Photographs and Memories

When we traveled over the holidays, as a concession to my wife,. we listened a lot to the Garth Brooks channel on SiriusXM. It’s not a huge concession, while we don’t share the same tastes in music, I do like some of Garth. As is typical with artist-specific channels on SiriusXM, the playlist includes selections of music that the artist likes to listen to.  In the process I rediscovered Jim Croce.

Most anyone in America that listened to FM radio from the late sixties on would recognize at least three or four songs: “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,”, “I’ve Got a Name,” “Operator,” “I Have to Say I Love You in a Song,” and the song that shuts my ears down for some reason, “Time in a Bottle” are probably the most familiar songs. I kind of really hate that last song. It’s not that it is bad, just maudlin and represents the worst of seventies soft rock. My wife tells me it is song that tells us (me) how we are supposed to feel about love.

It’s a song that tells me that even the most talented artist can go too far.

For good or ill, I spent my early teen years in Northern Virginia listening to WASH-FM when it was an easy listening/soft rock station in the mid-seventies.  I really think much  of the music of the seventies was garbage. Whiny, too wistful. There was lots of good stuff but lots of really, really bad stuff. Songs that I still know the lyrics to when I really shouldn’t know the songs at all.

Croce was brilliant though. His songbook includes a variety of topical genres, with absolutely masterful examples of each, especially the “break-up” or “kiss-off” variety. Some of these I had forgotten, especially “One Less Set of Footsteps.” This is truly a great song.  It’s cheerfully upbeat with a pleasant melody, and lyrics the tell you all you need to know:

We been runnin’ away from
Somethin’ we both know
We’ve long run out of things to say
And I think I better go
So don’t be getting’ excited
When you hear that slammin’ door
‘Cause there’ll be one less set of footsteps
On your floor in the mornin’
and later:
But tomorrow’s a dream away
Today has turned to dust
Your silver tongue has turned to clay
And your golden rule to rust
If that’s the way that you want it
That’s the way I want it more
There’ll be one less set of footsteps
On your floor in the mornin’

 

This last bit what gives lie to the cheerfulness. “If that’s the way that you want it,
That’s the way I want it more”  that’s the scream into the maelstrom of a person desperate to convince both parties that they are”okay.” It’s brilliant.

***

Growing up in the seventies also meant different television viewing options. Of course, by different, I mean “limited.” As a child, visiting grandparents on the wrong day and time could mean having to sit politely by during “The Lawrence Welk Show” (shudder) but earlier on Saturday, it was roller derby, which rocked. I loved watching the Los Angeles T-Birds with my paternal grandparents.

And I was just about old enough to really appreciate Raquel Welch in “Kansas City Bomber.” She was awesome.

Gonna tell you a story that you won’t believe
But I fell in love last Friday evenin’
With a girl I saw on a bar room TV screen
Well I was just gettin’ ready to get my hat
When she caught my eye and I put it back
And I ordered myself a couple o’ more shots and beers

Jim Croce’s “Roller Derby Queen” is one of his songs about larger than life characters like “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown” and “Rapid Roy (that stock car boy).” These are rollicking songs that are kind of fun and crazy. They are also somewhat cartoonish, but they work. Just kind of adjacent to these songs is the truly great, “Working at the Car Wash Blues.”

Well, I had just got out from the county prison
Doin’ ninety days for non support
Tried to find me an executive position
But no matter how smooth I talked
They wouldn’t listen to the fact that I was a genius
The man say, we got all that we can use
Now I got them steadily depressin’, low down mind messin’
Working at the car wash blues

This is really a song for today. So many people on social media and elsewhere declaring their genius when all else is evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, such people are either not working at something that suits their abilities or angry and resentful that their “genius” is not being recognized. In some cases, in some communities, the latter may often be truer than we think, but they are not who I am thinking about.

***

My wife has been going through photographs lately.  She is preparing two photo albums, one of which is for our son and his future bride. When he moved out of state last year I had given him an album that was mostly our scouting and other outdoor trips together. Over the years of these trips, I have generally taken at least

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one on the way home of him sound asleep in the passenger seat. I hope that when he has a tween or teen of his own that we can go on a fishing trip together and he can get a picture of me sleeping the ride home. Lord knows, I will need the rest by then.

 

 

Looking at old photos can be melancholy. I look though, and remember those little boys and how much fun they were, and how innocent their laughter was. I look at pictures of me that span range of different sizes and weights. There is approximately 150 pounds of variance across the last 36 years. Perhaps more.  There are memories of family and dogs long gone. And more recently gone, like Lucy, who’s been gone a year this month, and Monty, who’s been gone a few years longer.

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Lucy

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Monty

 

 

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But there are also pictures of a mix of emotions. This is from eight years ago this weekend. It is from two nights before brain surgery when we shaved our heads together. That look on Zach’s face would be there for days, not knowing what to expect. He certainly was not expecting to spend a full day and a half waiting for me to come out of surgery.

Of course, this all ties to another Jim Croce song, “Photographs and Memories.” It’s a sad and wistful song, not quite as maudlin as “Time in a Bottle.” It’s a sweet song and to my ears, more pleasant to listen to than the other. It’s really about wanting to go back to the way way things were.

Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you
Memories that come at night
Take me to another time
Back to a happier day
When I called you mine
Jim Croce, Photographs and Memories
It’s a good song, but doesn’t hit the way John Prine’s “Souvenirs” does.
I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears
I can’t forgive the way they rob me
Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs
Memories they can’t be boughten
They can’t be won at carnivals for free
Well it took me years
To get those souvenirs
And I don’t know how they slipped away from me
-John Prine, Souvenirs
It takes years to earn the souvenirs we find in life, and then they slip away as memory fades. I guess it is just best to treasure them all while we can.
***
I can’t imagine the song “Which Way are You Goin’” ever got that much airplay. Certainly not when I was listening to the radio way back. It’s another song that feels so very relevant today.
Everyday things are changin’
Words once honored turn to lies
People wonderin’ can you blame them
It’s too far to run and too late to hide
Now you turn your back on all the things that you used to preach
Now it’s let him live in freedom if he lives like me
Well your line has changed, confusion rings
What have you become
Your olive branches turn to spears when your flowers turn to guns
Your olive branches turn to spears when your flowers turn to guns
I think we all need to listen to a bit more music. More singing and dancing, fewer parades.

Vanity, Mortality, and Choices

1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

2 “Vanity[a] of vanities,” says the Preacher;
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

3 What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?
4 One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
But the earth abides forever.
5 The sun also rises, and the sun goes down,
And hastens to the place where it arose.
6 The wind goes toward the south,
And turns around to the north;
The wind whirls about continually,
And comes again on its circuit.
7 All the rivers run into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full;
To the place from which the rivers come,
There they return again.
8 All things are full of labor;
Man cannot express it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor the ear filled with hearing.

9 That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which it may be said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been in ancient times before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,
Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come
By those who will come after.

–Ecclesiastes, 1, 1-11, New King James Version

Some of the best conversations are those that never really end. They are conversations between friends that may take place in both the physical and the virtual, and may vary across the synchronous and the asynchronous. It’s a conversation about something shared that allows for multiple threads of thought. Sometimes one of these threads takes a startling turn.

“Vanity is an interesting companion to morality. ”

Indeed it does. On the other hand, my minor dyslexia has caused me to read this as “mortality” for two whole days. So that’s the way I have I have been thinking of this conversation. Vanity and mortality.

Contextually, I was thinking about mortality and a scene in fantasy novel where one of the antagonists admits that it was his vanity that got him in the end. More directly I was making a link between weight and typical aesthetics. There are some things I do strictly vanity’s sake, but to only a small degree, because too much could be risky or counter-productive.  My thoughts rambled further, thinking about a delicate balance between vanity and mortality, that we’ve upheld certain ideas of fitness and wellness that sometimes look like vanity, but really they are just personal pride in looking a certain way and achieving or constantly striving to achieve a peak level of fitness.

Back when Billy Crystal was on SNL doing an impression of Fernando Lamas, one of his catch phrases was, “It’s better to look good, than to feel good.” This is kind of the ultimate in the vanity of the aesthetic. Perhaps an example of the other end of the spectrum is the runner who really obsesses over running and does little else, while becoming so whittled down,  any standard sense of a traditional aesthetic has vanished. I’ve known a person like this and he was not healthy.

Sometime around 2004 or 2005 I was in Clearwater, FL for a meeting and I went out for a morning run. About three miles in, I ran into an old guy coming towards me. He asked how far I was running and if he could join me. Told him I had done three and planned another nine miles. He looked me up and down, “I’m impressed. You don’t look like quite that fit.” (I was weighing about 250 at the time and had done a couple of marathons, three successful ultras, and a couple of failed ultras.) I looked him up and down, “I’m impressed  that you’re out here running in flip-flops.”

“Oh yeah, they’re good enough and they only cost about a buck apiece.”

Right.

We ran and talked for a couple hours. He was certifiably nutty. Nice, but nutty. Retired and lived in a one room apartment and did very little but just run everyday, all day. He’d carry a spoon and a little bit of cash to buy ice cream along the way to eat while he ran. Sometimes he would just carry a bag of sugar. He claimed he usually ran a full 50K (about 31 miles) and never less than 16 miles each day.

Every day it was all he could do to just get out of bed, he said. It just hurt. Every part of him hurt. Especially his feet and legs. He’d wake up, struggle to a sitting position, sit until he felt he could stand, and then do it all again. He had no discernible fat on his body, nor teeth. He admitted sometimes to spending the winter up north with his family and trying to get “fat” and then return to Clearwater to run it off.

I have no idea how long someone can keep that up.  I don’t think he was as old as he looked, and he really did not look good to my eye. He looked like he was in the process of being consumed. Whatever level of fitness he might have once been trying to achieve he seemed to have taken it too far to a fairly dark place. You can take anything too far.

***

And conversations continue.

“The challenge with deciding to live, not just accepting the body’s deteriorating condition, is really about why.”

While we are young, we feel immortal. Even when someone in our age cohort dies it may shake us, but it seems like we don’t really start feeling mortal until age 30 or so. I remember when one of the guys in our Infantry company died. A popular guy, he took a fall off a cliff while rappelling one weekend. While the guys were pretty shaken, since beer and pot were involved, invincibility and immortality was back in less than a week.

By the time we comprehend and accept, or at least begin to accept, our mortality, our bodies have long since begun to deteriorate. One might stay fit and train at the highest levels, but the fact is the body is aging and wearing.  This is all in the early stages of deterioration for most people, it’s generally not even noticeable. It is the time of life where late night hours are spent in childcare or the endless work cycle of trying to get ahead. Things change though. Harry Chapin touched on this in the song, “There Was Only One Choice.”

When I started this song I was still thirty-three
The age that Mozart died and sweet Jesus was set free 
Keats and Shelley too soon finished, Charley Parker would be 
And I fantasized some tragedy’d be soon curtailing me 
Well just today I had my birthday — I made it thirty-four
Mere mortal, not immortal, not star-crossed anymore 
I’ve got this problem with my aging I no longer can ignore 
A tame and toothless tabby can’t produce a lion’s roar 
And I can’t help being frightened on these midnight afternoons

 

So we age. Our attitudes age along with our bodies. We begin to recognize the costs of choices we made in our youth and we likely become more cautious, more conservative in our choices. Less recklessness, greater thought for the future.

Because there is less of it, the future. Less of it for us as individuals. We know the future is not some far distant point in time. It keeps getting closer. A friend talks about how small children see time as taking so much longer – a year from now is just so very far away. For a five year-old, a year is 20% of the time they know. For a 50 year-old, it is only two percent. The days run out as we want to do more, to be more, to achieve more, because we finally feel like we know what we want to do, what we can do.

But we grow tired. We tend to be heavier. Our choices have begun to maximize comfort over fitness. We have perhaps actively chosen this, or just accepted the default. Either way, have we chosen to live, or to just continue? And why?

***

Back to the intersection of vanity and morality.

In Oscar Wilde’s, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” we get a morality lesson on vanity. The title character is so enamored of his  portrait and recognizes that every day he on he will be less beautiful than he appears in the portrait, that he offers to sell his soul if only the portrait would age instead of himself. It does not go well. That sort of vanity never does end well. The weakness in Dorian that expresses his willingness to sell his soul is the same weakness of character that leads one into all kinds of debauchery and unsavory activity, activities that affect both physical expression and the aesthetic appearance of the face. These qualities become apparent in the portrait as Dorian’s behavior and soul grow darker and more cruel.

Vanity, narcissism, too much of sense of self over others, are problems. When the inner dialogue is the only dialog that matters. When we never hear the words of others if they are anything short of praise for the self. This is not only bad, it is evil. It is a turning away from society, from community. We don’t exist alone.

***

How do we choose to live with the deterioration of our bodies?

Either following my diagnosis, or following surgery, in my researches, I read that events like heart attacks, brain tumors, cancer, can cause one to to feel that our body has betrayed us. That it has attacked us. This can be devastating to someone trying to find the energy and will do the work of recovery.

It seems to me, looking back, there was no defining moment in my case where I said was going to get through recovery. There were instead of thousands of little decisions to keep trying, to try just one more time, to take one more step, or to forgive myself one more time for not quite taking that next step. Eventually it became a habit, the same way I became obese, the same way I got older. I kept making certain decisions out of habit, a choice to keep to going. And then I made a choice to get healthy again, and this time I would do it right. I would avoid injury and real self-abuse. I would learn from the past about making thousands of little choices over and over again, including choices of self-forgiveness.

In fact, I made the choice to be much more forgiving to myself and stop with negative habits toward a poor sense of self. I accepted that failure in little things, was to be expected, and that success did not, does not require perfection, only commitment and practice.

In the end, there was really only one choice – to live each day, to be present each day that is left. But like the Preacher says, there is nothing new under the sun.

Work as Self-care; and Being There

Last week I was reminded that sometimes, it is necessary to skip self-care and just work like the devil. I had stuff to do that couldn’t wait. I was also in a productive mode. And so I spent a couple of evenings working late, working hard, but feeling pretty good about it. This is markedly different from the years I spent doggedly working each and every night after a full day in the office. During that time, no matter how much progress I made, it never seemed to be enough.

When I took those two nights working, the lack of exercise was on my mind, as much as the lack of just giving myself breathing space for a while. I kept reminding myself that I was only going to do this for two nights and I stuck to that. The next night I rested and began to return to what amounts to routine for me. (My routines are amorphous, chaotic things. Kind of like blobs of imprecise activities.) I felt it was critical that I got back to my regular activities quickly, since they still hadn’t quite settled after being away over the holidays.

The nice thing about these two evenings, especially the second, was the downright sense of flow on a coding project. It was fun, creative, and dangerous – just like painting. I like it when that happens. Rarely am I able to get in to that state of mind and work. Too many distractions, too many tasks that pop up that require immediate attention. So it was good.

Sometimes the work itself is self-care, especially if it meets a need and releases stress.

***

Household chores can also be self-care. I think it is easy to forget that. It seems easy to get into the habit of defining self-care as exercise, meditation, nutrition, time for self, and perhaps other activities. Having a clean, orderly space, clean clothes, car properly maintained, trash put out, all the daily chores that allow us to be properly functional. All of this is self-care, or what some call “adulting.”

Self-care is being there. It is being where you are at and taking care of your needs. Taking care of yourself. Which may also include taking care of your relationship(s).  (I think I will that for a separate post.)  Self-care is nothing more than recognizing what you need to be ____________ and then doing the work. That blank is hard to fill meaningfully. It’s too easy to put “successful” there but that has its own implications for what self-care is, as does “happy.” I’m thinking that each of us need to fill in that blank with the word that makes most sense for the current moment of time, and that will help us determine what self-care really means to achieve that. I don’t think anything goes away, it just gets weighted differently.

***

Sometimes in caregiving there are moments of despair. Some minor thing goes wrong and cascades into a major, or near major, other thing. When this happens, generally the two people involved have to find a solution together. Say for example when there is a fall and the person you’re caring for can’t get back up on their own or with somewhat “typical” assistance, like a hand up. It can take time, creativity, and very serious effort if the caregiver simply just can’t pick their charge up off the floor. A situation like this when it is not quickly resolved can result in panic for one or both.

When this happens, there is nothing to do but stay calm and do the work. The work being the solving of the problem at hand with as much calmness and patience as can be mustered. The less drama can you be bring to an event like this, the easier it is to cope. Far easier to cope, for both of you.

***

I think the one thing that overlaps these three sections, besides “work” is “being there.” Whether you think about it as mindfulness or being in the moment, just being there is key. Being there for yourself, your partner, your family, your work (which is not necessarily the same thing as your “job”), whatever it is, it is a question of being present. I’ve said before, I spent too much time when I was young thinking about the future instead of being there. No time now to dwell on that,  or anything else in the past, there are things to do now, even if it is just sitting and breathing.

 

 

A commitment to the now

Kind of a year in review,  kind of a love letter to this who inspired me and continue to do so, kind of a last post on self-care (for the year at least).

I had coffee with a colleague yesterday. This, but itself, is not notable. Some kind of coffee meeting happens just about each week. What was notable was that in the process of the hour-long conversation my attention wandered only once, and then only briefly. When my attention was diverted, I was able to redirect back without effort. For most of my life, I would half-listen as a habit, my mind racing ahead in the conversation. If the subject of the conversation was a problem, I’d be working on the solution. Whatever, I was thinking, I wasn’t fully present.

ADHD is a trip, but I never tried to treat it because it never seemed a problem.  I could flitter about and still be functionally aware of what was going on around me and engage as if I had been paying close attention. In fact,  I have leveraged what I consider a personality type into an ability to change topics, levels of detail, and abstraction, almost effortlessly. I found, or created, a career based essentially on shifting priorities and a multiplicity of masters and tasks. But I’m older and it becomes more difficult. The distractions more often lead to lead to greater focus and withdrawal from the present.

The same uninterrupted flow of conversation happened last evening for about two hours.

The work of the last year in mindfulness, of being present in the moment, of just being present, is starting to pay off. It’s starting to become habit. I’ve gotten through life, despite not fully engaged all the time. That’s no longer good enough. For a whole host of reasons, it’s not good enough. I recognized that last winter. Finally.  Fortunately, I had some role models and friends to provide inspiration and guidance.

This is the thing about mindfulness – it brings you into the now. If you take a moment to meditate and count your breaths, you can’t help but be in the now. Each breath is its own moment and if you are focusing on it, there is only now.

I write this stuff in the event it might save someone a few wasted years and learn these lessons earlier than I have.

Last month I was at a day-long convening on early childhood. At the lunch break, the man sitting next to me says, “This is really random, but I think you and my wife had the same surgeon.” Conversation ensued. Yes, his wife and I did have the same neurosurgeon. She had a different type of brain tumor than I. He had found this blog when she was diagnosed in his search for questions. He told me it helpful to see evidence of surviving and thriving, especially from someone who had been through the same facility that was treating his wife. Such connections are powerful. I’ve seen it before in sharing my experience here and on a forum for acoustic neuromas (tumors similar to or related to mine).

In sharing the story of my tumor, surgery, and recovery, it is not for me about the past. It is instead about my journey now. About the choices leading to here and leading away from here, about healing and recovery. Healing and recovery are not quite the same things, I think.  A quick Google search reveals frequent debate and discussion of the meanings and their differences. Basically, healing is the process of repair. Recovery is the process of regaining what was lost – function, strength, stamina. The challenge with both is this.

The body has its own calendar and it takes however long it takes.

If one is recovering from something like major surgery or illness, the tendency is to look towards the future because the now is often unpleasant. But the work of recovery requires focusing on the now. Seven years ago, I was forced to live in the now more than I had been used to since every single thing was so much effort. Everything was harder than it had ever been, including thinking. I had to stop myself from daydreaming too much about getting better, or how things used to be. It was hard to not think about things I couldn’t do until a friend suggested that I focus on all the things I could do, and not the relatively few that I couldn’t. Such a simple suggestion redirected my focus.  It’s a bit of a shame I hadn’t realized how much living in the now would have been better way to go back then, but I was anxious to try and get back to my old life, not realizing it wasn’t optimal.

In The Last Jedi, we are given this line towards the end, “We‘re going to win not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”  While I have rarely been ready to give up on life (save for a few momentary lapses into despair)  loving life was rarely a feeling of any real duration. That’s different now. Every day, I love my life. It’s not perfect by a far cry, but I do love it, and I embrace its chaos and occasional sadness. Life is good.

Life is good. Hope is still an action, and we can still have the ability to overcome the darkness.

Self-Care as a Capitalist Plot

“The next morning, I had an epiphany—this whole self-care push is just another capitalist boondoggle. We won’t take care of you. In fact, we will continue to push you until you are a broken body and we won’t change a thing about our working conditions, and then we will claim that it was on you to take care of yourself, to practice self-care. After that, we’ll take away your health care too, so that you can just go away and die.”

from Why I Can’t Have Coffee with You: Saying No to the Patriarchy (http://www.vidaweb.org/why-i-cant-have-coffee-with-you-saying-no-to-the-patriarchy/ )

 This resonated.  I’m not yet convinced I agree fully, but I sure do see the point. Its not like there is any evidence that employers would treat people this way. Oh wait,  I guess perhaps there is. Apparently delivery drivers for Amazon don’t have time have time to go the bathroom, let alone eat.  And I don’t think this is limited to Amazon as on a recent  trip to DC, one morning I observed a commercial van driver empty a bottle of urine into the street. Nor was it the first time.  It’s amazing what one can see when paying attention to the world around you. 

Unfortunately, the truth is that the push for self-care is not just a capitalist boondoggle,  but a recognition that the world,  the universe,  does not care for your well-being. Your god does, whatever your faith, I think, but as far as the world,  not so much.  You are just an unrealized nutrient collection for other lifeforms.

That’s pretty depressing I know.  Really though, it is simply to the make the point that self-care is your responsibility. Unless, of course,  you are Peter Pan,  in that case there will always be Wendy to take care of you. Most of us don’t have a Wendy.  If we are lucky,  we have a partner that watches (and perhaps, washes) our back.  So,  self-care it is, or trusting to luck and the good graces of a hungry world full of things that want to n eat us. 

For me, engaging in self-care has made everything better. I’m happy,  healthy, fit,  and far more relaxed. Even if it is a capitalist boondoggle, it is still an improvement. 

But,  it does seem like there might be a relevant song. 
Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a weak and a back that’s strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said “well, a-bless my soul”

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

Sixteen Tons – Merle Travis

Reflection as Self-care

Progress can be an iffy thing to observe. It is easy to become frustrated and discouraged because some changes just take time. This is especially true of subtle changes in behavior and choice.

Today is the first anniversary of taking a specific steps to improve my life. Truth to tell, it actually represents the end of a week of decisions and actions, but it all came together on December 2nd. Together these decisions represented steps toward achieving one goal: to become healthy.  This came down to three major activities – losing weight through a healthier lifestyle, learning and practicing good self-care, recognizing, accepting, and then getting treatment for depression.

So, following some sound advice from someone I trusted, I tackled all of these that one week.

  • I consulted my PCP and started a mild antidepressant.
  • I sought a recommendation for therapist and set up an appointment and did nine months of really hard work.
  • I started with a weight-loss clinic.
  • I gave up my diet soda habit cold turkey (it was a very bad habit in terms of quantity).
  • I dropped quite a few food choices from my diet.

A year later, I have lost 66 pounds and 10 inches from around my waist, a total of 86 pounds over the last 18 months (I had made some changes in the preceding spring, but hit a plateau). And, yes, I have bought quite a few new clothes, multiple times. I am very close to my goal, which is not about my weight itself, but how I see myself in the mirror.

One of the problems in working with working with a weight-loss clinic is that they are focused on the big number on the scale. This is despite the fact that they measure and record your heart rate and blood pressure on each visit.  Why mention this? Because a year ago my resting heart rate was 78 beats per minute (bpm). It is now routinely measured around 52 bpm. Of course, this is not just a function of losing weight, but of also engaging in regular exercising and averaging at least 11,000 steps a day on a bad wee, and 15,000 on a good week. My blood pressure has also dropped and on occasion is very near the low range of values. I might be able to give up the meds at some point.

There was no magic bullet in anything I did. It was all interrelated and all very basic stuff. Treating the depression helped with the weight-loss and lessened the desire to eat crap. The losing weight helped the depression. Counseling led to working on mindfulness. “Mindful eating” assists weight-loss. Studying mindfulness (probably not yet as rigorously and deeply as I hope to do) led to readings in meditation and trying to develop a practice of meditation. Meditation led to early efforts in yoga.

There were also a whole slew of blog posts along the way as I worked my way through the year.

I feel phenomenal. I look better than I have in decades. I am now at about the weight I was in college and in the Army. My health is improved. My attitude and inner self is better, and closer to normally calm.

But my golf game still sucks badly.

Today it was painfully horrible at times. However, I still had fun throughout. I enjoy the game in a way that I hadn’t before. And there is an explanation for the horribleness.

Last spring I played golf and strained my left ankle. The next day I went out for a 10-mile hike in the forest. And then I went to the driving range. On the fifth ball, I screamed. I had clearly torn something in my ankle. So I quite playing for a few weeks and took anti-inflammatories. I played golf again and on the sixth hole I nailed a perfect 275 yard three wood and, you guessed it, screamed.

I got in to see a sports medicine doc and he put in an ankle brace, loaded me with anti-inflammatories, and sent me to physical therapy. After pointing out just how stiff my body was, particularly my ankles, she went to work and gave me a boatload of exercises to do. I complied, she and the doc were satisfied that I had made adequate progress, and I was released with the proviso that I must always wear the brace when playing golf and continue to work on the exercises. The yoga helps with this.

However, because the ankle brace interferes with a normal swing stance and because clearly a normal stance is not ideal for me, I have had to rebuild my swing and that takes time. More often than not it has been better as of late, but not today.

Something else happened in parallel. In the spring I was also experiencing discomfort and pain from my jaw popping while I ate. When it didn’t go away, I schedule an appointment with an oral and facial surgeon….but that was for October. The popping eventually disappeared but I kept the appointment. It was good that I did. He determined that the muscles on the left side of my face were too thick and stiff (and also subject to hemifacial spasms multiple times a day) and that, in all likelihood, the anti-inflammatory used for my ankle had also helped my jaw. He prescribed a med change and more physical therapy.

With another physical therapist telling me just how stiff I am and seemingly unable to relax.

As luck would have it, this therapist also specializes in facial movement. Now, almost eight years following surgery, I am finally getting treatment for the spasms, muscle weakness, and asymmetry in my face. These things may not get completely eliminated, but after only a month of effort, there is progress. And honestly, I haven’t cared enough about my appearance until now to really worry about my face.

More importantly, I don’t think I would have been ready to really do the work until now. The effort, the concentration, it requires to sit an stare in a mirror trying to move just one or two muscles is significant. Mindfulness is required and acceptance that this effort is of value to do.

Progress in many things over the year. Today I am recognizing and celebrating that progress. I am also mindful of just how connected and related all these things are.

It’s good.

 

Advanced Self-Care

There can be discomfort in accepting care and support from others. This has been a theme in the last couple of weeks in a number of unrelated conversations.

 “Thank you for caring about me. It is uncomfortable to be cared for but for you I am suffering through it. :)”

Those of us who are counter-dependent or lean in that direction, struggle with relying on others. We believe we can do it all ourselves, without assistance. It’s unhealthy approach to autonomy and independence.

The key in understanding counter-dependency is differentiating it from healthy autonomy. Healthy autonomy is a state of confident self-reliance in which an individual a) recognizes their interdependency with others; b) has an agentic sense of self (i.e., a sense that one can effectively control one’s destiny) and c) is not unduly controlled or influenced by others. The primary defining feature of a healthy autonomy is first that the autonomy motive is an “approach mindset,” meaning that the individual desires to be (relatively) self-reliant because they want to recognize their full potential as an individual, but one who is simultaneously and securely interconnected with others. Second, healthy autonomous individuals can regularly form effective, meaningful, intimate long term relations with others. That is, they can share, be vulnerable, and are comfortable relying on others when it is reasonable to do so.

Signs of Counter-Dependency, Psychology Today.

This mindset gets in the way of good self-care. After all, there is never enough time to do everything. There is also, if we are honest, never truly enough to competency in every single thing we attempt. (This is kind of a harsh reality for those that really believe they can do anything, and do it well enough.) More importantly, there are simply times when we can’t be our own caregiver, although it might take extreme situations to make that clear, such as my own 32 hours of brain surgery.

I’ve written previously about my efforts at self-care. Improved nutrition, exercise, rest, working at mindfulness, learning to be vulnerable and open, are all parts of self-care. I think I have come to see that letting others in to provide care for you, even if it is just assistance, is really an advanced and necessary form of self-care.

This is easier to do with someone you know and trust. Although, I think if trust is really there, then it is much less of a problem to do. Part of counter-dependency is the inability to trust that someone can do something at least as well as you. So, with one-on-one relationships, we can at least begin to negotiate trust pathways to let someone care. It is much harder if we are alone in a community, or worse, believe we are alone in a community, and feel there is no one to trust enough to even reach out to. This is a tremendous place of discomfort.

At this point, I think the only answer is this. Ask yourself, “How much do I truly value my well-being compared to challenging my comfort levels in asking for, and accepting, help?” Like most things, it is something of a cost-benefit analysis, but with the added confusion of “comfort” actually being on both sides of the equation. We balance risks of physical and emotional comfort against generally the emotional discomfort of admitting we need help and need to trust someone to provided.

Needing help is not a bad thing. It is merely a recognition of the existence of limits. Accepting help is really good self-care.