on mulligans…

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

Henry Ford

Well, here we are again.

I'm 48 years old, 6 feet tall, and 285 pounds. I am middle-aged and obese. I still have hypertension, dyslipidemia, Type II Diabetes, and severe obstructive sleep apnea - not to mention Bipolar Disorder, anxiety, and depression. Every day, I take 5 prescriptions for metabolic and mood disorders. Every night, I sleep with the assistance of a CPAP device.

If that sounds familiar, it should. Last June, my wife and I set out to improve our health. I dieted and exercised for about two months. In that time I lost nearly 30 pounds. But, ultimately, I let a setback push me off track, and I never got back on.

Now, I'm trying a different program. It's called Take Shape for Life. It uses prepackaged meal replacements from Medifast. And, it involves a game called The Meltdown Challenge.

I'm supposed to eat six times a day: five meal replacements, and one "lean and green" meal. I'm supposed to drink 100 ounces of water a day. And, I'm supposed to check in with a health coach at least weekly.

Frankly, I was pretty skeptical. The diet works out to less than 1,000 calories a day, which is well below the recommended minimum caloric intake for men. No wonder they tell you not to start exercising at first. You're not eating enough calories to have any to spend on working out.

So, I'm a couple of weeks in and I have some observations:

  • My health coach is an amazingly positive person.
  • The game is a fun way of getting sucked into staying on track.
  • The meal replacements mostly suck.
  • I'm not nearly as hungry as I thought I would be.
  • I'm surprised at how easy it is to drink 100+ ounces of water.

Progress so far: 12 pounds down. Check back in a while to see if I was able to maintain such a low calorie diet.

on relapse, recovery…

Part of recovery is relapse. I dust myself off and move forward again.

Steven Adler

Well, the last two weeks have been hell. I was making such good progress, if not with my physical activity, at least with my diet. But, something happened and I got frustrated and started eating off plan. I even quit meal tracking, which is the kiss of death to my meal planning.

The end result? I've been bouncing around weight wise. Right now, I'm at 26 pounds lost. So, my goal for August didn't work out.

The silver lining? Well... There's a whole lot less junk in the house, now. I've eaten most of it. Also, my wife and I are talking about my relapse, which took two weeks. But, I was finally ready to own up to it, last night. So, back on the bandwagon tomorrow.

So, what are my goals for September? Well, I have this nifty Garmin fitness tracker that adjusts my step goal based on whether or not I met my previous goal. When I meet my previous goal, the new goal is higher. When I don't, it goes down. With that in mind, I think I'll lower my goals this month:

  • 8 pounds
  • 30+ minutes of cardio, 2+ times per week

As always, wish me luck!

on salad…

Lettuce is a vehicle to transport refrigerated water from farm to table.

Tamar Haspel

As someone who consumes on at least one salad a day, I found Tamar Haspel's article in the Washington Post an interesting read. He makes the case that lettuce and many other common salad vegetables are nothing more than water nutritionally. And, he argues that our agricultural land would be better used growing more calorie dense foods, such as corn, given the fact that there are so many of us on this planet to feed.

In the article, Mr. Haspel picks on chain restaurant salads in particular. But, as any self respecting dieter knows, restaurant salads are to be eaten with the dressing on the side, minus the tortilal chips and candied nuts. Plus, lettuce is not in salads for it's nutritional benefit. It's there for bulk, to help induce satiety.

on staying active…

In youth, we get plenty of exercise through games and running around, but as middle life approaches, we settle down, literally and figuratively.

Gene Tunny

August is nearly gone. So, how am I doing on my goals of losing 10 pounds and exercising for 30 minutes, 3+ times a week. Well...

I started August at 264.8 pounds. Now I'm at 258.6 pounds. So, that's 6.2 pounds in 3 weeks. With one week to go, it's unlikely that I'll hit 10 pounds for the month. But, 8 pounds (or 2 pounds a week) could still happen.

As for the exercise? I haven't been doing any. :( I haven't even been paying attention to my fancy fitness tracker when it tells me to get up and move. So, that likely explains why I'm not going to hit 10 pounds this month.

Tomorrow is a new day!

on health…

We are all human beings, and we all have insecurities, but it's about being healthy and happy with yourself.

Jacqueline MacInnes Wood

Well, it's been one month since my wife and I began the 20/20 Lifestyles diet. Thankfully, I'm better at following the meal plan than I am at blogging about it! So far, I've lost 20.2 pounds!

For those of you keeping score, I lost a little over 10 pounds in week one. Then I lost another 9+ pounds over the next three weeks. This is completely normal. Most of the weight I lost in week one was water weight, because I was woefully dehydrated. Once I started drinking enough water, my body dumped the excess reserves. From here on out though, I hope to maintain a pace of 2-3 pounds per week.

With July successfully in the books, here are my goals for August:

  1. Lose another 10 pounds
  2. Exercise 30+ minutes, 3+ times a week

As always, wish me luck!

on dieting…

The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not.

Mark Twain

Having gone through the 20/20 Lifestyles program in the past, I knew what I was getting into. I knew that week one was going to be tough. In fact, the quote above describes it pretty much to a tee.

In week one, the goals of the program are to a) get you moving, b) get you hydrated, and c) get all the refined carbohydrates out of your system. So, I'm following the meal plan, drinking lots of water, and I started taking walks.

In the five days since I started the program, I've taken three walks of 45 minutes each. Tomorrow, it'll be four. The day after that, it'll be five. And, so it begins. Eventually, walking won't get my heart rate up enough. Hopefully, by then, I'll have lost enough weight that my knees can take me jogging.

Water consumption is going extremely well. In the last five days, I've had somewhere around 340 ounces of water. It sounds like a lot. And, boy let me tell you, it is. I must pee half a dozen times a day now.

And, that brings me to food. The diet calls for men to eat between 1500 and 1750 calories a day. So far, I've averaged about 1570 calories a day, which is great. But - and here's where the quote comes in - I am REALLY tired of drinking protein shakes and eating grilled chicken. Thankfully, so is my wife. So, she tried making broiled tofu with a cilantro pesto sauce tonight. And... It was really good! I'd totally eat it again!

I'm so thankful she's doing this with me. It would be impossible on my own.

on lifestyle…

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

I'm 48 years old, 6 feet tall, and 285 pounds. I am middle-aged and obese. I have hypertension, dyslipidemia, Type II Diabetes, and severe obstructive sleep apnea - not to mention Bipolar Disorder, anxiety, and depression. Every day, I take 5 prescriptions for metabolic and mood disorders. Every night, I sleep with the assistance of a CPAP device.

But, today, that all ends. Today, I'm taking back my life.

Almost ten years ago, my wife and I participated in a medically supervised weight loss program called 20/20 Lifestyles. It was quite rigorous, and very successful — I lost 85 pounds in 20 weeks. I was able to stop taking my blood pressure, cholesterol, and Diabetes meds. Everything was better — even (or perhaps, especially) sex.

The program prescribes both diet and exercise, both of which are tackled in 7 stages. The diet starts by removing virtually all carbs, then it adds back one food group at a time. By the end, the diet resembles the one described above by Michael Pollan.

As for the exercise component, it begins with a 30-45 minute walk at 65% of your maximum heart rate 5-6 times a week. The program later adds stretching and weight lifting components to help with flexibility and to raise your metabolism so you burn more calories all day long.

Finally, there's another component to the program called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or, NEAT). Basically, that's a long way of saying that you need to remain active throughout the day. To meet that goal, you need to walk 10,000 steps per day above and beyond whatever steps you get during cardio.

So, beginning this Sunday, June 28th, my wife and I are going to do it all again. We're going to recreate the 20/20 program as best we can. And, I plan to blog about our progress regularly.

Wish us luck!

on adversity…

Sometimes things have to go wrong in order to go right.

Sherrilyn Kenyon

Have you ever been so frightened that your insides shook? No?

Have you ever been so cold that your insides shook? Ah!

That's what severe anxiety feels like. I should know. I spent the first half of 2014 shaking inside.

Actually, it started in November 2013, when my boss gave me six weeks to find a new job. Those six weeks were awful. I started looking around for work, but could not find anything. So, I tried to negotiate a new role at my current employer. They didn't have anything for me. I was so anxious that I could literally feel myself shaking inside.

The axe fell the first week of January. That was hard. I was so scared that I'd not be able to find another engineering management role. I feared my skills were inadequate. After all, I'd just been fired, hadn't I? Who'd want me?

I spent the next several weeks in panic mode. I had no idea what to do. I sent resumes all over the place. But, I wasn't getting any traction. I was so tied up and twisted inside that I could never put a good foot forward, let alone my best foot.

Eventually, the anxiety gave way to depression. I just sat around watching television and playing games on the computer all day, completely ignoring my predicament.

Then, finally, in April, I began writing software again. I started slowly. I took as many online tutorials as I could. I passed all the coding tests and was accepted at a local code school - one of the bootcamp style programs. I declined their gracious offer, and started looking for a job as an engineer.

I found a job in the middle of June. But, even then, I would still get bouts of anxiety. What if my new employer finds out I'm not good enough? What if I get fired again? What will I do?

Well, here it is March 2015 and I'm still there. Not only that, I got a 10% raise after only six months! So, I did something right!

Looking back on it now, I was working in a terrible environment. The company had a toxic culture. I tried to stay because I was so afraid of not being able to find work elsewhere. But, ultimately, I'm much happier at my new employer where the culture is more supportive than competitive.

Sometimes things have to go wrong in order to go right.

on attitude…

Life is a terminable condition.

Kris Carr

I stumbled on this quote recently...

Life is a terminable condition. We're all going to die. But how many of us will truly live, and live for ourselves first and foremost? Not for your spouse, not for your parent, not for your career, not for your illness. Live for you. That's the golden ticket.

Kris Carr is a cancer survivor turned wellness activist. And, while this quote is about her emotional journey, the part about not living for your illness spoke to me.

on depression…

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams

Robin Williams

I'm saddened, but not surprised, by the news, today, that Robin Williams committed suicide. I knew he had suffered from depression. And, frankly, when I first heard about his death, I immediately wondered whether it was suicide.

Depression is a bitch. It is insidious. And, it robs you of everything joyful and inspiring about life. It can even take away your willingness to live.

on shame…

I should have been a pair of ragged claws, Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

T.S.Elliot ~ The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

This phrase, more than any other I've ever read, captures how I feel about myself when I think about whether or not I'm enough: good enough, smart enough, healthy enough, etc.

I read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in eleventh grade. And, I don't think I've read it all the way through ever since. But, I remember that line. I memorized it in a single reading. I remember being astonished by how accurately a turn of phrase could articulate how I felt inside.

Now a days, the quote wafts through my head from time to time. Usually, it has nothing to do with anything. But, it always reminds me of the emptiness of shame.

on shame…

Shame is, "I am bad." Guilt is, "I did something bad."

Brené Brown

I am ashamed of myself. Near as I can tell, I have always been ashamed of myself. I also feel guilt. But, mostly, I feel shame.

I'm not a good enough. I'm too fat. I'm too lazy. I'm too dumb. I'm too mentally ill. That's the Cliff Notes version of my internal monologue.

Brené Brown gave me a mirror when she compared shame and guilt. In her second TED Talk, Listening to Shame, she said:

Guilt: "I'm sorry. I made a mistake."

Shame: "I'm sorry. I am a mistake."

I am a mistake. That's exactly how I feel, even when my medication is working. And, what's worse, is that shame has some pretty negative correlations:

Shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders.

I'm guilty of all of those except, thankfully, suicide. But, what do I do about it? How can I feel differently? How can I remove shame from my life?

on diagnosis…

Your symptoms are indicative of Bipolar Disorder.

My first psychiatrist

Wait! What?

How can you possibly know that? This is only my third session. You don’t know me. You can’t possibly know that I’m crazy. What, just because my antidepressant sent me into a productive fury?

Damn it!

Don’t take away my antidepressant! I felt awesome! I don’t want to feel like I did before. Please, don’t make me quit. I’d like to feel like that all the time.

Holy shit!

What if I am crazy? What will people think? No one will want to have anything to do with me. I’ll be a leper. With HIV!

No one knows.

Thank God, no one knows. I just won’t say anything. I can hide it. I can burry the crazy. Besides, it’s not anyone else’s business. It only affects me.

Well, yeah…

I suppose my family counts. And, what few friends I have. And, maybe my coworkers. I guess I’ve been pretty hard on all of them: missing work, raging furiously, ignoring them…

Alright, alright.

I’ll take the mood stabilizer. But, can I please stay on the antidepressant? I just don’t want to go back to where I was before.


Is that all the antidepressant I can take? That’s a quarter of what I was taking. Okay. Well… It’s better than nothing, I suppose.

on communicability…

Misery is a communicable disease.

Martha Graham

Mental illnesses aren't typically thought of as communicable diseases. There is no bacterial infection to repel. Mosquito netting won't prevent it. But, I'm here to tell you that my mood affects everyone around me - and a whole lot faster than the common cold.

It doesn't matter whether I'm down in the dumps, or bouncing off the walls, my mood is generally miserable. Either I'm too low energy to do anything (like leave the house or even shower), or I'm sleep deprived and irritable from a late night coding session that felt like the most important thing in the world (even more important than getting up for work the next day). Whichever way my mood is swinging, I can still be miserable to be around.

My deep concern is that I'm passing on my mental illness to my children — not just through genetics (which I can't help), but through my behavior. Kids parrot everything that comes their way. It's how they learn. But, I don't want them to do as I do. I want them to be healthy and well adjusted.

Knowing what I know now about bipolar disorder, I'm pretty certain that my mother suffered from it. There were times when she wouldn't come out of her room for days (except to eat). And, there were lots of times when she'd stay up all night working on some project. She called herself a night owl. But, I believe she was actually just bipolar. The signs were all there.

So, given what we know about genetics and mood disorders, I concede that some portion of the blame for my disease lies squarely on my X chromosome. But, I still wonder whether or not my all nighters are simply me mimicking my mom.

on anxiety…

For as long as I can remember I have suffered from a deep feeling of anxiety which I have tried to express in my art.

Edvard Munch

For as long as I can remember, I've suffered from a deep feeling of anxiety, too. It's always there at some level. Stress exacerbates it. At times, I am completely incapacitated by it.

When that happens, anything can set me off into a rage that can best be described as "shock and awe." I've never hurt myself or anyone else physically; but, I've done some serious damage with my tongue. And, I see it in the faces of my children, who wince whenever my voice rises above conversation level.

It was my son who convinced me that my non-treatment plan wasn't working. When I raised my voice to speak to my wife who was in another room, he cowered and covered his ears. The look on his face was pure terror.

This is the same, sweet, five-year-old boy who once told me, "Dad, there's love inside this hug." There is nothing but sweetness and love in his heart. And, he was terrified of me the moment I raised my voice. Its the worst kind of heartache I've ever known. It convinced me that I needed to do something about the root cause.

So, now I'm doing things differently. I went to see a psychiatrist. He became the third doctor to diagnose me with bipolar disorder and anxiety. He put me on a new medication. And, I'm feeling better.

Unfortunately, it'll take more than a pill for my children to stop being afraid of me. I'll need to stop yelling and screaming. I'll need to discipline them softly (which, thanks to my parents, does not come easily). And, I'll need to make sure that there's love inside every hug I ever give them.

on bipolar, mania…

Oh, God of Dust and Rainbows help us to see that without the dust the rainbow would not be.

Langston Hughes

When I first read this poem back in high school, I thought of it as nothing more than a poetic way of saying that you have to take the good with the bad in life. But, what if the author was talking about bipolar disorder?

Manic depression, as the illness was once called, is often associated with creativity. And, many people who experience mania don't want to do anything that would stop that feeling. Having experienced a taste of mania, I understand why. It is amazing!

When I was hypomanic (a low-power version of mania), I got the sense that I understood things at a deeper level than ever before. I saw connections where there were only coincidences. And, I wanted to explain it all to anyone who'd listen. Best of all, I felt incredibly creative.

Truth is, though, that it didn't last. And, when I came back down, I became deeply depressed. So much so, that I would miss work and stay in bed all day.

I've not had a hypomanic episode in years. I'd love to have another — if, that is, I could skip the corresponding crash. But, since the crash is at least as low as the high is high, I'll stay on my meds...

So, no rainbows for me. But, no dust, either.

on happiness…

Happiness is when what you think, what you do, and what you say are in harmony.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi is an inspiration on many levels — certainly both as a man of piety and as a soldier of peace. But, of all the profound things Gandhi did and said, it is this quote that I keep coming back to.

It sounds so easy — just don't say or do things you don't believe in. Simple, right?

But, what if all you think about is what a terrible person you are; how you weren't good enough at school, and you suck at your job; how you're a shitty husband, and an even worse father.

What should you say? What should you do?

What I did was lash out at the smallest perceived slight. I was a real joy to be around. I could suppress it for my public persona. But, if my stress levels rose, or if I was in my "safe" space, I really let loose. The rage was venomous. The bile putrid. And, most of it was aimed squarely at those most precious to me: my wife and kids. Basically, I was trying to make the outside of me as unhappy as the inside.

After experiencing these thoughts for 30 years, and three separate diagnoses by three different psychiatrists, I finally feel like things are on the right track.

I've been on a new medicine for about a month. It's not perfect — the dose I'm on right now is making me drowsy, and I'm still having negative self talk —but, it's worlds better than where I was two months ago.

I'm finally clear headed enough to not fly off into a rage at the drop of a hat. I'm finally feeling like I can actually attempt to think of the illness as separate and apart from me. I'm finally starting to find peace of mind. Maybe happiness is next.

on beginning…

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.


My name is Alan. I am a husband, a father, a professional programmer, an amateur photographer, and...

I have Bipolar Disorder, depression and anxiety.

So, I've got that going for me.

My intention here is to reflect upon my illness as objectively as possible – to take it out of my head and look at it as separate and distinct from me. If you have a mental illness, you know how difficult this is.

If I happen to help you or anyone else through my writing, great! But, that's not my goal. I'm not trying to be Glenn Close. I simply want to live a happier, more productive life, free of depression, anxiety, rage, and shame.

Wish me luck!