2017 AIDS Walk Central Ohio for Tom

I was working on the High School paper back in my senior year in 1986 when I first heard about “gay cancer.” This was just after I had gone to a retreat with some of my peers and had my first kiss with another guy after we’d walked off together into the heavily wooded snow covered landscape. We nearly froze to death for a moment of privacy. I think I played the Beatle’s “Norwegian Wood” for months after that.

 

Gay Cancer gave way to HIV/AIDS as I progressed through college joining groups like ACTUP! It was a time period dominated by death and fear. This fear put a chill on what should have been a freely open creative sexual explosion for all of us. Instead it chilled and dampened all that as we heard of our fathers generation being decimated in no short order and watched our peers contract the disease and wither away.

 

We were left with far too few guides as young men. But I was lucky to have two. One named Nick Felt and another named Tom Johnson. These guys were best friends having met in the early 70’s on the OSU campus. They’d gone through everything young men go experience together dreams, delusions, heartbreaks and adventures. When I met them at the age of 22 they were in their late 30’s. Together they helped me to navigate part of my young life as a gay man. Gave me comfort and guidance almost like older brothers if not parents in a way.

 

Tom ran ashore of his career and ended up underemployed for the latter part of his life while at the same time having been confirmed to have HIV. Without the benefit of today’s drugs, health insurance or a good job he began to steadily fold in on himself. It was heart breaking to watch and I’ll never forget the way that Nick struggled with him as a friend through all of this.

 

As a heart attack survivor myself my mantra for why I run is “I run because someday I won’t be able to… but today is not that day.”

 

I am running the 2017 Dr. Robert J. Fass Memorial AIDS Walk Central Ohio for Tom. I’m also running to support the idea that we should not be afraid to have sex. No one should be afraid to experience life in all sorts of infinite embraces. Believe me, life is short… make love and have fun together. Or as my old friend Rob Wagner, another buddy of mine who had HIV, said to me when I was struggling with depression in my early 30’s “go outside and look up at the sky and feel the sun beating down on your shoulders and know that everything will be OK.”

aidswalk

Posted in general, personal

On losing my shirt and meditation

There’s a difference between chemically peaceful and having inner peace. I found this out over the course of an unusual year. This is my story of how I realized part of the puzzle of fighting heart disease includes meditation, prayer for some, and how I threw my late 40′s etiquette, and my shirt, to the wind.

I found myself chemically peaceful, with the help of a valium drip, as they wheeled me out of heart surgery on April 2 2015. Oddly enough it was the same day I was supposed to run my first 5k since I was a teen. My parents, spouse and best friend were all nervous but patiently waiting for me in the post op room. It was dad who said something that still rings in my head today. “Everything before today is now behind you. Today is the first day of a new start.”

Cardiac rehab introduced all sorts of ideas including stress management. This of course lead to research into the subject where I discovered meditation is one of the prescribed treatments for cardiac anxiety/depression. Right around the same time I was challenging myself to take the chance I was given, by surviving, to get back to my running goals. It was while running where I found my  first moments of peace. A handful of times on the trails drenched in sweat, listening to music, at times crying, wearing just my split shorts shades and shoes. Breathing steady and alive… it felt like what my dad said. A new start with no history to hold me back.

As the months went on I accomplished more than my original set of goal races… I started doing half marathons and training for a full after a 20 mile race in October 2016. Yet even with all these good feelings and the great physical shape I ended up achieving, my head kept pulling me back. I had two initial panic attacks that brought me to the ER between 2015 and 2016. That’s a small number compared to some folks but it was enough to put anxiety as a problem on my radar.

So I decided to give meditation a chance… again. It reminded me of the sense of peace I felt while running which prompted me to redouble my efforts of looking within. I’m not a spiritual person by nature and only recently more open with my feelings. So my bias against sitting on a floor pillow and listening to my breath rubbed me the wrong way… to say the least. I started reading some meditation books along with downloading a couple mobile apps to help me through some guided meditations. It was halting and very frustrating at first. But as time went on I began to get the hang of it and was eventually able to manage daily meditations totaling 10 minutes at a pop.

Today I am able to use the same breathing techniques on the go during a busy day when I need to stop from going to my normal Five Alarm emotional reaction when my head points me in a negative direction. I’m not always successful… but I am more calm these days as a result.

Eventually I started going to some local meditation classes, some of them Buddhist groups which work well for me because it is more of a philosophy than religion. It was during these sessions where I learned more about other people who were looking for the same thing I was. Inner peace.

My heart attack introduced unfamiliar fears to me. Cardiac anxiety and depression. While these were new to me I believe heart disease also showed me that I have had an anxiety issue all my life. It propelled me through the first, second and third parts of my career. Always on the go, making lists, facing every problem with the wild conviction that I could solve it no matter what it cost emotionally. Relocating to Texas, which was both good and bad, for a company I enjoyed but was not true to my values. You know… life and the choices we think we make because we have to and such.

As a volunteer moderator on the AHA Support Network I’ve spoken with so many other men and women of various ages who are facing the same problem I am. While I’m not a doctor, I understand that anxiety and depression are separate risk factors which can put you more more statistically likely for a second heart attack. With as hard as I’ve worked on my diet, my body and my medication routines I knew that I had to follow what Dr Ornish and my cardiac rehab team told me about initially.

Stress management.

I’ve been practicing meditation for around half a year now and as I said before my skills are getting better. There was this moment when I was being guided through a session and the narrator told me that “it’s OK to have 1000 thoughts per minute, simply see them and refocus your attention on your breath.” What she told me then was that this is the actual process of meditation. It’s not sitting, breathing and reaching a state of stillness… it’s allowing yourself to acknowledge and then dismiss your thoughts and have just a few peaceful moments. Free from anxiety. Free from depression. Free from, as my dad said, everything that came before. Free like I feel while running in a warm summer rain storm at a hard pace with my shirt off happy to be alive on a wooded path in Central Ohio.

My practice.

I read about “the elevator mediation for kids” last year which walks you through an easy way to do a body scan. This is one of my first lines of defense when I have a severe bout of cardiac anxiety. I ask my body if it’s experiencing symptoms. But most of the time I use it to learn how it feels to simply be in my body… what it feels like in that moment. Then to let those feelings go. You get better at it over time.

With the assistance of Stephen Levine and the guided meditations in his book “Guided meditations, explorations and healings” I worked through some of the basic themes I’ve heard so far. I found his writing particularly comforting because he dealt with death and acceptance all his life professionally. And as part of being a survivor, we are pressed to ask the question of “how long?” The thing these basic meditations taught me is that this is the wrong question. We can turn heart disease back on itself by learning to experience and accept the moments we have today. Just like a cancer or MS patient is forced to do. We are all of us facing the same challenges. In the end life is like a meditation. It just is. All we have to do is acknowledge it and be present while it’s happening.

Again, after I accepted the idea that meditation would actually teach me something I gave myself up to using a great mobile app called Calm. There are others out there of course but this one had a free version and I loved the feature it offered of nature sounds. I’m particularly fond of listening to rain sounds because it reminds me of camping in the woods as a late teen one summer by myself. It just seems to relax me. There are other background tracks offered like ocean, wind and forest sounds among others, this just happens to be my favorite. The guided mediations are really great though. Slow, easy to follow and makes you feel like you have a coach with you.

What about prayer? Research suggests that this practice activates the same mechanisms that meditation does. So whatever flavor you practice, prayer can help you to physiologically combat heart disease.

We know that physical exercise makes our hearts stronger. New research is pointing to the effects of stress having the ability to cancel out the benefits of my healthy diet changes. With what we know about heart disease and how unrelenting it is, arming ourselves with the tools we need only strengthens our fight… and in the case of mediation or prayer, enriches our experience while we are living.

Meditation has a lot in common with running. You get better at it the more you practice. And, like running, it’s actually enjoyable once you let down your guard and open your heart and mind to yourself… and then let both go, like a shirt, on a hot August afternoon while running across the Statehouse lawn.

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Posted in personal, running

First group meditation

I’ve usually thought about meditation in terms of patchouli drenched, granola eating and poncho wearing hobbies for the celebrity folks who attend Burning Man. Possibly as an excuse for taking a nap. So it took me some effort to get over my prejudice in 2016 as I was newly vested in the health benefits of learning how to meditate.

So I read some meditation books, downloaded a couple apps, got a meditation pillow and dug out an oil lantern to help me focus. It was a frustratingly halting process because I was treating it with both my earlier prejudice and then as an exercise class with a definitive beginning and ending with measurable data points between. All that was missing was Strava for meditation.

I could not have been more wrong.

As I continued through to 2017 I became a little better, and more open, to the process of sitting down and letting my mind scatter in seemingly 5000 different directions while listening to these guided meditations on Calm. It started to click though when I learned that the process of distraction is actually the practice of meditation itself. Realizing it and coming back to something like listening to your breathing is the very thing that helps us to improve in all those ways that meditation advocates proffer up like improved concentration, lowered blood pressure, reduced anxiety and increased concentration.

Today however I had a chance to hike up to Yoga on High and participate in an iRest Yoga Nidra meditation. It made my old bias bristle a bit but I stuck with it. It was a room full of women of all ages and two guys. The instructor brought out a yoga roll then prepared to make “beds” for the students. I mean this thing was like total heavy duty nap worthy stuff. As she instructed us to lie back into the rig she guided the room along this really sedate tonal wave of relaxation. I knew we were all getting relaxed when the guy next to me started snoring and the ladies to my other side began breathing more deeply.

The whole experience left me with this deep feeling of rest. As if I had taken a pretty solid power nap but with the benefit of this meditative relaxation. It was also pretty cool to have that experience as a group of folks going for the same thing for different reasons.

Whatever the outcome of my current meditation track… I’m enjoying the exploration and hopeful for the benefits.

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meditationmeditation

Posted in general, personal

Being the butterfly

I was catching up on some reading and came across the quoted paragraph below in a two page excerpt from the Sun Magazine December 2016 issue.

“Some years ago, scientists attempted to create a long-range weather-forecasting program. It turned out that the most minute variations, even the undetectable things, the things they could perhaps not even yet imagine yet as data, could cause entirely different weather to emerge from almost identical initial conditions. This was famously summed up as the saying about the flap of a butterfly’s wings on one continent that can change the weather on another. History is like weather, not like checkers. (And you, if you’re lucky and seize the day, are like the butterfly.) [It’s] like weather in it’s complexity, in it’s shifts, in the way something triggers its opposite, just as a heat wave sucks the fog off the ocean and makes my town gray and clammy after a few days of baking; weather in it’s moods, in its slowness, in it’s suddenness.” Hope in The Dark by Rebecca Solnit

The whole issue felt like a spiritual lift. Both the Solnit quote and the lengthy interview with Ralph Nader. They reminded me that change is simple. It just takes one butterfly… or “five people.” When I first read that bit from the Nader interview it re opened my eyes to all those possibilities that we write off as unattainable. Lost. Unmovable.

It’s all in how we look at ourselves and those around us. I know this from experience as a volunteer moderator on the AHA Support Network. When people are hurting, they go to some dark places. Looking at life in a different way is where change sparks into existence. Being strong enough to open up to other possibilities is the only requirement. I also see this in both corporate and government cultures in my job as a collaboration consultant. Organizations that have become so weighed down by policy and atrophy that change seems impossible.

So I worked that Nader line of thought into one of my corporate training efforts recently. It was a device to show people that they can, collaboratively, effect change and innovation. And just like with people, those shifts within an organization usually make things better. All it takes is, as Nader stated, five women at a table to start the Womens’ right to vote movement in the 1800‘s. They didn’t live to see it come to pass. But the winds of change they created made it happen.

Like Solnit says… history is like weather.

butterfly

Posted in general, personal

The road behind… and the one ahead

One source defines goal setting as “the process of identifying something that you want to accomplish and establishing measurable goals and time frames.” Looking back over 2016 I am thinking about flexibility more than goals.

According to the two running apps I used in 2016, Endomodo and Strava, I’ve run a total of 327 miles. I missed using these apps many times though so I estimate my total is closer to 380 miles. It makes me think back on those training sessions as a collection of memories on the paths and City streets. The change of the seasons. Street sounds. Passersby. Light through the trees. Rain on my skin. Heat of the sun on my back. Bracing cold blasts across my face and legs during the Autumn and Winter training. I ran a 20-mile race in Fall (coming in second to last), two half marathons, a 15k, a 10k, the Turkey Trot as an oddball 5 miler, and four or five 5ks. I missed my dream of doing the Columbus full marathon, the result of a seriously sprained ankle, but I have not given up the hope of doing one in 2017.

Last winter I battled cardiac depression which impacted my running and workout efforts. I’ve used that experience afterwards to remain vigilant and keep lacing up my shoes. Running through the cold dark Ohio months.

My motivational mantra is something I picked up from a fellow runner “I run because someday I won’t be able to… but today is not that day.” It is while writing this that I realize I am running without any real goals at all. I’m doing all this because I can. Not because it is better for you than walking, lifting or Yoga. Because it’s fun. It leaves me feeling like I have had the best meditation session. I love the sensations along the way. Interacting with other runners. I enjoy the feeling of being in motion. I love feeling my heart beating in rhythm with my running shoes. It makes me feel grateful for the experience. Grateful for the strength to do it.

So if I run my first full marathon in 2017, so be it. But I won’t stop doing what I’m doing in the process unless I have to make adjustments. There were two things which dampened my motivation in 2016. One was a serious sprain in the right ankle at the beginning of July. The second was a set of bruised ribs at the beginning of December. These kinds of setbacks teach us to be flexible. Accept what they are for the temporary conditions they present to us. They remind us of illusion and impermanence. That the action of setting goals, as defined earlier, is a process that lives on a sliding scale of life. Missing goals should never demotivate us but rather it should, like depression, give us new information that we can use to achieve better outcomes in the future. Failure is only negative if you don’t use it to your advantage.

It’s this spirit that I want to kindle in 2017. I’m ready for my share of success and failure on the running path because it’s part of the experience. It’s the beauty of life itself. So if I hit between 600 & 800 miles by the end of next year as part of my “goals” then that’s what it will be. If not, I will have a new collection of cherished memories from the runs I completed. I win either way.

So thank you 2016 and hello 2017.

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Posted in running

Note to self

So this happened last Saturday. I opened the laundry closet door when the iron fell from 2 feet or so above me from the top of the stacked washer/dryer and hit me square on the lower sternum and left rib cage. Not an experience I would recommend to anyone who wants to be physically active the next week. Bruised ribs are an interesting, if not painful, sensation. That and the corresponding back pain, and range of motion limitation, from your body compensating in different ways. The other thing, of course in my case, was the weird anxiety it caused because the pain was off center in my chest which made me look up articles from the Cleveland Clinic about chest pain that won’t kill you, and those that will, and how to tell. Cardiac anxiety is such a weird thing to deal with when you have the condition.

In the end I’m really sore but I had a laugh at myself while not getting too bummed out about my botched running schedule this week after a super good one last week. The thing might have been a blessing in a weird way. I’ve been meditating this week with a renewed dedication toward calming my mind with more priority on being present. I guess we face the things we need to when life gives us little reminders to take the time to do so.

Live, learn, laugh and move the damn iron someplace else where it’s less prone to jump out at you!

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Posted in personal

Not everything in nature has a function

My partner and I adopted a third, and final, cat over the Summer. This tiny little black and white animal named Arturo. It’s been fun to watch our other two Texas cats warm up to him accepting him into their respective territories within our little storefront loft above 3rd and Main St here in downtown Columbus.

Our months have been filled with the anecdotes of his development. Little behaviors like shadowing Monkey everywhere, chasing Helen down the hallway and then the toys. One in particular is an artifact from when Monkey was a kitten. Arturo will pick up this 2-foot-long plastic wand in his mouth as the feathery boa part trails behind him. Sometimes he charges the carpet with the wand part as if it were a lance. Other times he’ll bring it to one of us, drop it, then gently tap at our legs or arms wanting us to play with him and his toy. He gets so worked up chasing the feather boa that he actually snorts and pants while zooming around like a black streak of motion.

There is a quote by Garrison Keillor that goes like this “cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function.” I think we’d all do well to find those moments in our lives that just are and not worry about making every minute count. In that regard, cats have the unique power to not only power the internet but remind me to loosen my grip a little and just let things be.

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Posted in personal

Because I can today

Last week was a great one running wise. I did both the Hot Chocolate 15k and then my first Turkey Trot 5 miler on Thanksgiving morning. I noticed that one of my fellow runners in the 5 miler has a tagline on his Strava profile of “I run because one day I won’t be able to – but today is not that day.” Seeing that made perfect sense to me. As a heart attack survivor you are left with lots of feelings. One of them being the very real fear of a second event. Running has given me a great deal of stress relief from these feelings while at the same time something I can never take for granted.

The phrase is true to how I feel about training for a marathon right now. I’m using a plan I found on Strava for this with three runs, 1 long 1 fartlek and 1 easy, and two cross training workouts per week. Things are going pretty well with that so far and the weather is holding out to a degree so it’s not as unpleasant as it could be.

Come to think of it… I might have a T-shirt made up for the marathon in February with that guy’s slogan on it. It’s definitely my current mantra at the moment.

Posted in personal, running

Gifts

There is a lady who I see every week at the Starbucks near where I work in downtown Columbus. She’s always upbeat and cordial. I ran into her while voting recently as she was volunteering at my local precinct. Same smile and warm manner.

I ran into her again yesterday where she came out to greet me while I was waiting for my order. She told me three Thanksgiving stories with her husband. The first ended with his cancer diagnosis at Thanksgiving and painful treatment afterwards. The second Thanksgiving came with more bad news and cost him his right arm. Finally, the third, came with no more cancer. The first year they’ve been given a respite from the horrible disease that has taken so many folks I’ve known over my lifetime. The same disease that has made some of my family members lives complicated at best if not painful, dangerous and harrowing.

I was left thinking about how we tell stories. What is it that makes us spontaneously open up to one another and share such beautiful moments? Stories of survival basically made from hope. We have an unending capacity to change and redefine ourselves in the face of even the darkest situations. Of course sometimes we need others to remind us of this. Sharing these experiences is nothing less than one of the most precious gifts we can give to each other.

As the Holiday Season kicks off tomorrow I’ll be spending my time with a small group of family in Columbus thinking of all the people who have touched me over 2016… feeling both lucky to be here and grateful for all the love shared between family, friends and strangers.

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Posted in general

Over the river and through the woods…

And so it’s the week of November 24, 2016. It’s been a full year. I’ve had multiple family members go through major medical procedures, lost my father in law, ran my longest run of 20 miles, enjoyed a great professional year & even visited both Dallas and New Orleans with the AHA while marking my year anniversary as a vegetarian for heart health reasons.

While it’s been relatively easy to make the switch between meat to a plant based diet it is significantly more difficult to cut out fat based dairy. Including all that amazing cheese I used to freely enjoy without guilt and fear. Given the effects of dairy fat on cardiac health however I am motivated to continue the elimination process of these products.

It was however during a “pie off,” at the office I am contracting out of, that I had an opportunity to work with cashews and silken tofu for the first time in the creation of a vegan pumpkin pie with pecan streusel. Over the past year I’ve had a couple misguided friends tell me that this or that brand of vegan cheese “is great and you can’t tell the difference.” I tried a few only to find myself completely disillusioned with the meaning of life.

There are no vegan equivalents for cheese, meat or cream and that’s OK. This thought reminds me of a bit I read in the NY Times food section recently about offering vegan meat substitutes to guests over the Holidays. The suggestion was to avoid that temptation. You have to think about vegetables in the most basic of ways… enjoying them as they are and as a main course. Some folks have the moral advantage driving various food choices. As a former meat based foodie I believe you should enjoy what you want to and push your culinary boundaries every chance you get. This made the shift to a plant based diet a little challenging for me at first. In the end and along the way however experiments like these really help to reset my relationship with food a bit further and give me a deeper understanding of how good plant based living can truly be..

The vegan pumpkin pie was not an exact match but it’s cheesecake like texture, the streusel and the graham cracker crust worked so well together that it was something that I would look to repeat again and maybe play on with fruits or chocolate.

This is the original article posted in the New York Times “Can you bake a vegan pie” by Tara Parker-Pope was really great. I’d highly recommend trying it even if you aren’t vegan.

I am truly grateful for all my family and friends. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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Posted in food

Activity

  • Afternoon Walk
    On February 17, 2017 4:07 pm rode 2.00 mi. during 00:50:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Afternoon Walk
    On February 16, 2017 4:58 pm rode 1.00 mi. during 00:21:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Lunch Walk
    On February 15, 2017 12:27 pm rode 1.90 mi. during 00:32:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Afternoon Walk
    On February 14, 2017 2:02 pm rode 1.90 mi. during 00:35:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Weight Training
    On February 9, 2017 4:37 pm rode 0.00 mi. during 00:29:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.
  • Afternoon Walk
    On February 7, 2017 5:33 pm rode 1.10 mi. during 00:23:00 hours climbing 0.00 ft.