Flying Blind – Update – Creatures of Habit

Just a quick follow-up to my previous post in which I proclaimed "A Year of Me" and that I was going to stop measuring everything in my life that isn't necessary to see if I enjoy my life more.

Habits, they are as hard to break as it is to form them at times. I've spent the rest of the week getting out of the compulsion to pick up my phone and enter data into the apps I was using. Or make sure I had my phone on me every time I moved around to count steps since the Fit Bit didn't work for me at all. Essentially I was grading myself in many aspects of my life rather than living it. I didn't realize how much I was doing this until I had to force myself to stop. Leaving my phone sitting rather than dragging it everywhere with me is freeing. You don't realize it but you can become a slave to that thing. You think you are doing something good for yourself but in a way you're creating a little prison all its own for you to stay within those four walls.

I still take my phone when I ride, but only to listen to my music, have a map handy if I would happen to wander out of my usual cycling area and of course to call in case of an emergency. Taking the cyclocomputer off my handlebars has helped me focus on the ride and the beauty I'm passing around me plus I also pay more attention to how my body is performing. Just feeling the muscles working in unison can be an amazing thing when you think about it. I am almost 50 and everything is still working fine, even better than I was in my 20's because I am much more active now.

Recently I read an article by Mark Manson who wrote The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck entitled What's the Point of Self-Improvement Anyway? I wouldn't call myself a self-improvement junkie as he defined in the article but more the self-improvement 'tourist' who delves into this arena when something isn't working in their life or something bad happens, though I may edge on the junkie part because I feel like I always need to be working on myself, getting better. Maybe it is in my German genes or just growing up in a family that was always pushing you to do better, do more. Either way, it doesn't matter because the only thing that matters is how I live today.

Manson points out that all this self-improvement is self-defeating. I don't agree 100% with all Manson spouts but he is pretty close on most of his points. He at least got me thinking in a different way and reconsidering how I look at life. His point is that if we are alway pursing improvement, is you are trying to reach a goal where you don't have to think about increasing productivity, or pursuing happiness until you not longer have to think about being happy, etc.

He goes on to say the only way to achieve one's potential is to become fully fulfilled or "self-actualize" – essentially stop trying to be all of those things. Essentially, I feel it is not be able to enjoy where you are today. That continuing to trying to self-improve actually creates unhappiness because you never reach that point of contentment with yourself. You don't step back and look at yourself and think, hey I'm really in a good place in my life because we always feel we need to fix or change something about yourself. See how that works? You work really hard to get to point X and instead of feeling happy about your achievement, you set a goal of getting to point Y because then things really will be better. We don't stop spinning in the self-improvement circles long enough to see what we have achieved or just maybe, we are amazing and awesome just the way we are.

That's a hard concept for me to wrap my mind around. What if I stop trying to diet and lose weight? Would the world end? What if I put that scale and measuring tape up and just enjoy what I eat? What if I just say fuck it and if I get bigger just buy a different size or if I get smaller, then again just buy a different size? Not that I don't want to be healthy, I do. But the thing is, I am. Other than a genetic thyroid problem, my blood work and everything except my weight is considered healthy. There are people out there that are at their "healthy" weight but they can't walk 5 miles with a pack or ride 40 miles in the heat. I can. I'm strong, I can work outside like a farm hand in my yard and I don't seem to slow down much as I age. Sure, my body needs a little more time to recover but much of this stuff, I couldn't do in my 20's.

This is one of my biggest self-improvement hang-ups as it is a lot of women. Our size. It's like a prison. Trying to live up to some expectation of thinness or perfection. So what if I actually get down to that size 12? Would my life be perfect? Um, no. I'd still make mistakes, fall down and so on. That's just part of life. Why do we have such a hard time accepting ourselves? Yeah it could be the 10000000000 ads pointed at making us 'better' via weight loss, clothes, makeup, etc. What if we just focused on what made us feel good and made us happy?

Like, I eat a big salad with avocados, grilled chipotle chicken and hard-boiled eggs because I just love those foods. Or wear that new eye sparkly eye shadow because it's so pretty? Or no make up at all if that's how i feel that day. The world won't end if we walk out without no makeup. It's a vehicle to make us feel especially pretty as well if we use it for that reason. For us. My youngest makes makeup into a a creative art. And other days she doesn't wear any at all. It makes her feel good. That's the reason to use it. Not OMG, what will people think if I go out without my 'face'? Be authentic, don't hide behind it. Fuck those people, you won't care about them when you're dead.

What's wrong with my body right now? Nothing. Yeah I'm carrying around some extra but I'm also hypo-thyroid and going into menopause. My body is just doing its own thing. Why ride my bike just to exercise and burn calories? I should ride it because I love the freedom of riding, the feeling of power it gives me to be able to move from point A to point B by my own physical power. I hike because I love to be in nature and the woods. It is an avenue to add adventure into my life. I do yoga because it keeps me from getting too stiff, it counteracts my days of sitting at a desk, its spiritual/meditative and it also helps my body move better. At this age, it's critical to keep moving. Moving keeps me feeling amazing and younger than my 47 years. Google Ernestine Shepherd and see that aging doesn't have to be a walker and rocking chair.

After several days giving up all my metrics I use to judge myself, I feel better. Happier. I find myself noticing the world around me so much more when I'm not shackled to my electronics. I think giving up self-improvement and measuring anything is going to be something I'm going to have really work on, but I have this suspicion that it will be so worth it. Letting go of this, will be like dropping the shackles of unhappiness and walking away from them.

Thanks for all the comments about my posts. I love you guys!  You're awesome and amazing just as you are today.  Till next time.

Midlife Realignment…

Instead of ‘mid-life crisis’ maybe we should call it ‘mid-life realignment’.   Most people don’t go off the deep end during this period and divorce their spouse to marry someone younger than their own children.  The majority of us just step back and look at the path we are on and start wondering, do I really want to travel in this direction?  This is a time to pause, reevaluate and well, realign.  You start sensing what isn’t working as your life may be changing dramatically from being a full-time parent or a caretaker for your own parent.  This is such a time of dynamic changes that it is hard to keep your head on straight.

Mid-life is so frowned upon, joked about and dreaded.  I am not quite sure why.  This is a time when I am quite comfortable in my own skin and don’t feel the need to impress people as I once did.  Actually outside of my daughters and my husband along with a few of my closest friends, I could give a rat’s ass less about what people think of me or about me.  That in itself is very freeing.  When you stop the craziness of trying to be ‘somebody’ for no other reason than you want to feel like you’ve ‘made it’ for the next class reunion or to finally make your parents proud of you.

Empowering.  This time in my life feels exactly that.  My children are adults and need me a little here and there so essentially I’ve completed my task of raising them.  I read on social media almost daily where my friends are dreading their kids growing up.  Once I was in their position and truthfully, when they do grow up, it’s a very big adjustment. You will most likely grieve their childhood and your active role as a parent.  Depending on the person this may be a month or a few years.  Eventually though, this period stops feeling like the end of the world and you find you have the opportunity to return to yourself and your goals or in my case, discovering what those goals or dreams really are now at this point in my life.  Of course, this is also the time for some people, you start becoming the caretaker of your own parent(s) which in and of itself if probably much more difficult than raising your own children.

One of the things I have spent most of my life being in my mind and what I have bragged to others is that I am “an aspiring writer who has been published on the small-scale.”  This was a source of pride and identity for me.  It made me ‘somebody’ at least in my eyes as I am not sure it really impressed anyone.  For the longest time, I imagined my name printed in bold letters on a beautifully illustrated hard back book as the celebrated author of a wonderful best seller that reached many people and touched their lives.  Except my dream was more based on becoming ‘somebody’ and being ‘someone important’ to soothe my inner delinquencies from growing up in a dysfunctional family where I never felt like I was worth much of anything.  I was trying to prove to them, myself and the world that I mattered.

The beauty of therapy and all the self-work I’ve done as well as reaching mid-life, I have resolved my need to impress anyone other than myself.  Now when I find myself participating in this behavior, I find my whole psyche and self fight the attempt and I end up stalled in whatever I was trying to do.  In other words, I was stopping myself from fruitless behavior that has never worked for me anyway.   For the last few weeks, I have been trying to write the next chapter of a novel that is about 50% finished as far as word count that I need.  It is in rough draft, I have rewritten it 5-6 times over the past few years .  Initially, I started writing it as a way to deal with something painful from my deep past.  The beauty of writing is you can make the story turn out any way you want and you can make the characters into whomever you want.  Mostly it was a good avenue for me to safely express and explore long suppressed feelings about some difficult past events in my youth.

The manuscript is a decent story, with some cleaning up, I could probably sell it to someone.  It’s not best-seller material but I believe it’s good enough for publishing.  Actually the fact I believe this and it’s not a piece of crappy garbage is a big step for my self-critical nature.  I used to read my own writing and destroy everything I wrote because I believed it to be inferior and deserved to die.  So there is that at least, the fact I do not wish to delete the file and never look at it again.  But like I mentioned, I have not made any progress on it either lately.

So I decided maybe I am burned out on the story.  I’ve been working on it so long maybe I am just weary of it.  So I started brainstorming ideas for a new story or novel.  I came up with a bunch of ideas but nothing spoke to my heart or sparked my desire.  After spending a restless night sleeping, I woke up this morning with the very definite question coming to my mind:

“What if I don’t really want to write?”

Hmmm.  Not what I expected when I woke up this morning.  Most of my life since mid-teens has been with the identity of ‘aspiring writer who has published on a small scale’.  Am I really an aspiring writer.  Maybe I’m just a writer who has the wrong goal.  Maybe I don’t care about being ‘a best selling novelist’.  I’ve worked through my self-critical stage that crippled my writing.  I no longer need to impress anyone.  Even though it seems like I should have some lofty writing goal, my heart and soul really isn’t in that outcome.  If my heart was in it, I would have achieved it by now.  Or at the very least put way more effort into trying and submitted manuscripts multiple times and places.  I don’t ever get past the writing part of the equation.  I finished a novel once, rough draft, just to say I wrote a complete book.  I figured I would go back and then edit it except I didn’t.  It’s been sitting there for years collecting figurative dust sitting in the cloud where I store my files.

Here is an example of mid-life realignment.  Deciding if what you thought you wanted is really what you truly want now.  I like writing.  I love writing my blog even if only 2 people read it.  Sometimes, when I write about something particularly difficult, I will get multiple comments from people happy that I have written something that they too are experiencing.  I think people are more transparent today than they were 10 years ago thanks to social media outlets and just a new attitude that no one is perfect.  Think of the outcry to stop photo-shopping models in magazines so that young girls and well, grown women, don’t kill themselves trying to reach for an impossible state of perfection.  I think the general population has grown weary of trying to live up to something no one can really be and are wanting to relate on a ‘real’ level.  Hence maybe all the ‘reality’ shows.  You know, the ones that are made up to look real.

Mid-life realignment is also a chance to be ‘real’ and find your authentic self.  Or just to be authentic.  I am way more happy when I am just myself.  Trying to pretend I am something I am not is just miserable.  Be real people.  If someone doesn’t like the real you, then screw them.  You didn’t need them anyway.  Don’t dread or feel bad about being mid-life.  This is actually an exciting time to take the wisdom you have gained the hard way and put it to use.  This is the time to look at your life and think, nah, I really hate being a banker, I think I want to own a pottery shop in an artsy town.  Maybe you hate all the trappings of being successful you have acquired like a big house and expensive car.  If you peel back the layers of impressing people and being ‘successful’, you just might find you want to live in a cozy log cabin in the mountains and raise sheep.  Who knows what you may discover about yourself and even if it sounds crazy, if your heart soars when you imagine this new life, maybe it is worth exploring the possibilities.

Granted, we can’t all just up and quit our jobs to move to the mountains but maybe you can transition over a few year’s time.  Just because it doesn’t seem immediately feasible, doesn’t mean you should give up.  You may find a way to make your dream a reality or maybe it will require a few adjustments to be similar but not the same in the end.  If you are happy with the result, then that is what matters.  Of course, you may have a spouse who isn’t on board so there may have to be some compromise and in the end you find an even happier result.  Maybe your spouse ends up loving the mountains and sheep or you end up raising Shih Zu instead.

I have no idea what my life has in store for me.  The only thing I know for certain is that I need to rethink my path and considering the question my subconscious brought forth today ‘What if I don’t really want to be a writer?’, it is a sign to really look at what I do want to do.  Explore different options, explore things I never considered and really listen to what my heart and my soul are telling me.  I’m good for ignoring them and plodding along the wrong path until I hit a concrete wall.  I’m not much for the delicacy of small cues.  Well I’m a bit clueless really unless you hit me over the head with a ball bat but I’m working on that as well.

Maybe for you the path is very clear.  You want to go back to college to be a doctor or you want to open a curiosity shop.  I envy the fact that you know in your heart the path you should take.  Me, I have some thinking and exploring yet to do.  I imagine when my path does become clear, I will smack my own head because it was right there all along and I kept looking the other direction.  I do that sometimes.  Okay a lot of times.  I ignore the elephant in the room and walk right around it because I am stubborn and only see what I want or think I should see.

You don’t have to be mid-life either to reach this point.  My oldest daughter has reached a point in her life where she is asking many of the same questions.  I think it is a bit disconcerting to her after having a clear path for the first twenty-five years.  School then more school and then maybe more school, but maybe not that last bit of school.  Okay, so now what if there isn’t more school?  She is searching as well.  Asking what do I want to be when I grow up?  But maybe it shouldn’t be ‘be’ but ‘do’.  What should I do when I grow up?  I think we are probably fine just the way we are.  Do we need to change and ‘be’ something or someone else.  We link our identity to a job or profession or like with me, I linked it to a dream I thought was right for me, being a best-selling author, only to find out that isn’t who I am after all.

I should just be Laura.  My identity doesn’t rest on my work or my job or publishing a book.  I am fine just as I am today.  I should think of it more in the lines of what do I want to try or do?  What would make me happy?  Rather than hanging who I am as a person on a profession or achieving a goal.  We are multi-faceted just by being alive.  I’m a mom, a wife, a sister, a friend, an employee, a neighbor, a woman, and the list goes on and on just by existing.  Labels are a bit over rated anyway.  That is probably where I am getting hung up anyway.  I want to recreate myself for the purpose of?  I don’t know.  I used to feel I needed to compete with other people but for what?  I don’t know.  Now I find I just compete with myself.  To ride a little longer or faster, to hike further and to be a kinderr person in general.  I have no one to impress.  I just want to live my life and be happy.  For the most part, I am very happy.

I’ve always strived to be ‘better’.  Better at what, you may ask.  I don’t know again.  I thought I did but now none of it really makes sense or matters.  Sure, the work I put into myself to be more accepting of who I am, to love myself and like myself was time well spent.  Maybe that sounds egotistical but really it is not.  It is about saying “I am okay just as I am.  I am right where I am supposed to be.”  Striving for things that don’t matter like a number on a scale or to impress someone else with your education or station in life is fruitless.  Sure for a moment you feel superior or accomplished but that feeling is usually fleeting.  Then you are striving again for something else to impress whomever or feel good about yourself.  If you can just stop the motion and stand still then realize hey, I’m okay just like I am, you give yourself freedom.  The freedom to live your life and enjoy your life as well as the people who matter most to you.

The question my subconscious posed this morning, “What if I don’t really want to be a writer?” could have scared me and shook me to the core but really it was just further confirmation that I need to step back and realign that part of my life.  It’s the universe telling me, hey, um, yeah, this really isn’t what you want so why do you keep banging your head on the wall when you aren’t able to write that best-selling novel?

Message heard, universe.  Laura, over and out.

The Numbers Game

We humans seem to love numbers.  They are a tangible way to measure progress or failure or fortune, just about everything.   Individually, we value ourselves by our weight, the size of our clothing, our height, our waist measurement and things like our net worth, etc.   These increments help us determine if we are being successful or failing.  But really do any of these numbers really, in the big scheme of life, matter?

The past eight months, I have struggled with an unknown and painful medical issue that just recently resolved itself, at least for the time being.  I saw every type of doctor I could think of and was getting ready to move onto voodoo and witch doctors.  I was getting desperate.  Pain kept me up half the night, lying in the fetal position on the living room carpet with pain so sharp I wanted to just do surgery on myself. Give me that steak knife, I can’t take it anymore! (Seriously, I had a moment where that sounded feasible).  On top of chronic pain and sleep deprivation, I was finding certain foods made my pain worse and slowly became dairy and gluten-free because it seemed to kind of help.  Not a lot, but again, I was trying everything.

Being dairy and gluten-free is a big challenge.  Basically it’s meat, potatoes, veggies (but I had to be careful with anything fibrous) and fruit.  Gluten-free food substitutes are passable usually but half the time is gritty and taste of dirt.  I had moments, where I just gave up eating because I was so dismayed.  Other days, I would watch the number on the scale go down and think oh well there is one positive.  At least I’m lighter, I can ride my bike further and faster.   I was trying to look on the bright side.

Then my issue resolved itself, suddenly.  As the pain disappeared immediately, a week later I tried a piece of dry toast.  Food wasn’t seeming to trigger anything now.  Nothing.  I got more brave.  A whole sandwich with not just one but two pieces of bread.  No side effects.  Hmmmm.  My daughter made rice krispy treats.  I devoured several of them.  Mmmmm.  Eventually I got brave and tried a small bit of vanilla soft serve.  Waiting, waiting, waiting.  Nothing.  No pain.  I wasn’t doubled over almost crying.  So I didn’t really have food intolerances.  These foods just make me a bit gassy and that was irritating my medical issue, just that simple.

Holy smokes!  I wasn’t intolerant or I might be a little but it wasn’t causing me pain.  It was if I was let out of food prison.  My middle daughter and I ordered a small pizza and cheesy breadsticks to eat on the beach at the lake we like to visit.  We spread out the blanket and put the two small boxes between us.  I hadn’t eaten “real” pizza in months.  My fingers were almost shaking when I opened the box.  Angel song surrounded us as did the greedy seagulls who realized we had food.  My first bite of cheesy goodness was like heaven.  I closed my eyes, listening to the waves gently break on the shoreline and the gulls squawking angrily at us for not sharing our bounty.  When did pizza ever taste so good as today?  I couldn’t remember when.

Last night, my husband and I were working on our house trying to get it ready to sell, I offered to order pizza and he had become so used to my narrow diet that he looked at me funny.  I assured him I could actually eat pizza from anywhere now.  Not just gluten-free crust from Dominos the next town over.  I ordered from a local place and added a half-order of nachos because I saw them on the menu and they sounded wonderful.  Anxiously I waited for our dog to go batshit crazy signaling the food had arrived.  I completely ignored the pizza and dug into the nachos.  They were the best nachos in the world.  Well, probably not but to me, at that moment, after not being able to eat them for months, they tasted amazing.  I’m not even a big nacho fan.  I rarely ordered them anyway but not being able to have them had made them a delicacy.

As I sat in my recliner after showering off the dust and dirt from our project (and probably some nacho cheese I missed from dinner), I thought why have I spent so many years worrying about my weight, what I put in my mouth or how much I work out?  Why have I joined gyms that I don’t go to, tried to follow the latest diet or exercise fad just to be ‘thin’.  Why not enjoy the food I truly want?  Granted I don’t want to eat nothing but junk because it makes me feel horrible.  I want to be healthy but not enjoying nachos once in awhile isn’t worth it to me.  I want to enjoy what I eat like I have been these past few weeks after a long hiatus from dairy and gluten.

I have found some different ways to eat that I actually like. I won’t reintroduce dairy like I used to eat it because I found my seasonal allergies have disappeared for the most part.  Candy like Twizzlers that I couldn’t have because of gluten, when I tried them again, I realized I don’t really like them that much.  If nothing else, this whole experience has made me realize that life is too short to deprive yourself for the sake of a number whether it be the scale or clothing.  That I like to eat better, more fruits and veggies and way less processed foods.  This showed me how much processed foods I really ate even though I would tell you that I avoided them.  That I had grown extremely lazy about cooking and how bad fast food really tastes.

Today I pulled the scale out from under my bathroom vanity and put it in a bag to be donated.  I’m on it most days, the number fluctuating up and down but never really making me happy and usually making me feel bad.  I won’t suddenly blow up into a parade float if I give this away.  I have to just trust the way the clothes fit.  Because as I showed last year, my weight barely budged with all the cycling I did but my body size shrunk greatly.  I’m also retiring my measurements spreadsheet.  I’m going to save it off onto my external hard drive and make it less accessible.  I’m not keeping clothing too small or too big.  If it doesn’t fit, I will donate or toss it.

Life is too short for the numbers game, I’m gonna eat nachos and enjoy every last greasy, cheesy, crunchy bite.