self-improvement


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.

Within the last hour I was going over my personal budget. From each paycheck I try to deduct a about $150 and distribute that between two savings accounts. The remainder of my pay goes to recurring bills such as my Department of Education Direct Loan, Sallie Mae loan, a car payment and a collections agency payment. After that is squared away, I budget $80 for two weeks worth of groceries. Then there’s $17 for cable and $40 for gas and $267 for my share of the rent (very cheap, I must say). Everything else is an odd or an end and when that cash is laid out (the closer to pay day the better) I usually have about $200 to burn.

 

Because of unforseen expenses, that amount has fallen quite about for the next two weeks (I was paid yesterday). I’m around $148 to spend and for some reason I’m going nuts about that. But why? There are people who live with far less than that for every two weeks. This last pay period, I had more than $20 remaining in my account, so I put that in savings, towards a trip to Portugal next year. If I could have had $20 remaining after laying out cash last pay period on three dinners (two of which I covered a guest) and some other things I didn’t anticipate, then I can surely get by. There are people really struggling to get by.

I figured I’d split the $148 in half to $74 for the next seven days and then $74 for the next six days. But why do that, I realized when I have some cash hanging out in my wallet? It is only $34 but I really don’t anticipate needing to spend more than $34 on anything until next Tuesday so long as I have my groceries paid for, my car filled up (which I barely drive nowadays) and some other stuff that I need. I think I can do alright with that. I’ll let you know how it turns out, whether I’m pressing buttons on the cash machine or living out of the greenbacks in my wallet until next Tuesday. I’ve also got some change in my pocket, too, and I think that makes $36!

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.

Part of living mindfully is accepting the things that cannot by your own will be changed. It is with this knowlege that I arm myself whenever I venture to walk down Central Avenue, Albany’s main strip or any other part of the decaying corpse that we live in.

In my heart, I love this city, but it is because I come from this area and close friends and live here.  Otherwise, I have no strong attachment to the Capital City on the Hudson, whose time has long since passed. It is likely that I will move out of this area altogether to a warmer place at some point.
When my grandfather was a teenager in the 20’s and 30’s, Albany still had some of its character as a clean and thriving small city. The seat of government, the city was also a place for railroad and shipping. As many as 130,000 folks lived here. Now that number is about 93,000. Albany has changed in my lifetime, but it has absolutely transformed in his lifetime.

Central Avenue was once not just a thoroughfare for downtown traffic. It was actually a place for storefronts and business. So many of those businesses are gone, moved out to the suburbs where the car can better travel and closer to the homes of expatriate Albanians.

I will write more about Central Avenue but for now I can only say what I know, which comes from my eyes. The road is simply for the bus lines now. There is no economic life to it. Demographics and insipid urban poverty have crept along the North and South sides of the pavement. Like many other thoroughfares in urban America, Central Avenue is dead. It is a home to broken windows, boarded up storefronts and booted cars. What remains are the remnants of a depressed inner city economy; cellphone stores, barber shops and hair braiding businesses, one hardware store, and a whole lot of fast food.

Our Lady of Angels, once a thriving Franciscan community, has been closed. Reflective of the demographic shift and the shrinking Catholic population, it is now a Pentecostal church. Nevertheless, the structure is still very Catholic, with a tile-mosaic of Christ with the Sacred Heart and a Friary that looks anything but Prostestant.

Although there are some decent and affordable restaurants along Central Avenue, it is much easier to get a Big Mac with an order of fries or greasy Chinese takeout than something healthy. One organic food cooperative can be found hidden alongside a dollar store.

There can be no greater image of the economic malaise of Albany than Central Avenue. Although the surrounding suburban communities do well for themselves, there is nothing to entice a shopper do this stretch of road that they couldn’t get in their own town.

I often think that Central Avenue would look quite nice with stores and businesses, but I know there’s just no practicality in it. The malls in Guilderland and Colonie are much easier to get to and park in. The poverty of many of those who live in proximity to the street is prohibitive. Central Avenue may likely never be what we’d like it to be.

Just as documentarian Michael Moore has made his hometown of Flynt, Michigan something of an emblem of the death of blue collar America, so Central Avenue embodies the changing economic climate wherein those with money have abandoned the small cities, taken with them their spending power and heading for the suburbs. As the car has made it easier to commute into cities, it has also gutted commerce from them.


Ironically, a portion of Central Avenue towards the city line is dotted with auto dealerships, mechanics and parts suppliers. The Avenue houses a large element of its destruction.

(more…)

I don’t know exactly why,  but I felt lucky a few times this week so I bought Lucky 7’s scratch off cards from various convenience stops.

Each time, however, I was surely mistaken, as I got nothing.

Sure enough, I hate the lottery and rarely play it, particularly scratch-offs, but I figured I’d take a shot. Now I’m $3 shorter and New York State has an additional $3 bucks for it’s schools (or so they say). But hey, maybe if one scratch off wasn’t lucky and neither two or three, then four will hit the jackpot!…I think I’d have better luck being hit by a lightening bolt!

It sounds a bit crazy, I think, but after more than a year-and-a-half of dating girls I’ve met through friends or social networking sites and finding no chemistry and them finding none as well, I’m willing to try mos tthings short of a Russian bride.

A New Age friend of mine suggests visualization. To find the right person one must attract the qualities that they seek. I thought about this concept for a while before realizing in principle that it makes  a great deal of sense. If we can focus on what we want out of life, it makes it easier to acheive those things.


Skeptical and lacking confidence that this theory works, it took a little extra energy to put together a list of qualities that I am looking for in a woman.

1 Confidence: I like a girl who is assured of herself, mentally and physically. I prefer women who don’t defer to what others may think of them as their soul guidepost of how to be.

2. Sense of humor: I enjoy laughing at and finding humor in the crazy world in which I have no choice but to live. A partner in whom I could share the ability to joke around iss essential.

3. Compassion: Any woman I would want to be with would have in herself a concern for tohers. Her compassion however would not be overextended, but instead meaningful and well-placed. It would not be exploitable. In other words, a woman who is not a sucker.

4. Motivated: It is great to be around people who want to be out and about in their daily lives. A partner who liked to hike, walk, rollerblade, go outdoors, see movies, take day trips, travel and go out to eat would be good.

5. Strong: I would like to find someone who I felt wasnt’ lookin for someone to solve all their problems or to fulfill an obligation to simply have someone because that’s the way she feels adult life should be. She should have interests.

It took some effort to put that list together. What you’re supposed to do is see yourself with that person and it will make it easier to find them and be with them. I don’t think it’s an overnight thing, and I’m sure it requires quite a bit of discipline, but it makes some sense to me. I’ll see, I guess.

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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