Posted in authentic

I died of a stress-induced heart attack and it made me change the way I eat and live – again

A month ago I died from a stress-induced heart attack during a bank robbery and it made me think a lot about the changes I’ve been saying I would make to improve my health but hadn’t.

Let me clarify: my son is currently being homeschooled and our local homeschool group offered a Criminal Justice course that involved a mock crime and trial. During the commission of the mock crime I was tagged to tragically die of a stress-induced heart attack, since the robber was holding a note that said her cell phone was a bomb. I actually volunteered to be the one to die. Why? I have no idea but I almost immediately regretted it because first, I am not an actor and second, because ironically one of my biggest fears is dying of a heart attack.

My son called my acting the worst he has ever seen, which really isn’t fair since he’s too young to remember Beverly Hills 90210.

“I was so embarrassed,” he told me on the way home that day. “You were just laying there on the floor. And everyone was staring at you. It was weird.”

In my defense, I had no idea the instructor was going to record the whole thing and the students were going to watch it several times in class.

And he was right. It was weird. To say the moment was an internally sobering moment for me is an understatement. At the end of December it will be a year since my aunt died in the floor of my parent’s dining room, from what we all suspect was her third, maybe fourth, heart attack. Laying there I tried not to think about how my mom said she had tumbled forward out of the chair and then just laid motionless on the floor. Mom said she knew she was gone even before she fell from the chair.

Outwardly everyone, including me,  joked that day as I laid on the floor with children ages 10 to 17 looking at me and giggling, some commenting if I moved or breathed: “The body is moving!”

I had to get up in the middle of it all to use the bathroom because I had no idea I would be laying there for an hour and a half and had guzzled quite a bit of water before the class.

“It’s a miracle!” one of the students said and I quoted the Bible “Lazarus, come forth.”

We all laughed some more.

My own child nudged me with his foot to see if I was “really dead”.  Luckily the instructor corrected him and showed him that the proper procedure is to check for a pulse by placing two fingers on the neck. A number was placed by my body to mark me as evidence and photos were taken of my body.

For the next couple of classes, I listened to myself being referred to as deceased and while I was not offended and knew the reference was for the sake of the class, it did make me think about where I am healthwise and where I want to be. I’m not a horrible eater, which I know is something all overweight people say, but it’s true. I don’t eat donuts, cakes, cookies, fast food, or even bread. I stopped eating bread and sugar almost six years ago and that first time I lost 30 pounds on a semi-low carb “diet” (though it was more of a lifestyle change).

Over time, though, I added in small amounts of bread or wheat products, almost always having reactions afterward – aching joints, heartburn, brain fog. Then I added more and more sugar, always saying it was only a little and it couldn’t hurt me much.

 

Then there was a piece of candy here, some ice cream there. I have a corn allergy, which is good in some ways because it requires me to cut out almost all processed food but as long as something didn’t have corn it, I felt like it was safe to have it, ignoring the fact that the sugar was hurting me as much in the long run as the corn allergy would.

“You’re alive!” one of the other mom’s said when she saw me in a store a week or so after my “untimely death.”

And it was true, I was still technically alive but there are so many days I’ve felt as if I am slowly dying. The day the class was held my muscles ached like I had been running a marathon. I laid on the floor for an hour and a half and I didn’t even want to move to get up because I hurt so bad. My legs and arms have often felt heavy, like there are lead weights on them and my brain feels stuffed with cotton almost every day.

I’ve worried about an autoimmune disease, or two, being the cause of my issues, or maybe it is perimenopause, because I’m in that age range now, but then, when I stopped and really looked at what I was eating, I realized I was sneaking more wheat and sugar than I realized. Additionally, an over-consumption of dairy wasn’t helping either, so even if I do have an autoimmune issue, I’m not helping it with my “not-as-bad-as-it-could-be-diet”.

So in the last few weeks since I “died” I’ve started shaving the things out of my diet that I know are issues for me – sugar (which is an issue for anyone), wheat and dairy. The wheat isn’t difficult because I’d already eliminated that and ate it very rarely in the past six years. The dairy is somewhat easy, though I had found myself reaching for it as a snack during the day when I didn’t have time to cook a real meal and as comfort food in the evening by adding a natural chocolate syrup or molasses to a glass of it and warming it up.

The sugar? Now, that will be a real problem because I’m always reaching for that when I feel down, tired, happy, sad, weak, strong – well,  you get the idea. It’s a serious addiction, but one I overcame once before so know I can do it again.

When I told the instructor how his mock crime and trial had me thinking about how far my health has slipped, I thought he might just laugh and shake his head, but instead, he said: “Sometimes that’s a God thing.”

Hmmm.

Since all of this came at the same time I felt God leading me to walk away from Facebook, comparing myself to others, and relying on social media for validation, I think he may be right.

I’m starting a separate “page” for my health journey. Technically it’s a separate blog, but I don’t consider it a blog since it’s still me and still my journey, just a different part of my journey.  You can follow along on my successes (and I’m sure failures) at The Sort Of, Kind Of, Healthy Health Blog.

Posted in everyday musings

The 30-day Facebook detox challenge: Day 10

That’s right. I’ve been off Facebook for ten whole days and I’m still surviving. Indeed, I haven’t even missed the social media site that so many people rely on each day. 

So who challenged me to do this? 

It’s simply my own challenge to myself, which I decided on after first, I found myself more and more depressed and despondent after logging off the site and second, after I saw a video from some vloggers on YouTube (see video embedded at the bottom of the post) who did a full Internet break for 30 days. My brother and sister-in-law also take these 30-day breaks from time-to-time as well, but I won’t say he inspired me because then his head will be too big – again.

I chose Facebook over the full internet break because I knew it was my biggest time-suck, with Instagram right behind it. And I knew that by letting it suck me in I was distracting myself from a number of things I want to do with my life, including losing weight, studying the Bible more, learning more about photography, and writing more. While I’ve kept Instagram, because I enjoy interacting with other photographers, I’ve severely limited the time I’m on there as well.So here is the first of a series of posts about some of what being off Facebook has taught me, so far.

photo by Lisa R. Howeler (available at Lightstock.com).

That I used Facebook to distract me from the difficult aspects of my life and from the anxious, swirling thoughts I often have. In the past ten days I have been alone with my thoughts more times than I’d like and I’ve realized a few things: 1) I don’t like to think issues out because I find I sink keeper into depression when I can’t “fix” it all. 2) I would much rather be distracted by someone else’s drama than focus and address my own. 3) that I have been stuffing feelings of anger, rejection, disappointment and loss deep inside for years and hiding it under cute cat memes, political strife, and my own photography. 4) and maybe most importantly of all: my thoughts are really, really boring and many times make no sense, which is probably why I shouldn’t be sharing them on a blog. But, hey, if all those cable news channels can ramble their opinions at us all day long then I guess I can too. Ha.

 

That all those people on my “friends list” aren’t necessarily “friends” because in the ten days I have been off Facebook I’ve only heard from three people on that list and two of those people are family members. So, in fact, what this has taught me is that I am pretty much friendless even though Facebook says I have close to 200 of them. That’s actually been the one aspect of all this that has been hardest – beyond having to be alone with my thoughts so often – realizing I actually don’t have more than one close friend in my life at the moment and that none of my “friends” actually live anywhere near me. Ouch.

That if you aren’t on Facebook you pretty much don’t exist. This one goes hand-in-hand with the “fake friends” bit. If you aren’t on Facebook you aren’t “in the loop” and you aren’t invited to events. You’re also expected to already know what’s happening in the community, your church and the lives of your “friends” (who are really just people on your list) because they “updated on Facebook! Hello!”

This whole idea of anyone who isn’t on Facebook not existing is something I’ve actually known for awhile. I had backed way off personal updates on Facebook for a few months before I pulled the plug for this detox, or challenge, other than the auto shares of these blog posts to my business page. Since no one really reads my blog posts (not a complaint or a whine, just a fact, based on my stats), I really haven’t been sharing a ton of personal thoughts on Facebook.

I had someone tell me, shortly before I abandoned the big social media giant, that they didn’t know anything that was going on in my life because they couldn’t see my status updates. It was true they had been somehow hidden from seeing my updates but I actually hadn’t placed anything on Facebook about all the trials I had been facing and was asking them to pray about. I found their response to my request for prayer a bit odd actually. It seemed that without being able to see my status updates this person had no other way to gauge how I might be doing in my life or if I really needed prayer because apparently, in this modern age, we can only “communicate” by reading a status update. Mind you, we don’t often comment on those status updates that involve someone being in a trial. I mean, we go to social media to unwind, not deal with the problems of others. Get with the program, right?

The person I had messaged had, I guess, lost the ability to actually ask me what was going on, or how I was, because I hadn’t been on Facebook much lately and was slowly fading from existence. The person didn’t know they could message me on messenger, or text or – gasp! – call (who even does that anymore?!) and actually ask me how I was.

If I was slowly fading from existence then, I can only imagine I have completely faded now and am but a speck of nothing floating in the digital ether somewhere.

 

A few other lessons I am learning from being off Facebook, that I’ll expound on in a future post:

  • That there are a lot of great books out there.
  • That I need to get involved in activities with actual human beings more.
  • That my children are on digital devices way more than they should be.
  • That I enjoy exercise and it actually makes me feel better if I do it.
  • That I enjoy cooking and it actually makes me feel better when I take the time to do it right.
  • That reading God’s word can actually be interesting if I slow down and actually read it!
  • That we have too much information flying into our brains on a daily basis and there is simply no way we can process it all and I don’t believe God made us to do so.
  • That when people say “I’ll pray for you” on Facebook they usually don’t mean it. They don’t mean it in “real life” either but they really don’t mean it on Facebook.

What will come of this Facebook break? I’m not totally sure, but I’m excited to find out. I believe some of the changes will be positive and I believe I’ll learn more about living life offline and that doing so will be much more enriching than living it online.

Here is the video from Wheezy Waiter that helped inspire me to take the break.




Posted in everyday musings

Holding on and letting go

I think what I will remember most about Aunt Eleanor are her hands.

I remember those hands holding thread and a needle and pillows or quilts she just made. I remember those hands gluing buttons to frames, cutting out patterns, pinning needles in place for her next project. I remember those hands holding stacks of family history she had just typed up.

I remember those hands laying a flower on her mother’s, my grandmother’s casket.

I remember the first time I noticed the tremor in those hands and wished I could hold those hands and make that tremor go away.

I remember one of the last times I held those hands, how warm they were, how firm the grip despite all her body was fighting. We were in the nursing home where she had been living for several years. Parkinson’s was making her body and mind weaker.

I told her something I didn’t say much to her or my grandmother when I was younger, simply because they were a family who didn’t say it as much in words as they did in actions: “I love you, Aunt Eleanor.”

“Oh, sweetie I love you too,” she said and she held my hand even tighter and we sat there for several moments in silence, the TV on the wall blaring the news or the weather channel, I can remember which.

I don’t think she wanted to let go. I didn’t either.

I wasn’t sure she even remembered who I was that day but looking back it didn’t matter if she did or didn’t recognize me or even if she thought I was my mom, since some days she called me by her name. All she knew was love – that she felt loved, that she felt love for me and that at that moment the room was full of peace.

The day Mom called to tell me Aunt Eleanor was gone I thought about how much I hadn’t wanted to let go that day.

A week later when I drove by the nursing home I realized I still didn’t want to let go.

“You know, I really miss her,” My Aunt Doris, Eleanor’s sister, said to me last week when we visited her for her birthday. “”We don’t realize what we have until it’s gone, do we?”

I agreed and we sat there a couple moments in silence but then it was time to leave and head back to our home in Pennsylvania. I left Aunt Doris there, in her chair by the window, thinking about her sister. My kids, dad and I, got into the car. We drove down the road and we thought about Eleanor too.

We missed her and I wished that I could hold those hands one more time.

My aunt Doris and aunt Eleanor when they were children and it looks like they are in the driveway at their grandparents’ home, which is where I grew up.

Posted in everyday musings

Creative Tuesday: try it all

A photographer asked a question in a Facebook group I’m in, sometime last year, about how to get better at varying her perspectives for her photos.

So I told her:

“Try it all. Go high. Go low. Shoot between. Climb on chairs… move back, move close. Think what will help capture the moment the best. Don’t be afraid to try it all because – why not? If it doesn’t work then you still learned from it and know what to try next time. Like my 11 year old says “YOLO – you only live once” so go for it.

Creativity in any form is a learning process and how will you learn if you don’t – to borrow the slogan for Nike – just do it! Get in there. There is nothing wrong with trying it all and seeing what happens.

We learn from the failures as much as we do from the successes so get out there and fall flat on your face!

I’m serious. Get out there! What are you waiting for?

Posted in everyday musings, Photographers, photography

Photographers: enough of the emotional blackmail already.

We photographers can be a depressing bunch. I mean how many more ways can we remind people they need to get photos of their family members because soon they’ll all be dead.

Dang, people.

Yes, it is true we want to have photos of family members before they pass from our lives but enough with the emotional blackmail already. How about we just suggest people capture their memories in photos or video so they can share the memories with each other in the future? How about we stop depressing people into buying packages or spending more money than necessary by using fear tactics.

“Grandma will be dead next year so you better buy this $300 canvas for your wall.”

“Grandpa has been in and out of the hospital. You’d better spend that full tax refund on 18 different poses of you all together and the digital files that you’ll have to take a loan out to get. He will probably be dead in a few more days and you’ll want those memories of him forcing a smile for my camera.”

I think one reason I can’t push myself to market myself as a family photographer is I can’t bring myself to play the mind games of marketing small businesses 101. If I see one more Instagram post that talks about how glad a photographer was that she took photos of a relative at the last family gathering because a few months later they were dead and then ends with a sales pitch, I will scream. If you want to say you were glad you took the photos and then end it there, fine. But the sales pitch too?

No.

Please.

Stop.

I swear family photographers are becoming the car salesmen of the creative world.

Tell families they’re going to love capturing their moments together, fine. Tell them they will love looking back at the photos of their children as they grow. Tell them they will treasure these memories as the years pass.

But, please, stop threatening the deaths of their family members so you can line your own pockets.

It’s depressing and morbid.

Posted in everyday musings

Please, Grandma, get off the ladder

My cousin and I  were talking about whatever teenage girls talk about when I heard a clattering on the roof outside the upstairs window of the bedroom we were staying in. A quick look outside the window confirmed the source of the noise and it didn’t take long for my brain to register who the tuft of gray hair just above the edge of the roof belonged to.

I ran out of the room, down the stairs, through the dining room and the kitchen and out the front door. To my right was a ladder and on that ladder, luckily only about two and a half feet off the ground, was my 88-year old grandmother. She had a bucket on the porch railing near her and she was cleaning out the gutter. I didn’t want to startle her, but I knew  I needed to get her off that ladder before she fell and broke her hip, or worse, her skull.
Before I spoke a word, I did what any good granddaughter does – I walked slowly back into the house and grabbed my camera. 

“Um…grandma?” I spoke softly so I didn’t startle her and send her flailing backwards in shock and over the porch railing to the ground below.

She wore a hearing aid but she still heard us fairly well. My mom used to joke that she couldn’t hear anything unless we talked about something we didn’t want her to know about, like that time we spent $300 on our cat that was hit by a car and he died anyhow. We were pretty certain she would have told us, “Back in our days we threw them in pillowcases and drowned them or just shot them. $300 on a cat. Ridiculous.”, which is why my mom made us whisper about the cat or speak of it only when Grandma wasn’t in the room. Eventually, she did learn about the cat and her response was one of expected incredulous shock. Luckily she didn’t suggest we should have shot him.

Grandma heard me fine when I called to her from the bottom of the ladder but didn’t turn to look at me.

“Yes?” she said, continuing to pull slop from the gutter and toss it into the bucket.

“Um…what are you doing?” I asked, walking over to hold the bottom of the ladder and keep it steady on the concrete porch floor.

“I’m just cleaning out this gutter,” she told me, in a matter-of-fact tone. “Your dad said he could get to it after work but I figured I wasn’t doing anything else so I’d take care of it.”

I assured her Dad would finish the job when he got home and urged her to climb down. My cousin and I were at home alone with her and I couldn’t imagine how much trouble we would be in if we simply let her climb ladders and fall off and break a hip.

The photo of the moment wasn’t high quality since I took it quickly and on a simple point-and-shoot camera. I barely took time to focus out of fear I would capture her mid-fall. Had I been married at the time I’m sure my husband would have said what he has said about some of my photos of the children.

“Don’t you think you should have put the camera down and helped your 88-year old grandmother off the ladder instead?” he might have asked, much like he once asked, “Don’t you think you should have put the camera down and taken the dog food out of our son’s hand?”

Of course the answer to those types of questions is always ‘no, I should not have put the camera down.’ The photo is almost always worth more than a thousand words used to describe it, though sometimes words also help. In my defense, the baby didn’t eat the dog food and my 88-year old grandmother didn’t fall off the ladder.

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To see more posts like this you can also find me on facebook at www.facebook.com/lisahoweler

Posted in everyday musings

The urge to laugh when I probably should be crying

The pastor who officiated at my aunt’s funeral in August did a wonderful job reminding us we are all going to die soon.

She prayed: “Remind us how limited our time is, Lord. How we are but a breath away from our last. How our days are numbered.” And then she prayed some other encouraging lines to never let us forget that we should keep the funeral director on speed dial.

I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t she just say, ‘remind us, Lord that we are at death’s door and we live our lives with one foot in the grave.’?”

I know the tone of the message was making me uncomfortable, so I couldn’t imagine how the rest of the room felt when many of them were closer to death than me, based on their age and the oxygen tank being carried by at least one.

I sat in the back row and found my brain filling with inappropriate thoughts and reactions to what was going on around me. I kept staring at the amazingly large ears of the elderly man three rows ahead of me and wondered if they had always been that large or if they had drooped and stretched over the years, much like women’s breasts, as they age. At one point I almost giggled out loud as I mentally checked off how many more ways the minister could describe our impending deaths.

I looked around the funeral home and realized it was the same one we had all sat in the day of my uncle’s funeral more than 15 years before and it hadn’t changed since then, or maybe even since the  1950s. The mint-green paint was chipping in places, the air conditioner sounded like a cat had got stuck inside and I was fairly certain the floor had never been replaced and someone’s foot might shoot right through the boards when they stood up to leave.

A glance at the ceiling made me wonder if parts of it might cave in our heads, creating more business for the funeral home director, a man who had unwittingly tortured me when I’d worked as the hometown editor at the local paper, always sending obits riddled with typos, typed on either an electric typewriter or maybe a computer so old that it filled one half of a room. He always sent them by fax and I had to transcribe them into the computer since the way they were typed made it impossible to scan them in to the computer”. Other funeral homes would email their obituaries, leaving me to merely copy and paste them to be published in the next days newspaper. No matter the hints I dropped, though, this director seemed blissfully unaware that his failure to upgrade made my work nights even longer.

As I sat there in the funeral home, in a metal chair that squeaked or made fart sounds when I shifted or breathed, I knew that all these giggling-inducing thoughts were a type of self-protecting hysteria, my internal self-defense mechanisms kicking in to keep me from breaking down. I couldn’t help feel guilty for not being more serious during such a somber time. Luckily, the urge to giggle dissipated when family members, including my dad, stood to speak.

I often find myself laughing at the wrong moments – giggling when my son trips over his feet and lands on his face (as long as he gets back up again and isn’t bleeding) or when someone trips and spills what they were carrying (again, as long as they are uninjured). These moments of fighting to hold back inappropriate laughter make me think of an episode of the British sitcom “Coupling” where the characters struggle to hold in their giggles at a funeral and the scenes switch between the actors at the funeral and a metaphorical tower of glasses about to tumble.

Sitting in the back of that funeral home, straining to hear the kind words being spoke about my aunt over the grinding of the dying air conditioning unit, I fought to keep my own internal tower of glasses from falling. I knew that my urge to laugh was simply misplaced emotions, my brain’s way of trying to claw toward numbness so I could feel less of the pain of having suffered another loss in our family in less than a year.

I welcomed the humor, the pushed down giggles, because it was like a mental release valve for my mind, a way to keep me sinking beneath the surface of depression, with no chance of coming back up to breathe the air of joy again.

Posted in everyday musings

The balancing act of being a parent

There is a children’s musical entertainer named Tom Knight who visits the local libraries and summer concert series each year in our area. While his songs are, of course, aimed at children who are around the preschool age, sometimes the lyrics hit home for me.

One song, in particular, caught my attention when were listening to the CD in the car one day. When Knight sings the song The Juggler live he roams through the crowd of children while juggling a few balls, throwing them under his legs and high in the air as he walks and sings.

Well the juggler is a strange one. He does his tricks for his own fun. And the people gather ’round him. To see the tricks that astound ’em.
But when the juggler is in danger of losing all he has. Then the juggler gets it balanced. And he’s right back where he started.”

“So it’s faster and it’s funny. It’s hard to play for the money. But it’s easy with the patter. ‘Cuz it’s the jokes that matter. So the juggler is a dancer. He’s an actor with no answer. But it’s simple entertainment. And it’s worthy of the time spent. Here’s a good day, here’s a slow one. It’s hard to keep it goin’. It takes practice, but it’s fun too.
It’s easy just count one two three four five six.

So why would a song about an entertainer throwing objects in the air and catching them again hit home for me, a simple, stay-at-home mom with only two children?

Because, I, this mother of “only” two children, see a double meaning in the lyrics. I relate to the juggler because I feel like I am the juggler. In fact, I think we all, parents or not, feel like we are a juggler, at one time or another, in our lives. We are all always juggling something in life – if not relationships then work if not work then home life, if not home life then general life “stuff,” for lack of a better word.

Many parents definitely feel like they are juggling about a hundred things all day long. We are juggling requests, tasks, whining children, work, cooking, laundry, and thoughts – almost losing our balance, but able to somehow get back on track.

Throughout the course of the day, I feel like my head is constantly spinning, with thoughts jumping from one subject to another. At the same time my 4-year old daughter wants me to play with her and her stuffed animals I need to cook dinner. At the same time I’m cooking dinner my son wants me to see something he has created on Minecraft, the dog needs to go out and the cat is sitting on the island giving me the evil eye because I’m not petting her.

So it’s faster and it’s funny. It’s hard to play for the money. But it’s easy with the patter. ‘Cuz it’s the jokes that matter. So the juggler is a dancer. He’s an actor with no answer. But it’s simple entertainment.

When dinner is done my daughter still wants me to play but there is writing I need to do for a freelance assignment and photos I forgot to edit for a client, keywords to plug in for stock photography, laundry to fold, dishes to wash, parents to call, friends to message and God to try to hear over it all.

Now it’s bedtime and the dog is terrorizing the cat again, I forgot to fold the laundry because I was distracted with writing a blog post, I never responded to the friend’s message, and the dishwasher is only half loaded.

And God? Well, I can’t even hear what He wants to say because I’ve thrown all the pieces of life in the air and I’m trying to juggle them all by myself.

But, if I would just let him, God would take each one – each worry about homeschooling, each stress about finances, each rushed and anxious feeling about all that needs to be done, and he’d take care of them and tell me that I no longer need to be The Juggler.

“Here’s a good day, here’s a slow one,” Tom Knight says. “It’s hard to keep it goin’. It takes practice, but it’s fun too. It’s easy. Just count one, two, three, four, five, six.”

Yes, the balancing is hard.

There will be bad days, then good days, fast ones and slow ones where we have to wait until we take the next step; those waiting days where we feel like we can’t throw even one more ball up amongst the others.

Some days it is hard to keep all the balls sailing, but even on the hard days there is joy, hope and a Heavenly Father who is reaching out to help us slow it all down and trade the balancing act for his steady hand.

“Then the juggler gets it balanced. And he’s right back where he started.”