Skepticism is the natural and appropriate reaction to a proposed change. Critical thinking skills for the win! Alas, it seems that there is a curious relationship between skepticism and success. What is straightforward and obvious to one person (go to the gym, buy groceries once a week) can be convoluted and complex to someone else who has spent more time thinking about it. We succumb to analysis paralysis because we really can't believe things could be that simple. We want proof before we commit. Perhaps more importantly, we just can't identify with ourselves as Version 2.0.
Nope. That's just not me. This is just how I roll.
A really common talking point I hear from people who are no further than a 2 on the Readiness Scale is that "I'll still be the same person." This feels important. It's not so much that we love Current Self so very much, because often we don't. It's the feeling of supreme contempt and annoyance toward Those People. Those uppity, snooty, snobby, irritating darn people who are daring to live my dream. I kind of feel this way about people who are good at wrapping gifts. I once played a game at a holiday party that involved wrapping presents one-handed with a partner, and I swear it looked better than what I normally do with two hands. What kind of person would I have to be to show up with perfect packages? Someone with weird priorities? I am sure, though, that if I did wrap pretty gift boxes I wouldn't think it was all that big a deal. Would I "still be the same person"?
Physical transformation is the biggest change of all. It's much different from other major changes like going back to school or changing socioeconomic status. At least when you have more education or more money, you still look basically the same when you look in the mirror. Physical change can be so dramatic that you sincerely don't recognize your own reflection at times.
Physical change isn't always about weight loss. Obviously, it could include scar tissue or health issues. Sometimes it's as trivial as a new hairstyle. When weight loss is the proposed change, it feels somehow more voluntary than a new hair color, and yet emotionally heavier in many ways than adjusting to a new health status. There's just something about deciding to lose weight or "get in shape" that feels like capitulating, like giving in or giving up. I know I felt that way at first.
I considered thin, fashionable, conventionally attractive women to be bimbos. That, and probably also "mean girls." I considered jocks and athletes to be dumb. I thought the whole thing was a tool of the advertising cabal to convince us to spend vast amounts of money on the weight loss and beauty industries. I was too smart to fall for any of that.
The thing about skepticism is that we tend to be swayed by empirical evidence. Certain trends get harder and harder to ignore. The data start to pile up. In my case, that builds curiosity. At a certain point, I have to find out for myself. What does this button do? How does that work? What happens next? I made a decision to experiment on myself and change my body, just because at that point I needed to know for myself what it was like.
What I found was that all my assumptions about what goes on in the minds of people who look a certain way were completely unfounded. Almost everything about the way I experience the world radically changed. I started to see things in the context of how much physical energy I had, things like how much I wanted to socialize or how willing I was to initiate and follow through on projects. I started sleeping better, and my food cravings changed. Now I wonder why I wanted to stay "the same person" so much, because "the new me" is so much more fun to be.
Ultimately, what we realize when we start to develop a growth mindset is that we are never stuck. We can try out different things, see how we like them, and then go back to default if we prefer it. We're only committed if we feel committed. We can change our schedules, we can redecorate and get makeovers, we can test out new recipes, and, of course, we can reshape our bodies. Then we can go back and do it all over again. It's not like teleporting onto a new planet. It's not like a tattoo, although people usually have a much easier time emotionally with the permanent commitment of a tattoo than they do with the temporary changes of weight loss and strength training.
It's weird, but true, that we can cheerfully, creatively play around with almost every aspect of our physical appearance except actual body image. Hair cut, style, and color! Manicure! Tattoos and piercings! Clothes, shoes, jewelry, and accessories! An infinite variety, sure to elicit compliments galore from everyone who digs that particular look. Change your proportion of muscle to body fat, however, and all bets are off. Perhaps this is why I have it backwards; I find exercise is for hedonists and that beauty treatments are exhausting, where most people seem to feel the opposite. It takes time before a new habit becomes a part of your identity, whether that's straightening your hair or straightening your posture.
What if changing your body image was really as simple and transitory as getting a new haircut? What if you just looked different every few years? What if it turned out to be really interesting and absorbing to go through that process of physical change? What if it was a lot like the mental effort and inherent fascination of reading a long series of novels? Changing your body can be just as separate from your core identity as reading a book or wearing a particular color of shirt can be. Maybe you like it, maybe you don't, but it's worth a try. You can always go back.
It takes a photograph for a lot of us. Now and then, we are surprised by our own reflections where we didn't expect to see them, like in a plate glass window. Usually, though, it's a photograph, because they're everywhere now. People are constantly demanding group photos. I need PROOF that we had lunch together! Hold still! We have that many more opportunities to see ourselves how others see us, or, in other words, the way we actually look.
The graying hair. The slouchy posture. The pinched and crabby facial expressions. The body.
There are no full-length mirrors in our current house. Our last two houses had mirrored closet doors, so a full-length reflection was unavoidable in both the bedroom and my office. That was a coincidence. Now, like most people, when we look at ourselves, we see ourselves from the chest up, in the bathroom medicine cabinet. This is a setup that allows for maximum mental fadeout. I can avoid ever thinking about or wondering about how I look from the collarbone on down. If I wear baggy enough clothes, a lot can happen to my body outside of my conscious awareness.
Believe it or not, this can go all sorts of different directions. One thing that happens to everyone is simple aging. No matter our build, things happen to our skin. Medical things. A problem with pretending we don't exist below the brain is that we may not notice things that turn up on this, the largest organ of the body. Focus and awareness pay off. What we love and accept, we notice, and what we notice, we care for. We must love the skin we're in, literally if not figuratively.
To me, 'body' and 'body image' are totally neutral terms. They seem to be culturally loaded right now, though. I can tell you that my dog's body image is that of a much larger dog, probably triple the size he is. My parrot's body image is a glamorous one of iridescent feathers, flirty eyelashes, and the scaliest toes possible. She kisses her reflection in the mirror, while, to my knowledge, the dog has never noticed his. Imagine what it would be like if you thought your own reflection was utterly adorable. Imagine if you were genuinely oblivious to it.
Physical changes can happen a lot faster than our mental image has time to adjust and accept. Some examples of this would be forgetting that you're wearing a costume and then catching a glimpse of yourself, or noticing your new sunburn about an hour before it starts to hurt. Perhaps more interesting is what happens when you Finally Reach Your Goal Weight.
A few years ago, I made the decision to perform an experiment and reduce my body weight until I reached the "healthy weight for my height." I had no idea whether I would like it or not, and I hadn't committed to stay at that size. I just wanted to feel what it was like. I wanted to find out for myself. I did it, and I liked it, but a lot of really confusing things happened. I couldn't find clothes in my size. My bra size radically changed. Then I ran a marathon and even my SHOE SIZE changed! I wound up having to get rid of all the shoes I had bought before the marathon, because even the shape of my foot is different now. I eventually figured out where I could buy clothes that would stay on my new runner's hips, with some challenges. It took me about two years to be able to hold up a garment and tell at a glance whether it would fit or not. In my mind, I was still a size 12 for many years after I got smaller (and also the stretch of time when I was bigger).
I live in my head a lot. I don't particularly think about my body; I feel restless, or there's something I want to do, or something I want to look at, and so I get up and move. It's like I'm driving my eyes and brain around to distract them when they get bored. During the moments when I am bathing, or dressing myself, or exercising, I'm me. I look like myself. Oh, hello, me, how am me today? I don't really feel any different than I did when I wore any of the previous seven clothing sizes that I have worn for at least a year each. It tends to be when I see myself in a mirror or a photograph that I realize, Oh yeah! I remember now. I look different.
I notice it more when I stand next to someone else.
That's the problem with body image. It's a pernicious form of social comparison. On the one hand, we compare ourselves with others who look different from us, and someone winds up on the losing end of the comparison. Whether it's yourself or your body image opponent says a little bit about your general mood and attitude toward life. On the other hand, we compare ourselves with those who look the same as us, and we are then satisfied that all is well. We can relax and quit noticing. The problems start to come in when we notice our friends being hospitalized one after another. Once we pass the age of forty, we can't pretend anymore. Things happen to the body.
Aging in reverse is weird. It's confusing. It tends to bother people. Show up with visible muscle or improved posture, and suddenly everyone else seems to have lost the game. Guess what? Nothing physical is inevitable. Body image tends to come with a complete package of learned helplessness, resentment, and pessimism. Personally, I was often told I had "birthin' hips." Nobody says that anymore, possibly because I'm a crone now and I've demonstrated that I did not, in fact, have "birthing" anything. Probably, though, because I wear a size XXS. What I do have is visibly more energy, health, strength, vitality, muscle tone, and agility than I had half a lifetime ago. Plus slightly more gray hair. The older I get, the more my physical appearance says things about me. My body announces certain proclivities. People can actually make accurate judgments about some of my behaviors just by looking at me. This will become more true with every decade that goes by.
The surest sign that someone's body image has not yet caught up with reality is the baggy workout t-shirt. Mine were all size Medium, old shirts, some of which had been too tight for a while there. Then suddenly they were flappy. They started to become physical obstacles for exercise purposes. They didn't want to stay in place during inverted yoga postures. I finally understood why athletic people insist on wearing fitted workout clothes. They fit the body. That requires an awareness of our physical outlines that we may never have had before.
We might as well practice accepting that our bodies change with time, because they do. The only thing is that they can change in far more ways than we realize. There are plenty of octogenarians who discover their inner jocks for the first time when they reach an advanced age. It isn't out of our reach. Whether it is better to let our outsides match our insides, or vice versa, is an interesting puzzle. How much do our inner pictures of ourselves reflect struggle, acceptance, or triumph? What would we wish our external selves to reveal?
I lost 35 pounds and kept it off. There are people out there who find this more impressive and interesting than if I told them I'd won a Pulitzer. There are also a lot of people who become spitting mad when the topic of weight loss comes up. Body image is a minefield. That's not an inappropriate metaphor because plenty of people die due to their poor body image. Of course, far more people die due to poor lifestyle choices, which they won't examine due to their fury over the cultural conversation about body image. I'm out of the game. I do what I want. I do what I want in all situations. I work for myself, and I work toward my own goals. If you don't like the way I look, deal with it. The way I look is none of your business, just as the way you look is none of my business. Now that that's settled, let's proceed.
Obesity is an American thing. I've been to nine countries on four continents so far, and the more I travel, the more it stands out. In everywhere except the US, you get half the amount of food for twice the price as what we get here. Overeating and eating "food" that isn't really food is affordable for everyone here. In fact, when you're poor, junk food is the default. It takes strong determination, networking, and a lot of knowledge to eat well on a low income. Come to think of it, that's a good topic for another day. Things I Wish I Knew Could be Done With Food Stamps.
Weight loss is different for men in our culture than it is for women. A higher percentage of American men are overweight, 70 percent of males compared to 58 percent of females. That's partly due to a masculine gender norm that BIG is good. My husband says that men don't want to wear a size Small anything, much less an Extra-Small or, heaven forfend, an XXS. He and I both went to school during a time when all the money went to boys' athletics, and girls were deliberately excluded. Athletes in many sports routinely manipulate their physiques, trading tips on how to gain or lose weight on a deadline. The goals are always to get the qualifications to play and to perform well, not appearance. When men and boys are shamed about their bodies, it's usually about being small or about their head or body hair. Many men joke casually about their midriffs. My husband's doctor patted him on the belly and said, "You could lose some weight." I would be stone-cold astonished to hear of a doctor doing that to a female patient. Nobody tells men who want to lose weight to "be careful." We think the attempt to lose weight is okay for men, but that it will drive women insane.
I've overheard two conversations in which the person was outraged that a doctor told them they were obese. One was a man and the other was a woman. The man could easily have lost 50 pounds; the woman could easily have lost 100. Both parties were surrounded by friends who expressed shock and anger. "How dare he!" "You're not fat!" This was clearly a topic of intense interest to everyone who heard it. From my perspective, this is what a train wreck looks like. I go to the doctor to get an informed, educated, professional opinion. If I have a broken bone, I need to know and I need to get it treated right away. If I have an infection, I want antibiotics. I don't get offended that the doctor insulted my bone for not looking right, or treated me contemptuously by claiming that I'm contagious. My health is not a matter of body image. If a licensed physician were to tell me that I met an internationally recognized clinical standard for anything, I would pay close attention. I would ask what to do next. I would follow up. I would research it on my own time to make sure I was taking maximum effective action. To me, ignoring medical consensus on obesity is precisely the same as being anti-vaxx. It's part of the Death of Expertise. I have no qualifications or credentials other than a history degree, so I can't reasonably see myself as an authority. I'm good at research, but that's it. I'm always looking for new medical journal articles and nutrition and fitness paradigm shifts, but I'm not going to try to debunk consensus. Especially not if it works for me.
I finally decided to try being the "healthy weight for my height" out of curiosity. I knew the number and I had forcefully rejected it in the past. I am 5'4" and the healthy weight for my height is 120 pounds, according to multiple sources. I thought that sounded sickeningly thin. My mental image of myself at that weight was garish and alarming. I thought I would look like the proverbial stick insect. I understood, though, that the statistics I was looking at were based on hundreds of millions of people. I also knew that I'm quite capable of gaining a pound a day, and that weight gain if necessary would not be a problem for me. If I hit 120 pounds and felt wrong, I would be back in my comfort zone within days. What I discovered was that I felt better than I ever had in my life, and that I looked perfectly ordinary. I am the exact same height and weight as Betty Grable, and I've never heard of anyone accusing her of anorexia or body dysmorphia. I'm not thin, I'm vintage!
I went on a diet. It worked. "Diets don't work" when you're committed to your default lifestyle. If you eat bagels, you're going to go back to eating bagels after your diet is over, and you're going to gain the weight back. Remember, I labeled this post as 'contrarian.' After losing a hundred pounds between us, my husband and I talk amongst ourselves about Fat People Food. There are entire aisles in grocery stores that we never go down. There are entire restaurant chains where we won't eat a single item, because ewww. There is almost nothing in the Standard American Diet that either of us will eat. Dairy products, for one. Cheese consumption in the US has more than tripled since 1970. Question that. It matches up pretty well with the upward national trend in body weight. As a general rule, I don't eat anything I could buy at a gas station. I don't eat fast food, I don't eat in the car unless I absolutely have to, I don't drink anything carbonated, I don't drink alcohol or coffee, I don't eat any artificial sweeteners, and I don't eat out of vending machines.
I live to eat. I love to cook. If I feel like it, I'll eat half a bag of tater tots, or two slices of pie, or a bag of candy - and that happens maybe once a year. I'll eat with my hands. I'll talk with my mouth full. I lick my fingers. My niece told me off once. "Don't lick your hands, Aunt Jessica, or you'll get germs!" I have few compunctions about what I eat, when, where, or who's watching. That's because I know what I'm doing. I behave in a way that is consistent with what I want out of life. I have learned that being the "correct" size makes my life easier. I don't feel better. I feel AMAZING. I feel sometimes like a wild gazelle that wants to run toward the horizon and never stop. My body is an amazing gift. I like how I look and I like how I feel. Most people who are about to turn 42 can't say that. Not only can I climb a rope, I can still sit on the floor and stand up again without holding onto anything.
I have battled chronic illness. That wasn't motivating for me in terms of physical change. I just believed that it was fate, that I was stuck that way, and that it might be unfortunate, but it was my lot in life. I wanted no part of anyone's advice. My doctor said nothing I could do would affect my thyroid disease and textbooks said that fibromyalgia made me exercise-intolerant. I only started having success at feeling better purely by accident. It took years of stumbling across things that worked before I truly believed that I had power over my conditions. When I have talked to other ill people about fibromyalgia, or thyroid nodules, or migraine, they are not interested, any more than people are interested in hearing that I lost weight by eating massive amounts of cruciferous vegetables. Information is not motivation.
I have no trouble maintaining my physique because I'm internally convinced that it's the best way for me to live. I've tried the alternatives. I've been poor and rich, and I like rich better. I've been obese, overweight, average, and athletic, and I like athletic the best. I didn't want to turn into an old lady and never know what it was like to feel strong. I'm too stubborn to let public opinion hold me back. I'm not "supposed" to wear a size zero or to claim that diets work. It's cruel or something. Not as cruel as Type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or Alzheimer's. I'm not a young girl anymore. I built my self-esteem on grit and self-respect. I'm entitled to do with my body whatever I darn well please. Until you can demonstrate that you're fitter, stronger, faster, more agile, and more energetic than I am, you can reserve your criticism quota for some other annoying thing I'm doing. I lost weight and it works for me.
Imagine waking up one morning, a la Freaky Friday, in a totally different life and a noticeably different body. What if you were you, only with no problems? You had no chronic pain and all your blood work checked out, which you intuitively felt it would, since your body felt strangely vigorous. Not only did you have no debts, but your bank balance showed a number you thought would have to be a mistake because it was much too high. As you checked out your weirdly new muscle definition, you couldn't help but notice that your surroundings were beautiful, orderly, clean, and welcoming. Then you checked your phone and had a bunch of sweet texts from your family and friends.
What would you do with yourself?
What would you worry about?
(If you're a chronic worrier, you'll quickly find something. I'd list a bunch of examples, but I wouldn't want to include one that hadn't occurred to you yet).
If you suddenly found that you could power-lift enough weight to set a new world record... would you go off and do it?
If you suddenly found that you were a multi-millionaire, would you set up a foundation to correct that tough world problem that has always broken your heart?
If you suddenly found forgiveness from and for everyone you'd ever encountered awkwardly, what would you do then?
If you were selected to test out a new cleaning robot that went around making your house immaculate, would you use it?
I've been somewhat obsessed with this idea lately. What if you had no problems? What if I had no problems? What if they had no problems? Would we collectively re-create some or all of our problems? Would we create brand-new problems never before seen, just for something to do? Would we have a giant block party, times a million?
Would we recognize ourselves?
Would we like ourselves?
I suspect that many of us, certainly including myself, derive our identities from our problems. This has come to my attention because I've changed so much over the years, in so many areas, due to my penchant for Fact-Finding Missions.
I paid off all my consumer debt well over a decade ago. Yet I still have to talk myself into buying things for myself, such as new socks. I know with absolute certainty that Past Me would think of Present Me as wealthy, but it doesn't feel like it fits.
I lost all my excess body fat three years ago, and I've had no trouble maintaining the "healthy weight for my height" now that I know how to do it. Yet it's still sometimes hard for me to adjust to how other women sometimes react to my presence. I see myself as an unthreatening nerd, but I guess I don't look like one as much anymore. Someone close to me lost a significant amount of weight years ago, then promptly gained it back because she didn't like any of the clothing styles available in her newly smaller size.
It seems that one of the things that holds us back from making change is contempt for People Like That. I'd love to be debt-free, but, ugh! Rich People! It would be nice to be able to fit into my old favorite clothes again, but I don't want to go farther than that because Skinny Bitches. Maybe life would be easier if I get organized, but Dull Women Have Clean Houses. I can only go so far down this path, but no farther, because the people a mile further down are too gross for words. You can't sit at our table.
It can really mess with your mind when you look up and realize that you have, indeed, become one of Those People.
I used to hate it whenever I saw someone jogging in place at a stoplight. Oh, SHUT UP! I would say. I would go on rants about it. I knew with certainty that these people were showing off, looking for attention, and that they had no other thoughts in their shallow little brains than whether they had chosen the right shade of neon Lycra to best show off their vain little bodies. Men and women both. Mm hmm. I'm clairvoyant and I can read everyone's minds. Look out, you might be next. Then I sort of accidentally fell in love with running. One day I BECAME That Person who jogs in place at a stoplight. I had to admit to myself that I had been wrong. The only reason I did that thing I so hated was because I knew that if I quit for even one minute, I'd probably quit running for the day, and possibly quit running for the ever. I ran for my health and I didn't give a care whether other people glared daggers at me. I did care a bit when they shouted abuse at me from car windows, but not enough to quit. When I turned 40, I gave myself permission to do whatever I want, as long as it's harmless, and to stop noticing other people's reactions. They as well have my permission to do what they want, even if it includes judging me.
If your only problem is what other people think, then in reality you have no problems.
One benefit of the No Problems thinking exercise is that it can speed up our work on our existing problems. Curiosity can move mountains. What will I do with my newly beautified space once it's cleaned up? Make art? What will I do with my money after this debt is laid to rest? Go on vacation, save for a house, start a business, or invest it? What charity will I choose? What will I do with my awesomely strong body once I reach my goal weight? Run a 5k? Learn to swim? Climb a rope? Taunt my siblings? (Never underestimate the motivating power of the desire to taunt one's siblings).
It's easy to find hundreds or thousands of examples of other people in our situation who have reached our goal before we did. Plenty of people have paid off over $10,000 of debt in a year or lost a hundred pounds in a year. I've worked with clutter clients and cleared an entire house of many years' accumulation in a long weekend (although squalor takes longer). The first step is to feel sick of the previous situation, to feel that This is Not Me and that I Want More For Myself Than This. The second step is to visualize yourself in dramatically unfamiliar form, having achieved the goal, and to find some excitement for the truth in that image. All that's left after that is action and adjustment.
New Year's is coming. This, as far as I'm concerned, is the most wonderful time of the year. There's just that big red-and-green speed bump to get over. I've already written my New Year's Resolutions because I couldn't help myself. As with every year, one of my areas of focus is physical fitness. It was that way when I was obese and out of shape and had no idea what I was doing. It was that way when I was fumbling around, trying to learn how to think and act and live like an athlete. It's that way now, when I'm confident about my strength and abilities and ab definition. My goals and resolutions about my body have been different over the years, but the one thing that has stayed the same is that I've always taken my physical needs seriously.
One way to know that there is a hidden source of power in your life is when you find yourself acting like a defense lawyer about it. Whatever you're defending is something you know you've outgrown in yourself. Imagine being an adult and trying to wear your baby shoes. Not happening. Why would anyone want to hang on to past versions of oneself from younger, more immature ages? Simply move in the direction of the resistance. The power that will be unleashed is like the eruption of a subglacial volcano.
For some of us, the resistance will be found around an expired personal relationship. For others, it will be around a safe but annoying job. For others, it will be around a substance addiction, and bless you if that's you. Enough of that now, it's time to live. For most of us, the resistance will be around body image. It's an American problem. Two-thirds of women and almost three-quarters of men in the US are overweight. I've traveled over four continents now, in nine countries, and the one thing that's clear is that everyone can always spot the Americans. There's something different about the way we do things here, and we can have a lot of discussions about what that might be. The upshot is that what has happened to us is not genetic, it's not fate, it's not a natural result of aging, and it has nothing to do with becoming a parent. That means that it is within our sphere of influence. What we resist persists, so desist and feel blissed.
(I just made that up!)
I chose to start running because it was the worst thing I could think of. I had an ulterior motive, which was to encourage my husband to work out, and I knew I would get his attention by doing something extreme. I asked him to help me. He would do anything to help me, of course, and when I couldn't even make it 1/3 of a mile, it was clear just how much I needed him. (Not sure if it would have occurred to him that I wouldn't "need" him in that way if I simply stayed on the couch with my head in a book). I didn't love running but I did love my man. I knew I had the grit to sacrifice my own comfort if I thought it would benefit him. The joke was on me, because I fell in love with running, and I didn't even make it four years before I finished a marathon.
Then I took two years off while recuperating from a series of sports-related injuries.
Now I'm getting up to speed again. I have the mentality of a marathon runner and the cardio endurance of a beginner. I went out last week and managed to make it barely over a mile. I got a stitch in my side. I was pleasantly surprised with my pace, but saddened that I probably couldn't even make it through a 5k right now, even if my family was watching. During marathon training, I never bothered with a distance shorter than four miles. I ran at least four to six miles even in 90 F heat. It's tough on the ego to feel like you're struggling to handle something which in the past wouldn't have been worth the effort of lacing your shoes.
As a grown-up, I realize that I need to respect my limits. This is part of why a middle-aged person can always out-distance people in their teens and twenties. Kids have no idea how to pace themselves. They'll sprint as hard as they can until they have to walk, then start sprinting again, and then fall back. I've been passed by people half my age dozens of times, only to pass them again and leave them behind by the halfway point. Meanwhile, I'm getting left in the dust by someone twice my age. I've seen octogenarians crush me running up a steep hill, unfortunately more than once. I love it, though. It gives me something to look forward to. One day I'll be a little old babushka thumbing my nose at all those forty-year-olds trudging behind me.
Choosing a body-related goal means including the beginner level. If we're trying to get back a fitness level we had in the past, it also means including things we might find boring or embarrassing. It's hard on the old pride. It's hard to tip over in yoga and it's hard to have the instructor come and work out next to you in step aerobics because you keep getting on the wrong foot. It's hard being stuck behind an eight-year-old child in a 5k. (Sharing all my secrets here). Just like any game, though, the challenge rounds are more interesting. That's why we play. The resistance that we beat when we reshape our bodies is the same resistance that holds us back in every other part of life. We have to remind ourselves why we're doing it: A better life for Future Self while we're still young and strong enough to make it happen.
After a two-year hiatus, I'm ready to start running again. I ran in the rain a couple of times over Thanksgiving, but I haven't gone out again since I got home. I realized that this is because I really love the regional park by my parents' house, but I don't have a regular route in my new neighborhood yet. I thought I'd share the process of figuring out where to go after the first sidewalk square outside my front door.
That's how I mentally measured distance as a novice. I didn't think much of my cardio endurance, and I figured six sidewalk squares at a time would be within my abilities. If you'd told me I'd be running a marathon not even four years later, I would have been angry that you were making fun of me.
Every runner is different. We tend to find what works for us and then become superstitiously attached to it. I have a friend who loves to run against the display on the treadmill. Some people love running in the early morning, some love running at night. Some prefer to run in groups or with a dog, others prefer running alone. I prefer trail running, something that is hard to manage in a big city.
I start with a map app, scanning the area around my house. I walk about 15-20 miles a week, generally for errands, and I want something different for running. My ideal is a large, hilly park with trails and a public restroom. Any park with a path will do, though. A surprising number of public parks have no pathways, just parking around the entire perimeter. Enjoying them as a runner means disrupting people's frisbee games, alarming their dogs, and generally being in the grass. I'll go far out of my way for my preferred kind of park, because this is my "treat" for my weekly distance day. I can run a standard/boring/shorter route on the other days.
When I started out, I physically couldn't make it around the block. I had to walk part of the way and lie on the floor afterward. My first challenge was to find a flat section of sidewalk that measured 1/3 mile. No hills! I added just 1/10 of a mile at a time every few days. A few years down the road, my first goal is to find the steepest hill within five miles. It probably takes me a third of a mile to quit fiddling with my gear. No matter what I choose, I know it's just a sampler. I'll test it out, knowing it's possible but unlikely that these particular streets will still be on my route six months from now.
I have no problem with repeating the same route over and over again. Tolerance for monotony is an important trait for running, knitting, sitting on a couch and staring at a screen, and all sorts of other fun activities.
For short training runs, I want what I call a "big loop." That's the largest possible area in which I can run laps without having to wait at a stoplight. In my old neighborhood, the big loop went around a car lot, a community garden, a gas station, and a grocery store. My street bisected it. I could choose between a two-mile loop or two versions of a one-mile loop. Urban streets tend to be on a regular grid, and it's possible to get really close to one-mile units. The advantage of this was that I could easily determine my distance for the day by doing one or more laps around that loop. Another advantage is that it usually keeps me within a quarter-mile of my house, depending on side streets.
Within the big loop are typically smaller rectangles or circuits of quarter- or half-mile increments. I like areas with a lot of cul-de-sacs. That means I can run around them without worrying about through traffic. Sometimes there are also basketball hoop stands to hurdle. Another interesting feature is that sometimes, if you run with a GPS app, you can make patterns with your route. I inadvertently drew a waving hand one night. On a big enough grid, you can spell things.
These are the factors I can discover on a map. Quality only comes with experimentation. For instance, my old neighborhood was at virtually the epicenter of the 1996 Northridge earthquake, and it had a lot of severely buckled sidewalks. I tripped on one while running at night with my dog, and tore my knee open. I learn to plan my route to avoid barking dogs, broken streetlights, hanging tree limbs, creepy shrubbery, and those predictable blocks where the street harassment never seems to stop. I learn which side of which street has the most shade on hot days, and which routes are better in daylight or at night. I learn where other runners put in their time. One morning, I was heading back to the barn when I waited at a crosswalk with a young man in street clothes. He asked me if I was training, and within two minutes, we had picked each other's brains, for he turned out to be an ultra runner. Serendipity is out there.
As it turns out, I do in fact live near a very hilly regional park. It's a big, enticing green blob on the map. I see that one edge of this blob is almost exactly two miles from my house, a straight shot down a street I already know well. I can't tell yet whether I can get in from that side, or whether I'll encounter a fence or some such. Now that the existence of this park is within my awareness, it won't be long before I'm jogging on over there to find out more.
Dedication to the discipline of Inquiry includes scrupulous honesty. We’ll lie to ourselves worse than we would ever dream of lying to anyone else. It’s human nature. I have a Dostoyevsky quote scrawled in the front of my journal, and it goes like this: “Keep watch on your own lie and examine it every hour, every minute.” I could profitably have rephrased it: “Keep watch on your own pie” (and maybe stopped examining it every hour; if a pie is leaving my kitchen, it’s going one forkful at a time). Lying to ourselves includes our secret motives, our true priorities, our intentions, what we eat, how much we exercise, how much money we give to charity, how much we save, and how much time we spend on various activities. If we can catch ourselves in the act even occasionally, we can start getting better results in building a life we want.
I read that women over-report how much time they spend on housework by 68%. Don’t laugh. The same study indicates that men over-report how much time they spend on housework by 150%. I know how much time I spend on housework because I use the Hours app on my phone, and I clock in and out of various activities every day. Since I work for myself, there is no built-in structure to my day other than whether it’s daylight or dark, or whether I’m hungry or not. I wanted to make sure I was really spending as much time writing as I thought I was. (It’s more). I got curious about all the other things I did during the day, including my foreign language study, pleasure reading, and sleeping. Tracking my time carefully has revolutionized several things in my life, such as dealing with my parasomnia issues. It’s also made me aware of the fact that I spend more minutes per day on “personal care” (bathing, personal hygiene, grooming) than I do on housework. That was an eye-opener. Now, rather than feeling resentment or counting brownie points against my husband, I’ve turned my chores into a game of efficiency and beating the clock.
I use a fitness tracker because I realized that I had no better idea of how much I exercise than I would have a chance of estimating the number of pennies in a jar. I’m hopeless. There are three ways of getting around this: 1. Do it every single day, 2. Develop an intensely alert self-awareness, or 3. Get a robot to track it for you. I’ve proven to myself quite conclusively that the first two are never going to happen in my life, not with an unassisted human brain, anyway. I can’t lie to my Apple Watch; it’s not impressed by being waved back and forth in the way that my first pedometer was. I have failed to impress it even by jumping up and down, doing jumping jacks, hiking 4000 feet of elevation, and jogging laps around a parking lot. If my heart rate isn’t elevated high enough for long enough, it doesn’t count. (The nice thing is knowing I can hike up 4000 feet (slowly) without my heart rate going up. Pretty fit, hey?)
I keep a food log. I have different reasons now than I did when I started two years ago. At first, I wanted to prove that there really was no reason for me to need a food log, because “I eat nothing but health food.” Then, I wanted to finish getting to my goal weight, and I realized that I needed the discipline of becoming more aware of what I ate and being meticulously honest about portion size. It turned out that the amount I ate varied wildly from day to day, making it impossible to find a trend line or to see if any changes I was making were having an effect. Scientific rigor in weighing and measuring and recording helped me learn to eyeball and guesstimate more accurately. After three months, I understood why I always tended to gain weight. After six months, I understood how much extra I could/should eat on workout days. After a year, I discovered that I was deficient in a key micronutrient, and everything changed. I started keeping the food log to make sure I was getting the right nutrition. I still keep the food log, because I find it amusing to calculate everything I ate over an entire year, measured in gallons of broccoli, kale, cabbage, etc. During my marathon training, my waffle count alone was hilarious.
I use a personal finance app, Mint, although I don’t know whether other finance apps would do an equally sufficient job. I’m not a habitual spender; I’m more of an under-buyer. I find it interesting, though, to be able to pull up data on how much we spend at particular stores, how much we spend at the movie theater or on gas, what we spend on utilities, etc. One of my financial disciplines is to try to pay everything possible with my debit card, so there is a data trail of everything. Before I started keeping a food log, the only times my weight ever dipped downward even slightly were when I was following a strict budget. Keeping track of money matters has ripple effects in other areas of life.
I’m data driven. I believe in using metrics whenever possible, because I want to know what I’m actually doing as opposed to what I’m pretty convinced I’m doing. I weigh in every day, in the same way that I use a clock, an oven timer, and a speedometer. I log my workouts. I log what I eat. I log my spending. I log the time I spend doing different things. I check off a list of various habits, and I can see my stats on those. Everywhere I have applied some basic arithmetic and some objective criteria, I have been able to measure an improvement. It’s really helpful, on days when it feels like we’re stuck in the doldrums, to look at a trend line on a spreadsheet and SEE that the change is really happening.
Not everything can be quantified, though. Can we count how often we blame other people for things we had a part in? Can we count how often we call ourselves rude names or mentally beat ourselves up? Can we – do we? – count how often we hurt other people’s feelings, rather than how often they hurt ours? Can we count how often we have been unfair or selfish or overly critical? Is there a way to count how often we’ve been there for others when they need us? Is there a way to measure how attentively we listen or how considerate we are? Would we want to see these metrics?
I want to know. If there was a Rude-o-meter, I would buy one and wear it. Every time it ticked upward, I would slap myself right in the face. Until that day, though, I have to keep watch on my own lie and just try my best to catch myself not quite living up to my own standards.
We can’t quantify our character traits, not yet, anyway. If we could, I’m guessing the first measure available would be tracking which people in the conversation spent how much time talking vs. listening. It would work like a chess clock. Maybe it could also track tone of voice and tell whether we were being gentle or mocking or defensive. We would know ourselves for the complainers and blamers we are, and we’d understand why we never feel like anyone is listening as much as we do. (Hint: probably almost nobody is listening to anyone, ourselves included). When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the story of Anubis weighing the hearts of recently dead people against a feather. I committed that I would do whatever it took to keep my heart light, lest it be eaten by the crocodile-headed demon Ammit. Whatever happens on the other side, whether there is an afterlife of any kind or not, it is often said that our lives flash before our eyes when we die. I worry that my movie will be full of embarrassing moments when I was thoughtless and inconsiderate, and I do what I can to mitigate that.
I quantify what I can quantify, because I know that inside myself is a greedy little liar. My ego always wants to be right. My ego wants what it wants, and that means dominating every conversation, making myself look good, and rendering myself blameless in every interaction. My ego wants everything that winds up ending badly; it wants to sit and eat without limits, to trade sleep for cheap entertainment, to procrastinate anything that doesn’t have chocolate in it, to shop ‘til it drops, to blather on endlessly, to ignore boundaries. Every time I turn around, there it is again, talking with its mouth full and accidentally elbowing people in the ribs. I throw numbers at it. I show it what we ate (“No I didn’t!”) and what we spent (“No I didn’t!”) and how much time we spent idly sitting around (“No I didn’t!”). The interesting thing is that my ego has its way of taking ultimate credit, no matter what I do. I reached my goal weight, so now my ego is proud of that, rather than being too proud to admit the shape we were in. I paid off my consumer debt, so my ego is proud of that, rather than demanding to buy things we couldn’t afford. I ran a marathon, and of course my ego thinks it’s responsible, rather than the self-discipline it was too proud to exert for so long. I’m trying to train it to respond to metrics in the same way that Pavlov taught dogs to salivate at the ringing of a bell.
A moral hazard is something that tends to lead us down the dark path of self-interest. It’s anything that tends to make us complacent or entitled. An example would be playing Scrabble with my Alzheimer’s-diagnosed grandmother, and helping her make a higher-point play that “coincidentally” opened up a higher-point play for me on my turn. A key part of living an ethical life is to try our best to spot moral hazards, and observe ourselves dispassionately. What do we actually do? What choices do we actually make? How do we actually spend our time? When we learn to be accurate observers of our behavior, we have the power to make informed changes. While they always redound to our own benefit, they tend to benefit everyone else around us even more.
It's been a week, so I think it's safe to say that I dodged it. I didn't get my mom's cold. She was coming down with a sore throat and a cough when I got to town a few days before Thanksgiving. We spent a week and a half together. We hugged. We sat together at meals. We sat together on the couch. I went running in the rain and cold. I came and went via two international airports and sat on four planes. I touched doorknobs. I rode several buses and trains. Every opportunity came up for me to get sick, but I didn't. Past experience has me convinced that this is because of reasons, which I will now share.
I used to come down with everything. It felt like I had a runny nose at least three months out of every year for my entire life. I had to get an inhaler once because I had a respiratory infection and wound up coughing up blood. Over the last few years, it seemed that every time I got even the most minor cold, it would go straight to bronchitis. I figured I just had "weak lungs" or something.
Then I decided to question this idea. I have an immune system, don't I? It can theoretically be weakened or strengthened, can't it? There's no cost to trying to strengthen it, is there?
There are four changes I have made, to which I attribute my stronger resistance.
Sleep. I have a parasomnia disorder, so I never felt that my sleep was within my circle of influence. Learning to sleep a solid eight hours a night has revolutionized my life. I used melatonin supplements on a timer for several years, and now I can sleep without assistance.
Vegetables. When I started tracking my micronutrient consumption, I was very surprised to discover that I was low in a couple of nutrients. How could I possibly be eating as many as 12 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and still be short on anything? The secret is that each fruit and each vegetable has a slightly different nutritional profile, and they are not interchangeable. I learned to plan meals around what I was missing with the help of the MyFitnessPal app and some careful research. (Example: foods rich in potassium) I did a ten-day juice fast last month. Oh, and I started drinking a mug of hot water with the juice of one fresh lemon in it several mornings a week.
Washing my hands a little longer. I decided to time myself washing my hands. My default wasn't as long as recommended, so I decided to spend 20% longer scrubbing with soap.
Not touching my eyes or nose. I asked a coworker once why he never seemed to get sick. He promptly responded, "I never touch my eyes." I had never thought of this as an issue before, and I started to realize that I rubbed my eyes all the time. Now I am very aware when I am in public places that this unconscious habit is a quick route for germ introduction.
The first two of these changes affect my immune system. The second two affect my exposure to the human environment.
The thing about health advice is that everyone knows what to do. We just don't like doing it. We're never going to tell ourselves, "Oh, I know I should be going to bed earlier, but I'd rather stay up playing this game and just get the cough that will last three weeks." Or, "Getting a cold is totally worth not having to eat anything green most days of the week." We accept illness as fate.
The other thing about health advice is that we aren't always aware of things that our doctors might assume we know. For instance, I never knew that the spleen plays a role in the immune system until I started researching how to get sick less often. I did know that the spleen does not like processing sugar or fat. It makes sense to me that switching more of my food intake to vegetable matter would also reduce the amount of sugar and fat that I eat. Vegetables are valuable for what they contain, and also for what they displace or drive off our plates. Cabbage, not rice; kale, not pasta; chard, not breakfast cereal; cauliflower, not bread; sweet potatoes, not bagels.
To get into the world of woo-woo a little, not everyone wants to be well all the time. Getting sick is an escape hatch. Especially for people with poor boundaries who get little privacy, a bout with a cold can be a way to be alone, catch up on sleep, and maybe do a bit of reading. Being ill gives us a chance to be waited on for once, rather than waiting on other people all the time. Being the strong one means you get stuck with more than your fair share of drudgery. I've always tried to be really conscious of this with my husband, who has only been sick a couple of times in the decade I've known him. No matter how sick I might be, I still put my clothes in the hamper, put my trash in the wastebasket, and put my dishes in the dishwasher. The worst case scenario at our house is that the bathroom doesn't get cleaned for an extra week. But then, I make my own schedule, and I see getting ill as 100% unpleasant and unnecessary.
To toss one other idea out there, I think there's more to dust than just dust. My clients tend to get sick and stay sick, with the adults and kids coughing and sniffling for three to six weeks at a time. Sometimes this happens several times each winter. There seem to be three parts to this: the "I don't feel like cooking" diet, the lack of schedule/solid sleep, and the coating of biofilm on every surface. Squalor means living with mold, mildew, dust, cardboard particles, and usually a lot of pet hair and dander. My clients tend to resist dusting or vacuuming because "it stirs up the dust!" (And "the cat hates it.") I cut back on my home visits because I would always have sneezing fits during jobs, and sometimes my eyes would get all red and puffy as well. If I'm having respiratory reactions within minutes of walking in your front door, how are you breathing in there night and day? The risk of acting on this hypothesis is quite low. If you deep-clean the entire place and still get sick, it didn't cost anything and at least the house is clean.
First, do no harm. I'm certainly no doctor. I'm just an average person who used to get sick a lot and now does not. As I get older, I feel like I'm aging in reverse. I'm healthier and more energetic than I was twenty years ago. It feels worth sharing my ideas for other people to test or to disregard. There are no real downsides to getting more sleep, eating more vegetables, washing your hands slightly longer, avoiding touching your eyes, or deep-cleaning your house. The downsides of having a cold don't necessarily feel all that bad unless you're in the midst of one. Maybe that's why so many people go out in public and cough all over the place. Here's to not being one of those people.
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.
Remember film? Remember when taking pictures used to be expensive and meant for special occasions, just like long distance phone calls? Hmm. If you're under thirty, you probably don't. Take my word for it - it was just as complicated as listening to music used to be. Photographic evidence of what we really look like may have been more significant and revelatory in that time. Seeing yourself from an external perspective can be as weird an experience as hearing a recording of your own voice. Is that really me? Comparing a photo to our inner image of ourselves can snap into focus that we've changed, that our outsides don't match our insides.
Change is proof that change is possible. Unfortunately, we tend to believe in external change - that things happen to us - but not so much in internal change - that we have the power to make things happen. This is why so many of us believe that body weight naturally goes in only one direction. Worse, we believe in Old Age, the idea that as we get older, we slow down and become frail and ill. There is only one fate possible, and that is a fate of pills, surgery, pain, and debilitation. There are relatively few positive role models of aging toward strength and grit. Most of us may never have met a single elder person who is stronger at 60 than in younger days, and we don't really believe such things are possible. Must be genetic.
The thing is that the body is continually renewing itself. Even brain cells continue to grow with age. We aren't surprised when we get paper cuts, and they miraculously heal without even leaving a scar. We aren't surprised that our hair and fingernails continue to grow. Faced with evidence that our bodies are malleable, we don't make the connections. We don't truly believe that we have any choice or input about how our bodies work.
We'll tolerate chronic neck and shoulder tension, sleep deprivation, or regular migraines because we assume that these are just the price of the ticket for being a working adult. Life is hard, life is stressful, therefore we must walk through each day with at least a certain measure of pain. When we see our own faces reflected back to us with stress lines and circles under our eyes, shoulders slumped in weariness and care, we see exactly what we expect to see. Disappointing, but whatcha gonna do. It's this same fatalism that has us routinely eating foods even when they disagree with us later, overindulging and staying up too late even when we feel punished the next day, gaining weight every year, hating it, but feeling like this is just what happens. Dammit, body of mine, why can't you just be awesome for once? Oh well. Pass the brownies.
Hold up a baby picture, a graduation photo, and a selfie from today. Instant timeline. This kind of timeline feels real. A "before and after" timeline feels fake, partly because we know how often they are faked. Who's to say that the "before" and the "after" are even the same person? Only when we've made our own personal physical transformations do we understand that major change is possible for anyone. The way I look today has nothing to do with how I looked a year ago, or how I'll look next year. It isn't carved in stone. Maybe I'll always be short, but I do have control over my posture. I can also control my sleep schedule, my hydration and food intake, and my strength training routine, or lack thereof.
I don't photograph well. A kind friend tactfully said that I am "difficult to capture on film." That's fine. I feel like I would not have enjoyed being a "10" in life, and now that I'm over 40 I just can't care that much. I look how I look - I look like myself. I feel that I look like myself even though I look so different than I did in my teens and twenties. That sense of identity felt exactly the same when I was fat as it does now. I've spent at least a year of my adult life wearing each of eight clothing sizes, and I always felt the same. There I am, that's me. The biggest difference is that I have more energy now. I'm measurably more physically fit than I was at every age from 15 to 30. I run faster, I can lift more weight, I have greater endurance, I can cover more miles, and I can do things I couldn't do when I was young. I can spin a hula hoop, do a pull-up, and climb a rope. I couldn't do any of those things until after I turned 35. Who cares how I look, when the experience of being in my body is so much improved?
That's the trouble with photographs. A sweetly smiling facial expression can hide total inner turmoil or deep sadness. A cranky frown could be the result of trying to smile into the sun on an unusually happy day. Pictures can be deceiving. Our pictures of our own bodies can be deceiving, as well. We feel like we simply ARE a certain way, physically, whether that includes poor body image or a poor state of health. We forget how much we changed in our first decades of life, and we think that at a certain age, positive physical change quits happening. What we don't know, what we can never see, is how far our timelines extend into the future. Each day is simply one snapshot in the series. What if another snapshot a little further ahead showed a stronger, more vital self?
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.