On Happiness

I can't believe it's been so long since my last blog post!  I have seriously been so busy.  Last week I was sick (flu and a respiratory infection, ugh), this week I've been running around like a crazy person trying to get schoolwork done and job applications submitted and myself together for my trip to visit one of my very best friends this weekend.  I'm actually sitting in her dining room right now.  You know that awesome feeling when you visit a friend you haven't seen in awhile and it's like you had never been apart from each other?  Well if you don't, I hope someday you do.  It makes me feel like no matter how hectic or insane my life gets, there will always be a steady core of friendship I can count on.  I think reminding myself of that more often would help me be healthier and happier.

Last night I had some trouble sleeping since I was sleeping in a different bed than my own.  But the time alone allowed me to think about what it really means for me to be happy, and I have finally seen the pattern that has ruled my behavior for years.  

Let me explain.  I've talked about this a few times on my old blog, but I think it bears reexamination.  My childhood was tumultuous at best.  My earliest memory is of me not being able to sleep, hearing my mom on the phone in the kitchen, and going in to ask for a bowl of cereal.  Not only did she yell at me for interrupting her, but she shook the cereal out of the box so hard that it went all over the table.  Not much made it into my bowl, and when I asked for a little more she yelled again, threw an extra handful of cereal into my bowl and said "Is that enough for you?  Huh?  Is it?" and then threw the box on the table and stormed out of the room.    I sat in my chair and cried, picked Lucky Charm marshmallows off my lap, and wondered what I had done wrong.  I was only three years old, but I remember it liked it happened to me this morning.

Now that I'm twenty-two, I know that my mom has battled depression and feelings of inadequacy her entire life.  I understand that she tried her best, but she unconsciously transferred her own problems to me.  At least once a week during my childhood we would have a massive argument where we screamed at each other and I was sent to my room to cry alone.  Every day I asked myself what I had done wrong.  Why did I deserve to be treated like that?  

I tried hard to make up for what I had been convinced were inherent inadequacies.  My mom, disabled due to muscular dystrophy, had one major surgery on her legs a year, if not two.  Even though I was only a child, I did my best to take care of her (my parents were divorced by this time), to show her that I had worth, to make her proud of me.  But still she shut me down.  Frustrated by her own inability to live the life she wanted, she took it out on me.  Finally, I gave up hope.  I stopped caring about anything at all.  By the time I was a teenager, normal teenage angst had been amplified by our nonstop fighting so much that I was constantly seething with anger, feeling like I could never do anything right, feeling like I would never be good enough for anyone.  There was nothing I could do to get back at her, a disabled woman who relied on me to even take a bath, so I lashed out at my little sister.  

Although I don't know how my sister felt during this time, I  understood even then that she craved my attention (probably because my mom was too busy yelling at me to pay much attention to her), so I took advantage of it.  I forced her to do things for me, promising I would play with her later and then never following through.  I hit her and then lied about it.  I made fun of her for everything, spoke to her with nothing but condescension.  It was the only way I could make myself feel better.  She was the only thing I could control.  I didn't know what else to do.  I knew that if I told somebody how I felt, my family would be ripped apart.  I had already lost my father, my mother betrayed my trust at every turn, and even though it was a painful environment it was the only thing I knew.  

My sister finally grew old enough to get back at me, and when that happened I lost all control.  I withdrew inside myself.  I stopped eating regularly, causing bizarre hormone shifts that made acne show up in strange places and throwing my menstrual cycles so off balance that I had to be put on high-hormone birth control at sixteen.  I was depressed, angry, confused, and scared all the time.  

To put it simply, I never knew what it was to be happy.  Even in my most joyous moments when I had the chance to get out of the house and spend time with friends from school I was always second-guessing myself. I felt pressured to say the right thing to make people like me, to act in a certain way so that people wouldn't look at me the way my mom looked at me.  I tried to keep people from being angry with me, avoided all confrontation, and kept my mouth shut when friends or family hurt my feelings.  Showers became an opportunity to cry without anybody hearing me.

Eventually, my life got better.  I met my boyfriend, whose love for me has taught me how to love myself.  I went to college and found a true friend who embraced me without hesitation for who I am (and whose dining table I'm still sitting at right now).  But still, always, there is a faint negativity underlying my every thought and action.  I am always expecting to hear someone I love tell me that I'm a selfish brat in the way my mom used to, to tell me that I'm not wanted in the way my mom did when she kicked me out of the house at seventeen.  I am never truly at peace with myself or trusting of my relationships.  I don't even trust myself to make the right choices in life.  A part of me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to realize that all the good things that have happened to me in the past few years have been a mirage, a lie, another incident of proof that I am worthless and deserve nothing.  

And yet, by some strange miracle, I still have faith in the general goodness of people.  There is an optimism in me that can't be eradicated.  Perhaps because I have dealt with so much injustice, I have a very clear opinion of what is right, how the world should work, how people should be treated.  Although I know happiness means nothing if you have never experienced sadness, all that I want is to keep others from experiencing the negative side of life, to keep them from feeling as low as I have felt.  I understand that the key to my own happiness or contentedness is to nurture this side of myself that unconditionally loves others, and to let go of the negative, cynical, and hurt girl that I have been.  I will never be physically healthy if I am not mentally healthy first, and I know that's true for a lot of us.

So with all that being said, I encourage you today to look at the world in a better light, to see the beauty in life.  To see the beauty in yourself.  Let go of all that holds you down and open yourself to happiness.  No matter what we have gone through, we can rise above.  We can try it together.  We never have to be alone.  : )


Oh, Monday...

Hi friends!  I hope you're all making awesome valentine's day plans and that you enjoy yourselves today!  My boyfriend and I don't think v-day is all that important so we just tend to ignore it.  And instead of getting flowers or chocolate today, I got the flu!  :(  I feel so awful - I'm achy, nauseous, have a headache, get hot and then cold, and my hands are shaking.  I don't get sick very often, but when I do it really knocks me down.  But I can't skip my classes today because I want to save my absences in case I leave early for Spring Break or something.  So I get to sit through a 3-hour photo class and a Buddhism class in a sweltering room.  Please just kill me now.  : (

For some happier news, though, I have evidence that my holistic approach to a new, healthy life is working!  This morning (at 6am, when I got so hot I had to get out of bed...) my scale said I weigh 206.  When I started this blog, I weighed 212, and my highest ever weight is 216.  So in total I've lost ten pounds, six of them this past week.  I haven't even been exercising at all, except for walking around campus, and I overate the last three days of the week.  I'm chalking part of the loss up to getting sick this week, but I know some of that loss was because of me being mindful and loving myself.  : )

I'm going to go make some peppermint tea now in the hopes of settling my nausea.  Have a healthy Monday!


Do you ever wish...

...that you had a little version of your right-minded self that could sit on your shoulder and whisper into your ear whenever you start to stray? 

Yesterday, as I predicted I soon would, I ate a lot of food.  It wasn't necessarily unhealthy food, but I just ate twice as much of it as I needed.  I said in my previous post that I knew I wanted to do, and that I was prepared for the want to eat, eat, eat.  And I was.  I actually walked around the grocery store for about half an hour trying to make myself put down what I had specifically driven there to buy.  But I didn't.  Eventually I bolted to the check out line, not wanting to look weird leaving with nothing but desperate to get out of there.  I ate what I had bought and immediately felt sick afterward.  I went to lay down so the feeling (and a terrible headache I had) would go away and I realized that even though I failed to put the food down and walk away, I had a fight with myself about it.  There was a voice in my head saying, put it down, your body doesn't need that, don't do that to yourself that has never been there before.  I used to just eat a lot of food and then realize after that I had done it without thinking about it, but in the grocery store I was present in the moment.  I was mindful of what I was doing.  And that is progress. 


Still Feeling Good

Wednesday.  Hump day.  The day that students weary of academia dread (this week is only halfway over?).  Although there is plenty of work left in my week, I'm looking forward to getting a full night's sleep tonight - tomorrow I don't have class until 2:30 in the afternoon.  And since my boyfriend leaves early in the morning for class, that means I'll get the bed allll to myself for naps aplenty!  I can't wait. 

Over the weekend, I said that this week I wanted to start redirecting my habits toward a healthier focus.  Although originally I had planned on getting back into a workout schedule this week, I have ended up focusing more on eating healthy food.  For the sake of my waistline (and my budget...) I have been challenging myself to eat only healthy food from my apartment.  Let me repeat that: I have been eating only healthy food from my apartment for three days straight.  By "healthy food", I mean fruits and vegetables, whole grains, only a tiny amount of goat cheese, and skim milk (I did have a few small cookies from a box the other night, but not because I craved them - because I deserved them).  I'm not sure I can convey how much of an accomplishment this is for me.  Since I take every moment alone as an excuse to find food and eat a lot of it and I have a lot of downtime on campus near unhealthy food, I'm almost shocked that I haven't strayed from my goal.  I have most definitely been tempted - there are several convenient places on campus where I can buy and eat cookies, candy, cakes, coffee drinks, etc. 

Of course, I've done this before.  I can always go a few days eating only healthy food, and then I crave bad food so much that I always give in.  But this time I'm expecting it.  I'm waiting for it.  I'm prepared and I know what I want to do.  I know that having a candy bar or a giant brownie or donut just because it's there or I'm upset will not help me get to where I want to be.  Ever.  Why would I hold on to that self-destructive cycle of depressed eating I talked about last time?  It's time to let go of my old habits and make room for new ones.  Tomorrow is a new day and a chance to feel this awesome again.  I am feeling good.  : )


Happy Monday!

Freedom is mine and I know how I feel.
It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me.


Baby Steps

Hi friends!  How have you been this week?  I hope you've gotten to do something awesome, even if you've been suffering beneath Snowpocalypse 2011.  I got two days off classes and had some lovely relaxation time.  : )

So in the first post, I said that this week I wanted to spend time paying attention to how I react to food, how my emotions are different before and after, and really to just be more mindful of my eating. I want to make an effort to understand my bad habits before I try and change them.  What stuck out to me most about my eating habits is that when I eat at home, I eat pretty healthfully.  We buy decently healthy groceries, and I try my best to cook healthy recipes.  But when I'm not at home - when I have time between classes, when I'm out with a friend, even if I just go to the gas station - it becomes an excuse to eat.  And when I go out and I'm alone, I overeat.  And then after I overeat, especially when I'm alone, I feel like crap.  The depression causes me to overeat more and then I just feel more like crap, etc etc. 

I'm sure all of you out there are familiar with this cycle.  I think it stems from a different place for each of us, but I know that my overeating cycle begins the second I feel worthless or put down.  And I don't know about you, but for me the crazy thing is that nothing needs to happen for me to feel worthless or put down.  Nothing.  Often when I start feeling depressed I'm just sitting on my own couch, doing homework or watching Netflix.  I'll glance down, see the way my belly rolls up when I sit, and then the negative thoughts start flowing in: I am so fat; I'll never be able to lose weight; trying to be healthy isn't worth it; I'm ugly; this is bullshit - I want a cookie.  This week I've realized that it's the same set of thoughts every time, sometimes multiple times a day.  I think these thoughts are the old, self-hating child version of me retaliating against the emotional growth I've experienced in the past couple of years.  But since they're all pretty bad, I want to address each of these thoughts separately.

I am so fat.  To begin with, I am not so fat.  I'm not morbidly obese (although my BMI puts me just into the 'obese' category).  Also, "fat" is not my (or your) identity.  I cannot stress this point enough, to myself and to you.  I am not a fat girl that attends university, likes to bellydance, and loves studying culture.  I am a woman that attends university, likes to bellydance, and loves studying culture who right now happens to be overweight.  Being "fat" is a temporary state, and fat actually is good for me!  We all need healthy fats to live.  My current condition is a result of eating too much unhealthy food - ice cream, cookies, cake, pizza, anything from Sonic.  I also eat too much healthy food - cheese, dark chocolate, bread, etc.  This simple thought, I am so fat, is just me trying to hurt myself.  In the past, I never felt good enough.  Now, I know that there is no standard - I don't have to be "enough" of anything to have worth, and I don't need this thought anymore. 

I'll never be able to lose weight.  This is obviously not true!  I don't know why I think this.  Right before Christmas, I had lost ten pounds, and then I just let myself regain it over the holidays and the beginning of the semester.  Now I'm back to where I started (which sucks) because this thought keeps creeping into my head.  And anyway, losing weight shouldn't be my focus.  A healthy weight is just one component of an overall healthy life, and I know I wouldn't be able to maintain a healthy weight unless the rest of my life is in balance as well. 

Trying to be healthy isn't worth it.  Now I'm just straight up lying to myself.  Of course being healthy is worth it.  Sometimes I get sad thinking about foods I love (like ice cream) that I can never eat in moderate amounts and that I might have to avoid entirely if I want to eat a healthy diet.  I think this love of food is misplaced, though, and I want to work toward seeing food just as food and not this grand emotional and sensory experience that I have now. 

I'm ugly.  According to what standard of beauty?  And since when is anything important about me determined by how attractive I am to others?  Being overweight doesn't make me ugly, it just makes me unhealthy and that's the important thing to think about. 

This is bullshit - I want a cookie.  This, or some variation of it, is usually the last thought I have before I start really eating self-destructively.  Why do I think that consuming a sugary treat will somehow right the wrongs of the world?  Overeating food will not comfort me, it will only make me feel like crap.

I think learning how to handle my emotions and problems in better, non-food ways is going to be one of the first steps I take toward building a solid, healthy life.  Although building a "healthy life" might seem like a broad and insurmountable goal, I'm going to attack it in baby steps and work on one component at a time.  I want to challenge myself to incorporate one new healthy habit a week.  Last week I challenged myself to observe and understand my food habits.  This week, instead of allowing my stress or emotions to drive me toward food, I want to turn my habits around toward a healthier focus.  If I'm feeling stressed, I'll try to do some yoga instead of heading for the refrigerator.  If that negative overeating cycle begins, I'll remind myself about this post and go workout instead to get those endorphins flowing.  I know that I'm worth the time it takes to reverse bad habits, no matter how long it takes. 

I'll check in as the week goes on and let you guys know how I'm doing.  Have a healthy weekend!  : )