Dec 30, 2012

Bad habits to let go of in the New Year

Let’s not talk about New Year’s resolutions and lofty promises to change. Let’s just do it quietly on our own, without fuss and fanfare. All year I’ve been contemplating quitting cigarettes and another serious vice and kept putting it off. About ten days ago I quit smoking, and just did not light another cigarette. I put it out of sight so I would not see it. Every morning around eight I crave a puff and then forget about it. I also upped my water intake to five bottles a day to battle a constipation problem caused by taking too much calcium prescribed with certain medication. Best of all though, it is three or four months since I stepped into a casino. 

Breaking patterns

This is my greatest achievement. Not only do I no longer go, I don’t get the urge anymore which used to propel me to drop a few coins in the Dragons machine.  In my saner moments when I think about it, I cannot believe how it had me in its grip for so many years. What happened is that I just had too much going on in my life and had to get rid of things and ideas which were no longer valid or useful. I found that because of my will to change I changed without difficulty. I effectively changed three things in 2012, and I don’t miss it. I have since revamped my life and so you too can do so to give yourself a nice fresh start to the New Year.

Discard the old for the new

If you’re bored with anything in your life, whether it be the carpet in your living room, or the moles in your neck that you keep planning to have removed but never get around to; what’s stopping you? Making a few visual changes in your kitchen and living room and sprucing up your garden with some colorful plants and flowers will immediately give you a lift. Next, think how you can apply this strategy to your relationships with colleagues and friends. Surprise them with muffins for breakfast and show that you think of them. Remember birthdays. If there is something personal about yourself you want to change, why not just do it if that is what it takes to keep you happy and whole?

Dec 29, 2012

Do you live your life with regrets?

Do you wish you could go back into the past and change things? Living your life with regrets is like having an unsightly mole on your cheek and doing nothing about it. It’s not that difficult to have removed. But you don’t do it.  You put it off. You stop looking in the mirror. You are afraid to take chances and so you become staid and suddenly you are in your sixties and realize that life has passed you by and that you have not really lived. How many times are you going to miss good opportunities to be the person you really want to be?

Saying yes to life
This morning I got up late and watched the film ‘The Bucket List’ with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. I had seen it before years ago but this time it held more meaning. I was watching two veteran actors; one known for his flamboyant antics and the other known for ‘Driving Miss Daisy’. The film for those of you who do not know is about two guys who get diagnosed with a terminal disease and decide to have a huge romp before they die. Morgan who is more reserved than the raucous Nicholson decides to jump out of an airplane with him and they travel around the world doing everything they had wanted to do before but did not. 

Skipper your own boat
·         Don’t sit in a corner and wait for life to come to you. Investigate. Explore. Live.
·         Take time to figure out who you are.
·         Be the master of your own domain.
·         Take life by the horns and make your mark.
·         Don’t be afraid to take risks.
·         Don’t wait for others to define you.
·         Make your own bucket list and achieve your dreams.
·         Think YOU CAN and live your dream. If Obama can, you can too.
·         Change your thoughts if it is better for you and works in your favor.
·         Live life to the fullest and use every hour doing something worthwhile.
·         Never say it’s too late to change something; that’s a defeatist attitude.
·         Be yourself and don’t change for anyone. Don’t let someone else define who you are.

Dec 28, 2012

Breaking the bowel-cigarette connection

Many of you who smoke know that euphoric first puff of nicotine and tar that hits your brain when you inhale in the morning is what gives you an immediate rush and makes you go to the loo. You can count on that first cigarette never to let you down. Deciding to quit however, especially after many years of smoking, is something you have to take into account when abstaining from cigarettes. Your body will crave for the drug, you will become constipated, and if you have not properly paced your body to wean yourself off pills and other mental health medication you might be in for some unpleasant withdrawal  symptoms in the form of cravings, moodiness, short tempered behavior, and the like. This is not, however, about quitting cigarettes but how to maintain regularity in the bathroom when you do stop smoking. I have fought many battles in the loo and know that there are no shortcuts to breaking an addiction. First, you must want to break the habit, then you must own it, and then you must send it on its way.

Break the habit with water

In the meantime you have to regulate your bowel. Your bowel is used to being triggered by that first smoke in the morning, and you have to break it. Trust me, if you do not follow a Gestapo-like attention to your bowel you are going to have toilet misery until you come up with something to replace smoking cigarettes.  Here is what I did after smoking for ten years, quitting for 25 years, and then starting again in my sixties when I made a film and had to smoke almost 500 cigarettes to re-shoot scenes. 

·         I quit smoking. Immediately my bowels acted up. I was told by my doctor to drink lots of water; I have a doctor – actually a neurologist – because I have Parkinson’s disease and constipation is one of the side effects.  I quit in the midst of some very bad things going on at the same time with Parkinson’s and was dealing with a right leg that moves constantly, trembling, headaches, dizziness; you name it.

·         I bought a kilo of prunes, took about 20 of them and washed them first before putting them in a small pot. When the water in the pot started to boil I switched off the stove and let the prunes soak in its own juice. I eat four prunes in the morning and four prunes at night; sometimes five prunes or six. Prunes are high in fiber.

·         I drink about 4 to 6 bottles of water every day and spread them out with my Parkinson’s pills which contain a lot of calcium and need to be countered with another blue little pill. I drink water every half hour or hour and make sure I eat veggies and fruit. I have mango and avocado in a bowl with a fat dollop of Greek yogurt.

·         I don’t eat foods that are binding and do not drink fruit juice except for the natural juice of the prunes which I myself cook. Once you have established a regular routine by triggering your bowel with something else – a lukewarm glass of water with a teaspoon of lemon juice for instance, or two tablespoons of hemp oil to keep you healthy and glowing – you can then work more confidently on your nicotine addiction. Go one step at a time. Best advice I can give you.

Dec 27, 2012

Fearing fear perpetuates fear, psychiatrist says.

Did you know that fear can control your behavior if you let it? David Ropeik an instructor at Harvard University and co-author of “RISK! A Practical Guide for Deciding What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You” argues that humans are hard-wired to fear first and think second.  Knowing that you have a surgery scheduled you worry about all kinds of things; needles, anaesthetic, whether you will wake up or die under the knife. This writer for instance has a bizarre fear of heights.

On a trip to Mecca five years ago I could not climb higher than a certain height as when I turned around I was almost looming over the city and felt like giving in to gravity and toppling over. How does one deal with phobias and this kind of fear? People who have never experienced anxiety and had full-blown panic attacks do not understand the fear of the sufferer and even though it is demonstrated to you time and again that you can conquer fear, the person does not believe it. Not fully. Not easily. Scientists agree that fear originates in a part of the brain called the amygdala where the ‘fight or flight’ response is launched. 

According to Dr Christopher Leonhard of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology who specializes in phobias and anxiety, our bodies come biologically prepared to go into a fear reaction’. The question, however is not whether a fear is learned or instinctive, but rather what it is that causes the person to respond so fearfully. To paraphrase, ‘what is learned early on and quickly, is the type of circumstance in your environment that causes you to go into that fear response.’ What can be learned from this is that while fear is instinctive and necessary for survival one can be taught what to fear.

Treatment for fear
Some medications can effectively treat fears and anxieties and this should be administered only after consulting a doctor. Another way to treat fear is extinction which involves a step-by-step approach to confront your fears. The idea behind this kind of therapy is to ‘feel’ and process the fear, to face it, and in time to conquer that fear. Leonhard is quick to remind you that while the benefits of extinctions are long-lasting it does not mean that the person will not have another fearful response. “But now you’ll know what to do.”

©2001 - 2012 Medill Reports - Chicago, Northwestern University.  A publication of the Medill School.Description: Dashed line

Dec 24, 2012

Peeling back the skin of 2012

Has it been a good year, a bad year, a year of growth, of depression, of betrayal, a year of discovering that things are not always what they seem to be? Had someone told me at the beginning of the year that I would develop Parkinson’s I would have laughed. But that is the surreptitiousness of life. When we least expect something, we get it. And when we most wish for it, it is nowhere in sight. There is an old saying that goes like this: “be careful what you wish for.’ There is a reason for it and probably a reason too as to why you should not have everything you wish for. 

Taking stock

Why not look at the coming year as the year of spiritual enlightenment and change and do something we have never done before? Not merely handing a beggar twenty cents, but actually stopping the car and talking and listening to him? We have become such a self-absorbed lot that we hardly look at people on the street for fear that if we look we have to do something to help them. If we don’t look we can forget about it. There are several things we can do that won’t cost a cent but will bring a smile to someone’s face and even give him or her hope.

What you can do to help

·         Read a short story or two at the hospital for old people every Saturday afternoon and engage with them. They need to have people to talk to.

·         Take some magazines and books for hospitalized patients who have nothing to read. Reading is a good pastime and keeps them occupied.

·         Give parents who have children with special needs the night off by looking after the kids for two or three hours. 

·         Instead of celebrating Christmas with the family, roast a turkey and make all the trimmings and take it down to the shelter for the homeless. You can also buy socks and blankets for winter with money you were going to spend on things you don’t need. Have a great New Year!