The Story of Charlie

(Not my normal blog post fare.  In fact, I’m not sure what this.  Inspired by art therapy night and a desire to cheer up a friend having a bad day.)

cat stories

Charlie is a major diva, but it wasn’t always that way. As a kitten, having one tan paw was a constant source of embarrassment. Other kittens would tease. “Gnarly Charlie” became the most common nickname. Uninspired, perhaps, but effective in making Charlie feel like a misfit.

As Charlie got bigger, however, that one tan paw caught the attention of whoever had the pleasure of meeting hir. (Charlie also decided around this time that zie didn’t want to conform to gender stereotypes. As a house cat, that was remarkably unremarkable.) Charlie’s human (a girl who was happy to conform to gender stereotypes, oddly enough) took photos of Charlie all the time.

Like all good ugly duckling stories, Charlie blossomed into a swan. Not literally. Charlie was still a cat. But the most fabulous pussycat that ever existed.

When Charlie’s human bought the first pussycat hat for hir, both Charlie and hir human were not sure how it was going to go. Cats were notoriously persnickety, and Charlie was the persnickety-est. But the moment Charlie felt that elastic band snap under hir chin, Charlie knew that zie had found hirself.   From that moment, Charlie dedicated hir life to being fabulous.

Charlie dreamed of being famous. Instagram-famous! Tumblr-famous! Charlie aspired to Grumpy Cat levels of fame. And with a change of wardrobe, a vigorous fur fluffing and some fabulous pussycat accessories, Charlie started hir meteoric rise.

Fan letters started to pour in. Instagram followers hit 2 million. Memes appeared all over the internet. And that’s when it happened. “Gnarly Charlie” started to appear in the comments. Internet trolls made fun of Charlie’s one tan paw. Transphobic hate groups started “anti-Charlie” groups on Facebook.   Internet fame had an ugly side, and it had reached Charlie.

But this story has a happy ending. Charlie is a cat. Charlie can’t read. Charlie has no idea that the haters exist. And so Charlie lived fabulously ever after.

The moral of this story is that life is better if you can’t read comments on the internet.

Experiences, Expectations and Epiphanies #BLC2015

IMG_1644Attending the Body Love Conference in Tucson this past weekend was an event that I’ve been planning for since late last year. I learned about the event by following the awesomeness that is Jes Baker (the Militant Baker) online. (My even more awesome friend Hedda introduced me to her blog a few years ago.)

#BLC2015 Expectations

I’ve been talking about this conference for months with everyone in my life. I’ve been excited about the opportunity to get together with like-minded body positivity champions to discuss the challenges we face in a world constantly telling us that our bodies are flawed. I researched in advance, reading blogs and books related to the body positivity movement, Health at Every Size and similar topics. I thought about experiences I would share, insight I would offer, and questions that I would ask. I talked to friends about my impending trip, and brought the weight of their expectations and excitement with me to Tucson and BLC2015. I was excited to come away from the experience with tools that I could use to promote body love and self-confidence in others. I was ready to be a Body Love Champion!

The funny thing about coming into an experience like The Body Love Conference with so many expectations is that it’s going to shatter every single one of them.

#BLC2015 Experiences

My experience was amazing, inspiring, frustrating, confusing, terrifying and liberating. And those are just the emotions that I’ve been able to process since Saturday.

downloadOddly, one of the most significant experiences occurred on the plane on the way to Tucson. I picked up 10% Happier in the airport before I left, because the book I brought with me was too academic for my excited brain. What I would refer to as a “skeptic’s guide to meditation” (which is the name of a different book, by the way), Dan Harris’ bestseller totally won me over. It was exactly the book that I needed to read at this specific moment in my life, and so appropriate for me to read at the start of this literal journey for the weekend.

Due to flight delays, I arrived too late to participate in the social event on Friday night. Ultimately, that may have significantly changed the way that I experienced the weekend, as it was far less social and far more introspective than I expected. I came into the experience planning to talk, ask, meet and connect—and I left with my head full of questions, analysis, and a feeling of disconnection.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have a chance to meet some amazing people, have inspiring conversations and make connections. I was inspired by a writing seminar hosted by Kristen Nelson, a lunchtime conversation with Alex (of Alex V Yogi), and a performance and seminar by Angie River on speaking your truth. I had a really lovely conversation with a retired university administrator whose name I never got about finding purpose in life.

Jes Baker delivers the kick -off keynote address at BLC 2015.

Jes Baker delivers the kick -off keynote address at BLC 2015.

After telling Kristen Nelson that I was skeptical of the entire premise behind divination, I pulled a tarot card from her deck that seemed to scream a message to me that I’ve been fighting for awhile. A conversation ostensibly about yoga with Alex led me to hear her story of leaving a high-pressure career for something that spoke to her soul and her purpose. And Angie focused on the need to tell your story and share the things that cause you to feel shame, because those are the stories that erase the shame (for you and for others going through similar experiences).

(TMI warning for my friends and colleagues reading this.) I also got my period for the first time in 8 months in the middle of the morning on Saturday. In the very next session (a room full of women), a woman spoke up as the session was winding down to ask if anyone had a tampon, because she just gotten her period for the first time in “ages”. I think I actually gasped and I was tempted to say “Me too!”, but decided it was too weird and too much for my brain to process. Maybe it’s not meaningful at all, but it was weird and it freaked me out a little.

(Speaking of weird “coincidences”, the license plate on my rental car was BLC ####.)

#BLC2015 Epiphanies

I went into the conference feeling as though I had body love all figured out—and every experience I had told me that I have a long way to go. I went into the conference expecting to come away feeling connected to this community of people just like me—and I realized that I have a unique story to tell and I still have some of my own shame to work through in the telling of it. I went into the conference expecting to learn how I could be an advocate for body love in others—and I learned that the best way to do that is to continue talking about the journey to love myself, with all of its successes and failures.

Stay tuned.

I continue to pursue purpose.

rocksOccasionally, I find myself contemplating the big questions. You know—the BIG questions:

  • What is my purpose?
  • What will my legacy be?
  • What is the meaning of life?

Many people find meaning in their religious beliefs, particularly if they have a belief in another life to come after this one. Parents can point to their children as their legacy (and perhaps their purpose). But as an atheist and a non-parent, those questions can be more difficult to answer—and finding answers can feel more critical.

Just out of college and starting my career, it felt like nothing was more important than being able to define my purpose. Of course, I expected to find that purpose within my career. I thought, “I will know that I have led a great life because I will have succeeded at achieving [INSERT CAREER OBJECTIVE].” That, of course, turned out to be total crap. It is certainly possible (and preferable) that your career and your purpose align, but paying the bills and leaving a legacy you can be proud of don’t always come hand in hand.

Just a few years shy of 40 and I’ve built a career that I’m proud of, but it isn’t my legacy. It’s not the reason I exist and it doesn’t provide meaning to my life. On the best days, my career teaches me important skills and provides the financial means to live. On the worst days, it’s a distraction from finding my real purpose.

So what is my purpose?

I don’t know. Is it weird to say – after all of that – that I’m not sure it matters? Of course having a purpose in life matters, but does it really matter that I know exactly what that looks like? Leaving a legacy matters, but does it matter that I know now what that will be when I’m gone? I think what really matters is that I continue to pursue purpose. I continue to be passionate about issues and fired up about injustice and inequality. I continue to lift others up instead of tearing them down. I continue to seek ways to apply my own talents and abilities to improving the world around me.

Maybe one day I’ll hear the proverbial “click” and I’ll know that I’ve found that thing that I am meant to do with my life. Maybe I won’t. But as long as I don’t stop listening for it, I think I’m doing just fine.

My weight loss goal is to lose track of my weight.

scaleI had an epiphany this weekend that was mind blowing.  Paradigm shifting.  Maybe life altering. And so. fucking. simple.

Weight is just a number.

Yeah, I thought I already knew that, too.  In fact, I’ve spent most of my adult life reminding other people that weight and size does not define who we are.  I’ve talked about my self-confidence.  Earlier this month, I blogged about a new approach I was taking to getting healthy, and I didn’t focus on the number.  But all along, I’ve been stepping on the scale and letting it control how I feel about myself.

I mean-girled myself.

Last week I “heard” some pretty nasty things being said by my subconscious.  It was the first time that I allowed myself to hear it – and …  I’m still processing what it means to know that I have that kind of self-hate language in my head.  That’s probably a post for another time when I’m better able to talk about it.  But having heard those terrible things that – on some level – my subconscious mind believes, I actually listened as my conscious mind started to fight back.

Health and Weight are not synonymous

For years, I’ve been reluctant to join in the chorus of people who already know and understand that weight and health are not synonymous.  Health At Any Size, Regan Chastain’s Dances With Fat, and a slew of other popular sites have been promoting this idea for years.  My own dear friends have talked about it and reblogged it – so why wasn’t I listening?

The problem is that I have not been healthy.  I equated my own lack of health to my excess weight.  I’m not denying even now that those things are related.  They are *related* in my case – but they are not the *same*.  And that is so. fucking. important.

Almost every one of my doctors has encouraged me to lose weight.  Let me be clear – they have not necessarily encouraged me to “be healthier”, but to “lose weight”.  My last doctor bullied me into agreeing to look into gastric bypass surgery because I would “never lose the weight” on my own.  I don’t think I can even convey how devastating that kind of comment is to hear from your doctor.  (I left her practice and will not return.)

fuckthatnumber

I honestly do not know what possessed me to strike this particular pose on Christmas Day, but it seems so appropriate that I had to use it here.

Why does it matter?

I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life.  I’m grateful to be able to say that I haven’t really gotten caught up in extreme fad diets–my efforts have always been relatively rational–but the “goal” was always a number.  Even when it was about health, it was about a healthy weight.

All that focusing on my weight is tiring.  Trying to control my weight just meant that my weight was in control.  Stepping on the scale weekly and rationalizing the number – I just drank a glass of water,  are these pants heavier than the clothes I had on last week?  – is tiring.  Constantly fighting a battle inside to remind myself that I’m awesome in spite of that number is demeaning, demoralizing and fucking exhausting.  Why am I fighting that battle? What am I even fighting with?  A number?  Fuck that number.

My weight loss goal is to lose track of my weight.

I weigh 300 pounds.  Give or take a few pounds on any given day.  And I don’t care.  My “weight loss goal” right now is to completely lose track of my weight – and focus (for real) on living my life.  Walking and working out because it makes me feel good.  Avoiding fast food because it makes me queasy.  Getting 8 hours of sleep because my brain can focus better.

Next time you see me, tell me that I look amazing, but please don’t ask me if I’ve lost weight; if I’m successful at reaching my goal, I will have no idea.

Cite your resources.

Here are some of the things that I read and watched before I had my own “A ha!” moment.

  1. Golda Poretsky explains how fat is beautiful, too.  I think the thing I got from this was that it doesn’t matter if YOU think I’m beautiful.  YOU don’t have to find “fat” attractive.  This isn’t about YOU.
  2. Isabel Foxen Duke talks about Radical Forgiveness.  Everything about her site is amazing.  I’m not even sure that this specific post is the most powerful, but there was a line about forgiving yourself for not “getting it” until now – and I needed to hear that.
  3. I made travel plans for The Body Love Conference.  I made travel arrangements for the BLC late last week, and since then, I’ve realized that I’ve been anxious about going.  Is anyone going to like me?  Am I cool enough? Do I actually love myself enough to fit in among these powerful, badass women who are changing the world?
  4. Jes Baker gets anxious about a dance class.  My favorite powerful, bad ass woman who is out there changing the world (and the founder of the BLC) has posted about her own struggles with body image and freaking out about attending a dance class.  I needed to hear that it was okay to not always be so damn confident.

Make good choices.

makegoodchoicesI asked my 7-year old niece a couple of weeks ago what she’s learned since she started 1st grade.  She said that she’s has learned to “make good choices”.  I love that for her first grade mind, that’s a one-time lesson.

Of course, we know that the reality is that our entire lives are spent in the struggle to make good choices.  As hard as it can be to learn to make good choices, I think it is even harder to learn to forgive ourselves for making poor choices.

For the majority of my adult life, I have made poor choices when it comes to my physical health.  I wish I could point to a reason for my bad decisions, but there isn’t just one.  I don’t have that one deep, dark secret that caused me to turn to food for comfort.  I don’t have a physical condition or illness that has kept me from being physical active.  What I have are just a lot of little moments along the road of life when I could have chosen vegetables over ice cream, and I didn’t.  I could have taken a walk, and I chose to read a book instead.

I’ve made BIG DECISIONS to get healthy.  I’ve made resolutions.  I’ve made sweeping changes to my pantry, my refrigerator and my schedule to “get healthy”.  I put together a long-term plan, with realistic goals and milestones.  And I’ve done all of that with the right mindset.  I’m not hung up on my weight.  I’m not ashamed of how I look.  I’m not worried about what someone else might think about me.  But I know that I want to be healthier, I want to live longer, and I want to enjoy more physical activity – and so I resolve to make a major change.

And then I fail usually sometime around day four.  I make a bad decision.  I have the ice cream.  I skip the workout.  And my plan is doomed.  Weight loss and fitness experts will tell you that you have to just pick yourself up and get back to your plan, but that just doesn’t seem to work for me.  My plan didn’t account for failure, and now it’s a goodchoicesblemished plan that isn’t shiny and fun anymore.

So I am taking a new approach – inspired by my favorite 7 year old.  I don’t have a plan.  I haven’t made any resolutions.  There are no milestones I’m tracking.  I’m just making good choices as often as possible, and forgiving myself for the bad ones.  My new mantra is…

Every moment is a new opportunity to make a good decision.

I don’t know if this approach will work in the long run, but it’s helped me to get through a couple of days of good habits without a sense of overwhelming responsibility to some bigger picture.

2014 was the year I learned about emotional boundaries. And I’ll never be the same.

emotionalboundaries(Utterly fictional example scenario): A friend calls to tell me that she thinks she and her husband are going to get divorced. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do, where she’s going to live or how she’s going to survive on her own.

How would I react in December 2013? My stomach drops and my heart aches for her. How can I help? I immediately try to think of all of the resources I can offer and the ways that I can help. I offer financial assistance. I offer to look for apartments with her. I tell her all of the reasons why she’s better off on her own, despite having no real idea if divorce is her best choice. And after I hang up the phone, I lie awake all night hurting and anxious. I feel sick to my stomach. Should I call our other friends and organize assistance? Should I have offered to let her move in with me? I have an extra bedroom and more space than I really need. I know I don’t want to do that, but how selfish am I? Why did this have to happen now? I had plans next weekend and I really don’t want to be dealing with this right now. After several days of feeling miserable, I find myself avoiding her phone calls because I just can’t deal with the drama.

How would I react in December 2014? My heart aches for her. “Wow, that’s a really heavy decision. Tell me what happened.” And I listen while she shares and cries. “I can’t even begin to imagine how much stress that puts you under. Let’s plan to meet for dinner this week so I can hug you for real. Maybe we can plan a spa day in a couple of weeks (I have plans this coming weekend) to take your mind off of the heaviest stuff for a few hours.” I make a note to send a text each day to check in.

What changed? I did. I changed (or rather, I am a still changing work in progress) because I finally learned what it really means to set emotional boundaries.

Understanding Emotional Boundaries is Life Altering

One of the very first observations that my therapist made this year was that it seemed that I had difficulties with emotional boundaries – and yet it took about five months of therapy sessions for me to really understand what that meant. Setting emotional boundaries is learning to take responsibility for your own emotions – and to not take responsibility for anyone else’s. I had heard all of the words before – boundaries, guilt, shame, responsibility – but having all of those pieces click together was eye opening.

In that scenario above, nothing about my friend changed. She was still struggling with the devastating life event in the same way. All that changed was how I reacted to her struggle. I didn’t make it my struggle. I didn’t make it about me. By not making it about me, I didn’t feel responsibility to fix it – and I was able to better provide emotional support and love. My heart ached, but my life went on.

Learning that emotional boundaries have everything to do with me and nothing to do with anyone else has been life altering. It sounds so insanely simple to say, “I have all of the power when it comes to how I feel”, but internalizing that and practicing it is astoundingly difficult. And I am definitely still a work in progress.

Airports are soul-sucking wastelands.

airportsI am writing this from a hotel room in Chicago, away on business for a couple of days*.  I’ve been to Chicago on business too many times to count**, but this is the first time that I’ve chosen to drive instead of fly.  I’ve had to answer the question, “Why the f*** are you driving?” many times over the past few days, so I figured I’d try to explain.

In a word, anxiety.  Or rather Anxiety.  I had booked plane tickets originally and felt physically ill at the idea of having to travel.  Then I threw the destination into Google maps and realized that in 7.5 short hours by car, I could be here.  SOLD.

I’m not afraid to fly.  Or rather, I’m not afraid of flying in any traditional sense.  I am confident that air travel is a scientifically sound method of transportation.  I have never seriously thought about my plane crashing or being a victim of terrorism.  My anxiety over air travel has very little to do with the air travel at all.  I’m not concerned about death or my physical safety.  My anxiety is a fear of so. many. people. in so small a space.  I’m not even talking about the airPLANE.  The plane is almost a quiet respite from the utter chaos that you must endure immediately before and after.

That’s right folks.  I’m afraid of airports.

“Afraid” isn’t the right word.  I’m afraid of airports in much the same way that I am afraid of preschools.  I don’t really fear for my safety.  I feel reasonably certain that I will survive.  But will I survive without severe emotional trauma to either me or someone around me?

An airport is over-stimulation at its very worst.  Airports are people and noise.  Bright, often flashing, lights.  Computer screens with tiny print and scrolling message boards.  Airports smell of humanity and food.  Sweat and Cinnabons***.  Airports are a waiting room with very few, very uncomfortable seats, where everyone is anxious, angry and more important than you.

When traveling by plane, you must be aware of everything.  You have to make sure that you have packed everything that you might need, and nothing that you will not.  You must follow a rigid schedule in order to arrive on time, planning every step and every potty break to optimize your efficiency.  You have to listen for relevant announcements and filter out the irrelevant ones.  You have to appear friendly enough that your fellow travelers will be kind to you, but not so friendly that they will attempt to speak to you.  If you are traveling on business, you must be prepared to talk about what you do for a living, and feign interest when someone strikes up a conversation about the Midwest Life Insurance Sales Conference that they have just returned from.

Upon arrival, there is the scramble to get your bag (if you are lucky, safely in the overhead bin in the plane).  There’s a rental car with unfamiliar steering and brakes, or worse – cab drivers you can’t hear or understand.  And if the zombie apocalypse comes, you are stuck in an unfamiliar city with no way to get out.

In contrast, there is the freedom of driving.  My car.  The open road.  No schedule except “today”.  No limits on potty breaks, except those imposed by the occasional rest stop under construction.  I listen only to whatever I choose to listen to, and the infrequent reminders from my British GPS-lady.  No uncomfortable smells or noises, except those which occasionally escape from me.  I pack as much as I can fit into my car, including six pairs of shoes I know I will never wear unless maybe I will.  Because you never know when I might need hiking boots.  And flip flops.

And best of all, if the zombie apocalypse comes, I can get hell out of Dodge (or Chicago) without getting stuck in a security line at the airport.

*I know you are not supposed to announce when you are out of town on social media.  I really hope someone doesn’t break into my house and steal my old crappy television while I’m away.  It will creep me out.  But if you DO, can you at least move my clothes from the washer to the dryer while you are there?  I’m pretty sure I forgot to do it before I left.

** I’ve been to Chicago on business like… eight times or something.  It isn’t a very high number, but I’m lazy and it’s too many to count accurately.

*** This will be the name of my all girl punk band someday.