Donating blood

I donated blood for the first time today. There’s a constant demand for blood donors and I’ve wanted to do it for a long time. According to the American Red Cross, 41,000 blood donations are needed every day in the US alone.

For me, the whole process was pretty painless. When I got to the center, I had to answer a bunch of questions about my medical history, travel history, etc. To make sure I hadn’t been anywhere high risk, I had to go through every trip I’ve been on over the past year, down to the individual regions I visited. They had to call about some of the places I went to in Turkey, but I ended up being cleared. After that, it was pretty much like going to the doctor’s office. I guess I took a little longer than normal – I’m evidently too good a clotter for my own good. That’s actually kind of good news since I plan to start donating platelets instead of whole blood anyway. They gave me juice, cookies and a T-shirt, and I felt totally normal afterwards.

If you do decide to donate, be sure to make an appointment. Drink lots and lots of water before and try not to plan anything too stressful for after. Otherwise, it’s a pretty simple way to help out your community.

For more info about blood donation centers and drives in your area, call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

TED Tuesdays: Let’s talk about dying

It’s been a hard few days, but I wanted to post something. I’m really impressed by this guy and agree with a lot of what he has to say. After living through ICU, CCU and hospice over the past few weeks, my eyes have been opened to this issue in a way I couldn’t have imagined even a month ago. I’m so grateful to all of the nurses, doctors and other staff members who made my grandfather’s last few weeks comfortable. They truly are angels among us.

Ponder the Platypus

I started doing Bikram yoga in October. I’m not going to lie, in addition to the physical benefits, it’s pretty entertaining to watch a bunch of other Type A people sweat their asses off as they desperately try to relax. While many of us fail to reach an enlightened state amidst 104° heat and 40% humidity, the teachers exist on a whole other level. Many of them came to Bikram from martial arts, dance and other types of yoga, and they can slip in and out of meditative states with enviable ease. I’ve been learning a lot about the value of meditation from them and while I still have a loooong way to go, I do think it’s helping ease my stress and improve my mindfulness.

One thing that’s making it easier is the Headspace app. No matter where I am, Andy Puddicombe’s voice can lull me into relaxation. It’s great on the road, in airports, hotels, planes, trains and automobiles. Inner peace may still elude me, but just remembering to take a second to breathe has been huge.

Just keep swimming.

Ok, they’re not platypuses (platypi?? platypa??), but if this doesn’t melt your heart…

Fat Bottomed Girls

One of the things you may be interested to know about me is that I used to be fat. Some would say I still am. But, starting a year ago today, I have lost 80 lbs. So, if I’m still a fat person, at least I’m a considerably smaller one than I once was.

Despite my being 5’2″, I’ve never been tiny. As a teenager, I was described using words like “strong” and “solid.” In high school, I was reasonably athletic, but I gained some weight in college. I don’t know how much, which probably means it didn’t overly concern me at the time.

The bulk of my bulk came in my 20s. During grad school, I gained about 15 lbs. That 15 and the 15 to follow were the happy pounds. I was a social eater, going out a lot, learning how to cook and generally having a pretty good time.

Every 4-6 months or so, I’d redouble my diet and exercise efforts and lose weight. I’d feel great, but then some setback or another would happen and I’d gain it back. And thensome.

It was the thensome that ultimately got me into trouble.

Although I somehow didn’t realize it at the time, the last 50 lbs were external proof of internal sadness. My late 20s were a time when it felt like the efforts I was putting into life weren’t yielding commensurate results. Or, if they were, it seemed like the rewards were going to other people with barely a thank you. I’d loan friends money, help them get jobs, give them a place to stay for weeks, months, even years. I truly believed I owed people these kindnesses, that having a lot means having a lot to share. I also believed, maybe naively, that my efforts and loyalty would be appreciated. That one day, if I needed something, they’d be there, happy to reciprocate.

I was wrong.

Yet, as people failed me, food delivered. It was reliable, predictable and made me feel good, albeit temporarily. Food was my constant companion, happily keeping me company as I waited for my real life to begin. And so, while everyone around me grew up, I grew out.

By the time I hit 30, my self-esteem was mostly non-existent. I hated buying clothes or going out. My anxiety got especially bad as social media grew – my deep aversion to being photographed made it near impossible for me to socialize comfortably. In time, my health started to be an issue. But, since the problem was a manifestation of my life being overwhelming, tackling it seemed even more so.

I didn’t mean to start losing weight. The first 30 lbs came off in less than a month through what I now realize was basically anorexia – I was simply too depressed to eat. The next 20 came from walking. I wasn’t sleeping, so every morning at dawn I’d drive to a path near my house and walk for an hour or two. I’d drag myself to work and then walk another couple of hours at night. My “diet” consisted of a tall Frappuccino, consumed over hours, and the occasional salad. It was a sad, weird time.

That first 50 lbs came off in about two months. The last 30 were slower, but healthier. I kept walking, but added Bikram yoga and circuit training. My diet has improved, although it still needs some work. I’d like to lose another 30 lbs, but I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself. My impulse to run to food when disappointment strikes has mostly disappeared, so that feels like a huge victory for now.

People ask me all the time how I was able to lose so much weight so quickly. They want to hear numbers – pounds, calories, carbs. For me, though, the answer is feelings, not food. They may be less quantifiable than fat grams and exercise minutes, but as my feelings of confusion, frustration, sadness and stress grew, so did I. For years, I would have sworn that I had a good life, that I was lucky and loved and blessed. I truly had no idea that my waistline was telling a completely different story than the one I thought I was living.

Outward Bound:

• I didn’t know the work of Fernando Botero until I visited the artist’s home country of Colombia in February. His signature surrealist style, “Boterism,” features “emphatic forms,” like that of this deliciously zaftig woman lounging unabashedly in Cartagena:

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A little bit funny, a little bit cynical, Botero’s sculptures and paintings capture the spirit of a country grappling with the double-edged sword of economic development. Lady liberty for the super-size age.

• When she found out about my crazy walking addiction, one of my friends reminded me that it sounded a lot like that of the woman in Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed. I must have read that around the same time I read Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone because I seem to mix the two in my mind. I haven’t read either in years, but I remember both featuring honest accounts of the internal lives of overweight women. The former is a lot lighter than the latter, but I’d recommend Lamb’s.

• “To whom much has been given, much is expected.” (And other true lies co-dependents tell themselves…)