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.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Get Thee Behind Me, Strength Training!

So there I was yesterday morning, up bright and early and having given myself permission not to worry about strength training till I get home so that I could concentrate on meditating and getting done all that I need to do, and I had a huge urge to lie right back down on the bed and do my lower body routine.  And so I did it.

I think I can safely say that I have never felt that kind of intrinsic motivation to do lower body before.  Never.

When I first went to Green Mountain at Fox Run, practically the first piece of information I internalized was that strength training is one of the secrets of the universe -- it's the only means of improving our metabolic rate as well as perhaps the most effective way to stave off osteoporosis.  And for several years, I kept up a religious routine of alternating upper and lower body, six days a week.  Often, that was the only thing I could manage to do in a day.  Upper body wasn't so bad, because I could control the amount of weight I used.  But lower body, which used my own body weight for resistance, was a killer.

It never seemed fair -- with upper body, when you are least fit, you use the lowest weights.  But with lower body, when you are least fit you have the most to move.  For a long time, doing lower body was aerobic exercise for me -- it would regularly get my heart rate into target range, despite assurances from the fitness staff that that would not happen.  Eventually I learned to limit my range of motion to make the exercises more doable.  Yet still I dreaded it, every single day. 

At some point, a couple of years ago, I broke my routine because of illness, and I was never able to get back to it again.  The demons of lower body, especially, loomed large, and my energies were focused elsewhere.  Every so often I would start up again, either because I revisited Green Mountain or because I had a rush of external motivation (ie, a feeling that I ought to be doing strength training because it was good for me), but in a few days or weeks I'd be making excuses again.  Even after my long bout with H1N1 and pneumonia, when i knew that strength training was the best way to get back the core strength I had lost (and was sorely missing, "sorely" being the operative word), I couldn't make myself stick to the program.

Then, after all my improvements of this past summer and fall -- the thyroid supplements, elimination diet and CPAP -- I was feeling pretty healthy in a lot of ways that I hadn't felt for a long time, and I decided to make strength training my top priority for this winter.  As I had been taught at Green Mountain, I carefully considered the possible obstacles to successfully implementing a regular regimen and strategies I might use to overcome them, and i was able to figure out that the first thing I needed to do was lower the threshold for beginning.  When I visualized myself doing alternating upper and lower body, as I had done for all those other years, I was getting stuck in dread and discomfort.  That did not bode well.

I had a sudden flash of insight that proved to be the key to getting back on track.  I remembered that a couple of summers ago, I had dragged myself to two classes a week of whole body resistance training, and that had been enough to make me feel significantly better.  Which meant that I could divide the whole routine into three parts, rather than two, and hit each muscle group twice per week.  When I thought about doing upper body one day (six exercises), abs plus glutes, calves and shins the next (six exercises) and the rest of lower body the third (five exercises), it suddenly all seemed possible.  I was actually able to start up after only a few days of settling in.

There was still one problem facing me, though.  When I did that first session of lower body, trying for the two sets of 15 reps we do at Green Mountain, it was so hard that I burst into tears when I finished.  Carol, ever my staunch support, wisely reminded me that there was nothing sacred about the number 15, and that in fact, the guidelines say that you should do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps with the goal of keeping good form and feeling the burn for the last few reps of the second and third sets.  By those standards, I was actually overtraining, so it was no wonder that I hated doing the exercises.  I spent my next sessions figuring out exactly the right number of reps for each muscle group, which varied from 2 sets of 8 for quad lifts to 3 sets of 11 for hamstrings, and all of a sudden, I wasn't dreading strength training any more.  And imagine my excitement when after a couple of weeks I was able to increase from 8 to 9 quad lifts -- by trying to do more than my body could handle, all those years, I had totally deprived myself of that type of small, yet invaluable, success.

And so, for two months, I kept up my routine, doing it right on the bed most of the time because my knee issues made getting up and down off the floor difficult and painful.  Then we had some company that got in the way followed by a painful medical condition that made strength training impossible for a couple of weeks, and I started to get that sinking feeling of dread again.  Only to my surprise, when I became able to get going, I did, without much fuss, till last week when my nieces' visit took precedence.  And, as I discussed in my last post, I pretty much decided that I wouldn't worry about getting back to that routine for these last two weeks, knowing that packing is a very physically demanding process and that we had a lot to get done.

And then the miracle happened, and I heard my body crying out to do strength training.  And it was lower body specifically that it was requesting.


So yesterday morning, I gave my body what it needed.  And today I did it again.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring.  I don't know if this state of awareness and ease will continue.  But I'm a firm believer that if you can achieve something once, however fleetingly, you can achieve it again.  And again.

A hui hou.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Next Steps

My break was a bit longer than I expected when last I wrote, and involved spending a glorious week introducing my nieces to Hawaii.  We had a wonderful time, and it was fun being pretty much totally on vacation, something that I rarely allow myself to do -- most of the time, even if I'm not actively doing responsible things, I'm worrying about not doing them!  And one of the additional benefits of that recreational time was that I realized I may be entering a new phase, particularly with respect to eating and gut health.  And that got me thinking about what that might mean and what I need to do to move ahead towards my goal of getting healthy.

As we traveled around the island, we ate out at restaurants more than I have since I began the LEAP protocol last July, and I did fine.  I was fairly careful in my choices and definitely felt the limitations caused by the still fairly long list of foods on my reactive list, or those that were not yet tested.  But in fact, the only thing I needed to ask about was soy, which made the whole process feel kind of normal.  It felt really good to be able to be fairly spontaneous (though I did check menus online for places I did not know well), and clearly no one suffered because of my limitations (including me!).  I also learned that I can tolerate small amounts of challenging foods (wheat, asparagus, corn) pretty well, while still needing to avoid them in quantity.

Apart from that realization, I've also been feeling, these past few weeks, as though my intestinal tract has become healthier.  Call it a gut feeling (backed by physiologic details I REALLY don't need to go into here), but I'm getting a sense that the huge imbalances that plagued me may be resolving.  I also have become aware of feeling much stronger in my core -- it no longer kills my back if I stand while cooking a meal or looking at a museum exhibit.  My ankle still limits my mobility, big time, but at least I'm back to where I was before I got H1N1 and lost the ability to stand upright.

On the down side, I don't feel as though I'm sleeping as well as I was a couple of months ago, and that's significantly affecting my ability to be active and feel energetic and good.  Could be that my CPAP needs adjusting, or possibly my thyroid dose; fortunately, I have appointments to have both of those things checked right after I get back to Massachusetts.  Having experienced the return of energy, I'm not willing to stand its absence again.

So, what next?  We have entered our final two weeks here, and I'm a little overwhelmed by all that needs to happen before we leave, as usual, and by all the things I didn't manage to do while we were here -- also as usual.  This is perhaps not the best time to spend my energy trying to reestablish a routine that will almost immediately be broken. 

The key is mindfulness.  I've gotten away from intentional meditation, which was the main tool that got me started on this journey, and I need to take it up again.  I need to give myself the time to be focused and grounded, the time to be quiet, and the time to notice where I am, not where I ought to be or where I was.  I want to let go of worrying and fretting in favor of appreciating.  If I can do all of that, I hope I'll be able to take joy in a little movement and get the most enjoyment I can of these last days (for now) in my beautiful home here.

Excuse me while I go out to sit on the lanai and listen, mindfully, to the ocean and feel the cool breeze on my face.

A hui hou.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

T/Making a Break

When I was last heard from, I was feeling kind of low, mired in feelings of guilt and unsure how to move forward.  Then came the tsunami, and somehow, in the aftermath of the fear and confusion of evacuation and a lost night of sleep, I became unmired.  Not that anything substantive has changed, or that I now know how to move ahead on my journey.  But the tsunami gave me the chance to break the cycle of negative thoughts that I was in, and when we drove back down the slope of Mauna Kea on Friday morning to our beautiful (and, thankfully, untouched) home, I was filled with a great sense of well-being and happiness.  and I've been feeling pretty cheerful ever since.

Perhaps it was the threat of natural disaster putting things into perspective for me.  Perhaps it was just the break in time and energy.  But there was definitely something about inserting a pause into what was going on inside me that changed things for the better.

It's all too easy to get trapped inside an endless cycle of misery.  Carol calls it mental highjacking, and I think we all do it.  And it's always negative -- nobody ever seems to get caught up in an endless round of happy thoughts!  Unfortunately, though it may feel as though dwelling on the bad stuff is useful, it never is.  Never.  Not that I advocate denial -- been there and done that, and it isn't helpful either.  But beating yourself over the head with your alleged shortcomings is likely only to give you a headache.

This is all related to the importance of self-love and self-care.  If you've ever been to Marineland or Sea World or the like, you've heard the presenters at the dolphin and whale shows say that the reason they put on those shows is to get people to care about the whales and dolphins, because humans are only likely to try to take care of things (and people) they care about personally.  We care about our family and friends, which is why we can be kind to them and supportive of their efforts to change, even when they slip and slide and lose their way.  But we are not so forgiving of our own slips and slides, suggesting that perhaps we don't truly love and value our selves as much as we value those close to us.

This lesson is so simple, but so hard.  I am not the enemy.  My body is not the enemy.  Maybe there isn't even an enemy, only challenges to figure out, one at a time.

When we left Puako, in the wee hours of Thursday night, we left the windows open in our house.  Our thinking was that if the tsunami generated really big waves, it would be better to allow them to wash through the house than to give them no place to go, since that resistance could end up with our house washed away rather than simply flooded.  It strikes me now that that's a really good image to keep in my mind about the futility of resistance and negativity and the value of being open to what washes through.

A hui hou.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I've been trying for over a year to write a letter to my little self, the self before my mother died, the self before psychic and physical pain conspired to slow me down, and I just can't do it.  I know how important it is that I write it, as part of the therapy arc first suggested by my reading of Toxic Parents.  I know how much my physical and emotional health depend on being able to let go and stop judging myself, and blaming myself for surviving horrible circumstances in the best way I knew how.

Somehow, knowing all of that isn't really helping.

How could I have let things get to this state?  How could I have done this to myself?  How can I try to take good care of myself when I know that I've spent years making things worse?

I feel paralyzed by guilt and unable to get passed it.  I know that I have to rip through the guilt to get out more anger and sadness and who knows what else, in order to heal, but I just can't move right now.

I know that if I were talking to any other friend or family member -- or even a perfect stranger -- I would urge forgiveness and kindness, but I can't muster it up for myself.  I know that by being so judgmental I am almost compelling the type of bad decision that I feel guilty about, but I can't seem to stop.  I sit quietly with my feelings and sense the space around me grow dark and agitated and can't find my way back to the light.  One of my friends, responding to my previous blog post, reminded me that there are a lot worse coping mechanisms I could have chosen, alcohol, painkillers or street drugs, and she's right; any of those things would have hurt the people I love as much or more than they hurt me, and I wouldn't have the years of productivity and good relationships behind me that I do have, and for which I am very grateful.

I know all that, and yet my heart knows nothing. 

So what do I say to my little self?  How do I apologize?  How do I move on?  I don't know yet, but I'll keep trying to figure it out.  I do trust that if I keep true to my process, I'll get there eventually. 

A hui hou.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In the Dark of Night

In my telephone counseling session last week, it became clear that the feelings of constriction about my current dietary requirements and the sense I have that all the corners of my blanket are flapping in my face indicated a lot of frustration.  It also became clear that the frustration seemed to be related to very deep, very old feelings from childhood, though I couldn't quite figure out what those were.  So my assignment for this week was to give myself the space and the stillness to let those feelings come up, and to pay attention when they do.

Unfortunately, I'm also dealing with some major pain at the moment -- nothing serious, but bad enough to impinge on both my activities and my joie de vivre.  Though I can manage to stay somewhat comfortable during the day, the minute I get into bed, it feels like all hell breaks loose, which means that sleep has been somewhat elusive these past few nights.  Last night was particularly difficult.

So there I was, attempting for the third time to fall asleep, lying in the dark listening to myself breathing into my CPAP machine, and I suddenly felt an onrush of incredibly strong emotion.  The feelings were so intense that I could barely hold myself still, though at first I didn't even know what I was feeling, only that I was feeling something powerful.  I fought the urge to get up (and the associated urge to stuff something into my mouth to try to regain equilibrium) and let myself be there with whatever it was, and after a few moments the usually still, small voice inside me started to yell (silently), "Why can't you take care of ME for a change?" and "I'm tired of always having to take care of myself and everybody else!"

I don't know who I was addressing, but it's pretty clear that my recent awareness of how burdensome it feels to have to be so continuously vigilant about my food choices etc. is related.  And then there was the dream I had the night after my session -- a classic frustration dream involving my stepmother, KlezKamp, and my not running through fields, unable to find the place where I was supposed to be teaching until long after class was over.  Nobody ever accused my subconscious of being subtle!

What have I learned from all of this?  One is that I think I'm making less than optimal food choices from among the "safe" foods perhaps to kick against the fact that I do have to be so vigilant.  I have, in the past, also stopped taking my asthma steroids on occasion when I felt overburdened by the need to take medicine for the rest of my life (an obstinacy which, thank goodness, does not seem to have affected my compliance with any of the medicine I'm currently taking for blood pressure, thyroid or gout).

The second thing I've learned is that I seem to have a deep-seated sense of neglect, in some way.  I know that I've always been a pretty strong and self-sufficient person (I'm an oldest child), and people have always assumed that I can take care of myself just fine.  The one time I ever had a melt-down during my young years was a few weeks before I left home (for good, as it turned out) to go to England.  Everybody in my family was very busy with other issues, and no one was paying any attention to the fact that I was about to travel 3,000 miles away to an entirely different continent.  When I got hysterical, the response was that it had never occurred to anybody that I might be having a problem with that.

Well, here it is, 35 years later, and I no longer have any trouble admitting that I need help, which is good.  But I believe that much of my current angst revolves around feelings that I didn't take very good care of my young self, and yes, perhaps guilt about being the cause of my current health problems.

I don't know how to get through that, right now.  But I'm sure I'll learn.

A hui hou.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Living on Borrowed Time

Living with someone ten years older than I am has caused me to spend more time than I like contemplating mortality in recent years, as have my own increasing health issues.  But even contemplating mortality feels distant and abstract in the face of the sudden death of a contemporary.

One of our co-grandmas, our daugher-in-law's mother, failed to wake up the other morning.  She was a lively woman, with a big personality and a lot of energy, and about my own age.  It was deeply shocking to hear the news, and very sad.  But it also intensified the feeling I've had lately that I am living on borrowed time.

I am an extremely patient person.  I can read a book to my grandkids five times in a row without more than a token protest, and I listened to my grandpa's stories over and over and over again his whole life.  Since I began this journey towards fitness, I embraced Green Mountain's teaching that if you do the things you need to take care of yourself -- eat mindfully, move your body joyfully and safely, replace inner judgment with compassion -- weight loss will come as a welcome side effect.  And most of the time, I am content to keep working at those goals, trusting that weight loss will, indeed, come along in time.

But then the sound of the mortality clock ticking becomes louder and louder, and I start to feel afraid that my body is going to weigh down my spirit before I ever get the chance to experience all the benefits of true fitness and health.  It's ticking pretty loudly today.

One of the wisest things anyone ever said to me, spoken by one of the behavioral specialists at Green Mountain, was that anxiety is the future (or the past) intruding into the present.  Her point was that if you can truly stay in the moment, you can reduce a lot of stress in your life.  In this particular moment, I can truly feel the value of that advice, as it also eliminates that looming sense of fear that I'll run out of time.  If this moment is all that really concerns me, then all I can do is make the best choice I can, and continue to make the best choices I can in each subsequent moment.  Some of those choices will inevitably be less than optimal, and I will have to live with those as I live with the better ones.  Certainly, I am much better off and much healthier (though no lighter) today than I was a few years ago.  And that is the best that I can do.

I feel especially sad when I think of my grandson, Jake, who will now have such a huge hole in his life without Grandma Andrea.  I need to do what I can to try to make sure that he has his Grandma Sherry for a few more years.

A hui hou.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Deprivation ReDux Again

Back in September, when I was a couple of months into following the LEAP protocol for dealing with food sensitivities, I wrote a post called Deprivation Redux, in which I  talked about how I was feeling pretty fine about eating only those foods that don't hurt me.  It felt at that moment as though the deprivation corner of my blanket was firmly pegged into the ground.

Since I've been in Hawaii, though, I've been hit in the face more than a few times, but in a slightly different way.  It's not that I'm feeling hard done by because I can't eat whole wheat bread, chocolate, cheddar cheese or popcorn -- in fact, I'm generally finding very reasonable substitutes for all of those flavors.  And I've been able to add some of my very most favorite Hawaiian foods, without incident:  breadfruit, macadamia nuts, taro, opakapaka (pink snapper) and sweet potatoes.  Though I did feel sad on my first trips to the grocery store or Costco, seeing all the usual foods that cannot at this time be part of my fare, there have been plenty of other things to provide variety and interest (the Asian snack isle is a wonder of corn- and gluten free choices).

Still, I've been having more and more trouble being really mindful about my food, making poor choices among those that I can eat, eating when I'm not particularly hungry, and not stopping when my palate becomes jaded or my belly is full.  In contemplating why that might be, I've considered the very real possibility that I am subconsciously resenting the limitations on my choices (after spending several years learning to give myself permission to choose freely from among all foods and thus depriving them of their power over me); I could be eating more of what I can have to make up for not being able to have some other foods that I really love.  And while I do acknowledge that possibility, it doesn't resonate right now.  I really don't think that's the answer.  The only food I had been seriously longing for was bread (so I could eat a simple tuna sandwich), and a couple of weeks ago I found spelt hamburger buns in the local health food store that taste just like real whole wheat bread, and I tolerate them just fine.  On the other hand, that tuna sandwich was probably the single most mindfully consumed food item in my recent past, so maybe there is more at play behind the scenes than I know.

The other possible explanation that has occurred to me is that I am living in a culture here where not only am I faced every day with the limitations governing my food choices, but where those limitations make it next to impossible to be normally "sociable."  Hawaiian contemporary cuisine is very much Asian, and Asian food is dominated by soy, which is one of the few foods that make me frankly ill.  This means that we can't eat out (except in one restaurant that neither of us finds terribly appealing), that we can't go to the many day-long festivals without a lot of prior planning, and that if we have guests, I have to cook three meals a day, every day. 

In the great scheme of life, none of that is a horrible hardship.  I've been enjoying all the cooking I've done, especially when we've had guests, and I can't say I've particularly missed going out to eat.  I do miss being able to use soy sauce and ginger in my stir frying, but I can live with that.  Still, handcuffs are not particularly enjoyable or comfortable, even if they are lined with fleece. I suspect that the chafing is getting to me, and I don't know what to do about that.

As I write all of this, I realize that none of what I'm talking about is rational.  Put me on the rational plane and I can do anything.  It's the emotional netherworld that trips me up, every time.  I don't know exactly what the lesson is here, only that I clearly haven't learned it yet.

A hui hou.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Blankets in the Wind

Have you ever had the experience of trying to spread out a picnic blanket or beach towel in a high wind?  It's not a pretty sight.  You manage to get one or two corners down and just as you go for the third the wind picks up and messes up the whole arrangement.  So you patiently get that third or fourth corner set and go back to re-establish mastery over the first two.  You may even find yourself spread-eagled across the whole blanket in a vain attempt to get all four corners down at once.

Sometimes, dealing with a blanket in the wind is a perfect metaphor for what it feels like when you try to change your life.  You deal with one issue, then another, then another, and just when you think you're finally getting it all under control, the first issue pops up again and you are hit with a face full of blanket.  Only with life changes, there seem to be many more than four corners, so that even the clumsy possibility of spread-eagling is not an option.

This has been my life over the past year -- actually, ever since I first went to Green Mountain.  First, I put physical activity back into my life. Then came a couple of years of miserable respiratory health that finally got the better of me. Then I dealt with the ravages of deprivation.  Then I learned to deal with the stress in my life.  Then I dealt with the deep-seated feelings of anger towards my father.  Then I faced the reality of the toll of my recent life on my body.  Then I dealt with my feelings about my mother.  All of that made the need to be active flap in the wind.  Then I dealt with food sensitivities, which I think have gotten the deprivation issues all roused again.  Then I got my CPAP machine.  Then I started doing strength training again with great regularity, and the need to eat mindfully has flapped up again, rather violently. 

Sigh.  I really believe, perhaps naively, that if only I could all the corners of the blanket to stay put for even just a little while, I could actually lose some of my excess weight and experience the benefits that would bring.  But the wind is gusty and the flapping is so loud it's sometimes hard to hear anything else.

Still, what can I do but keep on trying?

A hui hou.

Another Day, Another Two Months Gone

Unbelievably, today is the first of March, and it has been another two months since I last posted.  Gaps like that are potentially fatal for bloggers, but I am hopeful that those of you who read this will forgive me the lapse and continue to accompany me on my sometimes convoluted and difficult journey.

I have a tendency, when things get difficult, to withdraw into myself and neither seek help nor share my struggle.  Since the whole point of starting this blog, just over a year ago, was to do both those things, it has been totally counterproductive of me to turn away from writing just at the time I need it most.  But in the spirit of self-compassion, I am acknowledging that and letting it go.  What was, was.  What will be, I hope, will be regular posting again as I start moving forward once more.

Thanks to those of you who have told me that you've missed my posts, and that you value what I have to say.  I appreciate that deeply.

Imua!  (Forward!)