Category Archives: Mental Health

Wish me luck on a new quest for a healthier lifestyle

When I started this blog, it was mostly about health – or at least dietary intake (which admittedly was not always healthy) and fitness training. I think I reached the pinnacle of my health in February 2012 – thanks to a stint with Amy Layne on the DAMY bikini body plan, I had developed a very healthy attitude towards my diet and fitness, I loved my body, I was lean and strong, I ate a good amount of both healthy (fruit, veg, whole grains, nuts) and unhealthy (alcohol, cupcakes) things, and I was fit enough to run and complete a tough mudder. Pretty good all around.

Tough Mudder game face

Tough Mudder game face

Then things slid – I moved to Houston, I got pregnant and due to polyhydramnios was taken off all exercise, I finished my 12 week DAMY program and did not sign back up, I had a baby, I accepted I was allergic to fruit, I became a faculty member at an R1 institution at the time of great funding crises, I became a working mother and acquired a stay at home husband, to whom I charged the family cooking. A million and one wonderful excuses that kept me from living a healthy lifestyle.

I don’t think I realized how far things had slid until Amy Layne (my old DAMY coach) facebooked me out of the blue and asked how I was. Good question Amy, good question. Amy works hard with her clients to look after their mental and physical selves. I worked hard with Amy on body acceptance, and healthy (normal?) eating attitudes: how to listen to my body, how to remove guilt, but focus on health, how to relax (I still have my Heavenly accupressure mat that she sent me!). And still I love my body, I have stayed away from my eating demons, I am happy. But. BUT. The physical side? Ummmm…. yeah…. A McDonalds EVERY day (seriously, I did this)? A maximum of 1 serving of fruit or veg a day? Liquid intake consisting of ONLY Diet Coke and coffee? Carbs made up almost exclusively of vanilla goldfish and Cadbury’s Fingers? Seriously, my diet was exactly that: sugary hits of nutrient depleted food. And exercise? Forget it… it was firmly on the ‘to do’ list, never on the ‘done’ list.

What could I tell Amy? That she had spent 12 weeks coaching me, and working with me, emailing me and helping me for no show? That although I attribute recovering so quickly after my hemorrhage to my body fitness she gave me, I had let it slide? Seriously – eeek! You don’t know Amy, she cares so deeply about her clients (hence she still emails them 2 years later), I knew she would be upset and I couldn’t do it.

So, that was my turning point…. my kick up the backside. My ‘I need to do something’. Sadly (or maybe not so sadly) I am no longer in a place (mentally or otherwise) where I feel I want to make sudden drastic overhauls to my lifestyle.  And anyway, working with Amy made me swear off radical quick fixes (I am looking at you Master Cleanse. *shudder*). And my years of living badly and surviving have also made me fearless in the face of cupcakes and fries, so it’s not like I can be motivated to cut them out completely. So, I am making slow, manageable changes. A vegetable smoothie for breakfast in the morning….

1/2 avocado 1/2 cucumber 1/2 bunch fresh spinach 1 c coconut water 3 tsbp Fage 2%

1/2 avocado
1/2 cucumber
1/2 bunch fresh spinach
1 c coconut water
3 tsbp Fage 2%

(anyone who has smoothie recipes that don’t involve fruit – please share!)

And at least 2 veggie snacks a day (carrots, peppers or tomatoes). I don’t care if my other snacks are indeed goldfish, I have to eat veggies twice a day. And I am aiming for one salad a day as well. Considering that my BMI is healthy, I figure that that takes care of my diet fairly well – how badly can I eat around that? (Hey, don’t answer that).

I am drinking a lot more water and a lot less Diet Coke (the jury is pretty out on whether this is good for you or not, but hey, surely it can’t hurt?). And exercise…. hmmmmm… well, I am getting out of the house every night and planning to run three times a week (kinda only making it once a week, but hey…). I have a million excuses reasons why my exercise plan is not going as it should, but I’ll save you from them. Suffice to say that for 40 minutes every evening I am least upright, outside, moving and not on the sofa eating chips.

Sam and Ellie benefit from the walking too

Sam and Ellie benefit from the walking too

Small steps, but please, wish me luck sticking to them! I am amazed at how I have changed from telling people they can do anything health related, to openly struggling to make the very basics of a healthy lifestyle mine. I want to get back to my ‘old self’ now that I am settled into Houston, motherhood, faculty life, home ownership and whatnot. I want to have a healthy lifestyle. I can do this, right?

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A lesson for being fearless

Relaxing, Lekki-style this weekend

Relaxing, Lekki-style this weekend

Today was the first day back after the long Christmas break. I was about 1/3 as productive as I wanted to be. But, in the spirit of yesterday’s post, I am not miserable about it. I am not freaking out about what everyone else is / was doing. I am relaxing, taking the long view, and spending my evening doing fun stuff, knowing that the manic deadline-looming 4 am writing nights will come, like they always do in academia.

In my less-than-productive day, I stumbled across this woman – one Beautiful Existence (yes, that is her name). In 2013 she decided to only eat or drink anything from Starbucks, or a Starbucks affiliated / inspired company. Crazy. And probably inadvisable. But while I would not recommend it and I have no desire to try it, I did learn something from it.

When I first heard about the challenge on CNN my thought was a horrified ‘Oh my God, what a terrible idea, how dreadful’. Then I read about her results on Buzzfeed expecting tales of soaring cholesterol and addictions to ambien (a sleeping pill) and sentiments about Starbucks is really bringing down the world from within and we have to get rid of the venti or we’ll never solve the obesity crisis. But after reading her story, I came to the much more prosaic conclusion of ‘oh wow, nothing really changed for her’.

It hit me: really, this was not a catastrophic thing. There is no need to fear eating Starbucks for a year. You’ll be fine. It seems a big deal: it’s really not. It reminded me of 2009, in the last month of my PhD. Things were crazy. I left writing my actual thesis to the last minute and ended up writing a chapter a day, except for my methods, which took 2 days. At the same time I was co-leading an international summer school, and had joined a large multi-center research group and promised to develop some new methods for them on the analysis of sibling data. And I had my usual papers and work due. One day, it all got on top of me and I started to sob. Sob, sob, sob. Sob so loudly my ex-officemate Claire heard me all the way through two wooden doors & across 2 corridors in the other side of the building. She came to my office and, when I finally unlocked the door, said

“OK. Let’s make a cup of tea”

[it is very important that Americans understand just how integral tea is to solving all British crises. I recommend it].

Solves all ills.

Solves all ills.

But then, amidst my howls about how I could not possibly do it all, she said:

“OK, what would happen if you did none of it? Not a single thing?” I looked at her. “What would happen if you didn’t write your thesis?”.

“Ummm… my supervisor would be annoyed, and I would hand it in a bit late”.

“OK, what would happen if you did not get the summer school curriculum together?”.

“The students would still show up… we’d give them some lectures from last year… someone would bail me out”

“OK, and what would happen if you did not run these analyses for the multi-center group”

“They’d be annoyed. Their paper would come out a few weeks later”.

Ah. I see what you did there, Claire. No big deal. None of this is as catastrophic as it seems.

That is kind of what this lady’s Starbucks venture was to me: seemed horrendous and terrible and full of awful consequences. In reality: not a great idea perhaps, but no biggie. So, this is why I am not working tonight: it is not the end of the world that I had a bad (unproductive) day. There is no need to fear losing my job, never submitting another grant, never getting another paper out. I am learning to stop listening to what those around me are doing and go at my own pace. I could be unproductive for a whole week if necessary, and be fine. I could survive off Starbucks for a year and be fine.

We are lucky: we get a lot of chances to adapt and correct. Sweating the small stuff is overrated. Don’t give in to fear. Love life. Smile. Relax.

By the way – my thesis was in early and passed without corrections, the summer school was a roaring success, and I got one of my best publications out of the multi-center analysis group. Go figure.

Champagne for successful vivas for Harriet & me.

Champagne for successful vivas for Harriet & me.

 

 

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Obligatory New Year’s Eve Resolutions Post

…. In which I don’t make any resolutions. Well I sort of do… hear me out.

I was struggling to write this post, or make any resolutions, but could not fathom why. Then I read this post over at Healthy Tipping Point and it helped me understand my feelings so much.

I look back at 2012 and think… Hmmmm… how did this go?

Ringing in 2012!

Ringing in 2012!

In January I started seriously job hunting, which entailed many long trips.

Job hunting trip to Houston

Job hunting trip in Houston

In February I fell pregnant.

Big Fat Positive

In March I presented to the American Heart Association, and had my last vacation in a while: a wonderful hiking trip through Utah and Arizona.

Canyonlands hiking

Canyonlands hiking

In April I went house hunting, and in May I bought a house.

Us and our new home

In June I traveled to San Francisco to speak for NIH, said goodbye to many wonderful friends in Alabama, moved State to Texas and immediately started my new job. (I also celebrated my first wedding anniversary).

I worked very hard June-November, submitting 3 grants in 3 months.

In July I traveled to New York, and in September, 8 months pregnant, I traveled to San Antonio to present at a conference.

Central Park

Central Park

In November I had my son, suffered severe complications, and very quickly..

P1000776

in December I went back to the office.

So, 2012 involved (among other things): finding a job, buying a house, moving State, starting a new job and having a baby.

I. Am. Exhausted.

Happy, but exhausted.

Post race... happy, but exhausted :)

Post race… happy, but exhausted 🙂

Looking back at 2011… it wasn’t exactly quiet. I got a grip on my postdoc academic career, submitting a grant which was funded, and submitting about 10 papers, which were eventually published. I whittled my body into shape, achieving ‘visible’ abs for the first time in my life, and got serious about fitness, culminating in a Tough Mudder 1/2 marathon.  This was also the year Wes proposed, and I got married (twice) – not so much personal goals, but time and energy consuming happy occasions.

I was pretty tired by the end of that 😉

So, what now? I am looking for a change of tact. I am now looking to seek contentment over happiness (or perhaps as well as). Let me explain… I am a very happy person. I think anyone who knows me (even people who have only known me a short while) would describe me as extremely happy.Everything above made me very, very happy. However, perhaps it is a Type A personality trait: I am rarely ‘content’.

A good example of this is: Getting fit enough (actually getting fit at all!) to run a 5K easily made me happy… but then I had to run a 10K, which also made me happy… but it became a 15K and a 1/2 marathon.  Having a great boyfriend made me very happy… but I wanted to marry him… and have a baby… Doing well in my postdoc was wonderful, but I had to publish more… have more students… submit more grants than any other postdoc at UAB… get a good faculty position…

And so it goes. Always very happy, never very content. This has a darker side, because I am never content with anything much, and while that be OK for running PRs, and Science publications it is not so great when you start to want to improve your husband, and your house, and when you look around and don’t like where you live because you could live somewhere with better walking… and better shops… and less guns… and so on. Things you don’t have the power to improve can quickly make you unhappy when you are always striving for everything to be better.

Cliched now, but true for me.

Cliched now, but true for me at the moment.

So, for just a while, it is time to stop. My resolution is to seek the kind of contentment which will allow me to look back at the end of 2013 and say ‘I am happy, and I am content’. I want to be content with my house, and content with my beautiful son (who I love so much I want to cry when I say that), and content with my amazing husband (who yes, can be cranky and difficult, but is also hilariously funny, beautifully sweet and who puts me & Sam first like no one else ever could).

This doesn’t mean that I am going to lie about eating cake on the sofa and not trying at anything (although that doesn’t sound like a bad plan 🙂 ). It means I am going to work on the things I have, without always having to be ‘bigger, better, best’. I can work on small steps which will allow me to be content with what I have. So, I don’t really have resolutions, more ‘vague things’ I would like to do in 2013:

I would like to be content with my house, so I hope to work in decorating and refurbishing it, and make it make it a lovely, welcoming place to be, and reflection of mine and Wes’ tastes and personalities.

More beautiful rooms like this, please.

More beautiful rooms like this, please.

I would like to be content with my career, so I hope to build a research program which is defined not by papers and grants (although they must surely come!) but by the exploration of novel ideas, and the possibility of generating results that could truly improve human health.

I would like to be content with my family, so I hope to spend more time with them, just enjoying them, and understanding who they are where thy come from. I hope more time together will help me always remember their good qualities.

Pretty good family to be content with.

Pretty good family to be content with.

I would like to be content with my body (it is funny, the more you workout, the more you lose, the leaner you become… the less content you are. Or so it was for me). To work on nourishing it, keeping it healthy, appreciating its awesome power, and loving it for what it is.

So… no resolutions. No steps. No goals. 23% chance I will go crazy in March and roar ‘I must achieve something’ and make a huge ‘goals’ list and be running a full marathon by June. But for now… No tick boxes for me – I personally have had quite enough of those the past 2 years. I just resolve (I guess there is a resolution there) to stop, enjoy what I have, and seek contentment. I don’t see this as a permanent state of mind, more of putting down some good foundations for the future. Building a safe and happy base, from which I can take on more work responsibilities, or have another child (high on my list of thigns I want to eventually do) – all in a healthy, stable, happy environment.

I hope to be putting down some solid roots, so a strong tree can grow.

Happy New year y’all 🙂 Have a wonderful 2013!! What are you striving for in 2013?

Image credit

http://lifechangequotes.com/the-serenity-prayer-reinhold-niebuhr/

Post-partum complication reflections

Sam’s birth really comes in three stages to me: the ‘last day‘, the induction and birth, and the post-partum aftermath. Although I was happy to share, in glorious details (too glorious for some?) the first two parts, I have decided not to blog in detail about the last bit. This is because:

(1) I don’t want to be another internet scare story;

(2) It is incredibly painful for my family, and some of my friends, to think about and thus they do not need a permanent reminder to pour over;

(3) I don’t think I have fully processed everything – for example, I still see pictures that haunt me or feel funny when someone writes ‘you nearly died in childbirth’, it’s as if it didn’t actually happen in my mind, at least, it still seems like a story someone told me.

So, in the spirit of positivity, I am not going to rehash the sorry tale (although any curious peeps are perfectly welcome to email me about it – I have a fairly blow-by-blow account I can forward on with no problem), but instead leave you with the thoughts that are in head, as I process the whole sorry tale:

(1) Dear God, I am glad I did not give birth in a birth center after all. Quite simply, I would not be here now. I now do not know where I stand on home / birth center births.

ICU machines

Not available at a birth center…

(2) Wes’ Aunt is a nurse, and is fairly sure that many hospitals in the US would not have been able to cope with the demands of a 10-unit blood transfusion. I ended up at Texas Children’s utterly by chance: they were about the only people who would take me as I moved state mid-pregnancy. I wonder if God was looking out for me at that time.

(3) I am ridiculously grateful I am a health nut. When we went in for the cervadil, as is standard procedure, I was monitored overnight. My temperature is 1 full degree lower than average, my reflexes are (literally) kick ass, and my heart rate drops so low in my sleep that the machines kept sounding alarms for the nurse to come as I had dropped into a Brady (below 50 beats per minute). These are all indicators of good health and our nurse commented “Why, you’re just going to live forever” [words that would later haunt Wes]. I suspect the speed of my recovery, and possibly my recovery itself, was due to a long relationship with weight-lifting, healthy eating and running. I really would urge all my readers to care for their health.

(4) I am amazed at how much humans can rebuild a body. I was left as a kind of shell and it blows my mind how much blood, plasma, fluid etc the doctors could pump into me, and how much they could do to keep my body going: it was for a brief while, almost like I was a vessel and the ‘life’ was just happening artificially outside of me with machines and so on doing all the work. The gifts that Science has given us are incredible.

Body not really functioning outside of the machines here…

(5) That being said, I am also amazed at all the things Science / Medicine couldn’t do. After rebuilding as much as possible, and troubleshooting, the doctors just had to wait to see if my ‘body would take over’. Of course it did, but it took time. It was interesting to me to watch certain systems start working again and reminded me what an amazingly complex and phenomenal thing the human body is.

Body working again

(6) I am clearly not at all used to ‘giving in’ to my body, when it wants to be weak. Every physical and mental challenge, I have just pushed through at taken my body to limits people did not think I was capable of: Tough Mudder? I’ll do it all. Grant due? I’ll work until 2 am every night and STILL train twice a day… I’ll recoup and recover later. This gave me a feeling of invincibility, and it has been hard learning I am not. The recovery was / is difficult… when I pushed it too hard (with ooooh, a trip to the grocery store), I got two infections. My anemia is bad enough that my heart is skipping beats / fluttering as it works extra heard to get oxygen around. Nothing to worry about, but serious signs that I have to be careful. I literally have had to bow down to my body holding me back, or watch it fail. It sucks to be reminded of my limitations, frailty, and human-ness.

Recovering at home – finally.

Writing this out made me realise something hidden deep inside: I used to love my body, because it was so strong. Now I hate it because its weakness betrayed me, and still does, every day. I’ll get over it.

(7) The hardest thing of all – of all – is that Sam’s coming into this world was not met with joy. I still cry when I think of how he – as an innocent little baby – got his start. I came across a picture Wesley took of himself right after he was handed Sam:

 

It breaks my heart that there is no joy here, just sadness that no one could tell him if he would see his wife again. When he called my parents when I was out of OR he said “Well… you have a grandson” but because it was followed up with “but we don’t know if you’ll have a daughter” my parents did not celebrate. In fact, they did not tell anyone about Sam for a couple of days when I was in the clear.

Possibly what breaks my heart the most is that when I was out of the OR and regained consciousness, I was in a lot of pain. I literally yelled and writhed my way through the first night. The nurses asked if Sam should be taken to the nursery and although ‘no separation’ was drummed into me, I was so consumed by my own pain, and so inward looking, I just said “yes. Take him”. I hate that I did that. My head says it was necessary… my heart says I was not a good mother.

Sam watching his Mum in ICU the next day

I also hate that I couldn’t really care for him initially. Sam was placed in my arms and I just held him passively – Wes did feeds and diaper changes, cuddled him, brought him to me. Wes placed him in my arms and I just held him passively. When most people are going home with their babies, I was considered too ill to be allowed to be alone with Sam and had to call a nurse to take him to the nursery if Wes went out (to get food or something). When I was out of ICU, we had a family photo shoot. Usually the Mum holds the baby and the Dad sits behind. I couldn’t really do this, as I could not get close enough to the camera while attached to IV lines, so the photographer said “OK, Dad come to the front, Mum can be in the background”. I wanted to cry as I felt this summed up Sam’s start in life: Mum a useless figure in the background. I worry that there is vital bonding time we’ll never get back.

Not ideal conditions for being a Mum…

Ultimately, the physical recovery was (and still is) tough. I have no immune system and still not enough red blood cells. I get infections easily, and I don’t beat them well. I have an extra layer to my tiredness, and my heart has an irregular beat (this will sort itself out!). But, though I hate that, and hate that I can’t just beat my body into submission, I get better and better every day and soon will be left with no visible traces of the ordeal. Emotionally, I think the wounds will take a bit longer to heal. That is where the scars will be.

On a happier note, it was of course all worth it, and if the Frazier-Wood’s can get through this OK, they can get through anything! Wes was amazing, and this was a bonding experience for us. There were happy times even in that first week, and there will be many more.

Now… back to blogging about happy topics. It’s advent, which means I have a whole lot of decorating and crafts to tell you about 🙂

(Re)building a life

So, it is the end of my week’s vacation: and through a combination necessity and will, I have actually taken a proper vacation from work. Out of Office autoreply on and emails ignored (with no small measure of guilt). I felt I needed a week between my postdoc and my first faculty position. Well… really, I didn’t feel that I needed a week, but I didn’t want to realize from a place of mental ill-health, 8-months down the road, that I did. So, a break I took.

Of course with a home to create, this has not exactly been an idle time. Nonetheless, I have saved some time for myself; evenings especially, and the weekend. Leaving me at a loose end: what to do with myself? Before the move, I was guilty before of doing too much: accepting every invitation, giving my all to every social occasion and opportunity, always being 1/2 in work mode, working out twice a day, pushing my body to the limits each time and yet rushing through my workouts so I could meet my friends / answer that email / get that thing done. I don’t think I ever just ‘was’. I had lost my tendency to complete activities in stillness and solitude.

It was strange at first: to have time on my hands. Strange and quite isolating; like I said, I am used to filling every space in my calendar. I didn’t know what to do but slowly found myself gravitating towards certain activities: cooking, baking, horticulture, reading fiction, even (in desperation 😉 ) just hanging out with the husband. I could while away the hours planning my veggie garden and sowing the seeds, tending my orchids, baking homemade bread from scratch. And feel very calm after doing them. Or even, calm does not describe it: centered and complete. Like ‘zen’ was the perfect word for this feeling. I remembered that these were things I used to do all the time before life got crazy.

Husband approves of my re-found love of baking

So… now I feel I am at a cross roads. I have no social obligations here, no weekly gym classes, no friends nearby who I am dying to see. I am starting work with only a few papers to tidy up and submit after co-author revisions: all my postdoc papers being done, I have no real work obligations yet. I have dropped my workout schedule to zilch due to busy-ness, shock at Texas heat, a lack of a gym membership and some prenatal bleeding (no worries… all good…. just got a bit over strained with the move); I am basically starting from scrtach on the fitness front it has been so long. So: I can be selective in what I choose to do, and of course, I can choose to do nothing. Literally, I feel like I have been offered a fabulous opportunity to rebuild my life (time) as I like.

Within reason of course: I want to be very successful and productive at work, I want to remain reasonably fit and healthy, I want to have friends and actively engage in church life. But I don’t want the frenetic pace of before, the feeling that I am not giving anything my all, the feeling that I am a hands-grasp from exhaustion / burn out. That I am running on caffeine and wondering how I am going to give my all to my next activity.

In particular: I want to stop worrying about how I am going to fit a child into my life, and start waiting for a child to complete a part my life (crazy first few months not withstanding). My husband has always been very good at this: saying no, keeping ‘me’ time, not over stretching himself. I don’t know exactly where my balance lies yet… but I hope I still achieve, and still have success while actually enjoying it – rather than congratulating myself as I head into the next thing. I literally want to stop and appreciate the beauty in life.

My minor obsession with orchids has resurfaced 🙂

It will take some examining as to why I have lived my life like that: fear of rejection, fear of missing out, fear of failure. Partly the desire to excel at everything: why publish 3 papers a year,w hen you could do 4? Why ‘take up jogging’ when you could train for a half marathon? Why stop there – why not complete Tough Mudder? But, I think I came dangerously close to ‘Jack of All Trades, Master of None’, or ‘success on paper, but failure in spirit’: how much was I really there for my friends? How much in my exhausted state did I really give them? How great was my Science, when I was so very focused on completing more than was expected and / or asked? It is not the spiritual life I wanted. I don’t feel I was giving my best to Earth.

It will take some work, and I am sure I will make mistakes. I am not even 100% sure what I am looking for in balance, and a sense of the holistic, and stillness and being. But, with all my newly found free time: I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

R-E-S-T-T-T find out what to means to me…

“Runner have to understand that they won’t be fat by Thursday and or lose their fitness by Sunday”

~Janet Hamilton, exercise physiologist

 

Pain. Pain is what rest means to me. So, I went for my long run on Sunday (not that long… it’s only been a while) and loved it. I really wanted to continue, but decided not to. Came back feeling great, actually stretched properly (with my personal-trainer-certified husband guiding me no less) and ate some lunch. Then, up kicked the old knee pain. I blame my running schedule, which several people mentioned might be too much, but I stuck to because I downloaded it from a reputable source.

Knee pain has kicked up before, I have had custom orthonics made, scans, doctor visits, osteopath visits, painkillers, anti-inflammatory and so on. It has always defeated me, and my running, in the end.

Why? Because when I start to run again, things normally go like this:

-Start couch to 5K. Take it slowly (sometimes completing the 3 month program in 6 months).

-Mostly dislike the program, but stick with it, skipping the odd workout and adding in a few others (kickboxing, weights, boxing… whatever).

-Get to the end, run 5K. Love it.

-Get the bug.

-Scream ‘I am a runner’ and immediately start clocking up serious miles.

-Get painful knees.

-Try to run through them

-Don’t run for 6-12 months

Repeat.

 

“The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over, and then expecting different results.”

~Einstein (probably)

So, things have to change. I did some reading. OK, OK, I fairly obsessive, I did  A LOT of reading. I need immediate rest, with regular icings and NSAIDs, lots of stretching and myofascial release. Then I need to drastically cut back my mileage: running long runs only every other week, and being careful of too many sprint sessions. The lack of mileage means I need to cross train, which will have the additional benefit of giving me more workout time to build up my leg muscles to stabilize my hips and knees. I can do all this. I hate icing my body, but I can do it. I can cross train – I had a mental block about doing it, and using the bike not the track for my HIIT, but I did it (and was worn out), I can swim if I have to (I love it but the endless hair washing), I can even use the dreaded elliptical. I can remember to take my NSAIDs and I can (just about) suck up less long runs (especially if I get another bike and can go for long bike rides).

 

But. I. Can’t. Rest. Or, more accurately, I can, and I will until this seems healed, but I hate it. No more active rests (Just a quick hike! Just keeping a friend company for 20 mins on the track! Just a zumba class!). Nothing. But sitting, for a while day, with zero wear and tear on my knee. I literally spent ages yesterday staring forlornly out of the window thinking how nice a run would be. Today I had to restrain myself from ‘a quick 20 mins’ on the elliptical. I have no fitness goals I have achieved today, no nice tired legs, no remnant endorphins to love off. Meantime, I have seen all my friends’ status updates about their gym visits, their progress and how much they loved their run. I have read their blogs about how today was perfect.

Sigh. I do know that there is a positive spin on this: I have some more time to get things done. It is indeed a challenge to learn to enjoy rest and eat well for rest so that you do repair and recover. Mental fortitude is required for all the stretching, massage and rolling. It’s semi-fun to look up alternatives. I will probably end up a better athlete for more weights, and some more cross training.

But none of that compares to a lovely long run… Soon…. soon.

Who am I? Labels and ourselves.

Labeling theory in Psychiatry – in brief – states that people’s perception of others is coloured by the labels given to them by society, the perceiver or the perceived. Labeling theory was initially concerned with the effect of labeling someone as mentally ill, after Rosenhan’s 1973 study whereby 12 sane stooges got themselves admitted to a psychiatric hospital under the label of ‘mentally ill’, after complaining of hallucinations. Their task, after this, was to be released; a task that should be easy enough as they would simply have report to be free of hallucinations, and be ‘themselves’ – correct? Well, it was not the case. They failed to get spotted as ‘psuedopatients’ and had extensive medical reports of their ‘strange behaviour’. An example that always stuck in my mind was when one of the confederates was recording notes from being inside the institution, the psychiatric staff reported it as ‘strange writing behaviour’.

The point of the experiment was to show that the stooges’ behaviour was seen in a different light when they were labelled as ‘mentally ill’, and to raise awareness of the possible problems caused by the stigma that may be associated with mental illness. I have not kept up to speed with modern day labeling theory in scientific research, but I am aware that it is used in the diet and fitness literature to positive effect. Whether it is substantiated or not, Runner’s World has reported that if you are starting to learn to run, it can be beneficial to label yourself – to yourself and to others – as a ‘runner’. This will, apparently, help you stick to your new running plan, and help other encourage you.

I don’t know if Runner’s World is correct, but I have been thinking about labeling a lot recently – in terms of how we label ourselves. And how this can be a positive or negative thing. I moved to the US 24 months ago. Back then I was 118 lbs of skin and bone and hated sport. As a friend put it ‘you don’t have limbs, you have twigs’. I labelled myself as ‘skinny’ (skinny-fat maybe, but nonetheless, ‘skinny’). I didn’t eat carbs. I just didn’t. Once a month there would be a transgression (often alcohol fuelled), but otherwise I was strictly anti-carb. Another label. I was also bulimic. Not a label I wanted others to know, but a label nonetheless.

Then I got out of a very destructive relationship. I looked around and saw that I had moved continent on my own, been knocked back pretty hard in my personal life, but picked myself up and started again. I had established my own life far from home, far from my friends, in a very different culture. And I loved it! As I came out of a subservient position in my personal life, I began to think of myself as ‘mentally strong’, and along with a few other reasons, decided that this required a stronger body. I started weight training, I loved it, so I started body building. Nutrient timing, a strict cardio routine and heavy, heavy lifting ensued. Within 3 months I was regularly running 10Ks, bench pressing my body weight, squatting god-knows-what and I relabelled myself as ‘fit’ or ‘sporty’ and ‘a body builder’. I was 126 lbs of muscle.

Then… I don’t know quite what happened. I relaxed my diet. I started to really dig into my work, writing my first big grants, and pushing papers out. I became a Mum to little Walter who needed a lot of love and attention. I stopped lifting for some reason. I ran a bit, but not seriously. I did zumba and labelled it ‘cardio’. I got back into cooking and socializing. And I kept labeling myself as ‘fit’ and ‘thin’.

Until I had a wake up call. I went to England, where I could not wear endless floaty dresses (Brrrrrr….) and found my trousers could not get over my thighs (no exaggeration, I had to borrow clothes to fly home as none of mine could be put on!). I didn’t quite believe it was real, as it was not *me*. I was ultra fit! I was skinny! Sure – the dial on the scale had moved to 143 lbs (good grief) but that was muscle, right? I mean, muscle weighs more than fat? Everywhere I went, I found people to agree with me. ‘You don’t look any different’, they said, ‘You are so sporty’, ‘all that activity, you can’t have put on weight’, ‘it must be muscle, it is a body builders body!’. I believed it all, as it fit my labels I gave myself.

Then I spoke to another friend. He asked me how my trip to England was, and I said that I had had a wake-up call to having put on a lot of weight (I said it with a smile in a jolly manner). I was shocked at his response: he cheerfully replied ‘yup’. In the next sentence he said ‘you used to be so fit’. I crossly thought ‘I am fit’ and was shocked at his honesty. Then, later, I really thought about it. I am not super fit anymore – 5Ks are not always easy. I struggled to run 6 miles on Saturday, when timewise 1/2 marathons were completed before breakfast every other week – for real. I am not super skinny anymore. I am currently, to be honest, kinda chunky. So, I need to relabel myself, and not cling to labels that are not true – as my friend had accurately relabeled me.

Then I thought about it some more: how could someone who was a friend of mine say this?? How could they be so mean? Then it occurred to me: he used labels like ‘unfit’ (or just ‘not fit’ would be more accurate) and ‘heavier’ to mean exactly that: not fit and heavier. It didn’t have all the negative connotations I associated with these terms. I think (I hope) to my friend, I was exactly the same Lekki in terms of integrity, value, intelligence, interest, fun – in fact all ways – as I was when I was a muscle bound runner. I was just heavier and less fit – nothing more, and nothing less. He used the label to be exactly what it was: he did not become the psychiatric ward worker above who viewed me and my attributes through the lens of these labels. I am less fit and 25 lbs heavier, and to coin a Southern phrase: ‘It is what it is’ i.e. nothing more and nothing less.

So, I have rejigged my labels of myself, knowing that I want to change them, and I will.

I am, as of this moment:

-25 lbs heavier than when I arrived in the US
-2.5 dress sizes larger than when I arrived in the US
-Unable to run more than a 5K without stopping to walk
-Tired after 3 sets of 12 reps with 12 lb weights (really).

This helps me when I think ‘I don’t really have to lose weight to be as I was two years ago, I just need a crash diet to lose this water weight’ or when I think “Oh, I am fit, that was just a bad day – I need some more sleep!”. *IF* I want to be thin, and *IF* I want to be very fit, it is going to take some work.

But, that it is all it is. It has no bearing on the rest of me. And, I am also, as of late:

-A productive and devoted scientist
-Able to let go of controlling everything and enjoy life in the moment sometimes
-Able to look in the mirror, not like some aspects of what I see but not freak out and still see some things I do like
-Able to prioritize: I choose to let work / my puppy / my friends take precedence over my fitness and body sometimes
-HAPPY.

That being said, I am also capable of change. I am following a 1/2 marathon training plan, and the DAMY bikini body plan. In the next 12 weeks, I would like to get back to a size 8-10 (UK) and get somewhere near the weight I came to the US at. I would like to be able to run 10Ks as and when I like, and half marathons with some prep. And I will, but while I can’t: it is what it is. Nothing more and nothing less than that. I have more important (to me) things to judge myself by.