Discography

06_Cervical_MRI_scan_R_T1WFSE_G_T2WfrFSE_STIR_BFor well over a year, maybe a year and a half, I’ve been plagued by a steadily worsening, sore shoulder. Some days it bothered me so much that it limited how far I could run, because even just holding up my arm was too much. Even so, I figured I could tough it out until it eventually healed itself.

After nearly a year of ridiculous denial, punctuated occasionally by internet searches that told me I suffered from maladies ranging from stress to cancer, I finally went to the doctor. Four hundred dollars and an MRI later, I learned my shoulder pain actually radiated from a bulging disc in my neck. Good to know.

A spinal cortisone shot and many more dollars later, nothing had changed. I frittered away the calendar days suffering in (relative) silence until I found myself a quarter of the way into a new year and a new, unmet deductible. That seemed as good a time as any to finally pick up the script the doctor had written and make an appointment for physical therapy.

Two months later, I’ve found significant relief. I had started to believe the light at the end of the tunnel was getting pretty bright–until last weekend. I had a regression, and many of my symptoms came back hot-and-heavy.

The thing is, I knew it was my fault. I had gotten sloppy with my posture again. It’s not comfortable to stand/sit up straight all the time. All those neglected muscles get sore from walking around at attention. It’s so much easier to just relax in a slouch. After all, I feel kind of silly carrying myself like a soldier, and it takes so much focus to not slip into old habits. (Excuses, excuses.)

Even so, I knew when I went back to PT this morning that I needed to fess up and ask for a taping treatment.* I really, really, really didn’t want to; it’s not super comfortable to maintain a rigid posture when you’re body’s not used to it, and sometimes it gives me a slightly claustrophobic feeling. Oh, and did I mention that after awhile, it makes my back itchy. No, no, no…please no.

But I did it. I asked to be taped again, because I knew that whatever amount of discomfort I would experience would ultimately lead to the healing of my root problem.

And there’s the metaphor.

Another kind of therapist–the head kind–tried and tried to tell me that years ago, though I shunned her advice. It figures that my stubbornness only led to being presented with the same lesson in a physical manifestation.

Sometimes you have to go through hurt so you can heal.

*My PT uses a technique where he applies tape to a patient in slightly exaggerated, good posture. When the patient starts to slouch or to return to bad form, the tape pulls, giving a physical reminder of the lapse. Essentially, it gently forces the patient to maintain good posture. Different problem areas call for different taping techniques. If you don’t believe me, you can learn more HERE.

The right to remain silent

jelly donutIf you’re female, you’ve probably grumbled about your weight at least once in your life. Whether you feel plagued with an extra five pounds or fifty, we all have our number. It’s a girl thing. (I’m sure it occasionally happens with men too, but I’m not a dude, so I’ll keep my assumptions to my own gender.)

You’d think, then, that women would be understanding of each other. Apparently that’s not always the case.

A friend of mine–one who is now 100 pounds lighter and kicking the sh*t out of her goals–recently told me of an incident that happened early in her weight loss journey. She had finally decided to wage war on her sedentary lifestyle and less-than-healthy habits and got herself moving, literally. She started walking on an indoor track, slowly at first because that’s all her body and mind could handle. In fact, she remembers the broom-wielding custodian easily gliding around her has he cleaned the track. Nonetheless, she was moving; that constituted victory all by itself.

Enter one perky soccer mom (PSM), complete with yoga pants and svelte physique, power walking around the track. No biggie, right? There’s room for everyone.

Not so, friends.

As PSM rounded the curve and started to pass my friend, she threw a verbal barb that lodged itself in my friend’s heart.

I’ll bet you wish you hadn’t had that doughnut this morning, huh?

What the heck? WHO SAYS THAT?!

Every time I ponder this story I get angry all over again, for lots of different reasons. I can’t process the unbelievable rudeness of this woman. You can call it fat shaming or whatever the fashionable term of the day happens to be, but I call it rude. It’s just downright mean. Whatever happened to good manners? Decorum? Class? Did degrading someone else make PSM feel superior? Did she think pushing someone down would raise her up? If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

The bigger issue that intrigues me about this incident is the sense of entitlement. I’ve seen it over and over at the gym: fit-looking people with the “right” kind of workout clothes draping the “right” kind of body cast sneers toward the less perfect people huffing and puffing and sweating as they struggle to finish a workout. Their attitude rises from their skin like steam: Look at you! You have no right to be here. You can’t even use this machine right. You’re in my way. I deserve to be here; you don’t.

Excuse me, but isn’t the person who is out of shape exactly the person who should be at the gym? And shouldn’t we applaud those of us–regardless of size, creed, color, or anything else–who take the initiative to do something positive? We should be making way for progress, not impeding it.

Inside or outside the gym, why is it often the people who need something least who feel the most entitled to it?

Think about that.

And the next time you find yourself ready to throw shade on someone doing something good for herself, remember: you have the right to remain silent. Exercise that.

Reflex

standing deskI hurt my back. I don’t know how I did it, but a couple of days ago, I felt the mushy disk that I usually keep under control break free. It slid out of its designated spot between two vertebrae (I can name them, if you’re interested) and settle comfortably on a nerve. Well, comfortably for the disk anyway.

For the rest of the night and half of the next day, I babied it. I cut my run short and hobbled gingerly about my business. At work, I slouched to accommodate the sore spot. I tried not to do much that involved lifting or movement. Sitting was uncomfortable, so I rigged up a tall workspace and stood for the rest of the day.

That’s when I remembered.

Instead of curling up like a threatened pill bug, I needed to stretch out. I needed to stand tall and straight. I even needed to do a few exercises that pulled against the sore place. My (terrific) physical therapist taught me this a few years ago when I faced this malady the first time, but I had forgotten.

Of course, I had forgotten because those things don’t feel normal. It’s not intuitive to move into the pain; my primal brain tells me to Flee! Flee! Flee! Move AWAY from the pain, and fast! Naturally, that’s what I did. And naturally, it didn’t help.

When rational thought started to seep through the cracks of my discomfort, I heard the voice of my PT in my head. I pushed through the hobble and pulled myself straighter when I walked. Amazingly, it eased the pain. The more I hunched over, the more I hurt. The straighter I stood, the less I hurt. Make way for sanity, Tammy.

So often, the solution to a problem lies in taking the action that is the least natural. (If it were that easy, it wouldn’t be a problem, right?) If your back hurts, resist the urge to curl into a ball. If you start sliding on the ice, steer into the skid. If your argument isn’t working, change your approach, not your volume. If you feel threatened in your job, open up and add value, don’t protect your turf. When change is on the horizon, forge ahead, don’t circle the wagons.

If solutions were simply reflexive, we’d have no worries. We wouldn’t have to do anything but react from that primal node of our brains. For better or for worse, life is more complex than that. More often than not, the solution that works best is the one that feels the least natural. The next time you’re in a tough spot, resist the reflex and reflect.

Oh yeah–once I started following my own advice, my back started feeling better. Funny how that works.

Take the t-shirt

tough mudder cardMy brother did it again. In the spirit of Christmas, he found a new way to get under my skin.

The card he left under the Christmas tree looked innocuous enough. The envelope puffed out a bit, prompting me to silently muse about what kind of gift card may have been stashed in the fold. Starbucks? Best Buy? AmEx? His sly grin should have set off alarm bells in my head.

As soon as I unfolded the paper tucked inside the Hallmark sentiment, I knew I’d been had. The card contained an entry in my name to the Tough Mudder.

Now, I’ve been known to do some crazy things. Over the last 17 months, I’ve competed in 4 mud obstacle races, and I recruited my brother to join me for two of them. They were a lot of fun, but that’s exactly what they were designed to be–FUN. 3-ish miles of mud and madness, with a giant party at the end.

The Tough Mudder is different. This is TWELVE miles of serious business: simulated icebergs, underwater tunnels, electric shock. No way, no how. I have no desire to tackle something this nuts. In fact, when my beloved sibling posed the idea to me a couple of months ago, I responded with a resounding NO. Repeatedly.

He signed me up anyway. Merry Christmas, Tammy.

I’ve been grousing about this for two weeks, since opening that card. The other day at work, a colleague looked at me quizzically and said, You don’t have to do it, you know. Just take the t-shirt and go home.

Wait, what? That thought never occurred to me. My brother threw down the gauntlet and, as anyone with a sibling knows, I have no choice but to pick it up and accept the challenge. And beat him, of course.

I’m not completely innocent here. In his eyes, this is payback for my Christmas gift to him the year before: registration for the Indy Mini half marathon. He didn’t just take the t-shirt, and neither will I. I’m going to face this challenge head on, and when I’ve completed it, I’ll be better for having done it. It’s not about the Tough Mudder itself; it’s about setting a goal and following a plan to achieve it. It’s about discipline, perseverance, and pushing my limits. Oh, and a pinch of sibling rivalry.

Watch out, world; here I come. There’s no limit to what I can do when I set my mind to it.

Just wait till he sees what he’s getting next Christmas.

Fat and happy

I popped into Panera the other day for breakfast with my daughter. I already had an idea of what I wanted to order, so I scanned the menu board for a match as I waited in line. There it is! I said to myself when I found it, and I relished the thought of my breakfast treat. Upon closer examination, I noticed a number next to each menu item, so I looked at the top of the board for an explanation. It all came clear like a thunderclap: these were calorie counts!

I can’t eat something with that many calories! I thought. Especially when it is a single item–not a whole meal! Heartbroken, I scanned the board for an alternative, but there weren’t many better options. After a complete reassessment–including revamping my eating plan for the day and just a wee bit of rationalization–I ended up sticking with my original choice. Somehow, though, it just didn’t taste as good as I thought it would.

Actually, I applaud Panera for going big with its nutrition information. Most restaurants make it available in the small print, on their websites, or on the packaging that customers can read when their food is already in hand. Some have brochures quietly tucked away in case someone asks, but few (if any?) post it right next to each item. Panera introduced this practice in 2010; I’m obviously just a bit late in noticing.

What surprises me about this effort isn’t so much that restaurants are starting to do it. Instead, it’s my reaction. In general, I want to know more, more, more. Knowledge is power, right? I also like to be fairly informed about what I eat, both as a foodie and a reasonably health-conscious consumer. I may not always make the best choices, but I do want them to be choices, not accidents of ignorance.

That’s why I’m surprised at myself: when I first saw the calorie counts, I found myself wishing I hadn’t. I just didn’t want to know. I wanted to eat my eggy breakfast sandwich in peaceful oblivion, focused only on making my tummy happy. As long as I didn’t know the facts, it was A-OK, or at least A-OKish. My newly enlightened self, however, was forced to choose between responsible eating or willful decadence. I didn’t like that choice.

Besides the self-examination evoked by this experience, I’ve been mulling it over for weeks looking for the marketing lesson. I think I’ve finally found it. People want to feel good about the choices they make. It’s as simple as that. They either want to make good choices, or they want to justify the bad ones to make sure they’re really, really worth it.

Maybe that’s why I struggled so much with my egg sandwich. I should have opted either for the fruit cup and half a plain bagel, or I should have high-tailed it to my favorite greasy spoon and gone all out.

Assuming I’m mostly normal, it’s an interesting insight into human nature. I’m still chewing on that breakfast. So to speak.

When the going gets tough

Tomorrow morning at 5:30 I will clip my shoes into my pedals and head toward the sea. For my third and final time, I will take the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge and wheel my bike across Massachusetts to raise money for cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

When I finish the first day’s 110 miles, I will be spent. When I get on the bike at dark the next morning, the outline of the seat will be excruciating for the first several miles until the sharp pain becomes bearable. When I approach the finish in Provincetown, the wind will try to push me backward to where I started. When I crest the last hill and approach the 190th mile, I will choke back tears. The commitment, the effort, and the adventure will overwhelm me.

As I sit in my bed just hours before the ride begins, I already know these things. After all, I’ve done this twice before. I know it will be hard. I know it will be overwhelming. Most of all, I know it will make a difference.

Tonight at the opening ceremonies, I listened to story after story about cancer survivors. Sometimes they were the people stricken with the disease; sometimes they were the people left behind. Everyone suffers, and everyone deserves a fighting chance.

I also listened to the president of Dana Farber speak about all the ways the more than $330 million donated over the lifetime of this ride has helped move the research forward. Real ways. Very specific ways. Drugs that came to market specifically because of the funding provided by this ride. Doctors who were able to explore innovative therapies because these donations kept their labs in operation.

In the crowd, I saw a man missing a leg. I saw men and women who had beaten cancer. I saw parents who had lost children. I saw fighters who didn’t know what the results of their next PET scan would show. I saw a man fighting for a friend. I saw a woman whose son had survived but his father hadn’t. Every one of them will ride with me tomorrow. Every one of them has suffered in ways I can’t begin to imagine and hope I never have to. Every one of them is stronger than me.

That’s why I ride. That’s why I can’t quit when the going gets tough.

Say what?

Several years ago, I participated in some company focus groups that were designed to test a new insurance concept. The premise we worked from was that people who exhibited certain behaviors would have to pay more for health insurance. As an average sized, non-smoking employee, I didn’t readily fall into the group of “The Punished”, but the concept nonetheless felt uncomfortable to me. Apparently others shared that opinion, because the idea never matured into reality.

Fast forward a dozen or so years.

In a conversation earlier this week, a colleague told me about a program in which his daughter-in-law participated at work. Clearly intrigued with the idea, this colleague told me that his DIL’s employer had issued her a precision pedometer to measure her daily step activity. Periodically, she would plug it in to her computer and upload the data to the company system. As long as she maintained a certain average, she qualified for a discount on her health insurance rate. Best of all, he said, it was completely voluntary.

I found myself nodding along, liking the idea of a discount. That could work, I thought to myself. I’d certainly do what I could for a discount.

As I thought about this scenario later, I realized that it was exactly the same idea I had shunned years before. The only difference was the language.

When presented as a premium or a punishment for bad behavior, I found myself thinking terms like unfair and judgmental. When presented as a discount or a reward for good behavior, I reacted much more positively, mentally sifting through all the ways I might earn it. Sign me up! I thought.

In case you’ve forgotten, words can be powerful change agents. Words matter.

I quit

Mmmm, donuts. When I was 13, my friend and I would ride our bikes around the corner to the back door of a little house-turned-bakery that dispensed these delectables warm and slathered with chocolate. In high school, all giggles and schemes, I started a Friday rotation in my German class so that nary a week went by without these cakey treats. College in New England meant there was always a Dunkin’ D in any given sight line, and the corporate world wouldn’t survive without a sleek white bakery box to prop up the coffee pot.

I loved the jelly filled sort most, airy cake plumped full of raspberry goo and so liberally dusted with powdered sugar that it left a trail down my shirt. Later I discovered the sour cream cake version, so heavy with secret fatty goodness that you could see its footprint on any surface it touched. Mmmm, donuts.

But I don’t eat them any more.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that after my eyes rolled back into their proper positions, the rest of my body did not share the euphoria of my taste buds. Five minutes after my last bite, these little goodies would make me feel miserable. I’m pretty sure that their delicious goodness frolicked on my taste buds solely to create a diversion, allowing their more nefarious companions to sneak past my tongue and turn my insides to sludge.

It took me thirty years to discover the ruse, but once I caught on, I quit cold turkey–and I have never regretted it. It wasn’t even hard to do. I just planted my flag in the sand and declared, “I don’t eat donuts.” It was like flipping a switch in my head; I can walk by the most beautiful display of eclairs with nary a flutter of temptation.

Lest you think that my point rests solely in the hollow space of a Krispy Kreme, I challenge you  (and myself) to wipe the glaze from your glasses and look for your donut. What tastes good but feels bad? I’ll bet we can all make a long list of items that have nothing to do with food. The trick is learning how to say no.

(Check out this terrific post from marcandangel.com if you need some inspiration.)

Make a difference

For most of the week, my posts have conveyed stories about things that didn’t work. Although they’ve taught some valuable lessons, I don’t want brooding clouds of negativity to gather into an overcast outlook; the sun is going to break through in this post–just like the real one outside on this gorgeous Friday.

Today’s sunshine is named Stacy.

Stacy works for my daughter’s foot doctor, managing the office, the patients, and (I’m pretty sure) the doctor himself. Stacy makes things happen, and she does it in a way that exudes a rare combination competence and cheerfulness. She’s the kind of person you search for reasons to talk to. She’s the kind of person who keeps you coming back.

Even on my very first phone call to set up an appointment, I was impressed. I had never even met Stacy, but I hung up the phone feeling relieved and comforted that someone had listened. And understood. Since then, she has solved every administrative issue we never got a chance to have because she preempted it. She’s one of those people who can do ten things at once and still make you feel as if you are the center of her universe. She looks for ways to help.

Here’s a story that tells it all:

On my daughter’s first follow-up visit to the doctor after surgery, the door to the office suite swung open just as she hobbled up to it. At first I thought someone was coming out, so I started to tell my daughter to make sure there was room to pass. Before the first words passed my lips, however, there was Stacy with a huge smile, saying, “I can hear crutches a mile away. Come on in!” Even without considering that the desk she left was two doors and a corner away from the door she had opened–not an uncomplicated maneuver–she put a huge smile on my face. Really, who does that stuff anymore? Who jumps up to help?

We need more Stacys in the world. Stacys make a difference.

Stop making sense

To preface this post, let me say that I understand how we got to this point. I really do. I understand liability issues and the litigious nature of our society that brought us to this point. I understand the importance of covering your you-know-what. But there’s got to be a balance. It’s got to make sense

After I wrote yesterday’s post, Process Server, I realized that a story I had been carrying around for a couple of weeks offered a prime example. My daughter recently had minor surgery and, trooper that she is, was ready to go back to school at the first opportunity. Although the doctor had proscribed some stronger pain meds–the kind I had to show my driver’s license and sign my life away to get–three days after the surgery she was pretty comfortable on plain, over-the-counter Tylenol.

I took her to school Monday morning, doing what I thought were all the right things. We arrived early to avoid the dangers of maneuvering with crutches among munchkin hallway crowds. I settled her into her classroom, went over the high points with her teacher, and gave her a quick hug as she shooed me out the door so she could begin her adventure. (That’s pretty much how she views everything.)

On my way out of the school, I stopped by the office to drop off her pain meds (Tylenol) and to set up and sign off her dosage schedule. Easy stuff, so I thought.

The school nurse, however, blanched when she saw the bottle of Tylenol in my hand. “Oh no,” she said. “It has to be Children’s Tylenol. We can’t give her that.”

With mother bear hackles immediately up, I responded, “Oh, yes you can!”

After a tense and emphatic discussion, the nurse ended up agreeing to dispense the Tylenol, as long as my daughter’s doctor would fill out a form approving it. I left the school fuming and headed to the doctor’s office.

This is a case where The Process overruled good judgment. My points are these:

  1. The medicine could be purchased over the counter by anyone, my daughter included.
  2. 72 hours earlier, someone was digging around in my daughter’s foot, sawing bones and inserting pins. Although she was doing really well, it stands to reason that something a bit more potent than Children’s Tylenol would be required to manage her pain.
  3. At 5 feet tall and 113 pounds, my daughter is the size of a small adult.
  4. We were following the doctor’s recommendation, though I’m not sure that should matter as much as #5, below.
  5. I am her mother. I gave written permission for the school to dispense an over-the-counter medication. We’re not talking prescription drugs here.

This is a case of serving the process rather than letting the process serve. It made no sense and left me feeling vilified as a parent. Following the process became more important than exercising sound judgment–judgment that made more sense, in this case, than the process itself. And I had followed the process. I took the medicine to the office, filled out forms, and sign permission slips.

I wonder what would have happened if I had brought my daughter’s Vicodin instead.