mental health

The unanimous opinion in the fitness community seems to be that you should not weigh yourself every day when you are in the midst of a diet or weight loss plan. It makes sense that the daily scale reading would be somewhat unreliable for an overall picture because based on a number of factors ranging from the amount of food in your stomach or water in your bladder to your unique hormonal make up, your body mass can fluctuate from day to day. Still, I weigh myself each day, keeping track of the amount of miles I walk or run, how I eat and how I handle negative or challenging thoughts and situations throughout the day. I don’t buy into the whole don’t-weigh-yourself-each-day scenario. I weigh myself to make sure I’m not outside of what I consider an unacceptable weight for more than a day or two. The way I figure, if I can catch myself gaining a pound, I can prevent myself from gaining back the thirty that I’ve taken off in the last two years.

Still, I seem to be stuck at 188. When I say that I seem to be stuck there, let me just admit that I know a big reason why I’m there and have failed to take off 20 lbs. since January (though I have taken off 12). I’m stuck there because I haven’t gone the additional steps I should be going to cut out certain destructive eating habits and because of that I’m somewhat glued to 188. I would like to get down below 180 to 175, but to do that I obviously have to make some lifestyle changes.

All of the changes that I must make to be successful have less to do with the enjoyment of food than with other things going on in my life. For example, eating late at night was a huge cause of my weight gain over a period of several years. When I cut down what I ate past 8 p.m. to apples and other low-calorie foods, the weight seemed to come off. Now, that I’ve reached a more comfortable weight of 188, I am back to eating at night. Sure, I may run a hell of a lot more than I did, but that means nothing if I’m eating when the sky is dark and I am closer to bed than I am to being physically active. The second habit I could do to break again is snacking on sweet stuff. Doing that caused me to gain weight, cutting back caused me to lose weight. Now that I’m doing it again (though less), I’m stuck.

These two factors explain a lot about why I have been stuck at 188 for some time. But knowledge alone will do very little so long as I don’t address the underlying reason for late night eating or grabbing a package of M&Ms when I could make due with an orange: I’m doing these things to feel better because I’m stressed, depressed or anxious.

I know now what causes late night binges on food. It’s a feeling of being sad or unfulfilled. Granted, binging for me nowaday is not what it was in the past, but it is still most certainly binging. When you have a snack you don’t need or two bowls of cereal at 11 p.m., that’s binging. Binging is from avoiding how you feel. Sometimes, it seems in the world that there is no one better at avoiding personal conflict than me.

Address the problems, and the need for food as a painkiller will subside. When I’ve been at my best mentally, the weight has melted off. When not, it’s either gone up or stayed the same. There’s much I can do, but I must get started right away…As in now.

 For more than seven years now I’ve dealt with on and off bouts of depression. None have been particularly awful, but the indescribable feelings of low mood and reduced energy do come and go enough to be noticeable in my life. Sometimes they are fueled by stress that is not handled correctly. Other times they just come with no real basis, sorta like a migraine headache.

Yesterday, I was feeling good most of the day until about 4 p.m., when I had this sore feeling that seemed to live somewhere deep inside of my head. It shot out little pulses of discomfort throughout my body and suddenly I had trouble concentrating on anything in front of me. My vision took on a skewed perspective and I felt then and there at my desk that I needed a nap.

When I got home I passed out in a chair. When I awoke, I felt considerably better. This morning, same thing again. I feel as if I want to sleep. Nothign much is bothering me. I think this is just the way that my brain works every so often. I am hoping it will go away, although I really wish I could hop under my desk and fall asleep!

It’s funny how the brain works with all of its circuits and chemistry. I believe in the soul but I also believe in the brain. Where one is, so likely is the other to be that caring or neglecting one means nurturing or abusing the other. To care for the brain is to give it exercise, patience, sleep and healthy food. To care for the soul is to give it forgiveness, humility and respite from the things that are beyond your control. As I’ve gotten slightly better over the years at doing both, waves of depression such as I felt yesterday and for a bit this morning because more of a blip on the radar rather than an oncoming stormfront. Still, vigilance and a sense of self-love is always needed. Emotions are complex things. Complex things require maitenance. Maintenance requires insight. Insight requires living and experiencing the joy and hurt of life. Depression is a part of that.

I work in government. It’s budget season, and though I am not privy to any of the dealings–as my line of duty is much different–we are all busy and all stressed out.

It’s been more than a week since I did laundry and the burgandy checkered shirt I wear right now is the last of the clean shirts I have. Being a person who would rather not rewear a shirt that hasn’t been cleaned, I’ll sooner go to Wal-Mart tonight to get another one if I can’t get laundry done tonight.

This week has been chaotic for everyone. Even the maintanence guys and security guards and people who have nothing to do with the inner process are putting in long, dedicated hours. Who knows how long it will be. I put on a pound this week and took one off. I haven’t slept well in days.

Yesterday afternoon, as the gridlock continued, I felt myself on the verge of an emotional meltdown. Not the crying fit or explosive anger and name calling kind (for I would surely be shown the door). What I felt was an overwhelming negativity. Because human decency dictates that you don’t let loose on others, where else does that anger and furstration go? The less sleep you have, the more potent it gets.

I’ve come to realize that mental energy, like physical energy, is neither created nor destroyed. It simply has to pass from one area to another. Even after a 14 hour day yesterday and a 15 hour day the one before, I could not sleep. There was adreneline rushing through my veins. Whereas I would have preferred to see myself on the peaceful beach in the warm relaxing water my imagination brings me, I was back at work, thinking about things. Thinking, thinking, thinking. I answered a friend’s email in late afternoon and found myself writing gibberish. Complaining about the lack of rest and how my feet hurt and how I hadn’t gone grocery shopping or organized my apartment and that I was tired of looking at people and wanted someone to speak with, anyone, about anything but what goes on here.

After a while, I remembered my Uncle Charlie, who spent days on end in a combat zone in World War II, including long stays in a foxhole. If he could do that, then I definately can do this. This is nothing. Still, when I tried to rest last night, I lay awake in my bed, tired, tired, tired but sleepless, sleepless, sleepless. I was frustrated. I wanted to sleep. If not sleep, then run, but my body would allow for neither. It was purgatory.

Eventually, I did pass out and when I awoke this morning it was to an alarm I had to snooze for more than an hour. I missed the morning run I’ve missed since right around the time the Governor got the heeve-ho. Still, the rest was good. I’d acknowledged to my body that it had energy it had to release and that it was alright that my body was still working overtime and that it had permission to shut down for a while and rebuild itself.

Thinking about it, I realize that a dream I had yesterday morning was the result of not telling my body it could go home so-to-speak.

In my dream my roommate who is a close friend and me were throwing snowballs here in Albany. We were launching them at each other, but the police arrested us for trying to start a riot. We were brought to a jail where we were forced to stand, stand, stand, as I have been doing a lot this last month and a half. I was tired and wanted to sit, but my jailer told me, nicely even, I had to stand until someone posted my bail. If I was convicted, I would again have to stand. The alarm woke me up. The aura of the dream carried with me all day. I was so tired and yet full of negative energy. Hopefully today will be different, but either way, it’s alright to want to shut down for a while.

I suppose that it may be a little rash to compare my apartment to a bombed out building in Beirut, but it feels that way.

Today is the tenth day in a row that I have put on a shirt and tie and gone to work. Normally, I have weekends off, but with the state’s fiscal budget (now past due) in the works, all of us who work at the Capitol are here extra hours.

I feel as if I haven’t been home in days. To some degree that’s an exaggeration, but that’s how I feel. I haven’t had much time to spend with my dog or relaxing and haven’t gone grocery shopping–and by that I mean filling a cart–since the early March, right before the last governor publicly disgraced himself. I have put on a pound, taken one off and pout on back on again. As of this morning, I was up to 188. I intend on taking it off. I also haven’t been able to do much running. My room is a mess. My whole apartment is a wreck and I don’t like how it feels.

I really hope that we can be sprung for the weekend. My mind works better with order. It will be nice to have a good few hours to mindfully clean my apartment, do laundry and go grocery shopping. In the meantime, what I can do for now is to clean off the pile of refuse on my desk which actually does resemble Beirut, circa 1975.

Since the age of about 13 I have had on and off bouts of depression. It is easy to chalk a lot of this up to heredity as my mother, father and two siblings have had depression, two grandparents and even a great-uncle of mine committed suicide here in Albany in the 1930’s.

Depression is of course a physical illness, but it is also an illness of the spirit and one that if it is not caused by negativity is certainly strengthened by it.

Along with the miles I run and walk, I mark my overall mood each day on a calendar. A smiling face means a good day. A sad day is frowning and a day that fits somewhere in between is marked by a pursed look.


I snapped the picture below this morning while I walked to the bus. There was no particular reason for taking it and most of the images that I grab with my digital camera are quite random. Nevertheless, when I looked at it, it provided me a more profound thought than I anticipated.

Ever since I moved into my apartment here in Albany, for as long as I can remember there hangs outside of a barber shop around the corner from me, a broken barbers pole. Not too many barber’s have them anymore and I’m not entirely sure anyone really thinks about them, but the image of one of these contraptions will certainly always conjure up for me the thought of an old man with scissors in his hands, shaving cream warming on a counter and from a radio somewhere in the shop Glenn Miller.

An middle aged man from my parish runs the place on my corner and although he seems to do steady business, the candy-striped pole has never been fixed. It is shattered and its colors faded. I’m not sure its of any importance to him to ever have it fixed. Who does one call anyway for that sort of thing? Are there barber shop pole repairment? Parts dealers?

Personally, I don’t care if it’s fixed or not, but I wonder if the man says to himself that he’ll get around to fixing it. It’s like that with so many things from broken windows to fences in need of mending and buttons on jackets. We seldom get things done on time it seems. Instead, we procrastinate or simply put things at the bottom of our priorities. Making money is tantamount to this barber staying in business and before he replaces a contraption that will undoubtedly raise his electric bill, he’s gotta make the bottom line.

In the last three weeks I have neglected to clean my apartment as I should. I have been busy at work and organization of the place I live has taken a back seat. Who knows when I’ll pick myself up and do it. So many things never get done.

So much of what we think about ourselves is actually shaped by our perception of what others think of us.

Although there are people who are narcisstic and vain, most folks generally speaking rate themselves lower than others when it comes to looks, intelligence and overall competence.

We have all been dumfounded I think by the seemingly has-it-all-together person who confides in his or her own lack of self-confidence or their stated displeasure with how they look.

It always amazes me when I see a beautiful girl who is concerned about her weight although it doesn’t appear why she should be. It must be hard to live in such a self-criticizing state.

Certaily, I fit the mold of an own worst critic. Throughout my life I have really borne the brunt of false or overvalued ideas about my self and how I appear to others. I have scarcely acknowleged that I can be a good-looking man at times and at times when I look at myself in the mirror, I feel displeasure that colors my mood for hours.

In recent months I have lost more than 20 lbs from diligent exercise and smart eating. Where I thought that a weight loss would be a cure-all for some of the feelings I have, instead I have come to realize that confidence in ones appearance and abilities is about more than looking in the mirror and seeing the things you like, but more so accepting your limitations, flaws and mistakes while factoring in that we can never really know what others think or feel about us.

I’ve never regarded myself as handsome. I suspect that to some people, I am and to others I’m anything but. If it were were a poll and 90 percent of Americans thought I looked like a burn victim and USA Today, Time, Newsweek and the New York Times detailed the results, in the end it would be my reaction to the findings that caused me displeasure, not the findings alone.

It is our reaction and our patterns of thinking that prompt us to feel one way or another. It is our choice to feel that way.

Certainly, I am not George Clooney when it comes to looks, but I am also not Sloth from The Goonies. In fact, were I to find myself in between, I may be closer to Clooney than to sloth. Regardless, perception of perception is a lost cause. One person can hold their feelings in, while others are blunt. Some say one thing but have a different view inside of themselves.

What attracts people–particularly a lover–is confidence and building confidence is not easy. I suspect there is practicality as well as the metaphysical to consider and right now, I’m on my lunch break and can’t delve into it. After all, my hair needs a little straightening, my tie some adjusting and if I do it just right, I may be able to tuck this now oversized shirt in enough so it doesn’t look like I’m fat.

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