Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part 2: Fitness

I've only been here eleven days, but I am working hard to establish a healthy routine.  Sleep is a constant struggle in my life, which I have written about from time to time.  In DC, my schedule is so unpredictable--out very late some nights, up very early some days.  For the last several months I have been taking antihistamines to help me sleep, which I know is not the best idea.  I vowed when I got to Maine I would get on a better sleep schedule.  I know from experience that, despite not being a morning person at all, if I force myself to get up early every day, and get some movement in, I'll be able to sleep at night.  That has been the case so far, and I have been working very hard to establish a schedule that has me up at 6:00 am and in bed by 11:00.

My plan for the summer is to run in the mornings three times a week.  I started that last week, and it feels good to have some physical activity out of the way before I do anything else.  On the days I'm not running, I am working on getting in the habit of taking a walk right after work.  It gives me the chance for a little quiet time outdoors and provides an energy boost that carries me into my evening chores of cooking and cleaning.

I also joined a gym last week and met with a personal trainer.  I’m planning to do strength training twice a week in addition to the workout I’m getting cleaning out the house.  To give you some idea of the physical demands of the cleanup, on Saturday I worked on cleaning out the second floor of the barn.  This involved throwing trash out the window and onto the roof of a one story addition on the back of the barn, then climbing up a ladder and throwing the trash off the roof into a construction dumpster.  I also made many trips down the stairs carrying out boxes for Goodwill.  It’s basically Crossfit, only dirtier.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part I: Feelings

It's not actually a vacation, this summer in Vacationland. In fact, it's basically two full-time jobs: My actual job, which I am doing every day via telework, and cleaning out my mother's hoard on nights and weekends.  Today and tomorrow, I'll share some of the things I'm learning, feeling and doing as I begin to get settled in.  Today's topic: Feelings.

Reaching Out
This is a very isolating and lonely experience.  I have found myself wishing, multiple times a day, that I had someone to talk to about it.  As a single woman, I have thought about how different this experience would be if I were still married and had that kind of emotional support.  That has been an interesting and challenging thing to think about.  In one way, it's empowering to know that I can do really hard things by myself.  On the other hand, it makes you think hard about your life choices and what you want out of the future.

One day it occurred to me that I'm not completely alone.  There are other people in my life who love me.  They are far away, but there's this thing called the internet.  So I started a little social media group with a handful of my dearest friends.  I can post stories about the crazy and emotionally wrenching things I am encountering every day, and they can tell me that they love me and everything is going to be ok.  I was a little afraid to do it at first--it's hard for me to ask for help, and I worried that people might not want to be in my summer support group, but one thing I am learning is that people who care about you are generally happy to help if you ask them.  It's just the asking that's hard.

Managing Introversion
Country people always talk about how loud the city is.  Maybe.  I guess I am used to traffic noise and the quietude of my apartment.  There are a lot of intrusions in the country.  In the house, there's the tv turned up loud for background noise, which I do not have back in DC.  There are family members stopping by to help while I am trying to work.  (Not that I'm not grateful for the help.)  There is a land line telephone, which seems to ring constantly.  Often it's scam robocalls targeting senior citizens, which is kind of appalling.  Sometimes it's family members checking in, which is perfectly lovely, but when the land line rings three times while you're trying to cook dinner after you've spent eight hours cleaning, you really just want to be left alone.  Last night I went to the beach, and I realized it was the first time since I arrived here that I just went off by myself to be an introvert and do something that didn't involve cleaning or running errands or something else that needed to be done.  I am going to try and do a little bit more of that in the coming weeks.  I have to remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.  I mean, it has to be a fast marathon because I don't have unlimited time to spend in Maine.  Nevertheless, in hoard cleanup as in fitness, I can meet my goals by doing a little bit every day and more some other days.  I can afford to take some downtime.

Anger
Ever since I got here, everywhere I go, I am hearing condolences from people who have no idea how complicated my relationship with my mother was.  I appreciate them, and I know they are well-intentioned, but the truth is, all I feel right now is anger.  When someone has treated you like dirt for most of your life and then left you with an unfathomable amount of actual dirt, which you have to put your life on hold to clean up, it is hard to feel much of anything else.  I can hear my mother whispering from beyond the grave--or, actually, from the table in the living room where her ashes currently reside until somebody (probably me) has time to plan the memorial service.  She's saying what I always knew, "I never cared about you or your life"  and "All this trash was more important to me than you were."  Condolences, indeed.

Love
I remind myself I'm not doing this for my mother.  My father needs my help.  Sometimes I think about the year he was so sick, and how worried I was, and how hard I worked to help him get better.  One of the hardest parts of moving to DC was leaving him behind, and I am grateful to be here with him this summer.  When I see him playing guitar or working in his woodshop or talking to my nephew over Skype, I think to myself...these are all the things you lived for, Dad.  And it makes me happy.

Change is Hard
Sometimes you change your life, and sometimes life changes you.  This blog is all about how I changed my life, and how I work every day to shape it into the best life for me.  But this summer is about dealing with things that are mostly beyond my control and making the best of a challenging situation that I didn't create.  I know that living and processing this experience is going to change me. I'm not sure how, and I'm not sure who I'll be at the end of this summer.  But I do know I will have made it through one of the more challenging experiences of my life, and that will be something to be proud of.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Grief Workout

My mother died two weeks ago.

A couple of years ago, she was diagnosed with a genetic liver disease, a type of cirrhosis, and her health declined rapidly in the last couple of months.  Although I understood that she was dying, I didn't realize how quickly it would happen.  I had been planning a trip home to see her, but she died a week before I was supposed to go.  

There is a lot I could write about my mother's health.  She was overweight for much of her adult life and had high blood pressure and diabetes.  She struggled with mental illness.  When her cognition began declining several years ago, I thought it was some kind of early onset dementia caused by these health problems.  I spent a lot of time lecturing my mother about what she was doing to herself.  It never occurred to me that something else might be going on.  I guess it never occurred to her or her doctors either, until she passed out on the floor one day.  Although I'm sure her overall health and eating habits didn't help, the disease that killed her wasn't her fault.  

My mother and I did not have a good relationship.  I understand that complicated relationships produce complicated grief.  This is partly why I started therapy in April.  I had thought a lot about how I would feel when she died, but what I actually feel is different than what I'd anticipated.  There have been many times in my life, especially since my divorce, that I have felt unmoored--like some sort of lonely little boat floating away with nothing to anchor it.  But now I feel like somebody blew up the boat.  I look at myself and think, how is it possible you're still standing here?  Why haven't you dissolved or melted or blown away like a dandelion gone to seed?  Something irreplaceable has been lost.  And it doesn't matter that I know it was already lost, really, long before my mother died.  Now it is irretrievable.  

My mother was a hoarder.  I flew to Maine the day after she died to begin cleaning up the house.  I wish I had counted the number of bags and boxes I filled while I was there, not to mention the number of trips I made up and downstairs.  I do know at the end of a week, I had more than 30 bags of trash waiting for the garbage collector, and I took ten trips to Goodwill--a ninety minute drive, round-trip--in eight days.

There's more work to be done.  A lot more.  So I'll be spending the better part of the summer in Maine doing it.  I've gotten permission to telework for a couple of months, and I am very grateful to have a job that lets me do that.  When I'm not teleworking, I'll be cleaning.  It occurred to me that I couldn't have done this ten years ago when I was overweight and out of shape.  Maybe I was training for this, subconsciously, all along.

I've been thinking a bit about how to manage the summer, physically and mentally.  These last couple weeks when I was home, I was drinking way more coffee than usual to keep going and sedating myself with benadryl at night to sleep.  Clearly, I can't do that all summer.  I know I'm going to have to try and get on a good sleep schedule and pace myself with the cleaning, take a mental health day for myself every now and then.  And I'm going to need to eat well.  I've been eating my fair share of feelings these last few days since I got back to DC.  I mean, if you can't eat your feelings when your mother dies, when can you?  But to survive this summer, I am going to need nourishment.  

I don't know what I'm going to do for exercise besides carrying boxes.  I've had to retire from roller derby for the time being.  I was thinking I'd start running in the mornings like I used to.  I know at the end of the day I'm probably going to feel too tired to do anything.  I'm more likely to run if I get up and do it first thing in the morning, and doing that will also help me get onto a good sleep schedule.

Emotionally, I've accepted the fact that the grief work is going to have to wait.  My friend Robert texted me last week to ask if I was feeling my feelings, and I told him, "I'm doing that thing where you just keep moving and pretend you don't have any feelings."  This is something I never advocate.  I have written many, many times about how important it is to feel your feelings.  And I will.  Later.  Right now, there are other things to focus on, and I cannot afford to fall apart.

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.” 

Yup.

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