Healthy Aging

My husband is a model of healthy aging. He stays active, is physically fit, eats and drinks mostly healthy foods in moderation. He has a calm, even demeanor…most of the time. Since he’s been retired, he has kept candy and other things not healthy for me around the house. I believe he should be able to do this, and I should be able to handle it.

As for me, I admire him and try to emulate him, but chronic digestion problems, since I first discovered I had GERD in my early 40s (I’m 65 now) have just gotten worse. I read and research everything about my condition and keep up with my doctors. I have a gastroenterologist, same guy for 20 years, who put me on a double dose of PPIs (protein pump inhibitors) when he discovered I had Barrett’s Esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer.

The immediate problem was my stomach was producing too much acid, which sat in my esophagus all night. Acid doesn’t just sit, though, it eats away. And that’s how the cancer starts. Lucky for me, after a few years on these PPIs, the Barretts had healed. I was lucky. But while they have benefits, PPIs do take their toll on the body. For example, they kill the bad bacteria in your gut but while doing so wipe out the good bacteria that enables nutrients from food to be absorbed into the body.

I told my doc that (he already knew) and he said, “So your choice. Die of cancer or hope you can get along without PPIs.” He did say, a few years later, that I could try reducing my dose from 20 mg to 10 mg. I got horrible reflux the day after I tried that. My primary care physician is working with me on this and the other unhealthy side effects of PPIs, specifically IBSD and pre-diabetes. I’m tapering but slower.

I have tried natural remedies and many diets (vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean, Starch Solution, South Beach) with little lasting success. Gradually my IBSD symptoms got worse. I can no longer tolerate wheat, sugar or dairy. Some vegetables that are highly acidic and most fruits are also off the table. No alcohol, coffee or tea. No caffeine at all. I stick to this diet most of the time. You think I’d have lost weight, but no. I have read and researched and this inability to lose weight is a sign of negative gut health.

I’m 65 and I do not want to be diabetic. Nor do I want to continue to grapple with the horrors of IBSD. People who have not gone through this will say “Take a probiotic.” Yes, I tried that. My body doesn’t tolerate them well. My doc gave me a referral to a dietician and also some pills that are fiber and peppermint oil. That’s where I’m at. I’m writing this in hopes that if you have anything going on like this, you’ll recognize that heartburn is the start of a long painful road.

I wish I would have known more about the medicine I was prescribed. I wish I had known what foods I was consuming were contributing to heartburn, and that it would lead to acid reflux, then on to IBSD. But I didn’t know and so I’m coping. I just keep researching and trying things to make my gut healthy again. Meanwhile my husband eats and drinks whatever he wants, in moderation. He’s always been moderate in all areas of life and I have been…the opposite. But I’m learning. It’s never too late.

And after 35 years, I’m still in awe of his ability to not eat an entire box of chocolates in two days. One thing I have discovered is that if I cut all sugar, I won’t crave it or any carbs that turn immediately to sugar in the body. It takes me three days of “no sugar” white knuckling and I’m back to better health. I can do anything for three days. Some things I’ve learned along the way really have helped. And who knows, maybe peppermint oil pills are the cure I’ve been looking for for so long.

Wheel of Addiction

As a hardcore reader, I have read so many addiction memoirs. Next to fiction, memoir is my favorite genre. Doesn’t matter if the memoirist is addicted or not, but so many of them are, and these are the stories of how they got better, got the monkey off their backs. I love happy endings.

While reading this addiction memoir by Erica Barnett, I realized that more than a happy ending, I want to know the HOW of hardcore users just up and quitting. It’s fascinating to me. Barnett makes it clear that it’s not so easy, and easier to quit than to quit relapsing. She’s been in a slew of rehab facilities, and usually, the day she got out, she stopped at the liquor store on her way home.

Something clicked while I read of her relapse after relapse. That’s what happens to me with sugar. I know that if I go three days with no sugar my cravings will disappear. I also know that if I have one donut or one scoop of ice cream, or even one bite of a candy bar, my need for sugar comes roaring back with a vengeance. And it takes me a week or two of eating all the sugar I can buy before I shame myself into going through three days of constant craving to get free from sugar. Again.

My A1c continues to be in the “pre-diabetes” zone, and that’s because my body no longer tolerates wheat or dairy. So I keep my body semi-okay because wheat is nothing but sugar and, before I knew that, I had wheat with every meal. Cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner. It was easier for me to give these staples up because I got really sick when I ate them. I don’t get sick when I eat sugar, at least I don’t feel sick.

Inside, sugar is not doing my body any good, and I had that hamster wheel of staying clean, falling off the wagon, and going through rehab again. Just like an alcoholic, but a sugar addict. Sugar doesn’t make you slur your words, black out, ruin relationships, or leave you without a job, like alcohol does, but when I read Barnett’s story, I identified with that constant round of wanting, craving, and finally giving in.

It seems stupid, really stupid, for me to be on this wheel. I’m 65. If I don’t want to spend my old age sick and miserable, I need to take better care of myself. And I wish people wrote memoirs about their sugar addiction like they do their alcohol addiction. I already have “I Quit Sugar” but as far as I know, that’s the only book out there on beating sugar addiction.

Also, it’s much harder now with Al home. He loves sweets, but he is not even close to diabetic. He gets mad when I eat his cookies, because he can keep them in the pantry for a month and I eat them in a day or two. Same with ice cream. He likes donuts, too. I feel ashamed of myself and his attitude is not helping matters. Although…he told me to ask my doctor about seeing a dietician. Really, that’s what I should do.

The Crash

I had been writing all day and didn’t stop for lunch. When I finally quit, Al was home from golf and I put the chicken in the oven. But I was so hungry, I couldn’t wait. While Al showered, I ripped into a bag of chips and ate a few cookies, I finished off the last little scoop of ice cream. Then I was full and I didn’t want dinner. Still I chopped up the salad while I waited for the chicken to bake. I was on a high from writing and probably had a sugar buzz as well.

When Al reappeared, I said “When exactly are we moving to Florida next year? Next summer?” He said “I’m not even sure I want to move to Florida.” I was upset, but I knew what he meant. It’s so difficult to think about moving from a place you’ve lived all your life plus we have a really nice house here in Michigan; it’s the nicest house I’ve ever lived in. Still, we made a plan, and I love Florida, and he was backing out! My anxiety kicked in big time. He talked about everything happening with the pandemic and the economy, about how he will move there, have no friends, and what’s he supposed to do?

The friend thing is very hard. All my good friends live here too. We’ve met people in Florida, people we really like, but wow, to leave those friendships forged through decades. That would be hard. Al went to high school with his best friends. They go to Deep Purple and all those other aging guitar hero concerts together. They go to Lions games and NASCAR together. Well probably not this year, but I knew how he felt. I felt the same. We will miss our Michigan friends. Lucky for me my bestie from high school lives in Florida now and another of my best friends recently bought in Florida and is mulling a full time move. Plus my dad lives there. Al’s dad is here. And he’s almost 89. He lives with Al’s sister, but still. We will miss him.

I thought we were all set and in perfect agreement and here we were at odds over a very major thing. The oven dinged. Chicken was done. I said I wasn’t hungry and admitted I’d skipped lunch and snacked a little. He said “You’re out of shape and eating crap. You’re going to die from diabetes.”

On top of the Florida discussion, that was just too much. It didn’t help that I heard “You’re fat and ugly and a pig…you’re going to die.”

I do that. I turn on myself, make things more negative than they are. I read later that same night that 70% of most peoples’ thoughts are negative. I believe it. As much as I try to be cool, calm and collected, sometimes I lose it. But instead of yelling and screaming, I went inside and shut down and berated myself even more. We didn’t speak until later the next day, after I had calmed down and thought everything out. All our 35 years of married life, Al has never mentioned my weight or my eating habits.

We talked about that first. He reminded me that he never said I was fat, but yes, he was worried when I had chips, ice cream and cookies for dinner, especially as we both knew I had a doctor appointment this week and she’d been warning me about diabetes, how dangerous my sugar number was, how soon I’d need medication if I didn’t manage my diet. And I have tried! I usually don’t eat like but I’ve let myself indulge more since the pandemic hit and then I’d let myself get too hungry.

Have I said that Al is a very healthy eater and he can have a bag of chips or box of cookies in the house for a month? Ditto ice cream. The way I keep a lid on my sugar addiction is to not have it in the house, but he’s retired now, and he can eat those foods moderately. Then with the pandemic, all my good habits went out the window. All my dance and yoga classes were closed. I was afraid to go for walks around the bayou, even though Al asked me every day. I’m sure I’ve gained weight but I am also afraid to get on the scale.

I asked Al a lot of questions about the way I look. I mean, I’m 65. I have grey hair. Most days I don’t do anything with it except let it fall into its natural curl. And I don’t wear make up plus dress more for comfort than anything. I hate wearing a bra, so at home I don’t. He said none of that bothered him and he said I’m pretty without make up! Shocking, because I am not. But it’s good he thinks I am. He also said he does not think I’m fat. He meant it. We talked about what exactly “out of shape” meant. He said “not getting exercise, sitting in a chair writing all day.” Guilty.

Then we moved on to Florida. I got him to promise we’d move there whenever this whole world, and especially the USA, gets a grip on this virus. Finally I said I’d stay with him here in Michigan if the housing market tanked and interest rates went sky high or any of the other financial things that can throw a retirement into chaos. Like disease. Like diabetes. He said he’d move and I said I’d stay, we are in this together all the way, either way. The truth is we just have to wait and see.

Writing about Al’s retirement has changed since the pandemic but this is the first time in six months we had a huge blow out fight. And we got through it. We even went to the park on Saturday and took a walk together. Because when he’s right, he’s right.

Lucky

You may not know this about me, but I’ve been married three times. Once when I was 18, then at 20, then at 30. Third time’s the charm; we’ve been married 35 years. Retirement agrees with Al as you can see by the twinkle in his eyes. He was actually telling me not to take his picture but I had to, because it tells so much about him.

He does dishes. He makes coffee every morning. He cooks, he cleans, and he golfs. Golf may be the most important thing he does for me, as when he leaves the house with his clubs, I write. Working the second novel in my new series “Jane in St Pete Mysteries” and I’m loving it. So happy Al and I have naturally evolved into spending time together but also time apart. We are both of the same mind about that.

Yesterday he cleaned the basement, which is full of stuff, including furniture we thought we wanted from our old house, but then realized didn’t fit here.. He was down there for hours. Now I can gather up my smaller stuff, mostly for donation (books, knick knacks, old clothes, old decor). Our original plan was to get a booth at the Armada Flea Market but the virus has made that not such a good plan. This is better.

We’ve been home from Florida for five weeks and I kept wanting him to vacuum the spider webs and make space, but I didn’t say anything. I knew how busy he was cleaning the deck, bringing up the patio furniture, fixing his car, fixing the ice machine in the fridge, fixing the AC, installing a new humidifier, and a million other little things.

We came home to a fire alarm beeping, even though he changed all the batteries before we left. So there was that. Every day he didn’t golf, he was playing catch up with this house. But yesterday was the day! Never has the sound of a shop vac sounded more dear to my heart.

Oh and did I say he grocery shops? And reads the sale papers. And finds all the deals. When I was a single mom, before I met Al, I had to watch every penny. I kept a running tab in my head and scrutinized prices. It was painful but my boys were young so PBJ, hot dogs and mac and cheese all sounded great to them. After Al and I were married, I vowed to never look at a price in the grocery store again. And I haven’t. I just buy what I want.

The best thing about Al’s retirement is not that he helps me with chores (Although he cleans the bathrooms and polishes the wood floors and will pitch in on anything else I need help with.) or that he keeps the cars running and the appliances too. It’s his financial sense. He’s like my own personal financial consultant. I feel safe.

Also, he’s fun. And funny. Even during a pandemic.

On Rules and Breaking Them

In writing and in life, there are rules. The words “creative” and “writing” don’t always coexist, even for fiction writers. Yes, it’s creative to come up with a great plot full of surprises and twists and insights, but in setting that plot down on the page, there are constant rules. Sentences! Spelling! Grammar! And so on.

Genre writers have even more rules. Happy Ever After for romance writers. The criminal will be captured and made to pay in mystery. Those are the biggest rules and there are so many more that, should you be lucky enough to find an editor or agent to read your manuscript, you’ll hear them all. There are also books and workshops and classes and blog posts that will give you the rules as they understand them. Many writers will attempt to abide by these rules because they want to be published.

Yet something strange happens if you adhere too closely to these rules as a writer. You lose the creative impulse that spurred you on to write in the first place. You paint by number. You give your publisher and your readers more of the same, book after book. Readers expect it. Publishers demand it.

The art of creating something new is the thrill and now it’s gone. But if you persist in your specific vision, if your work is both original and compelling, it might win you acclaim, prizes and money. Or not. So following the rules as a creative writer brings risk, just as, recently, gathering in public is a risk. Certainly if you are not wearing a mask, you pose a risk to others.

I hate the mask, but I wear it because I try to live by the rule of “First, do no harm.” If you are out in public in a crowd without a mask, you may be doing many people harm. I used to suffer with my mask and become annoyed, even angered, by those who went without. Why were they being so selfish? Didn’t they understand that the mask is not only to protect themselves, but to protect others?

There are several answers to this question of why people do not obey the health guidelines to wear a mask in pubic. There’s not a thing I can do to change a single one of these folks’ minds. I wouldn’t even try. So I simmer in anger and bitterness, which I dislike almost as much as the mask.

The Buddhists have a solution, of sorts, to my anger at people who refuse to wear masks in public. It’s not easy, but it works. Anger and other negative emotions are the perfect opportunity to practice compassion. The practice goes like this: you find yourself angry because the person is not following a rule, you recognize you are angry, you turn your anger into prayer for this person, and for all persons like them.

It’s akin to the Christian rule to love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do,” said Jesus on the cross. “May all humans be free from suffering,” loosely translates the practice of turning your own anger into compassion. For a person not wearing a mask in a crowded public space, the prayer might be “May this person (or these people) awaken to the need to protect their brothers and sisters from this virus.”

On this Memorial Day, I give thanks to all the women and men who have lost their lives fighting wars for our country. And I honor all of those who have lost the fight against this virus. Namaste.