self + care

Last night I dreamt that I had long, beautiful blonde hair and violet-blue eyes. My limbs were lithe and my skin flawless. When I woke up, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at my choppy mousy mop, my sallow complexion, and the ugly mottled redness across my arms. It doesn’t help that my face has grown fatter from weeks of eating like crap, mostly thanks to the discovery of Door Dash and Way Better Chips. It also doesn’t help that my hat caused stinging break-outs after my hike.

I couldn’t look myself in the eyes this morning.

This means I’m overdue for some serious, take-no-prisoners self-care.

Now I’m not talking about the bullshit self-care in magazines centered on consumption. This isn’t the time for bath bombs or a pedi. Rather, this is the time for treating myself like a person I want to thrive, which means I need to parent my inner child rather than spoiling her. This means taking vitamins again. It means foam-rolling and stretching before and after work-outs and going to the chiro more regularly. It means buying bulk iced coffee so I’m not tempted to stop at the gas station for caffeine (and chips!), deep-cleaning my make-up brushes so the allergens don’t spread, and gently tending to the small scrapes and bruises I’ve earned while at work in the yard. It means balancing my budget so I don’t feel stressed and uncertain every time I pull out my card.

It also means having an honest conversation with myself about the current state of my self-care, which right now is going something like this…

Am I hydrating properly?

No, I am not.

Am I eating sufficient protein?

No, I am not.

Am I treating exercise like a joyful privilege rather than a punishment for imperfection?

… No, goddamnit. I totally am not.

I think you get the point.

So that’s what’s on my mind right now. I don’t need reassurance that I’m pretty or a badass or anything like that, because appearance has nothing to do with this mood. This mood is about unkindness. It’s about what grows when we sow a hundred little seeds of laziness and disrespect toward the self.

Slowly (because doing it all once never works) I’m going to seriously improve my self-care, starting with something as simple as a glass of water and the removal of all of my make-up as soon as I get home. I need to let my skin breathe again, I think.

And also my half-loved spirit.

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thoughts on love

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PART I: WILDNESS

Wildness, to me, is the opposite of safety. Wildness is being free and open and vulnerable to the whole wide world of danger and opportunity. It’s a sprawling vista, a door that won’t close, a clock that doesn’t matter anymore… Exposure. The feeling of being dwarfed by an endless roof of stars.

Of course, wildness is also getting caught out in the storm. Wildness is price you pay when you trade your shelter for a chance to be alone with the Moon.

Love is notorious for this kind of wildness. Just think of all the songs that romanticize love’s soaring highs and breath-taking lows. We’ve all experienced the racing heartbeat, the inability to quiet our thoughts, and the sudden and exhilarating departure of logic when love takes the wheel. Wildness is what makes love so compelling. Love is the sunlit ocean begging us to tear down the walls and let the waves surge in.

The prospect of giving into love this way is terrifying. Will we sink or will we swim?

The answer is neither.

When we surrender to love, we become love.

That is the goal.

The intellectual is always showing off,
the lover is always getting lost.
The intellectual runs away
afraid of drowning;
the whole business of love
is to drown in the sea.

– Rumi

PART II: SAFETY

But love that is only wildness is grueling. Over and over again we wash up battered and broken on the rocky shore, completely destroyed by the very hands we trusted to lift us up. We dive into the sea and are stung by jellyfish. Shark-hearted people swallow us whole. Eventually we protectively drag our sea-sick and sun-burnt hearts into the shade, declaring that love is not only foolish but also fucking insane.

We’re not far off.

But the problem is, we are mistaking passion for love.

Love that is only wildness is passion. True love – full love, life-giving love – balances vulnerability ­and safety. The truly beloved jumps off the cliff of passion knowing that they will be caught by their lover, trusting that they will be held and cherished when the stars cloud up and the sea begins to rage. The beloved roams freely, but not without anchor. Love gives shade and shelter along with the wide open sky.

It took me a long time to find love that could be both wild and peaceful, passionate and gentle, heart-racing and soothing. Love does not have to be a struggle.

And to be honest, it took me even longer to accept that fact.

Love should not drop the bottom out of your life without providing a new, shared foundation. Love should not constantly demand that you run to catch up. If you find yourself exalted by wildness but starving inside for stability and calm — leave. That is half-love. You deserve better.

Special thanks to Pete for teaching me that love is not only a shared adventure up a mountain, but also — afterward — the wordless honoring of each other’s favorite side of the couch.

and were you being good to yourself?

Recently a group of people I was briefly with close with gathered together to celebrate a wedding. Others had a reunion in my city. Looking at the photos they shared, I was startled with a sudden realization:

For three years I was nearly impossible to love.

Looking back at graduate school is painful. Japan, even more so. The year before – worse. For three years I was not so much a woman as a bear trap of anxiety and need, simultaneously begging for love and violently warning it away.

When I look back, several moments stand out to me in painful clarity. Once on a patio in Costa Rica I was told that I talked too much, that I made my “friends” feel like I was uninterested in hearing about anyone else. This of course was the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish with all my talking – the chatter was a desperate attempt to accelerate bonding and find common ground.

I cried myself to sleep to that night feeling powerless and misunderstood. I would do this many more times with many more people in the years to come – especially in Japan, where my companions were kind but courageous enough to say we deserve better.

What a relief to have come so far.

—-

I do not begrudge the people who wisely avoided me when I was aboard the Hot Mess Express. However, I am hugely grateful for the friends who stuck by my side, and particularly glad for those who told me, “It doesn’t have to be like this. You can get help.” In my case, therapy and medication were the tools I needed to begin digging myself out, but everyone’s different. You never know when someone is a phone call away from finally being freed to become their best self.

Blessed are the clear-eyed.

Blessed are the kind.

I’ll end with an important poem from Warsan Shire.


 

“[love letter to self]

i don’t think so. but, i forgive you, girl, who tallied stretch marks into reasons why no one should get close. i forgive you, silly girl, sweet breath, decent by default. i forgive you for being afraid. did everything betray you? even the rain you love so much made rust out of your jewelery? i forgive you, soft spoken girl speaking with fake brash voice, fooling no one. i see you, tender even on your hardest days. i forgive you, waiting for him to call, i forgive you, the diets and the cruel friends. especially for that one time you said ‘i fucking give up on love, it’s not worth it, i’d rather be alone forever’. you were just pretending, weren’t you? i know you didn’t mean that. your body, your mouth, your heart, made specifically for loving. sometimes the things we love will kill us, but weren’t we dying anyway? i forgive you for being something that will eventually die. perishable goods, fading out slowly, little human, i wouldn’t want to be in a world where you don’t exist.”

Warsan Shire, “and were you being good to yourself?”

monday morning thoughts

I haven’t blogged in roughly two years. Cass says I ought to. The sunrise agrees.

So, here’s some thoughts.

  • On Saturday, 29 million people tuned in to watch the royal wedding. That means that for one beautiful morning millions of people put down their weapons, shelved their discontents and disagreements, shut down the endless to-do lists in their brains. I’ll never understand the accusations of frivolity. The world needs beauty more than anything right now.
  • Yesterday I noticed an elk crossing sign on my commute. I sometimes see mule deer and packs of coyote in the open space off of Indiana, but elk? I had such a hard time imagining roving herds of elk there that I Google image searched to confirm. Yep… turns out herds of elk are an actual road hazard in my neck of the woods. I’d love to be late because I had to wait for a herd of elk to cross the road.
  • This morning the sun came out after an unusual stretch of cold gray rain and the world feels brand new. Everything’s leafy and green all of a sudden! The light is filtered through glistening leaves! I believe we should get the day of work today. The world’s too beautiful. Go outside. Your deadlines can wait.
  • Why does office coffee always taste burnt?

Wind and Snow Paralyze the Northeast.

I tuck my flip-flopped feet underneath me and minimize the news.

It doesn’t feel right that it’s so mild out today, that the sky is once again bottomless blue. The brownness of the grass doesn’t feel right, either – back in my hometown, there are already tiny flowers beneath the snow.

When will it rain again?

Everything feels like it’s waiting and it’s tired of that wait.

Right I’m sitting in the Panera where I first apartment-hunted two years ago. I’m sitting in the exact same table, in fact, looking out at weather much nicer than before. I can just make out the roofs of the apartment complex I would end up living in before I found my beautiful house… the house that I have now had the pleasure of living in just shy of a year.

Last year at this time, my mind was on fire with excitement and impatience to begin renovation. One year later, I once again find myself restless with the need for a DIY project, the desire to trade my sweat for a small transformation consuming my thoughts. I need methodical tasks to relax, these days. I need the before and after of dirty wood and crisp paint.

Grief is heavy on my mind, confusingly muddled with gratitude and hope.

I wish that I could throw myself into work today, that my mind would engage and rise to challenge of building my professional development plan.

What is your vision for the next two years? The next year? the worksheet asks. What tangible action items can we put on your agenda for the next six weeks?

I don’t know.

I write, “Improve my agility with sales forecasting tools.”

That’s the right answer, but the real answer is learn to breathe air rarified with grief without stopping to catch my breath.

5 Tips for Surviving the Transition to a Gluten Free Life

1. Try a gradual purge.  Some time ago I consulted my good friend and weight loss guru Josh Hillis for advice on how to improve my diet.  He suggested that rather than trying to overhaul my entire diet at once, I work to tidy up one meal (breakfast) for four days or a week before working on lunch. After that I could focus on improving my dinners, my snacks, my post-workouts, etc… The idea was to improve my eating habits in a manageable and sustainable way. I urge anyone who isn’t celiac (if you’re celiac, don’t play! Gluten is like crystal meth for your gut!) to try the same technique with gluten.  In my experience it is especially helpful to figure out a variety of gluten-free breakfasts before attempting anything else, as it will set the tone for your day and help you feel empowered instead of overwhelmed.

2. Gluten withdrawal.  So hot right now.  Recently there has been a lot of research into the addictive properties of food. And not surprisingly, it’s starting to show that gluten and many of the sugary foods that contain it are obnoxiously addicting.  Depriving your body of its gluten “fix” may leave you cranky, fatigued, and anxious, and if you sharply cut carbs (‘sup, paleo pals?) you may also experience the dreaded “low carb flu.”  These unique discomforts are yet another reason why the gradual weaning approach is nice, or if you are celiac, why you might find it easiest to initially rely on gluten-free substitutes (g-f breads and cookies!) before transitioning to a cleaner and less expensive way of eating.  Regardless of how quickly you transition, definitely be sure to hydrate like crazy, eat a bit of salt, nourish yourself with vitamin- and mineral-rich foods, take probiotics, and pamper yourself with some appropriate treats. (Also, if you’re an athlete read up on ‘safe starches’ and experiment with the right amount of carbs for you.)

You’re not. It just feels that way. 😉

3. Feed the flora. Please acquire probiotics ASAP. You cannot radically alter the composition of your diet without affecting your intestinal flora, so pick up a bulk bottle of probiotics and show your gut some love. Also, probiotic foods are legit – think fermented things like kombucha, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, and plain Greek yogurt. Just don’t be that well-meaning buffoon who fills their cart with ridiculously processed, sugar-filled Activia. 🙂

4. Deal with the feelings. Although I’m a rather low-key person who has always prioritized health, I was shocked how many powerful emotions hit me when I first went gluten free. For days, weeks, and even months later I’d experience sudden moments of grief and frustration, such as when I encountered a nostalgic tasty (funnel cake at the fair! Okonomiyaki at Zencha!) or ran up against an uncooperative barista (“Eh, I’d just assume everything has gluten.”) To be honest, I still have damnit moments of self-pity and irritation today, and that’s fine with me. Don’t give yourself a hard time for being human and culturally conditioned to assign enormous value to various foods. If you need to mope or cry or complain, do it, especially in the beginning of your journey, but please don’t let yourself start to think like a victim. Promise me you won’t internally reframe yourself as a sickly, deprived, high maintenance, alienating, or otherwise negatively special snowflake – because you aren’t. You’ve got an autoimmune condition that means you can’t eat certain kinds of foods, and it sucks, but it really doesn’t affect your awesomeness to any degree. Relax. Have hope. I will help you deal with the hard emotional stuff in an upcoming post. 🙂

Stay strong.

5. Finally: be patient.  As you probably gathered from the tips above, gluten is a tricksy substance that will not go down without a fight. It will continue to affect your system for quite a while after you’ve stopped actively ingesting it. Some people will notice an immediate improvement in their health after cutting gluten for a day, but most will not see improvements for at least a week. Celiacs and those with strong sensitivities/intolerances may need three months to a year to get back to maximum health. This sounds discouraging, but actually it’s kind of awesome: every day for a year you get to wake up excited to see what unexpected health improvement you feel. As your gut heals and the chronic inflammation in your system continues to fade, you may discover that your lactose intolerance has faded, that your joints no longer ache, that your skin is surprisingly clear, etc.   Expect to start feeling a bit better quickly but not a ton better until months later – at which point you will be so deliriously happy that the “struggle” of going gluten-free will have transformed into a pleasure instead. Isn’t it cool how a simple thing like a dietary tweak can dramatically improve your health?! Yeah, I thought so.

Celiac, food sensitivities, etc.: because regular life was too easy for you.

Paleo Granola

Recently I’ve started eating paleo again. I researched and tested it out about a year ago and loved how it made me feel, but paleo’s hard when you’re single and don’t have anyone else to share the costs and labor with.  It’s also difficult when dating, as you don’t want to seem ridiculously high maintenance when it comes to grabbing dinner or a  drink.

Nonetheless, a worrying down-tick in health recently inspired me to try it again. And, one week into it I realized that paleo is actually quite good when you’re single! For starters, it makes you feel totally awesome: you wake up flat-stomached, your skin clears up, and you no longer feel congested and fatigued. In fact, you actually start to feel a little bit foxy in your yoga pants, as opposed to just “ugh I do not even care.” This in turn boosts your shaken confidence and gives you a noticeable glow, which is good for attracting a mate who is worthy of you. 😉

Of course, the less glamorous reason is that you do have time to cook, because honestly you aren’t going on a ton of dates or spending your weekends snuggled up on the couch.

Whatever. It’s hard to feel bad about your life when you’re chomping on THIS:

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Scrumptious Crumbly Paleo Granola  😀

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups raw nuts and seeds (I used almonds, walnuts, and pecans here but love pumpkin seeds in this too!)
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/4 cup coconut or almond flour
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (try doing less, then adding in to taste; honey can be subbed instead)
  • 3 tablespoons raw almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon allspice (this and ginger are strong spices — if you’re not used to them start with less and add to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • Generous sprinkling sea salt
  • Handful of dried cranberries (you can add whatever you like before or after cooking, just reduce syrup or honey if you’re using particularly sweet fruit)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. Be fancy and mix dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients in the other before combining, or be a savage and just dump it all in a giant bowl and attack it with forks to mix it like I did. Spread granola batter onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil (I used foil), then pop in the oven for about 15 minutes. 10 minutes in stir it around, then keep a suspicious eye on it because it’s easy to overcook.

Eat in a bowl of warmed coconut or almond milk, or atop Greek yogurt or kefir if you’re a dairy fan.  This also tastes really good plain. 🙂

You like? Then check this awesomeness out:

1) PaleoOMG’s Pumpkin Granola, which I made last week as my first foray into paleo cereal. It is sooooo freaking good and her blog rocks! 🙂 My only caveat is that if I made this again I would halve the amount of dates, as I had to add another cup of nuts and seeds and increase the spices to tone down the sweetness of the batter the first time around.

2) Just Eat Real Food’s “Sweet and Simple Guide to Paleo Granola”, which inspired me to make the recipe above! This site actually has a number of granola recipes that look great.