2018 goes out a lot better than it came in

With the year drawing to a close, I would be remiss if I did not revisit where I find myself now after the past couple–and really the past few–years of illness and struggle.

One of the most important health changes I have ever experienced happened in the form of starting a mild anti-depressant at the end of September. The changed I experienced upon beginning that medication is real and enduring and has enabled nearly everything else that has happened since then.

The biggest subsequent change has been to dedicate myself to a series of dietary and exercise changes in the hope of wrestling my life back from my health. I have virtually given up process sugars, modern grains, and processed foods. I have begun an intermittent fasting regimen. I have starting moving more than I have in years.

Specifically, I am walking and using a bike trainer, and plan to start running and attending a yoga class after the first of the year. If those efforts go well, I plan to start trail hiking and purchase an e-bike for longer-distance rides sometime in the next year.

I have begun using light therapy as part of a daily program that involves waking up using light instead of sound and also using a therapy panel as part of my daily routine. The effect this has had on my mood and energy level cannot be understated.

Perhaps most importantly, I am confident that I can do the things I plan for the first time in a really long time. I am hopeful for the new year, and those are strange words coming out of my mouth.

More will follow.

DLH

An advent

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, mostly because I came to resent the fact it seemed like I only came to these pages to complain. Recently, however, something very positive has happened to me, and after debating when and how to share it, I decided to share it with everyone all at once.

About six weeks ago, I started taking an antidepressant after consulting with my healthcare provider about some things I had going on, including rampant insomnia and some ways of thinking that lead nowhere good. For those of you who know me well enough, you may realize how important and difficult a decision this was for me.

I wish I had pushed this issue decades ago.

In the past six weeks, for what seems like the first time in my life, my head is clear of so much of the noise that has plagued me most of my life. I have slept full nights for the first time in years. The change is beyond remarkable for me, and has contributed to a host of realizations about myself and my behavior that were, for me, clouded until now.

Granted, I am just at the beginning of a process, and we’ve already had to make adjustments to my medication to accommodate symptoms and side effects, but the fact is I can see where I need to be going and how to get there for the first time in a really long time.

I’m telling everyone this for two reasons. First, because, especially as a male, it can be hard to admit something is wrong and to ask for help. Second, because it’s important for all of us to remember that the brain is an organ just like the liver or the pancreas, and if you’re willing to take medication to help them work better, why not consider doing so for your brain too if you need it?

The bottom line is that I did ask for that help and got it, and for the first time in a really long time, I am optimistic about being able to improve. I can’t say for certain where this will head, but I know it will head somewhere. Stay tuned for more as time passes.

DLH

A time to run and a time to not

Some of you may recall my post from a few months ago now about what I termed “medicinal running”. Granted, I said I was going to provide regular updates, but didn’t, so I figured I would provide them all at once.

From a therapeutic standpoint, I believe the running was doing what I intended, albeit slowly, just like everything else about my current ordeal. I got to the point where I was slogging (jogging very slowly) about half a mile 3-4 times a week. Not spectacular, but it was something.

You’ll notice I said was. While I was able to maintain the 3-4 times a week for about two months, I proceeded to develop an injury in my left foot that got progressively worse until I stopped. I’m okay to walk, and once it stops hurting, I can run 2-3 more times before it starts hurting again.

The moral there, I suspect, is that I’m just too heavy to run right now. That said, I have more than tripled my walking steps average over the same period, and I’ve lost 9 pounds during the same, so this hasn’t been a total loss. If I continue to lose weight, I plan to try running again at some point and once I have better shoes.

DLH

A wheeze on the wind, or the sound of a fat boy running

So, it turns out that, after years of trying to ignore it into going away, the simple fact is the best way for me to jump start the process by which I’m not going to be perpetually fat, tired, and sick is by running.

Yeah, I know, running…

To be fair, I used to run. For a few years in my 20s, I ran 2-3 miles nearly everyday. Then I stopped. That in itself is a long story, but one that likely helped set the stage for where I am now. Now, 20ish years later, I’m going back to the thing I once did, I guess.

One day, perhaps even soon, I hope to document the research that led me to that conclusion so that, at the very least, it’s out on the internet for anyone else searching for answers to judge for themselves, but for the moment let’s suffice it to say that running engages the specific biological pathways that help reduce fat around the liver, which fat is likely one of the main culprits of my complaints.

In several important ways, this running is going to be, lacking a better way of describing it, medicinal running, and the best way to describe this phenomenon is to do so by what it’s not going to be. Unless something in my own psychology changes, this running isn’t going to be about 5ks or marathons, not about PRs or ever increasing distances, and not about proving myself in any other way but one.

Along with a controlled diet and plenty of walking to complement the running, this effort will be about weight loss. It’s a ham-handed standard, I know, but the fact is that at my current weight–295lbs and counting, for those keeping track at home–it’s the single most effective way for me to measure whether what I am doing is achieving my primary goal.

I appreciate every piece of advice I’ve already received about this undertaking, and I always want to hear more of it, but please understand that I hear and evaluate any of it through the filter of what I already know I am trying to do. It may be that something you say helps me advance that cause, and I want to hear it, but please don’t be disappointed if I decide it doesn’t fit with what I am trying to do. It’s not that I haven’t listened. It’s that I am very focused on what I am trying to do.

To that end, I also plan to post a weekly update documenting my progress so that interested parties can keep track and so that I can have a log of what I’ve been doing for my own use. If you are keeping track and don’t see that update, please ask. I need the accountability.

For now, this is what it is: a fat boy running for his life. Literally. Stay tuned to see how it works out.

Walking away

Don’t worry: I’m not quitting.

No, instead, this blog is about a realization. It’s one I’ve stated here before, yet at least for me, I’ve realized it in a new way.

As far as my physical health is concerned, walking is going to be what saves me.

Once upon a time, I was a walker, a rambler in the truest sense of the word. Starting in junior high, I started walking to school any day I could, a journey of several miles. Once high school was upon me, I walked except when the weather was the worst for four years despite the distance.

Along the way, I developed an affection for trail hiking that carried me into my mid 20s. Then, a lot of life happened–the details don’t matter so much–and I kind of quit. It wasn’t a sudden thing, just over time, I walked less and less and hiked less and less, until I wasn’t doing it at all.

Since I got sick a year ago, on the days I’ve been able to walk, I’ve felt better, but walking every day has been a challenge for a variety of reasons. My new realization is that I’ve failed to deal with those reasons, and that is what is keeping me from walking.

I’ve decided to change that. First up is dealing with one of the colder Ohio winters in recent memory. It turns out that, since I got sick, I can’t stay warm like I used to. Cold weather takes it out of me, so walking in the cold is a struggle. That’s also an excuse. We have the technology for that, and it’s time I started using it.

So, next week, I have an extreme sports designed balaclava, cold weather over-mitts, and wind-pants arriving. They should do the trick most days when the temperature is below freezing an help eliminate one more excuse.

Next up will be rain gear. And, before you know it, I’ll be rambling along again like days of old.

When excuses aren’t excuses

A more bitter part of me wants to demand that, before anyone gives anyone with a chronic or enduring illness advice about what they should be doing, they should have to live through my past couple of weeks before giving it.

Now, before anyone panics, it’s just been a tough couple of weeks. I’ve been caught in what I call an “autoimmune loop,” first triggered by allergies, then flowing into everything from debilitating insomnia to blood sugar spikes and crashes. Good times…

I will grant, that having endured that, I’m particularly sensitive when people start throwing around, “Well, all you have to do is…” advice. I admit it. It pisses me off. After spending two weeks feeling like you’re a combination of drunk, high, coming down with the flu, and hopped up on way too much caffeine, that kind of advice hits wrong.

But I’m also listening, and in the course of listening, I have my own advice. I understand those of you trying to help people like me mean well. You sincerely want me to feel better. You believe you have answers, and the fact is that you do.

You’re also not listening.

Almost every conversation I’ve ever had with someone who believes they know how to fix me revolves around a single premise: everything I have to say about why their advice is a struggle is an excuse. I’m here to tell you, no, it’s not.

Yes, I can be doing more than I am. Yes, sometimes, I have to push through the terrible consequences of my current state of health in order to make it better than it is. That is true.

It is also true that, when my blood sugar crashes while I’m walking around the grocery store, so I have to cling to my cart like a lifeboat, and thank God my wife is with me to drive me home because I might not have made it otherwise, and I’m still shakey more than 24 hours later, it’s not an excuse. This stuff really happens. It really does limit what I am able to do. I have to keep in mind that every expenditure of effort I make comes with a cost I have to pay, sometimes for days. That’s not an excuse. It’s reality.

All I am asking you well meaning people to do is to understand that. Modify your expectations by the reality of the health I have right now. Not the theory of how healthy I could be. Not with a guilt trip about how I’m unhealthy because I did it to myself. With the fact that, right at this moment, what I’m experiencing is what is.

Help me with my reality. That will actually help.

DLH

It’s been a while

I figure it’s about time for an update if anyone is still paying attention. This year has been a roller coaster health-wise, but in general things are improving, so there’s that.

Recently, I started to re-engage myself with something I haven’t done in a long time: active accountability. In general, that means making a minimalist list of what I want to accomplish over a given period of time so as to be able to check against that list whether I am doing what I said I was going to do.

Some people will probably nod sagely at that confession, but my style of active accountability isn’t quite what most people do (is anything I do quite what most people do? But that’s a different conversation…). For example, rather than having a notebook or a calendar, I have a private blog. I use that blog as much as a checklist as I do a project management system. I tend to limit myself to five tasks a day, even if I know I have time for more because I realize that the stress of over-expectation is the second biggest reason I don’t get what I plan to done (the first being physical incapacity to do it).

The moral of the story is that I use this system to keep the things I am working on fresh in my mind and focused. I can tend to wander off if I don’t only to discover long periods of time have passed without getting anything demonstrable done. Active accountability helps me stay focused when I won’t otherwise be.

Updating this blog is now part of that accountability. I hope to make at least monthly updates, as much because I promised myself and others I would as because the act of writing is both invigorating and cathartic for me.

More will follow.

DLH

And now, an update

So, it turns out that I haven’t updated here for a while, but it turns out that’s a good thing.

Over especially the past month, my health has remarkably improved in a lot of respects. I am able to be more active than I’ve been in months, I have more stamina, and I am able to maintain my activity over days instead of hours.

Granted, I still get stung with bouts of fatigue, and I’ve managed to gain back all the weight I lost, but those things are currently manageable.

My current view is that, as long as I keep focused on improvement and don’t settle for a steady state, the improvement will continue. For the first time in a while, I believe it may be possible to undo most of what led to this being necessary and maybe even improve on it some.

Let’s hope so.

DLH

A matter of motion

A little over four years ago, I bought a Fitbit One. I bought the device because I was just on the tail end of having lost 65 pounds, dropping from around 340 to 275 over the course of a couple of years. That weight loss was mostly the result of specific dietary changes, especially the near elimination of soy from my diet as the result of an allergy to soy proteins.

My theory behind buying the Fitbit was to help me keep the progress of that weight loss going and to help me achieve a minimum level of fitness. Four years later, that very same device tells a tale, and its not one I wanted to hear.

It turns out, way back in 2013, I did a lot of research into what a “minimum level of fitness” would mean for me. After all that research, I concluded that around 5,000 steps a day, a mere 35,000 steps a week, would meet the goal I was trying to achieve.

Now, I know what the multitude of “experts” say. I read many of them, and I concluded that, and the end of it all, your mileage may vary as far as their expertise is concerned. My conclusions were based on me and my fitness level at the time, and I’m sure, if I had followed my own advice, it would have made a difference.

You see, the story that Fitbit tells me is that, based on my own determinations, I should have walked about 7.5 million steps by around now. Instead, as of today, I’ve walked a mere 2.3 million steps. Even allowing for the fact that I didn’t use my Fitbit at all for six months last year, the fact is that I’ve walked less than half the amount of steps I determined I should have to achieve a minimum level of fitness for me.

The fact is that I am a quintessential example of the modern sedentary lifestyle. Sure, I run a farm, but my physical output comes in fits and starts, and for a while now, not as frequently. And the fact is that this reality starts with not bothering to walk a measly 5,000 steps a day.

It would be easy for me to make some kind of grand pronouncement here about how I’m going to change all that, but I’m not going to. The story my Fitbit tells me is that the changes I need to make to be even minimally fit are hard, and what it is going to take for me to achieve that goal may be beyond my grasp right now.

But, now I know, and knowing is its own kind of power.

DLH