Inspiration Every Day

My Dearest Ariana,

A couple of months ago, my youngest child, your “sissy” Riley, was doing her daily workout, which consists of basketball ball-handling drills, planks, abdominal crunches, and pushups. You watched intently as she did one hundred pushups.

13903438_10210529552621727_1939070129582154073_nA couple of minutes later, as I was straightening up on the kitchen, I looked out into the living room, and my eyes filled with tears. You were trying,unsuccessfully, to do a push-up. “Look at me Daddy. I’m doing a push-up!”

The tears came because I remember your rough start to life. When you were three weeks old, seizures and strokes nearly took you from us. Upon your release from Riley Hospital, we were given a grim prognosis: you would never walk or talk, would be bedridden. Well, Ariana, you have proven, time and time again, that they were wrong. You walk. You talk, quite a lot! However, your life is not without its challenges. You wear a brace on your left leg to keep your knee from hyperextending. Sometimes, you wear a brace on your left hand to keep your hand from balling up into a fist. You have limited use of your left arm, and are rarely able to straighten it out on your own.

Sometimes my tears are tears of amazement – amazement at how far, you – our very own little miracle of a girl – have come. Other times, like when I am watching you try to do something you may never be able to do, the tears are a product of my frustration and sadness with the hand you were dealt. You were an infant and didn’t ask for or do anything to cause what happened to you. But you’ll have to deal with these challenges for the rest of your life.

It’s when the tears of frustration are welling up in my eyes that I have to take a step back and put things in perspective. Some days this is fairly easy. Other days, like when I’m not feeling particularly emotionally fit, I really struggle. What I often forget is that you have never known anything different. The everyday struggle is your normal. Over the years, this struggle has turned you into a strong and resilient little girl,one who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “can’t.”12512242_10209294789233414_2654815702701170037_n

Recently, we took a day trip to western Indiana to visit Shades State Park, known for its sandstone rock formations, steep ravines, and waterfalls. We decided to hike the two most rugged trails in the park, knowing that we would have to carry you at least part of the way. As we made our way up and down the deep ravines, carved out over thousands of years by streams, you never once needed us to carry you. We would suggest the easiest way around an obstacle, and you, in typical Ariana fashion, would take the more difficult route, insisting, when we would ask if you needed help, “No, I’m fine.”

13428548_10209987840919273_907817750283575178_nIt is in these moments that I beam with pride, and know that, despite what you have been through, you will be fine. Your stubborn, thick-headed attitude toward life has and will continue to serve you well as you grow into a young woman. You told me a couple of weeks ago, “Daddy, I want to be a doctor when I grow up.” “That’s awesome!” I said. We bumped fists and smiled at each other. And I truly believe that if you want to become a doctor, you will. You will run bull-headed through any obstacles that stand in your way, and will be successful at whatever you choose to do.

Here we are. September 30th. It’s your 5th birthday. Happy Birthday! You’ve been a part of our lives for 5 years, and I can’t imagine life without you. You serve as an inspiration to your family, friends, and to those who are blessed to meet you. You are Inspiration Every Day!

Love,

Daddy

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It Was a Tough Couple of Days for Inner Tubes

20150710_142444It doesn’t matter if it’s a two hour trip or a trip across the country, I love being on the road. Sure, air travel is quick and convenient, but the view you get of the world is far away and sometimes obscured by clouds. Traveling by car allows you a better view of the landscape, though it still restricts you to what you can glimpse at speeds often topping seventy miles per hour. My preferred mode of travel is by bicycle.

Last week, I hopped on my bicycle for what was to be a ride of about twenty-two miles stretching from the shores of beautiful Black Lake to Cheboygan in northern Michigan. I was meeting my family at The Big Dipper, an ice cream parlor straight out of the 1950s, where I would eat an ice cream sundae that would likely nullify the calories I had just burned on the ride.

Just a tick over seven miles into the ride, I crossed a small bridge and felt my rear tire go flat. I pulled off the road onto the gravel shoulder reached for my phone to call my wife to come and pick me up, then thought better of it. I decided to do a roadside tube change, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I could make the repair in less than optimal conditions, which for me is putting my bike up on the rack and raising 20150709_152819it to eye level.

Twelve minutes later, with a little chain grease on my hands, I had installed my spare tube, and was back on the road. Eleven minutes after that, my tire went flat again. I pulled onto the shoulder and grabbed my pump, though I knew in my gut that I was not going to be riding anymore that day. I put a few pumps of air into the tire, waited, and confirmed that I was again dealing with a flat tire. Again, I reached for my phone and was dialing my wife when I spotted our minivan coming toward me. They pulled over, picked me up, and we went for ice cream. As much as I enjoyed the sundae, made with salty caramel vanilla ice cream topped with hot fudge, I felt out of sorts, and was a little pouty. My youngest daughter Riley, fourteen, noticed my poutiness and asked what was wrong. “Bummed that I couldn’t finish my ride,” I replied. In a gesture that belied her young age, she put a hand on my arm and said, “It’s okay Dad. You’ll get ‘em tomorrow.”

20150710_083709I woke up early this morning, eager to “get ‘em,” to get that one last ride in before we ended our vacation and returned home to Indiana. I wheeled my bicycle out by the lake. I figured if I had to wrench, I should enjoy the view while I was doing it. I started by patching the least-damaged of the two failed tubes from the previous day’s ride. I put some air in it to make sure that it held, and satisfied that it did, I put it and the tire back on the rim. I checked it ten minutes later and found that it was flat. Go figure.

20150710_151007I decided to use my last new tube. Perhaps in a rush to get to the breakfast table (biscuits and gravy are one of my food vices), I tore a hole in the tube with the tire lever while getting the tire back on the rim. After breakfast I found the tire flat again, and decided to take the rim and tire into Cheboygan to the relatively new City Bike Shop. As it turned out, I got his last road  bike tube. He told me that he had gone through a lot of tubes in the past week or so.

Forty-five minutes later I was doing what I had set out to do since I had gotten out of bed that morning: taking one last ride around Black Lake before our vacation came to an end.

All of the difficulties with inner tubes had me feeling pretty deflated and frustrated. Why go through all that trouble just to take a bike ride? The answer is quite simple: for me, riding is the key to having a happy and healthy life. While riding keeps me (somewhat) physically fit, it also keeps me emotionally fit.

20150710_142202Plus, cycling is a great way to explore new areas. Much of the riding I do is on the same roads where I live, so a chance to ride roads I have only ridden a few times, or never at all, is always an exciting prospect for me. Riding a bicycle allows for an intimacy with the road, the landscape, and the people you encounter that you just can’t get any other way. You become part your ever-changing surroundings in a way that riding in a steel box doesn’t allow. Bicycling allows you to interact with people that you encounter – the guy watering his flowers, the woman teaching her daughter to ride a bicycle in their driveway, the elderly woman walking her dog – in a manner 20150710_150727that may brighten their day just a bit – something as simple as a nod, a wave, or a friendly smile. And they may return your gesture – a payment made with the currency of human interaction.

It was a bad couple of days for inner tubes. But all the trouble I had to go through for this one last vacation ride was a small price to pay for the calories I burned, the emotional high I got, the beautiful Michigan scenery I saw, and, best of all, the fact that I got to intimately interact with my surroundings.

 

Feeling Down? Get Off Your Butt and Go Exercise!

We’ve know for a long time that physical exercise is beneficial, you know, physically.  But does exercise positively affect mental health?  While researching this topic, I ran across a study from the mid-1970s.   More recent studies confirm what researchers have known for some time: exercise is good for your mental health.

Back in 1996, my exercise regimen consisted of walking between the couch and the refrigerator for beer and food.  Oh, and mowing the lawn.  I was horribly depressed, and was using food and alcohol to self-medicate.  You see, our brains release a chemical called dopamine when we do something that feels good.  Eating, sex, drugs, and alcohol are just a few examples of things that release dopamine (Breene).

Unfortunately, booze had become my master.  In October 1996, I checked myself into an inpatient treatment facility.  A week and a half later, I emerged sober, scared, and, no longer using booze as a crutch, I realized that I was depressed.  I went to my primary care physician, and was prescribed an antidepressant.  I have been taking an antidepressant ever since.

Over the years, I went through periods where I would exercise, but I could never maintain the commitment needed to see any real, long-lasting results.  My weight crept up and up, and my self-esteem plummeted.  In 2012, I purchased a cheap mountain bike and began riding on a regular basis.  The results, though not instantaneous, did come.  My weight leveled off, and then went down a bit.  It still isn’t where I want it to be, but I’m in control now, and I feel better about myself knowing that I am at least active and exercising on a regular basis.  This is consistent with the self-image hypothesis, which suggests that “physical activity has positive effects on body weight and body structure, leading to positive feedback from peers and improved self-image, and ultimately improving mental health” (Association for Psychological Science).

In 2012, I managed to ride 368 miles, which was not bad considering I suffered a knee injury that required surgery in November.  I set a goal of 405 miles for 2013, which was an increase of 10% over my mileage total in 2012.  I shattered that, logging 811 miles – still not a lot by serious bicycling standards, but I felt pretty good about it.  Realizing that bicycling was something I really enjoyed, I purchased a new, albeit bottom-of-the-line Trek road bike.

Using the previous year’s strategy, I tacked 10% onto last year’s total mileage, and set a goal of 892 miles for 2014.  As of this writing (the first week of June), I have thus far ridden 501 miles, putting me on pace to hit nearly 1,200 miles by year’s end.

Why am I telling you about my bicycle riding?  Rest assured, it’s not done out of a need to boast.  Exercise in the form of bicycle riding has become an integral part of my life.  When I can ride on a consistent basis, I feel better, both physically and mentally.  When I can’t ride for an extended period, my health – particularly my mental health – suffers.  I had my first ride of 2014 on January 1st, a ride of less than six miles, but it was a start.  The harsh winter kept me off of my bicycle for two months, a very difficult period of time for me.  My depression was as bad, if not worse, than it had ever been.  There were days, overcome by waves of sadness and anger, that I didn’t want to get out of bed.  But I trudged on, watching the weather, looking for a chance to ride.  Finally, on March 1, I got back onto my bicycle.  I managed over 140 miles in March.  There were some cold rides, but I began to pull out of the funk I was in. Now I’m back to my normal, chipper self.

Very recently, I had a bad day – a very bad day.  I won’t go into details, but I was in a bad place mentally when I arrived home from work.  I had planned a ride for that particular evening, fifteen miles on the Cardinal Greenway, while my youngest daughter was at basketball practice.  As it turned out, I wouldn’t need to stay near the school because my daughter was going to go home with a friend after practice for an overnight stay.  I was in a bad mood, and had no desire to ride.  This was the perfect excuse for me not to ride!  Then, the rational part of my brain kicked me in the seat of the pants and said, “Riding is exactly what you need to do, dumbass!”  I gave in, and after dropping my daughter off at the school, I went for a fifteen-mile ride.  During the ride, I enjoyed the sights and sounds and smells of being outdoors, watched the wildlife on and around the trail, and peddled away much of the anger and frustration I had been feeling.

Maybe bicycling isn’t your thing.  The type of exercise doesn’t matter.  What matters is getting and staying active.  As someone who has been diagnosed with depression, I can honestly say that exercise has made all the difference in the world.  Now, if I can just stay away from pizza and chicken wings…

 

Work Cited

Breene, Sophia. “13 Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 05 June 2014.

“Exercise Does a Body – and a Mind – Good.” Association for Psychological Science. N.p., 25 Sept. 2012. Web. 05 June 2014.