Sexism, angry old men and self worth

I experienced the first overt instance of sexism while at the gym yesterday. I’ve been going to the gym for over three years at this point. I’ve occasionally caught guys looking at me, but it was glancing. Overall, the crowds mostly ignore each other unless they’re working in with each other or are already friends/workout buddies. There were a few instances where if I painted the situation one way, it would definitely look like sexism but knowing the whole picture was mostly just friendly people.

But. Monday. Monday was Memorial day, the gym was open from 7am-12pm. I showed up around 7:30 am (I blame my partner for setting me on a 5:30AM wake up alarm or no alarm) and started my workout from New Rules of Lifting for Women. (Stage 4, Workout A, fyi) If you want to read about my own relationship to lifting you can do so here.

About halfway through the workout, I was carrying 42.5 pound dumbbells from the annex (free space-no benches/racks/cages/machines) and an older man who had some language barriers said ‘Strong!’ (I think if the language barriers weren’t there he might have said more). I’m pretty good at reading situations and intentions so I chose to ignore him and keep on with my workout. I don’t have time nor energy to deal with that kind of crap.

Towards the end of the workout, He came up on me as I was planking for 60 seconds. I also had headphones in and was listening to Radical Personal Finance. So I thought he was asking about the squat rack behind me. I said I wasn’t using it. Three to five ish minutes later as I’m on my last plank, he comes up and gets super angry with me, telling me he needs to use the machine I’m using. Long story short, he got very angry because I wouldn’t prioritize his need for this machine because technically I could use a different combination of machines for what I was doing.

That’s not how it works at this gym and it never has. You can politely ask to work in or you can wait. I’ve seen it five million times over. Here’s the really sexist-full part: He tried to commiserate with the two dudebros over my being an irrational woman.

This may be the one time where I’m ok with dudebros saying ‘calm down man’. Because it was literally an angry old man they said it to. THANK YOU DUDEBROS.

Interestingly, this has brought up some mental health accomplishments. I did not for one second question my own worth or my right to occupy space while this was happening, nor did I question it later. While I remain pissed off at this guy if I think about it, I’m not ruminating over my choices and responses. I am not doubting myself and I’m not blaming myself. In fact, I can recognize that this was a culmination of miscommunications and this old man’s sense of entitlement and anger issues.

I’ve noticed that I’ve been more resilient and less likely to always blame myself in negative encounters recently. It thrills me that I am experiencing such an improvement over the last few years and I can only hope it continues. What are your struggles? Have you seen improvement?

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What does recovery look like today?

Today, recovery looks like a step back. It looks like I’m doing all the right things and still feeling like a failure because I ate a little too much and I’m now a little uncomfortable. I went to the gym. I went to work. I ate vegetables and grains and protein. But then I had something sweet. I had a little extra. I realized there was a hole in the center of my chest, just below my heart and I wanted to fill it, needed to fill it. I don’t know how to fill it except for food. So I ate some more food. And then when I went to bed, I felt bad. Actually, I felt bad the entire time, but I couldn’t stop it. But the difference between a few years ago and now? Now, the binging behavior is much milder and when I wake up the next day, I don’t try nearly as hard to ‘compensate’ for the binge nor do I feel as much guilt.

I acknowledge that I used a skill that I had to cope with the gnawing emptiness, even if it wasn’t healthy. I remind myself that I’m great and keep going with my day, eating what feels good, as close to a ‘healthy balanced diet’ as possible (while also including treats, because I love food of all kinds). I remind myself that recovery isn’t linear, it’s more like the stock market when it’s not crashing. It has some ups and downs but it generally goes up for a while. At least, I hope it’s not like the stock market and doesn’t crash. I’d like to avoid crashing back down.

Some days, I’m more depressed than others. Some seasons I’m more depressed than others. If it’s not winter, it’s a crap shoot on which days I’ll be down. Unless I’ve been overstimulated and over busy recently. Then I can predict an emotional crash that could trigger emotional eating. Other times, it’s more subtle. I think I’m doing ok and then I’m eating and I can’t stop and I don’t know why. Sometimes I figure it out and solve the problem. Sometimes I eat to fill the hole and too bad for me, I don’t know what the issue is to resolve.

If you have struggles with mental health, there are going to be dips. Recovery and living with mental illness guarantees it. Just remember though, that you’re not down forever but just for right now. Like the stock market, you’ll swing back up eventually.IMG_20150802_060757997

How November Project and Weight Lifting Changed My Life

Several years ago, I discovered November Project. Anyone who was Facebook friends with me at the time could tell you that I fell hard for the group. It was exactly what I was looking for. Internally, I was uncomfortable with the shape of my body, with my level of activity-despite biking to work every morning for 4-5 miles. I wasn’t happy with my job  and had a burgeoning eating disorder that exacerbated discomfort with my body. I turned to this group as a way to change the way my body looked.

I didn’t exactly get that out of the group. Instead, what I got was a community that turned the focus on fitness instead of weight loss. I was reminded that my body was a tool for me to use. The idea is to challenge yourself, not to feel defeated by the 3:03 marathoners who also participate. It’s about the community and personal fitness growth. So instead of getting just a changing body to make my body look better, I suddenly became more invested in how my body could perform, like I had when I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. I ran two miles. Three. And then eight on one of the coldest nights of the year for a ninja race. (http://november-project.com/bostonninjarace-further-training-and-super-sunday-brunch-runners/) Sitting half frozen on the redline with other finishers, it occurred to me that if I could run 8 miles, I could run a half marathon and then I had a goal. It was once I completed the half marathon that I started looking for a new challenge and I discovered weightlifting.

Weight lifting changed my life. Suddenly, exercise was definitively not about my weight or how skinny I could get, but about how many weights I could lift up and put down. I suddenly started seeing definition in my arms and my quads. I was able to distract my little skinny-focused voice with the new muscles and capabilities. It filled the little need in me to be in control, to be powerful instead of feeling powerless in the face of weight gain, confident in my strength instead of feeling like the only solution was to run for miles and miles just to be able to eat food.

My therapist and I both agree that weight lifting was a turning point in recovery for me, giving me another outlet to feel in control in my life and less a slave to the fickleness of trying to be smaller, to be more socially acceptable. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or eating disorders, I hope that you have found effective tools for your recovery. If not, I hope that you can.

You Are Enough

You are enough. If you know me in person, there is a chance you’ve noticed that I have had that phrase tattooed into my forearm. I got my first small tattoo a year or so after my thru-hike. Everyone thinks it’s an arrow, but it’s actually the symbol of the Appalachian Trail. It’s a small reminder to myself of just how much I’ve accomplished in my life. I look at it and see that if I can hike 2200 miles, I can certainly make it through the day, that I can succeed at tasks that might seem insurmountable at first.

But getting the small AT symbol on my wrist was like the start of a drug addiction that I have to resist at every turn. Tattoos are beautiful, a way for me to choose how to display my appearance in ways that I can control. Fortunately for my budget and savings account, I’ve managed to mostly resist. After a few years of therapy, however, I wanted to celebrate what felt like (and was) incredible progress in managing my sense of self worth, Eating Disorder (ED) recovery. After playing around with phrases, I stuck with “You Are Enough.” When I look at it, I’m reminded that I don’t need to play into the comparison of internal self to external other. (And in case you haven’t intuited what that means, it means comparing how I see myself to how others present their best selves and feeling as if I come up severely short)

I’ve been able to use it as an example in conversations with friends who are down on themselves, been reminded of it in downward dog in a yoga class and remembered it when running my fingers down my arms. Once, I was reminded of its existence when I pulled up on my bike next to a guy on his bike and he noticed it. I needed the reminder then. Oftentimes, I remember its existence at the exact right time. They are reminders and boosters for myself, and a motto that I use to remind others of their own worth. I find it amazing just how many friends and acquaintance admit to feeling inferior or have low self-worth. When I remind them that they are great as they are, that they don’t need to be different or better, the looks of relief and pleasure on their faces shows me how much people are stuck in a spiral of low self-worth, self-criticism, and self-recriminations.

The simple phrase of telling people that they don’t need to be more, that they can ignore the messaging that we are always not enough, that this product, that service will make you better, that we have to rely on outside sources for our sense of worth and being.

None of those messages are true. You (and I) are enough. As we are, right now. Remember thatIMG_20150314_170729.jpg

Coming into being

Once, when I was a teenager, my mother strong armed me into taking our dog for a walk. She gave me the leash, the old newspaper bag for poop-scooping duty and ushered me out the door with the dog. She wanted me to be more active, to set me on the journey towards daily physical activity. I didn’t want to walk, I wanted to sprawl over the couch and read a romance novel.

I walked to just out of sight of the house and explored a tree that had a funny growth pattern for about fifteen minutes before returning. I was pondering all of the ill will for being forced to take the dog for a walk. Minute by minute, I waited until I was sure I could come home without suffering the consequence of feeling judged (even if only by myself).

I rewarded myself for all that effort with a giant bowl of goldfish. I practically lived on that snack, much to my mother’s dismay. I stuffed down the feelings of guilt for not actually taking that walk, the feelings of loneliness for not having much of a social life, the feelings of anger and betrayal around the way I looked and why it didn’t match up to the other girls in my class.

I judged myself harshly, probably harsher than the rest of the world and I used food to feel better. I didn’t have the skills to be better at self care, the confidence to reach for something nor the self-awareness to even realize that these behaviors were reminiscent of an eating disorder. I was fat, so therefore I couldn’t have an eating disorder. I wasn’t worthy of attention. I wasn’t, I couldn’t, I didn’t. I had set some strong limitations on myself and who I was in high school and it took years to even discover this.

As I have grown since then, it consistently amazes me how my relationship with food is intertwined with my relationship with myself, with how I perceive things are going with my significant other, with my measure of self worth. It is my hope to share these stories of growth, learning, and self-care with you.