I Have To Be My Neighbor

When I worked at an air charter company in Latrobe, PA, we once had the opportunity to fly Mr. Rogers – yes, THAT Mr. Rogers – cardigan, sneakers, the whole nine. Everyone in our organization who dealt with him that day was a professional, not wet behind the ears and we had all dealt with celebrities before.  Still.  When Mr. Rogers walked into that lobby, we were all instantly five, peeking at him around corners, scuffing our toes on the floor.  I KNEW I was being ridiculous; but, I couldn’t seem to stop myself!  When I spoke with Mr. Rogers’ brother-in-law some weeks later, he assured me that it happened all the time and that Fred loved it.

safe placeI suppose he would have, wouldn’t he?  In the instant that we all became children in his company, he knew that he had a special place in all of our hearts and memories.  He was a positive point of reference. For many children, he was likely their ONLY positive point of reference.  In abusive and neglectful homes, the words coming from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood may have been the only kind ones those children heard all day.  What an incredible thing for him to know! And what an incredible man to continue to do it for so many years in the face of so much mockery!

The older I get, the more aware I am of the toxic recordings in my own mind. Even though I didn’t start them, I’m the one who keeps looping them. “You can’t do it.” “You’re not good enough.” “You don’t deserve any better.” “You look too much like Ann-Margaret.” (Okay, that last one isn’t real but I’m trying to start it).  These negative recordings are all variations on a theme that I am coming to believe nearly all of us fight with. We all feel (as my friend Laura used to say) Less Than – less than someone else, less than expected, less than enough.

When we are young, we are limited in how we can control or change an unsafe, unkind or unhealthy environment.  However, once we are grown, that control shifts a great deal.  I won’t say that we can always control or change those environments – to say that would be to presume I know everything and I’ve already told y’all that: 1. I don’t have all the answers, 2. I’m not even clear on all the questions, and 3. The knowledge I share comes from what worked and what didn’t work for me.  However, I will say that we can control or change more of those environments than we usually give ourselves credit for.  We are often quick to snap up that Victim title when we are more accurately Volunteers.

Those toxic recordings?  TURN THEM OFF!  I have to remind myself to do this all the time.  All. The. Time.  Like a dog with a squirrel, my mind heads right back to the bad thoughts and I have to jerk it around again. I am the only one who can do that for myself and it’s a nonstop process.

However, to be successful in anything, I have to be kind to myself, to make my mind a safe place and to be my own neighbor. And I have to continue doing that as long as I have breath and lucidity to do it.

When Do You Give Up?

I had a discouraging morning at work the other day.  It happens to all of us, right?  I was sharing my thoughts with a colleague who encouraged me to keep my chin up and not to give up.  In truth, I hadn’t considered giving up; so, his words caught me by surprise.  Surprise led to contemplation (like it does).  Since  I tend to be hard-headed persevere, surrender is not normally a top-five option.  However, I began to review those times in the last few years when I have either wanted to or actually have given up.

What is the straw that breaks the camel’s back for me?  What is it that leaves me feeling like throwing in the towel is really the only viable option left to me?

Isolation.

Bad Lands silhouette

In a word, that’s what it boils down to for me.  Professional frustration peaks when I believe that I am not receiving the support I was either promised or need to meet my goals. Personal frustration reaches a breaking point when I feel isolated in general.  Friends are busy and I spend too much time in my own company.

Nobody cares.  That is one of the most destructive two-word sentences in the English language.  The despair, isolation and anguish packed into those two words is immeasurable.

I’m a single mother.  People often say things like, “That must be so hard!”  I don’t really see it that way.  For one thing, I don’t know how it works any other way; so, I have no point of comparison.  For another (and really the most important) thing, I may be single, but I am not, nor have I ever been, alone.  Friends and family have always been there with encouragement, sympathy and even money and a place to live when we needed it.  I have not reared a son by myself.  That extraordinary young man is truly the product of a village.

Similarly, people have expressed admiration that I “lost all that weight alone.”  I know what they mean – that I didn’t use a structured program – but, again, I’ve never been alone.  LoseIt posts my exercise, weigh-in losses and gains to Facebook where friends and family have been the whole way with encouragement.  So, I did have a support group.  We didn’t meet in the basement of a church on Tuesday nights: we met daily on Facebook.  I had a group of people already assembled who were at the ready with an AttaGirl every single time I needed one.  They were there with encouragement every time the numbers went the wrong way.  They were there.  I was never alone, never isolated, and never wanted to give up.

You have a support group.  You may not have identified it yet; but, you do.  To identify it, you have to put it out there that you are working towards this goal to lose weight, make healthier food choices, go back to school, or whatever. It’s a little unnerving at first to do that publicly.  What if people mock you? What if you fail? What if? What if? What if?

If people mock you, then they are emotional vampires.  How nice that they will identify themselves for you so that you can begin to limit your exposure to them!  (Kinda like the guys who self-identify as Jerks with the “No Fat Chicks” stickers on their trucks.)

If you fail, then you are one failure closer to success!

All of the other “what ifs” can be diffused and dispatched in a similar manner.  If you want this, do this.  Somebody does care.  You are not alone.  Don’t give up!

First World Exercise

“Kentucky Fried Movie,” “The Meaning of Life,” “The Gods Must Be Crazy” – I can’t remember which movie has a scene showing a person driving down a short driveway solely to get their mail.  Absurd!  Preposterous!  Who would do such a silly thing?!

Friday, I got home earlier than usual and was walking to my car in preparation to drive to the gym to walk on a treadmill.  During the day. When the sun was shining. When the cool temperature held no humidity.  Huh.  I’m a big fan of the absurd – even when the absurd is me.

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Ultimately, I opted to go for a walk in the real world.  It was a trade-off, really.

Treadmill: I would have caught up on some inane television show.

Sidewalk: I was able to review and order my thoughts after a chaotic week. Plus, I saw a bunny!

Treadmill: I would have smelled a whole bunch of sweaty people (including myself).

Sidewalk: I enjoyed the perfume of honeysuckle and privet. The breeze ensured that someone else smelled the invisible goatherder that was apparently walking with me.

Treadmill: I could have stopped anytime I wanted.

Sidewalk: I was forced to cowboy up since there was no one to carry me home.

Treadmill: I would have been listening to my playlist.

Sidewalk: I connected with my world.

Since my bias is so cleverly hidden, I’ll just tell you that the sidewalk was the better route.  I got to enjoy the sunshine, feel the breeze, see where the Walgreens kitty really lives, hear the birds chirping and the leaves tapping together in the wind. I ended up walking 6.2 miles (thank goodness for the Cardio Trainer app on the phone) and I enjoyed all of the 93 minutes…..well, except those last five.

Changing My Verb in Five Easy Steps

Okay, I’m totally lying about the easy part; but, it sounds good, right?

Over the last few months, I’ve distilled this whole transition process down to a Five Step Verb Change:

  1. wish – I wish I could lose weight, etc.
  2. want – I want to find a better job, etc.
  3. will – I will get healthier, etc.
  4. am – I am exercising more, etc.
  5. did – I did accomplish my goal.

Bridge supports 1A - Saltsburg

Those are the five distinct stages I’ve identified.  Unconsciously, I had expected some sort of metaphysical valve to be there, allowing me to make progress up through the stages without sliding back down.  How naive was that?!  I mean, we all know that we regress.  It’s even the second law of thermodynamics – the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium—the state of maximum entropy. (Ha!  And you thought chemistry would be useless!) To those of us who don’t speak chemistry on a daily basis, what that means is that left uninterrupted, things move from a state of order to a state of disorder. If we don’t act to at least hold our ground every day, we lose it.  There is no such thing as maintaining a current state with no additional input.

If we cannot reasonably expect to even maintain a current state without expending additional energy, how on earth do we expect to improve it?

At my heaviest, parked on the couch, Ben & Jerry on my left, Chester Cheetah on my right, how did I expect things to get any better?  I shouldn’t have; but, the bizarre truth is that I actually did on some level.  I refused to believe that I was that fat or that unhealthy.  I carried that belief with me right up until the nurse practitioner burst my bubble with a blood pressure reading. I’ve told you before, I’m not all that special.  The laws of physics and chemistry apply to me.  I had to act on my fat, unhealthy system to change it.

There were certainly five steps to improving my situation, but not a single one of them was or is easy.  However, I didn’t have to tackle all five of them at once or even all one of them at once.  I could and do deal with them a bit at a time: but, I have to deal with them or I have to admit that whatever goal is at the end of those five steps isn’t really worth it for me.

Either I decide that the goal is worth the battle or I decide that it’s not.  In either case, the core requirement is self-honesty – as Polonius said, “To thine ownself be true.”  (How about that? Shakespeare and chemistry all in one place!) Once I’ve done that, I can either put positive energy into achieving the goal or I can remove  negative energy of guilt and stress associated with a goal that isn’t really mine.

In either case, I’m the better for it, regardless of whether or not the steps were easy.