Category Archives: Health

Physician heal thyself…

And nurses, counselors, therapists, caregivers, social workers, case managers, community health workers, teachers, first responders, peer outreach… in short any person who spends their time (work or volunteer) opening themselves to the experiences of others’ suffering. In a recent continuing education exercise, I was asked to examine myself for resilience and potential risk of compassion fatigue. The simple act of participating in the exercise and completing the assignments for the course reminded me of the very great risk that people in caring roles face of suffering from the “cost of caring.” Amy Cunningham speaks of this beautifully and concisely in a Ted Talk, describing what this cost can be and toll it takes (link in the credits below, totally worth the viewing).

Many of us who work and volunteer in roles of service have adopted the philosophy that self-denial in pursuit of career, advancement, and the care of others is to be admired. Self-sacrifice is applauded and rewarded. Going above and beyond is the expectation. Adding insult to the expected self-injury is that we are frequently also required to be above the consequences or be able to physic our own resulting ailments. To a certain extent, I can agree with admiring dedication and industry. A good work ethic is absolutely to be admired. However, there is a fine line between a good work ethic and good self-care. I occasionally use that line as a jump rope (more about that later). For those of you in the caring professions, and a few of you who are not,  you have likely heard the term “compassion fatigue.” You may also have heard this described as secondary traumatization or vicarious trauma. What many people think of when folks talk about stress related to caring for others is burnout. I want to tell you now, that these are different concepts, related but decidedly not the same.

As caring professionals, we frequently are exposed to the traumatic experiences and information that can be shocking, depressing, or even devastating just being exposed to it, hearing it, visualizing it, and empathizing with the victims in our care. Empathy is one of the most important tools of the caring professions, but there is a cost involved in being empathic day after day. Repeated exposure or even just one event that triggers some recognition or identification becomes a lived sensory experience that transports the care giver into the realm of the victim. Some professionals begin experiencing symptoms of traumatic stress, much like those of the people who have been involved in critical incidents or crises. Different than counter-transference where the experience mirrors or parallels experiences from their own lives or triggers emotional reactivity in the part of the caregiver because of personal history, they respond with stress related symptoms purely out of empathy for the situation of those they assist. The frequency or intensity of just experiencing the trauma through the eyes of the individual they are helping is sufficient to trigger signs and symptoms. This is compassion fatigue. It is not my intent in this post to give all the specific signs and symptoms of traumatic stress, but in broad strokes, it has physical, cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and spiritual impact. It can impact relationships. It can impact efficacy as a professional.

Ok… I hear you saying, “but that sounds a lot like burnout.” Here is the most significant difference: Victims of burnout have gotten to the point that they just want to give up. They have nothing left to give, no space to absorb. They have exhausted their energy, empathy, and passion, like a bulb that was used until failure or a battery run past minimum charge. The way most experts in this topic differentiate between compassion fatigue and burnout is that people who have gotten to the point of burnout frequently no longer want to practice their profession or calling. While compassion fatigue results in risks for the professional and their clients due to potential boundary concerns and difficulty managing the stress they experience, burnout can lead to the loss of empathy and resentment towards those for whom they once cared. Professionals and volunteers with burnout can become callous and appear uncaring or harsh. It can result in errors of omission in services rendered and potential harm to patients or clients.

The important piece of this puzzle is that neither of these conditions are unavoidable. Taking the appropriate actions in self-care, consultation, and support can provide preventative measures to avoid the pitfalls of vicarious trauma and even help bring caring professionals back from the brink of burnout.

Insight into your own needs and responses can be the best preventative measure. Watch for your own signs of drowning: Irritability, sleeplessness, dread going on shift, numbness to any and all emotional content (personal or professional), rumination and inability to let go at the end of the day, fatigue, isolation, using (or abusing) alcohol or drugs… You know your own signs best. Self-awareness is the best primary defense, but when we fail to see our own symptoms, it is good to have the buddy system. Friends, family, colleagues are often great at noticing when you are “not yourself.”

Over the years, I have gotten to be much better at spotting my own particular signs of distress (and knowing how to combat these signs). When my natural defense system is on emotional overload, I fall back on my introversion and a combination of task and avoidance oriented coping (You thought task and avoidance would be mutually exclusive, didn’t you?). When I start running a tad low, I tend to become more task-oriented, workaholic, and isolating. I avoid situations and people that require my emotional presence. I tend to shut people out if it isn’t work related, and I let things go that are my best forms of self-care: Running, gym time, sleep, meditation, and play… yes play. Adult or not, we all need recreation. It helps us rejuvenate our cognitive processes. But when I’m overdrawing my emotional and empathic accounts due to work or personal stressors, these self-care processes always seem to be the first to go. I know myself well enough (after, the unspecified number of years I will admit to being on the planet) that I recognize when things in my life have gotten out of hand and I have reached that aggregate limit. When this happens, I try to fill my time and avoid any activities that might let my mind drift to the very topics or memories that hurt… and yet theses topics and memories are likely the very ones that probably need most to be taken out, examined, and processed. With that self-awareness, I also know that timing is key. If I push myself too soon, it doesn’t serve the best purpose, but if I leave it too long, my self imposed exile becomes way to comfortable and I won’t want to rejoin the world. This is where that support network comes in handy. Friends and colleagues who know me best are also the best at dragging me back out of any caves I might crawl into and encouraging the self-care I’ve probably been neglecting.

For you, my readers, I encourage an honest self examination and evaluation. Be ruthless. Be thorough, and try to recall how you handle critical events and times of intense stress. Evaluate time and outcome. How did it work? List the coping strategies that you have in your toolbox, and objectively determine whether they are truly helpful or maybe not so much.

Prevention is a keystone to good health and good mental health. Restorative and preventative exercises can divert compassion fatigue from become burnout. It is important to get rest, exercise, nutrition, and time away from constant exposure to shared trauma and the histories that recount horrific occurrences. Most jobs and deployments have leave or paid time away. It is there for a reason. Take a break. Use that time. Most importantly, it is crucial to have appropriate training, refresher courses, supervision, and/or consultation. Carrying the burden can get extra heavy, and consultation (or supervision) provides ethical opportunities to identify and address challenging aspects of situations that may trigger stress. It is important to employ your ethical decision making model and engage with colleagues who can be objective and provide good clinical counterpoint. Professional colleagues can often provide support to each other and offer insight when we get overwhelmed in our own empathic response.

Lastly, I would encourage those of you out there caring for others to remember your own natural supports: Family and friends. We often have to be concerned with confidentiality, and we also wish to protect the ones we love from some of the things we see, hear, and experience. However, don’t shut them out. You need not share details of information gained under the cloak of privacy and confidentiality (or when the story is just too terrible), but you can share your own feelings and fears. You can explain your own reactions without having to give details of the stimuli. Stay connected to humanity, especially your own. That can give you a life jacket to prevent drowning in empathy, and regardless of the proverbial command in the title, it is completely unnecessary to heal yourself.

Amy Cunningham presents on Ted Talks, Drowning in Empathy. http://edu.ava360.com/drowning-in-empathy-the-cost-of-vicarious-trauma-amy-cunningham-tedxsanantonio_d7a4359c8.html

 

Physical Fit: Ringworm, Athlete’s Foot, and the “Crud”

Gym-crowding season… That beautiful time when the resolutions of the New Year still have the power to motivate people with a natural state of indolence to gird their loins and push themselves towards more active lifestyles and healthier choices… until the crowds and the close proximity of those individuals become the breeding ground of contagion decimating thousands of inspirational fitness memes and individual resolves. Yes, my friends, I speak of another season: The cold and flu season.

Recently, our local area schools have shut down due to so many teachers and students being out sick. Some people might think that is overly dramatic, but there are folks who would show up to school or work like patient zero if they didn’t shut down the whole place. (See Sick At Work.) However, these institutions of learning are not the only incubation zones for the next plague. We have the workplace, houses of worship (of varying varieties because showing up in public for religious events is totally immune and entirely safe from passing along the next mutation of H1N1), entertainment venues, and of course… the gym.

Oh yes, this place that is the bastion of healthy life choices can become a greenhouse for pestilential flora and fauna. And can I just for a moment comment that humans, of the allegedly adult variety, are just nasty? Seriously.

My gym is actually very nice. It is usually clean. The bathroom/locker room situation is almost a religious experience with esthetically pleasing fixtures and general lack of icky personal detritus. As far as the rest of the amenities, staff make sure there are sufficient wipes, spray bottles, and such to wipe down equipment pre- and post-sweaty activity. That alone would likely be sufficient to slow or completely curtail the spread of plague… if people would actually use it!

Yes… I speak now of the nastiness. Let me preach on it. I have sadly seen it with my own eyes. The nose picker who then grabs the hand-holds of an elliptical machine, the hacking cougher imitating with some skill succumbing to tuberculosis who grabs the free weights with the same hand the recently covered the mouth, and of course the devastating sneeze-monster with accompanying snot who thinks nothing of continuing their bench set with the same hands that received the explosive productions of their nose. None of these individuals actually bothered to wipe down said equipment when they completed their activities, but instead chose to move on and spread their personal colonies of viral agents to yet more unsuspecting equipment and people.

It’s enough to make you gag a little, isn’t it?

I commend these people for pushing through their own pain, discomfort, and lassitude to keep their fitness performance at its best, but please you can take a sick day from your gym routine. In fact, most studies and fitness consultants will tell you gladly that resting and recovering is generally better than trying to ignore a cold or more dire illness. 1) You recover more quickly. 2) You don’t actually share with all the other relatively ailment-free people. Staying home when you are sick is not a show of weakness. It is just good gym-citizenship, and it is a better choice for your own recovery. Now, I get it. I totally do. Not all illnesses have the impact of ague or la grippe. Sometimes, they don’t even seem worthy of notice; an annoyance, no more. If the disease seems minor and you feel that it isn’t even really a hitch in your stride, you don’t want to lose the gains you’ve made in your training. However, keep in mind that there are still the other gym attendees to consider. All the more reason everyone should remember to mind the hygiene and be considerate of others.

And speaking of hygiene… there are other forms of communicable ailments that don’t necessarily have to wait for a season. In this case, I’m speaking of the more delicate matters of fungus. Yeppers, that is right. We’re gonna talk feet and down there. Most of us have heard of athletes’ foot (tinea pedis). Heck, unless you have lived in a cave devoid of any media you have to have seen at least one commercial. Some of them have cute little depictions of demonic creatures that want to live between your toes… ew. Most of these commercials are humorous and entertaining, making the idea of fungal infection a laughing matter rather than a health condition or personal concern. Do not be fooled. This outbreak can cause embarrassment, discomfort, and spread to others (sometimes without even making direct contact). Locker rooms and showers, regardless of cleanliness, are great atmospheres for these types of infections. Moisture from shower and sweat, damp clothing in lockers, and people going around without shoes.

Oh yeah. They do. They go without foot covering or protection in public areas. I’ve seen it. I’m not a foot prude, you understand. I would prefer to go barefoot in most seasons… in my own home, on the beach, in my pool… Not in a public gym locker room or shower! And yet, there she was as I walked in one morning after my own workout, getting ready for work… or errands… or maybe an early morning date… I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I was taken aback by her appearance. She was obviously halfway through some sort of operation to tame her hair (which was drying, recently showered, and taking up what appeared to be more than its usual space), leaning close to the mirror to address eyelashes and eye make up with that contorted expression that seems a prerequisite for the activity… and she was barefoot!!! She stood there with her naked feet in direct contact with the tiles of the bathroom floor, and it was all I could do to restrain the full body shiver as my own very overactive imagination pictured all the little demonic creatures from that commercial swarming over her feet and the surrounding surfaces… and possibly coming after me! I quickly grabbed my kit out of my locker and bounced out to go home for a shower and possibly  chemical decon.

There are, of course, other forms of these fungal outbreaks to plague more than just your tootsies. There is the tinea cruris… You might know it more commonly as “jock itch,” but it doesn’t restrain itself merely to the specific area for which the layman has named it. It likes to be anywhere there is close, damp, warm areas: Thighs, buttocks… and ladies, you are not immune. So, air out the drawers and launder those stanky gym shorts and that sports bra as well (oh yeah, didn’t think of that did you?).

Which brings me to ringworm… which isn’t a worm. Did you know that? Nope, not a fauna, but a flora. This one is a fungus as well. This one is tinea corporis or tinea capitis. Actually the tinea is the actual fungus and the other words are where it decides to take up residence. So, in fact, all these fungi mentioned are the same basic condition, just occurring in various locations on the human body. Depending on where the growth sets up, you can lose hair, have scaly or ring-like patterns, and itch like the devil. It is not fun, and it is contagious. It can go from person to person or person to equipment/floor/shower to person. You get the drift.

The point of all this being: Take some care of yourself and others who share your workout space. Please remember to wipe down surfaces of machines and hand holds. In fact, you might just for caution’s sake wipe down before using the apparatus. Use the sanitary wipes and sprays provided. Don’t leave dirty, damp gym attire in lockers to ferment. And for the love of all that is holy and right in the universe, wear your bloody shower shoes and don’t go barefoot in the locker room! YUCK!

Physical Fit: Surviving the Holidays without Losing My Mind or All My Willpower

holidayweightgain

It is that time again… Well, it is that time for me again. Starting in the first days of air getting crisper, sweaters and hoodies making their appearances all over, and the epidemic of pumpkin everything, I start to feel that budding anxious feeling of pounds creeping back onto my body. My email is full of “The 7 Ways to avoid Holiday Weight Gain…” and “Follow these 17 Simple Rules to Avoid All Happiness this Season but at Least You Won’t Gain 50 Pounds Before New Year’s…” I can feel the panic and guilt sliding into my mind.

It’s true. Many a willpower has fallen before an overflowing display of favorite holiday treats and fountains of celebratory beverage. Even when I am being my most cautious and careful, I’m pretty sure that the increased caloric volume of the actual air is working against me. Every year, I promise myself that I can and will resist the holidays and their overabundance of tasty goodness. I will resist the urge to snuggle up before fire instead of getting out for my run and workout routine. Yet, I hear the fallen angel on my shoulder whispering softly things like, “It’s just once a year…” or “It’s the holidays. That negates calories and fat…” Um… yeah, get thee behind me betrayer! And so goes my struggle, much as the rest of the world. So, at least I know I am not alone. How do I know?

Well, as it happens, I read. A lot. Sometimes I even read for pure enjoyment without any graphs or statistics or comparison studies… Unfortunately, I read a lot of incredibly dry (at least to some opinions) scientific journal type articles and medical journals. Thanks to my (incredibly) pedantic reading choices, I actually came across an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that clearly defined exactly how much of a detriment that the Eat-All-The-Things season is to our health, wellbeing, and bathing suits.

Turns out, instead of setting our resolutions for better fitness and health with the clock restarting at December 31st, we should be thinking about bettering our habits starting at the end of September (Helander, Wnsink, & Chieh, 2016). According to the scientists who made a study of weight gain during the holiday season in three countries in the northern hemisphere, people are at their lowest weight during early October. Starting sometime before All Hallow’s Eve, the weight starts to increase and the average does not appear to get back to the pre-TrickorTreat days until sometime in April. The highest weigh-in on average was New Year’s Day. So, it seems that people above the equator start packing on the pounds (as much as 5 additional pounds on average) when the bulk candy starts hitting the aisles and doesn’t start depleting until Gym-crowding Month (or Gym-tending Season).

Makes you wonder… Is it just the availability of the sugary sweets and sugar plums dancing? Maybe not. There are a number of contributing factors that seem to be in play. Aside from the candy, cookies, and pies, there are multiple opportunities for celebration that surround gorge-fest food extravaganzas. It isn’t just the sweet-teeth out there that are in danger. Turkey and dressing with all the accompanying starchy sides make Thanksgiving a quagmire of dietary ruin. The unending calendar of holiday gatherings with all the favored seasonal treats beckons. Every time you turn around, people are getting together to celebrate the season, and it usually involves munchies… and drinks. Yep, that’s a definite part of the equation, specifically the equation that keeps adding numbers to the scale. Alcohol consumption definitely adds to the caloric intake. Egg nog, holiday punch, mulled wines and meads, and celebratory champagne toasts are everywhere you turn.

Then, there is the weather. It is dark later and gets dark earlier (remember, we are talking about the northern hemisphere). It’s harder to get out in the dark and cold for that early morning workout, and the cool and dark of the evenings make working out at the gym or a run less appealing than being home in front of a fire with snuggly clothes, a book, and some warm mug of your choice. And speaking of temperatures, the fashion options aren’t helping matters. Big fluffy hoodies and slouchy sweaters hide a plethora of inconvenient waistline issues. The beach-ready body that was shown off with form fitting styles and skin-baring swimwear is now safely camouflaged by woolen knits and multiple layers. “I’m not fat… I’m big sweatered.” I’m not body-shaming anyone, and some of those cooler weather styles are just legitimately adorable. However, it does make it that much easier to lose sight of our health goals as well as those waistline goals we’ve been working towards so diligently when they were more visible. (It does make me wonder if a follow up study could be done to see what the trend is for the folks Downunder.)

And now for the feels… Who are my emotional eaters out there? I can sense my people. I know that you are waving at me across the ether… or else hiding under your keyboards with your hoard of stashed Reese’s Cups saying “Nothing to see here! Move along!” The point is, I totally get it. My emotional eating isn’t depression or sadness, it is boredom and stress. Unlike some who soothe the wounds with pints… quarts… ok, gallons of Ben & Jerry’s, I am more likely to go reaching in the larder and fridge for the cure to the stress monkey hanging on my back. I’ve talked about my boredom eating previously, but I shall now propose a different scenario. The hordes of holiday visitors have landed upon the shores of the abode. Is the house ready? Is the food prepared? Is it the right food? Are there sufficient items for all, including the allergies and medical restrictions? Are you preparing that dish that is a family heirloom quite the way the ancestors prescribed…? You get the idea. All the thoughts are currently perking, bubbling, boiling, and smoking inside my cranium making the peace and good cheer… well, not so much. Rampaging around the kitchen and house trying to address all the imagined fires popping up, my hand sneaks out to grab a crisp or a spoonful of some concoction or possibly a chocolate whatnot. I mean, I have to taste it to make sure it is all right… right? Well, the occasional bite and crisp becomes mindless hand to mouth exercise that increases my food intake by an unknown amount because it was precisely that… mindless. I didn’t actually pay attention. Heck, I probably didn’t even taste it. And while we are in the kitchen trying to prepare the feast often with unsolicited advice or critique from helpful others, it might not be so unusual to find a shot, a glass… a second bottle of various liquid remedy being imbibed. It’s the holidays. Just trying to keep the peace here! The point being, aside from the added calories, stress doesn’t help when we are trying to keep the figure and fitness we achieved pre-Labor Day. On top of which, the addition of the happy sauce sometimes clouds us to the amount of food we are washing down with the cocktail(s).

So, those are the struggles. What are the fixes? I’ve read a lot on that as well. Summarizing some of the most helpful tips would be one word: Mindfulness. Mainly, be aware of what you are doing and be present in the moment. That will help a lot of the automatic feeding. Most of the experts say to indulge (not overindulge) in your favorites, but leave off on the holiday dishes that generally are a “Meh” for you. It isn’t necessary to eat everything. One of the no-brainers that I know I am guilty of myself is the “saving myself for” syndrome. Knowing I have a party, get-together, or buffet of treats on the horizon, I find myself skipping meals to save the calories for the goodies. The problem with that would be that I’m so ravenous by the time I get to the feast that I eat way more of everything than I would have otherwise. Better to maintain a nice balanced and healthy feeding schedule.

Watch the cocktails. Seriously, there are way more calories consumed in our celebration shots than we give credit. Remembering to rotate non-alcoholic beverages, water, or seltzer for a happy fizz will help decrease the amount of booze calories without pooping on the party.

The stress eating and drinking… this is my big one, and I have a couple of big allies to help on this one. First of all, keeping a decent sleep schedule despite the parties is a big one. With packed schedules and various obligations hitting at the end of the year, it is sometimes more difficult than usual to catch the Zzzz’s, but I know that I am trying to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and follow the good sleep hygiene habits I’ve worked on this year. I am hopeful that will help me keep on track. And, of course, my physical fit… While my workout routines and running have been fueled by a desire to be less horrifying when naked, I have found that the physical activity (specifically the aerobic portion) also keeps me sane and less at risk of dissolving into a fanged she-beast ready to bite the heads off unsuspecting family and friends. I know, there are those of you out there saying “If I had to run a mile, something better be about to bite me…” but I promise there is science behind my madness. It turns out that several studies have been done showing that aerobic exercise increases brain activity, specifically of the alpha wave variety (Bergland, 2015; Crabbe & Dischman, 2004; Gutmann, et al., 2015). In fact, during and immediately after aerobic exercise (the kind where you breathe harder and your heart rate goes up) alpha wave activity significantly increases, much like meditation. So what? It turns out that this particular type of brain activity is what happens when we are in idle, drifting, daydreaming, or meditating. The impact on creativity has been shown in studies as well as the use of this type of thought pattern in treating anxiety and depression. Voila! I brought it back to the point without flying off planet. Keeping up with your exercise routine with some aerobic activity involved can help with holiday blues or seasonal angst. Meditation is all well and good, but when you have the house full of people, running (quite literally) away might be more effective than trying to find alone time to get in some “Ohms.”

delicious-how-grinch-stole-christmasI think I have a game plan, now. At least I have a fair assortment of options and strategies to help me get through the season. Actually, if I rope in a few teammates and coaches to remind me when I start wandering off the path, I should get through fairly unscathed. Enjoy your holidays!

 

Bergland, C. (2015). Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/alpha-brain-waves-boost-creativity-and-reduce-depression

Crabbe, J., & Dischman, R. (2004). Brain electrocortical activity during and after exercise: A quantitative synthesis. Psychophysiology, 41(4), 563-574. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8986.2004.00176.x

Gutmann, B., Mierau, A., Hülsdünker, T., Hildebrand, C., Przyklenk, A., Hollmann, W., & Strüder, H. K. (2015). Effects of Physical Exercise on Individual Resting State EEG Alpha Peak Frequency. Neural Plasticity, 2015, 717312. http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/717312

Helander, E., Wansink, B., & Chieh, A. (2016). Weight gain over the holidays in three countries. New England Journal of Medicine, 375(12). Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1602012

Prepping for Surgery and a sense of the absurd

anesthesia

I know I’ve been quiet for a while. Seems like time got away from me, and a severe case of writer’s block apparently required surgical interventions or at least the threat of them to budge.

Surgery is a funny thing. I don’t mean funny “Haha,” but funny peculiar. Think about it. In order to fix something in our body, someone with letters after their name and hopefully a lot of impressive training is going to actually injure and go poking around inside what is generally supposed to be a closed and intact system. Now, I’m not knocking medical procedures. We’ve accomplished some astounding things, and it seems like every day they are improving the methods to prevent complications. Modern surgery and the accomplishments thereof are a far cry from the near butchery of the antecedents. Still, I wait with great impatience for the days when I can take a pill and grow a new kidney (or any other organ for that matter… Points to the people who get the reference).

And yet… there are parts of the process that still cause me to ponder, ruminate, become anxious, and aye, even cause me to shake my head with humor and irony. If you haven’t yet figured it out, I’m no stranger to the surgical theater. Due to a number of genetic quirks and other accidents, I’ve been the recipient of quite a number of procedures, mostly to my skull… No, they still haven’t found that brain they have been seeking. All the operations in question were to my jaws and dental structures. In fact, after one surgical procedure, I could walk through a metal detector stark naked and set it off. I quite enjoy to this day the look on the faces of x-ray technicians when they see the odd collections of wire embedded in my jaw hinges. But, I digress… I do that a lot, which is why this blog even exists, when we come down to it. If my brain always stayed on an expected track with normal and logical thought processes and zero tangential traipses through the ether, none of this rambling nonsense would be out there.

The interesting part of all the surgical curiosity is the instructions that the patients are given before (and after) the processes to insure the best possible outcome. Honestly, even understanding the reasons behind the directives does not always alleviate my perpetual ruminative escapades. Without fail, my mind will wander about after reading or hearing specific instruction and think about various aspects including what would happen if one didn’t actually follow the directions given. This last bit is frequently not really a good idea if one is, in fact, the patient. While I have been privy to a number of surgeries and recovery wards as observer or clinician, my imagination can still become quite creative enough to depict scenarios that are not only completely unrealistic, they would put the best of the horror directors to shame. So, as I said, not the best mental occupation for the intended target… I mean subject of the surgeon’s skill.

What brought on this recent rambling through my cranium is, as you might have surmised, that I am once again going under the knife. Nothing terribly serious, but as they do say there are inherent risks with all surgical procedures. It is another oral surgery, and I’ve become, after nearly three decades of experience with this form of intervention, somewhat inured to the general angst… but not entirely immune. I will occasionally and inexplicably have bouts of anxiety that are only relieved by contrarily imagining the worst possible situations and outcomes and making a complete farce of the whole ritual of instruction. Today, for instance, I receive the call (Like ya do) from the surgeon’s office reminding me of my appointed time and confirming that I had not left the state, country, or planet accidentally. I assured them that I was Earthbound and in the near vicinity still. As the caller was about to ring off, I asked if there were any instructions. To which, the lady gave me the usual “Nothing to eat or drink 6-8 hours before. Wear short sleeves. Bring someone to drive you and all your money.” Ok, I might have exaggerated the “all your money bit.” I think they only want most of it. Honestly, health costs in America… but I digress… again. I’m just a digressing fool today.

Anyhow, the caller ended the conversation at that point, and left me to my usual mental calisthenics about all of the foregoing… and of course the impending doom. I was so caught up in all of it that my usual morning conversation with my friend was the recipient of the overflow. I expressed to him that the worst part (aside from the monetary extortion) was that part about not eating or drinking. This is normally not a problem for me. It would be unlikely that I am imbibing or participating in a repast after midnight, but now… I will be thirsty as hell at 3:00AM. It’s true, and totally psychological. I consume more than enough liquid to keep myself hydrated (water, of course… a woman cannot survive by coffee alone, but without the blessed bean everyone else might die), but because someone told me I could not have anything to wet my whistle after the appointed hour, I will develop cotton mouth that would make the Mojave look like a lush oasis. Additionally, the eating thing… I’ve been in an appetite lull for a few weeks. That is the pendulum swing from the periods of time when I can’t seem to sate the empty cavern of my gut and want to eat ALL THE THINGS. For whatever reason, I just haven’t really been neck deep in the trough. I continue to eat small meals and snacks and consume protein shakes in an attempt to keep the energy stores going, fuel the physical machine, and avoid metabolism shut down, but otherwise… meh, just not that hungry. However… now, because I have been told I am forbidden to eat after midnight, I will very probably become quite ravenous at 12:01AM and nothing will do but to eat an entire wildebeest. Maybe it isn’t surgery that is so odd. It might actually be the perversity of my own mental nature. Nah! Surely that cannot be it…

On top of all the cogitating about the instructions for all good patients, I also, due to my years of experience, know what to expect in the aftermath. Again, this is where we have advanced beautifully from days gone by when I would have been laid up for hours or days in recovery and med-surge units while the anesthesia worked its way slowly from my system, groggy, nauseous, and grievously hung over (I usually try to reserve that for New Year’s Day). Now, the modern cocktail they use wears off very quickly with very few lasting effects. There is one, however, and it is a doozy. Because this is, as I said, oral surgery, one of the things they use is atropine. For those who don’t know, atropine dehydrates. In other words, it dries up everything. This makes it more convenient for people trying to deal with any and all things inside the saliva factory that is the human mouth. The natural consequence of using this tool is that there is a rebound effect when it wears off. It rather seems like everything on your face (and sometimes the rest of your body) is trying to liquefy or melt. Combine this with the local anesthesia that they use, and voila, snotty, drooling, tearful mess… I feel like a toddler left for the first time at daycare. On top of that, I cannot actually feel from my nose to my chin and so all attempts clean up aisle 4 are rather like Gumby trying to wipe the nose of a latex Richard Nixon Halloween mask. Super sexy, right?

And just like that… sense of the ridiculous appears to be my saving grace from rising anxiety levels. It is just virtually impossible to be scared of something that turns me into Tim Conway’s dentist routine or my own one-woman sitcom. See ya in the aftermath…

Cutting the cord…

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Along with thousands (if not more) of Americans today, I made a decision, after long deliberation to cut the cord. What does that mean? It means that I decided that it was time to lose the addiction to television, specifically of the cable variety. I suspect that if we hooked up an antenna, we could still possibly access local analog broadcasts.

Several things played a part in making this decision, but the most influential was purely mercenary. It was the cost. In the past 20 years or so, I have seen the cost of my “entertainment” treble. Literally, it went from around $90 per month to somewhere around $230, not counting electricity to power the devices through which we enjoy the entertainment provided. This did not even include any of the premium channels. Granted, the services provided have increased somewhat over that same period of time. There are more channels from which to choose. The internet is a vastly different beast through broadband and the on demand programming available. The lines and wires, recording devices and higher definition have all changed from the original boxes that took up large amounts of real estate on top of the console televisions of years ago. The truth was that I could not justify the amount of money that we were spending on what was, for us anyhow, all of five channels out of a gazillion. I actually tried speaking with the folks about a la carte options, but that was a no-go. We could drop down to just the basic, lowest cost package, but then we would have to give up what I refer to as our staple nerdom package. Most of what we watched fell on science fiction channels, travel, history, or science. We had programs we enjoyed on some of the major networks, but the other 1000+ channels were of complete indifference to us. I really could not even tell you what the programming was on many of them, and I’m sorry to all my friend who enjoy their greens fees and tee times; No one needs to watch a channel devoted to nothing but GOLF. However, in order to get BBC America or the Travel Channel, we had to go up to the larger package with the higher price and the additional channels that we couldn’t give a rip about otherwise. Seemed like a waste.

So, I started thinking that we could save a lot of money and just wait for our favorite shows to arrive on the various downloadable or streaming options (Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, etc.). I had a few friends who had already taken this plunge. I still had to have internet for work, but since it was less than a third of my monthly cost, it made sense. And thus after much discussion, the decision was made. I called the provider and cancelled our television. There was some intense conversation with the person on the other end of the phone and attempts to keep me in the fold, but I remained firm. After about 45 minutes to an hour, I had reduced my monthly cost by two thirds.

I’ll admit to a momentary panic once I disconnected the call. Oh my goodness what have I done?!? I imagined being at a loss for things to do in the evenings. I feared withdrawal from the constant background noise of random programming and marathons of programs to which I paid barely a notice while I occupied myself with social media or some app on my phone. But I reminded myself that I could always go back and sign up for another subscription at a later date (and likely with a lower cost since these companies seem to be more interested in new customers than retaining the old faithful ones).

As expected, we were able to catch most of the shows that we follow via one of the internet streaming organizations. On top of that, we could usually schedule our watching for one night a week or even every other week. Suddenly, the television was occupying a far less prominent place in our home and in our lives. Days would go by without switching on the tv. Around the same time period, I chose to move my personal laptop to the office, thereby removing another distracting electronic venue from the family room. The electronic devices remaining for my part were my electronic reader (Kindle in this case) and my phone. imageA part of me was expecting that social media and the computer/smartphone/tablet would start absorbing and assimilating me like a Borg colony, but that didn’t happen either, which was very surprising. It seemed that with the decision to disconnect myself from the addictive qualities of the television media, I also got some positive reinforcement from laying down the phone and breaking the hold of the social media as well (Yes, I know this is somewhat ironic given that any of you reading this probably linked through a form of social media and certainly the internet).

imageAfter a while, I didn’t even notice the missing sounds. Other things started occupying the time so recently vacated by the electronics: Reading, writing… not so much ‘rithmetic, but quiet activities and organization. Since I travel for work and sometimes travel for non-work, I wondered if I would revert and relapse into binge watching mindless marathons of show in which I had no true interest when I was in hotels with cable television or visiting family that was still firmly ensconced in the ways of the broadcast media. I found, to my surprise, that I did not even turn on the device in hotel or condo. I spent my time, again, reading or writing primarily. I found additional time to hit fitness center, gym, or just go for a run. I spent time with mindfulness exercises, meditation, or just pampering myself (something to which I rarely ever devoted time). Occasionally… just occasionally, I even spent time with friends or family in actual conversation without looking at a screen. What?!? Is this possible? Yea, verily my dear readers, the hold of the soul and time sucking devices and activities of this world can be broken. Like a magic spell, a well of time was released upon the dissolution of the imprisonment. Hours have been found in the day that previously seemed to have disappeared. Now, when we choose to stare at a screen, it is with an identified purpose and specific time limit (watching a movie or catching up on specific shows). Instead of mindless viewing and clicking and staring at screens while hours tick away, our decisions are conscious. We’ve taken back the controls by putting down the remotes and devices. It’s incredibly liberating. I recommend trying it, even for a protracted period.

A time may come at some point in the distant future when the media companies become more flexible with their options and their prices, and perhaps… just perhaps… I may reconsider my stance, but at this time, I cannot regret my choice to leave behind the realm of the boob-tube (and no, I do not mean the rather unfortunate 1970’s fashion faux pas). I never would have believed it upon the first inkling of the idea, but cutting the cord has freed up more than funds. It has freed me.

Physical Fit: Well-meaning saboteurs…

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It is so very important that you keep the right sort of approach to any positive change, but as important to your self-talk and mindset is the natural supports that you have around you every day. No matter who you are and how confident you believe yourself to be, each and every one of us upon taking those first toddling steps into healthier choices need cheerleaders and the occasional guardians. We need the positive reinforcement and the positive influence. Why? Because habits are hard to break and hard to form. It is difficult enough to decide to cut a favorite treat (or even just cut down on same) or get up earlier to make sure you get in a workout before your day gets so out of hand that you can’t even visit the restroom without your message alerts or phone exploding.

One of the most difficult parts of any change you elect to make is that you are not the only inertia faced in the process. Change is hard enough when you are working on your own resistance to long-term habits and poor choices. The additional problem is that the people in your life may also be resistant to that change. Everyone gets used to certain patterns and expectations. It’s comfortable. It is something you can count on through thick and thin… or maybe not so thin. It is not simply a situation where the people in your life want you to remain miserable and unhappy. It is just that they have gotten used to you in a certain form and function and any changes that you make in your normal appearance or behavior may upset their own fragile status quo. There is an underlying, subconscious (yes, I know it is redundant) fear that if you change, you won’t be the same person anymore. You will destroy the expected norms, and they won’t know you the same way. Consciously, the people who love you may see that this is a positive change that you are making, but beneath it all, they are unsure how they will like this “new you.”

Think about it. I’m sure you have seen television and movie stories all about this type of scenario. Enter pudgy, geeky, awkward Sally or Billy. They are the best friend or the confidant or the unlicensed therapist or confessor for their entire social group. Bless them. They are the person to whom everyone goes when they need to “run something by.” They have served as the plus one when the date fell through, but they always knew they were never the first choice. So, Sally or Billy with or without assistance of a fairy godmother/father goes through the extreme makeover. And just like that *poof*! Sally is stunning, and Billy is beautiful. They look like Venus and Adonis. Their friends who were shining in comparison before are fading as these ugly ducklings turn into swans. Now, on occasion the physical and superficial transformations also come with an attitude adjustment that may or may not be so very positive. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the change of personality may be merely perceived by their friends and not truly what has occurred. The point being that all the friends who have relied on Sally and Billy this whole time feel that they have been robbed of a rock-like figure in their social circle, and it destabilizes their tiny world… And so it goes. You know the tale. It is the Cinderella story or Emma (for my Jane Austen fans). However, that is fairy tales and Hollywood. It is a cautionary piece to keep us grounded and remembering that what matters is what is inside and to not let alteration of the superficial or circumstance change who we are. The underlying message is, of course, that everyone can be loved for who they are, it’s what’s inside that counts, and even if they stay an ugly duckling that is better than being an asshole.

And that is just marvelous… except everyone should be able to make changes in their life if they want, and of course, if it leads to better health, self-concept, and emotional well-being. However, not everyone can let go of the anxiety that changing your outside might change your inside. Additionally, there may be some people in our lives who (whether they admit it to themselves or anyone else) do not want us to become more… successful, attractive, confident… whatever, because if we do, we might not need them or have the same role in their lives. Now, this is just totally selfish, not to mention completely infantile, but it happens. Those particular people are probably not what I might call healthy additions to a support network. One might even call them toxic, but they aren’t even the most dangerous or deadly foes of any attempt at healthier living.

So, now, I will talk about the well meaning saboteurs of the world. These people have convinced us and themselves that they have our best interests at heart. They love us and are so proud that we are making good choices. Sometimes, they are even the ones who have encouraged us to step on the path to better nutrition and physical activity with subtle hints about possibly trying to lose some weight or “Have you considered going on a low-carb diet?” They are being helpful. They want us to be healthy and happy with our lives… What could possibly be wrong with that?

Well… I’ll tell ya. Immediately upon declarations or suggestions of embarking on a new diet, joining a gym, or considering any number of ways to get the lard out, these folks present an obstacle course of dietary and fitness torpedoes to sink even the most stalwart of will power. You know the type I mean. Upon informing your loved ones and supporters that you are going on a low carb inception phase (meaning that you want to keep your carbs to 50g or lower per day), you walk in to find cupcakes, fresh baked bread, and a dozen cookies. Someone will bring donuts and bagels to the breakroom, and every meal has only one type of side dish… potatoes. They say, “Good for you!” and follow it with, “Would you like to split a large pizza and an entire package of doublestuff Oreos?” Yes, my brothers and sisters, they parade the plethora of starches and sugars before you seemingly oblivious to the nutritive content of any of their choices.

These are the well-meaning saboteurs. It is my belief they really do not understand what they are doing. After all it isn’t truly their responsibility to change their lifestyles or desires just because you have elected to restrict your own dietary intake. They are not the keeper of your will. Sometimes, especially with the older versions of these, they have preconceived ideas about dieting that predates current science. I’ve actually had some express concerns that I had an eating disorder or would damage myself by choice to remove carbohydrates… or at least decrease them. It was a lack of knowledge and understanding. It was just a foreign concept. Perhaps it is also that knowing that we are giving up or reducing our intake of some of these favorite foods, we’re just more aware? Nope, that doesn’t explain all of it, because too many times when you look at the patterns, those well meaning saboteurs weren’t going on baking binges or filling the house with bulk purchases of snack cakes and processed sugar before the announcement of going back on Atkins. Perhaps it was the announcement that somehow subliminally put it into their minds to hoard all sugars and starches like they were going to be put on rationing? That’s as good an explanation as any.

The point is, I don’t think they even know that they are doing it most of the time, and when we get cranky and snap at them because they are undermining our efforts and because we are suffering from withdrawal symptoms, they often look bewildered and hurt. Sometimes, they become defensive and angry with comments like, “Surely, you don’t expect the rest of us to adhere to your dietary restrictions?” or possibly, “Just because you can’t eat carbs doesn’t mean I should have to give up my donuts.” The truth is that none of us expect everyone to change their own habits or inconvenience the rest of the group due to our own food choices or decision to change our habits. Usually a gentle conversation and avoidance is sufficient to remedy the situation. I have generally found that they are apologetic. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t even think about that.” It doesn’t really occur to them that their expressions of remorse merely highlight and emphasize the situation, “Oh my lord, I forgot you can’t eat this double-stuffed crust, full gluten, large pizza with all your favorite toppings! I’m so sorry.” They do not always change their ways, but at least they apologized. Usually they even try to be supportive by hiding or looking guilty when they eat fries in front of us or chow down on a piece of cake. They mean well. Truly they do.

Eventually, they may even learn to be legitimately helpful. I have found that in most cases, with relatively few exceptions (those exceptions typically being the known and proven supporters who can be relied upon to chain me up when the cravings get too intense), it is best to keep my dietary plans to myself. It helps stave off both the well-meaning and not so altruistic saboteurs in my life. And when I don’t tell them what I’m not eating… they don’t even seem to notice.

Physical Fit: Dear parents…


Adult-Supervision-School-Sign-K-4120 A cautionary tale… please read to the end. I commend each and every parent that encourages a healthy lifestyle and physical activity for their children. I deplore the habit that has become more and more prevalent with kids found with alarming frequency sitting on their posterior while some form of electronic babysitter absorbs their attention and they develop the sedentary habits of their elders. I had the misfortune of observing the results of those habits in the last few months in more than one geographic area as I saw children… yes children… not teens or tweeners but actual children of no where close to puberty that I approximated as outweighing my own considerable bulk. I’ve gone back and forth on the obesity as child abuse argument, but in extreme cases, I can definitely see their point. I also observed in the same proximity that the parents probably weren’t going to find any concern with the pattern in question because they had already given up that particular battle themselves. And so it went with mom, dad, and two or more young ones who were huffing and puffing along with effort… in order to sit… yes sit upon the expanse of beach. No running up and down. No surf jumping or body surfing. No gleeful squeals as they built a creative castle or sand sculpture. Zero activity, until it was lunch or snack time when copious amounts of processed snack foods and sugary drinks were handed out. Honestly, I get it. It is vacation. Kids should be able to enjoy their life. I don’t watch these people 365 days a year, and this may be a treat… but I’m guessing not. If it were only one group of this general description, I could probably feel concern or sorrow, but this was literally every other family I observed over a recent patriotic holiday season at the seaside. I am by no means a svelte individual, willowy and ephemeral. I believe I have described my own physique more than once, but observing this sort of situation makes me twitch a bit. I’m trying to avoid being judgmental. I really don’t know any of the observed families, their genetics, their health histories, or their regular habits. I am making assumptions (like ya do) based on superficial observation. The problem is that I know that while I might question my own assumptions and try to look past to find answers and other attributes, the rest of the world does not. What are these parents setting their kids up for in the future. As I mentioned, children are more sedentary than when I was younger. There are a lot more electronic reasons to sit on one’s butt and be still. While many parents would call this some “@#$ @%$# peace and quiet!” it really isn’t the best or most natural thing for a child to do for so much of the time. Additionally, I’ve been made aware that children don’t have as much physical activity planned into their school schedules. If the child isn’t an athlete, they may not get more than an hour of physical movement in a day. Even when they return home, they are often from a young age given homework to keep them busy all evening, or if they do not, the electronic babysitters probably get hold of them until dinner. I’m making generalizations (before any of the parents out there start screaming at me that they aren’t like that). I know not everyone participates in this same pattern. I’ve got friends who literally make their kids go outside and do something active. And that sorta makes me scratch my head… Why?!? Why is this something a parent has to make them do? When I was a kid, they couldn’t get me to come inside (especially in the summer) until after dark on occasion. No one made me go run around outside or play. The only sedentary activity that might occur was reading, and sometimes even then, they couldn’t get me to do it inside, because if weather permitted, I would much rather do the reading out in the sun and air. I have to wonder what changed. When did playing outside become a chore? However, my “Dear Parents,” wasn’t only about my ponderings about what has happened to physical activity with children today. I come now to the other side of the argument. Again, I absolutely commend parents who encourage physical activity. I applaud them for setting examples and helping their children develop an interest in physical fitness and exercise. I think that it is wonderful when children express an interest in activity, exercise, and want to even “workout” (though, I still think that full body building activity doesn’t need to start before they’ve even hit puberty… seriously people). BUT… You totally heard that coming, didn’t you? Please … PLEASE do not let children around exercise equipment unattended. There. I have said it. I personally do not believe that children below a certain age belong in a gym. I happen to belong to a gym where the corporate policy is to not allow children. There is a reason, but they caught an enormous amount of flack for making that policy. There are, I know, people who would disagree with them and me. They would say that with supervision children can learn to use equipment and weights and develop healthy habits that will follow them for the rest of their lives… blah, blah, blah. And chances are, they would totally miss that part of their argument that is frequently… well… missing. Supervision. It is one thing for a parent who has a responsible, well-behaved child with them and is engaging them the whole time and supervising them at every step, but that is not what often occurs. As you might expect, incidents have come to my notice rather unpleasantly in recent history to prompt this particular post. I will share with you two of the most glaring. Both incidents occurred at a hotel fitness center. I travel quite a bit for work these days, and because I am not always where I can conveniently access a branch of my own gym, I try to book lodgings in hotels that do have fitness centers. The quality of the equipment can vary drastically, but it usually will suffice for my basic fitness requirements. The first “incident” occurred when I had gone down to the fitness center which, in this case, was more than adequate. They had relatively heavy duty cardio equipment, free weights, and some decent multifunction resistance machines. The problem was that there were three children between the ages of 8 and 12 years old in the center with no visible supervising adults. There were, as it happens, sufficient options in the center for me to have my workout with the children in there. It wasn’t my first choice, but I could do it. However, about the time I was entering the facility, the eldest of the three misused and caused a malfunction in one of the machines that took it out of commission (he broke it… yep, one of his younger siblings also managed to misplace one of the little metal bar doodads that allows you to adjust the weight on the machine, fun times). I chose not to have my workout in the fitness center at that time. Perhaps I should have immediately reported the incident, but I waited to give the miscreants time to get clear. I’m no snitch. The kids removed themselves post haste to avoid getting caught, and I was eventually able to use the fitness center without being blamed for any of the mishandling myself, though unable to use any of the resistance and weight training equipment since it was effectively disabled for the foreseeable future. In the second situation, the outcome was a bit more scary. Again, I went to the fitness center; this time a little less large, the equipment a bit more Spartan. Upon reaching the door, I see two young boys, perhaps 8 and 6 years. I groaned inwardly as again I saw no supervisory adult. I just wanted to get in my workout and go deal with some additional prep work before meetings in the morning. I decided this time to brave it. I started my own cardio on one of the elliptical machines. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. It was too fast to have done anything to prevent. The youngest was playing with the treadmill (without the little safety clip attached to him in any way). He had been just riding it back, walking up, and riding it to the end. At some point he must have touched the wrong button, and the spinning tread shot the kid back catching a small foot in the handrails where they attach to the base and I heard (or imagined I heard) a slight pop… and then the scream. My workout was done, but for the kid, there would be no activity of almost any sort for a while. I did the first aid thing and asked the older one… ok, I firmly told the older one to go get an adult. An annoyed, then frantic woman arrived, and off they went to the hospital. I had several thoughts cross my mind: 1) It was a card key access. Who gave these two not yet 10 year olds a card key and let them wander about the place (did I mention this place also had an indoor hot tub and lap pool? Think about that for a minute… also card key access)? 2) We live in a litigious society, would the “No Children without Adult Supervision” sign clearly posted on the door and walls actually protect the hotel? I think it is great to get kids interested in fitness. There are even gyms that are geared precisely for parents and children to workout together. But please… please… parents out there, supervise your children. Don’t let these kids put themselves in danger of injury or worse, or even damage equipment that the facility probably paid some decent sum to acquire and provide for guests. Dear parents, if you want your children to be healthy, happy, and active, take/make time to play or workout with them. They will likely appreciate that more in the long run anyway… and it will have the added bonus of getting you off your posterior as well. So, here endeth the lesson… it was a little harsh for the little dude and his parents, but perhaps not the worst that could have happened (remember that pool that was also card key accessible).

If you’re happy and you know it…

…Come tell me how you did it. Seriously. Share that stuff.

Actually, less important than the how or even the why is just the sharing part. One of the things that has become abundantly clear with the spread of media and social media is that moods, emotions, and general vibes are contagious. I’m talking bubonic plague levels. Most people reading that will scoff and take the stance of “Airy fairy hippie wants to tell us all to ‘not worry and be happy.’” Nope. That’s not what I’m saying at all, but it is incredibly short-sighted and naïve to believe that we go through life carrying around our emotional baggage all on our own and it never impacts another living being… in our incredibly social culture and ridiculously small and ever-shrinking planet. Think about it.

I just failed a happiness quiz. Like, literally, one of those stupid little click-bait pseudo-personality-test things that tells you which Disney character you are or what animal you were in your past life? Yeah, one of those. This one was telling you what percentage of you is happy. If it were a final grade for any academic class on the planet, my percentage was a failing mark. I really should not have been at all astounded by these results. Seriously, would a truly happy person even take a ridiculous quiz like that. Beyond the consideration of my willingness to test the concept, how much faith would I actually put into quiz that some kid hopped up on orange soda probably put together on those auto quiz generation sites? And… that is a pretty significant question.

In my case, I looked at the results and thought, Can that be right? Am I that miserable? I don’t really feel that unhappy? Then, of course, I took the quiz again. It wasn’t me trying to scam the results. It was more that I wanted to pay more attention to the actual questions and answers. That’s when I started to get uneasy. The problem with the quiz was that the questions looked almost valid. I recognized various entries from mindfulness training and even depression inventories. There were a few that looked like they had been derived from one of those articles about the habits of happy people, but as a whole this particular quiz didn’t feel like bunk.

So, what did I do with that information? Well, I’ll tell you. I waited, and I took it again on a different day. I actually put a note in my planner to this effect. I also took it at a different time of day. Guess what I found… the results were slightly different, but on the whole too close to be a significant difference. Does that mean that an internet social media quiz can accurately judge happiness? Nope. I don’t believe it for a second. In fact, regardless of the results of that quiz, I do not believe that I am technically an unhappy person. I believe that I have a lack of satisfaction with certain aspects of my life and I worry too much about stuff that I cannot impact through my own actions. In short, I am a control freak. (And yes, there are some of you reading this that just said, No kidding.)

What I also found is that there is an awful lot of extraneous and worthless bull-pucky rampantly displayed and forced down our collective throats by the media and by social media on a daily basis. For the most part (minus puppies and kitties), the tone of this monumental tide of information tends to have a negative flavor. That includes giving an inordinate amount of fame and attention to complete asshats What? You thought by posting, reposting and saying look at what these hateful types are doing was a disservice?!? Hate to break it to you, but all attention is good attention for terrorists and extremists. Infamy works for them just as well as adulation…. But I digress. The news reported focuses on horrible behavior of humans against each other and diatribes from various hate (or power) driven entities. People rant and rage at each other for having differing opinions and outlooks… and they blame. While the world of social media has given birth and rise to a more monstrous “me” generation than the 80’s ever thought about, people use their right to free speech to fling abuse and general negativity with excessive abundance at their fellow creatures; and while they exercise their individuality and rights to hold opinions, they also crucify right left and center entire populations of other individuals en mass for holding differing beliefs and opinions than their own. They group all people who look the same or fall into the same race, ethnicity, or culture as if they are identical and could not possibly have individuality within those groups.  People who hold similar opinions or political beliefs are suddenly not distinct from one another. Friendships are torpedoed because of the expressed opinions or behaviors of complete strangers, and everything… I mean everything is offensive.

It has been said that 2015-16 is the era of the offended, that no one has a sense of humor anymore, and that people need to learn to ignore and move along. I can agree with that to a certain extent because planned ignoring  is the best way to deal with immaturity and acting out. I personally have a strongly developed ability to just scroll on by, unfollow, or block ridiculous or inflammatory crap with which I do not agree, and guess what… I don’t have to waste my energy getting offended by it in the process. On the other hand, I also believe that we’ve somehow lost the art of just having good manners, empathy, and the ability to consider others as individuals with just as much right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as we have. It seems that the whole world is caught in an enormous game of grossout/one-up/yo-mama with a side of “me first!”

And now, I’ve strayed so far from my original topic that I may never find my way back… um… oh, yeah… happiness. Too many people in the world think that happiness is a goal or a destination. William S. Bouroughs said, “Happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose, and conflict; those who seek happiness for itself seek victory without war.” That one works pretty well. Eleanor Roosevelt said it better (in my opinion), “Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.”

That’s the ticket, isn’t it? When we live our own lives and stop worrying about or comparing it to what others are doing, I personally feel that it puts us in a better frame of mind to actually appreciate our present. Too many in this world talk themselves out of happiness or contentment by impatience or envy. We look out at the others around us and fail to see things that may be in our own lives. We look at circumstances and aspects of the world in which we live as if every single element is somehow impacting us personally… often when it has absolutely nothing to do with us at all. In moments of true contentment and peace, rather than just enjoying and being in that moment, we question our right to happiness. We literally talk ourselves out of the moment. We look for reasons to be sad, upset, disgusted, or outraged. Why is that? Is there something programmed within each of us that says that we are not experiencing life as a real event or with purpose unless we can find something to bitch about? Seems like a waste of a good life somehow, but I do it, too. So, I probably need to consider this the next time I’m talking myself out of enjoying a moment.

Something else that I have observed both in person and on social media is the negativity and venting vindictive spleen is not terribly helpful. Sure, the occasional extemporaneous rant can be a great release on pent up rage and swallowed disappointment. Sometimes it can be highly entertaining… but I said occasional. The more frequent or constant that the negativity is spewed forth, the more it begins to feed upon itself and become not so much a catharsis, but a spinning whirlpool of rage, hatred, or depression that sucks the spew-er in to drown in their own horrible mood and soul-sucking negativity. It often result in friends and family avoiding said individual (and/or blocking and hiding newsfeed). Misery may love company, but it tends to run off friends and family and seriously dissuade potential romantic interests.

Everyone has a bad day. To tell the truth, many have a lot of bad days that string together into larger measurements of time. However, the ones that seem to do the best with it aren’t dwelling on the negatives or comparing their own experiences with that of others. They do what I will call their “legitimate suffering” and get on about the business of living their lives. They acknowledge that the bad stuff happens. They let themselves feel the bad, and then they move through it into feeling not so bad and eventually better. Those that have more difficulty moving beyond the negative and get stuck occasionally need help figuring out why they are stuck and figuring out the best way to be unstuck. Sometimes that assistance can be from natural supports like family, friends, or faith. Sometimes it needs something more in the professional line.

The modern society has become very polarized in many ways about the experience of things that are perhaps less than happy. People are expected to “get over it and get on with your life” or be diagnosed and get medicated for it. I am the last person on earth to advise against professional assistance when it is warranted, but in the same line it is also completely normal to feel down, sad, or angry under certain circumstances. People do not perpetually walk around on sunshine with bluebirds and rainbows all the time. Everyone has times when they don’t feel so very chipper. It is also completely natural to have varying timeframes for the normal denouement of such emotions. Not everyone handles events such as grief, pain, loss, or trauma in the same way or within the same time. It is generally up to the individual to determine when “enough is enough.” When the experience of legitimate suffering is impacting the function of life in a significantly negative way, it might be time to seek a little assistance. For some, the energy to seek that assistance has run completely out, and that is where those natural supports can help, too.

And I see that I have once again gotten distracted from my point which was about emotional contagion and how we impact ourselves and others by our very act of sharing. I was actually going for less negative and more about the impact of sharing positive experiences with others. I do not believe that the whole world needs to embrace an overly cheerful, Polyanna-like approach to everything they experience. I personally enjoy sarcasm and the occasional prolific rant when things generally disgust or displease me. However, after years of over-venting, I know that cathartic outlets work because they are a pressure valve of letting things go in a blast and be done. If the process is repeated too often or too long, the exercise loses its potency and the negativity loop feeds on itself just becoming more and more nasty and miserable over time. However, when I share something that makes me feel good or laugh, I feel even better than when I just keep it to myself. When friends do the same in sharing things with me, I like to think that they get the same benefit (and I get to see something else that may make me feel good or laugh). It’s a much more positive cycle. So, that is why I say, if you’re happy and you know it, come tell me about it.

Physical Fit: You’re doing it wrong…

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this, read this, had it implied, or involuntarily had the thought pop in my head… Well, I could afford a personal trainer, a home gym, and maybe some plastic surgery just to take up a little of the extra dangle in my bangle, ya know.

It’s been a while since I talked about my Physical Fit. It’s been a somewhat arduous road with some potholes, detours, and unaccountable delays, but I’ve trudged on, making adjustments where I needed and getting feedback, support, and advice from a very wide variety of sources. I admit that I’ve occasionally felt discouraged about results (or lack thereof). I’ve been depressed on plateaus and concerned by feeling regressed. However, one of the things I have managed to figure out is that so long as I never actually quit, it was all just fine. That being said, I’m possibly one of the most stubborn individuals on the planet (I totally see you nodding). The one part of my own personality that have had to fight hard has been the tendency to “stub up” as my grandmother would say when someone gives me unsolicited instruction or direction.

It’s not that I am a completely ungrateful wretch, but apparently there is a stubborn passive-aggressive teenager lurking in my soul. Same thing used to happen to me when I would have a thought to do something nice like… oh, I don’t know, send a thank you card, or remember a birthday… then, my mother, before I had the chance to initiate that activity myself would say “Remember to send a thank you note.” And that was it. I was done. I wouldn’t have sent a thank you note if it kept me from dying by fire. I’ve never really known what that particularly unpleasant part of my personality serves, where it comes from, or why it is there, but it is true. My thunder has been stolen. The idea and impulse was no longer my own. I could take no pride in my own altruism because I was directed to the action by my mother!

So, as usual, I’ve strayed from the original point, but the whole unsolicited advice prompts a similar but not quite identical response. It’s completely involuntary and unconscious. Occasionally, the advice or instruction is actually good, and I have to forcefully shove that angry, bad-tempered 13 year old in my head back into her closet.

However… not all the advice or directions are good. To be completely honest, some of it is downright dangerous. Mostly, it is just insulting, though, especially considering some sources. For instance, it has been a somewhat regular occurrence for myself as well as other friends who also have their physical fits to be molested by self-appointed, untrained, and certainly not certified trainers. You know the sort I’m talking about. These are the fitness experts of the local gym striding about looking for hapless victims upon whom to pounce with their sage body-conscious wisdom. They walk over and ask if you need a spot. “Nah, man. It’s like 10 pounds, I’m good.” Or they might critique your stance, suggest a different type of exercise, or tell you that you will never get “swolled” doing it like that (assuming they actually know why you are working out and that your actual goal must be the same as theirs… to be “shredded, swolled, cut…” You get the idea). Without fail… you hear the “You’re doing it wrong” proclaimed as a blandishment for your obviously neophyte training regimen. Generally speaking, my greatest risk of injury usually comes at that point… spraining my ocular muscles with an inadvertent eye roll worthy of the aforementioned inner 13 year old.

For some of my friends, these overtures are less about form and results and more about how hot they look in their spandex. However, there are people who legitimately believe that the rest of the world truly requires their input. On that same train are riding the several thousands of various people, adverts, or click baits that are dying to tell you why your favorite food is making you fat. At this point, I’m not sure why anyone can actually keep track. For every theoretical diet or workout, there is some other guru who will absolutely tell you that it is soooooo wrong and will have the opposite results to what you are hoping to achieve.

I think my favorites are still the things that you click on that tell you that the reason you are not getting the slender sexy body that you want is because you are starving yourself and working out too hard. According to these miracle workers, you need to work out for 45 seconds and eat donuts… ok, might have exaggerated slightly. When the unsuspecting, desperate individual who sees a beach trip looming on the horizon clicks for help, there is literally half an hour of ridiculous snake oil poured out that ends with “And the secret can be yours for $199.99… PLUS, you get my own very special, delish, and fool proof recipes guaranteed to shoe horn your fat ass into that bikini in 10 days… or your money back!” Sheesh.

You know why there are so many plans out there and gimmicks and diets and workouts? Because people are looking for something that works that isn’t… wait for it… TIME and ENERGY and SELF-CONTROL. I understand. I really do. It is the appeal of wanting something that is as easy to make that healthy change as it was to slap on the extra pounds from over indulging and not moving enough. People don’t like being told that they may have to eliminate or at least cut back on their favorite sugary, fat-packet snacks. They don’t want to change their lifestyle and behaviors. They just want to change their life.

Our world has become very sedentary. Most of the jobs today involve a lot of sitting. Food comes fast and with a lot of calories to give it that “comfort” appeal. Deciding to make changes for better health actually requires some effort. Frequently that makes it unattractive in the beginning. That is why people look for easier ways. Eventually, those healthier changes start feeling good, but in the beginning, there is the strangeness and the resistance to change the status quo that provides the inertia going against the new motivation.

That is the other part of this whole “you’re doing it wrong” thing that frustrates and angers me. For many people (myself included), there is some embarrassment in starting down a new path. There is some inhibition of showing ignorance and self-consciousness for letting ourselves go from the physical and health perspective. While some unsolicited advisers are genuinely attempting to help, for many, that criticism is just enough to make those of us fighting the uphill battle of self-discipline run away and hide from the people who point out how “wrong” we’re doing it.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret… if you are making the effort to move and change, you are doing something right. Unless you are doing something terribly outrageous and trying to imitate a double-jointed contortionist from the sideshow which could actually damage your body (incorrect posture, failure to keep your knees over your toes on squats, or putting too much torque on your joints when doing weight training), it isn’t wrong. There is nothing wrong with asking how to do certain types of exercises safely to avoid hurting yourself. There is nothing wrong with asking how to use equipment to make sure that you are getting the benefit for which it was designed. Not every plan or diet or supplement or nutrition program works for every person on the planet.

Everyone is different, and each few years someone else comes out with a new theory to revolutionize fitness, weight loss, fat-burning, muscle-building world. Low carb, no carb, all carb, low fat, healthy fat… weight training, aerobics, cardio, cross fit, high intensity interval, low impact… you name it, the list goes on and on, and every new messiah of fitness will tell you that their predecessors had it all wrong and that their plan is what you need to follow to be come the Adonis or Venus of your dreams.  They will provide testimonials and “evidence” to prove that their way is what works. I’m not saying they are wrong or have fabricated anything (I’m sure some have, but we’ll assume for the moment we are not actually talking about those). I’m suggesting that on the whole, they are providing a very small subject size. With few exceptions, the results and outcomes for these programs are usually not given with long term results (meaning they show “Lost 53 pounds in 8 weeks!” rather than “Kept off 53 pounds after 5 years!”). Again, small subject sizes. They are giving you results with a handful of people. They don’t tell you about the 40 people who followed this compared to 40 similarly profiled people with similar demographics that did not follow the same plan or possibly followed a different plan. They only tell you about the success stories.

Now, what you can do is check out reviews. With the advent of the internet came the ability to check out what people say about different programs, products, etc. While positive reviews are nice and show the best results, I personally always look for the negative reviews. I look to see 1) how many there are, and 2) what they say about the program that made them give the negative review. Physical trainers and fitness professionals are all well and good, but they are ultimately trying to sell their services, their programs, their products, and their books. Some produce results, and that is great, but again, it is small subject size and with very controlled circumstances. I truly believe that if you are under the guidance and coaching of one of these folks, you will show some results. It may not be precisely the same as they display with their own bodies or even their other clientele, but if you meet with a trainer that knows what they are doing, you are going to have some results, and they will likely be positive results. How positive generally depends on how much effort that YOU put into it. Long term lasting results depend on making changes in lifestyle that continue past the goal achievement.

For me, I tend to stick with medical journals and other academic or scholarly publications. Why? Because I’m a nerd. That’s probably the first thing you thought. I also have access to said journals because of my academic credentials. Most of them are available out there via subscriptions and such, but not everyone wants to pay for that or plow through a bunch of sciency-speak academia to see what types of programs seem to give the best results and for how long. Most of the true scholarly journal articles are to be found in libraries where they can be accessed for dissertation and thesis research. This is where I generally get hold of mine. Unless you belong to a professional organization, you are not likely to have subscriptions to these laying around on the coffee table. However, to drag my train of thought back to the track from its wanderings, the reason I like these is because they are less biased than your average self-help piece. They have larger subject sizes, examine a lot of different approaches, and give all the results, not just the positive ones.

Here is what I have managed to gather from all of it:

I’m not doing it wrong.

I’m doing what works for me to feel good, and occasionally it actually produces outcomes that are what I was after in the first place. Being healthy isn’t about looking a particular way. It is about feeling better. To be in better physical shape, you need both strength/resistance and cardio. You also need fuel. Starving yourself or following extreme diets of any kind generally does more harm than good, and very few of the diets that decrease caloric intake severely have long term success in keeping off the weight. And here’s a hint… if you find a program that avoids all the things that you hate about working out and getting fit, it is probably too good to be true and won’t actually have the impact you are wanting. If a program does not have a prescribed time limit with a sustainable maintenance cycle that you can actually live with for the long haul, it probably ain’t gonna cut it. Just because something works for your friend at the office doesn’t mean that the same exact thing will work in the exact same way for you.

I’ve found out when all is said and done, we aren’t doing it wrong when we are trying to find the pattern that works for us. So, keep at it. Ask questions (from actually knowledgeable people). Do research. Read reviews. The only wrong is when we stop trying.

The New Cheese: Sick at Work

 

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That’s right. I said sick at work, not sick of work. Believe me, if I was just talking about being overtired, burned out, and downright annoyed with the concept of putting in a 40 hour week for people who do not appreciate it… that would be a different post and probably a whole lot longer.

I have a pretty decent work ethic. Some of my friends think my work ethic borders on the obsessive and possibly masochistic, but I feel that it is my responsibility to stay out of bankruptcy court, pay my bills on time, and do the best job I can for the employers that provide me that opportunity whether they appreciate it or not.

What that boils down to is that I can be a bit of a workaholic. I can actually hear a few of you out there who know me screaming at the screen “A BIT?!?” Yes, a bit. I have actually seen and experienced worse. I’ve actually seen and been worse. However, Iknow that being the Type A individual that I am, I’m a happier person busy than indolent or bored.

I try to be more conscious of life and take it a little bit more easy. I recognize my own limitations and that I am not getting any younger. Yes, that was difficult to type. In other words, I’ve only got the one life, and there are… in fact… more things in this world than money, possessions, and job. That was almost painful. However, I recognize, too, that I am lucky enough to have family and a few friends that probably never appreciated playing second chair to the career virtuosity. They might even appreciate spending more time with me.

Strangely, that is not where I was going with this post, though. I only said all that to illustrate my own approach to work, and showing up for work, and not letting anything stand in the way of work… and you get the idea. I can literally count the number of times I have called into work on one hand and remove a few of those fingers while I am at it… in the whole of my life. I have worked through varying degrees of illness and infirmity… frequently when I should not have. Yes, that is what I said… SHOULD NOT HAVE.

The thing is, I appreciate a solid work ethic. I appreciate people that won’t be beaten. I appreciate people who don’t let a little cold or allergies keep them down. I tend to be a little concerned with the person who calls in too frequently or always has some ailment that prevents them from being reliable. I value being able to count on a person to show up when they are supposed to and do the job that they are supposed to do. That is pretty typical of most employers. In fact, there are not a lot of employers that are going to say “Now, you are just working yourself too hard, and you need to take better care. Take it easy and stop putting in all that extra time…” Yeah, never going to hear that in the corporate world. Some companies do try to be more understanding and try to make their organization a decent place to work where people want to be. They understand that content or happy employees are loyal and productive. However, most places (especially larger ones with less highly skilled or highly educated workforce) operate on the philosophy that if you use one up, you can get another for cheaper anyway.

Harsh, I know, but sadly true. Again, I’ve wondered from the point… but not really, because it is all a foundation for what I’m saying.

Because the modern employer and modern company generally do not acknowledge that humans become ill and perhaps shouldn’t be worked until they drop, many employees also choose to ignore the physical limitations of the human body. Also, a part of that modern system is that many places do not have separate sick time and vacation time. Most role it all into something called “Paid Time Off” or PTO. PTO can be planned or unplanned, and some companies have rules about how many “unplanned” absences you can have as well. The point is that people do not want to take off when they
are ill unless they really just cannot function. They would rather save that rather valuable commodity of PTO for things that are more enjoyable like a vacation or time off around the holidays.

The result? People come to work in all manner of conditions. I’ve been guilty of this myself. People suffering from colds, mild flu, varying degrees of contagion… they all push themselves to show up for work because they do not want to miss work for something as simple as a stuffy nose or coughing fit. They don’t want to use the PTO, or they may not have the PTO to use if they have used it all for more enjoyable reasons. This is the problem with not having designated sick time. People come to work when they are sick.

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Sounds very self-sacrificing and diligent, doesn’t it. Sometimes people legitimately will say that they have too many projects, deadlines, etc. that cannot afford a delay of them staying home. That is all well and good… so, maybe not so well, and perhaps not so good. People who come to work with their illness and germs share that with their workspace… and colleagues… and that is how entire office buildings end up sick. What people do not think about when they come to work with their head cold or slight flu is that everyone with whom they come in contact is at risk to catch their illness… and take it home with them. It’s a fine line, and I know it. What constitutes a legitimate threat of contagion to the point that you should ditch work for the public health? Some companies will actually send announcements out during particularly virulent outbreaks. Some organizations sponsor flu and pneumonia vaccines for all their staff. Still, there is usually a few times per year that some disease gets passed around an office.

Telecommuting has provided an opportunity for some employees to stay away from the office petri dish but still work their ducky little hearts out from home. Sadly, this doesn’t necessarily improve productivity. What I’m saying here is not new. There are several articles in the past few years cautioning people about going to work sick and the actual costs to the business that range in the 9-figure range (Bratskeir, 2015; Rasmussen, 2013)… that’s right over a hundred billion dollars lost due to people being so diligent that they come into work when they are not well. It is called presenteeism. Yeah, I didn’t realize there was a name for it either until I started thinking about this post.

Technology has made it possible for us to work straight through almost every situation including hospitalization. That doesn’t make it wise or the best choice. Just because one can work while convalescing does not mean one should work while convalescing. The whole point to being off while you are ill is to get better. Most prescriptions for your average cold or flu involve rest and fluids. The body heals best when resting. So, working while one is ill can actually prolong the suffering and sometimes the contagious period.

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I know… I really do. Taking time to get well puts you behind or leaves someone in a jam or any number of other reasons not to stay in bed and drink fluids from a bendy straw (Gaskell, 2015). I am one of the absolute worst and will probably work until lunch on the day of my funeral. However, I do try to avoid spreading my plagues, and if you aren’t going to stay in bed and take care of yourself when you are sick, at least try to stay away from the rest of us. Thanks.

Bratskeir, K. (2015). Global study shows why sick people go to work – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-employees-go-to-work-sick_us_5640dab9e4b0307f2cae408c

Gaskell, A. (2015). Why coming into work sick makes you a villain not a hero – http://www.careeraddict.com/why-coming-into-work-when-sick-makes-you-a-villain-not-a-hero

Rasmussen, D. (2013). The real cost of going to work sick – http://www.careerealism.com/real-costs-work-sick/