Health, WOMEN'S HEALTH

WASHING MACHINE HEAD

Does your brain ever feel like it is on the spin cycle of a washing machine?
Some people refer to it as “crazy brain,” but I don’t care for that label. My partner refers to it as crawling out of his skin.

There are lots of reasons for this mind twirl. Full moon, mercury retrograde, too much sugar, not enough exercise, too much on my plate, too many lists, too much time on my hands, too much on the computer or on the phone, not enough fresh air, not enough creative output, not enough go within time.

I know myself well. I know that if I miss exercise for a few days, I am not myself and this creates havoc in my thinking. Exercise is the course correction without fail. Every time. An hour at the gym or an hour outside on a brisk walk in the brisk New England November air grounds me like nothing else and it is a habit I seldom break. But when I do, like this past two weeks of over scheduling, I notice fast.

What I notice is that it is hard for me to stay focused, I wake up after going to bed with a concise list and then find myself wandering aimlessly barely able to complete one item. Perhaps this is the result of an entrepreneurial brain; most self starters I know struggle with spinney head. Just too many ideas, too many sticky notes on a wall and this can be a recipe for feelings of overwhelm therefore not getting anything done.

I am the queen of lists and sticky notes. My brain is a busy one and I enjoy its momentum for the most part especially when I use it for the creative force it directs me to. But sometimes, like this past week when I went to a three day conference and I missed exercising for almost a full week with barely a walk, the ramifications are not pretty.

As I drove to the gym for my first 7:00am workout in a few weeks, I already began to feel peaceful. The gym is my therapy space. Not because I am one of those bad ass gym rats pumping iron and walking around with her abs showing, (these days they just show all the time when I sit down and look down and wonder what the hell has happened to my stomach, but more of that in some other self deprecating piece later). Going to the gym is like a community gathering. Most times it is many of the same people, mostly women, but also some men sprinkled throughout, and there is a familiarity, a comfort as we grab our spots on the floor or the cardio equipment.

I have two go to spots I usually take and they are in the front of the room.
I used to be the person who looked for the furthest back corner, the spot completely away from the mirror as I not only didn’t want to see myself in it as I struggled to catch my breath with every screaming beat to the rap music, but I also didn’t want to see everyone else. Back then when I first started dragging myself to the gym, I was always comparing my inadequacy and lack of fitness to all of the other chicks (usually skinny and blonde driving a Range Rover or something) who seemed much more fit than I surely would ever be.

But then something magical happened. I started feeling incredible. Forget about the shape of my body shifting, the discovery of muscles I didn’t know were there, the definition of muscles from the never ending burpees and planks that began rearing their beauty. I had mental clarity like I had never really had before. It was the biggest surprise from the workout and I started to depend on it as my mental equilibrium. And I began making my way to the front of the room, not so much to look in the mirror, but to stand up front and proud of my climb on the fitness confidence ladder.

There is all kinds of proven research on what exercise does for us physically- it lowers cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and a multitude of other lifestyle ailments. I wish that the prescription of exercise would be one of the first courses of action for doctors to give to their patients complaining of anxiety and depression because for me, this has been a game changer for the past ten years. It is seldom that exercise becomes the go to remedy for the many people who struggle with this type of bubbling mind.

Washing machine head, my brain on the spin cycle, goes away from one hour of exercise. It never fails me. I always feel better after I exercise. My mind is clearer, my heart is happier. And this doesn’t have to be from an hour at the gym, it can be a walk on the beach with the wind blowing into my lungs; it is just movement, off the couch, away from my computer, my phone, my desk work and up and out.

No matter how much wine I have had or sweet dives into oblivion and all of its effects on my brain with the fogginess it creates, an hour of movement clears the cobwebs. Exercise saved me when I had breast cancer too. I am convinced that because I went to the gym, my recovery was as strong and solid as it was because of my fitness level before hand.
I used to think, “I am the fittest and healthiest I have ever been, why did I get breast cancer twice?” But when I saw my resilience and my fast recovery, I knew I had to shift my thinking to gratitude for the fitness FOR and TOWARDS the recovery.

As a matter of reflection, the gym was part of my recovery because it became a goal for me to get back there as soon as possible. I had missed its silent camaraderie among my fellow gym chicks. We are friendly with each other, saying our morning hellos and our quick goodbyes as we run out to start our days in our sweaty workout clothes, but we don’t spend time chatting. We are all there to feel better. To roll our eyes when Kathy, our fearless trainer, barks another order out at us and says at the same time, “This next move is going to suck.” Yes, she says this and she means it and it does suck. But we all do it because we can.
Because we can. To me this is the significance of exercising regularly.

Because I can.

And as long as I can I will. Missing days makes me miss them now, not the other way around. In the past I would miss them because I didn’t feel like it, these days I only miss them because work or a too jam packed schedule didn’t allow the workout time. I am really going to make a conscious effort to improve that. I may not always be able to get to the actual gym, but there is always a walk on a blustery day to shake the garbled brain to a more serene one, movement is so important as I approach my real life mid fifties.

My partner, who is 72 goes to the gym every day. Every day. I am not kidding. He is my role model and my mentor for gym attendance and its value on the soul. When we went to Quebec a few weeks back, we both didn’t realize the stair factor. If you can’t do stairs, you can’t enjoy Quebec- that should be their tagline because to take the stairs is to really appreciate the landscape. As we blasted up and down the stairs for a solid week, as fit as I am, I still had a quickening of my breath. Not my partner, he flew up the stairs and I didn’t hear one speck of short winded huffing.

If that wasn’t a reminder to me that the gym is fitness security, nothing is. What I love about movement is that there is no time like the present.
All we have is the present.

Health, WOMEN'S HEALTH

OUT OF MY CONTROL

“Does that make you crazy?” My partner’s niece, Ashley, asked me as we were discussing her new nursing career and I was telling her that I had been diagnosed with Hashimoto Thyroiditis when I turned forty.

Her lovely and young thirty year old self said it so matter of factly, I brushed it off and replied that it didn’t and that I really had no side effects from this diagnosis fifteen years later.

“I have heard some people really get manic crazy with that diagnosis,” she said.

Mmmmm. Manic. Crazy. Not me, I thought.

But a week later, I started really thinking about this whisper of a comment that I dismissed so quickly. First off the word “crazy” and “manic” are not the first two words I personally want to associate with as descriptions of myself. I pride myself on doing “the work” and knowing how I tick. I understand the sugar and alcohol roller coaster rides I have taken and still take knowing full well that a few days later I will be off the rails. But it is my own choice, I say to myself as I can’t get her comment out of my head.

I have been loosely seeing a thyroid doctor since that initial diagnosis when I was a mere forty and since my bloodwork always comes back normal and my thyroid hasn’t taken over my neck like some hideous goiter, we just watch. I have never had to go on synthroid, the thyroid replacement medicine. In fact, the last time I was at the doctor’s I asked him how he even determined the diagnosis and if he could reconfirm it since I never really had any symptoms.

The thing about your thyroid though is that it is like the main controller of your entire being. Picture Captain Kirk in Star Trek in his Captain’s chair looking out from the Enterprise at the entire galaxy and think about him as your thyroid gland. At least this is the way I understand it. The thyroid needs fuel to produce the thyroid hormone. Like the Enterprise needs fuel to maneuver through space, the thyroid needs direction and it gets this from your pituitary gland, often referred to as a Master Gland. Think of Kirk as the pituitary. The Enterprise can be completely fueled, ready for its bad ass launch into the galaxy, but without the supreme direction of Captain Kirk, it sits there waiting.

As Ashley’s random comment sat in my brain this past week I started to consider my up and down behaviors over my lifetime. Full throttle into some things and then at a moment’s notice, not interested. I have often equated this with full moons, my birth sign, mercury in retrograde among other reasons I have written about endlessly. Spending money buying cars impulsively, not to mention my latest typewriter obsession all started to roll like the credits at the end of a movie.

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto fifteen years ago, but I wonder if this is something you develop or if you are just born with it. I can’t believe I never have asked this question. I also can’t believe that the emotional ups and downs I have spent my life in therapy with could partially be attributed to Hashimoto? Maybe all of this wackiness is OUT OF MY CONTROL. And to think that I can master it with food and meditation practice is only partly the solution. I also can’t believe that my doctor never asked me about this.

A random comment from a brand new nurse offered more to me than the endocrinologist I have been seeing for fifteen years. For the love of nurses, surely. They are often the brilliance so underrated behind the scenes. What are the options though? I certainly don’t want to go on Big Pharm to regulate. Maybe just knowing that it isn’t me all the time, but instead a physiological malfunction causing all of this mayhem in my brain all these years is enough.

How convenient. Disturbing too, but I must admit it is nice to think in terms of releasing myself from the constant battle in my brain that I just don’t have the willpower necessary to overcome some of these ups and downs. There is so much we don’t know about our bodies and what kinds of mind fucks different problems cause. Our minds are still the wild frontier of so much to be discovered. Star Trek was way ahead of its time “boldly going where no man has gone before,” and if we think about the galaxy as our brains, we still have so much to discover.

self improvement, WOMEN'S HEALTH

NOT DRINKING TODAY (AGAIN)

OK…. A FEW COCKTAILS HERE. (but it was july 4th in bristol, ri….)

self improvement, Women, WOMEN'S HEALTH

SOUND THE ALARM

These days when I see a group of women at an outdoor event in nice summer dresses talking to each other, I can’t help but think of Margaret Atwood’s book that has become the creepy Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale. Once I shake that nightmare of a dystopian visual, that feels closer to reality every day, off, I am quickly brought back to reality. Thankfully, this was not the case yesterday because I was a guest at a very lovely non-dystopian chick event, sponsored by a new Women’s Collaborative called Siren.

I made my way through this book launch and signing event held at Blithewold Mansions and Gardens in Bristol, RI. It was well attended and many of the sixty women in attendance were not on their phones trying to capture every waking minute. They were engaging, listening, looking towards each other and enjoying the brilliant company of other like minded women. Despite the heat, this alone was refreshing.

“Do you have a card?” I had asked a few women, fully realizing that I had forgotten my own. A few women had cards and a few did not.
I will not look at Facebook. I will not look at Facebook, I found myself mumbling to myself when I got home afterwards. Meeting some of these great women, I didn’t want to forget their names and I wanted to continue our connection post event so I had to look them up.

Innocent enough, but many of us likely know now what happens when we attempt a ‘quick’ look at social media. These days between friend requests, comments, new photo uploads, page likes and all of the other mumbo jumbo that happens between people thinking they are connecting with each other, I find myself getting sucked into the vortex of incredible time wasting. Or is it? I don’t know. As I made my way into the search bar so I could friend request them or message them, that little gremlin of a voice murmured, just check the feed, alayne….. Real quick.

Yeah, right. There is nothing quick about social media. Part of the draw is staying connected, not missing something, keeping communication lines flowing so that the very lines of this communication seem like they are doing something. But are they?

Yesterday at this Siren event, we were more connected than any Facebook post or Instagram photo could ever be. We stood together in the scorching, unusually hot morning, sipping our sparkling water in our lovely summer dresses and we connected. Eye to eye, person to person. What struck me between the photos being taken was that of all the women there, it seemed most were not there to tag themselves on Instagram and make it a social media extravaganza, but rather to just simply BE together.

Sixty or so women in a beautiful setting on a record breaking heat wave day should have made us all refer to the day, instead, as Hotter Than Ever. We were a force to be reckoned with and not because we were protesting or speaking out against something. We do plenty of that, but instead we were just together, being women. Celebrating our potency, our hearts and minds without even having to say it aloud.

This vapor we share between us was what makes us have that potential bond of pure power when we allow and accept our strengths as a collaborative group. Siren has created this. I immediately fell in love with the intention and its stunning group consciousness yesterday. I was able to, first hand, witness female stories from their own real voices, person to person, chick to chick. I was able to be part of their body language and their core essence. I got to smell their perfume, see their hair color, their makeup or their choice to wear none. I was part of their story just by being in the same space.

I connected with a woman who used to be a therapist and one day, she thought to herself, I can’t do this anymore because I just wanted to say to the woman I was counseling, ‘When are you going to leave the asshole? He is never going to change.’ So as any good therapist would do, she left her career and figured out a different one. Realizing a business opportunity of cleaning vacation homes instead, she is now a successful business owner and had contributed a South African fish recipe to the book being featured. I would have never known this if we hadn’t had the eye to eye contact, the handshake, the conversation.

This quick story that tumbled out of her mouth over recipe sharing would have been lost on social media. She probably would not have even shared the story because it was something that came organically between two women speaking with each other. In person. Live.

I also heard a young woman yesterday who figured out her own compass through the worried eyes of her children and managed to get out of an abusive relationship. She shared her life story giving us the gift of realizing our own vulnerabilities in the throws of power and abusive relationships. She was able to get out and she lived to speak of it with a softness in her voice, an inner strength in her heart and an authentic depth to her story that made us weep. For her. For her children. For the women who never get out right along with the pieces of the puzzles of our own twists and turns.

Siren. Sound the alarm. Code Red. Firetrucks, police cars and ambulances. Women being women with women. In person. It was a morning of surprise for me and I was so grateful to have landed there.

We are in a fragile space right now. We have a deep need for connection and are getting further and further away from the very part of who we are as women who need acceleration in true human connection, not distance from it. I don’t think I even spend that much time on my phone or on social media, but then Apple in all of its wisdom reminds me of how much time I am truly spending by sending me little text updates.

The irony is hard to grapple with. The ease of finding some of these ladies I had the pleasure of meeting yesterday was easier because of social media. But I grapple with this being the easiest way to further my dialogue. Here I am writing this piece, knowing full well that many people will only be able to read it because of social media. In the old days, it would have needed to be published old school somehow in order for it to be received. I am appreciative of what social media has offered me as a former closet writer.

When women are together in these types of female centric events, the word “balance” often comes up. These days there is so much to be balanced I often wonder if there is enough time left for us to figure out what it even means. Balance is bullshit, in my opinion. Social media is a space that takes us from what we need to be doing so we stay healthy in mind, body and spirit. How does social media allow touch and smell? It doesn’t. How do we know if who we are speaking to on it are who they say they are? We don’t. Or with artificial intelligence these days if they even look like they really are.

Yesterday was a wake up call. Sound the alarm to remind us loud and clear that between our busy lives, our running, our texting, our scrolling and time away from authenticity, we need each other. I don’t have any science to proclaim what I say to be true. All I have is the feeling I left with yesterday in being in the presence of sixty women in our own heat. We didn’t need the heat of the sun to make us hot. We had each other and this was just the beginning.

NATURE, WOMEN'S HEALTH

IF I DIDN’T

I decided to head out for a walk on Friday morning instead of the gym because I was reminded while reading information by a new practitioner I just met. She wrote about the equal importance of outdoor fitness- connecting with nature and your body- along with gym workouts. I know this to be true because there is nothing like nature to settle my overactive brain. Working out at the gym does this too, but in a much harder way. The vigorous pounding and accelerated heart rate, literally, beats it out of me.

Nature is the opposite; it is settling, calming and acts more like a slow, steady paddle on a calm morning. It is the yin to my souped up yang. Souped up yang as my heart lately has been racing, my brain has been in overdrive and all of this leaves me with feelings of inadequacies and not good enough thinking that makes me feel super shitty.

Is it the full moon? (yes), the approaching intensity of the glorious summer solstice? (yes), is it the fast approaching seventeen year anniversary of being in business? (I hadn’t thought about that, but YES). Yes to all because I can feel a big, bad ass shift happening, but I haven’t figured the ‘it’ out yet. Me and not figuring ‘it’ out is an awkward dance that creates undo stress. I don’t like not knowing. Which is exactly why I am here. Not knowing is where I am supposed to be and this is something I definitely know.

Ironic. My grandmother would say, “Alayne, sometimes no decision is the best decision.” I don’t know why this gives me an immediate sense of comfort, but it does. I bring the need to make decisions on in a way that causes pressure on this overachieving mind of mine. This is the challenge of a creative soul, for sure. Always moving and shaking and if things are not moving and shaking, well, then I must move and shake them.

So the counter balance is to cease and desist, not completely, but to use nature as my guiding light as the opposing force to settle my ass down in a chair and stare. To walk on a path by the water with no phone and no companion except my beating heart and my Serena strong legs to propel me along the beauty I get to call my place on this earth.

The first step is usually the one that causes me procrastination for no apparent reason other than the call of my house. Writing, cooking, typing, organizing, working, are all little parts of the why I may not always make time to go for that casual stroll alone, but I did anyway.

If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have seen an elegant shimmery white egret fly over me, full spread wings, headed for his landing pad of the harbor. The sound of his movement was what caused me to look up and stop in awe to watch. While I was looking up, I heard the familiar sound of the Osprey who has the prime real estate address of Poppasquash Rd. in Bristol, Rhode Island with his family and saw him carrying a fish. What a sight! Like the sounds of cardinals, I can always recognize the Osprey’s high pitched whistling sound. This is a rewarding lesson that keeps giving as their majestic wing span soaring over my house is a sight to behold.

If I didn’t take that walk, I wouldn’t have noticed the baby bunnies foraging for food, looking so vulnerable as they learn the ropes of finding nourishment. I wouldn’t have had the conversations with my friend, Greg down at the harbormaster’s office as I passed by on my way towards the path along the water about the new ferry service from Bristol to Newport to Providence. I wouldn’t have picked up the schedule to learn the times that it runs and subsequently made plans yesterday to head into Providence on the new ferry service. This led me to be part of the all inclusive and heart warming welcoming to all who come in peace, Pride Fest. I found my way to a brand new vegan, but you would never know it, restaurant called Plant City.

On my walk, I saw people out doing the same, business owners getting their storefronts ready for business. I enjoyed the rich aromas of the glorious seaside town I get to call home and feel and hear my heart beating because of my pace. I felt the bay air and wind through my hair and on my skin as I got a nice sweat going from the speed in which I am privileged to keep my legs moving forward with. My olfactory system would have not smelled the beginnings of the summer roses opening, coupled with the aromas of flowers, herbs and freshly cut grass as the good people of Bristol are in their happy place, getting their homes ready for July 4th.

I wouldn’t have noticed the bird with the bright red breast and the grey head on the top of the pillar on my front porch after my walk was complete as I took the time to sit there with a nice cup of coffee. I had never seen a bird like this and though it pained me to break from my trance of just simply admiring without having to take a picture, I went in to my house and got my phone to capture him or her. It wasn’t for posterity as much as curiosity and being able to remember the description so I could find out what bird this was. She let me take a picture almost posing and we had a lovely connection before she flew away.

This brief encounter caused me to open up an Audubon bird book collecting dust on my shelf that some dear friends of my grandmother had sent as a gift to my son. I spent a half hour looking for a picture of this bird to no avail. a few days later, I walked next door to ask my bird loving friend, Dottie, and she didn’t know either. This caused me to head yesterday on my quest to find out the name of this bird to a new favorite spot, The Redwood Library in Newport, RI to look for some bird books and see if I could get to the bottom of this little sweet bird’s name. I couldn’t find a picture that fit the exact description, but while perusing the shelves, I come across a paper thin book of poetry by Audrey Silcox, a poet who lived from 1890–1944, she died at the age I am now. This was next to another book by Ruth Whitman called The Testing of Hannah Senesh. Hannah Senesh was a famous heroine of WWII who was captured after parachuting into Yugoslavia because an informant turned her in. She was executed after spending nine months in a concentration camp at 23 for trying to save her Hungarian Jewish friends and family.

This book of poetry captured my attention and I became so ensconced in the writing that I ended up sitting there for two hours to finish it. Yesterday at the library was like a live version of internet surfing except I was sitting in the sunlight at my back in a comfy old dark green leather chair with the only sounds being the crinkling of the opening and closing of library books instead of the tapping of the keys and the bings of text messages at every second.

I know that the actual reading of a real book of poetry, a real walk in the rain on the way home with my umbrella that my partner reminded me to take and the time it gave me to be myself was significant for my health. I don’t know the science of why, I am sure there is science, but I don’t really need this because I go with the feeling. Surfing the internet vs being in nature gives me two completely different feelings, the latter always soothes, awakens me from my slumber and calms that nothing else can compete or compare with.

If I didn’t go outside for that forty minute or so walk a few days ago, I wouldn’t have known what I might have missed, but I didn’t miss anything because I said yes to me. I walked and glided along and kept the promise to myself to get outside and enjoy the day. All of this nature took me on a weekend journey I hadn’t anticipated, but I allowed its guidance.

Nature never disappoints and it always rewards me. I don’t know why I would even procrastinate ever again. Though I didn’t find out the name of the bird until I texted the picture to my friend, Julie, who knows all things birds. I realize the irony of this and what humbles me is that, perhaps, I can allow room for both. Nature and technology. There are some time saving aspects to the brilliance of the Google search, for sure. I just have to make sure that I am in the drivers seat instead of letting it take me for the ride of incredible time wasting- looking down, missing what’s up.

The cardinals were with me on almost the entire walk this past Friday, egging me on, telling me that this is always the best remedy for a busy mind. My life and my brain is calmed, my world feels better and I am ready for my day. All because I did instead of didn’t. And by the way, the bird according to Julie is a house finch. “Yep, that’s a lovely little house finch,” she texted back. “They’re beautiful color and have the best song. They’re common, but really special.” #luckyindeed.