Everything, Musings, The Blog

Found Guilty

Sometimes — okay, most days — okay, always — I have a sense of embarrassment and even guilt over my eating disorder. I can sit in therapy and discover so many things that combined, grew, multiplied until I found myself eye-deep in my mental illness. But really, nothing has been so bad, so hard about my life.

Oh sure, my parents divorced. Just like 80% of the people around me.

Okay, a loved one experienced a traumatic illness when I was a kid — tough on us, but so, so (unimaginably so) much more difficult on him, yeah?

True, I’ve been teased by other girls — and guys — in elementary and high school. But compared to the girl or boy who was mercilessly bullied? Or essentially friendless? My “experience” seems hardly worth mentioning. I had intimate friendships for the majority of my childhood but as a sensitive kid, even the slightest cloaked insult was emotionally crippling.

I had the World’s Best and Most Loving Mom. Two great older siblings to teach me how to fight but also how to love. A Dad who maybe wasn’t quite so present when I was young but who went all in with parenting once my he and my Mom split up (Think: hours of playing double-dutch with my sister and I, 1:1 father-daughter camping trips (a tradition we’ve continued to this year, ages 25 and 59), ball tossing, lunch packing)…

As a family, we weren’t well off — but we had everything we needed. I spent my teen years on life-changing wilderness trips that forged incredible friendships. I played summer sports and later, club volleyball — not something which every family could afford. I had boyfriends who told me that they loved me. I had top grades and my pick of University programs.

I was hired to work for the organization that had changed my life and spent 6 years working at my dream summer job. At school, I got into the Major of my choice and graduated from my University with honours and distinction. Again, I had my choice of Master degree programs, each with enticing funding offers.

But somewhere, somehow, I developed an eating disorder. I spiralled — hard — and I nearly killed myself through abuse and neglect. I experienced a big, dramatic illness (both mentally and physically)…because, of what? My loving parents weren’t quite loving enough? Because away at school I discovered that I wasn’t “the smartest,” but closer to average afterall?

And so, I judge myself. What was so damn hard in my life, that I would react in this way? And I feel embarrassed. Whiny. Who am I to sit in therapy, or use up mental health resources when all I have ever known is privilege? Recently, I asked this of my dad — what is so difficult about my life that I should complain of being so depressed and mentally unwell? And he told me: you had an eating disorder. That is so huge. That was — is — so incredibly hard and destructive.

Okay, sure. But what the fuck gave me the right to have that disorder in the first place?

…I am tempted to end this post here. Those feelings of embarrassment and guilt are still strong. I still judge myself as weak, selfish, ridiculous…dramatic? But I am attempting to change that story (one of many). And for those of you who, perhaps, relate to this, I am going to offer up what my Dad said next:

Mental illness knows no privilege. 

For my own benefit, I am going to write that again:

Mental illness knows no privilege.

…And so maybe someone else has experienced more obstacles than I. Experienced war, famine, prejudice, hate, loss, such that I can hardly imagine. And maybe that someone else still finds it easier to put one foot in front of the other each day. Maybe, that makes me weaker than them. But if there is one thing I am learning (over and over and over again until one day it will stick), it is not to compare. There is nothing constructive for me in comparison.

And so, I am ready to “own” my story.  This has been my experience — unique to me. It is what it is. And I am who I am. My illness does nothing to detract from another’s experience. It is not a commentary on another’s suffering — and neither does anyone else’s say anything about mine. I am done invalidating my own story. It is what it is. I am who I am.

And mental illness knows no privilege.

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Everything, Musings, The Blog

Lost in a Book

“Lost in a book.”

There is something so enchanting about this phrase, so whimsical. Lost in a book. As a lifetime romancer of YA fantasy, I picture myself caught up in a mythical adventure, a flurry of horses and dragons and magicians. Forests, mountains, cold, untouched streams.

But what if you were lost in a different book? Lost, or rather, trapped, in a story of disappointment, inadequacy, feelings of shame. Given the choice, this is not the tale in which I would lose myself.

…Except I have.  And I wonder if I am not the only one. We all (I think) have shit from our childhood. Perhaps things we were born imprinted with from the stories of our ancestors, or perhaps tales that we believed about ourselves when we were young and innocent. Maybe we had inarguably wretched childhoods — experiences of obvious neglect, abuse, disappointment. Perhaps, like me, we were loved — hard — and had opportunities and joyful moments. Regardless, if we look closely enough…there is shit. Someone, somewhere didn’t love us hard enough. Somewhere, somehow we learned that praise = love and that to be loved we  must perform (and succeed). That to fail is to be dismissed, discarded. We learned fear. Shame.

As capable, independent adults, you might think that we would discard these old scripts. We have proven ourselves strong, resilient. …And perhaps that is your story — as in, perhaps you have changed your story.

I have not. I am “lost in the book” that was written as a child. Trapped, eternally reading (or writing) the same pages over and over and over again: Inadequate. Not belonging.  Unloved. Bad. Shameful. I am the same child who somehow, amidst all of the love and support believed herself to be unworthy. Today, decades later I recreate that story day after day through behaviours that leave me self-disgusted, sad – defeated.

How then to find ourselves? To escape the pages of this cheap horror novel? In studying recently for my upcoming yoga teacher training I have been reading through the Yoga Sutras — and they speak a lot about non-attachment. Non-attachment: choosing not to suffer. So simple in sound — but is it truly? How simple is to to stop a pattern we have ingrained over years, that is a part of our every day? In order to not suffer, logically, we must break the chain and resist the behaviours that perpetuate our pain. What are they? Do we binge on food? Do we present an aggressive attitude toward those around us, constantly standing in the way of the childhood “us” who so badly craved acceptance and belonging?

Stop the behaviour. Stop the suffering. Escape the story.

…But of course  it isn’t so simple. If it were we might have stopped long ago. We have tried to stop, to harness willpower to combat our destructive habits.

And so today (it is February 21st) I am suggesting something new. New to me. I am suggesting it and I am committing to it, for myself. What if today, we went back to the beginning? What if today, we remembered the child us — Haven at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…12. Haven at 0 who was born a clean slate. Haven who was new and whole. Was she “bad?” …How do I feel about her?

I am talking about our “inner child.” Yes, yes, we’ve all heard it — it’s almost a “buzz phrase” in the increasing popular theme of self-love. Our inner child, that youthful version of ourselves who bought into a story that is not true. The kid who somehow got stuck in a poorly written book.

It turns out that I love that girl. She was curious. She was fiercely independent and she insisted on dressing herself. She loved bright clothes and her brother’s oversized hand-me-downs. She hated socks that fell down and scrupulously rolled hers down into funny little inner-tubes around her ankles. It is that same girl who today only wears ankle socks.

That girl could swing for hours on the little plastic swings in our big maple tree, imagining she was on a flying horse, escaping from an evil raven — a character from a storybook we read once from the library. This girl hated change and threw anxious fits when her Mom and sister would move the furniture around in the living room. My heart goes out to that girl.

That girl was enough. That girl was young, loving, afraid, bold, shy, smart, clever, silly, loud, quiet. That girl was enough and she deserves to star in a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. She deserves to write the rest of her own story.

I am going to find that girl. Beyond that…I do not know exactly what it is I will need to do. But that girl is lost. Lost in a book. And she deserves to be found.

 

 

February 21st, 2018.

 

Everything, Musings, The Blog

I Am Not for Everyone

It has taken 24 years to be to say this, for me to own this, but…

I am not for everyone.

My whole life, I have made an effort to be nice, kind — to get along well with others. Conflict (aside from tiffs within my immediate family, with whom I aways knew and trusted there to be love) has always made me incredibly, incredibly stressed. As a child I was painfully shy around new people and I learned early on that the safest way to survive social experiences was to, as I said, do my absolute best to get along with everyone. 

There are positive outcomes from this sort of approach. It has helped to shape me into a more open-minded individual, with wide diversity amongst my friends and acquaintances. In many cases it has encouraged me to be more laid-back, less rigid — when my tendency if on my own, can often be to be very type-A, with a touch of OCD (and although I say that flippantly, I actually do have an OCD diagnosis. Thankfully though, it is fairly mild compared to many (Quick aside — it is a major pet-peeve when someone uses “OCD” as a joke-y adjective or critique of themselves or a friend, when actual OCD is not present. OCD is a disorder. And it can severely handicap how a person is able to conduct their daily life. That is all)). 

…It has also led to a disconnect between what I want and what I do. Over the years, I have become so concerned with what others want and avoiding conflict that I stopped even asking myself, however privately, what I wanted. Did I have an opinion about what restaurant to go to? Did I like the band _____? Did I actually agree with what this person was saying? (Because out loud, I certainly did)!

I’ve spoken before about losing myself in this quest to please others and to be accepted — about losing sight of what matters to me, what I value, or how I would choose to conduct my life if no one would see or know. However, this lifelong habit has backfired in even more ways. I am only just coming to realize how I have harboured secret (yes, secret even to me) resentment toward others. Why do they matter so much more than me? I have grown envious of others’ confidence, apparent freedom and power — the power and ownership to assert their needs. (Wow)!

This pursuit has led to less fulfilling and sound friendships because I was so intent on being someone…else. Interestingly, looking back, the repercussions have been way larger, and much more damaging, than sitting with the discomfort of not being universally liked.

…Plus…many people have persisted in not liking me in my life, anyway. So I’d say this whole tactic was basically bust.

…Which brings me to today.  Today I am coming to terms with the notion: I am not for everyone.

I do not like everyone. Not everyone likes me. Logical…but still hard to swallow.

I have been asking myself questions: If I could choose between everyone liking me “well enough,” or a few people liking  me a “whole darned lot?” which would I choose?

Honestly? It’s an easy answer. I’d choose the few and the “whole darned lot.” Okay. Perspective. I am not for everyone. I do not desire everyone.

…I’ll keep saying it, until it sticks. I am not for everyone, and that is okay. A single person’s opinion of me does not speak to my value or worth as an individual. It can feel as if it does — and I can choose to let it — but I can also choose to just accept the fact. We are different. We all have insecurities and histories and an ugly side…sometimes a person can trigger these in another, simply by “being.”

“Being for everyone” (or trying to) has limited me in my life — my choices, my risks, my romantic and platonic relationships. It has held me back, made me afraid to take a false step.

So. After a couple of decades, I’m calling it quits. I am freeing myself from the need to be liked by everyone, always. From the instinct to always try to be liked. Accepting that I am not for everyone is freeing — it creates a lightness in me, as I realize the choices that I can make now, stress free, when I care only how a few dear people might react. It am released from the need to look, be, “do,” a certain way.

…And, full disclosure, it frees me from the internal conflict I’ve carried my entire life: my desire to fit in, to be part of the pack…and my opposing ego that makes me crave distinction, to want to stand out. (To be the best). …Not that I am choosing to embrace this pathology toward having to be the best…that is a whole ‘other can of worms and an entirely separate blog post…but it is a relief to take a step away from this misalignment of “wants” which has always left me…dissatisfied. Losing out.

Accepting that I am not for everyone is a huge stepping stone — one that I hope will lead me toward sorting out my confusion around feeling “not chosen,” being envious, feeling like the world is “unfair”…and all of the inner drama that those feelings have created.

…So, what about you? Are you “not for everyone?” Is it time for you too to embrace this concept and recognize that…it is okay?

Everything, Musings, The Blog, Uncategorized

Transitions

This time last year, I wrote a piece (this piece) for my school’s Mental Health Blog. It was some thoughts about autumn. About change. Transitions. It is September again, which, as Gretchen Rubin says, is “the other January” and I want to share it with you now, here.
Thank you for reading. 


 

Autumn is a season of transition. Change. Slowly, the trees are shedding emerald garb in favour of majestic reds, browns and orange. Temperatures are declining, and the first sting of frost becomes apparent as the sun drops away behind the mountains each night. Here, at UVic, we too are in a period of transition. Moving from our summer jobs or travelling into the busy and often overwhelming rhythm of classes, library study sessions, and late night plans with friends.  Perhaps we are returning to school after a summer away; perhaps this is our first time away from home, our opportunity to assert our independence, to choose what we’ll have for dinner, choose “who we want to be.” Possibly this month marks our first time living off campus: cooking our own meals, managing the commute, navigating roommates and chore schedules. For many of us, we are arriving in a brand new city: unfamiliar surroundings, school, people.

Change is challenge. Even for those who embrace it, who exclaim “I love change!” it takes a certain elasticity of mind and emotion to flow gracefully from one way of being into another. Unconsciously, we all have ways of coping with change, keeping our heads above the water, as the tide tugs us in a new direction. This might involve trying to take as much of our past with us as possible: struggling to maintain the same habits we’re used to. Morning runs. Friday night parties. Honey Nut Cheeri-Os. Finding friends that remind of us people we know. Sometimes, we see ourselves developing new habits: a new gym routine, Netflix binges, late night munchies, a vigorous commitment to our studies.

This isn’t easy. Even if we are not consciously aware of the discomfort, as we are thrown from one reality into another, there is a long period of adaptation. We might notice a shift in the quality of our sleep, find ourselves sporting a shorter fuse, or a lower threshold for stress. Importantly, we aren’t alone. We are human. This is life. Some of the ways I am managing my own transition this month (moving to a new city, starting a graduate program after a year away from school, living without roommates for the first time) is by establishing nurturing routines. Yoga in the mornings. Finding something each day to be grateful for and writing it down. Making plans with acquaintances, testing them out, but practicing being my honest self even if it means we don’t perfectly “click” (because I know that someone will). Cooking food that nourishes me. Scheduling phone dates with family. Exploring the city and in particular, the nature surrounding it. Mount Doug near campus is a beautiful park to explore, or we can venture further, for some puppy therapy at Beacon Hill Park, or to Fisherman’s Wharf to enjoy seals and colourful houseboats.

On my fridge I have posted a weekly calendar, dry-erase. This is my “self-care calendar” and each day I schedule something just for me: a yoga class, a hot bath, a massage, painting my nails, reading a novel. Often, when things get hectic, self-care practices are the first to go, because they seem “less important” than that lab due, that midterm next week, our workout…But this just isn’t true. How far will any car go if we neglect to fuel the tank? By writing out plans for ourselves, it becomes easier to prioritize fitting in 10, 20, even 60 minutes into our day to refuel. On the topic of “refueling,” I’m also committing to getting enough sleep, 7-8 hours every night.  This is a major game changer…and coming from a girl who, in the last year of my undergrad, put sleep at the very bottom of my list, after school, gym, friends, bars and Netflix (Suits anyone? Sherlock)?! Right now, I am rising by 6 am each day, which I know means being in bed no later than 11. And time and time again, I am noticing that I am not feeling regretful for leaving the bar a tiny bit early. The more tired I am, the more stressed my body and mind are, leaving less room for patience, for embracing fun and social pursuits and for the things I just love to do.

Acknowledge the changes happening this month in your life. Recognize that it isn’t easy—for any of us. Choose self-love and nourishment. Because you are worth it. Now, grab a glass of fresh water, local “kombucha-on-tap,” ginger tea, or a pint of craft brew …and make a toast: to you. To your best health. To a precious and exciting, life-long relationship with your mind, body and the possibilities of change.

Everything, Musings, The Blog

Fears aren’t Facts

Fears aren’t facts.

This is a concept that I have been conciously grappling with for the past few months. Or, not grappling with per se (it makes perfect sense, on paper)! but really struggling to remember, and to adhere to, at my core.

Stressed. Anxious. Worried. How many of us are all too familiar with these sensations? I sure am. The past few months have been full of stress over my thesis, my future direction, concerns re: family and friends, anxiety surrounding my health and body… This past June I had my first conference as a Master student and I had such worry over returning to Vancouver for it, nearly 2 years to the day since I had moved away (more on that in a minute).

…I can get wrapped up in my worries and carried away. I can wind up so far down some twisty road that it is all I can do to find my way back. You know when Harry Potter tries to get to Diagon Alley but ends up in a cupboard in Knockturn Alley — a noxious, stale, depraved place? It feels something like that. Alone, disoriented and stuck in a small, dark space.

This is where the question of fear vs. fact has really started to help me (that is, when I can manage to think logically and detach myself from the overwhelm of feeling). Is this a fear of mine, or an actual fact? Do I have proof? Recognizing when a worry or stressor stems from fear, suspicion or assumption, rather than clear fact can be a useful tool in easing my mind and finding my way out of that vanishing cabinet in Borgin and Burkes.

For example: I was nervous about that trip to Vancouver because when I was last there, I was incredibly unhappy (although not self-aware enough to realize it until I moved back home and was met by unanimous shock and concern). I used obsessive exercise to distract myself from uncomfortable feelings of pain. I was living with a roommate, previously a best friend, who had seemingly –bafflingly– grown to hate me. I left, thinking no one would miss me–so why stay? In the two years since that time, so much has changed–including about a decade of overdue self-reflection and healing. Still, I was afraid. I feared that I would somehow be transported back in time and find myself vulnerable, insecure and miserable once again.

Fact or fear? Fact: I was unhappy the last time I was in Vancouver. Fact: I believed my friends no longer liked me — or feared they tolerated me, but liked me less than our other friends. Fact: I was living in Vancouver, finishing a degree, experiencing confusing, difficult relationship choices. …Fact: That is not this. Then is not now. Fact: I have evolved from the person/state I once was.

In essence, none of my fears were founded in any sort of fact or truth…they were just fears (“just”). And when I did find myself in Vancouver again, nervous but determined…I was wonderfully surprised by how pleasant it was to be back after so long. I had left on a bad note, but there had also been highs during my four years there. Good memories, previously clouded by a bitter taste in my mouth, slowly found their way back into my mind. Above all, I was gratified by the old friends who went out of their way to see me…because guess what? My fear that they didn’t like me? It was a fear. No one had told me “I don’t like you.” (Okay, that one roommate, but it was fear that let that single relationship poison my view of my other friendships, and of myself).

Now, on a near weekly basis, I am beginning to uncover fears I have treated as fact. For the past 18 months I have been haunted, over and over, by a fear that people dear to me no longer wish to spend time with me–or more accurately, dislike my company because they did (and perhaps continue to) view me as mentally and physically ill. Which I was. About 18 months ago. Yet even as I made huge strides in my health in the time since then, I persisted in imagining myself through others’ eyes — close friends, ex-lovers, even family (my biggest supporters) — and seeing only sickness.  Anytime anyone would fail to answer a text or a call, or be unavailable to see me, this story became more and more cemented. Honestly, I cannot count the number of times or people with which this fear reared its ugly head. Yet I had no proof. I never once asked anyone if it were true. Slowly, now I am learning finally to see these stories for what many of them are: fiction. Or to use another Harry Potter reference: a bogart, pretending to be a dementor.

A pretty smart friend (okay, my therapist)! once told me that if I can change something, then change it, and stop worrying about it. And if I can’t? Well, worrying won’t help. My fact vs. fear analysis is something like that. So often now I am finding that the source of my stress or perceived unhappiness is not fact-based at all — and that realization helps free, however slightly, me from the tight grasp of those harmful emotions. Only this week, my Mother reminded me of a Chinese fortune cookie “fortune” I received three times as a child (which is about as many times as we ate Chinese food, since we rarely ever ate out or ordered in): Never trouble trouble ’til trouble troubles you. Perhaps the “fates” were trying to warn me away from becoming the ball of stress that I ultimately did become. Today though, I will continue to question: fact vs. fear? I cannot so easily stop the worry or the instinctual emotions (aka this habit of “troubling trouble” of mine), but I can address and alter my thoughts. I can recognize that there is no proof that two weeks away from my yoga studio will render me too inflexible to perform kapotasana….and I can subsequently choose, deliberately, to let that worry go. (Spoiler: I tested this one and my kapotasana might actually have improved from the rest! Funny how life turns out sometimes).

Fear: Cho Chang will say no if you ask her to the Yule Ball. Fact: You have no idea. And if you’d only asked before Cedric…who knows?

Fact or fear. What fears are you feeding yourself, disguised as fact?

Cho-Chang-and-Harry-Potter-cho-chang-28000697-428-285

 

 

Everything, The Blog, Uncategorized, Yoga

The Lesson of Kapotasana

My ashtanga yoga practice has always (okay, for the past year that it has been a part of my life) been a curious mix of meditation, peace, fear, love, motivation, determination, competition, desire..and I’m sure a long list of other emotions. I am competitive by nature and I instantly loved the way that one can “unlock” new postures, even new series, with time,  with patience and with effort. From the beginning, I have felt internally driven to improve such that I can progress within each series. Well…maybe progressing wasn’t always my goal. Once I was practicing full primary, I had the sense that I would be there many months and so the real fire in me became one to improve my hip mobility (oh, supta kurmasana…how you taunt me) and to master my standing drop-backs. Always though, I have been striving for “better.”

When I began to practice Second Series however, months before I ever expected to, I saw amazing postures ahead of me that I could not wait to learn — could not wait to be “gifted” by my teacher. I viewed each added posture as a reward for my hard work and persistence, a “gold star” to tell me how “good” I am. (I am realizing that, like Gretchen Rubin, I too am a bit of a “gold star junkie”). Then, this past January, two new yogis joined my studio, both at a similar place in their practice as I…and suddenly I had this secret race in my head, a burning to not let them get ahead of me. We were all working on kapotasana and I knew I had to master it first. I had to. Oh the ego…it really, really does not have any place in Yoga. But darn it, I said this was my yoga practice, not yoga “perfect!”

I began to grow nervous each morning as I neared kapotasana in my practice — it was so uncomfortable and my shoulders screamed as I tried to work them into position. I would spend many breaths at the wall, stretching them preparation. I had imposed an imaginary time limit on myself — I had to get this. Fast.

Eventually, I did. One day, my Teacher was able to move my hands so that I was clasping my heels…and the next, she had me try on my own and I succeeded. I was over the moon…but full of anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to do it again.

I did, however. I did, and I was taught supta vajrasana. I felt rewarded and…relieved. I had a slight breather now, a bit more space between myself and my fellow two yogis. (If you practice Ashtanga and you are reading this…you will think me ridiculous! How “un-yogi!” How absurd! I know my Teacher Frederique will likely read this. But it is what it is).

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Kapotasana – shortly after achieving it.

The fourth day though…I could not grasp my heels. Nor for the next week after that. I was told that kapotasana will come and go…but I wanted to should that I had only just achieved it! I felt a fraud for practicing supta vajrasana, and especially bakasana. I didn’t deserve these postures if I could not do kapotasana.

The dread before kapotasana grew stronger than ever. I spent longer and longer preparing for  my backbend and experienced real fear each time I entered into the pose. I ignored the fact that I was experiencing shoulder pain with every chaturanga….and soon, in every down-dog as well. One morning I could not lift my arms to shoulder height in warrior II without a sharp, stabbing pain.

Finally, I was forced to wake up to what I had been doing to my body. I had blatantly ignored its shouts and pleas, so intent on feeding my ego, with “beating” this lovely yogi couple whom I honestly liked. Intent on competition. I had tendonitis in both shoulders and was forced to modify my practice. With no other option, I began stepping rather than jumping back into nearly every one of the dozens of chaturangas and I stopped catching ankles in my assisted backbends.

…I can now grab my heels in kapotasana nearly every practice. But I still experience that anxiety — that dread, not of the discomfort I still experience in the posture, but of “failing,” of being found un-worthy of it and of where I am in Second Series. I fear discovering that I am an imposter, who progressed too far, too quickly. And perhaps I did — perhaps I needed to go slow, to learn patience and humility. Weeks later, I still rarely jump back and land in chaturanga — my shoulders are still healing and any one thing might cause a flare of pain and inflammation. Only twice have I caught my ankles in my standing backbend in the past month.

I am still learning the Lesson of Kapotasana — in this and in all areas of my life. But it has been a powerful message in patience and humility and one I cannot ignore. It has forced me to remember why I practice yoga — if I knew I would never learn another posture, would I stop? It has forced me re-connect my brain to my body, to both listen to and nurture my body. It has reminded me to leave my ego at the door and to keep my eyes on my own mat (or more accurately, my drishti). It has taught me…that often in life, you have to go slow to go fast. Build a foundation. Learn patience and consistency.

I know that I will continue to grapple with my ego, my desire to prove myself, to earn “gold stars” from myself and others. I hope, however, that this lesson will serve to give me pause — in my crossfit training, in my Master program, in my overall life’s journey. It is a lesson I have been trying unsuccessfully to apply in my internal battle regarding quitting my program. It is a lesson of letting go. It is a lesson of learning to accept myself as I am, where I am, regardless of the contests I may win or lose, participate in or abstain from. It is a big lesson. It is one that I am tackling slowly, day by day.

Sometimes, we need slow, not fast.

Everything, Musings, The Blog

Quitting

Cowardly or Courageous?

Quitting. The very word makes me physically uncomfortable — in fact, I am nervous just thinking it, as if the contemplation alone could send me down a path of…quitting? …Needless to say, I do not identify well with the concept of “quitting” and have long equated it with “failure” and “not being good enough” (two of my biggest fears).

Recently however, I have been wrestling with the notion of courageous quitting. Is it possible that quitting something could be the brave, bold choice? Are there times where sticking with a thing that makes you unhappy becomes the cowardly choice — one you take to avoid that feeling of self-judgement, in fear of letting down yours (or others’) expectations?

Part of my identity has long been the “good student:” good grades (ideally, the best grades), hard working, self-motivated, timely… I left high school confident I could go to any university and any program. Some of that ego was shattered that first year (okay, a lot of it) but my grades were high for the remainder of my degree, and once again, I felt confident that when I was ready to apply, I could study with any (geography) professor I chose.

Well, here I am. 1 year into my Master of Science degree. My coursework is finished and I find myself staring down a long, long, unending road…my thesis.

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I am going to confess something. My thesis does not excite me. Our professors have drilled into us that we need to love our projects…our degree requires we pour hours, months, even years into this research with little distraction. The very notion makes me…dizzy. Ill. Miserable?

I don’t think I want to pursue geography/hydrology anymore. I don’t intend to segue into my PhD in geography, nor does the idea of working in government, researching these topics appeal. Don’t get me wrong — there is still something thrilling about research and science…but some spark has gone out of this work for me. Perhaps if my thesis were different…yet I find myself unwilling to entertain the possibility of changing topics and starting from scratch, when my overarching feeling is that…I don’t really want this degree anymore.

Well, okay, I do want it — sort of. I want to have my Master, just to have it. I want it because I literally always expected I would get it (it was only the PhD that was up in the air). My parents both have, at minimum, a Master degree, as do both of my siblings (at minimum). I’m smart. I do well at school — isn’t this my calling? Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe I am in the wrong field.

I also want it as a safety net — a wild card of sorts, that might open doors to opportunities yet unknown. I desperately want to find the ability to power through and earn this degree…except that would entail a year or more of me and this thesis, every…single…day.

And I find myself very unhappy. I find myself, for maybe the first time…unable to self-motivate. To set deadlines. To sit down and do the work.

I find myself…waiting. Waiting to be happy. Waiting to live my life. Last year I was waiting to move to Victoria, to go back to school, to regain weight and become healthy and womanly again…And now, I am waiting for my thesis to end (assuming I can bring myself to start). “Just one more year” until…I can do what I want? Until I finally feel fulfilled?

Honestly, I don’t think quitting my thesis will make that feeling magically go away. But perhaps it will free me from some unhappiness — push me to find what really does light me up. Nutrition and nutritional therapy? Yoga and yoga therapy? I won’t know until I try.

So, my question — is quitting my Master cowardly or courageous? Is it me giving up in the face of hardship, me starting a dangerous spiral of never seeing anything through? Or, is it the brave course of action: choosing uncertainty, insecurity for a chance at happiness. Risking discomfort, regret, self-criticism. Giving up my current income as a graduate student.

Currently, I have no idea. I do know that I am done passively making my way through each day. I know that I do need to make a choice. One way, or another.

Everything, Musings, The Blog

Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Yeah…no.

Today I overheard a child rattle this off in the grocery store and it struck a chord. I am curious — is it just an empty little limerick we parrot mindlessly? Or do we believe it? Or, maybe, do we say it as a mantra, willing it to be true?

In my experience, words hurt. I have been fortunate to have never broken any bones, although I have experienced a serious sprain, stress fractures, and other physical injuries. These experiences were challenging in how they impacted the way I conduct my daily life — for example, I developed the stress fractures when I was running 7 days a week…and obviously, they forced me to stop running for a time, to heal. Mentally giving up that daily habit (and admittedly, addiction) was hard — a lot harder than the actual pain.

But I rarely dwell or even think about that time. It was a short, acute “blip” in  my life. The injury healed, the pain receded and I was able to continue running. Although it was only 2 years ago last month, when I started writing this post just now, I had completely forgotten about it. I wrote “I have been fortunate to have never broken any bones” and fully intended to add a period, and move on with my point. Well, my point is this — these injuries do cause physical pain..for a defined period of time (I won’t be getting into chronic injuries and pain today because that is a whole different can of worms, with chronic effects on our psyche and mental state). They happen, and then they pass and we can move on.

I have never forgotten the time that I was 19, getting ready to attend a wedding. I was wearing a dress I loved, and feeling beautiful — and made an off-hand comment about how maybe one day I’d wear my Nana’s wedding dress for my wedding, as my Mom had. The person to whom I’d spoken replied that it was likely too small for me.

I was blindsided. I didn’t see myself as large — and I’d never felt large in comparison to my Mom’s body type (albeit, a couple inches taller…actually, woah. Maybe that is what was meant. My Nana is even shorter than my Mom. Maybe I have completely misunderstood all these years. But regardless–). Those words hurt. I have not forgotten them. I internalized them. I felt large and awkward, and imperfect. I felt…like I was doing something wrong, to be bigger than supposedly my Nana had been, to be clearly so off-the mark from what was “ideal.” I felt like was wrong.

“Words leave scars.”

Let me just say that I don’t blame anyone for this casual comment — we are all a product of our generation and of society, and we say things unthinkingly. I think too that we also believe some things unthinkingly (such as the notion that a 24-inch waist is “how a woman should be).” I once sat at a table with someone very dear to me — it was an antique with edges that came down very, very low such that I could not comfortably cross my legs under it. This person matter-of-factly told me that it was because of my big thighs, which were so much larger than his (he could cross). Just as with that wedding exchange, there was (and I know this for certain in my heart) no intent to harm. However, even those who love us, and with no malicious agenda, have the power to cause pain with a simple statement. I filed that moment away as a part of my identity, added it to my slowly growing fodder of self-dislike, and never forgot it.

I take issue with the “Sticks and stones” rhyme, not only because it is inherently untrue but because there is a connotation that words should not hurt us. That if they do, we are “too sensitive” (something I have been hearing my entire life), too weak. If words hurt us, we are doing something wrong and are to blame. In all honesty, since my first real exposure to sarcastic (and often vicious) humour in the 7th grade, developing an immunity to the power of words has been a necessary mechanism of survival — something I have managed, generally, to create the appearance of. Inside however, words have always pierced me. In society, it is a failing to react to something that is said to us…and so, if we are shamed by a comment, we then experience further shame for not being “strong” enough to be unaffected. I know firsthand the destructive effects that this cycle can have over the years.

I think it is time to put that tired, old adage to bed — and with that, to reclaim our sensitivity. “Sensitive” is not a dirty word. To feel emotions of any kind is not weakness. In fact, it is my believe that to allow ourselves to experience hurt and sadness is an act of courage. These sensations are not easy and the safer course often appears to be the one in which we build walls to shut them out, or to run away. It takes guts and practice to let discomfort in, to accept that as humans we are meant to feel. As humans, we are highly affected by the information and the world around us.

Hi. My name is Haven and I am vulnerable. I am sensitive.
My name is Haven, and I am human. 

I’d like to propose that we all perform a mini self-experiment. First ask — what words have stuck with you throughout your life? Perhaps it was a comment about your body/appearance, as with my two examples. Perhaps, when you were about to get on a stage to claim an award for the highest overall average in your grade for the second year in a row, your Physics teacher told you that you were clearly in the wrong spot…and you felt shame, and embarrassment. Perhaps, although you joke about it now, you have never quite let go of how it made you feel, and every time since that you did not perform to your highest academic standards (hello 1st year University)!, those words taunted you: “he was right about you.”

Recognize these experiences. Start to unravel the impact that they have had in your life. Understand that we are all right there with you. Accept: words leave scars. 

My second experiment is to be more thoughtful with our language. Very few of the life-altering and hurtful comments I have held onto in my life were anything more than an offhand remark. “You have little gremlin hands” (yes I spent years ashamed of my hands. Hands)! “He’s so cool…Wait, you’re his sister? You don’t seem anything like him…” (My brother was kind of a big deal in high school. At the time, 6 years younger, I was apparently not). Practice pausing, even just a moment longer than usual, to make sure that you do want to say what you are about to say. We have all felt the effects of words — so let us begin to be mindful in not perpetuating their damage in others. Let’s practice making the choice not to set the foundation for our peers and loved ones to construct destructive stories about themselves.

Sticks and stones can break my bones…but words? Words have done so, so much worse than that.

 

 

 

 

 

crossfit, Everything, The Blog

Confirmed: The Open Really IS For Everyone. And so is Crossfit.

Ultimately, the Open broadened my community so much, and literally opened (pun intended) my eyes to what is possible and what I might be able to do, with enough effort and work. It is May now, and I am still learning, still working slowly up in weight…but things are coming. The Open lit a fire under me.

With the 2017 Crossfit Open well in our rearview, and Regionals just days away, I have(embarrassing typo haha)! been feeling an itch to write about my first Open experience — which I did about as fresh to Crossfit as a girl can be.

First though, I’m going to skip right to the punchline: The Crossfit Open really IS for everyone. Everyone and anyone.

Now that that is out of the way, let me share a bit about my experience–with the Open and with just getting started with Crossfit. And, hopefully, I will also convince you of my point here!

Starting Crossfit…

I walked into my first crossfit box over the Christmas holidays (December 2016) when I was home visiting family for a couple of weeks. It was a free introductory, drop-in session where we got the “low-down” on what Crossfit was, practiced deadlifting a PVC pipe, received some rowing tips and hammered out some box  jumps. Not the insane, knock-you-off-your-feet, make-you-think-you’re-about-to-die first taste of Crossfit that so many people rave about and what really hooks in these tough-as-nails athletes. It didn’t really matter though — crossfit had been on my radar for awhile (shout-out to my two badass, strong step-sisters right now) and after becoming obsessed with the Girls Gone WOD Podcast last fall, I was pretty damn committed to trying out the sport…And I couldn’t wait another day. (Which I suppose is why I did that drop-in intro. class in my hometown instead of waiting until I was back here on the beautiful coast)!

Fast-forward a couple of weeks to early January 2016. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (per se) I showed up at Crossfit Zone, the nearest affiliate to where I live for my first 1-on-1 session with my soon-to-be coach, Garrett. The Zone is pretty damn awesome in how they structure their on-ramp program — 12 individual sessions with a coach that becomes your coach for the remainder of your crossfit career (at least at that box). The sessions can be tweaked and tailored based on the athlete’s needs and “starting place,” and more sessions added as needed. As a stereotypically poor graduate student the cost of these sessions was a bit daunting, but Garrett managed to cram all that training into fewer sessions for me — although I had never laid a finger on a barbell before and kept forgetting what a snatch vs. a thruster vs. a clean vs. a power clean (lol) was, I had pretty decent mobility from my last year of practicing yoga, could do a pistol and a strict pull-up, and, if I say myself, had a pretty good starting level of fitness overall. (Okay mini self-plug: I had been training my pull-ups all fall and I actually got my first one (2! linked)! in that first session with Garrett. It’s pretty darn cool what a coach’s encouragement can do)!

And so, after completing my “Fight Gone Bad” (scaled) initiation workout, I entered “real classes” at the start of February (February 6th —  my birthday, as a matter of fact)! All I remember about that first workout was that it had a ton of thrusters…which, as my weights have increased, I have recently developed a keen dislike for (we all have that one thing)!

Crossfit was 983924839883838x better than I ever imagined. Better than even Joy and Claire of the aforesaid podcast made it out to be (and they love it so much they’ve recorded over 200 weeks of episodes on the topic)! …How can I describe it?

How about…a mix of team sports (I played rep volleyball all through my teens) and elementary (maaaybe high) school gym class? Hm, that doesn’t quite right. But picture: FUN. So much damn fun. Crossfit is social (at least at the Zone). Everyone shows up for the class and chats and joke around while we warm up. Each class is a mixture of mobility, skill-work, strength-work and a conditioning “WOD” (Workout of the Day)…and everyone supports everyone else. We cheer each other other on. That tantalizing phrase circulating the internet — “Crossfit community” — that’s a real thing, guys. Now, doesn’t that sound better than an hour sweating it out alone on a treadmill watching a poker tournament on a mini television? Way better than doing the abductor machine in a dark corner of a Globo gym? It’s friendly, it’s competitive, everyone is doing the same work, you incorporate fun new skills and gymnastics, you bond over the same brutal WOD…

Anyway – wasn’t I supposed to be talking about the Open or something?

The Crossfit Open 2017…

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(Photo by Nella Maura of @thiscoastphotography)

As a keen observer may have noticed, I started joining in on “regular” crossfit classes (vs. my 1-on-1 teaching sessions) and doing actual WODs (albeit, quite modified) February 6th…and the first Open workout, 17.1, went live February 23rd… So I was pretty damn spankin’ new. I hadn’t been taught how to kip, along with a slew of other movements, and half my lifts I’d only performed once, with an empty bar, the day I learned them. I had no 1 rep maxes. I was in no way, shape or form prepared or “qualified” to compete in the Open.

Except I was.

Having heard so much about the Open, I was keen to try out the workouts if our gym was  programming them into our regular Friday classes — but I had no intentions to sign up to join in on our gym’s “Friday Night Lights” Friday night Open workout jams. Definitely, no desire to be placed on an intramural team within our gym and have my poor team members weighed down by my total lack of skill!

Yet somehow that is exactly what happened. (Except the weighing down part — no one gives a hoot about that sort of garbage)! Simply, someone asked me if I was signing up (“Me?!” I asked in disbelief. “I’m so new!”)…and then over the next few classes they persisted in encouraging me to do it. Others joined in. I appealed to our coaches, presuming they would tell me to stay far away, and “how about next year, Grasshopper.” They didn’t. The seed was planted…and I realized that I wanted to do it. All that held me back was the worry that I’d look like a total idiot — something that has often held me back. But not this time. Crossfit is one area of my life that I give myself zero leeway for not giving it my 150%, regardless of “what others might think.”

Enter 17.1.

It’s Friday night. I show up, rather nervous to the gym. No one from my 9:30 AM WODs is doing the Open and I know no one. The workout is: dumbbell snatches and burpee-box-jump-overs. A whole spankin’ lot of them, to be scientific (can you tell I’m avoiding expletives)? I am picturing doing a burpee and then having to jump all the way over a box and land on the other side. I am picturing myself standing there, clearly unable to perform a single rep.

Well, the short story is, I had a blast. I am a self-proclaimed Burpee Queen (I could do those bad boys all day), and I only had to jump ONTO the box, and then step off the other side. No problem. The scaled dumbbell weights were also appropriate for me–perfect. I finished well within time and felt…pretty good. Almost…cocky. Oh, Haven. So naive. Also, equally if not more importantly — everyone was so damn nice and friendly. Score.

And so the next 4 weeks passed quickly, and after that first day, I began to look forward to my Friday nights. It wasn’t always pretty. For 17.2 I ground out all strict pull-ups having no real concept of what a kip was. Slowly. 1 at a time. I think I only got to 14 and didn’t finish a round. I’m sure I submitted the worst score for my gym on that workout. ..Minutes before 17.3 I had to be shown how to snatch–and then surprised myself by getting the 55# overhead, and even making it to the 65# round (where I did not get the bar overhead and had to concede). 17.4 was 16.4 and didn’t involve any tricky olympic lifts or pull-ups and I felt in my element again, as with 17.5. 17.5 was single skips for scaled (NOTE THAT I DID EVERY WORKOUT SCALED. I’m not some mythical superhero destined from birth to go to the games. Scaled, scaled and more scaled)! instead of double-unders and I had a blast with those as well. Really though, above all, it was an opportunity to delve more into “Crossfitland,” see a different side of the sport and to meet a ton of damn cool people. For me, I had no expectation to score high — but I learned a ton, did things I might otherwise not have tried for another 1, 2, 5 months, challenged myself and made a bunch of friends. The community in a crossfit gym can be pretty damn awesome, but if we all tend to go to the same classes each week, we might only get to know a small handful of people.

Ultimately, the Open broadened my community so much, and literally opened (pun intended) my eyes to what is possible and what I might be able to do, with enough effort and work. It is May now, and I am still learning, still working slowly up in weight…but things are coming. The Open lit a fire under me. 

I don’t think my experience with the Open is unique. The scaled options for each workout are extremely approachable to anyone and even if you do find a movement out of reach — do the workout, and make it your own! Modify. Approach the Open as a fun experience. An opportunity to have a blast and to challenge yourself. Forget the leaderboards if that isn’t your thing, and just enjoy being a part of this broader, global tribe.

Maybe that is part of why I love Crossfit — I feel connected to this bad-ass, infinite tribe of humans.

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Photo by Nella Mauro of @thiscoastphotography

 

Everything, Miscellaneous, The Blog

What I’m Listening To

Happy Tuesday! (That’s a thing right)?

…Well, it should be. I look forward to Tuesdays every week because it is a day that a number of my favourite podcasts release new episodes! (Thursdays are also exciting). It is sometimes difficult to remember my life without podcasts. I’m not huge of TV or movies for entertainment anymore and I spend a lot of time walking or bussing places…and I’ve found that popping in my earbuds and hitting “play” on a podcast episode really helps to pass the time (and even has me looking forward to my commutes)! I’ve started listening while I cook dinner in the evening as well–a side effect of living alone! As a bonus, a lot of the shows I subscribe to are information-based which keeps me up-to-date and learning re: some of my favourite topics without adding to my screen and sitting time (I do enough of that for my Master thesis, believe me)!

Anyway, to celebrate today, and all “Podcast Tuesdays,” I’ve collected a few of my favourite podcasts to share with all of you–in no particular order. If you end up giving any of these a listen, let me know what you think!

What I’m Listening to Lately – TOP 10:

1. The Balanced Bites Podcast with Diane Sanfilippo and Liz Wolfe

These two women have kept it fresh for nearly 300 episodes, through weddings, babies, cross-country moves and multiple best-selling books. Diane and Liz answer 1000’s of listener questions within the holistic health and wellness paradigm (nutrition, gut health, skin care, fertility and everything else you might imagine), interview top experts and manage to crack me up every episode. A must listen for every gal (and maybe guy)!

2. Girls Gone WOD Podcast with Joy Parrish and Claire Koch

I am as obsessed with Joy and Claire as they are with the movie Mean Girls. I started listening before I began training in Crossfit, and not only did their passion for the sport make it impossible for me to not want to try it out, but they are two real, honest and funny ladies. Episodes range from the serious and personal, to hilarious “would you rather’s.” These ladies also regularly interview crossfit big-shots and other top-names in the wellness or fitness industry. Crossfitter or no–check these women out!

3. The Living Experiment with Dallas Hartwig and Pilar Gerasimo

Self-proclaimed “healthy deviants,” Dallas and Pilar shed light on the common disconnects between the modern human and ideal health and happiness. Topics range from sleep quality to food choices, from slowing down to human connection and loneliness, addiction, shame and everything else under the sun. Their perspectives are fresh and delivered in a unique and eloquent fashion, with just a touch vulnerability that encourages a sense of trust in the listener. Every episodes ends with a suggested experiment you can implement in your own life and I dare you to try them and not find some improvement in your day-to-day.

4. The Paleo Women Podcast: Health | Nutrition | Fitness |Hormones with Noelle Tarr and Stefani Ruper

Down to earth, adorable and full of kick-ass knowledge. Noelle and Stef dish out a perfect blend of love and “real-talk,” and offer a beautiful perspective on all things “woman:” nutrition, hormones, fitness, fertility, skin-care, body-image and self-love. Tune in and try to figure out which inspiring woman you’d prefer to be stuck on a deserted island with–personally, I can’t choose!

5. The Moth

Real life stories told by real life people. Inspiring. Heartbreaking. Funny. Sweet. Each episode features a number of so-called “average” people sharing a short personal story in line with that day’s theme. I can always find a story for every mood and frequently share these episodes with my family (who aren’t necessarily as psyched as I am to beef up their knowledge about holistic health and nutrition)!

6. Is This Podcast Paleo? with Kristin Kaschak and Everette Rosette

…Whether or not this podcast is paleo, it is so much more than that. In this show, Kristin and Everette share their unfiltered perspectives on all things food and fitness. Crossfit and Paleo feature largely as well as good-natured banter. A good laugh is almost always guaranteed.

7. Katy Says with Katy Bowman (with, as the title says, Katy Bowman and Dani Hemmat)

Katy is a movement specialist and a book-writing machine. Listening to this show has totally opened my eyes to all the ways I do and do not move, to all of the ways I limit and affect my natural mobility and body structure, from shoes to chairs to starting at my laptop screen. Katy’s perspective is totally different from what the average person is taught from birth…and it feels so right. Download any episode and learn something revolutionary about how your body is meant to work — and as a bonus, learn a good stretch or two!

8. The Nourished Podcast with Meg Doll and Shawn Mynar

These ladies are the ultimate podcast sweethearts. Two besties, they dish on their own journeys in health and happiness, and strive to help other woman discover a nourishing approach to food and exercise, as well as cultivate a sense of self-love. From eating disorders to autoimmune disease, Meg and Shawn have a wealth of personal knowledge and a willingness to share new information as they continue to expand their own learning – even if their specific recommendations for diet or exercise might shift over time. After all, as humans and women we are always changing, as is the current science!

9. PaleOMG Uncensored with Juli Bauer Roth

Raw, explicit, hilarious. Juli, from the popular blog PaleOMG, keeps it unapologetically real as she chats about her perspectives on food, travel, fitness, children, French Bulldogs and plastic surgery. Be prepared to laugh and maybe keep the littles ones out of the room!

10. Harder to Kill Radio — Forging Unbreakable Humans with Steph Gaudreau

This show has evolved since its first season, but remains as real and badass as ever. Steph Gaudreau is a strong, courageous and knowledgable woman who works to foster these traits within all women. Recent topics include her experience as a beekeeper, thoughts on self-love and acceptance and ditching the “hustle.” Both men and women would enjoy this podcast, and her charming, accented husband/cohost, Z.

Honourable Mentions — Podcasts I’ve Listened to in the Past/On Occassion:

11. The Ancestral RD’s Podcast with Kelsey Marksteiner and Laura Schoenfeld

12. RHR: Revolution Health Radio with Chris Kresser

13. Bulletproof Radio with Dave Asprey

14. Fat-Burning Man by Abel James with Abel James

15. Ben Greenfield Fitness: Diet, Fat Loss and Performance with Ben Greenfield

16. The Paleo Solution with Robb Wolf

17. The Vinyl Cafe with the late and wonderful storyteller, Stuart McLean. (You aren’t a Canadian if you don’t know and love this CBC show)

…I hope something here tickles your fancy! What are your favourite podcasts? I’d love to hear!