Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Eternal Now

I started a rigorous fitness regimen six weeks ago. At least five days a week, between 15 and 30 minutes, my workout leaves me struggling for enough air while sweat pours off me like rain.

In just over a week, I have two events where I will be more visible than usual: I’ll meet most of my work colleagues for the first time (I work from home), and I’ll attend the wedding of my nephew.

While I wish I didn’t feel this way, I’d really hoped that my size would have decreased visibly by then. And I’m realizing that isn’t going to be the case. In fact I don’t look different at all; clothes don’t fit me differently. My stomach still protrudes like it’s housing a well-cushioned nine month old fetus, straining against my fat clothes.

As I realized that I would have to attend both of these events just as fat as I was before starting to workout, I felt discouraged and angry.

And as happens sometimes, I heard a message from a very unlikely source that turned out to be just what I needed to hear.

I always try to have some tv shows available that are both drama-free and mood enhancing. One such show is “Big Dreams, Small Spaces.” It’s a British show about regular folks planning and then creating the garden of their dreams – in, as it turns out, small yards.

During one episode, a would-be gardener explained his desire to create a Japanese-inspired garden, and that he struggles to reconcile what the garden will look like when they have created it (young), with the image etched in his mind (fully mature and filled out).

Monty Don, the host and apparently a celebrity in the U.K., gave him this advice:

“You’ve got to know right on the surface that this is going to take years. What you do this year is the beginning. The psychology you need is that you’re not looking at the end product. You’re just looking at today.”

It was rather a poetic thing to say, given the Zen nature of a Japanese garden, and the Zen concept of the Eternal Now: all we have is this moment, right now. And we will alleviate suffering by living our lives, as much as possible, in the here and now; in the Eternal Now.

The message resonated on a deep level. And while I might have dreams and goals, I do myself no favors by keeping my focus on the future. All I have is right now. And in this case, rather than focusing on the shape of my body, I can focus on the fitness.

Today I worked out. I’m proud of myself for that. I like how some of the exercises are feeling easier, how I’m able to push myself harder. I like the feeling of challenging my muscles. I like that exercise is a good way to get out of my head, and to expel some of the anxieties and frustrations that I live with every day. I like that this is making me healthier and more resilient. Today.

Whatever happens to my girth down the road, whether I drop unwanted pounds or even eventually become lean and mean, that is the future and therefore unknowable.

Right now I’m doing something I feel good about. Right now I am making healthy choices. Today.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Body Image

I sometimes contemplate the trifecta that reorganized my life: PTSD, perimenopause, and middle age. There are still times that it’s hard to tell which of the three are responsible for a particular challenge.

In any case, add to the trifecta my move from a rural area to a city a few years ago, which cut off my primary fitness source: long walks and hikes in nature. Walking through neighborhoods is a poor substitute, providing neither the restorative qualities of nature, nor the incentives to keep walking in order to prolong the former.

I’m embarrassed even to put the number in writing: sixty pounds. A few years, and sixty pounds heavier.

Throughout my life I’ve been skinny, due mostly to a genetically fast metabolism. I recall only two times previously when I became heavier than I liked. In both cases I kind of stopped eating. I don’t mean I went on a diet, nor do I mean I stopped eating altogether. But essentially I starved myself until I regained a size that I was satisfied with.

I’ve always struggled with being Present in my body, and I mean that in every sense. I did not feel the connection between my Self, and my Body. I now believe that the two are inextricably intertwined, and you cannot love yourself without loving your body, cannot be Present without feeling your Self throughout your Body. But that wasn’t the case for a very long time. And as such, I was not keenly aware of feelings of hunger, nor was I motivated by maintaining good health. The goal was to keep myself small, and I did whatever was necessary to accomplish that.

Gaining weight has forced me to accept my own fatphobia, even though I have always believed that people naturally come in different shapes and sizes, and have consistently spoken out against fatphobia and body shaming. But now that my Self resides in a large Body, it is no longer theoretical; it is personal.

I hate the way I look. I feel so disgusting and so ashamed, I frequently have to resist a very strong urge to apologize to strangers for being fat. Walking in my neighborhood chatting with a neighbor for the first time, I want to explain that I wasn’t always this fat. Meeting a new friend, I want to clarify that this is only a transitory condition for me; that being slim is my default. I want people to know that I was skinny before, and I hope to be skinny again.

It isn’t that I feel judged or judge myself for “letting myself go,” for being lazy, for not doing the hard work of resisting urges and keeping up a fitness regimen. It isn’t about the why or how. It’s about one thing only: I am fat, and that is shameful. I am fat, and I look disgusting. Just as I am disgusted, others will naturally be disgusted to have to look at me.

It is intense and disconcerting, those times we realize we don’t hold the values we thought we did. Although – I guess I always knew that my general body acceptance was never meant for me, just for others. But the strength of my feelings of self-disgust, that has surprised me.

For now, all I can do is recognize how I feel, and have a little compassion for myself. Altering those internalized feelings, that feels completely out of reach.

Six weeks ago, I made a decision. I’m not entirely sure where it came from, but it was something like this: I spend too much time watching tv, and while I’d like to work on my social life, that still feels a bit too scary for me. So what can I do to replace some of that tv watching with something that is good for me, and that will improve my life overall? (Part of the thinking here is that when I improve any part of my life, I will be more capable of improving other parts of my life – like, eventually, meeting new people.)

I’d already added some yoga and stretches to my daily regimen simply because spending all day on the computer was causing me a lot of discomfort.

So I decided to start doing some fitness. And because it’s too late after work, meaning once I clock out there is approximately 0% chance that I will do something physical or productive, I decided to take 10 minutes for fitness during my lunchbreaks. (I am grateful to have a job that allows me this flexibility.)

Pretty quickly I found a Youtube channel that fit the bill. They call themselves HASFit (Heart And Soul); it’s a couple, and in each video one of them demonstrates modifications for those who aren’t as strong or flexible. Their enthusiastic phrases (“you’re lapping everyone who’s sitting on the couch,” and, “every winner was once a beginner”) are endearing.

I started with their videos geared towards seniors, which did not hurt my pride as much as I thought it would. About a week ago, I “graduated” from their seniors videos to their beginners videos. Every weekday I do between 15 and 30 minutes. I don’t know how much is due to perimenopause and how much is due to being so out of shape, but I sweat buckets! And the soreness I experience every day is not that good soreness from tired muscles, but rather is a bone deep aching in my stiff joints. Surely, at some point, that will change.

One of many reasons I chose them is because their routines always incorporate core (or stabilizer) muscles, and the variety of movements from one video to the next ensures that I’m not fixating on some muscles over others.

My purpose in starting a fitness regime was strictly health-related. And I’m delighted that I’ve been diligent for six weeks now. Post-trauma, sticking with anything is incredibly hard. I can’t take for granted that my willpower will carry me through; it hasn’t consistently done so for many years.

So I am pleased and proud of myself, and it is gratifying to feel the routines start to get easier.

Not so pleasing is that despite deliberately pursuing this for increased health, I am fixated on my weight. Or rather, body shape and size (I don’t own a scale, so my measurement is based on how clothing fits). And six weeks in, I feel no difference there.

Most likely if I keep this up, my body size will decrease, and my shape will become more pleasing to me. And I will allow myself to feel accomplished for that.

But I can’t help noticing that in all this, my internalized fatphobia hasn’t budged one bit. The solution to, “I hate my fat body,” cannot always be, “stop being fat.” I get that. Or rather, my brain gets that. My Self, on the other hand, is apparently just as fatphobic as always.

#FatPhobia #BodyImage #BodyShaming #BodyPositivity