Thursday, June 14, 2018

Sometimes a breakthrough looks like a breakdown, part 1: "when I finally get my shit together enough"

It seems to take being at a certain point on Maslow's hierarchy to be able to consistently create.

I was very prolific in high school and college, but I've written in fits and starts for years, never reaching the polish of certain aspirational fashion, yoga, foodie type blogs. I wasn't seeing my kind of pathos in blog content, so I figured there must not be a market for someone who was living a life that's more of a warning than an aspiration.

"Just write, just write every day, just do it." went the pithy catch-line of a speaker at a bloggers' workshop I'd attended years before. But these people's lives, clothes, occupations... they looked nothing like mine. They'd successfully ascended into the Creative Class - in some cases, they inherited it from parents and grandparents who'd already been there. How to find the energy and time to write when you weren't even getting enough sleep in the hustle to kind of survive? The reason, after all, there are so many bright-eyed, blonde mommybloggers is that their husbands make enough to support a family. Following your bliss, your fun, to make a living, is a given when you have that. But it's a misty castle on a faraway cloud if you're working 2 jobs for under $30,000, no partner, no family within hundreds of miles.

College was the last time I'd been able to worry about trivial things like boy troubles, themes in a poem or short story I was working on, which intramural I might go for... instead of how I was going to do things like have enough food to eat, how I was going to muster enough energy to make it to work, how many Red Bulls I'd have to consume to stay awake through both work shifts, how I'd afford said Red Bulls when I wasn't able to make a student loan payment, again, and I was barely going to make rent.

Up 'til last winter, my ideas of a worry were just... so radically different. I'd be working my call-center shift, haranged over the phone 80 times a day by upper-middle-class ladies, whose biggest problem that day was that the bed in the Tahiti condo they were trying to book for a week-long luxury vacation was a regular king instead of a California king. Or the week I had available in French wine country started on a Sunday instead of a Saturday. Whatever nonsense people with money complain about.

And then in February, I got an on-loan job in a different department at a substantially higher hourly rate, with much less phone time. It was still boring and micromanaged, and lacked any creativity whatsoever. 98 percent of the job was copy and pasting emails. But, as I suspected, the lower-bullshit, lower stress jobs were higher paying.

Finally, I touched the dream. I was exercising and meditating daily, affording decent food, and the fog of trauma and anxiety were starting to clear. I felt like I had something to offer, at last.

For a lot of reasons, mostly pertaining to mental health issues and trauma making it exceedingly hard to focus and meet productivity goals, I only lasted 6 months in that position. I was kicking the demons after a few months. I got up to standard, then, in my last month, I was exceeding standard and getting pretty close to what I'm actually capable of. But it took me too long. Too much coping without therapy because I was still catching up on some bills before I could deal with the copayment. Too much not being able to clear out how bored I was and just power through it. My manager's manager coldly told me I wasn't good enough to be considered for her team, or even to finish out the on-loan period. Was I not good enough, or was it just another terrible dead-end job fit, taken out of necessity to survive when I'd forgot what actually living even felt like? Is it failure when the thing you failed at wasn't for you in the first place?

That six-month period was just the calm before a greater storm. I finally "had my shit together" enough to have something more Instagrammable to eat than ramen and fast food. And then the soulless corporate machine jettisoned me back into a life unbloggable.

Or was it?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Consistency pays off: an update on my fitness and my online clutter

Content note: Weight talk! If this may be triggering, take whatever actions necessary to protect yourself.

Hi loves! I missed posting Friday, because things hit the fan a bit on Thursday and Friday last week at work, so I was too tired after work and the gym to finish and schedule. C'est la vie sometimes. And then, we were off to archery nationals for the Bonus Kid, and I did not bring my laptop on the trip. So much the better for focusing on my family rather than on online distractions. Some things are more important than keeping up this one goal of blogging regularly.

I'm a bit put-out to report that I'm somewhat stalled on the online decluttering, but the main reason isn't terrible. I've spent less time online in general! However, I do need to be more efficient with my time. I still spend too much of it checking up on friends via Facebook. If I cut down my follows, I would have more quality time with the people I miss, and less time scrolling through clutter. I won't complete everything this week, but I want to take two big bites: clean my personal email inbox, and get Facebook under control. As it turns out, writing about it helps me be more accountable.

Consistency is starting to visibly pay off. It has been a while since I gradually started making efforts on my physical fitness, for both appearance and health sake. Last year, I got down from 182 lbs to 152. (I'm only 5'1" - not great! Especially for a former amateur competitive dancer.)

I did gain back up to about 161 after personal issues stretching from the end of 2017 until shortly after I moved to Champaign. Baby steps add up:

  • cutting out soda except for a treat every week or two (again! It's so addictive!)
  • building a habit of going to the gym 3 days a week, then up to 4 and then to 6 days a week
  • lifting weights as heavy as I can 2 to 3 times a week
  • drinking more water
  • completing more than half of the Couch to 5K program, and still going
  • using intuitive eating after calorie counting didn't work. Learning to notice when I'm truly hungry, eat slower, and finish at satiety
  • after-dinner walks with David
  • working more vegetables into dinner
  • nightly gentle stretching sessions

As of today, I'm back down to 155, and slimmer than I was at 152 last year. I may never be able to run a 5k in much less than 30 minutes (and right now 30 minutes is a lofty goal!) but I can hit a pace and keep going, in a meditative state, for a minimum of 15 minutes. Not counting the fact I'm also hoisting my own weight due to how the machine is built, I consistently leg-press 3 sets of 12 reps at 195 lbs. I can't do 100 push-ups or bench press my boyfriend yet, but if I want to, I'm sure I can get there!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A truth: I am a queer person.

I'm 33 years old. (33 and a half! my inner child squeals indignantly.)

We hear a lot of coming-out stories in this day and age. I actually haven't heard many like mine, though. I'm so thankful for the hard-won rights of the gay community to be out and proud. Bi-erasure, though, is still a major problem. Not that bi really fits me. I'm still figuring that out. It's the widely-known term that comes closest, though, and starting there is OK. Especially since it's uniquely shat on by both the gay/lesbian side, and the hetero side as "confused" or "faking for attention" and so on, and so on.

I didn't "know" when I was a child, like many people can say. There may have been some little indicators that, in a less heteronormative society, we would have picked up on. I did really like Xena, Warrior Princess. But... nah, kid-me chased boys on the playground, period.

I've had many a painful dismissal from loved ones - friends, my former college roommate (who I had a RAGING crush on for several months when I was 18 or 19), even my current roommate. "I think you're actually straight, you're just confused or curious or faking it because it sounds cool to you."

That kind of painful denial sounds like fun? Uh... bite me.

The truth is that I didn't have a solid idea until I was in my early 20s and fell into a deep, deep crush on Starbuck from the new Battlestar Galactica series. She stirred feelings no man had ever managed to.

I have only ever seriously dated men, and I do fall closer to the straight side of the middle of the spectrum.

Even so, there were signs among the male partners I've chosen. My preference has always skewed femme. The men who make my heart go pitter-patter tend to have slender bodies, delicate hands. Full lips, lush lashes, and often long hair.

I wrinkle my nose at overly-muscled men who follow too many "traditionally masculine" pursuits. My partners and I would both wear eyeliner and nail polish - some of them wore at least as much makeup as me. Even Zach, an unusually burly and masculine choice for me, still wore his gorgeous, thick brown hair in long, soft, flowing waves, and wore eyeliner, nail polish, and sometimes leather pants.

I have almost no experience with women at all. There was Brittany, the intimidatingly gorgeous, lesbian daughter of a model and a football player, who in no uncertain terms had no trouble scoring with anyone she wanted, and she wanted me. But I noticed too many signs of possible alcoholism, and so she never got past second base. God, she was a good kisser though. I already had a first-time with a guy I regret, though, so I don't want more of that if I ever find a woman/femme.

There was this random chick whose name I didn't get - I just complimented her on how pretty her dress was and that it complimented her body, and she shoved me against the nearby brick wall, forced a kiss on me, and told me to come home with her and her boyfriend. I was ON THE PHONE with my then-boyfriend Zach at the time. This was awkward and scary, hell no.

And then there is sweet, kickass, amazingly has-her-shit together Jess, with whom I went on two awkward dates, and she told me she saw me more as a friend. She surely thought I was attractive, since she asked me out, but she's looking for someone more on her level shit-together wise, and I'm... working on my stuff, but not there yet. She made the right decision if she wants an equal partnership. And I'm so glad I met her. She's a fantastic friend.

There was a PG-13 rated cuddle pile with a nonbinary friend and their partner, but we were all too sleepy after our friend's birthday party. We just kind of fell asleep in a mostly-clothed cuddle heap. I love them both dearly as friends, as well.

It probably goes without saying that I crush on a huge amount of androgynous, transgender, and nonbinary persons. But it does need to be said. Because their existence matters and trans people's right to live and exist is denied constantly. I also never even flirt with my trans friends, even the ones I do crush on, because they so frequently have to deal with "chasers." I won't add to that nonsense. If any of my trans friends are into me, they'll have to make the first move.

All my crushes have had at least some femme characteristics. When I do get a crush on a woman, it's always a pretty woman who reads as straight (and I also read as painfully straight,) so I never even try. I've been aggressively hit on by several very butch dykes, and I've come to the conclusion that an overabundance of masculine traits... just doesn't do it for me. It never has.

I think maybe dating is like a muscle. I've been exercising my date-guys muscle since I was 15 years old. I've only been actively noticing women for about 10 years, and I never got past the sweaty-palmed 6th grader phase with them. If I never do, that's probably OK. Even if I never actually get to have sex with a woman, it doesn't make me un-queer. The identity is in my self and my desires, not in what I succeed in getting away with.

It's been a very fraught time coming to terms with even how I identify myself, let alone how I discuss it with my loved ones. The election and its aftermath, though, have made it clear that my straight-passing privilege (It's a strife, yes, but much more so a privilege) isn't something I can hide behind a day longer.

I came out as bisexual to my father in a tearfully-written text message, the day after the November '16 election. I haven't actively come out to my mother, but I don't really hide it on Facebook either, and I know she reads that. I drop hints. I post funny bisexual memes and make passing comments about my crushes on Kate McKinnon, Aubrey Plaza, and Yara from Game of Thrones.

The people who want to know, who want to love me anyway, will notice. The people who want to live in denial of who I really am will continue to do so. I've made my statement. What people do with that information is their choice.

If you can relate to any of this, I wish you love, and light, and if you feel alone, please feel free to post a comment, or send me an email on the Contact page. Thank you.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Happy Pride Month 2018!

Cologne, Germany 2015. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas
It's that time of year. Happy Pride, everyone! One would be remiss to not send great thanks to the radicals who started it all. I'm greatly amused by reporters last year who talked about Pride festivals and celebrations taking on a "new tone" in protest demonstrations last year. People do, after all, hearken back to the Stonewall Riots as the first Pride. So, then, should it return to protest. Indeed, it probably never should have stopped. We are still far from equal, no matter how many distilleries and banks sign on as corporate sponsors. Revel in every joy that's been earned in the blood, sweat, and tears of queer activism. Let it be a defiant joy. A happy Pride, indeed.

Champaign-Urbana's annual Pride celebration is not until September. I probably won't swing by Indy Pride this coming weekend, because there are definitely still a lot of quibbles to be had about corporate pandering and lack of inclusion. Chicago is a possibility.

Are you doing anything for Pride this year?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Friday Lights: Maybe your self-talk needs to be a little kinder

A post shared by @ thelatestkate on
What a strange short week. Usually, you expect a work-week that's one day shorter to be a little easier. Not so!

I was already tired from visiting family for Memorial Day, then - call it the full moon, call it whatever you want - my energy and anxiety levels were in hyperdrive Tuesday and Wednesday. I started abstaining from any tea that wasn't a decaf herbal after 7:30 a.m., I've been taking CBD and kava extract, and I was keeping up on my exercise schedule that I started about 2 weeks ago. My body hadn't been giving much, if any, indication of overtraining. My fatigue issues were nothing out of the ordinary - in fact, they'd been slightly better because a lot of my anxiety triggers are now permanently in the past.

Since I did have some extra steam from anxiety-jitters to run off on Wednesday, I gave myself a little more time and intensity on the treadmill that day. Yesterday at work, I expected a fairly chill day since we'd expertly handled all the unexpected curve-balls from earlier in the week. Then, we got another curve that took over half my day to sort out and stressed me rather badly. I was looking SO forward to my gym time. I finally got to clock out and start on week 4, day 1 of Couch To 5K.

I was doing just fine for about 15 minutes, then the bottom just utterly dropped out. My legs started hurting moderately, I broke out into a cold sweat, and my stomach flip-flopped with low level nausea. I stopped the run intervals and stuck it out to my normal length of time, but at a gentle walk instead. Maybe I should not have, because my body and emotional systems were freaking out for the rest of the night. I cried all the way home. I needed 2 blankets to stay warm, even though the house was about 73 degrees. I felt super overstimulated. I couldn't handle loud noises, and even David trying to rub my arms to calm me went badly, because I couldn't handle that much sensation on my bare skin. I couldn't eat. My stomach felt jacked like when I'm in a bad-anxiety zone to the point where eating is nearly impossible.

I got even more upset, because my cholesterol reading earlier this week was in the crapper, my BMI is way higher than I want it to be, and I often feel like, although I was buffeted by a lot of economic and mental-health circumstances out of my control, I should have handled it better. Sixteen years ago, I was in very good physical shape. Yesterday, my body short-circuited after a moderate 15 minute jog - which I'd had to *work up* to. Surviving the last 10 years has wrecked not just my spirit, but my body, in ways I'm still discovering.

I'm trying not to be so hard on myself. After all, I'm still recovering from a lot of trauma. One bad day is not a major set-back. I managed to get down a few bites of food and some cranberry juice, then spent the evening cuddling with David, napping off and on 'til bedtime, and listening to healing sounds like this:

I got into singing bowls a while back, thanks to some ASMR videos and a festival experience or two. 528 Hz is a frequency that's supposed to promote healing and pain relief. It's a soothing, droning frequency I like to put on at a low level when I have a headache. This video is the best of both worlds. I just wish it was longer. Yesterday's breakdown was upsetting, but it was also a needed reminder that, after all, I am still healing from a significant amount of trauma. I can't race at all cylinders, mentally or physically, 1 hundred percent of the time. I'm not a "neurotypical" person, and the mind and the body need to work in synch. And that's OK.

Here are some enlightening links for the week:

Be kind and have a great weekend, loves!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Breathing more simply, part 1: An online cleanse

Photo by Flickr user binarydreams
I'm starting a new and fairly extensive project in June. I've long been fascinated with the concept of minimalism as a self-improvement tool.

This is something I've thought about, and even done partially in fits and starts, for a little while now, but I've never really focused on a massive, methodical, gradual overhaul of the way I relate to physical, mental, and digital clutter. In fact, my escapist nature appealed greatly to the amount of time I could hide in Twitter, Reddit threads, and other places where I could throw myself into a Cause, or see someone even more down-and-out than me seeking advice. There'd be intermittent periods where I'd put the phone down to get back onto another meditation kick, or attend a festival - but these were moments where I had nothing to escape. When sick or bored, the Web was a wide and appealing escape-portal. I was its willing traveler.

I knew, in the niggling back corner of my brain, that I had some issues with it. I tend toward obsessive or addictive behaviors, at least in the short term. I'll latch onto a type of tea, a person, a game, a comfort food, an activity, a show...

This is part of why I never got on board with trying "substances," shall we say. They have been, and are, widely and easily available in my social circles, but my escapist state of mind was never something I'd want to tempt with such. Ritualistic, escapist, pleasure-seeking behaviors are a path down which there lie dragons. It's hard enough to avoid that road when you aren't involving chemical dependence. (Now, where'd I put my caffeine-loaded cup of hot tea...)

Then something happened. I started dating the only person I've ever been attracted to, who actually had his shit together. Then we moved in together. His primary Love Language is quality time, whereas mine tends to be physical touch. I could snuggle on the couch with him and text my friends, or play Word Cross or Candy Blast, or whatever game, and think I was doing just fine. However, my mind wasn't present with him, and this caused him distress. This caused more fights than I care to admit. I needed "down-time," and since we moved in, all my friends live 2 or more hours away. I have a little window right there in my pocket where I can check on them. It hurt me so much that I hurt him, though. So I deleted the phone games. I dealt with the withdrawal symptoms (Those are really a thing!)

Withdrawal symptoms from smartphone addiction

A common warning sign of smartphone or Internet addiction is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut back on your smartphone use. These may include:
  • Restlessness
  • Anger or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep problems
  • Craving access to your smartphone or other device
I started working more actively on ways to get myself the moments of personal space I need, while leaving time for the quality interaction he needs. Some things still need rearranging, practice, and strategy, but it's improving. Additionally, checking my friends' Facebook, or an occasional disconnected text, isn't much of a way to stay connected. We can do better! I could also stand to socialize more in-person, in my new neighborhood.

In addition to spending less time online, I also want to increase efficiency, so it's a lower-stress experience and I can get everything I need done. Eventually, the plan is to set specific blocks of time aside to take care of blogging, social media catch-up with friends, and any other online tasks.

So far, I have cleaned up my blog reader feed to only publications that are within my current interest, streamlined my Pinterest boards a bit (there's more improvement needed, though,) unsubscribed from extraneous or negativity-fixated subreddits, and started unsubscribing from junk/old subscription emails as they come in, rather than just deleting them.

Tasks for this week's online cleanse include:
  • clean up my follows on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter to make it manageable to read and catch up within minutes, not hours
  • delete my embarrassingly large backlog of emails, and implement folders where needed (such as my Yummly emails, which are welcome - but not always something I can get to right when the email sends!)
  • tinker with time-blocks until I find something that works for me and my quality time with David.
This is just one phase of a gradual clean-up to improve life in general. The agenda for the late spring/summer is formidable:
  •  General possessions - unboxing things from the move, losing things I no longer use/need, tackling clutter-spots and piles on surfaces in the home
  • mental busy-ness - meditation and daily walks. David and I have been taking walks around the neighborhood around twilight together, and I've really been enjoying this! Yoga can also fit into this category
  • clothing - cutting down to things I love and storing in better ways - keeping in mind that there are things I'll be shrinking out of/into
  • compulsive shopping/wish app as well as IRL - need to 'buy something'/spend money for fun
  • hygeine products - I do pretty well on not cluttering up shelves in the shower. We have some Ikea storage solutions we need to move our things into, and I'm sure there's makeup I don't use enough to justify keeping
  • The Lady Cave - I'm working on putting together my own exercise/reading/meditation room downstairs. Seeing my vision through to completion of a relaxing space
  • - daily routine: For example, sleeping in through Snooze button rather than using that extra 20 minutes to fit in some yoga/meditation/flexibility exercises
  • - incorporating some zero-waste concepts such as the felt dryer balls instead of dryer sheets, maybe a biodegradable toothbrush on the next buy. Cutting WAY down on the plastic shopping bags. More sustainability. We already don't generate much waste, but we can still improve

Friday, May 25, 2018

Friday Light Reads

Happy 3-day weekend eve to the workin' grunts like me! Here's a round-up of some links that have powered my inner light this week:

"Every magazine seems preoccupied with telling us how to “burn more calories.” Being barraged with this toxic messaging makes exercise feel like another chore. Another thing we have to do. Another way we aren’t quite good enough. And it sucks all the fun out of physical activity."
"Stylish is one idea of flattering, one idea of sophisticated, one idea of creative. In these messages, stylish is complex, expensive, specific, and exclusionary. It is a niche into which we may never fit, but that we must always be attempting to fill. And it’s all bunk. All of it."
You know I’m on a mission to extinguish the perfection imperative, right?
Resisting perfectionism one of the ways culture-makers undermine white supremacy.
It’s also how we start dismantling the iron grip that The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand has on our psyches, our lives, our buying and our businesses.
Perfectionism a form of internalized violence and it keeps us small.
And speaking of perfectionism, here's the 12-week exercise plan I started on Monday. On the cardio days, I go with Couch to 5K (I'm about to start week 3.) They seem to dove-tail well, and once I'm a bit more re-acclimated to strength training over another week or 2, I'll throw down on some of the weight machines at my gym. I always thought weight training was fun, so this is something to look forward to ramping up. As we move into the weekend, what are some ways you've implemented self care? Or, how do you plan to gradually introduce some healthy self-care habits in the near future?