Living in Joy After Abuse

Recently, I’ve realized I’ve been living my life according to some ideas I have stuck in my brain. These ideas have formed over the forty-eight years of my life for different reasons such as how I was brought up, my peers, constant media blasts, social norms, religion, so on and so forth. Truly, it’s hard to sort out what I really want in life through the many layers of ‘Shoulds”.

You need to go to college and pick a career that earns a lot of money.

Money is most important.

You need to not be outspoken or different. Follow the rules (social norms).

You’re a woman, you can’t do that.

Keep your mouth shut. Keep out of sight.

That’s a nice dream, but it won’t make enough money. You won’t be able to support yourself.

Are you crazy?

Why are you so shy? Why don’t you speak up in class? Are you stupid?

Go to church every. Sunday. Live a pious life (as the speaker does not)

Women are weaker, inferior to men.

Don’t associate with black people or people of color.

You’re a failure. Don’t do better than me. Don’t do anything that makes me uncomfortable. Don’t color outside the lines…

You get the idea. I have had so many expectations and rules (that aren’t truly rules) throw at me throughout my life, that I am just now unwinding all those messages to find my true self. All that I listed above has been said to me in some manner or another, usually out of love and misguided direction though some of what has been said to me is so that I don’t “do better” than the person giving me that message. People are threatened by you, especially when you don’t fit into a neat little box.

I’ve always been kind of the odd duck. I’m quiet and introverted; therefore, I’m either assumed to be socially awkward or shy or stuck up. I’m none of those things. I have never seen race as an indication of people’s worth or unworth. People are just people. I don’t believe one religion is ‘right’ and the rest are wrong. “God” to me, takes many forms and going to church every Sunday doesn’t make you a good person. I find “God” in nature, in people and in many places.

I don’t believe you have to be rich to be happy. I think having enough money to pay your bills and a bit extra is the sweet spot. I don’t believe you have to be what the general public deems as ‘successful’ such as being a doctor, lawyer, etc. Sometimes the people we look up to are the ones hiding the most. I don’t believe that “God” is wrathful, I believe “God” is love and therefore doesn’t give 2 shits about your sexual orientation, gender, color, if you tithe 10%, if your butt is in a church pew on Sunday, so on and so forth. I do believe “God” wants us to show each other love and kindness. I also believe that “God” wants us to find joy in our lives, not be cowering in the corner because we sinned. God wants us to feel his love not feel guilty all the time.

Over the years, I’ve tried different volunteering activities and each time, I found myself not sticking to them. I felt bad about myself, guilty. These people need my help, am I a selfish person? Then recently, I signed up to be a Lunch Buddy through Big Brothers Big Sisters for a 5th grade girl in my school district. Every other week (or more – she likes me to come weekly), I have lunch with her at her school, just listening and talking. to her while she eats her lunch. To be honest, I think I get more out of i t than she does, it brings me such joy. This made me realize that no, I wasn’t a bad or selfish person, I just hadn’t found my right opportunity. I was telling myself, everyone works with kids, I should work with the elderly or abused women, so on and so forth. For whatever reason, I was too stubborn to allow myself to do what I really wanted because I had some ideal in my head that I shouldn’t work with kids.

Where did this come from? Who knows. But that’s how I’ve treated myself throughout my life. Ignoring what brings me joy because maybe I don’t feel I deserve it or happiness. Growing up in a dysfunctional family situation, you rarely feel that you are important. The narcissistic nature of someone who is an addict or alcoholic takes over everyone’s lives and as a kid and adolescent I was lost in the shuffle. My needs were not important, I was overshadowed by my father’s issues. I’ve been essentially punishing myself all these years because of essentially what I was taught indirectly. And frankly that’s bullshit and I’m angry about it.

I’ve done a lot of self-reflection and therapy to get over my past and the fallout into my adult life. The last thing that I am struggling with is anger. I am calling bullshit on every single person who ever excused my father’s behavior because he was “sick”. Sure he tried rehab a few times but he just bullshitted his way through it and came home to do the same things usually worse. My childhood, my adolescence even though my parents divorced when I was 13 was a flat out abusive mess because of his f’ing sickness. Bullshit to each time someone excused his behavior – you were enabling him to not be responsible for himself. I understand it’s a sickness and people can’t help it but it doesn’t excuse the shitty treatment of your children. We didn’t deserve it.

Bullshit to the lack of domestic abuse laws that allowed my father to hit and beat my mother because they were married. If they had not been married back then, he would have been arrested. Again, this was overlooked and my mother was told basically that you are stuck, until she finally had enough and left. She would have left years before, saving us all a bunch of heartache if it had not been for those preaching religious shit about sanctity of marriage. Really? God wants a husband to hit his wife and kids? I don’t care if he was sick or drunk, none of us deserved it. No one deserves it today. The damage from this treatment is long reaching. I’m mid-life and still struggling to just allow myself joy. This is ridiculous.

Being addicted or having a mental illness is tough. It’s a big struggle, but please don’t forget about the persons, the loved ones in the addict’s path. Don’t let the addiction overshadow the victims. In my father’s case, he was never going to get better. I wonder though, if people had stopped enabling him, feeling sorry for him, and hadn’t expected him to take responsibility for his actions. Would the result had been different? What if he went to jail for beating my mother the first time it happened? What if she left the first time she wanted to, gotten support instead of shamed and pressured because they were married? My parents would have divorced when I was very young if she walked away when it started to happen or at least separated until he straightened up his shit. If he couldn’t straighten himself up, then none of us had to live in that hell. She could have still helped him get to rehab and such, but kept herself and us out of the firing line.

I’m not saying stop caring about the person but they have to take responsibility for themselves. They won’t get better until they decide that is truly what they want. It doesn’t matter how much begging and pleading you do with them, it really has to be up to them. But this is their responsibility especially when they are an adult. It is further complicated though by mental illness as in my father’s case. There is little resources to dealing with an adult with a debilitating mental illness. When my father was in nursing care, he was this wonderful pleasant person but outside of constant care, he reverted back to how he was. Dealing with these issues are very complex and I know it isn’t simple. But as victims of the disease, we can remove ourselves and take care of ourselves even though it’s hell watching someone you love self-destruct.

So now, I’m learning what truly brings me joy. In order for me to finish healing over my past, this is a key element. Letting go of the “shoulds” and finding joy every single day. Allowing myself to be happy because I deserve that as does everyone else. We don’t have to sacrifice our joy in life. I need to stop trying to live up to old expectations that never made sense to start with. To stand up for myself when my boundaries are crossed. Granted we all have to do things in life that we don’t enjoy to survive but outside of that, we are free to find our joys. We deserve love and good things no matter our past.

Go find your joy!

Empty Nest – #1 – Second Season

My youngest daughter graduated college a few months ago and yesterday she left to spend an extended period at her boyfriend’s apartment almost an hour away. They are doing a test run of living together, which when compared to me, is way more thoughtful and smart than anything I did when it came to relationships. But it has brought on a serious case of empty nest for me. The end of an era, twenty-seven years of having kids living with me. Granted she hasn’t moved out yet, but it’s soon and I’m a preparer, I need to figure out how I will handle the quieter home, the next or second season of my life.

They don’t really tell you that sometimes being a parent really sucks. They don’t have a good way to prepare you for life after the kids move out. The advice is all the same, pursue that career you always wanted (not applicable for me), take up a new hobby (I have a ton already), travel (can’t do that every day), take classes (maybe if I can find something I like) and so on and so forth. The thing is, I didn’t really put my life on hold when I was raising my daughters, especially the last ten or so years. I don’t believe you should give up your entire person to raise kids. Granted I had less time for hobbies and such back then when we were full on into school activities, etc. but I still kept time for me. I believed had I done that, lost myself to raise my kids, this moment would had totally crushed me since the majority of my identity would be wrapped up in being a mom. I’m still a mom, but it’s different and in some ways, it’s better because it’s a sense of freedom not being responsible for them and our relationship becomes more like friends.

So while I’m grateful I kept my own life while raising my daughters, I’m still a bit shell-shocked on this ‘second season’ (or whatever you wish to call it but I feel empty nest seems to be a negative term). I’ve been sitting here in my bed this morning, trying to sort out my feelings and thoughts when I decided to put them into my blog. Maybe someone else needs to hear this as well.

I am choosing to look at today as the start of my next chapter or season or whatever. Today is the first day of the rest of your life attitude. So lets start with my assets being 48-years old:

1. I’ve raised my family and am in awe of my daughters and their successes. They have done so much better for themselves at their ages than I did. Goal accomplished.

2. I own my home, need little materialistically. Household established. Live in my “dream’ home (though I am a bit of a simple person so I’m happy even without Italian marble floors). I have everything I could ever want and more. Very blessed.

3. My retirement is on track so I can retire at 67 and live comfortably barring any catastrophes

4. Have a good job with flexibility and excellent benefits. Pays well, not my ‘dream’ job but I believe in our mission, enjoy the people I work with for the most part, some are like family to me. Career – check. (PS – I have no idea what my ‘dream’ job is anyway)

5. Health – Could improve a bit, but overall good health. Very important.

6. Family and friends – Don’t have a huge family or friend group but I am close to my ‘tribe’ as they call it. I’m an introvert for the most part so this is exactly my style. I have a lot of love in my life and am very loved. Again, very blessed.

7. Hobbies – I have a lot of different ones. Interests – I pursue what I am interested in. I have the resources to take on new hobbies if I wanted them.

Reading that list, I am one very blessed individual. Granted, some of it is luck but most of it is hard work. Even with all the stupid decisions I’ve made in my life, I survived. And thrived. I am going to sit with that knowledge for a moment, soak it in. Sometimes we forget to stop and enjoy the moment, the present. I’m really bad about that. I always want to push forward to the next thing.

And maybe that is part of my problem. I’m always pushing for what’s next. What would happen if I just stopped that tendency and just live in the moment? Why do I feel like now that this ‘job’ as a parent is done, that I have to rush out and immerse myself in something new? Why not just stop and enjoy life? Why not just work on my writing when I want. I’ve been considering just self-publishing my last novel as is and then starting a new, fresh project. I’ve been trying to rewrite this novel for 6-7 times and frankly I’m tired of it. Who says it has to be some art of perfection? What if I just did what I wanted for once? Instead of always pushing myself toward some expectation from where I have no idea it came from.

What if I just stopped and allowed myself to breathe? What if I stopped expecting myself to have some ‘great, fabulous’ goal? Would the world end? Deep inhale, full exhale. Repeat. Let go. Just let go of all my self-imposed ideas of what I am supposed to be doing and let’s make a list of things I have to do at this stage in my life (I love lists can you tell?):

1. Feed and take care of myself. Aim to be more healthy – physically, mentally, etc.

2. Feed and take care of my two pets: Baron and Lexington

3. Go to work, make money – pay bills/ taxes

4. Take care of home/yard

5. Spend time with husband and family and friends. Be a better wife, mother and friend.

Really, just the basics of living are left. Is that such a bad place to be in? I don’t think so.

Breathe in, breathe out, let go. That’s what I am going to work on right now. Letting go of the urgency to find the next big thing now that I have raised my kids. Allow myself to decompress, get off the hamster wheel, and just live in the moment. I will admit, this idea of letting go the need to always be achieving something makes me incredibly anxious. It feels as if I stop this track, I will fall apart and I don’t know why I feel that way. Old habits, old expectations, or being busy is my way of coping with hard things? Probably the latter.

I have a hard time just sitting with my uncomfortable or sad feelings. I’m learning to be able to do this and have found that each time I do, I feel better in the long run even if it does feel like I will drown in my emotions or feelings when I experience them. Considering the fact that I am still breathing, still here to write this blog, that’s an overreaction on my part. I have not drowned from experiencing my feelings. No matter how yucky it feels, I will survive by facing them down, by feeling them, by allowing them to pass through and go on their way rather than holding them inside, stewing on them for years. Not good.

The bottom line is, I’ll be fine. I just need to let go.

Stop with the Red Herrings

Red Herring – Something that leads or distracts from the plot or the main issue.

For me, red herrings are what I put up in front of myself to distract from the real goal or issue. Obstacles I use to keep from following my passion(s) so that I don’t have to what, face my fears, fail, etc. Lately, red herrings have been exploring other ideas and goals that honestly, I don’t have but maybe I should have.

Being in the empty nest (mostly) stage now, I had been preparing for this for over seven years. Asking myself, what’s next? If you read my blog, you already know this information. What I need to accept about myself though came to me last night as I walked the dog along the lake admiring the beautiful evening. If I truly wanted something, I do it. That all this searching for ‘the next big thing’ in my life has been essentially, a red herring, thrown in the bushes to throw me off the scent of my true passion. This fear of missing out or missing something in my life is ridiculous because with my personality, when I want something, I go after it. It took me ten years of stopping and starting online classes, not to mention quitting probably at least ten times (in my mind) before I finally finished my last semester and got my degree.

My latest red herring was this idea to learn fine woodworking and build my own furniture to sell. I went to the library, found three books and settled into study them such as one would study a college course. I took notes, I sketched a few rough drawing of my own furniture designs and dreamt of building a shop on our property. Then about a week later, it fizzled out. I lost interest. I berated myself for not being committed. Except, it’s not what I truly want. Furniture building while interesting was not my passion.

So what did that do? It distracted me from my real passion, writing. Why do I do this? I have no idea. Maybe because writing seems more frivolous? That it’s not necessarily a viable way to make an income (so what!) or who knows. I think much of it is a fear that I’m missing out or not exploring options. Except I need to trust myself. Trusting myself seems to be a key theme in my life. Trust to know if it is something I truly want, I will stick with it until it is achieved. Even if I quit ten times, I will return until I finish or achieve whatever it is I want. Trust myself. Stop trying to force things into my life just because I think, well, I don’t know what I think sometimes.

Last night, I pulled out my Ipad, made myself a comfy place on my front porch, brought out my notes, a snack and a drink then set to work finish writing my Chapter 3 rewrite. It took me about ten minutes to really get back into my story but once I did, I got so wrapped up in creating the next scene I completely forgot about my drink and snack until I typed the last word of the last paragraph. I don’t even know how much time passed, but the sun was quite a bit lower at that point. See? My passion. Why do I fight it so?

I closed my Ipad after printing and saving Chapter 3. I sat in my chair for a long time thinking about all the obstacles, red herrings, I throw up in my own way. Why don’t I just write, write what I love with no expectations, no high reaching goals of making a zillion dollars, etc.? Just write what I truly love and enjoy is the writing process. Everything after that is not that important. Shoot it off to potential agents and publishers but don’t lock myself into a contract (if I were so lucky to get one), etc. I think my biggest fear is that some entity will come in and I’ll suddenly have deadlines and book deals. While that is the goal of many writers, I know it would destroy my creativity. I don’t write for fame or for money or for attention. I write because I love to write.

So Laura, stop with the red herrings, stop complicating your life, stop looking for that kipper in the bushes, trust yourself, believe that you are already doing what you want to do and you are right where you want to be. Let go.

Food Peace Journal – Week 10 – For the Love of a Zebra Cake

Holy Swiss rolls, I’m 2.5 months into this bad boy of Intuitive Eating. Am I thinner? Nope. That’s not the point and honestly, I’ve been overeating a bit so my jeans are a little tighter. Intuitive eating is something I am definitely still learning. I don’t believe it’s something you automatically pick up if you haven’t been eating this way most of your life. There are so many ‘rules’ that have been embedded into your mind and psyche, that it take time to retrain yourself and how you eat.

Coming out of a dieting mindset and realizing that you can eat whatever you want is much like being a kid locked in a candy store overnight. There is a bonanza of foods that you can suddenly eat again or maybe for the first time. Starting Intuitive Eating is scary, and it feels like walking out of a dark, dank prison cell and into the sunlight of freedom. Don’t be surprised if you go through a period where you actually grow a little bigger (get off that scale!) because you’re indulging in all the deliciousness you had been forbidden for years. Then you remember, hmm, I’m only supposed to eat until I’m just satisfied but but lately, I have been eating past that point, quite a bit. Your first instinct will be to start restricting your food intake and what you eat. STOP! Do not do this.

I’m at this point right now and I know the panic you might just be feeling. I’m getting fat (or fatter)! I have to stop, control and restrict before I blow up into a Macy’s parade balloon. Take a breath, a deep and calming breath and remember you’re okay (I just did this yesterday). Think about why you are eating more than you want (or whatever is going on). It’s not about what you are eating but why you are eating. This is a hard thing to decipher at times especially if it is something you’ve done for years. Be kind with yourself, remember that this takes baby steps and it’s a learning experience. You’re undoing years of dieting behavior. Years of emotional eating, though you’ll always have times that you emotionally eat, as much as we want, it’s impossible to be perfect and it’s okay that food provides comfort at times. Deep breath, calming thoughts, its all okay. It’s even okay if you get bigger, we are more than our bodies – I am using this mantra a lot lately.

Being patient with yourself is so hard especially when you have a fear of being ‘too fat’. I know my odd is a little bigger right now than a few weeks ago and since I pursue athletic pastimes like hiking and cycling, I am freaking out inside that I will not be able to do activities I love because I am getting bigger. I don’t want my size to limit my life. So I had to stop my momentary freak out and remind myself that I’m fine just as I am, I just need to look at the fact that I’m eating a lot of times when I am not hungry and figure out why. Maybe it is because I’m stressed at work, maybe it’s because the four-year anniversary of my mom’s passing is close or maybe I feel lonely or bored. Therein is where the hard work comes up, the reason(s) behind the ‘why’ when I emotionally eat. My body is telling me one important thing, I”m feeding it more than it wants, so I need to figure out why I am ignoring my hunger cues. It is a simple theory but not always so simple to figure out. It gives me something to work toward though.

That aside, I have a little story of a hike that I took over a week ago. I took my dog and drove to one of my favorite, closer parks. The sun was out though it was still cold but the wind was calm. I needed some gas so I stopped at a gas station about a mile from the park entrance. While I was pumping gas, I realized, I’m hungry so I went inside for a drink and a snack. I’m asking myself what I might want. What sounds good to me, I pick up a pack of trail mix, nah, on to the next idea. Out of habit I walk by the endcap full of Little Debbie snacks. Little Debbie’s have been forbidden fruit for a long time. I rarely eat one or even buy them. I stop halfway up the next aisle of snacks and realize I want a Zebra cake. White icing with brown stripes over some kind of white cake with cream filling. When was the last time that I actually ate one? No clue. I bought the cake and a tea.

The park is closed to auto traffic right now which is a big bonus to me, the lover of solitude. I packed up my coat with my key lanyard, my cell phone, my tiny notebook and pencil in case I wanted to write or sketch and the Zebra cake. Bundling up and grabbing the dog’s leash, I took to the wooded trails rather than the paved ones today as the mud was minimal. I did one trail, cross the paved road for the nature trail which partially runs along the river. Out of habit I had started a route with my Map My Walk app. Standing a few feet into the woods, I realized I had been walking fast and not paying a bit of attention to my surroundings. I pulled out my phone and deleted all my fitness apps. I can always put them back on if I want but I continued without thinking about speed or steps or calories burned.

Do you know what happens when you aren’t trying to walk to fast and burn calories? The world comes back to you. When you get out of the ‘training’ mode and just enjoy your surroundings, it’s a completely different experience. I would have walked right by the path down to the river because I had to go fast. I would have missed the fact that across the river where the bank was higher, where the trees’ roots anchored the soil and my oldest daughter had recreated in her first college art print, the trees had fallen after all the rain and crashed down right beside where I stood on the trail. A bit of melancholy for a special place to my daughters and I. Looking around, I found several sycamore branches that I picked up to take home. When it warms up, I will clean up the jagged ends and clear coat them for decorations. I would have missed the way the sun felt on my face when I just stopped, closed my eyes and turned my face to the sun, the sounds of the rushing river soothing my soul.

On the way back to the car, I traipsed the same trail I had quickly walked through before I had deleted my fitness apps. I passed the covered bridge and settled into the woods again until I came to a bench in the sun. My stomach was growling a little so I thought it was a great moment to eat my snack. I tied the dog’s leash to the bench as he is so impatient and pulled out the slightly mushed cake. Opening the cellophane, I broke off a piece of cake and tasted it. Granted, this is not the mecca of baked goods but it brings back happy memories of my childhood. In a way, it felt like I was a bit of a kid again, especially when I realized I was swinging my leg like kids do when they are happy. I slipped out my notebook and sketched the woods and covered bridge. Sketch, take a bite, pause, just be. It was the perfect afternoon. Quiet, simple, unrushed, like the summers of my youth. Why do we get so busy doing, achieving, improving and so on? I had forgotten to slow down. Well I’ve told myself I had slowed down but I was still walking too fast to enjoy what was right around me.

We wonder where the joy and fun of childhood escapes as we age but we push it away with all our responsibilities, to-do lists and constant need to be achieving something. We can’t eat a snack cake because it’s unhealthy and will make you fat. But I wasn’t fat as a kid. I ate plenty of them. I just ate when I was hungry normally. I finished my sketch, adding the date to the bottom. I stuck the wrapper in my pocket to discard in a trash can and set back to my car. I don’t know how far I walked or how fast I walked nor do I know how many steps I took. Tracking all that stuff never made me thin anyway and I’m not training for any events. I just felt that I should do that kind of metrics. Why? What is the point? To suck all the joy out of the little things in my life? Oh track your exercise and it will force you to burn more calories. Maybe it does but again, I’m not thin still. I may never be thin and it”s hard to accept that possibility and live with it but I am working on it.

When I went home, I didn’t stop and buy a box of Zebra cakes to binge on. I was happy and contented with one. The knowledge that I can have one whenever I wanted keeps me from wanting to binge on them. It is only when they are forbidden do I feel the need to scarf them down like I may never have another meal. It’s simple psychology when you think about it.

Sometimes when I’m feeling a little down, I pull out my notebook with the sketch and look at it. The memory makes me happy, makes me smile. For the love of a Zebra cake and letting go of achieving every moment of every day.

Food Peace Journal – Empowerment & Self-Discovery

I can’t believe I’m already 9 weeks into this journey. Have I lost weight? I have no freaking idea! Not knowing what I weigh, not caring about what I weight, is like shrugging off heavy log chains that have been wrapped around my body. The empowerment and freedom that comes with not caring anymore about what I weigh, policing what I eat and giving up diet culture completely, is so amazing. I feel happier in general. I’m not thinner, my clothes fit about the same, but no one goes to a funeral and says, “Oh, I really admired her for her weight”. In the grand scheme of living, weight doesn’t matter. Body size doesn’t matter. F all that.

Occasionally, I have what I call a check-in session with my therapist. The recent appointment was spurred when I thought I wanted to go to this writer’s group meeting and at the last minute changed my mind. The group looks fun, it is very supportive and it’s not a critique group. Instead, I ended up at my fave coffee shop in the opposite direction writing in my journal alone. So I started to wonder, is there something wrong with me? I asked this of my therapist and she peppered me with questions. Then she sat back in her chair and said, “I just don’t think you enjoy group things. That you are a private person who enjoys her own company.” Bam! I sat back and let that sink in. Why didn’t I think of that? Why did I think I was weird because I don’t want to do what everyone else does?

I’ve always been a bit of an outsider. Sometimes pushed there because I didn’t fit in but mostly because I am very private. When I think back, I have never stuck with group activities very long. I would sign up for classes at the Y to only go a few times. When I mention this, she said you don’t like all your time structured. You are very creative and this just isn’t your jam more or less. Well she used better terms than ‘jam’ but you get my point. Then to solidify her deductions, a memory popped up in FaceBook where I had taken the Jung-Briggs personality test. I took it again just out of curiosity that it may have changed. Nope. INFJ-A – The Advocate. Less than 1% of the population has my personality type according to the test. Well no wonder I felt a bit of an outsider. The description is very much me – creative, private, sensitive, perfectionist (not as much now), definitive, passionate about things I love, and so on. The private thing hadn’t clicked with me last year though.

This was the first time I had walked out of my therapist’s office feeling excited and happy. Free and empowered again. She’s always been helpful but this really clicked. I’m okay as I am. I am no longer dieting. I don’t have to keep trying to change myself to fit in, to be what I think society wants me to be. I can keep learning about myself and whatever I find is okay. I don’t have to join groups, I don’t have to lose 50 lbs, I don’t have to let snarky people upset me, or morons ruin my day with their crap. I can live my life the way I want it for the most part. Granted, we all have responsiblities but for the first time in my life, mine are minimal compared to five years ago. I have the opportunity to figure out myself some more, try out new hats, have new adventures and learn to fully relax.

I have been ‘on’ so much in my life, I find it hard to relax. This is the next thing I am going to work on. Case in point, I had time to take a nap after work yesterday as I haven’t been sleeping well for the longest time (hot flashes at night). I laid there but couldn’t relax enough to sleep. Time to fix that. Not sure how but I’ll figure it out. I think I have to give myself permission to not always be doing something, accomplishing something, cleaning something.

It’s empowering to be able to eat what you want as well. I find the longer I practice intuitive eating, the less I am overeating. I leave food on my plate more often. I will only eat half an orange then put the other half in the frig for later. I have never just eaten half an orange at least as an adult. I’d finish it even if I didn’t want it all. Why? Because I was raised you had to eat everything you take or were served. But that is bullshit. I have a half of a fudge bar in a freezer baggie in there too. If it’s still good when I go to eat it, then fine and if not, I’ll throw it away. The world will not end if I throw away a half of a fudge bar. Giving yourself permission to eat what you want, only as much as you truly want is powerful stuff. It’s like getting out of jail free. Food jail that is.

The more I let my body tell me what it wants, the more I find I don’t eat the same anymore. Some nights I barely eat at all. Other nights, I eat as if I came out of the jungle after 40 days. All I do is listen and pay attention to my hunger cues. Your body doesn’t necessarily want 3 meals a day with a few snacks. It may not want 6 small meals. It may want a shit ton of food at breakfast and a little here and there the rest of the day. I know my daily caloric intake fluctuates quite a bit. So following a specific calorie count each day probably isn’t as healthy as they want you to believe. Unless you have a specific medical condition that requires such intake. Each day your body has specific needs and it will tell you if you listen.

Speaking of listening to hunger cues, my body is telling me it’s time to wrap up this post and go find some sustenance. Life is short… eat the cake! Or whatever your body wants.

Getting Angry With Chronic Mild Depression (Dysthmia)

For most of my life, I have struggled with depression at least mildly. There have been a few incidences where it has become more serious and dark for which I needed anti-depressants and therapy. Before I write anything else, if you are struggling with serious depression and/or are thinking of harming yourself, run, don’t walk to the phone and call your doctor or therapist. They can really help you even if it feels nothing can. Disclaimer: what I discuss next is not meant to replace treatment or a health professional’s advice or prescribed treatment. This is only my experience and may not work for another soul. Please do not stop your treatment without your doctor’s approval. Or not see a doctor or therapist if you feel your depression is persisting or serious. I can’t stress this enough.

Depression just isn’t just in you head but it is a physiological condition in which your brain chemistry is affected. I have been diagnosed with Dysthmia which is a chronic mild depression which you can find more information about at WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/chronic-depression-dysthymia#1. Scientists aren’t sure what causes dysthmia but they believe it could be possibly genetic, major life stressors or a combination of things. My cousin on my paternal side is affected by depression similarly to me. Over the past few years, we have discovered that frequently we can be in similar bouts of depression at the same time leading us to wonder if it is part of our genes. Also, our parents, his mother and my father, were seriously alcoholics and we both suffered dysfunctional as well as traumatic childhoods from this which also might be another reason we struggle with depression so frequently. People who have been victims of abuse and trauma seem to have higher incidences of depression as if the events whack out our brain chemistry. There are a ton of articles out there about this, feel free to do your own research.

The great thing about my cousin and I reconnecting after many years is that we have candid conversations about our current life struggles. Mostly by text as we are several states apart, we offer each other support and a sounding board. This fall, I was out hiking alone as I do frequently and felt the enormous weight of depression spoiling what was a beautiful hike. I had just written a post about depression a few days before and decided I was going to start keeping a depression journal in order to pinpoint what makes it worse and what helps ease my depression: https://laurasrandomthoughts.wordpress.com/2017/11/ For two days, I took a notebook and made notes on how I felt, how bad was my depression, etc. Then, feeling depressed, I decided to get out and walk since the day was warm and the sun was out. Trying “nature’s cure” (I do believe time spent outdoors in nature helps my depression immensely), I drove to one of my favorite hiking spots and started walking.

I texted my cousin as I stood on a picturesque bridge that crosses a small stream. I don’t remember what I said exactly but I told him it’s a beautiful day out, my life is good and I’m fucking depressed AGAIN. I returned to my hiking and for whatever reason I started to wonder if I was making my depression worse by focusing so much on it. Was I giving it more power than I should? Was doing journal entries on depression just keeping it in my life? I found myself angry. I was tired of struggling with this shit. The mind is an organ that we don’t understand but there are many studies on the ‘placebo effect’ where if you believe something is ‘curing’ you, it actually can work. While I don’t believe depression is “just in your head” and it is physiological, could I not change this utilizing the placebo effect theory? I didn’t know but I knew I did not want to go through the rest of my life with this monkey on my back.

Out of nowhere the mantra “Fuck the monkey, I am happy” popped into my head. Anger swelled around the words but also determination. Luckily, it was a weekday and the trails were fairly empty because I am not sure what people might have thought passing a middle-aged woman muttering loudly to herself “Fuck the monkey, I am happy!” At that point I didn’t care. I just kept hiking and repeating this phrase until surprisingly, by the time I reached my car, the heavy weight of my depression wasn’t there. A fluke? I wondered but felt better. When I got home, I tore out the pages from my notebook where I had been writing my depression observations. What if I focused not on the issue, but on something positive? So I started (and still am keeping) a “Challenge” journal. Each day I log two things – 1. What I did that day to get outside my comfort zone. It can be as simple as “pushed myself to walk faster” or “Spoke to a stranger at the store instead of ignoring them”. Whatever I can do each day to stretch myself, goes in this journal. I’m in a rut. I need to get out of it.

The second thing I record is a “Good Deed” or GD for short. Each day I am looking for opportunities to show kindness and love to people outside of my normal routine. Being nice to someone I don’t really like even though normally I just ignore them (seems like I ignore people a lot), helping someone at the store, saying hello and smiling at a stranger. One day, I was checking out at Walmart and there was this enormous woman in one of those electric carts behind me. She smelled bad and probably had a hard time showering. I heard her grunting painfully as she was trying to reach stuff out of her cart and put it on the checkout belt. Normally, I would have just kept my back turned and prayed they hurried up checking me out. This time, I turned and politely asked her if I could assist her. She was surprised and didn’t answer right away but she finally said “Yes, that would be really nice.” So I held my breath and emptied her cart for her. She smiled bit and thanked me. I told her to have a nice holiday as it was before Christmas and she wished me the same. While the action was small, it made me feel good to not be such a snob and do something for someone else even if they did smell bad. Just the act of stretching out of my normal ways, helps me feel more alive.

Two months have passed since the day I was hiking and adopted my “Fuck the monkey” mantra. Every time I feel depression slinking up, I meditate on this mantra no matter what I am doing or where I am. As soon as I can take five minutes to myself, I sit or lie quietly even if there is a lot of activity around me and meditate on those words with my eyes closed. I focus hard on the desire to no longer struggle with dysthmia. So how has it worked? So far, it’s been awesome. Even over Christmas which is very difficult for me since I lost my mom, I felt a few tinges of sadness but I did not sink under the dark, heavy blanket of depression. I’ve actually been truly enjoying life. I’ve been more positive and much less negative. I feel joy. I feel light. I feel peace.

While I hesitate to say that I’m cured from depression because I don’t want to jump the gun, I believe I found a powerful way to deal with it’s chronic presence. Getting angry and making up my mind that I was no longer going to allow depression to make me so unhappy, seems to have helped. Utilizing my mantra and meditation at the first twinge of depression so far seems to short-circuit the days and days of darkness. The mind is a powerful tool and I don’t believe we even understand the smallest portion of it’s function but I will take my results. I was using depression as a way to hide from the world and an excuse not to participate fully in my life. Oh, I’m depressed, I’m going to go brood in bed all day. Poor me. I suffer from chronic depression. Depression was my safety net when I didn’t want to engage in life. Maybe I was making myself depressed to hide. I don’t know but it makes sense.

This isn’t to say that I couldn’t have another major depressive episode or that the dysthmia will return full force but I am so very happy at this moment that for the first time in years, I feel really good. That I’m not anxiously waiting for the next episode. I feel as if the clouds have parted and the sun is shining over me for the first time in many years. The monkey on my back, weighting me down, is on hiatus. Hopefully forever. Life is too short to sit around feeling depressed all the time. It’s too short to hide behind depression. Maybe my brain chemistry is challenged, I think this is true, but if I have any way of influencing it, I’m going to keep using that method. Though I do not want to be on drugs. Those are good for short term if I have major depression, but I don’t want to utilize drugs every day if it can be avoided.

What I do know is I enjoy my life much more in the past few months than I have since, well honestly, I can’t remember. Maybe when I was a kid. Maybe ever. One of my goals for 2018 is to work on gaining inner peace even when there is a ‘storm’ raging around me. To not let people get under my skin so much, to be more positive in general, and as my other posts recently state, find peace with food, my weight, and my body. To live in joy even though life is far from perfect.

Here’s to finding peace and happiness.

Week 1 – Peace with Food Daily Journal Entries

Below I’ve detailed the first seven days on my peace with food journey. A quick summary of the week is thus: I finally put away my scale and tape measure to further cement my commitment to trusting myself and my body. I’ll admit, it’s a little scary letting these go. I’ve reintroduced some “bad” foods back into my diet and the world didn’t end. I discovered that especially at work, I tend to starve myself without realizing it and I have a lot of subconscious ‘food rules’ I’ve picked up over the years. Eating when I’m hungry doesn’t mean forcing myself to wait until a certain time to eat and if possible, I need to stop whatever project I am working on and eat even a little snack if I can’t break away completely. I need to go shopping and stock my desk with more options for snacks. My diet mentality is strong and infiltrates most parts of my life. This is going to take a lot of time and mindfulness to get out of my life but I believe it will make me happier and more at peace. After the first week of trusting myself to eat when hungry, I still fit into my jeans and I have no idea if I gained or lost any weight. And it doesn’t matter either way. My weight doesn’t make me as a person. I am a bit happier person at the end of the week. And I definitely feel a sense of freedom. I am more than a number on a scale. Keep reading for a more detailed account of each day.

Day 1 – January 2, 2018. My first full day back in the office. What I noticed is I forcibly starve myself ignoring my hunger cues. Why? Probably a combination of I don’t want to be that fat woman sitting in her cube constantly eating for people to make fun of, not that I actually think any of my coworkers even care. Second, it is probably learned diet behavior. I’ll wait for lunch time to eat, no earlier than noon or my day will seem longer. Stupid rules I made up in my head. I found myself feeling very joyful and excited that I could eat whatever I wanted when I was hungry. I even ate my lunch before noon. I need to stock my desk more with snacks and foods I like to eat. We have vending machines but nothing really appeals to me there except once in awhile. Did I overeat? Nope. I ate until full. I ate only when hungry. Day 1 – fun, happy, joyful.

Day 2 – January 3, 2018. I work at home on Wednesdays and I was up early to get caught up on emails and entries that I couldn’t get to yesterday. I’m slammed with a major project and focused all my energy yesterday on getting the first part, the most time consuming part, done. I’m dealing today with some emails where people annoy me. I changed a process to prevent the annoyance. I take charge as much as I possibly can. Around 10:30, I start to feel hungry so I scan for what sounds good to me. Wheat toast lightly buttered and spread with a perfect layer of grape jelly. I never eat jelly! It’s all sugar and no fruit right? It’s BAD for you. I feel myself balk as I spread the dark purple deliciousness on my bread. No, diet mentality, you will not win! I sit down with my toast and a side of a Colby-jack cheese snack and savor something I haven’t allowed myself to have in, well, I don’t know that’s how long. Why have I denied myself a bit of grape jelly? I forgot how good it is, mixed in with a bit of melted butter. Mmmm.. My heart soars for grape jelly.

Day 3 – January 4, 2018. Had to take hubby for a medical procedure so my focus that day was more about him. It was a routine one but the whole thing brings back memories of dealing with my mom’s cancer because this procedure is how they found her first cancer. I wasn’t worried about him but the whole thing makes me anxious. I struggled with wanting to eat to comfort myself especially later that day once we were home and everything was confirmed A-OK. We did stop at one of my fave BBQ chains for lunch but I didn’t overeat. I ate my pulled pork (lunch portion – no bun because I have no interest in that bun) but I only ate about 1/3 of my potato salad (didn’t taste good to me) and half my hush puppies (did taste good but was getting full). I can remember when normally I’d stuff it all down until I was sick. Other than fighting feeling a big snackish in the evening which I think was more due to trying to comfort my previous anxiety, I didn’t overeat.

Day 4 – January 5, 2018. Back in the office and super busy. I wasn’t hungry right away so I had a banana to get me going and then ate my steel cut oatmeal about mid-morning when I became hungry. I did have to force myself to stop working when I got hungry because I caught myself thinking I could wait longer. On Fridays, I go out for lunch with my best friend to this little ‘dive’ type place. I ordered my usual (for now – it changes off and on) of a grilled cheese and a half order of fresh cut fries with a can of Coca-Cola. They were a little slight on the fries and I worried I would get hungry later but I didn’t. I ended up packing my fruit back into my tote bag at the end of the day. I kept feeling like I wanted candy, I think because it’s Friday and that seems like a day for celebration but when I asked myself what I really wanted, nothing appealed to me. I got busy into my work again and completely forgot about candy. When I left work, I thought maybe I’d go through town and stop for a treat but I couldn’t find a treat I wanted, so I just got my car washed and headed home. Later I made a pan of from scratch cream cheese brownies because these sounded really good to me. I ate 1.5 brownies over the course of the night. I ate what I wanted. I didn’t go all batshit crazy and consume the whole pan because I baked the forbidden sweet. Knowing I could have the brownie or two or three brownies if I really wanted them and was actually hungry definitely soothed my fear of ‘not enough’ or the guilt from ‘being fat” or ‘needing to diet’ shame. Today I noticed how I use food to reward myself. It’s Friday, I need treats, I made it through the week. Except when I step back and really look at what I wanted, my usual go to treats weren’t even on the list. And I didn’t feel guilty for succumbing to my love of baking. I had all but given it up because I thought it was making me fat. That made me sad to not bake. Now I have given myself the freedom to bake whatever the hell I want. Feels really good and makes me happy.

Day 5 – January 6, 2018. To weigh or not to weigh? I’m struggling with this question. I’ve been considering weighing myself either once a week or once a month on the same day. While I am no longer looking to lose weight and accept whatever my natural size is, I still have a strong desire to measure my ‘progress’. On one hand, I feel like I should get rid of the scale completely and never weigh myself again, ignoring the number even when I have to be weighed at the doctor’s office. That idea makes me anxious and a bit panicky. Does this mean the scale has way too much power over my life? I think so. If I weigh myself even once a month, doesn’t that mean I’m still using that measurement to judge myself and my worth? Yes. Do I NEED to know my weight? Doctors need it when they have to prescribe but they take it in the office. There are weight limits on rides and such but I have no plans on going to the amusement park soon. So no, I don’t have many reasons to need to know my exact weight every day. Maybe once or twice a year if that. My clothes can tell me if I’m getting bigger or smaller. That’s pretty reliable. So if I keep weighing myself, I am utilizing the scale as a judgmental tool. What if I gain weight? I’m going to feel horrible about myself. If I lose weight I’ll feel good but then I have a tendency to eat more in celebration (I know, it doesn’t make much sense). I think it’s time to move the scale out into the garage pantry and forget it is there. I can’t be free of the diet mentality until I stop caring what that number reads on the scale. I can’t trust my body if I’m relying on a number that can change 5-8 pounds in a few days based on how much water weight I’m holding. I vow to give up the scale and not care about my weight. I am more than a number. This is a bit scary but I can do it. I won’t balloon to 500 lbs if I don’t weigh myself. I will trust my body. I will trust myself. I’m not out of control. I don’t need supervised, I am a grown ass woman. I got this!

Day 7 – January 7, 2018. While cleaning the master bathroom, I moved the scale to a less tempting place and I also put away my sewing tape measure I use to track body measurements. I have removed all the ways I can track progress of weight gain or loss except for how I feel and my clothes. Doing so makes me anxious as how am I going to stop myself from blowing up even bigger without my tools of measurement? I reminded myself that I can trust my body, I just need to pay attention to my hunger cues, etc. and I will be fine. Trusting myself is going to take some time but on the other hand, I feel freedom and peace with this decision. I’ve had a diet mentality since I was around 11 years old when my well-meaning grandmother was weighing me and putting me on diets which started my binge eating. Though I was tall, maybe 5’5 then and only weighed around 125 lbs, I was not fat at all so I’m not sure what my grandmother was thinking. Now I’m 47 years old and maybe even as much as 100 pounds overweight though I don’t know what my “ideal”weight is because I carry a lot more muscle now from my athletic pursuits. I do though have to undo 36 years of diet mentality. Thirty-six years of people telling me I am fat, doctors chiding me, reading 1000’s of fitness and health articles as well as many diet books, going on what seems like a gazillion diets, not to mention all the shame and guilt I’ve carried over my weight. What if I could get all that time back? What if I could have treated myself kindly instead of beating myself up for eating X or weighing myself only to cry over the number on the scale? I don’t have the answer to that question but I do know that I have a lot of work ahead of me to break the diet mentality. My daughter was browsing the Valentines candy at the store and she sent me a picture of a 3 lb Hershey milk chocolate bar. I love Hershey’s bars but my first through was OMG I can’t buy that, I’d weigh 300 pounds. I caught myself and thought you can have it if you really want this giant candy bar. For a moment, I felt giddy like a kid who is looking forward to Christmas. When was the last time I felt that way about food? Can’t remember. Though I don’t think I will buy that candy bar, just having the option to have it guilt free if I want it, makes me happy.