Archive for the ‘health’ Category

Drug of choice

Posted: December 14, 2012 in beauty, health, mental health, women
Tags: ,


Caitlin Moran, author of “How to Be a Woman,” had a terrific article in the WSJ this year about food addiction, which is apparently the vilest, most despised of addictive disorders when ranked by addicts themselves (and the general public, for that matter…)

…I’m talking about those for whom the whole idea of food isn’t one of pleasure, but one of compulsion. For whom thoughts of food, and the effects of food, are the constant, dreary background static to normal thought. Those who walk into the kitchen in a state bordering on panic and breathlessly eat slice after slice of bread and butter—not even tasting it—until the panic can be drowned in an almost meditative routine of chewing and swallowing, spooning and swallowing.

In this trancelike state, you can find a welcome, temporary relief from thinking for 10, 20 minutes at a time, until finally a new set of sensations—physical discomfort and immense regret—make you stop, in the same way you finally pass out on whiskey or dope. Overeating, or comfort eating, is the cheap, meek option for self-satisfaction, and self-obliteration.

Yet, paradoxically, unlike other addictions, it allows its victims to be surprisingly functional:

In a nutshell, then, by choosing food as your drug—sugar highs, or the deep, soporific calm of carbs—you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, stop in on your parents and then stay up all night with an ill 5-year-old—something that is not an option if you’re regularly climbing into the cupboard under the stairs and knocking back quarts of scotch.

Overeating is the addiction of choice of “carers,” and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of screwing yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the “luxury” of their addiction, making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that is why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice.

And unless the public and the media quit despising fat people, in particular fat women, this isn’t likely to change.

(Hat tip to Hufflington Post’s Best Articles of 2012.)

Good news, bad news

Posted: August 27, 2012 in beauty, health

The good news is that I went to my first MWF noon-hour spinning class.

It was sponsored by Ye Olde Salt Mines’ wellness program, and it was free! And I did great! (For me, anyway…)

The bad news is that I am SERIOUSLY going to have to rethink my hair post-workout.

I’ve been mulling over a rant about body image and cultural expectations, but ohmygoodnessheavensforsakes Tish at Une femme d’un certain age has a post up today that articulates many of my own feelings. (It’s part of a larger discussion with the Duchesse at Passage des Perles.) Tish espouses the more relaxed attitude taken by the French toward body image, and posted some rather remarkable images of full-figured models from French Elle. But what a dust-up she created in the comments! While many agree with her relaxing the so-called rules for what size can be considered fashion-forward, several of her readers (who are also of a certain age) seem to cling fiercely to the thin-is-in ethos and reject the models as being far too zaftig to be stylish.

(Le grande sigh…) I’m 60 freakin’ years old, and I have worried (and dieted and then overeaten) myself to death since I was, oh, NINE, about the terrible state of my thighs (and stomach and arms, etc. etc. ad nauseum). It’s always lurking somewhere on the edge of my consciousness, this sense that I am not acceptable.

I’m not advocating stocking the freezer with ice cream and throwing away the treadmill. But isn’t it time to give it all a rest? After all, as Tish mentions, Frenchwomen would agree that after a certain age, women have to choose between their faces and their butts figures, and I think I’d prefer to put my best face forward.

I’m considering stitching her last paragraph into a sampler:

Life is short.  Eat real food, move around whenever you can in ways that you enjoy, and re-evaluate your beliefs and values periodically to be sure they’re serving you.  Question and discard those that aren’t.  In the end, a little roll of fat around the middle doesn’t say anything about the kind of person you are or how much you loved and were loved.

Where do you stand in the ongoing battle?

I’m spending a few days in the mountains with the Spouse, a case of Diet Coke, and a stack of books. Back soon. Thanks. (Oh, sure! Like my thighs look that good!)

We tried out a new mattress last night, a ten inch-thick memory foam that came in an impossibly small box but that filled the king-size bedstead quite nicely. The Spouse loves his memory foam pillows, but I always found them creepy, sort of human flesh-textured. (Ewww.) Fortunately the new mattress has a quilted cotton cover and a mattress pad, so it just seems soft. It sits a couple of inches lower than our traditional mattress, which had a pillow top on both sides.

The verdict? It was a little warm at times (one of the major complaints with memory foam) but I slept, sort of. We’ll likely keep the mattress, but it won’t solve my problem: For the past several years, I find that I’m just sort of sleeping, about five or so hours a night. It isn’t enough.

During the last few years before his death, my father couldn’t sleep. He’d either listen to all-night AM talk radio in the spare bedroom, all by himself, or lie there and ruminate over the mistakes and disappointments of his life. I was in the next room, and I would hear him muttering to himself, tapping his knuckles on the wall for emphasis. I don’t think it helped his deteriorating heart, and I worry about becoming like him.

I figured my snoozelessness was just another bonus that comes with aging, but according to the NYTimes, it ain’t necessarily so:

[F]or years, sleep scientists thought they knew what was going on: sleep starts to deteriorate in late middle age and steadily erodes from then on. It seemed so obvious that few thought to question the prevailing wisdom.

Now, though, new research is leading many to change their minds. To researchers’ great surprise, it turns out that sleep does not change much from age 60 on. And poor sleep, it turns out, is not because of aging itself, but mostly because of illnesses or the medications used to treat them.

“The more disorders older adults have, the worse they sleep,” said Sonia Ancoli-Israel, a professor of psychiatry and a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Diego. “If you look at older adults who are very healthy, they rarely have sleep problems.”

Hmmmm. I have friends and family who have their sleep interrupted by things like restless legs, sleep apnea, and overactive bladders. I know from personal experience that chronic pain can be exacerbated by a lack of sleep. Mother, who was as healthy as a horse until her 90s and kept to a pretty predictably schedule in most aspects of her life, slept soundly.

So now what? Sleeping pills? I think not. I don’t want to become dependent on anything, and I take enough pills already. I’m inventorying my meds to see if they are contributing to the problem, and I’m working on some suggestions that my counselor at our employee wellness program gave me:

1. Get the television set out of the bedroom. (We already did that during our recent move.) Your bed needs to be reserved for sleeping, otherwise your body seems to think it’s just another piece of furniture and your mind just goes on merrily grinding away.

2. Set a regular sleep pattern, i.e. going to bed and waking up at the same times. Since I’m still working fulltime, I keep to a fairly regular bedtime and wake up schedule, but I can see how it could go all to heck at retirement, sort of like being on vacation, where you’re up sometimes until the wee hours and then crawl out of bed at noon (like being a teenager again, only you now have to “wee” at 3 a.m. or so).

3. Try melatonin, a hormone that is part of the human sleep-wake cycle. This is new to me, but the Spouse has long used it to get over jetlag. He takes it at bedtime and then makes sure he gets some direct sunlight the next morning. It apparently helps reset your internal clock. The National Sleep Foundation and other sites have some good points on the benefits — and limitations — of melatonin.

4. “Practice good sleep hygiene,” said the counselor. Huh? Google to the rescue: The Daily Glow has a fine list, like avoiding caffeine and alcohol after six, creating bedtime rituals, exercising earlier in the day, limiting naps, etc. (Oh, but I do loves me a good nap…)

I’ve used melatonin the past several nights, and I’ve slept a bit better. (Might be just a placebo effect.) But I know it won’t work as a nighttime sleep aid, so I’ll go without it tonight.

Are you getting enough sleep? What works for you?

Rethinking exercise

Posted: November 14, 2011 in aging, health

Here’s a NYT headline that’s bound to get the attention of any Baby Boomer: Aging Well Through Exercise:

[According to T]he Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who oversaw the study, “They suggest strongly that people don’t have to lose muscle mass and function as they grow older. The changes that we’ve assumed were due to aging and therefore were unstoppable seem actually to be caused by inactivity. And that can be changed.”

The study examined a group of competitive swimmers, runners and cyclists, all 40+. And it was all good news in terms of their muscle mass and fitness levels.

Whether similar benefits are attainable by people who take up exercise when they are middle-aged or older “isn’t yet clear,” [one researcher] says, “although there’s no reason to think that you wouldn’t get similar results no matter when you start.” (Italics mine.)

I’ve always thought certain body changes were inevitable with age, like that loss of muscle mass and the blockiness around the middle torso that has crept up on me, but this kind of information encourages me. Time to dust off the exercise equipment, ladies. I’ve been wanting to find some more reading time, and my recumbent bicycle makes it easy to hold a book or a Kindle. Two problems solved. Maybe this way I can avoid the usual five pounds I gain every holiday season.

Care to join me? I’ll report on my progress.

I don’t have a lot of fears about aging. Oh, sure, I’m considering getting rid of my magnifying mirror in the bathroom because it does such a good job — make that a GREAT job — of reminding me of the March of Time across my sagging face. I’ve resigned myself to several more years in my colorist’s chair to hide the gray that started innocently at my temples and is now marching relentlessly over my scalp toward the nape of my neck. I toy with the idea of going to the local vein clinic to chase away all the spiders nesting on my legs and ankles. (And at the though of spending at least $200 a session, believe me, I’m still toying.)

My idea of a good time now is a nap, and my morning laps around the local track are getting noticeably longer. I can’t find anything at The Gap that wouldn’t make me look ridiculous. (Sigh…) The Offspring think I’m hilariously outdated, although The Spouse still thinks I’m cute. But he’s seriously overdue for getting his glasses upgraded, so maybe he’s not a good judge. And he has his own issues with aging. I asked him recently if I could borrow his hairspray and he laughed hysterically. (I guess you need HAIR to need SPRAY.) I really hadn’t noticed.

I can handle it, I tell myself, humming “The Circle of Life” in my head. It happens to everyone, doesn’t it?

But I do admit to One Great Fear.

I have an old acquaintance, not really a friend, but someone I worked with occasionally years ago, a very bright, articulate and driven woman who retired a few years back. I haven’t heard from or about her for a long time. But recently a mutual friend alerted me that my old coworker has recently become obsessed about some religious tangent and has alienated herself from most of her friends and family. I went online and found a sort of manifesto she had written and saw in it not the clear arguments of the well-educated and well-read woman I remember but the ravings of someone who I believe is in the early stages of dementia.

I was horrified. In her online treatise, she is so reasoned and persuasive and at the same time so utterly mad. I was reminded of John Bayley’s poignant description of his wife Iris Murdoch’s decline into Alzheimer’s disease in Elegy for Iris. One of the great literary minds of 20th century Great Britain, Murdoch remained blissfully unaware of her gradual collapse into chaos, leaving friends and family to pick up after her. (Judi Dench played her so tenderly in the movie, it made me cry.)

Bayley has been criticized for his unflinching portrayal of that decline, as has Margaret Thatcher’s daughter for chronicling her mother’s illness. (A NYTimes article on Thatcher has an ironic picture of the Iron Lady with President Reagan, whose mental deterioration reportedly began during his last days in the White House and was covered up by his staff.) It isn’t pretty to look at.

The specter of this terrifies me. Losing your mind and your memory would be such a blow, but to not realize that it’s happening would be something straight out of Kafka. I sometimes have nightmares where I’m trying to get home but the landscape and the people around me keep morphing and changing so much that I can’t find my way. That must be what it’s like, I think.

So I obsessively read all the articles and blogs on how to avoid Alzheimer’s and do my crosswords and anagrams and Sudoku puzzles daily to keep my mind active. I succumbed to some of the more curious recommendations, like avoiding spray antiperspirants with aluminum derivatives and taking ginseng for years before both were disproven as factors in developing dementia.

But none of this is any guarantee that, when it’s time, that biological button won’t get pushed. And so many of us will have to depend on the kindness of family and friends — and in some cases, even strangers — to guide us through those last confused years.

Sorry to be so grim, but I spent a lot of time thinking about my old acquaintance, who is probably baffled over everyone else’s inability to see what she thinks she sees so clearly. She’s looking into a funhouse mirror, with its waves and distortions, and doesn’t even know it.

NOTE/DISCLAIMER/WHATEVER: This is an update of a previous post in my old blog, Adventures at Midlife.


Posted: September 28, 2011 in health

AWOL. UTI. :^(  (TMI?) BRB.

HagFest on ThirdAge

Posted: September 12, 2011 in health, thirdage

A nice little Monday morning pick-me-up: ThirdAge picked up my recent post about my fall.

Anatomy of a fall

Posted: September 8, 2011 in aging, health

Every year, thousands of post-menopausal women are seriously injured in falls. Don’t be one of them.

Saturday, July 16: I’m at the airport in Minneapolis, waiting for the last leg of my flight home. I’ve spent the last four days visiting my delightful eight-month-old grandson. I’m rushing out of a restroom stall, just having congratulated myself on never having broken a bone (I am not making this up), when the combination of an unstable wheeled carry-on bag and a stylish but equally unstable pair of platform wedges that no sane 50+ woman should be wearing makes me lose my balance. I stumble across the aisle, half-twisting and gaining momentum as I fall, and I end up smack on my fanny in front of the opposing toilet, which, thankfully, was unoccupied. I hit the cold cement HARD. I am writhing on the floor, almost incoherent with pain. After I come to my senses and can sit up (and change my frackin’ shoes), I am helped to my feet by a female security officer. I wave off any assistance, except for a cart ride to my gate, and somehow endure the flight home on nothing but Tylenol and copious amounts of caffeine.

Monday, July 18: After spending Sunday in bed, being waited upon by my most excellent and sympathetic Spouse (a true Tender Mercy), I get up and go to work. Seriously. (Because I’m a martyr and an idiot.) Just getting showered and dressed reawakens the pain, which has pretty much driven in the entire buffalo herd and staked a claim on my lower back. I go home early and endure the rest of the day on an ice pack.

Tuesday, July 19: An x-ray at the doctor’s office shows that one of my lumbar vertebrae looks significantly shorter, especially when compared with a past x-ray. My doctor prescribes hydrocodone and and suggests — but doesn’t insist — that I get a MRI. “You could just monitor your pain for a week or two, and then decide,” he says. So I crawl away, fill the script and… Honestly, I can’t tell you much about the next two weeks because I am gorked-out on pain pills. My discomfort eases up some, but doesn’t go away. Any effort — taking a brief walk, trying to do the laundry, going up a flight of stairs — is painful.

Thursday, Aug. 4: I arrive at the local hospital for the MRI I didn’t want to have. Although I’ve managed to grit my teeth and get through the previous two days without a pain pill,  a half hour lying motionless in that cold silver coffin sends me back to the bottle. A specialist will look at the results, so I don’t expect to hear from my doctor until Monday.

Friday, Aug. 5: The phone wakes me up at 7 a.m. It’s my doc, calling to tell me that I have an acute lumbar fracture with a 25 percent reduction in the height of the vertebrae. And it’s fresh, so it’s most likely the result of my little gymnastics routine in Minneapolis. No lifting of any kind, he says. None. Calcium and Vitamin D supplements for life. Sit up and walk straight so the fracture heals properly. Schedule a bone density scan, although the last one showed no bone loss. Get up and walk around, even if it hurts. (It does.) And seriously consider having the fracture “glued” together, he says. (It’s called a vertebroplasty, the x-ray-guided injection of a cement polymer into the fracture, and it’s gotten mixed reviews.) It isn’t a cure, but it might reduce the pain. I promptly google “lumbar fracture.” I am not pleased. According to Medscape, “Vertebral compression fractures are associated with significant performance impairments in physical, functional and psychosocial domains in older women.” Gee, no kidding? I’m in persistent pain, I can’t do much of anything, and I am depressed.

Wednesday, Aug. 10: I ask my doc for a non-narcotic pain medication, since I’m becoming much too fond of the hydrocodone. (I’m right to worry: According to this Associated Press story,  it is the nation’s “second-most abused medicine, linked to murders, celebrity overdoses and a rising tide of violent pharmacy robberies.”) I admit I’m still on the fence about the vertebroplasty. Shouldn’t I be able to find some way to to manage the pain? “I think you’re just being brave,” he says. (I am.)

Thursday, Aug. 18: I meet with an interventional radiologist who shows me the images from the MRI. The vertebrae in question is seriously misshapen when compared to the rest of my spine, and bone splinters are clearly visible.  But the angle of the injury makes me a good candidate for the vertebroplasty, and he believes that I have a better-that-good chance of being pain-free and regaining most of my lost ability.

Thursday, Sept. 1:  I arrive at the hospital, where I am lightly sedated and placed face down on a narrow table in an operating suite. The radiologist, guided by a fluoroscope, drills two ten penny nail-size incisions into my first lumbar vertebrae and injects the cement substance, which hardens almost immediately. After regaining my wits, I am sent home with instructions on how to deal with the two incision points (no stitches) and a warning not to lift anything substantial (like my grandchildren). Other than that, I’m done. No rehab, no therapy. Within a couple of days, the inflammation from the procedure is gone, and my back pain is reduced, but not gone. I plan to patiently work on getting rid of the last of the pain with as little medication as possible. Light exercise seems to help, and in a month or so, I plan to visit my chiropractor.

But the experience leaves me utterly, completely terrified of falling again.

Conclusion: Quit hurrying. Get rid of your “stupid” shoes. (You know which ones I’m talking about.) Use handrails. Stay alert. Exercise. Get your bone density measured. Take supplements, if necessary. And stop telling yourself that it will never happen to you.