Self-Awareness 101 — You are not your thoughts

“I think, therefore I am!” Descartes’ quote was great in its time, but I think it overshadows a larger reality. Most of us spend our time fully in our brains. We remind ourselves of what we need to do, the on-going “To Do” lists. We rehash conversations, worry about our futures, count calories, rewrite the past and generally spend most of our days paying attention to the blah, blah, blah going on in our minds.

This overriding tendency is getting much, much worse with the advent of cell phones and the ubiquitous nature of technology. The word generating part of our brains can now also post to social media, send tweets, text, write emails and the list goes on and on and is likely getting longer as you read this.

Truth is, there is a part of our brains that does nothing all day except generate words. It is its entire function. If you are reading this or writing, or having a conversation, that is a good thing. We need it. We have learned to navigate our world by interacting and speaking to one another. Problem is, when we aren’t having a conversation in the real world, we are still paying attention to this voice.

To illustrate this point, I want to ask if you have ever driven home from work,  or to a place you go frequently and when you arrived you have no recollection of the drive? If you have never experienced this, let me just say, it has been used as a defence in court and it was so familiar to those overseeing the case, that it was accepted as a likely thing to have occurred.

So where were you at the time? Likely, completely engaged with the word generating part of your brain. You were lost in your thoughts about whatever the word generating part of your brain likes to focus on. See list above for some examples.

Exercise 1

Try something with me. READ THIS PART TO YOURSELF AND PAY ATTENTION TO HOW YOU EXPERIENCE READING.

That sounds abstract, so let me try to explain what I mean. Think of the bolded part above. Reread it if necessary. What actually happens in your brain when you read? For many, but certainly not all, they hear the words in their mind. Read it again and see if that is true for you.

So, if you “hear” the words, who is listening? This is important. You, the real you, is the one listening to the words. The words themselves were just what you were reading on the page. In this example, it is clear that the words are what were written on the page and “you” are the one listening.

Let’s take it one step further. If you are not reading and you are listening to your “To Do” list, for example, you are still the one listening. In other words, the word generating part of your mind is not who you are. Since its entire job is to keep babbling on all day, many of us confuse it for who we are. When it starts to tell us things, we believe we are hearing our own voice. We may be hearing something a fourth-grade teacher told us years ago. You see, it is easier for the word generating part of our mind to keep repeating itself than it is for it to come up with new material.

Exercise 2

There is another way to illustrate this. It has become quite common in cartoons and movies to see someone trying to make a decision. In the movie, a “good angel” will be standing on one shoulder talking into one ear of the character. A “bad devil” will be standing on the other shoulder giving the opposite advice.

You can try this yourself. Hold your hands out in front of you, palms up. Picture yourself in natural, flowing carefree clothing standing on one hand. Now, picture yourself in a tight, very formal, army uniform standing on the other hand.

Take the time to see these two aspects of yourself. Now think of an on-going argument you have with yourself. Let’s see, maybe you are trying to cut out carbs, but love muffins. Or perhaps, you have promised yourself daily exercise but it is cold and wet outside. You know your own struggles, pick something that you can relate to. Visualize these two aspects of yourself arguing their points of view.

Carbs make you fat! I like muffins. You must exercise! I’d rather be warm and comfortable. … You get the idea. Take a moment to do this bit right now. I’ll wait.

I’m sure none of this is new to you, except perhaps picturing yourself standing on your hands. What I want to illustrate is that you are neither of the people standing on your hands. You are the one observing the argument. You are the one listening to the debate. The debate is being created by the word generating part of your brain. You are the one observing.

Why is this important?

This is an introductory blog, so I’ll just focus on the Top Three highlights. Let’s just say, this is really, really important.

1. If you think the words in your mind are you, you may not question what they are saying.

This is a real problem if they are mean, destructive or undermine your self-confidence. Once you realize the words aren’t you, you can question what you say to yourself, or better yet, change what you say.

2. Being lost in your mind means you are not paying attention to your life.

If you “forget” the drive in, you also didn’t notice the cute dog that was playing ball; the beautiful trees beside the road; the sky, clouds, sunshine and you didn’t notice anything going on outside of your mind. This becomes important because you miss opportunities. You might not notice something that may have brought you joy.

3. If you believe you are the words in your mind, you are not honouring your true self.

Emotions get pushed out of the way, body sensations are completely ignored and your experience of the world becomes very limited.

Take some time today and focus your attention on the world around you. There is no need to narrate what you are seeing or to make a judgement about the quality of it or whether it is good or bad. Just observe it. Expand your awareness to the temperature, smells, sounds and sensations of your body. Isn’t that a nice break from the chatter? Your thoughts are not who you are. You are way more than that.

Moments

Our life is composed of moments. We like to dream about wonderful things like unfathomable riches, or a great vacation, getting that ring or promotion, but the truth is, we are living right now.

So, how do you feel right now? It is not too much of a leap to guess that you are warm, fed, clothed and have access to the internet. You are reading this, so you must be! But do you feel like you are OK? Are you savouring it?

Not too long ago I was faced with a relatively minor decision. I could pay $40.00 to take a “short cut” on the drive home, or I could drive over an hour through rush hour traffic, likely bumper to bumper.

Being fully conscious of my values and priorities, I decided to put some good music on, put the roof of my car down and just go through the traffic.

I could’ve stressed about the congestion, damming all of the people around me, wishing those in charge had made better planning decisions and been angry the entire way home. Or, I could recognize those around me were stressed, give them a little compassion and listen to some good music. It takes such little effort to drive that slow!

It may seem like a small thing, and it was, but our entire life is like that. A long time ago, I decided I didn’t want to look back on my life and see only stress and turmoil. For that drive, I was content. I knew it would take over an hour. An hour of my life I wanted to enjoy, not stress over.

Choosing to be happy now, even in gridlock, means that increasingly my life becomes filled with moments of contentment and joy. Isn’t that what we all want? Why not choose to be happy now? 

Post Narcissism — Searching for Normal

IMG_2077One of the questions that I often get on my blog is, “How do you fully recover from a narcissist?” As I am currently in the process, I’ll let you know what I have tried and what has brought relief, but I am not claiming that I am all of the way out of the darkness.

What I can say is that there is more joy now in my life than there ever was while I was living with a narcissist. The act of removing myself from the environment and then separating myself as completely as possible from the drama made room for all kinds of joy and satisfaction to flood in. On an average day I am content, happy and I feel like the world is full of opportunity and promise. That is a good thing.

I have been helped along the way by meditating and journaling. I hesitate to write that because that is where most people stop as though doing those two things results in immediate healing of all symptoms and a reversion to the innocence you once had. This was not my experience.

What these two practices did, in summary, was made me aware of my thoughts and feelings. As these two elements surface, it gave me an opportunity to look at them, see if they were serving me and decide whether or not I wanted to hold onto them. A few examples will help illustrate what I am trying to say.

One thought I had was, “I should’ve acted differently.” (substitute in anything here: faster, more forcefully, more honestly, more decisively, more intuitively, more in defense of myself). Really? This thought does not hold up to examination for two reasons. First, I was doing my best with the information that I had at the time. Second, thoughts like this keep you caught in a pattern of wishing things were different. The past will never be different. Find a way to accept that you acted the way you did and just embrace it. Forgive yourself if you need to. The point is, when you are stuck thinking that things should have been different, you are stuck. Try: “It happened. I am no longer there.”

This sounds like word games, but it stops the inevitable next thoughts that begin to rewrite how things should be now if you had acted differently then. “I wasted so much time.” “If I had acted differently they would have loved me back.” “I should’ve seen my situation earlier and more clearly” blah, blah, blah…. you didn’t. I didn’t. Lets move on.

Another thing I became aware of was all of the emotions that I was still harboring: resentment, hate, love, anger, jealousy, regret, and so on, and so on. These emotions need to be honoured, not analyzed. You feel whatever you feel. Regardless of how bad these things are, they are only emotions. Let yourself experience them as much as you can and they lose their power over you. Allowing myself to feel all of the emotions that surface has allowed me to release decades of old pain. I have remembered how scared I was as a five year old getting my tonsils out in the hospital; how devastated I was when my dog died when I was a teenager and other equally traumatic things that occurred.

The process goes like this. You are present in the moment and you notice the slightest flicker of an emotion. Focus all of your attention on that flicker. If you are like me, you have learned to immediately push these slight emotional whispers aside and pretend they are not there. Try to break this habit. Notice the flicker. Sit with the thought that brought it on for a moment and let the emotion expand. When you fully experience the connection to the memory that holds the pain, you are likely to have an emotional response: laughter, tears, rage… Once you have allowed the emotion to be expressed it is no longer as painful.

I can now remember the anguish of my dog dying without the extremely painful hurt it caused. I had been holding down this pain for over thirty years. Think of how much energy and focus that took!

If you are like me, you may be harboring emotions that should have been expressed a long time ago and not all of them are related to the narcissist that you had in your life. Releasing these feelings is like opening a gateway that lets emotions flow out and creativity, joy and connection flow into your world.

This is an ongoing exercise that is allowing me to go deeper and deeper into who I am at my core. The true me. The complete me. Which brings me to another truth. In order to survive where I was living, I learned to hide parts of myself. The parts that were taunted, belittled, ridiculed or unwelcome. This is a survival technique that anyone that has lived with a narcissist learns. The first time you put your heart and soul into choosing and arranging fresh flowers in a vase and you are told that they are in the way, a waste of money and a waste of time, is the last time you allow yourself to indulge. Pick your own example. I know there is one.

I have been paying attention to things that I enjoy. Little things like small flowers, good music, colour, art and writing. These are things that I have always enjoyed, but the toxic atmosphere of living with a narcissist blocks your connection to these things. I became so focused on just making it through my days, behaving in ways that wouldn’t rock the boat or provide fodder for an attack and trying to figure out what was going on, I lost all connection to myself and my desires. I lost a sense of who I was.

I have been gradually reclaiming these things but it takes paying attention to today. If your mind is preoccupied with regret, unexpressed emotions, thought patterns that keep you trapped in a past that was confusing and painful, you will not get to the present. It is only in the present that you start to enjoy yourself, to notice the joy in your life and reconnect with the parts of yourself that got shoved aside when you were in survival mode.

The Narcissist Survival Guide is now available

The Only Thing Constant is Change — Chapter 1

IMGP4598I am in my office again. I just finished a pretty hard week at work. I was covering at least two desks, and three for a little while, which meant I had to constantly stay focused on the work. This is not normally necessary. There are definitely ebbs and flows of work and this was a particularly heavy ebb.

I have decided to sit in my office to write. I was going to sit outside but I am finding that I have had too much sun lately. This is always a good sign because it means that it has been hot and sunny enough for me to get tired of it. So, I’m sitting inside even though it is hot and mainly sunny outside.

The disappearance of my parents was not the only change during this time, or any time since for that matter. If someone were trying to assess your level of stress they would be interested in how many significant life events you had experienced lately. These would include things like: death of an immediate family member, change in home address, change of jobs, graduating from school, marriage, separation, divorce, birth of a child, a child becoming an adult and moving out of your home…that sort of thing. Since this first move I’ve averaged one of those every six months. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I only ended up staying on Oak Street until my 15th birthday. Actually the day of my birthday. For the final time, my mother was telling my father that she was going to leave him. This had happened before. This time my sister had said that she was staying with my father. I think there was a sort of recognition that my mother had left and returned before and Vicki thought that she would just stay put this time. Perhaps Vicki just recognized that my mother was unsuccessful in managing the last time she left and Vicki was curious whether or not my father had experienced a similar difficulty.

I was not saying whom I was going with. I knew that making my choice known and then having to live with the other parent would be potentially very uncomfortable, so I reasoned that when my mother actually said what day she was leaving, I would just go. I did not know when she was moving out, but I was pretty sure that she was not going to go on my birthday. I was wrong.

I came home from school that day and she was in the middle of the move. Significant disregard for the feelings of others is a sign of narcissism, but I didn’t know this yet. In this instance she was deciding that instead of acknowledging that it was my birthday, she would make the day about her. Anyhow, my boyfriend at the time, who was three years my senior and had his own car, helped me pack up my stuff and move into my mother’s place.

She had not considered that I was going with her. Maybe that is why she chose to leave on my birthday. Things like holidays punctuate our lives. She knew that I would want her around on a significant event, so she was removing herself from my life when I would most feel it. The facts are, I came home from school and I needed to move out if I was going with my mother, so I did.

The apartment that she got had been carved out of an old house. It was composed of the basement, the majority of the main floor and none of the upstairs. So there were people that lived right next to us and above us. One day someone was either really drunk or fighting or both and came crashing through a door that went right into my mother’s bedroom. In the original house, her bedroom would have been the living room, at the front of the house, and was right beside the main front door. Other than that, I did not notice that we had neighbours.

I made my bedroom in the basement. Since the walls were concrete I took my mother’s good draperies from the last house and hung them in a way that created a small room for my bed and my things. It seems odd now that she would take the curtains with her. They were sized for the house that she had left and unlikely to fit any type of window, with the exception of one identical to the one that they were made for.

I recognize here that I can try to explain why I think that she took them but what would I gain? I would be telling myself a story in an attempt to explain what happened. I could cast my mother as a villain and say she took them out of spite so that my father could not sit comfortably in his living room until he replaced them.

Or, I could make her seem thrifty and say that I think that she was going to alter them to fit another window and that she had that skill and inclination. I could argue that she may have had help to move and the movers had assumed that everything was going, including the window treatments, but I don’t know. I just know that they were in her apartment. I know because I found them in the new place and used them as walls.

This is the first time that I recognize eating to calm myself down. My boyfriend and I spent a week or so at this point eating fresh strawberry jam on toast with butter. I remember knowing that I was eating too much but needing to relax so desperately and not knowing how to accomplish that. I also pierced the upper holes in my ears by myself. I guess I am not the first person to discover the satisfaction of making an alteration to your appearance as a way of marking a change in your life.

Keep Reading: Oak Street

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

Read what I’ve learned about Narcissism by living with them. 

www.wendypowell.ca

The Meaning of Life?

http://trekcore.com/gallery/albums/picard/picard_s5hq_pbvariant.jpg
http://trekcore.com/gallery/albums/picard/picard_s5hq_pbvariant.jpg

When Jean-Luc Picard is faced with his mediocre new life after travelling back in time to fix a “mistake” he made when he was a young man, we all understood the significance of his epiphany. It is better to live a passionate life full of experiences, mistakes and opportunities than it is to play it safe and end up in an uninspiring life of drudgery.

In this particular Star Trek episode, Q sends Jean-Luc back to address a regret. Jean-Luc decides not to battle a Nausicaan this time. This saves Jean-Luc embarrassment and gives him a new lease on life. All of this is occurring during open heart surgery to replace the artificial heart that was required because of the initial fight with the Nausicaan. What Jean-Luc discovers is that his new life, as a low level technician, does not inspire him and he decides that he would rather have a meaningful, albeit shorter, life than a safer boring one.

Even though we understand this concept, our current preoccupation with “safety” at all costs is in direct conflict with this entire notion. How many people do you know who take any risks at all?  The mantra, “Better Safe than Sorry” is unquestioned, as an almost religious belief, which begs the question, Why?

Over several centuries, we have gone from believing that everything is in the hands of a supernatural being to worshipping science as the be-all and end-all answer to every conceivable question. There is a comfort in knowing that facts can be determined, numbers can be added and used to prove points. It is defensible to state knowledge and support arguments, but is that all that there is?

We all need something to be passionate about. That is how we were designed. A quick look around will reveal that people stand up against injustices, fund raise for medical research and put their energy into things that are important to them. Problem is, without recognizing that this is our very nature, many of us take the latest snippet of news, research or gossip and become passionate about that. This causes our passions to be paper thin and as changing as the wind.

Have you noticed the current obsession with kale and avocado? If you missed the initial scientific announcement that these are the new “super foods” you must have at least noticed that you can get avocado at almost all of the fast food places now. It is a topping on burgers, an ingredient in salads and included in beverages—yes, beverages.

We have internalized this notion that doing all that we can to avoid death, or prolong life gives our lives meaning. But does it? We understood what Jean-Luc felt because a life without passion and purpose is, not only depressing, but it misses the point. Could it be possible that the purpose of our lives is to find joy and live in passion?

Jean-Luc had the opportunity to re-live that part of his life and he went back and got into the fight again. For us mere mortals that have to live linearly I guess we should just follow our passions more and do those things that bring us joy, but more on that later.

Why Are You Pretending?

IMG_1082It is only a couple of weeks till Halloween. This time of year brings thoughts of candy, lots of scary movies on television, decorations and costumes. It can be fun to dress up as your alter ego or simply something that makes you look fantastic.

While costumes can be fun, pretending to be someone that we are not can be exhausting. We have all learned that it is important to act a certain way in certain situations. The running and jumping that is allowed on the beach simply wouldn’t do in a bank. The hijinks you might pull at a party could get you arrested on a plane. But I’m talking about a more subtle thing.

We can all think of examples of people that hid the fact that they were homosexual and pretended, to most of the world, that they were straight. But how are you pretending right now? Do you pretend that you care about recycling but only because of the peer pressure? Do you buy stylish clothes so that you will fit in? Do you go for a drink even though you do not really like alcohol? All of these examples seem less extreme but they can take a toll on your energy level.

If a certain amount of your attention has to go to remembering who you are trying to appear to be, or trying to keep pronouns straight, you are wasting energy. You are in fact, lying. You are not being honest with the people that you interact with. This forms a barrier because they cannot really get to know you if you are pretending to be someone else. It also sends off that vibe that you are being dishonest. On those occasions when you forget that you are pretending and slip into the comfortable behaviors, people will notice and they will see you as disingenuous.

To get to the bottom of this ask yourself why you are pretending to be someone that you are not. How does it serve you? What does it protect you from? In order to decide that you must pretend, you must first decide that you are not OK how you are. Is that true?

Give yourself a break today. Recognize that you are OK the way that you are. Try to relax and behave the way that you would behave if no one was watching and see what happens. You may find that you have more energy at the end of the day and the world did not collapse.

Post Narcissism — Searching for Normal

IMG_2077One of the questions that I often get on my blog is, “How do you fully recover from a narcissist?” As I am currently in the process, I’ll let you know what I have tried and what has brought relief, but I am not claiming that I am all of the way out of the darkness.

What I can say is that there is more joy now in my life than there ever was while I was living with a narcissist. The act of removing myself from the environment and then separating myself as completely as possible from the drama made room for all kinds of joy and satisfaction to flood in. On an average day I am content, happy and I feel like the world is full of opportunity and promise. That is a good thing.

I have been helped along the way by meditating and journaling. I hesitate to write that because that is where most people stop as though doing those two things results in immediate healing of all symptoms and a reversion to the innocence you once had. This was not my experience.

What these two practices did, in summary, was made me aware of my thoughts and feelings. As these two elements surface, it gave me an opportunity to look at them, see if they were serving me and decide whether or not I wanted to hold onto them. A few examples will help illustrate what I am trying to say.

One thought I had was, “I should’ve acted differently.” (substitute in anything here: faster, more forcefully, more honestly, more decisively, more intuitively, more in defense of myself). Really? This thought does not hold up to examination for two reasons. First, I was doing my best with the information that I had at the time. Second, thoughts like this keep you caught in a pattern of wishing things were different. The past will never be different. Find a way to accept that you acted the way you did and just embrace it. Forgive yourself if you need to. The point is, when you are stuck thinking that things should have been different, you are stuck. Try: “It happened. I am no longer there.”

This sounds like word games, but it stops the inevitable next thoughts that begin to rewrite how things should be now if you had acted differently then. “I wasted so much time.” “If I had acted differently they would have loved me back.” “I should’ve seen my situation earlier and more clearly” blah, blah, blah…. you didn’t. I didn’t. Lets move on.

Another thing I became aware of was all of the emotions that I was still harboring: resentment, hate, love, anger, jealousy, regret, and so on, and so on. These emotions need to be honoured, not analyzed. You feel whatever you feel. Regardless of how bad these things are, they are only emotions. Let yourself experience them as much as you can and they lose their power over you. Allowing myself to feel all of the emotions that surface has allowed me to release decades of old pain. I have remembered how scared I was as a five year old getting my tonsils out in the hospital; how devastated I was when my dog died when I was a teenager and other equally traumatic things that occurred.

The process goes like this. You are present in the moment and you notice the slightest flicker of an emotion. Focus all of your attention on that flicker. If you are like me, you have learned to immediately push these slight emotional whispers aside and pretend they are not there. Try to break this habit. Notice the flicker. Sit with the thought that brought it on for a moment and let the emotion expand. When you fully experience the connection to the memory that holds the pain, you are likely to have an emotional response: laughter, tears, rage… Once you have allowed the emotion to be expressed it is no longer as painful.

I can now remember the anguish of my dog dying without the extremely painful hurt it caused. I had been holding down this pain for over thirty years. Think of how much energy and focus that took!

If you are like me, you may be harboring emotions that should have been expressed a long time ago and not all of them are related to the narcissist that you had in your life. Releasing these feelings is like opening a gateway that lets emotions flow out and creativity, joy and connection flow into your world.

This is an ongoing exercise that is allowing me to go deeper and deeper into who I am at my core. The true me. The complete me. Which brings me to another truth. In order to survive where I was living, I learned to hide parts of myself. The parts that were taunted, belittled, ridiculed or unwelcome. This is a survival technique that anyone that has lived with a narcissist learns. The first time you put your heart and soul into choosing and arranging fresh flowers in a vase and you are told that they are in the way, a waste of money and a waste of time, is the last time you allow yourself to indulge. Pick your own example. I know there is one.

I have been paying attention to things that I enjoy. Little things like small flowers, good music, colour, art and writing. These are things that I have always enjoyed, but the toxic atmosphere of living with a narcissist blocks your connection to these things. I became so focused on just making it through my days, behaving in ways that wouldn’t rock the boat or provide fodder for an attack and trying to figure out what was going on, I lost all connection to myself and my desires. I lost a sense of who I was.

I have been gradually reclaiming these things but it takes paying attention to today. If your mind is preoccupied with regret, unexpressed emotions, thought patterns that keep you trapped in a past that was confusing and painful, you will not get to the present. It is only in the present that you start to enjoy yourself, to notice the joy in your life and reconnect with the parts of yourself that got shoved aside when you were in survival mode.

The Narcissist Survival Guide is now available

The Importance of Respecting What You Want to Eat

IMG_0612I feel like lessons are being taught. For example, I made a soup out of the left over vegetables. This is something that I do. I love these soups. They are all unique, so never boring and they give me this sense of satisfaction. No food is going to waste. I have found a way that even the water that I keep my carrot and celery sticks in is going to go into a food. It is decidedly nutritious, delicious and frugal. These are all of the great things when it comes to food.

So, the problem this time was that the soup was not all that good. There was a flavour that made it unpleasant. I tried adding cheddar cheese on top of the first bowl that I had and it was nice, but not delicious. Then, I tried to add chicken bouillon to the soup to give it more of a soup base taste. The truth is that it didn’t help. I continued to eat a bowl of this soup essentially once per day, being careful to boil it frequently enough to make sure that it did not go off and to refrigerate it when necessary.

This boiling and refrigeration technique has been in place for over a decade. A good friend went to Ghana, where refrigeration is rare, and they had a technique and understanding that you needed to bring a soup to a boil and cover it with a lid and it was OK for another day.

So, I was using a combination of boiling and refrigeration. This was a large pot of soup because there was a lot of food in it. Now, of course, the amount of soup kept decreasing because I was eating bowls of it. But, I was not really enjoying it, so I kept trying different things to make it better. The last thing that I tried was adding in gravy thickener. I only added this to one bowl so that I could try it without ruining the soup and it was nice, more like a stew though.

So yesterday, I came home for lunch and I microwaved a small bowl. I have been keeping a food diary to see what foods give me an upset stomach and which ones give me heartburn. So, I knew to not take too much. Apparently, the size of your stomach is about the size of your fist. I had taken the time to measure the size of my fist and it was about a cup. I poured this amount into the bowl so that I would have a visual reference to know how far 1 cup filled the bowl and I had put less soup into the bowl than that.

So for the non-scientists in the crowd: The way that you measure the size of your fist is to fill a glass or bowl or some sort of container right to the very rim. Put in enough water that any more water would spill out over the top. Set this into a very large bowl or pot. The idea is that when the water spills out of the top of the first container it will be captured by the larger container.

Now, slowly, you don’t want to create waves, lower your fist into the first container. If you have set it up properly, the water will begin to spill over the top of the rim and it will be caught in the larger bowl or pot. Once you have submersed your hand right up to the wrist, stop. Remove the container that originally held the water. Now, pour the water that overflowed into the larger container into a measuring cup and you know how much space your fist took up. For me it was 8 ounces.

I have been learning the importance of not overeating, because after paying attention to it now for a very long time, when I do overeat, even a little, the pain in my stomach and my discomfort is immense. There is no question that the extra few bites are simply not worth it. Add in the possibility that what I have eaten is dense, versus liquid, and the time it takes to feel better is considerable.

So I had less than 1 cup of soup in the bowl. I began to eat it and the potatoes that I had recently added were quite nice. Overall though, it is not something that I would choose to eat. I loss interest quite quickly and decided that my hunger was gone and that was enough. So, there is no possibility that I had overeaten. None.

Before I started to eat, while driving home to have lunch, my stomach was growling. There was such an intense hunger that I was sneezing. Oh yeah, have I mentioned that I sneeze when my stomach is unhappy? Apparently, it is a recessive genetic trait that has only been studied minimally because, quite frankly, no body cares! If my stomach lining is irritated, for instance, think about eating candy that is extremely sweet and possibly sour, on an otherwise empty stomach, or eating too much, or being over hungry, I sneeze, repeatedly, but I digress.

So, I was hungry and I did not overeat. These are two very important criteria for me to follow when eating. I began to feel uncomfortable. By the time I got to the corner of Downey and the Hanlon, I knew that if the light did not change soon, I would have to open the driver’s side door and vomit onto the road. Let me explain that this is not only a very busy intersection but also a particularly popular intersection, because it is the most direct route out of my neighbourhood. I regularly see one or more people I know, at this intersection while waiting for the light to change.

I made it through the light and turned right onto the old Hanlon road and parked. This is the original road that was ignored when the highway was built beside it a very long time ago. It has been left in place and is now largely an off leash dog walking area that runs up the side of the new highway.

I made sure that the car was in park, turned off and out of the way, which seemed to take a lot of thought and care. It was as though I had forgotten how to do all of these automatic things and now I was going through a checklist. Yes, pull off of the road, watch for the potholes! Put the car into park. There. Now, shut it off. Let’s see, I’m off of the road, the car is in park and it is shut off. OK, now I can vomit.

I walked over to the side of the road and found some rather tall weeds. I suspected that the courtesy of finding tall weeds would not be appreciated by many of the passersby, but it is the thought that counts. At the very least, people were less likely to see that I had been there. It would be unlikely that this would be visible by someone walking along the road.

However, I could not forget that this was an off leash dog park and a few weeds were not going to fool a dog and that sniffer they have.

So, I vomited. The first few heaves were just dry air. It was a relief to have the pressure off of my stomach because it had felt as though it was going to burst while I was waiting for the light to change. Then it came, first in small amounts and then in larger ones. It appeared as though the only thing in the soup was carrots. There was no sign of potatoes and all of the liquid was that orange so characteristic of the carrot. I had not realized that there was that much carrot in the soup.

I continued on. I had an appointment in less than an hour.  The man that I had it with is not the sort of guy that you just drop in on and say, “How’s it Hanging?” So, I was reluctant to miss our meeting. It had been scheduled for a few months.

When I arrived, I found out that the meeting was cancelled. Fine. I went home.

The way home did not feel as bad because I was on my way home, which is always good, or at least now that I’m divorced is always good, and I managed to make it without needing to pull over to vomit. I did take the precaution of staying off of the highway. The sidestreets are easier if you have to hurl. Simply having a place to pull over can be a large advantage.

I plugged in my phone, put my food back into the fridge and walked up to my en suite. I undressed, hurled again a few times and went to bed. This time the acidity of my stomach was the main component of the vomit and it burned my throat and the inside of my mouth. I slept for over three hours and I felt OK but not great when I woke up. I did not vomit again and managed to eat some nuts in the evening.

All of this was to say that I didn’t want to eat the soup. Why did I force myself to eat it? What is it that I still need to learn about not eating things that I don’t enjoy? It felt as though I was being taught a lesson. If you don’t want to eat it don’t. That sounds simple but there are a million messages from the other direction including the classic, “People in China are starving to death” which somehow justifies North American obesity by contrasting it to a great lack in another part of the world. How does my eating this help those in China? I guess I’ll never be able to ask that question now.

I came from a family of plate cleaners. I vividly remember my father telling me with great disgust how a woman that he was having a meal with left a couple of fork fulls on her plate. This was ridiculous to him and totally unacceptable. I was supposed to concur with this story, but rather it illuminated the messages that I had been given as a child. It is imperative that you eat what is on your plate. Let’s not forget, this is not a plate that I have filled myself. This was a plate assembled by some other person, an adult. An adult that likely felt that if they could get me to eat a large amount then they would not have to bother to feed me as quickly after this particular meal.

My grandmother would walk around after our Christmas dinners or large family meals and empty the large serving bowls onto people’s plates. Now I mean large here. She often had several tables end to end in her basement with assorted chairs up each side and large bowls of food. Bowls that would look suitable on buffet tables in a restaurant. This woman was accustomed to serving meals for a family with nine children and possibly some invited guests. So when she was making a “big” dinner it was actually a “huge” dinner.

I have a particularly vivid memory of having a huge bowl of corn scraped onto my plate. It was understood that I could not leave the table until this was finished. Any protesting would be met with stories about people that my grandmother had watched starve to death during the depression. She would talk about people that became so frail and so thin that the slightest cold would kill them. It was assumed that it was much better to have the extra weight from overeating than it was to not eat when I was over full.

I also remember being forced to sit at the kitchen table, when I was quite young, until I had finished my meal. In one particular memory, I laid my head down and pretended that I was asleep. I did not want to eat the food on my plate and I couldn’t leave the table until I did, so I might as well pretend to be asleep. The good thing was that a parent, and I don’t recall who now, carried me up to my room and I was never forced to eat the remaining food.

So yes, I know that I shouldn’t eat past being full and I know that I shouldn’t eat something that I don’t actually want, but I am still climbing over the mountain created by my upbringing. Vomiting after eating something that I didn’t want to eat in the first place will probably go a long way towards blasting a hole in the side of that mountain. That is for sure!

Winning the Game of Life

20130812-092555.jpgThere was a poster demonstration for the summer students that stayed on campus to do research this summer. While attending the session two things became obvious. First, science has moved along so far, so fast, that I am way out of date. The second thing that I noticed is that I’m on the “other side” now. A classmate of mine was there and he mentioned that when we were in school, there were a lot of “old farts” that were teaching us and taking us through our rounds. We are the old farts now. It happened so quickly.

It is astonishing, when you get to a certain age, to look back and realize that it went by in the blink of an eye. Getting caught up in the day to day activities, meeting deadlines, planning for the future and focusing on all of the matters that need attending each day, blurs the passage of time. Then, almost suddenly, you realize that years have passed.

When my girls were young, I would ponder what it would be like when they were in school during the day, then, when they no longer needed constant supervision. These periods seem to be long and lingering. Now, grown, with lives of there own, the past is just a memory and all of the milestones that I used to anticipate have passed and have largely been forgotten.

It goes so quickly. Conversations now are often about someone that has retired from working or have left us completely. It is a new perspective. The questions of career, marriage and children are largely behind us and this opens new opportunities and presents a sadness.

I liken it to a board game. At the beginning, the dice are thrown and how well you do early makes a huge difference in how the game plays out. If you manage to get the good properties or sets of properties early, you are set. Now, most of the properties are owned by a few of the players and it is just a matter of a few more dice throws before someone comes out a winner. The game has played itself out.

This sounds melancholy and sad, it is anything but. The trick is to have enjoyed each move, to have savoured the time and any lucky throws you had while the game was being played. It is good to know that there may still be some get out of jail free cards left in the pile.

There appeaars to be a certain amount of responsibility to share this perspective with those that are younger. To let them know that it does pass really quickly and that they need to stop, take stock and see if they are on the right path. It is too easy to travel down the wrong road for a huge amount of your life and have it disappear into memories.

Our generation was taught that a certain amount of “paying dues” was required for success. This entire notion seems dated. With the tech boom and a constantly shifting economy, it is difficult to argue that doing anything, for any amount of time, that you truly despise is worth while.

There is the reality that we all must have money to ensure food and shelter, but how much money is enough money? Are we really playing a cosmic board game where whoever has the most property wins? Or are we playing an ongoing game with the winners being those who realize early that enjoying the game means that you’ve done what you came here to do?

With the frantic pace of life, that continues to speed up, I fear that large numbers of people will grow old before they realize that this is not a dress rehearsal for some future performance. The dance is now. Life does not begin when you graduate, lose weight, get the promotion or have the baby. Life is now. This is it. It is important to stop, take stock, look around and realize that today is all we have and tomorrow is not only forever elusive, but holds no guarantees.

I may still be reeling from the loss of Robin Williams. He is a man that I never knew, but I somehow expected him to always be there, creating more comedy, contributing to the happiness in the ether. Many people that I have loved are no longer in my life. They have either gone onto the next thing, or are simply memories, even though I may see them again in the future.

Anyhow, this is the mood I’m in. As I dash through my days quickly and each year ticks off, I feel somehow responsible to make sure that those around me realize that life does end. We don’t know how long we have or how long those that we love have. So stop, assess and enjoy.

My classmate and I made a futile attempt to explain this to the young students that we were talking to at the time. We told them of how fast it went. We discussed how the tables had turned and we were now the “old farts” and we tried to impress upon them that they too, if they were lucky, would become the next group of “old farts”.

With the summer sun shining, a new school year on the horizon and hopes and dreams of the future, I fear our message was lost. They had too much to do, too much too see and too many dreams for the future to realize that today is what is really important.

Respecting Body Signals

IMG_0231Like Pavlov’s Dog I immediately began to drool when I received the notice for the annual HK5K in my inbox yesterday. Immediately I began to plan my training schedule and start to think about how much work I would need to do and when I would have to make a commitment to doing the work. Then, I had to revisit my promise to myself. I have made an agreement with myself to love myself and treat myself properly. In coneiya, it becomes clear that we cannot punish ourselves, put ourselves down or disrespect ourselves if we are “one”.

Last year was a disaster. I was pumped up to do the run and my daughters had agreed to do it with me and then the world conspired to make sure that I wasn’t ready. I had a two-week bout of unexplainable diarrhea that came and went and left me feeling drained and tired. I never found out what caused it, but I was definitely under the weather. Add in company from out of town, unexpected knee and foot pain and it was a disaster waiting to happen — but I had already said that I would do the run and I was allowing myself to be pulled along by the commitment that I had already made to my daughters.

This year, it will be different. Isn’t that the final war cry of the about to be defeated? I decided that instead of looking externally for a workout schedule, like I did last year, I would develop my own. In my mind, and based on some of the training plans that I used decades ago as a competitive swimmer, I would aim for a 10% increase in distance. This is very easy to calculate when you are on a treadmill because you can actually watch the distance tick off and then stop when you complete the right distance.

So I calculated increments increasing by 10% and put out a schedule of running every other day, except of course, where I already had plans in place. I fleshed out my schedule to four runs a week by adding in smaller runs, where necessary, the day after or before another run. These smaller runs would be one half the length of the previous run so they should be easier.

The schedule was complete and it gave me a full two weeks before the race to determine if I would be capable of running the full 5K before I had to commit to the race. There would be no need, this year, to tell anyone that I was training, until, of course, I was certain that I could do the run. If I never got to the level of running then no one would be the wiser and I would have established a pattern of exercising on the treadmill that would continue – theoretically – into the fall when I have to close the pool and I begin my desperate search for a new form of regular exercise.

So day one, I napped. Now, I know that that seems ridiculous, but I am trying to treat myself like I care about myself. This is in stark contrast to societies messages of “no pain no gain” and the like. I do not think that it is simply your force of will that gets things done. Coneiya teaches us that it is when your mind and your body agree and respect each other that the most lasting progress is made.

Anyone that has ever dieted and lost weight, short term, can attest to the fact that the iron will of your brain sooner or later fails. There is simply no way that most of us can use the army sergeant part of our personalities long term. Self-flagellation, self-criticism and unrealistic expectations ultimately lead to self-hatred, insecurity a sense of failure and loss of hope.

That is not where I wanted my new running schedule to take me. Last year, buoyed on by peer pressure and the belief that I could just put mind over matter, I ran the 5K with my daughters to end up ultimately hurting myself and then doing very little physical activity for several months afterwards. This is not a good thing.

So I napped, felt refreshed and then strapped on my running shoes. I have a sweet set up in my bedroom. The treadmill is off to the side and I can see the television from where I run so I put on Netflix. Did you know that all of the seasons of Star Trek the Next Generation are now on Netflix? True story. If anyone can support me through my run it is Jean Luc Picard. But I digress…

The plan was to run one kilometre. I have run much more than that in the not so distant past so I was not worried. I did the required three-minute warm up and turned up the speed to represent a slow run. This is always a point of contention with me, myself and I. At what speed are you running? If you are doing a slow jog at the speed of a walk, is that considered a run? I chose a speed that was moderate to low based on my personal experience and began.

Nothing went well. The first thing that I noticed is that one kilometre was not only out of reach, but was not even a consideration on the first day. I determined that I could go half a kilometre and then maybe a break and then run the remaining bit in as many pieces as it took. My logical mind was busy doing calculations. I could stay on my “schedule” if I just did the kilometre in pieces. I know from experience that I improve quickly once I am making an effort, so it is just a matter of doing the work.

Wasn’t gonna happen. Not only did I not make it to half a kilometre, it was difficult to make it twenty percent of the way. I struggled to get up to the even number, which is a testament to how foolish I can be. It is just as easy to remember any number, but I insisted with myself that I get to the even number. It took all that I had.

Then I walked. I was still convinced that I could walk until the blood flow regenerated my body and my breathing decreased somewhat and then I could do perhaps another twenty percent. If I did a total of five of those I would’ve run my kilometer even if I had to walk in between. My brain just does not stop doing these calculations.

Wasn’t gonna happen. Well, after a short walk I tried to run again, at a slower speed, (is it actually running? – can’t say) and I only made one tenth of a kilometre. So now what to do, what to do? I walked again. I was exhausted and I was aware that my legs were too weak to push myself too much further. That is the mistake I made last year. Despite knowing that my legs were getting wobbly I continued and hurt my knee — my good knee. I lived to regret that and I was not willing (or capable for that matter) of continuing the exercise.

So, I made a deal with myself. I would finish the kilometre. Yes folks, I managed the kilometre. One kilometre with a combination of sixty percent walking and fourty percent running was all that I completed. The good bits are that I did not hurt myself. Even this morning, the dreaded day after, I am a little stiff but not in pain. I respected myself and I am proud of that. Being a highly competitive person it is difficult to admit to this failure, so publically in my blog, but I’m trying to be honest. I’m sure I’m not the only one that can’t run a kilometre after not running for over ten months.

My new perspective on this is that I’ll continue. If I respect my body signals and do not hurt myself, I will continue to run on the treadmill. Isn’t that better than giving up or having to stop because of injury? Having running as a regular practice is a good thing even if I never run in a 5K for the rest of my life and I haven’t told anyone yet. I’m confident that my daughters don’t read my blog.

So wish me luck! My second day of training I am aiming for 1.1K. I hope that I can run more than 40% of it!