fitness

Taking Meds Will Make Me Fat: risks to life and self in the therapy space

A word of caution, I deal with suicidal ideation in this post.

This post has been brewing in me for a long time and I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write it. I think I have been in some sort of denial that this has been happening, is happening, KEEPS HAPPENING in the little sacred space of my office. I’m a Registered Psychotherapist. That is a designation specific to Ontario and it’s equivalent to Licensed Mental Health Counsellor in the states, or Registered Mental Health Counsellor in some other jurisdictions. It is a profession that focuses exclusively on the clinical work of talk therapy. I don’t diagnose people and I don’t prescribe meds, but after 21 years of practice, I have acquired a pretty extensive familiarity with the kinds of mental health issues that benefit from the assistance of medication. I like to say I’m “neutral” about medication in most situations. Many clients have benefited and some clients have not. Some clients have found meds to be more trouble than they are worth. Some clients have been manifestly overmedicated to the detriment of their capacity to function.

However, I’m not talking about any of that today. Today, I want to take you through an experience I have had and continue to have and continue to feel flummoxed and enraged and devastated by. There’s more than a few podcasts out there these days that take you inside the therapy space to hear what is really going on. This is going to be kind of like that. It isn’t any particular client obviously, I don’t have permission to talk about them. But it is an amalgam of experiences that resonate on the same frequency, that convey the same message and impact. If you are a client reading this (I mean, you might be, this is a public blog) this is emphatically not actually you, but if it is like you, maybe you can hear me in a way that you haven’t yet. Maybe the anguish and frustration and fear I have about the collective you that I’m writing about may penetrate in ways it can’t when we are together. I hope so. Because I’m worried about you.

Most often, this therapist/client relationship is pretty substantial. We’ve known each other for nearly a year and often more than that. We might be of a similar age or maybe a decade or two apart. You (client) have come to see me because of a pain, a grief, a stress or a loss. You have been confused about your direction or your worth. Maybe you have a story in your past that speaks of violations of trust and betrayals of compacts of care. Maybe the world as you knew it is suddenly upside down and you don’t know where you fit or if it’s entirely your fault anyway. There’s a lot of ways to get to this state but you felt pretty bad and you made the call.

We’ve been working together and I am coming to know you and your story. We see the patterns, how they were formed, how they are alive in your life. If we are lucky, they have been alive between us and we’ve been able to do something different with them in those moments. Always, I am listening, trying to know and trying to understand your story, your perspective, your pain and your strivings. Everyone who comes to see me is striving for something that feels like safe connection, a place to lay your head and not worry about your right to exist. Much of the time, my particular brand of listening and noticing and compassionate presence is enough to comfort and shift. Every single one of you is working so hard to feel better and all of you use me in the ways that you can to make that happen. I am right there with you.

Sometimes, that pain doesn’t move. We talk and reason. We know the whys and the whens and the hows. But every time you leave my office, and sometimes even when you are right in front of me, the feelings rise up and overwhelm you, dragging you back to a hell I can’t touch. It’s a despair so profound or a fear so gripping that you feel like you would rather be dead, sometimes actually, you would rather be dead. You think about how you are a burden and a trial and list the ways people would be better off without your troublesome self causing trouble and that the very fact of this ineffable pain is the reason enough to go. No one, including you, should have to deal with this shit.

Around that time, while staying with the reality of your experience, I am starting to wonder whether it’s time to explore more support. We are usually traversing a very difficult landscape together but you keep slipping into crevasses and slipping out of whatever anchor to the surface the therapy has been providing. I’m thinking, perhaps it’s time to explore medical assistance in the way of medication? I explain it as a tool to help regulate so you can do this hard work of unravelling the past and the way it lives in your present. I explain it’s a medium or long term support and that you can do this with your own agency at the forefront. I explain that there is no shame in asking for more help and perhaps you need more than I can give you, just me for an hour a week. When your system is so chaotic/activated/imbalanced, you can’t see the path through the dust and static. You can’t really hear me or connect with me. I don’t want to lose you.

You look up and say, “I don’t want to go on meds, I will gain weight”.

How did this happen? How did you come to a place that tells you that the possibility of weight gain means you need to die, or feel like dying for half your life, or lose your partner, or your job, or the connection to your kids or your friends? How is the imperative to stay small more important than the possibility of feeling well, of expanding into your possibility, of making the world better with your glorious and grounded presence?

Now, I know the answer to this. I know how it happens but what I’m trying to do here is capture how f-ing absurd this twisted trap of fat-shaming, body controlling, garbage really is. I have actually had people tell me that the possibility of gaining weight means they will continue to suffer so profoundly they might just kill themselves soon or maybe later, but eventually possibly. They don’t want to suffer. They want to feel better. Like I said before, they are all working so hard and they will work harder and harder and harder and wonder what else they can do. They will cry inconsolably, fall apart at work and at home, hide from the world, endure psychic and physical pain that is unabated and do all of that instead of trying a medication that may result in weight gain. And the collective response of the rest of us is far too often, “oh yes, we wouldn’t want that”. Doctors lead with this in their description of the side effects, “I need to let you know, you might gain weight”, with a knowing tone of “I will understand if you don’t want to take it because my gosh, gaining weight is so much worse than waking up and feeling like you want to vomit every morning and you can’t leave your house. I know Agoraphobia is hard but at least you still fit in your pants.”

Alright, so no doctor is going to say that, I hope, but how many are complicit in reinforcing this kind of logic? Lots of them. I have heard the stories, I have experienced it first hand to be honest but you know what? I TOOK THE DRUGS AND FELT BETTER.

Medication is not the only solution. It doesn’t solve the crushing weight and cognitive load of poverty or racism. If this society could wake up and take those things more seriously, maybe starting with a universal basic income, that would help. The existence of meds doesn’t absolve me of working towards a better world with you. It doesn’t cure PTSD. It doesn’t even really make you feel good. But you might feel less bad and the worse you feel to begin with, the more likelihood that it will make a difference you can feel. When you get some ground under your feet, you can come to therapy and have some psychic space to let the magic of that work unfold. What I want most is for you to believe that it is better to be in the world 30 lbs heavier, with more connection, resilience, contentment, expansiveness and satisfaction, than it is to be skinny and a husk of a human or possibly a corpse. I further want to rest of the world (I’m looking at you Fam Docs) to really think that too and work to make that true.

Fat shaming, fat phobia, body policing are killing us in so many ways and this is one more. I’m just going to keep doing what I can to counter it I guess. But what I really want is for all of us to cease being complicit in this system and tell everyone it is okay to just be happy and okay to be fat and best to be both if that’s what you are and that you love them and want them to stay and be.

A hand holding a pill bottle and tipping two pills into another hand. Are these pills the difference between drowning in despair and ground under your feet? Maybe finding out is a good idea, talk to your therapist and your doctor.
fitness

For the Dog

This is a time of year that I am always writing about canoe trips. There is always something that a canoe trip generates worth writing about whether it’s noticing that whenever I go into the park with a group of only female/non-binary identified folks, we are the only group of that description we see, finding my strength, taking my 72 year old mom out or just hanging with my favourite people.

One consistent element of almost every trip is my best dog. But this year, my excellent adventure with adventure friend, Cheryl, did not include Shelby the wonder dog. She is, a last, too old for me to feel safe to take her. Gone are the days when she could easily and delicately hop in and out of a canoe like a bunny. There was that one time that she stood on a rock about a foot square with all four paws and then, one at a time, she placed them in the boat, carefully balanced like an Olympic gymnast. She can’t scramble up a rock face any more. She has unreliable shoulders and, most distressingly a sarcoma on her front left leg. So, the idea of bringing her in, when I could not carry her out felt dangerous. It was also achingly sad.

Worse even was the look she gave me when I packed all that tripping gear in the car and left her at home. She knew what was happening, that I didn’t take her. SHE KNEW. That dog is old and weaker and creakier but she is also SMARTER than she has ever been. It killed me, that LOOK. So. . . what is a dog girl to do?

Take the dog camping.

That’s what I did. I took my dog camping. Car camping of course. There was a small-ish problem, in that outdoor recreation has become super popular in the pandemic and the possibility of finding a Provincial Ontario Park camp site, with it’s reliable clean and practical set up, it’s running potable water and guaranteed accessibility, that did not exist. So, I took a flyer on a private nature reserve, Limberlost Forest. I have hiked here for years and day hiking is free. It is an impeccably maintained place with beautiful cabins and cottages that I was familiar with. They had recently developed car camping sites in the interior of the property on a small lake. They were not booked. My dog needed a camping trip, so I took the risk.

I’m always conscious of the fact this is a feminist blog that is notionally about fitness and I so often just write about my life with tenuous connections to blog like themes but here is the link. First of all, car camping is just as exhausting as canoe tripping. I forgot that for some reason. You can bring more stuff, but then, there is more STUFF. You can bring a cooler and coolers need ice and ice is heavy and all the cooler food is heavy. The two burner Coleman and the bigger camp chairs and the shade tent and all the things. So many things. Car camping is setting up your bedroom and living room on a sand and gravel pad in a thick forest at the end of a recently bulldozed road into bush. Car camping in a private nature reserve doesn’t have handy taps with potable water. I brought my ceramic pump and we were on a lake. . .”set back from the lake” it said. Cool cool, I didn’t bother to ask what that meant. It turns out it meant up a steep hill in thick bush from the lake. And that meant to get to said lake, it was down a steep hill in thick bush to a swampy, mucky inaccessible lake front. Water is not optional so, functional fitness FTW. I spent much time precariously balanced on rocks and logs with my pump intake hose in the one place that offered slightly less swampy water. There were frequent breaks to clean the filter then back at it. Core, balance, legs, flexibility were all on display. The other technique was going down with my 20 litre portable wash bin and scooping up as much water as possible to bring it back up to pump. I did that a few times but I let my kid fuss with the pumping while I recovered. Oh, and all of this in 30 degree weather.

We did have a marvellous time. On the Saturday, we drove to another part of the park for a big hike along an accessible lake where we could all swim when we got hot. Shelby bounded around in her doggy zen way, thrilled to run and sniff and roll and stroll. In the evening, after I made a fabulous meal and we cleaned up. We had a little fire and then Shelby declared it was time for bed, grumbling half way between the tent and the picnic table, as she does, “It’s dark! Don’t you know it’s time to be inside?” When she came into the tent, malodorous as she was, she curled up at our feet and happily went to sleep, the most content dog. It was all about her after all.

As I type this, I am staying over in my mom’s house in Toronto with my dog and by the time you read this tomorrow morning, Shelby will be in surgery to remove the sarcoma from her front leg. I’m trying not to think about all the things that could go wrong with that. Instead, I’m just grateful that I could find and pay for my dog’s care, and hope that my nearly 12 year old lab has a few more camping trips left in her. Can you all hope with me and send the vibes? Shelby appreciates it.

fitness

Athletes are Humans Too (and the beautiful/terrible things that happen when they remind us)

If you would have asked me three weeks ago whether I thought my post would be about the Olympics in any way I would have laughed at you. I can’t stand the Olympics in principle. From the bankrupting of Montreal, to the painting of lawns green in Beijing, to the murdering of Sochi dogs, to the removal of impoverished communities in Rio, the Olympics to me is mostly a legacy of arrogance, colonial mindset, wasting of public money for little social gain and general decadence while the planet burns. I had planned instead to write a post about how, while I’ve had to give up on my upper body strength work this year because of a shoulder injury, my attention to yin yoga meant my flexibility was off the charts. Kim had graciously remarked “that is just as useful in the apocalypse”. There is a cute little blog in that right?

But no, I can’t write about that, because I’m transfixed by the Olympics and what is going on there with these amazing young women in multiple sports. I am not particularly transfixed by their performances, although many are admirable. What I am transfixed by is their authenticity and their outright refusal to play the game that has been set before them by the rules that usually would eat away their little souls like lye on roadkill. I am flabbergasted at what they are saying out loud about how they feel about their performances, their lives and their mental health. Suddenly, the painful reality of the sacrifice and demand of sport, along with its stunning achievement is just laid out in the sun, exposing all the wet, rotten moldy realities and it is about time.

Let’s start with the home town gal, Naomi Osaka. She is the next gen superstar on the tennis circuit. She had pulled out of Wimbledon, frankly declaring that the pressure to not just perform on the court but perform to the media had overwhelmed her. She wanted to get her head on straight for the games. She lit the Olympic Cauldron, of course she did, representing everything the organizers wanted us to think the games were about, brilliant performance, diversity, the future. She was eliminated in the third round and let people know why.”I feel like my attitude wasn’t that great because I don’t really know how to cope with that pressure so that’s the best that I could have done in this situation.” She was honest, she is struggling to cope with this ridiculous situation she is in. There was a lot of support and a lot of garbage said about her, sexist racist garbage. We will come back to this.

Then there is Simone Biles, gymnastics superstar who has achieved things that are so spectacular, the system can’t cope with or understand the value of them. She has been dominant, envelope pushing and full of life . But in the profound weirdness that is this pandemic driven games, she lost it, literally. Her spatial awareness, so key to her capacity to execute these mind blowing moves, seems to have abandoned her. Instead of risking severe injury, she knew her own mind and body well enough to pull out. But that’s not all! She did something else that stunned the world, she told the truth about it. “The mental was not there”. She talked about “the twisties“, something that high performance gymnasts all recognize but has never been identified on this kind of stage. She spoke about the work it takes to stay in a sport she loves, even though she was betrayed by the disgraced team doctor, as so many other young women were in the US gymnastics program and of course other places in sport where hungry, young elite performers meet opportunistic predators in power. There was lots of support for her choice from her team mates and the public. And then again, waves of racist, sexist garbage.

And right here, is the conundrum I have about the Olympics. When I listen to these young women speak to the media, talking about their truths, their hopes, the fun they have had, the garbage they have endured, their depression, anxiety, perfectionism and the one perfect moment where they knew they gave everything they had, I want to cry. I love them and I am so honoured to be let in on the drama that is their achievement, medal or no medal. When I hear the honesty that is getting uttered into the public sphere about the mental health of the mental game, I’m floored. I think it really means something that these women have access to the language and can speak their truth about their experience, all of it.

But then, this honestly and authenticity enters the grinder of the hyped up commercialized nationalistic, racist, sexist pile of garbage as represented by the IOC and Twitter and I need to walk away. Most of the people competing at the Olympics are kids and young adults. They arrive in this realm, the so called “world stage”, just wanting to do their best and have some fun. This Olympics, staged as it is entirely inappropriately during a health crisis, is all of the work and none of the fun. No crowds to cheer, no other people to meet, no touring of the host country, no nothing. Do your event and get out. Try not to catch or pass COVID along while you are at it. Oh, and if you find this all a bit much, what with COVID, racial injustice, insurrections, fires, floods, bombs and the erasure of democracy in any number of your home countries, well, boo hoo too bad suck it up and dance for us. Like, I hate it.

I wish the Olympics was really the thing it purports to be, a place for the world to come together in friendship, respect and fairness. People of all the nations doing their best and having fun. Sometimes, in spite of itself, that does happen and in those moments, I tear up in the car, listening to the jubilance of a skate boarder and the elation of a rowing team. The chorus of support for Biles and Osaka swells and I will lend my voice to that. They made the best choices for themselves and drew lines where lines needed to be drawn. When the world pushed them too far and things fell apart, they tried to hold on to knowing it’s not all on them. That is a world I can feel better about, at least in this little corner, plague, flood and fire notwithstanding.

A picture of the Olympic flag on fire with fire in the background, how I usually feel about the games
fitness

In Search of Rest

We all need rest. It’s a simple statement and a simple concept, isn’t it? Is it? I have been thinking a lot about rest as I have moved toward some time off from clients and supervisees. In each stage of trying to hive out this space for myself to engage in rest, I have had challenges. I’m not sure if the challenges are somehow greater than they were before or if I’m just more aware of them now that I am older, wiser and 17 months into a pandemic. I knew I wanted to explore this idea of rest for my blog post because it just feels so complex to me right now. Come with me will you?

What is rest? It’s partly biological and physical. We need to stop after we go. We need time to recover in our muscles and energy stores. It is in the rest between the movement that strength actually builds, our fibres knitting together more strongly than before or settling into a state of more length and spaciousness than they sat in previously. Rest happens when we sleep or sit or hang out in a hammock. It happens when we read a book or even watch a movie (ugh SCREENS ugh). The body gets busy with the rebuilding. It’s awesome. I have a fantasy that on vacation, I will take a day to sleep until I can sleep no more, sleep without the barest twinge of guilt for spending the day in bed, sleep and sleep and sleep and then I will feel rested. But you know what? I have realized that is not what I need. I actually get enough sleep. I have developed into a pretty good sleeper in my middle years, only occasionally woken by peri-menopausal angst, at least these days. (I know the future may hold something else.) So, physical rest is not what I’m really craving.

Rest is also psychological. You may have read about an idea called cognitive load. That is basically the amount of present processing that the brain is doing. When there is too much, things slow down, the quality of decision making drops and both cognitive and physical function are impaired. In fact, it is exactly like what just happened to my poor little laptop. Ever since I upgraded to the latest operating system, it is often in a state of too much in the moment processing and it gets hot and the fan is too loud and I need to shut it down and turn it back on. In people, cognitive load can come in the form of work roles, responsibilities and demands, family roles, responsibility and demands, but also systemic pressures and demands. Low income, poverty, racism and other discriminations all create cognitive load and it interferes with decision making and the capacity to do other needful things. This is one of the biggest arguments in my mind for Universal Basic Income. Relieving the constant pressure and worry of food and shelter will allow people to put more brain power to thriving. It is yet another excellent reason to work to make environments, programs and institutions explicitly anti-racist and anti-oppressive, so that the burden of navigating space is more evenly shared.

Cognitive load is big and real and exhausting. In my life, it is comprised of all my responsible roles: mom, therapist, teacher, school running person, dog and cat mom. Every one of them has pulled on me hard this year and when I go back to my fantasy of sleeping and sleeping, I realize that what I want is to be able to not think about any of these roles and what they pull out of me. I want to find a way to stop running all these subroutines and just let the processor sit idle. I am definitely not as good at that as just sleeping. My “vacation” is full of to do’s, curriculum review and marking. I’m going to have to work on actively forbidding myself to do things on particular days or maybe just going at a pace that doesn’t feel pushed like it does when I am not trying to rest. Wow, even that phrase, “trying to rest” reads like an oxymoron.

In these past three years, I have also come to understand deeply that rest is spiritual. The three years are utterly coincident with having extricated myself from a relationship with an alcoholic person. My spirit had been consumed with managing theirs for a really long time. This space, which feels less a space in the mind and more a space in the heart, is somewhere that I have found rest more easily, even in the midst of the pandemic. It has allowed me to access deeper different love and to be more present to the world, even as it burns. I’m accessing this spiritual rest, boringly, in my yoga practice, other physical movement and nature. It turns out that the divine really is that simple. Being attuned to a present moment and being in awe of the outer world sit in a balance. When that is happening, I’m resting, even if it’s biking up a rather unpleasant hill.

It’s evident now, as I write these last paragraphs, that my blocks to rest are highest in the psychological category. Quelle surprise! I’m also feeling very deeply that I have a good enough solution for the next two weeks of not seeing the people aka Vacation. I’m going to continue to sleep my 9 hours a night but I don’t need any more than that. I’m going to allow myself to complete some of my necessary, role dependant tasks every day but I will not consume entire days with these things. There will be lots of dog walks and hopefully a bike ride or two. There will be yoga, mostly in the Yin style. There will be some hard days too. My doggo has a no good very bad lump on her left front leg and some of these vacation days will be devoted to deciding what to do with that. There is going to be a lot of staring at trees and water. In fact, just now, I stopped writing for two minutes and stared at said water and trees. I am checking in with my body and there is the vaguest sense of unease, likely related to having to write a blog on my vacation, yet there is no regret there. This was a good exercise in figuring stuff out.

Yes, rest is simple, but it is also more than what an individual does or does not do. It’s essential to our health and we have an uneven access to it. We need resources to achieve rest in all domains. I’m super grateful for having those resources and when I am done this particular rest, I’m getting back to the work of making more space for the rest of others. For more inspiration about rest than I could ever evoke, go here: https://thenapministry.wordpress.com

This adorable sleeping black cat on a grey couch knows what rest means

fitness

Lost Year

Cate and I were sitting around yapping as we do when she said, “I remember when I was out for dinner with Ty a couple of years ago. . .” Then she stopped, mid sentence and said:

“Everything interesting is a couple of years ago.”

We sat basically in silence for about 30 seconds, which is a long time really, mid conversation.

Everything was a couple of years ago.

I was out on my bike today, for the third time in less than three weeks (yay me) and I was thinking about this idea, that everything feels like it was a couple of years ago. When I concentrate, I can recognize the year that has passed. One year ago this past weekend, we were wrapping up our final intensive, shifted online instead of residential and delayed from March. It was all out of sync, it was too much work, it was horrible. I was struggling hard with the adjustment to being an online therapist. I was hoping that it wouldn’t last past summer. I couldn’t contemplate any further than August. One year ago, I was cancelling travel and watching my kids suffer with online university.

There is a phenomenon in development where people don’t remember their childhoods either because there was so much trauma they dissociate or because it was so boring and void of stimulation there was nothing to keep track of the years. I think this past year was a little of both. There are varying combinations depending on who you are and where you are but we have all had some measure of crushing boredom coupled with trauma, acute or chronic. And so, who wants to remember any of it?

I want to be able to mark that a year has past and that things happened and that they were important. I don’t want this year to be a loss. So, I’m going to take this opportunity to mark down what happened that I think was important, inspired by or somehow pushed by this fricking pandemic. I’m focusing on physical things but also maybe some emotional/spiritual things. Why not?

  1. I learned to lift weights. They weren’t heavy but I finally learned properly in a way that I could understand and relate to my body. I can even fling a few around appropriately if I feel like it.
  2. I really sunk into my yoga practice. It started by clinging to my friend Adriene but has moved outward to something very deliberate and mindful that is extending my realm of flex and reach. I didn’t realize there was so much to accomplish by being still in a pose. It’s the best.
  3. Twenty kilometres is enough of a bike ride. This year, in these three rides I have done, I’m recognizing that I do not have any reason to ride except that I’m having a fun time and getting some exercise. In years previous, I have been training for something big but honestly? Right now, IDGAF. I’m going to ride when I can and only as far as I want to go. It’s totally fine.
  4. I claimed my space. I am one of those people who spent time, energy and money in-between hard lock downs renovating my space. It finally looks like I want it to look and feels like I want it to feel. It’s the first time in my life something has been entirely mine. I’m into it.
  5. I still don’t like running. I don’t. So I won’t.
  6. I am an expert in what I do. This one has been a process that certainly started before the pandemic but something about the intensity of having to adapt and make things work for clients and students and my colleagues who work with me has pushed me to a place that is different than before. I used to be plagued with imposter syndrome, even after 15 years of full time practice. Yet this year, something shifted. My teaching has become more solid and my confidence in my supervision and other work has just solidified. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s IDGAF. I don’t know, but I like it!!
  7. I made adults. Two years ago, both my children were still children. Now, suddenly, we are three adults, living in the house over the summer, negotiating stuff and generally having a good time. They have adapted and survived so well and are coming out of this mess with energy and hope, even as they have the usual gen Z anxiety about their actual future. This time has made me pay more attention to them, be more deliberate about my engagement. I think we are all better for that.
  8. IDGAF. . .about working to end white supremacy and patriarchy in loud ways. I’m working to get louder. I guess saying this here is part of that. My students and the work my school is doing to transform it’s curriculum, structure and student body is part of that too. I learn every day from beautiful people, especially my students.
  9. I’m no longer cool. I have accepted this. My coolness, such as it is, is an “old person” kind. Not only is this okay, it’s a relief. I can let go of the longing and the shame that I have no idea who you are talking about when you mention some actor in a thing that was in another thing. Popular culture is no longer mine. Take it, I don’t want it any more.

There may be more but that’s a good summary. Actually, quite of bit of living has happened in the last year and, as we start to accelerate into a future that is the “after-times”, I am planning to take all these lessons into my expanding world. It’s going to take some effort, some mindful remembering, but I don’t want this year to pretend to disappear. It happened, it was real and it needs to be integrated and remembered as more than just some unpleasantness. It was more than just some unpleasantness.

What is important about your “lost year”? How do you want to make sure you keep it?

“The Lost Year” by Hichter CC by 2.0
fitness

Tell Me It Will Be Okay

There are a lot of wonderful things about exercise in mid-life. We talk about them all the time on this blog. Fun with friends (my biggest motivator), overall health and longevity, quality of life, crushing the patriarchy etc. There is one thing that I do not like, Sam-I-am, and that is injury, especially a nagging, chronic, endless vexing type. The flavour of this season is bicep tendonitis. It’s been building for some time and I do believe it started with my 30 day yoga journey with my best virtual friend, Adriene. It’s not all flow but there is a lot of that sort of thing and I was really trying to increase my skill and my capacity to do more than 4 push-ups. Unfortunately, my bicep tendon was having none of it.

So, here I am, injured, in pain, prone to keep trying, then making it worse, then backing off and doing nothing and getting depressed and unmotivated and stiff and sad. It’s a cycle I endure over and over and sometimes it feels like it overshadows my gains.

I know that isn’t true.

I am doing my best to care for it, getting to the root of the problem maybe with my new chiropractor is a big part of it (my beloved osteopath is still not allowed to work in Ontario because of the way our pandemic rules are). He’s a beefy guy who likes to stick needles in me and zap them with electricity. I’m up for that sort of torture because I’m at my wits end with this baloney.

I think that I’m extra distressed this time because I feel the precious nature of my strength, balance and mobility more keenly with every passing year. When I was 40 and I injured my knee running, it didn’t feel like a big deal, I would just back off and it would heal and that would be that. But this year, perhaps because of the acute sense of fragility in the world, I’m just feeling defeated and a little scared. If I can’t do a downward dog any more, what does that mean about me? What if I can’t portage a canoe? Or wait, not even that, how will I paddle? All these things that are so precious, I know they will eventually slip away, but not yet damn it! It feels weirdly close right now, the end. It seems that bicep tendonitis has triggered a bit of an encounter with the existential givens.

Tell me it will be okay. I think everyone needs a little of that right now.

Two women in a yellow canoe with all their gear.
Me and my adventure friend Cheryl in Killarney last year. Send me good vibes for a shoulder that works and another adventure this year!
fitness

Yoga Without Yoga is not Yoga

First, context. I am not a Yoga teacher or even a regular daily practitioner. I have not done any special training or read a lot of source text. I’m just a woman, living in Canada who likes Yoga. I ascribe it no magical powers. I don’t think it will cure something that actually needs antibiotics or chemotherapy. Neither do I treat it as a way to attain some perfect form of the body. It is not an aesthetic. It’s a movement, breath and meditation practice in some combination, as far as I can tell, and I’m pretty sure most of the lovely women who have been my teachers over these last years have not taught me anything particularly “authentic” as far as Yoga is concerned. I accept this, and I still like it a lot. I like it more and more as time goes on and I take the time to deepen into what it does for my body. I like the subtle shifts and the non-obtrusive miracles of movement that I only notice year over year.

In order to write this post, I did do some research around the origins of the meaning and practice of Yoga. It’s hard to know what to trust without approaching it in a more scholarly way. I know it has to do with a Union of parts of our being and that this is attained through different practices, postures, breathing, meditation and other kinds of disciplined behaviour. I arrived first in the postures, stayed for the breath and then eventually started to explore more than that. It’s an ongoing process in my life that depends on where I am and who is teaching me.

Like many of my fellow bloggers, Adriene is a favourite teacher. She is simultaneously, kind, inviting, irreverent and full of spirit. She takes it easy and then blasts you with challenge. She sneaks in breath work and meditation in ways that suddenly open an awareness, just when you least expect. I really discovered the benefits of her ways after a brutal break up, when I realized all her blabbing about love was so necessary for me in that moment. I wanted her to keep me company while I contemplated my existence and breathed into a Warrior series. I know that in the pandemic, many have found solace in her quirky short practices.

I have also tried to be community minded and signed up for a local studio’s live stream offerings. I have really enjoyed these. I like that they are a full hour, which allows for a fuller practice in many ways. I discovered that I am really digging something they call Yin practice. I have no clue if that is a real Yoga thing but it involves holding a pose for 3-5 minutes and really exploring what it is and what my body does with it. It’s an intensity with subtlety that totally appeals to my interests and I am very sure it has stabilized my mood in some tough times. It’s the closest I have come to grasping a Unity of mind and body as my mind is forced to focus on where my body is in space. It feels like I can finally anchor my brain in my head. I even don’t mind that one of the teachers talks a lot about chakra channels and then mixes in some Chinese medicine stuff for good measure. She is Eastern European originally so it’s quite the mashup. I’m just breathing and embodied and trying not to fuss myself about the mixed metaphors of her headlong flight from Cartesian splits. I get it. I don’t want to be bifurcated any more either. I just want to be one damn thing. It’s less to keep track of.

But to my point here. . .today I signed up for a Hatha class. It’s supposed to be just poses in a series. It’s not meant to be too hard but also it isn’t the slow pace of the Yin. I had never worked with this instructor before. In all my other explorations of Yoga, there has been some kind of guidance if the class is led by a person. They speak the physical cues and the breathing cues. They pause and yammer a little, sometimes too much, but they are in charge of the rhythm of the thing, like a conductor with an orchestra. “Take a breath in *while you do this movement* breathe out *while you do this one* pause here for 3 breaths, hold for one more then *do this other thing*” This person did none of that. She called out a pose, then another, then another. She gave a few positioning cues but no breath cues at all. She spent to time preparing us, she spent no time with intentions or invitations or mindful cues. She just kept calling out poses “Next we do *this pose* now move into *that pose*”.

It slowly dawned on me that this was a horrible experience.

I have practiced without leadership before and it’s lovely but this wasn’t me practicing alone, following the flow of my energy and breath. This was just poses, stripped of breath and mind, empty of all meaning, merely movement. It was not any Yoga that I want to do. I left the session, found a short Adriene video and finished my practice with my online friend, relieved to hear her cuing and coaching me to pay attention, creating a rhythm, conducting something that was clearly more than asanas strung together one after another.

I know that we have appropriated Yoga and there are corners of the Yoga industry that make me feel gross, particularly the ones that focus on the “look” of Yoga. Yet this experience taught me that fully stripping it of its breath, meditative and spiritual aspects is a worse affront. It felt dead, dangerously adrift from its moorings. We owe it more than that.

A woman sitting in half lotus on a tree stump looking yogic. Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash
fitness

Getting Real in a Perilous Time (#reblog, #bloglove)

Sitting here just over 2 years later, this is still my saddest and most favourite post ever. Status update, I’m So. Much. Happier even in a pandemic. The heart realized it didn’t need that baloney any more and I’m still moving, still doing all the yoga, stronger than ever. I have lots of love that I breathe in and out every day. Thanks to this fam and all the fam, and you, fellow blogger Cate, for being an anchor in this weird world.

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

I cut my hair. Well, I didn’t do it, a professional did. I asked for an “asymmetrical pixie” with a side and back undercut. She refused to do the side as a full shave so, stages, you know, getting used to things. This new identity, this alone version of me. Just try it out and see how it fits. I’m trying.

Almost every afternoon I go down in my basement and plug my phone into the TV. I play a yoga video and my body follows along. “Take a breath in. . .exhale. . .again. . .” I move and listen to what my body tells me. I try hard to hear and then I also shush it. No, you can’t cry yet, not now, no time. Breathe in, breathe out, let it go.

I walk the dog every day. One foot, the other foot, the dog just dogs and…

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fitness

Update Regarding My Inner 13 Year Old

Last January, I wrote this post about the unexpected and really interesting experience I had while doing 30 days in a row (more or less) of yoga with my buddy Adriene, the Texan internet phenom yoga instructor that is almost as ubiquitous in my circles as the Bernie Mitten Meme. There has been a LOT go on since that post, both in my personal life and, obvs, the world. There is, however, a consistent thread that has woven its way through it all and I think that this thread began, or at least emerged out of the background in that post. I remember really vividly typing away in a coffee shop (remember that?) while waiting to see my best friend (Jennnnnnnnn, I misssssss youuuuuuu) for a coffee and a snack before heading off to in person teaching (remember THAT?) of my therapy students.

As I recall, we were reading excerpts from Janina Fisher, “Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors”. Without getting super technical, there is an idea that parts of us get hived off in our experience, assigned the job to hold feelings, self-concepts and impacts of trauma, and to keep it out of our every day awareness. It’s excellent as a temporary strategy but you can imagine, has its flaws. When we hive off parts, we lose access to not just the awful things, but the good things and our sense of narrative about our lives. Also those parts can feel isolated and sad and when that breaks through to our awareness, we use other means to push them away and that cycle just keeps on rolling along or maybe accelerating out of control until we are overwhelmed and unable to cope with all the screaming in our heads from all these disavowed places. This is something that everyone can relate to in varying degrees of severity.

So that book was on my mind somewhere as I was exploring what was coming up for me as I worked my way through 30 days of yoga practice and in that writing, I stumbled upon my awkward 13 year old self, looking at the window’s reflection as she walked by, hating herself for her clumsiness and general inability to handle social interaction. She was so present for me that when I wrote that post, I started to cry. . .or she did. . .I wasn’t sure but I took that to therapy.

Since that day, I have been attending in various ways to the 13 year old part of me. She has written some poetry, had some big hissy fits, cried a lot, gone to work with me, told me her secrets and also finally found a good gym teacher in Alex the trainer. She’s just been. . .around, making herself known with all her fears and need for acceptance and I have been paying attention in various ways that involve welcoming her as opposed to scrunching up every muscle in my body and willing her and her shame elsewhere “Just get out of my sight!” “I HATE you!” Strong language that. It’s so real.

I was super excited to start 30 days of Yoga with my friend Adriene again on January 1. I didn’t know what it would hold but I was excited to see if there was something different this year than last. I wasn’t clocking at all that I would want to deliberately notice the 13 year old in the practice. Silly me, she didn’t give me a choice in that matter and she showed up in the first week. I noticed it first as I moved gracefully from one pose to the next:

“Inhale, stretch up tall, exhale, float all the way down, forward fold, inhale, half way lift, exhale forward fold, place one hand, then the other, one foot back and then the other, inhale, plank, exhale, slowly lower down, inhale, cobra, exhale, downward facing dog.”

I was just floating along, confident, aware, engaged. It was magical.

“Is that you”, I asked her?

“Yup”, She said.

“Good job you”, I said.

“Thanks”, she said.

And that was that, we continued to practice and there was peace in my head. So, what happened there? Certainly, I am better at the yoga this year than I was last year. I’m stronger and more balanced because of the strength training I am doing in addition to the yoga. Yet, I think it’s bigger than that. Beyond strength and balance is integration and this integration is both physical and also psychic. The inner 13 year old feels palpably better than she did this time last year. She knows we learned how to make friends and she knows we learned how to find all sorts of love. She sees the success and meaningfulness that has accrued in our life and she feels entitled to it too, instead of holding all the feeling about the time we were not entitled to those things, or, at least, couldn’t find the feeling of that. She still gets roused and activated when I have a failure or a frustration or a fear of those things. But that communication between the rest of me and that state is so much more available now.

Did yoga heal me? Well, yes, in concert with a whole bunch of other things working together. Yoga certainly showed me something important, something that needed tending. When Adriene invites me now to curl over my bent knees and “hang out here for a minute in your own private love cave”, I hang out with me and sit in some love. I feel so grateful I can even though I’m not 100 percent sure exactly how I got here. Part of it is yoga and the rest is seeking a fuller self care and respect. I’m always sitting with my clients and encouraging them, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, to tend to themselves. When they eat, when they move, when they work. . .don’t forget to tend to yourself, even as you are attending to another. It’s more important now than ever.

Lotsa love y’all.

From Here. An adorable downward doggo with an ocean in the back ground. I tried to catch Shelby in one but she wasn’t having it.
fitness

Slow it Down

In these Pandemic Times, I have read about and listened to (because radio is my preferred medium) a lot of pieces about the molasses nature of time during all the variations of restriction we have had over these last 9 months. When every day is the same, we do tend to lose track of days and then, when looking back on time, they both extend and collapse all at once, both no time and forever time. In the beginning of it all, when it felt “different” it seemed for some to open a possibility of novel focus. Some people used it as an opportunity to learn new skills, refocus, work out more. When I look at the numbers in my 220 work outs in 2020 (the Fit Feminist Edition) group, most people who post regulatory, blew past 220 months ago. I am almost at that goal, and considering that last year, I only made it to 190 and also that I was depressed for most of April and didn’t do too much, I am on a hot streak of deliberate movement not seen in my 52 years thus far.

And yet, here I am, on a “vacation” from the every day, and I realize that I have not at all felt molasses time. In fact, I have been moving so fast, pushing so hard and clenched so tight, that I had lost my capacity to notice my body. I need to put on the breaks.

I wonder if anyone else can relate to this? My job has a sense of responsibility that is very weighty. In my basket of care, I have about 40 clients, 40 students of psychotherapy and some attendant administration for those students that can be crushing. Then I also have a family and a partner and pets. I have been doing my best to move through all of this gracefully, to let go of the things that are not vital, to care for myself at the same time and for the most part, I’m rocking it. Yet in these first 4 days of not working (as much) I have tripped over a reality that I was still hiding/ignoring, which is the 220 kmh feeling of swirl that sits in my guts. It’s the one that, when it starts to get out of control, lights my hair on fire (“How are you doing today?” “Hair on fire, you know, the usual.”) This is the place that I “clench” and keep going. It looks like grace sometimes, but if I’m real, it’s just enduring.

This kind of enduring, numbing, clenching is what happens when we acclimatize to our circumstance and the circumstance is an inflexible trap of obligation and survival. It makes me think about how this feeling is only a shadow of what so many more people feel all the time, in more parts of their bodies. I’m thinking about the essential workers, who are once again left alone in the face of the disease, not just because we need them but because this is how they survive. I’m thinking about living while Black, Indigenous and Brown in a world that makes you work even harder everywhere to get what you need. When I drop into this place of knowing, I feel shame, they have it worse, I should be grateful, but you know, this is also a trap. It doesn’t slow anything down at all for me to shamefully, gratefully cling to my privilege and watch the world spiral.

I’ve been back on the yoga mat these last number of days as one way I know I can slow down. I’m not looking to build up anything in these practices, neither strength, nor flexibility. I just need to slow down and unclench, or at least observe if that’s possible. I also need to be with the fact that too many people can’t do this, or if they can take 20 mins to pause, that is not enough to slow down the world so they can receive the care, relationship, reparation, restitution, belonging or love that they deserve as humans. On my mat, as I benefit from a borrowed wisdom, I’m not just going to slow myself down so my life can be more tolerable. I need to slow myself down, to rework and reconstitute what I am responsible for. Yes, all those clients and students and family. Yet in that work there has to be room to effect something else. I’m having some ideas that are close to home, in my teaching role specifically and that is what has been bubbling up into consciousness as I put on my breaks and come screeching into this latest pause.

I have said nothing about the fact that this post is on Christmas Day. Being a typical feminist pagan/Jew, my holidays of light are done for the year and Christmas usually feels like waiting to me, previously punctuated by Chinese food and a movie but not this year, not in the fun way. This year is just waiting. I’m waiting for the light, waiting for the vaccine, waiting to move into some more gracious, spacious place where there is room for everyone, EVERYONE, to slow down and rest a while, before we get back to righting the world.

A very spooky Black and White picture of an Hour Glass. All we have is time.