A reflection on where I’m at for SIAD 2016
Self-injury can be difficult to talk about. Even choosing how to refer to the behaviour is problematic. Most mental health organisations and academics within Australia use the term Self-harm or Deliberate Self-harm (DSH). The DSM-V outlined Nonsuicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) as a condition for further study … Continue reading What if I told you…. SIAD 2015
Today concludes the Easter long weekend, a time for indulgence – be that in a belief system, a series of hangovers, chocolate – name your poison. For myself it has been a television series on DVD, a couple of neglected books and readers, and of course the odd Easter themed confectionery.
There was no family gathering this year (my folks are off enjoying one of their many caravan adventures), meaning my Easter treats were limited to those exchanged with my housemate (creme eggs) and those that I purchased myself (hot cross buns, chocolate and fruit). Even thought the treats have been more minimal than previous years our household has been struggling to balance the consumption of sometimes foods, with the desire to put our feet up (Dance Academy marathon anyone?) and our guilt driven attempts to exercise.
Last week I caught up with a friend of my and we both proclaimed that our bodies had changed. We’d “acquired” some extra digits on the scales and agreed we weren’t unhappy with the numbers but still wanted to make some “adjustments”. The season has changed and consequently I’ve had to drag my jeans out. I’m not a fan of pants. Leggings, yes; shorts, sure; but jeans and long pants annoy me. During the time spent with my friend I was constantly having to rearrange my jeans. They essentially fit, but sit the wrong way and the waist band crushes against my bladder. Stand up, and the jeans need to be pulled up and twisted to prevent plumbers crack. Cross your legs and the denim grips my calves. Most jeans showcase my muffin top and love handles while equally giving me an eye catching camel toe. Jeans are not my friends.
No seriously, pants are uncomfortable!
Despite my general annoyance at long pants, I equally dislike being cold and do not like wearing stockings or tights. Being of short to average height long skirts are generally too long for my frame (yes, I could take them up or have them taken up) and hence jeans become a winter necessity that I endure. Perhaps if I spend more money on my wardrobe I would find more comfortable options than the chain store limited collections. However, given my currently limited income I generally find a couple of pairs that are bearable and simply count down the days until summer returns.
Size me up
I have so far purchased one new pair of jeans this year. They were of the mass produced, unethical, cheap kind. I took the size I though I was to the dressing room. I managed to get them as high as my knees. I’m not a skinny girl (not anymore) but this sizing just seemed ridiculous! I wondered if they were a small make, or if every other store I shop in practices vanity sizing. Consequently I purchased the next size up – the first time I’d had to purchase this size – they fit perfectly and when I got home I promptly cut off the tag in pure denial of the new number.
For many years I was skinny. When I was in high school the tween/teen market weren’t marketed to, at least not like they are now. My teenage years were spend mostly shopping in the kids section. Women’s clothes did not fit my up and down frame. During my early twenties I was on medication that had the side effect of weight loss. I was a stick, but by then I was a stick with boobs which meant somehow I fit an acceptably attractive body image. This was probably the time in my life that I was least active and by far most unhealthy (in a multitude of ways). So although I was deemed as attractive I didn’t feel particularly at ease with my body.
By my late twenties I’d filled out a bit. Some people told me I looked better, others (those who were used to my previously smaller size) criticized me. While I didn’t mind the extra filling I was aware that my lifestyle needed some changes and I began exercising more and making an attempt to improve my diet. I joined a gym and started weights training.
Would you like a heart-attack with that?
There were several motivations to exercise. It meant time to myself (big bonus), there was lots of nice eye candy to enjoy (yes, I’m talking objectification – I’m no saint) but more importantly I was approaching thirty and I was starting to think about my long term health. My family health histories include heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes – all those yucky lifestyle related aliments. I knew that while I could buy clothes in most stores that fit and I was classified as being an attractive size, I was also on the path to some preventable health nasty’s. Most importantly though, I knew that my mind needed movement.
“You’re one workout away from a good mood” is written on the mirror at my current gym. This is one of their better motivational signs. I can see this when I’m at the end of my workout, when my body is sore and I’m almost done, but can still do a little bit more. Irregardless of what size pants I wear or how attractive I may (or may not) appear to be to others I need to stay active for the sake of my sanity.
I’m an individual prone to low moods. I’ve been on and off anti-depressants over the last fifteen years and seen a variety of counselors and shrinks. Exercise is an important aspect of my self-care. As I get older and wiser I’m learning more and more what rituals or practices I need to maintain for healthy coping. My current mental health professional explained it to me as “these are the things I need to do”. It’s very easy to dismiss the things you need to do to maintain (your sanity), and often what works for you will not suit another and because of this unfortunately our support networks can sometimes miss the significance of “the things you need to do”.
Earlier this year I discussed my need to get moving again with my mental health dude. He suggested yoga (which I have done and do like) and walking on the beach (also something I enjoy). Going to the gym and lifting weights is not something he enjoys, so he encouraged me to pursue activities he can vouch for. Support people will often encourage us to pursue what works for them. Sometimes this can work out brilliantly, you discover something new that you didn’t know that you’d enjoy and a buddy who can help motivate you. The trick is finding what’s right for you, right now.
Do you even lift bro?
I never got around to going back to yoga classes. The last time I’d gone to one, I did not find it relaxing for a number of reasons. I have discovered that I prefer to exercise alone. Alone time is definitely on my list of “things I need”. Doing a weights session at the gym works for me. I enjoy feeling strong, I like doing something mostly physical where I can switch off my busy mind for a while and taking an hour or so every couple of days to listen to music and do something soothingly repetitive is what I need. I relish those sessions where suddenly the dumbbell I’m lifting feels a bit light and I know it’s time to pick up a heavier weight. Even the ache of my muscles the next day is welcome.
When I was little I did a lot of dance classes and played netball. I danced for ten years and have done some classes as an adult. Dancing was something that I’d regretting giving up. I still love dancing, however I have found that it doesn’t work for me as one of my “things I need to do”. A weights session at the gym or even a long walk means I can do something wholly for myself as opposed to a group or team activity where my performance affects others. I enjoy exercise that allows me full control and conscious control. The sense of accomplishment I get after going to the gym and doing a good session or as I return from a long walk is amazing. This feeling is not to do with any particular goal, it’s not about how far I went or how much I lifted. Doing something that I know is good for my body and improves my health and having chosen to do that thing is very rewarding when all too often you feel like destroying yourself.
Back to the jeans. Yes, it is nice to fit into clothes and sometimes it is the numbers that motivate us but often it is the numbers or our appearance that is the only motivation offered to us. The majority of motivational motifs available preach about body image, looks, hotness etc. Rarely is the promotion of an active lifestyle promoted beyond an aesthetic and that is really sad. Attraction is subjective, it’s different for everyone but many of the benefits of movement and exercise are universal. We need to talk more about what can be gained as opposed to what can be lost.
Now… it’s time to put my sneakers on.
It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. In that time I’ve done a little bit of work on my PhD creative piece. I started fresh, at a different point in the story than I’d previously intended too, and while the words at the moment are coming at a snail’s pace I’m feeling better about the foundation that I’m laying.
The chapter that I have been working on involves the protagonist running. As I was writing, or trying to write, I was struggling with some of the descriptive work. Questions of “how do I describe that sound” and “how does that feel in the body” arose. It occurred to me that I’ve been doing much too much thinking and not enough doing.
Recently I’d been very focused on doing work as opposed to actually doing. In thinking about my novel and my writing (or lack of writing), I’ve been neglecting two crucial writing tools, observation and experience.
Have you seen A Place for Me (also titled Stuck in Love)? It’s a film I really like. It’s about love and writing and stars Greg Kinnear… these are all things that greatly interest me (oh Greg, swoon!). I bring it up because there is an excellent line in the film:
The novel I’m writing draws heavily from my own experiences. I had been so preoccupied with how to use some of my past experiences in the work that I’d been forgetting the importance of continued observation and experience. To put it more bluntly, I’d stop paying attention.
Being present is becoming more challenging in our hyper connected word. Mindfulness based techniques and approaches to therapy are rising in popularity as the antidote to our obsession/reliance on new communication technologies which see us ever contactable but rarely available. I don’t wish to cry foul over smart phones and social media, quite the opposite, I’m very interested in embracing new technologies and see them as having great potential to assist us in numerous ways. However, we must learn to use these technologies as opposed to being used or sucked into the connected but unavailable vortex.
With this in mind, I’ve been striving to experience and observe the world around me over the past couple of weeks. When I order coffee rather than look at my phone I’ve been taking a moment to people watch: how many sugars do other people put in their coffee? How are other people dressing? Where do they stand as they wait for their coffee, in front of the lids and spoons, further away, right in front of the bench so others have to squeeze past? This might sound dull or even a bit creepy to some readers but it is these details that all writers need in their tool belts – awareness of how others be, do and exist!
In addition to my increased observations I’ve also been getting out of the office and away from my PhD to have some fun. I have been to dinner with friends, taken a road trip to visit family, gone to dance performances and also gone to see some live music. Each has been a rich and varied experience which has indulged a variety of senses and more importantly, reminded me that I’m more than a PhD student and life is bigger than my thesis alone.
The most recent of my adventures, was going to a gig with a friend. It was his first small gig (having only gone to large music festivals or big stadium style shows) and was at one of my favorite venues. Going to see live music is one of my favorite things to do, so much so that I often go by myself. Any hint of loneliness or awkwardness felt going solo to a gig is usually outweighed by the delight of the music and sheer thrill of a good live show.
There were three acts, each being an Australian hip hop artist and I was very aware when I bought the tickets that the majority of the crowd would be younger than me. My friend had told me he would probably just chill by the bar and let me do my own thing. Off course, as I suspected, like me he was digging the vibe and hung out with me near the stage and speakers. The first act hit the stage with thumping energy and my friend and I responded by dancing, cheering and whooping. Around us, others stood, still.
I’m increasingly noticing, that the older I get, the more I care about enjoying the moment and the less I care about what other people think of me while I’m doing so. For the younger crowed at this gig, the opposite appeared to be true. They slowly warmed up but as the night wore on and the temperature climbed, I noticed more and more that those around me were experiencing the evening in a different way.
The younger faces in the crowd captured the moments via their smart phones. Experience has taught me that photos or footage taken at gigs is 1) rarely viewed at a later date, 2) generally shit-house. I understand the desire to take a snap to show a friend or to add to a social media site for posterity but I don’t share the desire to continually do so again and again at a gig. Perhaps there are simply more young music journalists at gigs than I’m aware of? Rather than sweat and dance and experience the music via the body, the younger set were more inclined to capture the moment in a non tangible representation.
The other sharp difference in experience was presentation. This gig was stinking hot! The humidity was high and both crowd and performers were dripping in sweat. As a live music fan living in Queensland, Australia, I am very used to this. I still put thought into my outfit and dress in a way they I enjoy and hope is pleasing to others… i.e. yes, I like to look nice. Yet ultimately I’m well aware that things will get messy. Comfort and practicality are the key concerns. I feel comfortable when I dress nicely but also practically, in a way that will allow me to make the most out of the evening… dance, drink, get among it etc. I told my friend there would be girls in high heels. He was skeptical. Through-out the evening, I pointed them out to him… “heels, heels, heels”. Fair enough if those individuals were comfortable but if you’ve ever been on a cramped dance floor next to someone wearing heels you will understand that their pain often becomes your pain… “ouch, you’re standing on my foot!”. Bless their little midriff’s and carefully applied faces – yes, it is hot and yes, your makeup is running off your face… who cares. These poor little petals were more concerned with their presentation than their participation. Thus, another vortex to avoid.
Over the last few weeks, as I’ve been trying to be more present, another shift in my awareness has come into play. I’d wanted to visit my therapist but had to wake two weeks to get an appointment. Despite feeling better by the time the appointment rolled around I still went. Before starting the session I fill out a computer survey, a psychology test that gives my therapist an indication of where I’m at mentally before I enter the room. When he started the session he informed me that my score was the lowest it’s ever been and we talked about why now, despite my thinking that I was feeling better, that the numbers were saying something else. The conclusion reached was that presently I am actually experiencing my emotions. In the past I’ve employed numerous techniques to avoid negative emotions. While avoiding these emotions may at times allow me to function short-term, the feelings are still there, accumulating and collecting interest. Therefore my efforts to experience and observe are also coming into play in regards to me emotions. Rather than be numb to my emotions, I’ve been experiencing every rotten, yucky bit of them.
Experiencing emotions is important, even if they are unpleasant. Life isn’t a non-tangible representation, its ripe with texture and variables and consequently the creation of art reflects this. It is through art that we explore life’s’ inconsistencies and seek to create meaning and understanding of both ourselves and others which in turn furthers our ability to participate and evolve.
Can you feel it?