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.

Growing Forward during Covid-19

Photo by Jonathan Cooper on Unsplash

Of all of the weeks of quarantine, this one has been the most disorienting to me. On Monday, I drove to the place where I pick up my daughter on Wednesdays and didn’t remember that this was incorrect until I pulled into the driveway. On Wednesday, I asked my daughter if she was excited that tomorrow was her last day of school assignments, and she had to remind me that she still had 2 more days of assignments. I spent all of Friday chanting “this is Friday” to myself, because nothing inside of me seemed to grasp the truth of that, and I needed my brain to remember to do the Friday things. I call it a miracle of the highest order that I managed to show up to work at the right times all week long. 

On top of the disorientation, our little family has begun the strange adjustment to mask life. It hasn’t been pleasant, honestly. On some level, I’ve recognized that going into stores makes me anxious, and that I generally adopt a mindset of getting what I need and getting out. But I don’t think it really hit home that this is what I was doing and experiencing until the first time I had to take my child to the store with me. Seeing her experience the store anxiety for the first time opened my eyes a little bit more. I did the best I could to prepare her and let her know what to expect, but the rest had to be learned in real life and that can be difficult to witness.

Yesterday, we needed to go out again to pick up something I had ordered online.  Since we were out, we decided to make an impromptu stop for ice cream. We have a summertime tradition of getting ice cream cones and eating them as we stroll around the downtown square, and since we were there and the ice cream shop was open, we tried to replicate that tradition. Honestly, the whole thing fell flat. There was anxiety about putting masks on, and there was anxiety about taking masks off. There was anxiety about taking new routes to maintain social distance, and there was anxiety about walking the old, familiar routes with the business closed and bearing the signs mandated by the CDC.

We tried to make the best of it by stopping to read the signs on the doors about how each business was operating during Covid-19. On some level it was comforting to know what to expect, how to obtain services, and how to behave when we needed that service or wanted to visit that store. On another level, it was unsettling. In an attempt to simply state a complex experience, I’ll say that though the information was simple, it felt overwhelming to try to comprehend. 

We ended up strolling all the way to our church and sitting in the courtyard processing the experience we were having. My child was able to talk about her discomfort and worry and her desire for things to be the way that they were before. We sat with that desire for a while, because I think that says it all.

I process this desire in therapy every week: “I just want to be who I was before”: before the “thing” happened that changed me and changed everything. Gently, I have to deliver the news that there really is no going back, and challenge the idea that going back is something any of us actually want to do. Just as gently, I introduce the idea that while we can’t go back, we can grow forward, and maybe what we as humans actually want in this scenario is the peace that comes from that growth. My therapist, brilliantly quoting from the book You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, stated it to me this way, “We can’t choose the pain, but we can choose whether or not we suffer”. 

I’m coming to believe that the effort we spend in trying to get back to the way it was before, to who we were before, is the choice to suffer. It is a goal that is impossible to reach and our efforts to achieve it will only leave us feeling frustrated and helpless. I know I’ve been feeling those things pretty intensely this past week. Conversely, perhaps growing forward is the choice to feel the pain and learn from it. The goal of this idea is actually attainable, and our efforts to pursue it may generate a sense of agency and peace.

In the case of the Covid-19 life, I’m not really sure yet what growing forward looks like, but I am 100% sure that grasping for how it used to be is causing me some very real suffering. From the things I’ve seen in the news and on social media, I feel like it is safe to say that I’m not the only one. Figuring out how to hang on to my internal peace while also attempting to reduce the ambient stress for my family during a global pandemic has been a big ask, so I think that in my life, the growing forward has to start with grace: grace for myself and grace for others. I need the grace that allows me to be ok, to still be “good”, while I fumble around and figure it out.  

It’s also the gift of grace that I want for my daughter during this season. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be growing up during a global pandemic. Above all, I want her to feel confident that she is safe, and then right after that, I want her to know that she is still so very, very good while she fumbles around and figures out this new life. 

If I may offer a single prayer on behalf of us all, it would be that we all grant that kind of grace to ourselves, our families, and everyone we encounter in the days to come.

 

 

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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.

 

My Daughter has learned to cook during quarantine, and we’re going to need more eggs….

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Photo by Gabriel Gurrola on Unsplash

I don’t know how things are going at your house, but corona quarantine has made our life both incredibly interesting and entirely mundane. 

On the more mundane side, I’ve started cooking again and not because I enjoy cooking. Initially, I only started cooking because all the sudden I had the time to do it and because grabbing food out had become a little more difficult. As the weeks sequestered in my home with the same old fare lingered on, I became desperate for something new. 

“I can’t take it anymore. I cannot eat the same thing for the 6th week in a row!” I yelled mostly at the refrigerator but also in an attempt to communicate what was coming to my picky child. She just looked at me with the expression of the mildly annoyed, more mature witness to this outburst. I feared that she is about to say something reasonable, like “we have plenty of food in this pantry” so I continued on with my crusade for finer cuisine before she could say anything. 

“Listen,” I began, “This is what’s going to happen. I’m going to sign up for one of those services where they send you the ingredients and tell you how to cook it, because I need something new without the responsibility of having to comb through thousands of Pinterest pages to find it. I’m going to let them decide for me and send it to me. And then I’m going to make it and you’re going to try it, you hear me?! And if you don’t like it, fine, but you’re going to try it and then you can make yourself something else.” 

“Fine,” she says, not even putting up a fight, “As long as I can make something else if I don’t like it.” 

I think the only reason she so willingly resigned to my new food proclamation is that just before quarantine we discovered that she is finally tall enough to use the microwave and began heating up some of her own food. She has continued to expand her skill in the kitchen during quarantine and can now use the stove to fry her own eggs. 

Oh, the fried egg. It is her current favorite food. She would eat half a dozen of them in one sitting if I would let her. I would complain about that, but the fried egg with salt and pepper is the only thing that broke down my daughter’s inexplicable disdain for pepper, so I owe it a debt of gratitude and therefore allow the fried egg phase to stand. I only pray that soon she will discover some form of toasted bread and perhaps some melted cheese and consume her eggs with any combination of these things rather than using her fingers to deliver the egg directly to her mouth. It would be a small mercy for which I would be forever grateful. 

The interesting part to me in this scaled back, run of the mill, mundane quarantine life we have going on is how much it has allowed her to grow. Cooking isn’t the only new skill she has picked up, she has also learned how to do laundry. We have even instituted mother-daughter folding time and tackle laundry mountain together. She has learned to unload the dishwasher and run the vacuum. Suddenly, I feel like if she had to move into her college dorm tomorrow, she just might survive. The pace of our life has slowed down just enough to allow her to finally, successfully memorize those multiplication tables and for me to be able to teach her some important life skills. She’s going to walk out of quarantine able to feed and clothe herself, and that seems pretty amazing to me. 

The grief process during the shut down and quarantine was significant and real. I felt it, my child felt it, my clients felt it; we all felt the wild and mixed emotions of grief. Now there is talk of reopening the country and getting everything back up and going, and honestly, that makes me a little sad, too. I just settled into this slower pace of life, and frankly, it suits me quite well. It seems to suit this little family even better, and I’m beginning to suspect that there will be a little grief when the schedules fill up again and our time together at home is all about chores, dinner, baths, homework and how quickly we can get those things done so we can be in bed on time. 

We needed this respite. I knew we needed it before it was involuntarily thrust upon us, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it happen. I’m hoping to come out of this thing with some new ideas and new zeal for protecting my time. Quarantine has certainly presented some unexpected challenges, but it has presented some unexpected blessings, as well. The gift of time, as it turns out, has some arms and legs to it that extend well into the future, and I’m curious to see what kind of life we all return to. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m not in a hurry to return to the hurry. 

 

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.