Saying Goodbye to the Parasites in Our Lives

This is Plankton. He’s my intestinal parasite.

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…it’s not REALLY Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants, but this is how I picture the recently diagnosed parasitic infection in my digestive system–a tiny little bastard who’s always scheming to pull one over on everybody. He’s a dick, and I’m tired of the way he’s been treating me, but I’m also a little afraid to say goodbye to him.

I’ve hinted at my digestive-problems-of-mysterious origin in a few posts before. I’ve always had some food sensitivities since at least high school, but they got noticeably worse right after Christmas last year. I lost a total of 14 pounds in about 2-3 months, which on my 5’3″ petite frame was a lot. I’ve gained back about 6 pounds, and this is hard to admit…I’m not entirely happy about it.

Plankton’s taking up residence in my body was apparently one last f–k you from 2016, a year I think we can all agree was just awful for everyone. He made me sick, he ruined my appetite (and sometimes my entire day), and he was a constant unpleasant presence in my life.

He was also my enabler. I LOVED losing weight. I LOVED seeing the numbers get lower and lower on the scale every morning. I LOVED that sometimes all I ate for dinner was very carefully counted out Saltines and a little bit of hummus because I was too sick to eat anything else. Plankton tapped into my almost-but-not-quite-yet resolved issues around body image and disordered eating. He knew just what buttons to push to make me want to hang onto him a little longer.

Plankton knew I was having a pretty glum start to 2017 (job instability and a dark bout of loneliness), so he made himself a point of focus that I could cling to. Other parts of my life were unhappy, so if I could control and monitor my weight, at least I had some tiny bit of stability. (Yes, I recognize the irony in that statement) Sometimes even without the symptoms I restricted what I ate to see if I could get the numbers even lower. I wanted someone to notice my weight loss and ask if something was wrong. No one noticed other than my parents, who only see me every few months. I kept my secrets to myself.

So Plankton and I learned to live with each other. I tried to avoid foods that would trigger his wrath, but later in the year I let myself indulge and kind of enjoyed the fact that some “problem” was letting me eat whatever I wanted while keeping the weight off. We were a team, albeit dysfunctional. I waited nine months until seeking help from a doctor.

I knew I had a problem that was beyond just “food sensitivity” for months, but the seriousness of it finally hit me during a brief conversation with my mother. She told me how “drawn” I looked earlier in the year when I was at my lowest weight.

“So you’re saying I looked…thin?” I responded, half-jokingly but secretly, shamefully pleased. But seriously, what if this was worse than just lactose intolerance? What if I had IBS? Hell, what if I had colon cancer? Next thing I knew I was crying in the shower thinking about how as a self-loathing teenager I’d wished for a serious illness that would make me lose weight. It was a relief (and admittedly, kind of cool) to find out my problem was treatable.

Now it’s time to say goodbye to Plankton in the form of antibiotics. My original food sensitivities won’t go away, but if all goes as planned I won’t have the constant issues my clingy friend brought to the table, no pun intended. I’ll kind of miss him. He kept me skinny. He helped me fit into a cute little black skirt that I was going to get rid of because it was at one time too tight. I don’t want to go back to my pre-Christmas weight. What will I do without him?

Do you have parasites in your life you need to get rid of? They could be other people, habits, activities, perhaps even your own thought patterns. We can be in parasitic relationships that we know are making us sick, but we’re having a hard time seeking help. Are your parasites enabling you to stay stuck in a mental or physical place you don’t want to be but fear you can’t leave? Are they telling you that you must accept an unpleasant situation because you don’t deserve better? What is draining your energy and sapping your soul? Who (or what) do you need to let go of for good?

It’s time to let go of what no longer serves us and be brave enough to face the world alone. It’s time to be free.

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Don’t Sweat Fools

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I had this boyfriend who would often say, “I don’t sweat fools,” meaning he tried not to let people rattle him, especially over petty, pointless things. I’ve found myself thinking that quite a bit throughout this year…well, alternating between that and my favorite line from the RuPaul song “Sissy That Walk”: “’Less they paying your bills pay them bitches no mind.” Better words were never spoken, Mama Ru. (Now sissy that walk!)

Saying you’re not going to let people get to you and actually practicing it are two different things. I struggle with it although it’s become easier over the years as my confidence has improved. When our values or our livelihoods are threatened, when our character is questioned, when human decency is trampled upon it’s hard to not take things personally…because many times it is personal. This is when I’ll have to tap into my taekwondo “indomitable spirit” and keep moving forward, fools be damned.

So I’m done. I’m tired of the BS and tired of giving my power over to people who ultimately don’t matter, whether they are acquaintances, old classmates, ex-boyfriends, coworkers, public figures, or total strangers. I’m making a commitment to myself not to sweat fools anymore. I’ve never had a very wide circle of trusted, favorite people to begin with, and that circle’s gotten a lot smaller in the last two months. I just can’t care anymore. It’s time to keep a LOT of people at arm’s length and insulate myself with the people I truly care about. Bye Felicia.

Maybe this—pushing away rather than embracing–isn’t the best way to cope with what has been a very difficult year, but it’s what I have to do to remain calm and in control. Perhaps that’s a bit nihilistic, but that’s how I’m feeling right now. And what a year it’s been. Beloved celebrities have died, violence is happening worldwide, illness and death have struck my family and friends, my workplace was turned upside down, and of course there’s been this vitriolic political landscape in the United States. Other than the nice respite of the summer Olympics, I think most of us can agree 2016 has been a rotten year. I think on December 31st many people will be welcoming 2017 with open, exhausted arms.

Most people don’t matter, not really, not in the big scheme of things. A good friend once told me, “What other people think of you is none of your business.” The people who are the most vindictive, bullying, and aggressive tend to be the most insecure. Why let someone else’s hangups (or highly charged Facebook posts) ruin your day? Why let someone else tear you down when you’ve worked so hard to build yourself up? Don’t sweat those fools! You’re too awesome to do that! Focus on the ones you love and on making yourself even more awesome.

Not sweating fools doesn’t have to be reserved for people who are the most overtly aggressive or mean-spirited. It’s a reminder not to sweat the small stuff. Loved one getting on your nerves? It will pass. Got a last minute work assignment dumped on you? Just get it done and don’t dwell too much on the person responsible. This will also pass. People being contradictory, indecisive, or running around like headless chickens? Rise above and don’t get pulled into the senseless panic. Did someone make a rude or ignorant comment? F—k ‘em. You don’t have time for fools. Other people don’t define who you are, nor are they responsible for your feelings…they don’t deserve that power over you.

I have let people abuse me, bully me, play mind games, or even just let what they said or did get to me when what they actually said or did wasn’t a big deal. I have taken offense by creating it from thin air. I have been subjugated to pettiness and cruelty,and I let them win. I don’t need to be afraid of anyone anymore, and neither do you. (Well, I’m a little afraid of my Grandmaster, but that’s a healthy fear.)

And I can’t ignore the fact that sometimes I am the biggest fool in my own life. I’m extremely harsh and judgmental of myself, especially when the world around me becomes more stressful. I tend to turn inward rather than lash out at people externally. I scrutinize everything I do or say. I ruminate on what other people have said and start to fantasize about confrontations. I isolate myself because deep down I believe I will be rejected because of aspects of my personality, looks, and past. I believe I have to shoulder my burdens alone because I don’t trust anyone to help me. I believe the only time I can be happy is when I’m practicing taekwondo in the dojang…

…talk about a buncha BS and giving my power away. I know, right? Looks like this whole not sweating fools thing needs to start with the woman in the mirror.

Getting Fat Shamed as a Size Four

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I love you…just kidding.

“I liked you better skinnier.”

It was a bright spring morning, and my boyfriend and I were relaxing at home before I had to go to a work event. I jumped off the couch and stared slack-jawed at him.

“You’ve changed so much since we started dating. You’ve gained weight,” he whined as he stretched out like a sleepy lion. Then he tilted his head, widened his dark brown eyes with a look of betrayal and said in what I had come to secretly call his Snob Voice:
“I feel deceived. Did you…sell me a bill of goods?”

Let’s see if this makes sense. Apparently in his mind I had purposefully lost a lot of weight while I was on the dating market in order to snag a man.  Then once I was in a relationship I gained it back (again, on purpose). Yeah, that was my evil plan all along; it was all about tricking him. Logical, no?

I was too stunned to think straight and immediately went into defending myself. I should have said something funny like, “Well, I liked you better when you had more hair and a job!” or “I liked you better when you got the hell out of my house five minutes ago!” but by that time in the relationship I was so desperate for his approval and terrified of his criticism that I felt stuck. Every other week or so he would threaten to pick up and move out of state for a job, or he would point out ominously how “incompatible” we were. Loving him made me a nervous wreck. I couldn’t take another criticism, especially about something as sensitive as my body.

“I was sick when you met me!” I pleaded. “I wasn’t eating, and I was drinking too much! I was so unhappy! I looked terrible! People kept asking me what was wrong! I needed to gain weight and get healthy again. I’ve told you about this before. Why can’t you understand? ” Sadly I felt like I had to apologize for myself rather than the other way around. Panicked, my thoughts went to debating over whether I should start starving myself again.

He turned up his perfect little nose and looked away from me. With angry tears in my eyes I drove to my work event and pouted silently the entire time. I was burning with hatred for him. By the way, I was 116 pounds and a size four petite at the time of this incident.

Later that day we tentatively made our peace with each other, but the issue never really resolved itself. By the time we broke up, which just happened to be a week after my bo dan test, it had been buried under a pile of other irreconcilable differences. It was just as well that I made the last six months of my journey to black belt alone. 

Here’s the real deal: When I had met him at my “skinnier” size I was several pounds lighter and in the throes of food restriction, alcohol abuse, and a severe bout of depression. I was thin and haggard to the point that my family and coworkers began to notice. I looked brittle and sunken. My skin was sallow, there were dark circles under my eyes, and my clothes hung from my bones. Of course I lied to everyone that I was fine. Tricking a man into dating me in all my skeletal, miserable glory was not really top of mind.

Once I began taekwondo training my priorities dramatically shifted. I had something wholesome and positive to focus on, something to look forward to every other day, and people who cared about me without judgment. I was doing something just for me, not to make myself seem better in some other person’s eyes. I was no longer punishing myself by punishing my body. I began to see myself as a strong athlete and food as necessary fuel. In all I probably only gained around 7-8 pounds, and much of it was muscle…okay, some of it. A few weeks after I began training I met the boyfriend, and we started dating. We were off to a good start, but my body image and eating issues didn’t go away.

He told me every day of our relationship that I was beautiful and that he loved me, but the pressure to stay thin was on me from the beginning. Early into our relationship he’d admitted he preferred the waif body type—flat chests and slim hips, thin spaghetti-like arms and soft shoulders. He bragged that most of his previous girlfriends were from Europe and would starve themselves other than eating one indulgent meal per day. He was originally from South America, so the stereotype that Latin men appreciate a woman with curves fell…well…flat, for lack of a better word.

I remember feeling stressed during the first week or two of seeing him. I had just started to get my health back thanks to taekwondo, and then I found myself wondering if  I would need to continue my unhealthy starvation habits to remain attractive to him. He once casually mentioned that during the summer he usually skipped dinner to cut weight and get lean, hearkening back to his weight-dropping habits as a high school and collegiate wrestler. He would often remind me (in the midst of telling me how beautiful I was) that he was dating against type since I was (1) American and (2) a little rounder than his typical pencil-thin paramours. He noticed the bulky muscle I put on from taekwondo before I did.

While I was ultimately the one who chose to let his comments get under my skin (well at least THAT part of me is thin), no woman, regardless of size or looks, deserves a cruel dismissal and strange accusation from someone who supposedly loves her. I’ve had disordered eating and body image problems since my teens, so my anxiety around weight existed long before this guy entered the picture. I’m not sure if I will ever totally overcome them, so if someone makes a comment about my looks it really messes with my head.

Disordered eating and body image problems aside, I just couldn’t understand why he would say something so hateful when I thought I was quite healthy.  I’m small, proportional, and look both feminine and strong. My waist is the same size it was in high school. These days my “walking around weight” hovers between 118 and 120 pounds, which is probably WAY too fat for the ex’s standards, but it’s a much leaner version of the 120-pound version of myself that I was in my mid-twenties. The last time I checked I was at 18% body fat, which is healthy for a woman in her late thirties. In short, I look pretty damn good. So why the criticism?

And come on, who doesn’t put on a little bit of “happy weight” into a new relationship? Sunday night pizza and a movie was our THING! Our big treat was going to the SAM’s snack bar to get Nathan’s hot dogs! I didn’t become Munchkin-sized Jabba the Hutt on my own!

A reader who knows me personally recently asked me why I stayed in that situation while at the same time my blog posts were pointing to all the epiphanies and confidence breakthroughs I was having thanks to taekwondo. How could I be such a badass in the dojang while at home I was submissive and sensitive? My immediate defensive response was: don’t judge me the way he did (he LOVED to look for loopholes between my blog versus how I was in “real life”). We can have insights and ideas that take longer to implement due to our hard-wired habits and history….meaning stuff that makes sense in our heads may have a 10 second (or 10 year) delay to show up in our actions.

My second response was: you don’t know how it feels to be in that situation unless you are in it. As dysfunctional as our relationship was, we really did love each other. While it’s true I let myself be bullied for too long, I did start to gain more confidence and self-assurance, even if it was in small increments. Taekwondo was my lighthouse during all of this. Slowly I was growing stronger and more able to be fully independent without looking to a relationship as a crutch. If I didn’t have taekwondo I’m sure I would have stayed in my self-destructive patterns for much longer.

Even though that was a terrible thing for the ex to say, I don’t want to play the victim and blame him for everything. Mr. Fat Shamer wasn’t all bad, and neither was I all good. Complicated feelings make it very difficult to leave a complicated situation. There were some very nice qualities about him and our relationship. …well, other than the whole “bill of goods” thing. Really? Who talks like that? “Bill of goods?” Is it the nineteenth century? “You, sir, have sold me a bill of goods! I slap you with my glove and challenge you to a gentlemen’s duel!”

Should I have handled things differently? Yes, but by now any regrets I have around that relationship have faded to a fuzzy washed-out hue, and indifference feels better than anger.

The ex used to say that one can only grow in relationships. I disagree since much of my growth has happened during periods of solitude, and I continue to grow and change in my chosen state of singlehood, but there’s some truth to it. Whether they’re a blessing or a lesson, the people in our lives can stretch us beyond our comfort zones.

I’m okay now. I look good and more importantly, I feel good.

While I have absolutely no interest in dating any time soon or perhaps ever (read why in this post), I know that I’m strong and confident enough to value myself over the approval of whatever man crosses my path in the future. I finally love myself, so I don’t need to look for love elsewhere. I know now that I can stand up for myself the way I do in in the dojang and in the boardroom. So if a man ever tells me my ass is too big, I’ll reply like the Big Bad Wolf:

“The better to kick yours with, my dear.”

“Everything That Irritates Us About Others Can Lead Us to an Understanding of Ourselves”–Carl Jung

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The other day right as taekwondo class ended I let a seven-year-old get under my skin. We were collecting our shoes and water bottles after a hard cardio workout when she remarked with wonder, “Wow, we didn’t take a break at all.”
“I know,” I said, “But we can handle it. We’re tough. We’re bo dans after all.”
She paused for a moment and said, “Bo dahns” matter-of-factly and trotted off to meet her mother.

“Don’t correct me!” I spat at her half jokingly but also half menacingly. A surprising rush of anger flared up in my neck. How dare that little brat correct me in front of other people? How dare that bossy child who whines and complains and fidgets and doesn’t remember any of her forms or one-steps tell ME what’s up in the dojang? How dare she be so bold and confident and sure….how dare she be all the things that I am not.

I thought about if for several hours afterwards. I wasn’t really angry at her. She’s just a kid, and her life sucks way more than mine does. I mean, I never have to listen to boring schoolteachers ever again, I can have cookies for dinner if I want, and I can stay up as late as I please. Being a grown up is AWESOME.

I was angry at what her words and (in my perception) tactless disrespectful attitude represented to me. I feel like people have been walking all over me, humiliating me and taunting me my entire life. I was angry because don’t do that to people. I’m nice and considerate, and dammit, everyone else should be too and fuck you if you’re not! I was angry because I just sat back and took it. I attracted it and I let it happen over and over and over again. I never just walked away and removed myself from the situation.

In that moment I was reminded of all the times I was corrected, blamed, scolded and condescended to like…well, like a child. When people do that I feel worthless and small. I feel insignificant and powerless. I feel like I don’t deserve any better.

It’s been said that the people around us are a mirror of our reality. They treat us the way we allow ourselves to be treated. If we let people treat us like crap, then perhaps it’s because we don’t think we deserve more than crappy treatment. Some form of attention or interaction–even if it’s dysfunctional–is better than none at all in this twisted worldview. Too often I have allowed myself to feel inferior in the presence of another’s overwhelming (if not sometimes misguided) confidence.

In a flash I remembered an old boyfriend who would constantly pick at my words, looking for loopholes that would peg me as a hypocrite. He used to correct my grammar and pronunciation in three different languages (yes, really). I let the corrections in his native language slide, but I finally had to tell him to back the hell off when it came to my native language….which makes me wonder if perhaps I do mangle my own language, but then I remember which one of us has an actual college degree in ENGLISH. Most of the time I just stuttered and wept silently and endured all the put-downs and patronizing.

I remembered a toxic bitchy ex-friend who had a habit of repeating my name every two or three sentences as if I were a dog and she was trying to hold my attention. I’d like to say that I told her to get her anorexic crybaby spoiled ass out of my life, but I simply stopped speaking to her, and as if by telepathy she did the same.

I have been targeted, bullied, harassed, cheated on, lied to, abused, and very worst of all, I continued to let it happen. Since childhood I seemed to attract a plethora of insecure but alluring bullies: domineering female friends and overbearing boyfriends who seemed fun and confident and protective at first, but once they got a taste of what beating me down felt like they became thirsty for blood and I willingly opened my veins. It’s caused me to shy away from friendships, especially with women, and as for matters in the romantic department, I let the tension build until I explode with venom. To protect myself I’ve become more and more isolated and guarded.

But I can’t blame my little classmate for reminding me of someone else because she’s not responsible for how I feel or what memories of the past I associate with the present. It seems like we’re always making the people in our present atone for the sins of people in our past. What I was really angry about was that I had let this pattern build up in my life and I had tolerated behavior that my accusers, abusers, and attackers certainly wouldn’t have tolerated if the tables were turned. I really wish I had their blind foolish confidence….or that I were some kind of sociopathic narcissist, whatever’s easier.

Punishing the present for the hurts of the past can take a toll on one’s spirit. In a former relationship I spent the first few months trying to convince my partner that I was not in fact the evil doppelgänger of a conniving ex-wife or crazy ex-girlfriend or volatile mother. I worked very hard to be nice and sweet and loving and attentive and pretty much the best girlfriend ever. I was racked with anxiety over vague threats floated my way that I reminded him of them. If I dared show any fear or doubt or God forbid, anxiety, it was tossed cruelly back in my face. (Try having a pleasant dinner after your boo says they “really question your mental stability.”)

The heavy responsibility of the ghosts of his past was placed on my shoulders when it never should have been my burden. At the time I wasn’t brave enough to say that. I just ducked my head and towed the line because I didn’t want to know what was at the other end of “or else.”

As I continued to contemplate my little compatriot’s comment I realized that in a way I was jealous of her. I was envious that I couldn’t speak my mind or argue that I was right no matter whether I really was or not. I’d rather be polite and know when to pick and choose my battles, but perhaps I need to seek a healthier balance between being outspoken and being silent.

Ironically right after that my instructor told me that a couple and their daughter watching our class told him they liked me and thought I was “very aggressive.” It’s kind of sad that the only place I am truly bold and aggressive (in a positive healthy way of course) is in the dojang…and more frequently in the conference room with my tight-knit team of male colleagues. I wonder what would happen if I were really in a fight. Would I be cool and confident and trust my training or would I fly into a blind indignant rage at the fact that someone with poor manners decided to humiliate and pick on me like it was their God-given right? That’s just rudewouldn’t mug somebody because I’m POLITE, and dammit, they should be too!

The next time you find yourself getting angry because someone hurt your feelings or “made” you feel bad, pause and dig a little deeper. What is it about their behavior that really gets to you? Go beyond “It’s wrong!” or “It’s mean!” What specifically bothers you? What memories does it conjure up? What feelings do you have, and are they the same as what you felt in similar moments from your past? Is there anything you can do to stop that downward spiral of yucky feelings?

Is there something about that person’s behavior that shines a bright mirror on something you were afraid to show? Are they actually pointing out something that you want to change about yourself? We like to say that bullies lash out because they are insecure. That’s true, but one could also argue that we might uncover some of our own insecurity in the way we interpret and respond to the situation. Two insecure people with perpetually broken hearts and nasty tempers can be a very dangerous combination.

The good news is that YOU are in control of your feelings and responses. No one can “make” you feel insignificant or unworthy–only you can do that. So what can you do to make yourself feel better? If you do want to change something, do it. No one’s stopping you but the person in the mirror. Want to try a different response? Go for it. Want to walk away? Please, let me get the door for you. I’ll help you carry your baggage. The really good news is that you have my permission to kick the other person’s ass because they probably were really being rude anyway.