Side Effects and Society – A Light Bulb Moment

so distant by Andreia BohnerA few weeks ago my General Practitioner put me on a new medication. One of its potential side effects is drowsiness. I mentioned to her that I was concerned about that – I have enough problems with getting enough sleep and being tired/grouchy the next day, I didn’t need a medication that was going to add to that! She had a simple solution:

Take it at night.

In retrospect it seems incredibly obvious. If I take the medication at night, the drowsiness takes place at night giving me the added benefit of helping me get to sleep! By the time I get up in the morning, the side effect has passed. Brilliant! The thing is, I never would have never thought of taking it at night. I’ve somehow been trained that you take medication in the morning. You just do. Medications are kept in the medicine cabinet and you take them right before you brush your teeth in the morning along with your multivitamin. I don’t even know where that routine comes from, childhood, I guess.

It’s interesting to me because I have been doing a lot of thinking lately on societal conventions / family norms and how we just accept them as fact without necessarily thinking about whether they actually work for us – for our own lives. When to take medication seems like a small, silly example, but it speaks to a bigger theme I’m seeing in my life – that some of the things I’ve just accepted as “the way things are” don’t have to be that way. In fact, they were set up by someone with completely different goals and aspirations than me. So, I’m starting to think about that. I’m in my forties now. Life is pretty stable. It’s time to take stock and look at things – even little things – and make sure they fit how I want to live. If it isn’t how my mother or my aunts would have done it, so what! They have their own lives – and I have mine. Time to make it mine!

 

 

Photo credit: Andréia Bohner on flickr

I Used to Hate the Sun

The road near my cabin... so much sun.

The road near my cabin… so much sun.

I didn’t always hate the sun. When I was a kid during the summer, sunshine meant days I could go out and play: run around the woods behind our house, build forts, climb trees. My neighbors had a pool I could use, so sunshine meant days of swimming and making up games in the water.

I think I started hating the sun in Junior High, those terrible preteen years. That’s when we started paying attention to our bodies and our appearance back then. (I know it starts much younger now.) I’m old enough that tanning was still popular. Girls I knew started “laying out” to get that perfect summer tan. I tried it a time or two. I hated it.

My family weren’t beach goers, so laying out, if it was to happen, was going to happen at home. As I mentioned, our back yard was in the woods, so it was shaded and full of bugs. That meant one had to lay out in the (very exposed) front yard, something I was far from comfortable with in those awkward years. On top of that, it was dead boring, uncomfortable, and the minute I found a good position, it felt like an ant was crawling on my exposed skin. (Sometimes they were, sometimes it was my brain playing tricks.) I’m also pretty darn pale by nature, and of course, I had no idea what I was doing, so I inevitably got burned, and burned bad. Sunblock had a long, long way to go… and back then I knew girls who swore by tinfoil shields and cooking oil to get even darker.

So, I gave it up. I never did tan properly. It didn’t help that when I turned sixteen I got a car, thereby removing the last reason I would willingly ride my bike. Most of the popular girls, the ones who came to school sun-kissed and gorgeous, also played sports or were in summer cheerleading programs. If they didn’t have those, they had access to tanning beds, cottages or beaches. That wasn’t me. I was happier curled up in the shade with a good book, or in my later teen years, spending my spare hours working inside at my job.

It wasn’t just my pale hue that kept me from fitting in with the popular crowd. I was always too bookish, too artsy, too… odd. I had friends, but they were all like me, second or third tier odd ducks that were all funny, smart and great to be with, but also frequently socially awkward or a little too unfashionable to really fit in. At the same time I was meeting and spending time with a group of kids with dyed hair, white skin, and thick black make up. This post punk precursor to the goth movement defied the sun by only going out at night. My other friends, a bunch of theatre geeks, were too busy running from school to rehearsal to worry about things like getting sun, or “a little color” as my Mom always called it. (“You’d look nice with a little color.” she’d say.) All of this sort of snowballed into an extreme dislike of the sun.

Oddly, it wasn’t people who were tan that I didn’t like. My sister has that perfect skin that tans beautifully, my Dad did too. I knew plenty of people who worked outside or played sports that were tan and I didn’t think twice about it, but personally, I started to deeply hate the sun. Then all the findings started coming out relating sun exposure and skin cancer, and it cemented it for me. The sun and me – we just didn’t get along.

There are other factors as well. I‘ve mentioned before that because my legs have always been fairly thin, (despite me being larger everywhere else,) that I didn’t wear clothing that showed them off. The end result? From my freshman year of high school (when it was mandatory for gym class) until this May, I did not own or wear a pair of shorts. In the summer I wore jeans or skirts… long skirts. I didn’t even like capri pants much. Also, thanks to my fair skin, when I went out in the sun I covered up, either with clothing or super sunblock – the higher the spf, the better. (My sister called my sunblock “sweater in a bottle.”) Also, I didn’t “gleam” or “glimmer”, I sweated, a lot. Essentially, summer sucked – and it was all the fault of the sun.

I never got as bad as my mother, who (out of a fear of cancer) avoids the sun so completely that her doctor had to put her on Vitamin D supplements. I like nature and being outside – I just like it in the shade of a big tree, or in the spring or fall when it isn’t so stinking hot.

Then something happened…. I started running.

I started in the spring when it was still cold outside, but of course, that only lasted for so long. Then one day last month I went for a run in the middle of the day. I had appointments in the morning and plans in the evening, so I went out around noon. It was hot. The sun was high in the sky and there were no clouds. As I sat in the parking lot of the park, I realized that I hadn’t packed sunblock. I decided to go anyway.

It felt crazy and a little risky, but as I ran, I thought “How bad can it be?” It’s true, I was only out for a half hour and roughly half of that was under trees, so I don’t think I got any “color” at all. It was on that run that I started thinking about my relationship to the sun. For so long I fought for my pale skin that I had turned it into a point of pride. I considered the whole lot – athletics, tanning, shorts, exercise, sports, summer – all of it, as something that wasn’t me. The fact that I avoided it proved that I was different, and I embraced that difference.

But then I started running and it all changed. Later that day I stopped at the store to pick up some sunblock for my running bag. I went straight to the “sport” shelf. I ended up buying a small bottle spf 30 lotion for my face, but a spray on can of spf 15 for the rest of me. I have never in my adult life bought a spf below 45.

A few days later, I bought my first pair of running shorts.

Today, I’m sort of tan. Not dark tan by any means, but you can tell I spend time outside. (Admittedly, usually at 6:30 AM and 6:30PM, so we aren’t talking about a ton of exposure here.) I have three pairs of shorts and three pairs of outdoor walk/running capri pants and one pair of jean capris. Considering I own probably less than 5 pairs of pants, this has become a high proportion of my wardrobe. The sun doesn’t bother me now, and frankly, neither does the heat. I’ve mentioned that I have been running on days in the high 80s with 100 degree heat indices. I’m okay with all of it.

Running, and losing weight, first brought me to a place where I felt more comfortable taking risks. By taking those risks, I’ve started challenging my own long-held beliefs. Not just about the sun, but about how I dress, how I look, what I do – and don’t do. I know the fact I bought, own and wear shorts doesn’t seem like a big thing, but you have to realize that the last time I owned a pair it was 1986. It is a big deal.

We have these personal manifestos of all things “me” and “not me.” They are the very definition what we like, what we do, even who we are. They serve as mental shortcuts. When something new comes up we can check it against the list – is this me? Will I like this My taking up running is challenging, and changing, that manifesto. At first it happened subtly, but now I see it, and I embrace the change. When a friend recently suggested a climbing gym, “the old me” instantly started to demur, but I caught myself, and instead I said, “tell me more – where is it located again?” 

I’m not throwing away every long-held belief about myself, but I am holding them up to the light. I’ve decided to let the sun shine through.

 

Dining with a Dieter

Foods that sound delicious right now.

All of these things sound good. Yes, even the salad afterthought.

Okay, I know a few of you that read this blog are also on your own weight loss journeys. I have a question for you: do you ever feel guilty about eating around other people?

Here’s an example: a few weeks back I had lunch with my Mom. She was asking me about what I am doing and how I chose what to eat. I mentioned that one of the things I’ve done was go to a few more large chain restaurants. Normally I love my local food scene, but when Julian was on hard core low carb and I was on low calorie, finding a dining choice was tough for us. Most of the big chains have their nutritional information online, so we would spend a little time before our date looking up the menu on our phones and making sure it met our requirements.

In fact, I told her, the reason I suggested we go to Chili’s that day was because I knew she liked it, and I knew I could look up my lunch choices before we met, so I knew what to order. Sadly, she looked down at her plate and said, “I probably shouldn’t have ordered this.”

I immediately felt like I had said something wrong. I don’t want anyone to feel bad about their lunch. The truth was, what she had ordered was actually pretty good for the most part, and I told her so. But, I hated that moment of feeling like somehow I had made her feel bad about herself.

More recently she and I went out to brunch. I knew it would be a calorie laden day so I planned appropriately. It was at 2:00, so I made sure to eat something ahead of time – but kept the calories light. Again, there was an awkwardness when we went to order. I felt like she was watching what I had. I found myself deliberately picking a high calorie dessert (it was a set three course menu) to prove… something to her. I’m not even sure what. That you can eat high cal food and still lose? That it isn’t all carrots and celery? That she should order whatever she wanted?? I don’t know.

It happened again the other day with different family members. I was at an open house for some family, and of course, there was tons of food. My uncle discretely inquired how much weight I had lost. He patted my shoulder with approval and went off to pile up a plate with spaghetti. Good man – that was perfect. On the other hand, I felt like my aunt was watching every thing I ate. She didn’t say anything, but I saw her noticing that I took all fruit and stayed away from the pasta and Alfredo sauce. I felt awkward, like she thought I was going to judge her if she ate it. Honestly, I couldn’t care less!

Have any of you experienced this? Any thoughts for managing it?

Photo credit: Alex Barth

Neighborhood Hikes

So, my mother was in the hospital over Christmas Eve, and Christmas… and New Year’s Day. She was finally released on Jan. 2nd. This last hospital stint was a couple of weeks long, but this whole saga has been going on since October. I’m tired. My sister is tired. My mother is really, really tired.

I was not surprised at how long she ended up being hospitalized. What I was surprised about was how much it effected me. We’ve been through this before, this was her third time in the hospital in the last couple of months, after all. So, it almost felt routine. I had predicted that she would be in over the holidays, so I didn’t think I would be upset.

I was wrong.

I can’t really say that I am all that close to my mother. I love her and care about her, but we aren’t as tight as some parents are with their children. Still, I have spent every Christmas with her since I was born. I knew we would work something out – and we did – but that whole day, and the days leading up to it, I felt very fragile. I would be fine one minute, and then feeling like I was going to burst into tears the next.

Screen Shot 2012-12-26 at 11.02.05 AM

There is not really a lot you can do in situations like this. I spent time with her when I could, I kept my own holiday traditions going, and I did what I could to alleviate the stress. One of the main things I did was walk. We all know that exercise is good for stress, but the fact is, I hate exercise. Trying to do a bunch of push-ups in my living room was not going to help my mood. There is one thing I enjoy doing, however, that counts as exercising – I like to walk. When I can, I like to walk with someone else. But since my boyfriend was on a temporary walking hiatus for a bit and my best walking gal was in Rome for the holidays, it was me and my pooch, hiking the neighborhoods. I like to walk my dog. He’s happy, I’m happy, and I am never bored. So, that’s what we did: we walked, and walked, and walked.

I had to slow it down once the snow hit. I can walk in snow and ice – I have cold weather gear and ice fishing cleats, but I am walking a hound dog that thinks snowfall is heaven. He loves nothing more than to bury his head in a drift, following tracks and scents. He’s also pure muscle, so even though he is under 40 pounds, he could easily accidentally make me loose my footing on ice. Plus, walking on sidewalks with snow and ice is completely different than clear sidewalks. It is a little like walking on the beach – you find yourself using different muscles in your legs, but unlike the beach, you also have to watch your center of gravity. It’s a little nerve-wracking.

Even still, I managed to break a number of my walking records; and it felt good. My back tends to tighten up when I am under stress, and walking seems to loosen me back up again. Plus, as I have written about before, dog walking is very meditative for me. It was a good solution for a tough situation.

The good news is that Mom is back home and starting to feel a lot better. We all finally feel like things are looking up. We’re even starting to plan a second Christmas in January, so we can at least get together and have a meal together. And, as I look out my window today, the sun is shining and the sky is bright blue – looks like it is going to be a good day for walking.

Hospital Bound, Again

Hospital RoomI had a different post rattling around in my head to put up today, but I just got a call from my mother. She is heading back into the hospital. They said it might be for just overnight, but honestly, I don’t believe that. Her history tells me we are in for another long stay, possibly over Christmas. I am not being pessimistic, I just know how things have gone over the past couple of months.

I don’t know the details yet. I only spoke to her for 30 or 40 seconds by phone. She had a doctor’s appointment this morning, and it seems they had bad news for her. My aunt is going to pick her up and take her in. She said she would call me later when she knew more.

I admit, I’m tired. I try to handle situations, stress, problems with calmness and clarity, but this whole thing is wearing me down. There is so little I can do about it. I can help my Mom by learning how to help her medical issues, I can visit her, bring her prescriptions and other necessities, but I have no power to solve the actual problem. I try to hold onto the idea that things will work out – they always do, somehow – but it is getting harder and harder.

To make it worse, I feel bad about complaining. I’m not the one who is sick. I only talked to my Mom for a few seconds, but I could hear the sadness and pain in her voice. I know going back into the hospital is the last thing she wants. And of her children, I have the least to complain about. My sister was the one who took her in over her convalescence and cared for her through some fairly rough times. Granted, she is a nurse and is best suited for taking care of Mom, but she is also the mother of two small children, one of which is only 6 months old, and a very busy person. So, I end up feeling bad… about feeling bad.

I’m not terribly worried about Christmas. If Mom is in the hospital, we’ll work something out. As my sister said today, we have never been a family of sticklers about celebrating things on a particular date. We’ve been known to celebrate birthdays months after the actual day; we’ll figure out another time to do this. I’m just tired of my Mom hurting and feeling sick. I am tired of the strain it puts on the rest of us. I just want her to heal.

 

Photo credit: Diane Cordell

Contemplating Christmas

Traditional ChristmasMom’s surgery went about as expected, which is to say that some things have improved, but others have not. We progress with her health at a snail’s pace …a very confused snail, one that keeps doubling back on itself. That, and the fact I presently have an aunt in ICU for other serious health issues, is casting a bit of a pall over the holidays. Ah well. Life is like that sometimes. Besides, I have two amazing, adorable, awesome nieces that always lift my spirits. I can’t wait to see them on Christmas day!

When I was a kid there was a set formula for the holidays. We had traditions – the family getting together in the formal living room and assembling the artificial tree. Dad spending hours untangling the strands of Christmas lights and tracking down faulty bulbs. Opening one special game or toy (or as we got older – movie) on Christmas Eve that could keep us entertained until it was bedtime. We had special ornaments, a special breakfast, a certain way we put up the stockings… countless traditions, big and small. Of course, as we grew up, things started to change.

We tried to keep things the same as they were for many years. Even though we were both out of the house, my sister and I would come back on Christmas Eve and spend the night so we could reenact our childhood the following day. But then, my Dad got cancer. That pretty much changed everything. I vividly remember that Christmas. My sister and I had come home Christmas Eve as usual, but that year everything was off. She and my mother both got the stomach flu and ended up sick in bed. They spent most of Christmas Eve and day huddled together, puking. My Dad, weak, pale coughing, was wrapped in several blankets and spent the day dozing in his Lazy Boy. We called the extended family and warned them to stay away. We didn’t even bother opening presents until 5:00 or 6:00 that night, when my sister and Mom were finally able to sit up for awhile. Me? I was fine. I spent the day in my pjs watching movies and hanging out with my Dad when he was awake. It turned out to be our last Christmas together.

Since then, things have changed even more. Years have passed. My sister and I each got married. I got divorced. She had children. The family is radically different, and we’ve had in-laws and other parties to arrange schedules around. It all worked out, it always does, but a lot of traditions have gone out the window. Honestly, I am not sure that that is such a bad thing. Sure, I miss some things, and I desperately wish my Dad could see his grandchildren, especially at Christmas, but it is what it is. We place such high expectations on this holiday, but Christmases don’t have to be perfect. Joy can be found in all sorts of things – having a few quiet moments alone Christmas morning to sit by my own tree and drink hot chocolate, watching my niece ripping the Christmas tissue into ever smaller pieces instead of playing with her new toys, getting text messages from friends all throughout Christmas day wishing holiday cheer.

This year is still up in the air. All I know, at this point, is that we are having it at my sister’s house. (With two small children it is much easier for us to come to her.) I don’t know what time we are getting together, I don’t know what we’ll be eating – or even what I need to bring. I don’t even know for sure if my Mom will make it. I assume she will, but I try not to have too many expectations when it comes to her right now. I’m going into this holiday blind, and that is okay. However things turn out, whatever happens, I’ll be okay, and I, like many others this time of year, will find my holiday spirit wherever I can.

 

Photo credit: luckyfish

Health and Wellness

Christmas BirdThings have been on hold the last couple of months. My mother has had some health issues that have superseded just about everything else in my life. It has been a couple of months of long hospital stays and learning how to do IVs and other medical necessities. She is having yet another surgery today, and hopefully, this will be the start of the recovery… but we’ll see. I’ve thought that before.

Parents with health problems are never easy, as many of us know. It is a difficult situation on so many levels. In our minds at least, we are still the children – we are the ones that should be taken care of. But what choice do we have? There comes a time when we see the roles reverse. The children become those who are stronger, sharper, more informed and the parents are weaker, more confused and less able to handle the jungle of medical issues. My sister and I have been working together as team to get through it. We divy up duties, visits, conversations. We also support one another and give each other a place to vent. I’ve always been grateful I have had a sister, but the last couple of months have brought it into crystal clarity.

For the most part, I am able to treat these situations with a calm equanimity. Of course, other times I am petrified inside, but I don’t allow myself to linger on that. Instead I just try to figure out what’s next, what needs to be done. To me, there really isn’t any choice. When it comes to family, there are just things that you have to do.

With Mom it has been a constant dance routine of a few steps forward, a few steps back. I can cheer at the steps forward and laugh with gallows humor at the steps back. The situation is exhausting, but I can keep going, if need be. I can put most of my fears, worry and anxiety on a back shelf. Even though my Mom herself can be a bit… trying at times, I can let most of it slide off me like water off a duck’s back.

Again, that’s most of the time. Other times I get overwhelmingly angry at her. Oh, I know it isn’t even remotely her fault, but logic has little to do with it. The anger wells up in me and I have to do everything in my power not to let it out. And other times I get sad. Not because of what is happening now, but because I see the future. Her health problems are serious, but not life threatening. However, she isn’t going to get any younger. Health problems are bound to happen again.

…I try not to think about that though.

In the meantime, Christmas is right around the corner. I have presents wrapped, Christmas music on the radio, and I’m wearing my Christmas socks. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask for.

Photo credit: Paparutzi