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.

Self Acceptance & A Love For Sewing

When I was a little girl I was obsessed with making dolls clothes. I would hand stitch things until I was allowed near a sewing machine, and begged my mother to teach me to sew. My Nonna eventually bought me my very first sewing machine around the age of 9 or 10, which only served to solidify my desire to learn to make my own clothes. Surprisingly, I didn’t study textiles at school when elective subjects rolled around. I couldn’t tell you why, though I suspect it probably conflicted with Art or Photography. I do remember sewing in the junior classes and being the only one allowed to make whatever they wanted while everyone else fumbled around with the sewing machines, but that’s really my only memory of that time period.

While forming my own sense of style as a teenager I settled comfortably amongst the bohemian “hippy” style, with long flowing skirts, flared jeans, and tie up tops. I began messing around with scraps of fabric and thrifted scarves, making tops for my best friend, and playing around with shapes. Eventually I bullied my mum into helping me make something out of a commercial pattern, and in an age where everyone lived in jeans, shorts, and miniskirts, I was proudly wearing my two hand-made dresses. This process was my first real experience in understanding how commercial pattern sizing is very different to commercial clothing. Patterns definitely do not make you feel great about your size, especially as a long-suffering overweight teenager. I did my best to swallow my fears of the measurements, and focussed on how great it felt to make my very own clothes. Looking back on it now, the funny thing about those two dresses is that the fabric I chose is still something I would choose now (some 15 years later), far removed from my bohemian style and more firmly in my vintage pinup style instead.

I dreamed of making my own formal dress, designing and working it out all on my own despite having absolutely no knowledge of how to do so. I’m one of those frustrating people who automatically wonders how to make something, rather than where to buy it… And for my 18th birthday my best friend coordinated all of my friends to put in and buy me a brand new sewing machine. Looking back on that, I’m certain she put in quite a bit of her own money towards it despite rarely even splurging her hard earned money on herself. By the end of that year, however, my weight skyrocketed and I felt too ashamed to make the dress I dreamed of. Instead, I begged my dad to help me buy something commercial that was more fashionable than my heart really longed for. Normally not one to just fit in, that’s all I wanted at the time as I felt I stuck out due to my ever growing size.

Despite that experience, that little light inside of me telling me to design and create remained shining within, and from that point on would begin to brighten very rapidly. That summer I found a retro bikini pattern in a relatively new girls magazine (Frankie) and resolved myself to sew once more. I made my sisters a bikini each for Christmas, and later one for myself with fabric mum had been hoarding since the 70s. I’ve since lost that damn pattern, but am hoping I will unearth it at some point. I do, however, still have that bikini with the retro fabric so I may just have to draft a pattern off that instead! I’ll admit, the ones I made for my sisters weren’t great. I had no idea about using ballpoint needles for stretch fabric, or different stitches. I was just fumbling around and working it out. Kind of how I approach life in general, really.

After high school I started working in admin straight away. I felt a duty to put my creativity aside and to get a job and earn money. The thing is, that never did really satisfy me, and a year later I decided to apply to study fashion. I’ll never forget the tears of joy upon receiving my acceptance. Those two years were some of the most wonderful and fun times of my life. If there is one point in my life I would relive, it would be studying fashion. I met some beautiful people (friends and teachers), and learned some wonderful lessons. Again, my weight was always at the front of my mind during this time, but in learning patternmaking I also learned about proportions, and individual shapes and sizes. I was almost the same measurements as our standard drafting blocks at one point, which, as a long-time suffering overweight girl, blew my mind. I learned that our measurements mean nothing, really, in the grand scheme of things. When we were learning to draft patterns off our own bodies (picture a room full of women from all ages and nationalities) we were all so confronted by what the numbers said. Two girls who looked so different had similar measurements, and it really blew our minds. I think a few diets may have started that day, but for me it was that first glimpse of understanding that I shouldn’t be ashamed of my body.

Over the years I made things here and there; costumes for parties, gifts for friends, but rarely anything for myself. I was always chasing an ideal size and didn’t feel that I could put that much effort into something if I was “going to lose weight”. That phrase followed me around, taunting me forever as I yo-yo’d up and down, uuuup and down. I made my own wedding dress and was a little too ambitious in what I expected my waist to be, and ended up semi-starving myself to fit into it. Just more proof that I couldn’t make myself clothes because they just wouldn’t fit this body of mine. Body shame was rampant, and I was convinced I wasn’t allowed nice things unless I was a nice size. And then one day I got made redundant. On one hand, totally traumatic and terrible… but on the other hand totally liberating as I’d been working at a financial institution for 3 years and was granted a pleasant sum of money. Since I got a new job within a short period of time, I took myself shopping… Ok… I splurged on things that I had been eying off for ages, allowing myself to totally indulge in my growing love for the retro pinup style. I still have every single item I bought that day 4 years ago, and it is these items that lead me to return to making my own clothes again, and learning to appreciate my body.

I couldn’t afford to feed this clothing habit, with a wedding to pay for, and sensible grown up things to spend money on and save up for. So I treasured this handful of retro clothes, and kept them in good condition, buying cheaper variations of the style here and there, but mostly just cheap clothes of no particularly inspiring style. My shape went from the tiniest it had ever been (hello, wedding weight) to expanding beyond what I had ever been, and in this time a little part of me curled up in the dark and wept. As clothes stopped fitting, I stopped allowing myself to wear beautiful things. I didn’t deserve them, I told myself. And I had no intention of remaining that size, so I didn’t want to spend money on larger clothes if I’d be small again soon. Here and there I altered clothes for friends (I’m pretty good at hemming bridesmaid dresses now!), and began stockpiling patterns and fabric, but was never game enough to make anything. On the one hand, I was embarrassed to wear something hand made, and on the other I was ashamed of my body.

Two years ago, sick of feeling terrible about myself, I joined the gym. I worked hard on and off for a year, with very little changing in my weight, but a lot changing in my heart. I grew stronger physically and mentally, and the view I had on my body shifted. What had worked in the past was not healthy, nor was it kind on my body. I had to learn a new way. Almost a year ago now I started the Keto diet and the weight finally started to fall off. Slowly, but surely, all those beautiful dresses I’d bought before my wedding began fitting me and I grew bolder. I changed my hair to what I wanted it to be. I learned how to curl it, and how to style it retro. But one thing remained; how to increase my wardrobe without breaking the bank. Studying fashion meant I was a bit of a pattern snob, but at the same time I lacked the energy to put a lot of time and effort into drafting a new set of patterns, and my skills had sat dormant for so many years that I was certain I’d fail. At some point in the year I picked up an old half-made dress and figured the only thing I could do was just start trying. That pattern, however, really did my head in and I had to put it aside and start somewhere basic. So, I started with some circle skirts. About as basic as you can get. They were pretty average, and I’ve not worn one outside the house, but a little light came on that reminded me of how much I enjoyed making clothes.

My fabric stash began to grow, and so did my retro pattern collection. I drafted a basic pencil skirt, perfect for my shape, and with that things really started to flourish in my mind. My body is not average, and so I need to learn to adapt to suit it rather than try and make it fit the mould. I have a little waist and larger hips and bust – generally I’m a whole size different top and bottom compared to my middle! Slowly, but surely, with each garment I make, I am focussing less on the numbers versus my worth, and more on how to mould this piece to my body and show it off. I’ve stopped fearing the thought of being a 16 in a pattern (when I’m between a 10 and 12 in commercial clothes) and have learned to accept that in order to produce sizes, there has to be some sort of categorization system, which tends to be numerical. The thing is, I’ve learned I have to fade between a 12 and a 16 depending on the garment I’m making. So, does that make me a 12, or a 16, or does it even matter as long as the garment looks awesome?

I’m less afraid of wasting fabric now, knowing if it doesn’t turn out, or I need to change the sizing I can easily do that at will. There will always be adorable fabric, and I will always have a body to dress, so why not have some fun with it? I think as I learn about my body through making my own clothes I become more comfortable with the things I once saw as flaws. I am not flawless, I am perfectly imperfect, and that’s ok.


SM

I made a promise to myself

My intention for 2018 was to write for a minimum of one hour a week until a habit had been formed. Once it was habit I would place no limit or constraint on how much time I must spend writing, just as long as I did it and made progress. I’ve been telling myself I’ve been working on a book for so many years now, and yet truthfully I’ve barely written a thing. Last year I finally sat down and planned out chapters, and began on the one that was easiest for me to begin because of how it related to my life at the time, but the thing is I am not disciplined in my writing habit and so I have moments where I write loads, and then many weeks of famine in between. At this rate, the book will never get written.

And so, here I am, keeping my promise. Last week I wrote twice, and perhaps I will again this week. I’d begun writing another piece this afternoon, but I can’t quite get the feelings on paper…or is it screen now? Either way, I find myself stumbling over my words today. My thoughts are jumbled and I am tired. What is the point of me writing today? I guess I need to share that this is hard, especially when you’ve grown up with the romantic idea that authors just write when inspiration strikes. I’ve tried living this way, and it doesn’t work. Inspiration always calls when you are unable to write. ALWAYS. My God, the number of times I have been in the middle of my workday and a paragraph, or even a sentence, begins to loop in my mind. In those moments I consider dropping what I’m doing to pursue that little literary treat dancing upon my brain, but before long I am brought back to reality and that line is gone forever, unless I’m lucky enough to jot it down.

I find myself constantly caught between wanting to express myself intelligently, and not wanting to sound like I think I know everything. Most people would say I think way too much about this, and many would tell me to just get on with it and write. As absurd as it is, I constantly think what makes me so special to tell this story in my mind? Who wants to hear that story? You’re probably wrong anyway. Self doubt, it is so constant. And yet, so many people appear to believe in me so here I am, writing, and sharing. The truth is, I am so scared that I will pour my heart and soul into something and have it just flop, never getting anywhere beyond me and my circle. If that happened, would it be so bad? No, I guess not, but oh how I dream of being able to be creative for a living. To write, photograph, paint, and sew, and for that to earn me a comfortable living so I can do what I feel I was made to do.

Just keep going, I tell myself through gritted teeth. There are only two ways about this; I give it a go and I succeed, or I give this a go and I fail. I no longer want to give myself the option to just dream about doing. It has gotten me nowhere in life, nowhere but sadness and regret and I don’t like that place. Practice makes perfect, they say, and so with each piece I write I hope you see me getting better. I’m no longer scared of reading over what I have written and editing it, so that is progress, but at the same time I think I need to just pour it all out and worry about the editing later. So for now, when inspiration calls, I will jot down those words dancing behind my eyes and store them away for later.

I feel it is important to share our struggles and how the beginning of something can be so daunting and exhausting, but eventually we’ve got to realise that just DOING something is better than dreaming, even if it isn’t great to start with. That’s the biggest lesson I have learned over the past couple of years, and each year I am better at the doing (though I am still an honors student in dreaming!). Tonight I am tired, but hopefully I’ll be able to share something a little more captivating next time. 

Hello Anxiety, My Old Friend

Anxiety; it’s fair to say this word has grown in use over the past 10 years quite dramatically. Previously people would talk about their “worries” and describe how “stressed” they were. I’d hazard a guess that in the past many people downplayed their worries and stresses for fear of judgement, however with this new age of information and oversharing SO MANY people now talk about their anxiety. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe in anxiety (and it sure believes in me… or doesn’t believe in me… that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?), but I sometimes feel that the word is potentially overused. I thought I’d share some of my beliefs on anxiety, and how it differs so vastly from stress and worry.

Today I am confined to my apartment for the third day after leaving work early three days ago due to a mystery illness…a mystery illness that may turn out to be one of the most highly communicable diseases of our time that was all but wiped out thanks to vaccinations, hence my confinement. I worry about the results of the medical tests my doctor ran for me, I wonder about when the results will come back, and I worry about what they will be. I’m not particularly stressed about the results as I feel I am slowly getting better, so even if it is what we think it might be, I know my body is doing well to fight it off, even if I did take a bit of a dive yesterday. My anxiety in the situation has nothing to do with having the illness (whatever it turns out to be), but in how i got it, and what people think, particularly those I work with.

When I was in high school I missed a vaccination thanks to me being a teenager and forgetting to give my parents the permission slip. I remember it clearly, and every now and then that scenario pops up in my mind. Anxiety is taking that memory and obsessing over the fact that I missed that vaccination, and now as an adult with a compromised immune system (thanks CFS/ME) I have potentially caught the disease that should have been prevented by that vaccination. Do I know for certain that what I have is linked directly to that vaccination? No, of course not. That’s not how anxiety works. Anxiety takes one small detail of your life and magnifies it out of control and convinces you that whatever ill-fate has befallen you is completely and utterly your fault, all because of that one little thing you did, or did not,  do. I mean, it couldn’t possibly be that because I have a compromised immune system my body is more susceptible to horrible illnesses, and that it is actually the fault of someone else who did not get vaccinated to prevent it causing a mass outbreak fairly recently… No no, it is definitely my fault for being a teenager who didn’t feel like getting a vaccination that day.

So now I am sitting here feeling anxious about my stupidity as a teenager, and reflecting on how terrible it is of me for contracting this disease and possibly passing it on to everyone around me, including my colleagues at work. I’m obsessing about how terrible it is that I am off work for an illness, and how I am letting the team down horribly, especially so soon after having a holiday. It is completely my fault for the timing, you see. At least, that is what anxiety has me believe.

Have you ever misread the tone in an email, thinking your boss or colleague hates you and is so disappointed in you, and that you’re going to lose your job over this one tiny little thing that you’ve totally blown out of proportion? That’s anxiety. Especially when  you then speak to that person and they’re completely normal and happy and don’t even mention that thing in the email that they’ve probably forgotten they even said.

Stress is an entirely natural force that propels us towards safe and prompt decision making. It’s the thing that pumps adrenaline through our body when we wake late and makes us dash to work on time. It’s the thing that helps us block out the world around us and meet that deadline, and it’s the element that makes us outrun that big nasty dog approaching us down the street. Stress overdone can turn into anxiety, but anxiety can also exist quite happily without stress as a precursor. Stress gets us out of a situation, whereas anxiety keeps us in that situation and plays out all the possible outcomes to us A-Clockwork-Orange style. We become paralysed and brainwashed into believing all of those outcomes, and fear takes over.

I lived with anxiety for a long time, chronic anxiety that crippled me. I ran out of classrooms crying when pushed to perform public speaking, and once even told the teacher to fail me because there was no way I was getting up in front of the class to speak. I believed that everything that went wrong was my fault, even at the hands of abusers. My anxiety crumbled friendships and isolated me. I drank, a lot. Panic attacks and anxiety attacks flourished, and eventually I could barely function.

Anyone can function easily with a little stress and a couple of worries in their pocket, but anxiety becomes the weight of the world and stops you from experiencing anything good, for fear of anything bad.

There is hope, though, if you are willing to take the steps to move forward and out of this life. It is not easy, and it is not fast, but nothing good ever is. In May it’ll be three years since I started tackling this monster, who I named Ashi-Magari after Japanese folklore, along with its friends depression and PTSD. I’ve had ups and downs in this time, I’ve packed up some baggage and diluted the power it has over me, and I’ve grown immensely. I’m stronger now, and I can do a spot of public speaking here and there as needed at work without even a tremor.

If you have any questions about Anxiety, Depression, or PTSD, and how I overcame them please feel free to reach out. Everyone’s experience is deeply personal, but I am more than happy to share what worked for me. If you feel totally alone, please know you are not. You are worthy of every single breath of air you inhale, and nothing you have done in your life could ever be enough to make you unworthy of life.

Figuring Out Friendship

Over the years I’ve learned some hard lessons about friendship; who can be trusted, that there can be levels of friendship, and that what was won’t always be there. I’ve had friendships that have peacefully drifted apart, others that have exploded catastrophically never to be reconciled (yet), and some that ended but found new life down the line. The thing is, we all go through stuff at various points in our lives but I think our 20s are one of those periods of extreme growth where who were were at 19 is so far from who we are at 29 that the only friendships that can truly last are the ones that value strength and development.

One such friendship is one that I have held dear since preschool. My dearest friend and I have been through so many transitions in life, and throughout it all we have concluded that we love each other warts and all. We are strikingly different, but together we are a force to be reckoned with. I’d go so far to say we are actually soulmates, and long after our husbands pass we will continue to cause mayhem in whichever retirement village we reside in for the end of our days. I’d do anything for her, and I know she’d do the same for me, but this doesn’t mean we have to speak every single day. In fact, it is possibly the distance and freedom we give each other that is vital in keeping us close. We have time to miss each other, we have stories to tell, and memories to laugh over.

Almost three years ago now I was in a very bad place mentally. My psychologist tasked me to grow my support network, and build upon the circles of trust I already had. At the time it was so difficult to do. I felt like a burden on everyone around me, and only trusted such a small handful of people with my story. It was vital to my recovery that I did this though, as it was in the lead up to Trauma Exposure Therapy for my PTSD, so I pushed through and began talking. Since then I’ve pushed through the fear and begun to strengthen old ties, and learned that some of my greatest advocates were always there with me, just waiting patiently for me to open my eyes. I have family, I have my oldest friend, I have some amazing school friends, and some equally amazing new friends.

I think one of the greatest surprises, though, has been three girls who were with me during one of the hardest periods of my life. At the time, they knew nothing of what I was experiencing (nor did anyone else), but they were always there for me, and we always had fun together. While other girls in the group would exclude me, these three readily welcomed me into their lives. Over the years I distanced myself from that crowd, and sadly these three wonderful women drifted to my peripherals. We still connected from time to time on social media, though rarely catching up as time went on. I had a past I wanted nothing to do with, and I felt unlovable for a long time. I thought I was boring, and I thought they’d want nothing to do with the person I’d become. How wrong I was.

Last year, emboldened by the success of my therapy, I began to reach out to people more and began engaging with people in a new way. I built a small group on Facebook to connect the women I knew who struggled with size, diet culture, and motivation, and we all began to talk about what was bothering us, sharing our wins and our losses, making each other laugh, and building each other up. We’ve also begun to turn 30, starting with one of the three I mentioned earlier. Invited to her celebrations I was quite terrified of showing up and being rejected, and yet what we learned was something quite extraordinary. Though scary, we all turned up in honour of each other (one of us was fresh out of surgery, but came simply because the rest of us were there!). From that night, though halfway through 2017, we’ve reached out a bit more often and opened up a bit more. I’ve shared my struggles and learned that we each had very similar experiences, yet never knew what the other was going through. Each encounter brings us closer together, and relights the fire of our friendship, and reminds us of what we loved about each other back when we were ridiculous teenagers.

So now it’s 2018, and another 30th is looming, and last minute plans were arranged for us to catch up last Friday night. I wasn’t so scared this time, though a little nervous still, but I felt stronger in my desire to be with these people. We sat in the spa and shared stories, laughed, and commiserated. We made plans for the future, and made sure we each got home safely, and the next day we poured out our love for each other and our gratitude for the friendship that we have. We planned ridiculous costumes for the next birthday, and made more last minute plans – this time for a bushwalk that afternoon. Though the other two couldn’t make it, I decided it was just what I needed with this friend, and I am so glad I did.

I learned something so important on that walk, aside from the fact that it is actually still possible for me to go on huge walks despite battling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. What really hit me was how important it is to surround yourself with the right people who build you up and strengthen you, and who accept you as you are. By the end of the 3 hours together, along with another friend of hers, we had well and truly caught up and shared some of our deepest dreams. I told her my intentions for the future, and she wholeheartedly encouraged me in what I want to do. I’ve had a lot of people in my past tell me all the things wrong with what I want, and I’ve had so many scenarios cause me to choose the sensible and secure path in life, but there have also been those advocates of mine who have told me I can be whatever I put my mind to. The thing is, I’ve never truly heard them or trusted what they said. There is a change in me now, however, and you’ll be hard pressed to find that girl who believes she has no story to tell, no tales to sell, and her art isn’t worth anything at all.

This year I am dedicated to myself, and to those who believe in me, for love to myself and for the love of my friends and family, and because I am beginning to believe and understand my purpose a little clearer each and every day. So, as the big Three Oh rolls past, I’m going to relish in the company of those around me and hold them close to my  heart. They’re here for the ride, and the older I get the more impossible it feels that I could ever lose them.

 

Starting Sonia Media

Have you ever felt like you are sitting on the edge of your reality, knowing that there is something else out there for you, just out of reach? I’ve spent my life being perfectly capable, but never really doing anything with that capability. I’ve worked average jobs, and done average things, mostly out of duty to take responsibility for my own existence, but also because I have no idea how to take this creative person that I am and use that to my advantage in life. I’ve always managed to find ways to be creative at work, but it never really is what makes my head and my heart totally happy. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my job and I love the people I work with, but…let’s just say that if I won the lotto (enough to live off for the rest of my life) I would not run out of things to do. Ever.

It is currently January 2018, and I am looking the impending return to work from holidays dead in the eyes; how will I adjust to the regular 9-5 (8.30 to 5.30…ish actually) when I have been enjoying living life in my own rhythm? I’ve been getting up when I’d normally already be at work, I’ve been active, I’ve been creative, I’ve been PRODUCTIVE, and my mind has been whirring like an old computer that has just booted up for the first time in a while. I made a dedication to myself while on holidays; take time to myself, do what feels right creatively, and don’t waste my time trawling through Facebook wondering if I am making the most of my holiday. Last year I spent this time teaching myself how to use watercolour paints, and re-familiarising myself with my camera. This year I spent a large portion of my time sewing, sunbathing, walking along the beach, and thinking.

I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past 18 days I’ve had off. I’ve written stories… in my head… and poems too. I’ve painted, and drawn, and filmed, and imagined myself being someone I could quite easily be. The thing is, I hold myself back. I’ve held myself back for so long, and I’m finally in a place where I am ready to push past that. Three years ago today I was broken and heading for a mental breakdown. I hadn’t created much, photographed much, or really done much in the lead up to that point. I was carrying a lot of mental baggage, and eventually piece by piece I crumbled like a piece of sandstone. I had a choice; be broken, forever, or learn a new way. Over the past 3 years I have unpacked baggage, learned to value myself, learned to assert myself, and become confident and bold. I feel like these past 3 years were training for this next phase in my life.

So, here I am, fulfilling my promise to myself to write once a week every week for the year until it becomes so ingrained that I just get on with the task at hand, rather than sit around waiting for “that feeling, you know. You can’t force it, it just comes when it’s ready”. I’m reminding myself that my thoughts are not unique, and many people have probably thought them before. This might sound self deprecating, but it actually lets me know that it is very unlikely that I am going to write something here for you to read and have no one understand it.

Topics you are likely to encounter here:

  • Living with a chronic illness (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) – WTF is that?
  • Sociology
  • Creative pursuits
  • Relationships
  • Personal Development
  • Body Positivity
  • A fair bit of Fem talk
  • My love of nature, and this beautiful country (Australia)
  • Keto Diet / Weight Changes / Exercise & Fitness
  • My love for Retro Pin-Up style

I’ll be sharing this with things I write, things I photograph, and things I film.

Ciao,
SM