My Three-Month Plan/Second Quarter Goals

In less than a week, Matt and I are closing on our first home in Frederick, MD. We’ll both still be working in Bethesda but at off-hours that will hopefully decrease the commuter hell most Washingtonians deal with.

I’ve blogged before about the feasibility of five-year plans, but I’m toying with the idea of shorter term goals/milestones/achievements/whatever.

So, as I embark on this solopreneur journey I have a few things I’d like to at least begin setting up as we head into the summer:

  1. YouTube channel
  2. Podcast
  3. Online courses
  4. Ebooks
  5. Consulting/coaching clients

Overambitious? Maybe. But I’m feeling pretty pumped about these ideas.

YouTube Channel

I imagine the YouTube channel overlapping at least partially with the online course offerings I’m planning. The primary focus (as I envision it today) would be on science communication in meteorology and beyond. There are a lot of sci-tech startups out there with business and technical know-how, but they may be lacking in the “engaging the audience” arena. I’d also like to do a couple of mini-courses on basic meteorology concepts for my non-meteo friends and followers who are interested in all this haboob/derecho/etc. mess.

Podcast

I’d like the podcast to be a more practical application of the skills discussed on the YouTube videos and online courses, with a meteorology focus. I envision a more chillaxed version of the Weather Brains format, talking with meteorologists (many of you!) about their experiences interacting with the public. Seminars? Meetings? Publications? Your own podcasts? Let’s chat about it. I have a few of you in mind for this project already (and you may be surprised to be on my list!), but, if you think you’d be a good fit for this, shoot me an email at consult dot mallie at gmail.

Online Courses

I’d like to do a mix of courses for the start-up business/tech people and for the laymen who follow me on Facebook/Twitter/this blog. Courses would include a mix of videos and written materials, as well as some guest lecturing/writing from other industry experts in either science communication or meteorology.

For the startups: Engaging Your Audience

For the laymen: Meteorology 101

Ebooks

Ebooks provide (almost) all the information that an online course would without the pesky interaction. I’d like to expand these product offerings into some of the personal development topics I discuss on The Irrational Mind.

Consulting/Coaching Clients

While the above offerings should be pretty comprehensive, it’s useful for many people to receive one-on-one time. I’m offering:

Consulting services: Talk to me about your company’s problem, give me some background information, and I’ll do the ground work and put together a report on engaging your target audience.

Business coaching services: Let’s work together individually to improve your communication skills so you don’t need me to reach your target audience. The “teach a man to fish” method.

Personal development coaching services: Some of my Irrational Mind readers are interested in working with me individually to begin making actionable progress in their own lives. Let me stress again that this is not therapy, which focuses on your past, but a process to hold you accountable and help you reach your life/career goals.

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Phew!

Lots of stuff coming up! In the meantime, I again ask for your help in sending anyone who may be interested in these products or services my way.

Did you notice I have a newsletter sign-up for these things now? Yeah, check out the sidebar to sign up.

Also follow me on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook….

Thanks for everyone’s support! If you think you could be a contributor to any of these things, email me at consult dot mallie at gmail.

Other thoughts? Comment below! Thanks!

plans

Top Search Terms That Brought You To This Blog

I’m working on increasing the frequency with which I post on my blog as I grow my business, so it behooves me to look at the search terms that have brought people here thus far.

This was a ridiculously fun exercise.

Without exporting all the data to Excel, it’s clear that most people show up here looking for an explanation about The Weather Channel’s Storm:Con index or naming of winter storms. Some of my favorite search terms for this topic include:

  • storm:con index really?
  • is torcon useless weather channel
  • weather channel winter storm overhype

Following questions about The Weather Channel, there are a lot of search terms that include “tornado” and “El Reno.” So I’m glad to see that I am drawing a weather audience to the blog. 39 search queries included the word “storm,” and some of those were repeated. “Tornado” appeared in 19 searches.

Interestingly, the next most commonly searched topic involves a one-off post I did about an educational show about neanderthals. One thing that stuck out to me while I was watching the show was a comment about how much neanderthals bench press: this is apparently an incredibly popular topic that required 20 different search queries.

  • neanderthals died out eventually (author’s note:…..yup?)
  • how much could a neanderthal bench press?
  • neanderthals could lift 300-500 pounds articles
  • neanderthals died out due to depression
  • ocd neanderthal

I’m absolutely thrilled that there are people curious about the mental health of our neanderthal ancestors, but I’m even more thrilled that my blog is the best match for people looking for information on both OCD and cavemen. Also, to the person wondering if neanderthals died out due to depression………..what kind of school paper were you writing, bud?

My complaint post about writing wedding invitations in cursive received quite a few hits (11 different search terms) from disgruntled brides/high schoolers whose moms forced them to do graduation announcements:

  • do graduation announcements have to be addressed in cursive?
  • do i have to address wedding invitations in cursive
  • cursive fonts for last of a dying breed
  • does el reno oklahoma school teach cursive

Again, thank you, Google, for allowing my blog to be the best intersection of topics from cursive to El Reno, Oklahoma. I should add there are also a couple of people clearly trying to cheat their way out of having to hand write their invitations:

  • best font that looks handwritten for mailouts

In the mystery box are 240 unknown search terms. If you’re also a blogger, I highly recommend combing through these gems yourself.

Creating My “Solopreneur” Path

As many of you have seen, earlier this week I launched my professional services site, which will allow people to reach out to me for solutions in various areas: scientific communications, writing and editing, speaking and training, and personal development.

I’ve been playing with self-employment for almost a year now, but I assumed (incorrectly) that, in order to properly market my brand, I had to pick one niche and stick with it.

Then I realized: I am my brand.

We’re moving into a new work world, one filled with non-traditional careers that no one could have dreamed of before the advent of the internet. Solopreneurs are working from their laptops all over the world, selling their talents under umbrellas of varying sizes.

What’s the difference between an entrepreneur and a solopreneur?

An entrepreneur is often growth and income-focused, trying to grow a company that sells specific solutions to a specific problem. In an entrepreneur’s ideal work world, they may start and sell websites, ideas, or companies for thousands (or millions) of dollars. They may establish a start-up with investors and a small set of employees. They may open a small business selling their wares downtown.

A solopreneur is also income-focused, but is more interested in flexibility. She works primarily alone, maybe outsourcing some of her administrative duties to a virtual assistant. She is selling herself and her skills to companies and individuals who may be disenchanted with corporate solutions and are looking for a personal touch. Her work can be done almost entirely remotely.

While an entrepreneur may hire a marketing, accounting, and administrative expert/department, the solopreneur wears the hat of content creator, marketing department, accounts manager, and administrative staff.

What I love about reading other solopreneurs’ stories is that they have all made their own path. No one’s story reads like anyone else’s, but they have managed to make a living doing work they are passionate about.

As I continue to create my path, I invite you to follow along on this blog. My regular weather/self/body acceptance posts aren’t going anywhere–they are part of the package I’m selling: me.

Of course, if you know anyone who may be in need of my services, please pass along my name. Your referrals are invaluable as I grow as both a person and a business.

Communicating Winter Weather Uncertainty

Dr. Shepherd, former president of the American Meteorological Society, tweeted this as a catastrophic winter storm, slated to impact most of the Gulf and East coasts, began coming together in the forecast:

Most of us have struggled to explain model uncertainty and weather prediction to our friends outside of the science. I have blogged on this topic before. This time, I’ve noticed a few different viewpoints coming from professionals across the forecasting spectrum:

NWS Forecasters

Understandably, NWS forecasters seem to be struggling with sounding the alarm prematurely (as the Sterling office did not issue a winter storm warning for the D.C. metro area until late last night, 24 hours before the storm was forecasted to begin) versus not sounding the alarm loudly enough (the Atlanta forecast office began discussing the storm last weekend, likely in an attempt to make the government take notice).

Non-NWS Forecasters/Academics

People in the private sector and academia seem to be playing up the uncertainty most unapologetically. I think this is understandable, as their audience/clients may be more interested in a big picture of the event. Rather than needing to issue a public weather advisory/watch/warning or tell an entire community to buy bread and water, they can be more liberal in adjusting forecasts as new information comes in without confusing the general public.

TV Meteorologists

Many of my friends and social media followees (not a typo!) are TV meteorologists. While I think they are also doing a good job of communicating uncertainty, they are doing it at a price. Their name and face goes with their forecasts, and, often, they alone will receive the brunt of a blown forecast. While the other two groups tend to work in teams and are often anonymous (forecast discussion names and meteorology journalists notwithstanding), an on-air meteorologist is often held responsible for his or her forecast by the community. Being more in the public eye than the other groups, their forecasts cannot change drastically from day-to-day (or hour-to-hour!) without raising red flags with the audience.

Other

Some of us are not working as forecasters or otherwise involved with meteorology in an official capacity right now. Nonetheless, friends, family, and coworkers still turn to us as the “resident meteorologist.” While I try to keep up with the data as much as possible, I, personally, find myself parroting others’ forecasts when caught off-guard and behind on the updates. Other than my personal reputation, however, I have little at stake than some after-the-fact ribbing for a busted forecast.

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Of course, these are generalities, and your mileage may vary.

I’ve appreciated that the local D.C. TV meteorologists have, overall, done a decent job introducing the storm at an early enough date ahead of time and explained that different models have shown different data. The Capital Weather Gang is always under fire during the winter in D.C., as they live-blog model runs and give regular updates on how they are adjusting their forecasts. Many mets in all categories have taken to social media, either through professional or personal pages, to show and explain model data to their friends, family, and followers.

How much is sticking?

You would think that if we were properly communicating this uncertainty to the public that we wouldn’t hear the same tired complaints about forecast accuracy every week. Where is the disconnect? I see the updates throughout the event from tons of people, but, in the end, the public remembers what went wrong.

Is this a case of people wanting to complain, or are we really not reaching laymen the way we need to?

With current technology, we can reach more people than ever, so why is this an ongoing problem?

Anniversary of Beginning the Job I Quit

One year ago today, Martin Luther King Day 2013, I began work at my first corporate job. My immediate team members were kind enough to come in on a day that everyone else was working from home. I had a nice orientation session with the group, and I immediately felt comfortable with everyone, including my supervisors.

Not everyone is so lucky to (1) find a job in this economy, (2) like their coworkers, (3) like their bosses, and (4) work with a team that actually values teamwork. I was grateful, yet nervous.

I had reservations accepting the job in the first place. I received a phone call with an unofficial offer a few hours after my interview. I saw other candidates leaving as I came in, so I know I was not the only interviewee. Matt had taken me out to dinner to celebrate the interview, and now we had even more to celebrate! Dog walker and nanny no more! I was a real person!

“Are you going to take it?” Matt asked me. It’s nice to have a husband who doesn’t pressure me into situations.

I nodded, adding “We’ll see what the actual offer is tomorrow and then I’ll make a decision.”

I shared my hesitation with him, uncertain if the job would be fulfilling. I would also be joining the D.C. commuters to Tyson’s Corner, the land that public transportation forgot. Still, I had come home with mostly positives on my list, so what was my hang-up?

I’ll likely never know why I was so hesitant to take that job. Among the many things it taught me about the business world, government bureaucracy, and editing skills, it also taught me to trust my instincts on big decisions.

I knew before the end of my first month that I wanted to quit, but I also knew we needed the money with our wedding approaching. I also feared that leaving a job after a month would look really bad on future applications. Matt told me I could quit whenever I wanted to, although I felt the hesitation in his response. I kept changing my quitting date: tomorrow, one more month, right before the wedding, right after the wedding….

I eventually decided that I would look like a real jerk if I quit right before or after our wedding, especially since my bosses had been very accommodating about my vacation time with respect to bridal showers and such. The pressure point came when I received an email that it was time for my 6-month evaluation. Yikes. It wasn’t that I feared I’d been doing poorly at work (although I’m sure my lack of enthusiasm was beginning to show), it was that I didn’t want to go into a performance review to talk about my future goals when I knew I intended to leave. It would have been a farce on my end and a waste of everyone’s time.

While I felt bad leaving, I knew that it was the best decision for me at the time. I’d been applying to jobs my entire time there, and a spur-of-the-moment application to a tutoring company tipped the scales in my favor. I received the offer from PM while I was at Starbucks interviewing someone for the USA Today article I was working on at the time.

This time, it all felt right.

Matt and I discussed it and agreed that I should pursue this writing/editing/teaching path that was opening up for me. Now, despite a declaration that I would never work another corporate position, I am working as an associate editor for another corporation–but the work is entirely on my time and done remotely. I’ve committed hours to tutoring every week–but if I decide to go on vacation, I just tell my clients I’ll be out those days. I’m in early talks with USA Today about doing more freelance work for them this winter.

All in all, things are going about as well as we could have expected at this point. I took one career leap leaving graduate school and then another into this part-time employment situation.

When I was in my freshman year of college at Mary Washington, I changed my major almost every week. Never officially, but every time a friend saw me they’d say, “Hey! What’s your major this week?!”

I would laugh and joyfully respond with my latest passion. As I stood outside the dorms waiting for a ride from an upperclass friend one afternoon, I began chatting with dormmates about classes. Leighton laughed, “You know, Mallie, I can’t wait to see what degree you actually graduate with.” I chuckled as well, “Me too.”

Nowadays, with two degrees under my belt (neither from Mary Washington, another unexpected turn), people ask me what I’m doing with my life, once again amused that I’ve still not figured it out. No one ever really figures it out, but many people at least settle in somewhere happily.

Today, I’m happy not having it all figured out. I’m feeling the same rush of excitement that I had as a 17-year old freshman with all the majors at my fingertips.

I can make my own path.

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.