Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reflections on Trying and Failure

I made the mistake of reading a couple of articles I saw linked on Facebook from personal trainers about "the real reason you're fat".  They were, I guess, supposed to be hard-hitting articles to challenge and motivate us folks who are not right where we apparently should be in the BMI.  The first one had some good information in it, and the second one was teetering on close to maybe having good information, but really the writer was having way more fun feeling superior to his subjects to actually get the big picture.  Speaking of big picture, I found a photo of him and he was overweight.  I'm not sure I want to take a lot of "hard hitting criticism" from someone about my being overweight if he is overweight.  But he was also covered in tattoos and still had all his hair despite being middle-aged.  And he had a hipster goatee.  So, apparently, all of that makes it OK.

But it got me thinking about the concept of "trying".  Both these articles said that if you have failed, and if you have not met your goal then you were not trying.  I like to think that we as a society had grown beyond the magical thinking that if you just will it hard enough it will be so, but apparently, we haven't (at least not in the world of weight loss - and also, I believe with horses).   I think the problem is not that people aren't trying hard enough, it is that often they are trying things that have been proven to not work but they know no other way, or that we are not seeing how hard they are trying.  The same can especially be said for horses because they can't directly tell us in our language when they are trying, we have to learn to recognize in their language what is going on with them.

I'm going to use weight loss as an example because it's something that I think a lot of people can relate to, especially when they're like me and in their late forties.  When I was young I was always skinny and it was pretty easy to stay that way.  Then I went through a phase of being anorexic and had the will power to almost starve myself to death.   I'm not proud to say that when one has that much will power, they do start to think "I haven't eaten since yesterday and I wear a size 24 in Levis and they're threatening to take me to the hospital - so what's your problem? Why are you fat?"  Well, as I grew older I realized that my will power wasn't from a source of strength, it was from a source of insanity.  And I gradually became sane and went to a normal, thin size.

Then I was pregnant with my daughter and gained fifty pounds, but figured it wouldn't be hard to lose.  And it wasn't for the first thirty pounds, but then everything got derailed when I had a horrible flare-up of Rheumatoid Arthritis and they put me on Prednisone.   After a year or so of bouncing around on other medications I got the arthritis somewhat under control and managed to lose that extra twenty pounds with a lot of hard work.  Then I came down with a rare illness called Subacute Thyroiditis and with my messed-up thyroid gained ten pounds rapidly over the course of a few months just by breathing.  Not long after that I broke my sacrum and back and was laid up for several weeks and gained more weight.  Now I'm back to being twenty pounds overweight (well, 15 pounds according to the BMI).   I eat better than most people I know, with two salads per day at meals, very little processed sugar, only whole grain carbs and most of my food is home-cooked/home baked so as to stay away from extra processing and preservatives.  I do pilates, I'm out twice a day doing farm chores, I ride horses, I walk a lot, and I have a part-time job where I'm on my feet the whole time.  My heart, blood pressure and cholesterol are great and other than my autoimmune disorder I'm a stunningly healthy person.  But to the weight loss community I am a failure.  And I'm a failure because I'm no longer "trying".  I'm not going to diet and I'm not going to starve myself.  Since I eat healthy and in perfectly acceptable amounts and am otherwise totally healthy I am just going to be "chubby" from here on out.  And that's ok with me.  But I really, really - did I say really?  - am tired of hearing it is because I'm not "trying".

Let me tell you something you may not notice when I'm hoisting fifty pound bags of feed over my shoulder to carry to the car, or when I'm mucking a large muddy pasture or dragging around fifty pound manure buckets or pulling a 100-pound stall mat across the barn.  I am literally in pain all the time.  I have been since I was about ten years old, when I first started having symptoms of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.  I literally do not know what it is like to not be in pain.  I have a feeling if you took away all my physical pain I might go into shock and not know what to do with myself. I might actually miss it because it is so who I have been most of my life.  It might be like cutting off one of my feet if I had no pain.  Sometimes it's just a low grade pain like a mosquito buzzing around being annoying.  Sometimes it is a crushing pain that makes me stop  for a second and take a deep breath because it hurts so much to move, but if I don't move around the pain will just get worse.  Sometimes I can't sleep because something hurts so much, so I get up and move around because moving makes things feel better - but then I'm exhausted the next day.  Sometimes I stand up and my knees or ankles have locked and it hurts enough to make me want to cry to get them moving again and I kind of shuffle for a second like a robot whose joints have fused together.  And I try to play it off like "Ha! ha! I meant to do that!"

So, don't tell me I'm not "trying".  If I wasn't trying I would not be injecting these crazy drugs into my body just so that I wouldn't be crippled,  drugs like Humira and Enbrel and Methotrexate which much as I love them because I would be crippled without them,  they have a laundry list of potentially horrible side effects and long term possible issues.  If I wasn't trying I wouldn't make my life such that I am constantly forced to get exercise throughout the day (one of the tried and true natural ways to ward off being crippled by RA) and I wouldn't just be chubby, I would be obese.  And I would not be so healthy.   So, I try to remember that when I see someone that is obese or even chubby and not in such great shape.  Who is to say they are not trying?  Who is to say that they don't get up and function every day despite being severely depressed, or have a chronic illness, or just finished treatment for cancer, or their loved one is going through any of those things? Who is to say that most of the people we see who even though they are not rich, hot, skinny, or fashionable aren't actually trying extremely hard to make the best of their lives?

I see the same thing with horses.  Today was my first time having my trainer, Audrey, work with Maiden, the horse that I spent way too much time and money getting back from a bad situation that I made the mistake of putting her in to begin with.  Maiden had issues when I first got her several years ago, then they were resolving well with the help of my previous trainer, Karen,  then over the last nine months while she was at a different home, all that good training seemed to come unraveled again.  So, I wasn't sure what to expect with her lesson with Audrey.  And I was worried that Audrey wouldn't like her and was having some of that "Mom worry" about her giving Audrey a bad time.

I rode Geir over to the arena that we use to work my horses and Audrey rode Maiden.  Then I worked on Geir's walk, trot, transitions, bending, rounding his back, etc while Audrey worked with Maiden.  So, what it looked like to the outside observer was Audrey sat on Maiden's back while I rode Geir, then Audrey stood on the ground with Maiden, then Audrey sat on her back again.  To the uninitiated it looked like Geir worked really hard and Maiden and Audrey just sat there.  But honestly, I think that Maiden worked harder than Geir in some ways.  While Geir was doing what he does a few times a week with me, and is starting to get pretty good at it - Maiden was getting used to the idea of once again yielding to pressure - something that she was not too into when I got her,  got much better at, and is balking at again.

So, there was a lot of Audrey moving the reins just slightly to ask Maiden to bend, Maiden resisting, then finally yielding to the pressure and getting much praise.  But it didn't look like much on the outside.  But because of how self-protective Maiden is (and is even more so than she was before I stupidly gave her away last April)  it was a lot of work for her to just relax and yield to the pressure.  After a full hour of this though she was finally starting to trust Audrey and finally starting to remember how to do it and as Audrey put it, "We'll stop there before we fry her brain."  So, it didn't look like much was going on, but for Maiden there was an awful lot going on.  And she was trying very hard, one just needed to see the subtly of the situation to know that.

I try to think about that throughout the day as I deal with people and horses.  Who is resisting because they just don't want to deal, and who is trying harder than we see on the surface? And without knowing the full story, how could we possibly make the distinction between the two?