Category Archives: life changes

Thick skin

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My life has felt upside down for a while.

Things changed so radically, but they didn’t change at all. I felt my family falling away from me in a more permanent way than I was prepared for. I felt un-moored.

And stability has returned now, of a nature. And that feels even stranger. Wasn’t everything supposed to change forever? I was prepared to grieve. I was grieving.

But it seems that was premature. I should be happy, right?

And so, I continue. I live my life. I do my job. My job is my sanity, as much as I would prefer to stay home and feel sorry for myself. My job gives me a purpose, and an identity; something that seems to be of value to others.

I’m learning to play guitar. It was painful at first, and I didn’t know if I could continue. But I’ve developed callouses, and my fingers have grown accustomed to the strange positions they must take to form a chord. I’ve learned to play partial chords, which qualifies as “good enough” for my mid-life hobby.

So life goes on, and I develop my mental callouses, and I grow accustomed to the strange forms life takes. It’s good enough.

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Coping with pain and isolation

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Chronic Pain

I’m starting to understand why people say chronic pain is isolating. I see so many people supported by strong communities and families through their hardships, so I figured it was only isolating for people (like me) who don’t have strong support systems in place. But I don’t think that’s really the case now. I think, even those people who are supported by the most loving people possible, ultimately feel completely alone in what they’re going through.

Living with chronic pain sucks. Mine – Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) – is invisible, for the most part. My rheumatoid symptoms are: depression,  getting sick often, hand pain (this was probably the most obvious symptom I ignored the longest – don’t ignore it!!!), leg pain, mid-back pain and neck pain. I started to have a strange pulling and tingling sensation last week in the front of my shin, which was baffling until I remembered my pain will show up in weird ways. Other symptoms include deep fatigue, and when it’s really bad, flu-like symptoms: generalized pain, can’t-get-up fatigue, low-grade fever.

I don’t limp or shuffle (except early in the morning). So this is a good thing and a bad thing: good, because I don’t get a lot of pity and can focus on my work; bad, because no one knows how much I’m hurting and it makes me feel pretty alone sometimes. When I’m feeling completely awful and like I need to go home, I push through, because I get strange looks when I say I’m hurting, or feeling tired.

I work in fitness, so people make assumptions. Or I perceive they do.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like my job hurts me. I can look back and see that it hurt me pretty badly when I was full time, how it conspired with RA to make me feel terrible most of the time. But even part-time, I can tell some aspects of my job hurt me more than others. I really enjoy Spinning, but those are the days I go home from work and feel like I’m coming down with the flu.

But it’s manageable, I guess. I’m not thriving, but I’m doing a lot better than I was six months ago. Everything seemed so hopeless then. Now I have a plan to manage everything, and that includes lots of sleep and rest. And it’s mostly working.

Well-meaning or something like it

I do get seriously annoyed by the things people suggest, sometimes. They tell me, either directly or indirectly, that I should lose weight, cut out sugar, cut out gluten, meditate, do yoga and exercise. I have a hard time not getting defensive about this. Hello, I’m a fitness professional. I’ve been meditating since I was sixteen, have been teaching yoga for years. I may not have mastered Clean Living, but I’m at least well-versed in its benefits and I do the best I can.

I also get really annoyed at all the sites on the Internet that promise an arthritis diet or say there is special arthritis food. There is no such evidence of this, none!

Just don’t give advice to people about a disease you know nothing about, okay? I’m going to follow this advice from now on, too. I think about how many overweight people must deal with this every single day and it makes me feel so sad. Everyone has an opinion, but even professionals have a hard time focusing on the facts sometimes.

Mornings

Starting every day is a struggle. I am tired and achy and nothing feels like it matters. I remind myself that I can’t be complacent about depression, even though that, too, has been manageable of late. So I buck up and go through my routine: Morning Pages and coffee, exercise, shower, meds.

By then things are beginning to look up.

I know people who have RA who feel bad all day and through the night. I guess that might be me down the line, but I just can’t think about it right now. I am told that starting medications in this early phase can prevent the worst long-term damage, and I hope that’s true.

In some ways, this makes me feel worse. Like I’m stuck in my life and I can’t really plan to do anything because I don’t know what I’ll feel like tomorrow or what my future will be like. I can’t plan to travel, to go backpacking, or to be a foster parent. (I know people do all of these things with RA, so there must be a way, but the unpredictability of being able to function at all leaves me confused. I can’t imagine trying to do these high-level things.)

I feel stuck in my job, because I can’t afford the rheumatologist on my own, not to mention all the lab work and prescriptions. Not that I was planning to quit. I just hate the feeling that I couldn’t if I wanted to.

Alone

So I feel pretty alone. I don’t feel like anyone understands what I’m going through. I haven’t been a very good friend because I’ve been so focused on trying to get through each day, and my recent attempts to reach out have largely been ignored. I guess I’m not a lot of fun to be around, though I try not to complain. (Which, yes, makes me feel even more isolated.)

Loneliness and depression are not a great combination.

I’ve been thinking about getting a dog to deal with loneliness. I have to admit that it’s not a great idea, and I can’t really afford it, but it might overcome loneliness more than my cats do.

Or maybe I should just try to appreciate my cats more.

Using Pain

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Julia Cameron just posted this on Twitter:

Pain does use our energy, but we can consciously channel it toward positive action if we are willing to look at our options with fresh eyes.

It spoke to me like a message from the universe. My first thought was related to Rheumatoid Arthritis, for which I am currently being treated. I haven’t talked about it a lot here, but it’s been a big part of my life the last few months. (And I was suffering from it for a long time before that, but didn’t know what it was; the depression I have discussed was likely tied in to the chronic pain as much as anything else.) It’s been a relief to have answers, and the medicine I’m taking will likely prevent long-term joint damage.

Quick public service announcement: RA manifests in ways you might not expect. I had physical pain that I attributed to overtraining (and it wasn’t), but there are a lot of other symptoms I wasn’t aware tied into RA: fatigue, depression, getting sick a lot, flu-like symptoms. I thought I was going crazy, and I probably would have had a nervous breakdown if I hadn’t gotten a physical and learned more.

I’ve been feeling much better the last few weeks, due (I think) to a combination of medication and lifestyle change. I don’t get wiped out from everyday activity anymore, though I do still feel crushed if I overdo it. (Which is pretty much every time I teach Spinning.)

I’ve had to completely restructure my life. I was already pretty big on self-care, but now it’s the priority. Work is not my priority, though it’s going very well now that I’m part time, and don’t feel like I have to drag myself in at 7 a.m., feeling wretched and hating the world.

Anyway, the quote above, about channeling pain toward positive action, hit me in a way it wouldn’t have before. I have certainly used painful emotions as creative fuel in the past, but I’ve never considered how physical pain can make you look at your options “with open eyes.” That’s exactly what I’ve been doing the last week.

I know a 9 to 5 job isn’t possible for me now, maybe ever. With that in mind, I got a copy of the Writer’s Market 2015 from the library and started looking at my options. There are several great options for entry-level freelance in fitness magazines, for example, that I wouldn’t have considered before. I have stopped thinking of how low my chances are for making a living as a writer, and have instead focused on “filling the form” to work toward that future. I have started to see this disease as a gift – oh, I know, cliché city, right? – because it has ruled out what used to be my safety net.

I am finally feeling brave and strong enough to listen to that little girl inside who wrote stories for fun. So, I’ll write today’s pages, and do today’s research. And that is enough.

Seeds of Change

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So much has been happening.

A few months ago, I did a tarot card reading on myself. (As one does.) There was a lot in the layout about dashed dreams and disappointment (no surprise there), but there was also the card about planting seeds of change, followed by the message to be prepared because change would happen quickly.

As with any good prophecy, it has come to pass, but not as I expected/hoped.

Instead of selling millions of e-books on Amazon and retiring to the Bahamas, I’ve had major struggles with health (mental and physical), and came very close to flaming out on my job and going to be a secretary somewhere awful. (Actually, that was slightly outranked by the possibility of becoming a truck driver. If I didn’t have cats….)

Instead of quitting, however, I am going to start working part-time in two weeks. This is a huge relief, because I won’t have to adjust to a new workplace and I’ll still have my health benefits. I’ve never liked being shackled to a job only because of benefits, but there is a lot I love about this job. (And to be completely honest, there were very few jobs on Craigslist or Monster that match my skill set so well.) I’m worried about money, but I’ve lived on a lot less, and I’ll still be making more than I would be making in those secretarial jobs that were my escape plan.

So there’s that…. In the meantime, I finished the 6-week Introduction to Digital Photography course. Some of my photos are at 500px.com. I really loved it! And it makes the fears I talked about a few weeks ago seem so silly. I’ll be starting intermediate next week!

Identity

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Good morning!

Well, I’m starting to feel human again on a more consistent basis. The sense that everything is falling apart, that nothing is worth doing, that nothing in life is interesting… that’s diminishing.

I had a meltdown at work two Mondays ago. It wasn’t pretty. I’m rather embarrassed. But it led to my realizing a few keys things:

1) The department I’m in? They have no idea what I actually do every day. AT ALL. They not only don’t understand how hard I work in my fitness classes, but they didn’t even understand what each class was. I went in with ideas for how to structure the schedule to keep me from killing myself, and spent the whole meeting defining the classes for them. “This one is strength, this one is cardio, this one is cross-training…” This was monumentally depressing at first, but then I just went, hey, you know, I’m not the first or last person to feel misunderstood and/or unappreciated at work. In fact, I think a lot of this kriya has been about adjusting to the corporate mentality. I had one foot in that world, one foot out as a contractor. In August, I agreed to be part of their world, one of them.

2) To paraphrase a current popular song, I don’t have to try so hard.

Spiritually, corporate life is a little difficult for me. The Monday through Friday mentality. The cycle of working for the weekend, and then it comes back around so fast. That Friday everyone says, “Hey, yay, it’s Friday,” and on Monday everyone asks what you did. My answer is usually, “Not much, I rested.” And there’s something sort of depressing about it all, you know? It’s the epitome of the rat race, the multitudes trudging to work head down at the beginning of Joe Vs. the Volcano. But then if you share this with anyone, even someone you consider a work friend, they say, “But aren’t the benefits great?”

Well, yes. The benefits are great. They are the best I’ve had in my entire life. I haven’t adjusted to this, either. Oh, I can actually afford to go to the dentist, the doctor? To take time off just for pleasure? I’m not used to being that person. I’m used to being the chick who is struggling to get by, and who has bad or no insurance. I honestly had no idea how much this starving-artist mentality was affecting me until I started to cry when I got my cards in the mail. I never thought it would happen.

And I feel like I should be grateful. And I feel like everyone is telling me how grateful I should be.

I could honestly not ask for a better place to work. There is actual job security here, ya’ll. No shit. I can’t say where I work, but it’s one of the few institutions on this planet guaranteed not to be bought out, sold, cut back or downsized in my lifetime. As corporate cultures go, it’s a fairly happy one. Most everyone works hard and people are pleasant to each other. Men let women off the elevator first. (Sorry, I like that!) Benefits are great. Plenty of time off.

I mean! What more could you ask for?

So it’s really not the situation, but my adjustment to it. I had gotten used to piecing jobs together and getting by on little. I have actual money in my bank account now, and a vacation coming up in two weeks! I mean, luxury. So I think what I’m trying to say is I understand why some lottery winners get suicidally depressed. If you thought all the unhappiness in your life was because of not having money, not having job security… if you pinned your depression on not having all the things it seems everyone else has… and then you get it. And you’re still so sad.

That’s really, really hard. Suddenly it seems like there is nothing that will happen in your life that will make you feel better.

But I think I’ve found something. I started writing fiction during the week. I’d been saving it for weekends (because time), but now I’m working on a project on my lunch breaks, and a little after work. I notice on the days I do this, I feel so much better. I need that creative outlet, absolutely. I entered one of my photography experiments into the upcoming employee art show, and was accepted.

I’ve also given myself permission to have vices as much as I enjoy them. I drank quite a bit of wine a few weeks ago, then I felt like it was worsening the depression, so I stopped. This week I indulged in some TV obsession. I’ve been really into Supernatural (tenth season, crazy!), and have been curious about the misogyny I managed to overlook all this time – but now it seems like the writers are tackling it head on. Last night I watched the rest of Once Upon a Time from last season, completely reveling in Hook’s hotness. OMG, that smile!

So, yeah, something is working, or maybe I’m just riding it out… but things are looking up.

Why GISHWHES Matters

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In August, I participated for the first time in GISHWHES – aka The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen! Led by the fearless and slightly crazy Misha Collins.

I wasn’t going to do it (“Too busy!,” thought I. “Who has the time for scavenger hunts? Young people, that’s who!”), but my intention for 2014 was to stay open to fun. Very last minute, I watched the video on the above page, and thought, “Damn it, that does look like fun. Now I have to do it.”

I am so glad I did! Since I have become a full-time fitness pro, what used to be my fun/hobby has become work. I mean, it’s still fun… but it’s work. So it’s been a struggle to make myself have fun, and GISHWHES definitely took me above and beyond the playtime I had managed so far in the year!

Yes, I must admit, taking pictures in a hot tub wearing an ice cream hat dripping down my forehead was way more delightful than I had ever imagined. (Even whilst trying to not get ice cream in the water and thus spend the week repaying your friend’s kindness with a deep-clean scrubbing.)

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Also fun? Posing in front of monuments, and making duct tape heads of John Barrowman after work (though that nearly broke me, to be honest), and made this goofy picture (epic battle between Elopus and the Wooster):

My team was brilliant. They got a car to do a backspin in a junk yard. They got 3D printings of pen and ink. They got bestselling authors to make fools of themselves.

But this post isn’t just about how silly fun GISHWHES is. (It’s VERY silly fun.) I’ve been mulling over this post since William Shatner (yes, he had a team! Here’s his post about it.) asked his Twitter followers how much their team spent. Most people estimated a couple hundred. Some said a thousand or more. (Totally unneccessary, but okay.) Then someone said the money would be better spent on a charity.

That has really been bugging me ever since I read it. And here’s one reason: Charitable acts are inherent in GISHWHES. On our team alone, we had people volunteer at food banks, bring hot lunch to the homeless, and become bone marrow donors and CPR certified. There was a nursing home in Maryland that got a ton of visitors that otherwise wouldn’t have.

But okay, let’s say there weren’t charitable acts, or that those aren’t such a big deal. (I think they are a huge deal, but let’s just say.)

What mattered most to me is that it got me out into the world. I have lived in this city all my life, and had no idea how much I missed every day: how much I drove or walked by without really seeing. A bingo hall in the middle of the city? Packed on a Tuesday night. Sure, we shook things up by walking in as a superhero family, but it was just as big a deal for me. Every time I drive by the building now (it’s right off the highway), I think, “People play Bingo there!” I know that sounds silly, but it’s completely delightful to me. I had seen the building before, but now I see it.

The park across the street from work? I avoided it because of all the homeless people. For GISHWHES, I walked up to one of them and we got to know each other a little. I see them as individual human beings now, not just “homeless people.” (Yes, it embarrasses me to admit that’s how I was in the first place!)

Then I think, you multiply this by the hundreds of teams and thousands of people? That must have a massive impact on the world!

People write checks to charitable organizations, and that’s all well and good. Non-profits do such great work in the world, and I am not discounting that at all. But the impact of something like GISHWHES? Getting people out there, engaged with other people and with the world around them?

That’s way better than writing a check, if you ask me.

 

On creativity: Wicked, full-time fitness, & keeping it fun

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First of all, can I just say how very, very hard it is not to dramatically title a blog post that refers to a musical with the lyric going through your head at the moment?

(FYI: “Too long I’ve been afraid of losing love, I guess I lost…”)

That took a lot of restraint.

Second, yes, this is ze fitness blog, and yes, I’ll make it relevant, kind of. But the joy of having your Very Own Blog is that you get to go on about whatever is on your mind. And so… indulge my inner fangirl for a minute? Or skip to the bottom!

[Gratuitous flashback] I was in middle school when I saw Sweeney Todd with my class at TheaterVA. I was tumblr_lg152avbRA1qghbjlo1_500completely transported. I wanted whatever that feeling was, forever and always. I obsessed over the program, and researched the history of Sweeney Todd, learning that Angela Lansbury had a life before Murder, She Wrote. This was before the Internet, kids. I had to go to the library.

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Did I mention I won the Wicked lottery?

Flash forward, I’m *ahem* a wee bit older, and find myself doing things like… poring over the program for Wicked. And researching the history of Wicked. Thank you to Wikipedia, which makes this much easier than when I was 13, and to YouTube, where I could see the performance of “Defying Gravity” at the Tonys. (See it live first, please! It’s so powerful in person, it took my breath away.) And Twitter, where I get to follow (not-a-stalker) some of the amazing actors who introduced me to the magic of Wicked: @EmmaHunton, @Gina_Beck, (brilliant Elpheba and Glinda, respectively) and my new Twitter BFF (though she may not know it) (not-a-stalker-really) @alisonfraser. (Plays Madame Morrible, and has the best travel Instagrams and  spends her day off live-Tweeting Die Hard. What’s not to love?)

I really will get to the point, but first, if you’re one of the two people I haven’t shared my experience with, 3 things:

1) It’s brilliant. You might have heard: Wicked is amazing.

2) It’s worth waiting for. I’d never seen the show, and was getting a little despondent. I’d missed it the first time it came to Richmond, and as soon as I heard it was coming again – like, a year ago – I was so excited. I’d save up! I’d get great seats! Then I had a Minor Tax Crisis (read: I will be paying the IRS for 4 years). Then a guy was going to take me, but I decided after 2 dates I couldn’t bear a third. (Honestly, he’d almost ruined Grand Budapest Hotel; I couldn’t bear the idea of him ruining Wicked for me!)

3) I won the lottery!  I was trying desperately to think of ways I might still pull this out with less than $75 in my bank account, when by chance I saw the actors who play Boq and Nessarose on one of our morning shows. I watched the interview happily. I thought, “This is nice, this is my taste of it, and they seem really pleasant people, hope they’re enjoying Richmond.” Then they mentioned the Wicked lottery. A chance for up-front seats for $25 each! Okay, I determined, I would show up for every remaining show (5 at that point), and if it wasn’t meant to be, at least I tried. Fifty people showed up when I was there on a Thursday, and I picked people I’d be happy for if I didn’t win. (Selfishly trying to increase my chances of leaving happy.) Two of the 3 people I picked won, and I was delighted. Then they called me! So thrilled. My aunt (whose birthday was upcoming) went with me, and we had second row orchestra seats. It was a really great night, and Kathy and I were pretty sure we saw the Best Show Ever, that no other Wicked or Wicked cast had ever been as great as ours.

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Okay, back to the point.

So, the last two months or so, I’d been thinking a fair bit about Broadway actors, and touring actors, not as much in a fan way (though obviously I’m a total fangirl), but trying to figure out how they did it. How do you keep the magic going month in and out, 8 shows a week?

I had hit a place in my own work where I felt like I was losing it. I’d arrived! I was a full-time fitness professional. This was what I’d dreamed of for years, and it is such a perfect job for me, creative and challenging and steady work (never to be discounted)… but also? It  is physically and emotionally exhausting. I teach about 20 classes a week. I put myself out there, get up in front of people and give it my all, every day. So many days, I would think there was no way I could get out of bed, much less do it all over again.

So I started to wonder, in a sort of a scared way, do actors ever feel like this? Do they get that thing they’ve worked so very hard for and beat the worst odds for, only to feel like they’re going to go crazy? Do they think, if I have to sing this song one more time I will kill someone?

Around this point I read an interview with Idina Menzel where she said something to the effect of, “You have to do things outside of the 8 shows a week or you’ll go crazy.” And I was thinking, “Don’t stop there! Tell me more! I need to know!”

So I considered the “things outside,” and following a bit of advice from The Artist’s Way, decided to find ways to have more fun. I have been trying to do creative hobbies outside of work, like writing a book I started earlier this year, just for fun. I started singing lessons last week… just to play. Not because I want to be a big-time writer or run away with the Wicked tour (sure, a daydream here or there; it’s the new running away with the circus, y’know)…

And you know? I think it’s working. I have more energy for classes, from yoga to new Zumba routines. I don’t feel so drained at the end of the day, and I’m sitting here writing  a ridiculously long blog post and watching Twitter with Zumba music playing in the background. It feels like a pretty good life.

One of my friends passed on some wisdom to me recently, that “creativity feeds creativity.”

I think that’s really true.