Empty Nest – Sorta…

I don’t technically have an “empty nest” by definition.  All three of my daughters are still living at home though they live their own lives.  Two of them work a second shift full time job so I don’t see much of them and the youngest is going to the local college full time and working with an active social life so I don’t see her much either.  Which is how it should be.  This is what we parents train them for, going out and getting on with their own life.  What they don’t really tell you is how that is going to affect you.  When I say something about it to people who haven’t gone through it, they roll their eyes and say well you knew they were going to grow up or something equally as helpful.  I always think in the back of my mind, well, you will be here one day too and I will offer you the same grand advice and sympathy.  Okay, I’m a little vindictive at times, I’ll admit it.  

Recently it has become more acute for me because my middle daughter who worked with me went to the second shift job at the place where her older sister worked.  It was a great move for her, better pay and opportunity for her to advance.  As much as I was excited for her, I dreaded the fact that my “buddy” wouldn’t be around to keep me company because she’s more a homebody than I am.  So essentially it was rare I was alone in the house with all the different shifts and people coming and going.  Until now.  

Add in the fact my husband works a swing shift, I’m finding myself home alone much more frequently and not really sure of how I feel about it.  One moment I am ecstatic I can hog the tv, the couch and play my piano as loud as I want.  The next moment, I look around and think, this is weird.  Where is everyone?  For ten years of my life, I lived with seven people in my family.  You were never alone and you never were in the bathroom alone.  There were days I couldn’t wait for this day when I had the house to myself and could pee without an audience.  Now it’s here, I stand in the silence of this house and I am not really sure what to do with myself.  

What I’ve read about empty nest from experts and people that have been through it, we all feel somewhat the same.  I’ve been lucky because it’s been a lot more slow process than some of my friends where it has been very abrupt.  But much of the advice I read, falls short with me.  Volunteer.  Get a hobby.  Travel.  All good suggestions but I am finding myself wanting more purpose than that though volunteering is a great thing.  I often feel like the girl interrupted.  My life went in a completely different direction than I had hoped.  Almost hijacked by narcisstic husbands and poor choices on my part but it’s straighten out.  The chaos and craziness those relationships provided were like white noise that I did not have to face my own life and what I wanted to do.  If you are too busy surviving, then you don’t have time to think about your dreams and hopes or your life purpose.  

My oldest daughter is twenty-five and she is at a similiar cross roads.  She had hoped to get into grad school and further forgo having to choose a direction for her life.  As she said, much of her life has been orchestrated.  You go to school, graduate high school, go on to college and then get out and get a job.  She had taken a hiatus after my mom’s death Becuase we were all pretty shell shocked and needed time to heal.   A little like me, she is asking the question, what does she want to be when she grows up because the old things just doen’t seem right to her.  She is starting to look in directions and for paths she had never considered.    

However, she still has most of her life ahead of her.  She may marry and/ or raise a family.  I’ve done that part.  So check, family done.   I try to imagine myself back in high school when counselors, teachers and parents are asking me what I want to do after I graduate.  The biggest difference is I am established in life and when you become middle-aged, you start feeling that it is really important that you don’t fritter your life away.  But the problem with that line of thinking is that you forget to enjoy life because you are too worried about making a difference, reaching that goal because you feel like you only have so much time.  The flip side is you can become so concerned about making the wrong choice, you make no choice at all so you are stuck in limbo.  Which is where I think I am at times.  

When I was younger, early 20’s, I had a million ideas for businesses and actually had the balls to even go for a few of them. Now I come up with 100000 reasons why I shouldn’t do something.  In a way, youth has the upper hand here because ou are more likely to take risks, even if they are stupid.  The older you get, the more you learn and the more you think, I have to be crazy.  I could lose my house, investments, savings, cars and the like.  When you are just starting out, you have much less to lose usually.  On the other hand, if I don’t ever try or reach for my dreams, I will regret it on my death bed.  I feel much like I am frozen, paralyzed.  

At the end of last year, I wrote down several goals and have achieved several of them or am on the verge of achieving them.  Going back to school has given me a sense of purpose I did not have before and has also eaten up a lot of my free time.  Now I am less than two weeks away from finishing and I am thinking, okay, now what?  Having a goal and a purpose felt good.  I was doing something for myself, just as if I was much younger without a family.   This tells me that after graduation, it will be time to sit down and think up my next moves in life.  In a way, this is daunting and exciting at the same time.  Learning to spend more time alone is different but not a bad thing.  It is much like being single and living alone when you start out, something I didn’t really experience. 

Sure, my life is slowly changing and there are times I’m excited and other times I am sad or dread the change.  Just like anything in life, any real change, there is positive and negatives but middle-age isn’t the end of the world.  I will learn to adjust to this time, just as I learned to adjust to all the other times of my life.  Some easier and others harder, but I always come out just fine.

In some ways, “empty nest” is like being given a second chance to find your path in life, your new path.  

Why I Hate the Term Plus-Sized…

A recent article about how Amy Schumer tweeted against Glamour magazine’s “plus-sized” issue grabbed my attention this week. Amy isn’t “plus-sized”, she’s a size 6-8 which is probably larger than normal in Hollywood but her point was that what if young girls look at her photo and feel that she is plus-sized?  Then there is all the photo-shopping which people are talking about.  Or the April Fool’s joke that Aerie played using “normal” men in their ad which people thought was a serious ad campaign and so they (me included) were applauding the company until they found out it was only a joke.  Assholes.  Really, that was an asshole thing to do because it’s not just women who are struggling with their body image, men are under the gun as well thinking they need six-pack abs and look like Thor out of the Avenger movies.  Eh…

My first rant is something that I’ve noticed women are speaking out against. Why have a plus-size designation or label at all?  I hate when people say oh you’re plus-sized or even worse, the term BBW or big beautiful woman.  Why not just BW?  Beautiful woman.  At what point do I become “big”? Yes I’m larger than a size 6 but I’m smaller than a size 24.  I’m in the middle of the spectrum actually.  Maybe I should be ABW or average-sized beautiful woman.  I don’t mind the designation of “curvy” or “voluptuous” because this is more a shape than a size.  But curvy could be a size 6 or 24 again…  And who decides what is “plus-sized?”  If the average clothing size is a size 14 then the average woman is considered “plus-sized” and by whom?  I don’t get who makes any of these determinations.

One of my favorite places to shop is Old Navy for multiple reasons, the clothes are reasonable, they are usually more classically and simply styled (I’m not particularly trendy) and all the sizes are put together. At one time Old Navy did like many of the other stores (though a good majority of specialty clothing stores do not have sizes over 16) and had a plus-sized section hidden away in the back of the store as if you had to be ashamed to go in that area to shop.  But eventually their plus-size section disappeared and my sizes (because it depends on what I’m buying) are mixed in with, gasp, the 0-2’s.  God help this fat girl if she rubs elbows with the elusive tiny woman (yes, I am rolling my eyes as I write this).

My other beef with plus-sized sections of department stores and especially the stores who are considered more upscale is that they assume that “plus-sized” women want to wear nothing but the color black and having elastic waistbands along with gold lame that my even my grandmother wouldn’t wear. In other words, I do not have the fashion sense of an elderly woman (and thank god most ‘elderly’ women are rejecting this stereotype as well).  I do not want a pair of lavender polyester pants with an elastic waist with a matching blazer that looks like it was manufactured in the 1970’s.  Are you kidding me?  I ride the escalator down to the “normal” sizes and sigh as I pass the cute and fashionable clothing I am deemed too big to wear.  Then I feel pressure to lose weight so I can wear pretty clothes and not shop only at Lane Bryant (who also seems to fall into the black is the only color for fat category) where much of the clothing to me is overpriced and not very well-made.

So has the fashion and clothing industry not realized that they have missed a gold mine of manufacturing clothing in more sizes and just putting them all on the same racks? I would buy more clothes if I was offered better selections and not sequestered to a dark, dank, humid and overheated corner of the upscale department store. Certainly I would enjoy not being hidden away from the other shoppers because I am considered “plus-sized” and having the same choices that skinny women do.  It always feels like I am being punished because I’m bigger but I can bet considering my bone structure and muscle mass from all my athletic pursuits that my body fat percentage is less than some of those who are size 10-14.  Oh and BMI, you can stick that measurement too.  It doesn’t work for someone like me who has the thigh muscles the size of a male body builder after years of cycling.  I have turkey drumsticks for legs and I’m proud of them.  I can leg press 300 lbs on a good day.  I’d rather be strong than skinny and weak any day.  And by the way, my blood pressure is 110/74 and outside of a bit high on my bad cholesterol (due to hypothyroidism and genetics), all those blood tests come out smashingly.

Okay, since I’m on a roll, let’s talk Photoshopping. I’m happy to see people speaking out about these images that are clearly retouched until the person doesn’t look like who they are in person.  That magazines and ad campaigns are now featuring “real” people. I can remember being a teenager and looking at magazines like “Seventeen” and feeling like a complete and utter failure because my skin wasn’t porcelain, my thighs weren’t thin and my shoulders were broad.  My hair was never that perfect.  I walked around feeling like I had to be embarrassed for my very existence.  You have enough pressure at that age without adding perfection on every screen, page and billboard.  Why can’t we just be real?  What is wrong with that?  I don’t get it.

I remember being in my early 20’s, with a baby, watching Oprah Winfrey one day as I rocked my daughter to sleep for a nap. Jenny McCarthy was on the talk show and she held up a poster-sized picture of herself that had been dramatically retouched.  I remember sitting there on the couch with my mouth hanging open because I didn’t realize how much they could change a person in a photo.  She took a big black Sharpie marker and started circling everything in the full-body photo that had been re-touched.  I loved that she was so frank and honest about it because I never looked at magazines and advertisements the same again.  I no longer felt so inferior because I wasn’t perfect and according to McCarthy, neither was she.

We are slaves to these companies that want to sell us products and such to achieve perfection whether its cosmetics, diet products, clothing, cars, etc. The diet industry alone is in the billions of dollars per year.  Billions.  Think of what we could do if we took the money we spent on diet this and diet that and put it toward helping the homeless or people who are starving…

As I wrote in my last post about slipping back into the diet mentality, we make ourselves miserable trying to achieve something that we think we should be and not really focusing on what we want, what we really need and what really makes us happy. After over a week of eating exactly what I want, when I am hungry, I’ve lost 3 lbs.  Not that I’m keeping track or even care about weight anymore, I just felt different and was curious.  It’s amazing how much power diets and expectations are driven into us by media outlets and how they can make us unhappy and actually in my case, bigger because diets don’t work for me.  When I quit obsessing over what I eat, I really enjoy my food and I don’t eat as if I’m never going to see a meal again.

So, in conclusion, I’m glad to see the status quo being challenged when it comes to size and labels. I realize that this isn’t a major deal such as world hunger, but I don’t know why we have to be labeled at all.  I would love to go into a mall and walk into any clothing store and find my size and clothes I really want to wear without having to compromise.  I shouldn’t have to feel grateful because a few stores cater to “plus-sized”.  

I just want to be Laura, not plus-sized or BBW Laura.  I don’t want to be defined by my body size or my weight.   I want to be defined by who I am.  I want to wear the red dress!

Old Habits Die Hard…

Though I haven’t written about it for a long time, diets were something I gave up because they simply do not work, especially for me.  I’ve had different eating disorders off and on in my life, usually ‘mild’ cases of them but my biggest struggle was always emotional or compulsive overeating.  I got bored, I ate.   I got upset, I ate.  I got sad, I ate.  I was disappointed, I ate.  I got hurt, I ate.  You get the idea.  When I was in my mid 30’s, I was close to 300 pounds and completely miserable.  I hurt, I was out of breath walking across the room, I hated the way I looked.  My marriage at the time was horrible to put it lightly and I was fighting depression.  But then I finally got treatment for depression and the sun came out once again except I stil weighed almost 300 pounds.  

Dealing with my depression made me aware that I was using food for comfort and other reasons other than when I was just hungry.  I was in the bookstore one day looking through the self-help section when I found Geneen Roth’s book, Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating.  I went on to read all the titles of hers I could find and I follow her FaceBook page to this day reading her occasional posts.  I lost weight, and settled into a place where my body seems to be comfortable (though far from thin, I am fit to the point I baffle my family doctor). After years of ups/downs on the scale I was then diagnosed in 2009 with hypothyroidism.  People believe that once you start taking medication for hypothyroidism, the weight just falls off.  I have yet to meet a person that this has happened to without strict dieting and exercise.  So I just decided, screw it, I’m going to be happy the way I am, go out and ride 100’s of miles on my bike, hike, swim, jog or whatever makes me happy.  I thought I was good. I had a handle on all this.

Except a few years back Weight Watchers came to our employer and I got the bright idea to join it.  I am the one person who gained weight on WW.  Slowly but surely since that time, the dieting mentality has come back into my life.  Over the winter, I did not join a gym, my Wii fitness board broke, I found I hate riding my cycling rollers and I dislike doing anything other than yoga, walking/hiking outdoors when it isn’t frigid so essentially I quit moving.  Though I always gain a bit over the winter after the riding season, this winter it was a bit more than usual.  When I went for my yearly OB appointment, I stared at the red LED numbers on the scale in disbelief.  I had not weighed that much for years.  I can’t even blame it on riding and adding more muscle weight.  I look like the Pillsbury dough girl around the middle.  When I went to my family doctor a few days later, the number was confirmed, sadly.   

So I broke out my food journal app and started to track what I ate.  Another dieting mentality come back to life.  Then I did my 6 month blood test for my thyroid and got the call from my doctor’s office.  I needed to come in.  Seems my levels were up and therefore my dosage was no longer enough.  Battling two things at once.  Well at least that explained why I had not felt like doing much, or in other words why I felt like a big fat slug.  Two days into the higher dosage and I’m feeling my energetic self again, not the self who is wading through waist high concrete all day long.  This will help get me up and moving again as exercise is not an issue for me usually except during the winter though lately I haven’t wanted to do much at all.

When I started thinking about how I had been eating, it dawned on me that I had slipped back into that place of ups and down, deprivation, eating when I’m not hungry and so on.  I was reading Roth’s FaceBook posts and thinking oh that’s not me anymore and well, it is but at least not on the same degree as it once was.  No this time it was just a little bit more sneaky.   I didn’t realize I had lost the core instructions Roth preaches over and over in her books.  Trust yourself, trust your body to tell you what it needs, eat when you are hungry, you will not go stark-raving mad into a binge if you listen to what you body needs and you don’t restrict any foods.  You need to stay with your feelings, feel them, experience them rather than cram them into whatever coping mechanism you may have.  

For different reasons over the past years, I had forgotten a lot of what I learned to be true. I went back to not trusting myself to know what I needed or wanted.  I quit enjoying what I ate or even thinking about what I was truly hungry for or even if I was hungry at all.  So I pulled Roth’s books back out, downloaded every one of her books available that I could find free via my different library options and started my compulsive eating refresher course.  The interesting thing about reading these books about 10 years later, my life has changed so much that I’ve learned new things from them that I didn’t pick up before because I had not experienced certain tragedies and difficulties at that age.  

Day 1, I focused on what I wanted to eat and found that my normal menu fare that I lazily eat every day wasn’t really what I wanted, so I simply didn’t eat that much.  Day 2, I really thought about what I wanted to eat during the day before I packed my food for work.  Amazingly, I didn’t eat all that I packed since I was more satisfied with eating what I really wanted.  Day 3, I believed I wanted that donut for breakfast and since this food was no longer off limits, I ate it and enjoyed it.  Later I felt sick and thought why the hell did I eat that sugar filled stick.  I felt miserable.  So had that much changed that suddenly I was having these great epiphanies?  Nothing really, I just was asking myself: Are you hungry?  What do you want to eat? Are you enjoying what you are eating, does it taste good?  If the answer was “no”, then I stopped eating it and tried to decipher what I did want. 

Last night I went out to eat and found the food lacking so I simply did not eat much and went home and ate something I wanted more.  When I stop focusing on calories and on what I want to eat rather than what I shoud eat, something miraculous happens.  I really don’t turn into this raving eating machine that shovels everything into her gullet that is within her grasp.  I even turned down ice cream last night and I LOVE ice cream.  I wasn’t hungry so it wasn’t the right time to eat it but that doesn’t mean I can never have ice cream.  Life is too short to not enjoy what you eat.  Just within a few days of getting back into this mindset, I am a lot happier and find I am no longer compulsive eating.  

This doesn’t mean that I will magically become a supermodel and have the perfect body, it just means I’m not cramming stuff down that I don’t want or even need.  If I truly want pie for breakfast though, I am going to sit down and enjoy that pie.   The anxiety surrounding food has dissolved and it no longer has the power to make me so miserable and unhappy when it should truly be enjoyed.  As long as I keep asking myself those questions and being mindful of what I am eating or am wanting.

Lesson learned:  When I think I have it all down pat and I know it all, it is probably the moment I need to stop and check myself.