Women’s Health Mental Health Issue

Women’s Health magazine’s May issue is out and p. 174 starts a detailed analysis of women and mental illness. May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

I do not disclose: you heard that right. I only disclose via the blog and the memoir and the public speaking I do.

The photos of the women in the magazine were of ordinary women with mental illnesses. One woman was admitted to a hospital and the nurse said: “You don’t look like someone with a mental illness.” The woman thought: “What am I supposed to look like?”

Go out and buy the May Women’s Health and read the mental health article. I subscribe to this magazine and have done so for the last five years. Most of the gym exercises they talked about I was doing long before they were talked about in the magazine.

I’m going to return to talking about recovery at mid life–promise. At that point I’ll talk about the number-one thing I started to do that turned my life around for the better forever. In keeping with this the next blog entry is going to talk about a fitness business I recommend 125 percent if you live in Brooklyn, NY. I wrote about this fitness center before and I had the pleasure to stop in to visit it to see for myself the benefit of joining.

In the fall I’m going to step up doing public speaking around my memoir Left of the Dial and for the second book I’m writing about recovery.

Kudos to Women’s Health–the best magazine of its kind–for braving to have a reporter write about women and mental health.

Schizophrenia and Aerobic Exercise

Now I’m not a lone wolf blogger braying or doing whatever wolves do in the wilderness.

For at least going on 10 years I’ve read and reported on news articles that link exercise to improved cognitive functioning as a person gets older.

Today the results of a study on schizophrenia and aerobic exercise prove that working out improves cognition in people who’ve had a first episode and are “treated” with exercise as well as computer training and medication shortly after their break.

The results are impressive. I’ve kept this incarnation of the blog going on two years now and loyal readers will be aware I’ve detailed my own experience with food and fitness.

Yes: I was a former “chubby.” My own mother uses the word “chubby” to describe how I used to be.

Luckily, I’ve always had a mind like a steel trap that was a few IQ points shy of qualifying for MENSA. I was lucky I didn’t have cognitive impairment after. Leading researchers have always thought that cognitive impairments not hallucinations are the true hallmark of schizophrenia.

Though not everyone with schizophrenia has cognitive decline the ones that do have it often have a greater hard time with getting and keeping a job, and forming and maintaining friendships and other relationships.

That’s no way to live. I do recommend aerobic exercise like Zumba or taking a spinning class. More than this I recommend lifting weights. I’ve started my sixth year of strength training and it works like a charm. The longer you train you keep seeing better and better fitness and your body continues to improve.

For long-term weight maintenance I recommend strength training by lifting weights. I’m also a believer in lifting weights to improve your mood and condition your mind.

You’ll keep fit by “lifting” and you’ll have a fit mind as well as a strong body.

Imagine: we can halt disability by using aerobic exercise to improve cognition in people with schizophrenia so that they can resume a normal life.

Read about the schizophrenia and aerobic exercise study.

The 80 Percent Guide

Pamela Peeke, M.D. in her book Body for Life for Women talks about her Mind-Mouth-Muscle trifecta for obtaining optimal health through the four Milestone periods of our lives.

Her foolproof advice is to follow her eating plan 80 percent of the time. That’s right: you can eat healthful food 80 percent of the time and that’s perfectly okay according to Peeke.

I don’t follow her eating plan to the letter because you have to remember the right combinations of food to eat. If you photocopied the pages with the eating plan and committed to reviewing it every day so that you could choose from it: you might start to remember the plan without looking at the pages.

Stellar advice she gives is that eating too much of any food even healthful food is not good. If you eat better food and choose quality over quantity you will also save money because you’re not buying as much food.

I don’t eat a lot of food. I try to switch up: eat organic Fuji apples when they’re available, pears and raspberries and other fruit when it’s in season (because in-season fruit IS cheaper.)

Buying seasonal produce is cheaper so it makes sense to do this. Yet I buy organic bananas year-round and I do eat bananas.

The 80 percent guide makes sense to me. I can’t resist the macarons at a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. Or every so often I will have a chocolate crepe. There you go.

Keeping a food log and writing down what you eat for two weeks is a great way to keep track of what you’re eating if you want to lose weight. The equation is simple: burn more calories than you consume.

Life isn’t always easy and doesn’t always go as planned. That’s when it makes sense to forgive ourselves and move on and recommit to healthful eating.

I want to quote an advertisement in Women’s Health magazine. Jillian Michaels the trainer is pushing Krave jerky in it. I don’t recommend eating any kind of jerky or beef or meat at all. If a person does only one thing, not eating meat would be the one thing to do.

While I don’t endorse any products at this time the advertisement is right-on about the reality of life. I didn’t read the rest of the advertisement because as soon as I saw the word jerky I didn’t think the product could be healthful.

Here’s the tag line:

“I’m going to do the best I can given what I have today. I’ll never settle.”

I’ll end here with those words. They’re so apt for what happens when our lives take a turn and we have to ride out a hard time:

“I’m going to do the best I can given what I have today. I’ll never settle.”

Happy Harvest

I advocate that a person is grateful for what they do have instead of bemoaning what they don’t have or being jealous of someone else.

At Thanksgiving I prefer to celebrate the harvest and the bounty in my life. The true root of the holiday is that we stole this land from Native Americans. Thus I prefer to focus on the season as one of reaping what we’ve sown in terms of a harvest.

Be grateful. Set a goal. The striving to achieve a goal is what counts not the outcome. I have achieved a fitness goal what’s called a performance goal.

I’m going to have a holiday party. I’ll set the table with the Missoni dinnerware I bought from Target. Little things like spending time with friends count more than whether we’ve gotten a degree or have a job if you ask me.

If you ask me the point is to enjoy life.

A backlash against the happiness gurus exists. Yes: I do think so-called experts can go too far in preaching that everyone gets happy every hour of every day. Yet being terminally depressed can rob a person of self-esteem.

A happy medium can exist. Happiness is an inside job. No one can give it to you and it doesn’t exist outside of yourself in the products we buy.

The happiest times of my life were when I played with my niece and nephew when they were young kids.

Now you see why I’m the biggest fan of finding what gives you joy and going and doing that.

Nothing lasts forever–hopefully not the emotional pain a person is in either. We must cherish what we have while we have it.

On this Thanksgiving Day I wish that readers of this blog have a good day. If you don’t have family to celebrate with go and do what gives you joy.

A happy harvest season to you.

Gym Member Success Story

I have some cheerful news:

Though I was not chosen for a member success story at the gym:

My story is going to be featured for the gym’s other upcoming social media and website promotions.

The review team responded to me thus:

“Your story was incredibly compelling and special” so the gym is saving my success story essay and photos for other upcoming social media and website promotions.

I’m sent a $25/gift card as a reward.

It’s not ever too late to change your life for the better.

I was 46 when I started to work out at the gym like a madwoman in training for the prizefight of her life. Before I was 46, I hadn’t lifted one single weight. Four years later when I was 50 I could dead lift 205 pounds.

This story I hope uplifts and inspires readers to make positive changes in your lives at any point in your recovery and your life.

The goal as ever is not for everyone to be able to do what I do.

The goal is for you to define what a happy and healthy life looks like for you and to go do that every day or as often as possible.

It isn’t over until we’re no longer here. While we’re here we have the right and duty to use our God-given gifts to make the world a better place for ourselves and others.

God didn’t want us to love our neighbors before or instead of loving ourselves. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” often only happens once we start to like and more to the point love ourselves for who we are as human beings not what we’re able to do. Character counts more than any achievements.

Doing what’s healthy that makes us feel good is the goal. My intent in telling you this good news was to help readers see that success is not out of the question and that it might come later in life.

The milestones are different for each of us. The results we obtain for ourselves are not going to be the same either.

Yet perhaps readers can take from my story the idea and the hope that you can set a goal and achieve it.

Like all things it’s the effort that counts not the result.

Always try your best to do a little better each day.

It’s not ever too late to change your life for the better.

Like the posters on the wall at a gym beckon:

Don’t give up the fight. Reinvent yourself.

50 is the beginning of a better life not the end of our lives.

That’s my point exactly:

Do what makes you happy. Live your passion.

A long life to you!

Skinny Girl Lemon Swirl

I bought a Skinny Girl brand Lemon Swirl power bar the other day. If memory serves it has whey protein.

I checked out the ingredients label and it appears that it doesn’t contain natural flavors or any other fake chemicals.

At the library I once scanned a Betheny Frankel diet book titled Get Skinny Forever or something ludicrous like that.

The section I read berated women for the food choices we make. That’s not going to motivate your readers to lose weight. I found that Frankel’s tone of voice in the book was hardly encouraging.

TheĀ idea that everyone has to be “skinny” is a myth if you ask me. I didn’t lose any weight after strength training going on five years now. Yet I did drop one pant and one skirt size because I gained muscle. So in that regard you could say I’m skinnier even though I didn’t lose weight.

The number on the scale shouldn’t dictate how we feel about ourselves. Maintaining a healthy weight rather than an unrealistically low weight is the better option if you ask me. Kate Moss’s body is not the kind of genetic anomaly any of us should aspire to have.

I see woman at the gym. Their arms and legs are sticks and they lift puny 15 pound kettlebells. That’s their thing so be it. Yet I recommend lifting heavier weights as you go along to develop more muscle to burn fat at a greater rate.

My mantra now is “abs and arms.”

I will be on the lookout for healthier snacks like the Skinny Girl Lemon Swirl bars.

I’ll report back in here on what I find.

I bid readers peace happinessĀ and health this summer.

Relax: you don’t have to be skinny.

Bring Strength to Life

I want to recommend a new gym in Brooklyn: Brooklyn Health and Performance.

The owners motto is that the gym staff help members “bring strength to life.” Their website encourages us to Be Determined. Never Quit.

The trainer tailors your routines to your individual needs and uses industry standards in creating routines. Unlike other gyms that offer a cookie-cutter approach to training.

It’s well worth it to consider joining Brooklyn Health and Performance if you live in the area.

I’m not getting paid to promote this gym either so don’t be fooled into thinking I’m gaining money.

You get what you pay for when you join a gym..

The gym is one of the only places in society where effort=outcome because you’re competing against yourself and no one else. In the gym the playing field is truly level.

Elsewhere if you compete against another person you might not win. When you compete against yourself you always win.

I’ll end here by saying that the goal is to strive to do a little better each day than each of us did yesterday.

Reconsidering Schizophrenia Treatment

Define what constitutes schizophrenia treatment.

Is it medication? Therapy? Family support?

My contention is that “treatment” must be inclusive of exercise, an eating plan, acts of faith in God or a higher power, hobbies and passions, work, school, and other healthy routines we engage in in our ordinary lives each week.

I wrote at HealthCentral about getting credentials. It’s my belief that we need to focus on habits we engage in to be whole and well. This is going to be a personal skill set or set of activities for each of us.

The days should be long gone when young people are shunted into traditional day programs, strung along years and years in a way that leads to dependence and disability instead of recovery.

This is precisely why I make the case for broadening what constitutes “treatment.”

I was lucky for over four years to employ the services of a trainer at the gym. I couldn’t afford weekly sessions so I met with him every five weeks to be given a new routine to do for the next five weeks on my own and so on. I achieved my fitness because of this trainer.

The trainer was a special person in my life and I’m grateful for the time I had with him while he was here.

This is why I think treatment needs to be expanded to incorporate at the least fitness and nutrition to help individuals with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses heal.

We can’t always do it alone. We need to assemble a treatment team that is comprised of peers and mentors for support as well as a doctor and therapist.

I wrote at HealthCentral years ago about a depressed woman who checked herself into a hotel with a spa for pampering as a form of treatment.

There you go.

I rest my case.


The playing field isn’t level for people with mental illnesses. Whether because of stigma or because of the battles a person fights against their own mind: the playing field is only level when you compete against yourself.

You can win when you choose to compete against yourself. You might even be able to win when you compete against others for a job or a promotion, or a spot on a sports team, or a place in graduate school.

I’m most interested however in the day-to-day: the pockets of time everyone lives in every day. In how we must celebrate little victories as well as milestones like 50.

I make the case for redefining success when in fact the playing field isn’t level.

I urge every parent to love your kid for who they are not what they can do in life. Get a pen and piece of paper and write down every great thing you can think of about your loved one. Try to write down at least 20 positive things you can see in your loved one. Keep on going.

Do this for yourself if you have a mental illness: write down five things each day in a grateful journal that you’re thankful for.

Winning isn’t always becoming a neurosurgeon against great odds. It isn’t always the result of competing with others in society.

In my book winning is as simple as taking action in the direction of your dreams. Winning is one day when you have the energy setting the dining table with a place mat elegant flatware and your best dishes. Winning is getting out of bed.

Winning is when you decide to like yourself even though you don’t see yourself reflected in media stories about successful people.

Winning comes when you accept that you are a great person just the way you are. You don’t have to apologize for your existence or justify to anyone else how you live your life.

Winning is not throwing in the towel. It’s telling yourself: “I got halfway today. That’s good enough. I can try again tomorrow.”

You win when you understand that you can’t do everything and have everything that other people have. You win when you’re grateful for what you ARE able to do and ARE able to have.

You win when you plant the seeds and water the grass in your own garden instead of envying other people’s grass.

It isn’t greener over there.

Each of us must define “success” in our own terms.

That as a fortune cookie stated: “There is no shame in failure only in quitting.”

Winning is making the effort even when the odds are stacked against you.

Winning is trying your best every day knowing that your best will change from day to day.

Winning is flashing a smile to someone who’s hurting.

Winning is tipping a waitress who’s been on her feet 10 hours 20 percent.

Winning is the little things.

Everyone’s a winner in my book.

You’re a winner simply because you try your best.

Athletic Heretic

I’m going to be hit in the head with a pocketbook or other big object for telling others that I value having a fit mind in a strong body.

Yet research indicates that exercise improves cognitive functioning as a person gets older. I’m living proof that getting mentally tough has allowed me to defend myself against hard times when life comes at me with hard punches.

Often, I was the only one in my corner when the punches came fast and furious. Yet ironically I don’t expect that anyone else should be able to take the punches and rebound quickly on their own.

I couldn’t be critical of any other person if they didn’t achieve a better recovery or create a better life or were not able to do other things like those of us who have. That’s why I’ve dubbed this heretic: it goes against the commonplace myth that people who are successful often take down others for not being able to succeed.

True sportspersonship involves fair play and inviting everyone to compete. Just by striving to achieve a goal you’re a winner even if you don’t achieve what you set out to. It is the trying not the outcome that counts in the end.

Trying can be as simple as getting out of bed on some days. It can be as simple as giving yourself a pat on the back when it’s hard to acknowledge your efforts.

Today I did the routine at the gym. I did a TK pulldown with 85 pounds for 3 sets of 6 reps.

My greatest dream would be to convince others to create an ongoing, consistent fitness routine. I don’t like to call this “exercise.” I like to call this a fitness routine because fitness is forever: it has lasting impact on your mental and physical health throughout your life.

I firmly believe that fitness is the bullet train to success for individuals diagnosed with mental illness. The point is not always to lose weight. The point is to gain muscle and to feel good. Muscle burns fat at a greater rate. So you can drop one pant size even though the number on the scale hasn’t budged.

Food for thought as it’s National Sports and Physical Fitness Month.

Now if you’ll excuse me I hear a kettlebell ringing.