Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why I Pity My Friends

I pity my friends, I really do. If you're my friend and you're reading this, I hope you don't come up with a million reasons why before I actually tell you what I am talking about.

If you're my friend and you have a backache or your knees are giving out and you start complaining to me about it, you will soon wish you hadn't. Because, if you live in London (where I live), I don't really want to hear about it until you've gone to see my physiotherapist.

This may sound harsh, but when I first had debilitating pain in my arms and neck I had no idea what do to, where to go or what was happening. I even saw a crazy pseudo medical professional who tried everything under the sun except maybe voodoo and nothing worked (see The Whole Story). My friends, on the other hand, have the advantage of knowing someone who had done all the hard work, separated the wheat from the chaff and has found a really amazing physio who can actually fix people's aches and pains and also their posture for life.

I know it's expensive (not everyone has insurance here) and I know it's time consuming. No one wants to spend 30 minutes a day (or more!) on the floor trying to tighten their stomach muscles and push them straight to the floor (no matter what your problem is, everyone seems to have to do this exercise). But seriously, it's the only body you have. Think of it as an investment. And believe me, that pain in your back or your neck is probably not going to get better on its own. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but whatever you're doing with your walking or sitting that's causing it – you're not going to just stop doing it. You're not just magically going to be given the sudden gift of a full knowledge of the physiology of the human body. If you find another solution, great. And do tell me about it (there's never only one way). But if you're asking for my advice, this will be the advice you get.

Do you see why you should pity my friends? (At least 10 of them have gone to see my physio and they are actually pretty happy campers – although they probably won't comment and I will look even crazier!)

I suppose I just wanted to get this off my chest because although I feel bad for being so preachy with my friends, I won't apologize for it. I only tell them what I tell them because I care and don't want them to end up in pain. I've been there and I wouldn't even wish it on my worst enemy.

****

So, if you're still reading and interested in last week's physio trip, where I went crawling back, as the pain in my lower right back isn't ceasing (see What I Can Do), here's the end of the story:

Super Physio thinks everything is probably fine. I probably pulled a muscle in yoga and then hopped around on it in Zumba, not giving it the proper rest it deserved. She pointed out that my right hip was mega tight – which was a result of the back pain and then also the cause of it not going away (see Hips Don't Lie for a full explanation of this).

However, there is a small possibility that there is some sort of damage to my spine. She thinks this because she is watching out for what is called 'reliability'. Is my back reliable? Right now, not so much. There was moving house last year when all the trouble began, but there was also the fall down the stairs pre-wedding. But for the past year my back has been getting better and then it relapses, so this is something to take into account when managing my treatment.

Damage to my spine would be rather unfortunate. She did seem quite relaxed about this possibility, but we still decided I should get a scan of my back – just to be absolutely sure. So now I am engaged in the admin of getting the appointment, referral, approval from my insurance provider. You know the rigmarole.

At least I'm still allowed to do yoga. And walk. I'll keep you posted but please keep your fingers crossed for me.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Introducing: The Resource Page

I mention a lot of books in my blog postings and one of my friends suggested she'd like to be able to see them all in one place. As a bit of a self-help maven, I've read through many of the duds as well as the good ones and I think these are the best of the best.

So... introducing the Resources page!

I've arranged the books by category: General Well-Being, The Brain & Meditation, Food & Body Image and Writing. If you have a great self-help book you've read, please email me to tell me about it. I'm always looking for new ones and it may just end up on this list.

Happy reading.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What I Can Do

I've been feeling a bit bummed that I have to go back to my physio today. Not that I don't like seeing her, but I was only discharged only about eight weeks ago and was hoping I'd be able to handle things on my own for a while. But then last week I broke down and called her as the pain on the right side of my lower back hasn't been calming down as quickly as I'd hoped.

One of the hardest things about being in physiotherapy is that you have to do lots of exercises. And they're not easy to always fit into your schedule. But another tough thing is that you can't always do all the other activities you like. Sometimes you have to explain why you aren't on the tennis court during your friend's grass court barbeque. You end up sitting on a bench telling someone about your struggles with your neck pain or your back pain instead of actually playing.

The good news is that it's possible to get better – the bad news is this takes time and patience, particularly if it's been a problem that you've had for a while.

I've noticed recently that when it comes to exercise, I often focus on what it is I can't do – which creates frustration and struggle. Instead of being happy that I can walk and go to yoga I can't stop thinking about how things would be so much better if I could go swimming, play golf or tennis or go to Zumba.

And it made me realize, this is what unhappiness is all about. When you want to be doing something you're not and when there's something better out there that you desire, it's impossible to be happy.

It's a very simple thing, but wanting to play tennis when I can't isn't doing me much good. And throughout the last six years when I was really struggling with becoming pain free (which I mostly am now), I was constantly waiting for the day when I was 'better', when life would begin, when I would be happy again. Not that I wasn't ever happy, but when it came to my body, I was engaged in a constant struggle. And this wasn't only because of the pain (although sometimes it was the pain – ouch!), it was because I was focusing on what my body couldn't do. And I wonder how much more quickly I would have gotten better if I hadn't fought things so much. If I would have rested more and respected my body for where it was at that moment, instead of yearning for where it was I wanted to be.

That's in the past now, but I can certainly learn a lesson from it. As I go back to see Super Physio today I need to accept whatever it is I need to do right now at this moment to get the pain in my lower back sorted out. I'm afraid she'll tell me I can't go to yoga for a while. And afraid that she'll say that it will be months and months until I can take an aerobics class again. But I'm going to try to accept whatever it is my body can do right now at this time – because anything else isn't doing me any good.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beauty: Owning It

Celebrating beauty is not a new thing. But the modern age gives us much more exposure to images of beauty as well as more opportunities for superficial interaction with people. Take the film The Social Network, where Mark Zuckerberg's inspiration for creating the company that is now facebook – today an integral part of our social media environment – was a program he wrote called facemash, where people could compare photos of two women and click on the most attractive one.

We are hardwired to seek out attractiveness. Watch any science program on sex or mating and you will find that men prefer women to have symmetric faces and features that indicate fertility (like bright eyes and good skin). There is even a hip to waist ratio which indicates optimal fertility. So we are hardwired to ensure the survival of our species. However, life is a bit more interesting than that.



Attractiveness is not the same as beauty. When I sit in a darkened theatre watching a movie (which happens more often than not on a Sunday evening for myself and the Hub), I often think about how most A-list actresses are so similar. Not only are they extremely thin and always pretty but they also have very similar body types – big boobs (but not too big), a small waist and curvy hips (but of course not too curvy).

But before I go to the movies I usually go to yoga. And things are different there. You've got a room full of really sweaty men and women (I do Bikram), wearing very little clothing, due to the excessive heat (104 degrees Fahrenheit). If you really want to see how much variety there is in the human form, go to a Bikram class. Not only are there a collection of sizes there, but also you can really start to understand that no one has exactly the same frame or proportions. Some people have really long legs and some people have shorter ones. Torsos are different sizes, waists are of different proportions and even necks are shorter or longer. But yet, everyone is using their body to the best of their ability and striving to increase their strength or their flexibility the best that they can. And despite the beginners flailing around and not really listening to the teacher, you know at some point they will get it and start to understand their body and struggle less.

I love seeing how everyone is different, but their bodies still move in sync, all together as one. Despite the sweat and the heat and sometimes the real loss of composure, the real variety of people is a beautiful sight.

Beauty is about individuality and being truly who you are. Not only owning your short wide hips, but also your tastes and abilities and the stylistic things that define you.

There's a television presenter here in the U.K. who I love. She's called Kirstie Allsop and she presents a show (along with someone called Phil Spencer) about real estate, called Location, Location, Location. It's been going for 10 years here and it's really popular.

I'm going to sound like a stalker here, but Kirstie epitomizes what real beauty is to me. Of all the women on TV, she's always stuck to her own style and exudes confidence. She's got a womanly body and wears fabulous dresses and skirts and suits and coats – she never wears trousers – because that's what looks good on her and it's her distinct style. She owns it.

True beauty to me is having the confidence to be yourself. And we all have the capacity to do this, but we have to stand up for ourselves and own it. Because people are more than a snapshot on a computer screen – and thank goodness for that.

This post is part of the Self-Discovery Word by Word series and this month's word was chosen by Val at Balancing Val. Click here to read her kick-off post and find out how to participate.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book Review: The Now Habit

Run -- do not walk -- to the nearest book shop or visit your favourite online retailer and buy this book. You will never look back.

In recent weeks (perhaps months) I've been stuck in a real procrastination rut. One could argue that I'm too hard on myself (true) but I'm also sick and tired of feeling bad that I'm not accomplishing the things I want to get done. I've made the decision that either got to find a way to do them or just forget them and enjoy my life. I refuse to be caught in a constant stress cycle of wanting to do things, but not being able, and then feeling disappointed in myself.

So thank goodness I picked up The Now Habit by Neil Fiore, PhD. Compared to the last book I read on procrastination -- The Procrastination Equation -- this book gives the reader some really specific and novel ways to tackle procrastination. I read this book last week and although I do tend to get a little excited about new self-help books, I honestly feel like a different woman. In the last few days not only have I done much more work than usual but it also has been accompanied by far less stress. Perhaps I was ready for a solution (which always helps) but still, I can't see how reading this book could be a bad thing for anyone.

According to Fiore, there are three major fears that block action and create procrastination: the terror of being overwhelmed, the fear of failure and the fear of not finishing.

As he so aptly puts it, this is what a typical procrastinator thinks:

"I have to finish something important and do it perfectly while enduring long periods of isolation from the people and things I love."

Procrastination is a coping mechanism. Putting off something you are dreading is a reprieve from these feelings -- albeit a temporary one. It just creates more dread, terror and fear as the deadline fast approaches.

Fiore explains that people who procrastinate need to change their thinking about work. Those who are likely to procrastinate have often been told from an early age that life and work are hard and things won't be easy.

For example:

"You have a lot more work to do before you can rest on your laurels; you'd better get used to things getting tough because adulthood is even worse than childhood; and while you're out having fun, some catastrophe is lurking around the corner, waiting to surprise you."

Sound familiar? Even if we haven't been told this specifically by our parents, there are other ways to pick up these types of messages: school, work, religion, our bosses, the media and the IRS (or your government equivalent). The reason these types of messages are so stressful is that they invoke feelings of "I have to" or "I should" and mean that your brain has to not only muster the energy needed to do the dreaded task but also provide the energy needed to resist threats to the integrity of the self.

Fiore's book spells out new ways to speak to yourself and ways to change your thinking. It's a clear and easy method to follow and even if you don't believe what you're saying at first, over time the brain should experience some rewiring.

But Fiore also offers a novel way to get started on projects. He explains how to break things down into manageable chunks (which we are probably all familiar with), but also gives a concrete method for getting started while at the same time alleviating the pressure to do things 'right' from the get go. He calls it the 'unschedule' and it's brilliant. I won't give it all away -- also it sounds a little silly unless you read it all the way through and actually try it out (but it's an exercise that's really worth doing).

I can't recommend this book enough. Not only has it given me hope for completing my projects, it has also taken me a step closer to being kind to myself without sacrificing meaningful work, creativity or leisure time. Go buy this book. You can thank me later.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Belated Birthday

I don't know how I forgot. Will Mind, Body & Scroll ever forgive me? Last week was this blog's birthday – July 7th. Not sure how I missed it -- perhaps it was the excitement over my own birthday this week and the fact that my mom was arriving from the U.S. for a business trip on Friday.

It's hard to believe I've been blogging for a year now (does this mean I'm a 'real' blogger now?). It's been a learning experience. I started out very ambitiously, convinced I could post Monday through Thursday, but quickly realized that was quite a task with a full-time job and a wedding to plan. I've settled into a twice weekly posting schedule now, which while not as prolific as I'd like to be, will just have to do for now.

I've learned a lot about myself during the year – most importantly what I like to write about. I knew I wanted to discuss my physiotherapy journey and my quite strong opinions on all matters mind and body, including what I've learned from my life and my slightly obsessive relationship with self-help books. But I have been surprised at how much I like to write about everyday life – particularly what it means to be an American expat living in England. That's the thing about any journey – you never quite know where it's actually going to take you.

I would like to say a very big thank you to you, my loyal readers, who have kept with me on the journey all year and have been so supportive – so often telling me that you enjoy my blogging. Thanks for your comments on the site itself and your emails, as well as signing up for email subscriptions and continuing to open those emails. Writers (if I may call myself one) are notoriously insecure and I'm certainly no exception. There have been days where I wonder if I'm just blathering on to no end and it always seems like those are the days when one of you just happens to say something encouraging. It's as if you know. And long may your psychic tap into my brain continue.

It's exciting entering year two of Mind, Body & Scroll and wondering what it will bring. Please do continue to let me know what you think, especially if there are any areas you want me to write more about or specific questions you want me to address. You can comment (you can create a pseudonym if you're shy!) or email me here.

And thanks again for a great year.

Here are five of my favorite posts from the very beginning in case you missed them:



Friday, July 8, 2011

Good Old-Fashioned TV News

Very early this year I stopped reading the free newspapers in London because of the miserable news they are laced with. I felt that it wasn't really doing me any good and decided to be more selective about the information I digested – you can read further about it in my post from back then: To Know Or Not To Know.

It's been going pretty well. I've had more time to read on the train to and from work and I haven't been as upset by all the news of torture and death. However, I've started to feel slightly disconnected from what's going on in the world. I'm finding that when I meet up with friends, particularly when it's a group, current events naturally come up. It's as if I live on another planet sometimes. I find myself saying "Wait, what's going on?" in disbelief probably more than I'd like.

But I was a little puzzled as to how to rectify the situation. I certainly didn't want to go back to reading the free newspapers. I could always buy another paper (everyday? or just once a week?) or read news online at lunchtime. But lunch is one of the only times that I have to read other people's blogs.

Then, the other night, the Hub switched the TV to the national news at 10 p.m. We've been trying to get into the habit of turning the TV off at a set time (10 or 10.30) so that we can wind down before bed – reading, tidying up the kitchen (me, not him). So he left the news on and went off to do something and I, too exhausted to move from the sofa, laid there and watched the whole half-hour program.

And it was amazing! In our Internet age of online news sites, commentary, blogs and twitter, I had forgotten there was another way to get news. And it was packed with all the major national and international news stories, succinct and it was finally, finally information given to me without reading (I didn't feel guilty - I read a lot). I know TV news can be biased ('the establishment's' side of the story, I suppose), but really, all I want is a way to just know what's going on generally. If there's anything I want to know about more specifically, I can go online and read more about it.

It's also a good way to punctuate the end to the evening. If I know I'm going to turn the TV off at the end of the news, I'll do it. Habit-forming and all that.

But it does seem so old-fashioned. Getting news from the TV, the broadcast TV, when it's actually going out live? What will I be doing next – buying a rotary dial phone?

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Know Thyself, Know Thy Work

When you're little and someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, you usually don't say things like: "I would like a reactive job," or "I don't really like working in teams – I'd rather plug at it alone," or "I love project management."

But yet, these are the things we need to think about when deciding what kind of job we want.

I was thinking about this the other day as I've just come out of a really busy time at work – I just published a report and helped to organize a conference, spoke at the conference and did some internal presenting of my work as well.

The adrenaline rush from these sorts of things is great. Speaking to people about what I've published and realizing it matters in some small way is encouraging and fun, but it also confirmed my belief that there's only so much of this type of work activity I can take. The exhaustion I felt after last week was incredible.

Now is the time to regroup and start working on new research and writing projects. Not only do I enjoy this part of my work, but I think I also need it. It's not downtime per se – in fact it's hard work and requires a lot of discipline – but it's certainly calmer and quieter work.

When I was a journalist I tended to like the constant deadline pressure as it kept me disciplined, but realistically, it was probably too much adrenaline for me on a daily or weekly basis.

There are so many aspects to work that we don't even think about before we set out to become a writer, journalist, teacher, programmer, doctor etc. But sometimes the way we work can be just as important as the topic we are interested in. We may want to be a writer and work for a glossy magazine, hoping to some day be a high-profile editor, but are we aware that being an editor is often more of a project-management job and has little to do with writing?

As we grow older we start to learn this. As hard as it is to admit, we realize that we are good at some things and not so good at others. And although there is always something to be said for learning new skills and challenging ourselves, we get paid more to do the things that help us shine. And the very good by-product is that it often makes us happier too. Even employers acknowledge that it's best to give people tasks that they are best at – and actually like doing.

School doesn't prepare us so well for these realities. We pretty much all learn the same material, take the same classes – and the same exams. There's not much opportunity to put your own stamp on your day-to-day life. But now that we have some choice, we should actually take advantage of it. Every job is going to have its stinky annoying bits, but the more you get to know yourself, what drives you and keeps you motivated (and calm!), the more you will get out of your everyday life. After all, we're at work for a big chunk of our lives. Living for the weekends just doesn't seem like the best option.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Taking The Wheel

You don't need to be in physiotherapy for six years to know that a ping in your back during a yoga pose – while standing on one leg – is not a good thing.

I've been discharged from my physio (for the third time) for about six weeks now and I've already managed to be in a position again where I'm wondering if I should go running back.

The head is swirling with all sorts of 'what ifs'. What if I've done irreparable damage? What if I'm doing all the wrong things to fix said 'ping' and have totally misinterpreted my symptoms – that I've actually learned absolutely nothing in the past six years? What if I do go back and she says that I have serious problems and should probably just live in a padded room for the rest of my life where I can't fall down any more stairs or pull any muscles? (Did I mention that I fell down the stairs three weeks before our wedding?)

I'm trying to stay calm. And I'm managing it so-so.

I've already made one mistake in my 'ping' treatment. I kept going to Zumba. For those not in the know, Zumba is a dance-based exercise class, which involves a lot of fun hip shaking and jumping around. I thought maybe it was helping as I was at least moving my back and I was keeping it all pretty low impact. But then last Saturday, after two sessions of Zumba during the week, my back was pretty beat. I had to spend all day on the couch lying down watching Wimbledon and drinking lemonade (which wasn't so bad).

So I started thinking that maybe Zumba wasn't really the best idea. I pondered going in to see Super Physio, but then again, I probably already know what she would say: Do my exercises, don't hop around on it (for Chrissake!) and take some ibuprofen. I think yoga is still OK to do – although this is where I get on shaky ground. As you can see from my Zumba misstep, I tend to overestimate how much I'm capable of.

But I went to yoga on Thursday night and the heat plus all the spine movement allowed me to get to the really sore bit when I did do my physio exercises later in the evening. It was a little alarming just how sore it was, but at least it actually moved.

I think I'm going to give it one more week. I'll keep doing what I think is right and see what happens. It's a safety net after all – I don't have to go it alone – I have the resource if I need it. But I'd also really like to sort this out myself, and take the wheel, if at all humanly possible. It would be nice to be in the driving seat of this body – it's been a long road.

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