For my September mswonline post I wrote about self-care. Imagine you are a tea pot. It is vital you refill so you can share more tea. For some tips on self-care click on over and tell me what you think! I hope fall is treating everyone wonderfully and you are finding moments of joy and peace.
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.
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.
June is almost over and I am just now getting around to my June MSW online blog post. Since it is geared for new social workers or those interested in being social workers I thought tips for helping a distressed client could be helpful. I think they are great tips. I use them regularly with clients. Hmmmm. That being said, I have done poorly using 4 out of the 5 tips with my work and personal relationships this past week. I guess I really do teach what I most need to learn.
Hoping everyone is finding moments of joy each day!
Happy May. We are finishing up Mental Health Month. Keep fighting stigma and remember that it is not shameful to have a mental health issue. #noshame
This is my contribution to MSWonline this Month. I actually have a couple of new blogs written for this blog but can’t seem to actually post them. Something to look forward to – or not! 🙂 Hoping you are all being the best you that you can be.
This is a little different from what I normally write but I noticed I was having an emotional reaction to people’s opinions regarding the movie American Sniper. One of the best ways to process an emotional response is to express it – so here I am.
I read several blogs and watched a couple of video segments on critiques of the movie. Mostly negative and scathing. I kept wondering – “What movie did you all see?” Then I realized many of the segments started with “I didn’t see the movie and I don’t intend to…” Oh. Random Pet Peeve: Shredding apart a movie you have never seen. Go see it and then shred apart to your heart’s delight.
It dawned on me that of course everyone takes something different from the movie. What we get out of a movie or music or art or a book is really about us and who we are. It isn’t about the movie at all, so in essence we all did watch a different movie.
As an overview, I do not believe we should have been fighting in Iraq. At the same time I respect and honor the military and their families that sacrificed to do as their country asked. I am proud of my brother who served in Iraq and won’t diminish the soldiers sacrifice by indicating that military members are all blood hungry, glory hounds incapable of seeing ambiguity. Before I saw the movie I had no idea Chris Kyle even ever existed. I only went because I had the day off and my Aunt said “I have to go pick up tickets at the movie theater – want to see a movie.” A movie – as in entertainment. A movie that I’m pretty sure wasn’t supposed to be an end all/be all documentary of snipers in the Iraq war. I actually laughed out loud when I saw the quote about Americans going to the movie as a patriotic act. What? The writer might be over-thinking it some. I’m pretty sure people aren’t sitting around thinking “I could donate to a veteran’s clothing drive but hey – going to see American Sniper is the same thing. Boy aren’t I patriotic.”
I will say out loud that I actually liked the movie. I was a bit dismayed to see that Clint Eastwood directed it because in the political belief world I’m pretty sure Mr. Eastwood and I are not only at opposite ends of the Spectrum, I suspect we are on different spectrums entirely. Of course – it doesn’t matter who created the movie – I often say if our beliefs won’t stand up when people question them – how solid are they to begin with.
What did I get out of the movie? War is fucked up. Yep. That is it. War is fucked up. People are placed in fucked up situations. People are expected to do Fucked up things. Sometimes in the situation people will say and do even more Fucked up things. After they are done and go home – people are expected to go on with their lives and their families as if none of the Fuckedupness happened. That is what I got out of the movie.
One complaint I have read several times is that the movie is too black and white. (Ironically actually, since many of the critiques of the movies were very black and white!) Complaints of the movie said it depicted that all Iraqis were evil and the Americans all good. Definitely a bit of that. One thing the movie did do was show how the one Iraqi had been an Olympic athlete, hinting that hey – these are just people too. Again – it is a movie. No movie no matter how excellent can cover each and every nuance of a situation.
I suspect that the troops in country would necessarily have to have some type of black and white belief. Don’t tell me that people who choose the military are sociopaths. There are likely sociopaths at your work, in your neighborhood and even in the military. However, all the military people I have met are people who love their families, their lives and their countries. How would someone who has a conscience and empathy justify killing people if there wasn’t some distancing and some extreme good vs. evil thinking? Could you do it?
It reminded me that as a society we often forget why soldiers struggle so much when they come home. Trauma and PTSD are real and prevalent and it seems like one of our society’s tenets is that “bygones should be bygones” It is over and done with so people can get over it already and move on. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. Often, members in the military do not seek assistance because it seems weak and there is such stigma for a soldier to see help. A movie like this can remind people that the experiences for military individuals doesn’t end when they come home. It many times never ends. The movie showed the main character even talk to what I presume is a therapist at the VA. How awesome is it to give permission to a soldier that talking to a therapist might actually be helpful (gasp!) It would be so easy or neat in real life but the thought was there.
The movie spotlighted the struggles families have. Not just the soldier dedicates their life and time to the military – their family is connected too and often not by their choice. The movie showed how even when the military member returns home – life doesn’t just go back to what the family considers normal.
As much as I – with my peace sign tattoo and all – want a world where human rights are protected and we see everyone as part of one human world and there is no war – we aren’t there yet. I will continue to work and advocate for better lives for people but as many of the critiques said – Life is not black and white. American Sniper as well was not all good or bad. Life is ambiguous and full of both pain and joy. Keep writing and speaking about the things that are important to you and as I will also try – work on being OK with ambiguity and that there can be value in ideas and beliefs that may not be congruent with your own.
One of the men I supervise often puts quotes on his instant messaging for the world to see. Today’s quote caught my attention. “Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.” Helen Keller. It struck me as beautiful. I don’t know what she was referring to us having faith in but I would argue it doesn’t matter.
May she is talking about faith in God – that no matter what burdens fall upon you, you’ll be seen through your journey, have purpose and make it through. Maybe it is faith in human nature. Faith that in the end there is a part of our souls that shine with compassion and love and will make strides toward peace and happiness. Maybe it is faith in friends or family. Maybe it is faith that the sun will rise or tomorrow will come. Maybe it is faith in yourself that you are up to the challenges that arise and can overcome and live fully.
I don’t know specifically what faith is being talked about but I know that faith is essential. (I know someone who is all about hope also believes faith is important! Who would have guessed! 🙂 ) I’m not sure but it seems to me that if we only believe in things we can see or touch or that have been ‘fact-checked” that we will not fully realize our potential. How do we take those jumps of intuition, creativity or genius if we don’t sometimes just take a leap of faith. How do we get through the darkest days if we don’t have faith that somehow we will be all right. Having faith in something intangible allows us to achieve greatness. I am not sure a person can live a full life without faith in something even if it is just that they will get through the day.
As the hustle and bustle of holidays and our everyday life surrounds you, stop. Take a few minutes and think about what you hold dear. Don’t worry if other people scoff at where you choose to put your faith. It is your soul that chooses what is right for you. In what do you have faith?
However, I started thinking about it and maybe talking about the weather in the everyday is just one of the ways we try to connect with people. It can be work trying to connect with someone else. If I don’t know you I certainly don’t want to try to connect by making a random statement about anything. Many statements would just cause conflict.
The weather is definitely safer than me going to some pleasant looking stranger I meet on the train “I was thinking about Obamacare and I think that…don’t you?” I may luck out and Pleasant Looking Stranger may have views similar to me or maybe they’ll have views that are diametrically opposite of mine and then it is all awkward. However, if I say to Mr. or Ms. Pleasant Looking Stranger – “I hate so much snow-” they’ll say something back. Yep, I know it will be on a totally superficial level but you start somewhere. Talking about the weather may bring on a pleasant conversation. They might reply back that they love winter because they love skiing or that they are hoping to retire to a beach or whatever. We’ve connected and I don’t have to figure out how to move to get away from Pleasant Looking Stranger.
You may be thinking “seriously Julie? Small talk – you are going on about small talk.” You know what –yes I am! I think we don’t spend enough time connecting. We go on with our busy lives and don’t want to waste a minute interacting with people not already on our radar. How many times have you heard “I already have enough friends.” Or “I don’t need to hear that person’s life story.” Why not? Life is about connecting. People come in and out of our lives all the time and our interactions are this huge part of the human experience.
When so many of us talk about trivial things like the weather -I wonder if it is just our better selves popping out. The parts of us that are hopeful for commonalities and connection with others so we grab on to something we can talk about – the weather is pretty basic. I think all the boring weather talk actually bodes well for the future of mankind. We are still polite enough to engage with others. We could choose to ignore everyone we meet but we don’t. We try to engage even if all we can come up with is “did you remember your umbrella today?” We are hopeful we will find something in common with someone else even if it is only “it sure is hot out there.” If you are not sure what to say – talk about the weather and connect the heck out of a fellow person.
I feel like I’ve been crazy busy but I certainly haven’t been writing in this blog. Still at my new job and learning like crazy. Learning seems to take a long time. I’m figuring out how to balance my job with my private practice (and still have a life.) I love my private practice and providing therapy so much that I am going to figure out how to keep that in the balance.
I picked out a quote to share about waiting for spring. I know with how tired and busy I’ve been there have been moments when I’ve just thought to myself that I should quite everything and move to an ocean-side town in New England. Maybe I will someday, but the time to make that decision isn’t when I’m tired and it isn’t when there is no sun. Spring seems to be coming late this year. If there are things going on in your life that seem tinged with melancholy or despair – maybe wait it out a bit. Just getting to the next day or to when the sun is shining can change everything. It is inevitable, spring will eventually come.
“Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.” Robert H. Schuller.
I’m not a morning person. Let me correct that. I actually like early mornings but I absolutely abhor getting up early in the morning. I enjoy late night better than early morning so I’d rather sleep in. Ideally, I’d be able to get up at 7:30 or later each day. So I started this new job. Enjoy it. It is in the city. I never thought I’d have a job downtown or being one of those commuter train people but here I am. The thing is, to make it work on time I have to get on the 6:20 am train which means me getting up around 5:20 am. I really, really hate getting up early. ReallyHate. Since I’ve worked on changing my attitude about my transition I’ve been working on being positive about it. You know what I found? I found that it is a gift to be able to enjoy the early morning. I like the quiet. I like when it is still dark and the day is just starting. The other day there was a heavy snow fall and I enjoyed cleaning off my car and looking at the beauty. It was phenomenal. As much as I hate getting up early – look at all I missed. I wouldn’t choose on my own to get up that early but because it was a necessity I was able to enjoy time I wouldn’t normally have.
If I had griped and complained and let myself be super irritated I would have had trouble enjoying my new time. Are there things in your life that you are so unhappy about or complaining about that you are missing joy. Consider stopping yourself if you are in the grumpy mode and seeing what is around you.
Blog on improving your mental health, your relationships and your life.
(Or maybe just free flow of random thoughts of Julie Fanning LCSW)
"Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their future in someone else's hands, but not you."~ Jim Rohn