Monday, July 04, 2011

Pressure points

Pfffphhh… Pfffphhh… I breathe down into the face hole of the massage chair, muffling my own exhalation through puffed cheeks. I don't want her to know how much it hurts for her to smooth and spread the tense clod in my shoulder. It contracted initially; now it blooms in pain and opens like a zucchini blossom. My efforts at hiding weakness have failed anyway. You okay? she whispers over my bowed head. I don't let her stop. Mmm, I squeak, more to convince myself than her. I feel like getting through it will get me something good, maybe a few days of relaxed shoulders.

Reflexology is most often an asset in my running efforts, but the quality of the experience depends heavily on the masseuse. Sometimes it's a cheap, relaxing massage. Others, it's a faith and endurance ritual of this-must-be-good-for-me release. Pressure applied to a weak spot with precision can be heaven. Applied differently, it makes me want to vomit.

The same is true for pressure points in my head.

Cucumber vine

When something bothers me, it wraps itself up and around everything I do... creeping cucumber plants of worry, tendrils of obsession that wind between the lines of my writing. Soon the lanky vine controls my conversation too. By the time I told E last night at dinner that I was "thinking about adding another day of running per week because I just can't seem to lose any weight," the vegetation of the thought was dense--and fragile.

Twice in the last week, someone casually asked me about my weight. Not weird, but not complimentary, more of a how come you look the same if you've been running 30 miles a week thing.  That just confirmed what I've been thinking.  It has made its way into my writing and speech as I try to convince myself I don't care what the scale says. "My body just wants to be 150 pounds," I keep saying, like I'm owning it. I'm lying to try to convince myself. I wish it weren't true that I looked and weighed the same thing as when I didn't run and subsisted on potato chips, brownies and white wine. But it is and it makes me crazy.  So by the time E suggested I just stop complaining and eat fewer calories, I had created a vomit-worthy trigger for him to push.

The ensuing upset from me was hardly his fault. At the time I knew he wasn't trying to hurt me but all I wanted was for him to stop talking. It's hard to take diet advice from the guy with -3% body fat who doesn't exercise a lick and consumes half a bag of Oreos a night--the guy who is the only reason we have Oreos and soda in the house in the first place, the one who didn't carry both kids inside him, have his guts hacked to get them out, or ride the rollercoaster of hormonal birth control for ten years. But E is E and that means telling people he loves what to do because he loves them and just wants to spare them the hurt of doing things the hard way.  It didn't matter that I knew what he was going to say about calories or that I don't think he understands how a runner needs to eat.

I wasn't going to be able to hear it because the pressure point he hit was a doozy. Just have some more willpower, he said.

For the record, I don't believe in willpower.  Willpower makes it too hard to do anything.  I only believe in choices, right now in this moment.  Every failure of "willpower" I've ever made really comes down to placing myself in a situation where it's too hard to make a good choice.  To believe in willpower is to believe that there is a mysterious group of super-humans out there who are out-willing the rest of us in order to do anything good.  That kind of thinking makes me want to just lie down and take a nap of defeat.  Also, I think the idea of willpower perpetuates the myth that if you just want something bad enough, you should be able to think it into being.  I've never seen that happen for anyone.  Every accomplishment I've ever had is really just a series of decisions.

But more importantly than my treatise on willpower is the concern I have about why I was so triggered last night.  E said he couldn't understand why this bothers me so much, that I seem to be chasing some idea of what I should look like.  He asked if there was someone I was trying to beat.  No.  Is this a holdout from my days in professional ballet when girls consumed water-soaked cotton balls to feel full, and everyone smoked? (Not me on either count, but being around that kind of disordered thinking while you're staring in a mirror all day, having your every imperfection pointed out isn't a recipe for healthy thinking.)  It's lame of me, but I think that being around teenagers all the time distorts my perception of what a normal healthy adult woman should look like.  I think I absorb some of the shallow obsession with looks that is the demesne of the teenage girl, too.

Was it the registration page for my marathon, which asked if I wanted to register as an Athena (female equivalent of the Clydesdale division) because I weighed more than 150 pounds?  And when did a 5'7" woman who weighs 150 pounds qualify as a "big girl" anyway?  I honestly don't know why this has been building up in my head, but last night it was a knot the size of a softball.  If willpower were real, why couldn't I just will myself to feel better about my body?  I know I have an awesome life--I've overcome a lot of struggle in my marriage and I believe we're happy.  I have two amazing kids.  I have a brain that works and someone wants to let me come to their school next year to make it smarter.  I have a good job.  I have friends.  I am physically active.  Why not just will myself to think my body is okay?

That's the point of pressure.

After a massage I'll often feel sore and tired.  Sometimes, like today, the intense release of the day before leaves me a little sick.  There are all kinds of beliefs about toxins leaving the body.  Was that what happend last night with E?  A release of toxins to relieve pressure?  Or (to follow my other metaphor here)  hacking-back of the overgrown vines?  I'm hoping that either way it's a healthy thing that it came out.


  1. Your brain and my brain speak the same language. This post came at the perfect time. Thank you.

  2. I've been feeling the same way. Although I've lost 15lbs, I feel like I have more to go and can't seem to get them off.

    If it makes you feel any better, I weigh as much as you and I'm 5" shorter than you (5'2"). According to BMI charts, I am on the verge of obese. But I don't feel or look obese at all. I feel better than I have in years.

    I say quit chasing a number. I'm trying to convince myself of that as well. If you're happy with the way you look and feel, that's all that matters.

  3. I appreciate your honesty. You are beautiful inside and out!