I Got This

Sometime last weekend Corona arrived in southwestern Vermont. The place where nothing ever happens, suddenly had something happen that’s happening everywhere.

Our school and most of the schools around here are taking common sense precautions and outlining new policies. There is talk of some people being quarantined as a precaution. And, even though most of the strategies still center around good old-fashioned soap and water, our conversations at home have included a few inquiries into whether or not we could handle a quarantine of the type being instituted in the Lombardy region of Italy right now.

But the Green Mountain prepper in me isn’t thinking about how much TP is left in that giant skid we bought before the winter or if we’re running low on canned soup or firewood. stocking up for tough times – weeklong power outages, blizzards, occasionally hurricanes, and, more frequently, economic downturn‘s – is a way of life for most people in rural areas like ours.

For most of the last twenty years since we moved to Vermont, I’ve had a veggie garden big enough to fill my freezer and keep me out of trouble for most of the summer. The last few summers it’s languished as I worked toward my teaching certificate. The first warm sun this weekend, however, got me mentally mapping paths and raised beds in the overgrown plot next to the house.

So, as spring and bad news, all I could think was, I got this.

I got my gym for the summer.

I got our backup grocery store.

I got my broken foot physical therapy.

But, most of all, knowing there is some dirt and sweat in my near future, I’ll get the calming kind of mental health therapy that usually ends up being the most important element in getting through any crisis.

How are you taking care of your mental health in this era of endless crises?

Get Centered

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 The other day as we wended our way down the hill towards our house, wrapping up a walk that, for some reason, had caused Katy-the-Wonder-Dog many fearful pauses, the afternoon sun broke through the clouds, and we had something more than a walk.

I wanted to step up the pace for the last quarter mile and burn some calories. Katy decided sunny dirt was more worth sniffing than cloudy dirt. We trotted and paused a few times and then as the sun sank closer to the mountain across the way from us, she stopped and sniffed the air. 

“Katy, ” I coaxed. She ignored me, closing her eyes and turning her face to the sun and the mountain. I noted the line of light highlighting her and sank down to take a picture, but before I could tap the shutter button, I felt the sun on my face and closed my eyes for a moment too. 

The walk had been cross training. It had been a bathroom break. It had been huffing and puffing. Now, in the slightly warmer sunny air, it was something better. I opened my eyes to see Katy still meditating (if dogs meditate) on the sun and the sounds of the dozens of seasonal streams that were flowing down the mountains.  

It was as if someone had gently said, “Stop.” Stop, for just a moment, worrying about being able to run 3 miles or pay bills tonight or find time for everything on your list and get centered. 

A dog down the hill barked, and Katy’s head turned in that direction. I started the trot toward home and to-do’s again utterly unperturbed by the length of my list and committed to finding time to get centered more often.

Things in the Path

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I’m trying to include a two-mile hike/walk to the town hall and back each evening as cross training and, now, as Katy-the-Wonder-Dog is more inclined to wander in the warmer weather, a way to make sure she gets a good long walk in before dark. Taking the boys is always entertaining. Taking only the dog, yesterday, was enlightening.

Somedays the boys go with me, but yesterday it was just us gals.

We had to sneak out to keep the cats from following us (Princess Jane and Gentleman Jim-Bob have been joining us on the morning run). The first half mile of the walk is a steep incline from our door to our neighbor’s house. Katy loves this part of the walk. She wags her tail as we walk by houses filled with people who pet her and give her treats. We’ll stop so she can reclaim territory alongside the road, and there was a pause and a wag as we passed the neighbor’s house and she noticed the neighbor’s son, clearly in need of a canine playmate working in the yard.

To her credit, Katy had kept on track, the only serious pauses being the conducting of business. As we pass our neighbor’s house, however, we got to the quieter part of the road (a relative term in a town where the only traffic jam happens for 20 minutes after the July 4 parade when all the horse drawn wagons are driven home). There would be only one house to pass before we got to the town hall still over a half-mile away down the hill.

I will admit that my imagination starts to run faster than my feet on this section of road. We have seen a mountain lion cross this part of the road, and, even though I’m guessing he/she doesn’t just park himself up the hill waiting for stray joggers, I always wish I’d brought lion spray. Or bear spray. Or coyote repellant. Have I missed any possible predators?

With my vicious attack dog, infamous for drowning visitors in kisses and annoying passing deer with her attempts to play with them, I knew I’d be safe. Strength in numbers, right?

As it turns out, Katy is scared of more than just gunshots and thunderstorms. We passed a chained driveway to a camp higher up the mountain, and she slowed down, sniffing the air, looking down the mountain to our left and, then, up the mountain.

“Come on, honey,” I coaxed. She looked at me and then the mountain and then tried to do her happy trot. We passed an exposed ribcage, and I wondered if the smell had spooked the dog, but remembering that she had no qualms about eating decaying deer meat — a kill apparently deemed too small to tag by some anonymous hunter that had been left in our woods.

I kept walking wondering if she could smell big mountain cat pee on the road or something.  Were the bears waking up?  Maybe she could hear them rumble.  

We did the sniff, slow, and stop routine a few more times, and I thought how ironic that I, the queen of worry and wonder (as in, I wonder if that guy in the unfamiliar truck could be a serial killer?) was suddenly in the position of trying to help another being find her moxie.

We got to the town hall, I slapped the mail box to mark the half-way point and started up the hill back to our house, me coaxing and ignoring my own ridiculous fears. We passed the petrifying rib cage again. Katy stopped to mark it this time, and I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I wouldn’t have to fake courage for someone else after a few more minutes.

The pathetic thing is that this road isn’t the only place my fears speed up my footsteps or, worse, stop me in my tracks to consider an ancient carnage. That tendency to stop becomes a habit in other areas of life, sometimes making daily struggles seem bigger than they are. Usually I muscle my way through them for the sake of the kids, but I always wish I didn’t feel the fear at all.

As we got to the top of the hill near the neighbor’s house and the easy part lay ahead, I decided I was really grateful to Katy. When I go walking with the boys, we’re so loud that any animal will steer clear of the road just to save their eardrums.  With my fellow worrier, however, I had more than company. I had some time to consider my more ridiculous fears and, even if I was faking it the whole way just for her sake, to pretend that I was bigger than they were. 

Someday that may become a habit.

 

Food, Glorious Drug

Food and I go way back. Almost fifty years now. We’ve had a great relationship. I mean, don’t all great friendships include an all-controlling dominant half (food) and a sycophantic lickspittle (me) or, in my case lick-whatever’s-left-on-the-plate?

I have started to question that relationship in the last few years. I’ve tried to take the upper hand by counting calories, cutting out certain kinds of food colored chocolate with labels like ‘Abandon all self-control here, ye of little self-respect’. A few years ago, I started to dominate the relationship to the point where I’d lost fifty pounds, which helped my five foot three frame look more like a short pear than a cantaloupe.

I controlled intake. I exercised. It lasted a few months.

A broken foot knocked me off my fitness routine, and soon I was back on the Bernaise sauce. And the steak and asparagus. And don’t forget the garlic mashed potatoes. Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff..

Last week I had an inkling a depressive phase might be setting in when the mental call of the country store round table took on a decidedly fried sound. My day of work and deep-fried self-medication wasn’t the first over-indulgence, but as I got home feeling sick from over-eating and somehow still willing to eat more to feel ‘better’, I realized, my relationship to food was more like an addict’s to a pusher.

Yesterday, online, I caught the headline of an article in the Guardian about not just changing the relationship with food, but breaking up with it for a few weeks. By taking it out of the equation.

After read the first few paragraphs (always a good idea when making a healthcare decision) about using traditional meal-replacement shakes that have been around since the 60s and 70s to turn food from emotional balm into pure function, I knew what I have to do. I headed out the door to our favorite British-style diner for a last supper.

Okay, maybe today will be the real last supper.

But I didn’t have to read the rest of the article to know that this sounded right. I need to break up with food. I need to get the upper hand and find another, more constructive emotional outlet like writing or painting (I hear some people swear by it).

So today, like the dozens (maybe hundreds) of Sundays before every diet I’ve ever broken, might be a free-for-all (okay, it will be), but tomorrow, we’re breaking up. I’ll make sure the calorie count is sane and that a bottle of multivitamins is handy, but for the next eight weeks, food won’t be what’s for dinner or for celebration or inebriation.

Food, I’ll call you in a couple months, and if you want to be friends, things are going to have to change.

Body Work

Thing1’s impending graduation has prompted a bit of cleaning inside and, since snow no longer covers the mess we call a yard, the outside too.

I used to have gardening problem, but recovering from a broken foot made digging uneven ground a tough hobby for a few years. I’m back to digging this year, huffing and puffing and trying to remind myself I ran a 12k a few short years ago. It also reminds me that my coveted, brawny gardening physique, and not a bikini body that won’t get used in Vermont anyway, is what  I should have been more disciplined about chasing on the treadmill all winter.

Fortunately, a shovel and a patch of dirt still make a cheap gym.

Old Habits

 

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I’m enough of a yo-yo artiste that I know bad habits don’t die, they just wait for winter to regroup.  Case in point, the last few weeks I’ve been treating my body like a bit of an amusement park, and I can’t be too shocked when I feel like I’m looking into a funhouse mirror.  

Still, when, in honor of spring and impending swimsuit season (which, for me, is a misnomer as I rarely wear a swimsuit anywhere), I stepped on the scale this morning, I realized it’s time to get back on the wagon.   

Silly Little Love Thong

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It was when I was standing in the toothpaste and tampon aisle that I realized that the powers that be will try to sell us on anything.

Why else would the feminine hygiene market be trying to market us on a mini pads for a thong? I don’t know about the rest of my gender, the last thing I’m thinking of during that time of the month, is how I can find a way to wear the most uncomfortable undergarment possible.

I looked down at my own body and admitted there were a lot of days during the month I wouldn’t even consider wearing a thong, and most of those all of those days end with a ‘Y’. And as I snorted in disgust, I almost whispered those dirty words that everyone has uttered at some point in his or her adult life. “I hate my body.”  

But I didn’t. I stopped myself.  And, as I retreated to the safety of the toothpaste side of that aisle, I knew what they really trying to sell me.

I haven’t said those words more than once in the last six months. I haven’t abandoned them because I’ve lost so much weight that I love the way my body looks. The reality is, that even when I get to my goal weight, I’ll have so much loose skin from childbearing, breast-feeding, and carrying too much weight for too many years that wearing a thong even in private might give my husband reasonable grounds for divorce if his eyes weren’t so bad . 

I eschewed the phrase during my first 7 mile run. For some people 7 miles isn’t very far, but for me it was a milestone. I was huffing and puffing the whole way, and when I realized the last part of my race would be uphill, I felt the words rising.  I hate my body.

My feet became dead weights, and I slowed. It was as if my were body rebelling against the arrows I had just slung.

“What have I done?” It was asking me. “What have I done except carry you the last 40-odd years while giving you two healthy children – all without complaint? You have neglected me. You have gorged and let me grow weak, and I have served you anyway”

I came to a complete stop and looked down.   It was right. If my body doesn’t perform to my expectations it’s because I haven’t treated it with respect.

That’s been changing over the last few months with better nutrition and exercise. But the change is not only physical. When I selected goal weight, it was not based on a jean size, it was based on a healthy BMI for my age. And I’ve come to realize that if I don’t love my body –  at every size – how can I expect it to love me enough to carry me into old age and do the things that a body is supposed to do?

So maybe if they make a thong that’s comfortable for me and my body, I’d go for it. But what was for sale on that shelf in the toothpaste and tampon aisle, I’m no longer willing to buy.

Tales from the Scale

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Forgive me scale for I have really sinned.  It’s been at least a week since my last confession.

Before I step on, however, I just want to say that even though my sins are too numerous to list within the next hour – the last week has been a nutritional blur – I have stuck to my fitness plan like a champion (the running part that is).  With that in mind, I hope you’ll agree with me that you shouldn’t raise the numbers too high and that maybe you can give me a pass for listing maple syrup as a serving of vegetables (it comes from a plant, after all).

I’m ready to do some penance, and I really appreciate you keeping the pounds even.  I promise I’ll lay off the crisps and pies for the next few weeks, but I just have to say that while the running rules, dieting sucks.

Cause or Effect

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A few months ago I got on the Pill.  Not the one that keeps little surprises from happening in a marriage but the one that was supposed to help keep my demons away.  After a few weeks of trading the demons I’d known all my life and gotten used to (even if I don’t really like them) for a terrifying set of new demons I didn’t know, I went off the pill.

The move wasn’t just bravado, although there was some involved.  A summer return to a regular fitness routine power a good part of my swagger, and for the last few months I’ve been on a more even keel.  My demons have been relegated to the periphery.  

They never stay there, however.  When I tire, they get stronger, as they did Sunday.  From their darkness, they beckoned me to stay home from my run and retreat to my fantasy world – just for a short while.  There were seven miles ahead of me, and the temptation was strong.  Ultimately, I got out of bed, deciding this was the perfect time to test the effect of endorphins on depression.  

It always takes me a mile or two to get warmed up and start enjoying the exercise.  It’s the point where the world melts away.  Stories are written on those runs.  Problems are solved.  At the three mile mark, however, my demons were right beside me, and every muscle was exhausted. 

At the fourth mile, Boogie Wonderland came on the mp3 player.  My stories were interrupted by images of seven-year-old Thing2 be-bopping in his rainbow wig and cape, and my pace quickened.  As the air cut around me, I could feel the wind unfurling my own cape.  For the rest of the run, every step took me into the stories I’m writing and away from the darkness. 

Looking back, I’m still not sure if the endorphins were the causes or the effects.

The Game

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I woke up a few Fridays ago determined to get my ‘down’ time in on the trail before the workday started.  I got it.  I also got a lesson from  Mother Nature down time management.

I got the kids to the bus, miraculously in time for the first stop.  Then I headed to the trail at the park.  It had been raining all night, and there were still drips and drops, but there were also peeks of sunshine.  By the time I stopped at the park, it was drizzling, but I wasn’t too worried.  It was about to clear up.

Wrapping my mp3 player in a plastic sandwich baggie and then into my belt, I pushed play and headed down the trail.  Five hundred feet into the park, the sky opened up.  Instantly, I was drenched from head to toe and supremely grateful that, in my now-soaked shirt and running pants and looking like a jelly donut entering a wet T-shirt contest, I was the only person in the park.  I thought seriously about turning back.

It wasn’t fortitude or courage that kept me going.  It was the knowledge that I had a To-Do list a mile long.  Work was next on the agenda, then (hopefully) blog posts, getting ready for a class I was about to help teach, laundry (always laundry), vacuuming, dinner and writing before bed.  I knew this was the only time to get my down time.

I took refuge under a shelter when the rain was too blindingly-heavy to navigate the path.  When the rain slowed, I restarted my run from the beginning, figuring I couldn’t possibly get any wetter.   Mother Nature laughed and let out another sprinkle.  As I got to the end of the third mile and started the fourth, it had stopped feeling like work and begun feeling like down time – without and with the rain.

That’s when it struck me that the rain was just part of the game.  The weather is going to do nothing but get worse over the next few months.  As I write, it’s still dark this morning.  Weather and time changes close in with their excuses not to run, but the dark is also part of the game.  Winning that game and getting that down time – on the trail or the keyboard – is ignoring those excuses and getting it anyway.