breathe, how my body still knowns how to do a flip turn after all these years. I feel strong in the water. I feel like I belong.
  • Two weeks before my wedding, I cut out carbs, sweets, alcohol—basically everything but vegetables. I lost eight pounds, reaching a weight I haven’t seen high school. It is a crash diet, and I regained all of those eight pounds after the wedding, but I did not care. I just needed to look a bit thinner for my wedding day. Not too thin that I get sad each time I look at my wedding photos, but just thin enough. My wedding day came, and it was OK that I didn’t run. I spent the morning drinking coffee and chatting with my friends. And, when I put on my dress, I felt stunning.
  • I moved my swims to Lake Michigan. On Saturday mornings, when I would have been doing long rungs, I did long swims. I entered the lake at the beach near my house, in Rogers Park, and then swim until I see Loyola University. It’s a mile and half, maybe two. Maybe it’s dangerous to be out there alone, but I love it. Me and the water, spending time together under the sun.
  • In August, just as I was running out of appointments that my insurance will cover, I have my last with my PT. She gave me the clear to start running again.
  • It’s been a year since my surgery, and I wanted to acknowledge this day, I am running again and feeling good, so I decided to run eight miles to celebrate how far I’ve come. The last time I did that was in February 2017, and it was after that run that I understood someone was really wrong with my hip and made the appointment to see my doctor. So, on a Saturday morning, I set out on eight miles. At one point, I consider 10, but decide against it. I no longer do things just to see if I can. I have to listen to my body if I want to make sure running stays around. By mile six, I was happy with the eight, because while my hip feels great, my fitness is lacking. I can run the miles, but not fast. I finished tired, but there was no hip pain.
  • On the morning of my 34th birthday, I was a bit sad with feelings of insecurity around my relationships. To shake it off, I went for a run. Four lovely fall miles. My mood brightened; running can still lift my soul from the depths of anxiety. Thinking back to last year, spending most of my birthday in pain, it’s already a better birthday. I have a new husband, a good family, close friends, a new career path. And, I have running again.

 

*Read the first, second, third & fourth, and fifth installments.  

A Year in My Body: Part Five

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This two-piece essay is from a five-part series about the emotions, challenges, and events surrounding my body, from my 32nd birthday to my 33rd. Read the first, second, and third & fourth pieces in the links. 

Fall

My surgery is in a few weeks and I am trying to run as much as I can before I am forced to take a break for several months. I recently adopted a puppy, Annie, and she and I run up and down a stretch of four blocks near my house. I have never liked running with someone else before, but Annie is not judging my pace. She cares only about the array of smells around her. She couldn’t care less that I am there, and that’s why she is my favorite running partner.

These are not real runs, rather slight jobs with my dog up and down our streets. No, I lost running this year. In the year that I should be running for a marathon, my body has decided to quit on me. Entire Saturday mornings spent on Chicago’s Lake Shore Path are gone. So are the dreams of running another ultra marathon in the Pacific Northwest and maybe one day qualifying for the Boston Marathon. For years, I pushed my body to go further, to be smaller, to be better. I was never the fastest or thinnest runner, but I was the one who could run for seven hours without walking or stopping. I was the one who ran the races others couldn’t and wouldn’t. It was my edge over other people, what made me special, and now my body has taken that from me. It’s broken, aging, and sad.

My body also stole from me the only thing that made me feel beautiful. Even though I often treated running as a punishment for eating too much pizza the night before, running never made lose a great deal of weight. Rather, it made me strong and resilient. When I hit my stride and my legs were moving faster than the rest of me could keep up, I felt bolder and more courageous than any kind of mantra, yoga, or religion. Running was my spiritual practice.

Now, I don’t have it. I feel ugly, empty, and scared that I might never get it my back. My body has failed me.

I’m nervous about my surgery. I have never been under anesthesia before. I have been blacked out from drinking, but I doubt it is the same, and for some reason, this feels scarier. I am nervous that I will gain weight from lounging around the house and eating whatever I want. I am annoyed that from now on, when at the doctor’s appointment, I will no longer be able to speed past the medical history section. I worry that I am taking too much time off of work for the procedure but also not enough. My worst fear, though, is that I will have to ask for help. I will not be able to shower or put shoes on my own. I will need someone to bring me food and water. I will be forced to ask friends to come over to my house to socialize instead of meeting them where they are. I will be an inconvenience to people.

Two weeks before my surgery, my boyfriend of two years purposes. He takes me to  dinner then we walk along the beach, stopping at a bench. He tells me he wants to go on adventures forever, and then grabs my hand. Crying, I say yes. He then takes me for ice cream where a bunch of my friends from Chicago are waiting. I will order as much ice cream as I want, thinking to myself that this is the perfect night to indulge. I get a free pass for the extra scoop of double chocolate, everyone will say..

My friends snap a few photos of the evening. My face looks happy, but I am distracted by the girth of my waistline. No matter how loose my jeans feel or how small my profile looks in a slanted mirror, pictures always bring me to reality. I am definitely not thin, and it’s foolish to ever think I was. Losing weight before the wedding is a fresh worry planted into my head.

The following week, I attend yet another wedding of one of my friends Peace Corps. During two years as a volunteer, I wasted journal pages with emotional dribble about being the fattest in my group and grand schemes to get thin. Each time I met with my Peace Corps group, I waited for people to tell me how thin I had gotten in the last few months, for them to recognize that I was really a thick girl hiding under pounds of stress and discomfort in being an unfamiliar place. That was four years ago, and I have lost some weight since then, but not enough for pride. I had a specific weight number in mind that I wanted to be at that for this wedding, for no other reason that I didn’t want to be the fattest one again. I have not hit that number.

At the wedding, a couple of people do compliment my looks, saying I look great. “Oh, I am probably just losing muscle mass from not running.”

I drink before a full year of sobriety is up. Knowing that I would be heavily medicated with serious opioids when my birthday comes around, I flirt with the idea of ending my year-long sobriety at the wedding.

The wedding weekend kicks off with a welcome party at a brewery. My boyfriend and I show up late because of a delayed flight, so by the time we got there, I am so excited to catch up with my friends that I end up not ordering a drink. I wasn’t sure if I was going to (I decided to make a game-time decision), but seeing my friends seems more important than the drink.

The next day, though, when I am offered a glass of prosecco, I take it. I have another glass of wine at the wedding and then three beers. Five drinks in all.

Drinking again is underwhelming. I don’t feel changed at all after a year of sobriety. I feel guilty, sure, but mostly because I worry what others may think of me since I didn’t technically make it to the full year. Also, there is less joy in drinking than I remember, but I didn’t go as hard as I usually would under those circumstances. I guess there lies in the change.

What does one wear to surgery? I bring sweatpants specifically for the procedure and then I debate about which t-shirt to pair with them. Part of me wants to wear a race shirt from one of the marathons that I’ve run, to prove to the nurses that there is something special about me. But, most of those shirts are tighter than I probably need for surgery, so I select an old swimming shirt. When the nurses and doctor assistants ask how I tore my labral, I say running but immediately regret it. I don’t feel like a real runner who does so many miles she tore a tissue in her hip.

The nurse sticks an IV in me, and I tell the doctor that my pain is at 2, when it’s really a 5. My hand hurts with the IV, and I can’t stop thinking about how this is only the beginning of several painful months.

Eventually, I am wheeled into the operating room and the doctor’s assistant, the nurse, and the anesthesiologist surround me like I am something they are dissecting, and I guess I am. The anesthesiologist puts a mask over my face and tells me to take in big deep breaths.

“Think of a warm paradise,” she says.

I think of an old tree that was near my village in Peace Corps. I’d pass it when I was walking to a nearby village for supplies or to collect my mail. I always dreamt of sitting under that tree and reading a book or watching the clouds, but I never did. I never had time to acknowledge its beauty, or rather, I never took the time.

The next thing I remember is the nurse bringing me back to consciousness. I asked her about her ring and then I tell her that I am recently engaged. I am disappointed in her lack of reaction. She brings my body back to the real world, first by feeding it crackers and lemon tea, then by dressing me and finally putting me on crutches.

At home, for the next few days, I move from the couch to the bed. I strap an ice machine to my body to prevent blood clots. I put my foot into a machine that slowly moves my leg for four hours a day. I need my boyfriend to help me get up from every position. I am not strong enough to make myself a sandwich. I lay in my bed, getting more sleep than I’ve had in months.

Three days after my surgery, I watch coverage of the Chicago Marathon from my couch. There is less emotional pain than I thought there would be. I am not sad. My hip feels OK at this point, and after 11 months of pain, I start to think about what pain-free running would be like. Maybe I will run again. Maybe not marathons, but other races. Maybe my body and I can find that love we had for each other in physical movement again. Maybe I can remember running as something I did for my heart and not my waistline. That’s what I want more than anything.

It’s my 33rd birthday, and my goal for the day is to leave the house for the first time since the surgery to get a hot meal and ice cream. But, instead, I spend most of the day on the toilet. A rough bout of constipation leaves me in a weird limbo. I go to the toilet hoping for movement, and after an hour, move back to the bed where I sit in a fetal position. This lasts seven hours. I am nauseous and in pain.

In the next year, I will worry about my weight and the flubber of my arms as I prepare to walk down the aisle. I will try to return to running and yoga, but with persistent hip pain. There will not be a marathon, or even much running for me, in this year. Rather, my body and I will need to come up with a new agreement. I will push it and it will respond with pain. I will decide the only way to enjoy my body is to love it, and that takes way more acceptance of and kindness towards my body that I know how to give.

At the end of the day, my body no longer aches. The pills worked their way through my system and all the waste has exited. I pick at the sushi my boyfriend brought home for me, but a few hours later, I devour it. I crumble into bed like a soft cheese. My mother and boyfriend prepare me for sleep by strapping on an ice machine that inflates with a cooling water to my back. They then force both of my feet into styrofoam boots that are then fastened to a large cylinder with strips of velcro, all of this to keep me from turning on my side. I’m exhausted, mostly from trying to do normal things people do with their bodies every day. I fall asleep easily.

I am 33 today.

A Year In My Body: Parts 3 & 4

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This two-piece essay is from a five-part series about the emotions, challenges, and events surrounding my body, from my 32nd birthday to my 33rd. Read the first and second pieces in links. 

Spring

The sports medicine doctor, who was referred to me by my primary care physician, is very careful not to leap to any conclusions about my mystery hip pain. She is cognizant of costly medical exams and procedures and decides on a conservative approach. “Let’s start with physical therapy,” she said. “Three to four weeks, and if the hip pain doesn’t improve, then we’ll try an MRI.” She tells me my hips are weak, and I silently argue that I ran a 35-mile race with these weak hips, but I don’t say anything because at this moment I can’t run more than three.

I hate physical therapy. It’s a place for bodies that are aging and broken. Mine is neither. My body needs a real workout, one that will shed fat and tone muscle. These simple kindergarten exercises are not cutting it. It’s a waste of time, and I can’t run until my doctor and physical therapist approve, so I bike and swim and do yoga, but my heart aches to run again. Other types of exercise don’t give me the same freeing feeling, nor are they doing anything to help me shed those seven pounds. My weight hasn’t budged in the first few months of the year, and I tug at my leggings during PT to hide a slight bubble of flesh over the waistline. I go to PT and do the exercises, believing that my hip will be OK to start training for the marathon soon enough.

After a few weeks, my pain has waned and I am allowed to start a slow return-to-running program. Other times, I ignore these instructions and run too much too fast, but, the want to make it the marathon finish line is so strong, that I move forward with caution. Three minutes of running, one walking. I do this routine up and down the city blocks, staying away from my old running path until I am record more than two miles. Participating in the Chicago Marathon is still not out of the question. I may not reach the time goal I set when I registered for the race, but I am running again and my hip feels OK. My pace in those three minutes picks up slightly as I envision moving past crowds two or three people deep through The Loop and Lakeview. I make plans to motivate myself through mile 18. I envision myself crossing the finish, knowing I beat whatever this is.

Suddenly, one day, the hip pain returns like it never left. There is no sign of improvement after weeks of PT, rest, and precaution. It’s back, which means it’s time for the MRI.  

I own two copies of Geneen Roth’s “Women, Food and God”, but have not read the book until now. While I am commuting on the train to and from work, I try to hide the cover from other passengers. “That woman needs help,” they will likely say to themselves. It’s true, though, I do. I need help losing weight. I need help not turning to food in every crisis or celebration. I need help feeling like a normal person with a normal relationship to food.

Geneen suggests to eat with awareness, but it’s unclear how to do that. Who has the time for awareness? I eat while I am rushing to the train, at my desk, while scrolling through social media, sometimes over the sink because I am too lazy to get a plate.There is no room for awareness or the uneasy recognition that food is often the only way I can endure.  

Food is my greatest utility against shame, guilt, and self-deprivation. It’s really my only tool, with alcohol now removed from the roster. At dinner, when I would have ordered wine, I always get the side of fries over salad. I suggest ice cream to my boyfriend after particularly emotional couples’ therapy sessions. I go back for seconds and thirds of chips and dip at a party because my anxiety is pulsing through my veins and I need to keep my hands busy. I will consume every last morsel that I ache for because I am sober and I have no other relief. I deserve it.

At eight years old, I was called fat for the first time. I remember that moment vividly the way other women remember their first kiss. I remember who I was with, what I was wearing, the shame I felt.

It happened at dance class, while we were gathered in one corner of the studio to change from our ballet slippers into our tap shoes. Another girl in the class sat down next to me and asked if I had a pillow under my leotard, indicating that my stomach was not shaped like the other girls. It was the first time I understood that my body was different, and not in a good way.

A couple weeks later, in catechism class, another girl asked why I was so fat.

For the next 24 years, my body and I will not get along. It is the barrier between the life I have and the one I want. It will never be what I want it to be, and for that, I harbor a lifelong sadness.

“You see where there is an unevenness of the labral tissue?” my doctor says, pointing to an MRI image of my right hip. In the picture, my body was stripped down to white shapes and unfamiliar shadows. I do not know what she was talking about, but I nod yes anyway. “That’s a tear. You have a labral tear and hip impingement.”

She gives me two options. I could see a specialist to get a cortisone shot and hope that it, along with some core work, will be enough to keep the hip pain at bay and train for the marathon. Or, I could meet with a surgeon. Surgery is the only way to repair the tear.

Again, my doctor is careful not to input her opinion on what I should do, even though I desperately want it. I have had exactly one broken bone in my life—a left cheekbone that fractured when I fell out of a (slowly) moving vehicle. Even then, it healed on its own.

I discuss the matter thoroughly with my parents and boyfriend, and I opt to get the cortisone shot from the surgeon. It’s best to exhaust all paths, and hope one could still lead to the marathon finish line.

I take a break from sobriety during a 10-day jaunt to Europe that starts with my friend’s Italian wedding. This exception was built into vow of sobriety from the start, but I am not entirely sure if I will take it. Even after we land in Italy, I debate the pros and cons of staying off alcohol throughout the trip up until I am handed a glass of Prosecco at a pre-wedding social. I consume it with caution, then down two glasses of water before ordering another. I split two bottles of wine with others at dinner, and then drink a beer at a nautical-themed bar. My head is dizzy at the end of the evening, but I am not drunk. At the wedding, I reach a nice level of buzzed without tipping into inebriation. By the time we leave at 4 a.m., I am fine enough to drive (even though we walk home). This seems like a healthy way to drink, but I worry that people will think of less of me, that I won’t get the full effect of sobriety with a few days indulgence, and back in the U.S., I reclaim sober status.

At the end of the trip, I conclude that there is not much of a difference between drinking and not drinking, except the agony over not drinking.

 

Summer

My surgeon is the team physician for the Chicago Bulls, Chicago White Sox, and Chicago Fire, which I suppose adequately qualifies him to examine my silly torn labral. Our appointment is quick as he asks me to lay on my left side and raise my right leg. I was afraid that he would be pushy about surgery, but he is not. He tells me that an operation is an option, but only if I think that my pain is inhibiting my quality of life. Now I question if my discomfort is really that bad, of I could live with it for a few more years.

I express my interest in getting the cortisone shot, and he orders his assistant to start preparing me for the the injection. Before he rushes out the door and on to his next patient, I ask him the only thing I want to know.

“Do you think that the cortisone shot will allow me to run the marathon?”

“When is the marathon?”

“October.”

It hits me at this moment that the marathon is in four months, and I haven’t run more than 12 miles a week in the last six months.

“The cortisone shot is a quick fix,” he said, using his arms behind him to prop his body against the desk. “I do not think that the pain relief will last that long. If you were running the race in a few weeks, I’d say, ‘yeah, let’s get you to the finish.’ But if the race isn’t for a few months, you have a lot of training time in there and the cortisone isn’t meant to last that long.”

The doctor’s PA leads me to the x-ray room where they take pictures of my hip and stick a long need into my bone. Pain sears through my body, and I can barely walk for the rest of the day.

Three weeks later, when I see the surgeon again for a follow up, I schedule a hip arthroscopy surgery for four days before the marathon.

I will not be at the finish line this year.

Two of my friends from when I was a Peace Corps volunteer get married at a summer home in northern Michigan with unlimited dancing and booze. I, of course, don’t drink, although I am tempted when we first arrive to the ceremony and see everyone else grab dewy cans of beer from a canoe. I debate making a second exception for this wedding, but shame rights me back onto the alcohol-free path.

A few of my friends ask me about being sober and say things like, “Good for you, I could never do that,” and “That’s so incredible of you.” They are being polite, I know, but I feel foolish. I fear that they take my decision to stop drinking as smug. People often think that your own personal decisions are a judgement of theirs, like how meat eaters feel personally assaulted when you say that you are vegetarian (which I have am). Some of my friends have wondered if my decision to be sober reflects their own drinking habits. “I don’t think you drank too much,” they tell me. “You drank as much as I do.” I don’t like talking about my sobriety, mostly because I don’t know how to do so eloquently. I tell stories about my wilder drinking days—going to the bar five nights a week in college or drinking four quarts of beer in one sitting while a Peace Corps volunteer—to show my painted past with the bottle. I also feel it necessary to say how hard it is, and it is, but it is not a prolonged difficulty.

At the wedding, the urge to drink throbs for 20 minutes, and then it slows to a soft murmur that I ignore without difficulty. Throughout the evening, the other guests get progressively drunker while I stay the same. My Peace Corps friends are probably my greatest drinking buddies, and we have dozens upon dozens of drunken stories. They all know how smashed I can get and even named my drunken persona; Sherry, they call her. They miss Sherry, they tell me, as they twirl and stomp into the night, their eyes drooping and speech slurring. Many a time during Peace Corps, I was the drunkest, but tonight I am the sober one. I like my new-found role. It feels like I have stepped out of some restricting shell of my former self and into one less defined. Even though I do not have alcohol’s loosening powers, I feel more myself without a drink than with five.

After the wedding, I make a plan to go on a 30-day vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free diet. The idea is hemorrhaged from leftover thoughts of Geneen Roth’s book, and I figure I could eat with awareness if I am limiting most of the crap that I typically scarf down. My weight has changed little since the winter (I stopped wearing the FitBit once my hip pain reduced my workout capabilities and the static numbers made me feel worse about myself), so a drastic diet will have to be what gets the number on the scale to budge. I am not pleased by these circumstances, but not doing this diet doesn’t occur to me.

I am obsessed with restrictive challenges, like one year of sobriety or giving up nearly all foods for 30 days.That’s how I became a vegetarian nine years ago, on a dare with myself that I couldn’t eat meat for a year. I’ve imposed this limits since I was a kid, telling myself I could only watch four hours of TV a week or eat ice cream stand just once a month. I often instate them as a quick fix for something, most often losing weight.

This extreme diet seems like something that women with inspiring fitness Instagram accounts practice all-year long, which is actually a selling point for me. These are the type of women that I aspire to be: toned arms from daily yoga, calm minds from constant meditation, and 5 a.m. wake up calls that involve macha green tea. I’ve done all these things at one time or another, but they are not habits. Maybe an intense detox can lead me to that righteous spiritual path. I will give up whatever I need to be someone better than I am.

My mornings start with green smoothies, and sometimes yoga or running, as much as my hip can handle. For lunch, a salad with a homemade tahini and lemon dressing with no cheese or croutons. I snack on carrots and almonds between meals, but my big treat of the night is a frozen concoction of banana, almond butter, almond milk, and coco powder. After a couple of days, when all the sugar is out of my system and my palette has forgotten what it tastes like, this blended treat is heavenly. In sugar-free clarity, I claim it’s better than ice cream.

Like any detox, the first days are difficult and I am tired and run down, but my body adjusts. By the second week, I start to feel strong and light, like several pounds of have already disappeared. I vow not to look at the scale during these 30 days, so as to save the big loss a surprise. My stomach looks less lumpy in the mirror and my skin firmer. This diet might be just the key.

However, that high vanishes after just a week. My sleep and energy levels, after a spike, return to normal levels and I feel unchanged. I still haven’t ditched food as a coping mechanism, so after long days, I try to binge on non-junk junk food. I can eat blue corn tortilla chips and homemade guac, and nearly every night I stand at my counter, too bothered to get proper eating utensils, and gobble handfuls of chips with inches of guac until whatever worry I have is tucked away.

While on this crazy diet, I read Roxane Gay’s remarkable memoir, “Hunger.” I understand that our bodies are different and that I am offered more advantages because mine is of normal size and white, but I do relate to her disgust of her body and the idea that no one will understand. Even though I do not know what it feels like to be in her body, I do know what it feels like to be in mine. My body is a trap, an unfortunate draw, one that I can live with but not happily. I wish I didn’t have to go on this incredibly-restrictive diets, but I do. That’s the kind of body I was given.

“This is what most girls are taught — that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space,” Gay writes. “We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to disappear, but it’s something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we can resist surrendering to what is expected of us.”

I want to be so small that I stand out and disappear at the same time.

Eating outside of my home is tricky. The world is not kind, nor short of judgement, when you are breaking from the Standard American Diet. We are bred to believe we should be thin, but also indulge on the fatty, salty, sugar foods of vices. “Enjoy life,” they say, while also judging the woman ordering curly fries instead of the salad. Over the course of the month, I have to decline invitations to ice cream, baked treats in the office, and pizza offerings. At brunch with friends, I ordered the most bland items on the menu: a spinach salad with berries and nuts, oatmeal with berries and nuts, or a fruit plate for $7.99.

Even though the benefits have waned in the final week, I still have high hopes that I have lost a good chunk of weight. But, I am nervous that it’s so many pounds that I will have to adopt this diet full time to stay slim. Again, there is not another option.

On the morning of Day 31, I weigh myself for the first time in a month. I take my time brushing my teeth and putting in my contacts. I have so much riding on this number that I want to take the process carefully. I step one foot on and then the other. Waiting for the number to calculate.

At first, I don’t believe it. Maybe something is wrong. But I blink hard. The number is the same.

144.2.

Thirty days of no sugar, dairy, alcohol and gluten and I lost just three pounds. Three fucking pounds.

The Price of Peace of Mind

El embarcadero

There are many reasons I am lucky to have my husband and his unending support while I am pursing my master’s degree, but one nice perk of marriage is shared health insurance. Obviously, I lost my health insurance when I quit my job, but because Ethan and I had recently gotten married, I could be added to his plan. This is a big blessing because my university does not offer health insurance for students not living on campus, and many of my classmates hold full-time jobs for the insurance.

Recently, Ethan’s company made a change to their plans, so all employees had to re-enroll. While there was one option for coverage, now there were two. (Side note, I can’t believe how expensive it is to add a spouse or a child. It’s like the health insurance industry doesn’t care about humans.) One had a higher premium and a lower deductible, while the other premium was $87 more a month with a deductible that was five times higher. Do we save money month to month and hope we don’t have any major medical expenses? Or, do we figure out how to deal without that extra money in our daily savings and not cringe every time a medical bill comes in the mail?

When I was signing up for health insurance at my last job, I also had the decision between two plans: one with a higher premium but covered more or lower premiums and higher out-of-pocket stuff. At the time, I was pretty healthy, but I really hated that feeling of going to the doctor and being more worried about how much it was going to cost compared to getting better. I went with the more expensive plan, and considering I needed major surgery a year later, it was a good choice.

We can’t predict the future. We may get pregnant in the next year, we may not. My other hip may give out, it may not. One of us may get in accident, we may not. We are still young and relatively healthy, but that doesn’t meant that could change in any moment. Money is tight for us, and a major medical bill could wipe us out. That wasn’t something I was willing to risk, so we decided to go with the higher premium, lower deductible plan. In the end, the premium wasn’t that much more expensive to have a deductible that was thousands of dollars lower.

It was a peace of mind purchase. Now, either one of us can go to the doctor without fear of it coming with a bill we can’t pay. To us, $87 a month was worth it.

I made another peace of mind decision this week and decided to take a second job. As I’ve written before, money is tight for us now that we are down to one income, and while we have a budget and a plan that’s working for us, it hasn’t stopped me from worrying about every purchase. The other day, I spent an extra $4 dollars at Walgreens and worried about it for hours. I love having dinner and drinks with my friends, but fret over how much we can afford to spend for days leading up to the event. I avoid using my credit cards by making my own coffee at home, always taking the CTA, and packing enough snacks to get me through the day. I don’t mind living frugally – it’s what I know – but it would be nice to have a bit of extra cash so that I can have dinner with friends or buy a needed item without the extra pressure.

One day, when I was having a standard panic attack about money, I stopped into a market near my house. It’s a cute healthy foods store, kind of like a co-op. They sell quinoa, essential oils, kombucha from the tab – even bottled pickle juice. I asked the woman at the counter if they were hiring, and she said they actually may need a person to do a shift or two a week, a filler. They called me for an interview this past Monday, and then offered me the job Wednesday. I start Saturday.

Immediately after I accepted the job, I was a bit panicked. Do I really have time for a second job (in addition to my graduate assistantship)? Shouldn’t I be focusing on finding some freelance work to keep my marketing and communication skills fresh? Was the standard retail pay worth the time and energy?

Yes, because it will reduce some of my stress about money. Oh, I will still worry, but the new job is an extra paycheck and that brings a bit of peace of mind. I also couldn’t ask for something more idea: two blocks from my house, nothing too taxing that will deplete my energy to do school work, and I finally get to work in health foods store like I’ve always wanted.

Sometimes we  make choices because of the peace of mind it will bring us. We see there may be extra challenges, but go that route anyway because, in the long run, we will feel better about whatever ails us. And, I think that’s a very vaild reason to make a decision. For me, my quality of life will increase because my financial pressures are just a bit lower, both with the new job and the better health insurance. And I value peace of mind, so I am willing to work a little bit harder for it.