I started running again, after a two-year hiatus. I wanted to share what I learned from developing and recovering from an overuse injury.
The day I decided that "my thing" for the next year would be running, everyone was surprised, especially me. I had never run a mile in my life, and I was 35. On my first run, I couldn't make it around the block and I had to lie on the floor afterward. I'm nothing if not stubborn, though, and I kept going, running every day for the first several months. Four years later, I ran a marathon. Untrained, no coach, adapting a training plan I got out of a book, because I'm supposedly smart enough to figure everything out for myself.
While training for that marathon, I developed tendinitis of the anterior tibialis. (That's the tendon in the front of your ankle that makes your foot flop up and down). It was so painful that I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night feeling like someone was kicking my ankle with a cowboy boot. I got two MRIs, which showed nothing, and did physical therapy for six months, after which I was still having unexplained pain.
I attributed the tendinitis to making too many changes to my routine at the same time: changing my terrain from dirt and gravel to concrete; doubling my mileage; and changing from a barefoot shoe to a minimalist shoe. I get a strong analgesic effect from running, which is the main reason I do it - for several hours after a run, I feel total relief from physical pain. I would run, feel great, get up the next morning, do it again, and thus keep passing the buck of the developing stress injury to the next day. By the time I was really feeling it, I had done some damage to myself. I would never quit, though, or postpone my marathon to a different year. I had made an internal and a public commitment to follow through, and I would do it if I ran myself to bloody stumps.
That was dumb.
What I wish I had done was, first, to not advertise my commitment. I should have simply worked on building my mileage until a marathon distance felt like a natural outgrowth of my routine. Deadlines don't have much motivating effect on me one way or the other. I run because I like it, I want to, and it feels good. (Except for when it hurts so much that I can't run another step).
The second thing I should have done was to STRETCH for at least a couple of minutes during my cool-down. I blew this off for four years. If I had taken the need to stretch seriously from the beginning, I might never have had the problem. I traded something that is free and feels great for months of intense pain that cost me hundreds of dollars in physical therapy. Whoops.
The third thing I should have done was to take seriously the concept that there are effective and ineffective ways to do things. I should have had more respect for expert opinion. There are stretches and strength-building exercises pertinent to distance runners. I knew about them, but I disregarded them because I felt like I was doing just fine on my own. I procrastinated on learning a few basic movements that even a kindergartener can do, like high knees, partly because I was always high on endorphins when I came home. Past Self, you fool!
Physical therapy and the search for relief brought me around. I learned that my orthopedist was chronically backlogged and literally never read the notes from my file until after I had my five minutes in the office with him. He wasn't oriented toward feedback from the physical therapists and thus wasn't learning more about recovery from sports injuries. I wish I hadn't gone for the second MRI, which I now see as a cash-generator for the clinic. I have huge respect for physical therapy as a healing profession; these are incredibly dedicated and educated professionals who see visible progress in their patients every day. However, there is a laser focus on the specific area of the pain, and I didn't learn enough to prevent its recurrence until further in my Fact-Finding Mission.
I wore an ankle brace. They hooked me up to some kind of electrical contraption. I ate fistfuls of anti-inflammatories. I stretched. I did PT exercises twice a day. I did heating pads. I did ice massage. I limped for months.
A year after I finished physical therapy, I started working with a trainer at the gym. He focuses on recovery and corrective exercises. When we met, I explained my injury in a few seconds, and he immediately described all the areas where I was feeling pain and weakness. I was thunderstruck. He didn't have a file on me, wasn't looking at an MRI, hadn't put me on an examination table, hadn't watched me do any exercises, and hadn't even laid a finger on me other than shaking my hand. Somehow, he already knew more about my injury than the PT did. What was he, a swami? We worked together, and he explained that I probably had referred pain from my tight calves. He referred me to a friend who does shiatsu massage.
THAT actually worked.
What I know now is that I need to continue to do strength training exercises, for the rest of my life. There is no point in avoiding it. Hip stability exercises, core, and quads. I need to stretch. I get a lot out of using the foam roller, even though I hate it. It's better if I run no more than three days a week, even though I want to do more. I have to cross-train. I need to be WIDE OPEN to constructive feedback from any and everyone who knows more than I do.
I want to do another marathon, and I want to run ultra. That won't happen if I push myself too hard. It won't happen if I ignore my body. It won't happen if I try to be all Stoic and prove points to myself. The path of wisdom here is to make my body stronger and more resilient. If I want to show off my supposed iron will, I can do it in other areas of life. I'd like to be a running machine, but alas, all I have is ordinary human flesh.
My alarm went off this morning at 3:45 AM. I didn't hit snooze. I got out of bed and was in the shower two minutes later. I made the bed, double-checked the drawers, and completed my perimeter check of the bedroom and bathroom. I was in my coat and boots and standing at the front door by 4:17.
This has nothing to do with "being a morning person" or "being used to it." In fact, I seriously considered staying up all night rather than having to wake myself up.
I did it for money.
I needed to get to the airport. I'm flying on reward miles, and the 5:50 AM flight was A QUARTER the price in points of all the later flights. I calculated when I would have to wake up, and asked myself, Can I wake up in the middle of the night for two hundred dollars? That question answers itself.
Everyone wakes up early for money, though, when you think about it.
You know who woke up before me? The Lyft driver. The airport security guards. The ticket agents. The pilots. The flight attendants. The baggage handlers. The TSA agents, alas. The cooks at all the restaurants that were already open for business. The hundreds of other passengers, including an extremely fuzzy puppy. I'm exhausted, sure, but I have no more cause for complaint about it than anyone else. All of us, shampoo-scented, trying to smile and stay out of each other's way as we go about our business.
I got up and ran my morning routine with military precision because I had that vision of the nice green Benjamins in mind. Also, I did not want the consequences of being late and missing my ride. I've been flying for 35 years and never missed a flight yet. See, though? This is just a family vacation for me. Most people who are getting up for work have a lot more on the line than a couple hundred bucks, and the drawback of being late could be getting fired. Logically, the motivation of someone who is preparing for an ordinary workday should be much stronger than mine today.
What I did to get ready to catch a cab 35 minutes after waking up was to use systems. I had my suitcase packed and waiting by the front door before I went to bed. I had my clothes laid out. I had all but two of my charging cables wound up and zipped in. All I had to do was to shower, get dressed, spend 45 seconds making the bed, and carry my shower kit downstairs. I knew how long I would need because I like to play games with the stopwatch on my phone. Normally, it takes me 40 minutes to get ready, but I knew I wouldn't be eating breakfast before I left. I could trust that when I went to sleep, all was in order, and I'd be okay as long as I didn't fall asleep in the shower.
Sleep deprivation hurts. I look ten years older than I did yesterday. I feel like my bones are grinding together and that I left my eyeballs in a casino overnight. I slept for about five hours. It has not escaped me that I used to go to work like this most days of the week. I wonder why I ever did that to myself. Once you start sleeping eight or nine hours a night, anything less feels like self-harm. Why on earth would anyone voluntarily stay up late, knowing how awful the next morning will feel? It's like walking around slapping yourself.
Mornings are common disasters. So many people, especially people with young kids, get up and trudge into a storm of chaos. There may be tears before 8 AM. Hit snooze one too many times. Run out of something important like cereal or toilet paper. Can't find a shoe. Permission slips need signing. Homework isn't done. It's like a full day's work before the workday, with the weight of all the errands and chores hanging over your head the minute you get home. Honestly, solitary confinement sounds like a vacation compared to a morning like that. Why do we do it to ourselves?
All it really takes is about 15 minutes before bed. Check the weather report and lay out something you'll be excited to wear. Get everyone's bags ready. Write out a to-do list and shopping list. Boom, done.
A peaceful morning routine is a gift. It's a gift to yourself and to everyone around you. A streamlined morning is what billionaires and celebrities do every day. You know, what would you do if you won a million dollars? Waking up to an alarm, exhausted, and trying to rush out the door for a commute would NOT be on that list. Everyone gets the same 24 hours a day. We try to make the day longer by cutting off one end and tying it on the other. If I stay up late, I can pretend I'm getting an extra hour, two hours, three hours to myself. My private time. My high quality leisure. We forget that we're stealing it from Future Self. We don't realize that it's a false choice. We can set up an easier morning and still do whatever else it is that we do late at night. All it takes is a little self-compassion and a reminder that we are, in fact, getting paid for this.
Scattered coins are the hallmark of my people. The connection between clutter and financial problems may not be automatic, but it's real. My clients always, always find money they didn't realize they had, along with numerous gift cards and expired checks that were never deposited. Clutter comes from postponed decisions and chronic procrastination, and these mental states affect every aspect of life. Not everyone has the kinds of challenges that my people do, but a jar of coins is just as representative of a certain outlook as all those lost checks are.
The first thing about a jar of coins is that it represents a habit of paying for things with cash. Sometimes this means that someone in the household gets tips or gets paid in cash. These unpredictable, stochastic sources of income tend to result in erratic spending and saving patterns. More commonly, a coin jar indicates a pattern of keeping a certain amount of cash in one's wallet and emptying out one's pockets when they start to jingle. There will usually be loose change in the vehicle, too.
What's wrong with paying for cash? Nothing, really. Research indicates that people paying with cash spend less money. People who pay by credit card may spend as much as 30% more than they do during cash transactions. I'm a frugalite by nature, though, and I almost never carry cash. When I pay with a card, it generates a paper trail that makes it very easy to analyze my spending.
Cash withdrawals can be almost impossible to track. Paradoxically, we tend to be the least aware of the things we do the most often. It's the little things that add up, until the drips start to fill the bucket, just like pennies can eventually fill a gallon jug. We usually know how much we pay in rent and car payments down to the last dollar, and we have a pretty good idea about our paychecks. Unfortunately, many of us round up our mental image of our checks and round down on our mental estimate of our spending patterns. This is part of why I'm so suspicious of coin jars.
Some businesses demand cash. The first one I can think of is a notorious donut shop. Nothing is more annoying than paying a $3 ATM fee when all you need is $5. Many people feel naked without at least a certain amount of petty cash on their persons at all times. Men especially. We can't stand the thought that we're going to be inconvenienced or look like a loser at the cash register. We don't realize, though, that what we might think of as impulse buys or unavoidable situations are really part of a lifestyle pattern. We plan our entertainment and our meal breaks around certain activities instead of others. This thing that I'm doing is a thing that I do.
I often leave the house without my wallet, specifically so I know that I can't spend money on impulse. When I go to the library, I pack a sandwich. Shocking, I know. My obsession is international travel, and I know just how far even $10 can go when I'm on a trip in a strange city. If I fritter away tiny amounts of money on a regular basis, it won't be there when it's time to pack my suitcase. There is no way that a $1 donut at home is going to thrill me as much as that same dollar spent on something exotic, somewhere exotic. I always see dollars in an imaginary, overlapping chain that extends through time. It's not a dollar, it's three hundred and sixty-five dollars, holding hands from January First through December Thirty-First. George Washington whispering in George Washington's ear.
A coin jar looks and feels like saving money. Surrounding ourselves with metal coinage feels like prosperity. I know because I pick up pennies in the street and save them in my Fairy Jar. After doing this for ten years, there are over fifty-five dollars in there! Coins do add up. My coins, however, come from the sky. They fell on the ground and waited for me to find them. I'm not generating change from vending machines or gas stations or convenience stores, because I don't shop at those places. I go to the grocery store once or twice a week, and if I'm going to eat something, I buy it there. (Or grow it in my yard). The two reasons for this are wanting to save for vacation and wanting to continue to fit in my existing pants. Maintaining one clothing size is just as frugal as using a shopping list and following a budget.
An incredibly dull and frustrating exercise on focus, attention, and awareness is to track every penny you spend for a week. Ideally three weeks. Ideally forever. The more you switch to paying for things on consolidated, planned shopping trips and transactions with digital records, the more you can examine your spending patterns. It's all a question of personal values, of what matters to you. It is worth asking, though, whether your hard-earned money is really going exactly where you want it. Are you thinking about your heart's desire and figuring out how to pay for it? Is your coin jar the residue of intentional living, a gradually accumulated treasure chest? Or is it more like a bucket, bailing out a leaky rowboat? Is there enough in there to start a savings account or maybe solve a cash-based problem? Is my life jar as full as this physical jar?
We finished our ten-day juice fast. The experience was different than I thought it would be. It was easier to do, and we also didn't lose as much weight as I expected.
I lost three pounds and my husband lost six. This makes sense, because we were eating the same meals and he weighs twice as much as me. (I am short and I have a small frame). I didn't really have any weight to lose, and it wasn't my intention, but there was nothing exactly frightening about three pounds. It's the difference between tight pants and comfy pants.
As to pants, it works like this:
**0 to **3 pounds: comfy.
**4 to **6: fits.
**7 to **8: have to wrestle them on.
**9: do not fit no matter how hard I try.
Most people could get dramatic wardrobe results by dropping two or three pounds. It's enough of a difference to bring old favorites back into circulation. It's definitely enough to make tight clothes more comfortable. At this time of year, what matters to me is that it makes it possible for me to wear thermal underwear under my pants and still be able to button them.
Back to the juice.
The big drawbacks to juicing are that it's expensive, messy, and time-consuming. Anyone who has an attachment issue to washing dishes or cooking is going to struggle committing to a juicing program. We were constantly washing knives and cutting boards and emptying out the compost bucket. We also wound up going to the store three times as often, because we were going through fruit and bags of kale much faster than we had anticipated. Juicing turns into your major hobby during the days you're doing it.
The benefits, though, were better than anticipated. I found that I slept better and slept more. My husband cut his caffeine consumption by about half. We couldn't manage all the meals on the plan, because it was simply too much food, and we didn't need it. (This would probably be different for someone with a lot of weight to lose). I found that my energy level was higher than normal, and that I was getting more done. Using the blender started to feel easy and natural.
In particular, the plan included "hot water with lemon" first thing in the morning. A lot of people swear by this, but it always sounded depressing and gross to me. I was picturing a cup of hot water with a tiny trickle of lemon juice in it. In reality, the juice of a whole lemon in hot water is more like warm lemonade. I love it. It didn't occur to me until I'd been drinking it for a week, but I'm certain not to get scurvy! It makes me wonder whether all this extra vitamin C will affect whether I get a cold this winter or not.
Now that we're done, I plan to keep making juice in the morning. I'll just eat normal meals the rest of the day. We're in the fortunate position that our rental house came with productive fruit trees, and we have more citrus fruit than two people can handle. That includes tangerines, grapefruits, and of course lemons.
I have a historic tendency to gain weight rapidly when I travel. That includes family visits as well as backpacking trips and foreign travel. It's really frustrating. The first time I went overseas, I couldn't button my pants by the time I went home. Most people aren't tuned in to this, but life is easier and cheaper when you stay in one consistent clothing size. You don't have to store several sizes worth of clothes in case of weight fluctuation, and you don't have to buy new things when your old stuff gets too small. Now that I know that juice fasting is an acceptable way to drop three pounds, I'll definitely try it again if my pants start getting tight again.
A lot of my clients are single. This isn't a personality issue; my clients, as a rule, are lovely, sweet-natured, talented, bright people. Often, they are dating, but they can't seem to get the more permanent commitment they would like. It doesn't take a professional organizer to see why. Any married person could tell. There just isn't room for a second person in the house.
It starts with the bed. There needs to be enough room for two people to sleep there. Unfortunately, some of my people store clutter on their beds. Ideally, there would also be a night stand or semblance thereof on both sides. Everyone gets a reading lamp and somewhere to put a glass of water. Good luck with that, though. Flat surfaces are magnetically attractive and they quickly get buried.
The next question is, where would someone else put a change of clothes or a shower kit? Is there so much as a single empty drawer or shelf in the entire place? If this particular main squeeze is supposed to be around for the long term, is there an empty closet? Women often unfairly take over more than half of the available closet space, and every man I have ever talked to about it is resigned to this. What if your packed closet was the one true reason you're alone right now?
We don't always realize all the payoffs to the things we do. One of the many hidden payoffs of living with clutter is that we subconsciously create a buffer zone around ourselves. We guarantee a certain amount of privacy when there isn't physically room for anyone else. It took me a long time to realize that I kept finding myself in long-distance relationships because they allowed me to maintain my independence. I had to spend some time thinking that over and figuring out how my life would look if I let someone else in. Almost all of that emotional shift had to do with living space and schedules. How much was I willing to let someone else come in and decorate? How much private time would I be willing to give up to let love in?
Some people may realize that they prefer to be alone, when it comes right down to it. That's fine. It may even come as a relief to be able to make that decision. Do what you like.
Others of us, well, we get chilly at night. There is nothing like having the flu when you're alone to make you realize that 100% independence is an extreme position. Being alone means you never have to compromise on anything. It also means there's nobody to bring you a glass of water, scratch your back, go to the pharmacy for you, or check on that weird noise you now have to investigate by yourself. Other people are useful! Not to mention cuddly.
If only we could have a brief glimpse, on our loneliest single day, of our perfect person, somewhere out there, with a faint ETA. I remarried nine years after my divorce was finalized. That's a long time, but it gave me plenty of time to enjoy always picking what movie to watch, always going wherever I wanted for dinner, having rainbow colored sheets, and generally spoiling myself all the time. By the time I met my husband, I was ready to make room for someone - a family, really, as I became a wife and (step)mother on the same day. He was ready to get married, too, because he'd been to my house and it was much cozier than his.
You know a man is in love when he's willing to share his life with a parrot cage.
Everyone comes with baggage. For some of us, most of this baggage is physical. I happen to know that it takes us one hundred boxes to move, because we've already done it four times as a couple. We have moved some weird things together, including a Battle Bot, a unicycle, a crossbow, a brain-shaped Jell-O mold, a milk crate full of motors, and a partially knit double-headed sweater. We've downsized with each move, and some of these things have fallen by the wayside. After seven years of marriage, most of our stuff is "our" stuff now. Our bed, our couch, our towels, our dishes, etc. We can't be as territorial or emotionally attached to things once they aren't "mine" or "yours." It becomes a question of "are these towels too threadbare?" rather than "are you questioning my taste in towels?"
My people tend to pack triple the stuff in a standard amount of space. They don't make room for themselves, much less anyone else. More extreme cases, generally not at a stage of readiness for my kind of work, will encroach on their kids' closets or further into their rooms, staircases, hallways, bathrooms, and other constrained spaces where most people would not see a viable storage area. In some cases, getting rid of half their possessions would still not leave my clients with enough room for a mate.
There are three possibilities when it comes to evaluating the stuff of a new love interest. Either they have the same amount of stuff as you, they have less, or they have more. Simple, right? What if you fell in love with someone who had the same amount of stuff as you did? Add together the square footage of both your homes and check rents on homes of that size. Can you even afford to be together? You can also get estimates on how large a moving van you would need based on how many rooms are in your home and how full they are. Can the two of you handle the physical labor involved in moving your stuff in together? Sometimes being a perfect match tends to be more of a hindrance than a help.
Sadly, I've seen several instances when one of my charming, cute clients has had a flirtation going strong, and then the new love comes to visit, and soon it's over. The more serious people get about long-term love, the more pragmatic they become about practical considerations like money and home furnishings. Friends and relatives are pushing them to perform due diligence, meaning things like criminal background checks, psychiatric assessments, health records, and credit reports. What they really start looking at are things like personal hygiene, housekeeping and cooking skills, and, of course, interior design. Can I live with this person's toenail clippings / cat litter / greasy stovetop / favorite fugly chair? When we get married (or facsimile), we're marrying the person, the person's relatives, the person's children, the person's pets, the person's habits, the person's finances, and the person's stuff. It can be a lot to take on.
The compromises we make on Moving Day are just the beginning. Loving your snuggle bunny enough to share a roof involves a million decisions. That includes the potentially earth-shattering stuff like death and disfigurement, of course. It's the little stuff that gets us, though, like realizing that being together means I'll be lucky to get as much as 30% of the available space in the house. Or I'll have to look at someone else's stacks and piles every day. Or I'll have taped-up boxes in my world for the rest of my life. Or we'll be spending our vacation money on a storage unit. Or or or. My advice to anyone who is single and hating it is to look around and start chiseling out some space now. Make it inviting, the same way you would build a birdhouse. Imagine how nice it will be to have your sweetie sitting there, smiling at you. Hopefully not saying, "You know, I always hated that lamp."
I got a funny email asking if I'd want to link my blog to some kind of real estate decorator challenge. In practice I think that means that I provide them free "content" at no discernible benefit to myself. It probably also means they want me to teach people how to decorate seasonally. What is funny about this is that holiday decorations are my pet peeve, and since several of my neighbors took it upon themselves to starting putting up Christmas decorations over a week ago, I'm in even more of a lather about this topic than usual. But sure, I'll throw out some seasonally appropriate autumnal tips. What the hey?
Tip One: Go outside every day and look around. Notice that the constellations have shifted, if you have a clear night. Notice that the moon is in different positions in the sky. Notice the trees. Notice the clouds.
Tip Two: Eat seasonal foods. Tomatoes and melon aren't exactly going to taste good at this time of year anyway. Seasonal foods are cheaper and riper. They're somewhat of a novelty if you are always eating according to the seasons. Also, it's easier to find recipes that seem to fit the weather. The thing I like best about fall is that the weather has cooled off enough to use my oven. That means soups, casseroles, and pot pies!
Tip Three: Weatherize. I don't know about you, but I freaking hate being cold. I get chilly when it gets below 75 F. I also hate wasting money, and that's what happens when all that nice expensive heated air blasts into the outdoors. Window film is inexpensive and easy to put up, even for a single short person. Even a rolled-up towel works to block drafts under an exterior door. Our big fall/winter thing is to put a blanket over our laps - the dog loves to crawl under there and sleep until his own body heat drives him out for a breather. It was still 89 F during the day when, I am not kidding, I had to put four comforters on my side of the bed. It's been getting down to 55 degrees at night. I have to wear SOCKS.
Tip Four: Get more sleep. The sun is going down earlier, and that's nature's way of telling us it's time to hibernate. Just go to bed early, snuggle up with a book (no blue screens), and let yourself get drowsy. Sleeping more is the secret to happiness. Try sleeping nine hours a night for three weeks and write down your results.
Tip Five: Pause and reevaluate your holiday decorations. It boggles my mind the way someone will spend six hours retrieving and displaying holiday decorations, when that same person balks at spending four minutes unloading the dishwasher or ten minutes putting away a load of nice fresh laundry. If you have a storage unit and you also have a big collection of holiday decorations, get a tape measure and make some connections. Is it really worth all that space (and cash) to put on that huge display? Even if you leave it all up for three months like several of my neighbors do? Granted, I am a bah humbug, but isn't one bin enough?
Let's see, what am I forgetting? Scented candles? Nah, you probably already have those. A bunch of bric-a-brac? Nah, I'm sure you have that covered also. Boots and sweaters? Gosh, I sure hope so! If you can manage it, see if you can train a squirrel to climb up on your dining table and hold an acorn long enough to Instagram it. That's pretty autumnal, right?
Before I discuss Gordon Bell's book, Your Life, Uploaded, I have to share a funny and relevant anecdote. The beginning of the book seemed familiar to me. I looked for it in my Goodreads account and saw that I had read another book by the same author a year and a half ago. When I got to the halfway point, I had a strong suspicion that I was in fact reading the identical book. I searched on Amazon and quickly saw that it was formerly published as Total Recall. This experience reinforces Bell's thesis, which is that we would benefit from keeping digital records of all aspects of our lives.
The funny thing is that I got more out of the book on the second pass. The first time I read it, I thought the idea of trying to record everything was silly. We'd spend as much time tagging and editing it as we did living it! I thought the desire to interact with simulacra of our past selves was a bit creepy. I said that I'd rather use my data to shape my future. I know all this because I wrote a brief review for myself, thus completely disproving my own point not even two years later. I think differently about the idea of "Total Recall" now, not just because I saw part of the Schwarzenegger movie recently after a 20-year gap, but because I've now digitized more of my own life.
The author wrote this book at age seventy. He has a lifelong history of heart disease and heart surgery. His perspective includes the necessity of tracking his health and fitness data, the usefulness of his work data in his professional life, his desire to leave a family legacy, and his interest in his heritage. He expresses the wistful thought of wishing he knew more about his great-grandfather's life. Any one of these motivations is worthwhile for preserving at least certain things.
Metrics helped me with my health issues, just like they helped Bell with his. He realized after tracking his heart data that he had to give up ice cream and cheese. I realized that there was a connection between my late-night snacking and my episodes of night terrors. I also learned that there were at least a half-dozen patterns involved in my body weight, and that figuring out what they were enabled me to reach my goal weight. Along with this, I've said goodbye to migraines, fibromyalgia, and thyroid disease. Information is power. I doubt I could have figured any of this stuff out without careful records. One day it will all be automatically tracked and analyzed by our phones.
This year, I've been scanning my paper files. This includes many years of writing notebooks, as well as the files involved in household bureaucracy. While I worked on this, I also worked on consolidating my digital files and photos. The more I do, the more I realize can be done. It's incredibly boring work, but it's also satisfying. I'm finding real peace of mind in knowing that I now have multiple backups of what used to be vulnerable, irreplaceable papers. Almost as good, I can access them from my phone! I've been referring to my phone as my spare brain for over four years now. The longer I carry it, the more I digitize, the more useful it becomes. I don't have any real security concerns over whether someone might somehow hack pages from my high school poetry notebook. This stuff isn't really important to anyone but me.
I have already had a life-logging moment that is pretty telling. I had a long-term long-distance friend, and almost all of our communication was over email, text messages, or PMs. We got into a quarrel, and I did a quick search and brought up some earlier messages. My "friend" called me crazy for doing this and denied everything, even though we both had access to the same chat log, (probably because I was in the right), and we're not friends anymore. The future is going to be very different in terms of sibling rivalries and divorce, not to mention professional and social relationships.
Bell gives us a vision of a future when we can look back on all our most important moments. He gives the example of another life-logging pioneer whose hallway camera captured his son's first steps. Another man who wore a camera around his neck for years has a picture of the first time he ever saw his current girlfriend. Many sci-fi scenarios have been written around this kind of technology. It makes me think, though. Would I really want to know how very much of my life has been spent in reading or staring at a screen? What would I change if I knew my descendants would be watching?
Dating is like a job hunt in all the worst ways. Both are tied up in all sorts of romantic notions about passion and purpose and the meaning of life. Both can feel like the wait that will never end. Both tend to involve a history of at least one terrible match that was really hard on the ol' self-esteem. Both tend to start with the optimistic feeling that YES, this is finally the one! It's hard to get sympathy from employed/coupled people, in the same way that students have trouble getting sympathy about Finals Week from people who have graduated. If you're doing it right, you're spending at least a little time wondering, Is It Me?
Take it from a remarried person. It's probably not you.
Here's the thing. There IS someone exactly like you in all important respects, sitting alone right now and feeling exactly the way that you do. Introverts specifically have a lot of trouble believing this, but it's true. If you hate going to nightclubs, there are plenty of other people who also hate going to nightclubs. If you're a morning person or a night owl, you have a roughly 50/50 chance of meeting another one. Whatever pet peeve you have, someone else has it too. Most of the things that make a relationship work are not qualities of personality or appearance. They're lifestyle components. When it works, it works because you can be comfortable with each other on a lot of identically ordinary days.
This is the great thing about being uncomfortable "on dates." Dating is a weird, unnatural activity. It's the single thing that makes dating the most like a job hunt: it's an interview! You're both wearing uncomfortable shoes and feeling like you're hooked up to a lie detector. Awkward. If only we could skip straight to the part where we're both just sitting around the living room, trying to decide what to make for dinner. Now there's a speed dating idea - sit on a couch and start asking, "What do you want to do tonight?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?" If you can get through the gauntlet of not knowing each other, within an hour you'll at least be a little more familiar with one another. It is imperative that you BE YOURSELF. If not, who's supposed to be you while you're trying to be someone else? If you act like yourself all the time, then the people who stick around are there because they like you. Trust in that. You have something to offer that nobody else does, which is your unique take on life. There is no other correct way to do this.
The other thing to know is that the objective on a date is not "acquire soulmate." It is to get to know someone and practice being together with someone. The worst case scenario would be that you both walk away with a little more focus on what you do and don't want. I once went on a terrible, boring blind date with a hot, blond, vegetarian firefighter. He was probably the dream date of someone else. We had nothing to say to each other, though, despite our similar dietary preferences. It confirmed for me that there is no replacement for great conversation. You can't force a click, no matter how much you wish for it.
Sometimes you meet someone and "all that happens" is a platonic friendship. This might be a better outcome. Each friend you make expands your social circle. The friend of the friend of that new friend might be the love of your life. What you're really trying to do is to meet more people in general, almost all of whom will stay in your life in a casual, non-sexual way. You'll give each other leads on new jobs or go on road trips together. Maybe you'll trade recipes or cat-sit for each other. Expecting that every connection will turn into romance is too high-stakes, not to mention discouraging.
They say you meet the right person as soon as you stop looking. It's true, but not in the same way that you quit looking for your keys once you find them. You can only meet the "right person" when you stop looking, because "looking for the right person" is an extremely strange way to introduce yourself to new acquaintances. "Hi, are you the love of my life?" "Um, I don't even know you?"
There is no one right person.
Think of it like a pyramid. On the bottom level are flirtations that didn't turn into anything. On the next, smaller level are people you might have gone out with casually or briefly. Next are longer-term relationships that were really painful. Above that are more serious relationships that simply ended. At the top would be the Mutual Admiration Society. There may be people in your Mutual Admiration Society with whom the romantic potential was explored and consumed. You still like each other, while realizing you don't want to live together or be romantic any more. That willingness to part due only to circumstances is what leaves room for The Person.
Not every pyramid is the same height. Putting too many expectations on love tends to cause us to cling to relationships that weren't a strong enough match. We don't get as much practice relating to other people. This is probably true of friendships and family relationships, too. The only way to succeed at loving someone in a romantic way is to also be good at loving people in friendly or familial ways. This is another set of traits that do not involve personality. Patience, compassion, generosity, listening, respecting someone else's boundaries, communicating your needs in ways that make sense, being a good roommate - these are skills. Whether someone puts his socks on the dining table or not is about behavior, not personality. The better we get at behaving in kind, loving ways, the kinder and more loving people we will bring towards us. The more practice we have at being with someone, the more and more likely it will work with the next person. It's not so much who we are as how we act.
A person with a bad temper may attract all sorts of people, but will only keep the kind of person who can tolerate angry outbursts.
A person who expects to be cleaned up after will only keep the kind of person who is patient enough to do this, and probably not for long.
A person who has trouble trusting or needs constant reassurance will keep a different sort of person than a person who is more confident. That could be the same person at different levels of emotional maturity.
Character determines everything. That's why this idea of The One doesn't make any sense. What if The One came into your life when you were both four years old and throwing a fit on the floor in preschool? Perfect for each other in every way, right? How silly. I think instead that there's a potential match for someone at each level of personal development. Think of it as an elevator that stops at fifty floors. A narcissist is only going to make it to the lobby, where the big mirrors are. An ordinarily selfish person may make it to the first floor. Someone who still carries emotional scars from a breakup in their teens or twenties is going to get stuck on a different floor. As we shed our fears and heal our wounds, we go up to higher floors. When we can give of ourselves, when we can think about someone as a person rather than a love object, then we start to see how this whole thing works. Then, one fine day, the door dings, and on the other side is someone who takes your breath away. There you are, you both think. There you are.
If you're like me, you're still eating Halloween candy. I start my holiday weight gain season in mid-October and I like to keep going through the end of December. I mean, I have to assume that I like it because that's what I always do. First the Halloween candy. Then the fall foods I can't make through most of the year because it's too hot to use the oven. Then the Thanksgiving bacchanalia and the leftovers. Then the cookies and cocoa. Then Christmas. Then something fancy for the New Year. By then, it's impossible not to notice that all my waistbands are tight. Unless someone gives me a muumuu for Christmas, I'm going to be forced to acknowledge, in the midst of my New Year's Day food hangover, that I either need to change or I need to buy bigger clothes.
Bigger clothes it is, then.
The trouble with gaining one pound is that it keeps wanting to stick onto previous pounds. When my clothing size crept up, I chalked it up to inconsistent size charts. When my weight crept up, I compared it to what it was a few months ago, not a few years ago. When I crossed the line from average to overweight to obese, I didn't feel or see it happening. I always felt like the same size, and I never once thought of myself as "A Fat Person." The average American gains about a pound a year, and I can tell you from experience that I can do this in one meal. And keep it. The figures are skewed because heavier people tend to gain more than a pound a year. Almost all of us gain our annual weight over the holidays. It's like a gift. A package of cookies turns into a nice little pair of love handles. Or perhaps some saddlebags or a muffin top.
We're never going to stop, though. Turning down a cookie during the holiday season must be a form of psychosis. It's demented. Who would do that?? Not eating holiday sweets is exactly, exactly like slapping someone in the face. Not eating the holiday sweets is like self-harm. It's like canceling Christmas. It's like spending Thanksgiving locked in a closet. There is absolutely no way we could ever tolerate the feeling of Holiday Food FoMO.
It's okay, though. It's much easier to adjust to weight gain and the perpetual search for clothes that don't pinch than it is to handle The Feels. Those left-out, crushed, disappointed, deprived feels. How can it be the holidays without a tub of butter cookies? (For starters?)
So the question is, how much do I want to gain this year? Am I on track? I should be gaining at least as much this year as I did over each of the last five years. Maybe there's something in my closet from that time period that I can hold up to make sure I'm sticking to the plan. Because if I'm not gaining, I must be missing out on something sweet somewhere.
There actually is a way to over-over-over-indulge and still not gain weight. It takes a certain amount of planning, and that takes self-knowledge, imagination, focus, and awareness. I CAN Eat All the Things and maintain an intentional fitness level! I CAN fit all my favorite yummies into my favorite tummy and still fit into my favorite jeans, too! I can if I plan.
Look, I know myself. I know I have no willpower. I know that because, as I often state, there is no such thing as willpower. What I do have is a lot of self-discipline and about 19 sweet tooths. They co-exist peacefully inside me, because I am a mix of passionate and determined. What I know is that when I'm at a party or meal or gathering, and I see my favorite foods, I will eat them. I will eat them all. There is no decision involved here. So I have to plan around all the times during the year that I am *not* at a special celebration.
I eat well, as a rule. My husband and I eat vast amounts of cruciferous vegetables. For instance, we routinely finish off a head of broccoli or a head of cauliflower between us at dinner. This practice essentially eliminates food cravings. Getting sufficient micronutrients and insoluble fiber makes sweets and processed foods taste yucky. Getting enough sleep and hydration helps regulate appetite, as does strenuous exercise. We also tend to switch to more soup in the fall and winter. When we stay on track for the first nine months of the year, we can only do so much damage to our poor organs in the last three months.
That's not much help, though, to those of us who've spent most of 2016 drinking soda, eating appetizers and restaurant portions, raiding vending machines, and snarfing gas station food. What do we do if we don't like where we are right now, and yet we still can't bear missing out on the holiday saturnalia?
This is what I do. If I know I'm going to a gathering with a lot of food, I eat lightly earlier in the day. This generally involves delaying breakfast by an hour and skipping my afternoon snack. We usually overeat at these occasions to the point that we're still full when we wake up the next day, and the very thought of throwing breakfast down there sounds painful. Skipping a snack and a breakfast, in my case, adds up to 500-600 calories. Tacking that on to the amount I normally eat at dinner is doubling my normal meal. That's as much as I can eat without feeling actual physical pain. Believe me, because I always push that limit.
Learning about the Hunger Scale was really helpful to me. Fortunately, it doesn't involve trying to grab weapons out of a cornucopia and hunt the other invitees down with a crossbow. The Hunger Scale is an estimate of how full or hungry you feel. A "one" would be passing out from hunger, while a "ten" would be full to the point of acute nausea. "It's wafer thin!" Ideally, on a normal day, we'd eat when we're at a three and stop when we hit a five or six. My tendency was to eat until I hit a seven at normal meals, an eight when I went out to dinner, and a nine on holidays. I've been at a ten a few times, and hated myself for it. I try to remind myself now that I really, really don't like the physical feeling of going past a seven. I pull up vivid memories of myself claiming I'll "never do this again," like the time I went to the County Fair, drank 32 ounces of soda and ate about 4 cups of curly fries with a half-cup of ketchup (plus a burrito), and then spent the rest of the night curled up into a ball and moaning. I want to enjoy myself and enjoy the delicious food, not make myself sick. Past Self, can you help me out here and give me a little recall?
Another way I have dealt with my intense drive to pound food down my gullet with a funnel and a plunger is to couple it with my other intense drive. That is for endurance running. I love to run, I love to run up hills, I love to run up hills in the mud. Fall and winter are the best times for running in my climate, and this works out pretty well. When I'm putting in thirty miles a week, I can burn off quite a bit. I can plan a long run either the morning before a party, or the afternoon afterward. It turns out that I have a lot of extra energy and some pretty great athletic performances after massively overindulging. This has not failed to escape my attention! The only problem with this has been that running seems to have switched off at least a few of my sweet tooths. I no longer really enjoy things like donuts or Oreos. I used to eat Nutter Butters during my training runs, but now I can only really handle nuts and unsweetened dried fruit. Oh well. It tends to feel worth it whenever I catch a glimpse of my awesome new thighs.
I've spent at least a year in each of eight clothing sizes. It always felt natural, except for the part when my stretch marks turned red and purple and started itching constantly. I believe and know that I have the power to change my body through my daily habits. I also believe that there are many connections between my daily habits and the amount of pain and illness I experience. Beating chronic pain, fatigue, migraine, and sleep problems means a lot more to me than not being obese anymore, but they all go together. I will probably never stop going crazy over holiday food, but that doesn't have to mean I am fated to be a certain size or to have certain health issues. It's a false dilemma. I choose both wild indulgence and an intentional physical form.
Childhood mementos are one of the all-time hardest things to let go. I tend to fail in this area with clients even when I succeed elsewhere. This is because the tiny socks and shoes feel like the infancy itself. The thing about children is that they quickly become teenagers. Are you raising a child, or raising an adult? The better a job you do of raising an independent, mature, productive future citizen, the quicker the kid starts pushing away and developing a distinct identity. It's so hard to hang on and remember the smell of their downy little heads as they sweetly snuggled in your lap, especially after they start in with the rebellion and the door-slamming. The toughest thing about parenting is that realization that there will always be a last baby, that childhood ends, that their mortality is our mortality. Life is fleeting but the memorabilia just keeps on repeating.
There are two types of things that parents want to save for their kids: stuff from their own childhoods and stuff from their kids' childhoods. We save the stuff from our own childhoods out of a desire for connection. We want our kids to love the same things we loved. We want them to feel the same joy that we felt. We don't know how to communicate these emotions other than through physical objects. Why a pile of old toys, books, or stuffed animals rather than a love of nature, stargazing, or music? My mom saved a bunch of books and dolls in the hope that she would have a daughter one day. What I feel I got from her was her social conscience, her natural altruism and compassion, her love of musicals, her habit of bustling around cleaning and cooking in preparation for guests, her frugality, her voice, and her physical frame, among many other things. She taught me to love books and she taught me to ride a bike. I never felt much sentimental attachment to her childhood toys, but surely they were nothing in comparison to her values? My dad didn't particularly hang onto childhood relics, but he spent countless weekends taking all three of us kids into the woods, where we all developed a love of the wilderness that has passed to the next generation as well. We can't help but pass things on to our kids. Perhaps we should look more to the intangibles than the dusty physical ones.
I don't have biological children of my own, so my outlook on family heirlooms is perhaps unusual. If I save anything "for posterity," it would come from a belief that my nephews and niece might want it. This seems improbable. I have a baby album with a lock of my hair and the wristbands from my delivery. Why would they want that? (Come to think of it, why do I still have it?) I have a plaque with my first grade handprint. It has a certain aesthetic appeal, but it's hard to imagine someone hanging it on their wall; even I don't do that. This idea of my brother's kids appreciating my childhood relics feels even weirder and less likely when I picture them at my age or older. When I start to think about their possible kids and grandkids, well, at a certain point my memorabilia are just mysterious old junk. One of these moves, I'll most likely snap a few pictures and let it all go. The more photos I save, though, the less likely that any particular one will be appreciated, or even viewed.
We're generating massive amounts of life relics, and the rate is only increasing. There are kids now who have had their own social media accounts since they were barely a heartbeat in the womb. Many of them will enter adulthood knowing that naked bathtub pictures of them were shown to the public. There will be a digital record of every embarrassingly "cute" thing they ever did. We have hours of video! We have thousands of photos! We have voicemail messages and audio files! The more we save, the less valuable it is. Aside from our digital records, we also have more physical possessions than any previous culture in all of history. We can't conceivably save every article of clothing or every piece of every plastic playset. Where the heck would we hope to put it all? If we expected our kids to save it all, where would they they save their own kids' things? Four generations from now, every citizen will need a personal warehouse for the family hoard. We can drive by and point at them, guessing at how many action figures and little t-shirts might be inside.
Working with kids is one of the easiest and most rewarding parts of my professional home visits. That is, it's fun until the parents show up. What I do is explain to the kid what I've worked out with the parents. "Let's go through and get rid of any of your old baby stuff that would embarrass you if your friends came over. Then we'll sort out anything you don't play with anymore. We can sell it at the yard sale, and all the money you make can go toward a new game." "OKAY!" says the brilliantly grinning child. First we set aside the top favorite toys to keep. Then we pick up items off the floor, one at a time, and the kid makes quick choices. Almost all of the stuffed animals and about half of the action figures wind up in the Go pile. Many of the clothes do, too, as kids don't usually like dressing the way their parents and relatives would prefer. Children have countless gifts foisted on them, crowding their space, getting them in trouble when they can't keep their rooms clean. They don't like it and it isn't natural to them. When I show up, it's usually the first time they've ever been allowed to express an opinion or assert a claim on their own private physical territory. It feels like independence, it feels like empowerment, and they really enjoy it. The notion that they only have to keep what they actually like is a big one. It's saying "You're REAL, honey. Your voice matters." But then the parents come in and flip out. "That was a gift! That was expensive! That was mine when I was your age!" They allow maybe 10% of the discards to go, and guilt-trip or outright force the child to put the rest back. Share your room with things we chose for you. Believe that stuff has feelings. See that we care more about these old things than we do about what you want. Let us determine your taste preferences. You are a chattel and you won't get to have opinions until you move away.
The truth is that kids do become adults, no matter how much we want to stop time and keep them sweet. First, their favorite colors will change. They'll develop their own musical tastes. They'll choose their own hairstyles and dress however they like. They'll come home with romantic partners they met whether we approve or not. They'll even vote however they want. I grew up to have a thing for a minimalist modern aesthetic, for example, while my parents like antiques. If we've done a good job, our kids will grow up to be awesome, the kind of people we'd want to be friends with if we didn't already know them. I feel like I'd make friends with my own parents if they were "only" my neighbors or coworkers. Those qualities and those emotional connections have nothing to do with the physical possessions we want to hand down.
What we really want is emotional connection. We want to remember that we're family, as though we could ever forget our blood relationship whenever we look in the mirror or hold out our hands. What we need from the parent-child bond is memories. We need to be putting more hugs in that emotional bank account. We should be treasuring our heart-to-heart talks. We should be making memories together and teaching what we have to teach. We should be passing down a family heritage of stories and a legacy of values and character traits. We should have a bunch of family in-jokes. Why on earth we think we can put any of that into a musty old box is beyond me.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.