Showing posts with label Project Happy Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Project Happy Life. Show all posts

Friday, February 28, 2014

What I Learned on The Clean Program

Although I don't anticipate it being the main focus of this blog (or our lives), I wrote about my health history and my addiction to sugar  in previous posts because I wanted to provide some context for what we've been doing lately.  But I have one last bit of back story to give you before you're all caught up.

For years, I've had a problem with my hands and forearms going numb - usually early in the morning while I sleep.  There's the normal thing that happens to everyone: when you sit on your foot for too long, it falls asleep and you have to shake it out and go through that pins-and-needles feeling to get it to come back.  And then there's this thing that happens to me: I'm sleeping in bed in no particular position - often flat on my back, but it could also be on my side, and my hand goes numb.  When it's really bad, I can also get nerve pain (which feels like pressure, burning, and freezing simultaneously), and the only way to make the pain stop and the numbness to go away is to sit or stand up and let my arm dangle by my side.  This leads to a fair amount of sleep deprivation, which leads to crazy.  The problem gets worse when I'm working on projects that require a lot of upper body work (like woodworking, one of my favorite things to do in the world), and the problem subsides during periods when I'm doing less upper body work.

So I've gone to doctors.  I think there's been 5 or 6 of them, and a couple of physical therapists, and 3 chiropractors.  I got x-ray'ed and zapped with things to make my nerves fire and given stretches and exercises.  I learned a lot, including that I have a herniated disc in my neck, and that there's one particular way a chiropractor can crack my neck that makes my hands feel like they light up with electricity.  I found out my condition is called neuropathy.  But nothing made the problem go away completely or long-term.

Then, in late December, 2012, my mother got sick, and I spent 3 weeks taking care of her in the hospital in Grand Rapids, where there is very little healthy food to be found (it's a high-carb sort of world out there).  By the time I got home, I was feeling pretty crummy, and my friend Bernadette recommended I try The Clean Program, the instructions to which Dr. Oz had put up for free on his web site.  I think it has been taken down now, so if you're interested to find out more, this link points to the FAQ on The Clean Program's community forum.  If you dig around, you can find everything you need to know to try it without buying anything.  There's probably nothing wrong with them, but those kits and things people sell always smell like quackery to me.  

Cindy is a dream, so she was all for trying the month-long cleanse together.  If you don't know, The Clean Program (as we did it) is basically just a short-term restricted diet on which you cannot have things like sugar, anything in the nightshade family (such as tomatoes and peppers), peanuts, strawberries, bread, dairy, and the big one for Cindy: caffeine.  She complained about it her lack of coffee the whole time, which I mostly thought was hilarious.  (Perhaps my disinterest in caffeine comes from my Mormon genes; I've never really cared much about it, personally.) 

During the second half of the cleanse, I noticed that I was not having any nerve pain symptoms anymore.  They have gone away for periods before in the past, so I didn't think much of it.  But when it came time to reintroduce the foods we had eliminated, I remained completely fine until the night I had dessert with dinner for the first time in a month.  Early the next morning, the numbness was back!

Well, that was pretty much a revelation, peppered with a dash of torture.  And reading up on neuropathy a little bit shows me that there's a known link between numbness and diabetes.  To me, that spells validation!  I don't have diabetes, but I very easily could (It's very prevalent on my Mormon side).  And I DO have a sugar addiction, with a long history of putting way too much of it in my body.  So now I get to choose between feeling pain and eating sugar. 

By the way, when I say "sugar", I'm talking about bread-type-stuff in addition to sweets.  Hm.  Perhaps I should have mentioned that sooner...

It has been a year since we did The Clean Program.  Addiction thinking is slithering and persistent, like a snake.  I sometimes find myself negotiating with my addiction and pushing the envelope.  My sugar tolerance has gotten better since I've drastically decreased the amount of it that I'm eating.  Now-a-days, the numbness will come after a couple of days with bites of candy and dessert after meals (such as during our Valentine's weekend trip to Virginia a couple of weeks ago).  I often don't stick to terribly rigid rules and eliminate sugar completely.  But then, sometimes I do.  Last night, I had a dark chocolate peanut butter cup after dinner.  It was too sweet and made me feel a little jittery.  So maybe I will just avoid the stuff entirely.  I don't know... I just want to stay healthy and pain free without having to fuss.

And in case you're wondering how things turned out with my mom, here she is on the day after I brought her home from 3 weeks in the hospital and 2 weeks in recovery at a dear friend's house.  She's getting ready to do her favorite thing to hate: clear snow off her 200 yard driveway with the tractor.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

PHL Working and Playing

This week, Cindy and I had a Project Happy Life meeting on the subjects of working and playing.  We've had quite a few PHL Meetings so far, but it's time to turn discussion into action for a number of our topics.  So we made a list of "Action Sessions" we'd like to do together and separately.  They are:

  • Vet our wardrobes
  • Set up Long Term Care Insurance with Joel
  • Prepare our taxes
  • Set up ebay sales for the stuff we want to get rid of
  • go through all the stuff that's stored in the basement and get rid of what we don't need
  • thoroughly clean and re-arrange the kitchen
  • put up Cindy's makeup mirror (I'm holding this one up - I want to buy a specific type)
  • Buy a new set of towels (our belated wedding gift to ourselves)
  • get some wedge shaped cushions for the day bed (which we use as a couch)
  • go through and merge our book collections.  Let go of what we don't need.

We also want to make time to play together.  So we listed a few of the things we could think of:
  • Snowball fights
  • Run sprints and play tag in the snow at the park
  • When the weather is nicer, play tennis together
  • Have more beach days this summer
  • Cindy would like me to take another Bikram Yoga class with her.  It's one of her favorite things, and I love sharing it with her... occasionally.
  • Have more backgammon tournaments!
Since I haven't really talked about it much yet, I thought I would write a little bit about our system.  Cindy and I are sitting down together and having Project Happy Life meetings once or twice per week.  When one of us wants to have a meeting, we simply let the other one know.  Often, we have them over tea and coffee in the morning or in the evening over dinner.  Sometimes we schedule them days in advance, and sometimes we decide to have one on the spot.  The main thing is to make sure we have plenty of time so our discussions can go where they want to.

Our next step is to make a date.  Maybe it'll be a kitchen cleaning date.  Or maybe it'll be a snowball fight date (she usually starts them, and I usually finish them, by the way).  We're just making all of this up as we go along.  It's nice to stay focused on our lives together, rather than to get too carried away in all the day-to-day details that never end up mattering in the long run.

Kadima War!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Me and My Sugar (Addiction)

One of the main aspects of our Project Happy Life is Health and Well Being.  As I said in my post about my health history, I stepped back from the brink of becoming truly fat by having the shit scared out of me and finding myself trying the Zone Diet at the recommendation of a nutritionist.  But with everything diet-related, it's complicated.  And it's as much a mental game as it is a physical game.

I was a (doughy) teenager in the 1980's.  We thought back then that if something was "low fat", it was our key to keeping our weight down.  But we were gaining weight, so then we thought we just weren't doing the "low fat thing" well enough.  We thought we were weak when it came to eating the right foods, so we started trying to help ourselves by working out - aerobics, running, jazzercise...  People bought leotards and track suits.  We were determined, but we were misinformed.

Around 2002, while I was reading my copy of A Week in the Zone and trying to decide whether it was right for me, I thought a lot about commitment. . .

I once worked with a director, named Elaine Vaan Hogue, who gave a speech to the cast on the first day of rehearsals about commitment.  She acknowledged that as much as they wanted to be working actors, and as much as they wanted to be in that show (I think it might have been The Crucible), there is still a process of commitment we go through when we begin a project.  She said some of them might already find themselves fully committed.  Some of them might be experiencing full commitment at that moment - while she was talking, and for some of them, it might not happen until well into the run of the production.  She asked each cast member to choose a small, inexpensive item, and to present it to another member of the company on the day they finally felt they had committed.

That idea has stayed with me.  Before she said that, it had never occurred to me that a person could undertake something without being committed first.  Here was something new!  We can decide to do things with the full force of our abilities, but allow our commitment to come - in it's own good time.

The Zone Diet (my first actual diet regime beyond the smattering of diet-related thoughts that sifted out of 1980's TV commercials and talk shows) talks a lot about insulin and sugar.  It sounds obvious to me now, more than 10 years later, but at the time, my mind was blown!

Here's a typical day's worth of eating when I was a latch-key kid in middle school:
Breakfast - Fruit Loops, Sugar Smacks, or Apple Jacks with non-fat milk.
On the way to school - Hostess fruit pie or double pack of cinnamon rolls (my mother didn't know about this habit of mine)
Lunch - Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, small bag of chips, and a Twinkie or other Hostess dessert.
After School Snack - Another Twinkie (or other Hostess dessert), and/or spoon-fulls of peanut butter with chocolate chips mixed in, and/or hunks of pepperoni that I would cook until crispy in the oven, and/or flour tortillas with a stripe of peanut butter across them and rolled into burritos.
Dinner - Lowry's Seasonings Tacos, pizza (from Organ Stop Pizza - my favorite), or something from the barbecue.  I also loved hamburgers and french fries.  Mine was a single, working mother, so dinners had to be simple.

(Bear in mind that my mother was doing the best she could with what she had, and I turned out alright.  Also, I know I ate fruit and vegetables; I loved fruit especially.  I just can't remember eating them daily.)

Insulin and sugar!  I essentially spent my middle school years going from one sugar high to the next, and then I did the same in high school, but added a nice, sticky layer of guilt and weight gain on top.

So what Dr. Barry Sears was saying in The Zone Diet made sense to me: I needed to control my insulin levels by avoiding sugar and foods that turned into sugar once inside my body.  To do that, you spend a few days completely eliminating from your diet sweets, breads and pastas, etc. (which you can re-add later in moderation - or maybe I just made that part up).  And you eat a balance of 30 grams of carbohydrates, 20 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fat for three regular meals per day, and two small snacks.  Choose your food from a list of Zone "approved" protein, fat, and low-carb fruits and vegetables, and voila!  Magic weight loss.

This was unimaginable to me.  Okay, give up sugar, but GIVE UP BREAD?!

And yet, the reasoning made sense - to control your weight, you had to control your insulin levels.  I was without a better alternative...

I decided to try it.  For a week.  A week is finite.  A week let's you keep one foot out the door.

It took three days before I stopped thinking about bread and carbs all of the time.  But they weren't just casual thoughts like, "Oh, isn't bread nice?  I like bread."  No, my thoughts were more subversive.  They slithered into my mind like a snake.  "Oh!  Look!  Someone left this pita here... it would be a shame to see it go to waste."  Or, "You're an adult.  You're not beholden to anyone.  If you want to eat those M&M's, you can.  They're small.  It doesn't matter."  My thoughts tried to charm me away from my plans like a siren.

And then it occurred to me that I had a sugar addiction, and those thoughts - those insidious voices - were my addiction talking to me.  But my addiction was not me.  There could be a separation, a space between my addiction and my self.  My decisions could be my own.

It was in that moment I felt myself commit.

As I said in my previous post, one week turned into three weeks, which turned into three months, which turned into indefinitely.  I watched my body change, and I watched my addiction thinking come and go.  And come.  And go. . .  I began to feel less desperate about it.  I felt more accepting.

At my first wedding (in 2003), I was surrounded by food.  It was the Maine blueberry pie that un-did me.  That, and the fact that my then-wife had abandoned her own attempts with The Zone Diet.  I no longer had an in-house comrade and mirror.  She had a rebellious streak, and allowing herself to eat anything she wanted was like a big fuck-you to the diet industry, which she felt had raised her hopes and dashed them again her whole life.  I was angry about the abundance of pies and sugary food around me, and I secretly blamed her for her lack of support when I saw that my sugar addiction had come back.

With time, I grew to see that I could decide when to go through my withdrawals again and get things back under control.  It wasn't up to anyone else to facilitate my choices or to help me stick to them.  I stopped being angry, and I began to accept that this was the nature of my addiction.  Each time I let myself rekindle it, I knew I could also leave it by the wayside again.  All I needed was to truly commit.  "Forever" didn't matter.  "Now" mattered.

Yesterday morning, I read a thing by Russel Brand about addiction.  Death by sugar addiction won't come as quickly as it might for drug addicts, but a lot of the thinking we experience is just the same.

For me, knowing that I have an addiction to sugar, and allowing space for my relationship with sugar and my diet to change and grow (or fall backwards a bit) over time, makes all the difference along the way.  I haven't got it all worked out yet, but I'm making progress, and in a future post, I want to share some thoughts about the paleo diet and The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson.

Before I end for the day, I do want to say that one of the main things that makes all the difference for me is Cindy.  Cindy is one of those rare souls who loves working out.  She loves to move her body as much as I love to make things with my hands.  It is a source of her sanity, and it is inspiring for me to see.  And Cindy is game to try things (like The Clean Program cleanse we did last year), and having her to support and to be supported by is a gift and a joy.

Try and find yourself a Cindy.  You should.  But you can't have mine.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Check out the new Roof Railing Project Page!

If you've spoken to Cindy or me at any time over the past two years, you're likely to have gotten an update about our green roof project.  It's one of my three favorite things, and I get pretty worked up about it.  A big part of Project Happy Life for me is working with my hands and fixing up this house.  The things that I make are also a big part of my education and self expression.  The green roof railing project was a huge undertaking, and I hope you enjoy reading about how it came together.

Click here to have a look.  Or you can click on the page link on the left hand side of this web site.

If you're not into that sort of thing, here's a picture of Cindy trespassing in Hawaii:

Friday, January 31, 2014

PHL Master Categories

When Cindy and I first sat down to talk about Project Happy Life, we established a couple of things.  One, Cindy would be the scribe.  I make my living as a stage manager, so I don't want to take notes any more than I have to.  Besides, Cindy is a fountain of enthusiasm and took to the task willingly.

From Cindy's first page of notes
Second, we figured out three main areas of our lives (as a couple and as individuals) that we wanted to focus on.  They are:

Health and Wellbeing (including nutrition, exercise, appearance and wardrobe, education, and edification)

Profession/Careers (including our current day jobs - mine in theatre and Cindy's as a tour guide, as well as other possibilities for work - acting, woodworking, design, environmental stuff, writing, teaching, and possibly coloring (more on that last one some other time)).

Home/Life (including the basement workshop, our plants (inside and out), our cats (Melvin and Jane), the upstairs rental, restoring/updating our house, home decoration/use-of-space, landscaping (front yard, back yard, the roof - more on that another time too), surfing, gardening/farming, cooking, playing games and sports, our spiritual practice, friends and family, movies and books, life long learning, finances, and travel)

Since that first meeting, we've been setting aside time and going through our sub categories as the mood strikes us.  We have meetings to talk about them or work sessions to address them.  And, I must say, it's been fantastic to have a little project to do together.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Skinny

A few months ago, I was sitting in my office, and I thought, "If we don't get strategic about our lives, we're going to be stuck in the same positions doing the same things forever."  So, I called up my wife, Cindy, and told her about my vision.  I wanted to have a series of meetings and work sessions with her to discuss all the aspects of our lives as individuals and as a couple that we could think of, and I wanted to make specific plans for each of those areas.  At the very least, we would know what each other wants.  At best, we would achieve what we want.  And along the way, we would deepen our connection and give ourselves a new way to look at our lives.  We call it Project Happy Life.

This is the place for us to document our Project Happy Life work and discussions.  Next time, I'll start going into detail about what exactly Project Happy Life entails.

Until then, this is what Cindy looks like when she sleeps in: