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

emma-simpson-mNGaaLeWEp0-unsplash
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

TBPMod1
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. 

Diary of a Reluctant Half-Marathoner: Managing Goals and Gators

BikeTrailPic

Today begins my 2nd week of pre-training for the St. Jude half-marathon in December. The first week had some interesting twists and turns, but overall I’m happy with how things went. Compared to last year, my approach and attitude toward this training cycle is totally different, and that shift in mindset has come from working with the coaches at the OmniFit through their 7 Day Challenge and the Transformation Blueprint course.

So much of my growth over the past year has been around setting realistic goals and managing expectations and my emotional response to those expectations. The reality of managing my expectations is much like wrestling an alligator, in that they are powerful, ornery, and unwilling to be tamed or controlled. It gets really ugly when I let my emotions attach to that power struggle, because clearly, it is going to end badly with me feeling like an exhausted, wrung-out failure. Which is entirely ridiculous, given the fact that I was never meant to wrestle alligators. Goal setting is never supposed to be a power struggle. When properly designed, it is an avenue of empowerment by which goals are achieved.

But in order to do that, expectations have to exit the alligator wrestling arena that I have conjured in my mind and shake hands with reality. That means moving past denial and telling the truth about everything: my time and schedule, my energy level, my attitude and motivation, and my current unhealthy patterns and how deeply entrenched they are in my life. It means accepting that this is going to be hard and I’m going to be uncomfortable and sometimes I’m going to hate this and it is going to bring out the worst in me at times and I’m likely going to act really immature at some point and whine like a small child and NOTHING ABOUT THIS PROCESS IS GOING TO BE PRETTY OR PERFECT.

If this sounds like I’m talking about lowering the bar substantially, then you are picking up what I’m laying down. If that makes you panic, sit in that feeling for a minute and ask yourself why. What I’ve discovered is that when I sit with that feeling and ask myself why, the answers usually reveal wildly unrealistic and unhealthy expectations for myself that I didn’t even realize I was holding on to. The more I reflect on that, I realize that it has been those silent, hidden expectations that have been operating in my life without my conscious permission. They are the drivers behind the unhealthy patterns, like eating my emotions or numbing out or making myself invisible with food.

In light of all of that (and that was A LOT, wasn’t it?), when it was time to start planning my 1st week of pre-training, I created a basic “skeleton” schedule for workouts. After I told the truth about my schedule and my time, I used that information to identify the days of the week that I was going run or walk and the days that I was going to do strength training. As I wrote out the workouts I was planning to do, I wrote them like the stars do align and the day actually does go as planned, because when that glorious day actually happens I want to have a plan in place that allows me to maximize that time for all that it is worth. Knowing that more often than not my days fly off the rails at some point, I identified the part of each workout I could do come hell or high water.

Having that kind of plan in place- a plan with built-in flexibility- made me feel so much more peaceful and less intimidated about starting this training cycle. It also removed the shame of “failing to do exactly what has been prescribed to do” and gave me the freedom to adjust according the realities that life throws at me. Last week, that looked like canceling a run/walk night entirely because my child was exhausted and falling asleep on the couch at 6 p.m., and I wasn’t too far behind her.

It also gave me the freedom to make it fun, which looked like including my child on all the other run/walk workouts. On my scheduled track night when I intended to do an easy, short workout, we ended up doing an almost 2 mile walk. During that walk, we enjoyed time to just chat and catch up with each other that is so rare these days. My scheduled weekend 1 mile run ended up coming in at 0.88 miles, because I also used that time to introduce my new bike rider to the bike trail. I ended up stopping many, many times during the 1st half mile to coach to her, even laying my body down on the paved trail to demonstrate how wide the path really was to relieve her fear of suddenly losing control of herself and rolling into woods. The things we do to calm our children’s fears!

Before I started this journey of wrestling with my expectations, having these things “interrupt” my workout would have caused me a ton of anxiety. Now, I enjoy seeing my daughter get excited about doing any form of exercise. She doesn’t look at me all confused when she walks in the living room to find me in plank position; she simply joins me. This week, she has paid close attention while I measured out and planned my food to take to work and asked important questions about nutrition, which happens to also be the 1st week in a very long time that she has not fought me about eating a proper meal.

So, did I achieve all those “big goal” markers and finish the entire “big goal” workouts that I wrote out? No, I didn’t. But I got close. I certainly did more than I did the week before. More importantly, I stuck to that skeleton structure I created and put some flesh to it by figuring out what is actually going to work inside of my real life and what is not going to work, and figuring that out will set me up for long-term success.

Most importantly, I was a good mom this week. I enjoyed some real, quality time with my child, and she achieved some goals and conquered that fear of bike-riding that she has been trying to work out for over a year now. If I keep on working out my goals and managing my expectations this way, my whole life may get healthier, including my relationship with my daughter, and that will be a way bigger win than shedding a few pounds or shaving a few seconds off of my mile time.