Ch Ch Ch Changes
Editor’s Note: The is the first post (or really anything for that matter) that I’m writing on my new Surface RT tablet and I’m still getting used to the keyboard a bit. So, in addition to my usual lackluster spelling and editing and general poor typing, I’ve got that to deal with, so here’s my increasingly frequent disclaimer about the number of typos you are likely to encounter. Apologies in advance as usual.
When I sat down to write this post, I had another title in mind, but just before I started I put on Bowie’s Hunky Dory and realized that, once again, his words are better than mine will ever be, so, why fight it? In addition to the new writing instrument referenced above, this is also my first post of a self imposed leave of absence from the working world. (If you need a refresher as to why I’d do such a thing, read here.) For the past two weeks I’ve been home on regular leave as I’ve rested, recovered, gone to the doctor and been poked, prodded, and punctured more than I care to ever experience again. As of yesterday, however, I’m no longer getting paid, but I decided to step away a bit to address some of the underlining health, lifestyle issues and habits that were all contributing to me ending up in the hospital two weeks ago. Did I HAVE to do this? No, I guess not. I suppose I could have gone back to work and tried to address these issues along the way, but I know myself: best intentions give way to the reality of work, and it probably wouldn’t have taken long for me to slip back into the same patterns as before, and then it would only be a matter of time until I wound up the hospital again, this time with something possibly far more serious.
I made the decision fairly early on that if I was going to seriously fix the things that were wrong with me (and thankfully that decision is still mine to make) that I need to take the time away to do this right: to make a serious run at losing some weight and getting back into better shape, to reduce the amount of stress that I was under, to exercise more and more consistently, to learn how to sleep again (which was a HUGE problem), and to permanently alter some of the habits that were contributing to my middling physical condition. As I said last post, there will be “no half measures.”
Here’s the thing: I realize that I’m profoundly lucky to have this decision to make. We’ve got a little, but not a ton. of money saved that will replace my lost income for several weeks, there is nothing wrong with me that some time away and the changes I’m implementing can’t address, and I’ve got a wonderfully supportive family and employer that are willing to work with me to achieve my goals here. For this I am extremely grateful. Would I rather not have to use that money now? Sure, but, realistically, what good is having a little money in the bank if you’re not around to use it? I’d rather use it now and be there for my kids than have a heart attack at 55 and say I left them with a few thousand extra dollars instead.
So, at this point you are probably asking what I’m going to be doing over the next couple of months and what kind of changes am I talking about? Glad you asked (and if you didn’t, apologies, but I’m listing them anyway – my space, my rules). In and of themselves none of the changes are huge, but together I (am my doctors) think that they will be the difference between a healthy, longer life and one spent choking down meds and waiting for something more serious to drop.
- Diet: As of now, I’m as close to a vegetarian as I will ever be. I’ve cut out red meat, fowl, and pork completely, though I am allowing myself some fish and other seafood periodically. I guess you’d call that a pescatarian, but the bottom line is that I’ve replaced pretty much all of the meat in my diet with more vegetable, more fruit, and more whole grains. I’ve cut back a bit on my dairy, but I’m still eating low or no fat yogurt and the occasional small portion of cheese (but very limited). And the change has been easy so far to be honest. I haven’t eaten a lot of red met in a long while, and the jump from a turkey sandwich with cheese and mayo to the same sandwich with hummus and vegetables isn’t that far. I’m eating fewer and better carbs and watching portion sizes, but I’m not counting calories or anything like that. The other major change I’m making is forcing myself to eat breakfast every morning, which of course makes a huge difference in how I feel the rest of the day.
- Beer: I do enjoy a good craft beer (I’m sure you are shocked by that. Not.), but there’s some serious math working against me on this. What I would term “good” beer is more complex and infinitely more flavorful, but that usually comes at the cost of having more calories. And when you consider that most places worth their salt sell you a 20 oz pint of beer, having one or two at dinner can quickly nullify the best of exercises that you did that day. Say the beer that you like is 300 calories per 12 ounces (vs 125 for a traditional American lager, aka, water). Get that beer in a 20 ounce pint glass and now you are looking at 500 calories. Have two of them and you’ve had 3 and 1/2 servings and have consumed over 1000 calories without even blinking and eye. So for the foreseeable future, that’s out.
- Sleep: The more I’ve talked with Drs the past few days, the more I am convinced that this is/was one of the biggest problems that I had, and ultimately played the biggest role in me ending up in the hospital, and just feeling rather unwell in general at times. This was my usual night: I’d tried to get to sleep at a decent hour, but would be thinking about something from work that was coming up and would decide to check my e-mail just for a minute. Well, inevitably that minute would turn into 30, and then an hour, and then my mind would be racing at 1000 miles an hour, often over things that I didn’t need to worry about right at that moment. I’d end up doing something to take my mind off of things, usually reading, or playing a game on my phone, or watching Point Break for the 1000th time. Finally I’d stager to bed at 2:30, spend another 30 minutes trying to get to sleep, and then wake up at 7:00 or so with 4 fitful hours of sleep in the bank. I’d rush to get ready for work, usually skip breakfast, and the spend the rest of the day chugging Dunkin Donuts coffee (often with an added shot of espresso) just to get through the day, which would only make my mind race more and just add to my difficulty getting to sleep. Over time this is HORRIBLE for you (well, not the Point Break, that is awesome), and I knew this, but justified it on the grounds of “this is what people do to get by.” Well, it’s just not worth it. I’ve slept better in the past two weeks than I have in literally years. I’m getting to bed by 10:30/11 (with NO “screen time” within an hour of bed, only reading), getting 6 to 7 hours of good sleep each night, and am waking up earlier, which gives me time to get breakfast and get in some morning exercise when I would normally be scrounging for the last few minutes of sleep. Plus, my coffee consumption is down dramatically. I still like it, and will have a cup or two in the AM, but I don’t feel like I NEED it and don’t plan on having any after noon or so.
- Exercise/Movement: I listed those both of those things because I was actually exercising a decent amount before (all of my doctors basically said that the only reason I was in as good of shape that I was because I biked so much), but because of the items listed above I wasn’t getting as much benefit from the exercise I was getting that I should have. Plus, being active a few hours a week and then feeling fatigued and lethargic the rest of the time and doing nothing is not the way to go. What I’ve started doing is taking a 45 to 60 min walk each morning (around 3 miles give or take), in addition to the other exercise that I’m getting. This is one of the habits that I want to ingrain so that getting up (which is possible b/c I got a good night sleep the night before) and taking that walk becomes second nature, so that when work or life intervenes and I have to skip a ride later in the day I’ve at least gotten that walk in each day. Until I go back to work, this means that most days I’ll end up doing two workouts of sorts, with a walk (or a ride) in the AM, and then either riding or swimming in the PM depending on schedule. After a few weeks I plan on introducing some additional resistance/crossfit type activities as well. One thing that all of the cycling has given me is some pretty sculpted legs, so it’s time that the rest of me caught up a bit (if for no other reason than I’d be able to change my current motto: “legs like Lance (Armstrong), upper body like Grimace.”)
- Minimalize: What’s the reason to try and earn more money (and maybe stick out a job or assignment that you don’t really like?) Sometimes it’s for no other reason than to get more stuff. Stuff that piles up in the house or goes unused after a few months. Or stuff that you don’t really need to live or even have a good time. So that’s one of the projects that I’m on, to identify those things that are truly necessary to live a fulfilling life and to get rid of those things that are superfluous. Less stuff and money being spent unnecessarily = less stress and more independence.
Ok, I don’t think there’s anything all that earthshattering about those five things – most of them are common sense. The goal is to have some of those things like diet and exercise so ingrained that they become habit. I’m a great creature of habit in the end, so I’ll slip into bad habits over time if for no other reason than I fear change. Stepping away from work gives me the opportunity to focus on making those good habits stick. (I apologize in advance to Dunkin Donuts and Mellow Mushroom and Park Ave CDs for the drop in your profits that is sure to follow)
Now I can’t spend all of my time over the next few weeks making spinach smoothies and working out, so I’ve got some additional things that I plan to do to help fill the time, keep me productive, help me relax, and generally improve the quality of my life. Some of them are:
- Spend time with my kids: This is a given. No work means that I can walk them to school and then walk to pick them up (with the added benefit of getting out and moving some more each day), have lunch with them at school occasionally, volunteer to help their teachers, and take them to swim practice (where I get in my second workout). Plus, no work means no travel, which I had to do periodically for my job. I’m looking forward to this the most.
- Write: I like writing, I’ve been told I’m fairly proficient at it, writing relaxes me, and the only reason I’ve not written more is that I didn’t have time (or nobody was willing to pay me to do it exclusively). Well, now I’ve got the time, so all of the essay ideas that pile up and I end up forgetting are going to get written. (You can adjust your expectations accordingly, I won’t blame you if you cancel your subscription). One of my biggest goals is to finally get an idea down in print that has been milling around in my head for years now. I originally conceived of it as a novel but couldn’t really construct how I wanted to tell the story, but now I think it will work as a short story. if I get nothing else done over the next few weeks except get healthier and finish this story, I’ll consider it a huge success.
- Improve my attitude: This one is probably a given – if I feel better, am not a giant ball of stress, and am not a part of the sleep deprived, over-caffeinated walking dead, then I’ll just be a more positive, nicer person to be around. I don’t think that I was some kind of huge jerk before, but I did feel like that I was becoming far more negative than I wanted to be. So I’m taking a page from my friend and great friend of the blog Klainie’s book and consciously trying to be more positive in everyday life. (Don’t worry, this is the one that I’ll fail miserably at, so you’ll have your favorite snarky curmudgeon back in no time.)
- Fundraise for the Bike MS: The Citrus Tour ride: Yeah, be forewarned, with more time on my hands I’ll have more time to do this. Hey, it’s been a while since I harassed you guys for a donation. You can contribute by using the DOANTE! link at the top right of this page.
- Help more around the house: Just call me Mr. Mom. Plus, it will keep Mrs. Lo from murdering me with a kitchen utensil.
- Read: I’ve got books stacked up on my table that I’ve been meaning to read, on top of other books that I was meaning to read before that. Those will be read.
That, in a nutshell (more like a circus tent, this monster is 2300 + words) is my version of “How I’m going to spend my fall vacation.” Thanks again so much to all of you who have reached out to me with kind words of support over the past couple of weeks. You guys rock like a hurricane.