Category Archives: Medical

Four Weeks

Four weeks ago today I woke up briefly at 6 in the morning. I had an NG tube, a catheter, an IV, and a spider web of other connections to machines. I was alive and the horrible spasmic muscle pains in my abdomen were gone, replaced by a strange feeling of void in my body. It feels like it was both yesterday and a year ago. As I walk the neighborhoods this morning, I’m grateful that my feet are capable of walking all these miles only a month later. I’m greedy for many more. It’s very dark here in suburbia, as close as I am to College Avenue. I can barely see the asphalt in front of me. I trust my feet to find their way. I’ve surrendered to the idea that no matter what we do, life always gets the last word and laugh.Love, X

Wednesday Wins

I parked at the Harp’s on Garland as I evaded the ongoing renovations to the store and parking lot. Getting out of the car and walking along the front of the building, I greeted one of the workers in Spanish. We traded comments and barbs. He pretended to hand me a shovel and said in Spanish, “If you want me to have a good day, you can have this.” I laughed as I pulled my shirt out of my waistband, revealing my exposed scar. “¡Me ganaste!” he said, even as he laughed. Yes, I did win that round.

I walked the long, challenging hills in the area, taking in the houses, plants, and people. If you want to feel your legs burn, try N. Hall Avenue or Vista off of Wedington. It was sublime, as the rising sun was overcast by clouds that diffused the light that you can only find in October. As I passed a yard whose perimeter was overgrown, I attempted to take a picture of a fox or coyote as it darted into the browning bushes with the red flowers. Its head is barely perceptible in the shadows.

I was grateful that I’d slept so well the night before; I didn’t stay at my apartment last night, and I’m thankful I didn’t. Despite seeing a counselor again yesterday for the first time in a while, anxiety crept up my spine like an imperceptible shadow. No matter how people sell you the idea of solitude, loneliness is its undesirable first cousin. People struggle against the notion that people flourish the most when they have people in their lives. I love introspection, reading, and writing. There’s a vast chasm between having people available and choosing solitude, though.

When I finished my long, circuitous walk, I passed a Razorback bus stop. A couple of dozen students were waiting impatiently. Almost all of them were staring down at their phones. When I exited Harps, I put my food in the tiny trunk compartment and left through the back parking lot, looping around the side road. On a whim, I stepped out and said, “Does anyone want a ride to campus?” I didn’t expect anyone to accept. Surprisingly, several people looked around at each other, wondering if they’d be judged for saying “Yes.” I said, “Despite how small this car looks, I can hold three of y’all in here.” Two guys and one girl stepped away from the pack, shrugging. I reached over and unlocked all my doors, as my car is manual everything. They hopped in. I said, “If you do not want to go to the same drop, talk among yourselves and decide where to go first.” They chattered away as I waited at the traffic light at the bottom of the long hill up to campus. They decided to all get out at the same building. As I drove, the girl explained to one of the riders in the back seat that she only had a slim laptop because she had photographed every page of her textbook. The two guys both had backpacks perched on their laps. “That’s genius,” one of them said. Indeed, it was. As I pulled up to the sidewalk to let them out, they thanked me. Though they probably waited for the bus without any enthusiasm, they’d been granted extra minutes for the morning. I hoped they used them well.

People ask me why I prefer old headphones instead of modern earbud ones. Part of it is comfort. But having wired ones allows me to accidentally drag everything out of my pocket clumsily when I pull my phone out. I’ve tried a few sets of wireless earbuds; so far, none have worked magic for me. It could be worse. I could choose to go old school and use a boombox. I’m not quite a boomer, though.

I have a couple of weird side effects from my surgery. One of them is an odd indentation a few inches above my belly button. The other is a valley where the scar sits. I’m eating much better, but I’m still at 150 lbs. No matter how active I am or optimistic, it’s hard to forget that surgeons removed a section of my bowels. It’s a special kind of vague anxiety that only those who’ve had it would understand.

Though I’d rather have never had surgery, I love the deepening scar. It’s a reminder that anything can happen at any time, a lesson I thought I’d mastered years ago. I was wrong. If anything might happen, it also encompasses moments of surprise and pleasure. Though I walked alone this morning, I saw beauty and felt the air around me. And by risking a bit of social awkwardness, I briefly talked to three optimistic students, all of whom are looking to the future. They probably don’t know how strenuously life will challenge them. And that’s a good thing on this October morning. There’s time for that later. Much later, I hope, for all of them and myself.

Love, X

Weight & Exercise Thoughts

(A long read, of course! 🙂 ) 

“Your body reflects what you do habitually.” I’d add, “Your life is the same.”

Choices. Habits. Focus. 

Stupid buzzwords that also are true. There’s no magic formula for most of it. It’s just consistency and using our intelligence and creativity to let our bodies do what they are supposed to. It also requires silencing that negative voice in your head. You are not your past or your past choices, even though that’s precisely what most of us think when we’re alone with our thoughts. Life would be staggeringly bad if we believed that we were incapable of striking out on a new path. I look at my hands each day and find it impossible to think that I bit my fingernails for 50+ years. It’s stupid. I look back at my pictures, and even during years when I was appreciative of life, I can’t help but wonder how much more life I could have experienced if I’d woken up sooner. I can’t recapture those years, but I can tuck them away as a constant reminder. 

I’m a few days away from my original year-long health/weight plan. My brother died on October 5th of last year. Following that, I had the morning where I thought I had covid and felt like I would die. It seems like five years ago. But I still feel the gong of that day in my head when I remember ‘seeing’ my new self. Over the last several months, I’ve worked on reading, watching, and absorbing as much science-based material that I could about health, weight maintenance, and exercise. For me, it is painfully obvious why most people fail in their efforts. 

I know people read some of my thoughts and wonder why I feel like I can give advice. All of us have our moments and experience. I know what I learned and what worked for me. Almost everything can be boiled down to wanting to change and then experimenting with what I thought I knew versus what works. I can’t help but be a little evangelical about it because not a day passes when someone doesn’t express a desire to get control of this aspect of their lives. I’m insistent on telling them that they can, even if they do so, without disrupting their days with crazy programs and “musts” that don’t hold up to science. Major change can be achieved incrementally, one little choice and habit at a time. 

I started on June 1st with pushups. Within weeks, I was doing hundreds a day, culminating in me doing 1,500 some days. That makes me laugh. A week before my emergency surgery, I decided to limit myself to 500 a day for maintenance and modify my diet to add protein and more calories, in part to shift to more muscle-building. How ironic that I’d made the shift just three days before my surgery on Monday, September 13th. It is unfathomable to me that it’s been only three weeks. For anyone who doesn’t know, my surgery didn’t result from overexertion. I had a tiny bit of scar tissue that caused my intestinal loop to get lodged in the void created by the scar tissue and cut off. The only way I could have ‘caught’ it would have been to have a colonoscopy very recently; even then, surgery would have been required. 

The surgeons look out the small loop. Pain saved my life, even though I will never forget rolling around on the cement floor of the ER for hours. Being thin made my recovery incredibly faster. Since then, I’ve followed the advice of surgeons and nutritionists. I’ve used dumbbells relentlessly so that my transition back to work will be less eventful. What happened to me could happen again – or to anyone. I’m thankful it wasn’t a tumor, a heart attack, or an aneurysm. After I woke up alive, I found out that my initial CT Scan had a mass that looked indistinguishable from a tumor. The surgeons thought it was going to be a complicated surgery. They were surprised to find it was straightforward. Life’s lottery gave me a pass for another day. 

In a nutshell, here’s the gist: the simplest way to stay thinner is to control what you put in your mouth. (Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?) Beyond that, move around, preferably with activity. But while you’re at it, get rid of the idea that you have to artificially block off time or engage in rigorous (and likely boring) traditional exercise. Walk your dog, cat, or opossum, vacuum, play frisbee, walk across long parking lots instead of hovering by the door. Be creative. 

Anywhere from 75-90% of every calorie you burn is from just living. You burn 10-20% of your calories exercising at most, and that’s pushing it. Yet, most people jump into health kicks thinking exercise is the critical component. It’s not. Controlling your diet and maximizing your ability to consume and burn calories when you’re not moving is key to any long-term weight maintenance routine. Since most of your calories are burned from everyday living, the biggest bang for your time is derived by taking the effort to control what goes into your mouth. The second biggest results from moving, no matter how you choose to do so. 

Exercise is essential for a lot of reasons. But you’re going to have to get over the mindset that it’s the single solution to weight maintenance. You’ll note that most healthy people incorporate activity into their everyday lives. It does not need to include weight-lifting, running, or other dedicated activities. If you enjoy those things, knock yourself out! If you don’t, find something that works for you – things that don’t cost you a fortune, injure you, or make you resent activity. We have so many options to entertain ourselves. 

Most people don’t stick to unnatural attempts to exercise. Much of the gym universe is predicated on taking financial advantage of people’s inability to stick to life changes that become habits. All that time you spend driving to and from the gym would be much better served walking or finding ways to stay active during your day. (IF you’re not going to stick to it long-term, I mean) And if you do enjoy the gym, by all means, go! If you find that the routine of the gym galvanizes you into continuing with exercise, don’t think I’m saying it’s a waste. It’s not. Any routine that works for you is worth the effort, no matter what it is. If you’re willing to learn new comfort zones, you’ll more likely stick to what works for you. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. 

And if you don’t, find inexpensive equipment to achieve the same result at home. Most of us are not athletes. Feel free to run if you want to. But a 180-lb person burns about 170 calories running a 10-minute mile. You burn roughly 100 calories walking a mile. This isn’t a cardio-versus-exercise post. The point is that if you commit to a sustainable diet and activity, you’ll be more likely to be successful. Sheer bouts of willpower don’t work very well. And they contribute to that creeping feeling of failure or disappointment when you fall off the wagon. 

Quit fighting the science that tells us that slower-paced exercise yields almost the same benefit as intense bouts of bone-wearying exertion. If you do activity or exercise that builds muscle, you’re going to burn more calories when you do give in and sit on the couch. You don’t have to spend an hour at a time to get healthy. However, you have to commit to making habits that make staying fit and healthy an inevitable consequence. Taking six ten-minute walks yields almost the same health benefit as an hour-long walk. 

If you do build muscle mass, you’ll burn a lot more calories than by simply losing weight. It’s one of the reasons you need to keep in mind that muscle will increase your weight and keep you healthier and adjust your metabolism. And you’ll look better and feel better. I’m not anti-weights at all. I’m anti-starting-what-you-can’t-always-continue-to-do. Every activity you choose pushes other alternatives out. If you’ve got the time and stamina for weight training, that’s great! I don’t want you blaming your perceived ‘failure’ for not going to the gym. You don’t need a gym if you have the motivation to do things differently. 

Recently, someone I know was lamenting that she hadn’t “went to exercise the entire week.” I asked, “But if you’re at home on the couch, you can do 1,000 exercises. Pushups, dumbbells, walk in place, run in place, etc. If you can watch four hours of tv, you can definitely do 30-60 minutes of activity – and still watch tv while you do it.” She looked at me blankly, knowing I’d eviscerated her excuse. “Yes, but a couple of those evenings I was at sporting events or with a friend.” I paused. “Okay, but you can still do a lot of activity when you’re at a sporting event or a friend’s house. Or, heaven forbid, while you’re working. Instead of getting out your phone, do sets of exercises. How is that any ruder than ignoring your friend while you’re on the phone? You can still talk to your friend even if you’re on the floor doing pushups. You have to normalize your choices and stop normalizing your excuses.” My sermon was over. 

Use incrementalism to achieve the same objective without devoting your precious time to artificially forcing yourself to exercise. If you can’t do it the rest of your life, you’re making it worse for your future self. 

Pick something you know you don’t need. Doritos, for example. Eat less of them. Just that tiny step will, over time, reduce your weight and improve your health. Keep adding small changes by choosing differently. If you’re not hungry, stay out of the kitchen. If you can, don’t bring home things that you know you can’t resist. Use them as treats rather than staples. In our world, there are so many options we can choose from instead of empty calories. You’re not going to get where you want to be by doing the same things; change is mandatory. 

It’s day one for you, rather than “one day.”

Keep moving. Eat less. 

Find ways to make food both enjoyable and rational. If you don’t choose to do this, your hard choices are already made for you – and the person you’ll be next year will have to deal with your current inability to focus. 

Food is not going to stop being delicious. Food manufacturers are beyond incredible at what they do. They design foods that make you want to eat more. Don’t feel wrong about being normal and loving such foods. Feel bad that you know it and won’t choose a different way to react. 

So what if you binge on terrible foods? It’s more about the arc of your effort than a single day. Eat a large pizza or a pan of lasagna. A single day’s extravagance will not derail you. It’s all mental. 

Choose your hard until it becomes easy. 

I’m just a few days away from October. I started my journey and promised myself I’d take a hard look after a year. Despite having surgery, I’m more convinced than ever that I’ll never be fat again. 

It’s just math: keep my intake lower than my exertion. It’s not much of a secret formula, is it? You already know all of this. 

WW, Jenny Craig, and the hundreds of other programs are out there if you need them and if they work for you. But it is entirely possible to achieve your goals without paying for an extra program. 

The secret is a desire to be the person you want to be and find a way to get there. 

Put it into literal action. 

Love, X

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P.S. Yes, that picture behind me is of a monkey seeing my reflection in the handheld mirror..

Kudos For Donna

As part of my after-care, a Blue Cross case manager called me yesterday. We talked for an hour. You’re going to think I’m kidding, but it was like talking to a Grandmother and friend I never knew I had. She was engaging, personal, and we talked about a lot of things other than my health. I hope she’s rewarded for this kind of outreach. I would not have imagined that someone from such a large bureaucracy could be so personal. Because she’s a nurse, was on a ventilator in the hospital due to covid, and knows the medical system as well as anyone could, she also allowed me to openly discuss the mess we face when our health falters. She should be the face and soul of Blue Cross. As much fun as I have poking at organizations, she deserves recognition.

Love, X

Once In A Lifewhile

Yes, I know I look tired in the picture. But I did sleep last night and woke up grateful again.

I sat with a borrowed cat this morning, its purr against me, slitted eyes sleepily pondering me, and my fingers languorously scruffing its neck. An empty coffee cup was in front of me, its contents too hastily enjoyed. It’s going to take a while for me to fail to appreciate making a cup when I want one, perhaps even a lifewhile, a word that appeared in my head as I stood outside feeling the chill of the morning.

I’d taken out the trash and threw it on top of the unimaginably overfull dumpster. I couldn’t convince myself that it had only been a week since I used my extermination kit to spray the dumpster; it’s a duty I took on to control the ridiculous fly problem. It seemed like a metaphor was at play. I wandered around the outlet of the apartment simplex, observing the distant roll of clouds against the early morning horizon.

My surgeon and hospital team forgot to include work notes or restriction information in my packet; I suppose my five follow-up reminders weren’t a sufficient hint. By sheer accident, my supervisor Joe was standing in the room when I noticed the oversight. He’s accustomed to the complexities and holes in medical care. “I guess I’ll be back at work Monday,” I said. We laughed. I wish I were returning to work tomorrow.

I’m supposed to maintain a routine and stay active. While in the hospital, though I might not have said so before, I did the breathing exercises 100 times a day and walked a thousand loops in the hallway without assistance. The worst thing physically I had to do was to shower myself without help. Not only because I had a massive hole in my abdomen, but because they’d left the IV in the inside of my left elbow, making safe flexibility on that side of my body impossible. I can’t stress enough how HARD that was, but I knew I would go without a shower for a week if I didn’t.

For all of y’all who are concerned, I am “taking it easy.” But I am not laying down or sitting needlessly. I’m working on a plan to reset my diet. Even before The Stay (as I refer to it now), I was formulating an effective way to gain weight. It made me nervous about getting on the scale once I was back at the apartment. My weight had dropped to 142 by Friday afternoon. For those with inside knowledge of my stay, they’ll tell you that I fought tooth and nail to get substantive nutrition and a plan of action; the bureaucracy of care cost me two days of what amounts to starvation without dehydration. Unbeknownst to me, someone who shares a weight loss journey with me was just about to reach out and lovingly tell me to pull up a bit before I had posted my intention to gain some weight back. It’s amazingly easy to take advice from someone who has walked the path themselves – without feeling attacked or defensive.

Even the hydration cost me constant vigilance, though. I still hear the alarms and claxons of the empty bags when I sit in silence. One of the secrets of a hospital stay is that staff will ignore alarms with steadfast consistency. If the person coming in to silence your alarms isn’t assigned to you, they will turn it off without much concern about whether it’ll be refilled or restarted. This includes scenarios whether you’re getting normal saline, anti-seizure medication, antibiotics, or any other drug. Call lights are hallway illumination until someone is ready to acknowledge them. You can’t take it personally. You have to learn to play the game of attention and leverage. It’s unfortunate, but one that no one in the system will possibly deny. This is another reason you need to have someone with you if you’re in the hospital. I have suggestions on how to make a game out of it, too, if you’re interested. This will keep the men occupied, assuming you can get them up and into the hospital room with you.

While in the hospital, I got a teddy bear, a t-shirt, a bag of suckers, flowers, activity books, a few visitors, 357 calls, messages, and well-wishes, all of which I appreciated immensely for one reason or another. AND one request to have something done with my face while I was already in the hospital.

PS A lifewhile is an indefinite length of time characterized by the unease of knowing something significant has shifted yet beyond our perception. In this case, my attacker was unseen in its approach. As I speed away from Tuesday at 1 a.m. when my surgery started, I’m accumulating lessons. The biggest ones are trite and already well-known: people are essential, and life is limited. A lesser-known one is that life is always casting its net out in the world, regardless of who you are or what you’ve accomplished. Your checklist can be full or empty when it snares you.

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I took the above picture to capture that strange shoulder bone protuberance. I could feel that another layer off my body had melted during my hospitalization.

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Another Life

I woke up this morning grateful to hear the birds chirping. Even at 2 a.m., when some miscreant biker needlessly revved his motorcycle with a cacophony to awaken the dead, I was happy. To be alive – and to not be confined to the hospital another night. Twice I awoke, worried that I had imagined my discharge or that I was trapped in a Groundhog Day cycle of never-ending hospitalization.

Washington Regional is about to loosen its visitor restrictions again. It was good practice before – and it’s a better practice now: do as much as you can to have someone with your friend or family member as much as possible to be an advocate for their care. With staffing issues and the seemingly impossible task of coordinating complex care and so many moving parts, one of the single best things you can do for your family member is to simply be an eye and advocate. It is possible to be kind to staff while aggressively pursuing good care for your friend or family member. Never apologize for being an advocate for your loved ones; good healthcare workers are humans too and will not resent your participation. And if they do? Trust your instincts.

I learned a lot of lessons while I was in the hospital. Some of them I’ll probably never write about. Though my eyes were open before being a patient, I’ll never be able to relapse back to ignorance about the challenges our healthcare system faces. For those great people who work hard to be both compassionate and medically competent, I can’t say enough to thank them. For the others, my words won’t have a positive impact on the problems. I’ll have to think about how best to translate much of my experience into a helpful narrative; criticism, even well-earned criticism, seldom lands how we want it to. This is true one-on-one, and more so with complex organizations.

I imagine that many of my experiences will find themselves buried inside jokes, mirthful anecdotes, and disguised narratives. Comedy is one of the best means to hide the truth in plain sight. Most great jokes are wrapped around a nugget of truth, no matter how brazen or outlandish. Here’s an inside joke, based on one of my experiences: “She didn’t fall out of bed. She climbed over and sat on the floor from a surprising height.”

For now, it’s Saturday. The breeze is cool and the birds are dive-bombing their food. I’m waiting on laundry to finish because, well, let’s face it: the laundry doesn’t care where you’ve been. It places its demands like every other mundane chore required of us. In a minute, I’ll carefully go down the flight of stairs into the dungeon to retrieve clothes. And I’ll be happy to do it.

Even the Zen masters have a saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Each of us has to find a way to not only put one foot in front of the other without fail but also discover a way to find meaning and joy in the distractions.

I’m good.

I hope y’all are good too. I was reminded how much all of us need other people. Even those with tough exteriors need kind words and soft voices sometimes. Life wouldn’t be worth living without other people. I’ve had enough of Blake, though.

Love, X

P.S. I put a picture of my incision in the comments, so you can skip it if you wish. I’m currently working on a series of false and/or creative explanations for the scar I’ll have. I love scars; they remind us that we survived.
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Here’s a post from my social media from Friday morning….

It’s a good thing I’ve always had a wild imagination. Though I was allegedly a fall risk, I was left to get up and take care of myself these last few days. It is odd that the room they put me in overlooks my favorite place at the hospital. Below me is the gazebo, facing out toward the rustic farmhouse. It’s always been an escape and meditative spot. I have stood at the window three dozen times in the last two days, remembering how many times I stood at the gazebo. Sometimes watching the sunrise, sometimes waiting. Off to the right, I can observe the building I normally work in and the relentless comings and goings of daily commerce. The hospital is undeniably a business. But it’s powered by people and people need it to be made whole and healed. I am running toward the idea that I will be able to leave today. It’s possible that the ongoing and inefficient bureaucracy of the place might needlessly prevent that. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, I’ll be back here to work. The first thing I’m going to do, though, is to walk to the gazebo and look up, to perhaps find the window of the room I laid in. We all need people more than we like to admit. I’m already futurizing because that is optimism in action.

P.S. the surgeon’s nurse ripped off the bandage. The wound is really cool, bordered by an insane number of small staples. It avoided my belly button, something that was on my mind for some reason. I contacted my agent. He was so happy, because an unblemished belly button means that I’ll soon be gracing the underwear pages again.

Love, X.

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Here’s a post from my social media from Thursday…

I don’t have a catheter or an ngt tube anymore. (Old friends I never hope to see again…) The IV will be pulled sometime soon too, since I’ve been drinking a river of ice regardless. I haven’t eaten in 68 hours. The irony is that last Friday I started deliberately incorporating other foods into my diet to get my weight up to at least 155 or 160. Did I mention how good the Impossible Whopper was on Saturday? For the last few days I guess it has literally been impossible.

It is such a crazy coincidence that after 11 months of die-hard level commitment to health and healthy eating that something like this unexpectedly slaps me so hard.

I’m starting a clear liquid diet this morning, something that should have happened yesterday. I’ll be polite and skip all of that story for now. PS just because vodka is clear doesn’t mean it’s included in the diet.

I feel terrible for my coworkers, who are already strained from covid and absences. Some of us openly joke about how these kind of surprises and tragedies happen simultaneously. We rarely have enough help to do the job the way it needs to be done. I suspect this may be a universal symptom of our modern times- and the medical field in particular.

I have 2,342 stories already to tell about my incarceration, I mean my hospitalization. I’m glad to be alive to ponder them. But I am leaving here with a first-hand and profound education regarding healthcare. As much as I thought I knew before, this has been a true education.

I hope everything continues to go well and I get out of here. Because this is a bureaucracy, there’s no clear answer or straight path to getting that done.

Meanwhile I’ll continue to engage in a battle of amusement and wit with anybody who comes by. If they get snarky or out of control I usually have a mostly full urinal by the bedside. I’m guessing that it is very aerodynamic.

Thanks to everyone who reached out.

Life can still surprise me.

I hope I can still surprise myself.

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Seeing the Grand canyon and running a marathon might be great, but having my catheter yanked out will certainly be more memorable.

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Here’s a post from my social media from Tuesday…

An obstructed bowel jumped up at 3:30 yesterday and put me in the ER. I had emergency surgery early this morning around 1a.m. Worst pain of my life! I didn’t have time to be anxious or scared. PS no, this is not a Photoshop.

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The Today Road (Tammy’s Success Story)

That’s Tammy on the right, holding her husband’s hand at a Cargill company picnic. I took the picture. It seems as if Chris is looking back at Tammy as she is now. She’s always been funny, smart, and fun. I can only imagine the confidence she feels looking at the span of her life.

A friend of mine waited until she was around 50 years old to change her life. Though health issues motivated her, the ‘how’ of her success falls to the wayside when compared against her ongoing success.

Part of Tammy’s ongoing triumph lies with her husband, Chris. He’s the only person I ever lost a weight loss bet to. Unlike most, he’s managed to stay in great shape since. Tammy having an enthusiastic person in her corner is undoubtedly a fantastic advantage.

Seeing Tammy’s ability to achieve her goal lit an additional fire in me when I had my own epiphany. Though my mental light switch flipped in October last year, I had the unusual idea that I KNEW I would be thin. Knowing Tammy did it with so many health obstacles convinced me that it would be a waste of life and ability if I didn’t see it through. I told her that I was feeding off her success; it became an optimistic and self-fulfilling prophecy.

But if you don’t have someone in your corner, or if you suffer self-doubt? You’re still going to be able to find a way to get healthy if your focus is tuned to your goal. My cousin Lynette gave me the phrase, “Choose Your Hard.” One way or another, life is going to be obstacles, difficulties, and stress. Whether you sail through it while at least trying or struggle with the consequences of not doing so, it will be hard. Attempting to make positive changes will at least give you a purpose; psychology and science prove that having such a purpose makes you happier. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle.

If you try and fail? So what! Life is just as much about failure as success. Try again. You will not succeed until you do. It’s stupidly simple. You don’t need complicated diet plans, gym memberships, or supplements. If you use them to find your success, though? Good for you! Do what works and work that program until what you do becomes a habit. Suppose you can implement small, incremental changes in your attitude and behavior. In that case, you’ll begin to find joy in meeting your goals.

Start from wherever you are. It’s the only place you can.

Tammy faced 2019 head-on. In December 2018, she suffered a sprained ankle. When she went for medical care, she found herself to be at 335 lb. The injury caused blood clots to travel to her lungs. While hospitalized, she had a moment of clarity, very similar to mine, in which she confronted the real possibility that she might die, leaving a beautiful family behind. As life does, it added a kidney stone surgery to her list of obstacles. She started Weight Watchers in April. After six months of care, she had gastric bypass, during which she found out she also had a hernia. She clocked 4 hospitalizations and 3 surgeries in 2019.

Now? She’s still down 160 lbs. To say that her transformation was remarkable is an exaggerated understatement.

Tammy knows that losing weight might be easy. It requires only a short-term adjustment and a frenzy of starvation and exercise. Losing it and maintaining that weight belies a massive shift in behavior, consumption, and environment. Most positive changes do. It’s a lot of invisible work and constant right choices in a world stuffed with delicious food. Tammy puts in the work because who she is now is who she wanted to be all along.

At this point, Tammy gave me the phrase, “Nothing tastes as good as this feels.” While the food might bring temporary delight, it cannot compare to standing on top of a monumental success like Tammy experienced. Success itself feeds her self-image in a way that food can’t. It’s also part of my secret ability to have done 1,500 pushups in a day. That obsession and confidence come from within. You don’t think you can do it until you start succeeding.

No matter what stage you find yourself in, all change starts with a thought. It might be a little seedling in your brain. You might feel powerless to get there. Most of you have the capacity to steal Tammy’s thunder and experiment until you find a way to stop failing. She would want you to. All of us who’ve managed to sidestep our lifelong habits are evangelical about the enthusiasm such changes bring. It didn’t just reduce Tammy’s waistline or make her more beautiful. It made her more HER, a woman brimming with energy and self-confidence.

My goal was to give it my all for a year. That’s October for me.

Tammy’s stayed on course since 2019.

I hope you read this and feel the optimism that my words probably can’t convey.

Whatever your goal or purpose is, take Tammy’s example and try.

With love, X

It Is NOT Complicated

A few people hit me over the head about the ‘no exercise’ component of my weight loss over the last few months.

Naturally, I never advocated a ‘no exercise’ mantra for myself – or others. What I said was, “No additional exercise,” as in no gym, no weights, no byzantine series of micro-exercises that I wasn’t already doing. Part of my system was to avoid doing anything that I might not be able to do for the rest of my life. Having a long history of yo-yo weight loss behind me, I knew this would be a critical component to still be under 175 in a year. Not that I planned on it, but I also developed an alternate plan to take into consideration additional weight if I were to surprise myself and start weight training. Muscle weighs a lot more on your body, but it also burns more calories. It’s folly to compare all body types and exercise components as equal where weight is involved.

In my case, my job is very physical: lifting, walking a lot, and a wide variety of motions.

It’s true that I walk for pleasure. Given that the majority of my weight loss happened when I was not walking for fun, it’s a moot point. When I set out on my weight loss journey, I was experiencing a new foot pain that sidelined me. I could still work, but it wasn’t comfortable. The same is true for the intermittent shoulder pain and back pain that has accumulated. Weight loss has largely reduced all those pains. I try to be grateful that I woke up before my back or knees worsened. It’s a certainty I was headed for something terrible had I not.

Given the warmer weather, I have been walking more. It’s been fun this year, especially since I’ve done a lot of urban walking and seeing the places around me with new eyes. I walked a lot last year, it’s true, but I walked around with 65 extra pounds saddling me. It’s a substantially different experience and at times I feel like I’m walking on clouds. The difference is that striking.

The science is clear: walking is ALMOST as good long-term as running. You can also walk in bursts throughout the day. Science also tells us that doing bursts of exercise cumulatively yields the same health benefits as walking in a single, longer bout. This is also true for other forms of exercise. It’s a shame that most of us are hoodwinked into believing that exercise must be a long session in an artificial setting.

You don’t have to set aside an artificial amount of time for exercise, much less travel to a gym to do so. If you’re creative and committed, you’ll get results, even if you do a series of exercise bouts during your day. If “gyming” works for you, do it. I’m just reminding people that there is another way, one that won’t rob you of your time.

Another thing that always gets stretched when I mention it is that people try to say that I believe that exercise isn’t important. I don’t. It is. What I said over and over is that exercise isn’t viable as the primary component of weight loss and weight maintenance. Exercise has a lot of benefits, socially, physically, and psychologically.

IF you can do so, you can maintain your weight solely by consuming fewer calories than you burn. It’s simple math.

I don’t recommend it. I recommend that you be active. Were my job not intensely physical, I’d have to incorporate other ways to stay active. If I had an office job, I would walk in increments throughout the day. I’d do pushups or resistance exercises. Working from home, I’d do step exercises, walk on a treadmill, or get an exercise bike if that helped my knees and back.

Speaking out of privilege, I know that many people can’t simply eat well and exercise. Economics and social issues affect a lot of people, as do medical issues that make being healthy or weigh less a lot more difficult. One of the knee-jerk reactions I get on the internet is that people insist that I’m talking to everyone, or that my generalizations are for everyone. They’re not.

For those who aren’t restricted by those issues, all that is missing is for you to open your mind a little and recognize that your attitude is a lot of the problem. You don’t ‘need’ a gym, a lot of equipment, or even an hour a few times a week. You need a commitment and a change upstairs. You can walk a few times a day, or ride an exercise bike, one suited for your conditioning. You can eat less, or at least learn new eating habits. You can confide in a friend or family member, in hopes that you can work with someone needing to make a change like you.

You can choose supplements, energy drinks, or any of the thousands of systems out there to help you lose weight. You don’t need any of them, though, not if a commitment gongs in your head. I’m living proof. If a system helps you, use it. While you’re figuring it out, follow the literature and simplify your efforts. You’ll probably see that you’re going to have to choose a path that you can sustain without spending a fortune or spending a lot of hours that you could otherwise live differently.

You can achieve a lot through incremental effort. A word a day. One snack less. Choosing things you love that are also better choices. All of them hinge on something changing in your head. Once that happens, excuses stop being nooses.

Good luck!

Love, X

Gift Horse Bet

I recently went for my annual wellness exam. Despite buckling down fanatically in the last few weeks, I was concerned. A decent bit of the doctor’s visit was a discussion about my upcoming lab work. Because of my previous cholesterol levels, it was a foregone conclusion that I’d most certainly be placed on statins this time. Although I’m not focusing on weight, I’ve reduced the volume I eat substantially, as well as doing my best to eat healthily. For once and for all, I’m also going to find out if a ridiculous amount of weight loss will eliminate the need for blood pressure medication.

Though I knew my lab results were in, I waited for the dreaded call from the doctor’s nurse, wherein she’d give me the bad news about needing an additional drug.

Spoiler alert: the nurse laughed and said, “Whatever it is you are doing X, the doctor wants you to keep doing it – except for the shenanigans.” She went on to say that my lab results were excellent. I didn’t know what to say except to laugh and tell her I’d be back soon enough to tell the doctor I’d lost 20% of my body weight. It did not feel like a humblebrag to say it out loud. While I don’t know what medical surprises will drop like an anvil on me, I do know that I think I finally can give up the yo-yo that’s plagued me.

Thanks, Lemons, Tammy, Mike, and the person who gave me “choose your hard” as a non-optional observation on life.

In 2020, you have to take whatever you can get.

I Have A Question

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I’m still waiting for a reasonable, honest answer to this question: why did the State of Arkansas fail to require a Covid test for all healthcare workers?

You’ll note that the Governor goes out of his way to classify correctional carriers and other sectors. Notably absent? Healthcare workers – one of the single most important possible classifications to track.

It has always been in the public’s best interest to ensure that all healthcare workers are tested, yet proposals to do so have been unceremoniously shown the door like a drunken Uncle on New Year’s Eve.

We’re required to get flu shots each year, among other things.

We mandated that non-emergency patients be tested, yet did not conduct a baseline safety test to benchmark how many of the healthcare workers helping them might be carrying the virus.

Knowing how many healthcare workers have the virus would give us insight into the behavior leading to getting it. After all, healthcare workers are presumed to be the most cautious and educated about this sort of public health hazard. Their infection rate leads to immediate recognition of how well what we’re doing is working.

When I point this out to people, they get that recognizable and confused, puzzled look on their faces, the one that immediately indicates that they assumed that sort of thing had happened.

It hasn’t.

This kind of question falls under “public safety and worker safety” guidelines, so I of course am unconcerned about asking such a reasonable question publicly. I’ve asked it at least 500 times in the last two months.

I’m still asking.

It’s the right thing to do, even at this late date.
– X