Saturday, 6 September 2014

Tall, dark, and handy

I got back from a trip a few weeks ago and stood outside the airport, waiting for my favorite cabbie to pick me up. He pulled up a few minutes later. In my car.

I got in, slightly puzzled, slightly amused.

‘Sorry,’ he said, laughing at my expression. ‘My car developed a problem at the last minute, so I decided not to risk using it to pick you up.’


I sat in the passenger’s seat in the front. It felt really odd because whenever I’m in my car, I’m in the driver’s seat. So this is what it feels like to sit on this side of my car, I thought to myself. It felt uncomfortable and horrible. To me, anyway. I suddenly began noticing all my car’s faults. They just seemed more visible sitting on the other side.

‘This car is really beginning to irritate me,’ I said out loud.

Poor thing. It turns 16 this year (like my son), and I bought it ‘gently-used’ a decade ago. How can it be 10 years ago, though? Where has the time gone?

It never lets me down. Then again, I hardly ever drive. I hate driving. I tell myself that my cab rides are my one luxury. (And my gym membership. Oh, yeah.). I hardly ever need to get it fixed. It’s solid. But old. And this year, it’s begun to look really old on the inside. It hardly cost anything and has more than served out its time, given what I paid for it. I thank God for it. Some of my friends have lovingly yabbed me over the years about my holding on to it, and I’ve always laughed it off, saying it was serving me well. But the wear and tear of age has taken its toll. One of my friends refers to it as ‘Grandma.’

I heaved a world-weary sigh.

I need a husband.

I sat with this thought for a while on my way home, suddenly intrigued by it.

Now, that’s an interesting thought. I don’t see the correlation, though. I think what you actually need right now is a new car.

Yeah, but if I had a husband, I wouldn’t need to bother having to think about one more thing. I don’t have any more room in my mind for anything new. He could just handle it and I could focus on a million other things.

My mind went back to how my car became my car in the first place. Back when we were married, my ex-husband made importing the car his personal project (much to my relief). He spent weeks doing his research and finally settled on a BMW. With all the car-jackings in this capital city, he figured I would need a reliable car that no one would want to steal. He was hardly ever around and wanted to be sure we’d be safe. ‘No one would want to steal a BMW in Nairobi,’ he explained. Apparently, car-jackers are only interested in Toyotas and Hondas (or at least they were in 2004). That sounded great to me. I think my involvement in this process (apart from footing the bill) boiled down to approving the color, and I was quite satisfied with that tiny role. How the car got from Japan to Kenya is beyond me, although I have all the paperwork in my possession.

Okay, so do you need a husband, or do you need a car broker?

Well, what’s wrong with having both?

Nothing! I’m just asking you what you ‘need’ right now.

Oh. … Well, in that case, the truth is, I know what to do in order to import a car. I may not know all the little details, but I know lots of people that would be happy to give me pointers and help me find a good deal. I guess I was just fatigued because I just got off a plane and so I started making mountains out of molehills.

Okay, good. So, back to the husband thing. If you ‘need’ a husband, then why have you been dodging your friends who’ve been trying to hook you up with eligible, ‘forty-something’ bachelors?

‘Dodging’ is a strong word. I haven’t exactly been dodging. I’m just being cautious and trying to make up my mind about what I want and what’s best before taking on any new responsibilities. A relationship is a huge responsibility.

Okay, so stop deceiving yourself, then. You need a new car and you’re not a two-year old. You know how to get one. No one ever said a husband was a pre-requisite. So, do what you need to do.

You’re SO annoying. Hush!

That settles it. Next year, God willing, I’m upgrading my car.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Don’t steal from yourself (Lesson #10)

Yeah. Like my desire for improvement in terms of ACTUAL WEIGHT LOSS!!!

I may be wrong, but I suspect you have to be on a weight loss journey yourself to really grasp how easy it is to lose sight of your small victories when the scale refuses to budge. I mean, I’ve been investing time and energy into something that doesn’t exactly come naturally to me. It’s been six months now. About an hour a day, three days a week without fail – except for a day here or there when I have to travel. I have gone from getting practically no (really vigorous) exercise at all to structured, planned workouts with a trainer. Why I’m not skinny by now is beyond me (lol).

Yeah-yeah-yeah. I know, I know, I know:

You spent more than 6 months putting it on, so don’t expect it to come that fast.

It’s all about calories in versus calories out.

Weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise.

You can’t outrun (or, in my case, outjog) your mouth.

This is a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. Give it at least a year or two.

Just keep doing things the healthy way. It may take longer, but it’ll stay off longer, too.

Yada-yada-yada. Whatever. I get it.

I know exactly how I put on the weight, and how long it took to do so. I was there.

But when the scale doesn’t budge (or when things don’t ‘change’ in general) when you’re at least trying, there’s a strong temptation to begin to question the utility of regular, vigorous ANYTHING.

How much better off am I now than before? I’m sure my routine is doing all sorts of wonderful stuff that I can’t ‘see.’ Wonderful stuff for my heart, etc., etc. And, to be honest, I got a gym membership primarily for those kinds of reasons. I needed to do something very deliberate in order to cope with the stress levels that are just part of the life of a busy, harassed, single parent, ‘reluctant’ career woman with a relatively active church life. I have no regrets about joining a gym; it was a great decision. But vanity is taking over and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. It’d be nice to actually LOSE some weight, tool! How am I not losing weight? How is that even possible?’

You’re gaining muscle. This is a good thing. Muscle weighs more than fat, though, so it may take a while before the changes reflect on the scale.

You’re losing fat. A pound of muscle looks better than a pound of fat.

You’ll gain before you lose.

Blah-blah-blah. Yada-yadi-yada.

When did these theories emerge? And are they only for women in their 40s??? There was a time when if I wanted to lose weight, all I had to do was want to, and I’d lose it. What did a pound of this and that have to do with it back then?

Well, you were probably just one of those ‘skinny fat’ people who aren’t actually healthy.

(Well, ‘skinny fat’ people sure do look good.)

The danger with having these arguments with myself is that they are compelling enough to potentially make me fall off the bandwagon.  But I have a number of small victories to take pride in, and I’m not going to let my thoughts steal those away.

My sisters, trainer, friends, enemies, and acquaintances alike have all tried to break down the ‘muscle vs. fat’ thing for me like I’m a two year-old. They’ve tried many times. My brain has simply been unable to fully grasp the concept. Just when I think I’ve got it, I’ve lost it. However, I’m not so dumb that I don’t sort of think they have a point.

My clothes all fit better. Much better. As a matter of fact, I’m now able to wear some things that I’d long abandoned or forgotten about. I bought a black skirt and a couple of blouses 3 years ago – all really cute and really tight at the same time. I didn’t realize until after the fact that they’d all been cut rather small. I never wore them until this year. On a whim, I tried them on just a few weeks ago and they all fit! The skirt is actually so loose that it rotates around my waist during the day without my realizing it. How I am able to slip on that skirt is still the 9th wonder of the world to me. How could this possibly happen without MAJOR weight loss? I really don’t get it.

I always thought this particular skirt was too short. Now that I can get into it, I’m shocked to find that it’s actually a midi-skirt and really comfortable, too.

Sometimes these days, when I walk past a mirror, I stop and came back to the mirror in surprise: Does my face look thinner, or is it just my imagination? Nah … I must be imagining things …

But a few people (and I really mean just a few) feel like something’s different, too. A couple have actually gone so far as to say the magic words: ‘You look smaller.’ These have been people from out of town who rarely see me, so I have to believe them.

The most convincing incident for me to date, though (besides the black skirt) has been the few pictures I’ve taken of myself with my terribly outdated cell phone which everyone (including my kids) has begged me to get rid of. My sisters were so impressed that I actually took some pictures. One of them emailed, saying, ‘Ah-ah – even bathroom selfies? Well done!’ Anyway, my point was that the same week I shared these pictures with them, my workplace did some sort of publicity event and one of their related publications had my picture on it. They hadn’t asked me for a picture to use (which is great, since I wouldn’t have had any to give!), but they just used one taken at the office last year. My other sister emailed me about it, saying: ‘You look like a linebacker’ – hahahahaha! (She’s so mean, but she wasn’t lying.)

They all remarked, though, that I’d clearly lost weight, comparing my ‘pro footballer’ photo to my ‘bathroom selfies.’ Even I had to admit that there’s a big (no pun intended) difference.


Not according to the scale, anyway. Not really.

Does it matter, though? I’m sure I will lose weight. Eventually. (Whenever that is).

What matters more, though – my hang-up, or the fact that there is a change, that there is progress?

Is there any reason why ‘progress’ can’t be re-defined? I’ve learned to be open-minded about progress in other areas of my life and have found it so liberating and productive: with projects at work, with my children, certainly with my divorce. Why not just grant myself this same privilege? Why rob myself of the privileges I have freely given other people and other things? The privileges of flexibility, patience, and of just trying to see the best … or of trying to see the ‘bigger’ picture.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Don’t postpone happiness (Lesson #9)

Be happy now. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect before I can release myself to just be happy. After all … what if this is all there is? What if today, or this year, is all I’ve got? Why not be happy with what I’ve got, while I work towards whatever else I might want? And as I work towards that, why not just be happy while going through the process?

We all know of far too many people whose lives were cut short when they and those around them least expected it. I have friends and acquaintances who succumbed to cancer, or to injuries from road accidents, for instance. A University classmate of mine was killed during one of the bombings in Abuja a few years ago. His office building happened to be a target and he didn’t make it out alive. Another classmate of mine (primary and secondary school) recently lost her husband. He was so young and now she’s a widow with five kids.

When I think of all these things, it just seems like sheer folly not to appreciate the time that I have, and not to at least try to happily use it to the fullest – even when the going gets tough.

I’m going to try hard not to put happiness off until I’ve crossed the finish line. Where is the finish line, anyway? In my experience, it’s a moving target. If that is indeed the case, it means I’ll never experience true happiness on this earth if I wait to get to a particular place first.

We’re admonished to ‘count it all joy’ when things get rough. Because of some of the rough times I’ve been through, and the fact that I made it through them, my heart no longer sinks when I read that Bible verse. I really get it now. I had some really rough times in 2012 and 2013. But because of those times, I’m much stronger in faith in 2014 than I was back then. I’ve been tested and tried and knocked down, and as a result of those experiences, I’ve also had the opportunity to experience great mercy. I know what God is capable of! My 2012 and 2013 experiences enriched my knowledge in this area. I’ve observed that I worry less in 2014 than I did before. I pray with more certainty, too. Never could’ve happened without those tough times to help me flex my muscles.

‘Things aren’t as bad as they seem.’

My son sent me a text with those exact words early this year. He was feeling down about a bad grade he got on a test, so he went into the bathroom at school to be alone and get over it and sent me the text from there. I sent what I hope was an encouraging reply, but didn’t hear back from him right away. I said something to the effect of, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s one test and there’ll be others. You still have some time to make up your grade.’ A couple of hours later, a philosophical text message from him came in: Things aren’t as bad as they seem.  

Indeed, they are not. Here’s an example of why I know this for sure: I have never been one to take a lot of pictures because I’ve always considered myself unphotogenic. I’m just one of those people who look much better in person than in pictures. What this means is that there are whole periods of my life that have gone undocumented, photo-wise. Here’s why this is a shame: Today, when I look back at the old pictures I do have, I realize that in previous years, I had a distorted view of what I really looked like. I look at some of those pictures now and see myself as I really was back then. I look at them today and think to myself: Wow, I was pretty and I didn’t even know it.

On my fortieth birthday, the youth group in my church put together a cute, touching video chronicling my short life. They got my old pictures behind my back and showcased some of them in the video. A couple of the pictures were taken when I was around the same age as my daughter. When those showed up on the screen, my birthday party guests let out a collective gasp. ‘Who is that?!’ they all wanted to know. ‘Is that your daughter?’ They argued amongst themselves that it couldn’t possibly be me, because it looked just like my daughter.

‘That’s me,’ I replied slowly, with the same wonderment, suddenly struck by how my daughter looks almost exactly like me at that age. I always knew she looked a lot like my family, but this was really striking, seeing my picture up on a screen. I’m like every other mom in the world who thinks her children are just beautiful (There’s nothing you can tell me O!).

Why I couldn’t see that same beauty in me over the years is beyond me.

Going off on a bit of a tangent here, but why can’t I just be who or what I want to be today, knowing that who or what I am is enough? When people tell you how wonderful you are today, believe them. Today. And be happy. Today.

Back to the main point: I’ve worked relatively hard over the last 5 months or so, considering that I’ve never been into vigorous exercise in my adult life. I thought by now I’d see a major difference with all the effort I’ve put in so far. For whatever reason, I don’t see it. Okay, I do see it, but only ever so slightly. A few other people see it, too. I’m not going to let the fact that I don’t yet see exactly what I expected to see affect my joy, though, or my resolve. I haven’t been too good at ‘seeing things’ in my life until long after the fact, anyway, so why not just be happy now? And then in my 50s, look back at my pictures in my 40s and say, ‘I sure was happy!’ And: ‘I sure was nice and fit! Those work-outs really paid off!’

Today is much better than we think with our limited vision. Things are much better than they seem.

My brothers and sisters, be very happy when you are tested in different ways. You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance. Endure until your testing is over. Then you will be mature and complete, and you won’t need anything (James 1:2-4, GW).

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing (James 1:2-4, NLT).

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

When you want to quit, don’t (Lesson #8)

‘The miracle of continuing.’

This is the phrase that came to me this morning as I thought about Lesson #8. I looked up the word ‘continue,’ which means to ‘persist in an activity or process’ or to ‘recommence or resume after an interruption.’

Essentially, the pace doesn’t matter, as long as the persistence doesn’t wane. And even if it does wane, as long as there is life, there’s always a chance to start off from where you stopped. There is something to be said for just hanging in there.

I can’t help but notice how amazed people are when they see my children after a long time.  One such woman (a married lady) remarked about this publicly at a get-together we both attended; then she pulled me to the side and whispered (almost conspiratorially): Well done!

Her hushed, conspiratorial tone made me laugh, and I understood those two, simple words perfectly: Well done with managing to do this on your own, she meant. ‘They’ thought you would roll over and die, but you’ve ‘shown’ them.

I get this a lot. What people don’t realize, though, is that I have no idea what I’m doing. Like any other parent (whether coupled or single), I have no explicit manual to help me figure out how to raise each of my very different children. This has far less to do with me than people realize. Over the years, I have just done what I could each day, keenly aware of my deficiencies and imperfections. And then one day, I woke up and I had a teenager as tall as me and a seven-year old who looks at least 10. How did they grow up this fast? Certainly not through any miracle that I’ve performed.

With my children, there has never been any question that I would make it to the end with them, no matter what. Even when I can’t see the path that lies ahead of us clearly. When it comes to them, I have what I would describe as a supernatural resolve and determination. Whatever it is, we’ll work it out, we’ll find a way. I will leave no stone unturned to find a solution. And God has truly been faithful.

I’ve wanted to quit many times when it comes to other things, though. Many times, I’ve wanted to take what seemed like an ‘easier’ route on the surface. But I look back and see that I’ve made it through these challenges, not necessarily by doing anything brave or dramatic, but simply by keeping at it – by just getting through my day. Seven days make a week. Do that 52 times, and the year is gone. To others, it may look like much more than that is involved – and sometimes, this is absolutely the case – but overall, it’s about sticking with it and refusing to give in to anything but what God Himself has for you.

There is a miracle in just continuing. Go, go, go – keep going! You’ll get there. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Sometimes things don’t go as planned (Lesson #7)

This is not the life I planned for myself. Ultimately, it’s a good life (thanks be to God), but in regard to marriage, let’s just say that things did not go according to plan.

Behind these two simple sentences lies a colossal and complex network of emotions that I would rather not have had to deal with. I still have to deal with it on occasion, even though I wish I didn’t have to.

I don’t have my white picket fence. Now, given that I dreamt of having this ‘fence’ my whole life, practically, it’s a really hard dream to reconstruct. I could go on and on about the fact that even when I thought I had my nice white picket fence, I actually didn’t (as I know now). But my aim today isn’t to pit my former married life against my current divorced life to try and figure out which was/is more virtuous.

My aim is to simply say that things just don’t go as planned sometimes. For whatever reason.  The bottom line is that, at some point, one needs to move on. This is impossible to do, though, without first accepting the fact that life just happens sometimes. Happens to the best of us.

This post isn’t about what ‘accepting’ it means, either, because acceptance will play out differently for each person. For some, it might mean the end of a marriage; for others, it might mean a new beginning within a troubled marriage. And for some, it might mean something else.

The point is to get moving. Fight your darndest not to get stuck in a rut of bitterness and inertia. Move on.

It’s the difference between being a running brook and a stagnant pool. After this occurred to me, I did a minute of quick and dirty research on the difference between these two kinds of water bodies. Stagnant water provides a better incubator for bacteria and parasites (contaminated as it usually is with feces and other stuff – ewww …). In running water, fish can simply wait for their food to be delivered (through the movement of the water), while in stagnant water, the fish need to go in search for their food. Moving water absorbs more oxygen than stagnant water, and attracts fewer insects.

I’ll take the running brook any day.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

When you feel like you can’t go on, you can (Lesson #6)

Yes, you can. You’re almost there. You can do it. It’s ALL IN YOUR MIND: Your legs aren’t hurting anymore and you’re breathing comfortably. So, what’s your excuse, really? Why not just go on until the end? It doesn’t even hurt anymore; it’s just a little inconvenient, that’s all. You’ll feel so good at the end.

This is how I had to psyche myself this morning as I jogged for 30-minutes non-stop for the second time in my life. This is how I’ve had to psyche myself in the past when I was only jogging for 15 or 20 minutes. I seem to have to do this every time I get on the treadmill, frankly.

I can do so much more than I think I can. A part of me knows that for sure. Still, another part of me isn’t so confident about this all the time. But since I want to be able to jog regularly for a certain amount of time, I try to just keep going, even when my mind tells me I can’t.

It’s really remarkable, this battle between the mind and everything else. I tell myself that I just need to train/re-train my mind. Thinking I can’t jog for up to 30 minutes is simply not rational, given that I’ve done it before. Plus, I’ve been jogging for up to 20 minutes non-stop for what seems like forever now, so adding on an extra 10 minutes really isn’t that bad. The idea that I can’t do it again this week is a complete illusion. Of course, I can! But the mind plays tricks on one if one lets it.

At church, we once had a pastor talk about ‘The Battle of the Middle’ (I think that was the title of the sermon). One of the things she said that stayed with me was that we’re often tempted to go back to where we came from once we’ve reached the middle of our journey. We feel like we can’t possibly cover any more ground. What we tend to forget, though, is that it takes the same amount of energy, will-power, resources, etc., to go all the way back as it does to go forward and get to the end! I’ve never forgotten that. Why not just move ahead, then?

One of the things that help me when I want to give up (in jogging and in life) is prayer. This morning, for instance, I prayed for the first 15 minutes of the jog. For some reason, it really seems to make the time go by so much faster. I have a half a million different prayer points, and so I find that praying is an easy way to plough through 15-20 minutes. The concentration it requires helps keep my eyes off of how much further I have to go.

In my life in general, I have a lot of good days as well as my share of ‘bad’ days when I feel like hibernating for a season and not having to face the world – times when I feel like I’m fighting The Battle of the Middle. Because I have a pretty even-keeled personality, I always have this need to figure out what triggered my mood change when this does happen. More often than not, it’s nothing more than the fact that it’s that time of the month when I get cranky, start to feel all hormonal, and molehills start to seem like mountains. Sometimes, though, I’m simply having a less-than-stellar day due to something that occurred recently. Stuff happens. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to get out of bed. But once I do and my activity-filled day begins, that desire completely dissipates. Sometimes, the enormity of the responsibilities I carry weighs on me. I get home after a hard day’s work and feel like I don’t have anything else to give. I am totally spent and I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it all up. But a good night’s sleep works absolute miracles (at least for me). My experience has been that no matter what happened the day before, everything seems better in the morning.

I suppose in some ways, I’m ‘in the middle’ when it comes to my divorce. While there’s no temptation to head back to where I came from, there is a temptation sometimes to just hang around in one spot and be passive about moving even further ahead. But deep down inside, I know there’s no way I can give up. What for? Everything looks better in the morning.

Yes, you can! You can do it. You’re doing it. You’ve done it forever and you’ve always done it well. It’s ALL IN YOUR MIND: You have years of experience doing this. The only difference is that you’re not married anymore. So why not just go on until the end? It hardly even hurts that much anymore; it’s just inconvenient sometimes, that’s all. You’ll feel so good at the end …

p.s. – Forgot to mention that I skipped Lesson #5 as I had nothing to say.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Get out of your comfort zone (Lesson #4)

I was so sure I already knew what a comfort zone was. Actually reading a detailed definition of the term, though, proved to be really informative (if slightly alarming). I looked up several definitions of ‘comfort zone,’ but the Wikipedia version really laid it all out: 

The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk. A person’s personality can be described by his or her comfort zones. A comfort zone is a type of mental conditioning that causes a person to create and operate mental boundaries. Such boundaries create an unfounded sense of security. Like inertia, a person who has established a comfort zone in a particular axis of his or life, will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it. To step outside their comfort zone, a person must experiment with new and different behaviors, and then experience the new and different responses that occur within their environment.

I’ve always thought of my comfort zone(s) almost as a sort of friend. I’ve talked and thought almost fondly of my comfort zones because … well, because they’re so comfortable. I love comfort. And that’s what comfort zones represent for me, at least on the surface. The above definition is making me dig beneath the surface a little bit, though, and really think about the ways in which comfort zones lie (or let me lie to myself).

If my comfort zone prevents me from getting to where I want to go, achieving what I want to achieve, then how ‘comfortable’ is it, ultimately? The slightly alarming part for me is the fact that a comfort zone is actually ‘a type of mental conditioning’ that does little more than help me set up boundaries beyond which I cannot cross. So while on the surface, these zones may seem comfortable, after a while, they can become stifling. There’s also the false sense of security that these so-called comfort zones bring about. I ask myself: if the security brought about by my comfort zone is unfounded in the first place, then why would I want to cling to and invest in this zone? If I’m not necessarily secure within in and not necessarily secure outside it, then why act like remaining in this zone puts me in a better place?

I only recently hit the 30-minute mark with my jogging, but I knew I could’ve accomplished this about two months ago. I was enjoying my comfort zone a bit too much, though, and I have to admit that this has caused a delay in the achievement of some of my overall fitness goals. I can live with that delay, but I know within myself that I could have been further along by now. I’ve been toying with the idea of breaking out of my jogging comfort zone a few weeks now: during the last two minutes of my jogs, I turn up the speed from 6.5 kmph to 7 kmph – just to demonstrate to myself that I can do it, and that someday, this will be my new jogging speed. With only two minutes left, I feel like I have no excuse not to make it to the end, and my hope is that, psychologically, this practice is preparing me to take the plunge someday. For now, it just seems too daunting. What I might do, though, is increase those two minutes to three minutes, and hopefully trick myself to even go up to five minutes at the very end – especially now that I’m learning a lot of it is just about mental conditioning.

In my social life (what little there is of it), being an introvert is smack dab in the middle of my comfort zone. I’ve always been happy (almost proud, actually) to proclaim by introvertedness and to use it as an excuse for making some decisions as opposed to others. I’m still happy to proclaim it; I mean, I strongly doubt that I’ll ever miraculously become an extrovert, and I’m really okay with that. But boxing myself into my introverted world can be limiting in many ways.

Can I do better? Yeah.

Although I don’t entertain much, I consider myself a pretty good entertainer. I don’t do much of it because I have this ‘policy’ about guarding my weekends jealously. I feel like I pour so much of myself out to the world all week, that if I can get away with it, I’d rather have absolutely nothing on my agenda on the weekend. I do think it’s important to just have some downtime. I have a lot of responsibility of my shoulders, and I think I deserve to just do nothing on a weekend if I want/need to. But I don’t want to go to extremes, either. I want to balance out that part of my life. Maybe it’s the exercise, I don’t know (probably is), but I’m much more conscious now of how my body works. For years (ever since, say, the age of 24), I’ve always had this feeling of malaise on Sundays, but I never really pointed it out to myself until this year. On Sundays, I just tend to feel like the weight of the week is on my shoulders. Add to this the fact that I usually have several different responsibilities to carry out on Sunday, plus the fact that I get up early on this day, don’t have breakfast, spend quite a bit of time standing up or walking around, talking, singing (or ‘yelling’ out songs sometimes), etc. By the time I get home, all I want to do is crash. So my custom has been to take a really long nap on Sunday. Then I wake up from this nap feeling awful (physically, that is). I’ve done this for years on end, and it’s happened every Sunday. It’s only this year that I really thought about it and realized I’ve probably been oversleeping and doing myself no good in the process. So this year, I’ve been trying to ensure that if I do take a nap on Sundays, it shouldn’t last longer than 2 hours. Some Sundays, I don’t take a nap at all. I set up things to do so I’m not tempted to just plop into bed for the rest of the day. So far, I’ve taken brief out-of-town trips (to places about an hour away) just to see things; I’ve gone out visiting friends so I can maintain relationships I value; and I’ve actually done a bit of deliberate, pre-planned entertaining.

I thought keeping my weekends all to myself was ‘comfortable,’ but the reality is that I never felt good (physically) on Sundays. Now that I’m letting myself make do with less ‘comfort,’ I actually feel much better. All these examples probably sound quite unadventurous, but for me, this is all new and different behavior. Now, I just need to keep it up and see if ‘new and different responses’ begin to occur.

I have two questions for myself. The first is: What are my goals?

Once I’ve answered that question, the next one is: How is staying in my comfort zone ‘working for me’ (Dr. Phil) when it comes to actually meeting those goals?

Not too well, actually.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Pain is unavoidable (Lesson #3)

There’s no plainer way to put it.

You can’t avoid pain.

Not if you want to get anywhere, that is. Not if you want to get better.

This is what makes avoidance so dangerous. I should know. I know now.

Avoidance of confrontation, of taking the bull by the horns, of making decisions, of demanding more of oneself (or of others), when appropriate. In practicing avoidance for a considerable proportion of my life, I just assumed that I had found a smart way to circumvent pain. I learned a lesson, though: Your pain is waiting for you.

I’m not being ‘prophetic’ or anything like that. I’m referring to unresolved pain which remains unresolved because it’s not confronted. You can choose to deal with it now, or you can decide to postpone it till later, but ignoring it won’t erase its existence.

It has to be dealt with. The sooner, the better, I’ve learned. I like to quote a bishop I used to know who would always say, ‘The serpent in the Book of Genesis became a dragon by the Book of Revelation. Deal with your serpent while it’s still a serpent.’ Hearing that never failed to give me the chills.

If anyone asked me what my favorite Bible verses are, it would be impossible for me to say. But there are some verses that I tend to refer to more often than others because of how deep they are. As I was thinking about what to write on the subject of pain, I remembered two verses that are among my ‘go-to’ scriptures when things get tough. The first one is Hebrews 12:11 (NIV):

‘No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest … for those who have been trained by it.’

Who would’ve thought that we could actually harvest something from our pain? I’m all for a good harvest! If that’s the case, then what are we waiting for? If that’s the case, then how come we’d rather not touch that form of ‘labor’ with a ten-foot pole?

Not everyone reaps a harvest from their pain, though. The only folks that do are the ones who aren’t afraid to actually engage with their pain – to use their pain as a training ground. Why go through pain for nothing when you can actually use it to make a difference in your life and that of others?

The rmj blog has primarily been about my own pain. I can honestly say that processing my pain in this way (and there are a variety of ways of doing so) has had a profound effect on my life. I was about to say that it has changed me, but I don’t think ‘changed’ is the right word. I’m still the same person I’ve always been, but confronting my own pain has revived parts of me that were always there, but that got suppressed over the years. It has awakened parts of me that are critical for living this life that I must live, and it has helped me identify and begin addressing those parts that haven’t been so helpful. I honestly feel like there’s no other way this ‘miracle’ could’ve happened. It had to take something drastic for me, personally, to wake up and live, rather than just exist.

The second passage is a ‘golden oldie’ from James 1:2-4 (J.B. Phillips version this time, though):

‘When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives …, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become [wo]men of mature character with the right sort of independence.

Let the process go on. Until that endurance is fully developed, so we can be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

In the past, I used to be really skeptical when I’d hear the testimonies of cancer patients. I’ve heard many of them say that cancer was a gift. I would always think, How can? They’ve got to be either lying or delusional. I’ve heard many talk about how they didn’t start really living until after cancer invaded their lives.

I can relate to that so much better now. I’m not sick, thank God, but I can relate to the notion that life after surviving a really devastating and difficult experience can end up being better that it was before. This has been my own experience in regard to divorce. I love the idea of marriage. I’m nothing if not the marrying type. I admire and applaud good, strong, healthy marriages. But I know the difference between being married and dead and being divorced and alive. I have lived the difference, and in many ways, I see my current marital status as a personal gift. I can only see this now, though. Four or five years ago, I was much too disoriented to see a thing. I’ve noticed that the cancer survivors I referred to previously also construct the disease as a gift only after they’ve been through it and have come out on the other side.

I am honestly a much better version of myself now, given my experiences. Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. Pain perfects us, as long as we push through and allow ourselves to be trained by it. It’s like pushing through from a two-minute jog to a twenty-five minute jog. It’s like doing squats and waking up the next day, unable to move your legs. I hate squats with a passion, but if that’s what it takes to get in shape, I guess there’s no point trying to avoid doing them.  

My last quote for the day is by Kenji Miyazawa:

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.

I just came across this yesterday and found that it tied in so well with what I was trying to convey in this post. What this statement tells me (apart from the fact that not shying away from pain is smart) is that pain can be productive if we let it. There is absolutely no reason why I should have had to go through whatever I’ve been through for nothing. If we let it, our pain can be the fuel that gets us to our next destination point along our individual journeys.

May God help us all.

P.S. – I finally jogged for 30 minutes non-stop today. I’m a jogger.


Monday, 7 July 2014

Consistency creates habits (Lesson #2)

It’s been over five months and I still don’t love exercising. I wouldn’t even say that I like it. But there is something that I like about the process that gets me there. For instance, I like walking into the building that the gym is located in. I suppose the gym is just such an unlikely place for me to be at that walking in there makes me feel like I’m about to do something new and exciting. I especially like making my way down the hallway to the gym. I have to get there early in the morning (another part I don’t particularly care for), but I do love the soothing music that fills the hallway and literally surrounds me each time. It makes me perk up and feel happy to be alive.

Although I plan to finally be able to pronounce myself a ‘real’ jogger this month, I can’t say with confidence yet that I actually like jogging. I like the ‘idea’ of jogging, but jogging itself is still not a walk in the park for me. I still dread the first 18 minutes of my jogs. Even with a warm-up, for the first 10 minutes, my lower legs feel rusty and they hurt, and I wonder if I can really make it to the end, and when it’s going to finally feel easier. By the last 7 minutes, the pain is gone and I’m finally in a mental zone where I feel like I can do it. I like the cold, fresh air that hits my sweaty face while I jog. I like the fact that I don’t huff and puff anymore when I jog these days. But the jog itself is still something I’m still getting used to.

I like the deep feeling of accomplishment when I’m done, and the notion that if I keep this up, I may even dare to run someday (hmm …). My current trainer isn’t terribly enamored with jogging/running. He would rather I walked briskly on a fluctuating incline because of all the injuries that can be associated with jogging/running. I’ve managed to negotiate with him, though, so he lets me jog. I don’t get the same sense of achievement from brisk walking, and so I fought to be able to jog. But I can’t say I actually like jogging.

In my typical fashion, I once searched for experiences of other joggers to see how they handled things. My sister asked me if I really thought anyone just gets up and starts sprinting in a day (lol). Well, of course not. Although she claims it used to be hard for her at first, too, that’s really hard for me to even visualize, given her fitness level today. I found something really encouraging in the comment box of some post about exercise. An older guy wrote in, saying that he’s been a consistent gym-goer for the last 30 years or so, and not once in all that time has he particularly wanted to go to the gym each day.  


So, not all ‘gym rats’ are necessarily in love with the place, nor with exercise. Some things just get done because they need to get done.

Interestingly and surprisingly, my aversion to exercise has not prevented me from forming a habit: I have this habit of being where I said I’d be at a certain time, three days a week. Whatever happens once I get there (and my not necessarily liking what happens) doesn’t matter so much. My habit of just getting there is slowly but surely creating the results that I want to achieve.  

Divorce is a path that I personally chose, presented as I was with a certain set of circumstances. Although I could not have anticipated this ‘uncoupling’ in a million years, I have no doubt that I would make the same choice all over again, given the same set of circumstances. Yet, there are a lot of things that I don’t like about divorce. But, similar to jogging, there are many processes sparked by divorce, which I find myself engaged in (or a driver of), and which leave me with a similar sense of accomplishment in the end.

It would be easy to allow the things I don’t ‘like’ to get in my way and distract me from my goal. I want to try and remember, though, not to place an inordinate amount of emphasis on these things. In the grand scheme of things, they don’t matter. They are just distractions along the way that can easily be taken care of with the right dose of consistency. All I really need is to be consistent in remembering and upholding this fact. Once I’ve made a habit of it, the habit will take on a life of its own, eventually creating the results I want to achieve. Ultimately, I just want to lead a peaceful, joyful life. Whether I ‘like’ certain things or not along the way, I’ll achieve this goal simply through my consistency in putting good habits (thought patterns and other actions) to work. No need to over-think it.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

10 life lessons I learnt from running

Okay, not from running (nowhere near that!) … let’s just say: ‘from jogging’ (since going at 6 to 6.5 kmph counts as jogging … right?).

I discovered this website recently which is chock full of all kinds of interesting tips for healthy living – something that’s not exactly my forte, but which I’m open to learning about. I stumbled upon an article on the website entitled ‘10 life lessons I learnt from running.’ Many of the lessons really resonated with me as a novice jogger, but also as a ‘consciously uncoupled’ person (I quite like Gwyneth Paltrow’s term, ‘uncoupled/uncoupling’  - sounds better than ‘divorced’ – and I think I’ll be using it often.). Each lesson is such a nugget of wisdom and I thought it would be fun to do a series of blog posts based on them. First, though, here are the lessons:

1.      Beginning is always the hardest part. Push yourself to keep going. It gets easier.
2.      Consistency creates habits, and habits create the results to want to achieve. (I think there might’ve been a typo here. I’m assuming the author meant ‘you want to achieve.’)
3.      If you want to get better, pain is unavoidable. Don't shy away from it.
4.      If you don't get out of your comfort zone, you'll never achieve your goals.
5.      People who do things better than you are your teachers, not your competition.
6.      Often, thinking you can't go on any longer is an illusion. You often can.
7.      Sometimes things don't go as planned. Accept it and move on.
8.      When you're going uphill and you want to quit, don’t. Move slower if you have to, but keep going. You will get there.
9.      Happiness shouldn’t be put on hold until you cross the finish line. Enjoy as much as you can along the way, even when the going gets tough.
10.   Don’t let your desire for improvement rob you of pride in small victories!

I read these 10 lessons and immediately thought: Whoa! Running (or, in my case, jogging) is truly a metaphor for life if there ever was one.

I’m going to try and draw out my own personal lessons within these lessons, one at a time.

Lesson One: Beginning is always the hardest part.

There are four girls in my family and I would describe all of them as athletic except me. I’ve always admired my sisters’ consistency when it comes to fitness. I have one sister that runs (rather than jogs) six days a week, almost without fail, including during pregnancies. I have never really been serious about fitness myself. I joined a gym once, about 13 years ago. It was a three-year contract and I only went consistently for two months. After that, I decided I’d never join a gym again. It just wasn’t something that I could keep up with, I thought.

2013 was a particularly demanding year for me, though. I had never been under so much work pressure in my life, and I couldn’t find the time to take some leave and just rest. I worked through Christmas and right after New Year’s. I didn’t get a chance to take time off until the second week of January, and even then, it was probably for only a week. I staggered into the year 2014 realizing that it was impossible for me to keep up this tradition of neglect. I realized that if I didn’t make myself do something different, I was going to be in big trouble sooner or later.  

I did some research and joined a gym again. The right kind of gym for me, though, this time. I already knew I loathed organized exercise, and so I couldn’t just go to any gym. I’d tried having a gym membership before, after all, so I already knew that the fact that I’d have to pay an arm and a leg for it wouldn’t be enough reason to get me to go. So, I joined one of those gyms staffed by personal trainers who give you their complete attention. One of those gyms where you don’t just waltz in whenever you want, but where there's a standing appointment between just you and your personal trainer. I sensed that this would work well for me not because I’d have to pay for the service, but because the whole ethos behind the gym aligned so well with my personality: I hate organized exercise, but I hate letting people down more. I’m time-conscious, and so if I know someone’s waiting just for me at 7 pm (for example), I’ll be there by 7 pm, come hell or high water. Plus, I wasn’t motivated enough to exercise on my own consistently. With the help of a trainer, I have to exercise at a particular level of intensity and for a particular length of time, whether I really want to or not. It’s been five months so far of being in the gym for an hour, three days a week, and, in the beginning, the only thing that kept me going consistently was the fact that I said I’d be there and I knew someone would be waiting for me.

IT WAS HARD in the beginning – really hard for someone at my fitness level. I had to take a fitness test at the very beginning, and out of that test emerged the worst report card I’ve ever gotten in my life. I was ‘poor’ at everything and on every level.

It was a whole different ball game at this gym. I wasn’t allowed to just take a leisurely walk on the treadmill like I might do at home. The ‘warm-up’ speed that the trainer puts me on at the gym used to be my ‘high intensity’ speed at home! I hated that, and I would protest, all the while still doing what I was asked to do.

Beginning is just so inconvenient sometimes. It hurts. I mean, like physically. I would hurt because I just wasn’t used to all that exertion. Beginning – starting again – can hurt in other ways, too. I’ve mentioned before how I relate to Efuru’s sentiments about starting over. As she put it: ‘So here I am. I have ended where I began[.]’ I just understand the weariness of it all. With divorce (or ‘uncoupling’), a beginning is actually a RE-beginning. Understandably, no one wants to bother with all that – especially not in mid-life. At first, it’s like having to do your homework all over again: annoying. You slaved over it all weekend, only to find that something went horribly wrong and it somehow didn’t get saved on your computer. You think about all the hard work you put in the first time, and you’re not sure you have what it takes to do it all over again, just as conscientiously as the first time.

Unless you’re particularly adventurous, having to learn new things can be uncomfortable. It’s a lot like starting a new job. Even if it’s in your area of expertise, we all know it takes anywhere from six months to a year (if not longer) to find your feet, to really wrap your head around your new responsibilities, around the new work culture, around the office politics. Adjusting to divorce is very similar. It takes a while, and no part is harder than the beginning. But if you push yourself to keep going, it does get easier. I’ve written elsewhere about how it probably took two years (post-separation) before I got my smile back. My ‘easy’ smile, I mean. The kind of smile that you share with the world in spite of yourself, without even thinking about it. My point is that I got it back.

When I first started out at the gym, I couldn’t jog for more than two minutes straight. And I’d huff and puff as dramatically as a dragon when the two minutes were up.

‘Aren’t you afraid I’m going to have a heart attack?’ I’d ask the unperturbed-looking trainer, in between puffs.

He would laugh. ‘Nope. I’m trained in CPR and there are lots of doctors on this floor, so don’t worry.’

When will I ever be able to jog for 30 minutes straight? I would wonder. If I can barely do 2 minutes, how will I ever do 30?? If I can just get up to 30 minutes, non-stop, I’ll finally consider myself a ‘real’ jogger.

Thirty minutes just seems ‘respectable’ to me somehow.

About 3 months in (or maybe a little less), the trainer was in the unusual position of having to focus on two clients at a time one day. He put me on the treadmill for about ten minutes and then turned his attention to the other client. I got up to eight minutes and was suddenly bored. The treadmill just seemed slow that day. So I upped the speed and jogged a bit harder. The trainer noticed and decided to leave me alone to do my thing, uninterrupted. I ploughed through until I got up to twenty-five minutes, then I felt like I couldn’t go on anymore.

He stood behind me and clapped slowly, looking pretty shocked. ‘Go and write this down as the day that you really impressed your trainer,’ he said. ‘We’re done for today.’

‘What? Really? But we’re supposed to work out for an hour.’

‘I am demanding nothing further of you today. You’ve worked really hard. We’re done.’

I felt very proud of myself and couldn’t wait to tell my sisters. I jogged for 25 minutes non-stop! Yay! I, who couldn’t jog for more than two minutes several weeks ago! It was like magic, really. Like joke-like joke. Me of all people??

Whether it’s about divorce, getting fit, or anything else in life: just keep on doing what you know to do without over-thinking it, and one day, you’ll fly.