Not another cliche New Year post

A friend of mine, someone I’ve known basically since birth – we used to “perform” very elaborate imagined productions in our neighbor’s backyard, and then we got to actually perform together in high school drama club productions of varying quality, and now we volunteer together and also habitually eat delicious food and drink delicious cocktails while gabbing about anything and everything, and really, how rare is it that someone you’ve known for multiple decades persists into your adult life and you still somehow have shared interests and passions after all this time? Anyway, I digress. The point is, he’s a friend I’ve known forever and whose ideas I respect, and he recently pointed out that years are these totally random things that someone decided on a really long time ago, and so why do we invest so much meaning in them?

brian-facebook

I didn’t tell Brian I was stealing this screencap, so, sorry, Brian. If you like this particular brand of irreverent witticism, you can follow him over on Twitter at @brianmdudley.

I definitely feel where Brian’s coming from with that. I joined everyone else in bemoaning just how truly and completely terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad 2016 turned out to be, and I’m cautiously optimistic that 2017 could be a year of positive growth in my life, but I’m also not jumping into January 2017 declaring all the new resolutions and life-changing decisions I’ll be making to turn this year around.

Two songs have been playing in my brain these past few days: “What a Year for a New Year,” by Dan Wilson (I first heard this when it was included on Maybe This Christmas compilation released in 2002, which apparently does not legally exist anywhere on the internet, and I’m opposed to embedding YouTube videos that are 100% not authorized to be sharing the song, so you guys can go ahead and google this one), and “Lights and Buzz,” by Jack’s Mannequin (thanks for coming in clutch here, Spotify – give it a listen).

Dan Wilson may have had a premonition about what life would feel like, come 2016, when he wrote this song, though I suppose the early ’00s had their fair share of problems. The song opens, “What a year for a new year / We need it like we needed life, I guess / The last one left us lying in a mess / What a year for a new year.” It’s the bridge, however, that really rings true for me this year: “Hope we’ll forget about this place /  Let it go without a trace /  Wipe the teardrops from our faces.” I cried a lot in 2016. I cried too much. I don’t want to cry as much in 2017. Let’s work on that.

The Jack’s Mannequin track is gorgeous, melancholy, honest. Andrew McMahon wrote this song while battling cancer – specifically, it was the first track he wrote after receiving a stem cell transplant from his sister, which saved his life. The song opens, “I’m coming home from my hardest year / I’m making plans not to make plans while I’m here.” 2016 wasn’t my all-time hardest year, but it’s certainly worthy of an honorable mention. If nothing else, this year felt relentless, like I could never quite catch my breath before the next universal bitch slap descended.

That second line of “Lights and Buzz,” though, that’s the attitude I’m taking into 2017. I’m making plans not to make plans. I’m trying to free up space in my life for life to happen to me, in the hopes that perhaps the tides will change. I can’t get into specifics here, but there have been some positive developments that I hope will come to fruition in the next few weeks, and they’d bring about major shifts in my life.

The biggest change is one that I can share – I’m moving next week. While my cousin is in India for the next two years, I’ll be living in her condo, in a great neighborhood. I’m so excited about this change. I’ve been living at home and haven’t put myself first in a really long time – especially over the past year – so it will be really good to have some distance and space for myself. My family will still be only a 20 minute car ride away, but to not come home to that every night will be so freeing. I feel guilty saying things like that, but it’s the truth. I get to prioritize myself first, and I’ll have the room to do so.

So that’s the theme as we enter into this arbitrarily chosen span of time we call a new year – creating space, giving myself time, and not making plans. Letting things come as they may, and I’ll make the most of them. No expectations, either high or low – just openness and willingness to experience life as it happens.

Bring it on.

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I am the liberal elite.

Well. These last 24 hours have been a real shitshow, huh?

I’ve had a lot of discussions today and inevitably I end up making the same confession: I am the liberal elite. I’m exactly what Trump has railed against. I’m the person who disgusts the Republican party (well… I’m one of the many people who disgust them, let’s be real here).

My undergraduate degree is from one of the most liberal colleges in America. At one point while I was a student, Fox News went through a period of referring to us as “The University of Havana North.” (Sidebar: Oh my god, YouTube, I’m so glad you exist and that you’ve retained this clip for a decade. Thank you, interwebs. My grandmother called me after this aired, shrieking “Do you know what Bill says is happening at your school?!” Sure do, Gram. We’re loving it. We had t-shirts made and everything.) In my initial draft of this post, I claimed that we were the MOST liberal, but according to this Washington Post piece, we’re merely in the top ten, with 30 registered Democrat professors to every 1 Republican; Brown is kicking our ass at 60:1. Slipped a bit in the ten years since I graduated, I guess.

In 2004, when George W. Bush was reelected, I was safely on campus. I was surrounded by peers, by like-minded individuals who were all equally distressed over the results of the election. For context, Columbia has always scheduled fall break to coincide with election weekend, and many people used that break to travel by bus to New Hampshire or Pennsylvania to campaign in swing states. It was in the early days of social media – we still called it “The Facebook” and the newsfeed was over a year away from its first primitive rollout – so we relied on cable news and T9 texting as we huddled around TVs in dorm lounges. I remember that I had a show opening the following week and valiantly tried to motivate my cast to rehearse through the early poll closures, but that quickly got abandoned. I have crystal clear memories of sitting with my cast that night in John Jay lounge. People cried. Some got angry. We all tried to process it however we could, but we did so from the safe cocoon of our campus in Morningside Heights, where everyone was feeling the same disappointment and frustration. We were just a bunch of sad lions in a sea of blue.

For the past 24 hours, I have found myself liking, commenting, and reacting to posts from college peers, many of whom I have not seen or spoken to in years. I feel a kinship with them because of our common history. In many ways, my Facebook newsfeed has felt like a return to that safe space on 116th Street. I have heard others talking about the hatred and vitriol they’re seeing, but here in my universe, I’m seeing intelligent, thoughtful, insightful reflections on what we’re all going through. People are scared, yes. They’re angry. They’re hurt. People have been expressing their feelings so eloquently, but I’m not seeing hatred. I’m not seeing ignorance. I’m not seeing retribution. Here in our virtual bubble, we are trying to shine a light on what’s happening in America today, and we’re trying to make sense of it and figure out how we proceed from here.

People want to pick up and move forward, but not in a spirit of resignation. They’re embracing the belief that every single one of us can make a stand in any number of ways. We have to live with the results of the election, but we don’t have to go quietly. These friends know that money speaks, so they’re sharing well-vetted organizations who would benefit from donations and who will carry forward our ideals in the face of a conservative onslaught. HRC the candidate may have lost, but HRC the organization – the Human Rights Coalition – could use your support. Women may not have control of the White House, but for now we still have control of our bodies and our wallets, so let’s support Planned Parenthood while it’s still available to us. My fellow members of the Liberal Elite have suggested ways to volunteer and get involved, to donate our time and to make an impact. They’re looking ahead to 2018, to strategy for the midterms, and bringing peers together to mobilize.

So yes, I feel especially proud today to declare myself part of the liberal elite. I recognize my privilege. I am a straight, white, middle class woman with degrees from two Ivy League universities who is gainfully employed with job security and full benefits. I’m going to weather the storm. And if I were the type of person who could look around and say, “Well, I’m good. Carry on,” then we’d be done here.

But I’m not that person. I never have been. I wasn’t raised that way. I was raised to value human life, to show compassion for every person I encounter. Believe it or not, most of my values come from my Christian parents (Catholic dad, Episcopal mom). I come from a family with very strong roots in faith, and while I don’t currently retain any ties to a religious organization, those values don’t go away. That’s right, Trump supporters! You can be liberal AND have faith! I’ve even read the Bible – and I still keep a copy of on my bookshelf! But here’s the thing that sets us apart: my values don’t really look like the conservative Christian values I hear so much about. My values tell me that we are all equal, and that we are all deserving of respect. I was raised to believe that if I have the ability to help someone, then I should help them, whatever form that takes.

And so, through this dumpster fire of an election, this member of the liberal elite is going to use her privilege to speak the fuck up. I will not sit idly by and let people spew hatred and vitriol. I will have the hard conversations. I will call out racism, bigotry, intolerance and hatred when I see it. I will do everything in my power to make this world a safer place for the people who do not share my privilege. Who’s with me?

Create your own joy

The world happens around us, every day. It happens around us and sometimes, it happens to us. There are any number of things that are totally outside of our control, and sometimes, those things are pretty terrible.

You know what’s totally within your control? The ability to create your own joy. You can give yourself permission to seek out joy. That’s allowed. It should even be encouraged.

picmonkey-collageI spent the weekend on the Cape, borrowing my cousins’ incredible home for a much-needed break. I took Friday and Monday as work-from-home days so that I could have some time to myself, to get some much-needed mental clarity and peace. For the weekend itself, friends came up from New York and drove down from Boston to spend Halloween in Provincetown. We got to be very stereotypical New England tourists for the day on Saturday, and when night fell, we dressed up in costumes, broke out the booze, and celebrated the holiday in truly ridiculous fashion. It was something of a social experiment, throwing together two separate sets of friends who had never met, but it turned out great and the weekend was a success.

Leaving the Cape yesterday for the long drive back to Boston, I found myself reflecting on how grateful I felt for the past few days – grateful to the family who let me use the house, to the friends who made the journey to the Cape, to the job that gave me the flexibility to work remotely, to the universe for giving us amazing weather. The key, though, is that I didn’t sit around and wait for these things to fall into my lap. I asked whether the house would be free at any point this fall; I asked my friends if they wanted to spend a weekend away. I created space for this weekend to happen.

If I don’t make a conscious effort to create space for joy, then yes, it’s really easy to let everything else overwhelm me. That’s the thing about stress, about exhaustion, about bad news and difficult experiences: they creep, they spread, they entangle you. You can let it happen, or you can do something about it. I’m choosing the latter; I’m choosing to invite in the light.

To that end, I’ve decided to participate in a Daily Gratitude challenge for the month of November. I’ve been using (and loving!) the Day Designer planner printables, and the company sent an email out this morning with a link to their free daily gratitude journal printable. They shared a blog about how to make gratitude a daily habit, and they’re encouraging followers to share their daily reflections on social media with the tag #DDdailygratitude.

joy-gratitude-quoteI’ll be sharing my daily gratitude posts on Instagram at @beingyourchange, and where appropriate I may expand them into a longer post. I’m hoping this will help to keep all of the dark-and-nasties at bay, while keeping me focused on the sources of joy and light in my life.

Self care is not selfish

The one lesson I seem to have to keep learning, over and over and over and over again: If I don’t take care of myself, I can’t be there to take care of other people. It’s not a crime to take time for myself. A thousand other variations on a theme: Self care is not selfish.

It took thirty freaking years for me to start realizing this, and it has really only sunk in over the past year. I most certainly did not arrive here on my own – the friends who are closest to me (those single-name-in-the-cell-phone friends, the OG ride or die team) have been trying to hammer this through my thick skull for years now.

Apparently I haven’t learned my lesson yet.

I won’t get into details here, but it’s been a real fucker of a week. 99% of the time I feel pretty at peace with the universe, and then a week like this happens, and I just have to take a hot second to shake my fist at the sky and wonder if the powers that be are deliberately malicious jerk-faces, or if someone’s just drunk at the wheel. My constant refrain when things like this happen – and they seem to keep happening, again and again and again, with unfair frequency to the people I care most about in this world. We’re told, in trying times, that God only gives us what we can handle. Well, universe, I either need God to have a little less faith in me, or the dude needs to reevaluate his definition of “handling it.” 

Frankly, y’all, for the past week, I haven’t been handling shit.

I had to send my check in to my trainer today, and I almost skipped it, because I have been a trainwreck for the past nine days. I got some bad news, and then a little more piled on top of that, and then just a bit more for good measure, and all that translated to skipping workouts, eating like shit, sleeping terribly, and letting things slide.

And the thing is, I don’t feel any better. Eating cookies and drinking wine after getting shitty news just translates to a shitty workout the next day. Skipping time at the gym just robs me of an hour that I can throw on some loud music, ignore texts and emails and voicemails, and just be with myself and without my thoughts. Nothing shuts up the voices in my head like heavy plates on the barbell for some back squats or deadlifts.

I am realizing that I need to create more space for myself. I need to give myself permission to indulge in the things that bring me joy and help me to remain centered. Those are the first things to go for me – when I drop everything to try to fix things, I just end up hurting myself in the process. And maybe I made a difference in the short term, but I’m perpetuating a terrible habit.

I want to be the best daughter and friend that I can be. And I can’t be that person if I’m not healthy, and strong, and mentally sound, and I can only be all of those things if I give myself permission to put myself first, at least once a day.

Self care isn’t selfish. If I keep learning the lesson whenever things go wrong – and history shows that things will go wrong, because history repeats itself, and my family doesn’t get a magical pass from that, this I guarantee – then maybe, someday, I’ll actually believe it and the lessons will pay off.

I’m baaaaack!

Didja miss me?

I don’t have any good excuse for the lack of posting over the past month. Family issues, holiday stress, and a much-needed vacation all kept me away from this blog, and I’d apologize, but the truth is, I needed some time away from everything. I drafted and discarded multiple attempts at a 2015 resolutions post to kick off the year, but it felt disingenuous to share a resolutions post when I truthfully hadn’t yet gotten myself into the right mindset.

The good news? I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the things that I’m doing right, and the things that I need to do better, to continue improving my overall health and wellness in the new year. I finally feel like I’m at a place where I can fully redevote myself to the mission of this blog and, by extension, get back into the flow of blogging.

So what do my 2015 resolutions look like? I only have one: Don’t make any resolutions! 

I’m 29 years old, turning 30 in a few months, and I have a life that is super jam packed and constantly evolving. What seems like it’s a good fit right now may not still work for me in a few months, so a year-long resolution feels like I’m setting myself up to fail. I have the best successes when I’ve got a regular forum to check in with someone else – whether that’s a nutritional counselor, a fitness group during a challenge, or just a friend who agrees to be my accountability partner. Those external check ins really help me to refocus on what I’m trying to achieve, so I’m going to approach 2015 similarly.

On a regular basis – at least monthly – I’ll sit down and reflect on how things feel. What’s been going really well? Where have I been slipping up? Am I bored with any aspects of my fitness routine? What can I do to freshen up my day to day activities to keep myself invested in my own journey? I’m also looking into a therapist who specializes in disordered eating and body image issues. The stress of the past few months made me realize that I’m still very much at war with my impulses toward emotional eating, and this isn’t something I can fix on my own. I’m looking forward to the coming months, and to inviting you all along with me as I continue to figure it all out.

What are some goals you’re currently working toward? Do you make resolutions?

Emotional Eating: Why Can’t I Quit You?

Emotional eating has always been my biggest nemesis in the battle to improve my diet. Food has seemingly always been tied to how I’m feeling. Birthday celebrations centered around decadent cakes covered in sugary icing from the local Italian bakery. Stressful periods meant that stopping for fast food could be excused away by my busy schedule. When someone in my family was sick, or after a death, friends and neighbors would come bearing gifts of food – bags of bagels and cream cheese, trays of lasagna, deli platters to feed an army.

Weight Watchers is capitalizing on this right now with their current ad campaign. I have tried their programs in the past and it didn’t work for me, but I know there are a lot of people who swear by the company. Sharing this video is in no way an endorsement of their methods; it is, however, a great piece of advertising and one that hits home with today’s topic.

I’ve mentioned this a few times recently, but my family’s been going through a rough patch lately. My father had surgery last week, and it’s been difficult to keep up with a sense of normalcy with everything that’s been going on. I tend to internalize things like this, which is not to say that there haven’t been incredible displays of support and friendship from the people I care about; I just tend not to talk much about things like this when they’re going on. So, instead, I go to war with the grocery store. Ice cream? Chips? Homemade chocolate chip cookies? All things that were on the patient’s wish list for recovery snacks, and I had zero mental energy to find the willpower to resist adding my own treats to the cart when shopping last week.

So here we are. It’s been a week since the surgery, and I feel gross. I haven’t been eating well, I’ve been drinking way too much wine, and my body is letting me know that it is displeased. My pants are feeling tight, I have no energy, and I can’t find the willpower to get back to my normal healthy eating and exercising routine.

This latest incidence of emotional eating has helped me to see that I need to focus more on the mental side of all of this. I know what I need to do to lose weight and get in better physical shape, and I am totally capable of doing all of those things. What I need to figure out know is how to maintain those habits and not let outside forces shake me to the core. Life happens and I need to learn that turning to comfort foods not only won’t comfort me, but it will make me feel worse in the long run.

I’m making this one of my priorities for the coming year and I’d love suggestions from others who have dealt with this in the past. Any books that particularly worked for you? Techniques to try? Should I just suck it up and try therapy? Advice is welcome, and much appreciated!

Fitnasty for Life
I’m teaming up with Carolyn over at Fitnasty for Life to get #Fit4Fifteen – check out the linkup!

Do you battle with emotional eating? What has worked for you?

Time to Focus

Okay, time for me to come clean: October was a really difficult month for me. I had my first serious backslide, and I ended up gaining about 5 pounds over the course of the month. I can blame a lot of things – I was giving in to stress-eating cravings, I skipped workouts, and family issues took center stage. I could beat myself up over this, but I’m being honest and trying to keep a positive perspective. My efforts at fitness and weight loss aren’t a temporary change; they’re habits that I’m building for a healthier life in the long term. Realistically, things aren’t going to be smooth sailing for the rest of my life, and learning to recover from difficult periods is an important part of this journey.

I’m embracing a few strategies to help me regain my footing. I know that as we head into the holidays, this isn’t something I can do alone. So, I’ve created a group on Facebook where friends can turn to each other for inspiration and support. This isn’t a challenge group; there aren’t any points and the only prize at the end will be how we feel about ourselves. I really just wanted someplace where I could honestly say, “I’m struggling today and I’m really craving a bag of Doritos,” and there would be support to help me through it. If you’re interested in joining, leave a comment below and I’ll happily add you to the group!

I’m also excited to participate in another Six Weeks to Chic program at Studio Poise. I’ve done #6W2C twice before and have had really fantastic results both times. It helps to remind me about ideal habits and get back into a routine, and I think doing this over the holidays will help me to avoid the normal holiday weight creep. Best of all, this time around there’s a challenge built in – and you know how I love me some healthy competition!

I’m really excited about the ladies on my team – they’re great friends and will be excellent motivation to help keep me on track. Being able to text them when I’m struggling or schedule classes with them for extra accountability will definitely help me past this bumpy point!

Finally, I’m trying to mix it up more. I love my at-home workouts (shout out to Body Pump, which I am LOVING!) and I am still loyal to my Poise classes, but I think I need to have greater variety to help jump start my weight loss again. I’m trying a new spin class this weekend at Sweat Cycling Studio in Wakefield, MA, and if I like it, I’ll probably buy a class pack to make spinning a regular part of my fitness routine again. I’ve also started scheduling lunch workout dates with coworkers. We have a great new gym that’s free for employees, but I never take advantage of it. Having someone else committed with me will make sure I leave my desk and get in an extra workout! Today we’re trying this resistance band workout from Lean it UP. I’ve got this pinned on my Pinterest page, and I’ll report back on how it goes!