You Are Here

You are here, and that’s okay.

This has been my steady mantra for the past few weeks. Like most twenty-somethings, I’m finding that transitioning into adulthood isn’t always as seamless as our friends on Instagram make it seem, and that even during the times when I do feel like I’m killin’ it out there in the real world, it’s usually due to victories of minimal significance, such as “Wow, look at me, getting my cat medical insurance” and “YES, I made that phone call to AAA all by myself and DIDN’T HAVE A HEART ATTACK.” Yep, I’m a real big shot.

In light of all of the rapid changes happening in my life as well as the lives of my peers, (and after allowing myself to wallow in self-pity way too many times), I’ve finally allowed myself to be completely transparent with my own insecurities, labeling the core of my general unpleasantness as what it really is: discontent. The kind that is constant, never-ceasing, painful and callous: the kind of discontentment that can never be coerced into the opposite.

I can envision a map: the kind that is emblazoned with treacherous mountains, roaring rivers, and wide open plains, all hand-sketched with slightly choppy line work and, in parts, smeared from overuse. The map has also faded over time, and it’s corner is tainted by a water mark that got there from God-knows-where and originated from God-knows-what-beverage. There is no beginning, and there is no end. The only words that grace the surface of the map, in bright red and bold print, are the words YOU ARE HERE. 

When I was in high school, all I wanted to do was go away to college. The lure of quasi-independence, new faces, and a fresh start was mystifying. I lusted after the opportunity to live the full college experience. Once I did, I lusted after graduation. Full independence. Real life, with no papers or required reading.

Once I graduated from University, I wanted a career, or at least a job where I could climb my way up the ladder into what eventually could become a steady, fulfilling career. Once I found that career, I wanted a contract. With the contract, comes the constant yearning for a promotion. To excel beyond expectation. To expedite my journey to the top of the ladder (…at twenty two years old. I know, keep dreaming).

When I was single in college, I wanted a relationship. After a few failed attempts, I unwrapped God’s offering and found Shane. Now, I can’t wait to become engaged. It is likely that once I’m engaged, I’ll be itching to be a wife.

The trend continues. And try as we might, it’s so easy for us to get stuck in the quicksand of wanting the next best thing (the quicksand that the map fails to warn us of). We have a distorted understanding of the map: never does it say that there is an ultimate end that will bring us the happiness we crave. Nowhere does the map label a moment where we can finally say “this is it! I’ve done it.” There is no beginning, and there is no end. Only a solitary proclamation “You are Here.” Here. In this moment. Right now. And the contentment that you crave can be found here, where you are. It is not reliant on a single achievement or life event…our contentment is determined by our willingness to accept where we are, even if where we are is unpleasant.

I have friends who make more money than I do, and friends who make much less. I have friends who still live at home, and friends who’s apartments could swallow mine whole. I have friends who have 2k Instagram followers, and friends who have 100. For the first time in my adult life, I’m beginning to experience the freedom of letting go of the bitterness that comes with not having reached the highest possible level of achievement just yet, and embracing the ground that I find my feet planted on. Right now, that ground contains a broken car in the shop, a weak savings account, fatigue, relational strains, depression, and anxiety. 

However, my ground ALSO contains coworkers who are willing to drive me to and from work until my car gets fixed, a savings account that EXISTS, bills and rent that are always paid early, good friends to catch up with over coffee, a body that is strong and capable of exercise, and a life partner that goes above and beyond to make me feel worthy and valued. 

I am young, and life is a series of trial and error. Dreams and goals are healthy and lovely and good and have their place on the map. But for right now, I am choosing to embrace where I am.

Whether it’s with a flat tire, an empty fridge, a good friend or a good beer, I am here, and that’s okay. 

You are there, and that’s okay.

-B.

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How High School Gym (and Jocks) Almost Made Me Hate Fitness

*the following story, I’m sure, will not be unfamiliar to most. That gives me the kind of solace that I hope this post gives back to you.

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If you knew me in high school, you knew I was no athlete.

My right-brained noggin found its comfort in the arts…I was highly involved in the school plays, choir, and marching band, and was totally content and happy there. Most of my physical activity took place either on the field during band camp, walking up 5 flights of stairs in the 2 minutes provided for us to transition to class (the struggle), or, horrifically, in gym class.

Before I dive into the dark underbelly of what it was like to attend a public school and NOT be involved in any kind of designated sport, it’s worth noting that I did encounter a handful of amazing, supportive, compassionate gym teachers, and yes, even some jocks. Like all of my posts, this is not to be viewed as a sweeping assumption of high school athletics in any way (can’t wait till I’m confident enough to not have to make that disclaimer).

However, it can’t be denied that 80% of those I encountered in the world of high school athletics seemed to make it a priority to make my life a little bit worse in whatever way they could. Like most public high schools, mine was dominated by sports…if you weren’t a part of improving the school’s sports status, you didn’t HAVE status. I thank the Lord every day for the music department, actually, because if it weren’t for me finding my value in the very thing that I was bullied for, I doubt my already melancholy, pre-pubescent self would have found value anywhere {shout out to everyone in there who impacted me. Y’all RULE}.

I can’t stress enough how much gym class actually ~negatively~ affected my day. I have a plethora of graphic and clear memories of high school which are slowly drifting closer and closer toward my subconscious now that I’m already working on one year out of college… but when they hit, they do so in one of two ways: warm and reminiscent, or freaking terrifying. When they hit, I experience every single feeling that raced through my body when the event actually happened, as if it had happened 6 seconds ago rather than 6 years. The one that drove me to write this post (spoiler: a bad one) happened in gym class.

If you’ve been following some of my life updates, you know that I am seriously into running. During these past few months, I’ve noticed such a change in the way that my body interacts with itself since becoming more of a health and fitness junky, and running is probably the most rewarding of all the daily exercises I do. When I run, I feel so strong, powerful, and able. There are also times when it brings me back to some significant high school trauma.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment, sophomore year, when we were running the mile in gym (gloat break: funny to think that I couldn’t even run a mile back then without stopping to dry heave: now I’m working toward 6.00 and feel amazing. Anyway…) and I accidentally cut a corner coming around the side of the field. Prior to this seriously heinous offense, I was feeling pretty good about my run (it was rare that I EVER felt good in gym class, being the awkward, skinny, out of shape band geek that never looked quite right in her gym shorts) and was prepared to finish strong. I honestly hadn’t even realized that my right foot landed in front of the cone set in the corner of the field, as I was so focused on finishing with as little discomfort as possible, until I heard a loud, angry voice boom in my right ear:

“NO CUTTING THE GODDAMN CORNERS, GO BACK AND DO IT AGAIN!”

{and under his breath}

“goddamn lazy kid.”

This is how this gym teacher spoke to us (can you guess what his favorite word was?), and this is what we were used to hearing. Back then, it didn’t feel outrageous because it was normal. But it still felt terrible. I totally understand that plenty of teens have had MUCH worse experiences than I have. I’m not writing this to trivialize their struggles…rather, I’m making a conscientious attempt to legitimize them.

A few months back, I couldn’t cut a corner while ice-skating with my boyfriend because it just doesn’t feel like an okay thing to do now. That’s kind of silly. What isn’t quite as silly, though, is how much that second statement has affected me through the years…the one calling me lazy. The one assuming that, because my face was not familiar in the realm of high school sports, I MUST have been lazy. I wasn’t worth a warm smile or the attempt at remembering my name (many gym teachers had a tough time remembering my name) because I wasn’t involved in their circle. At the time, my 16-year-old self ceased to realize that this incident was never actually about the cone in the corner of the field. It was about a kid like me only being visible when someone was in need of a punching bag.

I’ve already stated how happy I was in the activities that I belonged to in high school. I have absolutely no regrets about the social circle in which I chose to plant myself. Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments where I wished I was one of “those” athletes. The ones who got invited to parties, who never had to worry about the jockey boy who sat in front of them in class turning around and heckling them every single day to the point where it made them physically ill to even think about showing up; the ones who got to wear sports jerseys on dress down days instead of band tee shirts that plastered them with a “make fun of me” sign…the ones who were greeted with chummy conversation by the gym teachers instead of the alternative. Being a teen in my situation, who wouldn’t occasionally lust for that life?

The reality, though, was that I wasn’t one of those kids. Fitness wasn’t something that earned me adoration, friends, and feelings of accomplishment…it was a cruel punishment with the sole purpose of humiliating me even more than that of which I was already enduring on a daily basis. This is where gym class fails kids. Scratch that…this is where high school fails kids. Through this disappointing trend, too many teenagers are being taught that fitness is a punishment, not a reward.

“INSTEAD OF PASS/FAIL, KIDS SHOULD BE TESTED ON THEIR ABILITY TO RECOGNIZE THEIR POTENTIAL AND EMBRACE WHERE THEY ARE ON THE SPECTRUM OF PHYSICAL FITNESS, VIEWING IT AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO GROW RATHER THAN A DISAPPOINTMENT.”

The pacer test, physical fitness test, and other “pass/fail” testing methods utilized in gym classes across the country teach kids that there is a normal” level of strenuousness that their body should be able to endure at their age, height, weight, etc., and that falling short of that standard indicates literal failure. When I started running longer distances and becoming more concerned with my time, I became worried about whether my pace could be considered “normal” in the world of athletics. While speaking with a coworker (who also happens to be an avid runner) I said something along the lines of:

“I’m concerned about the fact that it took me 52 minutes to run a 5-mile loop last night. Is that a normal pace?”

Her answer, while seemingly obvious, hadn’t even crossed my mind prior to this conversation. “There is no ‘normal.’” She said. “You need to listen to your body and decide what YOUR ‘normal’ is, and grow from there.” (Remember that post I wrote about listening to your body? Clearly I need to practice taking my own advice.)

These words were such a revelation to me. Without even realizing it, I had allowed myself to grow into adulthood with the same outlook on health and physical fitness that had been planted in my mind in high school. In fact, the reason that I just started taking care of myself this year is due to the fact that I had never thought of myself as an athlete, or even being worthy of the title “athletic.” That was for cool kids, to which I was not one. To be able to live up to that lifestyle, I would need to fit the mold in so many ways that I just couldn’t manage to fit. Again, this followed me until I was almost 23 years old.

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While there’s little that can be done about the ever-present bullying issue that plagues our schools (I mean, we should all DEFINITELY continue to combat it, and it’s a worthy fight, but the reality is that kids will continue to bully as long as current trends keep up), the mentality and language surrounding fitness in schools could stand to endure some serious reform. Instead of pass/fail, kids should be tested on their ability to recognize their potential and embrace where they are on the spectrum of physical fitness, viewing it as an opportunity to grow rather than a disappointment. We need more gym teachers who are in it for the betterment of the health and wellness of the next generation; not to socialize, hold biases, and relive their own high school glory days.

Sometimes, I wish the guy who heckled me in class every day because I was an easy target could see how active and fit I am now. I wish the girls who dropped me from their friend group and went on to bully me once they realized I wasn’t like them in terms of mutual interests could see me when I run, lift, and crunch, and finally accept me as a real, worthy, living specimen. I wish that gym teacher could see me take three hours to meal prep after my insanely long Saturday morning run, for him to know that I do care about myself and know that I AM NOT GODDAMN LAZY. Most of the time, though, I appreciate the reality that at this point in my life, I’m doing it for me, not for anyone’s approval.

High school almost made me hate fitness, but it failed. Kind of like I failed that pacer test.

Be strong, former nerds. And embrace your normal. 

-B. 

About a month ago, I made a decision to dedicate much more of my time to health, wellness, and body positivity. At first, it was a breeze. I felt happier, had much more energy (with way less nausea and abdominal discomfort), became motivated to make the most out of my days, and even landed a new job! (Which, if you read my last post Depression and Joblessness, is a HUGE improvement to my quality of life).

Lately, though, it’s been a struggle. While I absolutely love what I do and wouldn’t trade my new job for the world, it doesn’t exactly cater toward a rigorous gym schedule, nor does it make it easy to eat right (since I have to get up so early, I’m lucky if breakfast is a pop tart on the car ride into the city). While I tried to wean myself off of caffeine, I soon found that it was next to impossible to get through even the first few hours of my day without at least a small cup of coffee, because I go to bed (on average) at 12:00 and wake up at 5:00 the next morning. And the icing on the cake (pun definitely intended) is that, when I finally do get back to my apartment at the end of the day, all I want to do is scroll social media and eat cupcakes for dinner in some kind of a sick attempt to de-stress with junk food and laziness.

Again, I’m not complaining. I love my job. I feel like I hit the lottery with this job, actually. I’m not ungrateful, nor do I blame my job for the abuse I’ve been putting my body through. I have weekends off, after all. So why don’t I take that time to hit the gym and prepare wholesome, organic meals for the week? At the very least, why don’t I take that time to rest?

I attend a weekly small group with my church on Tuesday nights, and this week’s discussion happened to be about the struggle to obey our physical bodies (essentially, listening to what our bodies are telling us they need and prioritizing those needs). In my assessment of my own struggles, as well as others’ testimony to similar issues, I think the difficulty in prioritizing our physical needs can largely be attributed to one (very broad) category: typically beginning sometime in our teens, we’re socialized to believe that we’re not worth it. 

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I know that sounds like a harsh, sweeping claim, but read on. Hopefully I’ll be able to explain myself (if not, you can yell at me in the comments for being an assumptive, over-generalizing jerk).

When I say that we’re socialized to believe that we’re not worth self care, I don’t mean that we’re socialized to hate ourselves (that’s an argument for another post). What I mean, quite simply (and slightly less drastically) is that we’re taught to believe that obligations are more important that our well being, that rest equals laziness, that time at the gym or taking a quick nap could be better spent doing something else, something more important. College students share hilarious and witty diagrams on twitter that illustrate the reality that you can’t have a social life, enough sleep, AND get good grades…you must choose which is more important to you. All nighters are encouraged, even praised, and the bodily abuse that young adults put themselves through during their undergraduate career are painted in a comical light and accepted as reality.

This is all fine, until we’re hit in the face with not-so-funny statistics, such as the fact that the University of Pennsylvania has seen ten student suicides in the past three years, or that suicide is the third leading cause of death for college students in the United States, or that, in 2014, 29% of teenage suicides in the U.K took place on exam day or in anticipation of exam day/receiving the results of an exam. (Office for National Statistics, University of Manchester). 

“WHEN I SAY THAT WE’RE SOCIALIZED TO BELIEVE THAT WE’RE NOT WORTH SELF CARE, I DON’T MEAN THAT WE’RE SOCIALIZED TO HATE OURSELVES…WHAT I MEAN, QUITE SIMPLY, IS THAT WE’RE TAUGHT TO BELIEVE THAT OBLIGATIONS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN OUR WELL BEING.” 

And this is just beginning documentation of the early years of young adulthood…these problems don’t go away once one starts “adulting.” The only thing that changes, in this case, are the things that we place before ourselves. Instead of papers and exams, we follow the call to work, relational obligations, money, and even household chores before we follow the call to answer our bodies’ physical and spiritual needs. We guilt ourselves for spending time to regenerate from the ruthless drive of daily life. We start drinking coffee in our teens because it’s “trendy,” only to become dangerously hooked later on. Due to our overpacked schedules, we’re almost forced to eat the quick and convenient fast food that is presented to us in under 5 minutes without even having to leave our vehicles. This, again, is due to the social “trend” of draining our minds and bodies to benefit factors outside of ourselves.

Yesterday, I had a day off from work. Since I woke up two nights ago feeling a tight, torturous, knot-like pain in my abdomen (again, cupcakes for dinner) I decided to spend my day off “refueling.” After a successful morning at the gym, I came home, laid down with my cat, and fell asleep. When I woke up from my hour nap, I felt a harrowing twinge of guilt. That’s right, guilt. For resting. ON MY DAY OFF.

Why? Because there were dishes in my kitchen sink that could’ve been done during that hour. I could’ve already been showered, dressed, and at the grocery store by this time. There’s basically a scroll of things I could’ve had done, or at least begun doing, during that hour, but instead, I wasted it on myself.

Christian readers: Elijah was literally ORDERED by God to rest and nurture his body before he could go out and continue his awesome work. Heck, GOD HIMSELF needed to rest on the seventh day. You are worth the time for rest, and you can’t be expected to carry out your calling before caring for your body.

Non-Christian readers: You, too, deserve more than processed food, coffee as a meal, and quick, easy, but less than nutritious fuel for your body. Take the time to cook for yourself, to treat yourself, to listen to what your body is asking of you. No matter your obligations, remember that none of it can be done to the extent of your ability without affording yourself the time and energy necessary to be well. 

EVERYONE WITH A BODY: LISTEN TO IT. You are beautiful, and well worth the effort. 

-B

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