This is not a before-and-after weight loss story.

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My first EVER gym selfie. Ahh!

Just over a year ago, I had my first sit down with my trainer, Coretta. Through my tears, I told her that I had gained 40 pounds since my mother died, and could no longer recognize myself. Depression and a string of injuries had made it impossible for me to train like I always had; as an elite athlete. Not to mention, years of vacillating between extreme calorie restriction and binging had wreaked havoc on my metabolism. I was constantly in pain, and terrified of losing control of my health and dying far too young, like my mother. As much as it pained me to admit, I needed help.

I was nearing my 30th birthday, and was having so many joint problems that I honestly didn’t know what I could even do in the gym anymore. I knew my body needed activity. I knew that getting stronger would improve my mental and physical well-being. But all of my favorite workouts (basketball, soccer, rugby, spinning, and running) were off the table. I hated the gym and resented working out for any reason other than to improve my performance on the field. No longer being an athlete was (and remains) a sore subject for me, and I was resistant to accept that I would need to find a way to love fitness without playing sports.

As soon as Coretta said the words, “it sounds like it’s time to get back to you,” I knew I was in good hands. I had hope.

In the past, I would have jumped immediately into strict “clean eating,” and exercising 6 days a week. Most of my previous weight loss efforts have involved punishing my body by beating it into shape. Those efforts were driven by an external goal — a number on the scale that I randomly deemed my “ideal.”

This time, I started my training out slowly, doing two days per week: one day in the pool and one day on the floor. At first, I hated the pool. “That’s for old ladies!” I would exclaim, with an air of superiority. I wanted the floor. I wanted to lift heavy! I wanted to get immediately back to being the athlete I once was.

But wants and needs are two different things. “You need the water,” Coretta insisted. “You need to recover and build the foundation for bigger things. You need to walk before you run.”

I was a reluctant grasshopper, but I trusted in her deep knowledge and kind heart so much that I fought my (terrible) instincts and followed her instructions. My inner self-judging perfectionist was screaming at me to do more, to push harder, to kill myself to be thin if I had to. But in my heart, I knew that slow and steady would win.

Over the months, I began to shift my perspective and started viewing working out as self-care; one of the most loving things I could do for myself, rather than a punishment for being too large. I have learned to LOVE going to the gym, and the feeling of strength and balance that it affords me. I have learned that maintaining a love of fitness isn’t about before and afters — it’s about the journey, and celebrating every single little gain along the way. I stopped beating myself up with the “shoulds” and started listening to myself instead. My workouts with Coretta became non-negotiable me-time, rather than just another appointment to keep on my calendar. I’ve slowly added more days at the gym each week, and have even incorporated yoga (an exercise I previously deemed “not intense enough” for me), which has helped me tune in and listen to my body.

What a difference a year makes. Today, Coretta had me running sprints for the first time since I started this quest of getting back to me. I should be able to play sports again quite soon, which I’m really looking forward to. But even if I could never play sports again, I am amazed at how much I have learned and how far I have come. I am now the strongest I have ever been (yes, including when I was a college athlete) and I have never been healthier. My joints feel a thousand times better. My resting heart rate is down a whopping 20 BPM from this time last year. And most importantly: I have stopped trying to disappear.

The funny thing is that I haven’t lost a pound. I have lost inches and body fat percentages and a pants size, but not a single pound. The lack of movement on the scale has been very frustrating and discouraging at times, especially when I’m doing everything “right” and still don’t see the numbers drop. My exasperation is compounded when I see friends posting their incredible before-and-after transformations on social media. But one of the biggest lessons that this whole experience has taught me is to stop looking over my shoulder at everybody else and to look within me. Their success is not my failure. Everyone’s journey is different. Every body has different needs. I am only hurting ME by holding myself to ridiculous standards and comparing myself to others. That is what got me into this mess of abusing myself in the first place!

So today, I choose to compare myself to where I was a year ago, and more importantly, to celebrate how far I have come. As I was stretching after my workout, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and for the first time in years, I saw the “me” that I recognize: tall, broad-shouldered, beautiful and strong.

And I had nothing but love for her.

On practicing stillness

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Photo credit: Flickr user Pictoquotes

Ever since my best friend’s wedding in early July, I have felt the tug. The tug is a constant nagging reminder that I must move forward; must make something major happen in my life. What is that something, exactly?

I have no idea.

Perhaps watching my best friend take a major step in her life propelled me to think I should be doing the same. Or perhaps the tug has been lying dormant in me for a long while, pushed down to the depths of my subconscious to be dealt with at a later date. All I know for sure is that it’s there, and that it can’t be ignored. It’s always tugging.

For the better part of my life — ages 2 through 25 — I was a student, which was rather simple. My goals were clear: to graduate and to find employment. Outside of graduating from college and law school, the only other tangible #lifegoals I can ever remember having were: to move to New York City, to find someone to love, to write, and to eventually move to the beach. Check, check, check and check.

Now what?

I guess I never considered the fact that I might accomplish my major milestone goals by 30. Or that my “life goals” were not very specific or ambitious (unlike the adorably unrealistic goals I used to set for myself in my journal, like “I vow to lose 4,000 pounds in the next 3 weeks!” or, “I will become fluent in Spanish by the new year — two months left is plenty of time!”).

So, I decided to take some time to reflect on where I’m at and where I’d like to go. All summer long, I have allowed myself the luxury of stillness. I haven’t written much, or accomplished much at all, other than the usual work and chores around the house.

I swam in the ocean almost every day, convinced that the salt water would invigorate my mind and pull me from my stupor. I went for long walks in the woods and did yoga, and even tried meditation after years of resisting the very idea of it. I thought if I could just learn to listen to myself without the judgment of my critical inner voice, I might understand where the tug was coming from.

No such luck. At least not yet.

In some ways, it’s extremely frustrating to feel like I am falling behind, when there is no good reason for it. The reality is that I’m doing just fine. I’m happy and healthy. I’m in a long-term relationship with an incredibly supportive partner. I have two perfect little fur-babies, a good job, a beautiful apartment 4 blocks from the beach, many friends who love me deeply for who I am, a family who always comes to visit, and a blog with engaged readers who put up with my endless and often insufferable philosophizing. By most accounts, I’m living the dream! (Permission to want to punch me in my face for even listing these things out, or thinking they’re not enough: GRANTED.)

Maybe the lesson in all of this is that I must learn to appreciate my life as it is, and to stop itching for something more.

As frustrating as the tug can be, it is also an extraordinary gift. I’m slowly learning to let go of all of the pressure and expectations I put on myself and others. Instead, I’m choosing to listen — really listen — to my own inner voice, and the whispers of the world around me. In doing so, I am humbled. I haven’t figured it all out, and that is ok. I will never figure it all out. There will probably always be another tug of discontentment right around the corner.

In the meantime, I think I will take one more swim in the ocean today, and revel in the joy of being exactly where I always hoped I would be.

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Readers: have you experienced the tug lately? How have you dealt with it?

Welcome to the freedom trap

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This is how it feels… kind of.

I have a confession to make. Despite the fact that my mother dying of a freak stroke was one of the most traumatic and world-shattering things to happen to me to date, there is another side to my grief. A side I don’t normally share with others, because it’s ugly and taboo.

Here it goes: My mother’s death gave me a freedom I have never known before.

Let me explain. It’s true that she was my closest confidant, my guiding light and my biggest fan. But it’s also true that she had expectations of me. Many, many expectations.

I spent my entire life with a critical eye watching carefully over my every move. I felt my failures keenly, as my mother tsk-tsked me over a B+ or shook her head at me from the stands of a basketball game where I only hit 40% of my shots. “USE YOUR LEGS!” she would mouth furiously at me from her seat, as I tried desperately to keep my cool. Despite every coach I ever had begging me to stop looking constantly at my mother, I never did learn.

Nothing ever seemed good enough for her. A 3.7 GPA was good, but probably could have been a 4.0 if I’d just put in a little more effort. Losing 15 pounds on a crash diet was great, but if only I could lose 10 more, I’d really be in good shape. Scoring 17 points was a solid way to finish a basketball game, but if only I’d hit one more three, I could finally be on college-recruitement lists.

Needless to say, I had (have? Ok, ok HAVE) a complex. My inability to rip my eyes away from the bleachers really did a number on me. My entire life, I have felt less than; inadequate and unable to reach my supposedly limitless potential. And while I’m sure my mother was pushing me for “the right reasons,” her actions still shook my confidence, and had me questioning whether I would ever be good enough.

Meanwhile, if you asked anyone else in town, I was her golden child who could do no wrong. She bragged about me constantly. This dichotomy never ceased to amaze (or confound!) me.

All of that is to say that I always felt her judgment, even when she didn’t say a word. Take my writing, for example. I knew that my mother thought I was a great writer. But for some reason, I always felt that she didn’t believe I could — or should — make a career out of it. She never said so explicitly, and she never even came close to telling me which career path I should choose. Her fallback mantra was always, “I just want you to be happy.” But I never believed her. I never felt free. I always felt like I needed to take a certain path — one that would lead me to traditional success; one she could brag about and hold up as her own parenting win.

It’s also quite possible that a lot of that perceived scorn and judgment from her was in my head. Maybe I just watched too many 80’s and 90’s teen movies where the characters rebelled against their parents’ school/career expectations for them, and went to art school to follow their passions instead.

I was always envious of those singularly driven passion-followers. I chose the other path, the “practical” path and lived to make someone else happy. I now have two marketable degrees, and an endless pile of student debt that keeps me up at night. And the person that I did it all to impress isn’t even here anymore.

So, I’m free now. I’m free to pursue my dreams, and to write about whatever I want. I no longer have to fear the judgment of the only person whom I ever really wanted to make proud. And that’s really incredible, in some ways!

Sometimes, my newfound freedom makes me soar. It makes me feel limitless. Like, there’s nobody I have to please but myself. I can do whatever I want in this world and I only have to answer to me.

But other times, it’s just exhausting. Some days, I just wish I had my mommy to call up. I miss her guidance and support. Her earthly presence made me feel like I didn’t have to have every single thing in my life figured out. No matter how old I got, I was free to be a child with her. Now, it’s all on me; no coach, no scapegoat. My driving force is gone, and that can be pretty terrifying. Hence, my inertia as of late.

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All the time!

Freedom is a bit tricky in that way. You are free to pursue your dreams, but you’re also free to do nothing at all — to never move forward; to never try.

I’m not sure how to overcome the paralyzing fear that seems built into my brain, or how to drown out my inner critic, which sounds suspiciously like my mother. But I do know that ultimately, this is all within my control. It is my choice: I’m free to fly, and risk falling, or stay on the ground where it’s safe.

How I choose to move forward is what matters. I hope I will choose to fly.

I’m sick of it all.

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I’m sick of social media.

I’m sick of perfectly curated photographs and carefully constructed personas.

I’m sick of scrolling, and likes, and hearts, and hahas, and wows, and favorites.

I’m sick of elaborate pregnancy announcements, and 800-like engagements, and incredible before-and-afters and endless go-fund-me’s, all while I struggle to figure out what my “plan” should be, or whether it’s worth even having one when life always seems to intervene and destroy it anyway.

I’m sick of everything being a photo shoot, and pictures of perfect yoga poses in idyllic locations, and hot dog legs on beaches and photo editing apps that make human beings look creepily moonlit, like the Veelas from Harry Potter.

I’m sick of the highlight reel of everyone’s lives; the equivalent of a braggy family holiday newsletter, but instead, one that blasts off every goddamn day, causing everybody looking on to feel inadequate.

I’m sick of the depression, the insecurity, and the addiction to positive reinforcement, where I feel like a failure if one of my articles doesn’t perform well.

I’m sick of everybody “doing it for the ‘gram” and ignoring me while I speak because they need to check their feeds…

And of restaurants who put food on artfully collected slabs and in weird containers, so their patrons will share social media pictures.

I’m sick of friggin’ mason jars.

I’m sick of the non-ironic usage of hashtags while I’m interacting person-to-person, and even more sick of the fact that I do it too.

I’m sick of shameless clickbait, and flawlessly-crafted viral videos.

I’m sick of algorithms, and formulating shitty headlines to get more clicks, more engagement, more bullshit.

I’m sick of writing thinkpieces.

I’m sick of thinkpieces, generally. And thinkpieces about thinkpieces. And thinkpieces about thinkpieces about thinkpieces. And the entire circle-jerk of opinions that fire off just for clicks, just for ad revenue; just to agitate us social media addicts for money.

I’m sick of playing into it all with my outrage; my engagement.

I’m sick of every handpicked media story-of-the-moment being beaten to death within a 12-hour cycle — before I’ve even had a chance to process what it all means or to collect my thoughts to write my own goddamn thinkpiece.

I’m sick of everybody feeling like they need to make a public statement after every single noteworthy event happens — it’s like millions of miniature self-run PR departments kicking off into gear every time there is a mass shooting or huge political happening, or a celebrity dies.

I’m sick of feeling like I need to participate in this minute-by-minute word vomit, and of the fear that I will never be a successful writer if I don’t.

I’m sick of performing, and of feeling like I need to become a “personal brand,” and seeing writers and creators I love and respect having to feed the content-creation beast 24/7.

I’m sick of being so drowned in voices that I don’t even recognize my own anymore.

I’m sick of being “on” all the time.

I’m sick of writing “sorry for the delayed response” every time I don’t reply to someone within twenty minutes.

I’m sick of my aching elbow and hand reminding me that I spend my life staring at a screen; for work, for social life, for news, for entertainment.

I’m sick of only feeling fully alive every once in a while, when I am out of cell service range and am finally free of all the expectations and “conveniences” of modern life.

I’m just sick of it all.

What Kurt Metzger will never understand about reporting rape

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Pretty much my exact response to Metzger’s garbage dump

Sigh. Another day, another rape controversy, right? This week, comedian and Inside Amy Schumer writer Kurt Metzger found himself in hot water with all of us hyper-reactionary Social Justice Warriors when he went on a social media tirade, claiming that internet “lynch mobs” and vigilante justice are now taking the place of going to the police in the wake of sexual assault.

All of this started after several women came forward to the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) and claimed they had been sexually assaulted by fellow improv comedian Aaron Glaser. The UCB ran an internal investigation, and found the claims credible. Thus, they decided to ban Glaser for life. You know, similar to how women might approach an employer about sexual harassment at the office. Anyway, once word started getting around about Glaser, a few other comedy clubs also banned the comic. Glaser denied the accusations in now-deleted Facebook posts and called the bans and subsequent public outcry a “witch hunt.”

In comes Metzger, the bold “truthteller” that he is. He posted several Facebook and Twitter updates, railing on “rape trial by social media.” According to Kurt, there is only one “correct” way to deal with rape — by going immediately to the police. If you don’t go to the police, you apparently forfeit your right to speak about your rape, or to do anything to make your workplace or your community more comfortable and safe for women. I’m not going to give his rhetoric a place here on my blog, because it was intentionally inflammatory and hateful, and obviously meant to draw more ears to his podcast. If you’re interested in reading his incoherent rantings that started the controversy, you can here, here, herehere, and here.

But it was this post that really bothered me:  Continue reading

Moving forward: 5 ways to take care of yourself when you’ve experienced trauma

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Photo credit: RunJanefox on Flickr

A friend reached out to me last weekend after a traumatic experience, looking for advice on moving forward. It really got me thinking about what I wish someone had told me in those times when I was struggling to stay above water. I am not a therapist and I am certainly not qualified to give professional advice on treating trauma or PTSD. But I DO have enough experience with having my world rocked that I know a thing or two about how to take care of yourself in the immediate aftermath of horrible life events. I think this advice is rather universal, and can help folks who are in the throes of breakup/divorce, loss of a loved one, assault (sexual or otherwise), sickness, a friendship breakup, etc.

Here are a few things I recommend to keep in mind as you move forward:

1. Be kind to yourself: This one is crucial. Be. Kind. To. Yourself. Like, radical self-kindness. Even when it seems absolutely impossible, try to have patience for your pain and your anxiety. After I was raped, I used to write little words of affirmation or lyrics on the insides of my wrists, to remind me that I was worth something. You will find your own little ways to remind yourself. Tell yourself “it’s not your fault” as many times as you need to; as many times as it takes for inner, critical you to believe it. Tell yourself it will get better (because it will, eventually), but don’t push yourself to get better before you are ready. Be kind. Treat yourself like you would treat a child coming to you after a traumatic experience. Have empathy for yourself. Do things that make you feel good, and avoid doing things that don’t. You might experience some changes in your life and interests (example: I used to love being in crowds of people. It made me feel less alone. Now, my PTSD makes it difficult to be in crowds — I struggle with fear of the unpredictable nature of large groups of people). That is ok. You are surviving, and surviving is complex. Have patience for yourself and the changes you will go through. It’s part of that self-kindness. TREAT YO-SELF TO KINDNESS.

2. Give yourself time and take it one step at a time: The first few months after a trauma will be among the hardest, and they will move painfully slow at times and absurdly fast at others. Giving yourself time to have your pain, for better or for worse, is crucial. The healing process is long and it’s a lot of work. Rushing it won’t help. I remember when my mother died, just being so exasperated that I would feel sad for such a long time. I was like “no, not again with this sadness!” You will probably find yourself getting antsy to just HEAL ALREADY. But unfortunately, there’s no substitute for time in healing. There’s no short cut I know of YET (but if I do get my hands on some healing hacks, y’all will be the first to know). Continue reading

Game of Thrones Finally Gives the Narrative Back to its Female Characters

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Photo credit: Helen Sloan for HBO

Editor’s note: Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones!

Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are no strangers to controversy — especially when it comes to the popular show’s female characters.

Back in season 4, they faced backlash when Jaime Lannister rapes his sister and lover Cersai right next to their dead son, Joffrey. Despite Cersai’s vocal resistance to Jaime’s advances, he forces himself on top of her and has sex with her. Audiences were upset with the depiction, especially since the scene was clearly consensual in the books. To many viewers, it felt gratuitous, unnecessary, and inconsistent with the redemptive story arc of Jaime’s character. However, according to the episode’s director, Alex Graves, while the scene was meant to disturb, it was not meant to depict rape. Because the season was already wrapped and edited by the time the controversy emerged, there was no acknowledgment in the story from either character that the rape had taken place. It was as though it never even happened.

In season 5, the showrunners faced further backlash when Sansa Stark is brutally raped by her cruel and sadistic husband, Ramsay Bolton. While the rape did not happen on-camera, the audience experiences it through the eyes, and tears, of Theon Greyjoy, who was essentially raised as Sansa’s brother. Viewers were upset that the rape felt unnecessary, and that Theon’s pain was front and center, rather than Sansa’s.

More generally, the show has received plenty of criticism for its abundance of female nudity and lack of male nudity. The female nudity is received by many viewers as gratuitous; obviously meant to cater to the male gaze. Titillation geared towards female viewers has been much harder to come by. The one time the series showed a male member, it was flaccid and wart-covered — not to mention, it was part of a comedic scene. One of the show’s female stars, Emilia Clarke (who plays Daenerys Targaryen, also known as “Dany”), has even called for nudity equality between female and male stars on the show.

All of these controversies, taken together, suggest that the showrunners — both of which are men — have probably not thought very seriously about a woman’s point of view. They have also often scoffed at criticisms aimed towards them. Upset female viewers are generally urged to acknowledge that these scenes depict reality, which has often been a brutal and unrelenting place for women. As if we aren’t already aware of that. Continue reading