Depression & Nature’s Cure

Depression affects millions of us every day at different levels. Some people are able to function but at a dulled existence. Other people end up bed ridden, unable to function while some even feel that ending their lives are the only way to ease their pain. If you ever feel like part of this last sentence, please, please, please seek help. There is nothing wrong with getting help because it’s not all in your head, you’re not weak or stupid. Trust me.

My own lifelong fight with depression is not a secret and I’ve mentioned in several of my blog posts. And others in my family suffer from it too which lends me to believe it’s somewhat genetic. Though with millions of us suffering, maybe a lot is environmental. We’ve gone from being outdoors, to spending most of our time inside for work and after work. With so many ways to be in front of a screen, we’ve become more of an inside society. Me included. I’d much rather lounge on the couch binge-watching Netflix than go outside especially when the weather isn’t perfect. But therein I believe lies my issue. Too much inside.

I really hate the anti-depressants and I only have utilized them when in a severe depression. My goal is to find ways to keep from going ‘there’ where I’m so dark and despondent that I feel like I don’t want to live. Find my preventative medicine so to speak. I read most articles I see on depression and have read many books on it as well. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist but I think they are just crap-shooting what’s really going on with our brain. There are many studies out there and the one thing I think I have noticed in common is ‘nature’ as far as people feeling better.

They were pushing vigorous exercise as an alternative to anti-depressants. After my mom died in 2014, I rode my bike a lot. After about 20 minutes of riding after literally forcing myself into the gear and out the door, I’d feel like someone flipped the happy switch. I thought maybe it’s a runner’s high type of thing. So I went on the theory that vigorous exercise was the antidote. Late fall I joined the Y so I could continue the vigorous exercise, except it didn’t work. Didn’t matter how long or hard I rode the spin bike, the happy switch never flipped. I tried the treadmill, elliptical and rower going as long as an hour until I was completely drenched in sweat and nothing. Which of course just added to my depression because then I believed well maybe I have to do my vigorous activity outdoors and I just hate riding in the winter and cold.

But the thing I think was missing in this study was where the subjects did their exercise, indoors or out in nature? Japan has practiced ‘forest-bathing’ for years and done studies on spending time out in the woods to combat stress and depression. Other countries and academic institutions have also studied nature’s affects on our mood and depression. I could link up a bunch of studies but feel free to research yourself.

In late 2015, we moved into the country. I started walking the dog up and down the country roads where its more fields and woods than people. When I lived in town, I also walked the dog except it’s not really nature. A lot of concrete, homes, people and while there is grass and trees, I never felt much difference in my mood walking even five miles around town. However, I started to notice after walking the dog about twenty minutes, I’d feel the switch just a little less prominent which lends me to believe that vigorous exercise forces you to breathe in more air which might be why when I was riding, I felt the ‘switch’ stronger than when I’m walking. Maybe there is some microbe or something biological in the air when you’re in nature or the woods that your body needs and a lack of it, throws your brain chemistry off.

I believe exercise helps, exercise is super important no matter what. If you don’t keep moving, you die which is why Medicare and such are pushing seniors to work out and exercise. My theory, which I will test over this next winter, is that the antidote to my depression is nature, being outside at least twenty minutes most days and coupling it with exercise is a double whammy. Which means, I am going to have up my outdoor gear so I can do this on the most frigid Ohio -20 windchill days. I’m fortunate because I live on 1.5 acres surrounded by prairie and woods. I have a pine grove in the back corner of my lot where I can go stand or sit or walk circles around. I love the smell of the pines. Essentially, even if I can’t fathom walking the icy roads, I can walk around my yard to get my nature pill. Vitamin N.

This truly sounds a bit crazy but google it, you will find studies where they have looked at city dwellers and found the ones who live near more green spaces have less depression. Case in point, I haven’t been feeling the best so I hadn’t been outside much. To add to it, they spread turkey shit across the street after they harvested the soybeans. You literally can’t breathe that stuff just smells of death. Coupled with rain, I hadn’t been outside for several days and when I was at work, I noticed I was feeling depressed. So when I got home, I bundled up, grabbed doggo and headed out to walk for 35 minutes.

I left my headphones at home and focused on the surroundings. I walked west from my house pretty quickly as the frigid air was blowing against me but within a quarter of a mile, I can turn south and down into a more protected road. There is more woods on this road as well and the traffic is a bit lighter. The only aggravation on this route is the people on the corner let their two Rottweilers run free and they always come running out to us. They are mostly friendly but my dog goes batshit excited about ripping my arm off. I wish they would put them on a containment system because I’m afraid they will get hit.

Within 20 minutes of my walk, I felt my mood lift. Again, it’s not as dramatic as when I cycle but it does happen nonetheless. Once I got back to the house, I let the dog inside and walked the perimeter of my back yard. The sky was cloudy but the hue of the sunset was cast in the sky as a grayish pink. I stood behind my shop, underneath the pines and listened to the wind rushing through their branches. I felt all the anxiety just flow out of me and go with the wind. I know that sounds hokey but that’s really what it felt like.

After my walk, I picked up some dinner and watched some Netflix. I’m really into Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown where he travels to places like Libya. My sense of darkness, depression were alleviated for the most part and I enjoyed relaxing the rest of the night. I even slept well. Maybe I’m crazy but I’m going to try adding Vitamin N or nature to my regimen this winter, well, all year round, to see if it does indeed keep me from going into a deeper depression. I don’t figure outside of a chance for frostbite and getting hit, it can’t really hurt me to walk or hike this winter. Even maybe just wander around my own back yard on the days I can’t walk on the road or get to a park.

I am going to keep a notebook to jot notes in every day to help me study what helps and what doesn’t. And this spring I will revisit my notes and blog my results. Of course, I must add the disclaimer that just because this might work for me, it may not be for everyone struggling with depression. The best thing to do is to see a trusted doctor and also get therapy especially if you’re not quite sure depression is what is going on with you. Rule out medical conditions because you don’t want to guess you have something when it could be something serious medically. Therapy is also a great tool especially if you have things in your past that may still bother you, even subconsciously. Every now and then I go get a check up as I call it. But try getting out in nature as well. It doesn’t cost much and see how you feel after 20-30 minutes.

Remember, depression affections millions of us, you don’t have to have anything bad going on in your life to be depressed, it can be biological. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s no different than having something like hypothyroidism or another illness. We understand so little about the brain right now. Go with your gut and if your depression gets severe, get help.

I’ll be reporting back later with my results. So give it a try, the nature antidote. Get outside!

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The Problem with Relationships (or My 2 Cents)

First off, I am NOT a relationship expert and I’m only writing from my past experiences of relationships in general. Mostly I am going to refer to romantic relationships regardless of sexual preference – straight or gay or whatever as this isn’t a consideration. This is somewhat my shit list regarding the romanticism of love and society ideals and even religious expectations. Things I wish I knew way back when, even before I was old enough to date because most of this can apply somewhat to friendships or familial relationships as well.

1. Don’t believe the fairy tales – relationships are hard, they are work and they aren’t perfect. This whole idea that there is only ONE person out there for you is complete and utter bullshit. And here’s the other caveat of that ideal – the whole premise that you have to be in a relationship to be worthy and whole. Here’s a tip – before you delve into the world of seriously dating – make sure you’ve got your own shit together. Be able to support yourself and don’t be out there looking for your sugar daddy or sugar mama. Don’t base your worth or happiness on another person. Get counseling or therapy for past issues. Sure a great relationship can add to your happiness but it should not be the key to your happiness. Don’t lay that on another person. Just don’t. Get your education or training, get a job, move out on your own for awhile. Get a strong sense of yourself, don’t be afraid to go to a restaurant or a movie alone. You’re not a loser, you’re a strong, independent person if you can enjoy just hanging out with yourself once in awhile. The flip side to this is that you offer another person a good, stable foundation for a relationship since you aren’t hanging on them for your every need and happiness, and that’s a relief to them as well.

Marriage or long-term partnerships will have their ups and downs. There will be days you want to walk out and never come back. You will find that the initial frenzy of feeling in love will fade and be replaced by something more steady (read boring) as biology does her job. People expect that your relationships should be how it is in the beginning all the time but we are wired to have that first flush of love to bring you together and make the connection and then eventually, most likely within a year or less, that fades away to something more common but if you put the work in, stronger and more significant love. True love. Real love. Love you can build a lifetime on as partners, friends and lovers. People will jump from relationship to relationship mistaking this lack of lusty heart-throbbing flush of feelings (or desire) for a relationship failure. It isn’t. It’s just how relationships work. You could be dumping a very good partner for the next attraction only to find they weren’t a better person for you, just new and different.

2. Don’t be an enabler – Don’t rescue, try to fix or help someone do things they can damned well do themselves. I’m raising my hand for this one because prior to my current marriage (been married 3 times), I was the enabler. Not just in my romantic relationships but ALL my relationships. If you have grown up in an abusive or dysfunctional situation or even have heavy religious training, it’s easy to fall into this over-helping way of thinking. For me, I just always wanted to keep the peace and not rock the boat. Then due to the abuse, I subconsciously felt I didn’t deserve what others did and I kept myself in the victim role until I was 38… Yes, almost 40 before I figured this out. Here is the golden rule of not enabling – If a person can and should do it themselves, then don’t do it for them. I’m not talking if your friend is sick and she needs help with her kids, I’m talking the person who is perpetually relying on others to do things for her she should do herself or himself.

My first husband used me as a vehicle to reach his goals, all while cheating on me the entire relationship. Here’s the kicker – he pushed really hard to get married and my instincts were screaming Oh My God NOOOOOO. I was an idiot and listened to him not me. My second husband was a lazy MF’r and when I finally kicked him out, I was relieved. He would sit and guzzle Pepsi and watch tv nonstop while barely working a minimum wage job while whining all the time he was overworked. WTF right? We get caught up in this in families as well. Even our friendships. That friend who everything is always about her. She barely calls you, you’re always the one to call. Ever relationship has times where it leans one way or the other but when you find it’s consistently not in your favor, it may be time to just quietly stop carrying the load. Or you can confront the but chances are they are a narcissist and they will only argue with you anyway.

3. You can choose who you spend the minutes of your precious life with – So much obligation out there right? We do all this stuff in the name of family, love, romance and friendships. We feel we HAVE to like this person or deal with this person or spend time with them. This happens mostly with family. Oh go see your mean, hateful Grandma Edith who insults you and makes you feel awful. Why? I see these memes about it’s sad when people don’t spend time with their family. My first thought is why is it sad? Maybe their family is a miserable bunch of abusive assholes. Why subject yourself to that kind of hell? Granted when you’re a kid, you’re kind of stuck going to relatives homes and so on but once you’re an adult, you get to make these decisions for yourself. I don’t think people distance themselves from certain family members just to be mean, there is most likely a reason for the distance. Maybe it is to protect their sanity and well-being.

The saying ‘blood is thicker than water’ is kind of obtuse in a way. I have blood relatives that wouldn’t walk across the street to help me because there is nothing in it for them. However, I have close friends who wouldn’t hesitate to help me. Your ‘family” should include the people who have your best interests at heart and vice versa. Family is not always blood. And frankly, you can distance yourself from the people who have screwed you over time and again without a big confrontation. Send them a Christmas card if you want, but frankly who cares? Don’t waste you life trying to make other people happy, living up to expectations that are not your own and wasting your time with people who only care about themselves. Surround yourself with love and positivity. With people who cheer you on and not try to tear you down. Remember none of these relationships are going to be perfect because we are human so look at the relationship as a whole, not just one event where she forgot to call you back, how dare she!

4. Choose wisely – Sit down and make a list of what you really want in a romantic relationship. If your goal is to find a guy as hot as Channing Tatum, well good luck with that or in other words – be realistic. Physical attraction is important but if you aren’t movie star perfect, don’t expect to net someone on that same level. I find that having similar ideals and morals and goals in life really helps a lot. You won’t agree on everything but if you want to live in the city and they hate cities, you need to ask yourselves is there a compromise you will both be happy with? People think love is the only thing you need but having similar outlooks on life, helps enormously. Especially about big issues like money, where to live, and children (if you both want them).

If it is very important to you that your partner or spouse share the same faith, then you need to find someone who meets that criteria. No, it’s not romantic but in the grand scheme of things, it will save you heartache down the line when you become resentful and angry at this person who told you they didn’t want to go to church, ever, and you overlooked that important need for yourself. Don’t get so rushed that you feel you have to take the first person that’s really interested in you or succumb to society or family pressure about time. Divorce sucks, breakups suck. There is no way to guarantee that a relationship will be forever but if you can agree on the major points then it’s a lot easier than fighting about them.

5. All relationships require compromise – If you want your way all the time and never want to compromise then don’t get into a relationship. Even the best relationships are going to require compromise, almost every day. And patience. Relationships require tons of patience. It’s a dance of give and take. It’s like ordering a pizza and you get what you want on your half and order what they like on their half. That’s what a relationship is like most of the time. You’re not the same person so you have differing wants, needs and desires. Sometimes the pendulum swings more their way, sometimes in your favor and sometimes it is balanced in the middle.

Pick your battles, make sure whatever it is you are fighting for is really worth it or are you just being a controlling ass. My husband doesn’t like the feeling of not being in control when in the car so mostly I let him drive. My driving scares the shit out of him and it’s just easier to sit in the passenger seat than argue about it. Another example is that I work 32-26 hours a week and he works over 40 with a longer commute. So I pick up more household chores and duties to make up for me working less. Every couple has to find what works for them. But don’t expect it to be all your way. You’re going to have issues if you want to go at a relationship wanting to control every aspect.

6. If you are miserable and unhappy consistently, it may be time to leave – If you are in any kind of abusive relationship, leave now. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200, make a plan and get out. If it’s life-threatening, go today, right this minute. Your life is not worth this person. I don’t care what your vows said, what religion you are, no one should stay in these situations. There are people who can help. Message me and I will find you help, just don’t stay.

That aside, if you find yourself years unhappy and you’ve tried and tried with no change, then you are going to have to step back and take a very honest, brutal inventory of why you are still there. Many people are afraid of being alone and will suffer miserable relationships just so they don’t have to face this fear. There may be financial limitations. Rejection from your family, your church, your friends. Your entire world will be turned upside down and it’s tough, really really tough to walk away from a long term marriage or relationship especially if you have children. So many people stay together for the kids. I can’t really say much here. If it’s not an abusive situation, then I really don’t know. I can see both side of the argument here. Keeping a stable home to raise the kids seems more important than your own happiness sometimes. This is a personal decision and not one I can make any suggestion on. It was hard for me to leave my first marriage but I couldn’t keep dealing with his infidelity and other issues. I would have eventually committed suicide or murdered him. It was time to go.

The truth is that plotting up is brutal and hard many times (and in the case of my second marriage it was easy, a relief) but if you can’t find a way to happiness in this relationship, most times the difficulty you will face at first will be hugely overshadowed with the joy of the new life you create. This doesn’t even mean you find someone else. You could be perfectly happy without a serious relationship. People do it all the time. It is scary to go it alone, you have to make your finances stretch further or in the case of my second marriage, I actually was in better shape. Many times when you can’t find a way to fix a relationships, you are better off without that person in your life. Or maybe you’d make better friends.

7. Avoid narcissists at all costs – Narcissistic people think only of themselves and they use manipulation tactics to control you and get what they want. Doesn’t matter ow smart you are, they seem to prey on people with big, generous hearts. These people rarely change and being in a relationship with them is like running into a wall over and over. You get nowhere. There is plenty of information on the interwebs and in books on how to figure out if someone is a narcissist and so on. I married two of these and it’s miserable. Completely and utterly miserable.

8. Trust your instincts/ trust yourself – This is one of the most important lessons in life I’ve learned not only in relationships but in everything. Trust your instincts, trust yourself. Even if it’s just a faint niggling at your psyche, pull it up and really look at what is bothering you. It’s easy to get swept into popular opinion or whatever, but you are the best compass of what is right for your life. Even if you end up going against the main stream.

The Quiet Foe

When I decided to ditch any of my metric collecting apps and electronics in the name of living a freer, more spontaneous life, I didn’t realize that these items were motivators that kept away the quiet foe I have fought for most of my life. Without goals like riding 50 miles a week (or near that), walking several miles a week, tracking my food intake, I slipped under the murky waters that I fight every day of my life.

Thanks to my genetics, my traumatic past and who knows what else, this quiet foe is simply chronic depression but it has a way of sneaking up on me. While at first, I felt freer and happier not tracking my steps, miles and calories, I didn’t know that these were indeed motivators that kept depression at bay. Left to my own devices, as depression started winning again without me noticing, I stopped riding my bike as much, stopped walking and hiking, stopped paying attention to what I’m eating. At first I thought that oh, it’s just peri-menopause so I rested more. I was taking care of myself, listening to my body. Except I didn’t realize I was slipping under again. Depression feels so normal to me, it’s so hard for me to detect until I’m almost drowning.

So, I can’t just be what I consider normal. I can’t trust my body or mind to tell me what I really need because without consistent exercise or eating healthy, I get swept back under the current of apathy, disinterest, fatigue and agitation from sleeping less than my usual nights. I can’t trust my body to tell me what I should eat because the depression has me seeking sugar as if it is my only life force. Without healthy food, I further compound my issues especially lack of energy. Without my weekly fitness goals, I lack energy and motivation to get outside, to ride, to hike and do yoga which counteracts my depression. My body just slips deeper into a ‘lazy’ pattern as I lose interest in things I enjoy. I just stop caring about doing these things.

Without forcing myself out to ride, walk, hike and so on, I just will not exercise. Or I make a half-hearted attempt at whatever I chose to do. It’s the curse of the depression. Once I have the goal set in my head and I’ve started into my first minutes of the activity, I find myself enjoying it but sometimes the hardest thing is just putting on my shoes or riding gear or driving to where I am going to perform the activity. Just starting can seem so overwhelming, I end up on the couch or lying in bed reading. Which if I do this often enough, it becomes the norm which lets my quiet foe sneak up on me and drag me down under the surface again.

It isn’t an easy thing to accept, that I can’t just trust my body or my mind to tell me the best things for me because it is so easy for me to slip into behaviors that make my depression worse because it is tiring always having to force yourself out to exercise. The benefit of this though is, the more I do it, the harder I work out, the easier it becomes to get myself started. The less depression has a hold on me. The happier I am. I wish I could just trust my inner judgment but the truth is, depression has skewed my perceptions of what is ‘good’ for me. Lying around all the time is not good for me. Lying around reading after I rode 20 miles isn’t the same. I’ve worked out, I’ve been outside, I’ve taken the sword and struck at the depression monster again pushing him back into his dark cave. The cave that he insists on dragging me back into with him. When I become complacent, he gains ground and when I fight (keep on the fitness, eating well path), I gain ground. The tug of war is so slight, so quiet that it happens without me knowing.

So bottom line, I have reinstalled my apps, I will clip my cyclocomputer back on my bike, I will reset my goals and keep fighting the good fight. This is what I need to do to live well and live happy. Maybe it’s a bit of a burden, maybe it ties me to my electronics and apps a bit, but the tradeoff is greater. The tradeoff is feeling alive, feeling happier and more alert. Goals aren’t a bad thing. Trying to go through day-to-day without any motivation, anything specific to work toward is like walking around blind at times. This has been an interesting manifestation of my theory of taking care of myself meant unburdening my life of everything that motivated me. As it backfired. Big time.

Taking care of myself means having these fitness goals to keep me moving. Otherwise, the quiet foe wins.

Flying Blind – Update – Creatures of Habit

Just a quick follow-up to my previous post in which I proclaimed "A Year of Me" and that I was going to stop measuring everything in my life that isn't necessary to see if I enjoy my life more.

Habits, they are as hard to break as it is to form them at times. I've spent the rest of the week getting out of the compulsion to pick up my phone and enter data into the apps I was using. Or make sure I had my phone on me every time I moved around to count steps since the Fit Bit didn't work for me at all. Essentially I was grading myself in many aspects of my life rather than living it. I didn't realize how much I was doing this until I had to force myself to stop. Leaving my phone sitting rather than dragging it everywhere with me is freeing. You don't realize it but you can become a slave to that thing. You think you are doing something good for yourself but in a way you're creating a little prison all its own for you to stay within those four walls.

I still take my phone when I ride, but only to listen to my music, have a map handy if I would happen to wander out of my usual cycling area and of course to call in case of an emergency. Taking the cyclocomputer off my handlebars has helped me focus on the ride and the beauty I'm passing around me plus I also pay more attention to how my body is performing. Just feeling the muscles working in unison can be an amazing thing when you think about it. I am almost 50 and everything is still working fine, even better than I was in my 20's because I am much more active now.

Recently I read an article by Mark Manson who wrote The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck entitled What's the Point of Self-Improvement Anyway? I wouldn't call myself a self-improvement junkie as he defined in the article but more the self-improvement 'tourist' who delves into this arena when something isn't working in their life or something bad happens, though I may edge on the junkie part because I feel like I always need to be working on myself, getting better. Maybe it is in my German genes or just growing up in a family that was always pushing you to do better, do more. Either way, it doesn't matter because the only thing that matters is how I live today.

Manson points out that all this self-improvement is self-defeating. I don't agree 100% with all Manson spouts but he is pretty close on most of his points. He at least got me thinking in a different way and reconsidering how I look at life. His point is that if we are alway pursing improvement, is you are trying to reach a goal where you don't have to think about increasing productivity, or pursuing happiness until you not longer have to think about being happy, etc.

He goes on to say the only way to achieve one's potential is to become fully fulfilled or "self-actualize" – essentially stop trying to be all of those things. Essentially, I feel it is not be able to enjoy where you are today. That continuing to trying to self-improve actually creates unhappiness because you never reach that point of contentment with yourself. You don't step back and look at yourself and think, hey I'm really in a good place in my life because we always feel we need to fix or change something about yourself. See how that works? You work really hard to get to point X and instead of feeling happy about your achievement, you set a goal of getting to point Y because then things really will be better. We don't stop spinning in the self-improvement circles long enough to see what we have achieved or just maybe, we are amazing and awesome just the way we are.

That's a hard concept for me to wrap my mind around. What if I stop trying to diet and lose weight? Would the world end? What if I put that scale and measuring tape up and just enjoy what I eat? What if I just say fuck it and if I get bigger just buy a different size or if I get smaller, then again just buy a different size? Not that I don't want to be healthy, I do. But the thing is, I am. Other than a genetic thyroid problem, my blood work and everything except my weight is considered healthy. There are people out there that are at their "healthy" weight but they can't walk 5 miles with a pack or ride 40 miles in the heat. I can. I'm strong, I can work outside like a farm hand in my yard and I don't seem to slow down much as I age. Sure, my body needs a little more time to recover but much of this stuff, I couldn't do in my 20's.

This is one of my biggest self-improvement hang-ups as it is a lot of women. Our size. It's like a prison. Trying to live up to some expectation of thinness or perfection. So what if I actually get down to that size 12? Would my life be perfect? Um, no. I'd still make mistakes, fall down and so on. That's just part of life. Why do we have such a hard time accepting ourselves? Yeah it could be the 10000000000 ads pointed at making us 'better' via weight loss, clothes, makeup, etc. What if we just focused on what made us feel good and made us happy?

Like, I eat a big salad with avocados, grilled chipotle chicken and hard-boiled eggs because I just love those foods. Or wear that new eye sparkly eye shadow because it's so pretty? Or no make up at all if that's how i feel that day. The world won't end if we walk out without no makeup. It's a vehicle to make us feel especially pretty as well if we use it for that reason. For us. My youngest makes makeup into a a creative art. And other days she doesn't wear any at all. It makes her feel good. That's the reason to use it. Not OMG, what will people think if I go out without my 'face'? Be authentic, don't hide behind it. Fuck those people, you won't care about them when you're dead.

What's wrong with my body right now? Nothing. Yeah I'm carrying around some extra but I'm also hypo-thyroid and going into menopause. My body is just doing its own thing. Why ride my bike just to exercise and burn calories? I should ride it because I love the freedom of riding, the feeling of power it gives me to be able to move from point A to point B by my own physical power. I hike because I love to be in nature and the woods. It is an avenue to add adventure into my life. I do yoga because it keeps me from getting too stiff, it counteracts my days of sitting at a desk, its spiritual/meditative and it also helps my body move better. At this age, it's critical to keep moving. Moving keeps me feeling amazing and younger than my 47 years. Google Ernestine Shepherd and see that aging doesn't have to be a walker and rocking chair.

After several days giving up all my metrics I use to judge myself, I feel better. Happier. I find myself noticing the world around me so much more when I'm not shackled to my electronics. I think giving up self-improvement and measuring anything is going to be something I'm going to have really work on, but I have this suspicion that it will be so worth it. Letting go of this, will be like dropping the shackles of unhappiness and walking away from them.

Thanks for all the comments about my posts. I love you guys!  You're awesome and amazing just as you are today.  Till next time.

Flying Blind (Sorta)

Recently, I decided to spend a year revamping how I live a bit. I have tongue-in cheek named this the "Year of Me" as I question different beliefs about myself, etc. More on that later on down the road.

Today I sat down and wrote down specific things I wanted to do over the next year. Under the "Stop It!" Heading, I decided that I need to quit measuring everything I do against some sort of benchmark. Like weighing myself or counting calories or measuring my body parts as well as not feeling like I have to be doing something productive every moment of every day. Essentially, I want to remember how it is to be a kid without all these measurements of how successful (or unsuccessful) I am.

So I went on and deleted all the apps I use to track anything from food to steps to miles. I want to just live and not make everything into a 'job' or 'chore' or 'goal'. I want to live better, enjoy the moments of my life more. Anyone who cycle knows there are many ways of measuring what you are doing from cyclocomputers, to Strava (GPS power) and so on. You can get pretty technical in weights in everything on your bike and what you wear (in grams) and so on. I decided today when I went out to my bike to remove my computer from the handlebars. I wouldn't be able to see my speed, distance, fastest speed, etc. a all. i had deleted my ride tracking app. Simply I got on my bike and rode my fave short route, to the end of my road and back.

Other than grumbling because they tarred and chipped the last section of my road, I had a very enjoyable ride. I know I rode about 13 miles but that's just from memory. I don't know how fast I rode, or how many minutes it took me to do five miles. What I did notice was many things I ignore on this ride. I saw the flowers blooming in the ditch, I found a natural pace without worrying about if I was going fast enough. I just rode for the sheer enjoyment of it. You know, like when you're a kid and you just get on your bike to ride to a friend's house or go on an adventure you dream up. Fun. Without worrying about mph or distance.

I am not training for any events, I simply ride for exercise and the fact I love riding. Today I found dropping all the gauges and metric associated with road riding, I had much more fun and it didn't seem like work at all. That's what we seem to do as we get older, make everything 'work'. Or a goal or a part of achieving something more. We forget to just be in the moment and have fun. And the distractions of all the gadgetry adds to missing whole parts of the experience.

Today instead of relying on the miles per hour displayed on my cyclocomputer, I simply listened to what my body wanted to do. Maybe I even rode faster, I don't know. And it doesn't mater. I'm outside, in the fresh air and working my cardio though it just felt like play.. That's how more things in my life need to be. Play, fun. I need to quit sucking the fun out of the simplest things because that's what I am 'supposed' to do as an adult.

This next year is learning how to enjoy my life more and take much better care of myself. I'm not great at that. i tend to push myself past my limits when I shouldn't. Just like forcing myself to ride 50 miles just to say I rode 50 miles. I'm not training for anything, then why do it? It's time to rethink the way I approach things in life. It's the perfect year to regroup, rethink and explore. And remember what pure joy a simple act like riding my bike can be. To rediscover childlike wonder with the world.

Maybe I'll get some sparkly streamers too!

The Small World…

Recently, my husband and I took a 2500+ mile road trip through New York State, parts of New England and arriving finally in Bar Harbor, Maine where we spent the majority of a day (and not nearly enough time) in Acadia National Park. Which by the way was totally worth the trip but next time I would fly into Maine so I could spend more time there on Mount Desert Island and the surrounding areas. Acadia is truly all it is said to be and it is also one of the most heavily visited national parks in the system.

The one thing about driving 2500 miles is that you are in the car a lot and luckily my husband loves driving our 2008 Corvette which we took on said road trip. This gave me a lot of time to think and ponder the many things that run through my mind. When I was imagining our road trip, I did some research via the interwebs but also with books I got at the library trying to figure out since we were just passing through Vermont and New Hampshire, what I may want to see for sure. Vermont ended up being Ben and Jerry's (don't make a special trip for this, the tour was only 30 minutes and mostly videos- fun but not worth driving that far) and in New Hampshire I chose driving the auto-road up Mount Washington in the White Mountains as my two definite bucket list items. More on Mt. Washington in a minute.

When you think of New England, what comes to mine, at least my mind, was these charming small towns filled with historic clapboard churches and old buildings kept to pristine shape but that wasn't really how it ended up being. At least the areas that we traveled through. Like any state or area, there are very nice areas and there are run down, impoverished areas. in a way, other than landscapes, styles of architecture, accents, food preferences and some cultural changes, pretty much every place is the same in some way. Now I haven't traveled much outside of the US so pretty much this is all I can speak about.

I'm in some groups and such that include people from all over the world. And while cultures and landscapes are going to vary much more once you leave our country, people in general are the same and want the same things. We want the best for the people we love and we want to take care of our families. People every where struggle with self-image, self-confidence and finding their ways or even finding love. The one FaceBook group I follow, I see people post from our country, UK, Australia, Japan, Mexico, and every where in between. While their English translations may jumble up their posts into broken English, I found it striking how similar we all are when you strip away the outward differences and get to the heart of a person.

That's the amazing thing about social media and the internet. It takes what seems like this massive world and makes it into one big neighborhood of sorts where people from all walks of life and countries (at least those with the freedom to be on the internet) together on something so simple as a say, Pusheen, which is this cat comic that has found a huge following (including my daughters and I) in all ages and even has become more genderless of a thing than it may have been twenty years ago. Or a cycling group that also has members from many different countries. We all have similar traits, we love riding though it may be road or mountain, completion or touring or just for pleasure. But cycling in itself has its own culture and the greatest joy is usually the freedom two wheels and your own power can afford you.

The other very cool thing about these groups is the support you see from perfect strangers say if someone lost a loved one and they share it in a post to the group. Depending on the size of the group, hundreds if not thousands of people may offer their sympathy and prayers. No, it isn't face to face but I know the power of other people caring has to make a great impact, especially when it is someone you simply share an interest with. That is encouraging about the human race, that in general, the majority of us are inherently good and we care about others. So much of what you hear on the news is all so negative while every moment of every day, so much good is happening around that one bad and/or tragic thing that we never hear about. I would like to believe that our world, there is immensely more good, more love than hate. Your community can be as small as a few friends and/or family but as big as people all over the world. I find that to give much hope when all you hear about is the opioid epidemic, suicides, murders, etc.

I have mentioned before that I believe the meaning of life is simply love. Love one another, love yourself, and do what you can to help others (who truly need help and you aren't enabling them). You may feel alone in your problem but there is probably someone say, in China, dealing with the same problem. Or maybe right in your own office or classroom or church. The thing is, i know many times we feel alone and the amazing thing is, we really aren't. I think my grandmother scared the crap out of me that when I'd get older like she was (and she was the queen of the guilt-trip when I look back), that I would be all alone. I would have these visions of me sitting alone, in a house with no one around. Just me and the fifty cats I've hoarded to become the crazy cat lady.

Unless you are truly a miserable person who treats people like crap, you have no reason to be alone. You have to be the kind of person other people enjoy being around and if you are a whiny, victim who is just hateful to others, then that might be an issue. You know those people? The ones who feel the world and everyone in it, owe them something? Ugh. Those people are alone because they are bitter and toxic. And you don't have to be that way. You can make a conscious choice to be a kinder and more personable human.

I have been adjusting to the looming empty nest where there are nights now that I am home alone. Just the dog and I and I can tell you it's been a very long, long time that I have time in the evenings alone. At first, I was all unsettled and feeling out of place but then I settled into the quiet. Instead of thinking, 'oh poor me, I'm a loser for being here in this house on Friday night all by myself', I started doing more things I enjoyed but hadn't had time for such as I took a yoga and wine class (well yoga class, with wine afterwards). I go down in the basement and practice my piano not worrying about being too loud and hell, I even sing along to my own music (trust me, I can play but NOT sing). I even started piano lessons for the first time in 36 years.

Being home alone isn't such a bad thing like it seems like it should be. I am spending this Friday evening just relaxing, listening to some jazz and writing this post. My little buddy is lying on the floor next to me patiently waiting for his walk. Off and on, I get IM's or messages from my daughters, my aunt, my husband when he has a free second or a friend. I'm not "alone" even though physically it's just me in this house. We live in an age where all we have to do is open an iPad to reach the entire world. No, you don't want to spend all your time with your face in a screen and you need to get out among the living sometimes but I take comfort in knowing the whole world is my village in a way.

One of my favorite books and movies is Bridges of Madison County. There is a scene where Francesca (Iowa farm housewife) asks Robert (traveling photographer for National Geographic) about the fact he never really settled down. Didn't he feel alone? (I don't have the exact words) but he seems incredulous as he never really felt alone. She asks him doesn't he need anyone? And he tells he needs everyone. Or something similar to that. I'd have to look it up. I always found that to be an interesting take on life. Though he had no one close at that moment, he felt close to the world (or so that was my interpretation). I suppose it is all in how you look at life.

Much of life, much of the world, simply is how we see it in our minds, how we choice to see it and how we choose to live. No matter where you go, there you are as they say. And deep down, we are all pretty much the same.  It's a small world after all.

 

Keeping the Line- 29 Wk Food Journal Check In/ Cancer Scare

In April, I received the news that I had a small patch of basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) on my face by my right nostril.  A small pustule had been bleeding off and on and my wise husband said “You better go get that looked at.”  Though he had to nudge me several times before I made an appointment.  The dermatologist biopsied it along with doing a full body check for other possible skin cancers.  Considering I’m covered in freckles from my Irish side, everything looks like cancer to me.  I was sitting in my home office working the morning when the doctor called and said the dreaded words “It’s cancer.”

My mother died of metastasized colon cancer after an 8 year battle not only with colon but lung cancer.  To say this traumatized me watching her suffer so much is an understatement.  Aside from something tragic happening to my family, my biggest fear has been to get cancer.  Any kind of cancer.  I have nightmares about it and I’m always getting check or tested as much as I possibly can for different types such as getting a mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.  I do not want to die like my mother did, slowly wasting away, cancer taking over her bones where she was in constant pain.  We wouldn’t let our pets die this way, I’m not sure why we do our humans.  But that’s another blog post altogether.

I remember ending the call with the doctor and just staring out the window as my biggest fear had just come to life.  Logically, I knew it was a minor type of cancer, non life-threatening.  If I was going to have any kind of cancer, this was highly curable.  My unlogical emotional and fearful side just swelled and took over, stealing away my logic for about an hour or two.  I cried, I felt doomed, I was thinking but I used sunscreen at least from my mid-twenties when skin cancer advocates preached prevention.  Would I have a huge scar on my face?  Would that matter if it’s removed.  I just wanted that cancer out of my body and knew I would not hear from the skin cancer surgeon for a few days.

Then my brain kicked in and I calmed myself down.  Stop overreacting, I told myself firmly.  You’ve got this, you know people going through way worse than you, stop being a damned pussy about it.   Grow up, get a grip and get back focused with your life. The surgery was scheduled for the end of May, almost a month away.  I am an emotional eater.  I use food to comfort me and make me feel better.  Now that my mom is gone, I gravitate more toward food.  During this month, I was not as diligent about entering what I ate in the food journal, finally just giving it up until after the surgery.  Then I just let it sit until I weighed myself last weekend and realized I had indeed gained a few pounds back.  Nothing major but obviously left to my own devices, I don’t really pay attention as closely as I believe to what I eat.

I knew the time between the call telling me I had cancer until the surgery, I was eating when I wasn’t hungry.  I’ve read all sorts of books on emotional eating, I’ve tried the listen to what you really want and eat it only those things type of instruction they give you from that book.  I’m sure that works for some people.  But me, I always think I want chocolate or something not good for me or to eat when I am bored, upset but not hungry.  The problem is, I’m so good at lying to myself and excusing what I eat, that I am not a reliable source of recollection and tracking just in my mind alone.  My mind covers up my extra portions and little treats I think, oh those calories won’t count much.  Except they do.  Every single one of those little bastards add up and total much more than the 1800 calorie limit I set for myself daily.

To know your limitations is to know thineself.  My limitation is that I have spent so many years lying to myself about what I eat because I was in this binge/purge/overeating/under eating/dieting cycle that I still carry around my old habits.   Though this May, I quietly acknowledged my emotional overeating without coming down on myself.  I just noted that it was a rough period I was going through, I was eating to comfort myself and it’s not the best for me but I’m okay.  Several years back, I would beat myself up and then eat even more because I felt worse.  It’s an odd cycle, emotional overeating.   I also said things to myself like, well at least it’s a little extra food and not crack or heroin.  You could be self-medicating with way worse substances.  So I have come a long way but I’m still not quite in the zen of ony eating when I’m hungry mindset.

So the solution?  A simple one.  Back at the food journal 24/7, full time, recording every thing I shove into my pie hole.  That’s a lovely mental image isn’t it?  It’s been working and when I go off the journal, I regain a bit because even though I would like to believe that I am acutely aware of what I eat, I still tend to use food for comfort at times or I don’t remember things I’ve eaten.  Having the calories consumed in black and white on my phone is a continual reminder to adjust my eating habits.  I was hoping by the time six months had come and gone into this food journal experiment, that I would have the knowledge and wisdom to eat without the food journal.  While I have improved, I’m not quite there yet.  I have some old, latent issues to resolve.  Which is good news because now I can pinpoint them and work on them more specifically.  It took me years to get to where I am, it won’t be overnight for me to correct them.   It’s a journey like anything else.

Since I have been back on the food journal wagon, keeping the line, I’ve lost a few of the five pounds I gained.  Two steps forward and one step back.  The important thing is to keep going forward and learning along the way.  I could easily get pissed off and discouraged so I quit but that doesn’t do me any good nor does it fix the problem.  If I give up, then I lose.  I fail myself.  I’m not doing that.  I’ve done it enough in the past.  It’s time to keep the line, keep going.  Keep using that annoying app and record every little dang thing I eat.  Mostly it’s annoying because I want to think I eat better than I really do and having that pointed out to me pisses me off.  It really isn’t the app’s fault.

Food journals work, if you use them.  Kindness to yourself works as well.  I could be ranting at myself that I am a failure for my weight gain but I am not.  I’m just getting back on the horse and back into the food journal groove.

With the manta – Keep the line, keep the line.  I’m not even sure what that means but it sure sounds good.  Ciao!

PS – The surgery went well, it was a tiny spot and I only ended up with minor scarring.  I was being a big weenie about it all because of my fear of getting cancer.