Get Busy.


Get busy living, or get busy dying … there ain’t nothing in between.

— Stephen King, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” from Different Seasons

Last night I had to run errands on the way home from work, and when I got home, more errands awaited. Take care of the dogs, put things away, start a load of laundry. As I stood at the sink washing dishes, I thought to myself how nice it is to be active again.

People ask me if I have ‘more energy’ now, and I have used the term to describe how I’m feeling these days, but I’m not sure that accurately describes it. In actuality, I am happy to be moving. I’m happy to be on my feet and doing the busy work of everyday life instead of sitting, doing little to nothing.

The human body was built for motion of all kinds, and for the last several years, mine was not being used in that manner. I felt tired most of the time, due partly to sleeping poorly and carrying around a lot of extra weight. My body was wracked with chronic pain that resulted from a lot of different health issues, some of which were worsened by the weight, so most of the time I didn’t feel like getting out of my chair if I didn’t have to.

Maybe some of you consider that laziness, but I have to defend myself here. I am no stranger to hard work, and in most cases (with the possible exception of housework) I wanted to participate, but was physically unable. Nagging car accident injuries and arthritis hampered me further. Physical activity became more and more difficult, so I did less and less of it. Every part of me hurt, and some days, getting up and making it in to work was the best I could do.

So the cycle of inactivity, weight gain, and pain continued, and I felt powerless to stop it. I recovered from my injuries and my hips were replaced with shiny titanium ones, but the improvements to my activity level were modest at best, and I was still exhausted.

I used to chuckle at old folks, who always seemed to recite their litany of ailments when asked, ‘How are you?’ but I’ve noticed that I do the same thing. Not all the time, but sometimes getting together with friends and family means we’re all discussing our various maladies (much to the youngsters’ amusement, I’m sure). Health becomes our focus as we age, because as grownups, we no longer feel like we’ll live forever. The subject of mortality is always on our minds, especially when we lose our family members, friends, and coworkers. So naturally, we talk about it, and it usually becomes a grouse-fest.

But it’s counterproductive for me to dwell on that. My life could be so much different and so much worse in so many ways, and I am always mindful of that. I am thankful for what I have and where my life is going.  It’s so much better to focus on what I can do and celebrate my return to movement. Getting healthier has been such a blessing to me; it has made a huge difference in my life.  It’s often not easy, but that’s when I remind myself how far I’ve come.

Recently I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors with the Mister – clearing brush, pulling weeds, pruning, planting – and aside from a couple of times where my enthusiasm bested my common sense and I paid the price, it’s been liberating. It feels great to push, pull, dig, lift, and reach again. I had been fading in a prison of pain and fatigue, built by me, for so long that I forgot how good hard work can feel. I realize I missed the satisfaction that physical labor can give.

I still have days where my pain level impedes my activities, but they are fewer now and seem to be less intense. I think my mental state has something to do with that, too – I am happy to be moving.

Am I jogging, working out, or lifting weights? No, I’m nowhere near that. You won’t see me on any fitness blogs or running down the road, training for a marathon. I’m no athlete. That’s not my goal, anyway. I just want my body to work like the magnificent instrument it was intended to be.

And I’m getting there.

 

image credit baptfrack

BeYouTiful.

Be-You-Tiful!       

I saw that on a sign in a store I was visiting for the first time, a craft store. 

I thought about buying the little sign to put near my bathroom mirror, but decided it was too expensive. Instead, I decided to write about it. 

Growing up with a house full of sisters, I witnessed a lot of primping in the name of beauty.  Even though we were all taught about ‘beauty on the inside’ – every unwanted task ‘built character,’ according to Mother – I think, like most girls, we all strove for outward beauty, too, to some point.  As the youngest, I wanted to emulate my older sisters, but I never liked dresses or pantyhose, and I was no good at the hair and makeup routine.  In spite of my sister Missy’s best efforts, I was still a tomboy at heart and was most comfortable bare-faced, wearing jeans and a ponytail. Missy would fix my hair and do my makeup for special occasions, but if left to my own devices, I would scrub it all off and tie my hair back. 

Besides — Mother didn’t have pierced ears, and she didn’t wear makeup save for a touch of lipstick on special occasions.  Was my mother beautiful?  Oh, yes.  She had lovely skin, thick, wavy hair, and shapely legs.  She had a twinkle in her blue eyes and a warm smile accented with her trademark gap. 

My sisters eschewed elaborate makeup and lengthy hair rituals.  It was just not important to them (or to me).  My sisters who did use makeup and did spend time with curlers and Aqua-Net looked lovely but never overly ‘done.’  Less is more, Mother would say.  And it didn’t matter what else you wore, as long as you were wearing a smile.  My sisters all wore lovely smiles, with clear eyes and kind words.  My sisters are all beautiful, makeup or no.

I think that helped me feel confident in my choices.  I could throw on some blusher and lip gloss when I had to, but I wasn’t about to get up at 5 a.m. and spend the next two hours putting on my face and wielding a curling iron. 

In the awkward years of adolescence, I tried to find myself in the magazines and department stores.  I borrowed my sister’s clothes to try to look more stylish and more like her.  I tried to talk my mom into buying me a pair of Sperry Topsiders, the loafers I saw in Seventeen magazine.  I was convinced that if I had those, I could surely pull off that Phoebe Cates back-to-school look.  No go.  At various times I tried to update my look to the Farrah Fawcett feathered ‘do, the poodle perm and the Dorothy Hamill wedge cut.  Um, no.  None of them worked for me.  I figured I was doomed to be utterly plain and style-free.

In my twenties, with a little more confidence, I dressed up a little more and wore makeup more often, under my sister’s tutelage, of course.  Mostly it was because Missy wouldn’t go out with me unless I did.  It was a fun time, and I always marveled at how she could look so put together, even in a pair of jeans.  It never rubbed off on me, though – she was Missy, and I was not.  I couldn’t borrow someone else’s look.  I had to find my own.

Let’s be clear – I don’t consider myself beautiful.  As far as looks go, I think I’m pretty solidly in the middle between ‘Eek!’ and ‘Wowza!’  I never had much of a figure; I’m built more like a tree trunk than an hourglass.  I’m content to hide my legs and cankles under jeans most of the time.  My butt is flat, which led me to live in nothing but Levi’s 501 jeans for a while.  They fit me better than girls’ jeans ever did.  I don’t have an eye for fashion, so I stick with what I know, which is jeans and sweatshirts.  As Mother would say, “All my taste is in my mouth.”

My best feature is probably my eyes, but they’ve been behind glasses since I was 7.  (Of course, that is what all fat chicks get complimented on, anyway.)  I like my hair, too. It has always been thick and full (less so now as I age), but it does have a mind of its own.  A wave here, a cowlick there, and it was just too stubborn to do what I wanted it to.  So short hair or ponytails have been my go-to styles. 

I have rarely worn makeup.  I rationalized that if you didn’t like my face the way God made it, you didn’t have to look at me.  (I still feel that way.)   I married a man who has never been crazy about makeup on women.  ‘What are they trying to hide?’ he says.  He says makeup is best when you can’t see it.  So if I don’t wear it, he can’t see it – perfect, eh?  And he still thinks I’m beautiful. Confession: I recently replaced the 20-something year old makeup in my bag with a few new, fresh items.  I don’t need much, but a touch of lip tint is nice. 

So – honestly – I love the BeYouTiful sentiment. 

I came to terms with my face a long time ago.  (Still working on the body part.)  I am no beauty queen, but I am me, and I can still be a strong, beautiful me.  I want to smile with confidence, hold my head up, and look the world in the eye.  I want to wear bold colors and stand up straight instead of shrinking back and trying to hide.  I want to stop holding back and hesitating.  I want to speak my mind.  I want to love my life and who I am and where I’m going.

And I want you to do the same.  BeYOUTiful.

 

 

 photo credit: GabrielaP93

No Apologies.

Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.
– J.K. Rowling

So, as an important part of building the new, healthier us, Mr. Stuck and I go to a  monthly weight loss surgery (WLS) support group.  Normally there are 15-20 people there for the two-hour meeting; they range from those who are learning about WLS options to pre-op and post-op patients.  We’ve been going for over a year, and we really enjoy it.  It is run by a bariatrics R.N., Connie, who is also a couple of years post-op.  (I highly recommend to anyone considering WLS that they find a group and go.  You learn so much.)

We arrived a few minutes into the meeting, while people were introducing themselves around the circle.  We took our seats and listened until our turn came.  We gave our names and a brief update (surgery type, surgery date, how we were doing).  I noticed there were a few new faces tonight, but I didn’t see Cindy, my “surgery sister.”  (She and I had realized just before our surgeries that we were scheduled for the same day, so we connected in that way, dubbing ourselves “surgery sisters” for fun.)  She is a lovely, vibrant woman who seems to lead a busy, stressful life.  I liked her from the start.

A few minutes later, Cindy arrived.  She made her way to a chair, and I noticed how refreshed she looked.  Even though she was dressed casually, in a yoga-style jacket and pants, she was made up and looked very nice.  She had a smile on her face and a light in her eyes.  I was glad to see her.

When it was Cindy’s time to talk, she took a deep breath.  She apologized for being late, but said she was doing well, 6 weeks post-op like me.  She said she had discovered something, and she wanted to ask the rest of us about it: self-esteem.

She said she had been thinking about how heartbreakingly sad it is to, as she put it, “apologize yourself out of life.”  She said, “I spent all these years apologizing — for everything — and smoothing things over.  I swallowed it all; food, shame, anger, hurt.  I pushed it down.  I made it go away.  But I’m done.  I’m not apologizing anymore.  I’m not sorry, and I’m not rude, but I’m done.  Now, it’s about me.  It feels crazy as I adjust to this new body and new life.  Am I hungry or not?  What do I want to do?  I feel powerful!  I feel joyful!  I feel blessed.  And I want everyone to feel that way.”

She asked around.  “Did you feel it, too?  Did you find it?”  She continued, choking back emotion.  “I thought I was a good person.  I am a good person.  I thought I had it good — I thought my self-esteem was fine.  I’d get up, clean — but I didn’t know.  I didn’t know!  I can’t tell you how different it feels from thinking you have self-esteem to really having it.  You can tell people about self-esteem and self-image all day, but the reality is, you can’t.  They won’t know.  They have to live it.”

I listened to Cindy as the words rushed out of her mouth unbridled.  Everyone was understanding and respectful, even as she talked much longer.  “Why don’t we think we are worthy?  Why don’t we see ourselves as equal to everyone else?  Why do we have to apologize for being who we are, living our lives, and taking up space?  Why do we convince ourselves we don’t deserve to be happy?  We have just as much right to be happy as anyone else.  We DO deserve to be happy.  We are worth it!”

With that, she sat back, still very emotional.  One of the ladies got up, walked over to Cindy and gave her a hug.  Connie pointed to one of the new faces and asked him to introduce himself to the group.  He told us he was a couple years post gastric band surgery.  As he told his story, another regular, Merele, arrived.  She looked a bit flustered.  When it was her turn to speak, she said, “I am so thankful for you all.  You have no idea how much it helps me to be here.  You are all family.”

Merele went on to say that she was several months post-op; the ‘honeymoon period’ of having no appetite was over and it was difficult for her.  She said she was really struggling with that.  Merele, like Cindy, was very emotional as she shared how she is finally giving herself permission to be happy.  She said, “I have stopped worrying about other people.  It’s okay for them to have their meals, but I can’t pay attention to that.  This is my new life.  This is ME!  I had to make this huge change, and it’s for the better, but it’s scary.  I have to make my own choices, and I choose to live.  I don’t want to die inside as well as outside.”  Merele also got a hug.

As I listened to these ladies, I took notes.  No apologies.  Choosing happiness.  Change can be scary.  Struggles.  Joy.  Self-worth.  Cindy  said, “I’m 60 years old, and I should have known this when I was 40.  My daughter is 30.  I want her to be happy, too.”

 ***

So many lessons in life.  I am no more of an expert than anyone else is.  Do I have self-esteem?  Not really, but I can feel a spark of change in how I view myself.  But I also feel that I have wasted a lot of time, and I feel guilty about that.

I wasted my sons’ youth as their obese mother who was unable to wrestle on the floor with them or run footraces across the yard.  Subsequent injuries and illness made everything worse physically, and my self-image sank, as well.  Pretty soon, I was referring to myself as dowdy and dumpy, and all the negative voices in my head became reality.  I was a slob. I was tired and lazy.  I felt helpless.  I was unable to change my situation.  I was unhappy.  I was depressed.  I felt guilty because I wasn’t better, thinner, prettier, more fun, younger, in better shape, smarter, whatever.  And as we all know, that cycle of negative self-fulfillment just rolls along.  Overeating>Guilt>Depression>Overeating>Guilt>Depression.

I have been slender for short periods of time after stringent dieting and self-denial. Each time I felt a rush of confidence in my new look, enjoying the compliments and approval.  But each time that confidence was hollow, and fear hid in its shadow.  I was always afraid — that I would gain the weight back (I always did), and that I was a failure.  I saw that people who had never looked at me twice were now friendly to me, and that just underscored it.  No matter what kind of a person I was inside, whether I was smart or funny or kind, it meant nothing if I wasn’t worth looking at.  That is what they taught me.

So then I would feel phony.  And angry.  The fat that had always been my armor, my permission to be a mouthy smart-ass, was gone, and I’d wish it back.  ‘Life was easier fat,’  I’d tell myself.  I didn’t have unwanted attention from random men.  I didn’t get the catty looks and competition from women.  I wasn’t viewed as a threat, I guess.  I didn’t have to care about my looks, because nobody was looking, anyway.  And then it became easier to tell myself I wasn’t worth it.  I couldn’t do it — it was too hard.  I had failed again.  You see, I pretended to have confidence, but I didn’t really have it, and as soon as the doubt crept in, it was easy to cave.

Getting your head straight after weight loss is tough, and it’s a constant struggle.  The old you vs. the new you.  The negative vs. the positive.  Excuses vs. reason.  Old habits vs. new choices.  Apologies vs. confidence.  It’s a daily fight, because surgery doesn’t change your head or your heart.  As you adjust to the new reality and the possibilities surgery has given you, you still fight the hurtful words in your head when you look in the mirror.

But you’ve got to remember you’re winning this time.  No apologies.

photo credit cod_gabriel

Just Listen.

Tchaikovsky – Hymn of the Cherubim – The USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir 1998

Got 7 1/2 minutes?  Listen.  Come back when you’re done.

I just wanted to share that with you.  It will stir your soul.  It most certainly has mine.
A friend shared it tonight, and when I heard it I knew I wanted the rest of you to hear it.  Some of you may already know this piece, but I did not.

The holidays are upon us once again, and it is good not to get caught up in that whirlwind of sound and fury.  Best just to celebrate your family and friends; celebrate new life and honor those who came before. The older I get, the better that sounds, and the more it means to me.

Look around and count your blessings; make them, and gratitude, your priority.

The Big Five-Oh.


Next year, I’ll be 50.  Half a century – you know, Nifty Fifty – ripe fodder for jokes about ‘Old-Timer’s Disease’, gag party gifts like adult diapers and Geritol, and paybacks for all the ribbing I gave my sisters as they reached that golden age.  

Fifty isn’t old.

Fifty isn’t traumatic.

Fifty isn’t the end of the world or the end of my life.  At least, I hope it isn’t.

But fifty is the number of years my sister Missy was given on this earth, and as I approach that birthday, my head and heart are filled with a certain apprehension – what if my life stopped right here?  Am I ready?  Would I fight it, or would I accept it?  Would I be strong enough?  I confess that because my sister Wendy died just a week shy of her 43rd birthday, I could think of nothing else when I reached 42.

When my sisters died, I was an adult, and so were they.  I am sure it is much more difficult for people who lost their brothers or sisters as children – I cannot even imagine, and I cannot speak for them.  Children tend to blame themselves when things like abuse or divorce happen; I suspect that they would also blame themselves if they lost a sister or brother.  I did not have that guilt; as a grown up, I knew it wasn’t my fault.

Still, the sad regret is there – the what ifs…the if onlys… the second-guessing…the replaying of events in my head.  And it’s not just family whose passing makes me compare my lifespan to theirs.  My friend Jon was only 32 when he perished in a house fire.  My dear friend Shirley was 47 when she succumbed to a pulmonary embolism (blood clot).  At each of those ages, I looked in the mirror and asked the questions for which I had no real answer.  I suppose this is a normal part of grieving and moving on.

Life offers no guarantees.  Today I talked with a friend about people who overcome extreme personal adversity, such as the loss of limbs or a grave illness, to live their lives not defined by, but in spite of, those circumstances.  We talked about how attitudes toward death can determine how we live.  We agreed that even for people like us, who do not live under the cloud of a serious disease or catastrophic injury, life holds no promises.  We talked about how life can change – or end – in a moment.  Can we ever really be ready?

So, at 32, with young children, I was grateful, but still checked my smoke detectors.  

At 42, I looked at my own family and was thankful that my sister’s passing would leave no children motherless. 

At 47, I thought about Shirley and how much she had done for others all of her short life. 

And when 50 comes, I will think about Missy and what a terrific grandma she would have been, and I will cherish every moment with my family.

Because sometimes, it feels like borrowed time.

photo credit tawest64