Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I'm writing an ebook


November is National Novel Writing Month (commonly called NaNoWriMo). Each year thousands of people take a shot at producing 50,000 words between November 1st and 30th. This year I'm joining in.

What do you do when you find yourself the owner of a dog who does such strange things that even seasoned dog owners don't know what to tell you? You write stories about him. Blogging about our dog Ozzie has been good, but I'm taking this to the next level, as we Americans love to say. Between tomorrow and the end of the month, I will join thousands of other wrimos and churn out a draft of a book, mine being about what it's been like to own this dog. But to keep the pressure off, I'm not referring to it as a novel or even a book. I'm focusing on producing an ebook.

Eventually, I will take this draft and edit it and polish it and make it all good. I don't know how long that will take (months? years?), but when it's done I'm not deluding myself about finding an agent or a publisher. I plan to publish the ridiculous story myself, using an online publishing service. Then I'll share it with the world as an ebook.

Yes, this is my dream: to nurture and grow my creative project from a bunch of glowing words on a screen to a bunch of glowing words on another screen. Here I go.

Thriller Flash Mob in Rogers Park


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Xanfn1tozo&feature=youtu.be

I DID IT! I was in my first flash mob ever! On Sunday morning I did the Thriller dance sequence at the Glenwood Farmer's Market (in Chicago, IL USA) with about 25 other people who did this for the sheer hell of it. If you watch this, you won't see much of me and my friend Ceece, who was also there. We were on the far end that didn't get videoed much at all. But you see me for a moment: in a gray hat, sunglasses and a bright orange scarf. I LOVE HALLOWEEN!

Me at work today, wearing my glowing pumpkin earrings.
Happy Halloween to everyone who celebrates it!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mental Health Days

Mental health days are a great idea. That's what some poeple call those days when you're just feeling burned out and overwhelmed and you call in sick to work because you need to take care of your spirit and morale. It's a perfectly legitimate use of a sick days, especially for those of us who rarely get physically ill. Without the occasional cold or flu to break our daily monotony, we need to call our own breaks: our mental health days.

Unfortunately this concept doesn't always seem to apply to the people who need them most: those who are actually mentally ill. Friends or family are more likely to encourage us to play hooky if we're "normal," but just don't want to go to work. But if a person is actually going through a depression (low energy, trouble concentrating, either weepy or irritable) family and friends can get annoyed and tell the suffering person to go to work and suck it up. We're told to get over it.

It's a typical reaction of many Americans to mental illness such as my chronic depression. Mental health days are supported for those who are stressed and need a break, but for those of us actually experiencing symptoms of chronic mental illness, that sympathy can go out the window. The unfairness and cruelty of this reality makes me think twice whenever I hear the phrase "mental health day." I applaud the practice, but wince as I recognize that the majority of Americans wouldn't apply it to someone like me.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lady Gaga's weight gain

This is what I'm talking about! Lady Gaga, after years of carefully maintaining the typical pop star's physique, has decided to be who she really is and fill the size her body naturally wants to be. She recently gained 25 pounds eating the foods she wants and not worrying about what people think. We are doing the same thing: releasing our need to fit into our skinny clothes and not apologizing for it.

Please read all about her refusal to give in to pressure to get small again. She talks about her problems with food and admits to some very unhealthy behaviors that she is working hard to overcome. Lady Gaga now proudly wears costumes that are a couple of sizes bigger and she looks great. As a middle-aged woman, I hadn't paid much attention to her before now, but I'll now count myself as a fan. I, too, have begun wearing clothes a couple of sizes bigger and I feel fine.

I also like Cynthia Nellis' post that makes the point that Gaga's move makes her much more human and lovable than Madonna. Madonna is my contemporary and while I used to admire her guts and her body, every time I see her I feel increasingly disappointed with her lack of authenticity. Maybe she's naturally thin, smooth, blonde and buffed, but I just don't believe it. I've started counting her as another celebrity with whom I have less and less in common, mainly because she seems to be working so hard to not look middle aged. Then again, Madonna lost me as someone who thought they could relate to her, when she settled on the color yellow for her hair. Gaga's hair isn't naturally blonde either, but she's becoming more honest with herself and us, one step at a time.

Many celebrities endorse political awareness and movements of various kinds, but Gaga's actions impress me as uniquely vital. There are external fights for things like economic improvement and human rights, but I know that everything starts with how you feel about yourself. That's a battle that can take your whole life and I believe it deserves priority. It's RARE that a female celebrity takes on one of the most taboo subjects in our culture -- eating disorders -- and even RARER that she's brave enough to let her body express her allegiance to herself over commercial culture. Lady Gaga now has my deep respect and gratitude.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My life is better now that I'm bigger

I've worked hard for decades on my negative thinking and self-punishing behaviors. With the help of some powerful techniques and amazing people, I've finally let go of the worst of these patterns. The main way my self-loathing manifests is with food. Restricting and binge-ing, restricting and binge-ing, hating my body, hating my inability to stay on the wagon, feeling bad when I give in to my sweet tooth or gain a few pounds. It's sugar addiction and compulsive eating and I have been hard on myself.

But for about three weeks now, I'm trying a completely new way of being: I don't listen to my inner critic and I no longer restrict food. For decades I've struggled to avoid sugar, wheat, dairy products and processed food, but in a radical move, I'm doing that no longer. Now I eat whatever I want, per Geneen Roth's strategies for dealing with compulsive eating (see my other October 2012 posts for details). I even stopped going to the gym.

Yes, I've gained weight. I've spent the past three weeks indulging my desires for cake, cookies, pan dulce, store-bought frosting-in-the-tub, donuts, ice cream, cheese, potato chips, juice and hot chocolate. I discovered a previously unknown love of baloney and cheese sandwiches and have eaten lots of them (who knew I was hungry for that?). I no longer say "no" to myself about anything. If I want it, I have it. Instead of driving workouts with free weights and nautilus machines, I focus on yoga, stretching and simple walking. I've put on about 10 pounds since the beginning of the month and last weekend I bought new clothes because the ones I was wearing before just don't fit anymore.

But unlike previous times when I've had to purchase a bigger size, I'm not upset about it. I see and feel my waistline growing and I'm not panicking. This calm response to my spreading girth is unprecedented. It's the first time I've put on so much weight in so little time without some kind of crisis going on in my life and without freaking out about my new size. This is how big I am and it's just fine. I might even get bigger and that will be just fine.

October has been my month of letting go of self-punishment. I'm happier and more content because I fully accept myself in all ways and it makes me nicer and less anxious. I'm no longer irritated by "slow walkers" getting in my way because I'm walking more slowly. I love how connected my body feels to the ground and I enjoy the simple act of walking as never before. My husband and my dog are happier with me. Our household is more peaceful and loving because I've finally stepped off the roller coaster of being pleased with myself when I fit into my jeans and mad at myself when I don't (I don't even try to put jeans on anymore). I'm actually a better wife -- and dog owner -- because I've stopped the constant self-criticism that made me tense and anxious all the time. My sleep and energy have improved. I'm more relaxed at work and I worry much less in general.

And my body is mushier and more ripply, and so what? I said to my husband last night, "All these years I've been trying so hard to be a size six. I put all this energy into being thin while I was also miserable and unhappy and unpleasant. Now I'm a size twelve and I feel so much better and it turns out that being a size six doesn't matter at all. I was going for the wrong thing all that time. Isn't this better?"

He agreed. My husband agreed that he likes me better now, as a pudgier person. How's that for validation? I thought exercising and dieting and being thin for him were important. I can't tell you how relieved I am to find that I don't have to keep that up!

I've spent most of my adult life wearing a size 8. I've worked $%&-damned hard to maintain that physique, and it's been very painful to do with my demanding sweet tooth. I was constantly at war with myself and my self-esteem was the casualty. Now the inner critic has been dismissed and I'm gentler on myself with everything, not just food. Life is so much better.

Now I'll see what size I naturally end up. Roth's theory predicts that when every part of my psyche learns that I really will let myself have whatever I want from now on, the binge-ing will slow down. Then it will stop. Then I'll begin eating from stomach hunger instead of emotional need, and I'll reach my natural weight. I might end up back at size eight or stabilize at fourteen or more and I'm okay with either because I've finally realized that size doesn't matter. How I feel matters, and I feel great!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Not dieting

Right at this moment, a container of homemade brownies sits behind me as I work in my cubicle. In the past I would have actively resisted them while knowing I would love to pop one in my mouth. Today I tell myself I can have as many as I want at any time. In the morning I'm not hungry for them, so I don't have any. Later, I eat four as an afternoon snack. They're very good and I can easily keep eating them, but I’m not hungry any more. In the past, I might have forced them down knowing that tomorrow they'd be gone. But today I don't force the brownies into my stomach. Instead, I give myself permission to make myself a fresh batch whenever I want. Maybe tonight. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe tonight and tomorrow. Knowing I can have fresh brownies any time, cools the temptation. I don’t want the brownies now. I’d rather have them some other time when I actually have room for them and they're still warm from the oven.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Do Not Diet

Yes, I've made another U-turn in my nutritional beliefs.

In my ongoing search for optimal health and fitness, I've been reading Geneen Roth's books on compulsive eating and weight loss. I'm now reading When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull up a Chair and I've begun a new way of eating. This is how it goes:

I eat whatever I want. No rules, restrictions, reading nutrition labels or checking if it's allowed on the [insert name here] diet.

How is this different from any Saturday binge or Christmastime free fall? Here's the difference: I eat whatever I want without guilt, self-criticism or regret and without restricting food later to make up for it.

This is extraordinarily hard for those of us who have lived our lives criticizing our every move. My self-loathing has driven me since I was a little girl. Believing I wasn't good enough unless my behavior were perfect, I focused on actions: good grades, following the rules, doing as my parents said. As an adult, I changed my focus to always looking attractive, obeying the boss, exercising regularly and eating "right."

The most problematic goal was the "eating right" one because food, unlike the rest of those things, was my substitute for contentment, happiness and feeling special. Treating myself to cookies, cake, frosting by the spoonful and candy was how I put the sweetness and love in my life that I didn't feel was there.

My self-loathing, however, did not allow me enjoy my sugar-love freely, so my indulgences were always accompanied by guilt. I ate entire cakes in secret. I helped myself to the office holiday goodies when no one was looking. I threw away empty paper bakery bags with chagrin and disappointment in myself. This eating felt shameful.

Eventually I could no longer deny the effects these habits were having on my body. A horrific case of candida at age 27 showed me how destructive sugar was for my whole system, and my genetic tendency toward slimness started to give out in my 30's. I had to change.

Thus began fifteen years of driving myself even harder to "be good." My health depended on it, so my indulgences became accompanied by asceticism. My meals and snacks became pristine combinations of lean protein, fresh vegetables, homemade bean/brown rice dishes, raw nuts and fruit. But there were still cookies and cupcakes in my kitchen cabinets and I still ordered dessert whenever I got the chance.

For years my beautifully healthy habits battled my raging need for sugar. It was hell on my self esteem. Friends and co-workers admired my clean habits as we sat at lunch together, but I knew I'd be hitting the chocolate before the day was over.

I began seeing a therapist in my early 20's for my general low self-esteem and problems with depression, and my drive to heal myself has never stopped. Decades of talk therapy, relationship workshops, nutrition seminars, 12-step meetings, self-help books, Oprah shows, religious/spiritual support and professional help gradually chipped away at my terrible self-image and drew me into the light. I began to value and respect myself. But the sugar addiction remained.

In 2010 I was lucky enough to meet therapist and practitioner Carol Moss, who led me through powerful techniques (Emotional Freedom Technique and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) that moved a huge chunk of my negative beliefs out of my way. I finally stopped believing that at a fundamental level I sucked. I finally stopped believing that my life was more bad than good.

So I was ready for Geneen Roth's message when I picked up Women Food and God a couple of months ago. She cautions us to NOT DIET because dieting inevitably leads to binge-ing and greater weight than we started with. Her books aren't for everyone because there's a hell of a lot of work that many of us need to do before we're ready for her recommendations. Roth's approach to food requires that you trust yourself and this is an inconceivable concept to those of us who were told from birth that we couldn't be trusted, that we had no common sense and/or that if we weren't contained we'd eat the world.

But after decades of hard work on my self-loathing, I believe I'm ready for Roth's way of eating and I'm doing it. I'm letting myself have all the foods I've been saying no to for so long. I'm eating all the stuff I've been AFRAID of, even while I couldn't stop wanting it. I'm feeding the girl who has been deprived and shamed and punished with food for so long.  I'm trusting that when that girl realizes she can have whatever she wants at any time without punishment or restriction or shaming, she'll stop needing it. And then I'll tune in to what I truly need at all times, physically, nutritionally and emotionally. That's when I'll reach my natural weight that's right for me. My natural weight will undoubtedly be many pounds more than the 120 I've fixated on for years (I'm 5'2"/157 cm), but it will be a weight I can maintain over the long term, without having to keep changing wardrobes.

Yesterday, for the whole day, I had a Dunkin Donuts breakfast sandwich (croissant with egg, sausage and cheese), two pieces of pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread), a quart of Ben & Jerry's cake batter ice cream, three slices of American cheese, two hot dog wieners and some Ritz crackers. I also drank half a glass of white wine.

The day before I had fried eggs and ground flaxseed with fruit for breakfast, two donuts, a cheese-and-wiener sandwich for lunch, healthy chili for dinner, white wine, nuts and 1/3 of a box of Russell Stover's dark chocolate assortment.

Et. Cetera.

Yes, I'm gaining weight. Yes, my clothes are getting tight, so you know what I'm doing? I'm buying new clothes! Roth strongly suggests getting rid of those clothes you've been holding on to for years with the intention of one day being thin enough to wear them again, so today I'll be clearing out my closet. No more skinny clothes making me feel bad whenever I push past them to the stuff that fits. And when I finally hit my natural weight, I'll go shopping again. So be it.

For the first time in my life, I believe I deserve to have whatever I want, without having to pay a price for it later. I deserve whatever I want because I'm lovable no matter what my size, paycheck, relationship state, tax status or anything else is. I'm worthy and lovable regardless of whether I follow the rules or look presentable or do good things. I reject my former belief that I'm only lovable if I'm thin and fit. I reject my former belief that I'm lovable only if I act in the appropriate way. (Those who know me personally might find it funny that my daily behavior has been me trying to act appropriately. Still, I've been trying to figure it out.)

It's incredibly hard to give up the self-punishing habit of criticizing my body at every chance, to give up telling myself I don't deserve what I want, to give up feeling fat and unworthy. These are ancient, stuck-on behaviors that I perfected decades ago, but they were based on the lie that I'm not a lovable person in my own right, just because I exist.

I am a lovable person in my own right, just because I exist. Eventually I won't need to swallow a tub of whipped frosting until my stomach cramps, an act which is me nurturing myself with what I want and punishing myself at the same time. How efficient!

I remember saying to a boyfriend when I was 26, "I'd give up all the cake in the world if I could just stop needing it." I still feel that way, but maybe my solution doesn't need to be that drastic. Here's a link to Geneen Roth's books (for those who are ready).

[P.S. On 17 October I hit 143 pounds and it just didn't feel important.]


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Not afraid to give my age

My 46th birthday was in July, but I'm feeling like it's time to start calling myself 47. Why not? It's only nine months away.

In the meantime: my Christmas application tells me there are 76 days until Christmas! October through December is my favorite time of the year.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Change

I've now read Women Food and God twice and have started When Food is Love: Exploring the Relationship Between Eating and Intimacy. This is the major goal I'm focusing on:

My inner judge constantly criticizes my actions, body, food, clothes, etc and I'm putting a stop to this self-hatred.

Here are the strategies I'm using:
  • Emotional Freedom Technique
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
  • Bach Flower Remedies (there's one for believing you're inherently flawed)
  • Using Geneen Roth's ideas to be gentle with myself
Here are the actions I'm taking (just started in the last couple weeks):

When my inner critic makes comments such as "I'm not nearly as thin as I used to be" I respond with things like, "And that is not important." I don't want to fight with it, insult it or try to deny that it's telling the truth. I just need to take the sting out of the comment.

When I start to restrict food by thinking, "I really want a cheeseburger, but I should just have the beef patty and some vegetables," I now let myself have the cheeseburger.

And later, if the inner critic thinks, "I shouldn't have had that cheeseburger," I think back, "It's okay. I deserve to have whatever I want. A cheeseburger won't kill me."

I am unseating the inner critic. It's no longer in the front seat. Now it's in the back seat and when it pipes up, I dismiss its self-loathing statements. I'm discovering that if I truly allow myself to eat whatever I want with no judgment and no payback, I don't want to eat everything in the world. My appetite might actually be trustworthy!

The Exercise: relax my entire abdominal section completely, no matter where I am or what I'm doing or how many people can see me. Breathe into my belly three times, letting it expand fully, knowing it's okay no matter it's size. Know my belly is the center of my being and it knows what my body needs and it will guide me to what I really want to eat, if I listen to it. (Yesterday I wanted a shake, but I stopped and checked in with my stomach and knew I'd be in pain if I did it. So I peacefully declined.)

I'm starting to trust my appetites and desires. Staying in tune with my stomach, I know exactly when to start and stop eating and what to eat. I'm doing less eating that gives me a stomach ache later.

This is just a quick summary of what I've been working on extremely hard. Geneen Roth's books have been critical to these shifts and I highly recommend any of her books (she has several). I particularly like this quote:

Our relationship to food is a microcosm of all that we learned about loving and being loved, about our self-worth. It is the stage upon which we reenact our childhood. If we were abused, we will abuse ourselves with food. The degree to which we are violent, abusive, self-punishing is in proportion to the degree of violence, abuse, and punishment we received. We learned how to do it by having it done to us.
- Geneen Roth, When Food Is Love

To everyone who is dealing with these issues, here we go. We can do this.