You ARE Something (Other People Believe It, So It’s About Time You Did)

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I’ve recently changed job locations within the company where I’ve been employed for the last nearly 13 years. It’s a bit of a homecoming since I returned to the hospital where I first began my career with the company. After a six year stint at our corporate office in an adjacent city, it was time for me to come home. A few weeks in I got a life lesson in how our perceptions of ourselves, who we are, and what we deserved can at times be flawed at worst, underestimated at best.

Last Monday the director of the department (I don’t report to her but we work together, and she manages the department where I’m now located) offered me a bigger office that had just recently been vacated. My initial reaction was to say no—(1) I was pretty sick from an upper respiratory infection and was out of it when she asked (2) I was being too impulsively sentimental and attached to my first “real” little office, and most importantly (3) I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by looking like the new kid who breezed in and took one of the biggest offices. We’d all gone through a difficult work situation that left many people feeling sensitive and vulnerable. I didn’t want to contribute to that…which is ironically a bit arrogant of me to make the assumption that I was responsible for everyone’s feelings and moods. I worry too much about what other people think under the guise of wanting to take care of everyone. All that’s done is cause unnecessary stress and heartache.

The next morning I changed my mind, took her up on her offer, and by the afternoon I was all moved in. I love my new space. It’s huge. I can even practice a form in there (slightly modified but still) if I wanted to. It turns out my assumptions about my adopted work team were unfounded. They’d wanted me to have that big office from the beginning and were very happy that it was finally mine. Several of them even stopped by and said so. Due to the nature of my job I have a lot of meetings, and many of them are very private coaching meetings. I needed a larger space so my guests and I could be comfortable.

The afternoon that I moved in to my big office I hosted a meeting with one of my coworkers and a mutual friend, a hospital leader whom we’d both worked with on different occasions. My coworker mentioned a recent disappointment she’d had on the job. She was feeling pretty down when one day she was contacted out of the blue by a recruiter. She ultimately didn’t take the offer, having decided to stay where she was, but she was flattered by the attention.

“It just felt good to know that I AM something to someone,” she said. The other woman and I nodded and smiled in understanding. I thought about how important it is to feel that, and it often takes an outside perspective to remind us of what we were too blind, self-conscious, distracted, or even self-centered to see in ourselves.

“I think you underestimated the support you were going to get when you came here,” the department administrative assistant told me the next day when was helping me set up my phone. Maybe, but I think it was more of a case of underestimating myself. I didn’t think I deserved the big office. I didn’t think that the work I did was important enough or that what I did mattered to other people. It took other people pushing me into a new space (literally) for me to see that hey, I do make a difference after all. I AM something.

So take that opportunity. Take what is being offered to you on a platter. Take the big office. Enroll in a college course. Apply for that job. Sign up for your first taekwondo class. Tell that person you love them. What is scarier? Acting on what you want or continuing to live in doubt, controlled by fear and anxiety? Say yes. Take it. You are worth it. You deserve it.

You ARE something.

Love is Like Grape Soda…or, Being Happily Single on Valentine’s Day

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Nope to grape soda…and to crushes, for that matter.

“For me, right now anyway, a relationship is like…grape soda.”

I was talking to a trusted friend and mentor a few weeks ago, and the subject of dating had come up. After a serious relationship ended last April, I spent several months doing the exact opposite of what I used to do after breakups: I wasn’t thinking about dating at all. I wasn’t wishing for it. I wasn’t interested. I was genuinely surprised when friends asked if I was dating because it was so far from my mind. My parents knew not to ask, and they were probably glad that I was taking time for myself. Even when my ex attempted to reconcile, I was tempted but ultimately declined. I was officially closed for business.

I continued my explanation to my friend:
“Grape soda is one of those things I don’t dislike, but I just don’t think about it, and I never buy it. If I see it at a potluck I think, ‘Oh look, grape soda,’ and then I forget about it and pour myself a cup of Sprite or Coke instead. Same thing at the grocery store: ‘Oh look, there’s grape soda on the shelf. You don’t see that every day. I guess some people like it,’ and I keep walking and forget about it. I don’t have negative or positive feelings towards grape soda. I just don’t care.”

That’s how I now find myself feeling towards dating and romantic love: nothing. I just don’t think about it. It’s become this fuzzy, foreign concept that doesn’t make sense to me anymore. I don’t dislike relationships, and I’m still attracted to men, but I’m not pursuing love or companionship.

After the big April breakup last year I needed to stay OUT of the dating pool for a long time because I was bitter, angry, and sad and needed time to grieve. Now that I’ve worked through those feelings (well, for the most part), in some people’s minds I should be ready for love again, but…nah. I don’t wanna. Telling me to “get back out there” is like telling me to get a puppy or go on a hot air balloon ride. It sounds nice, but….nah….not for me, thanks. I don’t hate puppies or hot air balloons or relationships; I’m just not that interested.

I’m a little dismayed at all the biased information on the internet about being single: how to cope with it, how to handle it, how to feel better about it. I’ve tried to find information about people who don’t want to date just ‘cause, but all I come up with are a bunch of sob stories from people who dramatically claim they “don’t believe in love anymore!” when they’re secretly pining for it or from people who are so burned and scarred from past experience that they are terrified of entering into another relationship again. I don’t feel angst, fear, despair, or…well…much of anything.

Being single is not a disease, and it is not a curse. It is an opportunity to discover who you are, what you want in life (and what you want in a partner), and what makes you happy. People take being single like it’s an insult or it’s something bad that has been intentionally inflicted upon them. I know that because I used to think that way. Oh, the time I wasted feeling sorry for myself! I thought all the men in the world had conspired to reject me. Boo-freaking-hoo! Now that I’ve let go of the self-loathing and resentment, I’m totally fine being alone, and in fact, nearly a year after the end of that last serious relationship, I prefer it. No dates, no texting, no set ups, no Match profile, nothing. If I sense a man is showing some interest, I run like hell. I go to work, go to taekwondo, do the things I like to do, and enjoy my life.

I am a rock. I am an island. Leave me alone.

And for the record, since I know people are going to assume this: I’m not anti-relationship. A lack of interest in something doesn’t mean I hate it. Grape soda, for example—don’t hate it, just don’t care. Same way with love. I’m not anti-marriage. I’m not anti-men. I don’t hate my ex and am not irreparably heartbroken. Maybe when I’m good and ready, I’ll welcome love back into my life, or maybe I will spend the rest of my life alone and unattached. Either way, I’m fine with whatever happens, and just being able to say that is an accomplishment I’m proud of.

Sometimes I wonder, though, if I’m deluding myself. Maybe I am so mired in loneliness and sadness that my foggy, fuzzy brain doesn’t know what’s normal anymore. When my friend of the grape soda conversation asked me to define love, I was stumped. I said I knew that I’d experienced it, but I couldn’t describe it. Months after that discussion I still don’t have an answer.

Maybe I’m in such a deep depression (or denial) that self-imposed exile has become the norm. I do get lonely, and sometimes I wish I could get dressed up and go on a nice date with a nice man. But then again, I don’t feel like something is missing from my life so much as something extraneous has simply been removed, perhaps temporarily, or perhaps permanently. It’s truly a strange sensation to feel no desire for something I’ve longed for and pursued all my adult life.

That absence of feeling puzzles me more than anything else.

Perhaps this absence of worry and longing for love is part of my larger shift toward relaxing and loosening the reins on my life a bit. Things have begun to fall in place like magic (or the law of attraction): Ever since the Christmas holidays I’ve stopped worrying about certain aspects of work, and without any doing on my part, my responsibilities were shifted away from activities I didn’t enjoy to things I find greatly fulfilling. I stopped trying to cram my free time with activities, and now the weekends feel longer and more restful. I stopped caring about having a perfect body, and now I’m a fitter and leaner version of myself than I was at an even smaller weight. I finally, finally stopped feeling angry and sad about that failed and possibly final relationship.

…Not giving a shit suits me.

Letting go of the “need” for a relationship felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. In getting over my addiction to love from another person (it was more likely a need for validation and attention rather than real love) and an anxious need to be in a relationship, I learned the power of loving and valuing myself. Sounds cheesy, but if you’ve spent most of your life hating yourself and desperately seeking the approval of others, experiencing this kind of shift is profoundly liberating.

I did feel a little down a few weeks ago when I saw Valentine cards in the grocery store and thought about how I didn’t have anyone to buy a card for…but just like whenever I saw grape soda, I kept walking and promptly forgot about it.

So, if you’re in a relationship this Valentine’s Day…good for you! I hope you have a nice day. If you’re single…good for you! I hope you have a nice day. Drink some grape soda, whatever. Either way, I hope you recognize your own value and beauty. You don’t need anyone else to tell you that it’s there.

Watch, right after I post this, some joker is going to come along, sweep me off my feet, and ruin all my single fun. *Sigh*

Body Image

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For the last few days I have done absolutely nothing. The pain that I’ve been experiencing during and after taekwondo classes will not let up and even flares up with gentler physical activities such as swimming and yoga. In fact, in last Sunday’s yoga class I ended up going to my knee for every Warrior I, crescent lunge, and even Warrior II. Somewhere between Sun Salutation B and savasana I decided that I needed to rest.

I didn’t go down without a fight though. Immediately after deciding that I would take a little break from taekwondo the controlling little busybody in my brain said, “Well maybe we could do that gentle stair-steppy thing that doesn’t make us do any foreword motion with the legs or do Pilates every day because we still are a little too pudgy around the middle and, and maybe we could just lift weights and focus on the upper body, and maybe we could do a hardcore diet during the week, and maybe swim even though it hurts and–”

Wait a minute! I was still trying to punish myself for not having the body that I thought I needed to have to be happy. I was still trying to keep tabs on myself even though my body was telling me to chill out and rest. Yes I was very frustrated by the pain, but in a sick way it bothered me more that it kept me from my normal means of controlling myself. I have had a poor body image and mild eating disorders since I was in high school. That is twenty years of hating myself for not being “perfect.”

Some people reading this might think, “What’s the big deal? Just eat less and exercise more, duh.” Yes, in theory, it’s simple, but for those who have certain mental disorders, eating disorders, or low self-esteem, it’s agonizing. We feel like our bodies are these evil foreign blobs conspiring against us when our brains desperately want to be thin. In reality it’s the opposite: our brains are going haywire while our poor bodies can’t keep up.

“All right, that’s it, enough!” I thought as my yoga classmates and I stretched into tree pose. “I’m not doing ANYTHING for the next few days. I’m going to sit on my ass and rest. See how you like THAT!” I was going to force myself to face the discomfort of not being on the endless loop of exercising and watching what I eat.

And that’s exactly what I did. I went off the grid for four days, which isn’t much, but for me is a long time to go without any form of exercise. I DID go on a walk Tuesday night and did my forms in super-slow motion Thursday night, but that was about it. I slept in and used my extra morning time to read and lounge around in bed, I got caught up on my Netflix queue, I cleaned the house and worked on writing projects, and I spent a lot of time with my ice pack. I baked chocolate chip cookies and took myself out for frozen yogurt topped with candy. I knew I was getting a little rounder–I could feel it. ugh–but I took it in stride. I’ll get back to my routine of taekwondo and brown rice and vegetables and eventually deflate. I just ate another cookie and thought, “I love you, and I’m going to take care of you.”

I went back to taekwondo class last night and had trouble sleeping from the lingering little jolts of pain from the kicking we did in class. At one point I had to switch to just using my left leg during drills. As I drove home I thought that perhaps I should rethink the right leg hook kick I plan on using to break during my black belt test. I finally conceded to contacting a sports medicine doctor. Obviously a month and a half of pain and injury can’t be undone by four days of rest and cookies. It’s frustrating to not be able to do what I know I can do…but maybe slowing down is exactly what I need.

Body image and how I treat myself will be a lifelong struggle. It and all the problems that come with it have clung to me in secret for decades. That’s a hard habit to shake. Taekwondo has been a real life-saver in that area. Sure I’m a little bulkier (that is a good thing; I like the muscular look) and have much-improved cardiovascular strength because of it, but mentally I’m in better shape too. Who cares how big my ass looks in my dobok? I’m too busy kicking yours!

I’m sure one day I will be shaking my head at how I used to make myself miserable over the facts that I don’t have a flat stomach or that my upper thighs stick together. Someday the aches and pains of age will overshadow the superficial looks of youth. I’ll probably give anything in the future to have the body I have now. Right now I’d give anything to make the pain go away so I can have my ass-kicking body back, no matter what it looks like or how much I weigh. I might as well love what I have now before it’s too late.

Eat, Practice, Love

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I spent the final week of May indulging in home-cooked Italian food and fine dark chocolate and to no surprise gained a few pounds.

In my defense I was nearing the end of a very sad, painful, drawn-out situation in my personal life. Usually I stop eating when things get really bad, but this time I seemed to stress eat, albeit good quality food rather than chips and cheap candy bars, as if that makes any difference. Then whenever I start to feel better I “happy eat,” so I can’t freaking win.

I did exercise and attend taekwondo class as usual, so my very slight weight gain was only noticeable to me. Then again, I’ve been fat-shamed at 116 pounds and told I looked better when I was “skinnier,” i.e., miserable and haggard and subsisting on whiskey for dinner (yes, really), so everyone’s perspective is a little different.

It’s starting to sink in that my black belt test is around the corner, so that’s as good a reason as any to clean up my act and stay motivated. I’ve already been off alcohol for two months and feel much better–stay tuned for a blog post about that in a few weeks. Why not, as my yoga teacher would say, let go of other things that no longer serve me?

I didn’t even enjoy my Netflix movie marathons or heavy food towards the end of my mourning period/indulgent exile. It was time to let go. So last Sunday morning I hit the gym and the juicer and have deflated back down to, well, 116 pounds. I even feel confident enough to prance around my condo complex’s pool this afternoon.

Besides chocolate, pasta, Netflix, and sleeping in, I’d also been indulging in an emotion that tastes good at first but makes you feel crappy later: anger. Bitter, searing, hateful anger that was finally unleashed after about six months of pent up stress and frustration. I was surprised at the grinding resentment I felt for someone who once held a very important place in my life.

And then I heard my taekwondo instructor’s voice in my head say, “Don’t let it escalate.”

A long time ago I’d jotted down a quick “gratitude list” about this person, probably when I was annoyed with them, ha ha. I’ve always kept it in my desk at work, so Monday morning I dug it out and read it again. It calmed my anger and reminded me that this person is more than just a culmination of our most recent encounters and is hurting just as much as I am. It reminded me of how much I once loved this person.

If you’ve been regularly following my blog you know I’ve been dealing with this “situation” for the last several months. I think we’re all tired of talking about it, and I’m tired of clinging to it as justification for being cranky, eating poorly, and until two months ago, drinking heavily. The anger and hatred are no longer serving me. It’s not motivating me to move forward and make bold decisions anymore.

I won’t forget and am not ready to fully forgive, but like the junk food and sleeping in and movie marathons, I can at least let the anger go. The bitterness and anger and hatred are making me just as unhealthy as the salami and chocolate were. If I let it escalate then I am responsible for the consequences. How can I possibly love myself if I’m so wrapped up in hating somebody else?

Learning to love myself has been a very long arduous learning process. My yoga practice and especially my taekwondo practice have been instrumental in helping me turn the corner. Much of it has involved learning to let go—of impossible expectations, of doubt, of fears, of hatred and anger. Do you know how many years I’ve wasted hating myself for being “fat” (as in, to the point of being suicidal) even though I’ve never weighed more than about 125 pounds? Do you know how many times I’ve silently chided myself for being stupid, boring, ugly, and a failure? How could I possibly love myself if I was so wrapped up in hating myself?

I’ve learned that I have to let go of those same feelings toward other people—the expectations, the fear, the anger when they make mistakes or when they hurt me. I have learned to let myself be a perfectly imperfect human being, and I suppose I should extend that same gesture to others who cross my path.  The weight of the negative feelings is much heavier than a few stress eating pounds (or happy eating), but easier to lose if you give it a try.

So what will I do on this new bright path?  Keep taking care of my body, mind, and spirit, keep practicing taekwondo, keep learning from mistakes and triumphs, keep growing, keep loving.