The (Empty) Bucket List

The Empty Bucket List

My bucket list has a hole in it.

It must be leaking, because everything that was previously in it has dribbled out somewhere.

Let me explain…

Way Back In The Day

So, ever since I was a youngster, I had a plan. There were certain things I wanted to accomplish. My goals were set as early as Junior High. I was going to do some things with my life, and no one was going to get in my way. At some point, I was going to sing the national anthem at a public event. I was going to release an album. Heck, I was even going to collect songwriting royalties. As life went on, I managed to do all of the above.

And, as life went on, I managed to do all of the above.

(I even still have the royalties checks around here somewhere. One for $.06, another for $.03. Hey, a check is a check, right?)

Then, with the downturn in my health in 2004, my goals took on a more morbid tone. Kinda like “Oh, if I had only…” My goals somehow morphed into a “bucket list” – things I wanted to do before I died.

You have to understand, I had health care professionals left and right telling me that I could keel over at any second.  I was universally informed that I would not live to see 50. Between my weight, my high blood pressure, and my uncontrolled seizures, I was a rolling train wreck, just waiting to go off the tracks.  So, I did what any person in my position would do.

I started negotiating.

Suddenly, all of my “goals” were various incarnations of getting healthier.

The “Passive Self-Improvement” List

If I could only get a handle on my health, I figured, then I might actually have a shot at living long enough to do something else interesting.

Like: If I could just lose some weight, I would go back to the gym. (As it was I kept injuring myself every time I tried.)

In exchange for dropping my blood pressure, I would run a 5K.

I would buy a pair of button-fly 501s if I could ever return to a 38-inch waistline.

Heck, I would even finish my novel if I had enough time between seizures to complete a sentence or two.

Then came the twin surgical interventions of my VNS implant and bariatric surgery. Suddenly, the only thing left on my “bucket list” is to live to ’til I am 50.

I am not sure that even qualifies it as a bucket list anymore.

Into The Great Wide Open

So, not a bad problem to have, right?

I show every sign of getting past the half-century mark now. So, ummm…now what?

I am tentatively exploring the idea of planning. You know, having some concept of the next years of my life. Beyond “I would like to only go to the emergency room three times this year.”

So, what do normal people plan for?

Heck if I know. I haven’t been a normal person for quite a while.

But, in the meantime, I’ve got this big, empty bucket with nothing left inside it. Plenty of short-term goals, mind you. But nothing that us writers would call an “over-arching narrative.”

Peering into the future, I literally have no idea what I want to be when I turn 50 in 3 years.

I never thought the problem would come up, see?

I Don’t Want To Grow Up, I’m a Toys-R-Us Kid,

Jeremy

 

 

The 1-Year Follow-up

The 1-Year Follow Up - The results of Bariatric Surgery

You may wonder where I’ve been the last couple days. I spent Monday meeting with my surgeon, finishing up the VNS procedure, and got cleared to start using both arms again. This seems like it would have been the perfect opportunity to publish my next Misdirected post, right?

But I had something else big coming down the road, so decided to wait for the update.

Because yesterday was my 1-year appointment with the folks at DaVita Bariatrics. One year ago yesterday I went under the knife and changed my life forever.

So, how did I do?

The Numbers Don’t Lie

So, let’s review. On July 25, 2016, I weighed 248 pounds. (Down from my all-time high of 302 pounds in February of 2016.) My blood pressure was 145/102. My resting pulse rate was 86. I was on a cocktail of 5 different medications. I slept with a C-PAP every night.

Yesterday I weighed in at 177 pounds. (Up 3 pounds from my previous low of 174.) My blood pressure came in at 118/70. My resting heart rate was 60 beats per minute. I am down to 2 medications (both anti-seizure meds) and stopped using the C-PAP months ago.

Other significant numbers?

In 2016 I had a 50-inch waistline. Today I am at 35 inches and still shrinking.

Last year I could barely manage walking half a mile. Today I can walk at least eight, or run two. (Though still can’t run a full 5K, darn it.)

Last year my BMI topped out at 47.3 (also known as “morbidly obese.”) As of yesterday, I was at 27.7. (“Overweight”, according to the BMI chart.) Given that I would have to get all the way down to 159 pounds to be considered normal by BMI, I think I am just going to settle for “overweight”, thank you very much.

Now, Gimme The Bad News

All of this has had a downside, of course.

As of yesterday, I was diagnosed with both anemia and a B12 deficiency. Neither is as dangerous as the health issues accompanying obesity, but both are going to have to be dealt with nonetheless. Both are potential side effects of the massive dietary changes that go along with bariatric surgery.

I keep shrinking. This may sound like it should be on the “good” side of the equation, but it is a real downer to keep having to buy clothes at thrift stores. Also, I am already down to Men’s Small in shirts. Where the heck do I go from here? Do I start shopping in the kids’ section?

Speaking of my body, I am still dealing with my new covering of loose skin with the texture and consistency of Play-Doh. It is a constant hassle to deal with and has even resulted in me having unexpected surgery for early VNS replacement.  Surgery to have the excess skin removed may or may not be an option. For one thing, it has to be deemed “medically necessary.” For another, I am getting a little tired of surgery at this point.

I am actually more of a slave to my stomach now than I was when I was obese. I have to eat constantly – every 3 hours or so. And everything still needs to be measured, and weighed, and parcelled out. Eating is no longer easy.

And man, do I miss beer.

The Final Verdict

So, considering everything, would I still have the surgery?

Absolutely. I wish I had done it years earlier.

While jogging(!) yesterday, Lor and I were discussing the concept of being in better shape now at 40-ish than at 20-something. In my case, I have never been athletic. I am, quite frankly, in the best physical condition I have ever been in, period. I don’t say “best shape” because, you know, parts of me aren’t great to look at. Aesthetics aside, though, this is certainly the healthiest I have been since developing Epilepsy. By a significant margin.

Bariatric surgery still isn’t a magic pill. It doesn’t change everything for you without effort.

But it certainly gave me the freedom to make (and sustain) changes.

If you are suffering from obesity, and nothing you have tried has worked, consider talking to your loved ones and your doctor about bariatric surgery. It is far from easy. But, in my case, it has allowed me to actually go experience life, rather than sitting on the couch and watching it go by.

And if I can do it, so can you.

Looking Forward To Next Year’s Appointment,

Jeremy

 

 

 

 

“Skinny Is A Side Effect” Redux

Happy Independence Day to all our American readers. If you are celebrating the 4th of July, hug or shake the hand of a veteran. Your preference.

I have been reviewing my publication history for Misdirected while outlining my next book. In doing so, I have discovered some…changes in my outlook from last year to this year. My former annoyance with my obesity still rings true. The combined fear and hopefulness regarding the potential outcome of the surgery still feels real to me.

But what is different is my absolute conviction, a year ago, that my physical appearance wasn’t going to matter at the end of the process. Looking at my recent posts, I can see that turned out to not be true at all. Which makes me wonder:

Exactly when did I get so vain?

Mirror, Mirror

Now, understand what vanity means here.

I do not gaze in the mirror every morning and think “Damn, I’m hot.”

No, actually, exactly the opposite.

I look at sagging skin. I fixate on scrawny arms and legs. I stare jealously at big, muscular guys at the gym and can only think that I won’t ever look like them.

I have become a body nazi, sitting in judgment upon a population of one: me.

This after I swore up and down that all I cared about was Non-Scale Victories. That I was “Not Waiting To Turn Into Brad Pitt.”

Sigh.

Taking A Step Back

So, let’s take a look at what has happened instead.

For years I suffered from sleep apnea.

Today I can’t remember the last time I used a C-PAP.

A year ago my resting blood pressure was about 140/100 with medication.

Today it is sitting at 112/75, and I haven’t taken a blood pressure med for literally a year.

Once upon a time, I could barely walk to the end of my block and back.

Last week I walked 6 miles in one day and could have done more.

So, why the sudden concern about my looks, for goodness sake?

You Can’t Miss What You Never Had

So, here’s where things get weird. Being obese never bothered me from the perspective of my self-esteem. I have always looked at myself as being…umm…less than attractive. So, being overweight didn’t really impact me very much, in that regard.

But nowadays I keep seeing these amazing before and after photos of my fellow bariatric patients. And the “after” shots seem to always look like supermodels.

Hell, I am living with a supermodel nowadays.

And I am…well, I am back to looking normal. Just with a whole lot of extra skin.

I know it shouldn’t be important to me. I ran a 5K. I will be climbing Sandia Peak later this summer. I am out being active almost every single day – doing things I couldn’t do while I was obese. The way I look while I am doing these things should not matter.

But, somehow, it suddenly does.

Pushing Beyond The External

If I was advising someone in my position, I would tell them that they were already beautiful. I would say that true beauty comes from within. That the world should not judge a person on the basis of their physical appearance.

I now know that person would be thinking that I was full of shit.

Despite that, I need to make the effort to get over my sudden onset of self-esteem anxiety.

A few months back I made the commitment that I would stop using the term “fat” here on Misdirected. I have been largely successful, and I think that Misdirected is better because of it.

So, I will start doing the same thing with myself.

Every time I have a negative thought about my appearance, I resolve to match it with a positive self-affirmation.

I may look in the mirror and think “my arms look terrible.” I will match that with “Yes, but my hands now write a blog that speaks to hundreds of people.”

The thought may cross my mind that I am covered in loose skin. I must learn to match that with something like “The skin is empty because I have extended my lifespan by losing the fat that used to fill it.”

Every time I wish I looked different, I should immediately go do something that I used to wish I could do, but could not due to my obesity. I should still make personal wishes come true. Just different ones.

I will have to teach myself to start being focused on being healthy, and stop being obsessed with being skinny.

After all, skinny is (only) a side effect.

Glad I Can Air This Out,

Jeremy

 

 

 

 

The Saga Of The Stones (Not a Story About Iceland)

After you go through bariatric surgery, you are warned about a few things. “Take your multivitamins” your nutritionist will tell you. “Otherwise you will suffer from malnutrition.”

“Make sure you exercise 150 minutes a week” you surgeon will prod you. “Lack of physical activity is the #1 leading cause of regain.”

And your whole medical team will tell you “Stay hydrated!” They will give you a long list of things that can go wrong if you don’t drink enough, including this one: “Lack of hydration can lead to kidney stones.”

Turns out your medical team actually knows a thing or two about this.

The Path Paved With Good Intentions

I had thought I was doing pretty well on the whole “hydration” thing. I drink about 40 ounces of (decaffeinated, sigh) coffee over a couple hours every morning. After that, I try to down another couple of 20-ounce bottles of water during the course of the day. 80 ounces of hydration a day, right?

Except…well, a few things have come up in the past few weeks. We’ve started a pretty intense new exercise routine at our gym called “BodyPump”. It involves high-rep (like 70+reps) low-weight exercises for the entire body. Though we only do it a couple of times a week, it is a major drain. And I can’t say that I leave the class feeling like I am fresh and hydrated. More like I am a squeezed-out dishrag, really.

And, then, we have our semi-annual visitor. Our nephew has come to stay with us for a few weeks, which throws our entire schedule into disarray. We spend all our time hanging around with him (we like him), and tend to ignore our regular routine. Between the new exercise program and our break in routine, my hydration habits have probably been less than optimal.

And down that path lies madness.

Eruption

It began one night late last week. At about 9 pm, I stood up to head to bed. Suddenly, I was aware of what felt like a cramp, deep in the right side of my abdomen. It felt as though someone had inserted a metal bar into me. No matter what I did to stretch, nothing worked to release the pressure.

Finally, I shrugged it off and went off to complete my nighttime routine, hoping the pain would simply go away on its own. However, during my ritual nightly visit to the bathroom, something unusual happened.

Nothing.

No matter how I strained and pushed, I could not pee no matter how hard I tried. I knew I needed to. I just couldn’t manage to get the job done, as it were.

Now, I am a man in his late 40s. I have been through some of the more…exotic…issues that accompany my aging physiology, including prostatitis. But this just didn’t feel the same. I finally gave up and went to complain to Lor. She immediately questioned my hydration for the day.

Now, as it turns out, my fluid intake for the day had consisted of…one cup of coffee. All day. No more. She suggested I down some fluids. I spent ten minutes taking in 20 ounces of water, hoping to get things moving.

Then all hell broke loose.

Suddenly, I was no longer suffering from a sore spot in my abdomen. Now, I suddenly felt as if someone had inserted a red-hot poker into my abdomen and shoved it all the way through my lower back.

The Night That Would Not End

Chatting later with others that have suffered from kidney stones, I was able to determine that this was a pretty normal set of symptoms. At the time, I was positive that no one had ever experienced pain on this level. From 11 PM till 1 AM, I kept up an ongoing argument with myself about whether or not I needed to go to the emergency room. I was quite certain that my appendix had burst, or something equally dire.

However, at around 1 in the morning, I was suddenly able to produce about an eyedropper’s amount of urine. Some of the painful internal burning subsided.

I immediately drank a little more, hoping to flush out whatever was causing this ailment.

The pain returned.

I kept this cycle up, also taking a shower four different times, hoping the heat would help with the muscular pressure. (It did, a bit.) Finally, at 4:30, my exhaustion overcame my pain and I fell asleep on the couch.

At 7:00 AM Lor came and woke me up, ready to take me to the urgent care center. I made one last attempt to go to the bathroom…

And succeeded, producing a bowl filled with an evil-looking orange fluid. I spent the next two days seated on the couch, trying not to move due to how sore I was.

Except, of course, during my frequent trips to the bathroom.

Hydrate Or Die

So, did all this occur due to a week’s worth of bad habits?

Almost certainly not. I have probably been failing in my hydration goals for weeks now. Certain people have suggested to me that downing 40 ounces of fluid first thing in the morning should probably not be counted toward my 80-ounce a day goal. It apparently needs to be spread out over the day, not all done at once.

If I wasn’t a believer in hydration before, by God, I am now. I may never leave the house without a Camelbak again, just to avoid another night like that.

My PSA for the day: Avoid Kidney Stones.

I tried it, and you won’t dig it.

Still Sore, Four Days Later,

Jeremy

The Week That Got Away

The Week That Got Away

A few of you sent tentative questions wanting to know what happened last Friday. Was I on vacation? Had Misdirected switched to a weekly publication schedule when you weren’t looking? Had some other mysterious event befallen me?

In truth, it was a series of events…strap in and I will bring you up to speed.

Puppy Gymnastics

First, meet our new exercise program:

The ghosts of Samson and Frankie watching over her little doggie bed…

Her name is Delilah. She is a 6-month old Chi-Weenie, and no I didn’t come up with that breed name. On the 9th through the 11th of June, our local Albuquerque Humane Society ran an event where they were attempting to “empty the city shelters” by adopting pets for only $5. We visited, and Delilah was the result.

At six months old, she came to us very confused about life in general, and about house rules like potty-training in particular. So she has completely destroyed our daily schedules, including gym attendance.

However, she herself is a profound exercise generator. A few weeks ago I was speculating about how to get over 10,000 steps a day consistently. We have found the answer. Socializing and playing with a new puppy has kept us above our daily step goal every day, with one marathon of a day putting us at nearly 14,000 steps. She hasn’t been great for our weight-lifting routines, but boy is she good for the heart. In more ways than one.

The Inheritance Marathon

Inheritance Book Cover

Speaking of long-term exercise, my longest-ever writing exercise is over. I finished writing Inheritance last week. It has now been handed off to my editorial review team. Who will undoubtedly find so many issues with it that I will effectively have to re-write it. I couldn’t care less.

This is a big one for me, folks. When I started writing Misdirected all those years ago, it was a daily journal of my gaming activities. I had no idea that it would begin a chain of events that would lead to me completing an entire novel. But, it has done just that, and I couldn’t be happier. Even if I never sell more than two copies (I have two parents, remember), I will be able to go through the rest of my life knowing that I actually sat down and wrote an entire novel. This is huge for someone who couldn’t put a sentence together ten years ago.

Once again, if you too are suffering from a disability, keep pushing those boundaries. You never know how far you will get until you try.

The ACE Fitness Iron-Man

I also finished my course of study for the ACE Fitness Personal Trainer course last week. I got myself revved up, sat down for the practice exam…

And flunked it.

I even got a consolation note from the ACE Fitness on-line study system: “That’s why we call it a practice exam!”

So, yeah. I now have just over 30 days to get my real exam scheduled and to take another practice exam, this time (hopefully) passing.

Needless to say, I am glad I already finished Inheritance. I won’t be doing any fiction writing of any kind in the next month. I am going to be busy.

Studying for this certification may be the hardest thing I have ever done. I have never been an athlete. I have never had any aptitude for biology. I always watched bodyworkers like Lor with a certain mixture of awe and jealousy.

Becoming professionally certified as a personal trainer could not be further out of my comfort zone.

But, if Misdirected has taught me anything, it is that there are a bunch of people out there looking for support and advice. And the ACE PT certification is my first step toward feeling comfortable providing advice from a professional background, rather than just shooting from the hip. Personal experience and internet research can only take you so far.

So, yeah. Here we are. Wish me luck as I study constantly for the next month. I have a feeling I am going to need all the luck I can get.

Hitting The Books Like I Used To Hit The Girl Scout Cookies,

Jeremy