Mental health

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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The things we carry

Note: Yes this title is a take on one of the best short stories of all time, Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." 

The day after I broke the school record for wins by a softball pitcher, I asked my teammate and good friend Aimee, who did the school tv news in the morning, if she would please not make a big deal about my achievement the next morning on the announcements.

I was proud, don’t get me wrong, but I absolutely melted in the face of attention.

She promised. 

The next morning, when her piece of the news was complete, I was relieved that she had mentioned the highlights of the game without making a big deal about the record. 

Then the camera panned to Andrew, a theatre major who was made for tv. Aimee hadn’t mentioned the record, but she gave Andrew full license to go on and on and on and on about it. He had a giant sign, maybe some streamers, and was shouting at the top of his lungs, Howard Cosell style. 

I was mortified.

 Actual photo from my 1995 yearbook, with apologies to all of my classmates who maybe didn't want their 1990's hairstyles on the interwebz. 

Actual photo from my 1995 yearbook, with apologies to all of my classmates who maybe didn't want their 1990's hairstyles on the interwebz. 

(Aimee is now a sports psychologist and director of player and team development for the New Jersey Devils, so presumably, she was doing her early work in exposure therapy). 

As my classmates trained their attention on me, I opened up my book bag and stuck my head inside.

Yes, I really did this. 

My reaction to attention, positive or negative, is visceral - my face turns crimson, I tug at my red hot ears; I can't make eye contact.

People get awkward just watching my awkwardness. 

But hey, the good news with being 41 years old is that I'm past that stuff, right?

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah!

No.

Two months ago, my coworker Judy brought in her microphone headset for me to try out during a team training class. My voice doesn’t carry well and as our classes have gotten bigger, even my best outside voice loses the battle to the blaring music and hum of conversations. 

I knew I needed to at least try a microphone, but took one look at the headset in Judy's hands and was a teenager all over again, frantically looking for a book bag in which I could stick my head. 

Judy turned the headset on and talked into the microphone.

“See?” she said, talking into it. “No big deal.”

Right, I thought. Right. Totally. I’m an adult. No big deal. Nope, this is fine, totally fine. I’m basically on stage everyday when I coach. Yup, totally got this.

She put the headset on me and I walked over to the class of 20 people waiting for me.

It's like I'd been dropped into a Wonder Years' episode. 

I looked around for a moment before shaking my head and ripping off the microphone. 

“Sorry,” I said to everyone as I tried to pull my ear off of my head. “You’ll just have to listen closer.”

I’m 41-years old and comfortable in my skin.

But in that moment, I was 17. And the experience was completely unnerving. 

In retrospect, I'm grateful I was so completely triggered. 

Because I work in a field that is ripe for that kind of reaction. 

Middle school and high school are tough years for many of us. We're figuring ourselves out, finding what we like, who our friends are, what we're good at. And many of the people, women and men alike, who walk through our doors have had some sort of traumatic experience in a gym or fitness setting. 

I actually don't know how to swim. In high school when it was time to swim for gym class I would stay in the shallow end of the pool and tell Mrs. Pompa that a person could drown in as little as two inches of water and that it was abuse to make me wear a bathing suit.

But really I was humiliated that all of my friends were swimming laps and I was hanging out in the shallow end. 

We are hard wired to remember those feelings.

We don't forget what it felt like to be picked last for kickball, to sit on the bench during soccer or finish last in a relay race. We don't forget what it felt like to wear those horrific polyester gym uniform shorts that were only three inches long while Mrs. Pompa made us square dance (promenade!). 

Sometimes it's easy to forget what people carry when they come through our doors. Not just what they carry now, but what they carry from 30 years ago. The white hot scars that never go away. 

It's easy to look around, as coaches and fellow clients, and make assumptions about the people we see. We all carry our experiences, both old and new, and those experiences inform who we are and what we've become. 

I guess that's why my go-to saying and sign off is to be strong and be kind. 

Be kind. Be gentle. You never know what someone else carries.

I promise to do the same. 

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