As Kara and I do more and more to get ready, it's becoming clear that we're actually doing this. And the more stuff we get rid of, the more downsizing we do, the bigger our lives can become.
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For the past two weeks I've been exercising every morning. It isn't much. No "Insanity" or "P90X" or "DDP Yoga" or anything cool and trendy. Just me, a pair of sneakers, a stretch of road and a public park.
In the park is a playground that has thinly disguised workout equipment. Seriously, who are these people trying to fool? Paint a pull-up bar a cheerful blue and it's suddenly "fun." Put a flag on top of a climbing wall and it's a castle. These are all ways to trick children into being fit and healthy, and I, for one, am appalled. Because they really, really fooled me at first.
Actually, I knew what I was getting into. I knew, at some point, I was going to hurt and curse that playground for what it was—torture and punishment for every lazy day filled with chicken wings and ice cream that I ever had. That playground is "the price." But it's a price worth paying if I want to look and feel and live better. He said, rather convincingly.
I start my workout by getting up at 5 a.m. and walking to the park, which is three blocks away. I walk at 3 miles per hour, on average, and it takes me maybe 10 minutes to get there. Then I spend the next ten or fifteen minutes doing planks, mountain climbers, balancing, and a maybe climbing up and down on the equipment. I try to mix it up a little every day, but those are the basics. And then it's more walking, for about 20 to 30 minutes, through the park and back around to the house so I can shower and get ready for the rest of the day.
I used to get up and write during this time, so I feel just a little deprived. I have to resort to "writing in my head," getting the ideas together, talking them out in an interesting internal dialogue, and then firing them into my laptop and break-neck speed before starting the rest of my day.
This sounds like I'm adding-to, with exercise plus workload, but honestly this is how I did it all along anyway. Wake up at 5 a.m. Procrastinate and fill myself with angst and anxiety over what I needed to write, then panic after seeing the clock just before jamming everything onto the screen at a pace that makes my keyboard smoke. Nothing has changed except the way my pants are fitting.
It's only been two weeks in this new routine, but I'm starting to see and feel results. I've dropped six pounds, because that's a thing guys can do. I feel less lethargic and more spry. I'm even starting to see signs of definition in the ab area. It's well camouflaged, and only a keen observer with a trained eye could spot it, but trust me, it's there.
I'm determined to have a six pack again. True, this will harken back to the days when I thought it was cool to wear tiny corduroy shorts in florescent colors, with half shirts that revealed my mid-drift. You know ... "sexy if you're a chick" stuff, but cringe-worthy if you're a guy who isn't living in the '80s. Whatever humiliations my past might hold, however, I would very much like to see my abs again. It's on my bucket list.
I'd also really like to walk and talk at the same time without become so winded that people become concerned for my health. And I'd like to be able to wear cloths that use numbers for sizes, instead of X's and L's. Although I would settle for an M, or maybe even a coveted S!
Becoming fit takes commitment. That's what I learned the last time I was fit. Staying fit takes even more commitment, because there's a tendency for me to say "OK! I'm done!" In actuality, a fit lifestyle is a continuous thing, not something I can finish or achieve. And traditionally, I do much better with things that have endings. I know a book is done when I write "the end." I know a contract is fulfilled when I get a check. I know a meal is over when I'm sitting on the couch feeling a persistant disgust and nausea and what I just ate. Although that last bit needs some tweaking.
I'm committed to this, though. Not in that desperate "I really want to be committed to this" kind of way, that's more about convincing you to believe me than convincing me to do what's right. It's more of a "Yeah, I'm finally sick and tired enough of this that I want to change it." Which is encouraging to me, because that's the way most of the good stuff starts. When I'm finally fed up enough to push through the stuff I don't like just so I can have what I do like, that's a when all the fun parts happen.
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About a year-and-a-half ago I went into a doctor's office thinking I had a bad chest cold.
The thing is, I'm not the "go to the doctor" type. In fact, I pretty much never see a doctor unless something is hanging off of me that would better serve me by being attached, or copious amounts of "inside fluids" are suddenly becoming "outside fluids." So for me to even consider going in for a chest cold should tell you that I had more than the sniffles and a bit of congestion. Think in terms of absolute lethargy, an inability to exert myself for more than a few minutes at a time, and an impending sense of doom.
The big surprise for me was when they checked my pulse and found that it was around 35 beats per minute.
"Yeah, my heart rate has always been low," I said, nonchalantly-in-complete-and-utter-denial.
"Are you an Olympic-class athlete?" my doctor asked.
"Not unless fried chicken is an competitive event."
"Then we have a problem, Mr. Tumlinson."
"Please," I said, "call me Ishmael."
OK, no, I didn't say that. I may have thought it, though. But at that moment, I think I was more focused on the "problem." An excruciating bit of worry started to chew at my insides. But on the plus side, my heart rate and blood pressure "shot up" to near normal levels. Now all I'd have to do is live under complete and continuous stress and I'd have a perfectly healthy amount of energy and vigor. Clearly no harm there.
The short version of this story is this: After some stress tests, EKGs, ultrasounds and blood work it was determined that I was absolutely, positively fine. Except for the heretofore undiagnosed congenital heart defect which was causing an ever-worsening bradycardia (gradual slowing of the heart) as I aged, and would eventually lead to my death, probably within the next few months.
The solution was for me, at 37 years old, to go under the knife and have a pacemaker installed. I was apparently "batteries not included."
For the next year or so I recovered from the surgery and started to get my strength and stamina up. It was a slow process, and in many ways it is still ongoing. But I did manage, in that time, to drop about 30 pounds, to stop wheezing when I took a flight of stairs, and to actually become a bit more active and energetic. Times were gettin' good.
More energy is great. A bit of weight loss is great. But I still have moments where I feel a bit exhausted and lethargic, and I still have a good 20 or 30 pounds of extra "me" hanging over my belt. I'm not as "out of the woods" as I'd really like to be. So that's why I've started being more active.
I do not do gyms. They're a blatant rip-off, frankly. Most want you to sign some ridiculous contract that auto-renews with or without your permission, obligating you to an auto-draft of an exorbitant monthly rate for the occasional use of their facilities, which are nice and clean and sometimes very modern, but still a place you have to force yourself to attend. Most gyms, as well, require you to have a credit card on file, with or without a contract. I still don't get the "give me your credit card, we have no contract" gyms. I have the sneaky suspicion that they are paying for porn while I'm sweating and grunting in another room. And that just ain't fair. I can't compete with that.
I prefer to get my workout from things I actually find fun and engaging. Or at the very least the activities have to make some kind of sense to me.
If I'm going to run, I want to get some place and maybe see a bit of nature and God's creation sprawling out around me, as opposed to running on a treadmill for an hour watching a sub-titled soap opera on a hanging television screen. If I'm going to ride a bike, I want to have the reward of zipping past joggers and people working in their lawns and dodging the spray of lawn sprinklers, as opposed to dodging the rain of sweat flinging from the grunting guy on the treadmill next to me. And if I'm going to lift weights, I'd rather hoist my own hefty butt up the side of a rock wall or over a boulder, as opposed to laying in a pool of some other guy's funk while I push a metal bar up and down, over and over, mostly praying it doesn't slip and crush my windpipe.
Call me a radical hippie.
The thing is, even though I've always liked the whole "the world is my gym" attitude, I've been stupidly lax about actually getting out there and using it. Until now.
Recently I've started taking on some new challenges. I've started rock climbing. I bought a bike and I ride most mornings. I've started walking and sprinting. I'm slowly adding more and more actual activity to my lifestyle.
It is kicking my butt. I may need some kind of intervention.
The truth is, I'm enjoying the things I'm getting into, and I'm seeing some positive results. I'm not getting the svelte, slender body I was hoping for, but then I'm not as consistent as I should be, I tend to fall off the wagon on keeping my calorie intake low, and I've only been doing this for a couple of months. Lifestyle changes ... they're so friggin' slow.
One thing that annoys me is when people say, "It took you 38 years to get into the condition you're in now. Just think about it that way."
This is an invitation for a savage beating.
OK, maybe not. I do understand that these folks mean well, and they're trying to be encouraging. And I do my best to take it that way. But the truth is, this being fat and lazy thing didn't happen to me over a span of decades. I was actually in very good shape right up until my late 20s. Which, perhaps coincidentally, is about the time my doctors think my heart started slowing to the point of causing me some issues. So the reality of my life is that in a relatively short period of time I went from slim and fit to fat and lazy. I'd say the responsibility for that was 60% heart, 30% fried chicken, and 10% natural-born laziness.
I'm working on lifestyle changes these days. I learn things, I try things, I succeed, I fail, I try again. I'm looking for activities and relationships that get me out there in the world, staying fit by having a blast. I'm looking at getting to the point where I play so hard I don't even recognize it as exercise anymore.
So, in a lot of ways, getting a pacemaker is the best thing that ever happened to me. I have a second chance. And the only requirement, the only responsibility I have to live up to, is "do something."
I can do that.