The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Can we control our lives?

Marty S. said:

"Steve: We have less control over our lives than we like to think. Today we found out that our 6 year grandson has a potentially devastating leg disorder. He may have to be hospitalized and put into traction. The disease could leave him wheelchair bound by age forty. No amount of knowing yourself or balance can prepare you for dealing with something like this."

Marty: I respectfully disagree. No amount of knowing yourself or balance can stop terrible things from happening in the world. We all die. We lose everything we love. Meteors hit our car. That was the deal from the moment we were born, and we have no control there. But we DO have control over the way we react to the things that happen, and the way we react influences the way we deal with things. In your case, your grandson needs people to help him place his disease in context, so that he can live a happy life. Most of the world's spiritual philosophies, at least those that have endured, have encoded within them the way to deal with tragedy, death, famine, war--horrible things that one might easily say: "how can we have any effect on what happens to us, or how we react? We have no power at all."

Sorry, but no two people react to an emergency, disaster or tragedy the same way. And the ones who don't lose their heads, who remain powerful and centered in the midst of chaos, are the ones who lead the rest of us out of the woods.

I have a relation who is always over-stressed. He gets overwhelmed, and panicked, and my core suggestion is to meditate. He won't do it, saying that he just needs an answer to the problem right now, and that "there is no answer." But his very stress reaction prevents him from seeing all the possibilities extant in the moment. And those same stress reactions make it certain that more problems will happen in the future.

Your grandson needs your strength and centeredness and self-knowledge, your understanding that the physical body is just a vehicle, and not the essence of who and what he is. Raised with that clarity, he will be able to deal with whatever happens with joy and even gratitude. To put it more simply, staying calm doesn't stop your house from burning down, but it does enable you to take the most efficient actions, which may well lead to reduction of damage and/or loss of life.

We have control over the filters through which we perceive reality. We have control over our reactions. We have control over our inner worlds, if we have the courage and strength to take it. Most don't. I'm committed to surfing the waves of stress in my life--I can't control the waves, but if I stay centered, and bring all of my skills to the fore, I have a hell of a ride.


Please understand when I talk about the weight issue: no one should jeopardise their health to try to fit a cultural model. Some people will find it impossible to healthfully lose weight because of very real metabolic and joint problems, or other, deeper issues. But that is, according to data I've seen, only about 5% of those who are obese. The rest got hit with massive changes in the way we earn our living (a desk job as opposed to cutting trees?), changes in eating patterns (supersize that!), the decline in active entertainment (Playstation, anyone?), the desperate need to work multiple jobs just to stay afloat, emotional stress stored in the physical body, and so forth. I speak to those people.

"Fat Acceptance" is excellent if it guides us to being humane, loving, non-confrontational, etc. I think it's absurd when it argues the right of the obese to have two airplane seats, though. But they are no more absurd than other advocacy groups: every group seems to want special rights and privileges. When it becomes a place where people can hide from the truth about themselves, that is when it turns ugly. Civil Rights organizations that demand its members have the same rights as everyone else is one thing--but when I heard black people trying to blame whites for decisions they themselves had made, I had to retreat from such childishness. I've seen no political group that doesn't do this, so I'm not singling out round folks. As I've said many times, my only interest is in speaking to those who are looking for a way out of the boxes they find themselves in. And yes, I do believe that fat can be a box, once there is enough of it to diminish ease of motion, energy, or attractiveness. As I've said many many times: if you're happy, really happy with where you are, I ain't talking to you.


Craig B. said...

A friend of mine told me years ago that "pain is required in life, it's the suffering that is optional". This is a basic core tenet of Buddhism as I understand it.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Some people will find it impossible to healthfully lose weight because of very real metabolic and joint problems, or other, deeper issues. But that is, according to data I've seen, only about 5% of those who are obese.Do you have a source for this?

Michelle said...

Nancy I'm a source I'm in that 5% with hypothyroidism and PCOS which not only prevent me losing weight but can cause me to gain at a phenomenal rate.

But you know what? It's still about attitude. I'm looking at 60lb loss in the last year and a half. It took medication, radical diet change that gave me kidney stones, exercise trial and error. But I'm doing it. 30lbs from now I'll be at normal weight. It's possible because I want it.

Hypothyroidism, is unfortunately, over diagnosed and the haven for hypochondriacs everywhere. Generally when people claim to have it and don't loose weight, they are either unwilling to do the work, or don't have it and are using it for an excuse. When celebs like Oprah jump on this bandwagon it makes me want to throttle someone.

But it is possible.

I'm lucky. I've been obese most of my life but I've never been morbidly obese only because I have never let myself get that way. I have worked my ass off literally for years only barely keeping under 200lbs.

Then when I was diagnosed with HT, I was a good girl, kept up the exercise, good diet, and took my meds (the real ones not the placebos people try to get). I still did not loose weight. It was another two years before I was diagnosed with PCOS.

Because of the added medication I had to totally change my diet...I lost my first 30lbs ever in the first 6 months.

Since then it's been slower but real. And I, who knows the struggle, can't believe anyone when they say they can't do it.

Either way there is a significant amount of people out there who say they have a disorder or disease that prevents them from loosing weight who actually don't. Mental blocks, but nothing physical.

Spending in PCOS and HT help groups has made me 100% positive on this.

Steve Perry said...

Nancy --

Goggle "obesity causes" and you get more than a million-point-six hits. First one, from St. Vincent's hospital has this:

"Medical Problems - Less than 2 percent of all cases of obesity can be traced to a metabolic disorder, such as low thyroid function or hormonal imbalances."

Going through the literature, I've found this number varies from 2%-4%, mostly, depending on the study. 5% is on the high side.

The thing the studies all have in common is that they are all relatively low, these numbers, and if all the people who claim this is the cause for their situation were correct, it would have to be much higher.

It's an easy excuse -- it's not my fault because of skewed hormones. A handful of people get to say this. The rest don't.

There are complex and interlinked reasons for obesity -- genetic, psychological, and physical, and losing the excess weight can be terribly hard, maybe beyond somebody's ability, but Barnes's notion that physics triumphs biology is basic and simple thermodynamics. People who argue differently are, not to put too fine a point on it, wrong.

But people do argue it because they want a reason, and they don't want it to be their responsibility.

If you are way overweight, at the very least, part of it you own.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Michelle, thanks for the details.

I've been spending time reading fat acceptance groups, where there are a lot of people whose lives are made worse by attempts to lose weight. In many cases, they have lost weight, sometimes a lot of it and sometimes more than once.

It's actually a difficult question to determine what's a matter of attitude and what's a physical limit-- I've seen enough stories from people who have to push hard to get an accurate diagnosis, and who were treated as hypochrondriacs until they did.

Michelle said...

Nancy, I've been there. I'm a big fan of "if the doc doesn't take you seriously get a new one".

But it's a whole nother level with HT. The amount of people on these boards who claim to have it with no diagnosis (as in their blood results were fine) is astounding. Couple that with the push for the Armour placebo and it gets a little scary.

I think the placebo effect is amazing. But HT does not have a one pill fix.

So there are either a lot claiming to have it despite blood tests, and then are "cured" and happily fat by taking armour.


Anonymous said...

Steve Perry Said:There are complex and interlinked reasons for obesity -- genetic, psychological, and physical, and losing the excess weight can be terribly hard, maybe beyond somebody's ability, but Barnes's notion that physics triumphs biology is basic and simple thermodynamics...

Yeah that's the rub the physics can be tough. I have been able to stay at apx 190 lbs for a few months eating 800- 1300 calories. On the flip side while on a winter "Field Problem" in Germany actually lost weight eating around 10,000 calories a day. Now that i am old and wiser i know that the crash diet that i was on lessened my metabolically active tissue (muscle) and sent my system into starvation mode. Also those times that i have been able to lose weight easily i have been active, really active, moving 2-6 hours a day. If you have a sedentary job losing weight is tough. I still have my battles, but i try to build muscle and not eat too much junk.

Anonymous said...

I can chime in as another person with hypothyroidism and PCOS, AND insulin resistance... (all endocrine related or affected!) and had a tendency to overweight since I was a kid. When I first got the diagnosis of the polycystic ovarian syndrome, and the doc prescribed Metformin, the diabetes drug, it worked wonders. I had kept a food diary before, and was eating 1100 to 1400 calories a day, not losing a pound, having zero appetite, and zero energy, and no mental focus.

After the Metformin brought down my blood sugar (and insulin levels) I felt human again. Mind cleared, had energy again. Was able to exercise, and the weight just slid off!
Afterward, continuing a very strict low-carb, low-glycemic healthy diet and rigorous strength training and cardio 3X/week regimen, I stayed feeling great and kept the weight off, with minor fluctuations which were sometimes lifestyle (winter) and sometimes thyroid fluctuations due to Hashimoto's, which is immune-dependent.

But I can vouch for those who know what it feels like to be like a turtle on their backs when these medical conditions are not treated. That medication was the kickstart I needed... and whereas even at my thinnest I still can't just go eat potatoes, bread, rice, or sugar like people with normal, healthy metabolisms, I can, through management of my diet and exercise, have an effect on myself that lets me feel more normal, and have normal energy levels. But step outside of those boundaries, eat like other people, have fries or two pieces of bread in one sitting, and the mental fog descends, heart races, energy leaves, and if I do it for any time period, fat packs back on.

So it sucks to have these problems, and staying thin will help make developing them less likely, but once you have them, it's a smaller playing field for lifestyle choice, but the choice to feel good is still possible, though difficult.

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