Saturday, January 24, 2015

RIP Steve Wilkinson

This was a tough week for me.  Many past thoughts went though my head.  At times I believe everyone wonders if they are a good human as I have had many doubts.  Much of my life, and others, are filled with mentors who help shape who we are and how we live life.

In this blog I had written about the only mentor I had in my life until I was in my teens.  That was my grandfather.  In my high school years, I had Mr. Gary Clark and Mr. Larry Anderson.  They were two people who influenced me to take life seriously.  I often wonder without them, would I be where I am today or in jail.

Until I had a son, I thought, well, naturally I wanted to raise him to have a full emotional yet stable life. Then I tried to and I discovered that there's a big difference between believing a boy should show his feelings freely and actually having a boy who does.  I was fortunate in 1984 to attend a tennis camp.  It was called Tennis and Life camp.  While I never forgot the lessons from that camp, I never really implemented them in my own life. 

Raising a child is difficult and because of my emotional faults, I was a single father.  I decided that my son needed to have good role models.  He already had a very wise lawyer as a grandfather who was instrumental in raising a fine young man.  The other was Steve Wilkinson.  He was the originator of the fermented tennis camp.  I decided it was best my son attended the camp. 

Because of my son’s perceived handicap, Steve really took my son under his wing.  He emphasized the importance of the three crowns in tennis and in life. 

The first crown symbolizes that you have the choice to be positive, no matter what the situation. You should focus on the things that are in your control, and let go of the things that are not in your control. Such as when you compete, whether you win or not isn’t in your control, just as your final grade isn’t in your control—what you can have control over is your attitude.

The second crown is commitment to give your full effort. Don’t just blow off a course, but give it your all—regardless of the grade you will receive, the comments you may receive or regretful feeling as we live our lives.

The third crown is good sportsmanship—we are always looking to find ways to affirm that. That’s why I teach sports ethics. It combines my interest in religion with sports—a meaningful combination.

So I truly believe my son had three fathers.  Besides the biological father, me, he had his grandfather and Steve Wilkinson.  Steve dies this past week.  That resulted in a hole in many hearts, including mine and I ma sure my son’s.

If the readers of this post do not know the man, I suggest you read the memoir he was able to publish before he passed.  It is called “let love serve” and I really suggest you read it.  It will give a full understanding of what it means to live life fully. 

We will be going to this funeral next week, and I for one will have a difficult time.  I anticipate my son will as well.  When you lose such a hero, it is difficult.  Although now more than anytime in my life, it is important to recall the lessons Steve taught me 30 years ago and this time, implement them.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

More thoughts

I recently read an article from Steve Cole, Professor of Medicine and Behavioral Sciences at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) about how chronic stress, poverty, loneliness, and fear endemic in crime can alter gene activity and contribute to disease.  He examined how psychological experiences influence immune systems and human health. He is mapping the biological pathways through which social conditions change the expression of traits or tendencies encoded in genetic material.

This was impacting on me as I analyze 40 years of my life.  (Only 40 years as being 52, I not sure there were issues before the teen years).  Recollecting times when my father was fired from his job and we were concerned about paying for the necessities in life.  At age 13, I lied my age and was hired at a dishwasher to help fund the family needs.  There was significant stress balancing school and work while writing about the family.  I gained weight and my health deteriorated. 

When I was 16 years old, the family financially saturation was strong and I had few, if any worries.  I had learned how to manipulate my father’s emotions so he no longer beat my mother.  He no longer would beat my sister either.  I had grown to have a lock tight memory and insure everything was just as the controlling asshole wanted.  This created harmony thereby reducing stress and fear.  I naturally became physically fit and had little or no health issues.

The harmony was destroyed when I was 20 years old.  My sister dated an African American.  My father went ballistic and in return, my sister and I essentially were cast aside and blacklisted in the family.  Me for supporting her relationship and she for the relationship.  That led to significant weight gain and health issues. 

By then I was 23, I was content without any family, other than my sister.  I had lost all the weight, played Division II tennis and ran a 35-minute 10 K.  Life seems solid and I had little worries or stress.

Then I graduated and went out into the cruel world.  It was hard to find a job, even with the degree.  I got married, moved several times and now had the stress, fear and worry of a husband and a father.  

Without going on and on about the last three times I just lost weight and became healthy since then, all are clearly times when I had little or no stress or fear in my life.

So the study impacted me in a way I never anticipated.  I really need to learn to reduce stress, fear and anxiety.  I am not sure that is learned, but any ideas of books, techniques or other information you would suggest?

One thing for sure, LIFE A JOURNEY.  For some short, like my nephew Aaron Swanson who died at three years old.  Other it is a long journey, like my grandfather who died just short of 100.  Right now I am between them.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The power of positive thinking

How many times have you heard that phrase? I once believe that to be the most important part of life, including being healthy.  It’s become part of common vernacular now that it’s almost meaningless. I would argue we all agree positive thinking is good. I find it so hard to say “Hey, I like me. My life is cool. Things are going great.”

But what about when things are crappy? What about those days when I get so stressed the veins pop out of your forehead? What about those times when I hate my job? What about the days when I feel sucker-punched by a series of unfortunate?

I’ve met people who remain perky during really bad times. In all honesty, they make me want to slap them around a bit. That Pollyanna, “life is still beautiful” attitude when things are falling apart just yanks my chain.  Although, I fully understand positive thinking really does change your brain in a real physical way.

This science is referred to as neuroplasticity. It means that our thoughts can change the structure and function of our brains. The idea was first introduced by William James in 1890, but it was soundly rejected by scientists who uniformly believed the brain is rigidly mapped out, with certain parts of the brain controlling certain functions. If that part is dead or damaged, the function is altered or lost. Well, it appears they were wrong. Neuroplasticity now enjoys wide acceptance as scientists are proving the brain is endlessly adaptable and dynamic.

The brain, well a human, has the power to change its own structure, even for those with the severe neurological afflictions. People with problems like strokes, cerebral palsy, and mental illness can train other areas of their brains through repetitive mental and physical activities. It is completely life-altering.  So what does this have to do with positive thinking and with me?

It means that repetitive positive thought and positive activity can rewire my brain and strengthen brain areas that stimulate positive feelings.  I am reading the widely-acclaimed book, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, Norman Doidge.  He states plainly the brain has the capacity to rewire itself and/or form new neural pathways — if we do the work. Just like exercise, the work requires repetition and activity to reinforce new learning.  I read some actions I can take to change your own brain during the bad times.

One thing is to quit fearing failure.  I often fear doing something new because we don’t wait to fail. I never felt this was until the past few years.  I must force myself to stop thinking about reasons I can’t do something, even if I don’t feel brave or capable. Every time a negative thought creeps in, I must retrain my brain to think a positive thought about my abilities.

I often find myself trapped in obsessive over-thinking about a problem or in a state of anxiety or worry that lasts weeks or months? It drains my energy, affects my sleep, and spirals my mood and outlook on life. Focusing on my problem should strengthen the worry function in my brain. When I find yourself in that cycle of worry or compulsive thinking, remember the three R’s — rename, re-frame, and redirect. Rename the issue by reminding myself that worry isn’t real. Rename it as a compulsive reaction, not reality. Re-frame my thinking by focusing on positive or distracting thoughts, even if I still feel anxious.

I know some people accuse me feeling blue or out-of-sorts, and it’s just a temporary fog that settles in and lifts after a few days. Some mood disorders, like depression or serious anxieties that morph into phobias, can be debilitating and unrelenting.  I have considered cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).  I mean there are many symptoms that would support CBT.  They include:

                Loss of senses — vision, balance and hearing
                The aging brain and memory
                Issues related to love and sex
                Chronic pain
                Obsessive compulsive disorder

So what I must do is focus proper metal energy and stop beating myself up.  I hope I truly understand the concept and I can overcome some of the issues discussed.  I time will tell.  I know one of the favorite motivation packages I ever used was Dennis Waitley’s Psychology of winning.  In fact, time to dust this off and try to improve the brain and its destructive behaviours.

This will be important as it looks like I will have surgery in early February.  The old body is not in good shape and that needs to change.  I wanted to do it without any surgical options, but looks like there are no options outside of the knife?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015 is here...

I know regular exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle and sound weight-loss program. It also relievs stress and increases productivity.  Most experts suggest 60 minutes of exercise each day for optimal health. While exercise is a good thing, taking exercise to the extreme can cause serious health issues, even death.

I am at a time when I struggle to find just 20 minutes a day to dedicate to working out.  It may be hard to believe that at one point I placed exercise at the center of my life. Even was compelled to exercise above and beyond normal levels, often in a desperate attempt to burn every calorie I consumed.  Is this a reason for my heart issues?

I often wonder if my compulsive exercise periods in my life is what is required for my body to manage my weight. Even when I ran a 4-hour marathon, a doctor told me I was obese at 230 pounds.  He said I was 35-40 pounds overweight.  This was a blow to the self-esteem.  I worked so hard and felt great yet the physician still labeled me as obese.

I never reached a level of exercise bulimia, the use of excessive exercise to purge or compensate for binges or simply regular eating.  Instead, I still recall that date I kind-of “gave up” based on the physicians few words.  Now I am 70 pounds heavier and not happy!

I am trying to get back on track.  I recently purchased IHealth scale and have prepared to get back to 230 and will be content being obese.  I hope I succeed as I felt better, death with stress better and enjoyed life.  This time I will not let the Doctor, who is a real prick, blow my self-esteem when he calls me obese.

I also need to get life and work balance under control.  In 2012 I was over 70 hours a week average working.  In 2013 I took that down to 63 hours.  For 2014, I have an average workweek of 59.3 hours.  Of course this is my actual work hour divided by 52 weeks.  It includes my two weeks off for theBike ride, my Vermont trip and the time off for my son’s surgery.  I am most likely over 63 hours a week.  On think I ma trying to do is limit myself to 10 hour days and work fewer weekends.  For those who may think, great, overtime pay.  No, that is not the case for me.  In real terms, I make about the same hourly rate as the administrative assistant. 

So I need to take action on both issues.  I also need to take care as I have ticker issues.  I am trying to avoid surgery and that is going to be difficult.  Here we go!

As a end, I still work on photography improvement.  Here are some examples once again:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mitral, aorta and bears, oh my.

On November 1, I wrote about some theories I have about my health.  I was having chest pains and I just thought they were related to stress.  I experienced chest pains on and off for over a decade so this time I went to a cardiac specialist.

I initially had an EKG.  That was just a little off, but close to normal.  So then came the echocardiogram, then…  Well in the end I learned I have a dilated aorta (4.3 cm).  According to the physician 4.0 is typical and anything over 4.5 is a strong concern.  I also have a slight leak in the mitral valve.  Well this explains some of the frustration I experienced recently.  This all followed by a long discussion on options.

The range of options is unbelievable.  Two key points and stress and never relaxing along with the extra 80 pounds of fat create issues on their own.   Of all the options suggested, I am taking one that was not the first option, but second.  That is to retest in 6 months after taking steps to enhance the health. These include:

·      Learn to relax – People know this is not possible for me.  I have picked up some things life the foursquare technique, but do not seem to help.
·      Regular exercise – 5-6 days for at least 30 minutes each.  I have been bad getting about twice per week.  I have been worked 70 plus hour weeks and that is no excuse, but little time left over for me to workout.
·      Correction of minor lipoprotein abnormalities, e.g., small LDL and lipoprotein(a).
·      Reduce carbohydrate intake by eliminating all products made from wheat, cornstarch, and sugars, an enormously effective way to correct small LDL, low HDL, and high triglycerides, as well.  
·      Normalize the vitamin D to counteract the inflammatory responses in the aortic wall.  I should aim for a blood 25-hydroxy vitamin D level of 60-70 ng/ml.
·      Vitamin C supplementation--Collagen cross linking for aortic wall strength requires adequate vitamin C.
·      Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil-Fish oil correct multiple causes of plaque, especially lipoproteins that derive from excessive triglycerides.

So I have three straight days now of 40 minutes on the bike.  This may not seem like much but since I have only found time for once a week since July, this is huge.  I monitor the heart rate as an extra caution. 

I still am not sure how to reduce the natural Type A habits.  I am sure I will learn, as they make is sound like life or death.  Oops…