Thursday, May 31, 2012

Good night, and good luck.

I haven't been sleeping. More specifically, I haven't been sleeping between the hours of  2am and 5am, because this is the cracked, finger-smudged window of time in which my brain harnesses the darkness and negativity takes the reins. I've counted thousands of sheep, I've sipped a hundred cups of chamomile, I've drugged myself with Advil PM - but unfortunately, those standbys do little to calm an anxious mind. (My friends know well this insomnia - sometimes Killian and Stacy feel like old war buddies - and it's just something I accept as par for the course of unsettled twenty-somethings dealing with too many doubts about... well, being unsettled. As we go to bed, we just have to wish ourselves good night, and good luck.)

During the day, it's easier to take a brighter approach to my anxieties, to let a little light fall on my worries. Small problems cast small shadows. But at night, the light is gone. At night, the glass is always half empty.

"In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o'clock in the morning" - F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was exacerbated yesterday when I learned the MAT program I was most excited about at UW is no longer offered thanks to a new departmental dean. The news was a little more devastating than it probably should have been, given the very preliminary stages of my planning, but it still felt like the rug was unceremoniously pulled from under already shaky legs. I've held many restless 3am vigils in bed agonizing over my future, and I know there will be more over the next several months (years, decades, etc.); last night was no exception.  Because soon I think I might actually be taking a step - maybe not in the direction I'd planned, but a step nonetheless.

I've always been interested in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), although it's something I've always compartmentalized in my head as a nice idea, but maybe not the actually actionable one for Career Kait. Remember ESL (English as a Second Language)? It's the small-minded ancestor of a field that has evolved and expanded into something really exciting at the international level, way beyond photo-flashcards for transplanted children in a tiny back room of a public school. And as it turns out, the community college a few blocks away from my apartment? It offers TESOL certification.

I spoke with the program coordinator yesterday, and with my B.A. in English and history of tutoring English from grade-school level to university level, she encouraged me to enroll. The course is 8 weeks this summer, followed by a grammar-specific course in the fall (for which I am perversely excited, because immersing myself in an environment of proper grammar is sexy, sexy, sexy). Once I can put that certification on my resume, I can do anything from teaching classes at English learning centers in the US to working as a language aide in schools, to teaching English in countries anywhere in the world. And if I want to continue toward getting my regular teaching certificate, the TESOL certification is just another advantage and gets me back in the classroom to start logging experience hours. Plus, the cost is significantly less, both money-wise and risk-wise, than other programs about which I feel less sure.

"One may not reach the dawn save by the path of the night" - Kahlil Gibran

I still don't really know what I'm doing, or if this is the right choice, or even a good one at all. I'm plagued by fear and am struggling to move forward while pulling the weight of the insecurities I'm constantly dragging behind me. Tonight, I will probably lie in bed at the appointed time and place, prodded awake by anxiety, paralyzed by doubt, inspired by the crowding sheep to run away to New Zealand to work on a farm where I won't have to worry about money or teaching certificates. Tonight, I will want to take the half-empty glass and smash it against the wall. But today, reason and rationality edge out the fear. Today, the glass is half full.

Friday, May 11, 2012

To try to love it

Any generic article on weight loss sings the praises of whole grains, lean proteins, leafy greens, and the standard-issue indulgences of dark chocolate and red wine (in proper portions and in moderation, of course). It preaches the usual health virtues: take a walk, take the stairs, get off the couch and to the gym. Keep track of what you eat. Get enough sleep, but don't sleep in. Drink water. Drink more water.

Most women (and plenty of men) I know could spout off these commandments as mindlessly as the alphabet, knowing as always that while they're easily said, the doing is just as easily interrupted by, you know, wanting to enjoy life - a life with whiskey, and lots and lots of cheese.

I try to do these things because, while they're not exactly fun, they're common sense. Who wouldn't want to look and feel like these girls? I'm lucky to live in a city where I can and do walk virtually everywhere. I enjoy running when I hit my stride, and like to participate in a handful of 5K events each year (never mind that many of the registration fees include a free beer from a beer garden at the finish line). I LOVE fruit - I can put away a pound of strawberries and twice the watermelon in 5 minutes, and don't even get me started on blueberries - and in keeping a predominantly vegetarian diet (the fancy term I suppose applies is 'flexitarian'), I do pretty well keeping healthy.

But then there's the Great Scale Debate. The rule used to be Weigh Yourself Once A Week: the same day, the same time, to the same degree of naked, and - let's be honest - preferably after you poop (WHAT, EVERYONE DOES IT, didn't your parents have you read that book?) Over the last few years, in the gradual, glorious shift of the general diet-culture focus from wanting to be skinny to wanting to be healthy, the rule has shifted as well. Sure, go ahead and continue to weigh yourself once a week to keep an eye on things if you must, but maybe try this instead: Don't Weigh Yourself. Pay attention to how you feel. How are your clothes fitting? How is your energy level? Instead of using an ever-fluctuating number to indicate your health, just Don't Weigh Yourself.

Ah. My stumbling block. I've fallen victim to scale-driven negativity time and time again, sometimes obsessively stepping on what I've un-affectionately deemed the 'fate plate' every single morning, getting a gambler's rush waiting for the flashing zeroes to show its hand while holding my breath and pointlessly sucking in my stomach. Even if I wake up feeling Okay, a number pops up higher than whatever arbitrary limit I've set and I let it ruin my day. I let some fickle digits determine my attitude toward food as the enemy, and even worse, I allow myself to rely on a crappy instrument to determine my self-worth, even though I know better. That is seriously pathetic, seriously unacceptable, and seriously effed-up.

So I gave Don't Weigh Yourself a chance. After roughly 3-4 months resisting/avoiding/hiding the scale - just listening to my body and guiding myself by the fit of my most unforgiving jeans - I weighed myself this week. I lost 10 pounds.

You've got to be freaking kidding me. I'm only 5 pounds above my self-defined 'ideal weight' at 5'3 (my healthiest during and after college) by the method of what feels like doing nothing? I'm still baffled and suspicious. I even waited a day and weighed myself again just to reassure myself that my scale wasn't broken. Turns out, what was broken was my body image. Stupidly, the months on my break from scale addiction up to that weird, exhilarating moment of tile-floored truth, I'd been feeling kind of heavy, crappy, and unattractive. I honestly still kind of do, maybe because I've simply gotten used to the feeling, accepting 'Not Gross' as my baseline judgment of decency in the mirror. My head is still screwed up, but for once I'm starting to believe myself when I think I'm looking and feeling fine.

I've been lucky to never have been significantly overweight - indeed, there have been times I've been underweight, usually when depression takes the reins and disordered eating happens (although I'm not sure I know what 'normal' eating is, come to think of it - it's different for everyone, but still, what does it even mean, 'normal' eating?). However, thanks largely in part to perfectionism, neuroticism, and a generous helping of ever-wavering self-esteem, I've definitely struggled with weight. It's not fair of me to put my own difficulties in the same category as those who battle more than the measly 15 pounds I'd gained in the last year or so, and under much more challenging circumstances - I have no children to raise, no culturally-encouraged dependency on fast food. But I still call mine a 'struggle' because I do struggle - I have constant company in the form of a thin, toned, kale-munching angel on one shoulder and a chubby, greasy-fingered, and many-chinned devil on the other. I struggle to make the right choices in the face of much tastier ones. I struggle with the fact that I'm not perfect, inside or out, and that it's okay, and no one else really cares - they're too busy worrying about their own problems to pay attention to my defects.

Nobody checking my ID is going to note or give a flying donkey if the weight listed on the license doesn't quite match the weight of the flesh-and-blood version; my favorite bartender at my neighborhood bar isn't going to refuse to serve me my beer and quinoa nuggets because I ate half a large pizza two nights earlier. I have to learn that it's okay to scarf down delicious kale chips and equally-delicious oreos in the same day without having a body-identity crisis. I'm ashamed to admit that I spend more time thinking about my weight and body than is productive or healthy. It is always, always a factor - even if I manage to ignore the shoulder-angel during a gluttonous, margarita-fueled Mexican buffet, she'll sneak back into my conscience an hour later as I realize how much I ate and am horrified for days.

I will probably always struggle a little - to accept and be grateful for my body and all it can do, to try to love it. Adam, my boyfriend of unfathomable patience and the endearing/frustrating audacity to love my flaws for 6 years (!) come August, tells me I'm beautiful and means it. He's an intelligent dude, and while not entirely objective in this case, he's unfailingly honest; I do my best - in love and sanity - to listen.

Food happens, and I'm going to enjoy it. And I'm going to get better about enjoying myself - off the scale.