How to Listen to your body

I have a box of girl scout cookies in my freezer.

I put them there after eating a sleeve on thin mints on Saturday, and half a box of peanut butter patties on Sunday.

March is a dangerous month, guys.

Tonight I was feeling hungry and I thought about the cookies. It was after 9 and rather than cook something (if I could scrounge something up from my barren cupboards), why not have a few cookies? I could just sneak in and grab one. Or three….

The thing is, it isn’t about the cookie, or the cookies, or the bite I could take. It’s that my body was telling me something, and I needed to listen. My body didn’t want a cookie. I did, or felt like I did. But my body? It was just hungry! And really freaking hungry at that because you know how much I eat in a day? Not nearly enough.

For years, I have been hearing my body’s need for food–for nourishment!–and have instead eaten sweets. I don’t have to eat a meal. And that means I don’t have to chop or wash or cook or think at all about what to make. And I don’t have to think about spending money or worry about how much is justified and which restaurants are ethical. I just eat a piece of candy and all the options disappear.

Is it anxiety? Is it a disorder? Is it simply that I am easily overwhelmed with decisions? Yes?

All I know is that making this decision day after day for years has left my body in a lousy state. Not a terrible state, just a lousy one.

I’ve recently gained several pounds. My brain has gotten foggy and my ability to think through things, to remember recent days and details, is seriously diminished. I often wake up tired–not just sleepy, but lethargic. My skin is breaking out. And now my damn clothes aren’t fitting right. Some not at all.

I am not happy. I am not happy with how I look. I am even less happy about how I feel. Most of all, I am disappointed in myself. What am I doing?

It’s hard for me to make good food choices. I’m a sensitive soul with strong values, anxiety, and one hell of a time integrating my opinions and beliefs with my actions. I take in lots of information all the time, and have a terrible time processing it. It works for me as a writer. It’s awful for me as an eater.

But. Why can’t I just let it be hard? Yes, the cookies are tasty. Yes, they’re so convenient. Yes, it will stop the hunger. But only for a few minutes, and then it will be back. Or, it won’t be back. Instead, as it’s done before, it will stop asking for fuel and nutrients and instead put my body into power save mode. I’ll go to bed feeling sated, but I’ll wake up with a headache, heavy eyelids, and no will to move. Then, the hunger will return.

It will bring with it little cells with their tiny signs and they’ll march around my stomach and shout about better working conditions, and all the ruckus will get the synapses in my brain all fired up and so when I do finally drag my tired self out of bed, I will probably eat breakfast. I will feel so proud of myself, and the influx of food dropping through the sphincter will quiet the protesters before I’m even done with my plate and, feeling sated, I will head out to work.

At work, I will become so busy fulfilling tasks and so stressed about completing them on time that hours will pass without me noticing I haven’t eaten. It will be nearly 4 before I eat again, and again I will feel proud of myself for prioritizing my health. I may even pat myself on the back as I walk out of Chipotle with a Barbacoa Salad.

Later that night, when I am home and my husband has been fed and the time is coming for me to think about putting on my pajamas and crawling into bed, I will want to eat again. I’ll take a few gummy bears, a handful of chips, a swig of soda. I’ll feel sated. I’ll sleep.

It will be several days before I pause long enough to see how little I’ve actually consumed.

I took this to the page earlier this week. I’m on week 5 of  The Artist’s Way and so I’ve been doing morning pages religiously for just over a month now. I asked what I should do? What on Earth am I getting from this? Why is it so hard?

The answer floated to me today. Two answers, actually.

The first: Do the hardest thing you can think of. I know that sounds very broad but it was very clearly about exercise because I was reminded how much I hate doing repetitive tasks and how bored I get with working out but how much fun I have being active, and how hard I trained and how good I felt doing the Savage Race two years ago. I have in mind precisely what I’m going to do, but I’ll talk about that another time.

The second came tonight in the kitchen as I was thinking about those cookies. Anna, you can eat the cookies. Of course you can eat the cookies. But your body is speaking to you, and you know very well it’s not asking for cookies. If you eat them, you will once again be ignoring your body. You have made it clear that ignoring your body has made you unhappy. So, enough with the deliberating and make some damn zucchini. 

And I did. I also sliced an apple I’ve had sitting on the counter and ate it with peanut butter. I even drank several glasses of water.

It’s not easy to listen to your body. Listening to your body means that you’re going to have to do some tough things. It’s going to require you to be good to yourself. That’s how you know it’s your body talking. Your body will always tell you to be good yourself. You will ignore this and ignore this and ignore this for years and years, for so long that you won’t even be able to hear it, that you’ll think surely your body will have given up making this request.

And then, in a quiet moment in your kitchen, you will hear it. It will be so faint you’ll be certain you imagined it.

But no. That’s your body.

All these years of your abuse and neglect, and still it compels: be good to you.

Sometimes it reminds you of zucchini and apples. Sometimes it asks for water.

Whatever the language, its message remains:

Be good to you.

Get Your Story Straight, Okay?

I remembered today one of my proudest childhood accomplishments: talking my way onto the speech team in 12th grade.

Sort of.

We had moved to Dubai in August and by September or October I had heard about the Forensics team. A classmate told me about it and I was interested in it the way you are when you’ve never done something that you’ve always wanted to do–like you want to do it, but you’re scared because you just don’t even know how. First, I missed the initial meeting (held in a classroom, at lunch).

Then, I spent a full month waffling about topics. I thought and wrote and researched and changed my mind and thought some more. And all of this was in 2004 so, yes, there was google, but like, the internet just wasn’t that big. There was only so much I could work with.

I tried out several topics on the teacher and each one was nixed–for being too overdone, for being uninteresting, for not being sufficiently compelling. And it’s important to say here that despite all the back and forth, I had all but disappeared for the last month. I knew what not to do and then struggled with what to do. By the time I had a pretty solid start, the other orators were already memorizing their speeches. By the time I had a topic nailed down, it was 3 weeks to competition. Probably everyone thought I had just dropped out altogether.

When I finally walked into his classroom and told him I had something, he responded exasperatedly, like high school teachers do when have too many students and too little time. (And when those students don’t get things done on time.) “It’s too late. Everyone else is already practicing theirs.”

I was apologetic. But, I was also a really quick memorizer, and I was off to a good start.

“All right, fine.” He said it just like that, too, and took a seat. He was poised to just tell me no, though, I could feel it.

I stood at the front, behind his podium, and began my speech. The change in my teacher was visible. His posture went from slouchy to like–like there was a set of strings pulling him up at the ears. He was paying attention, and not just to be polite. When I finished the first page, he stood up and told me with a look of genuine surprise on his face that I was approved.

Three weeks later I made it to finals, the only one of the orators to do so.

I replay that moment now, 12 years later, and see that it wasn’t just surprise on his face. He was impressed. He didn’t let me compete because he was obligated to (he wasn’t) or because he was being nice (he wasn’t that either). He did not expect that to come out of me, and was delighted (and shocked) that it had. Hell, he was thrilled to have me on the team!

I thought about that today and went digging through email to find more details about that day. Was it really only three weeks? Had he thought I abandoned the team? What made me finally choose the topic I did? I couldn’t find any of that. I stressed about it here and there to friends back home, but said very little, except to say that I had finally finished the speech, and that I made it to finals. That’s it. In the story of my life, this episode doesn’t even appear. I say, I didn’t do any activities in high school because I was a lazy bum.


That’s not even true! I was a bit of a lazy bum, yes, but I used to read a ton, and I took piano, and I hung out with friends, and I babysat and held a part-time job and was involved at church and hiked and traveled and summer camped. I had a short stint on the pole vaulting team in 10th grade (or was it 9th?). I studied both Spanish and Italian in high school, too, and when I was in grade school, I learned the Russian alphabet. I would fall asleep listening to Russian tapes. I once started translating a Russian Book of Mormon and it only took me a few words to realize that actually there was a different name for what I was doing: transliterating. I didn’t do activities at school but outside of school I was quite active. And at the start of my senior year (!), I packed up everything I knew, said goodbye to my friends, and moved to the other side of the world.

Look, I know it’s me, but that’s a good story. I want to meet that person.

That I didn’t recount this miraculous tale to anyone at the time is evidence that I bought into the narrative that I was a lazy bum. I was a lazy bum who didn’t get crap done on time because I procrastinated (I have a few emails about that). I didn’t tell this story because it wasn’t a story worth telling. I did my speech late. I competed. I didn’t place. So unworthy a story was it that for years, I forgot that that sequence of events ever even happened.

It’s only today, because I came across an exercise in The Artist’s Way about childhood accomplishments, that I remembered it. I am really proud of that moment. He was about to cut me from the team, and within a fraction of my performance he had completely changed his mind. How have I gone so much of my life not carrying that pride around with me?

I’m coming to think that we are born knowing all of our truth. The years of expectations and reprimands and norms and rules and shoulds (so many shoulds) serve to both grow us and to divert us from what we already know about ourselves: that the things we enjoy as kids, and that we’re good at, though not always overlapping, will always be the things we most enjoy and are good at. Keep doing them. Transform them if you will (there’s no forensics league for professionals) (wait is there?), but do them. And when you’re through: get your damn story straight.

It’s okay; Hydrogen’s not so stable either. 

In studying for my anatomy test, I read that the elements most important to biological processes–i.e. LIFE–are those that are unstable. They get the other elements to mingle and together to build larger (and surely better) structures. 

Is that so profound and beautiful? Next time you’re down on yourself remember that crazy is in the very building blocks of who we are. 

Beating the Anxiety Bees

(Do you beat bees? Or just disappear them?)

Man who looks like a bee monster
Thank you to the Dollop for the pic!

A friend today was telling me that she is super stressed out. She worked out twice that day, feeling like she could literally run the stress out (!). And I said, What is going on with you?

She was like, remember those crazy hives you got the week of your wedding?

Uh, yeah.

But you don’t, so: One night a few summers ago, I woke up itching my foot, and I couldn’t go back to sleep because have you ever had an itchy foot? The worst.

Well, I finally got up to see what sort of antihistamines I had in my bathroom and noticed that I had hives allll over my legs. In fact, I had them on my stomach and arms, too. And, of course, I didn’t have even one single drop of Benadryl nor one crusty tube of hydrocortisone cream to get me through. The worst part was that every part of my body that made contact with my bed–which was every part of my body–flared up with hives. I spent hours trying to not think about the discomfort, the itchiness all over my body (all over! Arms, sides, back, legs, hips, feet. I was basically one big welt) and was the first person at the pharmacy when it opened.

I managed well enough during the day (because my mind was busy?) but night time, man. That was hard.

Anyway, it lasted a few days, and was long gone by the time my big day came. I’m really tempted to include pictures in this post, because of course I took pictures, but that’s gross and I guess not really the point. Which is:

My friend said her stress was like that, but in her brain. Did I know what she meant?

Uh, yes. Yes I knew exactly what she meant because it wasn’t that long ago that I had an intensely stressful boss who caused me MONTHS of severe anxiety. I would go to bed with my mind racing with thoughts and when I awoke each morning, it’s like they dragged me with them. I was never rested, and my mind wouldn’t even slow down. Sometimes I would wake up in the night with a partial thought about work, fall asleep again, and wake up thinking a different work thought, all of it happening without any effort on my part. Like I had fallen asleep on a train that never stopped. And instead of traveling through the rustic countryside, it went only through (not under!) the world’s most populous cities–Mumbai, Beijing, Tokyo, New York City, Los Angeles, Cairo. So exhausting.

So what to do? I think everyone is going to tell you yoga and meditation, and they are right.

1. Get in yo body.

No wait! This is number 1:

1. This will pass. Those bees are swarming and it sounds like a gang of chainsaw murderers (and probably feels a little like that too–eep!) but it isn’t. You won’t get stung or chopped to bits. You will get through this. It will be tiring. It won’t be forever.

2. Your body. Look, anxiety is a disease of the mind. The bees are part of that. It is so hard to ignore the buzzing–actually, it’s basically impossible. Don’t even try. You’re just wasting valuable energy. But what will successfully divert attention, and give your mind some much needed reprieve, is to get into your body.

My friend runs. I don’t believe in running, so I say do yoga. Whatever. The point is that just like those bees are in your head buzzing around, stress and anxiety are loitering in your muscles. Stretch. Run. Jump. Yoga. Just get your body working.

The reason it’s important to get into your body is this: relaxation is not a cognitive process. You will not think those bees out of your head. Breathing is good but if your bees are like mine, the quiet will be done as soon as your breathing goes back to normal–which is what, 10 seconds? Maybe?

Working your muscles gets the tension out of them. It releases the stress. Yoga gets the tension out of them. The rhythm of running resets your mind and gets your muscles to let go of all that pent up anxiety. That’s why you feel better after exercise.*

3. Food food food. When I have the stress bees, I don’t eat. Some folks are stress-eaters but I am a stress starver. I have trouble getting enough as it is so when my brain is abuzz, the last thing I’m thinking about is good eating.

But you know what feels really good?

Comfort food. Not pasta and bread (no! Bees love carbs!) but like soup and curry and three bean chilli. Eat things that are easy for your body to digest, and that feel good to eat. Let it feel good to eat.

Having said that: last time I had the bees, I ate two boxes of cereal. I had been kind of starving and working late and one night I just snapped! I went out and bought myself some damn lucky charms and ate that cereal like it was medicine. Or maybe not medicine because then I’d be dead.

I applauded myself for finally eating but let me tell you: I felt pretty shitty over those next few days (during which I ate the box–I didn’t eat it all in one night) (but almost).

Learn from me and don’t eat the crap. I’ll link to some (easy delicious comforting) recipes later. Watch this space!

4. Meditate to sleep. Ugh isn’t this the most annoying advice? Duh you need to sleep–but how do you do that on a noisy, never ending train? When you’re being pursued by a swarm of relentless bees wielding chainsaws? Boy, these analogies!

People talk about headspace but I’m a fan of simple habit. Love love love their options and found them so helpful in relaxing my body and mind to sleep. You can adjust the length to do a 5 minute session, or a 10 or 20. (This is also super useful during lunch breaks.) And you can choose the topic! Deep sleep was great, and then there are more you can choose if you subscribe. I’m not a subscriber (yet) but I do really like it.

Sleep With Me is also, I hear, a great podcast for folks who can’t sleep. I prefer the meditation route but maybe you hate meditating!

Or, screw all the meditation advice and do something else instead. Color the stress out. Walk. Garden. Cook. Organize your closet. Throw away your husband’s cargo shorts. Maybe they won’t put you to sleep, but they will help your mind work out its stuff. And hey, if you’re not sleeping, you might as well be doing something productive.

In conclusion:

*I am not any kind of doctor or expert or anyone who can speak knowledgeably about why exercise gets the tension out of your body. But it works for me every time and I’m not a precious snowflake, so it will probably be just as effective for you. Try it–even just some stretching feels super good.

Also, my therapist told me that walking basically does the same thing as EMDR  and, in fact, was discovered on a walk.

So maybe this post was superfluous and I should just be telling you and my friend: yes. Exercise the shit out of those bees.

Because you’ll get through it. And chainsaws run out of gas, trains stop at stations, and bees die.

(Sorry bees.)

Everything You’ve Been Told About How Your Body Works? Is WRONG.

Read and understand operator's manual

Last week my friend posted this on Facebook. Is she talking about ME? I wondered.

Yes! It’s me! I’m the friend! And she’s right that it’s a fascinating read (you’re welcome) but.

I have some thoughts:
1. These tracking methods are only fascinating because we’ve never heard of fertility tracking before.
2. Wait, what do you mean we’ve never heard of it before? I think I know how my body works.
3. No. You don’t. And it’s CRAZY when you actually find out. How do we not know how our own bodies work?
4. Women. I’m talking about women, here, because we have some crazy complicatedmiraculous bodies that people still–in 2017!!–don’t really understand.
5. Mostly it’s because of the patriarchy and hundreds and thousands of years of our reproductive organs being associated with uncleanliness, impurity, and and sweet sweet danger.
6. I want to teach everyone about the fertility awareness method. I want every single woman on the planet to know about it. I want it to be so known, that “fertility awareness method” becomes obsolete because now it’s just “biology”.
Starting right here with this blog. Don’t let the “fertility” part throw you. If you’re a woman, you want in on this action.
Action items:
1. Order yourself a copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility*. It’s awesome. And I know “fertility” is in the title, but think of it just as like the Woman Operation Manual because if you have female reproductive organs, this book is for you.
2. Get a period tracker. I use Kindara and have for years so I’m a fan, but, admittedly, I’ve never used anything else.
2a. But do other trackers come with thermometers? Because if you’re going to track, you want a wink. You really do. It’s the best.
3. Tell you friends! And your enemies! And your Twitter list! Just freaking let everyone know that everything you’ve been taught your whole life is wrong and that the world is backwards and upside down and you’ve found the way forward and rightsideup. Because seriously, that’s how it’s going to feel. That and some anger.
BONUS: I just found this podcast called Fertility Friday. It is really good because it covers all kinds of topics related to women’s health and reproduction and fertility and PCOS. I mean, just look at the episode list.
*Amazon is the cheapest and quickest way to get your copy, but I’m giving you the option of supporting an independent bookseller, which I’m working to do more of.