In Sickness and Health

When I was in Indiana’s Amish country, one place had a sort of working museum of Amish life. There we walked through a typical Amish home. In the living room, close to the wood stove that heated the main part of the house, there was a sick bed or fainting couch. This couch didn’t just sit there when people were sick and then moved away when all were well, the couch itself waited their, made up as a bed for anyone who might become sick. There was an acknowledgment of the fact that sickness happens. Just as we have a medicine cabinet in case of illness, so too was there a time when sick beds, close to a source of heat, were prepared for the event of an illness.

We hide our medicines in medicine cabinets. Often we don’t even know exactly what we have. When that happens we just run to our pharmacy and get more medication or call the doctor. In either case, it is easy to wait for the illness rather than being prepared. Our preparations are more along the lines of a flu shot which should help us avoid the illness altogether.

The sight of the fainting couch or sick bed in the living room reminded me that we don’t acknowledge sickness much. It’s a shadow that we don’t like to see. We like to think that perfect health will keep out all sickness. However, perfect health is about balance and we cannot have health without some level of sickness. How do we know what wellness is if we never have sickness?

I’m not saying to be really healthy we must also spend a great deal of time really sick. However, we must acknowledge that most everyone gets at least a little sick. The more we acknowledge that and allow ourselves to rest by a heat source with no heroics involved in how much we can keep pushing ourselves while sick, the healthier our bodies will feel. Sickness is not necessarily the lack of health. Lack of health happens when we fail to acknowledge our sickness and continue to act as if we are well. Sickness is often our body’s way of signaling that something in our life needs to change or pause for awhile.

Vacation Time

The last couple of weeks my husband and I visited the Midwest and spent some time with relatives. One of the wonderful things we did was just spend time traveling from place to place. We knew that in a few days we needed to get from Milwaukee to Southern Ohio. However we had four or five days. There were a number of things he wanted to see but none of them HAD to be seen.

I wanted to visit The Wren’s Nest which is run by a friend I met online. So we headed up to Michigan and then down through Northern Indiana. We got to visit Indiana Amish country. We wandered down through that state and ended up arriving in Ohio via Kentucky.

I saw some wonderful sights and enjoyed the drive. The landscape of Michigan and Indiana is very different from that of Washington state. There was a relaxation and ease of knowing that we didn’t have to be anywhere at any particular time. While we ended up not having as much time in Shipshewana as we might have liked (arriving at about 3 PM in the afternoon) that really didn’t matter. We got the taste and flavor and moved on.

It occurred to me as I drove through those towns that this is something so many of us never take time to see, yet how lovely. No one ever has it on their list to drive around randomly through the United States, or if they do it becomes a project that must be done. Our inclination is to fill up the driving time with sights or to set up a schedule that precludes just meandering along the roads.

Next time we take a vacation, I’ll have to pack in plenty of time to just wander.

More Thoughts on Weight Loss

I loss my elderly cat the other night. In this process I have posted old photos of her on my cat blog. She was a bit plump for much of her life. The vet I took her to for a geriatric evaluation a few years ago commented on it. However she said not to worry too much for with an old cat, a sign that she could be fat was a sign of health.

In the past months, as her kidneys began to fail in earnest I noticed that she was loosing weight. This week, the week she died, I could feel every little bony knob that existed. There was almost no fat left on her at all. She was wasting away before she died. She was beyond thin. She was emaciated. While at the end she would have looked much like an anorexic, it has been over a year since she was at all plump.

I consider that I look back at those photos and think how much more beautiful and healthy she looked when she was plump. I have to ask myself why do I spend so much time and effort trying to look emaciated, thinking it is beautiful? If the ability to keep weight on is a sign of health in our pets, then why is it horrible if we keep an extra ten pounds? I am not advocating gross obesity, but perhaps we can consider being a weight that feels good on our frame without the reference to the fashion statements.

Insidiousness of Fast, Easy Weight Loss

Recently I was surrounded by people who were all very excited about this one weight loss method. It’s one of those that requires that you eat a very strict diet, eating the foods sold by this particular company. Claims were made that most people lost an average of four to seven pounds a week if you were a woman.

There were other health claims that sounded good. I’ve tried a lot of diets. Those that work for me are those that I can stay on for a long period. Those diets usually have a further health benefit than just weight loss. Weight loss is nice, but it’s superficial. Health, for me is far more motivating.

I tried the diet. I felt awful the first two days. I was practically vomiting and I had headaches that were an 8 out of 10 on a pain scale of one to ten. I could hardly eat. I pushed myself through this thinking it was a detox. However no one else had such strong reactions. Everyone was telling me that it was sugar and hormonal, except that for months prior I had been loosing weight slowly on South Beach and had had white sugar only twice in the last three months. Additionally, because I tend to be somewhat intolerant of gluten I had had white flour only twice as well (cake in two occasions in celebration of my birthday). Mostly I had rice for carbs and one serving of fruit a day. Everything else was protein and vegetable matter. It was unlikely that everyone else was eating less sugar than I was.

After a week I was still sick so I moved off the diet. What I found interesting was that I had questions about the healthiness of the diet and continue to do so. Further I know that a quick weight loss diet isn’t the best thing for anyone but at the same time I was seduced by the idea that I could loose this weight FAST. In fact, upon going off the diet, I immediately gained back two of the pounds that I had lost–although I was still eating very little because I continued to be sick for nearly a week after stopping the diet.

I also had a woman in my yoga class come up and ask me about the diet because she was struggling to loose weight and thought this might be a good way to do it. This despite my sickness and many recommendations against such a strategy by our yoga teacher. I found it interesting that we all hope and grasp for that magic bullet to loose weight.

Anyone can fall for it. I think we all need to try those things we feel we need to try, but when all is said and done, if you don’t feel great during the time you are eating the food, it’s not right for you. I’m not sure there is any diet or lifestyle change that is worth it if you don’t feel good on it.

Balance Isn’t Static

I was taking a class a few years ago with a woman who was also a yoga teacher. She mentioned that she worked so hard to always keep her diet perfect and that she had to be in perfect shape.

She shared with the group, “I got it the other day. Balance isn’t always about being perfect. Balance requires fine adjustments from side to the other. It’s not just standing there–it’s adjusting. I realized that I’m like that in my life. I need to be more flexible with choices because I don’t always have to stand in that perfect spot of balance but can flex and adjust.”

I think these words are very important as we contemplate our health and disease. Some days we feel better than others. Some days we eat better than others. Each day is a different day.

Wisdom in Odd Places

I read, a lot. I’ve been told this is a great trait to have as a writer. I often feel guilty because I love to read books that I can devour in a few hours. I do read quickly.

I am a series mystery junkie. As I was working on this project, I read Espresso Shot
by Cleo Coyle. In it, I found this quote, on page 261 which I love.

I did understand wanting to be perfect. I used to strive for perfection in everything–my coffee, my marriage, myself. But life was naturally messy, and perfection required far too much ruthlessness. Being human was better. Humans made mistakes and moved on. Like Nana tried to tell me years ago: eing good was better than being perfect.

Know What Normal is For You

In the last decade or so I have noticed that normal has gone from being a bell curve to being on the edge of what is “optimal”. It’s not enough to be normal any more in one’s health, but it is important to be optimal. We work on getting those optimal areas whether those things are “normal” or not.

So what is normal? Normal is the most common manifestation of any particular characteristic. By this standard, the really amazing athletes that we admire have gotten outside the range of normal. Those men and women who climb mountains like Everest are outside the range of normal. This is simply because their bodies do things that the average person cannot. They can push themselves in ways the average person cannot, so in that sense they have stopped being normal.

We have this fascination with perfection and supra normal in our country. We no long want a normal amount of money that might make us comfortable (which is still a desire and an achievable desire in most European countries) we want to be rich. We don’t just want to be rich, we want to be rich, like Bill Gates. From a financial perspective, Bill Gates is not normal. His wealth falls well outside the bell curve of “normal”.

Looking closer at this desire, we often desire to “do what Bill Gates did”, largely because we see that as a way to wealth. I had a professor once who looked at us and said we shouldn’t try to be as good as he is in massage. Only he could be as good as he is. We should try and be as good as we can be. Then we might be better than he is. It is simple wisdom. We need to try to be the best of what we can be.

This best may not be optimal in many ways. It may not bring the outstanding wealth we think we would like but being our best will bring satisfaction on many levels. It is also far more likely to make our life a life of quality that we enjoy living rather than a life we have to work at keeping on top of.

Georgia’s Thought

Georgia should be where the blog begins because she is the reason this quest began at all. Georgia is my old calico cat. She found me one year at my old apartment complex. She was the cat that ran everything. She knew everyone and everyone was sure she wasn’t taken care of and yet we all did. She was quite a flirt. One woman who had been feeding her was moving and had two cats who weren’t interested in sharing and she asked me to take care of Georgia. Shortly after that Georgia bullied her way into my apartment past my alpha male cat (who was not interested in sharing his home with her) and into my life for good.

She came with me through many moves and sat with me as I lost the other cats I had at the time. She became the role model for the kitten I found and helped keep the new Siamese cat in line. As she was lying on the bed, looking old and sad I kept thinking I needed to know what she wanted when it was her time. My other cat had made it very clear that he wanted to die at home. I knew that deeply and instinctively. Georgia seemed to have no real wish one way or another.

I found an animal communicator at this time and I thought I should call her. However Georgia has always been there when I’ve talked to her and I think we have a good rapport so I decided to try it myself.

As I slipped into a meditation I talked to her about what was going on. I told her I didn’t want her to suffer because I didn’t know what was wrong, like Simone, my first Siamese did. Georgia said, “Well there was nothing wrong. She was just sick.”

And I said, “Well if I had know how she was sick, maybe I could have helped.”

Georgia said, rather crankily because I was obviously a bit slow on the uptake, “Why do you think sickness is wrong? It just is.”

What a profound statement from my little cat. I was thrown out of the meditation as I lay there considering the implications. Why do we think sickness is wrong? Where did we get that idea? And is there a way to change that attitude? What are the implications not only for sick people but for those around them? I started out on a quest. I am sure there will be a book but until then, there is this blog.