Saturday, April 16, 2016

My First Day of Therapy

I promise I’m not going to blog all about my therapy.  I mean, this blog basically already is therapy, but I’m sure some things will be said in the therapist’s office that probably shouldn’t see the light of day.  But I will blog about insights and experiences that I think will be valuable to other people. 

This one’s for my readers who have never been to therapy. 

Here’s one way you can tell it was probably a good idea to go to therapy: If you start crying before the therapist has even said anything besides hello, that probably means you need therapy.

I said, through my tears, to the therapist, “I feel so relieved to be here.”

We spent the hour talking about what brought me there and a bit about my family background and other significant relationships in my life.  At one point she asked me if I woke up tomorrow and everything was how I wanted it to be, what would that look like. 

That sent me off into a whole big fit of tears.  Thinking about it now, I am reminded of one night when I was still married and living in Maine, and I was riding in the car with my husband and beginning to describe for him the different life I wanted for myself.  It was the first time I had said out loud any of the desires that eventually led me to where I am in my life now.  And I remember crying so hard because I was so afraid to speak those dreams.  It is so painful to hope for things you don’t believe you’ll ever have, and at that time everything I was saying seemed impossible.

But those things weren’t impossible.  And some of those dreams came true.

I hadn’t realized, until today, the extent to which I had stopped believing in the dreams that haven’t come true yet.

I sort of already knew what cognitive behavioral therapy was, but the therapist explained it to me like this: First you change your thoughts.  That changes your feelings.  And that changes your actions.  The therapist’s role is to help you identify the unhelpful, untrue, limiting thought patterns (you know, that mental tape recorder I sometimes talk about) that don’t serve you and help you change them.

The therapist said, “I can tell you are a thinker.” 


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

We Are Not This

Photo by Pablo Raw
I spent the weekend in North Carolina for the first travel team bouts of the season.  The All-Stars beat Charlotte on Saturday and lost to Columbia, a much higher ranked team, on Sunday.  My team, the National Maulers, beat Columbia's B-team.

I had forgotten how different it feels to play on the road.  It's hard to explain, but there is just something about having to try out and getting to travel (even if it is a seven-hour car ride) and feeling like you are part of something bigger than just your city.  It's a privilege not everyone gets to experience.  Last year I got cut from the travel team, and it hurt to be left out.  I'd see everyone's bout day updates and photos on Facebook and wish I could be part of it.

It hurts to be left out.  Sadly, sometimes the stakes are higher than a roller derby game.  Shortly before we hit the road, the North Carolina legislature passed House Bill 2, which legalizes discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation and prohibits local non-discrimination ordinances.  This means right now it's legal in North Carolina to deny civil rights such as housing, employment and access to public spaces to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

One of the cruelest provisions of the law is that it requires individuals to use the public restroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate.  In case you are confused, I'll just say it plainly.  Laws like this are rooted in and reinforce a climate of fear-mongering that insinuates allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify will somehow put cisgender people at risk of sexual assault.  Meanwhile, more transgender people were murdered in 2015 than in any other year on record, while there is no evidence suggesting that gender-specific bathrooms are safer than non-gender specific ones.  Not to mention that sexual assault is already illegal in public bathrooms and, well, pretty much everywhere else.  So I have to ask, exactly who needs to be protected?

I've said it before on this blog:  It is hard enough to be who you are.  Imagine what it must feel like when simply being who you are puts you at risk of being killed, fired, evicted and treated like an all-around second-class citizen.

A couple of years ago I was staffing a roller derby booth when a prospective skater walked up and said, "I really want to play roller derby, but I'm transgender."  One of my proudest moments in derby was being able to reply, "You can absolutely skate with us."  Saturday night in Charlotte, the All-Stars carried the transgender flag while skating their intro laps.  Then the Charlotte skaters joined in and the two teams skated a lap in solidarity while the crowd cheered.  It may not have been the grandest gesture, but it was at least a tiny glimmer of hope.  In a state where fear may have won the battle, I believe with all my heart that love will win the war.

Photo by Pablo Raw

Check out the Women's Flat Track Derby Association's statement to learn more about gender inclusion in roller derby.

Friday, April 1, 2016

March Review and April Goals

March was a mixed bag.  On the plus side, I hit all my physical therapy milestones and got to skate in my first bout since October.  On the minus side, I had a hard time keeping everything together this month.

I would say everything seemed harder in March, but recalling the last several months I think it's more accurate to say that things have been hard for awhile and my capacity to cope has been consistently inconsistent.  I'm not happy with how anything is going.  Work is insane, and I am rapidly losing my ability to laugh at the absurd quirks of the federal bureaucracy.  My mother has been sick.  Roller derby has been good when I can make it to practice, which is not as much as I would have liked.  I haven't been sleeping well, which means I haven't been getting my butt out of bed to do my physical therapy and foundation training as frequently as I should.  Meanwhile, despite my inability to fall asleep at a decent hour, I am exhausted at the end of every day, and I haven't been cross training as much as I wanted to because I run out of motivation by 6:00 pm.

I did get back in the weight room one day last week.  It was the first time I've had a barbell on my back in months.  I squatted the bar.  No weight, just the bar.  And then I bench pressed it, and then I added two fifteen pound plates, the smallest in the gym, and dead lifted it.  I guess you have to start somewhere, but it is discouraging.

Oh yeah, I lost the seven or so pounds I gained last summer eating like a weight lifter, but I'm worried it was all just muscle that I lost.

I can't seem to get out of my own way.  I don't think I'm depressed, not like I was back in the fall, but I can't seem to get myself back on track after all that psychic injury on top of my physical injury.  I just feel off all the time, and I'm not sure how to fix it.

So I'm shifting gears in April.  I have the sense that it's fruitless to set any physical fitness goals when I have no idea how to snap myself out of whatever is holding me back from meeting them.  This means it's time to focus on some mental health goals instead.  I had two ideas about what would help.

The first idea I had was church.  I haven't been to church, except maybe the occasional Christmas service, in more than two decades.  I don't really like church and generally feel my connection to the divine in nature where, as Emily Dickinson reminds us, the noted clergyman known as God holds forth.  The impetus to go to church had nothing to do with a sudden desire to become more devout so much as it seemed a way to stop thinking so much about myself and instead think about how to make a more positive contribution to the world at large.  Also, it couldn't hurt to meet some new people outside my roller derby bubble.

In an effort to find a church where I wouldn't burst into flames upon entry or potentially be stoned for my wicked ways, I googled "emerging church."  The emerging church movement is a Christian reform movement characterized by disillusionment with organized religion.  My sister wrote a book about it.  I'm not an expert like her, but in general I think the idea is to ask "What would Jesus do," and then actually do it.  There's a focus on inclusion, social justice, etc.  So I found one in my neighborhood, and I am planning to give it a try this month.

The second idea I had was therapy.  Since I seem to be stuck in some emotional and behavioral patterns that are not serving me well, I thought it might be time to get an outside perspective on how to pull it together.  So today I started looking for a counselor who takes my insurance.

So yeah, my goals for April.  Go to church and go to therapy and see what I learn in both places.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

February Review and March Goals

February is always an awful month for me because it's an extra busy time at work.  In some ways, February was a little less stressful this year because all I had to focus on outside of work was physical therapy.  Here's how I did with my February goals:

Daily physical therapy exercises.  I did my exercises 23 out of 29 days in February.  Not perfect, but not bad.  Especially when you consider how much I hated getting out of bed early to do it.

Foundation Training three times a week.  I met this goal 3 of 4 weeks, and did it twice in the fourth week.  Again, not bad.

Cardio three times a week.  I didn't do quite as well with this goal, partly because I ended up working late many nights this month, which made it hard to get to the gym.  I got at least one good, solid cardio workout (either spin or high intensity interval training on the treadmill or airdyne bike) per week, and some weeks I managed to fit in two.  Even though it wasn't as much as I wanted to do, by the end of the month, I noticed a difference in my endurance and how much I was able to push myself in spin class.

Off-skates training with the travel team once a week.  I missed one week due to working late, but I  met this goal the other three weeks.

In addition to these goals, I was able to get back on skates.  This week I tried contact for the first time since I started PT, and it went ok, meaning I didn't have any pain.  I also did one strength training class at my gym, the first time I have had any weight at all on my back for a very long time.  So I'm making some slow progress which is, of course, better than no progress.

For March, I have some milestones I want to hit:

  • Two contact practices this week
  • Two or three contact practices, including scrimmage, the following week
  • Skate in the bout on March 19th
In addition, I have the following goals:
  • Continue daily PT exercises and Foundation Training three times a week
  • Cross training (some combination of cardio and strength to be determined) twice a week

Monday, February 29, 2016

Fitness Lessons from High School Basketball

On Saturday night the girls' basketball team from my old high school in the tiny Maine town where I grew up won the first state basketball championship in the history of our school.  My cousin, Heather, of lobster fishing fame, coaches the team.  The last time a team from my school got that close to winning the high school basketball tournament was in 1992.  Heather was a member of that team, and they lost in the regional finals.

My younger sister was also a member of that team and so, even though I didn't play basketball in high school, I feel like I lived a part of that season.  Plus, we had all learned the sport together.  The year Heather and I entered fourth grade was the first year our school had a girls' basketball team for that age group.  (I think we probably have Title IX to thank for it since there was already a boys' team.  Thanks, Title IX!)

Our coach was Ronnie Looke, still the best coach I've ever had in any sport at any level I've played.  Most of the things I know about being an athlete and a member of a team, I learned from Mr. Looke.  He used to tell us, "We win as a team, we lose as a team, we run as a team" while he made us run.  We did a lot of running, but we were all in it together.  One year when we were a little older, Mr. Looke took us on a trip to see a women's basketball game at the University of Maine.  In a rural county where very few people went to college, he wanted us to know that we could have a future in academics and sports if that's what we wanted.  I still remember how we looked up to those UMaine players and even to the high school players in our own community.

Which brings me back to Heather and her team.  At the beginning of the season, they reached out to elementary school girls in the community offering an opportunity to sit with the team during a game. Each week I'd see a new photo or two on Facebook of some beaming young girl posing with the high school girls before the game.  I loved it.  I loved that Heather was doing for those young girls what Mr. Looke did for us, showing us a future that might not otherwise have occurred to us.  But more than that, giving them a front-row seat to the kind of hard work it takes to inhabit that future.

But on Saturday night as I watched the game online my thoughts were rooted firmly in the past.  I remembered that hard loss in 1992, as well as the hard losses I've experienced in sports.  In the first three quarters, there was a lead change or a tie score eleven times.  I kept thinking about the year my roller derby team lost the championship by four points.  Until my school locked it down near the end of the fourth quarter, I felt like either team could win, and it would just be a matter of who was ahead when the clock ran out, just like in the roller derby game.

I knew how great those girls would feel if they were ahead at the final buzzer, but I also knew how it would feel if they weren't.  In a close game, every player can look at one or two mistakes they've made and feel those mistakes were the difference between winning and losing.  It's a lot of pressure in the moment, and it's a lot to process after the fact.

Plus, when the whole community turns out to support you--which is what happens in those little Maine towns--there's the fear of letting people down.  Even if you understand intellectually how proud they are, you don't want to disappoint.  I was surprised how badly I wanted Heather's team to win last night.  I think that's the part of the equation I didn't understand when I was young--that the reason the community rallies behind a team is not because we want them to deliver us a win, but because we have all experienced our own losses.

I keep thinking about Heather.  Would she have known how to coach her team through that nail-biter of a game if she hadn't been there herself twenty years ago?  In some ways, her team's victory feels strangely like a victory for the girls of 1992, as well.

Twenty years from now, every one of Heather's players will have stories to tell.  The story of how they won the first state championship in the history of their school will be one of them, but not the only one.  My sister grew up to be an elite marathon runner.  Heather is helping a whole new generation of Washington County girls grow up.  Maybe twenty years from now, one of those girls will be doing the same.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Fearful Symmetry and Other PT Happenings

I'm making progress with my physical therapy.  Here are a few highlights:

Symmetry!  Every week when I go to PT, my therapist Karen checks my hip alignment and every week my hips are out of alignment.  A couple weeks ago she showed me how to adjust my hips myself.  Crazy, right?  I stand with my legs in a scissor position, the left leg in front, and contract my muscles as if I am trying to pull my feet along the floor (closing the scissors), but without actually moving them, hold for six seconds and repeat three times.  It's kind of hard to explain, and I couldn't find a video or photo online.  In the beginning, I kept forgetting to do it because it is the last step in my PT workout, but this past week I tried really hard to remember, and I tried also to do it after skating and other physical activity that might have gotten me out of alignment.  Today, for the first time since I started going to PT, my hips were aligned when Karen checked them.  "You're symmetrical!" she exclaimed.  It's still hard for me to believe that something as simple as a six-second muscle contraction exercise that I can do myself could actually change my body's alignment in a fairly significant way.  Apparently PT works.

Strength Training.  Karen suggested I try one of the classes at my gym that incorporates light weights to see how that felt and get a sense of what I could do without pain.  So tonight I tried this for the first time.  The class used short little barbells like the one in this photo.  They can't have weighed more than twenty pounds, if that, and the instructor told me to start with 15 pounds on the bar.  The class involved several sets of different movements with the tiny barbell: rows, squats, good mornings, overhead presses, etc., interspersed with some different body weight exercises like planks, crunches, pushups, etc.

Karen had told me not to do too much overhead pressing or to be very careful and make sure I was using the good form I have been working on with tight core and glutes and tilted pelvis if I did try to overhead press.  So of course I tried it, and it didn't seem to hurt, so I kept doing it.  Oddly enough, the only thing that made my back feel wonky was squatting.  That was a little disturbing, but I think the times it was hurting, I was getting sloppy with my form and not tightening up enough, so I worked on correcting that.

I didn't love the class--partly because a lot of the movements were new and I'm apparently a slow learner when it comes to fitness stuff and partly because I didn't think I got that great of a workout.  When we were done, I wished I'd also signed up for the spin class that was starting next door because I didn't feel like I'd done anything, although I'm sure I could remedy this by adding more weight to the bar if that were the goal.  Nevertheless, the class accomplished what it was supposed to: It put some weight on my back for the first time in a couple of months, even if it was only a tiny amount of weight.  My gym offers another class with weights, BodyPump, so I might try that one next time instead.

Marching Orders.  Today Karen sketched out my plan for the next few weeks.  This week I am supposed to continue skating non-contact and see how I feel with the addition of the strength class.  Next week, I am supposed to do another strength class and can partially return to contact.  Karen said to try to do about half a practice worth of contact drills or less if I am in pain.  If I can make it through 1 or 2 half-practices then I can progress to full practices.  When I've successfully made it through 2 or 3 practices with full contact, then I will have her blessing to skate in a bout.

How much is too much?  I asked Karen how to know when I should pull myself out of practice.  I told her about the practice that sent me to physical therapy, and how I was experiencing some pain but thought I could tough it out since it wasn't that bad.  Then, after I'd cooled down, I could barely move.  She said that when discomfort starts turning to pain, I should stop and do some of my PT exercises and stretches.  In other words, don't be a hero.  Easier said than done, but I know it's important.  So I have a plan.  Let's just hope my body is on board with the plan.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

That Time I Didn't Walk Into a Door

A couple weeks ago I walked into a door and had to get stitches over my eye.  Then I had to walk around with stitches and a shiner telling people I walked into a door.  "For real," I'd say because we all know what walking into a door is really code for.  Today I received a book in the mail, a copy of Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, sent to me as a joke.  I thought it was pretty funny, but of course the reason it's funny is that no one who knows me would ever believe I'd let anyone hit me.  Ever.  I might be a woman who walked into a door, but there's no way in hell I'd ever be The Woman Who Walked Into Doors.

Except, once upon a time, I was.

I was eighteen years old, a high school senior.  He began by isolating me from my girlfriends and telling me over and over that nobody else would date me because I was fat.  (I wasn't, by the way.)  Then he started pinching my upper arm when I did something he didn't like.  I remember trying on prom dresses and not being able to figure out why I had all these bruises on my arm.  It took me a couple days to realize they were from him.  Eventually he worked up to more force--pushing, shoving, slapping.  Only once did he use his fist.  We were in bed, and I made him angry somehow.  He punched me in the back.

I didn't know much about domestic violence.  I knew you weren't supposed to blame the victim, but I also knew it was completely stupid to be with this guy.  Which meant that I was stupid.  Which made me feel even more ashamed and worthless than I already did.  It's a completely predictable cycle, but so damn complicated to find your way out of.   I remember the night I knew it had to stop.  All I could think as he was hitting me was that eventually he'd use his fist again and then, eventually, he'd kill me.

For a long time after I left him, I wouldn't admit I'd loved him.  "That wasn't love," I'd say.  "Love doesn't hurt."  And that's true, but that only means he didn't love me.  I did love him.  In fact, it was the broken parts of him I loved the most.  It was the fear of breaking him more that made me stay as long as I did.  Thinking about this twenty-some years later, I marvel at the depths of my compassion even as I know it would have served me better to direct that compassion toward myself.  Of course, it took me a long time to learn how to do that.  It took me even longer to trace the impetus to numb my feelings back to this experience.  Feelings were not to be trusted.  Look what they had gotten me into.

I can count on one hand the number of people I've told about this over the years.  Partly because my story is benign compared to so many others.  Partly because the more time passed, the less I felt like the woman who let that happen to her.  The joke is only funny because the reality is completely improbable.  I guess that's what made me want to write this now.  I wanted to say thank you to that teenager with the bruises on her arm and the ache in her heart.  Because she is still part of me, and she made me into the woman who would never let that happen to her again.