Wake Up Call No. 457

It’s no secret that I’ve had a staggering amount of loss in the past year. I’ve alluded to it before. If I gave all these losses and traumas to a single character in one of my stories, readers would howl at the unbelievable plot.

Loss of communities and my own sense of identity as I re-brand myself as an author in a new genre with a new pen name. Death of multiple pets and family members. Earlier this week, my brother who’d been battling cancer for some time, lost his fight. Next week, I will be attending my third funeral in a year.

The last conversation I had with him was a good one. He spoke of his plans for his celebration of life service, and visiting with old friends who’d made special trips to see him one more time. How the love of his life was also his best friend, and how he was glad he hadn’t waited to travel and do the things most people do once they retire. I was glad he’d reached a point of peace and acceptance in his world full of pain, but I was struck by one statement in particular.

“I have no regrets.”

I honestly couldn’t say the same. It’s not that I’ve made terrible decisions in my life, but the choices I’ve made have locked me into certain pathways from which I can’t escape. Most of those decisions were based on following a calling and choosing a way of life I thought best suited to my personality, but the reality of it is I’m fried from work commitments. I spend the day putting out other people’s metaphorical fires, and then come home drained and empty, with nothing left to give to my loved ones or to myself personally.

I’ve had some health scares too. I’ve been to the ER twice in the last year, both of which should have served as wake up calls to clean up my diet, to slow down, to take more walks with the dogs, to shut off social media and shut out my fears for my country and the rest of the world. To take a deep breath and calm down.

But the truth is, that’s easier said than done when you’re living off your adrenal glands. When work is so stressful you’ve developed a twitch under your left eye, it’s hard to settle for a salad for lunch when there’s a bowl of Easter candy sitting in the employee lounge. It’s easier to throw the ball in the yard for the puppy for a half hour in the evenings after work than it is to take the dogs for a walk. Get up earlier and exercise? I can barely drag myself out of bed as it is. I wish all mirrors could be banned as I look at myself and note every line, every wrinkle, every roll, and an increasingly visible scalp. An old woman looks back at me, and I don’t recognize her. I am utterly exhausted. I don’t know how to squeeze more out of my day.

And I do have regrets. I hate that I wake up every morning playing a negative soundtrack in my head about how much I hate my job, I hate the way I look, I hate the way I feel, I hate the clutter in my house, I hate the person I’ve become.

Again and again over the last ten years, I’ve said I need to make changes. And each time, I start out meaning to do so, only to let the stresses and demands of my daily life suck me back into grabbing processed food on the run, living off soda and cheese & crackers, starting exercise programs I never complete, and continuing to feel crappy and exhausted. I think for most middle-aged women, the combination of stress plus changing hormones sets us up for all kinds of ‘failure’. We simply can’t stop being the workhorse of the family to take care of ourselves, but we have less reserves than we had when we were twenty.

But we only get so many wake up calls. I’m lucky I’ve had as many as I’ve had, to be honest. I’m extremely fortunate that good genes have left me relatively healthy despite the abuse my body takes at my hands on a daily basis. Given the junk food I eat, it’s a bloody miracle I’m only 20-25 pounds overweight and not more. My heart is healthy, and I’m not pre-diabetic. I still have my gallbladder. While not an athlete, I go hiking and horseback riding. My biggest issues are pain-related, stemming from a lifetime of refusing to respect my body and joints that are severely annoyed with me. There is also the ever-increasing list of foods I can no longer eat because of my skin condition, or digestive issues, or food sensitivities. I’m running out of time to coast on my genes. I have caught a glimpse of my future and it’s a scary place–unless I make changes now.

There are reasons I’m not a fan of some of the more popular and successful diet systems. I have friends who’ve lost tremendous amounts of weight through Weight Watchers, etc. But most of these systems require a degree of tracking that is very triggering for me, coming as I am from a household of people with eating disorders. I’d never really considered myself as having an ED, but I suspect now my extreme pickiness is a form of it. Likewise, only a few days of logging food intake on WW or My Fitness Pal has me running in the opposite direction.

I also have a slew of minor but frustrating issues relating to food: I have a skin condition called acne rosacea that is that is triggered by certain foods. I’ve developed a caffeine sensitivity that has resulted in my having to give up caffeine entirely. I struggle with heartburn and digestive issues. So following a specific diet plan is often an automatic fail for me. I just can’t do it. I have to tailor my meals around what I can eat.

But I think I need some accountability, which is why I will be posting about my journey here. No pictures–I’m neither that brave nor that vain. But I will be logging what I’m doing as a whole on my path toward health–mental, physical, emotional. The Wake Up Call for a Middle-Aged Woman, so to speak. The focus here isn’t going to be on weight loss, though that would be a nice bonus if it occurred. It’s going go be about feeling better: about myself, about my life, about my future.

Because I don’t want to have any more regrets than I already do.

 

 

 

The Big Chop: The Hair Dilemma for Middle-Aged Women

I’m obsessed with my hair at the moment.

Let me preface this by saying I’ve always been ‘the girl with the hair.’ Mountains of hair that could barely be tamed. People have been commenting on it my entire life. Stylists jokingly begged my mother to stop putting “Miracle Gro” on my hair when I was a child. I like to think I looked like Rachel from Friends, but the truth is, I looked much more like Young Hermione from Harry Potter.

So I’ve always had this love-hate relationship with my hair. I go through cycles where I can’t stand it any longer and I chop it all off. This provides relief for a variable period of time. I love the convenience of short hair. I love being able to zip in and out of the shower, without the prolonged ordeal of shampooing and conditioning a pelt worthy of Chewbacca–especially living as I do now, in a house with low water pressure. I love being able to run my hands through my hair messily and dash out the door. No blow-drying. No attempts to tame the frizz. No hours of damp hair (of particular concern now that winter is rolling in again). Better still, I’m not using my hair as an excuse not to do things. I don’t know when I turned into that person to be honest. Maybe it was when I moved into a house with crappy heat and water pressure. But I find myself weighing whether I have time for a shower before I choose to do certain activities now. And forget about swimming. Between the coloring and the chlorine, my hair felt like straw. The big chop is an excellent way of getting back to healthy hair.

What I don’t love is looking like an angry hedgehog. Because that’s what I look like with short hair. I am not a pretty woman, and it takes having the right kind of face to pull off a pixie cut. Heck, there are beautiful women out there who can’t wear a pixie well and they don’t have my square jaw and rather masculine features. So any love I have for the short cut soon turns into absolute loathing. I begin the growing out process and swear I will never cut it short again.

The things I love about long hair? I love how it makes me feel sexy. I love being able to style it different ways. I do a little cosplay, and I have more options when my hair is long (unless I want to invest a lot of money in wigs…) With long hair, I can toss it back in a ponytail or barrette and it’s out of my face. I can put it up to look professional and curl it to look romantic. Most actresses have long hair–for a reason. We associate it with not only beauty, but youth as well.

A small part of me thinks as a romance author, I should maintain the ‘look’ of romance, if you know what I mean. I’m also very much aware that, no matter what my SO says, he prefers my hair long rather than short. (A wise man, he avoids rendering any sort of opinion on my hair, only to say it’s my hair and I should do what I like with it.)

This time, my chop or not chop decision is harder than usual. I’ll be honest, this past year has been rough. 2017 has been a train-wreck of colossal proportions: personally as well as for my country. I’ve been struggling, and only recently felt like I might be turning the corner in my downward spiral. For the first time in over a year, I find myself getting serious about cleaning up my diet, exercising more, eliminating or decreasing the stressors in my life. I want to spend more time writing and less time stewing. Cutting my hair short feels like it would be a step in the right direction to meet these goals. A clean sweep, a fresh start. A dramatic change to signal the dramatic (well, okay, little shuffling baby-step) changes I’m making in my life. Part of me really wants to do this.

Another part, the chicken-shit part, is afraid. Scared I’ll look as terrible as I fear. Worried that I’ll hate it and then be stuck with it while I go through the misery (the YEAR LONG MISERY) of growing it out again, wearing hats and refusing to look in mirrors and in general being a snarling bitch until it is long enough to pull back off my face again.

But mostly worried that I’m somehow kissing youth and beauty goodbye with the big chop. Yes, I know, not beautiful in the first place, but okay, the possibility of beauty. Of somehow announcing that I’m done with romance. That I’ve accepted middle-age and am willing to look my age. I read an article that suggested far too many women my age hang onto their long locks well-beyond the time a shorter cut would look better on them. I feel I might be in that category now.

When I read back over this, I’m struck by the vanity of it all. There are women out there who have no choice when it comes to their hair. Illness or hormonal imbalances or simple genetics have determined their choices for them. And I still have a lot of hair, though my part is definitely wider than it used to be. But for most of my life, my hair has been the only thing I could be vain about. So yeah. Decisions, decisions.

I’m excited and nervous. I want something dramatic but want something easy to grow out if I change my mind. I think the worse thing is the sneaking suspicion that no matter what decision I make, it won’t change my life in any meaningful way. I’ll still have to work on that diet, and fit more exercise in, and park my butt in the chair and write the next story. The puppy will still need training, work will still be stressful, and my house will still have crappy heat and low water pressure.

But maybe I’ll lose twenty pounds of pressure to be something I’m not. Maybe I will find the shedding of locks to be freeing in more ways than one.

 

Of course this is going in a book someday…

I started out with the best of intentions today.

I’d forgotten, however, that the Powers That Be had decided we needed to start doing weekly office meetings prior to the start of the business day. On Mondays, no less. I know this is for the benefit of the newbies on board, but as someone who is not a newbie, I resent upsetting my morning schedule to come into work even earlier than usual. As such, I forgot to allot time to make breakfast and wound up grabbing a granola bar. Okay, could have been worse. I could have chosen Captain Crunch.

Fine. Off to work I go. Only because we now do the early morning meeting thing, it’s been decided I get out early on Mondays, which yay! for getting out early but… that means I get to work through lunch. Because why stop to eat when I am going to be leaving in an hour, right? So now I’m leaving work at 1 pm, and I’m well beyond peckish and moving into hangry territory.

But it’s okay, because I’m going to stop at the store where they have that new salad bar. I’m going to load up on good, healthy food and pick up a few items while I’m at it. I juggle the flimsy plastic tray while I kick my shopping basket along side me, loading the plate as I go. I am just at the end of the line applying a dash of salad dressing when the plastic gives in the middle and the whole thing dumps down the front of my pants and into my basket sitting on the floor at my feet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is salad and dressing everywhere. My planned purchases are covered with bacon bits and cheese. I attempt to wipe up the mess with napkins from the salad bar, but quickly end up with a sticky goo on my hands. A shopping passing by smiles and says, “Don’t take it so hard. It happens to all of us.”

I don’t know what she saw on my face but her words do me in. Tears begin to flow. A staff member comes to help clean up and says, “Having a rough day, dear?”

“No,” I say. “I’m having a rough year.”

And the words threaten to spill out messy and sticky like the salad dressing. I recently lost my cat to heart failure. I lost my mother to an unexpected stroke two weeks later. My dog is dying from cancer. My sister is dying from cancer. Our country is either on the brink of destroying democracy or taking us back into war–or both. Civil rights are being taken back to pre-1950s status. We’re poisoning our planet and the government wants to remove restrictions aimed at slowing that down. And someone has had the gall to be nice to me.

Because kindness is just too much to bear right now.

But I don’t say any of these things. I sniff and wipe my face with the parts of my hands not covered in salad dressing. I see a cute guy looking at me with a worried expression on his face, but instead of offering to help, he tiptoes away like someone who doesn’t want to get involved with the crazy lady snuffling into the California French.

“You can get another salad, sweetie.”

I shake my head. I don’t want another salad. I thank the people who helped me clean up and take the rest of my purchases to the checkout. I don’t want to talk to anyone, so I go to the automatic cashier, only the scanner can’t read my dressing-covered food. I try again and again until I am slamming the items down on the scanner and I have to call someone over to help anyway.

Deep breath. It’s all good. It will be okay.

In the parking lot, I overhear two women speaking of the likelihood of us going to war with Korea. I’m waiting behind them patiently while they put their carts away, but  then one of them says, “Well, we’re living in the end times now. Everything that has been predicted in the Bible is coming true now.”

She shrugs, resigned.

I can’t help myself. “Well, there will be some people in the government that are going to have a rude awakening when Jesus comes back,” I snap.

They look at me, blinking slowly like sheep surprised at finding a dog among them that might possibly be a wolf, only they’ve forgotten what wolves really look like. One of them smiles uneasily.

“Jesus,” I say, shoving the cart into the rack with a little more force than necessary, “believed in charity. Jesus believed in taking care of the poor.” My voice rises a little higher, louder. “Jesus believed in health care.”

One of the women laughs. “That he did.”

“And Jesus, ” I said, not yet finished. “Believed you should pay your taxes.”

There is a narrowing of eyes at that, and a little nod. Maybe I got through. Maybe not. But I swear if I hear one more person fatalistically state that the end times have come and there is nothing we can do, I think I shall scream.

Which is why I ended up in the bathroom at McDonald’s, scrubbing the dressing off my hands like Lady MacBeth trying to remove bloodstains. Right before I stuffed my face with a burger and fries.

SAMSUNG CSC

So no, as a ‘first day’ on a new diet plan went, it was not highly successful. But I didn’t punch anyone, so I count it as a win.

Besides, I am so using this in a story some day. Only it will be funnier, and the cute guy will have the balls to come over and help, and another romance will be born.The realization hit me as I was finishing the last of the fries and my hangry pains faded away. Oh yes. Good stuff here.

 

 

McKenna Hates to Cook

Believe it or not, I used to be the girl you hated when you were growing up.

I say believe it or not because I was the girl with the Coke-bottle lenses, braces, and mountains of frizzy, untamed hair. I was also a bookworm and a nerd, the first one to answer the teacher’s questions and the last one to get picked for any team sports.

As a matter of fact, I was Hermione Granger, only I didn’t grow up to look like Emma Watson. But (and this is a big ‘but’ here) I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain an ounce. 

Yep. You read that right. I lived off of bread, cheese, crackers, and peanut butter. I could grab a burger and fries and not feel the slightest bit concerned about my weight, while my friends subsisted off diet Coke and a cup of yogurt. I never gained the ‘freshman twenty.’ In fact, I was underweight much of my life, to the point that my dad used to call me ‘a hank of hair and a bag of bones.’ It was well after his death that I discovered those words actually referred to song lyrics and were not as fondly insulting as I thought.

I’ll never forget that time in college when I sat down in front of the television with my usual plate of snacks, only to have my roommate say to me, “One day you’re going to wake up fat.”

She spoke with such utter seething resentment, it quite took me aback. But I thought no more about it, and ate my stack of cheese and crackers. Years passed. I survived college, grad school, and entered the work force. My job had ridiculous hours: I started the day with a Coke and a package of Lance peanut butter crackers. Lunch was usually a bologna sandwich or a burger. Dinner was leftover Chinese if I was lucky, but usually a frozen pizza, and sometimes a bowl of Captain Crunch. On a bad day, maybe two. I lived this way for decades. I kid you not. One of the things that impressed me most about my husband when we first met was that he actually knew how to cook. Before we started dating, it was rare that I bothered to make a meal for myself.

My weight slowly crept up from 121 to 135, but it stayed there. I’m not athletic by any means, but I’m reasonably active. I walk the dogs every day. I ride my horse when I have time. I’m on my feet all day at work. But I don’t do any sort of organized exercise. The one time I tried an aerobics class, I dropped out from sheer embarrassment at my inability to follow the routine.

Then one day it happened. My former roommate’s vindictive prophesy came true. I did wake up fat.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But after a lifetime of rocky hormones, menopause hit me like a freight train. I began having 30-40 hot flashes a day. I gained 20 pounds in a two week window. Horrible heartburn assailed me whenever I ate, and suddenly I could no longer handle the foods I’d always eaten. Things were so bad, I wound up having a full GI and Gyno workup done because the changes were so abrupt and so intense, I thought something had to be seriously wrong with me.

Nope. Just hormones leaving town and wrecking the place in their wake.

Worse, I had no idea what to do about it. I was like that kid in high school who never had to study only to get a rude awakening on reaching college. Just to complicate things, eating disorders run in my family, so I tiptoed the fine line between trying to change my eating habits and not getting obsessive about tracking points or calories. We’re talking scary eating disorders in my family–the kind where someone thinks eating nothing but an apple and a cracker for an entire week is something to be proud of. Whatever I did, I had to make sure I didn’t fall down that particular rabbit hole.

I did My Fitness Pal for a while, but the tracking proved problematic. I found it very useful for helping me realize just how many calories I consumed on average however. Jiminy Crickets! I had no idea.

Then I did what any good author would do: I began researching diets. Let me tell you, I practically own the diet section of the bookstore. I have it all: Paleo, Whole30, South Beach, Blood Type, Wheat Belly, FODMAP and more. I got books on healing your gut, your metabolism, your thyroid, and curing your adrenal fatigue.

Let me tell you what I’ve learned.

There is no one perfect diet for everyone. If there were, we’d all be following it. The next thing I’ve discovered is that most of these diet plans have something useful to say. Most of them also have a fair amount of BS associated with them. My takeaway message from everything I’ve read is this: eat more fruits and veggies. Eat less red meat. Avoid processed foods.

We all knew that, right? Of course we did. But somehow it’s more palatable to dress it up under the guise of the X diet. Do I believe that Paleo and Whole30 work for some people? Absolutely. But not because we’re cavemen or because of some entirely arbitrary set of rules handed down by some parents in ‘tough love’ mode. I think the reason Paleo or Whole30 or Wheat Belly plans are so effective for many people is because most of what we eat is really bad for us. I’m not just talking Cheetos and KFC, here. I mean the granola bars and the fruit cups and the Lean Cuisine. I mean 90 percent of what the average on-the-go person consumes here in the US because we’re too damn busy or tired to buy, prepare, and eat real food.

Most of these diets are impossible to maintain long term. As is the four hours of exercise a day that one of my friends used to do to artificially maintain her weight at 125 pounds. To be honest, the idea of giving up bread forever makes me weep. I’d honestly rather give up chocolate. No, seriously. I can’t think of anything finer than that moment when you remove a crusty loaf of homemade bread from the oven and slather that first slice with butter.

But bread is one of the things that makes me feel horrible after eating it. Bread, pasta, cheese, peanut butter… I feel like I’ve swallowed a basketball after I eat these foods.

So what’s a girl who’s an incredibly picky eater and hates to cook do? Especially when her husband can eat three times as much as she does, casually decide to lose some weight and drop ten pounds without blinking. Ah, now I finally know how my old roommate felt. It’s a wonder she didn’t kill me.

Silhouette of a cheese burger loaded with summer garden vegetables isolated on fire, macro

Well, this is my journey. Stick around and find out. I plan to blog something each week about finding my way back to health without losing my joy for living. Maybe the answer is a metabolism reset with one of these diets. Maybe the answer is that I truly will have to give up foods I love and learn to love others. It’s not just about the weight, though I would love to go back to my previous hormone-crash existence. It’s about not feeling like crap all the time. It’s about sleeping better at night, and having the energy to do the things I love to do, and being able to bend over and tie my hiking boots without feeling like my stomach is about to explode.

Come for the food/diet/exercise/recipe chatter and poke around the site if you enjoy paranormal romance. Share your thoughts and experiences. I’d really like to know about your successes and failures.

As for me, several of my friends are doing Weight-Watchers. Of all the paid diet programs out there, it’s the one I’ve seen be the most successful. That said, I’m going to be accountable to my friends rather than to a group. I don’t want to move into ‘apple and cracker’ territory…