Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Week 44: A Memory and a Promise

Grandma on her graduation day
I’ve been thinking of my grandma a lot lately.  She’s been gone for several years now, but I still miss her from time to time, especially during the holidays.  She was a wonderful and compassionate human being and did so much for the people around her.  And she loved her family abundantly and unconditionally, and I can remember what it felt like to be the focus of that love, and I do miss it.

The last time I saw my grandmother alive and conscious was a week before she was placed into a medically induced coma.  She’d been having trouble with her heart again, and angioplasties weren't cutting it anymore.  If I’m remembering correctly (and I may not be—that whole week and the following month was a heart-wrenching blur), I went to visit her in the hospital the day before they decided she needed open heart surgery.   She seemed so pale and small in that hospital bed.  We talked.  I don’t remember the whole conversation, but I do remember the topic of my weight came up.  At the time I weighed just over three hundred pounds, and with the history of heart conditions and diabetes in my family, grandma was worried.  I clearly remember the moment she took my hand into her own and asked:

“Will you promise me something?”

She was uncharacteristically serious as she asked, and I can remember the hair on my arms standing on end as I looked into her sharp, intelligent eyes.  In that moment all I could do was nod because my voice had failed me. 

“Promise me you’ll do what you can to take the weight off.  Promise me you’ll take care of yourself.  I don’t want you to go through what I’m going through right now.  I don’t want you to have that kind of life.  I don’t want you to be this sick.  Promise me?”

“I promise.” I whispered.  I was crying by that time, because I think we both knew on some sub-conscious level that maybe things weren't going to go so well the next day.  They didn't.  She didn't get to come home for Christmas, and she passed away after the New Year.

The crazy thing is, I forgot about that promise until recently.  I’m not sure why I suddenly remembered it now.  Maybe I willfully forgot because I couldn't stand the shame that came from trying and failing to keep that promise numerous times.  The last few months have been a terrible uphill struggle, and the upcoming holidays are not going to make it easier.   The addiction has come into full play.  I find myself eating trigger foods full of salt, sugar, and fat and ignoring any and all attempts by caring friends and family to stop and think about what I’m doing. 

It’s fine, that inner voice says as I indulge in these foods.  You can stop whenever you want. 


Then sometime last week I happened to look up at the wall next to my computer desk.  My grandmother’s high school graduation picture is hanging on that wall, and my eyes were drawn to it, and suddenly I was reminded of that final conversation and the promise I made.  I closed my eyes and I could see and hear her in that hospital bed.  I could feel her fingers around my own, her skin dry and thin and her touch cool.

Promise me, she said.  And I promised.  I promised, but I forgot.  But I remember now, and the person I am now doesn't make promises lightly.  I do all I can to keep them.  So I promise, Grandma.  Even though I’ll still probably make mistakes along the way and have bad days, I promise. 

I promise to pick myself up and keep trying, no matter how many times I may fall.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Week 43: Focus

I’ve had a hard time focusing on much of anything since my last post, and I’m realizing that maybe it’s because I’m trying to focus on too many things at once.  I’m searching for a new job, seriously looking into possibly starting a business based on my paper crafting, thinking of completely rearranging several rooms in the house, and trying desperately to get back on the fitness track.  I’m dreaming big, but I’m only one person, and there are only so many hours in the day.  But I really want these things, and most of them I’d like now.  The problem is, trying to focus on so many different things at once ironically leaves me with no focus at all.  

So, time to slow down and concentrate on one or two things.  Fitness comes first, because when I’m feeling down and depressed about falling off the proverbial wagon, it’s almost impossible for me to feel good about myself, or even function.  I figure feeling good about myself will help immensely when I’m interviewing for a new job.  So, yeah, I’m back to counting calories again, and am making a concentrated effort to at least walk every day.  It hasn’t been easy, as I’ve been struggling with the food addiction and falling back into less than healthy behaviors.  I’ve been telling myself that I can continue eating as much as I want and that I can stop whenever I want to, when I know perfectly well that is the furthest thing from the truth.

It’s time to focus on those behaviors, drag them into the light, correct them, and get back on track.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Week 42: Admission

When I was a kid and fretting about some situation, my dad would almost always tell me “If you know what the problem is, you can fix it.”  It was such a simple sentence, but the wisdom behind the words was vast and invaluable, especially for a kid who tended towards anxiety rather than rational thought.  I found if I focused more on the actual situation on hand rather than the possible outcomes, I was a lot less anxious.  And as the years went by I learned that knowing what the problem is sometimes includes admitting that you have a problem in the first place.   And as I write this, I find myself in such a position.  The time has come for an admission, painful as it may be, because it’s the only way I can think to even start fixing the problem.   

I addressed my food addiction early in this project, because realizing I had the addiction was a very important step in my journey.  Having that knowledge about myself enabled me to learn what my triggers were and what foods I should avoid. Of course, knowing that doesn't always mean I make the right choices.  A month ago I made a few wrong choices.  I fell off that proverbial wagon and have been struggling to climb back on and stay on ever since.  I could go on and on about how disappointed I am with my behavior and sudden weakness after a year and a half of solid success, but that’s not the point of this admission.

No, the point is the admission itself.  If I vocalize it, put it on record and share it, then the problem is real.  I can no longer pretend that it isn't happening.  Because I have been pretending that there isn't a problem and that I've got it all under control, even though the scales and my exercise records are telling a very different story.  I’m like Nero fiddling as Rome burns around him...if I just pretend everything is alright and don’t face the problem it will be fine, right?  Yeah, no.

I’m upset with myself, and ashamed that I wasted a whole month pretending everything was okay when it clearly wasn't.  The temptation to dwell on that is strong, because it’s what that negative voice in my head wants me to do, and it has been gleefully giving me the “I told you you couldn't do it! I told you so!” attitude for weeks now.  It has been a painful struggle, and I can’t quite seem to quiet that voice enough to find my equilibrium again.  It’s tiring, emotionally and physically, and there is a part of me that thinks giving up on this journey would be so much easier than continuing it.

But I’m still fighting, even as I write this.  A larger part of me wants to believe that this is just a long storm I’m going to have to weather, and that maybe right now I just need to dig in and refused to be moved and let the storm pass over me.  Once the sun comes back out the path I’m taking on this journey should be a little clearer, right?  And then I can journey forward once again.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Week 41: Gratitude

In an effort to battle the anxiety and depression of the previous week, this week I spent a lot of time looking for inspiration. I visited several of my favorite motivational-type blogs in the hopes that I would find something that would make me feel a little better and give me a more positive outlook on life. I wasn’t disappointed. There’s a lot of inspiration on the internet, if you know where to find it, but for some reason this week a lot of those sources seemed to be talking about the subject of gratitude and how it can really make a difference in both your attitude and how you live your life. According to one post, gratitude means “you appreciate from a very deep level what you have been given, what you have accomplished, what you have acquired, and where you are on your path at this very moment.” I’ve been thinking about that quote all week, and this morning I decided that perhaps I needed to take some time and focus on the things for which I am most thankful.

I’ve discovered that I have a lot to be grateful for.

Despite the fact that I’ve not lost much weight in the past couple of months, I’m grateful that I’ve lost as much as I have. A year and a half ago I was 100 pounds heavier than I am now. I'm grateful that I have managed to keep that weight off. I’m grateful that the lighter weight made it easier for me to run. I’m grateful that I found the courage to run a few 5Ks, and I’m grateful that I’m training to run more. A year and a half ago I couldn’t have done that--I’ve come a long way.

I’m grateful for my husband, who tells me on a regular basis how much he loves me and how beautiful I am, and persists when I try to argue otherwise on the latter. He supports me on this journey, even if it means he doesn’t get to see me for several mornings in a row because I’m at the gym doing serious time on a treadmill before I head into work. He holds me close when the anxiety overwhelms me and is there for me whenever I need him, no matter how grouchy or weepy I may be. I am grateful to have him by my side.

I’m grateful for that one vegan friend (you know who you are!) that even though we are separated by hundreds of miles manages to be there for me every single time I need her, regardless of what is going on in her own life. This person has all but held my hand on this journey, gifted me with the knowledge of her own experiences, and has believed in me even when I didn’t want to believe in myself. She is the one that urged me to take my dream of running a marathon and make it reality, and she has been invaluable in my journey from meat-eater to vegan. Words cannot come close to expressing how thankful I am for her help. The transition would have been scary without her and not nearly as smooth.

I have other close friends and family that constantly support me and help me on my way. Some do so with encouraging words and hugs. Others do so by giving me a kick in the ass when I need it. Some do both. All of them are helpful, and while I might be able to find my way on my own, it would be immeasurably harder without them. I am deeply grateful for their care and concern.

I’m grateful for the resources available on the internet. In my countless Google searches I’ve found everything from vegan tomato soup recipes to blog posts with invaluable information on running. Finding all of that information would have been much more time consuming without those resources!

And I could keep going here, but I do still need to take my walk this evening. But now that I’ve focused on that gratitude, I’m feeling better and am having a hard time remembering why I was depressed at all.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Week 40: Anxiety

Early this morning I realized that I was a day late with my week 40 post.  It didn't take long for my sarcastic inner voice to put in its two cents:

Slacker much?

I think I may have actually given a physical sneer in response.  Yeah, this week I have felt like I wasn't getting much done.  I've been dealing with a job search and all the anxiety (and sometimes apathy) that comes along with it.  I spent a lot of time holed up in my office at home, staring at the wall with a near constant litany of fear and doubts running through my head and a distinct inability to focus on anything else.  

It's extremely difficult for me when I get like this.  Venting is a great way to dispel some of the anxiety, but finding someone I trust to vent at is an entirely different matter.  I've discovered over the years that most people don't understand that when I'm venting anxiety I don't expect them to to fix my problems, or even understand why I'm so anxious.  I just need to get it out, to talk it through out loud.  What I don't need is an eye roll and an admonition to stop being a drama queen, or even worse, reminded that "everyone has problems".  I get that, I really do, but other people's problems do not negate my own, and vice versa.  And the simple fact is, once the anxiety wheel starts spinning in my head, it's almost impossible for me to slow it down unless I talk about what is bothering me.  

So what does this have to do with my fitness journey?  A lot, actually.  This past week I've not been focusing on the journey as much as I would have liked.  The scales mercilessly pointed that fact out to me this morning, and the weight gain has me worrying that I'm once again on that slippery slope that I've been on numerous times before.   I worry that I'm going to gain it all back.  Is this worry logical?  No, and I know that, but ask anyone that suffers from anxiety and they will tell you that there's nothing logical about it.

Fortunately, I do have friends that will listen, and I was able to connect with a couple of them early this morning and talk some of my worries out. It helped a great deal, and I think I am now at a point where I can focus on what needs to be done rather than worry about what may or may not happen.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Week 39: Numbers

So, after a year and two months of step-counting fun with my FitBit, I managed to lose it earlier this week.  I look back on the moment when I realized that it really was gone, and I don’t like to think about the frantic panic that ensued.  It had strong echoes of an addict looking for her lost fix.  I had to force myself to settle down, to breathe, and recognize that it wasn’t the end of the world just because I wouldn’t have an exact count of my steps.  I would still be exercising, and even though there would be no visible record, it would still count.  And after a year of walking the same paths and trails, I have a pretty good idea how many steps I’d be taking, anyway.  

In fact, losing the FitBit might have been a blessing.  My reaction tells me that perhaps I was getting a little too wrapped up in the numbers and losing focus on the journey itself.  A month ago I made the conscious decision to stop militantly counting calories for that very reason, and perhaps the fates decided I needed to take it just one step further.  It will be interesting to see how my daily walks differ, now that I’ll be paying more attention to my surroundings rather than focusing on the numbers.  I’m betting my walks in the park will be a lot more enjoyable.

Now, I’m not saying that I won’t replace the FitBit eventually, because I probably will.  It’s an excellent tool, especially when it comes to motivation.  I’m going to wait a few weeks, though, and give myself time to relearn the importance of enjoying this journey.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Week 38: Change

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein


I've come across this Albert Einstein quote several times in my life, and I ran across it again earlier this week. However, this time it resonated with me in a way it never has before. And the more I thought about this quote, I began to realize that it goes beyond a definition of insanity. It is more about the importance of change. In any area of life things must change if a difference is expected.

And then I found myself thinking about my life before I started down this fitness path, and I realized just how insane it was. Outwardly I really wanted things to be different, but at a deep subconscious level I really wasn't willing to do what needed to be done. I wanted change, but I wasn't willing to make those changes. I would try the same diets over and over again, with the same mindset, and expect the results to be different. You see? Insanity.

Fortunately, somewhere along the way my want turned into will. I've been doing some serious goal setting this week. I've set some long term goals that revolve around several areas of my life. Those major goals gave birth to other short-term goals that will serve as stepping stones along the way. All of them are going to require a great deal of change, both physical and mental. I’m going to have to make further changes in my diet. I’m going to have to change my priorities and reorganize my daily activities accordingly.

And this time I will embrace that change, because it leads to a better place.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Week 37: Frustration

Two weeks ago I finished a 30 day crunch challenge and decided to keep doing those crunches, but at the same time start a 30 day squat challenge.  Squats, I’ve found, are not nearly as easy as crunches.  Two days in and I was REALLY feeling it and tossing around that old “I’ve got muscles I didn't know I had!” cliche.   But I was managing it okay and was taking it slowly and carefully, and the resulting ache in my thighs and calves was that “I've actually been working these muscles” kind of ache, so I counted that as a good thing.

And then Monday afternoon I was doing something as simple as levering myself out of the car when the unthinkable occurred.  I put my right foot down and was lifting myself out of the car when I felt excruciating pain radiate down the inside of my thigh.  I’d pulled a muscle.  Seriously, it was all I could do to not cry in that moment.  I realized that I was going to have to postpone the squat challenge, and that once again I was going to have to seriously cut back on my walking and running for a week or two and give it time to heal.  Not exactly the kind of revelation I wanted after having to take it easy for nearly a month after an ankle sprain.   Lately it feels like I’m taking more steps backwards than forwards on this journey, and that is extremely frustrating.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Week 36: Dairy

I used to think that there was no life without dairy.  In my head, cheese was a food group unto itself and I had at least two servings a day (and usually a lot more than that).  I mean, everything is better with cheese, right?  And how about a tall glass of cold milk with a cookie?  Or a three egg omelette?  Before I started this journey I was consuming a frightening amount of dairy.  Even after I started counting calories I found that I couldn’t quite let the cheese go.  Granted, I started buying cheeses that were made with 2% milk, but I was still consuming more of it than was probably healthy.  Honestly, the thought of giving up dairy would actually freak me out.  I used to tell people that I’d NEVER be vegan because I just couldn’t give up cheese.

I know now that it wasn’t a matter of couldn’t.  It was more like I wouldn’t.  

Looking back on the past year it amazes me how much my attitude towards dairy has changed.  I find that tofu scrambles are just as tasty as three egg omelettes.  I actually prefer almond milk over dairy milk.  And well, when it comes to cheese, there are plant-based alternatives that I find to be just as tasty as dairy cheese.   It seems there actually is life without dairy.

And suddenly the idea of being vegan isn’t quite so intimidating.  I still have a ways to go on my transition.  Now that I’ve made it a serious goal, I’m beginning to assess everything I eat and reading ingredients in the grocery store.  I’m discovering that dairy is in almost everything in some shape or form!  I’m going to have to give up my toaster waffles and start making my own.  Same with the muffin tops I used to buy.  

And honestly, this isn't a bad thing.  It just means I’ll be eating even less processed foods, and that’s actually a good thing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Week 35: Diet, Revisited

This past week I was catching up with some folks I’ve not seen in a while and eventually the subject of my weight loss came up.  

“How is that diet thing going?” they asked.

Now, as I explained in a previous post, the word “diet” carries a lot of negative connotations in my world.  “Diet” implies the changes I’ve made are not permanent, and I don’t like that.  Of course, the people in my life that are not very close to me may not know that, so I usually just politely answer that things are going just fine and just leave it at that.  However, this week I just wasn’t able to let it go.

“I’m not on a diet,” I replied.  

Because I’m not.  I’ve changed my diet, yes, but I’m not on a diet.  It’s a distinct difference, and I found myself explaining it to this person in detail. And perhaps I was overreacting, but it’s important to me that people understand the difference.  It’s important to me that people understand these changes are not temporary, that I’m in it for the long haul.  

Why the sudden sensitivity to a question that up until now I’ve politely blown off with polite replies?  Two words: high cholesterol.   The folks providing my family’s health insurance instituted mandatory health screenings for all their adult members, and my cholesterol levels are high.  Suddenly the importance of my dietary changes remaining permanent seem even more so.  In fact, I find myself thinking that there will be one more permanent change in the very near future.  I will most likely be transitioning from mostly vegetarian to vegan within the next couple of months.  Under the circumstances, I think it is the right thing to do, and that I will be better off for it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Week 34: Mirrors

I dislike mirrors.   When I look into a mirror I’m there long enough to make sure my hair is tidy and my clothes are straight, and then I’m gone.  If I linger I start to criticize myself, and the next thing I know I’m feeling terrible and my self-image is all but shattered.   I see that I am not a size 10.  I see that my complexion is not perfect and that my skin is no longer as firm as it used to be.  I see that the clothes I wear don’t fit quite the way I wish they would.  When I look in the mirror I rarely see what is *really* there, nor am I able to perceive myself the way others do.  I see myself through a filter created by years of media conditioning and my own internal dialogue.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced on this journey is disabling that filter.  I had to lose nearly 50 pounds before I could even see that I appeared different from when I began my weight loss, and even then it took unexpectedly catching my reflection in a window out of the corner of my eye to really see it.  In that moment the visual filter was not in place, and for a second I did not recognize that the thinner person I saw was myself.   And even now that I’ve lost 100 pounds, I continue to struggle with my self-image.  My  friends and family can tell me that I look great, and I will smile and thank them, but in my head I’m disagreeing because I have a hard time seeing myself through their eyes.  I found myself looking in the mirror this past week and thinking that I somehow looked bigger than I had three weeks ago, and it simply is not true.  I’ve not changed size and all of my clothes still fit...and yet the mirror seemed to tell me otherwise.  

This is something that I’m going to have to work on for a long time.  I hope that someday I will look into a mirror and not feel the need to look away from my own reflection.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Week 33: Hope

This week was so much better than the last few.  I racked up at least 10,000 steps seven days in a row, and on three of those days I managed to run a couple of miles.  I found myself actually wanting to exercise, a feeling I’ve not had in nearly two months. I still struggled with keeping my calorie intake within range, but that, too, was much improved when compared to the last few weeks.  I found the motivation to do some experimenting in the kitchen again, and the vegan black bean burritos I made last night were both satisfying and delicious.  

It gives me hope that the dark cloud of fearful anxiety I’ve been living under for the past month and a half is finally dissipating.  I can once again see my journey’s path.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Week 32: Variety

I did a lot of thinking this past week, and I think boredom may be part of why I was finding it so hard to stay on track with my calorie intake these past few months.  I was getting into a rut with the food I was eating, and forgot the promise I made to myself when this all started.  I promised myself I’d try new foods or recipes at least once a week, and now that I think about it, I’ve not done that in quite a while.  I know better, too, because lack of variety in past diets has ultimately led me to throw in the towel.

Well, now that I’ve figured that out, I spent some time searching for some new recipes and have found a couple that I can’t wait to try out this week.  I’ll be making a vegan burrito filling and some avocado fudge.  I found a recipe for vegan spinach pie, too, and will probably get the ingredients to make that later this week.

So, reminder to self: make sure to eat a variety of foods and try something new every once in a while!  Counting calories is less a chore when you’re not bored to death!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Week 31: Believe

Recently I started therapy because, let’s face it, sometimes we need help.  I’ve hit the point in my journey where there are things from my past haunting my present.  I’ve been avoiding some of those things for nearly three decades, but it’s time to tackle those monsters and put them to bed and move on.  I’m still in the early stages and my therapist is still working on getting to know me and gathering a lot of information in the process.  This week, she assigned me a self-assessment exercise that consists of ten questions.  None of them are easy, but my thought processes ground to a halt when I reached question number four:

What are your strengths, abilities, skills and talents?

As is the case anytime I'm asked this kind of question, my mind went completely blank.  And then I got frustrated with myself.  Why can I never readily answer this question?  Why is it so hard for me to see the good things in myself? One day my husband will tell me I am beautiful and it is all I can do to keep from arguing.  Another day a friend will tell me that I’m doing an awesome job with my training and I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying something along the lines of “I could be doing so much better”.  And on my really, really bad days my husband or son will say “I love you”, and I have to stop myself from asking why.  

When I look in the mirror, I look for what they see and can never quite find it.  I suspect this is a tendency my therapist and I will discuss at great length.  I need to learn how to see the good in myself before I travel too much further on this journey.  I need to shut down the negative inner dialogue that has me doubting the sincere words and praise of my friends and family.  I need to believe them.  

And most importantly, I need to learn how to believe in myself.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Week 30: Basics

Sometimes, we just have to go back to basics.  

That’s kind of where I am this week after a long string of not so awesome food choices and an injury that is starting to be more trouble than I thought it would be.  I sprained my ankle the day before my last 5K run.  As one would imagine, I ended up running that 5K fairly slowly because the ankle was still tender and running all out on it really wasn’t an option.  Here I am nearly a week and a half later and I’m still not able to run more than 10 minutes or so before the twinges of pain start to warn me that things will get a lot worse if I don’t stop.  I’m going to do some research and try wrapping my ankle in sports tape, but I suspect that while it might help me run a little longer, I’m still going to have to take it easy.  As frustrating as it is, I’m going to have to go back to basic walking for a while and give that ankle time to heal.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Week 29: Shame

One of the things I’ve had to do on this fitness journey is learn how to make healthier foods.  I know that theoretically it should be easy, but it was difficult for me.  I wasn’t sure how to swap out higher fat foods for lower fat choices and still end up with something edible.  I had a couple of friends that really helped along the way, and one of them turned me on to the Chocolate Covered Katie Blog.  Because, lets face it, everyone wants to have dessert, and Katie has some really tasty recipes that are vegan and virtually guilt free.  Her blog posts are fun, punctuated with colorful pictures of her food, and her recipes are easy.

What I did not realize was that Katie was the victim of some rather vicious rumors regarding her weight and body image.  This week she posted an entry titled “Chocolate Covered Katie Anorexic?” on her blog, and regardless of the fact that she and I are on complete opposite sides of the weight spectrum, I found myself tearfully empathizing.  It is truly sad the way people judge others, especially when they don’t even really know the people they are judging!  But it happens, all the time, and even more so now that we’re an electronic social media society.  It’s so easy to leave a snarky comment on someone’s photo or blog, and often we do it without even really thinking about what we’re saying.  I don’t think people really understand the power of their words, whether good or bad.  I don’t think they realize how much words can hurt.

I grew up dealing with snickers, teasing, and outright name-calling because I was overweight.  I had to endure well-meaning relatives making hurtful comments because they felt it might be helpful if I was shamed into doing something about my weight.  I was told over and over that I couldn’t wear certain clothes because I was the wrong size, shape, or height.  I was told by a close relative that I was pretty, but I’d never really be beautiful.  (Yes, that really happened).  I spent most of my childhood and young adulthood feeling nothing but shame every time I looked into a mirror because society in general had me believing there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t lose enough weight to look like the models in the most recent issue of Teen magazine.  I’m not alone in that experience, and it’s not just overweight people that have to deal with it, either.  Thin women deal with the same kind of cruelty.  People tell them to eat a sandwich, or ask if they are suffering from some sort of eating disorder, or told that they need to eat more because they are too thin.

Body-shaming happens along the entire weight spectrum, and it frustrates the hell out of me.  I don’t understand why there even has to be a societal norm when it comes to someone’s weight or size.  Why can’t we just simply be and accept each other for who we are?   Why can’t we celebrate the diversity in our lives, rather than trying to hammer everyone into the same mold?  I for one am fed up.  I’ve made a conscious decision to no longer buy into the bullcrap and to speak up when I see body shaming happening.  Everyone is beautiful in their own unique way, and no one will ever convince me otherwise.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Week 28: Failure and Fear

I’m afraid of failure.  I don’t think that I’m alone in this, but after failing to reach my 40 minute 5K goal last week,  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about failure and how I let it affect me.

I don’t remember having a lot of failures as a child.  I was a good student and I happily worked my ass off in school to get decent grades and do my parents proud.  I took piano lessons from the time I was six years old right through high school and played two pieces in a piano concert every one of those years and as far as I can remember, I never once messed up enough to think I’d failed to give a good performance.  I was in several school plays and musicals and never had difficulty remember lines and songs. I gave speeches in class and barely batted an eye. Most of it just seemed easy to me. If I wanted to do something, I just did it.

And then my freshman year in college that one Sunday morning happened. My grandmother’s church invited me to play the offertory on a Sunday morning and I accepted.  I played Beethoven’s Fur Elise, and I was fabulous during the first half and then for some reason I cannot explain, I lost my fingering and was like so many deer in the headlights.  I could not recover.  I had to stop for nearly a full thirty seconds and just breathe before I could even start again and do the piece any sort of justice.  I felt terrible for the rest of the day.  I felt like I’d let my grandmother down, and I was so embarrassed that I could barely make eye contact with anyone there.

Looking back on that now, I still feel shame, because I can see that I allowed my memories of that moment and the resulting fear of failure to all but kill my dreams of being a serious musician.   I couldn't perform in public after that.  People would ask and I would say “no” without even giving it a thought because I never wanted to feel that terrible again.  In fact, I all but gave it up.  I rarely sat down to play, not even for my own pleasure, and I would firmly and quickly change the subject if anyone ever asked me why.  Just the mere thought of performing in front of an audience crippled me with fear.

That fear bled over into other aspects of my life.  I found myself getting really anxious while handling work-related projects because I didn't want the embarrassment of failing in those situations.  I would give up on my dreams before I even started because I feared I wouldn't have the skills to do what needed to be done to bring those dreams to life.  In short, I lived a very safe--and unfulfilling--life for several years.  I was just too scared to take risks in any aspect of my life.

Thankfully, I did eventually get over it.  I have good friends and family who helped me see that failures are stepping stones towards fulfilling my dreams rather than the end of them.  I've learned that I have to pick myself up and try again every single time, because with enough hard work I’ll make it there, even if I fail several times on the way.  And that is why I signed myself up for another 5K this coming Sunday.  I’m going to go for that 40 minutes again.  I’m confident that I can do it, but if I don’t, I will try again.  And I will keep trying until I reach that goal.

And then I will set another goal and work towards it.  I won’t stop running and I will keep raising the bar.  I am going to run a marathon someday.

And just in case anyone is wondering, I did get over my fear of public performances.  I am not playing the piano much these days, but I joined a choir that is full of wonderful, loving people led by a remarkable director.  With their help, I have overcome my fear, and music is a major part of my life again.  I’m so very grateful for that.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Week 27: Fourth of July 5K

I went into yesterday’s 5k wanting to finish it in 40 minutes or less.  It wasn’t an unreasonable goal. I’ve been averaging 12 minute, 30 second miles in my training of late, so I was feeling fairly certain I could finish it in 40 minutes.  I went to bed Thursday night feeling pretty excited about what the next day would bring.

Things did not go as planned.

I woke to a killer sinus headache the morning of the race, the kind that makes you nauseous and want to stay in bed.  I forced myself out of bed and took both ibuprofen and sudafed with my breakfast.  I drank as much water as I could stand.  By the time I made it to the starting area an hour later I was just beginning to feel better.  The headache was down to a dull roar and I was able, for the most part, to ignore it.  I paced up and down the street to warm my muscles up and loosen my joints.  By the time the 5K actually started I was feeling pretty good.

This course, thankfully, was nowhere near as hilly as the last course I ran.  The hills were there, but none of them were particularly steep.  I found myself walking for 30 second intervals here and there, but I was still doing pretty good, and when I checked my time at the one mile marker I was on track.  

I had just spotted the two mile marker when the muscles in my left calf started to spasm.  I was shocked.  Believe it or not, I’d never had that happen to me in all the time I’ve been training for these races.  The pain was excruciating and I had to slow down considerably until the cramp in my calf eased up a bit.  By the time I was running at a decent pace again, I was turning the last corner.

I could see the finish line in the distance, and I started to up my pace a bit.  When I was close enough to read the time on the clock, my heart seemed to skip a beat and then sink into my stomach.  The time read 40:23.  I used the last of my reserves to get myself across the finish line with a time of 42:01--1 minute and 31 seconds faster than my last race, but 2 minutes, one second slower than I’d wanted.  The disappointment I felt in that moment was so heavy I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  I hadn’t realized how much time I’d lost at the beginning of that 3rd mile.

The first sob came as a volunteer handed me a bottle of water.  I managed to take a few sips before the second sob escaped me.  By then my husband had found me, and after seeing my expression, he wrapped his arms around me and held on tight.  I hid my face against his shoulder and cried.  Looking back at that moment now, I can’t quite put a finger on why I was so upset.  It wasn’t like I didn’t beat my last time.  But I had my heart set on finishing in 40 minutes, and that little failure hurt more than I imagined it would.

Eventually my husband and I made our way to breakfast at our favorite cafe, and after devouring a blueberry bran muffin I found that I was able to think about the race more objectively.  So I didn’t finish the race in 40 minutes.  But I did finish, and I was faster than the last race.  I had to admit to myself that even though I didn’t finish in 40 minutes, I had still made significant progress.  I felt a little better about the whole thing after coming to that conclusion.  

And there’s always next time.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Week 26: Halfway

This week marks the halfway point of my Project 52!  Honestly, I’m amazed at my perseverance--historically my track record for consistent journaling and blog posts has been less than stellar.  Then again, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m not exactly the same person I was when I started this, so maybe the fact that I’m still here after six months isn’t all that unbelievable!

That said, I don’t have anything earth-shattering to share this week.  I’m still chewing on last week’s revelation that at this point losing weight is less important than my training.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that and am working on redesigning my goals to accommodate the shift in focus.  I’m working on a faster mile now, and am shooting to finish my next 5K in 40 minutes.  That’s three and a half minutes faster than the last 5K I ran.  So stay tuned to see how that comes out--my next 5K is on July 4th.

My focus on food has shifted from counting calories to maintenance of my current weight.  I’m concentrating more on what I’m eating rather than how much I’m eating.  When I started this whole weight loss thing I was still eating meat with every meal.  Now I might eat meat two or three times a month.  Eventually, I believe that number will be zero and I will be a total vegetarian.  In fact, I’ll go one further and say that the thought of me being one hundred percent vegan isn’t as unfathomable as it might have been a year ago.  I didn’t think I’d ever be able to give up dairy, but I’m starting to understand that it isn’t going to be as hard as I once thought.  And after perusing several vegan cookbooks the assumption I had that vegan food would be boring has been proved to be untrue.  So, yeah, I’m pretty sure that I’ll be a complete vegan in the near future.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Week 25: Reassess

Sunday’s weigh-in was an exercise in frustration.  I didn’t gain any weight, but I didn’t lose any, either.  It marked the 6th week of my second plateau, and I will admit, I was frustrated enough that I shed a few tears.  And even though I know why I’m getting nowhere on the scales, it doesn’t make it any easier on an emotional level.  Despite a few days of consuming more calories that I should, I’ve been working hard, so the lack of progress for a sixth week in a row was heart-breaking.

Fortunately, I have good friends.

One of those friends has been on her own fitness journey for quite some time, and she has been invaluable to my own journey in both guidance, support and endless inspiration.  This particular friend knew I was upset after reading last week’s blog post, and she started up a G-chat conversation with me immediately after reading it.  Five exchanges in she sent me this question:

“If you never lost another pound . . . could you be happy?”

And everything came to a screeching halt.  Wait, what?  I read the question over two more times, just to make sure I’d read right.  See, this friend doesn’t ask me stuff like that just for the hell of it, because she knows that even the mere process of thinking about that kind of thing can really upset me.   Asking that question was her way of telling me that I was overlooking something, and that I needed to step back and see the bigger picture.  So instead of answering with what might have been a reflexive “no”, I made myself stop and seriously consider that question.  It was a few minutes later before I finally typed:

“Yeah, I think I could be.”

And after I came to that realization, I could finally see what it was I was missing.  I had reached the point in the journey where it was time to reassess my goals and priorities.   And having done that, I’ve come to the somewhat surprising conclusion that weight loss is no longer the main focus of this journey.  Being lighter would make my running goals easier to reach, but they certainly are not impossible the way I am now, either.  So, while I will still be counting calories to make sure I don’t gain any weight back, I’m not focusing on those scales quite so much anymore.  Instead I’ll be focusing more on my running and shaving minutes off my average mile times, because I still dream about running that marathon.

And I suspect that at some point in this process the weight will start to come off again whether or not I’m worrying about it.   I’m just making a conscious decision to not worry about it anymore.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Week 24: Plateau #2

I’ve hit a second plateau.  I’ve been on the weight loss yo yo for the past few weeks--lose, gain, lose, gain, lose again--and it has been a struggle to not be discouraged, because I’m pretty much at the same weight I was five weeks ago.  I have to keep reminding myself that I’m currently training for another 5K and that means I’m building quite a bit of muscle as I go.  Muscle weighs more than fat, believe it or not.  So, if I’m gaining more muscle weight than losing fat weight the scale will of course show a gain.  I know that in my head, but the truth is, on an emotional level that knowledge doesn’t matter much.

It gets excruciatingly difficult when I don’t have visible results and that negative voice in my head is urging me to just give up.  This is when I have to focus hard on the process rather than my final goals.  I have to make myself keep counting calories.  I have to get out and move every day, even on non-training days.  I have to keep logging my steps and running times.  I have to concentrate on those little things or I risk folding under the anxiety and fear of eventual failure.  It’s the only reason I’ve not given up after 5 weeks of what feels like no progress at all.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Week 23: Lessons Learned During 5K #2

Okay, this week’s post is much earlier than usual, but I ran my second 5K today and I just have so many reflections that I want to get this all down while it’s still fresh!  First of all, I beat my last 5K time by 44 seconds.  Okay, it’s not a huge difference, but it was faster!  Progress, not perfection, right??  I was pretty happy to beat that time, even if only by seconds. :)

Of course, this 5K was as much a learning experience as the first, so here are some new lessons I learned today (or in the case of the first, had to relearn!):

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  I did better with that this time around, but I still needed more!  Thankfully, there were water stations at every mile marker so I managed to not get sick from dehydration, but you can bet I’ll drink even more before the race on July 4!

  1. As much as I hate going over my calorie allowance, I really need to eat more than normal the day before a race.  I kind of thought that because this was just a short 5K I wouldn’t really need to do any of the carb loading that longer distance runners do, but the nasty case of the shakes I got as I was sitting down to brunch with my family says otherwise.  My blood sugar was really, really low and I had to drink a portion of the orange juice my husband had ordered before I stopped shaking.

  1. Hills are still a humbling experience.  I dealt with them better this time around, but only marginally.  The last mile or so was mostly uphill and had it not been for an inspiring moment in that last mile I’m not sure I would have finished as quickly as I did.  I will be doing whatever I can to get out and train on hillier terrain for the remainder of the summer!

  1. And speaking of that last mile...moments of inspiration can come when you least expect them.  I was getting really, really tired as I entered the last mile of the race.  At that point I had started to chant “run till your done” in my head over and over again, but I was afraid I was about to hit the proverbial wall.  And then, suddenly, the pace car for the half marathon passed me on the left, and 30 seconds later the first place runner in the half-marathon blew by me.  He was so fast and ran like a gazelle, and  I don’t even have words for what I felt in that moment.  A year ago I might have felt intimidated to be sharing the course with such an athlete, but that’s not what I felt today.  I was just so inspired by his example, and suddenly that last mile didn’t seem quite so daunting, regardless of the uphill.  I even ran a little faster after that point. I found out a little later that the runner was 2004 New Zealand Olympiad Nick Willis, and he ran the half marathon in just over an hour today.  Awe-inspiring!  I’m really grateful for the much needed inspiration I received in that moment.  It was a moment I’ll not soon forget.

There were also little moments that just added to the brilliance of the day.  The folks at the water stations were handing out heart-felt encouragement along with refreshment. When it became obvious towards the end of the race that I was really struggling to keep up the pace, strangers on the sidelines began to assure me that I could make it.  

And finally, my mom and dad took me out to brunch after I finished, and the waitress came to our table with six glasses of water.  My mother pointed out that there were only five of us at the table, and the waitress gave her a sunny smile and replied “I figured your runner could use an extra glass.”  I thanked her profusely and did my best to not burst into emotional tears, because I realized in that moment that I’d turned another important corner in my journey.  When she’d called me a runner I hadn’t thought to disagree with her at all.  I think I might have disagreed two months ago, but today I didn’t.  Now I truly do think of myself as a runner, and for me that’s a huge step in the right direction.

I can’t wait to run another race.