Without Darkness There Can Be No Light

My previous post seemed very well received so I decided to write a follow up. Today has been much better. I woke up a little anxious, but after rolling over, checking my phone and seeing all the supportive emails and Facebook messages from people who said they understood or felt the same way made me feel a whole lot better. In fact, I would almost say that I have been downright chipper most of the day. Not because I am an attention whore who craves validation, but because it’s nice to wake up from a funk knowing you are not alone.

Realistically I know this fact already. I’m a counselor from crying out loud, I work with people all day long who suffer from various forms of mental illness. That’s where your brain can get really tricky though. It convinces you that you are not like those other people, or they are not like you. “I’m not as crazy as the lady who feeds the birds and talks to herself,” or “That person doesn’t have panic attacks like I do.” To some extent this is true, not two people experience mental illness the same way, even if they have the same condition. However, the idea that no one understands your suffering is just silly and it’s a lie our brains tell us because it seeks to isolate us rather than help us connect with others. (Again, a lot of times our brains aren’t trying to be gigantic cock goblins on purpose, they are just trying to save us from the looming threat they thinks is all around us, including people.)

I’ve actually been listening to the audio book of Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things in my car (I drive a lot and get bored easily). Hearing how brutally honest she is about her struggles makes me feel like I have found a kindred spirit. It doesn’t hurt that it is also wickedly funny. I mean I’ve always considered myself good at naming pets and random animals I discover on vacations and travels, but her names seriously take the cake. She has a house cat name “Ferris Mewler” and a dog named “Dorothy Barker.” She also named the two murderous swans that live on the pond near her house “Whitey” and (my personal favorite) “Clouse Banana Snatch.”

One of the other things I love about Jenny’s writing is her ability to put into words things that I have felt for a long time, but don’t have the ability to express the way she does. One particular passage that really stuck with me was her discussion on the darkness and light of mental illness-

Without the dark there isn’t light. Without the pain there is no relief. And I remind myself that I’m lucky to be able to feel such great sorrow, and also such great happiness. I can grab on to each moment of joy and live in those moments because I have seen the bright contrast from dark to light and back again. I am privileged to be able to recognize that the sound of laughter is a blessing and a song, and to realize that the bright hours spent with my family and friends are extraordinary treasures to be saved, because those same moments are a medicine, a balm. Those moments are a promise that life is worth fighting for, and that promise is what pulls me through when depression distorts reality and tries to convince me otherwise.

                                                                                                -Jenny Lawson

I think she’s absolutely right. Like the millionaire who was born a pauper, people who experience deeply negative emotions also have the ability to experience the greatest moments of joy and appreciate it all the more because they have been in Hell and clawed their way back up to the sunlight.

Last night I cried while I wrote my post and then 20 minutes later laughed until I cried some more when Mike showed me a video of a middle aged woman in the Chewbacca mask that is circling around the internet right now. The look of sheer joy and laughter from the woman has made me smile multiple times today. You know what? Before I even got out of bed this morning I got on Amazon and bought myself the exact same mask. I figure the next time I am sad, instead of putting on my typical mask of a fake smile and “Everything is okay” through gritted teeth, I am going to put on my literal Chewbacca mask and Wookie call at myself in the mirror until I laugh so hard my sides hurt. Maybe some morning I’ll put it on before Mike wakes up ad hover 6 inches from his face until he opens his eyes and I’m all like “RRRRRRRGHGHGHGHGHG!!!” (that’s Wookie for “Good morning sunshine!”) and then he punches me because I made him pee a little, who knows?

$35 is not very much for the potential for infinite happy moments.

Here’s a link to the video if you haven’t seen it yet…

After yesterday’s post I had several people ask me what strategies I use to help manage anxiety, or shared with me their personal tips. I can’t tell you what will work for you, but I can share what helps me… Just so long as you promise not to laugh. Seriously, pinky swear right now. Have you done it? Good.

Meet Phoebe.

Phoebe

Behold the mighty polar bear!

Phoebe is my anxiety bear. I’ve had her since I was in middle school as evidenced by the fact that she looks more like a grey sort of bear, rather than the beautiful white polar bear she once was.

You know how people who have just had open heart surgery have teddy bears that they hug to their chest when they cough to keep from popping their stitches? I cling to Phoebe for dear life when I want to keep my racing heart from popping out of my chest. I curl around her when things get so bad I am nauseous and somehow she manages to keep the contents of my stomach inside where they belong. I’ve had people (including exes) give me shit for having a teddy bear as a grown adult, but you know what? Fuck those people. Phoebe is my lifeline. She has been all over the country with me and even went to Ireland with me last summer. She doubles as an excellent neck pillow.

blanket

So warm and cozy…

A more recent find discovery is my weighted blanket. This guy doesn’t look like much but stuffed into its cuddly insides is 10 pounds worth of plastic pellets. There are all sorts of scientific-y reasons why weighted blankets help with depression and anxiety, and I encourage you to look it up if you are interested. All you really need to know, though, is it feels like your whole body is being enveloped by a warm hug and it’s glorious.

Other strategies I use? I talk a lot to Mike, my mom, and my brother, when I am able to put how I am feeling into words. I also write. I have kept journals for a long time. I laugh at funny videos of cats missing easy jumps, I collect pictures of Corgis on Pinterest, I watch period romance movies, I make art, sometimes I cry and hide under the covers, I do yoga, I listen to crazy goats screaming like humans on Youtube. Really anything that makes me smile is a possibility. Sometimes I eat raw cookie dough straight out of the package (that is usually a last resort, I’m feeling really low when I get to this point). I even wrote myself a letter that I pull out sometimes when I am having a bad day because if anyone knows how I feel it’s me. I’ve been there before and I will be there again. There is a strange comfort in this.

I know I am going through a weird period right now. Everything is changing, and while things are changing for good reasons (aka new job, new house) my brain sees it as strange and dangerous new territory. I am going to have to be gentle with myself for awhile until my brain realizes my new environment isn’t actually trying to kill me.

I was really sad when I left my school for the last time today. I have made a lot of memories there, and will miss the children and the community that has accepted me as one of their own. As I pulled out onto the street Semisonic’s “Closing Time” started playing on the radio, and initially I thought this was appropriate, but it didn’t really register much until I heard the lyrics-

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Well played Universe. Well played.

 

 

PS. Here are links to some of my favorite pick me up videos, enjoy!

Goats screaming like humans

Taylor Swift goat edition

Cats failing at jumping 

All of the Corgi puppies you could ever want

Cat cheats on girlfriend

Ticklish Cat

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Hello Darkness My Old Friend

*Warning* This post is not as polished because it is an emotional one for me.

This week has been an emotional rollercoaster for me. Today I had to say goodbye to people I have worked with for almost 7 years. I had to explain to crying children that I would not be back next year and that, because I am their counselor which is not the same thing as being their friend, I probably wouldn’t see them again. Ever. I’ve had to walk away from schools and neighborhoods that I have learned like the back of my hand, knowing that I will probably won’t have another excuse to go back there again. Tomorrow is my last day at the only job I have ever known as an adult. It is incredibly bittersweet.

While I have been telling myself for years that I wanted a new job, and counting down the days until I can start at the hospital, I never dreamed this week would be so difficult. I am ready to move on, I desperately need a change, but leaving the people I care about behind while I move forward is so hard.  I don’t think you really realize the lives you touch until it’s time to go.

As if this wasn’t bad enough I have been struggling with feeling anxious in the mornings again. Nothing super serious, but enough to be concerning to me. Anxiety and I go way back and I know myself well enough at this point to know that my inability to stay asleep and racing heart in the wee hours before my alarm goes off can lead to an even bigger problem of debilitating panic attacks. I know that the adrenaline that courses through my body when I am startled awake by every tiny little noise in the room is a blade’s edge away from becoming the thing I fear the most, which is ironically the fear of nothing and everything all at the same time. I’m afraid that I am going to wake up tomorrow and I won’t be able to get out of bed because the panic will be so great that I literally won’t be able to breathe. I’m afraid that Mike will find me once more puddled on the bathroom floor sobbing because I just can’t bring myself to leave the safety of my home.

In just four days I start a new job where I have SIGNIFICANTLY less holidays, vacation, and sick time and that scares the shit out of me. At least when things got to be too much at my old job I knew it would be relatively easy to call in and take a personal day because my boss understood my condition and knew that sometimes things were just too much for me. I took consolation in the fact that I had five weeks of vacation a year and a generous amount of holiday time. Moving to a hospital where I only get 5 paid holidays a year is going to be a huge adjustment.

I dread the morning when I have my first panic attack after starting this new job. And while I am lucky that this only seems to happen 2-3 times a year now, when it happens it tends to be really bad and puts me out of commission for days. I’m already afraid I might lose the job I haven’t even started yet because of it. This is what anxiety does. You obsess over all the possible things that could go wrong, but haven’t yet, and I do mean OBSESS.

I am writing about this because I want the rest of the world to see the real face of mental illness. To many people I am a seemingly normal 20 something who seems (at least on the outside) to have her shit together, but what people don’t see are all the days I come home and fall directly into bed exhausted because I have already used every ounce of energy I had just trying to be an adult that day. I want everyone else to know how much guilt and shame is attached to this because, for me and other people with mental illness, the inability to function is not a choice.

The worst thing someone could ever say to me is “Why don’t you just be happy,” or “Stop worrying so much,” or “You just need to get over it.” I would LOVE to do any one of these things if I could, believe me. I wish with all my heart that I could. I can’t even tell you the hundreds of thousands of times I have told Mike and loved ones through tears that I just wish I could be normal like everyone else. But I am not like everyone else because my brain fundamentally works differently. People who are mentally ill suffer from chemical imbalances in their brain through no fault of their own. I would be completely insane for me to tell my friend who has a blood clotting disorder- “Maybe you should just make your blood stop clotting so easily,” yet people all the time in the news and on the internet blame people who are depressed or anxious for the conditions they can’t control. It’s almost like people think if we just pull our selves up further by our bootstraps that our brains will balance out and we won’t have panic attacks or episodes of depression anymore. THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.

I used to demonize my brain and my body for betraying me. I used to hate myself for suffering from anxiety. In recent years, however, I am realizing that my body, in a very twisted sort of way, is trying to be the proverbial helicopter parent in my life. It is constantly buzzing around trying to alert me to every possible danger. It is AWESOME at picking up subtle clues in my environment. I am super aware of myself and everyone else all the time, which I think is what personally makes me a good counselor. I pick up on cues that most people don’t even realize they are giving out because my brain is conditioned to think that everything is a threat. It used to drive me bonkers how clueless other people were in public places until I realized that they aren’t aware that I am behind them because their brain (unlike mine) isn’t scanning the area for every single creepy looking guy and then formulating an exit strategy and/or how I could make a makeshift weapon should shit get crazy. My brain is just trying really hard to keep me safe and doesn’t realize that it’s smothering me in the process.

I wish I could say that I had a reliable way of managing the anxiety, but that isn’t always the case. My body is very sensitive to medication and I have a hard time finding a drug or a dose that really works for me. I have been in counseling  and I use my own education as a counselor to help when I can. I try and exercise and eat right and do all the right things, but there are still days like today when I just cry and I have no idea why I am sad or scared. I just am.

I’m sharing this with you because I want you to know that if someone you love suffers from depression or anxiety they probably feel broken too. It is because I feel like I am damaged goods that I sometimes push away the people I care about to save them from having to deal with me, when I am-to quote a line from Alanis Morissette- too exhausting to be loved. Your loved one might try to do this, and I know that trying to help someone who is depressed or anxious isn’t easy, but if you love them then you can’t allow them to shut you out. Instead, one of the best things you can say is “I may not understand why you feel like this right now, but I can tell that it is really upsetting you and I’m really sorry about that. How can I help?” They might not have an answer, in fact, if they are in the middle of these desperate feelings they probably won’t. Just letting them know that you are there will mean the world of difference to them. I promise.

I really don’t know how to end this post because in all truthfulness mental illness doesn’t end. It’s not something you can be “cured” of. It can be managed, but it will always be there lurking and waiting for the day that I think I am better enough that I go off my meds and it comes roaring back to the surface. I am probably always going to be dependent on medication to make me feel even a semblance of normal and, as much as at that sucks, I am slowly coming to terms with that. What I do know is that it gets better. Even on the hard days there is laughter. Life goes on and this is a good thing because life is beautiful and definitely worth living. I know there are people out there who do not feel this way and my hope is that you reach out to them with love and compassion because at the end of the day everyone is fighting their own battle whether or not you or I can see it.

Pomp and Circumstance

“Come, Dobby. I said, come!”

But Dobby didn’t move. He was holding up Harry’s disgusting, slimy sock, and looking at it as though it were a priceless treasure.

“Master has given a sock,” said the elf in wonderment. “Master gave it to Dobby.”

“What’s that?” spat Mr. Malfoy. “What did you say?”

“Dobby has got a sock,” said Dobby in disbelief. “Master threw it, and Dobby caught it, and Dobby — Dobby is free.”

-Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

 

So this post isn’t actually about health, but it is definitely something important that happened in my life this weekend. Saturday I officially graduated as a Masters student from the Kent School of Social Work through the University of Louisville. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity, but it has definitely come with plenty of sacrifice. For the last year and a half I have been shackled to my nightly studies that felt unending. Graduation means tasting sweet freedom again. Freedom from having to balance work and school at the same time, freedom from being stuck doing homework every evening, freedom to do what I want in my spare time again, freedom to even HAVE spare time again.

Master has given Mary Anne a diploma, Mary Anne is a free elf!

kent school

All of this is fantastic and exciting, but the biggest gift of all has been freedom to finally walk away from a job where I have long been unhappy, and start a new job in a field of social work I actually want to be in and which pays a hell of a lot better. (As a footnote: I say a hell of a lot better but it doesn’t take much to make more than a social worker even with a Masters degree and an independent license. In the past, I barely made more than some of the clients I served who qualified for food stamps and government subsidized housing. Talk about a goddamn shame. No one wants to pay the people who are working in the trenches to heal those who feel broken and make them productive members of society again, but we’ll pay a college football coach a million dollars to teach teenagers how to smash into each other and carry a stupidly shaped ball across an arbitrary line on the ground? I really wish our country would get its priorities straight. *Steps down off soapbox*)

Losing the extra stress of paper deadlines and sacrificing family time to Skype with the rest of my class (which is an organized clusterfuck at best) has significantly reduced my anxiety. Not being anxious all the time also means feeling a lot better overall, so I guess in a way you could say this post is about health after all.

I wish I could say graduation went smoothly without a hitch, but this is me we are talking about so nothing ever goes according to plan. This aligns with one of my Secrets of Adulthood (which I will write more about in another post in the future), which is “Shit happens… count on it.” To start off the trip we were late getting out of Columbus due to traffic, so we didn’t get to Louisville until 45 minutes before the store closed where they were passing out the caps and gowns. As soon as I got to campus, I ran for the Red Barn and straight to the table where they had the Masters regalia. After spelling out my name, and several minutes of the man digging through all of the remaining boxes, he finally declared that he couldn’t find my package.

“Excuse me?”

“I can’t seem to find your name. You should probably go talk to the event organizer.”

So he leads me to the back where a guy is talking on his cell phone. While I am patiently waiting for him to finish his call, this pushy helicopter mom comes storming up with a sheepish looking teenager in her wake and starts yelling at him that her kid’s tassel is the wrong color or some such nonsense. She demanded that he fix it NOW. Meanwhile, I am standing there aghast her rudeness with a serious desire to be like “Bitch please! I was standing here first; can’t you see there’s a line?” But passive aggressive is more my style so instead I just sighed loudly and made the universal “What the fuck?” gesture to the person next to me. The angry women was completely oblivious to anyone else around her, except the poor man she was yelling at, so when he got off the phone he dealt with her first, most likely to make her harpy shrieking stop. He gave her what she wanted and she walked off in a huff. When it was my turn, I explained the situation with infinite patience and showed him my email receipt for my cap and gown that I had purchase almost two month ago.

“Are you sure you didn’t buy under a different name?”

“No, I only use one name.” And I am pretty sure I know what my name is fella.

He thought for a moment and then a light bulb came on. “We had a girl come in yesterday who hadn’t bought a package in time and just up and walked out with one. I wonder if it was yours.”

*Facepalm* It figures out of a 1,000 graduating students my packet would be the one to get stolen. My life is one big Murphy’s Law after another. Fortunately, he was able to piece together a new packet and I was on my way. The afternoon got a lot better from there. We checked into the hotel and I tried on my cap and gown to make sure it fit okay. Mike didn’t understand the Masters hood so I put it over my head to show him it was kinda like a witch’s hat. We decided I looked like a Hogwarts professor, which was cool with me. I can’t think of a better life goal than being Professor McGonagall, or Dame Maggie Smith for that matter. She’s a badass.

professor m

I could’t figure out my weird sleeves. Some wizard I am.

 

We had several hours until my graduation practice that evening so we walked around the Highlands neighborhood of Louisville. It reminded me a lot of the Short North in Columbus, or Coventry in Cleveland. The most notable thing we found was the Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen which boasted a menu of over 28 kinds of pies, god only knows how many flavors of ice cream, and an assortment of cakes. We were literally fat kids in a candy store.

pie shop

pie

Apple, chocolate pecan, and chocolate covered cherry pie. All to die for!

We also found a few of the painted horses that are scattered all over the city. They were much like the cowboy boots in Cheyenne and I thought they were cool so I kept making Mike stop so I could take pictures of them. I was sorely disappointed that I only saw three.

 

weiner

We also found a wiener mobile downtown, Mike is trying to look tough.

When it was time for practice we headed downtown and I was ushered into the giant KFC Yum! Stadium (yes that is the name, stupid I know). There I met up with my academic advisor for the first time because he had the Dean Citation I had been awarded by several of my professors. Oh, he also had my cap and gown package. He conveniently forgot to tell me he was going to pick it up for me since I was coming from out of state. It was very sweet, I just wish I had known because then the incident at the Red Barn wouldn’t have happened. I was very happy that I hadn’t really had shitty luck and my stuff hadn’t actually been stolen, but unfortunately that meant the package pilferer had taken someone else’s cap and gown which truly sucks for them.

Graduation day was a blur. It was also exhausting. So much standing and waiting around. We were crammed in the holding area like cattle to the slaughter. I definitely don’t regret going though. It was awesome to be able to walk around my beautiful campus for the first time and see some of my classmates in person. Even though I only walked across the stage for all of 10 seconds I still felt very emotional and I texted Mike that I was having a hard time holding back the tears when I got back to my seat. Grad school had been really challenging, but I had done it. When I saw his response the tears came spilling out at last.

“Let it go. You earned this. So proud right now.”

So I did. And as I sat there wiping my eyes and watching my classmates make their own journeys across the stage, for the first time in a long time I felt truly at peace with where I am in my life. I may not be rich or famous (nor do I really want to be), but I am right where I need to be on my path. Getting my Masters has granted me a greater ability to chart my own course, the freedom to choose where I want to go in life.

After every last name was called, President Ramsey called us to stand and as we passed our tassels from the right to the left I realized I was finally able to leave an old and tired part of myself behind and open the page for a brand new chapter that is just waiting to be written. I don’t know what this new story will bring but I have a feeling, whatever it is, it’s going to be good.

A special thanks to my mom and Mike. I couldn’t have done it without you ❤

Learning to Listen to My Body

Part of any healthy lifestyle is having a good connection to and understanding of your own body. Every person is unique and their bodies respond to outside stimulus differently. For example, Mike could drink a Mountain Dew an hour before bedtime and simply turn out the light and go to sleep. I on the other hand might have a single cup of coffee at 8 am and you could still peel me off the ceiling 12 hours later. Caffeinated drinks make me feel like a squirrel hopped up on cocaine so I tend to avoid them. My body just doesn’t metabolize it well.

Unfortunately the same goes for alcohol too. Mike and I both know that, unless he wants to carry me downstairs to our basement apartment and put me into bed like a petulant toddler, I can only have one drink and then I am done. There are perks to being a lightweight. First, it makes me a really cheap date. Second, my severe reactions naturally help me avoid consuming things I probably shouldn’t on a regular basis anyway.

Being sensitive also has its drawbacks. Among many things, my skin is very easily irritated. I have to be very careful what products come into contact with my skin such as lotions, laundry soap, and body wash. Once I had rashes in my armpits off and on for almost 6 months because they stopped making the soft solid deodorant I normally used and I was forced to switch to a stick. Finally, after scratching myself raw, I tried a hypoallergenic liquid formula and that seems to be working out fine. I also can’t wear the beautiful necklace Mike gave me our first Christmas together because metal jewelry around my neck makes my flesh feel like it’s going to melt directly off my body.  No me gusta.

Usually these skin reactions range from mild rashes and itchiness to the occasional acne breakout. Sometimes, as I discovered early this week, it can be much, much worse.

As I have mentioned before I am getting married in October (yay!) and I have been trying to nail down the look I want for my makeup. I am going for sort of a 1950s vintage vibe so I have been searching for a good lipstick to complete the image. I’ve never been much of a lipstick wearer despite being envious of women who make wearing lip color look so easy. I have an acquaintance who, whenever I see her, always has flawless bright red lipstick. I seriously get this weird flattery aggression where on one hand I want to be like “Oh my god you look gorgeous!” and on the other hand I want to punch her in her perfect lipstick face for being such a goddamn makeup genius. When I try to wear lipstick I feel like a clown with it smeared halfway up my face and across 90% of my teeth, but I digress.

This weekend in search of my perfect lipstick I found myself at BareMinerals which is a store I absolutely adore. They make super high quality products and, for someone with skin allergies, I have always been able to wear their makeup with no problem at all. During this particular trip the lady helping me chose a color so perfect and natural on me that I looked in the mirror and I, to steal a line from Tyra Banks, felt fierce. This was it; I had found my lipstick holy grail.

I proceeded to wear my new amazing lip color to movie night with Mike and another friend of ours, and was still basking the glow of satisfaction that I wore lipstick and didn’t look like a twat when I went to bed that night.

 

IMG_20160507_183418487_HDR

Aw, I looked so pretty…

The next morning disaster struck. I woke to the familiar feeling of an allergic reaction. The edges of my lips were raw and I had the same weird experience of tingling and itchiness that you get when you are coming down off Novocain after getting dental work done.

Now a rational human being would have simply said “shit,” and admitted defeat. But on this particular morning I was not rational. It was Mother’s Day, I had just discovered my lipstick unicorn, and I wanted to be the hot mom at my kid’s flag football game (this is the epitome of first world problems I know, I am judging myself a little bit too, it’s ok). So instead, in a big “SCREW YOU!” to my body, I decided to wear it again that same day. Despite a little irritation it seemed to go okay. At the end of the day I felt like I had come out victorious against my rebelling lips. I went with beauty and beauty won!

Except it didn’t.

Have you ever seen pictures of teenage girls who sucked their lips into a pop bottle to try and achieve fuller lips? It’s a process known as the Kylie Jenner Challenge. If you haven’t you should look it up, apparently it was a thing last year. When I woke up the next morning I looked much like these teenage girls. My lips looked like they had gotten really drunk and gone to an illegal botox party (also a thing). I kid you not, dogs who have been stung in the face by bees look better than I did.

Kylie-Jenner-challenge5-550x366

One example of the Kylie Jenner Challenge. Yeah, that has to hurt.

IMG_20160509_103110259

My poor swollen lips.

dogs-stung-bees-pictures-9

This dog still looks better than me.

Fast forward to the present, it is now day four of my allergic reaction and my lips are still not back to normal. They have dried and cracked beyond a point that even the best chapstick can’t repair. Another day and I might have to break down and go to the doctor because all the Benadryl in the world doesn’t seem to be making it go away. All because my vanity a couple of days of “looking pretty” was more important than listening to the message my body was so desperately trying to tell me which was “Get this shit off my face!” I was so fucking stupid for not listening.

The moral of this story is when your body starts talking you better pay attention or you too could make choices that will make things a whole lot worse in the long run. If you’re lactose intolerant, stay away from the cheese party platter. If you already have the spins, drinking that 5th or 6th, or 10th glass of wine is probably not in your best interest. And if your otherwise-normal-looking lips swell to the size of Lisa Rinna’s, for the love of God, put down the lipstick.

Your body will thank you for it.

Finding my Om

Three years ago I had a vendetta, an all out jihad for a particular item of clothing and the casual way every woman under the sun would strut around in them. What could someone possibly wear that would inspire so much vitriolic hatred in an otherwise (mostly) rational person? The answer to that my friends is yoga pants. It used to literally piss me off when I saw women wantonly walking around in public, proudly displaying their shrink wrapped yoga pant asses. At one point, my distaste was so great I considered having business cards made that said “News Flash: LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS!” so I could pass them out when I saw these people at the mall and in the supermarket. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around why anyone would go out in public in pants that left so little to the imagination.

Then about two years ago Mike and I joined a gym. I had done a few yoga videos in the past, so when the opportunity to take an actual class through our gym presented itself, I decided to give it a try. I only had to take a few classes to realize I really enjoyed it, but that my clothing situation was not working. Baggy athletic shirts and pants were useful while playing soccer, but were not doing me any favors in downward facing dog. So I reluctantly set out to buy myself a pair of yoga pants (purely for exercising purposes of course).

The first time I put my newly purchased pants on I’m pretty sure heavenly choirs of angels started singing. In that moment I realized that leggings, indeed, were not pants, they were a way of life. I proceeded to go out and buy long yoga pants, yoga shorts, and everything else in between. Soon enough, I too became one of those brazen women wearing their yoga pants out into the world because, quite frankly, they are too comfortable to give a shit about what other people think. I have been fully converted to the cult of the yoga pants and continue to blissfully drink the Kool-Aid.

The attire wasn’t the only benefit I discovered from starting a yoga practice, however. I also discovered that it significantly reduced my anxiety as well.

Those who know me well also know that my anxiety has been something that I have really struggled with over the years. Between intrusive thoughts, muscle aches, sleep disturbances, jumpiness, irritability, and the occasional panic attack, anxiety has been a pretty awful condition to live with. I have used medication over the years to try and manage the worst of the symptoms, but my body has always been very sensitive to foreign chemicals including caffeine, alcohol, and most prescription drugs. This has made it incredibly challenging to find something that helps the anxiety without causing a slew of other side effects.

Also, I just hate to take medication in the first place. Despite being a social worker and trying to break down the stigmas associated with mental illness, I can’t help but feel abnormal or broken by my reliance on medication to function as a regular human being sometimes. I know on a professional level that taking medication to correct chemical imbalances in your brain is not “weird,” but in my personal life, not being able to manage my anxiety without the use of drugs sort of makes me feel like a failure as a person and a counselor (after all we are supposed to know everything there is about mood management and coping skills).

So imagine my surprise and delight when I realized, that after four months of practicing yoga regularly, I wasn’t as jumping at every little noise, my neck and shoulders didn’t ache all day every day, and I didn’t seem as snappish and angry anymore either. In fact, I felt emotionally better than I had in years.

This was fantastic! I finally found something that could regulate my mood safely and effectively. Not to mention I was getting stronger and more flexible too which added to my self esteem and feelings of wellbeing. Things were really looking up.

Then I started grad school.

The funny thing about going back to school while you are still working full time is your world literally revolves around how and when you can squeeze in doing homework in an otherwise hectic schedule, and even then sometimes it still feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day. On the rare occasion when I had a night off, I either spent much needed time with my family or went to bed early. These basic needs were luxuries that I could hardly afford during my time as a Masters student, which meant that all other helpful activities, such as my yoga practice, fell to the wayside. For two years I stopped practicing yoga almost completely. I was just too exhausted. Sure enough, stress, lack of exercise, and poor eating habits took their toll on my body and my old friend anxiety came back to visit me once more.  Anxiety just couldn’t take a hint that I didn’t want to associate with it anymore. I tried to tell it to hit the road, but it fought back and the results weren’t pretty let me tell you.

I am happy to report that this very frustrating chapter in my life is now coming to a close. I graduate this coming Friday and I will be liberated from the vicious homework/work all the time cycle. I have more free time now than I know what to do with, which is partially why I decided to take on my adventure year project again, as my brain likes to be a busy beaver and needs something to occupy itself. With a focus on healthy habits this month I decided I wanted to re-establish a regular yoga practice.

Initially, I experienced some resistance from my body. I lacked motivation and almost felt afraid to start. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why I was dragging my feet so much when I knew for a fact that it would help me feel better. After some careful examination I realize that it wasn’t my body throwing up roadblocks, it was the anxiety. Like any other abuser it felt threatened by my desire for autonomy. It knew if I went back out into the world and started engaging in healthy habits again I might find a way to rid myself of it for good. Anxiety wasn’t going to stand for that, anxiety wanted to control me by preventing me from seeing other people- namely yoga.

Sometimes the only way to break a toxic relationship is to take extreme action. Last month I was on vacation for an entire week while the kids I work with were on spring break. During this time I decided to put myself through a yoga boot camp of sorts. I had a coupon for a free week of classes at a local studio and I forced myself to go almost every day. Yes, I ended up tired and sore a lot, but I also started singing and laughing more too. I knew that for my own piece of mind yoga had to be here to stay.

Sticking to a new routine is not always easy. I have chosen to try and develop a daily yoga practice, even if it only means 10 minutes a day sometimes. For me this is better than striving for a smaller number such as 3 or 4 times a week because I always manage to find an excuse to put it off until later. As a result, later often never comes and before I know it I have missed days or weeks before I get back on my mat. With a goal of daily yoga I can only put it off so long before time runs out. I haven’t been perfect so far this month and that’s ok. I am still getting more exercise than if I had no goal at all and that’s still just as important.

While my vendetta against yoga pants is gone, it has been replaced with a desire to rid myself of my most hated enemy. I served my anxiety an eviction notice because I refuse to be its punching bag anymore.  I’m not alone in my fight anymore either. This time I will fight anxiety with yoga by my side. While yoga might has the reputation of being a lover, not a fighter, I can tell you for certain that all those chaturangas have made it crazy strong and I bet you anything it could throw an awesome right hook if it needed to. So goodbye anxiety, we’re officially breaking up. I’m off to do some sun salutations with my new (and much healthier) love affair.

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Sorry for the crappy pictures in my basement, I wanted to do this outside but it was raining. No, matter I can still pretend I’m outside in Tree Pose.

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Working the abs in Boat Pose.

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Rocking a Head Stand (much harder than it looks!)

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Close up of my awesome Vadar pants I just bought this weekend.

Superfoods to the Rescue

In his book, “This is How: Help for the Self” Augusten Burroughs introduces a powerful idea in his chapter “How to be Fat.”  To paraphrase he states that when you allow yourself to eat whatever you want without judgment, eventually that triple-decker chocolate cake, the bag of Funyuns, or whatever your guilty pleasure food may be loses its “street cred.” In other words, by allowing yourself to have the sinful snacks whenever you want it stops being a treat and becomes of the emotional equivalent as any other food you consume. This logically makes a lot of sense to me.

I think this goes hand in hand with the economic principal of scarcity. In economics the price of an item increases or decreases based on its availability. The less of something there is the more valuable it becomes. When we tell ourselves certain foods are off limits for some reason or another it makes them intellectually seem scarce and all that more valuable when we do obtain them. Here’s another simple way of thinking about this…

I think of our bodies as sort of like toddlers who have just been told they absolutely cannot have that toy they have been coveting off the Cartoon Network commercials when we prohibit ourselves from eating certain things. Once the word “no” has been uttered, our bodies try harder than ever to get what they want. They cause cravings and basically “throw a tantrum” until we give in and let it have that Snickers Bar. Then while our body (cravings) might be happy, we emotionally feel guilty for lacking the willpower to stick with no. It sucks believe me, I have been there many a times.

And while some of you are probably thinking by now that giving in to our bodies cravings over time will probably make it doughy and unhealthy, just as giving in to a toddler will make them spoiled and privileged, but I wonder what would happen if we didn’t give that piece of pie any value at all. Burroughs wonders the same thing and proposes that you would probably eat a lot of it at first because it would be a novel thing to do, but eventually after the fourth or fifth time it would become any normal every day food and the deep cravings for the “naughty” foods would diminish.

If you read my previous post then you will already know how I feel about dieting. I just hate that word. Just hearing it makes me cringe a little inside. I think a lot of it has to do with control- “You’re telling me what I can and can’t eat? I don’t think so!” Also I am notoriously bad at sticking to, well, anything really if I am being honest (I’m working on it).

So this month in honor of health month I am throwing away conventional dieting and allowing myself to eat whatever I want. With that being said I am trying to throw in a “superfood” in every meal.  To be clear a superfood is “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.” Before the start of the month I did some research on superfoods and compiled a list of foods that dietitians and doctors recommend for their various health properties (if you are interested in the articles themselves I will link them below). All in all I ended up with 114 items ranked based on their number of mentions across articles (1, 2, and 3 stars). Using this list I have been trying to eat meals with one or more of these ingredients. For example, the other night Mike and I had steak, collard greens, and plantains. We then got Jenni’s ice cream afterwards, which was ok because the beef and collard greens from dinner were superfoods, and I chose an ice cream heavy with almonds which is also a superfood. Did the ice cream have more calories than a carrot stick? Yup. Was it a hell of a lot more enjoyable to eat? Without a doubt, yes!

This method may not work for other people and that’s ok. Personally, I have already noticed myself trying to make healthier choices just trying to include one superfood into each meal and it’s been less than a week. I may not lose a bunch of weight eating like this, but I don’t think I am going to gain a bunch either. To me it’s all about balance and having nutritious foods alongside foods I love but may not pack the same caloric punch.

What are these magical superfoods you may ask? That’s a good question and honestly some of the answers may surprise you. Without further adieu, here is my list of Mary Anne approved superfoods!

3 Stars

  1. Walnuts
  2. Quinoa
  3. Spinach
  4. Salmon
  5. Avacados

 

2 Stars

  1. Mushrooms
  2. Peanut butter
  3. Almonds
  4. Blueberries
  5. Eggs
  6. Sweet potatoes
  7. Oranges
  8. Broccoli
  9. Lemons
  10. Garlic
  11. Potatoes
  12. Pomegranates
  13. Kale
  14. Sardines
  15. Rolled oats
  16. Lentils
  17. Kefir

 

1 Star

  1. Chicken breast
  2. Edamame
  3. Dark chocolate
  4. Beans
  5. Bananas
  6. Raspberries
  7. Tomatoes
  8. Cauliflower
  9. Onions
  10. Chia seeds
  11. Flax seed
  12. Greek yogurt
  13. Olive oil
  14. Red wine
  15. Popcorn
  16. Grassfed beef
  17. Tofu
  18. Oysters
  19. Apples
  20. Pumpkins
  21. Figs
  22. Coffee
  23. Pistachios

 

Honorable Mentions

  1. Almond butter
  2. Grapefruit
  3. Tangerines
  4. Eggplant
  5. Swiss chard
  6. Broccoli sprouts
  7. Fennel
  8. Beets
  9. Collard greens
  10. Winter squash
  11. Tuna
  12. Anchovies
  13. Poultry (including dark meat)
  14. Whole wheat bread
  15. Hemp seeds
  16. Kamut
  17. Faro
  18. Coconut oil
  19. Cumin
  20. Turmeric
  21. Cinnamon
  22. Rooibos tea
  23. Harissa
  24. Goat cheese
  25. Coconut
  26. Ghee
  27. Canned salmon
  28. Spirulina
  29. Dandelion greens
  30. Nutritional yeast
  31. Mango
  32. Strawberries
  33. Blackberries
  34. Artichokes
  35. Sauerkraut
  36. Spaghetti squash
  37. Wild caught cod
  38. Rhubarb
  39. Beet greens
  40. Endive
  41. Snap peas
  42. Corn
  43. Kimchi
  44. Olives
  45. Kohlrabi
  46. Pork tenderloin
  47. Kombucha
  48. Buckwheat
  49. Ginger root
  50. Tahini
  51. Basil
  52. Asparagus
  53. Spelt
  54. Sunflower seeds
  55. Parsley
  56. Chili seeds
  57. Mint
  58. Carrots
  59. Amaranth
  60. Organic milk
  61. Red peppers
  62. Asian pears
  63. Lychee
  64. Guava
  65. Brussel sprouts
  66. Bulgar
  67. Tea
  68. Brown rice
  69. Kiwi

 

Reference Articles

Time: The 50 Healthiest Foods of All Time (With Recipes)

Time: The 50 (New) Healthiest Foods of All Time (With Recipes)

The 30 Healthiest Foods

The 10 Healthiest Foods on the Planet

7 of the Healthiest Foods You Should be Eating but Aren’t

 

 

 

“Diet” is a Four Letter Word

 

“I feel about airplanes the way I feel about diets. It seems to me that they are wonderful things for other people to go on.”  

-Jean Kerr

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, I LOVE to eat. I truly believe that eating is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Not only can it nourish and sustain our bodies, but it can nourish our spirit as well. There’s seriously nothing better than taking that first bite of a perfectly cooked steak, or sipping a glass of wine with friends. However, like most love affairs, there can be a real downside.

Small indulgences can lead to overindulgence, which can then lead to emotional eating, weight gain, and in some cases serious health issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and an increased risk for cancer. Just look at our general population for example.  According to Livestrong.com 28% of Americans met the medical classification for being obese. And surprisingly enough we are in good company with New Zealand (27%), Australia and the UK (26%), Canada (24%), and Ireland (23%) not far behind. That’s equates to roughly one fourth of the population being overweight in each of these countries.

We can blame it on prepackaged foods, large portion sizes, too much sugar in literally everything, and all of this plays a part to be sure, but I also think it has to do with a lack of education surrounding nutrition and an unhealthy relationship with food. At any rate, this has certainly been the case for me.

If I am being honest I have been blessed with good genes that make is relatively easy to stay slim (I can thank dad for that one). Even at my “heaviest” back at the end of 2011 I was still within a healthy BMI range. That being said, I have watched loved ones struggle with obesity and dieting. All throughout my childhood I remember my mom struggled with her weight and she tried so many things to shed pounds. She finally had bariatric surgery a few years ago and lost so much weight we can now share clothes. She’s doing so well and is so much healthier. I am so proud of her.

As I get older I am realizing that society has really conditioned us (males and females) to think that our bodies can only be “healthy and beautiful” if they look a certain way and that’s not always the case.

Back when I was doing the Paleo diet and gave up grains, dairy, and sugar I dropped weight like it was hot- 40 pounds to be exact. Which sounds pretty amazing, but in reality that much weight loss was not healthy for me. At my tiniest, at 5 feet 8 inches, I weighed 115 pounds. My bones stuck out. Yes, I had abs but you could also count every single rib when I laid down. Caring friends and family expressed their concern that I was too thin and I blew them off thinking (in a very narcissistic way I am sad to say) that they were simply jealous. After all, how could I be unhealthy when I was eating like a horse? I was constantly eating during that time, probably because my body was doing its best not to starve to death. It was so bad I was going through 2 full jars of peanut butter a week just to keep some calories in my itty bitty body.  I ignored everyone’s comments because I had been lied to by the media that told me this rail thin physique was what an “ideal body” looked like.

Sure, being able to fit into size 2 pants was great for awhile, however, want to know what I remember the most from that time? How ungodly uncomfortable it was to sleep at night. I had to prop myself up with 3-4 pillows just to get comfortable. When you are that thin there is nothing left to pad your body anymore. I thought I was crazy until I read an article a few years ago written by someone else who had lost a lot of weight and experienced the same thing. It felt like I was lying on daggers. Bedtime was definitely not a happy place back then.

Then one day a couple of months after I met Mike in 2013 and (thanks to his influence) started eating yummy stuff like Indian food and Jenny’s ice cream again (which were definitely NOT Paleo diet approved) I realized that I needed to stop this madness. I needed to stop demonizing entire food groups. I didn’t have celiac disease and I wasn’t lactose intolerant. Medically there was no reason not to be eating healthy versions of grains and dairy so I started eating them again. For a long time I felt very guilty about this. It was almost as if the devil himself had created bread so it was too evil to be enjoyed. These irrational thoughts are something I still struggle with to this day.

When I decided to make the first month of my adventure year a focus on health I knew I had to address my relationship with food. I refuse to be a food martyr anymore. I don’t want to feel guilty when I have a slice of pizza once a month and I certainly don’t want to deprive myself of the foods I enjoy so I can brag about how healthy I am being either. I know you know the type I am talking about. A food martyr is that person who makes sure to let everyone know about how “good” they were to resist that doughnut sitting in the office lounge, while simultaneously making everyone else feel “bad” that not only did they eat that doughnut, but they actually enjoyed it. I am a firm believer that if we are to stop emotional eating we have to include all negative emotions. Most people associate emotional eating with stress or depression, but I certainly think that feeling guilty or ashamed for something you did or didn’t eat also counts. Besides, once and awhile a girl just has to have a boston creme pie doughnut (margarita, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, *fill in your own favorite treat here*).

Therefore, moving forward I have decided to take a rather counter-intuitive approach by allowing myself to eat whatever I want… with only one stipulation. At each meal, no matter what it is I choose to eat, it must contain at least one of the 114 “superfoods” I researched in preparation for this month (more on this later in the week). By switching my focus onto eating the foods I love with the one healthy superfood clause rather than depriving myself, in just three days I have already noticed the amazing paradox that the foods I am choosing to eat just happen to be better for me. It’s definitely a lot more empowering to choose your food rather than to feel stuck with having something because it’s the only thing you’re “allowed” to have.

And you know, for the first time I feel pretty good about the things I am eating. I am not in anyway advocating that this method will work for everyone or that I intend to eat junk food all day long with just an apple thrown in here or there. I still have to pick realitively healthy food options. However, I think this method will really help change the negative thought patterns I have surrounding certain foods. Best part is, at the end of the day, I don’t have to feel ashamed for having a glass of wine or some dark chocolate because surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly as wine and chocolate both have proven health benefits) they are both on my superfood list 😀

 

References (because yes, I am a nerd).

Allen, J. (2013). Obseity in America vs. other countries. Livestrong. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/347190-obesity-in-america-vs-other-countries/