Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Crying into my quinoa

About two and a half months ago, I met my friend Liza for lunch downtown. We were sitting in a very packed Fresh Vegetarian Restaurant on Bloor Street, having a very healthy lunch. Liza knew that I had been in a bit of a funk then, and we decided to connect to chat. Of course, we spent time talking about all of this work I'm doing, and how at that point, and still to some degree now, I'm feeling a bit sad about it all. Even though I'm experiencing tremendous success, I was feeling sad and a bit dejected at times. I was really struggling with some of the guilt that I was feeling about not being as present in my relationships with friends and family because I was spending so much time at the gym. I was feeling really lost because everything I once knew was no longer certain -- the places from which I drew my sense of self (namely my career and my schoolwork) were no longer fulfilling me in the ways they once did. I was becoming a new person with newly found confidence, but feeling like I didn't have anything keeping me anchored. I was even feeling extremely guilty about not spending as much time with my dog as I should -- because I was spending so much time working out and working on 'me'.

And before I knew it, I was crying into my quinoa. Literally.

There I was, sitting in a packed restaurant in the middle of the day, crying because I was feeling so sad and so lost. Now Liza is an incredibly supportive friend, and she allowed me to be in that moment with my emotion. I felt like I had lost control of myself. I mean, I was sitting in a public place, bawling my eyes out feeling like I couldn't stop. And it didn't stop there.

In subsequent conversations with close friends, I also got very emotional as I spoke with them about the change I was going through. Every time I trained with Sebastien, I was happy to be there, but truly, I felt sad and kind of 'meh'. I didn't really talk to anyone in my family about how I was feeling, because I just don't go into that emotional terrain with them. But I sensed that even they knew how I was feeling. I would sometimes even cry in the car on the way to work -- in an odd experience where I was crying tears of joy because of how much progress I was making, but also tears of sadness because I wasn't feeling incredibly great. For someone who doesn't do 'emotion' very often, I am sure you can imagine how unsettling all of this spontaneous emotion was becoming.

My friend Tony put it quite succinctly by saying that my body could no longer hold onto the emotion it once did. I truly believe that the body holds emotion, and when you've spent most of your life eating through pain and sadness, you create more and more physical space for your body to hang onto the emotions. And the more your body hangs onto the feelings, the less you truly experience them. Now, I've lost over 140 pounds of body weight, and really, there are not many places for emotion to go. I don't eat to deal with eat. I exercise to address it to a degree, but I still have to let it out. And as much as I felt awkward about getting emotional when I least suspected it, I realized that I needed to simply let out what I was feeling, be it happiness, sadness, excitement, anxiety or whatever. I have to get used to truly saying how I feel as opposed to saying that everything is 'alright' and quietly finding a way to suppress all that emotion.

Furthermore, I was mourning. My body was mourning the physical being it used to be, and my soul was mourning the person who I once thought I was. This is not just a physical journey -- dealing with what's in my head is a huge part of the battle. And I have had to spend time getting to know and understand the new 'me'. That is, I have been trying to think realistically abotu who I am in this world, and how I take up a different space. Not only do I take up less physical space, as evidenced by the fact that my body physics is a bit out of whack, and I find myself bumping into things a lot, but also I take up a different emotional space. I no longer rely upon my professional and academic identity to define who I am. And not relying on my profesional identity isn't necessarily a bad thing, because things at work feel a little unstable anyway. However, I still don't really know what defines me. And for a person like me, who is a bit of a typical 'Type A' with self-acknowledged control issues (I don't like dealing with uncertainty), this is unsettling. And that feeling of uncertainty has the potential to throw me off balance.

Interestingly enough, every day in my work, I find myself speaking with students or other people in difficulty who experience a lot of emotional instability. My most frequent recommendation of course, is that they consider speaking with a professional counsellor or a psychologist. Now, I've seen counsellors before, but have never found them able to 'keep up with me'. I'm very self-aware and tend to intellectualize everything. As such, in order for me to fully understand myself I need to work with someone who can challenge my thinking in many ways. And I hadn't met a counsellor who was able to do it. But Liza strongly suggested that I consider seeing a professional. She got me a referral from a friend of hers, and after struggling with the decision to seek some professional help, a few weeks ago I met with a psychologist.

This was scary stuff. Not as scary as making that first call to Sebastien a year ago, or taking those first steps up the stairs at the gym for my first workout. That was almost debilitating. But in the week when I celebrated a full year since I made one of my life's most important decisions (the week when I first met Seb and started training with him), I decided to take that next scary step and meet someone else who could help me.

In my first session with Dr. R. (I haven't asked his permission to use his name here, so he's Dr. R. for now), I talked about pretty much everything I have been thinking or feeling over the course of the past year. And it wasn't easy. I was in tears withing the first five minutes, and had many a moment throughout our 90-minute session where my feelings were overwhelming. After a lot of talking and some initial analysis, Dr. R. came to a conclusion:

I have clinical depression.

Now, it's a fairly mild depression, but it has come on in the past 6-8 weeks as I struggle to navigate my sense of self and my changing relationships with friends and family. And as I am also prone to anxiety, with a predisposition to not liking uncertainty and lack of control, the fact that so much within and around me is changing so rapidly, is fuelling this depression. Even with all of the working out I do (which is tremendously helpful in dealing with depression), I still experience the emotion and sadness that accompanies this condition. I'm still learning a lot about both my depression and anxiety, but have already begun, as a result of working with Dr. R. to feel relieved and reassured that this sadness will eventually subside. Through regular therapy sessions (no medication), I'm learning how to better understand my feelings, appreciate how my feelings shape my thinking, and change the ways in which I allow my thinking to influence my behaviour. Using a technique called cognitive behavioural therapy, Dr. R. is helping me to connect many of the dots that I already knew were there -- again having a strong degree of self-awareness, I was conscious of many different dimensions of what I was expeirencing, but didn't truly 'get' how they all worked with or against one another to result in how I was feeling.

All that said, I not only continue to be a physical work in progress, but also an emotional work in progress. Sebastien keeps reminding me that 'this is big work' -- not just physically. And he has always tried to keep the fact that learning to be the new 'me' is something that I was going to have to deal with. And I finally am. And it feels really really good to do it.

So there you have it. A few months ago, I was crying into my quinoa, and now I'm beginning to understand why. It's not easy to do, and cognitive behavioural therapy is tough work. But I've managed to lose over 140 pounds... I think I can handle the brain work that's needed to help me lose what's left.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Next blog: "33 pairs of pants later..." Stay tuned...

PS. 'Quinoa' is an amazing superfood. Learn more here.

PPS. Thanks to my friend Patsy for helping me laugh through the title of this blog.


  1. What an interesting post. I don't mean to sound flippant. I am a fat guy getting thinner and was not aware I might experience some "side effects" as the result of being thin.

    There is a blog I follow that is about to me discontined about a guy who lost alot of weight years ago and struggles with the "new" him.


    Good Luck to you and may you find your physical and mental balance.


  2. HI Chris
    Recognisable! I think so many people struggle to feel right in this world... there's so much to make us feel wrong.
    Keep going and be nice to yourself.