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.

New Website Update

ImageHi all! I’ve been busy getting ready for the launch of my new website, The Irrational Mind. The site is not fully live yet, but you can get a feel for what to expect on my launch date: August 1st!

If you sign up for the newsletter you’ll get a copy of my free ebook (pictured above)! The catch is that the ebook will not be live until August 1st, at which point I will remind everyone to go back and download it again.

I’m really hoping this will be a great community to discuss mental health issues with a focus on personal development. Spread the word and follow me on my @IrrationalMinds Twitter!

Announcement: New Website

Hi all,

I’m excited to announce the upcoming release of a website I’ve been brainstorming for awhile. This August, I’ll be introducing a blog on Personal Development with Mental Health Obstacles*. I love reading various personal development blogs, whether they focus on escaping cubicle nation, traveling the world, or on day-to-day improvements to your life.

One thing I’ve noticed as I browse these blogs is a necessary level of optimism and go-get-em attitude, which is terrific. It’s difficult for anyone to work on self-improvement, since we all have our own mental blocks and obstacles. For those of us struggling with various mental illnesses, however, there is an extra step to get through.

I’ll be using this website to offer personal and expert-level advice on self-improvement with mental health issues. Our life is not all about our diseases, be they physical or mental. Everyone wants to improve themselves. I want to focus on the crossroad between the medical/counseling approach to managing your mind and living the life you want.

The new website will *not* be replacing this blog! I doubt there is much crossover between those interested in things I have to say here and those wanting to review their life goals (but maybe I’m wrong!).

Get excited. I am. 🙂

 

*Website/domain name is still to be determined

The Right to Be Wrong: Embracing Weaknesses

I’ve spent the past few months working as a nanny for two teenage girls in an affluent part of the greater D.C. area.  Out of respect for the family, I’ve limited the number of social media posts I’ve made about their personal affairs.  The girls are bright, attend private schools, and are involved in multiple extracurricular activities.  The parents are well-educated and kind, and, in hiring nannies, they like to expose their children to various academic specialties and experiences.  As you can imagine, my tornado research and background in the sciences was intriguing to the family, and I’ve done a mixture of tutoring and driving the girls to activities during my time here.

One thing I’ve struggled with throughout my life is the overwhelming desire to be “right.”  More to the point, I made it my life goal to never be wrong.  My teachers and peers identified this trait in me easily; the former considered it a strength, while the latter exploited it as a weakness.  I now know this is a combination of my Type A personality as well as the effects of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  As my doctors have explained to me, the wiring in my brain is defunct, and this will continue to be a struggle for me.

As many of you can attest, grad school puts perfectionism to the test.  There are a couple of ways this can occur, depending on your personality:

  • You enter grad school having graduated top of your class in undergrad and are ready to show the academic world what it has been missing.
  1. Result: More than a few people happy to knock you down a few pegs, slowly wearing you down.
  • You struggle with Impostor Syndrome, and assume everything you do is wrong/could be better/is worse than your colleague’s approach to the problem.                 
  1. Result: Lack of external and self-validation slowly wears you down.

The latter was my experience, and I had trouble reconciling my desire for perfection with my need for sanity and progress in my career.  This is part of what led me to take a break from academia.

But what do my nanny kids have to do with this?

It’s been awhile since I’ve taken high school physics, but I did struggle greatly with a fluid dynamics course I took in the engineering school last fall.  The family I work for expects me to be a science resource for them, and I am always excited to provide information on various topics.  But sometimes, I don’t know.

I can measure the progress of my emotional and intellectual maturity in how I react to questions I can’t give an answer to.  In the past, I would either pretend I knew the answer or flush bright red with embarrassment from not knowing.  I should know this, I should know everything! I’d think.  But I’ve come to accept that I don’t have all the answers, not even close.  Not only that, but it’s good for my mental health to hear myself say, aloud, with no shame, “I don’t know.” 

Maybe my teenagers are surprised when I don’t know how to do their simple physics homework problem.  Or when I’ve forgotten a few simple geometry tricks.  I know at their age I would have assumed I was smarter than this 20-something “scientist,” and swelled with pride at teaching them how to do my physics.  But I don’t fear that reaction from them now; in fact, I hope that I’m teaching them a lesson that it’s taken me far too long to take to heart—it’s alright to be wrong, and it’s even better to admit you don’t know.