Sunday, September 28, 2008

On the upswing...

Well, for the past few weeks, I've been in a bit of a funk. I've had a few easy 'excuses' for falling into a bit of a rut -- work has been moving at an unusually fast pace. School has been a bit more intense and intimidating than I had originally planned, shaking my sense of intellectual confidence in a way that I haven't felt in a while. And I've had a series of birthday and wedding celebrations that have provided many easy reasons for not sticking to my plan. But those are all just excuses at this point. -- excuses that have made it really easy to doubt myself. To doubt my trainer. To feel really let down and disappointed that I've not had as much progress as I would have liked. Or as much progress as other people I see (on TV) who are fighting the same demons that I am on a daily basis. That's why I haven't blogged in a while... it's difficult to put words out there in cyberspace when you're feeling like shit.

But, over the past few days, I've been reflecting upon what has brought me to this place -- a space of discouragement, uncertainty and well, funk, that initially worried me, but now I'm learning to live in and move through -- for a short while, at least.

As I map out the events and sequences of the past few weeks, I've come to realize what triggered my drop in motivation. Two months ago, I was preparing for my friend's wedding, and had bought a beautiful new summer-weight grey v-neck sweater to wear to the event. I had this fantastic picture in my head of what I would be wearing -- grey flat front dress pants, a crisp pink dress shirt, a chunky black tie, and a light grey sweater that would take away any chill in the air during the outdoor wedding. Matched with a pair of sunglasses and sharp shoes, it was all style, full speed ahead.

So, I bought this sweater. I tried it on in the store. And it was a tight fit. But I bought it anyway... because for the first time in a very long time, I was able to at least buy a piece of clothing that didn't come from a specialty store for 'big & tall' men. I remember hesitating about the purchase, but ended up paying far too much for the sweater, thinking that it might be a bit of subliminal motivation. I got home, tried the whole ensemble on, and envisioned that with two months of hard work, that I'd be able to pull it off. Well, I mean, put it on, really. I tucked the sweater away in the corner of my closet, and proceeded confidently through the two following months not fixated on that goal, but instead trying to remained tuned into how I was doing and feeling at that moment in time.

Well, shortly before the wedding (about 2 1/2 weeks ago), I pulled the sweater out of the closet, and.... it didn't fit. It didn't fit any differently than it did that first day I tried it on in the 'normal' store. I was confused. I was pissed off. I was crushed. So, I quickly had to come up with a Plan B for the wedding, and put myself through the shame of returning the sweater to the store... handing it back to the same salesperson who sold it to me in the first place, dreading that moment when I would have to tell him that I was returning it because it didn't fit. Big fucking surprise, I told myself. Who was I kidding.

So, I think that's what triggered it. I've been working hard for two months. Yes, I could have been working harder, but I've done better than I ever thought I would. I've never felt better. People have noticed that I'm looking different. And it feels good to have people, who haven't seen me in a while, tell me that I'm looking really great. It's a huge difference from just a few months ago when people were more likely to tell me that I was looking tired and run down. So, things were improving, but the sweater didn't fit. And that sucked.

Losing weight and getting in shape is, as I've said before, a tricky balancing act between making significant changes in one's behaviours as they relate to food and fitness, and one's thinking about well, pretty much everything. And as I sit here and reflect upon this sweater... this $100 tool of torture... I realize just how much of this battle has to be fought in my head. I've got a closet full of clothes that once fit, and which I've not let go in hopes that one day that they'll fit once again. Why would I subject myself to the judgement and scrutiny of trying to put on a piece of clothing that didn't even fit in the first place?

Well, I think it comes down to the fact that the sweater was from a 'normal' store. I don't know how else to describe it. But I bought the sweater at a store that I've never before been able to shop at. And for that moment in time, I started to feel more 'normal' than I have in a long time. I mean, since I started down this path, I've been feeling better and better about myself, feeling more and more like I'm part of the 'exclusive club' of people who are fit and healthy. Like I was 'fitting in' like I haven't in a long time, instead of being noticed for all the wrong reasons.

And the sweater reminded me that I still live on the fringe. That I'm still an outsider looking into a world where the margins are heavily populated with people like me who, for one reason or another, don't 'fit'. We don't fit because we're not thin. We're not straight. We're not wealthy. We're not smart. And as I think about it, the sweater not fitting came at the same time when I was feeling like my school work was really challenging. And for most of my life, when other people have drawn their confidence from their athletic accomplishments (which, in many ways defined success through most of my school years), I drew mine from being smart and having academic achievement come pretty easily. It was the one thing I knew I could always do well, and for the past few weeks, I've actually been a bit afraid of and intimidated by the work that lays ahead. So, I'm not feeling academically confident. The sweater didn't fit. What did I have to hang on to? I guess I began to question why I was doing all this in the first place.

I know it's a bit of an extreme question.. I mean, it was just a friggin' sweater. It's just a class. But I don't give myself much space to screw up. I don't provide myself with either the self-understanding to acknowledge that I've not done as well as I could have, or the self-forgiveness to accept the fact that I might have failed at something. Failure isn't really an option. And I suppose that's why I've avoided tackling weight loss for so long. I've failed at it so many times before, that I don't even want to come near that devastation again.

I need to learn to be patient. I need to learn to trust. I need to learn to forgive.

So, I dumped most of this on Sebastien last Wednesday as I was stomping through my warm up on the treadmill. And I know I threw him for a loop. He wasn't expecting me to be in this 'bad space'. And God bless him, he tried to encourage me to get out of it. But no matter what he said, no matter what he did...at that point, not much was going to make me feel better. I didn't know what was going to make me feel better either. I just had to 'be' in my funk.

So, I 'was'. I continued my workout, in spite of my pissy mood, and consider myself blessed that Seb stayed by my side through the funk last week. It would have been easy for him to digress into a bunch of 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' platitudes to try to make me feel better. But I think he got the sense that the best thing he could do to get me through the funk was to simply let me be there... but do 50 crunches, a bunch of weight work, and cardio while I was there. I guess if I'm going to be in a bad space, I may as well make it productive.

All this said, I'm starting to feel better. Over the past two weeks I have felt sad. I've felt like I'm failing. I've felt alone. It was really easy for me to throw a pity party for one. But, thanks to the love and support of wonderful friends and family, my party got bigger... and it wasn't about pity.

It was my 35th birthday two weeks ago. And because of the wedding (where I was to wear the fated sweater that didn't fit), I didn't really celebrate the occasion. Instead, I planned a dinner for last night to celebrate. Yeah, it seems a bit self-indulgent to plan and throw my own birthday party... but it is what it is.

And last night, as I sat at dinner, surrounded by 16 fantastic friends, all of whom love and support me, I realized that I'm not alone. That I'm not failing. That I'm actually pretty damn happy (the gin and tonics helped!). I've got wonderful people in my life who are here to get me through the funks. To help me wallow in the bad times. To help me celebrate the accomplishments and victories -- big and small. People who love me not in spite of my deficiencies, but because of them. I'm loved because I'm not perfect. If I were... frankly, I just wouldn't be that interesting. And that even though I felt like I didn't fit in.. that I was stuck living life in the margins.. my friends and family remind me that that is not the case. I belong. I fit in. I fit.

So, at the end of this convoluded stream of consciousness blog, rest assured that I'm starting to feel better. My dear friend Liza and I had a wonderful conversation the other day, and she helped me to see things a bit more clearly. She helped me realize that even though I'm feeling like I'm not making as much progress as I would like (or would dream of having, no thanks to the extremes presented in the media -- like the people on the Biggest Loser who lose 23 pounds in one week 'cause they work out 5 hours a day)... even though things don't seem to be moving as fast... at least they're moving. And she helped me remember that I have a choice. I can continue to do what I'm doing and make positive changes in my life, knowing that in 6 months, I will be better off than I was 6 months before. Or, I can do nothing, and nothing changes.

I think I'll go for the change.

I need to remember that this is going to be a long journey. Sebastien estimates 5 years... I think he's crazy... but he's probably right. But I hope you can see how telling me that this is a 5 year adventure is going to not only scare the crap out of me, but also throw me for a bit of a loop. Either way, it took me a long time to get here... change isn't going to happen overnight.

Patience I will have to learn.
Trust I will have to have.
Forgiveness I will need to figure out.

Amid it all, I will need to remember one thing:

Kia Kaha.
Stay strong.

PS. Liza also helped me remember that at work, we get killer benefits for psychotherapy... I think it's time to look after my brain again as much as I'm trying to look after my body.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Something's got to give... or can I have it all?

I'm beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed these days. I've just been through a very nutty first week at work, started two classes as part of my PhD program, and continue to try to work out every day. Emphasis is on 'try' there, 'cause I've had a hard time convincing myself to get up and get moving. I suppose it's completely natural to be in a bit of a funk or a lull, but I'm starting to question whether or not I can handle it all. I've got a lot on the go, and I'm wondering if I've taken on too much. But I better make up my mind soon, 'cause if something's got to give, it's going to have to happen in the next little while.

I guess where I'm feeling the most overwhelmed right now is with my school work. I've undertaken a pretty ambitious course load this year -- no different than last year in terms of number of classes, but it feels like the rigor of what I'm doing now it a bit more intense. Also, last year, I hadn't made a new commitment to my health, and I had also conveniently hired a day care to look after my dog. That made life easy. But things are different now. Rosie needs to be walked every day, and I'm managing to do that. Just as my health is a priority, so is hers. I need to have my hour in the gym every day -- that's my time to sweat, think, and feel good. But I also have a job. And school work. And laundry. And a dishwasher that I keep breaking. And the list goes on....

So what's got to give? Or do I have to sacrifice anything at all???

I'm thinking that if I dive into the next four months at this pace, that I'm going to get completely overwhelmed, and I'm going to have to let something drop. Well, not looking after the dog isn't an option. Once I've hit October, dropping a class isn't an option. Quitting work isn't an option. I fear that when I really get into the thick of it all, that it's going to be really really easy for me to stop working out. When all is said and done, giving up the one thing that is perhaps of the greatest importance to me right now is going to be the easiest thing to give up. And that kind of freaks me out a bit.

So what would the consequences be...

If I drop a class now, I feel like I'll be able to breathe a bit more easily. I know which one I'd let go, and I can pick it up again in January. And yes, I've got two classes scheduled for January again, and I might find myself in the same predicament. However, I feel like doing only one class now, on top of everything else I have committed myself to, is a reasonable and manageable addition to my 'to do' list. And doing one class now might actually make it easier to take two in January. I suppose that makes sense... doesn't it???

Aside from over-thinking things as I always do, I've had a bit of a slow week in terms of working out. The intensity of my work has been increasing, accompanied by increased aches and pains. And it's time for a bit of a body break (and not the type with Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod on CBC... remember them???). So, I took it easy on Friday -- i mean, REALLY easy... picture an exciting evening of me, the couch, the dog and week's worth of TiVo. Yesterday was miserable in terms of weather, and it didn't make it easy to get up and do much, although I ended up at work for a few hours to take care of something I had committed to a while back. And today, well, I was at the gym at 8:45 this morning and just got home. So, once again, I have shown myself that even when I'm feeling the funkiest and most lethargic, getting to the gym is actually a good thing.

The other thing I'm doing this week to give my body a bit of a break is I'm finally going for a massage. I've put my body through a bit of the ringer in the past few weeks, and as I said, I'm starting to get achy again. So, on Thursday, September 18 (my birthday, ahem, ahem), I'll happily be laid out on a table with a massage therapist working out all the knots and kinks. Can't wait.

And on the note of September 18.... one of my goals this past year was to be well on my way towards better health by the time I'm 35. This week marks that important day, and I feel like I'm definitely headed in the right direction. Check mark, gold star, snaps all around.

Kia kaha.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Proud

Here I sit on a dull Saturday afternoon in Toronto... I've just come home from the gym, and my landlord is running his dishwasher -- meaning, it's sucking up all the hot water, and I can't take a shower. Yet. So, I've decided to spend a few moments reflecting on the past few weeks of my new journey in life.

I feel like I've made some breakthroughs along the way. I've gotten a lot more comfortable in the gym, so much so that I go almost every day. I'm not as moody and tired as I used to be. I can now leg press 450 pounds (roughly the weight of 1 and a half refrigerators!). I can bench-press 130 pounds (that's two big plates, a descriptor that is apparently supposed to feed my male, testosterone-driven ego... it's working). I've grown comfortable with myself as a 'sweater'... not the one you wear, but as in 'one who sweats'. And I've accepted the fact that after sweating for an hour in the gym, yes, I smell.

The biggest breakthrough of all I believe occurred to me today. I was in the middle of doing a full body workout, meaning I did a bit of cardio and then spent the bulk of my time lifting weights in various configurations using various equipment. It's amazing how much doing strength training actually keeps your heart pumping, and I'm feeling WAY more comfortable in that part of the gym. I remember the first few days when I used to just stick to the treadmill, my comfort zone, and look over to the weight area wondering what it was like over there. Well, I'm at home there. But today, I realized part of what made me uncomfortable there. Mirrors.

Now, I know very few people in my world who enjoy looking at themselves in the mirror. I am not the exception. When you get to a point in your life when you don't like the physical person you see in your reflection, a mirror quickly becomes your worst enemy. I have three mirrors in my house -- and rarely use them (except for the one in the bathroom to shave, etc.). I have mirrors in my car, and they serve a very utilitarian purpose. Occasionally, I'll catch my reflection in a window on campus, functioning as a mirror, and quickly turn my head away, not liking what I see.

But today, as I stood by the free weights, and finished of a set of something that involved 2 30-pound dumbbells and some mild grunting, I took a moment to catch my breath and look in the mirror. Now, you may wonder how I've managed to not look at my reflection at the gym all this time. It's quite easy. Very quickly after I get myself into position doing whatever exercise I need to do, I blur my eyes so that I see only the outline of the person before me. You know, kind of how you blur your eyes at those posters of weird patterns from which sub-visual images of dolphins are supposed to emerge. It's very easy. But today I caught myself. I didn't blur.

I was standing there, in a very unusual moment, realizing that I was taking a good close look at myself. Yep, that was sweat dripping down my neck. My yellow 'Long Island StickBall Team' baseball hat was soaked. So was my grey t-shirt. My legs were.... well, I've recently fallen in love with my legs... they're something special, I think... LOL!!!! I was starting to show definition in my quadricep muscle. I also noticed, in a very homo way, that my outfit matched... LOL!!!! I can't help it... colour coordination comes naturally. When God was giving out genes, all the other boys got the athletic one, and I got the gene to choose and coordinate colours. But I digress.

So, after scanning the sweaty beast before me, I took a long hard look at my face. And though to myself, 'Yes, I am shrinking.' I say this, because my friend Liza saw me yesterday for the first time in a few weeks, and she told me the same thing. I didn't totally believe it until today. I think my face looks thinner. My skin is clear as a bell. My eyes are brighter. And for the first time in a long time... staring at my reflection in a full-length mirror... sweat, stink and all... I smiled at myself.

I'm proud of me.

Those are tough words to write. They're even more difficult to say (haven't quite mastered that yet). But I am indeed proud of myself. I've already come a long way... and have a long way yet to go. But I think that the more often I take the time to look at myself in the mirror, smile, and enjoy the reflection I see before me, the easier the path ahead will be. Losing weight and getting in shape is by no means a simple game of caloric input and output. That's why I think so many people struggle and/or fail at doing it. I know that's why I did. There's a whole psychology to all of this that mainstream, popular (read: million-dollar making diet industry) programs don't address. They don't address the psychology of weight because if they did, they wouldn't get the return business. Think about it. I can count on two hands the number of times I have been a member of Weight Watchers. I can count the same number of times I failed at it. But their gig is a simple game of input and output. Count calories. Count points. Count whatever. But what they don't count is the number of times a person, who is suffering and sad on the inside, turns his/her head away from a mirror in disgust and fear... they don't count the number of breaths that same person has to take in order to build up the courage to head to the gym... they don't count the number of tears that roll down that person's cheek when they finally look in the mirror, smile and realize for the first time in a very long long time, that they're proud of themselves. That's why diets suck.

All that said, I know that this is THE path for me. Again, I've tried it all. Weight Watchers. Sure Slim. Nutri System. Jenny Craig. LA Weight Loss. 'Medical' clinics. Nutrionists at hospitals. But this is working. Healthy eating. Healthy exercise. And a growing healthy sense of self are all finally converging to work in synergy to help me overcome easily the most significant hurdle I've ever faced in my life. Coming out as a gay man is nothing compared to this, let me tell you. But the power of three are working in my favour... and I'm proud of me.

So, indulge me for another few minutes, and enjoy this video clip. As many of you know, I see and experience the world not only through my eyes, but also through my 'inner soundtrack'. Through music. I guess it's due to the fact that while a lot of other kids were out playing sports, I was playing piano, or listening to ABBA records and musical theatre soundtracks (I know... enjoy the stereotype). So, you'll understand why I wanted to share this video with you.

It's of a song that I first heard when the City of London was bidding for the 2012 Olympic Games. I remember hearing the lyrics and seeing the bid video and still very vividly recall the goosebumps that came over me. The same song has since become the opening theme song of the TV show, 'The Biggest Loser' (http://www.nbc.com/The_Biggest_Loser/), a reality show which, over the past three years, helped me get my butt of the couch and get this all started. Listen to the lyrics. Enjoy the music. The song has a powerful message. And ask yourself, 'what have you done today to make YOU feel proud?'. I know what I've done....

Kia kaha.

video