Self-Destruction: Food?

Diabetes and heart disease roll through my family history. A past generation stopped farming, but kept eating three squares plus in-between all with a strong coffee. They dropped eating pie at ten and two, but substituted snack foods. Then there were the midnight suppers on card club nights. Three bowls stood on the table in our family room: nuts, pretzels, and chocolate kisses. Somehow I was a skinny kid and stayed that way into my mid-twenties.

One grandfather was tall and thin, one short and wiry. They ate substantial food and drank a fair amount of alcohol. Then there is the picture of my mother’s mother with two of her sisters. They were all in their late forties and belts in the middle of their dark dresses suggested they once had had waists.

Pregnancy brought gestational diabetes my way. For seven months I managed my nutrition with extreme care. The rewards were simple: a healthy baby and no need for insulin. The years since have not been worth noting. I stay physically active. I stay away from excessive eating, alcohol, and eat a relatively balanced diet. But I eat too much, have just recently scaled back carbohydrates and sodium and given up French fries. My doctor wouldn’t call me stout, but said I had muscle structure that meant I’d never be thin again.

Having lost sixty pounds in his forties, my father watched everything he ate to manage diabetes and congestive heart failure. If the scale was up two pounds he reviewed the prior day and made adjustments. That was his daily discipline for decades.

I watched his diligence with admiration and an increasing sense of doom. But I have to admit that as he began hospice and food restrictions were lifted the message was odd: Now that you’re too frail to make it to the dining room, too tired to sit with your family or friends, too confused to enjoy an old favorite meal, eat whatever you want. All those gooey caramel rolls, omelettes, steaks, grapefruits, glasses of orange juice he had given up over the years; all the notebooks he filled with blood sugar levels, calorie counts and sodium amounts; helped prolong his life. Food could have killed him.

The only living member of my birth family, I wish the lessons learned as my brother and parents passed were enough. On a daily basis, treat food as fuel, don’t confuse eating with comfort. Now. It’s a statement about self-worth and the larger hunger for more good years.

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Reduced Focus

For the past four years my eye prescription remained relatively unchanged. Unfortunately, my glasses haven’t remained unscarred through an infant’s grabbing hands, a puppy’s curiosity, and life in general.

I took advantage of a coupon to buy an emergency pair of bifocals for $250. During a recent week of travel I wore that pair. My eyes never adjusted to the left lens, the one the optical tech said was stronger than my old prescription. Each afternoon I found it difficult to zip through messages on my phone, enjoy a book, or read small print on a menu. Headaches started early in the day. I panicked about fulfilling writing obligations and tried to not think that maybe my eyes were in trouble.

This is the kind of bad decision I made because of a high deductible health insurance policy. The $175 eye exam would be out of pocket so spending $400 for the security of back up glasses felt prohibitive. I shopped around and spent less. Fortunately, my discomfort ended when I returned home and put on the old glasses. Scratches and all, my vision cleared, and the headaches stopped.

Others are making more difficult decisions—taking the gamble of not purchasing an asthma inhaler for themselves to make it possible to pay for a partner’s insulin, cancelling necessary lab work or tests to pay for their child’s asthma inhaler, not following a physician’s directions in using an expensive medication to stretch its use, staying in a hated job to hold on to health insurance, not replacing bald tires on the family car because of a health emergency.

Most of my adult experience was in a health maintenance organization. We groused about wait times for appointments, lack of choice in the optical area, going to a hospital across town, but we never faced decisions like today. If we hesitated about taking a child to clinic for a possible ear infection, it was about traffic or workload and not about the $125 bill.

These decisions are made in all zip codes throughout our wide metropolitan area. Only the very wealthy or very fortunate are exempt. We don’t comment on a good friend’s darkened tooth, push a neighbor to join in a night out, or question why a kid’s wheezy cough doesn’t improve. We’re all too polite to talk about the healthcare monkey choking America’s sense of comfort and scared about what’s coming next.

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I’m OK with No Pain or Gain

After watching a movie like Unbroken or reading a book like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I try to imagine how I would cope with ongoing physical hardship. Would I be able to endure it? I hope that if my life depended on it, I could summon the strength. But who am I kidding?!? I’m a wimp. That’s why the psychology of physical toughness fascinates me. What drives people to push past pain in the name of sport?

I’d like to think that I have mental toughness. I’ve faced down situations that were emotionally and mentally challenging. Generally, I’m calm in a crisis. But I’m the last person who would seek out physical challenges.

Hike 10 miles uphill on a tough Rocky Mountain trail? Well, maybe if I were lost and that was the only way to find civilization. And civilization included a lengthy massage and fine cuisine.

Take a 75-mile bike ride? In my case, that would take days, not hours. Perhaps if I was guaranteed to win an all-expense paid trip for two to Paris I could push myself to do it.

Run a marathon? As in pounding the pavement, sweaty and delirious for 26 miles? I can’t imagine what would drive me to run that long. Even if a rabid mother bear was chasing me, I gotta think she’d get tired after a mile or two. And I would have collapsed and the bear would be snacking on me, so perhaps that’s not a good example.

I’m not knocking athletic efforts.

I know a number of runners, hikers, distance bikers, and others who like nothing better than testing their mettle. I admire their ambition and focus, but I truly don’t get what makes the hardship appealing.

sitting on rock by lakeAs soon as I’m panting and my muscles are burning, I think, This isn’t any fun. Why am I doing this? I don’t have to prove anything to anybody.

I’m curious about the psychology of endurance.

The will to stay alive drove Louis Zamperini to endure horrible conditions. Cheryl Strayed was troubled and her self-imposed hardships were a way of gaining perspective and finding peace. If sheer survival or recovering from emotional trauma isn’t the motivating force, what drives distance runners, bikers, hikers, and other endurance athletes?

Fitness? That’s certainly a worthy goal, but you can be fit with a whole lot less effort than what’s required to train for and run a marathon. Plenty of people (like me) just work out or take an exercise class. I exercise because it’s good for weight control and my overall health, but aside from the health benefits, most of it isn’t that enjoyable to me.

City walking--my favorite exercise

City walking–my favorite exercise

Pleasure? I’ve read that runners, hikers, bikers and others who practice endurance sports get into a groove and experience a mental high. At some point the pain of exertion must diminish. I assume the sport must begin to feel good. I’ll have to trust you on that, since it’s never happened to me!

Certainly, the view you’d see after hiking to a mountain’s summit would be breathtaking. Maybe someday I’ll actually find out . . . but whenever I’ve hiked in the hills (and really, we’re only talking about a few miles at the most), I spent most of my time looking at the trail and figuring out where to place my feet so I wouldn’t trip over a rock or twist my ankle.

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Trail in New Mexico

 

A sense of accomplishment? Obviously. If I could do any of the endurance sports I’ve mentioned, I’d be proud of myself. Is the sense of accomplishment enough to sustain you and drive you while you’re training? Because I have so little experience with it, I’m curious about people who say, Yeah I hurt, but I’m gonna get up tomorrow and hurt some more.

Maybe my klutziness has prevented me from discovering the joy of physical hardship. I can walk . . . and well, walk. If I sneeze while walking I have to come to a full stop to blow my nose. I can’t do both at once. I’ve never been great at any sport, let alone the ones that call for endurance. Perhaps if I weren’t so awkward, I’d begin to enjoy sports and then doing A LOT of something would seem fun.

For now, I’ll stick with my basic exercise—walking a few miles daily and doing yoga. But I’ll be cheering on all of you serious athletes and liking your Facebook photos of cool accomplishments. Athleticism is a nice place to visit even if I don’t want to live there.

An Onion In My Sock!

white_onionYou know that bad cold that is going around? That one that doesn’t go away? Yeah, I was in the throes of it when I was told by an employee that if I put an onion in each room of my house, it would suck the toxins right up. The person swore that they hadn’t been sick for years. Every six months or so they throw the old onion away and put a new onion in its place.
As soon as she left my office, I Googled, Can onions cure a cold?

After work I went directly to the grocery store and bought a bag of large white onions.

Antonio and Crystel were skeptical. They asked me what I was doing as I was carrying a bowl with an onion into their bedrooms. I said, “Oh you’ll forget it’s even here.” Antonio hasn’t. He swears he now sees little flies around the house because of the onions.

onion-remediesI need to Google, How to convince a 12-year old boy to believe an Old Wives’ Tale.
I wanted to do this onion business right. I worried that the bowl might be too small for the large white onion. Maybe the onion needed to have space between its outer skin and the bowl to work. And, should I take the sticker off? Would that hurt its effectiveness?

My constant deep cough almost drove me to the next step – cutting the onion into slices at bedtime and placing the slices into the heel of my socks.

I didn’t go that far. I was afraid the smell and not my cold would keep me up all night. Jody had already moved to another bedroom.

cartoon_illustrations_of_wellknown_old_wives_tales_640_35While waiting for the onion to work, I looked up other Old Wives’ Tales.

Don’t swallow gum or it will stay in your stomach for seven years. I swallow gum, always have. I don’t know if it has remained in my stomach. Jody can get back to you on that one, if she has an autopsy done after my demise.

Don’t make silly faces or it will make the silly face permanent. My mother used to tell me not to snarl, because it would be permanent. It was permanent all through my teen years.

Shaving makes the hair grow back thicker. I don’t know about this one. I shave once in the spring for my spring cut, mid-summer for my summer cut and that’s about it.

Nosebleeds are a sign of sexual arousal. I got a nosebleed at Tae Kwon Do. I was punched right in the nose by a guy.

Knuckle cracking causes arthritis. I’m cracking my knuckles just thinking about this. So far, so good.

The-Magic-OnionIt’s been two weeks. I still have an onion in every room of my house and one in my office. I have a slight cough. I haven’t seen any flies.

The onions will have to go at some point. But, I just hate to toss them. What if it’s true and that’s why I’m a little bit better?

Need Help Unwinding?

Chuck at his desk. The massage room is the open door on the right.

Chuck at his desk. The massage room is the open door on the right.

I knew I had waited too long even before I was on the massage table. For weeks I had a big knot in the back of my neck.  I grimaced each time I did a jumping front kick in Tae Kwon Do unless I was sparring. While sparring I’m totally in the moment–it is kick or be kicked.

The knot, scientifically known as a myofascial trigger point, was shifting my head to the left so much so that I thought I would be wearing a neck brace soon if I didn’t take care of it.

I called My Serenity and made an appointment with Charles Nowicki, Massage Therapist.

Years ago, I was referred to Chuck by a friend.

Generally, that’s where you find your massage therapist or handyman – through a reference. If someone is working on your house or your body you want them to be someone you trust.

The first question Chuck asked me is if this would be a head to toe massage or neck and shoulders.

I turned my neck, felt the ball of knotted twine. I said, “Let’s start with the neck and shoulders and see how far you get.”

My massage was for ninety minutes. My neck was such a mess, I thought we might not get any further.

After pouring lotion into his palms, Chuck rubbed his hands together. I lay face up on the massage table. He reached under my head and with his thumbs he began working on my taut band of neck muscles. There was a weird rice crispy popping, cracking, and crunching sound as he pulled, rubbed, and stretched my neck muscles. The large knot became smaller and smaller. Then he found new muscle knots.

Muscle knots or “trigger points” are small patches of super contracted muscle fibers. His pressure on my muscle knots was a good pain as he kneaded my neck on both sides by digging his thumbs and fingers, and gently squeezing them together.

I breathed deeply and focused on the knots evaporating under his touch.

Chuck doesn’t advertise his services. You won’t find a website. His clients, from all walks of life, come to him by referrals. He has a home office.

I sat on the couch while Antonio got a massage

I sat on the couch while Antonio got a massage

I brought Antonio when he was 11 years old for a massage. He was complaining about stiffness in his body that wouldn’t go away. I sat on the couch next to the massage table while Chuck worked on him. Antonio has asked to return.

Chuck finished with my neck and moved to other parts of my body–back, arms, palms, fingers, legs, and even the bottom of my feet.

He awakened in me the realization that attached to the bones of the skeletal system are about 700 named muscles that make up roughly half of a person’s body weight. (I’m kidding. I looked that up.)

Chuck is quiet. We don’t talk during the massage. I am happy to be nonverbal and listen to the flute music that he has playing while he locates my knots, applies deep compression until the pain and discomfort dissipates.

There is a faint scent in the air from the massage lotion he uses. Crystel likes to smell me when I come home.

When my ninety minute massage was over, I asked Chuck how much I owed him. “$50.00,” he said.

“Oh, no. I have to give you more than that,” I quickly replied. And then I made my next appointment.