Look at Our Unintentional Pumpkin Patch

Once upon a time, we had jack-o-lanterns that were beginning to rot. Being the lazy landscapers and environmentalists that we are, we thought we’d kill two birds with one stone and fill in a hole in our yard by composting our rotting pumpkins and leaves in this hole.

Fast forward several months, and I came home one day to discover an enormous puddle of water coming out of my laundry room. When the plumbers arrived, they walked the perimeter of the house looking for the access point to the main pipe. Upon reaching a conclusion as to the likely best source of access, they proceeded to dig.

“Oh!” he said, “This is a pumpkin hole!”

“Ummm, yeah. So, we were actually trying to fill in that hole in the yard, but now I’m guessing that’s not the best idea???” I replied sheepishly.

I wonder how often the plumbers tell the story about the lady with the jack-o-lantern corpses buried in her yard.

Fast forward several more months, and one day we noticed that a hardy, little plant had sprouted. Intrigued, we didn’t weed it or mow over it. We just let it be.

Now, look at it! It’s a monster of a pumpkin vine with the beginnings of the tiniest pumpkin.

So, all I’m saying is that if this pumpkin vine can grow this strong and healthy in a hole that apparently leads to the sewer line after having been torn up and dug up by plumbers, then perhaps something equally strong and healthy can grow in us as we endure the upheaval of this fertilizer storm we call 2020.

Your Pandemic Experience and Trauma

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

“My anxiety has gone up so much since things started opening back up” is a refrain that I’ve heard quite a bit this past week or so. 

“I know! Me too! This is the week of quarantine that my hair has started to fall out,” has been my typical reply. 

Globally, we call it a pandemic. Nationally, we will grudgingly admit that what we are experiencing is a crisis. Collectively as well as individually, I only have one name for what we are all experiencing: trauma. 

I’m no history buff, but as I have studied and trained in the art and science of healing trauma, I’ve been asked to explore a few lessons in history. We all recognize war as a trauma that will lead to PTSD, and it is the psychological symptoms of soldiers that sparked a big push in trauma research. As veterans began to tell their stories of trauma, the story in many cases proceeded down two lines. First, it was the story about the actual trauma of war. Second, it was the story of returning to a deeply divided homeland with two warring sides of social and political ideologies. 

Many times in the history of our nation, Americans- soldiers and civilians, individually and collectively- have had to endure and survive the experience of actual war or living in a time of war, while also having to endure and survive the chaos and turmoil of peaceful protests turned violent and of hate speech flowing freely in the town and national squares and free press. 

Does any of this sound familiar? Not only are we enduring and surviving a global pandemic that has threatened and taken lives, we are also enduring and surviving the chaos and turmoil of a deeply divided homeland where hate speech flows freely in the town and national squares as well as in the media, where peaceful protests erupt into violence, and armed protests pose a highly observable threat to life on top of the invisible threat to life we were already trying to reckon with. 

Thanks to the years of research and the soldiers who participated in those early studies, we are now able to recognize the symptoms of trauma in other populations and related to other life-threatening events. This is why when people tell me that they are having panic attacks in stores or that their blood pressure is at an all time high, I can recognize the physiological arousal symptoms of trauma. When people tell me that they are having disturbing dreams or straight up nightmares, I can check off the sleep disturbance criteria of trauma. When I hear stories about avoiding places, people, or activities due to the anxiety it causes during this global pandemic, and I know that this meets some of the behavioral criteria of trauma. 

When I see heated debates that amount to nothing more than character assassinations over cloth masks, I want to gently insert myself and request that all parties take a deep breath and notice what is going on in their bodies. Because, that my dear, anxious friend, is what we call being triggered and responding from a place of unacknowledged and unhealed trauma. With that being said, I’m going to propose to all of us, individually and collectively, that this is too much for anyone. There is not a single central nervous system in the land that is immune to being completely overwhelmed by this. This is trauma, and it will leave its mark in us all. You will likely notice some symptoms in your body, in your mood, and in your behaviors. This is to be expected. Your body and mind are trying to help you survive. 

Thankfully, the years of research have also taught us some things about healing trauma, the first step of which is to call it what it is: trauma. Since I cannot do justice nor is it my intent try to resolve the effects of trauma, of war, or of the deep wounds we hold as a nation or as individuals in one short post, my hope is that some part of this story has helped you to recognize and name some of your own experiences during a global and national crisis. Even more, I hope it has helped you to understand that much of what you are experiencing is a normal response to an overwhelming event. 

My hope is to open up a conversation that is helpful, and since this is a big topic and full of nuance, detail, and personal experience, I’d love to continue the conversation. So far, I’ve only been able to talk about trauma and the current crisis in a very general, very abbreviated way, so if there is something you’d like to discuss more, please leave a comment in the comment section. 

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Considering the New Normal for a Very Long Summer

Last time, I left you in terrible suspense about whether or not we would obtain lightbulbs for our kitchen before the sun went down, so I’m going to let you know that we did not receive the light bulbs for 5 days after the order was placed. I was forced to cook our beef tenderloin in less than optimal lighting that night, and I think that might be the epitome of first world problems. 

We picked up the long-awaited light bulbs a couple of nights ago, and replaced only one of the burned out bulbs. As it would turn out, we have grown accustomed to the mood lighting provided by 2 out of the 4 bulbs and found any more light than that offensive to our eyes and spirits during this time, so we have yet to replace the remaining 2 burned out bulbs. Maybe this is our version of flying flags at half mast; we express our Corona grief by illuminating our kitchen at only half capacity. 

Wheelchair
A work in progress…

In other news, there is now a wheelchair taking up residence in my driveway, which is by far the most exotic item my child has brought home from her exploits in the neighborhood. The neighborhood girl gang spent an entire morning embellishing the wheelchair with beads and stickers and by attaching pieces of old trophies to the handlebars. The piece de resistance, however, is the string of brightly colored flags one would generally find at a car lot wrapped around the entirety of this neighborhood art project. 

Obviously, this called for a socially-distanced parade, and the entire day was spent by all the neighborhood children riding up and down the hill of the neighborhood. In all my fantasies about being a parent, I never once expected that I would have to help negotiate taking turns and lecture about sharing in regards to a wheelchair. All I can really say is that Corona parenting is trippy, y’all. 

By the end of the weekend, there were plans for a neighborhood socially-distanced lemonade stand, cupcake bake-off, and Olympic competitions. Once again, I am reminded that this neighborhood and the spirit of not only looking out for each other but also enjoying each other is a real blessing, and yet, somewhere in all that planning for activities that are usually saved for the summer, it hit me: this is it. This is the new normal. This is how it is now and for the foreseeable future, and something about that felt very sobering.

You see, we have been one-day-at-a-timing this thing for what feels like an eternity. Our school assignments come in one day at a time. My work schedule has changed almost daily as the needs of my clients have changed. It seems that we’ve all been holding our breath until this thing passes, much like I find myself holding my breath in Walmart if I find that I have no other option but to walk past another person in the aisle. And, well, neither one of those things is sustainable long-term. At some point, I’m going to need to breathe, and we’re all going to need to make some plans beyond what snacks we’re going to eat tomorrow. 

This realization ended up being the theme for the week, as I spoke with various people about their impending return to work or a choice they were having to make about a potential trip. The fact of the matter is, the mandated, universal protocols that we should all be following are beginning to fade, and we are being released into the world with only our homemade masks and our good judgement and common sense. God help us, right?! Things are so much easier when clear lines are drawn and so much harder when we must make judgement calls. 

My mind has been busy this week, trying to wrap itself around what this new normal may look like for this little family. I’ve been trying to imagine how comfortable I might feel eating in a restaurant or going to the gym surrounded by masked faces and gloved hands. More immediately, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around taking my child into a store for the first time, because she is spending most of her time barefoot right now and the shipping of those shoes I ordered weeks ago keeps being delayed. At the rate she is growing, by the time the shoes actually arrive, there is a good chance they won’t fit anymore. Pretty soon, the aid of a measuring tool and the ability to try some shoes on her actual feet is going to be necessary, so what good judgement and common sense looks like in that scenario has been my mental gymnastics for the week. 

It makes me grateful that the new TV I ordered arrived in time for an end of the week respite. If only shoes would arrive as quickly as televisions, but at this juncture, perhaps a new TV will keep us from actually needing to put on shoes for a little while longer. Our brains are very tired from navigating the unknowns and uncertainties of this interesting and odd time we are living in, and a little time being entertained with little effort required from us is exactly what is needed.

After all, we need to be rested for the next round of weekend wheelchair parades, national lemonade day celebrations, and cupcake competitions…and whatever else gets dreamed up this weekend. Here’s to new normals and neighborhood entertainment: may they keep us sane during a very long summer.

 

Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire by Jen Hatmaker

I just finished an early copy of Jen Hatmaker’s new book: Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, and I cannot remember the last time a book kept my eyes full of tears for so many reasons.
She went deep with the authenticity and spoke to the wounds we all carry as women, and she also kept us howling with laughter at the totally relatable challenges of life. In the end, she empowered us in a truly loving way to LET GO of the all the lies holding us back, to courageously step into our true natures, and to go into the world and carry out our very real purposes.
And listen, this was no short-lived, sugary sweet inspirational message that is powerful today and worn off by tomorrow. Oh no, this message was the kind that digs deep, sticks in your heart and mind, and wrestles with you until you come out the other side a more whole version yourself.
If you are looking for something of substance that will genuinely engage you in some transformative work, you will find it here.

Filling My Heart Through Trauma-Informed Weight Loss

Heart Jar

At the New Year, I set an intention to create a practice of embodiment and decided to re-evaluate what I was doing to manage my weight given what I have come to know about trauma. We all seem to understand that stress and trauma impact the way we eat and the way our bodies metabolize what we eat, and yet, we all still seem to suffer under the delusion that weight loss is something that is performance-based, will power dependent, and a commentary on our moral character. Wanting to avoid this seemingly universal pitfall, I decided that if I were going to try to lose weight again, the way that I did it was going to have to feed my soul somehow. 

When it comes to trauma, the issues around eating and weight are the symptoms and not the problem. The real problem is the unhealed trauma. When we focus solely on addressing the symptoms, we fail to address the real problem and therefore find ourselves stuck in a pattern of disappointment and failure when we can’t keep the weight off. Life is short, friends, and I don’t want to spend one more second of it inside of this negative pattern, so I set out to find a way to address the real issues that would result in real healing and then hopefully translate into lifelong healthy habits and a healthy weight to match. 

To me, creating a lifelong habit begins with keeping it simple and easy. Basically, we begin with what we already have and already know. I began by returning to a habit of tracking my meals in the Fitness Pal app. I wasn’t really worried about meeting the goals set by the app, I just wanted to be mindful of what I was eating and how often. This is the only habit I focused on for a week.

At the end of the week, I had lost a pound, so I spent some time reflecting on what I had done that week that felt healing to me. This was the week that I had hit my breaking point with the clutter in my house, particularly on our table. I had spent the previous weekend re-arranging the furniture in 3 rooms in our house so that we had a more functional space. As we lived in our new arrangement that week, we ate more meals together and those meal times were less rushed and much more pleasant. 

I decided that being mindful of these things was going to be a super important part of the process if it was going to be successful, and so I created a little therapeutic exercise out of it. I took an empty jewelry-sized gift box and filled it with small, decorative stones. They represent the things that are keeping me stuck, holding me back, and preventing me from obtaining my healthy goals. I also took a glass jar shaped like a heart, and it is waiting for me to fill it up with new, healthy thoughts, habits, and intentions. The idea is that with each pound lost, I take a stone from the pile of “dead weight”, hold it in my hand while I mindfully let go of what was working against me, and then as I place it in my heart, I mindfully fill my heart with the new healthy habit.

For the first week where I rearranged the furniture in my house, I practiced this mindfulness technique by setting the intention that I was letting go of cluttered, unworkable space and filling my heart with ordered, workable space. Obviously, that is a big project that can’t be completed overnight, but with the intention set, I’ve found that I really do make it a priority to get a little bit done each week.

The next week, I continued the pattern of being mindful by tracking my meals, still not worrying too much about meeting calorie goals or tracking macros or any of that. I continued to try to create order and workable space a little bit at a time. When I lost another pound at the end of that week, I again reflected upon what felt healing to me that week, and it was my confirmation into the Episcople church after spending several years without a faith community. That week as I picked up a stone from the pile and held it in my hand, I set the intention that I was letting go of isolation and filling my heart with community.

I continued into the 3rd week being mindful of what and how often I was eating and prioritizing orderly space and community. The third week was much more difficult. I started physical therapy for issues in my neck and back and had been in a great deal of pain. When I lost a pound, I set the intention that was releasing physical pain and filling my heart with a practice of attending to and caring for the pain. What I have learned as I have been mindful of the pain is that my body craves carbs and sugar when it is in pain and sleep deprived. I’ve also learned that pain is an enormous trigger to past trauma and the old patterns of compulsive behaviors, like eating my feelings. 

Being aware that all of those things are working inside of my mind-body system, I have had much more realistic expectations for my health this week. As in, I do not expect to lose weight this week. I won’t be surprised or devastated if I gain a little of the weight back. While I have continued to mindfully track my meals, my focus has been on managing my pain by making sure I’m taking my medicines on time, doing my physical therapy exercises, that I’m practicing correct posture, that I’m spending quality time with my heating pad, and that I’m keeping appointments with my therapist. It’s ok if I don’t lose weight this week; my body may have other priorities right now. And if I continue to be mindful about my nutrition, I won’t get way off track and will be much more able to jump back into losing weight when my pain is managed. 

I have found myself to be much more grounded with this exercise when it comes to my health and weight. My expectations feel more in line with reality, and honestly, I feel like I am actually working towards healing my body rather than punishing it or pushing it to perform a certain way. There is no restricting or withholding from myself in this way of doing things. In fact, it is more like I’m giving myself a gift each time. I’m filling my heart with something that will benefit my whole life for the long haul and not a superficial band-aid fix. 

This is my sincere wish for everyone who has experienced trauma and its effects on the body: to be grounded, healthy, happy, and healed. May we all give ourselves such a lovely gift in whatever ways that we can. If we are going to lose the weight of anything, let it be the weight of stress, hurt, and pain. If we are to gain anything, let it be peace and healing.

 

Thoughts of Faith or Errors in Thinking?

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Photo by Lilian Dibbern on Unsplash

If, like me, you were raised in the church, then I’m sure at some point you became aware of the Christian dialogue around suffering and negative experiences. This dialogue can range anywhere between warm, emotionally-laden sentimentality to cold judgment and blame. As a result, I have noticed that people of faith often struggle with how to think about, feel about, and respond to the negative events that occur in their lives, whether those events are stressful seasons or full-blown traumatic events. By the time they arrive to the therapy couch, their poor minds are full to the brim with platitudes, judgments, superficial encouragement, and scriptures taken out of context and sloppily applied to their situation. They are exhausted from the mental gymnastics of trying to be faithful in the middle of trial. I’m hoping today that we can unpack some of that dynamic and bring some peace to weary minds. 

First, let’s talk about how negative experiences are part and parcel of life. They are universal experiences that happen to us all, and no one exits this life without experiencing a few hard times. Yet, people of faith often struggle with some magical thinking around this concept, attributing a minor infraction on their part to be the cause of misfortune, large or small. Typically, I will kindly point out that I must in the presence of a person of great power if they are able to control the world that way, and yes, that kind of power and responsibility is likely to produce a great deal of stress. 

Light sarcasm and humor aside, the error in this thinking typically runs along the lines of a belief that says “If I would have been a better person, this bad thing wouldn’t have happened to me”. Whew, talk about pressure! But unfortunately, this thinking error typically doesn’t travel alone. It is often accompanied by another belief that says “Since it did happen to me, I must be bad”, and with that, along comes the final belief in this trifecta of self-blame that says, “Since I am bad enough for this thing to happen to me, I really must deserve it”. And with that, my faithful friend is buried beneath the heaviest pile of shame and undeserved blame a human can endure. 

With this new belief system in place in the mind, now every negative event is filtered through it. Over time, this becomes a negative feedback loop that reinforces the belief and creates behaviors to prove that the belief is true. People may struggle with this for months, years, or decades before reaching out for help. Sadly, some never do reach out and spend a lifetime under the enormous weight of shame. I hope to prevent that fate for as many people as possible, so may I offer you a few new thoughts if you find yourself nodding in recognition of any part of the pattern I’ve mentioned above?

First of all, know that your Creator wired you in such a mind-blowingly beautiful way to manage negative experiences that helps you survive, cope, and heal. Built inside of you is everything you need to preserve your well-being and survive under stress. Even your negative emotions serve their purposes inside of this mechanism, as they are the warning bell that sends the necessary systems into action to act for your protection and safety. 

Second, you are doing nothing wrong and everything right when you experience those negative emotions and uncomfortable sensations. When we try to shut down the first sign of discomfort or anxiety, we are disrupting that holy and life-giving mechanism that is working towards managing, mitigating, and mending the stressful, painful, or traumatic stimuli. 

Finally, allow the process to do its good work in you. We are better served by accepting the reality of the negative situation, calling it what it is, and allowing (even welcoming) the temporary, uncomfortable emotions and negative states and letting them do their work. Ride the wave, baby. Once the wave has crested (and it always does), engage in some serious self-care individually and inside of a safe, connected community. 

You don’t have to carry the weight of the world, friends of faith. Jesus was human, too. He knows about riding the waves the negative experiences, and he set a pretty great example of how to care for oneself during those stressful seasons. Whether he was retreating to the mountains for some alone time, reclining at a table with his closest friends, or spending time in prayer and meditation, all of those practices were serving a very human need for healing and managing stress. I mean, the man also did a fair amount of walking, so you even have a case for cardio, if that’s your thing. 

Over all, my wish for people of faith is to experience the peace and freedom promised by an active, healthy spiritual life. I really believe the first step in that direction is checking our thoughts and making sure that they are in line with the reality of our human experiences and limits, as well as our faith experiences. If the process of unpacking those thoughts starts to feel a little confusing or entirely overwhelming, then reach out for support from a trusted source, be it a trusted member of your faith community or a professional therapist. I promise you won’t regret the journey.

 

 

Building Me

Build_Bracelet

As a psychotherapist, personality is a topic that comes up frequently in my conversations with clients. Over the years, I’ve noticed that it is not uncommon for people to critically judge their innate personality traits as flaws in their character rather than perceive these traits as useful information about their identities. Therefore, I spend a significant amount of time helping clients to remove these critical self-judgements and learn to appreciate their attributes for the strengths and limits that they are. 

Recently, at the end of a week full of personality and identity work, I became curious about my own personality profile. I wondered if anything had changed, given that I am now 5 years into my journey of recovery. I often joke that I feel like I have been 400 different people in my lifetime, and I guess a part of me wanted to know if there was any truth to that. The only way I could think of measuring that change would be to break out the ol’ Myers-Briggs again and see where I stood, so I logged onto the test that I often recommend and completed the inventory again.

Personality tends to be pretty static across the lifetime, so you may wonder why I would even entertain the notion that my profile would change. My curiosity was based on the fact that while I have always scored as a clear, died-in-the-wool introvert at 80% on the introversion-extraversion scale, the other scales didn’t come out as clearly defined. This was especially true for the thinking versus feeling scale, on which I scored a 49-51 split. 

Given the ENORMOUS amount of effort that I have put forth in my recovery to actually *feel* my feelings rather than think my feelings, I wanted to know if that moved the needle at all in how I see the world and respond to my environment. Perhaps some anxiety was beneath my curiosity, as I found myself entertaining concerns that indulging some of my intellectual interests may have inadvertently canceled out all the work I’ve done on feeling my feelings and trying (mostly unsuccessfully so far) to be in my body rather than in my head. Basically, I wanted some indication that all this work I’ve been doing on myself was having some sort of effect. 

When I reached the end of the test and clicked submit, I was actually surprised, but more so,  pleased to see that I had once again scored as an INFP. Even as I continued to read through the profile and was reminded of the fact that this personality profile makes up only 4% of the population and is one of the profiles that is most often misunderstood by others, I didn’t let that dash my feelings of hope. Because, well, first of all, that whole misunderstood thing is a true story and I have plenty of experience to back that up. Second, the percentages of my scores for each scale had become more clearly defined. No more riding the fence for this girl. I’ve officially crossed over into the land of 4%, where I’m sure “my people” live. 

I honestly didn’t expect those results to feel as deeply satisfying as they did. Whatever concerns I took with me into the re-taking of this assessment were resolved with these scores. Whatever doubts I had lingering in the back of mind about whether or not all of this work I have been putting into my recovery was yielding results were put to rest. The numbers tell me that everything I have done, from the small and mundane habit changes to the enormously challenging emotional overhauls, has been effective. 

In fact, it deepened my identity. Within the community of trauma recovery, we talk a great deal about healing trauma as a way of coming home to ourselves, and I believe that appears to be what is at work within me. The work of recovery hasn’t taken me to the other side of a personality spectrum, essentially swapping out an “old me” with a “new me”; it has strengthened the me that was always there- the core that had become hidden as layer after layer of trauma, of trying to manage the expectations of others, and of people-pleasing piled on top of me. 

This discovery was a really lovely way to begin the new year. If I am to resolve anything for 2020, it is simply going to be “more me”. Being the 4% oddball that I am, my word for the year doesn’t come to me at the New Year, it comes to me on my birthday, so I am 6 months into the year of “build”. In those 6 months, I have been actively building career and community, so it only seems fitting that the last 6 months of my 39th year would focus on building me. 

After all, a truer sense of self is the best gift I could give myself on my 40th birthday, don’t you agree?

 

My Internal Dialogue While Running

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Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

In my last running-related post, I began untangling perfectionism as it impacts my health journey, and I shared some of the things I have learned to do that counter my perfectionistic tendencies. Today, I’d like to deep dive into that perfectionism a little more by exploring what the coaches at The OmniFit call mental chatter. In my therapist circles, we tend to call it the “inner critic”. Personally, I call her my inner Crazy Lady. Of all of them, I prefer the term mental chatter the most, because it brings to mind an enormous canopy of trees filled with chattering chimpanzees. I feel like this description most closely resembles the true goings on of my mind. 

I have noticed over the past 2 weeks that as the miles have gotten longer, the mental chatter has grown louder and more frequent. As the normal aches and pains begin to set in, I catch myself saying things in my head like “I’m dying!”, “my legs are getting tired!”, and “why am I doing this to myself?!”. All of the articles I’ve read from running magazines have warned about this and offered suggestions for thoughts to use instead of the negative ones. I’ve attempted to integrate some of them into my thoughts when I hit a tough spot in a run. The process has looked something like this:

(checks watch)

Me-in-pain: Omg, I’m only at ___ miles and I still have ____ many to go. I don’t know if I’m going to make it!

Trying-to-be-positive Me: Ok, no, I can’t think like that. Look! I’ve already done ___ miles! I’m doing great!

Me-in-pain: You’re a lying liar who lies. I’m not doing great! I’m hanging on by a thread! I red-faced, already-sweated-through-my-shirt-AND-my-shorts-thread! 

Trying-to-be-positive Me: Ok, FINE. Yes, We’re a hot mess, and we’ve hit a hard place. What about just keeping the legs moving? They’ll eventually go numb. Can we just do that?

Me-in-pain: Fine. Bring on the numbness.

Trying-to-be-positive Me: FINE

As you can see, this has been an uphill battle so far. It’s more like a hostage negotiation with my inner Crazy Lady than a lovely and tranquil exercise in mindfulness. 

In the Transformation Blueprint course, the coaches at The OmniFit offered several preventative measures to overcoming negative mental talk. They are really very simple and pretty much common sense, but they are so often overlooked. The first suggestions was writing down your goals and keeping them where you can see them every day. I know this concept and know that it works. Have I been doing it? No. Am I doing it now? Kind of. I do look at my training goals a few times a week, mostly for scheduling purposes. In preparing for this week, I did spend a little more time evaluating the goals for the week, checking the goals against reality and my expectations, and ultimately deciding to adjusting a few things. This proved to be successful today during my first run of the week, as I was able to hit a goal that I’d been struggling with for a few weeks, and the inner Crazy Lady never showed up to rain on the parade. 

The second suggestion was to look at the quantity and quality of sleep. Listen friends, nothing sends the inner Crazy Lady on a rampage like sleep deprivation. This is just something that has been true about me since the day I was born. Anyone who shared a cabin with me at sleep away camp can attest to this, and I apologize for the shoes I threw when I was tired and you wouldn’t be quiet. I have cultivated a good sleep routine over the past several years, and even so, I’ve had a few rough nights recently. In hindsight, I recognize that since there wasn’t really anything else I could do about the sleep issue, adjusting my goals for the run would have been the next thing to try. Instead, I tried to push through with the original plan, and it backfired a bit. Lesson learned. 

The final suggestion was to keep it fun. This was such a novel idea to me in the beginning. My perfectionism was confused by the concept of “fun” in “working out”. It’s working out, so it’s supposed to be work, right? Work is right there in the name, and work is not “supposed” to be fun. Sigh, what a depressing view of life, right? This is a perfect example of why perfectionists need recovery: to challenge the idea that work is supposed to be “feel bad” and can never be fun. Honestly, writing about running and what I’m learning through running and working with nutrition coaches is one of the main things that keeps it fun for me. The other is the excuse to explore new music and indulge in pop workout mixes. I have a playlist going for both long runs and shorter, faster runs. Having new music on a playlist gives me something to look forward to and adds something new to the repetitive nature of a training schedule. 

On a surface level, it sure looks like it takes a lot to keep the inner Crazy Lady at bay. In actuality, though, it looks more like meeting my very real needs for sleep, a decent meal, plenty of water, a little bit of fun, and some attainable goals that I can chase after and achieve. I think as a culture, we often fail to see success as legitimate need, and therefore, dangle it just out of reach for ourselves as well as for others. This phenomena really becomes obvious when you have come to the end of everything you can do to achieve something and still find yourself coming up short, much like my dilemma with sleep this week. Just as I found success by adjusting my goals, I’d like to encourage everyone to allow yourself some success by moving the bar closer when you need to. Every major success is preceded by a long series of small successes. You don’t have to count everything that doesn’t work out perfectly as a failure. Simply adjust to what is actually possible for you right now. 

So, go ahead, move that bar to something attainable, and blow that goal out of the water. I’d love to hear about it! I’d also like to know what you do to keep training interesting and fun. Song suggestions are always appreciated, as well.

 

 

Untangling Perfectionism

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The “Before” Pic: The stats on my watch mark where I am today. They do not tell the story of the 13 weeks of conditioning it took to get here, nor do they predict where I will be at the end of this 18 weeks of training. Today is both a finish line and a starting line. 

I’m a recovering perfectionist. The fact that I was a perfectionist was news to me when the label was so casually thrown my direction for the first time. I genuinely looked around like, “who is she talking to?” Given that it was my turn in the group therapy circle, I was obviously the topic of the discussion. So, with that little seed planted, I walked around for many, many months noticing all of the thoughts, habits, reactions, and internal dialogue that validated my struggle with perfectionism.

That was a tough time, friends. Insight and awareness are often overwhelming when they are brand new, and my head felt like a very loud and hostile place to be. What I was learning, though, was priceless. I was learning that I had some really high standards for myself. Like ridiculously high. All the Marvel superheroes in the world could never conquer my high expectations. They were wildly out of control, but that didn’t stop me from excoriating myself each and every time I fell short, which was the only possible outcome given the nature of the standards I was holding myself to. The result was a never-ending cycle of mental and emotional gymnastics that was guaranteed to produce failure at every turn. Even actual successes didn’t measure up, and therefore, were marked as failures and added to the never-ending list of ways I had failed.

The physical result of that cycle was a lot of unhealthy habits. Perfectionism by its very name and nature demands that every first attempt results in a perfect end product. As a result, the risk of making a first attempt is often too daunting to try and many opportunities are lost to fear. When first attempts are made and not perfect, then no more attempts are made. Throw it all away and start over from scratch or simply quit entirely. Of course, throughout all of this, the harsh internal dialogue has been constantly playing in the background, steadily creating and increasing symptoms of anxiety and depression. When those symptoms become too uncomfortable to tolerate for one second longer, then it’s time to crack open the carton of ice cream.

By doing my trauma work with an amazing group and amazing therapists, I was able to begin untangling some of those perfectionistic tendencies and the resulting emotional eating. Inspired by that progress, I reached out to a friend who had made great strides in her own health journey, and she introduced me to the coaches at The OmniFit. For the past 2 years, I’ve been working with both the trauma professionals and the nutrition coaches, and it has been quite the journey.

Marathon training begins today, and I feel newly inspired to take my health goals to the next level and dig a little deeper into the mental game that will make that possible. The Transformation Blueprint course offered by The OmniFit has been a huge help in that regard. The first module is all about perfectionism, and these are some of the things I took away from that first module:

  • What I see in others is the end result and not the process. This helps me quiet that inner critic when I want to compare my “now” me to someone who has been at this for a decade. I like to follow this up by telling myself a story about how once upon a time this now perfect human specimen was also once a sweaty, smelly pathetic little thing that grunted and groaned when they tried to stand up.

 

  • “Goals are measureable. Expectations are emotional”- so focus on your goals. This quote from Coach Kala is really the most important piece to me and has become an almost daily mantra. It moves me out of the unwieldy emotional turmoil and into something concrete and within my grasp. Learning to acknowledge my emotions while shifting my attention to my goals has been such a lifesaver.

 

  • Set realistic goals.For me that means dialing it way back and then dialing it back some more. It means doing a little research to check my expectations for myself against reality. It also means breaking things down into steps, and then taking each step one at a time. Finally, I check in with my schedule and my body before I finalize any goals for the day, and I adjust accordingly.

 

  • Celebrate the victories.When I accomplish a step, I take a minute to really appreciate and celebrate it. I do not let any success, large or small, just float by unnoticed anymore. I give myself credit for the achievement and “put it in the bank”. No more long running lists of failures. I’ve got a vault of achievements, and they are drawing interest.

 

  • Find some real motivation. I’m pretty sure that I’ve spent most of my life having no clue what really motivates me. I’ve bribed, rewarded, punished, and deprived myself in an attempt to find the drive to complete a goal, and none of it worked. The fact is, if a carrot is dangled in front of me, I’ll immediately feel manipulated and annoyed, and like I’m being treated like a dog or a child. At that point, hell will freeze over before I play that stupid game. If punishment or loss is involved, I’ll just get mad and opt out, believing I never really deserved it anyway. For better or worse, I have the heart of a rebel-with-a-cause, and if I can champion an underdog while also proving to myself (and others) that I can do something I (and others) didn’t think I could do, then I’m ALL in until the very end. Learning to embrace this part of my personality rather than judge it has made all of the difference.

These are the tools I’ve picked up so far and that I’m taking with me into marathon training, but there is still so much more work to do. Currently, the biggest challenge in this house is getting our sleep schedules back to a normal school and work routine. I’m also preparing for my least favorite activity- meal planning. I know that very soon I will be running longer miles that require that I properly fuel my body, and I will also be short on time when the school year and soccer schedule kicks in. Meal planning is such a chore to me, but I know it will make my life easier. So, how does a rebel-with-a-cause find motivation to plan a menu, anyway?

I think I’ve come to really believe that finding what really motivates you and living into it is the secret to enjoying a fulfilling life. It has been surprising how much mental and emotional work and healing it has taken to come to this conclusion. As it would turn out, it is all valuable- the physical, mental, and emotional- because it all works together to provide health and healing. It’s more than running, eating a proper meal, and going to therapy; it’s learning about yourself- how you REALLY tick- and valuing what you learn.

 

Diary of a Reluctant Runner: Why I Train

I am in a season of change. My job has changed and changed again, causing my income to flux in response. My schedule has changed and will change again in 2 days when my daughter’s school releases for the summer break. Being rather dependent upon external structure to provide my internal structure, a significant amount of change will produce some equally significant anxiety in me. I’ve known this about myself since the 6th grade when I requested that my mother buy me a Day-Timer, because on some level I’ve also known that life isn’t always that great about providing consistent external structure. Sometimes you have to make it up on your own, and that has been an ongoing process of maturity for me. 

In my 38 years, I have picked up some great ways to cope with change, and I’ve picked up a few bad habits. If Netflix, Candy Crush, and trips to the fridge or the neighborhood frozen yogurt shop have become the things I’ve organized my life around, I’m trouble. I’ve descended into the hell that is anxiety-riddled boredom and general malaise. As you can imagine, I’m not an enjoyable or productive human being when I’m in this place. It is, however, often my go-to when I hit a level of anxiety that feels paralyzing and I want to avoid the reality of my situation, even if the reality of my situation is actually closer to an exciting, new adventure rather than a rough season or tragic life event. 

Recently, I finished watching all 4 seasons of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix and conquered level 443 of Candy Crush Soda Saga, if that tells you anything about the current state of my affairs. If I weren’t so broke right now, I’m sure that my frozen yogurt card would also be fully punched, and I would be relishing in my free bowl of triple chocolate mixed with strawberry cheesecake topped with crushed Oreos. Since I’m currently eating cauliflower and grape tomatoes, I feel like I can say that I’m still hanging on, but not by much. 

My solution for this lack of external structure and need for healthy ways to cope with the resulting anxiety was to sign up to run a full marathon. “That’s insane!” you say? I couldn’t agree more. It feels completely bonkers, especially since I spent the winter in hibernation mode, recuperating from some pretty significant health challenges and gaining a pound for each week that I spent inside recovering. And yet, this is the only decision in my life that I feel truly at peace about. Why? Because it has worked for me before. 

Throughout my school years, my grades would be highest during volleyball and track season and routinely take a dip during the off seasons. As an adult, when I have needed to grow in my ability to focus, prioritize, creatively problem-solve, and be more self-disciplined in executing the steps necessary to achieve a goal, it has been running that provided the training ground to develop and refine those skills. Training for 5K and 10K races helped me take those first steps towards learning to set realistic expectations for myself, as well as the highly important lesson of patiently completing all of the smaller steps required to meet the bigger goal rather than simply making a mad dash for the finish line. It reinforced the lesson that thoughtful and patient preparation is just as important in life as it is for running. 

Training for a half-marathon helped me take steps towards learning how to properly nourish my body. It also taught me that I can do things that I never in a million years would have dreamed I could do. Surprisingly, I also learned that all of my best ideas come to me when I am out on a long run. Something magical happens when you are out on a trail and several miles into a run, and you realize that you have all the time and space in the world to put some big questions out into the universe and the silence and solitude to hear God whisper the answers back. Given all that I have going on in life right now, some serious Q&A time with the Divine seems warranted. Thus, training for a marathon seems to actually make some sense. 

Having such great experiences with the St. Jude Memphis Marathon weekend at the 10k and half-marathon levels, I knew that I wanted my first marathon to be St. Jude. Attempting to wrap my mind around the idea of actually running a marathon, I have researched training plans, nutrition advice, and even bullet journals to track progress and maintain motivation through the training process. I ended up selecting this optimistic llama as the keeper of all my training hopes, dreams, goals, and stats, along with all of the angst that comes with the mental, emotional, and physical challenges of training. He says it’s no problem, and I guess I’ll have to take him at his word, but I hope he knows that I can get pretty angsty in July and August when the heat index is 125. 

In addition to committing to run the St. Jude marathon, I also committed to the St. Jude Hero program, which means I’ll be fund-raising as I train. As a parent, it feels so important to me that the St. Jude families get to focus on getting the best treatment for their child without having to worry about bills piling up, and I am happy to support that in any way that I can. It is also a powerful reminder of how grateful I am for my own newly minted clean bill of health. Perhaps my wise llama guide can help me generate a gratitude mantra about this, and I can chant it to combat the heat-induced angst. (Summer is here. I’m dreading it. Can you tell?!)

Llama jokes aside, training for a race and racing for St. Jude has always been a powerful experience for me. When life got hard and I was feeling squeezed by all of the pressure coming at me from every direction, my first thought was “I need a big race to train for. I always do better when I have a race to train for”. I tried to wait it out and let a return to sanity dismantle that idea, but weeks and months came and went, the squeeze continued, and the idea of training for a big race continued to beckon with it’s promises of growth and peace. Answering the call by signing up has already settled some of my nerves and increased my focus. 

I suspect that, like before, if I keep showing up and putting in the work (even when it’s ugly), training will faithfully deliver all the growth I need and more. The beauty of it is I get to take all of those blessings from running and use it to fuel the professional and creative goals that have been stalling out and causing me stress. That is what I’m most excited about. Who knows what answer or stroke of creative brilliance is waiting for me around mile 9?! I can’t wait to find out.