The Biggest Fire

The Biggest Fire

Yesterday, while surfing through unread Facebook entries, I came across an interesting post. My birthday is coming up later in the month, and apparently, I have the option of asking my Facebook followers to donate to a worthy non-profit in lieu of sending me gifts.

Now, mind you, I don’t think I normally receive birthday presents from 99.9% of the folks following me on FB. But, still, it seemed like a nifty idea, right? Get the folks who follow me on Facebook plugged into the cause that matters the most to me.

Just about then, a problem occurred to me: I didn’t know which cause mattered the most to me.

Which Fire Burns Brightest

Seems like it should be simple enough, right? Just identify which of the causes that I support and advocate for has had the most impact on me. But, how do I quantify the negative effect of the things I care about?

Epilepsy changed my life forever and placed me in the position of no longer being able to hold down a “real” job.

Chronic obesity crippled me to the point that I had to have 75% of a major organ removed to deal with it.

Depression is waging a war against my ability to actually accomplish much of anything in my day-to-day life. Many days, depression is winning that war.

So – which one has impacted me the most, exactly?

Or, put another way, if I had the ability to make only one of these issues vanish off the face of the planet, which one would I pick?

Suddenly, any answer seems fraught with peril.

Weighed In The Balance (And Found Wanting)

Epilepsy affects roughly one in every hundred of us. It takes us out of the driver’s seat of our own brain and turns the controls over to an internal electrical storm. In many cases (like mine) it requires a constant babysitter – tying up two lives instead of just one. It shortens our lives, kills us in our sleep, and ruins our quality of life. So, of course, I should focus on epilepsy, right? Seems like a no-brainer. (Hah!)

Except that obesity is killing us nationally.  Over 35% of Americans are obese. Some estimates suggest that, as a nation, we are spending upwards of 190 BILLION dollars on the societal costs of obesity annually. Do the math, folks: 325 Million people are spending 190 Billion dollars on obesity… That’s $584 per person, every year. Can you imagine what that money could do if it wasn’t being used on the societal costs of weight?

The U.S. trade deficit is 560 Billion, people. Just sayin’.

Yeah, but…depression.

It is killing us, slowly and silently. Around 7% of us are suffering from depression. Depression crushes our productivity and removes our enjoyment from life. And, in many cases, it takes our best and brightest from us too soon. It is stigmatized and misunderstood, And, yet, it is frequently successfully treatable. Getting us to sign up for the treatment in the first place is apparently the major hurdle. (I, for instance, have yet to make my initial appointment to see a counselor. Because reasons.)

So, yeah. Pick one. Go ahead.

I’ll wait.

Negative Paralysis

The problem is that the problems all look SO large, that it seems impossible to choose just one. And, in many cases, that means that we don’t pick one at all.

We go through life ignoring ALL of them, instead of taking a breath and getting to work on at least one of them. The paralysis of indecision keeps so many of us from doing anything about anything.

It is very easy to forget that we can’t solve all of these issues by ourselves. It takes collective action to tackle world-shattering problems. And if small groups of us can get motivated to each work on the issues that speak to us the most strongly, progress gets made on all of them.

The idea isn’t to fix the whole world. It is for each of us to leave the place a little better than the way we found it.

In that spirit, I am going to go ahead and select one. It may not have the highest societal cost, and it may not be the one with the clearest solution, but it is the one I’ve been dealing with for a decade and a half now: Epilepsy.

If you agree with me, awesome. Toss a buck or two in the plate for the folks at the Epilepsy Foundation. They remain one of the major distributors of funds to community groups, education, and epilepsy research.

If not, no hard feelings. But pick something, for goodness sake. The world needs your active involvement in tackling the problems facing it. This is no time to sit on the sidelines and just sort of hope that things will get better on their own. Because we all know how well THAT works in the long run.

Trying To Leave The World Better Than The Way I Found It,

  • Jeremy

When The Cold Arrives

When The Cold Arrives

Right on schedule, Winter has shown up.

Oh, there are still leaves on some of the trees. Days here in Albuquerque are still getting up into the 60s. But the malaise that accompanies shorter days and lower temperatures is fully in effect.

The purists might say that it is still Autumn, Winter doesn’t start until December 21, etc. But we know it in our bones: Winter Isn’t Coming. Winter Is Here. November is no more Autumn than March is Winter.

Even our local homeless population are now all holding signs asking for money for bus tickets to Houston. Winter is no fun.

Winter: Obesity’s Secret Weapon

The big secret about Winter and physical fitness? They don’t go together.

Winter brings us our most celebrated gluttonous holidays, all within a 90-day span. Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Super Bowl are always used as excuses for over-eating. (And over-drinking, in the case of the SB.) At the same time, there is no useful offset to balance these binge-eating, diet-destroying occasions. Who eats two pounds of mashed potatoes and half a pecan pie then goes out and runs a few miles to work it off?

No one, that’s who.

Winter conspires against us, I tell you. Colder temperatures mean lower energy levels. Darker days mean a sense of malaise – energy-sucking black holes that park us on the couch huddled in a blanket binge-watching Stranger Things rather than doing anything active. And short days mean that we don’t have any time to go do anything anyway, even if we were so inclined.

So, we sit on the couch. We drink beer. Every once in a while we look out the window and shiver, then turn up the thermostat. And we shake our heads at those lycra-clad crazy people jogging or riding through our neighborhoods. Who the heck works out during this time of year?

Everyone who doesn’t want to arrive at March and burst into tears when nothing but sweats fit anymore, that’s who.

Turning The Volume Up (When The Thermometer Goes Down)

I will not go all Richard Simmons on you and proclaim that keeping fit during the winter is “fun.” It isn’t. You are fighting against your depressed metabolism, your body’s desire to conserve energy via fat storage (hibernation), and your own desire to stay warm.

So, when getting to the gym just seems like too much to bear, here are a few other things you can try.

YouTube: Did you know there are a TON of useful exercise resources on YouTube? There are weight-lifting routines. Body-weight resistance plans. Yoga and Aerobics and Tai-Chi galore. Many folks get worried about the expertise of those on YouTube, but the easiest way to locate something reputable is to dig into your favorite health/fitness magazine, find some articles that you like, then go looking for the author’s YouTube channel. That’s how I located B.J. Gaddour’s StreamFitTV, for example. If you can’t bear to leave the house, bring the gym to your living room.

AceFitness: Yes, I am an Ace Fitness Personal Trainer, and I am biased. But you can actually gain a ton of exercise advice (including demonstrations) for free from the Ace Fitness Exercise library. Need to learn how to do a plank? Check it out here. Need to tackle body-weight squats? Visit this page. Oh, have zero equipment in your house or apartment and want to use that as an excuse? Nope: ACE Fitness has 100+ exercises you can do without a single resistance band or dumbell.

The Step: Some of us are lucky enough to live in homes with stairs: multi-story homes, apartment buildings, etc. If you do, you can do a great aerobic routine just by doing stair interval training. However, if you don’t have a staircase handy, there is a secret weapon I will share with you: The simple aerobic step. Though pricing can go all the way up to well over $100, there are plenty available for less than the cost of a single month’s gym membership. (Here’s one for around $30, for example.) Park your step in front of your television. Step up and down for the duration of your favorite home remodeling show. Or travel show. Or reality show. You get the idea.

(Food Network not recommended.)

Dodging The Ice-Cold Missiles

Of course, lack of physical activity isn’t the only danger that accompanies wintertime. Illness and binge-eating tend to skyrocket over the turn of the year. What can we do to fight back?

Staying healthy during winter can be a major challenge. Every sniffle, cough, and sneeze brings instant paranoia about what malady might be invading. (Well, it makes ME paranoid at least.) During winter it is so important to take some common sense steps. Up your vitamin intake. Get a flu shot. Stay hydrated. Losing days or weeks of activity to illness will wreck your fitness just as surely as overdoing it at Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving. Do everything you can to fight off microbial invaders. Be especially diligent at work – your unhealthy co-workers will be more than happy to contaminate you with their illnesses. I am a big believer in mega-doses of hand sanitizer while in places that are being regularly contacted by less diligent human beings.

Avoiding binge eating can be a trial to any of us. All the best stuff gets trotted out over the holidays, and it seems impossible to not try everything! But, rather than looking around a kitchen in despair at all the stuff you shouldn’t eat, make sure that you have come prepared with something that is diet friendly. Bring your own lean protein, or vegetable platter, or salad. That way, if nothing else works, you have something to fall back on. Fill your plate with your healthy selection, then try a few small bites of the items you can’t resist.

For example, I am especially bad about “sampling” desserts. So, Lor started preparing protein-filled cupcakes she calls protein brownie bites that we now take everywhere where there are likely to be tempting sugar-bomb desserts.

And, wouldn’t you know it, they are so popular that they now get requested at every single get-together we attend. Who says healthy can’t taste good? (As an aside I highly recommend The Big Man’s World for recipes – I literally have yet to find a recipe there that I didn’t like.)

The Coldness of the Mind

Lastly, and most importantly, during the winter months, depression and suicide attempts drastically increase. Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) can be a more serious problem than any amount of binge-eating or couch-planting. The disorder isn’t very well understood, but a few things can help to keep it at bay.

First, try to stay plugged in. Our natural tendency during winter is to “turtle” – to stay in our homes, huddled around ourselves. Instead, do your best to get plugged into some social circle – anything that will keep you in contact with other people. A bible study, a knitting circle, a weekly role-playing game: just about anything that keeps you interacting with humanity is a great way to keep these feelings of isolation at bay.

Secondly, stay physically active. We all know that exercise increases brain function and releases “feel-good” hormones into the bloodstream. If you can’t make it to the gym or Crossfit, at least try one of the ideas above.

Lastly, if you aren’t getting better – get help. Talk to a family member, a friend, a pastor, a counselor – let SOMEONE know what you are going through. The worst thing you can do is to assume that no one else understands how you feel. Trust me – I also struggle with depression and know first-hand how isolating it feels. But you have TONS of value, even if you can’t see it right now. Someone else can help remind you.

Turn Your Attention To 2018!

Let’s all help one another get through to next year! Do your best to stay true to yourself, keep the blood flowing, and know that, eventually, this too shall thaw.

Spring Is Coming,

Jeremy

The 3-Letter Word

The word we will be addressing today is a versatile one. It is used on playgrounds and in comedy clubs to get an immediate emotional reaction, whether laughter or tears. Dieticians and nutritionists argue its value or worthlessness. It is further broken down into “good” and “bad” versions.  Its presence is lauded in certain cuts of meat and denigrated in the human form.
The word I am referring to, of course, is “fat”.
So, what the heck IS fat, anyway? I mean, like, scientifically?
Despite what many trainers and late-night infomercials would like you to believe, fat is NOT actually a poison, out to wreck your health and your life. It is actually one of the three “macronutrients” that your body needs to survive (the other two being carbohydrates and protein.) Did you follow that? Needs to survive. Your body is specifically designed to run on a fuel mixture that includes fat.
So, why no love for fat as a concept, then? Mainly because of what fat is designed to do – act as an alternative energy source for our bodies during periods where we can’t get enough carbs or protein. When we were wandering from place to place looking for our next meal of carrion and berries or whatever, this was a good thing – the body’s fat reserves kept us going until we found our next source of balanced nutrition.
Nowadays, the nearest source of nutrition is the refrigerator. But no one has told the regulator in our brains that we probably don’t need to be storing quite as much fat to make it between meals. Add that to our tendency to overeat and under-exercise, and you have our sudden upswing in obesity, heart problems, high blood pressure, and the like.
Not to mention “fat kid” jokes.
The use of the term “fat” as an insult has reached epic proportions these days. Even I tend to use it on these pages in a negative manner, usually referring to myself. But, the fact of the matter is, the body is doing what is was designed to do: store fuel for use later, as an alternative power source. The fact that our society has turned “rail-thin” into the only desirable body standard means that our biological processes are working against our self-image. It is an ugly, ugly situation.
So, what can we do? Start calling things by their proper names, to start with. “Fat” is not a description – it is a nutrient. Obesity, the storage of unhealthy amounts of fat on the human body, is a medical condition, not a source of material for your stand-up routine. Try making fun of people with breast cancer or stroke victims and see how well that does with your target audience. Obesity is the same thing – an illness, a malfunctioning of the body’s natural processes.
For my part, I will endeavor to do the same thing – stop using the term “fat” to refer to myself or my condition. Change begins with ourselves, right? For everyone else, do what you can to set the record straight. Encourage those you know who are suffering from obesity to get help. Refuse to engage in banter abut the personal appearance of others. Teach your children that “fat” is not something that others should be shamed for. We should all do what we can, to convert the 3-letter word back to its appropriate usage, and away from the misleading and abusive form that is has taken. Only when we can take control of the concept again can we begin to re-define the issue.
Self-Correcting Behavior Is Hard,
– Hawkwind

Leaving the Tribe

I spent some time over the last couple days looking at the Obesity Action Coalition, and listening to podcasts by a couple of their members. Something, I am not sure what, set off the “advocacy” switch in my brain recently. So, just like I did with the Epilepsy Foundation, I am wanting to get myself plugged into the larger world of community and political activity around another issue I am personally invested in.

Here’s the thing, though: I feel kind of weird getting involved with the OAC, or any other obesity advocacy group right now. Why? Because I am getting ready to have a surgical procedure to begin correcting the condition in a few short weeks. It is as if I was joining La Raza right before I had a DNA procedure that rendered me 100% Anglo. At best I would be a concerned an outsider, no longer a real part of the group. I feel like I am about to lose my “tribal” status.

Who Am I, Really?

It is hard to describe the importance of self-identification that comes along with a disability like Epilepsy or Obesity.  In many ways, the condition is larger than the person you are. I am not a veteran but I have heard vets talk about how “if you weren’t there, you don’t understand.” That is exactly how I feel about the conditions I have been fighting for most of my adult life. There is only a small group of people who really get it.

Many others may be concerned about it, but they won’t ever understand what it is like to be a part of the “outsider nation”. They won’t understand the constant efforts (and failures) to gain control of your health. Outsiders haven’t experienced what it is like trying to get help through our fractured medical system. They have never been laughed at or shunned for being different the way we have. It is almost a reverse form of class elitism, looking up from the very bottom rungs of society.

But, if you haven’t been through it, you don’t understand.

The crux of my problem is this: I will always self-identify as a person with Epilepsy (or as “an Epileptic”, on bad days.) There is no cure for it. No process exists to remove Epilepsy or place it into remission. Even if I should ever enjoy 100% seizure control, it will be through surgical implants, daily applications of mind-numbing drugs, and constant vigilance – not because I wake up one day and have been cured. I will remain a part of this tribe forever – advising newcomers and their families, staying on top of news about developments and potential treatments, driving my elected representatives crazy by staying plugged into the politics around research and treatment.

On The Outside Looking In

What happens, then, when I take the “off-ramp” from obesity via bariatric surgery and the lifestyle changes that accompany it? Am I still suffering from the condition? Am I moved over into a “Veterans” or “Survivors” group – still having something relevant to add to the community? Or am I simply now someone who was a part of the community, but left? Have I joined the ranks of those who don’t understand what it is to be Obese?

There is nothing wrong with being active as an advocate for a group you are not a part of. It is an important part of education and empowerment for those whose voices are not being heard. But it still feels to me, right now, that I am going to become external to the experience. American skinny culture, fat shaming, and bullying of obese kids are no longer going to be my issues. Instead, they will be the issues of a group I happen to care about. I will be standing with a group, but I will no longer be a part of it.

One of the first things a good doctor will tell you after your diagnosis of a disability is some version of “Don’t let your illness define you.” It may not be my definition, but it most certainly has shaped my community. And I feel very strange about potentially leaving the community I have been a part of for 25 years.

Wondering If I Have To Surrender My Tribal Membership,

– Hawkwind

Seeking: One Fat Hero

Photo Credit: Tolagunestro via Compfight cc

In the time when I am not gaming, creating blog articles, or reading, I write fiction. Like, quite a bit. Since being fitted with a C-PAP a couple years back I tend to have incredibly vivid dreams, and the last ones before I get up in the morning always seem to involve the same set of characters. So, I have created a mythology of sorts around these characters, and write little vignettes involving them. But, after I woke up and wrote down my notes this morning, it struck me – there are no overweight characters in these stories.

For that matter, I am hard pressed to think of overweight central characters in any story I have read, and I read a lot. I can think of fat and jovial innkeepers, large menacing bikers, and a bunch of lazy and obese programmers – but not a single overweight hero. It is as if the burden of carrying the story forward is so great that it acts like a constant cardio workout for these people, ensuring that they stay slim (or, in some cases, muscular.)

Even the oversized secondary characters in most stories aren’t treated well. They are frequently used as a kind of comic relief – a mental visual gag if you will: Let’s all laugh at the fatso as he tries to run away from danger. (Example: Any “slasher” horror film ever made.) Other times heavy individuals are used as more sinister characters: the overweight person is too lazy to achieve his goals as normal folks do, so uses treachery instead – the mercenary programmer from Jurassic Park is an excellent example. Very rarely, obesity is treated as a threatening quality – the previously mentioned “huge biker” would qualify. The original “Kingpin” character from Marvel comics comes to mind in this category. (Though a fine actor, Vincent D’Onofrio can hardly be described as obese, so his depiction of the Kingpin does not qualify here.)

In a sense, I get it. When we experience stories, especially when we read, we want to idealize the characters. We want to take their positive characteristics and find them reflecting off the fractal planes and edges of our own lives, hoping to recognize something “heroic” in ourselves. We do not necessarily want to see that which we don’t like about ourselves highlighted in our entertainment. But seriously – in the “real world” of the United States more than half of us are overweight. Why don’t the demographics of our entertainment reflect that?

More to the point, why don’t my demographics hold up? Why are my stories filled with active, muscular men and size 6 women? In real life I like large women – I do not prefer the body style that “looks like a teenage boy with plums in his shirt pockets.” (Spider Robinson) So, why am I not creating these characters? What flaw lies in me, and apparently in other authors, that does not allow for the creation of more realistic body types?

I am still troubled by this, and still don’t have an answer yet. But, the next time I sit down to write, I know I will be aware of my previous failures here, and hopefully can begin to correct them. Maybe spotting this weakness now, before any of my fiction is ever published, is the best outcome I could have hoped for.

Still Angry At My Subconscious,

– Hawkwind

PS – Just thought of an obese central character: Don Corleone, from The Godfather. But he isn’t exactly heroic, is he?