Body Break

Let's take a break from griping about my family so I can focus on the physical aspects of my therapy. Carrie and I just went to the Body World Vital exhibit at Telus Spark, so that was a good reminder of how awful I'm taking care of my body. Here's a picture of my weight over the past few years. I bought a Withings Smart Body Scale so it would be easier to track my lack of progress. #iot

My weight since 2013 has increased by 20 pounds

You can easily point out the new years resolutions. I think one reason why I kept failing was because I didn't know what I was dealing with in terms of my own personal challenges. Usually when I put my mind to something, things get done, but for some reason, exercise has never really stuck. I've done all the reading, and I've tried different diets and exercise programs. I know it's about a healthy lifestyle, not just spurts of exercise or preparing for beach season. I've done the keto diet, P90X, worked my way up to deadlifting something like 220 pounds, used to play soccer at lunch twice a week, but I haven't reached that mythical "healthy lifestyle" stage yet. There have always been additional roadblocks that I never saw, so this post attempts to outline them. I feel like how this kid doesn't know about gravity yet.

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When I was molested as a child, I must have seized up my shoulders in response. I never discharged that freezing energy, so my trapezius muscles (henceforth, traps) have always been oversized. I never understood why. For some strange reason, I've always carried a backpack, and sometimes a super intense one. I don't know why I felt compelled to bring all my books with me, but it got too heavy real fast. In high school, I had a hiking pack that was stabilized by metal bars. On the Inka Trail, I carried a 25 pound pack, which I learned too late was pure madness. The point isn't that they're particularly strong but that they're oversized compared to the rest of my body. I don't hit the gym much, but my traps are larger than they should be in relation to the build of my other muscle groups. I believe this is because my trauma has lived in my traps, and anytime I faced a threatening situation, my traps tightened up. I've lived through a 20-year-long shoulder shrug. My traps are where I store my trauma, and they have become so big that it's caused problems in other parts of my body.

As such, my traps pushed my shoulders forward, closing down my chest. Perfect for crossing my arms. My massage therapist says that my shoulder blades are too high and far apart from each other. That is, when I walk around, I don't proudly display an open chest, ready to face the world. Instead, I'm closed off, ready to protect my heart with my arms and shoulders. My chest has become accustomed to this posture and my pecs have tightened up in this position, so I have to stretch them out by laying on a foam roller. Additionally, I have to work out my back muscles so they get tighter, and I'm trying to focus on bringing my shoulder blades together and down, opening my chest to the world, showing that I'm not afraid.

This closed down posture not only affects my chest and back, but my head rolls forward too. This causes neck problems, and I have a Herman Miller Aeron for home, one of the best ergonomic chairs available to mankind. As an engineer who will likely sit at a desk and computer for the remainder of his life, ergonomics is an important topic for me. I don't want a neck like a vulture. I always thought I had bad posture for no reason, but now I have a better idea of what I'm dealing with.

Additionally, my bad posture causes my belly to balloon out. From the above chart, I'm objectively getting fatter, so that's not what I'm pointing out. I'm saying that I also look fatter because my posture exacerbates my food baby. Standing upright and tall, it doesn't seem so bad, but after a meal where I stuff myself and sit hunched over, it's not a pretty sight. My belly is becoming the butt of a lot of jokes; it's a big butt and I cannot lie. Sitting for prolong periods is almost as bad for your health as smoking, so I'm trying to change my workflow so I get up and walk around more regularly, relieving the pressure on my organs. In short, my bad posture is making my belly look bigger than it is, even though it's already pretty big.

Taking a turn down a darker path, one aspect of trauma is the ever-present reality that I will soon die. When the body chooses freeze over fight or flight, you are literally playing dead. Again, since I never discharged that traumatic energy, I have always felt ready to die, just like Biggie. In fact, parts of my body have always believed it was already dead. There is a passage in Waking the Tiger (when will I stop quoting this book?) that summarizes numerous experiences unique to the traumatized person, but this is the relevant one:

I have great fears of death...not that I will die someday, but that I am going to die within the next few minutes.

For Valentine's Day one year, I wrote Carrie a shitty poem wherein I described myself as an invisible ghost. This is a common storyline in literature. The ghost always has some remaining task on earth before they can rest in peace, so once some adventurers help the poor soul retrieve some precious item or say goodbye to a loved one, the ghost is finally able to rest and subsequently disappears. Now imagine that the ghost is the soul of a live person who has undergone trauma. During my molestation, I had an out of body experience, observing from above and to the right while the older man touched me. In that sense, as I work through my problems in therapy, my ghost "disappears" because it returns to my body.

I think another aspect affected by my trauma is how twitchy my body is sometimes. Being ever on the lookout for danger, my mind and body were always scanning for threats, ready to run if need be. As a result, I have a terrible time figuring out, for example, when to jump into conversations. I've done that thing where you just stand there, never saying anything, simply observing people having a discussion. I've also done the thing where I interrupt people for no good reason, which tells me that my timing is all out of whack. I'm one of those people who also bounces their legs nervously when they sit, which turned out to be the perfect lifelong training for drumming. I sound like a chipmunk, stuffing my face and running in quick little spurts, stopping every few seconds to scan the environment.

My emotional intelligence report from work said that I had high impulsivity. That speaks to me about a loss of control over my body. It makes sense because I have a hard time saying no to sweets, eg. Stiegl Radlers. I'm so addicted to pop that I have an elaborate system of making lemon sodas: keeping the fridge stocked with lemons from the farmer's market; keeping 12-packs of Canada Dry Club Sodas in the fridge because nothing else is as convenient or cheap when it comes to fizzy water; regularly cleaning the hardcore lemon press from Williams Sonoma; and storing mason jars in the freezer so I get that A&W chill mug experience. This is one of my few regular commitments to my physical health, trying to cut out the high fructose corn syrup aka glucose/fructose. Sometimes I even mix in juice or pop into my jars with the club soda, which still works because I'm cutting out at least half of the sugar in order to get my fix.

Chef 'n Citrus Lemon Press

Sleep hasn't been great either. It was only a few months ago that I prided myself on my commitment to sleep, but now it's unpredictable. Sometimes I'm up until 2, sometimes I get sleepy at 9. Sleep is the source of so many impacts on our mental and physical health, it's ridiculous to think how we schedule sleep around our lives instead of scheduling our lives around sleep.

So yes, I'm a little more aware of the challenges I face in maintaining my physical health. That's all well and good, but what am I doing about it all?

If we look at fat in another way, it's stored energy that needs to be used. If I'm not going to spend the energy I take in, then I should reduce my intake moving forward. However, my relationship with food isn't so straightforward as for other people. I have deep underlying emotional issues that have compounded over two decades which have contributed to my physical problems. In other words, I eat my feelings. I will deal with that in time, but it's hard trying to handle it right now with so much already on my plate. It's like trying to pay off student loans while you're in the busiest part of your school program. That works for some, but that's not how I'm handling my fat reserves. I need to just ride out this whole counselling thing, stabilize my life, then I'll have some leftover time and energy to focus on spending all these stored calories.

Part of my response to my sexual abuse is that I need to feel in control of my body, so I don't participate in physical activities that others want me to. I don't ski or snowboard, no matter how shocking it is to people who enjoy it. ("BUT YOU LIVE SO CLOSE TO THE MOUNTAINS WHAT A WASTE WHY OH GOD WHY?!") I don't hike. I don't swim, even though I know how and I already go to the pool to hot tub and steam. Nowadays, boxing is working for me. I have the boxing partners, the equipment, and the right gym. I don't understand how or why it's fitting now, but it's my little system that I'll protect. This is part of the trial and error of discovering what I can handle during my therapy. I know that I need to do more cardio to be a better boxer and to lose more fat, but my body doesn't take suggestions. You're not the boss of me.

I'm still on my new three years resolution, so I'm not taking on any special projects. I'm stopping myself from "putting my mind to something," which includes losing weight. You've seen how far that's gone over the last few years. I need a new approach, and "just doing it" doesn't work anymore because the dam has burst and I just feel everything all the time. I'm still trying to survive every day.

Something that's new is how my facial hair is growing. You don't need to know me long to recognize the bare half-goatee that I always carry. It's a moustache with no connectors to the hairs on my chinny chin chin, as pictured here:


However, now it's starting to reach toward my side burns. It's pretty faint right now, but I've watched in envy over the years as Chris and Josh formed full beards by the time they hit something like 20 years old. I'm a late bloomer. Whatever oppression was living inside of my body, some of it must be getting kicked out. What I'm doing is working, so I'm just gonna stick with that for now.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le