Tag Archives: health

Moving forward

Photograph: A low sunset on December 31, 2013. The sky is light blue with a tinge of orange-red on the horizon. In the lower half of the photo is part of a yard; it is very dark and in shadow.

This was part of the last sunset of 2013.

My Australian friends have been enjoying 2014 for almost a day now, but I still have a few hours to wait, work, and reflect.

This Site

I started mackenzian.com last January as a space for writing, exploring ideas, and connecting with others, and also as an archive for my book reviews, publications, and ongoing research. Nearly 150 posts later, I’m pleased with what the site has grown into and am grateful for all of you who’ve joined me in learning through the year.

In 2014, the site will grow some more. I’m in the process of moving the website to an independent host, and as I move, edit, expand, and upgrade over the next quarter, you might notice a few technical issues. Please bear with me and let me know if you catch broken links or anything else that disrupts your experience; it’ll be running smoothly again soon.

Health and Wellness

Last January some of my former grad school colleagues invited me to join what we called The 20/50 Club. Our über-target: to complete 20 hours of exercise and 50 hours of writing per month. This site and #NaNoWriMo kept me moving on the writing goal, but I wasn’t so sure about the exercise.

PHD Comics cartoon of a graph titled "Amount of exercise I get over the year." Graph lines decline between January and summer break, and decline again through the fall semester and ends at zero.

This chart does not match my success with exercise this year! (c) Jorge Chan 2013

Recovering from 8 years of study but determined to regain some fitness as well, I struggled to find my rhythm. Then, in February, I settled on an experiment: 20 minutes of non-stop cardio every day for 21 days—just to see if I could cycle non-stop at speed for 20 minutes and maintain a positive habit for 3 weeks without exception. I ended the experiment victoriously on my birthday, and when that cycle ended, I rebooted it.

From then on, I allowed for the occasional travel day and rode on Sabbaths if I’d missed a session during the week. By April I varied the cardio routine to keep myself guessing, mixed levels of difficulty, and blended rolling programs with intervals. I increased each session to 25 minutes in September; by October, I was up to 30 minutes; and this month I increased it for the final time to 32 minutes. I won’t extend the cardio session from here on: I’ve rediscovered calisthenics and now complete a bodyweight routine on alternate days. I may reintroduce interval programming in 2014 and I’ve added the app MyFitnessPal to help me monitor my diet.

My end-of-year cardio total (February 26-December 31): 1,227 miles and 31,779 calories. And my blood pressure is back to its pre-US ranges.

I’m happy with these results.

Settling In…

With a STEM grant for a local public school system, five figures in fundraising for a social non-profit, team leadership on a state organizational assessment project, and starting over half a continent away from my old home in Texas, I accomplished a lot this year. I’ve made some new friends, attracted new clients, and weathered local DMVs twice for a driving license. But this year’s greatest stressor was the United States immigration system.

It’s almost impossible for even my most empathetic citizen friends to understand what that last sentence means.

Since arriving for my first graduate degree last decade, I gained work and stay authorization through my institution. I was then a student and university employee, and was granted short-term visas to complete my studies. Once I graduated, I lost that institutional coverage.

My move away from my university town was a move that hundreds of thousands of domestic graduates do each May, August, and December every single year. Since I moved in May 2012, five cohorts of graduates have done the same. These graduates might face challenges resettling somewhere new, or re-acclimating if they’ve gone back home. They might take with them skills, experience, and enthusiasm. They might have years of potential, tons of will, mountains of grit.

All of that I had, but it wasn’t enough to move me forward. Outside of the umbrella of my former university, I was restricted. I couldn’t apply for positions I was fitted for. Area institutions had citizenship or status hiring limitations that froze me out. I kept up with changing laws for people in my category, went independent, and developed professional, contributing relationships doing valued work (sometimes for pay, sometimes for free).

Yet I underestimated how much instability and indeterminacy would come from working through my post-grad year without a clear way to new authorization, or how much it would wear on me to watch my 1-year authorization tick-tock away.

When my mother called, she regaled me with descriptions of her latest Jamaican meal: the fresh fruit, Grandpa’s pineapple and oranges, the greens and root vegetables from the yard, my favorite starch ever—roasted breadfruit—and the other morsels that make my mouth water as I type.

She would tease me with her food, and then she would say, “Everyone… everyone sends their love. When are you coming home?”

There was never a satisfactory answer. I’d just started to build my life here, set up a work and reading space, connect with a local church. I’ve been out of Jamaica for 9 years and away from the UK for 16 years—I’ve been a UK expat for longer than I lived there. Until I was able to transform my immigration status, I’d have no travel permit: even if it had been the best of times, and it wasn’t, there was no way I could visit relatives abroad and still hope to return to my life.

There were times when I considered leaving the country. These thoughts usually came late at night, when everyone else was asleep and the frustration crept over me, when I struggled to invoke the reality I wanted rather than the nightmare I feared; those were low times. When the low-grade stress became a scream and I thought I was exhausted, I conferred with a lawyer and started the process of applying for permanent residency independently.

I won’t tell you that that’s when the stress lifted and the exhaustion faded away. Because that wouldn’t be true. There were 5 more months of indeterminacy, and sometimes when I look back, I can’t believe that I didn’t come down with some stress-triggered illness.

It was my friends, mentors, and allies who kept me standing this year. Incredible combined effort from me, my family, our legal advisors, and my current and former colleagues, and we eventually met with success.

I’m a US permanent resident now. I have no restrictions. I’m adjusting to that liberty to imagine that my domestic peers have always had and perhaps never knew the price or value of.

I’m meeting a new year with the ability to move.

…And Moving Forward

About three weeks ago I looked ahead at the new year and realized that I didn’t want to wait until tonight to regain my momentum. So I’ve been spending quiet time and most of my post-holidays afternoons with the Star Trek movies (but of course), some sketch paper, and colored fine-tipped Sharpies refining my goals and drawing out my next few steps. I’ll be able to share some of those next quarter.

In 2014, I want to move forward. I will move forward. And I look forward to hearing from you all through the year as we step deliberately into our futures together.

A little year-end/new year perspective via Carl Sagan and student animator Adam Winnick. Happy 2014, all of you! 

Live well, learn well, and love well here, on our Pale Blue Dot.


Lapse In Judgment Question Card

Do you incessantly beat yourself up after a lapse in judgment?

Most of us have done something we cannot believe we did—unexpected and seemingly uncharacteristic. But it was in our character, if only in a very small part of it—a part we have not fully acknowledged, and a part that is mostly out of our sight. When we gracefully accept this aspect of ourselves and understand the conditions that led to its expression, we are in the best position to bring it into a more proactive expression the next time we meet a similar circumstance.

In Search of My Mother’s Garden — Walker

From Robin Carnes and Sally Craig’s book Sacred Circles:

“In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.” —Alice Walker

“We might look at our mothers as our first mirrors of ourselves. What they reflected back to us about ourselves we often took as the truth. When we begin to see our mothers as real people, not just as parents, who are struggling as imperfectly as the rest of us to make the journey, we see that what they mirrored back to us about ourselves as children was probably not about us at all but rather about who they were at that time. Talking about our mothers and how we feel about the people they were and are helps us to differentiate ourselves from them, even as we honor our connection with them.” (pp. 138-139)

Differentiating and connecting are both essential and complementary aspects of healthy relationship. Too little differentiation leads to enmeshment; too little connection leads to isolation. Too much differentiation produces distancing; too much connection undermines boundaries.

The metaphor I’ve often used for my own path with and around other people is planetary or stellar orbit: I travel an orbit myself, I have regular companions and am the regular companion of others. I cross orbits with others; I approach more closely at some times and more distantly at others. I attract some and am attracted by some. On rare occasions I crash into other travelers or am hit by one—but I still have my orbit to travel.

Our relationships are similar: partners, friends, siblings, parents, neighbors, coworkers, peer commuters, the panhandlers we pass each day, the accountants we see twice a year, our doctors and consultants, our religious teachers, and on, almost infinitely… Each of us has an orbit to travel. Each of us negotiates our connection and differentiation patterns with the people we meet and know. And both processes are necessary.

This is one of the insights that I processed over several years; it helped me to make sense of my relationships with other individuals but also helped me to understand and shift my relationships with the institutions I’m a part of.

If you missed this week’s series on sexuality and the Seventh-day Adventist church, I’ll be keeping the three installments up on this site:

Part I: The Magic of Shame (6/3)
Part II: Caring for our Mother (6/5)
Part III: Filling in the Gaps (6/7)

Experiment: 21 Days of Cardio

Each year I give myself a birthday present. In previous years, my self-gifts have included a bass guitar and amp, an adjustable set of dumbbells, and high quality bed and bathroom linens.

This year, after 8 years of grad school, 4+ years of major life changes, and nearly a year of preparation to move across country, I looked in the mirror and asked myself “What does this body most want?”

This Year’s Present: Physical Conditioning

Over the last two months, my local church has been hosting health screenings and info sessions: blood donations for the Red Cross, heart fitness, and blood pressure tests in the lobby. But it was a BP screening that got my attention with the highest diastolic reading I’ve ever had in my life. I was so shocked that we came home and I retested it. Our home reading was lower than the reading in the church lobby—but still, it was far too high for my comfort. I was unnerved.

Throughout my life, my BP has been obnoxiously low: my British doctor once took a reading and asked me if I were dead. I have always been active in some way, whether as intensely as sport 4-5 days a week (a decade ago) or as moderately as walking most days to and from campus with some light weights at home (last year).

As we age, however, our bodies change and so do our routines. I carry around about 25 more pounds than I did when I first moved to the United States. I no longer play team sports, but I’ve done light resistance training on and off over the last few years, with great results each time. But the bottom line this time: my BP was ridiculous (for me), I hadn’t trained consistently since moving, and what my body most wanted for its birthday was more muscle tone!

21 Days of Cardio

So I made a commitment to myself to do some cardio/aerobic exercise every single day for the following 21 days. I’d planned to increase my activity level this year and love exercise when I’m in the middle of it, but I’d struggled most with getting into it and staying consistent. The recommended standard of 3-4 days per week hadn’t worked for me: I spent too much energy trying to adapt to a shifting daily schedule.  So rather than try to remember whether “today is cardio day,” I decided to make every day cardio day.

I kept the entry barriers low: no new clothes, no gym subscription, and only 20 minutes per session. My favorite person has a recumbent bike; I decided to use that. And there were no other rules, though informally I decided that once I started pedaling, I would not stop until my daily time was up. That was doable. So 20 minutes on the bike non-stop every day.

How did I do? See for yourself.


21 Days of Cardio: Feb 26-Mar18
Day Miles Calories Routine Style
Day 1 4.51 156 Rolling, Level 6
Day 2 5.03 143 Rolling, Level 4
Day 3 5.00 122 Interval, Level 4
Day 4 5.18 130 Rolling, Level 4
Day 5 5.23 132 Rolling, Level 4
Day 6 5.02 122 Rolling, Level 4
Day 7 4.85 115 Interval, Level 4
Day 8 5.08 125 Rolling, Level 4
Day 9 5.20 131 Rolling, Level 4
Day 10 5.20 131 Rolling, Level 4
Day 11 5.08 126 Interval, Level 4
Day 12 5.32 137 Rolling, Level 4
Day 13 5.23 132 Rolling, Level 4
Day 14 5.20 131 Rolling, Level 4
Day 15 5.10 127 Interval, Level 4
Day 16 5.19 130 Rolling, Level 4
Day 17 5.28 135 Rolling, Level 4
Day 18 5.22 132 Rolling, Level 4
Day 19 5.09 126 Interval, Level 4
Day 20 5.28 135 Rolling, Level 4
Day 21 5.13 128 Rolling, Level 4
TOTAL 107.42 2,746

You’ll notice I rode a rolling circuit at Level 6 on my first day (the bike apparently goes up to Level 16, which is insane). I finished my 20 minutes that day, but it was hell! For the rest of the experiment, I stayed at Level 4, and switched from rolling circuits to intervals every fourth day so I didn’t get too comfortable.

And my blood pressure? It dropped 20 points in the first 4 days and was at 113/63 by Day 18. I have more energy through the day, feel more toned, and my thighs are lovely… I’m cool with that. It was my last session today, but I think I’ll be seeing the bike again tomorrow morning for a new round of 21. Happy birthday to me!

How about you? Have you run any short-term experiments with your own lifestyle? Did you finish the testing period? And did you keep the change afterwards?

Edit: The original post’s total miles and calories calculation did not include Day 11. This post has been updated to reflect the correct totals.