Monthly Archives: December 2010
A week of post-race blues wiped me out…and gave me a new idea
Sunday the 19th: the race. I was tired afterward. A little sore. Overwhelmed. Flooded with emotion. I certainly didn’t have the words to describe, here, what I felt, so I waited a while before writing to you and telling you the whole story. Monday came. Then Tuesday. And I crashed.
I didn’t tell you the whole story, and now I will: I started bingeing again. I’ve stopped now, but it lasted a full week. By the end of it, I was utterly despondent, and in my desperation, wished myself dead. That’s what bingeing does to me. In a mere week.
The first time, my body was overwhelmed. I became dizzy and nearly fainted. My heart pounded, too. For the past several days, my ankles have swelled up very badly. Only in the past several hours have they come down to almost normal size. It is a good thing that I didn’t binge on sugar. Nope. Nothing sugary. Otherwise, I do not know what would have happened to me. Seriously.
As Frank and I always say, “We are too old for this.” But trust me, eating disorders are dangerous at any age.
Meanwhile, I was very depressed. My T suggested that this may have been the cause of the bingeing. I also spoke with Dr. P during this time, and we all agreed that post-race blues had a lot to do with it, as well as losing my old T, the fact that my foot was hurting and I had to take a couple of days off from running, the fact that it is winter, and cold out, and my new T being on vacation, and the “holidays,” which I always spend alone, but this year have been blessed to spend, via skype, with Frank.
Let me digress for a moment: It is difficult hearing about how others decorate their trees, and have their friends and family visiting, and photograph their grandchildren with Santa. It is difficult to hear Christmas Carols blasting in the stores when I am Jewish and don’t care to hear them, and Christmas decorations that mean only sadness to me and sad associations. But most of all, and I say this with immense anger and grief, it is very difficult for me, knowing that my brothers spend every Christmas with their in-laws and have not once invited me to join them, even though they know I am alone for the holiday. There, I said it.
Okay, back to subject: Frank was immensely helpful to me during this horrible time. It is such an amazing thing to know someone who has been through the same things that I have, who I can relate to, and say, “Yes, that’s happened to me, too!” So many times, we are in synch, we have this understanding, we “get it” in a way that no one else can. We even have our own code words for things. When you’re in a special relationship, you tend to get this way.
Frank was very patient with me and always is. I can’t believe he put up with me the whole time. I cried a whole lot. I was scared. I was needy. I depended on him too much. He gave me a good talking-to, and made a number of suggestions. And I took him very, very seriously, listened carefully, and heeded all his advice.
As I said, it took a week. Finally, I’m out of it and doing okay. I am no longer depressed and I have stopped bingeing, and dare to eat solid food today. I am still bracing myself for the worst, but this is diminishing. I must say, though, that I no longer live in constant terror.
You know something, though? I’m crazy as a loon with this ED. Today at the gym I was running and did something real dumb. There is a fine line between exercising for fitness and exercising to burn off calories and lose weight when I don’t need to (overexercising). Well, today it was the latter, I admit. I was running on the treadmill and last week’s bingeing kinda got the better of my body and I had to move my bowels. Did I stop running? No! I felt the urge around .3 miles, and kept going. Around .5 miles I was getting worried that I would lose control of myself. Around one mile, I was reasonably certain that I was indeed letting loose. A mile and a half went by, then two miles, and I was convinced that I had gone to the bathroom in my underwear. Did I stop? No! This is the insanity of my ED. Finally, I stopped the treadmill at 2.3, walked quickly to the bathroom, and checked myself out. I was fine… no accident whatsoever. Good. Then: back on the treadmill for another mile. I must have been really desperate to burn some serious calories.
Let me back up, though: One thing that helped me during that tough week was my decision…drum roll…I AM DOING ANOTHER NANO IN FEBRUARY! end of drum roll. I am doing this one on my own because February is not National Novel Writing Month. November is. I will spend January writing the outline and February doing the actual writing, just like I did for Nano 2010. I made this decision a few days ago, and it has helped me knowing that I am going to have some grand purpose, some reason to go on after all, some project to keep me going.
Agreeably, I have one heck of a lot of revision to do at this point. The heck with it. I will leave the revision for another time, and write something new. I am doing this for my sanity, after all.
I have no title. I do have ideas. The book will be about running. About someone who runs. There will be a race involved. The book will be sad. Sorry. I am determined to write a sad book, because you’d assume a book about running a race would end up with the guy, or gal, winning the race. Well, not mine. You’ll see.
My T suggested that I begin working on this book immediately, and not necessarily on January 1st. So I started today. Yeah, today. I got out of the house and went to the library, sat down with Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, and jotted down some story ideas in a notebook. Also, I put in requests at the library for some books on running to use as references. I’ll let you know which of these I find useful, and why.
I am not going to tell you much about what will happen in this book. No, not yet. I hope to get a title soon, though. It is helpful to have a title to “frame” the work. Or a “working title.” I learned this from Bea Gates, one of my advisors at Goddard.
On your mark, get set, GO!
Comments on the book, “Skinny Bitch” on Amazon – Check out this link
I found the following comments on the book, Skinny Bitch on Amazon. I do not plan to support these authors by buying their book! I would like to see a copy to see if I can add to the discussion somehow, but not by making a purchase of any kind. But would I, skinny bitch, dare be seen checking this book out of the library? (More anorexic paranoia, I suppose.)
Here’s the link:
This Hunger Is Secret is now available for the Kindle!
My memoir, This Hunger Is Secret: My Journeys Through Mental Illness and Wellness is now available for instant download for the Kindle.
For information about my book, go to:
My First 5k–Ever: The Winter Classic 5k, an account by Julie Greene
Tonight, I felt like giving up. I was at wit’s end with myself, my eating disorder, and the world. I wanted to hide and never be seen again. I had to shower, but did not want to take off my clothes and have to see my ugly body. So I kept my clothes on. I cried some. I felt very, very cold. Eventually, I called Frank.
“Julie,” he said, “you just ran a 5k. You didn’t give up then. You didn’t stop running, did you?”
“Well, you just have to keep going on.”
“Then put something warm on.”
I did. I sat at the computer a while, feeling lonely, just thinking, feeling like a complete failure. How could I feel this way, when I had accomplished so much?
I am reminded of many of the times when I had accomplished great things in my life. Depression had frequently followed. Often, when a writer such as myself completes a major project, he or she becomes depressed. It is like letting a baby out into the world. You just have to let the child go and make her way into the larger universe.
So I went back and opened the file that Frank had sent me. He had so cleverly created this document: It was a listing of the 5k race results, with my name highlighted, with ribbons around it, and my photo next to it–the photo of me, crossing the finish line. And whenever I opened the document, I heard the theme from Chariots of Fire. I keep on going back to it, and opening it, and scrolling down to my name, and listening to the music, and crying, and crying, and crying.
I feel a great sense of loss now that it is over. An intense feeling of sadness. Over a month of building up my guts to do this, and a month of running 5k daily to get ready, and a week of a bad case of “nerves.” And then, 34 minutes, and it was over.
I am reminded of the stories about 16-year-old boys who go out on their first dates. Only theirs lasts less than 34 minutes.
I remember when I first decided to do this race. I first Googled, “How many miles is 5k?” I came up with roughly 3.1. The Winter Classic 5k was 3.12, so when I practiced on the treadmill, that was how much I ran. On the track, I ran 3.25, or 13 laps. But when I realized that I could actually run 5k, 3.1 miles, I Googled “5k races in Boston” and came up with the Winter Classic 5k in Cambridge, Massachusetts (which is right near Boston and one bus ride away from where I live) on December 19, 2010 at 10:30am. Perfect, I thought. Frank thought it was perfect, too.
I told a few people. Some were skeptical. “Are you sure you’re eating enough to do this?” they asked.
Yes, they had reason to be concerned. It had been only a few months since I had started eating again after a long period of self-starvation called anorexia nervosa. Surely, they thought, wasn’t I just finding another way to keep from gaining weight? But yes, I was eating enough, and gaining. Slowly. Bite by bite.
My therapist, too, was less than thrilled. She wanted to discourage me from doing this race. I had to reassure her that I would eat, eat, eat and that I was not “overexercising.” As therapy proceeded, she forgot about the race, and I stopped talking about it, only because I didn’t want her to bum me out about it anymore.
You see, I run for many reasons: I run because I find that I enjoy it. I run because running is being kind to your body. I run because running helps you live longer and gives you strong bones and builds your muscles and cardiovascular system, and every system of your body. I run because it improves my mood and my self-esteem. I run because it helps me feel better about my body, this vessel that I have treated so badly for so long.
For you see, I have had this eating disorder for 30 years. Sometimes, it has been very bad and other times it has been only there a little bit. But always, there has been this relentless desire to be ridiculously thin. It simply does not go away. I can choose to strive for thinness, or I can fight the urge to starve myself. At different times, it has gone either way. But the desire never stops. It is like running a race with someone following you–close behind.
Last summer, I only wanted to starve myself to death. I had no will to live. Then, I found Frank. Suddenly, I didn’t want to die. Frank and I started eating together via Skype. I gained back some strength. Whereas in August I was struggling just to walk across the apartment from room to room due to starvation, by October I was walking the dog for miles and miles, and my heart was filled with joy.
Frank encouraged me to try running, something I had done in my 40’s (I’ll be 53 in a couple of weeks) so I did. I found that because of all the walking I was doing, running came easily. Right away, I could run a mile. The next attempt I made at running, I ran a mile and a half, and then two and a half miles. The next time, I ran 5k, and have been running 5k ever since.
So when I found out about the Winter Classic, I made a point of running 5k daily. Even now that the race is over, I plan to run 5k daily, possibly increasing my mileage now that I am faster. I found that as I ran, my speed increased once every couple of days. It was amazing that this was happening. I kept turning the treadmill up a notch. On the track, my speed would increase on the third mile. I have logs of my daily progress in my journal. Sometimes, I timed myself. Other times, I didn’t. I tried out different music, and wrote about some of my runs.
Race day was rapidly approaching. I began to get very, very nervous. I practiced everything. I watched the weather obsessively. I wrote down what clothes I wore at what temperatures, and what worked best. I tried to pretend it was race day, and ran at 10:30 on the nose, waking up a the exact same time, eating the exact same foods I would be eating, and drinking coffee at the exact same time. It worked. I had it down. I knew exactly what to do.
I received an e-mail instructing me to go to the Asgard, a bar in Central Square, Cambridge, to pick up race materials, on Saturday, December 18th. Great. This would be my practice run. The commute over there. I took the same bus in there that I would be taking in on race day, the #71, and transferred onto the subway. Once I got off the subway, I found that I was walking in the wrong direction somehow, but got headed the right way, and found the Asgard okay. Fifty minutes. A bunch of drunken Santas walked out of the Asgard as I arrived.
The race folks were very nice. They handed me an envelope, a bag, and a white race shirt, size small. In the envelope is a hat that says “Winter Classic 5k” on it. Inside the envelope, I would find out later, are a bib with the number 167 on it, and a computer chip, which looks like an arm band. I assumed this was supposed to be worn on my arm. The computer chip is used to measure the time it takes to run the race. They also gave me some pins to attach the bib to my jacket. The envelope even had my name on it! It was official!
The night before, I had one last skype with Frank before the race the next day. He gave me his last words of advice, then we had a skype hug goodnight. We made plans that I would call him on my cell phone as soon as the race was over.
The one piece of advice I remember that just about everyone gave me was, “Enjoy yourself.” But this is something you can’t plan on. It just has to happen. I slept that night better than I have in a long, long time.
I awoke 40 minutes before my normal wake-up time, at 3:50am, not realizing what day it was. Suddenly, I knew. I am running the race today! I am running the race today! I am running the race today! I got up and got dressed. Brushed my teeth very, very well. Decided, contrary to plan, to have a morning cup of coffee. I took some aspirin. This was planned. At 6, I had a banana, an egg, and a glass of milk, and my vitamins. I checked the weather obsessively. At 6:30, I got ready to walk the dog, Puzzle. I brushed her teeth. We were out the door at precisely 6:45, and we walked our planned 35-minute walk, listening to the music that I had planned for that morning. I was wearing two layers of longjohns under leggings, legwarmers, silk socks under cotton socks, my race shirt, and the usual jackets I wear while walking Puzzle. For the race, I had planned to wear only the long-sleeve T and a windbreaker over it.
I came back in with Puzzle, fed her, and did the rest of our morning routine. My friend skyped me to wish me good luck. We spoke briefly. Then at 8 I had some yogurt with wheat germ and brewer’s yeast. There was a lot of waiting around and time to get nervous, but everything was so well-planned that I felt secure and reasonably confident that things would go okay.
I had my checklist, and went over it a number of times. Keys. Check. Kleenex. Check. Cell phone. Check. I had to make sure that whatever pocket I put my cell phone in, it wouldn’t bounce around while I was running. I tested this out and worked it out okay. Bus schedules. Check. Bus pass, called, here in Boston, the “Charlie Card.” Check. I checked and double-checked, and refreshed the weather.com screen obsessively. It was going to be about 36 degrees out at race time, or so I thought, 38 degrees at the warmest part of the day. Supposedly. But it was due to be a good bit colder than that at the time I’d be walking to the bus, so I made a trash bag with holes in it, and I decided that I’d wear this to the bus stop. Smart thinking: it worked perfectly.
At around 8:45, I got ready. I had to work fast. I pinned the bib to my jacket, then pulled the plastic bag over me, and I was off. I walked–fast–to the bus stop, arriving at 9:03. The bus was due to leave at 9:10, but I knew it would leave a minute early. This was planned. It did.
As soon as I got on the bus, I took off the plastic bag. I unzipped my jacket’s armpits, and took the caffeine pill I’d packed for myself, and at my race food: a half peanut butter sandwich, a banana, and a small amount of orange juice. All planned. All written down. I even had a reminder beep on my watch tell me to do these things. The bus was nearly empty, and arrived in Harvard Square four minutes ahead of schedule. I disembarked, and headed for the subway. Here, a street musician was playing, but I had no time to give him money, because the train arrived just as I got there. One stop, and I exited the train, and had arrived in Central Square.
Wow, it was colder than expected! Jeez! I was wondering if perhaps I should have put on more clothes. Perhaps it would warm up, though. Weather, especially in New England, is very, very hard to predict. Apparently, the other racers were surprised by the weather as well, or so I found out when I reached the Asgard. People were shivering and rubbing their hands together. But everyone was in good spirits. I tried to talk to people. But nobody wanted to talk to me. People knew each other. Everyone had someone–a friend, a fellow racer, a spouse–someone else to hang out with, and didn’t want to bother with me. So I just hung around and picked up bits and pieces of information when I could. Mostly, I wanted to know where the bathrooms were, and if there were lines for them. I learned that there was a heated tent at the start/finish line. So I wandered over there, and found the tent to be cozy enough. I used the latrine. I had brought my own toilet paper, just in case they had run out of it. I figured I’d think of all possibilities. My major concern was that I didn’t throw my gloves into the latrine by accident.
Announcements on the loudspeaker indicated that the race would start in ten minutes. People seemed to ignore this and mill about. I knew where the start line was, but I didn’t know where to go. Some of the people didn’t know, either. I would have followed everyone else, but no one was going anywhere. At the last minute, I tightened my shoelaces, and tested them out, adjusted them again, tested them, and was satisfied. Another announcement indicated that the race would begin in five minutes. Finally, a formation was beginning. I figured out where the end of the line was. I wanted to be near the end of the pack, where the slower runners were lining up.
How would the race begin? How would I know to start running? I stood there, jogged in place, stopped, jogged in place again, and waited. Then, suddenly, people started running! A horn honked! We were off! At some point, I crossed the start line. I was racing! I was racing! I was racing!
The race starts and ends on Sidney Street, but most of it is on Massachusetts Avenue, between Sidney Street and Harvard Square, Cambridge, and back. I think I had to run about a quarter mile before getting onto Mass Ave. At this point, I was beginning to warm up and get into a rhythm. I am familiar with this “warming up” phase from my frequent track runs, when I run awkwardly for the first lap, and gradually gain confidence over the course of the next few laps. But this was a race. This was different. I wasn’t listening to music. All I heard was the slap of the other runners’ shoes on pavement, and the honking of horns, and panting breath, and occasional conversation. This was a race.
Would I finish last? At first, many people were passing me, and I worried a little that this would be the case. I stepped up my pace a little. Soon, I was passing others. Eventually, I passed more people than passed me. By the end of the race, many people whom I had passed were alternating running with walking. But it didn’t take long before I stopped thinking about whether I would come in last or not.
No, I wasn’t thinking about that. I wasn’t thinking about anything but what was ahead of me: the road. I wasn’t thinking about my dog, Puzzle. I wasn’t thinking about Frank. I wasn’t thinking about food, or calories, or how much I weighed. I wasn’t worrying about my eating disorder, that silently follows me everywhere I go.
I did, in a fleeting moment, remember, that there was a time that I wanted to die, and now I am running this race, running to celebrate living.
But the road was ahead of me, and I had to concentrate on it. Every bump. Every crack. Every little nuance. Because tripping could mean falling. Falling could mean getting injured, breaking a bone, even. Concentrate, concentrate.
And at once, I was only thinking of that. I had no body. I had no legs. I had no arms. I had no feet. I did not feel them. There was only the road ahead of me. I was totally focused. Zoned in. My eyes were fixed on one spot ahead of me all the time. I never looked back.
And I knew I was speeding up. It was early on that I felt this. I began to feel my body zooming, the way I race around when I walk Puzzle, faster than I knew I should be running ordinarily…but this is a race, I kept telling myself, this is a race! It’s okay to go fast! I felt the ground go by underneath me the way it has never moved before. I felt my muscles propel me the way they have never done in the past. This is a race! It’s okay! And as the race moved on, I moved faster and faster.
I began to recognize the streets. We were coming back to Central Square and near the end of the third mile. The race was almost over.
I didn’t speed up when I realized this. Not at first. I kept telling myself that I wouldn’t, that it wouldn’t make much difference if I sped up or not. But this is a race, and people speed up at the finish line, just to get to the end faster, I suppose, and because they get caught up in the excitement. As it was, I was caught up in excitement tenfold. So I sped up along with the others.
As I neared the end of the race, people along the sidelines were clapping and cheering! For me! I could hear them! Step by step, I bounded down the road toward the markers, and crossed the finish line.
And that was it. They asked us to hand in our computer chips. I took mine off my arm and put it in the bucket. I went and tried to stretch, but there was really no place to lean on. Then I noticed how tired my muscles were. This was no ordinary run! I realized that I had run fast, possibly the fastest I’d ever run 5k. Not knowing what to do next, I wandered into the celebration area, where people were already lining up for beer.
Beer? After a run? Really? The eating disorder in me thought about the calories in beer. I tried to find water, but couldn’t find it. A woman offered me a sports drink I’d never heard of. “Try it,” she said. “It replenishes.”
“It’s made of pear juice. It’s like Gatorade.”
“Really like Gatorade?”
What I meant was…well, you can guess. I took the can, reluctantly. And at once, when no one was looking, I glanced at the label, and looked at the calorie count. Yes, I admit it, I did just that. And then I drank the stuff.
I was thirsty.
I began to ask around about race times. Apparently, there was a list posted. After a lengthy attempt to find the list, I finally did find it, and searched, and searched, and searched for my name everywhere, and not finding it, began to suspect that something had gone wrong with my computer chip. So I located the van where they were tallying the times, and inquired.
“Are you sure you had your chip attached?” the guy asked.
“Yep, I’m sure,” I said.
“Where did you have it attached? It apparently didn’t register.”
“I had it on my arm.”
“Oh, you were supposed to have it on your ankle. The reader only goes up to your knee. Anything above that doesn’t register.”
“My ankle? My ankle! No one told me! There were no instructions! I thought it was supposed to go on your arm!”
“Sorry. But do you know your time? Did you time yourself?”
“No. But I’ve got a good idea. Thirty-four minutes. Can you write that down? Can you write me in? Can you? Please?”
So as it turned out, I got written in. I will never know what my actual time was, but I’m certain that it was around 34 minutes. That’s just under 11 minutes per mile. Not bad, considering I’m almost 53 years old. I’m sure Puzzle is proud of me.
I phoned Frank, but I couldn’t reach him. I guess he had stepped away from the phone at that moment. But I left a message letting him know that I had finished the race, and how happy I was.
I checked the bus schedule. I had only a couple of minutes to get to the bus, so I ran for it. And made it to the bus stop just in time. I called my brother while I was on the bus home. He races, and he was very proud of me. I told him that I was very surprised at how fast I ran. “Julie, no one runs slowly in a race,” he said. “So, when are you doing your next one?”
And now, a few days have passed. I have run a couple of times since the race. My legs feel good and my body feels strong. I feel that I can now run for longer periods and longer distances. I feel confident about my running and the soreness has worn off.
Perhaps now, as I write these words, and relive the experience, I realize what it all means now. The first 5k for me meant more than just my first race, but a celebration of all the things I can do. After all, I earned my master’s degree, didn’t I? And how many books have I written? Aren’t I also a mental illness survivor? Haven’t I knitted 17, yes, 17 sweaters for Puzzle, and I love her oh so much?
But mostly, I eat, and eat enough, and care for my body, and honor and cherish it and celebrate all it can do. And this is why I run this race.
And yes, I’m thinking about my next 5k.
Watch Julie cross the finish line! Great photos! The Winter Classic, my first 5k, ever!
Click on http://winterclassic5k.com/photos/index.php?twg_album=&twg_show=IMG_1711.jpg. Then click on the film icon on the top of the page. This is the icon on the top, the one on the right. Then watch six images. I am wearing a red jacket and a knit hat I made for myself quite some time ago. My “Winter Classic 5k” shirt is sticking out the bottom. I am wearing black legwarmers, which work amazingly well to keep feet warm. I am bib #167. I have saved the bib and put it up on the inside of my apartment door. I can look at it every time I go out, and feel very, very proud of myself. The finish line was on Sidney Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Central Square.
My narrative of this race will be coming soon, probably today. Stay tuned and keep checking back.
Here is my account of the race!
What I sent to the Nano people
The folks at nanowrimo.org wanted some feedback on our experiences with National Novel Writing Month. Here is what I sent them:
I am 52 years old. Last year, I was a Nano rebel. I wrote a memoir about my hitch-hiking trip across the country in 1979 with my dog Hoofy. While I was writing this book, I starved myself. You see, I have anorexia nervosa. The January following last year’s Nano I was finally hospitalized for my anorexia, and again in March. It did no good. By August, I was starving myself to death and no longer wanted to live. Then, I met Frank. Frank also has anorexia, and he turned my life around. I told him about how I really wanted to do Nano again, but that I felt hopeless that I’d ever be able to do it. Frank and I began eating together. Bite by bite, I found that I no longer wanted to die. Whereas in August I was staggering around the house, barely able to stand up, by October I was walking my dog, Puzzle, longer and longer distances, sometimes for miles. So I planned out my Nano book, and wrote it. I am So Cold, and Hungry in My Soul is about a woman with anorexia nervosa. It is the saddest book I have ever written or even read. Writing this book brought back memories of last year’s Nano book, of sitting in the library, writing about hitch-hiking with Hoofy, writing while weak and starving, word after word, and then feeling so weak that I could barely walk home. It is memories like these that fueled the writing of I am So Cold, and Hungry in My Soul. But there are bits of humor in the book, too, and joy as well. Some days–not many–I just cried. I finished the book, just over 50,000 words, on November 17th. Meanwhile, Puzzle’s long walks had inspired me to try running, and with Frank’s encouragement and wisdom, I began running daily, increasing my mileage. See what my strong body can do! I am proud to say that yesterday I ran my first 5k race–ever. I am So Cold, and Hungry in My Soul is about a woman who loses everything. I wrote the book because I have gained everything.
The Winter Classic 5k–I promise an article real soon!
The Winter Classic 5k was my first race ever, so it was a very emotional experience for me. It is taking a while for me to gather my thoughts on this. I promise I will write on it, probably later today, maybe tonight. I hope to go running this afternoon at the gym even though it’s the day after the race and originally I had planned on a day off. So maybe tonight I’ll have something to say about yesterday’s big event! It was quite something! Keep checking back here!
For photos of me, click here: https://juliemadblogger.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/watch-julie-cross-the-finish-line-great-photos-the-winter-classic-my-first-5k-ever/
Here’s the article! https://juliemadblogger.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/my-first-5k-ever-the-winter-classic-5k-an-account-by-julie-greene/
Race Day – A Photo – more later….
Here are my complimentary shirt and fleece hat, my computer chip band, and my bib. The Winter Classic 5K took place today at 10:30AM in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I am happy to say that I ran in this race and did well. I will tell you more about it all later.
To see an article about some of my preparations for this race, click here. And here.
To read my account of the race, click here:
I gained a pound recently, like, over the past week. I feel okay about it. I told my therapist that I felt okay with my current weight and that I was ready to gain, and so I did.
As Frank said, the sky didn’t come crashing in.
It’s not like I didn’t react. I do feel different one pound heavier. I feel fuller and I always feel like I just ate. I feel thicker around the middle. I feel kind of dulled. I went through a depression. It was brief and it could have been worse. I feel a nagging sense of sadness, of loss.
I haven’t a clue if the one-pound gain has affected my running. Probably not. It only feels like it has. The air over the track feels thicker, syrupy almost. But there is more of me to push through the syrup. When the wind blows, I feel like I have more power to push against it, instead of being blown away by it. I just lean into it, and run.
This morning I was out on the track in 16-degree, windy weather. I mean Fahrenheit. It was around 7am. I wore a compression shirt, a fleece jacket, a fleece vest, and a windbreaker. On my legs I wore two layers of silk longjohns, cotton blend leggings, silk socks, cotton socks, and legwarmers. I wore two layers of gloves, and my usual blue hat with a headband over it. I was plenty warm. And I lost count and accidentally ran an extra lap. Three and a half miles. See how powerful I am.
I loved every minute of it. Did I think about that extra pound I’d gained? Well, yes, I did. For the first couple of laps, it was on my mind. I was tuned into my body and aware of every sensation, every change, and I noticed many differences. I noticed different sensations in my legs and my stomach area, especially around my middle, and in my back. My insides felt different. I digest my food differently. I don’t like the way I’m digesting my food right now. It seems like I have too much food in my body, too much flesh. Maybe there isn’t enough room for my organs to sit in the right places now.
When I run my first lap, I always feel like an awkward teenager. Ever see a teen run? I don’t mean a teenager on the track team. They are like deer. They are amazing. I mean the teens you see on the street playing, maybe running around with skateboards. Their bodies are running away with them. That’s how I feel. Like my body hasn’t quite found the right space yet. My pace isn’t right. I speed up, slow down, speed up again, and my tempo is off, way off. My feet seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This lasts for a good portion of the lap, especially as I’m headed into the sun for the first time. Sometimes, the sun laughs at me. I can actually hear him. It’s very embarrassing. And today, the sun saw the pound I’d gained, even through the clouds, and I felt doubly awkward.
How am I supposed to feel about all this? Proud of myself? I went to the running store on Monday and bought a jacket for the rain. It is a red jacket that doubles as a windbreaker, that has little vents in the armpits, and hand pockets and a vest pocket, too. As it turned out, I had a bit of time to kill, so I picked out some clothes, and tried them on. I went into the dressing room and stripped down, and saw myself for the first time in a full length mirror. Well, it was the first time in a long time. I realized that despite the seven pounds I’ve gained, I am still skinny.
I hadn’t realized that before. I thought I was…I don’t know…kinda normal. I knew I wasn’t fat. It was just that seeing myself in the mirror made it all clear to me. I am indeed skinny. It’s a little embarrassing.
I guess during the second lap, the added pound was on my mind, too. Maybe for the first part of the second lap. But soon after, I was concentrating on other things. My breathing. My feet. My fingers and hands. The way I held my toes inside my shoes. The music. The music. The music. And I think it was the third lap that I ended up running twice by accident. One lap gained. How could I lose?
The only other runner on the track was a sprinter, a woman wearing very little considering how cold it was. I see her frequently on the track. She’s very, very fast. She sprints for about a tenth of a mile, then walks back to her starting place, very slowly, appearing to be thinking, concentrating, plotting out her next sprint. Then she runs again. And again. And again. She sprints while I run around her, and around and around. We never wave at each other or acknowledge each other in any way.
This morning, after a mile, I wasn’t thinking about the pound I gained at all. My pace was picking up a little. I began to get a better feeling about my body, feeling like I was in synch again. Two more laps and I had established a comfortable rhythm, and I began to zone out.
The Zone. I usually get there at the beginning of my third mile. Today, I got there at around a mile and a half, my seventh lap. Here, I am scarcely aware that I am running. From prior experience, I know I run faster when I am in the Zone, lighter, like I am in pure air, never touching the ground. How can a stupid one-pound gain bother me now? No, I wasn’t thinking about my weight now, or calories, or food, or any person, not even Puzzle. I wasn’t thinking about anything. Because when I’m in the Zone, my mind is on nothing. My mind, my heartbeat, my feet, and my soul are running and flowing like the purest, clearest stream.
Still in the Zone, my fingers counted off the next lap: eight, nine, ten…and I kept each number in my mind and repeated it to myself as a meditation. I felt as though sand was slipping through my outstretched fingers, even through the double-layer gloves. At the ninth lap, I sped up even more. This is the beginning of the third mile, where I begin to realize my power. Nothing can stop me. Not my eating disorder. Nothing.
After the tenth lap, or what I think is the tenth–it is actually the 11th–I have three laps to go, and I am sliding into place, like something is pulling me forward to the finish line, like a magnet. It didn’t matter that I had run an extra lap. I still had power. Lots of it. With three laps left to go, I speed up. Not a lot, but enough to let myself know that I am boss over my feet and over the track. I am a winner. I am gaining ground.
One more lap around. I have two to go. The music drives me around. Here, I peek out of the Zone periodically and start to ask myself when I will pick up speed for the last push home. I decide to do this not now, but partway through the last lap. It’s windy out and this will be difficult.
But no. I am alive. I am alive. I am alive. Do you hear me? I am a living, breathing, well person. I have a right to be here and nothing will stop me. Halfway through the next-to-last lap, I speed up. Faster. The wind blows against me three-quarters of the way around the track. No, you will not blow me down. You can challenge me all you want, and you may always be with me, always following me, always trying to push me over, and someday I may fall, but today, I will run. So I lean forward and head into the wind, and run faster.
During the last lap I run with the wind behind my back. Then when the wind is against me, I slice right through it. Just like that. I finish the last lap and walk out the gate.
Walking home, I step lightly on the sidewalk and contemplate how it all went. I am not thinking about my weight. I am not thinking about thinness. I am not thinking about what happened in the dressing room on Monday. I am not thinking about therapy, or about writing.
I am thinking about Frank. I am thinking about the multitude of advice he’s given me over the past month about running. He’s told me that if something hurts, I should stop running and rest. He’s told me when to ice something, when to massage my feet, when to stretch. He’s taught me about mental attitude, about how to train and build up my muscles, about what to expect at the race on Sunday. I am thinking about what a winner he is, and how he’s helped me be a winner, in so many ways.
I am thinking about my body. Tuning in. What feels stressed or tired? What needs to be stretched or massaged? How is my right foot? Didn’t it bother me on Monday? What about today? No, it is fine today. I decide to do my usual stretching outside my apartment building. This seems to be the luckiest thing to do. While stretching, I feel each muscle relax into the stretch, gently, slowly. I tune into my shoulders, noticing the slight tension in them, letting them drop, and relax, and relaxing my neck. Everything is fine. Everything is perfect. My body is perfect today.
Gee, I never thought I’d say that.
So I get out my key, and let myself in. And I think about how the key works in the lock, how the lock pieces work in synch, and how my body works in synch just like the lock and key, but that sometimes it can be a little off, and most of the time all it needs is a little lube or a little tightening, and it’s fine. A lock that gets a lot of use has to be monitored and maintained just like my body does. My body gets used 24/7. And if the lock isn’t maintained, if I don’t eat, one heck of a lot of people are going to get locked out and pissed off at being stuck in 17-degree weather tomorrow morning.
But I ate. And gained a pound. And have mixed feelings. I suppose this is allowed, isn’t it?
My wonderful new book, This Hunger Is Secret: My Journeys Through Mental Illness and Wellness is now available from Chipmunkapublishing–click here to access. To read more about it at my home site, click here.
Sparkly October Morning
I may or may not have shared this with you before. I wrote this while at Emerson College, working on my BFA degree in writing. It is a reaction to Virginia Woolf’s essay, “Street Haunting.”
JOGGING IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD ON A SPARKLY OCTOBER MORNING
Suppose you decide you’d like to sweat a bit, and you don’t realize — or perhaps you do — that there will be the sweat of humanity you’ll experience in the process — the agony of kitchens that have too much burnt fat in the air, how they’re sticky and dusty and beg to be cleaned, but the strung-out young mother in this two-and-a-half room apartment in the local projects doesn’t have the energy; she can’t leave the kids alone, but alone she must leave them in order to work, how at her last apartment she couldn’t afford a tank of oil until the next welfare check came — yes, you want her sweat and the stinking sweat of her six-year-old because you truly believe that all little boys smell bad, yes, his smell too, and the drunk on the bus — horrors, such awful sweat emanating from every pore of his spent body that you couldn’t bear to inhale but had to, because you had to breathe eventually, and even breathing through your mouth you could taste the booze as one would taste mouthwash, and mouthwash makes you sneeze — you don’t know why — so you want to sweat a bit, so you call the weather to find out the temperature — what will it be today? you ask yourself, and you reply no to the shorts and yes to the size small sweat pants that you couldn’t wear when you were fifty pounds heavier, but of course you don’t want to remember you ever were that size, or half that size — or do you? you ask yourself, and you realize that it is only because you know, and you know you know, the memories are true and real and you can face who you were then, that you know where you are now and where everyone else is, so you add to the sweat pants, which fit, a T-shirt and a sweat shirt covering that, strap on your Walkman, harness your 23-pound Sheltie, who you’re going to pretend is a Doberman at this ungodly hour, and ungodly it must be, because you must go out before 4:30; the magic disappears as the rest of the world wakes up and the drunks go to bed, and you put on those running shoes you bought yesterday, to replace the ones that wore out and were wrecking your feet because of it, and these shoes feel so much like mothers to your feet, although you’re worrying that they’re not broken in — will you get blisters? you wonder, but the dog is aching to get outside and you’ve got your plastic bag, which came from Stop & Shop, for her you-know-whats, and you lock the door behind you and off you go, like a bullet, down the hall not quite tiptoeing, down the stairs keeping in mind that if you take the elevator you might get stuck in there like a bug between the windows, dying to get out the way you and your dog are dying to get out, your dog even more than you are, and you turn on Steve Winwood’s “Back in the High Life” which isn’t your favorite music but it has that spell on you, the spell that is spurned by heavy drum beats, cymbals, and bass guitars, that beat that keeps you ahead, maybe one step, maybe more, always going forward, like an electrical current or a telephone signal or a desperate telegraph in 1968 pleading for her son’s body, now that it has been found in the jungle where the mine had blasted his neck away, and as you listen to this music you realize that The War meant World War II, and that “War,” just “War,” meant Vietnam, plainly that, and to the young it is just a murky idea, a poppy that dies in October and is forgotten, and you begin to run, the dog following, but soon she stops to find a potty, and you wonder what she smells; was the dog who peed there before you running loose, and did he get hit by a red Jeep Cherokee, and did his owner than stuff his dead dog’s body into the trash along with last night’s delivered steak tip dinner Styrofoam containers? or maybe it was pizza, you think to yourself; you’ve got to leave this guy some leeway, surely, as you jog past a candy-wrapper on the street, which maybe, just maybe, is some lady’s power bar who decided she needed the energy to walk from her house to her car, to go buy some Diet Coke — three cases of it — or maybe Caffeine Free Diet Coke, because she’s health conscious and just read in a magazine that one of the keys to being happy is to do in moderation, although she’s never heard the term skeptic used for its original purpose, and you remember the time this lady who smelled like smoke and had makeup smeared on her face like a warrior tell the cashier, “I only want that ‘diet’ soda; I picked up the regular Sprite by accident — I don’t want it; I’m on a diet!” and you suppressed a giggle because surely this woman, if she drinks all that soda, will burp a great deal the morning after, like a hangover — and how you rode your bike home that day laden with groceries and toilet paper and toothpaste, which you sorely needed because surely, you should be brushing your teeth more, so you won’t offend anyone on the subway or — horrors! — someone in class right after you drank that cup of coffee, or perhaps decaf if you were hyper, at 6:30am before your 8am class, your breath would smell of coffee, second-hand coffee, which is sour compared to first-hand coffee steam or the smell of a freshly opened vacuum-packed bag of Starbucks Gold Coast Blend, which you ground for yourself this morning and brewed to the consistency of maple syrup and spent 45 minutes drinking, which is why you scrub your teeth before you go out jogging, so you can breathe mint and fluoride and some other unknown chemicals only her dentist knows for sure, and as you’re jogging on the sidewalk, because this part of Warren Street has a well-paved smooth sidewalk complete with ramps going into the street, you pass the house where a real Doberman lives, where they keep the poor old boy chained to the side door on perhaps ten feet of chain, then when he barks at passersby, which, of course, anyone would do if they were tied like that, the owners yank him in and yell at him and act disgusted for something that wasn’t his fault, and you wonder if they ever walk him — surely, you’ve never seen any Doberman walking on your street, and how you’re tempted, and you’re sure others are tempted, to phone the ASPCA to rescue the poor old boy, but like everyone else you’re afraid to get involved, and the house passes by you, or perhaps you pass by this house, and you hear no barking, so you’re relieved because the Doberman has been spared another beating, and you pass by the school where young folks in cars are parked in the back tasting the sweetness of kisses and maybe more behind steamy windshields; perhaps they are too busy to see you running past with the poky little dog, then you reach the Waltham line, and in the first house, or perhaps the second, a light turns on, then turns off, and you wonder about the seventeen-year-old inside who has gotten herself laid for the first time, how the boy she hardly knew, who had that short-man complex already, who had a nervous laugh, a greasy pimply face, who was a nerd, who shifted from one side to the other as he stood, telling some bad joke that he and he only finds funny, this seventeen-year-old doesn’t find him the least bit attractive; in fact, she’s repulsed by him, and repulsed even more now that he has his thing in her and is rocking, or rather, doing blows to her, again and again, and he’s saying ooh and ahh and baby that’s right and she wonders if she should be making noises too, because her friends had told her that this was the appropriate response, but then as she lays there she leaves her body and stands in the corner of the room, watching the two of them, and he’s sweating and is gross to the touch, and the only sweat she feels is that which has dripped off of him; in fact, she’s quite bored, and he comes up with the line, “Baby, I love you,” and she doesn’t know what to say, she wishes he didn’t love her, but she’s heard what she’s supposed to say, she’s heard it in the movies, so she replies, “I love you, too,” and hates the lie and the filth, and suddenly he spasms and is spent, saying oh, oh, baby, and she wonders what it would be like to have the name, “Baby,” and she knows she will be repulsed if anyone, anytime, ever calls her that again, and he gets off of her and she turns away and gets out of bed, and looks at him all shriveled up like a newborn and waits until he sleeps, which he will do in an instant, and she takes a long, warm shower, washing off the filth of what he called love, and sleep on the couch, and you know tomorrow she’ll weep like a mother who’s lost her child, and the next week he’ll send her roses, and she’ll retch at the smell of them and wash them down the garbage disposal, but for now the lights are off in that house, and it passes by, or you pass by it, and grieve for the young girl and her dignity, and you feel the pain in your gut for any girl who’s 17, or 16, or 20, who hasn’t yet felt the knife of rape and prostitution sear through her, and a loss so great that her beauty will never be the same, and you don’t have to put her out of your mind, you know her, and embrace her, for she is in the sweat that is you, as the Walkman, which has Auto-Reverse, flips the tape and you hear the other side of dear Steve Winwood with the beat, and round the corner pretending that you’re in Copley Square and the crowds are cheering, and you feel the muscles in your legs; they are hard and taught, like the hide that’s stretched across a drum, one of many drums, as your dog stops to take a poop, which fortunately is right under a street lamp so you can see it and pick it up, and you wonder how you got to this corner so quickly — was it the new shoes? you wonder, and you are reminded of how folks always say, “That camera takes good pictures,” which is about the stupidest thing you can say; after all, it’s the person who takes the pictures who deserves the credit, but no, no, never admit that your friend is talented, lest you get jealous, and jealousy is a sin, of course, coveting thy neighbor’s wife, one might say, but really, the backbone of all this religious dogma is decency; surely we don’t need the ten commandments if we were only to make the rule, “Be polite,” because if we are grateful when one does something for us, and share our goods, and give the bad waitress a bigger tip than the regular ones get, then we are doing our job and can be right and would never consider killing another person, simply because it’s not polite to do so, and you’re thinking this as you pump one foot in front of the other and thankfully the dog isn’t lagging too much, as you round another corner at the condo complex where some emaciated 30-year-old is shooting heroin, waiting for the next welfare check, and you think about your muscles some more, and how lucky you are, as a dark-colored car whizzes by and the dog tries to chase it, and you quietly tell her to be polite, realizing she will never grow up and will never sin, and you think about growing up and remember how some of the young school kids said they grew up fast because their parents got divorced, and you want to laugh and cry with them, because they are part of you, whether you approve of their idleness or not, and you realize that if you’d been asked the same question, you’d have said you had been a late-bloomer, that you didn’t grow up until you turned 40, and even now, you’re afraid you’ll suffer through yet another lesson like a monster would move through lace curtains and feel the pain of the fragile cloth upon its skin, which is your skin, which is sweating, as you breathe evenly but not coordinated with your steps, which you’re not noticing anymore, and you start to wonder what’s best: runner’s high, writer’s high, intellectual high, or the simple joy of looking out a window at a woman jogging with her dog at 4:30am in October, and wonder: could that be you? and if it is, you know it is, but you’re watching yourself occasionally because you are that person in the window, too, and as you throw your dog’s poops into the dumpster, you hope that you don’t have to pick them up and throw them again if you miss, but you don’t, so you turn into the side door of your building, and here comes what you set out to find in the first place: a little sweat, and you know you must feel this sweat from all angles, smell and taste it as one would taste a wintergreen leaf, and capture that feeling — if you can — in words, so that it becomes more than fleeting, and can never be washed off.
(The above was my reaction to Virginia Woolf’s essay, October 8, 1999.)