11 Self-care Tips in the Age of Trump

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It’s only been four weeks, and already Americans are stressed out by the new administration. Stress, as we know, has a negative impact on health and can even shorten your life if left to continue. So now, more than ever, self-care is vitally important. Here are some tips.

1 Take a relaxing bubble or salt bath

Water is a healing element, particularly when combined with essential oils, cheerful bubbles, or fragrant bath salts. Get that water as hot as you can stand it, douse it with your favorite mix of feel-good, smell-good add-ins, grab a glass of wine, and then enjoy. Add some soft music. Maybe Enya. For an added stress-reliever, you can pick up one of these:

BATH222-donald-trump-rubber-duck (4)

Work out your stress by drowning it, grabbing it by the tailfeathers, and just generally abusing it. Doesn’t that feel better?

2 Have a glass of wine

Remember, it’s always wine o’clock somewhere in the world.

3 Eat healthy, nutritious foods

Self-care means providing your body with good fuel. Just ask yourself, “What would Donald Trump eat?” And then avoid all of those things.

In general, it’s best to avoid emotional eating, which often happens when we get stressed. But if you feel really stressed, you can choose from a variety of healthy recipes that all come from immigrants, such as burritos, curries, or salad rolls. That being said, borscht and taco bowls may not be as emotionally fulfilling.

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“I love Hispanics, but they did not make this!”

4 Exercise

Exercise is vitally important to your self-care, whether you go to a gym, take long walks, or ride a bike. It doesn’t matter what you do, but get that body moving!

If you’re feeling even more stressed than usual, exercise can help you get out your frustrations in ways that other things can’t. For example, if you’re feeling angry, you can try punching a pillow. Or better yet, try punching or whacking one of these:

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A Trump piñata

5 Have another glass of wine

But not this wine:

trump-wine

6 Meditate

Meditation is proven to help you relax and keep you centered and at peace. There are many kinds of meditation in the world to choose from. You can try to quiet your mind and keep thoughts from entering your head. Ah, but who are we kidding? In the age of Trump, this is impossible for everyone except Trump himself. In times like these, you may decide that repeating a mantra as you meditate is far more helpful. Here are some ideas:

Om mani padme hum…

I am peace…

I am love…

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted…

CNN is not fake news…

7 Treat yourself

One of the best forms of self-care is treat yourself every single day. It could be small, like a cup of hot Starbucks coffee, served up by a refugee, or larger, like a massage, manicure, or trip to your psychotherapist, who has reams of folders filled with Trump worries from stressed-out Americans like yourself. (If necessary, you and your psychotherapist can have joint therapy with another psychotherapist.)

Outings can be a treat, as well. Get out into nature, visit a national park before it’s sold off to white ranchers, or visit an art museum. The arts are excellent therapy, whether you like to beat on bongos naked in the middle of the night, or paint and draw. Coloring is also fashionable, and millions find it very relaxing. For example, you can color books full of mandalas, cute cats, or even this:
trump_colorbook

8 Just go for the vodka

But not this vodka:

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9 Try bibliotherapy (reading a good book)

Bibliotherapy is a real thing, and a good book really can help you relax and feel better, particularly when you’re going through a rough time. If you have the bandwidth, you can sit down with a conventional book by the fire and enjoy. (This activity also goes well with tips number 2, 5, and 8.) Alternatively, if you’re busier, you can listen to audio books read by outstanding voice actors. You can download a book to your mobile phone and listen to it anywhere, even while exercising, cleaning house, fetching coffee for your mansplaining boss, or punching a piñata.

Classic books are always a good choice, and here are a few ideas:

1984, by George Orwell

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson

The Diary of Anne Frank

Although, if these titles are still a bit stressful, you can usually find a book about a dog or other animal. Unless they die in the book. Maybe a cookbook?

10 Surround yourself with supportive friends and family

The best self-help is to surround yourself with people who truly love and support you. Unless they’re avid Trump supporters. If your uncle wears a “Make America Great Again” cap, it might be better for your stress levels if he doesn’t come for the holidays. Or any time, really.

Likewise, your social media feed can influence your state of mind. The friend who posts cat videos is a keeper, for sure, and the sister with the “Still With Her” profile picture is fine. But rest assured that it’s okay if you “unfollow” Dad, who keeps posting Breitbart articles and anti-immigrant memes. Likewise, if your cousin can’t get over Bernie losing the nomination to Hillary, it’s worth considering unfriending them. Who needs to relive 2016 when 2017 is already a pile of shit?

Hang onto the friends who are politely respectful, of course, and then consider creating a group for the Resisters, for occasional “honest talk” and venting. Guard entry to that group like Cerberus itself, blocking any would-be Trump trolls. You have to put up with your Trump-voting co-workers, neighbors, and family members, but it’s important to have a place where primal screaming is allowed. (See tip number 7.)

11 Buy a liquor store

In the long run, this will save you money on wine and vodka, and once the GOP eliminates Social Security and all hope of decent medical insurance, a liquor store in the era of Trump will always make loads of money, and you’ll need it if you ever want to retire. It also makes a handy inheritance for your children, because the GOP will eliminate the estate tax, too, and since your kids won’t have a decent education, they can at least learn to run a cash register.

Who’s Middle Aged? Oh, I Guess That Would Be Me

 

I ran toward the target, preparing to kick it across the room if I could. I turned to make the kick, and suddenly I found myself crashing hard to the floor on my ass. What the heck? I thought, as my foot began to throb. Embarrassed, I got to my feet and limped into position, changing places so that the back and forth could continue. One of the instructors called me on it, and made me sit out the rest of class. I was not happy, but this too shall pass, I thought.

My foot swelled two sizes, and I google-diagnosed a strained ligament. No worry, I’ll just rest, ice it, take ibuprofen. I’ll be back to the Taekwondo in a matter of weeks. I limped around the grocery store the next day and limped around the neighborhood in the rain two nights later, because it was Halloween, and the kids can’t be disappointed. I ended up limping around for about six months.

During that time, my workout took a beating, as did my Taekwondo. One of the few things I could still do well was lift weights, though. And then my shoulder began to hurt in midwinter. Having learned my lesson from my still-recovering foot, I went to the doctor, who diagnosed bursitis. Bursitis. Isn’t that something that old people get? What’s next? Arthritis? Hip surgery?

Having hit my apex of physical fitness in my early 40s, I wasn’t ready to concede my age. I would continue, dammit. I would persevere. And I did. And so did my foot injury.

In addition to my physical problems, I decided to try a change in my antianxiety medication. I had put on more weight than I was comfortable with. There had to be a better way, I thought. I tried Wellbutrin, which was a lot like going from marijuana to cocaine. Oh, I have energy again! Hallelujah! Except that it didn’t really do anything for my anxiety, which came creeping back in until I had a fantastically ginormous panic attack that put me in urgent care. Yay. Now I’m on Cymbalta, which seems to work just fine, although I haven’t lost a pound. But I did gain perspective:  I can be skinny with panic attacks, or I can be heavier and feel good. Point taken.

I mentioned all of this to a good friend of mine, and her primary comment was, “I thought you looked pretty good, actually.” Huh. Was I being just too hard on myself? Was I using an erroneous lens? Was I seeing a fat person because that’s what my mother would see? I was beginning to understand how an anorexic can look in the mirror and see something completely divorced from reality. I started to observe other women my age and older. I saw all body types, but one thing I noticed for certain is that none of them were “perfect.” I figured out, finally, that I have to change my opinion about what I’m looking at when I look in the mirror.

Some people may, possibly, have used the word “stubborn” when describing me. I always say I’m 21 in my head, and most people probably think that way. In fact, I’ve noticed that 99% of women tend to keep the same hairstyle they had in high school. Then I noticed that I was one of those. Oops. But I still saw myself as young and vivacious and carefree. I’m still vivacious and carefree, but not so young. My foot is not healed. It probably never will be, quite. I could be stubborn and continue, or… I could be a bit more sensible and quit the Taekwondo. The bursitis went away when I stopped doing my rather extensive bicep routine with the free weights. My body was talking, and it was time to listen.

All right, I’m middle aged. If I live another 47 years, I’ll be 94. Fine. I have to accept some new limitations, in a way. On the other hand, I feel less limited in other ways. I got my tattoo four years ago. And I finally got up the courage to do what I would’ve liked to have done with my hair in high school:  I cut it, and then I colored it. I’m a real blue-hair now!

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All right, some of it’s washed out in this picture. But I have more dye! I just have to do the kids’ hair first.

It’s true that I can’t quite do everything I used to be able to do. I wish I could’ve done Taekwondo when I was in my 20s. On the other hand, it’s true that you cease to care about what other people think about you as you get older. And that is freedom, my friends. Who was it who said that youth is wasted on the young? I think that’s what they mean. Go out there and live loud, ya’ll, no matter how old (or young) you are.

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.

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.

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.

Your Body, the Car

gender not defined by body

Ed Wood in his film “Glen or Glenda”

One year for Halloween, I and my boyfriend at the time decided to cross-dress for a party. He wore a dress, heels, makeup, and hairspray. I slicked my hair back, colored it, created a 5 o’clock shadow with some mascara, and donned a suit and tie. We did a really good job. So good, in fact, that it made a lot of people really uncomfortable. Why is that?

Most people identify with their physical bodies and assume that their body defines who they are. Because of our body, we think that we are white, black, Native American, hispanic, or any other ethnicity you can name. Or we think that we are male or female. Or we believe that we are beautiful or ugly, disabled or not, sick or healthy, weak or strong. Truly, we have limited ourselves by the boundaries of what is just a vehicle to experience the world with.

As with all things, however, there are no gray areas. We may “define” ourselves as male or female, for example, on the basis of a physical representation, but even this distinction is not always easily made. Throughout history, intersex people have walked among us, expressing both male and female physical characteristics. When this occurs in industrialized societies, “corrections” are usually made surgically, with doctors essentially choosing which gender the person will identify as, at least outwardly. As a result, some intersex adults are unhappy with their “assigned” gender and choose to change it in later life.

Of course, a person does not have to be born with an intersex body to feel conflicted about their gender. Anatomy does not always relate to identity. Transsexual, or transgender people are born with a body of one sex, but they identify with the other. Chaz Bono made the decision to change his body’s physical gender to correspond with how he feels inside, with how he expresses himself in the world. Wendy Carlos is another famous person who went through this process in the 1970s. Both are lucky to live in an age where they have the option. In the past, transsexuals could choose to live as the opposite sex, although discovery was a risk if society was intolerant. In the case of Albert D. J. Cashier, born Jennie Irene Hodgers, he lived almost his entire life as a man and even fought in the Civil War. A few people discovered his secret over the years, but it wasn’t until the end of his life, when he was hospitalized with dementia, that his true gender “came out,” and he was forced to wear a dress.

Why should we constrict ourselves on the basis of our outward packaging? Who we are has very little to do with our physical body:  it is what it is. We are born with a given genetic makeup. We can paint our body, pierce it, tattoo it, dress it, and surgically alter it. All of these things are ways in which we attempt to express our true selves externally, and there is nothing wrong with that. After all, it’s fun!

The problems come when we expect people to behave according to their anatomy. Because you’re “a woman,” you should fit in this box, or because you’re “hispanic,” you should fit in that box. Human beings cannot be defined so narrowly. And yet, many have tried and have even enlisted God in their cause.

Historically speaking, God used to have a wife. All ancient cultures understood that there can be no masculine without the feminine, and vice versa. Creation involves both kinds of energy, and God is the ultimate Creator. In the ancient world, the Creator was expressed in a way that people could relate to:  in the bodies of a man and a woman. Eventually, however, our spiritual leaders talked about a single creative force, a single God. But people still viewed this creative force as external to them, so they again chose to view God as having a body. Now God was male, a father without the feminine principle.

In the Christian book of Genesis, it states that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” The first issue we have here is language. A lot of—maybe all—human language uses gender. So some may interpret this statement to mean that a separate male god with a body created men with a similar body. He created women, too, but it’s not clear what the prototype for their bodies was. The problem with this point of view is that it limits God to a body and completely ignores the spirit.

“We are spirits in the material world,” Sting told us in song. God is not external at all. We are not separate from God. God does not have a body. We are certainly “made in God’s image,” however. We are energy. We are co-creators, endowed with the same power and creative ability as our Creator. In our “natural state,” we don’t have a body at all. We are unlimited. We are light.

So is the body unimportant? The body is our material home while we are here, and as such, it deserves our love and care. But we must understand that its importance does not—cannot—eclipse the importance of the spirit within. It doesn’t matter how we choose to express our spirit outwardly. We are all here to express the God consciousness in our own unique way, no matter what that looks like.

We do, as a whole, have some healing to do with regard to our bodies. We focus a lot of fear and hate on what is basically a vehicle, something that moves us around. Hating someone on the basis of their genetics is like hating a Chevrolet for being a Chevrolet. Inside, we are all male and female, we are race-less, we have no “one” sexuality, and we are all infinitely, indelibly beautiful and perfect. We know this; we have only forgotten. That’s all healing is:  remembering who we are.

The Denial of Physicality

your body temple god

Sculpture from a temple at Khajuraho
Photo by Henry Flower

Last month I wrote about how you aren’t really your body. It’s an old theme of mine, and it’s absolutely true. Your body is the vehicle for your spirit, but it isn’t the entirety of you. That being said, however, you are in a body now, and it is definitely a huge, important part of you. Your body is what keeps you grounded and connected to all life here on earth. Your body (and therefore, you) is physically part of the ecosystem and the completeness of the organism that is our planet. Your body is sensual, experiential, primitive, and wild. And the denial of all this has been the prevailing thought of modern civilization, with incredibly damaging results.

Many of the world’s monotheistic religions have demonized the body over the years. It was naked in Eden, so we had to be ashamed of it and cover it up. Female power and desire and its capacity to reduce the male to his wild, sexualized state was scary and became “sinful.” The body wants to lose control, but the mind suffers the delusion that it IS in control. Sexuality is highly problematic. Eventually, the once-revered Goddess became subservient to her male counterpart, who lost his wife. The body became a source of shame.

Some psychologists have argued that our love/hate affair with our bodies is rooted in the knowledge that our vehicle will die one day. We don’t want to be reminded of our mortality, so we try to avoid thinking of ourselves as physical beings. Most people retreat into the world of their minds or, more accurately, their egos. As we are constantly being reminded of our physicality, however, we have come up with some pretty strange ways of avoiding dealing with it.

The Inner Child’s View:  The Body and Self-Loathing

My mother was the modern marketer’s dream. She grew up impoverished, in the Southern Baptist tradition, where the body was definitely not beloved. The body was to be overcome or transcended in some cerebral, faith-driven way. As a result, she expressed an amazing amount of self-loathing toward her own physical form. My birth was traumatic for her, and she literally did not rest until she found a doctor who was willing to remove her reproductive organs, nearly twelve years later. This had the added benefit of no longer bleeding once a month, a painful reminder of just how physical we are.

But it was the little things about her body that seemed to drive her mad. The slightest congestion of her sinuses was something to be attacked. She dragged us both to allergy specialists for many years. I endured weekly allergy shots (which did nothing other than waste my Saturday mornings), and she gave me antihistamines daily, as a sort of prophylactic measure to ward off potential allergies. (As a result, I have a phenomenal resistance to just about every drug on the market, so when I do need something, I need pills strong enough to make normal mortals hallucinate.)

My mother also had the notion that her nasal passages should be clean. Cleanliness is next to godliness, and heavens have mercy, the body is just not a clean thing. Neti pots, nasal sprays of all kinds…heck, she put everything up her nose except cocaine. But if Prevention magazine had recommended it, she certainly would have. And that’s the thing. Our whole society has bought into this weird notion that our bodies are somehow immature teenagers who are incapable of taking care of themselves. We think our sinuses should be clean, our intestines should be clean, and our vaginas should be cleaned out with a vinegar rinse that smells of spring. I mean, seriously? Deodorant, perfumes, and mouthwash also play their roles in denying the fact that we exist in carbon-based, excreting, sometimes smelly bodies.

The popularity of the character of Mr. Spock is hardly surprising in this context. I love Star Trek, too, but let’s get real. Spock is the Ego Wet Dream. Always logical, always in control, never distracted by emotions or sexual feelings… unless he is in the midst of Pon farr, the time when the body and its hormones take control and logical thought becomes impossible. Poor Vulcans, there’s just no balance for them.

But balance is possible for us. We have just forgotten. Our current antibody/antiphysical mindset is responsible, no doubt, for a great many ills, including sexual predation and psychosis stemming from the conflict between our “evil” bodies and our own physical desires and needs. I suspect that many a warped sexuality grew out of this conflict.

We are Part of This Earth

The primary damage that the elevation of the mind over the heart and body has inflicted on us is the belief that we are not part of our natural environment, that we are somehow separate from the natural world. After all, if you deny your physical essence, then you deny that you are part of the ecosystem and the great web of life. I think the fundamentalist tendency to disbelieve evolution and think of man as somehow separate and “greater than” the world around us is rooted in this denial. If you hate your own physical form, then it cannot have arisen from the same processes that produce the world around us.

As I become more and more grounded into the earth and become more in tune with the animal spirits, they are showing me what modern man has forgotten. We have a primal nature, a wild nature. We feel and sense the world with more than a mere five senses. Our connection with spirit is not something that simply occurs in the stratosphere somewhere; it occurs here on the earth, even deep below the earth, as well. Sexuality is not just an occasional joyride or inconvenient feeling. It is creativity; it is love; it is power; it is a joining of spirits; it is a sacred bond.

My body is not a temple of shame. It was not created to tempt me constantly so that I might prove myself worthy of the love of an external god. Rather, my body is a temple of my spirit, and of the spirit of the entire universe. My body is a cell in the organism of the world. I am connected with all life, and I have a duty to respect and protect the other cells in this greater body.

We are pack animals. We need each other, but not just other humans. We need our animal brothers and sisters, the plants and the trees, the moving rivers that flow like veins in the body of our mother, and the great oceans that are the womb of all life.

It is time to ground yourself in the energy of the planet, to experience your spirit in its physical form. Cast off your shame and any self-loathing that lurks in the far corners of your temple. Inhabit your body fully. Be present in it, feel in it, get lost in it. After all, you’re only here for a relatively short time.