A Tribute

My mother-in-law is nearing the end of her life and declining rapidly. I want to reflect on my time with her and share some of my memories of her.

When I first met my mother-in-law, my husband and I had just started dating. I met his parents earlier than I otherwise might have because he was living with his parents at the time (“we just get along really well and it helps me to save money”). I thought it was weird, but decided to keep an open mind because we had a really good connection after communicating online for a few weeks and going on our first date.

So, there I was meeting my new boyfriend’s parents on our second date. He had tickets to see Kevin Smith at the performing arts center in the nearby city. Since he lived an hour away from me I met him at his home so we could drive in. And so I had to met his parents.

Naturally I felt a little nervous and weirded out by the general awkwardness of the situation. I also worried that they would judge me the moment they saw me. I was coming off of years of restrictive dieting, and my weight was rebounding quickly and uncontrollably, to my dismay. I was heavier than I had been in several years (although in truth I wasn’t extremely fat) and was very self-conscious about my size. Add that to cultural programming I had that weight gain was a failure that you could see at first sight. Add that to the fact that every time my mother had met one of my boyfriends in high school or college she was unenthusiastic. I felt sure that my boyfriend’s mother would silently dismiss me on sight.

She didn’t. What strange land was this?

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Too Hard on Yourself and Want to Change That? This May Be Holding You Back.

It just hit me that I am way too hard on myself.

I mean, really hit me. People say that to women all the time and I have heard it of course. “We are so hard on ourselves.” “We need to stop expecting perfecting out of ourselves as a prerequisite for self-love and self-acceptance.”

But do we really believe it when we say it?

It’s okay if we don’t. It can sometimes take our habits and feelings a while to catch up to our intentions.

Maybe we subconsciously say things like “yeah, I know OTHER people are too hard on themselves. But surely that doesn’t apply to me. Surely on some level I deserve to be hard on myself because I am not perfect.”

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The Things That Can’t Be Photoshopped

Last night I got my preview photos back from the photographer who took our family photos. This triggered my annual “dear God, THAT’S how I look?” moment.

First comes the blindsided-ness.

Followed by the regret for my hair choices (why did I shave my head this summer? I miss my hair), my make-up choices (why did I choose not to wear any?), and my wardrobe choices (I didn’t like how I looked wearing that outfit in last year’s photos; why did I think I’d like it in this year’s). Never mind that I had made all those choices for deliberate reasons (I had shaved my head because the chlorine from the pool was drying out my hair and I hated the feel of swim caps. I chose not to wear any make-up because I don’t normally wear it, I was happy enough with how I looked while I was getting ready, and I didn’t like how my make-up looked last year. I had chosen my outfit with satisfaction, because I was happy that I fit into the same outfit as the prior year for the first time in my adult life).

Followed by the “why didn’t anyone tell me” self-talk. Why didn’t my husband tell me my hair was thinning on the side of my head I sleep on at night? I wonder if the photographer can do something about that in the photos? And why didn’t she  tell me that my giant boobs looked comically out of proportion to the rest of my body in that pose? Why didn’t anyone tell me my skin was almost as pale as my husband’s (who has naturally fair skin) after spending most of the time indoors this summer due to the fact that my injury required me to take a break from lifting and that break led to back aches and those back aches meant I wasn’t up for hiking in the woods and I basically hate summer if I am not in the shade? As if pointing out someone’s aesthetic idiosynchracies is ever something I would advocate doing….

At the same time, I know the the photos are excellent. They capture my family having fun. They capture my four year old’s silliness and sleepiness and tantrums. They are great and I am going to share them with friends once the final ones are ready.

So I had to notice all those feelings, and remind myself that I feel pretty great this week in the same body I don’t love looking at in photos.

Then I noticed I was hungry and it was dinner time, yet I felt torn about feeding myself dinner after looking at the photos. “Wow,” I thought. “The social conditioning of the belief that fat people don’t deserve to give themselves the food they need is strong.” I chose to notice that feeling, acknowledge that it was bullshit, and eat dinner anyway.

So I went to bed feeling pretty shitty. And woke up early ruminating on the same thoughts. And then it hit me…..while I was ruminating on that negative self-talk, I hadn’t once thought about the news we got a couple days ago that my mother-in-law’s cancer has progressed to the point where they are stopping the chemotherapy. I hadn’t once thought about how sad I was about the fact that my mother-in-law is terminally ill. How much we will miss her. How my father-in-law will be all alone after over four decades of marriage to his best friend and how worried I am about how lonely and sad he will feel. How my husband will lose his mother.  And holy shit, all that is really sad and painful and scary to think about.

In my therapy sessions we have been talking about how body talk seems to be a coping mechanism for me. It serves to distract me from other uncomfortable feelings. So I can use it as a tool, or a flag, and ask myself what is really going on. Interesting how beating myself up seems to be the less painful option than facing actual sadness.

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Getting My Head On Straight

It has been two weeks since my follow up appointment with the spine surgeon when I was cleared to ease back into lifting.

So far I have introduced light deadlifts and lat pulldowns (in addition to the planks and side planks which were included in my physical therapy). I’ve had zero nerve issues from these. My back, while not 100 percent, is feeling better than it has in months. My mood and motivation levels are better than they have been in months too.

I feel like myself again, and what amazes me is that I didn’t need to do an ambitious or time consuming program to drastically improve how I feel. I just added 3 sets of deadlifts, 3 days per week, and 3 sets of lat pulldowns, 3 days per week. I do the deadlifts in my living room in the morning, and the lat pulldowns at the Y before or after swimming.

For me, lifting weights is a far more effective anti-depressant than swimming and the SSRI I have been taking. That said, I am grateful for both swimming and the SSRI. Even though they were not as effective for me as lifting, they still helped me somewhat. The SSRI helped me get from “really bad depression” to “mild/tolerable depression/apathy.” Swimming helped me continue to be active when everything else made my back ache, and it felt good in the moment even if it didn’t help with day-to-day motivation and mood. Note: I know that effectiveness of depression treatments vary widely from person to person so please keep in mind that I am talking about myself only in this post. I’m in favor of everyone doing what makes them feel best, whether that is medication, movement, or some other choice.

I am grateful for my injury now because I think it helped me get my head on straight. Now that I realize just how much lifting helps me with depression and back aches, I also realize that my number one fitness priority is to keep myself lifting. Being free of depression and hopefully back aches means much more than any PRs or feeling proud of my lifting numbers. If I re-injure myself, there is a lot more at stake than some lost months of lifting progress… like my sanity, my mood, my productivity, my focus, and my ability to contribute at home. I don’t need PRs to be awesome. But I do need lifting to be my best self. Not for others, but for my own experience in this body as a comfortable place to live.

So there won’t be any more impressive lifts from me any time soon, or possibly ever again. Just day to day self-care and habits. You know, the boring stuff.

Here’s what’s next: since it has been two weeks and I’m not having any nerve issues from deadlifts or lat pulldowns, I plan to experiment with some very light front squats to see if my body can tolerate them now. I’m a bit gun-shy on back squats due to the nature of my spinal injury.

Very glad to be feeling better and to have my head on straight!

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Can a Person Be Considered Body Positive If They Want To Lose Weight?

“Can a person be considered body positive if they want to lose weight?”

This is a question I see a lot lately in the body positive and fat acceptance communities, in light of body positivity going mainstream, corporations who profit off body dissatisfaction co-opting the body positive message, and people who declare they are #bodypositivebut.

As with many questions, the answer depends on who you ask. And if you want to know what other people think, please ask them and/or read their articles, or read this pretty comprehensive summary of the movement from Buzzfeed. I’m gonna answer from my own perspective, while acknowledging that my opinion is not the only one out there.

And my opinion has many shades. I think differently than I did a year ago, and may think differently about it next year too. These are my thoughts at this particular moment in time. My thoughts here relate to individuals, not to for-profit entities.

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How Body Positivity and HAES Just May Have Saved My Marriage

I grew up as a believer in divorce.

I realize that is an odd thing to say, but it is the best way I can think of to describe it. My parents had a relationship that drained both of them.  I recall, at the age of seven or eight, asking my mother why she and my father didn’t get a divorce.

They did – almost two decades later. Why did they wait? Ambivalence. Fear of the unknown. Belief that they could provide a more comfortable life for their children together than apart.

Watching them, I vowed that I would not put myself nor my children through the same. If I ever felt so unhappy in a marriage, I would not stay for the sake of the children. I would leave. Better that the children see me in no relationship at all, than to see me staying in an unhappy relationship.

And then I grew up and realized that life is more complicated than I thought as a kid. (Turns out that my younger self was judgemental and sanctimonious about many things I knew nothing about….marriage, kids, health as a middle aged person…..)

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Silver Linings and Important Lessons

The other day I had a follow up appointment at the spine doctor, where I was cleared to ease back into lifting and see how my body tolerates it.

So, my plan is to continue swimming and ease back into lifting slowly. Possibly introduce one lift at a time and then if no nerve issues develop after a few weeks, then add the next lift. Starting with light deadlifts. No Olympic lifts yet. No back squats.

Even though it wasn’t easy or pleasant, I can now say that I am grateful for the time I spent injured because it taught me some lessons and perspective. Here are some of the things I learned:

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