Saturday, December 31, 2011
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”
The year 2011 did not start out looking particularly promising. Actually, the word "bleak" might be a better term. I had rapidly gained weight over the preceding several months and topped out on the scale at 298 pounds. My home loan was in default and I wasn't sure if I would be able to fix it. I had a large amount of credit card debt because of the cut in my work hours, with insufficient income to pay them. I wasn't exercising, primarily because my right knee was so painful that I could barely walk or get in and out of the shower. I had just completed my Bachelor's degree, a 17 year journey, but was left so broke in the process that I could not consider grad school. I hated my job and felt trapped, despite just completing a degree. In general, I felt trapped. I was so aimless, though, that being trapped was a blessing in some ways.
In all seriousness, I considered abandoning my house, giving away my possessions, and wandering the country. I didn't want anything to do with this life. What stopped me? My pets. I knew it was not fair to them to re-home them just because I couldn't get my act together. So I knew that I owed them a home and I had to fight for it. I also felt ashamed because my family had helped get me into this house, and I did not want to let them down. Abandonment was not an option. I had to find a way to turn my life around before I spiraled into a deeper mental health crisis.
Considering its beginnings, I would not have thought on January 1st, 2011, that I would be sitting here writing about one of the best years of my life. Of course, SparkPeople was the life-changing force behind turning this year around. I had been logging onto SparkPeople frequently and doing some of the activities, but I was not tracking consistently. Nonetheless, those small activities added up quickly. My main goals in the beginning were to track and increase the amount of sleep I was getting and to deal with my finances. I used the tools on SparkPeople to track sleep and then to create and follow a budget. I felt more in control with those actions. By February, I was doing pretty well tracking my food. SparkPeople provided building blocks from which I could slowly expand upon good habits. Then, in February, a fire lit inside of me. I wanted my life back. Actually, I wanted a better life. Yes, I wanted to lose weight, but I wanted something more profound than just seeing dwindling numbers on the scale. Those numbers on the scale would not reveal who I really am. I set out to not find myself again, but to find the person I could be.
The doors that have been opened in 2011 have taught me that I can do anything I set out to do. I walked up to some of them and I created some of them myself. Now, the doors may not have opened the way I thought they would, nor have they always panned out, but I had the nerve to walk through them. I walked up to the door with a plan in place and was willing to pave the path once I opened them. I don't get discouraged by things not going "according to plan" as often. If it didn't go "according to plan," then maybe it wasn't the best plan in the first place. I accept the learning process now and am willing to open new doors if needed.
Image from http://robotmafia.com/opening-door-by-arza
“A small key opens big doors.”
Writing has been a powerful force for me over the past year. I have always been a writer and this past year is not the first time that writing has saved me. Instead of writing imaginary stories, though, I have focused on blogging to help sort out my problems on paper (or on the screen). I will sit down to write about something in particular, and then I will get an idea and my fingers will start flying across the keyboard. Writing blogs has been a way to journal my thought processes, but has also created them. Writing has created many of the doors that I have opened this past year. It has also helped guide my way once the door has been opened. I have learned how all areas of my life are interconnected by writing down the details.
Of course, my beautiful SparkFriends have been my inspiration and rock throughout the year. I am so happy about the connections I have made. It has been amazing to watch people change, both physically and mentally. It seems that my SparkFriends always seem to have the right words, whether I need to light a fire under me or need words of comfort. Sometimes I am moved to tears. I am so grateful for the wonderful community here and the camaraderie amongst those of us who are sharing in this journey. My SparkFriends have ingrained in my head that change is possible as long as we are willing to open those new doors.
There was no aspect of my life that went untouched over this past year. Fixing my financial crisis was my first major accomplishment that taught me that hell-bent determination can truly solve problems. I was able to turn my finances around with careful budgeting and demanding that my work give the full-time hours I was supposed to be getting. I did not accept "no" for an answer. I haggled with the credit card companies and my home loan lender. By June, my home loan was out of default and I got rid of over $10,000 in credit card debt. Finances were still tight, but much more manageable. Actually, I had enough money to start pursuing some interests again.
I had been thinking about picking up my saxophone again after a 13 year hiatus. In July, I finally contacted the music shop where I had taken lessons as a kid to start lessons again. My old teacher no longer taught lessons, but there was another teacher with openings, a well-known local saxophonist. I was very nervous showing up to my first lesson with my teacher Jeff, heart pounding as I reached for the door, and feeling more at ease once I walked through it. Jeff has changed me with his creative power and uncanny way of tricking me into finding new ways to look at things and solve problems. Both intimidating and gentle in spirit, Jeff has helped me rediscover the power of music to help heal and teach. Fumbling through re-learning things and then being pushed by Jeff to challenge myself has provided a great creative outlet. Playing has spilled over into other areas and helped me learn that exercise, cooking, and other areas of healthy living can be creative, too. Finally, I have found someone to play duets with, and I look forward to expanding this creative outlet.
Besides reconnecting with my musical roots, my gym has been the other life-changing force this past year. My old gym served its purpose of getting me moving again and my knee was slowly getting better. However, I was very unhappy there. I walked out of the door of my other gym for the last time in September after several years of being treated with coldness and disrespect. I blogged about how I was nervous to start at a new gym and that I had allowed my fear of being treated badly stop me for long enough. I committed in writing to going to my new gym. I walked up to the glass door with the metal handle, swung it open, and marched in. I was prepared to defend myself, not physically, but mentally. I was prepared to be treated like a fat girl. Instead, I was welcomed and respected as an athlete.
I showed up to start doing Thai kickboxing (Muay Thai) again, and for a couple of months did Muay Thai and boxing. I watched the guys doing Jiu Jitsu before my Muay Thai class and became curious. I hesitated to try it, though. Would these guys be okay with a woman doing Jiu Jitsu? Would they be okay with having to touch a fat girl? Would I even be capable of doing it? I came up with every excuse not to try it.
The thing that probably caught me the most off-guard this year was my sudden undying urge to try Jiu Jitsu. I had a dream one night about Jiu Jitsu and woke up with an overwhelming urge to do it. I asked the Jiu Jitsu instructor Nate about attending Jiu Jitsu and he told to come on in and give it a try. I remember the first day I attended Jiu Jitsu class and being terrified watching them do forward and backward rolls. They look like somersaults. I couldn't even remember being willing to do somersaults as a kid. I asked my mother a few days ago if I had ever done them. She told me I had, but when I was 4 years old, I landed incorrectly on my neck and developed torticollis for almost a week. I couldn't move my neck. She told me I never tried them again. Yet here I am, at 33 years old and 250+ pounds, doing somersaults again. I have learned a lot about subtlety and patience by doing Jiu Jitsu. I have made new friends who have been very willing to take extra time to help me learn. I got my first submission yesterday and I was ecstatic. What a fitting end to a great year to have an athletic accomplishment. I never would have learned that I was capable of overpowering a guy who was bigger and stronger than me if I had not been willing to walk through that door for the first time a few months ago. I started the year 2011 unsure if I even wanted to live, yet ended it fighting for my life.
And finally, I have lost about 40 pounds total this year, a number I find very satisfying. Weight loss has not been my primary focus this past year (actually, I realized I had forgotten to mention it and came back to edit this blog). The weight has come off naturally, meaning I have not done anything drastic to lose it. It's pretty simple: when I track my food and eat within my calorie ranges, and when I don't, I don't lose. I also don't beat myself up for not tracking perfectly or eating perfectly. My relationship with food is the best it has ever been. Even when I am not tracking, I eat well most of the time. If I choose to have a treat, I enjoy it fully without any guilt. I have the healthiest relationship with food that I have ever had. Then again, my relationship with myself is healthier than it has ever been, so that makes sense.
The past year was about so much more than weight loss. It was my second chance at life, and for the first time, I am proving to myself what I can accomplish when I set my mind to it. I have proven to myself that I can get through adversity and come out the other side stronger than I was before. I walked up to doors having no idea what was behind them, opened them, and marched right in. Every door that I opened taught me that I am about so much more than my weight, and that this journey has so much to show me beyond the number on the scale. I no longer hesitate to open a new door, although I might be a little nervous at first. Despite being nervous, I still get the biggest grin as I reach for that door.
Image from http://yinvsyang.com/
"Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us."
I wish you a joyful New Year's Eve, SparkFriends, and hope you are reveling in your successes! Peace and Love!
Friday, December 30, 2011
I woke up today in a bad mood. I had miscalculated my paycheck and also forgot that my house payment was over $100 more than usual this month. I would have been okay if it weren't for my impulsive spending (more on that later), but once again I put myself in a predicament. I woke up early this morning to go to the gym, but ended up spending over an hour on the phone with banks. It got to the point where I thought, "Screw it, I'm in a bad mood now, I'm crying, I'm not going to the gym." I decided to suck it up, put on my big girl panties, and go to the gym even though I was late for Jiu Jitsu.
I got there at the same time as one of my favorite training partners, and we went through the warm-up drills together. Then we started rolling (grappling) and I was in a better mood already (hmmm, funny how the combination of cool people and exercise has that effect). I felt strong during rolling. I had told my coach Nate that I was going to get my first submission this week. I just felt like I could do it; it was a matter of time.
I was rolling with one of the guys I've been training with from the start, and I know my technique has come a little further than his because I come more often. I figured I would be able to catch him off-guard with something. I have a strong side mount (side control) and thought I might be able to get him to tap out by doing something from that position. He left a little bit of space and I swung him around and got him into side mount. When he extended his arm to come around my head I caught it. From there, I swept one of my arms over his head and weaved my arms into position to do an Americana arm lock, which puts a lot of pressure on the shoulder. It's a great submission position. I was in a pretty good position and started to put pressure on his arm. I could see his hand raising and he was thinking about tapping out, and then he did.
Of course I did a celebratory dance; I couldn't help it, I was excited. I've been feeling a little discouraged over the past couple of weeks, so the confidence boost of my first submission was spot on.
Jiu Jitsu side control.
Here is the Americana arm lock (images are from this website):
Finishing the Americana arm lock.
Of course my coach Nate, who teases all the time, teased me about "humiliating" my partner by being excited about my first submission. So of course I started asking the other guys if I had done something wrong. They laughed and told me Nate was just giving me crap. And hey, if those guys can't handle losing to a woman, then they need to man up.
What a way to end 2011, with a major accomplishment in my new sport. I hope this is a sign of the awesomeness that 2012 beholds.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
I was always the quiet fat girl in my school. I was subject to bullying from about 2nd grade until I dropped out of traditional high school in 11th grade. I was bullied both about my weight as well as about being depressed and recovering from PTSD in grade school (making me "the weird kid"). Like most kids who are bullied, I quietly took the verbal abuse, internalizing the words, allowing them to whittle my self-confidence. I became suicidal in my teens due to the years of abuse. I gradually started to recover after being away from a traditional high school, for the first time not being subject to bullying. I still did not have any real self-confidence to speak of.
Part of the problem with being overweight is that a lot of us feel awkward with movement. I remember feeling out of place even walking around, let alone participating in gym class. I would try everything to hide my body (what CANNIE50 terms "fat girl camo"), which usually just draws more attention to the body. Movement was often uncomfortable and it often felt like I drew snickers no matter how I moved. I had an interest in martial arts from a very young age (that's right, I grew up watching "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"), but never seriously asked my parents about doing it. This was primarily because the thought of having to move in specific ways terrified me. I imagined on one hand being very fit and strong, and on the other, the snickers, glares, and giggles from other kids doing martial arts. I now know that type of behavior would probably never be tolerated in the context of a martial arts class (at least not a reputable one), but I guess we live and learn. I finally bit the bullet when I was 25 and registered for a Tae Kwon Do class at my college. The first time I threw a kick, something woke up inside of me. There was another person fighting to come out, to be heard, and to be seen. I learned that my body, even with being overweight, was capable of a lot. I was finally learning how to move. There were no snickers or giggles, just support and camaraderie. I enjoyed the class, but when it was over, I did not continue. It was about a year later that I accidentally showed up to a Muay Thai class, thinking it was a Tae Kwon Do class. Then began my journey with my life-changing teacher, Mike X. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was myself and was able to work towards becoming the person I could be.
There is nothing in my life that has changed me the way martial arts has. What I appreciate about learning martial arts is not so much that I can defend myself, but rather that I am willing to stand up for myself now. Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu have provided an outlet for frustration, a way to learn patience, have given me self-confidence, and yes, a way to defend myself if it were ever necessary. The typical reaction from people when they find out that I do martial arts is, "Wow, you don't take any sh!t from anyone, do you!" (what a guy at the gas station actually said to me last week). The truth is, I am still a kitten-loving, gardening, pacifist hippy. I have never had an inclination to harm or fight anyone, and even if I had to defend myself, I would rather not have to cause any major damage.What I have appreciated about learning Jiu Jitsu (in which I have a long way to go before I am proficient in any way) is that it is a way to stop an opponent in a way that is unlikely to cause major damage. One of my co-workers asked me the other day, "So if someone messed with you, you would just beat the crap out of them, huh?" I explained that if I ever had to defend myself, my goal would be to simply stop them from what they were doing. I would never try to harm anyone for simply "messing with me." I diffuse those people by ignoring them.
I wish I could have learned these lessons at a younger age and perhaps put a stop to the bullying. When I was a kid, martial arts weren't as widespread as they are now. Bullying has also become a major focus in recent years. I came across an article about a program started by the Gracie family (the inventors of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) that is specifically targeted to help diffuse bullies. They advocate first trying to talk to the bully and to communicate with parents and teachers, but to fight back if the bully became physical. I think programs like this one will help children immensely, not because they learn to become fighters, but because the act of martial arts builds self-confidence in and of itself. I have actually been thinking about ways that I could become involved in anti-bullying programs, and I guess the answer is obvious. I should start one myself. Between my background in psychology, child psychology, and exercise science, running a program for kids would be rewarding. I am going to look into starting a free program run by volunteers; I am sure a lot of the guys at my gym would be game. Even if parents were aware of the benefits of martial arts, cost often becomes an issue. I also know a few school teachers, so they could help advocate and organize the program. I am going to brainstorm about this and start talking to people about it--hopefully it will go somewhere. Every kid deserves to have their childhood, and bullies often take a lot of it away. Martial arts could help turn it around.
Rener Gracie with students.
As for me nowadays, people can stare all they want. I walk with confidence now, knowing that I am in control. It isn't a matter of knowing that I have learned how to defend my body, but that I have built my mind. I hope I can help others learn these principles, too.
Here is the article:
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
December has been filled with Christmas jeer. Since I don't celebrate Christmas, I don't get the reward of the cheer that comes at some point; I just get other people's stress. My mother, brother, and I are atheists, and while we may sometimes choose to exchange gifts at the end of the year, we discuss this ahead of time. We do not get swept up in "the holiday season;" like many others, though, we use the time to spend with family and catch up with friends. I certainly do appreciate the generous spirit of a lot of people that I know, but they are also caring all the time, not just around Christmas. I welcome well wishes and give them as well. But my family long ago eschewed the greed and neuroticism that seemed to surround "the holidays" and actively avoid stressful activities during this time. Unfortunately, I can't escape my job altogether.
Work has been more stressful because my callers get even more freaked out than usual when their pets get into something. I get to hear compassionate pet owners throughout December say things such as, "I know the cat has been non-responsive and is now having a seizure, but does he REALLY need to go to the vet right this second? It's my kid's Christmas pageant tonight." Or how about, "Boy, yeah, the dog has been vomiting for 4 hours and can't breathe now, but I spent HOURS getting all this food ready for a holiday party tonight, so now is such an inconvenient time to take him to the vet. What can I do at home?" After dealing with my callers and their cockamamie behavior over the past month, and especially over the past 2 days, I'm really glad that I don't "celebrate;" it seems to turn people a lot of people into monsters. After getting screamed at and getting the, "Do you know what day it is?" for the quadrillionth time, I wanted to say, "Ya know, I'm not the one who left the chocolate/Grandma's pills/Duraflame log/Christmas tree where your dog could proceed to ingest the entire thing. I am also not the one who waited 5 hours to call, at the point where your dog is actually sick and possibly untreatable."
I finally asked myself yesterday why I should have to get caught up with the stress of Christmas when I don't even have anything to do with it. I always volunteered to work Christmas Eve and Christmas day because I know that all of my other co-workers do celebrate, but this is the last year I will work Christmas Eve or Christmas day. I have been getting yelled at for 2 days straight for the past 5 years. Since I have seniority, I will never have to. The people who are involved with the holiday can deal with the Christmas jeer; I'm done. I have been trying to recover some of my usual cheer and recover from the holiday season in which I do not even partake.
I woke up in time to get to the gym today, but then got caught up in setting up my new computer so I can work from home (went fairly smoothly; I am using it now). However, my other computer got a virus this morning and I was not able to transfer anything from it. There are only a few documents on there that I want and I would like to try to retrieve my entire iTunes library (I thought it would suffice to plug in my iPod to transfer my music, but not everything transferred). In any case, I am mostly set up to work from home, but won't be able to start until they hook up my computer to the network next week.
In addition to getting caught up in working on the computer stuff, I also just didn't feel like martial arts today. It was too hyper of an activity on top of me feeling very antisocial. Instead, I walked over to my mother's to visit with her. My brother showed up, too, and brought his 3-month-old kitten, Tootsie. After getting in 80 minutes of walking and a couple of hours of kitten time, I felt much better. The quiet reflectiveness of a long walk was what I really needed today. And also, Tootsie is a very sweet baby kitty. Like many animals who have seen tough times, she seems to have an air of gratefulness to her. Tootsie was found in a kennel next to a dumpster at my brother's work, and had apparently been there for days. Those types of things don't help with Christmas jeer...luckily there are suckers--err, I mean, caring people--like my brother to come along and rescue a helpless 8-week-old kitten.
My brother John with Tootsie.
Another picture of Tootsie 'cuz come on, who doesn't love kittens?
This week and past month have been a mixed bags with workouts. While I am willing to exercise frequently and consistently, I have not been good at sticking to a structured workout plan (such as the one I wrote out so beautifully last week). For the time being it does not especially matter because my body will have adaptations no matter what I'm doing. This past month, I have noticed how much more flexible I have become. This has been from a combination of yoga, Pilates, and Jiu Jitsu. In Jitsu, I will stay in the same position for a prolonged period, which stretches and strengthens the muscles simultaneously. I am more flexible than I have ever been. I hope to keep improving as it has made my joint pain so much better. Being crazy flexible is not always practical, but it is helpful with both Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai. I will probably never be overly-flexible, but continuing the way I have will help my joint issues and arthritis.
I've also realized that I need to devote time especially to nail in some of my newer martial arts skills, with Jiu Jitsu in particular. Learning to do Jiu Jitsu rolls has been the bane of my training. I was very sheepish about even really attempting them at first because it felt so awkward to try and heft my 250+ pounds into a somersault. I have spent a lot of extra time this past month just practicing the rolls. Front rolls haven't been too bad to get down, and I have improved on those this month. A front roll looks a lot like a somersault:
I have had great difficulty grasping how to move to do a back roll, which looks like this:
I told my trainer Nate last week that I was hell-bent on doing back rolls correctly this week. I went to the gym on Saturday and asked one of the guys to give me some tips. He spent about 30 minutes going over technique with me and provided lots of helpful imagery to assist in doing back rolls. I actually did several correctly. I was ecstatic when I left the gym on Saturday--I love the feeling that comes when something "clicks."
Now that the Christmas jeer is in the past, I can move forward. Forward rolls, that is...
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
"Worry is a morbid anticipation of events which never happen."
I have been avoiding going to the Tuesday evening training at my mixed martial arts gym. It is an hour of Muay Thai and then an hour and a half of Jiu Jitsu. I used the excuse that the traffic would probably be too bad during rush hour to get there. I caved to the excuse that I don't think I'm in good enough shape to do that much training. The truth is, I was afraid of the class with the other Jiu Jitsu instructor, Tim, as I had heard horror stories of some of the exercises he makes people do. I was also worried about knowing people--silly, as I have been doing Jiu Jitsu for 2 months and have met most of the people who show up regularly. I was worried about being judged and about looking stupid because I don't know what I'm doing. Of course it was all in my head. It was the anticipation of trying something new and building it up in my mind (in a very inaccurate way).
I walked through the door of my gym and felt relief at that very moment. Just showing up lessened the anxiety that I had built up from anticipation. I had a chance to chat a bit with Tim before class started, too, and that helped a lot. Tim couldn't have been more patient in training. He helped explain new ways of doing some of the basic Jiu Jitsu moves that gave me a new understanding. Yes, the class was larger than the day classes and there were some new faces, but Tim gave plenty of attention to everybody. The class format was a little different, but it will provide new ways of thinking about Jiu Jitsu. I knew I just had to show up to Tim's class once to quell the anxiety I was feeling about doing something new. I had to replace those ridiculous images that I had created with reality. In order to do that, I had to walk through the door and show up. I'm glad I finally did it.
Tim, my other Jiu Jitsu instructor (the one I was so afraid of).
Nate, my main Jiu Jitsu trainer, thinks I have a talent for Jiu Jitsu. I am far from skilled at this point, but my strength helps greatly with defense. Even the biggest and strongest guys are panting after grappling with me, often remarking, "Damn, you are STRONG." (Don't worry, they still win.) As I build up more confidence and skills, hopefully I'll be able to use more than brute strength while grappling. I am satisfied to use one tiny new thing each day, though--Jiu Jitsu is helping teach me the art of subtlety.
This is my first week of intense back-to-back MMA training days. I went to Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai on Monday and then did a lower body strength workout. Yesterday I went to the gym and did upper body weights and then had an hour of Muay Thai and an hour and a half of Jiu Jitsu. I thought I wouldn't be able to move. But here I am, out of bed, drinking some coffee, getting ready to do yoga and then head to the gym again (except no strength training today--whew!). This level of training is what I have been working towards for a year. My efforts are getting noticed--Nate has brought up several times that he thinks I should compete.
It really sunk in last night--I am a real martial artist. I am a real-life athlete. As you can see, you do not need to be thin to be an athlete. It is part not being afraid to make an ass of yourself, and part not being afraid to show everyone what a bad-ass you are. You just have to show up and do the work. Doesn't get much simpler than that.
"An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being often but precursors of the things which we are capable of performing."
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