This is what 40-ish years of friendship looks like!
But what do I see? In my vanity, I see me. I see pudgy fingers, too full face-chin-neck, an oversize sweatshirt stretched over the too round belly. I see fluffy white old lady hair. This is not the me I want to see. This me doesn't look like... me.
Little N picks on me mercilessly about my current weight and size. He calls me "fatty" and criticizes my too big butt. His father, L, didn't talk to me exactly that way, but he, too, made it clear to me that I didn't look the way that he wanted me to. According to him, and to Little N, I used to be beautiful. I must complete an ambitious series of changes in a short amount of time in order to be beautiful... and worthy, and not teased or criticized, and good enough, again.
Usually I can resist the harsh criticism of my appearance. I can say back that I'm working on my health and that human bodies change with age. I can tell myself that the ideal they are comparing me to is a societal norm and unrealistic. But then I see a photo of myself and I'm startled and sad to see what I've become.
I don't like how I look.
I don't need to look young. Right? I need to look like me. So what does "me" look like at 40+? What do I want my physical appearance to convey to my partner, my friends, my critics, and everyone else about myself?
I want to exude qualities like: capable, competent, strong, smart, creative, present, attentive, real, genuine. Translating these things into cultural or societal parlance is tricky. Because so often they are only seen as young and thin. I'm not getting younger. I may get thinner but I doubt I'll ever be thin again. So how and where do I, as me, show up?
There's another piece to this besides how I look. I'm 43 and a half. My father was 44 when he died. So I've set myself a goal of practicing good health habits in such as way that they're my baseline lifestyle by 44. Roughly six months to adopt all the good information I've learned from the naturopath and therapist and make it mine. Make it me. Six months to transform my body inside and out.
It took years for my body to take on its current appearance. Years of struggling with an unsupportive spouse. Working dead end jobs. Wrestling with my mental health. Comforting myself with food. Flailing in the absence of the skills and information necessary to make my body healthy.
So I don't expect six months to return me to a lithe 120-ish pound size four with a lustrous bob and stylish clothes. I do expect to improve my bloodwork for sugars and cholesterol. Shed a few pounds. Drop a size (or two...). Decrease my windedness. Increase my stamina. Live a more active lifestyle. And generally feel more like me.
My hope is that when I feel more like me, then I'll look more like me. A makeover from the inside out. Where the inside is more important and urgent, and the outside is granted patience and grace. From me, to me.
What is my problem!? I wondered, from the midst of a low day. I scribbled my way through it, through the lens of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
My "problem" isn't my brain - at least, not in the same way as - my emotions. Big. Overwhelming. In-My-Body feelings. And in response to those big feelings I do something. Usually something unhealthy, or in DBT-speak, something Ineffective.
It's Ineffective because it blocks my route to my Goals. My Goals come from my Values. Although... these days it feels like my Goals are being adopted and incorporated from the naturopath and my dismal health numbers. It feels a little backwards. My Goals are actually determining my Values. They're good Values - Health, Longevity, Fitness. They just didn't start in me.
Priorities and Values can change with time and circumstances and new or renewed insights. For a long time, with L, my Value was survival. While at my last job it became Interpersonal Effectiveness. That continues in my current position, though I have some mastery of it now, relying on my good manners plus prompt response time. But the Naturopath and my numbers indicate that my Value needs to be Physical Health.
I've never been an athlete. And it's a very long time - 15 years or more? - since I felt strongly connected to my body. I do experience my strong emotions in my body. But then I tend to do something external to try and change how I feel emotionally. Eat. Smoke. Watch TV.
Mindfulness, I guess, is the tool or skill for acknowledging the big emotions in my body, then letting them pass, while I remain present in my body. In my senses and physical sensations. The Wise Mind process is how I sort out what's going on and choose actions that are Effective for body and emotions. Effective for my Value of physical health.
And... this scribble suggests... my Value of Emotional Integrity...
I've been in therapy for the last seven years. And I think I'm burned out on it. I'm tired of talking about myself. I'm tired of listening to a therapist's perspective, questions, and suggestions. I want some quiet in my mind. I want some time to synthesize what I've heard; practice what I've learned. I want a pause from all the chatter.
This is a tricky decision to make, because I'm just coming out of a funk and still really struggling to do the daily self-care that my body needs. But that's just what I want to do - the doing part of these years of learning.
I expect that my therapist won't be keen on the idea. Maybe the naturopath won't be either. I believe that they see their work, together, as support for me to do the doing and since I haven't been consistently doing it maybe that looks like I need more support.
But it doesn't feel like support, these days. It feels distracting and disrupting. It feels like one more thing I have to do for someone else - keep an appointment. It feels inconvenient and, due to a billing error, suddenly expensive. A break, a pause, looks so freeing and open.
So what do I want to do with this pause that will make it worth the risk of declining my practitioner's support? How will I make this work for me? I'm drafting a routine for myself to include the daily practices necessary to heal my body and sustain my emotions and mind. Here's some of what that entails:
Tangled up in all this striving for good health and self care is something about my beliefs about myself and my life. Am I worth taking good care of? Do I want to be alive and for a long time? Is my life worth living and my work worth doing? Depression says, No. And again, no. Over and over until I'm too tired to resist and I yield to believing that the answer is always no.
It requires a vivid imagination and a good sense of humor to say, Yes.
The world is a big and chaotic place and I am small and, yes, meaningful, in the midst of it. My work as a secretary and as a mother is repetitive and mundane, and yes, it's worth doing well. My body is temporary, already bearing the toll of the years and, yes, it warrants persistent care and tending. Yes, because my tiny life touches other tiny lives and we matter to each other. Yes, because good is worth doing and being for each other. Yes, for laughter. Yes, for beauty. Yes, for comfort, sanctuary, and justice. Yes, for remembering important things and returning to them with the passion of awakening for the first time. Yes, because connection is real. Yes, because where there's a breath there's a hope. Yes, because I am here, now.
I don't and probably won't always remember to say, Yes. My imagination falters and my humor is pretty dark. But deep in my gut, where intuition and faith reside, yes simmers and bubbles up to my memory. I make a fresh list, again, of how I choose to live. I start to practice, again, the routine that heals me. And I look for the reminders of yes.
Those reminders, for me, right now, aren't revealing themselves in my therapy appointments. That might be the biggest reason to take a pause from sessions. And seek new places and people who say yes.
I thought about calling this post "part 1... of infinity" because I think that there are that many opportunities to catch a glimpse of and understand self-care. Because I think that there is that great of a spectrum of what self-care means. For now, I'm starting with what I'm learning in therapy sessions, naturopath visits, and my inconsistent, fumbling practice to take care of myself.
For a long time, I believed that this is what self-care looked like - the gentle drowsing in a hammock. Decompression. Rest. Recovery from the work-week or workday. Checking out from responsibilities, roles, and relationships.
I still maintain that going slow, for me, is part of self-care. And... my work with the naturopath tuned my ears to hear something else. Self-care is also doing the good, even challenging, stuff that I don't feel like doing. It's taking action now, and again, and keeping it up, using my calendar, smartphone, gold star stickers, rewards-along-the-way, falling-off-the-wagon-&-getting-up-again to develop the healthy habits that care for my body, mind, and heart.
Weekly sessions with my new counselor harmonized with the naturopath's voice in my head. My counselor calls it, "a life worth living." It's a concept I've been toying with for years. I even own a book titled Creating a Life Worth Living. I've been moving this book into every new apartment, setting it on the shelf, staring at the title, and not reading it. I so want a life worth living. I haven't any faith that I can have it nor imagination of what it looks like.
Until, maybe, now.
When my counselor talks about a "life worth living" he's referring to a life that embodies my values. He points to "self-validating" actions that make me feel good just for doing something that embodies or reinforces one of my values. Then he requires that I get concrete in my answers as to what those values and actions are.
For example, I was recently diagnosed with "metabolic syndrome." It's the All-American coexistence of truncal obesity, high cholesterol, borderline high blood pressure, and pre-diabetic levels of blood sugar. I'm a stroke waiting to happen. It's discouraging. But! I value health, vitality, active longevity. So! I commit to and practice the new habits that align my body with my value. That means taking on some challenging and occasionally boring new behaviors that I don't always (or maybe ever) feel like doing. In fact, right now, at the starting point, they feel like more work and not like the lounge-y self-care of my daydreams.
Fortunately, I have a smart, supportive care team - the naturopath, the counselor, a nutritionist, and even my son and my ex-husband. Together, these folks provide me with the information, accountability, and motivation to get my actions in line with my value. With their help, I'm exercising to a sweaty degree, refining my diet to cut sugar and increase fiber and nutrition, drinking gallons of water, and generally incorporating daily habits that demonstrate and embody the value of my health.
Today, it's a heavy lift. Change is hard. Change that requires me to plan and adopt new activities within my limited schedule - feels impossible. I'm already worn out, how can I possibly be expected to plan meals, cook new recipes, log a food diary, work out... and not reward/appease myself with sweet treats and vegging out! How can I truly care for myself and inhabit a life worth living if I don't make these changes? I dust off my calendar and find the time to take care of myself in new ways. I practice mindful breathing during my bus commute. I prepare and pack healthy meals to eat at the office. I pull on my gym clothes as soon as I get home and start moving along to the work-out video that makes me sweat heavily and laugh at myself, too.
Change isn't just repopulating my schedule with healthy activities. It's also reassigning value to different things in my mind. What's a sweet treat in the post-sugar lifestyle? What's relaxing after raising my heart rate to a beet-red-face level? These are new delights to discover and enjoy. Even the idea of work as self-care is a new idea for me to unpack and understand. And that illuminates other areas of my life and other values I say are important to me: creativity and play, connection and compassion, community and service...
I still love the feeling of being held in a gently swaying hammock. Maybe in six months (or two years...) I'll love the feeling of a hot work-out after a day at the office. For now, I'm clumsily, reluctantly, grateful to my care providers for the gift of a new-to-me way of doing self-care.
I resumed treatment with the Kind Naturopaths several months ago and I just received back some lab work on my blood. It’s not good. I’m nearly diabetic and have ridiculously high cholesterol. Like, one of the categories could not be calculated it was so high. That news, through the lens of my family’s history (Dad losing his fight with heart disease at the age of 44), felt like a death sentence. My mortality jeering in my face, demanding that I respond.
I’ve been struggling with making changes to my eating and physical movement habits for a few years. A one baby-step forward, two giant-steps back kind of struggle. I’m an emotional eater who comforts herself with food and lounging on the couch or buried under my covers in bed. And while I’m getting better at feeling my feels it’s not happening quickly enough for my physical health.
I expect that lots of American women are in this place. Life is hard and I don’t imagine that I’m so unique. But the numbers tell me that I’d better get unique when it comes to making big changes for my whole health, my whole life. My son’s life with his mother.
It’s a lot terrifying and a little bit exciting to take this on like a challenge. My body wants me to win. It’s giving me information that says, “Tend me and here’s how...” I’ve collected enough data to form a response. It will be a creative, mixed media type of piece applying body, mind, and heart.
Here are some of the ways that I’m working with my whole life to heal my body:
That’s where I’m at today. There are more good things to add to this list but I need to be gentle and realistic. A long list feels overwhelming and exhausting to me right now. The list is part of remembering myself, putting myself back together, with the good stuff that’s nurtured and engaged me in the past.
In this way, my blood is reminding me who I am and how I want to live. It’s a good message via a hard medium. And it’s got my full attention.
I've been so good for so many weeks. Alas, I fell into a 18-hour binge:
What triggered it? Mad cravings.
Maybe it was smoking less. Maybe it was the Family Law Orientation class. Maybe it was the heatwave we're in the midst of. Maybe it was being "in control" all these weeks, doing the right thing by my diet. Maybe it's just an old habit rearing it's ugly head - reminding me that it's still here, still in me. That I'm still falling back on my addictions to get me through.
Well, I'm back on track this evening. Drinking lots of water and packing a salad to enjoy at my friend's house tonight.
I'm wondering about the relationship between starting a good new habit and managing my stress. It's not enough, apparently, to abide by the Kind Naturopath's diet, even when I have good results (more energy, clear mind, weight loss). I also need to choose and practice alternative ways to manage my stressors - my ex, the FLO class, my boss, the heatwave - or else the new good habit turns into one more demand on me. I don't have a good answer yet, and I need one.
I should have taken a photo! But then you'd know exactly how much I weigh, which is 12 (TWELVE!) pounds less than I was a month ago but still more than I prefer to be. All that to say that I went back to the Kind Naturopaths this morning for a follow-up appointment.
Here's what I loved about today's appointment. I went in looking for next steps, having successfully adapted to the prescribed diet. I was (for no good reason) anticipating strict instructions to quit smoking and start exercising with vigor. But that's not what I got. Instead, I was met with gentleness, patience, and general kindness from the doctor. Through her treatment and conversation with me, she provided a good example of how I can treat my own body.
To my smoking she said, "Not worried about it. When you're ready to quit, you'll quit." To my minimal exercise she said, "Don't stress about it. Keep walking and when you're ready add another walk or go a little further." Her whole approach was to keep the stress down and the success up. Each little step was praised and encouraged. Talking to a therapist? Applauded! Connected with a community? Right on!
We're not shredding my body to be a bikini model on some urgent, immediate schedule. We're building sustainable changes for a healthy, happy, stress-managed life. So we're not going to make the things that are good for me into new stressors.
Her last question of the appointment was the hardest for me to answer. "What are you doing for self care?" Blank stare. "What are you doing for you?" I wracked my brain. But there are several things I'm doing for me: the healthy diet, walking, book club, Ritual, and visiting with friends.
What are you doing for self care?
The Kind Naturopaths prescribed me some herbal and vitamin supplements to help support my adrenal glands, help me recover from depression, and provide a little energy boost. I take all of them in the morning with food, and have the option of taking additional Adrenal Support and Active B-Complex in the afternoon when I feel a dip in my energy.
I started taking them this morning and I do feel a little extra charge of energy and clarity. I'd love it if that became the norm. But I really have no idea, today, what the new normal will be. I'll keep you posted!
Last week, the Kind Naturopaths prescribed some herbal and vitamin supplements as well as a new way for me to eat - Leptin Food Lists. It's a diet of primarily protein and produce, excluding starchy vegetables, grains, and legumes. I did a big grocery shopping for the week on Saturday with my new lists and have started in on the cooking. Roasted and steamed vegetables, baked fish and mini-frittatas, and chopped salad fixings and mixed nuts and tossed each into Mason jars.
It's all beautiful. Good for me. And time consuming! What the heck! It's not obvious to me how I'm going to keep this up on the usual 2-day weekend as well as rest, catch up with friends, parent, and do other chores. Good self-care is not self-indulgent. It's another kind of work, like tending a garden, or a baby, but yourself.
Curious about the Leptin Food Lists? Check them out here.
I went back to the Kind Naturopaths this morning with my Food/Feelings Diary. After reviewing it, they reasserted that my adrenals are in fatigue. This makes sense to me because it's not the first time I've heard it. When Little N was a newborn, Miss A sent her Medical Intuitive/Naturopath to visit me. In the course of our visit she discerned that my hormones were out of whack (duh, postpartum) and that my adrenals were struggling. I took this information to my GP who blew it off saying that I wouldn't have been able to carry a baby to term if there were issues with my adrenals. I yielded to the GP's assessment and went back to work, struggling, but making it.
It's now six years later, years of pushing myself through my job, postpartum and major depression, and ultimately this divorce, to hear the same diagnosis. Adrenal Fatigue.
The adrenals are two important little glands that sit just above the kidneys. The image below illustrates the many things that stress the adrenals. Most of these stressors are a regular part of my life, reinforcing my perception that the Kind Naturopaths are correct and that heeding their guidelines for healing will work for me.
The next steps include: an overhaul of my diet - supported by a list of good foods as well as recipes for using a crock pot (to make cooking more convenient), herbal supplements to support my adrenals, and methylated B vitamins. Besides helping me to lose the extra weight I'm carrying, this healing plan should also support me in recovering from depression.
I go back to the Kind Naturopaths in about a month to check in on how the plan is working, where I'm seeing success, as well as any challenges I'm wrangling.
I feel something like hope and relief. Like maybe my adrenals have been calling for attention all this time and we're finally getting to them. Like I have the direction and the team to truly help me heal and feel better in my body. The work is yet to be done, changing my eating is going to be a big challenge, but it's pretty amazing how having support (Kind Naturopaths, Beloved Therapist, Miss A) for this specific work of healing changes my perspective on that work. What once felt too big and impossible, now seems like a task I can start on (baby steps count!).