Authentic Community

My heart has been quite heavy this week with the passing of some very iconic people. Society often forgets that mental illness physically changes a person’s brain chemistry. It is very much a physical illness but this aspect often gets left out of the picture. People still hold on to the belief that material wealth and success can make it all disappear somehow. Headlines of recent show us quite the opposite. Please remember that from the outside you can’t always tell what someone’s ill brain is poisoning them with. Try to embrace the concept that suicide is a symptom of mental illness and that these beautiful humans, and all the beautiful ones taken too early from this life, died from a mental illness, not simply because they killed themselves. Somewhere along the line their brain chemistry became hijacked and they weren’t able to get the help they needed. While it is important for crises numbers or text lines to be available – I will personally attest to the fact that in a moment of crises there was and still is a very slim chance I would ever reach out to a stranger. Others have benefited greatly from these resources which is why it is important to share, but we can do more. I have realized lately that I need to do more as an advocate. I need to make my story more available to others in hopes that it can reflect the fact that recovery is not only attainable, but sustainable. I need to work every day to keep it that way, which is why I need to be one of the people to stop and say here are my tools. Here is how I get through a tough situation or day. I believe honesty and transparency will create a community that allows for people to ask how they can get to a better place too. I know it is hard to ask for help when you are struggling. So I urge others to reach out to people to bridge that gap. Ask two or three people in your life today what they are grateful for. What their passions are. Go beyond the how are you bs and have real conversations. Talk about life and love and dreams and show people you care about them as a person, not just as a formality. There is a lot on my heart but for now I will leave you with a quote from Anthony Bourdain – “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simple across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

50 Quick Facts About Me

I thought it might be helpful and fun to do some questions about me since I haven’t been around much recently and would like to re-introduce myself to new and old followers!

1. Full name

My full name is Alexandra, but I have always preferred Alex.

2. Zodiac sign

My zodiac sign is Libra and although I can be a skeptic, a few traits of a Libra do seem quite fitting- cooperative, diplomatic, indecisive, avoids confrontations, likes harmony and the outdoors.

3. 3 fears

Lack of control (this manifests the most when flying), my dogs somehow getting loose and running off, running out of gas/flat tire/car problems in the middle of a freeway.

4. 3 things I love

My fur-children, beaches, football

5. My best friend

My best friend is truly my person and I wish we lived closer! But we do stay in contact daily.

6. Last song I listened to

Tiny Dancer – Elton John. I am determined to get tickets to his Farewell tour.

7. 3 Turn ons

Confidence, loyalty, the ability to make me laugh

8. 3 Turn offs

Selfishness, impatience, ignorance

9. What color socks I’m wearing right now

Fuzzy orange and blue – fun fact the question was originally color of underwear but really I love socks way more!

10. How many tattoos/piercings do I have

I have 4 tattoos so far. I have 4 piercings in my ear although I really want more! Unfortunately my body easily builds up scar tissue and I get keloids. I had a helix piercing that developed a keloid scar formation which I had to have surgically removed. At the time my mother wouldn’t let me get any more piercings and although I would like to try another one I don’t exactly want to pay for any medical consequences!

11. The reason I started blogging

I started blogging as a personal resource for writing. I started this blog while I was recovering from an eating disorder and although I haven’t been as active recently I would like to continue to use this platform for personal writing and mental health advocacy.

12. How I feel right now

Right now I feel a bit lazy but I am enjoying every minute of it! It is a Saturday after a long work week and I am lounging in my sweats, sipping coffee, writing and thoroughly enjoying my afternoon.

13. Something I really really want

I really really want a king size bed. I like to spread out and having two large shepherd dogs hinders that ability currently!

14. My current relationship status

I have been in a steady relationship for 10 years and it keeps getting better and better every day 🙂

15. Meaning behind my URL

A large component to my recovery and my life is to practice mindfulness. It grounds and calms me. My favorite animal and nick name is Penguin so my URL describes how I want to live life. By being a mindful penguin!

16. My favorite movie

I watch a lot more TV shows, but I would have to say one of my favorite movies is Interstellar. I like movies that make my brain hurt and make me contemplate life on a grander scale.

17. My favorite song

Music means the world to me. I will never be able to have a favorite song, but lately my favorites have been “Dark Side of Me” By Coheed and Cambria, “I Hold On” by Dierks Bentley, “Car Radio” by Twenty-One Pilots, “Lydia” by Highly Suspect, “Broken” by Falling in Reverse, “Oceandust” by Hands Like Houses, and “Euphoria” by Polyphia.

18. My favorite band

Again I refuse to have a single favorite. Besides the bands above I am a big fan of Evanescence, Panic at the Disco, Blue October, Paramore, Breaking Benjamin, Scary Kids Scaring Kids, Chiodos, Disturbed, Stone Sour, Halestorm, Our Last Night, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Three Days Grace, Skillet…..okay I will stop now, but seriously music is life.

19. 3 Things that upset me

Any form of animal abuse, people that are ignorant of science, not getting enough sleep (and then everything seems to upset me)

20. 3 Things that make me happy

A good book, nature, my dogs

21. What I find attractive in other people

Confidence

22. Someone I miss

My person and my momma. Both live in different states.

23. Someone I love

The man sitting next to me studying.

24. My relationship with my parents

I have a very strong relationship with both my parents.

25. My favorite holiday

My favorite holiday ironically is Thanksgiving. I say ironically because a few years ago it was my worst nightmare. Recovery is worth it every day! I love being around family and preparing some of my favorite foods during this time of year.

26. My closest blogging friend

My sister! Check out her new blog – simplegirlcollegeworld.wordpress.com

27. Someone famous I’d date

Ian Somerhalder, Matt Damon, or Chris Pratt

28. A confession

I hate milk. I can’t even have it touch my cereal. I can only drink it if I put chocolate protein powder in it or it is in something like my coffee or smoothies. And no other types of milk – coconut/almond etc – don’t cut it either.

29. 3 Things that annoy me easily

Loud noises when I am trying to sleep, no coffee creamer in the fridge, cold water

30. My favorite animal

Penguin!

31. My pets

Currently in my household there are two german-shepherd/husky mixes, one orange tabby cat, a ball python, a very angry bearded dragon, and many African Cichlid fish. My mom also has a ranch and I consider all my horses (20+) my pets too, especially my appy.

32. One thing I’ve lied about

Honesty is very important to me. In the depths of my eating disorder I could be a very deceptive person.

33. Something that’s currently worrying me

A work issue

34. An embarrassing moment

During college after one of my foot surgeries I was on crutches and my friend dropped off coffee for me during class. It was early on in the semester and I didn’t really know my classmates well and I ended up spilling the entire thing in the middle of the floor and some on the person in front of me. But since I could’t walk, I had to have people help me to clean it up and there were no paper towels to be found in the bathroom at the time. It took this poor girl 5-10 minutes to find a janitor – all while the professor never skipped a beat and kept lecturing. I am pretty sure I always had a thermos with a tight lid from that point on.

35. Where I work

I work as a research coordinator in orthopedics.

36. Something that’s constantly on my mind

Generally work projects are constantly on my mind, but I try to slow down to be mindful and clear my thoughts in those moments when I start to feel overwhelmed.

37. 3 Habits I have

Morning coffee, making to-do lists, watching you-tube while getting ready in the mornings.

38. My future goals

To own my own house and advance in my career.

39. Something I fantasize about

I fantasize a lot about traveling. Right now I fantasize about places like Norway, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Japan….I could go on and on.

40. My favorite store

My favorite store is probably Whole Foods haha. I spend a lot more money on food than other things!

41. My favorite food

Avocados, peanut butter, green chili, pasta…I like most foods. My favorite meal though is probably Chicken Malai Tikka from a local Indian Restaurant.

42. What I did yesterday

I worked most of the day and then spent a nice evening in cooking minestrone soup and grilled cheese. I watched some episodes of the Cosmos and spent quality time with my family.

43. Something I’m talented at

I am a competitive jump roper and have competed at the World level.

44. My idea of the perfect date

Take out food, a good tv show, my dogs snuggled with all of us on the same couch.

45. My celebrity crush

Besides the past question with the famous people I would date….I have a huge celebrity crush on Demi Lovato.

46. My favorite blog

I don’t have a favorite blog because everyone has a very unique individual platform and I love reading different life perspectives.

47. Number of kids I want

Can I answer with the number of dogs I want?! Being serious, I know I don’t want more than three kids.

48. Do I smoke/drink

I love tequila. I do enjoy drinks but I hate being drunk. I don’t smoke.

49. One word that describes me

Perseverance

50. My favorite quote

“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.”

– Eckhart Tolle

Well I hope these small little facts helped you learn a little more about who sits behind this keyboard! Feel free to ask anything else that comes to your mind or I would love to read other people’s answers to these in their own blogs!

Gratitude

It has been awhile since I have posted anything. Work has been incredibly busy. Life incredibly busy. So I thought I would take a minute to slow down and write a gratitude post. Five things I am grateful for in this moment:

A new hard drive in my personal computer which is allowing me to get back to the swing of more personal writing. Much love to my man for working on this for me!

A beautiful fall day with endless colors, making way for the first snowfall of the season tonight.

My person who took time out of her busy schedule to fly home to surprise me and share margaritas with me for my birthday.

A job I love and learn from daily. Every time I get to be in the OR observing clinical trial surgeries I feel like a little kid with so much excitement bursting forth.

Vanilla bean lattes. I can’t pass up coffee and I had one of the best lattes ever last weekend in Nashville. I am already planning to go back!

This time of year is difficult and after finding myself stressing and full of anxiety, just pausing for these few minutes to think about things I am grateful for has allowed my mind to slow. Now I can breathe and relax before starting another week. I hope if you are reading this you will take some time to clear your mind and think about five things you are grateful for too.

Quick PSA

I apologize for not posting more frequently about the mindfulness series I started to discuss.  I have had to take a step back due to a couple of injuries and the start of my second year in grad school.  I haven’t felt very motivated to write and I realize that it is perfectly okay to take time for myself.  Although I want to keep up with writing, I am not going to set deadlines or expectations for the blog.  Thanks for your understanding and patience!

Mindfulness Based Exercise: Don’t Let Numbers Rule Your Workout

No matter what sport or activity you are involved in, it seems that all goals are centered around numbers.  Score, weight, miles, time, etc.  My workouts and training are no different.  In competitive jump rope most events are timed and the goal is to get as many speed steps or double unders in that set time frame.  All I do in my head during an event and practice is count.  Other people may count the miles they run or the number of goals in a practice (or baskets or yards or touchdowns)…you get the point.  Statistics and numebrs are inescapable for athletes.  This mindset has bled over into recreation as well.  Miles on a treadmill, calories during a workout, laps in a pool.  I remember my dazed and confused face when my psychologist asked me about how my exercise lined up with my values.  Values?  Besides being competitive and winning I was at a total loss.  What did exercise mean to me without assigning quantitative values to it?  I really thought it meant nothing.  I mean without winning what was the point?  And then on the off season when I was more entrenched in eating disorder behaviors, I also though the whole goal was the most calories burned, or miles ran, or minutes total.  That one question threw me for a whole loop.  I wasn’t let off easy either.  This was one of those questions my psychologist let sit with me.  And sit and sit.  Can you answer this question off the top of your head?  If not, I challenge you to sit with it for a while too.  Because I want you to think about this on your own and have your own answers I am only going to give you one example from my own experience.  One of my values in life is compassion.  One of the reasons I exercise is because I am compassionate towards myself and want to take care of this body I have been given.  I have compassion towards others and looking forward to my future I realize that exercise lines up with this value because I want to take care of myself so that I can have children one day and that I can live a long healthy life for my family.  This made me think a lot about how some of the exercise I was engaging in was not at all lined up with this value.  Running your body into the ground and punishing it for the things it didn’t do that day is not compassion.  This whole question started resonating with me as I sorted out my values and realized there is a definite line between positive exercise and detrimental exercise.

To really get in touch with myself and my values, I had to explore exercise without the numbers.  Explore what exercise really meant to my wellbeing.  What does running actually feel like if I am not running towards a particular set mileage?  What does it feel like to just lift weights without thinking about adding more or reaching a particular set for that day?  What does it feel like to jump an event without counting or even knowing the end outcome?  This took a lot of patience and effort on my part.  It felt extremely out of place and uncomfortable for a while.  In training it isn’t always practical to do this in a workout, but I would recommend trying this on your own.  Go outside for a run without a tracker and try a new route where you don’t automatically know the mileage.  How did it make you feel?  What were you thinking about?  Even just for a day, try to exercise without a goal centered around numbers.  It is like intuitive eating is a way.  Exercise because you genuinely want to and stop when you know your body needs a rest.  This was the best way to get back in touch with my body.  I couldn’t believe how out of touch I was until I started exercising to just exercise.  Of course during training, it becomes about numbers again, but because of this practice I can always go back to my roots of why I do this.  I make sure and take days where the numbers don’t run everything.  You may be reading this and thinking to yourself I bet that works for some people but I could never do that.  I thought the same thing.  I have been involved with the crossfit community for a few years now and if I can foster this mindset in an environment that is all about the numbers, I have faith others can too.  I was deeply entrenched in eating disorder behaviors and I have been free from exercise dependence now for over a year.  I challenge you to take one day of your workout routine this week and let your focus be on how you are actually feeling.  As exercise begins to shift in your life and it is lining up with your values, you can then start to use numbers as a positive experience and not feel controlled by them.  If you have more specific questions about this or my particular experience and workouts, please feel free to leave a comment and also please let me know how this exercise without numbers goes for you!

 

Mindfulness Based Exercise

I just returned from competing in my 12th national championships for USA jump rope.  I have spent many hours in the gym focused towards this specific competition, but now coming home I wanted to start a blog series on mindfulness based exercise.  The majority of people aren’t training for a specific competitive event and I wanted to share some of my experiences when I am in an off season.  Even if you are a competitive athlete in the midst of training, I hope that you find this mini-series helpful to get grounded in your mind and body.  A lot of the times those who are obsessed with exercise, as well as serious competitive athletes, get lost in the motion of training and repetition.  The joy is often lost and people can have resentment towards their sport or desired exercise platform.  I didn’t truly recover from the eating disorder until I addressed my exercise dependence and reconnected my mind and body.  I hope I can at least get you thinking about your relationship with exercise and share with you some thoughts and tools that have helped me recover and continue to help me in everyday life.  Be on the lookout for a new post each week on the following topics:

~Being mindful of numbers and even learning to let go of them completely.  This applies to miles, minutes, weights, calories burned, etc

~Checking in with what your body is REALLY feeling before, during, and after exercise

~ Mobility, flexibility, and breathing

~Group or Team sports and exercise

~Exploring new exercise opportunities without judgement

~REST

~Goal setting

~Mindfulness around physical transformation

~I will also spend a post talking specifically to those training for an event or competition and how they can apply mindfulness tools even during a time when repetition and many hours of training are required for a successful performance

I hope you will join me over the next few weeks and are able to put what you read into practice.  My hope is that you will connect to exercise in a different way than you have before.  It will be good for me to reconnect after a competition and continue to have a healthy relationship with exercise.

hiking

Mindfulness during Exercise

I have made it a priority to practice mindfulness in my recovery, especially in the area of exercise. I grew up a competitive athlete and my career has always revolved around numbers. Score in gymnastics, time in swimming, score in jump rope, etc. Any athlete strives to make a certain time, hit a certain number. It is an imperative part of winning. But what happens when those numbers start to control you instead of you controlling them? My self-worth became completely dependent on these numbers. Eventually these numbers that had been associated with training and competition were not enough. I found myself chained to a treadmill running x amount of miles or to burn x amount of calories. It no longer became about winning or having fun, just an all-consuming obsession. I convinced myself I was doing it for training. Doing it to win. Part of the lies of an eating disorder. I wrote in a previous post about how completely abstaining from exercise helped begin to change my mindset. I was forced to stop all exercise due to a spinal fusion surgery. This was a blessing in disguise and I really don’t know where I would be today if I wasn’t forced to stop. Prior to the surgery, although in pain, I pushed and pushed myself to exhaustion. I spent an entire World Championship in pain and had the worst experience of my career. I needed a change and after surgery is when I decided to re-enter treatment for the eating disorder. I knew if I rushed back into exercise I could permanently damage my spine so I gave up all control to my treatment team and started from scratch. As I began to heal and slowly started more activity, I went to a specific group for athletes with eating disorders. I really suggest finding a group like this for anyone who has a disordered relationship with exercise. I highly suggest if you are an athlete or struggle specifically with exercise dependence to seek out an eating disorder therapist who specializes in sport psychology. I was very hesitant with the group at first because I wasn’t sure how being in a room full of competitive athletes –who thrive on competition- could be a healthy environment. It turned out to be extremely healing. One of the first things that was discussed and practiced was mindfulness. And for mindfulness to occur, the numbers had to go. Running with no set pace or time or mileage. Jumping without keeping score and counting. With practice, it became more intuitive to just be. It was very therapeutic to focus on how my body felt, how my muscles moved, how my breath felt. I also branched out and tried other forms of exercise like yoga and more resistance training. I became very appreciative of my body and my strength rather than loathing workouts and forcing my broken self through repetition. Even if you are in the depths of exercise obsession, I challenge you to try a workout using mindfulness. Cover the numbers on a treadmill, run outside on new trail, whatever you need to do to separate the activity from numbers and to really focus on yourself. It has been a slow transformation, over two years, but I have been able to return to training for competition. I have regained control of the numbers which now hold a very different meaning for me. They represent my strength and leave me excited for the next challenge. There are times I still catch myself falling back into old patterns. When this happens I immediately go back to a few days of a new activity or more active recovery. It is a balancing act just like every other aspect of recovery. Through this group I was also able to gain a sense of peace with my competitive nature. I am able to appreciate other athletes for their strengths instead of constantly comparing myself to them. I have found an identity outside of my sport and love trying new forms of exercise. Gyms can breed negative competitive environments, but find people or a gym that fits your personality. I have found overwhelming support in mine and I promise you that you can restore your relationship with exercise as long as you don’t try to do it alone.