Saturday, December 16, 2017

Silence is Golden, Except When It's Misunderstood

I fully believe the universe works in mysterious ways. And from whatever it is that controls it, you’re not dealt more than you can handle. In the past 3 months I’ve learned a lot about myself, the people I surrounded myself with, people in general, and the human spirit.

As you may or may not know, on September 6th of this year I spent the majority of my 33rd birthday in a small closet of a dear friend’s apartment on St John hoping we made it out alive and wondering whether or not my home on St Thomas was going to live through Hurricane Irma as well. I’ve written up most of this story which started as therapy; one day maybe I’ll share it or maybe I won’t. I’ve hit what felt like rock bottom a few times in my life which, as I tell my new psychologist, are stories for a different time.

Which brings me to one point of my story - I see a psychologist and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Mental health issues are hard - I’ll touch on this shortly. I actually have 2 people I talk to and have helped me rebuild and heal myself since Irma. I’m learning that everyone processes trauma differently, there’s no right or wrong way. Now, back to the juicy stuff…

The days surrounding the hurricane were a whirlwind, but the amount of community support that I witnessed restored my faith in humanity as a whole. It saddens me a little that bad things need to happen in order for people to come together, but fortunately, the community I witnessed on St John was like no other. I think it’s the only thing that kept me afloat for the week that I was stuck in Puerto Rico. Well, that and booze.

After returning from the islands, I was more of a mess than I was when we were stuck there! I will never forget touching down on the tarmac of Logan airport at 11:01am on September 14th. The first thing I wanted was a MaryLou’s iced coffee. After satisfying my want and making keys, I got home and just cried… it all hit me. Even as I sit here writing this 3 months later, I can still feel those emotions. I won’t detail everything that has happened since then, it’s too much. But, the day after returning I had plans to spend time with a dear friend of mine hiking and doing cat yoga for charity. My desire/need to do yoga with kittens far outweighed my fear of interacting with other people and I knew this friend was “safe”, so after meeting with the social worker at my Employee Assistance Program I continued with modified plans with a friend. My heart, while still broken, was happy.

I continued to try to do things to get myself back to normalcy while still having an intense fear of being alone and interacting with others. I still wasn’t eating or sleeping or breathing. I had no control over my emotions. I cried at the mention of the storm. I couldn’t go to work and if I did I certainly could not make it through an entire day without having a panic attack. I didn’t workout for 3-4 weeks. I spent my days scared and anxious and sad. I couldn’t be left alone without a flashback. I couldn’t hear loud noises without crying. I spent every second of my day replaying the events of September 6th in my head and thinking about the islands and my home.

But, from the outside, I looked fine… if you ignored the massive bags under my eyes.

In working with social workers I learned that I couldn’t just jump back into real life. That the trauma had broken me down farther than I thought. I needed to start with the basic needs of life: food, water, sleep. I wouldn’t be able to heal if I didn’t have any of those. After weeks of re-learning how to take care of myself, I started to acclimate back into the real world. During this time I was seeing a counselor twice a week while waiting to start my EMDR treatment for PTSD. During the first few weeks of recovery I would color every night, avoid ALL news related to the hurricane recovery, stop looking at my phone at 7pm, and did not go on social media.

The interesting thing about these past weeks are the people who reached out to see how I was doing and the people who didn’t. People who I didn’t even know cared or paid attention were checking in on a regular basis. People I considered my close friends, were not. Typically, I shut down and shut others out when things are bad. It’s my learned coping mechanism. But, this time, even when I WANTED to reach out I couldn’t. I also didn’t want to break down in front of others. I didn’t want to talk about the events because I didn’t want to relive them. I always want to fix things for others or make them happy or be there for people. This time, I couldn’t. I needed to heal myself. I needed to work on healing my mind and my soul. I needed to begin making sense of the awfulness I experienced doing anything possible.

It’s hard when people think because you start doing things from your pre-trauma life that you’re fine. I had this fight with my doctor. His idea of making me better was throwing drugs at me and then when I asked for an extension on my leave of absence, he didn’t understand why because I had actually forced myself to go to work and the gym 2 days that week. He all but said “if you’re doing those things you can return to work full time”. He immediately responded with “Well, haven’t you seen psych yet?!” He also ignored me telling him that I had a panic attack both times I left my house to go to work.

I dealt with some of this thinking from coworkers. I dealt with some of this thinking from acquaintances and friends and family. It’s sucks when you’re doing your best to not break down in public and you feel like you can’t talk to anyone about it. I spent a lot of time breathing deeply, grounding myself, and trying to make time for everything.

I’m still dealing with a lot of these issues, but thanks to the magic of research I’ve gotten much better. I’ve learned to prioritize. I’ve learned to be nice to myself. I’ve learned to say no. I’ve learned to enjoy silent down time. I’ve learned to forgive myself. I’ve learned to be more confident. I’ve been building myself back up with bricks that I’ve always wanted as a part of myself. And I’ve been able to look at this thing I call life a little more clearly. Sometimes I don’t see things that make me happy, but I’ve learned to accept them. I’ve learned that if people can’t love you at your worst, they don’t deserve you at your best. And I’ve learned, most importantly, that I can’t function unless I take care of myself.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Summer After the Stage

It's been 4 months since my first bikini competition and just as long since I've been trying to work my way back into "normalcy"... whatever that means. Non competition brain? See, this is the part that you don't hear a lot about. Everyone talks about the prep and show day. At least I never heard much about what happens after. 

Don't get me wrong, I LOVED everything about prep. It suited my personality. The food, workouts, accountability, structure. I didn't even really miss booze. I traveled and hung out with friends. I kept as much of my regular life as I could while still giving competition prep 110%. It consumed me and my life, but I was okay with that. I was surrounded by people who supported me even when they thought it was crazy. 

Show day... I always say expectations are the root of disappointment. And I, too, fell victim of this. I worked SO damn hard and felt confident and amazing, but placing wasn't in the cards for me that day. Sure, I was devastated the day of, but I picked myself up and realized that wasn't what competition was about. In hindsight I know what I could have done differently as my "stage body" did not quite match my pre stage body. 

Throughout the process I made friends, gained confidence, and learned so much about the sport, nutrition/exercise science, my body, and most of all myself. This is what bodybuilding is about. And even though it may have taken me almost a week to get over myself so to say, I realized it.

After competition I gave myself a week to eat and workout how my body wanted... even if that meant deadlifts for 30 minutes on my lunch break. Actually, let's back up... I had a photoshoot scheduled for the Monday after the show, but since I decided to eat foods I hadn't in months all day Sunday, I felt terrible physically and mentally, so that got cancelled. I then decided I didn't need to be as strict, but was trying to reverse diet off of carb cycling. My hormones were a MESS. My body reacted negatively to foods I used to enjoy. And couldn't for the life of me figure out how to go back to "pre-prep life". It's hard when you go from 9-10 HOURS of working out a week to not having to workout at all if you don't want to. It's hard going from ALL THE PROTEIN to normal amounts for lifting. My head was confused and it stressed me out.

I finally scheduled a photoshoot for the end of May. Success! I thought, now I have a reason to keep this up and not be a weirdo. Unfortunately, it had to be rescheduled for the end of July due to a family emergency and I continued with my pseudo strict dieting for another 6-8 weeks. 

Let me tell you... the body is It will rebel. It will demand. It will get what it wants regardless of what control you think you have. There were days I would give in and eat the damn cookie or have the giant sweet potato when I wasn't having carbs. It wants what it wants. I know I need to take care of my body if I want to sustain my life as an athlete. And it was a photoshoot I was prepping for not a tiny bikini on a stage. That being said, it still messed me up mentally after I'd give in. Oh the glories of my sick brain.

I held onto until the photoshoot and did a peak week before. For those who don't know, peak week is when you really change your body for competition - the final push if you will and usually involves some form of carb cycling or loading and water manipulation of some sort. I made it through and the morning of my photoshoot looked in the mirror...

"I don't look like I was stage ready!? How isthis possible?! I did all the right things!!" I didn't look stage ready because I wasn't getting on stage. I took a step back and said to myself "You look great! You've been working hard and you're going to rock it today!" I stopped focusing on the "softness" in places I was self conscious about and moved on. I'm glad because the images that Russ and I captured were nothing short of wonderful. I honestly love them more than my stage photos.

After reviewing them, it hit me. You don't need to be ripped and shredded to feel confident and strong. I eased back into non competition eating and continued my workouts. I tried to embrace the fluffiness that would happen from eating carbohydrates telling myself they'll help me recover and "give me gainz".

So, I'm now a little over a month out from that. I said to my friend, Karyn, yesterday that I think I'm finally okay mentally about my body, eating, and lifting. My hormones have finally calmed down. I'm enjoying my workouts and food again. Eating to fuel my workouts and my goals instead of solely to manipulate what my body looks like. I can skip a workout and feel okay about it or I can have a drink if I want. I can deviate from my workouts and do something else that seems fun or join others in their workouts.

It's been a difficult decision, but I've also decided I won't be competing in November. I'm finally in a headspace that can rationalize that I was doing it for redemption and not the right reasons. That's okay! I don't know for sure when the next one will be, but I'm hitting that stage with the BEST me I can build.

I've been enjoying life a little more and not feeling guilty. And best of all, I get to go on vacation with 2 people who mean a lot to me and not have food/workouts consume my life. I get to be active, but not deliberate.

Whatever you do, do it with passion and purpose. Make sure you feel good.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

I Gotta Be Honest With You For a Minute...

A year ago, on the plane to my honeymoon, I wrote a little snippet.  I put what had been in my head into actual words.  I never had the courage to share them, however, for some reason over the past few weeks I’ve been gaining more courage.  I don’t know if it’s bikini prep or what, but I know that I want my story to help someone else who might be struggling.  I know how hard it can be to deal with these thoughts and feelings and think that you are alone.

A year after writing this post, I am in the midst of preparing for a bikini competition; something I never imagined I would EVER be doing.  During my Dare to Eat program, I was inspired and empowered by my coach, Garrett Wood.  I feel stronger and more confident than I ever have in my entire life!  I have definition and leanness that I always aspired to have. And the crazy thing is… I still have the thoughts outlined below.  I still nitpick and “wish it were better”.  I still have anxiety about what I’m putting into my body.  I freaked out in the beginning of prep because I thought I was eating too much.  Really, it was the anxiety of letting someone else control what I was eating.  I tried to take it back and coach wouldn’t let me; I had to trust the process.  9 weeks into prep, I realized this was a blessing in disguise. I’ve learned to nourish my body with what it needs for what I’m asking it to do.  I have to or else it won’t function properly.  I’ve learned progress, not perfection (at least not yet).  And I’ve learned that it’s okay to let someone else control something in your life.

Who would have thought that bikini prep would help my recovery??

So in honor of International Women’s Day (or at least that’s the excuse I’m using because I feel empowered today!), here’s my ramblings from last year.  Enjoy!

February 2016

Eating disorders are a mean thing.  They infiltrate your mind and never fully let go.  Even in recovery there is always a nagging voice that says mean things.  They never go away.  The thing about recover though is that you can either ignore these voices or tell them to shut the hell up.  You have learned ways to cope with triggers or distract yourself long enough for the behaviors to pass.  The hardest part for me has been telling these voices they are wrong.

I’ve been on my Dare to Eat program for almost 11 weeks now.  I’ve lost 10 pounds and many inches.  I’ve leaned out and gotten stronger.  I have definition in my shoulders and can almost see my abs.  I’ve been diligent and dedicated while still enjoying foods I love, drinking beer, and traveling.  This program has given me the confidence to march into Victoria’s Secret and buy a “sexy” bikini without hesitation!

But, as soon as I look in a mirror wearing a pair of yoga pants I can only focus on my hips and thighs.  Enter the mean voices.  “They’re too big” “You could stand to lose a few more inches” “Why did you wear those?” … You get the point.  You’re probably thinking “But, she just said all those great things!”  That’s the funny thing, I am too.  But, I’ve reached a point in my recovery that I don’t let the negative self talk ruin my day.  I acknowledge it without validation, remind myself that those “big thighs and butt” are strong and don’t look in the mirror again until the thoughts pass.

I’m by no means perfect and still have a lot to do mentally and physically.  It’s not about perfection though, it’s about acceptance.  Accepting who you are what your strengths are.  Saying it’s okay to be flawed, it’s okay to mess up.  Everyone is and everyone does.  It’s about gaining the confidence to say these things and believe them.

I’ve been in recovery for 3-5 years.  I honestly couldn’t tell you though because that’s how I manage to stay here.  I don’t focus on the last negative emotion related to my illness.  I focus on the fact that I can’t remember when it was.

As I mentioned, EDs are mean and make you crazy.  I do remember one painful incident in particular that made me realize I had to do something.  I also know that wasn’t the last incident, simply the one that made me say enough is enough!

But, even after all of my hard work and all of my self care, I still have this voice that says “You’re fat” or “You’re not good enough” and picks me apart because it’s my biggest critic…

Only now I know how to say “Go home, crazy.  You’re drunk”

I challenge you to do the same.