Some Things That Make Me Happy

There are so many emotions to be had during a pandemic. I don’t have a way of quantifying it, in comparison to other people, but my hunch is that I am a person who absorbs more emotions floating around me, than the average. I am good at keeping things in perspective. I count the things I am grateful for. But even when I am aware of all of the things that I am fortunate to have, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the emotional overload. Particularly in a time of great uncertainty.

One thing that is causing me stress these days, is all the rules about exercise (outside). I have been going for short jogs outside, typically early in the morning. It is fairly easy to stay 6 feet away from people, and as a rule-follower, I am very careful to ensure that I am staying far away, even if it means I have to go into the road or on the grass and wait until a less mindful person passes. Even though I know I am acting within the rules, I am stressed that someone is going to tell me I can’t continue doing what I am doing. It’s insignificant to other stresses people might be experiencing (say, by health care workers, grocery clerks, people with Covid-19 symptoms, or those living alone, who don’t have good support), but it’s the type of thing that causes me stress. Those jogs, once or twice a week, significantly improve my mental health. I like to keep my mental health in good order!

Also, when I do go outside, things are strange. It is quieter than usual. People are keeping 6 feet apart, for the most part, but also diverting their eyes. I think people are afraid that if they look at each other, they will be drawn closer physically. We Torontonians are not used to feeling uncertain about our freedom to move about. It’s a weird feeling, knowing that this freedom of movement is restricted, even if it’s for our own benefit. I mentioned on my personal Facebook page, the other day, that I feel as though I am in an episode of Black Mirror. I’m walking or running on eerily quiet streets. Neighbours are blank eyed. A team of enforcement officers suddenly come out of the bushes and apprehend me for walking about in the daylight. How will this episode end..

With all those emotions and sense of weirdness, I count on things that make me happy. Balance things out. Currently those things are, in no particular order:

  1. Movement. Whether it’s a jog, a virtual Zoom workout or Facebook Live Yoga, movement clears up the clog of emotions that feel stagnant in my body.
  2. My husband. Gavin and I have been together over 5 years. Married since June. I am lucky to have him as the one person I’m allowed to be within 6 feet of. He enjoys my cooking, my jokes, my handholds, and he tolerates my occasional grumpiness. He is funny, uplifting, when he’s not tired :), hard working and smart.
  3. Dog cuddles. My dogs are the cutest of course. Miggy gives the best cuddles. Barley likes to lick my face. Everyone else thinks it’s gross that I let him lick my face. Oh well, I love it. They are little, reactive, shits on their walks outside, but at least they give us a reason to be allowed to walk outside!
  4. Food. I’ve always loved food, making it, thinking about what I will eat next, being satisfied with what I’ve made, trying out something new, enjoying the predictability of something I’ve made a thousand times before.
  5. Coffee. Yes, it’s a food. But it deserves its own category. It’s the first thing I want when I wake up. I am drinking way more coffee at home than I did when I was working outside the home. And I enjoy every cup. My jam are freshly ground, good coffee from local roasters. I’m not a snob about it, it’s just what I like. Coffee is like a little escape in a cup if I savour it properly.
  6. Zoom calls with friends and family. Technology that allows me to connect with the people I love, makes me happy.
  7. Coffee check-ins with my work team. We had our first call the other day, where I was live on camera. I didn’t expect to be live on camera at first, but then it made me laugh and lightened my mood. It’s nice to chat with my boss and colleague, in a lighthearted way, and see them on camera.
A picture of spelt bagels, Nicole made recently.

What makes you happy these days, dear readers?

Nicole Plotkin is trying to focus on happy things today. Also, she wishes there were more testing of EVERYONE for Covid-19 antibodies.


Community and the Gradual Change of Normal

Two weeks ago, I was still going to my small, local, gym. It still seemed safe enough to go there, wash my hands more than usual before and after class. See my regular gym buddies. Refrain from the usual high fives. Have my spirits lifted from endorphins and community.

I had my book club over that Tuesday. Social distancing wasn’t yet mandated. We enjoyed our usual monthly camaraderie, talked about There There by Tommy Orange, shared Covid-19 concerns, ate three sister chili and fry bread, had a little wine, laughed as a group, in person.

About a week and a half ago, my employer said we should all work from home until the end of March. I knew then that I had probably attended my last GetStrong class at Movefitness Club for awhile.

A week ago, Gavin and I, hesitantly decided it was OK to walk to our plans with friends for dinner, and others for lunch. We knew that wasn’t going to happen for awhile again. I was happy for the time outside, on foot, and seeing good friends who joked about bowing and kicking each other’s ankles, instead of hugging hello.

That Sunday night, I started receiving messages from local, independently owned, gyms and restaurants, announcing that with a heavy heart, their businesses were closing indefinitely. My heart sank a bit and I let out a few tears.

During the last week, I went for a jog outside on eerily quiet, “rush hour” streets and figured out how to follow along with a couple virtual workouts from Movefitness Club. My heart was lifted.

A picture of Nicole’s virtual workout – an “EMOM” provided by Movefitness Club. The photo lists the EMOM workout and a message from the gym “Our first GETSTRONG at Home IGTV video is up! Here is teh workout we set you up with! PLEASE Tag us when yo udo this video so we know you’ve done it!!!”

I saw my workplace handling things extremely well, proving they truly embody their values of “People First”. I’ve seen the senior people of the company, along with everyone else, post on our internal company boards, pictures of their home working spaces with kids and pets in sight. Nurturing a sense of work community. Nurturing my psyche.

My book club exchanged emails, sharing, in addition to our existing roster of books for the year, “escapist” book suggestions for this extraordinary time. We started talking about how our next book club should be by Zoom. It’s something to look forward to on the second Tuesday in April. My wine glass, head and heart are ready.

On Wednesday, Gavin and I officially cancelled our much anticipated honeymoon to Spain and Portugal, scheduled for May. Each perfectly situated hotel, an unusual indulgence for us, was cancelled one by one, while the hotels still had money…By that point, I had already grieved this loss and knew it was not important given everything else. I thought I felt OK. I hope Spain, which has been so badly hit by Covid-19, recovers well from the current situation and we are able to visit it one day.

I woke up on Thursday feeling inexplicably sad. A bit of melancholy. I expressed this on my Facebook page and appreciated some much needed virtual hugs and hope others felt the virtual hugs I was giving back.

On Friday I went to a local grocery store to get a few things. Thanked the smiling gentleman on cash for being there. I insisted on packing my own bags and using tap payment to minimize contact. I also arranged for a produce delivery in the coming weeks, because I realized I need to minimize even these types of visits.

I recognize I am fortunate. My husband and I are very lucky that we have each other to be with during this time of social distancing. We are lucky we are both able to work from home. We are lucky that we are healthy and our family and friend are all currently healthy. I am grateful for all of these things.

But I feel for all of the people who are out of work, or heading to work (healthcare workers, grocery store clerks), or worrying about their loved ones with coughs and trouble breathing.

On Friday night I started having a sore throat that continued into Saturday and ebbed and flowed with a bit of body aches and a headache and I was grateful that I have been staying home for the most part and I never had a fever and the symptoms passed quickly.

On Sunday I was grateful for yoga, 108 Sun Salutations to welcome the Spring Equinox, offered by one of my favourite yoga teachers, Lisa V., via Facebook Live.

A picture of Nicole mid-Sun Salutation, while doing 108 Sun Salutations on Sunday. Her two dogs are sitting on the couch behind her, watching. The picture has the words “Thank you for the 108 Sun Salutations for the Spring Equinox @lisayyz. I think the dogs enjoyed it too!”

On Sunday evening, my family had our first Zoom gathering. My parents, my sister and brother-in-law, nieces and nephews. Some of us figured out technical challenges. Once we were all online together, we chatted for over an hour. Most of us are in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), one is in San Francisco. How strange that those of us in the GTA, are not able to gather in person. But this is the way it is now. We talked about how Passover will not happen this year. Maybe it will merge into Rosh Hashanah (in September)? We talked about how long this might last. Some guessed a couple months, several months, some think it will be over a year, until there is a vaccine. I was grateful for the Zoom gathering. We all agreed it was fun and we will do it again next week. But I was also left with a bit of sadness. How are we going to go months (and months?) without seeing each other in person? What will happen to all of our psyches if that is how it plays out? I know we are adjusting and will adjust, but there is just a sense of sadness about this that I can’t shake.

Screenshot of Nicole’s family on a Zoom “get together”.

It’s fair to say that the sadness I am referring to can be described as grief. This type of grief is well described in this article from the Scott Berinato in the Harvard Business Review (as well as coping mechanisms): Berinato turns to information from David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief (his credentials are described in the article), who says that it is important to acknowledge the grief you may be feeling, how to manage it and how he believes we will find meaning in it. First, it’s important to understand the stages of grief (which aren’t linear):
“There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s angerYou’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargainingOkay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s AcceptanceThis is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.”

Kessler adds “I’ve been honored the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ family has given me permission to add a sixth stage to grief: Meaning. I had talked to Elisabeth quite a bit about what came after acceptance. I did not want to stop at acceptance when I experienced some personal grief. I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we find light in those times.” He refers to appreciating technology, walks, having long conversations.

Kessler says if someone is still feeling overwhelmed with grief “Keep trying. There is something powerful about naming this as grief. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night.” When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through…..Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we’re not victims.”

So for me, in the meantime, I will continue to try to maintain a routine. Virtual workouts, some jogs outside (hopefully), socially distanced dog walks, productive work days (with my co-workers aka dogs, at my side), Zoom get togethers with friends and family, date nights with my husband.

When we are out the other side of this pandemic, I know my sense of community may be a little different, and I will be ever the more grateful for every in-person connection – every high five at the gym, every hug from my parents, every walk for coffee with neighbours, every workplace debate between cubicles about whether a movie was deserving of that Oscar, and energetic discussions with my book club gathered around someone’s living room.

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk, working at home with her husband and two dogs and getting used to doing at home workouts.

Are You Irritated?

Most Saturdays I do a HIIT-style conditioning class at MOVE fitness club, an all-women’s gym, where I start out in a low energy state, and end sweaty and filled with endorphins, and in a positive mood, and then walk back along Queen Street with my gym buddy, Lesli. On this Saturday, our conversation veered towards a common topic – perimenopause, supplements, local talks about the issue, what we do, what we are not interested in doing, etc., and we both agreed we are often talking ourselves out of being irritated. Meaning, we both acknowledge that we often feel slightly irritated and are managing it.

How common is this? Are you irritated? I don’t think it’s only a perimenopause thing for me. I think I’ve always been predisposed to easy irritation. Mind you, I’m also predisposed to easy laughter and noticing small joys and framing my life through a lens of gratitude.

But this is about being irritated. Many things bother me and I’m often telling myself not to be irritated (or just acknowledging the irritation and letting it flow).

Some things that cause irritation:

  • slow walkers
  • fast walkers
  • people who do not veer to the right and yield when walking on busy sidewalk (especially if they are walking in groups)
  • drivers who are trying to hit me when I’m walking or who fly by open streetcar doors or crosswalks
  • individuals who do not sneeze or cough into their elbow or a tissue
  • expressions about diet and exercise that are out of date and ignorant of the benefits of good nutrition and fitness that have nothing to do with weight management
  • people who do not say thank you when you hold a door open for them
  • people who do not follow a sense of order – at the gym for example, when there are stations to do certain things – please stay in your station
  • dog owners who let their dogs walk off leash in busy urban areas (which heightens my stress about my reactive dogs)
  • sidewalk cyclists (over the age of 16)
  • loudly expressed biases and expressions of disinterest in caring about inclusion
  • non-epidemiologists who are suddenly experts on epidemiology
  • hypocrites

Myself. I irritate myself often too. I’m being/have been too lazy, unfocused. I care too much about what others think, assumptions they are making that aren’t true.

There are many more things that irritate me. I realized some time ago that I like people, in general, as a whole, and there are certain individuals who do not irritate me, who delight me, but there are others, usually acquaintances or strangers, around whom, I need to create physical or mental distance.

Lots of things help me deal with irritation: exercise, maturity, self-talk, laughter, sex, books, movies, great conversation, etc.

How about you, are you easily irritated? How do you manage it?

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who loves to run and lift weights and enjoy life with her husband and two dogs. Wash your hands.

Is Age-Appropriate Dressing still a thing? I Hope Not.

One of the articles in my feed, recently, was titled “Age-Appropriate Dressing: How French First Lady Brigitte Macron, 66, Breaks the Rules. I won’t link to the article (in Zoomer Magazine), because it’s full of tired clichés. It compares the style of First Lady Brigitte Macron, 66, to Queen Mathilde, 46. It talks about the way First Lady Macron manages to look stylish and younger (imagine that with all of the resources at her disposal!) by “breaking the age-related dressing rules” compared to Queen Mathilde who must adhere to more rules expected of her station. My main thought was, “Is age-appropriate dressing still a thing?” I hope not.

I have heard all about the rules growing up:

  • women shouldn’t wear a mini skirt over the age of 35(at 47, 35 sounds so young for any such thought!)
  • for goodness sake, cut your hair short after 40
  • don’t be too trendy
  • don’t get a tattoo that you will regret when you get older (I am fairly certain that if I regret anything when I am older, it will have nothing to do with my tattoos!)

However, in 2020, aren’t we past such restrictive thoughts and opinions? What do these rules say anyway? Don’t embarrass yourself, don’t wear things that don’t “flatter” you, don’t wear something that shows too much, or too little skin, wear what society tells you is appropriate for your size. All to which I say, everyone should just mind their own business.

I admit, decades ago, I watched the likes of Stacey London tell women (men too, but mostly women from what I remember) “What Not to Wear”. Part of her schtick was “tough love” and “she wanted them to bring out their best selves.” A lot of her rules had to do with age. She even had a thing about the appropriate amount of metallic for your age.

I have known many women who have flouted these types of rules. Perhaps, that’s why I tend not to take them too seriously. But I wish I wasn’t the only one. I have nothing against a person feeling better about themselves. Feeling comfortable in their clothes, as though they are portraying the image they wish to portray. But it shouldn’t be based on your age, anymore than it should be about your size, gender or any other outwardly imposed factor.

Other than the realities of our mortality, can we all agree that age is just a number? How someone feels at any given age, is personal. How they wish to express that age, is personal. Similarly a body is perfect at any size for any fashion that feels right for the wearer.

I still hear people, sometimes friends, critique others for what they are wearing. “What was she thinking”, wearing something that short, low-cut, baggy, unflattering, etc. I find myself taken aback that they are concerned with what others choose to wear. Why would anyone care what someone else is wearing? Does it come from a place of the critic’s own insecurities, rather than a real concern for the choices of others?

I prefer to support people expressing themselves however they wish. How someone adorns their body doesn’t impress or offend me. What comes out of their mouth, their thoughts and feelings on life, how they treat people, that is where I prefer to direct my internal critic.

This topic, of course, got me thinking about “age-appropriate” dressing for working out.

Should there be rules when it comes to gym clothes? Running clothes? Again, no. I love working out at a gym where women of all ages workout. I love that women at this gym feel free to wear whatever makes them feel good, while exercising. Some wear baggy t-shirts or layers of sweatshirts (I sweat, just looking at them). Some wear a sports bra and shorts. Some women workout in a hijab. And what they wear is not related to their age.

There are practical considerations about what to wear while exercising. What will wick sweat away from my body, so I don’t get a rash, how hot am I going to get, and therefore, how many layers can I remove if necessary. I admit, I don’t feel totally comfortable working out in a sports bra, but that’s on me and my own insecurities. I usually have a tank top and leggings on (or tank top and shorts if running outside in summer).  But what anyone else thinks of my outfit at the gym or anywhere else, should be irrelevant. I would suggest that if anyone works out at a gym that has silly rules (such as women cannot workout in their sports bra, if they choose – and in peace), then they should find another gym.

I am inspired by people being themselves. And that includes how they choose to dress. In their teens, in their 80s, and every age in between. How do you feel readers? Do you think age-appropriate dressing should still be a thing?

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who loves to run, lift weights, snuggle with her husband and two dogs, and wears what she wants. She wants you to wear what you want too.


The Thrill of Getting in a Lot

On Monday, my Health App on my iPhone read 23,143 steps by the end of the day, or 15.5 km. I was pleased.

It was a statutory holiday where I live. Which provided the opportunity for my day to start off with a light 5km jog on my usual route. It was a bit chilly at 9 am, about -4 degrees Celsius. But it was sunny and the sidewalks were dry. Dressed properly, this is ideal February jogging weather in Toronto.

I had plans to go for lunch and to an escape room with friends that day. I asked my husband if he felt like walking there and he said sure, so we did (50 min walk). I assumed we would take public transportation back, but high on our successful escape, walked back as well. It was so inviting on such a beautiful day.

It is not unusual for me to walk somewhere I am going, given the right weather and shoes. I walk to work about three-quarters of the time. If I need to go somewhere within an hour’s walk, and I have the time, I go for it. My love for urban walking, prompted me to sell my car a few years ago. The 14-year old car showed only 60,000 kms on the odometer and I was using it much less after moving to a more downtown address.

It’s not only walking that I enjoy racking up the distance with. When I went to spinning classes on a regular basis, I loved going to the special 3-hour spins that they organized.

Long walks, long runs, long spins, and long baking and pasta-making sessions(!), provide me with the type of active meditation that my mind craves. Continuous movement, focussing on one foot after the other, or forming one cookie after the other, allows all of my brain’s open tabs to flow freely, without too much analysis on my part.

Walking can have its nuisances in a city. I’ve mentioned before, my annoyance with golf umbrella holders, absent-minded wanderers who don’t yield for people coming in the opposite direction, reckless drivers who treat pedestrians like an obstruction that they wouldn’t mind hitting, just to get them out of the way.

But the alternatives to walking are not much better in a busy city anyway. A public transit system that has outgrown its capacity decades ago, coupled with politically-driven decisions about it’s improvement, means vehicles are often stuffed beyond capacity. These circumstances can bring out the worst in humanity. And driving within the city, during rush hour, or any other busy time of the day, is ill-advised from any rational angle, unless absolutely necessary. At least with walking, the movement of your feet, promotes the good feelings that come with activity. The endorphins. The creative sparks. The appreciation for a body that allows you to walk.

The joys of walking outweigh any minor nuisances for me. Within a few steps of the office, the corporate world is left behind. Some steps provide a distraction from familial concerns and existential thoughts. And also, a sense of balance about what wellness means to me and gratitude for the luxury of time for those thoughts. And the longer the journey, the better, IMHO.

Here’s to the joy and gratitude of getting in a lot of it. Do you like to walk (or do another activity for long periods of time)?

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who works out regularly, enjoys food in all forms, enjoys time with her husband, family, friends and two dogs.

If Fit Feminists Made Candy Hearts

Happy Valentines Day from your Fit Feminists!

Picture with candy heart background in pastel colours. The title says “If FIT FEMINISTS made candy hearts”. Underneath are boxes of text that read: “Be Kind (To Yourself)”, “Do What You Can”, “Strong As F*ck”, “I Like My Pipes”, “I Can (Run, Cycle, Ski, Box…), “I Showed Up”.

Readers, what would your candy hearts say?


On Snacking…

CW: talks about a history of disordered eating, calorie restriction, and food tracking.

On Sunday nights, my husband and I tend to get a little “peckish”. This means, we both feel like snacking a little on a treat. Mindless snacking. Wine gums for him. Sour kids for me. Or the other night, a few digestive cookies each, with almond milk. This was after leftover Vietnamese food for dinner and healthy lunches of salad and sushi.

A white squirrel voraciously snacking in bed.

Part of me feels like a kid getting away with something when we snack. Another part of me feels guilty. Yet another part of me is trying to train my brain not to feel guilty about these treats. It has not been settled yet, which part of me wins this battle.

Even if I accept that diet culture is bad for me, bad for people, in general, it’s not easy to retrain a lifetime of diet culture habits.

I hear people talking about intuitive eating. While this sounds nice, I don’t think my brain, with a history of disordered eating, can be trusted to intuit what is best for me to eat all the time. Is my intuition right that I am hungry? Or is it craving comfort from nerves, anxiety, sadness? Is it seeking celebratory eating after a success of some sort?

Yet, I decided some time ago, that restrictive dieting does not work for me. As soon as I need to start writing everything I eat down, either on a piece of paper, or in my head, I become a perfectionist for a short while. And then a hedonist after a spell of perfectionism.

I spend a good deal of my time explaining to people why they shouldn’t be too hard on themselves if they indulge a little, here and there. Why they shouldn’t label foods good and bad. Why it is not about health, if they are chastising themselves for an indulgence with food. It’s just food, for goodness sake!

Yet, there is still a running script in my head about what I should eat and shouldn’t eat. 35+ years of training, doesn’t go away easily. Also, it’s not easy to balance not thinking about it too much, and not thinking about it at all. I still care that I am getting good nutrients in my body. I still care that I am giving my workouts a chance to have an optimal effect on my body.

I often wonder what I might have been better at growing up, if I hadn’t devoted so much of my mental energy to what I should and shouldn’t eat. I wonder what it might have been like for my mother if she didn’t feel like she always had to diet. I wonder what it would have been like if I didn’t have the type of personality to internalize the external messages that thin was ideal and if you are not naturally thin, you better make it part of your life’s work to be “as thin as possible” for your body type. Perhaps, my brain was hungry and/or tired from thinking about food and my undesirable form, when it couldn’t concentrate well enough to focus on school, when it mattered the most?

I have long felt that if I exercise regularly (which I do) and I eat mostly nutritious foods, then whatever resulting body type manifests itself, is fine. I try to practice gratitude for a body that is able in many ways that some bodies are not.

And yet, as I get closer and closer to 50 (still over a couple years), and notice small changes, the softening of edges that were never overly sharp, I wonder how I can make my whole being really BELIEVE that whatever that form is, is good. Desirable, even.

In the meantime, I will continue doing what I do. Move my body. Enjoy my food, for comfort, necessity and celebration. Who the fuck cares the reason. Just enjoy. And try to direct my mental energy to more important endeavours – relationships, intellectual growth, helping others, gratitude, the list goes on.

Part of the joy in life is enjoying the simple pleasures. It is simply pleasurable to be sitting in my comfy bed on a Sunday night, next to my loving husband, and mindlessly relieving digestive cookies from their package and dunking them, and savouring them, while streaming a show on the TV. It’s a great way to free your mind from everyday stresses. I will always endorse choosing joy.

Words in black lettering “Choose Joy” on white background.
Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who works out regularly, enjoys food in all forms, enjoys time with her husband, family, friends and two dogs.