Looking Back and Looking Ahead – Good things are happening!


My Journey So far…

My journey so far...The way we humans envision time is a funny thing.

When I start looking back I am often surprised at how much, or how little time has actually passed.

And, if you will pardon a wee bit of bluntness, I’m often surprised by the huge amount of CRAP that I’ve been through!

No wonder my face has some tread marks on it because life done run me over! Several times!

In the colorful vernacular of present times: Life be like — “Boy you done been Bitch Slapped!”

Life is getting Better! Way Better!

2016 is going to be a FABULOUS yearIf things keep going on their current trajectory, then 2016 is going to be an amazing, stupendous, exciting, fabulous year!

It may, indeed turn out to be the best year of my entire life.

Wow!

The truly amazing thing is that my focus has shifted.

I’m no longer focused on the “here and now” locked permanently into “survival mode;” I find that I am only looking “back” to measure how far I’ve come and/or to explain to friends when they ask me “where have you been hiding?”

My focus is firmly pointed toward the future.  A quick rundown of the exciting things that are happening:

  • I’m loosing weight! Yay!
    ..
  • As of this morning I weigh 294.6 — that is a total of 40.4 lbs lost from my highest weight of 335 lbs.
    ..
  • My health is improving on almost a daily basis. My stamina is up. I’m moving more.
    ..
  • I’ve started dancing again!
    • I am back in the studio practicing.
    • I’ve started teaching line dance again — lots of stuff happening there; more on that later in this post.
    • I’ve started an Instructor Training program at a local studio and as soon as I finish that program I’ll be put on staff teaching couples dancing, both Ballroom and Country — THIS IS FRIGGIN’ HUGE!
    • I’ve been put on staff at one dance event already for the coming dance year, 2016, and I’m likely to be put on staff at several others!
    • I’m planning on competing this year in Line Dance!
    • I’m beginning to choreograph line dances and will be competing in Line Dance Choreography this year.

Things are turning around.  But to understand just how wonderful and much of a positive change these and other events and happenings in my life are, I have to go back in time and fill you in on how awful things were… 

Long time readers of my blog will recognize bits and pieces of the story but you’ve probably not seen it laid out so concisely in one spot.

For my new readers, new “dance friends” I just made at Dallas Dance and at Worlds, and for my friends with whom I only recently reconnected…

…in the words of Bette Davis “Fasten your seat belts...”

And, uhmmm… you might want to hit “pause” and go grab a cup of coffee or soda and some snacks.

I never intend for my blog posts to be long. Stop laughing!  It is true!  I really do try to make them short, but somehow…  sigh

Oh, well, it may be long, but it is without a doubt entertaining…and informative… Now git…go grab that beverage…

…back?  Got your soda?  Cool… here we go:

The date my life changed…for the worse

Looking back on one’s life, even on recent events, is much like using a crystal ball to peer into the future: the images are very VERY foggy!

Some events are far less clear than others, however, some points of your life you’ll never forget; never.  They remain with you for all time.  Scarred over perhaps but they remain an integral part of you.

March 2012 marks such a date for me.  That was when I lost my job during the “Great Recession.”

“Losing my job” just doesn’t convey the magnitude of the event.  People loose their job for one reason or another all the time. For me though it wasn’t just a job.

In order for you to understand JUST how BIG a deal loosing this job was, well I have to give you some information, and it will take just a bit.

Being a Librarian – My first Great Love

I was a Librarian.  Note the phrasing.  “I was a Librarian” — not “I worked in a library” — Being a Librarian was a core part of my identity.

And being a Librarian was one of two great loves I had when I was growing up.  Libraries were always part of my life from my earliest memories.  My family moved around a lot when I was young.  Not until the 7th grade did I complete an entire school year in the same school.  And even then we moved twice during that year, but fortunately we stayed in the same district.

Eighth grade: different school, with multiple moves.

Ninth grade: different school, with multiple moves.

Not until the tenth-twelth grades did I attend the same school for more than one year in a row…and yes, we moved around several times during those three years.

Meet, Sparkle, Learn fast, and Say farewell…

As a result of this, I gained certain skills and viewpoints that both enhance my life and haunt me, depending on just how you look at it.

Always being the “new kid” on the block, or in the class, I quickly lost any shyness that I had.  Because, as the “new kid” I was often an object of curiosity.  I learned how to meet folks and quickly engage with them.

I gained an ability to quickly learn new things.  I became good at taking tests because every new school meant a new battery of “placement tests.”

Nothing was permanent.  Which meant that to this date I have a hard time with names.  It takes me at least three times to remember a person’s name.  And if I’ve not seen or been in contact with that person in a while, the details about them just slip out of my memory.  sigh

Which means I’ve gotten very good at saying “I’m so sorry; I know we’ve met, but I can’t remember your name…”

People throughout my youth, simply were not “permanent” they were temporary visitors, like the players in Shakespeare:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,

—  William Shakespeare’s As You Like It

Libraries have always been there

People might come and go, but one thing that was constant during all my youth was “The Library” — every city and town, no matter how small had a library.  And because I was the oldest of four kids and thus a built-in baby sitter for my siblings, I quickly developed a maturity beyond my actual years.

In other words, my Mom didn’t freak out if I asked to walk or ride the bus for quite a ways to get to a library.

So there were books.  And in every library there was a helpful Librarian to help me find those books.

And most importantly they were free.  My family background, especially during my youth, is a tale of living at or below the poverty line.

So, as I moved into High School I had pretty much decided that being a “Librarian” was what I was going to do “when I grew up.

There was a very brief fantasy I had of being an astronaut.  And I still am a space geek.  But that was never a real calling.

“A Calling” — that is what being a Librarian meant.  At the end of the day, I knew in the deepest core of my being that the work that I had done during the day had helped someone! 

And that my friends is a good feeling.  It is an amazing feeling.

So “the library” was my first “great love”

My Second “Great Love”

Performing.  I love being in the spotlight.  I know, my friends who are reading this are shocked. — NOT!  🙂

And, I should point out to those friends who know me “in person” or “in real life” are probably now putting some pieces together and going “Aha! So that explains why Tony is such a social butterfly at dance events, never sitting still for long and rarely entering into long discussions”

It isn’t that I object to them.  I actually like them.  But then number of close friends that I have, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Folks who have gotten past the many layers of “Tony-ness” and discovered that there is actually a rather complex fella in there somewhere. 😉

But, I digress.  I do that you know.

Performing is a vital part of who I am…

Once I began Junior High (three schools) and High School (one school) and College (two schools), I discovered I have talent.  Really.  I have a larger than average dollop of “artistic talent.”   I am a creative spirit.

I truly love the act of creating art.  Over the years, I’ve danced, I’ve done art, I’ve done graphic design, I’ve written, I’ve toyed with music and so on and so on.

I have an Associate of Arts in Drama (graduated with Honors)

I have an Bachelor of Arts in Theater and Library Science.  — I did a double major because I realized that making a living being “creative” is a tough thing to do.

I have a Masters of Science in Library & Information Science.  — I went back for my Masters after being out there as a “starving artist” for several years and finally deciding that I’d really like to have a “day job” that put me into the Middle Class.

I actually was in Two Movies: Killing in a Small Town and Problem Child (the first one).  I was in several industrial training films, and did a few local not-for-profit plays.

So…after a few years trying to make it as an actor, I returned to my FIRST “great love” — being a librarian.  When I did that, performing became very much a part time hobby.

My “Third Great Love”

I love to teach.  I’m good at it.  I’ve taught classes as part of being a Librarian ever since my first job after getting my Masters Degree.

Most of those classes have been computer classes.  When teaching, my students have fun while they are learning.

I love it when I see “the light bulb” go off in a student when they “get it.” That is so awesome.

And I discovered that my skills for “performing” enhanced my skills for teaching.

The day my life changed…

2012When I lost my job, I didn’t just loose my job, I lost a core element of my identity.

To put this into a visual scale, allow me to offer this metaphor.  Everyone is familiar with “earthquakes.”

You know that earthquakes come in all sizes, from ones that are so small they are felt only by sensitive scientific instruments.  Then tiny ones that are barely noticeable shudders that may rock the books on the shelves back and forth just a bit.

And then there are the ones that have never actually happened in real life: Like the over-the-top only seen in Hollywood Blockbusters like the scene in 2012, and San Andreas

Where buildings crumble and square miles of coastline tilt and slide into the sea.

THAT was what it felt like when I lost my job.

And it got worse…

Depression is a sneaky SOB

Pardon my colorful abbreviation.

You adults reading this will get it and if tiny eyes are looking over your shoulder then you might have an interesting conversation or you can take the easy way out and say that “sob” is a form of crying…  😉

So….I lost my job.  During the recession.

Just before loosing my job, I discovered that I was suffering from diagnosed depression; aggravated by a stressful work environment. The details are not worth going into; just accept that work, in spite of how much I loved being a Librarian, was not easy nor fun the months preceding my job loss.

I was actually in treatment, on medication and seeing a counselor and making progress in getting it under control and BAM!  The job goes and…

[drum roll please]

BAM — no health insurance.  — No meds.  No more couches where I got help battling my inner demons.

Every doctor will tell you it is a BAD IDEA to go cold turkey and stop taking depression medication.   I can tell you from experience that the doctors are right.  You should NOT go cold turkey.  I had no choice.

Buy me a beer sometime and I’ll give you the gory details of how to spot depression in men and how living with untreated depression is not a good idea.

Middle of the Great Recession

Well, folks, there just wasn’t any work to be found.  After trying for months to find work in my field, and failing, I started looking for work in any field.

And found that I wasn’t the only guy with a Master’s degree out of a job and trying to get one of those minimum wage jobs — any job.

So I slashed my budget and started my own businesses

You may recall that I have a extra dollop of creative talent?  Well, I decided that I needed to put it to use:

  • I started teaching line dance — a big step, turning “pro” in Line, but not in couples dance.
  • I started “writing” online getting a share of the income from the ads that appeared alongside my articles
  • I started a graphics design business, creating designs for sale on Zazzle and Redbubble

And I discovered something significant

  • A large part of my stress vanished – that daily commute of two hours was a BIG PART of what was causing me stress
  • And, I liked being my own boss

Even though my income was far less than what I was making when I was a librarian, I liked the trade off.  I liked being in control.

I had hopes that I’d be able to actually make a solid living being my own boss… Alas I was to learn how wrong I could be.

But things were not rosy…

I was still battling un-treated depression.

I was burning through my 429 retirement plan to pay my bills and keep a roof over my head and food on the table.

When the 429 balance reached zero, I began burning through my 401k – at a 30% penalty for early withdrawal.  Yikes!

Dance became a luxury.

Remember that creative endeavors are a vital part of who I am.  So here I was – no longer a Librarian because I lost my job and could not find work in my field in the DFW area.

AND THEN…I lost dance.  First Line Dance went.  Then ProAm’s leaving only couples competition with drastic reduction in practice times and events and lessons.

And then I couldn’t afford that.  I really couldn’t afford it at all.  And in hindsight, I should have stopped dancing earlier but dancing was the only part of my life that remained from “before” the job loss…

Dance became non-existant and the budget kept shrinking

If you ever dance, then you know how much energy you burn through; how many calories you use.

Stop dancing.  Start gaining weight.

So…I burned through my 401k – zero balance.  I was still unable to find work.

It wasn’t as if I wasn’t trying.  I got SO FRIGGING TIRED OF BEING TOLD “You’re over qualified for this job.”

Arrrrrgggghhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!! Grrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!  And like hundreds of thousands of people in my situation, I gave up trying.  You can only take being told “no” so long before you loose hope.

So.. the budget had to shrink even more.  Everything got cut.  Including food.

Balanced diet?  HAH!  Yeah, right!  That’s a laugh.

Eating healthy is expensive

Do a quick Google search.  You’ll find hundreds of articles that explain this in detail.  But from first hand experience, I know that when money is tight, food becomes a place where you can shave dollars.

You end up buying cheap crappy food, loaded with sugar and processed carbs.  You by whatever is on sale.

And you gain weight.  And I did.

Your health suffers.  And my health did.

What about applying for Public Assistance?  Or using the “Safety Net”

In Texas, for a single male.  There is no such thing as a “public safety net” — NONE.

The ONLY program which I qualified for was Food Stamps.  After spending eight hours over two days, filling out the forms and gathering the documentation to submit my application for assistance I clicked the “submit” button — and I waited.

Two weeks later, I got an email and a letter saying “Congratulations, You are accepted into the SNAP program.”  SNAP is what most folks call “food stamps”

You want to know how much the Great State of TEXAS determined that I should get?

[ drum roll please ]

$15

a month

No, that isn’t a typo.  Fifteen dollars.  That’s it.  That’s all.  And to get that $15, every six months I had to spend eight hours proving that I deserved $15. That I wasn’t trying to rip off the good citizens of Texas and abuse the system.

I did that for two cycles – a total of 1 year.  Until two things happened (1) new rules were imposed to require that I job hunt, making 3 job contacts a week and document that search and (2) I would have to be drug tested.

Well, by that point, I was physically unable to hold down a job; any job.  And.. as a matter of moral principle…

EXCUSE ME?!!!!!!!  THEY WANT TO MAKE ME TAKE A DRUG TEST?  FOR $15 A MONTH!!!!!!

The **&*(&#$#@#$!!!! drug test costs more than that!

No, thank you.  I decided that I would not re-apply.  It simply is not worth the humiliating process they make you go through to get that $15.  Do you have ANY idea how little food $15 buys? The truly sad part is that I actually could use that $15 but the hassle is just not worth it.

So, fair warning…NEVER in my presence should say anything negative about “folks on welfare” or “those people” who get food stamps.  I. WILL. GO. OFF. ON. YOU.

Unless you’ve walked where I have walked, you have no basis upon which to form an opinion on the subject.

So… the picture is pretty gloomy

  • Unemployed in the sense of no full time or part-time job and physically unable to hold down a job even if I found one.
  • Cut off from a career that was a core element of my identity
  • Cut off from regular teaching, an activity which I loved and from which I derived much personal satisfaction
  • Cut off from regular dancing, an activity which I loved and from which I derived much personal satisfaction — even social dancing wasn’t an option because it takes money to go out.
  • My budget has been slashed to bare essentials
  • My 401k is exhausted
  • My 429 is exhausted
  • I’ve had not choice but to take an “early” retirement and start drawing on my Pension from TMRS (Texas Municipal Retirement System) — its isn’t a lot but at least it is steady and it will be there for the rest of my life.
  • I’m making enough money through my three “self-employed” businesses to meet most expenses each month, with careful budgeting.

And there are sharks circling

This is where the memory gets fuzzy. I’d have to go digging through my previous blog posts and look at my Quicken reports and income tax to get the dates correct.  And for the purposes of this blog post it isn’t really necessary.

IF, someday, I get lucky enough to turn my story into a book and/or get lucky enough to become a public speaker and tell my story in self-help seminars on the talk circuit, then I’ll line up everything in date order.

For now… just a general idea of the ordeals I faced over the past few years is enough:

BAM! Shark bite #1

I fall and break my right wrist – no health insurance (this is pre-ACA) and I need surgery.  If I don’t have the surgery, the hand will be maimed and basically unusable for the rest of my life.

Forget about every using a typewriter again. Forget about being able to dance with any high level of skill again…and that’s just for starters!  The impact on my daily life would be tremendous.  I am right handed.  I would have to re-learn how to do everything from getting dressed, to brushing my teeth, to using T.P. in the bathroom!

On the bright side, if that had happened…  What can I say, I am a glass half full kind of guy…

If my hand had healed without any medical treatment and thus been non-functional; I would have qualified for Social Security Disability which in combination with my Pension would have guaranteed me a Poverty Level income for the remainder of my life.  Not a desirable outcome AT. ALL.

As a brief aside…  My experience has revealed to me just how horrible my homeland, the United States, cares for its most needy citizens.  When I needed help in a bad time, THERE WAS NO HELP TO BE FOUND!

 As a result, fair warning: I have VERY strong opinions about the non-existence of a safety net in this country and what we need to do to prevent ANYONE from going through what I experienced over the past few years.  Every single one of us in the United States, unless you are a millionare or a billionaire, in other words, if you’re part of the 99%… you are a SINGLE PAYCHECK AWAY FROM DISASTER.  And there is no safety net.  None.  The “system” quite frankly doesn’t give a shit if you live or die.  I know. I’ve been there.

Perhaps my story, will help educate folks and help bring about change so that we end up with a country where we take care of one another.  That’s why Bernie Sanders has my vote.

Thank you for allowing me the brief digression.  🙂

I found a kind surgeon…and a kind billing / admittance clerk…

Fortunately I found a doctor who was willing to do the surgery at a loss.  Because he is a good man and he has a heart. There is no better way to say this but “he took pity on me.”

I paid him for the first office visit and the follow up visit.  I paid the hospital a $500 deposit.  I didn’t lie to anyone; everyone involved knew that I wouldn’t be able to pay but they wink wink* pretended that I could when they set up the ahemwinkwink payment arangements.

Thank God for good people.  I have a hand that works and is fully functional because of these people.

I still have over $20,000 in bills from that surgery which I’ll probably never be able to pay.  The folder of invoices and statements in my file cabinet is over 3 inches thick.

BAM! Shark bite #2

I was in a car wreck.  My 2009 Toyota Tacoma was a pile of scrap metal.

I live in Dallas. We have no effective public transportation system.  The odds of you being able to find a job and being able to use the DART system to get to and from work and/or being able to use DART to take care of the daily grind of life, like going to the grocery store, is pretty much astronomical.

You. Have. To. Have. A. Car. In. Dallas/Fort Worth.

It is pretty much a requirement.  I wish I lived in a dense urban area like New York or Chicago where you can get along fine without a car, but here in DFW, you gotta have a car.

So, I had to deal with all that and suddenly I had car payments again.  And my insurance went up because of the accident and because I had car payments, I had to get full coverage, “comprehensive” — Arrrggghhhh!!!!

BAM! Shark bite #3

Somehow I injured my shoulder. — Not related to the car wreck.

One morning (during the period where I did not have any health insurance) I woke up and could not get out of bed.

Literally.  I had to yell for help from my room mate, who fortunately was home at the time.  — He has a strange work schedule because he is a College Professor.

Whenever I tried to move my left arm, my shoulder was in PAIN!!!! Serious mind numbing blinding pain!

I couldn’t lift it.  I couldn’t hold anything with it.  I could not use it at all.  Holding a roll of T.P. caused pain.  That’s a few ounces folks.

And I had no money to go to the doctor.

Eventually the pain went away but to this date, I’m still working on recovering full range of motion.

Now that I have health insurance, I got a MRI and high powered X-rays and saw an Orthopedist, and I’m getting Physical Therapy for it, I know that what happened was that I had a “Posterior Labral Glenoid Tear.”

The pain went away not because the tear healed – they don’t heal on their own; they stay torn.  The only way to “fix” them is with surgery.

The Orthopedist, who is specializes in sports injuries, said that the muscles and ligaments around the shoulder strengthened to protect the injury which is why the pain stopped.  He says that there is some damage to the socket so I now have some arthritis in that joint.

The treatment will be physical therapy to strengthen and stretch those muscles and periodic cortisone injections for times where I’m going to be stressing the shoulder, like just before a big competition.

BUT…back THEN… I basically could not use my left arm and left shoulder for about six months; it took that long before any semblance of “normal” use started coming back.

BAM! Shark bite #4

I threw my lower back out.  I couldn’t straighten up.  I could barely move.  I didn’t shower for 3 weeks because I couldn’t stand up in the shower long enough without debilitating pain.

BAM! Shark bite #5 — the BIG Kahona!  The one that might have killed me

I became a diabetic.

And I had no idea that I was a diabetic.  Sometime in 2014 I acquired full blown Type 2 Diabeties and it went untreated.

Even though, in 2014, I got health insurance through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; as wonderful as that seemed, it wasn’t really, at least not in 2014.

The first year, the number of available doctors that were “in network” consisted of the doctors who were the bottom of the barrel, the ones that the insurance companies had NOT allowed onto their “commercially available individual plans” or “employer provided plans.”

Just so you know…I’m summarizing like a mad man at this moment, so no one nail me to the wall for generalizing.  I realize that I’m sacrificing nuance for brevity at this moment.

Bottom line: I ended up with a crappy doctor.   What I needed at that point was an advocate for my health; someone who would reach into the hole that I was in and pull me out of it.

What I got was a doctor that sucked and who quite frankly didn’t know me and didn’t care enough to go the extra yard that I needed at that point.

For example, when I went in for my physical, my blood sugar indicated there was a problem, but he never followed up on that.  Never called me back in for a more thorough blood work or schedule a 3 month or 6 month followup.  He did none of the stuff that a good doctor would have done.

And this guy was among the HIGHEST rated of my available choices.

His response to my “shoulder injury” was to pretty much to hand me a mimeographed sheet and say “do these exercises.”  And he misdiagnosed it as a torn rotator cuff!  He did no x-rays.  He ordered no MRI. No specialists examination.  No referral to a Physical Therapist.  He just poked a little bit at my shoulder and told me to do some “exercises” on my own.

Grrrrrrrrrr!!!!!  Is there a statue of limitation on stupidity when a doctor does it?  Anyone an inury lawyer and want to help me sue this quack?  Willing to take the case pro-bono and take a split of the settlement?  Seriously if you are then use my Contact Form.

So 2014 was pretty much a wash for me on the health – improvement front.  I continued to gain weight and my health continued to decline, but at a slower rate.  Having health insurance meant that I could at least go to the doctor when I got a cold or rash, etc.

And I had dental insurance again.  I got my teeth cleaned for the first time since 2012.  That’s a scary thought isn’t it?  I got a couple cavities taken care of… so things were a mixed bag.

So, for the year, some good.  Some continued bad.  But some health care was better than the zero health care I had before the ACA.

The BIG thing was that the crappy doctor I didn’t spot that I should have been put on Diabetic Medication.

End of 2014 moving into 2015

Backing away from the abyss…

Toward the end of 2014 I realized that if something didn’t happen, if I didn’t get control of my health and turn things around, I was going to die.

Did you get that? I was going to die. 

I was miserable.  I was fat.  Life didn’t seem like it was worth living.  My income had dropped so low that I had to ask for my room mate to let me live with him “rent free.” Technically  I have never paid “rent” to my room mate.  He is my best friend in the whole world.

We met when we both joined the same dance team many many many years ago.  Over time we became friends and then best friends.  I knew that he sometimes rented his spare bedroom.  So when I needed to move and about the same time his “renter” moved out, we cut a deal.

I’d move into his spare bedroom in his condo and we would share expenses.  I wouldn’t technically “rent” because if I “rented” then he’d have to file it on his income taxes.  So I split the expenses with him.  It was a good deal.

It was one of my lowest moments of my life when I had to go to him, my best friend, and say that I had to choose between continuing to pay my truck payment or ask him if he would help me out by me not paying my half of the electric and the other “expenses” for our shared living space.

He said “Yes, I’ll help.  Of course I’ll help.”   I console myself by telling myself that if the positions were reversed, I’d do the same.  But it still is an awful feeling to know that you are not on the street only because someone you know values your friendship enough to lend a hand.

Frankly if it were not for his help during the past few years, I really would be out on the street, holding a card board sign.

Or I’d be dead.

Seriously.

2014 was the low point

For most of 2014…

  • Walking was difficult
  • Standing for more than 10 minutes caused me physical pain.  Not just soreness.  Nope.  We are talking the kind of pain that is a “Danger! Will Robinson! Danger!” “STOP Now!” — the pain that indicates that you’d better stop what you are doing because you are causing injury to yourself. That is the kind of pain that standing to make a sandwich caused me.
  • Taking out the trash or loading the dishwasher were physical ordeals that required an immense amount of effort.  I would literally take a nap after doing either of these things.
  • I got really good at stretching out clothes and minimizing the number of times I needed to do laundry because doing a load of laundry down in the laundry room in the condo complex was an all-day ordeal.  I’d have to rest and nap after the washer.  I’d have to rest and nap after the transfer to the dryer.  I’d have to rest and nap after getting the clothes out of the dryer, that is assuming I had the strength to go get them at all.  On several occasions I had to leave them in the dryer ask my room mate to go and get them for me when he got home from work. Because I did not have the strength and stamina to go down and back up that flight of stairs for a third time in the same day!!!!!
  • Climbing a flight of stairs required the perceived effort output equivalent to running a marathon.
  • Shopping for groceries became an adventure.  I could no longer shop at Kroger.  The store was too big.  I couldn’t stay upright long enough to make it through the store. — So I started shopping for my “groceries” at Braums where they have a mini-market that is a much smaller “grocery store.”
  • At Braums I’d make sure that the food was sorted into bags where the food requiring refrigeration were separate from the foods that could be left in my truck for a few hours.
  • When I’d arrive home with my groceries, I’d take the two bags of “cold” foods and head to the stairs.  At the bottom of the flight of stairs closest to my department:
    • I’d set the two bags of groceries on step #2 of the stairs.  And I’d lean on the hand rail until my breath returned to a somewhat normal rate.
    • I’d then lean over and put my hands through the handles of the bags.
    • I’d put my left foot on step #1, then bring my right foot up to join it on step #1
    • I’d then straighten up lifting the two bags of groceries up to step #3
    • Then I’d bring my left foot to step #2, bring my right up to join it on step #2, keeping my hands in the handles of the bags.
    • And then I’d straighten and lift the bags to step #4
    • And I’d keep going like this until I reached the landing half way up the flight of stairs where I stopped and leaned on the railing and caught my breath.
    • Then the whole process would begin again for the second half of the flight of stairs.
    • On rare occasions, one of my neighbors would walk past and offer to help me; assistance to which I gratefully said “yes” — But this didn’t happen very often. Because I went shopping during the middle of the day when most of my neighbors were at work.
    • At the top of the stairs another rest stop took place then I’d lift the bags and walk the 30 feet or so to my apartment where I’d put the bags in the kitchen and have to rest for about 20-30 minutes before I’d be able to put the food away in the fridge.
    • Then I’d sleep for a couple hours.
    • And when my room mate got home, I’d ask him to carry in the other two bags.

Finances were a nightmare

I’d started doing online surveys and micro-tasking — a LOT of them, to bring in SOME money and it helped.  I managed through careful budgeting to be able to pay for everything except my “rent,” the short hand for “my half of the living expenses” which my room mate covered in full.

Only on a very rare occasion, did I have to ask for money for food; but I wasn’t eating well.

My weight peaked at 335 lbs and I had a body fat percentage of 43%

Dearest readers, those who have followed my blog for a while know that sometimes I am prone to exaggeration and love to indulge in a bit of DRAma just for the sake of well “drama.”

Not. This. Time.

I swear by whatever deity you follow that I am telling you the 100% truth.  Ordinary things that you take for granted as part of your daily routine were monumental challenges.  Showering was a full blown work out — and toward the end of 2014, it became an infrequent one.

Don’t judge. Really. I know it sounds disgusting. But I’m willing to bet that if taking a shower caused you pain in your knees, your hips, and your lower back and at the end of it your were gasping for breath and you were terrified that you’d slip and fall and not be able to get back up or reach a phone for help, then I bet you’d take fewer showers too.

I’m not kidding her folks.  That was my life, just a little over a year ago.

I could no longer dance at all.  I barely walk.  Dance?  Yeah, right.

Even a desk job was not a real possibility. Think about it…well would YOU hire a job applicant if he looked like he was about to have a heart attack when he turned in his application?

Most white collar jobs now require you pass a fitness exam in order to be hired.  But being obese does not qualify you for disability. So no help there.

I was at the bottom — in terms of health.  In terms of finances.  In terms of everything.

If something did not change, I was going to die.

The turning point…the beginning of the beginning

With the new policy year, 2015, My doctor joined the “in network” list of doctors.  This happened because doctors looked at the PPACA and decided that it was going to last and they started joining the insurance plans.

The PPACA was proving to be a success.  In fact, in spite of what Republicans would have you believe, the first year, 2014, by every objective measurement, was wildly successful beyond even the proponents dreams.

Even I, who didn’t improve on the health front, because I ended up with a crappy doctor, at least I mostly held steady.

I love this woman. She is kind, caring, knowledgeable, talented, skilled and a genuinely “good person.”  Her name is Dr. Karen King.  If you are in the Dallas / For Worth area and need a Family / Primary Care Physician, then I highly recommend her.

I was able to go and see “My doctor” — the doctor who I had back when I had a job.  — A doctor who genuinely cares about her patients, including silly ole me.

“Tony, you are waaaaaaaaay Diabetic!”

At my first visit to Dr. King in 2015, “my doctor” — the first time I’d seen her since 2012 – over 3 years, she did a general physical which included a urine test and some blood work — the kind that she could have tested right there in her in-office lab.

I sat, reading my book that I had brought with me, because that’s what you do when you go to the Doctor’s office, waiting for the results of the urine and blood test…

…and the door opened and Karen walked in.  She had a print out in her hands and she said “Tony, you are a diabetic.  Did you know that?” and without giving me time to respond, she added “Actually Tony, you are not just a diabetic, you are WAAAAAAAAAAYYYYY diabetic! We need to get you on some medication immediately.”

She handed me some samples to take home with me.  She actually made me take the first pill right there in her office.

And I began an education program, reading and learning and beginning to take control of my life and my health.

Recall for a moment where this started…loosing my job…

In hindsight, things are always clearer in hindsight…

Now, in 2016, in the full flush of excitement that things are moving in a positive direction, it is easy to see that I suffred an psychic blow, a mental injury which took years for me to recover from.

The sequence of events where I was Clinically Depressed, lost my job, lost my career, lost part of my self identity, lost all things that gave me pleasure, leaving only reading, watching movies and eating in the box labelled “Things that makes Tony feel good” were like a bear mauling or a shark attack leaving me mentally and emotionally damaged.

That damage was compounded by not being able to seek professional assistance because I had no health care.

And the damage kept on coming.  A downward spiral that kept accelerating.  My life was a negative feedback loop.

Having a caring doctor makes all the difference

There in that tiny room, as my doctor and I laid out a plan to get me healthy again, that is the moment my life took a teeny tiny step toward the positive.

Even now as I type this, my eyes are watering.

You, my dear readers, who are reading this will not notice the ten minutes that just elapsed between the previous sentence and this one.  I had to stop. And go get a soda and take a deep breath and wipe my eyes.

There in that room, my life changed, for the better.

She gave me a hug as I was leaving and I realized that I hadn’t gotten a hug from anyone in a very long time.  Because when you are living at the poverty line, there is no money for entertainment.  You don’t see friends anymore because you are embarrassed to admit that you can’t afford a “coffee” or a “movie ticket” or you can’t afford a bottle of wine or a six pack of beer when the party invite says BYOB.

Or you don’t have the gas to visit family or friends.  That one way you’ve trimmed your budget is to only drive your truck to and from the grocery store and to check the mail in your PO Box.

That hug was like the first drops of rain at the end of a long drought.  And knowing that someone with skill and knowledge and expertise was now “in my corner” was like a key opening the door to solitary confinement and letting in some sunshine.

The year of 2015 was one medical issue after another as three years of no or inadequate health care was reversed.  I went to my doctor monthly for follow ups and maintenance check ins, checking my weight and my blood pressure.

As the year progressed, she ran a very extensive panel of blood work to find out what my body was needing and I started taking a ton of supplements and medications to help fight my high cholesterol, lower my blood pressure, deal with my injured shoulder, a lump on my arm, a lump on my neck, address my poor diet by taking the vitamin and mineral supplements, and most of all:

Getting my diabetes under control.

November 2015 — Dance comes back into Tony’s life

My return to health wasn’t like a scene from Harry Potter where a wand gets waved and an arm gets healed.

Nope.  My “aerobics” program was cleaning my apartment.  Literally.  And showering more often.  And Loading the dishwasher more often.  And taking the trash out.

The first time I went shopping at Kroger instead of Braums was a land mark achievement. OMG! I was on cloud nine for a week.

Little by little my movement increased and my weight started coming off and my stamina and strength increased.

My blood sugar levels kept getting better and better by November my doctor cleared me for a limited amount of dancing.

Danger Will Robinson!

When you were as big as I was – the technical term is “Morbidly Obese” you just don’t hop into a high powered fitness program.

There was a real danger that IF I tried to dance too soon, that my “muscle memory” would betray me and I’d attempt something that my body used to be able to do but now, because of my current weight and fitness level, should not be attempting and I’d end up injuring myself and set myself back by months on my road to health and fitness.

So, in Nov, my doctor said that I could do some dancing.

I didn’t know how much I had missed it.

All through the time that I was shaving the budget, I kept one thing that logically I should have cut from the budget:

My 24 Hour Fitness Membership

That was roughly $25 per month that I could have used for food or other necessities, but I kept on paying it.  Even though I had not seen the inside of a gym since Spring of 2013.

24 Hour Fitness locations generally have an “aerobics room” where they have Zumba classes and Yoga classes and other group fitness activities.

Well when that room is not being used for a group class anyone can use it.  And folks it has a wooden floor and mirrors…TAH DAH! basically it is a Dance Studio without all the dance students and instructors.

Often I am the only person in the room, something which never happens at a dance studio.

And since the “practice fee” called a “floor fee” for a dance studio ranges from $10-$15 per hour, that $25 per month is a BARGAIN!

But I wasn’t using it.  Until Nov of 2015.

My actual time spent dancing to music was about 5 minutes.  I danced to an Ultra Beginner dance called Ah-Si.  It is a dance that I used to teach when I taught to “non-dancers” – folks who had never taken any dance lessons at all.

I walked it through without music several times then danced it for 1 minute and I had to sit down and rest.

Once I rested, I did it again, and rested and so on for 5 more times.  Then I drove home

But when you add in the climb down the stair at home, the walk to my truck, the drive, the walk from the truck to the elevator, the walk around the outside balcony on the 3rd floor to get from the elevator to the entrance of the gym, the climb down a flight of interior stairs to get to the aerobics room, the time and energy and stretching to put on my dance shoes, the actual dancing, then taking off my shoes and doing the whole thing in reverse…

BABY THAT WAS A WORKOUT!

And it was a beginning.  I was dancing again.

Then a friend called…

…and asked if I wanted to come to Dallas Dance Festival to watch them compete, they would pay my day pass.  I jumped at the chance.

OMG!  The day exhausted me.  I slept 14 hours that night after being there just for the afternoon competition session on Saturday.   But I was back.  Friends I’d not seen in ages, except via Facebook posts hugged me and welcomed me back.

It made me realize that my stamina was indeed coming back. Yes, attending that one afternoon session taxed my strength to my maximum, because six months before I would not have been able to even do that much.

But it was progress.

Then another friend called and…

…asked if I’d be interested in starting the Instructor Training program at a local dance studio.  OMG! Yes! But I was terrified.  I didn’t know if I could say “yes” Could I do it? Was my body ready for this?

I know that if I have to dance full out that I can’t do it but for about 2 minutes and that I’d have to rest afterward, but teaching was different…it might be possible

OMG!  I told him that I’d get back to him.

Then another friend emailed…

…and asked if I wanted to go to the ACDA Nationals which was exactly one week after Dallas Dance Festival.

They offered to pay for my entire 3 day pass.  I jumped at the chance.

I went for TWO days — an new record!

AND I danced socially, with another person for one dance on the last day of the event — a SINGLE dance and it almost wiped me out.  I had to sit down afterward, but I did it!

But it was progress.  AND while at that event I had the opportunity to talk with several pro dancers who I admire and trust and ask them a lot of questions about making the transition from “amateur dancer” to “Professional dance instructor” and I was encouraged by what I learned

And Another Friend offered to pay my way to Worlds…

UCWDC WORLDS cropped

The UCWDC Country Dance World Championships is THE big event in the Country Dance  competition world.

And I had not been there since 2013, where I actually won the Diamond II Couples division with my dance partner at the time.

The chance to go and to see the dancing and to reconnect with friends in the dance world was an amazing opportunity.

Of course I said yes.

I just had to come up with money for food.  Every thing else was paid for.  So when we got to Nashville, I went to Kroger and bought food and stored in the mini-fridge in the Hotel room.  I ate only once at a restaurant during the entire 3 days I was there.

I’m really proud.  I managed to keep my food budget to under $20 per day.

My friends who were at Worlds are having their eyes pop out about now.  Normal food budget for this event, because the restaurants at the Opryland are so expensive is more like $60 per day.  I spent $60 total for four days Thur – Sun.

And the dance practicing continued…and I got great news from the doctor in late Dec

So, in December, with the chance to teach dance – not just line, but couples as well, hanging out there as a possibility, I went to my doctor.  And I learned [ drum roll please ]

That my blood sugar level is now normal.  The diabetes medication now has my diabetes completely under control.

AND… my weight dropped below 300 lbs for the first time in years.

AND… I asked around among my dance friends and found two volunteers.  I met with each of them and “test taught” them.  Basically I wanted to know if I could teach a student for 1 hour, which is the standard time for a private lesson.

I didn’t actually charge them, they got a free lesson and I determined that YES, I COULD ACTUALLY TEACH AGAIN!!!!!!

THIS IS FRIGGIN’ HUGE!!!!!!

Of course on the physical and health fronts, it means that my body is getting fitter and healthier, but as, if not more, important it means that

MY FINANCIAL PICTURE IS ABOUT TO IMPROVE!!!

Oh. My. God.

And I’m an agnostic.  So when I say “Oh. My. God.” folks, this is BIG!

Wow.

So… I said “yes” to the offer…

…to start learning how to teach couples.  I’m not going to say where I’m doing my training.  Not yet.

A few of my closest friends know because I’ve told them but I don’t want to make any sort of official announcement until I’m further along in the training and I have a better idea of when I’ll start teaching students there at that studio.

But…it is huge. Amazingly, life changing HUGE. I’m learning not only Country, but Ballroom as well.  Wow!

I feel as if finally, I’m healing from that psychic injury I received when I lost my former career.

One of my “great loves” is being replaced by another of my “great loves”

And life is good. Stay tuned folks 2016 is going to be an amazing year.

There are challenges; mostly financial.  I’ll talk about that in my next post, but right now, right here, I am hopeful and optimistic for the first time in almost four years.

For the first time in a very long time I believe that a year from now, my life will be better than it is right now.

And that is a wonderful feeling.

See ya on the dance floor.

A Year of Awesome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About TxCowboyDancer

Eight time Country Dance World Champion. I love to dance. In the middle of a journey, transforming myself from "unemployed and out-of-shape" to "in-shape and full time dance instructor, writer and graphic artist."

Posted on Sat, Jan 16, 2016, in Getting Fit, Getting Healthy, Living with Diabetes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Tony,
    So glad things are getting better for you. Hope to see you on the dance floor somewhere this year.

    Like

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