Odd questions of identity

I have always thought that I don’t have any real identity issues. Now I’m thinking question-markotherwise.

I don’t like being placed into boxes of identity. Or so I thought until yesterday, when things I said in my session with my therapist—who I’m seeing to find ways to deal with anxiety— made me wonder.

I was telling her how I’ve been struggling with myself this year to calm down rising anxieties that I need to get everything done in a day: my work, my sport, and my house-related errands. These anxieties are not why I decided to see a therapist. I have much more complicated things happening in my life. But I’ve found it surprising how these seemingly unimportant things, things I know I can put off if I need or want to, are making me feel anxious. I know that the world won’t end if I don’t do that run today. So why is there something inside of me telling me that it absolutely will end?

My therapist said something about how I might be using my activities, such as work or sport, to displace my real feelings about other things happening in life.

What she said made me look back at various phases in my life.  (more…)

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50: An age of difficult realizations and utter confusion?

I have been very fortunate so far this year regarding the things I have been able to do. At the same time, this year is turning out to be one of the most difficult for me emotionally.

I am not sure why that is. My circumstances haven’t changed much. But perhaps some of my realizations have. It could be that I’m getting closer to that age when hormones, or the lack thereof, are known to wreak havoc on a woman’s body. Or it could be a symptom of going through a new stage of life.

Whatever the reasons, as years pass and phases come and go, I find myself considering my parents’ lives and feeling a stronger connection and understanding of what things might have been like for them.

It hurts. It really does. Neither of them had an easy life. But as they were going through their many difficulties, I, as their daughter, had no real comprehension of them. I could only see their actions and behaviors through my very limited and selfish lens. It is only when life shoves somewhat similar challenges in my direction that it dawns on me why Mom or Baba were the way they were or why they made certain decisions.

It pains me to think that my parents may have felt the way I feel sometimes. I think: Now I understand. Now I understand why sometimes they seemed so unreasonable or acted so oddly. I see more clearly how much they loved us and I see the pains their love left them with.

How could I have been so ignorant or ignoring of everything they went through? Or is that a protective mechanism we have as children and even as adults yet to reach these stages that shields us from what we’re not emotionally ready to deal with? Are we ever equipped to deal with all the phases that our parents go through? Or do we have in-built mechanisms that make us inherently selfish, prioritizing self rather than others, so that we have a chance at making it to the other end?

I’m finding the feelings and realizations of this year very difficult to deal with. I feel like I’m missing the ability to converse with like-minded women of my age or older. My personal circumstances are definitely different from most others, I assume. But do all these emotions naturally start appearing around the age of 50? Does it get better? Does it get worse? Do things actually get more difficult for us as our own children grow into adults and start building their own lives? Am I going through an identity crisis? Does that happen to other parents?

After years of thinking I knew what I was doing, that I was making the best decisions I could make given the circumstances I was in, I find myself completely lost as to what is right and wrong, and what needs to be done next. Rather than feeling that I am reaching a phase of wisdom and maturity, I feel very lost and lonely.

I am not depressed. But I am confused and I do get more emotional than I have been for quite a long time. I’m going to a therapist to help me work through all these emotions.

But please, women (and men) in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, talk to me. Please tell me that this is just another phase that we all go through and that it will, eventually, pass.

 

 

 

Contemplating 50

The first time I noticed someone making a big deal about turning 50 was almost 15 years 50ago when Oprah Winfrey did a big 5 0 show. She and her production team went all-out crazy for the TV celebrations. But it wasn’t until I started living in the UK that I noticed that people in some parts of the world consider it a huge milestone. People who don’t normally celebrate birthdays celebrate this one. Others will build up to it with a series of challenges. Yet others go on bucket-list trips (plural in some cases) to celebrate the event.

I hardly ever celebrate my birthday. My father became anti-birthday before I reached my teens. I recall having a few birthday parties when I was really young. But after that our birthday celebrations were muted. My father wanted to teach us that every day of the year was important. Every day was to be celebrated; not that he got us gifts and cake everyday, but that’s beside the point.

Because I was raised this way, my birth date sometimes passed by when I was an adult and I wouldn’t even notice. I can easily get confused about my age sometimes. Even though I’m not as anti-birthday as my father was, I didn’t want to turn my own children’s birthdays into consumer events. I didn’t like how much money was spent on birthday parties and gifts. So our family tradition became one of going out on birthdays with the immediate family to a restaurant chosen by the birthday child and to the movies.

So here I am approaching 50 this year, and because I’m living in the UK, I almost feel some pressure to do something “different” for it.

Well, it ain’t happenin’.

I have goals for this year just like I have had goals for past years. (more…)

Memories

By some people’s standards, I’ve had an unconventional life, moving from one part of a country to another, from one country to the next, going to different schools and universities, making new friends and losing touch with others, living near some family members and then living near none.

When I read autobiographies, I always wonder how people remember all the details they write about in their books. I understand that writing an autobiography involves lots of research and that memories are drawn from many people. But still. How do people remember all those details?

Lately I’ve been contemplating my own memories and wondering why I remember some things while others are almost completely lost. (more…)

Sport and my mental health

I have suffered from anxiety for years. It’s the kind of anxiety that I can usually keep at

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Feeling happy and relaxed after a day out on the bike.

bay. Most people won’t realize I have it because I hide it relatively well. Instead of thinking: Oh, she’s anxious; people probably just think: Huh. She’s a bit of an odd one.

Sport has played a huge role in helping me manage my anxiety. No matter how bad I’m feeling, if I can just get myself out that door and go on a run, for example, I know that my anxiety or stress will almost immediately dissipate.

I have found that the rhythm of sport—of running, of cycling, of hiking, of swimming—puts my mind almost magically at ease. Sport and my daily prayers are my form of meditation. They are how I cut myself off from the daily grind and tear myself away from one screen or the other, if even for a few minutes, to clear my head and start anew.

There’s a “but” coming up.

But, recently, as I’ve felt myself less and less able to manage my stress and anxiety as successfully as I have at times in the past, I’ve been reviewing my lifestyle choices to try to find ways to improve things. (more…)

Winter mountaineering: A new hobby for the list

Call it hiking, hill walking, or trekking, almost anyone can do it with a bit of fitness and

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On top of Stob Dearg in Glencoe, Scotland

some simple gear (hiking boots, gaiters, trekking poles, water proofs, layers, and a backpack). Depending on where you are hiking, you can do it on your own by following a clear trail, hire a guide, or use your navigation skills to get from one place to another. I’ve been doing it for several years now. I’ve done lots of hill walking in the UK, I’ve climbed the mountains of Sinai in Egypt, hiked in America’s Smoky Mountains, climbed and summited Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, walked the full distance of the Inca Trail and did the Santa Cruz trek in Peru, walked between the seaside villages of the Cinque Terre in Italy, and attempted (but failed) to summit Mont Blanc in France and Aconcagua in Argentina.

It was on that last trip that my tent buddy Victoria mentioned an amazing Scottish winter mountaineering course she had taken a few months earlier. I had taken a short course in using crampons several years ago before I climbed Mont Blanc. But I felt maybe it was time to refresh those skills and to get some of the technical skills needed to climb in the UK in winters; something I’ve mostly avoided when there has been snow and ice.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I wanted to know if winter mountaineering was for me.

Let’s just say it was EPIC.  (more…)

Remembering January 25

I haven’t been able to write much about Egypt’s revolution in the past few years. I have 167242_494564512476_3077619_nbeen too traumatized. But today I find myself in need of acknowledging the day, January 25 of 2011, when it all started. I need to assert that I was there. I was on the tarmac when it all happened. I was part of it from start to finish. And now it is a part of me, for better or for worse.

My husband, a Scot, asked me two days ago whether I regret the revolution happening. Are things better or worse, he asked. They are worse, I said. But the country’s political, economic and security situations can’t be the only measure of our revolution’s success. We failed in all that. We were ready to revolt. But we weren’t prepared to take charge. We simply didn’t have the wherewithal. I vividly remember thinking the day after Mubarak resigned: I’ve done my job. We’ve removed the dictator. Now I need to leave the rest to the politicians who know how to take this forward. But they didn’t. The “good ones” squabbled amongst them, leaving room for the baddies to move in quickly and spread more evil than we had ever seen.

Despite all that, despite everything the country is going through, the revolution was not a total failure and I will never regret taking part in it. (more…)

Training: Turning off the stubbornness

I have never been able to understand people who are all lovey-dovey about their

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I like to think my stubbornness gene has been active since childhood.

training. You know; the people who are on a constant high because they live a life of “activity”. The ones who wake up cheerfully at 5:30AM in the morning because they are about to go out for a 5km run in the freezing cold. The people who talk incessantly about how great their four-hour bike rides make them feel. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for them. But those feelings they have are something I have never experienced and I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to have them.

I am the kind of person who wakes up at 5:30AM and thinks: But I just want to go back to sleep! I am the kind of person who never really learned to enjoy pain, and I find running in particular quite painful and thus not enjoyable. I am the kind of person who hates the cold, so jumping in an 18C lake for open water swim training is simply a miserable experience. I am the kind of person who can sometimes enjoy a bike ride, as long as I’m going at my own comfortable pace, I’m not expected to push myself, and I don’t have to ascend or descend too many hills, or to keep going for too long.

When I explained all this in a blog post once while I was training for my Ironman, and then shared said blog post in a Facebook group for people training for an Ironman for the first time, I got a lecture from an Ironman coach in that group saying something along the lines of: Well if you don’t enjoy it, maybe this isn’t for you. You shouldn’t do things just because other people do them.

That woman made me very very upset that day.

We are not all alike. We don’t all get lovey-dovey about training. Some of us find training extremely difficult both mentally and physically. But we do it because we recognize the value in keeping fit. And we book ourselves into events because they give us goal posts to aim for in our mission to keep ourselves fit. We are the people who hate the training, but love the benefits we reap from doing it. We are the people who have learned that we can do things that we really don’t want to do because we know they are good for us in the long run and that they will get us to our ultimate goals. We are the people who take these lessons from our training and are able to extrapolate them into other aspects of our lives.

Because I find training so challenging and not enjoyable, I have to turn my stubbornness gene on to full volume, especially when I need to train hard for an upcoming event. (more…)

The Unclimbing

I may not have summited the mountain, but I did discover the amazing wonders of the pee bottle.

I would not have thought it possible for women. I’ve long heard about men peeing in

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The view from our tent at basecamp (4,300 meters).

bottles while on the road and I was always envious. With years of camping, hiking, and cycling under my belt, I had become accustomed to the quick squat behind a bush and getting my business done. When I set up my tent on a campground, I always made certain it wasn’t too far away from the toilets. I’m the type that gets up at least twice during the night to pee; more during the winter when I’m cold. It’s a bother getting up, getting dressed, unzipping the tent, going to the toilet, coming back, unzipping then rezipping the tent, undressing, then getting into my sleeping bag. But what was I to do? If you have to pee you have to pee.

But on Aconcagua, Latin America’s highest mountain, I learned that it is very possible for a woman to pee in the comfort of her own tent into a wide-mouthed Nalgene water bottle with perfect aim. Of course, this means peeing in the same tiny confined space that your tent mate is sleeping in; that same tent mate that you only met for the first time three days ago. But does that matter? No! Not one single bit. Not when you don’t have to go outside into the freezing cold to pee in a dark, smelly toilet. Not when you can get your business done in seconds and quickly snuggle back into your warm sleeping bag. Besides, who wants to watch someone else pee? No one. So all you really need to worry about is others hearing the sound of a water bottle filling up with liquid. Actually, your real concern is peeing in your actual water bottle instead of your designated pee bottle. That is why the pee bottle gets taped up with duct tape that you can clearly feel in the dark to distinguish it from your other bottles.

The pee bottle is one of my most important takeaways from an extravagantly expensive trip up part of a mountain.

Aconcagua beat the crap out of me. (more…)

Here she goes again: But why, oh, why?

Today was one of those mornings. I woke up thinking: Why on EARTH do I keep doing this to myself?

As usual, at the time when I booked this trip, I thought it was a totally inspired idea. And also as usual, now that I’m about to set off on it, all I can think is that I hate traveling. I hate change. I just want to sit on the couch at home and do nothing.

Of course, when I sit on the couch with nothing to do, I am so incredibly bored with how

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If you happen to see a woman struggling to carry these through the London underground, PLEASE offer her a helping hand. Otherwise, I have no idea how this is even happening.

routine my life has become that I book myself onto trips like the one I’m about to go on today.

Something must be wrong with me.

Well, whether I’m totally sane or completely bonkers, I have no choice now but to set off on another epic journey. (more…)