Back Out There

As of today, I’ve gone for three small runs.

It’s about one exact year since the surgery on my right knee, done to repair torn cartilage after taking a wrong left turn.

In the last year, I’ve put on over 45 pounds, and subsequently lost about 30 of that through diet, but still find myself pudgy and soft around the edges – and not the man that Raymond met three years ago.  I have such a journey ahead of me to regain a shape and form that suits me, but, of course, it’s important for me to stop and reflect about the things I’m discovering and learning about myself along the way.

First, there’s the weird anxiety that floods my circulatory system every time I start to head out the door to run.  I sip on a mug of coffee, or chug it, and spend a great deal of time psyching myself up to put on my running gear.  I listen to EDM, at volume, and pace around in some sort of weird dancing swagger as I let the beats and rhythm build inside me.  What I’m doing, essentially, is trying to build up the courage to get out there.  What could I possibly be afraid of, though?

Injury, for one, is a thing – I’ve been there, done that, and it sucked a lot.  It sent me into a pretty steep depression last year at this time as I was prepping for surgery on my knee, and I don’t want to go back to that headspace again.  Ever.  I know, I know…we are a biological creature and aging means breaking down and facing injury on a daily basis.  Still.

Then, there’s the idea of me in running gear.  To be honest, I look foolish.  Lycra, day-glo attire, hell, even the sneakers themselves – all of these things look really weird on my plump and curvy body.  I’m no Usain Bolt.  I’m not lithe, or muscular, or lanky, or even attractively shapely in anything other than baggy jeans and loose tee shirts.  But, running in jeans would look even more stupid, so here I am.  Dressed like a fool.  I know this is super-duper basic of me to be even commenting on, let alone admitting to, but I hate, hate, *hate* wearing clothing that makes me stand out in some fashion.  This shit? This gear?  Yeah, no.  Thankfully, most of it’s a light grey color, which means I’ll blend into the fog and drear that is Oregon’s signature weather pattern.  And that day-glo shirt goes well under the grey hoodie, with only a few bits of it showing.

Beyond looking stupid and not wanting to rip a muscle, what else is this fear coming from?

Well, if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s all related to my past experience with weight and body and eating.  I’m still, and will forever be, a recovering anorexic/bulimic.  For over two years, I spent a great deal of energy and effort to expunge my body of everything and anything, exerting exquisite control over my daily caloric intake like it was my reason to even live.  Exerting that kind of control over my body, my physicality, has been my default go-to response whenever I’m feeling like the world I inhabit and everything around me has gone off the rails.  I know how far I am capable  of pushing myself in order to feel like I’m in control.  That, right there – the levels of mania, the willpower, the stubbornness, the monster within me that I’ve turned loose on myself a number of times – that’s the thing that arrests me whenever I lace up my sneakers.  I am afraid of the level of harm I am capable of doing to myself in order to feel like I’m in control of something.

Then, there is the feedback loop that one gets when they get into shape.  People do notice.  Interactions with others become different.  Every single time I’ve dropped a lot of weight, there’s the inevitable compliments that come in from various people I interact with.  Their praise and notice feeds into my ego, feeds into the desire to keep pushing myself further, and that, in and of itself, is highly addictive.  I love praise.  I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t, right?  The thing is – and especially with my history of eating disorders and body dysmorphia – every compliment I ever got when I was at my thinnest was made to a person who had put on the skin of confidence and power, when on the inside, he knew it was all one great lie.  I don’t know if that makes any sense, so let me try explaining it another way.

If you’d seen me at my thinnest – and you probably did because I kept posting photos of myself along the way as a means of stroking my own ego and getting validation for what I was doing – you’d see a guy who looked great and gave off a sexy and confident vibe that was quite attractive.  You’d have no idea, though, what kind of turmoil was going on underneath that outer self.  Under that skinnier, sexier exterior, was a man-boy who was broken.  If you had questioned me, even just a little, as to how I was doing – especially if you’d given me a gin and tonic first – it would have soon become quite apparent that my exterior was really just a facade and that things in my world were quite broken.  The first time I “got skinny” I wasn’t eating but maybe 500 calories a day, was failing in a few college classes, couldn’t pay my car payments or keep insurance on my car, and had a whole host of other issues going on up to and including an identity crisis that eventually led me out of the closet.  The next time I “got skinny” was about the time my marriage was failing and I was facing down the reality that I’d made a real cock-up of things related to my education, career, and finances.  Oh, and I was lonely as fuck.  The most recent time I again “got skinny,” I was living in the spare bedroom of an ex-boyfriend’s house, had no job and no prospects for one, had been called – to my face – fat and unattractive, had zero friends, and went day-to-day wondering just how I was going to eat enough food to curb the growl in my stomach yet not get yelled at by the ex-boyfriend for being a leech.

It doesn’t need to be like this.  It doesn’t need to feel this way.  I don’t need to be afraid of myself.  I know this.  I *know* this.  I’ve spent most of my life waging this inner battle with myself.  I’m tired of it.  I’m not in a place of desperation.  I’ve got a stable roof over my head, a job that pays quite well with pretty damn good benefits.  I have a magical and wonderful man who still enjoys curling up around me at night and holding me tight.  I have a lot of great things going for me and I feel like I’m in total control of my life.

So, really, I need to get over myself and just get out there.  I’m dressed in these horrible running clothes right now anyway.  This doesn’t need to be like every other time I’ve decided to go running.

 

Milestone

I stepped on the scale, and registered the number there:  215.

For a couple of days now, I’ve sat with that, putting it on the back burner, and going about my life.  Things are rolling on here at the house. I’m caught up in the settling, the anxiety of a new place, still getting my bearings, and so I really didn’t let the number on the scale really take on any meaning.  That is, until today.

I just got back from a walk/run of about 10k.  While out there, feeling the endorphins and all that comes with elevated heart rate and such, it hit me.  By reaching that number, 215, which is thirty pounds less than the last time I stepped on the scale, I’ve, in fact, reached about half-way to where I want to be in my skin.  I feel my best at around 185 or so, which if you do the math, is about 60 pounds less than where I was at my heaviest this year.  The fact I’m drawing in close to that mark, that midpoint along this journey, means that, actually, I’m doing something right.  I can, for just a moment, be proud of myself, and this morning, while I was putting one foot confidently in front of the other, I felt that emotion: pride.

No, I’m never going to be a skinny little otter thing.  I see plenty of that walking around town here – tall, lanky, barely 150 pounds, able to whip off their shirts at any opportunity, confident in how their flesh sits on their frames.  Typically, this only works to make me grind my teeth and self-loathe even more because, let’s face it, we’re all a little jealous of the pretty people we see.  Today, though, for just a few minutes, I allowed myself the feeling of being among those confident, head-held-high men.  I inhabited my own body, my own flesh, and while there was still plenty of jiggling and such going on under my tee shirt and around my thighs, in a white heat of euphoric endorphins, none of that really mattered.  What mattered, and what continues to matter, is that I’m effecting positive changes in my physicality.

Giving up sugar in my coffee, cutting back on the alcohol, swapping cereal for a green smoothie or scrambled eggs, drinking more water, paying attention to my sleep, getting out for walks when feasible – these are the steps I’ve taken.  Small, incremental, and at the micro-level, barely registering as change-making.  Taking a step back, though, and reflecting on where I was when I began to regain control of my body about five months ago, I’ve come a long way, and today I am proud of that fact.  The journey continues, though.  It is my life on the line here, after all.

 

Running Over Myself

I’ve been out running every other day (minus yesterday – details to follow) since Ray took off for Iowa about two weeks ago.  This is a habit of mine that had fallen away since the first of the year for a variety of reasons.  I’d started working again.  I’d moved home.  I’d met Ray.  It’s taken some time, and some effort has been put back into it off and on, but the habit that I once had seemed to be elusive to me.  It just never felt right.  I was doing it for the wrong reasons, maybe, or I felt like I had to, rather than want to.  In any case, these past two weeks of running every other day have started to show, again, on my body.  In a constant state of flux, it’s clear to me that my body will never remain one shape or size for very long.

I started this running habit when I was nineteen and in college.  I was running away from my old self.  It was before I came to grips with the fact that I was a gay man, and I didn’t know why I was hating on myself so hard.  I ran about twenty five miles a week, doing a five-mile loop in Dover, NH (one of my favorite runs still), and found myself gaining some sort of control over how I presented myself.  It was, though, a bit of a knife-edge to be on for me, because it was also the time when I was being the worst with regards to eating.  My depression/self-loathing had turned my mind on my body, and I was using running along with caloric restriction and expulsion to pare away the old me.  Still, the running gave me a release from what was an ever-present grip of anxiety.  I managed to shave away lots and lots of my body, and in the end, though I got down to my smallest ever (155 lbs.), I learned that I could have control over my self, and that running made me feel good about things.

I picked it back up in England, where I ran my first 10k race ever.  I went from a mostly-stagnant couch potato of a new teacher, worked up and worried over everything about my job, to a person who used running to put things in perspective and to get out of my own damn way.  It was good to do with my coworker Chris, too, who inspired me to give it a go, and really shape up a bit.  Then, the running was a way of managing stress, and keeping me on an even keel.

I returned to running again, off and on, through my time with Nathaniel.  We had tried running as a couple, but the competitive streaks in us both proved to be too much.  Towards the end of things with him, though, I had turned to running as a form of escape.  I could shut out the bad and focus on my footfalls and the energy flowing through my body.  I could take a break from my constant worry and overthinking and just run.  Just put one foot in front of the other for an extended period of time.

I took up running once more when I was living in Portland, ME, after Nathaniel and I ended things.  At that point, I was feeling really rejected.  I felt like a broken man with little to no worth.  I had absolutely nothing but my health and a pair of sneakers.  It seemed that running, and the endorphins it brought me, were just what I needed to avoid the despair that seemed to be all over the rest of my life.  I was also up to my throat in school work, and running proved to be a great way for me to sort out the words I intended to put on the page.  It was a way for me to break away from the laptop and just exist with my thoughts over time.  I also learned that movement and thinking went hand in hand for me.  This was something that was never taught at Goddard, but when I mentioned this phenomenon to others of my group, many agreed with me.  Running, or even just taking a walk or a hike, seemed to clear the air, and shut off the forever-screaming critic that lived in us all.

When I relocated to Denver, it took some time to adjust to the altitude and oxygen at a mile in the sky, but I eventually returned to running once more.  There, my life was in quite a tailspin.  I was living quite fast, seeking and searching for a direction and path to follow.  I had a job, but it wasn’t fulfilling.  I had some friends, but I was almost always a wet blanket to their easy, care-free way of living.  I was too intense, too emotional, too much at times to be around.  I turned to running as a way of unburdening myself from my life and, again, just escaping into the wild for a while.  Along with hiking, the running in Denver was a soul-saver for me.  It gave me space to think and be.  It gave me release.  It gave me focus.

After moving to Portland, and having the relationship I moved here for fall apart, I once again turned to running.  I was in a desperate situation, living by my wits alone.  Running, again, proved to be the only thing I felt I could do with some sort of accuracy, and which would give me the space I needed in my head to stop chewing over things that were out of my control.  I was a long time finding work here, and living in a less-than-ideal situation in a house that was no longer my home.  I ran and ran and ran to prove to myself that I had value.  I used the tracking apps to share my progress because I needed the validation I’d get from those who followed along.  Honestly, as trite as it sounds, those little cheers in my ears were just the thing I needed to balance off the rejection and disappointment that crippled me during that time in my life.  Running saved me, again.

I’ve returned to it now, and it seems like it’s becoming another habit I can stick with.  I’m with Ray, who is an avid supporter of my health, in all ways.  He knows I’m trying to finally kick my smoking habit (yes, I’m still smoking, but it’s really, really close to being over).  He knows I’ve got these Fit by Forty plans for myself.  It was the other night – the night I ended up skipping my morning run – where this all kind of sank in and came home.  I found myself an anxious, emotional weirdo who needed some coddling and reassurance.  Any confidence I thought I had seemed to have drained away in the light of the full moon.  I had slipped into an anxious corner of my mind, and turned it on him in a way that was simply not okay.  He, of course, handled it like a champion, inviting me over to share some wine and a chat with him and his friend Steven while the night crept into early morning.  We eventually fell asleep at 3a, and I didn’t end up running that morning, but I wished I had.

Today, I made up for that skipped run.  I rolled out of bed and slipped into my sneakers once again.  After a cup and a half of coffee, I just set off.  I haven’t been tracking or sharing these recent runs, either.  I’ve stopped berating myself when I slow up to a walk – instead, I’m calling it interval training – and I’m not pushing myself for more miles, more distance, more, more, more.  Instead, I’m just running until I’m done.  Whenever and wherever that happens.  I do have a general idea of a route in my head, but when I set off this morning, that was subject to change at every corner, which proved to be just what I needed.  I caught myself in the reflection of a plate glass window, and saw something that is only evident to me when I’m out running or being active.  After straightening my slouch, standing fully erect, and taking deep, meaningful breaths, I could feel a certain power inside me.  It was a mix of adrenaline and endorphin.  It was confidence.  It is confidence.

Running, all along, has taught me so many things.  It’s offered me escape, comfort, pleasure, control, and now a sense of worth.  I feel good about putting my body through these paces, and I feel like instead of running away from something, I’m running towards something better.  Running has been there for me when I’ve needed it, and I’ve finally started paying attention to my body when it’s craving a bit of pavement and movement.  When I feel the anxiety growing, when I feel the darkness, when I am not happy about the skin I’m in, that’s when I need to get out and get moving the most.  I need to just get over myself and get out there.  I am a strong, capable, sexy, confident man, when I allow myself to be, and can put down the anxiety and fear for a while.  Running has taught me this.

Changing

The past two weeks have been dedicated to changing.

One of the biggest challenges and things I need to address in my life is my smoking habit.  I have tried time and again to quit these things, and it’s been something that has always been a thorn in my side – well, at least since I was fifteen years old.  I’ve already waxed on and on in the past about the reasons why I need to quit.  I know them all, and I’ve shared them here many, many times.  The truth remains, though, I still have an addiction to nicotine, and it’s power over me has to stop.

Since the first of May, I’ve cut way, way back on the amount of smoking I do.  I started, full guns blazing, by quitting cold turkey.  This was not only a matter of desire – I woke up two Mondays ago and said to myself that enough was enough – it’s become a health necessity. Heaviness in my chest, along with the lingering smell and feeling like a pariah have driven me to this point.  

I made it about three days before I broke down and asked a coworker for a smoke, which he happily gave me.  In the time since then, though, I’ve had roughly half a pack of cigarettes over the course of two weeks, which is down from my typical ten a day.  I’ve also been dealing with the physical side effects of coming off nicotine – the cravings are only the start.  Tension, constipation, headaches are also factors.  What I wasn’t expecting, and what I didn’t realize, was the emotional side effects of this addiction also are huge factors in quitting.  Since I’ve cut way, way back (to the point where I’m really on the verge of being done all together), I’ve been stuck in an emotional rut.  I find myself defensive, depressed, and irritable to be around as well.  Ray, bless him, has born the brunt of some of this, but I’ve done all I can to keep it contained.  I need this habit over with, and I need it over with now.  It’s coming.

The other thing that’s coming, as part of my breaking of this habit, is the decision I made two days ago about my fitness plan and exercise regime.  I’ve been going to the gym twice a week now for about four months.  In that time, I’ve experienced a weight gain that puts me back where I was when I first arrived in Portland – about thirty pounds more than I should be – some of it in muscle, I know, but also a good deal of pudge over that muscle.  Living here in this house has afforded me a diet that allows for excess, and as a shift from where I was prior to moving here, with a very limited availability of food simply because I didn’t have a job and couldn’t afford to purchase much, my waist line has expanded slightly, and my clothes no longer fit as I would like them to.  I know that my efforts at the gym have been good.  I have arms and legs unlike I’ve ever had before.  I have a chest that, beneath the softness, is more defined and in better shape than ever.  Still, I haven’t quite gotten to where I want to be, and I think I’ve found a way to change all of that.

I haven’t really gone running since moving here to this new house. I’ve not had the desire, energy, or drive to run like I did late last year. When I was running, it was for very different reasons than I originally thought.  It was a coping mechanism.  It was how I squelched anxiety.  It was how I kept control of my life when everything else seemed to be collapsing around me.  The stress of being jobless, and stuck in a space that was no longer my home, and the tattered edges of a failed relationship all around me, running away from it all for just an hour or so every other day kept the darkness in check.

Now, though, that darkness has gone.  I’m in a new home.  I have a decent job.  I have managed to meet one of the most extraordinary men I’ve ever had the chance to fall in love with and truly begin the process of sharing my life with. I have so much going for me since the turn of the year, but as is the way I approach life, I’m not quite satisfied.  I still hunger for a bit more growth and development.  For me, this appetite for new experiences and new challenges is at the heart of what life is all about.  I never want to stop learning and doing and growing as a person, which is why I’ve decided to take up something I’ve always denounced and thought impossible in my life.

Starting on Monday, I’m beginning a new series of runs that will eventually lead up to my completion of a marathon.  This is going to be a monumental chore for me, with lots of effort, lots of dedication, and lots of moments of despair and frustration.  Still, every time I’ve seen friends and contacts take up this challenge for themselves, or whenever I see a pack of people out there running for a cause, I have always felt like I needed to join them.  I do love running.  I like the way it clears my mind.  I like the way it shapes my body.  I like the feeling of motion and movement to offset the times when all I do is sit and remain still.

Running will also help me get over the hump with regards to my smoking habit.  It will also, as I’ve learned in the past, help me deal with confidence and self-esteem issues.  It will help me cope with the tension, depression, and physical side effects of cutting nicotine out of my life.  It will inform my writing.  It will challenge me to love myself a little bit more than I currently do.  Most importantly, if I can actually achieve this goal, it will be something of a life-time achievement for me, especially since I have always been the fat kid on the end of the roster, the one never chosen, the one who always came in physically last.  Yes, I am trying to prove to myself what I’m capable of.  Yes, I’m trying to shatter this old, horrible image I have of myself.  Yes, each footfall will be one more sword-swipe at the demons that have chased me for far too long.

Thomas Palmer: writer, teacher, marathon runner.

 

Transitioning

Today, I got up and took a run.  It’s slow getting back out there because of My Damn Toe, but today I managed to do a good 6.4 miles.  It felt good.  The weather was overcast and there was a little breeze.  Just perfect, actually.

What really caught me today, though, was my reflection in the windows I ran past.

I noticed, for the first time, that my shape has started to change.  The belly I once had is diminished somewhat.  Yes, I still have a soft chest, but it’s not as pronounced.  I look slimmer.  I look like a person I haven’t ever seen.  When I was a sophomore in college, I had starved myself to get down to about 155 pounds.  Even at that size, though, I didn’t look like this.  At that point in my life, I looked like a sack of saggy skin tossed over a frame of bones.  It wasn’t pretty.  Today, though, I can see muscles popping out in places I’ve never seen them before.  I can feel a tautness building.  I also feel lighter on my feet.  I’m not feeling the same fatigue on my knees and ankles that I once was.

It dawned on me that I’m in transition.  I’m going from a person of substantially overweight stature into something else. I don’t know what I weigh anymore, and frankly I don’t care.  I know how my clothes are fitting, and even still, that’s neither here nor there.  What matters to me at this point is how my self feels in my skin.  Today, as I ran, I noticed that it felt pretty good to be in my skin, and I can’t really recall a time when that has happened before, even at my skinniest.

I still have a ways to go.  I still have a few more phases of fitness ahead of me, and I have a feeling when I get to one phase, a new one will unfold before me.  I am relishing this challenge.  I’m loving how this is helping me deal with the stresses my life is full of now.  Running and exercising is beating back the demons of depression and self-loathing with a giant knobby club.  These things, this movement, are my defenses against a lot right now, and I’m so thankful I’ve discovered them and am using them as much as I can.

More Gym Time

This morning, after feeding myself quite heartily, and finally breaking down the weird fast from yesterday, I hit the gym.  With a vengeance.

I have been going to my local community center (here) since about a month after landing in Portland, Oregon.  In that time, I’ve tried to make it a habit to go work out between runs and work around the house and the ever-present job hunt I’m on.  Sometimes, it’s all I can do to get on the treadmill for a bit, sling some weights around, and then I call it a day.  Sometimes, though, it hits me.  Does any of this sound familiar?

  • the music in your ears hits just the right tempo
  • you do one set at your usual weight amount, but then smirk and add 5 or 10 more pounds
  • you do one more set than usual.
  • you look at that machine you know will kick your ass, but this time you try it because you just have to.
  • that final repetition not only leaves a burn in your muscles but a smile on your face

Today, all of these happened.  Today, I felt powerful.  I felt energized.  I felt stronger than I have in a very, very long time.  I put my hands on my hips, looked at myself in the mirror, and for the first time in a long time, I noticed a pretty decent change in my shape.  Those who see me day in and day out, in my normal baggy clothes, might not notice the difference, and that’s okay.  I’m not doing this for them.  I’m doing it all for me.

It’s my perception of myself that is changing.  It’s how I view my self in my skin and my body that is shifting towards a better, healthier focus.

I love this.  If anything, this is motivation to continue

Another Good Run

I was only going to do a short run today. At the end, I hit eight miles and stopped. My Achilles tendons are sore, and I don’t want to aggravate them. I also am finding that my left foot is looking more and more battered each day. I’ll have to find a solution to both of those, and in the meantime, I don’t want to push too hard every time I’m out.

Still, it felt good. My torso felt more taut, my legs felt more powerful.

I also found myself going through a lot of thoughts. Kind of like those images you’d see in a Viewmaster, or maybe a slide show. Each one was a snippet, a vignette, kind of disjointed and disassociated from the next. They all involved times when I was feeling vulnerable or anxiety about my body, though. I remember the feelings at each moment – that sinking feeling in my gut, the lump in my throat, the nervousness.

I don’t want to feel that way again.