Know the signs; when you’re having an off week

Life just keeps moving faster an faster, or so it seems. I know for me and my colleagues at least this year is just moving past at the most ridiculous speed I almost feel like I’m actually someone’s character in a game of The Sims and they’ve got me on triple speed. How are we three quarters through March already? It’s Easter next week for crying out loud! And as the year keeps whizzing past like a humming bird I’m wondering what the hell have I achieved? It really doesn’t feel like much at all, and because I feel like I haven’t achieved much I’m starting to be riddled with self doubt and some good old existentialism.

I’m not one of those people who is satisfied merely by the job that they are paid to do. No, I need to feel some form of creative satisfaction. That’s why I’m sitting here writing this today. I set myself a goal to write for myself once a week and I’ve not yet fumbled since the first week of the year. The trouble is, I’ve had a couple of off weeks, a symptom of the speed at which we are working in our everyday, and I’ve slowed down all my personal stuff. The things that keep me happy, motivated, and engaged. The things that I get out of bed for seem to be the first things to go when energy is lacking and I’m feeling drained.

My off week is slowly turning into an off month, which is not great since I have SO MUCH to do in SO LITTLE TIME. Plus, my sewing machine broke, and then I repaired it, but I’m so scared to use it now which doesn’t help the fact that I have SO MUCH to do. I have a dress to make for my 30th, plus a top for a hen’s party, plus a gift that I promised a friend (who I know will tell me to do it in my own good time, but you know…guilt), plus other things I just want to make for myself or finish. I have writing I want to do. I have a painting in my mind to paint. I have photos I want to take. I have SO MUCH to do, and SO MUCH I want to do… but I’m feeling that heavy weight of life starting to drag me down.

The signs leading up to an off week can be subtle, but they’re there if you pay attention. It’s like a playful little current moving around your ankles, slowing you down at first. Your mind is moving fast, but your body is moving slow. You feel ever so slightly out of sync. And then it grows. The tide starts to come in, and with it the current begins to grow. And before you know it, if you can’t find a raft, you’re drowning and doing nothing rather than everything. For me, it started with my regular season shift CFS/ME fatigue flare. I was in pain, I was exhausted, my brain went to mush. I still managed to drag out some words for you, but it was so hard, and I had to skip the gym and yoga. Slowly I climbed out of that funk, but since then I’ve just felt weighed down and slow, like I can’t keep up. I have too many events every single weekend, and the amount of time available to myself is next to nothing.

The problem with having next to no time to yourself, especially as a creative individual with a crippling invisible illness, is that you begin to lose yourself in the mundane. Now, I’m not saying my job is boring by any stretch, but it isn’t exactly enabling me to be the reclusive artist/writer that I’d love to be. Plus I didn’t win the lotto last night (again), so I’ve got to keep it up! I’ve got to be able to afford my fabric, my paint, and all my other tools somehow! And I do actually enjoy my work and the people I work with. We manage to find ways to allow me to be creative at work, I even get to do some writing which is always a good challenge for me. I just wish I had more time.

The less time you have to yourself, the more likely you are to notice that little current tugging at your ankles and rising up your legs. I start to become despondent, and less engaged in the desire to create. At its worst, I become dissociative and depressed. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle though, because the lower you feel the less likely you are to lift yourself up and just do the thing, even if it is just a few words on paper, or a smear of paint, or one seam of a garment, or a few scribbled lines. And that’s the key. Despite it all, despite the lack of time, we creatives need to just pick up the tool and use it ever so slightly to reclaim the light within.

I imagine it is probably similar for people who are very active/outdoorsy types, who work indoors. Work takes hold, the weather cools down, and you feel less inclined to go outside or go to the gym. You’d rather just turn yourself into a blanket burrito because you’re leaking energy all over the place and you can’t plug the hole.

So, my top couple of signs that I’m heading to a hole and I need to just fight back and claw myself out of the ditch are:

  • resistance to just “do the thing”
  • low energy
  • CFS/ME flare up
  • staring vacantly
  • loss of appetite
  • becoming the ultimate couch potato
  • playing games on my phone
  • constant social media cycling
  • lowered desire to work out
  • disassociation

Maybe you can relate to a few of these, or you’ve got your own list. Now what do we do with that knowledge? I guess for me acknowledging that I am having an off week is actually the first step. Then I need to tell myself to put down all the devices of distraction. And when motivation is really lacking, well it helps to have my other half on board with pushing me when I can’t push myself as hard as I should. I need to force myself to look at the situation and ask myself what is the smallest thing I can do that will still bring me some satisfaction, even if I haven’t created a masterpiece (or climbed a mountain). And sometimes just saying “I’ve got nothing” switches on that little stubborn part of me that always, ALWAYS, manages to find something. Like tonight, while I sat here sending angry emails to my internet provider I also asked my sister what to write. As soon as I explained how lacking in inspiration I was, I realised that is what I should write about, because I know for certain that we all feel a little lost and out of it at times.

So today, what’s that one little thing that will bring you some satisfaction even if it isn’t going to fulfil your grandest dreams. After all, you know what they say about the first step…

The art of letting go

[In] “Let”

[Out] “Go”

My Thursday yin yoga class has fast become one of the highlights of my week ever since I made the coin-flip decision to give it a go late last year. I love the fact that I come in and learn to stop, and be present. I love that slowly but surely I’ve ceased to need frequent visits to the chiropractor as my body becomes more adept at physically letting go of my aches and pains. But beyond that is the enlightenment I receive from my instructor. She is quiet, and unassuming, but also incredibly brutal and strong. She is humble, practical, knowledgable, and full of conviction. She is also light, and free, and full of good humour. She’s my kind of person.

Often we incorporate mantras into our practice, her favourite being the phrase “let go”, with the “let” being on the inhale, and the “go” being on the exhale. We visualise the breath moving up and down our spines as we sink deeper and deeper into the pose, perhaps hugging a bolster, or leaving a smear of makeup on the mat as my forehead and nose become one with the ground.

[In] “Let”

[Out] “Go”

I love this simple mantra, but for some reason so often the moment I leave that peaceful environment I forget about it, leaving my inner Buddha behind as I step back into the chaos of my day. In a way, I let go of letting go. I tense back up, I see a text message from work, or a missed call from an unknown number and I’m right back in the day. Of course there are also the days where I am “yin drunk” and I float back to the office full of light and peace. Those are usually the days I’m moments from falling into slumber while tied into some pretzel-like pose, the exact pretzel-like pose I needed to extract some kind of tension from my body. Occasionally I’ll even have a quiet little cry in class if something she says resonates deeply with me, or perhaps we’ve done a pose that releases stored emotions (no really, it does happen).

[In] “Let”

[Out] “Go”

I need to adopt this into my every day, when all around me is chaos. When life is mildly uncomfortable I’m able to breathe through it, but there appears to be some fine line that, once crossed, unleashes my irrational fear driven mind. Emotions. I don’t often operate purely on emotion. I focus on the facts, I make plans, I solve problems. I extract myself from the situation. But sometimes there are days where you just can’t take yourself away. It’s usually those moments that affect your deepest core needs. For me this has been my sense of security. It has been totally turned up-side-down and I have been living on the edge of my seat, struggling to breathe, unable to just let go.

[In] “Let”

[Out] “Go”

My psychologist was a bit concerned for me when I discussed the situation, and my inability to relax. I’m one of those people who can fall asleep anywhere, anytime (thanks CFS) but my anxiety was making sleep impossible, and my CFS flare up was causing me immense pain, and my lack of sleep was perpetuating the anxiety and CFS flare up, and I was just going around and around unable to catch my breath and just

[In] “Let”

[Out] “Go”

That’s right, I just need to let it go. It is what it is, there is nothing more to be done for now and yet, somehow, like a dog with a bone I could not. My psychologist ran me through a different technique to what I am used to, useful for those situations we can’t change. The ones we have to live with. Essentially, it is the art of letting go. I need to focus on my goal and let all that chaos pass me like pedestrians on the street. The first day I tried it my husband asked me how I was going… I sent him a GIF of Alex, the main character in A Clockwork Orange, in the brainwashing scene and told him that is what my thoughts felt like. I was trying to let go, but they had me captive.

And then…

[In] “Let”

[Out] “Go”

Something changed. Two days after that statement something was different. I’d finally ranted and raved about the issue, and made a resolution for moving forward through the issue. I was able to once again breath in and “let”, then breathe out and “go”. Today was chaos, absolute chaos. Maybe I didn’t have time to think about the dramas that had held me captive for the past week or so. Whatever the case, I was able to breathe through the day relatively easy. I disappeared to yin, and practiced my mantra purposefully. I brought it back to work as the chaos continued, and I brought it home too.

I am exhausted tonight, burnt out emotionally and mentally from the drama and the chaos, but each time I feel that rising panic I take a deep breath

[In] “Let”

[Out] “Go”

And it helps, it truly does.

I’ve got a lot on in the next couple of weeks, so if you catch me freaking out just whisper (or comment!) these simple words to me. It’s like a factory re-set for your body and brain.

[In] “Let”

[Out] “Go”

Next time you’ve got a moment to yourself, whether you’re feeling out of control or you’re just trying to focus past something, give it a go and visualise the breath moving through your body as you take each breath in, and out.

[In] “Let”

[Out] “Go”

A life lived in fear

It’s been a particularly long week, weighed down by things going on at home, a heavy workload, a fatigued body, and a loaded mind. Ordinarily I would do my writing on Monday, but being my husband’s birthday I pushed it later and later in the week. Each day I had an excuse, a reason, and too much on my mind. Even tonight, looking at the very tail end of Saturday, my mind is heavy with worries. Do I want to be writing right now? No, not really, but I haven’t skipped a week yet since I started this challenge and I do not give up easily.

Looking over all the things that are playing on my mind and I can clearly see I am living in a period of fear, which explains why my body is so worn out. Family difficulties always bring up insecurities for me and put me on edge, especially when there is a steady stream of uncertainty. On top of that I carry a perpetual fear about work, about not being good enough, about being left out in the cold. Lately I’ve felt like I can’t catch my breath and though I am trying so hard to do well I am also very tired. This year is whirring past and anxiety is beginning to well up as I think about what I want to achieve, and I wonder how on earth any of it is possible and how am I going to get out of it alive? On top of that we’ve had a hiccup with our apartment and now the security of home that I crave so much has become uncertain. For the first time in months I can’t calm the beast and I feel like I am caught perpetually trying to inhale but never getting enough air. On top of all of this any change in season always causes my CFS/ME to flare, so I am battling mind and body at the moment, after a period of strength, and it is causing me such frustration.

The thing is, I know how to take care of all of this; intellectually I know all the tools and how to use them, but emotionally I just can’t quite get a grip. Yesterday I had the opportunity to break down to a work friend who coached me through some of it, but I am still sitting here trying to breathe and not quite getting the oxygen I need. I’m living in fear, and the more I analyse my every move the more I realise almost everything I do is based in fear. It’s no wonder I’m fatigued right now. But then, I look again and I question – is it fear, or desire? Is fear what drives the desire? And is fear so bad? My desire is to be creative full-time, to earn a living from it, and to have a secure home. Fear of letting opportunity slide by is what pushes me forward – again, is that such a bad thing, really?

I’m starting to think that although fear may be behind a huge portion of my actions, it is totally necessary. It has helped me to get up and go to work, give me a roof over my head, and allowed me to purchase things that allow me to indulge my creativity. Fear of becoming bedridden is what drives me to fight my CFS/ME in any way possible. It drives me to research and learn about what will help me, and it drives me to keep active even when I want to come to a stop and just give up. Fear of not being very good pushes me to practice whatever it is I want to be good at, though laziness sometimes slows me down. Fear is what is driving me to seek resources to keep my current home, though it is also causing me to be somewhat immobilised. I was juggling everything else ok until the security of my home came into question.

Fear used to stop me from living. I didn’t speak for fear of judgement. I didn’t meet people for fear of hurt, and I avoided men for fear on so many levels. Public speaking caused panic attacks. I didn’t stand up for myself out of fear of losing people. I was paralysed by the thought of asking for help, which led me to be a below average employee when I had such potential. At the core, I was terrified of being hurt and of being a let down. When the bad things happened I carried them with me through life like cartoon ankle weights; as time went on they grew in number, because bad things happen but we’re meant to learn from them and let go in order to continue through life. It wasn’t until I came to the brink of my mental edge that I was able to begin to let them go, one by one. I didn’t do it alone; I had guidance for two years with a therapist, and another year of therapy alongside my husband. We continue together in the letting-go of our fears, and the building of our armour.

I think we can all agree that letting go of our fears is what truly frees us from being held captive of the world. The thing is, it is so hard to do. Therapy helps teach you to work through the thoughts and meditate on them, but sometimes this isn’t enough. Lord knows after the amount of therapy I’ve been through in the past couple of years I’d be an expert at this, and yet here I am fighting back anxiety and struggling to breathe. Of course, there is one thing that I always forget to do and it has taken me writing this to remember… prayer. I have been working on reading my bible more and turning to God more over the past few months, but it always seems to be so hard to just go “God, I am scared. This is outside of my control, and you’re the only one who knows what is about to happen. Help me to move through this situation your way“. It is so easy to ask for things for friends and family, but so hard to ask for yourself. Halfway through writing this post I stopped and realised what I was meant to do, and I prayed something similar to the above… and I immediately felt a peace that I have not felt for days. I think I will actually be able to sleep tonight! Now, I know prayer, God, and Christianity are not what everyone believes. This isn’t a post to try and sneakily convert you, but an honest account of how I have moved through a fear-filled life.

If you are more partial to a buddhist approach I think my simple prayer can still help you to remember the most important thing about fear; things are not happening TO you. Things are happening, period. We are going to continue to move through life with challenges, but the important thing is how we use fear or allow it to overtake us completely. I know right now I have done everything in my power to resolve my current situation, and this weekend there is no more that can be done. Now I must sit back and give it to God, in the same way you might give it to the universe. I have to let it go or I will never be at peace, and slowly but surely the darkness will take over again.

The Key To Strong Relationships

A smile crept past my face early in the morning one day last week as I spotted his new hiding spot. “He” being a toy chameleon who found his way into our home through a now forgotten joke. My husband and I have spent the last couple of years hiding this chameleon around our home in curious places, all for the purpose of laughter (or a bare minimum smirk). As I spotted him hanging on the hand towel that day I realised the one thing that has always helped us come back from the brink of meltdown; play.

I don’t think we should ever grow out of playing. As kids it helps us develop our identity, and our place within the world. In the animal kingdom it helps develop hunting skills, and is also a way for animals to connect with each other and learn important social skills. And anyone who has ever had a dog will know it takes a lot to take the puppy out of a dog. So why should we suddenly hit a certain age and give up the art of play? Truly, I think the most important part of good relationships comes down to the joy of play. Life is so serious, and can be so hard at times. We need purely innocent ways to just blow off steam and let each other know that there is still joy inside.

Laughter can cure so many ills, and can break down walls in communication like nothing else. My husband, bless his cotton socks, can become hyper-focused or overly serious about things that probably don’t need quite that much attention. I have a (therapist approved) habit of shattering the seriousness through playful responses, either with silly names, funny faces, or embarrassingly cutesy actions that remind him the world isn’t quite so bad.  We generally agree that, personality wise, he is a dog and I am a cat. So when he is getting too worked up over something that he needs to drop… yeah I start barking or making sooky dog noises (dog lovers, you know the noises I mean – that “owwwowoooowwwww” almost howl noise). Yeah, it sounds nuts, but man does it stop him in his tracks and make him realise that perhaps he’s being a little too serious. I only do it when necessary though, and it almost always results in laughter on both parts.

We’ve had many “cat and dog” fights, pretending to cat swipe each other, and just general silliness. There’s something in it that allows us to know that maybe, just maybe, life isn’t so scary after all. Of course, when there are tears we hold each other and console each other. When there are disagreements and breakdowns in communication we fight… like cats and dogs… BUT once we work through it one of the most important traditions is that we slip back into silliness. We play, we hide the chameleon, we pretend my lifelong teddybear is fiercely protective of me, and we make silly voices for our pets.

Outside of my marriage, I think of my friends and how together we too share in the art of play. My oldest friend and I can flick between serious D&Ms and ridiculousness in the same breath. We’ve been able to balance all the horrible stuff, with all the joyous parts of life that makes it worth living. We weren’t built to be serious all the time, I’m certain of it. I think of the group chat I have with some friends and how easily we flick between rage at the injustice of the world, and absurdity. We acknowledge the hard parts, and we also celebrate the hilarity of the world. We throw costume parties, and we play games, and we laugh and we live to see another day.

When was the last time something made you laugh so hard you were snorting, crying, rolling around on the floor, unable to breathe? If you haven’t done that in a while, I strongly suggest finding someone who can make that happen for you. As someone who has lived through the heavy weight of mental illness, I’m telling  you if I was no longer allowed to play and be ridiculous I would surely cease to live. I can tell you now, if one person is out there reading this and sees me say “iiiif you’re aching, yup yup, fooooor some bacon…” I can guarantee she is sitting there with her little girls having a giggle at the memories of the two of us locked in the filing room aged 19 wreaking havoc and causing our manager a headache, and living life to it’s fullest. We’ve fought and made up over the years, and through all the distance and silence all we need is to remind each other of that day and we know that we’re ok, no matter what is going on in our lives.

So, I encourage you to reflect on a ritual you have with your partner, your friends, your workmates, and encourage the lightness of play. If you don’t have a little ritual, start one. It could be just what you need to bring the light back in a relationship, romantic or otherwise. Mocking the seriousness of life is what is going to make the darkness recede and strengthen you in a way that being angry or permanently serious never can. I may be a stoic, and a bit of a grump, but throughout my life I have always been known for my laugh (for better or worse I imagine!). Be silly, be carefree, and remember – we’re all human, we were all children once, and how happy do kids look when they’re rolling around on the floor laughing their hearts out.

Ciao,
SM

What I’ve learned after 12 months on Keto

This week I celebrated my one year “ketoversary” – ok, I know that’s not an actual word, but if you’re part of the Keto/LCHF community you’ll understand. Yep, I’ve been on a ketogenic diet for 12 months now, and I’m still going. I’ve learned a few things along the way, and I continue to learn each and every day, so I thought I’d share where I’ve come from, where I’m at, what I’ve learned, and what my aims are as I continue into year 2.

First of all, I should probably explain what “Keto” is. The Keto diet is a very low carb diet that transitions your body from burning glucose for energy and instead switches to ketones, which are produced from burning fat, as its main fuel source. This is known as being in a state of ketosis. It really turns you on your head in terms of everything you were ever taught about food and diet growing up, throws the food pyramid out the window, and gets you to start back at the basics. At least, that’s how I got going.

You’ve probably seen me mention before that I have struggled with my weight for my entire life. Ever since I was fairly young my weight became an issue… the elephant in the room if you were… The problem is, nothing was done about it, education on nutrition was scarce in my household, and I was responsible for most of my own meals other than dinner for a lot of the time. I made my own breakfast and lunch, packed my own snacks, and scavenged more snacks after school. I also was not active at all beyond what I did in school, at least until the age of 15 or so when I began playing soccer. It was the perfect combination of factors to make me fat, and keep me that way. Being a child/teenager trapped in a large body was horrible. I became aware of my size through a childhood game of innocently comparing waist sizes with one of my best friends, and saw it start to grow bigger and bigger. By the age of 9 myself and one other girl were without a doubt the fat girls in the grade. Luckily for me I managed to avoid bullying until high school, but the internal bullying certainly got me started. It became a competition for me; As long as I was the same size as the other girl, who would later be replaced by someone else in high school, I was ok. I wasn’t the biggest.

I comfort ate… a lot. Monkey see, monkey do. Both my parents did it, so naturally I did too. This has always been my Everest as an adult. Even when I managed to shed 20kg over a number of years I still struggled with comfort eating the entire time. The thinner I got, the more obsessive I was about “cheating”, and I’d make myself visualise that food item sitting under my skin and starting at myself in a bikini. GROSS! But I did it. I obsessed about food, all I thought about was my next meal and how many calories it contained. Blow outs were big, but I never made myself sick. It was just standard binge eating really. Later I suffered a major bout of depression and comfort ate those 20kg back on in under 2 years (when it had taken me 4 or 5 years to shed them in the first place). I even told myself that I was eating well during that time, but looking back I can see how well I tricked myself.

Anyway, fast forward to February 2017. I’d just spent an entire year eating well (mostly) and working out consistently (most of the time…), but had only managed to yoyo up and down 3kg. I knew something was in my way, and I didn’t know what to do. My old methods didn’t work, I was so hungry all the time. Traditional eating didn’t help either. I also had come to the realisation that I was consuming an obscene amount of sugar and fake sweeteners too. I’d just finished reading Salt, Sugar Fat by Michael Moss, and I knew that I had to shift away from processed food as best as I could. I started by committing to cutting added sugar and sweeteners for a week. My goodness, what a painful and sickening week it was! I felt so ill, and was so empowered by the knowledge that if my body felt THAT bad without it and was going through withdrawals as if I was a drug addict, I knew I was on the right path. At the time my husband had been itching to try Keto, and I’d been concerned about the sheer volume of fat. At the end of the week I read up on it, we chatted, and on a whim we decided to give it a shot.

My first lesson: my body thrives on this diet

For the first time in three years my body was dropping excess weight left right and centre. For the first time in my life I wasn’t suffering low blood sugar symptoms. After the first month or so I was thinking clearer, and had more energy than ever before. The weight continued to drop, and my muscle mass continued to grow. I was able to work out between 3-5 days a week consistently, only dropping back when work was too busy or my health got too poor. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, and even this has eased. I have less inflammation in my body, less pain, less temperature irregularities, and I’m just all-round healthier.

Life got busy and I slacked off tracking my food, but kept to the basic principals and even though I have been eating a bit much I haven’t gained any weight at all just from sticking to keto. As someone who has lived in fear of their weight for so long, this is incredible!

My second lesson: “cheat” meals mess with my head

Over the past 12 months I’ve had a small handful of cheat meals. I think when I started I had one close to the beginning for my husband’s birthday and then not at all for about 4 or 5 months. Since then I’ve worked out hacks around how I can eat things I love and not cop the carbs. The few times I have indulged I’ve observed some pretty radical things happen. Aside from feeling physically ill, my mind goes haywire and leaps into depression and aggression. My first cheat meal I didn’t experience anything, but I think I was still adapting to fat. It wasn’t until my second one that I experienced this, but it was horrible. My best friend’s kitchen tea/hens party was a high tea, and naturally I nibbled on a few things here and there. The drive home was horrible. Depression loomed, and I even had self harm thoughts. That lingered for a couple of days and I was scarred off carbs for a good while. I’d have a nibble here or there while picking toppings off pizza (because pizza is my favourite food), but generally kept it under 100 grams of carbs if I was to indulge at all.

Towards the end of last year we had a beloved pet pass away, and that night we had friends over to keep us company. Since we were entertaining, and drained of energy, we got pizza and for the first time I just started eating it without thinking. Within minutes I grew agitated, angry, aggressive, and depressed. I had to excuse myself because I was so embarrassed by my behaviour. Since then I have been pretty strict, but have found some cheat treat foods that don’t mess with me in the same way and the bounce-back has been fine.

My third lesson: keto isn’t for everyone, and it’s not going to save the world

Like many people I’ve been on my fair share of diets. I’ve known many people who have been able to stick to certain ways of eating that I never could, and I’ve had vastly different results on those diets too. When I started keto, my husband joined me wholeheartedly. We stuck it out together for about 6-8 months before he began to realise that something about ketosis messed with his cortisol and caused him to have erratic sleep, which isn’t ideal for a physical labour job. On top of that as the Australian summer crept in he began to experience severe electrolyte imbalance. Both of these things were extreme enough for him to decide to stop keto, but then he hated the way carbs made him feel so he switched back and forth a couple of times.

I also had the electrolyte issue, but once we realised that was what was going on I corrected it and haven’t had a problem with it since. The thing is, we’re all different and what works for me may not work for you. There are some seriously hardline keto fanatics who will say CARBS ARE EVIL, EVERYONE SHOULD BE ON KETO, but I don’t believe that. I think it works for some people and it doesn’t for others and whatever works for you is the right diet for you. Diet is so much more complicated than calories in vs calories out; we’ve all got such unique bodies and various dietary challenges that we need to navigate. If keto works for you, awesome. If vegan works for you, wonderful! Most importantly, eat in a manner in which no harm is done to you physically or psychologically.

My fourth lesson: finding this way of eating has helped shift my relationship with food

I mentioned at the beginning of this post how I’ve always had a pretty poor relationship with food. Going onto keto helped me shift this relationship in a way that I never thought possible. For the most part I’ve been able to see food as fuel, yet still enjoy delicious meals. I’ve been able to make good decisions about what I’m eating, not beat myself up about indulgences, and I’ve developed willpower I never thought possible. I’ve also learned that saying no to food offers is ok, and people’s reactions are a reflection on them not you. After a while people get used to it, and if they’re good people they’ll respect your diligence. Having said this, I still struggle from time to time.

It has been ages since I had a food related anxiety attack, but it almost happened last night. Like I said earlier, I have been slack in tracking what I eat and since I haven’t been losing weight lately I decided to start tracking again. When I realised in that day I had consumed 2,000 calories I felt that all too familiar panic rising in my belly. I was frozen stiff and trying to breathe through the fear of those numbers. You see, long before keto I was obsessed with sticking as close to 1,200 calories as possible maybe up to 1,400 if I’d exercised that day. I was totally obsessed with those numbers and doing anything possible to stick with them. Of course, that’s what messed my head up and caused some pretty horrible anguish for many years and it isn’t something I have worried about too much lately, especially in the past year. For some reason seeing that higher number woke that little being in my mind obsessed with those numbers and I had to fight to get it back into it’s cage. I had a choice; let it overwhelm me, or use the knowledge gained as a tool to get back on track. I want to lose more body fat, so I need to refine my intake a little. My macros were good, there were just a few too many of them!

My fifth lesson: people have a lot of opinions, but often no facts

Throughout this experience I have encountered some interesting beliefs. People who think they could never go low carb for various delicious food reasons (fair enough, I miss it sometimes), people who think I’m going to die of a heart attack (even though I’m healthier now than I was before), and people who have very strong opinions about muscle mass and keto. The thing about these beliefs, and many more, is that they are often merely opinions with no scientific backing. Sure, we’ve been taught a certain way for so many generations, but surely if that way was the only way we’d all be so much healthier? The whole way through this journey I have monitored my health, and watched it improve. My muscle mass has increased, and my body fat has decreased. My doctor is happy with how I am progressing, and is on board with the diet, and I am happy too. That’s the only opinion that matters to me, and it’s all that should matter to you.

My sixth lesson: there are some really great people in the keto community

I’m a member of a local keto community on Facebook, and it has been so great to have the support of fellow individuals who are fumbling through this journey trying to get their life on track. On top of that, there are so many social media personalities, bloggers, and celebrities out there who are so supportive and willing to share their knowledge and encourage everyone to just give it their best shot and expand what they know. There are a couple of key individuals I keep an eye on daily to see what they have to share, and to learn from and get encouragement from and it has truly made this process so much easier. I think where I’ve always gone wrong in the past is that I have always felt so isolated and alone, but with this community we’re all in it together and (for the most part) everyone just wants the best for each other. I do think you need to seek out that support, but when you find it the journey gets much easier.

So, that’s what I’ve learned with 12 months of keto, and how I’ve traveled in this time. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 12 months brings and if my secret target will be reached or not! I have something fun in mind for if I reach the target… all will be revealed in due course.

Ciao for now,

Sonia

The Funny Thing About Grief

I think one of life’s great mysteries is the grieving process; it’s not entirely selfless, it’s not linear, it changes in each and every situation, and it comes and goes with time. We grieve differently for different people, pets, and places. We grieve for relationships lost, for people we’ve never even met, and opportunities just out of our grasp.

Grief has been floating through our family lately, and our therapist explained how grief is a beast unto its own; rather than following a particular process it swings like a pendulum. We release a vast array of emotions and then we swing back into real life, getting on with it, going to work, and participating in society. And then, in the quiet of the morning it swings back and reminds us of what is no more. Minor events cause us to break down and sob uncontrollably, or perhaps lash out in anger, and then all of a sudden we’re back to normal again. It can be hard for those around us, even if we are sharing grief for the same person, place, or thing, because we’re each following our own path that makes sense to only us.

There’s no “right” way to do grief, and there’s no way to “just snap out of it”. It has its own method, and its own timing. My niece will be six in a few months, which means it will be six years since my beloved nonna passed away. I still have moments where I break down in memory of her, and it doesn’t mean I don’t accept what happened. I cry and I laugh and I am an absolute mess because I miss that twinkle in her eye, I miss the feeling of security she gave me, I miss her subtle jokes, and I miss making her coffee just the way she liked it (“verrry weak”). I also know that her time had come, and that was out of our hands. That, my friends, is life. The day after she passed my niece was born – talk about conflicting emotions! It took some time for my sister to be able to grieve after becoming a mum for the first time. We each went through the process in the only way each of us knew how.

Have you ever grieved for something or someone that was so terribly bad for you that it made no sense? I had a relationship that I am glad ended, however that night I howled and sobbed and made myself sick in anguish. It affected me so much that I grew my first grey hair (age 20), and developed an extreme nervous twitch. I also drank… a lot. It doesn’t really make sense though, does it? To know that it is good that something has ended, and yet feel so immensely terrible that it is over that you can barely function. I think that despite being hardwired to see the negative, we are also hardwired to miss the positive. I grieved the possibility that if he didn’t love me, no one could. I grieved the familiarity that we had, and our own language we shared. But I was also liberated from so many terrible things that, with time, taught me to be strong in my convictions and what I believed I deserved. Now, nearly ten years later, I feel nothing for that loss. Similarly, I’ve grieved for friendships that have ended, with some repairing, and others lost to the wind forever (so far as my crystal ball allows me to see), and my feelings towards both losses are quite neutral. That was then, and this is now.

No less important is the grief we experience for our health when either major illness or injury occurs. I recall going through the grieving process whenever I’ve broken a bone (denial was a frequent visitor), and more significantly when I was diagnosed with CFS/ME. I think it probably took me 2 years to fully come to terms with it and embrace the changes I had to make. From the outside that might seem pretty strange since I was hell-bent on achieving that diagnosis for a number of years. In all honesty, I think along that journey I was hoping the doctors would actually tell me “Nah, you’re just really lazy”. I wanted answers, but I didn’t really want that to be my reality because I knew it would mean making some serious sacrifices in my life. I felt very helpless and lost for a long time, but I’ve since risen above it and learned to manage my life as best I know how.

I have no doubt how important allowing yourself to grieve is. Without it we can’t heal, grow, and experience gratitude for what we had, and what we have. We must allow those emotions to swing back and forth, over and over until, just like the pendulum, they slow down and stop somewhere in the middle. We can then begin to look back at the “before” with fondness, rather than being overcome with emotions. Sure, we still have those surprise emotional moments (the way my nieces say “okay” just like my nonna gets me every time!), and that is good. We don’t have to feel happy at everything! It does suck that someone/something/somewhere is gone! But the important thing is that we can come to peace with it at some point and continue on in our lives in honour of what was, and in respect to what is.

The “what ifs” will be your downfall, if you let them. We’ve experienced many in what we are going through right now, but in the end we can come to terms with what has happened is what was meant to happen, and despite how much it hurts it couldn’t be any other way. Acceptance sinks in, and with that the ability to move forward begins.

So, we’ll keep swinging on the pendulum in this household for a while longer. My swing will be shorter than my husbands, because his grief in this situation is much greater than mine could ever be though we grieve for the same person, and for lost opportunities. Despite the loss, we have also gained so much in such an obscure and life altering way.

P.S. – If you ever need a song to explain grief, one of my favourite musicians and all-round good people, Clare Bowditch, wrote the most perfect song on the topic. Simply titled “The Thing About Grief”, the song explores how strange and personal grief can be. I’ve listened to it over and over and over since I bought her album “What Was Left” in 2005, and it still without a doubt one of my favourites.

Body Stuff; I’m Ok, Until I’m Not

No surprise that, being a woman, I’ve carried my fair share of body stuff in my time. I was a pretty regularly sized kid until around age 8 or 9 where it began to really show I was a bit bigger than the rest of the kids around me. I don’t know if you ever had that moment when you’re looking around for the fat kid in your grade, and then you realise it is you… Yeah, it wasn’t the best feeling. Surprisingly it wasn’t much of an issue in the schoolyard until I hit high school though. At home things were more pronounced though. Perhaps it was just that my parents didn’t know what to do, but whatever the facts… lets just say a lot was said about my weight, but not much was actually done about it and I grew quite large. I then fluctuated up and down from my mid-teens onwards, though never what anyone would consider “skinny”. I suffered quite a bit because of it, not only from what people said to me but also what I saw and what I told myself.

I think I’ve always had a slight case of body dysmorphia. I’ve had plenty of people tell me I have it, but it certainly hasn’t totally dictated my life the way it has others. I seem to have mostly skirted around it, but there is something about how it just quietly creeps in one morning with no warning and brings my confidence crashing down. It’s more than just feeling a bit puffy, or putting on a couple of kilos. It totally changes what I see in the mirror to something completely outside of reality. And then of course it tells me what I saw on the good days is the actual delusion, and that I should be embarrassed for what I wore on those days. Yep, it’s a right c**t, and it can make life so confusing at times. During my late teens I would take photos of my outfits because through some magic what I saw through the camera was different to what I saw in the mirror. I should probably open an X-File on that, because I have no idea how it worked but it did.

I’ve yo-yo’d up and down the same 20 kilos since I was probably 11 or 12, with periods of stability and others of mass gain or mass loss. The first time I lost quite a bit was when I started playing soccer as a teen. Though never “skinny” I certainly did begin to have an actual shape, rather than just round. And then, most likely due to trauma, I hit a wall and gained 20 kilos in 6 months and had a massive meltdown in a changeroom when I realised just how much weight I had gained. And then the next day I broke my foot and was stuck immobile, fat, and miserable. My mum even tried to sneakily put me on a diet while I recovered. After I was back on my feet (literally) I joined the gym and slowly lost a bit of weight, followed by more when I started one of those slim shake diets that really blossomed around 2007. Sure, it worked. And then I suddenly became coeliac and gained 4 kilos in a week because my body was freaking out. After a long year of realising that gluten is in literally everything I began to even out and lose weight again.

I moved out of home and was too poor to eat much, so that probably helped keep my weight down, and then I met the man who would later become my husband. Our love blossomed… and so did our waistlines. At some point I put my foot down and said I wasn’t going to let that happen to us, and we leveled out a bit. We indulged here and there, because who doesn’t in their early 20s living out in the big wide world where unhealthy food is cheap? I changed jobs and began to work out with the team, and began to learn about food properly thanks to the guidance of some great trainers. My work team decided to do a “Biggest Loser” challenge, and I dropped so much weight; I was eating very little, swimming, doing Crossfit once a week with work, and I think exercising at home too. The thing is, while I dropped down to the smallest I’d ever been as an adult, I was so messed up in the head and having panic attacks if I had a “cheat” meal. I was also obsessed with food. It is all I talked about, all I thought about, and all I wanted. I also slowly began to realise that my low energy levels and pain weren’t normal, and learned that I had CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), but had no idea how to care for myself with this condition. I slept a lot, starved myself a lot, and mentally punished myself if I ate too much on days where I was too exhausted to exercise. I even distinctly remember doing one of those 30 day squat challenges and breaking down in tears because I couldn’t keep going. I even started studying nutrition during this time, and did quite well in my first year, but couldn’t continue because my health was so poor.

I got married, and when we came back from the honeymoon my weight slowly began to creep up, higher and higher, no matter what I did. Over a two year period I gained 20 kilos again, and I was miserable. I barely looked in a mirror, and I avoided photos as much as possible. While my weight wasn’t one of my biggest issues at the time (we barely even touched on it in therapy for the first year compared to other things), it certainly followed me and dictated my self worth. I tried exercising, but it didn’t change anything. I tried eating “healthy”, but again nothing changed. For a whole year I exercised and ate pretty damn well, and my weight just fluctuated down and up three kilos. I punished myself by not buying clothes that represented my true style. Stretchy clothes were fine, and anything cheap was good too. I still felt disgusting when I looked in the mirror, though a slow, small shift was taking place.

A year of exercise did sow the seeds in my mind to care for myself, and eventually I found a way of eating that worked for me. I’m now down 11 kilos, and in a fairly comfortable place. I’ve maintained my diet for almost 12 months with only a couple of treats through the year, and I’m rarely obsessed with food now. Wile I do get hungry, I can define the difference between real hunger and just being “wanty”. I don’t get food guilt very often, though it still happens from time to time. Despite all of this, I still struggle with what I see in the mirror. No matter whether the kilos went up, or down, there has always been that little monster in my mind telling me my weight equals my worth. Some days I can tell him to piss off, but other days he takes hold and breaks me.

I’ve learned that when I’m at a certain point in my cycle my hormones literally shift my perception of what I see in the mirror; I feel ugly, puffy, fat, and unlovable. The frustrating thing is that I am a very logical person, so I have this battle of the mirror man telling me that I am huge and wobbly and everyone is laughing at me, but at the same time the logical part of my brain reminds me that I am not wearing bigger clothes therefore mirror man is lying. I love my logical side when I’m feeling this way; facts don’t lie. I know I bloat and retain water when I’m on my period. I also know my boobs look amazing at that time too. Those are the hard facts. The lies my brain tells me, however, are that people are pointing and laughing at me. That literally has not happened since high school. Sometimes I think that people are talking about me behind my back, about my size, about how I probably look like I’ve gained weight, even though I clearly haven’t. It’s just, you know, body stuff. The things we carry after a lifetime of being sold a lie that we have to confirm to.

I once lay on the beach, fully clothed, crying because of my size and how I felt about my body. Guess what, I had my fucking period that day too. Almost every time I look back at a moment like that I realise I was full of raging miserable hormones and I wonder how many other people suffer like this? Hormones; the chemicals in our brains that have the power to literally change the trajectory of our day. I mean, sure they’re also there to allow for certain biological processes, but they seem to never get the volume quite right in me and end up causing some kind of havok . If it isn’t estrogen and progesterone ruining my life it’s fucking serotonin going MIA. These are the true facts that I remind myself on the shitty days. Yes, there are shitty people out there who judge me, but that is purely a reflection on themselves. The real truth is that no matter how large, or small, I am at any point in my life I have always carried the exact same worth. The less of a fuck I give about it the better my life is, and the happier I am.

For now, I love being strong. I enjoy the size I am, and while I’d like my arms and legs to be a bit less wobbly I am a bit more accepting of where I’m at, and I enjoy my skin a lot more. I have been up and down about myself this past week, going from feeling like a supermodel to the michelin man, back up again, and then down… and now I’m just somewhere in the middle. This has probably been the rockiest week I’ve had in a little while, in terms of body image, but no bonus points for figuring out that I’m pretty hormonal this week. I’ve even got a bunch of pimples to go along with it, just to help those feelings of worth. I decided to take those feelings and challenge them though, pushing hard at the gym to remind myself how strong I am. I upped my weights, limped around the office, complained a bit about how sore I was, but have come out of it feeling pretty jolly.

As my thighs jiggled around my shorts tonight I reminded myself of how fucking hard I worked at the gym this week, and how strong I am to manage to come out of the past 20 years and 20 kilos still able to wear short shorts without having a “box gap”, and without breaking down and having a massive cry while trying to get dressed. I now walk around the house in short shorts and crop tops and spread my luscious flesh all around the place because it’s my home and I’m allowed to have rolls and creases and stripes and dimples alongside my magnificent muscles.

I’m up, and I’m down, and sometimes I’m just plodding along, just ok with where I’m at. I’m still me, and still worthy of life in each and every stage.