A Case of the Blahs

Sad-Little-Cloud-800pxI’m not particularly prone to depression. I have my moments of not wanting to get out of bed and face the world, just like any of us do from time to time, but fortunately those are few and far between and don’t generally last long. On the other hand, I’m not a 24-hour fun factory either. I go through moods and seasons of feeling more, and sometimes less, satisfied with myself. Right now is one of the “less” times. There are things I could point to like the damp and grey Seattle weather, the shorter days, being in the off season with my running, work frustrations, or <insert challenging thing here>. Those are probably contributing factors, but let’s face it, they are also constants and I can think of plenty of times I have had an equal list of annoyances in my life where my outlook was far more positive. Also, thankfully, I have no major life issues I’m dealing with right now. So I don’t really have any particular excuse for my recent general malaise.

But nonetheless, it is here with me and seems to have settled in for a leisurely visit. I feel bored and boring at the same time. I can think of all kinds of things I could do, or should do, but then I go “meh” and don’t do them. (Or I get fatalistic about how doing the dishes is a sisyphean task that I am doomed to repeat in a never ending cycle until I die…) I have been here before and I know well enough that “this too shall pass,” but I will admit that I struggle some to know how to function well with this malaise thing traipsing through the day with me. My mind wants to shake it off and get on with my normal life. Of course, it turns out thinking to yourself “shake it off, shake it off” is not especially effective.

I waffled on whether to even share this on my blog. I am not in a deep funk. I don’t need saving. I’m leery of the well-wishing I may get as a result of my post. I chose to share because, in my experience, any time we think we are alone in something we’re generally wrong. I know I am not the only person who has had a case of the blahs. There is comfort in community. If you are there now, I feel ya, friend. If you have been there, and done that in the past, I would love to hear how you have navigated the blah times.

What gets me through?  Movies are a great companion. I love more than I can say in words the places that movies can transport a person. I have all kinds of complicated emotions about Woody Allen the person, but The Purple Rose of Cairo is proof that he gets the power of film to take us away from the every day of our lives and it remains one of my all time favorites. Sometimes I need romantic comedies that make me smile and embrace their happily ever afters. Other times I seek out those heartfelt movies that tap into that place that needs to cry it out and I cry sloppily on my sofa with the cat cuddling at my side.

The other saving grace in my life are my friends. It is amazing how much laughing with a group of people burns off the fog. Or when Brian and I laugh about some absurd thing until we can barely breathe. Or how running or walking with a friend lightens my life with that powerful combination of talking and physical exertion. We are social creatures after all, but as a dyed in the wool extrovert, that social interaction is like water in the desert for me.

What gets you through the blah days?

P.S. Not sure how this bit from The Mary Tyler Moore Show has stayed with me all these years, but Ted Baxter pretty well sums it up!  (From the start of the video to the 3:52 mark.)


Fat Woman Walking: Tolerate, Accept, or Celebrate?

11944_10152539331214179_8939924613319611522_nIt’s a good time to be plus size. At least the interwebs says it is. I have seen a plethora of stories about us larger ladies and all the amazing things we are doing these days like running marathons, modeling swimsuits, getting married, even making it to the cover of magazines. There is a big part of me (no pun intended) that thinks, “Finally!”  Finally, people are noticing that the heavy-set does all kinds of things you normal-set people do. Heck, we might even (gasp) be normal people.

But I have to confess I feel somewhat conflicted about the isn’t-it-great-to-be-fat movement online. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, so I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to live in the skin of the women featured in th1936572_148586549178_1190895_ne posts I referenced. Here’s the thing, I don’t want to be judged or ridiculed because of my body size. I don’t want my weight to be a measure of my intellect. And I think brides should feel beautiful, and sexy, and loved on their wedding day. If you want to wear a bikini in size 22, more power to you. And, as a runner myself, if you want to run ultra marathons at 250 pounds, I will be the first person to cheer you on. I want to be treated like a person.

However, I want to be treated like a whole person, and my weight is a piece of the puzzle that makes up who I am. I am an active person and generally in good health, but I could weigh less and be healthier. Losing weight would lower my risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer – or at least get rid of my chronic acid reflux… I don’t have a glandular problem, I don’t have some past trauma hanging over me. I simply eat too much. Some people smoke, or drink, or gamble. My personal challenge just happens to show on the outside more than other people’s problems.

I used to be very judgmental of people who smoked until I worked on a team filled with smokers. I watched them repeatedly try to quit. They would quit for their birthdays, make New Year’s resolutions to quit, quit on the Great American Smokeout day. They would make pacts to quit together. I saw smokers try Chantix or get nicotine patches, or gum, or e-cigarettes. I honestly never saw a group of folks try harder at anything over and over again. The experience was eye opening. Before, I thought they just didn’t want to stop that much, but I came to appreciate that the addiction of smoking is powerful and I was grateful I never happened to take it up in the first place.

10308561_10153849012884179_8913909433791108549_nThat’s how it is with me and my weight. I have done any number of things to end my unhealthy eating habits. I buy fruits and vegetables (that I don’t finish and go bad in my fridge). I find new and interesting recipes. I train for half marathons. News Flash: you can train to run 13.1 or 26.2 miles and gain weight doing it. I make pacts with myself to cut out sugar, or alcohol, or processed food. I am a member of Weight Watchers and think I may have a record going for most years on the program without losing any weight. Sometimes I lose a few pounds. Generally, those pounds come back and bring a few friends along for the party.  Maybe I don’t want it enough to make a lasting change, but please be rest assured I *try to lose weight* over and over again.

What do I want for my efforts? I sure don’t want to be tolerated. Tolerate means to “allow the existence.” I already exist and I don’t need anyone’s permission to keep on existing. Should I be celebrated? I love being the center of attention and who doesn’t love a good celebration. However, I don’t want to be celebrated for my plus-sizeness. Celebrate me for being smart, or a good friend, or maybe even (I hope) a good writer. That leaves acceptance. Accept me as a flawed human on this earth, just like all the other flawed humans – even the skinny ones.

Acceptance is not love. You love a person because he or she has lovable traits, but you accept everybody just because they’re alive and human. ~Albert Ellis


Time to turn off the timer

I love structure and process. Even in my current state of no-job-ness, I have established my own routines and habits for how I manage my time each day (see How to be unemployed for the bulleted list…). After deciding it would be helpful to create meal plans, I actually created a spreadsheet template that I can fill in each week. And one of the reasons I keep going back to Team in Training year after year is that it provides a structured program for my running. I am currently in between training seasons, so I found a running partner who keeps my running on track at least one day a week.

As part of this structural madness, when I go running, I wear a Garmin watch that records my pace, distance, and even plots out my run on a map when I upload the data online where I track my performance over time.

Left to my own devices without all these self-imposed organizational techniques, I am prone to procrastination of epic proportions. When I trained for races outside of Team in Training I was often getting done as after the sun was setting because I put off running to the last possible hour of the day.

Structure, organization, plans, guidelines are my security blanket. Without them, I seem to flop from the “all” to the “nothing” end of the spectrum. But sometimes I think it’s healthy to shake ourselves up a little, even if only in small ways.

This past week I went out for a solo run. I started my Garmin and about two minutes in, I asked myself what would happen if I turned off my watch and just went for a run? It wasn’t easy as there would be no record for posterity of my efforts on the interwebs, but I stopped the timer and decided to ‘just run’ for a change. My pace wouldn’t matter and I wouldn’t know what it was anyway, so I felt myself relaxing. When you aren’t obsessed with your splits and stuck in your head about your run, you can remind yourself why it is you run in the first place.

SAMSUNGI looked around and saw the beautiful fall colors, I heard the crunch of the leaves beneath my feet. I was running along a street that overlooks the Puget Sound and saw a ferry crossing the water below me. It was a cool, crisp autumn day. The kind that is perfect for running. I ran simply and only for the joy of it.

How often do we go through the motions and follow our systems and plans without remembering why we are even doing these things in the first place? Sometimes we have to turn off the timer, put away the spreadsheet, set down the calendar and remember to enjoy ourselves.

I went to see my hairdresser Christy a couple of weeks ago. I was telling her about all my job seeking efforts and my frustration at how slow-going it all seemed to be. (The best hairdressers are as good of listeners as the best bartenders.) She commented that if it was going to take a long time, I might as well enjoy it.

There is no rule that says you are required to be somber and serious while looking for a job. In fact, that approach probably hinders more than it helps.  Of course, I wasn’t trying not to enjoy myself, but I had gotten wound up in the routines and habits, that I forgot to relax and enjoy the ride. I am very fortunate that I have an amazing support system of family and friends, who have gone out of their way to help me. I have a loving husband who since he’s working from home these days I actually get to spend time with for a change. I have a roof over my head and food in my belly, and I am financially able to weather this storm without being one (or two or ten) paychecks from homelessness. I have much to appreciate about this journey.

When you are running towards an intersection where the light at the crosswalk is about to change and you don’t have quite enough time to make it – but if you run and run hard maybe there is a chance you just might make it. So you kick it into gear and make it across the street with one second to spare.  Then you remember that you don’t have to run, you aren’t making a reluctant choice to run, you are lucky that you get to run as hard as you can.  I am very lucky in both my endurance training and professional endeavors that I “get” to run and I’m going to do everything I can to enjoy both to their fullest.


I Fail, Therefore I Am

I screw up. A lot. If I had a dollar for every missed opportunity, misstep, or flat out failure in my life, I would have a lot of dollars and I would be writing this post from my beach house in the tropics… I have weight issues, I had a failed marriage, and I’ve had plenty of professional failures too. I even failed my driver’s license test as a teenager. Three times. And for me, one mistake often leads to ten others. Which is a sign that I don’t even make mistakes the right way; because the best mistake-makers learn from their mistakes, right?

There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All mistakes are blessings given to us to learn from. ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

It would be really easy to pack up my bags and go home (writing this post is making the dark space under my covers particularly appealing right now). But one of the things I seem to actually have going for me is a deep reservoir of resilience.

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. ~Winston Churchill

Yes, I failed my driver’s license test three times, but I took the test four times and did ultimately pass. I had a marriage that ended in divorce, but I had the courage to marry again and I have now been happily married for over 13 years. I completed a boot camp that I had no business being in because I simply just kept showing up. Sometimes I think it’s not that I am so resilient, but rather that I am too stubborn and determined to know when to quit.

Fall seven times, stand up eight. ~Japanese Proverb

Many years ago, earlier in my career, I was in line for a big promotion at work. It was practically a done deal. So much so that my boss asked me not talk about it. So what did I do?  I went to lunch the next day with a colleague and confessed it all in deepest confidence. What did she do?  She went right to my bosses office after lunch to tell her about our discussion. Needless to say, I did not get that promotion. It was so tempting to quit. I dreamed about quitting. In fact, I polished up my resume and started looking. However, for some reason, I didn’t leave. I didn’t want to leave. I would love to say I learned some huge life lesson from it all, but mostly I learned to live with my disappointment.

For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I’m going to be honest here. Failure sucks. As great as it is for developing your character (I have enough character already, thanks), it is no fun. I have no regrets about my life and you couldn’t pay me any amount of dollars to go backwards in time. However, if it were possible to go through life and become self-actualized, non-egotistical, and fully functional-in-society without having to go through the school of hard knocks, I would be the first to sign up. Of course, it’s not possible. I am who I am today because of my failures. It’s what keeps us all from being complete asshats. No one is perfect, no one escapes making mistakes. That’s the deal.

You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you. ~Walt Disney

So, how do I cope with the inevitable failures in my life? Sometimes I write blog posts about them. This would hardly be the first post that is as much for me as it is about me. I have a great support system. One time, after coming home from a particularly tough day at work, my husband cheered me up by calculating how much money we could get if we cashed in both our 401k’s to move to Hawaii, complete with internet search results on affordable condos in Waikiki. I laugh with friends, or cry by myself – or vice versa. In a pinch, a minute or two on the site Cats In Sinks generally cheers me up. I plan trips. (When going through a box in the back of my closet the other day, I found a large stack of state visitor bureau catalogs that I used to order when I was feeling blue before the days of the internet.) I keep on keeping on, just like everyone else.


Dancing with Disappointment

One of my Team in Training teammates, Emmie Vance, wrote a wonderful post on her blog, Pain Comes in Many Forms, about the hit your pride takes when you don’t live up to your own commitments.

I wasn’t putting in the hard work of consistent training that a marathon requires, the very core lesson and triumph of my previous races.  So at some point, I had to admit the inevitable: I will not be running a full marathon in San Diego. This hurts my pride.  I should be better at this, should have done things differently with my priorities when it came to making time to run.

This got me to thinking about my own dance with personal disappointment. I strive to find that balance between self-confidence and humility, but truth be told I am often far more comfortable beating myself up over failed expectations. I have counseled many others to “take the frying pan out of their hand,” but, of course, that advice is far easier to dispense than to follow. I think most of us know intellectually that punishing ourselves for not being our best selves does not actually serve any productive purpose. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be the kind of person who is emotionally divorced from the outcome of their efforts either. I do a good job because I care about doing well – so, conversely, it hurts when I don’t do so well. (Brian commented to me this morning that he is always surprised how much I turn on myself in these situations instead of considering maybe it’s not actually all about me and my shortcomings. Not blame myself for things outside my control?  Novel concept…)

Why do I keep hitting myself in the head with a hammer? 

Because it feels so good when I stop.

I guess it all comes back to finding balance. Holding yourself accountable, with compassion. I also find that I often get myself into situations doomed for failure because I have lost my focus. I am so busy flailing around that I’m not actually doing anything meaningful. I have learned that when I start dropping balls left and right, it’s time to start setting some of those balls down. It’s time to exercise that all important word, “no.” Usually, I can get myself back to center when I start eliminating the excess noise in my life.

It reminds me of a situation Brian and I had kayaking a few years ago. We were on our sit-on-top kayaks, paddling around near his parents home. It was February, but the weather was typical Pacific Northwest – cool and overcast, and the water was calm. For no particular reason, my center of balance got off kilter and suddenly I was in the drink.  The Puget Sound runs about 50 degrees Fahrenheit year round and it’s not a place you want to spend any significant amount of time or you risk hypothermia. I was wearing a wet suit, but that bought me time more than protection. I had practiced getting back in the kayak from the water, so I knew I could do it. First attempt, I got my torso up on the kayak and propelled myself right over the other side. Second attempt, I pulled the kayak over my head. Third attempt was no more successful. At this point I realized that I was doing more flailing than making any real progress. I forced myself to stay in the water, take a couple of breaths and think for a moment about what I needed to do. Brian advised that I get my torso on top of the kayak in one motion, stop, and then get into a seated position in a second motion. Because I had taken that moment to pause, I was able to take in his advice and successfully got back onto my kayak in my next attempt.

I think we forget that sometimes we need more than a few attempts to get back on course, and that it’s okay to “stop and drop” before we start rolling. It may take twenty tries to get it right and maybe it is the trying that it is important. Or perhaps no amount of attempts will work. (What do they say in business? If you haven’t failed, you must not be trying hard enough.) In any case, taking a moment to take stock, clear your mind, and make thoughtful choices is never going to be bad advice. The trick, I guess, is figuring out how to give yourself permission to take that moment. It occurs to me that, ironically, maybe even that takes a few tries, so I should probably give myself a break for not being perfect at that either.

For fast-acting relief, try slowing down. ~Lily Tomlin


You can turn off the radio, but you can’t shut out the music

I have a terrible affliction. Anyone who has been married to, or worked for me, has experienced it first-hand.  I get songs stuck in my head. Doesn’t matter what kind of music: Lady Gaga, Disney, church hymns, TV commercial jingles (think I’m kidding – ask my former team about the time I got the Xfinity theme stuck in my head…). Anything and everything can get stuck in there and it does not particularly seem to matter if I even like that song, or know all the words to it. I find the only solace I get is to share the ‘song of the day’ with those around me and see if I can find a kindred spirit. On those days when some tune is bouncing around in my head, I come into work and announce it out loud to see who is going to go on the musical journey with me. Generally speaking, I can find an innocent bystander who now has it stuck in their heads as well (and my personal favorite is when I announce that day’s song and the person has never heard of it, so they feel compelled to Google it and then they get it stuck in their heads).

After giving up the radio and MP3 player for Lent, I thought I might be freed from this scourge for 40 days. Ha!  I am going to church on Sundays, so the ratio of church hymns in my repertoire has gone up exponentially. But that’s not all, I find I can just read some reference to a song and, blammo, it’s now on the list. Or, let’s say it’s a particular day of the week, like, oh, Friday. And, yep, Rebecca Black’s, “Friday” starts playing on my mental mp3 player. (And, just for the record, I cannot stand that song!)

Plus the sickness has expanded and I have caught myself several times singing the song of the day out loud to the cat (with the words adjusted, of course, to either work her name into the lyrics, or to tailor the meaning of the song to be more relevant for cats). I am wandering around my stone cold silent house humming and singing to the cat, the husband, or even just to myself.

What is going on here??

I think if you are a musical person, if music touches your heart and soul, turning off the radio for 40 days is not going to change that. I’m not sure I actually realized I was a “musical person,” par se, but the truth is that I have always sung funny versions of songs to the cat, and getting songs stuck in my head is hardly anything new. Although you could not pay me good money to sing in front of people (seriously, there is not enough money or booze in the world to make me sing in public, so don’t even waste your time thinking you can figure out a way to make me), I do love to sing in the car along with the radio. One day years ago I was driving to work and belting my guts out to some song I don’t even remember now (but I do remember singing it very impressively…). I got into the kitchen at the office and a fellow employee commented that I must have enjoyed my commute that morning. He had driven up next to me on his motorcycle and said that I was giving the performance of a lifetime without even seeing him there next to me on the highway.

So, you can turn off the radio, pack up the MP3 player, but if you got the music in you, it’s there to stay.


No vacation for you…

Because I work in Social Media and because I am kind of a dork for articles about leadership-type stuff, I follow the Harvard Business Review blog and found this little gem on how Work and Vacation Should Go Together.The author, Ron Ashkenas, suggests perhaps we should accept the fact that folks spend time working when they are theoretically off the clock or even when they are on vacation:

Maybe we need to accept the fact that the sharp demarcation between work and home is a thing of the past, and that the new normal is a life that integrates home and work more seamlessly.

I will confess I tend to check my work emails in the evening and it’s not unusual that I’ll wrap up a project after I get home, but I have to draw the line when it comes to my vacations. I am a vacation junky. I use my vacation time as fast as I can earn it. I love to travel and I’m as likely to take a Friday off to take a quick weekend trip when the airfares are good as I am to take a week off and run to Hawaii for the same reason. I cherish that time away and part of what makes it special is that it is MY time. I work hard and long the rest of the days, so why would I want to pollute my chance to take a break with a conference call?

Ashkenas goes on to say

…we can stop feeling guilty about scheduling calls during our vacations or checking our emails at night

How about not feeling guilty and also not scheduling calls during vacations?  I believe this kind of thinking sets a dangerous precedent that we are so important that work can’t survive without us. That simply is not true. If you have someone to back you up, good documentation, and a well-oiled team that you trust; they actually hum along just fine without you – they might even get a few extra things done when you’re gone. Or maybe they have to scratch their heads and puzzle a little over how to solve a problem in your absence. But is that such a horrible thing – for your team to have to stretch and challenge themselves?

Some people fear the mountain of work that will await them when they get back if they don’t check in while they are gone. I will tell you a little secret from someone who does not check even one email when I am on vacation. Emails do pile up, but with an out of office reply that informs people you are out, not checking email, and where they can get help, there is a point of diminishing returns. Somewhere in the middle of being gone, people stop emailing you because they already know you aren’t there and/or how to get the answers they need. Mostly what I am doing when I get back and am facing the mountain is deleting or filing emails that have already been dealt with – maybe that does take an investment of time when I first return to the office, but it’s a good way to catch up on what I missed and the small amount of time it takes to do the email clean-up far outweighs the cost of trying to field all those emails while you are out of the office.

Also, for me as a leader and a manager within my company, I believe my actions send as loud or louder a message than anything I say. If I spend all my time on vacation checking in, checking email, attempting to “integrate” my work and my vacation, then I am sending a message loud and clear to my people that they aren’t allowed to take real vacations either. In Go Ahead, Take that Break, author  Whitney Johnson says it well when she notes:

We may think we’re being responsive, even impressive, when we send work-related e-mails at midnight, on the weekend, or vacation, but those who work for us will see us as establishing a norm. If you will take some real down-time without the constant tug of technology or a to-do list absorbing your thoughts, you will give your employees permission to do the same.

There seems to be some sentiment in American work culture these days that says if we stop for even a moment to take a break that we will lose all our momentum and spend all our time scrambling to catch back up to ourselves. I think that is frankly poppycock and comes from some place of fear, not reason. It’s been shown time and time again that periods of rest actually make us more productive. Instead of integration of our work and our rest, I think we need to reclaim our ability to stop and smell the flowers once in awhile. And in the camp of an oldy, but a goody,  No one ever said on their deathbed,”I wish I had spent more time in the office.”