Back in the habit

Every week I see a mentor of mine and she asks how I’m doing, and I tell her I haven’t been able to get back into a healthy routine. Bless her soul, she never says, “Still?”

France was more than a month ago; South By’s long past. Why am I still lying on the couch, sleeping in, indulging in food and drink, and feeling sorry for myself? Where is my running routine, my moderation, or my finely-tuned internal alarm clock?

It’s hard to get back on the horse – but it’s time. Here are a few strategies I’m trying out to get myself on a healthier track:

Healthy eating

I’ve written about my struggles with weight and eating, and while I’m still on the path to a healthier lifestyle, I’ve stalled out. Someone who has also battled these bears suggested getting back into tracking my food and accounting for the things I’m still hanging onto: the chips with my sandwich; the wine on the couch; and the extra bites of that rich homemade dinner. Planning for indulgence means that I don’t feel guilty about what I’ve eaten, which is such a burden put on women – food feels tied to moral correctness, self-worth, and even shame in a way I am still trying to untangle. For now, feeling in control of even the unhealthy things I put in my body is making me have a more productive relationship with food, until I’m able to fully disconnect from societal pressures that have instilled these feelings of guilt in me.

Healthy thinking

I’ve been struggling in this department a lot, truth be told. For some reason, the transition from school to work has hit me a year later, bumming me out about not having my friends around all the time and not having naps around me all the time. I am sometimes lonely and sometimes bored, which to me are two of the worst possible feelings. The loneliness means I’m saying yes to things I don’t actually want to do, sitting there with people who don’t interest me or annoy me thinking, “Why am I doing this again?”. Oh ya – because I wanted another human to look me in the face and ask me about my day. The boredom means my art is suffering (try, just try, to paint a stroke while feeling like an uninteresting blob), as is my opinion of myself. Digging myself out of this hole sometimes feels impossible.

I’m a huge proponent of therapy, any of my friends will tell you. You, yes you, need a therapist – and so do I. Returning to therapy gives me an outlet for the bad feelings and strategies for dealing with them when they arise in my downtime. Still, there’s a lot to work on both with my therapist and on my own.

Another strategy I’m using is planning for the future. What am I looking forward to? This means I’m already browsing for furniture for our new apartment. I’m looking for plane tickets for weddings I might be able to attend. I’m booking hotels for conferences. I’m rustling up some future painting orders. It brightens the dull days that just keep coming, but won’t be here forever.

Cats help, too.

Healthy moving

I have turned into a bit of a slug. I’ve been moving slowly, when necessary, with a few power walks when I’m late coming back from my lunch. I’ve told myself I’m focusing on getting my head on straight – but exercise is part of that.

Two things are helping disrupt my current malaise: getting back on my bike after 8 months out of the saddle and feeling challenged by the pedometer challenge at work. Facing my fear and getting back on my bike has reminded me just how many muscles I haven’t been using. It also makes me feel powerful and in control of my transportation. Walking in the mornings, lunch, afternoons, and evenings, with some running thrown in for good measure, works out some anxious feelings and burns off some of that extra wine that I’m dutifully tracking (right?).

I woke up today the same sluggish, bored person I was yesterday, but I’m working toward some of my more exciting self-care practices. Even slugs can pick themselves up and keep moving, even if they’re a little slimey.

• • •

Update on skincare: I am trying out some new things in my routine to see if I can’t fix some of my skincare woes. The results are, in a word, horrifying. Y’all crazy for some of this stuff. My wise Aunt Laurie advised that I give more time than a week with each new addition to the routine, as it can take my skin time to balance out. Here’s hoping! That chart is still coming your way one of these days.


Face the Music

During SXSW, I’m always amazed how far $0 can take you. Through front gates and dark doorways; past overflowing swag tables with lighters, bandanas, and sunscreens; in front of tons of bands I love and bands that I will soon love; and sometimes, oh sometimes, $0 leads you to that enigmatic free signature cocktail.

But this year, I became acutely aware of the insidious costs of SXSW. I saw over two dozen bands, spent time with new friends and old, and enjoyed the beautiful weather – but I gave up all of the good stuff that this blog was based upon. I didn’t watch what I ate or drank. I didn’t get enough sleep. I didn’t exercise, unless you count lightly dancing to that Lizzo set or biking back and forth from Hotel Vegas when I forgot my phone. I certainly didn’t take responsibility for the big things in my life or take care of my skin. I was not a glowing, dewy Emma, but I was a windswept, carefree Emma.

Now comes the hard part: saying goodbye. By Saturday of the nearly two-week blitz of bands and beer, I was exhausted. Instead of walking back to a party after a few hours rest, I stayed in, waving a weak farewell to an intense festival. I was ready to get some sleep and face the music. Here’s my SXSW detox regimen:

1. Say no.

Do I want to go to that SXSW hangover party? Yes, I sure do. I am having withdrawal from constant social contact, but I know what I really need is to recharge. This means a few nights in with Florence the cat.

2. Keep a 9 pm bedtime.

I’m a big believer in this one, which sounds insane to most people. There’s something really satisfying about jolting awake at what feels like 5 am and realizing it’s midnight – I have hours and hours of glorious sleep left.

3. Take long walks.

Back on that Fitbit grind, I took 12,000 steps yesterday, around the Capitol, my neighborhood, that coffee house, even just my job. It’s not exactly intense cardio, but it’s keeping me moving until I feel ready to run again.

4. Lower alcohol intake.

This one is fairly easy since the intake was so great last week. It’s time to forego the signature cocktails and the $2 Lone Stars for a single glass of wine with dinner – or better yet, a big bottle of Topo Chico.

5. Organize my life.

The first big thing I did on Sunday, after the dust settled, was go through my accordion file of important documents. It turns out about half of that stuff isn’t important at all. Organizing my stuff helped me organize my head and have a better sense of the things to come.

Two things I struggle with on the journey to better self-care are finding balance and fighting guilt when I neglect some of my good habits. A week of feeding this other side of myself, the social and musical desires that drive big parts of my personality, is helping me battle these beasts of burden. As I guzzle that free Bumble™ bottle full of water, remove that glow stick bracelet, and get ready for a sleep bonanza, I remind myself that loosening up and having fun is also part of the plan to take care of myself. So long for another year, South By. Thanks for the Memories.

The Big Bad Things List

Yesterday, I cried about cat dentistry.

A certified non-millionaire, there are little life things that cost money that can really set me off. Yesterday, one such thing was a lingering $1400 quote to take care of sweet Florence’s gnarly sideways tooth and gum situation. The tooth seemed like no big deal at first, but as it has decidedly become A Big Deal, I am faced with reality: my darling daughter deserves care, and care costs money – sometimes more money than I plan to spend.

“Do your homework,” my mom advised. What homework? Feline dental debt seemed like a foregone conclusion, if I wanted to be a good cat mom. The act of putting this off, in the same way that I had put so many other scary or expensive things off, had blinded me from my agency and my options.

I got off the phone with my mom and took a deep breath. In a matter of minutes, I had found a more affordable vet. The sky wasn’t falling: it had opened up, and I was able to breathe again. Acceptance had allowed me to problem solve, or problem deescalate.

I need to face the things that scare me, the things that seemed too hard or too cost-intensive to ever surmount. I decided to make a list of Big Bad Things that needed to be done, period.

The Big Bad Things List has things as small (but nagging) as washing my car. It has things as big as paying my taxes or learning to bike again after my accident. There are many, many next steps and deep sighs looking at my bank account to follow. But seeing it all in one place, like a grocery list, it all seems more manageable, all cut down to the size of a line of text rather than a looming monster. There it all is, laid out as plain as day, for me to conquer.


My morning routine is 27 minutes long, from the time I finally enter the bathroom to the time I almost forget to lock the front door. As the shower heats up, I chug water and coffee, and if my roommate’s not home, I do a little dance to whatever Jens Lekman song is swirling around my head lately. My shower takes approximately one song – I read somewhere that fellow beautiful person Jennifer Aniston takes a two minute shower, so I feel pretty good about it. I wash my face with a charcoal cleanser bc it looks like it works and I want that sweet baby’s butt skin of a coal miner. I moisturize with Neutrogena Hydro Boost, which costs like 16 whole American dollars (Stefanie gave this to me, otherwise I would be like, “What am I, some kind of face millionaire?!”). I get dressed, I put on whatever makeup I have cobbled together to make my face look less like a teen’s, I blow dry my bangs, and I grab two sparkling waters on my way out the door. Basically, I am the picture of glamour. My skincare routine is one of inference, convenience, and frugality.

Lately, I’ve felt that, as an adult, it’s time to stop breaking out constantly and actually establish a skincare routine. I am ready to start a system, but I want to do it my way: following the tips that work for my lifestyle and being at least a little scientific about verifying the results.

This is the first post in a series about my skincare experiments – what I’m incorporating into my skincare routine based on advice I’ve read and received from Twitter people, IRL friends, women’s magazines, and desperate google searches. Every week, I will start from my baseline routine and incorporate one new tip, and compare a skin “before” and “after.”

Please pray for me as I embark on the truly terrifying experience of using a facial brush. Stay tuned.