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I Did It: A Mile Per Day

liz margolies

  
  
  Founder and Executive Director,
  National LGBT Cancer Network

As published on Huffington Post’s new LGBT Wellness blog, see original at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/liz-margolies-lcsw/i-did-it-a-mile-per-day_b_5319427.html

The evil N.Y.C. winter finally departed and it took my excuses with it, leaving me sitting at home, still lazy, flabby and tired. I was moved mentally, if not physically, however, by two recent news stories.

One study, reported in the New York Times, found that taking a walk dramatically boosted creativity. Walking is instantaneous and acute in its effect on the mind and even a short one will do the trick. The second article was about people who lived past 90-years-old. Researchers found that exercising as little as 15 minutes a day made a difference in their longevity.

I would like to be both creative and very old, and I am willing to cough up 15 minutes each day to make that happen. So, I decided to walk one mile per day, rain or shine, early or late, in sickness and in health, like it or not. To make it easy, I would not change my clothes or shoes for the walk; my only equipment would be my cell phone, where I downloaded an app called Map My Walk that keeps track of distance and time.

Moving our bodies (regrettably referred to as “exercise”) is absolutely an LGBT issue. In the U.S., lesbians have higher rates of obesity than their heterosexual counterparts, making us more vulnerable to multiple diseases. Our young gay youth, on the other hand, are leaning too heavily on eating disorders in an attempt to control their size and weight. In the cancer realm, a disease that disproportionately affects LGBT people, regular exercise is associated with both a lower risk for cancer and improved outcomes in survivors. There are plenty of reasons to move our LGBT bodies.

Day 1: My schedule was completely booked except for a single 60-minute break between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. and walking impinged on my lunch plan. I resentfully grabbed a light jacket and my cell phone, and pushed myself out the door.

In N.Y.C., we all know that there are 20 blocks to a mile; I walked precisely 10 out and 10 back. The sidewalks were packed, so I weaved my way through the pedestrian throng like a woman with a mission. I was home in 15 minutes.

Upshot? No benefit to this, except the minor pleasure of ticking off the chore.

Day 2: Again, not a free minute until 3:00. I instinctively headed south this time into the sun, planning to race through the obligation again, but about 6 minutes into this march, I stopped working so hard and slowed down. I felt the sun on my face and the thrill of being out in springtime, so much so that I didn’t turn around after my phone told me I had walked half a mile.

Upshot? I got a lovely warm dose of vitamin D, spotted several great haircuts, and grabbed a delicious frozen yogurt on my way back.

Day 3: I took advantage of an inadvertent loophole in my rules and decided not to complete the mile in one uninterrupted circle. Instead, I stopped midway for 20 minutes to sit in what what passes, only in N.Y.C., for a park. It is a triangle of cement in a fork in the road, but has café tables and metal chairs. I pushed “pause” on Map My Walk and slouched way down in my chair so my head rested on the back of the seat and my face was in the sun. Against the background sound of traffic, I indulged in some good city eavesdropping. To my right, a woman was speaking German into her phone. I would have considered this of low entertainment value, except that the two gay men on my other side were discussing, in excruciating detail, their acid reflux and their circumcisions. (Yes, I live in Chelsea.)

To compensate for the semi-legality of the 20-minute stop, I walked past my intended turn around point. In all, I walked 1.7 miles in 22 minutes of moving.

Upshot? I felt a bit guilty about the stopping and the sun.

Day 4: It was raining, and I’m no postman. I hate precipitation and cancel all expectations that I leave the house whenever the weather is capable of ruining my hair or my shoes. I pushed myself out early in the day, before the drizzle became a deluge and, more importantly, before I washed my hair. I grabbed checks that needed depositing and gave myself permission to stop at the bank.

Upshot? Walking with my head bowed against the rain made this a solitary and contemplative 15 minutes. The weather matched my mood as I left the house, but I returned with a tad more serenity.

Day 5: I decided to use my daily walk as transportation to an early morning meeting slightly over a mile from home, as it didn’t require me to leave one minute earlier than if I went by any other form of transportation. I had traveled nearly five blocks before I even realized I was walking; my thoughts were fully elsewhere as I moved. Walking had become unconscious, normal even.

Upshot? I had to admit I was starting to like this.

Day 6: I didn’t do it. I will spare you my long list of excuses.

Upshot? My fantasy that I had made walking a habit already was crushed.

Day 7: To repent for yesterday’s sin of omission, I walked 2.5 miles today. It was Mother’s Day, a hard day in my life, and I had a lot to think about.

Upshot? Just as that study promised, walking changed my thinking and I came home in a better mood than I left with.

What did I learn from this week? Exercise is a promise that isn’t easy to keep. It is sometimes glorious, sometimes hideous, but always valuable.

Follow Liz Margolies, L.C.S.W. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cancerlgbt

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I Did It: Lunch With a Total Stranger

liz margolies

 

 

Liz Margolies, L.C.S.W.

Founder and Executive Director, National LGBT Cancer Network

 

 

woman-dines-alone-in-omotesando-1280x

As published on Huffington Post’s new LGBT Wellness blog, see original at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/liz-margolies-lcsw/i-did-it-lunch-with-a-total-stranger_b_5090289.html

When a white, atheist psychotherapist has lunch with the founder of Depressed Black Gay Men (DBGM), they each get food for thought.

We met by email when someone forwarded his information to me. The email didn’t even contain a last name, but it was one of the most eloquently written requests for information about LGBT cultural competency trainings I had ever read. Over the course of that day, Antoine Craigwell and I corresponded several times about our respective organizations, but he always avoided answering my direct questions about himself, his profession, or how he came to write so well. Instead he asked to meet for a one-hour lunch the next day at a Cuban restaurant in my neighborhood. I requested a picture so that I would recognize him when he arrived; he sent me a selfie with an intense gaze.

I arrived on time. (Remember, I’m a psychotherapist.) He was 20 minutes late, meaning a full third of our time was already gone, but he vanquished my annoyance with an immediate apology and charm. We took the last two seats at the counter, and I ordered the only vegetarian options available: rice, beans and tostones. He got liver and onions over his rice and beans. I tried to find out more about his personal life, but again, he gently deflected those attempts, keeping our discussion fascinating but academic, until we gradually moved to the focus of his work.

Several years ago, after attending the funeral of a young, black gay man who had taken his own life, Antoine decided to write a book. He is not a mental health professional but noticed three things that can make the experience of depression different for many black gay men: religiously fueled homophobia, stigma, and intraracism. Through interviews and extensive research he discovered that in this population depression is expressed not only in typical ways but often in ways that may include violence, anger, drug use and unsafe sexual practices. We engaged in an intense conversation about racism in diagnoses and untreated depression. When the form of depression is unrecognized and therefore undiagnosed, it is also left untreated. In fact, most studies report far lower rates of depression and mood disorders among blacks and Latinos than among whites. And yet, just as Antoine said, LGB youth who are also members of racial/ethnic minorities have a significantly increased risk of suicide attempts. Clearly, the measurement tools for diagnosing depression are inadequate for recognizing depression in many black gay men. In one report that I found after that lunch, 43 percent of black gay youth reported having thought about or attempted suicide as a result of issues related to their sexual orientation.

Antoine explained to me that the black church is the bedrock of many families and the community, but that in spite of offering invaluable systems for coping with sociocultural stressors, it often espouses a fundamentalist perspective on sexuality, causing some mothers to cast their sons out of families, sometimes for even a hint of homosexuality. The results are often disastrous. As an atheist mother of a queer son, my heart twisted in despair: I don’t think about religion very much, so I was struck by how support and condemnation contradict each other yet are so closely intertwined.

Feeling an urgency to reach more people than books can, Antoine switched directions, producing the documentary You Are Not Alone and founding DBGM, a nonprofit organization with a mission to raise awareness and save lives. “If by what I’m doing, one black gay man could be prevented from killing himself, then my job is done; his healing begins,” he said. Antoine has been showing the documentary around the country. It features powerful interviews with black gay men, religious leaders (Christian and Islamic) and mental health professionals.

According to Antoine, DBGM will soon launch a program entitled “I Am Working on Healing,” with two support groups: “Sons and Mothers” for black gay boys and their mothers, to encourage acceptance of their gay sons, and “My Sons” for black mothers whose sons have committed suicide. Antoine also offers cultural competency trainings wherever possible. “Aha!” I thought. “This may be where our work together begins.”

After lunch I thought about my own social activism, which is primarily focused oncancer, a disease that usually strikes later in life. I then thought about the young black gay men who would never reach adulthood and whose untreated and undiagnosed depression would mean that they would also never likely reach a psychotherapist’s office. I thought about how a good psychotherapist had saved my own son’s life and realized how fortunate we both are that he did. The 40-minute lunch shook me.

When I returned home, I Googled Antoine’s name and learned that my humble lunch-mate is an award-winning journalist. He is also, surely, a powerful agent for change.

To learn more about DBGM, visit their website.

Need help? Visit The Trevor Project or call them at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Follow Liz Margolies, L.C.S.W. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cancerlgbt

Cross-posting · Huffington Post LGBT Wellness

I Did It: Forgiveness

liz margolies

Liz Margolies, L.C.S.W. 

Founder and Executive Director

National LGBT Cancer Network

Forgiveness

As published on Huffington Post’s new LGBT Wellness blog, see original at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/liz-margolies-lcsw/i-did-it-forgiveness_b_4982515.html?utm_hp_ref=lgbt-wellness

When someone suggested I try forgiveness as my next “I Did It” challenge, my first thought was a silent and loud NO. Why should I forgive that evil ex-lover who stole my money and tried to damage my relationship with my child? I was startled to realize how much venom I still carried for a person I broke up with eight years ago. This stale resentment is surely not harming her because we have absolutely no contact. It is all mine. “Resentment is like drinking poison and then waiting for it to kill your enemies.” (Nelson Mandela).

We all have that ex, the one we fell for hard and trusted with our every thought and dollar. Our love was like a lightning bolt and six months later, she moved to New York City to live with me and my young son. She had never lived anywhere but her small hometown, and it was not an easy adjustment for either of us. New York is a humbling place with bad parking options, making previously big fish feel very small in this gigantic pond. I felt personally responsible for all the ways she struggled here and she agreed it was my fault, as it was my city and I didn’t want to leave it.

I brought her into my social life and my family and together we made new friends, got a slew of pets and shared home renovation projects. We made a life together for over nine years, during which our finances became more entangled and our compromises more entrenched.

It fell apart as quickly as it began, starting with a stupid fight that got uglier than usual. She became way too angry with me that day and then we never quite stopped. We fought for seven months straight, even as we realized we were screaming all the love out of each other. When the last shred of love was gone (or buried), I initiated the break-up talk. She didn’t resist.

Then things got really unpleasant — financially, romantically and with my son. There were lawyers, lots of them. It was hideous.

That was eight years ago. She ultimately moved out of the state and out of my life. My son and I made it through and I have found true love; I am now married to my passionate soulmate. So, if living well is the best revenge, this bitterness should be over. It’s not, though.

Resentment isn’t good for our health. Each time we go over the list of their crimes against us, our blood pressure and heart rate spike. Clutching our grudges stresses the immune system, making us more vulnerable to illness. “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.” (Buddha). Ouch.

Why would I hold onto a blazing piece of coal? Because it keeps me labeled as the innocent burned party, leaving her as the only bad guy. If I drop the coal, I suddenly see how singed she was also. Breaking up is simply painful. For everyone. And few of us behave well in that pain.

The Internet is filled with lists of the five or seven or 12 steps to reach forgiveness, but for me, it always comes down to one straightforward task: finding compassion for the other person, despite my urge to demonize them for their crimes.

Oh, suddenly it is seems so obvious to me: only someone so terribly unhappy would behave so poorly. When I stop counting all the compromises I made to try to make her happy, I see the too-high price she paid for our relationship. Living in New York with me was a daily struggle for her — one I could not fix and was unwilling to end. After nine years, she snapped. She had to leave me and she had to leave New York to find herself again. Today, I want to allow her to have recovered herself, no matter what it took. Heaven knows I wasn’t perfect either.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” (Lewis B. Smedes).

Follow Liz Margolies, L.C.S.W. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cancerlgbt

Cross-posting · Feature · Huffington Post LGBT Wellness · Uncategorized

I Did It! A Colonoscopy

 

 

 

n-COLORECTAL-CANCER-large

As the founder and executive director of the National LGBT Cancer Network, I know full well how important it is to keep up with my own cancer screenings. Early detection saves lives. Yet, like many other LGBT people, I resist and postpone it.

Getting regular checkups and colon cancerscreening is the best way to prevent colorectal cancer. Finding and removing colon polyps helps prevent colon cancer, and if they’re found early, a cure is far more likely. Colonoscopies are recommendedevery 10 years, beginning at age 50, or sooner if you have a family history of colorectal cancer.

Most studies show that LGBT people have significantly lower colorectal cancer screening rates, especially transgender people and people of color. All our usual barriers to care (stigma, lack of health insurance, etc.) make it difficult, but really, who ever wants a camera up their butt? In the interest of getting more of us to do this, why don’t you follow me through the process?

Two months before the procedure: It wasn’t hard to get an appointment, but it took me two months to gather my resolve to call and set it up. I have had two colonoscopies in the past, both decent experiences with two perfectly nice gastroenterologists, so I don’t fully know what my barrier was this time around, but after my best friend recommended her doctor, I finally got myself to call. The point is: Do whatever it takes to get over the resistance.

One week before the procedure: I can’t believe how much time I am spending thinking about this, preoccupied with “preparation” day, a Sunday, during which I may eat absolutely nothing, drink only clear (not red or purple) liquids and take two rounds of laxatives, guaranteeing an evening seated on the toilet.

Several days in advance, I load up on all the interesting clear liquids I can find in my local market, sparing no expense. I buy fancy artisanal juices I usually scoff at. Variety also seems essential, and I purchase three boxes of blue Jell-O, which I plan to cube and eat with a fork, and a broth that means I can use a spoon. I decide to save the broth for “dinner.”

I make no plans for Sunday, even turning down an afternoon party invitation, as though being hungry is going to be a very time-consuming activity. (Did I just say “consuming”?) Yes, I am obsessing about food all week, interspersing it with anticipatory self-pity for my promised hunger.

Preparation day:

7:30 AM: With total defiance, I put 2 teaspoons of milk in my morning coffee. No, coffee was not on the “approved” list, but neither did I find it on the “forbidden” list, and I was not going to suffer a caffeine-withdrawal headache in addition to my starvation. I shower and weigh myself for a later post-fasting comparison.

9:17 AM: I make a huge bottle of herbal tea. I am feeling triumphantly not hungry, although my entire consciousness is on my stomach. I can beat this!

9:51 AM: I’m hungry! Uh, oh.

Noon: How can this be? I am simultaneously incredibly full (of tea) and still hungry. My body clearly knows the difference between liquids and solids, and it is not fooled. I must crave nutrients. I have downed 32 ounces of tea and one bottle of fancy lemonade while waiting for the Jell-O to solidify. I invent some errands and leave the house. I need some distance from the refrigerator.

1:00 PM: The blue Jell-O is gross yet oddly satisfying. I devour it, shoving my spoon directly in the large bowl, forgoing the civilized plan of cubing and forking. Within half an hour, I am myself again, sated, living a typical Sunday afternoon where I happen to not be eating anything. I read The New York Times.

6:00 PM: Having taking the first dose of laxatives (and having no dinner to prepare), I distract myself by binge-watching Scandal, waiting for the urge to purge. I take my second dose at 8 PM, never leaving my seat at the TV. This is a breeze!

9:30 PM: I begin my trips to the bathroom, pausing the show when I go. Unlike when I’ve had a stomach flu or food poisoning, there are no cramps. Easy and painless.

Midnight: I go to bed. Triumphant. Empty.

Procedure day:

7:30 AM: No coffee today; not even a sip of water permitted. I feel a bit weak and definitely thirsty. I shower and weigh myself. I lost only 2 pounds since yesterday. Only now do I begin to worry about what the colonoscopy might find. I hope I’m OK.

11:30 AM: It’s done! The sweet gastroenterologist (this field attracts the nicest clinicians!) introduced himself by apologizing for my hard night. In all, I tell him, it wasn’t even that bad. They wrapped me in blankets to keep me warm, and the anesthesiologist sent me into a lovely sleep before anyone laid a hand on my butt. By the way, their forms never asked about marital status but simply asked the name of anyone I designated to receive medical information about me.

12:30 PM: A friend met me (escorts are required), and we went to the closest diner for a huge omelet. I am perfectly healthy and can put off a repeat performance for another 10 years. Today I don’t even dread it.

For information on where you can find LGBT-welcoming free or low-cost cancer screening facilities near you, check out the directory of the National LGBT Cancer Network.

———

Liz Margolies, L.C.S.W.Founder and Executive Director
The Nation LGBT Cancer Network
As published on Huffington Post’s new LGBT Wellness blog, see original at:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/liz-margolies-lcsw/i-did-it-a-colonoscopy_b_4810656.html?utm_hp_ref=lgbt-wellness
Follow Liz Margolies, L.C.S.W. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cancerlgbt