Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Big Steps and New Directions

Like life, this blog is forever changing and after much thought and some discussion with the Misses, I've made the decision to redirect its premise entirely.  Essentially, I'm giving it a rebirth.  I could keep writing about my life as a caretaker but frankly, I'm bored with it.  I've hit a point where I simply cannot continue to write only about a single subject. I understand completely that being a caregiver can be stressful and it's nice to know that there are others out there who are in a similar position, so I'm not going to rule out writing about it in the future but it will no longer be the main focus.

So, if I'm not going to maintain this blogs current direction what will I be doing exactly?  Good question and currently I'm not 100% sure how to describe what I'm planning.  Basically I'm going to be writing about life improvement, training, coaching, probably some care-giving, and life experiences.  Hell, I may even review some products, drop in life stories, or discuss working on the house simply because I can.  However, given where my current goals lie, the majority will be about the initial subjects mentioned; life improvement, training, coaching, and other similar pursuits.  But here's the kicker, I'm going to do that as an ADMITTED NON-EXPERT in the majority of those fields.  Why the hell would I do that?  Because as the saying goes, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" (Lao Tzu), and I've decided to bring you and whomever chooses to read this along with me on my own journey.

Given the vastness of the internet, I'm aware that there is likely someone already doing something similar (and if you are, I promise I'm not trying to steal your thunder) but my life is not theirs and vice-versa.  We may share some similar experiences but the roads to our desired destinations will be vastly different. And because I'm planning to write about improvement, if you find someone on a similar path as I and believe I'd find value in something they've produced, let me know and  I agree, I'll gladly share it here as well because frankly, while I love competition, when it comes to this my goal is to journal the competition with myself more than it is to compete with established fitness, wellness, training, ect, professionals.  (Just to be clear, that wouldn't even be a competition.  It would be like the Patriots playing a Pop Warner team.  As of now I can't even pronounce some of the terms those people are using never mind try to apply them.  HA!).  

When I began writing this blog as a care-giver, I thought I had it figured out.  If you read back through some of my earlier posts, you'll see that not only was I wrong, it later posts I even admitted to it.  Making mistakes, failing, and being wrong, in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing.  The problems generally arise when people fail to admit that they were incorrect and continue to try and do and push things that either do not work or are not the most efficient.  I've really seen this as I've begun my foray into the fitness, training, and nutrition industries where dogmatic thinking seems to happen often.  This is not meant to cast dispersion on everyone in that particular industry it's just something I've noticed from the outside looking in.  Similar things certainly happen in other industries as well; auto and education being on the top of my mind at the moment as examples.  People end up doing things because it's the way they learned or because, "it's the way it was always done", and refuse to try anything new.  I've seen it happen many times in life as I'm sure you have as well and it can be frustrating as hell; especially if you have a personal stake in the outcome. One goal with this new direction is to try and catch those opportunities when they happen within my own life and take action before I end up making myself look like a complete dumb-ass.  No doubt I won't be completely successful but catching a few here and there will add up.

So there you have it, my plan on where this blog is heading.  Making a significant change now shouldn't make a huge difference given that I've paid limited attention to it and have not garnered much of a following.  But this is just a first step with others to come as I continue to learn, develop, and begin making headway on the plans for the future.              

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Goal Setting

While driving home from the gym the other day, I was basking in the after workout high that comes from pushing hard and my mind began to wander to the idea of goals.  Most of us have them.  Most of us will reach some of them but in general we fail more than we succeed.  There are numerous articles dedicated to accomplishing them so I won't regurgitate them here (though they certainly hold value and I recommend checking various ones out on a regular basis).  Instead, I want to discuss the idea of goals that are fluid and others that may change entirely.  You see, a goal you have today may not be a goal you have tomorrow and sometimes I think we put that in the failure pile when in reality life changes and as such so do the things we hold to be important.  Now, I'm not talking about giving up on a goal simply because it's hard or seems impossible because I certainly wouldn't recommend that.  I'm talking about how in life, what's important (or possible in some cases as you'll read) sometimes changes and with that so will your goals and aspirations. This can and should be embraced.

A little over a year ago when I returned to the gym, I had discussion's with Shawna about possibly entering a power lifting meet in the future.  It was exciting to think about competing in something I enjoyed and it was developing into a goal up to and even following my injury.  Following my surgery and during the subsequent rehab, however, things have changed.  I still have goals but they now pertain to my all-around health and fitness as opposed to competing.  Don't get my wrong, every time I enter the gym I do so with the plan to compete against my previous visit but I currently have no plans to participate in a competitive setting against other people. That of course could change again in the future and I certainly won't close the door on the idea, but for now, it's out of the picture. So what are my goals now?  Get my weight to 225, run a sub 7 minute mile, hit a 4 mile ruck march with at least a 35 lb pack in under an hour, and hit 400, 500, 600, on what many consider the three main lifts; bench, squat, and dead lift.  I have no idea the possibility of achieving all these, the dead lift in particular given the back issues I'm rehabilitating from, but as of now they seem obtainable if I put the work in.  To me, hitting all these numbers will indicate that my strength as well as my cardiovascular health are in a pretty decent place for someone in their mid 30's, especially in contrast with the general health of American's.  The point here is that my goals have shifted.  No longer am I'm concerned simply with my max strength (Not that there's anything wrong with that. I enjoy the hell out of watching and reading about the men and women setting PR's and records) but I'm looking for all around health because I don't believe I've ever achieved that.  If I end up feeling stronger than I ever have, that'll be a bonus (not to mention a valid possibility given how unbalanced I've always been) and I certainly won't complain.  But on my list of goals it's now taken a back seat to something I believe to be more important.

For anyone that doesn't know Shawna, shifting goals has become a major part of her life in the past few years. When she was in the military she had the goal of becoming a doctor and someday owning a Maserati. Once her health issues began and in the time following, those goal's were taken from her.  However, rather than giving in she stepped back, reevaluated, and she now has designs on becoming a renown ceramic artist.
Shawna working on her craft.
Her past goals are not her current goals but that's OK because she didn't simply give up, but rather she adjusted. The passion and time she once put into her past goal is now focused upon current one.  And that's what's truly important here.  Though her original goal has changed, the idea of continuing to pursue a passion has not. This is important because it feels as though all to often we as humans (myself included) have a propensity to become so frustrated with not completing a specific goal, we give up on trying to achieve others because we fail to realize there are other opportunities that we now have the time and energy to invest in.

For Shawna and I goal setting is a regular thing.  Sure we fail in some endeavors but we're both improving in using our failures as opportunities to learn and further our goals, even if the road gets a little bumpier than we anticipated at the outset.  Some goals we've achieved (buying a house), others are in the process (getting her a studio built so she can work toward becoming the artist she envisions), and some have outright failed (me trying to quit tobacco...multiple times) but during and following each success and failure, we use the knowledge and information gained to adjust, create, and dispose of various goals.  Some goals are set as stepping stones to bigger ones (lose the first 20 lbs toward my weight loss goal), and even to achieve that there will be other, even smaller goals (record my diet everyday for a week, month, six months, on the MyFitnessPal app).  Along the way some goals may be scrapped for various reasons ( example: my initial running goal may be set aside if it impacts my health negatively in the beginning) but that does not mean I will discard the idea of running all together.  It simply means that I'll need to adjust that specific goal and once I meet it, I can either reclaim my previous goal or set another.  The point being, my goal will be adjusted as needed and not simply abandoned.  This is one of the great things about goals, they can be flexible even though we seem to have a habit of believing they are required to be fixed.  Do some fall into that category? Absolutely!  We had a goal to own a home.  This was a fixed goal for us as a family because nothing other than signing away a large portion of our future income to the bank in exchange for our name on the title was acceptable.  However, the goals that helped us arrive to this point, in many cases, were flexible. What we wanted at the beginning of our search was not same towards the end and had to be adjusted accordingly. Again, the flexible goals are what allowed us in the end, to achieve our main, or fixed, goal.

I'm a firm believer in setting goals.  I do so at the beginning of the year in lieu of making resolutions and by simply changing the terms I've noticed a marked difference in how many of them I tend to accomplish. Sometimes I'll make daily goals and as I'm willing to best most people experience, very rarely do I actually create a list that I can accomplish during my waking hours.  What happens to me seems to fit the, "people overestimate what we can do in a single day and underestimate what they can do in their whole lives" - (anonymous) quote and it's something I'm working on.  Accordingly I've created an actual goal to add and follow weekly and monthly goals to assist myself in reaching those on my long term list.

Goals, goals, goals.  Set them. Even if you don't reach them all you've given yourself a path because every failure will lead to other paths, one of which may be where your success lies.

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career.  I've lost almost 300 games.  26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I've failed over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.
-Michael Jordan         

Monday, March 28, 2016

Bad with the Good

I wrote a couple weeks ago about our move and how exciting this time had been for us.  However, we've also had an unforeseen issue arise that I'm hoping we've nearly completed.  Being busy.  Now, in an of itself being busy is not a bad thing.  It's certainly preferable to having nothing to do.  But when you get so busy that it starts to have side effects, that can become a problem.  We're certainly not unique to this in the go, go, go world that is 2016.  The one difference we do have, however, is the drastic effect it can have on Shawna's health.  In the past couple of week this has begun to rear its head.

One of the big reasons we moved to our new location is so Shawna would have better access to health care and would be able to make use of all the programs and care available though the VA.  What I'm not sure we were expecting was that we'd be trying to establish everything all it at once.  As of now she's had two appointments at the Togus facility plus one with an outside provider.  Between the two she also has 6 more scheduled already, we've had my quarterly home care visit, and four home appointments regarding getting a ramp and/or lift chair installed to get her in and out of the house. Honestly, I can't complain about the access to care she's receiving because it's certainly much better than many others have experienced.  What's unfortunate are the effect's all the running has on her health.  She's not sleeping well which is turn impacts the following day, the trips to get things done wear her out and she went down a little over a week ago with the most sever seizure she's had in awhile (It was till much less sever than the ones she was having a couple years ago ).  Because we currently don't have a good place to set up a studio to get her pottery up and running again to the degree it was at our previous location, she also hasn't had her hand in clay very much and the impact that's had has been tremendous.

But while there have been some negative side effects to the last couple of months, there have also been many positives to moving to our new location.  She had a new lift chair installed a week ago that allows her to get into the basement and outside with less risk of injury (we've still dealing with the VA on that), we signed up for a membership to the local YMCA so she's been able to get into the pool (she was a competitive swimmer in high school), the new house isn't as long from one end to the other so she doesn't get warn out and doesn't seem to have as much pain as she did in the previous location, and though all the appointments can be tiring for her, the fact of the matter is is that she's receiving much more medical care than she had been.  Whether is leads to any answers in the immediate is up in the air, but we no longer feel like answers to her health are stalled.  Even if the current doctors don't end up moving in the right direction immediately, eliminating causes can be incredibly important to finding the final diagnosis.

The truth of the matter is that on most levels our life isn't really different from anyone else's.  With every positive generally comes some negatives and with every negative there are some positives.  It can be difficult to separate the two at times but if you look hard enough they're there.  What can differentiate people is how they handle those situations and I've found that looking for the positives is key to continuing to push forward and improving one's situation.  Shawna's health is something within our life that is in constant flux and while we could get down about it, we've both found that it generally doesn't aid us to do so.  This week there will be more appointments, more errands to run.  Sure they're time consuming and sometimes lead to issues for her when we get home and in the following, but it certainly beats the of alternative not gaining ground of the questions surrounding her health.              

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


I've touched on this before, but one of the key points made, both when going through the training requirements to join the VA caregiver program and by the nurses who do our home visits, is managing stress.  I mentioned it a previous post but it's worth repeating that I honestly didn't believe it would be a big deal and I was very wrong.  As a caregiver, it's vital that you take care of yourself and don't fall into the trap of giving all your attention, all of the time, to the person you're caring for.  You must find time for yourself to decompress and relieve your own stress.  What you do and how you choose to do it will be unique to everyone.  For me personally, I've found my return to the gym last year is a vital part of my life that I need to insure I include regularly.  Doing this particular activity I get not only the emotional and mental benefits that lifting weights provides, but it also helps me physically.  Being down for the past 3 months following surgery has only reaffirmed how important it is for me to make time for this at least two or three times per week.

Another activity that provides me a great deal of satisfaction and stress relief is spending time outside working, especially running a chainsaw.  The house we bought is very enclosed by trees with almost no yard or even area for the dog to get out and run without risk of injury.  We also have a wood stove to help offset the heating costs during the winter that will require feeding.  In this case, I have a double whammy of good fortune because we have work that requires accomplishing that doubles as a chance to ignore the outside world and relieve stress and decompress.  As with the gym, this is something that's not only mentally refreshing but physically as well. To me my physical and mental well-being go hand in hand.

Of course my two examples of relieving stress are not going to work for everyone.  You have to find not just what's right for you but what's right for you in your situation.  While some people think that my caretaking responsibilities seem difficult, I feel compared to what others are faced with and going through, we're relatively well off.  Sure Shawna has her bad days, and even really bad days but she doesn't require the constant care that others do.  When I think of someone who's providing care to those with serious brain or spinal injuries, illness, cognitive disorders, ect my heart goes out to them.  For those who do not have the benefit of the VA caregiver program, who are doing it while holding down employment and others while trying to raise their own families and with zero of the other benefits the caregiver program provides such as training and outreach, I can't express my appreciation for what you do enough.  I feel as though I only get a taste of the stress those folks are under and my hat's off to them for the herculean task they undertake when they agree to accept that responsibility. For those folks, finding activities that help them to decompress and relieve stress is especially vital.

For the most part I really have no idea who reads this blog.  Going off the assumption that you're not a caretaker, stress is an important thing to manage in your life too.  Find something you enjoy, that makes you feel good, and leaves you feeling energized.  It certainly doesn't have to be lifting weights or cutting wood. Perhaps yoga is your thing.  Maybe bird watching. Reading, writing, playing pool, going for a walk with the dog, hitting the spa for a tan and a massage.  The point is to get your focus off the stressor and onto something that stimulates you positively.  That makes your brain fill with something you enjoy or shuts it off entirely.  To get the weight of life off yourself for a short amount of time so that when you get back to it, you're starting fresh.  This not only benefits you but the people around you.  In the case of a caretaker the importance of this can't be understated.  If you've taken on this roll you've likely done it out of love.  They deserve to have you at your best to whatever extent possible and you, yes you, deserve to be at your best as well.

A trap I fell into and many other's do as well, is the willingness to care for others without taking the time to make sure you're taking care of yourself.  You get amazingly wrapped up in their needs and neglect yourself. This works for awhile but eventually you'll fail.  There is a story I've seen many times that helped me understand this concept more thoroughly: You're on a plane with your kids and for some reason the cabin loses pressure and the oxygen masks fall.  Your instinct tells you to get their mask on first. However, your instinct in this case is wrong.  You'd be better off putting your mask on first, thus insuring that you're not overcome by the situation before you can help them.  Caretaking is the same way. If you break down you'll be unable to do your duties properly and proficiently the same way that if your oxygen is cut off in a plane you'll be unable to aid your children.  While as caretakers we've made the choice to make someone else's needs a high priority in our life, we must make sure that we're meeting our own needs at an equal too, if not greater than, rate required.

If you're a caretaker and reading this and haven't yet figured out how to take time for yourself (especially without feeling guilty), I hope the words in this post are the release you need to know that it's ok, you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to feel guilty about, and that it's actually a beneficial use of your time. I know you have appointments to handle, dishes in the sink, laundry waiting to be completed, and perhaps some more in-depth tasks that are in-need of accomplishing.  Sit down and figure out what can wait while you refresh.  Are there some tasks that can't wait (handing out meds, helping them to the bathroom, ect)?  Of course.  But I'm willing to bet if those tasks are not on an absolute regular schedule, they're pretty close and you know that waking up in the morning.  Where you have some time during the day is when you're loved one may be sleeping.  Or, the dishes and laundry wait a little longer before getting done.  Perhaps you sit down and schedule your days more thoroughly so you have time to relax built in, if not everyday, a few days per week.  Take advantage of other human resources that are willing to help.  It's OK to accept an offer to step in and give you a break, even if it's only for an hour here and there.

Dealing with stress is something everyone from all walks of life has to contend with.  Most of us are not all that good at it and often times we tend to stress about things that in the long run aren't really that important. However, finding ways to manage that stress is vital to our mental, physical, and emotional health.  Sure regurgitating saying's like, "don't sweat the small stuff", can make one feel better and more in control but those are just words and while words no doubt can have an amazing impact on people, telling yourself something is true does not make it so.  The best way to handle stress is from a position of strength and to be strong, you need to take the time to relieve that stress.  So get out there and find something you enjoy, something your passionate about, something that allows you to forget the world around you and focus on the task at hand. You're loved one will be thankful and just as important, you'll be thankful too.                                  

Friday, March 11, 2016

Big Changes

It's been awhile since I've been on here.  Hell, it's been awhile since I've spent any time on my computer for anything other than paying the monthly bills.  In that time, our household has seen some major changes.  It all started in December when we made the trip to Portland so I could go under the knife, or laser as it was, to have a microdisectomy with the hope that removing the large piece of disc that was protruding into my nerves would finally bring some relief to the back and leg pain that had been impacting the life of myself and my family.  It's been nearly three months and rehab is progressing but it's impossible to say this early how successful the procedure will be in the end.  As of right now though, I'm pretty happy and excited about how much better I feel.  The impact on my ability to fulfill my duties as a caretaker was pretty minimal given the seriousness of surgery, the pain was more than tolerable ( I went med free following), and the biggest issue I faced quite honestly was taking it easy and not doing too much, something I'm still struggling with.  For anyone reading this, if your doctor is recommending the procedure I underwent, thus far I'd have to give a big, "Go for it!".

Though that was pretty big within our household, it wasn't the biggest thing that happened in the past couple of months.  What was it then you ask?  If you've been following this blog since the beginning than you know that we've been looking for a new home for a couple years.  Something much further south than where we had been residing with more access to healthcare, help if we needed it, closer access to my family and Caden's, and somewhere that would allow Shawna to become more involved in the art community.  Two days before I had my surgery, in an absolute Hail Mary home viewing, we found that home.  Now, I will say, that I do not, in any way, shape, or form, recommend moving posting back surgery but this was a house that we simply could not pass up.  It was one of those places where you walk into and say to yourself, "yes, this is the one".  All things considered, the whole process went pretty smoothly with only a few hurdles to jump and we moved in on January 29th.

While we're certainly excited to have found a house that we love for a lot of reasons, there's a lot of work to be done to make it more user friendly for Shawna.  Both areas of entry have stairs and no good way to put a ramp on.  We did get measured for one but it would have to be exceedingly long and would go directly over our leech field; not to mention to get on it we'd still have to get her up a hill.  The other door is simply too high off the ground to put an ADA approved ramp on.  So, we've been working with both the VA and a local company in an attempt to have a lift chair installed to make use of the daylight basement entry.  It's the safest, easiest alternative to solve our problem and will allow me to build a ramp on another area of the house that likely won't conform to ADA standards but will allow her to evacuate in-case of an emergency. Together with this is the fact that there was no ready made studio space for her to resume her pottery.  I'm currently working to throw something together in the basement but even that won't be sufficient so we're also in the process of gathering the tools and equipment needed to build one just off breast of the house where she'll be able to access it safely no matter what the weather or time of year.  Just working to set this place up properly has kept me busy busy.

Together with working to make the house a home, we've also been getting set up and attending a variety of appointments.  I had to get into physical therapy, we've had visits from people within the home care program, as well as those outside concerning the ramp and lift chair.  We've already been to the Togus VA a couple times for appointments, including one of the most incredible visits I've been to with her  when she found a doctor who really seems to care and has already ordered a variety of new tests to try and find the why's of her declining health.  We've also obtained a family pass to the local YMCA so Shawna has been able to begin swimming again.  I'm not sure which makes her happier, clay or swimming, but both seem to have a vast impact on her mood and mental health and as such have become staples within our life.

It's been an exciting time within our family in the past months and this is just a brief overview.  There were a lot of up's and downs during our time living up north and by the end we were ready to begin our new chapter.  Thus far this move is proving to have been a wonderful thing for our family and I can only hope that the longer we're here, the better things will become.