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Shunning Sugar

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“If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked!” ~William Shakespeare (Henry IV, Part I, II, iv)

Today is day six of my annual April sugar fast.  Well, almost annual.  For some unknown reason that I can’t really remember now, I started this 30-day torture-fest the first April I was here in Austin, in 2010, and continued it again in April 2011 and 2012.  However April 2013 fell at the most miserable point of my most miserable job of all time, and I remember feeling that I was on such the edge of a breaking point that denying myself certain creature comforts that happened to contain sugar really could have pushed me over that edge (so no fast that year).  April 2014 also escaped the fast; I guess I just didn’t see the point, or maybe it was just a low-willpower year, I can’t really recall.

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My April enemy.

But here we are one year later and I decided to give it another go.  The rules of the sugar fast have changed somewhat throughout the years…the first year, it was simply to avoid any and all foods that had the word “sugar” in the ingredient list on the food label.  I wasn’t very savvy then about other forms and wording of sugar that food manufacturers were using and so I’m sure some evaporated cane crystals slipped through the fasting cracks.  I also allowed myself any artificial sweeteners that first year, as well as honey.  The main focus was avoiding added, refined sugar.

The second and third years, I did my research and made a list of several dozen names for sugars and sugar alcohols that can be found on nutrition labels, and avoided any foods with them as well.  I also cut out artificial sweeteners but made a sole sweet allowance for honey, as it is a completely natural sweetener source.  But now I’ve given honey up as well because of its extreme acidity (the dietary regime streams have been crossed).  I do allow myself melons, pears, and plantains, which contain naturally-occurring fruit sugar.  Otherwise no added, refined, or artificial sugar of any kind at any time for 30 days.

It’s hard.  It’s really hard.  Going on the pre-fast grocery shopping trip is always a little depressing.  You have no idea how many everyday foods contain sugar in their ingredient list.  Try finding bread without sugar – bread, which for no good reason should even contain sugar, but 99% of the options do.  The only bread I’ve found that doesn’t have it is sourdough, or you can make your own sugarless variety.  The only breakfast cereals that don’t have sugar of any kind are Shredded Wheat and Fiber One, both of which are akin to eating bite-sized tree branches.  Read the label of that milk or peanut butter or salad dressing or yogurt or spaghetti sauce you just bought; chances are they also contain some form of sugar.  Even many kinds of pretzels and crackers have sugar in them, which is just ridiculous but not surprising that the packaged food industry has added that addiction factor to even the least-suspecting foods – to get us hooked and then keep us coming back for more.

It’s the first seven days or so of the fast that are really the toughest, waiting for the sugar cravings to subside (which are very real…I either have to throw out or stuff way back in the unseeable part of the pantry anything with sugar, because if it’s just sitting around then it’s too tempting).  I really miss my morning tea with milk and sugar.  I buy and eat a lot of plain roasted nuts during the fast, since they are high-protein and fill me up for a long time (I miss my vanilla-roasted almonds though, yes they have sugar in their coating).  I eat more vegetables and fruits during the fast than I normally do, and always hope the habit will last past the fast but for some reason it never quite does.  I also tend to overcompensate with salty foods during the fast, so I’m working on balancing that out as well.

I suppose I do this sugar fast in hopes that it will somehow cleanse my system, a mini-detox and healthy shock to the system.  It’s not like I go overboard during the other 11 months, I’m not eating mountains of chocolate bars in search of the golden ticket; I actually am usually pretty controlled when it comes to avoiding downward sugar spirals.  I seriously can’t remember the last time I had a donut or a milkshake or a soda or even real ice cream; it’s not that I don’t like them, of course I do, I guess it’s just the nutrition degree in me (and the propensity for those calories to be instantly turned into jiggly pounds and artery-clogging solids) that keeps me away from them most of the time.  I do allow myself indulgences when not on the sugar fast – I love Twizzlers licorice, and a perfect mug of rich hot chocolate on a cold night is one of the definitions of happiness, I’m pretty sure.  But it’s those hidden and unsuspecting sources of sugar that we eat every day all the time even in “regular” foods that also cause some damage, and so cutting them out for a solid month has to be a good thing, right?

I also do the 30-day sugar fast just for the challenge of it.  I dread it when it’s time to start, but I like the feeling that I’m still capable of doing something tough and out of my comfort zone (yes I know it’s all relative).  They say it takes 21 days to either solidly form or break a habit, so I could cut it off at three weeks and be done with it.  But somehow those extra nine days of added deprivation really make a difference.  After the fast is over I feel like I’ve really accomplished something, and have proven something to myself.  Just surviving those 30 seconds of a Hershey bar commercial on TV (without then running full speed to the store to get one, or ten) is a victory in itself.  Shouldn’t we all do something from time to time to shake up our routines and remind us what we’re capable of so that we can then celebrate our determination and perseverance?

And I know this is pretty much a first-world endeavor, going on a sugar fast.  I’ve lived in a place before where people had very little to eat, surviving literally on only what they could grow or hunt or find or scavenge, and they would’ve been grateful for anything in the way of food whether it had sugar in it or not.  We’re so spoiled for choice and easy access in America – and we’re sadly so used to accepting empty sugar-to-fat calories that food manufacturers put in virtually everything – that we’re slowly and literally eating and drinking ourselves to death as a nation.  It’s possible to re-train our palates, but it’s not easy.

Well.  I’m off to go “enjoy” my bowl of non-frosted shredded wheat now.  Those of you enjoying your Lucky Charms or Cocoa Krispies, please spare a thought for me.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Should We Search for Happiness?

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Happy thou art not; For what thou hast not, still thou strivest to get, and what thou hast, forget’st.” ~William Shakespeare (Measure for Measure, III, i)

A few weeks ago I saw a movie at my local art-house theatre called “Hector & The Search for Happiness.”  It had gotten extremely poor critic reviews but, being the author of a blog with the title ‘Operation UNunhappy,’ I felt somewhat obliged to shell out the $8.50 (for a matinée no less) to see what Hector’s search turned up.

I had high hopes since it is a British film and stars Simon Pegg, but unfortunately the critics got it right on this one: it was a pretty bad movie.  The main character of Hector is a psychiatrist living a perfect life in London with a perfect apartment and a perfect girlfriend and perfectly-neurotic psychiatric patients in his practice, when he suddenly starts to feel that all that perfection has left his life devoid of any true meaning or happiness.  And so he predictably goes on his own eat-pray-love journey under the Tuscan sun, except he decides to go not to Italy but to China (those Tibetan monks always have good insights)…and then to Africa (to a non-specified country, as if everywhere in Africa is exactly the same)…and then finally to Los Angeles (for a head-rattling visit with Captain Von Trapp), before finally heading back to London for a tidy movie happy ending.

Along the way he throws caution (and wisdom) to the wind, naively placing himself into stereotypical tourist-trap predicaments that endanger his life but supposedly make him a happier guy in the end.  At each lesson-learning turn we see a handwritten entry flash on the screen from Hector’s travel journal:  “Happiness is sometimes not knowing the whole story;” “Happiness is feeling completely alive;” and the ever-helpful “Happiness is sweet potato stew.”  Most annoying in the movie however was the plot point that his perfect girlfriend was also miserable simply because she and Hector had decided not to have children, but that by the end of the movie she changed her mind and decided becoming a mother would magically provide her with the ultimate contentment – which of course brought Hector home from his soul-searching journey and they lived happily ever after.  (Insert much eye-rolling here.)

There was one tidbit in the movie that was familiarly thought-provoking, which claimed that we can’t find happiness by trying to avoid or outrun unhappiness.  And at one point in the movie Hector says “The more we focus on our personal happiness the more it is useless.”  I’ve read this train of thought many times – that it’s pointless to actually and actively pursue happiness, because one you begin to search for it, it will naturally evade you.  Can this be true?

If you start looking at happiness proverbs and quotes by those apparently deemed to be experts on the subjects, you start to see a trend to this topic:

  • “The bird of paradise alights only on the hand that does not grasp.” – John Berry
  • “Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “Perfect happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.” – Chuang-Tzu

But if the pursuit of happiness is so useless, then why did our American founders write a Declaration of Independence that guarantees our right to just that?  It’s ingrained in our cultural core to do what makes us happy, and if we’re unhappy, to take steps to rectify it (many very wealthy therapists out there depend on this inherently human struggle).  I think that happiness and the hunt for it is – even if tangentially – what drives every single one of us in all of our actions, whether or not we want to admit that. 

A few weeks ago I was asked to be one of two guest speakers to a university class on the subject of blogging – what is it, why do people blog, what makes for a successful blog, etc.  Our audience was a group of ESL students – people from all over the world that are studying here in America and trying to make a better life for themselves.  The other guest speaker is a coworker of mine in the same office, we’ve worked together for over a year now, but we did not discuss our own personal blogs with each other before the class presentation.  Imagine our mutual surprise when we discovered that both of our blogs deal with the subject of happiness – what is it, why and how do people look for it, what makes for a happy life, etc…  We had to convince the professors and students that we hadn’t planned it that way!

After the class, a young man with a thick foreign accent approached me and wanted to know if my blog story was true: that I had quit my miserable job that was making me sick and consciously left bad things in my life behind in an attempt to be more fulfilled and yes, happier.  He seemed very anxious to know if it had worked – did I feel better, was I happier, was that a good decision?  I could tell he was going through something in his life that was putting him at a crossroads – a place where we have all been at one time or another, no matter what corner of the globe we are from.  Finding our way out of unhappiness is a universal denominator.

I think there is some truth to the proverbs above.  I think if we focus too much on finding happiness that the search ends up being a possible antithesis to the final objective.  But I don’t think pursuing goals and dreams that could possibly make you happier is a bad thing.  Yes we should be happy with and grateful for what we already have, and for the experiences that have shaped us, but is searching for contentment – no matter how one defines it – really such an exercise in futility?  We can’t be happy all the time, that’s completely unrealistic – I know I’m not.  I’m not unhappy all the time either.  Maybe striking the right balance between both states is the real goal?

Or maybe, as American journalist John Gunther once said “All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.”  Bon appétit.

perfectbreakfast

 À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

UNunhappy Moments Update (UMU)

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“Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio. ” ~William Shakespeare (Love’s Labour’s Lost, I, ii)

Welcome to a new feature of the operation UNunhappy blog, called the “UNunhappy Moments Update,” or UMU.  Every so often I’ll be doing a brief & bulleted UMU post to encapsulate three recent moments, happenings or events that have made me appreciate life just a little more than usual lately. 

I encourage you to list your own UMU revelations in the Comments section of these posts as well.  Evading those negative crap dodgeballs that life throws at us on a pretty regular basis isn’t easy, so it’s good to take a few moments every once in a while to think about and focus on the positive and actually put it into writing!  (Need a refresher on the definition of UNunhappyClick here.)

So without further ado: (or with much ado?):

  • UMU #1:  By far the best UMU event recently for me happened on Shakespeare’s 450th birthday a few weeks ago, April 23rd; I’m still in awe when I think about it.  I was sitting at work reading about the festivities and fireworks happening in England to celebrate the Bard’s big day, when I suddenly remembered that there was a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio literally minutes down the street from me at the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin.  So off I sprinted during my lunch hour to go check it out, looking forward to peering at it through the glass case as I’ve done with other rare copies before (in England, both at Shakespeare’s Birthplace and in London at the British Museum).  I’d never seen a First Folio here in America though.  If you’re not familiar with the First Folio, it was printed in 1623 (a few years after Shakespeare’s death) as the first complete compilation of 36 of his plays – about half of which we would never have even known about if this Folio had not been printed by men who had the foresight to document the Bard’s words for all time.  Only 228 known copies of the originally-printed First Folio are in existence today, and they are widely known to be some of the most valuable books in the world; First Folios in the last decade that have been auctioned or sold go for between $6-$22 MILLION (!) depending on their condition and completeness.  So you can imagine my complete shock when I arrived at the archive center and was told that yes, not only could I see one of their two First Folio editions, but that I was permitted to – I still can’t believe this happened – check one out, hold it in my own hands, peruse the pages, and read the words at my own leisure.  WHAT?!?  I went through the steps of setting up an account, watching a training video on rare-book care & handling, requesting the items I wanted, watching as a staff member disappeared into the bowels of the archives to retrieve my request, and then waiting at a table in a pin-drop-quiet and heavily-guarded room.  As the attendant approached me with a wheeled cart, I held my breath in disbelief – and then he opened a protective case that housed the First Folio and showed me how to place it on a velvet reader stand.  I lifted history out of the box, and closed my eyes briefly, thinking of the many different hands that must’ve handled this treasure over the past 400 years.  I leaned down to inhale the smell of it – an ancient, earthy, weighty scent.  And then for the next hour, I carefully turned through page after delicate yellowed page, looking for my favorite passages and plays, and straining to read the Elizabethan-English introductions to the Folio and tributes to Shakespeare himself.  I had also checked out a very small 1600 copy of ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ upon the inside cover of which was scrawled in an ancient owner’s handwriting “The folio of 1623 was probably printed from this edition.”  When I told my family later about this experience, my 9-year old nephew Hudson said “Wow, did you freak out of your pants when you picked up that old book?” “No,” I answered, leaning in to whisper in his ear, “but I have to tell you, I did almost cry.”  He looked at me strangely, then announced loudly to the entire dinner table “That book meant so much to you that you almost CRIED??”  Hard to explain to a 9-year old…  I had to get a special permit to take pictures of the books, which I did, but was told in no uncertain terms I wasn’t allowed to publish or print those photos anywhere.  So, the few pictures below are from a public domain site (Wikimedia Commons) of another First Folio (these are not the picture I took), but I wanted to give you an idea of what I was seeing…  What a momentous honor that experience was for me and a very memorable way to mark the occasion of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in my little corner of the world.  (UMUs #2 & #3 after the pictures below.)
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Portrait Page of the First Folio

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Title page of ‘The Tempest’ from the First Folio

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Catalogue Page of the First Folio, listing the plays contained within.

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“To the memory of my beloved, The AUTHOR, Mr. William Shakespeare: AND what he hath left us.” – First Folio

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“FINIS” page of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ – The First Folio

  • UMU #2:  For some reason I got great pleasure out of hearing about the new Star Wars VII announcement a few days ago that Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill would be reprising their original roles in the next movie (due out in 2015).  Apparently it wasn’t a surprise for those true sci-fi aficionados who’d been following the trail, but it was a surprise for me!  I like those kinds of surprises (which are so rare in this spoiler-heavy online world we live in now) – like when Michael Scott showed up in the series finale of The Office…I literally yelled at my TV when that happened.  For those of us that grew up during the first epic Star Wars era (in a time that now feels very far, far away), saw each movie at the theatre multiple times, dreamed of being Mrs. Han Solo (or Mr. Princess Leia), and played with all the original action figures and toys for hours on end, it brings waves of nostalgia over us to realize those movie heroes from days gone by are still capable of bringing it!  Kudos to the producers of the movie for roping all of us 70’s and 80’s kids back into the franchise with this move.  It takes a LOT for me to willingly shell out the insane ticket price at the movies these days, but this is definitely one that I’ll be lining up for. 

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  • UMU #3:  Some members of my family try to meet up for a family dinner one night a week.  This past week we met at a nearby restaurant, and when my 3-year old nephew slid into the corner booth and saw me sitting across the table, his eyes lit up, he flashed a big smile, and yelled out “KRISTI!!”  I said “Hey that’s Ant Kristi to you mister,” but my insides went all mushy that he was so happy to see me and so unabashed in his reaction – I love how little kids don’t know how to filter their actions yet and how they pretty much just go with their first-gut feeling.  It’s nice to know that someone is genuinely happen to see you!  And it doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty much the cutest kid on the planet right now…
Nephew Wyatt, 3 years old. Cute & he knows it.

Nephew Wyatt, 3 years old. Cute & he knows it.

Well there you go, this week’s 3 moments of UNunhappy.  Helping to balance the positive and negative scales between the realms of dark and light…and using the force for good instead of evil.  Until next time, may the UNunhappy force be with you too.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

 

Transporting Out of That Pit (And Please Quit Yelling at Me)

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“This babble shall not henceforth trouble me.” ~William Shakespeare (The Two Gentleman of Verona, I, ii)

Last Saturday morning, I had to make an unexpected trip to the Apple store to revive my poor old iPhone after it got hit with a case of iOS 7-itis.  The closest store to me is in an upscale shopping center that is always insanely crowded with both cars and pedestrians.  I parked in a garage, and when I was walking from the parking space to the outside area, a woman in a huge white SUV almost hit me; she was craning her neck around looking for open parking spaces instead of watching out for people crossing, and she had to slam on her brakes when she finally did see me.  As I crossed tentatively in front her and she started to drive away, I gave a polite little wave and pointed to my eyes as if to mime “please watch out for us next time.”

At which point she slammed on her brakes again, rolled down her passenger side window, and SCREAMED at me “Excuse me, I stopped for YOU, you ASS!”  Then she peeled out going full blast – in a parking garage.  I know several other people around me also heard her screaming.

I stared at her in disbelief, my mouth open.  She’d almost hit ME, and she was the one who was upset?  I shook my head, I couldn’t believe someone could be so brazenly rude and say something so mean like that to someone who had done NOTHING WRONG.  The other people around me stared at me, wondering what I’d done to incur such a rant.  My immediate thought was: what is wrong with people?? 

Not so long ago, I probably would have yelled something equally as horrible back at her as she sped away.  But instead, this time I found myself just feeling sorry for that woman.  Whatever was going on with her and in her life must be pretty bad for her to be such a miserable, angry, ticking time-bomb person.  Don’t get me wrong – I hope I don’t have to cross paths with her again.  But I do hope she is able to get a handle on her anger issues sooner rather than later so that others don’t have to face her misplaced wrath as I did.  I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to let go of her anger’s effect on me fairly quickly (although it obviously had an impact on me as here I am writing about it several days later).

I said to someone the other day “I guess we never really know what’s going on in other peoples’ lives,” and isn’t that the truth?  Even with people we see all the time, like coworkers and friends and family members, there may be something happening behind the scenes that is tearing that person’s world apart…and most of the time we never even know that the bottom is falling out from under them.  I’ve been guilty of this myself.  We all do such a good job of hiding and faking and covering and disguising.  And for what? 

The problem is, when you have to work so hard at keeping things under wraps, your psyche usually sprouts pressure-induced leaks that you have no way of stopping.  Those leaks may show up as rage episodes directed at innocent bystanders, or sometimes even physically manifest as stress-induced illnesses or disease.  Sadness, frustration, pain, anger – none of us want to have these emotions much less talk about them.  But speaking just for myself, I know that the times in my life when I’ve admitted I need help to manage life’s downturns, and then sought that help through either a therapist or counselor – well, I credit those professionals with helping to pull me out of the pit, more than once.

There’s no shame in seeking help and kindness from others; in fact, it seems much more shameful to purposefully exclude others from times of personal darkness.  This just leads to more isolation and more anger, which then leads people to lash out like that woman did to me the other day.  Is it possible I’m giving her too much credit?  Maybe instead of going through something awful in her life, she’s just an unhappy bad seed in general.  There are those kinds out there too.

But if you are going through something that leads you to do things or say things (or throw things) that you then regret doing or saying (or throwing)…well then maybe it’s time to let someone else help you too.  It can be anybody, but just don’t suffer in silence alone.  You don’t have to do that.  We supposedly have the power to be more connected to others right now than any other time in history.  So start connecting.

On a totally unrelated note, when I was waiting for my own personal genius in the Apple store a few minutes later (and why in the world hasn’t Apple’s PR team already jumped on that link to Depeche Mode’s most famous song, it would be a brilliant ad campaign for their Genius Bar), I witnessed something amazing: a family at the kids table (who were also waiting for their own personal genius) was cooing over their marvel baby – he could barely stand, had a pacifier in his mouth, and couldn’t have been a year old yet – who was swiping, unaided and unprompted, through pages and apps on an iPad and using his tiny little fingers to open games and perform actual technical functions.  I found my Star Trek nerd self geeking out over this and believing for the first time that the kids being born today might actually be using tricorders and transporters in my lifetime.

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Make it so, babies.  Engage.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Easing Up On The Brakes

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“Frame your mind to mirth and merriment, which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life.” ~William Shakespeare (The Taming of The Shrew, Introduction, ii)

Last week, I took my car into a small local brake shop to have some squealing noises looked at (the car, not me).  The owner of the shop was a nice guy and seemed thrilled that I’d chosen his shop instead of one of his competitors, who I told him had treated me badly in the past.  While I usually hate taking my car into any shop for any kind of work because I feel (as I imagine most women do) that they’re taking advantage of me (and I hate admitting that I’m actually pretty hard on my brakes when I drive), this guy actually seemed honest and dare I say genuine, and didn’t try to sell me any unnecessary services.

In fact, he almost seemed to be one of those too-chipper people that I was complaining about in a past post.  He seemed way too happy about a new granite countertop that they’d just had installed in the waiting room.  And then he said something that made my jaw drop:  he was talking about working there at the shop and helping people with their car problems, and he said “This is the best job IN THE WORLD.  I’d do it for free if I could!” 

And he was being totally, completely serious.

This guy works in a hole-in-the-wall greasy mechanic’s shop next to a busy, noisy freeway, with six meager seats in the waiting room and frustrated customers who are having to sometimes spend a lot of money on costly auto repairs.  And yet he is HAPPY to work there.  Joyous, even.  What is going on??  How is this possible??

Is it because he’s the owner of the shop and feels pride in something that is his, to run under his own tutelage and direction?  Could be.  Is it because he actually really enjoys working on cars and now has a shop where he gets to do just that all day, every day?  Hopefully. Does he live for the days when cars break down just so he’ll have a chance to fix them and help people out? 

It’s still such a shock to me when I meet people who are genuinely happy doing the jobs that they’re doing, I guess because the grand majority of people I’ve known are in the opposite camp and are miserable in their jobs.  In any case, that guy’s statement and genuineness around it made an impact on me.  Maybe because I’m more UNunhappy lately, I’ve been able to notice it more in others?

When I look back at the past few years, it feels like my life was being driven in emergency-brake mode. Grating, pressured, dragged down by resistance.  Unable to move forward with any real progress or meaning.  Stuck.

brake

It’s nice to finally feel – sometimes, not all the time – that I’m able to ease up on the brakes and just breathe, reflect, ponder.  Move more freely and with more purpose.  I’m trying not to pressure myself with time constraints when possible, although in our hurry-up society, that’s not always easy.  But slowing down naturally without slamming on the brakes, recharging, allowing – we should all make time for these life-charging aspects.

Many people I see when at my new university job ask me “So how are you liking it here so far?”  I’ve had the surprising pleasure so far to be able to say “I really like it” and actually MEAN it!  I was also pleasantly surprised when I started another new job last week and the company owner exhibited concern and gratitude for my contentment and labor.  Why are we so surprised when people are nice and kind to us?  What does it say about our society when we are sometimes more suspicious than thankful of people who demonstrate consideration towards us?  Because that’s the temptation, isn’t it?

(There’s a great moment that embodies this tendency in one of my favorite movies, “Sense & Sensibility,” where Elinor states to Edward “The unkindness of your family has made you astonished to find friendship elsewhere.”  Like a tragic sucker-punch to the gut, that line.  One of the best movies ever made, period, based upon the masterpiece by Jane Austen.)

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I had another moment of pure joy yesterday when I booked my plane tickets to go back to the UK next summer.  I’d signed up a while ago to volunteer for the organizing group of the 2014 Tour de France kickoff in Yorkshire, England (yes the French race is starting in England, then they’ll fly back over to France after the first three days of racing).  Buying the tickets for actual dates has made it real!  There’s a wave of anglophile happiness that rushes over me when I think of going back to England, but it’s also because I feel good about making something happen that’s important to me and that I want to do.

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(The other reason why I was so stoked at the moment of booking: because I “beat the system” of maddening frequent flier reservation sites that give you the worst flight choices and mandate eleven-hour layovers in Detroit…  I was able to use a combination of miles from two different credit cards/airlines to get exactly the flights I wanted on the dates I wanted, reasonable layovers, and with all of the cost covered except for those darn fees and taxes. It took a week of searching and finagling but when I finally did it, I had saved $1,200 and felt like I could conquer Kilimanjaro at that point.)

I’ll be staying three weeks this trip, which should give me plenty of time to explore some corners of England I didn’t even get close to when I was last there in 2012: Cornwall, Bath, the Cotswalds…and I’ll definitely be going back to Shakespeare country and hopefully ticking off a few more London boxes.  And of course the Tour kickoff in Leeds and York should be amazing.  I’m giddy about planning the itinerary, even though I’ve told myself I’m going to be more relaxed about the trip this time and less over-scheduled. I want to truly relax and rest while on the sceptered isle, take in the tea and the scones, and relish in the wonderful rain-soaked afternoons.

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So while it hasn’t been all good things in the past week or so – I got TWO tickets from an overzealous sheriff’s deputy, I’m still getting over a case of shingles, and I have yet to conquer my chips and queso addiction – focusing on what IS good is indeed good work if you can get it.  The good things act as tonics against the not-so-good, don’t they?

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Hanging Out My Shingles

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“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together…” ~William Shakespeare (All’s Well That Ends Well, IV, iii)

So seven weeks ago, I wrote these words in a post called Falling Up For A Change: “It looks like I won’t have a day off for the next six weeks. But it’s a good problem to have, I keep telling myself. And six weeks goes by in the blink of an eye, right? I’m still scared and unsure of what the next months will bring…and, I may even fall down again instead of up…

Silly little naive me. Oh it did go by pretty quickly, in retrospect. And I did take a fall alright – I fell waist-deep into the pool of false mindset, believing that I could work and function at the same no-consequences level of my younger self from twenty years ago.

I did actually have one (unforeseen) full day off during those six weeks of working both jobs. What I didn’t count on was the cumulative effect of all the other days I didn’t have off. Add to that recipe the fact that I worked harder physically in that span than I have in quite some time, throw in a significant mental and emotional stress factor, and out popped the last thing in the world I expected:

Shingles.

For those of you that have never experienced shingles, allow me to describe it: for me anyway, it started about ten days ago as a feeling on my left hip near my waist (hence being waist-deep in that pool I described above, get it?) of the skin having been rubbed raw or chafed but when I looked, it wasn’t. It almost felt like burning heat-rash but there was no rash (yet), and it was extremely sensitive to the touch. Then the next morning I woke up with a very itchy area on my stomach just to the left of my bellybutton. Two days after that, I woke up with the same burning skin feeling on my back, again near my waist.

I finally made an appointment to see the doctor the next morning, and I’m glad I did: that morning I went, the little red bumps characteristic of shingles started popping up on my stomach where it had been itchy before. The doctor confirmed it was shingles and started me on anti-viral meds immediately. The rash has continued to grow and spread but the meds have kept it from going crazy. The weirdest part is that the pain on my back has been by far the worst, but no rash has popped out there (and hopefully won’t). Nerve pain is a trip.

You know all those TV commercials you see with burly marines telling you that shingles pain is the worst they’ve ever had? Luckily it hasn’t been that way for me, but it’s definitely not comfortable either. (I’ve known people with much worse cases than me and I have a whole new admiration for you now.) You know those novelty pin-case gift things you see at stores like Spencer’s, where you can put your hand or face in the pins and it leaves an impression? When I sit back against something, it feels like I’m sitting against a panel of those pins and that they’re very sharp. And then every once in a while, it feels like someone’s stabbing me in the back with an ice pick, that’s pleasant. I’ve been trying to go pants-less as much as possible, but that can be a bit awkward.

Shingles

I feel lucky that I caught my case fairly early and got on meds to help with the pain and the rash. I get tired pretty easily and the medication causes some side effects like headaches, but I feel like I may have dodged a real bullet in terms of a more serious case. If you ever start having those sensations I describe above, please get to the doctor immediately! Starting on the meds will decrease the severity of your case and hopefully prevent the lingering long-term pain sometimes seen with shingles. And if you’re over 60, consider getting the shingles vaccine.

I suspected my issue was shingles almost as soon as it started happening, and yet I still waited five days to go to the doctor. I kept hoping it would just turn out to be nothing; I kept saying that I didn’t want to overreact. I knew that shingles in people my age are mostly caused by high stress levels, but I kept telling myself that I hadn’t felt that stressed over the past two months. Yes, I knew I’d been overworking myself at pretty tough levels recently in terms of both time and degree of manual labor without much (if any) rest, but I had definitely gone through times of worse stress in my life without ending up with shingles.

The day after I saw the doctor, I was resting at home and feeding my Twitter addiction when I had the following conversation with a friend of mine that lives in England:

tweet

Did you get that? Read it again. Patricia pretty much blew my mind when she said “That Body/Mind connection [is] so strong but not always obvious.” Yes! Our relationship with time can make all the positive OR NEGATIVE difference in the world…so why do we abuse and neglect it willingly? Why do we push ourselves until the body can’t take it anymore?

In retrospect, I believe I made myself susceptible to shingles because I neglected my relationship with time and allowed myself to get worn down, plain and simple. Getting worn down weakened my immune system, which gave the dormant virus a portal. There’s a reason why the work week is five days on, two days off; we need time to rest, recharge, rejuvenate – but I hadn’t been permitting myself to do that. Both my mind and my body were being stressed beyond healthy levels, but I was refusing to listen. I had ignored my mind/body connection, and so now I’m paying the price. I’m just glad it wasn’t something more serious.

Our bodies are amazing vessels that take years of punishment from us and try to protect us anyway. Our brains deliver signals when the system gets overloaded or when there’s a problem, but we don’t always listen. Why not? I remember when I was going through my last separation and divorce, I chose to isolate myself while going through the process, revealing my distress and pain only to my therapist once a week. My body started revealing signs of the severe stress: hives, fatigue, even these weird squiggly lines in my vision that the eye doctor said were signs of impending migraines and 100% stress-related.

So I’m going to try to do a better job of listening to the signals from now on. And scheduling – I’m not going to work seven days a week anymore if at all possible (my internship ended so I’m getting more much-needed rest while I re-group for future opportunities). I’m going to try to not ignore the things that make me feel more balanced and just better in general. And I’m going to try to not get so upset by things that have upset me in the past (like the insane Austin traffic). Easier said than done, I know. But I know I don’t want to get shingles again, that’s for sure, so I at least have to make an effort.

Shameless plug: my friend Patricia in England (from the aforementioned tweeting) is starting her own business called Well Ahead Coaching. She will be partnering with career-minded women to help them re-engage with their career goals, realign with changed priorities, or reinvent themselves after maternity leave. I know Patricia from college, and I have no doubt she’s going to be an extremely successful life and wellness coach. Follow her on Twitter at @wellaheadcoach and sign up on her website for early bird specials on coaching opportunities (especially you readers in the UK!).

I hope all of you have a wonderfully balanced body/mind week. I’m starting mine out with fresh-baked pumpkin bread, so what could be better than that? It’s not a cure for shingles, but it’s a start.

pumpkinbread

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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