Envy Junkie

My birthday was this week. Oh yes…

50

Which brings me to my biggest lifelong challenge: overcoming envy.

I have been watching Patrick Stewart’s “Sonnet a Day” readings on Facebook. And wouldn’t you know it? He read my favorite sonnet on my birthday: Sonnet 29.

stewart

Imagine his oaken voice reading it out:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

 

So what’s more pathetic than Shakespeare, green with envy, feeling sorry for himself?

Envy has stalked me for as long as I can remember. As a child, I envied my brother his friends. I envied the other girls’ for their skinny bodies and pin-straight hair. I envied my infant sister for the attention she got from my mother. As I grew up, and pushed further and further toward  outsider status, these feelings strengthened. Envy turned to hate too often, especially of high school classmates with their good haircuts and expensive clothes and circles of friends, and also for anyone who was better than me at anything – sports, academics, arts.

As you can gather, I was lots of fun to be around. So that just made it all worse.

envy

As an adult, these feelings subsided a bit – let’s say I was less consumed by them – but still I’d avoid and scorn people I envied. 

Sometime in my early 40s, a change came over me. I lost weight and looked probably the best I had in my life (though I was still not 100% satisfied, of course). I had a great marriage, a great family, a great job, great community connections and great friends.

I became the envied instead of the envier. I didn’t realize this until three old friends basically said to me on separate occasions, “We started out in the same place, but look where we are now.” One friend who’d always been more fit than I suffered debilitating medical problems. Another who once had the same career trajectory as I was laid off and could not find work. The third, who’d once been my superior in business, was coping with misery at her own job and serious problems with a child.

I had no experience with being on top, and I didn’t know what to do. So I ignored it.

Soon enough, of course, my dream job turned into a nightmare. I had my own health problems, as did my husband. Some of the weight came back. We had family problems. Things piled on. And I found myself envying once again.

Perhaps “envy” is my natural resting state?

envy2

I’d periodically dig myself out of my envy pit, only to fall back in again. I got a great new job, which I chose in part because I knew it would inspire envy in those left at the old company. I sought to best others at various professional and personal endeavors, but any gloating failed to satisfy me.

Last fall, I hit envy overload. I was enraged about something that happened on social media and tried to stir up some toxic drama over it. I had a meltdown at an event because I was so stressed out and envious of others’ abilities and friendships and achievements. A friend finally scored a great new job, and I was so envious that I could not be a good friend to her. I’d get involved in competitions, only to hate people who’d bested me. I tried to lose the weight I’d gained, not for myself, but because I wanted to inspire envy in others who’d tried and failed to lose weight themselves.

And then it hit me. I was intentionally exposing myself to situations where envy would rise up in me. I wasn’t just feeling the feelings as a natural part of life. I was triggering myself. I was becoming an envy junkie.

So I sought to remove sources of envy from my life. See ya later, Instagram. Unfriending you, Facebook. Unlinking you, LinkedIn. Yeah, social media was the worst for me. But also I stepped back from work things that tended to spark envy, avoided family issues that got me going, dropped out of competitive situations, and just tried to do what I wanted for myself without regard to how others do it, or how it might look to others.

Better yet, I also tried to help others. The best way to humble yourself and feel grateful for your fortune is to give a hand up to someone who’s struggling – not because you want to lord it over them but because you have an obligation to your fellow humans to give back. This change in me has been a bumpy road, but one well worth travelling.

I have not kicked the envy habit completely – I probably never will – but I feel more attuned to those times when, as Shakespeare put it, I’d desire this one’s art or that one’s scope, or even I trouble heaven with my bootless cries. I am working at being more grateful for what I have.

Ten-Year Anniversary of My Fattest Day

Ten years ago yesterday, I weighed myself and cried. I was 190 pounds. The heaviest I’d been in my life. I resolved that day to lose the weight, and I did. I have kept much of it off. But today, on this anniversary, I realize I need to try anew to get me through the next 10 years and beyond.

I don’t have any pictures of me from that day (like many overweight people, I avoided having my picture taken at all costs), but this picture was taken a few weeks before, because I got a new (not very flattering) haircut.

fatme jan2010
Fat me – January 2010

I have a vivid memory of that red sweater. It was long – past hip length – and I wore it often because I thought it was flattering and because it covered my tummy and butt. I tend to carry most of my weight as a pear-shape below the waist, so this picture doesn’t get the full picture, but it will have to do.

I can’t remember if there was any one thing that got me on to the scale that day. Many people who recover from addictions or turn around unhealthy lifestyles say they had a “rock bottom” moment – that lowest-of-the-low moment when they knew they could not go on as they had been. When they knew they had to change or die. I don’t recall any :rock bottom”  it was more like I was walking barefoot along a bed of pebbles – minor hurts instead of a big pain – but hurts nonetheless.

I joined Weight Watchers, started a blog, and wrote this:

“I wasted my beauty on food.”

shoes15 (diane) on 2/17/2010 10:44 AM | COMMENTS (0)

I am a lifetime member who is back again after a hiatus as reckless as a two-thumb texter driving 100 miles per hour. I weigh 190 pounds – nearly obese and totally disgusted with myself.

Anger motivates me today, but I hope this blog and my new WW attempt will turn that around into optimism. I have to try – the obese alternative stares at me from the corner, licking its lips.

To put it simply, I hate dieting, but I also hate my destructive habits with food. I simply cannot get control of myself, and I am so **** sick of it. I quit WW in disgust in 2008 after about two years of back and forth – 178 pounds, 177 pounds, 179 pounds, 180 pounds, 178 pounds, 181 pounds… I plateaued at around 180, so I thought if I could just maintain 180, I’d be OK until I was motivated to drop more. After a while, outfitted in 14s from Liz Claiborne and Chico’s, I got comfortable with it.

This winter, I clambered up from that plateau and hit 190. Those 14s pinch at the thighs and fall short of the wrist. Even my winter coat doesn’t fit right anymore. I look in the mirror, and I do not recognize myself. I will be 40 in April. I’m one of those gals about whom people used to say “She’d be so pretty is she only lost some weight.” Those days are long gone. I wasted my beauty on food. Today, I’d settle for healthy.

I am trying yet again. So much about the WW experience rings as pure cornball to me, but I do like the saying “Winners are losers who gave it one more try.” I know I can do it – I was down to 135 on WW in college – I just need the motivation and energy. And I need to be good to myself. I need to give myself permission to misstep – to succeed and to fail – while keeping the goal in mind at all times.

You may think that my negative state of mind will hurt my chances to succeed, and you may be right, but what I really need right now is honesty. I am starting this blog to be honest with myself and to give myself an outlet for all my frustrations and triumphs.

Thanks to WW for setting up this feature, and thanks to you for reading it.

Looking back on it, that’s a pretty florid write-up of my state of mind. I put the “self” in “self-loathing.” But I totally recognize the woman who wrote this, because she’s always been with me and lately has been making her sad “self” ever more present in my day-to-day life.

Today I weighed myself at 163. That’s halfway between what I weighed at my heaviest and at my lightest as an adult. I don’t want to get back to the 135 I weighed in college (I mean, I would take it if I could snap my fingers and make it happen, but I know it’s too much work).

Here’s what I looked like at my goal weight of 145 pounds in July 2013 (in a designer dress from Narcisco Rodriguez):

thinme
Thin me – July 2013

Yes, it took me more two and a half years to lose 45 pounds. I actually lost the first 40 in about 18 months. The stubborn 5 pounds at the end took forever to disappear, and they reappeared pretty fast. So, 145 is too hard to maintain. I can do 150. So that’s my goal. The plan is to lose about a pound a week:

  • 4 pounds in February
  • 4 pounds in March
  • 4 pounds in April
  • 2 pounds in May (vacation will be tough so cutting myself some slack)
  • 4 pounds in June

It’s important to write down your goals, or it’s easy to just go from one day to the next without really taking the steps you need to get what you want. So now I have written it down. It. Is. Written.

 

Another Job for the Distaff Side!

Want to feel like a kid again?

Here’s a pro tip from me to you: Spending more time with your parents will make you feel older, not younger.

My mother is recovering from knee replacement surgery, so I took a few days to help her out – shopping, getting meals, cleaning, keeping her company, that kind of thing.

Definitely a job for the distaff side!

Each day began by observing the neighborhood squirrels at the feeder.

IMG_20200118_080417
My dad’s favorite squirrel

My parents don’t like to keep a lot of food in the house for some reason. They prefer to go to the grocery store every day. Here’s a typical haul – some Boursin-stuffed chicken breasts and other fixings for dinner, blueberries to make muffins for breakfast the next day, and – via last-minute text request – a giant bag of Cheetos.

IMG_20200118_101047
Food for the ‘rents

I found myself eating dinner at 5 p.m. My mother was very taken with my “recipe” for green beans:

  • Buy a bag of pre-trimmed green beans
  • Steam in the microwave for 4-5 minutes
  • Drain
  • Toss with salt, pepper, olive oil and juice from half a lemon

Although she told me that I shouldn’t cook with any salt from then on. There’s absolutely no real health reason for the fatwa on salt – my mother just thinks it’s unhealthy.

After dinner, we had a rousing game of Scrabble while a John Wayne movie played on TV.

IMG_20200118_200641
Scrabble excitement

I thought I would make use of the time by working on some sewing projects. One day I combined a trip to the fish market with a shopping trip for sewing supplies.

“You were gone a while,” my mother said when I returned.

“Sorry – did you need me?” I said.

“No, I just wondered where you went.”

I was gone maybe 90 minutes. Gee, why don’t I feel like I am 16 again?

It was fun to set up my machine on my grandmother’s old sewing table.

IMG_20200118_155201
New machine, old sewing table

The dining room has plenty of space for this, but it was a disruption in the flow of things. My parents’ cats gave me dirty looks. My dad kept reminding me to unplug the iron. I didn’t get much done and had to drop out of the Refashion Runway competition. I couldn’t find much to refashion anyway – the theme was “fake fur” and people need that stuff at this time of year. Oh well.

My parents live in New Hampshire, so I took off for about an hour one day to hear Bernie Sanders speak:

IMG_20200118_134543
That tiny old man at the podium is Bernie Sanders, honest!

That same day someone from Sanders’ campaign came to the door and my father had fun telling the guy off: “Everyone who likes your guy is already downtown listening to him speak!” 

On Sunday I had a rare treat. My parents still get a newspaper delivered daily. On Sundays, the paper includes full-color comics.

IMG_20200119_091126
Newspaper comics – memories of childhood

Bonus: a guy I went to high school with has a son who’s old enough to get married. The wedding announcement was in the paper.

After three days of this I started looking forward to my 5 p.m. dinner, some Cheetos in front of the TV, and the squirrel show every morning. One day a scandal erupted when some pigeons ate the squirrels’ corn.

IMG_20200118_080950
Thieving pigeons!

Every day I tackled a cleaning project. “Everything’s gone downhill since your mother’s been laid up,” my dad said after I spent 2 hours on the bathroom.

I told him that he needed to help out more. Distaff side, my ass.

I left them after four days with a freezer full of spaghetti sauce, chicken, soup and muffins. My sister also has also been helping out with meals, cleaning, doctor’s appointments and the rest. We have a good laugh about it all.

Screenshot_20200212-184015
The daily text affirmation

I know that taking care of parents is something we all have to do sooner or later. I am grateful that I have the kind of relationship with them that they I can help them – for sure they helped me for many years! This was a relatively minor event – my mother will recover and go on with her life. The day will come when it’s not such an easy job. I am glad I had the chance to prepare for it a bit.

But I left the visit feeling old and feeble. My knee makes a crunching sound when I walk. That can’t be good. I have my mother’s thighs – I guess I have her knees, too.

Seven-Day Plan to Kick Sugar

Sugar has been my lifelong enemy. Ever since I was a child, my sweet tooth would get out of control. Cavities, weight gain, headaches, low energy – all the bad stuff that follows a sugar binge have ridden bitch on my life, all my life.

I have been able to kick sugar for a little while, but it always roars back. I can go for a few weeks without having anything, and then I start up again. I am trying again to find a system that sticks.

So I am trying a Seven-Day Sugar Challenge published recently in The New York Times. It has been hard going with a lot of fits and starts throughout January. In brief, the seven-step challenge is:

  1. No sugar or grains of any kind at breakfast (fruit is OK).
  2. Avoid packaged foods (and reject any that have added sugar of any kind).
  3. Eat fruit (but no bananas or grapes – sugar bombs that they are).
  4. Drink only water, coffee or tea (no added sugar or flavorings).
  5. Eat spicy food to ward of sweet cravings.
  6. Eat roasted vegetables to heighten natural sugars.
  7. Reward yourself with a small piece of dark chocolate (80%-90% cacao, low sugar).

I have never made it to #7, so I can’t attest to how that goes. But here’s how the other six steps have gone for me, from hardest to easiest.

Hardest: #2 – avoid packaged foods, especially those with added sugar.

In the United States, sugar is in everything. I mean, everything. And not just one kind of sugar, either – usually several varieties of sugar lurk in the most unlikely places. Food manufacturers do this to hide the amount of sugar in a food, since ingredients on he label have to be listed by volume.

For example, we had friends for brunch last weekend and served up some bloody Marys. I didn’t have any, but I listed to everyone rhapsodize about how delicious the bloody Mary mix was. Why so tasty, you wonder? It’s basically candy in a bottle:

IMG_20200130_082937
Sugar bomb bloody Mary mix

Sugars of various kinds appear seven times on this label. Yes, fruit concentrates and molasses count! If all those sugars were counted as one “sugar” on this label, it would probably be the third ingredient after water and peppers.

The other problem in the United States food system are foods that have health halos – basically foods that are packaged as organic or otherwise “healthy” but in truth have a lot of shit in them. Cereals are the worst – my husband is constantly buying so-called “healthy” cereals that have as much sugar – gram for gram – as a candy bar.

Breads are tough too. I sometimes bake my own bread, so I know that a bit of sugar helps the yeast get busy faster. But there’s no excuse for something like this:

IMG_20200130_090243
Bread – with sugar added

This organic bread has two kinds of sugar – right after the wheat comes “organic cane sugar” (seriously – it’s the THIRD ingredient if you don’t count water) and further down the list of all these grains and seeds you get some molasses.

I found some French bread that had no sugar in it, but it went stale after two days. Sugar is a preservative too. There are these so-called “sprouted” breads in the freezer section that have no added sugar, but I am sorry to say the texture and taste didn’t thrill me.

Finally, I hit on tortillas – I found some with no added sugar, so I am doing wraps and burritos instead of sandwiches for a while to see how that goes.

Hard: No grains or sugar at breakfast

Most important meal of the day, ’tis said. And hard to avoid grains and sugar.

IMG_20180316_073452
Cherries, 2% fat plain Greek yogurt, almonds – a no added sugar breakfast

I often have breakfasts like this with plain Greek yogurt, and don’t ever eat sugar-sweetened yogurt or sweetened fruits. Luckily, I have been a black coffee or tea drinker for a while and never go for sweet coffee drinks. But I always crave carbohydrates in the morning, and I often reach for some toast or other carby thing later in the morning if I have none at breakfast.

It’s really important to make this effort because if you start the day with sugar, the rest of the day tends to go downhill quickly. Think of each day as a blank slate – you don’t want to crap up that slate first thing, do you?

Other breakfasts I have enjoyed include eggs in various forms, apple slices with peanut butter, roasted veggies with olive oil, and ricotta with berries. You have to be careful with breakfast meats such as bacon, ham and smoked salmon, because a lot of it is cured with – you guessed it – sugar!

The Times got pushback for putting the kibosh on oatmeal for breakfast – plain whole oats, no sugar added. People are really devoted to this breakfast, apparently.

This has been HARD for me. Whine whine whine. I soldier on.

Easier: Basically the rest of the list is pretty easy and even enjoyable.

Water – no prob. Once in a while – maybe once a week – I used to drink a Vitamin Water Zero. Now I have zero Vitamin Waters, and it’s all good. If I crave something bubbly, some Pellegrino with a lime or lemon wedge does the trick.

Spicy food – also no prob. I can’t say if this trick has really curbed sugar cravings, but in general, the more flavorful your food is, the more it satisfies you. Of course, it was hard to find spicy condiments without added sugar. Finally I found this salsa:

IMG_20200130_083042
No sugar salsa – and spicy!

Ingredients are just tomatoes, hot peppers, onions, vinegar, garlic, spices and herbs. It’s sooo good – I put it on everything!

Roasted veggies – I had been doing this anyway, so it was an easy win.

I roast up a batch of veggies a couple of times a week. The roasted tomatoes are delicious as a topping on meats or pastas. Roasted larger tomatoes put through the blender make a great alternative spaghetti sauce too – with no added sugar. Jarred sauces are loaded with sugar!

Easiest by far: Eat Fruit!

I love fruit. I eat 2-3 pieces every day and will reach for fruit first if I crave something sweet. Often fruit packs a bigger punch if I pair it with a bit of protein or fat, like whole-milk ricotta, peanut butter, or cheese.

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with fruit, so I like to buy different things every week. Out of season fruits are sometimes good frozen (just be sure there’s no added sugar). I keep cherries, blueberries and strawberries in the freezer at all times in case the craving strikes.

Next step – No-sugar February

I have been playing with these sugar-busting tactics all month and am ready to go for it 100% in February. If I make it the whole month I will reward myself with #7 – a piece of dark chocolate.

Who’s with me?

Resolutions for 2020 – Distaff Style

Self-improvement plans – what else would we distaffers do on January 1?

A few quick resolutions then, before we get to work:

  1. Style: I did Me Made May for the whole month last year (even while on vacation) and for most of the year, really. Now that I have a reliable jeans pattern, there’s nothing stopping me from wearing Me Made Everyday. So I am going to go for it!

I got started this morning with a nice long walk in the park with the hubs and the dog in Me Made Jacket (Simplicity 8843), the Jasper Sweater from Paprika Patterns, and hat by Green Pepper Patterns.

IMG_20200101_091805
Me Made Cold-weather outfit

I made the sweater last week out of some poly-cotton blend sweatshirt fleece with a muted plaid design.

DSC00612
Paprika Patterns Jasper Sweatshirt

To add interest, I did the cuffs, side panels and collar on the bias.

2. Gardening: My vegetable garden really put out this year. Amending the soil in my two raised beds helped so much. I found a reliable set of tomato plants and other veggies to grow from now on. I was kicking myself for not doing a better job of tending to the plants and harvesting. So I am planning to do less, but put more effort into what I have and not let anything go to the bugs or go bad on the vine.

IMG_20191013_112808
Tomatoes anyone?

3. Fitness: Seek out a real posture plan. I played around with various posture exercises and finally found something that seemed to work. I need to hire the trainer who did this workshop for some private sessions, to make this a regular thing. I am hopeful that I can stop my hunchback development and maybe even undo some of the damage I’ve done.

4. Housework: I have one simple goal. Keep the kitchen floor clean! With a dog around, it’s a chore. I always feel like my home is at its best when the kitchen floor is vacuumed and scrubbed. So that’s the big goal here. Exciting, right?

5. Sewing: For sure, I am going to continue with my “sew edgy” look for the office. I need to find a simple dress that I can make a TNT. I also need a few blouses, and I really need to make a proper suit. For casual wear, I will perfect the jeans. I realize that while I have been playing around with a lot of indie pattern companies, I have been disappointed with some results compared with results from Big 4 (although there are exceptions), so I am going to focus more on Big 4. I have plenty of fabric and patterns at this point – so I am going on a “fast” at least for the first half of the year.

IMG_20180921_194314.jpg
Sew Edgy office outfit – a favorite

6. Sustainability: A friend who’s a sustainability consultant really made me think about the nature of consumption and waste. I am proud that I don’t do fast fashion and that I will mend and alter clothing. I take public transportation, walk or bike most places. I have a few “upcycle” and “refashion” sewing projects in my head for this year. I feel I could do more, however, when it comes to food. We are doing Meatless Mondays as a family, and on my own I will do more meatless meals (my husband will be challenged to do Mondays as it is). I also am going to buy fewer prepared things in plastic containers – I am talking to you, deli soups and salads! Seriously, it’s not hard to make soup. I’ll probably save $100 a year! I sewed up some simple reusable bags for produce, and I always use tote bags at the store. And I am going to stop buying the occasional to-go coffee unless I can get it in a reusable insulated mug. I already do this with water – why not with coffee?

7. Diet: I just gotta kick sugar. I feel that very badly. I can go for weeks without any, and then I have some, and it’s just a spiral from there. I am not sure how to tackle this one, except to go cold turkey. I need to research more, but it’s happening.

IMG_20191221_161434
The last pie, for a while anyway

8. Career: I started last year doing a weekly work reflection on Friday mornings. I’d write down a few accomplishments, networking wins, personal achievements and other notable events from the week. This is a great idea because at work, weeks turn into months, turn into years, and then you have to get a new job, and you go to update the resume and you can’t think of what to say! This exercise takes 5 minutes and it really helps. I am getting started by updating my LinkedIn profile and resume with key accomplishments from 2019. Also, I am trying to network more. I need to be “heads down” at work and more collaborative and social.

9. Family: This is a tough one. I feel that I have neglected my husband and family at times, especially my in-laws. There’s no excuse – we live so nearby – but weeks go by without a word to or from anyone. Even with my husband, we have well-established routines that make it tough to break out. So I am going to make more of an effort on all fronts. Sometimes a simple call to say “hi” or an impromptu date night is all we need to get out of the rut. I will take care of my mother when she has knee surgery later this month, so I can use that time to visit a bit with others to get the year started off well.

10. Reading: I have done well with reading more female authors, but I feel I need to do more to read writers from different nationalities and races. I got a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, so I plan to pick up a few things to get started. I general, I am going to try to read more and do less “faffing about on the mobile” while on my train commute. Now that my grad school is done, I will have time to open my mind more in other directions.

11. Giving back: We made an effort  in 2019 to give more to charities, and we succeeded in increasing our contributions by a thousand dollars over the course of the year. I also have done a bit more charity work with groups I support by in-kind contributions of time and expertise. In fact, I won an award from one charity I support with weekly editing and coaching of college students. I miss volunteering with local groups, though – I managed one event in 2019 – a bike-a-thon – so I am going to try to do two events in 2020.

IMG_20180428_105317 (1)
Biking for charity – $500 raised

12. Activism. I will admit it: I dread 2020. I am terrified that Trump will get re-elected. I have little confidence that the Democrats will get their shit together. I worry that the economy will thank, and while that would hurt Trump, it’s going to hurt a lot of other people too, so I don’t exactly wish it. After he was elected, I made a plan to so something once a week to #resist. I wrote letters to Congress. I attended rallies. I got educated on the issues. I sewed a shitload of pussyhats. I donated money to groups under siege – Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League – I could go on. I have kept up some of these activities but have let others slide. This is a do-or-die year. I need to step it up.

Thank you for reading! I wish you all a happy healthy 2020! (Except Trump.)

Posture Exercises that Seem to Work

In the effort to correct a lifetime of poor posture, I have tried various exercises and stretches during the past few months. I have been more mindful of how I walk and stand and have tried to be straighter. Finally, I hit upon something that seems to work pretty well to correct my uneven shoulders, at least temporarily.

Here’s what I mean by “uneven shoulders”:

IMG_20181021_134857
Uneven shoulders in their natural state

The left shoulder is quite a bit higher than the left, as you can see. It’s also rotated a bit forward and makes a bit of a hunching lump in the back:

IMG_20181103_173455
Shoulder issues – the shirt is on grain. I am off grain.

A workshop recently on “somatic movement” offered to help, so I signed up. At the end of a one-hour session, here’s what my shoulders looked like:

IMG_20191118_153641 (1)
Even shoulders?

Pretty even! Wow!

But I am a skeptical soul, so I figured I’d be back to normal the next day.

IMG_20191120_125716 (2) Still pretty good, right?

How about the next day?

IMG_20191121_193240 (1)
A bit of the unevenness is back

And four days later, I was back to normal.

Still, that’s pretty good. I am interested enough to try somatics again.

The workshop started with everyone taking inventory of our bodies standing still and lying flat. If you just stand in front of a mirror, barefoot, and pay attention, you notice things. Maybe you’ll notice how your weight tends to sit a little heavier on one foot than the other, or maybe a bit toward the inside or outside of the foot, or back on the heel or forward on the toes. As you stand there, you may notice other things – one knee feels more fatigued than the other, or one hip seems to bear the load more than the other.

As you look in the mirror, you may notice things like my uneven shoulders. Or maybe uneven hips. Maybe one knee bends more, or you feel hunched over.

The same “inventory” works lying flat on the floor – you feel one hipbone more than the other, or your arms may splay differently. For example, because my high shoulder also is rotated a bit, when I lie flat on my back, my arm tends to twist with the back of my hand on the floor, while my other shoulder is better aligned, so my hand rests on the pinky side, more or less in a straight line. I also noticed that I can look further over my right shoulder than over my left.

We did a series of exercises where we stretched and twisted and reached. It was effortful, but not painful (for me anyway – people in the workshop had different abilities and fitness levels). Every so often we’d rest and take stock of how we felt different. If you’ve ever done Pilates or some other exercises where you take turns stretching or lengthening one side of the body, then another, you may have experienced this sensation. Each stretching exercise built on the next, so by the end of the session, we were doing some fairly complex moves.

We ended the workshop by standing in front of the mirror as we had at the beginning to take inventory again. Several people expressed “WOW” moments, including myself.

This is not some chiropractic hokum or new age feely-goody nonsense. It really seemed to work. The effect is temporary, because you’re meant to do these stretches every day and build on them over time, and I just did them once. After I am done with my grad school course (next week – not a moment too soon) I am going to sign up for a private consultation and get started on a regular regimen to see if it helps long-term.

Stretches for Posture Correction

For the past few weeks, I have been doing a series of stretches designed to correct posture problems and limber up the ol’ spine. When I am done, I feel about an inch taller, for a few hours anyway. I also feel less stiff in the morning and after a lot sit on the commuter train.

Here are some tips, broken down by the three major spinal regions – cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral. Let’s go to the map!

spine

Cervical Spine

My favorite moves involve sensations of lengthening the spaces between the vertebrae of your neck. Start by nodding your chin toward your left shoulder as far as you can, comfortably, while keeping your shoulders down. Then raise your chin to the left side, again, as far as you can comfortably. Do this a few times to the rhythm of your breath.

When you’re nodded toward your shoulder again, move your chin in a diagonal through space so that you’re raising your chin as far as you can comfortably to the upper right. Repeat the diagonal move a few times.

Then repeat the whole sequence on the opposite side. Be sure to keep your shoulders down! You may notice that you’re more limber on one side than the other. As you complete a few moves, you may find that your ability to nod or rise increases as you stretch and warm up. Finish with a few movements that go shoulder to shoulder in a wide arc, like a big smile.

Cervical and Thoracic Spine

toes (2)

This move gives the sensation of elongating the neck and upper back. In bare feet, stand straight on a non-slip surface, with a chair or table nearby in case you need help balancing. With feet facing forward and arms at your sides, rise onto your toes and stand, balancing, for 10 seconds. Then lower your heels until you’re standing flat on the ground, while continuing the sensation of lengthening so that you feel as tall as you were when you were on tip-toe.

It helps to imagine that a string emerging from the crown of your head is keeping you up, like a puppet. Repeat this several times with feet facing forward, and several times with feet in a V position. Reach out for support if you think you’re going to fall, but try hard to balance.

Thoracic and Lumbar Spine

I love a classic Pilates roll-up for helping me stretch and strengthen the core spine.

push-up-pilates-mat-exercise-start-positions

Stand straight with arms at your sides and shoulders down, knees slightly bent (not locked). Nod your chin to your chest, and slowly roll down, vertebra by vertebra, allowing the weight of your head and arms to pull you into a forward folding shape. When you’ve gone down as far as you can, bend your knees a bit and hang like a rag doll for a few seconds.

Then, roll up, articulating and feeling each vertebra as you go, from bottom to top. Your head rises last. Repeat several times. You should be able to hang further at the bottom with each try.

The Whole Spine

Pretty much everyone who’s had back issues ends up doing pelvic tilts as part of a stretch routine for recovery. Stop me if you know this one!

Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat. Take note of where your head, neck, back and butt touch the floor, and where there’s space between your bod and the floor. You will probably feel space around the middle of your back where the natural curve of your spine hovers above the floor.

Gently tilt your pelvis so the space disappears and your spine feels imprinted to the floor. Use your abs to do this move. It helps me to imagine I’m balancing a bowl of soup on my pelvis, so that when I tilt my pelvis, the imaginary soup would spill all over my belly.

Then tilt the other way – exaggerate the space where your spine is off the floor. That imaginary soup would now spill all over your crotch. (Sorry for the dumb imagery, but it helps.)

Repeat a few times – each time try to feel each vertebra articulate up and down. You can also nod your chin towards your chest to elongate your cervical spine.

Try all these and let me know if you feel a little taller when you’re done!

One Day of Sitting and Standing Up Straight

I tried today to stand up straight and sit up tall all day. I made it exactly 10 minutes before I caught myself in the mirror, slouching while I brushed my teeth.

Sheesh.

Walking to the train, I tried to imagine I was carrying my breasts on a tray in front of me, like a medieval painting of Saint Agatha.

Saint Agatha
Are these breasts, or just suggestive cupcakes?

That works pretty well, oddly enough, except when I forgot, and I forgot every 10 minutes or so.

Sheesh.

First thing at work, I had a meeting with about 30 people. We were jammed into a conference room, and I happened to pick the chair next to the speaker. All eyes on me! So I sat up straight. The whole time. I didn’t even let my back touch the back of the chair, I was that straight. My mind wandered to Scarlett O’Hara’s mother in “Gone With the Wind,” a lady so refined that Scarlett “had never seen her mother’s back touch the back of any chair in which she sat.”

Ellen Ohara
Me? Sit? No. I’m a lady.

Sheesh.

After that I felt a little burning sensation between my shoulder blades – maybe from muscles that hadn’t been used in a good long while, muscles that had been complacent and atrophied in their slouch.

For the rest of the day I tried to sit up as straight as possible. I realized my chair and desk were a bit un-ergonomic for this, so I fussed over the chair a while. When I got that straightened out, I realized my monitors were a bit low, so I fussed with them. I finally got to work on the computer and noticed from time to time that my shoulders crept up toward my ears. I pushed them back down. That little burn between my shoulder blades got hotter.

At lunch I stooped over my soup. I mean, I am all for trying this posture jazz, but I am not going to dribble soup all over my clothes to get there.

A few more meetings in the afternoon, and a few more Ellen O’Hara impressions. “Why yes,” I thought, “I am the epitome of femininity and refinement. Look at how my back doesn’t even touch the back of my chair, bitches.

I walked back to the train, head held high. I stepped in a subway grate and scuffed up the heel of my new boots, tripping and almost falling, but hey, I was walking with my head held high, not down at the ground like some slattern.

falling

Then I got on the train and took a nap, all slouched into the seat. Hey – I needed a break.

I resumed the walking and sitting when I got home for a while, but later, curled up on the couch watching TV, I caved. Enough for today.

Or, as Scarlett would say it, “Tomorrow is another day!”

scarlett

I Don’t Do Woo-Woo

My first stop in my effort to improve my posture was to seek medical advice. At least, I thought I was seeking medical advice. I really ended up seeking a practitioner of woo-woo.

I am talking about chiropractors.

“Woo-woo” is a snarky way to describe everything phony-baloney, magical thinking, pseudoscience, nutsy, mystical and downright bogus. I put chiropractors into that category. They are not doctors, and their practice has little to no medically proven benefit.

Yet, there are lots of chiropractors out there, and lots of people who “swear by” them. Swear all you want. That’s what happens when people are desperately in pain.

Anyway, the woman I saw was offering a posture clinic at my gym as part of a women’s health fair, so I thought I’d check it out. She didn’t bill herself as a chiropractor, which seems deceitful to me. She started by asking me a few questions about my age, health, exercise and eating habits. I showed her my uneven shoulders and my growing dowager’s hump. Then she poked around my back for a bit while I sat in one of those chairs where you plant your face into something that looks like a squishy toilet seat.

She filled out this assessment form for me:

back assessment
Woo woo !

It may be a little hard to read this, but basically it claims that all the health problems of humanity have their causes and cures in your back.

For example, let’s say you suffer from headaches, low energy, sneezing, nightmares and burning feet. This dog’s breakfast of symptoms is connected to your liver, don’t you know, and the cure is a chiropractic treatment of your 8th thoracic vertebra.

That was her diagnosis of me, along with problems with my 2nd thoracic and 5th lumbar vertebrae.

I can see how someone can get sucked into this. I mean, I get headaches from time to time. I struggle to maintain my weight. I have occasional aches and pains. It would be nice if the cure was a simple chiropractic adjustment, instead of dieting and exercising, avoiding headache triggers and otherwise succumbing to almost 50 years on this planet.

Some other health issues supposedly cured by chiropractors seem downright dangerous. If you’re craving sweets, feel tired after eating and get headaches if you get too hungry, your problem might be diabetes, not your 6th thoracic vertebra.

I asked the chiropractor if she could cite any peer-reviewed studies that proved these ideas. “No,” she said, “but I can tell you that my patients all feel better.”

In the first place, I don’t have any pain – it’s really more of an attempt to correct bad posture and its other effects that I’m after.

IMG_20181103_173455
Shoulder issues – the shirt is on grain. I am off grain.

If you are in pain, and if you believe the chiropractor can help you, then maybe it will. The brain plays a big role in the power to heal. Plus, maybe it just feels good to have someone touching you and showing you sympathy for your pain.

I don’t believe, so forget it. I probably insulted her when I told her that, but I don’t care. Hey, if you believe in what you’re doing, put some data behind it. Is that so hard?

I have my annual check-up in a few weeks with my real doctor, and I’ll ask her for a referral.

I Feel Bad About My Shoulders

Stand up straight! Don’t slouch!

Did you hear that a lot as a kid? I did. I didn’t obey, and today I am sorry for it. My back and shoulder issues are worsening with age.

IMG_20181103_173455
Shoulder issues – the shirt is on grain. I am off grain.

I don’t wear a lot of striped or plaid tops for this reason. This shirt does a great job of showing the problem – my right shoulder is lower and forward of my left shoulder, and I have a bit of a hunchback developing on my left side.

img_20181103_173433.jpg
side view

Because the top of my body slumps this way, the bottom of my body hyperextends the other way to compensate. You can really see it on this pants muslin. Those drag lines from the front thigh around to the back calf tell the tale:

IMG_20180215_195200
Doomed from every angle!

Here’s what these back and shoulder issues look like from the front – note the two shoulder heights, plus drag lines on the right at the armpit, pointing to other fitting problems.

IMG_20181021_134857

Three issues conspired in my childhood to create this problem:

  1. I was very tall for my age – about 5’4″ in 6th grade – and I was very ungainly and self-conscious. I slouched and slumped to try to make myself look smaller.
  2. I had a mild scoliosis. I should have worn a back brace, but I didn’t get one. I don’t really know why my parents ignored this. My mother once said she was afraid kids would pick on me. Anyway, we had no money.
  3. I wore a backpack to school slung over only my left shoulder, which probably partly explains why it developed the way it did.

My inability to stand up straight ruined my wedding pictures:

wedding
Bride of 1999

And it’s starting to cause me some pain. Things will only get worse if I don’t work on it.

My winter self-improvement plan involves working on my posture. I am going to try a few things:

  • Medical assessment of my posture – how bad it is and what I can expect if I don’t address it
  • Exercises to fix it, or at least to stop it from getting worse
  • Gadgets and garments that might help
  • Sewing and alterations to minimize the cosmetic problem

I am curious if any readers have struggled with this and have tips or experiences that I might find valuable. Please drop me a line if you do.