Dylan McKay is gone

We learned the news today that Luke Perry, the actor who played Dylan McKay in the series Beverly Hills 90210, had passed away from a stroke at age 52. While we often hear news of the passing of many celebrities pretty much every single day, this was so sad given that Ed and I used to watch 90210 nearly religiously. When I think of Dylan McKay, he kind of feels like a classmate or friend who I knew and was acquainted with as a child and a teenager. That’s how much I watched that show, and that’s how close I felt to certain characters in that show.

If Ed were still here and heard this news, he’d probably be devastated. Any time a celebrity or someone we knew died, he would contemplate it long and hard. He’d wonder how an actor so young, at only 52, could die from a stroke.

Then again, how could someone so young like my brother at age 33 die…?

Health and fitness gratitude

It’s been nearly four straight weeks of working out at least 4 times a week, and my body feels really good. I’ve been starting and ending the day with stretching, and doing different workouts with my Aaptiv app to keep me motivated. Every time a workout ends these days, I feel really grateful and relieved… mostly because I know how painful and frustrating getting injured can be given the last two injuries I’ve recently had, and I hated the feeling so much — being powerless, having to wait who-knows-how-long before I would be healthy enough to properly exercise again. Every morning felt like a gamble: would my hamstring still feel tight? Would I still feel pain in my lower back? Please, pain, go away!

The experiences of getting injured recently have made me feel even more gratitude in the mornings when I wake up and feel 100 percent healthy enough to exercise, to go through my everyday motions and not feel constrained by any means at all. I can lift and carry whatever I want, get on a stool and feel steady, and not really have to worry about anything. This was not always the case in the last few months. I just felt so happy the last few weeks ending my workouts and thinking, I did my daily exercise. I didn’t get injured. I am in good health. I feel good. 

As human beings, we tend to take what seems to be the most basic things for granted. But the last few weeks, I have woken up especially grateful, honestly in a way basking in the fact that I am so lucky and fortunate to have the good health and fitness level that I do, and that I feel comfortable and confident in my own skin. Gratitude is the hallmark of happiness, as they always say.

Beautiful and green Vancouver and food “labels”

Three years ago when my parents, Chris, and I came to Vancouver for the first time, I was completely in love. This city, with its beautiful harbour, lush green parks, shiny new buildings, proximity to mountains, forests, and beaches — was like an urban paradise on the North American continent to me. The diversity of the city stunned me, and the number of ethnic restaurants everywhere was literal eye candy. There was no end to the number of Asian restaurants and businesses everywhere. And you could feel it immediately when you arrived at Vancouver International Airport because all the signs were in English, French, and Chinese. People were friendly. The city seemed pretty walkable. People exercise a lot here, everywhere. The air was fresh and clean. I decided by day three there: if I could pick a Canadian city to live in, it would be Vancouver. It pretty much has everything I love about a city… with the exception that it gets cold and rains a lot. But maybe I could one day temporarily deal with it? No need to be so absolute about anything, right?

I spent the mid afternoon to evening today exploring areas that I didn’t get to see much of in-depth the last time I was here, and I found myself loving it even more. The drizzly and overcast sky cleared up to reveal the sun and a few clouds here and there this afternoon, and so I frolicked around and enjoyed walking through Yaletown, Gastown, Chinatown, and the West End. I noticed the quaint cafe and coffee culture every few blocks. I witnessed road rage to the max when I least expected it (apparently, road rage is a big thing here; who would have thought that Canadians could be mean and vicious?). I heard multiple languages being spoken that I couldn’t even recognize and name. I was overwhelmed with my lunch options, all featuring local, fresh, and sustainable ingredients,  and had no idea where to start. Ooh, this is my kind of place. I just want to stay here forever.

Health and fitness are big in Vancouver, almost like the way I noticed it was a thing in Colorado when I visited, and the number of restaurants that not only accommodate vegetarianism and veganism but actually feature sections of these categories of dining is actually really astounding to me. I’ve become more open-minded to veganism over the last several years, especially when it is made with the usual  omnivore in mind. I’m never going to convert, but I’m happy to eat less meat. To put this in perspective, a “recommended” serving of meat/protein in a healthy, well-balanced, nutritious diet is four ounces; that’s about the size of a deck of cards. When you actually give the average American a burger or piece of chicken that size, they scoff at it and say it’s too small. In other words, we eat far too much meat and really don’t understand portion control. We’d all be better off if we reset our expectations and stopped expecting a lot of meat all the time, if not for anything else but our health’s sake. I love all good food as long as its tasty, but don’t give me a carrot and tell me that’s my main course unless you’re going to do something absolutely surprising and crazy with it.

I decided to stop by The Juice Truck in Yaletown today for lunch after reading many rave reviews about how good their food was by vegetarians and omnivores alike. What they do not label themselves as in their name or even description is “vegan,” even though they actually are a plant-based food company with multiple locations throughout Vancouver, both truck and brick-and-mortar shops. There’s not a single animal product used in any of their dishes or smoothies. You wouldn’t know this until you read the individual descriptions of the bowls, plates, or smoothies.

I ordered their “Caesar salad,” which is a mix of romaine, kale, and radicchio served with sriracha-roasted crunchy chickpeas, smoked maple tempeh, walnut “parmesan,” chipotle coconut bacon, fresh lemon, and their house-made creamy cashew “caesar” dressing, as well as their vegan peanut butter chocolate soft serve made with house-made almond milk. Both the salad and the soft serve blew me away. I’ve made my own crunchy roasted chickpeas before, but this was an encouragement to make this again and more often. The cashew-based caesar dressing was nearly addictive with how creamy and umami it was. I finished the salad and felt really satisfied. And what truly impressed me the most was the peanut butter soft serve. I cannot imagine anyone having that who is a peanut butter fan being disappointed and missing the cow milk.

Maybe it’s true: if we stopped labeling things “vegan” or “vegetarian,” maybe people would be more open to trying these foods and embracing them. The only place I saw the word “vegan” on The Juice Truck’s menu was in regard to the soft serve options and the loaf cake slices (banana and lemon coconut, which are made by a plant-based personality who lives in Vancouver and owns ToDieFor.ca. Labeling is overrated; good food is good food. And the more creative the food, the better.

 

Hamstring tightness

The week we got back from India, I did some pretty rigorous workouts, many of which included a lot of sprinting and HIIT sessions. And during one of those runs, I felt something feel like a pinch in my hamstring, but I figured, oh, it will be fine! It led to me hobbling the next day and feeling a lot of tightness along my hamstring all the way up to my butt, which as you can imagine, was really uncomfortable. I did everything from stretching to icing to rubbing tiger balm all over it. That was over six weeks ago. The pain isn’t there anymore, but the tightness still is. I stopped any running or cardio workout and mainly focused on my upper body. Then I tried swimming last week. But it still wasn’t improving. And it got me a little worried.

So, I called a doctor today to get some advice; he pretty much said I was doing everything I should be doing.. other than continuing to lightly exercise my legs. He advised against swimming, which I’d tried out in the last week. He also suggested I get a compression sleeve for my knee and thigh, which I did. And now I really feel like a poser wearing this. I’ve been hiding it with my skirts, but whenever I’ve seen other people wear these sleeves, I always think, wow, that person must be a real athlete! They must work out really hard! I’m not athletic at all, but I do exercise quite a bit. Now, I am one of those people.

He also told me to take it easy, as hamstring injuries can take up to three to four months to heal with proper care. That… makes me feel really excited. And like an invalid. Maybe it’s just a sign of aging since I’ve never really gotten injured during exercise before.

Out of the blue

An old colleague who I was friendly with randomly texted me out of the blue to let me know that his brother has recently talked about killing himself, and that his sister-in-law was worried and out of town and asked him to come stay the night at their place to make sure he didn’t do anything to harm himself. I don’t believe we’d seen each other for at least a year or two, though we were friendly when we worked together two jobs ago for me. He said he knew it was a lot to ask given we hadn’t really been in touch, but wanted to ask if we could chat.

I suppose I am a suicide prevention advocate. I fund raise to increase suicide prevention and mental illness and health awareness, so I’ve made myself the person to go to in a time of crisis. It’s almost like I have a moral obligation to agree to help. How can I say no? So we chatted for over an hour on the phone this evening and I tried to alleviate his concerns and provide some suggestions while listening to what he and his family have been going through.

The worst part about situations like these is that… it’s truly the blind leading the blind. Let’s face it: I was never successful in helping my brother help himself; otherwise, he’d be here now, right? So asking my advice, while I appreciate the thought… I’m not sure I am really capable of helping anyone. I can give my suggestions, say what they absolutely should NOT do, and then hope for the best. We can barely help the people in our lives now with their tunnel visions and chosen life outlooks. How can we help people we don’t even know?

Seasonal blues

For 18 years of my life, I had no idea what the changing four seasons meant. The weather never shifted dramatically in San Francisco, save for the few-day mini heat waves we’d experience, or the slightly elevated temperatures during our Indian summer between September and October every year. As I have spent more and more time on the East Coast, having just surpassed nine years living in New York and 13 years living on the East Coast, I think every time the weather starts turning from summer to autumn, I start becoming a little bit gloomier and more resistant to getting out of bed every day. I hate the cooling temperatures, the impending knowledge that right around the corner, the snow will be coming and the all the disgusting ice and muddy slush that follows it. I feel like either hibernating in my apartment under my covers, or taking every opportunity I can to run off to the warmer climates of the Southern Hemisphere at this time of year.

Genetically, some people are supposedly more predisposed to getting “seasonal depression” or seasonal affective disorder. Their bodies just don’t adjust as readily to the changes in temperature and weather. It’s not totally a mental block; it’s also partly physical, too. Your body starts physically rejecting the changes by making you more tired, eat a lot more or a lot less, sleep more. I feel like that this week. I wonder if there’s a way to test for that via our genetic testing that we’ve participated in. I wonder how predisposed I am?

How Not to Die

This week, I’m wrapping up reading my latest book How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease written by a doctor named Michael Gregor, who also leads a non-profit site called NutritionFacts.org. Reading this book has frankly made me even more angry about medicine in today’s world (or maybe just this country). In the book’s introduction, Dr. Gregor notes that he was inspired to go into medicine because of a truly life-changing turnaround he saw his grandmother go through. When she was just 65, she had a bypass surgery and was told that she probably had days or months at most to live. She entered into a pilot program (in a wheelchair) that required a plant-based diet and daily exercise. After about a month there, she walked out on her own two feet. And on her new plant-based diet and exercise regimen that she continued, his grandmother lived for another 31 years and was even able to see her grandson graduate from medical school.

Once he was of age and met all the requirements, Dr. Gregor applied and was accepted into 21 different medical schools. Much to his disgust, all medical schools in this country spend less than 1 percent of their curriculum on diet and nutrition. He eventually chose to matriculate at Tufts’ medical school, which at the time had the highest number of hours devoted to nutrition focus. He even interviewed at Cornell’s medical school, where one of the interviewers flat out said that there was zero connection between one’s nutrition and one’s health outcomes. Is this what our medical schools are filled with — people who really believe this? No wonder I think medicine in this country is crap.

If there’s one thing I’ve really followed that my dad taught me when I was young, it’s that I really hate taking medication unless I absolutely need it. “Your body is a lot stronger than you think it is,” my dad used to say. But what is “absolute” need, really? I suppose whooping cough is “absolute” need. Then what about high blood pressure? Do we really need high blood pressure medication? A study that Dr. Gregor notes in his book illuminated the fact that by taking two cups of strongly brewed hibiscus tea every day that on average you can actually see the same results as taking the leading HBP medication on the market. What would you rather take — tasty (but sour) hibiscus tea or pills every day?

I always read books like this with a grain of salt; even if I could live longer and healthier on a plant-based diet and eliminate all dairy and meat products, I know I’d be missing out on things I love in life, which I don’t want. But he offers a lot of insight into how USDA food recommendations are marred by food industry money and lobbyists, the benefits of pure grains, fruits, and vegetables that pharmaceutical companies have nothing to gain from if you ate them more, but you’d have lots to gain from a health perspective. He also discusses the science behind all of these things and evidence-based medicine (which I recently learned from a medicine-focused Freakonomics podcast is still not fully embraced by our medical community, surprise surprise; my friend, who is in her second year of doing her residency program now, confirmed this to me in her medical schooling). I realize we live in a factless world now with Dipshit as president, but how can you not embrace evidence-based nutrition and medicine?

Sealant

Another trip to the freaking dentist. If only my teeth could be invincible enough so that I’d never have another dentist visit ever again, I would be so unbelievably happy.

Today, I thought I was going to have a root canal because of some random hole that had developed in one of my teeth due to teeth grinding, but after an X-Ray that showed exactly what type of hole it was, my dentist determined a root canal would be too massive of a procedure for my issue. What is my issue? That a hole resembling the skinniest little cylinder somehow goes straight down one of my back teeth. This has been causing major sensitivity when biting into anything even remotely crunchy for the last seven months. So instead, the dentist cleaned it up and sealed the hole today. And I left with half my mouth numb, including my tongue. When I went to a restaurant to meet Chris, I ordered both of us drinks while feeling like my entire mouth was contorted, and I was speaking pseudo-English. I wonder if the server noticed.

This is my dental life now and for the future. I can brush and floss all I want, but my grinding is going to take over my dental life. And the silly mouth guard is only going to do so much. How did we become a society full of teeth grinders?

At the end of a Mother’s Reckoning

After seeing the Sue Klebold TED Talk where Klebold discusses the mass murder her son participated in at Columbine High School, I felt compelled to read her book A Mother’s Reckoning, so I picked it up from the library and finished it in four days. Needless to say, the Columbine shooting shook the entire country, if not the world, and opened our eyes to so many issues that are still a problem today: mental health and illness, the dangers and life-long lingering effects of bullying, gun violence and control, among others. I’ve finished reading the book, and have also spent a decent amount of time reading news articles covering the mass murder at the time, and also Amazon reader reviews, and this is generally what I think.

Sue Klebold is so right in that it’s so easy for us to say as outsiders that it’s easy to blame the parents. If you have never experienced the suicide of a loved one, or a suicide-homicide in her case, it’s easy for you to think that it could never affect your own life or that of someone you love who is close to you. You think to yourself, “if I had a friend/brother/sister/daughter/son/etc. who was going through that, I’d have to know.” No, you don’t have to know. No, you wouldn’t always be able to tell the signs. Sometimes it’s the people closest to us who have the most to hide and are the best actors. All of our lives are busy, and all of us are always going to overlook things that in hindsight, may seem obvious. We are all human beings, after all, and we are prone to error in judgment. We need to accept that we are not infallible. I’ve personally had to accept that every day since Ed’s death.

It’s hard for me to blame Sue Klebold and her husband the way so many readers and outsiders do because at the end of the day, don’t all parents “try their best”? Their best may not be your best or my best, but it’s to the best of their ability, as all of our spheres of knowledge are so different. Of course, the book is written by her, so it’s obvious she would want to portray her and her (now ex-) husband as good parents (which could make a potential reader think she would be an unreliable narrator), but that also seems to be the general consensus of those around them, as well, who knew them. She is also brutally honest in revealing all the “danger signs” that she and Dylan’s dad chose to either ignore or overlook at the time. She’s really using this book as a way to be a warning to all parents even non-parents out there: be aware that you may never fully know your child, but also look out for signs like all these that I failed to see. And I personally think that is so brave of her. It’s even braver of her to put herself out there in the world, volunteering for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, going to conferences around the country to share her story, despite all the hate and death threats that she has received.

One thing she does repeatedly in the book is refer to mental health as “brain health” instead of mental health. She says she does this because “mental health” is not something people can see or grasp, and therefore it is easier to ignore or avoid it; if we refer to it as “brain health,” it’s more visible, and it forces us to see that it’s part of our head. It’s an interesting concept, one that a number of readers have complained about, but I do think it could have some merit. Her argument is correct: it’s hard even for the medical community to take “mental health” seriously. Isn’t that why so many suicide attempts and hospitalizations are treated so poorly and handled in a way that wrongly treats suicide attempts as a conscious and active “choice” rather than a poorly made decision in a medical state of emergency?

First passing

Today, I talked to my mom, who informed me that one of her friends who attended our wedding back in March has passed away. He’d been struggling with health issues for a while now, and when we saw him back in March, it was clear he wasn’t doing well; he could barely walk. Yet he and his wife still made the trip from Hawaii to California for our wedding. He’s already been cremated, and the family is holding a memorial service for him in a month to allow for their relatives back in Japan to come to Honolulu and pay their respects.

It’s sad to hear about his passing, especially since he was so kind to my family and me when we visited their home in Hawaii back in 2007. Then, he seemed to be in great health and spirits, exuding so much warmth, enthusiasm, and a bubbly sense of humor. It had clearly faded by the time we saw him earlier this year.

Lives go on after our wedding. Babies will be born, people will die, others will get married, separated, divorced. We will all get older and time will pass. Or, as my dad recently said, “well, most people around our age — if they’re not dying from heart attacks, strokes or cancer, then they’ll die from falling in their homes. You have to go some way.” I wonder if they’re going to make the trip to Hawaii for this memorial.