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On Health and Highways

Heads up: I talk about health and weight. Don't be scared, there's nothing but love here.

"How's work? Are you still working at the vet?"
Tal Nichols drinking coffee, from my current secret project.

January 17th already. Time flies when you're going somewhere. And I like to think we're all going somewhere, whether we plan to or not.

I've been relatively quiet for a couple months, focusing on my mental and physical health, eating better and actually spending time outside. How incredibly impactful small things like that can be. And I'm learning so much. I always am, but this journey into physical health in particular is teaching me a lot about motivation, aspiration, and ability.

It's something I think a lot of people are embarrassed to talk about, because unless you're actively exercising and eating well, there's a lot of shame associated with health. And you know how much I love to talk about shame...

Essentially, I've noticed we're conditioned (especially in the US, but generally everywhere) to believe we can always do more, or better. We feel guilty eating the muffin, because we're told that the price for that muffin is fat. We then start thinking about what the muffin's gonna do to us, rather than enjoy the muffin itself. And when you're not enjoying the muffin, why are you eating it? Because we feel weak against that constant shame. And shaking off that shame, that inner voice, it's fuckin exhausting, guys. It takes everything out of you. Right?

I've also noticed a lot of shame associated with making "better choices" like eating healthier and cooking more. The usual retort is "I don't have time/money" or -- more honestly "I don't feel like it" and "I don't know what I'm doing." And those are good things to admit. I'm a strong proponent of honesty, especially with ourselves. But that doesn't mean it's actually true! Because we make time, we learn more, we gather strength, and we progress. It's a slow progress, and we learn how to have patience. And-- ah shit...

Now's the time when I have to say I'm not an authority on mental or physical health. Nor am I a shining example of it. But I grew up fighting the fight against shame for so long, I can finally admit what ultimately broke that cycle.

It's not really a short answer, so bear with me if you want to hear the whole truth. Because this goes back over a decade... If you want to skip story time, just scroll down until it goes back to the black text.

It begins earlier than I can remember. While my parents worked, I was lucky enough to spend summers in activity camps: gymnastics, dance, ballet, swimming, soccer, ice skating, basketball, and so on. I still remember the gym where I learned flips and balances. I was particular proud of my skill on the balance beam, and my progress with ice skating. I genuinely loved it. Which made sense, because I was a hyper kid with a lot of energy to burn-- I was passionate about it! but there came a critical crossroads, a subconscious decision that I made without realizing what was at stake. As I moved schools, left the community center down the road, and had to assimilate with a whole new group of kids, I felt the beginnings of "shame." Rather than play outside with other kids, I stayed inside and ate. Okay, honestly, I always ate a lot. Because I was hungry! But now I would eat out of boredom, not hunger. And at a certain age, we begin to notice our bodies look different than the bodies of our friends, or the actors on TV. I was hitting puberty, I was gaining weight, and I was suddenly shy. Fast forward to sophomore year in high school, I ate an entire box of Oreo's each week. I was a vegan who didn't know anything about nutrition, I weighed over 200 lbs and I needed physical therapy for my knees. I hated exercise, it wasn't fun, it was a drag. Because I was ashamed. I couldn't do the flips and balances that I loved so much as a kid, ice skating was terrifying, and kids made fun of me. I did cross country Junior year, because I had friends who encouraged me to run! I think I dropped out two weeks before the season ended... Then once in community college, I took a soccer elective, just to have an excuse to be outside and attempt some cardio. Some kids were talking shit about me, in Spanish, because I SUCKED, and they were unaware that I understood them... so I told em to not take the game so seriously, it's an elective and we were hardly a team. They were embarrassed, but not as embarrassed as I was when I sprained my ankle and had to drop the class. Yea, there's a pattern, I know.

In summary, I grew to like physical activity as I shook off some of that shame, but it became harder as I got older. Especially because I didn't eat well. I thought, well, it's not that important, right? Wrong. Because then came art school, when I finally found the thing I loved most of all! comics! and would spend hours at a time working hard to learn to make it just so... when suddenly my back spasmed and I was immobilized for two days. I didn't fully recover for two weeks! And I was only 22! After such few years, it was time to pay the piper. I knew then that if I wanted to be a full time artist, I had to start taking better care of my body. So I began my yoga journey, admittedly half-assedly in November 2019 for about 6 months. The pain wasn't going away-- even with all the Tylenol and heat and ice and balms. I had terrible posture, I was winded after the stairs. It was looking rough. So in May 2020, I made a commitment: yoga every single day, no exception. Just yoga, every single day. That sounds tough, but it's really not. There was no intention to lose weight, because that thought was still daunting and terrifying. I only made a commitment to step on the yoga mat every day. What happened while I was on the mat wasn't as important as making it to the mat. A great inspiration has been working with Adriene Mishler on YouTube, and she always says "the hardest part is making it to the mat." I agree entirely. That attitude transferred to actually... everything. Every habit. Cooking everyday? Just make it to the kitchen. Washing dishes? Just start with one. Drawing everyday? Just make it to the drawing board. And so on...

And what ended up happening is actually pretty insane. I genuinely mean it is so shocking. If you'd told me five years ago what I'd be doing today, I'd probably be angry and call you a liar. Somehow, with a magical combination of regular practice in yoga, meditation, therapy, and medication, I changed, yes, but I honestly changed into me. I became myself, the me that was always hidden and ashamed. I felt like me, and only me.

And please note, I said combination, because only one of those things alone would not have helped me nearly as much. Maybe a little, but not sustainably. And I was sick of hating myself. I was ignoring myself. And through listening to myself, I learned patience, strength, and kindness.

With medication, I felt strong enough to get out of bed. With therapy, I became more patient and understanding with myself. With meditation, I grounded myself in the present. And with yoga, my pain lessened and I got stronger. I improved, slowly at first, then before I knew it, I could do some of those things I loved as a kid, those balances and strengths. I became excited! And I knew that in order to reclaim those activities I loved doing before, I should eat better. It wasn't like... something I had to do. The muffin doesn't mean I can't do a headstand, but it would be easier to do a pull up if i weighed a bit less. And I wanted to get stronger, and do more, so I chose to eat better. I chose to prioritize cooking for myself, adding more colorful vegetables, eating whole grains, and cut back on drinking. And suddenly, I didn't want to eat junk food. I didn't want candy, hell, I even just dropped smoking like a hot potato. Tell me a year ago I would effortlessly quit smoking, I would smack you and light up another cigarette.

It wasn't as challenging to give up certain things because I knew that a) if I wanted something, I could have it. Nothing was off the table, I just ended up wanting it less. And b) I saw the progress. I saw the road ahead. And I am really excited about where it's headed.

So, we go full circle. Back to my point from the very beginning, this road we're all taking. It's the road called time, whether you like it or not, we're sliding down it at an accelerating pace. That sounds like existential horror, but I'm just being honest. The hourglass was tipped the moment we mewed out our first mucus covered cry. And honestly, that's so thrilling to me. I'm not trying to be nihilistic or anything, I'm just saying-- well, we've got one life. Why do anything other than what you love?

I've spent many long stretches on highways, driving to another state or another country. At first, the long drives were exhausting and mind numbing. They took forever. As the years went on, and I started to love the views and the peace and the opportunity to sing with no one listening, the rides were thrilling! and they went by in a snap!

So, which ride is more satisfying? the one that felt longer, or the one you actually enjoyed? That's life, man. Don't drag it out-- but don't unbuckle the seat belt and lean out the window either, ya know? Anyway, I wore than analogy out.

I did make a playlist last month, but it never quite felt er... right? So I made this playlist today. It's short, sweet, and full of feelings.

I'm making comics, and soon I'll have some actual things to announce. The world remains closed, and I remain in a capsule of hard work, blood, sweat, tears, and coffee. It won't last forever, and when it opens up again the first thing I plan to do is fly to Iceland because why the fuck not? I've wanted to go for so long, and once I lost the chance I realized how badly I wanted to see some fjords.

So, I'll see you all on the other side. There will be comics and shows and dancing and fjords. Until then, stay happy, stay safe, and love yourself.

xo az

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