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Let me just start with this before I get into anything else, I LOVE MY CALENDAR!

I find joy in the act of organizing my time and maximizing it through careful planning and efficiency. I enjoy the color-coded events, the post-it notes for recurring tasks, the handwriting, the fact that many of my commitments are in honor of connecting with and supporting other people, I love all of it. In fact, I look forward to the end of every month when I get to evaluate my productivity and plan out the next month. Turning the page is cathartic and exciting. A fresh new set of days, weeks, minutes, hours to fill with building my best life.

However, despite that joy, while I’m in the midst of those days, weeks, minutes and hours that I’ve packed to the hilt with overlapping things to do and people to see, making the most out of every minute and mile that I drive, I am not finding the same joy. I’m actually kind-of-sort-of wanting to kick myself.

My life, despite being full, is leaving me feeling very drained and empty. The joy of being in the places with the people engaging in the things that I love is dulled by the overwhelming amount of it all.

To be more specific, my life isn’t sunshine and smiles. To be ultra-specific, my current attempt at writing is the perfect metaphor for my daily disaster:

  • The browser is taking forever to load so I opened another tab where I can begin downloading the picture I want to use;
  • I’m glancing at the clock realizing that I have exactly 43 minutes to work before I need to begin my next task if I want to be on time;
  • I notice that I’m not wearing makeup in the glare of my computer screen’s blank face and have to weigh the options—write more or take another four minutes to myself;
  • Which, by the way, leads to the question, “When is the last time I showered?”

And so it goes… before the internet is even done taking it’s twenty or so seconds to load the page all of this has flashed through my mind. Instead of enjoying my favorite thing on Earth—writing—I’m feeling anxious and mildly concerned that I will run out of time before moving on to the next thing.

The Problem

Life feels like I am rushing too fast. Like I have too much to manage and I’m barely juggling it all to boot. While I feel like I am failing at that, what I am doing a good job at is wondering if I am keeping up with everything and headed in the right direction, as well as remorseful over the way my minutes are being spent. You wouldn’t know this unless I told you though. Most people who know me, when asked how to describe me, would use words such as determined, motivated, relentless, successful…

I am successful. I am a good little adult. I am doing the adult things. I pay my bills. I work. I help others. I smile. I laugh. I call my mom. I am following my passion and living my dreams.

I am also dying on the inside.

The joy I normally feel is less and less apparent. I’m still doing things that I love but there isn’t enough of me to give them the full attention they deserve. And with partial buy-in I’m getting partial pay-out. It’s a vicious cycle I have created and perpetuated.

And I know better! One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from the introduction to Paulo Coehlo’s novel The Alchemist and states:

Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering that is apparently bearable; the latter goes on for years and, without our noticing, eats away at our soul, until, one day, we are no longer able to free ourselves from the bitterness and it stays with us for the rest of our lives.

I live by those words. I’ve built my life around the fear of becoming complacent with what is available or easy and dedicated myself to the pursuit of “intense, unexpected suffering” knowing that those risks and failures will fill me with more gratitude and peace than settling for less, even if it’s easier, ever would. That’s why I left my career as a teacher. That’s why I write. That’s why I volunteer.

Yet, today I realized that I’m still doing something wrong. I’m so tired all of the time. Too tired to give my heart to anything with full intention. There’s always a piece of me looking to the next thing I feel I have to do, or finding something I forgot that I needed to do. There is an overwhelming sense of external stress which occasionally bubbles over to resentment.

Nothing triggers these feelings more than my calendar.

Today, looking at it, I felt ashamed of the fact that I yet again moved my “Submit Something” writing goal to the end of the month. I haven’t made time for writing in a month and I haven’t submitted something in even longer. It angered me that all of these other things were eating up the time I’d rather be spending pursuing my dream.

To prove the point, I went back to find the last time I was alone for a whole day. The last time I had no responsibility, no person to entertain, no work that felt it had to be done and flipped the pages until I got to

December 30th.

I have not sat alone with myself and taken a day off in 11 weeks. And if I keep it up, there will probably be at least another 11 weeks before I do.

 

The Root of the Problem

Don’t feel bad for me. I don’t. I pride myself on being productive. I am honored that the people I spend my time with feel they can count on me or need me. It isn’t anyone’s fault but my own that I struggle with saying no and having boundaries that value my time (which, by the way, is a whole other topic I should write about).

I have taken this opportunity to reflect and that is what I’m here to share with you. There is a reason my calendar looks like a field of wildflowers in late Spring (thanks colored pen infatuation 🙂 ). I have planted seeds of busyness and obligation to mask the dirt beneath the colorful surface and avoid what’s really going on.

A week before December 30th my life went through a drastic, traumatic change. It is of no coincidence that that is when my subconscious took over. I imagine it went something like this:

Thinking Self: Wow. I’m really hurt, this is so sad and heartbreaking, I don’t know how I’m ever going to—

Subconscious Self: Don’t bother imagining anything. I’m taking over. You clearly can’t be trusted to protect us so I’m stepping in to do the job and while I’m at it, I’m just going to put you on auto-pilot so you don’t know a thing.

Thinking Self: But, I need to be mindful and pay close attention to my habits and behaviors, that’s how I can grow and heal.

Subconscious Self: *engages in old patterns of behavior and thought loops, quickly subdues the thinking self*

Behavior Loops

Now, my mind may or may not actually work like the above scenario, but it is a known fact that during times of change and trauma the mind reverts to what is comfortable, regardless of whether or not those coping mechanisms have worked successfully or not in the past.

Dr. Joe Dispenza, among many other prestigious neuroscientists, documents this phenomenon in his book Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself. The mind gets comfortable with familiar patterns and seeks them out. An excerpt from his book in Wisdom Magazine states,

In a very real way, you have become an effect of circumstances outside of yourself. You have allowed yourself to give up control of your destiny.

Like my scenario, he is explaining how our subconscious minds take control of our lives by reacting to what happens outside of us, our external world, instead of allowing our thinking minds to focus on the bigger picture. We get addicted to behavior loops that are habit driven rather than intent driven.

In the past, I have piled on responsibility and work to avoid taking a close look at my inner world.

That is how after dropping out of High School in the tenth grade, I acquired four college degrees, graduated Summa Cum Laude, honors, and with special recognition as the recipient of the Heroine Award.

That is how I fought for my son’s care when he was dying in the hospital; flying him all of the way to Nebraska to receive a multi-organ transplant that has allowed him to beat all odds and live a fulfilled life today.

That is how I’ve become a resource for many people, both friends, and strangers, in the world of health and nutrition, providing advice, coaching and support on a daily basis.

That is how I have made it to the elite level in Motocross (way back in the day) and Crossfit (still have a ways to go) through persistence, dedication, and faith in the process of daily practice.

That is how I was able to get the gumption to quit my job to become a writer despite the palatable fear of failure and financial ruin that it may incur.

That is how I’ve found myself in the position of services coordinator for ROCovery Fitness‘ Southern Tier outreach living my passion for helping others through their recovery journey by bringing free opportunities and a community of support to the area.

It is also the same behavior I engaged in when I was younger and used drugs and alcohol to numb out of my pain.

Numbing Out

There is nothing glamorous about being overly busy. I know society idolizes the hustle and the grind but it isn’t great.

Let me use an analogy to explain:

Alcohol consumption and the party culture is “cool.” From teenagers to adults, advertisements, holidays, weekend plans, family events, you name it, the premier focus is on getting tipsy and having a good time. A beer with buds. A kegger after prom. The wine paired with your meal…

That’s fine. It’s everywhere and it’s part of the fabric of our culture. But what about when someone goes on a three-day bender? Or better yet, eleven weeks straight of drinking? Not just drinking, but doing it so much that they are drunk all day?

That isn’t cute. That is what addiction looks like. That is numbing out of reality.

I’m not using mood-altering substances but that is essentially what I’m doing with my calendar too. I am going 24/7, binging on to-do’s, and although it looks healthy, it isn’t.

I am numbing out my emotions with busy work to avoid the really difficult and painful task of facing my absolute fears. Psychologist and author Brene Brown (who if you don’t know about her, watch this AMAZING TEDTalk and thank me later <3) describes the danger of numbing out not only because it is unhealthy, but on a deeper level it’s non-selective nature.

“You cannot selectively numb emotion. When we numb [hard feelings], we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”

And that very concept is at the heart of my issue. If I’m numbing out my pain with overworking, I’m also inadvertently numbing out what brings me joy. Actually, since I’m sharing all of my innermost thoughts, I might as well put some more stuff out there. Overworking is my primary way to numb out pain—it’s deliciously deceptive because it feels productive and wonderful and looks oh-so-healthy on the outside. Here are some other not-so-fun to admit ways I numb out:

  • binging on junk food (I seriously can’t say no to a whole family size bag of Fritos or tortilla chips or peanuts)
  • cleaning my house (again, it looks healthy, but it’s really just a distraction to keep me busy while I hide from my inner reality)
  • seeking connection with friends and family (another one that looks healthy, and is, except for when I’m doing it because I can’t handle not doing something)
  • working out (above and beyond the training volume needed because I’d rather obsess over that than let my mind or body have a minute to breath)

And also the unhealthy ways I used to numb out (Yay me! I made progress in life because fortunately, these are all things of the past):

  • light drug use and heavy drinking
  • constant involvement in relationships
  • binging on chocolate and baked goods
  • anorexia (this one is a tricky one to understand, but much like with cleaning and working out I numbed out on the control aspect—pouring myself into obsession consumes my mind so I don’t have the time or energy to think about much else)
  • television and movies

Maybe you recognize yourself and your behaviors in these lists. If so, don’t feel bad. Just acknowledge it and then take steps to change. Ask yourself:

 

What are you doing to numb out? And what are you numbing out from?

 

Trust me, you can identify the pattern and then make change. You should feel encouraged by that, I know I am because the only thing I’m 100% certain of is the fact that I’m going to need to do this over and over again.

Also, understand the driving force of numbing out. It is likely that your old behavior loops have control and you’re participating in patterns without intent.

That’s why the subconscious can’t be left in charge. It’s only mission is to avoid pain and suffering. It cares not for long term fulfillment. Instead of focusing on the bigger picture and bringing my life fulfillment and joy, when I’m on autopilot I become reactionary.

I need and want to be proactive, to live with intention. So now what?

The Solution

Well, the good news is that the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. I am addicted to busyness and I realize that it is forcing me to live a life that isn’t in line with my values.

The next step for me is education. I am going to continue to build my support network and toolbox with information and ideas that can help me shift my focus.

After that, I will begin to make small changes, celebrate their success, and use the momentum to make more changes.

The bad news is that I can’t tell you more. In truth, I don’t think there ever will be an end state. This journey of discovery and self-reflection is never-ending.

So, I haven’t found the solution but I can tell you, however, about where I am going to begin my journey.

In another life-changing TEDTalk, Kimi Werner, a champion freediver and spearfisher, shares her experience with rushing through life to get things done. She says,

When you feel the need to speed up, slow down.

When I feel the need to add more to my plate or to say yes to something, I am going to take an intentional pause before committing. Too much of my current life is a result of the knee-jerk reaction, or deeply ingrained behavior loop, of saying yes to everything in an attempt to please everyone.

I feel it is very important to do less with more intention than to do more. 

Rather than dedicate part of myself to everything, I want to focus all of my energy into the most important things. That is where the next step comes in. I have lost sight of what really matters. I need to get back in touch with my soul and what compels me.

I need to reevaluate what the less I choose to do with more intention is. Again, I am going back to a tried and true resource. Patti Dobrowolski has a great method that incorporates neuroscience and art to help you unlock the path to achieving your most important dreams. In her process, she walks you through using drawings to tap into the right side of your brain where logic lets go of its stranglehold and creativity can thrive. She says,

As naive as your drawings might be, when you draw where you are, your current state, and where you want to be, your desired new reality. Suddenly, you have a road map for change.

The activity takes less than ten minutes but has been integral in getting me to the place I am in today (the good parts of it, not the unbalanced management of my time!). The road map for change I created allowed me to stay focused on the steps that brought me to write my first novel, the job I love, and the very house I’m living in. So, I am going to lean on what I know works and start there.

Lastly, I’m going to reach out and ask you. I don’t have to take this journey alone. We can work on being our best selves together.

What methods have you used to get back on track and in line with your thinking self?

 

I can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Sending all of the love, patience, and appreciation to you <3.

Sincerely,

The Girl Who… chose to go without makeup and rush out the door ten minutes late because she overbooked herself by thinking she could write a blog about overbooking herself in 43 minutes and still get the ten thousand other things she committed to done.

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Serendipity

Posted: January 3, 2019 in Uncategorized

ausableriver

Poet William Butler Yeats calls it the gyre, Chinese philosophy calls it Yin and Yang, I call it sometimes you’re so damn stubborn you need to learn a lesson twice.

In either case, what I’m talking about is the cyclical nature of life; the balance, the living, the destruction, and the rebirth of all things; the ability for history to repeat itself in both big and small ways—from forgetting and finding your keys each morning, to historical events with eerily similar themes, and repeated ice ages across millenniums.

Recently I was handed a heavy does of learn-it-again while on a last minute trip to try and escape my problems. Let me explain it from the beginning.

Where It Began

 

In October of 2017, I was training hard for Crossfit. My goals included helping my team get to Regionals, stay healthy and someday-maybe start writing. Life was simple and fun, but I felt a little emptiness, a space in my full heart that echoed with a hollow thump after each beat. It just so happened that a fellow CF member at the team gym I was training at mentioned his mission to become a 46’er and hike all of the ADK high peaks. He was headed to Keene Valley to hit five of them in the Dix Range and I decided to tag along.

Growing up nature was my solace. I spent all of my inner-city days escaping to the vast trails and wooded area of Turning Point Park, a slice of wilderness following the Genessee River to Lake Ontario hidden behind the busy streets of Rochester, New York. My brother, our friends, and I mountain biked through the trails, climbed trees, contemplated swimming int he heavy current of the dirty river, caught tadpoles, turtles and snakes, and went on endless adventures.

Every time I tried to run away, I went straight to the woods. Every time I needed a refresh, I went straight to the woods. Every time I was bored, I went straight to the woods. That pattern continued even after I moved far away from the bustle of the city. As an undergrad student at Geneseo, I spent many nights pulled back to the river of my youth at the hiking spot on 20a and the more well-known Letchworth State Park.

Yet, as with most things we love, I grew out of it when I got older. I consumed my time with work, raising my son, pursuing my goals and getting caught up in the gym. That’s why I decided to go on the hike. After years of the daily grind, I wanted to reconnect with myself through the dirt and sun. Also, embarrassingly, I had never hiked in the Adirondacks and wanted to remedy that as soon as possible.

That is one of the points of sharing this… take a moment right now and think:

What did you love in your youth, the thing that set your eyes sparkling and your soul on fire? 

Do you make time for that thing in your life anymore? Why…

Another embarrassing note is that I had no idea how to prepare. I just filled a pack with snacks and water, wore my most comfortable clothes and donned a pair of sneakers that I didn’t mind ruining. From there, I hopped in my car, drove all night, slept on an air mattress in the back and got up early Saturday to watch the sunrise.

I found myself at a little nook overlooking the Ausable River in Keene Valley. I had plenty of time before my Crossfit friends were going to arrive so I did what all writers do, I got out my leather-bound notebook and listened to what the sound of the water wanted to tell me. Here’s what I heard.

Reflection: October 12, 2017

Picturesque Ausable River is flowing in front of me, you can hear the water like a throaty laugh, lightened to the pitch of velvet, it soothes and excites all at once. A gentle breeze is rustling the leaves and here at the bottom of the mountain, the canopy is still in sight. So many “miles to go before I sleep,” and that is the very best thing.

It’s early morning. The sun’s rays are just beginning to finger the land and warm its blood. I’m an outsider but nature doesn’t notice—she accepts me, she pulls me in.

I accept her welcome, take a deep breath and then set to my task. I dig my spoon into my bowl of Chex—the cliches stop here.

I’m adorned with hand-me-down spandex shorts, a five-year-old tank top pitted with stains from its battles in the gym, and my feet are covered in Nanos, the Crossfit rage, minimalist sneakers. Obviously, I am not your typical hiker. I suppose it’s more accurate this way… I’m not your typical anything.

In contrast to my ensemble, I have a more traditional pack full of a day’s worth of water and snacks, and I’ve taken standard precautionary measures: loaded up on DEET, slathered myself with sunscreen, and powdered all of the points of friction. 

I appear out of place, yet I’ve never felt more grounded or appropriately placed; in the woods with no plan, hiking on a whim, and I’m more comfortable and at peace then I’ve been in a long time.

I’d love to write an inspirational story about ducking society and the allure of adventure, or even something philosophical about the phenomena of finding love in solitude and peace when you’re at war with your fears, or maybe something political about the dire need to save the beauty of nature that we seem so keen as a society to destroy and take as our own… But the truth is I have something else to share.

I think my happiness is a result of my familiars. I have my ceramic bowl right from my kitchen cupboard and my favorite spoon—it fits in my grip just right. Somehow it is an oddity to our set of utensils, I’m not even sure where I got it… I’m wearing clothes that are tired and true. I know how they’ll feel and what parts of my anatomy they’ll hike to as I move about. I even know how to adjust them without using my hands by wiggling in a specific way… Last night I slept in my car, with my pillows, finding home in a place so far away.

Despite being unprepared, unplanned, and in a new place, I am content. I am content because I have taken an adventure and determined to set my soul on fire… No. Actually, I’m content for a more simple reason: I’ve grown to love my routines and objects so much that they are all I need to be happy. I have gratitude for the little things like my spoon, my favorite cereal and my pillow. Or maybe both answers are right???

This mid-life liberation stuff is hard, but only if I think about it too much. When my spoon is in the bowl and my heart is resting outside of my chest soaking up the world around it, everything is easy.

Where It Began Again

 

Fast forward a little over a year and there I was again, deciding to take off to Keene Valley on less than 24 hours notice, unprepared and unplanned. I grabbed my pack full of snacks, some overnight clothes, and reached into my pile of journals and grabbed the first one I touched. This time though, the circumstances were much different. Instead of comfort with my familiars, I was in a state of turmoil.

Quite literally over the course of the year I had lost my physical abilities due to two emergency abdominal surgeries, I had lost my emotional self in a mini-breakdown, and finally, the week before Christmas my partner left me and I found myself scrambling to figure out who I was, where I was going to live, and what new job was going to keep me happy and pay my bills.

Stripped of all familiars I found myself yearning for the same thing, to be free and open in the natural world. Not just in nature, but in the type of nature that mirrors life: full of beauty, challenge, unpredictable circumstances, serenity, and difficulty.

By a matter of chance, I messaged a friend of mine and she mentioned that a ROCovery group was headed to Keene Valley for their annual Winter hike. I signed up and headed out.

This time I had the opportunity to realize what I hadn’t the first time. In my life, the familiar and being complacent was killing me. I hadn’t realized it but I was comfortable. I stopped being ambitious, I wasn’t paying attention to what was going around me, I was happy to go through each day grateful but not striving.

That all stopped when my world flipped upside down. My situation pealed my eyes WIDE OPEN, and indeed, I found just what I wanted but missed on my first visit, “something philosophical about the phenomena of finding love in solitude and peace when you’re at war with your fears.”

Despite all of the sorrow I was burdened with, the hike renewed my soul. I forged friendships, relished in the harsh winter wind and the strenuous climb through unbroken snow. I felt alive again. Purposeful.

That is another point in sharing this… I could have chosen so many ways to numb out and cope with my feelings but I chose to go back to my roots, to feel alive, and to sit with them. Think:

What areas of your life have you put on autopilot?

What do you do when you’re sad and feeling lost?

When all else fails, what can you count on?

I learned that I was putting my career and dreams on autopilot. I was going with the flow a little too much and not out chasing them down actively.

I learned that at the end of the day there are people who will pick me up when I’m down. My friends and family carried me through my sadness and didn’t hesitate to offer kind words, a hand, and gifts of time and things that I’d need. They were all I needed.

Although the hike didn’t begin with a serene sunrise, it did begin with fresh air and a great group of people. After staying the night in the hostel, laughing and eating, we took off in the morning to tackle Hedgehog and both Lower and Upper Wolf Jaw.

LWJ2018

Photo Cred: Juicy J, aka Jonathan Westfall

We never made it to UWJ but we made it and I learned how important it is to surround yourself with genuine people. There was swear words, but no negativity; frustration, but no projection; fatigue, but no quitting. The ROCovery crew has a great community that focuses on reframing statements so they’re positive, challenging themselves to the extreme, supporting each other, and meeting everyone where they are in their journey with acceptance and the mission to bring them to the next level.

It helped to clarify what I want in life and where I want to point my energy. Spoiler alert: I don’t want to focus on what I’m losing! I am ready to climb the mountain of my dreams and going on that hike helped me to find the compass that will point me in the right direction—loving myself and serving others.

The trip refreshed my soul and I was smiling for the first time in a week when we loaded up to head back home. On the way we stopped at The Mountaineer where I took the cover picture… a picture capturing the very spot where I sat eating my Chex and penned my original October 3rd, 2017 journal entry.  An entry that just happened to be the last thing written in the random journal I grabbed!

In more ways than one serendipity brought me back to where I left off. This time I was in a different place, visiting the same place. Although I didn’t write any robust reflection in my journal on this visit, the lessons wrote themselves on my soul. I have them to share with you another time.

For now, the only writing I did on the trip, some poems, will have to suffice.

December 29, 2018

5 am in the hostel

THis is when the wind speaks to me

when the panes of glass are cold

from its touch

and the inside heart of the

home is deep in slumber

breathe in, breathe out

a steady rhythm I can no longer

keep because nature’s wild presence

beckons

it pulls me from my sleep, like so

many fingers first caressing

then pressing in

to me

I am floating on the thoughts of my mind like helium balloons. They are tethered to me. Negativity, Wonder, Hope… There’s nothing wrong with feeling, thinking, wishing—except the problem is when they become concrete; when I focus not on the lightness of air buoying me ever higher toward my purpose in life, but when I see them as individual entities with specific colors, designs, shapes… I need to cut the ribbons and sink into myself. To stop floating and just be… Only then will I rise again.

Hostel Haikus

TIC TOCK HEATER AND

GRUMBLE, SNORE, HICCUP HUMAN—

STILL—THERE IS PEACE HERE

WIND BLOWS THRASHING TREES

AIR IS STILL WHERE PEOPLE SLEEP

THIS IS HOW TO BE

MORNING STILL SLEEPS LIKE

A TIRED CAT CURLED IN BED,

MY MIND, “IT’S PLAY TIME.”

Your Turn

 

I would love to hear from you too. My journey is about traveling my own road while embracing those around me. I am interested to see how my story resonates with the people who read it.

Maybe you could help by sharing your thoughts on the following reflections.

What lessons have you had to learn twice, or more, to really get it?

What places help refresh your soul?

How has serendipity showed up for you?

 

buco-balkanessi-738008-unsplash.jpg

It is all good when you’re floating high, feet off the ground, surveying life below you wondering why nobody is up there with you… until you realize that they aren’t there because life happens on the ground. In the trenches. With your feet in the mud. Not in the sky. Everyone else is where they should be.

I know this because I’ve been face down in the mud living life over the last week.

It’s real there. It’s raw there. It hurts there but it’s what I needed whether I like it or not.

I’m not going to go into the details regarding why I’m struggling on the ground instead of floating in the sky because I’m here to share one of the valuable lessons that came crashing down with me. It is a lesson I think we all need to hear.

The lesson, as most do, starts with a story.

I was floating through life on a handful of helium balloons.

Picture it: thousands of multi-colored ribbons curling around my fingers; varied orbs of bright hues bobbing toward the sky, undulating me up and then down but never quite to the ground; feeling the incredible lightness of survival, of focusing on keeping my grip tight and trusting that the wind would blow me in the right direction.

Sounds great right?

It wasn’t.

I need Earth beneath my feet. I need substance. I need stability. I needed to see that holding on to those delicate ribbons was an act of control that was bound to lose out. There comes a time when you can’t hold on. So here I am. Some of the ribbons have been cut for me and others I am just now choosing to let go. My legs are shaky, everything looks scary from down here but I am just where I need to be.

Those balloons represent all of the things I look(ed) to for validation in life: accolades the color of shiny gold trophies; my relationship—a crimson heart-shaped balloon; friends—warm yellows in various shapes representing the ways they need and depend on me; a bright orange sun shaped orb—the definition of me as a mother… and so many more. So many external sources of support that I can’t count or name them all. Inf act, they’ve been carrying me through life so long I don’t even know if I notice them anymore.

I don’t know how to live life without deriving my value from the actions, thoughts, and feelings of others. At times I’ve felt like I’ve made gains in this regard but my most recent situation has highlighted just how far I still need to go. In the depths of my sadness, I have been struggling to sit with my feelings, to feel them and let them go.

Instead, I find myself texting my friends, looking for work to do to keep my mind off of things and recounting all of the ways I’m “good enough.”

(Which, by the way, I’d like to point out are not bad things to do, many people turn to numbing out in more serious ways such as drugs, alcohol, shopping, binging on food or T.V which aren’t healthy coping mechanisms either—I know because I’ve been there in the past too. Although my coping is healthy the level of my dependence on them was not sustainable. I need something with more substance).

Why is that?

Because I’ve been buoying myself on the perception of others. I’ve been holding on too tightly to the outside world’s definition of me and floating through life like that.

I need to cut loose and let myself hit the ground.

I need to wallow in the pain and suffering and learn to look in the mirror at the bruised and battle-weary results of that process with pride and contentment, regardless of who else is or isn’t in the background.

I need to become aware of the moments of weakness and the behaviors I engage in to lighten the mood.

I need to let go of my addiction to validation.

I’m starting today by climbing out of the mud, brushing myself off, and utilizing the tools I’ve gathered through my journey because, although I’m not where I want to be, I’ve come a long way.

I have struggled with wondering if I’m good enough for much of my life and haven’t quite achieved true satisfaction with who I am. I have also worked hard to embrace and appreciate many of the ways I am awesome.

Throughout the process, I’ve garnered a solid arsenal of honesty, transparency, compassion, empathy, resiliency and constant reflection as well as a strong network of support, the best friends, and an endlessly loving family. I am not beginning this mission from scratch. I have what I need. I’m going to be walking my journey and rebuilding from there, this time with my eyes on the horizon instead of the clouds.

How cliche that all of this change and renewal would happen at the close of a long year full of trauma. I rang 2018 in with the realization that my relationship was in jeopardy, followed shortly on the heels by not one, but two emergency surgeries where I lost babies I so desperately wanted, a mental break when my brother’s baby was born, all of that intermixed with two terrifying cancer diagnoses in my family, my mother’s relocation to the other end of the country, my own scare with skin cancer, and ending with a traumatic breakup that shattered what I thought I knew about everything. This year literally broke me mentally, physically and emotionally.

I’m not going to say it was all bad because I also finished writing four books, self-published two of them, am in the process of traditionally publishing another, had four poems published, met some new, wonderful friends, have celebrated Tyler’s 13th year of life which also happens to be his first surgery free, and have made tons of progress on my goals.

Still… goodbye and good riddance 2018! I appreciate all of the opportunities for growth but I’m ready to reap the benefits of all the strength I’ve been building. Bring on 2019 and all of the self-love with it!

In 2019, which I’m deeming Two Thousand Mineteen, I’m not reinventing myself. I’m just tweaking what I’ve already spent three decades building and making it better. Here’s how if you’re interested in following this journey with me:

 

  • Instead of People Pleasing I’m going to please myself by helping people.

 

  • Instead of Seeking Validation I’m going to embrace the support my people give me and respond to each of their sentiments of my worth with “I know” until I actually do.

 

  • Instead of Denying My Worth I’m going to focus on valuing it and setting standards that honor it.

 

  • Instead of Overworking I’m going to rate every commitment on a scale of 1-10, without the ability to choose 7, and only engage in things that I value as an 8 or higher.

 

  • Instead of Worrying About the Future I’m going to reflect on how my decisions and actions in the present are setting me up for a future I will love—whatever shape or form it may be

 

  • Instead of Rehashing The Past I’m going to look at it like a movie—one that elicits emotions and teaches lessons but is no longer who or where I am.

 

That is where my lessons have gotten me. I will leave these ideas with you for the end of this year and suggest that you take a look at what you’ve been relying on to get you through life too. What ribbons have you tied to your wrists to carry you on? What do you need to let go of to get your feet back on the ground?

There’s no time like the present. See you in Two Thousand and Mineteen — The year of loving yourself ❤

The future is a microscope. You can look back on events and observe them more closely, from a new angle, truly discovering what you were meant to learn. Time is like magnification, as years go by you are able to inspect the moments of your life more deeply than you would’ve imagined.

Twenty two years ago I learned how to ride a bike, and just today while I was in a crowded surgical waiting room 1,400 miles away from home it taught me a valuable lesson about life.

My brother and I are only eleven months apart in age. We are very competitive and growing up I lived by the homage, “anything he can do, I can do better.” When we got our first bicycles it was no different. They were shiny, new, two-wheeled tickets to adventuring the neighborhood, but they had training wheels on them. You couldn’t race the neighbor kid around the block, or challenge your brother to a broomstick duel with an extra set of sissy wheels! So, my brother and I rode around long enough to gain confidence and placate our parents before we began begging for them to remove the training wheels – we felt trained and wanted to be set out on our own.

My father agreed that you couldn’t hit terminal velocity with all of the extra weight and went to get his wrenches, he lived by the homage, “Let them spread their wings and fly, we know enough first aid to patch ‘me up if they fall.” My mom however, lived by the line, “Everything in this world is deadly, let’s put them in a bubble… damn-it John?! I’m going to chain smoke until it’s over.”

This time it was three against one; my dad got his tools and my mom fired up her trusty lighter.

I remember the eager anticipation. John (the junior one) and I were bouncing back and forth proclaiming victory, challenging each other to all sorts of races and competitions. We had no doubt that we would be successful in learning, rightly so, how many grownups still ride bikes with training wheels? Regardless of what went down that sunny afternoon, we both knew we were on our way to two-wheeled freedom.

In spite of our enthusiasm and confidence, riding bikes is tricky business, as any physics major (or human who has learned to ride a bicycle) will tell you. Speed provides stability, but without speed stability cannot be acquired. My mother, being a human who learned how to ride a bike (not a physics major) knew this, and thus was worried. It’s inevitable that falling happens because it’s really an equation that takes complete balance, both of stability and speed, and of your awkwardly long child-limbs. She was worried, but it was happening whether she was ready for it or not.

Much to my mother’s chagrin and my father’s pride I took my first wingless flight (which ended much like you would imagine flying without wings does). I climbed on my shiny new aluminum frame of freedom and began my first journey down the road. My mother was terrified. She had a hard time letting go.

Literally.

As my dad helped my brother get going by holding his seat, so my mom did for me. As John picked up speed, so did I. As my brother gained stability, my dad let go, releasing him to experience the triumph of a milestone conquered and hard-earned. As I gained speed, my mom let go… and then quickly decided it was much too dangerous and yanked me by the hair straight off my bike. In the last moment as I was approaching the barrier of speed, stability balance, she saw my wobbling tires and in a panic of concerned protection reached out and grabbed the nearest thing, my ponytail.

I’m no physics major, but I am a human who has learned how to ride a bike so I know that “an object in motion remains in motion” and that’s what happened. My bike careened down the sidewalk solo style as I crashed ass-first on the pavement. John was off riding his bike and I was watching from the ground trying not to cry. At the time I was furious with my mother; years later I found it funny.

Today, as I sit in a waiting room while my son has a routine procedure for an anything but a routine reason, I have found a new life lesson within that story: worry not only does no good, it actually makes things worse.

If my mother had let me fly, I may have crashed as I did when she stopped me, but it would have been part of the journey. I would’ve gotten up and dusted myself off to try again because I was backed by confidence and determination. It is a right-of passage to bruise your rear end on the noble path to two-wheeled freedom. On the contrary it is not cool to tell your friends you crashed because your overly nervous mother pulled your ponytail. Her worry took something away from my experience. Her worry didn’t change the outcome, I did fall and I did eventually learn to ride my bike without training wheels. Her worry didn’t protect me, rather her reaction to it made the very thing she didn’t want to happen occur. Worry makes things worse.

My son was in Nebraska having an endoscopy to check if he was rejecting his transplanted small intestine when this memory came back to me. I was worried. I was sick with worry, angry with worry, tired from worry, lost in worry, obsessed with worrying about what was going on. My worrying was chipping away at the resolve I so desperately needed to get through the situation. I was falling apart. My mother looked at me calmly and said, “Baby. I know you’re scared, but worrying won’t change anything. In fact, it’s only going to make it worse.” She’s right. She must learn more quickly than I do.

I can’t change the fact that my son, Tyler, was born with severe medical needs. I can’t change that his body is a standing testament to medical miracles and the compassion of strangers. I can however, embrace the journey. If I take a deep breath and let things take their course I can realize that there are many people on this journey with us. From the moment I found out we were going to have to travel from our hometown in New York to Omaha, Nebraska to get Tyler checked out, countless people have shown their support. A woman I work with gave him a gift card to buy himself something nice, another one priority mailed an overnight package containing a game for us to play on the trip. My mother took the time off of work and booked train tickets without me even asking her to come along. My coach’s wife set us up with aquarium passes during our layover in Chicago. Hundreds of people have left messages and called to check in and raise our spirits. Strangers volunteered their time and energy by transporting us to and from the hospital and providing dinner at the Ronald McDonald House while we were there. I can’t change the life I was given, but I can change how I view it. I can let worry go and embrace the journey. I can live by the line, “what will be will be.”

Under the microscope of time I have gained wisdom, wisdom that my mother must have acquired before me.

I have no worries.

8:55.

I have five minutes. Jesus.

I slammed the car into park in the middle of a field, next to an ocean of bumpers at what seemed like miles from the entrance to the competition venue. My workout was scheduled to start at 9:00 and a series of misfortunate events led to this moment. I grabbed my backpack – full of doubt, but going through the motions anyways- threw it over my shoulder and ran as fast as I could towards the arena floor.

The running is your warm up, you’ll make it. They will wait at least five minutes for everybody, you don’t need  to prepare for grunt work, there’s no barbell or skill in this WOD…

You’re going to lose this workout anyways, you’re not properly warmed up. You’re going to look like a dumbass in front of 1,000’s of people. No one here knows you anyways, nobody would even know that you quit. It’s not even your fault that you’re missing the workout. Going makes no sense. It’s 85 degrees out, go back to your friends and family and spend the day on the beach with them, vacation only happens once a year. Once a lifetime…

With my thoughts weighing me down more than the three pairs of shoes and other accessories in my gym bag, I ran to the staging area for workout one. I was at the Crush Games in Miami, Florida, 1,400 miles away from home, on the verge of losing the opportunity I had worked so hard for. After three weeks of grueling qualifier workouts, anxiety over the leaderboard and the trip itself, I had finally conquered my demons, weaknesses and doubts but was going to watch it all slip away with the sands of time. I fought through  five workouts on day 1 and made it to the final day of competition and couldn’t believe it could be over in a matter of seconds, that a small mistake was going to take it all away. Despite all of my preparation, I was going to miss my workout by minutes and have no chance of anything but last place.

I slipped on my nanos anyways, said a prayer, and approached the staging area. I looked around me and saw tons of men swinging their arms and stretching. Are they getting ready to workout? There was a group of girls coming off of the arena floor soaked in sweat. Is that my heat? I couldn’t figure out what was going on. It was just 9:02, they couldn’t be done already.Could they?  Had I missed my workout? I was confused.

It wasn’t my first time being disoriented and confused that morning. I woke up early to ensure I’d get to the arena on time and made my way to the grocery store. I was staying with a friend’s grandma and brought my son along for the journey. Everyone was burned out from the first day of competition so I was on my own for the finals, they were all sleeping in and heading to the beach for the day. I was a little sad to miss out, but I had already come so far. I wanted to have some food prepped so I didn’t have to rely on festival food (although the paleo meals they served were out of this world!). I rushed in and out of the store with my pocket book in my grocery bag so I could run to the car and have time to sneak in a coffee stop on the way.

I cranked the music and set my GPS for Tropical Park, Miami, fresh and ready to attack the final day of competition. The first day taught me a lot about myself and I was thrilled with my performance as Professional athlete. Leading up to the Crush Games the idea of pro seemed like a mistake, like a label I achieved by lucky chance. Yet, after two top ten finishes in a stacked field and no last place finishes on day 1 I was excited. I was ready. I was confident. I was not paying close enough attention…

When I got to the first toll booth and went to pay, I realized my grocery bag was torn down the side. By some twist of fate my two bags of beef jerky, three pouches of baby food, banana and gatorade were snug in place, but my pocketbook was gone (I guess you can separate a crossfitter from her life line and cash, but never from her food – even fate knows that)!

At first I couldn’t comprehend what was going on, but once it sunk in I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do – go back to the store and search for it but miss my competition, head to the competition and work out all day but be far from home without any money or ID, losing all of my personal information? Neither option was appealing.

I panicked and called the grocery store. While I was on hold I got a call from a Florida number, a good samaritan found my pocket book in the parking lot and located my number inside. I guess the decision was made, I had to pick it up which meant I was never going to make it to the arena in time.

With mixed emotions I made the 15 minute drive back to the Winn Dixie. I was happy to be fortunate enough to get my belongings back, including the cash that was in it and a $300 blank check. I gave the woman who found it $20 and a gigantic hug, and although I was relieved a part of me was still devastated. This journey had already been about so much more than working out, or coming to Florida, or doing well… I was finally realizing my own potential. I felt like I belonged and after years of dedicated training I was overcoming my self doubt. I was feeling confident and kicking more ass than I thought I ever could, but now it was over. There was no way I would make the hour drive and be on time for my heat.

With a full pocketbook and a heavy heart I got back in my rental car. What to do now?

Go to the Crush Games, even if you miss your first workout, you can do the last two, you might even have an advantage because you’ll be fresh. You didn’t come here to win anyways. You can socialize and be a fan… Noah Ohlsen and Leaha West are there… Brooke Wells, Talayna Fortunato, Lulu Herrera…

Go to the beach. Your son misses you and it isn’t Ani’s job to watch him all day. The workout you’re missing is the only one you had a chance at anyways.The last workout is muscle ups and you suck at them. Do you really want to fail at muscle ups in front of thousands of people? You’ve already spent enough money, don’t waste your last day in Florida, be with your friends and family. Enjoy the beach…

It made sense to go home. In fact, given the morning I had it seemed silly to even drive the hour trip to the Crush Games. I put in a stellar effort Day 1, and to no fault of my own (other than trusting a flimsy grocery bag) Day 2 was shot. When I planned the trip, I wasn’t even sure I’d make it through Day 1 of qualifying to Day 2 so it really wasn’t a loss. In fact, it was a win because my pocketbook was returned to me and I had two top 10 finishes under my belt already. Plus, I was going to get a relaxing day on the beach to say farewell to Florida. So I did what every irrational person would do, I decided to speed through the hour trip to the competition arena on a small hope that I might make it on time.

Steve Jobs said, “The ones that are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.” I’m not in the business of saving the world, but I am in the business of making my world better, of being the best version of myself, of stretching myself past discomfort, past society’s expectations, past what I think I’m capable of so that I can test my mettle. At the end of the day I know what I’m made of, and I want to leave this world with no regrets. I have just enough crazy to persist against all odds, sometimes I get the short end of the stick, and others it works out. That’s the thing about success though, it only comes at the end of a long struggle. You never know unless you try. So I tried. I arrived at the arena two minutes late with hope and nanos, on an empty stomach and a full heart. I took a deep breath and looked around.

I know there are guys warming up, but the girls coming from the arena don’t have the pro numbers on their arms. I think they’re the am class. Maybe since I’m in the first heat I’m early. There are only five girls in my heat and ten girls in the second heat, that’s not a lot of people. Maybe they’re all warming up and the guys are just here early?

If heat 1 only has five people, then the ten girls in heat 2 would be here. There’s no way 14 girls are late. There are 10 girls coming off of the competition floor, it is probably the second heat of pros. The number codes may have changed, you didn’t even check in so you wouldn’t know. If there was still two heats of women left to go… wouldn’t heat 2 be waiting here instead of men? You missed it.

My confused daze was interrupted by a staff member with a clip board, “What are you doing here?” he asked. I told him my heat was scheduled for 9:00. Now he looked confused. He asked me if I was a man because the men were scheduled for 9. After some discussion he informed me that my heat, the women’s pro heat, wasn’t until 10. I screamed with joy. Sometimes your worst day can highlight the beauty of little things. I was going to make it. Not only was I going to make it, I had time to warm up, stretch, eat AND drink coffee. I told him I could kiss him and jogged away.

An hour later I approached the staging area again. Ready to go and full of confidence. I belonged there. Against all odds I made it because I put in the work. Now it was time to reap the benefits. The workout was a grunt job consisting of a 10 calorie ride on the death… I mean assault bike, 40 yard object carry with a 100lb medball, 60 yard sled drag with 90lbs, followed by a sled drag back over the same distance, then a final 40 yd. 100lb med ball carry and short sprint to the finish . I was more than ready to do work and it seemed fitting that it was taking place in a horse arena. I slammed through the burn in my legs and lungs and blasted through the heat leading the pack by a full minute. I came in 7th overall, clutching my best finish of the weekend. Nothing will ever take away the sense of accomplishment I felt. The confidence that was built in five minutes in the sand and sun. The relief that my craziness isn’t in vain. The sense that my decision to persist in hope made my world better.

The trip to Miami was a wild ride and in the end it not only taught me to believe in myself, but in the goodness of humanity as well. I will be back Crush Games, more prepared than ever (meaning I will have a purse so I don’t lose my money and I will be way better at muscle ups). In the meantime I will be dumping my heart and soul into training,  giving it every ounce of energy and hour I’ve got because I’m just crazy enough to make it work. Quitting day 2 was given to me on a silver platter, nobody would’ve have known about it, and those that did wouldn’t have blamed me, but I’m crazy enough to believe even when the universe makes it easier to quit than to keep going. I suggest you do the same. The world will serve you a buffet of excuses, be strong enough to avoid the temptation and go for it.  

Yesterday my son called me “Sir.”

 

I was entertained then, I’m furious now.

 

Opposite emotions I know, but hear me out…

 

I’m a single mom. I’m a teacher. I lift weights. I like to be in charge. I’m confident in my own skin. I race dirtbikes.I eat like a hippopotamus, in both volume and style. I like to wear pants, both literally and figuratively. These are things I’m proud of, these are things my son speaks of with pride.

 

These are things he believes only a man can do.

 

This is what infuriates me. Originally when he called me “Sir” I was flattered. I like being different than the cultural stereotype of a woman, but as I thought about it I realized that I’ve been bringing my son up with an incorrect notion. Although he realizes that my behavior is outside of societal norms, and he celebrates that, he still buys into society’s sell point. He thinks that if you exhibit the qualities of confidence, strength and power, then you are a man. Despite being immersed in the home of an independent women he still sees the female sex as an inferior part of the species. Instead of believing that women are capable of being these things, he labels women with those qualities “men.” I’ve somehow allowed him to believe the opposite of what he sees.

 

This breaks my heart.

 

It confuses me.

 

I also like to wear dresses. I paint my nails and wear makeup to work every day. I’m a reader and a writer. I am soft. I am compassionate. I cook with vigor and diversity in both volume and style. I like to gossip. These are things I’m proud of, these are things my son speaks of with condescending humor.

These are things we both believe all women do.

Yes, I’m overanalyzing the things that fall out of the mouth of babes, but he is my babe. Yes he is nine years old, and yes he was being silly, but this problem is neither of those things. It is significant, relevant, and horrifying. Why can’t women be feminine and strong at the same time?

 

I thought by being both strong and feminine I was teaching my impressionable child that women have value and should be treated as equals. I make a conscious effort to talk with him about these things. We discuss gender stereotypes. Yet it isn’t enough to combat the constant flow of our cultural norms, the perpetuated standard that women are not supposed to be powerful. I guess it’s not even strong enough for me to overcome; I believe that I’m strong and independent. I believe that I am different than most women.

Am I part of the problem…

What do you believe?

Sometimes life hurts. It hurts really bad. The kind of hurt that kicks you in the gut of your soul and brings you to your knees, breathless.

Life wears steel toe boots.

Then while you’re down on the ground, disoriented, life curb stomps your jaw into a cement block and demolishes your teeth leaving you helpless and mangled. Bleeding.

Life can be the biggest bully, throwing you into a pit of debilitating sadness unexpectedly or in the turn of a second. Life can be like an abuser holding you captive in a gigantic hole. The thing about it is that life isn’t always like this. Many times life is good. Life brings happiness and fulfillment. Yet, when it is being harsh an abusive, it’s hard to see anything beyond the dark hole circumstance tosses you in.  That hole is your emotions. It’s a frightening pit of worry, anxiety, and fear. The only way out is up, and it’s difficult. Luckily there are steps that can help guide you through your journey because life has been around since the beginning, and others have suffered and overcome. They have survived and left behind a map of sorts to climbing your way out of the hole, to overcoming soul crushing sadness.

Step 1

Remain calm, don’t let your heart rate increase. A higher heart rate burns more energy. This climb will be treacherous and you will need all of the energy you’ve got. Take deep breaths. Focus on one thing at a time and keep it together. You can’t climb out of a hole this deep in a panic.

Step 2

Turn your brain off and go through the motions. Let autopilot take over. You can’t worry about the top, or the journey, or the bottom of the hole. The only thing worrying changes is your ability to stay positive. You need to stay focused on the what’s going right and remain calm – just put one hand in front of the other, step by step. Eventually this will carry you to the top.

Step 3

Keep your face always towards the sun. Even when the sun softly in its slumber sleeps, face its direction because it will be back when daylight comes, or when the clouds dissipate and move out of the way. This keeps hope alive and provides direction. Under no circumstances should you let the darkness consume you, even when you’re in its depths at the bottom of the pit, look towards the light.

Step 4

When you get tired, as everyone invariably does, let those around you give you a push or a pull. They can’t climb for you, but they can provide much needed help. Even the strongest of us encounter challenges on our journeys out of the hole that cannot be overcome alone. Help is a necessary part of the climb.

Step 5

When you’re tired and you reach out for help, but no one is there, shout for them. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging your limitations, you are human, not a god. It often feels like a sign of weakness to ask for help, like you are giving in or giving up, but flip the coin on that thought. Think of it this way: have you ever felt annoyed or bad when a friend is truly in need and you are able to help them? No, helping people that you care about makes you feel good. Therefore, by calling out for help, you are in actuality helping someone else in turn. Even the best do better with help. You and your assistant will both be happier for it.

Step 6

Setbacks are part of the journey. Accept this as fact. Sometimes you’ll lose your footing, drop slightly, and get a small scare. Others you will fall all of the way back down, only to begin the painstaking journey again. Unfortunately, there will also be times when you’ve climbed out, reached the top, and just as your head is above the ground and you’re swinging your leg over the edge, tasting freedom, you will be kicked suddenly and abruptly back to the bottom. You will be back where you began exhausted and hurt even worse than before. Realize this, but also realize that you had the strength to climb out once already. You made it, however temporary, the truth is you are able to do this.  Not only are you capable, physical exertion and stress builds muscle. You are literally stronger than you were last time you climbed out, and you already know the way. This time it will be easier.

Step 7

Once you’ve gotten out of the hole your journey is not complete. Don’t forget. Don’t forget how you got in the hole. Don’t forget how you got out. Don’t forget that you are the one who overcame it. Don’t forget to recognize when others are struggling and to be the one that helps them climb. Don’t forget to share your knowledge with the world so that others have a map. Don’t forget to enjoy the sun while you’re above ground.

Never forget that life isn’t always a bully holding you captive. Enjoy it while you can.

Get up every morning and break your back. I don’t mean the figurative, back breaking labor reference, although many of you are working day in and day out to provide for your families; I mean literally. Get up, grab a blunt object or find a moderately high cliff and demolish yourself. Sever your spinal cord so that the damage is irreparable. Make sure you take your time, day after day add a little more trauma until you are paralyzed. Until you are unable to move your limbs. Until the physical you you’ve always known is gone and confined to a wheelchair, limited.

Sound crazy? It is. Sound ridiculous? It is. Sound asinine? It is. Sound impossible? It isn’t.

It is possible to do, and unfortunately many people are working on paralyzing themselves slowly, day in, day out.

People are often paralyzed by fear. Without even realizing it their fears grab hold of them and squeeze tight, severing their ability to reach for happiness, progress and satisfaction. Eventually their paralysis leaves them unable to take steps towards the things they really want in life. Leaves them unable to recognize the person they’ve become. They are confined to the limits their fears have established, paralyzed.

Sound crazy? It is. Sound ridiculous? It is. Sound asinine? It is. Sound impossible? It isn’t.

In his introduction to the book The Alchemist Paulo Coelho describes the four obstacles to reaching your dreams and one of them happens to be our own behaviors and routines. He describes it beautifully stating:

“Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering that is apparently         bearable; the latter goes on for years and, without our noticing, eats away at our soul,   until, one day, we are no longer able to free ourselves from the bitterness and it stays        with us for the rest of our lives.”

Our own comfort is what kills us. So that leaves the question… what is the opposite of comfort? If getting comfortable in our lives, enduring the day in, day out grind is the “bearable suffering”, then what is the alternative?

The opposite of comfort is discomfort.

Doing something we fear is the highest level of discomfort.

Giving into our fears leaves us comfortable and complacent.

Giving into our fears leaves us paralyzed and limited. It leaves us with a life that fits the pattern and routine of society with predictable goals and behaviors. It isn’t always comfortable, but it is expected.

It’s expected and predictable, but it isn’t always fulfilling. One of my favorite quotes comes from Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman who did what was right and fought for her dreams rather than doing what a woman in her position was “supposed” to do. She lived a fulfilling life that inspired others. She said,

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop                to look fear in the face… You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Fear comes in many disguises, it has a variety of methods it uses to paralyze you. Some of them are so innocuous that you may not even recognize them. So, how do you face your fears and live an unrestricted life? You have to do everything you think you can’t.

Even if that something sounds crazy. Even if it is ridiculous. Even if it seems asinine. Especially if it seems impossible, because it isn’t.

Everything is possible to try, and it is the trying that frees you from your fears. It isn’t about success. It isn’t about perfection. It is about progress and happiness. The true measure of a life well lived is the smiles that it gives. What makes you smile? What do you do to make others smile? What are you scared of?

Go out and do those things.

Remember that even if doing something you fear leads to “intense, unexpected suffering,” Paulo Coelho keenly reminded us that it will pass quickly. You can overcome it and come out on the other side better for it.

Don’t let your fears paralyze you.

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Yesterday I faced my fears by competing in the 63kg weight division at the Elmira Open Olympic Weightlifting meet. I was scared of doing poorly because of my injuries and lack of training (read here to learn about my unexpected diagnosis). I was scared of the competitive 63 class and wanted to do the 69kg weight with less lifters and a guaranteed place on the podium (read here to learn more about my fear of failure). I was scared of failing in front of people (read here to learn more about my struggles with trying to “perfect”).

I was scared, but I did it anyways. If I had failed, or did poorly, or gotten last place I would’ve been disappointed in my performance but not myself. I would’ve been glad I faced my fears and followed my dreams. I would’ve been satisfied with the intense suffering because it would have also provided intense fulfillment.

Fortunately I faced my fears, because despite all of the odds I was able to pace 3rd to two amazing athletes that I look up to. I strode through my discomfort and found that on the other side there is great happiness. I did what I thought I couldn’t.

I am not paralyzed.

I am free.

I stared at the box for what seemed like too long while my brain stumbled and sputtered, trying to grab at a feeling. It wasn’t long before it decided – it was angry. I let out a tight laugh as I reached onto the shelf and grabbed the box full of dirty dishes. Really?!!?? He packed dirty dishes? Why am I even surprised? Like he was really going to do something nice and pack up the last few things I need to be totally moved out. This is ridiculous. Who does that?

I turned towards his mother, box in hand, rage inside, and said, “This is why I left your son, he’s an ass.” In a moment of anger I told the sweetest woman I know something hurtful, not just to her, but to her son as well. I had a problem…

The thing about problems is that they are like weeds growing in your garden. It’s pretty obvious that weeds steal the nourishment from the other plants, and at times are an eye sore. It’s pretty obvious that everyone wants to get rid of them. It’s pretty safe to say that it’s obvious everyone knows you need to pull weeds from the roots because cutting them down and relying on the ‘ol “outta sight, outta mind” attitude gets you nowhere. The problem with problems is that most people view the weeds in the garden as other people’s actions and behaviors, or as poor experiences that occur in their lives. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Weeds in the garden, our problems, are the fears, insecurities and negative emotions we feel. Our problems are deeply rooted within ourselves, deeply rooted in feelings, and like weeds those feelings have messy, intricate webs o f roots buried beneath the ground.

My ex-fiancé packed up my dirty dishes, he didn’t even have the courtesy to wash some pots and pans. This wasn’t my problem (although it sure felt like one!). His actions are what fed my negative emotions, they were the sun and water, they helped those deep-seated weeds to grow. The real problem was rooted in my emotions. It wasn’t just the dishes, I brought them home and washed them in less than twenty minutes, dirty dishes weren’t the problem.

After four years in the relationship, dishes seemed to be a recurring trigger for arguments. On a rational level this makes no sense, they are easy to do and don’t take much time or energy, but for some reason situation: Who-Does-The-Dishes got out of hand. In the end our relationship crumbled and even post-breakup there was still plenty of hurt to go around. Instead of wallowing in my anger, I wanted to fix the problem. As Albert Einstein said, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results [is insanity].” I was feeling pretty insane and I needed change. I realized that my emotions were clouding my thought process, so I got out my notebook and decided I was going to look at the whole situation objectively, like a Scientist ruled by logic and rational thinking, void of emotional input. That’s when I stumbled on the idea of using the Scientific Method to solve problems. It’s pretty obvious that the world renowned and widely recognized method was created to find solutions to problems. It’s pretty obvious that emotions don’t belong in Science. It’s pretty safe to say that it’s obvious everyone knows about the Scientific Method. The thing is, most people try to solve their problems by looking at what other people did – like me, blaming my ex for packing dirty dishes, when the true problem was my emotions, not his actions. So, here is a new way to look at problem solving that gets to the roots of your emotions. It is a step by step process that has been working well for me the last few weeks.

STEP 1 Ask a Question

True questions do not have pre-existing answers, ask yourself something related to your problem with genuine curiosity, otherwise you will be going through steps to prove yourself right. The purpose of this is to determine the root of your problem and yank it out – if you know the answers then you don’t’ have a problem to begin with, or you’re just deluding yourself. You can ask some pretty basic things to begin with: Why am I feeling this way? How am I feeling? What is causing this?

STEP 2 – Conduct Background Research

You see the weed’s heady flowers, you know there’s a problem, now you must identify the roots. This is the worst and most important task. Research in this sense is compromised of observation and reflection. Be an observer of your emotional fluctuations, then trace them back to their roots. Figure out what caused them. When you engage in your problem, work backwards to unearth where it stems from. This is messy and at times heart breaking, but it is necessary. The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one – at this point you’re more than half way there.

STEP 3 – Construct a Hypothesis

Problems are meant to be solved. Pulling those weeds is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it, and you are your own life’s gardener. Now it’s time to come up with a plan to pull the weeds from the roots since you’ve identified them. Be specific and visualize your desired outcome: life without the problem. Now that you know the root of your problem, you can come up with an idea of how it might be solved.

STEP 4 – Engage in an Experiment

The word experiment shares a root with the word experience – you need to set up specific experiences to produce change. Your hypothesis should include specific ways to solve your problem. Now you must determine the steps or course of action needed to make it happen. Choose one method and follow it through to the end, but remember: DON’T analyze your emotions or the method’s effectiveness as you go – just do the motions and take note of the results… at this point you are a rational, scientific, experimenting machine.

STEP 5 – Analyze Your Data and Draw Conclusions

Now you can look at your feelings. To analyze the course of action you need to ask yourself: Did it work? Why? or Why not? How did I feel at each part of the change? Is the problem solved? This is important! Experiments, even the ones that do not work, teach us a lot about what to do next. If your emotional response has not been changed, then you need to go back to Step 1 and start the process over.

If your emotional response has been changed, it’s important that you understand the relationship between the root of the problem and the problem itself. Make sure you’ve pulled up all of the roots so your weed doesn’t come back. Identifying how you were able to pull the roots will provide valuable information for solving future problems . This is wonderful because like weeds, problems are inevitable.

STEP 6 – Communicate Your Results

Problems are not only inevitable, but also common. They are a natural part of the garden of life. In fact, removing them provides satisfaction and room for your flowers to grow. Without overcoming problems, your life would have no growth. Problems are an essential part of a high-quality, purposeful life. Share your experience and knowledge to enhance the human connection and to help others grow as well… That’s what I’m doing here.

My problem, after employing the scientific method, turned out to be an emotional void. The dishes weren’t the problem, but rather a relationship where I felt like I wasn’t appreciated or respected. It was MY feelings that were the problem. The dishes, as I realized after conducting some background research and reflecting, were a symbol of those emotions. Since he wouldn’t help wash them, I felt like I was “stuck” with all of the mundane responsibilities of home-life, and that he didn’t care enough about me to help out. After going through the problem solving method step by step, I decided my course of action would be to be honest about my feeling each time I was angry, and it worked. Instead of fuming over the situation I called my ex and explained to him that I didn’t mean to complain about the dishes, but that I was feeling like they represented a feeling I had. After a long discussion it came out that we both felt like we were doing a lot, but not getting much in return. Instead of arguing, we came to the conclusion that our relationship was missing the foundation of shared interests and beliefs and that our personalities were poison to each other. In the end, the action of openly discussing my frustration resulted in a positive outcome. My experiment taught me to communicate my feelings in the future rather than hang on to them. Additionally, my dishes are clean, my ex and I are friends, and next time I get mad at somebody, I know exactly how to deal with my emotional reaction. Solving a deeply rooted problem has hopefully helped me to prevent some future ones from growing in my garden – now I can use that space to plant something pretty, just in time for spring :).

You pay attention closely. It’s new and beautiful and you don’t want to miss a thing. Every moment: the swift urgency, the patient calm, you absorb it all, nothing else matters – when you’re in love you pay attention to everything. You soak it up and pack away the tiny moments in your mind to be pulled out later, to be rehashed, remembered, and analyzed. In the beginning it is all interesting, and if you’re lucky – if you find your true love, that new feeling will continually revisit you after waves of stagnant plateaus, or angry bouts. You aim to please and give it everything you’ve got, like a sprinter taking off from the blocks, full of strength and energy and enthusiasm. Eventually things will slow down, habits will form, patterns will settle in, but in the beginning you burn with desire and can never get enough.

Food.

I love it.

Everyone loves food, but I have found, late in my life, a new relationship with food and my body. One that brings happiness and satisfaction in a variety of ways. In my early relationships I focused on what I thought would make me happy, I had expectations and set out to find food to satisfy them. Often times this led to regrets and unhealthy choices (and if I’m honest this statement could probably apply to my love life as well!). Instead of listening to my body, I made choices based on cravings and wants. Now I listen to my body and have developed a healthy relationship with both it, and the fuel I feed it with.

My love affair with food began as most new relationships do, with a stage of curious wonder. After beginning Crossfit I was introduced to the Paleo lifestyle. I was interested in trying it out for performance’s sake – as a competitive addict, I was willing to do anything to get an advantage, so I dived in full force. I cleaned out all of my cupboards, researched a bunch of recipes, shopped for Paleo staples and began the learning process. Like a new lover, I was ready to go and acting hastily based on my intense feelings. I went out too strong and found myself lost in the kitchen, in the grocery store, and in my macros. It took awhile to dial it all in, and throughout the process I learned many valuable lessons.

Now, I’m not a scientist, a doctor, or an expert by any means, but I am a dedicated, committed lover. I have paid close attention to every detail of every bite of my food and the reactions my body had to it. Like a new lover I was absorbed in the process of eating healthy and pushing my body to its limits by carefully observing everything. After two years I have settled into comfortable patterns and habits, but I still haven’t lost that new love feeling. That’s how I know this is true love and I’d like to share with you what it has taught me. As we all know, the best relationships are the ones that bring out the best in ourselves.

Lesson – Cravings

In the past, my relationship with food left me with intense cravings and I would often find myself devouring a bag of chips, like literally an entire family sized bag of chips, or cookies. Afterwards I’d not only feel guilty, but my body would crash and I would feel unhealthy (again, not unlike many of my relationship choices with men in my early years…). Though it was never worth it, I continued to do it for years. I thought it was a sign of some moral weakness or character flaw, but after discovering healthy eating and paying attention to my body I’ve learned there are two types of cravings and once you know this, you can manage it. There was nothing wrong with me, I was just letting the wrong type of craving lead me.

The first type of craving is what I call a “tongue craving”. This is when you want something simply for the taste of it – for me I find that in the middle of the afternoon I crave the warm, bitter taste of tea on my tongue, and at the end of my longest days I want the sweet taste of chocolate. These cravings originate out of a need for pleasure and are fine in moderation. In my previous relationship with food, I let these cravings rule my world and it led to poor health because tongue cravings don’t honor what the body needs. There is science behind your insulin response and metabolic reactions to consuming processed, grain-filled foods, but again I’m not a scientist, just an intense lover. I encourage you to research the myriad information out there on your own because part of a new love affair involves getting to know your partner. (Here are some resources if you’re interested: Guide to Paleo for Beginners, Wheat Belly, the Godfather of Paleo – Loren Cordain).

Though tongue cravings don’t honor what the body needs, “body cravings” do. After you begin, and spend some time on your journey into healthy eating, you’ll become more in tune with your body. By paying close attention to what I eat and how it makes me feel, I’ve developed the ability to listen to my body. When it needs something it tells me and I don’t deny it what it wants (I’m a self-sacrificing lover). This is great because I feel satisfied and don’t have to restrict myself. Rather than feeling guilty for giving in to my cravings, if I understand they come from a need within me, I can indulge in them happily. For me, after intense conditioning I crave salty foods, and because I treat my body as a machine that requires high quality food (think 110 octane, not regular pump gas) I choose to have a sweet potato with sea salt and cinnamon, or a bag of Terra Sweet Potato Chips – yes, I still devour the whole bag as I did in my previous relationship, but now it’s a source of joy and satisfaction rather than guilt and disgust.

Lesson – Performance and Recovery

When you’re working hard, lifting and preparing for competition six days a week, your body takes a beating! I often get the question, “How do you do it all?” I am a single mother, full-time teacher, track coach, adventure enthusiast (seriously, I love random journeys and those things take time), motocross racer, and I train between 7 to 10 hour a week for competitive Crossfit. That level of activity takes a miracle, and I find that natural foods are it. If I eat clean and avoid gluten, processed sugars, and boxed foods I can do it all without fatigue or being tired. And eggs. That’s my other secret, eggs everyday keep me ready to play.

I log my food on and off and I log my workouts daily. As a result, over the past two years I’ve noticed some patterns. Resoundingly, my food intake has a direct impact on my performance and recovery. I cannot stress enough the importance of what you eat for doing well. Now, food isn’t everything, I also see similar patterns related to sleep, consumption of fish oil, and mobility, but food is the primary miracle maker.

Lesson – Keeping Ahead of Yourself

Now food is important to maintaining performance and recovery, but with a grown-up life and schedule, it’s difficult to keep it clean on short time frames and busy schedules. Another thing I’ve learned on my journey is to stay ahead of myself and to constantly reflect on my progress. I have to stay in touch with my relationship so I don’t accidentally slip and let it slide to the back burner of life’s priorities.

Whenever I’m listening to my body and it starts to tell me it’s not happy through fatigue, soreness, or a drop in performance, my first step is to log my food for 3-5 days. I’m typically lazy about it so I don’t write down quantities or types of calories I’m consuming, just what I’m eating. Usually what I find is that I’ve decreased the amount of veggies I’m eating. There is a ton of research and information about the health benefits of eating vegetables, but like a lover I base my decision on my feelings. I think with my stomach and not my brain.

To help remedy this I plan ahead. Every Sunday I make my breakfasts for the week so I can grab and go in the morning and I use this same mentality for veggies. I split my cauliflower, carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, and other vegetables into snack sized portions for the entire week so I can grab them quickly and keep my body fed properly. I like to mix it up too, so I’m not always grabbing the same types of veggies. You know what they say… variety is the spice of life.

(I also eat organic baby food, I know it’s weird, and trust me, I get a lot of funny looks, but it comes in pouches that require no utensils and no refrigeration. Plus, it’s all natural, so it is a very convenient source of fuel).

Lesson – Experimentation and Being Open to New Things

Speaking of variety… I used to fall for the same type (both food and men…) regardless of the fact that it never worked out. You can’t stick to a healthy relationship if it isn’t interesting, fun and deeply satisfying. I found that after I began to get comfortable with my new food choices, I began to experiment with them -this was the best thing that ever happened to my relationship with food.

I learned how to use spices in different ways (like adding a dash of chili powder and cinnamon to anything I cook with ground beef – try it and thank me later 🙂 and to eat foods I never tried before. This opened new avenues for me and also helped me to stay in love for the long haul. After hitting a stagnant plateau in a relationship it’s easy to start looking elsewhere, you know the thought, “Maybe that bag of Doritos would taste better than my usual…” By introducing new things to your existing relationship you keep it fresh and deter the need to look elsewhere. Try new things, don’t be scared to experiment.

Lesson – Annoying the hell out of… I mean Sharing Your Passion

Another pitfall of new relationships is going too hard too soon. It’s an honest mistake, when you fall in love it is so exciting and invigorating, you want to stand on the highest mountain with arms wide open and scream it to the world… the problem is the world isn’t always ready to hear you. For that reason I’ve learned that it’s important to scale your enthusiasm based on your audience. If someone solicits your advice, you can have a little more animation and include lots of information, but if it is someone who didn’t ask, you have to be careful how much you talk about it. Getting too excited about healthy eating will annoy a lot of people!

What I’ve found to work best is begin on some common ground and ease into the conversation about food from there. I realize you could just avoid talking about food choices altogether, and some people do include diet on the list of “never-talk-abouts” with religion and politics. I disagree though, when something is so life-changing and impactful, it should be shared. To overcome this taboo topic-block I like to let people tell me about their food habits and healthy choices, and then moderate how much I tell them based on that. For example, if my friend tells me she’s proud of herself for avoiding chips for the last two weeks, I talk to her about healthier alternatives to chips such as plantain chips, banana chips, or sweet potato chips. This way we can talk about a healthy diet as honoring your body, not restricting yourself. To stick with a relationship it has to be something you enjoy, not constant hard work.

Lesson – Loving Your Body Inside and Out

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my love affair with food has also taken me on a journey to loving myself. After getting rid of gluten for performance reasons I learned that I have been suffering from celiac disease my whole life. I didn’t know that it was possible to live without arthritic pain, depression, acne and stomach issues. I truly thought those were just natural human ailments. Since I’ve transitioned to clean eating, I have found a new way to live. Quite literally, my life is better without gluten in it.

As a result of getting healthy, I found that I have more energy which allows me to do more things that make me happy, which leads to satisfaction, which leads to a healthy self-image. Not only am I happy with the “inside” of my body, I am now much more happy with its outside appearance as well. Clean eating leads to a more natural body composition. When you’re body reaches homeostasis through proper nutrition and exercise, it becomes the best version of itself. Everybody has a different make up, but when you feel comfortable in your own skin your beauty shines in a more definitive, self-serving way no matter what the appearance of it is.

One last thing…

True love is the type of love that changes you for the better; a healthy relationship builds you up and lasts through the good times and bad. Developing a healthy relationship with food has helped me to become the person that I am today, one I am happy to share with the world. One that survives the good times and the bad times not only intact, but smiling the whole time.

I hope you can find happiness in your relationship with food too… and that you keep reading what I have to share with the world :).