Mental health

What exactly is a Bonnie Raitt squat?

I stood at the podium at center stage and surveyed the auditorium. 

The balcony was empty, as were most of the first floor seats, save for my 20 or so eighth grade classmates. 

“O.Henry,” I began. “Who was he?”

I paused after the first sentence and gripped the side of the podium, startled by the sound of my voice in the microphone. As someone who rarely spoke above a whisper, I was stunned that the volume of my voice was seemingly booming, echoing off of the hard wooden seats and cracking plaster walls. I shook less and less with each line I delivered before returning to my seat, trembling as the adrenaline left my body. 

At the end of the class, Mrs. Howard tapped at my Jansport book bag as I walked out of the auditorium. 

“You have a knack for public speaking,” she said and I nodded shyly before walking to my next class. 

I think we were both surprised by the clarity and strength with which I had spoken, since I was loathe to speak up in class or make eye contact when speaking to a teacher. That speech was the first time I realized that I really had a voice. And I didn’t know quite what to make of it. 

 This is how you perform a Bonnie Raitt squat….

This is how you perform a Bonnie Raitt squat….

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Talking was always a problem for me as a student. My dad would come home from each parent/teacher conference and give me the same lecture. “They say that you are a good student but that you need to speak up,” he would say. “You need to raise your hand more. And you mumble too much. You need to E-NUN-CI-ATE.” 

For added emphasis, he would over-enunciate the word enunciate, just to be sure I got the message. I did get the message, I just didn’t care to speak up in class. I didn’t want to raise my hand, I certainly didn’t want to draw attention to myself, and the last thing I wanted to do was use my voice for, well, talking.   

This story came to mind last week when, for the 10th time of the day, someone misheard my directions for an exercise. 

“What is a Bonnie Raitt squat?” Suzanne asked one day in our team training class. 

“Um…I don’t know, but I asked you to do a body weight squat…” I replied. 

We now do Bonnie Raitt squats in class regularly. 

“What is a lame-ass squat?” Another asked on a different day. 

“Well, actually a landmine squat,” I said, as I shook my head, thinking of my dad’s yearly lectures. 

Finding my voice has been a life-long process and certainly not one that’s come easy. It took a number of seasons coaching high school and college kids before I realized that I needed to treat every practice and game as though I was on stage. That I needed to flip a switch and turn my voice and my presence “on” so that I could command the presence that a coach needed to effectively coach.

I don’t write about this today for any other reason than to acknowledge that finding your voice can be really difficult. Whether it’s finding the voice to advocate for yourself with a doctor, the voice to stand up to your boss, the voice to speak up for your children or your family, it can be really difficult to put yourself on stage and find the ability to speak up. It can be startling to hear your own voice ringing out in anger, in excitement, or in delight. 

Often when I write on this site, I do so to give voice to something that someone else might be thinking or struggling with. About body image, about mental health struggles, about life.

But how much better do we feel when we have some solidarity - some understanding that others have been where we have been - have felt what we have felt. So we try, I try, to give voice to struggles and to pains and to some joys as well.

You have a voice.

Remember that you have a voice. 

And as much as possible, surround yourself with people who support you and give you the courage to use that voice. 



Listen, I have pants on okay?

Sometimes when people ask me hard questions,  I give a pat answer.

Co-worker: Have you seen the stapler?

Me: I have pants on. What more do you want from me?

 I put these on today. 

I put these on today. 

Usually I’m making a joke. 

Sometimes though, I’m not joking at all. Sometimes I’m using humor to cover the truth that, on this particular day, I got out of bed, brushed my teeth, took a shower, put clothes on and drove to work. 

Hell, I even plucked my chin hair. 

There are days when those basic tasks feel far from basic. 

There are days when everything feels just a bit harder. I don’t know how else to explain it. The difference between snowshoeing on unbroken snow and on a well-worn path, maybe. In both cases, you’re following the same path - but in unbroken snow, those steps take a lot more out of you. You’ve got to work a lot harder to get where you want to go. 

On those days, the self-judgement and guilt that follow is relentless. At least for me. 

Many days, I battle a constant feeling of “why does it feel so hard to write one *&^&^^% email?” 

Why does everything feel so hard? 

Why can I not just buckle down and get things done? 

I just, as of last week, completed a fitness product (Stronger You: The Ultimate Fitness Guide) that I began in January. My goal for completion was March, then April then….well, August. The disappointment I feel in myself for taking so long to finish far outweighs the accomplishment of completing something.  

Sure I finished, but it took me forever. 

I don’t always know how much of those delays are laziness and how much are my weekly, sometimes daily struggle with this thing I’ve spent the past decade plus trying to understand. That thing is dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder. I write about it often on this blog because….well….I believe we need to talk about it more. 

Last week, I wrote a post about fears, and I mentioned that my greatest fear is that I’ll never give to the world all it is that I feel I have in me to give. That I’ll spend so much time spinning my wheels worrying about what I should do, that I’ll never get around to the doing part.  

A friend of mine took a screen shot of that last line and told me to post that sh** somewhere I could see it everyday. 

Some days life is as simple as making a list and checking off the boxes of tasks that you want to get done. 

But some days, life isn’t that simple. 

I’ve said before that sometimes I don’t know where the depression ends and I begin. And that’s the daily frustration. 

Sometimes I lose interest in things like music, books, my guitar, exercise. Many days I lack productivity and on many more days, I’m overwhelmed with an overall feeling of inadequacy. I spend so much time thinking and feeling that I should be more. Dysthymia is sometimes referred to as mild depression, because you still function - until you hit a major depressive episode, as I’ve done in the past. 

The trap is that you feel like you should just snap out of it. Recently, I read in a post on dysthymia which mentioned the prevailing myth that a person can just look on the bright side. 

Stay positive! 

Stop being such a Debbie Downer!

If you’d just look for the good things, you wouldn’t feel this way!

Recently, I heard the expression that there are only good days and great days - no bad days. And that expression really wounded me deeply. Because it made me feel like I just don’t try hard enough to see what’s good. It played into those feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem that hit me so hard some days. 

I was relieved to see that concept written as myth, because so often, I feel like a failure for not snapping out of my funks. For not being able to counter a tough situation with straight out gratitude and positive thinking. Mind over matter they say.

And I say, what is wrong with my mind, that I can’t make anything matter?  

It was myths like those above that prevented me from seeking treatment for most of my life. It’s myths like those above that often still give me the greatest heartache at the end of a long day. I don’t always know and understand what I can and cannot control. I don’t always know how much blame is mine. And that is so, so, so, very hard. 

I treat my depression the best I can. I have an amazing therapist, an amazing spouse, I take my medication and I work hard to make the lifestyle changes I know can help. I exercise often, try to meditate, work to let people in to my life and my struggles and try to be open and honest about the struggle. 

That last one is harder than it sounds. 

Sometimes people think that depression is only obvious sadness; that it’s crying in the middle of your living room floor or bursting into tears when your boss looks at you sideways.

Those are often side affects of major depressive disorder, which is it’s own unique monster. I’ve crossed paths with that one before, but it’s the “mild depression” and I beg, beg, beg to differ with the idea that any depression is mild, that clips me at the knees. 

I wrote this post today because I got up and put pants on - but for some reason - perhaps the reason that I can seldom see but always feel - putting pants on felt like an accomplishment. 

So today, and many days, both behind me and probably ahead of me, the best I could do in a day is put pants on. 

But I’m going to do my best to celebrate those pants. And maybe even, if I can find it in myself, bedazzle the shit out of those pants.

 

Believe in your worth

Believe in your worth. 

I jotted down these words in my notebook as the speaker continued his presentation. I circled them, drew stars around, and more than anything, tried to do just that; believe. 

In my worth.

Worth.

I looked around the room at the other fitness professionals and wondered how many others questioned their worth. I don't think I was alone in chewing hard on this phrase - but looking at so many of my colleagues, in their twenties and thirties and mostly men - felt like I was in the minority.

I could be wrong, but I think women struggle differently with worth than men do. Not always of course - but often. 

The speaker was talking about finances - about literally believing in the value you provide to others and being willing to ask for money to be paid appropriately for your time, skills and knowledge. But it can be really difficult to believe your skills are worth someone else’s money if you struggle to believe in your own worth as a person. 

Researcher Brene Brown says that the practice of worthiness is about vulnerability. I mean, she does study vulnerability for a living so of course she says that…But she goes on to say that worthiness is about recognizing the voice of “never enough” and finding the courage and strength to persevere anyway.

Good enough

When I first started to hang a shingle as a photographer, I constantly battled the “good enough” mindset. Working in a camera shop, I saw plenty of photographers who were charging money for their work, and, in comparison, I didn’t think mine was that bad. 

But I still didn’t think I was good enough. When the local AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates hired me to take pictures, I refused to take their money. I was so surprised that they hired me that I accepted season tickets as my payment.

Season tickets that I didn't need because I had a pass to shoot the games from the dugout...

I mean you can't make that stuff up.

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I battled the same crisis of confidence over a decade later when I made the switch to fitness. I quit my job at Bates to take an unpaid internship in another state so that I could feel like I was good enough to do this fitness thing.

And yet still, at the end of almost every day for the past 40 years, I lean on the bathroom sink and look in the mirror. I scan my face, my crows feet, my laugh lines, that two inch chin hair that good lord, how have I missed plucking that?

And I struggle to believe that I'm good enough.

I write this post today, not because I want anyone to tell me that I am good enough - in fact - please don't. That message needs to come from within me. Just as it needs to come from within all of you.

It's up to me to work on my own worthiness. To meditate, to practice self-compassion, and to let go of comparison with others. But we all need a little help and support in keeping each other accountable for that kind of work too.

Sometimes I write what I call a head-nodding post. Nothing earth-shattering here. Perhaps just something that you read on your smart phone on your lunch break and think yeah - me too. I also feel that way. 

And maybe you think hey - me too - I'll work on the too.

Be strong. 

Be kind. 

Be gentle. 

The trouble with numbers

125

4

100

1200

125 pounds was the weight I thought was perfect for me.

4 was the size of pants I thought I should wear.

100 was how many calories I burned in one mile of running, approximately.

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1200 was the number of calories I thought I should eat in a day.

Those numbers have been burned onto my brain since I was in my early twenties - maybe earlier. 

We have relationships in every part of the fitness process - we have a relationship with exercise, we have a relationship with food and many of us, especially women, also have a relationship with the numbers. When I was a freshman in high school, my friend Jodi told me that if we multiplied our height, then that was our ideal weight. 

My ideal weight came from a friend who heard it from someone who read it somewhere and I thought that number was gospel.

At 5’5, my ideal weight was 125 pounds. Less was okay, and throughout high school I weighed 115 pounds. But when I went off to college and gained a little weight. I was ok as long as I weighed no more than 125 pounds. Though I didn't proclaim to anyone that I was on a diet, the minute my weight went over 125, I ate nothing but salads and was strict about staying below 1200 calories, which was another number I soaked up from somewhere I can't remember. I also knew that running burned roughly 100 calories per mile, so I'd run three or four miles. 

This was my unwritten rule for myself. 

That is the unwritten rule for so many of us. 

The rule of my ideal weight exploded in my face in my early thirties when I took up strength training. I was feeling stronger and enjoying the workouts but I wasn’t prepared for the scale to go in the opposite direction. Instead of going from 130 pounds to 125, I went to 135. Then to 140. 

Intellectually I knew what was going on - I knew that muscle weighed more than fat and blah, blah, blah, science. I knew that. 

But I still could not reconcile this new number. Because the old one, as bogus as it was in its foundation (shockingly, not everything I learned in high school locker rooms was true…) was absolutely seared into my brain. 

Seeing a number on the scale that was more than my ideal weight made me feel shameful. I felt bad about myself, despite what I knew intellectually.  

For many of us, certain numbers bring elicit memories and emotions. 

Maybe it was how much you weighed on your wedding day or when you graduated from college or some other positive time in your life. The ideal number in our head triggers positive memories or experiences. And that’s what we want.

For many others, there is a goal weight in mind - those who have struggled with weight all of their lives might have a number in mind as an end to the journey. 

Once I hit this weight….fill in the blank.

Once I hit this weight I’ll be happy. Once I hit this weight I can stop going to the gym seven times a week. Once I hit this weight….

And it’s not enough to intellectually understand that it’s ok if your weight goes up when your muscle mass goes up and your body fat goes down. Because sometimes you can tell yourself over and over again that it’s ok, but you never really buy what you’re trying to sell yourself. 

Developing a relationship with your body that doesn’t have numbers is so. hard. to. do. 

It is so hard. 

Because we sure as hell don't like the other feedback we rely on, which for most of us is mirrors. Just this morning I got up, took one look at myself in the mirror, and was thoroughly disappointed with what I saw. I haven't trained consistently because of injury, so I feel sluggish and quite frankly, didn't like what I saw in the mirror. 

I share that mostly because I know there are so many out there who feel the same way. 

So what do we do? With the numbers and the feedback?

We work on it. I know - that work is hard and complicated. But we create awareness where we can, we remind ourselves, at every opportunity, that we are more than a number. 

We ask for help. 

We offer help.

We remind each other that we're beautiful. 

We lift each other up. 

In the words of the ladies over at Girls Gone Strong - "strong women lift each other up."

Yes, this is anxiety and depression

I shared a post this morning from a friend’s facebook page that spoke about anxiety and depression.

It was an accurate, spot on description of the catch 22 that those afflictions present in my life. 

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In many of your lives as well. 

For me, I don’t think it’s the fear of failure, though I have some of that. My fear is that I will waste my life constantly wanting to do more but with no urge to be productive. 

That feeling tortures me. 

It’s wanting to get out of the bottom of a well but not having the strength to grab the rope someone is offering. The teaser is that the rope is often right in front of your face and you stare at it, trying to will yourself to reach out and grab it. 

Just reach out and take the rope, you think. It’s that simple. 

It’s that difficult. 

Then comes the self-judgement. Other people grab the rope. Other people never find themselves in the bottom of a dark and damp well. Other people seek light while I back away from it like a vampire in the desert sun. 

I’m preparing to release my first fitness product in April. I’ve filmed videos, written programming, hired a business coach and a life coach to help me see this product through to completion. I hired a designer to make it look pretty and have solicited the help of friends and clients. 

For the past two months I’ve ignored most social engagements, choosing instead to work - and for the most part that pursuit has felt good and satisfying. 

Finally, I thought. Finally I will see something through to completion. 

Then last weekend, as I began to close in on the final four week push - sending out more emails, advertising on Facebook, doing more Facebook live videos, I hit that familiar, frustrating but ever-present wall of self-doubt. 

And I’ve been paralyzed ever since. 

I don’t write this post asking for sympathy - far from it actually. 

I simply write it as my authentically honest truth right now. This is my journey. This is my world. This is my reality. 

That's ok. 

This is how we get through, you and me. 

We understand one another and hopefully, know that we are not alone no matter how lonely our struggles feel. 

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