Monday, January 24, 2011

The Wounds Of A Friend

“Wounds from a sincere friend

are better than many kisses from an enemy.

The heartfelt counsel of a friend

is as sweet as perfume and incense (Proverbs 27:6, 9 New Living Translation).”

We’ll call him T. T has dreamed of this moment for almost as long as he’s been away. It’s what he’s talked about in our exchanges, thought about, planned in his head. He has so been looking forward to this: The day he would come home and we would work out together!

And I was so excited to have him home again! Our friendship had just begun to take off when he went away, and I was devastated. We nurtured it, and each other, through our correspondence, and I prayed for him frequently that God would bring him through whatever he had to face until he could come back. Now he’s home.

The working out together thing, though—yes, I made assenting sounds whenever he brought it up, listened to his dreams about it, said it might be nice, but that was his dream. His dream, my nightmare.

The first lower back sciatic pain struck in October 1997. I was at the fair with my friend A. We’d gone together at my invitation and walked around quite a bit, having a good time. Suddenly, while stopping at a food concession, a sharp pain grabbed my spine. I held still, hoping it would let go. It did. Then, when I tried to move, it grabbed me again! The good news was that A was now ready to leave the fair. So was I. I had no idea of the slow descent into hell that waited.

It was in August of 1998 that, seemingly out of nowhere, the sciatic pain struck again and held fast. The pain was so bad I thought I was going to end up in a wheelchair. I underwent a round of therapy that only marginally helped, then I bought a cane which I used with increasing frequency for the next 10 years while the pain grew steadily worse, the walking grew steadily more difficult, and the weight went up and down, up and down. During the last half of that decade, I joined and frequented two different health clubs, acquired and frequently rode two trikes, and tried a nationally known weight loss plan. Eventually, my chiropractor, whom I first met in 2008, persuaded me to stop using the cane, because I’d lost strength in my left hip and leg due to the way I leaned when I walked. He did everything he could for my spine, but while his efforts helped some, they did nothing about arresting the worsening of my back. By the beginning of 2009 the pain was bad enough that it was beginning to affect my triking and my ability to work out. By the fall of that year, the pain had taken a sudden, marked turn for the much worse. My beloved chiro sent me to a colleague, an orthopedist whom I still visit to this day. Instead of a cane to hold me up, I now lean upon the strong medicine on which my ortho has put me after several rounds of trying other drugs to find which ones would best work for me without working me over.

Now as exercises go, I didn’t mind walking; it was as much transportation for me as it was exercise, and I was able to do enough of it to get me where I needed to go so I could do what needed to be done. Prior to August ’98 I was in fact quite pleased with myself because, for a “big girl”, I could move my mass very well, I felt. I was reasonably flexible, and my legs were strong. I could walk a lot and cover a lot of ground, and so I did regularly, frequently walking for a couple of hours at a time, just because I could.

Generally, however, I’ve never liked exercise. The forms of exercise I find least offensive nowadays are those forms that utilize the breath and are non-impact, such as yoga, pilates, and t’ai chi, or some combination of those. When I’ve exercised, it has never been as much about doing it for my benefit as about self-justification and self-defense against those people, known and not, who took it upon themselves to criticize to me the gynormous flaw that is my size, my fat, my obesity. When told I needed to do something about it, I could point at the road outside and say that somewhere down it was the health club du jour to which I belonged, courtesy of my own money, and which I visited regularly, pedaling, lifting, toning, and whatever else they offered that I might do to slim down. Or if I wasn’t in a club, I was out walking, or, after the walking became impossible, triking. Some of it was tolerable, and the trike rides, I must admit, were even fun in large part, because at least I saw parts of the city on my own that I might not have otherwise seen if I’d been walking. And even on a clunky three-speed trike, it’s amazing how much ground a nosy fat girl on a mission to see what comes next can cover in two hours!

By the summer of 2009, however, pedaling on the club bikes was getting painful because of the nerve pain in my back and down my legs. I made it through the breath-centered exercise classes on sheer hardheadedness and staggered out of every one of them as if I were drunk rather than relaxed. The walk across the parking lot from the bus stop to the club, and back again when I was done, could only be accomplished in stages, and it easily took a good five or six minutes when it shouldn’t have taken more than maybe two or three. Even the elders in the Silver Sneakers classes could stand up longer and walk better and farther than I could! I know this, because toward the end, I was in their classes.

I thank God for my ortho. The medicines I’m taking—very strong medicines—keep me functional enough to go where I need to go and do what I need to do most of the time. And in the last year, for reasons I’m attributing to a combination of different and unrelated things even as I confess that I think it’s simply a miracle of God, I’ve managed to slowly but surely drop some weight without really trying. I think one of the medicines may have contributed to that a little bit. The pain, however, while under some semblance of control, never goes away. And I do quite literally mean never.

It’s this pain that makes for me a nightmare out of T’s dream.

Today, T and I went out for the reward T said we’d earned after six straight days—I think it’s been 10 for him; we started a week and a half ago, but I missed a couple of days due to sickness—of working out at the club: After a lunch of London broil, garlic mashed potatoes, salad, and grapes, we went to Baskin-Robbins for ice cream! Ooooohhhhh, it was soooo good!!! Mine was Pralines and Cream packed on top of Chocolate Escape in a crunchy waffle cone! I didn’t care that I dribbled it onto my shirt and probably looked like I thought I was a child eating it, it was GOOD!

Then came the hard part: T determined that we must set parameters and goals. I’ll tell you mine in a moment.

T has been, I’m sure, quite disappointed in me. I’m obviously not as excited about this as he hoped I’d be; far from it, I’ve been dragging my heels, kicking and screaming attitudinally, and giving him fits. He seems to be one of those people who, once they get into the routine of exercising, are lifted up and buoyed by it, who miss it when they’re away from it, and who can’t wait to get back to it. That has never been me, even when I do it regularly enough to make an impact on myself. As I said earlier, for me it’s all about being able to say I did it, and that’s all. For him, it’s a joy because he will be fit and strong. For me it is a punishment because I’m fat and unhealthy. He wants to be big and muscular. I want to be small enough that if I must leave this earth by way of the grave, they don’t have to put me there in a piano case.

He gets irked at me when I say that. T has his own burdens to bear, I very well know this. Chronic pain isn’t one of them. So I think he doesn’t get just how big a deal it has become for me. He doesn’t know how loudly I want to yell at him when he seems not to take it into consideration in this working out like a maniac and making of goals to become even more maniacal about it.

He made me answer questions I wasn’t happy to have him ask: The impact of my weight on my health, my activities, my relationships, my wishes.

So far my glucose levels are good, and except for a slight thickening in the ventricles, my heart is fine. The thickening will correct itself if I can maintain a normal blood pressure. I am being treated for hypertension, and my doctor has mentioned high cholesterol a few times. I admit that my weight contributes to the pain I feel; however, due to the fact that I have suffered attacks of paresthesia since I was a child, I know that the nerve aspect of it is a lifelong issue, and I will probably have that even if I achieve a normal weight.

I cannot run, so heaven help me if I ever need to escape trouble quickly. I climb stairs like a child, two-footing every one. I don’t walk very well. I miss walking! I wouldn’t care about the rest of it if I could just do that.

I’ve never dated except for a very brief period of four months. That relationship ended badly for me. It has only been recently that I have been truly able to forgive the person involved. People who are very small and/or very slender are very concerning to me; I feel that I must be very careful around them lest I accidentally hurt them. I feel like a bear around them. In all my adult life, I’ve been the sex object of two different men, but neither of them loved me. No man has. Others have unsuccessfully tried by assault or other means. Many have inquired and pursued. I’ve given my heart away to some who were good men, I felt, but no man has wanted it or me. This has led to bitterness, and this I have also recently had to forgive.

I do not now expect that I shall ever be the wife and mother I longed to be for most of my adult life. Right now, the only other thing I wish that could possibly come true is that I might someday be able to buy clothes I like at any time I want from a regular store, rather than holding on to clothes that are over a decade old or accepting clothes given to me, not because I like them but because they fit.

Yesterday we were in church listening to the second part of a sermon series. The pastor described three kinds of people who, when confronted with the question of doing what is wise, had different responses: The naïf (naïve person) lacks experience, but out of hubris refuses to listen to information. The fool has experience to know that his way is wrong and information to know which way is right, but even in the teeth of the evidence that his way is wrong, he still chooses to go his own way. The mocker is angered by correction and attacks those who try to correct him for his good, belittling their experience and rejecting their information. I felt challenged on a personal and spiritual level to give an account. I recognized and acknowledged that I have often been a fool about many things. So I paid attention to the sermon yesterday.

And in spite of wanting, yet again, to scream at him that he doesn’t understand, I paid attention to T today. If T has been anything with me, he has been craze-makingly, teeth-grindingly, jaw-droppingly, head-shakingly, heart-stoppingly, unfailingly honest as far as what he believes to be true. He believes, among other things, that the only thing holding men back from me is my weight. He insists he needs me to motivate him as much as I obviously need him to drive me. More to the point, he believes I’m going to somehow succeed this time where I’ve failed so many other times before. All I’ve got to do is just do it. I don’t want to act the fool about this. I don’t want to kill a dream. I also don’t want to waste my time hurting myself to no purpose. I live enough nightmares. One of us is right. I’ll pursue this until I’m satisfied we both know which one.

So here is what T and I have agreed that I will do:

I will follow the same method of eating my chiro mentioned to me some time ago and with which I had such good success the brief time I stuck to it. If you check the archives on this blog, you will recognize it instantly: Lean protein, plenty of vegetables and fruits, no more than one serving daily of starch of any kind, nothing fried, and only agave nectar and honey as sweeteners. The one serving of starch is a departure from the last time I tried this, because T insists that I need some complex carbs (I grew up thinking that fruits and vegetables were complex carbs) to give me energy for workouts. My intention is to fuel myself with a little starch before my workouts, so I will eat it no later than lunchtime, since I will probably do most of my workouts in the afternoon. I define starch as all starchy plant matter such as grains, potatoes and corn, breads and cereals, crackers, baked and fried snack foods made from grains or potatoes, and baked sweets such as cakes, cookies, pies, etc. For the one starch serving I allow myself, I will choose from healthier starches such as granola or other cereal, corn, whole-grain breads, and potatoes. I will only eat enough of these to satisfy my body’s physical requirements for working out.

In addition to this low-starch menu, I will drink a gallon of water per day. This seems excessive, but (1), I have been chronically dehydrated for at least a year and maybe longer, so I need some water! (2) In addition, I have heard from a number of sources that, especially for larger people, the proper amount of water to drink is one ounce per two pounds of body weight. According to this formula, I should rightly be drinking a bit more than a gallon, but we’re setting a gallon as the goal, and I think I will be doing swimmingly, no pun intended, if I consistently put down that much in one day, let alone every day!

We will definitely work out six days a week, and probably walk, weather and time permitting, on Sunday. Every workout for me will be 25 minutes on the stationary bike, with five additional minutes added every month. I will also do weight training, with upper and lower body workouts on alternate days. As I gain strength, I will increase my weights. Each workout will end with stretching. T ultimately would like to see me on the bike or other aerobic exercise for an hour. I just want to get it done.

In addition to adding time to my bike ride and weight to my strength training, I will track my weight loss by weighing myself every other week. I refused to do it more frequently than that. I have zero intention of living and dying by numbers on a scale; I don’t need that frustration!

We will reward ourselves weekly; what those rewards will be is up to T.

I just thought of something: It does occur to me that I can check the speed and quality of my hair growth as a result of these changes, since some women swear by all these things as an impetus for hair to grow, and as brittle as mine is, I need it to grow fast enough to make up for the breakage I’m constantly fighting to minimize. It’s a good enough focus to keep me from strangling T during the tough times :-).