January

January Reflections Day 2: Into the Fire

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For my meditation today, I imagined a large fire, built slowly and lovingly.  Into this fire, I threw everything that no longer served me.

Resolutions and goals often involve adding new habits and patterns to our lives.  However, with this adding must come some subtracting.

These are the things that I will be throwing into the fire:

  • My perception of myself as needy or annoying.
  • My perception of myself as mentally ill or otherwise not whole.
  • My perception that something is wrong with me.
  • My perception of myself as socially awkward.
  • My eating disorder.
  • My need to use alcohol to numb emotions.
  • My perception of myself as not being accepted.
  • My fear of setting boundaries or confrontation.
  • My perception of myself as being weak (emotionally or physically).
  • My perception of myself as not being physically flexible.
  • My need for validation.
  • My perception of myself as incapable and irresponsible.

Everyday this month, I will envision burning these habits of the body and mind, and then I will visualize what my life will look like once I have gotten rid of these things.

There are so many things–addictions, habits, misperceptions–that stand in the way of our dreams.  While it isn’t good to constantly think about what we don’t want, spending a little time imagining those obstacles burning away can be incredibly freeing.  It can open up space for us to more clearly picture what we do want.

This exercise can also help keep us from addiction-hopping.  I know so many people who gave up alcohol but began overeating.  It is the same pattern, but with a different substance.  Being committed to letting go of the pattern and being open to learning new ways of coping is what leads us to freedom from all addiction.

So today, think about what it is that you would like to release.  What would you throw into the fire?

January

January Reflections, Day 1: First Day as a Butterfly

I imagine it is a little awkward for the former caterpillar, when it first emerges from its cocoon.  Its whole body has changed, and it has abilities beyond its wildest imagination.  And yet, it feels the same.  It is the same caterpillar it has always been, at heart.

Walking feels different, and it wonders why it can no longer crawl.  It can not figure out how to eat the leaves that it used to enjoy.

Bewildered, the caterpillar seeks out its friends–all of whom are caterpillars, spread throughout the green plants.  They each give advice, based on their caterpillar experience.  Keep your belly on the ground.  Try taking little nibbles.  Practice crawling more.  Stop standing up like that–it will not help you get anywhere quickly.  Just ignore those wing things–nobody knows what they are for.

The caterpillar heeds their advice and begins to wonder what it wrong with it.  I was doing so well, the caterpillar thinks.  Why have I suddenly lost every skill I had?  Everything that ever got me through life, everything that helped me to get to where I am now…none of it is working for me anymore.  And why can’t I relate to these other caterpillars?  They are my friends.  They have been my greatest support through everything that has gotten me here.  Why is their advice not serving me now?

After spending the day trying to crawl on the ground, the caterpillar flaps its wings and feels its feet leaving the ground.  Excitedly, the caterpillar runs to its friends and tells them it can fly.

Some friends do not understand.  Some friends tell the caterpillar to stop trying to leave the ground–it isn’t safe or natural.  Best to stick with what is known to work.  Some are so caught up in their daily life crawling on the ground, that they do not notice that their friend is able to fly.

Looking up, the caterpillar–which is actually a butterfly, of course–sees other butterflies fluttering about, drinking the sweet nectar of the flowers.  They eagerly encourage the new butterfly to join them, and the butterfly’s heart yearns to soar above, delighting in the new, beautiful world where it now belongs.

But then it looks to the caterpillars on the ground.  Those are its friends.  Yes, many of them will eventually be butterflies in the sky as well, but leaving them in that moment is unspeakably hard.  But the butterfly can not force the caterpillars to journey to this next step.  Nothing can force growth, and it will always happen in its own time.

There is work for the butterfly to do…as a butterfly.  It has a purpose, and its purpose is not on the ground with the caterpillars any longer.

Looking up toward its beckoning new friends, the butterfly spreads its wings and soars toward all that is new.

Uncategorized

My January Challenge

I love January.  A lot.

January is a time to refocus and work, uninterrupted on making positive changes.  The holiday rush is over, and we are met with a long stretch of time, that is nothing but consistency.

2019 was an amazing year.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.  While I had been working hard for at least 3 years (more like 7!), 2019 was the year when the turn-around occurred.  

So what now?  I showed an amazing ability to channel my energy and create something wonderful, when I completely changed my life last year.  My word for 2020 is “create,” and I am going to use that same energy to reach the goals I have set for myself under that theme.

 Which brings me to my January challenge.  I love doing a total detox in January, so I can really focus on my goals.  Here is what I will committing to this month:

1.  Diet:  I already avoid refined sugar and alcohol.  I have given up caffeine in the past, but really did not notice a difference.  I will limit myself to two cups of coffee a day, then drink water or herbal tea.  I will eat a vegan diet and avoid gluten.

2.  Media: I will avoid social media and only listen to music without lyrics.  

3.  Routine: I will commit to following Fly Lady’s program daily, which includes a morning routine where I write in my journal, meditate, and read spiritual books.

4.  Meditation: I have tried to complete The Presence Process on many occasions, and this time I will make it.  This involves meditating twice a day for 15 minutes, as well as reading passages on emotional integration.

5.  Exercise: I will do my yoga stretches daily.  I will run on days when it is not cold, and I will get at least 70 Fitpoints on my Weight Watchers app weekly.

I will write about various aspects of my challenge every week, and at the end of the month, I will decide which practices I want to keep, and which I would like to take a break from.

What are your plans for the new year?  Are you completing a challenge?

Health, Philosophy

How Personal Growth Changes Relationships

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Losing weight, finding sobriety, and making career changes can all lead to losing friends.  A simple Google search will confirm this and largely paint this as negative.  Former friends will push food and feel left out when you aren’t able to go to pizza night.  Old drinking buddies will pressure you to have “just one more,” and you will never feel comfortable joining them at the bar.

And yet my experience was different.  None of my friends cared what I ate when we got together.  Nobody batted an eye when I brought my own salad dressing and coffee creamer.  When I started ordering Shirley Temples, everyone was very supportive, and even insisted I send my drink back if it had too few cherries.  Nobody pushed food on me.  Nobody pressured me to drink.

But still, I experienced major shifts in all of my relationships, and I ended up letting go of some of my closest friendships.  This is because the changes I had made had less to do with food and alcohol, and more to do with learning to love and value myself.  And as I learned to love and value myself, I began to seek out those who would value me as well.

It began with my closest group of friends.  For two years, we would meet up and support each other through our struggles.  But I noticed a change when I began losing weight.  I found myself downplaying my accomplishments, and when I did share something positive, it was ignored at best.  Nobody was being mean–we were just moving in different directions.  I felt a sense of hope, that I was unable to force anyone else to feel.  We were just at different places.

And then in my other interactions, I began to notice how unkindly I was being treated, and how much energy I was wasting on people who did not care.  Recently, I was writing Christmas notes to acquaintances, in an effort to bring more joy to their day.  I became very jaded when I number of these people threw these notes away, without saying a word to me.  Now, my interactions with these people had been slightly strained, and I realized that my notes were a way of seeking connection with people who were not interested in connecting.  I was wasting energy chasing people and seeking their approval.

Finally, in the midst of this realization of negativity, I brought a case of water to my yoga class.  When I go grocery shopping, I usually pick up a case of water to put in the refrigerator at the studio, since it is easier than storing my own water and cheaper than buying a bottle every night.  Even though I share the water with everyone, I come out ahead.

As I walked through the door, balancing the case of water on one arm, while holding my mat and props in the other, my teacher immediately took the case from me and said, “Bethany that is so sweet of you!  Thank you so much–I really appreciate it.”

At that point I realized that my teacher was not going above and beyond, with that statement.  She was acknowledging my act of kindness in the way that acts of kindness deserve to be acknowledged.  (I am not referring to random acts of kindness here–I had done this deed seeking connection, and I had found it).

After class, I told her that I wanted to create a reality where her response to my kind gestures was the rule and not the exception.  That I wanted to spend time and energy with people who valued me for who I am.  She said, “Look at all you’ve accomplished, Bethany.  You can create any reality you want.”

So, moving forward into the new year, with “Create” as my one word focus, this is my promise to myself, in my relationships:

1.   I will not waste time on groups where I am invisible.

I have lost count of the number of conversations where I have been interrupted as soon as I opened my mouth to speak.  Or where my comments have gone unacknowledged.  I have Googled this and tried tip after tip to make myself more “interesting.”

But here’s the thing.  While I understand that someone might occasionally get excited and talk over someone else (and I know I have done the same thing), even if I am not perfect–even if my social graces might even be lacking at times–I deserve to be around people who value me and value my contribution.  I do not need to try to be good enough to not be interrupted constantly.

Along the same lines, I am done with trying to get into conversations that I am closed out of.  You know the scenario.  Some friends are standing in a circle, having a conversation, and you walk over to join in.  Slowly, the circle closes in, leaving you out.

I used to think this was normal, until a close friend of mine did it a few weeks ago.  This is exclusion.

It is okay if not every group wants me as a member.  I am not for everyone.  But it is not okay for me to keep trying to change who I am, so that the groups will want me to join in.  If I am not accepted for who I am, then they are not my tribe.  I would rather have a smaller tribe, than hustle for approval.

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2.  My vulnerability must be earned.

I like to give.  I have come to understand that acts of service is my primary love language, and that giving of my time and energy is simply something that I do in an effort to connect with those around me.

At the same time, I also enjoy doing random acts of kindness.  These are often anonymous, and done in a way that the person will not be able to find me in order to contact me afterward.  This is something that brings me joy and also helps me to feel connect to humanity at large.

The problem comes when I mix up these two “motives.”  When I am giving and expecting nothing in return, giving is its own reward.  However, when I am giving in order to express my love and friendship to someone, I am giving with the expectation of connection.  This is not “wrong.”  Everyone has a way in which they express these things, and everyone is hoping for connection in response to their efforts.

Giving with the expectation of connection, involves vulnerability.  When I wrote the Christmas notes to my acquaintances, I was putting myself out there.  I was very hurt by their reactions, but in the past I would have continued to reach out to them and seek their acceptance.  But now I realize that they have not “earned” my vulnerability.  If it is not a connection, I can simply let it go.

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3.  I will stay away from the co-dependent dynamic.

For so long, I was the friend who struggled, who “needed help.”  I was so convinced that I needed someone to save me, that I often fell into the co-dependent dynamic in my friendships.  I would be clingy at times, and I would immediately contact the other, seemingly stronger, person for advice and support.

Some friends immediately set boundaries with this, but others became addicted to “helping.”  Their role in my journey became their addiction, and this often led to them becoming more involved than what would be appropriate.  This never ended well.

My desire to have equal friendships and avoid falling under the wing of a co-dependent friend, has led me to approach this from both angles.  First, I do tend to stay away from or set boundaries with friends who show signs of co-dependency.  I make my own choices.  I fight my own battles.  I take care of myself.

But I also am mindful in my role in creating and perpetuating this dynamic.  I am learning to stop myself before running to someone else for “help” when I am facing strong emotions or other challenges.  I am learning to use my tools, so that I am not constantly seeking a rescuer.

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4.  I am seeking experiences beyond support groups.

When I was getting started losing weight, Weight Watchers was an excellent source of support.  I went to workshops, I joined Facebook groups, and I was in contact with many people on a similar path.  In the same way, AA was very helpful when I was struggling with my sobriety, both in person and on social media.

And yet, I don’t see myself as a “lifer” in either of these groups.  My struggles are a part of who I am, and overeating and drinking alcohol are two coping mechanisms that I am working to avoid.  But I think there is a danger in defining myself by these struggles.

The focus of my life right now, is not on weight maintenance or sobriety.  It is in using the tools that I have gained through losing weight and becoming sober, to move forward.  So surrounding myself with peers who are still struggling with these issues, is not going to help me accomplish my goals.

It is one thing if I want to do service and help people who are still struggling with these issues.  But for my own growth, I need to look to other places, to new horizons.

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5.  I no longer worry about finding “like minded” friends.

Surprisingly, I have found that I feel more comfortable being myself (and more accepted) by friends who have different political, religious, or lifestyle views than my own.  In fact, I have found that in “like minded” groups, dissenting from the group set of beliefs is strongly frowned upon.

When I am around friends with differing beliefs, we all feel free to share our ideas and learn and grow together.  When we accept that our views are different, we are more respectful of each other’s views.  As I have gone through this evaluating process, I have come to realize that I have four friends whom I trust very strongly.  One of them is my husband.

And yet, my husband and I have different religious beliefs.  And I vote differently than two of my other friends.  What we do have in common is our mutual love and respect, as well as our desire to learn and grow.

And that is more important than any smaller ideologies.

Health

The Skinny Diaries

Last year, the holidays fell conveniently during a major lapse in my weight loss efforts, where I regained half of the weight I had lost over the course of 10 months.

This year, I was .4 pounds over my goal at my Weight Watcher’s meeting, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  By then, I had been a member of WW for 21 months, and I had worked with a therapist and a dietician for two years prior to that.  I was determined to reach this milestone, holidays or not.

I rolled over 4 weekly points everyday, and brought fruit trays to both of the Thanksgiving gatherings I attended on Thursday.  I happily enjoyed reasonable portions of all of my favorite foods, and ended the day having eaten a respectable 45 points, while enjoying fun, stress-free times with my friends and family.

If this were my final exam, I passed with flying colors!  On December 3, 2019, after 3 decades of restricting, then binge eating, I reached my weight goal.

I knew this was a huge personal victory, but what surprised me was to learn how rare of a victory it was.  My heaviest weight had put me in the category of “obesity,” and I now have a BMI of 20, which puts me close to the lower end of my healthy weight range.  I lost 60 pounds and went from a size 14 to a size 0.

My research showed me that .8% of women with obesity, ever reach a healthy weight.  Of those who do, the statistics for maintaining that weight are significantly better, with only 78% regaining the weight they lost.

So I did, in fact, do the nearly-impossible.

My journey and eventual success have provided me with some unique observations on the obesity epidemic and our cultural attitudes toward weight loss and diet.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1.  We need to separate “weight” from “worth.”

Weight is a weighty topic.  We all assume that somewhere out there, everyone else is thin and staying that way effortlessly, while we are the lone fat kid in the corner of the room.  This is not the case.  Most Americans are overweight, and this is the case in most other western nations as well.  It is a societal issue, not a deficit in one person’s willpower or character.

For me, one of the biggest turning points was when I could weigh myself without judging that number.  Weight is a data point.  Being overweight causes healthy problems and shortens life expectancy.  It is a health issue.

However, that does not mean that a person can not be beautiful at any size.  It does not mean that a person is not worthy at every size.  We need to stop judging ourselves and everyone else and band together to get to the root of this problem that is affecting our society as a whole.

I was pretty in this picture too!

2.  We need to ditch the thinking that a quick fix even exists.

Everyone wants to lose weight.  But here’s the catch: They want to lose is FAST.  Like now.  In time for Christmas.  In time for the class reunion or wedding.  We don’t want to diet forever.

But it isn’t about temporarily depriving ourselves, using willpower, then going back to our old patterns.  The way we eat now, has made us gain weight.  Going back to the way we eat now, will make us gain more weight.  Trying a quick fix might lead to some water weight loss initially, but sustaining such a way of eating is really not possible over the long term.

Losing weight meant changing my habits permanently.  It meant making changes I could live with, which meant that the weight came off slowly.  It meant getting back on track the multitude of times I slid back into my old habits.  It meant dealing with my tendency to emotionally eat.  It meant changing the situations that led me to have those emotions in the first place.

I quit my job and found another.  I left my closest friends and chose to spend my time with different people.  I quit drinking.  I changed my patterns of communication and interaction.  This wasn’t done overnight.

3.  We need to remember what a healthy weight looks like.

At my WW meeting tonight, I learned that most people quit either in their second week, or 10 pounds from their goal.  The latter might surprise some people, but I did not find it surprising at all.

As soon as I approached my healthy weight range, I began getting “concerned” comments, that I had “lost enough weight.”  The comments only increased in their frequency and intensity as I approached my goal.  Strangers and barely-known acquaintances began to voice their concern that I was losing too much weight.

But here is the thing.  I am not underweight at all.  In fact, I could lose 7 more pounds and still be at a healthy weight.  Because everyone around us is overweight or obese, we have forgotten what a healthy weight looks like.

Not actually fat. Not underweight either.

4.  We need to change our negative attitude toward weight loss.

Yes, you know I am not a fan of memes.  But the ones about weight loss are the worst.

While it is true that we all have a collective frustration at the difficulty of losing weight, simply reinforcing that negativity does nothing to change anything.  The truth is that we can do hard things.  We can do seemingly impossible things.  But we don’t get there by constantly repeating that we can not do it, even if our repetition is under the guise of humor.

No. Just no.

Another theme in our memes and in our conversations, centers around the notion that eating healthy means deprivation.  Yet through most of my weight loss journey, I ate ice cream everyday at lunch time.  Whenever there is cake in the lounge at work, I help myself to a small portion.  I eat tacos.  I eat pizza.  But I do not overeat these things.  There is nothing luxurious or self-care related about overeating.  It is an addiction and a coping mechanism.  True self-care will make overeating seem ridiculous.

So those are some observations I have made on my journey so far.  I am sure that as I continue into maintenance and work on other aspects of my personal growth and development, I will have more lessons to share with all of you.

 

 

Health, Minimalism, Philosophy

Create

Good morning, friends, and happy black Friday.

I know that I have taken a break from blogging, but I have most certainly not been idle.  It has been a time of change and re-invention.

As of yesterday, I am now 8 months sober.  It’s not even a big deal anymore, in my daily life.  I have learned that diet Coke is often free at bars, but Pellegrino is not.  And that the best bars put lots of cherries in their diet Cokes.

shirley temple

This fall, I started a new job doing behavior intervention at a small charter school.  Working full time again has taken some adjustment, and I have had some triggers from the past that I have had to confront.  But I love what I do, and I love my co-workers and students.

A surprising change in this arena, has been that Iliana is also attending the school where I work!  The program she had been in, in the traditional public school she had been attending, was only available at a junior high that was 30 minutes away by car.  The bus ride got to be too much, and I did not like the difficulty I had being involved and communicating with her teachers, due to the distance.  So after two weeks, we transferred her to the school where I work!

 

Charter schools are simply independently run public schools, that are not part of an ISD or school district.  They are 100% school of choice, so they tend to be smaller.  Iliana has thrived with the individual attention she is getting!  She is in pre-AP math and has tested out of speech (which is HUGE, because the language delay/disorder was the most significant part of her disability).  She works with a special ed teacher and counselor on her social-emotonal issues and is doing very well.  (And what could be better for a minimalist wardrobe, than adorable school uniforms!)

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The biggest change for me is not I am not as big as I used to be!  On Tuesday, I will most likely reach my weight goal at Weight Watchers.  But that is just a formality.  The hard work is finished!

I have read from multiple sources that only .8% of obese women ever reach a healthy weight.  Most people would consider a probability like that to be impossible.  And yet here I am.  I have lost 60 pounds and plan to never need to lose 60 pounds again!

So I have done the impossible.  Now what?  While I will be focusing on maintenance and still attending Weight Watcher meetings and using their tools, I know it is time to move forward and work on new goals.  (Here are before and after pictures!)

 

And thinking of those goals, brings me to my one-word theme for 2020.  Do people still do one word themes?  I am not sure, but I definitely will be!  And my one-word theme for 2020 is, “Create.”

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I have already survived.  I have already faced my inner demons and completely changed my life.  All that remains now is to work on the, “so what?”  It is time to create the reality that I want to experience.

I know a one-word theme is open-ended, but I do have some specific goals I would like to start with.  Maybe these will be my goals for the year, or maybe they will grow and change.  My immediate goals are:

  1.  Reconnect with the blogging community and write a blog post at least once a week.  I will set aside a specific time to write, when no one is allowed to interrupt me.  Not being firm on this has led to my lapses in blogging in the past.
  2. Work on my stretching and flexibility on a regular basis.  Do stretching exercises at least 5 days a week.
  3. Run a half marathon.  Run at least 3 days a week for now, because the stretching will help more than anything.
  4. Declutter and fix up the boat to the point where it is everything I want it to be.  Do the budgeting to make this happen and make it a priority.
  5. Connect with positive people, rather than letting negativity suck me in.  Be kind, but stop personalizing people’s bad moods.

So this is what I will be working on in the next year!  I look forward to sharing it with all of you!

 

 

Health, Minimalism, Philosophy

How I Became a Mockstar

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I have to be honest.  I have gone back and forth in my mind over whether I should write a post on this topic.

I am a minimalist.  Or at least I try my best to live intentionally.  For nearly a decade, I have blogged, on and off, about my efforts to keep only the things that add meaning to my life and increase my happiness and ability to contribute to the world.  I have gotten rid of many things that have not added value to my life.

I enjoyed telling people that we had no television.  Their shock and questions were absolutely hilarious, and I enjoyed answering them.

We have no microwave.  I don’t even think about that, but I have no problem mentioning it.

There have been times when I have given up meat, and I always eat a relatively low-carb diet.  I don’t feel self-conscious bringing my own salad dressing to a restaurant.

I haven’t lived in a house in nearly 6 years.  I have given up Facebook on and off, and I even used a flip phone for awhile.

I don’t worry about being judged if I share any of these things.  In fact, I find other people’s reactions to be funny when I share these.  I don’t worry that the listener will think something is “wrong” with me, or that my choice to live simply is due to traumatic experiences.

My name is Bethany, and I am a recovering house-aholic.

So why is it so different with alcohol?

I don’t drink.  I quit drinking 16 days ago, and don’t plan on starting again anytime in the foreseeable future.

And somehow, this requires more explanation than giving up my house?

No, I am not an alcoholic.  Nor was I a “house-aholic.”  No, I didn’t hit rock bottom.  Nor did I hit rock bottom with my microwave.

I stopped drinking, because drinking does not add value to my life.

Oh, I thought it added value.  But when I took a long, hard look at it, I could see that it did not.  Here are some examples:

“Wine helps relieve stress.”

When I was at my old job, I saw my nightly wine as “portable ‘me’ time.”  I was too busy to take care of myself during the day, so I would “enjoy” a glass and unwind.

But did it really relieve stress?  It temporarily numbed my emotions, or at least made me forget about them.  But it did not solve the larger issue, that I was stressed and unhappy. And numbing the emotions only made them bubble up after I had too much wine.  I would often become “crabby” and negative.  The joy I experienced was also very limited.

In the end, learning to sit with difficult emotions and process them, and gaining the courage to change my situation, made the portable pseudo-stress relief unnecessary.  I don’t need to relieve stress.  I need to take care of myself on daily basis, sit with difficult emotions, and allow myself to process it all.  In fact, I have found that my emotions are much more stable (and I experience peace and joy much more frequently) since I have stopped drinking.  Self-care, such as eating a healthy diet, setting boundaries and staying away from alcohol, does a lot to stop the fight-or-flight response of stress.

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“Parties are no fun without alcohol.”

At first, I wanted to moderate for this reason.  Who could imagine a party without alcohol?  It would be…boring!

But then I tried it.

Yes, there were some odd looks and, “Oh, come on!  Just one shot!” type comments.  But then the music started, and I was dancing along with everyone else.  I found that I did not need a glass in my hand, to act goofy and let loose.  In fact, my mood was better, and I actually made it past midnight without falling asleep!

And then, I grabbed my keys and DROVE home!  I slept well and woke up without a hangover.  And I didn’t wonder if I had made a fool of myself the night before.  It was so much less stressful.

At my next party, I split a bottle of sparkling grape juice with Iliana, and only one person noticed that I wasn’t drinking.

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“My friends will think I’m weird.”

Remember DARE in sixth grade (in the US)?  What they didn’t tell you was that the real peer pressure would happen when you were an adult.

When I first quit drinking, I was so sure my friends would judge me.  I kind of had a reputation for loving my wine, so my change in behavior did not go unnoticed.  I was certain that my friends would decide that I was an alcoholic and had hit rock bottom.  In fact, I told them that I was laying off the booze in order to lose weight, because I thought I would be judged if I told the truth.

So one morning, I was early for yoga class, and I explained all of this to my yoga teacher.

“I hate telling people,” I told her.  “Everyone just assumes that I am an alcoholic and that I have hit rock bottom.”

My teacher just gave me a skeptical sideways look that said, “Oh, really?”

“Fine,” I said.  “Maybe nobody has actually said that, but I’m afraid that is what they are thinking!”

Of course, it is not what they were thinking.  And what they are thinking is none of my business.  If a friendship is only as strong as a commitment to booze, then it really isn’t much of a friendship.  So far, I have lost zero friends after deciding not to drink.

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“Wine won’t make me gain weight!”

I remember reading once, that wine was the most commonly tracked food on the Weight Watchers app.  And sure enough, when I first joined, I always made sure that I saved enough points for alcohol.

I tried having a half ounce of vodka in soda.  I counted one bottle of wine as three servings–12 points!  (It is actually much more than that).  I kept my meals small, so that I had room in my points budget for alcohol.  Sure, I usually ended the week with -50 weekly points, but I was losing weight.

At least I was for awhile.

Then, the wine started increasing and I stopped tracking.  Then PBJ sandwiches started happening when I was drinking.  If I woke up in the morning and the peanut butter jar was out, I knew I was in trouble!

What surprised me, when I cut out the booze, was how much I could EAT!  I’ve had full meals, snacks and treats. And I am losing weight faster than ever.  I have more energy, and my moods are much better.

Today, I went shopping and found out that I wear a single-digit size now!  Can’t beat that!

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I am not telling you not to drink.

My aim is not to be preachy.  But as minimalists, we know to question so much of what we are told by consumer culture.  Alcohol is a product too.  It is being strongly marketed toward women, especially, right now.  And it is so engrained in our culture.

Drink it or don’t.  But make sure that you are making a thoughtful decision, rather than just doing it because it is what we do.

 

Health, Philosophy

Mental Health “Awareness” Memes: Stop the Insanity!

Hello friends.  It’s been awhile!

I’ve been doing well, just out living life and waiting to find more inspiration.  And during my time away, I rejoined Facebook!  There were many reasons for my decision, the most important being that I am in a lot of groups that communicate information through Facebook.  So I have rejoined, while seriously limiting the time I spend on the site.  It doesn’t seem to pull me in like it used to.

But there is one trend I have noticed on Facebook, that I want to talk about, because I have found that it makes me angry.  And that is mental health memes.

I have made no secret out of the fact that I have faced emotional challenges.  I’ve dealt with panic attacks, self harm, and a whole variety pack of issues.  And yet I find that the spreading of “awareness” can do more harm than good.  And the memes and popular messages have spread a view of mental illness that has led people away from recovery and healing.

Here are some reasons why I am not a fan of mental health “awareness” memes:

1. They present mental illness and emotional issues as purely physical problems.

Um, not exactly.

First off, mental illness is not always caused by a chemical deficiency.  And secondly, while psychiatric medication have worked miracles for some people, studies have shown that they are not effective in many cases.  And whether or not someone takes medication, studies have shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy, yoga, exercise, dietary changes, and other non-medical approaches can be helpful for depression and anxiety.

It is not simply a physical issue that is corrected by taking medication.

The worst example I have, of this misunderstanding, happened when I was in a very traumatic situation.  I was starting to have physical symptoms whenever I had to re-enter this situation.  I would get muscle aches, a fever, and anxiety symptoms.  Some of my acquaintenances urged me to get medication, rather than leaving the situation.  I said that I did not want to take a pill that would make me like being treated the way that I was.

When I left the situation, my symptoms disappeared.

While it is important to take emotional issues seriously, saying that depression is “like diabetes” is an oversimplification.

2.  Normal emotions get pathologized.

If you read enough memes, you will have an easy time diagnosing yourself with mental illness, whether you have one or not.  There has been so much labeling and pathologizing, that we have forgotten that every human being faces struggles.  Everyone feels sad at times.  Everyone gets anxious.

This has been harmful, because we have no tolerance for those emotions in others.  It is like the friends who told me to go on medication when I was in a disturbing situation.  The anxiety and fear I was experiencing were a very reasonable response to being in that situation.

Once I was out of the situation, I temporarily had a reaction to having been through the trauma.  My startle response was heightened significantly, and I had very low energy.  While a number of friends told me that this was PTSD or anxiety (and insisted that I get medication), my therapist had other ideas.  She said this was simply my response to having been through trauma, and that it would lessen and eventually go away once my mind was feeling safe again.  And she was correct.

While we need to be supportive of those who are legitimately facing anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, we need to stop diagnosing (and thereby dismissing) our friends who are actually going through upsetting situations.

3.  They promote hopelessness.

The most disturbing trend in mental health memes are the ones that are intended to be funny.  They are designed to make light of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, by illustrating some of the experiences and showing the reader that they are not alone.

However, these memes (like nearly all mental health memes) always focus on the problems, rather than the solutions.  Their humor value lies on hopelessness about the situation.  Would they be as funny, if there were a chance to learn tools and recover from the depression or anxiety?

The meme pictured above wouldn’t be as funny if it mentioned that it was possible to redefine the thoughts causing the unwanted “visitor.”  It wouldn’t be as funny if there were self-help measures that made it possible to send that cat right back out the door.  It wouldn’t be funny if the visitor were only stopping by temporarily, until processing past trauma and finding resolution and acceptance caused him to stop his visits.

I used to have panic attacks.  It tooks YEARS of work for me to recover, but, in the end, I did recover.  I went from having multiple panic attacks a day, to having none.  It wasn’t easy, and it required a lot of persistance and patience.  And it was HOPE that kept me going.  Had I been convinced that it was hopeless, I would still be suffering today.

The popular thinking, that depression and anxiety are untreatable, leads a lot of people into hopelessness.  It leads people to avoid treatment and self-help measures, and it keeps people on “treatment plans” that don’t work.

Spreading awareness of the problem is only half of the equation.  It is time to start spreading awareness of the solutions as well.

4.  They discourage non-medical approaches.

While I understand that this meme is saying that you should not give unsolicited advice, it would not have gone as viral if the girl in the wheelchair had said, “Have you tried medication?”

And yet, as mentioned above, yoga has been proven–just as scientifically as medication–to be helpful with mental health issues.  Memes like this promote the same hopelessness as the meme shown above.

There are a lot of roads to recovery, and few people recover with medication alone.  Bombarding people with the message that so-called “alternative” treatments don’t work, is not promoting awareness.  It is promoting misinformation.

5.  They discourage personal responsibility and healthy boundary-setting.

A number of memes explain why people with depression and anxiety act the way they do, while saying (either explicitly or implicitly) that they are excused for acting this way.  Yes, when a person is suffering, it is hard to be kind to others.  And yes, when someone is depresssed or otherwise suffering, they may slip up and say the wrong thing.

But that doesn’t mean anyone has the green light to do that indiscriminately.

Mentally ill or not, we all say hurtful things at times.  And mentally ill or not, we all have the responsibility to apologize and make amends when we do that.

Along the same lines, a number of the memes also discourage setting any boundaries with friends who are suffering.  And yet it is okay for to set boundaries with those around us, mentally ill or not.  Just because someone has depression or anxiety, does not mean that it is okay to be on call for them 24/7.  It does not mean that it is okay for them to act abusive toward us.

If there were no possibility of recovery, things would be different.  Then having fewer boundaries would make sense.

But in my case, it was boudaries and personal responsibility that led me toward recovery.  Two very dear friends of mine pulled me aside (on separate occasions, unbeknownst to each other!) and told me that I needed to get professional help, that they were not my therapists, and that it was not acceptable for me to constantly be texting them everytime I felt panicked.

Does this sound harsh?  It would be, if there were no such thing as recovery.

But those conversations led me to my therapist, who taught me tools to work through those panicked emotions and helped me to maintain healthier friendships.  I am much closer to those two friends, now that our friendship is a two-way street, and I have learned to manage my emotions and thoughts, so that I no longer feel panicked and desperate.

6.  “I am here to listen” memes miss the mark.

There are countless memes and copied statuses about how the person is there to listen.  And yet, that person is probably not getting bombarded with texts from friends who are struggling.

Posting these memes is the easy way out.  It’s slacktivism.

Being there for people involves forming relationships.  Someone is not likely to spill their guts to someone they don’t have a relationship with.

Being there involves truly listening to those around us.  It means listening to their words and asking questions, rather than just waiting for our turn to talk.

It you want to be there for someone, start being there–in real life–right now.

7.  Suicide hotline memes are not enough.

There are a lot of suicide hotline memes and copied statuses.  And they are marginally helpful.  Calling the hotline could help someone in crisis.

But something is missing from the suicide discussion.  And that something is hope.

The solution does not lie is repeatedly calling the hotline.  It lies in finding healing.  It lies in finding recovery.

At my previous job, we had a training on “mental health first aid.”  We were asked a series of questions on suicide and similar issues, and we were supposed to walk to the front of the room if we thought the answer was “yes,” and the back of the room if we thought the answer was “no.”

One of the questions was, “If someone attempts suicide, will they continue to struggle with suicidal thoughts for the rest of their life?”

The classroom was full.  And two other people were standing with me in the back of the room.

Our culture believes that there is no recovery from suicidal thoughts.  And yet I have not struggled with them, since my attempt over 20 years ago.

And I am not the exception to the rule.  Martin Luther King Jr, Johnny Cash, Elton John, Billy Joel, and Oprah all tried to end their lives, before finding recovery and going on the accomplish amazing things.

Tragedy and hopelessness make interesting stories, but if we really want to spread awareness, we need to spread the TRUTH.  It is time to start spreading the message of recovery.

 

 

About Us, Family Fun

Day 4: Celebrate a Family Tradition

This is Day 4 of the writing prompts on Sue at Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond’s advent calendar.  Today we are to celebrate existing family traditions and consider starting some new ones.

One Thanksgiving, when Iliana was a toddler, we ended up with no family to visit.  We had seen my parents the day before, and Rob’s parents were staying in Florida that year.  We decided to go to his family’s home on Lake Huron and have our own Thanksgiving.  We made all the traditional food and created a beautiful table.

It was very, very, very depressing.

It’s not the food that makes the holiday, it’s the people you spend it with.  It felt so empty to be going through the same motions, without the same fun we were used to having with everyone.

We thought of that Thanksgiving often when we first moved to Texas.  We realized this was a new chapter for us, and we would need to create some new holiday traditions, to keep them from becoming empty and lonely.

We spent our first Thanksgiving at a Yogi Bear Campground, and our subsequent traditions have been equally as non-traditional, at times.

Here are some Christmas traditions that our family enjoys:

Pancakes With Santa

When we lived in Michigan, there was a magical little house downtown, where you could go and visit Santa.  Ili loved the decorations, and the emphasis was on the experience, not on ordering photos.

When we moved to Texas, I could not find such a Santa House.  Our first Christmas, I took Iliana to the mall.  That was a big mistake.  After waiting in line for over an hour, she had a visit that barely lasted 2 minutes, tops.  There had to be a better way.

The next year we moved to the boat, and I became involved with a parenting group on Facebook.  This group hosted a Winterfest in November, and you could reserve a timeslot with Santa, for a price.  We did that.  It was more pricey than I would like, but it was much better than the mall.

Then, when I was driving past the Kemah Community Center, walkable from where we live, I saw an advertisement for “Pancakes With Santa.”  This was a free event, so of course I took Iliana that year.

There were elves, Santa visits with a tiny line (and free photos), photo opps with the mayor and other VIP’s, and, most importantly, Miss Kemah.

Iliana has participated in the Texas Miss Amazing pageant twice, and although she does not want to compete again next year, she always looks forward to talking shop with the reigning queens!  In fact, we refer to this event as “Pancakes with Miss Kemah.”

Advent Calendars

We love advent calendars!  When we first moved to Texas, we made Iliana a calendar that involved socks pulled through a cardboard board.  She would open a sock each day, and receive a toy or trinket.  We even drove to Michigan with this calendar, so she could continue the fun during that visit.

Nowadays, Iliana has discovered the cardboard calendars with the chocolates.  She chose her favorite design and helps herself to a candy every morning.

Additionally, for our craft tonight, we made a Christmas chain, and Iliana and I both wrote down activities for each day.

Christmas Eve

To prepare for the main event, we first make “Reindeer Feed,” with oats and glitter.  Then, before bed, we spread it on the bow, so Santa’s reindeer can find our boat.

As she is falling asleep, Iliana hears the “thud” as the sleigh lands on the boat.  Then she hears sleigh bells, fading off into the distance.

Christmas Morning!

Well, as soon as we all are up, it’s mimosa time!  This is a tradition we carried over from Rob’s family.  Iliana drinks orange juice and sparkling grape juice.

We open stockings first, then do gifts one at a time.

There may be a visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, if we did not visit them Christmas eve.

Then it is time to enjoy all the snacks that we prepared the day before.  With Rob’s family, Christmas involved no meals, just a huge snack table.  We enjoy ham roll-ups, dips, rum balls (adults only!), baked brie, and other treats.  It is a day of eating, lounging, and watching movies.

Now It’s Your Turn!

What traditions do you enjoy?  What would you like to add?

 

About Us, Family Fun

Day 3: Deck the Halls and Decorate

This is Day 3 of the writing prompts on Sue at Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond’s advent calendar.  Today we are to “deck the halls and decorate.”

Our Christmas decorating fluctuates.  There have been years where we have gone all out, and years where we have kept it simple.  We always have a tree and stockings, but the rest will vary.

I know what I did not want to do, was allow Christmas decorating to become stressful.  Rob and I both have known people who have been so particular about the decorating of their tree, and so concerned with decorating their homes perfectly, that it took the fun out of the process.

When we moved to Texas, we did not have room to bring our ornaments and Christmas decorations.  So that first year, in the apartment, we made new ornaments for our tree.  The ornaments we have now are all either hand made or acquired since we made the move nearly 6 years ago.

While boat have ample room for lights, finding room for a Christmas tree was challenging when we lived on a sailboat.  On our first boat, we removed a cushion from the settee.

On Loco Lobo, however, we have room for a full-sized tree!

Iliana still placed the star.

Rob enjoyed some coffee.

And we played the fireplace video on the TV!

We chose to forego lights this year, but we did put a wreath on the bow.  I’ve set up a decorating activity for Iliana each evening.  Last night she made snowflakes.

And, noticing that our larger tree could use some more ornaments, I had Iliana make sandpaper ornaments tonight!

We will continue making decorations in the evenings, and I still need to pick up some more stockings from the dollar store.  Otherwise, our halls are decked!

Now It’s Your Turn

How are you decking the halls this Christmas season?