Acupuncture, Mindful Eating & Meaningful Change

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A lot of interesting things have been coming together for me lately, intertwined in a typical style that prevents me from picking a single cause to attribute all the good stuff to. No matter- if it’s working, it’s working right?

On my last visit to LA, Lina suggested I try finding a student acupuncture clinic in San Francisco. Having passed along a few interesting nuggets of information from her first two quarters of acupuncture school, I was totally up to give acupuncture a try. I figured throwing some ancient Chinese medicine into the mix with therapy, exercise and meditation could only be a positive thing.

And fortunately I was 1000% correct- but not entirely for the reasons you might think.

My first acupuncture appointment lasted for two hours, and it cost me a whopping $30. I arrived and was introduced to the group of students I would be treated by, plus their supervisor Catherine (who reminds me so much of Lily Tomlin- or at least her character on Grace and Frankie- in the best possible way). The spent an hour taking turns talking to me, asking me about my thoughts and feelings, and giving supportive feedback in a way that no western medical practitioner ever has. As a true extrovert I couldn’t help moving into tour guide mode since I didn’t know any of them- resulting in me cracking them all up at several points as I shared intimate details of my life and the work I’ve done on self-love, self-care, and self-growth over the last three years. To me the set up was the extrovert’s dream therapy- I had a supportive audience giving me compassionate attention, plus they actively validated the work I’ve done- being told I was the most self-aware 25 year old they’d ever met was, to me, the highest praise I’ve gotten in years (from those who knew nothing else about me).

Two really crucial things came out of my initial conversation with Catherine and her team of students- and neither of them is related to the part where they put needles into me (though I’ll get to that later).

The first is that Catherine brought up mindful eating, something I’d read about long ago at the beginning of working through my eating disorder. At the time I first learned about it, I was nowhere near capable of carrying it out. Fast forward three years, with six months of daily meditation under my belt (or the spandex band of my yoga pants, if I’m being honest), I was able to add this to my mindfulness practice with really incredible outcomes. Instead of wanting to eat more at the end of a meal, I was totally full. Sometimes I even notice I’m full halfway through my meal and stop eating. I. Stop. Eating. This is unbelievable to me. I enjoy the things I cook more, and my roommates are benefiting from the most recent spate of broccoli-garlic-kale-chard-feta-toasted-hazelnut-flax-seed-quinoa bowls. (Today’s had roasted sweet potatoes in it- also bomb). I was able, for the first time ever, to truly decide that the way eating chocolate (and I drive in a tour van that has a box of Ghirardelli squares next to me… every day…) or other processed sugar makes me feel is not worth it. Now, instead of trying to prevent myself from eating candy, ice cream, etc, I physically do not want or crave it. I did not even know I was mentally capable of getting to this point. I’m sleeping better because I’m not longer coming home and binge eating at night, plus I’ve accepted that I don’t enjoy the effects of alcohol enough to want to drink it, 90% of the time. I’m in bed by 10 and waking up naturally between 5 and 6am. Every day. And I love that. I love waking up before the sun rises, having some time to myself, and being able to watch from my living room windows as the sky above the Bay turns orange, red, and pink. I love the color of the sky at dawn, and the feeling of biking through the city while it is, in essence, still asleep.

But that’s all for another blog post, because the second thing to come out of going to acupuncture has been even more striking, and undoubtedly related to everything I just said.

While running through all the typical questions, I was asked when the last time I’d gotten my period was. And well, I had no idea. I’d been taking my birth control continuously for the last.. 6 six years? Plus I’d been on it for 10. I figured it was just as convenient to not deal with getting my period if all of my healthcare providers were assuring me there was no reason not to. So I posed the question to women sitting in front of me- was there any reason I should go off of it? I’d been curious what it would be like to go off of, but hadn’t found any resource that convinced me life would be any different without it.

Needless to say, they very politically, in a non-pressuring way shared their views on the subject. They summed it up to, if it works for you great, if you are dealing with issues related to your emotions, sometimes being on hormones can have an effect on that. Those were the magic words I’d been waiting to hear, and I stopped taking it the next day. I assured them, with enough vocal emphasis to get a laugh out of the room, that I’m not currently sleeping with anyone- and since it’s looking like I may end up being celibate for nearly the entirety of my twenties- I’m not too concerned.  (Cut to me telling this (with fewer details) to my 87 year old, male psychiatrist and him telling me, “it’s always a good idea to keep some prophylactics in the bedside drawer.” Just laughed out loud as I relived the memory while typing that.)

I’ve now been off the birth control for three weeks, and the difference in my overall emotional stability is shocking. I of course need to point out that this is combined with daily meditation, exercise,  healthy eating, and bi-monthly therapy- but whatever the combination is, it’s working. Now, instead of heading for the kitchen when I start to be overcome with emotions (which is overall much less often), I sit and meditate, giving myself the self-love and support I need. Sometimes I’ll just lie on my bed or my rug and listen to bright eyes or death cab, the same way I used to when I was 15. And unlike the feelings of self-loathing I used to get after binge eating to try and cope with my emotions, Conor and Ben just make me feel better, by reminding me (through song nonetheless :P) that everyone feels angsty as hell and sad and upset and depressed sometimes. And diving into those feelings and really being present with them is so much better in both the short term and the long run than trying to stifle them.

I opened the freezer the other morning and took note that my roommate had obtained a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. For the first time in, well maybe ever, I felt nothing. No internal sigh, knowing that eventually I would eat all of it. No longing to sneak a spoonful even though it was 7am. Just, nothing.

And hell, what an incredible feeling that was.

Oh, and I almost forgot- you can barely feel the needles 🙂

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Bringing Self-Care Home for the Holidays

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There’s a reason they call self-care a practice. Unfortunately it’s not something you simply learn to do and then go on your merry way, having leveled up in the game of adulthood. No, self-care requires continual energy and awareness, and about as many hours of practice as anything else needed for mastery (10,000 hours? 100,000 hours? Still trying to convince myself I could sit still long enough to learn to play the guitar. TBD on that one).

This has been the first year that I’ve headed home for the holidays with the set intention of continuing the self care practices I’ve put in place in SF. Over thanksgiving I diligently meditated daily, and made time to exercise- even if it was only going running for 20 minutes (in the COLD). As a result of this I enjoyed the time I spent with my family more, ate more mindfully and was able to enjoy it, and kept my spending in check (in fact, by rationalizing that the $125 Madewell dress wasn’t worth it I eventually found essentially the same dress at American Apparel, on sale, for $9. George Costanza levels of excitement ensued.)

What in theory seems simple, the notion of continuing the helpful routines of daily life when out of your regular habitat, has radically changed my ability to enjoy being in places and around people that would normally trigger old behaviors that bring me stress and anxiety. Binge eating is the most common of these behaviors, and when surrounded by a lifetime of historic stressors, and delicious holiday food, it’s not hard to see why. This may have been the first Thanksgiving I didn’t anxiously devolve into binge eating followed swiftly by a dose of self-hate and the desire to get back to the West Coast so I could, “be an adult again.”

Back in San Francisco, I had dinner with my cousin, and relayed the success I’d seen in mindfully recreating my routines while in New York. I reflected on the various practices I employ to try and maintain balance (exercise, meditation, therapy, medication and soul enriching communication with friends) and during the conversation I came to an interesting realization. For so many years I thought I needed to figure out how to strong arm myself out of making the decision to binge eat in the moment. What I really needed to figure out was the right combination of self love and self care to prevent myself from reaching my breaking point where I think, “fuck this- I’m binging.”

The hardest part is keeping that in mind when I feel bad, whether physically or emotionally, and I don’t want to go to the gym or be forced to sit with my feelings while meditating. I’m not even close to mastering this, and I still have weeks where I choose chocolate and wallowing over self- love, support, acceptance and motivation.

But I’m also starting to have weeks where I actively, mindfully choose the positive behaviors- and the practice feels like it’s paying off.

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My favorite Thanksgiving outtake

Tuesday Morning Thoughts on Feelings, Body Image, and Life

It’s not uncommon for me to feel overcome by my emotions. (I suppose this is the price that comes with being a cancer- lots of feelings, both good and bad.) Unfortunately my primary immediate response to this, the one I’ve unintentionally developed in the last 9 years, is to try to block out the sensation of any “negative” emotion as quickly as possible. I think this initially happened following my first breakup at age 16 (after a year long relationship). The first few days I didn’t stop crying, didn’t eat, didn’t get out of bed. Once I had to go back to school the pain of facing the unavoidable (our school had 200 students in the high school) required that I find a way to numb my feelings to make it through the day. It wasn’t long before I found my answer: eating. Food would become something I could turn to for both solace and pleasure, and by my senior year going to Stewarts’ for extra thick chocolate peanut butter cup milk shakes was a weekly activity. I switched from running track to managing the track team- preferring to abstain from trying to keep up with my peers and instead hanging out on the sidelines.

What I didn’t realize is that I had bought myself a first class ticket to the downward spiral that comes with eating your feelings while simultaneously accepting the message that only thin is beautiful.

I spent most of college alternating between binge eating and calorie counting, preferring to stay in while my friends went out to avoid the extra alcohol calories. Deep pain from my parents divorce at age 17 (something that was impending for most of my childhood but still devastated me) manifested itself with me throwing myself into a serious long distance relationship that helped me escape my day to day life and feelings.  (Ah the things we figure out in therapy).

My junior year of college I joined a gym in London, and started going six days a week. I got into the best shape of my life and wasn’t obsessing over food- though even as a size 4/6 I never thought of myself as thin. Once I was back in the States and my schedule changed I slowly fell back into old habits, and the weight crept back on without me ever realizing it was happening.

Fast forward through some end of college relationship drama and you’ll find me post-college, hurtling head long into having a full blown binge eating disorder. I alternated between intense self-hate and intense apathy. When it came down to it, eating until I felt sick- and then focusing on feeling sick- was easier than feeling, or dealing with, whatever emotions were truly at hand. (Again- therapy.)

Shortly after turning 23 I decided it was time to really learn how to love and take care of myself. I ended an unhealthy (for me) relationship, started reading books on the topic, quit my job (and the toxic environment it had me in), started seeing a therapist, and sought out more enjoyable forms of exercise. I began confiding in friends who shared their own experience, making me feel like I wasn’t alone in my self-image hell. I’ll be grateful for and to these friends for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately like most startups, my progress hasn’t been the straight up and to the right graph we all hope for. Fortunately what I have learned is that life will never look like that graph. There will always be peaks and valleys- and you couldn’t truly appreciate one without the other (the goal is to learn how to move through both gracefully).

I’ve recently started putting more effort into meditation- the headspace app has been a godsend. The effort to be more mindful (and everything from here out is probably going to sound like what my sister would call “so California”) has been challenging, but I can already feel the effects after two weeks of daily mediation. The sneaky thing about being present is that it sounds easy in theory- but it’s freaking hard in practice. Sure I can take deep breaths and count to ten repeatedly while sitting on the floor of my bedroom. What’s harder is using mindfulness to forgive myself for binge eating, or accept the things in my life I can’t control in the moment.

But it’s definitely helping, and I feel good about the direction it’s taking me in.

On Learning to Drive Stick in San Francisco

Learning to drive stick in San Francisco is like learning to swim at Ocean Beach. It’s theoretically possible, but the reality of it is somewhat dangerous, mentally intimidating, and more than a little bit stressful. Word to the wise: if you don’t know how to drive stick, and aren’t excited about the idea of the lives of your seven passengers riding (pun intended) on your ability to do a successful hill start, maybe don’t take a job that relies heavily on both of those requirements.

Let me back up to the beginning of this story.

In September of 2015 I was finally accepting that the day-to-day reality of my startup job was not doing it for me. I wanted to be doing something different, but had never encountered a job in San Francisco that combined not sitting in front of a computer all day with earning above minimum wage. As luck would have it, my roommate was in the early stages of planning an eight-month road trip with her boyfriend that involved quitting their day jobs and living in a van. Consequently, a solid amount of time was spent looking at beautiful vans and #vanlife accounts on Instagram. When I came across Vantigo’s account (and a post that they were hiring) I was intrigued. I corresponded with Erik, the owner, and within the week I’d been offered a job doing content, social media, community management, and most of all, learning to be a tour guide. This was regardless of the fact that I did not know how to drive a stick shift, which all three of the Vantigo vans required. Challenge accepted.

Fast-forward about two and a half months, one bicycle accident induced elbow fracture, and enough Vantigo employees being in the US at the same time for the tour schedule to be covered, and you will arrive at the time when my stick shift training began. I started at the Marina Green parking lot, moved on to the back roads of West Marin, and eventually began practicing the tour route around San Francisco over the course of three weeks.

Learning to drive stick proved to be one of those things you just had to learn by doing- and learn by screwing up on. Luckily for me, stalling while trying to do a hill start at a four-way stop seems to be much less irritating to other drivers when you are in acanary yellow VW van. Unfortunately for me, other drivers don’t seem to realize that when I’m stalling out trying to do a hill start at a four-way stop it might not be the best time to pull up next to me to chat about their VW nostalgia. I would have figured that the sweat pouring down my face combined with the stressed out facial expression would be a dead give away of, “this is maybe not the best time to chat with this person,” but VW vans just really bring out the dreamy, chatty side of people. C’est la vie.

My biggest lesson from learning to drive stick in a 1971 VW van was really one about science. In a van with four gears, gravity is gear number five. Gravity can be used to your benefit in many scenarios including but not limited to: backing out of a parking space, coasting down a large hill, and getting up to speeds not otherwise attainable by a VW van (slow is really all we know). Sir Isaac take the wheel. (Shout out to Erik, Eddie, and Justin for pulling the e-brake for me at exactly the right times).

The last three weeks have seen me driving tours to wine country, Highway 1, and all around San Francisco. I’ve been having recurring dreams where I’m driving stick, and I hope this counts as additional practice. I’ve also decided that our yellow van, Jerry, who followed the Grateful Dead for ten years during the 70s, is definitely my spirit van. There is really something to cruising around in these vans, whether you’re driving down Haight Street or coasting down Highway 1. It just feels so right. Well, so long as you don’t accidentally go from third gear to second when looking for fourth, or try to leave a stop sign in third when you think you’re in first, that is.

When in doubt, grind it till you find it.

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Waiting to Board

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Sometimes the world feels like a dome, and things get kind of Truman Show

For quite some time now I’ve been waiting to figure out what I should be doing next with my life. My goal in college was to move to San Francisco and live with my best friend, which I did. Two and a half years, one breakup, three jobs and a new living situation later, I can’t help sometimes feeling like I’m treading water in my day-to-day life, preparing myself for something- but entirely uncertain what that thing is. I’ve felt the nagging itch to move to Los Angeles for the last six months- a new stomping grounds where some of my oldest and newest friends reside. Los Angeles has its own demons of course, but it somehow seems to own them in a way that San Francisco doesn’t. But it’s a hard move to pull the trigger on, given the somewhat necessary pieces required for life in LA, and the fact that there is a lot I’d be leaving behind.

I’m utterly torn, having only ever pictured myself to be in a monogamous, long term relationship with San Francisco that would last forever. Entering our third year together, though, the honeymoon period has ended and I feel the negatives as much as the positives. Like the realization that no relationship will be perfect because humans are inherently flawed, the humanity of San Francisco is both what attracted me to it in the first place, and what is getting under my skin in an uncomfortable way. The question is, do I hang on and seek improvement, or do I leave while the fresh memories are still positive? While San Francisco may be the same city I moved to in the summer of 2013, I am certainly not the same person I was then.

One of the greatest differences I feel in myself (and what is giving me so much trouble as I contemplate all of this) is the weight I feel in my responsibility, and loyalty, to my community. My friends, my coworkers, people who have invested in me and who I in turn have invested in. Is this what putting down roots feels like? Struggling to find the “my wants first” mentality of one’s early twenties, holding back on charging forward for fear of damaging the positive relationships that have helped you get to the place where you decide you’re ready to leave them behind. Feeling 25 approaching and pedaling the catch 22 of wanting to remain static and move forward at the same time, looking for some kind of validation for all the choices I’ve made to date.

I’m working on accepting the fact that like the majority of growing up, making big life changes, real grown up decisions that will alter the course of my life, will never be something that happens easily and without some doubt. No one will be able to tell me what the right thing to do is, especially because there is no correct answer, no right decision. There is, though, only one certain direction to move in, and that is forward, into a future that will undoubtedly involve ups and downs, wins and losses, joys and regrets. It will continue to be terrifying and utterly beautiful, and it will never stop surprising me.

As far as moving to LA goes, well, I guess we’ll all have to wait to find out what happens next.

My Utterly San Francisco Bike Accident

I’ve been living and biking in San Francisco for long enough now that my chances of getting into minor “bicycle meets blank” altercations have increased, not in my favor. This is certainly not helped by the fact that my catlike fight or flight instincts lean heavily towards flight- (so much so that as I child I once jumped off a horse mid-horsebackriding lesson- I later claimed it threw me, but we all knew what had really happened).

Up until seven weeks ago my primary bike accidents had involved hitting the MUNI tracks at the wrong angle, and an attempted stealing of my bike seat which resulted in me tearing up my knee and chaco-clad foot. So it was to my great chagrin to experience my first bicycle snafu to involve a car at the end of October- though everyone who hears this story has agreed that it probably went as well as any bike-car accident could have gone.

After leaving a particularly emotional therapy session about the impending departure of my best friend and roommate of two years, I was headed across town to a yoga class. I was biking down Oak St towards Divisadero, with a green light and nothing in the bike lane ahead of me. I saw a car at the intersection with their right turn signal on, and the only thought that occurred to me was “they’re probably texting and don’t realize they have a green light.” In the next moment I reached the intersection, just as the car realized they could go and began to turn.

Inexperienced in both physics and what to do when you’re about to crash into a car (I suppose the latter is a good thing), I instinctually braked with both hands as hard as I could. My bike stopped. I, on the other hand, kept moving. I went right over my handlebars and landed chin first, followed by the heels of both hands. (Yes, I was of course wearing a helmet). As people from the sidewalk rushed to help me and my bike up, I slunk over to the sidewalk, half in shock and half in embarrassment.

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Looking mugged

This is where the story gets a little absurd. The woman who had been driving gets out of the car in a rush, saying, “Oh god! That was so scary! Are you okay? Tell me what happened?” After making sure I’m still in once piece she introduces herself as Sky, and proceeds to tell me that she is, in fact, a trauma counselor. “You’re clearly in shock, can we sit down and do some breathing exercises together?” She asks. I’m an emotional wreck at this point, trying to keep it together from therapy and now deal with the fact that I’ve just publicly wrecked my shit (and it was likely my fault for not paying attention) and the pain in my elbow means I’m probably not going to make it to yoga. “Sure,” I tell her, “Let’s do it.”

She talks me through some breathing exercises and then says, “Okay so I practice EFT, do you know what that is?” I shake my head and she continues. “It’s called Emotional Freedom Therapy– and it’s a psychological accupressure technique that helps you short circuit your emotions.” Uh huh… “Is it okay if I tap on you?” At this point I’m up for whatever, unconcerned with the genuinely confused and concerned people passing by on what is a street that gets a lot of foot traffic, especially on a Saturday.

Sky then proceeds to hold my hands in her palms, face up, and tap on my hands, cheekbone and arms, all while having me repeat positive affirmations. Things like, “I’ve just experienced a trauma, but I’m okay. I love myself and I will get through this experience.” Etc. The most bizarre thing happens- it totally works. I calm down completely. The adrenaline surging through my body magically dissipates and I’m steady enough to get back on my (thank god- unharmed) bike (that shit is expensive to fix) and bike the five blocks back to my apartment. This is only after Sky and I have hugged it out (obviously), because this is San Francisco after all.

~ ~ ~ ~

Just as a mini-epilogue for this, I ended up going in for x-rays the next day. I eventually found out that I had a impacted fracture in my right elbow, which healed on it’s own after about six weeks and a week of occupational therapy (also some magically stuff in its own right). This experience has taught me to be more cautious while biking, and given me a new appreciation for having use of both arms at once. To my parents amusement I also discovered what it really means to visit specialists when you know there isn’t anything they can do for you besides tell you your injuries won’t be getting any worse. “So I’m going to pay $50 to have someone tell me I’m fine and everything will heal on its own?” “Yes Eliza. Welcome to adulthood.” Shoutout to Marie A. for being a great friend and rushing home to sit on her apartment stoop with me while I cried over my bruised body and ego, and telling me about her bike accident that occurred while trying to text and bike simultaneously. (Really how on earth do some people manage that?)

My biggest lesson, of course, was that if you’re going to get into a bike accident it should definitely involve a trauma counselor.  *

My Profoundly Simple Burning Man Takeaway

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I had no idea what to expect going into Burning Man, aside from the knowledge that it was the supposed holy grail of festivals, without being an actual festival. A few moments came as more than mildly shocking- but those happened more along the lines of “I am by choice biking at night in a dust storm with 0 visibility while slightly intoxicated at the same time as 80,000 other people… Let’s again put the emphasis on by choice,” and less along the lines of, “oh look, the 100th naked person I’ve seen today. (Hope they’ve been reapplying sunblock).” The group that I went with has attended countless festivals, camping trips and holiday celebrations together, and venturing into the desert together certainly felt right, however much it may have impeded experiencing full participation in the wider Burning Man community. If I go again I’ll certainly push myself more to do some solo exploring, which, thanks to Burning Man I now feel ready to do. Because my profoundly simple takeaway from my five days in Black Rock City was this: being open to meeting strangers is a choice you can actively make (and they usually are 0% as intimidating as you were anticipating). As an extrovert I’ve never had a problem meeting new acquaintances through friends, but I would not often be the person to instigate interactions with strangers, whether they are waiting next to me in the bike lane at a red light or squished next to me on MUNI. What I saw first hand at Burning Man was just how easy it is to actively decide to be open and friendly to everyone you meet, how easy it is to make the choice to be open and not guarded- but also that is is certainly a choice, and one that is made with each human interaction you encounter.

And all I had to do for this realization was almost die in a dust storm? Totally worth it.