Fat Lady on a Bike: My Journey to Peace and Fitness

Join me and my wonderful Electra Townie bike on my continuing journey to inner peace and both inner and outer fitness.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What if.....?

The problem with not living mindfully in the moment is that there are no limits to where your imagination can take you.  If you are truly mindful, accepting each moment as the only reality, there is structure; the only things or people or forces or problems that you have to deal with are what is right there in the moment with you.  The issues are concrete, in a way -- they are what is present and only what is present.

Take away the time boundary and all hell breaks loose.  You can worry about what might happen.  You can worry about what happened last time you were in a similar situation.  You can worry about the things that you don't even know enough to worry about specifically.  There is no end.

I've always occupied a funny sort of middle ground.  I almost never worry or get nervous about things that I understand and have experienced before.  When I first joined the Wholesale Klezmer Band, my first public performance was a free dance workshop at a local folk festival, and I was so nervous I nearly threw up, because while I had played many a classical concert, I had never played a klezmer gig before.  A year later, when we had the privilege of playing at the 100th birthday of Carnegie Hall with all the famous folk performers I had grown up with, everyone else in the group was throwing up, but I was calm as a cucumber; I knew how to do klezmer concerts.

Similarly, most of the time when I'm facing a difficult situation, I have been able to defer worrying until I knew there was actually something to worry about.  Carol, on the other hand, practices what has been called "defensive pessimism" -- going to the worst possible eventuality beforehand so as to work through all the possibilities and get comfortable with them before actually having to face them.  Though that isn't my way, I have, to an extent, learned to appreciate it as a valid coping mechanism.

But right now, in the limbo between my apnea diagnosis and the appointment that will give me access to treatment, I am inhabiting the vast vortex of uncertainty and it is driving me crazy.

What if the mask hurts my nose?  What if breathing through nasal tubes every night exacerbates the dryness and swelling of my mucus membranes that always plague me in the New England winter?  What if they don't offer me a really quiet machine?  And the kicker: what if the CPAP doesn't help and I'm still tired all the time?

About once a day, when I am on my computer doing something actually useful, I find myself drifting over to Google to look up something else about CPAP use.  Engaging with information seems to calm me down, if only for the minutes I spend reading.  I've learned that there are lots of potential solutions to most of the problems CPAP newbies seem to experience, and I do trust my health care providers, who have a good track record of staying on top of issues until they get resolved. There really isn't anything objective to be worried about.

So what's the problem?

I think it's more about the waiting than about the specifics.  I feel as though I am simply marking time, that my "real" life and routine cannot start until I can wake up in the morning with some energy and focus.  And that feeling of being in limbo is driving me crazy.  Before I knew about the apnea, I figured the fatigue was simply one of the factors I have to deal with right now, like ankle pain or asthma.  Knowing that there is a good chance that it will disappear in a couple of weeks makes dealing with it now almost intolerable.

And so I sit back, take a deep breath, and try to center myself in the current moment.  And the next one.  And the next one.  October 8th can't come soon enough.

A hui hou. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Remembering My Biking Triumph

Today, thousands of bicyclists are riding the annual Hub On Wheels event, an annual ride around Boston's neighborhoods to raise money for computers in the classrooms of Boston Public Schools.  Three years ago, for the first and only time, I rode in the 26-mile version of that event; in fact, the picture that heads this blog is from that momentous day.  I was training to do it again last summer, but a major respiratory infection that began last Labor Day weekend put an end to that dream, and this year, my continuing health problems similarly made participation impossible, so I am left staring out the window, remembering.

Here's what I wrote to family and friends a few days after the event:

So, there I was, last Sunday morning at 7:15, feeling extremely excited and kind of sick, watching my fellow bicyclists lining up for the 8am start of the Hub on Wheels ride around Boston.  Supposedly there were 4000 riders registered for the event; 3800 lean, sleek cyclists, 197 regular people, and 3 really large people, of which I might have been the largest.  I had a moment of wondering what on earth I was doing there, but then the still, small voice I've been learning to listen to during the past couple of months of coaching sessions with Teri from Green Mountain took over and said I am what I am and I'm doing the ride anyway.

It finally got to be 8am, and off we went.  It was a perfect day to be out on a bike, and absolutely awesome to be riding down the middle of several of Boston's main streets with a police escort and no traffic!  Riding up the ramp to Storrow Drive was amazing and exhilarating, only I almost immediately slipped my chain off the derailleur.  But even that was amazing, since one of the riding marshalls rode up with his little bag of tools and not only helped me get it back on, but adjusted something so it wouldn't happen again.  When else in life does that happen?

The first 7 miles or so were pure joy, though riding home afterwards I realized I hadn't taken in a lot of specifics about where we were riding, at least then.  But then we got to the Jamaicaway, which had a fairly narrow bike path that was really neat until I realized that it was a steady uphill pull.

Let me stop a second and explain the physical difficulties I was facing.  For starters, the day before the ride had been Yom Kippur, when, among other things, Jews are supposed to abstain from food and drink from sundown to sundown.  I had actually had to break my fast in the afternoon because of really bad asthma, which can happen if I use my inhaler in the absence of liquids.  So, I was starting out with something of a deficit.  Then on Sunday morning, I was so excited/nervous/agitated I couldn't eat.  I knew I needed to and I tried, several times, but I just couldn't do it.  I knew I'd pay the price, but there really was nothing I could do.

Back to the Jamaicaway, in the absence of glycogen stores.  I was tired, but Carol was waiting along this part of the route, and so were Dan and Nathan, to cheer me on, which I much appreciated.  After I got to the top of that incline, slowly but surely, there was an exhilarating downhill dash into the Arnold Arboretum, and that's when things got tough.  There was a hill.  I pedaled and pedaled, and finally I had to get off and walk the bike up to the top.  People were very encouraging, as they rode by, which was nice, but let me tell, you, pushing a bike up hill isn't so very much easier than riding it!  But finally I got to the top, and then there was a rest area but I wanted to push on.  I was drinking from my personal hydration system and eating my Sports Beans (jelly beans specially formulated with electrolytes, etc.), and didn't want to stop if I didn't have to. 

And then there was Forest Hills Cemetery.  Another long uphill.  It was very hot at this point, and no shade, and I stopped and called Carol for an encouraging word.  I told her my dilemma and that I had no energy and that at least if I died it would be convenient because I was already in the cemetery.  She laughed and said I could do it, so I did hung up and did it.  And just before the gate out of the cemetery, I did stop at the rest area and sucked on some oranges -- I still couldn't stomach the idea of eating anything more substantial than the Sports Beans, even though they had all kinds of things there.  I did take a mini Cliff Bar in case I needed it later, and I tried to find out if there were more hills coming up, but nobody really knew.  So I flung myself back into the fray.

Fortunately, there weren't any really bad hills, but I was so exhausted (this was about 11 miles in) that quite a few of the inclines along the route got the better of me, even though they might not have under normal circumstances.  I really enjoyed pedaling along through Franklin Park, where my family was again waiting to cheer me on, and through Roxbury and Dorchester.  It was especially fun to suddenly recognize an intersection that I had driven through, seeing it from a totally different perspective.  It was hard, though, and I was getting more and more tired, but I just kept pedaling.  Most of the time there were other riders around, especially at the major intersections (where there were marshals and occasionally police or rangers to stop traffic for us), but quite regularly I was chugging along on my own.  It made me feel a little better to see other folks occasionally stopping or walking uphill, and I was leap-frogging with a whole group who were faster than I but stopping more often.

Finally, at about 16 miles or so, I reached the waterfront and knew that the rest of the route was along the shore, which meant no more hills.  But I was horrified to realize that I was only able to get up about 7mph on a totally flat path!  This was NOT GOOD, so I stopped on a bench overlooking a gorgeous harbor view and choked down that mini Cliff Bar I had snagged from the rest stop.  It tasted like sawdust, but I knew I needed some fuel.  I have no idea how long I actually sat there trying to finish that lump of food; I intended to stop for only a few minutes, as I was planning to take a longer break at the next rest area, which was coming up, but I actually sat there for about 45.  It was, at least, a beautiful place to sit and contemplate the water.

Eventually, I got back on the bike and slogged along the mile or so to the rest area at Carson Beach.  I sucked down some oranges again (I had always wondered why they always gave out orange wedges at the Boston Marathon, since they didn't seem like they'd give you enough of either liquid or calories to do you much good, but now I GET IT), took a banana (which I absolutely did NOT want to eat) and refilled my water reservoir (I'd just finished the half gallon I'd started with), collapsed on the curb of the parking lot and called Carol to see if they were nearby.  She was, though they were just getting ready to leave, thinking they had missed me (due to my unanticipated stop); so they came over and Nathan came running up the wonderful way he has and flung himself at me -- all the other bikers in the parking lot said "aaaawwwwwwwwww" as if on cue -- and Carol got me more water and made me eat the banana.  I stayed there for about half an hour -- Holly, who had just been swimming with the girls, drove over, too, and gave me a much needed pep talk.  Nathan also kept finding interesting rocks to give me; after the first two, which I put in my back pack for luck, I had him give them to Carol to hold.  Left to himself, I think he would have emptied the parking lot for me!

The best moment of my rest stop was when Nathan looked at my bike, furrowed his brow and asked, "But where does the gas go?"

So, it was now 12pm and I'd completed 20 miles, with six miles to go.  I didn't think I could do it, but with encouragement from my wonderful family and a promise to myself that I'd stop every mile if I needed to, I got back on the bike and started off.  To my amazement, the next four miles were totally enjoyable (must have been those calories!).  Then, all of a sudden, with just under two miles to go, my butt went numb and my feet went numb on the pedals and I had to get off the bike that very minute.  So I found a congenial bench on Fan Pier and stretched a bit and got back on the bike for the final push home.

The last mile or so was the scariest of the whole ride -- on Atlantic Avenue with all the traffic, and having to turn left across all those lanes with only one marshal to show us the way, but no one to make it safe.  Then, on State Street, with the end in sight, I was making my way between a bus on one side and parked cars on the other, and feeling a bit apprehensive about that, but then all of a sudden the road opened out and there were Hub on Wheels volunteers yelling and ringing cow bells and making me smile so I rode across the finish grinning as widely as when I started.  I called Carol, who was just parking the car, and told her where to meet me, and then found a place to sit and collapsed, barely containing the emotions welling up inside until she and Nathan got there.  Poor Nathan; when I was done sobbing I tried to explain to him how grown-ups were kind of strange sometimes and cried when they were really happy.  He was looking really distressed, since in his world you only cry when you're sad or you have a boo-boo.

We parked my bike at the bike valet and I collected my free lunch from Redbones (the best barbecue place in Boston and a great supporter of biking), which I actually managed to eat about half of, with some enjoyment.  About every 10 minutes, Nathan asked me if I had won, and I would patiently explain to him that everyone who had done the ride won, that there were lots of ways of winning, that it wasn't a race, etc. etc.  And 10 minutes later he would ask me again, "Sherry, did you win?"  Finally, I just said "YES", and that was the truth, too.

I still can't believe I did it.

And I can't believe how much I've been learning from the experience.  New ways of looking at food.  How my body reacts to extreme physical stress (I didn't actually feel hunger until Tuesday lunchtime, then went through two days of getting ravenous every few hours all night long, and I kept falling asleep Monday and Wednesday, and even today (Friday) I'm feeling totally unenergetic.)  How it feels to set a goal and train for it -- something I've done in other areas of my life, but not in terms of physical activity.  How much I love riding my bike -- I rode for an hour yesterday and enjoyed it enormously, though I realized I have no reserves still, and couldn't push myself to reach my normal riding speeds.  How much I want to do this again next year, and how I might train for the hills.

It was an amazing journey.  26.3 miles, in 3.5 hours of riding time (not quite 5 hours by the clock).  I'm grateful that I was able to do it, and even more grateful for everyone's support and good wishes. 

Looking back on that event now, the lessons that I've taken from that whole experience are a little bit different than what I reported at the time.  For one thing, the post-ride week was really the first time in my adult life when I really paid close attention to what my body was signaling about its physiologic needs, and that I gave myself complete permission to satisfy them.  During the first 48 hours after I got home, while I was mostly sleeping, all I could stomach was a little bit of sharp cheddar with a challah roll -- I think the contrasting sweet and salt tastes were what made that palatable.  On Tuesday, when I experienced actual hunger, I got a message as clear as a neon sign that what I needed was protein, so I downed a can of tuna fish, nothing else.  Then for the 48 hours after that, when I was ravenous every couple of hours, all I wanted was carbs -- crackers, pretzels, cereal, bread.  After that I went back to normal.  It all made sense, and it all felt fine.

The second important lesson was the nature of the training I did.  I was basically following two of the programs set out in a wonderful little book called How To Get Wheely Fit.  The first four week plan took me from first mount-up to riding 60 minutes straight, and the second from one hour at a time to two hours.  Each plan called for specific length rides on four days per week.  So each week I would figure put in the ideal schedule -- in pencil -- and then figure out what I could actually manage that would be close to that ideal.  Sometimes I did exactly what the book said, but often I couldn't.  But if I couldn't ride enough to advance to the next week's level, I made sure to do enough to maintain where I was, with the result that the Tuesday before the ride, I made a glorious 18-mile circuit on the bike paths along both sides of the Charles River, passing through four different towns in the process.  Somehow, I've never managed yet to be that flexible with myself in any of my other endeavors, though I've consciously looked to that as a model for how it can be done.

I still love riding my bike more than any other physical activity I do, and I don't doubt that I will sign up for Hub on Wheels again.  Maybe even next year.  I look forward to seeing what I will learn from that experience.

A hui hou.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I am generally a patient woman.  Ask anyone.  I am content to read the same story to my grandchildren six times in a row;  listening to my grandparents tell the same stories over and over again was actually a pleasure.  As my fifth year anniversary post attests, most of the time, I am content to sit back and see what unfolds. 

Not now.

I still have two weeks to wait until I go for my follow-up appointment and get outfitted for CPAP, and the waiting is driving me crazy.

Every morning, I wake up in a fog of fatigue, and every afternoon I have to struggle to keep awake and alert.  The effort I'm expending to stay moderately functional is more than I can spare, and I can't seem to find the inner resources to get myself on a better schedule.  Knowing that help is in sight, but still at a distance, is torturing me.

Apart from the physical discomfort of being tired all the time and moping along through days that  might otherwise be envigorating, the major dilemma I face is this:  Do I spend time and energy now on trying to deal with adapting to a less than optimal schedule, or do I simply wait to see if the difficulties I face go away once I am (I hope!) getting more restful sleep?

I am, despite my current apnea issues, basically a morning person.  Morning is the only time I can work effectively.  Morning is also the only time I can comfortably and effectively exercise.  Obviously, this makes the morning hours prime temporal real estate for me.  And now, with my horrible sleep patterns and the constant exhaustion I feel upon waking, those hours have been whittled away till I'm lucky if I get moving by noon, leaving me with, at most three useful hours before my brain fuzzes over completely.

If I could only wake at 6am, ready to hit the floor moving, I'd be able to enjoy the best part of the day and probably find it much easier to get myself to do the strength training that is so important.  There is simply no way that that is realistic right now.  Maybe that will be possible once I'm sleeping better; I hope so.  But for the moment, what do I do?  I need to impose some structure on my life, but can I do it now?  Should I?  Or do I just muddle through until I know what I am finally dealing with.

Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

October 8th can't get here soon enough.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Back in June, when I had my functional medicine evaluation, one of the things that I learned was that my adrenal system was on the edge of collapse.  While my cortisol levels were technically normal, they were the lowest they could possibly be and still qualify.  My doctor explained that I seemed to be able to produce sufficient hormones, but that my system was not draining them away adequately after the moment of need was past.  This seems to be, at least in part, a function of the constant state of stress most of us are in these days.  The adrenal system was designed, as it were, to deal with fight or flight situations, which in the very old days came along only very occasionally, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors ran up against creatures that might like them for dinner.  The body would produce adrenaline to enable said ancestors to get the hell out of town, and then drain the excess away once the danger was over. 

In the modern world, while we rarely have to face errant saber-tooth tigers, we live in such a way that small stress is piled on small stress until our systems are in a near constant state of red alert.  One of the first things I learned at Green Mountain was the need to provide some respite, through deep breathing or meditation, or even through a mindful walk, throughout the day.  But as my test results showed, those techniques were not getting me to where I needed to be.  So my doctor prescribed some supplements to support my adrenal system, advised me to get adequate sleep, and also gave me an exercise prescription.  To promote adrenal healing, stretching and strength training are key, as is keeping aerobic exercise at low and moderate levels only.

I confess, I was dismayed at hearing that last part.  As regular readers of this blog know, biking is both my cardio activity of choice and my joy, and the idea that it was not actually good for me was too horrifying to contemplate.  When I raised this to my doctor, she said I could keep biking if not doing so would be more stressful than the actual biking and suggested that I lower my gears a notch or two to keep at a lower level of exertion.  That seemed okay, though I figured it might be hard.  I like to pedal at a certain rate, and biking is the one activity I do where I don't mind working at the vigorous level.

Shortly after that evaluation, I embarked upon two months of pretty solid traveling, so I never did get back on my bike.  It felt a little scary, to be honest, so I didn't make any extraordinary efforts to ride, even when I could.  When the travel ceased, I tried swimming, which had been recommended as an every day activity, but though I like swimming and used to be a major lap swimmer.  I didn't manage to get into it in any meaningful way.  So, finally, earlier this week, I got back on my bike and decided that I would do whatever I had to in order to keep riding.

It wasn't bad.  I suppose that from a biker point of view, what I need to do now might be considered wimping out, as I drop down in gears at the first sign of an incline, however small.  And every now and then, despite my best efforts, I end up on a course where I have to peddle harder than might be ideal.  But I feel so good on the bike, I think it's worth it.  I love all the sensory aspects of biking, I love moving through space, and I love being a person who bikes.

So I'm back in the saddle again.  And very grateful to be there.

A hui hou.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Knitting Up the Ravelled Sleave

When I came home after my first semester of college, my parents took one look at me and offered to rush me to the doctor.  I was deathly pale, had huge bags under my eyes, and presented a generally dull and lackluster affect.  I told them I was fine, but that I had been getting by on about two hours of sleep a night.  It wasn't that I was a partyer -- on the contrary, I was studying and talking into the wee hours, not wanting to miss a single moment of the intense experience.

That was the last time I so cavalierly tossed away opportunities to sleep.

My real love-hate relationship with this most essential activity began in my early thirties, when I developed asthma.  For more years than I like to contemplate, I was up until 3-4am every day, hacking my guts out.  It was partly a side effect of taking theophylline (a close cousin of caffeine), and partly the result of the disease itself, which tends to be more active nocturnally.

Eventually, my asthma got better controlled and I went off theophylline, but that was about the same time that I became a gigging musician, with a band out in Western Massachusetts.  At least once a week (for rehearsals), but often two or three times, depending on our gig schedule, I was driving home in those same sleepless wee hours, totally disrupting any chance of having a reasonable sleep schedule.  I felt as though I was always catching up, trying to fill a deficit that never stayed filled for more than a day or two.

When I finally got to the point where I couldn't deal with that any more, I began staying at motels after gigs so I wouldn't have to lose so much sleep.  That was fine, until menopause struck.  That brought me two years of 3am awakenings.  These weren't the usual, sleepy arousals that usually lead peacefully back to bed; these were springing into action awakenings.  I thought I would go mad, as I tried to deal with that in the context of trying to maintain a "normal" schedule.  Eventually, I consulted a therapist, who advised me to get up and do my work at 3am, if that was when I was awake, and take naps in the afternoon.  Duh.  That advice got me through the hormone frenzy.

I had a few peaceful years.  But for the past couple of years, I have had the worst sleep problems of all.  Half the time I can't fall asleep, even though there's nothing particularly urgent on my mind.  It's partly discomfort from my various physical aches and pains, and, to be honest, partly anxiety about sleeping.  The other half of the time I sleep for many hours, but I wake up feeling exhausted.  The result is that I'm tired all the time.  It takes me forever to get moving in the morning, and I'm often too tired to sleep when I do go to bed.

For a long time, I thought that I was deliberately keeping myself awake past the time I first felt sleepy so that I could have the house to myself for private eating.  Night time was always worst for me in that regard.  But since I cleared out the emotional mess that was behind most of my inappropriate eating, I've still been unable simply to put myself to bed at the first yawn.  Despite fairly rigorous exploration of other possible motives for me to keep myself up, I've come to the conclusion that sometimes I just can't sleep.  Of course, the most frustrating part of all is that even when I do sleep, it doesn't seem to do any good.

Lately, I've spent some time researching insomnia, everything I've read suggests that the best way to deal with it is "good sleep hygiene," by which they mean going to bed and getting up at the same time every day.  The trouble with that, of course, is that if I get up really early after a night of insomnia, I'm useless for the entire day.  And if I go to bed at the designated bedtime and can't sleep, I have to keep getting out of bed until I get sleepy, which does away with the whole notion of a standard bed time.

Fortunately, the physician's assistant who provides most of my primary care is a very smart and supportive person who believes that her job is to keep me safe while I work my way through to better health and fitness.  At my annual physical in August, she again suggested that I have a sleep study to see if I had a disorder.  Last year, when she suggested that, I put her off, since my experience of Carol's severe sleep apnea didn't seem to resonate at all.  But this year, she convinced me that an undiagnosed disorder could be putting additional stress on my heart and lungs, and I agreed that checking it out would be prudent.

Lo and behold -- I have sleep apnea.  It's on the mild side, but still significant.  I had a second study done to titrate appropriate CPAP levels and am now waiting -- impatiently -- for the follow-up appointment at which I will get my equipment.  Interestingly, though the night of the second sleep study was not exactly restorative, in the sense that I went to sleep later than usual and got up way earlier, I felt much more refreshed than after the first sleep study and the next night definitely felt sad that I didn't have the CPAP to put on.  I interpreted that as my body telling me that it liked the experience.

So, I am in a month-long limbo, knowing that relief is coming and feeling its lack even more intensely than before I knew that it was possible.  I have learned that in addition to fatigue, apnea can adversely affect both blood pressure and muscle/join achiness.  October 8th looms large as my day of salvation.  And then I worry that having the CPAP won't really help and I'll be stuck in this cloud of tiredness forever. 

Clearly, the best thing for me right now is to go with the flow and try to stay as functional as I can.  Trying to get on a reasonable bedtime/waking schedule certainly won't hurt, and it might prepare me for the good things to come.  And worrying never helps.  Maybe if I say that out loud enough times, I'll actually believe it!

A hui hou, and sweet dreams!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Five Years on the Path

It was exactly five years ago this week that I first crossed the threshold of Green Mountain at Fox Run, the amazing women's health and fitness retreat that has so profoundly changed my life for the better.  That was also a year when the Jewish High Holidays were in September, and I deliberately planned my trip to coincide with them, partly because it was a time when the band I was in did not have gigs, and partly because it felt fitting to spend those deeply introspective holidays learning to take care of myself.  Before I left home for my month-long sojourn, I made two promises to myself:

1.  I would try everything the program offered, every class, every therapy, every form of physical activity.

2.  If I felt that the program made sense, I would keep on coming back to Green Mountain as many times as it took to get me to my goal of fit and healthy.

I kept the first promise easily.  I did try everything and learned that I loved cardio on the fitball and that I could dance my heart out without being afraid of reinjuring my knee.  I also learned that I hated Pilates and found yoga way too difficult and painful to be enjoyable, at least for the present.  I had my very first massage, which was moderately enjoyable, but discovered that I liked Reiki way better.  I also learned that despite my usual linear thinking, I responded readily to both art and movement therapy.

I've also kept the second promise.  Most years I have gone back to what feels like my country home in both the spring and the fall, and when I got really sick during my visit last fall, I ended up doing most of my active recuperating there.  Each time I have learned the next important issue to work on or the next technique I needed to adopt, in the same way that when we hike over lava in the dark we have to use our flashlights to find the next segment of the path.  That first trip, what I took back with me was a reconnection between my head and my body; I had not realized before how much I was living from the neck up, not so much out of shame, but because I was constantly afraid of injury.  Other trips got me involved more in intuitive eating, intrinsic motivation, guided imagery for stress management, and, most recently, functional medicine.

When a new crop of participants converge on Green Mountain every Sunday, the second thing people ask each other, after establishing where they come from, is whether this is one's first visit to the program.  Over the years, I've seen the flicker of dismay in my questioner's eyes when I reply that this is my 3rd, or 7th or 12th visit.  Mostly, the flicker stays a flicker, and they she goes on to say something like, "you must really like it here."  I usually answer both the spoken and the unspoken question by saying that my whole life has changed, even though I haven't lost any weight yet. 

Some people get it; they understand, even before completing their first day in the program, that this isn't going to be a quick fix.  All of us who deal with weight management issues know how complex the problem is.  Others are politely noncommittal.  Only once did anyone actually manifest scorn; I avoided her for the rest of her time there. 

For five years, I have steadily and steadfastly pursued my goals of increased health and fitness, believing with my whole heart that, as the program taught me, if I did what I needed to do to take better care of myself, I would lose weight, eventually, as a welcome side effect of my efforts. I became again a person who moves, who enjoys being active whenever orthopedic or respiratory issues don't get in the way.  I've become calmer and more mindful, not just about hunger and satiety, but about everything.  I've learned to turn the compassion and patience I have for every other person on the planet towards myself and stop thinking of my body as my enemy, even when it keeps me from doing what I want or need to do.  I've continually dredged the pits of unacknowledged feelings that were driving me to eat for reasons other than hunger and finally cleared out what I believe to be the deepest one. 

And I still weigh pretty much exactly what I weighed on my very first visit.

Does this bother me?  Sure, I wish I weighed a hundred pounds less.  Or even 20.  But most of the time, I'm content to be patient because I know that I'm doing what I need and want to be doing to take care of myself.  And I'm not depriving myself of anything or twisting my life into some unnatural, ultimately unsustainable round of rigors, so there is really nothing to do but what I am doing.  I trust that if I keep doing it, and keep learning what "it" is, eventually the weight will let go, and let me go.  If I didn't also feel the onrush of impending mortality (I turn 60 next year), I'd be perfectly happy to let things take their course without a panicky moment. 

And the really good news is that I think that I am finally moving, albeit slowly, towards a lighter body and better health.  Between purging myself of the guilt and grief that kept me stuffing my emotions down, dealing with low thyroid, metabolic imbalances, food sensitivities and, most recently, sleep apnea, I am finally starting to see movement on the scale, without actively trying to limit my portions or "exercise."  Since the day I had my functional medicine evaluation, back in May, I've lost about 8 pounds.  While the current lack of strength training in my life has meant that I don't feel that absence in any meaningful way, I know that this is huge for me, and the harbinger of many good things to come.

So, happy anniversary to me, and thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone at Green Mountain.  And, as they say in Hawaii, imua -- forward!

A hui hou.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Year in Review

Every year, in December, newspapers and magazines are filled with retrospectives, lists of events or musings on what took place during the previous year.  We Jews tend to do this in September/October, the time of our new year and a period devoted to introspection and making one's peace with both people and what may be defined variously as God, one's higher power, or one's own conscience.  Though I began this new year in a frenzy of childcare, which didn't leave a whole lot of time for introspection (or anything else!), I was struck by how intensely I felt the presence of a threshold between the new year and the one that was about to end.

Since I tend to pay attention when my emotions get that intense, I thought it might be helpful to do a retrospective on my own year as I step over the threshold into 5771.

This was the year I had H1N1 and pneumonia, spending 8 days in the hospital and six months recovering.

This was the year that Carol and I endowed the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, making several of my dreams come true:  a permanent home for KlezKamp (the Yiddish folk arts program of which I am associate director) and my collection of Yiddish 78rpm recordings and a partner (the Mills Music Library) willing to make those recordings available online to anyone wanting to hear them.

This was the year I co-produced a 3-CD boxed set of recordings from my collection, to great critical acclaim and enormous personal satisfaction.

This was the year I discovered how badly my body has been beaten up by the life I've led, and also how to fix it.

This was the year I finally came to terms with the ravages of my childhood.

This was the year I got my mother back, in a small but extremely powerful way.

This was the year I got to introduce my sister and brother-in-law to most of my grandchildren.

This was the year I finally started to feel some peace around food.

This year was one of the hardest I've ever experienced, but also one of the most rewarding and meaningful.

In a way, stepping across into the coming year is similar to the journey one takes across the vast distance between the intensity of mourning and the return of "ordinary" life after sitting shiva, the week of mourning when a parent or other close relative dies.  Jewish tradition wisely has friends accompany the mourner in a walk around the perimeter of the house on that last day of mourning, girding the day as a chassid girds his waist to separate the spiritual head and heart from the worldly loins.  I remember when my father died, how disconcerted I was at the end of shiva, and how grateful and relieved I was to begin preparing for Passover, another intense, spiritual event, just a few days later.

Perhaps I need to go walk around my building.

Leshana tova -- a happy, sweet, healthy new year to all of you, and peace to everyone as we celebrate this birth day of the world.

A hui hou.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Deprivation Redux

This morning marks the seven-week anniversary of my starting the LEAP protocol to deal with food sensitivity.  It's been an interesting journey, so far, and I would say a very successful one.  My body seems to be very happy eating this way, and I'm finding the challenges of cooking with a limited universe of foods interesting and fun.  Because of a bunch of other factors, I've been moving really slowly through the addition of foods phases -- I'm still technically in phase two, but about to jump into phase 3 with the introduction of chicken tomorrow night for Rosh Hashono dinner.

I think that perhaps the most amazing aspect of this adventure has been the extent to which I am perfectly content with my limited food choices.  On the whole, I have not spent a lot of time and energy missing the things I can't have, and have reveled and delighted in the ones that I can.  This seems like a very useful paradigm for life.

This is not to say that I have never felt a wish for ano of those other foods.  Sometimes when Carol makes toast for her lunchtime sandwich, I breathe deeply the bread aroma and remember yeastier times.

The past two weekends, I've been on my own; Carol has been off having adventures of her own, leaving me to my own devices.  Always before, her departure would have signaled the beginning of self-indulgence -- bringing secret eating out in the open.  This time, while I didn't have that particular need, I did spend the time grazing rather than making "proper" meals, but my food choices were fine. 

What was interesting, though, was that I was tired and not feeling particularly great, and I did find myself thinking more about the foods I am not (yet) eating.  As I watched pizza commercials, I could momentarily taste the contrast between the salty cheese and the tang of tomato sauce, or between the creamy cheese and the crunchy crust.  I vicariously enjoyed turkey sandwiches, hamburgers, and popcorn.  It was amazing how vivid the flashes of sensory memory of those foods were.

But the really amazing thing was that, with the whole universe of food available to me and not a soul watching, it never even crossed my mind to eat any of those restricted foods.  Not even once.

Clearly, I'm not in Kansas any more. 

After 50 years of both behaving and thinking in certain ways about food, finding myself behaving and thinking in totally different ways is both stunning and exhilarating.  Does this sea change mean that I will never struggle with food again?  I doubt it.  But every day that passes with my choosing only those foods which make me feel healthy and content strengthens my ability to make that same choice again, so I am hopeful that any future struggles will be less intense and shorter lived.

Deprivation, I think I've finally got the upper hand.

A hui hou.