Hello, World!

It’s been a good while since I last composed an update. These past three months have been another writing dryspell for me, days gone by unrecorded either digitaly or by pen and paper. Even my social media activity has been on the minimal side lately. That time away and focusing on life as it exists in day-to-day reality was a helpful break to take time away from the self-imposed pressures of maintaining a blog and the distraction getting caught up in what so many people I know are doing in their lives at the expense of focusing on doing what I should be with mine. I haven’t been blogging enough to mention it, but I’ve had some persisting medical issues I’ve been struggling with since last December, random abdominal pains and digestive issues but all my tests and labwork I’ve had done have come back clear. Medicine has no clear solution to my problem, so I’m essentially just left living with it and seeing if things get better over time.

In the time I’ve spent convalescing, I’ve also started to make the strides that I would like to see myself making in regard to the personal and professional developement principles that I idealize so much. but also actively working on obtaining competency in the areas of web design & development that I ultimately want to work in professionally. I’ve been tackling the wealth of books and online courses I’ve collected in preparation over the years, and started doing some side projects at the same time: throwing together a logo for a friend’s baking/catering business, doing mockups of websites for local businesses that don’t have an existing site or one that could use modernization.

Capitalizing on that momentum, I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking on what to do in regard to my online presence. Years ago, I started posting many of my writings to myself as a passive accountability mechanism that I haven’t at all been treating this blog as, and the exisiting content/tone isn’t what I want to keep doing. And when it comes to other personal publishing platforms on the web:

-Facebook: most everything gets locked behind the friends-only filter.
-Twitter: is mostly my profane super-ego left unchecked, and Trump has made it apparent how badly I need to drop that style.


-Instagram: never really got into using and only recently have an interest in now that I was able to recover my original username.
-LinkedIn: has been quietly collecting dust. Last time I was actively networking during my employment search in 2013, the site was not nearly as useable and functional as it is now.

In aggregate, that leaves me looking like a hack “writer” who spends a lot of time screaming in outrage at people over the internet — meaning, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Especially given the current circumstances in my personal life.

Since Septeber of 2014, I’ve been working as a website & office administrator for a local kitchen and bathroom remodeler who’s been in business since 1977. Having been in business for so long, my employer has finally reached the point in his life where he’s ready to semi-retire, leaving me reduced to part-time hours and in need to find either a supplementary part-time or a replacement full-time income channel.

As I’ve started browsing and applying at the available opportunities out there, I’ve already been made poignantly aware that the jobs I’m best qualified for aren’t the ones I necessarily want to be doing. I don’t want to keep being a high functioning office administrator, I want to get in the game of providing internet business services to small-medium sized organizations with freelance writing in the mix. In the mean time, I’ve got my material to study and this blog (and social media channels) to work on.

Absent Cause

It’s been a few months since I’ve last sat down in front of a blank page/screen to do any writing for myself: 3 months since my last blog entry and virtually nothing by way or journal entries, written or typed. After the election climate, all the perpetual coverage in the blog and news feeds, I felt like every possible thought I could have on political matters was already being dissected and disseminated in much greater detail and clarity than I would muster. Not only that, I started having some health complications that had me in chronic pain and knocked me off the workout routine I was starting to actively pick up again.

The holidays gave way to the new year, and I was spending every waking day trying to muster the energy to get out of bed and just focusing on making it through until the part where I relax at home with my best friend before going to bed. I got locked in a zombie-like routine, and doing much of nothing beyond work and watching TV. Having only unplesant things bouncing around in my mind and not wanting to actively think about them, .

With the turn of the new year came the start of coverage with my Covered California health plan, and after a month of roughing it out I finally went to go see a doctor about the abdominal pain I was having. I had an ultrasound done, which came back clear, and no real resolution to what was happening.

Having missed the hitting the ground running at the milestone of the new year (which I’m sure many others did because of the current social-political landscape) I set a soft target for my birthday. I’d focus on getting myself put back together, healed up, and actively set to get to myself back to where I was physically before winter. That didn’t play out as planned; the things were going on with me alleviated but still persisted, and every week it seems I’ve been having some other temporary flare up with various symptoms.

Looking back at the past three months, the cold early nights of Winter, the rainy weather, and all of the things breaking down with my body have backed me into a mental-physical rut. Constantly in varying degrees of pain, unable to workout like I used to, and feeling defeated, as if this crappy state has become the permanent new norm. Much to my own disappointment and personal embarassment, my mental strategies for dealing with this all have been proving very ineffectual.

Now at the final day of February, I’m reaching my frustration limit. My whole goal was to journal progress with this blog, yet lately, I’ve lost so much ground that seems impossible to make up with no foreseeable improvement in personal condition that it’s highly tempting to hit the delete button and give up blogging altogether. But thanks to present circumstances commandeering my internal monologue, this blog is the last bastion of my psyche that refuses to give up. Without it, I would be in a state where I’ve given up on myself completely, and I can’t abide that.

A few days reflection and seven paragraphs later, I don’t really have a plan moving forward. All I know is that come tomorrow, another month will begin to tick away, and need to start doing things differently and get back to task, even if it feels like physical hell every step of 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.

False Start

In what feels like the blink of an eye, January 2016 is already about to be over, and the past 30 days haven’t exactly been the best for me. I ended 2015 on a high and optimistic note, but in the weeks since then, I’ve been dealing with what has felt like systematic physiological failure. I can’t recall the exact order and/or duration, but off the top of my head, this month I’ve had:

  • Bronchitis
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Persisting knee joint pain
  • Soreness on the balls of my feet
  • Oral inflammation
  • Dental pain (I think those wisdom teeth are now effectively on borrowed time)

It seems that fall last December was just the tip of the iceberg, and continuous wave of physical illnesses — along with the early nights and cold winter weather — knocked the fight out of me. As soon as I felt good to go and over one thing, the next one would kick in. Rather than getting bummed out and depressed about it, I ended up mentally checking out, using a fair amount of marijuana to mitigate the pain & discomfort and shifting my diet to one where I’d eat whatever the hell I wanted to.

To say to myself (and write publicly online) about this big push to make with the coming new year only to find myself betrayed by my body and incapable of following through…old, broken, hopeless…those are the types of thoughts I was frequently visited by. Even though I didn’t let the feelings take hold and get to me, it didn’t make the thoughts I was thinking throughout this time any less tiresome to process and push out of mind.

All of this is “the latest”, the reality that I have as a material for an update, and it’s obviously not the entry I would have wanted to find myself composing one month into the new year. In addition to being something I’d rather not have to think/talk/write about, doing so would then require doing something about it, which the past weeks have left me doubtful about being able to do.

Even now, this cloudy & windy Sunday afternoon, I’m not feeling anywhere near 100%. Honestly, it feels like my max has lowered and 80% is as good as I can get. Still, looking back on where my thought processes and general outlook has been this month, I’ve been contradicting my personal philosophy and resilient self-perception. Best to put a stop to it now rather than let it become the precedent for the remaining 11 months.

Ingratitude

Growing up, Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday out of the entire year, even more than Christmas and its promise of presents. It was the day out of the year where family squabbles would be put aside and I was most likely to see all my siblings, nephews, and nieces gathered together under one roof. In our home, once everything was laid out and everything had taken their seats, it was my mother’s custom for everyone at the table to take a turn and express what it was that they were most thankful for that year — even the youngest children who barely had the cognitive & speech development to grasp the concept of being thankful got a turn to reflect and share. After dinner was done and the space cleared, the rest of the night would be spent in mass harmonious familial coexistence. Every year, I looked forward to that time of togetherness, to getting my turn to have everyone hear me verbalize how happy I was to have everyone gathered together and always çhallenging myself to do a better job than I had the year before.

When I lost most of my family after the fateful summer of 2001, my feelings toward Thanksgiving began to sour. For the better part of the decade that followed, I still had an active relationship with one of my sisters and getting together with her family was still something I looked forward to. Yet, in the recesses of my mind, I carried a private lament that the times of family-wide reunions would no longer come again. In the past handful of years that I’ve been completely separated from my entire family, fighting my way out of depression by myself and killing off my emotions in the process, that soured feeling towards Thanksgiving has turned into a yearly dread.

I still very much believe in the spirit of Thanksgiving, but like many other things in life, I’ve come to accept it as something that other people get to have and experience that I no longer get to. I see friends on social media sharing their get-togethers with family & loves ones and feel happy for them, all the while feeling the stings of the reality that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that perfect sense of absolute unity and belonging myself, and the strong likelihood that I won’t ever get to again.

My attempts to look at things objectively and be thankful for the “small” things don’t fare much better — they come loaded with guilt.

I tell myself I should be thankful for my current job and the fact that I’m not stuck in a dead-end drudge like I was before, but immediately think of all the people out there who are.

I tell myself I should be thankful for the comforts of “first-world” life and the luxury of having a warm bed that I can sink into at the end of my day, but there are millions of others out there that can’t because they weren’t born in the right place/time like I was. To focus on that is effectively feeling relief that I’m not suffering as much as other people in the world are without having done anything special to deserve such an exemption.

I tell myself that there are plenty of people & friends in my life that I should be thankful for, but the ways that my experience with the disillusionment of unconditional love, support, and trust with my family and my efforts in removing myself from my own emotions keep me from feeling gratitude for them. To not feel thankful for them them now reinforces just how broken and incapable of basic human function I’ve become over the course of my life. To force myself to be thankful for them in spite of all the above feels like I’m relegating them as consolation prizes to a nobody.

Such is the way things have been for years now, and the way I refuse to let things continue. That is why this year, instead of holing up and shutting myself away for the day like has become customary, I’ve decided to take up an invitation to go spend Thanksgiving in the company of said friends.

Champurrado Flavored Coffee

One of my favorite Mexican seasonal foods growing up during the holidays growing up was champurradoa variation of hot chocolate with a thick consistency. While tasty, it’s consistency gives it a very heavy feel for a beverage and more along the lines of a small meal (think bowl of oatmeal). That, and the preparation process is a little involved, meaning it either has to be the holiday season or you really have a strong craving enough to push you to make some yourself if you’re drinking it.

Luckily for me, I’ve found a quick an easy substitute that as a bonus entails my true favorite drink: coffee.

Don Francisco's Cinnamon Hazelnut Coffee

You buy a can of Don Francisco’s Cinnamon Hazelnut flavored coffee, brew a pot, and pair it with a hazelnut creamer until it turns a camel brown color. In it’s own ways, it’s better than the real thing.

Custom NaNoWriMo

Already, we’re three days into November. Thanks to internet culture, there are two events that run the entirety of the month every year. The first is Movember, where participants stop shaving and grow the biggest mustache they can over the calendar month. I don’t even try to partake, and likely never will — my Asian genes make it virtually impossible to grow anything on my face that wouldn’t be deemed a cute yet laughable attempt. There are teenagers out there that could outdo me on that front. The other is National Novel Writing Month, or as it’s known colloquially, NaNoWriMo. The premise here is pretty self-explanatory: write and “ship” a novel within the 30 days of the month.

Every year, I tell myself that I’d like to participate as a way to stretch and build (what I deem) my underdeveloped story telling and writing skills. The thing is, with all the daily responsibilities of life and my workouts, I’m hard pressed to think of any ideas for a story and the time to sit down, type them out, and refine them into a narrative. It sounds like a cop out, and admittedly is one to a certain extent. Yet on the other hand, being able to realistically assess your capabilities — and in turn, prevent yourself from coming down hard on yourself later for failing to meet lofty expectations — is a key part of productivity. Having failed to do any pre-planning this year and already being three days down, I’ve got no expectations of drafting and finishing a novel for this year’s NaNoWriMo. As a compromise, I’ve decided that I will try, but my main goal won’t be to complete a novel. My writing focus this year will be to make sure that I write a journal entry and a blog entry every day.

Dad-Bod Status

Getting to know the new roommate has been keeping me busy during almost all my non-working hours over the past few weeks. Now that he’s going to be starting his semester at SDSU, it’s nice to find myself settling back into the normal rhythm and no longer neglecting my journal & blog. Now that I’ve gotten the last update hammered regarding the mental state of things, I time to do one for the physical.

Thanks to all the walking he and I have been doing around town and the steady/increased running activity, I’ve been burning off weight at a very steady rate.

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It’s tapered off and jumped up at the end because, apparently, my scale wasn’t positioned on even flooring and was recently moved to get more accurate readings (it’s an old apartment complex, the floors have shifted a bit over the years).

Diet wise, I’ve also been doing pretty good. For some reason, I haven’t been able to glutton down and put food away like I normally do. Lukas, my new roommate, loves to eat and try new cusines & foods. Over the past weeks, I’ve effectively been running down the list of all my favorite places to eat, and finding myself eating less that I normally do when I visit those places. At home, Lukas being the health-conscious eater that measures his nutrional values has positively influenced my own choices and shopping lists, since I like to buy things that can be shared. I’ve been making way more hummus wraps and salads than burritos these days.

I’ve been so focused on my cardio and running, myopically focused on my race towards a flat stomach that I’ve been neglecting to work on my arms & core like I intended to start doing. Now that I’m finding it fairly effortless to squeeze in a morning and a longer evening run, I really should start kicking it up another notch and getting to the weight & crossfit training exercises I’ve been meaning to take up.

At this point last month, I was still putting off doing those measurement updates with photos because of the lack of progress & visible difference. Now, that’s not so much the case. Last week, I stood in front of the full length mirror in just my underwear to give myself a good look over. Usually, that ends with my feeling like not much has changed. This time, I was taken aback by the fact that it was me in the mirror. I’m not rocking a flat stomach or chiseled abs (yet), but if I had to describe it, I’d say that I’m moving backwards and crossing the “beginnings of dad-bod” phase. My legs and glutes look more toned and thinner than they ever have, and my torso has definitely flattened out considerably. Feels like in a just a few more weeks at this rate, I’ll be able to ditch the shirt while running and start getting my farmer’s tan taken care of without jiggling all over the place.

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Pushing Past the Plateau

Things on the physical front have been moving along in the same manner as my cognitive-behavioral efforts have: undocumented online, but still moving along steadily. I clicked into the cateogry archives to see when my last weight loss related entry was posted, and was surprised by the category description that loaded in the page header:

 

After some quick elementary school level mental math, the realization that I’ve been at this for three years now and am nowhere near completion started to nag at me. I haven’t updated since April to give myself time to focus on doing the work so that I’d actually have an update to make – March & April, I was having another one of those episodes of “unhelpful thinking”, and I overeat as a stress reliever in that mental space. For the past three weekends, I’ve kept telling myself “one more week” of activity before I start posting again.

Comparing my measurements and photos now to those back in March/April, there isn’t much difference on a surface level. I’m consistently weighing in a couple pounds lighter, and the targetted measurements at each body part is still more or less in the same range as before. Even though I’m still a ways off from a flat stomach & abs, all the activity has definitely had a great effect on me below the waist: I’ve started to build that desired “thigh gap”, and all of my leg muscles feel far more toned and strengthened.

Even though my running activity is higher now than it was when I first started occassionally running a couple miles as far back as 2010/2011, my body isn’t as responsive to my running activity as it used to be. Even with increased activity and dietary improvements, I’ve hit a wall. Though most people balk at the fact that I run 20 miles a day and would label me as highly active,, my insights from AddApp – a third party health data aggregator/parsing service – tell me otherwise.

My 5.2 miles that I try to do daily is only half of what I apparently should be doing each day. And both in my writing and to myself, I’ve been saying for a good while that I need to step up my game. Lately, I’ve taken to trying to wake up early in the morning to go for at least a short 3 mile run, clocking in over 8 miles for the day once the evening run is completed. So far, it’s definitely been testing my endurance and resolve. For the past couple weeks, my calves have been screaming at me for a break as soon as I step foot out the door.

Even then, that’s just a start. I did a search on bodybuilding.com for profiles that had my age/height/goal weight and a “fit” target body fat percentage, and pulled four random photos from the first page of results.

While I’m definitely much closer than I was a couple years back, there’s still so much more to go before I get there. I’m going to have to start implementing weight training, yoga, and crossfit into my routine, both long overdue additions. Not having much core/upper body/arm strength, I’ve been procrastinating and focusing soley on running to avoid dealing with the heavy soreness and pitiful performance that you have to overcome when you’re first starting to build muscle groups.

It’s a struggle, this quest for physical fitness. One of the biggest things I’ve learned from the process is a broader sense of compassion and understanding to extend to others. I know very well how hard it is to get motivated, to take that intial action, to stay focused and not fall back into bad sedentary & dietary habits. Then there’s the time, mental, and financial investments. Learning basic nutrition and anatomy, building a diet, having to go grocery shopping, having to cook, having to clean up, having to track of perishables and minimizing waste…it’s a lot of extra minutae to have to deal with. It makes me especially sympathetic to single parents who don’t have a family/friend support network to fall back on. The demands of modern life can easily make daily survival and personal health mutually exclusive.

Bringing my focus off the world at large and back on to myself, all there really is left to do is to get it done – and according to my Withings smart scale, I’ve officially hit the point where there’s actually a point in post updates to this blog category as of July 2nd. Time to push on up to the next level.

Return to Form

Almost two full months since last I wrote here. Looking through my archives earlier this morning, I realized that I’d been doing a fairly decent job at offline writing in my DayOne journal between May and now. Still, that’s pretty much the bare minimum, and it doesn’t get the blog updated.

Fact of the matter is, I scared myself away from online writing for awhile. At this point, I’ve beat the horse dead throughout all its lifetimes when it comes to expressing reservations about keeping the online writing habit when younger-me made the call to make myself the central topic; each time I do, I reach the same conclusion, where it’s something I can’t just quit, having put the worst parts out there.

So having made such a bold commitment to permanently moving past old habits, I’ve been doing my writing in a place no one else can see it in case I wasn’t able to make good on it. As it turns out that has not been the case: over the past two months, I’ve been enjoying a peace of mind and mental clarity I’ve been working so tirelessly at being able to reclaim – that default state of mind that’s easy to take for granted: to have the ability to wake up and feel finely in tune with your reallity and your ability to influence it, to see each day as an opportunity to do and accomplish instead of the necessary routine drudgery life can become for anyone, moreso for someone in a compromised mental/emotional state. More importantly, it doesn’t feel “borrowed”, as if something that could disappear at any moment. It feels innate and rightfully mine. After all the years of psychological/emotional/spiritual/existential deconstruction of my thinking and the past that influenced it, I’ve found myself finally returned to that place of unshakeable confidence that’s reached when you really “know who you are”.

As a result, it’s become much easier to write and journal for myself. Instead of spending my thought cycles trying to figure myself out and stave off those negative thought/behavior patterns, my mind is free (and able) to focus on articulating that which I already know.

Things are starting to get very interesting for me and my writing output…