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Caution, Steep Grade Ahead

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steep grade aheadI love this text exchange between me, my sister, and my mom. It really sums up who we are, our relationship, and our attitude about life. Things go wrong. Things get sad, or bad, and dark. We fall into pits of despair. And then dammit, we find a way to crawl out. Sometimes we need help, but once we realize we're in that pit, we do everything we can to get out.

I really thought quitting my job would solve things. I'd walk out of my company and walk right out of that pit. The thing is, I thought the pit wasn't that deep but I was wrong. Quitting my job helped me get up to a ledge, but not to the top. So I've been looking for other tools to help crawl out.

Working out has definitely been one of them. I started training with Elite Technique at the beginning of December. I have committed to go every weekday, and also committed to not judge my worth by any number on the scale or my jeans. Since the focus is on strength and not weightloss, this hasn't been so hard. I can remember how much I'd beat up myself and self-sabotage when on diets; when going to the gym every day the only way to self-sabotage is to not go. So I Instagram Story after every workout, to hold myself accountable. But working out has helped me sleep better, cut down on cravings and binge eating, improved my skin, I don't snore any more, and well, I look better. I feel as though I am reclaiming my body. I didn't realize how disconnected I was from this body, and it makes me realize how I pretty much have been since having Emerson. I was an incubator, then a food source, a pillow and security blanket, a transportation vehicle… everything but an individual. And while she's grown to not need most of those things (I'm going to treasure being a security blanket/comfort as long as she'll let me), I never regained my sense of self. Starting each morning building muscle and pushing myself farther than I ever have is such a powerful way to rebuild the relationship with my body and help me get out of the pit.

But that hasn't been enough. Working out brought me up to another ledge in the pit. I can see the sky, but I'm still surrounded by dirt.

Sometimes I feel as though I am driving a truck down a mountain. The road winds around, sharp turns, on the edge of the cliff. I feel I have control, I take the curves like a champ. But the weight of the truck and the grade of the mountain is making it tougher and the brakes aren't working. I'm gripping the steering wheel and using the techniques my dad taught me when I learned to drive to take these curves but I feel I am right on the edge of losing control. It's thrilling and terrifying and I can visualize a crash coming.

When I was 21, this feeling was exhilarating. I'd write amazing papers at 3am after drinking for hours. I'd kiss dangerous boys and go to underground clubs and smoke pot and dance until dawn in my bra and then go to work and impress my boss with my dedication. I'd crash every so often, drop out of a class or miss life for a week, but I'd be back better than ever. This feeling is not fun when you're 43.

My mind never shuts off. I lie in bed for at least an hour after Karl has fallen asleep, thinking of things, thinking of everything. Replaying the day, or even a situation from two years ago in my head. How I should have handled it, how it could have been improved, how I messed it up. I'd wake up at 3am with a start, and not be able to get back to sleep. Smartphones and social media hasn't helped. I'd wake up and immediately check my email, then Instagram, then Facebook, then Twitter. As I brush my teeth before I go to bed I scroll through my phone. When I'm in line, waiting for a friend, someone leaves the table at a restaurant to use the bathroom I'm on my phone. In my car I'm listening to podcasts, when I'm waiting for water to boil I'm playing 1010. I've tried to meditate. I got the apps, listened to the YouTube videos, bought the books to no avail.

I had heard about Transcendental Meditation, but figured it was just another trendy thing celebrities did. Then I read a profile on David Lynch in GQ and it piqued my interest in TM. I started saving my money, either for going on a silent retreat somewhere or TM or something that would force me to learn how to quiet my mind. A few weeks ago, I decided to use that money on Transcendental Meditation classes.

You go to an intro session, and if it sounds good to you, you sign up for four days in a row of 90-minute training. The first day is a one-on-one session, then three days of group lessons. It's so simplistic you may feel the first day as though you got screwed over by the price. But even with serious Googling you can't truly learn TM without the in-person lessons. I know, I tried. A week later, you have a check-in, and then a week after that (my second check-in is today).

The class had military veterans, a surgeon, a stay at home mom, a professor, a grad student, a retiree. They all seemed to get it better than I did. They discussed how easy it was, how they instantly felt better, more energized, better able to handle stressful situations. I struggled just to stay awake in class, even though it wasn't late in the evening and I drank coffee on the ride over. It was like my brain was fighting against meditation, wanting to stay busy 24/7.

With TM, you're not forcing your mind to stop thinking; in fact, all sorts of thoughts may come up and you just let them happen and move on. And boy did thoughts come up, thoughts of my difficult years in high school where I let gossip and jealousy damage friendships. College where my crazy truck down a mountain mentality had me doing mean and risky things and the consequences from them. Day 2 of TM, after class, I met a friend from high school for coffee which was awesome, but reminiscing combined with these thoughts made me a complete mess. That day I also wrote some spiteful replies to comments on my blog in response to some mean-spirited and some innocent questions. My inbox was full of rejection, criticism, and frustration. Day 3 started waking from a nightmare that starred High School Allie. I went to the gym, and it's like with sweat out came these emotions. I went on a rant on InstaStories. That afternoon I received an email from a casual friend asking me to volunteer for an activity. I forwarded it to my sister, complaining about how people think since I don't “have a real job” I suddenly have all this free time. She replied, and I replied to her, totally venting about all the issues I have with this project and the people associated with it. I didn't send it to my sister, I accidentally sent it back to the friend. My truck just careened off the side of the cliff. I was spiteful, gossipy Allie of my teens and I was devastated. I didn't even really believe all I wrote, but I showed my true colors. I'm the same bitch I've always been. Lucky for me, that friend is a really amazing and decent human being and after a phone call apologizing she agreed to pretend the email never happened. Day 4, I saw in my analytics that I was being discussed on three different message boards and forums, discussing my Botox and my rant. It put me in a bit of a tailspin. I wondered if TM was healthy for me considering what a mess it was making me. But I continued to meditate twice a day. And each time I meditated, things got easier.

I find myself losing my phone, leaving it in a coat pocket or next to my bed. I've started reading books again instead of scrolling through blogs and online articles. I read half a novel on my train commute to NYC this week, and even meditated on the train.

Sometimes 20 minutes of meditating goes by like a flash, more often I struggle to get through. Sometimes I'm not sure if I fell asleep. The thoughts still come but I rarely remember what I was thinking about when the session is over. Twice I've had moments where I have felt… IT. Calm, serene, below the fray. I feel the more I practice, the more likely I'll have IT.

I was chatting with a friend about being this age, dealing with stress and sadness and pain of work, relationships, and life. She said she missed the vigor she used to have and wishes to have it again. I've realized we'll never have that vigor we had a decade ago… but that's not a bad thing. With each moment in life there's a different goal. Right now, at 43, my goal is peace. I don't want to live a life that feels like I'm driving a runaway truck. I want to feel peace with my decisions at the end of the day when I rest my head on my pillow. I think I'm heading in the right decision, but I realize it's not going to be instant or easy. But I'm up for the challenge, and seeing the benefits of this journey.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I figured your angry responses to the Botox/ptosis comments were born out of exhaustion and overwhelmedness. Honoring you for acknowledging that, but especially for taking steps to dig yourself out of that mental space.

    My therapist calls what you describe as your earlier-life habits “overfunctioning”, and one of the lessons I’ve learned from chronic illness is that that can be a dangerous place to be. All my support for your decision to find other ways to be in the world.

  2. When I was 21 did I feel better, more energetic, less pain than today? No, not really. How about 11 or 7. No.

    I often wonder if it is worse to remember a time when a person felt good and then lament its passing. Or is it worse to have always felt awful so there is no contrast. I can’t answer that. I don’t feel much worse than I ever did.

    When did I feel the best? Not good, mind you, but better? That was when I was spending 10 hours a week in the gym and walking 25 miles a week.

    I support anything you can do to make your life better physically, mentally, spiritually. It’s great to hear that you are going to the gym often and now you are meditating,

  3. I appreciate your honesty and openness. All these changes you are making are hard work but so helpful. I’m 54 and on the other side of menopause and having strategies in place before perimenopause began would have been very helpful to me. I had no idea about how the hormonal ups and downs would effect me. I had so much general anxiety and insomnia and creeping weight gain that I’m still getting over now. I hate to be a debbie downer when you are doing these positive things but I had no idea much perimenopause would effect me and that it was such a lengthy process. I wish someone could have given me a heads up so I could have known more about what to expect.

    1. I second what Margaret is saying, peri-menopause slammed me to the ground and I had no idea what it was. I had just had a baby at 40 yrs of age, menopause was a decade away, right? Hormones were off because of late life pregnancy, right? NO! No one told me about peri-menopause. Women, older women need to be more open about sharing what might happen. I wish my mother had, but she had already passed. It’s part of life, part of being a phenonomenal woman. It shouldn’t be a secret no one tLks about.

    2. No, I am glad you’re sharing this and it’s something I think about and know is around the corner. I plan to share my experience. I think of all the times I felt I was the only one or abnormal and then I’d find personal stories shared on the internet and know that even those these people were strangers, I wasn’t alone. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Allie, I rarely comment, but I really admire you. I will just say “ditto” to all the earlier comments, since they were so well said. Thank you for this blog!

  5. Allie,
    Your honesty and courage are the main reason I follow your blog. It’s not all about fashion but about a life journey with your family and friends. I understand very much how you feel. Past mistakes and heartache can linger over the years. Why do we beat ourselves up over the past? Self-double can cripple our forward movement. Even at age 66, some days, I feel like a great pretender, an imposter at work with colleagues and students. Then a positive comment from another can part the clouds. Be gentle with yourself, Allie. You’ll find your new rhythm in time.

  6. Another amazing post. Your honesty is inspiring. But I’m also with the others who say you’re way too hard on yourself. We’re all fallible; we all have days or even weeks when we’re not our best selves … And meditation is incredible. I did a 10-day silent meditation course a couple of years back and it completely changed my life.

  7. Thank you for posting this today. Knowing I’m not alone helps so much, and your words and the comments make that so clear. I started meditation last year when things reached a tipping point in my life and it’s helped so much. I use the Calm app and also something called Yoga Nidra for Healing Trauma by Molly Birkholm and it all helps so much.

    1. Wow, using my phone to comment and posted before I could finish or edit—lol. Anyway, I wanted to add that I’m thinking of you and truly appreciate your raw honesty here. You are helping me, and I’m so grateful!

  8. Wow. I don’t know you at all and yet I feel like I “get” you – or you get me, or maybe, like so many of your readers, we are all in some ways all just trying to walk the path. I have been meditating for years (not TM) and reading Buddhist writings and it has helped me process so much, and also given me tools to help handle stress and emotions and a sometimes hair-trigger sharp tongue and anger reflex. Keep at it. Exercise too – I started doing it regularly in the last few years, and I agree with all the improvements you mention — mood, sleep, skin, etc.

    I’m very curious to hear more about your TM experience. I happen to have taken out a couple library books on it by the same author who wrote the definitive book on SAD (which, if you think you might be suffering too, read WINTER BLUES by Norman Rosenthal and if it resonates at all, I tell you, tone of those light lamps was a GAME CHANGER for me this year). Anyway, his books make clear you really have to try it, not just read about it, and I can’t help wondering how or whether it is so much better or different than other kinds of (free) meditation.

    1. I don’t think TM is necessarily better than any other form of meditation, just a different route to take to the same goal. And YES to those light lamps! I got one when I was working in a windowless office that was painted brown. I now use it in my home office!

  9. I did TM for a while. I didn’t go to any classes, I just got the info on how to do it online. I got into the habit a while ago and then got out of it for various reasons. I go back to it sometimes, sometimes I do guided meditation podcasts, sometimes I do a little ten minute one on the headspace app, and sometimes I just sit quietly with some incense and concentrate on breathing. My point is – for your readers or anyone who might be intimidated by TM or other meditation methods – is that there are all sorts of ways to go about meditating. You can get significant benefits from even just doing 5 or 10 minutes a day!

  10. Yeah, being older does mean I have less vigor. That’s hard to implement a new behavior . It means I have to consider and choose where I apply my time and energy.
    I choose to pray rather than meditate. Your post today validated me even though we address our emotions, intentions, and actions in differing ways. Thanks for that and I appreciate how you share your insides and not just your outsides (makeup and clothes) with us. Please continue wardrobe oxygen in the same manner that you have since stopping your 9 to 5 job. I can’t wait to read your next post.

    1. Tgchil3, that is the best 3 pieces of advice I’ve heard in a long time. Thank you so much for that!

  11. It’s all a journey isn’t it? And meditation isn’t for everyone. Have you heard of the bored and brilliant challenge? https://www.wnyc.org/series/bored-and-brilliant
    I did it last year and found it helpful – too much screen time or social media has a tendancy to shorten our attention spans and puts me in a downward spiral. You might enjoy the challenge and it’s also now a book I believe. A good book I recently read on meditation is Into the Magic Shop by James R. Doty MD
    You’re doing great – give yourself the same grace you’d give a friend going through the same 🙂

  12. I have been going through something similar. I have been a Buddhist for 25 years, and done meditation for all of them, but still kept getting stuck by what Pema Chodron calls “the hook”. I highly recommend her book, When Things Fall Apart: https://www.amazon.com/When-Things-Fall-Apart-Difficult/dp/1611803438 I had been waking up to have imaginary arguments with people, impulsively commenting in a angry way on FB posts, fretting about stressful things constantly myself. Partly what helped was reading the book “Boundaries”,which is Christian based but I found incredibly helpful in setting healthy boundaries in work and with friends and family without feeling guilt. I tried staying off social media, but found I had to take firmer measures, so I uninstalled Facebook and Twitter from my phone and turned off all notifications. I only check it twice a day when I am at my treadmill desk, and it has given me great breathing space.

  13. Hi Allie. I feel you. I have had a meditation practice on and off for a couple of years.. Some days are easier than others. So e days I get IT, some days not. I get your struggle with the pit, inner chaos and unacceptable feelings which cause outbursts of inappropriateness. Maybe that is why I follow your blog even though I too am older (in my 60’s) and we don’t have a lot in common, at least on the surface. I love your honesty, your humanity and your openness. Thank you for this post. Thank you for your blog. Let the critics natter on. We got your back with love and gratitude!

  14. I too, like another reader, started reading your post this morning and thought ‘she should try meditation’. Ha! I’m a newbie meditator myself, been doing it (not TM) for about 3 months and noticed a difference pretty fast – below the fray is a perfect way to describe it – like you’re tapping into the calm waters within you, that exist below the surface currents. The currents that yank us in 50 different directions constantly. All forms of meditation have that common thread I think – helping you tap into the calm that is within you, we’ve just gotten out of touch with it. I’ve been thinking hard about TM too, after hearing Bob Roth interviewed by Dan Harris. Got to start a TM fund of my own! 🙂 Thank you for sharing this.

  15. When I started to read this post I thought, ‘she should probably try meditation.’ HA! Knitting is my form of meditation, it’s calming and soothing and shifts my focus. I’ve also been stepping away from my phone more, putting it on silent and reading books again or listening to audio books while I knit. Sometimes all that noise just makes us feel worse.

  16. Just wanted to say I feel ya & I hope you’ll find some inner peace soon. I’ve been a worrier all my life & often have sleep problems b/c I wake up with my mind racing—thinking about a million different things at once! This sleep thing has gotten worse in my 40’s but like you, I notice exercise helps. So I’m good about it for a while& then I find excuses not to do it. It’s such a vicious cycle—so why do I keep doing it, right?? I think it’s just part of being a mom, a wife, a daughter, an employee, etc. Good luck & know that many of us understand & relate— and we certainly understand those moments in life when we say or do something that we later regret.

  17. Thanks again for being real. I feel like I am always having these moments where I regress and am not the person that I want to be, and it is just so HARD to try and start over each time I dip back into the person I don’t want to be to try and get myself back out of it. Sometimes I wonder if it will ever come easier, but it is comforting to know that other people struggle with similar things. Sending love your way, and know you are not alone!

  18. Allie, you are being waaay too hard on yourself. I haven’t seen all of your comments/rants but life happens. And your post about your ‘little ‘ eye & ‘hot ass’ issues made me laugh out loud- not because of your issues but because it was real & raw & ok – pretty funny. I’m 60+ but enjoy your posts because you put your fun, curvy self out there. And while your brain is busy, you introduce topics that don’t aren’t always on my grandma, retired horizon. So, take a breath or TM, and know you are ok.

  19. Allie, you are the best! So honest, authentic, real, and articulate. Allie, life is so messy. We never figure it out, and we never will. Keep on being you, and be easy on yourself. I am a multi-year reader, and a never comment-er, and I think you are too hard on yourself. Ignore the haters, they are jealous that you put yourself out there and keep on being Allie.

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