thin perils

a kind of average of my size and shape then

When I lived in Austin I had a large friend group of women, and we often included their boyfriends and husbands in group events (their choice, never mine, and not because my husband lived in NYC . . . I wanted to be with my women, and when the men were there things changed a lot). During the period I was at my thinnest, one woman told me every single time her partner attended, “Don’t you sit near him,” and then she’d look me up and down and position them at the far end of the group from me. I never could figure out which one of us she wouldn’t trust:  me, as if I’d try to lure him, or him, as if he were not in control of himself.

Throughout that long period of my thinness, I heard similar comments from other women. I also heard all kinds of mean things about my size and shape, catty things, insulting things, things that derived from a kind of jealousy. I know women internalize misogyny, and I know a lot of it centers around physical appearance, and I know I’ve made my own share of such comments and judgments about thin women, and I know that for myself, they came very squarely out of jealousy. Cut that bitch down so she doesn’t ….WHATEVER.

around the time a couple of friends told me I’d gotten too thin

Still, it surprised and hurt me when these comments were directed at me, and especially by women who were my friends. I tried always just to smile back — for they were always smiling at me with all their might, and adding in nervous laughter too — and I knew I was no threat to any of them because I don’t like men and I really don’t like attention from men. Nothing makes me dash to the other side of the room faster. But more than that, I was no threat to them because they were my friends! I did have friends who were supportive in a number of ways, and some who pulled me aside in concern that I became too thin for a while, but the one(s) who saw me as a threat never saw me as anything but a threat.

It always made me so sad. It made me sad for myself, and for the jealous (or whatever) women, and about this stupid culture. But I’m thinking about it again because I think I’m back on track. Today marks one complete and uninterrupted week of daily yoga and walking and eating better. The scale is moving but the part that matters most is that my relationship to those things feels like it has found its groove again. I do look forward to having my thin body back; golly did it feel good. For me, feeling light physically went so beautifully with feeling light in my mind. I felt so good in my clothes, and no matter what anyone else thought, I thought I looked good for the first time in my life (misogyny directed at myself all those heavier years). I want that physical feeling back, so light that I can run, so light that I can pull on my skinny jeans and Converse and bounce lightly out the door. I want that feeling where my breasts were so much smaller and lighter that I could sleep easily, and clothes looked better and felt more comfortable. That body was just for me. Like many women with profound trauma histories, and especially profound sexual trauma histories, when I felt threatened I raced back into my fat body where I felt safe from men, so when I feel heavy, it drags along the implication that I must feel threatened. (And of course I DO, we have the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief who is an existential threat to us all, and to the whole world.)

It can be disheartening to find myself out of breath 10 minutes into a level 1 class, when I could take a 90-minute level 2 class without even breaking a sweat, but you work with who and where you are, and you work with the body you actually have. I need to be in better shape when winter comes and my daily wood-hauling work begins. But this is the eternal lesson of mindfulness: drop the story and be where you are. Child’s pose if I need it. The discipline of showing up on the mat is the biggest point, not what I do or how long I do it. I haven’t yet found the inner quiet, but I assume that will come. One thing that occurs to me that’s very different this time than the last time I started this path is that we now have a nightmare government. When I started my last mindfulness reboot, we had President Obama, and now…..well, we have this terrifying country.

One challenge I have now that I didn’t have when I lived in Austin relates to my husband. My experience with husbands is a common one, based on what I’ve read: sabotage. “C’mon honey, just eat some ice cream with me.” “You don’t have to diet this weekend, right? I’ll make us some lasagna.” Etc etc etc. In Austin, I had ~18 days to focus hard on eating only and exactly what I wanted to eat, to do yoga whenever I wanted, to walk when and for how long I wanted. When you live alone, some things are just simpler. Then I’d go to NYC for ~12 days and either give in and then regain ground when I got back to Austin, or struggle with him about food. His cooking is heavily based on frying things, and he uses gallons of oil. (I almost never use oil, except some drizzles of olive oil, and I never ever fry anything.) And his cooking is delicious! But he’ll accommodate me by making a big salad…..with glugs of his homemade blue cheese dressing. Or a Caesar salad and if you know what goes into that salad you know it’s not healthy. Or he’ll deep fry some vegetables for me. NOW, I am alone Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for dinners. He gets here Friday afternoons around 4, and leaves for the city Mondays after dinner. We have a lot to figure out. I tend to walk more when he’s here, and I can easily roll out my yoga mat and do yoga whenever I want (plenty of space here, unlike in our apartment in the city), but the eating thing is HARD.

I want my most comfortable body back. It’s my body and it isn’t for anyone else. I don’t look forward to women’s reactions when I get it back. To be honest, I never noticed any different reaction from men no matter what I weighed; I’m older now and largely invisible to them which is also a relief. But it’s the women’s reactions that were the most problematic, and I have my own shaming self to deal with, my own jealous snarky commentary to grapple with.

Onward. It’s a rainy Monday here at Heaventree, but another beautiful day. xoxoxo

tilted caboose

off trackTHAT is me — that little caboose tipped on its side, fallen off the rails. But it’s not all the way on its side, it’s not unrightable, it’s just slipped off the tracks a bit and it’ll take a lot of effort and maybe some help to get it going again.

I do love a good metaphor.

This year has been . . . well, I don’t know how to characterize it. It’s been good! Such wonderful things have happened. Marnie had Ilan, one of the top five most beautiful babies ever born in this world. I got to spend a month there, helping her pass time during the two weeks before the birth, and helping them ease into life with their new boy. Lucky me! We went to China, surely the most foreign place we’ve been (which is so weird, because on the surface of things it was the least foreign). Katie is pregnant with a daughter, who will be born mid-September. Our sweet little Oliver continues to make us all so happy with his gentle nature and easy delight. I have my beautiful little home that I love so dearly, with Nancy right next door and friends nearby, and I have done my ordinary routine of life in two great cities.

But it has simultaneously made it hard on me in ways that I haven’t dealt with as I’d like. I’ve put on TEN pounds. Ten. I feel every last ounce, too, and it doesn’t feel good. I’ve gotten out of the rhythm of doing yoga, completely. The month in Chicago was tough — I’m allergic to cats and they have two, and it was freezing, and etcetcetc. Meditation? Nope. Walking? On rare occasion. Usually I walk a lot in New York, like 10 or 20 times as much as I do in Austin (miles-wise), but the tree pollen has been so awful here the whole time that I’ve stayed indoors, sneezing and coughing and battling sinus headaches. So almost no walking, even.

I miss myself.

I miss morning green smoothies. I miss feeling great in my body. I miss the luxurious feeling of movement in yoga. I miss my super healthy, yummy dinners. I miss walking and listening to a podcast. I miss feeling mindful, and the clarity and slowness of time that it brings. I miss feeling present.

These things must (and have been, for the last two years) be part of myself, whatever the external circumstances! It needs to not matter where I am, the circumstances of my daily life need to not be an excuse or explanation for why I don’t do life my way. AARGH. I feel so much better in every way when I do those things.

So today I recommit myself to myself. I’m in New York one last day, which means certain things (no morning green smoothie, no super healthy dinner, no walk given the pollen I literally see blowing in the wind through my watery, itchy eyes), and tomorrow I fly back to Austin, but today I recommit myself to mindfulness. I recommit myself to yoga, and plan to do at least half an hour of yoga this evening while Marc sees patients. I recommit myself to drinking lots of water. Just that, just for today.

If you’re off track too, in whatever way that matters to you, get on track with me. Think in the big picture way and start gently. I am not caring about what the scale says — I recommit myself to eating mindfully. We can do this together, or I could sure use your encouragement, if you are on track with yourself and have some to spare.

xx

Let’s moai together

Maybe I’m the last person to find out about this, but do you know about moais, as part of the Blue Zone Project? Generally speaking, a moai is a group of people who commit to each other, who count on each other for a common purpose. In Okinawa, one of the five places in the world where people live an extraordinarily long time, people have 5-person moais that they commit to for life.

“Okinawans create moais—groups of five friends that commit to each other for life. Research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. By contrast, social networks of long-lived people favorably shape their health behaviors.”

handsThis feels like a very big thing to me, and something I’m interested in pursuing. I have a bunch of very good friends and we all support each other, pull for each other, encourage each other, but this feels like something different. This is focused and pointedly committed. I love the idea of commitment for life; that’s automatically a different frame. It’s like a friend-marriage. Through thick and thin, through difficult times, the commitment means you stick it out.

There are Blue Zone moais in a range of places; you can even join a walking moai in Ft Worth on Meetup, for heaven’s sake. That seems less like a moai and more like a Meetup, but what do I know. Because the Blue Zone concept is all about health (of all kinds, physical, emotional, spiritual), the point of these moais takes that form.

I don’t quite know what I’m thinking of here, but I’d sure like to explore it. Would you? I doubt we’d have to all live in the same place, although having at least a person or two in the same place seems critical. We could have a private place online — a secret Facebook group — that could be our virtual shared space. My thoughts are that we would rely on each other for support, encouragement, tough talk if it comes to that, and time together. I am especially interested in the commitment aspect, and would like to commit for life. Not just hope that it works out that way, but commit. I imagine our personal friendships would deepen dramatically, but that isn’t the pointed mission for itself. I don’t think there’s anything magical about the number five, but I do suspect that it can’t be a huge, huge group and work the same way.

If you are interested in talking about this with me, even if you aren’t at all sure you want to do it, please email me! pillbugqueen [at] gmail [dot] com will get me. At this point we’re just talking and figuring things out.

well OK then.

I’m flying this morning to New York, but I just have to say a little more about this truly (to me) shocking thing that happened on Wednesday. One way I am not a very good adult is that there are ways I should take care of myself, but I don’t — and one is that I just won’t go to the doctor. I hate going to the doctor, partly because I’m just so healthy I imagine either it’ll just be money spent to learn that I’m healthy, or because I think they’ll spin something out into a worry that really isn’t a worry. I’m stupidly healthy with stupid good blood pressure — 112/78, my most reliable number. I’m from long-lived healthy people who live into their late 90s, if they aren’t alcoholics. I also don’t go to the dentist, but I make up for it by taking super good care of my teeth.

My husband, on the other hand, goes to the doctor all the time. All the time. For very understandable reasons, he also expects the absolute worst to happen, so every little strange thing that happens in his body he imagines to be something fatal. It drives him crazy that I don’t go for regular check-ups, and he got outright mad at me when he was here, because I haven’t seen a doctor at all for ~3 years, maybe more, so I went ahead and made an appointment. The only real problem I have is a slightly insufficient aorta, and osteoporosis, and I have not been careful about taking extra calcium. In 2011 I crossed from osteopenia into osteoporosis, worst in my hips and a little less bad in my spine. But all the numbers had crossed that magical mark from -penia into -osis. I truly thought that that was a direct path, one-way only, into worse and worse -osis. I was curious about how much worse it had gotten, and that was really my only concern going in.

I have been working around the edges of it. I consistently do yoga sessions that focus on balance, to help me not fall. On flexibility, to help me catch myself and not fall. On strength so I’m less likely to fall. I carry my cell phone with me at all times, and put it next to the tub every morning when I take a shower, in case I fall so I can get help immediately. I don’t rush and am mindful in situations that might be risky, like stepping around the dishwasher in my small kitchen. Instead of doing a long extended reach-around, I just step around (and carefully). The consequences of broken hips are more often fatal for women than heart disease. It’s serious. I was having dinner with a friend earlier this week and we talked about our real horror of falling, and how almost obsessed we both are about helping ourselves not fall. It was a funny moment to share.

SO. Exam: check, absolutely no problems anywhere, healthy as a horse. Blood work: absolutely great in every way. Cholesterol ratio better than the nurse sees, outstanding. Liver, kidney, thyroid, check check check. Healthy as a horse. Like every single person I’ve ever heard of, I’m Vit-D deficient, which I wouldn’t worry about except it facilitates calcium absorption into bones. Mammogram scheduled when I’m back from NYC but it all looks good, her exam showed healthy tissue. Bone density scan: SHOCKING. I moved backwards in my spine, back into -penia! My left hip? Back into -penia! The right hip ratio? Back into -penia, although the neck of that hip is still in -osis. (That’s the narrow part in the picture on the right, and it’s where breaks are most likely to occur.)

bones

Maybe you knew this was possible without taking drugs or supplements so this isn’t at all surprising to you, but I had no idea it was possible. I thought the best I could do was to keep it from getting worse, I truly did.

My greatest improvement was in my spine, and the radiologist said that my yoga practice (and my diet) is responsible for that. Yoga is especially good for the spine, and since many of the poses are weight-bearing, you get that aspect too. Walking and running are especially good for the hip bones, so now my mission is to walk more and try to get that right hip neck down into -penia too. I just had no idea this could happen, and it feels thrilling, like the biggest news I’ve heard in so very long.

Of course I can’t know for sure, but I’ll bet the news — especially about my bones — would’ve been quite different if I lived the way I always used to. Not too great a concern for healthy eating, a too-great focus on sweets, and zero (by which I truly do mean zero) exercise. Do yoga, especially if you’re a woman in or approaching my stage of life. Just do it. Walk regularly. And while going vegetarian has been so great for me just because it liberated me and made eating so simple, I do think that the more you can add vegetarian food into your diet — even if you don’t just eat vegetarian — the better your health will be. Turns out I have been getting more than my daily requirement of calcium just from the food I eat! A cup of almond milk — the liquid in my morning smoothie — has 600mg, and my daily requirement is 1200mg. Halfway there, and the spinach I include adds 60mg more.

I have a Pinterest board filled with vegetarian recipes I’ve collected, and I haven’t found a bum one in the mix yet. I haven’t made them all (I have 1,057 recipes pinned), but the ones I have made have been wonderful. If you want to check out the board and save any recipes that look good to you, just click the picture below:

pinterest

And once more with feeling, a hearty recommendation for YogaGlo. My favorite teachers are Jason Crandell, Stephanie Snyder, Amy Ippoliti, Jo Tastula, and Felicia Tomasko. They offer a free 15-day trial period, and I was so hungry for that 16th day I signed right up. It’s $15/month, and if you look at the cost of yoga classes you see what a deal this is. New classes all the time, classes for any reason, various times of day, different needs. Being able to do it at home means I actually do it. (And if I want to be more social, I can always go take a real life class.) If you’re worried about not doing the poses correctly and using poor alignment, let me show you this:

YogaForce Mat
YogaForce Mat

You can find that on Amazon, but it’s expensive — $89 usually, on sale right now for $73. BUT! You can also draw these lines on your own yoga mat with a fat sharpie! I refer to the lines all the time and use them to ensure proper alignment. Of course be sure they’re perfectly parallel and the cross lines are perfectly perpendicular to the long line, but there you go.

Shocked. I’m just so so shocked. I feel so powerful — I changed my bones, did that myself! A condition that felt inevitable turns out to be just a little bit evitable. 🙂 That is amazing. Taking care of your health doesn’t just hold off trouble, it can even reverse something as solid (or not) as your BONES. I remain shocked by this, and return to the mat with a new kind of gratitude. Take care of yourself.

<3

I don’t mean to keep harping on this, but it’s important context so I’ll just mention it and get to the real point. The yoga mat is the site of so many deep experiences for me, and I had one last night that left me kind of crying my heart out during savasana. There’s one small series of three poses — mountain pose with arms extended upwards, hands over your heart, sweep the energy up and hold. As always, when I put my hands over my heart I felt it pounding away. (I am not in shape, but I am getting there faster than I thought I would.)

heartBut last night when I felt it pounding away I was overwhelmed with such gratitude for the beautiful complex muscle, just doing its thing day in and day out, day in and day out, day in and day out, for 20,376 days as of yesterday. The only time I really think about it is when it’s pounding, and even then it just makes me think about being out of shape, and how I’d better get with the program….if I had a program. Even when it’s pounding I don’t think about my heart. I just take it for granted. Which is kind of funny, because I have such a peculiar relationship with my heart.

When I was a child, living in hell, I used to lie very still and summon all my will in an effort to will my heart to stop beating. I have no idea how many times I did that, countless times. Sometimes I’d hold my breath while exerting my will, sometimes I’d kind of bear down, and sometimes I’d just lie very still. STOP BEATING. Words, sometimes, just silent and intense exertion of will most often. I was always crushed when it just kept beating. I would keep waiting, keep trying, but it just kept beating and eventually I’d have to give up.

As I got older, all my emotion focused itself squarely on my heart, my chest. I had crushing chest pain, and when something especially terrible happened, the pain was so bad I thought it was killing me. I’ve been in the emergency room several times, hospitalized once, and was taken away in an ambulance when I was in graduate school because of my heart. It always felt so appropriate to me, because I think my heart has been shattered so many times it’s mostly emotional scar tissue holding it together. (Thank you, emotional scar tissue.)

And yet here I am, 56 in November, and my heart just keeps on beating so beautifully, so perfectly, as it always has, despite myself. My aorta is a bit insufficient — an insulting word! — and sometimes my heart gallops so fast I almost can’t breathe, but there it goes otherwise, just pumping and pumping. While I’m asleep, pumping and pumping. Sending out oxygenated blood to my body. Performing its innate and exquisite rhythmic dance, chambers and valves in sync. I am so grateful for my sweet little heart, and want to take care of it and be more gentle with it.

You can pause for a minute and get your head into just the right place and think about the machine of your body. You’re just sitting there, and blood is flying through veins and arteries, out into capillaries, and going back in the giant loop. Electrical impulses are flying up and down your axons doing all kinds of things, including stimulating your muscles to do what you want them to do. Chemicals in your brain are locking into receptors, releasing from receptors. Your stomach is digesting food. Your intestines are squeezing that digested food, extracting nutrients. There are your lungs doing their complicated thing with air and alveoli to get oxygen into the system — and on top of that, the heart and lungs are doing a very complicated dance with each other, all while maintaining their own processes. Your retinas are transforming what you see, these little black letters right now, sending electrical signals to the hypercolumns of cells in your visual cortex, which take the patterns of edges and turn it into something that you have a word for and you have words without even thinking about it. (Think about it.) Your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is managing stress for you. The vast spreadoutness of your immune system is doing a VERY complicated thing while you just sit there. And don’t even get started on your mind! Where do those thoughts come from, the ones that just arise unbidden? Which is most of them, really, unless you’re trying to puzzle your way through something or pick specific words to communicate something important.

You are exquisitely amazing. I am exquisitely amazing. Don’t you forget it. And thank you, my sweet little heart, for all you do for me.

the luckiest person in the world

That would be me. For the last several days I have done 30 minutes of yoga every day, and when I was doing it last night, after spending a few hours with darling little Oliver, I had this incredible moment of well-being and gratitude. And the funny thing was that it didn’t have anything to do with the specifics of my life — my children, Oliver, my travels, having work — it had to do with my body.

ME! Gratitude for my body. I’ve spent all these years hating it, hiding it, liking it if-only, thinking it would be OK when, trying not to look at it, feeling shame about it. For the last several years I’ve been working on that and while I’ve made strides (I no longer say bad things about it), I have so far to go. Oh sure, if pushed I’ll say something with a roll of my eyes and a side-twisted mouth: Yeah, I guess it takes me wherever I want to go. Sure.

yogaBut in that yoga series, gratitude for this body kind of washed over me. THIS body, my body. Despite my neglect of it, despite my mistreatment of it, despite my recriminations against it, I am 55 years old and it’s in shockingly good shape. It allows me to move through the yoga series with some semblance of grace, and I never think twice about it because it doesn’t hurt me in any way. It performed the incredible magic of creating, holding, and birthing three human beings. It was cut open, hipbone to hipbone. Bones broke pretty badly in my right wrist. And here I am, ready and able to do whatever comes to mind. Thank you, wonderful wonderful body.

And the day before, I was going through the series as the sun was coming down in the sky and it started slanting in through my French doors right over me. And at the moment it did that, I was going through this very smooth and long series of child’s pose-upward facing dog, child’s pose-upward facing dog, for three minutes. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, up and down, up and down. And the truly golden sun was pouring over my back and I felt just glorious. Another moment of deep well-being.

I am so grateful for my body and for the genes I got from my grandmother, who died in her 90s with all her teeth, all her organs, no need for glasses, never an operation, and no health problems beyond low blood pressure. She just didn’t wake up one day. She was sharp as a tack (and mean as a snake) to her last day. No Alzheimer’s in my family, no cancer, no diabetes, no heart trouble. Emotional troubles yes, alcoholism yes, but strong strong bodies. And all these years I’ve just taken mine for granted.

wingToday is fly day — it’s back to New York for me, for 12 days. It’ll be harder to do my daily stuff there, yoga and working in silence and eating my good and healthy food. The silence will be the hardest to find, but I have some ideas about that. When he is seeing patients I can do 30 minutes of yoga. And of course I will walk and walk and walk. Both Sundays I’ll probably walk down to Chelsea, 88 blocks. It matters to me that I keep taking such good care of myself, so I’ll just adapt and do it a little differently. It’s like mindfulness, in a way, as David Nichtern said:

Mindfulness is a dynamic process. It’s not like asking everybody to hold still so we can take a photo of them. Everything is always moving and shifting. You can’t ask a butterfly to stop moving around so you can pay attention to it. Mindfulness means staying awake and fluid as the situation evolves.

See y’all around….take good care of yourselves. You’re pretty amazing.

mind and body

In graduate school I took a course called Psychosomatic Processes. The way the mind and body influence each other. I learned that cultures differ in psychosomatic illnesses; for instance, few people in Germany suffer with allergies, but they are high in instances of psoriasis. I thought it was interesting that cultures express psychologically-influenced illnesses differently. Before, I’d thought that allergies probably occurred at the same rate in countries with allergens, ditto psoriasis. Nope.

heartYou probably have your characteristic places where trouble, stress, upset, anxiety show up. For my husband, it’s his stomach. For me it’s my heart, and it always has been. That kind of chokes me up — my broken heart really does hurt. Sometimes it hurts so badly that I cannot stand up straight.

When my dad killed himself, I instantly felt like I’d been impaled through the chest. I was impaled through the chest, like a bug on a taxonomist’s pin, still alive and wriggling but stuck, forever. I couldn’t uncurl; even when I tried to stand up my chest was curled around my fist, trying to absorb the blow, and I was bent at the waist.

Do you know about takotsubo cardiomyopathy? It’s also called broken heart syndrome. It’s a temporary heart condition that’s often brought on by stressful situations, such as the death of a loved one. People with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain or think they’re having a heart attack. In broken heart syndrome, there’s a temporary disruption of your heart’s normal pumping function, while the remainder of the heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions. The apex of the left ventricle balloons out. I imagine that’s what happened to me when my dad died. It was absolutely physical, not at all “just in my head,” and it was such a profound representation of my emotional state.

Throughout the years, intense stress manifests itself in me as chest pain, heart pain. I press my right fist into my sternum, imagining that will bring relief. The funny thing is that I think my dad must have had the same response. When he was very upset, he’d have his hand on his chest in a funny way that always made me think he had probably cut his wrist. I think he was just pressing on his sternum in the same way I do.

In New York, during a prolonged period of intense chest pain I found a wonderful physician who specialized in gender-specific health (and this is an enormous concern where the heart is concerned, and that was her specific specialty). I kept saying over and over to my husband and then to her that it was nothing, it was just pain. I’d said that my whole life — “don’t worry, it’s just pain.” They both said over and over in response that “just pain” can still cause damage. “Just pain” can kill you in so many different ways. She told me about takotsubo cardiomyopathy, that it’s named after an octopus trap of all things because the ballooning ventricle looks like an octopus trap. That it occurs most often in women, whose hearts, I suppose, are more susceptible to breaking.

To me there is something so deeply poetic and perfect about that, and it’s not an accident that we talk the way we do — broken heart, heartache, fear in the pit of my stomach, etc. Emotions really do dwell in our bodies and in certain places, and that’s why we talk in that way. It can’t be a coincidence that women who were raped or molested as children are more likely to suffer with IBS, are more likely to get cancers of the organs in the pelvic region. That may be poetic injustice, but it is still poetic. You suffer where the hurt is.

Stress also tightens my jaw and shrugs my shoulders, fear hits me in my gut, but deep emotion punches me in the heart. I imagine you have your own characteristic place where trouble lives in your body.

No octopus trap for me today, or yesterday, and I hope not tomorrow. But I know it will return. My heart is distributed among so many people so it’s vulnerable to breaking.

xo