Plateau

May 21, 2019

If you charted your weight over the course of your life, you’d have an upward swoop from birth to adulthood, while your body is doing things like forming bone and growing muscle. Common knowledge (and medical history) says that your health is best maintained if the chart then levels out and you live on the flatlands for the rest of your life. River bottom land; good soil there. Stable. Maybe the occasional spring flood, but for the most part, the living is easy.

I’ve come to see that my weight is FAR from the best measure of my health, but it’s certainly a convenient one. My doctor says she can spot potential problems if she weighs me even when I come in for a skin thingy. I think she’s just doing it that way because doctors have always done it that way – “step on the scale” being as automatic as “and your co-pay is how much?” But she thought she could spot malignancies if the weight fluctuated in surprising ways, and my annoyance  at that is trumped by my superstition; there’s a lot of cancer in my family, and she shuts me down with that one.

Where was I? Oh – weight is not the only measure; it’s not even a particularly good measure. But it’s one I’ve known over time – and I know that the chart of my weight would look like the approach to the Rocky Mountains.

There’s a gradual slope up in the foothills of the college years, and then the first of the low mountains. Then I “got a grip” and lost some weight, only to discover I was now climbing an even higher mountain. This pattern repeated, and every time I lost weight, I’d put it back on plus more, until I got up to 260 pounds.

That’s where Barbara stepped in.

I’ve been working with Barbara at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA for some three years now. She told me in the beginning that she could help my cardio endurance (and she and I ran and walked a mile today, so she was right!). She also looked at me critically and said “And I think we can take some weight off you.”

I rolled my eyes. Having tracked up and down over this mountain range for five decades and more, I wasn’t just skeptical. I was defeated. There was NO WAY she could do it – and even if she did, it wouldn’t stay off. It would be back. And more.

Today, I weigh about 240 pounds. (I’m not exactly sure because she won’t let me weigh myself anymore.) But the loss of “only” twenty pounds is deceptive. More significantly, I’ve gone from size 22 jeans to size 16s. I’ve lost more than a foot off my waist. And – see above – I can run/walk a mile without EXCESSIVE complaint.

There’s a terribly nice lady who works out at Body Dynamics while I’m working with Barbara. She’s friendly and funny and supportive and we exchange bitches happily. Today she told me I looked particularly slim. I thanked her, but said that nothing had changed; I’d lost many, many inches in my first year with Barbara, but I was holding pretty steady now. I asked Barbara to measure my waist against the number she’d gotten last December, and I was right – I’m the exact same as six months ago.

So I was ginning myself up to be fussy about my lack of progress when it occurred to me:

I’ve kept the weight off for about two years. My size 16 jeans are getting kind of old and might need to be replaced soon. My weight and size is STABLE – after a significant loss.

Do you see what’s so staggering about this?

I’m sitting on a ledge on the side of a mountain – a ledge that’s actually broad enough to be considered the high plains. From where I am, I can see the heights to which I had ascended (and believe me, there was higher still to go). I can see how far I’ve come down from the top.

I’m still miles above the rich bottomland along the river – I’m still many, many pounds away from where insurance company actuarial tables say I should be. But I’ve been at a lower level for the longest time (by FAR) since I’ve been keeping a mental chart of my weight.

I’m stable.

And healthy as hell.

I’m sitting on my landing on the path down the mountain, thinking – damn. This is the prettiest view I’ve ever seen.

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 12.34.50 PM

Thank you, Barbara!

Team BellyButt

5.14.19

You can have a favorite Avenger (are you a Captain America person, or an Iron Man type?) and you can say Arya is the baddest of the badass or you can think that’s Dany on her dragon. You can be sure Bella should have gone with Jacob instead of freezing-cold Edward, or that Kate should have thrown her chips in with Sawyer instead of prissy Jack…

…but if you’re on one team, it’s hard as hell to switch to another team.

This brilliant assessment brought to you by Team BellyButt.

Chip, one of the clever, intuitive trainers at Body Dynamics (Falls Church, VA – look it up), says that the body has “forced couples” – like Brangelina. (Yes, I’m old.)

The back and the quads like to work together, and the glutes and the abdominals like to work together. And if you’re used to using the weaker of the two couples – if you’re Team ThighBack – then it’s very, very hard to suddenly switch to Team BellyButt.

I’ve been ThighBack since the dawn of time. It’s only since I’ve been working with trainers Barbara and Chip and miracle masseuse Gwynn that I’ve come to understand that my hip flexors are ALWAYS ON.

(If I stand quietly on two flat feet – no tsunamis or attackers attempting to push me over or anything – and attempt to relax the two straps that run from the tops of my hip bones down into the thighs (the hip flexors), I immediately fall over. This dazzles Barbara, who is instinctively Team BellyButt. She can’t understand why I need to use my quads for exercises that have nothing to do with the quads.)

The problem with being on Team ThighBack is that the back muscles are strong – but they’re not supposed to be used for power. They’re supposed to be used for supple movement and the ability to stand erect. The thighs aren’t supposed to pull you through a walk; that’s not what they were designed for.

Instead, the biggest muscles in the body are in the ass. The glutes are supposed to PUSH you though a walk. The abs are big because they’re supposed to stabilize everything. (This is so foundational to good health that all of us in Balance Class have learned that it is the answer to any question Barbara asks. “How are we today?” she’ll say and we’ll shout like Marines, “ABDOMINALS, MA’AM.”)

So those on Team BellyButt have a huge advantage over those on ThighBack…

…but I’m astonished to discover that it is not impossible to switch allegiances.

I’ve been working with Barbara for three years now. We were doing squats today. (Well, I was doing squats, and Barbara was hawk-eyeing me for issues of form that meant I’d found yet another way to cheat.)

When I was done, she asked me how they felt… and I realized that it felt like there was one of those late-night-TV ad “chair lifters” under me. You know the ad; help Granny get out of her recliner with a mechanized seat assist thingy.

My squats felt like SOMETHING was under me pushing up.

And the only thing I can think is … it was glute muscles.

Now how could I use muscles and not feel myself using them? Am I THAT detached from Team BellyButt that I have no nerve endings connected in there? For three years, Barbara has been strengthening those glute muscles – and Chip and Grace have worked on the tiny stabilizer muscles that make the big muscles more efficient – and Gwynn has been releasing muscles…

…and now something powerful is working in my backside that hasn’t worked there before.

I can’t yet feel the “push” of glute muscles when I run – but I’ve gotten to the point where I can feel a push for a few steps if I focus on it while walking. It’s weird.

And sort of encouraging.

By the way – Iron Man, obviously. Arya – because Dany’s just a pretty girl without those dragons. Jacob. Sawyer. I like the bad boys…

…but maybe I’m switching sides at a glacial pace to Team BellyButt. Will wonders NEVER cease??

Screen Shot 2019-05-14 at 4.39.37 PM

We all start out innocent and unskilled. But time, determination, and a long road trip with the Hound (plus a tenure with face-changing assassins) can make a world of difference. I’m rethinking the wisdom of comparing myself to sweet, lethal Arya, but let’s go with it anyway.

The Foreshortened Pru

5.8.19

Without even realizing it, we all present ourselves carefully when in the presence of any reflective surface.

Me, I’m thick. When you look at me face-on, you think – meh. Whatever. But if I turn sideways, the reaction is “I hope I’m on a plane with THAT lady when it crashes in the Andes – we could live off her for a long time.”

So naturally I don’t look very hard when the mirror is to my side. (Who wants to look like long pork?!) Instead I face a mirror and pull up as tall as possible, so the bulk is stretched a little longer.

The exception is when I’m sitting in Stretch Class, which happens at Body Dynamics (in Falls Church, VA) on Thursdays at 11. (It’s really “Stretch and Roll” class because we use these tormentful, awesome, addictive foam rollers to torture and delight our muscles.)

I sit on my little mat and do my best to bend in willowy fashion, holding stretches while the starch in my muscles creaks and groans and eventually gives up the ghost…

…and then I sit up again and find I’m confronting myself in the mirror in my best Winnie-the-Pru pose of solidity and I realize that facing the mirror is NOT HELPING my self-confidence!

IMG_0311

It’s those legs stuck out in front, looking all stubby and adorable. It’s the expanse of waist, the generosity of flesh. I look so STOLID.

And I get to giggling. There I am in a class with women (and occasionally a lone man) of all shapes and sizes, all of us attempting to be willowy or at the very least maintain whatever bendability we have, and I’m hooting like an owl. Trying to be quiet as I snigger at my own reflection. I go to the gym to look and, most important, feel better and instead I’m looking like Sweaty Buddha.

HOWEVER I’m Sweaty Buddha with a little bit more flexibility. So I keep going. Because looking good in the gym is desirable – but looking good OUTSIDE the gym is better.

When I took art history several centuries ago, we learned about a painting from the Renaissance. It was just after people had figured out perspective, and one artist conceived the unbearably radical idea of painting Christ (after he was taken from the cross) FROM THE FOOT OF THE BED, which makes Jesus look stubby and short. This was not how he’d been portrayed in every other painting ever ever ever and people were OUTRAGED.

The painting (by Andrea Mantegna) (that’s not Joe Mantegna, the actor, nor is it Joe Montana, the quarterback, although I’m sure they’re both excellent painters) is actually called “The Lamentation of Christ,” but it’s so commonly known as “The Foreshortened Christ” that I found the image on Google just by using the incorrect title. Cool image, huh?

Screen Shot 2019-05-08 at 11.35.13 AM

The takeaway is – the perspective you have on a scene affects what you see. Ragged holes in hands and feet in one case – determination masked in plumpness in the other. I guess my point is – maybe you’ve been seeing the wrong thing when you look in the mirror. Instead of focusing on the parts of you that you hate, why not look at the larger whole? At the strength and compassion and humor and goodness that create a far more complete picture of who you really are?

Let us all giggle – for we do not have ragged holes in our hands and feet. At least, I don’t.

(Upon re-reading, I feel I need to make a point: I am NOT drawing a parallel between me and the person upon whom a huge religion has been built. I AM drawing a parallel between the perspective in the Stretch and Roll mirror and the rebel artist Mantegna. I intend no disrespect to any faith.) (Or work of art, natch.)

The Blob

3.29.19

Did you ever see Steve McQueen’s first movie? It was a low-budget 1958 horror thriller called The Blob, in which an asteroid lands on earth.

The grizzled farmer who finds it in his field scratches his day-old beard and hitches up his dungarees while thinkin’ ‘er out. Then (reasoning like any scientist) he whacks the asteroid with a big old stick…

…and out oozes The Blob.

It’s a black, oily, gelatinous substance that gives no clue whatsoever to its goals, conflicts, or motivations. It just sits there, pulsing ever so slightly, waiting for someone (like a hapless old farmer) to say “Hey – what’s that? And what happens if you poke it with a stick?”

It consumes you, obviously. It flows against gravity up the stick and onto the old farmer’s hand. Hey – I can’t get this off! Help – hey, help, you kids!

Enter achingly-young Steve McQueen and some winsome lass. We’ll take him to Doc’s. He’ll know what to do. (Doc, it need not be pointed out, does not know what to do.)

Eventually The Blob eats pretty much the whole hamlet and the National Guard is called in. Steve McQueen freezes the diner-sized Blob (it’s eaten a lot) and Army helicopters fly the mass to be dropped in Antarctica where it will be immobilized by the cold, to await the really SERIOUSLY bad sequel in 1988.

HERE’S MY POINT:

Today is my husband’s deathiversary; he died two years ago. His death certificate actually lists The Day as tomorrow, since the rescue squad restarted his heart in the hospital. It was very noble of them, even if it did take his immediate and tidy death from a massive heart attack and draw it out into a 24-hour deathbed scene of massive brain damage and panting and an unconscious refusal to close his eyes even though he wasn’t in there any more – it was grim and horrible as you can imagine.

But March 29 is the day I found him dead in the doorway of the garden shed, so this is his deathiversary to me.

And I’m looking at my grief like I was a grizzled old farmer in a field.

The grief is black and oily and bloblike. It’s sitting there just pulsing, and I’m pretty sure if I poke it with a stick, it’s going to flow uphill and consume me.

So I’m walking around it suspiciously, scratching my day-old beard and hitching up my dungarees. I’m carefully choosing my stick. I’m setting up for the Blobbening. I’m hoping to ride it out and be left standing on the other side.

And it entertains me, as so many things do, that Jonathan thought Steve McQueen was a god. He would LOVE the idea that I’d need to be – if not rescued then at least exclaimed over – by Steve McQueen.

Who is ALSO dead. Jeesh.

Mental health. It’s part of the overall health quest, right? I get to write about what I want, surely?!

Screen Shot 2019-03-29 at 6.00.14 PM

Steve McQueen. Cute at every age.

The Weight

3.28.19

“Why do you have to weigh me to look at a bumpy place on my skin?”

My doctor, really a very nice lady, must have thought I was particularly annoying today.

I went in to see her because I have a bumpy-up place on my skin – right in the “bad sunburn” triangle that developed on my chest during a childhood spent grumpily reading books at the beach. (I am a vampire in a family of sun-worshippers, and until I was old enough to stay at the rented beach house alone, I used to be dragged unwillingly to various beaches, where I would inevitably lobster up but never, ever tan.)

My mother is constantly sporting bandages from the dermatologist where they’ve once again carved out a hunk of her skin that at last, after many, many decades of exposure to solar radiation, had finally begun to protest this abuse; mild forms of skin cancer are her daily bread.

So when I got the bumpy-up place (and it was mildly itchy), I hove myself over to the doctor for a look-see, just in case. And I noted the reason for my visit in the “comments” portion of the electronic appointment system.

Today, when the (entirely pleasant) nurse called me from the waiting room, she took me immediately to the Station of Shame. You know the one – stand on the scale, get your blood pressure taken, hold a thermometer in your mouth.

“Why do you need to weigh me so the doctor can look at my skin?” I asked her. “You don’t need to, do you?”

“Yes – it’s a vital sign. I have to get your vital signs.”

She weighed me.

“You know,” I said huffily, “I saw a study once that said many women were put on blood pressure medicine unnecessarily because they get anxious when weighed in a doctor’s office.”

“Really?” she said, not at all impressed with the scientific authority of “I saw a study one time.” “I maybe should take the blood pressure before I weigh people?”

It was nice of her to imply that she might change her time-honed routine. I grimaced and shook my head. “Won’t matter. I’ll know the scale is coming up.”

As it happens, my blood pressure is quite low – a genetic gift from my maternal grandfather – and she looked at me as if vindicated. Clearly MY blood pressure hadn’t been affected by being weighed. See? I just shook my head; she wasn’t going to be able to re-configure the entire massive Kaiser Permanente system just on my bitching anyway.

But while I was waiting for Dr. Long, I got to stewing about it. I didn’t need any prescriptions; there was no need to calculate pharmaceuticals. I had no chronic conditions like diabetes or anorexia that might make weight maintenance critical to a care plan. I had a bump on my skin.

Why did I have to be weighed?

The longer I sat there, the more I fussed. So when that kind, long-suffering woman walked into the room, I practically leapt like a wrestler who’d scaled the ropes to really get a good drop on her.

WHY??

I explained to her that I’d been spending the last three years coming to grips with the fact that the scale is a liar when it comes to being a good measure of health – and that having to be weighed just to enter the inner sanctum was an immediate reversal of all that good work. It was like she was saying my weight was the only measure of my health that she was interested in.

She explained that there are several easy constants that she – and all doctors – can use to map a body’s condition over time, and that weight is one of them.

Then – because she’s a very good doctor and likes a thoughtful question – she posited a few what if’s for me. What if I was a diabetic? Would it be wrong to do regular weight checks?

(But I’m not a diabetic, I replied with a pout, and this wasn’t a check-up; it was for a specific issue. And the nurse had stopped to check my file to make sure she’d gotten all the vitals she needed before putting me in the exam room; there could have just as easily been a note to her that said my weight was of annual – and not more frequent – interest.)

If you had an anorexic daughter, she asked me, wouldn’t you want her weight to be part of every doctor’s visit?

(I have very little experience with anorexia, but I offered the opinion that telling an anorexic that her weight was the key indicator of her health was a terrible idea.)

She told me that it happens that people don’t realize that they’ve lost or gained weight, and she can forestall larger issues (she said the word “malignancy,” which is like a trump card in any exam room discussion) if she can see what’s going on with their weight.

“Everyone knows what they weigh. You can feel it in your jeans.” I dismissed her comment.

“Not if they don’t want to know,” she shot back – and damned if she wasn’t right. We all see what we want to see, and if you fear that your sudden unexplained weight loss is a symbol of a returning cancer, you might very well choose to ignore the potential horrors.

She explained that weight can even be a factor in arthritis, which was a pretty good stopper to my arguments – and she clarified that for her, weight is not about shame or societal expectations or emotions; it’s a scientific measure of the body and that’s it.

“But my weight is ALL about shame and expectations and emotions to ME. You’re not weighing me to upset me, but that’s the result.” I was terribly pugnacious today.

If I was empress, I told her, I would change the policy in every doctor’s office. I’d have a scale in every exam room instead of one scale in the nurse’s area. And once the doctor came in and found out why the patient was there, the doctor could choose to say “Let’s see if weight is a factor in what you’re telling me; step up on the scale.”

“You’ve given me something to think about,” she said – which proves she’s a kind as well as a skilled doctor. And then she used nitrogen to freeze the bumpy place off my chest because it wasn’t even a remotely interesting case to the dermatologist she consulted.

It’s hard enough to give up the idea that my weight determines my health – it’s even harder to go up against the medical community. But I’m telling you: Weighing every patient, every time, is unnecessary and sends a bad signal to anyone who already feels badly about their body. It might even cause someone to avoid the doctor entirely.

I guess it’s easy for a basically-healthy person to say that. What’s your take?

IMG_0212

I’m really getting good at the ugly selfie. That’s my bumpy place, after being insulted by a nitrogen freeze treatment. There goes my career as a bikini model, at least for a while.

PS: I’ll be sending a link to this post to my doctor; maybe she’ll correct my errors in a comment! Hi, Dr. Long. Want to continue the discussion?

Is it Fear? IS IT??

3.16.19

If you were puttering happily down the road in a rusted AMC Pacer (remember that car? Fat-bottomed and proud of it?), and the passenger next to you reached over and flipped a bright red switch you’d never noticed before…

…and if a nitrous oxide engine boost alarmingly kicked on and rocket flames burst from your tailpipe and you were suddenly screaming down the road like a Fast and Furious movie…

…you’d freak out, right?

You’d feel a huge loss of control. There might be screaming.

I’ve spent the last three years attempting to become one with my glutes. Mind you, I didn’t KNOW that’s what I was doing when I started out – but you can be very sure that Barbara and Grace and Gwynn and Chip and all the experts at Falls Church’s Body Dynamics knew.

Barbara had me sussed in about five minutes. I use my back and thigh muscles where I should be using my abs and butt muscles. And frankly, it’s a lot easier (although not easy) to help a client find her abs. I’ve spent my life uselessly sucking in my stomach, so I at least knew those muscles were there.

But I’ve always been … let’s call it butt-blind. I knew those muscles were back there, wrapped for a long winter’s nap under ample downy blankets. I even THOUGHT I was using them. But I wasn’t.

Early on, magnificent trainer Barbara hooked me up to a strap like Farmer Ted plowing the back pasture. She’d put the strap around my hips and get behind me. “Now run across the room,” she’d say.

Barbara – nothing but lean muscle and intelligence and x-ray vision – is a slip of a woman. If I fell down on her, she’d be Barbara-jam. So dragging her across the room wasn’t actually THAT hard. Not easy – she was back behind me, digging in and dragging me back with all her might. But I made it back and forth a few times, giggling and panting. You really have to lean in, but it’s doable.

And it’s the leaning in that is the trick – because that’s when the glutes wake up and start getting involved.

Then she’d drop the strap. “NOW run across the room.”

And I’d go flying across the room like I was shot from a gun, glutes doing what they were supposed to have been doing all along. Like someone just flipped a switch on the nitrous burner. “Eeeee!” I’d shriek, horror and excitement warring in me as the wall grew in my vision like a cartoon disaster. “What the hell!”

She doesn’t do that any more. Now we actually run – on the streets or on a treadmill. She’s got Gwynn the masseuse unlocking fuzzed fibers and educating me about the three muscles that make up the mighty, mighty ass. Grace and now Chip are brightening up the stabilizing muscles.

So now when I walk, I have this slight unease. What the HELL is going on back there?

And just as the AMC Pacer owner always admired the Ferrari, I don’t know what the hell to do with this power. I thought I wanted it, but now that maybe I have it, I am … well … a little scared of it. I’m all off-center. That is NOT where power usually comes from. It’s like walking while someone behind you is continually pushing you off-balance.

You mean those muscles have been there all along and I just never noticed? That’s weird. No – don’t flip that on. I’m not used to that. We can just putter along in the Pacer. We’ll get there. We don’t have to go like a missile.

Right?

I’m thinking – maybe it’s fear that’s my biggest obstacle. This is going to take some getting used to.

I know that pro-5K people will immediately decide that it’s my “horror glutei” (fear of ass muscles) that is holding me back from running a joyous 5K, but SHUT UP. I just have no desire to run a 5K and still haven’t heard (even from the most eloquent) any benefit to group agony that persuades me this is something to be desired. THIS post is simply about accessing unsuspected (and terrifyingly powerful) muscles, so let’s let the 5K thing go, ‘kay?!

Screen Shot 2019-03-16 at 11.35.00 AM

The AMC Pacer inevitably makes it to any list of “The World’s Ugliest Cars,” but I always liked it. It didn’t look like every other car on the road. It was proudly plain. Boastfully humble. And it never set a speed record. Yes, a Ferrari would look prettier as my image for this post – but as noted, I’m a little afraid of the implied speed. I’m poking along, working up my courage. Ferrari later.

Undecided

3.5.19

My trainer Barbara has me on the horns of a dilemma. (A most uncomfortable position!)

She returned to an old chestnut that I’d foolishly hoped had died long months past – that I was ready to run a 5K.

She seems to think there’s something so joyous about running in a group that I, like so many others, would suddenly discover I was having a good time. This seems unlikely to me; I’m not much of a joiner; I’m not much motivated by shared experiences.

Anyway, I feel that, were I to join with others in a 5K, it would be more likely that any runner in my immediate vicinity would end up walking and then stopping completely, bitching vigorously about how much faster this would be if we could all just get in our cars and drive the stupid course. I would have a net negative effect on the race as a whole.

But that’s beside the point. I ventured my primary objection to Barbara.

“I can barely make a mile, and you want me to go 3.1 miles? That’s insane.”

And Barbara – with the implacable logic of a mother – ignored me completely. “You just don’t THINK you can do it, so you can’t. If you made up your mind that you were going to do it, you could do it. You’re ready.”

This filled me with a rising tide of smoky, swirling frustration. Like, your hands are full but there’s one single hair tickling your face and you’re not going to be able to get it frustration. Overwhelming.

Barbara thinks my problem is attitude. She thinks my limitations are mental.

I KNOW my problem is physical. I think I’ve demonstrated a pretty impressive positive attitude throughout this entire process, and to suddenly claim I was defeating myself – well, that’s just a slap in the face of all that I’ve accomplished.

I believe in the power of a positive mental attitude. I believe in the mind-body connection.

And I stupidly thought that Barbara, jogging slowly beside me for all these months, correcting my foot placement and rib cage angle and use of butt muscles while no doubt plotting her fleet-footed streak across the landscape at the Boston Marathon, was seeing my desperation.

I thought she realized that I was saying to myself, “Okay – I’ll get to that corner before I walk. Okay – I can make it to that bush. That fire hydrant. That crack in the sidewalk…. No, no I can’t. I’m walking now.”

I thought she could feel the rawness in my lungs as the mission to suck in oxygen became critical.

I thought she understood that my entire body turns to lead and moving ahead at any speed requires every ounce of strength I have.

She must have thought I was kidding when confronted with that last fatal hill and I would grit my teeth with an audible crunching sound. She must not have noticed that I put my head down and refused to look up to see how far away the top was. She should have been able to feel my desperation and determination and longing to drop dead of a massive heart attack so I didn’t have to take a single step further – but she didn’t.

She thinks my problem is MENTAL.

It is SO not mental. Mental is what gets me to the end of the mile, far beyond the bounds my body would accept without the slave driver in my brain viciously using the long whip to get those damned mules moving through the mud.

But here’s my problem: Barbara is ALWAYS RIGHT. She’s earned my deepest respect over the last three years. She can see inside my shoes and inside my ponderous belly. She knows which butt muscles I’m using when I don’t even know.

So how can she be wrong about this?

So how can she be RIGHT about this??

This conundrum has so stymied me that I’ve stopped blogging while trying to figure it out. And I still haven’t. So I’m blogging, instead, about not knowing the answer.

I’m sorry. No words of wisdom today. Just me – all undecided.

IMG_0183

This is potentially the least-flattering photo of me in the history of mankind, but it does sort of typify my confusion on the subject – and CLEARLY this blog is not about me being particularly attractive. So… truth in advertising!

Starkers

2.12.19

Under what incredibly rare circumstances is an overweight woman actually happy when stark naked?

I know what you’re thinking. You went right for sex, didn’t you? But you’re wrong. Your typical overweight woman has seen rom-coms. She’s even seen porn, even if she’s not going to admit it. She knows what sex is SUPPOSED to look like, and generally speaking, she’s pretty sure she doesn’t look like that when in the throes.

So lots of bedcovers are favored. Darkness is an ally. Careful poses and great suckings-in of the stomach, plus a wish that one could suck in the hips or the thighs or the baby’s-got-back.

Other times an overweight woman is naked: At the doctor’s office, and even then, they give you ridiculous paper vests and large drapes, also made of paper, with which to hopefully cover some of what the doctor is forced by his or her profession to look at with (at best mild) contempt.

No overweight woman is happy in the doctor’s office. I saw a study a few decades ago that said that women should never be weighed BEFORE having their blood pressure taken; it’s so stressful that the BP is never accurate.

You’re naked when you take a shower or bath, but we all arrange things so we don’t have to examine the light gleaming off ample rolls of wet flesh. Once again, that’s not how (we think) a pretty woman is supposed to look… so bathing becomes about utility.

So IS there a time when an overweight woman is truly happy while naked?

YES.

I went to see Gwynn yesterday – the therapeutic masseuse. We first discussed the various physical readings from my body, and then because Gwynn is all about the total person, we discussed stress and mood and sleep and all the non-exercise-based things that were influencing the way my body moved.

She developed a plan. (This time? “Let’s focus mostly on your shoulders,” she said. Yes – lets! That’s where stress lives in me!) (Gwynn says shoulders; what she means is that she’s going to work on muscles that I NEVER would have thought would influence the shoulders… but she’s always right.) And then she stepped out so I could strip down.

Which I did. Eagerly. And then I slipped under the sheet and blanket on her heated massage table. It was near freezing and raining outside – a grey, unfriendly day – so lying flat and quiet on Gwynn’s heated table was sweeter than candy. My feet were warm; I was warm. It was quiet. No phone calls, no emails. No chores or To Dos. My job was to lie still and feel my body relax into the padded table.

And I knew that when Gwynn came back in, she would NOT see the excess of adipose tissue on my body; she wouldn’t raise an unseen eyebrow at the bulges under the sheet. She saw me as a wonderful tangle of muscles and capability and it was her project to straighten me out.

Which she did. She cradled my skull in one strong hand and turned and lifted my head so she could knead the neck muscles. She got to my lats. She worked on the quads, and did a quick tour of my feet. I was a lump of happy clay and she was Rodin. She shaped me into something better and more graceful. The image of being sculpted was so vivid that I asked if she ever tried working in clay.

“I don’t have an artistic bone in my body,” she demurred.

That can’t be true. She was shaping me with such skill. What could she do if you gave her some Play-Dough??

But my point: I was absolutely naked, and just blissfully happy about it. Yay!

Some people don’t like massages. “I don’t like to be touched,” they say. And I feel SO SORRY for them. It’s such a blessing, really. And when Gwynn was finished with my hour, I was so stoned I felt it was probably unwise of me to drive right away.

I did drive. All my stressors and troubles were waiting just outside, and I woke up pretty quickly once I left…

…but for an hour, I was floating and supported and approved of. What a gift.

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 4.59.30 PM

That’s a trio of Reubens nudes. At the time, those women were famed for their voluptuous beauty. Of course, they were also expected to survive the occasional famine, which is what made them so voluptuous. Good breeders. Alas, we live in a time when the snaky-hipped are praised… They’d be the first to go if we had a famine now. Remember that, my generously-sized friends; we are genetically superior in all ages but this one!

BRAO

2.2.18

“Brao” sounds like what a pudgy, 59-year-old lady says when she sees photos of smokin’ hot actors, right?

In fact, THAT sound is “RAOW.” (Duh.)

BRAO means something entirely different; it’s a huge motivator for me.

You see, during the roughly two years when my husband was decaying like a malted milk ball (you know the one – looks normal but turns out to be almost hollow, with the malt condensed and crusted on the inside of the chocolate shell? Kinda gummy?), he pretty much did nothing more than sit.

He was dealing with physical issues as well as possible brain trauma and deserves empathy for his decision to take to his recliner (the “decliner”)… and one day while he was sitting there, he realized he couldn’t see right. The lower, inner quadrant of one eye (the part that lets you just barely see the side of your own nose) was black.

So he sat there for a while.

Turns out that even if this had happened to him while sitting in the exam chair at a retina specialist, there wasn’t anything that could be done. A small clot had developed in his bloodstream and upon slipping along one of the hair-like arteries in the retina, had gotten wedged into place. Within three minutes, the region of the retina that the artery branch served had died.

This wasn’t something that could be treated by diet or medicine; there was no operation that was going to bring the vision back. A hunk of dead retina is just that; dead. No more go.

When we finally got to the retina specialist, he was warm and comforting; this is nothing to feel bad about. It just happens sometimes. Jonathan had had a Branch Retinal Artery Occlusion – or BRAO.

But you know, there’s a larger truth there. You can’t do anything that will definitely protect you from a stroke… but you can take action to make it less likely. Right?

Don’t decline. That’s the top advice. Get up and strut around a little. Get the blood moving so little pockets of quiet in the heart don’t get sludgy and start calving like glaciers into tiny clot-bergs.

Make a few different choices at the dinner table. Avoid poisons like diet sodas. Skip the bread basket. Have chicken instead of beef.

Sugar. Damned, insidious sugar, with its hooks deeply embedded in my brain. Resist. Resist. Resist.

Jonathan didn’t. He sat. And declined. And lost the vision in part of one eye. And eventually he died, and never saw his son graduate from high school or got to visit him at college in Vermont. He never got to drive my new car. He has no idea my nephew is going to be a father. He’s missing EVERYTHING.

This journey into Jonathan’s decline comes because in a quest for a cool spot (the furnace is on too high in this chill weather), I ended up on his side of the bed in the early hours. I woke up and found myself caught in a grim memory loop. The BRAO came back to me vividly; I couldn’t shake the reflection of a nightmare time.

This morning, I got up and ate my yogurt. Then I ran the stairs. Up and down, up and down, up and down – ten times in all, grimacing and wishing I had the breath to say all the bitchy things I was thinking about how annoying it is to get cardio exercise…

…and I thought “BRAO.” This is why I do stairs. Forget the waistline. Forget the label on the jeans. Forget being “good” or “bad” about my health. Just do it so you don’t go blind one day.

I could sit comfortably now and ignore the stairs and perhaps lose my vision later… or I can pant and grunt and complain now while thudding from floor to floor in my house and later have a marginally better chance of seeing my son live his life, and meeting my grand-nephew or niece, and eventually buying another new car that Jonathan won’t get to drive. Maybe one day I’ll hold a silly novel in my hand that I wrote and actually published. Maybe.

So – stairs. BRAO, man. Stairs.

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 2.16.39 PM

Google Images assures me that is a retina. Honestly, it could be a hugely injured retina or a textbook example of what a retina is supposed to look like… I wouldn’t know. I just thought the red was pretty. Jonathan’s scans (which were always in black and white, not flaming red) had a large dark shadow over part of this image. BRAO.  Brr.

 

 

Bliss

1.22.19

In the depths of grumpiness, the seeds of bliss can be found. Here’s how I know:

I was working out with Barbara today at Body Dynamics. I’ve been feeling sort of badly that Barbara keeps having to jolly me along lately; I’ve begun to dread my workouts. (I think this is seasonal; my grizzly bear DNA says it’s time to hibernate, damn it.)

(That’s how grizzly bear DNA talks. It’s not just time to hibernate. It’s time to hibernate, DAMN IT.)

So I’ve been relying on habit and the implacable demands of having appointments on the books to keep me going. Gritted teeth and a refusal to give up, even if I find little joy in what I’m doing and the jeans aren’t getting any looser.

But this is tough on Barbara (and Grace and Chip and Gwynn) – I imagine at the beginning of a January cold snap they have nothing BUT rosters of grumpy clients who they’d prefer to take a cattle prod to. You wouldn’t know it, though; the entire Body Dynamics team either puts on a brilliant game face as soon as the doors open or they really DO like coming to work every day, because they’re all still happy and energetic and eager to laugh at/with a client who can’t find her glutes.

I was running/walking on the treadmill today, grumpily plotting fierce rebellion and sending out waves of black temper to tarnish the joy of anyone around me. “When was the last time you ran?” Barbara asked.

I grimaced. “It was in 2018.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

She checked her records; she was right. I’d run in 2019, but just barely. “It’s been 21 days since you ran. You’re doing SO WELL!”

Hm. I don’t think so.

Then we went after individual muscles – including the aforementioned glutes, which are inert masses on my backside and always have been. I think Barbara is puzzled by what she must see as my willful refusal to use my glutes. I can’t even feel them to turn them off; I don’t say I wouldn’t if I could – after all, I frequently plot rebellion and insurrection. But I have no idea how to communicate with those muscles, so I take neither credit nor blame.

After a great deal of griping and whining on my part, the last of sixty minutes ticked past and I stomped out, a thundercloud of delight for all who came near me.

“What is the MATTER with me?” I wondered.

I got in the car and drove from the parking garage into the blinding sun. Fumbling for my sunglasses, I put them on and was immediately fogged in by the waves of heat coming off my face. More grumbling.

Finally I cracked the sunroof. It’s 24 degrees in Falls Church, Virginia – not as cold as some parts of the nation (my son, in Vermont, reported that it was a degree yesterday. The only use of “degree” in the singular. This amuses me.) but still plenty crisp.

If I’m quick on the sunroof controls, I can stop it before the sound and wind baffles kick in; at one very specific point, I can force outside air onto my head like a wind tunnel. That’s what I did, figuring some freezing air might de-fog my specs and chill out my grumpitude.

And OH MY GOD it felt good.

I remember when I was a kid and we only had air conditioners in the bedrooms, I’d attempt to stand in front of the open freezer door for as long as possible in the summer until my mother would protest that I was melting the ice cubes; shut the door.

THIS WAS BETTER.

Of course, the air blows only on the right side of my head, so I had to turn and angle my head to send that bliss over the left side, too. Over the skin. Into the hair. Across the crown of the head. Around the eye sockets. And then I got on the highway.

The noise was epic – but OH LORDY. I drove along at 70 (not TOO illegal; there are parts of the Capital Beltway where you can go 65 legally) twisting my head around like those old “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” Breck commercials where a supermodel with a blow dryer forced even more hotness into her lustrous mane. Only mine was icy cold and my face was blotchy and hot.

And suddenly everything was fine.

I left my black mood in a million tiny pieces behind me in the express lanes of the Beltway, blown away by the cold. Yes, I know the exercise released endorphins and it just took a while for them to kick in – but what a mitzvah that cold, cold air was.

Bliss.

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 1.42.09 pm

By the way – when I opened the sunroof, it was a relentless 24 degrees out. By the time I got home, it was 28. I take credit for that rising temp; my skin was VERY hot. See how hard I work out?!