Monday, April 25, 2016

Just Keep Swimming

This story is re-published from part of a blog I wrote four years ago. It seems to go right along with the "Amber" series. I found it this morning and as I read - it seemed to be exactly what I needed to hear today. Maybe somebody out there needs it too. 

Traditional Japanese Koinobori flying carp kites

Right after graduation from SUU I took a job teaching high school in Japan to pay off my student loans. I didn't speak Japanese, but I had served an LDS mission to Thailand and I was no longer afraid of anything. 

I was assigned to teach in a town called Mori-machi, in Shizuoka-ken. Mori was two train stops from civilization. It was dense with trees and had a small population of 10,000. I was so very alone and the solitude of it all, living by myself, not speaking the language, not having even one friend nearby, or a cell phone...!...magnified my singularity to the point where I was miserable and feeling abandoned by God in my true desire to be married and raising children by then.

Japanese school teachers all have the same big office. My desk, however, faced a big wall of windows with a beautiful view of a pine forest banked in bamboo.

I only taught three hours a day. I was four hours round-trip from another American, from anyone that I could really talk to. (My phone bill in December was $780) So, I spent a good deal of time contemplating the seasons as they changed before me through the windows. I watched the bamboo foreground evolve from bright green to deep golden yellow. I watched it bend with the wind until I thought it would snap in two, but it never did. I watched a house being built, and then a neighborhood was erected around the first house. New children played below the window where I sat and new mothers hung their laundry out every day in the country breeze. You'd have thought I was in Kansas, 1957. Except for the bamboo.

The Japanese are very good at taking care of their elderly. They almost always live as one big extended family. I watched new grandparents shuffle around in the streets, smile, bow to each other politely. The whole subdivision was created in about 3 months, tops.

The summer was hot and humid in Mori. I wished for my dad's big backyard and a hose. It was a relief when the winds started to blow,  but also a happy surprise when families with new baby boys raised a string of giant wind socks, shaped like fish, called "koinoburi" in celebration of the birth. I had also seen extravagant doll displays in the homes of families that were blessed with a baby girl that year. Apparently we aren't the only country with a gender stereotype issue. 

This year  in Japan was especially fun for the new neighborhood and their two new baby boys. On the first really windy day, I watched two sets of grandparents unfold these giant wind socks, some of them 20 feet long, and attach them to a rope which was diagonally strung from a peg in the ground up to the top of a telephone pole.

Almost immediately all of the giant swimming fish inflated with wind and took off. Black, gold, red, bright blue, green and purple... The intricate Oriental designs, the brilliant colors, gold and silver scales...amazing! It was a spectacular sight. I'm pretty sure the two families were having a contest to see who could get more fish on that line. 

After about a week of watching these schools of fish swim around, get tangled in each other, smack each other down, lay dormant without wind, I noticed that one of the smaller ones, added at the bottom,  was very plain. It was a narrow, black, gray and white fish without decoration, Probably the only reason I even noticed it was because it was always "swimming." It had a bigger mouth than the other more ornate ones. It's design was shorter, more streamline, allowing it to swallow up the tiniest bit of wind and take off. But the fancy long heavy ones lay limping in the same small wind as if they were fighting for breath in the bottom of a Coleman cooler. Only the biggest gusts of wind would set them sailing.

I built up quite an empathy for the little gray sock. It had a plain wrapper, like me. It did more with less and constantly proved that more isn't necessarily more.  I marveled at it's optimistic attitude as if to say "Hey! I might be plain, short and stout but if this was a race, I would be winning!" But the bigger fish always waited for more wind to motivate them, handicapped by their decorations and spectacle. They would whip into each other and tie themselves in knots until the little old ladies in the neighborhood would come out with their long bamboo poles and untangle them.

The little gray sock never got tangled or tied. It just swam all the time, and it would instantly change directions with the wind just like the bamboo behind it. It was cooperative, dedicated to its task, creative and optimistic.

I felt pretty sure that a higher power was trying to teach me something about the little gray wind sock. I've always felt bad that my physical self wasn't more ornate, more eye-catching. No amount of gold or silver embellishments will give me a waist or...a neck. ;-) It isn't easy to get the attention of (a man or) if you will only show your legs from the skinny part of your calf down. To add insult to injury, my eye surgeries, though saving my sight, have made me allergic to eye makeup, so I rarely use it and it really affects how I feel about myself. 

So I've worked hard to find and display other talents. To catch people off guard by entertaining them using wit and storytelling. I've learned the art of "magnetizing the details" as my mom would say. It distracts people from my plain gray wrapper. I preempt their perception of me with a portrait of someone that gets things done and can be counted on to bring creativity and optimism to the table when resources are slim (and I never have been)... 

...I am "always swimming." 

Blogging is great can't see me. I'm safe behind the invisible interweb. For all you know, except that some of you do know me, I could be Quasimodo sitting here typing away. I could have some crazy physical defect like gills or a mermaid tail. 

I don't have gills. But I do have a really big mouth. And I'm not afraid to use it, especially in this blog. I have used it to advocate for myself, for drama teachers, for my students and, on occasion, when I feel a great responsibility to stand up for the Mormons, I have tried to have a modern sensibility and be the voice of reason. Blogging has become a sanctuary for me. I'm very grateful to all who read, but it doesn't matter if you do. I will keep swimming.

To anyone that ever sees themselves as a little gray fish in a big pond, keep swimming. Open your mouth and go where the wind points you. For me, it has provided "blessing beyond my comprehension to receive."

Joshua 1:9 - Be strong of of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou [swimmeth] goest." 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ladies in Waiting: Giving Up Amber, Part 3

I stole the text from a meme I loved on Facebook. It fits. 
 You may wonder why I am writing this thing about fat in the Ladies in Waiting section of my blog. Well, I will make that point today. It wasn't until after I got my mental "house in order" that I was ready to be loved. It wasn't until I gave up Amber that I had the courage to shed my insecurities about my body. My body didn't change but my mind sure did.
When Andy’s weight reached 630 pounds I was tying his shoes for him. It was heart breaking and it scared me to death. I started praying every single day that I would find a way to help him. But I needed to remove the mote in my own eye first before I could help him. I finally got the guts to do the new-fangled HCG diet and lost 60 pounds so Andy decided to do it too.

Let me digress a little here…

On HCG you can only eat 500 calories a day. You are given a magic potion each morning or a shot, and it cuts your hunger down. It didn’t work for Andy. The second time through the regiment, I was fantasizing about caramel sticky buns. There must be a one shot limit on this diet because the second time I did it I was licking salt off French fries and throwing away the fries. I couldn’t move. Walking up the stairs to our bedroom was like climbing Everest. I wanted to cry just at the thought that I had to get up and walk somewhere. I could not function. But because I wanted Andy to be successful I hung in there as long as I could. He was also suffering but desperate. One day about 2 weeks into this magic snake oil, we had come home from school and plopped ourselves down in our chairs and DIED. I was praying to know what to do. The Word of Wisdom, the Mormon churches health code came to my mind: “all things in moderation.” Was this not a severe violation of moderation only in the guise of trying to get healthy? I started to cry, I could not stop. I was exhausted! It was an ugly cry! But even the crying was using up calories! I told Andy that I had been dreaming about a caramel sticky bun that I would pass every time we would go and weigh ourselves (we had to weigh at the GNC in the mall because our scale was too small).  I let it all hang out! I told him that I had licked the salt off a bunch of French fries…that I had taken a salt shaker to work, that I chewed up an apple and S.P.I.T. I.T. B.A.C.K. O.U.T…I came clean. We both cried. I told him that I felt crash dieting like this was definitely against the Word of Wisdom. We drove immediately to the closest caramel sticky bun. I guess we should have driven to the nearest salad bar but I thought the sticky bun might get me to stop crying.

It did.

It seems like in the media, when someone loses a lot of weight - they always ask "What made you finally decide to do it?" And they always have a specific moment when they hit rock bottom and they got the BIG motivation to start and finish a diet. There have been lots of those days.

It was the day we could not ride on several of the rides in Disneyland that truly broke my heart.
The day that we broke the car seat.
The day that I got put on blood pressure mediation...and then high cholesterol meds.
The day that I had to start tying Andy shoes for him.
The day that we no longer fit in a restaurant booth.
The day that I had a stroke.
The day our primary class said "you almost don't fit through the door!"
The day that we lost Noah.
The day we were told that Andy was "too specific" to be cast as Thenardier at Tuacahn.
It was the day...
The day...
that one day....

Each time one of those things happened, we would be on fire to start something new. We would do it for a month...and then life would hit us, a show, a big deadline...we'd go off the diet...feel crappy about ourselves and then start something new. The list of diets that we both have tried is like looking at a list of people that have bullied you on the playground.

·       We’ve eaten all meat and cheese (and been constipated for months)
·       We’ve taken all traces of fat out of our diet...bring on the bagels and jolly ranchers...
·       We’ve eaten 500, 900, 1200 and 1500 calories a day – (not all on the same day…usually)
·       We’ve paid large sums of money for pre-packaged food (you know you can eat two or three    of those at a time and still not feel full…interesting ;-0)
·       We’ve taken Phen-Phen (that was a good one – dang the people that abused it and got it          taken off the market)
·       We’ve been to weight doctors that gave us B-12 shots and made us listen to mind-altering    tapes
·       We’ve tried Anorexia and Bulimia but it hurt my throat too much…when I was a kid I was    so jealous of the girls that made that work.
·       We’ve made spinach shakes with flax and other “sure fire snake oils” that just create a tempest in your belly all day and make you wonder “do I need to go to the bathroom right now or can I wait until... *~*!#@! Nope! Can’t wait! AH...too late.
·       We’ve gotten up at five in the morning to bask in the sunrise and run with the dogs – who let’s face it – have three inch legs and get distracted by interesting looking rocks, other dogs, butterflies…and have to “mark” their territory every 15 feet.  
·       We’ve drunk our pay-checks in weight loss shakes of ever kind only to eventually throw them up or run out of money
·       We ordered funky video systems, amazing blenders (we have three) and most recently we ordered a video that promises you will literally “dance your butt off.”
·       We’ve counted points, calories, steps (that’s what we’re currently doing), ounces, carbs, glasses…you name it, we have a half empty notebook full of all kinds of tracking systems (emphasis on the half empty).

Then there is a list of magic pills that promise you model-like bodies in 21, 45 or 90 days but in the end the consequences are a long as the possible side-effects for Viagra and include:

·       Heart racing uncontrollably
·       Heart failure
·       Leaking heart
·       Leaking bum (you that have been there know what I’m talking about)
·       Stroke
·       Birth defects in your children (this one will haunt you for years to come)
·       Constipation for months
·       Pooping in your sleep in the middle of the night
·       Vomiting
·       Crazy dreams
·       Insomnia
·       Inability to focus
·       Inability to move
·       Scary bright green pee that glows in the dark
·       Bikes, exercise equipment (or as we like to call it at our house “the towel rack”)
·       And the list goes on and on…

The stuff from which you cannot turn back:

Pre- Bypass
Three years ago Andy underwent gastric bypass surgery which is one of the hardest ways to lose weight but it is very effective. He was miserable for months, just like any diet, but once he stabilized he had lost 300 pounds and is no longer on any medications for anything. It changed our lives. It saved his life. I will forever be grateful to the incredible team at the University of Utah who took such good care of him, and never judged him and worked their whole skinny lives to learn how to help us save his.
1 year post-bypass

Gastric Bypass isn’t the answer for everyone. It’s expensive for some of us that don’t have fancy insurance ($25,000) and it changes what you can and can’t eat for the rest of your life. But for Andy, it was exactly right. I have seen my husband go from sitting in a chair to running a 5K every day. If gastric bypass is something you are thinking about, we are proponents of this life-saving surgery. I suspect, after we get into our new house (we are building a house right now) that I will also do the surgery at some point and we will both need additional surgeries to remove's a never ending battle.

Things we haven’t tried:

·       LIPOSUCTION. I watched a documentary on that once and I just don’t think I want to be skinny in one area of my body and fat everywhere else. I recently was told by one of my students that she babysits for a lady that has “Sonobello” appointments every week which are like Lipo I guess but with a laser. I wonder how much that costs? I’d also like to try the “cool-sculpting” which is an FDA approved procedure where they freeze your fat by dropping the temperature of the skin down to where the fat cells die. You then eliminate those cells in “natural ways.” What does that look like? Why can’t I just fill a tub with ice and do it myself all at once? There’s a thought. Can I eat caramel popcorn during the procedure?

The problem is, even with surgery, the diet is NEVER "finished." Skinny or fat, we will always be working on our health because after we reach the ripe old age of whatever we are not growing a body anymore, we are losing it. The only way to keep yourself from going crazy over it is to know what makes you feel like you are progressing. I truly feel that as long as I am working on something, I am okay in my head. I’m writing like weight is the only thing Jandy thinks about – HA! I wish that was our only problem. But the much bigger journey in our house is whether or not we are actually moving forward…in life, in love, in spirit. Sadly, how we feel about the shell that houses our spirit often casts a shadow over all of those things.

Let us not forget to wear out the journey doing other things and helping each other through it…I want to talk about that next…but I gotta go teach a class.