Pain Management

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

It is possible to feel pain without suffering.

Beginning to letting go of imperviousness and practicing true strength and resilience has been a little difficult. As Merlin and Dan discussed in the show, we associate suffering with pain when in reality they are separate, albeit closely related. Having to endure pain, whether physical, mental, or emotional, can create a state of suffering but doesn’t need to. The poignancy of the statement was impactful itself, but became even moreso when my brain synthesized it with one of my mentally bookmarked posts from my reads on Zen Habits. Leo Babauta wrote suffering to be a miasma that “causes you to be unhappy, to be stressed, to procrastinate, to be distracted, to be angry with people, to be dissatisfied with your life, to be overweight and unhealthy, to not exercise or eat healthy, and much more.”
Prior to that moment, I would have described myself as suffering-free after all the time I spending all that time wrestling with myself over the fairly recent past and no longer dealing with that old familiar internal turmoil. Yet those subtler manifestations of suffering have still been something I’ve been constantly having to stave off. Melancholy and misery no longer pervade my day-to-day life, but the suffering apparently still does.
Leo also writes that the antidote for those forms of suffering is to practice self compassion — which is the complete opposite form of self-motivation that I’ve been utilizing. My internal monologue is less self-compassionate and far more critical and berating. Shutting down and letting go left me coaching myself like a drill sergeant. It’s sufficient, but also an incomplete and far from ideal solution.
The pains of the past are something that I’ve accepted is something I’ll never be rid of, at least not until the technology in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind becomes a real thing. No one can ever be completely free of the most unpleasant parts of their past — memory is a double-edged sword like that sometimes. The thing that we are capable of moving past is the suffering those pains can induce. The full emotional shut-down of the past few years hasn’t been eliminated my own suffering entirely…and now that allowing feelings has become an option again, that self-compassion one of should one of first ones to get closely reacquainted with.

Strength

After acknowledging the truthful weakness of my nature a while back, I turned my attention towards getting myself to the point where I could see myself in the same light others do. Despite the lamenting self-critical tone of the majority of my writing (and by extension, the majority of my thinking), that’s not the persona I wear in day to day life. I follow that “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy and try to project that version of myself I really see myself as. Admittedly, the best I can muster is a cheap knockoff, but it’s sufficient. Still, after almost three decades of carrying the self-perception of a helpless incapable victim of circumstance, it was time to really start putting some realization behind that idealized self.
It all began with taking up the running habit. Over the months that I’ve been burning off pounds, building stamina, and gradually getting my body to match that idealized image I have of it “at goal”, it’s become easier to make enact similar changes mentally. The more I see my physicality reflecting the person I see myself as, the more natural my persona has become. At this point after all those pounds and miles, I no longer see myself as that depressed trainwreck simply pretending at being some better person I could never actually be.
But the transition from weakness to strength took a prolonged detour in a state of imperviousness. In some of my favorite television writing in the 6th season of Bones, they dropped a bit of dialogue that really resonated with me, with the lead character discussing the difference between being strong and impervious. In short, being strong is being able to withstand and thrive; being impervious is simply being detached and not allowing anything through.
As evidenced by most of the updates I’ve written in the past, I used to be in a really bad mental-emotional state. As much as I tried to accept my past and move on, I couldn’t stop living in it. It was easier to escape to the memories of what used to be (even with all the pain that came with it) than to face the prospect of having to keep moving forward in life and figuring out the person those experiences left me as. However, after indulging in that masochistic form of escapism for so long, I grew weary of feeling that way. Unable to sever the ties with the past, I got desperate and instead severed the ties with my emotions. It wouldn’t be possible to feel so depressed and perpetually downtrodden if I just didn’t feel at all.
Right around that time, an episode of one of the podcasts I regularly listen to mentioned a quote from to lyrics to the Dead Kennedy’s Your Emotions. “Your emotions make you a monster”.
That became my personal mantra, and in my efforts to rid myself of the melancholy, I also sacrificed my capacity to genuinely feel good things too. My readings on Greek Stoicism philosophy facilitated that process with its emphasis on objective reduction; feelings became nothing more than the waste material of the biochemical interactions going on in my brain that led to unhelpful perception more often than not. I shut that shit down hard.
In the recent months, I’ve been slowly allowing — no, retraining — myself to feel again. At first, I was extremely hesitant, worried that my old nature would come rushing back out and overwhelm me. Worried that I was still a weak fraud, and that all this time I’d spent on my so called personal development had been spent in vain.
I’m happy to say I was wrong about that.

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.

Weakness

A concept that I’ve noticed myself repeatedly thinking on with directness and clarity is that of “weakness”. Over the past months, it’s been something that I’ve been doing an extensive amount of thinking on and repeatedly procrastinating on drafting an entry on. After so much time continually shooting it off into the future, I’m well overdue to roll up my sleeves and give it my best shot.
When I first started really focusing my thoughts on the topic at hand, that first thing that came to mind was that familiar aggressive self-criticism: despite all the circumstances that caused it, the bottom line is that I simply wasn’t strong enough to not end up in a depressive spiral for an entire decade. To constantly see inspirational articles of people in the world conquering far greater adversities and thriving, finding myself with this very unflattering self-deprecating (and very public) writing log as the proof of the live I’ve led up until this point has been a source of both personal embarassment and resentment.
In turn, I found myself wrestling with the guilt of failing to recapture the strength that I once had. I recalled the memories of that time in my life where I knew happiness, and remembered feeling invincible in both character and mind. Yet, the more I reflected on these memories, the more I came to realize that I was recalling half-truths. Those times in the past when I was boisterous, opinionated, and outspoken…they were limited to the times I was around my family. I was free to be as arrogantly brave as I wanted to, because I had a nuclear arsenal on standby. If things ever were to go south, I had the assurance that the parents and siblings I looked up to would be there to back me up. The reality that I conveniently glossed over was that when I was physically separated from them, I turned into a docile sycophantic people pleaser.
If I jog the timeline all the way back to early childhood, I was completely soft, physically and emotionally. I had an extremely low pain threshold, and the sight of my own blood coming from even the smallest wound would send me into hysterics. As much as I was bold and outspoken, it was a confidence afforded to me by the comforting assurance that there were always people that I belonged to and would support me; my perceived strength back then was something borrowed, not innate. At my core, my nature was that of a pissant weakling.
A couple years ago, in one of those random conversations that take an unexpected turn towards a deep honesty I found myself having with my best friend, I remember him telling me that I was strong — the strongest person he knew. I recall feeling a brief esteem boost hearing that coming from him, right before being hit by an overwhelming wave of sadness at how untrue I felt that to be. Sure, I’ve exhibited resilience and resourcefulness that I never would have thought I had in me over the past few years, but the price I paid to do so is what destroyed me inside and sent me down that depressive spiral. I had to accept the loss of the life and identity I’d grown up with. I was forced to let go of all the people and relationships I was supposed to be able to rely on. Coerced into having to accept that the unconditional love of family and unwavering loyalty of friends was something that wasn’t real, or at the very least something the universe was determined to prove to me I wasn’t worthy of.
Revisiting those thoughts with my present frame of mind this year, I’ve finally flipped that perception. After all that time in isolation, going through those cognitive behavioral loops and rewriting the same old blog entries, I finally found the will to accept my reality and embrace the change into this new person I’ve been driving myself towards becoming. Before, it was out of a necessity that I resented, now it’s out of unbridled desire. Once upon a time, I was weak, and I knew it. I was insecure and utterly dependent on others for my sense of self and happiness. Now, the memories of my personal past, even up to just a few years ago, feel like the recollection of a previous lifetime. If I re-read my old updates, it’s almost as if I’m reading something written by a complete stranger.
During a recent play-through of Kingdom Hearts II a while back, there was a line of dialogue in a cutscene that stood out to me:
awakenthroughweakness
And so though it may have taken me far longer than it should have, through the copious amounts of weakness I once owned, I’ve carved out an awakened something new inside myself — its antithesis, an infallible reserve of mental-emotional fortitude and strength.

Return to Form

At this point, it’s been well over a month since the last time I posted an update. In the time since, I’ve meant to buckle down and post an entry many times, but I’ve been in a weird place this past month. It was not unlike those old behavioral loops I used to be prone to, only without the nagging rumination and general mental “funk” of times past. After all the insane amounts of running I did in August & September and all the social activity in my off-time during those months, I simply burned out. I lost touch with my drive, my thumos, and stopped working out regualrly and abandoned my self studies, opting for escapism instead and losing myself in video games and Netflix.
Throughout that time, I kept telling myself to pull it together and get “back to work”, but I didn’t. Couldn’t. I completely lost interest in myself and my projects. I kept trying to think of all the things I had running about in my head that I wanted to get out and commit to text, but was unable to muster up the intent to get it done.
Now, in what feels like a literal blink of an eye, I find myself at the start of a new month. I finally it together enough to write out one of my “life snapshot” entries in my offline journal, and seeing my current reality reflected back at me hard coded in words has jarred me back to my senses. There’s still so much to do, and time, as always, continues to tick away.

No-Measurement Monday Check In

It’s Monday morning, and I’ve instructed myself to crank out a quick update before heading into work to get the week started. Looking at the blog archives, I see that it’s already been two weeks since the last time I posted something. Typically, Mondays are the days where i’m supposed to crank out a weekly measurement/stat/photo update on the progress with the weight loss efforts, but the thing is…I really hate doing it. As much as I’d like to be the type of person that’s really into physiological quantification, rigorously tracking activity and nutritional intake and steadily heading towards peak physical fitness, the reality that’s become very evident over my past updates is that I’m not. Even with all the tools I’ve collected over time, from analog tools like tape measures and body fat calipers to smart phone apps and wifi connected smart scales, there’s no out-the-box solution to fully automate that capture. At some point, it still requires sitting down in front of a text editor and compiling all that information. Like most people that aren’t professional athletes/body builders, it’s not exactly my favorite thing to do, especially since body changes, even when implementing a better diet and copious amounts of physical activity, is still a gradual process that fails to deliver on the instant-gratification level modern life has made us accustomed to.
Much like I wrote at the beginning of the month, I’m still back in the high 190/low 200 lb range that I spiked up to at the end of August. For the majority of this month, I’ve been avoiding even stepping on the scale — knowing that the number it’s going to read out lacks context and doesn’t account for the trade off in fat to muscle that my increased running and body weight training has been causing, it feels pointless to take a measurement that I know is inherently inaccurate. I tell myself that I should at least fall back to the tape measure & photographs, but those are tedious and time-consuming to take as well. Yet, despite the lack of activity with written updates, activity in real life has stayed steady. I’m still steadily moving ahead with that pursuit of personal purpose and power I most recently wrote about. I’m looking at 10 miles a day for the rest of the month if I’m going to meet the 200 mile goal again for this month (which I fully intend to), and have been upping my game with the non-cardio workouts; over the past week and half, I’ve been spending a lot of time with a new friend who’s a professional yoga instructor, and he’s both forced and inspired me to raise the bar for myself. In addition to the body weight routines and 7-minute workouts I’ve been doing, I’ve also (finally) started actively targeting abdominal/arm muscles and general flexbility with the aim of being able to pull of advanced yoga poses and handstands like he can.

Even 90°+ degree weather won't stop me
Even 90°+ degree weather won’t stop me

More noteworthy than any set of measurements and photographs I could post is the feedback I’ve been getting in direct conversations with people, having recently started making a change from my ascetic & hermetic ways of the past few years. Though I regularly allow RunKeeper to cross-post my activity logs to my social media accounts, outside of the occasional Facebook Like and Twitter Favorite, I don’t usually see much by way of commentary. Yet, in “catching up” with old friends & acquaintances conversationally, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see it routinely being brought up by the other party.
Kyle convo
Greg running conversation
It’s validating to hear that my desired intent, to inspire even just one person on even the smallest level, is taking place out with these updates, even if I’m not immediately made aware of it.

Personal Purpose: It's About Power

Over the past weeks, I’ve been myopically focused on my running and fitness. That race to [two hundred miles][1] before the end of the month of August consumed as much time as it did energy, and in the past week of recovery and return to my training, I’ve been mentally organizing all of the non-fitness related things I’ve been meaning to write on, and at the top of the list landed a recent meditation I had on the purpose of this blog.
As I’ve acknowledged many times before, I’m painfully aware of what a terrible web presence I’ve built over the past few years. I’ve reduced myself to a repeated string of unsympathetic lamentations, an addict of melancholy rumination, mentally-emotionally damaged goods unable to regain control of his own mind and thoughts. I’ve still been wrestling with the idea of unpublishing and deleting it all, but I always ultimately conclude that I can’t just give up — after all that time spent trapped in that lesser place and invested in attempts to write about it all, to suddenly and conveniently sweep it under the rug would be very disingenuous.
But where before when I took to writing about weight loss and battling depression I mainly did so to help myself make sense of it all and to earnestly self-express (even just in some largely unexplored corner of the WordPress space), as stated on the about page, now my the purpose for my efforts on both fronts stems from something else: now, it’s about power.
I re-read my writings from 2014, and they’re largely focused on trying to wrap up the loose strings in my mind and mustering up the courage to take that new self I tore myself out of my old life from to find out into the world and subject it to trial. The ones throughout this year have been of a self-coaching tone, motivations to seek out and embrace more intense challgenges for myself — physically, mentally, and emotionally. When my inner monologue starts dictating to my hands now, it feels more self-confident than it probably ever has. Though there’s still so much left to go on my journey of personal development, I believe that I’ve learned and made enough progress to speak on things with at least some degree of authority on account of personal experience. As if I’ve finally qualified myself as someone who actually has something worth saying.
Throughout the majority of my life, I’ve known myself as weak. Emotionally dependent on others, physically weak and soft (and drastically overweight/out of shape), socially inept and cowardly sycophantic. Every time I felt myself strong and capable, it felt like a borrowed power, not my own but a result of the synergy with whoever I had in my life at the time. Treading through the depths of depression and conquering a borderline personality disorder, abandoning my personal relationships and living in perpetual isolation in search of life without external influence — all of that effort has brought me to this current present, a place of strength and an unshakable holistic grasp & understanding of myself…an a renewed sense of purpose. The polar opposite of the person I was just a few years ago.
I don’t physically train for health or the vanity of appearance. I do it to prepare myself for martial arts training and high-level outdoor activities. I keep writing about myself not to be known or understood, nor the hope that my experiences might be of help to others other there, but rather the firm belief that they can.

The August 200: A Month of Workouts in Review

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

August 2015 Weight Trend
August 2015 Weight Trend

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

Yet, despite what the scale and the tape measure imply, those pounds have got to be mostly from muscle. My legs, from the glute down, have an improved tone that I didn’t have last month. Even though I still have a relatively high concentration of abdominal fat, the paunch is smaller than it’s ever been. And where it used to muffin-top out in all directions, now it only hangs (slightly) from the front; the “love handle” flabs have significantly reduced.
Torso Shot, Side View
When I take a glances in the mirror these days, I can see the beginnings of musculature poking through the body fat I’ve still got left. If I poke my fingers in towards my abs from the front, they travel through far less fat before hitting the muscle wall. Despite the lack of a massive shift in quantitative inch and pound measurements, I feel much more compact and hardier than I did just one month prior, and the improvements in my physical form & awareness (and pant fits!) show it’s been a vast improvement.
Yesterday I took the day off from all physical activity and took in calories indiscriminately. Today, I’m going to focus on easing myself back into activity with walking & yoga; tomorrow, it’s back to regular training. Let’s see if I can make September a 225-250 mile month.

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.
IMG_5641
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.
IMG_5640

Lebensgefühl

Seems it’s been a whole month since I last composed an update. Life’s been full of change and really busy since the end of the previous month. My best friend and long time roommate moved out, leaving me facing the prospect of being out in the world and sharing living space with someone I didn’t have an existing relationship with for the first time ever. After doing the interview rounds on Craigslist, I ended up with a 25 year old guy from Germany that’s going to be studying at San Diego State University for a year.
From the night I picked him up at the airport, it’s been a non-stop month full of activity. Since he had the first three weeks as down time before the semester started, we’ve been going around getting him setup for his stay (getting cell phone service, a bank account, etc.) and familiarized with the city. Even on workdays, soon as I’ve gotten home and knocked out a run, we’ve been off to go explore San Diego. All that foot travel has been definitely helping with the weight loss efforts — every weekend, I’ve been matching/exceeding my running miles (5-8) with our sight-seeing walks.
As far as a roommate goes, I think I got really lucky. He’s very easy going, and generally open to trying anything and maximizing his experience here in the US. Almost every night we’ve gone out to a sit-down place, we’ve ended up meeting new people and sharing a dinner table with complete strangers.
One of the German words he’s taught me that I really like is lebensgefühl, which means one’s “awareness & attitude towards life”; mine has improved greatly over the past few weeks. I feel fully locked and engaged with life now, steadily moving forward. The memories of the past few years, all the posts I’ve drafted along the way, seem feel completely foreign to me. That place of confusion, fear, doubt, and helplessness, all those past burdens I couldn’t unshoulder, all left behind for good and determinedly a place I am literally incapable of returning to. I don’t worry about myself having relapses into depression and unhelpful mental/behavioral loops because they don’t apply to me anymore.
This sense of completeness and confidence in both it and myself are what I’ve been relentlessly pursuing the past decade. To deconstruct, analyze, and reform an entire lifetime and personality was a hell of a process. Now, starting to really see and believe myself to be that person I’ve aspired to be, that opposite of the mental/emotional damaged mess I used to be, it’s good to have my inner monologue back in a supporting role, no longer the harsh and hyper-critical warden I forced it to become.
Readjusted. Rebalanced. Refocused. And ready to get shit done.