The chain of my health

Shiney black and white chain

A visual depiction of your health might be this: a clean, neat chain of DNA pulled taut, a chain that is tugged on and pulled at by all kinds of outside factors during your long life. The chain gets dirty, and stretched thin in places, and that is aging. If however, the chain breaks, you have yourself a disease that can be acute (like a cancer) or chronic (autoimmune, or neurodegenerative) disease. A disease that our allopathic doctors continue to treat with the same tools that may have enabled the disease in the first place.

What broke my chain of health? Was it an intervention like the thyroid my doctors recommended be removed via radioactive isotope? Or a long-term treatment, like the statins I took for years? Was it something more systemic like all the food I have eaten that’s been raised with glyphosate, or meat raised on factory farms with antibiotics and growth hormones? Was it the inflammation caused by too much manufactured “food” and not enough of the fresh nutritious stuff, or by the sugar that was a true addiction for me for most of my life? I have drunk a lot of good wine, used a lot of commercial skin and beauty products, flown a lot of miles exposed to high altitude radiation. I have let stress run my life. I have gone whole years without serious exercise. Any of these stressors could have been the tug that broke my health chain.

My goal in this thing we call retirement is two-fold: first, to learn everything I can about whole health and apply these lessons to myself so that I don’t break my chain of health in another spot, and second, to sound the alarm to those who can hear the bell.

My Life, My Health

Zen stone beside a river of raked sand

One obvious truth I am realizing as I learn more about health is this: I’m in charge here.

I spend all day in this body. I’m not powerless, in any way, and I have to believe that I CAN guide myself to greater health. It takes continual learning and experimenting. It takes tuning out the naysayers who think I am merely on a weight loss diet or that the changes I make are temporary. It takes the realization that no one else can, or will, push me forward, and that there are no miracle easy fixes, like a new drug or medical procedure, on the horizon.

The work is mine to do. Or not. The outcomes are mine.

So if I want to take a passive approach to the chronic disease I have been diagnosed with, that is an option. But if I want to learn about metabolic biochemistry, the impact of insulin and too much protein, about mitochondria function and mTOR metabolic signaling, I can do that too.

It’s a choice. About my life.

It’s Friday. And you are right where you should be.

Put everything down. You have done enough. Here are a few things I hope you find interesting and amusing:

Here’s a terrific story about the modern fight for health. Sean Brock, the amazing chef, has quite a story and I admire him for sharing it in such an authentic way. Not everyone gets to tell their story in a venue like the NYTimes, but I found the story interesting and inspirational.

I really like this manifesto by William C Taylor on the changethis site. Doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way is both simple and subversive – which work together powerfully. These eight questions would be a fantastic way to begin a strategic planning session, or to onboard a new leader.

The 99u site had a good summary of how to build new habits using something called “stacking” into your routine. It’s a short read and I recommend it.

They say perspective is everything – we lose hope, Rebecca Solnit suggests, because we lose perspective. Here is a really great compilation of how many things relative to global health, wealth, and living standards have improved over time. It’s a long read, but I really enjoyed it.

Finally, I love these rules for life, and the way that John Maeda explains his rationale underlying each one.

It’s all how you frame it

Old Truck

There is really not that much actual difference between my fearful vision of being old, impoverished bag lady living in the van down by the river, or being a thrill-seeking elder who is documenting adventures by Instagramming her #vanlife.

There is a pretty big delta however, between the mental states that take me toward one or the other. And that is the challenge with this thing we call retirement. Managing your money, your time, your productivity, and your relationships are nothing compared to managing your mindset.

My personal expectation is to pay my way, support myself, share my know-how, and bring enthusiasm to all that I do. My personal fears are also for the worst case, feeling un-needed and unable to contribute, and not able to remember how to get things done. Every day I have to actively choose the expectations, not the fears. Every day I have to recognize when I am actualizing the positive expectations, and reinforce them. As I focus more and more on the positive, I think it gets easier.

Yesterday, I rode on one of the marvelous bike paths nearby. Going out felt slightly downhill. I was with a friend and didn’t have the inclination to worry about the uphill climb on the return trip. And guess what? Coming back felt slightly downhill. Yeah, downhill. Both ways. That’s what happens when you stop worrying and just enjoy the moment.

Friends

Symbol of scales is made of stones on the cliff

I live in the country. In a really spectacular part of the country. The northern part of the lower Peninsula of Michigan. Land of glacial moraines and eons-old coral reefs that we call Petoskey stones when pieces wash up on shore. Stunning inland lakes and a few great lakes that are really unbelievable the first time a visitor sees them. We are a mile from the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Seashore, and lots of bicycling trails established just for us to get out and enjoy all the flora and fauna found here.

The thing is, I don’t know too much about all this nature. But I have a friend who does.

My friend can name every bird song in this part of the world, and explain why that singing was so loud last month and has become subdued this month. She helped us track an otter through the snow last winter, all the way back to his home lake. She knows about the trees, and the bees, and the bears. I’ll never get lost in the woods with her because she carries a compass and a topographical map, and she knows how to use them.

I cannot recommend a friend like this highly enough!

Being Versus Doing in Retirement

This article from Knowledge@Wharton really resonated for me. Titled The Retirement Problem: What Will You Do With All That Time? it neatly summarizes some big questions.

Stewart Friedman at Wharton summarizes this way: “The questions people ask at earlier stages of life become more profound at these later stages. Am I living the life I want to live? What is most important to me? Who is most important to me? You see the end, and so you think about what you want to do with the time that you have remaining. There is the question of: now what?”

I have struggled with this question. And yes, I realize it’s a first world question. And a boomer-centric question. And one I should have seen coming.

Nonetheless, here I am. What should I do with this time? What’s my bucket list? In which activities should I be involved? Where do I want to make a contribution?

I think the answer isn’t at the end of those question marks. My retirement is not another career step. It is not something I will sink into, get addicted to, play at, or be distracted by. It is not a number of activities to keep busy.

The questions I should have been asking every year – about balancing my health, relationships, community, and career – have gained urgency over time. But these questions have also changed in fundamental ways since the time I stopped working.

What is the universe calling me to be? I’m listening.

The Thin Veneer of Civilization

I am deep into a set of books by Yuval Noah Harari that contain such enormous ideas, I cannot fathom how I will summarize their impact on me. Sapiens is a look back at the history of our species, and Homo Deus is a look forward at where our species might be headed. One of the major themes is that so much of what we believe is just what we as a species have agreed to believe. Those joint beliefs – the basis for civilization that we prize so highly – are increasingly vunerable as we struggle to know what is reality, and what is fiction. Faith in the future is necessary if we are to survive as a species.

As I digest the ideas that Harari puts forward, I have a propensity to notice things on the periphery of this topic that I might have otherwise missed.

This week one of those peripheral items put itself forward in the form of a comment by Douglas Rushkoff during a Commonwealth Club interview in 2016. He mentioned The Dark Mountain Project, a “network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself.” I thought the writing on their site was very engaging. Here’s a short excerpt from The Dark Mountain Project Manifesto:

” … a simple fact which any historian could confirm: human civilisation is an intensely fragile construction. It is built on little more than belief: belief in the rightness of its values; belief in the strength of its system of law and order; belief in its currency; above all, perhaps, belief in its future.

Once that belief begins to crumble, the collapse of a civilisation may become unstoppable. That civilisations fall, sooner or later, is as much a law of history as gravity is a law of physics. What remains after the fall is a wild mixture of cultural debris, confused and angry people whose certainties have betrayed them, and those forces which were always there, deeper than the foundations of the city walls: the desire to survive and the desire for meaning.”

If it helps you see beyond the day-to-day marketing manipulations coming from our called leaders in every sphere, if you are feeling bombarded with too much information about things you know just do not matter in the long run, if you sense you are spending your career working on things that no one really needs and you hate being beholden to meaningless corporate productivity metrics, if you agree with Edward Abbey that “better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion,” you might want to follow The Dark Mountain Project blog.

I’ll be there.

It’s Friday, folks. Time to stop.

One of my ideas for making the transition to retirement less sharp, is to have an end of week routine. Fridays have been, and remain, the end of the week for me. During my working life, my partner and I usually stayed home on Friday evenings, hanging out, sharing what we had learned, heard, and seen over the week. It was a time to stop striving and just be. A time to put away the phone, go for a walk together. Ask questions. Breathe in. Breathe out. Let worry go.

The routine isn’t exactly the same now that we are living up north. However, it is in that spirit, that I offer this end of week note with a few of the things things I found interesting this week:

Some thoughts on the future of work for those nearing the end of their careers. Lots of exclamation points. I haven’t seen these kind of opportunities, but if you are in the right situation, you might be able to navigate there from where you are today.

A March 2016 Commonwealth Club interview with Douglas Rushkoff, author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. He is energetic and passionate about the intersection of the human and the marketplace, including topics like the purpose of jobs, the game-ification of the marketplace, and the evolving dynamics between land, capital, and labor. His view is congruent with Yuval Noah Harari’s, another favorite thinker of mine. I highly recommend you spend the hour it takes to listen to this.

In the NYTimes, Jane Brody considers “Who really needs to be gluten free?” and concludes that more of us need to be gluten free than are presently. Of course, I’d go further and say lectin free.

The/Thirty offers a short summery of Dr Steven Gundry’s Plant Paradox here. As I mentioned elsewhere, I have been eating lectin-free for about seven weeks now. I have lost about 12 pounds. More significantly, I have zero cravings, and even when confronted with my formerly favorite foods, I just don’t feel interested enough to eat them again. Really makes me wonder whether my brain or my gut was making food decisions in the past.

FiveThirtyEight offers a five part overview of the state of gut health science here.

How to stimulate your vagus nerve. That is the ‘highway’ between your gut and your brain, and might be the way that a disease that begins in the gut could travel to the brain. Turns out humming is good for you!

For those of you who have had the pleasure of even one meal in or around Lyon, France here’s a summary by Food52 of how the vegetarian/vegan influencing is being manifest there. Yum.

I have been watching a lot of interviews with Dr Sachin Patel recently. I am impressed with his philosophy and the work he is doing at the Living Proof Institute. The Institute has three guiding principles for working with patients: they co-create health (as opposed to treating disease), they agree that most diseases involve what goes into your mouth (and what comes out of your mouth, or what you hold back), and they believe the doctor doesn’t determine the outcome – the patient does. They offer a 30-day program that offers a tip a day to “become proof” that you can architect your own health. Sign up for the 30 days here.

Finally, Diana Krall has a new album. Take a listen. Hum along. And enjoy your weekend!