A Lifting Fog

For months now, probably since my knee blew out in early February, I’ve been living in a state of pause.  I stopped going to the gym.  I stopped chasing health goals all around, and found myself looking at my list of things to do and achieve, and simply turning away from them.  Each one of these goals felt insurmountable, unattainable, and requiring way too much focus and effort than I could muster.  I don’t think I realized just how depressed and sanguine I’d become as I spent the month on the couch nursing my injury.

Summer has come, and I’m not any closer to reaching those goals – fitness, fiscal liberation, and the like – but something has snapped and broken inside me, for the better.

Earlier this week, I got news from a dear friend about a situation that has set him back on his heels in terms of his own life-trajectory.  He’s facing a steep challenge over the next few months, possibly years, and while he reached out to me for support, I felt myself reverting into Oldest Sibling mode, planning and scheming and laying out a framework for how to help him move forward.  I listened with intent to how he was feeling, and will continue to do so as he moves forward, but what this has done for me personally has been the gear-shift I’ve been needing.

I found myself able to sit down and go further with a chapter and section of my memoir that has been a huge challenge to face and come to terms with.  I found a pathway forward in my own health journey that, for the first time in a long time, felt deeply close to my heart and something that I could claim as my own, rather than buying into someone else’s system, and ending up poorer and just as out of shape as when I started.  I am seeing myself for what I am, right now, but I’m also once again visualizing where I want to be in a year’s time, when I turn 40, and what kinds of things I can do on a daily and consistent basis that will bring me to that place.  That lamp in the dark, the thing that I am making my way towards, became clear, as though a thick bank of fog finally lifted and blew away.

This has been a good week.

It’s good to be back in my skin again, rather than feeling like an object in orbit around this lump of flesh that seemed to exist without purpose.  I’m looking forward to see where this new-found drive takes me.  Right now, though, I’m going to pour myself another cup of coffee and enjoy a quiet Thursday morning.

It should be noted that through all of this, Ray has been a steady rock.  I’ve been able to lament to him about my stasis, and time after time, he reminded me that it’s okay to pause, to stop obsessing, to stop beating myself up for needing a break in all that I’ve got going on.  We took off on a camping trip to Walla Walla, Washington, and even then, while I was dealing with a cold and full of snot and ick, he remained constant and life-affirming, all while I was feeling so dejected for seemingly ruining our trip.  I am reminded daily just how lucky I am to have him in my life.

 

18 Months

I woke up this morning with the anxiety-laden realization that, as of May 1, I am exactly eighteen months away from turning forty years old.

Sure, I’m anxious about this, which is a mix of social training and pressures from external forces, but in reality, I’m also anxious about it on the inside.  My body is not that of a twenty-year-old anymore, and hasn’t been for exactly that amount of time.  I have been rather abusive towards the flesh I’m in, bouncing up and down in weight and size repeatedly over those years.  I’ve flung myself from calm repose to panicked insanity more times than I can count, and through all of that, my body has taken on the scars – externally and internally.

This morning, as the weight of all of this pressed down on my flabby, fatty, man-boob chest, I decided to face it down with a walk.  I needed to clear the air, clear my mind, and just get out there and press the pavement for a bit.  Walking, as always, seems to have helped me clean out the cobwebs and set me up for some productive thoughts, increasing with each stride and milepost I passed.

I am going to set up a personal fitness challenge for each month.  For the month of May, to mark the start of my eighteen months of crunch time, I’ve set a goal to walk at least 100 miles.  Walk, run, skip, hike, or whatever movement with my feet underneath me – but a 100 miles by May 31.  I did some quick math, and that works out to twenty-five miles a week, and if today’s walk is any indication of the speed and time that will require, I can do a five-mile walk in just over an hour.  I now, as of today, have a loop that is measured out for me, and that I can do, and add in variables such as taking different side-streets, adding in a stop for coffee or the bathroom, or even run at parts.  What I need to do now, though, is commit to doing this five times a week.  My days off, Monday through Thursday, will allow for this to be a morning ritual.  What I do need to do, though, is pick a day during my work period – Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, to complete one more loop.

I can do this.  I can fight back the urge to just collapse at the end of a day and say goodbye to the world in it’s entirety.

Alongside this walking goal, I’m going to pay closer attention to what and how much I eat.  Right now, even though I’ve had spurts of “healthy clean eating,” basically, it all breaks down at least once or twice a week and I reach for the pizza, peanut butter, or beer/liquor.  While I could promise myself that I’m going to not do those things, the reality is I’m not going to give them up.  I enjoy them too much.  What I can do, though, is mitigate them and their caloric grandiosity by countering those richer days with leaner days.

What I don’t need to do, though, is make this whole experiment stressful.  The other night, while Ray and I were having a “reset conversation” about the state of things in our relationship, he called me out on my obsession with my weight and size.  It bugs him that do it.  It bugs him to hear me go on and on about how fat I am or how weak I’ve become.  The fact is, he loves me in all of my various states and shapes.  He is supportive of me and my efforts without castigating me when I slip and fall.  He’s the first person to offer a glass of wine after a long, awful day, and while I know it’s not the most healthy way to deal with that kind of stress, I will not deny the deliciousness that is a fine red wine.

I can do this.  I can find a balance.  I can make the next eighteen months count.  I can make them as enjoyable as I dare.  I can’t wait to see where this takes me.

February Was

Last month was a slog.  I didn’t really post much here, or anywhere, that was of any consequence.  For the most part, I was sequestered to sitting down, to remaining still, as my knee was dealt with in due time.  The stir-craze was real, and my thoughts were racing.  As you all know, I tend to deal with my feelings and thoughts through movement, and since that was impeded by my aging and breakable body, it was really hard to get a focus on what I was supposed to be doing.

I did, however, get to spend a great deal of time writing.  Specifically, I got to bust through a few more chapters on this sixth rewrite of my memoir.  My writing group, a fantastic bunch of gals here in Portland, have been super helpful in getting my motivation back to where it should be, and through their cheerleading, I feel like this book has taken on a new and renewed life.  It’s cutting deeper than I’ve ever been brave enough to let it, and I’m getting down the words that I’ve struggled to write for almost two decades.  It’s been good.  I can’t wait to share more about that here, to be honest.

Since the surgery – a mere two weeks ago – I’ve been absolutely astounded by the recovery that has occurred.  Honestly, I thought I’d be lamed up for quite some time, but not two days after the cuts and bandages, I was up and walking around without the use of my crutches or any of the mega-strong pain pills that the doctor prescribed me.  In the past two weeks, I’ve managed to go on some decent walks, get back to the gym (THANK ALL THAT IS HOLY FOR THAT MIRACLE), and actually go out on a short hike with Ray to a part of Oregon we’ve never visited before.  I was still able to take the jeep out for drives while my knee wasn’t up to par, so I was able to get out, technically, but to feel the movement of the ground beneath my feet, the crunch of gravel, or the contours of terra firma beneath the pads of my feet meant the world to me.

I remember back to a strange and lovely poetry/literature class I took in my undergrad, where the professor took us outdoors and had us just walk around in a mindful manner.  Feeling and experience each step on the soft grass of the land surrounding the old brick English department meant slowing down, taking one’s time, and tracing the energy threads and movement of the ground beneath our feet and up through our legs.  It was a lesson in slowing down and noticing details, and for me, that’s what hiking and walking and any other movement of my body has become.  To have that faculty back, to be able to walk again and feel every step, has meant a return to some sort of balance for me.  I’m not feeling broken or trapped, lost or misplaced.  My anxiety about all things has subsided a bit, and the fresh air has been so damn good for me, especially on the rare spring days up here where the sun shines.

February was also a good month for Ray and I to sit and talk about what we actually want to be doing over the next few years.  For his part, he’s decided to make some real steps towards life beyond serving tables.  For my part, I’ve realized that my skills and resume need a brush-up.  I’ve taken a few steps towards getting back into the classroom as a student, and as of just a few days ago, my FAFSA was approved and I’m looking at taking classes at my local community college, with an eye towards learning Computer Information Systems, possibly a degree in Computer Science.  Being adept on the computer, and not just as a user of the technology, has always been a curiosity of mine, and I’d like to see what I can do with that going forward.  Having done a little research online for the kind of pay and positions that exist – especially in the rural areas where we might end up living – I’ve learned that I can make it a thing.  I can make a decent salary while taking onboard the rural life that Ray and I want for ourselves.  What that means, though, is I need to build a bridge from here to there, and that means more education.  It means shaking up my brain a bit, and challenging myself.

First up will be a revisit to math.  I squeaked by in my college math course, but it’s been two decades since I’ve actively sat and did mathematics as homework or to study for an exam.  Beyond that, my first semester would be exploratory.  I kind of know what I want to study, but I don’t know if I’ve got the aptitude to really dive into it the way I should.  I don’t really know where to begin, so I’m hoping that, with an academic advisor’s guidance along with a network of friends who are already in the field I’m considering, that I can figure it out.

Now that March is here, I’m ready for adventure.  I went to the gym last night and was happy to experience a pain-free workout, even with a teeny-tiny bit of running on the treadmill.  My weight and size remain an issue for me, but now that I can get back at the program I was on (and seeing some real results), I plan to stick to it and see where it takes me.  We’re taking off to Seattle, WA next week for a little mini-vacation, and plans are already in play for major summer travels.  Victoria Island, BC is one destination.  I still need to make my way back east, back to see my family.  I do have a week-long vacation coming up around the end of May, and I still only work three days a week, so there are almost limitless possibilities.  Ray is as adventurous as ever, and now that he’s finally looking forward in his own life, the conversations between us while we are out and about have become quite deep and meaningful.  It’s as if our relationship has grown up too, and that, to me, is really exciting and energizing.  I can’t wait to see where we go over the next year or so.

Two Years

We have marked two years together as a couple, capped off by our most recent trip.  We met up in Phoenix, Arizona, where Raymond took me around to the places he grew up, and showed me the geography that shaped his childhood and younger years.

For weeks leading up to the trip, it was clear that he was going through some sort of transformation.  Ray got quiet, was doing a lot of hibernation and introspection, and like a turtle, he retreated into his shell, waiting for the clouds to pass and the way to be clear.  While I don’t know the exact measure and cadence of his thoughts in those weeks leading up to the trip back home, I could tell that he was in deliberation.

Two years is the longest relationship he’s ever been committed to.  Two years, while just a number, was of massive significance to him.

I met his mother.  I got to see the dead mining town where he grew up.  I got to spend some time in the little house, with the muddy yard and all of the animals, that shaped the Raymond that I’ve grown to love and adore.  I saw the skies overhead.  As the miles swept under us and out around us across the vastness of the desert, I found myself wondering what it was like to be eight or ten or twelve years old and having this be the only world you’ve ever known.  What did it mean to not have trees, apart from a few aged cottonwoods, to frame your view of nature?  What was summer like without running water, without a break from the heat?  How many billions of stars twinkled overhead in the deep blackness of unhindered space, and which one was the first that he saw and counted?

His childhood was so different than mine, if only by the way the landscape altered our imaginations.  Still, there are space where we overlap.  We both have a shared awe with the natural world around us.  We both can appreciate both being in the middle of an urban center and the madness that we escape the moment we get beyond the urban boundaries.  We both know how to find Polaris in the night sky.  We both close our eyes and inhale deeply when the ground is freshly dampened by a rain.  We both know how to let go and be honest with ourselves and with each other, holding honest conversations in the strangest of places.  We reach out instinctively for the other’s hand to squeeze when words can’t explain the feelings, or simply fall short.

Two years into this, and I love him even more.  Two years, and he’s coming back out of his shell.

“We’ve both put on a little weight together, and that’s not a bad thing, Thomas.  We’re just happy.  Stop being so worried about it all the time.”

He is right.  We are happy.

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Diet, Food, and Privilege

For the last three weeks, I’ve been embarking on a new way of eating food.  Well, it’s new to me, and it’s going to sound like a massive fad-diet, which is embarrassing for me to admit to, but it’s working.  I’ve done it before, and had massive results, but as I let myself slip, let myself fall back into old habits, the weight came back (duh).  I’ve cut out the carbohydrates in the food I eat.  Like before, I’m seeing massive weight losses already – something to the order of 12 pounds as of yesterday – and I feel amazing.  I have lots of energy, I’m feeling balanced throughout the day, and I’m simply not feeling the bloat and lethargy that came with gorging out on stuff I used to eat – like pizza, peanut butter sandwiches, bread of any sort really.

I’m also not spending my money on convenience foods.  Our break area at work has vending machines stocked to the gills with grab-and-go foods that are “perfect” for the bus driver job.  What they also are full of, however, is preservatives, chemically altered ingredients, and lots of other nasties that, simply put, my body just stashed away in the form of fat.  I’ve “cleaned up” my calories, so to speak, and am reaping the rewards from it in terms of vitality and overall goodness.

I’ve been here before, lost 25 pounds, and remember feeling spectacular.  Of course, I was also still a smoker then, and it was prior to my moving in with Raymond (a stressor that brought about the comfort-eating/weight gain).  Now that I’ve gotten rid of the smoking, and we’ve settled in quite well with each other, I can get back to me, to my waistline, and the goals I have set for myself.

Again, this is all well and good, and I’m pleased with my results, but what I’ve been paying further attention to this time around is the procurement of food.  On my last go-round with these eating changes, I was putting money into the household food pool with the fellas I lived with, and making a go of eating better out of what was available in the cupboard and fridge.  I didn’t have to hit up the grocery store, and thus didn’t have to experience what buying food was like.  In fact, I hadn’t bought groceries or gone on a proper grocery shop for a very, very long time – something like two years.

One of the pillars of this food thing (I’m still not calling it a diet – a word I rather hate), is eating as close to the source as possible.  Single-ingredient foods, actual cooking, using real ingredients to prepare meals and such – all of the ways in which making food has been done for thousands of years until very recently – are fundamental to this plan.  It also strongly suggests buying as organic/natural as possible, which I’ve done for the most part, and which leads me to the reason for this post in the first place.

I’m having the time of my life learning how to cook again.  I’m really, really enjoying the preparation of food that is nourishing, honest, and wholesome.  I love following instructions (akin to why I love buying IKEA furniture or those little plastic model cars) and achieving results that are pretty decent.  What I’m realizing as I do this, though, is the cost of all of it.  On average, for myself, I’m spending about $100/$150 week on groceries.  That sounds like a lot, and feels like a lot, to me, but when I look back at bank statements that show what I was spending on vending machine food and gas station treats, the cost is about the same.  Still, this is for one person on a decent income.  That’s about $400-$600 a month just to eat right.  That’s a lot.  A lot, a lot.

What I keep thinking about, as I shop, is why food that is better for me, closer to the actual source, and minimally/not-at-all altered by humans and science/chemistry, costs so damn much?  Furthermore, why do I feel like eating healthy and doing right by my actual body has become a privilege, and not a basic human right?  Why, because of my income level, am I afforded the ability to procure food that is life-sustaining and vital, but the person making less than me, or who is reliant on assistance to simply survive, has to then also make do with sub-par food?

I refuse to shop at Whole Foods.  I struggle with even going near Trader Joe’s, or our own locally-run semi-step-down from Whole Foods called New Seasons.  The feeling of classism and entitlement washes over me every time I enter those places.  I go to my local bigger (Kroger) grocery store because it’s not only super-duper close to my house, but because I do need to find stuff on sale/reasonably priced.  Also, it should be said, I feel like I’m shopping among my peers.  I don’t feel the arrogance that I can almost smell on the air when I do happen to pop into a Whole Foods.  I don’t feel like I’m “in the way” of some obviously more important person than I when I’m comparing items on the shelf, or whipping out my calculator to see what my running total is for the food shop while I’m at Kroger.  I’m just a blue-collar working-class schlub getting his food bag on the best way he can for the amount of money that he has.

What remains, though, is this gross pit in my stomach as I wonder why I need to spend more money on food that is actually healthier for me, rather than have that be the industry standard for all food, and made available to everyone at every economic level.  Why can’t a piece of chicken just be chicken, and not “chicken breast meat with salt, preservatives, added fluid, and some chemical that I can’t pronounce, etc?”  Why do I need to go out of my way to get vegetables that aren’t sprayed with goddess-only-knows-what, waxed, or chosen for looking “perfect?”

The point I’m trying to make here is this:  I am fortunate and lucky enough to be in a situation where I can afford to make choices about the quality of the food I eat, and that quality can be quite high, if not the highest available.  I know for a fact, though, especially since food-stamp approved food is clearly marked these days, that not everyone around me is as fortunate.  I know that everyone deserves the right to healthy, real, nutritious, body-positive food, but what I don’t know is why this isn’t so.

In my slow-cooker today is a piece of beef that smells just like the beef I remember having as a kid.  I seared it with salt and pepper, and added beets, carrots, onions, and celery, along with some beef broth that I made earlier this week, and have it set to cook on low for 8 hours.  I cannot wait to see how my first pot roast comes out.

That beef, though, cost me a pretty penny.  It is from grass-fed/pasture-raised cows.  It’s certified organic.  It’s also flown in from Uruguay. It cost me $23 for 2.5 pounds of meat.  I bought it knowing I was splurging, but I can’t seem to understand why this has to be this way.  I mean, I understand the economics behind feeding an exploding population, but surely there has to be a better way, both for the animals that are raised for food, and for the people consuming animals for food.

Step 2

I’m on Step 2 of the Nicoderm CQ nicotine replacement patch plan.  I stepped down just a few days ago.  So far, this is what’s it’s like:

  1.  I’m an emotional wreck for half of the day.  I’m irritated, agitated, twitchy, and just downright snarky to be around.  One of Ray’s coworkers likened it to “being on your period” for women.  Since I don’t have a frame of reference for that, I’ll just agree with her.  It seems about right, minus the blood.
  2. I am still coughing up crap from my lungs.  It seems like a constant stream of ill-flavored mucus is making it’s way into my mouth from the depths of wherever inside me.  I know this is a sign of health and healing, but man-o-man, it’s disgusting.  I keep drinking water to wash away the flavor.
  3. I cannot wait to be done with this silly nicotine addiction.  I’m ready to move beyond this constant, nagging, annoying craving.  I have a month left.  I can do this. I have to.
  4. I never, ever, ever want to smoke again.  No, it’s more than that.  I don’t want to be addicted to anything like this again, especially something so mind-altering and unhealthy.  Were that I was addicted to running, or yoga, or gardening, or fresh air…

I’m doing okay, all around.  I can smell and taste unlike ever before.  I know that my clothes don’t stink, and I also know that the tar stains in my mustache and beard are finally gone.  My lips aren’t coated with a brown film of cancer-causing tar.  I know this is how it all should be, and I’m committed to keeping things like this.

I’ve also put on weight.  Over the past month, I’ve watched the scale creep upwards, which is why, starting today, I’ve re-committed to getting back on track with a healthier diet.  I’m back to cutting out the overindulgence in carbohydrates, no more processed anything, and most-assuredly no more convenience foods – like the kinds I’ve been getting at work, especially.  I don’t need all of those chemicals and preservatives and added weirdness getting into my system.  I need to eat clean, I need to treat my body better – especially as it heals from the damage I brought upon it from smoking.

My last round of going low/no-carb resulted in a massive weight loss over a short amount of time.  I felt great.  I was doing well.  Then, as I needed to move house and deal with the anxiety and stress of adjusting to a new home and new life, I found myself reaching for the sugar and alcohol and cigarettes.  The fact is, I can no longer do any of those things.  I’m at that age where acting like that is both adolescent of me, and not healthy in any manner.  I *know* better.

Ray is backing me on this as well.  He knows my weight and overall health is a source of anxiety for me.  He knows what I’m capable of looking and feeling like – I was so damn fit when we first met – and he would love to see that smile and ability back on my face and in my body.  I would too.

Besides, focusing on my diet will help take the pressure off this constant, nagging, ridiculous craving for nicotine that I’m going through these days.

Settling

The dust has started to settle with my move into Ray’s place.  We hit the grocery stores pretty hard yesterday, spending quite a bit of money to procure food for us both.  I’ve done a number of laundry loads so that, as of right now, we are all caught up (Ray is terrible with laundry upkeep).  My things have made their way out of the living room and into the bedroom, which was quite a feat, but there’s plenty of room to store my stuff, and room to still move around in the space, surprisingly.  I’ve paid my share of the rent, updated all of my addresses and such with all the various entities who need to know (thank you internet), and I’ve begun cooking my own food and adjusting to this new place.

It’s a lot quieter here, for some reason.  I think it’s because there are no pets.  I do miss Dougan and Punkass.  I miss my conversations with Bil throughout the day.

For some reason, I have a lot more time on my days off than before.  Maybe it’s the art of actually relaxing again, of not feeling like I’m in transition anymore, and not having to go-go-go in order to keep my nerves in check, that has suddenly opened up the feeling of more time in a day for me.

I’m feeling a lot more in control of my own life, and functioning at a level akin to where I was when I first moved here.  I did things and put energy into making a home and a space in Caleb’s house, and felt more invested, more connected.  My time with the fellas, after Caleb and I split, was really an interlude.  I felt comfortable there, and they were so instrumental in helping me find a center of gravity that was sorely missed after things with Caleb and I fell apart.  Having moved beyond that now, though, I do feel different.  It’s not better or worse, just different.  More engaged.  More aware.  More myself, perhaps?

I’m glad I took Ray up on his offer to live with him.  I’m having those quiet moments in my head when I realize I’m doing the things I have done before with other boyfriends that I’ve lived with, except this time around, he’s an active participant in them.  Cooking, cleaning, organizing, planning, scheming, conversing, loving – all of these rudiments of daily life I can now, once again, share with someone who matters to me.  I draw great fulfillment from this.