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Julie Fanning LCSW

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My Rant on Being Fat!

I am fat.  I’ve been told this my whole life by both friends and society.  Sometimes I will look at a photo of myself from when I was young and will wonder why everyone thought I was so fat.   Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophesy but I am fat and that has been part of my identity as long as I can remember.  At times it has determined what risks I have been willing to take and what experiences I participated in.  I would blame it for relationship troubles or truly believe it was one of the reasons for general unhappiness at different times in my life.   As I’ve gotten older I am able to more often recognize that I am not just a fat person and my weight doesn’t determine my happiness.   Also – and this important for people to remember about themselves too – what I weigh does not determine my worthiness as a person.  I am going to repeat that.  Our weight does not determine our worth as a person.  The value I have as a human and my happiness are not dependent on numbers on a scale.   Each of us is worthy of love, happiness and kindness,  regardless of how much or how little we weigh or our physical appearance.

Right now I am doing the whole30 challenge.  I get accolades about how great it is that I am doing this.  If I lose weight, I will get praise for losing weight.  People will say “You look so good.” Or “It is so great you are hanging in there.”  I soak up any praise and it it is a motivator to keep eating healthy. However,  when it comes down to it, if I choose to live healthier, if I lose 40 pounds or if I end up gaining 40 pounds – it makes no difference in who I am.  I am a not better person if I weigh 40 pounds less.  I will not be less worthy if I gain 40 pounds more.

In my private practice both women and men come in and virtually with each and every person there will come a time where there is a discussion about weight and negative feelings surrounding it.  I have worked with so many teenage girls who have issues around their weight.  They tell me “My mom (or my grandma) told me I need to lose weight.”   These are teens who are active and within the norm of weight for their age and they will cry and ask why their parents can’t accept them if they don’t weigh the right amount.

Then I have adult women come in and tell me the same stories of family members and friends telling them they needed to lose weight.  They are told they will be all alone in life because they are fat or if they didn’t lose weight they would never find happiness.  Generally, these messages are well-intended.    You want the people you love to be happy.  Only, the feelings these messages induce don’t go away.   It sends a subtle implication that you are not quite good enough because of your weight.  You might not even notice you are saying these things to others or yourself because it is such a part of our culture.  It is difficult to step away from thoughts about weight because American society is filled with the messages everywhere telling us that thinner is better.

      Julie in first grade   "Too fat to have friends"
Julie in first grade
“Too fat to have friends”

When I started first grade there was a girl who told me she wished she could be my friend but she couldn’t because I was too fat to have friends.  I wasn’t even six years old.  Now, almost 40 years later I remember this and I know it became part of my identity.  I don’t remember the girl’s name or face but I remember the conversation.  Probably one of my brain’s first lessons on starting to believe “don’t be fat or you will be all alone.”     How much more will words about heaviness stay with someone when it is a family or friend saying them.  You might say “I worry about their health, I want them around for the grandkids” or a hundred other very valid reasons why someone would be better off losing weight.  You are just trying to help.  I would argue that if the person is an adult – they are very aware of how much they weigh.  It only amplifies the shame to be reminded that your fat bothers others and you are not quite good enough because you don’t lose it.   There are ways to be encouraging and supportive without adding to pain.  It is up to the person to decide how they want to tackle their weight.  People have very complicated relationships with food and weight.  You can be pithy and say “just don’t put it in your mouth” but there are often many factors at play.  It is not necessary for you to let someone know they need to lose weight.  Even disguising it with “I worry about you” is still saying “you are not good enough because of your weight.”

I’m not saying you shouldn’t help your children be active and maintain a healthy weight.   I would just say consider how you promote it with your children.  Eat healthy and be active yourself.  Don’t hold others to expectations you aren’t able to sustain.  Live by example.  Which also means recognize that each time you put yourself down for your weight or your eating or exercise habits you are teaching your children and others that your importance has something to do with your physical looks.  You are even reinforcing your own beliefs.  “See I’m not good enough because my body isn’t perfect.”  Stop yourself when you find yourself putting yourself down.  Stop comparing yourself to others.  I bet virtually everyone who reads this has thought at one time or another “at least I’m not as fat as that person.”  I have thought it.  Unfortunately it just reinforces the idea that if I weigh less I am better.  Being a little healthier than someone else does not give us the moral high ground.

Not making your weight be such a huge factor in your identity doesn’t mean someone can’t make changes and be healthier.  I want to live healthier.  I want to lose weight.  I want a better relationship with food.  These are reasons why I am doing the Whole30 challenge.  However, this is my journey.  If I don’t succeed I will be disappointed with myself but it doesn’t make me a failure at life.  Conversely, if I complete the challenge it won’t make me a better person.  Happiness, love, money and opportunity won’t just fall out of the sky to me because I shed a few pounds.  My life will still be my life.  If you are working on changing your weight do it for you and not because you think it will make others accept or love you more.

I want to note that it is OK to accept yourself at whatever weight you are.  You don’t owe anyone explanations on how much you weigh.  You are allowed to be happy and enjoy life and it is not dependent on your size.  You are worthy of love and joy and you will find the people who really matter don’t care how much you weigh.

I know as someone who is heavy that it is easy to forget to live life because you are waiting to lose weight.  Just don’t do that.  I am working hard at living the life I choose, embracing opportunities and not letting my weight stop me from living.  Whatever we are on the outside does not determine our happiness unless we let it.  I know that it is easier said than done, but my hope is that instead of focusing on our perceived shortcomings that we instead embrace life.  You are worthy because you are alive.   Instead of feeling shame over your weight focus on embracing experiences, loving those dear to you and being kind to all.

Julie- July 2015 Living Fully Pacific Ocean
Julie- July 2015
Living Fully
Pacific Ocean
With BFF Karen Campbell Embracing Life Accepting Me
With BFF
Karen Campbell
Embracing Life
Accepting Me
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Life is meant to be lived not endured…

Hi everyone,Taking My Own Advice

I am a contributor to a blog that is for those entering or in the social work field.  My first post is titled life is meant to be lived – not endured.  I think the tips for living life can be helpful for anyone.  Click on over and check it out!  Thanks.

http://mswonlineprograms.org/2015/life-is-meant-to-be-lived-not-endured/

Oh — And Happy Social Worker month to all of the social workers out there!

Moments of Clarity

It can happen anywhere and at any time.  Driving in my car listening to music, lying in bed waiting for sleep, eating at a restaurant with friends or when taking a walk.   There is a moment where I might have perfect clarity.  Where I know, without doubt what my next step would be.  It could be a major thing like the next step in a relationship or accepting a new job.  It might be a minor thing like calling an old friend.  Most of us have those moments where we absolutely are certain of a course of action.

Only, the moment often doesn’t last.  A few hours or days or sometimes even minutes later that absolutely certain fades.  The decision doesn’t seem so clear cut.  All the barriers and roadblocks- often of my own making – gets in the way.  I can often think of many reasons why something – that felt so perfect – is not what I should be doing after the moment passes.

I think that I am better when I just hold on to the moment of clarity.  I acknowledge it existed.  I acknowledge that in that moment I knew that this was the way to go.  I try to hold on to regardless of what all the extraneous noise is telling me.  I think maybe our moments of clarity our truest voice of our soul and should be listened to.*

Try it.  Next time you have a moment of clarity, cling on to it.  Hold tight.  Maybe even write it down.  Step away from all your doubts and obstacles you put in the way.  Act on that moment of clarity.

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*An exception would be if your moment of clarity consists of harming yourself.  In that case I would strongly encourage you to wait and talk to someone else about these feelings immediately.

Happy New Year!!!!!!!!

Happy New Year!!!!!

I wish for you to have joy, prosperity and an amazing journey this year.

Forgo those resolutions and decide to accept you for who you are.  If there are things or situations you would like to change – start the process of changing them but don’t set yourself up for failure.  Make the steps you can big or small.  I believe in a well llived life we are always growing, learning, struggling, and experiencing joy, sorrow and laughter.  Ideally, in my world, I believe in lots and lots of laughter.

You are enough.  You are amazing.  You are loveable.  You are worthy.  Repeat this to yourself until you feel it in your bones.

Happy New Year!

When there are no words…

I was sitting at a training on working with couples when I saw the reports of the school shooting in Connecticut today.  It seems so unbelievable.  I tear up thinking about the children and adults who were killed. I grieve for the school personnel, the families and the community and all of the lost days and dreams of the future.

Adding to the tragedy is that there will be no words that can give a reasonable explanation for this to have happened.   No matter what type of rational the gunman had there is no explanation that would satisfy us.  It is unfathomable to the vast majority.

I know there is evil in the world.  I know that so many of us are broken people and some people, unfortunately, irrevocably so.  What do we do about that?  What do we do so more individuals don’t die and more families don’t have to suffer?

At home, you can speak to your children if they ask about it.  Some children will have a lot of questions and it may barely register the event.  Both responses are normal.  Be patient with multiple questions at multiple times.  Be patient with having to repeat yourself.

I know I say this all the time but trust your instincts.  No one knows better than you what information will be beneficial for them to know.

Listen to your children’s concerns and feelings.  Validate those feelings.   Answer their questions as well as you can.

Reassure, reassure, reassure.  Let your child know you will keep them safe.  Let them know the teachers will keep them safe and that other adults like police officers are there to protect them also.

Keep to your routine.  This means do the same things you do every day.  This means your child goes back to school.  Young kids often already are anxious about school but it will be reassuring for them to know that you believe they are going to be safe at school.

If the child wants to do something – help them figure out what to do.  Maybe they could light a candle or design a card or send a few dollars to families.  As with adults, sometimes taking an active step helps.

Remind yourself that children are resilient.

While you are at it, remind yourself that you are resilient too.  This tragedy may have brought up fears for you.  You assume each day that your children are safe going to school.  Talk about any concerns or anxiety you may have with other adults.  If you start to see signs that your child is not coping well (e.g.: anxiety or fear of school, loss of appetite, out of character anger bursts etc.) don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Your child’s school likely has a social worker or counselor who is there just for the purpose of helping kids.  There are also other therapists and professionals trained to help you or your child through challenging situations.

I ask myself what else I can do with an event such as this.  I think sometimes all we can do is stand witness to tragedy.  I can say I know this happened and I know it is horrific. I honor those who were there and I mourn with you.  I can continue to encourage people who are broken or victimized or hurt to seek help.  I can shout from the roof tops that we are all in this together and there is no shame in speaking up or getting help.

Sometimes there are no words.

Voting (Don’t grumble now)

Pretty much everyone I know is sick of political ads and election talk.  Most people know who they are going to vote for at least for the big race for president.  What concerns me, though, is how many people I run into who have no intention of voting.  I hear that there are no good choices or that their vote isn’t going to matter so why bother.

One of my strongest convictions is that it is important for a person to speak up their truth whether it is heard or not.  I think not voting can fall into a bigger picture issue.  Our thoughts matter.  Our beliefs matter. Our viewpoints matter. If we don’t vote in elections isn’t that a way of saying you don’t matter.   What does it say about us when we don’t speak up?  It is like giving permission for the world to take advantage of us.  It is taking a victim stance. Think about how it parallels the rest of your life.  In what areas do you believe that there is nothing you can do so you just let it go?  There are many things in life we can’t control but there are many times we just might feel like speaking up is too much of a hassle and we accept a situation or another person’s viewpoint rather than confront it.   Voting (or speaking up) doesn’t guarantee you the outcome you desire but it does give you a voice.  It lets you say that am not going to passively let others make choices for me.  Who I am matters.

For women:  I admit, it drives me even crazier when women don’t vote.  It frustrates me because just 100 years ago women were not necessarily guaranteed a right to vote.  This isn’t ancient history; there are women still alive who were born at that time.  I believe by not voting a woman is saying “I’m Ok with status quo.”  I’m Ok with making less money than a man.”  “I am OK with not having a decision to dictate my own life.”  “I’m Ok with my husband, brother, son or neighbor having more of a say than I do.”  Our voices transcend political ideologies.  In the end I think most of us want the same things.  We want to be happy and healthy.  We want our families to be happy and healthy.  We want to live a life consistent with our values.  We want to love, live and laugh.  Speak up.  Vote.

Mental Health Awareness Week

If there is one* message I could get out to the world it would be there is no shame in living with a mental illness.

Thankfully,  I saw this blog post so I could shout out that it is Mental Illness Awareness Week.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week (starting October 7, 2012)  this year is “Changing Attitudes, Changing Lives.”

“One in four adults—approximately 57.7 million Americans—

experience a mental health disorder in a given year. One in 17 lives

with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major

depression or bipolar disorder and about one in 10 children live

with a serious mental or emotional disorder.”

Taken from a NAMI FACT Sheet.

This means that you or someone you know has a mental illness.  Ask yourself what your preconceived notions are about mental illness.   When you think of mental illness do you think of those people at the extremes or do you think of your neighbor who works full time at the grocery store or your child’s classmate or the veteran who goes to your church or your sister who is raising her kids or someone like my mom who worked tons of hours, loved her family and had dreams and aspirations like most.

There is nothing shameful about having a mental illness.  There is nothing shameful about getting help.  Take some time and raise your awareness about mental illness.

*and by ‘one’, I mean one of many because when it comes down to it I have a lot to say (or at least a lot of opinions.)  Like being kind is never a bad choice among others.

Doctor Who Quote IV

I haven’t shared a Doctor Who quote in awhile.

Previous Doctor Who posts are:

Doctor Who Quote I and explanation

Doctor Who Quote II

Doctor Who Quote III

The new season has started so I’m going to have so many new ones so I better start sharing the list I already have.  I like the quote below because life is messy.  I constantly tell people “…but that doesn’t take away from …”  Sometimes we have this all or nothing mentality.  Life is so much  good and difficult.  It just is.  The good days, the good times doesn’t take make the bad times disappear but the good times are still good.  Difficult times don’t minimize the times that are great.  There is no all or nothing.  It just is.

The Thoughts That Hang In There

People say to me “it is in the past – it doesn’t matter anymore.”  People might say to me “You just have to deal with and move on.”  People might say “I’m not blaming my childhood for my problems.  It wasn’t that bad.”  Or “It is a choice if you want to be happy.”

You know – a lot of that is true.  We are more than what has happened to us.  There does come a time where we have to choose to accept and work through stuff or stay stuck. We can usually choose the light we put our life in.  There is so much more to the picture though.

Things we learn when we are young, things we learn repeatedly or things learned through a traumatic experience stay with us.  It is an effort to change these thoughts.  It may be an effort you make throughout your life – even for thoughts you know aren’t true.  I always tell people that once our brain holds a belief or learns something it sticks with it.  Our brains like to be right so it will look for reasons to prove it is right while discounting anything that would poke holes in the story.  For example your brain might constantly give you the message “you aren’t very smart.”  Every time you don’t figure out something or every time you feel stupid or every time someone knows something you don’t – your brain will say “see, you aren’t very smart.”   It is up to you to keep reminding your brain to shut up.  Remind your brain that you know a lot of stuff and that you are smart.  It becomes easier but it takes time to assist your brain in writing another story.  (Such as you are smart or you have great common sense.)  Sometimes people are frustrated because they know an internal story isn’t true but it still pops up.

I was reminded of this again this weekend.  It was a thought I was told over and over again when I was a child.  Growing up, my mom had a pretty severe mental illness.  She believed that everyone knew everything about her and by extension me and other family members.  She believed that everyone was sending her messages and trying to show her how to behave.  Some of her beliefs she repeated to me over and over and over again which my brain soaked all in.

I was visiting my BFF and we were shopping this past weekend.  (In my life I never have as much fun shopping as I do with her.  Thank goodness for fun friends.)  Overhead in the department store there were some bells ringing periodically.  It is like two or three tones playing (sort of like a xylophone but not really.)  I hadn’t heard those in years.  Before my mother was more stable she used to tell me that the tones were about us.  She would tell me that the tones were telling people to watch us and make sure we were behaving appropriately. This would shoot her stress level up.  She believed this whole heartedly and sincerely.    I have always known this is not true.  I know the tones have nothing to do with me at all.  (Although, right now, in my head I thought “probably” – LOL Julie’s brain LOL.)

However, every time I hear the tones I think of the meaning my mom put to them.  It is an automatic response “I guess people are watching.”  I laugh at my brain and say whatever. There are no emotions tied to this anymore.  It doesn’t invoke an uncomfortable feeling but the thought persists.   I also mentioned it to my BFF who hadn’t even noticed the tones.  I encourage people to talk about the unbeneficial thoughts with safe individuals. It is only a brief moment but it is still there.  Even though my mom hasn’t said something like that to me in more than twenty years that thought pops up.  I still have to correct my brain.

Give yourself time to change those unhelpful thoughts and the thoughts that fill your brain.  You may always have to work at it but it is worth it.  Give yourself a break.  It is OK if you are still working on something that was a moment in the past.  Those stories and moments in your past do matter.  It is not a case of using your past as an excuse.  It is a case of relearning.  You are capable of changing your thoughts.

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