Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Tale of the Underengaged Ravenclaw

I love learning. Learning new things, reading new ideas--these are some of the greatest joys in my life. If the Sorting Hat had been plopped on my head he would've rolled his non-eyes and said, "Ravenclaw. Obviously." There would've been no hemming and hawing about Slytherin, either, because although I love dungeons, I am not a particularly ambitious or cunning person. When I first saw the Harry Potter movies, I, like so many other nerds, swooned over...The Restricted Section. (I'm not going to lie and say that I haven't daydreamed about what it would've been like for Mr. B and me to snuggle up to a big, scary book in there had a) Hogwarts been real and b) we been there in the same year. (It goes without saying that had Hogwarts been real we would have been in attendance, but in reality we were four years apart in school, which would've meant limited interaction at the castle. Yes, we think about these things!)
Image: Four cupcakes with green frosting, each topped with the crest of a Hogwarts house.
That being said, I am so excited for the summer term. I'll finally be taking classes related to my new "major." (I'm not sure what to call it, since I'm going for a certificate, not a diploma, but it will take three semesters?) This term I'm down to two classes. I dropped one because it was hard, boring and unrelated and another because I was just not able to learn the material using the format they were using. It was an online course for A+ 901 preparation (hardware), which, as I was told before I started, is kind of anathema. Why do they even offer it this way? I found it nearly impossible to understand what was going on without being able to physically manipulate these cords and ports, so I registered to retake it in person this fall. One of my remaining classes is also boring and unrelated, but it isn't hard and I need to stay at least half time to keep my graduate loans out of repayment.  The other class is the prerequisite for all of the computer classes I'm taking in the summer and fall.

Speaking of my current classes, however, I am having a terrible time with procrastination. I am constantly telling myself, "Oh, that'll only take 30 minutes--I'll get it done later." Over and over and over again until the deadline mysteriously passes and I'm SOL. I have a 94% in my computer class, and it would be like a 99.9999999% if I would just turn things in on time. Obviously, this is not a good characteristic for the private sector. I will say, however, that my work habits at work are a little less ridiculous. I still procrastinate, but because performance reviews or, you know, employment are at stake, I am more cognizant of deadlines and such. The problem, I think, is that the work is not particularly challenging. It's not engaging, so it's really hard to make myself sit down and do it. I burned through a lab yesterday and it was staggeringly easy, just tedious. I thought, I could've knocked this out days ago! Of course, right now I'm sitting here writing this blog entry about procrastination when I could be working on the next lab...

This semester I've learned more than I ever cared to know about Word, PowerPoint and Excel. I still have Access to go (and let me tell you how thrilled I am at the prospect!). Of course, while I was actually DOING stuff with these programs, I was excited to be pulling off neat formatting tricks and learning how things worked. It's just that it SOUNDS so dull and easy that it's been hard to motivate myself to really dig in. I think the problem is exactly that I learn by doing. If I had been assigned projects that required that I figure out and implement these skills, rather than color-by-numbers workbook busywork, I think I would have been far more engaged. I probably would have retained a lot more, too. Like, if I'd been able to choose my projects, I'd have crafted professor memos, curriculum slides and budget spreadsheets for Hogwarts. I would have been all over that. Instead, I had to follow these step-by-step instructions for manipulating pre-made files. Deadly boring. So maybe I'll set myself the task of redoing these assignments for fun to sort of cement the skills. (Because right now I'm forgetting everything the minute I turn the pages--this method is terrible for Icky retention.)

All this does make me wonder if I wouldn't enjoy having a crack at a bachelor's level program in computer or software engineering. (Not science--too much math, not enough tinkering.) I don't know how those programs work. Is it like this, learning by rote? Or is there more flexibility, more independence? Maybe that could be something I work on once I'm In the Field. Mr. B and I do harbor not-so-secret desires to remain students forever...

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Since I can't run right now (searing knee pain, you know), I've decided to swim. I've decided to overcome my fear of swimming. I never learned to swim as a kid. The first time I tried to learn, I stepped over a drop-off at a community pool and had to be hauled out, nearly drowning. The second time, I was traumatized by being forced to jump into the deep end (20+ feet in my hometown pool) without even knowing how to tread water. The third and final time I tried to learn, I sat down on an underwater bench which promptly broke, nearly drowning me AGAIN. I was required to take swimming in high school and I passed by a) having my period for most of the class and b) kicking and flailing miserably until our teacher took pity on me and issued a grade of "C."

I took swim lessons as an adult and learned to do freestyle (badly) and backstroke (crookedly). I haven't dipped a toe in a pool, however, in almost three years. I don't own a swimsuit. Nonetheless, I plan to acquire a swimsuit and flail my way up and down the pool in the name of fitness. (And a secret desire to do a duathlon.)

Of course, I plan to flail in style. I've been poking around eBay looking at old Torrid swimwear. There's an adorable skull/polka dot print that I would love to wear.  Whatever I end up with, I'll try to post a picture. My original plan was to document my wardrobe changes on here, but as it turns out my wardrobe hasn't really changed all that much!

Anyway, it's time for yoga and then ice on the knees, so I'm off for now to daydream about kickboarding my way down the pool in an adorable swimsuit, not giving a single thought to anything but my fabulous gams. (Also possibly daydreaming about making it to the top of the bouldering wall at Ape Index--a similar amount of flailing will go into that.)

Fat Content

So, it happened. I stepped on the scale today and it said 200. 200 pounds. I haven't weighed that much in almost ten years. I swore when I lost that weight that I'd never gain it back. Famous last words! It's because of the weight that my running exploits have ended in compression sleeves for both knees. I can't take a step without wincing. I feel like the Tin Man. A fat Tin Man.

I don't have an opposition to the word "fat." It's a physical descriptor, not a moral statement. I was raised to believe fat was the worst possible thing you could be. In my family, fat meant lazy, gluttonous, sloppy. A fat person was someone who had no respect for herself. She was to be scorned. So it's no wonder that fear of fat drove me to extreme measures. As a teenager, I was thirty pounds below the threshold for "underweight," but I was wearing large and extra-large clothes because I thought the skin I could pull away from my stomach was fat. (And, you know, I was told that I should buy those sizes.) It wasn't until I went to college and got exposed to the idea of health at every size, fat positivity and acceptance that I started to question my ideas about fatness.

And then I got fat! I was put on Zyprexa for the first time when I was 19 years old. I gained a lot of weight. I was horrified--the worst had happened! My life was over! I was a disgusting wretch with no self control! life didn't end. I bought a new wardrobe of cute clothes and I looked cute in them. I tried hard to take care of myself despite the influence of the drug. (Zyprexa, like other atypical antipsychotics, affects serotonin levels in your gut, which, in turn, affect your feelings of hunger and satiety--basically, they get all kinds of fucked up.).

I lost that weight, only to gain it back and more when I was put on Seroquel in my early twenties. Part of me still felt guilty and ashamed, but part of me suspected that this was not, in fact, the end of the world. I could still go for long walks, I could still work, I could still learn, I could still enjoy the things I enjoyed. I expressed deep sadness and dismay over my weight, but it was largely for show. I would've been fine if everyone around me hadn't been such assholes about it. It's worth noting here that my ex-husband lost all interest in me when I gained weight, going so far as to cheat. It was like the bottom fell out of my life because I wasn't this skinny, glamorous goth princess anymore. A very rude awakening.

After a few years, I lost that weight (thanks for the most part to a relapse of purging anorexia), but I found that I wasn't happy being underweight! I follow a bunch of vintage clothing enthusiasts and pinup models on Instagram, and I was jealous of their curves and softness.  I wished that I could be soft, too, and proud of it.

I got my opportunity this winter, as I gained quickly and now find myself a plus again. My immediate instinct, still, was shame. But I'm trying to change that. By wearing clothes that fit and feel good. By exercising. By listening to Mr. B when he tells me I'm beautiful. By reveling in the things my body can do. (Tonight, it's yoga!)

In the end, my issues with food and weight and body image aren't about food or weight or body image. They're about a fundamental psychic discomfort. This discomfort might be from the way I was raised, the environment of my youth. It might be from a thousand magazine covers. It might be from any number of internalized sources. I kept myself thin to keep that feeling at bay. I set up and followed an absurd array of food rules because that rigidity somehow quelled the buzzing anxiety of this wrongness. I hated my body because it contained this unbearable unease. Understanding this doesn't mean I've moved beyond it.

So I'm trying to be 200 pounds objectively. All that number shows is my mass on planet Earth. It tells nothing of my beauty, my intelligence, my strength, my sense of humor, my affinity for obscure DC comics. I'm going to California tomorrow and I plan to wear shorts and a tank top to the beach and splash around and have a wonderful time with Mr. B because They are wrong about fat people. We deserve to be happy and happy with ourselves as we are.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Potential Energy

I'm so glad it's Spring Break! We are headed to Los Angeles to visit with Mr. B's family and tool around the area. Mr. B is excited to show me all these Southern California things, and I can't wait to see them with him. This has been a rough two weeks, so I'm very much looking forward to sun and sand.

I've been running for two weeks now, and it's rapidly becoming the highlight of my days. I'm taking today off, though, because my knees have been complaining. I know that that's because I'm overweight and running, even on asphalt, is putting a lot of stress on my joints. My addict brain is already freaking out at the prospect of taking even one day off from this thing that feels so good, but I just can't do it every day. So, like a good exercise addict, I started looking into other ways to flood my brain with endorphins. Mr. B and I were planning on making rock climbing a regular part of our lives, but we got derailed when REI didn't have harnesses big enough. (Seriously, REI? Only mediums?) We found a gym not TOO far away, though, that is all bouldering, which means no harness necessary. (I actually prefer bouldering to rope climbing, so there's that.) We're going to give it a try and see if we like the place. I think I would be OK with climbing and yoga-ing a few days a week and running a few days, rather than running every day.

I'm really looking forward to learning to climb. When Mr. B was going to the other gym, I watched in awe of some of the more experienced climbers gliding their way effortlessly up these seemingly impossible paths. I know it's NOT effortless, only that their motions are efficient, but it's still amazing to someone who spends most of their wall time..falling off. My ex-girlfriend, whom I'll refer to as Ms. D, is a climber, canyoneer-er, ice climber and god knows what else. I've always been astonished by the kinds of things she does on the regular.

For awhile, I was feeling really lousy about starting all this in my thirties. I spend a lot of my time around younger people (I work at a community college, remember), who often seem so motivated and accomplished. When I was 21, I was an emotional wreck, in danger of failing classes I had no purpose for taking, a binge drinker and I worked for a New Age publishing house editing magazine articles dictated by extradimensional beings with unpronounceable names. These kids are working with Congress, building their own companies... I feel like I wasted so much time.

I didn't, of course. I did what I had to do, learned what I had to learn the way I had to learn it. And now I'm 33 and finally getting to learn the things I want to learn. What I lack in postadolescent accolades, I make up for in wide and intense life experience. I wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's. I'm excited to be where I am, because where I am feels like a place of limitless potential.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Fiji Mermaid

I'm a believer in messages. I think we get a lot of them every day. From each other, from our environment, from ourselves. The ones from ourselves, though, we tend to wave away or tune out. I know I do. I was at therapy the other day and my therapist had me do a breathing exercise where you take a deep breath in, then a long exhale, long enough that you're out of breath. Then you just wait for three seconds or so without breath and listen to yourself. The first time I tried it, panic set in. My brain was like, "OHMIGODYOUREGOINGTOSUFFOCATEBREATHEDAMMIT!" But I kept trying, kept listening and then I heard a different voice. "Voice," not like voices in your head voice, but like interior voice, inner voice. It said, "You can wait."

At first I assumed that it (I) was talking about the breathing exercise, that it was assuring me that I wasn't going to die from being breathless for three seconds. As I thought about it, though, I realized it was more than that. Lately, I've been feeling a lot of (totally self-imposed) pressure to sort my life out, to get into a new career, to start adulting properly again. I've been foundering at the edges of adulting for about a year.

This time last year, I was on short term disability from a teaching job I would leave by April. My mental health was in a state of total collapse. A few months later, in May, my physical health would also collapse. It wasn't until late last year that things started to really improve. And now they are faltering as I struggle with these questions of how I want to support myself and how I will get health insurance (I was denied Medicaid AND ACA coverage--made too much for one and not enough for the other, leaving me with no option but self-pays and tax penalties) and whether I can handle full-time work or teaching again or or or...

I spent Friday evening into Saturday evening this weekend in the hospital because of mysterious heart palpitations and chest pain. The symptoms were frightening and lasted for hours, but all of the tests they ran came back normal. This leads me to think that this episode was yet another in my exciting series of debilitating somatic responses to stress. The voice told me it was OK to be patient and to wait, but I wasn't listening. So my body made me listen.

It's hard to think of that as a gift. Feeling like you are having a heart attack or are too fatigued to walk across a room or like your stomach is tearing its way out of your abdomen...none of those things seem like gifts I'd want to keep. But I think it is a gift. I have a body that will not tolerate extreme stress. It sends unmistakable messages when I am starting to go off the deep end. It's like my body is trying to protect me from my brain, which has been known at times (all the time) to lead me in the wrong direction.  When my brain goes off the rails, either from stress or from disability, my body throws up as many barriers as it can to my brain getting its way (which would, usually, result in hospitalization for me or worse).

For a long time, I ignored those FULL STOP messages. I cursed my body for refusing to cooperate, for being weird and broken and undiagnosable. I fought with it. Now, I'm trying to pause. When my vision suddenly cuts out, when my hands are too weak to make fists, when I'm throwing up for no reason, when my heart is banging around in my chest while I lie on the couch watching TV--instead of getting angry and frustrated and resisting myself to tears, I'm trying to ask what my body is protecting me from. What am I trying to do that I shouldn't be? What am I struggling with that I should just allow to be? It's not easy. I definitely cried in the hospital, frustrated and tired. When I got home, I tried to write about the experience, but I kept getting derailed by thoughts about classes and careers and benefits packages. Oh.

So it's a gift. It's not a pretty gift and it's not a pleasant gift. My brain can be a dangerous brain and so my body is my saboteur, but it has my best interests at heart if I will only listen.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Distant Sky King

A few days ago, I started running again. I'm using the Zombies, Run! 5K trainer app to work my way up to the 5K I registered for (March 26th! Save the date!).  I've used the app before and enjoyed it, and I'm having fun with it now. Today is day 5 of my running crash course (I have resolved to run every day, rather than three times a week). In the past, I've always viewed running as a means to an end (specifically, losing weight), so I was afraid that running would just fuel the bulimia monster that's been skulking around lately. (For those not in the know, running can be a form of purging--vomming is not the only way we do it.) But you know what? That's not happening. Maybe because I've been going to meetings and getting honest and preparing to 12-Step the hell out of some things. Maybe because I'm working on giving myself space between feelings and actions. Maybe because running for weight  loss alone fucking sucks and I'm tired of it. Whatever the reason, I'm finding that I'm having fun just putting miles in and listening to the goings on at Abel Township (Get the app! It's so fun!).

Something else that's different about running this time is the soundtrack. Usually when I run, I put on a lot of untzy-untzy club tracks from my days as a goth princess. This time? Carole King, Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead... I feel more relaxed listening to this playlist, less like I'm not going hard enough, fast enough. After all, my goals don't have anything to do with speed or intensity. Secretly, I daydream about ultra running, which is about endurance. And I have to say, "When the Levee Breaks" is the perfect track for when you just have to keep going.

What I really want to say about all this, though, is that, for me, running is proving to be magic. It's helping me with body image and eating issues that have been calcified for decades. I know that the work I'm doing outside of the gym is playing a big part in this, but I feel intuitively that running is making it all work, making it all real. Running is allowing me to manifest these changes.  And to me, that's magic. Stupid human magic that isn't romantic or mysterious at all. Herbs work for sickness when the patient co-operates with the course of treatment and doesn't do dumb things to sabotage her recovery. Candles help you focus and burn your wish paper, but if you don't do anything to bring about your intentions...all you have is a lump of very thoughtful wax.

Similarly, running shows me what my body is capable of, what it feels like to push my limits. But without the work of turning over my will to something stronger than disorder, running is just an empty ritual, a prayer to an evil god.

Speaking of gods, I've been meaning to write something about my spiritual adventures in here, but haven't gotten around to it...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Continuing Education

As I wrote on Twitter, I spent a big portion of my non-working time today hammering out my class schedule for the summer and fall. I've finally settled on a course of study for myself that terminates in (hopefully) gainful employment, so I worked out how to get those classes done efficiently. And how to fit in Japanese. I have wanted to study Japanese since I was in high school, and at every opportunity, I've balked. I've taken other languages, or no language at all. As a result, I took (as an undergraduate) a semester each of Spanish, French, German and Mandarin Chinese. Also an abortive term of Latin. I argued with myself this time over whether to take the class (Japanese 101 is five credits and quite a commitment), finally settling it by reminding myself that I want to stay full-time and that I have wanted to read Banana Yoshimoto's novel, Kitchen, in the original Japanese since I read it in English over a decade ago.

Why was it so hard to do that for myself?

Like many people, really, I find it hard to do big things for myself, just for myself. It's easy to do things like buy fancy notebooks and pens or do my nails a NEW shade of dark red, but when it comes to the big stuff I'm always hesitant. It's too expensive, it's too time-consuming, it's too much. What it comes down to is opportunity cost. What I'm spending--in money, time or effort--on something for me, is currency that I then can't spend on someone else (or multiple someones). Somehow, my own desire or enjoyment or well-being never balances out. It's never worth it to me.  Instead, I give myself the consolation prize. I study something I'm sort of interested in. I get the economy variety. I have what you're having.

Which is all well and good except that it breeds tremendous resentment. First of all, you (whoever you are) never seem to appreciate my sacrifice! It's like you're not even aware that I'm giving up the thing I didn't tell you I wanted in order to give you the thing you didn't tell me you wanted! The nerve! And then I start to feel sorry for myself. I start to feel like I never get anything that I want, that the universe is somehow conspiring against me to keep me in a state of tepidity. Always a bridesmaid, etc., etc.

Of course, that is all just self-inflicted martyrdom. Japanese is five credits and a lot of time, but I want to read Kitchen! It is not the end of the world to learn about a fascinating language and culture just because I want to. But that's the hardest part for me. My wanting to do something is never enough reason to do it. I have to justify the expense, like there's some cosmic ledger that has to be balanced or else I'm in the red and indebted to...everyone.

So I've made up my mind to register for the course. The rest of my classes are career-oriented (Linux, information security, networking), but that one is just for me. I won't be able to read the novel after one semester, but maybe I can watch some Sailor Moon or order a meal properly and someday I'll get there, if I keep making choices for myself.