the body and helpful books

I love to read. I mostly read fiction because I love the safe haven it provides away from the world. I can get totally engrossed in a beautiful narrative or an absurd tale.

But there’s another genre that’s my guilty secret: self-help. I’ve read so many self-help books, it’s hard to remember all of them. What I can say for sure is that many of them were not helpful to my-self. In fact, some were downright harmful. I’ve sneakily read many-a-book about how to diet or “eat clean” (one of my least favorite phrases in the world, but that’s another post) or exercise in some “new” way or fast or wish away pain by focusing attention on my body’s size in one way or another. I say I’ve “sneakily” read these, because I have literally hidden the fact that I am reading them from everyone. Deep down I’ve always known they are not healthy for me, but I haven’t been able to step away.

This year, I’m trying to change that behavior. Instead of reading diet self-help books, I’m reading fat acceptance, body positive, and social justice self-help books. So far, it is going great! This post is the beginning of a series of reviews of those books. Let’s dive in!

I just finished reading Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by the amazing Jes Baker (aka The Militant Baker). Let me tell you, the message of this book just knocked my socks off. Jes is real and ready to rumble, and her book made me feel like a badass for just being. It was a huge self-esteem boost.

This book is not for the faint-of-heart. If all caps writing gets to you, brace yourself. Honestly, sometimes I didn’t exactly love the relentlessly italicized, capitalized, and bolded writing, but you cannot deny that Jes has a powerful style. Her message does deserve to be shouted. Her enthusiasm is infectious. I can’t imagine reading this and not feeling empowered and seen.

I also really appreciated that she included guest essays to provide a range of voices. That is some inclusive stuff and I’m here for it. Of course, the guest essay that spoke to me the most was by genderqueer activist and all-around feminist badass Sam Dylan Finch of Let’s Queer Things Up. He writes about being androgynous but being perceived as female because of his body shape. I know I haven’t written about my gender yet, but–spoiler alert–this problem is something that I really relate to. I was so relieved to read about another person working on this problem and being public about it. I think about this feeling all the time–how can I be perceived for who I am and the way I am? I really appreciated this essay being included.

Another feature of this book that made me happy was the fact that it’s full of practical information backed up by science. It’s way easier for me to be persuaded by facts combined with anecdotes, so I loved that. I was so into the section called “100% of Humans Have Brains” talking about mental health. It reminded me to be brave and that my best is always enough.

There’s so much in this book about being a fat person, but it’s really for everyone. Jes is such a motivating force for understanding your self-worth regardless of your body shape, and that is the most important thing.

the body and the jog

I’ve written a lot about my body and my thoughts. What about my body and my movement?

Recently, I got the go-ahead from my physical therapist to start trying to run again. This is a huge deal for me because 1) I really enjoy running and 2) six months ago I literally could not walk across a room. So this progress has really pumped me up.

Okay, deep breath, time for the first selfie on this blog! Here I am in my running gear:

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My first few runs have gone really well. I have been vigilant about my routine because I am terrified of re-injuring myself. I walk for 5 minutes to warm up, jog at about 5mph for 0.5 miles, and then walk for 5 minutes to cool down. Then I immediately go ice my knee. I did this all last week and it has felt great. Some supplementary ibuprofen was taken, but I’m okay with that. The knee isn’t fully healed yet, so some swelling and pain is okay as long as it goes down quickly and continues to head in a healing direction in the long run.

My cardio endurance is definitely low compared to pre-injury, but that’s to be expected. What’s great is that I can do this activity I love again, and do it with minimal fear. One day, I think I’ll be fearless again.

My physical therapist recommended that I could move up a small amount in distance if I felt comfortable, so I might try for a 0.75 mile run next. For now the joy is just pushing myself and being really in my body in a way that nothing but exercise can do for me.

Here’s to the tangible progress in life, and to enjoying what I have when I have it!

the body and the past

A note from me: This post contains negative body talk, diet talk, and discussions of mental illness and disordered eating. If that will be triggering for you, I encourage you to skip this post!

I wrote in my last post about how I’ve spent 20 years feeling uncomfortable in my body and feeling like I need to change it through diet and exercise. I want to delve into some of the past that shaped that worldview. This is not to blame any one person or myself, but rather to consider and forgive my past experiences so I commit to my body in the present.

In that spirit, I present five memories:

1. When I was growing up, my mom was “very heavy” (as she would put it), and incredibly ashamed of it. My brother was a bit of a chubby kid, and I could tell that it worried her that he was. At doctor’s appointments she would look at our weight charts and make comments about how big my brother was getting. I was smaller when I was young, so I got fewer comments, but I feared facing Mom’s concern. I never wanted to upset her, and it was clear gaining too much weight would do that.

My most poignant memory of this time is of us sitting at the kitchen table together, her looking at me with intense pain in her eyes and saying “Don’t ever be like me. Don’t ever get fat like me.” This phrase cut through me. It still rings in my ears.

My mom went on to join Weight Watchers and lose a lot of weight, then gain it back, then lose it again. She’s kept it off for a while now, though she watches what she eats incredibly carefully. I hope she’s happier with herself now. I’m not sure what she feels about her body because we never talk about it.

2. As a kid through my early teen years, I was a gymnast. There is nothing like wearing only a leotard to make you suddenly self conscious, especially as a 12-year-old. I was constantly comparing my body to the other girls on my team. I was stockier. I was shorter. Where I got the idea to compare myself is pretty obvious, since one of my coaches particularly encouraged it. She told me that I was getting to be the biggest on the team and I should think about eating healthier. She told me I wouldn’t be able to tumble like I wanted to (my favorite part of gymnastics) and that getting heavier would only make the bars harder (my least favorite part of gymnastics). It was a targeted attack and it worked. I went home and cried and promised myself I would not get fatter.

The thing is, I wasn’t fat then. It’s not that this would have been okay to say to me even if I was fat at the time, it absolutely would never have been okay. But this experience just shows how even the perception of fat is feared, judged, and criticized. I was an incredibly muscular, incredibly fit CHILD. I was bigger because I was strong as hell and my muscles are short and bulky. But I still feared being “fatter” than my teammates more than anything. The fear consumed me and fueled constant comparison. I started wearing shorts and a t-shirt to practice over my leotard. I stopped eating breakfast and lunch. I devoted myself to losing weight.

3. When I was 14, I injured my back badly because of gymnastics. It was bad enough that I had to quit. My whole world was turned upside down. So much of my identity was tied up in being a gymnast and suddenly that was ripped away from me. I was pissed, just so unbelievably angry, and mostly I was angry at my body for betraying me, for taking away this thing I loved. In a bid to get control over my body again, I severely restricted my food intake. I weighed myself three or four times a day. I walked and ran for hours. Once, when my mom asked me if I was trying to lose weight, I shouted “I’m just trying to be healthy!” and ran out the door to go on a run. I was so afraid that she would try to stop me and take away my control. I lost more than 30 pounds. I still hated myself and my body.

4. In college, in a desperate attempt to regain some control during a particularly bad depressive episode, I began seeing how long I could go without eating. I ignored all emotions and pitted my mind against my body. I used deprevation as the ultimate distraction. I demanded full willpower. I thought about eating constantly and feared “slipping up.” I started going to the gym at night, working out until I felt faint. I never lost weight. I hated my body for holding on when I was telling it so clearly to let go.

5. I moved to a new city and gained weight. I weighed more than I ever had before. Now I was undeniably fat, there was no escaping it. I vascilated between dieting and bingeing; signing up for gym memberships and health plans and sitting on the couch watching TV and eating; reading self-help books on weight loss and telling myself “I’ll start on Monday.” Slowly, I realized that none of these things would make me happy. Slowly I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the world around me because I was obsessed with this one thing. Slowly, I realized this was not my fault. Slowly, I realized that I am worthy and wonderful just the way I am.

I’m still in experience 5, learning, always learning, about how I am valuable and how I can be better. I’ve written these experiences not because I want to be a downer or get pity, but because these experiences are so common. They are also so unnecessary.

As I said in the beginning of this post, this is not about blaming anyone. I love my mom deeply and we have a great relationship. My gymnastics coach helped me train for a sport I loved. I don’t resent them for what they said to me. They grew up in this messed up society too; they were just trying to protect me.

I don’t blame myself either. Societal pressures are tough to resist, especially when the people around you are reinforcing them. It’s hard to know how to handle problems when you have undiagnosed mental illness and think there is something about you that is irreparable. Society says “Have a problem? Try diet and exercise!” and if that doesn’t work you must be lazy or lying.

The thing is, though, that is bullshit. Some days it’s easier to remember that than others. But we have to try. These experiences are real and they are common and we owe it to ourselves and the people we love to fight them.

the body and its current form

So here’s the thing: I’m fat. Seriously, actually fat. If you look at me, you will see this. If you ask my doctor, she will say my BMI is in the “Obese” category. Before my accident, I was less fat. Now I’m more fat. It’s just a fact about me.

Coming to terms with this simple fact about me is anything but simple though. I have struggled so much as I’ve gained weight over the past six months, watching my arms get bigger, my tummy get rounder, new stretch marks appear on my hips and thighs. I’ve hated scouring my closet for things that might still stretch to fit me, and finally tossed almost all my clothes in a donation pile and then cried because I couldn’t wear them anymore. I’ve broken down in dressing rooms, much to my wife’s distress. I’ve pinched my stomach and felt under my chin, feeling the softness and feeling shame.

But the truth is, these feelings are not new. My weight now is 30 pounds more than it used to be, but my thoughts are the same as they have been my whole life: I need to lose weight, it’s embarrassing to be the size I am, I hate this or that soft part of me. Before my accident and this rather sudden weight gain, I was already planning to lose weight. I was trying to exercise more and telling myself to eat less.

It seems like no matter what, I’ve always been on or thinking about being on some kind of diet.

This is the most important thing I have realized recently. It doesn’t matter what size I am, I have been programmed to want to be less. The world around us tells us (especially women) that we need to control ourselves. That we need to spend time and effort and money on shrinking ourselves. That we need to take up less space. That people are bothered by our too big presence. That there is a right size to be and you must fit into it or be striving to fit into it or you are not worthy of respect. These ideas have been so ingrained in me that from the age of 8 through my current age of 28, I have thought about dieting, exercise and weight as a constant, necessary companion. TWENTY YEARS OF THIS AND I AM MAD AS HELL! There is no point in continuing this cycle of society-approved self-abuse.

Now I’m working to counter these thoughts. I’m working to see my weight as merely a fact about my body, like the fact that I’m short or have blond hair. So here’s the truth: I’m fat. That’s it.

the body and my brain right now

I’m not going to lie, I’m going through a tough time right now. Depression has snuck back into my life and has settled right in my home–my body.

I feel exhausted all the time. I feel unmotivated. I’m falling behind at work. I avoid tasks because they just seem too hard. I don’t help around the house. I feel flat and unfunny when I see my friends.

This isn’t new for me. Unfortunately, I’m used to this feeling. I’ve dealt with periods of depression since I was 14, and periods of hypomania from 16. I have a mood cycle that is an inherent part of who I am. My body and my brain ebb and flow with energy and optimism. I’m fortunate enough to have medications and support that really help me out and keep my head above water pretty much all of the time, even when I’m having a super rough time. The rough times are never as bad as they used to be and I am incredibly grateful for that.

Still, I have a moderate depressive episode pretty much once a year at this point. I guess now is my time. Sometimes it’s triggered by extra stress or by the winter (hello, seasonal depression), but this time I’m just not sure. It sucks to have to accept this about myself, but fighting that this is happening only makes taking care of myself harder.

I know part of the problem is that with my injury I just haven’t been able to exercise. Exercise is a huge help in boosting my mood and reminding my brain that it can make happy chemicals. It’s also a good reminder that some things do still feel good, even if not everything does. But right now I’m pretty limited in what I can do. That doesn’t mean I can do nothing.

I am strong, and I have survived this so many times before. Every time I get through a depressive episode I realize how wrong my depressed brain is in perceiving the world and myself. I just have to keep reminding myself that my judgments are coming from an impaired brain and that it will not always be like this.

Here’s to taking deep breaths, trying to stay in the moment, and doing the best I can with what I have.

the body and the beginning

Welcome to my first blog entry! I’m not sure exactly how I want to start this, so I’m just going to jump in.

I’m starting this blog because I have a lot of thoughts all pushing around in my head for attention, and I’ve found writing them down has been helpful in the past. I’m starting it because I want to learn about myself and the ways how I think and feel about my body affect my life. I’m starting it because I’m tired of feeling turned around and confused in my own head. I’m starting it because I hope I can build a community that supports me as I explore my experience.

My plan is to have this be a multi-faceted blog. Topics I want to include are:

  • fat acceptance, body positivity, Health At Every Size (HAES), and my body
  • my health, exercise, foods, meds, and my body
  • queerness, gender, my gender expression, and my body
  • photos of me, the way I am, in my body right now
  • anything and everything about what I’m thinking about my body

You can see why I called this blog “The Body.” Recently, I’ve begun to think about my body constantly. In October 2016, I was hit by a car while riding my bike. I got incredibly lucky in that my injuries were limited, mainly to my left knee. It still wasn’t great: I tore my MCL fully, tore my PCL partially, tore my meniscus partially, and had fractures in my fibula and femur. Basically, it was out of commission. I was fortunate enough to be able to avoid surgery, but otherwise I am on the long journey to regaining a fully functioning body part.

Before the accident, I biked to work every day, ran about once a week, and worked out another two or three days. I’ve completed four Tough Mudders, run two 5ks, and lifted weights heavier than my body. But my reality now is much different. Part of what I’m exploring here is how to come to terms with having to redefine the movement that is possible in my life, right now. I’m tired of saying to myself: “When my knee is better, I’ll be able to do that.” What about right now?

Another thing I’m really interested in exploring is how I take care of my body. Since my injury, I haven’t wanted to think about my body, or think about caring for it, or think about the long term. Part of that is movement, another part of that is what I eat and why. Another part is how I care for my mental health. I want to figure out how I can better commit myself to taking care of myself, rather than waiting until “I’m better.” What about right now?

I’m a huge proponent of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), because it literally saved my life. One of the first things you learn in DBT is to reduce your vulnerability to out-of-control emotions by using your “PLEASE skills.” PLEASE stands for

  • treat Physical iLlness
  • balance Eating
  • avoid mood Altering drugs
  • balance Sleep
  • get Exercise

Okay, so it’s a bit of a stretch in terms of an acronym, but you get the point. These are incredibly important for life. I think this is where my main focus should be for now, since I could improve on so many.

Anyway, you see where I’m starting now. From a place of a lot of thoughts but not yet a ton of action. From a place of wanting to think about my body and behaviors in a new way. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.