What is my intention with fasting on Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur is threatening to smash open the Gates of Heaven and let them crash loudly behind us before we’re even ready. For many of us, there’s a lot of important work that we’ve done to get ready for this moment. Personally, I spent the month of Elul preparing for the High Holidays. I coordinated events and rituals for my community and did some really necessary self-work and reflection in anticipation of the Jewish new year – Rosh Hashana.

For example, I wrote several kavanot, intentions, for myself and my community this past month as I reflected on where I’ve been and what I need. When I started writing, I used the phrase “May you…” as the stem for each line. I tried to separate the “you” from “me” (I felt a little preachy honestly) and then, about halfway through the “you” felt more like I was writing to myself rather than writing to create distance from myself. I started feeling “May you…” a lot during these reflective days both in the imperative sense and in the sense of allowing myself to do what’s best for me.  Through daily writing, I discovered themes in my own ways of being that are holding me back in or advancing my personal growth and relationships. I agreed to let go of things that were weighing me down and make space for moments or experiences where I can be fully present. It was a pretty palpable area of growth!

Even so, as we get closer and closer to Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe dwindle, it undoubtedly feels like there’s never enough time to reconcile all I’ve done that’s been misguided and all the self-work I wanted to accomplish in the last several weeks.

Speaking of which, in some communities that I’m a part of we’re having one specific conversation related to teshuva, repentance, and self-work. Many folks are asking, “What do you do when your grievances with yourself (the things you cast away during Tashlich) are around disordered eating and exercise?” This is because on Yom Kippur, one of the customary rituals for the holiest day of the year, the act of fasting often conceptualized as your last chance to repent, may be misaligned with the important self-work folks who are recovering from eating disorders prioritize daily.

If you Google “Yom Kippur and eating disorders” you will come up with 43,100 results in 0.52 seconds. You can read a lot of interesting articles and personal narratives about how fasting isn’t teshuva when you have an eating disorder, the strange correlation between Orthodox Jewish women and the prevalence of eating disorders, and how you cannot fast (even for religious reasons) if it will threaten your life. One widely-referenced article says, ” For individuals who suffer, or are in recovery from, an eating disorder, eating on Yom Kippur is a holy act. Rather than finding “purity” or “spiritual growth” through denying themselves food, the act of eating itself is an act of teshuva.” And regardless of Google’s consensus or what a rabbi tells you, every person needs to make their own decision about what’s best for their body and their recovery – ideally, with the help of a team of medical and mental health professionals.

I will be fasting this year. One thing that I found that was particularly helpful for me in making this decision was intention setting. Many articles suggest that people who have a history of disordered eating might find it helpful to ask themselves, “What is my intention with fasting on Yom Kippur and can it be achieved some other way?” You could also ask, “What part of me is making the decision if I’m choosing to fast?” Examining your intentions is a good way to judge if it’s a responsible idea to fast and if your rationale is guided by spiritual motivation or disordered eating.

If you’re struggling with food I encourage you to take some time to revisit and evaluate your intentions around fasting on Yom Kippur. For some people “because it’s what we do” isn’t safe or enough of a justification to condone fasting on Yom Kippur.

This year, I’ve done this work for myself and I’d like to offer two intentions that I am holding with me as I anticipate and participate in the Yom Kippur Fast:

Tisha B’Av:

Tisha B’Av is one of the saddest days of the year. It’s the day that we mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Babylonian Talmud tells us,

To not mourn at all is impossible, as the decree was already issued and the Temple has been destroyed. But to mourn excessively as you are doing is also impossible, as the Sages do not issue a decree upon the public unless a majority of the public is able to abide by it.” (Tractate Bava Batra 60b). 

I’m interpreting this to mean that we mourn the destruction of the Temple at certain time periods that are designated for mourning, such as Tisha B’Av. The sorrow we feel on Tisha B’av must necessarily be time-limited – temporary.  However, if we don’t make space to feel the weight of this sadness, our persistent, always present joy risks feeling false or inauthentic. Similarly, an article from Aish mentions, “The point of the [Tisha B’Av] is not to wallow in pointless grief or melancholy. Judaism guides us to always live with a sense of purpose. Take the sadness and use it as a catalyst to rebuild. Replace destructive emotions with constructive actions. Resolve that today will bring us [the] opportunity to realize our spiritual potential.”

Just as we cannot bear the weight of immense sorrow every day, so too we cannot sustain ourselves by fasting interminably. The spiritual intention of fasting on Yom Kippur is time-limited and can be used as a tool to guide our choices in the year ahead. And, since one day of atonement doesn’t feel like nearly enough to rectify all our wrongdoings, we make time each day (e.g., through daily prayer or though apologizing) to be aware of our actions and how others experience us. This one day, Yom Kippur, is symbolic. This one practice, fasting, isn’t meant to be interminable just as the sadness we feel on Tisha B’Av isn’t always weighing us down.

Fully inhabiting your body:

I recently learned with Rabbi Jane Kanarek, PhD at a Sleichot service. Her teaching followed a series of Jewish texts which narrated all the ways (financial and otherwise) that our bodies matter and have worth. With this sentiment at the forefront, she proposed that we reimagine fasting on Yom Kippur in this way: fasting allows us to, momentarily, fully inhabit our body and experience all that it can do in its most depleted state and all that it needs to be its strongest. Only when we’ve understood the full worth of our bodies and realized that we can do so much more if we are dedicated to taking care of them can we do the work of teshuva.  She implied that you must mentally inhabit your empty (uninhabited) body to bring enlightenment and awareness to all that you need to feel strong and whole. This theme of wholeness and returning inward is essential to the High Holidays rhetoric, but in terms of fasting, the wholeness comes from when the fast is broken and you do what’s essential, replenish and fill yourself, to put your best self forward in the year ahead. Your intimate awareness with yourself and your needs demonstrates why this fast is time-limited and why the real teshuva occurs when we move beyond the symbolism of fasting and emerge from behind the Gates of Heaven prepared for whatever our bodies encounter next.

I wonder if any of you can relate to the difficulty of prioritizing this necessary self-work and awareness during the High Holidays when there’s so much to hold and coordinate on behalf of your community, work, family, and friends too. This tension, or rather sentiment, has me thinking a lot about Pirkei Avot 2:16, “you are not expected to complete the work, but neither are you free to avoid it.” That’s how I’m approaching teshuva this year. That’s how I’m facing the seemingly insurmountable task of introspection and yearning for wholeness. It’s also how I’m approaching the necessity to do both community and self-work. They’re inextricably linked and neither can be completed or thrive in isolation – we need our whole self and our whole community now, through the High Holidays, and beyond to be our strongest and to even have a shot at achieving our goals. In fact, the responsibilities are too big for one person to expect to complete on their own. What do you think?

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The Media Coverage of Chronic Pain is Oversimplified

The Washington Post recently published an article about CRPS titled “The Strange Pain that can Overcome Kids, Especially High-achieving Teenage Girls.” The article was shared with me by someone who has never experienced a chronic, physical illness and believes that you can actually have unlimited spoons. The premise for sharing this article was simply, “I thought it could be interesting”.

Here’s the thing about living with CRPS: it’s not interesting, it is excruciating. 

This article wasn’t an easy read for a person who lives with this condition or in general. The story was raw and real in its recollection of the girl’s suicidality and deep despair. I know that feeling. I could understand.

I shared this articles with several of my RSD sisters, and for those of us who have experienced programs like the ones described in the article, by the end of reading this piece we were feeling like we were fifteen again and meeting our parents by the PT gym at the end of the day. We too easily remembered our own puffy, red faces that were damp from crying, sweating, and working incredibly hard all day. We could feel our legs as wobbly as Jell-O from pounding the concrete stairs for “just thirty more seconds” over and over again. I was transported back to the days where I convinced myself I could do anything for thirty seconds. Later, this notion was expanded to “I can do anything for the length of one song” – just as long as it’s not Stairway to Heaven! As I was reading this article I could actually feel the roughness of a towel rubbing on my leg. I pictured the shaker machine – a machine meant to desensitize our bodies to vibration – and felt the heaviness of dread in my throat and chest. Honestly, it makes me shudder.

The truth is, this disease is horrific and the treatment isn’t glamorous or complacent. In fact, I remember coming home from the hospital after weeks of treatment protesting and boasting that my physical therapy regimen was more difficult than the gymnastics conditioning I complained about during every workout. I worked so hard for my recovery! I was thrilled to get back into my sport, but the emotional toll and trauma of this condition and the various treatments weighted heavily on me as I progressed through the rest of my life. I became one of those people who would do things “in spite of” my pain and to prove everyone wrong. During my physical recovery, I unlearned healthy limits and pushed my body too hard too often both out of fear of relapsing and losing everything I worked so hard to regain and out of sheer persistence – I had to prove to everyone and to myself that my pain wouldn’t stop me. I will never unlearn “doing too much” and I will always have a hard time differentiating between “good pain” and “bad pain”. Doing too much has been my emotional defense mechanism and my brick wall that has separated and protected me from the world ever since I was able to move freely, yet not pain free, again.

The problem with articles like this is that they present only one story and they’re oversimplified. First of all, the characterization of this illness as something that is common in high achieving girls makes it seem like we did this to ourselves. Or worse our parents’ ambitions for us got us into this mess. The article goes as far as to describe Type A overachievers as “one stone’s throw away from being a pain kid”. This simplification absolutely dismisses the severity and rareness of our lived experiences. For some of us, our bodies cope with stress in maladaptive ways – i.e., pain. For many of us, our capability to hone our Type A strengths is what helped us to overcome this debilitating out condition. We were taught to push through the pain. The mantra “If it hurts to do something, that’s what you should do” is how we learned to regain and reclaim our functionality. Discipline and commitment were the mechanisms by which we executed each day. Consistency is how we maintain our gains and continue to grow stronger. Those Type A characteristics saved my life.

In this intense program, we were taught to ignore the pain and prioritize functioning. It was the epitome of “fake it til you make it”. One person I talked to told me, “It was engraved in your mind as a kid that you have to act like it’s all fine but no one fully understands… that you’re not fine”. As I read this article I felt like my 3D, actual living body was squished into some 1000+ basic words on a page. A huge chapter in my life was minimized to a single story of one person’s “strange pain” that others might find “interesting” – my life and (my) pain became click bait. “Strange” is pathologizing language – one step away from “crazy” – that makes us feel less believed and like we’re making it up. This actual, legitimate pain is sometimes inexplicable and definitely described and experienced differently by each person, but regardless it’s tangible and all too familiar to me.

This isn’t the first time mainstream media has failed to adequately capture the lived experience of someone with RSD. In 2013, Dance Moms featured Nia’s experience with chronic pain. Nia’s mom says, “Nia says she has the pain but when she’s not thinking about stress… she’s fine… I think it’s in her head that something’s wrong with her feet… she has to tell her brain to shut off the pain signals”. This 2:20 segment of TV did not do Nia or our community justice. This mentality practically implies that we are choosing to live in pain. If it was that easy to just shut off our brains and decide that we are not hurting, then by that same logic many of us wouldn’t also have depression or anxiety. It is important to note that the comorbidity of these conditions is exceedingly high. The bottom line is: this is a real illness. We cannot shut it off. This simplification which occurred on a show that likely has a large audience of “high-achieving teenage girls” was a missed opportunity. Put another way, the public perception of this illness doesn’t align with how it manifests for everyone – with all our realities – and that’s harmful to us.

I realized this article and these “media moments” aren’t made for “us”. This Washington Post article wasn’t written for people whose doctors didn’t believe them, who have spent years warping their own experiences in their mind so relentlessly that they have convinced themselves they were faking it or that when they were feeling their worst it wasn’t really “that bad”, who felt like their pain and neediness tore their families apart and ruined their friendships. This article wasn’t written for people who know what it’s like to “lose what you are and what you love” and have to fight like hell to get some semblance of the life you knew back or worse, accept your new reality and deal with the implications or that – “even if – and especially if – it hurts”.  I finally realized this article was never going to be interesting to “us”.  And, it was interesting to “them” the same way a “freak show” is interesting at the circus. It’s othering and othering doesn’t take ever take the form empathy or compassion. It rarely even resembles pity.  It feels like on a smaller scale this article evoked the same thoughtlessness and naivety that “13 Reasons Why” did when it appealed to a privileged, untroubled audience, and “To the Bone” did for people who do not have explicit experience with eating disorders. Representing shock value at the expense or representation is irresponsible.

My painful disease reminds me daily that I don’t have control over my body and I will hurt physically and mentally sometimes just because the wind blows. However, I do have control over the choices I make each day about the life I lead and the way I love myself and my ambitions – fiercely. The article got one thing correct: “It is not as simple as “come for three weeks and now your life is all better.””

After all this ranting, I am left feeling energized by the possibility of a different conversation about “us”. My condition and my experiences living with chronic pain have shaped who I am today. I am hopeful to one day hear sentences like this, “this article was interesting to me because of what you shared about your experience. I want to understand you better. How do you relate to this article?” I will look forward to conversations that are powered by the curiosity to better understand my story and a willingness set aside expectations in order to make space for surprise, ambiguity, and maybe even genuine understanding.

What questions do you have? Let’s talk!

 

Who has earned the right to hear my story?

My list of things to write about is filled with topics that seem simultaneously too immense to tackle and too irrelevant to warrant attention. I want to write about counting – what counts, who counts, what do we count up, what do we count down?  I want to write a passive aggressive piece about the biggest occupational hazard of being a writer – exposure. I want to write about the relationship between trust and vulnerability. Let’s see if I can do it all by answering a question inspired by Brene Brown, “Who has earned the right to hear my story?”.

Counting

Brene Brown said,  “Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.”

I can count on one hand the number of people to whom I’ve spoken my story aloud. Those are the people in my life who “count”. They’re the ones I’ve learned to let in and have earned the right to hear my story. They are the ones who “mesh with my messy” and keep hanging in there and hanging on – no matter what.  I have learned to count on these people. I count down until I can see them. I count up the memories we have together and the anniversaries of our friendships. Earning a place in my life where you “count” doesn’t come naturally or even easily. It comes with time spent, loyalties exchanged, and a whole lot of patience. I’m a tough one to crack – a slow burn as one friend describes it. However, once someone “counts” and I count on them, my fierce loyalty and dependability means they’re in it for the long haul.

So if you want to “count”, you have to be willing to hang and hold on tight.

The Occupational Hazard of Being a Writer

Practically daily, Brene Brown reminds me of about the power of vulnerability and choosing authenticity.  Her work reminds me that being seen and owning my story is courageous. In fact, she says, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” This sentiment is one of the reasons I write. However, the hazard of being vulnerable is so unbearable to consider and the consequences feel multifaceted. It can lead to misconception and immense exposure. As a writer, certain aspects of my life are more public than private. I feel like sometimes when people read my writing think they know me better than they actually do. What’s challenging is that my writing is often editorialized to make money (or generate web traffic) and the choices I make regarding how to convey emotion, which phrases or formatting are more attractive to readers, and which examples to expand on based on what may be salient to or resonate with readers are only relatively representative of my lived experience. I cannot control the fact that people make inferences with the information they have (hey – we don’t know what we don’t know) and that’s hard for me to tolerate. Conversely, I don’t have the energy or obligation to “explain” myself to everyone in my life whom I feel has misunderstood my story by only learning of certain aspects of my life by reading my writing.

However, the hazard of being vulnerable is so unbearable to consider and the consequences feel multifaceted. It can lead to misconception and immense exposure. As a writer, certain aspects of my life are more public than private. Consequently, I feel like sometimes when people read my writing think they know me better than they actually do. What’s challenging is that my writing is often editorialized to make money (or generate web traffic) and the choices I make regarding how to convey emotion, which phrases or formatting are more attractive to readers, and which examples to expand on based on what may be salient to or resonate with readers are only relatively representative of my lived experience. I cannot control the fact that people make inferences with the information they have (hey – we don’t know what we don’t know) and that’s hard for me to tolerate. Conversely, I don’t have the energy or obligation to “explain” myself to everyone in my life whom I feel has misunderstood my story by only learning of certain aspects of my life by reading my writing.

So there’s a tension. I want to be understood and yet I’m hesitant to share about my life. At the same time, I’m anxious about the anticipation of being misperceived (something I cannot control – I realize) because the representation of myself via my writing feels raw and heavy.

The thing is for every 1200 words in a post, there are thousands more I decide not to share. The things I don’t share via writing are the details in my story, the nuances, that explain “me”. They are things like how I communicate, that I’m an introvert, that I hate being taken care of, and that when people push too hard, too fast I pull away. They’re the fact that sometimes my life is scary and sometimes I want to run, but I can’t escape it. And it’s the idea that regardless of all I’ve experienced, I don’t live my life from a place of being a victim. In fact, most people who know me don’t learn about all the things I’ve experienced – my story- for a long long time.

Except, via my writing, I do share parts of my story with the world. Here’s why:

Brene says, “We’re all grateful for people who write and speak in ways that help us remember that we’re not alone.”  After I press “publish” my writing is left in the heads, hands, and hearts of whoever stumbles upon my words. Being a writer helps me own my experiences and when I put my words out there my truth radiates. I learn I’m not alone. Which is terrifying and exciting.

The Relationship Between Trust and Vulnerability is Linear

Brene Brown argues that “Trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work, attention, and full engagement.” I tend to agree, yet I believe that as trust grows so too does the inclination to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary and painful. It’s the kind of unwelcome discomfort that sits right on top of the fence wavering relentlessly between I need this and I cannot tolerate this. However, when you trust someone and you know they’re not going anywhere it’s easier to be vulnerable. Conversely, as trust decreases, so too does the inclination to be vulnerable. As a result disengagement and disconnection emerge. Two qualities that hinder the capacity to be open to receiving my story. The presence of enduring trust answers the question, “who has earned the right to hear my story”. Sharing my story is one way I can be vulnerable, and if I do not have a foundation of trust, then the privilege of learning my story isn’t accessible.

Conversely, as trust decreases, so too does the inclination to be vulnerable. As a result disengagement and disconnection emerge. Two qualities that hinder the capacity to be open to receiving my story. The presence of enduring trust answers the question, “who has earned the right to hear my story”. Sharing my story is one way I can be vulnerable, and if I do not have a foundation of trust, then the privilege of learning my story isn’t accessible.

Glennon Dyole Melton reminds us in Love Warrior, that “we can do hard things”. I interpret that to mean we can choose our adventures, make mistakes, acquire accolades and achievements, and overcome life’s challenges. Writing allows me to be the author and narrator of my “hard things”. I write because it helps me make sense of my story.  When I’m writing, I choose how the chapter ends and what the message is. This – writing – is hard. It takes courage to confront hard things and be seen. 

Mindful Miles for #RWRunStreak

 

For 37 days between Memorial Day and July 4th, I conquered a mile a day! I did it! I’m so proud!

There was lots of griping on on Twitter about how exhausted I was and how my pace suffering. I skipped out on social plans or sleep to squeeze in a single, unenjoyable mile just to say I did it. I ran at 9:45 PM with a sunburn because I couldn’t break the streak after a lazy beach day.  I missed out on cross-training because on my normal cross-training days I was too tired after running. I watched the weather incessantly. My running plan had contingency plans for impending rain and thick humidity. My body hurt practically every day for a month. Also, there was so much laundry!

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And, for all the complaining, it was amazing! In fact, I feel like I could keep going! 

Earlier this year I wrote my declaration to running! I said, “I am a Runner” and reaffirmed my belief that there is so much more to running than miles or minutes. I realized that after over a decade of being unable to trust my body, I had the strength and ability to trust myself and my aspirations. I set goals, I remained committed, and, as a result, I grew stronger. I definitely gained strength during this running streak. My mile got stronger and faster, and my confidence was palpable.

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Sometimes I felt like Squidward when he said, “I sorta don’t feel like playing my clarinet today.” [Squidville, 2001]
During some particularly challenging runs, I wanted to stop the streak. I told myself it was arbitrary and pointless. I felt so drained. Somedays running was monotonous or I just wasn’t “feeling like it”. While my interest in running did not dissipate, there were days when my enjoyment or motivation to start definitely did. In those moments, I remembered the struggle and pride of relearning to walk (twice) and that I’ve done even more difficult things before. I always got my workout in!

Slowly and over time, I turned to mindfulness to propel me through my running streak. I used mindfulness to allow my body to move in ways that felt strong and natural. I listened to the cues my body was giving me. I reinvigorated my love for running. I realized my body can do some amazing if I set my mind to it! My running streak was dedicated to learning, practicing, and appreciating running mindfully. 

Here are some of my favorite mindfulness techniques that I practiced during my running streak:

  • Set an Intention. I set an intention for my run by focusing on why  I am running and what I want to gain from my run.  I decide before I leave, what I need from my run – fuel, energy, breath, strength, insight, space, etc. Often I set out for each run with a goal in mind. These goals typically motivate and fuel my run, but my intentions are less defined. Instead of focusing on time or distance, I try to focus on quality and effort. I allow less structured expectations and let myself “just run”. This mentality changes how I experience running. Zeroing in on my intentions helps me remember why I love running in the first place. It helps me be attuned to the experience of running – in the moment.
  • Be Present.  I am present when I focus on my breath, my body, or things I am observing. I try to notice three things I am feeling, hearing, seeing, and thinking while I run. Sometimes just the act of noticing these things helps ground me during my run.  When I’m present, I notice what hurts, what feels strained, and what feels strong. I don’t attribute weight or meaning to what I’m recognizing or the choices I am making about my “Right Now Run” (e.g., switching to intervals). I just allow myself to notice it, adjust if necessary, and keep moving. If I get distracted and my mind wanders I allow myself to notice that too, and then I refocus by giving my attention to the sensations of my body.
  • Count. I count steps, breaths, stop signs, crosswalks, anything! I try to focus on counting to 10 without losing my concentration. If I notice my thoughts drifting or I lose count then I start over.
  • Synchronize. I synchronize my running with my music or my breathing. The feeling of synchrony helps me set a pace that feels natural. Instead of fighting my body, I align my running with my body or music so I can feel motivated and strong.
  • Repeat a Mantra. I repeat mantras to myself to help me keep moving! I like words/phrases such as, “finish it”, “breathe”, or “relax”. I am an auditory learner so speaking these words in stride is an incredibly effective way to connect my body and my mind.

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    July 4, 2017 – #RWRunStreak Day 37!

I started the #RWRunStreak to recommit myself to running and to enjoy a new challenge. I finished with a sense of pride and a new set of mindfulness tools and skills.

I don’t recommend a running streak for weight loss (I gained weight!) or for distance work (I ran fewer miles, on average, than my “typical week”!). However, I do recommend it if you are up for a challenge, excited about improving your short distance runs, want to practice sticking with a goal that’s relatively low-stakes, and if you love running!

I’m excited to keep using these mindfulness tools and techniques for many more miles to come! Do you have mindfulness techniques that you love? Feel free to share them below! I’m excited to read your comments and thoughts!

Navigating This “In the Middle” Feeling (Take 2)

I love Pride month! Really I do. I think it’s fun. I think it’s necessary. I think it is reaffirming. I think it’s challenging. I think often it’s not really a space for everyone. I think it’s deeply-seated in whiteness.  I think there’s nothing that says every person who identifies with the ‘LGBTQQIP2SAA’ community needs to be “gung-ho” pride. I have a lot of thoughts on pride.

That being said, I also really enjoyed the unbelievable opportunity to march in the Boston Pride Parade on June 10, 2017, with Keshet – a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life. I didn’t plan to march in the parade, but I can truly say, this experience (was overwhelming) was wonderful. [Side note: Soon I’ll write more about being Jewish and being queer.] Connecting these two important, and individually significant, identities at Boston Pride was really unbelievable! At some points, I was uncomfortable with all the attention but I also experienced moments of true pride and comfort – I could tell because my head was held high and I felt calm. In “Daring Greatly”, Brene Brown says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” As I was marching in the Boston Pride Parade I felt courageous. It was a lot, but it was also kind of the best!

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Happy Pride!

Pride was very timely for me this year. It was really amazing and also exactly when I didn’t need it to be – hence, this “in the middle” feeling!

Here’s why: I often don’t tell people I’m queer when I first meet them.

I don’t tell people because more often than not it shouldn’t matter. Unless we’re dating, my sexual preferences and what is attractive to me isn’t really important.  It’s just that often my queerness doesn’t mesh with my new relationships. In fact, I keep my queerness a significant, safe distance from most of the important people in my life. I can’t figure out how to make room for my queerness. Instead, I straddle my “real life” and my “queer life” very intentionally deciding when to allow aspects of either to seep into the other side – again this “in the middle” feeling.

I feel like I’m best at “doing queerness” with other queer people. Often on the outside, my romantic relationships look as “typical” as can be.  Lately, I have been grappling with the authenticity of my queer identities because of this tension. I often feel I’m not “queer enough” and also like I’m stumbling hardcore at navigating the nuances of dating mostly straight, cisgender, males. Most days, I agree to throw the social script out the window and just figure out what works for us, but sometimes it’s hard to shut out all the social pressure and expectations.

Then, I see tweets like this:

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For some reason, when I read this tweet, I felt as if there was a misalignment with my actions, beliefs, and identities. I started judging and shaming myself. I was disappointed that I was spending (any) energy questioning my queerness when I absolutely know better. I was also disappointed that I was spending energy suppressing my queerness to fit into a more traditional role (i.e., separating my queer identities and my involvement in the queer community from my relationships). I just felt really torn.

Externally, in my personal life, my queerness is not the most prominent aspect of my identity and from the outside looking in, most other queer people wouldn’t immediately or easily catch me with their “gaydar”.  However, as a writer, this niche has awarded me a space on various platforms to publically discuss my identities, the challenges I’m encountering, and educate people about asexuality. For that, I am so very thankful.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on queerness lately. I’ve even asked if this statement, ‘If I have to use labels, I identify as asexual and panromantic, but I can’t stop talking about my “Future Jewish Husband” and children”, makes me a “bad queer“. I’ve spent the majority of the last two years writing about asexuality and why it’s important for people who are asexual to come out (if they feel safe). And, I believe this wholeheartedly.

Yet, I can’t help but feel like as a queer person at best I’m an outsider and at worst I’m an impostor.

I know, I know, I know that “queerness” isn’t exclusively about actions. I have even written about how behavior does not have to dictate orientation, as asexuality is about how someone feels not what someone does.  I’ve said that, “The bottom line for me is this: asexuality is real, and rather than questioning and quizzing someone about their sexual identity or recollecting all their past actions to try and make sense of their life, from your perspective, when they come out, the best thing you can do is believe them and support them. ” I still believe this!

It’s just that it’s getting harder and harder for me to feel like I belong anywhere.

A friend asked us to reflect today on the one-year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting. She said, “Are we making space to listen to LGBTQIA+ folks? Really listen? Like, not just go to the parade and party with us, but listen to our fears, hopes, vulnerabilities, struggles, pain, joy, and all the other things that make us truly human? Are we only supporting white LGBTQIA+ folks, or are we actively including queer folks of color? Religious and non-religious? Able-bodied and those living with disabilities? Genderqueer/fluid/non-binary? Folks who don’t give a damn about marriage? It’s essential that we recognize the FULL spectrum of our fabulous community and get real about who we are. Join me in reflection, and then join me in action. ❤️💛💚💙💜” This really resonated with me.

The first time I wrote this post, a year ago,  I was grappling with my identities as both a fervent ally and a member of the queer community. I felt like I was stuck in the middle; I wanted to be a part of the queer community and in so many ways I felt like I was, yet my identities were not immediately reflected in the queer spaces I was frequenting so allyship felt safer.

I’m still in the middle. I’m in the middle of wanting my identities to be recognized yet not sharing them, figuring out how to “fit in” in the queer community yet keeping the community separate from my other important relationships and identities, and deciding when it’s safe and matters to be out. I’m in the middle of feeling both “too queer” and “not queer enough” all the while fully acknowledging I would never judge someone else’s belonging the same way I’m scrutinizing over mine.

The middle is a hard place to be. The beauty is that within the hardship is where you get to make the important choice to lean into discomfort, pain, and difficulty and embrace vulnerability or give in to disconnection and disengagement and abandon your authentic self. Which is scary! So, I’ll waiver in the middle grappling and overthinking until a gust of wind sways me or something…

I am a “Runner”

I never identified as a “runner” until someone else named it for me. I described my weekly mileage, the feeling of invincibility, the restlessness I feel when I’m not running, and they named it – “you’re a runner.”

Over a year later, I still wasn’t convinced. My friend even explained to me, “You’re a runner. I’m just someone who runs.” The differentiation wasn’t clear to me. One seemed affiliated with an identity whereas the other was associated with a series of actions or behaviors. I’ve been grappling with being a runner (tossing around the hashtag (#runner) and seeing how I “stack up” among other people whom I consider to be “runners”) for the last fourteen weeks. I’ve lamented over long runs, skipped out on social plans to get up early and run, thrown tantrums during taper week, and logged several hundred miles.

I am a “runner”.

A year ago, I wrote that I didn’t care that I didn’t finish a half marathon. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t. Today though, I completed my redemption run! I finished the race that got the best of me a year ago, and I got a PR! 

I told a friend who asked me about the race the following:

Well, it was perfect. I felt amazing. I was so strong and confident. I didn’t psych myself out at all! My mindset this time was so different for the training and everything – 3rd time’s a charm I guess! Hard to explain, but I learned a lot this time around. I am overall so much healthier than any other time. I like that feeling – it took a lot of work. I am really proud. I’m just excited to feel so great. It’s refreshing!

I never thought I’d talk about running like that! These days I rely on expected consequences of running like “runner’s highs” and the sense of camaraderie I feel when another runner nods at me when I’m out on my course. I talk about my workouts and training goals using lingo like “negative splits” and “form drills” because I know what those things mean! Settling into running as a hobby as opposed to a compulsion or as an act of punishment/retaliation has been a long, difficult journey. I’m so proud of where this journey has taken me!

It’s never easy to train for a race when you’re prone to compulsions, have a chronic physical illness, and have a history of regimented behaviors around food and exercise. This type of training took a special amount of conscientiousness. Trust me, intentional focus on my behaviors and my motivation, and a healthy relationship with food and exercise were essential to my success.

As I was reflecting on the past fourteen weeks of training and mental preparation, objectively there are several things that made a difference for me.

Here’s my recipe for success:

Ingredient Specifics Dosage
Food High Protein and Healthy Fats; No Carbo Load 3X Every Day
Water  Just Water. 12 oz.; 3X Every Day – Or More!
Caffeine Coffee w/ Truvia and Milk No More Than 2 Per Day; Not After 11 AM
Sleep White Noise Machine Allocate 8 Hours Per Night
Weighted Blanket Use When Sleeping Every Night
“Naked” Runs No Tracking, No Timing. Just Run! Once a Week
Amazing Grass Supergreens and Fiber Before Food or Coffee 1X Every Day
Alcohol Any None 2 Weeks Prior to Race

[ Note – Inevitably, different strategies will help others feel successful. This approach worked for me. Find what works for you and stick with it!]

Primarily I believe I was successful because I stayed committed to my training plan, forgave and forgot missed or bad workouts, and celebrated the small victories as well as the big ones. And also because… cross-training. I can’t stress this enough. Cross-training made ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
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A lot changed for me during this training season. For example, rather than simply thinking of food as a necessity after a long run to replenish lost calories, I started relying on a consistent strategy for meals so that I could feel nourished and energized for my workouts during the week. The mentalities, “calories in, calories out” and, ” I run so I can eat” were both replaced by the simple, yet sometimes hard to digest (pun intended), concept that food is fuel. I ate food that made my body feel good and strong. I used my bullet journal to keep track of my meals and sleeping patterns; this mindfulness strategy helped me stay accountable to my training goals.

While there were several concrete ingredients to my success, on a subjective level there were also critical connections, realizations, and mindset changes that helped me feel successful.

For example, during one of my more difficult runs rather than struggling through, trudging along, and wondering “Will I finish?”, somewhere along the way, I started to think, “I will finish!”. This epiphany hit me like a breath of fresh air; it felt light, crisp, and perfectly necessary. I can’t quite explain it, but this realization empowered my mind and my body. I finally knew I could do it; there was no doubt in my mind that I would finish the run even if it was incredibly challenging. From that moment on, my training felt lighter and less burdensome. A heavy hunch that I might fail was lifted from my mind, and I felt like I could trust myself and my body in a way I never experienced before.

In that moment, running no longer felt like an obligation. It felt like it was a part of me – like a feeling rather than a task. In that moment, mileage or minutes didn’t matter anymore. I learned that I don’t have to race every run and often I’ll be better in the long run (pun again) if I listen to my body and respect all the cues it’s giving me about how to feel and be my best.

That was the moment I became a “runner”.

Changing my thinking during that run granted me confidence. Moving forward, I knew I was capable of accomplishing whatever I set my mind to – as long as I was consistent and intentional. The plan mattered that’s undeniable, but it didn’t matter just and only because it was “the plan”. It mattered because it was the right combination of training, self-care, and confidence – it was my recipe for success.

I did not experience that kind of freedom when I prepared for or ran my other races. Now, rather than running to grasp a sense of control, or running out of compulsion, I run because I want to and because I believe in my own strength! I run because I can.

I no longer see running as just a test of endurance. It is also a test of my preparation and self-care, and I am always going to be up for that challenge!

 

13 Thoughts on “13 Reasons Why”

I’ve been angry about “13 Reasons Why” since I started watching it four days ago. I watched the first three episodes with an eagerness to find out what happened next. However, I quickly realized this wasn’t a show for me. I felt compelled to finish as quickly as possible (I just wanted it to be over!); I never should have watched this show.

For me, it went from bad, to pretty tough, to unbearable in 13 LONG hours.

I did some reading after I finished the first season, and I learned that others shared my frustration, anger, and disappointment. Many (like me) found it triggering and inappropriate. Lots of people thought the show was glamorizing suicide. I felt like it was trivializing it!  I didn’t appreciate the script’s several remarks about staging suicide as a way to “get rid of” challenging classmates or as the solution for other teens who were also struggling.

I also had some conversations with friends which helped direct my anger and hurt toward something more productive. Our subsequent conversations about suicide prevention, access to resources, and the types of conversations we want to have moving forward forced me to compile my racing thoughts in some (semi) coherent way. These conversations gave me space to share what was on my mind, to feel heard, and to listen. For that, I am thankful.

Still, though, I can’t stop thinking about “13 Reasons Why”, and it’s nothing good.

So, here are my 13 Thoughts on “13 Reasons Why”:

  1.  The series could have been promising as a film. However, dragging out the story of a teen’s suicide for 13 hours was really unnecessary.
  2.  The way the show depicted several of the themes (i.e., sexual assault, bullying, dating/romantic relationships, self-harm, depression, familial abuse, LGBTQIAA+/identity, and substance use/abuse) was way too much/too real for those of us who can relate closely to what the characters experienced. Where the hell were the trigger warnings?!?!
  3.  For folks who cannot relate personally to the themes in the show, it was an ineffective way to evoke empathy from the audience or to help them “understand”.
  4. Top researchers on suicide prevention found that “risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.”  First, nobody needed to see that. Second, it was triggering. Third, what kind of ideas or rationalization did that scene spark for folks who were already considering suicide or self-harm, or weren’t but now saw it as a viable option? [p.s. there has been a spike in calls to mental health helplines since the show aired]
  5.  Did the producers even read the guidelines on safe and responsible reporting on suicide?!?!
  6.  Why was there no material addressing adolescent mental health or substance use/abuse? Especially when it comes to adolescents, one in five have (or will have) a serious mental illness and it’s correlated with suicidal ideation/action.
  7. Why didn’t the show present any alternative to suicide or an example of successful help-seeking? Why didn’t they discuss what happens after someone attempts to end their life by suicide, but survives? How does someone move forward from that?
  8. Why didn’t one person ask Hannah directly if she was considering suicide? Effective suicide prevention techniques such as QPR suggest that “asking the question” can be a critical step toward reducing suicidal behaviors and saving lives. QPR stands for Question, Persuade, and Refer — the 3 simple steps anyone can learn to help save a life from suicide. Trust me, hearing this question is crucial.
  9. There are SO many resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Imalive.org, Crisischat.org, The Trevor Project, and the Crisis Text Line.  Why weren’t these options made available after every episode – especially when teens are using phones, browsing the Internet, and participating in social media more than any other generation?!
  10. This show was really a missed opportunity to connect with young people who may relate to the characters, themes, or experiences.
  11.  Suicide is never about placing blame. Never. It’s also not selfish or the “easy way out”.
  12. What kind of twisted world do we live in where an acceptable, palpable cliffhanger for a show about teen suicide is whether another character may also, potentially, die by suicide? That’s not enticing or captivating. That’s horrific.
  13.  Ultimately, my review is as follows: it was a big, offensive, triggering flop with some good music selections.

I am not recommending this show to any human.

Finally, if you need to talk, about anything, I absolutely welcome dialogue; I want to know what you’re experiencing. Comment below!

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the suicide prevention resources page on The Mighty.