Saturday, June 6, 2015

Never. Give. Up.

Note:  Because so many others have shared their stories and inspired me, I feel it is only right that I share the following in the hope it will help someone who may be feeling they want to give up.

I have spent the last six or so years in pain, from extreme to bearable, but uncomfortable.  The diagnosis was arthritis through back and neck, right hip needs replacing, left is getting there, and "you probably have fibromyalgia." The pain often makes me physically ill.

My favorite activities, before what led up to this diagnosis, were ice climbing, bouldering, hiking, rock climbing, dancing, and in-line skating. I figured I'd just keep moving and it would pass.

Didn't happen.

For someone who always just pushed through-- when I had appendicitis (no one could figure out what it was until my appendix had burst), I put my toddler son on my back and hiked hills-- this was a shocking place to be.  I couldn't push through this.  Things got really, really bad and for over a year I seriously considered suicide a number of times.  I thank God for Virginia in the Las Cruces SSD office who helped me eventually get Social Security Disability.  She kept encouraging me to not give up, even when I was turned down the first time.  At that point I felt I had nothing to give my children. I was in bed more often than not and when I was up I was often in tears and crying out in pain and frustration. I hated feeling my two boys had to take care of me, go to the store with and sometimes for me.  Had to help me put my shoes on.  It was horrifying to consider what might happen if I could no longer drive or get out of bed by myself.

I so appreciate my two teens and how they have dealt with this.  There have been times I would not have been able to live on my own if not for my sons, and I  thank them so much for their patience and care through these very challenging years.

Over these last years I have gone to school and graduated, working part time.  My health kept deteriorating until, in January, nine months after graduating, I realized I couldn't even keep my very part time job with a wonderful, understanding boss.  I was in too much pain and too sick.  It was frightening.

Several months later, at the beginning of May, I made a decision.  Life like this was not worth living. Either I got better, or I'd kill myself trying.  I love exercise and when I could do anything in the past six years, I would do it.  The trouble was the result was days in bed, 800 mg ibuprofen at a time, and hydrocodone when it became screaming unbearable.  And feeling really, really awful, terrified to have more pain.

That was the hardest part and it may be yours, too.  The fear of more pain, especially when you are already in pain, is one of the hardest things to meet.  What finally did it for me was realizing how long I'd been living like this and how much I hated it.  I figured if I was going to feel this awful then I was at least going to have some fun and good experiences in the midst of it.

I will say that timing is everything.  I know there have been times I couldn't have done this.  My body just never gave me a break.  When it did it was very much like labor-- when you have a break between contractions, rest; you need the energy for the next one.

But at the beginning of May, as I was getting rid of stuff I didn't need, I saw a hula hoop that I had purchased years ago-- it sparkled and I wanted to at least be able to do it once before I gave it away.  But-- nope.  I couldn't.  So frustrated
that I couldn't do something so simple, I went on line and read that children's hula hoops were not easy or even possible for some adults.  I got instructions and made myself four adult sized ones.  Two are weighted with about two pounds of water.

And I began.  I am not going to tell you it was easy-- it wasn't.  One thing about limping and being in pain is that your body is totally whacked out.  My hip was weak and hurt horribly.  Just the feel of the weight of the hoop on my body hurt at first.  But sheer grit and determination-- I just kept picking it up, shifting positions, and trying again.  I had a nice bruise, but soon-- very soon, I could keep it up.

I looked on YouTube at others who had lost weight and had fun hooping and got more inspired. At this point I was thirty pounds over what I felt was a comfortable weight for me.  I couldn't even bear to take photos of myself to show a beginning point.  I felt fat and ugly and incapable of much.

But those people who had the courage to show before and after shots, who shared their journeys, inspired me so much.

Within a few weeks I'd lost and inch and a half off my waist and 5 pounds.  And I FELT better.  I signed up for and logged everything.  Everything.  I made sure that I put myself as sedentary so that any extra exercise or work that I did was extra, not included, so that I could log it (or not, and secretly know that I had done even more,)

Eating 1200 calories has not been a problem.  After a month, I am still often under in protein and over in sugar, but I just keep looking for more ways to add protein and reduce sugar and don't worry about it.  In fact, I saw that a cheat day was recommended by many who lost, so I tried it a week ago and found myself having to force myself to do so.  THAT felt good!

Over the last month I have been able to increase my activity.  In the beginning my hip was a hindrance when I tried to hoop to the left (right hip.)  I couldn't even keep it up because of the stiffness of the joint.  A month later, I feel strength in that hip (even tho it may go in and out at times.)  I can circle in both directions and my hip feels looser and stronger.  My core feels SO much stronger.  And my side view looks so much more like me-- that is huge to me.  Lower ab flab was horrifying...  To see none, at times, is inspiring and makes me work harder!

I also noticed that my height diminishes by an inch some days.  Spine lengthening exercises have been helpful and also have eased some of the pain.

I have horrible days still.  But I also have had some good ones.  I have hiked (with poles) and the last time I went out I didn't have to take ibuprofen-- during or after-- and I was much surer going over rocks.  THAT is WONDERFUL!  It helped me feel so much more myself.

And today I did a snowplow (yoga) and touched my toes to the floor-- something I have not been able to do in years and which used to be so easy for me!

I know there are bound to be rough days (yesterday was one), but I have decided on every day that I can, I am exercising the heck out of myself.  I don't care what happens tomorrow because of it (and I have found that more recently the repercussions have been far less or none!)  I am going to enjoy every day that I can.

So, in closing, here are some tips that have helped me:

1.  The stronger my core, I have found, the less I fear the pain.  Some days are better than others, but that feeling of core strength has made a huge difference in my pain tolerance and fear of pain.

2.  Logging food and exercise-- and logging on my own sheets the weather, how much sleep I got, energy levels, etc. has helped a great deal.  If I am having a good day, the drive to push the calories expended becomes a personal challenge. If I have a bad day, I can see that the week overall has been good and I don't feel so rotten about not being able to do anything.

3.  Don't weigh-- measure!  I am weighing, I admit.  But seeing the scale just keep sitting there has discouraged me...  Feeling my pants falling off makes me feel GREAT!  Seeing the inches go is terrific!   DO WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO KEEP GOING.  Period.

4.  Make music that inspires you and "wear it."  I bought an MP3 player and downloaded a bunch of tunes that make me move, and then I wear it everywhere.  If I'm in the store, I put only one headphone in, but I wear it.  It makes me move.

5.  Do whatever you can whenever you can.  Do heel raises while you do dishes, do isometric core work while brushing your teeth,  wiggle and dance when you are sitting down (fidgeting burns a lot of calories.)   If you are flat on your back-- and I have been A LOT-- stretch, do core strengthening, tighten and relax each of your muscles in turn.  And meditate.  Don't let the times you CAN'T keep you from the times that you CAN.

6.  Keep your spirits up by meditating and watching others' inspiring stories.  Keeping your spirits up is one of the hardest things when you have pain.  For me, nature videos, bird songs, the sound of waves or thunderstorms, using my arms (sometimes the only thing that doesn't hurt) to do dancer moves like flamenco artists, and watching someone else's journey help me immensely.

7.  Make your surroundings as conducive to working out as you can.  For me, it meant pushing everything in my living room to the sides so that I could pick up the hoop and work when I had any energy at all.  If I had to push the couch out of the way, I might have lost the energy to do any more. I leave my weights, exercise instructions, and exercise ball out and easily available.  It is my house, and my focus is my health.  If you come over-- YOU can push the couch back and move my hoops!

8.  All of my focus is on my health.  All of it.  If I think anything might distract or discourage me, I don't do it.  Because pain saps so much of my energy, whatever energy I DO have goes to me (my kids are the exception-- thank goodness they are very self-sufficient at this point.)  I recognized that if I was to have any future at all, I have to focus on ME-- right now.  Intensely.

9.  Wait out the really bad days.  Just lie down and stop punishing yourself for having to.  Focus on your health and stop thinking about how it used to be so much better or easier.  It was.  It isn't now. Just wait it out.  Tell your body-- "Do what you need to, but as soon as I can I am going to hoop, dance, hike, whatever."  And know that it will happen.  Sometimes you can feel that moment when you are not feeling great, but you think you can still do something --- do it.  Don't wait to feel 100%, because for some of us, that doesn't happen. I find by exercising when I feel I MIGHT be able to usually helps me feel better, and when I find that I can, that makes me feel even better!  When I can't, I just try to remind myself-- a little later you can.  Just wait.

10.  Don't give up.  Do. not. give. up.

Do what you can--- when you can.  And never give up.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The News and Nothing But Everyone on the Planet's News

I quickly scanned the headlines.  I went for two stories.  The first was the one on Yellowstone's magma chamber.  I live close enough (as in "New Mexico would be decimated if it blew full bore" kind of way) that it might matter.  And then I turned to the story of the woman who beat out wrestlers and football players eating 72 oz of steak and sides in 30 minutes, setting a record no less (I think that's correct- my fact checker is taking a hiatus, so this goes.)

It struck me:  I'm a reasonably intelligent woman.  I don't watch Fox News.  I depend on Jon Stewart for all of the news that counts.  But I just can't take any more.

The problem these days is this:  you know everyone's troubles from your family members to a "friend" in a far away land.  You also know what they eat, how they dressed for the day, and the news (and sometimes scans) from their latest doctor's appointment. And then you know their friends' troubles as they are reposted and help is sought through crowd sourcing, as well as the lost pets, or animals discovered in horrid condition.  You know what the BLM is doing to the wild horses and the color of  a friend of a friend's nail job.  Social media lets nothing get past us these days.

On the community, state, country, and global side, not only do we know everything about the nothing going on in our governments, we know a lot about every trial and tribulation that is taking place worldwide.  That includes someone in Alabama marrying an ISIS fighter to another rape and murder in India to a woman losing her children in an accident several states away to the latest double murder down the street (all real stories.) Times 10 to the 100th power.

Years ago, we did not have access to these things.  The most compelling stories, ie, John F.Kennedy being shot, Martin Luther King jr being shot, four shot dead on the Kent State campus, we heard hourly coverage (if we owned a TV and had it on), we saw the pictures replayed on the five o'clock news on three stations.  We waited for the spread in Life or Newsweek magazine to give us a more in depth scoop with photos.

Now it is endless TV stations, on-line moment-by-moment updates, and endless video footage (thanks to the proliferation of camera phones) of every event replayed over and over.  More and more restaurants serve TV news coverage along with their food, and airports show the news while you are held captive at the gate awaiting your flight.

In the old days, we didn't know about any one's troubles unless they were a close friend, or we listened to gossip.  We had a newspaper that showed up once a day that gave us news in short stories with one or two pictures, if there happened to be a photographer at the scene. We didn't have details and photos of everything that was happening to half the people on the planet.

Why does this make a difference?  If you have ever had a traumatic experience, especially if you have had several in close succession, you know that your mind goes numb, shuts down when it can't take it all in.  The most horrendous situation can become background noise, and we do nothing.

In that numbness, that hazy realm of "what the heck is going on with the world?," you begin to long for the kind of story like the one about a competitive eater who weighs 124 pounds, eats enough for a dozen starving children in 30 minutes, and is grateful to have done it, because it was "free."

Funny, that just about sums up the rest of the news in one small scene.

Serious Afterthought:  There was a devastating earthquake in Nepal.  After checking on a friend who could potentially be in the area and discovering that he is stateside (through social media) and hearing that friends are still awaiting news of their loved ones, I am grateful that social media is there to help people make contact and to help those still in need.  As I pray I am glad for the updates to be able to direct my prayers more effectively.  Would I be happier had I never heard until it was all over?  Perhaps.  But knowing has allowed me an opportunity to help in my own small way.

Friday, April 17, 2015


I have spent the last week writing three different blog postings that will never be posted.  Every time I reread them they sound angry.  I won't deny that I am.  But this time I will try to be more positive than angry.

I was "inspired" to write these posts by two different articles and one date.  The date was the fifteenth anniversary of someone who caused a great deal of damage to my family.  The effects are still felt all of these years later.  It was a parent.  The articles were on how parents need to be more vigilant in one way or another.  Essentially they blamed parents for not watching over their children in the way someone else feels they should.

As a mother of six, four grown and two still at home (who are almost ready to go out on their own), having watched one daughter raise her son to college-age, I have pretty strong opinions on parenthood.  But they may not be what you'd think.

Truthfully, I think we need to stop judging other parents. [The glitch, of course, is when we think a child might be in danger.  I don't think there is an easy answer to this.  If our system worked better and those who responded could be trusted, then calling "authorities" might be the best advice.  Sadly, those in power are the problem at times. I'd say, do what you feel is best when the situation arises.]

It is so easy to look from the outside and tell another parent how to do it.  I admit I have done my share of that in my head.  One advantage of the many years I have been parenting is that I can see the outcomes of some of those parental techniques that I was so sure were wrong.  Every single one of those children have turned out beautifully.

Any parenting technique that you see today that you think is so terrible-- I guarantee you that somewhere there is a functioning adult who says that technique is what made them the person they are today: Spanking vs. not spanking, religion vs. no religion (or a different religion), being strict vs. giving the child lots of freedom, public vs private vs home schooling, and so on.

We are so quick to credit or blame the parent for how a child turns out.  But, we forget that the child has a great deal to do with it.  I am not going to say that parents have no influence.  They do.  My co-parent who had such a deep impact on our family is proof.

However, math explains it best:
1+1+f+s+t+p+g+x +y does not equal a certain definite sum. The answer is unknown until all those letters are added in. And a great many of those letters are not within your control as a parent. 
An advantage of multiple children is to see how unique each child is from birth.  One cries constantly, another is quiet.  One walks "early", another is "late."  One is full of laughter and energy, and another seems to be quiet and pondering deep questions from an early age.  They are born with different identities, and those differences remain as you parent them.

So parenting techniques really should fit each child.  And as long as we want individuals in the world, not robots, we must allow for parents to use their own sense of right to bring up their children and allow ourselves to vary our techniques with each child, if we feel it suits the child better.

It isn't easy to be non- judgmental, and perhaps some societal rules to guide parents are a good thing. But the more that society lends a hand to parents, instead of a slap across the face, I think the better. The more we find ways to be supportive of our fellow parents instead of criticizing, I think the better.

Are there parenting techniques that I abhor?  Absolutely. But some of them may not be what you'd expect.  One I particularly dislike is watching a parent walk or sit in a restaurant with their young child looking up at them expectantly while the parent plays with their phone, ignoring the child.  Are we going to make a law about that?

Unless we want the government to tell us how to raise our children, I think we need to be cautious in how many rules and regulations we make.  If we spent more time providing help to struggling parents, finding solutions to problems, and supporting parenthood, I think we might be more effective as a society in raising good people (however we might define that.)  And the more we examine the ramifications of society on children, rather than continually blame struggling parents, I think the better.  Because as the old adage goes, when society is pointing the finger at parents it has three other fingers pointing at itself.

If it helps-- after forty years straight of parenting I think I know less about how to do it well than I ever did. Each child is different and each year society makes it more "interesting" with a new challenge, a new danger. My advice: love them and act out of that love instead of fear, and trust your gut. But most of all, love them in the best way you know how at this moment.

Last, but not least, to all of you parents there in the trenches:
Good for you!  Good for you for trying so hard, for doing so much, for making an effort. For all of your supposed failures, if you are still there, still loving your children, still trying to support them to the best of your ability, GOOD FOR YOU! Cut yourself some slack when you think you didn't do it "right," and realize that as a parent, you are like your child.  You are learning and you are doing the best you can with what you have.  That you are there with your child through all of the trials and hardships is huge.  
And please, take care good care of yourself.  You, too, need care and love.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Don't "Waste" Things by Hoarding Them: The Lesson in Ribbons and Perfumes

I was wrapping a package recently and found myself skimping on the ribbons.  Suddenly it hit me that I have had these ribbons for a very long time.  They were starting to lose some of their curling properties because of it.  In fact, I could see that they were literally going to waste sitting in this box while I "saved" them for special occasions and used as little as I could to get the job done when I had occasion to use them.

It reminded me forcefully of a time when I had plenty of income, and my one splurge was expensive perfumes.  I would buy them, but then I would "save" them for special occasions.  It took watching my oldest daughter do the same sort of thing with a birthday gift of her favorite perfume and then our discussing it to help me realize how silly this was.  I bought scents because I love them.  They have a shelf life.  I was wasting the perfume to NOT use it regularly.  Since that time I regularly wear my perfumes and don't count the cost.  They are an invaluable source of joy for me.  The only way I can "waste" them is to let the scent sit in the bottle, to hoard them.

It surprised me to discover that although I had learned the lesson when it came to perfume, I had not learned it with other things in my life.  Having fallen on lean times with the fears that come with not knowing where supply will come from in future, I have found  myself living with a voice that says, "Use only what you have to; save what you can."

When we go through lean times it is very tempting to feel there is very little, not enough, and "waste not, want not" can become our constant mantra.  Yet, in practical terms the attitude of not using what we have for the purpose intended, because we fear it will deplete us or our supply, puts us further into a poverty state of mind and instead of being blessed by what we do have, we hoard it and waste it.

I think the difference between intelligent use and truly "wasting it" is asking-- what is the purpose of the item?  What is your motive in using it?  
If your motive is to help and bless others, to share joy or beauty, to enjoy what you have, I believe you can't waste what you use, any more than you waste an A note by using it to sing or waste the number 3 when using it to count.

When you hoard what you have, fearful you won't have enough, that you are being depleted, you are wasting what you have.   

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Enjoying the Wait (with tornado warnings)

Years ago, while traveling in an RV across the country, we found ourselves on a major highway going west headed into tornado warnings.  The winds were very strong making it necessary to pull off into a rest area.  Looking around it was really quite daunting.  There was one lonely farm house off in the distance in a vast plain stretching to the horizon in all directions.  Ahead down the highway there was strong evidence of everything needed for a tornado to form.  The road going the other way was across a median too challenging for our RV to cross.  I can still see the place quite clearly in my mind.  Had there not been the fear of  being hit by a tornado, it was quite lovely and secluded with the last rays of the orange glow of sunset to our left and an intense dark sky in front of us.

My children were young. There was only the restroom building in which to hide, if there was a need.  In the dark with a storm brewing ahead, it was very frightening.  I had seen the aftermath of a tornado's work in another part of the country, including pieces of objects hurled into and sticking out of trees.  What was the "smart" thing to do? Hide out in a restroom?  Stay in the RV and hope for the best?  Due to several circumstances, it seemed wisest to stay in the RV.  So I tucked in the kiddos, and we all tried to sleep.

For me, it turned out to be a wonderful, restful night, one I recall all these years later with great joy.  I felt as if we were being rocked to sleep in a giant cradle.

How did that happen?

I changed how I thought about it.  I knew there was a possibility that there was tornado coming.  I knew what that could mean for us sitting as we were in the middle of flatland.  But I also knew that either it would hit us or it wouldn't, there wasn't a thing I could do but wait, and how I waited was up to me.  So I decided to enjoy the wait.  The wind was strong enough to rock the motorhome. Once I took away the fear it truly felt relaxing.  When I thought of it as God rocking me to sleep it was utterly peaceful.

I could have had a hellish night and worried myself sick waiting to see what would happen.  But changing my perspective made it a restful, peaceful night. Would I have turned around and headed in the other direction if there had been a way?  Yes.  Did I think it wise to continue going forward into the storm?  No.  The decision to stay in that rest area seemed the wisest of available options. But after making the wisest choice, the best decision I made was to relax and enjoy the wait instead of being afraid.

I have thought of this many times since.  Waiting can be a miserable experience when one feels there are a choice of outcomes, and at least one of them would be horrible.  But if we think of now-- this very moment-- and we live in this moment with what is present, it is surprising how pleasant this moment can be. And if the thing we greatly feared comes upon us, we are likely to be better prepared for it, better able to deal with it having had those moments of rest and peace during the wait.  If it never comes, we didn't waste our "now" worrying about it.

Welcome, Mia!

My piece of (unsolicited) advice as my new grandchild begins her life-- and to us all:

The point of life is like music-- not the ending, not some ultimate success or goal--it is the dancing and singing to the piece as it is played out.

(With gratitude to Alan Watts:

Monday, March 16, 2015

Seek and You Shall Find

I love to play hidden object games, perhaps because they seem to be a metaphor for life.  For those not familiar, they consist in many cases of a photo or picture of some setting, and in that setting are objects to locate that are not (usually) easily seen.

What is fascinating about this is that the objects are always there.  Some are in plain sight, hardly disguised, and yet they are very challenging to find.  One such game has been on my computer for a number of years.  I have played it (and beaten it) over and over and over.  My kids ask why I don't get another.  Frankly, because this one is still challenging.  Even though I have found all of these objects many times, they still can be hard to locate when I go through yet again.

Why is that?  Once you see the object it is almost always very clear and obvious.  But to find it is often very challenging because there is so much STUFF in the picture.  Certain things make up the picture and they seem to be quick to attract your attention.  You have to focus; you have to make a real effort to seek out certain objects.  For me, it means I have to search with that object in mind.

So it is in life.  For most of us, life is full of large pictures full of world problems, local problems, family problems, bodily problems.  To find certain things that make life worthwhile can take looking-- seeking.  It may take a good deal of focus with the idea in mind.  If you are looking for love, or joy, or health, or abundance, or peace in a world with pictures of hate, depression, illness, poverty, and war, it can be quite a challenge.  Sometimes it takes really focusing, really seeking with what you want to find in mind.

What does this look like?  If you are looking for health it might look like this:

Oh my gosh, there is that pain again...  [Is that health? No?  Then stop focusing on that.] The neighbor's child is ill again.  I can hear him coughing from here. [Is that health? Stop focusing on that.]   Look at those children running by me-- they look so healthy and full of life!  [There you go! You are recognizing and accenting health!]  Look at my hands- they work well and are in great health! [You're doing it!]  Look at my pet- in perfect health!  My children, my spouse, my neighbor, --- some part of me-- is in perfect health. 
It happens inadvertently to all of us at some point.  We are pregnant-- suddenly women everywhere seem to be pregnant.  We buy a red car-- suddenly the world is full of red cars!  We buy a new board (skate, surf, snow) and suddenly we see it everywhere!

As you build a focus on health (or anything else), it will start to appear all around you.  So it is with many of the things we seek.  Seek them.  Don't be deterred by the opposite pictures or the crowded visual of other things to look at.  Seek what is meaningful to you and focus on it.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, you will begin to see more of what you seek.