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Approximately 800,000 federal workers have not been paid during the long partial government shutdown. Presumably, they will receive back pay once the government is fully operating. Contract workers will not receive back pay. I assume this is affecting the health of these employees and their loved ones.

All of this is distressing, but most of us aren’t feeling the direct consequences. Or are we? For instance, the shutdown caused a reduction in the number of routine safety inspections performed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is responsible for most of the nation’s food supply.  Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar recently announced that inspectors have been called back to work, but only recently and not with a full team.

Then there is the matter of drug safety. The FDA is working with a smaller team, and delays are expected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also furloughed some staff. Flu season is the CDC’s busiest time of year.

Then there are the National Institutes of Health. Scientific research stops. Researchers won’t be attending scientific meetings that are so valuable to the advancement of medicine. Patients who were going to begin in clinical trials, will not be able to. Some of them are barely alive, pursuing clinical trials as their last hope.

Information is also affected by the shutdown. Have you visited the FDA’s website lately? It’s like looking at a rinky-dink site, rather than one belonging to a country with the wealth of the United States. (www.fda.gov)

Federally-funded clinics are affected. They appear to be open, although their staff are working without pay. I wonder what toll the lack of paycheck has on their health.

Politics has no place in the world of disease and health, life and death. But sadly it has inserted itself right in the middle of it.

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The Gift of Coaching

I read an article in the New Yorker that I’ve never forgotten, “Top Athletes and Singers Have Coaches. Should You?” Written by one of my favorite writers, physician Atul Gawande argues forcibly that even when we are at our best, a coach can help us in many ways. Top tennis players and musicians use coaches throughout their careers. They are always striving to learn.

The article left me wondering if I would benefit from a coach. The possibilities were endless. I could use some help with my fitness program. I could see where a life coach might be useful.  The essay stirred something in me, and I did what I often do when faced with potentially life-changing information, I filed it away.

One thing about change is that it occurs when we are ready for it, and not a moment sooner. In my case, it took nearly five years from reading that New Yorker article to committing to working with a coach. But when I was ready, change happened easily.

What Does a Coach Do?

There are many types of coaches, such as life, business, financial and health coaches. Coaching begins with an honest assessment of where you are in the moment. A coach asks the right questions, and in the process, encourages clients to see where they are and what they want. A coach can help you move beyond your limitations, and embrace what you want from life.

Why Use A Coach?

I fought the idea of working with a coach. I was afraid and I made up stories. What if I learned that the only way I’d be happy is by living in a monastery? Or worse, if I had to take up running? What if coaching was time-consuming, or costly. Besides, couldn’t I just make some goals for myself and then make them materialize, despite the fact that this has never worked for me before?

In time, I found someone who could work with my budget and my fears. The experience was profound and it was fun. The coach didn’t tell me to do yoga and plant kale. She helped me discover what I could do. The accountability and companionship of a wounded healer were enough for me to make genuine change.

Choosing a Coach

Look for a coach that fits your needs, preferably a certified one. There are varieties of certification programs. Spend a little time reading the credentials of the person you are considering, and see if their style resonates with you.

Ask for a free introductory session.  Many coaches offer this; it’s a good way to explore if that coach is right for you, and if coaching is really what you need.

Look for a coach who is focused and concrete. You should see results. Your coach should be helping you assess, plan, and reach your goals. If you aren’t getting anywhere, either you aren’t ready or you haven’t found the right coach. In either case, don’t waste your time and money.

If money stands between you and working with a coach, find out if there are any webinars, group sessions, or ways to work with your budget. I am famously frugal on most things, but when it comes to my health, it makes no sense to be pennywise, pound-foolish. If health is truly my foundation, then that foundation better be a solid one.

My only mistake was not doing this sooner. But as I said, we change when we are ready.

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The Life We are Given

“A man can die but once; we owe God a death. ” – Shakespeare (King Henry IV)

Shakespeare said, “A man can die but once; we owe God a death. “(King Henry IV)

I don’t want to discuss the issue of God and whether we owe God a death, but I think we can all agree that we die. In fact, death is a natural consequence of birth.

However, I thought about this Shakespeare line, and wondered: since death is unavoidable, don’t we really owe a life? Not just a life, but a good life?

Granted, one could argue that we didn’t ask to be born, and in that case, we owe nothing to anyone. But that assumes that we grew up with no help from anyone; that somehow we managed to get where we are with no assistance.

That is impossible. The road I use, the coffee I drink, the internet I am writing this on are here courtesy of many, many others. As the 17th century poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.”

If I am part of the greater cosmos, then what I do with my one and only life is critical. One day, I will have to pay the debt of death for this precious life I’ve been given. I pray I have not squandered it. 

What are you doing with the one life you were given? 

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Wishing All a Wabi-sabi New Year

Recently I was introduced to the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. According to Wikipedia, the practice of wabi-sabi is involves accepting the imperfect and changing nature of the world. However, it isn’t just about seeing the reality of life; it is seeing the beauty in the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

By Daderot – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45589849

One of the forms of wabi-sabi is Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. Essentially, the break and repair are as much a part of the history of an object, rather than trying to disguise the imperfection.

The year 2018 is coming to a close. For some, there is a natural inclination to look at ourselves, our habits and our flaws. We may be tempted to apply resolutions, to fix those areas of our lives that we perceive as broken.

Sometimes we are harsh with ourselves about our flaws. We may have expectations about what we “should” or shouldn’t” be doing. We want the imperfections gone.

What if our imperfections were part of the art of who we are? What if we incorporated the cracks in to the beautiful container of our lives? In short, wabi-sabi and Kintsugi invite us to embrace our cracks and flaws, and see the beauty that lies in the whole of ourselves.

If you are tempted to makes changes in the new year, consider the practice of wabi-sabi. Happy New Year.

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Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that life expectancy in the United States declined for the third straight year. There were 69,255 more deaths in 2017 than in 2016. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, “The last time the American mortality rate fell for three straight years was 1915-1918, during World War I and the flu pandemic, which took 675,000 American lives.”

In an interview, Brooks noted that people are dying from diseases of despair, such as liver disease, opioid use and suicide. I felt incredibly sad upon hearing this. Life expectancy should not be decreasing in this affluent nation which is enjoying a thriving economy. But despair occurs at all income levels.

I understand despair; I lived with mental illness for more than 20 years. I am a suicide attempt survivor.  Perhaps my story will alleviate the suffering of someone reading this. Burdens shared are lighter to carry.

How I stayed alive and eventually came to occupy the life I have now:

  • I got help.
  • I kept trying.
  • I took risks.
  • I learned to be patient.
  • I stopped nurturing my problems and started trying out solutions.
  • I acted like there would be a tomorrow, even if I felt like I would not live past today.

If you are in crisis and need someone to talk to, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

You don’t have to live with alone with your despair.

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Using Technology to Improve Health

Technology can help or hinder, depending on how you use it. 

Last week in A Healthy Relationship With Technology, I discussed some of the health pitfalls associated with technology. However, there are many advantages to technology, including some potential health benefits. This week I’ll discuss some of my favorite health-enhancing apps and devices. (Note: I have nothing to declare regarding these items. I receive no money or products or anything from the manufacturers.)

Calm – Calm is an app for meditation and mindfulness. There are many other really good mediation apps (Headspace is another favorite). I like Calm because of its sleep stories. This feature helps me sleep when I get an occasional sleepless night. I use Calm daily for its mindfulness and meditation tools. It has levels for all users.  

FitBit – FitBit is an activity tracker. My device monitors my activity, exercise, sleep, etc. When I sit for 50 minutes, it reminds me to get moving.

MyFitnessPal and Lose It! – These fitness and nutrition apps perform a variety of functions. I like the workouts, fitness videos, and easy recipes they offer.

Screen Time – This is my favorite feature on my iPhone. It tells me how much time I’ve spent on the phone. It was eye opening. You can set limits through this feature, which is great if you can’t stop grabbing your phone.

WeCroak –  The WeCroak app is inspired by a Bhutanese folk saying: to be a happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily. This helps my emotional and spiritual health, reminding me to keep my perspective.

YouTube – Want to learn how to do a proper plank? Try YouTube.

Hope this helps. However, don’t spend too much time on these sites. The point is to get healthier, not to sit more!

I’ll end with my favorite quote from WeCroak: “Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you,” – Welcome to Night Vale

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