The Impermanence of Body-Image, Jekyll & Hyde, and 10 Years of Before & After Photos

They say that love is a battlefield. Forget that. Self-love is the real battlefield.

 

I have been aware of my weight for the last ten years. I have been aware of the numbers on the scale going up and down over those ten years for a number of reasons including but certainly not limited to, and in no particular order:

  • being on ritalin for adhd
  • going off of ritalin
  • going on vyvanse for binge eating disorder and adhd
  • falling in love
  • being in a long distance relationship
  • being broken up with
  • ending relationships
  • my parents getting divorced
  • starting college
  • hating parts of college
  • putting on weight when starting birth control
  • counting calories and restricting my food intake to lose weight
  • learning a gym routine that helped me build muscle
  • ignoring that I was allowing myself to go back to my old eating habits as soon as I’d reach my goal weight
  • periods of time when I wouldn’t get on the scale for months at a time
  • beginning to recognize my binge eating as an eating disorder
  • working on understanding why I binge when it happens
  • going to therapy
  • going to acupuncture
  • beginning a mindful eating practice
  • going off of birth control after being on it for ten years

Needless to say, there have been innumerable factors that have taken me from one number to another on the life scale.

My body has gone through a lot of changes this year, which is no surprise given that it has gone through so many changes every year. But this year in particular I went off birth control, I started going to acupuncture, I started a mindful eating practice, and I fell in love- and that combination of things caused me to lose some weight that I had not set out intentionally trying to lose. Fitting into my old jeans has thrown me in a way that I was not expecting.

When I look in the mirror and I fit into jeans that I should have gotten rid of when I purged my closet of all the things I wanted to stop hoping I would someday fit into again, I’m filled with angst. I don’t know if I’ve ever written about this, but the thin and less thin versions of myself feel a bit like Jekyll and Hyde.

When I’ve been at thinner weights, I’ve gotten more attention from everyone. In the past I’ve liked that attention, and I’ve responded to it. Sometimes I’ve done reckless things because having that attention made me feel so powerful. I’ve learned a lot from that. People have assumed I was less intelligent when I’ve been thinner, which made and makes me angry. To this day, the gazes I get from men feel more predatory when I weigh less- and it’s hard to know whether I’m projecting that or not. When I’m thinner I see a younger version of myself looking back at me in the mirror, and the vibrancy of my inner child feels like it shines through more intensely. All of these feelings exist concurrently, even when at odds with each other. The times I’ve been thinner have corresponded with both self-hate (calorie counting, starvation, not going out with friends to avoid calories) and also times of self-love (working on mindful eating, listening to what my body wants and needs, responding to how certain foods make my body feel, etc). The fact that most people respond to you getting thinner in the same congratulatory way every time (not knowing what route you took to get there) feels abrasive against my heart and soul- even when they are trying to be complimentary.

When I’ve been at less thin weights, I have more anonymity within which to navigate the world. It feels like people take more more seriously- at least people who don’t know me. Maybe I take myself more seriously. I don’t worry about getting hit on, or attracting attention that I don’t want. Times of my life when I’ve weighed more have also corresponded with times of depression, and being so far into running away from my feelings that I would binge eat in a way that felt akin to blacking out. Thanks to Geneen Roth’s books in particular, I have made strides on working through my relationship with food (and yes, I had to eat a LOT of cookie dough, and gain about 15 pounds, to get to the place where I am today, some 25 pounds less). 

For the first time in my life I have a partner who wants to proactively communicate and support one another in our respective struggles and journeys in self-love. For the first time in my life I have someone else to consider when thinking about doing something that is long-term harmful to my body, as does he. That is a whole new piece to this that is already having a positive impact on both of us, which feels really, really good.

At the end of the day, whether I’m 138 or 168, I’m still going to have Binge Eating Disorder. It’s still going to be something that I have to work to keep in check by constantly gravitating in and out of my self-care practice. I sat down to write this piece many times, and it was hard. These last few weeks of confusion over why I’ve been able to fit into size 4 and size 6 dresses, struggling with the fear of re-gaining weight which leads to binge eating (see how this is a negative cycle?), before coming back to self-love, compassion, and acceptance, has all been a reminder that I’m on a journey with a body that will never be permanent. I’ll leave you with a piece from “You Are Here,” that I’ve been trying to keep at the front of mind lately. Hope it helps you too. * 

“Our body is not a static thing- it changes all the time. It is very important to see our physical form as something impermanent, as a river that is constantly changing. Every cell in our body is a drop of water in that river… We should train ourselves in this vision of impermanence. When we look deeply at the nature of things, we see that in fact everything is impermanent. Nothing exists as a permanent entity; everything changes. It is said that we cannot step into the same river twice. If we look for a single, permanent entity in a river, we will not find it. The same is true of our physical body. There is no such thing as a self, no absolute, permanent entity to be found in the element we call “body.” In our ignorance we believe that there is a permanent entity in us, and our pain and suffering manifest on the basis of that ignorance. If we touch deeply the non-self nature in us, we can get out of that suffering.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

 

 

Sometimes Self-Love Isn’t Fun.

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Man, sometimes practicing self-love is really fucking hard. Yesterday I woke up to my 5:10am alarm to go to spinning, and I immediately felt the tight sensation of anxiety in my chest. I felt exhausted. I took a pause and asked myself whether I would feel better or worse if I went to spinning (sometimes imagining how I will feel after class is enough to get me out of bed). After a minute or two I came to the conclusion that what I really needed to do was to lie on the couch and breath, allowing all of the feelings I’d been compartmentalizing in my heart to come out to play.

It wasn’t fun. But it’s exactly what I needed to do. Eventually I took some deep breaths and asked myself what I actually felt like doing, instead of what I thought I should be doing or “needed” to be doing. I ended up making some art, which gave me an activity that was both enjoyable and meditative, something I need when my feelings are too intense to simply sit with during meditation. I ended up binge eating that night, but I was able to apply enough self-awareness to the situation surrounding why I did it to say, welp, shit happens, I’ll try to give myself even more love and support tomorrow. And it’s been a pretty lovely day so far.

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I came back to this post this morning after writing it and leaving it in my drafts. I was looking at my calendar thinking I should schedule myself a massage because I’ve been stressed and sick and sore lately- I caught myself feeling anxious about picking a day to schedule the massage for in case I didn’t actually feel like getting a massage that day, or wanted to be somewhere else before or after. Ironically that was a great reminder to myself that the main pathway out of my anxiety is by breathing and living in the present. I’ll continue letting my inner planner and my inner buddhist duke it out as they strive for balance. In the meantime, I’ll be heading to Onsen to enjoy Lina’s last morning here (for this visit), to soak it out and take some deep breaths.

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On Paying Attention to Intention

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In the last few months I’ve felt better overall than I have in a long time. My current combination of self-care practices seem to be working well for the most part, and it feels good when I’m able to maintain a feeling of balance for extended periods of time. My main struggle continues to be meeting the sense of losing balance with stress and frustration. After a wonderful Sunday of biking around the city, lounging in the rose garden in Golden Gate Park, and hanging out with friends, I woke up feeling anxious and stressed on Monday (primarily related to pending housing uncertainties). My inner dialogue starts up the anxious thoughts of, “Ugh, but I was doing so well yesterday!” and, “I must immediately figure out a plan! That’s the only way to get out of this stress!” When I allow myself to fuel these thoughts with similar ones like them, the fire spreads, and I have a much harder time remembering the tactics that help me maintain balance.

Part of the issue here is the false narrative that because I was “doing so well yesterday” (read: feeling happy) the reappearance of stress or anxiety signals that I’m no longer “doing well”. Feeling balanced, like anything in life, is not a linear trajectory, which is extremely hard to remember in moments that feel anything like a setback or a failure. I try to remind myself that the movement above and below the state of balance is a cycle. Unfortunately I still forget this, and worry when the lower feelings surface or catch me by surprise.

Fortunately, the more awareness I have (depending on the levels of self-care being maintained), the better able I am to disconnect with stress becoming all consuming and eventually somewhat apocalyptic. I strengthen my awareness through meditation, and setting intentions. The following four (and a half) intentions have become the base of my practice, and seem to work well at helping me achieve the balance I need to feel calm and collected throughout my days. I try to pick one to focus on each day, though ideally they’d all be in practice at once!

1. Focus on now, not yesterday, and not tomorrow. This intention is my foundation. As a planner, I tend to channel my anxiety into try to create stability by planning everything out. (Spoiler: it ends up making me more anxious). By reminding myself that I don’t need to worry about what is going to happen in the future, or even in more than a few hours from now, I take the weight of trying to predict the future off my shoulders. Not getting caught up in thinking about / worrying / analyzing past is equally as distracting and unhelpful. It’s over, there’s nothing else I can do about it, just let it go, (as much as this is easier said than done).

1.5 Do one thing at a time. This is closely linked to the foundation intention, but I figured it deserved its own half bullet. Like planning, multitasking is something I do when I’m stressed. The idea becomes something along the lines of, “If I can get everything done, then I can relax,” but ultimately gets more stressful as I’m not fully present with anything. When I am fully present with each task I have the headspace to say, “huh- I may not have time to complete my whole to-do list right now- that’s totally okay.” This is extremely freeing, and without being present intentionally it is so much harder to be aware of the world and people (and their thoughts and feelings) around me.

2. Remember self-love/care/support. There’s a part in my meditation packs that asks you to remind yourself why you’re doing the meditation and then think about the people it will benefit. I always start with, “because I love myself, and I’m here to support myself,” which always brings the biggest smile to my face. When I’m focusing on self-love I take time to do nice things for myself like getting a massage, buying myself a kombucha, noticing how happy I feel when I’m cozy on the couch with a book and my slippers on, calling my grandparents, watching the sunrise, etc. Exercise is an important daily self-care ritual for me, but I’ve learned that it must be kept in the context of, “I am doing this because it will make my body and mind feel good,” and if it starts to feel like something I must do instead of something I want to do, that’s a sign my body needs to rest.

3. Engage with the world. When I’m aware of my surroundings I’m able to disengage with my inner dialogue and interact with the outside world in a positive manner. Smiling at fellow humans when crossing paths, saying “bless you” to someone who sneezes on the bus, offering assistance to someone clearly confused or needing it, asking how the bus driver is doing- all of these kinds of interactions prove to increase my optimism in humanity, and as a bonus, make me feel better in turn. Remembering that everyone is fighting their own battle and dealing with their own plethora of thoughts and feelings is another way to lessen feelings of isolation. We really are all in this together.

4. Appreciate and give thanks. A few Thanksgivings ago my Mother hung a banner that said “give thanks” spelled out in a bunting style with metal letters over our table. She let me keep the banner and it now hangs in my room next to my bed, a reminder to give thanks every day. When I focus on being grateful I am often filled with amazement at the beauty of my life. I am surrounded and supported by so many wonderful friends, family members, and coworkers. I live in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet that gives me access to clean drinking water and clean air. The days I focus on gratitude I go to extra lengths to call, write, and connect with the people I love.

4.5 Nurture my family as people. I’m not sure why it took me so long to really connect with the idea that my family members are people too, but I’m glad it’s something I figured out sooner than later. I make a lot of effort to nurture my friendships, and know my friends very well, but this year I’ve been working on applying that to my family members as well. Getting to know my parents as people gives me a better understanding of them and myself. Finding out common interests I share with my grandparents has allowed my relationship with them, one I always took for granted, to become a source of deep enjoyment on both parts. Becoming fully aware that my extended family members are all individually complex, interesting people, who love me to boot, has been a wonderful realization (albeit a kind of, “well duh” one), and allowed me to focus time and effort on getting to know them in a way I wasn’t able to as a child and teenager. This is something I feel incredible gratitude for, and brings me joy in the moments when I feel the most alone. Through therapy I was about to let go of the ideas I held about what a “perfect” family was, and realize what incredible love and support my family gives me. I released the fantasy, let go over the disappointments, and discovered so much more. Leave the gun, take the cannoli. You won’t be disappointed. 

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On Strength

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Back when I was young and naive, a phase that I’m hoping has passed but how can we ever really be sure, I thought that strength was about power. Having the power to lift, wield, dictate, reason,  choose, decide. To be in control.

The universe has a funny way of buffing out that naïveté, doesn’t it?

Today my understanding of strength is nearly the total opposite. I understand strength as having the will to overcome in the moments when you are at your lowest, the ability to accept fault, apologize, choose vulnerability over pride, and acknowledge the humanity of ourselves and others. Strength is not something you are born with, it is something you acquire slowly, with intention and support. It is the kind of thing you get more of by giving it away, and it is a thing to be worn, quietly but proudly, like a badge of life earned in battle.

Today what I associate most strongly with strength is the notion of resilience. I admire and work towards the ability to have awareness around the highs and lows, the ebbs and flows of life. My succulent tattoo has something to do with that. I got it partly as a reminder of my own resilience, having made great progress on moving from a harrowingly negative body image to a much more positive (though of course not perfect) one. I wanted to adorn my body with something I thought was beautiful, and in that way remind myself that my body is a beautiful thing meant to be loved. (For the record, tattoo needles hurt a lot more than acupuncture needles 😛 )

These sometimes symmetrical desert plants have found a home here in San Francisco. They somehow thrive in this ever changing micro climate environment. The ones I love the most appear in the sidewalk cracks beneath established desert flower beds, escape artists making a break for it and surviving on their own. My succulent tattoo, artistically recreated from a photo I took of just one such sidewalk escape artist, reminds me about the beauty of survival, and the art of carrying on.

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Shoutout to Morgan for her monthly poetry nights, and giving me topics to write on 🙂 

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