21 August 2011

The True Story of Carl the Spider

183.6 lbs -  *blank stare*

Carl the spider moved in some time in the early summer, though I couldn't tell you exactly when. He set up camp in our kitchen, building his web on the window between the cactus and the windowsill. While we normally don't allow insects (or in this case, arachnids) to take up lodging in our home, the fact that Carl spun his intricate web in such a precarious place made us rather fond of him so we decided to let him stay.

Hi! I'm Carl!

That, and he's better than any fruit fly trap on the market.

We watched every day as Carl 's web would snag a fruit fly and  he would venture out from the cactus to retrieve his snack. Day after day he would do this and to our amusement, he actually started to grow. I'm not talking super-natural tarantula size or anything, but he certainly was getting bigger.

However, as summer progressed, Carl seemed to grow complacent. Fruit flies came easy to him. Unlike his free-range relatives, Carl didn't need to work particularly hard for his daily bread. And it started to show. He rarely came out from under the fake flower glued to the top of the grocery-store cactus. His web started to fall apart and was no longer a strong work of natural art, but a couple of threads clinging desperately to the window. He just didn't look good. Carl was phoning it in.

Vegging under the flower

As I watched Carl's decline, I realised how much he resembled the way we live in a modern world. Our lives are easy. It's easy to pick up the phone and order a pizza, delivered at our doorstep in 20 minutes or it's free. It's easy to forgo a workout and lay on the couch instead.  I may not have a web in serious decline, but it certainly wouldn't hurt if I got off my ass and pushed a Swiffer around this place - there's enough dog hair here to knit a sweater.

It's easy to become complacent when things are easy, but that doesn't mean it's good for us. Things that matter take effort. Get off the couch today. Go to the grocery store. Make an amazing, healthy meal.  Play hard. Sweat. Heck, maybe even put away that stack of newspapers on the kitchen table. Care about yourself enough to not take the easy route, and take pride in the life you work hard to make.

Lookin' good, Carl!
There's a happy ending to the story of Carl. After the sudden appearance of a second spider (clearly someone who wanted in on the easy life), Carl got his act together, booted out the intruder, and renovated his web. He looks stronger and no longer vegetates under the fake cactus flower. He stands firm in the middle of the web, waiting to pounce. Today, I think I'll pounce, too! (but not on flies).

True story.

11 August 2011

I Better Be Good to Me

179.6 lbs - Whaaaaaaaaat? Seriously? Aw, come on.

 "Be good to yourself". Have you heard that before? Maybe you've told someone you care about to do that when they're facing a time of crisis. Or maybe someone has told you the same thing when you were in the middle of some rough times. Or maybe you heard it on Oprah. What the heck does that mean, anyway?

I suppose it depends on who you are, and what you consider "good". Being good to yourself could mean anything from treating yourself to a cone of Melted Snowman ice cream to ease a bad day to buying yourself a BMW Z series because you worked so hard this month. "Good" is in the eye of the beholder.

I developed my own definition of being good to myself when I was post-divorce and living alone for the first time. I was struggling with depression and anxiety and had taken a leave of absence from work while I tried to get my proverbial shit together. That was my opportunity to figure out just what being "good to myself" meant to me. This wasn't a hard excercise; it was self-preservation back then.  I had many long, hot baths. I curled up with countless glasses of wine and watched movies. I read. I took classes at the gym and sat in the sauna afterwards with my iPod, listening to music that made my cry and release the hurt that I had been hanging on to for the whole process of ending my marriage. I learned about aromatherapy and growing herbs. I painted. I ran in the rain. I snuggled my dogs. All these things made me feel healthy - inside and out. 

Recently, I have been feeling like I've lost sight of much of what I had learned in my time alone. Day to day stress, compounded by a job that makes me unhappy and the recent health emergency of Miguel as left me feeling beyond out of sorts. Feelings of fear and anxiety are creeping back into my melon. I've been thinking a lot about those years I spent alone and how I was able to find solace in so many things. I'm a much different person now, in a much different situation.   I'm realizing that while I still enjoy a glass of wine and my tub, my world has evolved and I need to identify and recognize what grounds me now when things are topsy-turvy. But how does one do that? Where do you start to look for the things that soothe your soul when you feel like you're unravelling and running out of string?

Luckily, I haven't had to search too hard. I've started being aware of the moments when I feel relaxed and I'm making a concious effort to be mindful of it and enjoy that moment. Things like spending time at the cottage. Digging my toes in the sand. Going for a run in the middle of nowhere. Napping in Miguel's lap. Sharing breakfast with him on the back deck in the morning sunshine. And even writing this blog - with the hopes that my thoughts and experiences might reach even just one person.  All these things would never have had the same effect on the Niffer of 5 years ago. The Niffer of today, well, that's a different story. We're always evolving, and it never hurts to take the time to figure out what makes you feel safe, secure and whole again.

So tell me this: Are YOU good to you? How do you do it?

Toes in the sand! Ahhhhh!
Even Nandy knows how to relax.

Location: Middle of No Where.

02 August 2011

Run Release Repeat

178.4 lbs – So that’s what happens when you stop coping with carbs…

If you haven’t realised it already, running is one of my few passions.  I’m not particularly fast – I will never qualify for Boston – but I can go forever. Running is my meditation. Do not even think about asking me to sit still for 20 minutes and let my thoughts pass through my mind and disappear in the sky. Hell no. I am far too fidgety for that. But ask me to put on my running shoes and my iPod packed with songs from 80’s pop to angry rock, and I can easily sort through my worries and come back with a new perspective on life.

My first marathon medal

I started running when I was in the middle of an awful divorce in 2004/2005. I joined the Running Room’s learn to run program in search of making new friends and getting out of the house. What I discovered is that I much preferred to run alone.  I was a bit like Forrest Gump in that once I started running, I just kept going. Not continuously, but as I reached one distance goal, I instantly set my sights on the next. A 5k race turned into a 10k, which turned into a half-marathon, which of course became a full marathon.  I went from a 5k race virgin to a marathon finisher in 24 months. 
A good long run eases my mind, soothes my soul, and makes me feel like I’m part of the earth again.  My inner pain and worries and anxiety feel like they’re flushed out with every drop of salty sweat on my face. It gives me time to think and reflect.  I also was able to burn off feelings of anger, fear and anxiety. Running gave me back strength and power when I felt my weakest and most vulnerable.  It made me feel like I had accomplished something in a time when all I felt was loss.
With the recent upheaval going on in my life in the past couple of weeks, I’ve needed that release as much as ever.  When Miguel was in the hospital, I found it nearly impossible to get in any kind of movement. My days were spent going between work (I have no vacation time) and the hospital. It seemed selfish to say “Sorry baby, I can’t be there after your cardiac cath, I gotta get in my 8K tempo”. Knowing how important it is to me, Miguel insisted, but I waited until he was home safe and sound before I decided to head out for a run – about a week and a half after everything fell apart. 
I expected the usual rush of endorphins releasing the tension and fear.  Instead, I struggled to breathe. It was hot, and my head started to ache. I got painful stitches in my side and back. My legs felt wobbly.  I kept going, thinking that I just needed more time to find my rhythm, but when I was still suffering at 5k, I threw the towel in and walked the last 2k home. I was crushed.  Not only did I still have the anxiety of a loved one with an illness, but now I had the added pain of losing my high.  How will I deal with all this crap if I can’t get my high?
This is what release looks like
Miguel, in his infinite wisdom, comforted me. “It’s just a bad run” he kept saying.  While normally I’d flip out at the notion that it was “just” anything, this time it actually rang true. It’s a blip. We have blips in out lives that bump us off the trail, whether it’s a heart attack, a marriage ending, a job loss, a crappy run. Things will not always go the way we want or need it to. What’s important is that we put our shoes back on and try again.

And I did.
The next day, when the sun was a little lower in the sky and the heat a little less stifling, I set out on an easy 5k. The first km was iffy, I was a little sluggish and wondered if I made a mistake going out again. But soon after, my legs were pounding away, my lungs were heaving steadily, and the anxiety was pouring down my face - just the way I needed it to.

What is your release?  What do you do to put your head back where it needs to be?