Category Archives: Uncategorized

Workout Planning for Dummies (Or Busy People)

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Are you a little of both, maybe? A dummy who is busy and wants to work out regularly?

This is my system, which I’m sharing for the benefit of anyone who has ever condescendingly (or sincerely) said to me, or anyone else who has tried to make fitness a priority, “I wish I could workout that often, but I just have too much to do.”

What do you think I am…a Time Lord?!

(Don’t get excited, Geek Friends, I don’t really know anything about Dr. Who, or Glee, or whatever it is that has Time Lords, I just know they’re a thing, and I thought this was a prime place for a reference.)

Anyway, if you’re serious and need a new method of making sure fitness gets on the calendar, this is my suggestion…write out an exercise framework at the beginning of the week, when you’re making the rest of your plans*, and put it on your calendar in pencil. I put an example of this from my own calendar, up top. (This is not an example of a very busy week, I’m afraid, but it gets the point across.)

Then, if you can’t do whatever it was you planned to do…write what you did end up doing in pen. Here’s an example of what that looks like…

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(Again, not a crazy busy week, you’ll just have to pretend that there’s a shit ton of things crowding that box, because trust me, there usually are).

You’ll notice something; sometimes the things I plan to do are with other people–jiu jitsu class, a free group run with a local running shoe store–but in this case (as it often is), the things I ended up doing were solo ventures. A run by myself, a 3 x 15 workout late one night, ten minutes of yoga before work. The promise of fun may get you in the mindset to work out, but when push comes to shove, you have to actually be ready to just do something, to co-opt and paraphrase the tagline of a Very Big Company.

I’m more likely to just do something if I see that I have it written down, even if I don’t do exactly what was planned. And if it’s in pencil…I can just erase it and write what I did do.

Why would I do that? To log workouts. If you don’t know the value of this for progress tracking purposes, then you might not be a believer, but even if you aren’t that serious, know this; it’s harder to slide into sloth if you can look at three weeks of previous workouts and think, “Wow, I’ve got some momentum going, here.”

If you only use your computer and phone for calendar planning, then, great! It’s just as easy to put stuff in and edit it, later, when you actually work out. (I have laptop, phone, and hardcopy calendars. Because, ADHD.)

So, try penciling in some activity this week, and see if it makes a difference.

(*If you don’t plan your meals, or your appointments, then…I don’t know what to say to you. I try to regularly plan all of that, AND my outfits. Yes, like a toddler. I don’t have one of those cool
WEAR THIS TODAY organizers in my closet, but I do have a set up for having what I am going to wear ready to go. Again, see above…Because, ADHD.)

Go Get ‘Em

GORGO teen image

I’m always excited to promote something I’ve written for GORGO Fitness Magazine.

Yes, it’s partially because I work for them, so I need them to be successful, and also because I think everything I write is hugely significant, but there’s also the fact that I’m usually meeting incredible women who are inspirational, and I love sharing their stories.

This month, however, I didn’t interview anyone. I wrote a message to teenage girls and young women.

It’s not that I think of myself as any sort of role model–I’m not. I don’t know if I really even believe in “role models”. I think we’re all in this together, and we need to give each other encouragement and support, but at the same time remember that everyone is just human. We probably really need to find what we’re looking for within ourselves, ultimately, but of course sometimes we need help to do that.

So I was a little daunted, but also glad to be asked to put together a message to young people. (Specifically girls, yes, but I think any good advice is applicable across gender identities, so I’d really like to say “young people”, even though GORGO is directly mostly at a feminine audience.)

The world situation is odd right now, and it can feel pretty dark. However, as much as I’ve been shocked at how certain things have played out in recent history, I also have to say this; I think this generation of young people is special. I think they’re wired a little differently, and I think they have a chance to make an incredible impact on the world, maybe exactly because of how dramatic things have become, and how much technology has shaped them.

I know in my own house, I’ve seen my teenage/young adult children make impressive decisions, and my sister and I have had conversations about moves that one daughter in particular has made, concerning romantic relationships, that neither of us would have had the balls to make at her age. (My sister even said, “Jill, I wouldn’t have been able to do that a few years ago, as an adult.”)

The information age has changed a lot, about childhood and the teen/young adult years. Some of it is concerning, but it’s not all bad. Kids now are exposed to a lot, yes, but that means they’re exposed to good things, as well as bad. It’s just a higher volume.

In the article I address that, the fact that a teenager today has probably heard more about mindfulness and things ancillary to it than most of their counterparts in times past. They have a wealth of information–good and bad–at their fingertips.

We need to encourage them to choose wisely, and to choose strength.

That’s what I always say that I love about GORGO…the emphasis on choosing strength. Choosing reality–no cellulite or stretch marks Photoshopped out, no punches pulled about how much work it takes to build muscle naturally–and choosing to chase being strong.

It’s a worthwhile pursuit.

And Just Like That…

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My grandmother passed away yesterday.

She was 86, she had congestive heart failure, a weakened valve, and her kidneys were failing…it was not a “surprise” in the strictest sense of the word.

And yet we’re stunned.

My parents were teenagers when I was born, and they needed help. My grandparents were part of my guardian team from the beginning, and by age 12 I was living with them full time.

Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother; she was a stay at home mom and then a stay at home grandma, so her main “job” after I came along was…me.

I went most places with her before I was school age. The bank, the bowling alley (her favorite place), the grocery store. She took me to the library religiously and let me wander the aisles at my own pace (a testament to her patience–I did very few things quickly as a child)…she read to me, she told me stories about her childhood, she let me into the details of her friends’ lives (we never used the word “gossip”)…I helped her make dinner.

I desperately needed stability as a child, and my grandparents were the source of it.

And as a thank you, I gave her and my grandfather some merry hell as a teenager. I scared the shit out of her on a few occasions–one memorable event entailed me listening to her cry and rant (while wrapped up in a blanket, because she got cold when her nerves were taxed–I inherited at least some of my dramatic flair from her) after it was discovered that I’d snuck out of my bedroom window. (My grandfather nailed my window shut after that, and only told me recently that it had been my grandmother’s idea.)

After reading a story I wrote as a child, and asking me MULTIPLE times if I was sure I’d written it, and not copied it….she became my biggest fan. She made a point of subscribing to magazines when I joined the staff (even if it was something she had no interest in) and she’s the only person who has ever said that she could “hear” my voice when she read what I wrote.

She’s also the only person that has ever told me, “I love you too much.”

It’s funny, as a parent, to see the things in your children that they get from you. I have five kids, and I can see elements of myself in them, and I can also see flickers of other family members–their dad, my dad–sparks of kindred mannerisms, attitudes, dispositions…either inherited or transmuted by some kind of tribal osmosis.

When I think about that phrase of my grandmother’s, I love you too much, I realize that she is probably the person I should blame for my gaping wound of a heart.

I love people too much sometimes.

I’ve spent the better part of a year plodding away from a heartbreak that was probably barely a blip on the other person’s radar.

I felt like I was teetering on the brink of madness during several extended periods when my kids were little, I was so terrified that something would happen to me and leave them motherless, or even worse, that something would happen to one of them and I’d have to go on living, because the others would need me even more.

My first experience with existential dread was realizing, as a child, that someday my grandparents would die. I’ve spent decades trying to prepare myself for that fact.

It hurts, to love people deeply.

And my grandmother did hurt. She did get betrayed. She did feel it when her loved ones were in pain, sometimes to the point where I would not tell her things, just because she would become SO HYSTERICALLY EMPATHETIC (see “dramatic flair” above) that it was concerning. (And also annoying, if you just wanted some advice or a pat on the back).

But she would insist that she wanted to know. Even though it would seem as if she was going to have a stroke, she would insist on me telling her details of what I was going through.

“You’re my heart,’ She told me, on more than one occasion.

I can call all of these things up in my mind’s eye, I can hear her laugh and I can hear her say my grandfather’s name in an extremely irritated tone as if she’s right here.

But it’s over.

When I told my grandfather I needed a picture of her for the obituary, he didn’t hesitate for a second; he went to his bedroom and got my grandmother’s senior photo.

“This is Jerrye,” he said. “This is how I see her.”

They were married for 68 years. To be honest, we all thought they couldn’t stand each other. From my earliest memory, they’ve never slept in the same room and I never saw them kiss or exchange a tender word (although I heard several other types of words traded back and forth).

But my grandmother’s final hours were spent saying, “Don’t leave me,” to him, and now that she’s gone, my grandfather, the stoic to end all stoics, is the definition of bereft.

“When you’re with someone for that long,” he told me, “They become part of you.”

He could still see her as a young girl. He could remember vividly the first time he saw her, at a skating rink in their small town.

Life goes quickly.

Time is precious and people are not here long enough. It’s worth it to love them too much.

Food Prep for the Uninspired

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I got you, didn’t I?

You thought this was going to be a post about how to make food prep fun, but…it isn’t.

Because it is not. (If you’re a freak who enjoys it and allows yourself plenty of time to get it done without it being something that makes you want to pull your eyebrows out, then…good for you. Go read something else.)

What I am going to do is blog (I know what you’re thinking–”It’s about time, you’ve been MIA for almost four months”) about how it makes eating healthy easier. And how I TRY to ensure that I will actually eat what I make.

Because that’s another dirty little secret, isn’t it? It’s okay, you can confess it here with me…::whispers::…Sometimes we get to Wednesday and don’t want to eat this sh*t that we’ve busted our ass making.

I often have a little dialogue with myself on Sunday night, about 11 p.m. (no, this is not the ideal time to end your meal prep, but whatever).

Me: “Self,”

Self: “What?”

Me: “Do you see all this healthy delicious food that we have prepared, that will help us “hit our macros” this week?” (Yes, I said, “Hit our macros” in a sarcastic, mocking tone with finger quotes while at the same time being completely in earnest. This is how most of my conversations usually are. With myself and others.)

Self: “Um, yes. I’m right here. I’ve been with you the whole time, doing this, even though *I* wanted to watch old episodes of The Good Wife.” (Self always wants to do that instead of what we need to be doing, by the way.)

Me: “Well, I’m just letting you know…we’re eating this for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner this week.” (Looks meaningfully at Self in the reflection of the pot being washed, so Self knows it’s serious.)

Self: “I’m not sure what you’re insinuating.”

Me: “I’m insin–no, I’m telling you straight up that we are stone cold eating this sh*t and this sh*t only this week, except for the carefully chosen meals that we are INTENTIONALLY planning to consume outside of the plan.” (Pauses).

Self (also pauses): “Or what?”

Me: “You don’t want to know what.” (Another pause). “Maybe there’s an a** whipping involved.”

Self (laughing): “Oh, really? Who are you going to hire to do that? I’ve seen your budget–you can’t afford someone who could–”

Me: “I think you’re forgetting how this works…”

I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation (it got ugly, but eventually resolved with Me, my Self, and I acknowledging that we were all noble and worthy opponents). Let’s talk details…

Your reasons for meal prepping are going to dictate what you use. I feel a certain way when I eat a certain way, and I get certain fitness results when I eat a certain way. I also need to be careful about how much I spend, and the more conscious I am about planning, the more likely it will be that I spend less.

The above picture shows what I put together for four days (I plan on eating at least one day’s worth of meals that aren’t planned out–my workplace provides lunch on Wednesdays and I will do something I really feel like doing for a breakfast and dinner on another day). I do not like to eat all of the unplanned meals on one day because it increases the likelihood that it will make me feel crappy. (It still happens occasionally though). I do not call these “Cheat Meals” because I’m not in a relationship with this plan, and it’s not the f*cking SAT.

Not pictured: An 8lb turkey breast (if you read this right after the holidays, that’s a great time to find good deals on turkey), a can of tuna, green tea, a bag of romaine hearts, the Greek yogurt, frozen berries and bananas that I use for smoothies, a jar of almonds, and a bag each of rice and beans (week before payday–I’d like to eat out for those meals where I will want a break from all this, but the reality is it will probably be much lower rent than that).

You may be wondering, “So little food for you and three kids?”

Don’t be silly…my kids will not eat this.

They’ll eat the fruits and vegetables I force upon them (versions of what you see I made for myself in the jars, or steamed frozen broccoli), and the 8lb turkey will produce 32 4 oz servings (that you can either douse with soy or bbq sauce or salsa), and even if I’m not eating rice or potatoes, it’s easily made for them.

But there are frozen pizzas and boxes of macaroni and cheese that are not pictured, either. Does that make you feel better? That I will confess to you that there are onerous helpers that I leave out of the orchestrated meal prep pics? Like despised but necessary relatives that I don’t want to acknowledge are in the family? Are you happy now?

The nuts and bolts are this:

I wait until approximately 7 p.m. on Sunday night, at which time I spring up from the living room floor where I’ve been watching old episodes of Matthew Goode–I mean The Good Wife–and think, “*&^%! I haven’t done any meal prep!”

Then I speed to the grocery store–not the one that has the best prices but the one that’s closest–and get 7/8ths of what I need.

Halfway home I realize that I forgot one or two crucial things and divert to yet another grocery store, that is even more expensive than the one I was just at. I get my two key ingredients and go home.

I cook whatever animal protein I’ve acquired (I do like a little animal protein, but I hate “as I hate the doorways of death”, touching raw meat, so cooking it all at once makes life less trying) and roast a pan of vegetables–zucchini, carrots, broccoli, sweet potato–while boiling a dozen eggs. I chop the raw veggies for the week and a grapefruit (I can’t eat more than a fourth of a grapefruit at a time because it’s like eating a battery).

The veggies cool, I put them into glass jars and the raw veggies into plastic bags (because the tiny glass jars have a habit of disappearing and I’d rather put veggies that need to cool into glass, and if you’re going to tell me that it’s useless to do that you can go suck an egg and if you’re going to tell me I’m going to hell for using plastic bags AT ALL EVER you can also suck an egg).

I wipe things down and prepare to relax and do my going to bed routine (which consists of telling myself for two or three hours that I need to go to bed), only to remember that it was 9 p.m. before I put the turkey breast in, so I’m going to be waiting another two hours for it to be done. (And yes, I realize that that correlates well with the fact that my actual bedtime routine will take that long, but you’re forgetting that I have to carve the son of a b*tch when it comes out of the oven. It’s okay…I forgot that, too. It’s like brand new, every week.)

Anyway, I hope this was helpful! Happy meal prepping!

 

 

World Suicide Prevention Day

dark-soulsI didn’t even know World Suicide Prevention Day was a thing.

But since it is, and since I’ve lost a loved one to suicide, I thought I’d throw in my two cents.

My stepmother killed herself a few years ago.

It was totally out of the blue.

You’ll probably see that phrase a lot, in blog/Facebook posts/Tweets today, and I’m sure everyone means it. I know I do; it was totally out of character, and unexpected.

I spoke to her just a few days before it happened. She and her husband (a man she married in what I believe was a rush to comfort herself after the death of my father, which shook her in a big way) were having problems, I knew, and I knew she was struggling.

She told me she wanted to take the kids the following week, or in the near future. (She often took them–all five of them–and did fun stuff, or simply stayed at my house with them. Her new husband didn’t have the nerves for a brood of kids, and although it hurt her, not having that bond that she had shared with my father, she had carried on their legacy with my kids by herself.)

When she mentioned this, I said–referencing her situation–”You don’t have to do that, I know you’re stressed,” and she looked at me, and leaned forward, and said, with feeling…

“I don’t just do it to help you. I do it to help me. They help me.”

And she meant it.

She was a second mom to her passel of nieces and nephews, as well, and I know she felt just as strongly about time she spent with them; it helped her just as much as it helped them to have an adult that simply loved their presence.

Grandmother and Aunt. Two roles that can relish children, because they can eventually take them back. (Usually. My grandmother ended up raising me…I don’t have the guts to ask her if it was still magical when I was with her full time, as a hormonal teenage girl.) Two roles that allow you to be a confidant, a fun-giver, a memory maker.

My kids have some extraordinary memories with her. Because she loved them, and they could feel it. She was an experience person, and she was totally focused on them when they were with her.

So, when I received the call, just a few days after that conversation, with the news that she had shot herself, I was stunned.

I was beyond stunned.

The details aren’t only mine to share, and some of the others are still painful and raw lo this many years later, so I’ll limit them, but the most significant thing–the thing that I want to use my little space her to broadcast today–is that RIGHT before this happened, she visited a doctor, talked about some symptoms she was having, and was handed antidepressants.

No one in her family or circle of friends, that I’m aware of (up to this present time), knew this.

Again, not going to share too many details, but the evidence pointed–in several ways–to her suicide being a result of the medication.

There are two possibilities about why this ended in her death, and I want to address both of them in my little space here, on this day set aside for heightening awareness about suicide.

Her Doctor Didn’t Adequately Warn/Prepare Her 

Why should you be warned about an antidepressant? Well, technically, you are, if you’re taking one; SSRIs in particular are REQUIRED to carry a warning label because of the increase in suicide risk.

But how many of us read that fine print? And take it seriously enough?

Studies have shown (I’ll link an article further down that will reference some of them) that there is a risk of what is called a paradoxical reaction with certain brain-altering medications, like SSRIs. In children and adolescents, particularly. It more than DOUBLES their suicide rate.

Do doctors need to terrify you? No. But just a simple warning that the first week or so warrants extra monitoring (the first nine days of taking a new antidepressant is when a person is most at-risk for suicidal thoughts or behaviors) could be life saving in some situations.

(Note: After my stepmother’s death, I was briefly on a medication for ADHD that caused me to have a suicidal reaction. If I hadn’t known about the power of drugs to do that–because of what happened to her–I honestly might have killed myself. It’s that powerful. I wasn’t told that by a doctor…I had to find it out myself.)

Mental health advocates often use a phrase that goes something like, “If you had diabetes, or a physical issue, you’d seek intervention for that, wouldn’t you? You need to do the same for mental health issues!”

And that’s a good analogy.

But if you’re going to carry it to its natural conclusion, it would be this; your general practitioner would likely refer you to an endocrinologist if your diabetes–or your child’s–was serious. A good family doctor knows his/her limits, and will get you the supervision and help your problem warrants.

I believe our system is broken if it doesn’t allow for specialized treatment of mental health.

Access to therapy–both psychological and physical, since both have been measured as contributing greatly to the treatment of certain mental health concerns like depression–as well as informed counseling about any medications administered, should be basic. (A psychologist failed to warn me about the medication I took, that caused my reaction.)

There’s another possible explanation, however, that I have to consider, and that I have to acknowledge might have contributed to my stepmom’s death.

Her Doctor Warned Her, But She Didn’t Tell Us

It’s entirely possible that my stepmom’s doctor told her a version of what I outlined above…and she didn’t share it with me, or someone who knew to keep tabs on her.

The thought of a medical professional not preparing someone for the potential power of a drug makes me frustrated, but the idea that someone I love felt that it wasn’t possible to share something like this breaks my heart.

I know that my stepmother believed we’re an overmedicated society. That tells me two things; her pain was overwhelming if she agreed to trying medication, and also, possibly…she was hesitant about being judged.

Again, I can’t know. She’s not here to tell us.

But if there’s even a chance that her concern about someone seeing her taking an antidepressant as something to be judged about led to her death, I want to address it.

There’s no shame in seeking help.

THERE IS NO SHAME IN SEEING HELP.

There’s no shame in taking medication.

THERE IS NO SHAME IN TAKING MEDICATION.

I know that my medically induced suicidal episode wasn’t something anyone could have foreseen; I only got help because I knew what it was and I told someone. If I hadn’t known what it was, I don’t think I would have called someone and said, “Hey, I’m thinking about killing myself, and when I tried to tell myself that it would be bad for my kids, I blew myself off and told myself they’d get over it.”

I can’t explain how it’s different from being so paralyzed by depression that you consider suicide (I’ve had that happen, too), but it is. It goes from being an option to the only thing that makes sense. It’s otherworldly, and it isn’t scary…that’s the scary thing about it.

If you’re depressed and have thoughts of suicide, tell someone. Tell someone, tell someone, tell someone.

If they shrug it off…tell someone else. Someone cares, and someone will help you, even if the first person you tell doesn’t. (You can always call the National Suicide Prevention hotline, at 1-800-273-8255, or text “GO” to 741741).

And if you’re starting a new antidepressant or other medication that carries a warning of suicidal thoughts or actions…tell someone. Tell someone, tell someone, tell someone.

At least make sure you’re monitored for the first ten days.

If suicide is preventable (it isn’t, always), it’s through connection.

Tell someone.

(You can read an informative post about why some antidepressants raise suicide risk here.)

Edited to Add:

A friend reminded me (through sharing her experience) that antidepressants aren’t only used for combating depression. She was prescribed an antidepressant (for insomnia) and experienced suicidal ideation when she stopped it.

And one other thing, while I’m on the subject…

REMOVE THE PHRASE “SUICIDE IS SO SELFISH” FROM YOUR VOCABULARY.

Blaming/stigmatizing victims is not helpful. To the cause or to survivors. The End.

 

 

Wakened Woman Week, Day 4

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“Without labor nothing prospers.” – Sophocles

“Work, work, work…working on my sh*t…” – Iggy Azalea

For Day 4 of my One Woman Festival That Is A Perfectly Suitable Alternative to Burning Man, I’m going to focus on a dearly held principle that is also not an easy one…Hard Work.

When I left my twenty-two year marriage, I was relying on freelancing as a copywriter/journalist to support myself and the three younger kids. I’d spent the last five or so of that marriage doing it part time (in addition to homeschooling the kids), and I simply amped up my business in order to make a full living.

Usually, however, when someone makes a career out of freelance writing, they have a savings cushion, for those lean times when a client is lost, or work dries up for a month or two. (Or six.)

I didn’t. I had zero savings. Zero cushion. We lived month to month, but I never missed paying rent, and we kept the electricity on. (By the skin of our teeth at times, but it was never cut off.)

When I lost my biggest client, though, I didn’t have it in me to skate on such thin ice continually anymore…I got an office job.

At first it was just part time, to fill in the gaps, but eventually it became necessary to just do it full time. I got a promotion, I got a raise, and we gained the stability of a steady check, every two weeks.

I make considerably less per hour than I could as a freelancer, but I still write, for GORGO, and for other various magazines and blogs. I both have to, financially, and I have to, in order to keep that part of me that is best expressed in writing.

But it’s suffered. My writing.

There’s very little creativity left in me now. I wrote some time ago about how an office job doesn’t have to mean that you’ve given up, as a freelance writer, and I meant it. I still do.

But it takes a lot out of me. In many ways.

I’m usually too rushed in the mornings to write, and too tired in the evenings. Freelance gigs are welcome, in that we need the money, but it becomes more and more like a gun in my back instead of a song in my heart, and that sucks. It sucks to have the one thing that you’re really, truly good at taken and turned into just another thing you have to do. To never have enough time to rest enough to let your imagination go, and focus on the things you’d love to write about, the things that make you smile and think, “Sh*t, I’m a f&^%ing genius!” when they’re done.

To not have enough time to do your best on things that people are paying you for, or depending on you to write for them.

Because I haven’t had enough energy in a long time, to be able to do what I’m actually capable of.

But I still do my best.

And mostly, that’s enough.

I’ve also gotten to have another experience; working with a fantastic group of people.

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For the first time, this past year, I’ve had the experience of hiring people.

And…I’ve fired someone.

I’ve learned things, both about myself, and companies. Some good, some bad. I’m very grateful that I get to work where I do, and that this job was available when I needed it, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that the contrast of working for yourself vs. working for a company has made me vehement in certain beliefs that I was only moderate about before. It’s made me understand things that I didn’t get the last time I worked for a company, which was twenty plus years ago.

But let’s get back to the people I work with.

I get to laugh every day. Hard.

I’ve went to work and cried (literally) on co-workers’ shoulders.

The two people in my little team make my job so much easier, by being stellar employees, that it’s ridiculous. Between their hustle and their good senses of humor, what could be a headache is instead a winning situation, all around.

We’re together for the biggest part of most of the days of the week, and in our case, we’re facing each other, and sitting just a few feet away.

It could be really, really challenging, if someone was a turd in that situation.

Blessedly, for me…no one is. (I don’t know if the feeling is mutual. But ignorance is bliss, right? At least if I’m the turd…I don’t know!)

I guess my point is that there are always challenges.

The best world is one where the work that pays your bills is the kind that fills your soul, and you’re able to do it in amounts that leave you time to enjoy the rest of your life…while earning enough to allow for that, as well.

I don’t live in that world, at the moment.

But the people who populate the work world where I am, currently, make it the best one possible.

And for that, I am so, so grateful.

 

Selfie Examination

 

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“I worshipped dead men for their strength, forgetting I was strong.” -Vita Sackville West

When I first read the words that I chose to pair with the above pic, they struck a chord in me that hasn’t stopped humming.

I should share this before I go any further; I’m kind of a weirdo, when it comes to inspiration.

I regularly read writings by peaceful people like Thich Nhat Hanh and VIktor Frankl, but I also gain encouragement and perspective from some other, less likely places.

Hagakure.

The Havamal.

My children can recite quotes attributed to various Spartans, and some of our favorite stories and movies are ones that…well, might make other mothers cringe. (Very fight heavy).

It’s just how we are.

I give all of those examples to show that in my mind, reading thoughts on love by a man who survived a concentration camp is not at odds with gleaning wisdom from some of the most brutal ancient warriors.

They’re simply two extreme examples of two sides of life; acceptance, and action.

True strength is choosing love, to me. No question. But the bravery it takes to look death in the face and run towards it is usually fostered by a solid commitment to living life the way you think it should be lived. Every day. I think that the thought processes of cultures that bolster that mindset are worth looking at. Closely.

Because I need inspiration. I need strength.

This may have been one of the hardest years of my life thus far; I’ve dealt with loss before, and heartbreak, and I thought I’d dealt with not having much, materially. (Absolutely nothing compared to fighting to keep utilities on and a roof over your head and those of your kids).

But this has been a hard year, and I’ve needed help. Reading has helped me learn and grow, spiritually and physically.

I’ve been encouraged and pushed forward by things I’ve read, from both sides of my “Inspiration Spectrum”, and sometimes, the two aren’t as far apart as you would think. While Hagakure writings are definitely still promoting advancement of skill as a warrior, there’s an unexpected advocacy for something not usually associated with the image of a samurai…mercy.

“In the eyes of mercy, no one should have hateful thoughts. Feel pity for the man who is even more at fault. The area and size of mercy is limitless.”

I don’t fight in skirmishes to protect the interests of my feudal lord. But I absolutely have been in a battle this past year, and although I still maintain I don’t have any enemies, when someone thinks they have that role in your life, it’s hard to get around it.

And it’s hard to think of mercy.

But reading the thoughts of warriors has helped me strategize, both for strength, and sympathy.

However, reading and taking in the thoughts of others can only do so much…at some point, inspiration has to become something else. You have to just do what you need to do, and while internalizing ideas that have helped others can give you a boost, it doesn’t propel you.

You have to do that.

It’s okay to begin to put yourself in company with the dead guys whose words you’re taking in. In fact, if you don’t, you won’t be able to put feet to what you’re reading. That may be even more difficult if you’re a woman, and you’re only seeing the words of men, but it’s important to do it. You have to believe in yourself, love yourself, and trust yourself. You’re right there with them.

Some of my fellow Christians might be uncomfortable with all this, because we’re taught that the example of Christ is one of self sacrifice, and I wouldn’t be a Christian if I didn’t believe that selfless love is the answer to every single problem we face. I’m with you.

But one of our key directives, from Jesus Himself, is to “love others as we love ourselves.”

You can’t really love someone else if you don’t love yourself. The best kind of love to give to someone is the kind you give yourself…the kind we’re meant to give ourselves. Sacrificial love is only sacrificial love if you’re choosing it. If you’re acting out of the belief that you don’t deserve any better…it’s just self punishment.

And it’s not a sin to get behind strength and action. One of my favorite verses is “The horse is prepared against the day of battle, but safety is of the Lord.” Do everything you know to do. Get ready, get suited up, and get strong…that’s not mistrust of God, it’s doing your job. If you believe He directs things, it’ll come out the way it’s supposed to, and you can rest in that without resting on your laurels.

I also thought twice (or a few times) about posting this with a picture of me flexing my bicep, because the whole point of the post is inner strength, but I did it anyway, because for me, physical exercise is not only something that helps me, mentally, it’s a good metaphor for inner strength. It’s built over time. It takes work. You have to keep it up. The physical things that help me (yoga, jiu jitsu) require concentration. Mindfulness. Focus on the moment.

And also…I really like my biceps.

I think it’s okay for us to hold up a picture of ourselves from time to time, if we have the rest of our worldview in balance, and if we’re not mistaking looking at a camera lens with looking inward, at our hearts and souls. (They’re not interchangeable). Conversely, we also shouldn’t depend too much on looking to others for the strength that we sometimes need to dig up out of ourselves.

You can still read the words of dead men, in other words, just be sure you’re listening to yourself, as well.