The scales, the number and me – Part Two. Post Confession. 5

August 15, 2017

 

Pressing the “Publish” button on my last post took a bit of deep breathing. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to share more about that part of myself – the fearful and dysfunctional – with more people. I confessed to a few friends about my personal struggles with body-image, eating and weight, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to write about it. I’d tried, several times over many years but it never felt right and I was never brave enough. Finally, finally, the post happened! But then what?

 

As I mentioned, the few days before I published the post I checked my weight more often than usual. Then I didn’t put up a link to the post on facebook until the next morning and I didn’t link to it on Instagram for another few hours after that. I was jittery and vague. More than usual – that’s saying something. I waited for feedback in a sweaty whirlpool of anxiety. I don’t know what I was expecting? Men brandishing a straitjacket at my door? The FBI? Pitchforks and lit torches? (If you too are considering confessing something about yourself you consider to be fearful, weak, imperfect or dysfunctional, may I offer a spoiler? There were no pitchforks and lit torches.)

 

Instead what happened, very quickly, was that I was in tears, overwhelmed by the kind feedback I received. So many people understood the obsession with the scales and got the fear and the trauma. People told me that they squeeze their eyes shut when they have to use the scales at the doctor’s surgery and feel physically nauseous. People reported that they no longer keep scales in their own homes. A personal trainer said that she never weighs herself or her clients and suggests they use measures of energy and confidence and happiness as indicators of success. Several people said they were going to move their own scales into the garage, or hide the scales at their parents houses. Many told me to chuck mine out completely, to ceremonially burn them or smash them. Oh, how I adore you all.

 

The whole day after posting it felt as though layers of skin had been razored from me. You know that feeling when your skin is sunburned and you are suddenly aware of every breeze, the fabric of your shirt, every brush up against it? I felt like that all over. Vulnerable and raw. I kept wanting to cry. I went to the supermarket and saw a woman, probably in her seventies, putting a box of “Light” cereal on top of a Harper’s Bazaar. Two women, beside me at a café, chastised themselves about how much desert they had eaten the night before and then argued over who should finish the cake they were sharing. I could not stop noticing all the things I had previously not noticed. It made me ache. People, everywhere, exhibiting the silent symptoms of hating their bodies, mistrusting their intuition and hungers and disliking themselves. A viral shame. Every time someone said “I shouldn’t”, “I’ve been so bad” or “Like I need the help, har har har” I was the dog with a collar that gets zapped when they leave the confines. It hurt. I had left my confines. I dropped by a friend’s place and was completely normal (pinky-swear I was)… except for the fact that I couldn’t stop shivering. I could no longer bear all the normalized suffering and self-hatred. It was all, suddenly, very not okay.

 

Post-confession has been weird. I keep slipping my toes beneath the bathroom cabinet searching for the scales; I don’t think I fully realized how often I used to check my weight or how strange I might feel with the scales banished. I do sometimes feel as though I am free-falling off a cliff and get petrified that I will wake up one day the size of a turbojet. I’m confused and feel out of control. But I also feel slightly newly wonderful, like a dark raincloud with sunrise at its edges. This life business just refuses to be simple, doesn’t it? Because, when I’m not confused or convinced or alternating between the two? I’m furious.

 

 

I see now that for many years a lot of my anger has been directed inwards. Growing up my parents never fought, they barely raised their voices (unless a hammer found a thumb) and conflict has always left me dazed and giddy. I hate it. I see now that frustration and anger and a sense of a lack of control simply turned itself around like a boomerang. I was mad at my body, mad at my lack of willpower and furious at all my imperfection. Now that I’m attempting not to turn the anger inwards it is coming out in all sorts of unexpected ways. Like at a café last week when a staff member voiced his surprise at my ability to eat a whole sticky date pudding. Or at the museum when someone told me to “please control my children”. Instead of scurrying or apologising or silently seething I voiced my opinion. This is completely new behaviour for me, confrontation generally makes me so rattled. I’ve felt angry before, sure, but I’ve always just turned it on myself instead of at the problem that made me mad. And then I usually smother and numb the whole lot with a packet of mallowpuff biscuits eaten in quick succession.

 

Brene Brown, researcher and TED speaker, hits the nail on the head when she talks about what happens when we turn our feelings on ourselves and numb the shame and discomfort. She says: “You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vunerability, here’s grief, here’s fear, here’s disappointment; I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin… You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects…you cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable and we are looking for purpose and meaning and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.” That’s exactly what I have been doing for years. And it just so happens that I really like banana nut muffins.

 

 

I’m just leaning into this stuff. I’m no expert and I’m unsure what happens next. But I do want to say that I am so grateful for the support, love and encouragement I received. Thank you for being so open and for sharing your stories with me. For all the obsession and talk about weight and food, so little of it is this kind of talk. The kind that says ‘I’m scared”, “I don’t know what to do” or “I think there might be a different way”. The real stuff. I know how hard it is to share, I know how uncomfortable it is. If you sent me a text, left a comment, quietly liked my post or shared your own story with me, know that I have folded it up and tucked it away safely. I am treasuring it. I know it sounds corny but I can honestly say that I can feel your vulnerability and your support. Your stories and encouragement have bolstered and buoyed me up every day since I wrote the post. I don’t feel so singular with this. All of the “us” you gave me, letting me know that I’m not unique or alone, I gathered up and I will be putting to good use.

 

I’m armed and vulnerable. Watch out world.

 

Love,

Hannah x

 

P.S. If you haven’t yet, please watch Brene Brown speak about vulnerability. You won’t regret it.

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Chocolate…Spheres… 2

August 10, 2017

Have you noticed the proliferation of balls these days? (Ahem.)

Coconut bliss balls, pineapple balls, power balls. All these things are rolled into spheres and exude health and trendy seeds–and every time I pass by a counter with things on a square plate labeled ‘balls’, my mind goes immediately into the gutter. Yes. Sorry. I can’t help it.

 

 

Perhaps you are familiar with (or have been happy to forget) the South Park ditty of yore that did a lot to cement this toilet-thought tic of mine? If not, you may look it up. Or you may not. I won’t offer any more info. Regardless, I find I am now quite unable to keep a straight face when describing a rolled, sticky confection of dried fruits, nuts and other usually-wholesome ingredients. I just couldn’t title this post chocolate balls.

I’m a odd human, I know.

 

 

BUT! These…spheres…are very delicious! You should make them. Let’s now talk about how righteous they are with toasted walnut, deep cocoa, just enough maple syrup to keep them from being savoury and enough chew to satisfy the biggest chocolate fudge craving. They’re easy to put together and even easier to devour. If you’ve read this far, thank you for humouring me and my silliness, and please, go get yourself set up in the kitchen with these ingredients. Chocolate balls await.

!!!

 

 

Chocolate-Walnut Spheres

 

Ingredients

1 cup coconut flakes (medium length, unsulfured is best)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

8 dried dates, pitted and chopped

1/3 cup cocoa

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup almond butter (or cashew, or hazelnut…)

1 tbsp psyllium husk (or sub wheat germ)

3 tbsp maple syrup (a little more if you like it sweeter)

large pinch salt

 

Spread a piece of waxed paper over a cookie sheet.

Toast the walnut pieces over low heat in a dry pan, being careful not to burn them. Let them cool to room temperature before using, or they’ll make the mixture much stickier. Put the coconut and the chopped dates into the bowl of a food processor and run it for 5 to 10 seconds, scraping sides, then running again for 5 seconds. Add cocoa and walnuts and pulse to chop the nuts. Add remaining ingredients, including walnuts, and pulse several times, until the mixture gets sticky and pulls into a ball. It’ll be very soft, but still rollable.

Using your palms, roll walnut-sized balls of dough until smooth and round, and place on the cookie sheet. You should be able to make about 16 at this size. Chill in the fridge to set. To store, separate layers of the spheres with wax paper in an air-tight container in the fridge.

 

XO

Ria

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The scales, the number and me. 13

August 2, 2017

Today I threw out my scales. Actually, I put them in the garage; more on that later. At any rate they are hereby banished.

 

 

As a kid there were always scales in our bathroom. Slid away somewhere but easy to get to. I don’t remember when I first became interested in the scales or when they become more than some strange device that gave a number – no more meaningful than a Magic 8 ball or one of those folded paper fortune tellers. Some time around the beginning of high school, I think. Then, all of a sudden the scales seemed to hold a lot more weight (pun intended). Firmly entrenched in a system of measures to evidence worthiness – A’s and B’s, percentages assigned to various projects – school, I’m talking about here – I discovered that the scales gave a single, golden measure. One number to indicate real success! Success that all other successes – popularity, self-control, an elegant, easy, fortune-favoured life – were founded on. The Ultimate. One perfect number.

 

Or, as it turned out, a perpetually imperfect number.

 

After high school I moved around a lot. Australia, England, China, Canada. Always, when I was back home, I stepped on the scales and checked my number. My personal number fell within a pretty broad range. If I clocked in at the bottom of that range then I was momentarily elated, at the top and I was mortified, my self-esteem shoved through a paper shredder. And somehow, even when my number was low, my inner dial always swung quickly back to shame. I didn’t trust myself to get or stay light. When I was, temporarily, light, I was never light enough.

 

Eventually, after all my travelling, I headed back to New Zealand, a fully fledged “grown up”. In my packing boxes I brought home with me many health and wellness (let’s be honest, even though they weren’t, diet) books, charts and diaries in which I had tracked my weight and my very own set of scales, the ones now banished. I bought my scales at Ikea. Because there is no Ikea in New Zealand products from Ikea are endowed with an odd kind of mystique. They are thought of as sleek, uber-functional and exotic. Superior. Exactly the kind of kudos I gave the scales themselves. When I moved into my first home, now married and with two daughters of my own, I slid the scales under my own bathroom cabinet. Then I watched as my daughters slid them back out again and stood on them and asked “What does the number mean, Mummy?”

 

 

What does the number mean? When I was pregnant with my first child, in Vancouver, my midwives weighed me at each visit. It made me skittery and nauseous to be measured in front of others, to watch them record my failing score. When they asked me about my mental health I confessed the ways I’d tried to control my number over the years. They asked if I preferred not to be weighed. I was flummoxed. Not weighing me, was that an option? How would they know if I was doing well? If I was “winning”? If I was doing good by my baby? They shrugged and replied that there were many, many other indicators for Mum and baby’s good health, all of them much better than a number on a scale. Really? There are better numbers?

 

What does the number mean? I’ll tell you what I’ve learnt. I have two photos on my kitchen wall – I weigh a lot more in one but in both I have exactly the same expression. When I look at those photos I know that having a low number on the scales has not led to a long-term, sustainable improvement in my happiness. I’m no more “successful” in one photo, at one weight, than I am in the other. I got a bit more social kudos at a lower weight, perhaps, but there weren’t any ticker tape parades. When I weighed less I felt no less lonely when I was feeling lonely. I felt no less sad when I was feeling sad. When I was convinced of my unworthiness my number did not pass me a glass of champagne and fill the empty hole in my soul; I just felt unworthy. The magical number made no real, sustainable difference whatsoever. It didn’t “fix” me, it didn’t make my life better or transform me into a better person. It didn’t change me and it certainly didn’t change the world. The number wasn’t magic at all.

 

 

But over my adult life, I have given the number a monumental amount of importance. I allowed the number to be the most important goal. I did a lot of very unhealthy, damaging things to affect the number and allowed myself to become consumed by my consumption. My life, my mind, was shaped by my shape. I had the worst thoughts about myself and spent days, months, probably years if I added it all up, flagellating myself about the number. In that time I could have learned a language! Written a novel! Learned a language and written a novel! And no matter what I did or thought the number did not stay the same, it was never small enough and it changed nothing, nada. It never made me supremely happy, whole or complete.

 

Faced with the choice of continuing an obsession with a number on a scale, and all the associated shame and frustration that has brought me, or discontinuing the obsession – I am finally choosing to ditch the scales. I’m going to be honest here, this is somewhat terrifying. Think of an object that represents something really important, something you really value – your wedding rings, your baby’s first booties, your University degree, a note from a grandparent, and now, imagine chucking that object out. Does your stomach sink? Do you feel a bit sick? That’s how I feel. Horribly, irrationally, terrified. And, at the same time, I know it’s the right thing to do. I know that number-checking and number-chasing and number-idolizing is pointless and fruitless. It’s a brutal, unhappy waste of my time. I have over twenty years of personal evidence.

 

Ditching the scales is just the beginning of a new chapter for me. I don’t know what life is going to be like when I am no longer checking my number; when my number just is what it is and I don’t even know what it is. When I am learning to give up trying to change my number. The few days before I banished my scales, knowing that I was going to, I suddenly started checking my number several times a day. Like a weird, grieving person, very afraid to let go. But let go, I did.

 

As for why my scales are in garage and not in the bin? Partly, I’m scared. Partly, I could come up with only one good reason for keeping them, one worthy circumstance for checking the number and that is: suitcases. The only number I want to monitor with my scales is the weight in my cases, the excess in my luggage. When I’m spending my precious time adventuring the planet. With precious daughters who know only dust beneath the bathroom cabinet.

 

At least that’s the plan. Wish me luck.

 

Hugs,

Hannah

x

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Proust and my Five-Year-Old 3

July 26, 2017

 

I’ll preface this by saying these are NOT the real Proust Questionnaire questions (designed to reveal a person’s true nature), but modified and shortened versions of some of the originals. I doubted my five-year-old could sit through answering 36 of them…though now I wonder if she actually would have. She really enjoyed it. She even asked, when we’d finished, for me to read everything over to her. She laughed at her own responses.  Now I want to do this with every five-year-old I meet. You should too!

Enjoy.

 

The Proust Questionnaire As Answered By My Five-Year-Old

 

1. What makes you really really happy?

Um, going in space.

2. What are you most afraid of?

Nothing.

3. Do you ever lie about anything?

…No?

4. Which person or thing do you love the most?

I’m going to choose a person and a thing. I love you the most and my favourite food is strawberries and mango. And can I do a favourite animal? My favourite animal is a cuttlefish and an octopus.

5. When is your happiest moment in the day?

I think I like the nighttime. Because it has stars and I like to count some of them and look out for some nocturnal animals. I like to look for the big dipper and wake up late like a raccoon or a flying squirrel or an owl.

 

 

6. What thing would you like to be really good at?

Um, doing weather person stuff. Because it’s cool and I haven’t done that before. I haven’t practiced, but I just thought it would be nice to grow up as a weather girl.

7. If you died and came back as a person or a thing, what would you like to be?

I would like to be a donkey and a horse because I like them.

8. Where would you most like to live?

In different places. Like Victoria and Nanaimo and China. And what is that place…? ITALY!

9. What is your most precious possession?

My jewelry because I like shiny stuff and it’s shiny. Shiny is one of the most important things I need.

10. What do you think is the most important thing in a friend?

Um, nice and kind. A friend should not hit or punch. They should not do anything like that. A friend needs to be nice to you and care about you when you get hurt and help you get up and help you get a Bandaid. Friends definitely don’t kick their friends. They don’t scream at their parents or friends. They don’t whine. They don’t say, “Awwww, IIII waaant a driiiink!”

11. What are your favourite books?

Library books and home books. Animal books, dictionaries…What are dictionaries? [I explain] Yeah, I like dictionaries. Joke books, math books. Bird books. Dinosaur books. I like to study dinosaur bones with books.

12. Who is your biggest hero?

I don’t have one because I haven’t met one yet.

13. What is your favourite name?

Um, Harley and Emma. They’re pretty.

14. What is something you really really don’t like?

Hitting and punching and whining.

15. How would you like to die?

I would like to be digging dinosaurs when I die. When I die I want to go under a rock. Buried.

16. What are some words that show who you are?

I’m a person, not a monkey. I sort of have a teeny tail. It’s pretty short. And I know who I am. I’m [Little e].

 

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What I know at 38 4

July 19, 2017

 

I turned 38 on Monday. On learning it was my birthday several people asked me if it was a “big one”. I’m assuming they weren’t guessing I was turning 30. Hmmmm.

 

The last years of a decade are weird. It’s not an elegant way to describe it, I know, but it’s the way a friend of mine and I have agreed is the best way to describe it. In a couple of years I’ll be looking okay for my forties, for now I’m looking pretty average for my thirties (in my personal and skewed opinion). Then there’s the laundry list of must-do’s before the clock ticks over into the next decade. It’s worse than rushing to snag a drunken snog before midnight on New Year’s Eve. By forty I MUST have accomplished this, I MUST be like this, I MUST have ditched this habit, run this marathon, published this (phenomenal, lauded) book, produced this many offspring, collected this much money, bought this, this and this and I MUST look just like that…*she points to someone airbrushed to the smoothness of a newborn. It’s all a bit much, isn’t it?

 

At any rate, the clock ticked over to 38 and, just like the computers at the turn of the millennium – remember that?! – nothing changed. I was just the same. Same number of silver hairs, same number of mauve stretch marks and same number of kids, all of whom had managed to wet their beds; including ours. That’s a whole other story. The fact that nothing changed gave me a strong sense of relief. It’s okay, Hannah, you’re really haven’t super-throttled that much closer to old age and death. Everything’s going to be alright, Bob Marley said so. You don’t look so bad. Besides, stop dwelling on it, you don’t have time. You’ve got sheets to wash.

 

But things have changed…over time. Not over night the way I was fretting it might, but gently and gradually, in the same way that wrinkles find their way onto your face and gravity starts to work it’s dark magic on the bit under your chin. I have learned some things over the years, it turns out. Things I’d love to have known at a younger age but which only slap you in the face much later. Like….

 

 

1. Your path will be hard.

You know when your Mum / Dad / guidance counselor / teacher warns you off a job or life path because it will be hard? Well, in my opinion, that’s true of ALL life paths. Someone needs to scratch out the “Easy” on the “Easy Path” sign because it’s a complete misnomer. Sitting in an office, feeling your soul leeching from your very bones, deciding how to cut labour costs – NOT easy. I can vouch for that. We all want easy, but it’s impossible to find and, trust me, boring can be just as bad as awful. If the sign says “Easy Path” I’d caution against taking it. You’re likely to have to double back anyway, once your soul is sad and wonky, and no-one great, successful or wonderfully happy ever proclaimed about their life choices – “I simply chose the least burdensome route!” As Ria Voros might say – You just gotta suck up the suck and I would add “Because it will suck.”

 

2. You’re probably going to need glasses at some point.

I found this so surprising! But it’s true. I had 20/20 vision for so long and now I do not. Very naively, I never imagined a time when I would need to dye my hair, get glasses or be really sure about my health insurance policy and what it covers. Your body is going to falter and fail. Young people really have no idea. How do I know? Because I was one and I was blinded. Until I was actually a bit blinded. Irony.

 

3. You will find the people in your batch.

Thankfully, as you get older it becomes much easier to find friends. You know yourself better, other people know themselves better, there is much, much less mucking around wondering if this person likes you or not, if this person is your kind of person; you just know. Friend-forming becomes so very easy and there’s no more of that playground bullshit. I love this. Added bonus, there’s so many ways – physically and online – to makes connections and form a community. A new friend of mine, Tom, has a theory that people come in batches. “Like cookies?” I asked him. “Yup.” He replied like it was obvious. Tom and I are different genders, different ages and have different beliefs, but we are friends. Anne Shirley Cuthbert was right about “kindred spirits” and it becomes easier to find yours as you get older. I accept the dark magic, chin sagging thing as exchange for this.

 

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