Defying the Rules

Here it is, the end of 2018. All of us have likely been inundated, by now, with the “Best of” and “Worst of” lists for the past year.

Don’t worry — I’m not going to do that to you. As for me, a year is just a stage in my progress, far from a complete unit. I’ve stopped looking at my journey in units of time, because I’ve discovered that it really doesn’t matter where you start. Because it doesn’t end. Not if you mean it. Not if you’re committed.

It means that change becomes permanent, and when I took that first step in the fall of 2013, I never saw this as a permanent effort — simply because it never had been, before, and I firmly believed I wasn’t capable. Ha! I fooled myself. Good for me!

In 2019, I may well come to the next stage in my health journey, where I learn to adjust and live with the body I now have. I have some post-surgery weight to get back off, but for the first time in 57 years, I find myself in the unique position of knowing where I’ll be. Granted, things often change and life is far from predictable, but I am so certain, now, that the changes I’ve made are permanent, that I can predict with some authority where I’ll be as the new year comes in.

Just add coffee.

Sure, it’s about weight loss. Or it started that way. But what I’ve gained isn’t just power over my health; it’s the understanding that I am capable of being more than I currently am, each and every day. I have the ability to both transform and to return to what I believe my heart is. And as I step into a new year, I am ready to embrace more challenges that bring me closer to where I have always wanted to be.

This doesn’t mean I’m throwing off everything everyone has ever known about me. Nope! More like, returning to center — to the things that are at the heart of me. I have always leaned toward creative expression; through music, through writing, through appreciation of the arts. That doesn’t mean I’m any good at any of those things, but I don’t have to be.

So as I step into 2019, knowing where I’m heading already, I want very much to work on that creative side. I want to reinvest myself in my love of music and of writing, things I haven’t had much time for over the past couple of years, between being fortunate enough to be tremendously busy in my work life as well as dealing with a total of four surgeries (between my surgeries this year and my husband’s surgeries last year).

I find just the thought of exploring these things tremendously exciting, especially as I push my body into better health, abilities, and experiences. These are the reasons to never stop pushing; never stop striving for those things that enrich life. Six years ago, I never imagined myself here, from such a distance; in all fairness to myself, I shouldn’t restrict where I just might up in another six years. It’s time to find out what else I can do, and defy the rules.

(YouTube function currently down.)

Run for the Roses

On December 3, I had the second of two knee replacement surgeries. I have lived a small life, since then; my days have been managed and divided into sections of strengthening exercise, physical therapy, being strapped into a machine that keeps my new knee moving 6 hours a day, icing the knee down approximately every 15 seconds, and just coping with discomfort and better living through (temporary) chemistry.

I’m at a stage where I’ve created colorful language for having to conduct online activities through a phone. I’m getting around well enough that I’d much rather be engaging in active motion than being strapped into a machine that moves my knee for me. (Which is what I’m doing currently — I’m contorting myself sideways and trying to type on a laptop while my knee flexes in midair at 120 degrees.)

But enough about my life as a contortionist. All that will be behind me, soon.

On the day I came home from the hospital and settled onto the living room couch, my husband looked at me and commented: “do you feel like you’re finally in the home stretch?”

Feeling a bit knobby-kneed, myself, horse.

When he asked that, part of me screamed yes, you better believe it! Not only have I been working toward this very goal for years, both in losing weight and improving my physical well being, but I have been anxious that something might step in at the last minute and stand in my way. I swear on my honor that I bathed daily in hand sanitizer for the final two weeks before surgery; there was just no way I was gonna let even a microbe ruin my shot at finally getting this done.

A bit over two weeks later, I’m on the brink of being done with the immediate hard work after surgery. I am nearly done with the 6 hour a day stints on the CPM machine and I am past the halfway point with physical therapy. I’ve ditched some of the necessary early assistance of bath chair and walker, and I’ve been eying the toilet chair as the next to go. I’m doing well on a cane and I feel more stable on my feet every day.

But now, in retrospect, I no longer see this as the home stretch; more like nearing the finish line of this one race in a series of races, each building on the one before. I’ll soon get my knees to working the way I want, shed the weight I gained after surgery, and finish the rest I would like to see gone.

It’s just one leg of the overall race, though, and not the home stretch. I’ve proven to myself that I am in control of what happens to me, I can mold my own future, I can meet challenges I thought weren’t possible. And as this year draws to a close, I can’t think of a better time to look to the next challenge as this one settles down into its final stretches.

I know what it’ll be, next. Stick with me and find out.


Be Prepared


So, Friday night, I was driving home in the rain after a dress rehearsal for an orchestra performance, and suddenly realized that I hadn’t written a blog for this week. Whoops!

I didn’t (totally) forget about y’all, I promise. The past few weeks — months, really, if I’m honest — have been very busy ones, between prepping for surgery (tomorrow!), completing major projects, prepping for both an orchestra performance and one of another organization’s major events for the year (on the same night, no less!), participating in National Novel Writing Month and declaring my 50K words on Thursday, and let’s not forget the not-so-little matter of my daughter, giving birth to our first grandson this past Monday. (That wasn’t necessarily a time vampire for me, since we were unable to be there for the birth, but she was constantly on my mind.)

I was a scout (Campfire Girl, Explorer Scout!), but I still like this pic, so there.

I know I’ve dragged out the how-much-my-life-has-changed trope quite a bit, but this was a shining example. I have been bouncing from one thing to the next and juggling an awful lot; sure, it’s stressful. But there was a time when I would have totally backed off on some of it, perhaps denying myself things I truly love (like making music), for the sake of meeting other obligations and not exhausting myself in the process. And I would have spent a lot of wasted time, worrying and fretting.

But this time, I will admit I overburdened myself intentionally. While I’m absolutely excited about getting my second knee replacement surgery done and in my rear view mirror, I’d be lying if I said I’m not at all nervous about it. I know things will go well; I know what I’m facing. After seeing my husband through two total knee replacements last year and having my first done in May of this year, this is nearly old hat — as much as any surgery can be. There’s just not a whole lot that we don’t already know; it’s just a matter of working my way through the stages of recovery.

But I also know me. Had I not planned on surgery right after major commitments (and honestly, I didn’t have much of a choice on dates without flipping into a new year and a new deductible to satisfy), I would have spent the last few days fretting. That’s my nature. Keeping busy (and happy, doing it) has kept me from obsessively worrying if I have everything covered. I can say with confidence that I do and that I’m ready for this particular challenge. Being ready and aware is a huge part of the battle.

The same thing has held true with my stages of progressing through weight loss and achieving health; I do on occasion experience the unknown, but knowing what’s ahead of me and how to handle it is a big tool in the arsenal. I think that’s important to considering this journey a success — and success is judged on a daily basis. I ate cookies last night; that didn’t nullify the five years of daily challenges that preceded it. It was a planned deviation, much like being aware that the next few weeks will disrupt weight loss. I recognize that I will make necessary concessions to achieve an end (get that nifty new knee in shape!) and that any gains I face will be history once I’m fully back on my feet.

So as I sit here this Sunday, working down my list of preparations and making sure I’m ready, I have to say how thankful I am to be at this point at all, how full my life is, and that I recognize that fullness came with hard work and dedication. It didn’t just happen; it took investing myself in my own success.

Mind you, I doubt I’ll be able to post a blog next week — it won’t be because I was too busy to write it, like this past week, but once I’m on the other side, the next step of my progress begins. And I am prepared.

Stairway to Heaven


This past week has provided many opportunities to appreciate how far I’ve come, and how much I have to be thankful for. It seems suitable that it’s Thanksgiving as I write this.

This past weekend was my annual write-in weekend with one of my dearest friends. We have a wonderful time whenever we’re together. This is the fourth year we’ve had our annual weekend; all the fun aside, one of the biggest challenges of the weekend has always been the series of stairs down to the lakefront cabin. I usually am the first one to arrive, and I admit that part of the reason I do it is because I know those stairs are an issue.

My particular stairways to greater things

The first year, it took me a long time to get my stuff down to the cabin, and I had to rest repeatedly to get back up them. It takes roughly three trips to get everything down to the cabin; for my own health and abilities, I had to take long rests to make it. My friend has always been great about taking on more than she should have to, and I have always felt bad about not pulling my own weight, quite literally.

This past weekend? I didn’t need breaks between hauling stuff down and back up. My friend still carried a portable ice maker for me. That’s it. With one new knee (and a lot less weight!), the steps were far easier than they’ve ever been. And really, this is one of the biggest reasons I chose to work toward health.

I returned home on Monday just to turn around and leave for a couple days with my husband and drive over to a favorite haunt. We discovered places we hadn’t been, before, despite having been there many times over the last 35 or so years, including a Grand Promenade. We walked it, and it was an easy walk — but the stairs at the beginning were a challenge.

We also took several grand staircases in the historic hotel where we stayed, and it was quite nice to not be held back by physical limitations. It felt really great to stretch my legs; get out first thing in the morning and walk the Promenade; to stroll along the Avenue without concern about distance. We walked in the sunshine, and we walked among the Christmas lights. I could not have asked for more proof of how far I’ve come than the simple tasks of being able to move without constant planning and worry.

In just over a week, I take the next step, and while I had some angst and dread about the last knee replacement surgery, I am strangely excited about this one. I know I’ll be laid low for a bit; I’ll deal with weight gain, diet deviations, and the road to recovery — but I know without a doubt it’s worth it. It’s a stairway to somewhere I haven’t been, yet, and I’m ready.




Earlier this week, I went to pre-surgical testing for my upcoming knee replacement surgery. The last time I did this, back in May, I had a couple issues with the blood work, but was able to get them corrected before surgery. This time — and truthfully, any time I have lab work done — I mentally held my breath.

On the one hand, I am healthier than I have been since my early 20’s, and I am thankful for that every single day, so logically, the worst I expected was the possibility of a repeat performance; minor blood issues that are easily correctable.

On the other hand, I spent the vast majority of my adult life — more than thirty years — morbidly obese. I am sure the increased weight on my knees contributed to their decline and destruction, resulting in the need to replace my knees.

Why, Aorta!

I also have a little bitty part of my brain that reminds me that I may still have done a great deal of damage to my body, and something may crop up and some unforeseen moment. Honestly, while I firmly believe I have extended my life by making the continual choice to be healthier, I also worry that it’s a sliding scale; what adverse effects haven’t made themselves known, yet? I live a tiny bit in fear, waiting.

The physiologist who followed up on the lab work chatted me up until I laid down on the exam table, and he became concerned because — according to him — he could see my abdominal pulse through my sweater. He felt up and down my abdominal aorta, and even had me feel the pulse; it was strong, and it concerned him because it could mean I might have an aortic aneurysm.

That’s a pretty major thing, folks. I had a primary care doc several years back that died from one he didn’t know he had; he knew what was happening to him, but he couldn’t get to the hospital in time. If you know about them in advance, they can be dealt with, so if that was what I had, discovering it now would be a life saver, but would likely put off my total knee replacement. He referred me for an ultrasound, and I went directly over to the radiologist’s office as a walk-in.

While I told myself to remain calm, that he was just excluding the possibility, I also know that often means they’re more concerned then they let on. During the ultrasound, I was absolutely sure the technician was finding things, but she also explained that she was taking pictures from various angles. I thought about what I would do, how my life would change if I had to sub out one procedure for another.

One of my brothers had a heart attack ten years ago; it resulted in a stint and the advice that they wouldn’t be able to do knee surgery on him for at least a year. He still hasn’t had knee surgery, although I think it’s more by choice. I thought, today, that I might need to be thankful that the really bad knee had already been replaced.

With all of this floating through my mind, I knew I was just torturing myself with what if situations that likely wouldn’t happen, and I hoped that the doc would call quickly with the follow-up. He did. I was a matter of blocks away. His first comment was “Congratulations! Your aorta isn’t going to explode!”

Oh, dear. I laughed — and I was definitely relieved. Everything is fine. But I also wonder how long it will take me to firmly believe that I’m past the risks I invoked on my body while morbidly obese; maybe never.

This. This is the real reason I choose to keep to the straight and narrow. I firmly believe I might not be here, today, if I hadn’t taken steps over five years ago to commit to my own health and save my own life. I took that bridge and made it over troubled water.


Knee Deep


I’m in the midst of post-vacation recovery. Two weeks ago, I was basking in the Caribbean sunshine; tonight, I had to secure my outdoor tropical plants because there’s a freeze warning out.

Having had the chance to step away from my normal life for a week served both as a reminder of my old life and the future I have ahead of me, as long as I am steadfast and dedicated to making my health a top priority.

It’s easy to get lazy. It was easy enough, for a week, to let go of my regimen and simply relax. Who wouldn’t want to live that way every single day? Not get on a scale every morning? Eat different and exotic foods, and not worry (much) about how much sugar is in it?

I honestly feel physically better when I am on track, but that doesn’t mean I yearned for my structured life as soon as I returned. There was a healthy part of my brain that tried to convince me that I didn’t need to rush back to my regimen, did I? Really? How much damage could I possibly do in just a few days? Why not extend things just a bit?

Is the tide gonna reach my chair?

There are times when I am more likely to be tempted off track. Vacations, special occasions, holidays. Let’s face it — it’s fun to get away and not worry for a bit; not about anything at all, and certainly not about the big things in life, and for me, being in control of my physical state is one of the big things… and always will be.

Coming back from vacation didn’t just mean wrapping my head around work and getting back to the grind, or unpacking my suitcases and putting away the warm weather clothes now that November’s winds have invaded. Coming back also meant accepting that the food holiday was over and that my body would need time to adjust.

While I loved being on vacation and would happily make jokes about staying in that beautiful sunshine forever, the reality is that few of us can sail off into the sunset without consequence. My idea of heaven might be full of turquoise waters and rum cocktails, but my reality is here, caring for my family, working on my future. Coming home meant it was time to transition back into getting serious and working toward my goals; career, personal, health.

I have a lot on my plate over the months to come and having that hiatus meant coming back refreshed and ready to push forward, even if there’s part of me that would prefer watching the tide reach my chair.


Good To Be Alive


Did you miss me last week?

Last Friday, I thought about all of you — but I was still at sea. Friday, I was in Cozumel on a bar hop. I have been on the bar hop, before; in 2015, with my husband. Unfortunately, in 2015, I experienced my vacation in a travel wheelchair, and even though one of the restaurants towers over Cozumel at an amazing 41 feet above sea level, I struggled to get to the top and had a rough time coming back down the stone steps.

This time, I got to venture around and see the amazing views as well as the neat animals on site at that particular restaurant. Although the entire cruise was full of high points, that was a great one for me; I conquered something that was out of reach to me previously. While the friend I traveled with certainly understands what I’ve been through, I admit I wish my husband could have seen me, there. Probably no one on earth knows better what I’ve been through than him, and I know he would have appreciated my slaying that dragon.

Snorkeling in Belize – what a wonderful experience!

Before that, we spent the day relaxing in the water at a beach club in Roatan, and then off to snorkel in Belize the next day. I had some trouble keeping up with the intermediate snorkeling group, but it was because I misjudged the type of excursion and brought short exercise fins instead of full-size fins. Regardless, I was along for the entirety with no issues except a few sore muscles the next day.

I flew on a plane and didn’t need seat belt extensions in either direction. No one hesitated to sit next to me on the plane, although I lucked out with an empty seat next to me on one leg of the flight. Airports weren’t an issue, and neither was the very long line through customs at the cruise port. Next time, though, I’ll pack less!

I walked and walked and walked; there were a few times my original equipment knee got a little cranky, so we just took an elevator, but otherwise? I don’t feel like I was held back from doing the things I wanted to do. I came home without issues, and other than being patted down six times in nine days by TSA and ship security (traveling with artificial joints means I’ll likely always go through this), everything went smoothly.

In all, my time traveling with a dear friend felt blissfully wonderful and normal; I existed in a world where very few knew my history. While some of my scars are pretty evident — I carry a great deal of excess skin, and was once asked about it — the only thing I felt like I wanted to do, and didn’t, was dance. Next time! Definitely the next time. (Hint to my local friends: someone needs to teach me the Wobble.)

Sure, I have a few pounds to drop after taking a bit of a food holiday, but normal folks go through that, too. It’ll be off again in a couple of weeks.

I brought my 57th year in with a bang. I realized I’m looking down the barrel at 60, but I feel my age less, now, than I ever have. Being free to do just about anything without restriction is the biggest gift I could have given myself.


Changes in Latitude


My big news this week (in addition to being closer to my next weight goal) is that I’m leaving for a cruise with a friend, and with it comes a LOT of “firsts” — first time on a cruise, first time in Galveston, first time in Honduras, first time in Belize, first time traveling extensively with a friend instead of my husband. Lots and lots of firsts!

The best “first time”, though, is that it’s the first time I am not fretting about my weight and hoping to lose a hundred pounds before seeing old friends. Hey, sure, I’d love to be at my final stage and heading into maintenance, but that’s not far away and it’ll come in its own time.

Gotta get to where the boat leaves from…

When I traveled with my husband a group of friends to Mexico back in 2012, I’d lost about 60 pounds before going, but it wasn’t nearly enough, and I still needed knee replacements. I felt horrible because I knew I was holding my friends back from some of the activities they wanted to do. I just didn’t have the stamina or the ability to walk for even small distances. I fixed that the next time by getting a travel wheelchair, but it wasn’t enough. There’s just nothing, in my experience, that fully compensates for full mobility and ability.

I still am concerned that I’ll hold my traveling companion and dear friend back a bit; she’s a spitfire, fit, capable. I still have another knee replacement to go and a lot of rehab to do before I consider myself to be fit. But at least I won’t be dealing with all the crap I did when traveling previously. It was she who called for a wheelchair at an airport after a trip to Vegas years ago because she knew I was in enough pain that getting to my plane would be difficult. I hope she’s thoroughly surprised by my changes, although she’s been on this journey along with me.

I can’t wait! No more seatbelt extensions on the plane. No more wheelchairs in airports. No canes, either. No awkward stuffing myself into seats and contorting myself for hours so I don’t feel like I’m infringing on people sitting beside me. No more rushed trips to the bathroom because of IBS. No more having to limit what I pack because my clothes take up so much room. No more worrying about my knee locking while I’m in the water, either, since I have a new and improved model.

This morning, I’m at a new low weight. My passport is newly renewed. So is my driver’s license. Those indicators of the weights I’ve been, before, are slipping into a past that isn’t as apparent to others — and to myself — as it once was. It’s freeing to be at this stage; knowing that I’m capable, now, even if I’m probably 90% of the way. And in eight years, when my driver’s license expires again, I plan on still looking like this me.

As I face my 57th birthday next week (at sea!), I know without a doubt that the biggest gift I have ever given to myself was the decision to commit to regaining my health. What I’m about to do for the next week was previously unimaginable to me. I fully embrace these changes in attitude right along with changes in latitude.


Take It To The Limit


In just one week, I’ll be stepping out of my comfort zone and doing a string of things that make me just a bit nervous. That, combined with the things I know I must accomplish between now and then, have had me tied up in knots.

As much as it bothers me right at this moment, though, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have a very active fall and winter ahead of me; some items are first-time experiences for me, others are a return to the way things were before my knees went to hell.

Ain’t no way I’m gonna miss the boat. 😉

I remember a time when I was paralyzed by self-induced fear. I couldn’t function at all. I couldn’t take the necessary steps to work toward raising myself from depression. I lamented having no close friends, no one to turn to when I needed emotional support, and yet, I was unable to put myself in situations where I could grow. Depression often blinds us to the obvious.

I limited myself so greatly that I truly was my own worst enemy. Looking back, I am amazed that I’ve been able to pull myself out of that dark hole of depression; so many never do, and there have been times in my life that I was dangerously close to being among them. When you’re that depressed, it doesn’t matter if you have a loving family, great opportunities, or anything else; depression changes perspective and blinds us to those things. It’s not a weakness; it’s a pervasive shroud that limits our desire to change our lot.

Looking back, I firmly believe that much of my depressive episodes were tied to chemical imbalances and weight. These days, I feel strong; not because of weight loss, but because I’ve been able to solve some of my own physical mysteries that contributed to those dark days. I am also fully aware that if I am not vigilant, I can return to that mental dungeon.

This is a time of hope for me; I’m doing exciting things that I was not capable of doing, before — not just physically, but mentally, as well. I limited myself so much because of fear; not just of the unknown, but of the known, as well. Every time I make a decision to move forward, there is still a part of me that wants to hold me back, knowing that even joyous things can be quite difficult.

It’s entirely possible to be excited about new things, and fear them at the same time; I am steadfastly working toward not letting fear win. Fear is a paralyzing emotion which I cannot afford to let win; it breeds and infects my attitude toward everything I do. The best way to conquer fear is to move forward, to fight the sense of being overwhelmed, to take even the smallest steps toward the positive.

Next week is a big week for me, and the best way to get there is to keep pushing my limits.




You’d think that being so close to a final changing point, I’d have this down, wouldn’t you?

Well — to be quite honest — not exactly. The last few days, I’ve been dealing with a certain amount of fear, and I haven’t necessarily dealt with it in the best way.

Today, I’ll only worry about — today. Let tomorrow come when it may.

I fear the normal things; looming deadlines that I am trying my best to meet, but are also stressing me out. I fear the unknown; I’ll be heading out of town with a dear friend, and while I’m no stranger to traveling with friends, it’s still the unknown. I fear making all my finances work out. I’m a caregiver, and I fear leaving my mother alone while I’m gone, and not being able to see to her needs if something should happen. I also fear that I’m disappointing her, because she doesn’t really understand my need to occasionally get away and restore myself.

I fear not handling stress the right way, certainly not in healthy ways. I may not have dived into a half-gallon of ice cream, but I certainly did dive into a box of diet sweets, and I’m not even a person who craves sweets. I knew, while I was in the midst of stuffing my face, that it was the wrong way to handle stress and it accomplished nothing, other than make me feel bad about myself.

I’m human. Occasionally, I do stupid things.

Stress has never been my friend (or anyone else’s, really), and while I sometimes do my best work while balancing on the ragged edge of disaster, it’s not my preferred way. Fear can stop me from doing the things I really know I should be doing, and rather easily, too; if I really want something to distract me, it’ll happen. And when I am deep in fear, it’s my body that takes the toll. I punish myself as if I don’t deserve the things I have earned.

Which is, of course, ridiculous.

Today, I am going to squelch my fears and do the things I need to do to move forward. Just for today, I will stop worrying about what will happen a day, a week, a month from now, and attack the things that are directly in front of me. I will be in this moment. Today, I will stop warring with myself and wasting energy. Today, I will make the time to also do things that bring me joy, and stop with the self-punishment. Today, I’ll be the strong person I have worked so hard to be.

Today is mine.