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.

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Food Peace Journal – Joyful Movement & Panic Mode

I got out my calendar to look up how many weeks it’s been that I’ve been on this new journey, six weeks! It feels like six months! Truly I was surprised when it was only six weeks though I honestly can’t tell you why it seems longer. Maybe because so much has happened in a short time for me. No, I haven’t lost weight during this six weeks. I don’t know what what I weigh. It doesn’t matter what I weigh as my quality of life does not hinge on this number. Am I bigger or smaller? I don’t know. I feel a little bigger but not enough my clothes aren’t fitting. But enough I’m edging into panic mode. My fear of getting fatter is edging more to the forefront as I give up more and more control over my body by not dieting or weighing myself.

Panic mode means I am not trusting my body to do it’s job and I’m letting the diet culture and mentality take back over. Also, when you think about how long term off and on dieting affects your metabolism, when you suddenly start eating when you are hungry again, I think you will get a little more rounder for a bit. First of all, suddenly you can eat whatever you want whenever you want. This is a bit like being a kid locked into a candy store overnight, you’re going to overindulge for awhile until you and your body figure out that you are no longer starving it. I feel my moods have improved somewhat, I feel more level. Maybe because I’m not experiencing blood sugar fluctuations so badly? My jeans feel a bit more tight. Not enough that I will need a larger size but in the back of my mind red flashing lights and warning sirens are going off. ‘Stop! Stop! Stop what you are doing! You’re going to get fatter!’. This is so hard to deal with at times. These thoughts put me in panic mode and suddenly I want to go dig out the scale, reload the food journal app and throw out anything not ‘healthy’ or ‘fattening’.

Then I stop myself and look at my body. All that diet culture paraphernalia did not make me thin, it probably made me heavier than what is natural for me by fighting my body’s own natural instincts and defense mechanisms. I am living proof diets only work temporarily and you just get bigger. The more I dieted, the bigger I got. Deep breath, Laura. I am ok, if I have to go to a size 20, so be it. I must be kind and gentle in this process, love myself and my body and the wonderful machine it is. I’ve fucked with my body’s natural processes for years, six weeks is not enough to undo literally 37 years of dieting and restricting and exercising until I drop. This is where patience (something I lack) is my friend. I have to let my body do what it needs to do to heal and get back into a natural rhythm. Plus I am also still learning about listening to the cues when I’m hungry and when I’m full. I find in the evening, I tend to overeat feeling anxious as if I may never get to eat again. I am not sure what this is about as I have a fully stocked kitchen, a grocery store within ten miles and plenty of money to buy food. There is no shortage. Maybe evenings are just an anxious time for me.

Also, being able to eat whatever you want, you’re going to indulge in all those foods you restricted. So I probably am getting a tad bit bigger as I reprogram my mind to not freak out when these formally ‘forbidden’ foods are in my grasp. Case in point is chocolate. I’ve eating a f*ck ton of chocolate in the last six weeks. I’ve received and bought 3 candy hearts over the last few weeks due to Valentine’s Day. The first candy heart, I literally plowed through, the second one was small – only three pieces – devoured in one sitting. The last one was from my husband and it’s the same as the first except 3x’s the size. By now, I will eat one or two pieces and be like wow, that’s sweet and two pieces are plenty. My husband asked me if there was something wrong with the candy he bought me because I wasn’t shoveling it in like normal. Nope, it was fine, it’s just I’ve eaten so much candy lately, I’m a bit overwhelmed by it. When you can have it and have as much as you want of it, suddenly you find that you will not want it so much. Also you’re focusing on your hunger and satiety cues at the same time. You start noticing at one point that you aren’t hungry when you pull out the box of delicious chocolates so you may only eat one or even none, waiting until you are hungry again.

This journey is a bit of a roller coaster. I love jalapeno kettle-style potato chips. So last night at the grocery I bought a bag. I even opened them and ate a few in the car tough they recommend you eat sitting at a table, focusing on your food so you don’t mindlessly shove half a bag of potato chips in your gullet. I spent the evening grazing on them. I’d put them away, get them out, put them away get them out. I even ate them with the nice roast dinner I made. I ate half the bag and still am suffering from their effects this morning. My stomach is burning, my acid reflux is kicked up. So in this case, I am thinking maybe if I get the craving for these chips, I go and buy the small bag even if it means going to a gas station. Or do I just buy the big bag and eat until I realize I can have these whenever I want? This is one of those ‘forbidden foods’ so naturally since it’s the first time I’ve bought them this year, I’m going to overindulge. I think I should just buy the big bag because if I buy the small bag at the gas station, I am in a way restricting myself. Which means I may overeat them a few times and suffer horribly a few times until my brain figures out these chips are no longer ‘forbidden’ and therefore I do not need to eat a half a bag of them in an evening.

Being aware of why and when I overeat is key for me to reverse this behavior. Deep breath, I will be okay. If I get bigger for awhile, then I get bigger. The key remains, eat when I am hungry and just until I’m satisfied, not feeling stuffed and sick. This seems so simple but after not listening to your body for almost 80% of your life, it isn’t going to happen in a few weeks.

Raise your hand if you only exercised to lose weight? ME! ME! Well I like to exercise but my focus has always been calorie burning. Intervals for more calorie burn, longer rides to burn more calories, pedaling until you’re ready to puke to burn off that big lunch. ‘Joyful movement’ is a term I hear frequently on the podcasts and in the books I’ve been immersing myself in this year. Joyful movement is simply doing physical activity you love without any consideration to burning calories or losing weight. It means cancelling the gym membership if you hate going to the gym. Or keeping it if you love going but changing the activities you do and your mindset. You love Zumba class and now you just go to this class because you love the movement and camaraderie of your class mates. Or you put on music and dance around the house. Take your dog for a walk where you actually enjoy the process rather than trying to walk as fast as you can for thirty minutes. You stop worrying about the number of calories burned and you start focusing on the simple joy of moving your body.

Case in point – I am going to list my cycling rollers today for sale. I’ve tried and tried to do stationary riding in the winter on my road bike. I hate it. I get bored in the first few minutes and just want to stop. I’ve tried different methods to no avail. Yes it is a way to add miles to your yearly cycling goal but I can’t stand it. I might as well sell them to someone who will actually use them. I love to dance way back from the school dances and clubs. I’m not very good at it, I’m a typical white girl when it comes to dancing. I’ve never taken a dance lesson in my life but I like more the non-choreographed kind of thing anyway. We have an old Wii and a few Just Dance games. Nothing is more awkward than a fat girl prancing around in her basement, that is until she turns the full length mirror resting on the wall around and forgets about how she may look.

The other night, no one was home and I went down in the basement in a sports bra, shorts and socks and fired up the game. At first I’m a little self-conscious but it’s only the cat and dog watching. Without thinking about calorie burn or time elapsed, I just enjoyed the different dances and trying to do them. Before I know it, I’m covered in sweat and over an hour has passed. Without even thinking about it, I got in an hour of exercise without staring at a clock because I was doing something fun, something I enjoyed. I was wearing my phone to count steps (I do this just for fun) and I amassed about 3000 steps just prancing around in my basement. My bike and rollers just sat there across the way, leaning against the wall. I would have had to force myself to finish 20 minutes of riding on that set up. I would have had 0 fun. The whole dance experience put me in a great mood as well. Joyful movement, those words suddenly made perfect sense.

I love to ride my bike but not inside. Time to sell the rollers. I’ve been holding onto them for several years just convinced this was the year I’d really make use of them. The bottom line is I hate riding in place. So it’s time to honor the idea of joyful movement and bring back fun rather than torture myself to burn calories. No wonder people hate exercise so much. We don’t do it the right way or for the right reasons. I love, love riding my bike on the bike path or my mountain bike on the trails. I will be smiling ear to ear while doing so. But put me on my bike in the basement on training rollers and I’m no longer enjoying the ride. I’m annoyed, frustrated and impatient to get the time over with. If you dread the exercise, it feels like torture.

Pick something you love, make it spontaneous, don’t time yourself or worry about calories burned. There are so many things you can do to move. The majority of us aren’t training for athletic events anyway. I imagine once you start doing things you love for the sheer pleasure of moving, you’ll find yourself much more active in general. I’m going to see if I can buy some used Just Dance games just to have new dances to try because it’s fun!

Until next time, happy eating and joyful moving!

I Give Up! – Cultivating Peace with Food & My Body

As 2017 came to a close, I started thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in 2018 and beyond. Cultivate more inner peace and not be swayed with every wind that crosses my path. In conjunction with that particular goal, I started thinking about my forever struggle with food and weight. I was considering returning to my food journal app as I had lost 20 pounds using it but then I delved deeper. When I used it my idea was that after six months, I would relearn and retrain myself to eat healthier. It takes three months to form a new habit so wouldn’t six months help ingrain it into my thick skull?

Well it must have not worked because I gained the weight back. On the food journal, I felt hungry a lot, I felt restricted and while I didn’t plan on it, I returned to my eating habits to an extent. I cut out my restaurant and fast food eating quite a bit though and started cooking more so it wasn’t all for naught. So it had partially the effect and result I wanted but my weight went right back to where it was. So as I considered if I wanted to just do the food journal for the rest of my life, I felt in my gut that no, I don’t want to be tied to an app. If I couldn’t learn how to eat better that way, then what was the point?

So I know what foods are good for me and what are not or so they say. I know what portion sizes look like. I exercise fairly regularly, that thank god, is not an issue for me as long as it is something I enjoy. So what is the issue? The issue started when I was 10 or 11 years old living in Lone Elm, Missouri, in a small two bedroom house next to the cemetery. My father was full out an alcoholic who didn’t work and my mother was struggling to keep the family together and the bills paid. My elementary school was literally a two-room Lutheran School and there was a whopping seven people in my class so my options for friends was pretty limited. Plus, I carried the stigma of being ‘Larry’s daughter’ and everyone knew when Larry would drive his car into a tree on one of the back roads. There are not many secrets in a small farming community.

I was having trouble sleeping then, I would sleep with the King James Bible under my pillow after reading Psalms to soothe myself. On particularly hard nights, I would tuck in my few stuffed animals around me as a fully wall of protection. Even though I shared a bedroom with my younger sister, I felt so alone. I would lie in my bed and stare out the window at the stars praying, praying and praying some more that we could be a normal family and my father would be healed from his disease. Then I would pray to God to help me sleep, I was growing more and more exhausted as my insomnia held fast. I was just a kid, I had no idea how to fix this issue. There was no one to talk to, no one to confide in as everyone just excused my dad’s behavior and behest my mom to honor her marriage vows so she would not leave.

But one night, I crept down the wooden stairs and shut the door behind me as quiet as I could. My dad was snoring loudly, probably sleeping off another drunk. I stepped off the last step and turned right into the kitchen flipping on the switch. I stood there for a moment to make sure my parents hadn’t heard me and would come down to shoo me back to bed. Nothing. I breathed a sigh of relief and walked past the kitchen table into the alcove that was the actual kitchen area. Gently I opened the cupboard doors until I found something to eat. I can’t remember if I was actually hungry or not but I grabbed a box of sweetened cereal so common in the late 1970’s. Since my cooking skills weren’t much yet, cereal appealed to me because I could actually ‘fix’ my own breakfast. I took the box of cereal, a bowl and spoon to the table. Pulling the milk out of the refrigerator, I sat down and remember feeling very independent. Plus no one even knew I was awake moving around. I believe this gave me a sense of control in a life that felt so out of control.

The swell of freedom intoxicated me as I poured my first night bowl of cereal. I sat down and ate slowly, looking out the window at the dark night, seeing my reflection which seemed so grown up at the time. Once I finished the bowl of cereal, I wondered what I should do so I didn’t get in trouble. I would have to wash the dish and spoon then put everything back. Except I wasn’t sleepy. I didn’t want to go back upstairs and to just lie there for hours so I poured a second bowl of cereal even though I wasn’t the least bit hungry but the action of feeding myself in secrecy felt too good. Eventually, with a full belly, I crept back up the steps and fell asleep, feeling comforted for the first time in forever. And so this started my career in emotional eating and my mom wondering why we were going through cereal so fast.

Remembering this helped me pick a goal for this year and beyond. I can diet, use food journals and ride hundreds of miles on my bike but until I conquer my emotional/stress/comfort/bored eating habit, I’ll never shake this. There’s also the guilt of eating certain things, the long held diet mentality instilled in me from a young age after spending the summer with my grandmother who loved to feed me until I was ready to burst, weigh me and then chide me for gaining weight. My entire maternal side of my family was overly concerned about their weight and being thin. I’ve suffered abuse as well, which means when I do lose weight, there are times when I draw attention of men that freaks me out internally. My subconscious wants to keep me in a fat suit to protect me from the world. So I have multiple issues to deal with not just one.

This year (and beyond), I want to attack and conquer my eating when I’m not hungry. My diet mentality about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods needs to go as well. This year, I want to discover the freedom of eating and not having to think so much about the act at all. I don’t want to feel guilty or ashamed. I don’t want to weigh myself every day. I want to trust my body to tell me what I need, when I’m hungry, when I’m satiated and what I am hungry for even if it is chocolate cake. No foods will be off limits. I will not sit and force myself to stay hungry until noon or whatever time I’ve deemed appropriate to eat. No more starving myself. No more forcing myself to eat things that I don’t really want because they are ‘healthy’.

I’ll admit, I’ve been down this road before when I got thick into books like Intuitive Eating and such. I just wanted to trust my body but something would always derail me. The last time was the Weight Watchers program at work. I thought it would help me but in the long run, I ended up heavier. Restriction makes me eat more. I rebel against the tight constraints. How many people do you know or maybe even yourself where they had short term success with diets and then gained it all back? (I’m raising both my hands because this is me, me, me!)

So back into the books and resources I can find on emotional eating and finding peace with food. I’ve been reading a book by Linda Bacon entitled Body Respect which is refreshing me on the principles I already know from the last time I delved into the whole intuitive eating, no dieting and making peace with food foray. The one thing that stands out so far in her book is that your body has a normal set point and by dieting, we push this set point higher (starvation effect). To return to your normal set point, you have to quit dieting and eat normally. Do I even know what normally is at this point? Time to relearn.

Today, I listed to multiple episodes of a podcast called Love, Food by a registered dietitian who claims you shouldn’t try to lose weight. People write letters to ‘food’ which entails their struggles with eating, weight gain and so on. The letters are read on the air and the dietitian, Julie Dillion, gives suggestions to help with the issue as well as brings in other experts. Though she grates on my nerves with her super cheeriness sometimes, Julie seems to really want to help people overcome her food issues. It is her passion and all her podcasts are extremely supportive, kind and do not recommend diets or weight loss to anyone. Again, it is simply listening to your body and your hunger cues while addressing your issues head on.

I haven’t thrown out my scale, but I did tuck it away. My food journal app has been deleted. The health tracker that keeps my steps has been tucked away in a less accessible place because it contains my health data on it such as my allergies and so on that can be accessed by first responders. Starting yesterday, I started focusing on my cues. Am I hungry? Do I want to eat this? Does this taste good to me? Am I full? You know what? I found I eat a lot of things just because they are handy or already prepared but not what I wanted. So mid-afternoon, I had my Instant Pot out making steel cut oatmeal because it was what I was craving. I had that for a late lunch because I didn’t eat much due to nothing suiting my taste. Later I had a salad from the Mexican place in town.

Today, at work, I found that I need to stock my desk with more food I find appealing. My tendency to starve myself is very evident in my eating habits at work. I literally try to eat a small bowl of instant oatmeal and make it stretch for as long as I can until I’m starving. Then I may grab a piece of fruit or a protein bar I keep in my desk. My unwritten rule of not eating lunch until after 12:00 to make the day seem shorter can leaving me starving again. Basically, I try to eat as little as possible at work which means I’m probably overeating once home. Why am I doing this? No clue. But I bet I am forcing my body to hold onto fat even more by not satiating my true hunger.

So today, I ate when I was hungry. I even ate lunch before noon and I ate what I wanted which was steel cut oatmeal and an orange. Then mid afternoon, I was hungry again and I delved into the carrots and dip with part of the piece of jalapeño cornbread I brought. I tossed half of the cornbread because I was full. For dinner, I ate a nice bowl of jambalaya with apple slices I coated with peanut butter. Oh and a small bowl of chocolate ice cream with whipped cream on top.

The result of two days of eating intuitively? Have I lost weight and am going down to my natural size? I don’t know. I don’t care anymore. Today I felt giddy with the fact I could eat what I wanted. Not forcing myself to suffer made me happy. There is a very distinct feeling of freedom. Like you just got a monkey off your back. I know I will have a lot of work ahead of me in the coming months and I may even get fatter. If I do, I will buy clothes to fit me and I will get nice clothes. I promise not to punish myself and to always be kind as if I were my best friend. If I lose weight, I will buy smaller clothes and I won’t post selfies saying, look I lost weight! Because it doesn’t matter. I no longer give my weight or size the power to run my life. Whether I’m a size 14 or 24, I am the same person with just a differently-sized body. No longer will I feel inadequate or ashamed because I am bigger nor will I feel smug if I end up smaller. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is I enjoy food, eat when I’m hungry and eat what I want as well as trust my body. That I break this 38-year battle with emotional eating. That I stop trying to hide in a ‘fat suit’. I’m already healthy at the size I am which befuddles my doctors but I am an active woman who generally eats well 80% of the time. I will stop starving myself. I will exercise doing the things I love without having to worry about steps (though I am going to count cycling miles for my year’s cycling goal but that’s not diet-related). I refuse to be a slave to my coping methods, to diet mentality, to learned behaviors that make me miserable.

I am simply going to trust my body to tell me exactly what it needs.

The Depression Conundrum

Conundrum – a confusing and difficult problem or question. 

This single word is what comes to my mind when I think about depression especially as it relates to myself.  I was thirty-five before I ever was diagnosed with it officially and I’m forty-five now.  Starting at this time of the year, when the days are short and the bad weather impending here in Ohio if it hasn’t already arrived, I start to get anxious and fearful that “depression” will arrive and suck me under into its dark, tarry depths where living becomes the equivalent to trying to walk through a tar pit.  Each step is a struggle, each breath exhausting.  People who have not experienced depression probably will feel I am making up that description for dramatic effect, I only wish I were.

Most people who have never suffered from depression usually believe it’s as simple as “snapping out of it.”  If it were that simple, don’t you think we would do it?  If the pills were a miracle cure, then why do we keep needing them?  They feel like a Band-Aid to me.  They were helpful when I got so deeply depressed that I wanted to literally not wake up the next morning,  so that was a good thing but it doesn’t cure depression, just helps you through it.  Is there a way to prevent depression?  Only thing I found that truly helps is riding my bike as much as possible and taking good care of myself.   But it is a continual battle it seems.  A battle I’m quite tired of dealing with.

Depression is mostly a chemical imbalance in your brain (from how I understand it, I’m not a doctor).  My cousin suffers very similarly the way I do so maybe it is inheirited.  We ebb and flow with the winter months being our worst time.  Obviously there is something to that seasonal affective disorder.  Maybe we are sensitive to things that no one is aware of or maybe our brain chemistry is just a tiny bit off making it hard for us at times to function without struggling with depression.

The holidays are fast approaching and with it comes sadness for me after losing my mom.  Personally, I would like to just skip the holidays.  I don’t get any joy out of them anymore.  They are just stark reminders of who is no longer with us and how the celebrations have changed but I guess that is truly just part of life.  But it doesn’t mean I like it.  Or that I have to like it.  I may not be able to change it but I don’t have to like it.   But regardless, this time of the year starts bringing on the start of depression for me again.  Top it off with I have to get surgery in a few weeks to check for uterine cancer, I’m really not flying too high because I’m more worried than anything.  Anytime the word “cancer” comes up, I panic and for good reason.  My mom died of this horrible, painful disease.

I was out walking in the woods the other day thinking about how tired I was of fighting and worrying about depression.  I was thinking, why can’t things just be normal for me?  No, it’s not normally a life-threatening disease (though it can be) and it isn’t cancer so I should be grateful it’s not more serious right?  My way of trying to look on the bright side.  Be positive.  I’m trying to figure out ways to be able to work out hard enough this winter because last year the gym membership didn’t help and hiking or walking doesn’t do enough.  Cycling has been the biggest help but I need to be able to do it for more than an hour and pretty vigorously.  My trainer I can’t ride more than 30 minutes if I’m lucky because riding in place is hard for me and my trainer is pretty hard to ride anyway.  I don’t run because of my bad knees so I was trying to come up with a solution.

Then the thought hit me, what if instead of fearing the depression, I just let go and go with the ebb and flow of it?  Except of course if it gets so bad that I am considering self-harm which hasn’t happened since I was first diagnosed with it ten years ago.  Actually, I wasn’t really considering self-harm, I was just wishing I wouldn’t wake up.  I suppose that is just as bad.  I always feel like I need to be “on top of it”.  But I’m tired of being super vigilant.  I wondered as I picked my way around the now bare trees on the trail, what if I just accepted the feelings?

What if I just laid on the couch for a week and watched Lifetime movies and ate crap?  What if the depression is really my body’s way of telling me listen, you need to stop, you need to take way better care of yourself not only physically but mentally and maybe step back and really look at what is making silently angry or what isn’t working in your life or what if there is a dream or purpose you are ignoring?  They say depression is really repressed anger which may be what affects the brain chemistry and considering I’m so sensitive to everything, it probably affects me sooner than other people.  Maybe I need to really look at my life, I am sure a lot of my anger is based on losing my mom and the way such a sweet, kind and loving person had to die.

Oh yeah, I’m pissed at cancer, it’s epidemic and no one seems to realize this.  I’m pissed at being treated less than a person at times at my job, though I console myself with the fact that isn’t just me that is treated that way there.  Corporations all over the world treat employees this way.  Sometimes I feel like starting my own business and putting people to work under me in a place that treats them as people and not numbers or stupid children would be proactive but it’s a lot of work owning your own business.  And it doesn’t feel like my particular calling.  Maybe there is a long suppressed dream of mine I am not fulfilling.  Maybe I need to focus more on my writing.  I suppose it could be anything.  But I owe it to myself to sort it out though I am guessing it’s not going to be instantaneous.

I am going to try an experiment of sorts.  I am going to start listening keenly to my body, my mind and my heart.  Stop doing the things I think I should if it goes against what I feel I want or need.  Granted, I still have to go to work, do laundry, grocery shop and clean the house but I think there is a lot I could do to honor what I need rather than pushing it off.  Things lie if I’m tired at 7:00 p.m., I’ll go too bed and not listen to the people giving me a hard time about being old.  Or if I want a candy bar, I’ll eat it but if I want an orange I’ll eat that too.  Or maybe I don’t feel like exercising like a maniac, so I don’t.  Or I would rather hike than bike.  Maybe trying to meet mileage goal for the year on my bike isn’t something that is truly important to me.  If I was training for competition, maybe this makes sense.  But I’m not.

For a little while at least, I’m going to just give in and take care of myself regardless of what other people think or say.  I will take care of my responsibilities and double check that I’m not doing too much for someone else who should do for themselves.  I’m good at that, caretaking, without even noticing it.  I have a tendency to jump in where I shouldn’t.  I should just listen and not fix.

Listening to my body is something I have been working on for years.  Listening to my needs and wants is going to be a little newer for me.  Trusting myself, my body is something that I’ve been trying to do but now I need to move it up to a more finite level.  Picking out the small cues I was taught to ignore.  I’m anxious and excited to see what changes this will make in my life.  I have a hunch, once I do this, I may not be fighting depression as much.  I also have a hunch that once I start honoring my calling and path (as New Agey as that sounds), the depression might subside altogether.  And if it does show up, I will just roll with it as it is telling my body something, delivering an important message.  Maybe to slow down, maybe to exercise more, maybe to not eat crap, maybe to stand up and say NO.

Maybe sometimes fighting depression isn’t the right thing.  Maybe it just means I need to listen more closely and cross each bridge as I come to them.