Making peace with your body

Luckily, this 20 year-old anorak still fits

By Caitlin Kelly

Loved this story — now almost two years old — by one of my favorite fellow full-time freelance writers, AC Shilton, about how she finally came to terms with her body:

Six months ago, [in the summer of 2018,] my husband, Chris, and I bought a 46-acre farm in northeast Tennessee. Though we’re equal partners in it, the farm was my idea, and I’m the primary manager.

The impetus to buy the farm grew out of a career and identity crisis I was having. I was feeling increasingly insecure about the stability of my chosen profession—journalism. I’ve ducked and woven my way through a freelance writing career, bringing home just enough money to drive an 18-year-old truck and (sometimes) have health insurance. At the same time, I’d completely burned out on endurance sports, which I’d been doing throughout my teens and twenties. Training felt like a chore, and I was seeking a new way to use my body that didn’t require thousands of dollars in gear and entry fees.

I have another full time freelance friend in Tennessee — a state I have yet to visit — who’s also struggling with body issues at the moment.

But AC is in her late 30s and my other friend in her late 20s.

I am decades older and, past menopause, when your metabolism slows so far down it basically says fuck you.

I am worn out battling my body.

Injuries, weight gain, metabolic issues.

It feels overwhelming.

I gained 20 pounds in the year 2003 when my late mother (who survived it) was found to have a huge brain tumor (I went to Vancouver for her surgery) and I was traveling the United States researching my first book. The last thing I had time, energy or money for was fussing about calories or diligently working out to burn them off.

I gained another 25 pounds over the ensuing nine years before my left hip was replaced, and felt terrible shame at the appalling number on the scale — even though that’s about three added pounds every 12 months.

I am not someone who eats fast food or junk food or huge portions or cheesecake and cookies and ice cream and candy and drinks a lot of liquor or never works out. Dammit!

I do eat some carbs and I have dessert maybe two or three times a week. I drink alcohol maybe twice a week, a small glass of wine.

So this has been a matter of intense shame and frustration for me.

I started intermittent fasting (eat normally for 8 hours and fast for 16) daily since November 1, 2020.

I have lost five pounds.

On one hand, I am thrilled — as this is the first time in 20 years I have LOST weight at all, and not gained even more.

On the other hand, I want to scream with frustration when a friend my age loses a pound a week doing the same things.

OH NO — CARBS!!!!!!!

I have two friends who are my weight loss role models, a man who shed 30 pounds in year of IF (if my progress continues, I will lose half of that) and a woman who shed 40 pounds in two years.

I don’t need it to happen fast.

But it’s hard to stay motivated and every single person I speak to — my GP, an exercise specialist, two nutritionists — offers something different. Each, of course, costs money.

I was never someone with “body issues” — I went from a size 10 to a 12 when I left Toronto at the age of 30 and moved to Montreal. It proved much more stressful than I had imagined.

And I’ve always been athletic: skiing, skating, cycling, walking, golf, swimming, etc. But arthritis is a problem and my crappy knees have impeded me from some activities I love — like playing softball with my team of 20 years. So my anger is compounded by loneliness, as almost all my exercise activities now are done alone.

I do know walking is GREAT exercise…I don’t enjoy doing it alone.

My late mother and I…maybe 20 years ago?

In my mid 30s I took up saber fencing and was nationally ranked in it for four years. I loved it.

I miss the teamwork.

I miss having a coach — ours was a two-time recent Olympian.

I’ve since been a size 12, but not in recent years. I do hope to get back to it. I have no wish to be a size 10 or 8. I doubt my body can even do it.

I am not asking for any advice here.

Please do not give me any diet advice!

The rest, as always, is all up to me.

Who are you turning to?

Jose, 2020, photographing the judging of the Pulitzer Prizes, Columbia University, New York

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m really lucky.

In a pandemic dragging into its second year, and with no real end in sight, I’ve still been able to turn to trusted friends, some opf whom are still in great shape, some not so much, to share our thoughts and fears.

One is a delighted first-time grandmother. One struggles with a lot of physical pain. One is single and lives alone and is just very lonely. One recently sold her home and moved into Manhattan, savoring city life.

My husband — we met 21 years ago next month at a midtown Manhattan French bistro for our first date — has been amazing. But I realize he’s not a Swiss Army knife, capable of meeting my every emotional and intellectual need.

I fear we’re going to burn ourselves out if we try to “soldier on” alone.

I fear we’ll burn out our spouses and partners who are by now also feeling claustrophobic and, in a very snowy cold winter, are also succumbing to cabin fever — no cafes or gyms or libraries or restaurants or pals’ homes to flee to.

I had a two-hour conversation last night, so gratefully, with a friend in California who is a long-time pro in the book publishing industry. The latest agent for my book proposal, of course, fell through, and she was both tough and loving in what she suggested should be my next steps.

Tough and loving is pretty much my MO as well.

Who are you turning to these days for comfort and joy?

Who’s turning to you?

A personal update

By Caitlin Kelly

Like many of you, I’m pooped!

We’re coming up on a year of the pandemic and I can’t see getting access to a vaccination for months — even as Jose and I newly qualify.

I’ve been trying for months to find an agent who wants to represent my book proposal. I’m extremely frustrated at how slow this process is and how it feels like begging for attention — it is — even after having already sold and published two books with major publishers.

The fantasy is that agents are cool, smart, helpful.

Some are.

Some are just…really rude. Like the one I was referred to a few years ago, at a fancy New York City agency. I described the book I hoped to produce and he warned me not to be…shrill. For Christ’s sake.

Then the one this year, also referred by a friend, who hadn’t even bothered to look at my work or realize I had already published twice before.

The lack of respect is appalling, fed by the thousands and thousands of people desperate for a book deal. It’s not pretty.

There are a few ways to find an agent. If you have friends who write in your genre, and are generous, several will offer you a referral to theirs, who may or may not want your book or not be a fit. Or you go find books similar to yours and see who the agent was the author thanked and try them. Or…cold pitch strangers.

None of which is quick or easy or fun.

I’ve also been facing a battery of medical tests to determine why my blood has excess iron. Turns out I have a genetic mutation that causes it but still have to have an MRI of my liver to make sure there isn’t another reason as well. The solution to the former is 16th century — blood-letting!

And I have been trying and trying and trying to lose weight, starting with intermittent fasting November 1. I see my GP Feb. 23 and will see what progress, if any, this has made for my health.

Add to this pile ‘o stress the loss or fading of several friendships.

I know COVID has affected many people, if not their health, their attention span or ability to spare time for others. But it’s hard to go through this much stuff all at once without people to talk to, so I’ve been over-burdening my husband. I very rarely cry, but it’s been a time of tears here recently.

Sheer frustration!

And none of this, objectively, is terrible.

No one but me cares if I sell this damn book

Only my GP cares if I lose weight.

The liver issue won’t require surgery.

And we are very lucky to have work and savings and no one else dependent on us, as so many are.

I really really miss travel!

But I’m cooked.

Only after writing it all down, getting it out of my head, did I realize that trying to manage three damn difficult things at the same time — each of which is slow as hell and anxiety-producing and the successful outcome of which is, to some degree, beyond my control — is so tiring.

Yes, I’m impatient!

I work my ass off and I’m generally used to succeeding,

I loathe failing.

Like everyone, I hate medical surprises; I had no clue my liver was weird. No symptoms. This all showed up thanks to a routine blood test.

I really hate grovelling to find an agent — meeting repeated rejection — watching everyone crow on social media about their book, movie and TV deals.

Sorry if this is all too tedious or whiny,

But it’s where things are right now.

How are you doing?!

The body’s endless issues

By Caitlin Kelly

Oh, the joys of the human body!

I started 16/8 intermittent fasting November 1, and am sloooooowly seeing a difference.

I won’t get on a scale until my GP appointment Feb. 27 so I’m working hard — three 45-minute gym sessions a week (cardio and free weights) and hoping to add ice skating or walking or swimming the other day or two. The pool, at our broke and badly-run YMCA, now needs repairs it can’t afford.

But, of course, I got a recent surprise at my oncologist check-up, where they take blood every time — excess iron in my blood, necessitating more tests. I’m hoping it’s “just” a genetic mutation, which occurs in people with my Irish heritage, and which — so utterly bizarrely — might mean regularly getting blood taken out of me.

I’m trying to process how utterly 16th century this feels!

Apparently, the body can’t shed/excrete iron in any other way, which is so odd. How it got there is what we have to examine. I’m sort of hoping this is the reason although — uggggh — the thought of regularly getting a big-ass needle in my arm is not appealing.

Thanks to my DCIS (early stage breast cancer), I already have to take 5mg of Tamoxifen daily for five years; it suppresses estrogen and, initially, the hot flashes were pretty intense, but they’ve calmed down (now 2 years in.)

High blood pressure pills.

A statin for cholesterol.

Generally, I feel great — lots of energy and stamina. I sleep like a champ, at least 8-10 hours a night and I never hesitate to take a “toes-up” as my husband calls them, aka a nap or just a quiet time lying down and staring at the sky.

We eat healthily, most of the time! My weaknesses are cheese, chips and (sue me) sweets. So it’s a constant battle to be “good” and reduce calories, but not feel hangry and annoyed all the time.

I recently hired a nutritionist whose advice was….lengthy!

I need to eat more protein, so am working on that — but excess iron also means eating less red meat. I need to drink a lot of water (already probably drinking 3 cans of soda water, plus tea and coffee.)

The actual fasting, meaning I now can only consume calories between 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m, has gotten easier. Some mornings are easy, but some mean I’m counting the minutes til I can eat!

My father is still super healthy at 91, lucid and living alone.

My late mother had a lot of health issues, some of them terrible luck (multiple cancers), some self-imposed (COPD from smoking, other issues from alcoholism) so I worry about my genetic loading.

In the past, I went to a therapist, but haven’t for a while — I actually worry about her! I know the pandemic has really burned out many mental health workers, so unless it’s some emergency, I figure others need her a lot more right now.

With our small town a Covid hotspot, and super-contagious variants now raging, we are being super careful. I know eight people who have had the disease, luckily all mild (except for 2 people) and none lethal.

It’s a real challenge — even as healthy as Jose and I are — to manage all of this. He uses insulin for T2 diabetes, so we pay a lot of money for comprehensive health insurance. It’s not a place to economize.

I pray for a few more decades of good health.

You never know.

Home for the holidays?

By Caitlin Kelly

Not for me!

I haven’t been back to my native Canada since summer 2019, when I was reporting a major story and attended a northern Ontario conference.

My father lives alone in rural Ontario; at 91 he has to be very careful about exposure to the virus, even though he’s in pretty good health. If I tried to go up, I’d face a two-week quarantine, so I’ve chosen not to.

The pandemic has killed almost 250,000 Americans and infected millions worldwide.

In the U.S. Thanksgiving is a huge event for many people, the one holiday that gets people to travel far and wide to celebrate with family or friends.

This year?

It’s just too dangerous!

We’ll be at home, just the two of us, but that’s been our norm for many years, as Jose’s family all live very long drives away from us and his closest sister heads further south to visit her own adult children.

Yet many Americans — as usual — insist they’ll host as many people as they like and the virus is a hoax and all those morgue trucks full of COVID corpses are…some sort of illusion.

How about you?

Do you have Thanksgiving plans?

What about Hannukah or Eid or Kwanzaa or Christmas?

Why EQ beats IQ

Are you someone eager to start a fire — to destroy?

Or to comfort?

By Caitlin Kelly

I found this story interesting — a list of 19 things emotionally intelligent people do.

Here are some of the ones that really resonate for me:

2. They pause.

Emotionally intelligent people realize that emotions are fleeting, and that often making impulsive decisions leads to regrets. Therefore, they try to pause and think before speaking or acting—especially when they find themselves in an emotionally charged moment.

In short, their goal is to never make a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion.

Boy, does this one ring true!

How many of us can easily destroy a friendship, relationship, marriage or job with something snapped or shouted in anger?

Even if it doesn’t end it, it can cause serious damage.

The key word for me here is temporary — if you’re consistently miserable, time for a change.

7. They’re authentic.

Those with high emotional intelligence realize authenticity doesn’t mean sharing everything about yourself, to everyone, all of the time.

Rather, they endeavor to always say what they mean, mean what they say, and stick to their values and principles above all.

I think about this a lot with my social media presence, here and on Twitter, where I spend (too) much of my time in these lonely, isolated stay-at-home pandemic days.

As I said to a friend, a very senior level journalist, I may be playful and revealing on social media — but never careless. Whatever I decide to reveal publicly, it’s actually who I really am and expressing how I truly feel and I do that know anyone, anywhere can see it — including future clients.

15. They help others.

One of the best ways to inspire someone is to help them.

By extending a supportive hand, emotionally intelligent people help others to become the best version of themselves.

I’m no Pollyanna, but one of the things I do consistently — like every day or at least every week — is try to help others.

Recently, I introduced a writer in Nashville to one in London, to help her work on a high-level, potentially career-making story. A student whose class I addressed a few weeks ago has become a fairly regular email correspondent.

I work as a journalist, a challenging business that demands decent intellectual ability (not nearly as much as you’d hope) and, ideally, real emotional intelligence — as one of the 19 keys is empathy.

We recently caught up with a friend who’s won a lot of journalism awards and really is a fantastic writer and reporter. While writers love to brag about how much they earn or what awards they’ve won — we so rarely talk about how we do our reporting.

How we get total strangers to trust us with their stories.

Only empathy gets us there, she agreed.

I have no kids and my only niece and nephew are twins born in May 2020 to the brother who refuses to have any relationship with me — for 13 years.

He’s 40 and someone who’s spent his lifetime, since winning major awards in his teens, preening in front of everyone that he is super smart.

I find him one of the least emotionally intelligent people I’ve ever met, and not just because he dislikes me.

Because he places all his value on being a tedious “intellectual”, determined to out-argue everyone on every topic.

Intelligence isn’t something you beat people to death with.

That’s insecurity.

The power of silence

By Caitlin Kelly

There are only two places I’ve been, so far, where I was surrounded by utter silence — inside the Grand Canyon and on a friend’s ranch in New Mexico, a place so quiet I could hear myself digesting.

Some cultures revere silence and know how much we all need it. The United States isn’t one! People love to talktalktalktalktalktalk and will spill what sound like the most intimate secrets in a quick conversation with a stranger. It’s exhausting and disorienting if you come to the country from a more discreet, reticent culture.

And silence?

Terrifying!

Jose and I did a seven day silent Buddhist retreat in the summer of 2011 a month or so before we married. There were 75 people of all ages and it was fascinating to be surrounded by people with whom not a word was exchanged until the final Saturday evening, when we “broke silence” and found out, verbally, who everyone was.

I admit, we had whispered occasionally in our shared monastic bedroom but mostly relied on Post-It notes to communicate.

I was shocked to see participants walking through the woods — on their cellphones — or leaving in their cars to head into town for…talking?

I blogged about it every day and found the experience healing and insightful. Talking and listening is really really tiring! If you actually pay attention to others, this consumes a lot of energy.

Not talking is very freeing.

Silence imposes discipline.

It forces you into your own head, a place many prefer to avoid.

I was fascinated, when I tell people I did seven days without speaking, (we could ask questions of the teachers once a day), they all said: “I could never do that!”

And I would reply….why not?

Here’s an interesting NYT story about staying silent at breakfast:

Eating in silence is an ancient practice with roots in many monastic communities. “Buddhists, Celtic Mystics, Sufis, Vedic Mystics,” said Ginny Wholley, a teacher at the UMass Memorial Health Care Center for Mindfulness. “Everyone has a component of silence that is an inherent part of the practice.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the center where Ms. Wholley teaches in 1979 as a way to promote and study the benefits of practices like these in a secular setting — in part because it’s challenging. The concept for silent breakfast is simple enough: focus on your food, quietly, and deal with whatever thoughts come up. But it’s more difficult than it seems.

….“One of the funny things about starting a mindfulness practice is that when you quiet the external noise, you start to hear more of the internal noise. If you’re not used to this, it can be incredibly unpleasant,” said Ravi Kudesia, a mindfulness researcher and assistant professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. “The key idea here is that it’s better to notice the whispers before they become screams.”

Here’s a list — one of my posts from that 2011 retreat — of all the sounds I heard instead.

The new COVID-era etiquette

Only solitude is 100 percent safe

By Caitlin Kelly

Canadians have just had their Thanksgiving and Americans are already geared up for Hallowe’en and their Thanksgiving, let alone other holidays and the (large) family gatherings usually expected and anticipated.

Not us.

Jose’s parents are long gone, his nearest sister lives a four-hour drive away and my only close relative, my 91-year-old father, is in Canada, where my American husband is banned and I face a 14-day quarantine. I haven’t seen him in more than a year and haven’t crossed that border since late September 2019, when it was no big deal.

Every social gathering — let alone professional — is now so fraught with menace and fear, caution and basic human desperation for a damn hug!

This week we are joining two friends, outdoors (bringing a blanket!) for a two-person birthday celebration at a Manhattan restaurant. This weekend, we’re meeting three people, also outdoors, for lunch.

The grilling!

Who will wear a mask and when and for how long?

Who have they met with and how recently and under what circumstances?

Do we trust their friends — who we have never met?

We live in downstate New York, where daytime temperatures are still in the 60s or 70s but night-time plunging to the 40s, hardly a comfortable temperature for sitting anywhere for very long.

It’s wearying.

Our family’s first and only grandchildren are twins born in D.C. in May — and my father still hasn’t seen them. Nor have I, since my half-brother refuses all contact after a 13-year estrangement.

Millions of people have now lost loved ones to COVID and never had the chance to say good-bye.

Forget weddings and other groups….the latest NY crisis was the result of (!?) a Sweet 16 party, after a wedding in Maine had the same effect.

Our local church is now, finally, open again physically, with an indoor service (limited, it’s a small space) and outdoors at 4pm on the lawn. What I miss more than anything is belting out my favorite hymns…now a dangerous thing to do.

Yes, it’s hard and lonely to never see anyone.

Yes, it’s annoying and difficult to negotiate these times, especially with government “guidance” that shifts daily.

Needs must.

Has COVID changed your priorities?

By Caitlin Kelly

No one would ever dare suggest that a lethal virus is a good thing.

No one could have imagined that more than 200,000 Americans would already have died — and many more now suffer serious long-term effects.

But I’ve started to notice some changes in how we think and behave that, oddly and maybe shockingly, feel better for some of us — while hurting others! — than how we all lived, unquestioningly, before.

Shared and public places are much less crowded

Thousands of small businesses have closed. Disney laid off 28,000 employees and airline staff, from cleaners to veteran pilots, are out of work.

So it’s not kind to be happy about that. But if you, like me, loathe crowds of all sorts, even before they were potentially life-threatening, this is a huge relief. Our town YMCA recently finally re-opened and the pool has four lanes, open now only one swimmer at a time. (Normally, five, which I would find really uncomfortable. Having someone tap my foot to pass? NO.)

Since my beloved spin class is long gone, I’ve started doing three pool visits a week and sometimes have it all to myself. I would never have experienced our old, overcrowded Y as luxurious — but this is.

I miss such fun, silly, spontaneous moments — like meeting Canadian comedian Mike Myers at a Canadian consulate event in Manhattan

We’re being very , very selective about our relationships


In normal life, we tend to include a lot of people — face to face or through social media — who we may not especially like or admire. It’s a sort of social lubrication, necessary to get things done smoothly and efficiently, even when it’s basically pretty insincere.

In a time of terrible political division, with millions refusing to wear masks it’s really not a wise use of our limited energy to argue with anyone anywhere.

We need every ounce of it for ourselves and families and pets and true loved ones. This is a good thing! Conserve energy.

Now, certainly, seeing anyone in person means de facto assuming risk — even if you’re both masked or outdoors and well-spaced. Is this relationship worth it now?

Why?

Fewer relationships can also make for deeper emotional connection

I’ve noticed this. By the time I make a phone date or set aside time to be with someone face to face, why make chitchat? I’ve never been a fan of it, anyway, and now, with COVID’s sudden and invisible lethality/mortality so much closer to all of us, it’s no time for performative intimacy.

We’re being very clear and direct about what we need and expect of one another

I have a friend of many years, a fellow Canadian who runs her own successful business, and who has invited us many times this year to their country house. Much as I appreciate her generosity, I just won’t go and keep saying so.

I finally wrote her a very blunt — not angry — email explaining why: she interacts, for her work, with a lot of people. Many of them are very wealthy and rich New Yorkers (like many wealthy people) do what they please. So I don’t trust their choices, which may affect my friend and me and my husband.

Luckily, Jose and I are fine…This is him earlier in 2020 photographing the Pulitzers at Columbia University in New York City

Lousy relationships and marriages are under an intense new microscope when we have nowhere to flee

There are few experiences more miserable than being confined to (small) quarters for months on end with someone you really don’t like or love.

Here’s a New York Times essay about Coronavirus divorce:

In regular times, we’re always in motion, we’re always hustling, we’re always consuming, striving, climbing, struggling to get from A to B. And if you are unhappy with your relationships or your marriage, there’s a thousand ways to distract yourself: travel, work, socializing. I’m told that some people golf.

Now, all of a sudden, everyone has to be still. There’s no place to go but inward.

We’re all seriously re-examining our choices, whether about where we work, who we work with/for and how (hard) and where we really want to live now

This is huge.

City dwellers are fleeing to suburban or rural areas, desperate for outdoor physical space and the ability to distance from others. On my recent four-day visit to small-town Pennsylvania — about a 90 minute drive from Manhattan — every real estate listing I read said “pending” and a local told me her realtor friend was working 70-hour weeks.

American life — with no unions, low wages and a relentless capitalist drumbeat of DO MORE FASTER NOW — is typically really exhausting. The pandemic is now forcing millions to think, behave, work and relate differently, and for many months yet to come, whether managers or workers or the self-employed.

Some are planning to leave the United States.

Yes, it’s really hurting some people — mothers of small children especially are at their wits’ end, (one crying on-air on a recent national TV show after being fired by a boss who said “Figure it out” while managing a one year old and four year old at home.)

If nothing good comes of this massive upheaval, maybe it’s some long overdue change.

The value of solitude

By Caitlin Kelly


“Loneliness creates sadness, but solitude is quite lovely because you really start to think of — and take care of — yourself.” artist Marina Abramovic, quoted in How To Spend It magazine in the FT

If there’s one thing the pandemic has imposed on us, it’s either way too much solitude — those living alone, isolated, shut-in, vulnerable to the virus — or far too little, for people living with lots of children and/or parents or in-laws.

I really value solitude.

If I go too long without it, I feel ill and angry and resentful of having to constantly be social. I find it tiring.

So my recent four days away, even in a place I didn’t love — small-town Pennsylvania — reminded me how much I need it.

The very best moments were an hour or so at a nature sanctuary, filled with old, very tall pine trees and total silence. No one else around.

It is so rare now, anywhere, to just be totally free of people and their noises!

I lay down on my back and stared up into the trees, their glossy green branches glistening in the sun, waving in the breeze.

I watched a Daddy-Long-Legs amble past.

I got pine sap on my arms and sneakers.

Then, to my surprise, I started to cry, hard.

Months of anxiety and grief and frustration had piled up, unacknowledged and unprocessed.

My mother died February 15 — on my best friend’s birthday — and even though she and I were estranged for a decade, I grieve all the losses we sustained because of that.

I grieve the deaths of 200,000 Americans from COVID.

I grieve the loss of the hopes so many of us had for 2020, let alone 2021 and beyond.

It felt good to let it all out, alone and in private, surrounded by beauty.

Even driving the two hours home again, alone, singing along to my favorite music, was replenishing.

I really enjoy others’ company and my 20 years, so far, with Jose, my husband.

But time alone is as necessary to my happiness as time with others.

Women, especially, often have to fight hard for time alone, tending only to their own needs. We’re expected to keep everyone else happy, and it’s depleting when you have no equal time to just be quiet and by ourselves.

And there’s a big difference between precious privacy — which usually implies others, and their noises and their needs, nearby — and solitude.

Do you need and value solitude?