The Undeniable Ruth Rotating Header Image

Giving Myself Permission to be First

Making myself a priority is not an area where I excel. I put my work first. I put my goals first. I put other people ahead of taking care of myself. I didn’t want to be in a position where I felt like I was letting people down, especially when it seems like everyone around me is doing so much more than me.

I know, quit comparing my insides to their outsides.

The Road Not Taken by Greg Westfall from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Lately, I’ve felt like a typical lawyer: I get up; I go to the office; I do client work; I go home; I wake up the next day and do it all again. This isn’t what I wanted for my life. I’m so drained by the time I leave the office, I barely have enough energy to work on my blogs, let alone new projects.

I’ve been working on my first online course, but it’s been a much slower process than I envisioned. As long as I need sleep to function, I don’t have enough energy or bandwidth to just work on this just in the evening and on weekends and expect to bring it to market. It needs substantial blocks of uninterrupted time. The hackathon method has been effective so far, when I do it.

Yesterday, I decided the right thing to do to get this course done is to take one weekday every week to stay home and crank on this project. I think this is the only way to give myself the time and space I need for this creative endeavor.

Yeah, that’s me with fire breathers. 
Photo by Annie Christodoulou

So that’s my plan – I’m going back on the road less traveled and clearing my calendar one day a week until this course is done. I hope once I re-dedicate substantial time to this project, that it will have a snowball effect and I’ll be even more jazzed about it instead of being crippled by the fear of failure.

I’m reminded of the Beverly Sill’s saying: “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” One step at a time, one component at a time, this is going to get done. And likewise, if I want a lifestyle that works for me, I have to make it happen.

Footnote: I have no plans to leave my firm. I love working at Venjuris, but I need to balance client work (which is so satisfying to help people in a way that they can’t do for themselves) with speaking, writing, and other projects. It’s just who I am. I’ve never been normal, and I’m not going to start now.

My Disease is Always with Me

My disease is a bitch. Even in recovery, there isn’t a day that I’m not aware that I have an eating disorder.

The best way I can describe my disease is it’s the Fast-Eddie-used-car-salesman-older-cousin of The Oatmeal’s The Blerch. It feels like it’s floating next to me, everywhere I go, and I can’t shut him up. For St. Patrick’s Day, I had a constant barrage of thoughts about binging and purging. I felt like my Blerch was hovering next to me saying:

Back to My Old Life: Alone by Rachmanuddin Chair Yahya from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

“Check out all the St. Patrick’s Day goodies. You can have an entire tray of cupcakes with green sugary buttercream frosting. Oh – and a Shamrock shake. You’ve never had one of those. You can eat all the things, and don’t worry about the calories – because you won’t keep it down. It’s win-win. It’ll be great.”

Reality check: When I was in my active disease, forcing myself to binge and purge was not great. It hurt – a lot. Eating that much hurt my stomach, and then forcing it to contract to vomit really hurt. It’s violent, and when it’s over, my head throbbed, I had no energy, and I felt like shit.

Ugh. I wanted to growl, “Shut up shut up shut up. Shut the fuck up!” My disease tried to convince me that it’s not dangerous, that all the literature that binging and purging is hard on your heart and rips your esophagus apart was written by neurotic doctors. My disease said those are rare instances. It wouldn’t happen to me. Reality check: Eating disorders have the highest morbidity rate of any mental illness.

I dragged my fingers through my hair in frustration, then grabbed my phone and sent a single request to two of my confidants: “Tell me again why it’s bad to eat all the things and puke my guts out. My disease is messing with my head.” They both reminded me of the myriad of ways this disease can destroy my health. One of my confidants is also in recovery from an eating disorder. He reminded me of the powerlessness that comes with this disease. Giving in once makes it that much harder not to give in next time (and the next time, and the next).

I asked my therapist if my Blerch will ever go away. He said it might not, but it can get quieter. I likened that idea to Russell Crowe as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind making the decision to ignore his hallucinations, though they seem to always be lurking in the shadows. As he said, “I’ve gotten used to ignoring them and I think, as a result, they’ve kind of given up on me. I think that’s what it’s like with all our dreams and our nightmares . . . we’ve got to keep feeding them for them to stay alive.”

I’m not fond of the idea of living with my Blerch for the rest of my life, but that may not be something I can control. The disease of addiction never goes away. My default setting may always be to self-medicate and self-destruct, but choosing recovery means I don’t have the luxury of indulging these thoughts. Perhaps if I ignore it long enough, my Blerch will finally shut up.

Not Running is Not an Option

I’m at a point in my life where not getting a workout every day is not an option. Getting up early to go for a run at sunrise helps me feel calm and focused throughout the day. It’s so peaceful to start my day pounding pavement by myself with music or podcasts in my ears. Starting my day with a run helps with my entire demeanor.

Arizona Cactus Sunrise by WillHolmes from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

And have you seen a sunrise in the desert? It’s gorgeous!

I know I have no sense of moderation, so I have to be careful not to over train and take out my shins or my feet. As an act of self-care, I skipped running on Tuesday this week and went to the office early instead. By 10:30am, I hated everyone on the planet.

Lesson Learned:
Skipping Workout = Bad Idea

I know some people who run every day, no matter what, but I was pretty sure that’s not a good idea for me, even if I’m only doing 4-6 miles/day and 20 minutes of yoga for runners. I reached out to triathlon coach David Roher for his recommendation. (He wrote my training schedule for my last half marathon.) He suggested running no more than two days in a row and biking on my off days.

Based on David’s advice, I think this will be my workout schedule for a typical week:

  • Day 1: Run and yoga
  • Day 2: Run and yoga
  • Day 3: Bike
  • Day 4: Run and yoga
  • Day 5: Run and yoga
  • Day 6: Bike
  • Day 7: Fun Workout

I want to use my fun workouts to get my sweat on by doing things besides running. It could be walking around a museum or street fair, hiking, rock climbing, going to the ropes course, horseback riding, step aerobics – really anything goes as long as it’s a workout.

With all the client work, speaking engagements, new projects, and the California bar exam on my plate this year, taking time every day to move my muscles and clear my head is going to be essential for my sanity.

Suicide or Homicide

Every person, when pushed to their limit, is a Suicide or a Homicide. The Homicides are people who take their stress and frustration out on other people who don’t deserve it and blame others for their misfortune. These are people who scream at wait staff, key your car, engage in road rage, and get referred for anger management training. In the worst-case scenario, these are also the people who “go postal” and physically attack others.

Image by eflon (Creative Commons License)

The Suicides are the opposite. When they reach their breaking point, they self-destruct and vent their emotions against themselves. A Suicide who acts out will berate themselves, engage in self-injury or eating disorders, self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, and possibly attempt suicide (accidentally or intentionally). The Suicides are sly because a lot of what they do happens behind closed doors or only in their minds. Outsiders often only get to hear about a Suicide’s process after it’s over. It’s not a public display like a Homicide.

I’m a total Suicide – always have been, probably always will be. I remember being self-destructive when I was just 8 years old. One day, I was really angry about something, and I decided the best way to deal with it was to cross the monkey bars in the backyard 100 times. Don’t ask – it made sense at the time. Around pass 65, my hand started to feel weird but I didn’t stop. Finally, after pass 88 I took my hand down from the bar and saw I had a huge blister that covered my palm that had popped.

Even as an adult, I’m a Suicide. Early on in my relationship with my current therapist, he started to confront me by saying, “Don’t throw the pillow me, but . . .” When I see my therapist, the first thing I do when I get into his office is take off my shoes and make myself comfortable on his couch, usually with a pillow under my head and another one my knees. I started laughing and said, “You know I’m only a threat to myself.” I’m such a non-threat, it would never cross my mind to do such a thing.

One of the ways I knew I was getting healthier in early recovery was when I started to shift from being a Suicide to having appropriate angry thoughts against other when warranted. Such as, when a person cuts me off in traffic, puts pressure on me, or says something rude, instead of wanting to take the negativity out of myself, I had fleeting non-serious thoughts like, “You’re an asshole,” “I’m going to kill you for this,” and “I hope you get crabs.” Remember, I said they were fleeting thoughts and I’m still inherently a Suicide. I don’t actually wish ill-will on others. These thoughts mean I can direct my anger at the appropriate target instead of myself and in a way that validates my feelings and without causing harm. I don’t always deal with my emotions in an appropriate manner, but I’m getting better.

Author’s Note: Using “suicide” and “homicide” in this post may be crass, but I assure you, it’s not meant to be offensive or minimize the experience of anyone who has been truly suicidal or homicidal. It’s just how my mind works – I process ideas best in unambiguous forms so I can’t overthink them. I think I picked up this idiom from someone else in the recovery community. When I first heard this idea, it made perfect sense to me. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t use it. If you feel suicidal or homicidal, please seek help.

Mulling Over my Gender Identity

It’s been about three months since I came out about questioning my gender. For now, I’m most comfortable identifying as non-gendered. I don’t feel like I fit with the concept of being a woman or a man. This is quite freeing, and a source of insecurity. It’s also exhausting.

Self Portrait at Dawn by Jörg Reuter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’ve been paying more attention to my physical body – how I wish it looked, and how these thoughts fit into my gender identity. For the most part, I’m not a fan of my feminine curves. I’d rather see myself with muscle definition – especially vertical lines on my abs and striations on my shoulders – but still maintain a thigh gap. I’ve never been a fan of my own boobs. They serve no purpose and I wish they would shrink. I’d rather have muscular pecs than tits.

I wish I could pass as male or female and/or be so androgynous that strangers aren’t sure how to interact with me because of my unknown gender. It would give me a “blank slate” to play with. As it is, my dress varies widely day-to-day. In one week I wore a feminine top with a bound chest, a shirt and tie, and a dress and heels. I was also giddy when my new Starfleet uniform arrived – the red mini dress from the Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Despite my desire to have an androgynous shape, I think my hips will disclose my biological sex. Even before puberty, my hip bones stuck out, and now, I have curves that I fear can’t be slimmed through diet and exercise. And while I know I have a “good butt,” I prefer to keep it smaller, firmer, and lifted. Being curvaceous does nothing for me.

Note: these are my thoughts about myself. I feel no animosity towards the female shape on other people and U.S. standards for beauty.

Image from Last Year’s Junkyard Photoshoot by Devon Christopher Adams (Used with Permission)

It became obvious that I want to be more androgynous when I was invited to the annual Junkyard Photoshoot. I went last year and had a blast. And I enjoy being a model – getting to show different emotions and aspects of my personality. When I model, I always want to feel my inner strength.

But this year, I declined the invitation. This is an open photoshoot where models and photographers get to show up, have fun reign of the junkyard to do almost anything we want. Most of the models are women, and many of them use the setting to pose in lingerie or less – very over-the-top sexy. (And a lot of female models do this type of modeling. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not for me.) I’d rather be in jeans and a tank top, feeling more like Wolverine than a centerfold.

I decided not to go for two reasons:

  1. I didn’t feel comfortable in my skin. Questioning my gender and other events exacerbated my depression, so I didn’t feel strong and confident. It wasn’t a good space to be in for going into an artistic setting where there would be lots of people I’d never met before.
  2. I was afraid of feeling rejected by photographers who wouldn’t want to work with me. (I know, they can go fornicate with themselves, but easier said than done when I’m feeling vulnerable.)

I’m still mulling over lots of different thoughts about gender identity and how I interact with a mostly two-gendered society. The more I learn about myself, the more I realize that many social norms don’t apply to me.

Reconstruction Packing Party

A little over two months ago, we had a flood at Castle Carter that destroyed my wood floors. Before Rosie the basset hound and I moved into a hotel for a week of urban camping during the reconstruction, I reduced the repair crew’s workload by emptying the shelves in my entertainment center. One of the upsides of not having many things, there tends to be plenty of storage space in my bedside tables and bookshelf. All of my DVDs and music books easily fit with room to spare, even with the rest of my possessions.

Rosie’s happy to be home again

We’re home again, and all the furniture is back where it’s supposed to be. However, the shelves in the entertainment center are mostly empty. Instead of putting everything back, I’m using the reconstruction as an opportunity to have a mini packing party.

Packing Party Explained
A packing party is a term coined by Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists. In his packing party, he boxed up everything he owned as if he were moving, and didn’t unpack anything until he needed it. After 21 days, whatever wasn’t unpacked (with a few exceptions), was sold or given away.

When I moved to my condo, I did my own 72-day packing party. I ended up getting rid of about a third of the items I thought I might need in my new place.

Mini Packing Party
This time around, I’ve cleared the shelves in my living room, and I’m not going to put things back on it, until I need/want them. (I know I have a set of figurines that will survive this mini packing party. They’re one of the few sentimental items I have.)

My 8 DVDs

So far, I’ve only unpacked a few reusable tote bags that I use for shopping and 8 DVDs. My rule for the DVDs is I can’t open the DVD drawer and contemplate what I want. I have to decide what I want and then go get it. If I don’t remember what I own, it’s probably not adding value to my life.

I have several music books from the days I studied voice, but to be honest, I haven’t needed most of them in years. I suspect most of them will be going away at the end of this mini packing party. If I return to going to singing lessons, I know what songs I want to work on.

I don’t know how long I’ll continue this process, but probably a few months. I figure if I don’t use something within 90 days, I probably don’t need to hold onto it long-term.

Potential Long-Term Plan
I can see myself designating a drawer in a bedside table as the packing party drawer as a way to regularly review my possessions and get rid of things that don’t add value to my life. One thing I’ve learned since beginning the process of paring down my stuff is I tend to be happier, calmer, and more creative when I keep the excess stuff out of my world.

Urban Camping = Lesson in Minimalism

We had a flood at Castle Carter (aka my condo) in December courtesy of our upstairs neighbor’s water heater. (We woke up to a lake in our condo on a Saturday morning.) It ruined the floors. Earlier this month, after dealing with estimates and insurance, they got replaced – but Rosie the basset hound and I had to move out for five days during the process. We considered an Airbnb, but opted for a hotel.

Minimal Needs = Minimal Stuff

Our hotel was similar to this, except Rosie’s bed was next to the armchair.

Living in a hotel reminded me how little we need to be comfortable. All I need is a place to sleep, a place to work, nourishment in my body, clothes on my back, a bathroom, and wi-fi. I tried not to bring anything that I wouldn’t absolutely need to take care of myself and work on projects. Even then, there were a few garments I didn’t wear, and I didn’t have time to work on the blanket for a friend who had a baby last month.

Traveling with Rosie is like traveling with a toddler in terms of how much space her stuff takes up. We had her memory foam bed with a comforter and sheet. (She’s nine years old and 67 pounds. She deserves to be comfortable.) We also had to bring food, medications, bowls, and treats.

One thing I did that made the trip go smoothly was pre-pack all our meals. Our room had a little kitchen with a refrigerator and a microwave, so before we left home, I pre-packed all my and Rosie’s meals for this adventure (much like Meal Prep Sunday). Meals and snacks were a snap.

Minimal Distractions = Hotel Hackathon

Rosie’s such a trooper when it comes to traveling.

My life while living in the hotel was pretty structured. After work, my life consisted of walking Rosie, eating dinner, and working. I didn’t watch TV, and thanks to slow wi-fi, I couldn’t easily putz around on the internet. So I worked.

Every night I worked on the online course I’m developing on the legalities of being a professional photographer. It’s going to be twenty lessons with two bonus lessons and an introduction, so that means I have twenty-three slide decks to create. With little else to do, I cranked away at this, and put a substantial dent in this project. I brought a pad of Post-it notes on this trip so I could create a mini Wall of Pain next to my desk.

The reconstruction at Castle Carter is almost complete. It’s so good to be home, but this was a good lesson on what I need to do to get work done (eliminate distractions) and how little I need to be happy and comfortable.

Binding with KT Tape – My Experience

If pushed to label my gender, I’d say I’m non-gendered. While I am biologically female, I don’t think the American constructs of man or woman fit for me. I have no plans to surgically alter my appearance, but I do like to be androgynous. Periodically, I wear a chest binder to have a flatter torso. It does the job, and it’s pretty comfortable considering it’s compressing my chest, but it doesn’t work with every type of shirt – the shoulder straps are too wide to wear with a tank top and tops that have necklines that are too wide or too low. Plus, it’s an extra layer of fabric, which I suspect will get hot in the summer.

One strip of KT Tape cut in half

I learned that some people use KT Tape as an alternative to wearing a binder. As a runner, I’ve used this super-stretchy adhesive fabric tape on my shins and feet while training for races. Wearing KT is better than using an ace bandage or other tape to bind, but it’s not ideal. KT is aware that some people use their product to bind and they provide guidance to minimize issues like skin irritation. I decided to give it a try for a day.

Taping myself was easy. I did right after my shower when there were no dirt or oil on my skin. Given the small area that needed taping, I took a single KT strip of Pro-Synthetic tape and cut it in half. I taped myself while laying down because that’s when I’m flattest. I started the strip just inside my nipple, attached with no stretch, then stretched it across my chest, and lay the other end against my skin with no stretch in the tape. I repeated the process on the other side, but I didn’t completely un-stretch the tape before attaching the end on my side. I could feel that pinching and pulling a bit throughout the day.

Overall, it was quite comfortable. I wouldn’t go running in this setup, but I felt confident to walk my dog and go to the office without worrying that anyone would notice. When I took the tape off, there was a bit of irritation where the ends of the tape were, but not bad – and I have super sensitive skin! I would definitely do this again if I wanted to bind while wearing a non-binder friendly outfit. KT recommends using their Original-Cotton tape to reduce the risk of skin irritation. I’d probably buy a roll in their nude tone rather than my usual black.

I don’t plan to bind myself with KT on a regular basis, but I’m glad to know it works. I could see myself going to a beach and opting to wear KT tape instead of a top. Yes, I could wear classic pasties, but given their typical shapes and colors, those are made to be stared at; and sometimes, I really don’t want to deal with being objectified. I just want to be comfortable.

Can’t in Good Conscience Watch the Super Bowl

I used to like football. I thought I wanted to play football in high school, but I was overruled by the adults in my life. But I played in the powder puff games in high school and played intramural flag football in during undergrad. It was fun.

Football was fun to watch . . . sometimes. The guys who play at the college and professional level are incredible athletes. And then I saw the movie, Concussion:

This film made me more aware of the dangers of repetitive head trauma facing football players. It can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that led to several players’ emotional downfall, and several committed suicide. I knew concussions were a risk in this sport, but I didn’t know it was this bad.

Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was portrayed by Will Smith in the film, estimates that 90% of NFL players have CTE. Unfortunately, this disease can only be diagnosed after death. What’s repulsive is the NFL seems to care more about the money than protecting players’ health and safety. I was pleased to see several players retire early after learning about the risks of CTE.

Knowing what I know, I can’t in good conscious support full-contact football. I can’t even attend a Super Bowl party because it’s based on supporting a sport that’s killing people.

I could support football again if they changed the rules to flag football. It would change the strategy of the game and what skills and abilities are valued in players. Baseball and basketball are comparatively low-contact sports and people enjoy them.

Goal Post 2 by Matt Denton from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I asked my friends what they thought of the idea of changing all American football leagues (pop warner – professional) to flag football rules. Some of their reactions were disconcerting:

  • Millions of Americans would lose their favorite means of acting physically aggressive by proxy.
  • I honestly think the vast majority of football fans are like the casual hockey fan – they watch to see the “hits”.
  • There would be way fewer head injuries. Many rabid football fans would also cry about their sport being corrupted by liberal worrywarts, no doubt.
  • It would not be worth watching.

I don’t understand how anyone can endorse and enjoy a sport that is slowly and painfully killing its players. Thankfully some of the responses had a different perspective:

  • It would probably be considerably less popular. But it also might attain a following a “strategy” game.
  • It would stop being a professional sport in the U.S. but would still be a popular sport for kids. I’m thinking something like volleyball in the U.S.
  • The sport would die (and it’s about time it did).

If that’s the price for keeping people alive, I’m ok with that. So, what will Rosie and I be doing this Sunday?

Yes, I’ll be gleefully working on my taxes.
“Gleefully” may be overstating it, but I’ll be happy when they’re done.

Trump’s Tweets Analyzed

In my life before law school, I was a licensed mental health counselor. One of the lessons we learned in our masters program was that anger is almost always a secondary emotion for sadness or fear. If a client came into my office and was fuming mad, it usually meant they were sad or scared.

Donald Trump – Caricature by DonkeyHotey from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Do you read Donald Trump’s tweets? Have you read them since he took office? He seems to be spewing anger, which I think is a sign of his own insecurities and fears. (It doesn’t surprise me that his actions and statements have led to accusations that he has a micropenis; he seems to be excessively compensating for something. It’s so over-the-top.) Looking at his tweets just since January 20, 2017, I produced a list of things he appears to be afraid of:

  • New York Times
  • Washington Post
  • CNN
  • Barack Obama
  • Chicago – or being murdered
  • Mexico – or being labeled as someone who can’t keep their campaign promises
  • Chelsea Manning – or people who will expose his secrets
  • Anyone who isn’t a U.S. citizen
  • Anyone who voted against him
  • Celebrities who oppose him

Looking at this list, I wonder if Donald Trump is afraid of the Constitutional rights to free speech, assembly, and religion – all of which come down to freedom of thought and expression. I would not be surprised if he’s afraid of anyone he can’t control, especially anyone who might cast him in a bad light.

Reading Trump’s tweets reminded me of the documentary, Tough Guise, which examines how boys are socialized in the U.S. and what it means to be a “man.”

This film also examines the impact of race on notions of masculinity and how white men have been in a place of privilege in society for much of American history over women and men with other skin colors. Some white men find moving towards social equality threatening because it means that they will be on equal footing as others whereas the fact that they were born with pale skin and a penis previously gave them an advantage. To them, equality means losing their status, which they find intimidating because it means they have to compete with a larger pool of people. It means losing their advantage.

I would not be surprised if Trump has this mindset – not that I expect him to admit it or be self-aware enough to acknowledge it. I suspect he sees everyone who isn’t like him or does not agree with him as a threat. If he wasn’t in a position of power, I would feel sorry for him. Unfortunately for him, Trump was hired for a temp job and the American people are his boss. We have an obligation to continue to corral and correct him, regardless of how many tantrums his throws on social media.