Friday, July 28, 2006

50 Sense

Look Who’s Back
It figures. As busy as I’ve been all this year (and particularly the past two months), it figures that on the occasion of my birthday — the only birthday since my 25th that I’ve actually felt inclined to acknowledge with much more than just an extra candle on the cake — that I should wind up pressed to the eleventh hour trying to come up with something to say in its remembrance.

So once again, I’m breaking up another series for the sake of a special occasion. What else is new? And guess what else is new? I worked until nine o’clock tonight — again. But hopefully that sort of thing is coming to an end soon (more on that when I get back to my current series).

So needless to say, I’d planned on starting this post a lot sooner, but here it is, an hour-and-a-half before the big five-oh, and I’m just getting started. Oh well…sleep’s overrated anyway, right?

Heh…Twenty-Five; what a kick in the ass to realize that twenty five was half a lifetime ago; that I’ve now lived more than half my life as an adult.

That can’t possibly be right, can it?

I’ve decided the only thing weirder to me than thinking about being fifty years old is trying to make myself actually believe it.

I mean, fifty’s OLD, right? How come I don’t feel it?

I honestly don’t feel all that different than I remember feeling twenty-five years ago. Well…not much anyway. But I certainly feel better now and am in far better shape than I was ten years ago.

Forty was a rude awakening for me. I didn’t deal with it well; but not so much for the reasons you might think.

While many folks want to stay thirty-nine forever, I was sort of looking forward to it. Forty isn’t fatal was my battle cry. And quite frankly, I rather enjoyed the fact that at the time I didn’t even look thirty-five, let alone forty. It was fun watching people’s jaws drop when they’d unsuccessfully try to guess my age.

I felt pretty good about myself; maybe too good.

Beg For Mercy
As I wrote about at great length last year, perhaps that little bit of haughtiness caught up with me. Sipping a lethal cocktail of denial, depression and apathy, I worked my life up into one hell of an emotional hangover between ages of thirty-nine and forty. I narrowly escaped losing my house and even more narrowly eluded losing my family. All the many things I had going for me seemed to dissolve as I eschewed the life that God had so richly blessed me with, in favor of pursuits so selfish I was hardly recognizable as the person I’d always been. For awhile, I wondered if I’d lost my soul as well.

My life imploded at forty. I literally had to start over in terms of my self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.

The good news is that I was surrounded by friends, family, and a wife who loved me enough to forgive my stupidity and lack of will; to forgive my rash break from reality. Although the damage was considerable, it was not irreparable; we all pitched-in to pick up the pieces.

Miraculously, my emotional state was restored, but the effect that period had on my body left changes that seemed considerably more permanent — at least that’s the way it felt.

I don’t know if it was the incredible stress I was under during that year-and a-half period, or simply the way of nature that everyone goes through, but my body started breaking down. I felt as though I was coming apart at the seams.

Seemingly overnight, my lifetime of 20-20 vision went by the wayside. I didn’t want to, but had to get glasses. However I was so unwilling to admit to myself that I needed them that I intentionally sabotaged my first eye test, fudging on which letters on the chart were actually clear and which ones were fuzzy, but pretending they were clear. Apparently I guessed right often enough, because my first pair of glasses were utterly useless, which in turn didn’t encourage me to wear them, which in turn made me even more miserable, having to strain harder and harder to see anything less than a foot and a half in front of me.

Meanwhile, the stress and financial woes I’d helped create for my family lent themselves toward a host of bad body-related circumstances.

I took on two extra jobs to help get us out of debt. However, while I felt great about the accomplishment of overcoming that burden, the solution was had its own set of costs. I delivered pizza for Papa John’s for three years, and made a tidy sum of money, but the circumstance also forced me into some predictably unhealthy eating habits. I found myself eating pizza for dinner five nights a week, and when I wasn’t pizza, it was some other kind of fast food at 11:00 PM or Midnight. I gained nearly 25 pounds, which is a heap ‘o lard when you’re a person of slight stature like me.

But likely the most damaging part was the way it changed my lifestyle and longstanding mentality of being an athlete. I became sedentary in what little off-time I had. So instead of working out two or three times a week, as had always been my habit since high school, I was suddenly in the midst of a two or three year lapse without any vigorous exercise to speak of. While I can’t say it with absolute certainty, I think those years took something away from me that I’ll never get back. Maybe it’s a pipe dream to believe that my body wouldn’t have begun breaking down at that age anyway, but I’m pretty certain I hastened the process along. However in the greater scheme of things, I believe it was actually a fairly good thing for me to experience because of what it taught me about appreciation for what I have.

Get Fit or Die Tryin’
I’m now a little easier on myself than I used to be. I’m able to appreciate the progress I’ve made in recent years a lot more readily now as opposed to always taking my health for granted. I’ve been working out again now continuously for almost two years. It’s been hard — really hard — but I feel great; maybe not in the same way I did in my twenties, but really good, nonetheless. I can appreciate the sometimes delicate balance between fitness and fatness so much more now than when I was younger and didn’t have to worry about what I ate or how much; those days are definitely gone forever.

It doesn’t take much to find yourself flat on your keester with the wagon speeding off into the distance. The key for me has been learning how to get back on board.

Back in 2000, when I was at my worst, I felt like absolute crap. I had fallen far and I knew it. The only consolation I had then was that working as I was to get out of the red was the right thing to do for my family, if not to myself. I truly wondered whether or not I would ever feel good again.

Thankfully, now I do.

I’m fortunate enough to work for a company offering a wonderful onsite fitness program and state-of-the-art training facility. Two years ago our CEO started a program promoting fitness across the company. They even hired a full-time professional fitness trainer who conducts circuit training classes several times a day, five days a week.

It’s been a godsend, and I feel so incredibly fortunate to have access to it, all completely free of charge.

So now I truly appreciate the strides I’m making, because the more time passes, the harder it will be to hold onto what I have physically. At this point I’m just about where I want to be, body-wise. The challenge of course will be to maintain it for as long as possible.

I really feel as though I’ve been on both sides of the mountain — from the valley to the summit, and while I’m definitely on the backside decent, it’s a great hike and I’m enjoying it. It feels good…it really does.

50 Sense in the Future?
The occasion of my fiftieth birthday also brings me pause (but hopefully not for too long) pondering the fact that the more distant in the rearview mirror my forties become, the more likely it is that I have indeed survived the family curse.

However, there’s still the chance that I haven’t.

Although the times and his austere personality make it difficult to know for sure, my Maternal Grandfather, the patriarch of the strain of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease that runs through my family, was not institutionalized until his early fifties, but died a few years later. There’s really no way to know how old he was at onset, but it appears that he began getting sick a bit later in life — possibly in his late forties — than the majority of his children and grandchildren who would carry on his ill-begotten legacy decades after his death. Typically the early forties (ages 41-44) have been the period in which my affected family members have lapsing into dementia. So that my Grandfather lasted well into his mid-fifties casts at least a shadow of concern as to my vulnerability.

Also providing anomalies to the course of the inherited disease, two of my family’s female victims, my Aunt Ruth and Cousin Kay also showed unusually late signs of onset — late 40s and early 50s respectively. One possible explanation — the fact that they were both on menopausal hormone therapy — has been offered as evidence that estrogen seems to delay the effects of Alzheimer’s.

Guess I’m sort of outa luck there…

But all in all, I think there’s a pretty good chance I’ve been spared. Nevertheless, until I go back up to Indy to learn the results of my AD diagnostic tests from November 2004, signing my life away via a stack of legal waiver forms in the process, the only way I’m gonna know for sure is to just wait it out. If I’m still thinking clearly in about five year’s time, then I think we’ll pretty much know that I’m out of the woods.

Cradle to the Grave
But just in case I’m wrong; if perchance I’m not as lucky as I think I am, the thing that I’m doing right this moment takes on all the more importance — especially for me.

Perhaps the best thing I’ve ever done to strengthen my mind is what I’m doing right now — writing. My blog is my life, and as far as I’m concerned, will always be.

This weekend I’ll be sharing with you a wonderful gift I received on my recent trip to Indiana. It’s a letter that my Mother, Annie wrote while in the hospital the day after I was born. She was writing to my grandmother, sharing her thoughts about her family, her faith, and about how scrawny I was, among other things. It’s a snapshot I could have never hoped to have, but was unexpectedly passed my way by one of my cousins who found it among her mother’s things and wanted me to have it. I so look forward to reveling in the wonderful emotions it already has stirred in me. What a perfect case in point to the very special thing that writing about my life has become.

On entering the second half of what I hope is my one hundred-year existence, I’m both scared and excited about what the future holds. Which direction will my health take? Will I truly have the option of retiring in another ten years, or be forced to continue working whether I want to or not? These are the kinds of things I never thought about before, but now find myself mulling over more and more often.

But I can only do what I can do, trying to stay as healthy as possible and living my live to the fullest now, with an eye toward the future, not my entire gaze. Tomorrow will take care of itself. I want to focus on being happy now, utterly basking in the joy that each day can bring, and the memories thereof.

I can’t worry about family curses. I just want to embrace the blessings I enjoy; things that I am so very fortunate to have; things that I clearly don’t deserve

But whether or not I ever lose my memories, I know that I never want to stop saving them. This form of self-expression is a gift I love to give to myself, and have sorely missed doing so over the past few months. So since it’s now well past Midnight…

Happy Birthday to me.

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