The Consequences of Perpetual Marginalization

After writing my previous entry, I got up from my desk in an uneasy state of mind. A big part of why I don’t write so much lately is that getting the thoughts out of my head, into text form, and slapping a period at the end of them means that they’re completed and done with. Keeping things private and inside my head is a mental equivalent of bargaining “just one more cigarette”, a little longer to mull things over on a given aspect about myself. Being at home and without any reason to project otherwise, it was pretty clear to my roommate/best friend that I was not in a good place. He asked what was wrong, and I told replied that it was just more of the usual mess that runs inside my head that bums him out to have to hear, only now without any restraint. To myself, I acknowleged that it makes me feel guilty for talking to him about these things as well — roles reversed, I would feel very saddened and frustrated to have to hear from someone that I care deeply for tell me that nothing feels worthwhile and would love to not have to deal with being alive anymore.

We discussed what was going through my head and what I had just written and posted moments earlier in our conversation, but it ended up derailing and becoming more about the barriers in communication that keep me from being more open and forthcoming about. That conversation was eventually dropped in favor of playing video games and watching TV together. However, in the time since then, I’ve been continuing to unpack the underlying though processes behind that feeling of disinterest in life that keeps cropping up.

When I decided to start blogging about myself in this manner, the idea was to put my truth out there, to show what a bad place I was in and, over time, capture the journey down the road of self-actualization. By now, I had planned to find myself in much better physical shape and realizing that version of myself that I envisioned. Instead, I’ve continued to falter, merely trading in old problems for new ones. Skimming through all of my old posts (published and private) the entries I wrote from 2010–2014 all revolved around an identity crisis, lack of confidence, chronic self-loathing. From Fall of 2015 onward, I’d been doing pretty well, occassional falls of the exercise wagon not withstanding. I haven’t felt that ruminative melancholy and crippling self-resentment in a very long time. The thing I wrestle with now is that I still haven’t found the sense of purpose I started looking for this year.

I am a introvert. I like the idea of being one of those charismatic life-of-the-party types, and while I can pull it off when I make the effort, in truth it tends to tire me out. But while mine is not a social nature, it is heavily tribal. In an old-world social structure, I would have been a watchtower sentry — mostly removed from the group in order to keep it safe, but still very much a part of it. To be where I am now, without a tribe that I belong to after years in self-exile and having left behind family and many friendships, leaves me bearing the shame and and loss of purpose I’d liken to that of feudal Japanese ronin who refused to commit ritual suicide after losing in battle. Where before I didn’t see myself as capable of contintuing to fight, now I just don’t feel like I have a reason to. I keep working on career development, getting in top physical shape, making more money…but for what, to afford fancy material things? Secure a place to wither away and die in at old age? Without anyone or anything to be doing it for, it just feels like I’m doing meaningless shit over and over, day by day. While I would like to champion the idea of doing things for oneself, it’s not able to sustain me; all that translates to is dragging out an already long lonesome existence to its inevitale end.

Because I’ve gotten very capable at stepping outside of my own thought processes, I can look at myself objectively and rationally. I realize that a problem that only I can fix. I realize that letting this go unresolved is likely enabling self-fullfilling prophecy complex. Yet, no matter how much I dissect things and try to goad myself with supportive messaging, it all amounts to very little; buying into that line of thinking seems like forcing on a pair of rose-colored glasses and false optimism and negligently ignoring years of historical data that tells me otherwise. With my mind being as logic oriented as it is, the latter train of thought always wins.


Believing What the World Has Repeatedly Told Me

Why does it feel like nothing matters?
Because I don’t matter.


From My Immediate Family

With my mother having sole custody, I was raised in a Mexican household with the cultural belief that family is of utmost importance and comes first, and I bought into it completely. So, even though growing up I preferred to spend most of my time to myself in front of my video games or a book, being the most intellectually inclined and technologically capable person in the family gave me a great sense of purpose from the times that I would be called on to do things for them that no one else could: format and revise my sister’s college papers, draft rental contracts in Spanish for my mother when she was managing my grandmother’s property in Mexico, design and create signs/flyers when needed, and so on.

But as I grew older and left adolescence behind on my way into young adulthood, the dynamic changed. I stopped being a part of the family after the events of summer 2001 (which I’ll get around to actually writing down some day) left me with only one of my sisters, who lives in North County San Diego, a 45 minute drive away. Not being able to drive myself anywhere at the time, I found comfort in a new “family” I fell into, my first actual group of close friends. After a couple of years, once the rage and resentment dissipated, I tried practicing forgiveness and started rebuilding relationships with my sisters. Though as much of an effort as I made in trying to be a good brother, my only reward was to be treated like a tool. Every time I would visit my sister up north, I was almost guaranteed to be updated that one of the others had called her and asked about me in the course of their conversation. It used to even bother her, as some calls she received from them were specifically to inquire about me and nothing else. Yet, my phone never rang…until they they needed something from me. My best friend lived with me for a time before I turned my back on them again for good back in 2012, and he’s recounted that he used to feel bad knowing how much I cared for them and that only time he ever saw them come to visit, he’d find me hunched over a desk fixing a computer or to have me e-filing their taxes for them.

In the Fall of 2010, my older brother went “missing” when he checked himself into rehab without telling anyone. In response, my sisters rallied and became a search party task force. They even reached out to their estranged biological father to enlist his aid, and for weeks straight, crossed the border into Mexico to keep up the search and make sure he was alive and well. Yet, when I was showing tell-tale signs of suicide risk and openly admitting severe depression, they let me go. None of them tried to support me, or intervene and fight for me when I started to drift away for good.

From My Extended Family

While everything above was happening with my immediate family, that one-degree-of-separation trend began manifesting itself with extended family. With my father’s home being located on the second story above the family liquor store business, I would regularly hear from my dad and uncle that one of my various cousins had stopped by and asked either for me or about me. I would always get in touch and let them know I’d heard they’d been by, and suggest finding a time to get together and actually interact; as is common with Mexican families, my cousins were like a set of lifelong friends and generally liked most of them. The idea was always met with with enthusiastic agreement, but it would never come to fruition. No matter how many times I made sure they had my cell number or followed up with them to make it happen, I could never get them to commit.

From My Friends

Once I noticed that trend with my family, I started to recognize that it was also happening all the time with my friends as well. I realized that the only time I would see the people I called friends was in large group gatherings. Because the majority of these friends overlapped between me and my best friend, I became the “comes with” for him — I would rarely get direct invitations, and was always informed about group plans through him, creating this feeling that I was constantly am unofficial invitee that he was going out of his way to keep me included.

I attempted to make a change by trying to find time to spend with them on an individual basis and strengthen those bonds in a way that group environments don’t really lend themselves to, to be more than just social drinking buddies. I started pitching the idea of haning out one-one-one with many of them, and just like with my cousins, they would seem delighted and enthused at the thought of it, but nothing would ever happen. I could give a two-week outlook on my schedule, and rare were the times that I would get a response to calendar, and even those were usually subject to last minute cancellations.

This is what made cutting all ties with family and friends in 2012 possible.

From My Relationships

The few times that I’ve been romantically engaged with people, there’s been a similar recurring trend there to. They got something out of me — emotional support, personal validation, etc. — but at the end of the day, I still wasn’t good enough for the long term. With every person, it’s always ended up in being left behind while they went off and made someone else their boyfriend.

And without fail, after the period of awkwardness passed and the emotional wounds healed, each one also came back later telling me how much I’ve been missed in their lives, regret over how things played out, and wanting to rekindle friendships.


The End Result: A Pointless Now


The above is only a surface level summary of how the various relationships in my life have played out. What isn’t accurately communicated is just how people that happened with, how many individual instances there were, and how often it still happens even today. Yes, the only way to create change is to take action and to never give up on trying…but my past experiences show me that no matter how differently I approach people, how drastically I change my thinking, how much weight I lose, things do not get better. Furthermore, not feeling like anything has changed makes me feel like a fraudulent hypocrite, writing today this post that flies in direct contradiction of the one I wrote one year ago to the day.

Irrational and petty as it sounds, like I’m choosing to trap myself in a self-pity party that doesn’t end…it’s as if there’s just something inherently wrong with me; why else is that even the people who allegedly cared for me the most have been so naturally inclined to use me as a tool, keep me at a distance, and turn me away/let me go so easily? I can handle rejection just fine, but a lifetime of positive verbal messaging and contradictory actions from others — it really fucks with your self-esteem and makes you doubt your own rationale, choices, and emotions. It took years of revisting old memories countless times to convince myself that I had done the best my young self could and that it wasn’t all entirely my fault.

It would be possible to disregard the past, commit to living in the moment, and believe in the future…were it not for present reality. Like I mentioned above, that enthusiasm about spending time together and subsequent lack of follow through still happens all too often. I know that a lot of it has to do with the current phase in life my peers are in; we’re not in our 20’s of abundant free time anymore, and many people have their jobs, significant others, and/or children to juggle in their schedule. Yet, with that being the case, and the detached nature of mobile messaging and social media dominating modern day social interactions, what chance does that leave to build the meaninful relationships that I would like to achieve? It feels like taking on a losing battle, one that I’ve already failed abysmally at multiple times before.

Thing is, I’ve already answered myself. Out of all the amazing things mankind has been able to accomplish, this definitely falls within the realm of possibility. The solution lies in the words of an old Roman emperor:

Unselfish action, now at this very moment.
Willing acceptance—now at this very moment—of all external events.
That is all you need.

—Marcus Aurelius

The true challenge is not letting my inherent limitations as a human being and the weariness of so much past failure get in the way.

Running for Beginners

Last month, I bookmarked an article on Lifehacker discussing how running isn’t cheap and the costs that come with taking it up as an workout routine. Thing is, unlike the Lifehacker of old, this article was just a complain piece to recommend and insert affiliate links to mentioned products, many of which aren’t necessary for beginner runners. $50 sports bras? $18 pairs of socks? A $40 hydration belt? Climate differences between my place of residence in comparison to the author’s, gear at those price points are for seasoned runners that are looking to keep pushing themselves further. While premium socks and a hydration belt would be nice to have on any run, my regular 5 mile route was mastered using regular ankle cut big-box store athletic socks and a $10 refillable plastic sports water bottle. Lifehacker of Gina Trapani’s days of yore would have posted an article with strategies and low-cost alternatives/DIY solutions. So rather than silently turn my nose up at it to myself, I decided it would be better put to use as motivation to write something myself — the piece that article should have been. Coming off a 2 month break from my old running routine, I’m finding the challenge of getting back in the habit to be not unlike how it felt when I first started running years ago at a starting weight of little over 250 lbs.

Gear Up

The Clothes

Running is just putting on clothes, shoes, and heading out the door, but those choices can make a big difference, and the cost of proper running gear can be very prohibitive. When I started running, I didn’t want to spend money on high-end running shoes and clothes because I wasn’t sure I was even going to stick with it. So, I ran in old cotton shorts and tees and whatever sneakers I had in my closet (90% of my shoe choices then were boots). It was sufficient, but unpleasant. Proper microfiber running shorts with built-in underwear and shirts ended up being a worthwhile upgrade. Rather than staying soaked and weighed down (and putting additional heavy wear on my day-to-day underwear).

Brand name apparel can be ridiculously expensive: $50+ for a pair of shorts $40+ for a shirt, $120+ for shoes. I’ve picked up some of that stuff at reasonable prices through online deals, outlets, and retail tent sales, and I’ve been thoroughly unimpressed with the return on that investment. I’ve done shoes by Adidas, Nike, FILA, and Asics, clothes by Asics and Saucony.

To date, the best return on the dollar for comfort & wear has been Hanes’s Champion brand of athletic wear. Running shirts & shorts can be found at local Target stores for $20 bucks each, $13–15 if they’re on sale (and a little more if you happen to find them on clearance). Lately, I’ve found some results on Amazon, eBay, and Wish that look promising, but haven’t lured me away from just sticking with Champion stuff.

Target Champion Shorts

For the shoes, Payless Shoe Source is a handy retailer to use. I actually joined their mailing list to get additional %-off coupons when their Champion running shoes go on sale/clearance. This brings shoes down anywhere from $12–20 a pair depending on promotions at the time.

Champion Gusto Runner Shopping ListingChampion Gusto Runner Shopping Listing

Champion Gusto & Gusto Cut-Out Runners, My Go-To Shoes

So even without discounts, you’re looking at approximately $20 per item, and one pair of shorts and a shirt will not cut it if you’re running multiple times a week. Shoes should also be alternated, so you’ll want at least two pairs. I don’t wash my clothes after every run, as I don’t require them to be freshly clean before I go getting them drenched with sweat again. I let them air dry between runs, and wash them every 3 runs. This prolongs their lifespan (wash/dry cycles are hard on these things), and if you’re in CA, nets you bonus points for being drought-conscious. One thing I’ve been meaning to do myself is get a small washboard so that I can gently handwash and air dry my running clothes on my shower curtain rod. They’re not made of absorbent materials, and dryer cycles seem to put the most wear on them.

Finally, there’s socks. You can invest in luxury athletic socks if you want, but I maintain that those are only really for 10k/Marathon runners. I buy various athletic socks online if I see a deal, but by default I’ll pick up a 6-pair pack of Champion socks at my local Target.

The Accessories

Armband

If you’re going to be taking your phone with you, you’re not going to want to have to hold it the entire time you’re out running. Out of the few that I’ve tried, I’ve been most pleased with the TuneBand products available on Amazon. Not only is it a quick and low-fuss option, it also has replacement elastic bands available for purchase. Over use, those stretch and warp, and it’s nice to not have to buy a whole case altogether.

Tune Band

Headphones

I’ve tried various $20–30 bluetooth headphones off of Amazon, and they’re all been consistently underwhelming. Their maximum volume isn’t high enough, audio playback occassionally stutters, their weight makes it hard for them to stay in place (even using Comply foam tips). If you’re going to go the bluetooth route, go with a pair of Jaybirds or some other big name in that space. I can’t vouch for those, but I can say the 5 star reviews the afforadble options get on Amazon are certainly generous.

I recommend sticking with wired headphones for the time being. Even then, you’re still going to have a hard time finding the option that works best for you. Here I’ve used quite a few different sports headphones — YurBuds, Sennheiser, Skullcandy, Sol Republic, and JLab, to name a few. My input here is to be wary of headphones marketed as sweat-proof; most of the time, it ends up not being the case. Headphones with good sound quality and an inline remote/mic make it easy to change tracks/volume without having to distract yourself with your phone’s screen, something that can be really hard to do when it’s strapped to your bicep at an inconvenient angle and your fingers are moist with perspiration, but they’re also the ones most prone to failure. I’m not a profuse sweater, but even so I’ve ended up returning far too many pairs of headphones due to sweat causing them to trigger pause/play and volume controls at random without any actual button presses taking place. If you can find a pair that holds up, great. I prefer to avoid the potential for failure, and stick to headphones with no mic/remote these days.

The other big issue I’ve had with headphones are fit. It’s distracting and annoying to have to constantly fiddle with earbuds and put them back into place. I’ve noticed sport headphones these days now come with stabilizing ear tips, but mileage can vary with those. The best consistent solution for me has been to buy a pair of Comply foam tips. Those expand in your ear canal after you pinch and insert them, so you get a great seal that results in firm placement and great sound quality.

Comply Foam Tips Webpage Screencap

Going with the absolute low cost option, a solid $10–15 pair of headphones and $10 for a pack of foam tips will have you covered.

JLab Jbuds 2 Shopping Listing

JLabs JBuds 2 are my current running headphones and have gone down over 50% in price since I bought mine. The supplied stabilizers don’t provide as solid a seal as some Comply foam tips would, but they’re  good enough to where I haven’t had the need to buy some.

The Maintenance Supplies

Another “hidden” cost of running is the stuff you’ll need for personal care; as a result from the conveniences and comforts of modern life, running puts certain strains on your body as it adjusts to the habit of doing what nature designed it to do, and you’re going to need a few thigs to help along the way.

Sunscreen

If you’re running at any time of the day that isn’t dusk/night, you’ll want to make sure to apply this. It’s common sense. My skin tone and genetics don’t leave me pre-disposed to sunburns, but I still pass on the unnecessary UV damage nonetheless.

Lubricant

Whether it’s just petroleum jelly or a water/oil-based personal lubricant, you’re going to want something to minimize the friction on your skin. At the beginning, I had a bit of an issue with chafing due to all the fat on my thighs. After burning a lot of it off and taking up longer distances are higher frequencies, I still found it necessary to avoid a burning agitation of my nipples.

The Oatmeal Comic

(©2016 Matthew Inman)

Dracula kisses do not feel like kisses. They feel like bee stings. Be kind to your nipples. Lube ’em up if you’re going for more than a couple miles.

Salicylic Acid or Callus/Corn Shaver

Running puts a lot of pressure and friction on your feet. Despite whatever preventative measures you take, they’re going to rough up a little bit the more you do it. In order to keep your feet from looking ragged, you’re going to have to get that dead skin off. I started with salicylic acid (about $5 a vial), but as the rough patches got bigger and harder with time, I ended up needing to do multiple coats to get them off. Eventually, spent the $10 on a safety razor to just trim it off. It’s very safe and practically impossible to cut yourself with one, and takes far less time than applying salycylic acid and waiting for it to dry.

Corn Shaver

Tips

Let Your Imagination Run With You

When you’re running for an extended period of time, you run the risk of getting bored. You’re not speeding by at 60 MPH like you in a car, so the things that are off in the distance take a while to actually get to, especially when you’re starting off and haven’t developed your pace.

My workaround to this was to employ that good ol’ childhood imagination. I’d let myself pretend I was a character in one of those high-action worlds of powerful protagonists — in my case, that fell to my favorite video game franchises.

Part of my route involves crossing a long bridge that passes over a wide highway. I would recreate the Clash on the Big Bridge scene from Final Fantasy V in my head as a Hollywood calibre production, and project myself into the midst of it.

only like:

 photo Squall_Vs__Sephiroth_DISSIDIA_by_th.gif

If you decide to give that whole “power of imagination” thing above a try, then having a fitting soundtrack will really help with immersion. For the video game crowd, studios will usually publish soundtracks and remix/rearrangement albums for games. In addition, the indepedent music scene at Overclocked Remix has a treasure trove of additional tracks to make use of. I highly recommend their various Mega Man remix tracks. So explore with different things, and run yourself through your favorite movie, book, or game.

(OR Let Your Mind Work On Real Stuff Instead)

If the imagination option sounds like it’s outside your wheelhouse and not something you’d enjoy doing, real life can be just as effective an escape as fantasy; many a run of mine have doubled as a workout and a self-therapy or productivity planning session. Rather than focus on how hard it is, how tired you are, or how much longer you still have to go, plan ahead what it is you’re going to do after your run.

Get the RIght Rhythm to the Burn

Following on the theme from the talking point above, variety is important in order to keep you from losing interest in going on a run — going running shouldn’t necessarily mean putting your mind to work. Sometimes, you do just need a good music playlist to zone out to and focus on your run. Put music to your workout — hardly anything new and groundbreaking here, most everyone does this by default. Thing is, your choices can impact your performance negatively as well as positively.

By all means, listen to whatever you motivates you to get out the door. But as you start pushing your endurance and pace, give yourself that extra boost by picking something upbeat that drives you. Some people like curating playlists for themselves, and a collection of fast-tempo tracks would take a very small amount of time to make. For anyone looking for a no-fuss option, I highly reccommend Spotify’s running originals. They have adjustable BPMs, and auto-set themselves at the start by using your phone’s sensors to match your pace. Just pick a theme and go — I myself am partial to Burn, Chase, and Escape mixes.

Spotify Running Webpage

Use Apps

Another good tactic to motivate yourself would be to make a game out of your workouts. I used to use ZombiesRun as a good way to add atmosphere to my night runs and drive me to tie the laces and get out of the door, but these days I prefer to just run to music and log using an activity tracker — meeting a certain number of miles each month is game enough for me.

Searching the app stores for phones will bear no shortage of running apps. I’ve tried pretty much all of them, and would recommend anyone new to them to just skip ahead to RunKeeper. It’s the most well designed, easy to use, and integrated with other health tracking apps/services. With the more recent updates, they’ve really done a good job of integrating Spotify, so you can fire up RunKeeper, pick a Spotify running mix, and start your run without having to manually switch between apps.

Run Keeper

Bring a Buddy

I’m not really much of a social exerciser. I usually prefer to be able to move at my own pace and not have to worry about keeping up/not leaving behind others. However, the times that I have gone running with other people, it’s proved to be a delightful change of pace. The only reservation I would have about this approach is becoming too reliant on the social aspect of it and not wanting to go out for a run alone.

If you happen to know other people who run and use the same tracking app as you do (or at least cross-post to another social network you follow each other on), you can still have a social component to your running even if you’re going out alone. I’ve had a few friends pop up as recommended Runkeeper buddies, but no one seems to actively use it as much as I do.

Breathe Smart

One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome when I started running regularly was the issue of breath. I was an obese smoker, and running a mile under 15 minutes was a big deal for me. As second-nature as breathing is to us, doing it optimally for physical activity is not an automatic response. Some people will run and try to breathe entirely through their noses, others with just their mouths. Some huff and puff rapidly, while others will take slow and deep long breaths between strides. While everyone’s body responds differently, what I’ve found to be best, after experimenting with the various breathing tips you can find online, is making sure that you are concurrently breathing through your nostrils and mouth with each inhalation & exhalation. It takes some getting used to doing it naturally, but it doesn’t take long.

Another problem I frequently had when I started running was the dreaded side stitch, which nobody knows to be its definitive cause. One article I read suggested slowing your pace and exhaling in step with the foot opposite the side you feel the pain on in your abdomen. I had limited and varying degrees of success with that. One thing I did find that my body responded well to was employing the Ujjayi breath of yoga at a slower pace. If you’re not familiar with it, see if a local yoga studio offers free trials. Here in San Diego, there are plenty of Core Power Yoga franchise locations that you can do a week for free at. It’s good to take up yoga not just for the breathing exercise, but as a supplemental workout you can do at home to improve your strength and endurance for running. If group activity isn’t your thing, Gaiam’s Yoga Studio app is a great way to practice from the comfort of your own home. That app worked well enough that when I went into my first heated yoga class at Core Power, most of the movements were already familiar and managable enough to perform and hold in unison with everyone else in the room.

Make it Minty

Another tactic that I found to be helpful for me was to hit myself with mint before and during my run. When I first started running, I would have a mug of hot green mint tea, and take a cold bottle of water with a few millileters of mint extract mixed in. I also would pop in a couple of sticks of mint gum (those who don’t trust their lingual kinesthetic awareness enough to not end up biting off their toungue chewing while running would be better off substituting hard mints to suck on or those dissolving breath strips). You know how deep breaths taste sweet and cool when you have mint? It makes running breathing that much more pleasant as well.

Advisories

You Will Suck

If you start out as I once did, largely sedentary and extremely overweight, you are not going to perform like an athlete. You already know it, but you’ll still feel lousy for it. I would always think of middle school PE class, how target times for running a mile — 3 laps around the adjoining community park — were 6–8 minutes. The really athletic kids could do it in under six. The non-athletic under 10, and the overweight & obese like myself at 12–15 minutes. I picked up running right when activity apps started hitting the nascent App Store, and would be highly disppointed with my times still matching up with those from back when I was 50lbs heavier in grade school. It felt like no matter what I did, no matter how hard I trained, I would be the exception to the rule. I wouldn’t improve over time, I’d always be stuck in the bottom tier as an abysmal runner.

But stick with it, it gets better. I say it to people all the time: if I, overweight as I was and (still) with a smoking habit could do it, anyone else can too.

You Will Ache

Beginning running was hard not only because of the high fat-to-minimal-muscle ratio, but also because of the other stresses it puts on the body. It was not uncommon for me to feel my leg muscles ready to go for another run, but unable to do it on account of all the blisters and pains on my feet. During the intial phases, it’s a good idea to double down and wear two pairs of tighly pulled on socks. For additional protection, Johnson & Johnson makes a friction block stick that you can apply to your feet much like deodorant.

As your legs and core become used to the motions of running, you’ll build up a small degree of muscle mass. This, along with learning to moderate your breathing, will allow you to overcome (and eventually, eliminate) cramping up with a side-stitch.

You Will Quit

The ratio of phases you’ll have where you’re wanting to run versus those where you don’t are stacked in favor of the latter. You’ll think of things you have planned that you don’t want to be tired and sore for. You’ll negotiate with yourself and think you’ll eat light and make up for it later. You’ll be demotivated by how slowly you’re improving, and unwilling to deal with the muscle soreness and the blisters. And after a while, all those mental acrobatics will become just as unpalatable as the thought of exercise, and you’ll settle for just not doing it and getting back to it “later”.

This is one thing that may get easier to manage over time, but doesn’t ever really go away. And in order for it to get easier, you have to overcome it a few times and fight yourself for the victory, you have to exercise willpower and commit. I didn’t really start to get better at my running until I started planning my day around it, what else can I do in a day if I have work for 8 hours and 1.5 hours set aside afterwards for exercise? Sounds simple, but it’s not.

Myself as an adult without any pets, children, or significant other, assuming 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours at work, and 1 hour commuting to and from those points per day cycle theoretically leaves only 7 hours of the day to use for personal time — eating, using the bathroom, cleaning, bathing, getting dressed, exercise, phone/internet time, etc. Since those are spread throughout the day and not in a continous block of productive personal time and there’s real world time limitations to consider, it’s really easy to lose track of that time and not use it as productively as possible. You leave work at 5 PM and get home at 6PM. You want to running, but you also need to grab groceries and will need to cook dinner and eat it; going on a run first means you won’t be done until 7:30–8PM, and driving to the store, shopping, and driving home won’t put you in the kitchen starting on food until 9PM at the earliest. By the time you’re done, you’re eating dinner past 10 PM, left with less than two hours before a late midnight bedtime, and still have a sink full of dirty dishes to deal with. So it’s easier to tell yourself working out is something you can’t afford, go buy groceries, eat & watch TV, and go to bed.

It falls to you to take whatever measures you can to make your exercise happen for the day. In the scenario above, order groceries online during your lunch break. Get your shopping planned and done for the week during the weekend. For every problem that can get in the way of your workouts, there is a solution to be found — you just have to make the effort to find it.

In Closing

Skimming over what I’ve written, I can’t think of anything that I’ve forgotten to mention. Above are the most affordable & reliable options for running gear I’ve found, and the pitfalls and strategies I’ve come across along my journey as a runner. This is the pamphlet I would give to new runners. I never imagined I’d be able to run as long and far as I have. Adopting running as a regular part of your life isn’t as easy and simple as it sounds, but it doesn’t have to be a cost-prohibitive necessary torture session. With enough persistence and the right frame of mind, it can become something you enjoy and grow to love.

Pain Management

I recently started going through the archives of Back to Work from the very first episode and jotting down key takeaways and general notes from my listening sessions. In episode 3, there was a line that strongly stood out to me:

It is possible to feel pain without suffering.

Beginning to letting go of imperviousness and practicing true strength and resilience has been a little difficult. As Merlin and Dan discussed in the show, we associate suffering with pain when in reality they are separate, albeit closely related. Having to endure pain, whether physical, mental, or emotional, can create a state of suffering but doesn’t need to. The poignancy of the statement was impactful itself, but became even moreso when my brain synthesized it with one of my mentally bookmarked posts from my reads on Zen Habits. Leo Babauta wrote suffering to be a miasma that “causes you to be unhappy, to be stressed, to procrastinate, to be distracted, to be angry with people, to be dissatisfied with your life, to be overweight and unhealthy, to not exercise or eat healthy, and much more.”

Prior to that moment, I would have described myself as suffering-free after all the time I spending all that time wrestling with myself over the fairly recent past and no longer dealing with that old familiar internal turmoil. Yet those subtler manifestations of suffering have still been something I’ve been constantly having to stave off. Melancholy and misery no longer pervade my day-to-day life, but the suffering apparently still does.

Leo also writes that the antidote for those forms of suffering is to practice self compassion — which is the complete opposite form of self-motivation that I’ve been utilizing. My internal monologue is less self-compassionate and far more critical and berating. Shutting down and letting go left me coaching myself like a drill sergeant. It’s sufficient, but also an incomplete and far from ideal solution.

The pains of the past are something that I’ve accepted is something I’ll never be rid of, at least not until the technology in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind becomes a real thing. No one can ever be completely free of the most unpleasant parts of their past — memory is a double-edged sword like that sometimes. The thing that we are capable of moving past is the suffering those pains can induce. The full emotional shut-down of the past few years hasn’t been eliminated my own suffering entirely…and now that allowing feelings has become an option again, that self-compassion one of should one of first ones to get closely reacquainted with.

Weakness

A concept that I’ve noticed myself repeatedly thinking on with directness and clarity is that of “weakness”. Over the past months, it’s been something that I’ve been doing an extensive amount of thinking on and repeatedly procrastinating on drafting an entry on. After so much time continually shooting it off into the future, I’m well overdue to roll up my sleeves and give it my best shot.

When I first started really focusing my thoughts on the topic at hand, that first thing that came to mind was that familiar aggressive self-criticism: despite all the circumstances that caused it, the bottom line is that I simply wasn’t strong enough to not end up in a depressive spiral for an entire decade. To constantly see inspirational articles of people in the world conquering far greater adversities and thriving, finding myself with this very unflattering self-deprecating (and very public) writing log as the proof of the live I’ve led up until this point has been a source of both personal embarassment and resentment.

In turn, I found myself wrestling with the guilt of failing to recapture the strength that I once had. I recalled the memories of that time in my life where I knew happiness, and remembered feeling invincible in both character and mind. Yet, the more I reflected on these memories, the more I came to realize that I was recalling half-truths. Those times in the past when I was boisterous, opinionated, and outspoken…they were limited to the times I was around my family. I was free to be as arrogantly brave as I wanted to, because I had a nuclear arsenal on standby. If things ever were to go south, I had the assurance that the parents and siblings I looked up to would be there to back me up. The reality that I conveniently glossed over was that when I was physically separated from them, I turned into a docile sycophantic people pleaser.

If I jog the timeline all the way back to early childhood, I was completely soft, physically and emotionally. I had an extremely low pain threshold, and the sight of my own blood coming from even the smallest wound would send me into hysterics. As much as I was bold and outspoken, it was a confidence afforded to me by the comforting assurance that there were always people that I belonged to and would support me; my perceived strength back then was something borrowed, not innate. At my core, my nature was that of a pissant weakling.

A couple years ago, in one of those random conversations that take an unexpected turn towards a deep honesty I found myself having with my best friend, I remember him telling me that I was strong — the strongest person he knew. I recall feeling a brief esteem boost hearing that coming from him, right before being hit by an overwhelming wave of sadness at how untrue I felt that to be. Sure, I’ve exhibited resilience and resourcefulness that I never would have thought I had in me over the past few years, but the price I paid to do so is what destroyed me inside and sent me down that depressive spiral. I had to accept the loss of the life and identity I’d grown up with. I was forced to let go of all the people and relationships I was supposed to be able to rely on. Coerced into having to accept that the unconditional love of family and unwavering loyalty of friends was something that wasn’t real, or at the very least something the universe was determined to prove to me I wasn’t worthy of.

Revisiting those thoughts with my present frame of mind this year, I’ve finally flipped that perception. After all that time in isolation, going through those cognitive behavioral loops and rewriting the same old blog entries, I finally found the will to accept my reality and embrace the change into this new person I’ve been driving myself towards becoming. Before, it was out of a necessity that I resented, now it’s out of unbridled desire. Once upon a time, I was weak, and I knew it. I was insecure and utterly dependent on others for my sense of self and happiness. Now, the memories of my personal past, even up to just a few years ago, feel like the recollection of a previous lifetime. If I re-read my old updates, it’s almost as if I’m reading something written by a complete stranger.

During a recent play-through of Kingdom Hearts II a while back, there was a line of dialogue in a cutscene that stood out to me:

awakenthroughweakness

And so though it may have taken me far longer than it should have, through the copious amounts of weakness I once owned, I’ve carved out an awakened something new inside myself — its antithesis, an infallible reserve of mental-emotional fortitude and strength.

Personal Purpose: It’s About Power

Over the past weeks, I’ve been myopically focused on my running and fitness. That race to [two hundred miles][1] before the end of the month of August consumed as much time as it did energy, and in the past week of recovery and return to my training, I’ve been mentally organizing all of the non-fitness related things I’ve been meaning to write on, and at the top of the list landed a recent meditation I had on the purpose of this blog.

As I’ve acknowledged many times before, I’m painfully aware of what a terrible web presence I’ve built over the past few years. I’ve reduced myself to a repeated string of unsympathetic lamentations, an addict of melancholy rumination, mentally-emotionally damaged goods unable to regain control of his own mind and thoughts. I’ve still been wrestling with the idea of unpublishing and deleting it all, but I always ultimately conclude that I can’t just give up — after all that time spent trapped in that lesser place and invested in attempts to write about it all, to suddenly and conveniently sweep it under the rug would be very disingenuous.

But where before when I took to writing about weight loss and battling depression I mainly did so to help myself make sense of it all and to earnestly self-express (even just in some largely unexplored corner of the WordPress space), as stated on the about page, now my the purpose for my efforts on both fronts stems from something else: now, it’s about power.

I re-read my writings from 2014, and they’re largely focused on trying to wrap up the loose strings in my mind and mustering up the courage to take that new self I tore myself out of my old life from to find out into the world and subject it to trial. The ones throughout this year have been of a self-coaching tone, motivations to seek out and embrace more intense challgenges for myself — physically, mentally, and emotionally. When my inner monologue starts dictating to my hands now, it feels more self-confident than it probably ever has. Though there’s still so much left to go on my journey of personal development, I believe that I’ve learned and made enough progress to speak on things with at least some degree of authority on account of personal experience. As if I’ve finally qualified myself as someone who actually has something worth saying.

Throughout the majority of my life, I’ve known myself as weak. Emotionally dependent on others, physically weak and soft (and drastically overweight/out of shape), socially inept and cowardly sycophantic. Every time I felt myself strong and capable, it felt like a borrowed power, not my own but a result of the synergy with whoever I had in my life at the time. Treading through the depths of depression and conquering a borderline personality disorder, abandoning my personal relationships and living in perpetual isolation in search of life without external influence — all of that effort has brought me to this current present, a place of strength and an unshakable holistic grasp & understanding of myself…an a renewed sense of purpose. The polar opposite of the person I was just a few years ago.

I don’t physically train for health or the vanity of appearance. I do it to prepare myself for martial arts training and high-level outdoor activities. I keep writing about myself not to be known or understood, nor the hope that my experiences might be of help to others other there, but rather the firm belief that they can.

The August 200: A Month of Workouts in Review

Torso Shot, Side View

August was a very active and noteworthy month for me. As I detailed in a DayOne journal entry I shared on the 31st, I walked/hiked/ran a cumulative 200 miles throughout the month, most of them running, an average of 6 per day without any daily lapses in physical activity. It wasn’t until the last week and a half that I realized how close I was to 200 mile mark, and really started pushing myself, bumping my daily range from 3-5 miles up to 8-10 miles. That, and the arm &and core training I started trying to take up, really put the beat down on my body — but it was well worth it, for it’s a lot stronger than it used to be.

August 2015 Weight Trend
August 2015 Weight Trend

In regard to weight, I burned off about 10 lbs, and apparently put them right back on. At the start of the second half of August, I was weighing in at the low 190’s — 191.7 lbs was the lowest I saw register on the scale during my weigh-ins. As I started aggressively chasing that 200 mile goal, running longer distances in spite of chronic lower back & leg muscle soreness and starting bodyweight/dumbbell workouts, my weight started to trend upward again. At the end of the month, I was back to weighing in between 197-199 lbs. Still being mostly unfamiliar with the degrees to which muscle growth affects weight, it felt like I hadn’t done enough working out to explain so many pounds gained. I pulled out the tape measure and took my usual targetted measures, and didn’t find myself changing input values much from the last time I took them.

Yet, despite what the scale and the tape measure imply, those pounds have got to be mostly from muscle. My legs, from the glute down, have an improved tone that I didn’t have last month. Even though I still have a relatively high concentration of abdominal fat, the paunch is smaller than it’s ever been. And where it used to muffin-top out in all directions, now it only hangs (slightly) from the front; the “love handle” flabs have significantly reduced.

Torso Shot, Side View

When I take a glances in the mirror these days, I can see the beginnings of musculature poking through the body fat I’ve still got left. If I poke my fingers in towards my abs from the front, they travel through far less fat before hitting the muscle wall. Despite the lack of a massive shift in quantitative inch and pound measurements, I feel much more compact and hardier than I did just one month prior, and the improvements in my physical form & awareness (and pant fits!) show it’s been a vast improvement.

Yesterday I took the day off from all physical activity and took in calories indiscriminately. Today, I’m going to focus on easing myself back into activity with walking & yoga; tomorrow, it’s back to regular training. Let’s see if I can make September a 225-250 mile month.

Lebensgefühl

Seems it’s been a whole month since I last composed an update. Life’s been full of change and really busy since the end of the previous month. My best friend and long time roommate moved out, leaving me facing the prospect of being out in the world and sharing living space with someone I didn’t have an existing relationship with for the first time ever. After doing the interview rounds on Craigslist, I ended up with a 25 year old guy from Germany that’s going to be studying at San Diego State University for a year.

From the night I picked him up at the airport, it’s been a non-stop month full of activity. Since he had the first three weeks as down time before the semester started, we’ve been going around getting him setup for his stay (getting cell phone service, a bank account, etc.) and familiarized with the city. Even on workdays, soon as I’ve gotten home and knocked out a run, we’ve been off to go explore San Diego. All that foot travel has been definitely helping with the weight loss efforts — every weekend, I’ve been matching/exceeding my running miles (5-8) with our sight-seeing walks.

As far as a roommate goes, I think I got really lucky. He’s very easy going, and generally open to trying anything and maximizing his experience here in the US. Almost every night we’ve gone out to a sit-down place, we’ve ended up meeting new people and sharing a dinner table with complete strangers.

One of the German words he’s taught me that I really like is lebensgefühl, which means one’s “awareness & attitude towards life”; mine has improved greatly over the past few weeks. I feel fully locked and engaged with life now, steadily moving forward. The memories of the past few years, all the posts I’ve drafted along the way, seem feel completely foreign to me. That place of confusion, fear, doubt, and helplessness, all those past burdens I couldn’t unshoulder, all left behind for good and determinedly a place I am literally incapable of returning to. I don’t worry about myself having relapses into depression and unhelpful mental/behavioral loops because they don’t apply to me anymore.

This sense of completeness and confidence in both it and myself are what I’ve been relentlessly pursuing the past decade. To deconstruct, analyze, and reform an entire lifetime and personality was a hell of a process. Now, starting to really see and believe myself to be that person I’ve aspired to be, that opposite of the mental/emotional damaged mess I used to be, it’s good to have my inner monologue back in a supporting role, no longer the harsh and hyper-critical warden I forced it to become.

Readjusted. Rebalanced. Refocused. And ready to get shit done.

Invalid-ated

It happened as if to spite me: last week, I was back on track, made my progress update, and had a good & active remainder of the week. Saturday, I forced myself to walk over to Hillcrest and catch this year’s San Diego Gay Pride Parade for the first time in years, on account of this year’s big Supreme Court decision. I sold myself so well on the significance of it that when that thunderstorm rolled in, I headed out in nothing but jeans and a tee. I expected high humidity and light showers. Instead, the region got hit with unusual record rainfall for the month of July. I ended up leaving the parade early and headed back home for that very same reason – not having anticipated so much water, I didn’t have any adequate protection for my phone, and I wasn’t eager to adding having to replace a cell phone to the budget schedule. After returning home, drenched to last inch, I changed into some dry clothes and had a drink with friends who had been running late stayed at the apartment once the rain started to fall while I did a load of laundry. They soon headed out to the festivities, but I had clothes in the dryer and was feeling tired enough for a nap. And then’s when I got sick.

I went down at about 3 PM, waking up briefly at around 6 PM to get up and go retrieve the clothes from the laundry room. Back inside the apartment, I went right back to sleep for the rest of the day. Sunday, I woke up in the midmorning hours and had a cup of coffee while I planned out my day, then immediately hopped in the shower. When i got out and toweled off, I ended up taking a nosedive into my bed and not waking up again until 6:30 PM. By that point, the fatigue had begun to heavily involve cold sweats, muscle aches, a headache, vertigo…all sorts of fun symptoms. I was up for long enough to go, with great pains, out into the world to refill a 5 gallon water jug and pick up something to eat for dinner. I ate, hydrated, and went back to suffering in sleep. Monday, I made it into the office and got a couple hours of work in before the headache and searing pain in my eyes put me laid out on the office couch, trapped in a forced sleep state, actively fighting against the pain in my head and eyes and trying to gain enough composure to survive a drive back home.

Yesterday, I woke up feeling better than I had the day before, but still light in the head and heavy in the eyes. I sent a message to the boss, and grabbed a few extra hours of sleep. That seemed to do the trick; as the rest of the day ran its course, I found myself feeling gradually better and more “like myself” again. Today the same holds true, and I think I may have enough strength back to be able to get back to my running this evening.

After all that, sounds like the worst part about being sick these past days was all the physical pain and discomfort. Truth is, it was all (even the migraines) manageable. To me, the parts that caused me most trouble were the forced & sudden disconnect from my “self” (going from 5-8 mile daily runner to bed-ridden & incapable), the acute awareness of all the lost time, and the existential resentment of having the luxury to be able to lie in a bed and ride it out while for so many people out there, a simple natural temporary illness can be ruinous on so many critical, sometimes even fatal, ways.

Being physically incapable of exercising like normal and being too exhausted to write (or merely even think), trapped in a state of weakness and incapability, not being able to fight the fight for self-improvement…that’s what really made it such a miserable past few days for me.

Also, 4 days spent sleeping and waking up only to use the bathroom and eat…I don’t even want to look at my scale right now..

Regaining Momentum

Last month, physically, was a massive setback. Most of the first quarter of 2015 has been spent wrestling with light medical complications, stress eating, personal disinterest, and good old fashioned laziness. In the process of clawing my way out of the recent funk I’ve been in, I’ve been treating my workouts less like to-do list items and more like militaristic mandates – get the work done, no matter what.

In truth, what really helped snap me back into focus was an email update I got from Memoir resurfacing a post from last year. Finding myself in the present weighing almost 10 lbs more than I did back then, I immediately started to get back to running regularly, in addition to adding light dumbbell and body weight activities.

When I stepped on the scale this weekend, I was fluctuating between 198-202 lbs., which is halfway back to where I left off when I was on top of my game late 2014. Normally, this is where I’d put together one of those “Measurement Monday” posts, but I’m not exactly eager to begin quantifying myself since I’m still in the process of losing weight I’d already very recently lost before.

Even without the numbers, there’s still some noticeable improvements taking place. Though I’m not back to my record lightest at 192lbs, my clothes fit me closer to the way they did then rather than the last time I was in this present weight range. The dude-boobs are withering away and starting to take on the shape of pectoral muscles, I’m starting to form curvature in the gluten and getting rid of my flat “office ass”, and I’m slowly and steadily building the lump on my arms.

As long as I don’t falter on my commitment to not breaking again, it shouldn’t be before long until I’m back to the old peak shape and pushing the record further.

Transitional Stagnation

Time really flies when you’re not paying close attention to it. I’ve pulled up the blog in my browser to check when my last entry was and to refresh myself on what I’d written, and I’m surprised to find that the last one was put up all the way back in September, the day right before I started my then-new job. I could have sworn that I’d composed updates during the time in between, but apparently those were private DayOne journal entries I’m thinking of.

Since that last update, things have been moving along in certain areas of life, and completely stagnating in others. Following my change in employment, I took October & November “off” from my various personal projects and dedicated myself specifically to my running and becoming deeply acquainted with my new job. In the recent weeks, my physical status has started to slide backwards on the decline. Winter is generally an unfavorable time of year for me. The drop in temperature and the earlier nights make it easy to rationalize not going on a run. Mentally and emotionally, the focus on family unity that comes with the holidays has historically taken a heavy toll on me. While it hasn’t been as prevalent as in years past, it has been causing me enough discomfort to drive me to use food as a crutch; I’m now fluctuating in a range dangerously close to breaking back up in the 200’s. Couple that with bouts of random back and joint pain (and the resulting recovery periods) from back when I was more actively pushing on the physical front in the fall, and it all adds up to a pretty unpleasant time to be living life in my body.

However, as I wrote to myself earlier in a journal entry, a brand new year is quickly approaching – not just a calendar year, but the marking of another year since birth as well. I’ve only got one more year of life in my 20’s left, and the pressure to progress on the personal roadmap I laid out for myself years ago is really starting to bear down on me. There’s a beginning of a whole new narrative to my life that’s finally within reach, and I’m no longer held back by all the mental-emotional burdens I’ve known all my adult life.

Progress and setbacks all accounted for, things are in an overall good place. I’ve been opening myself back up to my writing, and have started warming up the engines on all my personal development projects. These past couple months pouring all my focus into my job were a nice respite from focusing exclusively on myself. Now that it’s time to get back to work, harder than ever before.