Thursday, March 07, 2013

Little Victories

So a few weeks ago I posted about that nasty little voice that tells me that I can't do stuff and my resolution to beat it down this year.

I wrote about how I wound up on the floor, crying, as the "little hater" tried to convince me to give up a workout.  Well, visual evidence of this behavior exists.

That day I pushed myself up and kept going.  I beat the voice that day...but since then I've had many failures.  I stopped working out for close to three weeks.  I tried to dodge some opportunities as a photographer.  I spent more than one day in bed, with the covers pulled over my head, feeling like a complete failure.

Then a couple of weeks ago I started reading the War of Art  and that book really breaks down the "little hater," or what the author calls "Resistance," and it gave me a renewed sense that this is absolutely a battle I need to fight and win - now.

So, a couple of days ago,  I told Steve I was ready to get back to working out and yesterday we went to the gym.  Once again he had me doing exercises that made me question my sanity in making the decision to work with a trainer.

But, even though the workout was just as hard as the one that left me on the floor in tears (harder in fact, because I'm dealing with a pulled hamstring), there was one difference - my attitude.

For a number of reasons, I made up my mind that no matter how I felt about the workout, I would not complain and I would not say that I couldn't do anything he asked me to do.  No matter what he told me to do, I did.  When I could, I even made myself put a smile on my face.

In return, Steve, decided that I needed some real verbal encouragement - both from him and myself.  Periodically during the workout he would make me join him in cheering me on.  "Who's awesome?" he would chant, "Who's the shit?, Who's gonna kick ass?  Who can do this work out?" On and on he would go, and after each question I had to respond, "Julie!"

After a while, I realize that with him chanting questions and me answering with my name - I couldn't hear the little hater.  There was just no room for that voice to get through to me.  It tried. It tried to tell me I looked like a fool chanting my name in the middle of a gym filled with an afterwork crowd of people motivating themselves to work out.

I looked around at all the people who could do it on their own and decided that they must not be listening to any little voice telling them what they couldn't do.  So I cheered myself a little louder and kept going.

And soon, my work out was almost over.  I was on the treadmill, on an impossible incline I would never have attempted on my own, when Steve snapped this picture:

What a difference a few weeks and a commitment to a positive attitude can make!  I never thought I could go from crying at the end of a work out to smiling at the end of one.  But there's the evidence.  Of course the "little hater" is trying to tell me that was a one time thing and tonight I'll be back to crying.

Maybe I would believe what it has to say...if I was listening.

Saturday, February 02, 2013


I generally do not make New Year's Resolutions.  For the most part, I think it's a rather pointless exercise. I've always felt that resolutions are just a way of setting oneself up for failure.  I mean, the new year starts dead smack in the middle of the coldest, darkest part of the year.  It's a time when the body naturally wants to slow down and rest - why would I choose to try to force myself to develop new habits during this time?  I would rather wait for spring, when I am energetic and excited about life, and the days are long and filled with sunshine and new life blooming all around.

But this year, I decided to make one resolution - just shut up the little hater that lives in my head.  I'm borrowing the term "little hater" from Jay Smooth who talks about it as that negative voice that tortures and distracts creative people.  I think everyone, creative or not, has a little hater.  Mine is  a big beast, that doesn't limit itself to creative endeavors.  It rides my back through every day, and every aspect of my life.

I've spent the last couple of years hiding from, tricking, and sneaking around behind the back of my hater.  And I've been pretty successful at it.  Mostly, my approach has been to take tiny steps and to wait until the last minute to do things.  The hater tends to be kind of lazy, and if it doesn't think I'm doing too much, it will mostly let me alone.

Using these approaches, last year I managed to do a lot - I started running, lost more weight, moved into a new apartment, and started really doing some worthwhile writing.  I began coming into my own, despite the hater who, whenever it figured out what was going on, would rant and rave.  And even though I kept going, and did what I had to do, there were times when the hater brought me down for a while.

In fact, it was the hater's last big attack that convinced me to make the resolution to work on silencing it once and for all.  Without going into detail, all I will say is I spent the days leading up to Thanksgiving, in my bed crying with the covers pulled over my head, convinced that that I was a complete and utter failure as a daughter, a writer, a woman, a friend, and a mother.  It was ugly.

So, when New Year's Resolution time rolled around, I decided mine would be to attack that nasty-ass little hater and take it down.  I had NO idea what my approach would be, just that I wanted to do it, and I would find a way - even if it took me all year.

Now,  as it always happens, when you make up your mind to do something and are REALLY ready to do it, things just somehow come together and opportunities appear out of nowhere.  This time it was a conversation with a new friend, Steve, about exercise.

I was lamenting that after coming so far with running, the cold and dark of winter had me slacking off just when what I really wanted was to take my commitment to shaping my body to the next level.  He offered to be my trainer and I accepted without having any clue that I was about to be engaged in a full-on, knock down, drag out, battle to the death with the Little Hater, that makes a scene from Spartacus look like a dance lesson.

And that's how I came to find myself lying on my stomach, screaming, "I CAN'T"into the floor boards beneath my face.  Two feet away, Steve sat with his legs crossed, smiling at me and saying,  "You really can be quite dramatic, you know that?" His choice of words was unfortunate, but how could he know he'd picked one of the phrases that feeds the hater beast?

When I was a kid I was told, on regular basis, that I was being dramatic whenever I expressed my displeasure or discomfort.  According to all the adults around me my reactions were always over the top.  Were they?  I didn't know.  I still don't.  I always thought that I was expressing exactly what I felt and that the accusations of drama were actually saying that either I shouldn't be feeling what I was, or that I shouldn't express it. Either way, the little hater memorized those words, and has been using them my whole life to convince me to stop whatever it is I'm doing.

Whenever I hear that I'm being dramatic about something, I tend to drop it.  For me, drama means failure.  It means I'm trying to do something that is too hard, arguing a point that's not worth making, striving to achieve something I have no right to.  It means that my struggle is inconveniencing others and I should just put a stop to it.  It's the surefire way to make me put down my sword and turn my back on the dragon.  And the little hater smiles when my dreams burst into flames and disappear in a puff of smoke.

So, there I was, lying on the floor, being dramatic.  Every muscle in my body was limp and quivering the way cooked spaghetti is in a bowl. And Steve was telling me to start the next exercise.   Tears squeezed out of my eyes as I struggled with my resolve and the hater, that evil little fucker, gently whispered in my head, that it wasn't worth all this drama and I should just give up.

"It's OK that you can't do this," whispered the hater, "You've done a lot already.  He doesn't understand that you're at your limit. Look, you're crying.  If it's so hard it makes you cry, it's not worth it.  Just stop."  The hater is good at seeming supportive and caring while tearing me down.

Still, I remembered that I'm supposed to be fighting the hater. I wiped some of the tears away and tried to push up off the floor.  The hater came at me from another angle, "Look, you've changed your body enough.  Do you know what's going to happen if you keep going? You're just going to have all this loose skin hanging all over your body. You're not young anymore, that skin is not snapping back like it used to.  You won't look better, you'll just look different. Muscle with loose skin is not prettier than being a little plump.  Just stop."

I wavered.  I started to lower myself down.  Really, who am I, at my age, to believe that I can now have a body that makes me smile when I look in the mirror.  I need to be content with where I am, accept what I've got and stop torturing myself and putting Steve through all my drama trying to achieve something that I'm never going to have anyway.

And just as I was about to flop back on the hardwood floor, sweaty, sad, crying, tired and broken, I saw the hater smile.  Now, I know the hater is a voice in my head - a collection of voices really,  a combination of every critical sound that has ever been aimed at me. So, how could I SEE something that has always been a silent, imaginary voice?  I can't really describe that, and I suppose it makes me seem a little crazy, but I saw that mother fucker smile.  Triumphant and smug that it didn't even take a month to crush my resolution.  Confident that it would live on, with years of sweet, evil whispers about what I can't do.

"Ahhhh!!!"  I yelled as I pushed myself up into a plank and held it - forcing the wobbly spaghetti of my muscles back to something firm.  I could feel my body trembling all over.  I breathed deeply, shifted my weight, held steady.  Tears rolled down my cheeks, but I held it.

The hater stomped it's feet and screamed about weakness, my past failures, my fat belly, my dry hair, the new line I noticed on my forehead a week ago, the project at work I'd been procrastinating, the novel I've only written four pages of, old boyfriends; it even pulled out the big guns and told me I was being like my mother - placing physical appearance above common sense and the things that are really important in life.

I held that plank.  I held it and I cried and I let all the haters words wash over me again and again and again.  And then I heard something else...the sound of a timer going off and Steve's voice saying, "Rest."

I collapsed on the floor and started complaining about how much it hurt and why I had to hold the plank for so long and...yes...I was being dramatic.  Because that's who I am.  And I'm learning that every time I accept my drama and keep on going, I'm pushing that little hater further away.  Diminishing it rather than myself.

It's a fight and I am going to lose some of the battles.  I've already lost a couple.  But that day I won.  And win or lose, as long as I'm fighting, each time I learn a little more about how to just keep going.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


There is clearly a cycle for me and exercise...periods of inactivity followed by intense devotion to exercise and then a slipping into another period of inactivity.

I've been trying to figure out what makes these cycles start and stop.  Unfortunately, it seems, when I look at the patterns, that dissatisfaction with my overall life begins the cycle of exercise.  I'm still not certain why eventually I begin to slack off.  Maybe, as I become more content with my body, and start to take control of other areas of my life, I don't feel as strong a need to push myself physically. There's something in that...but it's not all of it.  I'm still working it out.

But whatever prompts these changes, I woke up this morning and realized that I can control the cycle, if I put my mind to it.

I've been in a period of feeling more sedentary.  The urge to run has been waning of the last few months and I've done it less and less.  About a month ago I made some changes to my diet, and for a while I felt like it was helping me maintain and continue the physical changes I want enough that I could let myself off the hook from feeling bad about not running.  But yesterday I felt paunchy, chubby, flabby all day.  I was much less at ease in my body than I had been in months.

So this morning, I got up and ran for the first time in over 3 weeks.  I was going to let myself take it slow.  Initially, I planned to do a Couch to 5K run.  I picked a week 5 run that only had me running in 10 minute intervals.   After weeks of almost no exercise, I didn't think I could do much more than that.  I even picked a shorter route, because I was tired and wanted to get back home sooner.

Then, just as I walked out the door, I made a change and went for a week 1 5k to 10k run that required me to run for 25 minutes.  I really didn't think I could handle it, but also decided to take my regular, longer route.  I gave myself permission to walk part of it if I had to.  But, I thought I should at least make the effort to try for more.

I started out walking briskly, and when it came time to run, I was a little apprehensive, but went for it and to my surprise, my body just fell into the pace with ease.  For 3/4s of the run, I was fine, paying more attention to the music I was listening to (I love Pink's new album) than any protests my body made about being pushed.

I was feeling great, coming down Riverside Drive, the Hudson River and the city laid out before me, the sun shining.  And then I hit a wall.  It came on me suddenly, and I just could not lift my legs in a run.  I shifted to walking.  I was disappointed in myself, angry.  I walked along thinking that if I had stuck with my program that I would be running 10k by now and instead, after a couple of miles, I was walking.  I felt like I had failed my body.

Pink kept me moving (I swear her music is magic) but in my head I was beating myself up.  And then the running app on my phone told me I was done.  Still about half a mile from home, I walked along, maintaining my pace, and checked my time.

My mouth dropped open.  For the first time since I've started running, I broke a 12 minute mile.  My pace came in at an 11min 47 sec mile!!!  It hit me, as it has over and over on this journey, that I am stronger and faster and more resilient than I ever imagined.  I checked back through previous runs and yes, I had run 15 min, 14 min and 13 min miles, but never had I done 12 min, and never, ever, anything UNDER 12 min.  But today - when I was feeling tired and paunchy and out of shape, and like I was slipping backwards - I managed to propel myself forward.

And that's my lesson for today that I will carry with me.  I am always better than I believe I am.  ALWAYS.  Not just in running, but in life.  Whenever I think I can't do something - chances are not only can I do it, but I can probably do it better than I ever have before.  I have to trust myself.

I finished my walk home with my head high and a little extra...sass.  Yes, some of that was Pink's "Truth About Love," which I think is going to be one of my all time favorite songs.  But most of it was confidence and trust in my body.  My body, even though it's still flabby, with its myriad imperfections, is amazing and wonderful and deserves to be treated with love and respect and admiration.  I have an awesome body, and I need to trust it and to trust myself.

I don't know what the next turn of the cycle will be.  If I will continue to struggle with motivating myself to exercise, or if it will start to become a natural routine again.  But whichever way I go, I'm going to trust that as long as I can remember how incredible I am, it will all work out.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Having it all

There are a lot of articles out these days about how virtually impossible it is for women to have it all.  While I agree with these articles, they amuse me because I think most mothers have known this for a long time.  It is hard to have it all, but there are very few alternatives for most of us than to at least give is a try.  You try to find a balance - but balance is hard work, in and of itself.

When my first daughter was born, I immediately fell so overwhelmingly and completely in love with her that I was willing to sacrifice absolutely everything to be the best mother I could be.  I saw immediately that it was impossible to have it all and I chose motherhood over career and self.  I dove in headfirst and threw the rest of my life to the wind.  If it didn't involve caring for my child, I put it on a shelf and decided to get back to it later, or not at all.

By the time my second daughter was born I was so invested in being a mother, that I had forgotten what it meant to focus on me at all.  And honestly, there was SO much to do for my children, that I had no idea how to make time for me or my career.  I had a job I could do from home, so I could pay the bills, but there wasn't time for much else.  I thought I was content to sacrifice my life, but I was far from happy.  I rarely went out, exercised, or focused on anything that was just for me - but I didn't know how to make time for those things.

Fast forward a couple of years and I realized I was drowning.  I was sleep deprived, overeating and in a relationship that sucked the life out of me.  I knew I had to make changes and so I began to, but I quickly realized that those changes involved taking time and energy away from my daughters.  Increasingly, they had to do with less while I put resources that had once been solely for them into myself.

I began to work out of the home and to take classes in things I found interesting.  Suddenly, I was not there to drive them to activities, to arrange playdates, to play games.  I was often not around to cook dinner or do homework.  I was happier and more fulfilled in my life, but constantly worried that I wasn't doing enough as a mother.

Then this summer, I made a huge step towards making my life better.  I finalized the end of my relationship with their father by moving out.  But suddenly, finding a balance became harder than ever.  And I was trying to do what all the articles said I couldn't do, what I had known was impossible when I gave birth the first time - I was trying to have it all.

Working, fixing up an apartment, dating, exercising, being a mother, taking classes, and juggling a co-parenting schedule, that rarely worked out as planned.  And my body flipped out on me.  I developed random chest pains, my hands broke out in bumps that I self-diagnosed as pustular psoriasis (the doctors agreed), and I was tired all the time.

I took a vacation from work to try to catch up on time with the kids and to get some rest.  That time is coming to an end now, and honestly, I have more questions than answers.  Less balance rather than more.

Taking care of kids is a full-time job.  I find that after a day of negotiating sibling arguments, play games, having deep teenage talks, I'm worn out.  The energy for exercise or working on things that are important and fulfilling to me is depleted.  When the kids are asleep, the house is picked up, and everything is quiet, I sit down at my computer and pass out.

I swear that I will wake early and go for a run before the kids wake up, but more often than not, I'm not fully awake until one of them is jumping on my bed asking what's for breakfast.

Now, as I get ready to go back to work in less than 24 hours, and school is about to start in a couple of days, all I see ahead are long work days, back-to-school shopping that isn't complete, not enough money to buy everything they need, and a long list of research and preparation that needs to be done as part of my teenager's high school application process.  The time and energy for taking care of me, running, dating, taking classes, seems to be shrinking quickly

And so, here I am trying to figure out how to have it all...and knowing full-well how impossible that is.  And yet, when you recognize that you can't have it all, how do you choose something to give up?

Can't give up kids - they are the center of it all.  They need what they need and it breaks my heart every time I realize that they are getting less than that.  Do I take time away from preparing my teen to apply to high school, knowing that getting into a good school can affect the rest of her life?  Do I take time away from my second grader, who deserves at least as much as everything her older sister got?  No. I have to figure out how to give them all they should have.

Can't give up work.  I now have to pay all the bills completely on my own.  I need my job to keep a roof over their heads - to make sure they have the things they need.  Money is tight with a job.  Without one, we'd be lost.  And honestly, I like working.  There's satisfaction and accomplishment in it.  But, more than anything, I can't be a good mother, if I can't provide at least the basics for my kids.

Can't give up exercise.  Being fat and out of shape was killing me.  I can't go back to that.  But finding the time to fit it in, is always a struggle.  I committed to doing something everyday for the next 30 days, and on day 3 I've already missed one day and am on my way to missing a second.  Yet, they say, in order to be a good mother, you have to take care of yourself.

I could give up dating and classes and socializing and anything else that isn't kids, work and exercise - but really?  Again - isn't that giving up taking care of myself?

So, here I am...I don't want to do it all...but motherhood and life are clearly all or nothing kind of things.

So...I will find that balance.  I'm not sure how.  But to not find it would mean giving up, and I am not giving up.  Not on my kids, not on myself, or my life, or my career, or my health.  I'll keep pushing on and I will have it all, as impossible as that seems, because being a mother is pretty much always about just that - making the impossible possible.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Back on it

It's been almost 3 weeks since I did any kind of running, and even that wasn't much.  And in the month before that I only managed 3 or 4 fairly short runs.  It's SO easy to let valid reasons like moving and illness turn into lame excuses.  I've known for about a week now that, even though I'm not at 100%, that I could run, I just didn't want to make the effort to push myself. 

The bad side about that too, is that even though I haven't been running, I have been losing weight - or getting smaller.  That's odd too - I haven't actually lost that much weight, but my clothes keep getting looser, and my face keeps looking thinner.  I'm not sure what my body is doing.  I saw that the jeans I usually wear were on sale last week, so I stopped in the store and tried some on and discovered I can now comfortably wear a size 10, so I'm down two sizes since I started running - but I've only dropped about 10 lbs.  Usually it takes me 20 lbs to drop a clothing size, so I don't quite understand what's happening, but I'm going to go with it for now.  But the bad part is, when my body is moving in the direction I want it to, without exercise, it becomes a little harder to motivate myself to put on the sneakers and get out the door.

Still, this morning, I did it.  I put on my running clothes, grabbed my ipod (which miraculously started working after 2 months of being dead when I stupidly let it get all sweaty during a run) and turned on the C25K app.

I'd planned to take it easy and do a Week 6 run that had a lot of walking intervals, but somehow, I accidentally set it to a Week 8 run with no walking intervals.  By the time I realized my mistake, I was halfway through the run and decided to just stick with it.  I'm amazed at how well I did.  It was a straight 28 minute run and I made it through about 22 minutes before a big hill did me in and I took a 2 minute walking break before I resumed running.

I have to say that the biggest challenge of my new neighborhood is the hills!!  They are EVERYWHERE.  Basically every step is either up hill or down hill, there are virtually no flat areas.  It's very intimidating, and even my technique of looking at the ground (when you look straight down, you can't see that you're on an incline) doesn't quite solve the problem - there's only so much you can fool yourself.  Even when my eyes don't know I'm going uphill my lungs and legs do!!

But I've learned to be patient with myself with this running thing.  If I run for a total of 26 minutes, and have to walk uphill for 2 minutes, that's still doing better than sitting on my butt thinking about how I should run.

Tomorrow, I'd really like to try combining running with swimming some laps.  The early morning lap swim at the public pool near me is going on for another week, and it would be great to get a couple of times in before it ends.  My legs are getting stronger, but my arms are like a jello!!  It's time for me to start working on strengthening my whole body.

I'm happy to be back on it.  And really happy that I found a new route to run.  I like this route better than any of the others I've tried so far - I really find that running in a park area, surrounded by trees makes a difference for me.  And seeing other runners along the way helps as well.  Today, running along Riverside park I saw so many other Black women running - and that is always encouraging.  And the view of the GW Bridge and the Hudson River was spectacular.  I'm looking forward to my next run - and that's always a good thing.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Real Secret is...

Top Row - Spring & Summer 2009, Middle Row - Spring 2010, Bottom Row Summer 2012
Recently, I decided to see how my mission to take care of my body had changed my physical appearance.  I posted the picture on facebook and got more responses than I have ever gotten to anything else I've posted in the four years that I've been on facebook - and they're still pouring in.  I've gotten comments or likes from many of my friends, and even from friends of friends whom I don't know.  In person, I've received random hugs, pats on the back and giant smiles.  And both in person and on facebook, I've heard again and again, "How did you do it?"  "You must have worked so hard!" and the big one - "What's your secret?" 

I am always at a bit of a loss as to how to respond to the "What's your secret?" question.  And frankly, it often surprises me.  Too often it comes from women who I see as fit and trim  - women who already do more than I ever would to take care of their bodies.  What advice could I give them about getting in shape and losing weight?  And why, oh why, do women feel this constant need, no matter what their shape, to get just a little thinner? Other than the very skinniest women (who want to gain weight), every other woman I know wants to lose at least a few pounds. No woman I know is content with her body, just the way it is.  And that is part of the problem.  That is really the secret that everyone wants to know - yet no one wants to hear.

The thing is that weight loss and body toning, well that's pretty much individual.  Some people have faster metabolisms, some have slower ones.  Some are curvy and will always retain some body fat - making muscle hard to see; some have leaner builds and will show muscle the minute they gain it.  Some people respond better to exercise, some respond to diet.  Different people are different combinations of all those things.  Personally, I have a slow metabolism, I respond well to exercise and I retain a layer of body fat that makes muscle hard to see.  That's me.  

I often find myself telling people about how exercise works for me.  Exercising everyday, for an extended period of time speeds up my metabolism.  It takes about two months of constant cardio exercise for my metabolism to kick in - and then suddenly I start to drop weight and my body begins changing.  

If I keep up the daily cardio, I will keep dropping weight and will keep developing muscle at an ever quickening pace.  If I pull back to exercising one to three times a week I will lose at a slower pace and maintain.  If I stop exercising completely, I can maintain the weight loss for about six months before I start sliding back in the other direction.

I also point out to people that when I start exercising daily, my body begins to crave different foods.  I am not as prone to want sweet, salty foods. I don't crave carbs as much. My love for comfort foods decreases as I gain peace and comfort from exercise.  I am more likely to want a big bowl of string beans and shrimp for dinner (as I had the other night) than a big bowl of macaroni and cheese.

All of this is true - and, I suppose, on some level it is helpful.  You could probably spend all day analyzing the mental, physical and emotional implications of replacing comfort food with exercise.  And that comes the closest to my true secret for losing weight and getting in shape.  At first you exercise because you know you have to do it - but somewhere along the way, a mental shift happens, and there's a conscious recognition for what really feels good, both inside and out.  But, there's a another shift that I think is the real secret.  One that is gradual, and has to be learned and relearned and nurtured.  One that, at least for me, requires constant vigilance to avoid shifting back in the other direction.  

It's a secret, not because it's closely guarded, not because no one wants to share it, not because it is so complex that it is difficult to explain.  No, it's a secret because no one really wants to hear it.  It seems too simple, too ineffective, too inconsequential.  It's a secret because in a world that constantly sends us the opposite message, it's often feels like a lie that is impossible to embrace.  The secret, very simply is:

Love your body.  It is perfect just the way it is right now.

I hear the arguments already!  From the self-pitying, "What's to love?"  to the indignant, "But I do love body!"  But I mean, REALLY love your body.  Love your body the way you fall in love with that person who you think is THE ONE.  

You know how you look at him (or her) through rose colored glasses - loving every little bit of them, flaws and all?  How you would do anything for them?  How you could gaze all day at the little scar on his face from when he fell playing ball as a kid, or how even though you wonder what possessed her to get that ugly-ass tattoo, somehow it makes her beauty shine more?  Yeah - that kind of love.  Love your body like that.

Whether you think you need to lose 100lbs or 10lbs, when you can look at the part of your body that you have always struggled with the most and see the beauty and power and majesty of it, when you are happy with it just the way it is - things will start to change.  And you won't be happy because your body is becoming different.  You will be happy because you know that no matter what shape your body is in, it is beautiful and wonderful.  And the new shape it takes is just more proof of it's perfectness.

One more story about my experience in the wonders of accepting my body as perfect and I will end this sermon which is already too long.

As part this go round in learning to love my body, I decided to do something I'd always wanted to do.  I took a burlesque class.  I have always loved burlesque, but always thought I couldn't do it.  I was too short, too fat, too young, then too old.  Finally, after seeing some burlesque shows where women of all shapes and sizes were celebrating their beauty and sensuality, I decided that it was time to accept that I could do that too.

About three or four classes in, we had a day where we were working with stockings.  I have short legs and large, fleshy thighs.  Even though I'd been doing lots of good work at loving my body, I have to admit that I kept my focus above my waist.  I didn't spend a lot of time looking at or thinking about my legs.  And suddenly, here I was in a room with giant mirrors everywhere, wearing shorts and thigh-high stockings that kept rolling off of my over-large thighs.

I panicked.  I kept trying to do the dance moves the instructor was showing us, but I couldn't stop seeing every dimple of cellulite, couldn't stop focusing on the sag just below my butt, couldn't stop looking at how every other woman in the room - from big to small - had smooth skin and thighs that stretched up into her hips.  My thighs were beach balls, making an extra, bumpy, lumpy bulge below my hips.  

Then I started focusing on the moves, wondering if there was a way that I could turn my leg, point my toe, bend or twist that would make my legs look like anything other than what they were.  I asked the instructor, "What can I do to make my legs look better?  They're so short and fat.  How can I work with them."  And she said something that made me angry at her.  She gave me, not the technical, mechanical answer I was asking for; she gave me the answer I wrote just above here as the secret.  She said, simply, "Love them.  When you love them, everyone else will too."

That answer literally floored me.  The next move we went to make, sitting on a chair, I did awkwardly - the chair flew out behind me and I landed on my ass.  "Love my thighs!  She's crazy!" I thought as I hit the floor.  The instructor walked over, helped me up, and hugged me and something happened inside me.  I knew she was right.  I knew I had to find a way to love the part of my body I'd always hated the most.

Over the next few weeks, I focused on loving my thighs.  I looked at them, I saw their flaws, and I tried to tell myself those flaws were beautiful.  I have always loved the flaws in other people, so I tried to transfer those feelings to my own body.  Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I didn't, I'm still working on it - a lot.  But the very act of just trying to love my legs had an effect.  Within a couple of weeks, I began to notice that my jeans were fitting looser in my thighs and ass.  I started seeing muscle and tone in my thighs.  And as I began to see what I wanted in my legs in contrast to the things I had always hated - I began to love my legs more.  

I'm still working on it.  I've spent more than 40 years hating my legs, so truly falling in love with them is going to take sometime.  And when I say that loving your body is the goal - I know that it won't happen all it once and it's an uphill battle.  At least it is for me.  But I challenge myself all the time and every time I challenge myself I am rewarded with a little more love from me to my body.  It's a cycle that keeps on making things better.

So, I'll leave you with this picture.  When I posted the other image on facebook, I cropped out my legs because I was still struggling with being ashamed of them, even as I work on loving them.  Well, it's time to drop the shame.  I am who I am.  I love who I am.  And I know that flaws, cellulite, little veins, strange lumpy parts and all - my legs are powerful and wonderful.  They take me everywhere I want to go.  They managed to learn how to run more than 3 miles when they used to only be able to run for 30 seconds.  They are wonderful and perfect.  And so am I.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Beyond C25K - Awesomeness Doesn't Give Up

I ran for the first time in almost a week today.  It was hard.

This is the first week since I started running where I just kind of let myself slack off.  It reminded me of how easy it is to let things get in the way.

Funny - because the the song I've chosen for my final performance for burlesque class is, "Things Are Getting In The Way," by Corey Glover.  And it's true - things are always getting in the way in my life.  And if there's one thing I've really learned is the key to my health and happiness it's to stop letting things get in the way.

This week it was work, and kids, and even my own body that got in the way of me running.  But mostly, it was my attitude.  For 9 weeks I didn't let any of those things get in the way and I only skipped running when my body just really couldn't do it. So, I know that this week, I LET things get in the way.

It's SO easy to slip back into those habits.  SO easy to focus on others, or do what other people want me to do rather than insisting on taking time for myself and doing what I want to do, and just saying no to anything that isn't what I want or need.

But I will be better about all of that in the future.  Because the effects of not putting myself first suck.  I got progressively crankier as the week went on.  By yesterday, Saturday, I could barely contain myself from screaming at everyone - and sometimes I didn't.  Over and over again, I banished people from my presence because otherwise I knew I would get mean and nasty with them - and for someone who is generally pretty nice and sweet, I can do mean and nasty on a level that no one deserves to experience.

I also got progressively more depressed as the week went on.  Feeling that everything I've been trying to do for the last couple of years is just worthless - all my goals unattainable.

I think I've lived with a kind of functional, low-level depression most of my life.  This kind of depression that almost seems normal and is easy to not even recognize as being depressed.  In the weeks since I started running, that depression has lifted.  But the funny thing is I wasn't aware of it lifting.  The same way I hadn't fully noticed how much it was a part of me - I didn't notice it letting go and drifting away.  But now, when I don't run, I feel it descending again - and I'm aware of all the ways it takes over and slows everything in my life down.  Everything is so much harder to accomplish when that depression rolls in.  And the really nuisance of it is that it makes it hard to push myself to do the one thing that can make it leave again.

Which is why the more days that went by without running, the more it seemed like there were too many obstacles in the way of going out for a run.

Fortunately, yesterday, I realized what was happening and made up my mind to get up this morning and run before the inactivity took root and I let myself sink even deeper.

And it was hard.  I've been sticking to the short run since I ran in the 5K.  I want to get faster, and  I think if I can keep doing the 2 mile run until it becomes easy, then I will start to really pick up speed.

There was a race in the park today - and those can either inspire or discourage me.  Being in the mood I was, I got discouraged.  People were whizzing past me and I felt almost like I was crawling rather than running.  The worst, and most discouraging thing - which usually happens at least once a run - is when someone WALKS past me.  Today, every time that happened I just wanted to give up.  But I didn't, I kept running.

And it was hard, my legs ached, my knees hurt, I got a little winded a couple of times, I felt a twinge in my right calf that told me it could burst into a full on cramp at any moment. But I kept running.

For the first time in many weeks, I felt like I wanted to do walking intervals.  The running just felt so hard and time and again, I thought, if I could just walk for a few steps, I'd feel better, but I didn't.  I kept running.

And as I came to the end of my run, I realized that I was a full song ahead of my playlist than I was the last time I ran.  And because I'd had to wait to cross the race in the park, I had actually started running about a half a song later on the playlist.  So that put me about a song and a half ahead of what I'd run last time.

I cut about 6 minutes off my time.  I ran around 6 minutes faster than I had last time!!!!  I spent the whole run feeling like taking 5 days off had caused me to lose ground.  I was beating myself up for having to start over, because I had slacked off.  I ran along feeling like a bit of a failure, a quitter.  And in the end I discovered that I am still making progress!! I'm getting better all the time!!  I'm not a failure or a quitter.  I'm succeeding in ways I don't even see.

And that's kind of the story of my life.  I'm ALWAYS better than I think I am.  I'm always doing more than I believe.  I'm always achieving things that are huge, when I think I'm doing something trivial.

I have to start trusting and believing and seeing, as my 13yo would say, my AWESOMENESS!  I'm pretty amazing!!! And the first step to believing it, I guess, is at least being able to say it!!

Monday, June 04, 2012

C25K Week 9 Day 3 - 3.08 Miles

COMPLETED!!!!! I did it! I finished the C25K Program!!!!! A total of 27 Days of running!! And I lengthened my route today!  Check out the maps to see the difference between the distance I was going when I started to what I did today!

The map on the left is my first C25K walk/run on March 29th.  I was alternating intervals of walking for 90 seconds and running for 60 seconds.  The map on the right is 9 Weeks later - today, June 4th.  I walked for 5 minutes, ran for 35 minutes and then walked for about 8 minutes.  My total distance on the first day was a little under 3/4 of a mile.  My distance today was 3.08 miles!  

So, what have I learned in this 9 weeks?  

I've learned to be patient with myself.  Originally I wanted to run every day and finish the program in 27 days rather than 9 weeks.  I adjusted my expectations along the way, gave myself time off when I needed it and finished in 9 weeks.

I learned that taking small steps really does work.  I learned to stop looking so far ahead, and to just focus on one step at a time.  I learned that it's possible to get up big, scary hills that seem insurmountable, if you only look one step away. 

I learned that I am important.  For the last 9 weeks I have run regularly, even when it felt like there were other things I should be doing for other people.  And guess what? The world did not end.  No one got hurt.  Not much fell through the cracks.  People will wait for me.  Chores will wait for me.  Work will wait for me.  I learned that I can say, "Not now," and nothing bad happens. 

I learned to face fears, take chances, and keep moving.

I learned that music and movement can make almost any emotional pain bearable.

I learned to trust my body.

I learned that I'm stronger than I think I am.

I learned that I can run.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

C25K Day 63 - It Sneaks Up on You

Week 9 Day 2  3 miles total - 1 mile walking 2 miles running - Just one more day to finish C25K!!

C25K 5 min walk, 30 min run, 5 min walk

Except, I can't quite figure out how I will be capable of running a 5K after tomorrow.  5K is a little over 3 miles, and I'm only running 2 miles right now.  So, I'm not sure how this program can be complete.  Except, I've done all of it.  So, to prepare for the 5K I have to run next Saturday, I will keep adding onto my running time during the week, and pray that it's enough to make it work!  I planned out a new route that is 5K.  Hopefully that will be enough.

Fortunately, my speed has increased a little - and I didn't even notice it until yesterday.  My slow pace has constantly irked me.  Am I really running if I'm moving slower than some people walk?  I've consoled myself by remembering that I'm moving faster than when I was sitting on the sofa, but it still bothered me that I was moving so slow.

But the last two days, I've noticed that I'm a running ahead of where I used to be on my playlist by a whole song.  Since most of the songs on my playlist are 3.5 to 4.5 minutes, that means I'm running about 3-4 minutes faster than I used to.  That seems like a lot to me.    But, what surprises me the most is that I didn't realize I was running faster.  It just snuck up on me.  I thought I was moving at the same snail's pace I had been, but now I'm a slightly faster snail.

And I realize that it's kind of funny how things sneak up on you.  Fears sneak up.  Restrictions sneak up.  Weight sneaks up.  But, so too, does good stuff.  You take baby steps, and you think you're doing nothing, and then suddenly you realize, you're doing something.

A few weeks ago I was afraid to run up this hill.  On the day I decided to try it, I told myself to just look at the ground the whole way up.  I've discovered that if you just focus on the ground, just a step ahead, you can't really tell whether you're going up hill or downhill.  You can't see how far you have yet to go.  All you know is that you're taking a step.  And if you just go a step at a time, you can go up even the hardest, scariest hill.

So I went one step at a time up the hill.  And it worked.  I got to the top, and realized the hill wasn't that bad after all.  And today, without thinking about it, I ran up the hill a second time.  After I made my usual loop, I still had more running time, and the route I decided to take to fill in that time, took me back up the hill.  As I crested it, I realized that 3 or 4 weeks ago it would have been incomprehensible to me that I could run that hill twice in one session. I had not just overcome a fear, I had triumphed over it and soared way above it.   It makes me want to tackle more fears, take on more challenges.

I am learning so much about myself through this process.  Rediscovering my body and learning to appreciate my strength, both physical and internal.  I can't wait to see what comes next!

Friday, June 01, 2012

C25K - Days 61 & 62 (and a little burlesque)

In other words, Week 9 Day 1!!!  I ran 30 minutes today!! 2.43 miles (walking time included)! Only 2 days of C25K left and in a week and a day I run a 5K in Central Park!!! Woo Hoo!!!

Running was easier this morning.  I feel like I'm finally at a place where I can start getting used to the distance I'm running.  This is the good part about leaving the intervals behind.  For a long time, I felt like every time I got used to where I was, it was time to add more on.  And that's still true - but adding time isn't so bad.  It doesn't change the beginning of the run, which gets easier every time.

My thoughts, as I ran today, were a little jumbled up because I had two big things on my mind - friendship and fears about my legs.  I think I'll sort it out and just tackle fear and leave my thoughts on friendship for another day.

OK, so let me just say it straight out - I don't like my legs.  Honestly, I'm not sure that there's a lot I like about my body overall right now - but I know I don't like my legs.  They are short and fat and fleshy.  From the knee down, they're not bad - nicely shaped, tapered ankle, not bad.  But from the knee up they're a mess - cellulite, loose flesh, and barely any visible muscle tone at all.

Skirts and shorts have always been a dilemma because my thighs rub together when I walk.  I have to wear leggings under skirts, and I'm kind of stuck with "Bermuda" length shorts.  So, even though I enjoy summer, it is also a bit of a nightmare when it comes to dressing myself from the waist down.

The other side of not liking my legs is that it causes me to make summer clothing choices that are not very girly, or enticing.  If I wear skirts, I usually choose long ones both for the comfort of wearing leggings under them and to hide my legs.  I am physically comfortable this way.  And I am emotionally comfortable, in that it renders me somewhat invisible.  I won't elaborate on the whole invisible thing right now, but let me just say that the desire to not be seen is a curse and a blessing.

But a few things happened in the last couple of weeks that made me face my discomfort and fear around my legs.  First of all I had a conversation with a male friend and asked him to be very honest about my attractiveness to men.  He said that I dress like one of the boys.

Now, I thought this was funny, as did many of my female friends.  My boobs are always on display.  No matter how schleppy I'm dressed, I am always wearing a good bra and a shirt that is either tight, or low-cut, or both.  I'm very comfortable with "the girls" - cute euphemism aside.  So, for someone to say that I dress like one of the boys, was funny - and yet, I kind of understood what he meant.

I don't go girly - I don't put out a girly image. There are lots of reasons for that - not the least of which is that it's physically uncomfortable.  And, in the summer - going girly, being enticing in that way, means showing leg - something I'm not comfortable with at all.

The other thing that happened was that my burlesque instructor announced that we would be doing, "stocking work" the following week, so we should come dressed in clothes that bared our legs.  What?  HUH?  No hiding in my baggy yoga pants?   Bare legs?  What?

This was the moment when I finally stopped deluding myself and understood that taking a burlesque class meant taking my clothes off!

And honestly, the thought of baring myself from the waist up was fine - but showing my ass and thighs?  Oh hell!!  I would rather show my nipples than my thighs any day!

Lastly, the weather got hot.  One day I was jogging in yoga pants and an old sweatshirt, and the next, I had on a tank top and my yoga pants were a sweat soaked mess, clinging to me and making every step an effort. But, what does someone who is afraid to show her legs wear to run in hot weather?

I think a couple of years ago, my response to these three things would have been to hide, to give up.  I would have dropped out of the class, only run on cool days, and just ignored the words of my friend.  But I am on this journey to face my fears and uncover the person who exists behind them.  So, after a couple of days of moping and feeling horrible, there was only one thing to do - bare my legs.

I started wearing a running skirt.  I wore it low on my hips so I could get a little extra length, but it still fell way above my knees.  I turned the music up louder and lost myself in it - if I just ran and listened to the music, maybe I could forget that the whole world could see my thighs jiggling along as I ran. It wasn't fun - but it wasn't horrible.  But could I face the world with my legs showing without the distraction of exercise and music?

I woke up on Wednesday and decided it was the day to find out.  I was having lunch with my parents, then meeting up with the friend who told me I dressed like one of the guys.  I bit the bullet, pulled out a short, flouncy skirt I usually wear with leggings, and put it on - without the leggings.  I even pulled out some little, strappy sandals with a low heel - and I walked out into the world.

And nothing bad happened.  I wasn't comfortable - but I wasn't humiliated either.  The skirt was a little shorter than my running skirt, but still mostly covered my thighs.  I felt kind of girly, kind of cute, very scared, a little embarrassed, and I survived it.  Apparently my legs are not hideous enough to make people run screaming down the streets.  Apparently, I can handle the little extra attention I got from men on the street by not being invisible (thankfully glances and smiles rather than comments).  Maybe my legs aren't so bad after all.

But the real test came for me at burlesque class.  Could I stand in front of a mirror and look at myself with legs exposed for an hour and a half?

Well, that was hard.  I felt awkward, awful - not at all sexy or alluring or attractive.  All the moves that seemed to flow from the other, longer-legged women in the class, looked clunky and clumsy on my short legs.  I became more nervous.  I fell off a chair.  And as I sat there on the floor, feeling like a crazy, old fool for even taking a burlesque class, something happened.

Earlier, I had asked the instructor what to do to make the moves look better on my short, fat legs.  She told me to learn to love my legs.  She said, "It's hard to unlearn stuff and see yourself differently."  I was frustrated, I wanted practical tips for how to move and she was telling me to love my legs!!!  How could I love my legs?  They're short and fat and lumpy! What's to love?

But as I sat on the floor, she came over, and gave me a hug, and helped me up.  And I looked in the mirror and tried again, and again, and again.  Some of the moves were awkward. But, somewhere in there - as I focused more on what my legs could do, than how they looked - I began to see the power in them.

Look at how I can point my toe!  Look at how I can stretch my leg out!  Look at how I can strut, and turn on my toes, and balance my body on the balls of my feet!  Look at how strong I've become.  The running is doing something.  I can do more than I could a week ago, a month ago, a couple of months ago.  And as I started thinking of all I could do, I found myself doing more. And when I strutted across the floor with my classmates and looked in the mirror, my legs didn't look so bad.

And while I can't say that I learned to love my legs,  I don't think I hate them quite so much today.

Tackling fear is hard.  But SO much of it exists completely in our heads.  My guess is that most people I passed, when I was outside in a skirt, did not notice my legs.  My fear was that people were looking at me thinking, "Doesn't she know she has NO business wearing THAT!"  But, they probably didn't see anything out of the ordinary worth making note of.  Those words were in my head - not theirs.

And that's the thing about fear - or at lest MY fears.  I project what my little hater says onto all humanity.  I think the world is filled with little haters - and in a way it is.  But most little haters are too busy hating on themselves to bother with hating me.