A Day in Doha Fitness

I know and work with a lot of very fit people.  Even in Qatar, the land made famous for its Doha Dozen, loads of people are bound and determined to make fitness a priority and a lifestyle.  

Every single last one of them has admitted at some point that there are days that are harder than others to commit to their health.  Every one has had days where they struggle to keep the motivation going.  They all say a tough day here and there is normal.  

Unfortunately for me, it seems like every moment of every day is a push and pull of emotions when it comes to fitness.  Each day brings with it a continuous flow of bipolarity that has me simultaneously loving and hating my newfound commitment to fitness and health.  I've included below for your reading entertainment a typical day in my Doha Fitness Journal, with its glorious multitude of manic and depressive epiphanies ... Enjoy!

Courtesy of memecrunch.com


4:00 a.m.  the Bell Tower tone chimes on my i-phone ... I coax one eyelid open.

''This is just wrong.  It's not even the crack of the crack of dawn.''

I swipe the 9-minute snooze option.  At minute 8, I fall back into the deepest sleep of the night.  

Ding, dong, ding, dong, ding dong, ding, dong ... Drat that alarm.

Pull myself begrudgingly to a sitting position as Smilin' Vic grunts and pushes off the covers ''I'm awake, yup, yup, ...''.

A muffled call to prayer sounds through the closed bedroom window, making itself heard over the droning of the a/c.  

Smilin' Vic and I narrowly avoid colliding as we stumble past each other at the foot of the bed.  Fumble through my drawers in the darkness.  '

'Why the heck didn't I lay out my sweats and runners last night like I'd promised myself?''

Strap on 1kg wrist weights and program the Runmeter app to 'Al Waab 6.2 km route'.  Guzzle down 16 oz of water and fill up my CamelBak.  Mentally motivate myself for the walk ahead.

''Yes!  I'm awesome.  4:20 a.m. and ready to roll.  Come on big wide fitness world, let's start the daily Doha fitness journey!''

Step out the door.  Instantaneously drenched in a bath of humidity.  My glasses steam up.  My toenails start to sweat.  

''This sucks.''

Smilin' Vic's in fine form this particular morning:  ''Wanna run this morning, Babe?''

I try to muster a smile ... something in my sleep-deprived eyes scares him.  

'Or we could just walk at a brisk pace?''

0.2 km in.  Droplets of sweat cling to my eyelashes.  

''I must be mad.''

We achieve a decent pace, my short little legs struggling to keep pace with Smilin' Vic's long ones.  I finally find my groove.  Endorphins rapidly kick in.  A huge wave of positivity follows.

''I am sooooo amazing!  If you don't work for it, don't bother wishing for it, Gypsy.  No pain, no gain.  I'm a fitness queen!''

Lost in my newfound awesomeness, I narrowly avoid the sinkhole that has appeared overnight  on the sidewalk just outside our compound.  Twist my foot on a rock as I sidestep the diversion and hear the ''whoosh'' of a mini-van race by us at 100km an hour down the city street.

''Seriously?  Why do I put myself through this?  It's like Death Race 2000.''

3 km into our walk.  The proper English voice on the Runmeter app mechanically informs us that we're 36 seconds ahead of best pace.  Exercise euphoria is back.

''Wooohooooooo!  I rock.  Bring it on!''

750 m from home.  A speeding car lays on the horn as he approaches from behind, likely for the simple thrill of watching us jump out of our runners.  

A stupid fly has been continuously taking nose-dives at my head for the last kilometre.  I try to swipe the quarter-inch nuisance away, hands batting futilely at thin air, waving madly around my head as the buzzing reverberates in the sweat in my ears.  I swat without success; the annoyance drones on ceaselessly.

''Arghhhhhhh!  I hate this.''

Make it back home; somehow we've managed to fall back on our pace; 16 seconds behind median.  That's ok.  I blame it on the annoying fly.  

Check my watch.  It's 5:25 a.m. and we've clocked 6km, burned 300 cal and lost 2kg of sweat.

''Yes!  I'm invincible!''

I savour the chill of the a/c.  Throw beets, carrots, oranges, lime into the juicer.  Fill up on water. Smilin' Vic gets the coffee going.  I head up for a shower.  Great start to the day.

''No taking the lift for me today.  Only stairs.  I am fitness personified!''

Try to ease my way into Doha traffic.  Get locked into a 45-minute jam, no one coming, no one going, no one moving.  Arrive at work 5 minutes late.  End up parking on the 7th storey of the parking garage.

''I could clock a lot of steps if I took the stairs.  But the ride up made me slightly dizzy.  It might not be safe to take the stairs with vertigo.''  

''Stop making excuses!  Ok, I'll take the stairs.''  

''Wait, no time; I'm already late.  I'll take the lift down; I can walk up on the way out tonight.''

''I suck.  Excuses, excuses.  I really need to smarten up.  I'll take the stairs to our 9:00 a.m. meeting.''

I stand firm on my promise to myself.  I take the three flights of steps down to the meeting room.  

''I am invincible!''

My newfound smugness at all things physical prompts me to bully my co-worker into taking the three flights back up with me.  She chats effortlessly as we make our way back up to the office. I break into a sweat one flight up.  

Two flights to go.

''Why does she have to ask so many questions.  Can't she just shut up?  I can't catch my breath.  Much less hold down a conversation.''

''Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah ... And you?'' She asks. 

I grab onto the handrail, pause, sputter ''yeah, sure.''  No clue what she was asking.

One flight left.  My mind's gone blank.  Breathing is simply no longer an option.  Just reach my destination and work it out from there.  I can worry about oxygen supply once the uphill climb is over.

''This sucks.''

Make it back to the office without completely depleting my stocks of O2.  Brain function is still relatively intact.  I ease my burning thighs down into my office chair.  I made it!

''I rock!''

Workday over, I head back to the parking garage.  Can I keep my promise?  Those 7 flights of stairs would, after all, do wonders for my FitBit stats.  And I did manage 3 flights earlier today.  And there's no obligation to hold down a conversation this time around.  My mind's made up.  As I open the door leading to the stairwell, I can't help but cast a slightly smug glance at the hordes waiting in the lift lobby.  

''I rock!''

Two flights up. 

''If I took the elevator now, it would still be better than having taken it all the way up.''

''No, you're committed.  If you don't work for it, don't bother wishing for it.''

Four flights up.

''Well this was stupid.''

''No use quitting now, you're past halfway.''

Six flights up.

''Interesting how my toes have gone completely numb.  If that numbness could work itself all the way up my legs to my lungs, I could probably manage 20 flights.''

Seven flights.  Final destination!

''Yes!  I am queen of the fitness world!''

Get into my car.  Take 5 minutes to catch my breath.  Tap on my FitBit bracelet.  

''Two crappy blinking lights?  Seriously?  Those stairs alone had to be enough to earn me 5 blinking lights.  This sucks!''

Wind my way down the parking lot ramps.  Ease my way into Doha traffic.  Listen to my Michel Thomas Arabic CD as I make my way slowly back home.

Arrive home at 5:30 p.m.  Get a text from the chatty stair-climbing insanely fit co-worker reminding me that I've signed up with my office peeps for a motivational Boot Camp at 6:30 tonight.  

''OMG, is this what I agreed to on my oxygen-deprived trek up the stairs?  Surely they can excuse me for being mentally impaired at the time?  What the heck was I thinking?????''

''No, Gypsy, no excuses.  You can do this.  It's a case of mind over matter.  Go girl!''

Quickly check on Kiddo's homework.  Change into my sweats and runners.  Grab my workout bag.  Kiss Kiddo and Smilin' Vic as they encourage me in my fitness quest.  

''I would sooooo trade this for a glass of wine, a fuzzy blanket, some Kraft mac and cheese and an evening watching mindless TV.''

Fight my way back into Doha evening traffic.  Make it to the park with minutes to spare.

Indulge in 45 minutes of outright humiliation as my peers get a true glimpse of the chaotic spastic thrusts that I'm trying to pass off as 'coming to grips with my health'.

''I'll never live this down at the office.  My eyeballs are sweating.  I could be sitting alone shamelessly on my couch at home watching 'Come Dine With Me.'  Why am I putting myself through this?  I'll never be fit.''  

''No, I need to pat myself on the shoulder.  No pain, no gain.  I could be home, doing nothing.  I should be proud of myself for making the effort.  The heat and humidity and humiliation are making me STRONG.  I rock!''  

''If that clean-eating, paleo-touting, knuckle-head jock, cut-to-the-bone coach makes me do one more burpee I will hunt him down, tie him up and stuff an all-dressed pizza down his throat in one sitting.''

''Hey, I just did 1 more burpee than my 55-year-old boss with the bum shoulder.  I rock!''

''I really hate that coach.  Wait 'til you hit your 30's buddy, then try and give me 5 more yourself!''

''I think I just had a heart attack.  Seriously, my left lung just rolled out onto the grass over there.''

''Yes, 'cool down'.  I made it.  I rock!''

7:30 p.m.  

Pick my left lung up off the grass.  Dust it off.

Ease my way back into Doha traffic ...

How I Lost 0 Lbs in 6 Weeks ...

About two months ago, Smilin' Vic and I decided the time had come to get back to a healthier way of life.  We decided to step away from a daily glass of wine and replace it with a lot more water.  To put away the occasional takeaway menu and stick with home-cooked meals.  To chuck the can of diet cola and take the juicer out twice a day.  To get off the couch and step outdoors for a walk.  To put away the i-Pads and go for a swim with Kiddo.  To get back into a healthier state of mind and true fitness ...

For me, that meant the radical move of hiring a personal trainer.  After several years of decline into a perfectly sedentary lifestyle, my body and my mind no longer had the strength or the will to allow me to do this on my own.  So I decided to spend some bucks on me and put my money where my mouth is.  

Six weeks ago, those first few workouts compelled me to write about the 'F' word:  FEAR ...

Fear was holding me back in so many ways, and at first I wasn't sure I'd ever manage to overcome it.  Fear of humiliation, fear of injuring myself, fear of stinking when I sweat, fear of grunting when I pushed, fear of not trying hard enough, fear of tripping over my own feet (justifiable ... it DID happen), and on and on.  

But mostly fear of failure.  Fear of trying and failing.  Fear of convincing myself that quitting would be the better alternative, because if you don't try, you can't fail, right?

That fear of failure was what killed me every time I did my weekly weigh-in.  Half a lb. down one week, one lb. up the next.  Never really wavering.  Except the one week the doctor put me on Diclofenac Potassium* to reduce the inflammation in my piriformis ... that week I went up 5 lbs!  

I Googled ''HIIT training but not losing weight'', ''juicing and weight gain'', ''not losing weight when you start training'', ''gaining weight when you increase water intake'' ... I came up with every possible word combination to try to figure out the unwavering figure on the scale.

All the sites said the same:  calories in must be less than calories out, whether you exercise or not.  But I wasn't quite ready to give up the healthy appetite I've had for the last 44 years.  In my shattered and weakened physical state, taking on a radical change in eating habits together with such an increased level of activity just seemed insurmountable.  So I kept on eating healthy food - in copious amounts.  

A few times, it really felt like I was failing.  The weight was falling off Smilin' Vic faster than you could utter his 1-syllable name.  Obviously my inability to shed a single lb. meant I was doing something seriously wrong?

Then one day at work, someone asked me what I was doing differently, why was my skin 'glowing' all of a sudden?  Then someone else asked, and someone else, and someone else.  

Last week, on our 4 a.m. walk, we came upon a foot-high concrete block (the sidewalks in Doha are littered with sign posts, potholes, broken jersey barriers, and all other manner of debris).  I said ''Look what I can do, Smilin' Vic!'' and proceeded to swing my arms and jump up onto it, landing smoothly with both feet squarely and firmly onto the block.  This might not seem like much to some, but a few short weeks ago I could barely hop one foot at a time onto a 6-inch curb.  

Three weeks ago, when I noticed the weight wasn't coming off, I decided to take my measurements.  This week when I measured, I'd lost an inch off my waist, half an inch off my hips, half an inch off my bottom, and half an inch off my thighs.  Small changes, but changes nonetheless.

Smilin' Vic told me a few days ago that I never snore anymore.  I know, hard to believe that a vixen like me would have ever displayed such uncouthness, but alas it's true.  I was a light but constant snorer.

That may account for the fact that I'm sleeping much better.  No more waking up throughout the night and scrunching up the pillows or rearranging the blankets in a desperate attempt to achieve zzzzzz's.  

Which probably explains why I'm no longer tired during the day.  I wake up refreshed and only rarely click on snooze these days.  Granted we're usually in bed by 9:00 p.m., but when 4:00 a.m. rolls around I actually look forward to donning my sneakers and heading out for a walk.

My sciatica and back pain have eased significantly.  They're not gone, but they don't dictate my every sleeping and waking moment.  This may be partly due to the vitamin B12 injections I've been receiving, but I think the increase in vitamins through vegetable juicing and the increased mobility from exercising are definitely helping as well.  

My pants are looser, did I mention that?  Not substantially, just enough so I feel comfortable and no longer have to fear taking out someone's eye if a button all of a sudden pops off.

Am I where I want to be?  Not really.  But I'm on my way.  Do I still care about what the scale says?  Hell, yeah!  But I'm not afraid of what it tells me; it's becoming a much smaller part of the equation.  Am I still sore?  Every. Single. Day. A new muscle or joint makes my acquaintance daily by sending a shot of pain to my brain.  But it's okay; I'm actually getting to know my body - the neighbour I had for 44 years and only met formally last month.

This morning I came back from the gym exhausted after a work-out that ended with 5 rounds of stairs and burpees knowing that I am getting stronger.  Still, my body's asking me to get a bit leaner.  Not much, but a little bit will make it easier on us both I think.  And as of today, I'm feeling strong enough physically and mentally to start logging my food and sticking to a daily nutrition goal.  

Have I lost a single lb. in six weeks?  Nope.  Zero, zip, nada.

All I've gotten for my efforts are healthier skin, fewer wrinkles, better sleep, more flexibility, greater strength, increased energy, slightly more muscle tone, a better back, a positive outlook, and an overall sense of wellbeing.

Have I failed?  I'll let you be the judge.

*  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories have been reported to cause water retention and temporary weight gain in some individuals.

The Nastiest Four-Letter Word ...

Warning:  This post does include foul words ... though perhaps not the ones you'd expect.

I'm going out on a limb here by generalising and supposing that cursing is a universal phenomenon.  I may be wrong, but I've yet to hear of a nation or a culture that hasn't incorporated some type of expletive into its elocutionary fabric.

And while I don't consider myself a prude by any means, and even though cuss words don't make me cringe per se, I do try avoid using them simply because they seem like the lazy-man's alternative to thinking things through and giving true voice to feelings.    

Though I grew up visiting construction sites with my Dad, where 4-letter words were commonplace but no less offensive than they'd be elsewhere, my parents were older (well into their late 30's/early 40's when they had me) and what one would consider old-fashioned for the times.  

And so, despite growing up in the 70's, the 'Me' decade, where freedom of expression was expected, encouraged, even demanded, I basically grew up in a home where swearing as a form of self-expression was NOT the norm.  Oh, I would hear my parents say '$h*t' or 'Dammit' on the odd occasion, but never when they knew I was close enough to hear.  And contrary to many a French-Canadian household, profanity, particularly 'sacres' (the use of words from liturgy as a means of cursing in French Canada), was unacceptable and worthy of a serious tongue-lashing.

I first heard the ''f'' word just before moving to South America, sitting on a curb on a sunny summer day outside our house in Burlington, Ontario.  An older boy from across the street  asked me if I knew what it meant.  I didn't, but of course I didn't admit not knowing.  Even at that young an age, I was afraid to admit I didn't know something, afraid to look silly, afraid I might come out the loser in this test of wits, afraid to admit my ignorance of a term I should obviously have known at the wise old age of seven.

It would be a while yet before I'd learn how to 'sign' that nasty four-letter word, and years beyond that to realise that the word itself carries no real meaning other than the feeling and the emotions we impart onto it.  But at the time, when I first heard it, I just knew it had to be bad ... because of the secretive and all-knowing way it was shared.  I was afraid of what it 'might' mean.

And though my parents later explained it was a 'really bad word', somehow I always knew I could have gotten away with using IT rather than any sacred church words or a 'dammit' with 'God' attached to the front of it.  Because the 'f' word really HAD NO MEANING.  

This vulgar word, uttered across the globe, with a universal reputation of being so nasty ... it was nothing more than an empty vessel waiting to be filled with intention.  

As I grew older, I started understanding my parents' perspective a bit better.  It was what was behind the thoughts and the words that made them most damaging.  It wasn't necessarily the curse itself, it was the intention behind the profanity that could really hurt.  That stayed with me.

When we had Kiddo, we knew there were certain words we didn't want to expose her to in our home.  While the traditional 'f' word was obviously on the list, much like my parents we've never considered the word quite worthy of the adulation it gets all on its own.  Yes, I'd likely lose my 's&*t' if I heard her say it, but mostly because of the intention and feelings behind it, not because of the word itself.  I realise she has no idea what it really means either, and that would basically render it meaningless and unworthy of too much attention.

What I've been much more concerned with lately is a far worse 4-letter word.  One that has no place in our life, and that we rarely utter out loud, yet that creeps in almost daily and gives rise to a host of other expletives.  It is a word that carries so much thought and significance behind it, and that is actually most harmful when avoided and ignored.  

It is a word that very few people are willing to acknowledge, much less give voice to, whether in Canada, Qatar, Egypt, Syria, USA, Russia, or elsewhere. 

That word, the nastiest four-letter word, the one that hurts more when it is silenced than when it is voiced, is none other than:


Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said ''There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear.''

I've loved this quote from the first time I heard it, but I'd never put that much thought into it until recently.  And though some might call Elisabeth's statement an over-simplification, I think the complexity of the concept is mind-blowing.  Because it implies that you have to work your way back from every negative emotion to figure out what 'fear' is driving it.  And that may mean finding some nasty truths along the way.

Truths that far exceed the ugly that a meaningless expletive at the forefront could ever convey.

Looking back on my 44 years, I can see a lot of ugly truths, negative emotions and misguided decisions that have been driven by fear:

  • Staying in a failed marriage for far too long because I was afraid I couldn't actually make it on my own, because I was afraid to admit I'd failed, because I was afraid I wouldn't manage to be happy even if I left, because I was afraid that I was actually the single cause of all the unhappiness.
  • Refusing to acknowledge the depth of my grief at losing my dad out of fear that it would so break me that I'd never be whole again, out of fear that I had to make it without him from here on in, out of irrational fear that acknowledgement equalled reality (reality is reality, whether acknowledged or not - denial is only a temporary balm).
  • Refusing to write about my perspective on issues such as 'this' (kudos to my blogging buddy MB for the authenticity and 'real'-ness of his posts) because I'm terrified of acknowledging that humankind is capable of such atrocities.

And there is so much more fear that halts me daily, that stops me from achieving my true potential, that I unwillingly impart into my daughter's psyche, that bleeds into almost every aspect of my life.

There is my very obvious fear of heights.  There is the fear I experience as a mother every time Kiddo heads out alone to walk the 8 doors down to her friend's house.  There is the fear of failure every time I click on 'Save & Publish' for a blog post.  There is the fear of not being able to cope if I throw out my cigarettes for once and for all.  The list is long:

  • Not trusting my gut (e.g. feeling I HAVE to step into an elevator with a shady-looking character), out of fear that I'll offend.
  • Trying to be someone I'm not, out of fear of rejection.
  • Not saying something, out of fear of being wrong.
  • Not trusting, out of fear of deception.

And always, there's the fear of ridicule.  This is the fear that was born of a burpee (nicely demonstrated here by Linora Low) and that gave birth to this post.  

Last week, I was at the gym with the personal trainer I've hired to help whip me back into shape.  He had me doing thirty (30, 3-0, THIRTY) burpees.  I started uttering the 'f' word under my breath at five (5, FIVE).  I started uttering ''I hate this'' quite loudly at ten (10, 1-0, TEN).  At twenty (20, 2-0, TWENTY), I couldn't really breathe ... so I just replayed the 'f' word on a mindless loop in my head.  By thirty (30, 3-0' THIRTY) I was sweating, crying, gasping, flopping around like a landed fish, crawling my way back up to my feet rather than jumping, cursing my broken body and my trainer in a single laboured breath.  

When I got home, I loudly professed my distaste for burpees to Smilin' Vic, using every expletive I could think of to describe this most absurd and obscene 'exercise'.  I didn't refer to them as burpees; I repeatedly used Smilin' Vic's military term for the manoeuvre (which sounds quite like 'mends and futher-buckers').

Not once during that hateful volley of meaningless curses did I stop to consider my own fear in the equation.  I just went on and on cursing, growing more negative as I injected my fear into expletives without actually acknowledging that fear.  Not once did I give actual voice to that fear.  Not once did I use the word 'fear' to describe what was welling up inside me.

And the next day, I woke up sore.  Sore and triumphant.  Oddly energised.  Oddly optimistic.  Yes, I'd struggled.  Yes, I'd been embarrassed.  Yes, I'd 'flailed'.  But I hadn't 'failed'.  I hadn't quit.  I wasn't pretty, but the burpees hadn't beat me; the burpies weren't the enemy.  

And I realised I had confronted a fear.  And survived.

I realised I didn't actually 'hate' burpees.  I didn't actually 'hate' my coach for pushing me.  I was simply afraid.  Not afraid of the burpees - afraid of what the burpees had shown me: how far I'd let myself slide, how out-of-shape I was, how weak I was, how physically run-down my body had become.  

I was scared to look silly.  I was afraid my mind couldn't control my body.  I was petrified that my will might be defeated.  I was frightened by the fact that inwardly my body had been whispering to me for years that I need to get stronger, and that it was now shouting it outwardly after years of being ignored.  I was terrified by the involuntary grunts expulsed from my lungs.  I cringed at the knots in my guts.  I recoiled at my inflexibility, at the burn in every muscle.  I was horrified at the sweat pouring off my brow and from the crooks in my arms.

I was terrified anyone might see me and laugh.  

And the 'f' word, the universally recognised 'bad word', couldn't convey all that, no matter how many times I uttered it.  And it couldn't make things better.

But waking up the next morning and admitting my fear quite simply and literally erased the negativity.  I'm heading back into that gym wearing my fear like a badge.  I'm heading back into that gym ready to face that fear head-on.  I'll strike at it, I'll flail, and I'll likely waiver and once again utter a few expletives.  But I've exposed my fear.  It's way out in the open now; there's no hiding from me anymore.  It's not so strong now that it's finally been voiced.

I know that once I kill that fear, there's not a burpee that can stop me.  

I'll conquer that nastiest four-letter word yet.  

It won't be pretty. But bring it on ... 

Holding Fast ...

The last day of Ramadan is almost here.  The sighting of the new moon, which we know will occur on either July 28th or 29th of this year, will signal the end of this Holy month of fasting, and the beginning of the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.  Nothing much more than a blip on the calendar if you're living in the West, but quite an event if you're living in the Middle East.

Today marked the last day of work for a number of larger national companies in Qatar (mostly oil and gas) for the next 9 days.  For the public sector (government ministries and entities), that break will extend to 11 days.   I guess it just simplifies things to declare the entire week off (the workweek here is Sunday-Thursday) even if the Eid holiday only officially begins on Monday or Tuesday, particularly since there will be very few office workers, either expatriate or national, left around to work in country next week.

I would actually hazard a guess that tonight marks the busiest night of the year for Qatar's brand new Hamad International Airport.  No doubt the holiday seekers are arriving at the new departures terminal en masse, anxious to climb aboard a freedom bird and trade in the August sand and heat for a blue sky and cooler temps (anything below 38C will be a welcome relief).

Doha, the capital of Qatar, will come to a virtual standstill over the next week.  Festivities will be had and restaurants will re-open during daylight hours, bringing a close to the month of daytime fasting but not to nighttime revelry.  Over the next week, celebrations will last through the day and night as the city and the country prepare for a return to normal following a month of lull.

As everyone anxiously awaits the escape and the celebrations, I find myself almost mourning the end of this period of calm.  I've spent every Ramadan in-country since moving to Qatar, and usually find myself going stir-crazy by the end of the month, but this year Ramadan has proven oddly soothing and healing.  It's been a welcome calm after months of storm. 

I've become more productive at work.  I've smiled at people who've cut me off mercilessly in traffic.  I've increased my water intake (behind closed doors so as to be mindful of those who are fasting, of course).  I've started physically training in earnest.  I've spent more time laughing with Kiddo.  I've spent more time walking with Smilin' Vic.  I've rediscovered a love of writing.  I've swapped pouring an evening glass of wine for juicing.  I've tried some new recipes.  I've cleaned out the messy spare room.  I've given clothes to charity.  I've read some books.  I've slept like a baby.  I've almost forgotten what lower back pain and sciatica feel like.  I've caught up on episodes of Come Dine With Me.  I've pushed my limits in an attempt to gain an appreciation for all I've been blessed with.  I've challenged myself physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I feel more alive and motivated than I've probably felt in the last two or three years.  

This will be the first time ever that we don't be going anywhere for Eid, not even to a local hotel.  Yet I'm not envying those boarding a flight tonight.  I'm not envying those who will break fast on Monday or Tuesday with a weeklong celebration.  I'm fully appreciating the greatness of being exactly where I am in the moment, whatever this day may bring.

Though I've not been fasting, I've been mindful throughout the last month.  I've actually put some thought into what passes my lips, whether it be words or food or drink.  I've focused on what I want to do, what I can do, rather than on what I wish I could do.  I've gained a renewed appreciation for my family, my job, my friends, my faith, my health, my body, my mind.

And I'm selfishly scared to lose the feeling.  

I'm holding fast, but I'm scared.  Scared to sink into the depths of despair that gripped me last April and May, scared to forget everything I'm so grateful for.  Scared to forget how to be thankful for the little things that really matter.

I'm holding fast to the mindfulness, and praying that I'm back to the 'me' I used to be, and that this isn't a phase.  

I'm not fasting.  

But I'm holding fast.

Investing in Me ...

When we moved to the ME almost 8 years ago, we were planning to invest three years of our life into my husband's career for a chance to set enough aside for that much sought-after investment:  Freedom 55, aka 'easy, early retirement'.

What we didn't count on was that I would land a great job and that Smilin' Vic would be offered a contract extension that would entice us to stay an extra three years.  We decided that the extra three years would be a good opportunity to invest in Kiddo's early education, and enrolled her in a top-notch school with a reputation not only for developing young minds, but also for instilling core values into every aspect of campus life.

We certainly didn't count on sticking around beyond that initial six years.  But when the time came, we asked ourselves 'Why not take the opportunity to stick around a bit longer to indulge in the great opportunities to travel from this part of the world.  Let's invest in adventure.  At the same time Kiddo loves her school, and she's getting a great education.  And we've got good jobs.  And Canada will still be there when we get back ... so why not stay a few more years?''

And so it's gone ... one investment in time leading to another ... not an uncommon tale for many long-time Doha expats.

And while all those investments are great, over time I've found myself investing less and less in 'Me'.  I keep on putting off that annual check-up at the doctor's; I push back getting my roots dyed by a week and then two, thinking I may as well wait 'til they're really grey and it's really worth it; I delay hitting the gym or getting on the treadmill because I should probably be spending more time at work or with Kiddo; I deny myself sleep because there are dishes to clean or blog posts to write or chores to do.

Like many a mom and a wife in Doha and around the world, I find myself pushing aside things that would make me feel so much better about myself, opting instead for something I figure will make everyone else happy but won't really.  

Little things like private bathroom time; why is it that every time I step into the shower I hear a piercing 'Maman!!!!!!!!!' calling me from downstairs?  When did I start letting that happen?  I don't think I've ever once said 'Bathroom time is my time; don't call out to me unless the house is on fire'.  The one place that was a bastion of privacy before giving birth has now become the one place everyone knows they can grab my undivided attention.

Or telephone time.  Every. single. time.  You can be guaranteed that the moment I start getting engaged in a phone conversation with a sister or a friend is the very moment Smilin' Vic will start waving his arms desperately in the air to signal something 'I just can't miss' on TV, or perhaps a missing set of keys that he needs 'right now'.

When exactly did I give up those little moments?  What I know is that it is in fact 'Me' who gave them up.  No one took them from me; I just gave them, and realised a little too late that I wanted them back.

Don't get me wrong; I'm proud I've invested time into my family, and I don't regret a single minute.  But through no one's fault but my own, over time I've stopped investing in things that are 'just for me'.

So this summer, I decided to put a little thought into my investments.  What small investments could I make that would be all about me?  And I actually came up with a few.  They may seem silly, but they've completely changed my outlook.  They make me selfishly happy.  And usually, when Maman's happy, everyone's happy!

So what have I invested in?

  1. Novolash individual lash extensions.  While on the surface these may seem purely indulgent and nothing more than an expat woman's vanity at play, they were actually a last-ditch attempt to remedy an issue I've been dealing with since THIS.  If you've read my May 2013 post about my battle with conjunctivitis and seen the picture of the resulting 'lashlessness', you may understand my plight a bit better.  You see, that bout of conjunctivitis resulted in subsequent issues and extreme eye sensitivity (common in the desert) that would cause me to rub my eyes constantly over the last year, leading to recurrent infections, resulting in sporadic lash loss, and so on and so on.  So I invested in the lashes as a way to stop myself from rubbing my eyes.  Kind of the way some people get false nails to stop chewing their own nails.  And lo and behold, I've not rubbed my eyes in six weeks, and other than a small scare during week 1, it appears my eyes are healthy once again.  No more sudden burning or tearing up, no more swelling, no more Klingon forehead.  Maman's happy.
  2. MacAir laptop.  Yes, we had MacPro for the family (that crashed in December of last year and has never worked properly since), and I had an iPad (that Kiddo had jammed full of Toca games and Barbie Design apps), but I didn't have a proper writing tool I could use comfortably, without fear of losing everything or feeling like I was cutting in on someone's air time.  Writing my blog has since become fun again.  Maman's happy.
  3. Personal trainer.  By far my greatest investment in me in the last five years.  Once an avid daily runner, the last few years in Doha have seen me deteriorate both physically and mentally.  Shingles, sciatica, piriformis syndrome, pre-menopause (gasp!), quitting one job, starting another, the loss of my Dad ... all these contributed to a growing lethargy and sense of hopelessness of ever regaining control of my mental and physical health.  After several failed attempts at getting back on track, I finally took the plunge and decided to put my money where my mouth is.  About a dollar a 'gym minute' gets me 3 gruelling workouts a week, a meal plan, a non-gym-day schedule, aching muscles, hope, and a whole lot of motivation.  Maman's sore, but Maman's happy.
  4. Imported organic vegetables from MegaMart.  Spending a little more on novelty imported produce like Kale and blueberries has us back to juicing daily and feeling a whole lot more energised and satisfied.  Sometimes the taste-bud pleasure really is worth the extra money.  Maman's happy.
  5. A really happy confident kid.  This came unexpectedly.  I enrolled Kiddo in a Yoga Warrior Summer Camp focused on mindfulness, creativity and fun.  For four weeks she was coached in yoga, kick boxing, capoeira, zumba, acro-yoga, drama, chess, art, music.  Her confidence and her abilities have gone through the roof!  Gone is the insecure Kiddo who still couldn't do a cartwheel after four years of gymnastics.  Thanks to the amazing leaders and coaches at the Yama Yoga Studios Summer Camp, Kiddo now rushes through the door every day showing us her new-found skills.  ''No Papa, you can't move your bishop that way.''  ''Listen guys'', as she plays 'Don't stop believin' by Journey on the piano.  ''Look Maman'', she cries out proudly as she balances on her hands, practicing her 'crow' pose.  No insecurities, no drama, just excitement and belief in what she's able to do, and more importantly in what she's able to try.  Kiddo's happy.  Maman's happy.
  6. An extremely relaxed and easy-going husband.  Bonus perk.  Because frankly, if Maman's happy, Papa's happy.  And Maman's happy!

So remember to invest wisely when you're investing, whether it's money or time.  Think about the payoff in the long-run.  Sometimes investments are too far spread out and it's good to refocus a bit.  An hour or a dollar well-spent on yourself and your own needs may end up being much more rewarding than weeks spent thinking about how to come up with more hours in your day.  Even just an hour-long walk in the morning can sometimes give you an entirely different outlook for the entire day.  Think about it.

What have you invested in yourself lately?