Empty Nest Series: From Super Hero to Pinch Hitter

There is not great advice out there on transitioning to becoming an empty nester.  All along I’ve not been a fan of the term ’empty nest’ because of the word ’empty’.  It’s not empty because you and/or your spouse or partner and maybe some pets are still live in said nest.  Maybe something like ‘lightened nest’.  My nest is lighter.   A term with a more positive connotation would be preferable.  My nest has changed but it isn’t empty.

Starting clear back in 2009 when my oldest daughter graduated high school, I had started reading books, articles, blogs and whatever I could get my hands on about transitioning into this lighter nest time in my life.  Considering that my youngest just moved out last year in 2018, nine years later, I’ve had quite a bit of time to do research.  I’ve even conferred with my therapist.  But the advice you get is about all the same.  Grieve that time in your life, but not too long and definitely don’t talk about it.

That’s the thing about being a parent, you spend an awful lot of time keeping your mouth shut and honestly, I get tired of it.  Not that I want to tell my adult children what to do or run their lives (though I’ll be honest, I have to catch myself out of habit and well, you want the best for them), but I want to be able to honestly express my feelings.  Not to make my kids feel guilty but so if they have families one day, they will know that this time in your life is a bittersweet one.  So that other parents out there feel that they are heard as well.

There are many things I don’t miss about being a parent.  All my time is dedicated to another person and my calendar was full.  I don’t miss having to have meals on the table every day.  I don’t miss a messy house or dishes left in the sink.  I love having freedom to do what I want when I want without (outside of kenneling the pets if we travel) outside of my job.  I don’t miss all the noise and the fighting, I like the quiet.  I love having my washer and dryer free all the time and I’m not waiting on someone to unload one or the other.  I love having a home office and an exercise studio/guest room.  I love that my life is now my own after having my first child at the age of 20.  And maybe someday, if I’m lucky, I’ll turn the studio/guest room into a room for grandchildren.

But I’ll admit, something very important is missing.  I’ve tried all the advice they have suggested which essentially is: Fill all your time up with something else.  Get a new hobby or go back to an old one, travel more, volunteer, go back to school, go after that career you’ve always wanted, start a business, join a club, make new friends and so on.  In theory, that sounds like solid advice and maybe it truly works for some but it hasn’t really worked for me.  I don’t sit at home doing nothing and feeling sorry for myself, especially since my husband and I work opposite shifts off and on during the month so I’m home alone quite frequently.  I already had a dozen hobbies, we travel about the same, I am going back to school in less than a month, I’m not a club person, maybe I’ll make new friends but I’m an introvert and not horribly social to start with and well I don’t have some new career I’m dying to start.  In short, I’d been living my life alongside raising my girls.  The more independent they became, the more time I devoted toward my interests.

Last fall, I signed up with a local organization much like Big Brothers/Big Sisters to be a lunch buddy for an 11-year old fifth grade girl I’ll call Madison.  Though you were to go just twice a month to eat lunch with your ‘little’, I usually went once a week when I could.  Here I was in the middle school my three daughters attended and that once was the high school from which I graduated.   I could still show you my locker in high school, #111.  I’ll admit, I’ve tried different volunteering activities and this is the first one that I really enjoyed and looked forward to doing.  I finally found something fulfilling.  Toward the end of the school year, the coordinator determined that we were a ‘match’ which means Madison and I can now spend time together outside of school with permission of her parents and of course, when she is available.  Though it took some back and forth (Madison’s parents are divorced and she floats between the homes) and some phone tag but the other day, we finally had our first day out.

I took Madison to meet my oldest daughter and while there she met a few of her friends and my daughter’s cat.  Then we visited my middle daughter and her three cats and three fish tanks.  Though my youngest was at work, she lives with the middle one, so Madison got to meet her two cats as well.  She loves animals and wanted to meet my daughters she’s heard so much about.  Our last stop was the local coffee/chocolate house downtown.  We each picked mango smoothies (with whipped cream) and walked down to the river to sit on an iron bench I sat with my own daughters when they were little.  I told Madison stories about my girls bringing bread down to feed the ducks/geese (which you’re not supposed to do now) and how my middle one would come and fish trying to catch these ginormous catfish that live in this murky river.  She told me stories as well about her family and things she’s done.

As she’s talking, I glance over at her, her feet up on the bench, oversized sunglasses on her face, my heart seizes.  I realize how much I miss these moments with my own daughters when they were younger.  I have an ‘AHA’ moment right there happily hanging out with Madison and I realize all the empty nest advice I’ve read or been given, doesn’t even touch the one key thing I’ve been missing.    It was as if the last puzzle piece of what I was struggling with finally clicked! into place.  Everything finally, finally made sense.

I went from Super Hero to Pinch Hitter as my kids grew up and moved on with their lives.  I’m still close to my daughters, I still see them frequently, we still spend time together.  We’ve had a few growing pains and bumps, but mostly things are good.  We’re still a close-knit family though everyone’s schedules are a bit challenging to get us all together.   But I’m a pinch hitter now.  Once in a great while, they need me but they are independent grown women.  I talk to them at least once a day via messenger app.  We have a group chat and individual chats.  That’s one blessed thing about technology that we didn’t have twenty-five years ago.  We can be in touch, just like we were when we all lived together.  Just less crowded and we aren’t fighting.

I had been chiding myself because I believe that I shouldn’t ever feel sad about having a lighter nest.  “You started out with no kids and you were fine back then.  You had a great time, you weren’t sad and down.”  But parenthood changes you.  I’m not the same person I was at 19-20 or in my teen years.  I’m trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  I’ve become a different person who has rounded out their life.

When your child(ren) are born, you put on a cape and become their super hero.  You’re responsible for all their care, they are completely helpless.  As they grow, there is usually a pretty intense love affair between you.  First smiles, first laugh, tiny fingers gripping onto one of yours, wrapping their arms around your neck, you saving them from all sorts of scary things, they become attached to you at the hip and then for a while they don’t like you but then they come back.  You’re the first person they show things to and you walk with them as they learn about and explore life.  So many kisses and hugs and bedtime stories.  So many sweet moments tucked into all the hair-pulling exhaustion and frustration and then one day, it’s all gone even if you have a good relationship with your adult kids.  But it’s changed as it’s supposed to but no one really tells you that you’re left a bit empty.  Maybe that’s how the word empty came into play.

It’s a process, going from Super Hero to Pinch Hitter, usually a gradual one but you’re now a bit player in their life.  What annoys the crap out of me is when people, well-meaning as they are, tell you ‘well that’s how it’s supposed to be, they are supposed to grow up’.  No shit.  Thanks so much for that.  But no one tells you that no matter what you do, even if you’re happy to not be caring for someone and to be on your own again, that you miss all the love.  Not that you and your adult kids don’t love each other but they aren’t running up to you four or five times a day and wrapping their arms around your neck and giving you sloppy kisses.  No one is looking up to you daily (though this wanes as they get older).  You’re not the hero anymore.  Maybe a little, but it’s more in the background.  You’ve been pretty much retired and even though I volunteer and spend time with someone younger, it’s not as if she’s my own child so it’s different.  She’s happy to see me and excited to spend time with me.  Now the only people who are excited to see me outside of Madison, aren’t people at all but my pets (thank god for them right?).

After I took Madison home, I drove back to my house in deep thought.  It made sense now.  I can do all the things on the list of ‘what empty nesters should do’ and it’s not going to replace the sweet love and moments I had with my daughters.  Even if I worked all day with kids, it’s not the same.  I’m guessing this is why people are so happy when they become grandparents.  They get their Super Hero cape back, at least for a decade or so.  Or maybe with grandparents, you get to keep it longer?  But this makes sense to me, this is why going back to school, delving into 200 hobbies, starting a business, etc. doesn’t quite make you feel whole (or at least me – I can’t speak for others).  But acknowledging what is really going on with me, helps.  I can be gentle with myself and not chide myself for struggling a bit.  There is a reason I am struggling and even though my girls are productive and amazing grown ups, I’m grieving parts of parenthood that can’t be fixed by anything.  It just is.

I’ve had my cape cleaned and it’s tucked neatly away in my closet in case I need it some day.  But until then, I will allow myself to feel what I need to feel.  I will be gentle with myself and understand that it’s not something you ‘fix’.  That there isn’t a book or article or blog or maybe even therapist who is going to tell you that it’s really okay and not suggest shoveling a lot of activities into that missing piece.  It’s okay for me to be sad and sometimes feel a little unneeded because the truth is, I’m not needed as much.  My feelings are valid.  I’m not being silly or a pathetic person, I am being human.   It’s okay if sometimes I feel like I’m not as useful as I once was or miss reading bedtime stories, and all the hugs and kisses.  There is no shame in that.  It’s okay to be sad sometimes while being relieved you don’t have to cook dinner every night.

Bottom line: Being a parent changes you.  You’ll never be the same person again but that’s alright.

 

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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!

Surprising Revelation After Letting Go of Diets

Just a quick check in as I’ve stopped journaling about the whole food peace journey and wanted to let go thinking about it all. It’s been about four months since I embarked on this new way of life and no, I have not suddenly become thin. Actually I’m the same size. While this may seem like it should be disappointing, when you let go of worrying about your weight and body size, there is a surprising outcome when you let go. Happiness. Acceptance. More time to focus on things you enjoy.

I was inspired to write this short post when I was walking by the full length mirrors in my bathroom and I didn’t cringe, I didn’t criticize my body (even in my own mind) and I felt happy looking at myself. My body hasn’t changed. I haven’t miraculously become thin or super fit. Actually, I’m pretty fit for a fat girl and working on getting even fitter (not thinner – if that happens it does, if it doesn’t so what). Since I have stopped judging myself, my body, my weight and my appearance, I feel so much better about myself and my body. I see more positive rather than negative things about it and 0 has changed about my body. I actually like my body, fat, cellulite, freckles, scars, stretch marks, and muscle. I love what my body can do and I want to train so I can do even more. Not to mention I love just eating food without restriction or worry. You stop thinking about it so much and free up even more time.

Most of us as kids, go through a phase where we are fascinated with ourselves in a mirror. We look at ourselves, trying to figure out how we fit together. We didn’t stand there and say, OMG, my knees are fat or something silly like that. We are a wonderful, amazing machine of flesh, bone, blood and organs. It feels really great and freeing to look in a mirror and not criticize something about myself. To feel as if I don’t measure up with the other humans. That I should hide my body and hide myself because I’m fat or whatever.

I’m so dang happy about this. I can’t even express it. I also find I treat myself better in general. I pay attention to eating a little more healthy just because I want to feel my best and nourish my body. I don’t put off buying clothes until I’m smaller. Actually I’m going to sign up with one of those services who send you clothes that you can pick and choose from. I eat what I want when I’m hungry, when I want it. I still emotionally eat a bit but I don’t go overboard because I’m feeling bad about doing so. We all do it from time to time. It’s ok to comfort ourselves sometimes.

Come on guys, life is too short for diets and feeling bad about yourself. You deserve the very best and you deserve to be loved for who you, as you are, today. If you have to change your body for someone to love you, that’s just bullshit. Love yourself. Treat yourself well. Don’t put up with other people’s crap. Stand up for yourself, fat or thin, who cares. You’re awesome and beautiful and wonderful just the way you are. We need to be kind to others but also to ourselves. Especially kind to ourselves. Let go of the crap, let yourself be happy right here, right now, in this very moment. We only have this one life.

If someone said something hateful to you about how you look, who you are, well F*ck them. They aren’t perfect. They have their own flaws, one being that they are an insecure ass who has to put others down to feel good about themselves. Other people’s opinions are none of your business (not my saying). Stop reading those fitness and fashion magazines and articles telling you how to dress, weigh, and so on. Just do what you want. Who cares? I’m fat and I’m going to wear horizontal stripes. I’m almost 50 but I’m not going to dress like I’m ready for the nursing home or like I’m 20. I’m going to dress in what makes me feel good and happy. Screw those rules for how to dress when you’re 30, 40… Who said these people anyway? They aren’t the boss of me. They just want to sell products and magazines. Just like the diet industry is in the BILLIONS of dollars. Stop being their puppet. STOP IT!

Let go of the crap and let yourself be happy, right here, right now. You are beautiful, wonderful, amazing and loved right in this moment. Enjoy it. Set yourself free. It’s one of the best things I have ever done for myself, I hope you find that way as well. Ciao!

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.

Week 2 – Peace With Food Journal

It’s a few days less than a week, but I’m adjusting my ‘week’ so I can publish my blog post on Saturdays when people may have more time to actually sit down and read since most of us work weekdays. I’ve deviated from the daily entries now to sum up my impressions for the week.

Mainly, my diet mentality is strong. As I practice being very mindful of when I am actually hungry, what I truly want to eat and my satiety cues, I realized that I categorize foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as well as ‘make me fat’ and ‘won’t make me fat’. At first, I was angry with myself but I gently reminded my impatient goal-driven brain to be kind with myself, I have many, many years of judging foods and not trusting my body. This is simply a habit I will have to work hard on breaking. There are no “bad” foods, just foods that are more nutritious and less nutritious. I heard this on the Love, Food podcast by Julie Duffy Dillon – Love, Food Podcast. I really recommend her show as it is a very supportive non-diet environment that encourages people to use intuitive eating. Julie is a dietitian as well. I listen to the podcast in the car and at work when I can. One episodes she was talking about how there are no ‘bad’ foods but nutritious and less nutritious foods. In other words, there are no foods off limit but you do want to eat exactly what you want at that moment.

On Wednesday, I made my first big shopping trip since I started my peace with food journey. It was in the evening, the stores were packed because of the upcoming snow storm that hit yesterday with freezing rain and what looks like a few inches of snow from my home office window. I had my list but I also walked through the aisles ignoring the commotion around me as shoppers frantically grabbed supplies (the bread aisle was almost empty). Again, I am fighting the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food ideals I’ve seared into my brain. I took my time, walking up and down most aisles and even the junk food aisle I almost always avoid as if Satan himself will pop up between the chips and pretzels. He will then turn me into a big fat waddling whale. You know what? I didn’t run into Satan and I didn’t make any impulse purchases. I didn’t fill my cart with chips and candy. I walked up and down the junk food aisle twice looking at all the colorful and enticing packaging while asking myself, do I want this? Does this sound good? Do I want giant orange cheese poofs? Hmmm… nope.

I go to two different stores, Kroger for mainly produce and dairy as well as wine and things I can’t get at Wal-Mart. I love Kroger Brand ice cream as well. I did buy ice cream but that was on my list anyway. Since Wednesday, I’ve literally had one small bowl of ice cream. I have not binged on it at all. Because I am allowed to have ice cream so it takes away the urge to woof it down in rebellion. Speaking of binges, Dillion states in her newsletter (she has a free newsletter you can sign up for) that we should be kind to ourselves even when we binge. That it’s okay, it’s our way of coping with something and to soothe ourselves. She has a new podcast relating to this subject this week though I haven’t listened to it yet. Essentially, it comes down to showing ourselves the kindness that we show the people we love and even strangers. Allowing myself any food, to eat when I am hungry and not starving myself until the next meal, even if it means I eat ten times that day, eases that whole “I’ll never get enough” fear in the back of my mind.

Unfortunately, I stepped on a scale this week. And the number really means nothing. It’s roughly the same as the last time. I haven’t lost or gained any weight but I felt disappointed in myself for not losing. Then I felt angry for myself for giving into the urge to weigh. Then I took a deep breath, shook it off and reminded myself, just don’t step on that stupid scale. You don’t have to keep measuring your size or weight. You are free from this constant judgement of your body. Just let go of this mentality. I remind myself if I get bigger it is okay, being bigger doesn’t make me a bad person or a loser or a failure. If I get smaller, I remind myself that this doesn’t make me ‘better’, just a different size. I am not my size. My family and close friends aren’t going to stop caring about me if I go up a size and I won’t get more friends or a magically happy life if I go down sizes. Thin doesn’t make you a better person. Thin doesn’t give you the perfect life. It is just a bigger body or a smaller body.

Trusting my body to know what it wants is hard when you are fighting all your old triggers, diet mentality, fear of getting bigger, fear of not being accepted, fear of people making fun of you and so on. Letting myself eat when hungry and circumventing the strict meal ideals that I shouldn’t eat between meals, has also cut down on any overeating. There was one evening that I found myself just a little bit too full. I took a moment to think about what I did to reach to that point and realized, that I hurriedly ate some dessert immediately after dinner. In addition, I served myself more dessert than I actually wanted and then felt I must eat it all. The next time, I waited until I really wanted dessert even though I had already started the dishwasher. Having a bowl and a spoon in the sink overnight would not end the world. A few nights, I didn’t bother at all with dessert or I ate a couple of mints we keep in a bowl on the kitchen pie safe. That was what I wanted.

We hear a lot of ‘rules’ in our life about how to eat or not eat. Don’t eat after 6 p.m. Brush your teeth and call it a night. Sometimes though, I’m hungry at 9 p.m. I’ve stopped ignoring this cue and asked myself what I wanted to eat. The last time it was just I wanted a banana. I ate the banana and it tasted extra sweet for some reason. I try to eat mindfully instead of shoving the food into my mouth. This really helps you pick up on your own internal cues. I have a lot to learn yet, but I am truly much happier getting off the dieting, food rules, and good/bad food lists merry-go-round. This frees up a lot of time to do other things since I’m not fretting or feeling depressed about my weight. Trusting your body = freedom & a happier existence.

The other thing I noticed this week is my internal self-talk when I walk by a mirror. I notice my rounded belly and start to think OMG it’s so big. Again, here is another item that I have to work on. Chiding myself for how I look isn’t showing myself kindness. When I catch myself doing this, I make myself say out loud something I love about my body or looks. Such as “I have pretty eyes” or “my thighs are really strong”. Retraining my thought patterns. Funny, I thought I had eliminated my negative self-talk but it’s still there to a smaller degree but in the background.

So what I’ve learned this week is this journey isn’t simple or easy but it does feel joyful and gives you a sense of freedom. It won’t be overnight and could take several years so I must be patient . I have to pay attention to my tendency to use good/bad food labels. I need to continue listening to my hunger cues and what I want to eat, when I am hungry and stop when I am just satisfied so I don’t feel grossly over full. It just doesn’t feel good when your stomach is the equivalent of a lead balloon. I still need to work on negative self-talk and stay off the scale. Maybe do some meditation on letting go of a bigger body = bad and smaller body = good mentality. I am not my size. I am allowed to leave food on my plate. I also noticed I don’t drink a lot of fluids so I am going to focus on using my fancy glass water bottle I bought this summer and drinking more. I am going to take my vitamin supplements more often. Maybe add in some omega 3 & 6 after reading an article in Psychology Today about how our moods may be affected by our nutrition. Did you know your intestines carry two pounds of gene material? Yes, I’m a nerd, I love reading this stuff.

So this weekend and coming week, just be kind to yourself. Listen to your hunger cues and eat whatever the hell your body tells you it wants. Maybe put the scale away and give yourself a hug. Life won’t end if you’re a size 18 and not a size 8. You are wonderful and beautiful and amazing no matter what. Yes, you are. Don’t argue with me because I’m right! :-). Hugs and love as well as peace with your body and food. xoxoxo

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.