My Brain Hates Me

I have had a headache for four months. That’s not hyperbole. For 120-plus days, I have had some sort of pain in my head.

The doctor first diagnosed me with tension headaches, which wasn’t a real surprise given the amount of stress I hold onto. I had a bout of tension headaches in April, so that November diagnosis seemed to line up. But then they got worse. Worse like someone is drilling an ice pick into the crown of my skull while simultaneously punching me on both temples.

About three weeks into getting no relief from the original prescription I had for tension headaches, I gave in and called the doctor again. Yep, these pounding pains around my skull and behind my eye are migraines. Again, not much of a surprise because I used to get them as a teen, and there’s a history of migraines on my mom’s side of the family.

But nothing is working. I’ve taken more sick time in the past month than I have in years because I can’t bear to sit in front of three computer screens. I didn’t even get relief on our Christmas vacation! Being stuck in bed crying because there’s too much light coming through the cracks in the curtains? Not fun. Most days, if I make it through 8 hours of work, I immediately go to bed and hide under the covers.

I finally got in to see a neurologist this past week, and he confirmed what I already know: yes, they’re migraines. But now we have to exhaust several different prescriptions before we get to try what he thinks will really work: Botox injections.

The good news is that my CT scan came back clear, so there aren’t any readily apparent physical issues outside of the migraines (read: no clearly visible tumors or masses). The neurologist has ordered an MRI, which I get next week, just to rule anything else out. So, I’m paying all of my insurance deductible within the first seven weeks of 2023. Yay?

It’s odd to have something else wrong with my brain. I’m used to having mental health problems. While I hate dealing with anxiety and depression, I’m accustomed to them and I’ve accepted that I’ll have to deal with those diagnoses for the rest of my life. But another issue in my brain? And one that’s just as difficult to treat? Seriously?

I know that on the grand scheme of health concerns, I am very lucky, but that doesn’t take away the frustration I feel when I’m knocked out by a migraine and can’t function at home or at work. It makes me feel weak and helpless. I have so many goals I want to reach in 2023, but I’ve had to slow down on some because of this pain.

Couch to 5K and Back Again

In 2013, when I met my now husband, I told him that I wanted to run a 5k. I was about 70 pounds overweight but had lofty wishes — not goals, let’s be clear. I wanted to run, but I didn’t put the willpower or discipline behind it. You know that saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish”? That was me.

Fast forward to 2023, coming up on the 10th anniversary of our first date, I gladly report back to my husband: “I ran a 5K today.” Ran may be a little bit of stretch, but I can jog a 5K. So how did that happen?

Run for the Kid

It was an overcast day in May, not yet boiling hot, but the humidity was wavering around us. I was panting on the side of our subdivision’s street, staring at my husband and stepson about 500 feet in front of me. J and I were so proud of L’s involvement in his junior high track team that summer, and it was a perfect chance for me to finally get to the 5K goal with the added benefit of bonding with L. That first jog hurt! I couldn’t breathe, my heartbeat was well over 150 bpm, and I couldn’t go over a block at a time. It definitely was not a successful training session.

The Couch to 5K Plan

I decided I’d be more comfortable training on my own, so I downloaded the Couch to 5K app once again and decided to try it. I’d done the program in 2019 but on a treadmill and that didn’t do me the service I needed it to do when I joined the St. Jude’s Run that year. I’d only run two or three 5Ks before that race, and I ended up walking it. I promised myself that this time would be different.

If you’re not familiar with this program, check out the Couch to 5K website. It’s a popular program that you complete in intervals of walking and jogging, three times a week. You slowly build longer jog times and less walking, eventually getting to 30 minutes of non-stop jogging, which is the time goal for completing a 5K. Those first few training sessions were brutal. I could barely complete Week 1, Session 1: jogging for 60 seconds and then walking for 90 seconds in eight interval sets. But, I kept at it. I forced myself to walk after completing the session so that I could complete a full 3.1 miles because I wanted to condition myself to do a 5K.

By the time July hit, I completed the program and kept going. I was far from hitting a 30-minute 5K, so it took me a few more weeks of jogging consistently to get to that distance. At that point I wasn’t concerned about time or pace. I just wanted to jog a 5K without stopping. And I did it! I was so proud.

The Rundown

At that point, I was jogging a 5K every day, rarely taking a rest day. And that’s what did me in. By the end of September I was tired. I was bored of the same routine and path around the subdivision. Also, work was ramping up with lots of work meetings and a full October of travel, so I knew it was going to be tough to keep up my routine. And that was my downfall. By the end of October I had started regaining the pounds I’d lost and was walking instead of jogging. That continued through the end of 2022. I ran a few 5Ks and returned to the Couch to 5K app several times. I wasn’t in the mindset and didn’t have the determination to get back to my jogging routine. Add in three months of migraines and stress headaches, and I backslid on all accounts.

Begin Again

By the end of 2022, I was ready to start again. One of my And, I can say now that I have run at least one 5K this January. Am I as fast as I was in September? No. Am I as fit as I was in September? No. Am I as focused as I was in September? Also no, but with a caveat. I’m getting there. Two of my 23 goals in 2023 are related to this journey: 1) Walk/jog 21 miles every week, and 2) Run an in-person 5K race. I’m scheduled to run a Valentine’s race on February 5. I haven’t been able to train as hard outside because it’s January in Indiana, meaning snow and ice, and I don’t want to break a hip. But I’m walking, I’m jogging, and most importantly I’m moving my body. I feel positive and focused to get back to and exceed 2022 fitness leve.

And that, my friends, is better than any medal I could win.

23 in 2023

I had every intention of publishing this post on January 1st, but failed! Luckily, I’d put a lot of thought into the following already, so here it goes–out into the interwebs and ready to keep me accountable.

Taking inspiration from others, I decided to put together my list of 23 in 2023: 23 goals I want to accomplish this year. Some are small, indulgent plans while others are big and life-impacting. So here it goes.

23 Goals for 2023

  1. Attend church on a weekly basis (unless we’re out of town)
  2. Go on a date with Jim every month 
  3. Have a kids’ experience every month
  4. Get a tattoo of the kids’ initials
  5. Celebrate Ryley’s graduation
  6. Have a family photo shoot 
  7. Attend a Notre Dame football game with Jim
  8. Implement a cooking routine three nights a week (start meal prepping)
  9. Lose 50 pounds by 31 December 2023
  10. Walk and/or jog 21 miles a week
  11. Run an in-person 5K race
  12. Develop a weight-lifting routine twice a week
  13. Go sugar-free for a week
  14. Change my behavior from getting up to binge at night
  15. Drink 128 ounces (a gallon) of water a day
  16. Learn 3 new physical coping skills
  17. Build the map of my life from Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F**king Lilies:
    • Where does my self-esteem come from
    • What are my principles
    • What is my affirmation
  18. Keep a daily written journal (morning pages or other)
  19. Keep a personal budget of $250 per month
  20. Write a new blog post every other week (26 total)
  21. Read 100 books, with 36 books from my TBR collection
  22. Abstain from book-buying for one month
  23. Reach 7,500 Bookstagram followers

Because I love to segment and chunk a list into categories, I focused on several different areas of my life for this list.

Focus 1: Stronger Relationships

First, there are the relationship goals that focus on spending time with my family, expressing my love, and growing my faith. There are seven of these relationship-based goals.

  1. Attend church on a weekly basis (unless we’re out of town)
  2. Go on a date with my husband every month 
  3. Have a kids’ experience every month
  4. Get a tattoo of the kids’ initials
  5. Celebrate Ryley’s graduation
  6. Have a family photo shoot 
  7. Attend a Notre Dame football game with my husband

Focus 2: Better Physical Health

And then there are the health goals, which range from cooking more to building a better, healthier body. There are eight goals here, but the most important ones to me are Numbers 2 and 7, losing weight and stopping my binge eating behaviors.

  1. Implement a cooking routine three nights a week (start meal prepping)
  2. Lose 50 pounds by 31 December 2023
  3. Walk and/or jog 21 miles a week
  4. Run an in-person 5K race
  5. Develop a weight-lifting routine twice a week
  6. Go sugar-free for a week
  7. Change my behavior from getting up to binge at night
  8. Drink 128 ounces (a gallon) of water a day

Another goal that needs to be on this portion of the list is to identify the cause of my migraines and find some type of regimen that keeps them at bay.

Focus 3: Improved Mental Health

Obviously it’s integral for me to achieve better mental health. 2022 was a year filled with anxiety, more so than depression, so I’m keyed into the importance of better mental health. There are only two goals on this portion of the list, but they’re really important.

  1. Learn 3 new physical coping skills
  2. Build the map of my life from Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F**king Lilies:
    • Where does my self-esteem come from
    • What are my principles
    • What is my affirmation

Focus 4: More Creativity, Less Spending

This last category of my 23 in 2023 is a catch-all of how I want to be more creative and more discerning about my entertainment. Some of these are very indulgent – like growing my Bookstagram (@jessicareadsmanybooks), but hey, they’re still goals.

  1. Keep a daily written journal (morning pages or other)
  2. Keep a personal monthly budget for entertainment (i.e. books)
  3. Write a new blog post every other week (26 total)
  4. Read 100 books, with 36 books from my TBR collection
  5. Abstain from book-buying for one month
  6. Reach 7,500 Bookstagram followers

Next Steps

So how is my progress so far? Well, it’s the fourth Sunday of the year, and we haven’t been to church yet. I’ve gained about 2.5 pounds, but I have walked/jogged 21 miles each week, and I’m pretty consistent about writing morning pages (or sometimes evening pages). I have started keeping weekly goal lists and monitoring everything so that I can make adjustments and see progress.

Do you have goals for 2023?

Anti-Fat Bias with Aubrey Gordon

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon

I first heard of Aubrey Gordon when I started listening to her podcast Maintenance Phase. She and cohost Michael Hobbes discuss wellness and weight-loss trends, fads, and policies to find out what’s true, what’s a myth, and what’s just flat-out ridiculous to learn more about how society is obsessed with diet and wellness culture to the detriment of our health. I love their tagline, “Wellness and Weight Loss, Debunked and Decoded,” and I come away from each episode with new ideas and understanding, which is an interesting experience as I try to get healthier and lose weight for my own benefit.

So, when I started reading Gordon’s What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat, I knew I’d learn more about diet culture, and I certainly did! As a fat woman who has always felt less-than because of my plus-size body, who has been ashamed to be in public because of my weight, who has fluctuated in weight throughout the last 14 years, I embraced this book with a desire to feel more in control of my body.

Important Note: Gordon defines herself as fat and uses that terminology throughout the book, not in a pejorative way but in a descriptive manner. Therefore, I’m following her lead in that language within this review.

What I Liked About What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat

  • The Vulnerability: Gordon shares personal experiences with anti-fat bias that are both heart-wrenching and infuriating.
    • She is open about being a fat woman and shares stories of times when other people have shamed her for being fat, like when a man threw a fit in a plane because he was seated next to her, when people have told her she shouldn’t be wearing an outfit, and perhaps the most passive-aggressive woman actually took a melon out of Gordon’s grocery shopping cart and told her that she didn’t need the sugar. The fact that so many strangers feel superior enough to take agency over Gordon’s body was eye-opening, as was her overall message that her experiences are not anomalies.
    • Another truly impactful part of this book for me was Gordon’s discussion of how fat women are assumed to be less desirable and therefore more culpable in sexual assault and abuse situations. She wrote all the words I wish I’d read when I was 18, a Size 14, and kept quiet about my sexual assault because of my shame.
  • The Research: Gordon’s book is short, less than 200 pages of essays, but it is full of research and footnotes. While I found some sections to be a bit too dense, I loved that this book wasn’t just a memoir about fatness and personal experiences. Gordon is a brilliant researcher, and so much of the book reads like investigative journalism, which gives way to fully understanding what anti-fat bias is, its pervasiveness across society, and how policies should change to rectify how companies and individuals treat body size.
  • The Messages: Gordon’s message that anti-fat bias is prevalent in nearly every aspect of society. She’s not afraid to take on tough topics that we’ve accepted as the rule, not the exception, like the BMI; the calorie-in, calorie-out weight loss model; the expense of nutrient-laden food; and the constant recommendations of how/why/when to lose weight.
    • Also, I appreciated that Gordon doesn’t assume that everyone should embrace the body positivity movement, especially as others (namely thin white women) have switched the movement to further establish their thinness superiority.

If you’re looking for a weight-loss motivation book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Fat is not it. If you want a book that will help you to understand the reasons why anti-fat bias remains prevalent and destructive, then this is it. And, if you want to learn more, I highly recommend the Maintenance Phase podcast with Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes.

My Bookish Body

I’m at a loss with my body. I want this new installment here will be a way for me to chronicle these challenges and to find some kind of accountability to make changes. This is the first time I’ve publicly documented the scale’s reports, the embarrassment and self-hatred of feeling out of control. This is my unapologetic truth. Be kind, readers.

I spend a large portion of my life focused on my body: hating it, condemning it, shaming it. This has been a constant in my life since childhood.

I am not a waif, I am not petite, and I am not delicate. I’ve wanted to be those bodies since I was 7 years old, the first time that I remember starting to compare my body type to my friends and family. My family’s obsession with health, my continued struggles with asthma, and my general sense of being other deeply impacted me then and continues to be a part of my internal narrative.

When I look back at my teenage years and think about that ugly voice inside my head, I realize I wasn’t as fat as I thought I was. Yes, I was bigger than my classmates, but I balanced out at a size 14 and had the boobs to carry it. I dressed well because my mom knew how to help me camouflage my problem areas and because we had the money to buy clothes that were stylish but fit well. I remained at a solid 162 pounds for most of my high school years, and at 5’7″ I was still well-proportioned.

College is when I started to pack on the pounds. After a bad breakup, I gained about 15 pounds, suddenly losing that high-end-of-average weight. And, did you know that bulimia really doesn’t help you lose weight? It’s an eating disorder for a reason. When you’re stuffing an entire large Papa John’s pizza down your throat and then vomiting it all back up on a nightly basis, your body recognizes that it’s not healthy and grabs every spare calorie it can.

Then next two decades were filled with yo-yo diets, extensive measures to limit my size, and failures. At 28 and pregnant, I gained nearly 100 pounds and then lost 60 after giving birth to my daughter. At 29 I packed on another 20 during and after my divorce, and then the scale went even further to the right. For the first time in years I could sneak eat without the fear of someone finding me in the kitchen late at night, stuffing peanut butter into my mouth. Spoon to jar, spoon to jar, spoon to jar. A repetitive motion of comfort eating while I faced loneliness, stress, and despair. I climbed closer to 270 pounds and compensated with plus-size clothing I purchased on credit cards. My climbing weight was one more example of failure.

Getting married again inspired me to lose weight the healthy way, but then that motivation disappeared after I wore my wedding dress. I finally lost weight at 38, but I didn’t do it in a healthy manner. Now, almost 4 years later, my weight continues to increase month-over-month. I’m working from home, so I no longer have a commute that keeps me walking. I binge eat regularly at night, searching for any high-fat, high-calorie morsel that will bring on the glazed eyes, distended belly, and blank mind that only food seems to create for me.

I’m desperate for the real motivation to make changes. As I’m now firmly set in my mid-life years, I know that taking care of myself is paramount if I want to have a healthy remainder of time left on this planet. But, the motivation is fleeting, and that continues the cycle of failure in my mind and body.

Does anyone else feel this way? Why am I like this? How do I get help?