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Letter from My 48th Year (April 6)

Back when it was still March, I had planned to write about how I spent roughly 20 minutes standing in the autograph/selfie section of Awesome Con staring at middle-aged Tom Welling who’s a fine looking silver fox now that he’s given up his tights.

Instead, I got the usual spring cold/sinus infection thingie that’s had me stuck on the couch and swilling Mucinex and sacrificing all the toilet paper I can find to my overflowing nostrils since Monday afternoon. (Editors Note: Yes, I do have boxes of tissue but they’re alllll the way at the other side of the apartment. Sigh.)

Before April turns into May or some such foolishness, I did want to share with you a couple of things I figured out about myself, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say things that I finally articulated about myself, while at Awesome Con.

One was that I have to stop lying to myself about not knowing how to talk to people. This was absolutely true at one point. I am definitely an introvert with very little small talk game BUT I’m also someone who’s worked in Public Relations for more than a decade now and spends a great deal of my professional life interviewing people. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I walked into a reception hosted by Smithsonian Magazine and X (Google’s “moonshot” division) and found myself happily chatting away with mechanical engineers and such about creativity and creating an environment where it’s safe to fail blah blah blah.

I know how to ask questions and get people talking, and while I can’t talk about specific principles around mechanical engineering, I certainly have thoughts on whether delivery drones are a good idea and about how to foster innovation in general. And I knew how to advise the newbie Slate writer I walked in with on how to find a story at a party at which you knew no one.

Yet, as I debated whether or not I should even go to the reception, the picture I had in my head was of the tongue-tied wallflower ill at ease in the corner wondering why she was in this place where she clearly didn’t belong. Turns out that picture is beyond outdated. And yes, sometimes I still stand by myself for a while at gatherings before I find someone to talk to, but I’m no longer uncomfortable with that solitude. It no longer saps my self-confidence. Now to work on updating my internal files so I always start from a place of remembering who I am, not who I used to be.

That being said, back at Awesome Con, I stood in line in the autograph are to try and talk to Cress Williams about getting an interview for my agency’s blog. My heart was pounding so hard that I thought it was going to fall out of my chest. And his gatekeeper dismissed me even as I handed him my card and explained that I didn’t want to pay for an autograph but I did want to ask for an interview for my outlet. Later that night I found myself wondering how I could have been so confident at the Google party, and yet so undone trying to talk to Cress Williams (who, by the way, is even more gorgeous than he appears onscreen. Yowza!)

I realized that my lack of confidence was because I didn’t know the rules. If one has a press pass at Awesome Con, you’re cautioned to the nth degree about not trying to use that pass to cut others in line or gain any special favor. There are also rules for every Con-goer about what you can do when you’re in the special autograph/selfie area (no cell phone pics you haven’t paid for, etc.) I was terrified that by trying to ask for an interview in person I was somehow going to violate the rules and get thrown out, with violating the rules—particularly if I don’t know them—still being one of the worst things I can do in terms of my childhood triggers. So that’s an area to work on. I don’t want to become an out and out rulebreaker, but I do want to not feel so triggered when I don’t definitively know the particular rules of a situation that I’m inhibited to my detriment.

 

 

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Letter From My 48th Year (Feb 14)

Happy Valentine’s Day y’all. Like every singleton in the free world, I used to slump deep in a funk each Valentine’s Day bemoaning my perpetual free agency. I did have a boyfriend one year for the big day—the one year I actually had a boyfriend—but he was not gifted in the gifting department and it just felt a bit perfunctory. (Given that in that relationship I was, if I’m honest, more interested in performing love than actually open to falling in love,  that was probably par for the course.) But then one year, maybe a decade or more ago now, I decided to send Valentine’s Day cards to all the people I loved. Which broke the woe is me spell.

These days I think it’s sweet when people wish me a happy valentine’s day, and February 14 no longer sets off a spell of pining in me. I realize it’s a completely manufactured holiday, but hey, if we’re going to make shit up, I’m down with making up a sweet (albeit completely consumerist) holiday.

Speaking of love, at dinner with L. the other night we started talking about that idea that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else. Which is not bullshit exactly, but it’s not entirely accurate either. The idea behind that sentiment always seems to be that everything will be magically wonderful if you just commit to celebrating your own awesomeness. Which is always a good idea, but will only get you so far. And will probably make you try to measure up to impossible standards like having your shit together all the time and all at the same time. Which, let’s face it, is not a thing that can actually happen. For anyone.

Love, real love, isn’t only about the good bits; that’s the kind of love that comes with conditions. (We actually need some other word for that.) What we’re hopefully striving for in a long-term love relationship is unconditional love, and that’s where we need to start with ourselves if we want to end up having that with other people in our lives, whether or not they are people we want to make out with. We need to get comfortable at looking at all of who we are in this given moment. Without judgement. Without guilt or shame. With compassion. With empathy.

This doesn’t mean we have to like everything we find. And we probably won’t. But we do have to be able to say, At this moment, this is who I am and I’m going to embrace myself without judgement. Which is both excruciatingly hard, and excruciatingly necessary, even if we’re quite happy being our own valentines for the rest of our lives.

Let me leave you with this, which is so much more a true thing than that “You complete me” nonsense…

Writing About My Body, Day 8

These days it’s hard to beat back the shame. After working really hard to lose weight–again–I’ve gained back not all, but pretty darn close to all the weight. Again.

This time I was pretty sure I’d figured it out: I’m a person of worth. I matter. I’m beautiful. I’m beloved by many. I’m not that defenseless kid who didn’t have any way to comfort herself except for with food. I can self talk my way out of overeating. I can self talk my way into exercising. What I feel on the inside is powerful and positive enough to inform and affect how I look on the outside. Cake really doesn’t solve anything.

Which is all true. Sometimes. Just not enough days in a row to make a lasting difference.

Many people in my life have seen me go up and down numerous times since I first walked into a Weight Watchers meeting somewhere in Downtown Crossing, Boston circa 1990. I’m fairly certain that for most of them, the number on the scale is the least of the things they consider important about me. Still, I can’t help but wonder–how many times can a person fail at weight loss without having that sheen of failure glint from everything she touches?

I know I’m possibly being melodramatic. But I’m not sure what other words to put around the enormity of this latest failure. How to accurately reflect that part of the reason I’m struggling in my long-awaited voice lessons is because I have to stare at myself in the mirror while I sing.

It’s not exactly that I don’t like what I see in the mirror. It feels more complicated than that. I like my long (currently blonde) hair. I like that my fingers and toes are always manicured. I love that I pluck my brows myself now and I’ve learned (finally) how to wear blush. I love that I spend way too much money in Ulta because I truly enjoy playing with makeup each day, how it is sort of a costume, not for hiding my face, but for saying something about who I want to be that day. Who I want to be in this life.

Still, the mirror reflects my shame. I think it’s not even shame about being a certain number on the scale. It’s shame about being that certain number AGAIN. It’s shame about not being able to stick the landing though this last time I lost weight was almost entirely about figuring out ways to maintain as I know that’s where I always stumble.

What I have learned about myself over the past 18 months is that I can do the hard things. Perhaps that’s something I should have already known or that you’ve known all along but… So maintaining isn’t a hard thing. It’s a ____________________ thing.

I’m the woman with the answers. The idea generator. The woman with a plan. The problem solver. The fixer.

I’m the woman who doesn’t know how to fill in the blank.

And I don’t know how to just let go of that desire to lose weight either even though I imagine part of the issue is exactly that holding on.

What I do know is that I walked away from this project for so many days because I didn’t want to write about shame. I didn’t want to write about being fat again. I didn’t want your sympathy or advice. I don’t want your sympathy or your advice. I don’t want you to tell me I’m beautiful. I don’t want you to tell me about your friend or sister or cousin who had a really hard time keeping weight off and then tried X. I don’t want you to ask me if I’ve considered surgery or not eating after a certain hour or Jenny Craig? I think maybe I just want you to tell me it’s okay to be average. To be the same as the thousands of people who’ve walked this road as many times or even more than I have only to end up at the same place again. Maybe I want you to tell me it’s okay to feel ashamed. We all feel it about something or the other. Maybe I want you to tell me I don’t always have to try and find the silver lining or the happy ending. Maybe I just want you to give me a nice piece of cake.

On breaking up with Weight Watchers….

photo of author

Editor’s Note: This post is transcribed almost directly from a “morning pages” journal entry so please forgive its lack of polish. I gave myself a writing prompt for the morning’s entry: “Why do you think you won’t sustain your weight loss without Weight Watchers even though you haven’t really been doing it? Why do you think you will succeed?”

Scale says 199 but I think I’m better than that inches-wise because my pj bottoms are dragging the floor. At the same time I feel sexy and confident in my body, it’s hard not to worry that I’m not losing anything. It’s smart that I stopped Weight Watchers. I was spending the money but not counting points or tracking. I’m nervous that I’ll be 50 pounds heavier again. I mean that’s what always happened when I went off the program before.

But I believe there is much that is different about this time. For one thing, when I went off program before—or should I say when I quit before—I was already way off program in terms of eating and boozing. This time I’m more balanced. I had strawberry shortcake yesterday but I also had fish and salad for dinner. I’m not exercising every single day but I am being more consistent. My mindset is one of focusing on healthier eating, which doesn’t mean no desserts or no alcohol but it does mean I’ve let go of having bread every morning for breakfast, I continue to not have sugar in my coffee, and I’m working on being mindful about my desserts. I’m more mindful of the difference between snacks and treats, and I love kale!

The most important difference is, I think, my attitude toward myself. I loved being skinny in the past when I was down 60 or 70 pounds. I loved the way I looked, the clothing size I could fit into, the compliments. But that was all superficial stuff. I don’t believe there was any change on my insides. I had changed my behaviors but not my attitudes [toward myself] so I was already halfway back to being 250 or thereabouts again. I was getting tons of validation for my physical achievements, but I still didn’t believe I was worth much. I still couldn’t get a boyfriend, my parents still didn’t love me, blah blah blah.

What’s different about this time—I feel my chest tightening and my arms tingling even as I write this—is that I’m engaged in an ongoing conversation about what I’m worth. The physical changes are nice, but what’s important is my attitude toward myself. I’m seeing past all the ways I wasn’t valued in the past to the woman I actually am—not perfect, but smart, kind, imaginative, creative, generous, and supportive, with a killer smile.

This time it’s not about working and trusting the program, it’s about trusting myself. I was always so unnerved by the fact of being an overeater for life, which is why I’d need Weight Watchers for life. But that’s bullshit. I do think that Geneen Roth* is right: if we stop to realize that our ways of dealing with pain, fatigue, boredom, etc. are outmoded, that they’re left over from childhood when we had no other defenses, then we can stop turning to them.

If I stopped sleeping** all the time to avoid my life, I can certainly stop eating my way out of it, too. It’s interesting that as I write this, my inner critic keeps resurrecting all the ways it thinks I’ve already failed: “But you had two bowls of cereal at Fran’s house—Lucky Charms! But you’re going to that event with Jillian on Saturday that is all about eating! But you had dessert yesterday when you said you weren’t going to and you had dessert with Joyce on Saturday! But you’ve been using your credit cards a lot even though you’re trying to get out of debt; if you’re doing that, how can you possibly keep yourself from regaining all the weight.”

I weigh myself every morning, just to give myself an (objective) reality check. My critic tries to weigh in too. “See, you’re up a pound; you’re going to gain it all back!” And even though I stay around the same weight within a five-pound range, my critic’s not happy It’s interesting how much I resist myself. I had said I wanted to get to a certain weight and then maintain for a while. And even though I’m doing exactly that—something I haven’t previously been able to accomplish—my critic isn’t satisfied.

There’s also another thing that’s different now. I’m willing to do it in stages. Even if I’m in the 190s for the next six months, there’s nothing that says I can’t push through anouther ten pounds next spring if that’s what I want to do. Our new office building will have a gym and I’m fairly certain I will exercise more consistently at a higher rate because of the convenience. I’ll stay an extra hour at work gladly if I can go downstairs and work out in the middle of the day rather than in the wee hours [of the morning] or when I’m super tired. I’ll also have a cohort of friends who belong to the same gym.

Notice I emphasized “want” in the last paragraph, and I think that’s the most important piece—along with self worth—that I’ve been working on. We all carry around a lot of “shoulds” and when shoulds stay undone, they produce guilt. And carrying all that guilt saps all our energy away from things like eating kale and taking a walk. We spend all of our time inventing ways to punish ourselves for our failures to attend to the “I should” list. A want is a different thing entirely. Wants have more flexibility and they seem to not have the built-in guilt factor if we don’t do them. But because it’s a want, a desire, we try a little harder to get it done. Going after a desire is so much more fulfilling—and fun—than a mere task.

If we truly value ourselves, we want those things that truly support and nourish us. We want that exercise to help us feel strong. We want that serving of vegetables because we feel full but light….

My inner critic just said, “Just because you wrote all that down it doesn’t mean you won’t fail. It’s not like you haven’t had epiphanies before, you know?”

But this isn’t an epiphany. It’s not an “aha!” moment or bolt-out-of-the-sky idea. It’s something I’ve known all along; I just didn’t realize I knew it. It’s a remembering, or, perhaps, a recognition. Whatever you call it, it’s real change, and Miss Critic can fuss and fume all she wants but I’m not going backwards or living in fear that this won’t work. As Geneen Roth wrote—I’m not broken. I’ve just finally chosen to recognize my wholeness, and, believe me, that radically changes things!

*I just finished Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God. Her idea of God is a bit wonky, but reading her book helped me articulate some of the wisdom that I think was already making itself known inside me.

**I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I never knew that the fact that I slept away half of my childhood was a sign of depression. Sigh…

The Things You Learn Just By Changing Your Sheets

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Full disclosure: My bedroom doesn’t actually look like this anymore. But someone’s too lazy to go finish making the bed and take a photo. That someone may—or may not—be yours truly.

Several years ago I was hospitalized with a case of pneumonia so bad that I ended up on a ventilator, only slightly conscious, as one of my lungs decided to simply stop working. The rebellious lung did ultimately decide to get back to work, but after a couple months of being bedridden and hardly eating anything,* my muscles were so atrophied that I had to go to rehabilitation to learn to walk again and dress myself and all those basic movements we take for granted. Though I made fairly rapid improvement, it was pretty easy to tell which of my muscles didn’t get used very often because they were the ones that continued to ache long after I stopped using a walker and a cane. One set of such muscles were the ones in my wrists. I could carry things, but changing the sheets on my bed became quite a painful task with the consequence that I just didn’t do it very often.

This morning as I was changing my sheets I realized that my wrists didn’t hurt at all, and the mattress didn’t feel like the dead weight it did seven years ago. I also realized that it had probably been a couple of years since I’d felt that particular ache, yet I continued to stick to my lax sheet-changing schedule. Though my reality had changed, I kept responding to the situation from a perspective of how it used to be.

It makes me wonder—how many actions do we take or not take or which situations do we avoid because of how we used to react? Is it possible that our emotional/spiritual/intellectual muscles have gained—or regained—their strength in that particular area but we just haven’t noticed? To borrow from Mr. Arsenio Hall, that’s what’s making me say “hmmmmm” today.

*I have no memory of what transpired after I asked the ICU docs to put me on the ventilator because I couldn’t “make myself breathe” but I think I was intubated for about a week. I had, however, been on a downward spiral for a few months before that moment of crisis.

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