Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Screw the Scale!!

"In the Middle Ages, they had guillotines, stretch racks, whips and chains. Nowadays, we have a much more effective torture device called the bathroom scale." ~ Stephen Phillips

"I need to stay off the damn scale. I had myself all worked up on Sat. for no good reason. It's ridiculous what we do to ourselves as women...how many guys obsess themselves with the scale like we do?? I am eating healthier than I ever have. I am exercising. I am building muscle. I feel stronger. My clothes fit better. Screw the scale!!"

That was my illustrious status update on Facebook yesterday. I was and still am, so fed up with the bathroom scale. I am even more fed up with myself for allowing myself to let an electronic heap of metal play such an important role in my life.

I have been overweight most of my life therefore I have quite a long and tortuous history with the scale. During times when I know I am not eating well and running the other way from exercise, I tend to avoid it and then verbally punish myself when I do get on it and see the number just getting higher and higher. It's even worse when I am eating well and taking care of myself because then I obsess about it. I get on it every single morning, around the same time. I do so after I go to the bathroom, but before I eat or drink anything. I make sure I have on the same type of pajamas...no socks. Then, I check it 2-3 times to make sure the number is accurate, sometimes even moving it to another room as the evenness of the floor can change the number a bit (I have a digital scale); praying that it will make the number go down even a little bit. I am sure there must be a psychiatric diagnosis for that somewhere....

The thing is though, it's not just the act of weighing myself that is dysfunctional. It's what I do to myself as a result. I know I am not the only one out there that does this. I let the number on the scale dictate how I feel about myself. The number that stares back at me says I am doing well with my weight loss goals or I am not. I let it convince me whether I am pretty or just a fat woman thinking that she's pretty.  I let it discourage me and throw me off track from my health goals.

Well at least, I used to let it sidetrack me. So far, I have not this time around although I did come close this past week. I have pretty much stalled out on my weight loss and am frustrated. However I have too much to lose (no pun intended!) both physically and emotionally to let numbers dictate how I am going to get healthy. I have made a serious commitment to myself to change my life once and for all. Besides, the number on the scale doesn't account for my much improved cardiovascular status or my increased energy. It certainly does not account for how much I have decreased my risk for all the inherited diseases in my family such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

So what I have decided to do is say SCREW THE SCALE!! I think we should all say that!! I already know I am a beautiful person inside and now I am measuring my own outside beauty in other ways. I am looking at the healthy glow of my skin and the thickness of my hair that comes with better nutrition. I am feeling the looseness in my clothes. I am appreciating the muscle that I have built up in my body which is emerging from what used to be mostly fat. I am thinking about how much stronger my legs look.

I am not saying we should never weigh ourselves the rest of our lives, but we have to develop some type of healthy relationship with the numbers. They are just that, numbers. They represent a unit of measurement and not our beauty or our self-worth. For me, I have decided to take it one step at a time. I am going to fight the VERY strong urge to weigh myself every day. I have a doctor's appointment coming up in two weeks and am determined to not weigh myself until the nurse does at that appointment. Meanwhile I will keep eating well, staying active, and appreciating my body for all the beauty it holds, both inside and out.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Today I Ran

                  "Do a little more each day than you think you possibly can." ~ Lowell Thomas

I ran today. I ran for a total of seven minutes. Seven minutes. That is a long time when you are trying to get your body to do something it hates you for. Except as a kid, I only ran one other time in my life and that was a few weeks in college when I decided jogging would make me lose weight. Well, it might have if I wasn't living on pizza and Ramen noodles. Anyways, I have now been consistently exercising for  about seven weeks, doing the aerobic part either outside or on a treadmill at the gym. I tend to get a much better workout at the gym than walking outside because I am not attached to the dog's leash. My cardiovascular status has improved dramatically, too much so. It is now outpacing my muscles and joints so that I have to work harder to get my heart rate up. I was using the incline on the treadmill to do this and now I am maxed out on the incline. Yay me!

So about three weeks ago, I felt this sudden urge to run on the treadmill which has actually never been attempted before by me. I also needed to get my heart rate up more. I upped the speed and off I went. In the back of head, I was thinking what a terrible idea this was for my arthritic joints but I just wanted to see if I could do it. I did...for all of fifteen seconds. I am not even kidding. I thought I was going to die. But I did it, I ran fifteen seconds. Then I decided that Rome wasn't built in a day and neither would my body, so I was going to try and run fifteen seconds every time I walked and see what happened. As the days go by, I try to increase the time I spend running and today felt like a big step. I did seven minutes. Granted, it was seven minutes split up in three different intervals (3min/2 min/2min) but well, who the hell cares? I can run!

Anyone that knows me well probably thinks I am an idiot trying to run on a treadmill after all the joint pain I have been complaining about the past few years, but here's the thing...exercise is good for you...it helps arthritis. It helps asthma. It does wonders for my stress level and emotional well-being. The whole exercise thing has been pretty brutal to begin with, but nothing compared to the pain I was feeling in my joints 58 pounds ago. Now, getting exercise doesn't mean I have to run. There are other ways to increase my workouts, such as the bike and elliptical. So why am I putting my body through those VERY long seven minutes? Simple...because I can. I have had so little control (or so I thought) over my body for so long; this is me taking charge. Saying I can run seven minutes puts me back in the driver's seat. It is my way of doing something good for my body that makes me feel strong. It is one more thing I can now say "I did" about rather than "I can't."

I am still in the process of figuring out an exercise schedule/routine in which I can deal with the aftermath of in terms of muscle/joint pain. To be honest, I may decide that the running thing may just not be in my body's best interest or I may post an update a few weeks from now saying that I ran for twenty minutes. For today though, I am just content in saying that I did a little more than yesterday...

Monday, May 16, 2011

City of Brotherly Love

Ahhh Philadelphia.

I just had a fantastic weekend there and really have nothing negative to say about the place. My boyfriend (Chuck) and I spent three days in the city of brotherly love and I have to say, I would go back in a minute. We were there for the Dad Vail Regatta, which is the largest collegiate rowing event in the country. Chuck's son, Dan, rows for the University of Vermont. I had never been there before and we were hoping to get a little sightseeing in when we weren't at the river cheering our team on.

And sightseeing we did. In true Chuck/Chris fashion, we sucked the life out of every minute we were there. Dan's team only competed one of the two days (they didn't make the finals) and we had a little more free time on our hands than we expected. We did the touristy thing with Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the Philadelphia Zoo (awesome place!!). The highlight though was this award winning bed and breakfast we stayed in called The Gables which is located in the University City neighborhood. It had it all from a large wrap around porch to fantastic Victorian decor to incredible breakfasts. It was truly a magical place.

I don't get away overnight very often and of course this experience, like all of my experiences, made me learn and think about a few things:

*Traveling is MUCH better when you are more spontaneous. I used to be so detail oriented when I traveled and actually, with everything in my life. I would have to plan every detail of a trip but what I have come to learn is that spontaneity offers you the chance to experience more and worry less. Maybe if we planned a little less in life, we would experience it more.

* Traveling with a chronic illness is challenging but CAN be done and done well. This is only the second time I have traveled this far from home since my autoimmune illness began in December 2007. Although I just preached about spontaneity in the above paragraph, when it comes to dealing with medical issues away from home, meticulous planning is best so that you can enjoy your time away. What I learned on this particular trip was that I do much better with driving (rather than flying) and staying in a bed and breakfast (rather than a hotel). With both, I have much more control over my environment in terms of humidity, medical equipment, being able to stop and stretch while traveling, the list goes on and on.

* I got to experience a tiny fraction of what it is like to be a parent while watching Chuck's son, Dan, row this past weekend. I have never had a relationship with someone who has children and I think it is very different when those children are young adults. Not better or worse, just different. I have been to most of his crew races over the past eight months and this one was a biggie. I was so excited for him when his boat won the first heat and felt so disappointed for him when they did not make the finals. I feel protective of him. Not that I need to. He's 21 years old. I'm not his mother or even his stepmother. I am just his dad's girlfriend yet, I realize how much I care about his well-being as well as that of his sister.

Not bad for a three day trip, heh?

Photo: Courtesy of Chuck Myers

Monday, May 9, 2011

My (Im)Perfect Body

“You’ve got your body for life, you might as well learn to get along with it.” ~ Sandy Kumskov

In my previous blog entry Turning Forty, I referred to the fact that I am not always physically comfortable in my own skin. As I was writing that sentence, I just knew that I was going to have to blog about it. Body image issues are a topic I can write extensively about and well, I haven't. I did do an entry back in April about taking responsibility for my health, which was in reference to weight issues, but that has been it.

Truth be told, it has been difficult to consider writing about my relationship with my body until now. There has recently been a shift in my appreciation for the physical appearance of my body. At first I thought it was because I have been taking much better care of myself and it is starting to show. I am seeing muscles that have been buried my whole life. I have lost weight. That being said, I think it is more than that though. I think the bigger shift has been in the way I think about my body.

Except for maybe my hair, I usually don't have a positive thing to say about the image staring back at me in the mirror. I have too many stretch marks (especially since I have never given birth!); WAY too much fat around my middle; arms are too flabby; too much hair in places that I shouldn't...the list goes on and on. Why in God's name do we do this to ourselves? I know that this is not an issue exclusive to me. How many times have we had friends or other people we know criticize their appearance, all the while we are just rolling our eyes because we think they are drop dead gorgeous? Despite the fact that God created this wonderful home for our soul, spirit, or whatever your name for it is, oftentimes all we can see is the imperfections that stare at us from the mirror.

Now though, sometimes I can look in the mirror and actually summon up a positive thought or two. I can think to myself how remarkable it is that my body is still functioning at all after the obscene amount of procedures, toxic medications, and stress it has been through. I look at my eyes and thank them for enduring years of severe dryness; some people actually have eye damage/vision loss from it and I have not. I look at my hands and in them I see the miles they have put on holding the hands of others. I appreciate the heartiness and strength of my feet which for most of my life, have endured much more weight on them then they should have. I look at my chest and I think of the miraculous work my heart has done for me despite it being broken many times, both figuratively and literally. As I give myself a once over every morning (at least once!), I try to remember the times my body has given love and received love.

It's not an easy thing to look at one's (im)perfect body and think of it as anything but flawed but like they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For now, I am going to try and behold the beauty that is my wonderful, strong, and courageous body.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Turning Forty

 "Life begins at forty." - W. B. Pitkin

I am going to be 40 years old tomorrow. By the time you get to 40, it seems like many people are dreading having another birthday. Not me. To start with, to have a birthday means to have made it through this world another year and be fortunate enough to be looking forward to another one. That right there is enough cause for joyful celebration. I was diagnosed with cancer nine days before my 25th birthday; that can change your perspective on the whole birthday thing quite a bit. So can getting to the other side of heart surgery, chronic autoimmune illness, and severe depression. When you are a survivor of anything, whether it be illness, death of a loved one, abuse, the list goes on and on; birthdays are an opportunity for us to celebrate ourselves and what we have endured. It is a chance to say "Yes I have gotten here". It also is a chance to be hopeful that maybe, just maybe, the next year can help us realize some of our hopes and dreams.

I have to be honest; it really bothers me when people complain about having another birthday, whether it be their 40th or any other year. I just don't get it. I know that my perspective about the birthday thing is not always the same view other people have. As a society, we don't usually value getting older and a birthday is a reminder that we are in fact getting older.

Maybe we are afraid of getting sick...
Maybe we are afraid of death...
Maybe we are afraid we won't be as useful as we once were...
Maybe we are just disappointed that we have not accomplished what we thought we would.

See, I don't look at it like that. I have even tried to look at it like that so I can be relatively sympathetic to my friend's complaints (I have quite a few turning 40 this year!) but the truth is: I am grateful to see that big "40" on a cake or on a card. It means I got 5484 more days than I originally planned on when I was 24 years old.

That being said, the course of my life has veered quite drastically from where I planned it to go when I was 18, 20, or even 30 years old. At this point, I was supposed to be married with 2.2 kids, a few dogs, and a house with a white picket fence. I was supposed to have some financial security as well as a fabulous nursing career. I was not supposed to spend the better part of my 20's and 30's dealing with so much illness, stress, and heartbreak. Ahh, the best laid plans.

So where did my life end up at 40 years of age? I'm divorced with no kids, not financially secure by any means (well heck, who is these days?), out of work for over two years, and I have complicated health issues. I also ended up with an incredible circle of friends, a loving family, a pretty cool (although oftentimes psychotic) dog, a warm home, a loving and supportive church family, a relationship with God, and a man who has redefined for me what it is to truly love.

On the way to 40, I have also ended up with a very strong sense of self. I have learned to love myself and to value the gifts I have to share in this world. I cannot say that about the former 30 year old version of myself. I have confidence. I even like who I am on most days. As I approach 40, I am learning to be more physically comfortable in my own skin. I have to say, that still remains one of my biggest challenges; maybe I will have mastered it by the time I am 50.

I have learned a lot about how to be a good friend and partner.

I have had the opportunity to work with people who have faced much greater hardships than I can ever imagine.

I have learned to treat my body with the respect that it deserves.

I have learned how to be grateful.

I have stopped living my life as a race and instead have learned to live each day like it is a privilege.

I guess it is true what they say about wisdom coming with age.

Photo: Courtesy of Chuck Myers