Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Change - Right Now!

I was away for a couple of weeks, so this blog has been fairly stagnant. Normally on an out-of-town trip I try to do a lot of journal-writing, and a lot of evaluating of priorities. On this trip I did neither.

It's as though the health scare I had a few weeks ago has set my priorities, without any question, without any "baby steps" about it. My outlook towards food has changed - and so far it's stayed changed for a month.

The idea of food-as-comfort is almost (not completely, but almost) gone. I seem to understand things I could never "get" before - that if half a doughnut is good, then a whole one might be better, but three is definitely worse. That if I'm hungry, but not for anything in particular, I shouldn't graze my way through everything in the kitchen, but instead think about what I've eaten so far that day, and fill in any gaps - have I missed fruits? Vegetables? Grains? Fiber?

Portion size is easier as well, except for my friend Melanie's tofu meatloaf, which I love; still, if I'm going to over-indulge, meatless meatloaf is a better choice than, say, a double cheeseburger or a medium pizza.

I'm down about eight pounds, which feels painstakingly slow but is really about normal.

Finally, I think I'm beginning to consider food as fuel, and not as an emotional panacea. Fuel can - and should - taste good and be enjoyable - but much better to eat something my body needs, that I've prepared (sometimes well, sometimes less so), than to eat something that satisfieds my head, but does little for the rest of me.

I've tried to make this kind of change before, and it has never lasted more than a few weeks. This time I think the change was reinforced with real fear - and that seems to have made it "stick."

The glucose monitor doesn't hurt, either.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Low anxiety

And this, class, is the sort of mood swing that can happen to, oh, just about anyone.

It's not a panic attack; it lasts too long and it's not nearly that severe. I told my doctor once that instead of panic attacks, I had dread attacks - but really it's "just" anxiety.

The simplest description is that I'm nervous about getting up and moving, but I can't stand the thought of staying where I am (which, in the end, is inside my own skin.) None of it is real; tomorrow I will visit dear friends in a town I really enjoy (but, the anxiety says, you have to go through Airport-Land to get there - don't miss the shuttle bus, don't miss your flight, don't miss the next shuttlebus, your luggage will be too heavy. No, it won't, I won't, everything will be fine.)

And a week (or thereabouts) at a computer conference reminds me that I have neither the brain of a mathematician nor the heart of a programmer.  More and more I think I really need to figure out another way to make a living.

Of course, being almost 50 years old, that's a terrifying thought.

Ah-ha. It's that "not fitting" feeling, I'd bet, that kicked off the anxiety. "These really aren't my people" quickly translates to "I am wrong." A friend of mine used to say that years of depression modifies your brain - where a normal person's brain goes from A to B to C, he would say, our brains go from A to B to fucked up.

There isn't anything wrong with all these computer types; like me, they enjoy solving problems; they're just more into the tools than I am. And there's nothing wrong with the idea that I'm not as into those tools - but I do have to learn to use them well enough to justify the salary I'm earning.

It's nice to know that if I stop and breathe, I can back up from "fucked up" to B, make an adjustment, and continue to C and D and beyond. Just like the rest of you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

If a change is as good as a rest, is a rest as good as a change?

I'm on a business trip - my first in some time. Conferences normally bore me to tears, but I love being in hotels - they're so clean, and it takes no effort on my part at all. Having someone clean up after you is a huge luxury, and one I greatly appreciate.

I always bring along a journal on trips like this one; it's a good time to write, to sift through my concerns, to think about what I've been neglecting and which priorities are out of whack.

Except this time.

Oh, there are things I want to improve - there always are - but I'm exercising and eating right, which is a major change (usually on the top of my "I really need to" list.) Thanks to the conference organizers for providing healthy food choices.

I was thinking earlier about conferences like this one I attended five or six years ago. Then, I was a chain smoker - and a not-exactly-light drinker. I haven't spent any time in the bar at all (which is not to say I've had nothing to drink - I'm just not holding up the bar all night.) I've been taking the stairs as often as possible (several times a day) instead of automatically heading for the elevator - not a minor consideration, as I'm on the 11th floor!. I'm skipping the desserts and the breakfast pastries, and I joined in on a long walk tonight - something I've never done before. (Of course I did treat myself to a piece of raspberry-chocolate cake afterward - still, except for a bar of Dove chocolate, that's my first sweet since Sunday morning.)

Yes, I need to be more cautious with my money, but I know I can do that; I've done it before. And I've treated myself well on this trip - there is a perfumery down the street and I spent freely there - but that's a pleasure that will last a long time.

So I think my next big "push" - along with continuing the improvement in diet and exercise - will be focusing on my home. Just before I left town a friend called; she'd had a horrible fight with her husband, might need a place to stay - could she borrow my apartment? Of course - but I am a horrible housekeeper (I take after my grandmother in that) - I scrambled to clean up but it was a reminder of how much just plain dirt and dust I never even notice. And I want my home to be comfortable and clean. That doesn't mean just vacuumed and dusted; it means doing a job my mother would be satisfied with.

I have no idea whether I'm really up to that; after all, deep cleaning is not something I notice unless I'm having unexpected company. But I'm pleased that so many of the changes I've wanted to make over the years have actually taken place, or are in progress. I am financially much more stable than I used to be. I am living a healthier life (and I was right about one thing - the glucose monitor is a much better stimulus than the scale!)

When I leave this conference, I'm traveling on to visit friends for several days, instead of going directly home. I'm hoping to write more there, without the distractions of work.

This is a rambling post, the effect of two glasses of wine. But I feel good, and I don't think it's just the wine talking.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Change in Others

This weekend I've been thinking a lot about the change we see in others, and how we - how I - deal with it. And it seems to me that it might be harder to deal with change in others than it is to deal with the change we struggle to create in ourselves.

My father lives in a nursing home, and he hates it. I don't blame him; unfortunately I don't have a better solution. He wants to stay in the rural area where he's lived most of his life, and the services that might have kept him living at home just aren't available.

So he's angry, and bitter, and I understand that and I hate the fact that I can't change it. But this weekend I realized something else: the sense of humor that has always been so much a part of him - a dry, subtle sense of humor that most people don't even see - it's gone.

It may not be gone completely but that twinkle in his eye that says "got you again!" has become very rare. Understandably so; who makes jokes when you're unhappy?

But I realized today that losing that part of my father really hurts. It's as though my real father died, and I'm left with this shell that looks like him, but isn't really him at all. And I also realized that not only does this change in him make our relationship difficult, but my refusal to deal with who he is, rather than who he was, is not making things any easier.

I need to work on my view of him - and my own sense of guilt for his being in the nursing home in the first place, which muddies the water even further.

If I still loved my mother when she was deep in the grip of terminal cancer, can I not still love my father when he is deep in the grip of a painful old age? I need to let go of wanting him to be my father; he is done with that. I started trying, a couple of years ago, to accept the fact that I can't make him happy. The best thing - maybe the only thing - I can provide for him now is companionship, and in order to do that, I have to stop wanting him to be who I want him to be - the Dad of 10 years ago - and accept who he is now.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Plan

It's been a busy weekend - a lovely dinner party in honor of my niece and her new husband, and a trip to see my father, who lives in a nursing home a hundred miles away. He hates the nursing home and I hate having him there, but there are no other solutions he's willing to consider, so that's where he is. But his unhappiness is hard to deal with. I love him, but I am happy to be at home.

I am drinking a glass of red wine. My favorite lentil-squash "stew" is simmering on the stove, and I have a very old new-agey CD on the stereo - something I seldom listen to, but tonight I need to have the rough spots smoothed away, and this music seems to be working.

Weekends like this are difficult for me, because I seem to need a lot of solitude before I return to the work-week. Not having it makes me feel as though the coming week is chasing me down before I'm ready. As soon as the stew is cool enough to refrigerate, I'll go to bed with a book. While I wait for it to cool, though, I want to write down some of the things that I think are important in making this new and very big change.

I am working towards two goals: to get my daily blood sugar readings below normal (they aren't, yet), and to lose 50 pounds in 25 weeks, beginning last week.

I'm going to accomplish this with exercise and diet, and that requires changing my routine, changing the way I look at food and eating, and changing the amount and quality of food I eat. I have a lot to learn.

It's important to be realistic about what I'm up against: I will be 50 next year; it's far easier - and more common - to gain weight than to lose it at this time in life. I take two drugs, both of which are conducive to weight gain. My thyroid functions well below normal as a further side effect of medical treatment. And I have a long history of living on pizza, cheeseburgers, and scotch. (And ice cream.)

The first major step towards change is awareness. I got a good start on that with the blood sugar scare last week, but that fear will fade sooner than I think. Here are some of the things I have observed, or want to observe:

Hunger - I think that healthy people eat when they feel hunger. I had reached a point where I ate whenever I was no longer full. I seldom got hungry, as a result, and I often felt overfull. So when I have the urge to eat, I need to pay attention: Am I truly hungry, or am I just not quite full? Am I feeding my head - from anger or sadness or fear - or am I feeding my stomach?

Food choices - last week I worked hard to eat a low-carbohydrate, low-fat diet, and it felt really good. I never felt hungry. This weekend I relaxed more than a little; tomorrow I want to be back on track. As a start, tomorrow's meals are already planned, and that's good, because if I don't plan ahead, I make very poor choices. At the same time, I understand that cheeseburgers are one of my favorite foods; as a result, I get one every time I make the road trip to see my father - one cheeseburger every three weeks. That satisifies me, but probably won't kill me.

Motivation - It would be very easy to say "oh, well, I don't have diabetes after all, so why not loosen up a bit." This is why I've gathered together all my books on the subject - nutrition, the food business in this country, emotional eating - with several books on diabetes added as of this week. Each day I will read some portion of one of these books, and write down the major points in the journal I'm keeping. I want to remind myself, daily, of my reasons for doing this.

The journal is where I'm tracking progress. There is a section to make notes on my readings. There is a food journal, where I track not only what I eat, but how I fight or give in to excess. Weight and blood sugar are recorded here as well,, and exercise for the day.  Then there are a few random pages where I jot down ideas or insights. These are obvious, very broad, and would sound silly to people who aren't standing where I'm standing - but I need to learn to reward myself for making good choices, if only to take a moment to celebrate doing the right thing.

This is the first time in years I've felt confident of making change; the first time, perhaps ever, that I've laid out such a detailed  plan. But it's not an easy goal; if it was, I'd have accomplished it years ago.

I'm going to put my low-fat, low-carb, high-fiber stew in the refrigerator, grab my "prediabetes/diabetes prevention" book, update my journal, and call it a night.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


What kind of motivation does it take to make a big change?

I had wanted to quit smoking for a long time before I actually did it, but I had a number of reasons I believed would cause me to fail (yet again.) Allen Carr's book convinced me, in an afternoon, that I actually could succeed, and for that I am forever grateful.

I realized very soon after I quit smoking that one of the times I really missed smoking was when I was on the verge of losing my temper, or otherwise losing control. For twenty-five years, I had managed my emotions by walking away from a situation, smoking a cigarette, cooling off, and coming back. I thought I knew all the reasons that made me a smoker, but I didn't know I used it for the physical management of emotions - and I couldn't do that any more.

I began to learn to manage my temper in a more positive way. I joined an on-line political discussion group so that I could learn to present a reasonable and solid argument. But that was only a partial solution. Slowly I began to lean on food for far too many things - celebration and consolation, relief of boredom, a brake on frustration.

That behavior, plus the side effect of my medications, brought me where I am today - 5'9" and 220 pounds.

I have another problem with losing weight, and that's a societal one. I think I became a feminist at 13, the day Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs -a long time ago. I am well aware of the fashion, beauty, and weight loss industry's reliance on making women feel less than acceptable. Not being the cute cheerleader at the front of the room, I learned early on that if I didn't learn to value myself for who (rather than what) I was, I would never be happy. (This would have made for a very healthy woman had not depression intervened to convince me that I was ntohing at all.)

So I have a real problem with diet plans and programs; I think they are almost all, at heart, exploitive of women, and I don't trust them any further than I can throw them. I was in an on-line Weight Watcher's group for a while, but it tends to have a large number of somewhat more traditional women, and I just didn't mesh well with the group. Not their problem at all,  mine - but a problem.

In a way, this diabetes scare was the best thing that could happen to me. It gives me the motivation I've been lacking: first-hand knowledge of a diagnosis I want to postpone as long as possible. I have a measurement - blood glucose - that doesn't buy into all the the cultural garbage about women looking ":wrong."

And I have a collection of books with information about the problem I'm trying to deal with, and I'm going to use every one of them.

Serious Change

I learned today that I have a terrific second chance, and I intend to take advantage of it.

I am genetically predisposed to diabetes. Both of my parents, both of my grandmothers, uncles on both sides, and my sister all had or have it.

I've gained a lot of weight with the help of antidepressants, lithium, and the effect of lithium on the thyroid., I'm a good 50 pounds overweight.

Those two things are major indications that some day, I'm going to be diagnosed with diabetes. For most of this week, I expected it to happen today.

Because scales don't work well for me in trying to lose weight, I bought a blood glucose monitor last week. I thought it would motivate me to lose weight and keep my blood sugar in check.

My first test was Saturday, and it scared hell out of me. Fasting blood glucose between 100 and 126 is considered "prediabetes." Over that is a very strong indication of diabetes. My readings were over 170 for two days in a row, over 150 for four.

Even though I have expected a diagnosis, given my risk factor, I was deeply upset. I called the doctor first thing Monday and made an appointment for Thursday - the earliest time possible.

While I waited and worried, I also bought and read books on diabetes, changed my eating, and started 25-30 minutes of daily exercise.

Today I got the results of my A1C blood test - a test that checks average blood sugar for the past few months. I don't know how it worked out this way, but I don't have diabetes. And I'm thrilled; absolutely thrilled. This is a gift.

So I am not going back to my old ways. The weight is coming off. I am not going to blow this second chance.

This will not become a weight-loss blog, but because my weight gain is in part a result of the treatment of my depression, and because this is going to be some really serious constructive thinking, I will write about it here here from time to time, especially at the beginning.

For now, I'm just happy and relieved. And I laughed at myself this afternoon, because, although I won't ever overeat my favorite food, it's good to know that once in a while, "I can still has cheesburger!"