Ch-ch-ch-changes ... good ones, too

Back in June of this year, I was working at home one day. Sitting here at my desk and listening to music while doing a task by rote. I didn't need to concentrate on what I was doing, so I started singing away to whatever I was listening to. It was one of those moments when I felt both productive and free.

Then I sort of woke up from my haze of bliss to realize a few things:

  1. I was very out of practice singing. Not surprising since I quit the choir I used to sing in over 13 years ago when I took a course that conflicted with rehearsals. But I've been missing it for a while and getting back into singing has been on my mind a lot.
  2. Being out of practice, I didn't have much stamina for holding out long notes. This fact hurts my technical perfectionist heart. It's embarrassing, even when I'm the only witness.
  3. Also, being out of shape, I wasn't going to get far in building up stamina without making some changes.

And something clicked for me. Something I've wanted to click into place for pretty much my entire life.

This minor life-shifting event happened right around lunch time and my stomach was starting to protest its empty state. So, I went in the kitchen, knowing as I did that I would prepare something that would truly nourish me. I also knew I was going to be more careful from that point on. 

The click had happened. I finally flipped the switch I'd been trying to reach for decades. 

I started to care about what I was doing to my body day in and day out because I could no longer do something that was once second nature and easy. I could no longer do something to the level of quality that I achieved when I was younger. I could no longer do something well that I really, truly love to do.

I made big changes right away. I dusted off my Fitbit Force and started wearing it every day. I struggled to get 4,000 steps in every day. Then I worked myself up to 5,000. Eventually, I got to 8,000 a day. Then I hit 10,000 and I was thrilled, but I knew I wanted to do more. I pushed harder and started hitting 12K every day for a week before a friend invited me to join a challenge in the Fitbit app. I left my goal at 12K, but it was pretty clear that this group had some high step achievers in it, which motivated me to push even harder. I get in 15K steps most days now, but I've gone as high as 30K, too, and I'm feeling amazing. 

I know myself and getting my workout completed in the morning is the best possible scenario for getting it done at all - I actually wake up at 4:00am (!!) most days to make it happen. Evenings are far too full of getting dinner, homework, play time, reading, and all the other end-of-day minutiae completed. So, I get 10-12K steps in before I even set foot out of the house. I am careful to eat well but not deprive myself so I never feel like I'm missing out. 

The result is that I've lost 30 pounds ... so far. I'm also stronger, have more energy, am happier in general and I've got a sizable pile of clothes to donate to someone that needs them. (I recommend Suits Me if you're in Ottawa and looking for a good place to donate work clothes.)

The benefit is that I can hold those long notes again. My voice is stronger and I love singing more than I have in a really long time. I even sang a bit of an Italian aria to some WBN Executive members when we were meeting in a restaurant a few weeks ago. (True story - it's a song that I sang for my music school audition 20 years ago!!! I still remember some of it.) I have never broken out in song in the middle of a public place before in my life. It was exhilarating and kind of terrifying but in a good way.

If I had to report on how I'm doing with my promise to myself to really live in this fortieth year of mine, I'd say I'm thrilled with how it's going. There's more to it than getting healthy (my new normal), but I'll save the rest for future blog fodder. 

Life is good - and I'm gonna keep living it to the fullest and healthiest possible.

Anxiety with severe depression

I nearly had a panic attack when I heard those words last year from my doctor. It's been just over a year since she said them to me. I still don't fully understand what the catalyst was, though I have my theories. It wasn't a single circumstance.

Ultimately, I had a lot going on in life that was weighing me down. The previous summer, we started the process of looking at Brandon's speech and communication delays. Then found out he had motor skills delays in December, so moved on to the possibility of a developmental disorder. I registered him for kindergarten, but worried that he wasn't going to be ready just days before going to see my doctor.

I remember thinking in December that I was so out of shape. Walking to and from work was taking my breath away every time. Except the change happened overnight. One day I was fine, then next I was winded. Odd.

Except I wasn't winded. I was hyperventilating. And it wasn't just on the walk to and from work. It was at varying points through my day and I'd forgotten the months of hyperventilating when I started high school at 14. Just like those first few months of high school, I was so tired. I seemed to sleep well, but stress was weighing me down. I couldn't focus and my work was suffering.

I probably should have gotten help over a year before I actually did. The day I sat on the bus and couldn't catch my breath, tears streaming down my face for no apparent reason. To this day, I have no idea why I had a panic attack on that day at that time. 

It wasn't easy to go see my doctor last year. I'd been depressed in the past, but I was always (somewhat) functional. I kept going and tried to do things to help alleviate the depression. It was usually circumstantial, which seemed easier to recover from, not that PPD after a miscarriage is a walk in the park. Time did heal.

Last year, I had to admit that I wasn't functioning well at all. I was sinking further and further and I knew I needed help to crawl out, especially not knowing what we were facing with Brandon.

So, I went to the doctor, listened to her diagnosis and felt terrified and relieved at the same time. She handed me a prescription and a note for work. I was taken off work for six weeks and monitored.

It took a couple of weeks, but I soon began to feel more like myself. I was engaged, energetic and focused more so than I'd felt for a very long time. It lasted for several months and then I started sinking again, so I went back to my doctor. A temporary solution that was to have lasted just six months has stretched over a year now. I've missed taking my medication occasionally and I know I'm not ready to go without.

I'm writing this today because I've only ever eluded to my struggles in passing. It was an intensely private and personal struggle, much like my fears of the unknown with Brandon were last year. Even family members don't know the details of what I'm sharing today. It's not that they don't care - it's that I just wasn't ready to talk about it. I'm not totally sure I'm ready now even though I believe in talking about mental illness with everything in me. That's why I'm just going to put it out there anyway.

Today is Bell Let's Talk day which is all about ending the stigma of mental illness and helping raise funds for mental health. I don't have a Bell phone line, and most of my friends have iPhones (iMessage and BBMs don't count), but I can tweet up a storm and I'm happy to share the Bell Let's Talk image on Facebook. (Go do it from this link so you get counted.)

bell-lets-talk.jpg

When we have the flu, we go to the doctor. We go to the doctor with broken bones. We shout from the rooftops when we have cancer, because it sucks so bad that so many get it and there's no cure. We aren't afraid to tell people about these kinds of health issues, so WHY is it so hard to admit when we're struggling with mental health issues?

It shouldn't be. It's a sickness in a part of our body that needs treatment and attention. So, let's talk about it. Share your struggles so it's no longer considered a weakness. And if you don't have mental health issues, show your support. The world will truly be a better place for it.

Cigarettes & Smoking: Why is this drug still legal?

Source: stock.xchngEvery day I take the bus to work. It’s the most economical method of transportation if not the quickest way of getting there. I could shave about 15 minutes off my commute time if I drove in. But parking a car downtown is expensive.

Because I ride the bus, I do a decent amount of walking through the streets of downtown and there is a very big downside to walking through downtown Ottawa - cigarette smoke.

As I walk to and from the bus or stand waiting for one to come, I am assaulted by the smell of cigarette smoke. The worst spot, by far, is the stop beside a shopping centre where a dozen or more smokers seem to congregate at any given time. The City of Ottawa has a by-law that says you can’t smoke within 9 meters of the entrance to a building. This by-law isn’t enforced that I’ve ever seen. Drive through downtown and check out any building entrance you pass and you’re almost sure to see at least one smoker by the door puffing away. The big challenge in downtown Ottawa is that there’s often not even 9 meters between building entrances, so where can a smoker go to light up? I get that.

However, I’d personally like to see smoking banned.

Make it illegal.

Universally.

This is not a popular stance amongst smokers - obviously - but I’m past the point of caring. Study after study has shown the damage cigarette smoking does to a body, yet it’s remained a legal drug. Study after study has shown the damage that second hand smoke does to non-smokers. Yet non-smokers are still forced - yes, forced - to inhale the toxic smoke emitted by smokers who have the right to smoke. 

For the record, I often try to hold my breath to avoiding breathing it in, but this isn’t always an option.

And the government - in Canada, at least - applies huge taxes on purchasing cigarettes as a “deterrent”. With any addiction, the addict rarely cares about the price. Just ask a drug addict who lives on the street how much the cost of their drug of choice deters them from wanting it. This “deterrent” is laughable to me. It’s always sounded more like a cash grab.

One cold, rainy day last spring, I walked through a crowd of smokers and the smell lingered on my jacket so badly from less than 30 seconds of exposure that I had to take it to be cleaned. But the unpleasant smell is only the superficial side of the argument against smoking.

I’ve had personal experience with the detrimental effects of smoking with loved ones. I’ve seen what it does in several members of my family and as a result I am passionately against smoking. When I mentioned this post, one family member said to me:

“I hope you realize that, despite my smoking for years, I believe it to be stupid, expensive, filthy and unhealthy. There is, in my opinion, no redeeming quality to it.” 

When a smoker feels that way, you know it’s difficult to quit.

Thirteen years ago when I met Matt, we talked for about two months before it occurred to me to ask if he was a smoker. He said that he wasn’t and that he’s actually allergic to cigarette smoke. Then he asked me what I would have done if he’d said that he was a smoker. And I said, without hesitation, that he’d have to quit or we wouldn’t continue with a relationship.

You think that’s harsh, don’t you?

You’re right, but this was (and still is) a non-negotiable area for me. I had no choice about it growing up with family members who smoked. Choosing a life partner who smokes was out of the question; I made that decision when I was about 11 and tried a cigarette for the first (and last) time of my life.

I wanted to see what was so attractive about smoking. I snuck a cigarette from a pack and slipped away to hide while I tried the cigarette. I barely got it lit, because I didn’t know what I was doing. Once lit, I mimicked the action I’d seen family do, breathing in through the cigarette I was holding between my two fingers. I didn’t inhale much because it didn’t feel or taste good.

About two puffs in, my mom began calling for me. I hurriedly put out the cigarette and rush inside, not even thinking about the lingering smell on my clothes and breath. It would be a gross understatement to say that my parents were not happy with me. What I learned that day is that smoking (like beer) is an acquired taste that I preferred not to acquire. The smell, taste, feel and look of smoking wasn’t more appealing after I tried it. Worse, my parents’ ire wasn’t worth trying it again anyway.

I made a conscious decision that day to never smoke again - and I haven’t. The one exception occurs when others are smoking around me and I am forced to breathe it in.

Smokers have the right to smoke, but what about my right to clean air?

*****

There is no greater gift that a smoker can give his or her loved ones than to stop smoking. I’ve had loved ones quit and it makes me happier than I can even express. If you’re a smoker and would like to quit, but don’t know where to start, you can get help from Smokers’ Helpline (in Canada) or the American Lung Association (in the U.S.).

No longer the queen of denial

A number of years ago, I was talking with a friend about our respective drinking habits. I don’t recall what she said or even how we ended up on the topic, but I mentioned that I feel almost like a freak sometimes because Matt and I don’t choose to drink regularly. It’s not because of any beliefs about the “evils” of alcohol; we do drink socially a couple times a year. It’s just not something that we’re into. I went on, saying that because I have alcoholism in my family, I feel a need to be cautious because I’ve heard that there might be a hereditary link. Then, in my oh-so-self-righteous way I stated that despite the history in my family, I don’t think I have an addictive personality.

What’s that thing they say about pride and falls?

Monday evening on my commute home from work, I was reading this post over at Trains, Tutus and Tea Time. I was reading Corinne’s words about Corinne’s life and Corinne’s struggle and my inner cheerleader was doing backflips I was so thrilled to hear about her six-month milestone. I also realized i could relate to some of her feelings, which is pretty strange for someone who doesn’t have an addictive personality, right?

At some point as I read and absorbed the story, I finally realized and acknowledged that I have an addiction of my own. I’ve never thought of it this way before because I’ve always pretended that the issues I have are beyond my control. I’ve blamed genetics - there’s that hereditary link - and my health and bad habits. And there is some truth to all of these assertions. But that can only go so far before one must simply grow up, get over oneself and choose to take responsibility.

My addiction is food. I love food and I eat too much of it. I don’t stop eating when I’m full. I eat foods that I know will harm me. I choose unhealthy foods over healthy foods far too often. Self control is a problem for me unless I strictly regulate my diet.

Some might be taken aback with my comparing food addiction to alcoholism. But you know what? I’m pretty sure statistics will back it up that food addiction/overeating are serious problems. I’m 33 and I have a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer, just based on personal and family medical history. By not taking care of my body properly, I’m increasing that risk every single day.

I call this the “fall of skinny” because it was fall and I was basically the smallest I’d ever been in my adult life. I may never look like this again, but I can feel that good and I will. (Geez, we look so young!)Six months or so from now I want to be able say I’m six months healthier. That I’ve made good food choices - more often than not - for six months. That I’ve exercised regularly for six months. That I’m losing weight (though that truly isn’t the point, but it’s an obvious consequence of taking these other steps). I want to be able to say that I feel better. And look better. I want to know that I’m doing everything within my power to live a long, healthy life. To be there for my husband and son.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to look like a model - trust me, that is so not going to happen for me! I believe that if you’re comfortable with your body and your health, then why change? My reality is that I’m uncomfortable. My clothes don’t look or feel good. I’m self-conscious and there are things I want to do that I physically can’t and that bothers me. So, I have to be that person who takes responsibility and makes some changes.

The changes are already happening. I feel like the pieces of a puzzle are finally fitting into place. I’m thinking and planning and also doing, because thinking and planning will get me nowhere without action as well.

In the next couple of weeks, it will all become clear.

I want to do this, but am I truly ready?

Last September, I wrote a post that continues to be the second most popular since I started blogging. I basically put myself out there in a way that was (for me) simultaneously scary terrifying and refreshing. I was brutally honest about my health, my abilities and what I wanted to do to overcome some of the obstacles that were limiting me.

Ten months later, I can’t believe how badly I’ve let myself down. I had a good thing going last fall and I let it slip away. I had some legitimate reasons in the beginning, but after a while it was just the same old excuses. At the end of the day, there is no one and nothing to blame other than me.

Here’s the brutal, honest truth in short form: I know intellectually how to eat well. I know intellectually how to exercise. (I’ve actually worked out with 3 different trainers for a couple of years and learned a ton from them.) My problem is that I grew up with bad habits and I haven’t ever gotten far enough to break the habits by creating new ones. Something always trips me up - mentally, emotionally or physically. But somehow I have to keep going through those things, because that’s just the way life is. And I can’t experience life to the fullest if I’m not at my healthiest.

I don’t want to let myself down again. I don’t want to let Matt and Brandon down again. I need a healthy Karen and they need a healthy Karen.

It’s time.