February 20, 2019

What My Anxiety Feels Like and How It Affects Me (A Long, Personal Mental Health Post)

What Anxiety Feels Like

I've been writing so sporadically lately, and I can't really pinpoint a reason for it:

I overthink the things I may want to write about; the thought of writing a post makes me anxious; my weight isn't where I'd like it to be right now; and probably several other reasons. So, I'm going to spill my guts in this post while it is morning time, when I'm feeling my best during the day.

Lately, I have had near-crippling anxiety.

I've had generalized anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed when I was originally diagnosed with depression--somewhere around age 9 or 10. Anti-anxiety meds have never really worked for me. When I was diagnosed with and started on bipolar meds in 2017, the anxiety quieted quite a bit, but it was always lurking in the background.

It's so hard to describe what anxiety feels like (for me), but I will try. I know that generalized anxiety disorder is a very common mental illness, so I'm sure a lot of you already know what it feels like. And maybe it feels totally different for you than it does for me! But to someone who hasn't experienced it, it's one of the worst feelings imaginable.

I always feel like I have a large pit in my stomach that just can't be filled. It's like I'm waiting for something bad to happen, because I know it's coming, but logically, there is no reason to feel that way. The reason it's called "generalized" anxiety is because I don't feel anxious about any one particular thing (such as flying on an airplane). It's anxiety over nothing and everything at the same time.

99 Problems Anxiety Meme

Try to imagine something that you are most afraid of. And then imagine that you know you will have to deal with that thing--not today, but tomorrow. How nerve-wracking that feels all day long! My anxiety feels like that.

All. The. Time.

It's a combination of a pit in my stomach and a blanket of dread draped over my shoulders. As I write this, it feels like my stomach is twisted in knots and there is a hand squeezing my throat. I often wonder if other people feel this way, too, when anxiety takes hold.

What Anxiety Feels and Looks Like

I know most of my anxious thoughts are irrational, but my brain is not rational when my anxiety takes over. It's very difficult to explain, but it makes me feel like a bad person in general. Like I'm never doing enough. Like I feel guilty, but I don't have anything to feel guilty for. (Again, I know it's irrational--I'm not looking for validation that I'm not a bad person. Any of my friends or family will tell you that I'm a good person. But my brain is always trying to tell me otherwise.)

I can try SO hard to distract myself, to reason with myself, to try the mental exercises I learned in therapy, and nothing helps. (Well, alcohol was always a good distraction for a few hours; but I quit drinking 51 days ago, and now I don't have that as a temporary fix.)

I keep hoping that the reason for my recent increase (read: sky-rocket) in anxiety is due to the fact that I can no longer have a glass of wine to calm my nerves. If that is the case, I am also hopeful that it is only temporary, and the longer I go without alcohol, the better I will be able to learn to deal with anxiety in healthy ways.

The worst time for me is in the evenings. I cannot calm my mind, and that makes it impossible for me to focus on other tasks. I can't read a book, I can't write in a journal, I can't watch a TV show, I can't even listen to a podcast. The anxiety overrides all of that in my mind, and it usually makes me get so frustrated that I get really emotional.

I wish I was one to enjoy calling a friend to chat with about it, and I have a couple of friends that I know would be more than willing to listen, but even the thought of calling them gives me anxiety (how's that for irony?). Jerry is desperate to help, but there is honestly nothing that he can do. He is the perfect husband and I love him so much for trying. I just wish that there was some way for him to help, because he feels bad.

As I've written before, I thrive on a routine. When I have a routine for my day-to-day life, I feel my best. When something throws that off, it tends to trigger the anxiety. Upcoming travel is the worst of it. It could be a trip that I know I'll have a lot of fun on, usually going to visit a friend that I adore, but the thought of being away from home, out of my familiar space, causes me to dread travel. I've even canceled trips over it several times through the years.

The last time I can remember feeling really good and having minimal anxiety was in 2013. I was training hard for the Chicago Marathon, running six days a week while following Hansons Marathon Method. I know that exercise has been proven to help with anxiety--and I have found this to be true with myself--yet, I have been having a really hard time sticking with anything lately. I was doing well with getting back into a running routine, but it was so easy to skip a day here and there when something came up.

What's my plan from here?

Jerry and I were talking about fitness, and we brought up the Wii Fit U. Remember when I was doing the Wii Fit U challenge and wore the Wii Fit U Meter? Jerry and I had a lot of fun with that. I'm not sure what happened to our meters, but I recently bought some on Amazon and they're less than $9 now.

I got Jerry, the kids, and I each one, so that we can compete with each other in distance. When we sync to the Wii Fit U, it shows on a map how far we've gone based on our steps. Since we've been doing some of the Wii Fit U games together recently, it just adds another layer to that.

Also, I've been thinking about signing up for a race to run. One of the first things I tell people who want to start running is to sign up for a race--it could be as long as six months away!--because it will be a reason to stick with it. If I feel like I'm working toward something, I can set mini goals to get there. I really don't want to get back into racing, but doing a 5K or 10K once in a while would at least keep me training.

I'm not ready to be super ambitious, but I am definitely thinking about setting a fitness goal that feels challenging enough to work for and see if I can do it! I will have to think a bit about what I want that to be, and I may not even declare it here or anywhere else. But it's something to think about.

Anyway, I'm getting off track. My point is just that I know exercise is the most natural way of anxiety relief that I have found to work for me. And if I can just really make myself commit to it, then maybe it will help with the increase in anxiety I've been feeling recently.

I previously wrote a post about The Top 5 Ways I Relieve My Anxiety, and those still ring true. I will also have to add to it, because right now, the biggest one that works for me is actually playing a game on Lumosity. By doing that, my mind doesn't have time to think about anything else. (I like fast-paced games that require 100% concentration).

Of course, I can't play games all day, but it's definitely helpful in the evenings when I want to relax.

(Speaking of having a hard time staying focused, it's now 1:43 PM, and I started this post at 8:00 AM. I really need to get some work done around the house before it's time to get the kids!)

To finish this post, I just want to say that I am sorry for anyone out there who suffers from anxiety. I know how much it sucks. And I hope it helps to know that you're not alone! (Just search for "funny anxiety memes" on Pinterest, and you will feel a million times better already.)

February 19, 2019

Turkey, Black Bean, and Corn Chili (Recipe)

This is SO GOOD-- very filling, and loaded with fiber. And a great bang for your buck when it comes to calories, too!

Turkey, Black Bean, & Corn Chili Recipe

Here is a printer-friendly version!

Turkey, Black Bean, and Corn Chili

2 tsp. olive oil
1 lb. lean ground turkey
1 large onion
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1-3/4 cups beef broth
1 cup salsa OR 1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can corn, drained

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over med-high heat, add the ground turkey, onion, chili powder, cumin, oregano, pepper, and garlic powder.

Cook until the meat is browned, and drain any fat. Add the rest of the ingredients, and bring to a boil. 

Reduce the heat to low, and cover. Cook over low heat 30 minutes. Serves 4-6.

Turkey, Black Bean, & Corn Chili

February 17, 2019

Trash to Treasure: How I've Been Utilizing Facebook Marketplace to Makeover Our Home

This winter has just been flying by. It's kind of crazy to me that we started working on our DIY home makeover back in August, and it is now mid-February. I honestly thought we'd be done by October or November! But one thing leads to another and another, and the list just keeps growing.

I am dying to take some "after" photos of the whole renovation, but the main thing we have left to do is the baseboards on the floor. (We also want to do a backsplash, but I'm not concerned with that right now). I've been dreading and procrastinating the baseboards because of all the miter cuts we'll have to make, but my brother has the tools we need to do the cuts and the trim nailer, so I'm hoping to get it done this week.

Most of the things we've bought for our home makeover have been preowned or repurposed in some way. I've used LOTS of paint to update things--the guys at Sherwin Williams are very familiar with my face by now--and I've utilized Facebook Marketplace to get furniture or decorative items that I just don't want to buy new.

Check out these bar stools I bought for $60 (for the pair)!

They are very nice quality and look brand new. They are black with gray cushions, which match perfectly in the dining room. I had been searching for a few months for the right stools, and I even went to a couple of stores looking for them. I just couldn't justify spending $150 per stool at the store, however! Especially for ones that I didn't love. These ones are perfect.

As I mentioned already, I bought my living room furniture from Facebook Marketplace. There was the crazy coincidence of finding my orange mid-century modern sofa and chair ($300 and $100 respectively, and completely worth it considering the quality of the pieces). 

And then the other sofa that I managed to get for $50, not even realizing until I brought it home that it's a Sherrill brand! Again, a top quality piece that is super comfy (I'm sitting on it now). (How does Estelle wind up in so many of my photos?! hahaha)

One of my favorite finds was a console/bench from Pottery Barn. First, I had NO idea just how expensive Pottery Barn is until I looked this up ($600). I had been looking for a bench for our shoes/hats/gloves by the front door. I paid $60 for it. 

Well, when I got this home, I just realized I couldn't possibly "waste" it by using it for that purpose! It was too nice. Instead, we included it in the living room, where it fits right under the window. We keep our "ugly" stuff in there--the cable modem and router, remote controls, etc. 

This isn't the greatest quality picture, but it's nice--trust me!

Speaking of Pottery Barn, I also bought an amazing PB orange wool rug for $50. The original receipt was included and it was $329.

I bought a very nice floor lamp to replace our cheap-looking Walmart one that we've had probably 10 years. This one is very heavy and solid. I love it! I don't have a photo of this handy.

I've also been selling items on Facebook Marketplace, and I really wish I'd thought to do it a long time ago. I love that I get to call the shots--"here is the price, and you can pick it up at this location at this time". I always meet in a public spot, but the people I've "met", even for the short interactions, have been wonderful. It's even helping me to become less shy, which is a shocker. 

Yesterday, I listed Eli's Pokemon cards for $50 (not having any clue what they were worth) and immediately I got several messages with people who want them. I was shocked! So he is pretty excited to get that money. The cards had been sitting in his closet for a few years.

I've made several hundred dollars from selling a coffee table, ottoman, a couple of clocks and paintings, a Keurig, an Instant Pot, a cat tree, and probably some more things I'm forgetting. It's nice to get the money from selling stuff and then use it for things we need or want for the home makeover.

I had been looking for a chandelier and some lighting fixtures for months, and I was checking Lowe's for clearance ones. I just couldn't find any. Even on Facebook Marketplace. FINALLY, I was at Lowe's last week and saw that they were clearancing out several floor models that had already been marked down (one chandelier was regularly $189, then on clearance for $90-ish--then the floor model was marked down to $38! I bought it and three other fixtures that matched--all three for less than $80.

Unfortunately, when we hung the chandelier, I really didn't like it. It just wasn't my style. So, I returned those and bought some simple fixtures that I absolutely love. I had $90 worth of store credit at Menards, so they didn't cost anything out of pocket. It's funny, my kids kept exclaiming how much they love them.

Speaking of my kids, I was organizing my closet the other day and I came across this list that Noah wrote a long time ago. I searched my blog to see if I had written about it, and I did! Here is the post where I explained it. But if you don't want to click over--Noah was on an HGTV kick when he was eight years old, and he was always telling us the things that were "dated" in our house. So, he wrote a list of what we needed to do:

Hahaha! I doubt that the slightly eclectic look I'm choosing now is what he had in mind, but six years later, he got every single wish on his list! ;) 

February 11, 2019

Crispy Potato Halves (Recipe)

Crispy Potato Halves (recipe)

My husband and I are OBSESSED with these potatoes! They take a long time to bake, but the prep time is minimal and when you have the time, they are more than worth it. The perfect side dish!

Here is a printer-friendly version!

Crispy Potato Halves

For each serving:

1 (5 oz) potato
1 tsp. olive oil
dash salt
dash pepper
dash garlic powder
dash onion powder
dash chili powder

Preheat oven to 350.  Slice potato in half length-wise.  Stab the flat side of the potato a few times with a knife. Spread 1/2 tsp oil on the flat side of each half, and sprinkle with the spices. Turn the halves face down onto a baking sheet.  Bake at 350 for about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Serve with ketchup or sour cream and chives.

February 09, 2019

Sobriety Musings: My History With Alcohol and What I've Learned in 39 Days Sober

My history with alcohol and what I've learned in the last 39 days without.

Holy smokes, have I been a lazy blogger! I didn't realize until just now that it's been over a week since my last post. I had no idea what to really write about, so I thought I'd give an update on my "Dry 2019" personal challenge (no alcohol for the entire year).

It feels kind of odd to call this "sobriety", because when I hear that word, I immediate think of an alcoholic who is in recovery. However, when I looked up the meaning of sobriety, it read: "The act of being sober". Haha! So, I looked up sober, and it's simply: "Not affected by alcohol; not drunk".

So, by definition, I am in sobriety. Sober.

When I started this personal challenge, I didn't think of myself as an alcoholic; when I picture an alcoholic, Frank Gallagher is the first thing that pops into my mind, haha. Of course, he is on the extreme end of the alcoholic spectrum. Since I was nothing at all like that, the term alcoholic didn't seem to apply to me.

Is there a spectrum? I've come to believe there is. Stone cold sober is at one end, and Frank Gallagher is at the other (Frank is a character on the show Shameless, if you've not seen it). For the first week of sobriety, I wondered exactly where I fell on that spectrum.

And honestly, I still don't know. I was never physically dependent on alcohol (and I'm grateful for that!). However, I've been thinking... for me to want to have thought of this challenge, alcohol had to have played a pretty important (negative) roll in my life. Otherwise, I wouldn't be doing it!

Today, I am 39 days sober and counting. Being sober for this long has given me some "Aha!" moments about my use of alcohol. I'll try and sum up some of it here. First, some background:

I had always been what most people refer to as a "social drinker"--having a few drinks at parties, basically. My first drink was when I was 17--apple pucker schnapps (ohhhh, how gross when I think of it now!)--and I didn't drink again until college. I lived in a dorm, and like most freshmen, we had parties fairly frequently.

I got married a couple of years later, in 2003, and then pregnant a couple of months after that, which meant no drinking for a long time. Nine months after having Noah, I was pregnant with Eli. So, I had gone pretty much two years without drinking at all.

Once I was done having kids and parties were few and far between, I didn't drink much. In 2009, my friend Renee and I started a wine club for our girlfriends, where we would meet once a month to sample several different types of wine. I was NOT a fan of wine at the time, but I liked the idea of trying different kinds to see if there was one I liked.

Eventually, I really started to like it--the "acquired taste" that drinkers tell non-drinkers will happen if they continue to try it. Once I started to enjoy it, I began to include it in my diet regimen. I would save my Weight Watchers points for a 5-6 oz glass and a piece of chocolate nearly every day. It was never a problem.

Then, in 2014, my anxiety got REALLY bad. I was getting several not-so-nice comments on my blog, and just the thought of writing a blog post made me feel sick. I wrote a whole post about it: Freeing Myself of the Anxiety from Social Media. That post explains it in detail.

Anyway, I got in the habit of pouring a glass of wine when I sat down to write a blog post. It wasn't unusual to finish the bottle of wine by the time I was done writing (believe it or not, writing a blog post, even a very simple one, takes me several hours--I have been working on this one for three days now, hahaha). The wine quieted the anxiety that was sure to skyrocket when I clicked "Publish" on my post.

Since then, I've gone back and forth from drinking a lot to not drinking much at all. For most of 2017, I hardly drank anything--I was very happy after my bipolar diagnosis and starting the proper bipolar medication, and I had no desire to drink at all. (I do want to mention here that bipolar and addiction go hand-in-hand; it's rare to find someone with bipolar who doesn't have an addiction of some sort--alcohol, food, drugs, shopping, gambling, sex, etc.)

Toward the end of the year, however, I had a lot of emotional stuff going on (mainly from worrying about Jerry and some other family stuff) and I used alcohol to relieve the stress. I found that when I drank, I could numb the uncomfortable feelings for a while. I didn't think of it as a problem, because I wasn't dependent on it, I wasn't day drinking, and I wasn't getting "drunk". It just made me feel happier for a few hours.

Sometime in 2018, I started drinking more out of habit than anything else. When working on the house for days on end, I'd have a few beers while sanding, painting, sawing, etc. Or I'd pour a glass of wine when I sat down at the end of a long day.

And even though I wasn't getting drunk, I would wake up in the mornings feeling crappy. I'm clearly not 21 years old anymore, and the older I get, the side effects of drinking get worse (I've listed the details in this post). I decided that I should probably quit before it became a "real" problem.

Even though I wasn't physically addicted, I found it so hard to quit! I hadn't realized it, but somewhere along the way, it became a significant part of my life.

So, in November of 2018, I started thinking about going for a full year without drinking in order to see if I felt better. I was hoping for less mood shifts, better sleep, less anxiety, no depression, and several other things. I could have chosen 30 days, or 90 days, or some other number, but I didn't think that was enough time to truly see what sort of role alcohol played in my life.

In order to make sure that I would stick with it, I announced here on my blog as well as on my personal Facebook page. I thought announcing it to my friends on Facebook would be the easiest way to explain why I wouldn't be drinking if we go out or have a get together or whatever. And I have to say, if I hadn't been so public, I certainly would have quit within the first week!

The first few days weren't bad, simply because I was excited about doing something new. However, the next few weeks were very tough! Here is what I learned:


  The main reason I would drink (other than in social situations) was to relieve stress and/or anxiety. In sobriety, I am still having a very hard time finding other ways to relieve stress and relax. Maybe one day, I can be one of those people who exercises, takes a hot bath, or drinks tea for stress relief, but I'm not there yet.

  I found myself substituting food for alcohol. I may not be consuming calories from alcohol, but I definitely made up for that with food. (I'm doing better with that now, for the past week or so--eating a planned snack and sticking to small portions).

  I find myself feeling like something is missing. I'm sure this will go away with time, but because drinking while in particular circumstances had become such an ingrained habit, it's going to take a while to feel fulfilled while sober. It's no longer an option for quick stress relief. And God help me when I get on a plane to travel in a couple of months! 

  When friends post photos of them drinking, I feel like I'm missing out. Like I said before, though, I think I'm just romanticizing the idea of it rather than the act itself.


  My quality of sleep has improved drastically. I don't wake up during the night anymore, and I can't explain how huge this is for me. I used to wake up multiple times a night, tossing and turning. Now, I sleep for about six hours and even though that isn't the "ideal" eight hours we are told to aim for, my body is well rested because of the quality of sleep.

  I have a lot more energy in the mornings. Instead of waking up to my alarm and then dreading getting out of bed to start the day, I usually wake up between 5:00 and 6:00 (my alarm is set for 6:00 on school days) and I have no problem getting out of bed right away.

  I've been more active in the evenings. I find myself feeling antsy after dinner and the anxiety starts to build, so I have been working on any sort of project I can think of to keep my mind and body occupied. I have been organizing several areas of my house, and I really like how "neat" everything is when I am done.

I even made a pretty fun wall clock (it's a chalkboard!) and I'm working on a cat "hotel"--Hotel Catifornia (Jerry's name for it, haha). It's not as big of a deal as it sounds--it's literally just an old book shelf that I painted and cut windows in. Basically a slightly-glorified triple story cat bed. I will post pictures when I'm done with it.

Here is the wall clock I made, though. It's about six feet in diameter!

huge chalkboard wall clock

  Sex. (Mom, if you're reading, skip this part). Wine was always my go-to for feeling sexy and getting in the mood. I've never had much of a libido, and I was so sure that quitting drinking would make it non-existent and sex would be boring. However, I found the opposite to be true. For some real TMI, I will just state that orgasms are much better and last longer. 🙈

  I've mentioned before that I used to get super bloated sometimes for reasons unknown (and that is why I experimented with intermittent fasting). Since I stopped drinking, I haven't gotten that uncomfortable bloated feeling even once! This is the most significant change for me. Alcohol didn't always make me feel bloated, which is why I never put two and two together. But now that I haven't had any issues with severe bloating, I don't really think it's a coincidence.

  Finally, and this may just be a coincidence also, but my appetite has decreased (as of a couple of weeks ago). I eat breakfast (toast with cinnamon raisin peanut butter) and then I don't eat again until dinner at four or five o'clock. I don't have any cravings--how weird is that?! Even when I'm physically hungry, it's hard to choose something to eat because I just don't have a big appetite.

Unfortunately, I haven't made progress with my weight, but I think that's because I was substituting food for the alcohol for the first few weeks. Now that I'm no longer doing that, I hope to start seeing some of the 35 pounds I gained last year come off.

  I'm really happy about the example I'm setting for the kids. I'm not anti-drinking (in moderation), but I want them to see that it's okay NOT to drink, too.

So, it's been 39 days and this is how it's going so far. Per the suggestion from about a dozen readers, I got the book This Naked Mind. I'm about 3/4 of the way through it, and I really like it!

After a couple of chapters, I even got out a highlighter--something I never do--and highlighted things that stuck out to me. Maybe I will write a review when I'm done with it. I do find it to be very repetitive, however, so I'm having a hard time finishing the last little bit of it. Even after this year is over, I don't think I'll ever see alcohol the same way again, thanks to the book.

I realize that the musings of 39 days of sobriety isn't exactly super insightful, but as part of this experiment, I wanted to document any changes I notice in sobriety along the way. I certainly don't feel like one of those people who is clearly "high on life" and is practically bursting at the seams with a sober, happy existence, sans alcohol--maybe that will come in time, who knows?--but I have definitely noticed some very positive changes. Hopefully there is more to come! :)

(Several people have asked if I will drink again when this experiment is over. It's way too early for me to say! Right now, I'm just committed to a year.)

I'm going to try to post a few times this week. I really don't want to get in the habit of only posting once a week or so. I'm very nervous about posting this, because it's such a personal thing to share, but I'm sure there are people who probably have a lot of the same things going on. It's always nice not to feel alone!

Have a great weekend, Friends!

January 31, 2019

Why Is Losing Weight So Important, Anyway?

I found this post hiding in my "drafts" folder. I wrote it about a year ago, and I remember choosing not to publish it just yet because it sounded much more serious than I was intending. I had been going through photos when I realized that I knew my approximate weight in each photo over the last couple of decades as well as how insecure I was feeling when the picture was taken.

It hit me hard: Why is losing weight so damn important?!

I thought it was kind of funny at just how important my weight had been for pretty much my entire life. So, I wrote this post about it. I found just how hard it was to explain these thoughts, and I ended up saving the post for another day. In reading it recently, I still have all the same thoughts--even though my weight is 30 pounds higher than it was when I wrote it. Anyway, here goes...

So, I've been "maintaining" my weight loss for, oh, eight or so years now (I put "maintaining" in quotes because you all know that my weight varies by, I don't know, 30 freaking pounds).

For the last couple of years, while doing a fair share of people watching, I've found myself wondering, "At what point in our society did losing the weight and being thin become so important, anyway? Who decided what size is aesthetically 'good' or 'not good'? If I was never told that I was fat, and I grew up around people of all different sizes, would I still desire to lose weight?"

Throughout my entire life, I dreamed of being thin. Like, literally--I went to sleep at night and had angelic dreams that I was pocket-sized and adorable. I spent time--so much time--during my life reading endless magazine articles, books, websites, blogs, and everything else about weight loss that I could get my hands on. I devoured success stories as if they were scoops of premium ice cream.

All with the hope of becoming thin.

If I added up all of the time I spent thinking about losing weight, planning on losing weight, calculating weight loss numbers, praying I'd lose weight, cooking to lose weight, going to weight loss meetings, writing down meal plans to lose weight, and/or any of the other things having to do with weight loss, it would probably add up to about 36-1/2 years. (I just turned 37 on Friday.)

When I was a teenager, I wanted a boyfriend. So badly. And I just "knew" that I couldn't have a boyfriend until I lost weight. So rather than meet and talk to boys, I planned on how I was going to lose weight so that I could meet and talk to boys.

In college, I wanted to fit in with my roommates. I wanted to borrow clothes and go to parties that only thin girls were allowed to go to (maybe they welcomed girls of all sizes, but I would never find that out). Instead of going to parties with my friends, I planned on how I was going to lose weight so that I could go to parties with my friends.

In my 20's, I didn't want to be the "fat friend". I wanted to go out with my girlfriends and not be the invisible one. I wanted to dance and feel "hot" in cute clothes, and be funny, outgoing, and likable. Instead, I remained a wallflower who made all the plans of doing those things when I got thin.

Now, I'm in my mid-30's (or, at 37, is it late-30's? Let's go with mid-), I am finding myself wondering more and more frequently why being thin is so damned important.

I have overweight friends who are funny, likable, very pretty, and outgoing. You don't have to be thin to be any of those things.

I see couples (typically at weddings) who are "fat and happy"--somewhat overweight, laughing, dancing, eating cake, having a great time. And it makes me wonder why I never felt like that was good enough. Why did I insist on spending so much time worrying about losing weight before I could be happy?

If I could go back in time, would I do it all differently? I like to think that I would. I would still have liked to lose the weight to be more able-bodied and healthy, but did I really have to set specific weight goals, count every Weight Watcher Point or calorie, and turn down some really yummy foods to get just a few pounds thinner? Nope. I wish I had learned in the beginning that it just doesn't matter that much.

Yet, after all of this, I admit that being thin is still important to me.

I know, right?

I almost feel ashamed to admit it after I wrote all of the above. I wish I was one of those people that could say "weight is just a number, it doesn't mean anything".

To be honest, I feel my best when I am at my healthy goal weight range of 130-135. I feel prettier when I am thinner. I feel more confident. And as sad as it is, I feel more worthy. (I'm not saying this is how it should be--it's just the honest truth of how I feel.)

When I see overweight women, I don't look at them and think that they are ugly or insecure or less worthy. I don't feel like they "need" to lose weight, or that they "should" lose weight. Maybe they don't even want to lose weight! So, it doesn't make any sense to me why I should feel any differently about myself.

Over the last four years or so, though, I have certainly gotten more relaxed about it all (in stages). I no longer read weight loss books or magazine articles. I don't watch The Biggest Loser (is that even on TV anymore?) while eating a pint of ice cream and planning to start my diet tomorrow. I don't obsessively plan on how I'm going to lose weight and write out all the numbers. I refuse to try trendy diets. I eat cake at celebrations--a corner piece with gobs of frosting if I can get one.

That is not to say that I don't care about my weight. I'm sure it's clear from my blog that I am unhappy with my recent weight gain and I really want to take it off--even if I only take off half of it! I spend much more time thinking about it than I would like. It's impossible not to be hyperaware after having lost this much weight and having it so ingrained in my thoughts. But it isn't the center of my life anymore. (Also evidenced by the topics I write about on my blog shifting further away from weight loss.)

This post is all over the place... do I want to be thin? Do I want to be fat and happy? WHAT, Katie, WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WANT? (I've taken my bipolar meds today, I swear.)

I want to be balanced. I want to find and maintain a weight range that isn't a big struggle. I want to eat the foods I love, even if it means weighing a couple pounds more that I prefer. I want to be able to exercise and be active without obsessing over it. I want to be able to eat reasonable portion sizes without weighing, measuring, and looking up how many calories are in my food. I want to be happy with my clothing size, whether that's a 4 or 14, or anything in between. I want to stop worrying about gaining back all the weight.

I want to feel secure and that I'm good enough just the way I am.

Will I be able to have all these things? Well, I'm always hopeful! I'm (forever) working on them, and I usually learn quite a bit from my mistakes in the past. I do wish I hadn't wasted so much of my life obsessing over weight loss, though. With the exception of a couple of extremes (being overweight to the point where it negatively affects one's health, for example), losing weight just isn't that important (in my opinion).

Now, I just have to work on truly believing that.

There is no rush. There is no finish line.

There is no "right" weight to aim for. I will have setbacks. I will have to adjust things as I get older and wiser. I will have to remind myself every day that there is so much more to life than being thin and we don't need to be thin to experience those things!

January 26, 2019

Reverse Heart Rate Training

I just made up the term "reverse heart rate training" because I wasn't really sure what to call the little experiment I've been doing.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I wanted to get back into a good exercise habit--ideally, running 3+ times per week, even if only for 30 minutes. I chose to follow my own Base Building training plan, a running plan meant for new (or returning) runners who haven't been running regularly and need to build up a base before training for a race or adding speed work.

Building a base is actually very important. According to the RRCA (who I have my running coach certification from) a solid base is when you've run 300-500 miles. By running regularly, and building up mileage slowly, your legs adapt to the stress from running and get stronger for next time. If you try to do too much too soon, your performance won't be optimal and risk of injury is high.

In the beginning, running even one mile at first seems SO intimidating, but by building up a base, eventually that one mile will feel like an easy walk in the park. When I first started running, there was no way that I ever would have believed I'd one day run 26.2 miles. When I did my 12, 14, 16+ mile training runs for my marathons, running a mile was barely a warm-up!

When you're first starting out, though, it feels like it will take an eternity to get to that point. Right now, I feel like I am a true beginner again. Well, a little step up from that, actually--I knew I could run three miles, even if it was super slow.

The Base Building training plan starts at 30 minutes, 3 times per week, so I thought it would be a good way to ease back into running regularly. There isn't any speed work; it's all easy running, which is SUPER important.

A quick explanation of low heart rate training:

When I was training to run a personal best in the 10K (November 2015 to April 2016), I experimented with low heart rate training. My goal overall was to run my easy runs at a truly easy pace; to do that, I used my heart rate monitor. I had to keep my heart rate under 146 (180 bpm minus my age, which was then 34).

At the time, this was slow for me. It was about an 11:00/mile pace, and I did this for 80% of my time spent running. The other 20% was spent doing intervals or tempo runs. And you know what? I ran my fastest 10K time (49:03), despite training at such a slow pace.

What happens is that your cardiovascular system gets more efficient as you run at a lower heart rate. When starting out, your pace might be 13:00/mile when keeping your heart rate low, but as you train, you will eventually get faster while keeping your heart rate the same. So after several months, you may be running an 11:00/mile pace while maintaining that same heart rate.

Running at that heart rate feels very easy (as it should, because it's for "easy" runs) and it helps build endurance. Doing the speed work for 20% of the time spent running per week is what makes us faster overall, but it's the 80% of the time spent doing easy runs that help us to maintain that pace for an entire race. (I highly recommend reading 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald for more info on that method.)

So, in a nutshell, low heart rate training is when you keep your heart rate at or below a particular number (I like to use Dr. Phil Maffetone's formula of 180 minus one's age), and train regularly at that heart rate. Eventually, you will get faster while maintaining that same heart rate, improving your endurance.

So, what the heck is "reverse" heart rate training?

This is not an actual training method that I'm aware of; it's just something that I decided to experiment with, mostly to keep from getting bored with training. When I have a purpose for running, like this little experiment, I have a different perspective.

Anyway, since I expect to be on the treadmill most of the time this winter (I just don't have the drive to run outside when it's super cold; hopefully I will again someday), I decided to try something different. Instead of running at my low heart rate and allowing my pace to get faster, I have been running at a set speed on the treadmill to see if my heart rate gets lower over time.

I'm super out of shape right now, and even running at 5.0 mph on the treadmill felt tough during my first run of this Base Building training plan (I started on January 15). I didn't think of this "reverse heart rate training" until after that first run, so I didn't maintain that speed the whole time. During the first run, I added a couple of "sprints" at 6.0 mph (and wow, that felt SO hard--I remember when my easy runs were done faster than that).

After seeing how far "off" my Garmin's distance and pace were compared to the treadmill, I knew that heart rate training was going to be hard to monitor. However, doing the reverse (maintaining same speed, and monitoring my heart rate) would work regardless of what my Garmin read. It's not ideal, because easy runs should feel very easy, but I only plan to do this until I run outside again.

For the second run, I set the treadmill at 5.0 mph and didn't touch it during the entire 30 minutes. And I've done that for each subsequent run.

I've only run five times since January 15 (per the schedule) but I already felt much better during the fifth run than I did the first. And my heart rate has gotten lower during each run as well. I wasn't expecting to see much of a difference so quickly, but it's been really interesting to see it actually working.

My average heart rate for the last three runs has decreased--151, 150, and then 147 bpm.

I really wish that my Garmin would be more accurate on the treadmill, but considering all the trials I did with it before, I was never able to get it to read correctly. A lot of it depends on the speed I am running, too.

I know that my treadmill isn't reading correctly, either. The treadmill's timer goes faster than "real time". When 1 minute of real times passes, the treadmill counts it as 60.5 seconds. That doesn't seem like a big deal, but during a 30 minute run, it adds 15 seconds. I always start my Garmin exactly 10 seconds after the treadmill (to allow the treadmill belt to get moving).

So, when I finish a 30-minute run, the timer on the treadmill reads 30:25 (or a little after, because I stop the Garmin first). The timer on the Garmin works correctly, but the distance for treadmill running is off--there is no way that I'm running close to a 13:00/mile pace.

In this photo, for example... I had started the treadmill, and then when it read 00:10, I started my Garmin. (I stopped the treadmill three seconds after stopping the Garmin)

After years of running at all different speeds, I know what general pace I'm running. If the treadmill's distance is correct, then the pace I'm running would be 11:48 (using a correct timer). That's nearly a minute per mile faster than the Garmin reads, and 12 seconds per mile faster than the treadmill reads.

Regardless, I can at least monitor as my heart rate (hopefully) decreases over time while running at the same pace during each run, no matter what pace that is. Once my heart rate is able to stay under 143 (eek! I turned 37 yesterday, so 180 minus my age is now 143 bpm), then I will increase the speed to 5.1 mph for each run. Each time my heart rate is able to stay under 143, then I'll increase the speed again.

And hopefully, by the time spring is here and I start running outside again, I will be in better overall shape. Then, I can go back to doing traditional heart rate training.

I'm starting to think of the running in the same mindset that I have for giving up alcohol. With the alcohol, I just stopped altogether on January 1st, and now there is no question about it--I simply don't drink, no matter what. As for the running, I've started to look at it as something that I will do no matter what. It's only 30 minutes, and if I want to get back to doing it regularly, I have to just suck it up and do it. It feels hard right now, but I know that it gets easier. Eventually, it will be habit that I don't even question.

This new way of monitoring improvement in my fitness feels like enough to keep me interested for a while, at least! Haha

I'm supposed to be in Arizona right now. My flight was yesterday morning, and I was planning on going there to visit my friend, Sarah (whose wedding I attended in 2011). Her birthday is on January 22 and mine is January 25; when we were kids, we lived a couple of houses apart, and we used to celebrate our birthdays together. We thought it would be fun to get together for our birthdays this year.

However, on Thursday morning, she woke up very sick. Her kids have had croup a couple of times this year, and she ended up getting sick the day before my visit. We had planned to go hiking in Sedona, but that would have been miserable for her. So, we ended up canceling the visit. We'll try again another time.

I was looking forward to the warmer weather there! While we had temps in the 40's and 50's here in Michigan a couple of weeks ago, the temps dropped drastically last week. Check out the weather from Monday morning!

The day before, we had gotten dumped on with snow. A ton of it.

I shoveled the driveway three times during the day so that when Jerry got home from work, the driveway would be clear. The snow was coming down hard even while I was shoveling, and it was so windy that the snow was flying in sideways. It was SO cold.

I took this picture to show Jerry what I looked like after shoveling, even though it looks more like I had just gotten done doing a sweaty workout. Instead, I couldn't even feel my toes, my face was stinging, my nose was running horribly, and the snowflakes had embedded in my hair as they melted. You can't tell from the pic, but my hair was actually frozen when I came inside. The wind made my hair go all over the place, even while wearing a hat. We're supposed to get more snow on Monday, too.

In other news, we are almost done installing the new flooring. I love love love it, and I will post pictures as soon as we finish the floor and move the furniture back into place!

January 20, 2019

The Story of Our Home

I've been writing a LOT lately about the DIY renovations I've been doing since August. I've done everything from removing a textured ceiling, taping and mudding drywall, sanding until I developed carpal tunnel (gah!), priming and painting (we've gone through about 17 gallons of paint and 6 gallons of primer!), building countertops, laminating countertops, making an epoxy countertop, building my own island, and a bunch of other stuff.

If you're not into DIY stuff, then I'm sure you've lost interest long ago. For those of you that are, I hope the stories are mildly entertaining, at least. I happen to love seeing others' DIY projects!

Anyway, I've been going through photos so that I can do a large "before and after" type post when we are totally done. And it made me think about all the changes we've made over the years (nothing nearly as big as what we're doing now). It's fun to look at the old pics!

It also gave me the idea to share the story of our home and how we came to live here when we got married. What had been a "starter home" is now where we plan to stay for the foreseeable future.

So, here's the story of our home. We live in a "manufactured home" (a.k.a. trailer, double-wide, whatever you'd like to call it.). Jerry and I usually refer to it as our "house", unless we are frustrated at something that falls apart or needs to be replaced or upgraded, and then we say "trailer", hahaha). I am not knocking trailers--this one has been good to us, and I actually really like it.

When we got married, we bought a plot of land in a neighborhood, picked out the layout and color scheme of our home, and hired a contractor to get our home onto a foundation within a timely manner. We never really thought we'd stay here this long. And we actually put our house up for sale way back in 2005 (we moved here in 2003).

However, I got pregnant with Eli, so we postponed the sale... and then lots of time went by. The housing market had crashed within a year after we bought it, so we would have lost quite a bit of money if we'd sold it.

And now, we really like it here. Our house will be paid off in about four years and the size (about 1600 square feet) is fine for us. I've never had a big desire to have a huge house--I prefer cozy, probably because I grew up in a household of six people in a 1700 square foot ranch. I REALLY love the land plot that we bought, which is my main reason for wanting to stay here.

We live just across from a state land nature preservation (or, as we call it, "the woods"). We see deer, ducks, geese, turtles, squirrels, eagles, beavers, and even a fox or two just across the street. We are a five-minute walk from Lake Erie. We live in a neighborhood (which I prefer to having a large property).

Also, I really like our house. We have looked at others through the years when we've thought about moving, but I couldn't find a layout that I liked as much as what we have now. I love the size of my kitchen and my pantry. I think our home feels intimate, and not too "sterile". I like to think that people feel comfortable coming over.

It's interesting, because Jerry and I are totally cool with living here--we like it. But when we moved in here, the "grown-ups" in our lives kept referring to this as a temporary "starter" home. A lot of people don't understand why we don't want to upgrade to new construction or to find a house with acres of property.

I had a garage sale one time, and this woman who came lived at the tip of the peninsula nearby, so her house was right on the water. I run through that area all the time (or, at least, I used to) and I've never had the desire to live on the lake. I'm just not a lakes/oceans person. Anyway, this woman commented to me about how horrible it must be to live across the street from the woods. She literally shuddered and said, "I don't know why anyone would want to live here instead of on the water".

I'm not joking. How rude! Her comment was very ignorant, so it didn't bother me. And seriously... how pretty are the sunsets?

Jerry and I were basically kids when we moved in here. We got married in August 2003--I was 21 and Jerry was 22. We lived with my parents until December 2003, when our house was finally ready to move in. At 21 years old, I knew NOTHING about keeping house. (And when I'd chosen to get a manufactured home instead of build, it was just simpler.)

In choosing the layout and materials and all that for the manufactured home, I didn't think to ask about upgrades. I did upgrade the roof pitch (at my cousin's suggestion) so that it was higher and didn't look so much like a trailer. After living here for several years, we started to notice more and more the poor quality of materials that were used.

I've always been very thrifty, as you've probably noticed from my blog. I rarely buy new clothes (I love Salvation Army!), "garage saleing" is a verb in my family, I borrow library books instead of buying books, I buy used furniture, and I'm just generally very aware of costs.

I pick and choose where to spend money--I may only buy used clothes, and I always pick up a penny when I find one on the ground, but I did spend over $200 on a set of Brooklinen bedding. (COMPLETELY worth it! If you want a $25 coupon, you can use this link; it will also give me a $25 coupon for referring you, so you will be my best friend). People choose how to spend their money, buying what is important to them, and I don't judge that at all.

Anyway, we've always wanted to make improvements on the house. There are SO many things I wish we'd have done differently when we moved in, but we were young and stupid, and had no clue what we were doing.

Now, we are seeing all the problems that occur when living in a manufactured home--nothing is standard! The doors, the faucets, window sizes, and even the WALLS are different from a standard stick-built home. So, finding replacement parts through the years has been challenging, to say the least.

As we've been giving our house a makeover recently, we've discovered several things we can do that we didn't think we were able to. Like our bedroom doors, for example. I have always HATED that we have a huge gap underneath the doors--2 inches! (As you can see below, having toddlers meant there was no hope for a sex life, hahaha)

A couple of months ago, I started digging deep into why those gaps are necessary. And you know what? I learned that they aren't! If we have another form of cold air return to the furnace (like any house needs, not just trailers),  then we don't have to have giant gaps under the doors. So, we bought some door slabs from Lowe's to finally hang new bedroom doors (and they were cheap, like $35 a piece!).

And I love them! The doors alone made a huge difference in the overall look. We have a couple more to do (Eli's room needs a new door frame, so that's a bigger project). I really wish I'd done this years ago.

Our house isn't anything amazing or breathtaking or whatever. But it has character. My doctor probably could have diagnosed my bipolar simply by walking through my house, hahaha. I'm a little eclectic and I like color, so my taste is spread throughout ;) But the most important thing is that Jerry and I like it, because we've chosen this to be our home.

That said, we definitely have hideous taste in décor. When I was looking through photos, I couldn't stop cringing! But with the changes we've made over the last five months, I love love love the new look. Whether it's what's "in" or not, we make decisions based on what we like and what is practical for us at the time. Even if we cringe about it later! ;)

And now that we've been making improvements on the inside, changes that make us feel excited about, we are proud to call it our home. Once we are finished with the current renovation, I will post photos to see the whole "after" effect. It's pretty dramatic!

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