New Style for “Blue Haired Old Lady”

What will bring about a shift in perspective for you?

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I’d like to open up with a confession. You see, lots of times, I come up with cool ideas for the blog, then I remember my beloved’s words, when I first began this:

“You’re a Massage Therapist, and you’re writing as such. Shouldn’t your posts be about things that are about massage?”

Those words have influenced me more than I could have thought! On one hand, and I explained this to him, I just want the world to see us as people, too. On the other hand, there’s a lot that can be shared to enrich people about the benefits of massage to their bodies. However, I reasoned to myself, there’s also already a plethora of therapists out there who do that — their sites are supremely focused toward massage in others’ lives. Seriously, go look up “massage therapy blogs”. You’ll come up with two types of results — either how-to instructions to develop your blog to support and grow your business, or blogs for therapists. That’s it.

So, where are the blogs that show us as just regular people? You know, ones who have thoughts about anything other than massage? Is that even a big deal?

I think it is. Hence, I’ve decided I’m going to just blog, from now on, whatever I want without stressing over what I should be blogging about. I mean, this is my blog, right? Does it have a big following? Nah. However, if one thing I write reaches one person, and impacts that one person in a positive way, then that’s a good thing, right?

Ok, back to the topic at hand. As you can see by the picture above, I’ve recently gone blue! Well, shades-thereof, actually. Anyway. Why is this so momentous in my life? Let me tell you a brief history, and you can then decide for yourself if this is celebration-worthy.

I grew up in a severely abusive household. I don’t say that lightly; for me, it was normal. It wasn’t until I was 40, and going through yet another round of therapy, that my therapist looked at me as I was relating a tale from childhood, her eyes opening wide. “You do realize,” she said to me, “that that would be considered torture in most peoples’ minds?”

That was a new perspective to me. I mean, sure, ok, I knew, intellectually, that I’d had it rough. Sexual, mental, emotional, and physical abuse; neglect; isolation; humiliation, degradation. These were all normal parts of my, and my siblings’, everyday lives. But it was normal to us. It’s impossible to truly see things in a different light when you’ve lived them, and they were your normal. The only way I’ve ever really achieved any ability to see it for what it was was after I had my daughters. Then, only then, was I able to imagine the horror I’d feel if they ever had to live through what I have lived through.

The result of this is that I had a very, very skewed self-image. I am a very female version of my father, facially; from the neck down, when I’ve seen myself in pictures or mirrors, I’ve always seen my mother (who was my primary abuser, as well as my sexual abuser — yes, it does happen). In short, I’ve never liked seeing myself in mirrors or pictures. When I put makeup on, I’d put it on with a hand mirror, so I only had to look at the portions of my face I was directly applying make-up to. When I was changing clothes, I was out of a room with any mirrors. When I had to have pictures taken, most of the time I asked that I not have to see them. If I saw them, this schism developed, where all I could see was an exaggerated caricature of myself, skewed to show the areas of my parents that I so loathed. Now, keep in mind, I relate this to you in a very clinical manner. I don’t have the words to express to you how emotionally devastating seeing myself has been, all of my life. In fact, when I was 17, when I left my parents’ home, I systematically and methodically located every single picture I could find, in all the albums, that contained me, and I ripped them up. Part of this was a statement to my parents that the child they raised no longer existed; I was stepping out, intent on recreating myself as I chose to exist, not as they had made me. But I can’t help, now, except wonder how much my loathing of my physical self played a part in that decision. I can’t honestly answer that question.

Now, I’m nearly 49. Recently, my bestie and her beloved came and spent the day with myself and my beloved. She’s military, and she’s dedicated her life to keeping soldiers alive as they were flown from combat arenas to hospitals. Because she still has two years left in the military, she’s still prohibited from any of the “fun” colors that’ve recently exploded on the market for hair. She has begun getting her tattoos, and they’re gorgeous. Each of them tells the tale of her past service, fighting to keep her boys alive.

Rewind slightly to 2015. Segueway! Anyway. I chose to cut my hair off so it could grow out grey. Why? I started coloring my hair when I was 17, because I started going grey at 17. No big surprise, right? Anyway. I had, by 2015, been coloring my hair for about 29 years. I was, simply, tired of it. Also, I reasoned, I was in my mid-40s. I hadn’t yet realized that I was falling into a trap!

Back to our conversation. She is excited for her upcoming retirement, she’s so thrilled, just thinking of the fun colors she can do in her hair! She’s thinking green, and maybe orange, and her hubby’s thinking he can get a mohawk and dye it purple (he retires next year, I believe — yay!). I made a comment along the lines of “Yeah, I’d like to do that, especially since these lovely fantasy colors just started really exploding when I decided to grow my hair out, and I DON’T want to repeat that process!”

Looking at me with her ice-blue eyes, my wonderful, amazing, smart, and knife-sharp best friend engaged in the following conversation with me:

BF: Ok, so, let’s assume you live to be 90. That’s a good potential, right?
Me: Ummmm … sure?
BF: What that means, then, is that you’re committing yourself to living the next 42 years with boring hair that doesn’t make you happy
Me: *speechless*

My mind exploded, folk. I mean, wow. How many of us have said “If I could go back then, and know what I know now …”

Well? We can. Age is, truly, just a number. We are here, now, and we do, now, know what we know. We’ve been through all life has thrown at us, and we’ve overcome it. And now, looking forward, there’re a lot of potential years left to do what we want, to be what we want.

Just … whoa. That took me, actually, a few days to fully process. I mean, really. Just think about it!

Back to the blue hair!

My youngest daughterbeast has normally rich brown hair, but she’s kept her hair red for years. She found a stylist through a friend of a friend of mine and this stylist did amazing things with the DBs hair. Dark dark at the roots, lightening up to a gorgeous red, then lightening up at the ends to an almost hot vivid pink/red. Simply stunning. So, I called the stylist up, said “Hey, you wanna trade? I work on you, you work on me?” She accepted!

And I went under the colorist’s hands! The process took about five hours, and I really must give this young woman kudos. She was patient with me, answering my questions, as we took my hair from salt & pepper to blonde, then to blue/green/teal. Dark brown at the roots, with a dark, deep blue under that, brightening to teal at the ends. The result, this first time, was a bit patchy, since you have to get hair REALLY blonde in order for the blues to hold. But, when I saw myself after she got it done, I was amazed! A big grin ate my face, I must admit.

I got home, styled my hair the way I like it styled, and I’ll be danged if I didn’t find myself taking pictures of myself!

Ok, backtrack a bit. A couple of years ago, I needed to take a picture of myself for my business website. Apparently, sites do better when they have a picture of the practitioner. We’re now being chosen on our appearance, as well as our qualifications. Imagine that. I sat down with my camera and began clicking. And clicking. And clicking some more. Eventually (after about 48 snaps, as well as multiple conversations with another friend, trying to find the “best” of the mess) I ended up with this: pic

Keep in mind, this was after 48 pictures! Pay attention to the smile in this one.

After getting my hair done, and styled, I took this picture to send to my beloved:

blue with glasses

I dunno about you, but I just feel like this picture has a more open smile, a happier smile. And it was after one click!

So here’s what’s happened in my little pea-brain.

I look at myself, now, and I see me. I don’t see my father’s face. I don’t see my mother’s body. I just see me, Angel. I don’t have the words, again, to express the emotional impact this has had on my life.

I’m fortunate that I work in an industry that expects a little oddness. Honestly, walk in to any massage clinic and I’m sure you’re going to find someone with tattoos, fantasy hair, shaved scalps (male & female), piercings, so on and so forth. So I’m very lucky in this industry. Do I realize that there will be some people who look at my picture, with my vibrant and vivid blue hair, who’ll be turned off to the idea of having me as a therapist? Yep, I surely do. However, I also realize that these are likely not the types of people I want on my table. The people I want on my table are the people who can see that I have blue hair (or blue green, or whatever color I decide to take it!), and just be like “Oh, cool, her hair’s pretty!”

I will admit, my coworkers’ and friends’ responses have helped, a great deal. I get regular compliments on the hair. It’s insane. Even the director of the clinic I work at had a very positive response; I’d discussed this change with her before I made it. Her response to my initial “Do you mind if I do this?” was amazing; in short, she explained that she supported people finding their own individuality, but she also cautioned that clients have the right to choose their therapists, and some may be put off by the hair. When she saw it, her jaw literally dropped, she stopped mid-word in her sentence, and exclaimed, “Oh, goodness, I never thought it’d be so beautiful!”

So yeah, the positive reaction from people around me has helped, a great deal. But the biggest response to this has been internal. I am proud, now, to feel that I’m changing the face of the “blue-haired old lady.”

And I’ve come to realize, even more strongly, that age is just a number. I may be turning 49 this month, but that’s ok. Inside, I’m still me. I’m still Angel, and I still have the right and the ability to express myself as I choose to. I hadn’t realized how much I was falling in to the rut of “acting my age.” Letting my hair grow out grey, slowly making my wardrobe more drab, more mundane … Wow!

Thank you, bestie, for bringing me to my senses, you have changed my entire outlook on the rest of my life. I may not, in actuality, live 42 more years, I may only live six more months. Who knows? But I can tell you that, thanks to your sharp-edged wisdom, I will live each and every day of the time left to me embracing me, and that is helped, more than I can say, by actually seeing me, not my father, and not my mother.

Incidentally, the photo at the beginning? Took that last night. The hair’s a different blue, but my hair, to me, looked soft, and pretty … and again, when I look at it? I see me, and I’m not afraid to share it with the world.

All that, just from a change in hair color … preceded by an amazing shift in perspective!

On a side-note? I’m pretty sure my mother-in-law will be pleased that I no longer shy away from the camera at family functions. And she’s enough of an amazing lady herself that she’ll embrace me, even if she doesn’t fully understand me.

Keto For Life!

How do you make it work for you?

This blog post came about because I have been asked to compile information on the Ketogenic Diet for a few people. I decided to just write it once, then share the link. So much easier!

To begin, I should tell you that my darling husband (DH) and I began the Keto diet experience on 10 September 2017, after I watched a fantastic video provided by ZDoggMD (click here) about LDL, cholesterol, and oh, yeah, Keto! On 10 Sep, we both weighed in, he at 254 and me at 255. Both of us had been heavier, but that was our starting weight.

Currently, he is down to 207, and I hover between 206-210. Women do seem to be cursed to have more difficulty with weight loss, but I’m not griping, as I’m now down a minimum of 45 pounds. I’ve about 20 more to go to reach my target weight of 185-190. To note — I am 5’8″, wear a size 10-11 ring on my ring finger, and size 11 shoes. For me, 185-190 is actually skinny.

I would like to point out right off the ball that all I’ve done here is put, in an easily-referenced format, much of the information that I found when I was researching the Keto Diet to determine if it would be healthy for us. I cannot thank, enough, the bloggers, etc, whose information I’ve referenced. I accept none of the accolades for the information they compiled — they did it all, and they deserve all the credit. I just utilized it, and am now sharing it forward in a (hopefully) easily-perused document.

I’m presenting all of this as though you, the reader, know nothing about the Keto Diet. This allows me to be sure I supply as much relevant information as possible. Forgive if I include information you already know!

Terms & Important Information

These are not alphabetical, but rather, I think, logically progressive.

Ketogenesis: The biochemical process by which organisms produce a group of substances collectively known as ketone bodies by the breakdown of fatty acids and ketogenic amino acids.

Ketones/Ketone Bodies: An organic compound containing a carbonyl group bonded to two hydrocarbon groups, made by oxidizing secondary alcohols. The simplest such compound is acetone. (For more understanding of the role of ketones in the ketogenic diet, read this).

Ketosis: A metabolic state characterized by raised levels of ketone bodies in the body tissues, which is typically pathological in conditions such as diabetes, or may be the consequence of a diet that is very low in carbohydrates.

Ketoacidosis: A pathological metabolic state marked by extreme and uncontrolled ketosis. In ketoacidosis the body fails to adequately regulate ketone production causing such a severe accumulation of keto acids that the pH of the blood is substantially decreased. In extreme cases ketoacidosis can be fatal.

Keto Sticks: Useful, though inexact, tool for tracking ketone body levels. What we use: Oh, click me!

Keto Adapted: This is the state you are in when your body has been wholly converted from using glucose as its primary energy source to using fat as its primary energy source. This can happen after anywhere from one-three weeks, usually. Cheating (having more carbs than allowed) can throw you out of Keto adaptation, but it doesn’t usually take as long to re-adapt as the initial adaptation took.

Net Carbs/Actual Carbs: This one can be a bit confusing. The guidelines for Keto consumption indicate that no more than 20-50g of actual, or net, carbs should be consumed daily. This means, for instance, that 50g of an avocado has a total of 80 calories, 8g fats, 4g total carbs, and 3g of fiber. In determining net carb count, you subtract fiber from the carbs, which means our 50g of avocado above only has 1g of net, or trackable, carbs — the total carbs (4) minus the fiber (3).


Nuts & Bolts – General Information

In short, the Keto Diet changes your body’s energy consumption from sugar-based (glucose) to fat-based (ketones, ketosis, nutritional ketosis). Our current diets are heavy in foods that easily convert to glucose, and very low in fats. This is based on old information that is being questioned and reevaluated.

What does a day of Keto Diet consumption look like for me? I begin the day with two cups (20 oz each) of coffee (decaf, I drink it for the rich flavor, and can heartily recommend Fresh Thyme’s Fogcutter). In that coffee I’ve added a creamer I make, which is 1 part heavy cream and 2 parts coconut/almond blend milk. I add vanilla and stevia to the creamer for taste. I’m playing with the idea of going full-on coconut milk, since almond milk doesn’t have as much fat, but for now, this is working just fine for us.

Around 11ish, I start getting hungry, so I might have some bacon. Or I might have some deli meat wrapped in a slice of cheese. Or I might have a baked avocado, mixed with butter and sour cream and maybe cheese. Or I might have some leftover something from the night before.

After my DH gets home, we have supper, our “big” meal of the day. It could be something as simple as hamburger patties (Bubba Burgers ftw!) with butter and cheese on top, or it could be a roast, chicken, whatever — but cooked in a manner consistent with high fat cooking. I no longer remove fat from meats when I prepare them, and we use chicken thighs rather than breast meat, as the fat content (and flavor!) is higher in the thighs. I also make a lot of cream soups, or sometimes we have salads with a lot of high-fat dressing. Our salads usually contain avocado, small portions of tomatoes, lettuces and spinach, and other vegetables that don’t increase our carb intake. I also recently found out that all my butternut squash recipes, which I love so much, can be made with kabocha squash — less carbs, yay!

If we’re hungry throughout the day, we’ll have a fat bomb or two. Oh, did I not mention fat bombs? SUPER way of increasing your fat intake without seriously impacting your other nutrients. Find out more here: click me!

Another thing I love doing, when I feel that I’m not getting enough green stuff in my diet, is casseroles. I’ll make this with any of the approved vegetables, but so far, I’m loving them with shredded Brussels Sprouts. Yum! I really love olive oil as a base for many of my foods, especially considering I have to follow a FODMAPS Diet, so I infuse my garlic into my olive oil. Olive oil combined with butter? Major yum! Also, I’m learning to use a good deal of canned coconut milk or coconut cream. I’ve learned how to not be afraid to really pour in the oil (fat), which just makes everything taste better, as well as making it more filling.

I’ve found that the easiest foods for conversion to Keto, for me, are American, German, Hungarian, and some Eastern foods such as Indian. There’s still a great deal of leeway, and it’s not hard to find a Keto recipe for just about anything. Google is your friend! You can literally input “Keto Pork Recipes” and find a huge list of just about everything possible — see? Keto Pork Recipes! But clam chowder, made with a Roux base? Hello … here ya go — Keto Clam Chowder Recipes!

I, personally, have given up on finding a good bread recipe. They just don’t exist, aside from a flatbread I make from a pizza crust recipe (Fathead Pizza). There’s another recipe for this using coconut flour, which is cheaper than almond flour, and lasts longer as you use less coconut flour (Fathead Pizza – Coconut Flour). Bottom line on Keto Bread: The flours you use do not contain gluten, so they don’t bind together themselves. Further, you can’t use yeast to get them to rise. You end up using a great deal of eggs for the binding, and then tons of baking soda and/or powder for rising. I’ve tried several bread recipes, and they’re either too eggy, or too metallic, for consumption. One I had to throw away as soon as it came out of the oven; it was not edible. In general, the breads are dense, don’t rise well, sink fast, and taste eggy and/or metallic.

One of the first things to understand, and grasp, is that this diet will absolutely only work as long as you remain in ketosis. Any cheating, or going out of ketosis, throws you out of Keto Adaptation, at least for the short-term. It’s fairly easily recoverable, usually taking no more than a week for things to resolve themselves after only one cheat. However, I believe that if the Keto Diet is abandoned and you resume your previous way of eating once weight goals are achieved, then all benefits of the Keto Diet will be lost; in short, the weight will be regained, and fairly quickly, and you’ll be inundating your body, again, with bad-for-you stuffs. There are people who say “Keto for life!” and others who insist it should be a short-term solution specifically targeted to weight loss and physiological improvement. More on that, down below.

Another thing to be aware of is fat distribution in our bodies. At a high level, we can separate body fat distributions to visceral and subcutaneous. Visceral fat is the fat that’s packed in and around the abdomen, usually displacing and squishing internal organs. It’s most predominant in men, and it’s also the more dangerous fat. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that tends to be softer, and is more generalized over the whole body, since it’s distributed mainly under the skin level. Women are usually the ones with sub-cu fat, and it’s the less dangerous fat type to have. The kicker? Visceral fat is easier to lose, while sub-cu fat is more difficult.

Go figure, right?

Initially, using an app such as MyFitnessPal is absolutely invaluable to tweak the Keto Diet for each person. For instance, my DH can have more protein in his diet and maintain weight loss, where I require more fat, and a good bit less protein, than he can get away with. Using the MFP app, rather than the web-based PC version, gives you access to macro- and micronutrient levels and percentages more easily than the PC version does.

For me, maintaining my macronutrient levels at 75% fat, 5% carbs, and no more than 20% protein works, while my DH can fluctuate around 60-75% fat, 5% carbs, and the rest protein. Further, one hard-fast rule that we both follow is that we consume absolutely no more than 20-35g carbs per day. Period. We let the fat and protein take up the rest of our calories. For many people, only 60% fat, 5% carbs and 35% proteins works. If you wish to do this correctly, you’re going to want a food tracker, and you’re going to want a food scale. Both are necessary, trust me!

A happy sidenote we’ve both noticed is that our appetites have significantly reduced. We’re full, sooner, and we stay full, longer. In short, fat is a satiating factor in our diets, and our bodies have naturally adjusted themselves to lower calories. We did not have to do this for ourselves, our bodies just kinda stepped in and said, “Hey, you’re full! Stop eating!”

One of the more startling results I’ve noticed for myself is the dramatic decrease of my Fibromyalgia symptoms. I’ve been diagnosed with Fibro since the early 2000s. I, at one time, was on medications such as Lyrica and Gabapentin to manage the Fibro, though I still struggled with the fatigue that’s endemic with that illness. I found a doc willing to prescribe me Thyroid hormone since my Thyroid levels were .01 above being “low,” and my regular doctor preferred to prescribe me antidepressants rather than try the Thyroid. My symptoms resolved enough with the Thyroid treatment that I was able to come off the Lyrica/Gabapentin, and my fatigue decreased. I still struggled with flare-ups, and they could be as bad as without the Thyroid hormone. I was able to use Ibuprofin to manage the pain, which I saw as a better alternative to the previous medications. However, once we began Keto, I noticed that my pain level decreased significantly. The last couple of months, I’ve stopped taking IB more than once or twice a week, if that frequently. The reason for that is that the foods included on the Keto diet, by and large, are not foods that contribute to inflammation. That’s a whole separate area of research if you’d like to indulge — it’s fascinating. But I’ll share with you the following link, which kind of touches on it: click here!


Managing the Keto Diet

Ok, now, into the good stuff. As I stated above, the key components to weight loss on the keto diet is carbohydrate reduction and control, and significantly increased fat consumption. This meant the elimination of many of our favorite foods: potatoes, breads, pastas, rices, desserts, so on and so forth. It also meant that the regular intake of most fruits, and many vegetables, was tabled. Why is this? Let me list for you the carb levels per serving of many foods:

Apple: 1 medium apple contains 25g carbs, and 4g fiber, which equals 21g net carbs
Pear: 1 medium pear contains 26g carbs, and 6g fiber, which equals 20g net carbs
Orange: 1 medium pear contains 15g carbs, and 3g fiber, which equals 12g net carbs
Cucumber: 1/2 cup cucumber contains 1.9g carbs, and .3g fiber, which equals 1.6g net carbs
Tomato: 1 medium tomato contains 4.8g carbs, and 1.5g fiber, which equals 3.3g net carbs
Turnip: 1 medium turnip contains 8g carbs, and 2.2g fiber, which equals 5.8g net carbs
Potato: 1 medium potato contains 37g carbs, and 4.7g fiber, which equals 32.3g net carbs
Rice: 1 cup cooked white rice contains 44g carbs, and .6g fiber, which equals 43.4g net carbs

As you can see, if you’re not careful, those net carbs can add up quickly. Fairly safe vegetables for consumption include cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, rutabaga, many radishes including Daikon radish, eggplant, lettuces & leafy vegetables, and cabbages. Other, lower-net-carb vegetables can be used, but I recommend, at least initially, ONLY doing so when calculating percentages and tracking them via MFP, so that you can easily learn how to juggle the percentages. I cannot stress enough that finding, and then sticking to the correct percentages will be a huge component to successful implementation of the Keto Diet.

Another factor that the Keto Diet utilizes, but which my DH and I have not been able to pursue as diligently as we like is the use of GOOD food. Not the antibacteria-laden meats we generally buy, but actual organic vegetables, and grass-fed beef, and organic meats, as often as possible. The reason for this goes beyond just weight loss; it encompasses an overall healthy way of learning to eat. You can research for yourself the wholesale use of pesticides, herbicides, antibacteria, and other chemical processes which are now commonplace in our food production. We won’t even mention GMO in here.

The truth is that if you do any real research into what commonly comes across our tables (I recommend reading “The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Wal Mart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table” by Tracie McMillan if you haven’t already read it), you’re going to be horrified by what we’re regularly putting in to our bodies. From the preservatives which keep our foods on shelves longer to all the rest of everything else, it’s no wonder we’re seeing such an uptick in medical problems. We’re poisoning ourselves.

My DH and I are working on cleaning up our foods as much as we can, but due to financial constraints, that will be a long-term project. We do count every time we can move closer to that goal a good thing.

I guess this is as good a time as anything to make the following point — If you don’t cook, this will be difficult for you to follow. Myriad reasons for this exist: When you cook, you have absolute control over the ingredients and portion size. Further, when you go out to eat, while nutrition information is posted, you can’t count on it being completely accurate since most foods are prepared by people — well, those that don’t come pre-packaged. But we won’t even talk about those evil foods! Anyway, if I read a recipe I like, I always alter it to suit my tastes. Also, I take into account factors like scale weights being slightly off, or my desire to have just a bit more cream cheese in that dish … you get the idea.

The only way you can accurately know what you’re eating is to prepare it yourself, measuring and tracking it as you go. MFP allows you to enter recipes; I did that, for the first few months, with everything I prepared. I didn’t write out the directions, just entered the ingredients and allowed the computer to figure out our macro- and micro-nutrients. Another reason to maintain control over your food is the oils used for frying, etc. For instance, how many of you are still using partially-hydrogenated oils? Are you aware of them? Click here for more information on these. Anyway, my DH and I will eat out now, but only with restaurants where we know the quality of the food prepared; Panera, Red Robin, J. Gilbert, and Firebird’s are ones we’re usually pretty safe with.

Side note: Be aware that cheese can bind you up! Cheese is an easy way to increase your fat consumption; wanna make a casserole? Add cheese! However, Impaction is not unheard of, nor is high levels of constipation. For me, I’ve had to significantly cut my cheese intake down, which means I’ve had to learn how to use other fats to keep my fat intake high. This is problematic for me, ‘cuz it means I gotta actually think more, but I’d rather have more headache figuring this out than more constipation because I was lazy. Watch your cheese intake, and reduce if necessary! Increasing water and sodium can help, but as one person said, “Constipation isn’t about what you’re not eating (fibers, anyone?) but rather about what you are eating.” Can’t find that quote to correctly mark it, and it’s a bad paraphrase, but you get the idea. I used Flax and Chia seeds to try to “fix” my constipation, but nothing worked until I drastically reduced my daily cheese intake.


Starting Out

First of all, when you start Keto, your body will go through an adjustment process. This means that you can have flu-like symptoms. Further, once you’re firmly set on this path, your supplements will need to make up for missed nutrients in your foods. For my DH and I the two biggest ones have been Magnesium and Potassium for muscle action. In short, we began having horrible leg cramps. Increasing Mg and K intake is vital to continued health and well-being … and sleep! Waking up with leg cramps = major not fun.

Further, you will absolutely want to increase your water intake. I can’t stress this enough. Do research on artificial sweeteners currently used, and you’ll want to swear off sodas forever. My DH and I both use Stur in our water to enhance the flavor; while Stur does contain trace carbs, our carb intake per day is low enough to handle this. Also! Sodium will likely have to be increased. It’s crazy, but sodium levels seem to drop a lot when you begin Keto, so get used to adding slightly more salt to meals. I, as a rule, don’t salt while I’m cooking, so all salt is added at the time of consumption, to taste. Our measurable sodium levels do not appear to have increased at all.

Keto, and making it work, has to be different for every person. For instance, I found it easier to scour the web for information, then make my plan of action, implement it, test it, and go from there. For some people, it’s far easier to follow a menu plan that’s already been developed by other people. I can’t tell you what’s easiest for you, but I can tell you there are countless resources out there for getting started. Since I’ve planned on this becoming our new way of being from the start, it made more sense for me to really get in to the inner figurings of it and go from there, but every single person’s situation is different, so in the interest of helping you obtain more information, I’ve included some really good how-to-start guides at the end of this blog.

Note: Keto and sugars. Because sugars are carbs, and we’re reducing our carbs so drastically, many people lament they won’t be able to have sweets anymore. That’s simply not true! The types of sweets you can eat will change; I use fat bombs, or Endangered Species Chocolate Bars, for our sweets. Knowing what your sweets are sweetened with is a huge part of successful Keto Dieting. For instance, my DH and I eat this bar as a snack, consuming no more than three squares at a time. This contains natural cane sugar, but in a very small amount, and the carb/sugar count is low enough that it’s not a danger to spiking the A1C. For other things, such as cooking treats, etc, we use either Erythritol or Stevia. Also, as I indicated above, I do sweeten our coffee creamer. At the end of this blog I will include some links on sweeteners.

Maintaining

Once you’ve gotten started, figured out the nuts & bolts (again, this can be a couple of months), you’re ready to sit back and embrace your new way of being. Congrats! You’ve likely begun to notice some weight loss, and are beginning to feel better. Below, I’ll list some links for several theories on Keto and lifestyle.

To put it simply, there are a great many people who believe “Keto for life!” is, in fact, for life. My DH and I fall into this category. We will not go back to our previous way of eating. My DH, the other day, just looked at me and said “I will never weigh that much again.” As we’re both aging, obviously, being as healthy as possible has become important; important enough that we won’t allow ourselves to fall back into the high-sugar diets we were consuming. I’ve always cooked, and we ate well, but we did consume a lot of high-carb foods, including at the least potatoes & rice. We miss those, but we don’t miss being fat!

One proponent of short-term use of the Keto Diet is Dr. Axe, and he’s proposed several ways to transition off of keto and on to a more “normal” diet. You can find his proposals here: Dr. Axe – Transition off Keto. My DH and I have decided that Keto is going to be our long-term way of life, with occasional cheats allowed.

Proponents of long-term Keto Diets all say about the same thing — there’s not enough information yet to show that long-term Keto use is harmful, and the anti-inflammatory and other benefits are too great to give up. There is speculation that long-term adherence to the Keto Diet can actually be harmful; keep in mind much of that speculation comes from avid followers — both medical and layperson — of the current FDA Dietary Guidelines. For my view of the current and historical dietary guidelines? See this: Funny — but true — Video.

In short, you will have to decide for yourself whether this is a weight-loss gimmick that works, or whether it’s a total recommittment to eating right, and taking care of your body, and the body(ies) of your loved one(s).

Long-term options for some people can include what’s called Keto Cycling. This means that you cycle your carb count, varying the amounts on different days. I suppose my DH and I could consider this, if something comes up that shows that long-term ketosis is dangerous. In my opinion, though, there’s just not enough verifiable information out there for people to make an all-inclusive decision regarding remaining in ketosis or not. Again, for my DH and I, it was a decision we made together, and one we’ll continue to follow, as we feel the health benefits outweigh (ha!) the health detriments. Be assured we will also be following information as it becomes available. A link about Keto Cycling is listed below.

I’m going to wrap this up now with some good’ol fashioned links on many things Keto that I believe will answer the questions better than I can; those links will then be followed by recipe links. There are some absolutely amazing bloggers out there who’ve done a lot of the hard work for us! Yay!


Getting Started Links

Types of Keto Diet Plans

Sweeteners – They’re not all Equal!

Tasteaholic’s Tasty Low-Carb Dessert Recipes

Aside from that, I can only imagine responding to any questions you may have. It’s difficult to try to make this everything about Keto, as there’s just so much information. Hopefully, however, this is a good start for you! Please do NOT hesitate to let me know if I can help more!

Letting Ourselves Go

Or, in other words? Simply hating ourselves; how do we move past that?

My beloved husband will confirm, I read. Voraciously. Like, nearly everything I can get my hands on, though I do have preferences! This began, I believe, as a child seeking a means of escape. Or maybe it was because I’ve always been an inveterate info junkie. Or both? Who knows. Anyway. Why is this important?

It’s important because something I read recently made me start really thinking. The main character in this story, a middle-aged man, was reflecting on how quickly he healed, when he was younger. How much easier so many things were. His reflections led down the path of how younger men saw him and assumed he’d “let” himself get old.

Wow, I thought. Just … wow. I mean, that stopped me, right there. How many of us do, in reality, look at ourselves and others like that? I certainly look at myself that way. I’ve hated my body forever, but it’s been worse the last several years because I “let” myself get fat. Obviously, I had the means to control that, right? Well, maybe not, actually, but I’ll get to that. Let’s get back to the self-castigation game. I let myself become fat because I just don’t care. I don’t care about my health, right? I don’t care about my appearance. I don’t care what others think of me (ok, maybe that one’s true). I don’t care about so many things, which must have been what led to my getting fat.

Now, here’s the real story. Up until 1999, I was very active. I loved hiking, I loved bicycling, I ran Cross Country in high school (and still have dreams of just running, free, through the trees, as I did when I was much younger). I swam, I walked, I danced, I practiced yoga. I did lots of things. However, in September of ’99, I tripped over a hole and shattered my left ankle. Let me be explicit here: I broke both my tibia and fibula about three inches above my ankle, and I wrapped my outside ankle bone (lateral malleolus) around the back of my foot so that it was right next to my inside ankle bone (medial malleolus). I think that wrapping of the ankle bones came when I tried to stand on that foot, just to “be sure” it wasn’t broken.

Long story short, I had to go through a pretty significant surgery to try to repair the ankle, then went through weeks of highly intensive (and painful!) Physical Therapy so that I could be sure I walked normally. I regained about 85% of that foot’s abilities, which was more than the doc thought I’d regain. He’d estimated about 65%-70%.

Let me briefly explain how our feet are made. The “heel” of a foot is made of a bone called the calcaneus. On top of the calcaneus sits the talus, and on top of that sits the tibia, which is the long bone of our shin. Because bones don’t like rubbing directly on bones, there is a layer of cartilage between joints. What specifically affected my foot was the cartilage that existed between the talus and the tibia. In short, after about seven years, the cartilage just poofed. Gone, destroyed, finito. As the cartilage had been degrading, I’d begun building up calcium spikes around the top of the talus and the base of the tibia. These calcium spikes are produced when bones rub against each other, and they’re what we call arthritis. In short, by about 2007-2008, I was walking with these spikes of calcium constantly rubbing against the tissues in that area — ligaments, tendons, muscles, etc. Walking wasn’t all that caused pain, however; swimming, running, bicycling, turning, pivoting all caused pain. In short, every movement made by my left foot caused pain.

Now, if you haven’t lived with constant, chronic pain? Yay! You’re one of the lucky ones, and I am ecstatic for you! However, if you have? Then you pretty much know that not only is it, well, painful, but it’s also emotionally and mentally debilitating. You just get so tired of hurting all the time. However, during that time, my second marriage was falling apart and so that took precedence over everything. Further, I lost my sister during that time, had a holy hell of a debacle with my family, and well? Just didn’t have time to get the foot looked at.

Fast forward to 2010. By 2010, I still looked great, but I was at the peak of an emotional breakdown, and I also could barely walk without excruciating pain. Lots happened in my life during that time, lots improved, and by 2013 I could begin to look at getting the foot fixed. Went to the doc, got a diagnosis of End-Stage Arthritis. This essentially means that there is no option other than surgery in order to stop the pain. The choice became one of “Do I get it fused or go for a replacement?” In doing research to try to make this decision, I chose the ankle replacement. Why? Because, in short, fusion would allow me to run, but the replacement would allow me to do my yoga. I have knees that’re trying to go bad, so I went the yoga route.

Doc botched the surgery, had to (in his words) “yank out the prosthetic, shave more off the tibia and attempt to replace the prosthetic.” Look up ankle replacement techniques, I think you’ll be amazed. Anyway, fast forward to 2016. I could still barely walk. I’d gone to my doc several times because I thought the prosthetic was slipping out of place. The pain was so intense! He’d look knowingly up at the X-Rays, purse his lips, then say “the prosthetic is in correctly.” End of story. I finally, in 2016, went for a second opinion and found out the problem was tendonitis. Now, let me explain tendonitis to you. You see, our muscles begin as tendon where they attach to the originating bone. Then they become “muscle” or what we call muscle belly, then they become tendon again to attach to the bone they insert on. When you get tendonitis, that means that the muscle belly is spasmed, or shortened, or what we might call “tense.” Get that belly tense enough and it pulls on the tendons which attach it to the bone. Most often, we see issues where it inserts on the bone rather than where it originates. Anyway, in my case, my calf muscles (specifically Tibialis Anterior) was spasmed and it was pulling on the tendon in my foot, where it inserted, thus causing the pain. A regimen of Ibuprofin and PT was recommended and VOILA! I could, for the first time in years, walk without pain!

Ok. You’re asking yourself what all this has to do with body shaming, with self-hatred, yada yada, right? I’m getting there, don’t rush me! Let’s examine the facts. Catastrophic injury to the foot in 1999. Developing and then end-stage arthritis from around 2007ish until 2013, when the replacement happened. Then, 2013 to 2016 of living with tendonitis. So, those are the physical components. However, I also had emotional and other issues I was struggling with; the dissolution of my second marriage. The loss of my sister. The family issues. Entering a new relationship, picking up, moving several states away. Learning who I was. So on and so forth.

So, if I’m fair to myself, then I have to admit, I didn’t “let” anything happen. Life happened, and I consistently did the best I could with what I had. I could no longer do my yoga. Due to massive depression, it was often all I could do to get outta bed and keep the house up. To be succinct (because I’m well-known for this, amiright?), my lifestyle changed drastically, and between about 2010 and 2016, I packed on 70 pounds. Now, keep something in mind; my skinny weight is 185. Not kidding; at 185 I wear a size 12 pant, a medium top, and look very skinny, though still full-figured. I wear a size 10-11 ring, size 11 to 11.5 shoes, and am 5’8.5″. I’m buxom, I got back, and so on and so forth. No, tall and willowy has never been me, but yeah, I can be skinny. At 2010, I weighed my normal 185ish. Now? Well, I won’t put the number down, but you can do the math, right?

On to the body shaming. I’ve given this a great deal of thought over the years. First, let’s begin with when I was a kid. For the longest time, I was called Stringbean because I was so tall and thin. Then around 14 I began to develop. Immediately, I went from Stringbean to “fat.” “You’re putting on some weight,” my father would tell me. “Lose weight to X pounds and I’ll buy you some designer jeans.” My mother would poke me when I ate, telling me “You need to slow down, you’re getting fat.” Ok, gang. I’ve seen the pictures of me at this age, and on, and guess what? Nowhere was there an ounce of fat on me, other than the girls and the booty. My legs were thick, but they were muscular, as were my arms. For a woman, I have very broad shoulders. I used to take so much pride in the strength of my body; I was as strong as many men I knew, even being able to successfully arm-wrestle against many of them, and I was stronger than most women. I didn’t work at it, it just was. So I had a very athletic build, partly due to genetics and partly due to my constant activity. Additionally? Have I mentioned “buxom” and “booty” yet? Yep, that was me. But there is a difference between that figure, and fat. However, I think a lot of parents react that way when their daughters begin to develop. I know my first husband did when our youngest daughter started to develop; he and his new wife dressed her in baggy jeans and oversized, shapeless hoodies and sweatshirts and t-shirts.

So. What is really happening here? Are our daughters really getting fat, or are you terrified because they’re beginning to look like women? And then let’s not even talk about the media! I was watching a commercial for a refrigerator recently. It begins with a woman (skinny, noticeable thigh gap) opening her refrigerator as a woman narrates. It then goes to talk about her creations, and the pictures are all of dessert and pastry making. So, the message we’re seeing here is that a woman who loves to bake and prepare all these sweet tasty treats should be skinny as heck, and with a huge gap between her thighs. Why? Why are we doing this? I’m a gamer, and there was recently a thread in a new game I’m interested about character creation. One of the people asked whether the sliders would allow them to create a muscular woman. You should have seen the responses! “Women like that make me puke.” Or “Why can’t she just be a normal woman? I mean, looks like you want a woman who’s just gonna dominate the men she’s with.” Or this, my favorite — and it’s a direct quote — “Sounds like you want a man with a vagina.”

Why is this acceptable? Why is it appropriate for anyone to dictate a “normal” and then decry anyone or anything that has the audacity to step outside that normal? In what sane world does this make sense? Oh, wait, guess I answered my own question. Not sure we can consider this a sane world.

Now let’s wander back around to my original topic. Didja read the quote I posted? How many women do you know of who’ve been accused of “letting herself go”? Or, let’s look at aging. I’m a Massage Therapist; trust me, I see all kindsa bodies. I can tell you without equivocation that, almost always, aging causes changes that express themselves in women as a thickening of the waist, sagging of the breasts, and sagging of the booty. Additionally we have all the wrinkles, the development of a double-chin sometimes, greying of the hair. How much money is made by hair color industries by women who color their grey? I know I did, until about two years ago!

When did we decide that these trophies of a life well-lived were things that indicated someone “let herself go”? When did it become acceptable to view someone who didn’t pay out the wazoo for plastic surgery to “correct” these “deficiencies” in appearance as shameful? How many female celebrities do you know of who’re looked upon with frowny faces because they didn’t follow the plastic surgery craze? Why is this a thing?

I think it’s a thing because we are social creatures, and we seek to belong. It’s far easier to look outside ourselves at what society deems acceptable and strive to model ourselves to meet that criteria, rather than seek inward and determine what we consider acceptable. It’s easier to point to our bodies and say “I need to lose this spare tire around my middle” than it is to look inside our minds, our hearts, and say “I need to change my outlook so that I’m more positive about things.” Trust me, I know this. Further, our society has done two things in our recent history. First, it’s expanded nearly exponentially. Second, it’s become highly technical and, by association, highly “social.” I mean, the local small-town bar I go to and love even has our resident “Selfie Queen.” I call her this because more of her time in the bar is spent taking and posting selfies than it is interacting with the people sitting next to her.

This has led, I feel, to a crisis. This crisis is the ideology of “Normal.” Normal, now, is plastered on our televisions, on our social networks, in our games, and even in forums.  And what’s more? It’s accepted as “The Norm.” Step outside The Norm and you become outcast. You don’t fit in. And then, don’t even get me started on our ability to think for ourselves in our society! Our children are taught what to think, not how to think. So all these messages are being sent about The Norm, our kids see them and immediately measure themselves against The Norm, and find themselves lacking. Surely, if they have pouty lips, huge unreal eyelashes, perfect hair, and of course a vast thigh gap, they’ll be accepted!

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. But even when we know this, it is so very difficult to correct these beliefs, these behaviors. Trust me. I’m possibly the most self-analytical person I’ve ever met, and I still struggle with this! It’s easier for me to fall back on my parents’ messages about being “too fat” than it is for me to dive down inside and figure out what’s really going on. Further? It’s a habit now. Yep, I said it. Self-castigation and self-hatred is a habit. It’s a constant little voice in the back of my head, making snide comments and assuring me that if I’d just stop letting myself go, I’d be happy.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop this in my lifetime, but I’ve determined that I’m going to work actively toward it for the rest of said lifetime. How do I intend to do this?

Well. Let’s take it by the numbers:

  1. I am going to alter my diet. Wait, what? Does that mean I wanna lose weight? Actually, yes. But let’s look at my reasons. First of all, I’m aging, and I need to do as much as I can to age gracefully. I already live with a lot of pain, constantly, from inflammation and other issues. Changing my diet (and losing weight if that happens) will help with these issues. Also, remember — artificial left ankle. Being 50 pounds overweight just ain’t good for it (yes, you did the math right — I did lose 20 pounds recently).
  2. I’m going to start giving myself small successes. Today, I got out and worked briefly in the yard. Probably not enough to burn major calories, but certainly enough to give me a sense of accomplishment and achievement! Additionally, I redid my walking music mix, and I’m going to start walking again now that the weather’s good.
  3. I’m going to (try to) stop arguing with my beloved when he says “You’re beautiful.” Ok, yeah, that’s the hard one. But seriously, why argue? He believes it! Why don’t I just accept that, to at least one person, I’m beautiful? Doesn’t that mean that I can be beautiful? Maybe not by society’s standards, but pft. Who cares? He believes I am beautiful, and I can choose to allow myself to see myself through his eyes.
  4. I’m going to try to wear sleeveless tops, rather than hate the wingspans I have. Seriously. I could fly to Atlanta with these wings! I’m still outrageously strong, I just have extra flesh there. So what? If I wear a sleeveless dress to go out with my beloved, he’ll make sure I know he thinks I look beautiful. Really, who else matters?
  5. I’m going to start laughing at the commercial for the refrigerator, and remind myself “You can’t trust a skinny cook.” That’s an old-old saying, by the way, if you didn’t know it. Basically means that if a cook won’t eat their own cooking, you probably don’t wanna either. A pastry/dessert chef who stays skinny? Crazy genes, or a lie.
  6. I will, one body part at a time, start really seeing myself in the mirror and strive to accept that body part, then move on to the next

Yeah, tall order. Like I said, I may not actually achieve this in my lifetime. But guess what? I am determined to try.

I leave you with this last little visual. I’m sure many have seen it before … but maybe we all need to see it again?

friend

To Take a Shower; or Not

Should be a no-brainer, right?

Seems a simple choice, does it not? Yet, when one is sunk down, buried under the weight and darkness that we label “Depression,” it is not simple.

It was with shame today that I realized just how many days it had been since last I bathed. A week? A week and change? Then, I began to reflect that that is actually one of the facets of depression, that shame. Depression seems to bring out the worst in us, and it’s usually forced inward, upon ourselves. So, the shame I felt as I stepped into the shower, that sense of “Wow, I’ve been so lazy, haven’t even taken a shower!” adds to the ennui that we struggle to escape from. The fact that I’ve also been struggling with a migraine? Yeah, that’s the icing on the cake. I ask myself, “Did the migraine cause this? Or did the depression cause the migraine?” Who know and, really, who cares? Double-whammy, here I come!

Then, there’s the current life. As you know, if you’ve read what I’ve written previously, I’ve a very good life. I love it. My husband adores me (and I adore him, in return); we have a new home we’ve settled in to, that gives us peace and safety and comfort; we have, between us, four daughters and three grandchildren whom we love and adore; we are, in short, very happy with our lives. So why, I must ask myself when I feel these dark clouds sneak up on me; why am I depressed?

I know that the first 40 years of my life were hell. I know that, I’ve accepted it, I’ve even moved beyond it, to a point where I can say “This is my life, and it’s a good life. This is who I am, and I like who I am.” So when those cloud-tendrils begin reaching out to grasp me, I feel myself shuddering, trying to slip from their grasp, to give them nothing to hold on to. Yet, those previous 40 years are no lightweights, and I find myself, from time to time, sinking back into that steeping mire. Under “normal” circumstances — that is, the circumstances that inform my most current past five years — I’ve learned well to ride these waves out. To myself, I’m able to say “This is ok. It’s a bump in the road. It won’t last forever, you’ve gotten through everything else, you can make it through this one.” That’s another gift I’ve been given, these last eight years or so. I know, now, that these periods don’t last. Somehow, that makes the act of slogging through them somewhat less difficult. That is yet another gift my beloved has offered to me, that knowledge.

But. And there is always a “but,” isn’t there, dear reader? But, I hate them. I hate the dark times. I still perceive them as a weakness of myself. I also know, very well, that sometimes, when the dark times hit, they bring with them thoughts or memories of that past life, and those thoughts and memories are rife with shame, with pain, with loss and longing. I hate, with a passion that seems well at-odds with the enfolding of nothing that is depression, these times. Which means, simply, that I castigate myself even more. I have everything! I shout to myself. I have everything I’ve ever wanted; why? Why must the past come back, drag me back under, have its way with me?

My beloved has made sure I’m always aware that these periods of darkness, these times of no-self, of emptiness and pain and loss and shame, are actually spreading themselves out. They happen less frequently, and they last shorter durations, now, than they used to. I know all this. And yet … they still happen.

This most recent one has been the worst I’ve experienced in a good, long while. I haven’t just stayed in bed for days on end; I’ve cooked, some. I’ve cleaned, some. I’ve done some things. But the doctor’s appointments I’ve needed to follow up on; the bills I’ve needed to pay; the work I’ve needed to do; all of it, fallen by the wayside for the past few weeks. My home, my lovely home? Neglected. I’ve not had the energy it takes to lovingly clean it, and care for it; that also shames me. And for the last week? The bathing I’ve so desperately needed, not done. The self-care that would help combat this, I haven’t even had the energy to do.

Depression is insidious. It sneaks up on you, and by the time you realize you can no longer escape its grasp, somehow it has wrapped itself firmly about you, and dragged you down into that stinking, sloppy pit of goo which defies your ability to drag yourself out of. I know this, I’ve lived it. But the bigger part of what it does is assists us in our own self-defeat, our own self-castigation. Our own losses, our own failures, our own missteps, all blown wildly out of proportion. Trust me, if you’ve lived it, you know of what I speak; if you haven’t, then you can’t understand how devastating it is. I wonder, somehow, if it’s even more devastating when you know you have an amazing life, that it still has the ability to sneak back up on you and take from you your day-to-day peace and enjoyment.

But. And yes, there is always a but. But it does not last. It cannot last, I don’t know that anything really can last. Good days, bad days … we know they come, and we know they go. We know that the sunlight brightens the day, following the gentle moon which makes our nights a little less lonely. We know that the seasons follow each other. We know that Nature wreaks havoc on our environment, as well as we know that new growth comes from that havoc. And as we know these things, I know that the depression cannot last. That knowledge sustains me.

My husband sustains me. My life sustains me. My hope sustains me. Depression … hurts. It is a soul-hurt. But life, life is joy! Life itself is myriad possibilities, unfolding and blooming all around us. Yes, life can also sustain us, even when we’re sunk so far down we wonder how we’ll be able to make it back up. And eventually, the pit dries and hardens, we’re able to force handholds back into the sides, and we begin to be able to climb back out.

Those of us fortunate to have someone standing there, on the edge of that pit, with their hands outstretched to us know a shining moment when we look up and see that hand. The one who stands there has waited with us, patiently, for the clouds to pass, for the gloom to lift, for us to come back to ourselves.

I’d love to say that I will never struggle with depression, again. I really would. But I know better; it is the legacy that is left to me. But I also know that today’s shower, small as that was, is a step back toward this life that I love, and that my life, and my appreciation of it, is all the sharper for having made it through yet another round. In a few days, or a week, or a couple of weeks, when I am back to myself, I will be able to look back on this period and say “You made it. Again. Welcome back!” I will be able to feel, even more richly, the joys and peace and comfort that are my life. I will confront my life with yet more gratitude toward everything.

So while I hate these periods, absolutely despise them, when they arrive, I must also be grateful to them, for allowing me to enjoy even more the richness that has come to be my life.

*Note* It may be confusing, the timeline I’ve given above, so I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify it.

Until I was 40 years old, I knew nothing of hope for myself. At 40, my second husband divorced me, setting me free; but I knew only the loss of failure in that part of my life.

I met my beloved during that time, and thus began the slog toward humanity. It took me a good solid three years to be able to embrace this new life. So, birth-40 was hell. 40-43 were my beginning of discovery of self. And 43-48 has been the last five years, the richest years in joy and celebration that I’ve ever known. I am now 48, and look forward to what the rest of my life can teach me.

Closed Doors

…can open windows to the soul

Last night, much happened. I came home from work and my beloved husband had changed out the video card in my computer. He’d also installed a programmable light switch in our media room that can be linked in to our Echo dots, so we can manage it with our voices; “Alexa, set the media room lights to 20%,” and so on. He described to me the confusion over wire colors from the old switch, and how he had to look it up, then get everything right, then he had to program it. In all, it was no small task, but he did it as he does all things he sets out to do — carefully, and completely. Yes, he has inherited that from his dad, who never gives less than his all to any task he begins.

Additionally, after 8:00, I received notification that a job I’d hoped to get wasn’t available to me. I won’t describe the whole sequence of events, but suffice it to say I think I irritated one of the managers there, before I ever got too far into the process, and I will always believe that is the reason I was overlooked; not because my skills nor anything else were lacking.

Interestingly, however, yesterday at work I had a client who put my feet a bit further on the path I am walking to open my own business. I thought, at the time, that perhaps if I got this great job, I might become a bit slack on pursuing my own business; I’d be making more money, so obviously the financial gain would help me buy the supplies I need; however, the time commitment would probably get in the way of what I’m trying to do, but because I’d be making more money overall, I’d get comfy and not push forward. So yeah, I think things happen when and how they’re meant to.

A very interesting result came about from this, though. It began as I was in the shower, and my beloved was getting himself set for bed. I decided that I needed to make sure he knew how much I appreciated his efforts, and how grateful I am to him that he takes care of these things. That was shortly followed by an epiphany of sorts; I am not the most volubly affectionate person out there. I say “I love you” only when I mean it, and every time I say it, I mean it absolutely. As I was getting ready to walk into the bedroom, though, it dawned on me that my husband, who is volubly affectionate, understands this about me. He understands the deep regard I hold for him, and he understands that I never say something I don’t mean, and always say exactly what I do mean. So when I thank him for his work, he knows I mean it. When I tell him — not as often as I should, I think — that I appreciate him, he knows from the top of his head to the tips of his toes how very much I mean it. And this is why he is content for me to be less effusive in my praise; he knows when I give it, I mean it from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.

This was followed by another epiphany, and this one larger. At this point, I’d left the bedroom to go camp on the magic couch that is guaranteed to let me sleep, and I was contemplating the perfection of the moment. A door closed, but that was ok and, in fact, it opened me up to continue on a path I’ve set myself. I had thanked my beloved, and he had glowed in the knowledge that I love him dearly, that I appreciate him, and it occurred to me that the greatest state of humanity is when we can share ourselves, so very completely and deeply, with another.

We humans, we are not meant to be solitary creatures. Even those of us somewhat reticent in our speech and affection are still designed to interact with other people. And I realized that the highest form of growth is the ability to help someone else grow. The highest state of happiness, of joy, is to help someone else achieve happiness and joy. It is not enough to obtain wealth, nor power over others — it is enough, it is sufficient, to be a valuable part of a team that works toward growth and creation. When you can share that with another, or with many others, then you are rich, you are sufficient, you are a part of something beautiful and wonderful and amazing.

That led to yet another epiphany of sorts (yes, last night was a busy night!). I was opened up to the vastness of the universe. One universe; regardless of the immensity of our universe, it is infinite, and infinite means there is no room for another; one universe. Or, in the vernacular of people whose faith is a part of their religion, one God.

Only one. Single.

But we, we humans, we little brief-lived scurrying things, we are many. And in our many, we interact, the universe within us interacting with the universe within another. Yet we are all born of the same one universe.

Is it not possible that this state of being, this physical incarnation we all share, is in fact the universe’s way of interacting with others, of seeing things through different eyes? Imagine that. Imagine one universe, all-encompassing — yet alone. Then imagine the teeming multitudes of lives on this small planet — human, animal, insect, plant. So many lives! And we, we small humans, we have the ability to interact with each other, to help each other, to build each other up, to build up and glorify all that is around us, even if it’s four-legged or six-legged or rooted.

Is it not possible we are the universe’s means of experiencing community? Think of the prefix com, which means “together” and “in association”. Then think of the word unity, which means “the state of being united or joined as a whole.” For me, this was a wow moment. A moment of depth, of realization hanging on the edge of perception. Together, united, joined as a whole.

I believe this is our natural state. I believe that we come from one source, and we return to that one source. I believe that our highest expression of our very selves is the expression that causes us to come together, to build up, to make things whole and complete.

I saw it. Wish I could explain it, but I saw the connections; the link between myself and my husband, myself and my children, myself and our furkids, myself and the stranger on the street with whom I interact. I saw these links, and I saw them spreading ever-outward, until the whole world is covered with these lines of connection. And then I saw all those links reaching out, back into the universe, and building. Ever building, ever growing.

Community. This is our goal and, for those of us who are aware of our place within that, of our responsibility to shape that community toward growth and love and harmony; for those of us who are quietly sure in our place in this growing community, nothing can be taken from us that doesn’t matter. You can take our possessions, we still have our connection. You can isolate us; we still have the knowledge of this level of beauty within ourselves. You can make our physical lives harder; it only builds up our spiritual lives, makes them stronger.

You can’t take anything from us we aren’t wiling to give, because the important things, the things that matter, aren’t tangible. They’re held within us and, when and as we can, they’re shared out with those around us.

We are part of a whole, not whole parts moving in isolation. Our strength is our ability to come together for common goals; our beauty is the universe being a part of this, within us.

All this, last night, escalating from one door closing.

On Growth

How do we cope with exceptional pain? We look forward.

For those of you who may not know me, I have two daughters. My oldest, at 28, is a mommy, so she may be able to speak to what I write; however, her son is 17 months old, so maybe there’s still some learning going on there. My youngest is 25, and she’s absolutely amazing.

Both of them, actually, are astounding women. My oldest is a scientist; she graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Meteorology, then went on to become a water tester with her state. She spends a lot of her time out-of-doors, making sure the drinking water in her state is safe, and taking some really phenomenal pictures while she’s at it. She’s recently gone through a very painful period; her husband, my son-in-law, is fighting an addiction. Doesn’t much matter what the addiction is; what matters is the way it was tearing their family apart, and the strength it’s taken her to hold her family together while people around her just hoped (for her sake, of course) that it would fall apart. You see, much of her father’s family doesn’t like, doesn’t approve of her husband. So she’s been fighting this battle on two fronts. I’d bet it gets very uncomfortable, there, in her household; in her mind and her heart. I have to commend her for her strength in keeping her sites set on her goal of having her family healthy. Of her husband being an integral part of their son’s life. Yes, my hat’s off to her, and I find, daily, new reasons to respect the woman she’s becoming.

Then there’s the youngest. She got sucked in to a relationship with a narcissist. I, myself, barely survived 10 years married to one. I can tell you, first hand, that in most occurrences, you don’t break off the relationship with the narcissist; they break it off with you, when they’re done with you. Throughout the years they’ve been together, he’s steadily and consistently played on her guilt, tormenting her with his “love” while he berated her for not trying hard enough, not being enough. Recently, very recently, she was finally able to make that decision, to call it off.

It’s been more difficult for her because he didn’t respond with anger. He didn’t respond with guilt. He did quit his job (not sure why), and he did tell her he loves her. I’m still waiting for him to begin the manipulation game again, but I could be wrong.

But none of that, exactly, is the focus of what I’m writing about, here. What is, then, you ask? Well, let me tell you.

During our conversation the other morning, when she snuck out of her home to sit in her car so he couldn’t overhear her, she told me of the breakup. Of his reaction. Of his mother, coming in to town before the end of the month (which is when she gave him to be out of the home), and her decision to leave her own home for the duration of his mother’s visit, so she doesn’t have to deal with both of them. During this conversation, she began crying, the deep, wracking sobs we who’ve had our worlds torn apart are familiar with.

The ones that feel like they’re going to split your chest right down the middle; there’s so much pain, so much agony, that you have to wonder why the world doesn’t just end, now. Why can we feel so much pain? And she asked me something along these lines; “Do people really feel this, all the time? How do they stand it?”

Therein lies the question, or questions, as it may be.

Yes, people really feel this. This depth of anguish. This not-knowing. This sense of stepping out, off the edge of the cliff, and falling with no surety of where we will land. Yes, people feel this. And then the next question, “How do they stand it?”

How can you not stand it? In my belief, the only way to avoid feeling this pain is to disallow yourself to feel anything; that, or to be dead. There is no other way. And we all know how hollow life is, when you choose to feel nothing. Pain isn’t as much, no, but it also crimps the pleasure, the joy, the laughter we feel. It affects us now, and it affects us later.

When we let ourselves feel the pain, let it flow through us, we actually allow ourselves the grace of being human. Of being weak, frail, and needing help. We are social creatures, and as such, we rely on some form of a support system that helps us as we stumble through our lives. So, feeling this pain? It helps us, though we can’t really see it at the time. Later, when we again feel pain, we can say to ourselves, “I lived through that, so I can live through this.” Later, when we feel joy, we can pull up this memory of this time, and we can smile, with love, at our past self, and we can say “You lived through this, and now we can enjoy this new life, this laughter, this joy, this peace, this contentment.”

Growth is not pain-free; no one ever said it was, nor that it should be. But it’s also not joy-free. Everything is two sides of a coin — head and tail, top and bottom, inside curve and outside curve. For all we can tell ourselves, “Pain goes away,” and “Nothing lasts forever,” we must also be cognizant of the fact that, sadly, joy doesn’t always last, either. For the duration of your life, you can be sure that you will eventually die, and you can be sure that sometimes you will laugh, and sometimes you will cry.

But these tears, these bouts of laughter; they add up to a rich weave, a complex dance between states of grace and of fear, that make us each individual.

Our current society seems to demand tales of pain, of heartache, of heartrending fear and terror, in order to point out what people have overcome. I say that sometimes, the day-to-day living is the heartache, the heartrending fear and terror. Sometimes, the decision to walk away from something painful is more traumatic and emotionally explosive than the quiet determination to make it work. Sometimes, the height of self-care is finally, finally deciding for yourself “I am not happy, and I wish to be happy.” When I asked my daughter what fueled her decision, that’s what she told me. Nothing about how he did this to her, or he did that, or he thought that, or he made her feel bad. Just a simple statement, “Mom? I’m just not happy.”

I say, my beautiful daughter, that you have surmounted staggering odds, just in finding the ability to say “I am not happy.” I say to you, proud DaughterBeast, that you have surpassed what most of us are able to do, in your situation. It would be easier, dear one, to just let it go until he got tired, and walked away. But you? You stood up for yourself. You decided to care about yourself. You decided to take care of yourself. You made the decision that you are worthy of this level of care.

There is only one way to go from here, dear child of mine, and that is forward. Slow, fast, steady, sporadic — progress is progress. Be proud of yourself. Be aware you’re not alone, and stand fast for yourself. I am here … we, all of us who’ve trodden this road ahead of you, we are all here. We all believe in you.

And we all share your pain. We’ve lived through it, and we rejoice for that moment, in the future, when you will feel the corresponding joy and laughter.

On Healing

Note: Normally, I try to keep things lighter; this subject, however, cannot be treated lightly. Be prepared before you start reading, but make it to the end; the end is the message of this blog.

The last couple of weeks have been nothing short of revelatory. I suppose, to fully do this blog justice, I should start at the beginning, but I find sometimes that it is difficult to pin down that “beginning.” Was the beginning when I was born? Was it when I was six weeks old, and my mother attempted to drown me so my cries wouldn’t wake my father? Was it the life I lived as the older sibling, struggling to care for two younger children and to, when I could, protect them from our parents? Was it my teenaged years, when I consistently broke every knuckle on the backs of both hands, bashing my hands against concrete walls to try to contain the rage, the anger that ran through me? Was it my first marriage, which granted me two amazing daughters … or my second, which finally broke me?

Was it my third marriage, where I began to learn, for the first time, just who I was, whom I wanted to be, how I wanted to shape my life?

I can’t tell you these answers. I can tell you the results of them, though. I can tell you that I’ve lived an entire lifetime rigidly holding myself in control. I learned to distrust decisions made in the throes of emotion; therefore, I clamped down on the emotion, hid it, buried it, and made decisions from a purely intellectual perspective. I learned that talking to people about my “issues” put a burden on them; either they felt compelled to help, or they saw me as weak, and disregarded my struggles. So I found ways to project all the things I admired — strength and determination, wit, joviality — and I pushed down all the things that I saw as weaknesses — care, compassion for self, grace toward self. Pushed them down, put them in a box, and slammed down the lid. Then piled on top of that box everything I could find to keep the lid down.

I can tell you that I did what so many horribly abused women have done; I became promiscuous. I became a party girl. I learned to open my mouth and discuss the banalities that everyone around me was discussing, and to hide any higher discussions for those very, very few whom I friended who were like me … struggling to stay whole in a world we couldn’t very well understand. I hid my shame, my sense of worthlessness, behind drugs and alcohol. I sought my understanding of love in the arms of many who could love me for a moment, only.

I developed, as so many traumatized people have done, coping mechanisms. At three years old, I began compulsively eating. I would sneak down to the kitchen, in the middle of the night, open the refrigerator, and find inside the bags (yes, you could buy them in bags in those days) of Chunky candy bars; thick, dense bars of chocolate that sometimes had nuts, sometimes not. I learned how to take one, or two, depending on the fullness of the bag, and leave the rest. I knew my parents would each think the other was eating their treasures. I also, at this time, began eating my food as a convict would — arm curled protectively around my plate, fork shoveling as much food into my mouth as I could get, as fast as I could get it there.

I have always enjoyed foods. Varieties of flavors, of textures; the silk of a mousse combined with the rich tartness of raspberry; white chocolate icing the top, making a delight for my mouth to enjoy. Crispy meats, the fat still sizzling from coming off the grill. Eggs, cooked in butter, served on buttered toast; the delicious flavors combining with the myriad textures to make a delight my mouth could lose itself in. Sadly, however, I never until recently allowed myself to actually take the time to enjoy these things. It was necessary that I eat, then that I be prepared for whatever came next; protecting my brother, cleaning my sister, taking care of the dishes, cleaning up so I could put the kids to bed … so on and so forth. So, for me, the compulsive eating allowed me to substitute quantity of food with quality of enjoyment.

At eight, I took some cough medicine; I’d read the label, and took what was recommended. However, my father saw me putting the medicine back and he pounced on me; dragged me into the bathroom, slung me over the toilet, and proceeded to put his huge finger down my throat until I vomited up anything and everything in my stomach. And I clicked. I was, at eight, stick-thin, but beginning to eat everything in sight as I was growing; also, because I was a compulsive eater. My parents had begun, even then, to chide me for watching what I ate, so that I wouldn’t “get fat.” And this, this episode with my father, taught me how I could eat as much as I wanted, as often as I wanted, without fear of getting fat.

Coping mechanisms are just that — they allow us to cope with something that is bigger than we can handle, at the moment we must handle or endure it. You get beaten, then your mother covers your mouth and nose with her hand so you can’t scream, and you learn to self-soothe with the Chunky bars. Or you get awakened in the middle of the night, you and your brother dragged down the stairs to find every single dish in the kitchen laid out on the floor; you have your parents screaming at you about a dirty dish they found, and telling you “clean and put away every single one before you go back to bed.” And you learn to nibble on the bread left on the counter as you do this, offer some to your brother, so that he won’t cry anymore.

You learn that when you hate yourself, when the shame is more than you can bear — if I were a better child, my parents would love me; if I were a smarter, stronger sister, my brother would not be hurt — when the shame of constant failure becomes overwhelming, you can punish yourself for not being enough. You can eat, then you can force your finger down your throat and vomit up every bad thing you believe you are. You deserve this; you deserve to not enjoy your food. You deserve your food to be your punishment.

Coping mechanisms serve their purpose; they allow us to endure what should not be made to be endured. But when their time is past, they become a weight on the soul that drags you down. My bulimia allowed me to live my life as thought there were nothing wrong with it. We won’t even talk about the cutting; perhaps, another time, though I think maybe not.

When one pursues healing, one must find ways to make sense of what is insensible. I never deserved what was done to me; no more did my brother, or my sister. We never deserved to be beaten, to be sexually abused. To be locked in our bedrooms for days on end, with everything but a mattress removed. We never deserved to be turned out of our home, half-dressed, to march up and down our neighborhood asking neighbors if they would be our Mommy, because our Mommy didn’t want us anymore. We never deserved watching our father nearly kill our mother because she antagonized him, and he had no ability to control his own anger.

Yet, in order to manage our parents, I assumed responsibility for all these things. Let me be a good enough daughter, and we won’t be beaten. Let me be smart enough, and my brother won’t be hurt. Let me be strong enough, and I can keep my sister from suffering the same fate my brother and I suffered. The truth, however, is that none of these tasks were mine, and I could not manage them. My parents would always be who and what they were, unless they decided to change; I couldn’t change them. My brother would always be hurt, regardless of what I did, until my parents stopped hurting him.

It is difficult, but not impossible, to separate oneself from this tyranny of should, to accept what is. What does that mean? I struggled for so long to be what I thought I should be, in order to protect myself and my brother, and those struggles always ended in failure. How could I see myself as anything other than not-enough?

Recently, I took my Advanced Reiki Training (ART) class. Just before taking it, I’d reached out to one of the instructors from my school, for accupuncture. You see, I’ve reached a point in my life when everything tells me I should be happy, content. I should be able to just relax, grow in my profession, move forward … yet I found that bulimia still had a strangle-hold on me, literally. Failures, setbacks, stress — all would trigger a bout of compulsive eating; the only method I had of fighting back was to refuse to stick my finger down my throat. Not fun, that … cuz ya know what? That’s how ya get fat. And I, now, am fat, which led to yet one more reason for me to hate myself.

In my ART class we learned a technique that can help one release emotional pain and trauma. I won’t go through the whole procedure, but I will say that as I was learning this, I was crying. I could see an application here, for myself; however, I didn’t know the people in the class with me, so I couldn’t allow it to be done for me, then. I contacted my Reiki Master, who graciously consented to work with me on this.

I went to her home office, and she performed the procedure. I was frightened; I mean, we all know when you take something away, something else has to take its place, right? If I took away this coping mechanism, what would fill its place? How hard would it be for me to give up this, my earliest coping mechanism? My earliest means of self-soothing? As it turned out, it was gentle. It was … I can’t say easy, but it was definitely gentle. Slowly, I felt it diminish, this weight of self-loathing and -hatred I’d always carried. I felt it just drift away from me. She followed this technique with a Reiki session; during part of it, I felt as though light flooded me, clearing out the darkness that I’d used to hide everything I hated about myself. Where that light flowed in, I learned love. Love for self. Grace for self. Forgiveness for self. And healing, for self.

I walked away from that, literally, a new woman. I can look at myself now, see my fat stomach, and my over-developed arse, and I can touch them and say “It’s ok. I accept you. It’s ok.” My relationship to food has changed; I think it may be more correct to say that my relationship to me has changed and, thus, my relationship to food has changed. I can slow down, now, enjoy myself as I eat my food. I can stop, when I recognize my stomach is getting full, and be content. I can finally, after nearly 37 years, not feel the urge to shove my fingers down my throat and purge myself of all the perceived “badness” I’ve felt I carried, all my life.

I can just be. If you have never experienced the joy of feeling grace for yourself, find someone who can work with you, help you, help you find your light to fill in your dark places. For the first time in my nearly 48 years, I am at peace with myself. I have no expectations of myself, except that I live. That I treat everyone I meet with kindness and compassion; if they don’t wish that, then I choose to have no truck with them. For the first time in my life, my life is my own, to choose what I do with.

For the first time in my life, I am finally able to spread my wings, look into the sunrise, and choose the direction I will move in. The heights I will fly to. The shadows I’ll make on the ground as I pass over; I can choose how light or heavy they’ll be. I can choose … well. I can choose anything.

Healing is amazing. It’s a lifelong journey, sometimes a struggle to attain; but it is also just the beginning. Now that I’m here, I’m even more excited to see what each day will bring to me.