Trust Me, I’m Trying Hard Enough

Prozac--Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

I recently read a blog post that I liked about weight struggles, Oprah, and self-acceptance, and she said stuff like this:

…every day that jackass science comes up with another possible reason for the so-called “epidemic” America, and almost every other country, is facing. It’s because of portion sizes. It’s because of processed foods. It’s because of genetically modified wheat. It’s because of our microbiomes. It’s because of stress and cortisol. It’s because of a virus. It’s because of insulin resistance. It’s because we no longer use scythes to harvest rye. … Maybe someday they will figure out the reason for it, but I do know the reason isn’t not trying hard enough.

So I shared this article on Facebook and added this comment:

Since I’ve been on the antianxiety meds, I’ve put on a few pounds that don’t seem to want to leave, even when I’m “super-vigilant.” So fuck it, it’s better than panic attacks. And maybe, at 46, a 21-year-old body is just not practical. Not what’s needed. Maybe, it’s age appropriate. Like these silver hairs I’m spotting.

Normally, I might get a few likes, and that’s that. But since I brought up the antianxiety medication, I got a very interesting response from a few of my friends—and I love you, I really do. With one exception, my friends expressed concern and hopes that I was going to be okay. Why? I had brought mental illness into play. Now, I have blogged about my journey with anxiety here and here, but not everyone reads what I write, and that’s okay. But I didn’t think I was dropping a bomb. I was just talking about the truth of my life like I always do.

On the one hand, I appreciate the concern. Aww, thanks guys! I love you back. On the other hand, I was more than a little surprised. Some friends pointed out that there are natural alternatives that I should try. But I had tried them. I do exercise—quite a lot! I do eat well. I do things that I love, like gardening, painting, writing, and Taekwondo. It seemed, from some of my friends’ points of view, that I was depressed and alternating eating bon bons and pharmaceuticals on the couch all day. Okay, that’s over the top, but it kind of felt that way. (And I STILL LOVE YOU for worrying about me.)

I’m Not Falling Apart

My friends know that I prefer natural alternatives, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. I acknowledge that Big Pharma sometimes embodies Darth Vader, but you know, it has its Luke Skywalker side, too. Sometimes I need antibiotics. Without them, I know I’d be dead. I also need a thyroid medication. Without it, my children would not be here. (Thyroid storms can cause you to lose pregnancies.) Sometimes I have to take a fucking pill. And it doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped trying. On the contrary, it means I’m getting better.

It’s kind of unfortunate that my mental health issue—anxiety and panic attacks—found relief in a pill that causes a difficult side-effect for women:  weight gain. It’s not a lot of gain, but enough to tell a difference and to force me to buy new jeans. I don’t view it as a disastrous amount (20-25 pounds). I don’t believe I am less beautiful or less healthy because of it. I’m still doing all the stuff I was doing before. It’s just that now I’m feeling emotionally better when I do it.

I won’t lie and say I wouldn’t love to drop the extra weight, because I would. And I pay pretty close attention to what I put in my mouth without being a super-control freak about it. (Control-freakishness is a trait I’ve been working to overcome, after all.) In short, I’m doing everything humanly possible to remain healthy, and it is up to me to accept myself however I am and whatever I weigh. The point is to be happy and fulfilled. I feel happy and fulfilled. The little pink pills help. This is not a problem to overcome.

Well-Meaning Judgments

It is human to jump to conclusions. A mental health diagnosis of any kind means that people are going to form a judgment about it. Anxiety, depression, pull yourself out of it! Come on! Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia—some people don’t even believe that these things exist. Brain chemistry is not something you can think yourself into changing. And hormones? When a woman enters perimenopause, she is probably going to change. She may become more anxious, moody, depressed, or none of these things. But it happens more often than you’d think. It happened to me.

For years, I had been fighting myself. I was moody, and I didn’t realize that my anxiety was making me short-tempered. It wasn’t some horrible character flaw that I could control if I were a decent person. I was anxious. And when my anxiety reached a pinnacle, I could no longer cope.

I love my medication. It gave me back to me. Many people suffer without medication. My wife, Ahnna, used to help homeless people who qualified get their disability benefits so they could be housed. One of her most memorable cases was “Jake,” who was schizophrenic. Like most schizophrenics, Jake was highly intelligent but completely unable to cope with our reality without medication.

When Ahnna met Jake, he stank because he was covered in his own shit, on purpose. It was to keep the evil things away. He rarely talked to anyone. He told her she had the mark of the devil on her head. Eventually, with the help of his mother and a hard-won signature from him, she was able to get him on disability. Jake now lives in a group home and is medicated. When he showed up at her office some time later to thank her, she barely recognized him as the same person. A home, caring people, and medication gave him back to himself.

So, yes, I gained some weight. And yes, I gained it because of a pharmaceutical. Please don’t worry. It was exactly what I needed. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Forget Those Abusive New Year’s Resolutions

Joan Crawford in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

A new year, a new you, right? Time to lose weight, get fit, change your diet, stop yelling at your kids, love your spouse oh so perfectly, and basically be glowingly nice to everyone all the time. The only problem, of course, is that this is not only bullshit, but it’s the worst form of self-abuse.

Implied in all these resolutions is that as of December 31st of any given year, you notice that you suck. You just aren’t good enough. Buck up. Get with the program. You can do better than this! And by the third week of January, when you have failed in 90% of your aspirations, you feel even worse about yourself, because if you weren’t a TOTAL LOSER, you would’ve been able to stick it out and make it happen. This is yet another verse in the song, “I can’t be happy now, but I’ll be happy ONE DAY when I’ve fixed all my problems.”

Inevitably, some of my Facebook friends posted their resolutions. And it’s not that they’re all bad, mind. If you can make healthier choices, then make them! There’s nothing wrong with fitness, healthy food, or a genuine desire to be a good person. The problem is when you decide that you aren’t good enough today, but there’s that BETTER you out there in the future, waiting to be born. This is a myth, of course. You are the best you that you can be, right this very minute. Abusing yourself with the notion that you haven’t really tried in all the years of your life, due to some innate failing on your part, is not healthy.

A group of women at my gym started a new year’s cleanse for three weeks. The idea is to detox after a holiday season full of rich food. I have no problem with this, since I personally don’t want to see either cream or sugary treats for quite a while. Most of the time, I eat whole, unprocessed foods. As I was reading the rules of engagement, one of the big ones was no alcohol. The other was black coffee. Well, I put coconut milk in my coffee, and I’m still going to do that. But no evening cocktail? Seriously? As things progressed, many of these women were opting to eat smoothies for breakfast and salads for dinner. Now, I already eat salad for lunch every day. Not because I feel I should, but because I genuinely enjoy it. And a part of me naturally rebels at the thought of drinking my breakfast. (Unless it’s coffee, of course.) This was no longer sounding like a simple, fun cleanse. What was next, a fast? I could feel my resolve slipping away…

A meme on social media. Author unknown

A meme on social media. Author unknown

I’m officially now at the age (older than the wonderful cat above) that I will do what I please and not worry what the rest of the world thinks about it. And it may be that this kind of wisdom is one you have to earn with years. Many of the people who seem to suffer the most with new year’s resolutions are younger and in their 20s-30s. They’re still not sure if they’re good enough, so they seek validation from the world around them. Women, in particular, struggle with acceptance of their physical presence on the earth. It doesn’t help that so many businesses’ profits depend on us feeling bad about ourselves.

S0, what to do? The big key is acceptance. Accept who you are, right now. Embrace that person. No one ever said you had to be perfect. No one ever was perfect. No one. So what makes you think you will be any different? You are the product of your history, your genes, your society, and your self-regard. That last one is kind of important, because it’s the only one that you control. If you continuously think you suck, it’s going to have a negative effect on your life. You’re going to stress out about how not to suck, which is a moving target that you will never achieve because you will continue to think that you suck, even when you don’t. And if you are certain you suck, no one can tell you otherwise.

So acceptance is step one, and choosing to like yourself as you are is another.

I have known many people who believe that liking themselves, much less loving themselves, is some sort of Herculean task that they will never, ever attain. It’s too hard, they say. Well, believing that certainly makes it so. You’ve given up at the starting gate. Those other horses are definitely going to win…

Self-regard is something that you cultivate, like a garden. You clear the weeds, you plant seeds, and then you mulch, water, and fertilize. It’s a process, not a sudden, overnight change between December 31 and January 1. When I plant my seeds, I believe that my garden will grow. You must also believe in your garden and in your inherent self-worth right now. Tomorrow doesn’t exist. You only have this moment. Use it and forget about fixing what isn’t really broken at all.

Comic relief

If you’re still having a hard time accepting and liking yourself, well… JUST STOP IT. Bob Newhart will show you how. It’s hilarious because it’s true.

Fighting Each Other, Fighting Ourselves

children_holding_hands_iStock_000004544472Small

We’re all in this together.

It was with a sort of macabre amusement that I noticed the Washington Post said of the San Bernadino mass shooting that it “might be terrorism related, but we don’t know.” Two people killed 14 others at a Christmas party. Personally, I call that terrorism, and I also call it terrorism when a white Christian man shoots up a Planned Parenthood or when white guys shoot at peaceful black protesters. But I guess the message here is that only certain brown people commit acts of terror. Right.

America now experiences terror, by my definition, almost daily. Mass killings are now normal. Got a grievance? Disagree with someone? Well, if you have a gun, you can sure fix them. They are the problem. But who are they?

Maybe they are Hispanic immigrants. They don’t speak English. They do things a little differently. They are suspicious. Or, maybe they are Middle-Eastern-looking-brown-skinned people who may or may not be Muslims (PSA: people who wear the turbans are Sikhs, not Muslims). They have different customs and beliefs and are therefore suspicious. Probably can’t trust them. Or maybe they are hoodie-wearing black gangsta-looking youths who are probably on welfare (my tax money!) and about to steal something. Or maybe it’s just your ex-wife, who has it coming.

Our society now overwhelmingly prefers to blame someone, anyone but ourselves, for our problems. And the best fit for that is a scapegoat. They are our scapegoats. (Struggling to keep your family solvent and healthy? Maybe it’s their fault.) But you know what? The people who actually exert the most control in this country prefer it this way. Because if we’re busy fighting each other, we’re not going to notice that man behind the curtain. That “man” who is destroying our environment, robbing us blind, and enslaving us with debt and growing poverty.

So, here we are, fueled by our own personal echo chambers (Fox News, MSNBC, etc., take your pick). We’re no longer content to merely disagree with one another. Force has become a viable alternative. Are you feeling powerless and enraged and you don’t like abortion? Kill some people. Don’t like the government? Blow up a government building.

Last night I dreamed that Nazis were coming. They had arrived at my house, and they were going to kill us unless we left. We were now the “Other,” the misfits, the scapegoats. We grabbed backpacks with a few belongings and set out on foot. We had to leave the pets behind. It was terrible. I was so relieved just to wake up. But listen well: fascism is not something that ended with World War II. The seeds are right here, in America, and demagogues like Donald Trump are watering them furiously. “There’s nothing wrong with you! Immigrants, Muslims, China! There’s your problem!” This kind of talk is how you incite a mob to violence. “Those people are misfits and don’t deserve to live.” We are not better people than the Germans in the 1930s, some of whom fought the Nazis to the best of their ability. We are just as susceptible to violence against “the Other” as they were. And right now, it ain’t pretty.

So what can we do?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
~ Edmund Burke

It is very important not to let fear take over. Fear is the enemy, because all hate stems from fear. Fear of the Other, fear of the unknown, the need to feel “secure.” If that need for security and safety becomes too strong, people will give up a great deal to achieve it, even their own liberties. Fascists will tell you that they will take care of you and make you secure. There are no guarantees in this life. I’m more likely to die while driving than I am to be killed by a terrorist. Fear is a fascist’s currency. They will use it and manipulate it if they can.

It is also incredibly important to stay in the energy of love and compassion as much as possible. If watching or reading the news makes that difficult, then stop doing it! The purpose of the media is to make you afraid.

Most importantly, remind yourself that there is no “Other.” We are one humanity. We are One Being. The idea that we are somehow separate from each other is an illusion. So each day, do whatever is given to you to help. Pay someone a compliment. Tell someone you love them. Help a neighbor with a chore. Feed someone who doesn’t have enough to eat. Smile at a stranger.

Even though it seems like the world has gone completely mad, tell yourself, “It is healing.” Make this your mantra. “It is healing.” There are healing pains, yes. And you may feel powerless, but I assure you that you are not. Use your light. Use your compassion. When you gaze upon another face, know that you are looking at your brother or your sister. And then smile.

The Universe in Your Hand

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team

It would seem very strange if I told you that you had a nose. “See? It’s right there, in the middle of your face.” And you might respond, “Duh.” You can see your nose. You can touch it. You can even blow it. But if I also said, “You have something in your hand that contains the Universe’s Power of Healing and Creation,” you might wonder what I’ve been smoking. Nevertheless, you do, and it does.

Reiki practitioners and other energy healers are unlikely to be surprised by the idea that your hands are conduits for healing, but they may not yet be fully aware of why that is. In your dominant healing hand (for me, my right hand), lies something that is just as much a part of you as your DNA (which can be seen and measured) and your aura (which most people cannot see and which science declines to measure). Tune into it. It is a higher-dimensional being that looks like a star tesseract. By definition, tesseracts are four-dimensional (and higher), so it’s difficult to draw one. But if you look at it psychically, you will be able to see its shape and color.

The tesseract in your hand is no simple object, either. It has its own consciousness. It is not separate from you, but it is not entirely you as you define yourself, either. The reason for this symbiotic relationship is that you, the spirit in the human being skin, must achieve a certain level of consciousness yourself before the tesseract will become available to you. The power of Creation and Healing is not for the person who has not yet mastered themselves, at least to a degree. (The abuse of this power is part of what led to the downfall of Atlantis, after all.) No, the tesseract works with your heart, not your head. Your heart must be open and compassionate.

“A conscious tesseract with the power of creation in my hand, you say? You must be mad.” There are many things that are unseen or difficult to measure (is light a particle or a wave?), but that does not mean they don’t exist. If you’re open, you don’t have to look very far to find the evidence. Jesus Christ was said to heal with his hand and create food from thin air. Given my understanding of the tesseract, I have no problem believing this. Or take the Yogi Milarepa, who demonstrated his mastery by leaving his handprint in stone.

Every culture has its stories of miracles and healing that simply cannot be explained. In our overly logical culture, we tend to dismiss these as simple fairy tales, separate from our very hard and measurable reality. But even fairy tales have something important to tell us about ourselves.

Don’t take my word for it, however. Develop a relationship and understanding with the tesseract in your own hand. It will help you learn all you need to know. I say that you likely have a nose in your face. It gives you the sense of smell. I also say that you have a conscious star tesseract in your hand. It is yet another sense to help you navigate the world and the universe. And the fact is that your heart and your tesseract are needed to help heal and transform this planet. Chaos and self-destruction is avoidable, but it will take many of us to awaken, to love, and to heal.

Your star tesseract is part of your personal power, just like your heart, your mind, and your aura. Awaken to it. We need you.

Perspectives on Disability

ahnna-harryWhen I first met Ahnna, she could still get around on her crutches. That was 12 years ago, and she was 43. Up until then, she had spent most of her life getting around on crutches or, at home, crawling on her knees. A birth accident endowed her with Cerebral Palsy, which left her unable to walk without the help of her crutches. She spent many years walking on the weight of her hands and shoulders.

People are not made to support their body weight on their arms, so inevitably her joints gave out in middle age. Crawling on her knees at home had helped save those joints, but the doctor said she had basically ruined her knees in the process. Her youthful, determined self did not foresee her middle-aged self, which would resign itself to a power chair now that her joints were no longer able to keep her upright. No youth ever foresees what age and time may take away. Youth and energy seem forever.

Ahnna is now 55 and has lovely silver hair, which she refuses to color. I’m glad. I wouldn’t like it if she colored her hair. But society apparently expects that silver hair means “very old indeed,” and more often than not, she is mistaken for my mother, but not just because of her hair. The power chair also screams “very old indeed” even though there are plenty of young people out there who need them. Sometimes this assumption works for us. If a contractor is helping us out, who knows what their attitude toward a same-sex couple would be. If it’s easier for them to assume that she’s “Grandma,” then fine. We have found that people are often more sympathetic (and therefore more helpful and honest) if they assume it’s just the single mom and her mother, making do.

We laugh about this, of course. If people actually looked beyond the power chair and the silver, they would see that this is not an old woman. But for outsiders who don’t need to know, well, we just go with the flow.

My mother was disturbed that I was with a woman (she never acknowledged our marriage). She was equally disturbed that I was with a disabled woman, however. It messed with her sense of order and perfection. My daughter’s marriage was not supposed to look like THAT. My mother could not directly confront the disability without seeming like a complete jerk, though she accomplished that anyway. She worried aloud that maybe I was taking on too much, and that Ahnna would become a bigger burden as time went on. She would look at Ahnna’s feet, affected by edema, and advise less salt in the diet, as though that alone would fix the problem caused by not being able to walk like everyone else. Female and disabled. My mother’s worst nightmare.

It is true that Ahnna faces more challenges as she ages that so-called “normal” people do not. We went from a scooter to a power chair with a lift in the van. We are now transitioning to a full van conversion so that her regular power chair can go anywhere. Her range of movement has diminished even in 12 years. So, yes, she is more disabled at 55 than at 45 or 35. It happens to us all, in one way or another. It can happen suddenly, like a lightning strike. One day, you’re able-bodied; the next, it’s all gone, and you’re left with a new reality. It can strike anyone at any time. If your partner is unwilling to take that on, then perhaps you need a better partner.

Ahnna’s mother, who was an amazing woman, passed away last year. She always advocated for Ahnna, and she used to say that, in a way, she was lucky. Her disability was on the outside, obvious for anyone to see. But everyone has a disability of some kind, and in most cases, you can’t see it. Some disabilities are mental, or emotional, and they can lie hidden, unseen and unacknowledged by those who have them. Everyone has their challenges. Dealing with the mental or emotional challenges of your partner is no less trying than dealing with the physical challenges of the obviously disabled. Sometimes, it’s much harder.

When we’re in public, people tend to address me instead of Ahnna. We’re not socialized to look down. If a person is in a chair, we tend to assume that, somehow, they are not capable of discussion, as though they have lost the power of speech. It’s an unconscious thing. If you see someone in a chair, feel free to look down, into their eyes, and address them directly. They will appreciate it.

I always say that we are lucky to live in a technological age that provides the tools to help us deal with disability. Not everyone has access to power chairs or van conversions. There should be more provisions for the impoverished disabled, who find it harder to make a living precisely because of their disability. Transportation and some means of independence are vital to helping the disabled to contribute what they can, no matter how small. Their bodies may not work well, but that doesn’t mean their minds do not. Hello, Stephen Hawking.

Our children are accustomed to seeing one of their Moms in a power chair. It is just the way life is. When they see another person in a chair, it’s the most normal thing in the world. But some children are curious. It’s okay for them to wonder aloud and ask questions. How else are they going to learn?

I hope, for my father’s sake, that he never becomes disabled. I don’t think my mother would be a very kind caretaker. To be honest, I don’t think he would, either. But they are in it together, and one may very well end up caring for the other in ways that they may not enjoy. This much I know:  I am solid with Ahnna, so helping her physically is no big deal to me. She cares for me, too, when I’m sick. She’s perfectly capable. We’re a team that way.

The other day, a friend of ours said to Ahnna that “there was nothing but kindness in her face.” And that’s true. I realized in that moment that part of my purpose was to be her protector. I told her long ago that I would be her legs. And I am the strong one, the warrior. She is the gentle Buddha, tending the home fire. Yin, Yang. Perfect complements.

As you go about your days, remember that everyone has a disability that may not be obvious. If it is obvious, help when you can. The physically disabled must depend on the help and kindness of others sometimes. (This is also true for the mentally and emotionally disabled!) If there’s only one disabled stall in a restroom, take note. I’ve literally seen a woman charge past Ahnna to the only disabled stall in a restroom, forcing her to wait on her crutches, which she could not do for long periods without the risk of falling. Mind those parking spaces. People in a van conversion cannot park anywhere else.

Most importantly, remember that people deserve compassion and dignity, no matter what they look like, what they can do, or how well they can cope. A person’s world can change in an instant. Imagine how you would want to be treated, and then do that.

How to Oppress People of Color

We have a holiday named for this guy! But we still have work to do. Photo by Dick DeMarsico, World Telegram staff photographer

We have a holiday named for this guy! But we still have work to do.
Photo by Dick DeMarsico, World Telegram staff photographer

A black man once told me that, as a white woman, I didn’t have the right to write about racism. I understand his point; I don’t live in his skin. On the other hand, I pointed out that as a white woman, I am part of the problem, and therefore I must write about racism. I don’t believe white silence is helpful.

There can be no doubt that people of color are more likely to be killed by the police than white people are. Given the almost daily examples in the headlines, I cannot imagine how this affects people of color. Depressing? Yes. Horrifying? Yes. Outrageous? Yes. Scary as shit? Absolutely. When I leave my house, I don’t worry about being wrongfully arrested or killed by a public servant.

So, dearest white people, I know many of you care. I know many of you want to do your best. I know that, if you exhibit racial biases, you are probably blissfully unaware of it. I freely admit that I have been a complete idiot at times in my past, too. Life is for growing and learning, so let me discuss some of the ways in which white people may unconsciously oppress those who have a higher melanin content in their skin.

When we see another killing of a black person in the news, it’s uncomfortable, so our brain wants to make us feel better about it. Here are some of the things that may go through your mind:

He/she must have done something to deserve it.

This is what horror writers understand: if you’re going to kill a character, perhaps gruesomely, then you first write them so that when they die the reader will secretly applaud. No one minds if the despicable person gets eaten by zombies. Alfred Hitchcock set up Janet Leigh’s character in Psycho as an immoral woman who casually slept with men, thereby setting her up so that, as a slut, she gets what’s coming to her. So naturally, if a policeman killed someone, well, it must have been their own fault somehow. Right? See also: Blaming the victim.

If he/she didn’t deserve it, then they must have done something stupid.

Okay, maybe they weren’t actually robbing a store or dealing drugs, but maybe they already have a record (and therefore did something in the past to deserve it), or they were just “uppity.” Maybe they gave the cop some attitude, or did something to make the officer feel threatened. While there can be no doubt that politeness goes a very long way, there is no law that says that citizens are required to be polite to the police. People become upset. They get stressed. Cursing at a police officer may be unwise, but it is not illegal. A death sentence seems a very high price to pay for inflamed passions.

He/she must have done something to arouse suspicion.

We assume that all police officers are completely rational, and that they would never harass a civilian without a very good reason. But officers (and white people in general) tend to make assumptions about people of color that do not apply if the person is white. Unlike Sandra Bland, I have never been pulled over for failing to signal a lane change. Unlike Trayvon Martin, I have never been shot dead for walking in my neighborhood wearing a hoodie. Unlike Henry Louis Gates, I have never been arrested by the police for trying to enter my own home. No, black people do not have to do anything to arouse suspicion. Their mere existence is suspicious. If you have ever crossed the street to avoid walking past a man because he is black, I am talking to you.

He/she must have been hanging with the wrong crowd.

When we see another black death on TV, there is the initial assumption that these are poor folks from the ghetto, probably doing drugs and stealing. Because those are the only kind of black people in America, right? Oh, I guess there are some middle-class black families, but those people don’t end up dead on the news, do they? Somehow, our narrative says that “poverty corrupts.” All those welfare queens come from somewhere! And if you’re poor in America, you deserve it. And if you’re black and poor in America, you’re a thug. Thugs deserve to be shot to death. If you were shot to death and you’re not a thug, then you must have been hanging out with thugs, which brings us back to: You deserved it.

I have known plenty of poor white people over the years. Most of them aren’t thugs. And I’m pretty sure that if one of them was shot dead over a traffic stop, the community would be upset. But even the few penny-ante white “criminals” (if you count drug use) that I’ve known don’t deserve that kind of fate. We should extend our compassion to everyone, regardless of their skin color.

Black people are just “like that.”

You know what I mean. “It’s just how they are.” Naturally violent. Behaving like animals. No surprise when one gets killed. (“They deserve it.”) When a black person becomes angry, a white person feels threatened. When a white person becomes angry, another white person just sees an angry white person. White people love authority, and we submit to it more easily than we think. We automatically side with authority in most cases. When a shooting occurs, our first thought is that the officer was in the right. And that may be the case. But the officer may just as easily be in the wrong. They are imperfect humans in a stressful job, carrying guns. Shit happens. Unfortunately, it happens more often to black people, because white people tend to see them as a threat.

And so on…

I have written before about how well-meaning white people can exhibit racist behavior, unaware that they are doing so. We have had around 400 years of this nonsense, thanks to a culture that thought it was appropriate to kidnap other people, put them in chains, and sell them to people who would exploit their labor. Capitalism at its finest! But hey, you gotta watch these slaves. They’re probably not too happy about this state of affairs. They might try to escape, or worse—revolt. They might even want revenge.

Yes, our legacy of White Trauma is centuries of fearing those whom we imprisoned and exploited and paranoia that they want to repay us for all we’ve done to them. It’s in our national DNA. That’s a painful thing to acknowledge, however, and isn’t it so much easier to just deny that there’s a problem? Hey, this is a post-racial society now! Go Obama! Kill the Voting Rights Act. Problem solved. Nothing to see here.

Our black brothers and sisters keep saying to us, “Please listen. We want to live side by side as equals. Your attitudes are causing us pain. Racism is still occurring. We are dying because of it.” And we switch off the news without a second thought and go to the mall. “Oh, well, I trust that justice will be done.”

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
~ Edmund Burke

5 Things I Gained By Gaining Weight

Asha and Harry at Ninja Mom Day

Asha and Harry at Ninja Mom Day

“Wow, have you put on weight? You look awesome!” Said no one EVER. Actually, someone might indeed say that if the person is recovering from a severe eating disorder, which is literally a life-and-death matter. But most women only receive praise if they reduce their size on the earth, not if they increase it.

As I wrote in my previous blog, I know I talk about this a whole lot. But since gaining 15-20 pounds and another size of clothing, I have found that I really have gained tangible benefits, and these benefits are worth talking about. So here we go.

Strength

At my skinniest, maybe 145-150 pounds (I’ve always been physically dense), I could leg-press 140 pounds. I was quite proud of that. At my more adult-sized “skinny,” I could leg-press 170 pounds. That’s what an extra 20 pounds of body weight will do for you. But not long after I put the additional 15-20 pounds back on, I raised the weights on pretty much everything, including the chest press, which is one of my weakest points. And now I leg-press 190 pounds. I think that’s awesome.

And lest anyone think my midsection is all fat:  my core is the strongest it’s ever been, too. I can hold a plank for several minutes, and that’s something I couldn’t do in college.

Power

One of the things I’ve done with my newfound strength is to challenge myself and have some fun. I’m taking Taekwondo with my six-year-old son, and I’m having a ball. To be honest, I wondered if I’d be up to the challenge. Even though I work out regularly and am quite strong, I worried about hurting myself in an applied martial art. There is no doubt that it stretches you. The kicking alone caused me to discover muscles I didn’t know I had, and my hip flexors complained for ten days straight. But then my body adjusted to this new normal.

Last week, we were practicing some kicking, and the instructor got out some fake “break-away” boards. I easily broke through four of them, and the power of it shocked me a little. But as I’m learning how to defend myself and how to physically cause pain if the need ever arises (let’s face it, that is a piece of what we’re learning), I get a great sense of my personal, physical power. This is not to be abused, of course—with great power comes great responsibility, as Spider-Man knows. But understanding my own power increases my own confidence in all areas. And I do feel good knowing that if someone attacks me, I am learning the skills to take them out. For women in particular, that’s a big deal. It’s also important for my son, who has gained a great deal of confidence (and muscles) from Taekwondo.

I must note here, that when a woman starts to gain her power, she inevitably makes other people uncomfortable. Often these other people are men. A male friend has asked more than once if it was “appropriate” for me to be taking Taekwondo with my son. What he’s really saying is that while martial arts are all well and good for my son, it’s not something he’s comfortable seeing me do. Perhaps he feels threatened. Fortunately, that’s not my problem.

Happiness

Newsflash: women age. Our bodies change. Our needs change. At our blog in The Abundant Home™, I wrote about my body’s need for more carbohydrates. I had lost a lot of weight on a very low-carb diet, and received many compliments for this effort. But this diet affected my mood in profound ways. My temper tended to be shorter. I was more anxious. Last summer, I ended up on antianxiety medication. As often happens with this medication, I started to gain some weight. I also started to reevaluate my diet. Carbs, it turns out, make your body produce happy hormones. I had been eating very few of those. Along about midafternoon every day, I craved carbs. Why not just give in and eat the damn things? So I did.

Now I eat about three servings of carb per day, which makes my body plumper than the media says it should be. But I’m so much happier. I don’t feel hungry all the time. My mood is greatly improved—just ask my wife. I’m more laid back. Less anxious. And I get to eat my own cookies. Score!

Health

Our society now conflates skinniness with good health, but it ain’t necessarily so. My body mass index is “too high,” according to the calculator. My max weight, it says, should be 164 pounds. I have been at that weight, but I’d have to go back to eating practically zero carbs and living in the land of high anxiety and reduced strength to get there again. No, thank you.

The number on the scale that describes gravity’s pull on my body does not take into account the fact that (I know this sounds clichéd) I have Viking-sized bones, and my heavily germanic DNA is not inclined to smallness.

Given my physical strength and my excellent bloodwork numbers, I’m not too worried about the medical establishment’s one-size-fits-all approach to what a healthy physique looks like.

Self-Esteem

This may sound counterintuitive given how our society defines a “valuable” woman, but my self-esteem is greater. In the past, if I had put on some extra weight, I’d spend most of my mental life beating myself up about that. Now when I see myself in the mirror, I see a very fit warrior princess. Call me Xena. Seriously, I think I look awesome, and I’m very proud of my accomplishments.

The increase in my self-esteem is attributable to many things, of course, including a shift in my own thinking. I value my strength. I value my power, and the skills I’m learning. I value my good health. I value enjoying my good food. I value enjoying my good food without constantly berating myself about it.

So, I’ve gained all of this along with a few extra pounds. No one else will say this, but I think to myself, “Woohoo! You’ve gained weight, and you look good, girl!”

(Recovering From) Obsessive-Compulsive Body Shame

My grandmother, who did not have time to be obsessed with her weight

My grandmother, who did not have time to be obsessed with her weight

I have often said that I’m a recovering control freak, with an emphasis on recovering. I’m much better at handling chaos in my order now; being a parent will help with that. And changes to my routine are welcome and can be quite fulfilling. I still struggle with the apparent demise of the Oxford comma, but one thing at a time…

Of course, I still harbor one gargantuan area of control freakishness that, I realize, is also obsessive compulsive, and I now tend to think that they are basically the same thing. I am obsessive compulsive about my diet and weight, which is ironic and not at all surprising, given that my mother was, too. I touched on that in these articles:

But wait, there’s more evidence of my obsession on our web site, The Abundant Home™. In order of appearance:

Yes, five articles detailing my adventures with different ways of eating in order to attempt to maintain some sort of ideal state of health, fitness, body image, what have you. I am aware of myself, and being aware is a bit like observing two different people. First, there is the rational grown-up who is laughing at herself and saying, “Sweetheart, you’re forty-something, bore two children, and who gives a rat’s ass what your size or weight is.” And I know this. But I also observe that there’s this other person, a veritable Pavlov’s dog who has been trained to respond to the seeming “authority” of the male view, which basically says that if you’re attractive enough to sleep with, then you have a value, but if you’re not, then you are the object of ridicule. And that attitude really pisses me off. And yet, it’s in there, like a time bomb, ready to explode the moment swimsuits appear in the stores.

I used to go to the movies once a week with my ex and friends. Bear with me, this really is relevant. One week, the movie available was “Shallow Hal.” I wasn’t sure I wanted to see this film, because I was afraid that it would be 90 minutes of fat jokes. But I was pleasantly surprised, and I really liked what the movie had to say about judging people based on their appearances. After the movie, we adjourned with our friend to the coffee shop across the way and discussed the movie. This friend was a twenty-something, unmarried fellow who worked with  my ex. When asked whether he liked the movie, he said no. He was hoping it would have more fat jokes in it, and he was disappointed by the feel-good message. Thank you, Shallow “Hank,” for your honesty. If only overweight women would stick to being the butts of jokes instead of having feelings.

The world has plenty of Shallow Hals, alas, but there also plenty of good guys out there with realistic expectations. Men are not the issue here. That voice inside my head that judges what it sees in the mirror and coaxes me toward obsessive-compulsive craziness is the issue here. I wasn’t born with that voice. It came from many sources, including my mother and other family members, the media, and yes, society. But at this point, that voice is my concern, and I’m the one who has to silence it. I will not lie and say it’s easy. It’s not.

I’m not the only one with this compulsion, though. I fancy I’m not as far over the edge as, say, Gwyneth Paltrow, but what if I have been? Or still am?

“I would rather die than let my kid eat Cup-a-Soup.”
~ Gwyneth Paltrow

Okay, I’m probably not that bad. My kids eat Goldfish, candy, and potato chips, for crying out loud. Whew! Poor Gwyneth… Let me just say that while I have tried many different diets, I have not tried Gwyneth’s personally. I also have never been a raw vegan, because I hate to be hungry.

I ordered a swimsuit this weekend. It’s not a bikini. I’ve never worn a bikini, even when I was relatively skinny (for me). No, I ordered a pretty polka-dot swimdress. I think I’m going to like it. I’m going to put it on and stand in front of the mirror and say loving things to myself. No, really. I’ve started saying loving things to myself every time I look in the mirror. I’m beautiful, and the rational grown-up me knows it. The inner child who absorbed all that crap about not being worthwhile if she didn’t look a certain way needs to come along now. (Sadly, I see all too easily how some women become anorexic or bulimic.)

I’ve been thinking about my mother’s mother. She was not skinny, except for the last time I saw her. She was skinny then because she was sick. She would be dead not long after that. I remember my grandmother as being big and beautiful and fat and loving her food. She had 11 children and spent most of her life cooking for them. I doubt that she cared one whit about her weight. I’ll bet she never looked at herself and thought, “Gee, Ivory, you should lose a few pounds before swimsuit season arrives!” I’m pretty sure she never owned a swimsuit. I’m pretty sure she couldn’t swim. The rooster’s crowing. Better get up and start cooking breakfast. Then lunch and dinner. And after that, there’s the gardening to do. Diet books did not figure into her daily routine. Having enough food of any kind in the house to feed 11 kids did.

I can’t promise I’ll never write about diet again (is this number 8?), but my task now is to obsess less and enjoy more. It’s also to accept myself, particularly as I move into the middle years. Most of the women I’ve known who were my age or older did not look like their twenty-something selves, and why should they? Whom are we trying to please? The answer should be, ourselves.

Self-awareness brings great responsibility. Seeing myself, if I don’t change, then it’s my responsibility that I didn’t change. I’m not going to let me down. Bring on the swimsuits!

My Body Is Not Your Concern

Asha at age 12

Asha at age 12

It’s Throwback Thursday, so today I did something I rarely do:  I looked at pictures of myself in my “fat” middle school years. I have instinctively avoided looking at these pictures for a long time, because they have historically made me feel now just like I did then. Fat. Ugly. Worthless. Unlovable. As a result, I hated myself in these pictures.

But today, I wanted to look. 1982, then 1981. 1980. As I looked at my 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old self, I was no longer disgusted by what I saw. This little girl had a little extra weight, yes. She was not skinny. She was plump. But she was not this horrible creature that lived in my emotional memory. In reality, this child was not really all that heavy. Not really ugly. And I wondered, as I revisited the pictures, just how much less I should have weighed in order to shut up the huge number of critics who felt that they had a right to say something about my body, even then.

My mother always criticized my weight and often spoke about me in the third person when I was right there in the room. “Such a pretty face,” my aunts and grandmother would lament, as though my face were somehow wasted on my unpleasant body. My classmates let me know on a daily basis just how fat I was, and I resented having a birth name that rhymed with “jelly” and “belly.” One boy called me a fat slob every day, until I got tired of it and fired back an epithet that I knew would wound, and it did. I was sorry to hurt him, but then again, I wasn’t. He had hurt me every day.

The apparently hideous extra pounds came off naturally when I was in high school, as though Nature knew what she was doing all along (what a thought!), but even then, I was still a big girl, of Viking and northern European descent, and I was never going to be skinny. When I was in college (and working out), one of my male “friends” helpfully pointed out that when I sat down, my thighs spread out a little, so maybe I should lose some weight. Ouch!

Asha at age 21

It didn’t occur to me, at 19, to wonder what gave this or any other person the right to comment on my body. After all, it had been happening to me for years. This is just what people did! Critique my body! Sometimes daily! I spent years cursing the genetics that gave me big thighs and wondering how my body could ever be considered beautiful.

In my twenties, I was (by my standards) thin and fit, which resulted in men hitting on me. A lot. And in ugly ways. One guy stared at me when I was in the coffee shop with my boyfriend. The entire time. Glaring back at him did not change this. Finally, I asked to leave. My boyfriend got in his face about it, but the result was the same:  we left.

Men invaded my personal space. They leaned in. They cornered me at the bookstore where I worked, a captive audience. They made suggestions. Once, when walking with my boyfriend and some other friends, two guys circled back after asking for a cigarette. One put his arm around me and asked me why I was hanging out with my boyfriend (with whom I was holding hands). He was insistent. My boyfriend told him to knock it off. “Oh, you want a piece of me?” And he has a gun in pants. Holy shit! He has a gun in his pants! We just kept walking. We don’t want any trouble. We’re almost to the apartment. Keep going. Dear God, these two guys followed us to the door. They eventually left, but we were shaken.

I learned that there was a price to be paid for being too attractive, too fit. A few years after I married, I put on weight again. I think I wanted to protect myself from the gaze of men.

Asha at 37

Asha at age 37

After I had my children, I decided that I wanted to lose weight. Not that I needed to lose weight, or that everybody else thought I should lose weight (though, no question, some did). I wanted to. Me. The person whose opinion on this mattered. And I did lose weight, and I eventually started to work out again and change a few things about the way I ate. I did this in order to feel good, physically and emotionally.

My weight is reasonably stable, but it still goes up and down. I don’t want to be a control freak about it, so I have my share of snacks and goodies. I try to make good choices, but live and enjoy myself. I had to start taking an antianxiety medication last fall—truly, it was not a choice and panic attacks are not fun—which may be affecting my weight upward a little. I’m going to live with it, because I feel better and, to hell with it, I’m nearly 46 and who the heck cares? Whose business is it but my own?

And that’s the point, really. Whether I weigh 120, 180, or 240 pounds, what’s it to anyone but me? I’m allowed to take up space on the planet. Oh, I know. The judgers still judge. The critics really feel that they must say something, because, you know, they care about your health. I don’t believe that, actually. I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of “love” long enough to know that what people are really saying is, “I find you repulsive the way you are.” Because the fashion magazines say so. Because Hollywood says so. Because the Photoshopped and airbrushed images oppress our minds and spirits and reduce us to mere flesh and fat, and there’s nothing else you have to offer the world if it’s not perfectly packaged.

Asha at age 44

Asha at age 44

No one has the right to comment on my body, whether you think it’s ugly or beautiful. I didn’t ask for an opinion, so keep it to yourself. No woman asks for an opinion, but she gets it daily, anyway. Let me explain something. If you decide that a woman is overweight, telling her so, however “kindly” you think you said it, will not induce her to lose weight. You don’t think she didn’t hear that same suggestion yesterday? And the day before? Did she miraculously take a pill, go on a diet, or apply for “The Biggest Loser,” where they will criticize and judge her and run her ragged “professionally” on national TV and make tons of money off her humiliation in the process? No, she didn’t, and your comments aren’t helpful.

I can finally, finally, finally look at my middle school pictures without hating myself. That has been a long slog. I am now wise enough to know that the only person who can validate me is me. I am now wise enough to know that I am more than my body. I am now wise enough to accept my big thighs, the belly that came with two babies, the wrinkles that are appearing on my face, and whatever the hell else my body wants or needs to do. It’s a great body. It’s healthy. It lets me do things I want to do. I really love my body. And if you don’t, well, that’s not my problem.

Burying Abigail and Learning to Reconnect

My daughter and Abigail, back in healthier days

We had to put a beloved cat to sleep this week. This was painful and difficult, but as with all things, it came with its own set of profound lessons.

Abigail came to us as a middle-aged cat, and we enjoyed her for five years. For the past year, we knew that she was ill—likely some form of cancer—so we watched to make sure she wasn’t suffering too much. This past week, we could tell that she was suffering, and she hadn’t been able to eat in at least two weeks. It was time.

We don’t believe in spending hundreds or thousands of dollars that we don’t really have to try to prolong the life of an animal with a terminal illness who will probably just be made more miserable by the process. Death is another part of life, and we will probably see Abigail again in a new, healthy kitten body one day. But parting is still painful.

When I had her put to sleep, we didn’t really have the money for the cremation, too, so I opted to take her body back home for burial. At the time, I wasn’t very happy about it, because I was already so upset, and dealing with her mortal shell seemed overwhelming to me. But in retrospect, I’m so very glad that I did. I learned something important, and so did the entire family.

When we told the children to say goodbye to Abigail, they did so almost casually, as though she’d be back again in an hour. They are 6 and 8, and death did not seem real to them. They couldn’t really grasp it, although we had lost other cats before. But when I returned home at dusk with Abigail’s lifeless body, they began to understand.

I asked our dear friend Jonathan to help me bury her, in the dark and the rain, out underneath our “Christmas tree,” a large, tall fir tree in the corner of our yard. The children came out in their coats and galoshes to see what was up. I handed the flashlight to Wren, so Jonathan could keep digging, and then I went to the car to get Abigail.

She was still warm and heavy, and I petted her and invited the children to do the same. This was their first visceral experience with death:  here was the lifeless body of their old friend. This is what death looked like.

When the hole was ready, I laid her in it gently and made her “comfortable.” “She looks like she’s sleeping,” said my son Harry. I said a few words and sobbed, and then she was covered in dirt. This had a profound effect on my son, who worried that she would not be okay beneath the dirt. “Her soul is gone, Harry,” we told him. “Her body is like an old coat that she outgrew. She doesn’t need it anymore.”

My son, who had so nonchalantly yelled “Goodbye!” to Abigail, now understood. He went to his room and cried. My daughter, seeing my distress, was sad and subdued. Death was now real.

I don’t believe in hiding “the real world” from my children, and death is an important experience that happens to us all. I was thankful that we buried Abigail, and for the lessons that this brought to us. But even more than that, I began to realize—viscerally—how disconnected we have become.

Our society has become so specialized that the bodies of our loved ones disappear out the back door, are “prettied up,” and laid in the ground (possibly sight unseen) or cremated without our direct involvement. Most of us in the west have no idea how to produce—much less prepare—our own food. We have no idea how to make our clothes, build a dwelling, or teach our children about the trees and the stars. We are isolated from one another in little boxes, performing specialized functions while others take care of our dirty work for us. And it’s precisely our “dirty work”—the stuff of life—that connects us to one another and to the planet itself.

We no longer gather around the fire as a community and sing and dance. We have “talented” professionals whom we pay to watch instead. We no longer gather in a circle and participate in our own unique spiritual experience. We have “professional” religious people who tell us what our experience should be instead. We no longer participate in the cycle of the moon and the seasons and its impact on our world and spirit. Instead, we shop for certain holidays and curse the winter snows or the summer heat, confident that Safeway’s shelves will continue to magically fill. We no longer mark the passage of time by the stars or retell the stories that they illustrate and wonder why they matter to us as human beings in this plane of existence. We no longer see the stars, and we don’t notice their absence.

We are suffering from a profound spiritual malaise because we are disconnected from the source of our spirits:  the Earth, the trees and plants, the waters, the stars, the entire cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. We have forgotten the ways of our ancestors, whom we dismiss as “primitive” and “superstitious.” We believe that we can control nature and bend it to our will. Our hubris and arrogance are precisely what is killing the planet we depend on for survival.

There is a cure, of course. We can reconnect to the earth and with each other. We can reconnect with our inner divine spirit. We can see it everywhere we look in the world. The trees have a spirit. The waters have a spirit. Everything is alive and One, and we are a part of that. I miss Abigail terribly, but I’m so grateful for her final lesson to us. Bury me, experience me, honor me, remember me, and then look for me again! Love is eternal.