The Casual Conversationalist Podcast Survey

Yesterday, I posted a survey to my social media followers with four simple questions about what they would like to see from my upcoming podcast. I’ve started putting together some shows and am working with an audio producer to develop and intro and outro to the show, so this is totally happening!

The problem is that I talk about sooo many things on this blog and The Irrational Mind. I need to know what my audience (you!) really want to hear about.

As of posting, I have 36 responses. The numbers don’t quite add up here because I allowed multiple choices for the topics and length question.

Survey

 

And of course, under “other” I had various responses. Some people said they liked podcasts that were 1 to 5 minutes long, while others said they listened to shows up to an hour!

Most people either had serious or hilarious feedback for what the show should be called, and it seem that you are all torn down the middle about keeping The Casual Conversationalist or rebranding. I agree that the name doesn’t encompass all the topics listed, but, like many of you, I can’t think of a better name when it’s clear that most of you like the varied topic structure of the blog and would like to see that continue in the podcast. This may be something that we roll with and let the show evolve with time.

Of course, I have to share some of the fun names you guys came up with:

  • Tornado Mallie
  • Collecting Cats, For Fun and Profit
  • Malnado
  • Mallie’s Alley
  • Mallie the Most Magnificent Meteorology Messenger Makes Mental and Material Modifications Meaningful

There were a few others as well, but I’m happy to see all of you being creative. ūüėČ

I was really hoping this survey would let me knock down a few of the topics I talk about. According to the other people doing this blog/podcast business, I need to pick a very specific niche. Now, look back at the topics you all chose, and tell me how to narrow that down!

As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, I noticed the trend was that people who were interested in meteorology typically only selected “meteorology” from the topics list, and¬†maybe “science communications.” Meanwhile, people who were interested in the topics under the umbrella of personal development also picked “meteorology.”

What am I going to do with you guys?!

I¬†love¬†that your interests are varied and that I’m getting the green light to create a show that falls happily under the pre-created tagline “musings from the intersection of science and culture.” I’m not sure how this will translate to a wider audience, however.

If you have more feedback about the blog/show, please start a discussion in the comments. Many of you had related views in how the show should be named. Also, if you haven’t taken the survey, I’ll still be checking responses for awhile, so chime in!

Collecting Cats, For Fun and Profit
Collecting Cats, For Fun and Profit

P.S. Sorry about the “minites” typo. I created the survey on my tablet and things got a little wonky. I was happy it worked out as well as it did!

From “When Are You Due?” To “What My Body Can Do”

Body-Love Wellness Circles by Anne-Sophie Reinhardt is an immersion into the power of body-acceptance.The Circles will be focused around transforming the relationship you have or may not have with your body, food and yourself.This post is part of the Body-Love Blog Tour, which is spreading body-acceptance to the masses. To learn more and join us, click here.

Last week, Matt and I had furniture delivered to our new house. I had just gotten out of the shower when the crew arrived, so I threw my hair up in a bun and tossed on a dress and cardigan.

The men did a nice job of setting up our living room and bedroom set, and, at the end, I had a couple of documents to sign. One of the men decided to make small talk.

“When are you due?”

Perhaps the rules are different elsewhere, but I’ve always known the rule of talking to women to be “Never attribute to pregnancy what can be attributed to fat.”

Since this is part of the Body-Love Blog Tour, some of you may not know my story. I use “fat” as a term that holds no positive or negative connotations, it simply is. A very Buddhist approach to body talk. I am fat: I weigh 225 lbs and am 5’4″. It’s fine.

I’ve spent years in therapy and on medication for my binge eating disorder, which is related to my diagnosed OCD. It has taken time to appreciate my body for what it can do rather than for what it looks like.

What can my ever-changing body do?

  • I was a starter on my Varsity volleyball team at age 16 and 150 lbs (and 5’4″). We wore spandex shorts.
  • I started dating at 155 lbs. I was 18.
  • I took up running at 160 lbs. My first race was a 4-miler (weird, right?).
  • I graduated college at 165 lbs. I wore a bikini on beach week.
  • I chased tornadoes at 175 lbs. I met my now husband.
  • I ran a half marathon at 185 lbs. It took me over 3 hours.
  • I defended my graduate thesis at 210 lbs.
  • I got married at 220 lbs.
  • I hiked full-fledged mountains at 225 lbs.

You know what’s sad?¬†It’s sad that I can remember my exact weight range from important events in my life.

Until I started therapy in 2012, I didn’t realize that this was an unhealthy way to view myself. As a number.

I can’t tell you the number of diets I went on over this 10-year period. Look at those numbers: they are in chronological order. Do you think dieting did me more harm or good?

The jump in weight between my half marathon and wedding represented the peak of my mental health breakdown. As my head deteriorated, so did my body’s self-care. Before officially adding chronic depression to my diagnoses, I stopped showering. I stopped exercising the day after my half marathon. I continued to binge eat, although those compulsions were waning under my new medication.

I’ve made a lot of improvements in my life. The most important one is the change in perception I have of my body.

My body is capable.

My body is tough.

My body is resilient.

Under the guidance of a nutritionist and therapist, I’ve taken on Health At Every Size and Intuitive Eating.

I don’t need to be skinny, I need to be healthy.

There are no “good” foods and “bad” foods, there are only foods.

The man who delivered my furniture had good intentions. I had to make a split second decision, and I decided not to embarrass him the way he had (unintentionally) embarrassed me.

“When are you due?”

“Oh…not for awhile now.”

“Will it be your first?”

“Yup!”

“Congratulations, I have a three-year old.”

And we parted ways. It’s true, we won’t be due for awhile now…probably a few years still.

I waited for the old, familiar feelings to hit me.¬†I have to lose weight, ASAP! OMG I’m so fat! I’m going to eat everything in the fridge! No wait, I’m not going to eat for the rest of the day!

These feelings never hit. I awaited them; I was aware of them. I know how my head tends to react to even the suggestion that somebody somewhere maybe thinks I could lose some weight.

This was the first time the feared mistaken pregnancy comment was made to me. Surely I would start bawling soon?

But it never hit.

I’m still making progress, but knowing that a stranger’s perception of my body didn’t destroy my day felt good.

Really good.

Pictured: Me and my husband on our honeymoon. Not pregnant.
Pictured: Me and my husband on our honeymoon. Not pregnant.

How Young Is Too Young To Start A Bucket List?

When I was living in a hotel as a child (this happened a couple times during/between¬†my family’s moves), I created my first bucket list. I wish I could pull out the exact list, but, as happened with most things, it got lost in a move.

Is it silly to have a bucket list at 10 years old? I can remember parts of it, and it didn’t include things like “buy a pony” or “be a princess,” as you might expect. I know that traveling, fluently speaking 3 languages, and learning to read the Bible in all of its original languages (including Aramaic) were all on there. I’m also pretty sure storm chasing was on there, so, congratulations, little one, we managed that already!

As I sit here in my late 20s, I realize that I probably haven’t made a bucket list since my teenage years. Did I give up on myself somewhere along the line? Did my dreams become narrower? Are my expectations of the world lowered?

That’s pretty depressing.

So now I present Mallie’s 2014 Bucket List, which includes a mix of ridiculous and tiny goals:

  • Speak 3 languages fluently (let’s do it, little Mallie!)
  • Travel to all 7 continents (this was on teenage Mallie’s list)
  • Make a million dollars net profit in one calendar year
  • Do work I love
  • Get a dog
  • Reacquaint myself with the piano
  • Two children, natural or adopted
  • Show my children the world
  • Run a marathon (surprise, honey!)
  • Traditionally publish a book, fiction or non-fiction
  • Hike a mountain on every continent

What does your bucket list look like today? Do you see any themes in yours: travel, writing, family, career? Share in the comments!

bucket list

3 Things Moving Has Taught Me

Matt and I closed on a house in Frederick, MD last week, and we have spent the past 7 days moving and settling in to our new home. It has been a real drain on my energy and on my business development, but, hey, we shouldn’t have to do this again for quite a few years.

Although this is our first move as a married couple and the first home I have ever owned, this is certainly not my first big move. My dad was an officer in the Army while I was growing up, so moving is just part of my life.

These are the places I have lived, in chronological order:

  • Heidelberg, Germany
  • Enterprise, AL
  • Patuxent River, MD
  • Enterprise, AL
  • Fort Hood, TX
  • Tampa, FL
  • Culpeper, VA
  • Fredericksburg, VA
  • Charlottesville, VA
  • West Lafayette, IN
  • Rockville, MD
  • Frederick, MD

For many Army brats, this list is much longer. While my dad retired when we were in Texas, I only got to spend high school in Culpeper before going to Mary Washington and then UVA for college. While most people are more attached to their undergraduate institutions, I spent more time at Purdue than I did at UVA or UMW.

A lifetime of moving has taught me a lot about attachment and commitment. These are a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

Good friends will remain your friends, wherever you go

I used to collect mailing addresses for my friends before each move. Since most of my friends were also Army brats, however, they would be moving soon as well. Letters would eventually get lost in the shuffle.

The internet (and, perhaps more importantly, the ubiquity of the internet) changed how we interact. Even my parents, who had particularly difficult times maintaining contact with old friends as we moved, have reconnected with others on Facebook. Some of them are meeting up for a mini reunion this summer–how cool is that?

With the resources available now, moving is no longer the incredibly isolating experience that it used to be. If your friends are truly good friends, they will remain that way.

Just remember: making contact is a two-way street. Do your part to stay in touch as well.

Displacement is temporary

The lack of structure and routine during a move can be disorienting and difficult to handle for many people. I have anxiety issues for which I am medicated and in therapy for (for those unaware, OCD is an anxiety disorder.)

Some combination of what I consider my “true” personality in combination with my OCD makes me rather territorial, despite my regular moves. I was that kid in school who sat at the same desk every day, even without assigned seating. If I found someone in my seat, I wouldn’t confront them, but I’d sit elsewhere and spend the rest of that class anxious that I was out of place.

Moving is essentially a magnified version of finding yourself out of place. Animals respond to the stress by marking their territory (thankfully, our cats have thus far avoided that temptation at the new place). As higher functioning creatures, we can rationalize with ourselves. The discomfort from a move is temporary, and once you are finally unpacked and organized, you’ll find yourself settling back into a new routine.

Everywhere you go, there you’ll be (and so will everything else)

This is a popular phrase to remind people that they can’t run from themselves.¬†From my years of moving, one thing I’ve realized is that you can’t run from society either.

Sure, the culture of a community will be different from place to place, and an urban environment is different than a rural one, but the underlying themes remain the same. Unless you’re on one of those off-the-grid shows that my husband watches…then you’re really on your own.

Don’t expect to escape from crappy neighbors, because you’ll certainly run into them everywhere. The town gossip? Different name here, but same mode of operation. Kids’ soccer game politics? Ongoing here too. Barking dogs? Still here.

Enjoy your move, and recognize that, while you are starting a new journey, many things in life are constants. Even friends, discomfort, and your nosy neighbors.

moving

Hunger Games: Food Issues and the Morality of Food

Around 8 p.m. this Tuesday I left my last tutoring student to grab the dinner I had brought to eat with my end-of-the-day meeting. The dinner was Pad Thai leftovers from a nice lunch out with some of my coworkers, and I was looking forward to it. I was proud that I had applied my developing intuitive eating process to a lunch out, leaving me both satisfied and hooked up with leftovers.

As I stepped into the lobby, I smelled the distinct aroma of McDonald’s fries.

Why McDonald’s? Why not Wendy’s or some other fast food place? I’m not sure why, but I seem to be able to tell the difference. I blame it on my 2011 binge eating stint that always came back to McDonald’s, my understanding friend.

Part of the intuitive eating process is learning that no food is “good” or “bad.” If your story is similar to mine, the following will make a lot of sense to you; if your food story is not similar to mine, I envy you, and I encourage you to take something out of this as well.

I started my first diet right after my 13th birthday. My parents have their own food issues and, like many people, passed on their beliefs to my brother and me. It was a family affair, although I can’t remember if my then-9-year-old brother participated this time. We followed Richard Simmons’ plan, which is similar in concept to Weight Watchers’ point system. I weighed 150 lbs at the time and, unbeknownst to any of us, was struggling with my first serious bout of depression and OCD.

For the next ~10 years, I went on and off diets with the rest of my family. Gaining weight in between each attempt as I hoarded the foods I’d not been allowed while I was “on the wagon.” We did family weigh-ins. My parents offered my brother and me monetary awards for losing weight. This lasted even up to my wedding this past May, when my mom offered to buy me new honeymoon clothes if I lost weight before the wedding.

There was always an event we had to prepare for. I can’t remember them all, probably because we made them bigger in our heads than they actually were. The first day of a new school. The first day of high school. Prom. Prom 2. College. Break-up number 1. Break-up number 2. Some event we were going to as a family. A trip home to Georgia to see the “skinny side of the family,” where I constantly felt like the black sheep, even at a relatively healthy 150 pounds.

My cousins (male and female) are all gorgeous, and my girl cousins were (and are) tall, skinny, athletic, light brown hair with blue eyes, and homecoming queens at their respective schools. Every time we visited, my parents would be complimented on their weight loss, or, alternatively, spend time bashing themselves for gaining the weight back. “We’ve been bad,” they would say.

Bad? Were they murdering people? Stealing money? Incessantly talking down about other people?

Nope.

“Bad” means eating foods that you like but that don’t fit into your current diet’s arbitrary rules. For a time period, both my parents did Atkins (and I joined them for awhile), so “bad” foods were carbs and “good” foods were bacon. Then we were calorie counting, and suddenly bacon now joined the “bad” list, and white bread was back. We were never punished for gaining weight despite the promise of rewards for losing it (including money in a jar with a sticker saying “Cash or Cow?”), unless you count sitting around talking about how fat and gross we were. Unless you count apologizing to people (family! friends!) for our size. Unless you count accepting criticism–I mean “advice”–from others because it was our duty to feel shame for our size.

After all, we had been “bad.” Let the stonings begin.

Dieting took on a religious fervor for all of us, dictating our morality by a bite of cheesecake. Before each new diet–or diet attempt–we would go through a process that I now know to be called “Last Supper Eating.” From now on we were going to be “good,” and follow the new set of arbitrary rules, so tonight we were eating everything that we would never eat again. Ever. Because from now on we would be good.

We would eat more calories during the “Last Supper” than we would have had we just eaten normally all week.

Repeat indefinitely.

My parents are still following this pattern, and I listen politely as they tell me (occasionally with a tinge of “look how good I’m being” in their voice) that they are back on the wagon. Or that they are going back on the wagon so they’re going to eat a bunch of chips and ice cream tonight. That’s fine, because it’s none of my business. But it was my business growing up, where I learned these eating behaviors. Where I learned to binge eat. Where I learned to hide emotions with food.

There is another side to the “Last Supper” eating. It’s a punishment. A self-punishment. You have been “bad” eating all these foods, so now it is time you feel sick from the very foods you want, so that you learn to only eat “good” foods from here on out. Shame on you for wanting a forbidden food.

My OCD mind latched onto this idea very willingly. When I ate a “bad” food, it meant that I, too, was a bad person, so I deserved punishment. In high school I punished myself with excessive exercise. I would go to volleyball practice for a couple of hours then come home and walk on the treadmill for two hours. This, coupled with a calorie counting diet of 1200 calories that my then-undiagnosed OCD also loved (numbers! counting! limits!), I now know to be excessive. My therapists have been concerned upon hearing that I thought that was “good” behavior that I should be striving for again. Apparently not.

When the exercise became difficult to maintain under the pressure of college, I swung to the other direction and punished myself with more food. My college roommates can probably tell you of a few times when I would cry, loudly, embarrassingly, after eating something “bad” or weighing myself and finding I’d gained a pound. And they can also tell you times where they found me sitting down with a Halloween-sized bag of Reese’s and a blank stare on my face, making my way through the bag without tasting just for the sake of keeping down my feelings of inadequacy. My feelings that I would not identify as chronic depression for another 5 years.

I went to a nutritionist at 19 and I brought a food diary with me. OCD me also loved the food diary. I was now living in an apartment on my own and making a concerted effort to cook for myself. The nutritionist laughed at my food diary. Literally. Laughed. She then looked up at me with a serious face: “You think¬†this is healthy?” I looked back down at my list and was puzzled. She laughed again.

To this day I cannot remember the food I was eating at that time, but I do remember a professional laughing at me. She was confused by my bloodwork because, again, I was a “gigantic” and “bad” 150 lbs at 5’4″, but my numbers were¬†all great. Clearly something was wrong. She was very dismissive of the numbers, of my earnestness and desire to learn what I¬†should be doing. She got a phone call and hastily dismissed me.

“But wait…I don’t know what you want me to do.”

She looked annoyed at the interruption. “Just read the South Beach Diet book.”

Oh. Ok.

And so another diet began.

***

Today, thanks to the help of more open-minded nutritionists and therapists trained to deal with eating disorders, I am learning to disassociate morality from my food choices. I am also learning that I don’t have to listen to the “Food Police,” or people who tell me how I should feel when eating a food. My parents and society together used to serve as the food police, and now Matt and well-meaning friends (oh, and still society) do. Matt does a pretty good job staying out of my food business, but occasionally a “you ate that?” or “you’re not still hungry, are you?” will slip from him.

For any of you that act as someone’s food police, just realize this leads to rebellious eating. Matt learned that pretty quickly. We were at a hog roast and I got up to get a third plate of food. He made a comment along the lines of “I think you’ve had plenty already.” The stare I gave him bored through his soul, and I then piled my plate higher than I had intended (I think I just wanted to go get another piece of cornbread) and ate every piece of food defiantly. I was uncomfortably stuffed, but I was making a point.

McDonald’s still has an eerie pull on me that no other food seems to. I realized after the experience on Tuesday evening that meant I should eat it without judgment, so I had it for lunch yesterday. It was a strangely emotional experience, unlike other feelings I’ve had with food recently. Today I reflected on the experience, and a fleeting thought of having it again for lunch today passed through my head.

No, that would be bad.

The judgment came so quickly that it caught me by surprise. I thought that I’d made peace with fast food. Unfortunately, this is a process. I debated myself for an hour before going to McDonald’s again. I used positive self-talk to tell myself that I was not “bad” for eating fast food two days in a row. I can eat McDonald’s twice and still make a healthy decision for dinner (I had soup and salad last night). Because I am allowed any food I want, there is no need to binge or revenge eat.

Frankly, I no longer have the strong desire to eat fast food that I used to, so I don’t foresee this becoming a habit. I’m not “on the wagon” right now because I am eating intuitively, not following an arbitrary set of rules, so there is no way to fall off.

For once in my food life, I’m firmly grounded in reality.

Half Marathon Reflections and Learning To Trust Myself Again

A little over two years ago I completed my first half marathon in Indianapolis. I finished in about 3 hours and 20 minutes, a pretty slow pace for a run/walker. A woman ahead of me who powerwalked the entire race with a venti coffee beat me. But Matt and my parents showed up to support me, and I enjoyed the experience, knowing that that length would be my “marathon” for the foreseeable future. (Matt runs his marathons in less time than it took me to complete the half marathon)

Hungry Finisher

At that time, I had been recently diagnosed with OCD and was about a month away from being diagnosed with chronic depression. I was (literally) failing my coursework and barely making research progress in graduate school. I spent most of my days sleeping or watching Law and Order on Netflix. I watched every season of SVU in about two months.

The only thing I managed to keep doing during that time was run.

I don’t know why that was the one thing my mind and body held onto, but it was the only thing that consistently got me out of my apartment without outside encouragement from friends, meetings, or compulsive prompts to indulge in my binge eating disorder. Even the latter turned to delivery foods at some point, minimizing my time outside away from my cat and couch.

I’ve been exercising since I was a child. Since I established the habit at an early age with various sports, I’ve never been one to hate exercising. It’s relaxing, I can magically clear my brain, and I feel better afterwards. At some point I made the transition from organized sports to running and yoga, but I was still happy with my new fitness outlets.

The day after my half marathon, I stopped exercising. I no longer had a pressing goal, and I could barely make it off my couch as I continued to sink into the depression that eventually led me to quit grad school. I participated in the Chicago Shamrock Shuffle 8K for the second time in the spring of 2012, but I didn’t do any prep leading up to it, so I walked it. Slowly. Over the next two years, I fell out of my exercising habit, and the idea of going outside or going to the gym became a chore. I gained 40 pounds. I started sweating from walking around town or vaccuuming my apartment.

But it crept up on me, somehow. I made a concerted effort to stop judging my body for its looks in undergrad and instead focused on what my body could do. Suddenly, my body couldn’t do the things I thought it could. Sometimes it couldn’t even fit comfortably in an airplane seat, or on a rollercoaster. I’d heard of people with anorexia having body dysmorphic disorder, unable to see the thin person in the mirror, but I’d never heard of it in the other direction. My therapist confirmed that, indeed, it can work in the other direction, and that what I see in the mirror is likely not what everyone else sees. I have to rely on pictures and physical signals to mentally register that my body is shaped differently than the way I see it (or perhaps, than the way I remember it).

I went hiking again yesterday with the same group from last weekend. With half a mile and 1000 feet left to the summit, I had to turn around (and thus, so did Matt). Overexertion left me dizzy and throwing up. I tried a few more feet before sitting down on the trail, disappointed. Our 9-mile loop hike became an 8-mile out-and-back for Matt and me.

But I realized, during our silent two hour walk back to the car, that this 8 miles was the longest I had walked since the half marathon. While the elevation was not as intense as it could have been, it was still more strenuous than the “hills” on the Indianapolis course. Sure, I didn’t get sick during the race, but I was ravenous in the last mile, stopping briefly to eat a hotel sample container of peanut butter before pushing myself to the end for a free Jimmy John’s sub, or two.

I’m learning to trust my mind and body again. Perhaps unsurprisingly, during my first round of OCD therapy at Purdue I learned that my brain was out to trick me. Wtf, right? If I couldn’t trust myself, who could I trust? Then to find out that my brain and eyes don’t even see the same body in the mirror that I have is mind-blowing. It’s right there, how can I miss it?

Years of dieting have also ruined my relationship with food and thereby my trust in my body’s ability to feed itself, so my therapist is having continue the Intuitive Eating approach that my nutritionist at Purdue introduced me to. That’s another post, though.

For now, I’m continuing my slow movement back towards¬†my healthy. I don’t know what that will look like for me, personally, but I hope it involves a strong body and mind.

Hiking at a BMI of 38

In college, I dated a couple of Eagle Scouts. They introduced me to the world of hiking in the nearby Shenandoah National Park. While our relationships didn’t last, my love of the activity did. I was never “good” at hiking, if you can be good at something as straightforward as walking uphill. I would warn friends before going out that I was slow–both uphill and downhill.

My first hike with Chris and Robbie in 2006.

During the two years I spent at UVA, I organized some hiking outings with friends: some in better shape than I, and others who joked that they needed to lay down. I took the slow and steady approach, as my endurance has always outlasted my speed. Sometimes I’d have a group to go with, and other times I’d find one free friend or classmate and take off to the mountains, lunches and nalgenes packed.

A cold hike with Brantley in 2009. All downhill to the falls, then all uphill on the return.

I weighed between 150 and 160 lbs at the time. My BMI was around 27. Still overweight, but decidedly healthy. I was also running and playing volleyball, and my diet was relatively healthy for a college student. I went to a couple of doctors who were confused by my excellent bloodwork as compared to my weight. Thankfully, my primary care physician thought my weight was fine as long as I remained active and ate well.

BMI (body mass index) is a complicated measure of health given its simplicity: it is determined by your height and weight. Gender is not considered, nor is muscle mass. I’ve known bulky men who fit squarely in the “overweight” range because of it. But for someone like me, with more fat than muscle, I have no trouble referring to it when looking at my overall health relative to my weight.

Matt and a couple of friends planned a hike for yesterday. It was originally intended as a guys’ day out, as the three of them prefer more strenuous hikes than do their female partners. After looking at the hike, Jacob’s girlfriend decided to join them, and Matt said I was welcome to come along.

But he looked hesitant. And I felt hesitant.

We have been hiking at my current weight of 220 lbs, and it’s a slow affair. I love being outside, and I still love hiking, but I am lugging around 60 more pounds of fat than I am used to, and I’ve likely lost a fair amount of muscle. Was I willing to embarrass myself (and Matt) in front of my group of fit friends? Could I physically do this hike?

I told Matt to go ahead and have fun, that I would be fine at home, but I had tears in my eyes. He offered to stay home and I told him to go. So he left, and I cried.

I’ve had a rough week with my depression. With chronic illnesses, you never truly defeat them, you just get better at managing. And while I’m managing the binge eating disorder that (mostly) got me to this weight, it appears to be at the cost of managing my depression. Food has been my major coping mechanism, and I’m doing my best to not turn to it in sadness. So I get sadder.

While the depression itself spawned the crying, part of my sadness came from not being able to do something I enjoy because of my size. If I were this weight and still able to comfortably do all the activities I used to do, I would probably be fine. But I can’t. I can’t run right now, because I hurt my knees, so I’m stuck walking, which doesn’t soothe the running desire. To become a better runner, you need to run. So how am I supposed to get back into running when I can only walk?

It appears I need to lose weight. I’m aware of this, of course. It’s difficult when my binge eating disorder kicks in at the thought of a diet, and when my OCD takes over and says “keep walking or don’t walk at all” when I try to start an exercise regimen again. I’m fighting through it with therapy, workbooks, and medication. But it’s taking time, and it’s a frustratingly slow process.

All this flashed through my mind as I sat on the couch, crying. Not thinking completely clearly, I texted Matt:¬†Have you left yet? I kinda want to join….

Matt called me. He could tell I was crying. He told me to meet them at Jason’s place. They would wait.

He forwarded me the planned hike. 7 miles. 5.5 hours. 2500 feet elevation change. Shit.

I drove to the meeting spot, took a deep breath, put on a smile, and walked over to join my friends who had waited for me. This was going to be rough.

On the way there we chatted about some hikes the group had done before. Jen started to explain the (somewhat technical/long) Old Rag hike to me. Matt interrupted: “Mallie has actually done that hike. At midnight.”

On top of Old Rag, awaiting sunrise. It was super cold.

Only Matt and Jacob knew me at my college weight, so the group seemed somewhat surprised. I was happy to relate my accomplishment, but I was sad that it was so unexpected. It’s a similar reaction to what I get from people when I tell them I completed a half marathon two years ago. Sure, it took me 3 hours and 20 minutes, but I did it.

The hike was difficult for me. Matt didn’t break a sweat the entire hike. At some point the group decided to stop following the switchbacks and instead take the path straight up the mountain. That was my breaking point. I explained it to Matt as follows: imagine you planned to go out for a 15 mile jog, and planned your pace accordingly. Three miles in, someone decides you should sprint the distance instead. My body couldn’t handle it.

I’ve been keeping track of my pulse while doing cardio lately. Mostly because I’m noticing that little exertion leads to lots of sweating and heartbeats. Even with running/walking intervals on the treadmill, my pulse often hits ~170-180 bpm. On the hike, I estimated that I was sitting around 175-200 bpm for most of the 3 hour hike.

Long story shorter, we only managed to do a 4 mile hike, reaching the ridge but not the view given the new, earlier sunset time. As usual, I was also slow going back down the rocky, leaf-covered mountain. My knees hurt today from the downhill, but overall my muscles are handling the recovery period better than I expected.

Matt and company looking confident upon our return down the mountain at Buzzard Rock.

We got back to my car and Jason, Jacob, and Jen unpacked their belongings in the trunk while Matt and I got in the front seats. He gave me a kiss, “Good job, dear.” I thanked him. “It’s gotten to the point where my weight is affecting our lifestyle, isn’t it?” Matt nodded. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but I was thinking that when you decided not to come this morning.” He paused, tiptoeing an emotional line, “I want you to get back in shape so we can keep doing things like this without you having difficulty.”

I do too.

Perspectives: Animal Reincarnation

I left for my run this morning anxious about the day ahead. I have slightly more on my plate today than usual, and the run was another checkmark on the to-do list.

A few steps outside my apartment complex I spotted something flailing on the sidewalk. My mind tried to dismiss it as leaves caught under a rock, but I knew it was an animal.

Once I got close I saw that it was a colorful bird on its back, quite alive but unable to turn itself over. Uncertain about its current mood in a fight/flight situation (no pun intended), I used my foot to gently turn it over. I expected him to fly away immediately.

Sadly, the bird just looked up at me once it was right-side up. It flapped its wings helplessly, and I couldn’t figure out if a wing or leg was broken. I wondered where the bird was from, since the typical brown city birds were the only others gathered nearby.

As I stood there wondering what to do, an old Hindu woman (bindi dot prominently placed) approached, concerned. “Is it alive?”

“Yes,” I said, as I bent down to pet it gently with a finger, diseases be damned.

“Do you have water?” she asked me, as well as others passing by who appeared unconcerned. No one had water.

We both frowned at the little creature, and I suggested we move him to the grass so he wasn’t stepped on or run over by a bike, which I believed was the incident that left him like that in the first place.

The stranger cupped him in her hands, mumbling something repeatedly to him in a language I couldn’t identify, but she said it in the manner a mother would repeatedly say “It’s ok, it’s ok…” to a crying child. She pet him and mentioned water again. I don’t think either of us had very high hopes for the little guy, and I was beginning to feel quite sad about the situation.

“He will have a better life next time,” she said simply.

I felt a ping of hope. It made me feel silly, of course, but being raised Christian we didn’t talk often about animals’ afterlife. The more I learned about Christianity, the more I learned that many denominations don’t believe animals will have an afterlife, as they don’t have souls.

In Hinduism, from the little I know, the soul passes through multiple stages of reincarnation, or samsara. The bird’s next life would be as a non-fish/bird animal, before reaching its pinnacle form as a human.

As we both walked off from the animal, the woman suddenly found a small container, and excitedly ran back up to the place she had left the bird. When I returned from my run half an hour later, the bird was no longer there. I hope she found a way to nurse it back to health, or at least to give it some comfort.

My perspective on the day was shifted by this small incident. I felt a larger connection with the world, and acknowledged my miniscule role in the process, regardless of religious beliefs.

The Feasibility of Five-Year Plans

I’m doing (nearly) everything I can to escape the grind of a 9-5 job right now. It’s all I’ve talked about on this blog for months as I get new work up and running. The Irrational Mind is doing well, and I’ve got Pampered Pets Travel mostly automated at this point. I’m still writing and selling ebooks under a pen name (what name? what genre? what publishing site(s)? I’ll never tell….). I’m now editing ESL academic manuscripts for three different companies. I have my first tutoring client with PrepMatters and I’m still keeping my eye out for additional freelance writing and editing opportunities. And, hey, this blog still needs to be updated!

Where am I going with all this?

I don’t know.

Many millenials, including myself, have given up on a five-year plan out of necessity. Forget the ten-year plans, the life plans, the retirement plans–we’re all just doing the best we can.

Job woes have led me to reconnect with friends I haven’t talked to regularly in years. Friends of all ages in what would appear to be stable, government jobs are dealing with reduced hours or the loss of their positions entirely. The job hunt isn’t friendly to anyone with any level of academic or work experience. If I were not married to Matt, I would most certainly be living at home, in Culpeper, working retail or fast food with my M.S.

But it’s not just all about the Millenials.

The sadness I feel when I see someone older than any age reached by my grandparents (all dead for years now) working to bag my groceries or greet me at Walmart is unparalleled. Yes, I deal with chronic depression, but the realization that these elderly people will most likely work until they die is another type of sadness entirely. Perhaps they got bored in retirement and decided to go back to work–this is always a possibility–but more and more seniors are being forced to return to the job market.

My five-year plan a little over a year ago, while I was still in grad school, was to finish my PhD and find a good postdoc. Matt and I still planned to get married this past May, but our living situation was undecided. We pretty much assumed we would end up in Oklahoma, with Matt working remotely for his current company (side note: his income alone would have bought us an awesome house in Oklahoma).

Suddenly, my five-year planned changed. I left grad school and have gone through about ten jobs (add dog walking, nannying, and my corporate position to the list in the first paragraph). Matt and I have gone from casually discussing the possibility of him being a stay-at-home dad while I pursued an academic path to setting myself up with jobs I can manage from home once I become a stay-at-home mom.

We would really really like a house before we have children. We think we’ll be able to accomplish that goal in the next five years, but a freelancer’s income is oh so variable that we rely mostly on his income.

But hey, at least I’ve already “accomplished” the feat of finding someone to marry. How about my friends that feel at a loss without a significant other? I would probably feel the same if I were in their shoes, as much as I like to pretend to be a hardcore independent woman. Matt’s usually my only human interaction during a day. Sometimes more interaction is overwhelming for me lately, as I continue to struggle with anxiety.

My mental health struggles have really forced me to “let go” more than I was ever able to in the past. Having a great support system in my friends, family, and Matt has been invaluable. I’ve given up on the five-year plan. Right now I have a today plan, which I mostly accomplished. The today plan included calling the dentist’s office to reschedule an appointment, picking up a prescription, writing this blog post, and checking my emails to make sure I’ve not overlooked a potential customer in one of my endeavors.

My next week plan involves continuing my new running routine (I’m running again!), a couple of tutoring meetings, and…I don’t know yet.

This isn’t my favorite place to be, routine-wise. But I’m dealing with it. And so are many others right now.