The Land of Looks

Happy belated Thanksgiving!

I’ve been so busy in the past few days that I forgot to post. While I didn’t have my traditional Thanksgiving dinner — in Massachusetts, with the parade on in the background, fighting for the seat at the table next to my Grandad, watching one cousin avoid vegetables and laughing at the other cousin’s fart jokes, and taking a walk to the beach before the food coma hits — I did have a pretty good time with my coworkers at work and friends at HMAC afterwards, doing improv and watching an all-girl version of Reservoir Dogs (appropriately titled “Reservoir Bitches”). But the most important thing I did this Thanksgiving was start my new diet.

Now, before this train runs off the tracks, I’ll reassure you: I’m trying to gain weight, not lose it. I eat all the time, but you wouldn’t be able to  tell; so now I’m tracking my calories and trying to push myself to eat more, with the goal of gaining one pound a week. My goal is to gain ten pounds, and the holidays just happen to be a perfect time to start.

I want to get one thing straight: this is not some bullshit first world problem that I’m lamenting about, or some backwards way of flaunting myself by criticizing myself. I’m gonna be real with you, because this is an issue that I have had to endure a lot of jokes about for years: it is incredibly hard for me to gain weight, and it’s not a good thing.

It’s bad enough that for the past ten years, I’ve struggled to maintain my scant 106 pounds — at times, I even vowed to bring myself up to 110, but willpower never prevailed — and I’ve got to say, it gets funnier and funnier every time someone cracks a joke about how my life must be so hard that I want to gain weight, or, “here, you can have some of mine.” Or when someone scoffs when I say I need to start working out, because “You don’t need to, you’re so skinny!” (News flash: that’s actually why I need to start working out.)

What people don’t take into consideration is that trying to gain weight is just as much a problem as trying to lose weight, if not worse. People are ready to jump on board with the concept of underweight people in third world countries, but as soon as it happens in America, it is treated as a trend. Welcome to the Land of Looks, where the less you exist physically, the more attractive you are. Most people want to lose a few pounds to look better, or fit into that pair of pants better, etc. I want to gain a few pounds so that I can do simple things, like give blood (that’s usually  a 110-lb limit), and have energy.  

It also becomes a serious issue any time I get sick. This has always been a worry for my sister and me:  as  much fun  as being sick  is, symptoms like a diminishing appetite  add a whole other layer of problems. Back when we were kids, we went on a trip to Guatemala. Becky got sick from the water, and lost weight. I remember getting mad one day after we came back because my mother let her eat ice cream for dinner — she was hungry, and she ate it, and that was good enough for my mom. I can only imagine the stress she went through, having two kids who couldn’t maintain their own weight.

Well, lo and behold: it’s ten years later, and it’s my turn to get sick.  It’s very frustrating to know that you need to eat something in order to function properly, but physically not be able to eat. I would stare at food that I’d just prepared or bought, and think, I’ve only eaten a few bites. There has to be more room in my stomach than that. I started drinking Ensure Plus drinks just to give myself some extra calories — just like my mom once tried to make me do in high school — though those are meant to be a supplement to the food you eat, not 50% of your daily intake.

These past few months I’ve lost 8 pounds. You do the math. For those of you who think the bathroom scale is only shameful to those who are overweight, that is so far from the truth. No one should be able to see their ribs when they’re not stretching.My question is this: why do we equate “skinny” with “healthy”? I mean, obviously there are naturally skinny people who are perfectly healthy, but why do we just assume that a person’s body weight is what defines their health? It’s actually more of a health risk to be underweight than it is to be overweight, but it seems that the only acceptable time to be concerned about one’s skinniness is when they’re anorexic.

I’m sick of being laughed at when I voice my concerns about my weight. I’m sick of being defined by how I look and not how I feel. If there’s one thing I’ve been thankful for this Thanksgiving, it is that I am able to recognize my body’s needs and take action, but unfortunately, that’s not always how the rest of this country views it. America needs to pull itself out of the Land of Looks and enter the real world.

I apologize for turning a Thanksgiving greeting into a health rant. But I think it’s important that we are thankful for the right things, and strive to do our bodies good. If someone decides to make an important life decision, our goal should be to encourage them, not disregard them. With all the crap that society already throws our way, it is at least good to be mindful of what really matters. So please, please think twice before you add to the pot and belittle someone’s health concerns.

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Stressing Out About Stress

Sometimes the universe starts physically hating on you for not having a handle on your life.

imageI’ve been trying to manage my stress levels this week. I have discovered — or more accurately, rediscovered — that I am painfully not in control of my own body. It does what it pleases: when I’m nervous, it doesn’t matter how many breathing exercises I try: my entire body will not stop shaking; and when I’m worried or upset or angry, it doesn’t matter how early I try to go to sleep: I will wake up every two hours throughout the night, or just not be able to sleep at all. Luckily, I don’t get stressed out all the time. But this week has lobbed stress factors at me left and right.

But when life throws lemons at you, ignoring them will not make them go away — that will only leave you with bruises. I’m attempting to be more proactive with my stress — catching the lemons instead of letting them bounce off me. God knows when I’ll finally get around to making lemonade, but at least I can try to limit the damage.

I’ve compiled a list of stress relief activities for those of you who are also in need of a good release. I’ve also listed my varied success with them; some of these I’m still trying to get a hold on, but I have confidence that with a little time, I can manage.

    • Breathing exercises. Still working on this one. There’s the 4/4 method — breathe in for 4 beats, breathe out for 4 beats — and then the 4/7/8 method — breathe in for 4, hold for 7, breathe out for 8 — but sometimes I feel like doing a breathing exercise actually tenses me up. Apparently there are wrong ways to breathe, though, so I will continue tromping down this path as far as it takes me, until I get it right.
    • Yoga. Four months ago, this would have been a much more viable option, but I have not worked out at all in that time frame. The other day I tried following a Youtube yoga session, and the very first thing the instructor did was child’s pose. I COULDN’T DO CHILD’S POSE. My body is like a brick, but in a bad way. In an underweight, non-muscly, inflexible way. I’m a scrawny brick.
    • Meditation. In terms of what is typically considered meditation (quieting your mind, eliminating thoughts, etc.), I’m having no such luck with this one either. I can’t keep my mind quiet for five seconds, let alone five minutes — or however long it is suggested for beginning meditators — and in those five minutes I end up thinking more about the things that are stressing me out. However. I have found a little bit of luck in my own version of meditation, which involves noticing things around me — nature, people, cracks in the sidewalk and birds passing by — which serves as a great reminder that there is a world around me that I am not tuning into. I find that connecting with my surroundings takes me out of the muck inside my head and gives me a different perspective. I know it sounds an awful lot like avoidance, but for me, this brings peace.
    • Listening to music. The type of music depends on your personality. A lot of the music I like listening to can be very poignant, which, I have come to find, is not ideal when I’m stressing out. It’s great for wallowing, great for feeling intense emotion — it’s the same reasoning behind my love for sad movies: crying is good for the soul sometimes, even if it’s over fiction. It’s a form of release. But when that emotion you’re feeling prevents your head from staying on straight, it seems reasonable to find a better tactic. There are two avenues I’ve taken so far:
      1. Olfaur Arnalds, and other instrumental music. I’ve always loved instrumental pieces, because I love the idea of connecting with wordless music. There is something innately calming about a song that resonates within your soul without telling you it’s doing so. Granted, Olafur Arnalds does have some darker pieces, so you’ve gotta be careful. Living Room Songs is actually a pretty perfect album to fall back on if you’re unsure.
      2. Happy dance music! Dancing is SUCH a good way to release stress. I have taken to having five-second dance parties at work, and it’s fantastic. (Also great for making your coworkers laugh. I do what I can.) Which leads me to my next point:
    • Laughter. Thank God I do improv, right? Laughing, much like crying, is a great form of release. It is said to keep you healthier, extend your life… there are a lot of things said about laughter that I don’t have any actual statistics on, but suffice it to say, it feels good to laugh. This week, I have been filling my spare moments with Star Trek: TNG humor and Youtube videos of John Barrowman interacting with Comic Con crowds. God, laughter feels great.
    • Letting go. This one is definitely easier said than done. As I’ve said before in past blog posts, I have social anxiety issues, and one of the ways this rears its ugly head is when I overanalyze every interaction I’ve ever had. While there is a time and a place for analysis, there is such a thing as overdoing it, and this is something that I am working on. My theory is this: it’s not worth it to dwell on people and issues that hurt or upset you; there will never be any benefit in that.  The best thing you can do is to let go, and focus your attention on more positive things. You can’t always fix things, and stressing over that fact is not going to get you anywhere.
    • Eating pie for breakfast. Guys, this is not a good idea, but it FEELS SO GOOD. No, seriously, I need to start eating better.

Let me know if you have any additions to this list!

Rapunzel

If there’s a place for one’s sorrow to crawl, then let it crawl.
For one’s pain, embarrassment — for one’s inability to tear down one’s past view of the future.
To stare at it and see it as foreign, a canvas once put up that bleeds into the wall, forever imprinted.
To be sorry, not for something, but because of it,
But not having the wits or the energy to forcibly remove it.
For what do I deserve this kind of introduction to the world?
For life, for injustice — for reality —
This is the cold, hard ground I hit,
I roll, I pause, I reflect.
This is the ground I tread on.
This is what is forever before me, waiting to crumble beneath my toes.
It’s only quicksand if I let it be.
If I can’t be above it all, then, at least,
On this ground,
I choose to be on top.

All Work and No Play (aka A Very Skewed Worldview)

This week, I had two unexpected sick days. This means that I had two days to sit and analyze myself and realize, among other things, that I’m a bad writer.

Okay, clarification time. I realize that some people are going to get mad at me for saying that (*cough, cough* Mom), but I don’t mean that I can’t put together a story. What I mean is, how can I claim to be a writer if I don’t do any writing? Sure, I’ve done some writing here and there for work, but really writing — sitting down and getting lost in a story — I haven’t done that in a few weeks. Which is pathetic, considering I have an entire novel that I need to edit so that it doesn’t just sit and collect dust for the rest of eternity.

But so often I let my passion get shoved to the side; I have other things that I need to do first. What is passion if it is not bubbing over the day-to-day, if it is not itching under the skin of basic survival? Why is something I get excited about trumped by things I get less excited about? It can’t be that I don’t have enough time… the amount of Netflix that I watch basically demolishes that excuse. I literally have several hours every morning before I go to work that I fill with Netflix and Facebook and naps.

I think that sometimes we need to regard our passions as work in order to keep them a part of our lives. Just as elementary schools thrive with art classes, so we thrive with the things that make us tick. But if we don’t schedule a period for such activity, it will never happen — when we write something off as “play” instead of “work”, it immediately  holds less priority. But it is that “play” that keeps us vitally connected to our humanity. Scary, huh? The thought of becoming disconnected from our humanity because we don’t make time for it?

Therefore, I have decided (once again… let’s not pretend that this is the first time I’ve ever decided this, but this time I’m broadcasting it) to spend three mornings a week in an environment that makes it impossible not to write. This means, for starters, no access to WiFi — if I need to do any online research, I can save it for a day not scheduled for writing. Seeing as how I live on the same block as a coffee shop, I hope that I won’t cave and ask the baristas for the WiFi password.

If anyone wants to join me in my endeavours, feel free to do so in whatever form you see fit. If you want to write, then pencil in a couple of hours to write. If you want to read more, then go to the library right now — then you’ll at least have a book to stare at you accusingly throughout the week. If you want to dance, then why the hell are you not dancing? Do so every morning before you go to work.

We won’t ever be able to reach our ideals if we keep labelling them as possibilities instead of probabilities.