My COVID Isolation challenge, with credit to “75 hard”

Apparently, I’m may be the last person on the planet to hear about the 75 hard challenge. I’m now reading several bloggers who are doing this challenge and writing about the benefits they see. It sounded intriguing, particularly during the COVID -19 pandemic, when everything has been so upended. So, after further research and consideration, I’ve climbed onto this bandwagon. I think it will help me address some of the habits I’ve developed to cope with stress and calm feelings of vulnerability.  

I am, however, on a modified version of the challenge. Yes, purists will tell me that you cannot change the challenge and still be doing the challenge. Phooey. My modifications make the parameters more relevant for me under the current constraints of working, working out, and maintaining a household in times of COVID (without a gym!).

What is the 75 Hard challenge?

A Google search will tell you about all you need to know about the challenge. I don’t want to link it here because, frankly, the initial presentation is hard to listen to. I’m no prude to f-bombs, but it is extremely distracting to repeat any word that often. And it makes the speaker sound unprofessional. Listen at your own risk. I’d recommend reading about it instead.

But briefly, 75 hard is touted as a mental and physical challenge that involves 5 parts. They suggest that the point of this challenge is to develop all kinds of positive outcomes, such as improved confidence, self-esteem, perseverance, and resilience. Sounds miraculous, doesn’t it!?! I get it — pushing yourself to stay committed to high goals, even when it gets hard or uncomfortable, changes you, arguably for the better. This is the ultimate goal of the challenge. But there are lots of ways to get to the same end.

So the 5 parts.

1 — Drink a gallon of water a day. Only count plain, clear water.

2 — Do a diet of choice. No alcohol or cheat meals.

3 — Exercise two times a day for 45 minutes each time. One session must be outside.

4 — Read 10 pages of a book on non-fiction.

5 — Take a progress photo every day.

All parts, every day, for 75 days in a row. If you skip any one element on a given day, the challenge is restarted on day 1. Seems harsh, but this consequence is intended to keep one on track.

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My version of the challenge

So here are the parameters for my challenge, based on 75 hard. Sorry, purists. This is my deal, and I have good reasons for changing things up. I’d like to do some type of challenge that will test me, make me fitter, and help improve some habits, without throwing me into a tailspin trying to complete some seemingly arbitrary rules. Perhaps I cannot call it the 75 hard challenge though. Maybe COVID Isolation challenge is more appropriate?

Water

I already drink a lot of water. It’s summer. I get thirsty and drink, but I don’t monitor it. Some days I need more, some days less. Plus, there is nothing magical about drinking a gallon of water/day. However, I put a gallon of water in the refrigerator and use that throughout the day for this challenge. My aim is to empty the container.

A bigger challenge for me is to eliminate diet soda. My consumption has gone up during the pandemic—a lot. I’ve wanted to cut back, but haven’t been able to do so. This challenge leads me to cut it out completely.

Diet

I don’t do traditional diets anymore because that ultimately leads to disordered eating for me. But I did want to make some changes to my eating habits. Clean things up a bit, if you will. First, I am cutting out noshing between meals. I found that I was mindlessly reaching for between-meal snacks every time I passed the pantry, typically out of boredom or frustration with my work. I’m eating for reasons other than hunger, and I’d like to curb that habit.

Secondly, I’m eliminating sugary or overly processed food for 75 days. My spouse is on a Hostess cupcake kick — mainly because he’s running 6-10 miles a day. I really shouldn’t be joining him on this kick. I’m hoping that between this and cutting out noshing, I will develop some better, sustainable habits, long term.

I already don’t drink alcohol very often. So check that one off the list.

Exercise 

My modification is to work out once daily for 75 days without a day off. This is where I depart from the original challenge most significantly. I simply cannot work out twice daily every day. My main exercises during this pandemic are cycling and swimming. Cycling takes at least 2 hours for me to prep and ride — and that’s a light ride. Tack on even more time if I have to drive someplace. Swimming takes nearly as long since I have to drive to and from the pool and shower afterward. I get the lane for an hour under the current COVID restrictions, and I have to maximize that time. Adding another 45-minute workout on top of either of those and I’m looking at a bare minimum of 3 hours between all of the logistics. So, doing this twice a day? I’d be setting myself up for failure from the start. Also, I’m older and (active) recovery days are critical to helping prevent injury. The dogs won’t mind an extra walk on those days. 

Reading 10 pages of non-fiction

I already read primarily non-fiction material, but I skip around between books. So I will only read 1 book at a time to improve my focus and retention.

Picture — one photo daily

This one is harder than it sounds. I never get in pictures. Fat people rarely do. While you really can’t see progress daily, this part of the challenge might make me less sensitive to seeing myself in pictures. It’s forcing me to look at myself every day and learn to appreciate what I have.

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My plan is to report back periodically and describe any significant observations. I’m thinking of posting pictures at the halfway point in early September.

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I see this challenge as a kind of a game that may help me undo habits that have emerged recently (noshing on sweets, drinking diet soda, skipping workouts). These are unhealthy crutches I’ve used, mainly to deal with working at home during the pandemic. But they slow my fitness progress and keep me stuck in place. While the challenge may be hard, it really is a way for me to re-focus my efforts to get fitter and develop a better mindset. In more a typical year, I’d be training for specific events. This year, I’m training for life.  

So no, it’s not 75 hard in the “pure” form, but rather it’s a meaningful challenge that won’t overly stress me. There’s enough to deal with at this point, and I can’t afford to fall back into dysfunctional behaviors.

Photo by Rollalyn Ruis on Unsplash

Vulnerability — fear of putting it out there

I’ve read enough of Brené Brown’s writing to understand the concept of vulnerability, and how shame stops us from being fully engaged in our own lives. Vulnerability is essentially putting oneself out there, being authentic, saying and doing what you feel is true, despite the potential for negative pushback and judgment. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is allowing yourself to be exposed. Letting people see who you are and what you think without a filter.

It can be frightening, and I know from experience that this fear has stopped me from doing many things. I thought it was a lack of knowledge and skill that held me back. Turns out, it was an intense fear of being vulnerable. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being judged.

While it often has a negative connotation, transformation happens when you allow yourself to be vulnerable. To take risks. Arguably, it’s the only way that change and personal growth can occur. I’m slowly beginning to embrace a higher level of vulnerability as I age and begin to leave my current career life and venture into retirement. Still, it’s hard because my innate tendency is to hold back. This tendency has gotten worse with time, particularly as I moved further in my career.

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So let’s talk about vulnerability when posting on a personal blog. I don’t post as often as I want because the words often feel stilted and forced. I’m still hiding. When I do post, I feel like I am exposing my insecurities. About my career. About my weight. About my past floundering and times I’ve given up. It’s uncomfortable to explore these thoughts, and I feel like I’m choking on the words that I write. Have I said too much? Put too much out there? Will I regret posting this? 

I’d like to say: enough of that. Writing about difficult experiences can help with regaining one’s sense of power and control. I think that’s what I need to do to push through this transition. Be more authentic, more exposed, and willing to face the feedback. The posts where I’ve done this have been the most cathartic.

And yet, I remain fearful. It would be easier to write about fluff things here, but I don’t think that it would get me anywhere. I may be throwing things at the wall with this blog, to see what sticks, but that seems part of the transition process. I’m allowed to explore and see where differnt paths lead to.

Photo by Tomas Kirvela on Unsplash

Why does the opinion of my clothes matter to me?

So I have a ritual that I engage in periodically. I should rephrase that: I usually do this only when I’m feeling good in my skin after weight loss. I’ve written previously about my diet and exercise history and how I’m now attaining slow and steady weight loss while not actively dieting (but consistently working out). With weight loss comes the inevitable need for smaller sized clothing. Only I don’t need to go shopping in a store. I go “shopping in my closet” because I have full wardrobes in storage, with sizes ranging from 10 to 24. They are carefully labeled by size classes: M-L-XL-XXL-XXXL. There is no box labeled “S.” I don’t think I’ve ever been a size small. Perhaps when I was in fourth grade? Maybe not even then.

My ritual goes something like this: everyone is out of the house, and I’m feeling puckish with new weigh loss. I likely have noticed that some of my current clothes are a little loose. That’s the signal that it is time to try on garments in the next size box. My heart literally races with excitement to see what may now fit. This is such fun, but it also strikes me somewhat sad that I enjoy this so much. 

Why do I take such delight in becoming smaller? 

I pull out the box and revisit my old friends neatly folded within. Pants, blouses, sweaters, jackets are all there. I unfold each item to assess whether I want to try it on. I don’t waste time on something that is clearly not ready to be brought back into circulation. It’s only a “score” if it fits and then it gets placed into the active closet. Items in the current closet that have become too loose get folded and placed back in their respective size box, hopefully to never be seen again.

My ritual can take an hour or so to perform. I hate being interrupted in the middle of it.

Does this sound familiar? Does anyone perform such a ritual? Or is it just me that does this because I own so many clothes in such a wide range of sizes? Clothes that reflect my history of years of disordered eating and failed diets. My sense of worth gets tied up in the “box” that I currently fit in. Why should the opinion of my clothes matter so much to me?

Of course, there are the times that I need to revisit the boxes in the next larger sizes. There is less joy in this process, but I’m grateful that I have something to wear, even if I feel shame in returning to those larger sizes. At that point, I’m unable to deal with the mental fallout of purchasing anything new. It’s best for me to hang onto those boxes with the bigger sizes for those upward cycles.

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My use of this ritual doesn’t mean that I never buy new. Things wear out or are so grossly out of style that it’s not sensible to keep them. I only return garments to boxes if I would ever wear them again. I guess this is where the “sparks joy” rule comes into play. If I no longer love a piece, it goes to Good Will. If it’s too worn out, it goes to trash.

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Sadly, so many of my clothes are intended for work, and I won’t really need them in the next year, outside of a few dressier items. I may need a new suite of rules to determine what stays and goes in the boxes. I suspect that my size will stabilize once the stress and anxiety of my job are gone. Hopefully, there won’t be so many boxes in the closet in the future.

Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

Watching a pandemic crush my goals under its foot

I opened my planner the other day and found a note on a sticky tab that I had written in January. It was a list of goal times that I was aiming for by August to qualify for the National Senior Games. Sad to say, our state qualifying games were canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Even sadder to say that I’m nowhere near those ideal times. Perhaps I set my sights a bit high in January, particularly with the virus on the horizon.

While I’ve been knocked off track for achieving my swimming glory this year, I need to recognize that I made progress, even in these weird times. Our pool was closed for nearly two months and, short of building something in my backyard in the dead of winter, there was nowhere to swim. Since the pool re-opened, I swim 3-4 times a week for an hour each time (assigned lanes and times, of course*). Depending on my plan for the day, I can do between 2000 and 2500 yards. I’ve not done this much swimming in years and plan to push further if the pool continues to stay open.

I worry a bit about what will happen in the next few months with coronavirus, especially as it gets colder and people head back indoors. Epidemiologists predict a second major wave at that point. It would pain me to stop swimming come fall, just as I’m starting to make progress. But I also need to be realistic about the changing virus situation and plan ahead for the next corona-wave. Will I ever hit those times on the sticky note though?

My cycling distances have been less than what I planned, primarily because we’ve had some pretty crappy wind lately. If I have the choice between swimming or cycling in a 20 mph headwind, swimming will win every time. This next week should be better, weather -wise, and I can up the miles then (hopefully).

I’m also considering trying to run again. Other than dog walks, I haven’t been rambling on two feet for any appreciable distance in some time. Running is more convenient than either swimming or cycling, which can chew up 2-4 hours a day. It also meets social distancing requirements, for when the pool shuts down. It may be painful to start, but it seems a necessary next step.

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I have to say that I’m starting to feel a second wind in my work with the renewed exercise intensity. I’m feeling more successful physically, and that seems to translate into feeling less burned out. This is a good thing. I’ve been struggling with writing lately, but the writer’s block is loosening. And I’m less likely to spill my guts about frustrations with my job. The disappointments, microaggressions, and push-backs are still there, but I can now shut-out those aspects of the work because I’m having success elsewhere in life. I have a singular work goal at this point: finish these project analyses and reports. Nothing else really matters for this short-timer.

I also continue to see slow, but continued weight loss — a total of 15 lbs since March and 35 lbs since I was training for a bike tour last summer. Not rapid, but steady. While I’d love to see the needle move faster, what I’m doing now is sustainable over the long term. Plus, I’m happier and feel fitter. I might not be able to turn back time and undo the damages, but I’m putting things in place for a productive future after finishing this phase of my career.

At this point, my clothing is looser and I’m starting to fit into smaller sizes. I have a whole wardrobe of fitness clothes that I’ve bought over the years but couldn’t wear them. Cycling shorts and jerseys that didn’t fit last year are perfect this year. I actually look like I might know what I’m doing on a road bike with the proper outfitting.

So while the coronavirus has crushed many of our plans for this summer, it has also created new opportunities to improve my fitness and endurance. I have to believe that this pandemic will end someday and I plan to be ready for when it does end. The best I can do is to continue to put things in place for when that happens.

*Side question: why do old guys disregard assigned lanes and times in the pool? More than once, I’ve had to ask one to leave the lane when it was my assigned time. And they act like I’m putting them out when they are cutting into my swim time. How do they come to expect this level of entitlement? I can only imagine them shitting a brick on the deck should some one cut into their pool time. Rant finished.

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Drunk guy on a plane

This post is different. I wrote it a year or so ago — long before the recent marches and protests over gross societal inequities. I made a few changes to it, in light of the recent happenings in multiple cities in the US. This flight did happen and I wonder if my reaction to the series of events would be the same today.

I’m not certain that this fits on a blog about career/life transition, other than some references to my own career shortcomings. I thought I’d put it out, nonetheless.

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We are waiting to deplane after landing in Seattle. There’s a gray, disheveled man standing in the row behind me. He is insufferable. I’ve listened to his loud, croaky voice the entire trip from Denver. He has been drinking the entire time. It is 11 am.

Many of us on this plane are traveling to the same conference. He is one of the attendees. Although he looks a mess, I’ve learned that, like me, he is a professional researcher. His matted appearance isn’t all that uncommon in our field. I once took classes from a guy who owned only two outfits: black sweater and pants in fall and winter, brown in spring and summer. He slept on a cot in his office and showered at the gym. He was an ABD — All But Dissertation. Meaning he’s completed all the requirements for a Ph.D., just not the capstone dissertation. In other words, he was largely unemployable in the academic world. He survived by teaching introductory classes to undergraduates. I’m pretty sure that he was still there after I graduated.

The conversation between the drunk guy and the two young women seated next to him started nicely enough. Both women were graduate students, and this was their first time traveling to a conference to present their findings. It was both exciting and nerve-wracking! But never once did he ask them about the work that they were doing. I suspect that it didn’t matter to him.

Their conversation turned awkward by the time we reached cruising altitude and he started with personal questions. Did they have boyfriends? Where were they were staying and for how long? Did they want to meet him later for drinks? Questions that he might not have asked without the power of early morning alcohol behind them. I wanted him to ask about their work and to recognize them as beginning researchers. That didn’t happen. The conversation ended when the two plugged into their phones to escape him the best way they could in that tight space. I ached for them, having been in similar spaces over the years.

He ordered a drink and turned to his colleague seated across the aisle. They talked about the research that they were presenting and the upcoming field season. They gossiped about a graduate student and how he was struggling to finish his thesis. He would finish, but there were significant holes that he first needed to address. I wondered if they would have the same confidence in the student if he were female. Maybe — more likely not. They concluded that while his work was less than stellar, the student was a nice guy and had made some decent connections. Even as a marginal candidate, he would do well in his future job search. 

Once the plane landed, the bell rung, and people stood to deplane. Dozens of poster tubes were retrieved from overhead storage for those who were assigned a poster space rather than oral presentations. Most national conferences have grown too large to accommodate all the scientists wanting to present their work. Poster presentations became the workaround to the problem of too many researchers and not enough time on the agenda for all of them.

Personally, being assigned a poster presentation at this stage of my career is kind of a letdown. That may just be me, but I’ve pulled more than one offered paper rather than be relegated to a poster spot. I’m too old for that shit.

As we stood and waited for the procession off the plane, the drunk guy spied a Black family seated in the row catty-corner to mine. Mom, Dad, and toddler. He could not hold back. He had to say something to them — perhaps to show that he was truly woke.

He complimented them on how well they dressed and how the little boy had been so good during the flight. The Dad nodded and said, “Thanks,” trying his best to brush off the drunk and protect his family from what was to follow. The drunk could not be brushed off. He started slurring and repeating himself. Yes, yes, they looked so nice. The boy was so good. And then he said it. “You know, you are some of the good ones.” They weren’t like those other Black people — the ones who were loud and wore their pants to their butts. This family was good, and he wanted them to know it.

The group around us went motionless and silent as the drunk grew louder and more insistent on making his point. He was paying them a compliment, dammit, and people needed to hear this!

I looked at the Dad whose mouth was now agape. I looked at the Mom, who had a protective hand on her son. I looked at the young female researchers who were trapped in the seat beside the drunk, leaning to avoid his touch as his arm flailed and his body swayed. My eyes met the colleague’s eyes, visually pleading with him to stop whatever might come out of the drunk’s mouth next.

The colleague put his hand on the drunk’s shoulder and suggested that he find his luggage and poster since the line of departing passengers was beginning to reach us. The drunk quieted and turned his attention to the overhead bins. It was as if he suddenly forgot about making his point. 

I started to speak but stopped. I could feel my rage building. I wanted to confront him and tell him that he wasn’t one of the “good ones.” He was a complete ass and his behavior that day was sexist and racist. He looked like he slept in a swamp and dared to comment on someone else’s appearance. He hit on his young seatmates, leaving them feeling devalued and sullying their entry to their first professional conference. His comments to the family, that he felt were approving, were derogatory on multiple fronts. His drunken antics had cut all of us. By virtue of his professional stature — being entrusted with the education of future researchers — he should have done better.

Yet, I said nothing. I knew that the few words I could speak to this souse could very well have made the situation worse. He had no clue of his effect on that group of passengers that morning. Would it have mattered if someone had called him on his behaviors?

Perhaps de-escalation of the drunk was the best solution in those tight quarters, however unsatisfying the outcome. But in a world where public behaviors are constantly analyzed, this fool faced no consequence of his actions. Even in his inebriated state, he still basked in privilege. He had the privilege of not being cut off from more drinks. The privilege of not being escorted off the plane with the help of a security officer. The privilege of not being confronted by offended passengers. I can’t imagine that similar behavior from any person who was not white and male would have been so ignored. 

I still think about this drunk guy on the plane and wonder how the situation could have been different. How wrongs could have been righted. I’m still displeased with myself for not facing him. Was I an enabler by not calling him out?

Photo by Annie Theby on Unsplash