The Sitting Disease

The Sitting Disease

The Sitting Disease

With the help of an upside down flower pot and old-fashioned hour glass, I’m taking a stand against the sitting disease . . .

The Sitting Disease

When asked if I am an active person, my answer is always, “Very. Totally. Always. To a fault.” I run, walk, bike, hike, practice yoga and go the gym when the weather isn’t pleasant. I take the stairs and monitor my daily step count. I don’t watch television. PS: I’m vegan, eat my weight in vegetables and I don’t smoke.

#healthy #doingitright #noworries

But when I read The Sitting Disease by Dr. Rudy Kachmann (my father-in-law), I realized that I had missed one major detail. As a writer, I sit for long periods of time. Sometimes so long that when my husband comes home from work, I’m still in my pajamas, sitting in the same position I was in when he left twelve hours earlier. He once told me that he’s never seen anyone with such severe cases of ADD and OCD. (Is that a bipolar joke?)

“You need to move,” he’d say. “Sitting that long is not healthy.”

Common sense logic assured me that wasn’t true. “Sitting is no different than standing in one place for hours on end, like you do in the operating room. I have to focus when I write. It’s part of the job.”

It is fitting that, being wrong for the first (and only) time in the history of our relationship (past and future), the magnitude of error was higher than expected. I was not only wrong, I was dead wrong. Sitting is not the same as standing. And the longer you sit, the worse it gets.

According to Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, “Excessive sitting is a lethal activity.” Now termed the “sitting disease,” the overwhelming consensus in the scientific community is that sitting is like smoking and sugar consumption: a slow but sure way to kill yourself.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute followed 240,000 healthy patients (no history of diabetes, heart disease or cancer). People who watched TV for 7 or more hours a day were at a much higher risk of premature death than those who watched less. And exercising an hour a day did not cancel the risks. In fact, every hour of TV viewed after age 25 reduces life expectancy by 22 minutes.[i] 

Seriously? One episode of Sixty Minutes costs 22 minutes of life? At least watching TV lends itself to raiding the refrigerator every half hour, so you are more likely to move. When I’m working on my computer, my hands and brain are so busy that I only get up to avoid peeing my pants.  

It took three years to write Life Off the Label: A Handbook for Creating Your Own Brand of Health and Happiness. Apparently, in the process, I adopted the health habits of a couch potato. I can see the headline now: Vegan and Healthy Living Expert Dies of The Sitting Disease.

But now I know something I didn’t know before. When you know better, you do better.

Prolonged sitting causes premature aging, weight gain, physical pain, reduced mental acuity, depression, heart disease and cancer. Inactivity significantly reduces cellular functions: DNA repair mechanisms are disrupted, insulin response drops, oxidative stress rises, and metabolism slows to a stop. The more we sit, the lower our quality of life and the earlier our death.

But anyone who is on their feet all day knows that sore feet, back pain and even circulation problems aren’t awesome alternatives. The cure for the sitting disease appears to be movement. Frequent switching from one posture to another reduces the problems caused by both. Staying in one position for no more than 30 minutes is ideal.

My workstation is now a standing desk. I want a motorized one with adjustable arms for my monitor and keyboard. For now, I’m using a flowerpot turned upside down. When the sand runs out in my old-fashioned half-hour glass, I stretch and do stair laps, wall pushups and squats. Curing the sitting disease is the equivalent of quitting smoking and it feels great!

I am surprised to report that it feels just as natural to read, type and use the mouse while standing as it does when sitting. (My OCD survives my ADD.) Standing up actually feels better. (I feel like a boss.) My breathing is deeper and I’m more inclined to move around since I’m already on my feet. The pain and tightness that come with long hours stuck in a chair have all but disappeared. After my movement breaks, I am sharper and more focused. In general, I have more energy. 

If work requires you to be in one place, get creative. Life is too short to feel anything but awesome. Share this info-graph with someone you love. Don’t race for the cure to disease. Stand up. 

Sitting Disease by the Numbers

Sources:

[i] Sinha, Sanjai. “The Adverse Metabolic Consequences of Sitting.” Diabetes Learning Center, MedPage Today. August 3, 2013. http://www.medpagetoday.com/resource-center/diabetes/Adverse-Metabolic-Consequences-Sitting/a/34050

Thirteen Life Lessons Learned from my 13-Year Old Daughter

Thirteen Life Lessons Learned from my 13-Year Old Daughter

Today is my daughter’s 13th birthday. In honor of our time together, I reflect on the gift her life is to me.

  1. Grades are game tokens. Anna reads between the lines. In the 6th grade, her common sense surpassed the institution. “I get the material, mom. Why do I need to do extra work? I mean really, who cares about grades?” Well, babe, it depends on what you want. Society agrees that grades reflect intelligence. In reality, grades reflect the ability to follow the rules. So it just depends on what game you want to play. Play to win, my dear.
  2. Real girlfriends don’t do drama. “Who cares who sits next to who at lunch? I mean, really, Sally (not her real name) came up with a schedule to make sure everyone has a turn sitting next to each other. Who makes time to do that? And what is this ‘group’ thing about? I like a lot of people. I don’t care who I sit next to, or even which table I sit at.”
  3. Mindcraft skills do not transfer to the real world. Anna can spend hours, days, (Ok, maybe months) creating cities, partnering with friends to enhance communities, utilizing natural resources and fostering a healthy economy. However, she and her sister cannot do the dishes without engaging in all-out war.
  4. Personality trumps hair. Anna got the hair I’ve always wanted–thick, long, gorgeous hair that will do whatever she wants. Fixing it reminds me of the mannequin head that I used to practice braiding as kid. Because I couldn’t practice on my own thin, fine hair. It boggles my mind, that, with hair like that, she wears a hat. Everyday. But I get it now. People who are bigger than their hair don’t need their hair to speak for them.
  5. Quietly flying under the radar is better than loudly buzzing the tower. Most of us seek attention. We positively or negatively reward each other for behavior and we drive each other crazy by taking too much of another person’s space. Anna doesn’t seek attention. She likes her own space. She is not the squeaky wheel. She doesn’t constantly ask me for things. She self-entertains. And the older she gets, the more that works in her favor. I joke that at some point, she’ll walk in the door, having Uber’ed to Chicago and back with friends. I will not have noticed she was gone. And she will not have thought to tell me where she was going.
  6. In order to see, you have to look. Anna takes tons of pictures of nature. She notices the background of life and the little things those of us on center stage tend to miss. She’s awestruck by the deep blue auras of sunrise, and admiring of the wicked purples and reds of dusk. She notices the shadows, patterns, angles and textures that create dimensions. “Well-played, Mother Nature, well played,” she often says. Yes, indeed.
  7. Curiosity is never bored. Boredom is the bane of a mother’s existence. “I’m bored,” is a cry of war on a peaceful day. How can anyone be bored? The only place I get bored is at Disney World. The cure for boredom is curiosity. Boredom is an insult to every person on the planet who has to work for the next meal. Anna is never bored. She is learning a new language on an app she just found, reading an entire novel in a day, learning how to edit pictures on her phone, or philosophyzing with the cat. She is happy doing nothing because she’s always doing something.
  8. If you don’t like homework, don’t do it. Anna hates doing homework. Not really, she just hates doing schoolwork at home. When missing assignments were taking a toll on her grades, we strategized and came up with a plan: she’d stay after school until her assignments were done. No more homework. She does her schoolwork at school, and when she gets home, she reads, talks to the cat or plays outside. Of course, this solution required that I pick her up instead of having her riding the bus. But the time spent in the car celebrating her accomplishments trumped the headaches of the homework dramas.
  9. Moustaches are funny. Life is fun when you wear a moustache, especially if you change up the color and size. Moustaches were a “thing” with Anna for over a year, adorning folders, bracelets, birthday cards and faces. The more moustaches, the better. And why, moustache (must-I-ask), not?
  10. Hair bows hold you back. Anna is a free spirit, unfettered by the insecurities that I struggled with as a kid. When I was in 7th grade, I got up 2 hours before school to wash and curl my hair, apply make up and change my clothes 5 times. Anna gets up, slaps on a hat, waits patiently as her brother finishes his hair, and races to the school bus.
  11. The fewer battles you pick, the more you win. Anna is very easy going, until she’s not. She doesn’t throw down over much, but when she does, I let her win if it’s possible. Because she doesn’t throw down over much, get it?
  12. Our children are not a reflection of ourselves. I am not responsible for my kids’ failures or success. I cannot give them happiness—only show them how I find happiness. Anna can do things that I never could (or thought I couldn’t), think of things I’ve never thought of, and see opportunities that I’ve missed. The less I try to direct her (um…control her), the more delighted I am by her unique perspective. I ask for just as much advice as I give.
  13. Try lots of new things. Anna came into this world with the belief that she can do anything (except chores—those are too hard). I think she weighed 42 pounds when, at the age of six, she nailed the double-back-handspring-back-tuck in gymnastics after 4 weeks. “Wow,” the coach said, “she’s got talent. She’ll go far.” But by the end of the season, she was ready to try something new. A few years of soccer and basketball prepped her for the softball and lacrosse teams. She enjoyed track—until the Robotics team appeared on her radar. She started playing the drums in 6th grade, and then learned the ukulele using an on-line app. She doesn’t ever ask for lessons. She doesn’t need them. She’s a player in life. Her motivation is simple: Be happy and do things that bring you joy.

Happy Birthday, babe. You bring me so much joy. I love you.

8 Ways to Repair Relationships at Home and at Work

8 Ways to Repair Relationships at Home and at Work

Happy Holidays! Kinda…

8 Ways to Repair Relationships at Home and at Work

We are all forced to interact with people we’d rather not. Sometimes we need to repair relationships with people we love when toxic tailspins threaten our family. Relationships are living entities and must be nurtured. Even despite good intentions, sometimes we just have to let go and move on. But when that’s not possible or desired, these 8 empowering strategies will repair relationships. Stop the circular conversations and start fresh with a positive approach.

STOP post-drama analysis and commentary.

When friction heats negative emotions, everyone involved in the conflict is going to get burned. Do not participate in discussions that rehash who said what, what they really meant and why they are wrong. Whatever you pay attention to grows; what you neglect dies. Assigning blame in order to justify your own behavior just perpetuates the problem. Don’t dwell on the dirty details. Instead take action to create solutions and look forward to new results.

START looking at the whole person and not the perceived offense.

Everyone has unseen stress that affects their behavior, and approaching people with empathy instead of judgment enhances our perception. We all have multiple roles as parents, children, siblings, subordinates, managers, co-workers and caregivers. Set your assumptions aside and take interest in the individual. What are they proud of and what challenges do they face? Offer compassion where they might need it and admiration where they deserve it. You may realize that you’ve misjudged someone or you may simply repair relationships for a self-serving purpose. But you can’t make an informed decision until you give credit to viewpoints other than your own.

STOP recruiting support.

Campaign efforts to tell your “side” of the story only create division and should be saved for team sports and political efforts. In families and at work, there may be people with whom you don’t click, but no good comes when individuals form alliances against others on the same team. If you’ve done nothing wrong, no defense strategy is required. The more you argue your point the less valid it becomes. If someone is being a jerk or treating you unfairly, others will see that. Adding your own noise to the chaos only calls your integrity into question. It’s not your job to correct the problem if you are not the problem, or change minds that are content to stay fixed. Everyone has the right to be wrong.

START creating positive interactions.

When a relationship contains animosity, look for opportunities to share experiences that bring you together. Extend an invitation for lunch, ask for advice on an issue of their expertise, and notice the successes they have in other areas. Find something you have in common and initiate conversations that create camaraderie. Offer sincere compliments, smile when you are around them and go out of your way to support them when you can. Be willing to fake it until you make it. When you find yourself thinking negatively about a person, refocus on their positive attributes or think about something else. Accept the person for who they are, not who you think they should be. Who they are and what they think is actually none of your business.

STOP talking when you feel angry.

Nothing positive is created with negative energy. Losing control of your emotions is a sure way to not get what you want. When conversations take a turn for the worse, recognize that it needs to be tabled for another time. Communicate this politely and remove yourself from volatile situations that are headed in the wrong direction. Saying, “I need some time to put this into perspective before I respond” demonstrates respect for both points of view. It may be five minutes in the restroom and it may be a few weeks. You may return only to discover it doesn’t matter anymore. But putting space between the trigger and your response allows you to calmly assess the situation and repair relationships that are struggling.

START listening to what’s being said instead of how it’s being said.

Relationships are based on interdependence and communication is critical as we give, take, share and exchange. Being too dependent on someone leads to resentment by both parties as control issues create imbalance. Being completely independent cancels the need for the relationship. Interdependance requires discussion. Learn to accept messages without shooting the messenger. If a conversation bothers you, recognize that it’s not the person that’s the problem. It’s your reaction to that person.

STOP taking things personally.

What others say and do tells you who they are. It’s not about you. Your feelings about the actions and words of others are your own responsibility. No one is obligated to make you feel better and no one can make you feel bad unless you agree to do so. Shameful put-downs and subtle snobbery are emotional manipulators. They can and should be ignored. No one can push your buttons without access, so keep healthy boundaries and recognize your vulnerabilities so they do not work against you. When someone approaches you with a legitimate concern, listen and take corrective action if you agree. If not, assert yourself in a respectful way, agree to disagree and accept the consequences of subsequent events. We all make mistakes and need guidance from time to time. Learn to take constructive feedback without internalizing it as criticism. When someone is having a bad day and wants to take it out on you, don’t feel obligated to share in their distress. When you realize the actions of others do not reflect who you are, you’ll repair relationships and experience personal and professional success.

START envisioning the ideal dynamic and behave as though it is already a reality.

You can’t change anyone but yourself, so become the change you want to see. It takes two people to participate in conflict but only one to decline the offer. Relationships have three components: two individuals and one dynamic of exchange. This provides you with two avenues of influence. When dealing with people who are mandatory (your boss/coworker) or desired (family or friend) look for ways to alter your own thoughts, words and behavior to create positive interactions. If you don’t like what you are getting out of a relationship, change what you are putting into it.

Good luck! May the force of peace be with you as you repair relationships that matter!

Aging Well

Aging Well

My dad, his brother and his sister.

Aging Well: According to the glossy Retirement Community brochures and the sexy Cialis commercials, our golden years promise to include long walks on the beach, golf and games with friends, and loving physical contact when the “time is right.”  So if you can handle a few laugh lines, age spots and gray hair, and find a trendy pair of reading glasses that enhance your intellectual demeanor, life is worth the wait as the final chapters are best.

But more and more of us are suffering as we age. Dementia, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis make us sore, stiff and slow. Our time is spent with specialists and our money goes to medications. Instead of waking up well, we wake up feeling disabled, depleted and disappointed.

Life has a 100% mortality rate, and the conditions of old age are increasingly accepted as part of the process. If that depresses you for longer than two weeks, see your doctor. But according to The Disease Delusion by Dr. Jeffrey Bland, there are 2 powerful misconceptions limiting our vitality in the golden years.

First, our approach to health care is outdated. When early 20th century medical pioneers developed antibiotics and immunizations, they were able to eradicate infectious diseases as the leading cause of death in a single generation. This amazing accomplishment saved countless lives, maybe even your own. And now we all know that germs are bad, and we stay home when we’re sick. We get the flu shot in hopes to avoid the latest strain.

But not even 100 years after we invented penicillin, 80 percent of ailments are considered chronic disease, and unlike strep throat, do not have a single causative factor. The infection model of pill-for-the-ill approach doesn’t offer a cure.  Anti-inflammatories may reduce the swelling and pain in our joints, but arthritis is not the result of an acetaminophen-deficiency. And as most drugs are designed to promote, alter or block a specific physiological process, serious side effects can occur when those same cellular mechanisms cause imbalance in our healthy organs.

The Reductionist approach to our body systems fails to acknowledge that each organ intimately affects the others. For example, it’s considered normal after 50 to consult an urologist for an awkward issue of erectile dysfunction. But ultimately, a lack of blood flow to a peripheral organ is an early symptom of vascular disease. Vascular disease is caused by atherosclerosis, a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. You may look and feel sexy enough to warrant a daily dose of Viagra, but you might want to consider visiting your cardiologist first.

The other “Disease Delusion” is that our illnesses are mostly an expression of our genetic makeup. But the relentless risk forms that require family histories aren’t nearly as relevant as we’ve thought.

Consider the BRCA gene. In 2013, women who carry this gene have an 85% increased risk of having breast cancer. And women everywhere are opting for double, radical mastectomies to avoid what is almost inevitable. But in 1940, the BRCA mutation only indicated a 24 percent risk increase. How can this be? It’s the same gene! Ah, but the gene doesn’t cause the cancer. It must be “turned on” by the environment.

And our lifestyles have changed dramatically. Our foods are grown with pesticides, thoroughly processed and wrapped in plastic, shelf-life guaranteed. In food factories, Mother Nature’s living flavors are exchanged for artificial ingredients and eye-catching colors, and promoted on a grocery isle end-cap with a Buy-One-Get-One-Free coupon.

In addition, we are stressed and exhausted and over-stimulated by 24-hour news channels that advertise the next new drug for the same old pain. We don’t move enough, we don’t get outside, and we feel…

Old.

Who wants to live long if you aren’t aging well and waking up awesome every day?

But there is hope. Good health isn’t something you pray for, it’s something you choose, and I don’t mean via Medicare plans, or meals of Lean Cuisine Light. Quite the contrary, it is freedom from both. Aging well is an option, should you choose to do what it takes.

8 Tips for Waking Up Awesome and Aging Well:

  1. Stop eating processed foods. If it comes from a package, it was made in a factory and likely contains ingredients that are toxic. Headaches, heart aches and hormonal imbalances are caused by chemicals in our food. When you crave potato chips, cookies or a zesty marinade, make them from scratch. Spend time preparing your food, or lose time feeling ill.
  1. Eat whole foods filled with color. Plants are filled with antioxidants, phytochemicals and living enzymes. These are the micronutrients that keep digestion, immunity and brain function running on all cylinders. Fruits, vegetables nuts and seeds are also filled with fiber, essential to keep the digestive track moving and clean, which in turn strengthens the immune system.
  1. Drink 5-8 glasses of water a day. This maximizes cellular activities, promotes detox and keeps your skin glowing.
  1. Stop drinking soda pop. It is now being recognized as the biggest contributor to obesity and diabetes (newly coined as diabesity). Regular colas contain high fructose corn syrup, which spikes the blood sugar and leads to insulin immunity. Since fructose is only processed in the liver, it also leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver, and severely inhibits the function of that organ.  Diet colas have saccharine or aspartame, and regardless of the source, these chemicals promote carbohydrate cravings, increase hunger and can lead to neurological damage.
  1. Eat organic as much as possible, especially meat and dairy. Factory farmed animals are given growth hormones to maximize their size and minimize the lifespan it takes to mature so they can be harvested sooner. Those are not hormones you want in your body! Factory farms consume 70% of our nation’s supply of antibiotics in attempt to prevent the diseases that naturally arise in filthy living conditions. (No one can clean a chicken coup with 60,000 chickens in it!) These antibiotics affect your gut flora and digestive health, and not to mention lead to antibiotic resistance.
  1. Eat less meat and dairy, if only to make room for more vegetables because you need them. Make the main course plant-based, and include only small portions of lean meat. Minimize cheese. Experiment with coconut, almond and soy milk; try hummus, avocado and cashews for creams. Your taste buds will adapt to whatever they think is “normal.” If you want a piece of cheese, eat it with joy and savor the flavor. Otherwise, skip it.
  1. If you have high cholesterol, go vegan. Our bodies are able to synthesize all the cholesterol we need, so any excess comes from food. Plants don’t have any. Work with your doctor as the results come fast (within weeks, you can be off medication)!
  1. Find a movement that you enjoy, and do it outside as often as possible. Every day, take several 5 minute breaks to breathe 10 deep breaths. Make them slow and controlled; match the inhale to the exhale. Direct your mind to focus on the sound, the sensations and finding tension to release. If you are forgetful, plug a reminder into your phone. In as little as 5 minutes, you will reduce cortisol and adrenaline levels, and induce a sense of peace, empowerment and well-being.

Aging well is awesome. Do it.

Courage and Fear and Open Water Scuba Diving

Courage and Fear and Open Water Scuba Diving

 New diver and master diver…with Jeff Kachmann

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. –Nelson Mandela

Courage and fear are strange bedfellows.

I tend to be an optimistic, trust-first-ask-questions-later sort of person. And while I’ve been hurt by people a few times, I prefer to take the risk and expect the best. But that doesn’t mean I’m fearless. It’s just interesting what fears take hold, and which ones we ignore. But regardless of individual optimism, bravery, or benevolence, the Joy Ride on Planet Earth guarantees a 100% mortality rate. I know the end is inevitable, but occasionally I’m motivated to push beyond the limits of my comfort zone and so far, I’ve only been grateful for the new experiences that continue to teach me who I am.

Most of us think we know who we are. We can rationally discuss our strengths, laugh about our weaknesses, make a list of our likes and dislikes, and predict with some certainty how we might react in certain situations. But what I find fascinating is the dichotomy that exists when we discuss our ability to change. We say things like “people never change”, and we recognize that most personality traits are with us for life. And yet, every year, we make resolutions, read self-help books, go to therapy, and make vision boards full of intentions to be different. But unless we address the underlying beliefs that limit our behaviors, we will be stuck in an unconscious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy. By accepting our flaws, we perpetuate their hold on us. Consider how easily things roll off our tongue:

  • “I’m afraid of heights.”
  • “I’m awful with numbers.”
  • “I’m a homebody.”
  • “I am claustrophobic.”
  • “I have bad knees.”
  • “I hate to fly.”
  • “I’m not flexible. Or coordinated.”
  • “I get motion sickness really easy. “
  • “I don’t have enough time.”
  • “I’m too old to do that.”

We repeat these things over and over, and find camaraderie with others who can either sympathize or at least empathize. We don’t see these statements as excuses; they are our reality. For most of my life, my perception of myself included the words “I am not athletic”. As a kid, I didn’t play any sports or have a lot of exposure to extra-curricular activity. My family had four kids and we simply didn’t have the money to fund the lessons, fees, travel expenses and gear. So regardless of natural ability or even disability, “I am not athletic” was my truth for many years.

And the older I got, the more it limited me. Because most activities are not enjoyable the first time you try them. Or even the 3rd time. And when everyone else knows what they are doing, it’s easier to throw your hands up and quit before you start. But at the ripe old age of 23, I decided that my comfort zone was entirely too small. I was embarrassed by the amount of time I spent with my nose in a book or my butt in front of the boob-tube. I had my first child that year, and though I had read countless stories about pregnancy, and watched Friends Ross and Rachel get through labor and delivery, nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of the real experience. I gave birth to a new life. I just didn’t realize yet that it was my own.

I was suddenly in awe of what my body could accomplish, without any thought or direction from my brain. I slept, I ate, I went to work—I just did my thing. And all the while, I was making a baby! And after he was born, whenever he cried, my breasts would fill with milk that quickly turned him from a cone-headed alien into a fat and happy little fella. The intensity of real-life physical, emotional and mental sensations began my process of “waking up”. I realized just how much I could do—not by setting my mind to it, but by just DOING it. Although “I have bad knees”, I went from never having run even a mile to completing a full marathon within a few years. And despite the belief that “I am not flexibile”, I started doing regular yoga and discovered that my body could do any pose that I put into my practice.

By the time my second son was born, I was teaching aerobic classes despite my belief that “I am uncoordinated and can’t distinguish between my left and my right*.”

*that’s actually true. Seriously.

I always believed that I “can’t function without sleep”. But by the time I had four kids, I stopped counting the lost hours and learned to savor rocking a baby in the quiet darkness of the middle of the night. I also had a firm belief that “I will always be a working-mom”. But high daycare expenses offered a blessing in disguise and I joined the “stay-at-home-mom” crowd and never looked back.

And despite “strong cravings” for meat, and membership in the “I can’t live without cheese” club, I took a 40 day vegan challenge over 5 years ago and haven’t even wanted a hamburger or a piece of pizza since. And this is just another example of how the only way we can change anything is to first change our minds. The cliché I’ll believe it when I see it should actually be I’ll see it when I believe it.

Life is too short to live within self-imposed limits. But real life does have real limits, and a healthy respect for Mother Nature is key. Courage and fear are meant to be balanced. Which is why I’ve always considered my angst about ocean water wildlife to be a phobia worth preserving. “I’m afraid of sharks” seems reasonable after reviewing the documentary “Jaws”. But considering I’m more likely to die by a falling coconut* than be eaten by a shark, I decide that hyperventilating as I stand in waist-level, crystal clear water just beyond the surf is indeed a little silly.

So before my beach vacation earlier this year, I decided to sign up for the only class that will either literally kill me or make me stronger.

Open. Water. Scuba. Diving.

I signed up for the certification class, held in February Fort Wayne. I figured the only sharks in the Y pool would painted in fluorescent colors. And I had a lot of studying to do before they’d even let me into the shallow end.

The textbook hooks me on page 1:

It feels strange the first time. Your mask. Your awkward gear, a bit heavy. You ease into the water and your face slips below the surface. Inhale; the air comes with a reassuring hiss, and for the first time, you breathe underwater. In moments, you forget your mask. Your equipment transforms to light and agile, and you’re free like you’ve never experienced before. With that first underwater breath, the door opens to a different world. Not a world apart, but different nonetheless. Go through that door. Your life will never be the same.

Sounds fun and fairly shark-free! I’m in.

The class work was as expected. Boring. It’s hard to get interested in the different styles of facemasks and “procedure’s for emergency ascent” when you’ve only worn swimming goggles and jumped off the high dive a few times. After classroom work, we are issued equipment and taken to the local pool to practice skills for a confined dive. I should mention that I have some lingering beliefs that might limit my enjoyment of this step. But actually, “I hate indoor pools”, “I’m allergic to chlorine”, I’m very susceptible to ear infections”, “it feels like I’m swimming in urine”, and “there are cooties EVERYWHERE” are true stories. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for SCUBA gear to include a dose of Xanex—just sayin’.

Once at the pool, my inner “hot mess” quickly bubbles to the surface. We start with a 200 meter-swim and then tread for 10 minutes. The water smells like dirty-butt, and quickly clogs my ears and gets in my nose. Then our group is told to sit on the bottom and practice breathing underwater while receiving underwater instruction via hand signals. The only problem I encounter here is that I don’t speak underwater sign language, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Or scream. And despite feeling like I’m sitting in a pool of urine, I am shivering uncontrollably within 30 minutes of being in the 83 degree Fahrenheit water. My instructor recommends an extra layer of thermal protection, despite the fact that I’ll be diving in Aruba. And as “I hate to be cold”, I consider my comfort to be a significant investment.

The first layer is basically fleece-lined long underwear, and feels comfy cozy. The next layer is a 3mm suction suit, and slips on with the ease of a thick rubber band. By the time my limbs are arranged in their respective compartments, I’m sweating profusely and need a snack and a nap. On top of that goes another 3mm “shorty” to add a layer to my core. And they all zip up the back, which means you need double-jointed shoulder sockets or a personal assistant. On top of my head goes a beanie that is tight enough to double as a condom.

I strap my SCUBA vest to the air tank they provide, and orient the array of hoses as I was instructed in class. “I’m completely illiterate as to technical mechanisms“, so the release valves, pressure gauges and air flow regulators intimidate me. It unnerves me to realize that I am ultimately responsible for the equipment that will serve as my life-support under 60+ feet of ocean water. I quietly chant “Lefty-Loosey-Righty-Tighty”, as I turn the knob towards the L-shape that I discretely make with my left index finger and thumb. As an experienced group exercise instructor, distinguishing my right from my left is now as easy as singing the song and making the shapes with my hand.

I manage to pass the class and feel confident-ish for our upcoming trip to Aruba. My partner in crime is a master diver with hundreds of dives worth of experience. That’s a little comforting, but at the same time, a lot of pressure as I don’t want to hold him back with my uncertainties and uncoordinated efforts. On the first dive, where I have to work with an instructor to complete my certification, I mentally review the pre-dive checklist as I test the functions of my equipment–pressing buttons, pulling strings and reading the digital displays. It would help if the acronym for the process they teach was more helpful than All Bruce Willis Films Are Raunchy. (Because I actually liked Die Hard, and still use “Yipee Ki-yay MoFo’s” when the situation dictates. Armageddon was awesome, and the Sixth Sense made it obvious that I don’t have one. I mean really, who saw that one coming???)

So instead of the acronym, I just start at the top of my head and work down. I’ll just double-check it all, thank you very much. Courage and fear can be friends.

With my swimwear on, I’m ready to wiggle into my backpack. I fasten the buckles at my chest, tighten the straps around my waist. I’m told I need more weight in order to sink to the bottom, so an additional 10lbs are added to the pockets on each side of my vest. I pour the anti-fogging “frog spit” into my goggles and work my feet into my flippers, while balancing my body as the boat pitches through 4 and 5 foot waves. I expect that I’ll fall in before I have the chance to jump.

They say the surface is the most dangerous part of the dive. And for sure it is. Maneuvering to the “plank” in 2-foot-long fins and over 40 pounds of equipment, including a high-pressure tank of gas strapped to the top half of my body makes me as close to a “fish out of water” as I’ll ever be. And when I jump/trip into the chilly waves without inflating my vest and begin to sink without so much as a farewell glance, I remember that it’s the panic-stricken struggle that does the most harm. So I relax and soften my body. It is quiet just beneath the surface—peaceful and full of light. I circle my right arm just as we practiced, and discover my air hose just as expected. I place the regulator into my mouth and clear it with a shallow exhale. And then, cautiously, carefully, I inhale.

The sound of my own breath has a calming effect on my mind. I can see the other divers making final adjustments and positioning themselves in pairs. I add just enough air to my vest to float beneath the waves and wait for the dive master’s gesture to begin our decent. I slowly inhale deep into my belly, which helps the panic drop from my chest and signal my “OK”. We all assume an upright position, and raise our left hands over our head, ready for take-off like astronauts on a mission. Bruce Willis would be proud.

And down we go. With courage and fear holding hands.

My decent takes longer than the others, as I am not efficient at clearing my ears. Basically, it feels like I’m blowing my nose into my mask every few feet. (Because I am, which later explains the look on my partner’s face when I remove my mask at the surface.) But I take my time going down, blowing my nose to equalize the pressure every 5 feet and remember that it’s a slow process. I’m patient and calm and I take my time. Because as I begin to absorb the spectacular view around me, it suddenly doesn’t matter how long it takes.

Dr. Suess must have been a scuba diver.

I realized that I was dropping into a brightly lit snow globe-like world I’ve only read about in Dr. Seuss novels, complete with swarms of fish that shimmered in synchronicity, neon colored animals that darted, dangled and lurked, Truffula tree-like plants that waved in the underwater wind, and suspicious looking characters that watched me as intently as I studied them. It was absolutely breath-taking! I saw a giant green eel that had to be 8 foot long, a shipwreck covered with coral, and saw several 16 leg octopi! (Actually, it was matting season, and we’d stumbled upon happy hour.) Dori and Nemo even made an appearance. Stone fish, clown fish, angel fish and barracudas were close enough to touch.

 Nemo and Dori say hello.

It was so brilliantly breathtaking that I forgot to notice if I was cold or scared, and with my breath providing the background music to this sensational experience, I can only feel grateful that I got to do this, bad knees, clumsy technical skills and fear of shark. I even saw a few sharks. Evidently, I’m not the shark bait I thought I was. Or maybe they just weren’t hungry.

Best day ever.

*Fun Fact: About 150 people die every year by falling coconuts. On average, only 4 people die every year from shark attack. I will submit for consideration, however, that worldwide, 2,300 people vanish without a trace every day. Considering that sharks eat the evidence, I’m not entirely sure I’m ready to stop believing that “I’m afraid of sharks.” Just sayin….

Courage and fear make comfortable friends.

Congratulations! You’re Getting a Divorce…

Congratulations! You’re Getting a Divorce…

Caution: Divorce Ahead. Proceed with love.

“Congratulations! You’re getting a divorce!”

When you tell people you are getting a divorce, there is an awkward moment of silence. It’s the biggest party foul statement you can make. Usually, the next thing that is said is, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”

But anyone that’s been through a divorce knows the emotional battle that has been waged prior to deciding to end a marriage. And putting an end to the suffering, for both parties, deserves only one comment.

“Congratulations!”

Divorce is awful. But contrary to the evil images of broken families, broken hearts and shattered dreams, the divorce isn’t the problem at this point. It’s the solution. And it’s a profound moment of relief to hear the counselor say, “children would rather be from a broken home than living in one.”

Divorce doesn’t create a broken family, it simply exposes it. Similar to having your car breakdown on the highway of life, once you decide to divorce, all of your shit is laying on the side of the road for everyone to pilfer, ponder and judge. A couple that decides to end their marriage undoubtedly has years of financial dysfunction, emotional co-dependency and passive (or not so much) aggressive habits. It’s been there, lurking behind eye-rolls and sarcastic commentary, but denial is easier than dealing.

When the only thing worse than going through a divorce is staying in a miserable marriage, you know you’re doing the right thing. Yes, the RIGHT thing. Divorce can save two good people from a toxic tailspin that is keeping them both from living a great life.

It takes a lot of courage, effort and hard work to finally take control of your life. It would be easier to stay and simply blame your own bad behavior on someone else’s refusal to participate. Staying is assumed to be the selfless thing to do.

But selfless people who deny themselves independence, happiness and passion become martyrs that demand sympathy. No one, including and especially the children, benefits from self-denial. Everyone deserves the best. Always. Being unhappy is never a productive endeavor. For anyone. You can’t sacrifice your happiness to give someone else theirs. It doesn’t work that way.

Anger is similar to pain, in that it’s there for a reason. And the message that it delivers is always the same. You’re doing it wrong. Yes. You. It’s not your spouse. It’s not your financial circumstances. It’s not your job. It’s not your kids. It’s not your friends, or lack thereof.

It’s your choices.  It’s your thinking. It’s your words and actions.

But once you realize that you are the problem, it’s the best day ever. Because then you can finally see that YOU are the solution.

Your anger serves a purpose. And continuing to live an angry life is only to punish yourself for someone else’s perceived crimes. When you take ownership of the anger inside you, and stop believing that someone else is making you feel the way you do, you will finally discover that it is only you that stands in the way of your own happiness.

Happiness is a choice, and that choice will require change. And if your partner doesn’t agree with those changes, that is their right. And if you can’t live together and be happy, then it is, indeed, time to part ways.

The spouse who finally calls the time of death on a rotting relationship will often take the fall with family and friends. If a cheating spouse files for divorce, that spouse is deserting the family. If the non-cheating spouse files for divorce, they are giving up on their family; unwilling to forgive. Because family and friends don’t want to be reminded that the rules of the game can change at any time, and vows are no guarantee of security. When life is comfortable, we want to believe it’s because we’re doing it right, and that it will stay that way. We collectively agree that if a marriage ends, it’s because someone did something wrong. (And so we pop the popcorn and tell our stories!)

But life isn’t personal. It doesn’t matter what cards you are dealt. It matters how you play them.

Marriage is more than just love. It’s a partnership. It’s two people choosing to share goals and make a team effort. But when you realize that you are no longer working for the same goals, the marriage seizes to be effective. Because then, it feels as though you must fight. And so you do. And the one relationship that is supposed to provide solace and support becomes a battleground filled with power struggles. Because if your spouse gets what they want, you loose. If you get what you want, they feel cheated.

You can’t win.

Unless.

You are willing to stop playing the blame game. Because everything on earth has a life cycle; there is a beginning and the end. The glossy brochure that promotes marriage as “till death do you part” doesn’t mention that you can feel dead when you are still walking around. A death in spirit is just as significant as the death of the body.

But you can revive your spirit, whether you decide to divorce or not. In order to become happy, you must let go of your anger. You can’t hold onto both. If you want to get what you want, you’ve got to let go of what you have. Without fear.

It doesn’t matter who did what to whom, or who didn’t do enough. You don’t need to prove why you were unhappy. It’s enough to acknowledge that you are. You can’t earn a stamp of approval by listing a litany of someone else’s sins. Worthiness isn’t something you earn. It’s something you own.

When you enter into the solution of divorce, you must do so as a team. Because until the decree is final, what you do to each other, you do to yourself. If you want to “win”, you must want the same for your partner. As long as you are married, you win or loose together.

Divorce is a reckoning, and it hurts. You now have half of what you thought you did. Accept that as quickly as possible. Everything will be split…money, possessions and time with kids. You can’t get a divorce without the divorce part. The more you resist necessary changes, the more you will suffer during the process. Whenever you argue for what “should be”, you are failing to deal with what is.

There is no reality that includes “should be”. Get over it. Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be right? It’s your choice, and it’s that simple.

But as always, you can look at the glass as half empty or half full. Focus on the empty space and see it as potential. You now have room for what you want in life. You have the opportunity to make a fresh start. To learn from your own mistakes, not your spouses. Life’s a bitch in this way: it gives you the test, and then the lesson. LEARN IT.

The more time you spend ruminating on the hurts and bad habits of your spouse, the less time you spend dreaming your future into existence. Again, you are only punishing yourself for someone else’s failure to give you what you need. This is not productive, and demonstrates that suffering is a choice.

Pain is part of life, and it’s certainly part of divorce. But suffering is a mental state of mind that only you can change. You alone are responsible for your own suffering. You must identify the thoughts that bind you and the stress that makes you sick. And then make the necessary changes to let go and be well.

After all, that’s why you’re doing this.

Congratulations! You’re getting a divorce…

If you are even thinking about divorce, get NOLO’s Divorce and Money. Purchase an extra copy for your spouse. Because you both deserve to be educated on the laws. If you approach it as a legal procedure, it will become a business transaction that will free you of the emotional chains that bind. Another great resource for both of you is divorcesource.com.

Control Your Emotions: FIRST AID FOR HAPPINESS

Control Your Emotions: FIRST AID FOR HAPPINESS

 

Hot Mess, Party of 1. You’re First Aid For Happiness Kit is now available….

How to control your emotions.

My kids range in age from 9 to 16, and I’m finally getting to that stage in life where my kids are fairly self-sufficient. My oldest can drive, and the others can ride their bikes to practices and school, be left alone, fix themselves a meal (I mean use my credit card to order a pizza) and do their homework without being told*.

*Just kidding.

So I’ve graduated from changing diapers and watching Dora the Explorer, to discussing the hardships of e-learning and passing out money instead of fruit snacks. The conversations I have with my kids are truly amazing, and are one of the best parts of being a mom. In between rolling their eyes at my naivety and blaming me for their missing laundry, they occasionally come to me for advice. For a few minutes, every now and then, I get to help them figure out how to make things work in life.

When I picked up my 9 year old, Kate, from piano lessons the other day, the first thing she said when she got into the car was, “Mom, I’m sorry I was such a hot mess before school this morning. Thank you for being nice to me even though I was being mean.”

“Hot mess” is an understatement. She can be a real treat to get ready for school. Her temper tantrums are so ridiculous they are actually funny. It makes me wonder if I look as ridiculous when I’m in the crux of a crisis that only I can see.

Probably not. I’m 40, and when I cry and stomp around, it’s totally legit.

She went on to say, “I think I need to go to therapy. I just can’t control my emotions. I go from happy to really upset way too fast. And then I can be happy again. And sometimes I feel sad even when I’m happy.”

That’s called bipolar, honey. (I said that with my inside voice.)

I told her that might be a very good idea, and that therapy has been a big help to me when I’ve struggled with issues. I, too, have a tendency to let my emotions get the best of me. My yoga practice has helped me learn how to manage myself.*

*In theory.

First, I started with her belief that she “can’t control her emotions”. The entire first year of therapy would be spent changing that belief from to a productive one like “I am learning to control my emotions.”

I offered her proof that she can learn with this scenario.

Think about how you feel when you fight with your sister. (They are usually best friends, but they share a room. Enough said.)

Think about how bad it hurts in your heart and in your head when you are so mad at her. She’s not listening, she doesn’t understand, she’s being mean, nasty and selfish. It’s not fair, it’s awful, and you just want to scream. Close your eyes and remember what those emotions feel like. Go there in your mind and experience the sensations in your memory.

Now, hold that feeling in your head and imagine that suddenly, the doorbell rings. Dad walks in with a bunch of presents for everyone, a sweet new puppy  that won’t shed or poop in the yard, and bags full of money.

What? Best. Day. Ever.

So in the blink of an eye, you go from being miserable and upset to being happy and excited. That happened because you shifted your thoughts. You were focused on what was wrong and awful and how your sister is a troll, and when you stopped focusing on that, you stopped feeling that way.

Our thoughts create our emotions, which are simply physical manifestations of our mental state of mind.  When you feel yourself getting upset, it’s because you are thinking about something that is upsetting. So if you don’t enjoy the sensation of being upset, think about something else.

It’s that simple. If you believe that it’s possible to learn to control your emotions, then it is.

One year of therapy saved, darling. You owe me $2500.

Once you realize that it’s possible to learn to control your emotions,  you simply make it a practice. 

Being a third grade girl can be tough. They expect you to write in cursive, and turn in your homework. Also, little girls can be really mean to each other. The daily dramas are exhausting–and perfect to practice emotional management. “Imagine that a friend at school tells you that another girl said something mean about you. And it really hurts your feelings. You go to the bathroom and cry. You feel like you might throw up. Your stomach hurts. Your head aches. You are getting physically ill from your mental thoughts.”

“And the more you think about it, the worse you feel. Your emotions are snowballing, and you are headed toward a full blown melt down. You know that because it’s happened before. The exact details are different, but it’s the same old story.”

“But you can have a choice here. You don’t have to go through this.”

Every thought we think leaves a trail in our brain. And most of our thoughts are repeats–we’ve thought them before. Just like a trail through the woods, the more a certain path is traveled, the easier it becomes to follow. Soon, we don’t even have to think about it.  All of our opinions, perceptions and beliefs about the world are just thoughts that are repeated over and over. And the more we think them, the less we are REALLY thinking about them.

Most of our thoughts are habits.

And habits can be changed.

The only thing required in order to change is to realize we have the power to learn to control our emotions.

I suggested, “The next time something or someone upsets you, and you realize that your emotions are taking you on a trip to crazy town, simply get off the ride. We all believe that in order to be happy, we have to fix our problems. So we go over and over the story in attempt to figure out who’s wrong and what we should do about it. We keep focusing on the problem because we think that’s the only way to fix the problem.”

“That, my sweet daughter, is a belief that only applies to problems you enjoy having. If you want to be good at math, you do need to focus on how to find the answer. Your brain is a powerful tool that can be used to accomplish anything you set your mind to.”

But we must choose carefully what we set our mind to. Spending time thinking someone else should help me, understand me or like me is a waste of my time. Those aren’t problems I can or need to solve. I can’t control other people. What others say, think and do is really none of my business, and I shouldn’t concern myself. Worrying about what others deem wrong will not make things right.

So co-dependancy is out. Narcissism is back. You’re welcome! Maybe my own years of therapy are paying off.

No one can make you feel hurt. That is a self-inflicted emotion. Feeling pained requires participation. Just because someone offers you an insult doesn’t mean you have to take it. When someone hurts you, acknowledge the pain but don’t dwell on it and relive it over and over. Your anger hurts you–not them. Feeling anger in response to someone else’s action is to punish yourself for their crime.

So how can you stop feeling hurt? Anger? Sadness?

By feeling happy instead.

Let’s start with some homework to learn to control emotions. Create a FIRST AID FOR HAPPINESS kit. Put together a collection of what you are grateful for… include pictures, memories and a list of treasured items. Make a list of things that make you laugh–comedians, movies, quotes and jokes. Then write down easy activities that make you happy, with specific dance music, singing songs, books, recipes or art supplies.

Keep your FIRST AID FOR HAPPINESS kit as close as you would an inhaler, an epi-pin, or emergency food. And whenever you smell a fire burning in your emotions, realize you have a choice. You can fan the flames and feel the burn, or you can extinguish the fire by simply ignoring it.

What you pay attention to grows. What you neglect dies.

Happiness is hard. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do. It’s a choice that requires practice. You can only learn to dance, play the piano, and ride a bike if you try and keep trying. You train your brain in the same way you do your body. You have to want to be happy more than you want to be miserable.

Sweet Daughter, you are a beautiful fairy-tale princess with a magic wand. Anytime you wish, you can wave that wand and turn sadness into happiness. Having a bad day? POOF!

When we got home, it was dinner time, so I invited her to practice being happy.. She looked at me and said, “Sure!”. I told her I was going to ask her to do the dishes, and instead of thinking, “I hate doing the dishes”, “NO FAIR! It’s not my turn!” and “Why is my mom so mean?” I wanted her to put on some music, make soap bubbles and dance while she did it.

And she did.

POOF! I’m happy, she’s happy AND THE DISHES ARE DONE.

Best. Day. Ever.

Read more about being happy…Happiness is exactly what you think!

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