body image · clothing · femalestrength · fitness

Making peace with our changing bodies

“When you get thin again, can I have your bigger clothes?”

Someone at a party asked one of my friends that last week.  If I squint really hard and ignore toxic body shaming culture, I might be able to imagine that this person thought she was giving my friend a compliment.  “That’s a great outfit!  You’re such a fit person you’ll lose that baby weight just like that!  You’re so pretty in that — I wish I looked like you!”  I guess?

My friend is a fitness instructor, a former body builder, and someone who has fought disordered eating, body shaming and body obsession for a long time.  Her mission is to support women to love their bodies for what they can do, whatever shape or ability that is, to help them build emotional and physical strength.  She’s absolutely beautiful, luminous and kind, inside and out.

She had a baby six weeks ago.  She worked out throughout her pregnancy in a careful way, had a healthy birth and gorgeous wee baby, and has worked hard to love and be at peace with her larger body.  She went to that party feeling like she looked great.

And this one comment completely knocked the breath out of her, shredded the colourful, silken threads of self love she’d spun, painstakingly, one at a time.

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HM The Queen Attends Trooping The ColourBody shaming and body policing are so much a part of our culture that a lot of the time, we don’t even notice them, unless they are shockingly overt — like this gym in Connecticut that sent out an email telling its customers to grab their excess flesh and imagine what that would look like in summer photos — “god forbid, a side pic sitting down!” — or the dank pockets of the celebrity internet that define women only through their bodies and competition.  I won’t link to these places, but one of this week’s headlines speaks for them all:  With the spotlight strong, can Duchess Meghan outdo Kate Middleton’s success in restoring her pre-baby body?

Most of these moments are so woven into our day to day lives that they’re noteworthy only when they hit us right in the most tender parts of our souls.  But whether or not we notice them, they twist how we experience ourselves.  And even when we have huge feminist reflexivity about this, we still get entangled.

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Over the past few months, I’ve been committing some of those body shaming microaggressions on myself.  I’m 54.  I’m not quite menopausal, but Things are Definitely Changing in my body.  I’m fit and active — I’ve worked out 148 times so far this year, and am well on my way to hitting 300 or more again for the year.  I’m loving feminist crossfit, and training on a sweet new bike for this trip I’m doing with Susan, Sam, Sarah and others in Newfoundland in two weeks. 

But I’ve also gained weight this year.  Even though several people have commented on how “buff” I look from the crossfit, have said I look fit — even hot — all I see is a heavier, thicker middle.  My clothes don’t fit — not my favourite jeans, or a lot of my work clothes.  I’ve become that middle aged woman wearing crossfit shoes, leggings, a flowy top and an Interesting Scarf to everything.  It’s disheartening to have to shove piece after piece of clothing back into the closet.  And I’ve taken to making comments about myself that chastise myself for the weight gain.  Out loud.  To others.  You know the ones.

I know in my head that I’m fit and strong.  I have a lot of joy from moving my body.  I know that some of my weight gain is muscle, and some of it is being 54 and endlessly menstruating.  Because I’m still having mostly regular periods at this advanced age, I seem to be always experiencing the PMS-y hormones that make me bloated.  I also have some gut issues that contribute to bloatiness.  (And god knows, I probably sleep with the light on).

And at the same time, I’m in the “menopausal transition,” which includes, as this study puts it, “unfavorable alterations in body composition, which abruptly worsen at the onset of the menopausal transition and then abate in postmenopause.”  Those “unfavorable alterations” are basically an increase in fat mass in the average woman that doubles every year for the key time of menopause (about three years), and a loss of lean mass.

Our bodies change when we’re 12 or so, and it’s unnerving then. Pregnancy is a hormonal carnival.  A few people’s bodies seem to experience birth and breastfeeding without any noticeable lingering effect, but most are changed in some way forever.  The waxing and waning of hormones affects our mental health, our energy, our appetites, our sleep, our metabolism, our immune systems.   Peri-menopause is another unpredictable extravaganza, and then there is all of the older life stuff.  There is no “set point.”  It’s dynamic, always.

That is life, and this is what my body is at this stage of my life.  Just like my post-partum friend’s body is what it is.  There is no “back to normal” — there is only forward, aging, changing bodies, and the challenge of loving ourselves as we are, finding our fierce warrior selves.

The force of all of this shows up in so many ways. My friend said this morning “I don’t mind my bigger body but I hate that none of my clothes look good, and I can’t afford to buy new clothes right now.”

Not fitting into my clothes is a big trigger for me, too.  After she said that, I had a warrior moment.  (Well, a warrior moment with a credit card.  I’m privileged in that I can afford this, right now).  I  went on a mission to my favourite store that features affordable Canadian designers.  I decided I was going to leave with a wardrobe of work and dressy casual clothes that made me feel good in my body, felt good on my body, inspired me.  I realized I hadn’t actually bought new warm weather work clothes in about three years, always waiting for that moment when my other clothes would fit me again.

I bought five dresses, two pairs of leggings and two tops.  They fit me well.  They flare and cling in the right places.  I feel strong and pretty in them.  I feel grown up, not middle aged.  (This is Emmylou, checking them out).

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They’re a departure from what I’ve been wearing.  And trying them on, having a good shopping experience, finding things that work for my body as it is — I tilted back up into liking myself again.

I think I’ll go get an ice cream cone.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto. She blogs here two or three times a month.

fitness

Making room for others

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This is Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir (Gudridur Thorbjarnardottir), an Icelandic saga hero.  More than 1000 years ago, she was among the first settlers from Iceland to explore and settle in Greenland with Erik the Red.  She then traveled to North America, where she became the mother of the first European child born in North America, Snorri. In her lifetime, she was probably that most traveled woman in the world — she made eight ocean journeys, crossed Europe twice on foot, and explored and settled new lands. During her lifetime, Iceland and Greenland became Christian, and in 1010 she made a pilgrimage to the Pope in Rome, then returned to her son Snorr’s farm in northern Iceland, where she had a church built and ended her life as a nun. (I hope to see her settlement at L’anse aux Meadows National Historic Site when we do our bike trip in Newfoundland in July — you can read more about her here and here).

I came across the statue of Gudridor when I was traveling in Iceland with my niece on the long weekend in May, and she became my instant hero — a woman who clearly embraced life with gusto and courage and defined her own terms.

Coming across Gudridor — feminist traveler — while I was traveling with my almost-13 year old niece made me reflect again on my identity as a solo traveler. I travel alone a lot, literally and throughout my life.  I’ve written and reflected about it a lot, this embracing of the solo that I’ve evolved over the past decade or so.

For a lot of people, traveling alone is the novel, the thing that they are experiencing anew out of busy family lives.  For me, it’s just a given now — a part of my identity that I’ve cultivated and a thing that I seem to really need for restoration, alone time. 

I genuinely have to be reminded that it isn’t the norm for a lot of people.  Back in January, I was in Melbourne, Australia, sitting with my book in a crowded trattoria, happily enjoying a pizza and a glass of wine, when a woman came up to me and said how brave I was — that she would *never* eat in a restaurant alone.

I was truly taken aback.  I didn’t think I looked like I was bravely pretending to read while blinking away lonely tears — I was actually bemused that it was even something anyone would notice about me.  I chalked it up to Aussie extroversion and left it at that.  (I wish I’d had Gudridur to toss into the conversation there as a true example of intrepid-ness.  Not, you know, eating a pizza in an English speaking, super-safe western city).

Traveling alone is easy for me.  It’s comfortable.  It’s flowy.  I can follow my bliss blah blah blah.  (Most often, that bliss is a long bike ride or hike followed by an excellent dinner and bedtime before the sun goes down).  But traveling with my niece, I had to consider whether maybe — just maybe — my foregrounding solo travel (and my joy of living alone) might mean I’m maybe — just maybe — not as good at making room for other people as I could be.

My niece is awesome, and we had a wonderful time.  We made up car games, and co-wrote a long, winding magical story out loud that started with some elves that lived inside a mountain, and we had floating massages in the overpriced but luxe Blue Lagoon.  We hiked up magical mountains where we made wishes, and to waterfalls, and to old lighthouses, some of them in the rain.  We chased the geysirs and made up a song about the baby lambs and laid on the ground revelling in the glory of Kirkjufell mountain and waterfall.  We chased down bakeries in search of excellent bread and doughnuts.

But throughout the trip, even as I was having a great time, I had a little sotto-voce story going on that I wanted to go for a much longer hike, wanted to do more things in a day, wished I had more time to stop and just get lost in this amazing world by myself.  A sense, almost, that our hikes “didn’t count” if they weren’t long enough or push me to my limits.

IMG_7733My niece is, you know, Very Much Her Own Person. (Being a person and all). When I suggested we do a planned hike up a mountain even though it was raining, she just looked at me in genuine disbelief.  The lukewarm promise of a hotspring just wasn’t an allure.  (“Wouldn’t we already be wet?”).  Her rhythms are different than mine — she doesn’t love committing to a long hike while we’re still in the car, but when we landed in places that she liked, she frolicked with absolute joy, lying on the ground, finding every angle, crawling down into holes — and wanting to stay far longer than I normally would have, once I’d dutifully trudged up to the top and back down again.  When she told me to lie down on the ground in front of Kirkjufell and feel — just FEEL!  — how soft it was, something clicked.

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Later, hiking to an abandoned farm in Thingvellir national park, where I planned the hike and was the only one with the map, my niece asked me how far we had to go.  And something clicked again — I was marching this girl along based on my own internal vision of the afternoon, and she was compelled to go along with my rhythms.  I’d tried to pick a route I thought was doable and interesting — but I’d basically been the orchestrator of the whole experience.

Paying attention to my niece’s rhythms made me realize that in most of my life, I have a self-defined rhythm — how fast I walk, when is the “right” time to walk or ride vs. driving, when I want to go to bed, when I want to eat, how long I want to spend on decision-making about where to eat.  I’m very dug in — and highly resistant to following other people’s routines or movement agendas.

Turns out, that’s not really the most relational way to operate.  And it took thinking about that experience from my niece’s perspective to really get how much I tend to either expect people to match my movement agendas, or just withdraw and do things on my own.

I had another pivotal moment when we came across the Gudridur statue.  It was about 5 pm, and we were on our way back to our hotel after a day of exploring the Snaefellsnaes peninsula, getting blown about and generally having a great time.

On this side of the peninsula, it was less windy, and the sun had just come out, the Icelandic golden hour.  Behind Gudridur, there was a beautiful beckoning trail I could have walked on for two or three hours, mostly along the edge of the sea.

If I’d been on my own, this would have been exactly what I did.  But I knew my niece didn’t have it in her (she was tired from our windy walks, and Gudridur did not get her all fired up the way she did me).  I had a pang of regret — I wanted my little Gudridur walk!

But I also had my niece in the car, and we were both hungry.   And I had another instalment of our magical train-making elf saga to make up.  So I got back in the car, waving at Gudridur.

I had been to Iceland once before, by myself for a few days about four years ago. That time, I had a completely self-directed, what-I-feel-like-in-this-moment trip.  I got lost on non-existent trails on the tundra, nearly blew into the ocean on the western tip of the Snaefaellsness peninsula, nearly lost the door of the rental car to wind, drove around the most amazing landscape in the world listening to podcasts and stopping to take photos whenever I felt like it.  And when I got tired of the wind and the rain, cuddled up under a woollen blanket in my favourite inn in the world.

Being in Iceland with my niece, there was less flow and more negotiation. But there was more joy, more singing and more doughnuts.  And we have something shared we both gave to each other.

It’s a lesson.  Aren’t they all?

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto, and travels around the world with an open heart.

fitness

In which Cate runs down the street with a medball on her shoulder

IMG_medshoulderI’ve been raving — here and elsewhere — about how much I love the feminist cross-fit studio I’ve been going to for a few months now, Move.

In my previous post I wrote about how I love the mission of founder Kelly Taphouse and her team to focus on women’s strength and confidence, and how the team of coaches is focused on form, encouragement, safety, and figuring out your own goals.  There’s no talk of weight, or body shape, or “bikini bodies” or food.

It’s a safe, empowering, fun zone, and I’ve made it to 2 or 3 classes a week since February — which is unheard of for me.  (I’m still doing some spinning, running and yoga as well, but less intensely).

I never thought I would like working out in a group, and I never thought I’d want to learn the basics of Olympic weightlifting.  But here I am, 54 years old, (still menstruating regularly, btw, for those who were wondering, lol), still (sorta) running, still cycling and still spinning, still a yogi — and now, learning a whole new zone of movement.

The honeymoon phase of “whee this is fun!” is over a little bit, and now it’s just a Thing I Do. Last week, I made the commitment to buying six months worth of classes (a WHACK of cash) so I thought it would be a good time to reflect a little on why this seems to be sticking.

  1.  It reinforces my identity as a fit, committed person. 

I became a runner 24 years ago, which was my first time ever thinking of myself as an athletic type person.  Over those two and a half decades, the intensity of my relationship with movement has ebbed and flowed (I wrote about the notion that we get a number of different “fitness lives” here), but they all have their own flavour.

I think crossfit at Move has poked me into a new fitness identity — a kind of unwavering commitment I’ve only ever had before when I’ve been training for something.  IMG_8300 But even when I was a hardcore marathoner, I almost NEVER got up early to run.  And this week, I did this workout over there on the left on Wednesday at 7 am.  I don’t think I was the brightest light for the person I was working with, but I did it — with a little involuntary moaning when I was warming up.  (I am not really a morning person).

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Thursday at noon, I found myself running down the street with a medball on my shoulder (see photo above — I’ll spare you the video), as well as trying really hard to really get the motion of “hanging cleans”, a lift that involves flipping arms and elbows upside down as you bring the weights up to your shoulder.

That bar is “only” 45 lbs for those lifts — but it’s HARD.  I like being the kind of person who is trying to figure this out, who is trying to train my body to do something new.  I like being a person who is trying to get stronger.  It feels badass, and — reason #2 — it’s a counterpoint I need right now to a completely overloaded work life.

I do a lot of different things in my work.  I coach leaders, teach leadership, and design and lead large strategic change processes in healthcare and academic systems.  It’s very tough times in those worlds in Ontario right now, and my clients are under a lot of pressure.  Most have multiple jobs, huge demands and not enough resources — combined with a strong sense of mission.

My job is to help these folks find clarity, feel more grounded, feel energized to move forward — when they are feeling burnt out and undervalued.

I start out a lot of my days facing a group of people I’ve never met before who greet me and our processes with skepticism (and sometimes, honestly, lashing out).  I have to turn that skepticism around to help them find some sense of energy and — dare I say it, joy — about their work. Mostly I love my work and I’m pretty good at it, but it can be draining. Sometimes, it exhausts me.

Paradoxically, when I take that emotional exhaustion to Move, and push my body further, I get restored.  I feel stronger, less tangled, and supported by the community in the same way I have to support my clients.  I feel cared for — by myself and by the people and space around me.

Which brings me to #3 — learning something new in my body at 54 unleashes incredible optimism.  I’ve never been super great at translating verbal instruction into physical response.  That’s why I never took up team sports or anything that involved things you hit — I never knew what people meant when they told me to “choke up” on the bat or swing a golf club from the hips.  I seem to be able to do it with things I can figure out intuitively — yoga seems to follow that, with light touches from good teachers — but not so much with Things I Swing or Throw.  But the coaches at Move are such good teachers that I am slowly learning to translate instructions like “drop under the weight” into a little hop in my body.  I still have a hard time putting complicated sequences together — like the 7 steps of the “turkish kettlebell get up” — but I am discovering new, smaller muscles in my body — especially in my back and shoulders — that I’m recruiting into action for the first time in my life.

And that feels good to middle aged me.  My body still has new frontiers of strength to discover — it’s not all just new accommodations for my slower, thicker, hormonally different reality.  How magical is that?

My body is still middle-aged.  I’ve gained strength, but it’s muscle in the thicker, more sluggish body that seems to be mine now.  Since I started doing cross-fit, I’ actually a bit bigger, and some of my clothes fit *less* well.  (I seem to have abandoned jeans altogether). But — it’s a kind of bigger that is unleashing a sense of power.  I can stand on my hands and take my feet off the wall for 5 seconds.  I can lift 65 lbs above my head comfortably.   I can do 20 tuck jumps.  I am inching toward a full pullup.

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Feeling strong, finding new parts of my body and being part of a supportive, kind community?  Sign me up.

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I wrote this post and scheduled it, then went to a class this morning. One of the exercises was banded planks, where you plank and your partner pulls on elastic bands to try to test you. After the class, someone I see all the time but haven’t spoken to before came up to me and said “you were so strong on your planks! It was so inspiring!” Then we got into a conversation about why she likes her 8 year old daughter to come for child-minding so she sees so many women of all shapes and sizes working hard to be strong.

That’s why I love this place.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and lifts things in Toronto, and who writes here twice am month.

 

 

fitness

N+1=4, just in time for Newfoundland

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We’ve written a lot on this blog about the Rules for people who ride bikes about the “right” number of bikes being “n+1 where n is the number of bikes you currently have.”

This little sweetie makes my current n 4.  It’s been 4 before, but I don’t think it’s ever been more than 4, except for when I also had a refurbed spinning bike.  The other three are my glorious, beloved road bike, an extremely sturdy city bike, and a vintage 1970s sky-blue single speed sweetie with a basket and a pretty bell and coaster brakes.

(It’s hard to take a selfie that also shows your bike, by the way. How does one do a bikie?)

She’s a Bombtrack Beyond, a steelframed all road lighter weight touring bike.  Over the past several years, I’ve done multi-day trips in Australia, Germany, Laos, Vietnam, Latvia, Estonia, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, and I’ve always rented bikes.  It’s convenient to step off a bike at the end of a trip and not have to think about it — but they never fit (I’m super short), they’re always heavy, and they’re usually too-bouncy mountain bikes.

I’ve been thinking about it since my trip in Australia in December, where I really didn’t like the bike I’d rented.  But the idea took root when I went out on my road bike for the first (and only)) time about three weeks ago and encountered massively broken post-winter roads.  It’s been a nasty, brutish spring with only a few warm, sunny days.   (Note I’m wearing a jacket on May 29).

I’m going on an 8 day trip in Newfoundland in a month with Sam and Susan (and David and Sarah, who don’t blog here, but who make cameos), and Newfoundland weather is notoriously unforgiving. I have a vision of broken, gravelly, wet roads and General Unpleasantness.  After deking around potholes with a lot of anxiety on my road bike, I realized it’s time for German engineering.

Yesterday I took it out for its first real ride, on the 30km (total) out and back from my house that includes the 2 km Brimley hill at the Scarborough bluffs.

It’s beautiful.  I’m getting used to the gears (same shifters for up and down, with different clicks), and the handlebar height isn’t right yet. I sailed down the completely pitted, pot-holed, cracked Brimley road with impunity, almost cackling out loud at the way that the fat tires just absorbed the road.

In moments, I was 7 again, learning to ride a bike by being released over and over down a gravelly, hilly road in a German campground by my dad, no doubt holding a Rothman’s and a beer.  By the end of that weekend, gravel in my knees, I’d learned how to ride, and my little blue german folding bike let 7 and 8 year old me sail away to free-range independence, disappearing down little roads in a country where I didn’t speak the language for hours at a time.

Bikes still do that for me, transform me into an explorer, navigating countries where I don’t speak the language with confidence.

This German bike isn’t blue — there were only two X-S in all of Canada, one blue and one green, and the blue one came in damaged.  This one is a lovely forest green.  And after only one 30km ride, she feels like a part of me.

Now if only I could get a leeetle more riding in so that first 90 km day in Gros Mourne doesn’t kill me.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and rides in Toronto and blogs here twice a month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

fitness

My old friend Cleats Anxiety

 

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On Sunday, I finally got out onto my road bike again.  My bike has been reclining dustily on the hooks I installed on my office wall last fall, untouched until I got my tall niece to help me take it down.  I knew last Sunday was going to be warm — FINALLY!  — and I’d mentally bookmarked Sunday for a possible ride.

I didn’t have a plan. I’m super-booked with work stuff these days, and tired from all the cross-fit, and I’m highly resistant to *plan* or commit to anything else.  It makes me elusive and annoying (ask my mother about my reluctance to pick up the phone), but it’s my way of creating the blank space I need to reset.  So I made no plans with anyone else, and when I woke up at 7 am on Sunday, I squinted at the time, read for a little bit and let that blissful second sleep overtake me.  I woke up when my cat Emmylou came and hit me in the head at 10 am, fed up with waiting politely for breakfast.

It was beautiful out, but I didn’t hop on the bike right away.  I fretted about undone work, then made some french toast, and did the dishes, and farted around with a few work emails, and then realized that while I’d brought the bike down from the wall, the tires were flat, it was dusty, I hadn’t looked at my cleats in months and didn’t know where they were, blah blah blahbiddidy blah.  Then I couldn’t find my garmin, or my good riding gloves, or my sunglasses, or any decent water bottles — it’s like I had Marie Kondo’ed my house but only left the joyless crap.

I knew I should just pump the tires and get on the stupid bike and ride east right from my door and tackle the Brimley road hill that is my ongoing barometer of seasonal fitness. But I was determined to compound my procrastination by driving north out of the city to ride.  I had work to do, and it was already afternoon, but for I stubbornly insisted to myself I needed to add an hour or two of unpredictable traffic to the whole enterprise.

As I went back to my condo for a third time after getting the bike in the car (who knows for what — snacks?  my fitbit? change my shirt?) I realized the procrastination and inability to find anything was actually an approach avoidance kind of anxiety.  Because here’s the thing:  I am super comfortable on my bike.  I ride a lot.  I don’t race, and I don’t ride when it’s snowing, and I’m no Kim — but I certainly identify as a cyclist.  The kind of person who rides a bike in foreign lands, on purpose.  The kind who will happily decide for NO GOOD REASON to ride 150 km on Canada150, or do an imperial century in PEI just because I can.  But — every time I go to get on my road bike for the first time — this same beloved bike I’ve had for a dozen years now — I have fear.  Real, in my cells, fear.

IMG_1505Now, I love the click of cleats-meeting-pedal.  If they made ASMR videos of pedal clicks and jam jar lids popping as they seal, it would be the best aural soundtrack to soothe me to sleep.  (Well, that and the sound of skates on ice — but I digress.  #canadian). But it’s a paradox.  The sound soothes me — but the experience of riding with my feet clicked in can trigger a powerful fear that as soon as I click in and get on the road, I’ll somehow manage to spill off the bike and right under a truck that would kill me dead.  

I’m not alone in this.  Tracy has written a lot about her cycling anxiety, and I know a lot of other people who are extremely reluctant to ride on the road.  It’s different for me, though — I *like* to ride on the road.  I’ve logged a lot of riding in cleats, in the city and beyond. I’ve ridden from Toronto to Montreal, on roads in Vietnam, Laos, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Australia, Germany, Latvia, Estonia — and learned to ignore trucks roaring up behind me with huge loud horns, roadside chickens and butchered pigs, cows on the bike path, sudden downpours.

And I love my bike. I feel completely, gracefully at one with it, the wheels an extension of the part of my soul that sings.  BUT.  I still have this weird drumbeat of anxiety — especially when I hit the low blood sugar part of a long ride — that the pedal/clip situation is going to trap me somehow, and if something Dramatic Occurs, I won’t be able to scoot quickly.  (It’s even worse with SPD style pedals, which I use when I do bike touring — I rode the whole way down a Bhutanese mountain with one foot unclipped Just in Case).

With my head, I know I can navigate streetcar tracks and potholes, and that my feet easily pop out of the pedals.  I know this.  I have done this many times.  And even more importantly, I have crashed off my bike many times, once, spectacularly, right in a blind curve as I came face to face with a Sri Lankan ambulance (who didn’t stop, by the way).  And — I can’t stress this enough — I was fine.  A few scabs and scars here and there, but I’m fine.  Road rash is part of riding.

Those things are facts — mostly I don’t fall off, and when I do, I get a little bruised but get back up.  Like I taught my niece to be comfortable putting her head under the water when she was 3 — you go underneath, you come back up.

But the inner lying voice of fear is powerful — and sneaky.  I didn’t locate it at first hiding in all of that procrastination.

I’ve been doing some work in my coaching practice with the concept of our  “saboteurs” — the inner stories that show up to remind us we aren’t good enough, or loved enough, or capable.  It’s similar to what other people tell me they get from self-help voices like Brene Brown.  As I (finally) clicked into the pedals last weekend, I tried to make friends with that inner story.  What could I actually learn from this now-old story?  How could I shift it so it can be part of what I pay attention to when I’m riding — a reasonable question about safety — and not a tripwire?

I wasn’t super confident when I got on the road on Sunday.  It was the first warm day, and there was a lot of traffic at the lake where I parked. Right away, there were swoopy fast cars whipping past me, and the edge of the first road was a trap of broken tarmac, unpicked-up winter crap, little stones.  A good chunk of my favourite sideroad was completely potholed, cracked, mocking me with the possibility of a blown tire if I hit a hole too quickly.  The sun was beautiful, but the wind whipped at my face, and my eyes streamed, making me slow down even more to try to see the holes coming.

But as I started riding, I started focusing on feeling the bike respond to me, started to feel myself respond to the road.  The roads WERE a mess — I wished for a mountain bike.  But I navigated slowly when I had to, and finagled around, and climbed a few hills.  The confidence returned to my calves and hands.  I got off and surveyed the land, adjusted my brakes.  Found my rhythm.  Ended up doing two lengths of a road I always enjoy, a long gentle up for about 8 km, a safe smooth down.

There were cars, and wind, and ruts, and holes. I wasn’t flying along, still cautious about what I might not see under my tires.  But it was my bike, and it was me, and I remembered me, remembered me on my bike. Rode around 40km, and would have done more if I’d had more time.  And as I rode, I savoured that anxiety, turning it into a reminder to pay attention, be present.  Cautious, not fearful.

There’s no formula for me to overcome this kind of fear.  But I’m glad I recognized it, let myself sit in it without it pushing me around.  Reminded myself that yes, riding alone on a country road 20 km from your car is a risk — but I’m also the kind of person who can embrace that risk, find the pure joy in it.

Next time, I’ll leave earlier.  And get out my gear the night before.

What do you do to confront your fears?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and rides in Toronto.

 

 

 

 

 

 

fitness

Which steps really count?

A few weeks ago I got a message that I had achieved a new level of steps on my Fitbit — the distance of a monarch butterfly migration! More than 4000 km, or 5.5 million steps in 15 months.

I do like to walk. But all of this is abstract — until I think about what went into each of those steps. Many are mundane — putting away laundry, walking to the streetcar, trying to find my way around the hospitals and universities I work in. Some are pragmatic and deliberate — workouts and the kinds of non-sublime runs I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. Some are privileged and rarefied — hiking in the mountains of Bhutan and Kyrgyzstan, walking around Paris with my 14 year old niece, around Lisbon at the end of a work conference.

But the 30,000 steps I’ve taken over the past two days? These are the ones that matter.

I’m in a town in western Uganda I’ve been to many times. I’ve been part of running a project here since 2007, when a small group of Canadians wrapped our arms around 52 kids with no parents or no parental support and committed to supporting them until they are educated, grown, self-sufficient, strong members of their communities. Our project is called Nikibasika, which means “it is possible” in the local language.

We are almost there. Our commitment is to support each kid with vocational or skilled trade certification or a university degree. By May next year, only 17 of the “kids” will be remaining in the program.

The older “kids” in Kampala earlier this week

It’s an all volunteer, all donation commitment from Canada, with two stalwart leaders on the ground in Uganda. And because we are hitting the tipping point of more kids being done than in the program this year, we made this our last “official” visit, choosing to channel our travel money to the more practical.

Half of the kids are in the capital Kampala, and we saw them early in the week. The other half came from all of their schools around Uganda to gather in our project house. Four of the alumni came too, sleeping in tents (a novelty!).

Many of the kids asked me for one-on-one time, and I asked them to walk with me. “I like to walk,” said Siima, a primary care health officer with his own clinic now. “You talk and hear stories.”

It was oppressively hot, the sun blazing between the rains of April. The mountains are green, the roads are red, dust is everywhere. Now, I notice the smell of charcoal cooking fires when I first arrive and step into the tarmac, but it quickly fades.

A young Ugandan man in a blue checked shirt smiling and holding a passportI walk with Siima, talking about his upcoming visit to Canada and what it will be like for him to experience diversity and queerness for the first time, as an African man in a homogenous and homophobic country. He tells me he has already encountered discrimination as a western Ugandan in a school or easterners. “We must be adaptable and respectful. I must adapt.”

I walk and talk with Dorcus who breaks down when she tells me she worries about disappointing me if she fails one of her plumbing exams, the intense pressure she feels to support her extended family. She’s 20, and can’t sleep. We talk about boundaries and self-care and my unconditional love.

I walk and talk with one young man who is so quiet as he confesses his dream to be a songwriter and an artist, to connect his quiet voice to other people’s yearning. I walk and talk with a young woman who cries hard and tells me that our care feels deeper than her family’s, like we want her to know herself, be strong and independent. I walk and talk with four of the older girls, three of them complete, one married and so happy, who brought gifts to the kids still here. We talk about why we all want to stay deeply connected, support each other.

A shiny Ugandan young man, smiling widely, wearing a bright blue shirt.I walk with Brian, who was a lost tiny boy when we started coming, who learned so much from the love of my colleague Blair. Brian is now a man, doing his exams for a skilled trade. He finally found his father last year thanks to our director’s incredible persistence, and is so happy to belong to a family. He earns money at small jobs to pay his younger sisters’ school fees.

“When I was young I often shed tears,” he laughs. “But in Uganda men are not used to doing so. But even now, sometimes I have shed tears over a grade — and it is crazy to shed tears over a number.” We talk about how that means he cares, and how that is a good thing.

This project wasn’t intentional, and I often feel I have made far far more mistakes than anything else. Earlier, I was often impatient, resentful, so worried about fitting everything into our short weeks I tried to do everything and didn’t leave space for everyone’s voice on our team to grow. This project has been my crucible to really reflect on and reshape who I want to be on the world.

In these steps this week, I saw reflected back at me what I did right. These kids began in literal rags with no English, one meal of porridge a day. Today they are vibrant, eloquent, self-sufficient, reflective. Kagame talks about how he meditates every morning, learned when my colleague Bonnie began teaching yoga in the mornings. The youngest boy — at 15 — tells us the path he has planned for himself.

A group of Ugandans on a porch doing yoga

Because I have come back every year since 2008, these young people feel seen, feel cared for, feel heard. Phionah and I were talking on Monday and she suddenly stopped in response to something I said and said “why do you understand how it feels and no one else does?”

I listen. This is what I have done right. I share my own vulnerabilities. I have mobilized people. And I am persistent. So annoyingly, doggedly persevering.

This project is a miracle, taking abandoned children and the orphaned children and the children of parents who were too overcome by their own ills and sorrows and trauma to be able to parent — and gave them a family, a space to become themselves in a whole new world of independent women, men who can shed tears, who can look for their artistic voices.

7 young Ugandan women, one in her 30s and pregnant, a little Ugandan, and two Canadian women, one white and one tiny Chinese-Canadian woman.
Me and Bonnie with the “girls” in Kasese

It is a miracle, and it’s not done. We have one big final fundraiser this summer where we are trying to shore up enough funds to see the remaining 17 through finding their own lives. Please join us.

http://www.nikibasika.ca/the-triadventure/

A large group of Ugandan adults and young people with their hands in the air and a Triadventure banner

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto when she’s not wandering the world.

Donate to Nikibasika here:

https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/cate-creedes-2019-triadventure-page/

fitness

Physical literacy: why mobility matters

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One of my favourite things about my work life is that I get to spend a lot of time with people who are thinking about Big Things about the World. I work in strategy and change leadership within healthcare, higher education and academic healthcare, and there is no world more full of committed, smart people trying to make sure that their work has meaning.

Last week I facilitated a major forum with a bunch of rehabilitation professionals — mostly physiotherapists — about the anticipated evolution of health over the next decade or so. Some of the ideas that we chewed on as a group are right in the sweet spot of what we care about on the blog: what is a truly equitable approach to fitness and wellbeing? what is the role of moving well in living well? what is the relationship between physical mobility and economic, social and emotional wellbeing? how do we define and support physical fitness in way that acknowledges and counters privilege?

Two of the ideas that really intrigued me both related to redefining what we take for granted about wellbeing. The first is the concept of “physical literacy” — defined here as: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.

The speaker on this topic works with an organization that leads programs and research around the relationship between positive social outcomes (life skills, academic performance, positive health behaviours) and developing physical literacy, activity and participation in sports among kids.

The concept of “literacy” can be a bit provocative — my group yesterday had a good conversation about the issues with implying that people are “illiterate” in their own relationship to their bodies before they are taught differently. But I also know in my own life that as I have increasingly learned to listen to the nuances and signals of my own body — and, for example, sought physiotherapy for pain in my shoulder before it becomes a real problem — I am much more confident about what I’m doing in the gym or on the road. I.e, as my literacy about my body and the things I can do to care for it improve, my health improves.

not dead yet

The other concept that really intrigued me was about the notion of redefining successful health outcomes as not being about lifespan — i.e., the pretty baseline measure of “I’m not dead yet” — to “healthspan” — how long a person is living a *healthy* life — or, how long am I living as fully as possible within my own definition of what’s important, meaningful and possible within my own body?”

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I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years redefining my own notion of healthy living and aging. I’ve written before about the idea of having regular mobility assessment and plans as we age, which is possibly even more important than regular screening for cervical and breast cancer if we want to preserve our ability to move and do the things that give our lives joy and meaning as we get older. And I’ve about how I’ve already had several different identities around my fitness as my body and life have changed, from Action Figure to Aging Adventurer. Sam has also written eloquently and honestly lately about her increasing comfort with accepting that exercise and movement are sometimes necessary work, not just fun, as her body changes.

I think, when our bodies change and age and hurt, and we get more tired, and movement doesn’t always come with ease, it’s very easy to let it slip away. (Confession: I am writing this post on my back in my bed with a laptop on my … well, lap, and a cat under my knees, after a long work week. I napped instead of working out. #thatsokay). But being physically literate to me is about recognizing that yes, sometimes, napping is what we need — but so is movement, and building strength, and doing the work part of fitness. And that means scheduling movement for the morning after my tortilla chip-fueled recovery nap.

Susan wrote a deeply lovely post this morning about finding new strength to open her own jars. Anytime I pay attention to an ache in my knee or shoulder and get it tended to so I can move better, anytime I shake off inertia and show up to a spinning or crossfit class or yoga class, or anytime I squeeze in a quick run or leave early to walk to a meeting — I’m looking for that same jar-opening strength. Reminding myself that I am in my own body, I own my body, and I’m making life fuller for the lithe old lady inside me.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and naps in Toronto.