Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Body Sense and Accountability

I've been learning a few new lessons and re-learning a few old ones recently. That's the thing about lessons. My memory is short, my attention span is limited, and I selectively retain only the lessons that support my druthers. The significant lesson I've been learning or re-learning - it's hard to tell which it is sometimes - is knowing when to ask for help, and then following through and actually asking for help, and then following through even further and actually using the advice that's been given to me.

When it was time to schedule my annual physical with my internist a couple of months ago, I decided that it was finally time to say something about the ache in my shoulder that has been there for, oh, maybe the past year or year and a half. I asked for a referral to physical therapy. I also decided that it was time to throw in the towel, admit that I am powerless over my weight and eating habits, and that I needed to be accountable to someone besides myself. So, I asked for a referral to a dietitian.

I've been to four physical therapy sessions, and they have been truly helpful. The single most helpful piece of advice was from the first session, when the therapist recommended that I set a timer to go off every hour when I am working at my computer. What a great idea! I sometimes sit at the computer for four or five hours straight when I'm in the zone, reading, researching and writing. Not good for my knees, my neck or my shoulders. Not good for my relationships with my mother and my husband who share my living quarters.

As it has turned out, each therapist who has treated the shoulder has commented on how tight my entire upper body is. "Tight as a board," is what one of the therapists said. Another therapist found tightness in places where I didn't know that I had muscles, like the underside of the armpit towards the back. The stretching and strengthening exercises have been helpful, too, and I'm learning how to do them on my own when I'm at home.

I'm working on being more consistent and persistent, but right now, anything is a huge improvement over nothing. Most of the information I've been receiving is not new news to me. I've had gym memberships and personal trainers and even free weights and exercise equipment at home. But I forget, and while I'm disciplined in matters of work, I'm a wreck in matters of taking care of my body. Your body forgives you when you're in your twenties or thirties. There is no body forgiveness at sixty.

Today was my first appointment with the dietitian. I've been down this road before, too. She was cool. She talked about incremental steps and really was more like a life coach than a dietitian. We talked much more about identifying specific goals, habits and ways in which I sabotage myself than about menus and counting calories. Wow, she was telling me to get to know myself in regard to food, eating habits, and what drives me to eat mindlessly.

I told the dietitian that I wanted to be accountable to someone besides myself, because my self-talk gets me into trouble. I'm really good at fooling myself even while I demand honesty from others. The dietitian recommended looking at my support systems and recruiting their help. She suggested affirmations and mantras around eating habits. I got to take home a nifty microwaveable, partitioned, covered plastic dish that will give me cues on portion control.

Today's only the first day, but I already feel better about the more reasonable sized portions I had for lunch and dinner today. Yesterday, I probably would have felt deprived by the smaller portions. The only things that have changed from yesterday to today are my awareness and my attitude.

A friend I was discussing the physical therapy and the weight with made an astute observation, which helps to turn my negative thinking into a positive. She said that instead of what I have always characterized as a high pain threshold, which is why I tend not to notice the black and blue marks that appear randomly on my arms and legs from running into things, it's an issue of body awareness. She pointed out that I need to awaken my awareness of my physical self so that I am more alert to changes in my body and how to respond more appropriately to injuries and compensating behavior for injuries. In the food arena, I need to get in touch with knowing when I'm full and stop eating.

So, let me share a few of the mantras from this recent learning and re-learning:

1. Eat only 10's. If it's a treat like a piece of cake, and it doesn't taste like the best piece of cake, just stop eating it.

2. I'm not a garbage disposal. Or, as Herb would say, it costs the same whether you finish it or not. No more clean plate nonsense from my childhood. No, the starving children in wherever don't care whether or not I finish everything on my plate.

3. Portion control before you start eating. My friend Jo taught me this one about eating in restaurants. Ask for a take-out box when you order and have it brought to you with your meal. Divide the meal into halves, and take half home for a second meal. Saves money, too. And at home, the dietitian recommended preparing a lunch plate when Mom dishes out a huge portion for me at dinner time.

Mom is part of the clean plate and clean pot club. She doesn't want to save leftovers. So, she puts it all on my plate. We grew up thinking food equals love. My dear husband, in an effort to show support, gives me permission, nay, encouragement, when I'm eyeing that bag of potato chips at the supermarket. As my brother, Jon, says, it doesn't matter what size the bag of chips is, they're all one-portion sizes after you open the bag. So, the trick is not to bring the bag into the house, or better yet, to the checkout counter.

I'm a card-carrying member of the shame and blame club. It comes with the age and the time when I was growing up. I've got to be accountable for myself. It isn't Mom's fault that there's too much food on my plate and that I eat it all. It isn't Herb's fault that I pick up the bag of chips and leave the store with them. It's like everything else in my life: I've got to want to do this for myself - the exercise, the eating right. Each day is a new beginning. There's going to be some slippage, no doubt on that count. But as we Chinese are fond of quoting Confucius, a journey of a thousand steps begins with the first step.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Perils of Mahjongg and Sudoku

It's the tail end of a long weekend, and we've had a lovely family weekend. Herb has been home for a rare six day period, with doctor's visits sandwiching the time with us. The grandsons came for supper on Saturday and spent the night so that my son, Corin, and his live-in girlfriend, Ashley, could celebrate her birthday at an adult dinner. Corin and Ashley picked the boys up for an outing on Sunday afternoon while I prepared a birthday dinner for Ashley, complete with gluten free birthday cake and brownies. I don't cook often, but I do enjoy doing it when I have the time and a reason to put in the effort.

Today was a quiet day at home. Herb has been watching the Golf Channel. I've been puttering in the kitchen, making breakfast and lunch and one more batch of brownies, because, after all, one should eat brownies everyday! Mom went to the Apple Store in Boulder to take a class on how to use her new iPhone, which my brother, Jon, bought for her when he was here for a visit two weeks ago. I've been thinking off and on all day about duty and responsibility with regard to family, in between chores and Mahjongg and Sudoku on the computer.

My mother has lived with us since we moved back to Colorado in 2000 and into this house that year. In fact, I flew my mother in from San Diego and my daughter and I drove up from Amarillo to house hunt in March of 2000, while Herb was working for an extended time in Scotland. I bought this house because of its configuration, two master suites and a Jack and Jill suite (two bedrooms connected by a bathroom), which was suitable to blending my mother into our household. Mom occupies the Jack and Jill suite, which gives her (and us) a great deal of privacy while also integrating her into our household rather than segregating her into a mother-in-law apartment.

Our daughter, Cece, was entering tenth grade when we moved here, and she greatly benefited from having her grandmother in her daily life for those last three years of high school. Cece often needed the coddling and cuddling that her grandmother would give her, because Grandma didn't have to deal with any of Cece's homework or friends drama, which fell to me. Herb was traveling constantly in his job as a consultant and, lucky for him, missed out on most of the nightly drama of an intense young woman with teenage angst. It's remarkable that Cece made it to adulthood and that I didn't commit murder. I don't take getting through those high school years for granted at all. I recognize that some families don't make it through in one piece.

Mom had lived in San Diego for six years, since the death from cancer of my youngest brother, retiring from her restaurant business to help raise my brother's then five-year old son. As my nephew got older and more independent, he spent less time in the company of his grandmother, which made Mom very lonely. San Diego is a large town, and even after six years, Mom hadn't put down the roots that she did almost immediately here in rural Boulder County, Colorado. It became clear that it was time to move Mom in with us when I grew tired of hearing her complain of how lonely she was and how she didn't have an appetite. I had begun to dread answering the phone.

I was engaged in wishful thinking today about how nice it would be if it were just Herb and me occupying this house and I didn't have to cede control of my kitchen over to my mother. My lovingly collected artisan pottery dishes and gourmet kitchen gadgets have all been relegated to backs of cupboards and bottom drawers in favor of Mom's preferred plastic bowls and recycled jars with old labels not indicative of their present contents. I thought about not having to worry about another person in the house when we wanted to turn the volume up high on the TV. I looked around at my endless piles of books and papers in the family and dining rooms in addition to my office and how they offend Mom's sense of tidiness and order and how much I hate it when my piles get moved.

Then I thought about being a mother and what that means in terms of a mother's sense of responsibility towards her children. I know from my own choices and behavior towards my daughter that I am constantly concerned about her well-being and eager to offer help when it's needed, asked for and appropriate. I've been there to help her move from one apartment to another during college and to her home in another state for law school. I've lent an ear in person and by phone when she's been in the throes of relationship issues or doubts about the next step to take after college graduation. I know that my mother would be there for me, too, no matter what my issues were, without any hesitation or thought about sacrifice of her time and energy.

Why, then, do I sometimes chafe with resentment at my sacrifice of privacy and the occasional deferment of my own chosen activity to be here for my mother? For me, the answer is multifaceted, but boils down to one dimension: the tension between my upbringing as a dutiful daughter/female/wife and my inculcation into the feminist movement. Perhaps someone else observing me might name the one dimension differently: the tension between a selfish woman and her obligations to her family, between self and duty. I name the dimension not particularly to comment on the goodness or badness of either end of the spectrum or weigh one against the other. That commentary I will save for a future post.

Feelings of resentment are interesting phenomenon. My sense is that even for someone who is supremely and constantly resentful, resentment is not an emotion that is easily sustained when one is preoccupied with full immersion into life and all that life has to offer. I speak from anecdotal observations. I know that when I am fully engaged in my life - in pursuing my interests, in spending time with my family and friends, in attending meetings or worshiping in church - in all the myriad activities that keep me busy, even the mundane ones like washing the dishes and doing laundry, I feel so alive that I have no attention leftover to apply to fostering resentment.

Another way to say this is that I have no need for feelings of resentment when I am feeling worthy and valued, because what I do matters to me and to others. So, maybe, as it has been said by critics of our online and computer-based time consuming activities, I should lay off Mahjongg and Sudoku whenever I begin to feel resentful about my mother or anyone or anything else in my life, and get up and tackle my clutter. And surely, my observations reaffirm for me why it is important to acknowledge and thank people for what they do, because it all matters, it all counts, no matter how small the contribution. It is all gift, and your gift of a "thank you" or a compliment to another just might be the antidote to that person's feelings of resentment. Think about it.