Changing Your Life

Sitting here writing about changing my life with advice from a self-help book when I feel as if that’s an impossible task. It’s almost as if someone snatched away the me I used to be, and frankly, all I want to do is get her back. Where did the Cindy who loved yoga and writing go? When did my resolve to eat healthfully disappear? I’m reading STICK WITH IT as a last-ditch effort. The book bases its premise on an acronym SCIENCE and does claim that all the advice is science-based. Since last report I’ve read two more chapters and actually made some progress. Did some backsliding, too.

I’ve already written about stepladders and community in previous posts. This past week I felt I needed a super dose of help so I tackled “Important” and “Easy.” I can sum up those two chapters swiftly. “Important” is all about priorities. If you think the change you want to make is important, you’ll try harder to make it and keep it. Sean Young, the author, sites a study about the three most important things in many people’s lives.

Money, health, and relationships are the top three. Turns out, as long as you’re not destitute, money isn’t important to health or happiness. People with money can still get death sentence diseases or be clinically depressed. People with lots of money are often miserable in their relationships.

It’s easy to think “if I just had X amount of dollars, all would be well.” I’ve thought that myself many times. One of the changes I’d like to make is in my health. “If I hired a chef, I’d be able to eat better with less effort. I’d also be able to hire a private yoga teacher.” All true but I can see that money wouldn’t take away temptation as far as cake goes and if I didn’t feel like working out, a coach wouldn’t motivate me to do it.  I’d just cancel. Health has to be important enough to me to change my eating and exercise habits for the better.

My other goal is to finish my book. I actually did complete a writing project that was on my to-do list. To get my books on audio, I had to fill out five spec sheets, choosing a section of each story to be narrated. After weeks of procrastinating, I got it done this past week. So that’s what I mean…this self-help method is working to a point. But all the money in the world can’t conjure that spark of hot desire that compels me to tell a story and get it in great shape for my editor’s eyes. But, since it’s important to me, partly because of the writing communities I’ve been a part of for so long, I am determined to get it done this summer.

So much for “important.” Next is “Easy” and I do know that “easy” helped me start a yoga practice again. I simply loaded Gaia onto my computer and with a couple of clicks and a move from chair to floor, I’m ready to go. No special equipment or clothing needed. No trip in the car to the yoga studio. “Easy” works for me as far as exercise goes.

Eating the right food is a bit more complicated. Fast food is easy. The stocking, preparing and cooking of whole nutritious food takes way more energy. Stepladders (that first helpful hint in SCIENCE) breaks down difficult or complex tasks, which does make them easier. I’m still working with my goal of eating right. And I’m trying not to bask too long in the glory of finishing the tasks for the audio books.

I have a set of steps for completing the book project, too. Meanwhile I’m still reading. I’ve done S, C, I, and E. I can’t wait to see what the heck N is all about. Neurohacks. Hmmm. Something with the brain, I suspect. SCIE/NCE. Maybe I can get this book finished by next weeks so I’ll have all the tools necessary to implement my goals.

 

 

Losing the Benzos

A couple of weeks ago, the battery in my bathroom scale died. I weigh myself almost every day, and record my weight in my morning pages, so this was a problem. If I don’t weigh myself I can gain a couple of pounds a day without noticing until my jeans and rings don’t fit. I knew things were a bit grim, but hey, it’s winter in Michigan, so I wasn’t too worried. (I’m not worrying about my weight anymore. I’m a granny.)

But then I got a new battery for the scale. Turns out I gained 7 pounds this month. And you know, we’re only 3 weeks in. I know it’s the carbs. And chinese food. And possibly chardonnay, although I haven’t been drinking very much because of my little benzo problem. Which is now over. With benzos gone, I can once again let go of the carbs.

Couple of tricks you have to learn to successfully eat very low carb. One is that winter without carbs can be rough. Our cavewoman genes really want to bulk up for hibernation and food shortages. And it’s hard to fight a cavewoman. But it can be done. Example: me in January. So the other thing that can mess up the low carb life is drug withdrawal. As mentioned, I recently got off the benzos.

It took me six months to taper off Xanax, and to do that without a ton of anxiety and insomnia, and also some flu-like symptoms, and I mean a bad flu, like the worst flu ever, my doctor put me on Prozac and sleeping pills that had a little benzo in them. Just to help me taper. So yes, to get off one drug, I had to take three, in ever-diminishing doses, for what seemed like a really long time.

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At first I balked at the Prozac, because I thought only depressives or bipolar people needed Prozac. Also because I heard Prozac will pack on the pounds faster than estrogen cream. But at first, Prozac did not put weight on me. Not until I was completely off Xanax. Even then, it wasn’t so bad, because I was still taking the benzo sleeping pill. So my body was getting a little bit of benzo. And it was happy.

Then I tapered off the sleeping pill. I never wanted to take sleeping pills to begin with, so I was very happy to finally go down from those. Plus the low dose of the sleeping pill cost $600 so instead I halved the capsules. You have to very carefully twist the capsule apart and make sure only half the powder goes in each side of the capsule. Then you mix a half capsule with  a teaspoon of applesauce, eat it and put a piece of tape over the other half capsule for the next night. After two weeks, you take a half cap every other night. It’s tedious. So yes, I was thrilled to be off the benzos.

Meanwhile, with every micro-milligram I went down, I got some withdrawal symptoms. Not the bad ones like I had before my doctor stepped in, but a bit of anxiety and iffy stomach. I decided to ease those withdrawals by allowing sugar and carbs in, just for a while. And really, they do help. Then my scale broke. Then I tapered off Prozac, which wasn’t as difficult as the benzos because I had only been on it for maybe 2 or 3 months. I was on 4 mg Xanax for about 5 years, and used it casually (not that there is anything casual about panic attacks, I just didn’t have one every day) for maybe 20 years.

I didn’t know this until my new doctor told me (as opposed to the old doctor who prescribed the benzos and said they were perfectly harmless to take for the rest of my life) but 25 years is a really long time to take Xanax.

Now I only take one pill a day, one that has no noticeable effect other than eliminating acid reflux. You won’t hear of anyone on Nurse Jackie rocking the Prilosec. But people (who knew?) love benzos. I honestly didn’t know people used them recreationally. I used them to control panic attacks. And insomnia. And migraines. But then I did a past life regression that cured my panic attacks and the Xanax stopped working for insomnia. I also started using hormone therapy which stopped the migraine almost totally. So I thought, wow, I should just give these up. Ha! Way easier said than done. But eventually I did.

And I have the 7 extra pounds to prove it!

You know what? I’m so happy to be off all those pills (My energy is back! I thought it was gone forever!) that I don’t even mind having gained this weight. And now that I am not experiencing any withdrawal symptoms I can drop the carb crutch. Because really, I’d like to wear rings on my fingers and zip up my jeans.

How to Be a Better Human

Someone older and supposedly wiser once told me a long time ago that guilt was a useless emotion. I remember feeling very defensive about this. I didn’t want to accept it. I very much wanted this person to feel guilty for all the horrible things they had done to me. That would mean at least they recognized how they had wronged me and who knows, maybe they’d even apologize or make amends in some small way. But no, to this person, guilt was a wasted emotion.

Don’t tell that to Brene Brown, a leading authority on shame and the constellation of emotions surrounding it. In her latest book, Rising Strong, Brown affirms the intuition of my younger self: guilt can be a powerful way to figure out wrong turns, take the steps necessary to correct them, do better the next time. Guilt teaches us to have more empathy and compassion, to be more forgiving and more loving. Calling it a waste is the real mistake.

Brown makes a careful distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt is feeling horrible about something you did, shame is feeling horrible about who you are. In a way, when that person told me guilt was a useless emotion, it made me feel ashamed. Who was I to think guilt was a good thing? Who was I to go around feeling guilty and hoping those who had done cruel things to me felt guilt too? What kind of horrible human being was I, anyway? Was I really so stupid as to think that guilt had a place in my life? That it was in some way a good thing? That is how shame gets you. It makes you question your own intelligence and integrity. It twists logic.

There is nothing to be gained from shame, which is the irrational fear that there is something intrinsically wrong in me. Something unfixable. When I drag shame out into the daylight, admit my feelings and unpeel the layers by writing about it, I come to Brown’s conclusion: I am not perfect, I am only human, and I need to forgive myself, let go of shame and get on with things. Shame, not guilt, is the useless emotion.

Once I have let go of shame and absorbed the lessons of guilt, I can use them to grow more fully into what Brown calls wholeheartedness (which to me is pretty much the point of life, to become whole, to be at peace, to accept imperfection and to love myself and others with my whole heart). I can draw more secure boundaries, adjust and affirm my ideas about how to live with integrity, and move on.

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Except what I’ve noticed is that even after I do the work, regret never goes away. I will always regret the harsh words I’ve said, the wrong actions I’ve taken, the times I have hurt someone I love. Regret is a tough thing to live with. Regret is a result of guilt. It’s a burden and it’s something I struggle with. I wondered for a long time if I’d always have regrets or if by some miracle I could cure them, the way you cure shame by bringing it out into the light and looking at it.

As it turns out, I was doing the same thing with regret that other person was doing with guilt, considering it useless, wanting to banish it. Not so fast, says Brown. Regret is as useful as guilt and in similar ways. It  can help uncover shame, because for a lot of people, myself included, when I feel shame I do whatever I can to bury it quick.

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But if I write about my regret and look at why I have this huge block of it, I find boundary issues I had not handled well, problems with trust that ensued from that, feeling foolish for missing huge red flags that tried to warm me disaster was just ahead, and so much more. And the value of that? Shame banished. Also, knowing regret has a higher purpose lets me live more lightly with it. Just like guilt, learning to work with regret lightens its load. It is a way to become a better human.

Beautiful Eye Candy

Yesterday on Facebook somebody said I was “more beautiful than when I was in high school” and called me “eye candy” and said he hoped Al knew how lucky he was. So I told Al all of this because he has never once called me beautiful or eye candy. Al said, “well, but I think you are!” You know Al, man of few words. Then today he called me and said “Hi beautiful eye candy” haha. Gotta love that guy. But the truth is, I’m more wrinkled and weigh lots more than in high school.
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In high school I was not overweight. At all. But on the other hand, I did not wear any make up, did not wear nice clothes (just jeans and flannel shirts), and did not do anything to my hair. It was a wild mess of split ends. I was not pretty, but some boys thought I was “cute” even though I had those huge Gloria Steinem glasses. They didn’t suit my face at all.
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After about age 35, I gained lots of weight. 50 pounds. I lost and gained hundreds of pounds over the last several years. Just as Dr. Dukan (who I will talk more about in a minute) says is typical dieting human behavior, when I hit anything over the 30 pound limit in my head, I started to cup down. Ten pounds kept off from Weight Watchers, ten more from becoming vegetarian, and ten more when I cut sugar. I still have about twenty to lose, and sometimes it creeps back up to thirty like recently when I hurt my knee and could not walk or do yoga for TWO months!
That thirty pounds is my bingo! And I start to eat healthier again. But with so many restrictions on my foods, it is a challenge to know what is right for me and what will work and what I can live with. I like my wine! But I think Dr. Dukan has got me covered. I can have a glass of wine twice a week on his diet, and even two glasses. That’s plenty. This has been a grueling weight, feeling the pounds creep on, helpless to stop the spoonful of ice cream from entering the mouth. If you’re still reading this,  you’ve been there.
Tomorrow I will get my physical therapy script from my doc and boy I can’t wait. I have not weighed myself since the knee injury because I know without much activity and with the recent descent back into the madness that is sugar I have added back on the ten that just won’t leave. The last food plan I followed had me cut carbs to the bone, eat a lot of fat “fat doesn’t make you fat” and it worked really well. I lost those ten pounds in two weeks. But I felt sick a lot because I don’t have a gall bladder so the fat didn’t agree with me.
I knew I had to find another food plan, this one for life, that would agree with my system. In waltzes Dr. Dukan. He is also anti-sugar which I know works for me. He is high protein, not high fat. Yay! Now that I am (reluctantly) not a vegetarian anymore, I can work his program. He’s got two ways of working it and the first one is very similar to the one I followed last time, with the severe withdrawl of all carbs and sugars. I’ll lose ten pounds in two weeks again.
But he has another plan I’m interested in that I don’t know a lot about yet as I only got the book yesterday and I’m reading all his research, prefaces, and theories. He’s wordy. But basically I think this one MAY BE the one to get those final twenty pounds off as it looks at first glance like it’s a plan I can easily follow for life. I’ll let you know, you beautiful eye candy!

Homemade Happiness

When it comes to happiness, we are in charge. 40% of our happiness comes from things we can do to keep it alive. I’m usually pretty cheerful but it has been a dire year. With some beautiful highlights, but no way 40%.

Yet, according to Barbara Graham, our culture promotes the idea that happiness is a given, and that most people believe there’s no reason why folks can’t be happy all the time–unless there’s something wrong with them.

I never believed that. When I was young and cynical I was taken with the idea that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation” and women got an extra spoonful. As I matured and designed life the way I wanted it to look, I figured I got it right about half the time. That seemed fair: 50/50 equal measures of suffering and joy.

Now math is not my subject, but if i automatically have 50% happiness and I can add 40% more, that means  the happiness in my life shoots up to 90%. Well, wouldn’t that be nice right about now? I really want to get off these crutches, stop dealing with medications and pain and sleeplessness, and just be ME again.

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UC Berkeley has an entire department devoted to the study of happiness (I think I would be 100% happier had I graduated with honors from that school) and they put together a sort of top ten list of things to do to increase the happiness quotient. Let’s see. Right now, honestly, I’m at about 30% (with zero being dead). This is up from 20% yesterday when I spent yet another day having blood drawn at the doctor’s office.

So here’s my plan. Do those ten things on the list and get 70% happy. I can totally live with 70% happy. The first thing on the list is to SAVOR LIFE’S JOYS. “Pay close attention to life’s pleasures and share them with others.”

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All I have to do is look in front of me to see one of my favorite pleasures: my laptop. I don’t know what my happiness numbers would be without writing, oh wait, I do, because some days in the past couple of months I’ve been too sick to write. So here I am with my best pleasure. And next to me: a cup of tea. Nothing beats a cup of tea. I like Stash Black Breakfast with a splash of almond milk. And almond milk?! Thank you whoever thought of that stuff. Regular milk and I don’t agree, soy milk is just okay, but almond milk is like a sweet dream.

Seems I don’t have to reach far to get that happiness thing heading higher. Next up? DROP GRUDGES. Give me a few days for that one as I have a longish list. But I will be back and will send progress on my health and happiness for the next ten posts. Want the complete list now? I read it in the June issue of “Mindful” magazine. Page 49. And there’s another of the joys I savor, reading and sharing what I read:)