Summer Makes Me SAD ...

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a common phenomenon in Northern New Brunswick (Canada) in the frigid winter months when the mercury drops down below 40C, when the sun rises after you've arrived at work and sets before you've returned home. 

You feel tired, lethargic, un-energetic, disinterested.  You can't sleep right.  You eat more, yet never feel satisfied.  Even if you lay in bed all night and on the couch all day, you never feel rested.  It's the cold, it's the lack of sun, it's being confined indoors, it's SAD.  Every Northerner is familiar with it ... rare is the Northerner who's not experienced it.  The winter days are frigid; -40C plus windchill makes for a difficult outdoor adventure, even for the heartiest of Canadians.  You stay indoors and you let the energy ebb from you.  You are SAD.

You tell yourself you wished you lived in a warm, sunny country where GLAD (Goofy, Loony Affective Disorder) is all anyone has ever known.  

You move to the Middle East, where every day is 12 hours long, all year long, and the one day of rain a year is celebrated.  You think that finally you've rid yourself of SAD.  You'll never be SAD again.  You'll be GLAD! 

And then you experience July and August in the Middle East.  Seven years straight.  And every August, you find yourself falling into this deep, dark pit of despair.  You find yourself exhausted.  It's hard to get out of bed.  You find yourself impatient.  You find yourself hungry, but you don't know what you want to eat.  You find yourself strange ... but you can't really find yourself at all.  You find you are SAD.

You tell yourself 40C isn't so bad.  It's the opposite of -40C.  It's got to be good.  No wind, no precipitation.  It's got to be good.   Yet you are SAD.

You look out your window and you see this: 

This is what 92% humidity looks like folks...

This is what 92% humidity looks like folks...

You try to convince yourself the droplets on the window pane are akin to fresh dew.    You try to convince yourself that water is a sign of freshness.  You try to convince yourself that the droplets invigorate you.  And then you realize you can't convince yourself.  This is 42C and 92% humidity.  You can't go outside.  Once again, you are SAD.

Strange, isn't it?  That you could be SAD in the Land of Sand?  

What people don't realize is that you get very little sun exposure in the ME.  In the winter months, a foggy haze of dust filters the sun and makes vitamin D absorbency close to impossible.  In the summer months, it's simply too hot to get outdoors.  And so you sit indoors, occasionally venturing to your car, stepping out to get into the mall, but that's about it.   And your body cries and aches and begs to be let out of its air-conditioned prison.

And you finally decide you've had enough of being SAD.  It's cool enough to try running again.  The extreme July temperatures have dropped.  You want, you NEED, to get outside again.   

You get up at 4:30 one morning in mid-August with Smilin' Vic.  You both suit up.  T-shirt, sweat pants, runners all at the ready.  You head out for a 3.5 km run.  It sucks.  You get back home, exhausted, drenched, impatient.  You check the temp, and you see this: 

Temp's not so bad ... but humidity's a killer ... 

Temp's not so bad ... but humidity's a killer ... 

And for a moment, you are incredibly proud.  You realize that you have pushed yourself hard; you have conquered the elements.  You've breathed in air.  Not 'fresh' air, but at least 'real' outdoor air.  Just for this morning, you won.  Humidity's a b!t$&, but you still feel great after your pitifully slow run.  You are a champion, and you are no longer SAD.

You take two vitamin D tablets, one vitamin B, two ginseng caplets, two Panadol (for the pained ol' bod), and swallow them all down with the watered-down juice of three limes.  And tell yourself you've still got it.  The spark of cellulite on your left thigh tells one story, but the ache in your right thigh tells another (or is that just the shortened piriformis muscle that has been pinching your sciatic nerve for the last four years?).

You step into a hot shower and tell yourself you'll do it all again tomorrow.  You feel so invigorated.  You slip on your smartest office trousers and you could swear they already feel looser, you already feel tighter, and all is right with the world. 


4:30 a.m. ....  the next day ....  You click on snooze.  The damned alarm keeps on ringing every three minutes.  You get up at 4:42.  Suit up.  Dare Smilin' Vic with your eyes to "say. one. single. word. at. this. f^$!N. God-forsaken. hour."  You check your watch.  It is literally "Zero past way too stupid to be up".

Go downstairs and have a coffee.  

Head out.  Do it all over again.  Once you're started running, it's really not so bad.  And the rest of the day is so much better once you've breathed in some funky Doha morning air.  You realize you want to do this every day.  It's hard, but it's good.


4:30 a.m. ... one day later ... You click on snooze.  It won't stop ringing.  Give up.  Get up. 

Go downstairs and have a coffee.  "Zero past dark stupid thirty."  

Go girl!

Start to notice it's getting easier.  Start to realize the hurdles you've overcome.  Start to see the humor in the effort that goes into running in Doha.  Decide to take pictures along the way... 


This is the sign we first see as we leave the compound, and it warms our heart.  This city WANTS us to enjoy our run.

This is the sign we first see as we leave the compound, and it warms our heart.  This city WANTS us to enjoy our run.

Unfortunately, the lovely pedestrian protection sign is smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk.  Smilin' Vic cracked his head open on it.  


It's ok.  We're feeling invigorated.  A little blood never scared a soldier, right? 

We head a little further ... "Oh, look, Smilin' Vic, they've laid out a hurdle for us about 100 m into our run ... just enough to make us jump and get the blood pumping.  How awesome!" 


Smilin' Vic fumbles and trips.  It's not exhaustion.  We are barely 250 m into our run.  It's the sidewalk sinkhole.  "Ah, well, at least no broken bones or sprained ligaments this time around, eh?  All is well!"


"Oh, look!  A signboard that dares to hit us smack in the face if we don't notice it first.  How cool!  What a novel idea.  Now that's how marketing geniuses get our attention!"   (A little to the left and we get taken out by a madman at the wheel, a little to the right and we sprain our ankle on the rocky surface ... but head on and we HAVE to read the billboard ... BRILLIANT!


"Wow, they've stuck a lamp post smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk every 25 m.  Good for lighting, not so great for running..." 


 "Brilliant guy, He who thought of planting this random desert shrub right in my running path.  Yup, I've got a few choice words for him if we ever cross ways ..."  But seriously, one could say its splendor does make up for the shattered ankle bone and torn Achille's heel ...


At first I wasn't sure what this sign meant. 


But I soon realized I needed to tag it to get the "SUPER BOOST" needed to jump over this huge concrete block placed strategically on the sidewalk.  Wow, was I impressed when I realized I could go over or around this 2 km into our first run ...


And then over this bigger bush. 


And finally over this gap in sidewalk ... 


I can't help but think that "pedestrians are everyone's responsibility" kind of translates to "Every Pedestrian for Themselves!" in Doha ... 

Nonetheless, after four weeks of running (obstacle course), I'm not so SAD anymore ... I'm actually GLAD! 

Oh, and here was this morning's temp ...  

Humidity's going down.  What a relief!

Humidity's going down.  What a relief!

The Pains That Are Withheld For Me ...

This is the post that blocked me.  The post that didn't want to be written but that wouldn't let me write anything else until it HAD been written.  Rarely have I felt so utterly uninspired.    

This post is about suicide and what it leaves behind.  And about what it doesn't leave behind. 

"A brave man once requested me,  to answer questions that are key, is it to be or not to be, and I replied 'oh, why ask me?'"

(Suicide is Painless, Johnny Mandel) 

I have no answers, only questions.  Please don't ask me.


Apparently the lyrics to the song "Suicide is Painless" were written by a 14-year-old.

The story goes he was tasked to write the song for the movie M*A*S*H, and told only that it must carry the name "Suicide Is Painless" and be humorous.  

It's been said it took him about 5 minutes to write the song.

His father was the original movie's director.  

And that's the mystery behind one of the most melancholy songs of all time.  

Rather anti-climatic isn't it?


Much like suicide itself I guess. 

Years of pain, suffering, and tortuous rumination culminating at the bottom of one big, black, empty, unromantic, anti-climatic hole.   Nothing left in the wake but questions.

  • "Surely there had to be more to it?"  
  • "There was some greater meaning behind it all, right?"  
  • "A legacy has to be more than a self-inflicted bullet hole or a final agonized breath, doesn't it?" 

Those are just some of the questions that have plagued me for the last year.

I've spent the last year experiencing sporadic moments of overwhelming and gut-wrenching pain, wondering which signs I overlooked, which moments I neglected, which opportunities I missed.

I've spent the last year feeling guilty about feeling so betrayed; I've spent the last year feeling like I have no right to these feelings.  

Because he wasn't closest to me.  He had many buddies who were much closer.  He had life-long friends.  He had a beautiful loving wife.  He had the most beautiful, amazing, loving, lovable daughters.  He had brothers and parents who loved him so very much.

When he died, I hadn't seen him in almost a year.  We lived thousands of miles apart.  I can't say I ever felt I missed him, but I can honestly say that it was impossible to think about him or mention his name without wishing he were around.

He was just a great great friend.  He was just the guy who managed to light up any room he walked into.  He was just the guy who always made time for everybody else.  He was just the husband we'd all tell our husbands to look to for inspiration.  He was just the most amazing dad.  He was just a great human being.  

None of those equated to owing me a damned thing.  Yet I felt the treachery in his act as though it had been meant for me alone.  

I'm starting to forgive myself for feeling betrayed.  I'm starting to feel less guilty about the ache ... the first little while, I was ashamed to admit to it.  How could I complain of the pain in the face of his wife and daughters?  How could I burden his mother with my tears?  How callous to think I should deserve to grieve him.

I think I'm not the only one who's felt it.  I think all of us who loved him have felt guilty about missing him so much.  It's almost like we shouldn't have the right.

I think we've all wanted to lash out at him, but felt that would be unfair when he'd already obviously been suffering so much.  

I think we've all wondered at some point if there was ever anything we did or said that drove him to it, if there was ever one small act on our part that could have stopped him.  And I think all of us have prayed that the answer to both those questions is "nothing".

These are the pains withheld ... the ones that wouldn't be laid to rest until they'd been acknowledged. 

I've spent the last two days wondering if I could somehow be inspired to write something meaningful about suicide.  I was hoping that by doing so I might be able to bring comfort to three women I love so dearly.  Maybe I could inject meaning into those final moments for them.  Maybe I could conjure up a magical lyrical balm that would ease the pain, soothe the ache, remedy the ills.

I actually thought I could write something that would make things better. 

I can't. 

I wish I could, but I can't.   

I can't convince his daughters that he loved them.  I can't convince his wife that she was his life.  They know this already.  They don't need me to tell them what they must never doubt.

I can't make them stronger in all of this.  I can't make them want to carry on.  Their spirit, their courage, their bond, their love and their resilience have already far exceeded any tenacity I could ever hope to instill in them.  

Ironically, all I can do is look to them for inspiration.  

And maybe let them know that after a year I can finally say I'm sad, I'm mad and I'm glad.  I guess I've finally abandoned the futility of wondering about the last moment.  I guess I've figured out that whatever the reasons for suicide, there are no real answers.  Or more precisely, no answers that really matter.  And I guess I could tell them that I know that what really counts is the lifetime of loving, praying, giving, living, and learning that preceded that last moment.  

That's what's left behind.  

No questions asked.


P.S.  To my three ladies, I love you.  More than you will ever know.  

The Pilates Roll Up ... I Did It!

Incremental moments measured through small successes and occasional letdowns. 

Incremental moments measured through small successes and occasional letdowns. 

After literally months of trying, struggling, agonizing, beating my fists and sometimes even crying in frustration, I was finally able to complete not one, not two, but THREE successive roll ups the day before yesterday.

I was even able to squeeze out a fourth when Kiddo and Smilin' Vic got home that afternoon. 

I can't explain the science behind it, but I can attest to the fact that for the first time I could actually 'feel' my ab muscles, my breathing and my body alignment all connecting, just like my video instructor kept telling me I should.

I can't explain the rush I got when I was actually able to roll up smoothly (fairly) off the ground with my legs straight out and my heels firmly planted on the floor.  It was such a small movement, over in about 8 seconds, but that tiny blip in time encompassed months of effort.  

It wasn't that different from so many life moments.  The birth of a child as the result of years of praying for what you thought you'd never have.  The first kiss that you've imagined for so long.  The conferring of a degree after years of studying.  The completion of an actual 10 km run after years on a treadmill.

You may be thinking that comparing a simple roll up to these life events is a little crazy, and there's merit to that.  But the fact of the matter is that achieving anything you work hard towards, no matter how big or how small, can change your outlook, improve your mood, boost your confidence and generally make life seem that much sweeter. 

I'm a big believer in objectives, big and small.  I think there's value in always having something to work towards, rather than something to run from.  Life is made up of incremental moments measured through small successes and occasional letdowns.  The thing is, if you can find the strength to push through the failures and temporary setbacks, the success at the end becomes all you will have to measure your life by.  

If you've got a goal, don't give up on it.  Keep on keepin' on.  You'll get there. 

I did a pilates roll up! 

 N.B.  Hard as I tried, I couldn't do a proper roll up yesterday.  That's ok.  I'm headed back to my mat to give it another try today.


What Really Carries Weight in the ME? (Joining the Global Fight Against Obesity)

Obesity is a constant topic of conversation and concern throughout the world, but increasingly so in the Middle East .  Rare is the day that goes by where regional newspapers do not feature at least one article on the subject.  

Confronting the issue of obesity, heart disease and diabetes is continually at the forefront in this country as well, likely a result of increasingly alarming rates of overweight and obese people within the state (I won't throw any random numbers around, but a simple google search will yield approximate obesity rates for pretty much any country).  

The conditions listed above are explicitly addressed in this country's national health strategy, at regional health conferences, within school curriculums, in urban planning and in the national development strategy.  Qatar has even gone so far as to declare the second Tuesday of February a statutory 'sports' holiday as part of its commitment to create awareness and to provide citizens and residents with opportunities to live healthy and get fit.  I think the country is actually taking some very impressive, concrete and sustainable steps towards providing the education needed to incite this and future generations to healthy living.  

Yet coupled with the awareness initiatives is an increasing trend toward quick fixes to this expanding (pun intended) problem.  Health food stores and "diet shops" are popping up more and more in the ME.  Entire clinics catering exclusively to patients seeking lap band surgery and gastric bypass are not unheard of.  Fast tracks to rapid weight loss that don't really have much to do with embracing the benefits of a healthier lifestyle.

It's not unheard of to find these establishments set up in a strip mall, right next to a popular fast-food outlet, bakery, donut shop or ice cream parlor.  I can't help but wonder at the logic.  It's almost like opening up a chemo center next to a cigar bar.  "Come on in and see us;  we'll try to make you better, but if we fail, you can always pop in next door for your last hoorah!"

A glowing example of the stopgap approach appeared in yesterday's local newspaper, touting an initiative in Dubai to help motivate people to lose weight through the launch of a campaign titled "Your Weight in Gold".  Participants in the campaign who lose a minimum of 2 kg by August 18, 2013 will be compensated with 1 g of gold for each kg lost.  


Or is it?  What possible personal motivation is attached to that gram of gold?  While I applaud the intention, I can't help but think that the carrot at the end of the skinny stick is not enough in this case to get people thinking about what really matters.  

A gram of gold is selling today at about 47$ (US).  In the big scheme of things, I'm convinced that 2kg of "me" is worth more than 95$.  At that rate, my life (as measured by my weight) is barely worth $2,700.  Is that really how we want to go around measuring what matters?   

It got me thinking about the things that really motivate people to make a positive lifestyle change.  For example, recent studies have shown a possible link between weight loss and improved memory in older women.  I'm thinking if I were menopausal, that study would be a pretty good incentive to lose a few lbs.  

For some people, it might be the hope of living a little longer, or a little better.  For others, it might be a chance to practice a sport with their child, or that mountain climb that's been on their bucket list.  It might be simply to stop burping so much, or to ease the pain in that bum knee.  It might be to leave a healthy legacy to their child, or to breathe easier, or to simply feel better about themselves.  

But somehow I doubt it's ever about 95$. 

Hopefully personal motivation will kick in and it's not only silver and gold that will carry weight in the fight to end obesity. 

Sometimes you just have to step away from the fridge ... 

Sometimes you just have to step away from the fridge ... 

As an aside .... 

I wonder what world health powers would think of my strategy to change food currency to calories and physical activity rather than dollars and cents?  

e.g.  After my diet breakfast and diet lunch, I pop in for a fast food burger and fries.  The conversation that ensues goes something like this:    

Fast Food Server:  That will be 1,400 calories, Mam.    

Me:  But I don't have 1,400 calories left today.  I've already paid 1,200 for lunch and breakfast.

Fast Food Server:  Well, we ARE offering a special on the "Balanced Meal";  it comes in at just under 600 calories.  It's not as trendy, but it's gotten some really good reviews. 

Me:  But I really wanted the "Biggie Biggie Meal".  Can't we come to some sort of agreement? 

Fast Food Server:  Well, you're in luck.  Because we've just started a layaway plan.  I'll get the burger started, and you go back there and sign up with our Calorie Credit Agent.  Talk to him about signing up for the pedometer account.  It's that easy.  You can take up to 8 hours (at a leisurely 5 km/hr pace) to earn that burger, fries and big drink.  As soon as you're done, "Biggie Biggie Meal" is all yours.

I'm thinking I might reconsider a few food choices. 

Sleeping right after a heavy meal can lead to health problems ... why not start making better lifestyle choices now?

Sleeping right after a heavy meal can lead to health problems ... why not start making better lifestyle choices now?