Sleepwalking on the darker side

The past week has been rough on me with sleep. It is an unusual occurrence, because I rarely have issues falling asleep or staying asleep. Disruptions happen, though, and some are even depressingly predictable. Like when the trees in my neighborhood start blooming and I am popping allergy medications every 4 to 6 hours. Sudafed, while effective on my congestion and sneezing, will keep me up all night if taken too late in the day. March remains an emotionally challenging 31 days, with my oldest child’s birthday and death day occurring in the same week. Even after 21 years (this year), it’s still sad and it’s still hard.

But the allergy meds that get me through the day make for a very rough night of sleeping. This year is the first I am truly cognizant of the differences and impact regular exercise makes, and I begrudge every second of crankiness that even minor sleep deprivation brings me. If that were not bad enough, the combination of allergy-medication induced lighter sleep and March, for whatever reason it opens up the can of worms of night terrors. That makes life so much darker and seemingly more dismal.

For the most part, I am relishing the go-go-go busy and overload of work this month has brought. I love my family and my friends old and new who make me smile and laugh throughout my days. Darkness happens, and I remind myself that the reality of darkness is only as long and as permanent as I allow it to be and how to leave it in its place. Having been in such awful, terrifying places in my life, I have an almost fanatical appreciation for the joy and great aspects of my day-to-day life. Still, when the horrors of my childhood visits me in sleep, it’s upsetting all on its own, without the additional disruption of the losing sleep over things I cannot change, thoughts and feelings I wish I could ignore if I cannot forget.

Which tends to make me even crankier that I am losing sleep over shit I want to not contemplate any further.

In such a dark mood, dark place I ventured into the gym and for practice this morning. All went well, but I find myself supremely annoyed by the remodel and how my routines have been upturned. Regular folks I used to see pursuing their own Lists nearby most mornings I barely pass in the hallways now, to the point that one such regular remarked today that she never sees me anymore. How true. We both spend a fair amount of time on the stairs, seeking out spaces and equipment that used to be fully contained on one floor or the other.

At least I am not of the grumpy old person camp who snaps at members who may be in the way.

Tonight I got to spend some time with my tribe sister, doing a light routine and yakking and catching up with life and times. We had so much to talk about that my funk-spike did not even occur to me to bring up for discussion. I am happy about that.

The sun is supposed to shine this weekend and temperatures being a warm 70-something degrees. I can’t wait! While others will be outside enjoying it, I am simply looking forward to having no meetings, lighter workload, and just time to pursue my own projects. G – my youngest child – turns 30 on Sunday. Funny but it does not make me feel old so much as marvel that our lives have advanced to this point, that he is healthy, happy, newly married and moving on with a fulfilling and happy life.

It is just a weird dichotomy month for me. Every year in advance I resolve to be less bothered and burdened by the grief that lingers, and every year I am learning how to be kinder to myself when it creeps in and taints my days.

I will say the habits acquired in the last couple of years – regular exercise, healthier eating, blogging and writing routinely, the discipline of managing my own small business and working at a full-time job – have done wonders to keep me out of the emotional cesspool of my own making. While it feels like I am sleepwalking on the darker sides of my life, I am on firm footing with a clear path and a retainer wall that will not let me slide off the edge and down the slippery slope.

There is an edge to the life I have led and the events that have befallen me. I cannot imagine a day where I state with any form of sincerity that I am grateful to be a sexual abuse survivor and the mother of a deceased child, but the day when I am grateful for the beauty and sense the infuses my life is here and its now. My oldest child – I think of her every single day and it makes me smile. My childhood – no getting around that I would be a very different person as an adult. And while I am very, very far removed from perfect, I am better than many and completely good enough.

Sometimes I let myself believe I have all I need, but on the heels of that thought comes acknowledgement that needs change every day. Wanting something badly enough tends to elevate it to need status, or the item becomes less realistically available or emotionally desirable and need for it fades to the whimsy of a want. Understanding the difference and the subtleties of the feelings has been a lifelong task, one that probably ends when the mind regresses or life ceases.

My life is full with lots and lots of good fortune and amazing souls who include me as part of their personal realm. During this month when the sads strike, it seems there is always someone or something that sprawls directly in my path and makes me recognize how truly rich my whole life.

Allow me to be thankful. And grateful. And neurotically repetitive. I have not been as present in this space, but my deep and abiding affection for it, and all of you, remains. I shall endeavor to ponder here more frequently.

Civil discourse, or lack thereof, becomes personal

My life has indirectly been touched by the issues dividing our country. Trainer J is a Berkeley grad and close friends of his were physically assaulted in the February 1 melee on campus. Listening to an interview J’s friend’s gave on what happened to them, I am so saddened and so struck by the very personal nature of the story and upset by the continuing narrative.

I am not a terribly political person. I tried to write about it yesterday and failed. The anxiety and fear surrounding the divisiveness in our world right now makes me hesitant to even relate the story here in my own blog.

The choices we make dictates the life we lead. To thine own self be true.

In truth, I am truly appalled, disgusted, and angry about what has happened, yet not at all surprised. I live in California, within a reasonable driving distance of Berkeley and San Francisco, accurate hotbeds and depictions of the liberal and progressive thinking that has dominated the federal government the last 8 years and continues to dominate the governing authorities of California. My little townie suburb is the epitome of the flyover states; referring to it as a redneck hicksville is not far off the mark.

Like most others I know and speak to routinely, we are struck by how those whose lips move and present sincere-sounding platitudes of tolerance are so gravely intolerant. Living in this state my entire life, I understand how desensitized and business as usual such behavior seems to me. Except now it has indirectly hit home for me. Someone I care about has close personal friends, practically family, and they were assaulted, beaten, because they wanted to attend a lecture by a man whose views the UCB campus roundly and publicly condemn. It hits far too close to home and for my comfort. I want my home state to be better than that. I want people to be better than that.

But I’m a realist, and I understand that the extremes of both sides of any argument get the most attention, make the biggest splash, and strongest impressions. Unfortunately it also makes more acceptable and allows people to show little or no restraint when it comes to their emotions.

Except for those of us trying to maintain boundaries of restraint, common sense, and civility toward one another. I know what happened in Berkeley is simply par for the course in the day and age we are living in, but it’s still very hard to swallow.

Yesterday while I was driving to the gym, a truck ran a red light near my home and made a left turn into the intersection I was traveling through. I saw him in plenty of time and was able to drive around without incident. However, he followed and drew up alongside me as I was making a left turn, and then made an illegal left turn alongside of me, then proceeded to match speed with me as we traveled another couple of blocks. I slowed down, he slowed down. I speeded up, he sped up to match and stay right next to me. When I looked over, he was making faces and flipping me off. While driving, I grabbed my phone and began taking photos of him. While driving. As the flash goes off, the truck sped up and away from me.

It struck me at the time that in the civility war, common sense and restraint are losing. In the quest to be right, to WIN the arguments at any and all costs trumps all. Intimidation, violence, and falsehoods are the norm these days. An impartial press? Not for a very long time. Social media is a powerful influence; everyone has a voice. Even those of who blog about our quiet little lives have our space to share our thoughts and express our opinions.

Thing is, thoughts and news shared via blogs is not unbiased reporting of facts and events. Same is true of Facebook and other social media platforms. And equally unfortunate, great swathes of our population cannot tell the difference between the hysterical “sky is falling” screeching and the impartial dissemination of information and reporting of events.

I used to think, to have hope, that my children and future generations would go to college and learn to think more analytically, more rationally, be smarter and brighter and better than me. I had this hope for a cycle of continuous improvement, that they would be better, smarter, kinder than those I know and grew up with. The years pass and I lose a little of my shining hope that the world will be better place when I leave it.

What I see now from my window is how my peers have made mistakes and missteps, how overindulging and smoothing the pathway of growing up has resulted in this paralyzing fear of making mistakes and loss of entrepreneurial independence has been stifled. And that’s what I see – homogenization and attempts to reshape everyone so we all look alike, think alike, and act alike. Is there safety in numbers? Cries of diversity seem to contradict the slow, steady, march to be a somehow kinder and gentler people by government decree and enforced by government authority.

I am not a political person. I respect reasonable people and any differences in opinions. But violence and intimidation have crossed paths with me. And I don’t like it. I don’t appreciate having my right to drive to the gym impeded or people harmed for sport.

Even here on my own blog, I stepped back and away for month because of an unpublished troll who was unrelenting. Before today, what I talked about was routine reporting on my life and times. It’s not harsh or harmful to anyone else. Peace, balance, life is hard. It’s unfair. There is no regulating fairness. Or making people behave appropriately and try to be better, kinder, and gentler versions of themselves.

Welcome 2017

When discussing the weather, everything is relative to what you know, what you are accustomed to enjoying or enduring. Growing up in northern California, anything below 50 degrees feels wintery to me. Today was particularly wintery, as there was quite a bit of moisture in the air, the wind was blowing, and I was outside much of the morning standing around handing out drinks and such to runner people. The annual new year’s day fun run that bunches of M’s friends do – I helped out a bit this year and about froze off the better butt I am in the process of building. Despite being bundled up, it was still very cold out there. I regretted not going for the hot yoga class instead for the warm, sweaty and grossness of it all.

Been a pretty quiet, uneventful day around here. With the front lawn remodel M has been doing a lot of laborer type work, and he has a back spasm going on right now that is truly ugly to watch when it happens. Because of that, he’s been lying on a heating pad much of the afternoon (we met G and K for brunch food after the fun run) and I have been doing a freezers and pantry inventory and purge. Oh my, 11.5 months of discipline out the door the last couple of weeks. I know I ate more junk, more sugar, more awful crap food the last 2 weeks than I have all year. Detox officially begins tomorrow, but I was tossing crap left and right this afternoon. I do not even feel guilty for the food waste.

Other than a final short at-the-office work week, things are going to get a bit hairy this month. I’m returning a full-time 36-hour base schedule at the firm (versus my present 30 hours week). How I get my hours done is actually irrelevant to my bosses; I am in and out so much of the time during my work-from-home days and on the weekends they know I typically work more than 40 hours per week as it is. Big difference when I am feeling on the hook for a 9 hour day versus have a lot of play and flex for 30 hours in 4 days, but that’s all in my head. Most likely little will change, other than my hyper-responsible self wanting tracking my schedule and hours more carefully at first.

I have a busy month for self-employment clients as well and a lot of work on my plate. But oh well – at least January and its particular set of deadlines and headaches only occurs once a year.

This sounds mildly terrible, but I’m really glad the holidays are over. I don’t know that I have another holiday day until May, but that’s okay. I am actually looking forward to getting back on track with a regular, predictable schedule of work and such and not having so much socializing and go-go-go on deck and on my mind all the time.

Normal life. I look forward to its return every January.

Corollary to my final 2016 training recap

Last year, trainer J introduced Scott Abel into our training routines. Whether he had been reading and following Coach Abel for awhile or I just start paying more attention when he was discussing technique and theory seems irrelevant at this point, although I do believe it was the former. Or maybe I was just finally in the headspace to hear what Coach Abel has to say about exercise, diet, physique transformation.

Under most prior circumstances, I would discount Coach Abel almost immediately because of his history as a physique competitor and trainer/coach. His message would not apply to me, unfit and hapless/hopeless middle aged woman. Negative girl was starting to pump up the volume during this period, and I would be slowly backing away muttering about not being in that realm of exercise and never, ever being capable of and therefore not interested in that aspect of gym life, all the while thinking “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy.” Fortunately by that time I was already moving away from setting specific goals, counting calories, learning about macros, and seeing food, body, exercise as my enemy. Fortunately by that time I had enjoyed some surprising success with managing my diabetes and having medications cut and numbers dramatically improving. Fortunately by then I was more focused on improving my overall health than on what the scale read or how uncomfortable I felt in my own skin.

I am a success story in this regard, and as hard as it is to write that down and publish it publicly (lest you all judge me some ginormous egomaniac), I am standing by it.

Abel writes a lot about the inside-outside transformation. From a Facebook post today:

After this many years and decades Coaching people to physique transformations, it still amazes me how people tend to overlook the elements of lifestyle that will make or break being able to accomplish and sustain a physique transformation. 

So many people form a goal to take better care of themselves and to transform themselves from the outside-in, and then get all caught up in incidental elements of this transformation process. They start focusing on counting calories and number-crunching macros and searching for the “magic training program” and all the rest. But they miss and overlook the most fundamental aspects that make sustainable physique transformation possible – and that is lifestyle considerations. 

Lifestyle is the FOUNDATION that supports all these other things. It is not the other way around. That is the illusion. 

And lifestyle is also one of the hardest life habits to change. But make no mistake; things like time-management, mindset and attitude, sleep patterns, meal times, stress-management – these things together ALL fundamentally matter more than does the right workout program or the right diet-strategy. If you don’t have the right lifestyle and the right mindset to fit these things into – then it is never going to work for long.

Such sentiments resonate deeply within me. I have worked very hard at transforming my mindset, at locking away my negative girl and shutting down the voices that whisper that I can’t exercise, that I’m fat, gross, out of shape, never going improve. Nothing I do every day in the gym or the yoga studio even compares to the difficulty of transforming that part of my life and lifestyle.

The timing is just right for me at this point in my life. My jobs are flexible enough that I can spend up to 2 hours at the gym every day and be in bed by 9 or 9:30 so I can get up and 4 a.m. to get my exercise done and crossed off my daily to-do before I even consider doing anything else. I simplified my eating down to a few basic meals and I eat those over and over and over again. Since I am not much of a foodie or a cook, it’s easy enough for me to drink a protein shake or eat a bowl or oatmeal every day for breakfast and have the same turkey and cheese sandwich almost daily. Weight loss when it occurs will be a nice perk, but these less I thought as an earned consequence of my actions the happier, calmer, and more enjoyable life became.

I have worked hard and deserve the success I am presently enjoying; I have earned it. However, in my reading and trying to learn more about the science behind physiology and human body systems, I recognize and accept more and more that decades of a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits and food choices are not reversed overnight or even over the course of the year. Will it happen? Maybe, maybe not. That said, I have no basis for complaint. None at all. Everyone ages and maybe complete recovery and some shadow of socially approved slender, svelte figure is not possible for me at this stage of my life. Oh well. I have a fabulous husband who loved me when I was fatter and loves me more now not because I am this much fitter but because he loves that I am happier and more comfortable and confident in my own skin. My health is excellent and I am rarely sick, allergies aside. I have been careful and cautious in my exercise pursuits and avoided injuries thus far, a trend I hope continues. As long as I can continue to manage my vanity and my ego, I can continue to dwell in my present level of happy, mostly balanced headspace.

In my own mind, I am Jane Average – normal level of intelligence, common sense, and ability to get through life and learn from my experiences. This was me comparing myself to others, and over the course of the last year I have learned just how dangerous that behavior can be, because I will always find reasons for fault with me. Stopping myself from comparing me to others has freed me to pursue my own thoughts and make better choices and exercise more realistic judgment about what is possible, what is not. I am far less susceptible to the endless drone of marketing that tells me I can be more than I can in 10 minutes per day. It also gives me a lot more room to be completely genuine in my support and enthusiasm for other people’s successes. Envy is an ugly emotion; self-flagellation for not having the same level or type of success is far worse.

The resulting overall physical improvement from my exercise efforts is wonderful, but the ways it has impacted all aspects of the way I conduct myself and live my life is unexpected. My mindset and interest in continuing the process is such a huge boon and benefit. I don’t know that Scott Abel is 100% right in his theories and opinions 100% of the time, but I do know his approach generally makes sense to me and has impacted me far beyond any tiny expectations or hopes I might have harbored this time last year.

Self improvement gets talked about an awful lot, and I have read far too many articles, books, even blogs on the subject. A lot of it was simply gobbledygoop. These days, I’m more capable of reading their words and making realistic judgments about whether it is something worthwhile for me in my life or simply a empty platitude that looks pretty in print. When I saw TM a couple of weeks ago he remarked upon how well I look and seem overall, and how our tune-up appointment next month might just be a one-and-done type year. My village – they don’t blow smoke in my direction much less up my skirt. His comment meant the world to me.

As I slowly close out 2016, anyone reading this or having followed my journey this last year and relating to my struggles as well as my successes, I leave you with the following though from Coach Scott Abel, also posted today on Facebook:

You will be amazed how much you change from the outside-in, when you focus first and foremost on change from the inside-out!

I am living, breathing, happy proof of this concept. Happy new year, everyone!

Training #99 – Nothing’s gonna stop us now

Thursday morning, J is back from his holiday vacation, and it was our last training session for 2016. Going forward and starting on Monday, these and other exercise-related posts will begin appearing in my new endeavor – MakingProgressGettingFitter.com – going live on Saturday, December 31.

Today was our final review day, appropriate since he is just returning from vacation and we can begin anew with different Lists in the new year.

Funny story from this week – I met a couple of old friends for dessert one evening. My one friend C I haven’t seen in almost 2 years, although we keep in touch regularly through email and other electronic channels. I walked into the restaurant where she and her husband were waiting, took off my coat, hugged her, and she says, really LOUDLY, “Oh. My. GOD. Where did you get that butt? D, look at Nel’s butt!” It makes me laugh even now, because her husband was kind of mortified that his wife is commanding him to look at her long-time friend’s ass. I jokingly told her that booty building was part of J’s career mission in life to build his middle age female tribe clients better, rounder, more attractive derrieres with not only lots of variations squats, lunges, and glute-strengthening exercises, but high reps and lots of sets of squats, lunges, and glute-strengthening exercises several times per week.

I laughingly referred to it as the “build a better butt” project and told her I would go home and rename all my lower body Lists the “build a better butt” List numbers 1 through infinity. We just laughed and laughed over that. In high school, C and I both had unremarkable, even flat posteriors.

Not anymore. And as friend C said to me, now that I have it, I should flaunt it. I seriously doubt I will ever have enough confidence or feel irritated enough to go that far, but who knows? I never thought I’d be whipping off a sweater to show off my bicep either, but provoke me enough, shit happens.

What We Did

As I said, review day, except J changed the order and made a few adjustments as well. The List:

1-legged Glute Pushdown

Squat Machine (Frog Stance)
Stability Ball Reverse Hyperextension

Cable Glute Kickback
Cable Side Hip Abductions
Cable Adductions

Cable Glute Donkey Kick
Cable 1-leg RDL

How It Felt

Still crushing on the 1-legged glute pushdown. Today was a bit of refinement, on trying to get some extra contraction out of the leg by leaning into it and lifting it an extra little bit at the very top of the exercise. This required some readjustment of the resting foot, which when J was saying this used the term “right foot back further on the platform” which my brain interpreted at the left foot on the moving part and the exact opposite of what he meant. A little embarrassing, because having been one of those kids who had their left-handedness corrected in kindergarten, to this day I still have to think what is left, what is right when directions come into play. But mostly amusing, because I am someone who has to think left is left, right is right and not let big words like “platform” short circuit my thinking. Anyway, pressing down I got, lifting up I got as well, but that last little lifting up an extra half inch – that was a little challenging. Doable, manageable, but note to self: never underestimate the effectiveness of the last little bit of work on this and other exercises like it.

From there we were back to the squat machine “frog stance,” the current bane of my existence and the sore glutes I have been sitting upon off and on throughout the day. Not from the regular squats, or even the squat as low as possible in the machine cradle per J’s instructions, but that last set of 1.5 squats (down low, rise half way up, down low again, rise all the way to the top … lather rinse repeat), now that was like the fast-track on the build a better butt circuit. It has been awhile since he tossed that curve into the mix, and I remember now why I have allowed myself to go to sleep on that particular twist on these types of exercise. It is most definitely effective, and I found myself breathing had and sweating hard trying to get through the 10 reps in this grouping.

Coupled with the squat machine squats was the stability ball reverse hyperextensions. These are still lurking on the favorites List, although I am not crushing quite as hard on these as I am the glute pushdown machine. These are part of the rotation in hot yoga from the floor, so it’s actually easier and far more pleasant from the stability ball. I have been experimenting with feet together, feet slightly apart, feet slightly wider apart. Because of the yoga feet tend to be closer together, but not always, not each and every rep. J’s gentle direction to try and hold the shape at the top of the movement was primary focus today, and as I continue with these I will strive to hold the extension at the top.

The fluffy cuffies go on for the rest of this List. We began with the glute kickbacks, which are probably the easiest to master in the fluffy cuffy series. While I think and find these to be easiest of the series to master, they are effective and not easy-peasy exercises. But really, is there any exercise on any List that is easy-peasy for long? In my experience, if something becomes easy-peasy it’s time to add weightier weights or wait for J to notice that I’m barely breathing or sweating and moving along as if I am without a care in the world. I can most definitely still feel these in my glutes, a very good feeling.

We have done cable side hip abductions in prior reviews and Lists. The shape and movement of the exercise is not complicated or even that difficult; it’s getting the angle just right and finding an anchoring place to hold onto that brings the biggest challenge. These seem to be extremely effective on the side hips and do require some focused concentration, but are not unmanageable, no matter what I am thinking at the time I am doing them. Worst case scenario, and I may try this on another cable machine, is that I get a bar to help with the balance instead of trying to find an anchoring point on the machine.

New for the List today was the cable adductions versus the adductor machine, and I am kind of winging it on the name because J has not had opportunity to update the List. Rather than swinging the leg out to the side as one does with the cable abductions, the cable adductions have the leg swinging forward, in front of the stabilizing leg. (This is the test kitchen kind of stuff J dreams up when he goes on vacation.) These are effective, and I can most definitely feel it 12+ hours later.

Cable donkey kick I had to ask J about form. I knew the basic knee up, kick back, but I got confused on whether the knee stayed in 90 degree position or kind of stretched out in back once kicked (leg does unbend, but not to completely straight). These are not bad, but they require some practice. Another staple on the build a better butt circuit.

The cable 1-legged RDL is no longer the arch nemesis it once was, but it lingers on the nemesis list. Yep, still really tough. Since these were at the end of the List today, legs and hips were fatigued, balance was essentially shit. J, being fabulous trainer/coach, tells me and demonstrates slowing down and being very focused on keeping upper body tight and bending slowly and deliberately to stay focused on the balance portion of the movement. Despite the fatigue, I did pretty well with these after that. Did I make it to the full 12 reps? Ummm … no. But I did not do too badly all things considered. These are no longer arch nemesis material, because I have improved through the many months of pursing them in training as well as in practice on my own.

On the fluffy cuffy series, we through each exercise for all sets on one side before switching. It made a difference, even if I cannot tell you right now how or why.

Key Takeaways

I love training days, and I love review days. But you know that; I say it almost every week.

Monday I was struggling with an upper body List, in that I was experiencing pain in some of my chest pressing exercises. Ultimately I reviewed form without any weights and then used lighter weights and finished the List without further incident. Texted with J about it (from his vacation), mostly to reassure myself that I was doing the right things and looking for issues in the right areas, and came away feeling pretty good about the experience. Yesterday I did a repeat of that List, but I had done some extra warm-up on shoulders with the dumbbell matrix J has adapted for me. It made such a difference. I typically start out a List using a lighter weight for the first set of each exercise, what in my mind is a preparatory set, but J refers to that as part of the warm-up process. Whatever we want to call it, I have been underestimating the value of the warm-up process. I do it, because it’s important and a rule, but I think if I am low on either time or energy, cutting back on warm-up is not the place to start shaving.

With all that in mind, today J made it a point to ensure I did a light set first before we got down to business with the actual work. And it made a difference. While I cannot say I feel how much work we are doing in the moment, I definitely feel the impact of the work after I get home, shower, and dress for the day. When I was getting into my car to drive to the office, all I could think of was burn, baby, BURN! with my glutes and hamstrings. Oh my goodness – what the heck have I not been doing all week? A lot, only working different muscles in different ways.

I don’t have to walk away from the gym every day feeling it in my whole body, but sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. When we change things up or when I put forth a lot more effort to try really hard to ensure I understand what and where I should be feeling it, there is some expectation that I will wander away feeling the training session. No right or wrong answer, just reality of the way life and exercise works with me. There are always new lessons to learn and relearn no matter what day of the week or year.

This year – it’s been uplifting and productive. A new year is about to start, and along with it I expect there will be quite few new faces. Last January, I was so busy and so focused on donning my invisibility cloak and staying out of the way of anyone and everyone else I did not notice much. This year, I am practically a fixture, like the benches and the dumbbells. While I do not expect to see much difference in the early morning hours when I typically practice and train with J, it will be interesting to see what I notice as far as new faces.

Surfing through Pinterest as I do most nights winding down for sleep, I read a lot of quotes about loving yourself and undertaking change for yourself. For the most part, I think I have done that and done well at it. J, M, my personal tribe as well as the extended training tribe all inspire this sense of wanting to keep going, to stick with it, to do better.

I still have no specific goals, and for me, it works. Wandering through various blogs I randomly crossed paths with today I read a lot of 2017 goals and resolutions, most of which include some aspect of diet and exercise. One gal, on a financial blog, had a stated goal of squatting 150 lbs. and benching 100 lbs. That sounds super impressive to me, and it started me thinking – if I were to set some sort of goal in line with that, what would I set? The more I pondered it, just idly imagined what it would be like, the more my stomach churned and I thought I might actually make myself physically ill.

No, that sort of goal setting is not for me. My objectives for 2017 are similar to what they were in 2016 – continue training with J twice a week and practice what I am learning on my own consistently each week. And even that is not a goal, more just continuation with the lifestyle I have adopted and adapted myself to living.

I can certainly comfortably live with that.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

I am struck by the fact that I hung in, hung on, and actually wrote and posted 99 training recap posts. My attention span has rarely been this focused or lasted this long, and it is testament to how committed and involved I am in my training journey. If I ever suggested I would have gotten this far without J, it would be my biggest understatements of 2016. Every training I learn something, or a lot of somethings, and I have so much more life in my life now. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with him these last 18 months, and I am looking forward to the all the interesting new things I will learn in 2017.

Looking back over the past year, reading some of my recaps, I am so very proud of my progress and the strides I have made. Nothing is perfect – we are human, after all, so even the tiniest of expectations of perfection is a flawed premise – but I am so much improved in many tangible ways. Everything from my 1-arm rows to my now former arch nemesis, the 1-legged cable Romanian deadlift are better, improved, not vexing or frustrating me to the point of angry tears. Even more than that, though, is how much better my head – the thoughts, the ideas, the ways I think of and speak to myself. Negative girl still dwells, but she’s mostly quiet or her taunts and smack-talk muted by the her cage.

In all aspect of my life, I am a calmer, happier, more balanced person.

There is still room for improvement. There is still so much for me to learn about and ideas to pursue and to ponder. I am never going to be happy standing still; peace for me in the ebb and flow of thinking and ideas and immersion in knowledge. I want to be continually reading, writing, and yes, working on my better health quest, building that better butt and maybe even a leaner, meaner bicep. I know I will not live forever, but for whatever time I get, I do not want to be stricken by some preventable or manageable condition. Diabetes is not curable; it is merely controlled. Right now, I’m doing a very good job with control. A lot of people ask me if it’s hard, and anymore, I’m not sure it’s hard to do so much as being more disciplined about staying the course with good habits. I get up, I go to the gym, and I do something there 6 days per week. On the other day, I go to pilates or to yoga most of the time. But even if I slept late and did not do anything exercise-like at all, I am no longer wracked with guilt or beating myself up for it. Rest days are allowed, even encouraged. Mostly I choose an active rest day, but I am allowed to choose a less active rest day. Or maybe even 2 or 3 in a row. Occasionally. Very, very occasionally. Like long into the distant future type occasionally.

Nearly every Thursday I pass a couple walking their 2 elderly golden retrievers in our neighborhood. This same couple must run a retirement home for elderly goldens, because when we first moved here 5 years ago, there was another older one that every day walked by the house with his toy in his mouth. Sometimes there would be others, fosters just passing through, but typically they are older dogs looking for their final homes.

Since I am leaving the house a bit later on Thursdays, this is the only day I for sure see them out for the daily walk. And every single time, it makes me smile. These mature pups lope along at a gentle pace and seem undisturbed the hyper yorkies that lose their tiny minds over anything, man or beast, that crosses their paths. The golden wag their tails when they meet other walkers who stop to chat for a moment and pet them.

The couple walking them are both type 2 diabetics and these 3 or 4 mile walks daily are for them as much for the dogs. Used to be I would feel discouraged that I did not do at least that much for myself to manage my diabetes, made me feel like a failure for being paralyzed on the couch rather than out in the world. How much confidence I have gained from just sticking with my daily program of getting myself up out of bed and into the gym every day. I got this. I can fall off the wagon, maybe take a day off or week off completely, and return the next day or week and get back to it. Or if I don’t work quite as hard, do quite as much as I feel it warranted or that the List calls for, it is one day out of many days. And I have zero desire to compete in any sort of contest ever. My health, the overall good feeling buzz I am enjoying is the motivation that keeps me trying and moving forward.

J is my trainer and my coach; motivating me should not be part of his job description. Doing his job well, teaching me what I need to know to get pursue practice on my own is what I need most from him. We talk about anything and everything, but my desire to help myself, improve my health is the motivation that brought me to the gym in the first place. As I see it, J’s primary job is to help me build a bigger, badder, multi-layered toolbox so I can get the job done.

While I have no specific goals, SMART or otherwise, the objective is tangible: keep going, keep working. Better health is not a goal; it is a process.

Keep going, keep working at the exercise – same is true of diet. Oh my, the holidays were harsh on the eating front. I did very well, considering the mass quantities of sugar, socializing, food and drink everywhere I went and that followed us home. At some point, though, I decided that the company of family and close friends I only see a few times per year was worth a few thousand extra calories and sugar. I do not regret it, not a single bit. However, I knew then and recognize now that I will likely spend much of January detoxing from these 10 days of feasting on sugar and crap. I have gotten most comfortable and confident about my blood sugar’s stability, and watching those numbers peak out over 240 and be approaching my limit of 140 fasting in the morning is enough wake-up call to seriously curb my behaviors. It was never as bad as it was when I was on medication, but it is bad enough to make me know that the blockade on sugar and gratuitous carb consumption must stop in January.

No doubt in my mind it’s going to be hard; the cravings are back with a vengeance. But I can and will rein myself back in and get my restraint back. I do eat sugar; I am just very judicious and sparing about it. For my birthday I nearly always have a slice of key lime cheesecake, but I cut it in half and either share it with M or someone else or eat the other half one bite daily for a week until its gone (to M’s infinite dismay – who leaves a single bite of cheesecake in the refrigerator?). This holiday season – I ate the equivalent of a whole slice of cheesecake for about 10 straight days. It gives me the willies to imagine my A1c in a few weeks. but if it’s higher than it has been I will already be battening down the sugar hatches and on my way to good and better control. I cannot imagine my endocrinologist writing me a new scrip until a second, non-holiday quarter and elevated readings.

As I told J, I am not going to crucify myself for 10 days of less desirable choices after another 355 of better choices. Perhaps next year I will be better able to resist the temptations for all of December, or at least show a little more restraint than I did this year. That said, compared to 2015, 2016 was a pretty remarkable improvement, and 2015 and was an improvement over 2014. I am getting better at this stuff. I have reasonable expectations and am an improving work in progress managing both the expectations and my behaviors. I consider that good progress.

And dang – I am so very proud of myself for my improved habits and much healthier life and lifestyle.

So this wraps my year of training recaps. It has been a genuinely amazing and awesome year. Thanks for reading along and following my journey thus far. Because as the title says – nothing’s gonna stop us now.

 

The fear box

Everyone has fears – big ones, little ones, epic phobic ones. It is my conclusion that my ability to cope and manage my fears determines the quality of my day-to-day life. And if it were only so simple as to decide to set them aside and not allow them to influence, direct, or drive my behaviors.

The hierarchy of fears range from real, nail-biting anxieties that could keep me up nights to the comical WTF things I cannot exactly place why they exist and persist. For example, I am absolutely, positively phobic about frogs, toads, hoppy and slimy reptile-like garden residents. I hate them. The mere sight of them on television documentaries makes all the hairs on my arms stand up in alarm and my visceral response – RUN! – has to be restrained or the channel MUST be changed. When we moved into our home there were all these privet trees and a not-well-maintained swimming pool with literally hundreds of frogs living in the trees, the rocks surrounding the pool, and in the pool itself. I was afraid to step outside after dark when I could hear them croaking everywhere around me.

Hence our stark landscaping. Hence M systematically removing those privet trees within our first few months in the house, followed by the shrubbery and nearly all the other living plants surrounding our home. When it came time to resurface our pool, those rocks where the frogs were hiding were removed. And my frog-slaying champion, among the first skills in homeownership he acquired – in addition to supervising the remodeling and repairs going both inside and outside of our house – M learned how to maintain our swimming pool to eliminate the greenish tinge and balance the chemicals, then raise the chlorine content to drive the frogs from the inviting pond.

These days, occasionally we have a stray frog in the last remaining leafy green plant. M will pluck him out and toss him into the greenbelt to find his way down to the creek. We still see the occasional lizard on the concrete, but those do not bother me at all and with the cats around, they are not living long much less happy lives.

As far as epic phobias go, that one is manageable. I simply avoid going where frogs and toads and hoppy things might be dwelling and make my own yard and outdoor environment a lot less inviting for their ilk.

Other fears are not so easily contained or managed.

I have written endless posts about and referencing what I refer to as my “gym crazy,” my term for the anxiety, fear, and intimidation of being in the gym and trying to pursue exercise and fitness objectives. It took a lot of time and patience to mostly overcome. Even now, while I go forth and walk around as if I belong and am unfazed by all that is happening around me, it only takes a less optimal or positive experience or interaction with J (unlikely, but I suppose anything is possible) or staff or member to make that anxiety come rushing back. I know all too well it is a fear that requires constant monitoring and some level of energy put forth to maintain my equilibrium. I have become skilled at it, so much so that I am barely aware of my surroundings or what anyone else is doing. My habit of putting the blinders on to everything except what is in front of me or on the List has become an ingrained habit.

M asked me once if I perceived myself as being snobby or stuck up to maintain this aloofness. Of course not. I am friendly and chat regularly with other members and staff I know who happen to be in the gym at the same time. Socially awkward, yes. Stuck up? Hardly. If anything, I think everyone is very busy and very serious about their work and I should not interrupt, even to say hi or do more than a very spare wave. Definitely I am not stuck up, kind of I am socially awkward, but mostly I am completely clueless by design.

Recently M and I had a more challenging conversation about our own communication. Truth is, sometimes I feel distrustful of him. Not because of the normal reasons – I am so far from normal in my relationships it would be abnormal for me to feel normal about stuff – but because he is somewhat unpredictable to me in his reactions and it makes me anxious. Even after all the years we have known each other and been together as a couple, even as happy and secure as I am in our marriage, there is still some deep-seated fear of strong, intense, emotion-charged negative reactions. I know it. He knows it. Yet we both feel a little hurt that I cannot overcome it completely, probably me more than M. Better than my own understanding of myself, M gets that some wounds are so deep they never completely heal and you “feel” with something akin to a limp. I, on the other hand, feel that I should always be better, and that my inability to overcome this trait is a personal character failing. That harsh judgment has lessened through the years, yet I know I still have the tendency to be ruthlessly negative toward myself and my own limitations. Work in progress.

Confidence, security certainly help with fear and anxiety management. However, it does not overcome it. How many people do I know who have good jobs, loving families, and are financially stable enough to pay their bills and live their lives, yet are deathly afraid to the point of their anxiety and fear impacting them on a daily basis. Having lived on the financial edge and had no security blanket to fall back upon, it is a very scary place indeed. But I look back now and wonder what my fear did for me? It certainly did not make the situation better. And on the occasions where the next big thing occurred and I was stuck between rock and hard place, I was still unprepared and incapable of doing anything constructive about the situation. And I was tired, so tired, already from pre-worrying and being afraid of this very thing happening.

I learned from those experiences, and it greatly influences my desire to be more in control of my life and circumstances and to have some measure of plans A-Z – just in case. What I know, though, is there is truly very little I have any (much less absolute) control over in this life. Perhaps this expanded understanding of how my universe works is what has made my exercise endeavors stick this time, because it truly is something I directly influence and have some degree of anticipating outcomes, even if body and mind do not always play well together and one, the other, or both give me grief.

I look back at the darker times in my life and wonder what about me, my attitude, my ability has changed. For the most part, financial security has a direct and immediate impact on my overall happiness and quality of life. Other things, other unfortunate circumstances and behaviors, choices from stemming from were beyond my ability to comprehend or control. Therapy helped enormously. I got better jobs and took on side work to bring in more income to pay down debt, build some savings, ensure my kids had a balanced, safe, mostly happy childhood. We created a budget and stuck to it. When we were in debt we paid minimums until there was a least some money in the bank for emergencies that would not require us to go deeper into debt. I read a lot then and still do to this day. Entertainment was not shopping to feel the great gaping spending addiction, but at my kids’ sporting events or the library or free events around town. I used to write a lot in personal journals, and truly, it’s only been the last few years of blogging and commenting that I have been more public about writing on any topic.

Seems to me that success is its own reward. I gained a little more confidence with every small win that I applied myself toward, and gradually most of my fears and anxieties have faded into manageable things I could talk myself through. It is still possible to trigger me, to turn me into an absolute stress puppy with events and things well beyond the scope of my control, but those are rarer situations and any concerns I have about them appearing on my radar are firmly pushed back into their boxes. For the trauma and drama that has become my baggage in life, I find that I have repackaged into a tidier, more compact little packages and placed them deeper into my suitcase at various waypoints in my life. Some I suspect I have even shed completely, but I lack the absolute backbone of confidence to commit to such a scenario. And that’s okay. Out of sight, out of mind works for me.

My fears – they are a box of emotions I cannot ever completely abandon. And I would be lying to say they are supremely well managed or maintained even most of the time. Most of the time, they are bobbing and weaving somewhere in my head, enough that I know they exist but not enough to impact me on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps in this I have found my healthy balance.

I do find that I keep learning about things that trigger me, that cause pointless anxiety and stress to flare and make me flounder about expending energy that I could be enjoying or using more productively. Knowing that and actively pushing away the negative, life-draining forces is very difficult once caught within its grip.

The holidays are a big giant bear trap of triggers waiting to be snapped on the unsuspecting. This year, with C and A clear across the country and closest friends completely out of the country, it’s weirdly lonely around our house. Yet … I feel no need angst or grief or the need to try and artificially fill it up with stuff or with other people. G and K are both working Christmas eve and have the loosest of plans for Christmas day. M has been energized by the front landscaping work, so much so that some other outdoor projects are now being upgraded on the priority list. We anticipate friends cruising by for visits or inviting us to drop by to see them, but nothing formal has been planned. I find I like the informality. There’s always, Always, ALWAYS food available at our house, and we could likely rustle up something simple for dinner if we have guests.

I like the low-key holiday weekend we have not planned. I have work-work to do at home, as well as a stack of books in my kindle to be read. Being on the couch absorbed in a good book sounds like the perfect way to pass a quiet holiday.

For others, our holidays may sound kind of lonely and dreary. But for us, Christmas is sort of just another day. Our little family, our tribe of friends – we love seeing or interacting with them any day of the year. The weight of expectations and marketing tend to make me feel really badly about not having more, more family to celebrate, more gifts to buy, more ways to spend money. Thankfully I am not listening to that awful noise and instead enjoying the fact that the holiday feels and generosity of spirit are something I strive to enjoy all year round.

Today at work we’re locking the doors at noon and having our in-office holiday potluck party and gift exchange, which will be fun. M is coming by, as are many of my coworkers significant others or in-town family members. It will be a lot of fun.

So today, I am not anxious or fearful or sad or anything else. I am only mildly nervous about the lunch time food and all the sugar and chocolate still floating around this firm. Tonight we’re attending an open house at TM’s home, which will be fun, and tomorrow I’m lunching with RD, who is in town for the holidays with his family. Chipotle, his favorite place; I wonder if I could bring my own sandwich and just order a drink? We will figure something out.

This year, my fear box is wrapped up in shiny paper and topped with a big giant bow. It is a gift that keeps me honest, humble, and aware of who I am, yet it is also a big part of what kept all my warts and flaws squarely front and center and obscuring and distorting my self-image. This year, I see my fear box more clearly as just a powerful tool that must be managed and used judiciously whenever possible.

Another realization to celebrate this holiday season.

While trainer J is away …

clients tend to work harder? Or not – gym was looking and feeling pretty empty this morning, as if the rest of the tribe has already checked out for the holiday.

I was texting good travel wishes with J at 4:20 this morning, because he had an early-early flight and I was up anyway getting ready to go to the gym. Kind of surreal, actually; typically the only people I text with that early live in other, later time zones.

Ran through Monday’s upper body List again, and honestly, wanted to take a selfie of drooping arms and shoulders by the time I was all done. Today I was paying close attention to elbow and arm placement for the most part, and between playing cues in my head and actually turning my head a few times to see what my arms and elbows were doing I made some excellent progress on the new form techniques unearthed at the technical review.

I did better with the lawnmower rows by going very light with the first set to get adjusted to the squatty and wide split stance. Kind of felt like a frog all hunched over and pulling with elbow flaring outward, but I definitely felt the difference in how I started and where I finished on Monday.

But by the end of my sets, boy howdy I was feeling those shoulders and upper arms. Chest and back must be hardier than the shoulders and upper arms, because they seemed just fine. I will be happy to take a day, maybe 2, away from this part of the body and pursue legs and lower body.

It’s not the I feel hurt or overworked exactly, more that I just learned some new tips and tricks and am delving deeper in the smaller muscles and muscle groups and joints. I was at a restorative yoga class tonight, which is slower and even more controlled than most of the other classes I pursue, and it always reminds me how much sitting I do and how impactful the sedentary work I do is on my body. While my shoulders are less hamstrung than they were when I began, they are still pretty damn tight. I am sure a lot more yoga practice could potentially help me become looser and more flexible more quickly, but I don’t love yoga. I appreciate the practice and the classes, but it does not do the same thing for me mentally than the gym and training with J does for me. Finding my balance between the disciplines is an ongoing process. As long as I keep that I am the decider on the balance things should continue to progress without advanced mental or emotional complications.

So definitely picking up a lower body List tomorrow, and Friday we will see what feels like a plan. Thinking about the holidays and the week ahead, the time for J being away suddenly does not seem like very much time at all.

Driving to work this morning I was contemplating the measures of progress. I made the mistake of looking at the very judgmental heart rate monitoring watch this morning and noted I burned less than 400 calories for just over 90 minutes of work. And I felt my spirits droop every so slightly. Surely for the amount of sweating and huffy-puffy-ing I should have burned more than that?

This is the stuff that gets e into immediate negative girl territory. I stopped looking because it makes me feel poorly about my effort, which from experience I know leads very quickly to being both discouraged and disheartened. I like leaving the gym feeling deeply satisfied with my effort and its outcome. I like know that I tried very hard no matter how successful or how challenged I was with the List and the exercises. At yoga we were talking about how getting to class is 90% of the battle; once we are there, the class and the instructor can help us cross the finish line to getting it done. Same is true of the gym.

I would never say that my method of not having and tracking specific, measurable goals is the only or even the best way to get things done. I would simply say it is the only method that has worked for me. My shoulders, arms, legs, whole body looks a little different now. It has been subtle shading through the months, and as M can attest, it is not something even I notice all at once. It is as if I go to bed tonight and wake up in the morning with a new contour to my shoulder that was not there the night before, as if the muscle fairy came overnight and injected a new coating of muscle.

But I am unlikely to give up my fancy smancy Fitbit; I like the big face and using it to tell time. Plus it tells me interesting things about how much sleep I am getting every night.

So, despite my sort of achey-breakey shoulders, biceps, and triceps tonight, I remain pretty excited about the work I did this morning and what I will get up and do in the early hours of Thursday morning, whatever it turns out to be in addition to my dumbbell matrix.  When I think about yoga and pilates classes, there is no lasting “high” from them, not the same way I feel when I leave the gym in the morning. And that’s okay. I use the yoga in a different way, for other purposes. What those are is another post, once I can articulate it more intelligently.

Hopefully trainer J is busy having too much fun with his family to read along here, although I did commit to a little daily exercise recap while he is away. Part of my Christmas gift for he and other fitness-pursuing friends in my world.